Bernard O'Riordan, Clarity Media Trainer
Consider the last time you looked at an online news site. Chances are you had a few different tabs open in one browser and a handful of tabs open in another as you scrolled, read, clicked and jumped from one story to another.
Screen-based reading makes us impatient as we search for specific text, focus on keywords, sentences and paragraphs of interest or fast-forward over news stories that interest us the least.
Whether we’re reading a news website or using a newspaper app on an iPad or other portable device, very few of us want a mental workout. So electronic news tends to be punchier and packaged for readers on the run.
Research shows that people actually read around 30 per cent slower online for various reasons, including the glare of the screen and the font size used. And readers move on very quickly if an article or post does not get to the point quickly.
That’s why, when you talk to a time-poor reporter or blogger in the digital age, you need to tell a story simply and quickly, and in a compelling way, if you to want readers to stick.
In general, reporters have between five and 10 seconds (or less than 100 words) to secure a reader’s attention online.
And they have around 30 seconds (or about 300 words) to give the reader an overall understanding of an issue, if they can be bothered hanging around for that long.
As a result, reporters need shorter sentences, smaller words and much sharper insights from the people they interview.
If you’re still not convinced of the need to be succinct, consider this. People absorb less information online than they do with hardcopy newspapers.
Most of us have always skimmed newspapers more than we’ve read them, just as we run our eyes over books and magazines to get the gist of a story.
But that dynamic is amplified with online reading because it encourages us to multi-task (like posting to Facebook or Tweeting an article). Those disruptions and distractions often result in more scattered and superficial thinking.
So if you want online readers to at least be interested in what you or your organisation "think, feel or do", you need to deliver a clear and compelling message - and do it in less than 10 seconds (that's the average length of a sound bite).
Here are a few tips to consider if you want to stand out online:
Pre-plan your message: Your key insight needs to be brief and interesting with a splash of colour. Pre-plan a killer quote or sound bite or even an analogy or metaphor that you drip feed to the reporter during an interview;
Be succinct: Stick to the facts and get to the point quickly;
Drop the jargon: Avoid the use of creative or clever language, flowery jargon, long-winded phrases or industry acronyms that will probably be edited out later;
Front load your message: There's very little time for contemplation online so bring your message up early and often if you want it to be heard. Limit each response to one main idea;
Use superlatives (words that end in “st”): Superlatives highlight the significance of your announcement or event and hook the reporter and the reader. Is it the first time your company has done something?; Is it the biggest deal you’ve been involved in?
As long as you have an interesting and valuable insight and express your views or facts in short sentences, you will give yourself a much better chance of being quoted in a story. And that means you’re more likely to grab a reader's attention.