My TEDx Challenge: Turn 18 Minutes into Ten

My TEDx Challenge: Turn 18 Minutes into Ten

So I’ve got news: I’ve been invited to speak at a local TEDx event in October. I’m really excited about it on many levels, not the least of which is the fact that I’ve been working toward this goal for a while:

  • Engaging with a speaker coach to nail down the elements of performance.
  • Visualizing myself standing in the red circle of TED on stage, facing a friendly audience (yes please).
  • Writing and refining a speech that meets the very deliberate 18-minute time limit, as designed by the TED engine.

I was so excited to get my formal “YES”. And then, the TEDx organizers lowered the boom: They told me I have just 10 minutes to talk. Not the 18 minutes that my speech is now. TEN.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I am super appreciative of the opportunity and ready to bring my A game, of course! But 10 is practically half of 18 and that, my friends, is the challenge.

As a writer, I’ve always known that it’s harder to write short than long—but that the end result can be most powerful. And this is no exception. You simply cannot write the same way for all lengths and mediums. In fact, writing for live performance—where you can use words AND real-time body language, facial expressions, and tone to convey information—requires different muscles and word counts than writing for video, email, traditional print, presentations, social media, and podcast.

Knowing the difference—and how to work each medium to its fullest—is what we do every day to help our clients meet the information needs of employees. Since the 21st century offers us a myriad of ways to communicate, we have to be very thoughtful and grounded in our approach.

We do that by asking a series of pointed questions up front and letting the answers guide our direction. Like, for example, who’s our audience? What do they need to know and how? What’s in the message for them? How can we meet them where they are? What can and can’t we do with the media and the time we have?

As far as my speech, I think I’m there. But it was a total rewrite. When it comes to writing short (or even long, since you want to make sure every word is working hard), sometimes it’s a matter of simply paring back a few words or playing Kerplunk with your sentences, making sure nothing falls through the cracks. But other times, it can be a matter of stepping back and rethinking things entirely.

In either case, it has to be done. And if you need help, well, you know who to call.

Jill Sherer Murray

Written by Jill Sherer Murray

As practice leader, Jill has built an award-winning communications practice inside a global consulting firm, and continues to grow the business and the team. She oversees the strategic vision and day-to-day activities in developing employee benefits education and engagement strategies.

Trion Communications jill.murray@trion-mma.com

Make Room for Open Enrollment

Make Room for Open Enrollment

With autumn on the horizon, it’s a perfect time to set out to do some purging and sprucing up around the house. Before it gets too brisk outside, I’ve decided to take on some home updating projects and clutter removal.

Decluttering is a must periodically, because stuff will just keep piling up and can get to be overwhelming. I have a whole list of things I want to tackle, so I’m rolling up my sleeves, putting on my thinking cap and getting to work.

Before I begin, I know that I will need to prepare by deciding which project to tackle first. The things I ask myself are: which space do I want to approach first; what materials will I need; what do I want to achieve, and what is my target goal date to finish.

With the focus on getting things in order, here’s a little food for thought on tips to help you get organized to make room for the busy weeks of open enrollment.

Keep your workspace clean. Open enrollment is hectic enough and having a well organized, clutter-free workspace can help to reduce some of that stress. During this time of the year, you can get lost in the disarray of an untidy workspace, so it may be a good idea to focus on sweeping your desktop (computer desktop, that is) and systematizing your go-to documents. This way, you can keep documents at your reach for reference.

Organize your files. Organize your workspace by categorizing needed files that are essential to the current open enrollment season like regulatory notices and compliance information.

By going through your files, like outdated benefits information, old newsletters and communication materials and ridding things that you won’t need to alleviate clutter, you can make room for new resources and information.

Start fresh. Newly designed communication materials and content can get your employees’ attention and draw them in to what your company has to offer.

