Boost Team Meetings

We sit in meetings all the time and complain most of the time.  According to research, an average team meeting includes 69 counteractive statements and only 17 proactive statements. That is a 4:1 ratio of bad to good in meetings! We know we can make it better, but we are not exactly sure how.  Newly published research reveals that procedural communication is the key.

The Journal of Applied Communication Research recently published, “A Sequential Analysis of Procedural Meeting Communication: How Teams Facilitate Their Meetings” by researchers Lehmann-Willenbrock, Allen, and Kauffeld. Unless you are a communication scholar, you probably don’t want to wade through the hypothesis and methods of the research, so I will pull out the gems for you. First, let me share their definition of procedural communication.

Procedural behaviors in team meetings are statements that point out or lead back to the topic, clarify to ensure contributions are to the point, pose questions or suggestions on procedure, reference time, delegate tasks, visualize process, and summarize results. Another way to look at it is that procedural communication is the meta communication that controls the meeting.

This research study of 59 teams found that procedural communication promotes supportive statements and proactive communication, reduces dysfunctional meeting behaviors, and increases meeting satisfaction (if many people in the meeting are contributing to the procedural communication).  Simply put, if everyone in the meeting helps move the meeting along towards it’s stated goal, then that goal is more likely to be reached and participants will be happy. Here are the details:

More Supportive Statements

The study found that procedural statements are often followed by supporting statements from others in the meeting.  For example, if one meeting participant makes a clarifying statement, such as “So essentially you are saying that . . .”, then others in the meeting respond in a positive manner.

More Proactive Communication – who will do what and when

Procedural communication also promotes proactive communication, or talk about who will do what and when.  For example, if a participant makes a time reference such as, “And we should come to a decision, we only have five minutes left.” then other participants respond with what should be done and who should do it.

Less Complaining, Criticizing, and Losing Track

Those are two examples on the positive side, but procedural communication also reduces dysfunctional meeting behaviors, such as complaining, criticizing, and losing train of thought.  For example, after a goal orientation statement, such as “All right, back to the topic.” it is unlikely that the group will lose train of thought in the meeting.  If a participant makes a procedural suggestion, such as “Let’s talk about  . . . first.” it is unlikely another group member will complain or criticize.  In this study, all types of procedural communication had an influence in reducing bad behaviors.

Happier Participants

People report being more satisfied with meetings when procedural communication is shared by meeting participants.  This is important.  It doesn’t work to have one bossy person who is telling everyone what to do and keeping track of time. The responsibility of the meta communication needs to be shared across the group.  “ . . .the distribution of procedural behaviors across members of a meeting is an important factor for promoting meeting satisfaction.”


Make a change.  If you are a manager, encourage all meeting participants to help guide the process of the meeting in addition to contributing content.  If you are a participant, speak up.  Make a goal-oriented, clarifying, prioritizing, time management, or task distribution comment. Not only are others in the meeting likely to respond in a positive manner and complain less, but they will leave the meeting feeling more satisfied.

Lehmann-Willenbrock, N., Allen, J.A. & Kauffeld, S. (2013). A Sequential Analysis of Procedural Meeting Communication: How Teams Facilitate Their Meetings. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 41, 365-388

The Power of The Pause

Coaching CEOs on giving compelling presentations, I am reminded of the Power of the Pause.  Using the pause when speaking is incredibly powerful.  Think of it as the same as white space in graphic design; what you leave blank is as important as what you fill in on a page.  In public speaking pauses are important because they indicate to your audience the significance of what you are saying.  Pauses also give your audience time to assimilate information you just shared.  I recommend pausing for five seconds when a new slide is shown so that the audience gets a chance to read the headline and glance at the visual on the slide prior to hearing words.  I also recommend a two-second pause after a key point is made.  For example, when a start-up CEO says, “Revenues have doubled every year for the past three years,” an immediate pause lets the audience grasp the importance of that information. Great speakers use pauses intentionally.

Pause is not only powerful for speaking, but it is also powerful for listening.  In the American culture, we tend to talk right after one another.  We could debate the reason (I believe it has to do with how we value individual over collective), but just understanding the norm is what is important.  Pausing while speaking in a one-to-one interaction lets the other person speak.  Pausing when the other person has finished speaking lets them know you were truly listening and also that you are carefully considering your words of reply.  I am not talking minutes of silence here, just 2-3 seconds of quiet. Breaking the cultural norm, in this case, is a powerful communication technique.

Gregory Kramer wrote Insight Dialogue about interacting mindfully.  While practicing his technique is intricate, he has six basic instructions I think everyone could use for communication.

  1. Pause
  2. Relax
  3. Open
  4. Trust Emergence
  5. Listen Deeply
  6. Speak the Truth

Of course, it starts with The Pause.  As soon as we pause in speaking with others, the possibility of a different type of interaction arises.  When we relax and open to the experience, we learn to trust what emerges.  Listening deeply and speaking the truth (subjective truth of experience) creates a dialogue that respectful and facilitates mutual understanding.

Whether speaking or listening, the pause is a powerful communication tool.

Use The Power of the Pause.

Presentation Skill Reminders from Around the Web

Periodically seeking advice from other experts on the web constantly expands my perspective on creating excellent presentations.  Here is a sampling of worthwhile advice.

Take Tips from Comedians

John Greathouse, Rincon Ventures

  1. Got for the strong start
  2. Get physical
  3. Manage the hecklers
  4. Develop a repartee
  5. Rehearse spontaneity
  6. Stop for a breath
  7. Don’t fear humor
  8. Bring it home


Emulate Top TED Presentations

Margaret Heffernan, entrepreneur and author

  1. Stories always work
  2. Images are meaningless—with one exception
  3. Enthusiasm isn’t everything


Know Your Audience

Laura Stack, productivity expert and author

  1. Know their national, professional, and organizational culture
  2. Know their level of knowledge
  3. Know their needs and why they are listening to you
  4. Know their time expectations


Facilitate Seeing with Excellent Data Visuals

Edward Tufte, data scientist and author

“It’s all about the relationship between the viewer and the information on the screen, and the viewer’s cognitive tasks in looking at that information,” Edward Tufte

Feynman diagrams and Nate Silver’s data tables are good examples.

It starts with being able to see clearly Edward Tuft explained in a recent NPR Science Friday interview.

Use Humor

Using Humor

Watching video of the recent Obama White House Correspondents’ Dinner, I was reminded how humor can be used in communication.  The president uses self-deprecating humor to remind us that he is human and jokes to lighten the perspective of heavy political issues.  His joke, “I’m not the strapping young Muslim Socialist that I used to be,” does both.

I often have clients and students ask if they should open a speech with a joke to grab the audience’s attention.  My usual response is to do so only if the audience will laugh and then listen.  Humor can be very effective in public speaking, but it can also fall flat and be detrimental to the speaker’s credibility if the audience doesn’t find it funny.

Humor should be used primarily in a speech to entertain, though it can be an effective inflection point in a speech to inform or persuade.  If you do use humor in a speech, never make it racist or sexist or any other  ‘ist’.  Not offending the audience is more important than amusing the audience.  Flipping through one of my many textbooks on public speaking, I found a few sound pieces of speech humor advice.

  • Play to the Audience – humor is in the ear of the listener, so know your audience
  • Keep it Simple – complicated stories or jokes rarely work
  • Know it Well – there is nothing worse than poor timing or a forgotten punch line
  • Use Verbal Humor – play on words, hyperboles, wit, and irony all work well
  • Use Funny Gestures – exaggerated facial and body expressions draw attention

It is not only in public speaking that humor is an effective tool in communication.  Humor can lighten a tense situation in interpersonal communication and shift attitudes within group communication.  The use of humor can facilitate transfer of information that is sensitive or difficult.  For example, it is often easier to hear criticism when it is phrased as sarcasm. Humor can also relieve frustration of the group members and encourage participation. If a group has been working long and hard on a task and the leaders yells, “Only 55 more hours and we’re done,”  the group will likely laugh and get that the leader appreciates how hard they are working.

