Free Video for Classroom Use: Sharing Negative Information Without Being Negative

BT VideosWe're excited to launch a new series of brief videos that you can use to supplement your lectures. These videos address specific communication challenges and offer practical advice that students can apply now in their coursework and take with them on the job.

We're producing two versions of each video. The instructor version concludes with information about the Bovée & Thill business communication series, including links to order examination copies. The student version is identical except for the textbook information.

The first video addresses a challenge that every business communicator faces: how to share negative information without being negative. Here are links to both versions:

Instructor version

Student version

We hope you find these useful, and we welcome any feedback you might have.

The Future of Communication: Blind Auditions

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

Five Steps to Help Your Students Develop Their Personal Brands

Most students preparing to enter or reenter the job market have probably heard the advice to develop a personal brand but might not know how to proceed. Here are five steps that can make the task feel easier and more authentic.

Step 1: Don’t Call It Personal Branding If You Don’t Care for the Term

Some people object to the term personal branding, with it associations of product marketing, the implied need to “get out there and promote yourself,” and perhaps the unseemly idea of reducing something as complex as a professional persona to an advertising slogan. Students just starting their careers can also wonder how to craft a meaningful brand when they don’t have any relevant work experience.

Moreover, one can argue that the term is most directly applicable to professional speakers, authors, consultants, entrepreneurs, and others who must promote themselves in the public marketplace. People who aspire to professional or managerial positions in a corporate structure may rightly wonder why they need to “brand” themselves at all.

However, the underlying concept of branding as a promise applies to everyone, no matter the career stage or trajectory. A brand is fundamentally a promise to deliver on a specific set of values. For everyone in business, that promise is critical, whether it extends to a million people in the online audience for a TED talk or a half-dozen people inside a small company. And even students with no relevant professional experience have personal attributes and their educational qualifications as the foundations of their brand.

As an alternative to a personal brand, you can invite students to think of their professional promise. Ask them to frame it this way: When people hear your name, what do you want them to think about you and your qualifications?

Step 2: Write the “Story of You”

When it’s time to write or update a résumé, we encourage students to step back and think about where they’ve been in their lives and their careers and where they’d like to go. Helpful questions include Do you like the path you’re on, or is it time for a change? Are you focused on a particular field, or do you need some time to explore?

This is also a great planning tool for developing a personal brand. In our texts we refer to this exercise as writing the “story of you,” and it’s divided into three sections:

  • Where I have been—the experiences from my past that give me insight into where I would like to go in the future
  • Where I am now—where I currently stand in terms of education and career and what I know about myself (including knowledge and skills, personal attributes, and professional interests)
  • Where I want to be—the career progress and experiences I want to have, areas I want to explore, and goals I want to achieve

Students should think in terms of an image or a theme they’d like to project. Am I academically gifted? An effective leader? A well-rounded professional with wide-ranging talents? A creative problem solver? A technical wizard?

Writing this story arc is a valuable planning exercise that helps students think about where they want to go in their careers. In essence, they are clarifying who they are professionally and defining a future version of themselves—and these are the foundations of the personal brand/professional promise. Another important benefit is that it makes the personal branding effort authentic, because it is based on a student’s individual interests and passions.

Step 3: Construct Your Brand Pyramid

With a professional story arc as a guide, the next step is construct a brand pyramid that has all the relevant support points needed to build a personal brand message.

Branding pyramidFirst, compile a private inventory of skills, attributes, experience, and areas for improvement. This should be a positive but realistic assessment of what you have to offer now and a “to-grow” list of areas where you want to develop or improve. Obviously, this inventory isn’t for public consumption.

Second, select the appropriate materials from your inventory to develop a public profile that highlights the qualities you want to promote. As Step 5 explains, this profile can take on a variety of forms for different communication platforms.

Third, distill your professional promise down to a single headline, also known as a tagline or elevator pitch. The headline should be a statement of compelling value, not a generic job title. Instead of “I’m a social media specialist,” one might say “I help small companies get the same reach on social media as giant corporations.”

Of course, many students won’t have the relevant job experience to say something like this, and to a large extent, their personal brands will be an expression of potential. The key is to make sure it’s realistic and suggests a logical connection between the present and the future. Someone pursuing an MBA in finance can reasonably claim to have a strong toolset for financial analysis, but someone with no corporate work experience can’t claim to be a bold, high-impact executive.

