What Jumping Frogs Teach Us about Communicating

Could you make a frog jump 21 feet and 5 3/4 inches? I mean, that’s a long way. It’s longer than a minivan. It’s farther than free-throw in basketball. It’s also the world record for the farthest frog jump at the International Frog Jump Competition. BTW, May 13 is National Frog Jumping Day. What does that have to do with the art of communicating? Allow me to elaborate.

Well, do you think you can make a frog jump? Bullfrogs are pretty stubborn. You can hoot, you can holler. You can sweet talk them, slap your hands on the floor, and even blow on them. But that doesn’t mean they are going to move for you. Or go in the direction you want them to go. This is true for their human counterparts too.

Trying to get people to go your direction, adopt change, or understand a new policy? Take a lesson from frog jockeys. Take the time to understand your frogs—your people. Learn what makes them jump. In the biz we call it audience analysis. Once you understand this, you’ll know how to adjust your communication style. And remember, there’s more than one type of frog, so you’ll need to need to devise multiple ways to get your frogs to jump.

Hey, my frog jumped 23 feet — what do you mean I didn’t break the record? In frog jumping, distance is measured from the starting point to the farthest point after three jumps. You know: boing, boing, boing, and done. The problem is that some frogs change directions after each boing, occasionally coming around full circle to where they started. This goes to show that no matter how far you get people to move in your direction, it often doesn’t stick and they end up right back where they started.

Dr. Jeffrey Lant, a marketing expert and author, developed the “Rule of Seven” concept. The idea is that you need to impart your message on your frogs seven times before it is likely to result in a championship jump. More recent theories indicate that you need to transmit it seven different ways too. The basic point: Don’t expect your frog to break the jumping record on the first try. You just might need to hoot and holler, and slap and sweet talk, and blow and a few other things to get your frogs heading in the right direction.

Stubborn frogs or lead bellies — what if my frog doesn’t jump? It’s good to keep in mind that not every frog can or wants to jump. Just as in the Mark Twain’s “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” some frogs simply lack the ability. Now it’s unlikely that the folks you are trying to motivate have a belly full of buckshot, but something else is grounding them. Perhaps they don’t understand what you are asking of them or are unsure how to make the change. You may need to adjust your message or explicitly lead them in the right direction. Keep in mind, however, that they may not want to change, are resistant to change, and are unwilling to change their behavior. In those cases, all the communicating in the world won’t have the desired result. Sometimes you just need to go to the pond and get a different frog.

Here’s to you breaking your frog-jumping record and communications goals.

Happy National Frog Jumping Day!