By using website you agree to our use of cookies as described in our cookie policy. Learn More

TDWI Upside - Where Data Means Business

Marketing IT In-House: Ease the Information Overload

Repetitive messages can be hard to notice and remember. Learn how to send them or you'll be wondering if your BI users have memory loss.

A neighbor who knows I specialize in human learning and memory asked me to test his memory so he could know what to expect when he visited a dementia specialist.

Within several minutes I was able to verify that his short- and long-term memory functions were still strong but that he was beginning to lose access to certain memories. A critical indicator was his struggle to tell me the names of the top three presidential candidates.

It was a critical indicator, not so much because those three names were everywhere in the media, but because they were the subject of so much interactive conversation. When an avid TV watcher such as my neighbor struggles to recall those names after that much mental interaction, disease has probably set in.

Even in the absence of disease, if you deliver messages ineffectively to your BI users, you can induce apparent memory loss in them similar to my old neighbor's. No matter how clear and important you think a message is, merely saying it 100 times can be the same as not saying it at all.

Repetition can work against you by turning a message into an ordinary fixture of the work environment and adding to information overload.

How do you make a message memorable? Here are several tips.

Tip #1: Don't Repeat the Whole Message Every Time

You can cause mental interaction -- and thus stronger memory -- by giving only part of a message. Instead of a closing reminder in your emails to business users to close out a dashboard at the end of every workday, you could vary the message. Try something like this:

Here's a fill-in-the-blank quiz: Close out your dashboard ___ ___ ___ of every workday. (See the answer below.)

Put the answer ("at the end") toward the bottom of your email and I promise that people will look to see if they got the answer right. They will also remember it longer.

Another partial version of the same message would be, "Close dashboard, then reopen." Partial messages will create cognitive interaction if they are replaced regularly. This technique has many variations. You probably only need to use it once in a while to make users remember your message.

Tip #2: Don't Present Your Message the Same Way Every Time

Any static visual -- such as a sign -- can easily become invisible because it constantly transmits the same message. Add your BI team's voice to the mix.

Let's say you want business users to reboot their computers before complaining that running reports is slowing the data flow for their whole department. You could put up a sign on every computer that says, "Reboot if report runs too slowly. Then call the BI help desk."

Of course, your nice little sign might be covered with users' Post-It notes, or it might have been moved out of sight. You need a few tricks up your sleeve.

Remove the sign for a week or two and then put it back in a different place where it's still visible. Later, display the message on a new sign, perhaps one with a different font and border. Ask your users where the sign would be most useful to them. You might learn something about their workflow and their true line of vision.

Tip #3: When Users Respond to Your Message, Keep The Tone Positive and Productive

Sometimes IT answers a complaint with a smart-alecky tone: "Well, duh, did you try rebooting?" This encourages people to remember only your faults and ignore your expertise.

Instead, make the call polite and interactive.

For example:

  • We want to help your department run as smoothly as possible.
  • How big is that report?
  • How long has it been running?
  • How much slower is it than normal?
  • How often does this happen in your department?
  • Can I come over and look at it in an hour?
  • Do me a favor and reboot before I come over, unless you already tried that.

I can tell you with total confidence that this kind of treatment makes users happy to call you. They want to be able to call without being insulted. They have a thousand other things to troubleshoot and remember each day. Help them out! A pleasant solution from the help desk will make users happier about keeping your little "reboot" sign where they can see it and remember to do what it says.

Tip #4: Provide Handy References as Reminders

Many employees have been belittled or punished for not remembering what others expect them to remember. The truth is that free recall (retrieving something from memory on your own) is the most difficult memory function.

It's silly and unfair to measure someone's professionalism by free recall. Recognizing correct information and knowing how to find it are more useful than trying to prove a point by free-recalling information that can be accessed more quickly in handy references.

Provide your BI users with tools in any format or size you think will make your wisdom readily available to them. If you visit a department in response to a call for help, leave a small, sturdy card that gives answers to that problem and a few other common ones.

You're Easing Their Overload

We all work with information overload. When people can locate answers that you provide in one form or another, they are doing a fine job of remembering. Let your BI team be known as a group of professionals who want to help your in-house customers by easing the overload. That's what you're doing when you send effective messages.

About the Author

Max T. Russell invites your questions about marketing. As owner of Max and Max Communications, he improves messages for BI, nonprofits, lawyers and alternative medicine. He and his identical twin, Max S., are heavy technology users who have been discussing and dissecting the challenges of IT in the workplace for the past 20 years. You can contact the author at

TDWI Membership

Accelerate Your Projects,
and Your Career

TDWI Members have access to exclusive research reports, publications, communities and training.

Individual, Student, and Team memberships available.