There’s an old adage in the communications world that goes something like this, ’Your message is not what you say, not what you write, it’s not even what they hear, it’s what they take away.’
Sounds obvious but how many communications plans start out with some key messages that look sensible on paper but by the time they’ve been communicated come to mean something completely different to the people they’re meant for.
The main point is the understanding and appreciation of your audience. Who is it you’re communicating to? How receptive will they be to the particular message? If the audience is your employees how do they like to be talked to? Is it simple language for the shop floor or jargon (hopefully not) for the management?
Writing for a particular audience can be a challenge. Putting yourself in their shoes and understanding what ticks their boxes really demands that you spend time at the outset considering the various target audiences for a communication.
Above all, don’t assume that because you’ve said it that you’ve communicated it.
There’s something very appealing to me about going ‘off-grid’. Of course ‘off-grid’ means different things to different people. For some it just about sticking some solar panels up on the roof, while others go the whole hog; farm a small holding, install some compostable toilets, dig a borehole for their own water supply…
Kicking away the crutches of modern life’s conveniences – or inconveniences depending on how you see them – can be quite inspiring. So what if you can carry through the same ‘Good Life’ approach for communicating to your fellow employees?
The law of diminishing communications returns
“The more elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate…” said Joseph Priestley. And he has something there if you think about how technology dominates how we communicate. In effect, the online tools at our fingertips, while very powerful, can risk making our communications increasingly ineffective. It’s the law of diminishing communications returns. The more you do of it, the less people listen to it.
What if you abandon the corporate intranet, do away with email, text messaging, instant messaging, and any other social tool like Yammer, and decide to do a little ‘off grid’ communication? Dig out your pre-online age communications toolbox and have a rummage and see what you can find:
Not everyone can hangout online all the time; have a think about where your fellow employees physically hangout at work;
- Reception areas
- Kitchen/drinks areas
- Meeting areas
- And of course, at their desks.
Now think about how you can use those areas;
- Talk to each other…there’s an idea. What forums exist to promote ‘talking’? How are those regular soapbox presentations going? Email free hour? Team meetings, road shows…
- Deskdrop – one guaranteed way of getting everyone’s attention for those really big announcements. Send a letter…in an envelope…addressed by hand…
- Notice boards – not just one way communication; use a whiteboard and ask questions. You’ll get responses.
- The rumour mill – great for finding out stuff but think how can you use it to push messages too.
- Guerrilla tactics – how can you hi-jack existing ‘offline’ communications. Staff get a Christmas gift every year? A great opportunity to communicate . Or at the Christmas party…
- Posters – people love pictures, so how can a series of posters help your internal comms campaign?
- Newsletters – don’t underestimate the power of the hardcopy newsletter. Could be a one-off related to a particular event for example.
Set yourself the challenge of running a communications project that’s entirely ‘off-grid’. You might be surprised at how successful it can be when you abandon online tools.
Mind you, the compostable toilets are still a terrible idea.
Good writing should, quite literally, be quite simple. So why, as we often see, the temptation to over elaborate? Or, to put it another way, why do we succumb to verbosity as a means of conveying our meaning? (Can you see what I did there?)
George Orwell says a scrupulous writer should always ask ‘ could I put it more shortly’?
So here, courtesy of Orwell himself, are his five great writing tips:
(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.
(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.
(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
I’m a great believer in celebrating good examples of communication wherever you find it. So I’d like to apologise to my fellow rail passengers on the 14.58 train from Peterborough to Norwich last Sunday afternoon for hanging around the train WC with my camera phone.
Fear not dear reader, there are no prurient revelations to be confessed here; my motives were driven purely by professional interest as a communicator.
Lifting the lid in the said WC – in itself a hygienically challenging feat – I came across this great message which made me chuckle.
So why is it a piece of great communication? I think there are two reasons:
- Well targeted – can’t argue with its relevance for everyone who uses the WC
- Amusing – it has a serious message well balanced with a bit of humour. It can be hard to get the tone right when you want to introduce a touch of levity, but I reckon this gets it just right.
Not bad for toilet humour…
There’s a new pastime that’s all the rage in drought stricken California. Outing celebrity green lawns. In terms of environmental activism, it’s not up there with strapping yourself to a decommissioned oil rig in the middle of the North Sea or risking life and limb to disrupt a Japanese whaling ship, but nonetheless, it’s doing a great job of heaping shame on those celebrities who seem to rate their green lawn as a higher priority than irrigation for crops, or even drinking water.
For those tasked with safeguarding a company’s reputation, we get used to rooting out those potential crisis situations buried somewhere deep within an organisation. But how often are those reputation manglers hiding in plain sight? For many a celeb in California, they appear unaware that their conspicuously green and verdant lawns are a reputational car crash in the waiting. For many companies the same principle applies, except of course it’s usually not a green lawn at issue.
What was once acceptable…
Perhaps it’s a tax arrangement that may be perfectly legal but under today’s intense public scrutiny has become questionable at best; or employment practices (zero hours any one?); or the sponsorship of a particular event or organisation that once made sense and now seems clichéd or unacceptable; or even the hobby your chief exec pursues.
You can get too close sometimes to a situation to realise a potential PR crisis in the making. Perhaps it’s worth stepping back for a moment and asking yourself, where’s your ‘green lawn’?