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Archive for the 'Future of Communication' Category

smiles-conversely-chatThis is the third post in a series about technologies that are shaping the future of communication. We’ve been following technologies that cover an interesting array of possibilities, from enhancing existing communication modes to replacing at least one of the humans in a conversation to assisting people who have a variety of motor, vision, and cognitive impairments. They are all across the adoption curve, from technologies that are already approaching mainstream usage (such as bots and gamification) to a few that are closer to the sci-fi end of things (such as holograms and telepathic communication). Many of these systems rely on artificial intelligence, which is reshaping business communication in some profound ways. All of them present interesting discussion topics for business communication because they get to the heart of matter, which is trying to exchange information and meaning in the most effective and efficient ways possible. To offer students a peek into the future, we've started covering these innovations in our business communication texts, beginning with the 14th Edition of Business Communication Today, which launched in January 2017, and 8th Edition of Business Communication Essentials, which launches in January 2018.

Trying to converse in a language in which you are not fully fluent presents a rather staggering cognitive workload. As a listener, you have to convert the incoming sounds to discrete words and assemble those words into coherent phrases and sentences in order to extract the meaning—and if the other party uses idioms or slang, the task can get exponentially harder. And unlike reading a written document, you have to do all this processing almost instantaneously, without the luxury of going back over something you didn't get. As a speaker, you have to find the right words, assemble them into phrases and sentences using the language’s grammar rules, and then pronounce them all correctly enough so they make sense to the other party. Honing this level of proficiency can take years of study and practice.

Machine translation has been one of the long-standing goals of artificial intelligence, offering hope for real-time communication between people who don’t have a common language. Developers have made impressive strides toward translating speech in near real-time by combining deep learning techniques that apply computational models of human neural networks to massive data sets of languages with advances in natural language processing and natural language generation.

Systems such as Skype Translator and Google Translate are getting remarkably adept. Google’s new Pixel Buds ear buds offer nearly instantaneous translation across dozens of languages (when paired to a Google Pixel phone), making it possible to travel much of the world and converse with anyone who is similarly equipped. A variety of other smartphone and smartwatch apps offer translation without the need for each party to have identical equipment; speakers take turns talking to the device, then listen as it outputs the translated speech. Microsoft’s PowerPoint Presentation Translator adds real-time translation for presenters, making it easier for global professionals to connect with their audiences.

This video from the launch event for Google Pixel Buds shows the devices translating a conversation between English and Swedish. (The translation demonstration starts at 0:48.)

Class activity idea: Ask students to research several apps and other solutions that offer real-time translation. Are they being used successfully in business communication? Do students think these tools will ever eliminate the need to learn other languages in order to communicate effectively with diverse, global audiences?


Sources: Andrew Tarantola, “Google’s Pixel Buds Translation Will Change the World, Engadget, 4 October 2017,; “Skype Translator,” Skype, accessed 10 November 2017,; iTranslate Voice, accessed 10 February 2017,; Davide Castelvecchi, “Deep Learning Boosts Google Translate Tool,” Nature, 27 September 2016,; Devindra Hardawar, “Microsoft PowerPoint Adds Real-Time Presentation Translation,” Engadget, 10 May 2017,

Photo via Visualhunt

ViolinistThis is the second post in a series about technologies that are shaping the future of communication. We’ve been following a dozen-plus technologies that cover an interesting array of possibilities, from enhancing existing communication modes to replacing at least one of the humans in a conversation to assisting people who have a variety of motor, vision, and cognitive impairments. They are all across the adoption curve, from technologies that are already approaching mainstream usage (such as bots and gamification) to a few that are closer to the sci-fi end of things (such as holograms and telepathic communication). Many of these systems rely on artificial intelligence, which is reshaping business communication in some profound ways. All of them present interesting discussion topics for business communication, because they get to the heart of matter, which is trying to exchange information and meaning in the most effective and efficient ways possible. To offer students a peek into the future, we've started covering these innovations in our business communication texts, beginning with the 14th Edition of Business Communication Today, which launched this past January.