Humor also has a role in changing societal perspectives, often by drawing attention to stereotypes.  Television shows like Family Guy poke fun at so many stereotypes that the humor becomes eye opening.  The New York Times Preoccupations column this week was on Henry Holden, who uses crutches and humor.  He has used crutches since the polio epidemic of 1952 and helped form the Performers with Disabilities Committee of the Screen Actors Guild.  Holden has fought to change people’s perspectives in every job he has held, including as a stand up comic.  In the article he is quoted as saying, “There is nothing like humor to relieve people’s awkwardness about seeming disabilities or disadvantages.”

Whether giving a speech, interacting one-on-one or in a group, or working to change the world, humor can help.  So, spread some laughter with a funny story or a witty pun.

Centered on Communication

Watching and reading about the current negotiations on the fiscal cliff is reinforcing my belief that everything in life, including politics, centers on communication.

The Washington Post ran an article this week, “Moral values and the fiscal cliff” in which the authors delineated how “Sharing moral commitments helps teams to function cohesively, but it also blinds them to reality.”  When each team gets focused on what is sacred, there is less chance for compromise.  They authors, Haidt and Movius, recommend the Democrats and Republicans negotiate and describe their progress, in which both sides can tout some moral victories, and then jointly call for shared sacrifice. My favorite quote from the article is, “President Obama and Speaker Boehner should develop shared language to convey to the American people the severity of our problems and the need for all Americans to make some sacrifice.”  Shared language.  That is at the core.  Communication.

Those of us watching our political leaders know that we need to make sacrifices.  We would like to see our leaders act like mature adults and communicate effectively, almost as much as we want to avoid this fiscal cliff.

Obama acknowledged this in his November 28th press address, “Lyn Lyon, who’s here, from Newport News — where’s Lyn?  There she is.  She just wants to see some cooperation in Washington.  She wrote, “Let’s show the rest of the world that we’re adults and, living in a democracy, we can solve our problems by working together.””

NewsNation’s Tamron Hall discussed President Obama’s ‘outside-in’ strategy on fiscal cliff negotiations where he is speaking directly to the American people and asking them to make their opinions known directly to the Republicans. “I am asking congress to listen to the people who sent us here to serve,” said Obama.  What is at the core of this strategy?  Communication.

Communication scholars Roger Fisher and William Ury define a method of Principled Negotiation with four principles: 1) separate the people from the problem 2) focus on interests, not positions 3) invent options for mutual gain 4) insist on using objective criteria.  Four steps for effective communication.  To achieve these steps both the Democrats and the Republicans need to switch focus from party politics to economic reality.

ABC News, “Major Setbacks in Fiscal Cliff Negotiations” indicates that has yet to happen.  An agreement is not close to being reached and the article details how each side is blaming the other.

We have another month before we reach the cliff and I am sure we will be reading and watching much more on this subject.  One thing we can be sure of, it will all center on communication.

Interactive Presentations: creation to social networking

PowerPoint alone doesn’t cut it anymore.  We are too social and interconnected now.  Sure, we still see projected presentations at conferences and in lecture halls, but audiences are demanding more interactivity, and Twitter feeds aren’t cutting it.

Webinar tools were a start to interactive presentations.  WebEx, GoToMeeting, and such, allow people to see presentations anywhere and to interact in basic ways such as asking questions and taking polls.  But, they cater to businesses and require people to be at their computers.

Consumer tools, like SlideShare, have made inroads by allowing more people to share presentations in many different settings including mobile devices, but the interactivity is missing.  I personally use SlideShark because it allows projection from the iPad, but, again, there is no interactivity.

I just read an article in VentureBeat about a new company launched at DEMO Fall 2012 called Prezentarium.  Prezentarium claims to be a social presentation and online education tool.  The product is not yet available to the general public, but the website indicates it allows presenters to share with the audience on any device and to socially interact with the audience.  It allows the audience to socially interact with the speaker (comment, ask questions) and share the presentation content with their own social networks.

This recent news brings to the forefront of my mind how much presentation technology has changed.  Poking around the web, I found this old article from Mashable “ONLINE PRESENTATIONS: 30+ Presentation & Slideshow Services.”  I honestly wasn’t aware there were so many options back in 2007.  Many of the companies have died or been acquired, but some are still going strong.

The options today seem to each have a benefit, but none have all that is needed.

Teaching at San Francisco State University, the most popular tool among my students is Prezi. “Mastering Prezi for Business Presentations” by Russell Anderson-Williams, was just published and, of course, there is a PreziBook for you to view. Prezi has the benefit of allowing co-creation and the unique zoom picture that has the potential of changing the linear structure of presentations.  Though, honestly most Prezi presentations I have seen are still a string of data hung together, just like PowerPoint.

Also focused on the creation side is SlideRocket.  SlideRocket has the benefit of co-creation and storage of pieces of presentations that can be used by many within an organization.  Some clients of mine have found that feature very helpful, especially for outward facing marketing and sales teams who need to adjust a presentation often to fit different audiences.

Is the newcomer Prezentarium the answer?

Prezentarium compares itself to SlideShare, Prezi, and IdeaFlight in its presentation at DEMO, highlighting the addition of audience interaction and viral distribution.


I can imagine the benefit of socially interacting with the audience within the same tool as the presentation.  It would be much more streamlined than PowerPoint with a Twitter feed.  I can also imagine the benefit of taping into existing social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, to distribute content – instead of through a presentation-only network.  What it lacks is tools to collaboratively create and manage the presentation.  So, Prezentarium still falls short of having it all.

We don’t yet have our answer.  But, we probably won’t have to wait long.  One of the larger companies could acquire a couple of these smaller players and we could have a solution that allows you to co-create, manage, project, interact, and socially distribute presentations.

Then, in this age of sharing, we could use one tool to share in creation, share in viewing, share in feedback, and share through social networks.

Share Mindfully

Building rapport is important for communication.  Starting a conversation with small talk surfaces commonalities that exist.   Finding commonalities gives people a better ground upon which to communicate.  But, as of late the trend has gone to the extreme.  There is an epidemic of oversharing.

Bloomberg BusinessWeek article “Enough with the Enemas: Why People Overshare at Work” lists many examples, from enemas, to third nipples, to men’s sizes.  Two reasons for oversharing are suggested.  The first is lack of privacy filters, when people share too much with everyone; the second is a false sense of intimacy, when people feel they are closer to co-workers than they actually are.

“Thank You for Sharing. But Why at the Office?” in the New York Times blames the trend on the continuation of online behavior.  People share so much on social sites that they get in the habit of sharing personal information that others may not want to hear.

Since younger generations have grown up sharing on social media, it may be harder to learn the skill of office small talk without TMI (too much information).  In a blog for Community College Transfer Students, career management specialist Carol Sand acknowledges that “Knowing where to draw the line is a learned skill that sometimes has to be learned the hard way.”

The New York Times article gives practical advice worth passing along, suggesting questions you should ask yourself before you share in the workplace.  I am passing along three key questions:

Who’s listening to me (a boss, a client, a colleague or a friend)?

Why am I sharing this?  What is the point?

Does what I am sharing benefit my career or the quality of my relationships?

As soon as you ask these questions, you become aware of your communication intentions and can adjust your behavior.  Being mindful of your communication is the basis for a good interchange.  If you know your audience and your purpose and adjust your message accordingly, you are communicating effectively.

So share, but share mindfully.

