Just for fun here are the two Ronnies showing us all just how easy it is for communication to go wrong. Enjoy!
The story goes that in the 1920’s the great Ernest Hemingway sat around a table of fellow writers and bet them that he could write a story in just six words. Laughing at his audacity they hastened to take his bet. Hemingway quickly wrote six words on a napkin and passed it around the table. The words were: “For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn.”
Hemingway’s story was complete. It had a beginning, middle and an end. Needless to say, he won the bet.
Whether it happened or not we will never know but the Hemingway story makes an important point - you do not need pages of writing to tell a story.
But does it matter?
You can argue that brevity has always mattered and that getting and holding someones attention has always been vital to getting your message across. In the modern world, however, it is even more vital. The attention spans of people are becoming shorter and shorter as they have to juggle, sort and process the overabundance of information that characterises the modern world. Now, more than ever, if your message is too long and too hard, you will lose people.
In 1971 Herbert Simon, a professor from Carnegie Mellon University was one of the first to articulate the concept of attention economics when he wrote:
“…in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it”
Next time you write a message, whether it is for web content, marketing collateral or an email, remember that in order to gain someone’s interest, you first need to gain their attention. If they like what you have to say, they will trade their attention for your information. You may even be surprised by how much it can play on their minds...
'For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn.'
If we are honest then we have to admit we have all decided to send an email to deal with an uncomfortable or upsetting issue rather than have a direct conversation. We would also have to admit that those emails didn't actually help resolve the issues or confusion more quickly and effectively. The fact is we were just using email as a way of hiding and, in turn, creating a situation of rising tensions and escalating problems. Thus, email wars erupt, clutter mailboxes, eat up time and thwart collaboration, morale and productivity.
Email is a great way to communicate if it is used correctly but unfortunately it often isn't. So here are a few tips for making the most of its efficiency while avoiding the worst of its failings:
1. Use email for its main purposes: communicate or receive information, as a form of documentation or for friendly correspondence
By all means use email to keep everyone informed of a project’s status, to verify what was discussed in a face-to-face or phone conversation, to ask a quick question, to say hello or send a compliment.
2. Do not use email to resolve emotional issues or arguments
In other words, if you are upset with someone or someone is upset with you, then you need to talk rather than send email. An email can never convey tone - no matter what emoticon you attach to it! It is just not a good way to communicate emotions or resolve difficulties.
3. State the purpose of your email immediately.
By stating the purpose in the subject heading or in the first sentence of your text, you minimize the possibility that the recipient will misinterpret your message or delete it before it is read.
4. Write email as you would a newspaper article.
The first sentences should contain the most pertinent information, with details following in subsequent sentences. People are busy and need the highlights. They may never finish the email and may miss important information if it is buried in the body of the text. If appropriate, have a quick summary sentence at the end.
5. If an email starts looking like a tennis game, pick up the phone.
If you email back and forth with someone more than two times about the same issue, it is time to pick up the phone and get clarification. When emails volley back and forth about the same issue, it is often a sign that something else is going on (someone is really upset, doesn’t understand, is being resistant, and so on).
6. If you don’t want an email published in a newspaper, don’t send it.
You never know what will happen with your email or to whom it will be forwarded once you press send and once it is out there it is out there for good. By definition email is public domain so treat it that way.
The bottom line is that is the information you want to convey is really impoirtant then you should be talking to someone not emailing them. Email can be a great tool but onl;y if used appropriately.
'Engagement' is the latest buzzword used to describe an abstract emotion that we would like our employees to feel about their work. In the past it has been called empowerment or ownership or commitment and now we have 'engagement'. It is simply another attempt to describe an instinctive understanding that we have that our organisation tends to be better off when our workforce care about what they do. The reason that the word we use to describe this keeps changing is because we have not been able to discover what it is that we have to do to get it - mainly because it id actually different for most people. So, instead of admitting failure, we change the word and make it look as if we are looking for something different.
Most of us have still not found out what to do to allow our workforces to engage so when our bosses ask what we are doing about engagement we look for a survey to prove that they we are (at least) doing something. The people whose business it is to produce surveys are very happy to oblige our desperate need for affirmation.
The survey does not even have to measure engagement at all, just provide data that makes it look as if it does. Consequently, there is pretty much no correlation between 'engagement survey' results and performance. About the best anyone has managed to do at Gallup for example is about 0.19 (100% correlation would be 1.0). The fact is most engagement surveys are complete nonsense and usually pedalled by executives trying to justify their existance.
Imagine trying to measure a similar abstract emotion like happiness. No one in the business world would even contemplate it would they? You can't measure 'happy' - you just know if you are.
King Jigme of Bhutan declared when he ascended the throne that his major concern was the happiness of his people. If that had happened in the business world it would have led to an explosion of 'Happiness Consultants' and then cost a fortune while they benchmarked the nation’s current state of happiness using 'Happiness Surveys', and ran focus groups to find out what happiness was and perhaps what colour it should be. Instead, when asked what he was going to do, King Jigme replied that he was going to create the conditions that would allow his people to be happy and then they would choose to be happy for themselves.
