Did you know that since 2000, the average attention span of a person dropped from 12 seconds to 8 seconds? Now it probably took you about 5 seconds to read this first sentence, so that means I have only 3 seconds left to “hook” you into reading the rest of this article!
Let’s face it. If you’re like me, you are tethered to your computer and smartphone. They have become an unending source of distraction and have led to our ever-shrinking attention spans. So, we should keep this in mind in our day-to-day communications and use it to our advantage whenever possible.
In the last issue of this magazine, I wrote about the chain of command for an Elks lodge and about getting your concerns to the right person for them to be heard. As a recipient of many member communications, I see the good, the bad and the ugly. So in this issue, I thought I would share some thoughts on what I see and offer some assistance on how to structure the message itself so it has a better chance of not only getting heard but also acted upon.
The very first sentence of this article was my attention grabber. It was a question that made you think for a second, and it was a sort of mind-boggling statistic that hopefully made you wonder where I was going. My aim was to entice you into continuing to read on and is suggestion No. 1 when trying to capture attention, especially in today’s world where impatience and distraction are center stage. You have done your homework and have hopefully gotten your message to the person who can do something with it. Don’t lose them with smoke and mirrors, fluff, and incoherent babble. Tell them what you are going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you told them.
Technology has enabled us to become champions of communications. We now can type our message and retype it quickly and easily. We have spell check and grammar check at our disposal to ensure that our message is coherent. This allows us to follow suggestion No. 2:
My use of a bulleted list above reads so much better than: keep it simple, make it easy to follow and understand, and read and reread it to make sure it is concise and clear.
Appearance is everything. Take a look at the before and after images below. Which of these would you rather receive?
Is anyone going to even take the time to read the before version? It’s doubtful!
Suggestion No. 3
Note the use of line breaks in the “after” version above. They make the message so much more visually appealing and much easier to read. You can also use subheadings as I have above with “Suggestion No. 3,” adding visual emphasis and allowing the reader to pause a moment before having to entertain a new thought.
We should always try to avoid using flowery language, curse words or phrases from the latest urban slang. Make it catchy without being crude. If you were speaking to someone and they had to ask you to use plain English, they will not understand your jargon. If it’s gibberish in, don’t be surprised if you get gibberish out. The average email today is about 434 words. Experts suggest that if you want an email to be read, keep it between 50 and 125 words. Incidentally, this paragraph is exactly 91 words.
In the above, I used another example of effective communication; we will call it suggestion No. 4. We have all probably heard or even used the phrase, “garbage in garbage out.” This is an example of a blurb or sound bite. They are usually less than 10 words and because they are easily remembered and often catchy, they are used over and over. Time for a little experiment. I will have a small gift for the first 10 people this year at the midyear convention in St. Petersburg who repeat my new catchphrase — “make it catchy without being crude.” Let’s really see how many people actually read these articles!
Suggestion No. 5 — While composing your message, always stay focused on the reason you are writing it. Are you writing to inform, instruct, persuade or direct? Let your reader know quickly and nicely what your intent is. Use lead lines such as these:
This is not the time for a teaser or clickbait lead-in, especially if you are asking the recipient to do something or act. Fool them and they will ask you, and not always nicely, to remove them from your mailing list!
And, while we are on it, always keep in mind the tone you are using. Regardless of how upset you are, it is easier to persuade others with polite requests and a positive attitude rather than with rude demands and negativity. Note the tone difference between “you are hereby directed” versus “I am respectfully asking you.”
Finally, and possibly the most important suggestion — context, suggestion No. six. Give your reader information that helps them accurately understand and interpret the meaning of your message, such as background information, timeframe or details about circumstances. Read and reread your message as if you are the recipient and make sure you have given them everything they will need. Anticipate their questions and provide them answers. If you ask them to become a referee, give them some context on how both sides feel, not just your own. If conveying information, arrange it in a meaningful way, maybe in the order of the steps to take. Read it as if you are the recipient and think how you would act if you received your message.
In summary, here are six suggestions I feel will go a long way to improve any message or communication and elicit a response:
Suggestion 1 — Grab their attention.
Suggestion 2 — Keep it simple.
Suggestion 3 — Make it visually appealing and easy to read.
Suggestion 4 — Say more with less words.
Suggestion 5 — Stay focused on the reason for the message.
Suggestion 6 — Give your reader context.
We live in a world dominated by headlines and sound bites. If we wish to be heard, we must tailor our communications so as to have the best possible opportunity for them to be read and replied to.
No one wants their communication to go unread. Take the time to compose your message properly and your chances for success are much improved.
Share with me your ideas on improving lodge participation! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you!