Ask (Good) Questions

I hear from many leaders that a key to good leadership is asking questions.  I find this advice worthwhile in and of itself, since many want-to-be-leaders tend to talk more than listen.  I also desire more. I want advice that is more to be actionable.  So I have set about gathering advice on just what questions to ask.

Gary Cohen wrote the book, “Just Ask Leadership” that explains how to execute question-based leadership.  In an Ivey Business Journal article, Cohen gives the rationale for leading by asking questions, “In the 21st century, it’s not possible for leaders to be know-it-alls, nor is it in their or the organization’s best interest to try. Leaders need to ask questions that move others to action and answers. The employees that work for you today either know more than you do about their job or at least they should know more than you. As you move up the ranks of an organization or migrate up the ranks by job transfer, you will end up leading people that do things you cannot possibly understand. Rather than using a conventional way of getting up to speed, say reading extensively, leaders should use questions to increase others’ alignment, engagement, and accountability.”

Cohen outlines four styles for asking questions including the value of the style and when to use it.  He also gives sample questions for each style.  This table gives partial descriptions of styles and sample questions.

Professor Judge Innovator Director
Focus on knowledge, gaining perspective, current time Focus on knowledge, evaluating, current time Focus on action, gaining perspective, in the future Focus on action, evaluating, in the future
What is the goal?

What are your options?

What are the alternative choices?

What is the current reality?

Whose decision is it?

What is the most important consideration?

What are the consequences of the choices?

What would you do if time and funds were limited?

How could I support moving forward?

What is holding you back from the decision?

When is the decision due?

Do you understand the key drivers of the outcome for the situation?

What needs to happen for that to succeed?


My favorites are:  What would you do if time and funds were limited?  How could I support moving forward?

My preference here shows my Silicon Valley bias of innovation leadership.

Six Questions Every Leader Should be Asking from Evan Owens of Centresource, an interactive marketing agency:

Which gauges should we be watching?

Where are we manufacturing energy?

Who needs to be sitting at the table?

Who is not keeping up?

Where do I make the greatest contribution?

What should I stop doing?

My favorite is: Who needs to be sitting at the table?

I have been in meetings where, after an hour of discussion, it becomes apparent that the decision maker or responsible person in not even in the room.  Asking this question up front saves valuable time.

For a long list of leadership questions, see Kimberly Gleason’s recent executive and leadership blog 35 Empowering Questions Leaders Ask.

My favorite is:  What should be the measures of success for this plan/project/idea?

If success is not defined, you don’t know if or when it has been reached. Asking this question as a leader makes success possible for others.

I discovered a presentation from Margie Hagene, posted on University of Michigan Health Systems Leadership Reference wiki, How to Lead by Asking Effective Questions given on June 8, 2012.  Sourcing Edgar Schein, Helping, Margie compares helpful vs. unhelpful questions.  Helpful questions keep the ownership of the problem with the person and don’t give the ownership to the leader.

My favorite is: How would you describe what’s happening vs. what should be happening?

What I like about this question is the comparison. It prompts people to compare the status quo with the ideal and, therefore, highlights the difference.

Speaking of Edgar Schein, watch this Helping video to hear his ideas on why and how leaders need to be changing their competencies and helping others.  He defines help as giving someone the ability to do something they cannot do for themselves.  That means you can’t tell someone how to do something they already know how to do.  Of course, that requires asking the right questions.

Finally, Michael Hyatt’s Intentional Leadership blog “7 Suggestions for Asking More Powerful Questions” gives advice on how to ask good questions.  He suggests the questions need to be open-ended, get behind the assumptions, and get both sides of the story.  He suggests the leader asks follow-up questions, gets comfortable with ‘dead air’, helps people discover their own insights, and understands the difference between facts and speculation.

My favorite is: Get comfortable with ‘dead air’

It is always amazing to me how people feel compelled to fill dead air with talking. There is power in silence.  Silence shows respect for others.  It gives others the chance to think and articulate their answers.

In summary, not only do leaders need to ask questions, they need to ask the right questions for the situation in the right manner.  Not an easy communication task.  Not something you can learn how to do on the Internet.  But, you can gather information as I have done here and then put it to practice in your own leadership situation.  Personally, I will start with the following questions.

Who needs to be sitting at the table?

How would you describe what’s happening vs. what should be happening?

What should be the measures of success for this plan/project/idea?

What would you do if time and funds were limited?

How could I support moving forward?


And of course, I will pause and wait patiently in the ‘dead air’ for answers.



P.S.  Dilbert is always good for a counter example.


Consumer Dialogue

This summer’s special supplement to the Atlantic reads, “The Dialogue Economy, Social Media and the Marketplace” and contains multiple stories on how the power has shifted to the consumer and how companies are learning to engage with customers in dialogue.   The magazine has many examples of how the Internet has changed the relationship between those traditionally with power (corporations, government) and those without.  For example, Molly Katchpole took on Bank of America’s debit card fee and Verizon’s debit card convenience charge using social media, including, and had an incredible amount of influence.

Allstate insurance company has been conducting surveys they call Heartland Monitor designed to keep a pulse on middle-class America.  This special issue included the results of the most recent Heartland Monitor XIII: Networked Nation.  The poll focused on “how technology and social media are transforming the relationship between individuals and institutions” and found significant influence.  According to this poll 64% of Americans are active on social media and those people are more likely to be involved in political and community activity.  Fifty-five percent of polled social media users indicated that online access to information made it easier for them to research and compare candidates, and 54% indicated it has given them more influence with institutions.

The Deloitte 2011 Shift Index, Impact Index included the Consumer Power Metric, measuring the relationship and relative power between consumers and vendors.  Consumer Power is increasing in almost every category of the past few years.


As this shift of power to the consumer happens, institutions are changing their ways.  Listening more.  Using unidirectional communication less.  The Dialogue Economy issue shared how Fortune 500 companies are using social media to engage in dialogue with consumers.  Coca-Cola has the most Facebook friends with 42.1 million likes, followed by Starbucks at 30.2 million and McDonalds at 19.8 million. Google has the most Twitter followers with 4.7 million, followed by Whole Foods at 2.6 million and Starbucks at 2.5 million.  These Fortune 500 companies are using social media channels to say ‘thanks’ and ‘sorry’, in addition to promoting themselves, according to an analysis of 24,000 recent tweets.  So, there is definitely dialogue between consumer and institutions.  But, it is really changing the power equation?

Ralph Nader, king of consumer protests, doesn’t believe the power is actually shifting.  He does agree that it is much easier for consumers to get comparative information and that gives them power with their pocket books to make informed choices about their purchases.  Yet, corporations have all the power in over the government and, therefore, real change cannot happen.  Although consumers get temporarily riled over an issue and create a small change, such as the Bank of America debit fee, Nader doesn’t see consumers sticking with a significant issue long enough to make lasting change.

I see his point.  I agree that much of the dialogue on social media seems trivial.  But, I also believe that many little changes can add up.  Consumers do have a voice in a way not previously possible.  We as consumers need to use this voice in order to effect long-term change.

Fantasies of Always-On Connections

I confess to texting someone in the same room.  It can be more efficient and feel less intrusive than interrupting the activity in the room.  But, according to Sherry Turkle, a psychologist and professor at MIT and author, these bits of technology use to replace conversation are adding up to trouble.  In the New York Time’s SundayReview article, “The Flight From Conversation” Turkle chronicles the move to more technology connections and less conversations in the past 15 years.

My favorite quote from the article is “Always-on/always-on-you devices provide three powerful fantasies: that we will always be heard; that we can put our attention wherever we want it to be; and that we never have to be alone.  Indeed our new devices have turned being alone into a problem that can be solved.”

