How to Communicate Boring – But Important – Subjects
Let’s face it – some topics are just dry. No matter how engaging the presenter or how much coffee is served, the presentation is just…not that fun to listen to. But just because you and I might think a topic is boring doesn’t mean it’s not important! In fact, often the topics that seem the most boring are the very topics that are the most important for employees to pay attention to!
Think about what “boring” topics could be. Internal processes. Policies. Ethics compliance. Audits. Confidentiality.
Most of us might not get too excited listening to presentations about internal audits (sorry, auditors!) but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be paying attention when auditors present a list of important “do’s and don’ts.”
In fact, often the topics that seem the most boring are the very topics that are the most important for employees to pay attention to!
Those boring topics might be dry, but they’re the backbone of your company. Can you imagine how quickly things would fall apart if you didn’t have solid processes and company-wide policies? Someone had to create those – and someone had to convey them to your employees.
So how can we make sure that employees are paying attention when the information is dry as sawdust?
The trap of too much information
So, you have a boring topic you need to talk about. You have two choices: try to share every relevant detail with employees and hope some of it sticks, or focus on sharing only the really important details in a way you know will stick.
If you’re anything like us (and really…anything like most people) you want to choose the first choice. Your super-detailed, bullet pointed emails are packed full of salient information so people will read them…right? It’s almost painful to think that someone might miss crucial information or not read that lovely crafted email.
But…they’re probably not going to read it. That email is getting skimmed and then deleted, along with all those carefully written details.
When it comes to really engaging employees, a less-is-more approach is far more likely to get those important – but boring – messages across.
In the 1960’s, the United States Navy came up with an acronym that internal communicators have used every since. Keep it simple, stupid.
That’s right. K.I.S.S.
When you’re conveying boring or potentially confusing information, remember those four little words. Keep it simple, stupid.
There’s no need to go over every little detail. We’ve already determined that no one’s reading those long emails so why not just focus on the information that really matters?
What does this mean?
- Use less words. Edit emails, memos, and documents mercilessly. Remember the old Mark Twain quote, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Make sure you’re using simple, clear language as often as possible.
- Try alternate forms of communication. Videos are a great way to capture what really matters without getting bogged down in long meetings, Q&A sessions, and winding email threads. A two-minute animated video can be infinitely easier to digest than a three-page memo.
- Be okay with conveying less information. Miller’s Law says that we’ll only remember 5 to 9 pieces of informations in our mind at any one time. No matter how much information you throw at employees, they’re not going to remember it. Why not focus on those 5 info points they will remember, instead?
Don’t forget to be human
The best way to communicate any information? Think of human-oriented ways to communicate. Written communication like an email loses a whole lot in translation: you can’t easily convey tone, humour, urgency, or any sensitivity while writing a memo.
Instead, think of ways to communicate with employees, not at them.
What do we mean by that? Imagine that you’ve got an ethics committee reviewing compliance policies, and you need to make sure your whole company is on board. You send out the following email.
On October 1st, our Ethics Compliance Committee will be in the office presenting their findings from a recently completed study. In addition, they will review ABC Corporation’s new compliance policy, which you will be required to sign. The meeting is at 9am and attendance is mandatory. If you have any inquiries, please ask your manager.”
That meeting will not fill the average employee with excitement. But…is there a way that it could…?
Ever wondered what an Ethics Compliance Committee does? Now’s your chance to find out. On October 1st, our fantastic team of Bob, Melinda, and Gertrude will be in the office to report on the latest findings of their two year study and update us on ABC Corporation’s new compliance policy.
To help explain what exactly a compliance policy is and why we’ll need you to sign it, Bob’s prepared a fantastic infographic which can be downloaded on our company intranet. Melinda’s on hand to answer any questions you may have prior to our meeting, and has promised there will be a surprise treat that morning. Questions? Email her at Melinda@ABCCorporation.com.
Thank you! It’s important we’re all at this mandatory meeting not only to support our great Ethics Compliance Committee but to continue making sure that we’re working together to make ABC Corporation the best organization it can be.”
What’s the difference?
- We’re acknowledging the team behind the work instead of expecting people to engage with unknown employees.
- We’re acknowledging areas of ambiguity or confusion. To the average employee an Ethics Compliance Committee will be boring. Letting employees know that you’ve got your finger on the pulse of communicating this information well makes it easier to actually engage them.
- We’re using multiple channels. An infographic is an easy way to digest information. An in-person meeting offers valuable in-person communication. A contest engages employees and excites them. And highlighting the team humanizes the whole process.
And, quite simply, the second email is just more fun to read. Even serious topics can be conveyed with levity. It’s when we’re too cut-and-dry that people tend to zone out.
Help out busy brains
The average employee receives 121 business emails a day. 121! That’s 15 an hour during the average eight hour workday.
If even one of those emails is a detailed report on “boring” information, odds are it’s simply going to be skimmed and deleted. There are simply too many other emails competing for an employee’s attention.
Similarly, the average manager spends upwards of 35% of their time in meetings. During an eight hour day that means nearly three hours are spent in meetings. So if a meeting is boring, odds are that manager is multitasking.
Rather than sigh about how no one is paying attention, we can find a way to help out those busy brains.
There are other ways of communicating important details. Infographics, flowcharts, decision trees, and videos can all help an employee digest information quickly and efficiently – and way faster than an email or meeting alone.
Remember that old saying “a picture is worth 1,000 words?” Well, studies have shown that to be true, and then some. In fact, a two-minute video is worth 1.8 billion words!
In addition to using images and videos in emails and presentations, think of other ways to lend a helping hand to busy brains. Postcards, handouts, and infographics can all synthesize information for easy reference later on.
Go the extra mile
It all boils down to one key element: take the time now to convey information in a concise, easy to understand way. There are no shortcuts – if you overload people with too much information they simply won’t digest it, and the boring stuff is the first thing they’ll forget. And remember, Keep It Simple, Stupid.