Smart phones, social media, and the increased professional liability of “boring”

March 18, 2014

text message cell phone

Do you favor Instagram over Twitter because even 140 characters is now too long? Reply to e-mails with “TY” because typing “thank you” takes too much effort? Look at your smart phone during meetings as soon as the conversation turns away from something directly applicable to you? Now, be honest. Most of us are guilty of at least one – if not all three.

Social media has permanently decreased our tolerance for boring in both our personal and professional lives. Content is everywhere, about everything, and smart phones and tablets provide immediate access. We’re also now able to generally ignore that which strikes us as unnecessary or uninteresting through personalized RSS feeds, Google alerts, Twitter, e-mail filters, etc. It’s now a threshold requirement that content is both concise and appealing to ever have a chance of receiving a second glance before the recipient hits delete or navigates elsewhere.

Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly recently ran the article Feedback, advice from in-house counsel by Jeff Coburn recapping a panel discussion of in-house counsel providing advice to lawyers on what keeps corporate clients happy (and what doesn’t). One “pet peeve” was articulated as follows: “Long e-mails from my outside counsel drive me crazy. We’re all extremely busy, and we don’t have time to read long treatises. Just give me a summary of the major points and conclusions.” I can admit as a lawyer that I’m a member of a profession notoriously technical and dry in our writing skills. That said, this comment is telling, as the critique is coming from another lawyer who has asked (and is paying) for this information.

We all need to up the ante in terms of content. It’s no longer enough just to produce it. We need to also make it interesting. Thoughtful and succinct content communicates to your audience you value their time and attention. Most content production can be improved by keeping the following points in mind:

  • Less is more. If your point can be made succinctly, do it. If you don’t think that it can be, try again or at least eliminate any unnecessary filler information.
  • Use graphics. Can you incorporate an infographic to present information?
  • Consider cutting the PowerPoint shackles. PowerPoint (and its duplicate take home handouts) may be fine if you are presenting information to an audience where thorough understanding is essential. Otherwise, consider going overhead free, using only graphics or selective words on your slides, or giving Prezi a shot, which has a decent learning curve but can impress even with otherwise mundane content.
  • Acknowledge the reality of your competition. In a meeting full of smart phone holders, you are basically competing with all the information on the internet for attention. Your corporate culture (and likely seniority) also will dictate the tolerance for rudeness in terms of attendees checking out of your live presentation.

It’s more important than ever for information presented in-house and to business prospects to be engaging, at the now heighted risk of being ignored. Let’s face it, the more boring a presentation is nowadays, the more likely there will be a roomful of attendees staring at their smart phones with furrowed brows as if they are reviewing vital company e-mail exchanges, when in fact they’re checking out their Facebook feeds or the latest scores on ESPN.