My late mother would tell me that no matter how unhealthy the coping device, e.g. eating a pound of See’s candy, it has some element that seems to work in the short-term or we wouldn’t use it to cope.  Despite the crash and the weight gain, the sugar from See’s definitely makes me feel happier and more energetic for some time.  In the same way, constantly connecting via our technology devices seems to work in the short-term to make us feel less lonely.  But, Turkle points out that just the opposite is true.

It is important to note that she is not anti-technology, but rather pro conversation.  Her 15 years of research has shown that technology plays a role in staying connected, but used exclusively only makes us lonelier.  Conversations, on the other hand, tighten our human bond.  Conversations improve our patience and our ability to take another’s point of view by requiring/allowing us to pay attention to many aspects of another.

Soren Gordhamer, author of Wisdom 2.0, makes the contrast of being constantly connected vs. consciously connected.  He touts that we can actively use technology and keep the human connection, but that requires mindfulness.  We must pay attention and make conscious choices.

Going back to the three fantasies, we can compare the effects of technology connection and human connection.  The first is ‘that we will always be heard’.  If you post to hundreds of Facebook friends, you feel heard in the short term, especially when those friends write a few-word comment or Like your post.  In contrast, if you are in the presence of someone who is truly listening, the feeling is very fulfilling and the effect long lasting.  The risk is that we will be in the presence of someone who doesn’t listen and that rejection is harder to accept than no response to a Facebook post.

I interpret the fantasy ‘that we can put our attention wherever we want it to be’ as always wanting control.  As fear-based beings, there is a tendency to manipulate what is happening to feel more in control.  If we can’t control a long store line, we can feel immediate satisfaction from putting our attention to a game on our always-on-you device.  But that only masks the feelings and it separates us from the shared human experience of those around us in the store.  We can make the conscious choice to connect with others around us in conversation.

The ‘never have to be alone’ fantasy is perpetuated by having lots of digital connections.  But being alone is actually a critical part of being connected.  We know ourselves through solitude and connect better with others when we know ourselves.  And the digital connections are ironically making us alone while we are in the physical presence of others.  Just as I text others in the same room, public spaces are becoming clusters of private bubbles as people connect through their devices instead of through live conversations. Again, we can choose the conversation.

Turkle gives specific suggestions for increasing conversations.  Create zones for conversations without devices, such as the kitchen table and the car.  Encourage conversations at work with ‘conversational Thursdays’ right before casual Fridays. And my favorite, “look up, look at on another, and let’s start the conversation.”


Taking Space

Seems to be a trend that companies are realizing people need space – both mental and physical – in order to put forth the creative work required for the 21st century American innovation economy.  The business section of the New York Times explored this concept in two articles on Sunday.  The first “When Technology Overwhelms, It’s Time to Get Organized” explored the effectives of productivity gains on today’s worker, who is expected to use technology to complete in one day what took three people to do the last century.  The article suggests that the sense of overwhelm felt by most can be combatted by gaining more space in a day through organization skills.  Four steps were recommended:

  1. Capture everything that has your attention in writing
  2. Clarify the importance and action needed of each item (aka prioritize)
  3. Use technology to set up reminders for these required actions
  4. Deploy you attention and resources appropriately (aka focus)

The worst-case scenario, which is all too common, is to let recency guide your attention.  “I have found that most professionals take action based on whatever is the latest and loudest in their universe, as opposed to making a conscious, intelligent choice,” commented David Allen, author of “Getting Things Done” and this article.  Instead, David recommends saying ‘not now’ to that which is not important.  The idea is that if you get organized and prioritize, you will have more space in your day to deal with the important things.

On the Mayo Clinic website, tips for coping with stress at work include identifying triggers, managing your time, and curbing burnout.  The first part, identifying triggers, is similar to David’s recommendation to capture everything that has your attention, only this time you capture everything that is perceived to cause stress.  Then you get organized and prioritize and find solutions to your stress-creating dilemmas. The stress management article goes on to recommend that you protect your time, “For an especially important or difficult project, block time on your schedule when you can work on it without interruptions.”  And, take breaks because “Even 10 minutes of personal time can be refreshing.” In other words, take space.

Taking space can be literal as well.  The second article in the NY Times on Sunday, “In New Office Designs, Room to Roam, and to Think” discussed physical space.  While the trend is open offices and shared space, companies are having offices designed with inspiring spots for employees to spend time alone or in small groups.  Taking physical space seems to help with creativity and achieving what David Allen recommended for combatting overwhelm.

Along side these two articles on taking space were examples of innovative companies, like Google and Dream Works, where employees are pushed to take risks and push boundaries.  And for that, they need space.

The 79th Organ Creating Collective Consciousness

Gopi Kallayil, Product Marketing Manager at Google, called the smart phone the 79th organ of the body.  At the Wisdom 2.0 Conference he depicted the smart phone as humanesque, with ears, eyes, voice, and brain, and claimed it is being used as a tool for collective consciousness.  Gopi gave examples of people all over the world connecting and sharing and ‘leveling the playing field’ through technology.  Lee Rainie, Director Pew Research Center’s American Life Project, said that on our planet of 7 billion people there are 6 billion mobile phones, more than half of them smart phones.  Imagine, Gopi commented, “We are each only 15 digits away from 6 billion people.”

As technology infiltrates our society and culture at a phenomenal pace, our ability to keep the human connection and each stay grounded becomes paramount. Thupten Jinpa, a Buddhist scholar and translator for the Dalai Lama, pointed out that technology development is in the hands of a few, but effects the entire world, making it critical that those few be conscious of their own humanity and the global implications as they create.  Pierre Omidyar, Founder of eBay and a philanthropist, added that now that we have completed the connectivity revolution, technology must help with the next revolution of encouraging humans to be consciously connected.  Dustin Moskovitz, Co-Founder of Facebook and recent start-up Asana, labeled this ‘conscious cocreation’ and believes the world’s problems can be solved as technology brings us all together.  That requires a cultural shift from the focus on me to the focus on we, which arises from the practice of mindfulness.

Throughout the conference I heard example after example of how people are merging the worlds of mindfulness and technology and creating wisdom.

Learning and development leaders from Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Zynga are helping their employees be more productive and happy through a wide variety of courses and programs designed to help people sprint and pause, sprint and pause.  It is the ability to pause that is a new skill for many in the technology industry.  As Padmasree Warrior, CTO of Cisco, stated, it is her daily meditation practice that allows her to be calm and listen well in the job of overseeing 22,000 engineers.  She acknowledges that everyone has a different way to pause to tap his or her creativity.  What is critical is that everyone is actually taping that creative source.  Over and over I heard the acknowledgement that in order to be creative and move at the technology industry pace, the ability to pause and reflect is essential.

The data is there to support that claim.  Daniel Siegel, Mindsight Institute, shared how brain research is showing the effects of a mindful practice.  It is not just that people feel calmer, but the chemicals and the structures of the brain actually shift when people pause on a regular basis.  The hard data may be what sways Google engineers from to take Meng Tan’s “Search Inside Yourself” course at Google University’s School of Personal Growth.  Stuart Crabb, Head of Learning at Facebook, stated that engineers want to understand how the mind works and appreciate the neuroscience and FMRI data that support the concepts of mindfulness.

Congressman Tim Ryan has written, A Mindful Nation that imagines the future of society where mindfulness has infiltrated education, healthcare, and the military.  Speaking at the conference he said, “If we want to fundamentally shift the country, this is the way to do it.”

As Eckhart Tolle, Author of A New Earth and The Power of Now, shared at the conference, when we take the time to pause and turn inward, we see the space inside that makes up the majority of us humans.  This spaciousness allows for the human connection.  Add the technology to physically connect billions of people and you have the ingredients for collective consciousness.  The key is the combination of the two.

Thanks to the myriad of leaders who took the time to share their perspective and for Soren Gordhamer for seeing the need for this combination and facilitating the conversation through the Wisdom 2.0 Conference.

