People read less than you think. According to a Nielsen study, people tend to read only 20 percent of a text longer than 100 words.
For the record, it takes about 25 seconds for the average reader to read 100 words.
A few seconds, that’s the attention span for your message. If, and this is very important too, your title and opening paragraph catches the reader’s interest. Otherwise, you’re screwed anyway.
140 as the new message standard
In a society of information overload, (we receive about 5,000 messages per day), people have started to read in a new way on the web. We tend to scan through rather than read a text, looking for keywords and highlighted phrases.
To meet the demands and conditions of the new reading paradigm, the messages you send out need to be shorter and clearer than ever before. As a result of the ongoing social media revolution, we’re heading closer to a 140 character standard in messages, even in internal communication.
It’ll put more pressure on the communicator. To use an Albert Einstein quote: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”. In our time, it means that what can’t be explained within a tweet isn’t worth communicating, since it probably won’t be read.
Visual is here to stay
Andy Warhol, much ahead of his time, once said: “I don’t read, I just look at pictures”. That’s what a lot of people do today. “Don’t tell if you can show” is a rule for communicators that want to cut through the noise.
The image trend is here to stay. Images shared on Facebook get much more response than just plain text, Pinterest and Instagram are two of the fastest growing social networks and Slideshare content spreads virally through blogs and online platforms.
The evidences are unarguable: people want to look more, and read less.
Words are time, and time is money
Truth is that most employees spend less than a minute to read the company newsletter or an article on the intranet.
From a business perspective, it’s better if employees waste as little time as possible reading company information (read more about it here). We don’t want people to hang around the intranet all day long, do we? We want them to quickly absorb the message and then go on to work and perform miracles for the company, based on the clear information they received.
Aiming for the 140 limit in internal communication may sound ridiculous today, but I’m pretty sure it will be the reality sooner than anyone can imagine. It means you need to start practicing the art of expressing yourself short and clear, cut the crap and get straight to the point.
Go to Twitter and have a look. The most retweeted messages have very clear headlines and links (you’ll instantly understand what it’s about), they are short (actually tweets less than 140 characters gets the most retweets) and they look promising (interesting, highly helpful or funny).
A strong idea makes up a powerful message
Ernest Hemingway once wrote a short story in only six words:
For sale: baby shoes, never worn.
It’s the simplicity, and the carefully chosen words, which make something that short so powerful. The power of the message is not about the length or complexity of your story, it’s about compressing your ideas so they become stronger than the number of your words.
That’s true not only for fiction writers but for communicators too.
About the author
Anna Rydne is a communications specialist, a mother and a small business owner. Based in Stockholm, Sweden, she writes the blog Communicate [Your] Skills. Anna has a special interest in personal branding and she believes the road to success is trying. She tweets about all things comms, social media and marketing @CoSkills and writes for SteamFeed.com twice a month. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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