Message in a Bottle

messageThe bottle was old, its glass scratched and worn by weeks of exposure to sand, sea and South Pacific sun. Yet it was still tightly stoppered, and a shake elicited a dry rattling sound. Something within awaited my discovery!

I walked into the kitchen of the beachfront bungalow that my wife and I had rented on a Polynesian island, and carefully dislodged the wooden cap from the bottle with a butter knife. I tipped it, and, along with a handful of sand, a cracked, bleached and tightly rolled scroll fashioned from a ragged scrap of a palm frond landed on the breakfast table. Carefully unrolling the scroll, I saw faded printing, written in tiny, cramped script.

I couldn’t believe that I had found the fabled “message in a bottle”! Surely this would prove a hoax or, possibly a clever ad for a local beach bar, planted to excite tourists who were equal parts bored and gullible?

The note read:

“Help! I am stranded on a deserted island. I’ve been here for years. The weather isn’t bad, and I have plenty to eat – there are lots of bananas and coconuts, and I’m a fair fisherman. I built a nice little hut near a freshwater spring. But I’m lonely, and I’d really appreciate being rescued, if it’s no trouble. Thanks, Ed.”  

I read the note twice, then three times. The writing covered the entire surface of the frond. There was no more of the message to be had. There was no date hinting at when it had been written. There were no map coordinates and no directions. In short, there was no way to determine when or where it had been penned. Rescue would be impossible.

Ed may still be waiting patiently for a reply. Or perhaps he was found, or built a raft, like Tom Hanks in Castaway. Or maybe he perished years ago, the lost and lonely survivor of an unreported shipwreck.

Ed had limited writing space on that old leaf, and probably a limited supply of ink as well, but instead of getting to the point and delivering specifics that would enable rescuers to locate and liberate him, he babbled. He wasted a golden opportunity to rejoin civilization.

When we have only seconds to interact with a customer and use it for pleasant trivialities like the weather, we, like Ed, sacrifice a golden opportunity to deliver a message that serves an important purpose. And once lost, this moment can never be reclaimed.

Think of five one-sentence messages – things you want guests to know about your property – and deliver one of them when an opportunity arises.

“If you enjoy jazz, there’s live music in our lounge every night starting at 9 p.m.”

“Our housekeeping department does a great job with laundry, and can have your things ready washed, ironed and folded by dinner.”

“We have a new chef from Brussels who has promised to get us a Michelin star by next year.”

“Don’t forget to ask for our complimentary turn-down service tonight.”

It’s easy to work your messages into the conversation, especially when the guest starts by asking a question. Answer it briefly then segue into your message:

“How far is it to the National Museum?”

“It’s just five blocks north. If you’re heading out to sightsee, our concierge has developed a wonderful walking map of the city’s main sights.”

Politicians and newsmakers have used these techniques for years to subtly shift conversations and succinctly highlight positives.

Learning to think in terms of messages helps you to communicate more powerfully, without wasting time.

If only Ed had known!


Scott H. Lewis is managing director for the Ukraine/CIS region of Signature Europe. A former journalist and public relations counselor, he has provided crisis, public speaking and presentation training to senior executives across Russia, Ukraine and Turkey. He is the author of 60 Seconds to ‘Wow!’: Easy to Master Skills That Move Your Audience and Build Your Career. An American, he has lived in Kyiv, Ukraine for more than a decade.

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