Bombarded by Messages

By Susan de la Vergne


At the gym, from my vantage point bouncing on an elliptical machine, I take an inventory of messages. That is, I look around to see how many ideas, products, and people are trying to get my attention while I am trying (somewhat in vain) to mind my own business.

Of course I can watch eight different TVs at once, all tuned to different channels. There’s a giant photo of Lance Armstrong over a bright yellow quotation where he’s reminding me to pump hard. There are logos everywhere, on the Cybex and Free Motion machines, on the t-shirts of fellow exercisers (Habitat for Humanity, University of Oregon, Reebok), even on a towel I notice belonging to a guy on a bike in front of me (Nike golf). The new elliptical-looking device beside me has a handwritten message on it (“Not ready for use yet” and a frowny face). Of course, there is music playing, and hanging from the ceiling, is the digital clock marking off the seconds, in case we’ve forgotten, perhaps, that time is marching on.

I heard once at a National Speakers Association conference that we’re bombarded with 3,000 messages a day. I thought the number seemed high, yet here I am in a single moment standing in the midst of 18 messages. Fascinated, I continue my inventory: the women’s locker room sign, “no cell phones,” “shower before entering the pool,” two TVs going in the locker room, a magazine on the bench open to an article about a celebrity wedding.

And as I leave, there’s one last message chasing me out the door: A life-size stand-up photo of Cindy, who “can’t believe” she lost 106 pounds.

If you’re having trouble getting your message across—whether it’s something as simple as your project status report or something as grand as your latest breakthrough discovery—it’s because the competition is fierce!

How can you penetrate the din? First of all, be fresh. Don’t say things the same-old-same-old way. No one is listening to stale phrases or reading tired worn-out templates. Avoid boilerplate language whenever possible. No one reads it. Don’t be predictable. If everyone expects you to make a drab, lifeless technical presentation, don’t. Smile instead. Say something humorous or just convey actual enthusiasm.

If you don’t, your information will remain lost among the 3,000 messages competing for your colleagues’ and managers’ attention.

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