Making Fluoride Sexy and Other Communication Challenges

I was recently catching up on a backlog of shows I enjoy and found myself laughing out loud at the “Fluoride” episode of Parks and Rec.

It wasn’t just that it was funny, it was that it hit rather close to home to my communication’s heart.

As a former journalist, I love to tell a story — in great detail.

" ... most people have neither time nor patience for great detail."

But as a 21st century communications consultant, I know that most people have neither time nor patience for great detail, especially when consuming bites of information on a 5-inch screen.

Leslie Knope, the main character in Parks and Rec, faced this tension when trying to get her town of Pawnee to accept fluoride in its drinking water. She laments that she has “facts and science” on her side, but rumor and conspiracy theories keep quashing her efforts. In desperation, she works with a friend to rebrand fluoride as #Tdazzle.  

I won’t give away the punch lines, but suffice to say that the ridiculous scenarios in the show, hold some truth for today’s communicator. We must find exciting and interesting ways to accurately present critical information.

We also need to remember that message comes before the medium — every time.

So how do we keep the message substantive, but interesting? Here are a few tips:

  1. Be concise. If you can’t explain the message — whether it’s a pitch for a new product or a new process your organization is adopting — in a 20-second elevator pitch, it’s probably too wordy. You’ll certainly want to have plenty of background material, documents, video, etc. But the essence of what you’re trying to convey should be easily stated. If it’s not, you’re probably trying to incorporate too many different ideas.
  2. Tweet it. If you’re trying to condense down your main idea to a few words, consider how you would Tweet it. Those 140 characters are powerful!
  3. Be visual. When and wherever possible convert data into visuals— charts and graphs or pictures.
  4. Think outside the text block. Use other creative devises such as timelines, checklists, quizzes and Q&As for highly readable messages.
  5. Tell a personal story. People like to read about people. If you have a testimonial, share it to enhance the message.

So my friends, don’t resort to gimmicks, but also don’t just rely on the same old press release or white paper. Your message can dazzle — just don’t #tdazzle!

Donna Dunn enjoys finding truth in sitcoms. One of her current favorites is The Middle.