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Better Communication Results!

September 2005

Welcome to the September edition of my newsletter on business communication tips!

In this month's issue:

So let's get on with the show!


 

My new-look blog

I've moved my blog away from my old address (bettercomms.blogspot.com) to a new home—leehopkins.net—and I'm really pleased with how it's turned out.

I'm using WordPress as the software to create the blog and I've discovered it's really powerful!

 

Why did I move?

Well, there are many reasons, but most particularly because Ken Evoy, the host of my website, misses the point.

As part of a running forum discussion on blogging, and why Ken Evoy of SiteSell fame won't consider adding a blogging engine to his hosting offering, I posted in the SiteSell/SiteBuildIt forums about how blogs are now becoming far bigger than he originally dismissed.

I still think he is missing an important piece of the pie by not considering adding blogging software into SiteBuildIt. My little old blogger.com account sends me a significant % of my site's traffic. I have replicated my blogger.com posts as static pages on my SiteBuildIt site - they draw nothing. I am drawing interest via my podcast, my blog and my SiteBuildIt website's articles (as per SiteBuildIt's raison d'etre) --- how wonderful it would be if I could incorporate the two textual elements into one.

At which point, a fellow Australian SiteBuildIt! site owner weighed into the fray, asking:

Am I confused with what a blog is only I thought it was like a daily diary. I have a blog (well thats what I call it on my website) and when I add to it I ping the new addition so those with RSS can see what has been added. Is there more to blogging than this, am I missing something?

To which I posted the following:

G'day, X.

Blogging can be many things, depending on how 'into it' you get.

At the basic level, yes, it is a journal. But blogging can be so much more.

For example, with my own blog I belong to a vibrant community of business communicators and PR professionals. We discuss issues relevant to our industry and grow our own personal sphere of influence (aka market reach).

With blogs now very much part of the mainstream of online promotional activity -- driving, as they do for me, a significant proportion of traffic behind the search engines to my SBI site -- it would be fantastic to be able to incorporate them properly into my site, with commenting, trackbacks and dedicated urls.

And if anyone doubts the power of blogs to capture Google interest, might I suggest you conduct a search on Google for these two search phrases: kensington locks .... and ... "kensington locks"

In the first example you will see the 3rd place goes to a blog; in the second the 4th place goes to a blog.

What's in the blog? Commentary about how the blogosphere has found that kensington's laptop locks are about as secure as a piece of tissue paper.

And it was the acknowledged power of the blogosphere that cost the bike lock manufacturer Kryptonite over US$10m because they failed to pay attention to a conversation among 20million bloggers. There's currently around 32m bloggers, with a new post being created every 2 seconds, according to the leading blog search engine Technorati.

Most of the major PR agencies around the western world are now incorporating blog watching in their monitoring activities. As I mentioned earlier, the NY Times in a recent editorial announced that it takes blogging seriously:

"It's natural enough to think of the growth of the blogosphere as a merely technical phenomenon. But it's also a profoundly human phenomenon, a way of expanding and, in some sense, reifying the ephemeral daily conversation that humans engage in. Every day the blogosphere captures a little more of the strange immediacy of the life that is passing before us. Think of it as the global thought bubble of a single voluble species." -New York Times editorial Aug. 5, 2005

Blogging CAN be just a simple journal, a listing of one's random thoughts.

But it can also be a whole lot more -- and it behoves the leading hosting company on the web to consider them more fully and offer it as a fully-supported part of their offering, not as a third-party add-on.


But Ken is not going to offer and support it as part of their offering, so I have set up my own full-featured blog over at leehopkins.net - which is very kindly hosted by Ben Hamilton at DynamicWebHosting in Brisbane, Australia.

 

So why are blogs so important?

Blogs are the new social media tool of the 21st century. They allow a many-to-many conversation to continue, plus they quickly and easily allow someone (anyone) to become an information publisher. Do you have something to say? Blog it. Do you think someone is worth repeating? Blog it. Do you want to share ideas with like-minded souls from anywhere else on earth? Blog it.

