Information Overload: Getting Your Message Heard in a World that Isn't Listening

Dawn Nicole Baldwin has helped organizations reach more people effectively for over 20 years. Dawn is a nation-wide conference speaker, guest lecturer on marketing strategy at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and is considered one of the leading experts on branding and marketing for ministries and non-profits. She founded AspireOne in 1995, a strategy and communications firm that is a catalyst for helping ministries grow. Dawn has led the Visual Communications staff at Willow Creek Community Church and helped build the VeggieTales brand as part of the advertising team at Big Idea Productions.

People receive the data equivalent of 174 newspapers every single day. That is a LOT of information! Seth Godin has said, “Attention is the currency of the future… it’s not scalable.” Attention is too expensive to buy, so we have to earn it. As ministers and church leaders, this is especially critical. Often, we are trying to reach people who are not connected to us or don’t know us that well. We haven’t earned their attention yet. Our job is to remove as many barriers as possible so that it’s easier to learn more about us and, ultimately, Jesus.

Dawn outlined three ways that churches can combat information overload:

1. Simplify what is said

2. Organize how it’s communicated

3. Keys to making it happen

1. Simplify What is Said

Having too many platform announcements at our gatherings, or too many inserts in our bulletins can overwhelm our audience. When we try to say too much, we end up not saying anything. Our audience sometimes brings their baggage to the conversation that can prevent them from hearing what we have to say or misinterpreting what we have to say. Our staff or leaders can also contribute to the problem because their communication viewpoint is siloed to their individual responsibilities. We have to remember that the message(s) we are communicating is often not the only ones being heard.

Mark Twain is famous for saying that he didn’t have time to write a short letter, so he wrote a long one. The editing process takes time that many of us don’t put into our communication. Dawn suggested three questions for us to ask to help simplify our communications:

- What do they (actually) need to know? Stick with the core essentials: what’s going on? When? Where?

- Why would they care? Not, “Why do I think they should care?” Focus on why your audience would care. Yes, everyone needs Jesus and that is ultimately why they should care. But enter into the perspective of someone who is struggling with their marriage or searching for purpose in life who might not yet know Jesus. What do they care about?

- How can they take their next steps? This tends to be the most overlooked step. How do they get involved? Do they ask for more information? Sign up for something? Share information with a friend?

2. Organize How It’s Communicated

There’s a difference between reaching more people and reaching people more effectively. Not everything is important to everyone all the time. If everyone speaks at the same volume at the same time, no one is heard.

We tend to filter communication through levels of importance. This can create some awkward interactions with leaders whose ministries we deem to be of less importance than others. Instead, filter communication through levels of visibility. Generally, we have three levels of visibility:

1. High - primary front doors that apply to most people, or we want to strategically promote.

2. Medium - large groups with shared interests and immediate next steps from high.

3. Light - everything else. Typically targeted events focused on life-stage or specific interests.

Here is an example of how this works practically:

3. Keys to Making It Happen

Dawn pointed out four keys to keep in mind:

- Your Culture

- Your Systems

- Your Tools

- Your Team

Culture begins with senior leadership agreeing that simple makes sense and committing to explain how a less-is-more strategy will help everyone in the long run. If senior leadership is not on board, this will be an uphill battle.

If you are not a senior leader, take the time to speak with senior leadership about how a simplified strategy will help them reach their overall goals more effectively.

If you are the senior leader, communicate why the team should care. Ministry leaders may not be happy if they think things are being taken away from them for no reason. Communicate a need to adapt to a changing communication landscape with a keyword: “try.” Say something like, “We’re going to try this approach for the next x-number of months.” The idea of trying something is initially a lot easier for people to swallow. This thought process goes nicely with Michael Hyatt’s experimental mindset he taught on at ENGAGE 2020, as well.

After culture is nailed down, work on your systems. Your systems need to work for your context. Make sure to create a plan where communication isn’t demonized. Once the system is in place, you can show people where their event/ministry/gathering falls on the agreed-upon communication system and point out the tools that are available to them. This is important because systems don’t play favorites. Do not allow the team to go around the rules. If a senior leader is approached about a communication issue, the leader should refer the issue back to the communication people and not make special accommodations.

Once a system is established, tools to accomplish the strategy should be identified.

Evaluate the effectiveness of your current tools. Sometimes a lot of energy and expense is invested in tools that aren’t as effective as they once were.

Finally, your team is a critical factor. Team is all about capacity. You can have a great culture with a phenomenal system and the perfect tools, but if there aren’t enough people to manage it all, you won’t get very far. Sometimes the church can outgrow the capacity of the people, either in the number of people needed or in the quality of their skills. As your church grows or new platforms/opportunities become available, you may find that, through no fault of their own, your staff are not properly equipped to take advantage of the new opportunities.

Additional training for existing staff or volunteers may be needed. Sometimes additional help may be needed, especially when jump starting something new. Your communications people already have lots of tasks that are more time-consuming than you realize on their plate. Adopting a new project or avenue of communication, dropping it on their plate, and expecting them to balance it all can be asking for communication breakdowns somewhere in your process. It’s hard to create a brand new thing with the same amount of people experiencing the same amount of workload. In these cases, consider hiring a temporary staff member, finding an intern, or identifying a high-capacity volunteer who can help get your new thing established and manageable for existing staff.

Your people are inundated with information every day. It is our responsibility as church leaders to make sure that we are communicating in the most effective way to point them to the most needed and necessary part of their lives, their faith in Jesus.