Most people like to think they are unbiased and capable of making fair, objectives decisions when it comes to judging or assessing others. Unfortunately, that is far from reality. Decades of research suggests that unconscious or implicit bias is universal, and these attitudes and stereotypes affect decision making in ways that people aren’t aware of. Even people who consciously go out of their way to avoid biased assumptions can be influenced by unconscious biases that have been accumulating since childhood.

Implicit bias has been a longstanding concern in job interviewing and hiring decisions. A classic case that opened many eyes to the problem involved classical musicians auditioning for symphony orchestras. In the 1970s, women made up only 5 percent of professional symphony musicians. Orchestras gradually moved to blind auditions, where the performer is hidden behind a curtain so the people evaluating them can hear but not see them—meaning they can’t make judgments based on gender, age, appearances, or anything other than how well the musicians play. Within a decade, the ratio of women had risen to 25 percent.

The concept is now applied across a range of industries and professions. The GapJumpers system, for example, enables job applicants to take skill auditions anonymously. The employers sponsoring the auditions have no personal information about the applicants when they judge the scores—it is strictly about talent. Applicants who do well on blind auditions are then invited to participate in a more conventional interviewing process, at which point the employers learn who they are. GapJumpers’ analysis indicates that more women and more community college graduates make it through to the second stage of interviewing than they do in a traditional selection process.

As your students start to turn their attention to the job market and begin preparing their employment communication packages and interviewing strategies, this is a great time to discuss the intersection of human and machine communication. Students may encounter a range of communication technologies during their job searches, from online skill auditions to applicant tracking systems that “read” their résumés before any humans see them. We’ll continue to explore these innovations here on the blog and in all the upcoming editions of Bovée and Thill texts.

Class activity idea: Ask students to research current practices in blind auditions across professions. Is the technique catching on? Do they think variations on this method hold promise to reduce employment discrimination?

Sources: “Understanding Implicit Bias,” Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, accessed 3 May 2017,; Sarah Fister Gale, “Turning a Blind Eye to Hiring a Good Idea,” Workforce, 30 September 2016,; GapJumpers, accessed 3 May 2017,; Jacquelyn Smith, “Why Companies Are Using ‘Blind Auditions’ to Hire Top Talent,” Business Insider, 31 May 2015,

Photo credit: FaceMePLS via Visual hunt / CC BY

RobotThis is the first post in a new series about technologies that are shaping the future of communication. We’ve been following a dozen-plus technologies that cover an interesting array of possibilities, from enhancing existing communication modes to replacing at least one of the humans in a conversation to assisting people who have a variety of motor, vision, and cognitive impairments.

They are all across the adoption curve, from technologies that are already approaching mainstream usage (such as bots and gamification) to a few that are closer to the sci-fi end of things (such as holograms and telepathic communication). All of them present interesting discussion topics for business communication, because they get to the heart of matter, which is trying to exchange information and meaning in the most effective and efficient ways possible. To offer students a peek into the future, we've started covering these innovations in our business communication texts, beginning with the 14th Edition of Business Communication Today, which launched this past January.

The bots are back. Automated bots (short for robots) made a small wave a decade or so ago when “chatbots” began appearing on websites to help companies handle online conversations with customers. Ikea’s Anna, perhaps the first chatbot to receive widespread attention, was built to answer routine questions from customers looking for advice regarding the chain’s furniture products. Other chatbots followed, smartphones gained virtual assistants, and nonchatty bots continued to do automated work of various kinds on the Internet, but bots didn’t really catch on as a mainstream technology.

With advances in artificial intelligence and the growing use of messaging systems for both consumer and business communication, however, a new wave of bots as personal assistants has taken off. Major categories of bot technology include taskbots that perform routine chores within digital systems and socialbots that mimic human conversation.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella believes bots will transform technology usage the same way mobile apps have. As bot capability is added to more devices and systems—particularly workgroup messaging systems, where a growing number of employees now conduct increasing amounts of their routine business communication—bots are finally entering the mainstream. If you’ve ever carried on a Facebook Messenger conversation with the band Maroon 5, for example, you were talking with a bot.