Here’s a good example: “I am a data science major ready to make numbers come alive through leading-edge techniques in data mining, visualization, and AI.”

Note that both the public profile and the headline should use relevant keywords from target job descriptions.

Step 4: Reduce or Eliminate Factors That Could Damage Your Brand

Every brand, no matter how popular and powerful, can be damaged by negative perceptions or performance issues. After identifying all the positives, students should do an objective analysis of areas that could undermine their career building efforts. For example, someone who tends to overpromise and underdeliver is going to develop a reputation for unreliability that could outweigh whatever positive qualities he or she can bring to the job.

Other concerns might be related to specific skills that a person needs to develop in order to progress toward his or her career goals.

Step 5: Put Your Brand/Promise to Work

With all this information in hand, it’s time to put the branding message to work.

The public profile could be expressed in a variety of ways—as a conventional résumé, the summary section on LinkedIn, as an infographic résumé, or the introductory section of a personal webpage or e-portfolio.

The headline can be adapted and used in multiple ways as well, including the headline field on LinkedIn, the qualifications summary on a résumé, a Twitter profile, and as a ready answer to the common interview question “So, tell me about yourself.”

Naturally, the brand message should be consistent across all the platforms and conversations where it used. For instance, an employer reviewing a résumé is likely to visit the candidate’s LinkedIn profile as well, so it’s important that the messages match.

Lastly, the branding pyramid should be a “living document” that is updated whenever a person acquires new skills or job experiences or wants to move in a different direction. In addition, periodically revisiting the “story of you” can be a great way to recapture the passion that initially launched you down your career path.


Photo: Charles Knox/Shutterstock

The Future of Communication: Socialbots and Taskbots

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

Groundbreaking New Service: Change Business Communication Textbooks Quickly and Easily with QuickSwitch


QuickSwitch makes it easy to identify the best Bovée & Thill textbook for your business communication course and then quickly build your syllabus and lesson plans with our exclusive system.


The system works in three stages:

  1. Selection Advice and Transition Guides: The three books in the Bovée & Thill series cover a wider range of course needs than any other business communication series, so you may find that more than one Bovée & Thill title is a potential replacement for your current text. We offer advice to help you choose the right book for your unique needs. After you’ve decided which book to use, the Transition Guide provides detailed information to help you move to your chosen book, including high-level mapping that shows how the table of contents of your current text maps to the Bovée & Thill book, detailed content mapping that shows where to find comparable content sections from your current book in the Bovée & Thill book, a terminology translator that explains any differences in how the two books use important terms, and activity mapping that shows where to find comparable assignments and other student projects. The guide also highlights new material and new activities available in your Bovée & Thill book that your current book doesn’t have.
  2. Syllabus Assistant: This interactive tool helps you generate a syllabus that makes the best use of your new Bovée & Thill title, including course outcomes, detailed assessment rubrics, and the framework for a course calendar. You can easily pull in content from your existing syllabus and add required material from your institution. After you’ve completed the online interview, the system generates a Word document that you can then customize and finalize as needed.
  3. Lesson Plan Assistant: Choose from a list of important topics that you’d like to cover, such as communicating with diverse audiences or writing routine and positive messages. These documents provide the background information to build a successful lesson, keyed to content in your new Bovée & Thill text, which you can then adapt to your teaching interests and the specific parameters of your course schedule.

Visit QuickSwitch to see how quickly and easily you could change business communication textbooks.


Using the Business Communication Course to Teach Professionalism

Elements of ProfessionalismOne of the major benefits of the business communication course is that it helps students practice so many valuable skills, from research and analysis to organization and document design.

The course also creates an opportunity to incorporate these communication-focused skills into the larger context of being a business professional. We define professionalism as the quality of performing at a high level and conducting oneself with purpose and pride. It means doing more than putting in the hours and collecting a paycheck—true professionals go beyond minimum expectations and commit to making lasting and valuable contributions.

