At school, my kids see a “Do Now” on the board when they walk into class. At meetings, the agenda ends with “Deliverables.” But so many communications I’ve seen leave me scratching my head: when and where is this event, what am I supposed to do to sign up for this program, how can I learn more?
Your audience isn’t stupid. But you still have to connect every dot. They may be very interested in what you’re telling them. They may want to follow up. But the fact is, they have too much to do. Like all of us, they have too much on their desk, too many meetings and appointments, too many digital distractions and personal responsibilities. Even as they’re trying to read the communication you spent hours writing, their phone is ringing, their email is chirping, they hear the buzz of an incoming text.
They have neither the energy nor the time to read between your lines, hunt for the phone number, or Google for more information.
You have to make it easy. Remember “who, what, when, where, why and how?” Use it. The famous axiom of journalists can remind you not just what information to include about your topic, but what information to include about your readers’ next steps. Tell people exactly what they need to do; when, where, how and why they need to do it; and who they need to contact.
“Where” is also a crucial question to ask yourself as you put the information on the page, as in where should that phone number or hyperlink go? (Most likely, just after the sentence saying “Contact Ingrid Clatwitter to volunteer.” And again, at the bottom of the page. And, maybe even at the top, too.) Where should I link to?” is another vital question. (Answer: to the exact, specific place my reader needs to be in order to take action.)
C’mon, isn’t all this obvious? You would think so, wouldn’t you? But it’s easy to get caught up in your own world, and forget that your readers are caught up in theirs. The very obviousness (to you) of the story you’re telling keeps you from remembering it may not be obvious to your readers. So here’s my list of “do nows” for anyone who expects their readers to do something based on a communication:
If you’re writing for the web…
- …and promoting a program or policy, include a link to specific, detailed information about that policy or program, including how, exactly, to take advantage of it. And then include the link again.
- …and announcing a training or an event, link directly to a registration form.
- …and asking for donations, put the “DONATE” button right there on the page—with a link to Paypal. (And if you’ve mentioned those donations can be made in installments, make sure choosing that option is as easy and automatic as checking a box.)
If you’re writing for print…
- …do all of the above, (with urls instead of hyperlinks) but don’t forget to include phone numbers. (Ever have the annoying experience of calling tech support because you can’t get on your internet, and having to listen as a chirpy recording suggests you look up your answer online?)
- Don’t be afraid of direct phrases like “Here’s how.” There’s a reason you hear wording like this on infomercials. It works.
- Tell your readers what they will need on hand in order to take the next step. Employee ID? Credit card? Form 2XB-L1000? (If the latter, make sure to explain how to get said form—ideally by linking to it.)
- If the next step for your reader involves contacting someone else, whether it be his/her manager or an HR helpline, be sure that “someone else” is expecting the call, and knows what to do when it comes in!
Do you have a question about your employee communications? Give me a call: 718-628-4753. Or contact me via this blog.