Bots are popular on the widely used Slack workgroup messaging system, where they can do everything from ordering lunch to monitoring the mood of team conversations. The Howdy bot, for example, can perform such tasks as simultaneously interviewing all the members of a project team to give the team leader a real-time status update. On Slack, bots are treated just like human team members in many ways—they can send and receive messages, be assigned tasks, and be invited to join specific groups and communication channels. As bots get better at understanding language, they’ll be able to contribute to conversations, such as finding background information that could help solve a problem colleagues are discussing, without anyone asking for their help.

We like to get hands-on experience with as many communication technologies as possible, so we've been developing our own socialbot. It's up and running on our Facebook page, so please drop by for a chat. 

How far this bot revolution will go is anybody’s guess, but the appeal of this new generation of digital genies is undeniable. They are more connected to the systems that people use every day on the job, and they can reduce the need to navigate yet another website or learn yet another app in order to get something done. Instead, you just message your bot and let it figure out how to make things happen.

Class activity idea: Ask students to research the current state of bot communication to identify one way in which the technology is changing or has the potential to change business communication practices. Do they agree with the predictions the experts make? Why or why not?

Photo credit: peyri via / CC BY-ND

Social learningVia newsgroups, bulletin boards, and other information-sharing platforms, learning in various forms was one of the earliest social uses of digital networking. Moving into the Internet, World Wide Web, and social media eras, the opportunities to teach and learn online expanded beyond what even an optimistic dreamer might’ve envisioned decades ago.

From informal crowdsourcing of research on Twitter to comprehensive collaboration systems that use gamification to encourage employees to help other, companies have lots of ways to enable their employees to learn on the job—and specifically, to help each other learn on the job. These social learning opportunities include real-time training (delivering information when and where an employee needs to apply it, rather than offline in a classroom), capturing expertise and market insights from wherever in the organization they might exist, helping new employees get oriented and productive, developing mentoring networks, and helping blended workforces build a new sense of community in the aftermath of mergers and acquisitions.

Given the vital role of communication in corporate training, were we intrigued to read the results of a survey of human resources executives discussed recently in Talent Management. The research measured how important social technology was to nine major HR functions, from recruiting to career and succession planning. The respondents listed employee recruiting as the most important HR application of social technology. This certainly makes sense; as the article’s author points out, recruiting is a social activity to begin with. Moreover, recruiting is a key performance metric for HR managers, so they would naturally be interested in tools to help them perform better. As we’ve highlighted here and in our textbooks, companies such as VMWare and Zappos have jumped on social recruiting in order to compete for the top talent in their industries.

The most surprising finding from the survey was the middling level of importance these HR managers attached to social learning. With the rich history of networked learning and the cost-effective opportunities for getting vital information where it needs to be in the organization—not to mention all the ways employees are already learning via social media—we might hope that the one functional area most responsible for employee development would view social learning in a more positive light.

On the other hand, given all the challenges involved in establishing new systems and processes, perhaps this lukewarm level of interest with HR shouldn’t be so surprising. The article points out that social media have been an area of concern for HR, considering the potential consequences of inappropriate use and a lingering misunderstanding about the differences between social technology in a business context and social media in a public context. Losing at least some degree of control over a core function such as training might be an issue as well.

Looking forward, we suspect that in much the same way that the “bring your own device” phenomenon forced many IT departments to figure out how to safely incorporate personal devices on company networks, a “create your own training” phenomenon led by independently minded and digitally enabled employees might push more HR departments to embrace social learning.

One of the most noticeable attributes of the millennial/Generation Y and Generation Z workforces is the demand for a digital experience in the workplace that mirrors the digital experience in their personal lives. Employees who grew up using social media as an all-purpose recommendation-engine/status-updater/question-answerer are likely to expect the same capabilities on the job—and may well create it themselves if their companies don’t have the necessary systems in place.