Consider going green. As more organizations focus on the environment and gearing toward more sustainable, eco-friendly practices, going paperless during the usual paper-heavy open enrollment period can help to save trees and the company money. That’s a win-win – because, not only do you get a relief from piles of paper stacking up, you’ll also not have to worry about purging heaps of documents in the future.

When you’re heading into the busy open enrollment season, be ready with a plan to get rid of the old stuff and make room for the new. A well-organized workspace, fresh communication materials and allowing ample enough time to prepare will help put you on your way to a smooth open enrollment.

Amy Boulden

Written by Amy Boulden

Amy works as a benefits communications specialist. Her creative background in graphic design has allowed her to create a library of client communications. Amy’s approach is to focus on simple, clear language and relatable graphics to effectively educate employees.

Trion Communications amy.boulden@trion-mma.com

Lists for Life

Lists for Life

Who doesn’t love the feeling of checking something off your to-do list?

As a communications professional, organizing thoughts and ideas, and keeping track of tasks and deadlines is essential in doing my job…and staying sane! Everybody has their own system or preferred method to getting their job done or keeping their life on track – for me, it all circles back to lists.

I am a huge believer in the simple, standard checklist method. In my professional life I make day-to-day checklists, a specific Open Enrollment Period checklist, and individual project request checklists. In my personal life I always make packing lists before I travel, create weekly meal plan/grocery lists and even budget or expense lists.

So why am I telling you all about my obsession with list making? Because, as people and professionals, it is essential to find what works for us to maintain some sort of organization and handle everything on our plate. We’re all human, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed or let some things get lost in the shuffle, but it’s much easier to stay on track with a trusted go-to method. It can be a simple as a checklist or as complex as your own software.

Whatever it is, it should give you the opportunity to step back and gather your thoughts, and provide something to refer to and keep you accountable. Just like you wouldn’t leave for a cross-country road trip without directions, don’t let yourself get lost in your professional or personal life – map things out so you don’t get overwhelmed and give things an order so you can prioritize effectively.

But there are pros and cons to every approach. Be careful – don’t get hasty with those little check marks. Before you know it, you may have lists for your lists and they may become counter-productive. Be mindful of your strategy and ensure that it is actually helping you and not making more work for yourself.

Try out a few different things and find what works for you. And if you get stuck…just make a list!

 

Written by Tarin Dooley

Trion Communications tarin.dooley@trion-mma.com

My Sanity Savers During Open Enrollment

My Sanity Savers During Open Enrollment

The Trion Communications team stays pretty busy year-round, but Open Enrollment is a whole different story – and if you’re reading a blog post about Open Enrollment, chances are you know what I mean. One of my favorite analogies aptly fits the overdrive that kicks in at this time of year: it’s like the difference between throwing a bullet, and shooting it.

This is my third full-fledged OE season in the benefits communication world. Over the years, I’ve developed a few strategies that work really well for me to keep a grasp on at least a few tattered shreds of sanity during this insane time of year.

There’s (almost) never a reason to panic. I only learned this the hard way, but a few gray hairs later, I’ve come to realize that there is some equitable solution out there to whatever crisis is facing you. Are you being asked to do something that you’ve never done before? Talk to your colleagues; they may have faced a similar situation or can recommend a resource to help. And if a mistake happens, which it does when we’re moving 500 miles an hour in the thick of OE, be honest and do what you can to make it right. Even if there is no real fix, your sincerity and effort can go a long way to smoothing things over.

Stay organized. There’s a lot going on during OE. For me, it’s keeping on top of multiple deliverables for multiple clients. This year I purchased a really nice personal organizer for myself. I splurged a little on one I really liked, to up the odds that I’d actually use it regularly – and it worked! I’ve got one place to keep track of everything – deliverables, client meetings, to-do lists and more. It just takes a quick peek to re-ground myself in what my priorities are on any given day.

