Communication: Keep It Simple. Stick With Friday's Principle.

By Denise Blackburn-Gay, APR, Fellow PRSA posted 06-14-2018 12:09 AM


We live in a complex world.  Our offices, cars and even our household appliances function at the hand of a computer.  Television commercials for drugs have more disclaimers than content, and just recently General Electric released the 109,894-word annual report with approximately two-and-a-half times more words than the ‘Great Gatsby.’  

Do you listen to those disclaimers delivered at the speed of sound or read those voluminous reports that take corporations and their PR firms weeks to prepare? Just as I thought--very few of you. 

Granted some industries, like medicine and financial services and corporations doing business internationally, require this complexity. For the most part, however, everyday communication can and should be simple.   After all, if your industry is not highly regulated, then there is no reason to write as if it were.

What happened to the KISS principle--that simple acronym that stands for ‘Keep It Simple Stupid’?  And how about Joe Friday’s catchphrase, ‘Just the Facts Ma’am,’ made famous by the hit TV series, Dragnet?

Somehow, we have gotten away from these tried-and-true principles. I look at Facebook posts that go on and on and wonder what the writer was thinking.  And, like you, I receive emails that are often abandoned because of the lack of clarity and structure.  Let’s face it. If it takes too long to decipher the message, then most of us simply give up.

Just how long will your audience continue to read until they, too, decide that enough is enough? According to a recent study by Microsoft, our average attention span is eight seconds--that’s right--eight seconds, one second less than the attention span of a goldfish!  The study further explains that our attention span is four seconds less than it was in the year 2000. What happened within those 14 years?  Enter the age of social media where conversations have been whittled down to text messages.  It is this digital era that has changed our brains, diminishing our ability for prolonged attention and increasing our appetites for more stimuli.

To be effective communicators, we need to plan our messages. Is it that hard to think about what we are going to say and to whom we are going to say it?  Why is it that in an era marked by brevity in messages, we still muddle up our communication with needless words and senseless thoughts?

It seems that I’m not the only one scratching my head. Forbes Magazine recently offered these tips for effective communication regardless of whether the message is delivered in person, over the phone, via pen and paper, or through social media.

  • Be crisp, clear and concise.  
    Edit yourself, include specifics and keep it short.

  • Hit the headline first.
    Make important points at the beginning.

  • Begin with the conclusion.
    By starting with your conclusion, the first few sentences will contain most of your relevant keywords boosting not only readership but your SEO.

  • Make it about them.
    Think of your audience and their interests and concerns.

  • Draw your audience out with open-ended questions.
    Open-ended questions involve the reader and increase retention.    

  • If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything.
    This may sound like something your mother told you, but the gist of the message is never to include negative examples that refer to real people or companies. Keep your communication factual. You want to be perceived as someone who can be trusted and whose word is credible.
  • Implement a No-Bull Rule.
    Don’t beat around the bush. Say what you mean and take a stand.

 So the next time you have a message to deliver, stop, think and regardless of the day of the week, remember Friday’s principle, “Just the Facts Ma’am!”