DeloitteOne of the more intriguing challenges/opportunities created by the array of new media choices is the concept of the multi-stage or multi-platform message, in which the delivery of a message starts on one platform and moves to additional platforms in order to give readers the complete message. For example, you can use Twitter to grab readers' attention, then link to a blog post for an in-depth narrative on the topic, then link to a database-driven webpage with reference material, then link to YouTube or SlideShare for a presentation.

The ability to transport readers across multiple platforms offers some significant benefits:

  • Casting a wider net by using multiple media to capture more target readers
  • Staging a complex message in a way that keeps readers intrigued without overwhelming them
  • Weaving in multiple media types along the way (such as embedded videos or infographics)
  • Giving readers the flexibility to navigate their own paths through the information as they discover how it applies to them

In the old days of print-heavy communication, a complex message was usually communicated via a lengthy printed report, working from the title page through the introduction, body, supporting graphics, and appendices. While such reports suffered from the usual drawbacks of printed media, they had the huge advantage of being closed systems in the sense that everything was there in one place, within a single, unified message structure. Readers didn't need to click around to get additional information, and writers didn't need to worry that readers would get distracted by a more entertaining YouTube video halfway through the document.

Crafting a successful multi-stage message requires all the skills needs for every business message, including using several of the compositional modes for electronic media, plus the ability to plot a clear path from the message's beginning to intended conclusion (or conclusions, as various readers might want to take different paths). It can be a big challenge to move readers from stage to stage without losing them to the multitude of distractions online while balancing the need to guide them while also offering the flexibility to choose their own paths if appropriate.

The accounting and consulting firm Deloitte offers some great examples of multi-stage messages to share with your students. Deloitte frequently uses Twitter ( as the first stage, such as sharing a startling statistic or a provocative forecast, then linking to one or more other platforms where readers can get the rest of the story. In some cases, the message delivery system is more or less closed, such as a tweet that links to a special landing page for a new research report or an upcoming webcast, making it easy to keep information delivery on track. In other cases, though, a tweet might link to one of the company's regional homepages, where the reader is then tempted by a dozen or more other interesting graphics and headlines, all competing for attention.

You can use this concept of multi-stage messages to demonstrate for students (a) the importance of being able to write in the various modes, from compelling teasers on Twitter to engaging narratives in a blog post or webcast, and (b) the need to plan carefully before crafting multi-stage messages so readers don't fall off the bus before the tour is over, so to speak.

You might also create a "treasure hunt" exercise for students, asking them to start with a single tweet from a company such as Deloitte, follow that message through as many links as they can find, and describe the structure of the overall message they uncover.

A recent survey took the emotional pulse of the American workforce, and the results are not encouraging. In fact, downright dismal would not be an overstatement. According to Gallup's 2013 State of the American Workplace Report, 70 percent of U.S. employees consider themselves either "not engaged" (52 percent) or "actively disengaged" (18 percent).

Gallup says its research shows a strong correlation between employee engagement and the key measures of business success, including productivity, profitability, and customer satisfaction. The price of disengagement is high—the company estimates that actively disengaged workers cost the U.S. economy a half trillion dollars a year.

Better communication alone can't cure structural employment problems or strategic blunders, but it can surely help in many ways. Consider just one example: According to the survey, "Only 41% of employees felt that they know what their company stands for and what makes its brand different from its competitors’ brands." Wow. Talk about an opportunity for internal communication to make a difference. (Of course, company leaders themselves need to know what their companies stand for and how their brands are differentiated, which isn't always the case.)

Of the six steps Gallup suggests for improving company performance (page 11 of the report), five of them are virtually all about communication, and the sixth (selecting the right managers) emphasizes the need for managers to be effective communicators.

Of course, managers don't need to take all the blame for this situation. Employees with better communication skills are likely to connect more successfully with their managers, their customers, and each other and therefore feel more engaged with their work.

On the plus side, these results confirm the importance of the work you're doing with students, helping them understand the value of effective communication and what it means to communicate in a professional context. More than ever, students who enter the workforce better informed and better prepared will be more likely to succeed in their own careers and to lead successful companies.

With that, we wish you a relaxing and productive summer, whatever your plans may be. We look forward to exchanging more ideas with you in the fall.