Revisiting Presentation Design

SlideRocket recently sent me this e-book on The Secrets of Compelling Presentation Design.  It was worth the read and a good reminder of some of my favorite tips.

  1. Keep it Simple – your background, fonts, content should all be straightforward so your audience can easily assimilate information
  2. Use Images – a picture is really worth 1,000 words and can convey a concept much more succinctly than bullet points
  3. Keep it Relevant – only use design elements (color, transitions) and multimedia (video, sound) that add meaning to your presentation
  4. Be Repetitive – you know your material well, but the audience doesn’t and they will only remember your message if you repeat it frequently
  5. Close Strong – your presentation doesn’t end after your last point, but rather after you’ve summarized all your points and given the audience clear instruction on what to do with the information they just learned

The underlying factor in every presentation tip is the audience.  Keep your audience in the forefront of your mind through the entire process and you will be more likely to satisfy them and, therefore, reach your presentation goal.

Thankful to Those Who Share

Thanks to EF and NetApp for the invitation to the Silicon Valley Philanthropy Day awards luncheon.  It was inspirational to hear from so many organizations and people who are making significant changes in our community through their philanthropic efforts.  Leah Toeniskoetter was awarded Outstanding Volunteer Fundraiser for her work with Valley Medical Center Foundation.  An avid bike rider who has completed 5 Death Rides, Leah raised funds for Turning Wheels for Kids, providing bikes for children who cannot afford them.  In her acceptance speech, Leah highlighted three critical elements for success:

  1. Fundamental belief in the mission
  2. Dynamic leadership – leaders who motivate others
  3. Support of others – people and also employers who create a culture of giving

Of course, all of those critical elements require excellent communication skills.  And, speaking of excellent communication, Hannah Nguyen and her cohort from Pacific Autism Center for Education’s Youth Leadership Committee, were the audience-favorite speakers.  They won the award for Outstanding Philanthropic Youth Organization and gave an acceptance speech that was articulate and elegant.  The youngest of the award recipients, they were the most well spoken.

Robert Grimm won the top award for Silicon Valley Community Foundation Outstanding Philanthropist.  Bob’s approach, described as  ‘philanteer’ combines philanthropy and volunteerism.  Where he puts his money, he also puts his time; most notably “The Garage” that morphed into The Tech Museum.  His talk of all the organizations in which he is involved was motivational.

Thanks to Association of Fundraising Professional Silicon Valley Chapter for honoring these Philanthropic Leaders.  In the month of Thanksgiving, I have gratitude to all those in our community who share with others.

State of Start-Up Presentations

I watched the Vator Splash SF presentations through two lenses.  The first was that of a technology enthusiast, always wanting to learn what bright people are inventing.  The second was that of a communication expert, curious about how entrepreneurs are presenting.

Through the first lens, I saw some interesting technology. The People’s Choice Winner was Building Layer, which maps the inside of buildings.  The Vator Splash Winner was Front Door Software, which protects portable computers using the smarts of traditional security systems.

As the communication expert, I gathered data on the multimedia learning principles of using visuals, signaling, and full sentence headlines.  What I found is that pictures are pervasive, but signaling and full sentences are rare.

Pictures – photos, graphs, and screenshots – were used heavily in 9 of 10 presentations.  That is the good news.  Showing visuals while telling a story is the best way for people to learn the information being presented.  My catch phrase is “Show the glory, tell the story.”  The presenters at Vator Splash did a good job showing the glory.

This same multimedia learning principle indicates that bullet points flood the verbal channel of the brain with too much information, since the same channel processes words heard and read.  More good news on this front.  Seventy percent of presentations contained NO BULLET POINTS.   Only one presentation was heavy on bullet points and one on text in paragraphs.

The bad news is that not a single presenter gave an overview or summary.  There was essentially no signaling.  Signaling helps the human brain assimilate information by setting a map of where you are going, where you are, and where you have been.  My catch phrase is “Use a cue, they’ll follow you.” Now these presentations were short and many presenters may think that eliminates the need for a visual agenda and summary, but not so.

Even if you are giving an ‘elevator pitch’ you still want to give a cue or preview.  Stating your three key points in the beginning and the end will help your audience remember what you had to say, which, after all, is the whole point of your presentation.

The other pointer to remember is to put your headlines in full sentences.  Research has shown that a full sentence headline and a relevant picture is the best slide combination for learning. Building Layer was the only presentation that used any full sentence headlines – hey maybe that is why they got the People’s Choice Award.

In addition to enjoying the slew of new innovations, Vator Splash was a good opportunity for me to take a pulse of the state of start-up presentations.  Net, net – the trend is going in the right direction.  More pictures, less bullets.  Now all we need are previews, summaries, and full sentence headlines.


It is All in A Name

Billionaire Vinod Khosla doesn’t want to be called a venture capitalist.  And that is news.  Both the Wall Street Journal and Forbes ran a blurb on this fact.  Now that is good PR.

“Call him a visionary for his role co-founding Sun Microsystems Inc. Call him a rainmaker for his prescient investments in companies like Juniper Networks while at Kleiner Perkins. Call him a pioneer for his early commitment to clean technology at his firm Khosla Ventures.You can call billionaire Vinod Khosla many things. Just don’t call him a venture capitalist,” quotes the Lizette Chapman, Venture Capital Dispatch, The Wall Street Journal.

” “I call myself a venture assistant,” Khosla said. “It’s about assisting entrepreneurs.”,” quotes Tomio Geron,

I guess when you’ve had as much success as Vinod, that you can asked to be called whatever you like.  After all, it is all in a name.

But, I beg to differ on his negative take of the definition of Venture Capitalist.  Working with the breed for over a decade, I say that those who do it well, do it by assisting entrepreneurs.  VCs who get into the trenches alongside management teams are those who foster success.  They call themselves Venture Capitalist and they do so with pride.  After all, it is all in a name.

58,000 Students

As a university teacher, a lover of technological advances, and a communication scholar, the notion of 58,000 students participating in a free online course enthrals me.  Today’s NY Times article, “Virtual and Artificial, but 58,000 Want Course” describes how Peter Norvig and SebastianThrun are offering a course on artificial intelligence this fall through Stanford. Anybody, not just enrolled Stanford students, can sign up for the course.  Non-Stanford students won’t get credit, but they will get access to the same course.

According to the article, “The two scientists said they had been inspired by the recent work of Salman Khan, an M.I.T.-educated electrical engineer who in 2006 established a nonprofit organization to provide video tutorials to students around the world on a variety of subjects via YouTube.“The vision is: change the world by bringing education to places that can’t be reached today,” said Dr. Thrun.”

From a communication scholar’s perspective, opening up a course to 58,000 students is most certainly changing the world through education.  So how can technology make it happen?

Apparently is starts with the basics of streaming Internet and interactive technology for quizzes and grading.  But, to avoid systems crashing, Stanford will use Amazon Cloud. Google Moderator services will help manage the barrage of student questions by polling and ranking questions that are most prominent.  Top-ranked questions will be answered in online discussion with the professors. In order to foster student-to-student interaction, a study group on reddit has been formed.

An interesting experiment in using technology to communicate and educate world wide, I look forward to watching it unfold. More information on the course can be found at

Visual Presentations

Here is a quick presentation on how you can create more visual presenations.


Download TipsVisualPresentationsJuly2011

Communication Critical in Medical Care

We all know intuitively that communication is an important aspect of medical care.  Each of us can recall experiences where a doctor did a good or bad job communicating with us.  For me, the bad job was in the ER just before my mom was diagnosised with colon cancer when I was literally arguing with a doctor who wanted to send her home with antacids without doing any tests.  My ‘perseverence’ with that doctor resulted in a CT scan that showed the cancer. Boy was that an example of a doctor being unwilling to listen.  The good experience for me was the level of details received from my orthopaedic (Dr. Diefendorf) before, during, and after my rotator cuff repair surgery.  He told me what he was going to do every step of the way and then afterward showed me in pictures exactly what he had done.

