“He can compress more words into the smallest idea of any man I ever met.”
— Abraham Lincoln
This week I am posting a section of our popular eBook, New Perspectives in Wellness & Benefit Communications, that people have told me helped a ton in improving their writing skills. It’s the fourth of eight timeless truths in workplace (or anyplace) communications. Only a C+ Student could come up with something so simple, loaded with common sense, and easy to do. Hey, I am a big believer in critical thinking – not overthinking.
The average attention span of Americans today is roughly the time it has taken you to read this sentence. “You only have a minute to gain their attention” is an incorrect maxim. You have about 2.7 seconds. And then you have to keep their interest so they can act upon your communication?
That’s not easy, to say the least. You’re trying to reach employees at the same time they’re updating some files while instant messaging with co-workers while straightening up their desks while listening to a conference call. Do they have a minute? Actually, no.
You’re facing other communication hurdles, too. You have to get through to employees, but here’s what many of them are thinking:
• What is this?
• Should I read it?
• I don’t have time.
• What’s in it for me?
• What I really want to do is delete this and move on.
• Whoa – this is pretty cool!
How can you get employees to view — let alone
read — your workplace communication?
“If a worker views something for a few seconds, he or she should be able to describe at least the gist of what you’re saying,” says Alison Davis, CEO of employee communications firm Davis & Company, and coauthor of the book Your Attention, Please: How to Appeal to Today’s Distracted, Disengaged and Busy Audiences. “If that can’t be done, your communication program is going to suffer a quick death.”
Many employees turn a deaf ear to anything involving topics they don’t understand fully. So when they see an email about important changes to the company’s healthcare plan, for example, their tendency is to delay reading it until they absolutely must. (Example of a teaser that would get attention: “Are your Rx prices changing next month?”)
More companies and communities are realizing the antidote is a one-two combination — brevity and clarity.
Think teasers. Think billboard.
Make your messages easy and scannable. Cut your articles to 100 words. Get your videos down to one minute, max. Stick to one concept.
For years, wellness and benefits communication had been riddled with corporate-speak and jargon instead of clear, concise language aimed at a busy, short-attention-span workforce. Before you start to craft your communications, remind yourself of these three realities about your audience’s openness to your message:
• They don’t want it.
• They don’t have time for it.
• They didn’t ask for it.
“It’s such an unkind reality — yet such a critical realization — to understand that most employees need to be told why they should care,” says Sharon Long Baerny, principal of the Seattle-based communications agency We Know Words. “Whatever you’re communicating, it’s much more important to you than it is to your recipients. So to make your messages more effective, you must begin to think more like them.”
Assumptions to avoid…
• Assuming you can get employees to act on your messages without telling them why and without asking them to act.
• Assuming employees will read, instead of simply scanning, your content.
• Assuming it’s not worthwhile to encourage employees to make seemingly minor healthcare changes and choices, rather than grand plans.
• Assuming professional-sounding language is better than simple “plain speak” in your workplace communication.
• Assuming all employees absorb and retain communication in the same manner and prefer the same medium.
Brevity and clarity are essential components of effective communication. If your messages aren’t obvious and plain, they can’t be understood.
Closing thought: Keep all of your messages short and scannable.
Shawn is the President and Founder of Hope Health. For over 30 years, his work has focused on bringing clear, easy-to-read and watch health messages to the public via workplaces. He bills himself as the “Best C+ Student in the Wellness Biz” because, as he says, “I like to challenge the notion that there is no such thing as a stupid question.” Shawn is on a mission to tie workplaces into their surrounding communities to share resources and ideas in an effort to improve the health of all Americans.
You may reach Shawn at sconnors@HopeHealth.com or 800-334-4094.