Blogs allow you to very quickly create your own webpages of content without all the tedious mucking about with html code — you don't have to be a geek to blog!

 

What can I do if I want to start a blog?

For those thinking of starting their own blog, but not sure, might I suggest you take the time to read Stephen Downes' essay on blogging, "How To Be Heard".

It's an in-depth and entertaining read, and certainly gives any would-be blogger the best advice I know of in any one place.

And if you are looking for more personal advice, why not contact me and let's see if we can't get together somehow (in person, over email or over Skype)


 

Non-verbal communication: Brand Identity Design and the Role of a Visual Vocabulary

 

By Erin Ferree

Visual elements are a major part of your business's brand identity design. The keystone of that design is the logo, but in many cases, the logo isn't enough to convey all of your brand attributes. A visual vocabulary is a way to reinforce and add to the messaging that is contained in your logo.

A company's visual vocabulary consists of the secondary design elements that are used in conjunction with your logo to form your brand identity. The visual vocabulary is composed of font styles, colors, shapes, layout conventions, backgrounds, photographic library, text treatments (such as taglines) and even the type of paper you choose.

These elements should be used consistently throughout your stationery set and marketing collateral and have the following 9 advantages over use of a logo and text alone:

The elements of your visual vocabulary become a graphic language, which takes your viewer deeper into your graphics and materials. They add visual interest and continue to tell your business's story. They are another way that you can communicate about your business with potential clients and prospects, aside from the actual words and text about your business.

Graphics in a visual vocabulary are a method of communication that's more quickly understood than text alone. A viewer can absorb the meanings of colors, symbols, photos, shapes and even font types much more quickly than by reading text. So, in cases where time is of the essence - when you're marketing to busy people, creating motion graphics such as animations or commercials or designing items that people will quickly pass by, such as car graphics or billboards, this is an important consideration.

Many people have a deeper emotional connection with graphics than they do with text. Customers will be more likely to form an emotional bond with your brand and company if you use more graphics, as opposed to just using your logo and text on a letterhead, business card, datasheet or brochure. Color and photography are two of the most effective visual vocabulary elements to use to affect this emotional brand connection.

You can communicate some of the "personality factors" of your business through your visual vocabulary. You can make your company look more professional or people-oriented, more contemporary or traditional or communicate any of your company's values by varying the shapes, colors and fonts used as the surrounding visual vocabulary. So, if you choose your vocabulary elements carefully, the story of the personality of your company can be told through those elements.

Using a visual vocabulary consistently throughout all of your corporate materials will automatically make your materials look more coherent, credible and professional, through the repetitive use of consistent elements.

The right combination of visual vocabulary elements can also make your materials more eye-catching. When your materials are in competition with others - in a stack of proposals, on a table with other brochures or even a postcard coming out of a crowded mailbox - they'll have a better chance of getting noticed when they are designed with stunning and unique visual vocabulary elements.

Forty percent of viewers better remember visual elements. A visual vocabulary will increase the memorability of your materials as well, since people will have more visual elements to remember in your materials.

Elements of the visual vocabulary can reinforce your logo to help quicken the brand recognition building process. One common way that we do this is to use a large version of the company's logo, or a portion of the logo, as a watermark on the letterhead, business card, envelope or website. Not only does this vocabulary element effect add visual interest, but it will help to speed the time that it takes for your potential customers and existing clients to recognize and remember your brand.

A visual vocabulary becomes a tool kit from which you can easily pull visual elements to create new marketing materials. If you have a business card and brochure and need to create a post card quickly, then many of your visual elements, such as color scheme, font styles and even layout and photograph choices can be pulled from the existing marketing materials and rearranged to create a new piece. This is especially convenient when you have a short time or low budget to produce new marketing materials.

