Getting heard when no one wants to listen

Lately I have come to reflect on the attention span of today’s audience and some things that we can do to get a message across. People lead busy lives, and what may matter a lot to us, or even a lot to them in our view, is probably not even worth their time spent doing their dirty laundry. And rightly so, after all you end up with clean linen after one endeavor, and a bunch of “action items” after another. So what are we to do to spread this message which is supposedly going to change the world. Let’s look at some popular messages.

The gospel of life – the Bible, the Quran, and their like. It takes thousands of practitioners, many of whom lead monastic life, to spread the gospel of love – and even they are struggling. There are people who listen to the gospel and give it up based on reason – bless you, wherever you are – but for one such person there are droves who would rather attend to their life’s laundry than pay attention to anything that does not yield immediate benefit. The presentation, packaging, is all wrong. It should not take an army of people, thousands of words of random/ ancient stories to say: “It is in your own benefit to be good and moral”. If the message doesn’t resonate in a sentence, all of the theatrics won’t get you anywhere. Let me cite an example where few words did the trick.

Do you recall a speech from President Bush when he wanted America to go to war? I am sure he made one and it was more than a sentence, but I am also positive what he said was simply “If we don’t fight them there we will have to fight them here” (best read in Jon Stewart’s imitation of President Bush). That was it, and America was at war, with the majority of the nation supporting him. For all his faults you cannot but admire President Bush for conveying what he has in mind succinctly and clearly. If you can’t say it in less than ten words, it’s not worth the listener’s time. If you don’t repeat it fifty times, why say it in the first place. If that phrase is not an answer to every related question – surely it wasn’t the right answer in the first place. If the tactic can work to convince America to decide the fate of countless lives, surely your task is simpler and so should your message. Where is your sound-bite?

I agree there are things that cannot be cramped in a sentence, so how do you get across a business plan, or a user manual, or your research – “write”? – wrong. Most people like to do things that are entertaining and easy, not read books/ papers (which I hope they did), but it simply takes too long. And honestly, even though I love reading, lately I have taken to another medium of information – videos. Not only can you express more in a shorter time, but the visuals give you another dimension to convey what you have to say. A bunch of !!! are a poor substitute for someone who has had way too much coffee, and definitely lot less entertaining. If you think most of the stuff online is crass, you are wrong and I will try to prove it in my next few blog posts. But today I would like to show you an example of what I consider to be good messaging.

I am talking about the Amazon Kindle. I am really excited about this product. I like to read many books at the same time leaving them all in various stages of completion and the next thing I read has to match my mood not the last thing on my reading list. So the ability to have hundreds of books in one place and to read them just as a book would read is a killer. Like I have mentioned before I have a lot of respect for people at Amazon, and I think they have thought this one through. Check out this video, just 6 mins and you know what it can do and how. Look at the user manual – pay attention to the fonts, the font size, the absence of colors, even the amazon logo is in grey scale – the user manual itself gives you an idea of what the real thing would be like. And finally video reviews from various bloggers and writers, recorded before the product was released to the general public. Very nicely done indeed.

Nothing I have said is new, it just escapes us when it matters. We just have to take a step from thinking about the message and pay attention to delivery.

About amit

I was born in Kanpur, India in 1977. I did my schooling partly in Kanpur, Surat and Udaipur. I spent most of my schooling years in Udaipur in a boarding school. This was the most enjoyable period of my life predominantly because I made a lot of friends and played a lot of football (my first love). My school years brought in a sinking realization that I was good in academics, average in football [even after my most sincere efforts :( ] and to put it euphemistically 'artistically challenged'. Hence cool careers in photography, sports, art & design or music were all beyond me. I took up what I could do best, and enrolled for engineering at Nagpur University. College brought its own pleasures, I had my share of beers, bunked classes, read the 'Bhagvad Gita', learned yoga and picked up love for traveling. After graduating I was one of the lucky few to get a great job at Infosys Technologies. The best thing I got from my first job - my Yamaha Rx 135. There were not many weekends when I did not explore places in and around Bangalore on it. In two years though my desire to pursue further studies caught up with me and I enrolled for a M.S in Computer Networking at North Carolina State University. Here I picked up basketball, love for stand up comedy, liking for the 'other football' and offcourse a little bit of computer networking. I graduated in Dec 2002 and am currently working for /n Software. I am slowly evolving into a die hard Linux and Open Source enthusiast, trying to pick up skydiving, biking, running and photography. Some might call that progress. :)
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