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  • Scott McInnes

46 | Too many messages...

white chalk outline of the silhouette of a persons head; inside the outline there are multiple coloured sticky notes inside with question marks

The Institute of Internal Communications hosted a talk last week at which one of the speakers gave us a whistle stop tour of behavioural economics. In particular he talked about how some of the thinking can be applied to internal communications.

One of the things that struck me then (and since having done a bit more reading) is our ability, as human beings, to take details in - it seems that we have pretty limited thinking capacity.

We can process four(ish) things

Research shows that the amount of information we can attend to — the number of things we can hold in working memory — is four, plus or minus one.

So it doesn't really matter how much information you put in front of people in your business, they're only going to notice about four pieces of it. And, of course, it isn't just you firing information at them - add in all the other distractions going on around us all the time and it quickly becomes apparent that you're vying for some very busy airtime!

And then, imagine if you're trying to do all this during a period of change - emotions are heightened and there's lots happening, all of which leads to an even lesser capacity to take in and process those messages

So keep it simple

Where possible, minimise the volume of communications and focus your messages so that recipients can easily see and absorb the information most important and relevant to them.

  • Think about your words - Don't write important messages from the perspective of the company - think about the recipient. Put yourself in their shoes and think 'how would I feel if I received this?'. Use simple language - be brief and clear but also think about how you can be more human and engaging. Then maybe write it again! :-)

  • Think about layout - Often, business comms are written as big, lengthy tomes that are hard to understand and people don't have time to read. Use paragraph headings, bullet points and images to get the message across more easily.

  • Think about scheduling - Within a particular project there might be lots going on. But remember too, that when you issue messages, others in your business might be doing the same, or perhaps there's a big economic announcement (think Brexit) that impacts your business. Think about when you're going to release your message in the context of all the other messages that are likely to hit your target audience.

So the next time you communicate a big change, new project or initiative, it's important to think about what you want your people to take away.

And then focus on communicating that, and nothing else.


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