What Garbriel García Márquez Taught Me About Communicating

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“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.

That’s how Gabriel Garcia Marquez opens his classic, 100 Years of Solitude. When I heard of his passing last month, those opening lines sprang to mind and I realized that his opening has lessons for all of us when we want to communicate with others.

What did it mean to “discover” ice? Why was the Colonel facing a firing squad? What happened many years before? I was mesmerized. I wanted to know the answers to those questions and many more. I was transformed from a mere reader to an active participant in a journey. I knew that I was in for a treat and a treat and I couldn’t wait for it to happen.

That’s what you want when you communicate with others. Here are three takeaways you can use to make that happen:

  1. Use a powerful opening. Unfortunately this does not go without saying. Most people still begin presentations, communications and influence attempts with throw away lines. Begin in a way that makes the listener think, “tell me more, please.” Work in the less interesting material later.
  2. Present the familiar in an unfamiliar way. While you know the words “discover” and “ice,” putting them together transforms them into something different. You rarely have the chance to communicate something completely new, but your listeners will be more interested if you can share old concepts in a new way.
  3. Remember that people connect with people. Marquez opens with a character to get to know and a conflict to resolve. Whether you’ve got a lot of data to share or other important information to get across, you’ll be better remembered when you include people as part of that process.

Marquez modeled the kind of experience that we as communicators need to create for our listeners – whether we are standing up to speak to a group, writing marketing copy or trying to persuade someone to accept our ideas. Whenever we communicate we need to draw our in listener and make them want to know more. Make your opening a promise that something truly interesting is coming.

p.s. – If you’re interested in other great opening lines to famous works, check out this list of “100 best first lines from novels” on the American Book Review Website. They’ve ranked Marquez as number four, but I’d put him at number one. What about you?

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