Cure For Boring Corporate Communications

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Roger was in a state of near panic. He had come out of his office to investigate the cacophony of unanswered telephones ringing throughout the office, and had been met with a horrible sight. Everywhere he looked, he saw his employees slumped over their desks asleep or staring off into space, as if they had suddenly been struck comatose.

Not a single employee in his entire department appeared to be conscious, and all the while the ringing telephones continued unanswered.

Had some deadly virus suddenly struck his entire staff? Had a toxic gas come through the office ventilation system?

Roger had no idea what could be causing this horror, but he knew that he had to call 911 fast. As he rushed back to his office he saw his secretary slumped over her desk, drooling into her keyboard. Suddenly he saw what she was holding in her almost-lifeless fingers.

It wasn't a disease. It wasn't a toxic gas that was causing all his people to fall into this stupor. It was something far, far worse.

Today was the day the corporation's internal company newsletter had been distributed to each employee.

There is no law that says internal corporate communications must be boring

But you would almost think so wouldn't you? As you look through a lot of internal newsletters and other corporate communications pieces, it almost seems some writers are afraid they will wind up doing hard time with an overly-tattooed cellmate named Bruno, if they anything out of the ordinary appears in their writing.

Not true.

I think the problem comes from attempting to apply traditional journalistic methods within the confined context of an internal communication. Straight news reporting is fine if you have a steady flow of really dramatic stories like the grandmother who foiled a home invader, the latest national security crises, or a winning professional sports team as material.

But if your subject matter is confined to the happenings within a specific company or industry, you may not have all that drama to rely on traditional journalistic methods. You may have to add a dose of creativity.

Use Good Speechwriters' Methods

A speechwriter, trainer, presenter or any other type of speaker has a very similar problem as a corporate communications writer. How to convey a lot of factual information and ideas, without putting the audience to sleep. Here are a few techniques used by speakers to balance factual content with style and (dare I use the word) "entertainment."

*Humor. Humor can be dangerous in advertising or external communications, but generally, depending on your corporate culture, you may have more freedom to use humor internally. It goes without saying that humor can backfire on you in many ways if you are not careful, so use good judgment and get a second opinion before going to print.
Keep a humor file of amusing anecdotes, cartoons and photos that you can secure the rights to publish. Also, be on the lookout for the truly funny human beings that populate your workplace. Stories about these funny coworkers will do double duty as a humor piece and as an article where employees can read about one of their own.
You can also solicit funny captions for photos and other ideas from the readers. Let your employees write your humor pieces for you.

* Second Person. When a speaker or writer addresses the listener or reader in the second person, she involvesher audience. But even more, the second person writing process almost forces her to dig for ways to personalize her message and address the concerns and needs of her audience in every way she can think of.
Notice that after my introduction about Roger, I have used the second person to present all of my information, ideas and opinions since. Because I am not writing to a nameless "readership," but to you, as an individual, and my mind is forcing me to explore ways to write about what you want to learn. Try second person writing on your corporate communications writing and see how it affects your creative process, as well as your readers' involvement.

* Stories. A study of Readers' Digest magazine revealed that over half of its articles begin with a story, anecdote or narrative of some kind. Surveys of audiences have repeatedly concluded that speakers who scatter stories and anecdotes and stories throughout their presentations hold their hearers' attentions far better than speakers who bury them under a truckload of facts and information.
I made up the story about Roger because I wanted a way to illustrate the difficulty internal newsletter writers have in communicating their messages in an interesting manner. Stories not only hold your readers' fascination, they also convey your point with great power. Create your story by simply asking "what if" about the major problem you wish to address.

* Turn Numbers Into Vivid Images. By its very nature, internal communications within an organization tends to be heavy on the statistics, earnings reports and other number-oriented material.
But there are still ways to present your numbers without having your readers go into a stupor. Illustrate numbers with examples. If one employee out of 100 takes advantage of the company's tuition assistance program, interview that employee and tell her story. If the company lost $163,199 last quarter because of employee absenteeism, show how many new employees could have been hired for that amount to ease everyone's workload.

This is just a brief list of ideas, but I will revisit this idea again in the future. In the meantime, I would encourage you to adopt the methods used by speakers and trainers to involve their audiences more. You will find a wealth of ideas that can easily be adapted to your internal corporate communications. In the meantime, please help Roger wake up his employees.

COPYRIGHT © 2005, Charles H. Brown
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