To give students a useful framework for understanding this concept of professionalism, we break it down into six distinct traits:

  1. Striving to excel. Pros are good at what they do, and they never stop improving. Remind students that communication is a set of skills that will benefit from the practice, coaching, and feedback they get in the course. And as with any skill, mindful practice leads to competence, efficiency, and personal satisfaction. Encourage students who are in the early stages of skill development to hang in there and take pride in incremental improvements, and emphasize that the ultimate goal of all this work is to help them share their great ideas with the world.
  2. Being dependable and accountable. Communication tasks offer myriad opportunities to practice the second aspect of professionalism. Students can demonstrate dependability and accountability by completing assignments on time, following instructions and guidelines, and producing quality content that audiences can count on. Planning and time management are crucial supporting skills here, of course, to avoid getting a reputation as someone who overpromises and underdelivers. Being accountable also means owning up to mistakes and learning from failures, which always provide opportunities to assess and improve.
  3. Being a team player. Professionals know they are contributors to a larger cause, that it’s not all about them. Great team players know how to make those around them more effective, whether it’s lending a hand during crunch time, sharing resources, removing obstacles, making introductions, or offering expertise. In fact, the ability to help others improve their performance is one of the key attributes executives look for when they want to promote people into management. Being a team player also means showing loyalty to your organization and protecting your employer’s reputation—a major concern in this age of social media. Pros don’t badmouth colleagues, customers, or their employers. When they have a problem, they solve it; they don’t share it.
  4. Demonstrating a sense of etiquette. Etiquette is a vital element of every form of communication, from one-on-one conversations to online messages read by millions. The general concept of following the expected norms of behavior is easy enough to grasp, but students may need some coaching and practice to identify and follow norms in specific situations. With writing assignments, encourage students to consider the impact that phrasing and wording choices can have on their readers. For messages dealing with negative situations, for instance, even subtle changes can shift the emphasis from productive problem-solving to destructive criticism. With class discussions and presentations, discuss how active listening and mutual respect can influence collaborative outcomes and working relationships.
  5. Making ethical decisions. True professionals conduct themselves with a clear sense of right and wrong. They avoid committing ethical lapses, and they carefully weigh all the options when confronted with ethical dilemmas. Assignments and class discussions that confront students with difficult ethical dilemmas are a good way to help them develop the ability to analyze situations and weigh the pros and cons of competing courses of action.
  6. Maintaining a positive outlook. Encourage students to study successful people in any field and notice how optimistic they tend to be. They believe in what they’re doing, and they believe in themselves and their ability to solve problems and overcome obstacles. Being positive doesn’t mean displaying mindless optimism 24/7, of course. It means acknowledging that things may be difficult but then buckling down and getting the job done anyway. It means no whining and no slacking off, even when the going gets tough. We live in an imperfect world, no question—jobs can be boring or difficult, customers can be unpleasant, and bosses can be unreasonable. But when you’re a pro, you find a way to power through, because one negative personality can make an entire workplace miserable and unproductive. Every person in a company has a responsibility to contribute to a positive, productive work environment.

If you have examples of how you use the course to promote professionalism with your students, please let us know in the comments.

More Confirmation That Communication Is the Most Important Career Skill

BurningGlass-BaselineSkills-Ranking-600x775As we embark on another fall term, it's always good to remind ourselves and our students just how valuable the skills learned in the business communication course truly are. Students must put a lot of time and energy into this course in order to succeed, so be sure to let them know they're developing skills that will serve them for a lifetime. 

Burning Glass, a company that uses advanced job-market analytics to study the qualifications employers want, confirmed this with an in-depth study across multiple professions. 

In every profession except two, overall communication skills are the most-requested qualification (and in those two professions, it ranked number 2). In addition, writing ranks number 3. (You can click the thumbnail to see the ranking chart or click here for a full-size graphic and an accompanying article.)

Burning Glass offers a comprehensive report on these findings, and one paragraph from the report really jumped out at us:

Writing, communication skills, and organizational skills are scarce everywhere. These skills are in demand across nearly every occupation—and in nearly every occupation they’re being requested far more than you’d expect based on standard job profiles. Even fields like IT and Engineering want people who can write.
(The Human Factor: The Hard Time Employers Have Finding Soft Skills, Burning Glass Technologies, 2015.)