The bonus function of a visual vocabulary is that when you're doing a special promotion, launching a new product or extending your services or product line, you can vary elements of the visual vocabulary or even develop a new set of visual vocabulary elements, to make the materials for your new promotion stand out. While consistency throughout a campaign is important, the elements of your visual vocabulary aren't as set in stone as your logo. This is especially effective when you work just with the colors and drawn elements and leave the text and tagline treatments the same. That way, your materials will still be partially consistent with your other company materials, but you can give your new product or promotion's materials a voice of its own.

Adding some visual vocabulary elements to your brand identity makes communicating with your audience easier, quicker and more emotionally charged. This gives you a highly effective way to increase your visibility and memorability. When used correctly, they can increase your credibility as well. They even can help add some personality to your brand identity and can make future marketing materials easier to develop. And, unlike your company logo, you can modify the visual vocabulary elements you use from time to time to spice up your business communications.


Erin Ferree, Founder and Lead Designer of elf design, is a brand identity and graphic design expert. She has been helping small businesses grow with bold, clean and effective logo and marketing material designs for over a decade. elf design offers the comprehensive graphic and web design services of a large agency, with the one- on-one, personalized attention of an independent design specialist. Erin works closely in partnership with her clients to create designs that are visible, credible and memorable - and that tell their unique business stories in a clear and consistent way. For more information about elf design, please visit: Logo design at http://www.elf-design.com

And if you are looking for more personal advice, why not contact me and let's see if we can't get together somehow (in person, over email or over Skype)


 

Nonverbal communication - an overview

Nonverbal communication (as the term implies) is anything other than words themselves that communicates or affects (positively or negatively) the message "contained" in the words.

Metacommunication is a word used to describe the nonverbal process. Meta is from the Greek and means "beyond" or "in addition to"; hence, metacommunication is something in addition to the communication.

Anything which can be taken into account as relevant to our interpretation of what another is saying or doing beyond the manifest 'content' of what he is saying or doing can be referred to as metacommunication.

There are two types of nonverbal communication which we will discuss briefly before we look at the more common types. For lack of a better term, we will call these 'special forms'. You may not have thought of them as forms of nonverbal communication. They are paralanguage and silence .

Paralanguage

You may have heard someone say, 'It's not what he said, it's the way he said it."

Inflection can have an effect on the impact of a message; and while inflection is applied to words, it is a nonverbal treatment which can completely change the meaning a person would be expected to attach to the words. Inflections or emphasis applied vocally to a message are known as paralanguage .

Paralanguage sounds just the opposite from the words themselves. Someone may have greeted you with a "good morning!" but the tone of the words revealed that it was anything but a good morning.

Winston ChurchillThere are, of course, some messages which are transmitted entirely in a nonverbal manner through gestures and facial expressions. Pictures of Winston Churchill taken during World War 11 show him communicating encouragement to the people by raising two fingers in the familiar 'V for Victory' sign. Probably each of us has had the experience of making a statement that was greeted either by a raised eyebrow (indicating surprise) or by a wrinkled brow (indicating confusion or doubt).

And when the school bully took a step toward us with a raised, clenched fist, we got that message in a hurry, too.

Silence

Silence is an important communication tool.

Most of us find an extended period of silence rather oppressive and threatening, and we rush to fill the void with words-usually saying more than we mean to say.

By using silence at strategic times, you can sometimes get your decoder to reveal certain feelings and attitudes that may be hindering effective communication. It is important that we find out how we are doing in our effort to communicate; we do this through feedback. Silence can be an effective technique to encourage feedback. By silence I mean nonverbal elements held to a minimum.

Culture and communication

Webster defines culture as "the characteristic features of a particular stage or state of advancement in civilization."

Or, another definition: Culture is the way a people think, act, live, and communicate. Since this article is about communication , it seems helpful or desirable to get the word communication into the definition.

On the other hand, culture is communication; the two are very much bound together.

A culture develops as the result of interpersonal communication. At the same time, the form, the nature, the makeup of the culture results from the interaction of the people and the place and time in which they live. The "interaction of people" is just another way of saying "communication." Living together, working together, relating to one another is communication. We are always communicating-or attempting to communicate.

An awareness of the relationship between culture and communication as well as an understanding of the differences between cultures is helpful-and at times essential-in communicating successfully.