Seems the medical community has gone from acknowledging the importance of communication in the abstract to practical implementation.   New applicants to medical schools are being asked to go through the Multiple Mini Interview (MMI) process, according to a recent New York Times article, “New for Aspiring Doctors, the People Skills Test.”  The applicants have two minutes to review a scenario of an ethical conundrum and then eight minutes to share how they would handle it. They then repeat the same process with more interviewers.   According to the article, “”We are trying to weed out the students who look great on paper but haven’t developed the people or communication skills we think are important”, said Dr. Stephen Workman, associate dean for admissions and administration at Virginia Tech Carillion.”

In an Atlantic Magazine article, “The Triumph of New Age Medicine” the medical community’s research and attitudes about alternative medicine is explored.  It is a long article with many interesting angles, but I narrowed in on the effects of communication in the equation.  The article outlines the commonality of many alternative medicine treatments; “These include a long initial meeting covering many details of the patient’s history; a calming atmosphere; an extensive discussion of how to improve diet and exercise; a strong focus on reducing everyday stress; an explanation of how the treatment will unleash the body’s ability to heal itself; assurance that over time the treatment will help both the problem that prompted the visit and also general health; gentle physical contact; and the establishment of frequent follow-up visits.”  Two aspects of this typical treatment scenario seem to make a difference 1) good provider/doctor-patient relationships  and 2) improvement of an overall healthy lifestyle.

Looking at the first aspect in more depth, communication is the core to the development of a good relationship.  According to the article, “A 2008 study on physician-patient relationships found that physicians deemed “exemplars” based on their reputation and awards received were likely to create an emotional bond with patients; to convey to patients that their commitment to caring for them will endure over time; and to imbue patients with “trust, hope, and a sense of being known.”

Good to know that what we all intuit is now being taken seriously by the medical community.  Yet, we still have a ways to go.  As the Atlantic article concluded,  “Every single physician I spoke with agreed: the current system makes it nearly impossible for most doctors to have the sort of relationship with patients that would best promote health. The biggest culprit, they say, is the way doctors are reimbursed. “Doctors are paid for providing treatments, not for spending time talking to patients,” says Victor Montori, an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic. A medical system that successfully guided patients toward healthier lifestyles would almost certainly see its cash flow diminish dramatically. “Last year, 75 percent of the $2.6 trillion the U.S. spent on health care was for treating chronic diseases that, to a large degree, can be prevented or reversed through lifestyle change,” says Dean Ornish of UCSF. Who (besides patients) has an incentive to make changes that would remove that money from the system?”

Of course, as patients we can influence change by demanding better communication from all our medical providers, and, when we have the option, voting with our pocket books for better provider relationships.

Couch it in a Narrative

Harvard Business Review did a short blurb on reserach by Emily Moyer-Guse of Ohio State and Robin Nabi of UC Santa Barbara showing that a narrative is an effective form of persuasion.

The research study had 367 undergraduates view either a narrative or a non-narrative, news-style program about teenage pregnancy.  Those who saw the narrative self-reported that they would be more likely to use birth control, more so that those who saw the news-style program.  According to the research abstract, “Results suggest that entertainment education programming may overcome various types of resistance to persuasion for some viewers by masking persuasive intent and fostering parasocial interaction and identification with characters.”

As I have said many times before, humans prefer stories.  It is easier to assimilate information, and, as this research show, be persuaded if communication is in the form of a narrative.

Persuade with 5 Canons of Rhetoric

When you want to get somebody to change an attitude, belief, value, or behavior — happens just about every day — you need to employ the art of persuasion.  A quote from a student of mine:

“Thus, to change a person’s view, their belief or their actions is to slide through their ears and into their skull and embed yourself into their brain.”

How does one do so?  Rhetoric, of course.  Since it has probably been some time since you studied the 5 canons of rhetoric, here is a short reminder.

1. Invention (inventio) is finding the means to argue your point.

2. Arrangement (dispositio) is the organization of your argument, such as the most common organization of problem/solution or lesser-used refutation.

3. Style (elocutio) is your choice of words and phrasing or how you put together your specific arguments.

4. Memory (memoria) is what you employ to help your audience remember what you tell them, such as repetition, catch phrases, and visuals.

5. Delivery (pronuntiato) is the non-verbal aspect of communication including voice volume and articulation along with facial expressions and gestures.

What I commonly see is that people will put significant effort into the first canon of invention, but very little effort in the remaining four.  It is easy to just come up with the reasons of why somebody should do as you suggest, but that is not enough.  If you employ all five principles, you will be much more effective at persuading others.  Why?  Because people on not just influenced by logic (logos), but also by pathos (emotion or passion) and ethos (credibility).

So the next time you want to persuade, remember there are 5 canons of rhetoric, and use them all.

Your Look Commands

Speech recognition technology has come a long way.  I now use Dragon Dictation on my iPhone to send texts to others.  It is as least as accurate as my touch typing.  It is refreshing to have a different way to interface with technology.

The future holds yet another way to interface — with our eyes.  It sounds straight out of an action flick to me, but there are prototype computers with eye-tracking technology that move the cursor based on eye movement.  “Pointing with Your Eyes, to Give the Mouse a Break” in the NY Times gave details on this technology.

The computer prototypes are a joint effort between Tobii Technology and Lenovo. Real versions won’t hit the shelves for about two more years.  According to the article, eye tracking technology has been around for awhile and used for people with special needs.  The innovation it to make it practical and cheap enough for mass consumption.

I look forward to trying  it out (pun intended).

Social Network Research from WSCA

At the recent Western States Communication Association (WSCA) Conference two panels “Social Networking and Beyond: Computer Mediated Communication and Community” and “Relational Communication and Social Networks” contained interesting research on how people are using social networking.  The overarching theme is that people are using social networking as a means of simultaneously forming and communicating their personal identity and relationships.   I have briefly summarized some of the research and provided links for you to dig further if you are interested.

Valerie Barker from San Diego State University discussed research comparing Mixi Diary vs. Facebook.  She looked at Japanese vs. American young women’s uses of these social sites.  Mixi is popular in Japan like Facebook is in America.  She notes that there are differences:  Mixi is used primarily through mobile devices.  On Mixi the network of friends is smaller with more of a sense of privacy and a closer experience than Facebook use among American young women. Motives for using the social sites include social identity gratification (bolstering a sense of belonging) and social compensation (making up for offline unhappiness).

Ahlam Muhtaseb from CSU San Bernardino shared research entitled “Mobilizing Online: The Internet, Political Involvement and Community Participation of Arab Americans”  Ahlam found that from a convenience sample of 185 Arab Americans, 75% were users online users and 25% were non-users.  Users showed a greater propensity for community participation, in particular political involvement with a statistically valid correlation between users and voting.

Makenzie Phillips from Boise State University researched social networking sites for surveillance in romantic relationships and found that 83% of respondents are engaging is some type of surveillance behavior.  Jealousy and entitlement were predictors of surveillance behavior.

Karen Lollar from Metropolitan State College of Denver has been tracking Denver neighborhood’s use of social sites, such as Neighborhood Link for the past 10 years and shared how neighbors are interacting differently online. She has discovered that most online topics match what neighbors discuss face-to-face, such as pets and local civic issues.

Erin Koppel from University of Arizona looked at 2008 Pew Internet data on social networking use to determine if relationship initiation and relationship maintenance was related to age and found only a negative correlation between age and relationship management online. She noted that this counter-intuitive result could be because of the nature of relationships that exist on the site.

