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VisuallyInfographics tend to fall into two basic categories: stylized data presentations and narratives. The former, such as this piece on customer satisfaction and loyalty, don’t necessarily convey any more information than basic charts and graphs in a conventional report or webpage would, but their communication value lies in their ability to catch the audience’s attention and the ease with which they can be distributed online.

The latter go beyond this, taking full advantage of the visual medium to tell stories or show interconnected processes. These infographics can be powerful communication tools, even to the point of replacing conventional reports. This infographic from the Sustainable America initiative, for example, uses the infographic format to explain how to compost successfully even if you live in an apartment. Narrative infographics can become quite elaborate, such as this animated piece on the story of coffee production.

For a class activity, ask students to find several narrative-style infographics online (visual.ly is a good place to start) and analyze their storytelling effectiveness. Does each infographic tell an effective story? How does it use emotional and logical elements to make its case? Does it use any suspect or oversimplified information (failing to differentiate correlation and causation seems to be a common sin among infographic designers)?

Creating professional-quality infographics is beyond the reach of the average business communicator, but if you'd like to have students give infographic design a try, they can draw sketches by hand or use the simple graphical tools in word processing or presentation software.


EdisonThe timeline feature in Facebook is a great tool for visual narration, particularly if a company has a rich library of compelling photos and other visuals to use. And as GE demonstrates, if you're telling a story of innovation, it helps if you can start the story with an image of one of the most famous inventors in history!

This PowerPoint slide shows the beginning of the GE timeline story.

Bovee and Thill blog – Hall of Fame – GE on Facebook


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 (https://twitter.com/Deloitte) 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.


GamesRadarOne of the most effective business uses of Twitter is as a "headline-announcement service," alerting readers to new blog posts, new pieces in online magazines, and other fresh content. However, writing effective Twitter teasers for any given target audience is a bit of an artform. The videogame review site GamesRadar.com does a good job of this, enticing game fans with cheeky and provocative prompts.

Here's an annotated snapshot of the company's Twitter account with several examples: Bovee and Thill blog – Hall of Fame – GamesRadar on Twitter

This post offers an overview of teasers and the other compositional modes that students should be comfortable with when writing for electronic media. The post also includes a link to a new video on the Bovée-Thill YouTube Channel that explores these modes.


Infographic resumeInfographic résumés are getting a lot of buzz these days. We cover them in all three of our business communication textbooks and provide a variety of examples via our Real-Time Updates and Business Communication Headline News services. In certain situations, a well-designed infographic résumé used at the right point in the job application process can be a great tool. On the other hand, an infographic résumé that is poorly designed, poorly produced, or used inappropriately can torpedo an applicant's chances. Understanding why infographic résumés can help or hurt can be a great lesson in effective business communication—for any type of document or message.

Here are some helpful teaching points for using infographic résumés as examples of effective or ineffective communication:

  • Understanding audience needs. The single biggest problem with infographic résumés is incompatibility with established résumé-handling processes, particularly automated applicant tracking systems and the manual methods recruiters are accustomed to using. Computerized systems are likely to just reject them, and with only a few seconds to spend on each résumé during the screening stage, human recruiters are ill-inclined to spend the time it can take to decode an infographic résumé. With dozens or hundreds of applicants pouring in for every opening in many cases, recruiters need to make rapid-fire decisions about whether each candidate is a potential fit for the job and therefore worth spending more time on. If a résumé doesn't communicate that within a matter of seconds, it has failed at its primary purpose.
  • Focusing on the receiver, not the sender. Some infographic résumés suffer from "Look at me! Aren't I fabulous?" syndrome. Yes, you need to stand out from the crowd, but you need to do so in a way that meets the audience's needs, not yours. A résumé needs to say, "Here's how I can help you," not "Here's how great I am."
  • Playing against expectations. The knock on conventional résumé formats is that they are boring and predictable. Yes, but so are stop signs. However, they also communicate well because all audience members know what to expect and where to find the information they need. That said, in the right circumstances, an infographic résumé can be effective way to catch a reader's attention by delivering information in an unexpected way. (Having said that, however, it's likely that infographic résumés are becoming so common in some professions that they won't jump out the way they used to.)
  • Demonstrating creativity—in the right way. Certain jobs have high expectations for visual creativity and creative thinking in general, and infographic résumés can be a great job-application tool for these opportunities. Someone applying for a graphic designer in an ad agency, for example, would be expected to have some visual promotion in the mix. This points back to knowing your audience, of course. The accounting manager in a construction firm is less likely to be impressed by an infographic résumé than the creative director in an ad agency would be.
  • The legal side of communication. Photos are a common element in infographic résumés, but including a photo on any document too early in the job search process can be a mistake. Some employment-law experts advise companies against reviewing any photos or videos of candidates during the screening phase to minimize the risk of discrimination lawsuits.
  • Readability and design considerations. As with infographics in general, infographic résumés run the gamut from effective to awful. Designing and producing successful infographics are two skills that many business professionals simply don't have. Even when an infographic is the right tool at the right time, nobody wants to waste time following a convoluted treasure map in search of essential information. 

