Our world of benefits is in a perfect storm, and it’s about to get worse. I think the wheels are about to come off the benefits wagon, and we’re not paying attention to the warning signals. My cynicism is coming from the combined effects of a diverse workforce, a talent shortage, politicians with personal agendas, work/life balance issues and really, really, really complex benefits issues.

Why so glum, bucky? We are less than half a year from the actual launch of the insurance marketplaces in each of our states, and we need to get better at summarizing everything in 6 seconds or less. 

I just did a very interesting review of what Massachusetts did a few years back at the launch of their Health Connector. Very cool. When they launched, they treated it like a new product introduction for a complex new product or service (which it was …)  launching it with a sophisticated media push and lots of press releases, info-laced commercials, trade show giveaways like 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 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.  In 15 minutes last night, your brain was overloaded with all things Kardashian, Facebook sold access to your home page for the latest addictive game based on farm animals, 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. (Well, perhaps the Kardashians are distasteful.  But, that’s just me.) Our topic, employee benefits, is distasteful to our audience. Discussing co-pays and pharmacy rules is distasteful. Pre-certification?  Distasteful. STD?  LTD? Distasteful. Yet we live in a world that loves jargon. 

It seems that if there is a way to make something complex and tough to understand, we do it. I sat in a workshop last week on voluntary benefits trends that went for the first five minutes without speaking 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 3 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 they mentally shut me off and started thinking about something else. I guessed 30 seconds.  The correct answer was 6.

Yikes!

To prove it, he then went around the room, asking each person to leave a message on his virtual answering machine, describing what we did, trying to trigger some interest and getting a call back. Every one ahead of me failed. “Hi, I speak on management development, and would like to share some thoughts…”  Click. Buzzz. 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. So, as the perfect storm is upon us, your knowledge and wisdom about benefits will just be the ticket to entry.  Your ability to summarize, to communicate, and (most importantly) to make complex things simple, will be your competitive advantage.

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