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New Rules: How To Communicate in the Digital Age

Give your presentation skills a digital-age makeover by embracing these simple rules.

Hero Images/Getty Images
Hero Images/Getty Images,

by Frank Pietrucha

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Once upon a time, we were careful, deliberate readers who consumed media in an undistracted linear manner. We got a book and started at chapter one. The Internet changed all that. Unlimited data at our fingertips has turned us into hungry media predators as we jump and scan, cherry-picking information. In two decades, our brains have been rewired as we hunt for content, tapping feverishly into our devices.

Thanks to our brains’ neuro-plasticity, we can handle this data onslaught. While there’s no fear of suffering mental saturation, there is a danger: you do not want to be an old-school communicator. Twenty-first century information consumers demand that their content be served up differently. Whether you’re leading an important presentation or building a website that draws eyes, you need a new paradigm.

Making your communications digitally friendly is all about understanding how consumers want information presented. There will always be a place for good grammar, proper sentence structure and well-developed ideas, but you can also incorporate new digital tools like apps.

Whether you’re brushing up your presentation skills, creating a website to communicate with your customers, or writing an article for an industry website to burnish your career, give your communication skills a digital-age makeover by embracing these seven new rules:

Digital natives don’t want to read about something, they want to experience it. Involve your users, no longer just readers, with interactive applications that give them hands-on learning opportunities

1. Make it interactive and dynamic. Digital natives don’t want to read about something, they want to experience it.
Involve your users, no longer just readers, with interactive applications that give them hands-on learning opportunities.Encourage them to crunch data for personalized information using a clever app. Generate dialogue that engages as itinforms
2. Make it visual. Who wants to read too much text? Dense paragraphs are like death sentences. Draw audiences in withpictures and symbols. A smart infographic can often tell a story more efficiently than a 1,200-word article.3. Make it nonlinear. Let audiences create their own pathways to the information they want most. For centuries, the bookhas pushed us to read in a linear manner, from start to finish. Websites break this tradition by encouraging folks to click onthe information they want when they want it.
4. Keep it digestible. Who’s going to read your 700-page tome? Short, crisp and to the point is how digital natives like theirinformation. Most articles, like this one, are under 1,000 words because people simply don’t want to get bogged down.
Reduce complex content to its simplest form. When elaboration is necessary, give readers the option to link to a moredetailed report.
5. Create dialogue. Digital information consumers like to engage in a conversation; it’s a natural outgrowth of socialmedia. Don’t hit them over the head with an edict written in stone. Welcome them into a friendly chat where they arediscussing the topic with you. Don’t lecture them, share with them.
6. Craft communications to your audience. Avoid talking to anonymous groups of people when possible; customize yourcontent to make each reader feel you are speaking directly to him or her. The Internet allows us to adapt our messages to theneeds of specific audiences. One version of your message can target CEOs, another hourly employees. New tools can helpyour audience make your story their own. Build apps that help them customize the story by entering their own data (zipcode, geographic location, gender) to create a more personalized learning experience.
7. Be transparent. Digital natives are big believers in transparency. Be truthful and forthcoming with your facts andfigures. Establish your credibility early and make relevant data open to all, whether you’re working as a website builder or
giving a presentation to your team.

Frank J. Pietrucha is author of the Washington Post bestseller Supercommunicator: Explaining The Complicated So Anyone Can Understand.