Is your communication just wallpaper?

How do we know if the carefully crafted communication that we have developed is really reaching its intended audience? The truth is we don’t often know because we don’t check. Evaluation is still one of the most critical elements of communication and something that can be overlooked when people are busy. What is clear though is that when we are busy and we rush to put communication in place, or when we do what we think has worked we can actually be creating wallpaper.

The use of well worn phrases can become as familiar as wallpaper and quickly become ignored by people. It doesn’t matter what industry you are working in this can happen. I have seen it a lot within crisis communication when people talk about ‘learning the lessons’ or the expected ‘it is too early to speculate’. These phrases may have worked at some point in the past but keep using them and they start to mean nothing and worse can become a problem for people who have been caught up in the crisis. The situation may prompt a similar sentiment but communicators need to find other ways of saying it.

I would go as far as saying that in some industries certain phrases should be banned from media statements. In policing I personally dislike the use of the phrase ‘isolated incident’ which adds little to the information that is being shared. The same is true of saying ‘people can be reassured’ as it feels there is an arrogance around telling people what they should feel. These are both phrases that I have used in the past and I am as guilty as others in trusting to what has been done before. But we need to take another look at the words that we use.

When I started my working life as a journalist I was taught that every word had to earn its place in a story. There should be no room for superfluous or inconsequential words. It is essential to get the key information in as few words as possible. Each story needs to be looked at on its own individual merits and it was important to be creative. We need to make sure that the same approach is taken to communication all the time. When things become too familiar we cease to realise that they are there. They are just wallpaper that we live with and don’t see.

Take a look at what words you are putting together. Do they really tell the story of what has happened in an original way? Are there words or phrases used that don’t add anything? Could you be more interesting and eye-catching? Step back and review what you are doing.

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