Attention, Everybody! Communicating Business Insights with Maximum Impact09.09.2016
In this information-heavy age, we are constantly communicating. As researchers, we want to ensure that the insights we communicate stand out, and (most importantly) stick in our audiences’ minds long after we have shared them. Fenna Gloggner draws on her client-side experience, to consider how we can best achieve this aim in an increasingly noisy landscape…
A little while ago, a colleague jokingly described difference between a good question and a great question: “A good question”, she said, “is one for which I have the answer ready. A great question is one for which I have the answer ready and some slides to support it!”
As insights professionals, many of us can probably relate to the sentiment. We thrive on being able to provide answers to challenging questions, on getting stuck in, untangling complexity, sorting and structuring and to finally come up with a well thought-through and detailed story that leaves no question unanswered and reflects everything we have learned and discovered.
On the agency side, we may feel we ‘owe’ it to our client to give them everything we learned in a project – they have paid for it, after all! We want to be certain that we fully address every objective and answer every question that was raised at the outset of the study, making sure we don’t to leave out the little snippets of extra detail nor that ‘small minority’ who was raising a particular point in a certain country.
On the industry side, we are conscious that major decisions are being made on the basis of our insights and strategic recommendations, so we strive to give as complete a picture as possible and are careful not to neglect any aspects that might influence this picture. We want to make sure decisions can be made based on a full knowledge and understanding of all the pertinent facts and insights about our external environment.
The more we put our hearts (and brains) into our analyses and recommendations, though, the more disappointing it can be when our audience loses attention before we even get to the main point or when what we share is not being used to the extent that it could be, but instead gets filed away without getting the attention it deserves.
The reality is, most of us are overwhelmed with information and undivided attention is a rare and precious thing. Because we have limited capacity for the vast amounts of information that are competing for our attention, we give attention selectively and are ready to withdraw it if we feel we are not getting anything valuable in return. The expression ‘paying attention’ is very apt in that sense – in exchange for our attention, something of perceived value must be offered or else the deal is off!
Those of us for whom fulfilling our role depends on capturing the attention of others must be especially sensitive to this fact: to be successful, we need to treat the attention we are given carefully and respectfully so that we do not only attract it but sustain it over time.
– One way of doing this is to make certain we communicate only what is relevant and useful for our audience in a particular situation, which means thinking carefully about what is appropriate for each setting and tailoring our content to fit. Generally, the bigger our audience the more ‘big picture’ our content should be and the more we will want rely on clear and simple visuals. For a smaller meeting or even a written report, in contrast, we will be able to go into much more detail without risking losing our audience’s attention.
– In most instances, tailoring our communication to the situation will mean reducing our full content in some way. This is not as easy as it may sound: it takes both effort and experience, not to mention courage, to leave things out, to make judgment calls, to decide ‘all of this is important, and interconnected, but what really matters, what they must know, is this…’ Distilling things down is very worthwhile though: giving one core message and having it remembered is often much more impactful than providing lots of detail that washes over our audience.
– Another aspect to be sensitive to are the communication preferences of our (key) audience members: do they, for example, prefer to be given conclusions first and then to drill down into the detail, or do they want to ‘see the evidence’ before they are prepared to follow us to our conclusion? Typically, people communicate themselves in the way that makes most sense to them, so being observant to whether others are talking ‘conclusions first’ or ‘evidence first’ can be very revealing. You may also find that different organisations and companies have distinct cultural preferences for one style or the other. Bearing these styles in mind, particularly when they not in line with our own natural inclinations, can make a big difference to how our communications are received.
– Finally, we should check that anything we communicate passes the ‘stickiness test’ which ensures it does not only engage our audience in the moment but is remembered over time. Are we presenting the core of our findings or argument as simply as possible, without over-simplifying it? Have we set it up in a way that that is unexpected to our audience and raises their curiosity? Are we providing concrete, relatable examples and references that provide credibility to what we are saying? Finally, are we telling a story that doesn’t just address our audience’s rational minds but that also has emotional resonance? 
Respecting our audience’s attention by being conscious not just of what we communicate but also how we communicate is crucial for getting our message across. And it doesn’t just pay off in the moment, it also benefits us over time: once we have built a reputation for rewarding people’s attention, for providing relevant information in a format that is clear and engaging, we will find that we get more and more attention and more and more opportunity to share the intricacies and details of our stories.
Which is great, because working in insights, we always have so much more to share…
By Fenna Gloggner
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