How often do we have to repeat messages for them to be heard?

Estimated read time: 5 minutes



Chances are that I will have to repeat messages over and over and over. It can get tiring, for sure. “I’ve said this before.” But there’s a multitude of reasons why people didn’t hear what we said:

  • Their mind was somewhere else.
  • They were interrupted by a Slack message.
  • The way we shared the information didn’t make sense to them or wasn’t the best way to share the content.
  • At times, presented ideas are ahead of their time.
  • Too much information was shared at once.
  • The wrong channel of communication was picked.

Working on creative and change projects you might as well get used to one thing: You’ll repeat yourself a lot. Maybe even for years to come. 

But there are ways to hone your message over time and make it as successful as possible. Even if you have to repeat yourself. Let’s dive in.

The idea was ahead of its time

Having to repeat messages that aren’t heard can be a struggle for ideas that are simply ahead of their time.

Timing matters and sometimes it’s just not the right time. But that doesn’t mean we can’t keep an idea in the back of our minds and use it later. That often means bringing it up later. Or at strategic points along the way.



Tip: Keep in mind that outlandish ideas are harder to implement or even understand. Take an idea, connect it to the present while also painting the picture of the future.

When people don’t listen

Let’s be honest here but some people are a pain to listen to. The reasons can vary. They…

  • are reading a PowerPoint
  • are so monotonous
  • make no sense even when we are listening

Tip: Make it entertaining and interactive. Involve the group – to the level they want to be involved in. Demand attention with your message and not by demanding it just because you think you can.

People didn’t understand it 

Sometimes people don’t understand the message. Or we have to repeat it in a different way. Check in with non-threatening questions to see if something makes sense.

  • What do you think of that?
  • Would this work?
  • How could we implement it?
  • Is there a way to build on that idea?

Tip: Instead of asking people to hold their questions encourage them to ask as they come up. Don’t make them apologize for asking questions and don’t tell them the answer is coming up on three slides down the road. Just have a conversation that shoots for understanding.

Can people play it back?

Sam Horn talked on the Business Storytelling Podcast about how to use language to make your story more memorable. That’s one way to ensure people can actually play back and understand what was said.

Too much information was shared 

When I used to do half-day workshops, do I really expect people to understand and recall every single thing I said and they worked through? That’s a crazy expectation. But yet we do and we hide behind it. People can only remember so much. Find that right balance of content to make sure it’s just enough to be meaningful.

Tip: Be prepared to repeat things. Don’t get irritated by it and just be helpful.

The speed

The speed at which we communicate might also matter. I talked about that before in this article, but it’s also worth mentioning here. Responding quickly can help us explain or correct a misunderstanding. It also can help us optimize our message further for the person asking the questions.

Read next: Why fast feedback matters

Many times the right time to communicate is NOW. 

For a number of reasons:

  • There’s never a perfect time – like for anything really.
  • Delaying communication actually erodes credibility when people already know.
  • Information leaks out and people know already!

We likely have been in situations – at work or elsewhere – where something happened, it wasn’t officially shared but just about everyone knows in a few days.

Then comes the carefully and vague official announcement and everyone is like: “Old news!”

“Any questions?” offers the official announcer person.

Silence.

And everyone in their heads “nope, because we got them answered days ago when we found out.” Or worse: “we made up our own answers already.”

The wrong channel was used 

Not all channels work for all conversations.

  • Some conversations need to be phone calls
  • Sometimes, a Slack chat is okay
  • Other times, we should hop on video

Picking the best channel for any given piece of information is harder than it sounds. That’s why there are meetings that could have been emails.. And, of course, there are emails that needed to be meetings.

Along those same lines are the public conversations that should have been offline and private.



Why can it be easy to pick the wrong channel? Probably the ease of use. It also seems to me that we’ve been taught over the years that repeating ourselves is annoying or shouldn’t happen. So that baggage can make it harder.

Picking the right channel may not have anything to do with what’s the most efficient channel.  Email certainly can be efficient to get something shared now. Write and send. Sometimes that seems easier but it’s not solving the issue at hand. The trick is to determine the best and most efficient channel to communicate the information in the best way for the person receiving it.

Tip: Find the channel that works and present important messages in snackable formats but also offer the chance to dive deeper.

Conclusion 

Repeating our messages is something we just have to get used to. I’ve been saying a lot of the same things about content strategy for years. Sometimes it takes a while to be heard or it wasn’t heard by the right people. That’s another thing to consider: Are you talking to the right people to begin with? Will that group of people be receptive to the idea or are they even open to change or evolution?

If the change is something we care about it’s totally worth repeating.