Better Corporate Communication

I originally wrote this stuff up for my wife's company which was struggling with it but then ended up giving a talk about it. And since I basically post all of my important talks as articles here it is for your reading pleasure.

TLDR; Communication can be made more or less effective by working with or against Human biological limitations. To put it another way, the way you organize and provide your information can increase your throughput, retention, and utility of the information you are providing.

Human Biology

  • People can read and comprehend up to 400 WPM but average around 200 WPM
  • People can listen and comprehend up to 150 WPM
  • People can type ~45 WPM on average, with an upper limit towards 80 WPM for stronger typists.
  • People will average roughly 100 - 150 WPM when presenting
  • Human beings are capable of memorizing a shuffled deck of cards in ~19 seconds, but normal people can remember roughly 7 items for 20- 30 seconds (link).

Understand Timecosts

Let's assume a hypothetical cost of $100/ hr per person after benefits etc (using round numbers for ease). This is roughly what costs would look like for 1 person communicating, and different size groups of being communicated to.

People 1hr Meeting 30min Meeting Long Email Short Email
8 $800 $400 $275 ~$110
4 $400 $200 $175 ~$75
2 $200 $100 $125 ~$58

Example: A long email: It takes 60 minutes to write and 15 min read. A short email: It takes roughly 15-30min to write and 5min read

Let's compare some real-world scenarios. We're working on defining design/requirement tasks for an upcoming "widget".

An expensive way to do this might look like this:

  • 60min "brainstorming" with 8 people ($800-$1000).
  • 1 person writing down Tasks for 30min (~$50),
  • A 30 min decision meeting with the group to close out ($400 - $500)

Total Cost: $1250 - $1500

A cheaper way might look like this:

  • One person sits down alone and writes out 90% of the tasks in an email to 8 people ($275),
  • Everyone reads the email ($100- $150)
  • 3 people send feedback and additions ($225)

Total Cost: $600 - $650

Naively, the above examples make it seem like all communication should be written and/or meetings are expensive. This is not true. This example is just designed to show how real factors such as human biology can impact the throughput and efficiency of communication.

Tricks and Tips

Choose the right medium for your message

  • Email Messages (or confluence type systems):
    • Anything you might need to reference later and/or search for
    • Communication that might be shared
    • Long communication where people might need time to process (reports)
  • Phone Calls
    • Communication that might require more clarity or further explanation
    • Multiple decisions reliant on each other (decisions in a chain)
    • Communication that is emotional
  • Async Communication => Text Message, Slack/Teams
    • Quick questions where you don't need a record
    • Sharing links or other resources
    • Text Message => for Urgency.
  • Hand Written
    • Great at expressing gratitude or respect

Here's an obtuse way to think about it:

Medium Cost Quick Feedback Shareable Searchable Asynchronous
Meeting $$$$
Email $$
Phone $$
SMS/ Slack $
Handwritten $$$$
Carrier Pidgeon $$$$$

How to handle meetings

Per Andy Grove: There are 2 types of meetings: Process-oriented meetings and Mission-oriented Meetings. Generally, they boil down to Information sharing or decision-making.

  • Process-oriented meetings: are to identify latent problems, course-correct issues, create alignment, make type 2 decisions, and share information (think: standup, one-on-ones, etc)
  • Mission-oriented meetings: are to make (type-1) decisions (should be rare) [strategic/ irreversible]

There are a lot of other authors or business leaders to talk about this as well.

Meeting Tips and Tricks

  • Written Communication > Meetings
  • Meetings are the best mediums for:
    • A series of dependent quick decisions that impact a lot of people.
    • Information share, especially where deeper questions may arise
    • Creating alignment on key decisions
  • Meetings are bad for:
    • Adhoc Brainstorming (which is different from workshopping)
    • Type 2 decisions - decisions that are easily reversed.
  • Always invite the fewest possible number of people you can get away with- ESPECIALLY managers.
    • If you have to ask if a manager should be there... they probably don't need to be. Send them the notes.
  • Try to book meetings for 20min or 40min. NOT 30min or 60min.
  • Power Point/ Slide Decks are used to present visual aids*.
    • I wrote a special section about this below...
  • Meeting Etiquette:
    • Show up prepared.
      • (Protip: If you are leading and you don't need to prepare... it probably shouldn't be a meeting)
    • Send out an agenda ahead of time. Include goals and reference materials
    • Send out action items

IMPORTANT! Slide Decks

Misusing the slide deck format is HANDS DOWN the biggest mistake people make in corporate communication, and it's not even close. Because it's so bad it's worth going into a little detail about.

Let's run through slide deck norms:

  • An information/decision meeting is called so the person calling the meeting feels obligated to make a slide deck to make the meeting "professional", organized, or to have an artifact for later.
  • The person quickly throws up their jumble of text notes onto a slide deck in itty-bitty size 10 font just before the meeting. Because it is a giant rat's nest of text they spread it over 10-15 slides.
  • When they show up the speaker reads straight from their deck because they didn't rehearse.
  • Because people read faster than they can hear they either finish reading before the speaker finishes talking OR they struggle to read the small text and ignore the speaker
  • They format the deck as a "narrative" which positions a climax (decision) later... In this format, executives and managers will constantly interrupt to point out the thing that is on the next slide.
  • With all of these distractions, the decision gets lost and the meeting goes long. Another meeting with the same people will often be called or the decision/information will become muddled.

