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Communications

Enough is as good as a feast

Having discussed brevity, there’s a concern that we might provide too little detail in our writing for people to take away a full understanding of our message. When we’re communicating about anything, we should provide enough context so that the message can be understood within the larger frame of reference.

If we take brevity to the extreme we’re only issuing orders, but if we say too much we’ll overwhelm the audience and dilute the critical message.

People who know their subject well (subject experts) sometimes jump straight into the message detail without then providing background information and context. They may feel that ‘everyone knows’ about the impending switch over from Windows to Apple Mac, so why bang on about it? But assumptions about our audience do a terrible disservice to people.

The subject expert may know everything about why our company is changing its computer hardware, but plenty of people will not have kept up with this, the latest company wide change, and there are always new starters to consider. Assumptions of our audiences’ knowledge can lead to very poor communications.

So how much is too little, and how much is too much? Finding the balance is a challenge, and our need to be clear and concise must be tempered with our need to provide enough information to be understood.

Presume ignorance

I’m keen to present messages in short format; as a hardworking editor within Internal Communications I respect that everyone’s busy and may not have the time to wade through a thousand words to discover by sheer determination that the company is relocating to Scotland.

Equal and opposite to this is my desire to ensure that everything I write and publish is easy to understand without prior knowledge.

The single test to perform is to read our draft communications while cloaked in ignorance. Ask yourself – ‘if this was the first time I’d heard this news, would I understand it from this single message, or would it confuse me and force me to ask for previous details from a colleague?’.

Communications need to be consistent with other messages within your Comms Plan, but they also need to be standalone entities – able to perform their task independent of everything else that you might assume that ‘people know’.

[Wedge]

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About Wedge

I’m Wedge, and this is my website! I’ve worked within internal communications since 2004, managing intranets and digital comms. Now I’m a freelance comms and intranet specialist - I help organisations plan and improve their intranets. I work with other agencies, and write a lot of blog and magazine articles. I founded the Intranet Now conference. You can catch up with me on Twitter - I’m @Wedge.