For most job seekers, the best use of an infographic résumé is as a support document to use in selected circumstances or as part of an online presence (social media résumé, e-portfolio, etc.). As with everything else in communication, it all starts with knowing your audience.


We’re pleased to be joining you for another year of sharing business communication tips and techniques.

With many students looking ahead to the job-search process, this is a great time to discuss professional networking.

Networking is a multi-purpose learning tool because it combines so many important business communication skills, from conducting research and adopting the “you” attitude to writing concise messages and engaging in one-on-one conversations both in person and online. Here are some quick tips for helping your students hone their networking skills:

  • Remind them that networking is the process of making informal connections with mutually beneficial business contacts. With employers relying so heavily on referrals as a major recruiting source, fostering network connections has become an essential career skill.
  • The concept of mutual benefits is key: would-be networkers who race around looking for people to help them without offering anything in return won’t build much of a network.
  • Networking takes place wherever and whenever people communicate: at industry functions, social gatherings, alumni reunions—and all over the Internet, from LinkedIn to Facebook to Twitter.
  • Students should start building their networks now, before they need them. Classmates could end up being some of their most valuable contacts over the long haul.
  • Branch out by identifying people with similar interests in target professions, industries, and companies. Read news sites, blogs, and other online sources. Follow industry leaders on Twitter and individual executives at target companies to learn about their interests and concerns. Be on the lookout for career-oriented Tweetups. Connect with people on LinkedIn and Facebook, particularly in groups dedicated to particular career interests.
  • Depending on the system and the settings on individual users’ accounts, students may be able to introduce themselves via public or private messages. Of course, it’s vital to be respectful of people and not take up much of their time.
  • Student business organizations, especially those with ties to professional organizations, are a great networking opportunity. Students can also visit local trade shows to learn about various industries and rub shoulders with people who work in those industries.
  • By volunteering, students can meet people in business and demonstrate the ability to communicate and collaborate on various projects.

Remind students to pay close attention to networking etiquette:

  • Learn something about the people with whom they want to connect.
  • Don’t overwhelm others with too many messages or requests.
  • Be succinct in all communication efforts.
  • Don’t give out other people’s names and contact information without their permission to do so.
  • Never email a résumé to complete strangers.
  • Remember to say thanks every time someone offers help.

To become a valued network member, students need to be able to help others in some way. They may not have any influential contacts yet, but because they’re actively researching a number of industries and trends in their own job searches, they probably have valuable information they can share via their social networks, blog, or Twitter account. Or they might simply be able to connect one person with another who can help.

Finally and most emphatically, remind students that employers judge them by their social networks, so they must use discretion in making online connections. Also, students should be aware that some employers contact people in a candidate’s social networks for background information, even if the candidate doesn’t list those people as references.

If you have any thoughts on using networking as a teaching tool, please share them in the comments.

Best wishes for a successful year!

 

Image credit: Dell


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


To students and professionals alike, the rules of business etiquette can seem both complicated and fussy. Unfortunately, important issues that hurt relationships and hobble careers can get lost in worries over making sure one's cravat is properly starched or whether one is using all seven dinner forks in the proper order.

With tongue planted only slightly in cheek here, it dawns on us that a vast swath of business etiquette can be covered by one simple rule: Stop being so annoying. Establishing this rule as a foundation for workplace behavior would help curtail a host of unwelcome habits. For example, you've probably been put off by companies or colleagues who exhibit these behaviors:

  • Maintaining zombie communication channels, including email and voicemail accounts that appear to be active and alive but are in fact ignored by their supposed owners. Individual messages sometimes fall through the cracks, of course. We're talking here of the people who fail to respond to one or more messages and eventually explain that "Oh, I never check voicemail" or "I don't use that email account anymore." Owners of these zombie channels could save colleagues and customers a lot of grief if they would simply delete the accounts or at the very least indicate via outgoing message or auto-response that the account is not monitored.
  • Using weak passwords that make email and Twitter accounts easy to hack, resulting in streams of spams and scams for everyone on the contact list—and as a lovely bonus, a fresh batch of verified active email addresses for spammers to reuse and resell.
  • Publishing individual or corporate Twitter and Facebook streams that are 90 percent ads and look-at-me posts, with very little value-added content. Of course, no one is forced to subscribe to any content stream, but annoyance sets in when a person or organization promises to have a social media dialogue and then acts like an infomercial.
  • Failing to exercise enough self-containment to keep personal problems, emotional meltdowns, schedule disasters, and other issues from spewing all over everyone within physical or digital range.
  • Not making the effort to write or speak clearly. Communication skills vary widely from person to person, to be sure, but there's a big difference between being lightly skilled and being careless or thoughtless.

