Karl Ahlrichs, senior consultant, Gregory & Appel

Our world of employee wellness is in a perfect storm and it’s about to get more difficult to gain traction for our ideas. We are facing the combined effects of a diverse workforce, a talent shortage, wellness “guidance” from the ACA, work/life balance issues and really, really, really complex benefits issues.

Simply put, we are adapting new wellness ideas on a monthly basis, and we need to get better at summarizing everything in six seconds or less.

I just completed a very interesting review of what Massachusetts did a few years back at the launch of its Health Connector (a state-based health insurance marketplace). Very cool.

They treated the launch like a new product introduction for a complex new product or service (which it was), introducing it with a sophisticated media push and lots of press releases, info-laced commercials, trade show giveaways (e.g., shopping bags, pens, refrigerator magnets, stress balls) and even the paid endorsement of the Boston Red Sox. Big stuff.

They did this because they knew they would need to punch through the “media fog” surrounding all of us. They knew that the average citizen has hundreds of marketing and sales messages hitting them each day, and that there are roomfuls of savvy marketing types trying to think of ways to get their latest gizmo or celebrity in front of us in new and clever ways.

Think about it. During 15 minutes in one night, your brain was overloaded with all things Kardashian, Facebook sold access to your home page for the latest addictive game based on Juice Boxes, Howard Stern judged a youth juggling troupe from Montana and 100 emails hit your inbox in the time it took to read this far in this post. This is the baseline of “normal” in our world.

Making it tougher, all of those competing messages are pleasant, not distasteful. Our topic, employee wellness, is distasteful to the members of our audience who need to embrace it. Discussing Weight Watchers points and pedometer numbers is distasteful. Pre-certification? Distasteful. Kale smoothies? Distasteful. We live in a world that loves our own jargon.

It seems that if there is a way to make something complex and tough to understand, we do it. I recently sat in a workshop on voluntary benefits trends that, for the first five minutes, carried on without plain English: “We need to promulgate the histograms and project profitability based on actuarial calculation … yadda yadda.”

So, we need to get good at the power of summary. I used to think that the average adult attention span was three minutes. Not so. I was confronted by a presentation coach last month as I worked on improving my speaking skills. He asked how many seconds I thought I had to make my point with a modern business professional before he or she mentally shut me off and started thinking about something else. I guessed 30 seconds. The correct answer was six. Wow!

To prove it, he went around the room asking each person to leave on his virtual answering machine a message describing what we did, trying to trigger some interest and get a call back. Everyone ahead of me failed. “Hi, I speak on management development and would like to share some thoughts. …” Click. Buzz.

I learned from their failures, and when it got to me, I was ready.

“Hi, I can explain all of Obamacare in 30 seconds. Call me and I’ll do it for you.”

I got a call back.

My point? People want the answer in a few, short, well-thought-out words, with a longer answer to follow if requested. As the perfect storm is upon us, your knowledge and wisdom about wellness will only be the ticket to entry. Your ability to summarize, to communicate and (most importantly) to make complex things simple will be your competitive advantage. And, yes, if you call me, I can summarize the ACA in 30 seconds.

People are hungry for short and simple. Just like this sentence.

Karl Ahlrichs is a “thought leader” and presenter in the strategic HR and CFO markets. As a senior consultant for Gregory & Appel, he has developed and implemented wellness programs for multiple industries, and has facilitated challenging meetings with tough audiences. Karl has a proven understanding of the motivation and psychology that enables behavior change and has achieved the SHRM-senior certified professional designation from SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management).