4 ways for communicators to take a beat and slow down

Communicators are fried. Too much, too often, too fast.  Here’s how to dial it back.

Jim Ylisela is co-founder of Ragan Consulting Group. He works with communicators to help them manage the fast lane, the slow lane and the rest stop. 

Life in the fast lane
Surely makes you lose your mind
Life in the fast lane
Everything, all the time

That guitar-blistering rocker from the Eagles (thank you, Joe Walsh) is about two people living on the edge, but the same could be said for today’s communicators.

Like the ill-fated couple in “Life in the Fast Lane,” many communicators are exhausted and burned out. But they keep hurtling down that highway, driven by the unrelenting demands of their organizations, whether relevant or trivial.

It’s time to slow it down. And by writing those words, I know I’m flouting the conventional wisdom about all things communication.

More content. More channels. More everything. Just don’t make it too long. After all, the attention span of your audience has reportedly fallen below that of the goldfish. So, whatever you churn out, it had better travel at the speed of a thumb swipe. Then on to the next thing, and best be quick about it.

Communicators pressed to put the pedal to the metal are turning in desperation to new tools, like Chat GPT, to produce generic, unimaginative copy. They’re using different formats, like Axios’ Smart Brevity, to turn stories into bullet points. And they’re setting their social media posts to automatically capture every inane “day” on the calendar. (Oct. 16 was National Clean Your Virtual Desktop Day, but who’s got the time?)

And still the assignments keep piling up, all too often accompanied by artificial — if not completely arbitrary — deadlines that force communicators to rush their assignments and do a half-assed job on the stuff that might actually matter.

Baseball experts talk about a player’s ability to slow the game down, to be able to see, analyze and react, even when a fastball is coming at them at 98 miles per hour. Here are four ways to slow down your own game and improve communication in the process:

1. Just say no. Sure, easy for me to say. But some communicators have gotten pretty good at this. The trick is to make “no” a more official response by relying on approved editorial standards https://raganconsulting.com/what-are-the-next-steps-after-a-communications-audit/that define what comms does — and what it doesn’t. (Remember, you’re saying no to the request, not the person.)

Explain how effective communication helps the business by engaging the workforce and building a strong culture that drives recruitment and retention. There’s plenty of research to back you up, including this 2023 report from Forbes Advisor.

When you can’t say no, use a “creative brief” to focus comms requests more on strategy than tactics. What are we trying to accomplish? Who’s the audience? What do we want people to do with this information? And my personal favorite: What would happen if we didn’t send this out?

Set realistic deadlines. Describe what stories look like (length, format, approach), and how much time they will take to produce, review, approve and publish. (And yes, there will be exceptions.) Find a member of the leadership team to endorse the standards and send them to everyone.

2. Do less, and do it better. One good way to slow things down is to manage fewer channels. We’ve arrived at the official tipping point: Our comms audits show that audiences don’t have time to absorb half of what you send them, even the stuff they need.

Let measurement be your guide. Eliminate channels that no longer attract readers, or fix them so they do. Consolidate emails into a weekly — or even daily — newsletter that delivers headlines and teasers to your readers, with links back to the stories that live on the intranet or elsewhere. Use managers as a comms channel, but give them the tools to get the job done.

3. Pick your spots with AI. There may yet come a day when the robots take over and write all of our stories. But as of right now, they still sort of suck at it. AI can help you with research given the proper prompts (supplied by humans), but it doesn’t replace the value of solid reporting and human contact, at least not yet. Chat GPT is not a particularly good interviewer and a worse editor.

Use AI to truly help you save time by serving as your assistant, to look for the best words (like a thesaurus), to generate story ideas and (again, with the right prompts) to provide background and context. But fact check, please.

4. Package your longer stories to keep people reading. Slowing things down means more time to report and write your most important stories. They deserve your care and attention. The goldfish standard is false. Readers don’t drop off because their attention spans have dipped below eight seconds. It’s because we haven’t engaged them to keep going.

Package the bigger stories with captivating headlines, engaging images, solid ledes, sidebars and graphics. Let your audience choose how deep they want to go by giving them something of value at every level, by using the 3-30-3-30 rule:

  • 3 seconds to read a headline and decide to click.
  • 30 seconds to scan the headlines and teasers in a newsletter or on a webpage.
  • 3 minutes to do all of the above and click through to read a story or watch a video.
  • 30 minutes to dive in deep, to read related content, to click to supporting documents, to watch supporting videos, to share with others.

Follow RCG on LinkedIn and subscribe to our weekly newsletter here.


Ragan.com Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive the latest articles from Ragan.com directly in your inbox.