In other words, communication skills can give all graduates a significant competitive advantage in the job market. As part of their studies, business students learn to recognize the value of competitive strengths, and the good news here is they can apply this lesson to themselves and become more valuable and more successful professionals. (For even more evidence of valuable this course is, this post outlines 27 specific ways the business communication course will help them in their academic, personal, and professional lives.)

With this confirmation of our vital shared mission, we wish you and your students a successful fall term! As always, please don't hesitate to get in touch if you'd like to discuss any aspect of business communication practices or pedagogy. 

Hall of Fame: Weebly’s Email Template for Nontechnical Users (with Slide for Classroom Use)

WeeblyAnyone who has lived through an iteration or two of Web technology can appreciate how easy it is to set up and maintain a blog or website these days. Thanks to readymade blog themes, drag-and-drop website builders, and other user-friendly tools, what once required days of hair-pulling coding can now be accomplished by total neophytes in a matter of hours.

However, there are still some occasional dark alleys in this new online paradise. One of these involves managing domain name records when your domain name is registered with one company but your blog or website is hosted by another. (Not all domain registrars offer hosting services, and not all hosting companies offer domain registration.)

If you’re split between service providers like this, you have to act as the intermediary between the two whenever you need to update your domain records. At this point, blissfully nontechnical web users can stumble into a world of DNS control panels, A records, CNAME records, root domains, and the like. If this information had any long-term value to most bloggers and website owners, it might be worth learning, but this truly is disposable knowledge for most people.

The actual steps involved aren’t terribly complicated, but various companies have different terminology and different ways of presenting the steps required so it’s easy for the uninitiated to get lost. Hosting companies can’t access records held at a domain registrar; they can only tell you what needs to be done, then you can try it yourself or email your domain registrar to ask for help. Even if you can ask the registrar to modify your records for you, you need to know what to ask for.

This is where an audience-oriented approach to communication can make all the difference. Rather than simply listing the technical information its customers need to pass along to a registrar, the webhosting company Weebly took the extra step of pre-writing an email message for them. Customers who want to create a site on Weebly or move an existing site to Weebly without changing registrars can simply copy and paste the email message, with one easy change of inserting their domain name. They don’t even need to understand what the message says.

The attached slide has a copy of the Weebly email template, and you can read the entire article here.

Bovee and Thill blog – Hall of Fame – Weebly Email Template


Hall of Fame: WPP’s Reader-Friendly Annual Report (with Slides for Classroom Use)

WPPLong and complex reports, such as corporate annual reports, can place a heavy burden on readers. Publishing these reports online presents an additional set of challenges, because readers can no longer just flip printed pages to skim content or establish context. Fortunately, the Web also provides new opportunities for structure and navigation that can make online reports easy to consume, if reports are crafted with readers' needs firmly in mind.

The London-based holding company WPP Group is the world’s largest marketing communication services firm, with more than 150 component companies involved in every conceivable aspect of advertising and related business activities. All together, WPP companies have nearly 180,000 employees in more than 100 countries. Trying to report on the annual progress of an organization this complicated is no easy task, but WPP’s intelligent, reader-friendly choices make its online annual reports easy to navigate and read.

The attached slides show eight screens from WPP's 2014 annual report, along with helpful annotations and lecture notes.

You can view the full report at 
(When the 2015 report is eventually published, we assume it will be found at

Download Slides Here: Bovee and Thill Blog – Hall of Fame – WPP annual report

Dr. Holly Littlefield’s Epic Collection of Social Media Failures

Holly LittlefieldIf you were fortunate enough to attend Holly Littlefield's presentation at the ABC convention in Seattle this past week, you were treated to an entertaining and highly instructive selection of social media failures. Her talk, "Audience, Brand, Channel: Using Social Media Cases to Teach Communications Concepts," offered a taste of everything from cringe-worthy image choices to clumsy non-apologies.

The examples Dr. Littlefield was able to show during her time slot are only a sample of the episodes she has collected, and she has generously agreed to let us share the full set with you. This extensive PowerPoint presentation (11 MB) offers a variety of cases that highlight the need to understand audiences and make intelligent decisions about communication channels.

Our thanks to Dr. Littlefield for sharing her insights and teaching resources.