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Archive for the 'Professionalism' Category

In the entertainment industry, the road to success often starts with "the pitch," a brief presentation to a studio executive by a writer, actor, director, or producer (or a team of these people). If the executive is intrigued by the concept, it might be discussed further within the studio, and eventually a decision will be made about funding production. With so much riding on this short presentation, it’s a high-anxiety event, and making pitches is a vital communication skill. In fact, the ability to pitch effectively is so important that it has its own industry slang term: being "good in a room." Pitches can fall flat for a number of reasons, whether the concept is just not a good fit for a particular studio, the idea is so unusual that the executives are unwilling to risk investing in it, or the pitch is just poorly presented. A presenter may fail by being unable to summarize what a new show or movie idea is all about, by smothering the executives in too many details, or by trying too hard to sell the concept. Comedy super-agent Peter Principato, recently profiled in the New York Times, gives his clients presentation advice that lends itself to a wide range of business presentations in just about any profession or industry:

  • First, come up with a single compelling sentence that describes the show or movie. If presenters can’t do this, chances are they haven’t thought the idea out well enough, or the idea is so complicated that it would be too risky or too expensive to attempt. This one-line summary is essential for another reason, in that the first studio executive to hear the pitch will usually need to share it with other executives or potential financiers before a decision can be made. A catchy, succinct idea is a lot easier to repeat than a rambling, confused concept.
  • Second, expand on that one sentence with a single paragraph that builds interest by substantiating the concept and helping the listener envision what the show or movie would be like.
  • Third, for a proposed series, explain how the concept would play out, week by week, by describing several episodes.
  • Fourth, fill in the "big picture," such as by describing how the show would look on screen or by rounding out the main characters.

(You’ve probably noticed how this advice follows the classic AIDA model of getting attention, building interesting, increasing desire, and asking for a decision, which is what makes Principato’s advice valuable for just about any profession.) As a fresh take on presentation projects for your business communication class, have students "reverse engineer" a favorite TV program to craft a pitch, including the one-sentence grabber, the one-paragraph interest-builder, and the broader explanation of how the TV series would play out. Have individuals or teams pitch their program ideas to the rest of the class, who play the role of studio executives.

Generational differences abound in the workplace, but few are quite as visible as body art: tattoos, piercings (other than ear lobes), and hair dyes in unconventional colors. According to survey data from the Pew Research Center, people younger than 40 are much more inclined than those over 40 to display some form of body art. For example, people 26 to 40 years old are four times more likely to have tattoos than people who are 41 to 64 years old.

With such profound differences, it’s no surprise that body art has become a contentious issue in many workplaces, between employees wanting to express themselves and employers wanting to maintain particular standards of professional appearance. As employment law attorney Danielle S. Urban writes in Workforce Management, the issue gets even more complicated when religious symbolism is involved.

Who is likely to win this battle? Will the body art aficionados who continue to join the workforce and who are now rising up the managerial ranks force a change in what is considered acceptable appearance in the workplace? Or will they be forced to cover up in order to meet traditional standards?

Have your students expressed any opinions about their right to display body art in the workplace?

Millions of bloggers, tweeters, and forum posters appreciate the free-wheeling nature of online communication, but a growing number are learning that free speech sometimes has a steep price. As Santa Clara University’s Eric Goldman emphasizes in this helpful overview article, “Most people have no idea of the liability they face when they publish something online.”

Anonymity is no safeguard, either. Even anonymous posters have been sued for negative remarks after the websites on which they left comments were forced to reveal their identities.

These legal and ethical issues in online communication offer intriguing and sometimes troubling examples to discuss with students. To find cases to cover in class, a good place to start is the “Legal Threats Database” maintained by the Citizen Media Law Project.

We’d love to hear about your experiences teaching online ethics, etiquette, and associated legal matters as part of a business communication course.


This blog post from the developers of the FreshBooks online business accounting system demonstrates audience focus in multiple ways, starting with the effort behind the message. Every business worries about how quickly customers will pay their bills, so FreshBooks analyzed the customer data it had on hand to see which payment terms and invoice messages generated the quickest responses. This alone is remarkable customer service; the audience-focused presentation of the information makes it that much better.

We have annotated a copy of the post that you can share with your students (on two PowerPoint slides).

(The PowerPoint slides were updated on 10-09-10 to correct two of the annotations.)