Image credit: hawk684

One of the more intriguing effects of social media is the way these tools have put organizational culture on public display. Companies that might have once been known mostly by products, headquarters architecture, and advertising campaigns are now also represented (officially and unofficially) by legions of bloggers, YouTube producers, and Twitter users. Professionals and managers who used to be invisible to the outside world are now presented in rich detail on LinkedIn. Glassdoor and other platforms give employees the chance to vent or boast about the conditions in their workplaces.

Few companies show off their internal culture with the quite the gusto of C3, a customer communications outsourcer based in Plantation, Florida. The company's Facebook page looks more like an internal employee social network than one of the official faces of a corporation with a global footprint. You'll find more photos of office birthday parties and costume-day getups than you will official company announcements or marketing messages.

This inside-out approach to communication is by design, according to C3's marketing VP Alicia Laszewski. Quoted in Workforce Management, she explains that it's part of a strategy to position the company as a great place to work, which helps attract employees (and, presumably, clients who want to outsource their customer contact work to a company populated by happy employees). "If your campaign is about people loving the work environment, you'd better create a company where people really love to come to work. If not, it's just a marketing campaign." Hence the party-hat, pajama-clad atmosphere of the Facebook page.

As the Internet-raised generation moves onto and up the corporate ladder, we can expect more companies to put themselves on public display like this. Will the gap between external image and internal reality collapse as a result? How will this affect the practice of corporate communications, which has long had control, or at least the illusion of control, over how the company was presented to the outside world?

With this and other communication matters to ponder, we'll leave you with best wishes for a relaxing summer. We'll see you again as the fall semester approaches. Have a great summer!

One of the more intriguing aspects of age diversity in the workplace is the degree to which technology has shaped the communication habits and preferences of each generation. For instance, Generation Y (roughly speaking, those born between 1981 and 1995) has a well-documented preference for electronic media, from texting to IM to social networking. Coupled with a generally more casual approach to information privacy, this reliance on electronic media can clash with the habits and expectations of older workers and managers.

As Generation Y continues to move into workplace and up the managerial ladder, these cultural mismatches are only going to get more common. Moreover, as a recent article in Workforce Management ("Gen Y Execs Shake Up Office Culture") points out, this generation's embrace of entrepreneurship is creating new organizational cultures built around electronic media.

The differences in technology preferences can be significant on their own, but the changes run much deeper than just the tools themselves, of course. Here are some of the issues to consider:

  • Lean versus rich media. Lean media, those with the fewest informational cues and least potential for feedback or personalization, are at the core of this culture clash. For example, Baby Boomers accustomed to walking down the hall to a colleague's office or using their phones for actual voice communication are sometimes dismayed at the tendency of younger workers to fire off a terse text message in situations where they believe a more nuanced live conversation would be more effective. Gen Yers, for their part, can sometimes wonder what all the fuss is about, having grown up texting and IMing.
  • Synchronous communication with real-time feedback. Richer media, including phone and face-to-face conversations, can make it much easier to resolve misunderstandings and negotiate shared meanings. We've probably all had the experience of getting stuck in time-consuming email loops where neither side seems to be getting the message, only to resolve the confusion with a quick phone call.
  • A comfort level with distributed, virtual team communication. As networked and even unstructured organizations become more common and traditional employment gives way to independent contracting for many workers, the ability to communicate without a fixed organizational framework is becoming increasingly important. For all their perceived shortcomings in other areas, Gen Y communicators have a big head start here—and could be developing information encoding and decoding methods that work well in this environment but are perhaps underappreciated by older communicators because they don't fit established patterns and process models.
  • Illusions of communication efficiency and effectiveness. Every mode is vulnerable to the illusion that communication efforts are successful, of course, but email and other asynchronous modes are particularly prone to this because it is so easy to fall into the trap of believing that hitting the "send" or "publish" button is the same thing as communicating.
  • Attitudes about privacy and sharing. These concerns range from publishing sensitive company information (or inappropriate personal information) to treating information as a resource to be shared, rather than as a "power lever" to be hoarded and used selectively.

