How not to be boring

Can you pass the B.S. test? If you’re bored with your content, your audience will be, too.

Facebook headquarters

Posters adorn the walls at Facebook's Menlo Park, California, headquarters.

Attention spans are shrinking. Demands are expanding. How do you balance what you need to communicate – or, let’s face it, what you’re required to communicate – with the challenges facing today’s workforce?

Two guiding rules emerged from Ragan’s Internal Communications & Employee Engagement Summit at Facebook:

  1. Don’t be boring.
  2. Don’t rely on just one way to send a message.

So, why are attention spans shrinking? 

That’s an easy one – technology. As technology becomes more accessible and prominent, more content is readily available. That means everyone has easy access to everything, including social media, video and music.

Also not helping: all the ways messages can reach us (and interrupt us): in person, via Skype, in an email, text message or phone call.

Here’s a statistic that will blow your multi-tasking brain: It takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to refocus on your work after being interrupted, according to a University of California Irvine study.

Competing content, a variety of communication tools and ease of access lessen the time people pay attention to any one thing.

What does this mean for communicators? 

It means we need to be more creative. We need to cut down the length of our communication, look for better hooks and meet people where they are to reinforce our messages.

At the Ragan conference, speakers provided many examples of how they’ve adjusted their communication styles to do just that. Here’s a sampling:

Is print dead? 

Not according to Leanora Minai, Duke University’s executive director of communications. Yes, really.

If you think something as antiquated as print won’t reach your audience, you may be wrong. Duke’s newsletter, filled with engaging photos, emotional stories and interactive challenges, enjoys more than 80 percent readership.

Looking for print communication content? Manai shared these storytelling techniques:

  • Interview employees for spotlight stories to create and improve a sense of community.
  • Sneak themes about employee resources and benefits into your storytelling to educate and
  • Use lists. People love them!
  • Get employees involved– provide incentives for employees to send you photos, story and video
  • Make internal communications public. Quality content can get your organization free

You had me at VIDEO… 

Videos can engage and capture the audience. They can be a power medium that evokes joy, inspiration, sadness or anticipation. They can reach your employees wherever they are. They can also be stereotypical and stale.

To create a compelling video that inspires your employees, be authentic. Not every video needs to be fully produced. Think about how you can connect with your audience in an honest way. That could be as simple as having subjects record videos on their phones or live stream an event or tour.

By featuring real stories about your real employees, you can hit home. When considering a video (or other communication), ask these questions:

  • Does it evoke an emotion?
  • Did you tell your audience why this is important now?
  • Are you talking to them like they’re human – like you’re human?
  • Did you link your big idea to your organization’s vision?
  • Does your story relate how employees’ roles contribute to the strategic plan?

Posters: an inspiring mess

At Facebook, the walls are covered in posters.

The posters don’t mesh with the company’s visual brand or the traditional idea of sleek and minimalist office décor. In fact, they are often entirely off brand. They’re colorful and artfully designed. They’re posted in every room – break rooms, conference rooms, open office space, lounge areas, public spaces, cafeterias.

Sometimes they even overlap each other, creating a misshapen form that both sticks out and fits right in. This approach makes for an eclectic and inspiring experience.

The posters help to reinforce company values, goals and the mission without taking it too seriously.Breaking out of traditionally confining company parameters will allow you to influence company culture, inspire your employees and communicate to visitors.

Do fewer things better

As internal communicators, we’re asked to do a lot. And as attention spans continue to shorten, we need to be able to respond quickly to meet our employees where they are. Many of us are understaffed and overtasked.

Pay attention to trends, listen to your employees and, in the words of the closing keynote speaker, Kristin Graham of Amazon Web Services: “Do fewer things better.”


Panamanian Pole sharpens her skills at Facebook

The corporate communications director for adidas Latin America is already acting on what she learned at the Ragan conference.

Jenilee Syzmanski’s Polish grandfathers both immigrated to Panama and married women from Panama and Costa Rica. She grew up in Panama, earned a journalism degree from Radford University in Virginia, then worked as a sports reporter for Univision for 10 years in Miami.

Today she serves as corporate communications director for adidas Latin America, managing communications teams in Mexico, Panama, Columbia, Brazil, Peru, Chile and Argentina.

Jenilee Szymanski and Leanora Minai

Jenilee Szymanski, left, talks about the power of print with Leanora Minai, executive director of communications at Duke University. Szymanski, who works for adidas, is considering bucking the electronic-only trend when she returns to Panama in August.

Jenilee Szymanski came to the Ragan conference at Facebook to gain some insights into how to help adidas succeed in Latin America. From Leanora Minai of Duke, she learned that print still had a place in employee communications.

And she’s already scheming to bring one of the Americans she met at the conference to Panama to preach the value of diversity and inclusion. Syzmanski invited Ragan Consulting’s Kim Clark to inspire the home team after hearing Clark’s passionate presentation on the nuts and bolts of how to help all employees feel valued and respected.

“I was reminded that it’s so important to make people feel they belong,” said Szymanski. We’re trying to move the needle because we’re a global company and we’re super-behind on promoting diversity in Latin America.”

Team Tiger: Eric Johnson, Treneisha Jones-Gaston, Elizabeth Larson, David Lewis, Gianna Marx

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