I’ve spent my professional career in communications – two decades and counting. I also have a master’s degree in journalism and in business. All that experience taught me the theory and practicum of polished communication.
My resume aside, the Bottom Line on Top of this episode is that one of the best ways to be memorable in this noisy world is to be messy. When it comes to communications, come as you are.
That’s not to say that there isn’t real value in preparing, editing, and adapting your messages to others. What it means is that the medium doesn’t matter nearly as much as the message.
Episode 2 highlighted the variables of the attention economy. Our short attention spans are short on time. So making messages stick needs both art and science.
Let’s start with information science. The average working professional gets about 100-200 emails a day. Of course, that varies by sector and roles and doesn’t include the multitude of other mediums that are clamoring for our attention all day.
Imagine you are driving along a busy highway. You glance up and see the billboards whizzing by. Your brain has a few seconds, at most, to process them as it is traversing onward. That’s what your outreach feels like to recipients – just one of the many billboards trying to say something to the speeding people.
And no one ever pulls over to the side of the road to read a billboard full of bullet points. In this digital world, we have seconds to get someone’s attention and minutes (at most) to keep it.
It’s one thing to get their attention, it’s another thing to make your messages stick in their brains. In 1956, cognitive psychologist George A. Miller wrote a paper about our capacity for processing information. He introduced the concept of The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two. A Harvard professor, Miller examined our short-term memory and concluded that the information input an average human can hold in short-term memory is 7 items ± 2.
Now this was before the introduction of email and social and streaming and all the other modern modalities that compete for our attention on that information highway.
What this means from a present-day communication perspective is that we need to be giving people less, far less.
So as you’re writing and re-writing, outlining your slides and speaking points, absolutely be messy to get all your ideas out there. Then you can go back and see what the Magical Number 7 is for your audience.
But as you’re creating, please stop editing yourself – stop staring at that blank screen, reviewing your draft over and over. The word “edit” can actually tip our brains into a negative space, somehow meaning that you have to correct and conform your words.
Allow your brain the cognitive canvas to create initially. Let it bring forth ideas and thought bubbles. Then, certainly, revise and clarify for your audience. But start by starting.
Writer Anne Lamott encourages us to embrace our shitty first drafts. You see, too often, we are trying to craft the finished product from start to finish. Write first, create first, and let your thoughts out to play. Stay away from the delete and backspace buttons. Those have a use later but begin by allowing your brain to roam.
Words don’t want to be perfect; they want to be free.
Yes, I know that a corporate expense report or job application should be less free and more targeted. And I’ve also seen people labor over words and spent hours revisiting and reviewing.
In today’s digital and disconnected world, quick and messy today beats polished and perfect in a few days.
So start and then share. Put your billboard up so it can be seen by the many instead of being edited by the one.
In the end, it’s not the words that matter – it’s the connection that they create.
I hope these words have a few magical numbers in them for you. Thank you for spending time with them. And until next time, be messy and take good care.