Creating the essential updates your readers need
Once you know which recurring communications will be essential and actionable for your audience, you can start to curate and optimize the first edition of that communication.
To help you along the way, we've outlined a few ideas that can guide your thinking.
You can access a downloadable version to refer back to as often as you need and explore our other getting started guides, too.
When you’ve finished a meeting, there’s almost no better compliment than to hear a teammate say, “That was a great use of time.” People should think the same thing when they’ve finished reading your essential communications.
- Once you’ve prioritized a short list of topics that can — and should — be shared often with your key audiences, it’s time to curate the news you have and create your first HQ edition!
Check out this example of an HQ-style all-staff update, or this example of a stakeholder communication. You’ll notice a few things:
1. Ruthlessly prioritize: These updates are a promise to readers that you won’t waste their time or insult their intelligence. The first step before you start writing is curating the updates that are actually essential, and weeding out any that aren’t.
- The sweet spot we’ve found for a multi-item update is sticking to about 5-10 items and generally under 1,000 words total.
- Your update will hover around a 2-3 minute read — a realistic time commitment for someone as they prep in the morning or switch between meetings.
2. Start with a small bite: The intro card is a perfect space for a brief, but warm greeting — just like you’d welcome folks on call, in a meeting, or at a professional event. Be conversational, and set the context in 1-2 sentences for what lies ahead.
- If you have one or two quick bits of news — like an action item with a looming deadline or an exciting award your organization just won — you can add them as short bullets in this space, too.
- Think of it as an area for quick news your audience can use, but your readers only need a brief phrase or sentence of context at most.
3. Focus on your “1 big thing”: This is the first full card in your update, and it’s the most important topic you have to share with readers. It’s where folks might, and likely will, spend most of their time.
- Challenge yourself when you select it. If someone were to only read one item in your update, this is the item it should be.
- There are no hard-and-fast rules about length, as long as it’s communicated in Smart Brevity. It’s not uncommon for “1 big thing:” to be anywhere from 100-300 words. Structured and styled well, it will also be the most memorable.
4. Write the rest of your cards. Include only the most essential details a reader needs to understand and take action from them. At this point, don’t worry about order. Just get what’s essential on the page, using Smart Brevity best practices.
- They’ll vary in length. One might be a smart chart of financial performance and 50 words of context to explain a trend you’re tracking within it. One might be an update on a quarterly goal that’s 150 words — covering progress and next steps.
- As long as it’s essential information, and nothing more, you’re building a trustworthy update.
5. Now consider your order: What’s key is thinking about variety. Because every item is audience-first, truly essential, and has scaled the high bar of what is worthy for your readers, there’s no “right” arrangement. Instead, think of it this way:
- If your “1 big thing” was long, find a shorter item to follow.
- The card after that can be a bit longer again, and so on. You’re creating visual texture so as your readers continue to scroll, they don’t get exhausted by a series of long or identical cards that start to all look the same.
6. Write and number your headlines. A smart headline is fewer than 10 words — often around five. It clearly articulates an idea. Imagine your readers scroll through your update before reading each card specifically. The headlines themselves should give them specific insight into what they’re about to learn — and if the headlines are all they read, they should still be able to leave having learned something.
- HQ’s AI-powered tips can even suggest a headline for each card, based on what you’ve written.
- Once they’re set, number each headline, sequentially.
- It helps readers “see” the finish line, orient themselves in that experience and feel a sense of tangible progress after they finish consuming each card.
7. Experiment with imagery: A sharp headline and an excellent image both sit atop a strong update. Strong charts and photos help us break up the look of a longer update, share information in a more efficient way, and pull different types of readers — from structured to more creative — into the same important update. HQ’s AI-powered tips can even suggest relevant images to you from our library of custom illustrations.
8. End on something delightful: The last item in your update could be an interesting bit of cultural news, a big win your team had, or anything else
- Think of it as the type of topic you’d discuss over coffee with a colleague or at a cocktail hour your organization is hosting. Relevant and intriguing.
- If they know you’re open to input, you’re a lot more likely to get the insight you need to continue to evolve and improve what you send them.
What’s next: We’ll guide you through a smart rollout strategy for your new — or improved — essential communication. Whether you’re ready to hit send to your entire audience or want to pressure test it first with a few influential stakeholders, we’ll share how other organizations confidently took their next step.