'Engagement', like happiness, is the way that people feel about what they do. Trying to measure it is an extremely difficult and ultimately futile exercise. We would be better off, like King Jigme, creating the environment that will allow our workforces to engage. Then when they do we will know it. No survey needed... but then the survey is so much easier isn't it?
In sports, there are two types of players: intuitive and intelligent. Intuitive players are naturally brilliant. Such athletes can do things on the field that make others stare in awe, all while hardly appearing to break a sweat. They’re fantastic to watch – people flock to sporting contests just to see the expression of this natural talent. They make it look so easy – because it is for them. But they can’t show you how to play like them, because they often don’t know how they do it. It’s instinctive.
The style of the intuitive player is largely based on confidence. They can’t play any other way – break down their confidence and you go a long way towards shutting them down.
The intelligent player, on the other hand, may not be as naturally gifted as the intuitive player, but they have the advantage of being able to adjust their game as the conditions or situation demand.
So it is with many other activities, public speaking included. Intuitive skill will get you a long way, but if you can’t adapt to different conditions – a range of audiences, lack of a lectern or a variety of presentation topics, just to name a few – you greatly reduce your chances of being effective.
It would be great to be blessed with natural talent, but most people will have to make do with the talents they’ve been given. Far better to be an intelligent player – someone who has developed the ability to adapt to changing circumstances. That is the challenge for anyone wanting to seriously improve their public speaking or anything else for matter.
How do you develop the ability to adapt? By learning as much as you can about the basic principles of the subject you wish to master. The deeper your undertsanding, the more likely you are to be able to recognise when something isn't working and a change is required. That is why I teach people the principles of communication rather than the mechanics of public speaking. The mechanics of public speaking is all about giving you confidence which is great... but will only ever take you so far.
Imagine a world in which you simply played a tune for your baby and they automatically became more intelligent just by listening to it. Wouldn't it be awesome if you could just download a bit of Beethoven or Mozart from iTunes, plug in your ipod and get better test scores? It would be fantastic wouldn't it? That's why hundreds of thousands of parents around the world do exactly that with products like 'Baby Mozart'. They spend millions on these products and what is known as the Mozart Effect trying to give their kids every advantage in life. Unfortunately, genius though he may have been, Mozart can't make you smarter.
The Mozart Effect was introduced to the world in the form of an article from the journal 'Nature'. In this article, it was reported that "...college students who listened to about ten minutes of a Mozart piano sonata showed a significant improvement on spatial reasoning tasks compared with a group of students who listened to a relaxation tape." This 1993 study seemed to show that intelligence could be improved by simply listening to classical music. Though it was difficult to replicate by other researchers, and it never claimed to improve spatial reasoning over the long term, the Mozart Effect was utilized as justification for companies to sell Mozart CDs to families with infants.
Later research would suggest that short-term mental arousal could explain the Mozart Effect. This would explain why individuals listening to music that they themselves enjoy (whether it be Mozart or not) feel more alert versus those that are not listening to anything. Perhaps you feel more alert after reading a story that makes you feel excited or after watching a thrilling movie. Any such activities could potentially improve short-term spatial ability, though not your intelligence.
So, Mozart may well make you feel a bit smarter and can certainly make you a little more alert for a very short space of time (if you like that sort of thing) but, trust me, you are as dopey as you ever were. If you are a parent who has bought into the Mozart Effect you may even be slightly more dopey than you thought you were!
The Mozart effect is an example of how science and the media mix in our world. A suggestion in a few paragraphs in a scientific journal becomes a universal truth in a matter of months, eventually believed even by the scientists who initially recognized how their work had been distorted and exaggerated by the media. Others, smelling the money, jump on the bandwagon and play to the crowd, adding their own myths, questionable claims, and distortions to the mix. In this case, many uncritical supporters line up to defend the faith because at stake here is the future of our children. We then have books, tapes, CDs, institutes, government programs, etc. Soon the myth is believed by millions as a scientific fact. In this case, the process met with little critical resistance because we already know that music can affect feelings and moods, so why shouldn't it affect intelligence and health, even if only slightly and temporarily? It's just commonsense, right? Yes, and all the more reason to be skeptical.
The common mission statement or vision, supposedly the bedrock of an organisation is often nothing more than a foundation of sand. Most corporate visions are too broad to be useful and too vague to be implemented. It isn't that the vision doesn't mean anything so much as it could mean anything. Too much is left open to interpretation and the result is our people, unsure of performance expectations, start working at cross-purposes. Where organisations have tried to go a dstep further by developing values statements there are often similar issues. The values are either poorly defined and open to interpretation or they merely reflect what an organisation thinks people would like to see rather than the reality. Look at this example:
We have an obligation to communicate. Here, we take the time to talk with one another… and to listen. We believe that information is meant to move and that information moves people.
We treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves. We do not tolerate abusive or disrespectful treatment.
We work with customers and prospects openly, honestly and sincerely. When we say we will do something, we will do it; when we say we cannot or will not do something, then we won’t do it.
We are satisfied with nothing less than the very best in everything we do. We will continue to raise the bar for everyone. The great fun here will be for all of us to discover just how good we can really be.
They sound good don't they? Until, that is, you realise they are the stated values of a company you may have heard of - Enron. Do they in any way reflect the reality of that particular company? Of course not. But they are the perfect example of how values and mission statements have become nothing more than rhetoric. Now, here is a test for you.
Make a copy of your corporate values, a copy of Enron’s corporate values, and a copy of corporate value statements from a couple of other companies. Remove the company names from all documents. Take these lists to a random cross section of your employees and ask, “ Which of these corporate value statements best describes our company’s actions?” “Which least describes our company?” While you are at it also ask several suppliers and several customers.
Each time, as an afterthought, ask each group “By the way, do you happen to recognize which – if any – of these is actually ours?” Chances are that none of your suppliers, none of your customers, and very, very few of your employees will be able to tell the difference between Enron’s corporate values, your corporate values, and the values of any other random company.
What does this mean to you?
1. Most corporate value statements are virtually indistinguishable from each other.
2. Actions are what count – not what’s on paper.
3. If there’s a disconnect between what you say is important and what people do, you need to fix that right away. Rather than building a series of rules, build a series of examples. People learn from examples and role models – not from a list of words.
It’s all about alignment. What you say you want, what you really want, and what you reward all have to be in alignment. If not, then you are doing nothing more than trading in rhetoric and you will be undone by your actions... much like Enron.
At the C-suite level presentation skills are almost always at least adequate. In other words the CEO is confident enough to get up in front of a group of people, speak clearly and string a sentence together. Presentation skills are practically never the reason that their communication fails to be effective - the communication fails because they cannot write.
It’s hard to be effective when people can’t understand what you’re trying to say. Clear and simple writing ensures that your message never gets lost between you and your audience.
Unfortunately, many CEO's think they need to “look smart” by using big words and complex sentence structures. The reality is that the simpler you write, the more intelligent you seem to others. A study done at Princeton University manipulated the complexity of the vocabulary and writing style of documents and gave them to students. Over and over again, the simpler versions were rated as coming from a more intelligent writer than the more complex drafts.
Smart writing is simple writing.
Clear and simple writing is actually quite difficult to do. It requires you to think hard about your topic, get at its core, and then put that core in terms that your audience can understand. Here are a few tips on writing and speaking with greater clarity:
'The Great Dictator' was Charlie Chaplin's most successful film and his first true talking picture. Released in October, 1940 it was the first film to bitterly satirize Naziism and Adolf Hitler at a time when the United States was still at peace with Germany.
At the very end of the film comes one of the great cinematic speeches - one that perfectly encapsulates Chaplin's disgust with greed, bloodshed and division. It is remarkable that Chaplin's speech of more than 70 years ago still retains so much relevance in the modern world and, perhaps, more than just a little sad. Here then, is the great master at work... Charlie Chaplin seeing the world for what it was and, in many ways, still is.
The list that stops a nation - Australia's Biggest PR Disasters of the Year - is out and in an unprecedented achievement, Qantas won three of the top 10 gaffes of 2011 when the list was released by social networking tracking site Cyber Chatter. It's never been done before and it is hard to see how anyone could ever do it again but, then again, Qantas is still with us and 2012 is a brand new year. Who would bet against them? So, here it is, Australia's Biggest PR Disasters of the Year together with links to news.com.au for anyone who missed the stories first time around.
1. The Qantas grounding inconvenienced and angered a nation. People are still waiting for refunds yet CEO Alan Joyce still has a job.
2. "Qantas Luxury" Twitter scandal. The plan was to get people tweeting good things about Qantas. They got thousands of complaints.
3. Troubled footballer Brendan Fevola's contract termination with the Brisbane Lions ends up in court.
4. Tony Abbott freezes during a TV interview with Channel 7's Mark Riley in the "shit happens" tape.
5. Qantas "golliwog" social media promo causes a race brouhaha.
6. Ricky Nixon and the fallout from his unseemly association with a teenager.
7. Indigenous writer Larissa Behrendt describes bestiality program as "less offensive than Bess Price", an Aboriginal woman in favour of the Northern Territory intervention.
8. Kyle Sandilands goes on a personal vendetta against a journo. Austereo loses more than 20 advertisers and the shock jock is forced into a humiliating apology.
9. Australian Defence Force cadet is violated when she is filmed having sex.
10. Gasp Jeans become a mockery after their startling email response to a customer complaint goes viral.