Lynne Webb (and others) from University of Arkansas researched how ethnicity was enacted on Facebook and found that of the 488 open profiles they studied, 29% showed some ethnicity, primarily through quotations or applications.  Webb noted that Facebook does not give space in the profile set up for people to share anything about their ethnicity.

There is such a wealth of information to be studied as social network sites become a pervasive form of communication around the world.  Delving into how communication remains the same and changes as the medium changes will be of great research interest in the coming years.

Speech Recognition, Getting Closer to Mainstream

As an individual who prefers the spoken word over the written word, I have been longing for the day when I could have my eloquent phrases automatically turned into flowing text.  When working on my master’s thesis a few years back, I purchased iListen for Mac in hopes of typing less.  After 5 or 6 attempts, I gave up.  Too much trouble.  But, in the technology industry, a few years makes a lot of difference.

In the WSJ article “Get Ready to Speak to Your Phone — and Be Understood” Ben Rooney gives us an update on the technology. The company that has been behind the technology all along, Nuance, is still the one making technological advances.  (Nuance – NASDAQ: NUAN closed at 20.32 today, near the 52-week high of 20.97).  The Nuance technology is behind Dragon Naturally Speaking, GM’s OnStar, and many mobile phone’s predictive text.

I did just a bit of research and discovered that the first speech recognition technology came from IBM in 1961 — the IBM Shoebox.  It was literally the size of a shoe box and had nine lights.  As you spoke a digit 0-9, the corresponding light would shine. Now we are accustomed to basic speech recognition for voice dialing, call routing, and simple data entry, such as credit card numbers.  Windows Vista added Windows Speech Recognition, though it is positioned as “Accessibility Technology.”  Let me know if you have used this technology on a daily basis, and if so, what you think of it.

I am ready for speech recognition to be mainstream.  I imagine telling instead of typing this blog.  I imagine explaining an entire problem to an automated tech support line and getting a relevant answer.  What do you imagine?  How long will we have to wait?

Technology Can Be Turned Off

Technology can be turned off. That is a reminder from Sherry Turkle director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self from a USA Today article, “2010: The year technology replaced talking“.  According to the article “Americans are connected at unprecedented levels — 93% now use cellphones or wireless devices; one-third of those are “smartphones” that allow users to browse the Web and check e-mail, among other things. The benefits are obvious: checking messages on the road, staying in touch with friends and family, efficiently using time once spent waiting around. The downside: Often, we’re effectively disconnecting from those in the same room.”

Just like any other tool, these technology devices that help us communicate and share information with anyone, anywhere, anytime, are only as effective as the tool user.  Sometimes we forget that we are in control.  Yes, we can turn off the devices.  Yes, we can use them to be more efficient and fun when we want or need them.  But, they do not need to degrade the quality of our communication with other humans.  Used well, they can increase the quality of our communication with others.  It is only when we forget that they can be turned off or ignored that it becomes a problem.  And, that is a human problem not a technology problem.

Data on Learning to Speak

80,000 hours of video and 120,000 hours of audio recording.  That is the massive amount of data collected by MIT Media Lab‘s Human Speechome Project to analyze how one child learns to speak.  You can see a visual of the data on to get a feel for how words are gained over time.  Just clicking through the words and seeing the relationship between caregiver use and child use impresses me with the power of being able to collect such data.

“The Speechome team believes that this unique dataset may shed light on basic questions of language acquisition, at least as they pertain to one child. Why did he learn words in the order that he did? Why did he start putting certain words together into proto-sentences before others? In what contexts did he effectively use words? How long after he comprehends a word does he first use that word? How did the structure of everyday life at home influence language development? The research team at MIT is in the process of analyzing the audio and video recordings with the ultimate goal of addressing these questions.” according to the Forbes article Speech in the Home.

Immersive Communications

Alcatel-Lucent’s Bell Labs has announced an application called immersive communications that combines physical, virtual, and augmented reality into one.  Forbes covered the story in Bell Labs’ Super Virtual Conferencing.  The idea is that geographically dispersed people on a variety of mobile devices can have a virtual conference in which they all appear and sound to be in the same room.  Think video conference plus virtual reality and make it mobile.

The concept is enticing, though it may take a few years before we see it in use.  One-to-one communication has become mobile as has mass communication, so it is easy to see that small group communication would follow that trend.  In terms of video, again we see that throughout mass communication and we are beginning to see it with one-to-one communication as smart phones get video capabilities. We also see extensive use of land-line video conferencing in large organization, so it is not hard to imagine those systems folding in a mobile element.

What is harder to imagine is the virtual reality component.  The element of all participants appearing and sounding to be in the same room.  As a communication scholar, this is the most exciting element because it uses technology to replace the look and feel of human contact.

In an article Anywhere, Anytime Immersive Communications, authors T. Van Landegem and H. Viswanathan outline just why and how this new form of communication will occur.

I look forward to seeing you immersively some time in the next decade.

Whisper to the Brain

Neurology is now being applied to persuading others through communication.  The NYT article, “Ads that Whisper to the Brain” reveals techniques used to discover what activates the human brain when somebody watches a commercial.

Researches use electroencephalographs (EEGs) to measure brain waves that become more active when people have heightened attention to determine if they are engaged by the commercial.

According to the article, “Neuromarketing’s raison d’être derives from the fact that the brain expends only 2 percent of its energy on conscious activity, with the rest devoted largely to unconscious processing. Thus, neuromarketers believe, traditional market research methods — like consumer surveys and focus groups — are inherently inaccurate because the participants can never articulate the unconscious impressions that whet their appetites for certain products.

If pitches are to succeed, they need to reach the subconscious level of the brain, the place where consumers develop initial interest in products, inclinations to buy them and brand loyalty, says A. K. Pradeep, the founder and chief executive of NeuroFocus, a neuromarketing firm based in Berkeley, Calif.”

What does this mean for consumers?  Well, first off researchers haven’t made the connection between brain wave activation and the purchasing  of products, so it may be a mute point.  But, the effort to influence consumers through communication is as old as time.

What is helpful is to be aware of the power of communication, both as a broadcaster and a consumer.  What you say and how you say it influences others.  And what you see and hear influences you.  Being aware is the key.  Being aware, you can acknowledge the sudden hunger that arises after watching an Oreo ad, or the desire to become involved after hearing a compelling political message. Being aware, you can acknowledge the influence of persuasive communication on yourself.  As for the subconscious thoughts, well, you still have the power to choose your actions.

Virtual Reality Transforming Social Interactions

If you watch yourself in a virtual mirror as an attractive avatar for 90 seconds, you will stand closer to other virtual beings and be more confident about your own looks in filling out an online data application. What happens in virtual reality, effects reality.

This I learned from a very interesting lecture video by Jeremy Bailenson of Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL).

With my communication scholar bias, I was particularly interested in learning how non-verbal communication in virtual reality can be incredibly powerful.  In an experiment called “Augmented Gaze” virtual students are more attentive when the virtual teacher is looking at them.  In another experiment called “Digital Chameleon” if an avatar mimics your head movements with a 4-second delay you find them more engaging and are more likely to be persuaded by them.

Of course, we know of the power of non-verbal communication in reality, but it’s power in virtual reality is a bit of a surprise for me.  I believe, as Bailenson states, this will transform social interactions.

Words Can Get You Fired

“I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country,” he said. “But when I get on a plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they’re identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

These words got veteran NPR journalist Juan Williams fired.  You can read the full story “NPR fires Juan Williams over anti-Muslim remarks” from The Washington Post. You can also read William’s perspective.

I am not passing judgement on Mr. Williams for I know too little about the case.  I am however pointing out the power of words.  Words can get you fired.

As a journalist, you make a living off your words.  Your words tell stories and share information.  When your words don’t match with the the standards of your organization — they can get you fired.