Perhaps the simplest way to explain culture and its relationship to communication is to say that people are different-we live, work, and play in different societies, environments, and climates, and we adapt to these in different ways. We are talking here not just about regional differences in our own country, but about even greater differences which are found in the numerous cultures of the world.

As a result of living in different societies, environments, and climates, people develop special needs, acquire habits and customs peculiar to themselves, and have experiences (and since words are the names we give to our experiences, we have language differences, too) which, in general, result in particular patterns and methods and forms of expression and relating (communicating) with one another. Many examples of this could be given.

People in a warm, tropical climate, for example, live quite differently from people in a northern urban area of Europe.

We need to know about people and their background if we are to understand their communications. This has important implications for when you may find yourself doing business in a foreign country. It is important that you become acquainted with the local culture and be prepared to follow its rules while you are doing business there. For example, in some Latin American countries, men stand quite close together when talking-much closer than we stand in many western countries. If you, as a Western business executive, were to find yourself in this situation, find the closeness uncomfortable, and back away, you would very likely offend your Latin American business friend.

Your action would probably create a communication barrier because you would appear "coldand stand-offish" to your Latin American counterpart.

Remember that people do things differently. Remember, too, that people communicate in terms of their own experiences. Do not be offended (and communicate offensively) when something out of the ordinary happens. The situation may appear unusual to your frame of reference because it is not within the range of your experience; the situation may be perfectly "normal" to everyone else.

It is small wonder that we seem always to be surrounded by wars and rumours of wars. In addition to the barriers of human behaviour and language, our communication attempts also are complicated by cultural barriers (which actually are linked with language).

Many cultural differences take the form of nonverbal communications. The nonverbal area is relatively new and still is being studied and developed; however, most of us have had enough experience to be aware of its existence and importance. One must be careful to keep this area in perspective and to consider nonverbal elements as only a part of the total communication effort-while the nonverbal may be important, it is not always the whole story. If a person frowns while listening to you speak, it may indicate doubt or disagreement; on the other hand, the person may have a headache or the light may be bothersome. It is important for you to remain alert to nonverbal signals, but it is also essential that you decode them accurately.

Body language

Probably the best-known type of nonverbal communication, at least to the layperson, is body language.

Body language is also known as kinesics. A pioneer in the field, Ray Birdwhistell (Ray L. Birdwhistell, Kinesics and Context. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1970, p. 80.), writes, "The isolation of gestures and the attempt to understand them led to the most important findings of kinesic research. This original study of gestures gave the first indication that kinesic structure is parallel to language structure. By the study of gestures in context, it became clear that the kinesic system has forms which are astonishingly like words in language."

Researchers have observed people involved in the communication process. They have studied body language and other nonverbal behaviour, and they have then related or identified these actions with actual content of the message being transmitted. The result is a dictionary of body language meanings.

Both encoder and decoder send nonverbal messages as part of the total communication process.

The nonverbal messages of the encoder tend to reveal the degree of presence or absence of sincerity, honesty, conviction, ability, and qualifications; body language reveals a lot about the encoder and this person's attitude and feelings about the message being transmitted.

Body language of the decoders also reveals a lot about them and their feelings; but most important, it frequently tells the encoder the extent to which the decoders are accepting or not accepting the message.

In other words, body language provides instant feedback to the encoder and answers the question, "How am I doing?" It is this instant feedback which makes face-to-face communication such an effective form of communication.

Whether we are aware of it or not, each of us spends a lot of time decoding body language. We observe a wrinkled forehead, a raised eyebrow, a tug on the ear, fingers tapping on the table top, legs crossed and uncrossed, arms crossed over the chest. These movements should be considered in relation to the message itself; however, many times the nonverbal communications come through louder than the words that are actually being spoken.

Have you ever found yourself in a difficult situation and realized that you were shifting your weight in the chair? Or running a finger around the inside of your collar? Or clearing your throat nervously? Nonverbal communication frequently reveals the emotional side of our communications.