Be mindful. Perhaps the thing I struggle with the most during this time of year is just being able to shut it off. While my workload can put a strain on my non-work life (case in point, I’m writing this blog on a Saturday night), I do have time to focus on the other things in my life. The problem is, I waste those times worrying about the work, instead of giving my attention to the things that matter to me most. To help keep me present in the moment (instead of being mentally at work even when I’m not working), I keep to two rules from late July through early November.

  • First, my Friday nights are my own. Even if I stay at the office late, once I’m home on Friday, the laptop stays closed. If I don’t expect myself to work, I won’t feel guilty when I take one night to step away completely.
  • Second, I make a point to indulge in some serious stress relief by getting a massage regularly. It really helps me clear my head, decompress, and gives me something to look forward to during the week – not to mention working out the kinks from all those extra hours sitting at my desk.

It makes this season a little easier knowing I have strategies to handle whatever curveball OE throws my way. These are the things that work well for me, but everyone is different. Find the things that help you keep a lid on the crazy, and remind yourself of them regularly. Good luck!

Written by Jill Diffendal

Trion Communications jill.diffendal@trion-mma.com

Stop Waiting for Final Plan Decisions: 4 Things You Can and Must Do Now!

Stop Waiting for Final Plan Decisions: 4 Things You Can and Must Do Now!

The end of summer can be a precarious time when it comes to communications strategy planning. A lot of our clients put it off because they don’t have their final plan decisions. And they believe they need them in order to get us going down the path of planning. But it’s just not the case.

Yes, absolutely, we need to know what’s going on so we can target the right audiences, embrace the right tactics, and develop messaging accordingly… BUT, there’s lots to talk about before any of that even happens. That’s why we bug our clients early—well before they’ve gotten approval to move forward from management committees. We know there are ways to get ahead of the game, so when the collective thumbs up come in, we’re ready to hit the ground running.

If you’re playing the waiting game right now, perhaps the things we focus on can help you get moving as well. They are as follows:

  • Who are the players? After all, no man is an island when it comes to developing employee benefit communications that matter. If you can answer the following questions, you’re in good shape: Who’s in charge of communications planning? Will you handle that internally or will you need outside help (e.g., printers, designers, translation specialists, voice-over talent, us)? If you need to work with vendors, who are they and have you engaged their services or at least given them a heads up?
  • What resources do you need to get the job done? I’m talking in terms of manpower, time, and dollars. If you don’t think you have or can get what you need, come up with a contingency plan for creating and executing on strategy. While it’s nice to have a lot of bells and whistles, it’s not always necessary. Sometimes a simple postcard, benefits brochure, and narrated video presentation can get the job done—at least in the short term. Think about what would work best inside your organization, lay out all your ideas, and whittle them down to the basics if necessary.
  • What are best practices inside your organization? How will you share information with your various populations? What have you seen that really works? Consider where employees are and reach them there. For example, if most people sit in front of a computer, email can work just fine. If they operate in a retail or manufacturing environment, you may need to go a different route—like video, a brochure bulk-shipped to locations, or a fact sheet for managers to distribute on the floor. Don’t rule out a postcard to home if most of your employees are men since research tells us the female spouse makes most of the benefits decisions. You’ll never reach everybody with one approach so be prepared to understand your employees’ needs and demographics, and communicate several times, several different ways to improve your odds.
  • How would employees like to receive information? Do you have any feedback—either anecdotally and/or from an employee survey—to inform your strategy? If so, now’s the time to pull it out of a drawer and keep it within easy grasp. Because once you get down to brass tacks, you’ll need those results to inform how you forge ahead in terms of tactics.

As you can see, there’s a lot to keep you busy while you wait for decisions to be blessed. So get started with these four things, if you haven’t already. And if you need help, you know who to call (hint: me!).

Good luck!

Jill Sherer Murray

Written by Jill Sherer Murray

As practice leader, Jill has built an award-winning communications practice inside a global consulting firm, and continues to grow the business and the team. She oversees the strategic vision and day-to-day activities in developing employee benefits education and engagement strategies.

Trion Communications jill.murray@trion-mma.com