Not to discount the niceties of etiquette, but removing the negatives seems more critical to healthy business relationships than adding the positives—worrying more about the "don'ts" than the "dos," in other words.

Would emphasizing this angle make etiquette a more relevant and reachable topic for your students? Please let us know what you think.

 

Image credit: MirellaST


Surviving Social Feedback

April 18, 2013

To do business in the social media era is to walk around with a giant "Kick me" sign taped to one's back. Evernote CEO Phil Libin put it perfectly in a recent Inc. article: "…the Internet is the most efficient invention in the history of the universe for concentrating dissatisfaction into its purest, darkest, and most bilious essence."

Every business from the corner coffee shop to the mightiest multinational is subject to public criticism that can be unfair, unkind, and at times deeply personal. Responding to legitimate criticism without letting the negativity corrode one's peace of mind can be a tricky balancing act. Here are some steps that anyone with an online presence can take to handle the onslaught:

  • Separate rants from legitimate complaints. Ranters have a remarkable ability to turn any situation into an opportunity to spew off about politics and a host of other unrelated topics, and it is far too easy to take the bait. Rants are emotional poison that have no place in business communication, and it's best to filter them (by moderating blog comments, for example) or removing them as quickly as possible. If they're left visible, they'll eat at team morale, even if no one responds to them.
  • Examine the complaints by first separating factual content from emotional content. A comment such as "Whoever designed this user interface doesn't know the first thing about ergonomics" offers the fact that someone is dissatisfied with the user interface. The comment might be spot on or misguided (perhaps the person is misusing the product or hasn't been trained), but the dissatisfaction is a data point that needs to be considered.
  • Analyze the emotional content for the audience needs it suggests. Remember that strong emotions usually mean the subject matter is important. Perhaps you're not performing the way every stakeholder would like, but at least you're striving toward a valued goal, which suggests that an opportunity exists. Then again, the anger in a comment may have nothing at all to do with the matter at hand; a commenter might just be having a rotten day, and it spilled onto Twitter or your blog.
  • Pay attention to team morale. Regularly remind everyone involved that negativity is an inescapable element of life online and that criticism shouldn't be taken personally. Gallows humor and a chance to blow off some steam from time to time can help people scrape off the emotional barnacles that tend to accumulate. Evernote's Libin emphasizes the importance of sharing good news, too. Doing so can soothe battered emotions and remind everyone that for every complainer, there might be dozens or hundreds or thousands of silently happy customers.

Ragers and trolls aren't going anywhere, so the ability to listen actively without sponging up all the negative emotions has become an important skill for business communicators at every level. Students who are active in social media may have experienced personal attacks, and discussing how they've reacted can be a good opportunity to advise them on how to handle public criticism on the job.

In addition to handling the emotional fallout from online criticism, of course, organizations need an overall communication strategy for responding to incoming complaints. These three articles offer good advice:

 

Image credit: Thoth, God of Knowledge


A recent opinion piece in the New York Times on new etiquette norms in the digital age caused a minor stir when the writer asserted that simple "thank you" messages are often rude because they waste the recipient's time. The writer's point was that there generally is no need to acknowledge receipt of information sent via email or other electronic channels—and doing so only contributes to the deluge of messages that many professionals are forced to wade through every day.

Wasting people's time by sending unnecessary messages is indeed thoughtless; we don't dispute that. However, a blanket condemnation of thank you messages betrays a misunderstanding of communication etiquette and communication in general.

First, thank you messages often serve as confirmation that information has been received, and this feedback is particularly important when the sender assumes that some follow-on action will be taken after the message is received. Between overstuffed in-boxes and overaggressive spam filters, email messages don't always reach intended recipients, and knowing information was delivered successfully removes one element of uncertainty from the process.

Second, relationship maintenance is often as important as information transfer, and even in this new age it seems safe to say that many people still appreciate being thanked for their efforts, no matter how minor. Moreover, not saying thank you would be awkward for many people as well. In other words, saying thanks can be emotionally significant for senders as well as receivers.

What do your students think? Do they tend to say thank you when they receive messages from you or each other? Do you expect them to say thanks?

 

Image credit: Jon Ashcroft