Monday, May 03, 2010

How much to get a message across?

How much is it worth to get a message across?

Of course it depends on what kind of message and who to get it to. You spend your time writing emails and it sometimes works. You spend your time on the phone and it works better. It works best if you deliver your message face to face. Ok, that's classic, you don't need me to tell you this.

How often do you end up with the "I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant"? reality check. I am just saying...


Getting a message across means more than having it delivered, more than having it heard, more than having it understood. It means making it acted upon, acted upon in a way you thought it would be acted upon, or better. If it's not - you failed. Try again.


About 2 months ago my team and I started working on a small initiative with a big ego - a global online intranet newspaper for our company. You would think big and successful companies "have all that figured out". Yea, I wish they had. I wish we had. But we don't. "So let's do something about it", we thought, and off we went.

It just so happens that I know my company quite well. I've been with it for more than 7 years by now, I watched it grow from 250 to 5000, I worked in multiple geographies and in different roles, I am in active contact with people from almost all the places we're in, and I still get to travel. I'm in the loop. More than most of the people around me but not on the level needed to confidently write for the newspaper, not at all to confidently write about everything and everyone I would want to. My response? Get some help. To do so? Get the message across. "Simple", I thought, and sent an email.

I am trying to be careful with my emails. That time I felt absolutely confident my message would get across. How hard could it be? you write to the right people who you know well and who know you well, you keep it short and specific, you explain, you show respect, you ask for simple doable things. Even more. I knew the people I wrote to were busy, really busy, no-kidding-busy - so I had a plan. Do not ask to wrtie, only ask to give soundbites: get the soundbites, get the contacts, do the legwork. I was ready to. I was committed to. Just needed the right soundbites from the right people. So how hard could it be?

I failed. I got one response. A great one, that "better" one you always hope for, but that was it! I expected and I needed ten. One "better" did not outweigh ten "regular", not that time. My message did not get across.


Today I needed to get somewhat similar message on the same subject to the same audience.

During the last 2 months we've made good progress. We figured we knew enough for the first issue of the newspaper so we scaled back on scope, figured the soundbites we needed might not have been all that important after all, and plunged ahead. We had it written, designed, put together, looked at by the CEO, reviewed by some random (and not only) people in the company.

While finishing with the tune-ups I figured I still needed that participation I failed to secure originally. Soundbites would be a way too late, but validation and acknowledgment and comments are still essential. We can't publicly write about stuff other people own and bear responsibility for without confirming factual data, making sure no contractual terms violated, ensuring we won't create more damage than good. This is given. We're not yellow press.

What's the plan this time? The same thing I did last time is likely to fail again. I can't get on the phone with everybody - orchestrating schedules will be a more complex endeavor than building that whole newspaper. Video conference - same issue with the schedule and availability and the timezones. Record a video? maybe next time. I told you - big companies don't have it all figured out. We have a video broadcasting platform but it's still making its baby steps and so is likely to screw the user experience. Maybe not, but I can't risk it. After an email not acted upon, I can't expect a slow video download to work better for me. I know there are other options but for the content like this "behind the firewall" is better, and sometimes is the only option.

I figured I'd do this: write an email, a pitch-email, almost a blog post, and take it from there. Done. Now what? After having read it a few times I knew I would not send it (plus I knew an email would not work anyway). This is when I decided to wrap the message into something more catchy, something more entertaining, something the audience would be likely to look into and have good experience with. If it ends up not acted upon, I at least wanted that it be worth the time spent.

I decided to do a presentation. It just had to be a good one. Death by Powerpoint is not what I wanted. I can't say I'm great at presentations. No. To be really great at presentations (as well as pretty much anything else) you've got do it regularly for couple years. Then do it some more. And then do it some more. And then just a little more. I haven't done it this much so no, I am no expert. But I think I can tell good slide materials from bad ones.

My message was 2 paragraphs long. About 8 sentences or so. I kept it intact, cut in pieces, split into about 20 slides in a simple one-thought-per-slide mode. If I would speak to the slides I would click it through in no time. Click pet thought. I would only delete the text completely if I was to deliver it live. So what would there be without a text? Images. I knew I needed images to fill in the blanks. Not just images, I needed to-the-point images, I needed images that would resonate with the text, I needed images that would fit in naturally. I needed same-style-images-that-would-resonate-with-each-of-the-20-slides. Easy, huh? But where do I get it?

It took me a while to stumble upon the and a little more to find all I needed there (or so I think). The only caveat - it's not free. So here's the question. How much is it worth to get the message across?

This time it took me about 4 hours and $30 for the images*. And it was not to get it across, it was to try to get it across. I still don't know if it yields the result I need but at least I feel good about the effort. Isn't it what matters after all?

Here's the message (a little abbreviated to pass the "behind the firewall" rule, sorry). And of course I needed to put the text back alongside images as I was not about to deliver it live:

* the "we can do it" and "yes we can" I did not have to pay for. These famous ones I downloaded from the web.