Given the range of important differences involved in media choices, how far should the business communication course move toward reflecting these emerging preferences? There is never enough time to cover everything we'd like to cover, naturally, so how do we find the optimum balance? For instance, many instructors like to devote time to telephone skills, and understandably so, but should some of that time be shifted over to skill development with instant messaging (as one example), given the shifts in workplace habits? On the other hand, one can argue that the very lack of practice and finesse with phone conversations makes this mode even more important to cover in the business communication course.

We'd love to hear your thoughts, particularly if you've already made changes in your topic coverage or teaching style to accommodate these evolving habits and preferences.


Image credit: woodleywonderworks

Newsfeeds from blogs and other online publishers can be a great way to stay on top of developments in any field. However, anyone who has signed up for more than a few RSS feeds has probably experienced the "firehose effect" of getting so many feeds so quickly that it becomes impossible to stay on top of them. Moreover, when a highly active publisher feeds every new article, from the essential to the trivial, the reader is left to sort it all out every day.

An intriguing alternative to newsfeeds is media curation, in which someone with expertise or interest in a particular field collects and republishes material on a particular topic. Business Communication Headline News, for instance, was one of the earliest examples of media curation in the field of business communication.

The latest curation tools, such as, make it easy to assemble attractive online magazines or portfolios on specific topics. To see these tools in action, check out Bovee & Thill's Online Magazines for Business Communication:

  • Business Communication 2.0: Social Media and Electronic Communication
  • Teaching Visual Communication
  • Teaching a Modern Business Communication Course
  • Teaching Business Communication and Employment
  • Teaching Business Communication and Workplace Issues
  • Teaching Business Communication and Interpersonal Communication

And on the right side of our home page, you can see the many curated magazines that we follow as well.

Curation promises to bring the power of community and shared expertise to a lot of different fields, and we're excited to see how it will shape business communication.

See media curation video.

Happy New Year! From everyone on the Bovée-Thill team, we wish you a successful new term.

Looking at what lies ahead for business communication, this recent article in Workforce Magazine certainly caught our attention. The consulting firm MBO Partners predicts that over half the U.S. workforce will be independent by 2020. Reaching that threshold would require an increase from 16 million independent workers today to 70 million in just eight years, but even if the eventual growth falls short of that forecast, the rapid increase in unattached professionals is dramatically reshaping the nature of business—and business communication.

The sheer number is not the only important change going on here, either. In past years, corporate refugees made up an important share of the independent workforce. We know from our own experience that these people often benefited from the mentoring, formal training, "safe" learning opportunities, and professional networking that corporate structures can provide. When they went solo, they took these skills and connections with them.

However, with the spread of virtual organizations, the increase in freelance project work, and the weak employment market, we suspect that many workers will take—or be forced to take—the independent route without the broad skill sets that former corporate employees have.

Not only will more workers be operating outside a formal organization structure, in other words, but a significant number are likely to be fending for themselves without the benefit of much organizational communication experience at all.

Depending on how this scenario plays out in the coming years, the implications for business communication education could be profound. As freelance work has gone mainstream, from a relative rarity to an accepted career path to the very model on which some companies operate, the assumption that business communication takes place largely within a defined organizational context is becoming less and  less valid.

Moreover, in this new world of work, business communication skills will become even more important than they are now. On the one hand, less-skilled communicators without the support of an organization to carry them along face a rough future as independents. Even experienced corporate pros can be shocked at the demands that suddenly being one's own salesforce puts on their persuasion and negotiation skills. Many freelancers are in nearly constant job-search mode, always scrambling for the next project and the next client.

On the other hand, skilled communicators can use their talents to land the most interesting and profitable projects and to build sustaining client relationships that ease the pressure of constantly needing to sell, sell, sell.

We've addressed virtual work and networked organizations in our textbooks for some time now, and we'll continue to adapt our coverage and content as the business landscape changes. In the meantime, we invite you to share your thoughts on how this seismic shift could change the practice and study of business communication.

One this is certain: The communication skills you are helping your students develop now are going to mean the difference between struggle, survival, and success in the future.