It’s a common preconception in business that certain topics are more boring than others. We are often asked by clients to help them liven up topics they deem “dry”, getting messages across and generating a level of understanding and/or enthusiasm from their audience.
If we take writer G.K. Chesterton’s word for it…
“There are no boring subjects, only disinterested minds.”
…so if this is the case, then we believe the answer (as always) lies in engagement. Whatever the topic, however “dry”, the key is to interest those disinterested minds. Make them want to know more. Tailor the content to them; appeal to their personalities and evoke emotion. If you’re facing the same problem, there are a number of things you can do to address this. Here’s our handy checklist of things to consider:
First things first: what’s your topic? Agree on your objectives what do you need to cover? Try to simplify the messaging as much as possible into one core aim and a few sub-points. Don’t try to shoehorn everything in. It’s very tempting, especially if the topic is something complex, like a large upcoming change or a new company strategy, to try to answer every question that could be raised as a result. Don’t try to say everything, because you just simply can’t.
Quite often in the development of messaging, input will be required from different people within the business. Which is great, but these people will all have a view and all have things to add, which will likely prompt some disagreements. Communications that start with a single objective often become Frankenstein’s monster, pieced together with different opinions and snippets of corporate strategy. Be careful not to default to “sign-off by committee”; consider what others suggest covering, but ultimately keep your objectives in mind.
Finally, don’t kill with context. Don’t construct an elaborate precis of the journey so far unless it’s necessary. Pick your key points and stick to them. Remember what’s important.
Consider the medium
One of the main influences on how to make a dry topic interesting is the way in which it will be conveyed, as this will define your scope and style. Is it in person, or a piece distributed via a communications channel? A couple of things to consider could include:
- Who’s your audience? How many people are there?
- Consider the time you have available and tailor your messages accordingly (The TED talk limit of 18 minutes gives a good frame for delivering content in a concise and impactful way).
- Who’s your presenter? Consider who is delivering the content. Whether they are the most senior leader or the best person for the job, make sure they are set up to succeed.
- If possible, allow time for people to truly understand and reflect on what they are hearing. The model we would recommend is Context, Experience, Reflection. Set up your topic, bring your audience together (in a conference breakout or an interactive learning experience), and then allow time for reflection.
Via communications channels:
- Consider which channels to use: email, intranet, even a poster campaign in an office
- Use as many visuals as possible. Nobody wants to wade through a wall of text, and many will just skim read, meaning key information could be lost (in internet speak, TL;DR…too long, didn’t read).
- Be as adventurous and as engaging as possible- this could range from a series of cartoon strip visuals to a 3-minute scripted video.
Make it relevant
Vastly more important than the considering the communication channels you’re using is to consider your audience. Who are you speaking to? Make sure your content aligns with your objectives, and what you need the audience to know or do.
Remember, different audiences need different ways of being spoken to; the same style that hits home for a certain group may not quite have the same effect on another, so be prepared to vary the delivery of your messaging. Different audiences will be concerned about different things, so make it personal. Yes, everyone may be going through the same change programme, but the guys out in the field will be far more concerned about changes on site than those who are sat in the office. Cater to their needs. Whilst ultimately the same message is being delivered, consider which points to prioritise and emphasise based on your target audience, and work to that- even if it means producing slightly different versions for each group.
Tell a story
Stories. We all tell them. Throughout time, one of the best, and most effective, ways of conveying information has been through telling stories.
Within the corporate world especially, there is the need for a strong narrative and a compelling story to make the business content more engaging. A good story takes context, facts and figures, relevant and important information, and weaves them into something that people will want to listen to, and connect with. Whether this is through sharing personal stories, company stories, or by creating one of your own, a story is far more likely to create connection than context and a presentation of facts. Metaphors, themes, analogies and strong visuals all contribute to their effectiveness. For more on conveying messages through story and narrative, take a look at our article here.
Find the emotion
As people who specialise in emotional engagement, you would expect us to mention emotion somewhere in this piece. Emotion, in a dry topic? Does that work? Well…yes. Finding the emotional hook behind a message makes your audience more likely to connect, understand, and remember, no matter how dry the topic may be.
Think of your favourite advert, your favourite book, film, song, even life experience. Which emotions do you associate with these? Sometimes it’s not the thing itself that stays in our memories; it’s the emotion behind it and the feeling we felt. We’re not talking blockbuster movies here, or an Oscar-winning performance. Just something that allows the audience to connect and to feel something, whether good or bad.
One of the best ways of creating the emotional connection we’ve just mentioned is by using humour. Whilst humour isn’t always found in the most serious of subjects, there’s no reason to say that even the driest of topics can’t hold a light-hearted moment. Whether it’s a laugh of recognition, or a one generated by something genuinely funny, try to get that extra bit of positive emotion in.
Make it interactive
Last, but not least, make your communication interactive. Ask for something back from your audience, whether in person or virtually. Hold workshops. Run open drop-in sessions. Listen to people. Really listen to their concerns, take their questions. Make the engagement two-way.
If you’re looking for more help, check out our article on how to make messaging easy to digest here.