AB Thinks  →  9th June 2021

Turn down the noise to turn up the volume

Alex Salter
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Remember those pre-Covid days of being crammed into a small room with far too many people, loud music thumping overhead, with everyone straining to be heard above the din?

Anyone who recalls such hoarse times will know that it’s difficult to make yourself heard above the noise.

But what’s the answer? When you want to get your point across, do you…
a. Shout louder
b. Turn off the music and tell everyone to be quiet
c. Move closer, lean in and speak more clearly

For those in the A camp, we all appreciate your enthusiasm. But after the third or fourth time repeating yourself, it’s time to recognise it isn’t going in. They’re just nodding in the hopes you’ll stop yelling in their ear.

For those who answered B, let’s face it: this approach will usually lead to failure and a lack of a return invite. No one likes a party-pooper.

C is the obvious answer – when you make the effort to talk to people directly, you have much more chance of being both heard and listened to.

Like this hypothetical party, the workplace has become noisier than ever before in the wake of Covid-19.

The mass exodus from the office to home, coupled with the ‘new normal’ of disparate workforces in multiple locations, has led to a veritable hullabaloo of notifications, meeting requests, posts and reminders. How do employers make themselves heard above the racket?

The answer is not shouting louder. Increasing the volume does not increase the clarity, it invokes the mute button.

Katie Macaulay, Managing Director at AB and host of the Internal Comms Podcast, has identified eight tips for helping people be heard above the noise.

#1 Cut it down
At a party, the person who speaks for longest is not the person most listened to. Decide what is important – is this needed via email right now? Can it wait? Can one image or infographic summarise your strategy better than this page of words? Can you state the actions first? Being choiceful with your word count will equal more people tuning in.

#2 Treat me like the individual I am
Attempt to appeal to everyone and you’ll appeal to no-one. Catch-all content only adds to the noise, while tailored content for your desired audience feels relevant and personal.

If you can segment your workforce by location, function, seniority, behaviour, performance, etc, then do so, and tailor your messages to them. Look at how detailed or top-line you need to be, how formal or informal, or whether to even say it all.

Data will help you with a robust segmentation (which is better than an assumed one). And if you have no data, research, research, research.

#3 Tune into my channel
Who doesn’t love email? Well, a lot of people actually. You probably have more channels at your disposal than you realise. When budgetary boundaries are restricting your reach, think seriously about where your intended audience is likely to hear you.

The world of media is open to you – have you thought about audio channels like podcasts? Bitesize video episodes? GIFs for social channels? Physical merchandise and office branding? Find your people where they are already looking.

#4 Spoon feed me
Throw a tennis ball at me, I’ll usually catch it. Throw a bucket of tennis balls at me, I’ll drop all of them and leave with negative memories about your employee sports day. The same goes for your key messages, from internal comms to advertising to conversations with your friends and family. If you can collate, summarise and schedule your communication over a longer period of time, you will see more of your messages being retained.

#5 Quality, not quantity
Help your audiences to understand your meaning by invoking metaphors or paraphrasing. To a busy audience with a short attention span, what you say has to be interesting. Capture their attention with clever copywriting, tell stories, use humour (even in serious situations). Speak openly and realise that nobody in real life wants to talk about how you are leveraging synergy.

If you don’t challenge yourself to be creatively memorable, your audience will walk away, leaving you alone at the party wishing someone would turn the music down.

#6 Make it easy for me
When you push a glass door that is meant to be pulled, you feel like a fool and hope that people didn’t notice. But the fault doesn’t lie with the user; it lies with the door manufacturer, who put an identical handle on both sides. If one side is made to be pushed, why bother?

Note – adding “Push” and “Pull” signs does not solve the problem – you may have a visually-impaired or non-English speaking audience to cater for. Plus, if you need to add written instructions to something simple, it is an indication of bad design.

We should apply this thinking to the design of our communication. Sentences should require a single look for the action to be understood.

Try testing your communication on a sample audience. You’ll be surprised to see what the uninitiated can find to misunderstand, mis-read, and sometimes even break (see: glass doors). Rejig it, re-work it, make it clearer.

#7 Where are you going with this?
How often have you watched a movie and known right away that the hero is going to escape just in time, or that the couple are going to end up together? But, while predictability is slated in entertainment, it is the goal for communication. If your audience knows where you’re going with it, they can fill in the blanks themselves. Once they are doing this, you know your message is landing.

To achieve this kind of consistency, your values need to be thrashed out, key messages defined, refined and then written down. We often call it a Communication Charter – and it should be your guiding light for repeatable messaging.

#8 Teach me how to focus
We always say that communication is a two-way street – implying that your audience should actively listen and respond to the information being shared. But it’s not just your audience’s responsibility to listen. With so much information being passed around, we have a duty as communicators to encourage people to learn how to free up their brains. Mindfulness is more than just a fad.

Our brains have not evolved to deal with the new norm of information volume. Practising clearing one’s mind and relaxing one’s brain to allow easier flow of information is a simple, enjoyable and effective practice.

Encourage it by offering training, safe spaces and discounted subscriptions to popular apps – you will be rewarded with a more focused, motivated and attentive audience.

Summary (aka ‘Too long; didn’t read’)
Communicating through noise is about more than shouting the loudest. It takes research, craft, and a liberal hand in the editing booth to create succinct and relevant messaging.

If you want to chat more about your communication, and work together to optimise what you want to say for maximum volume with minimal noise, then get in touch.

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