According to The Washington Post, NPR found that Williams words, “were inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR.”

On, Williams rebutts that NPR, “Used an honest statement of feeling as the basis for a charge of bigotry to create a basis for firing me. Well, now that I no longer work for NPR let me give you my opinion. This is an outrageous violation of journalistic standards and ethics by management that has no use for a diversity of opinion, ideas or a diversity of staff (I was the only black male on the air). This is evidence of one-party rule and one sided thinking at NPR that leads to enforced ideology, speech and writing. It leads to people, especially journalists, being sent to the gulag for raising the wrong questions and displaying independence of thought.”

Strong, or should I say, Powerful, words on both sides.

Forget Coopetition, Now we Have Frenemies

I am probably more easily amused by communication quirks than others, but this is entertaining.

The San Jose Mercury news article on Adobe’s stock climbing on news of a secret meeting with Microsoft, explains that the companies are ‘frenemies.’

“Both Microsoft and the San Jose maker of expensive graphic design and Internet software are “frenemies” (at the same time rivals and business partners) of Apple, the Cupertino maker of Mac computers and “i” devices.”

I guess I have some of those myself.  You know people you run a 5K with, but really want to beat. Frenemies.

The invention of new words is always entertaining.  But the intention of a word that combines two antonyms, now that just makes my day.

Cross-Generation Tech Communication

In this Forbes article on The Cross-Generation Workforce, the digital disparity of generations is highlighted as an issue in the workforce.  I completely agree that as tech-savvy graduates enter the workforce that issues around technology use will need to be resolved.  The article puts forth some good suggestions on how IT departments can address the issues.  I would like to put forth that communication will be the key to making a successful shift.

Skillful communication between new entries into the workforce and the existing workforce has always been the core to successful transitions.  In this case, you have a new workforce that uses different tools to communicate and has a more spontaneous communication style (grossly generalizing here).  The challenge will be to accommodate that style somewhat and also change some of the communication patterns to meet the existing company communication culture.  Of course, that happens through communication.  That happens through listening an observing all members of the workforce and compromising on process and style.  Some of that can come through leadership setting policy and example, but most of that comes through individuals being committed to skillful communication.  Listening to one another and being open to compromise.

The idea that new workforce entries are more tech-savvy isn’t new, but the rapid pace of technological change has definitely increased the divide, therefore, increasing the need for skillful communication.

What Not to Do in Crisis

A crisis communication situation is never fun and always complicated.  Over the years, I have done my best to help clients in crisis navigate the waters.  This NYT article In Case of Emergency: What Not to Do is an excellent overview of the common crisis communication strategies as applied to BP, Toyota, and Goldman Sachs.  What I like most about the article is the clear message that crisis management is not just about the communication — the actions taken are way more important.  But, screwing up the communication does make it worse.

The article walks through the three poorly-handled crisis of BP, Toyota, and Goldman Sachs and points out what could have been done differently.  The top of my peeve list is leaders not sticking to the agreed upon message.  More than any other issue, I have personally found that ‘loose lips sink ships’ to be the greatest issue in crisis communication.  Because leaders are human (and oft full of ego), many find it very difficult to say what was agreed upon by the strategist and then shut up.  The article puts forth a few choice quotes:

“There is no one who wants this thing over more than I do. I would like my life back,” Tony Hayward, CEO of BP

Banking is “God’s Work,” Lloyd C. Bankfein, CEO, Goldman Sachs

Believe me, no communication strategist or lawyer suggested those statements.  They just didn’t need to be said.  When all eyes and ears are on a spokesperson in times of crisis, stick to the script!

That brings me back around to actions speak louder than words and the best communication can’t make up for tragic environmental damage, car defaults that lead to death, or getting rich at the cost of economic suffering of others.  But, good communication can pave the path for recovery and open the door to regaining trust.

Time is Money

Time is money. Something I learned just as I entered adulthood.  I remember my first UCSD economics class and a graph that pitted time against money.  The professor asked us students to put ourselves on the graph based on our own values — which was more important time or money?

It’s Free Only if Your Time is Worthless”  by Damon Darlin of The New York Times reminds us the the Internet is not really free because it takes up our time.  For some, lots of time.  Darlin uses the example of searching for free TV shows instead of paying for cable service.  Depending on how much you are worth on an hourly basis, that one show that took you 20 minutes to find could be costing you $30!

In that early economics class I valued time more than money, and I still do. Though my Internet habits may not be keeping with my stated value.  I find myself searching for hours for a flight that is $20-100 cheaper.  That is not good economics.

Thanks to Darlin for reminding us that our time is money.

Singularity Movement — One step too far?

The NY Times SundayBusiness section ran an article titled, “Merely Human?  So Yesterday” about the Singularity Movement.  Singularity, according to this article, is ” a time, possibly just a few decades from now, when a superior intelligence will dominate and life will take on an altered form that we can’t predict or comprehend in our current, limited state.”  Technology and humans merge with technology taking the leading role.

The Singularity Movement has a university, aptly named, Singularity University that was started in 2008 by Mr. Kurzweil and Mr. Diamandis, with the help of Google co-founder Larry Page.  The corporate founders are listed as Autodesk, Google, and ePlanet Ventures.  The purpose of the university is to educate entrepreneurs on leading-edge technologies and it offers attendees contact with leading thinkers of our time.  With this mission, I agree.  I think it is fantastic that the bright minds of our time are collaborating and sharing ideas to solve the world’s woes.

What I have a hard time with is the side of the movement that, according to the NY Times article “offers a modern-day, quasi-religious answer to the Fountain of Youth by affirming the notion that, yes, indeed, humans — or at least something derived from them — can have it all.”  The article quotes founder Kurzweil as saying, “‘We will transcend all of the limitations of our biology.””  As a practicing Buddhist, this is where I have to bow out.  I am a huge fan of technology and believe it does and will continue to solve many of the world’s woes, but I still want to be human.  I still want to be with the ‘pain body’ that we have on this earth.  I don’t want technology to fix death.

Another NY Times article, “What Broke My Father’s Heart“, addresses the very issue of technology extending life.  Sometimes it is better to accept death.  To accept being human.

I hope Singularity University is successful in it’s stated mission, ” . . . to assemble, educate and inspire leaders who understand and develop exponentially advancing technologies to address Humanity’s Grand Challenges.”  I just hope we keep Humanity the key focus, and not let technology take the lead.

Communication and Bullying

This month’s issue of Communication Currents covers the topic of bullying.  Often bullying is thought of as a physical offense, but more often than not it is a communication offense.  And, communication is always required to solve the problem.

The article points out how prevalent the problem is in schools and organizations.  It also addresses the challenge of solving the problem in an effective manner.  In particular, cultural norms come into play in helping the victim.

For example, people trying to help a victim in the US are more likely to recommend the victim seek a third party support, such as a counselor, than a person trying to help a victim in Japan.  That communication message is poorly received if used in Japan.

From the article: “By contrast, for victims in Japan, network support turns out to be the worst type of message. Being offered to introduce a third-party expert or confidant resulted in a considerable drop in their satisfaction level. There are several reasons that might account for this finding. First, seeking the advice of a third party is not customary in Japan. Seeing a therapist, for example, is still seen as equivalent to having psychological problems. A second reason is the fear of information leakage. Japan is a tightly knit society. As a result, one’s social network does not change often. Revealing the secret of bullying in such a closely tied society is a highly risky maneuver. Finally, suggesting to victims that they should see a third-party can be interpreted as an evasive answer: “I can’t or don’t want to deal with this issue. Go talk to someone else who is better capable of solving your problem.”

I found this article interesting in that it brings up an issue that is really communication based — in both its cause and solution — and addresses the cultural influence of communication.