Notes on how to use slide decks properly

  • The slide deck medium is a "speech with visual aides."
  • Don't feel you need to use a deck. Many meetings could benefit by using a one-pager instead.
  • You should need to rehearse if it is a "speech with visual aides". Make sure you rehearse.
  • If your slide deck is primarily text don't use a deck. Formatting wastes time and People struggle to Read and Listen at the same time
  • Narratives (story with climax) SHOULD NOT be presented as a slide deck.*
  • Reports (numerical or empirical information) SHOULD NOT be presented as a slide deck.
  • Visual aids (e.g. graphs, pictures) are a superpower. They can convey more information in a smaller time and less space. Use these media extensively.
  • After every part of your speech/ each slide ask yourself: "So what?" or "Why is this important"... if you are unable to answer that question fix the section/slide.
  • Executives love to interrupt slide decks. It should be a goal of yours to avoid interruptions.
    • They will not interrupt if all of the most important stuff is at the front of the meeting stated concisely.
    • They will not interrupt if "So what" or "why" is answered.
    • They will cut the meeting short if there is enough information to make a decision (GREAT)
    • They will cut a meeting short if more information gathering is required (GOOD)

* I talk about Form/ Formatting in the next section

Form/Formatting your Written Communication

The form/ format you present information can increase efficiency, retention, and the utility of the communication. The following picture is a minimalist way of viewing different formats:

[insert picture here]

Here are some notes about different formats for your written communication. Keep in mind that a corporate setting (internal) is very different than a corporate setting (external), or things like art. A well-built narrative format is great for Fiction, but TERRIBLE for a corporate email.

  • AVOID Narrative Format (generally)
    • Background, Build Conflict, Climax, and Resolution
    • (Note: There are many exceptions such as mission-related communication, product releases, etc)
  • Journalism Format/ BLUT
    • Format: Top to bottom, Most important info to least important info
    • Great for emails, reports, some presentations
    • The format was designed so that editors can compose a publication quickly. That is, they know that they can chop off bottom up based on how long they want a piece to be.
  • Academic Format / Experiments
    • Format: Abstract or Summary of Results (most important info) then sections with background research, ideation, hypothesis, methods, and citations
    • Great for reports, presentations, etc
  • Outline Format/ Information systems
    • Format: Information in a hierarchy, with the most important at the top and top level, moving down toward elements of lesser importance.
    • "The Classic model"
      • Wisdom (top level),
      • Information (second level),
      • Data (bottom level)

How to improve your Content

  • So What??? Why should I care Theory
    • Make sure your communication answers the question "So What?" or "Why should someone care?"
  • Use Examples.
    • Human beings are hardwired for examples. Show > Tell
  • Provide Context
    • If we're working as a team effectively we're usually working on very different things. That's a good thing... the only caveat is that you will probably need to provide context on the thing you are talking about when we get together.
  • Simplify- Less is more
    • People can really only remember 3-5 things from a 30-60 meeting. Don't try to do more than that in a meeting.

Writing Tips

Use Active Writing if longer than 1-2 Sentences


  • Break things into SECTIONS
  • Use bold, Underlining, CAPS, and italics to emphasize key points
  • Change Font Sizes to change flow
  • Use Bullets but no more than 3-5 bullets
  • Delete anything in parenthesis, unless it's a useful reference


  • DON'T USE Acronyms unless your Grandmother would know it. Companies LOVE acronyms... but they slow down communication.
  • Replace Adjectives with Data
    • "Nearly all users" => "93% of users"
    • "We did significantly better" => "We increased our performance 25 points"
  • Only use $10 Words when there are no better options.

Know your Audience

I'm going to write another article about this at some other time but it's important to know who your audience is. One of the first ways to think about it is at an organizational level. Though there are other forms of corporate structure the most common in the United States, Japan, and the Western world is a hierarchal corporate structure. The Japanese (naturally) have a thing for this:

  • Vertical communication | Reporting ("Hokoku")
  • Horizontal communication | Informing ("Renraku")
  • Both directions | Consulting ("Sodan")

Cultural, ESL, and Subculture factors

  • Credit to Charlie Main for teaching me this. A weird cultural thing that the United States does is that we use a lot of sports analogies in business to communicate. Turns out that the rest of the world doesn't do this. Avoid sports analogies in business comms when you work in a multicultural/ multi-ethnic environment. When you are working with Americans... increase your use.
  • People who speak English as a second language are going to prefer written communication.
  • Certain personalities gravitate towards types of communication. Leverage this fact. Software Engineers READ and WRITE text all day long, therefore use written communication. Artists view graphics all day long, therefore use visual communication. Sales people and managers talk all day long... use verbal communication.

Lastly, Conclusions

Conclusions are one of the most important parts to communication. It will be the thing that people remember the most from your communication. So don't just end abruptly.

Thank you.

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