A favourite sport of many is "people watching." While waiting in an airport terminal, have you ever observed the crowd and tried to imagine the occupation, the problems, and the thoughts of various people? Have you observed an individual's dress and tried to conclude something about the person? Have you observed gestures, facial expressions, and manner of walk and tried to guess the nature of the topic under discussion?

To be a good reader of body language requires that you sharpen your powers of observation and perception.

Observation is a form of decoding, and your ability in this area can be increased by three factors: education, awareness, and need.

Education and awareness are interrelated. Through education, a person becomes aware of more things. in other words, a person knows what to look for; therefore, a person is more likely to observe it, to decode it. Likewise, realizing a need for something makes a person ready and eager to acquire it. If you have ever tried to find a certain house number in a strange neighbourhood, you know that you were probably more alert and aware than usual; you saw things you had not seen before because you had a need to observe and to find the house number.

Perception has to do with your ability to observe, to remain alert, and to extract from a given communication incident the 'realities' of the situation (recognizing, of course, that reality is different for each of us). You must try to take from the communication verbal and nonverbal messages which are similar for both encoder and decoder. While encoding your message, you must be decoding the body language of the decoder. (Communication is indeed a continuous processl)

Whilst mastery of communication techniques is important, it is essential that the encoder be sensitive to the human relations aspects in the communication process, and these human elements are often revealed vividly in body language and other nonverbal communication.

The sooner you, as encoder, receive feedback in the form of a body language message, the sooner you can switch to a more effective encoding technique if necessary.

Eyes

Probably everyone has had some experience with eyes as nonverbal communicators. Most of us have been stared at and have wondered why. Was it curiosity or ill manners? Or perhaps the starer had poor vision and was merely trying to get us in focus. But then there is the possibility the observer found us attractive and interesting and was issuing an invitation to get better acquainted. Most of us have decoded "eye language" even if we did not know about body language or nonverbal communication.

There are numerous messages that can be sent with the eyes, but the stare is the most important technique a person has. In our culture one does not stare at another person-one stares at things. Therefore, a stare can have a devastating effect because it reduces a person to nonhuman status.

There is an endless number of messages which can be sent when one thinks of eyes combined with different positions and movements of the eyelids and eyebrows. As with all forms of nonverbal communication, messages sent by the eyes should be decoded in terms of the words accompanying them.

Hands, arms and legs

How can anyone hope to communicate without using hands and arms? And even legs are for something besides walking.

No doubt each of us knows someone who "talks with his or her hands. Some people punctuate communications with such extravagant gestures that it is extremely dangerous to get too close to their nonverbal exclamations. Do you know people who during a conversation or a card game drum or tap incessantly with their finger tips? Are there people you know who constantly click the on-off switch of their ballpoint pens? Do you know people who frequently "pop" their knuckles? Do you notice individuals who tap their feet, who cross and uncross their legs, or who cross their legs and then swing their crossed legs back and forth?

What do these nonverbal messages tell you? Is the person nervous? Insecure? Bored? Thinking? Happy? Craving attention? A nuisance? Perhaps the messages mean nothing. On the other hand, if nonverbal signs reveal the emotional side of a communication, it is often important for you to try to determine what message is being transmitted along with the verbal one. Sometimes they are the same; other times they are drastically different.

Many people are devoting their entire life to the study of body language. Body language is an interesting, fascinating area of nonverbal communication; much remains to be learned about it. By becoming a better observer, by sharpening your powers of perception, and by knowing as much as possible about your audience (decoders), you should be able to translate more accurately nonverbal and verbal messages.


Well, that's it for another month. As always, I look forward to your interesting emails and views on what you've read this month. If you want to let me know something, whether brickbat or bouquet, just contact me.

And if there is one thing that I encourage you to do this month it is this:

communicate with passion!

signature - Lee Hopkins

 

Reports I have written:

Measuring the impact and ROI of social media
Measuring the impact and ROI of social media - for Ark Group
Making social media work for your business
Making Social Media work for your business - for Ark Group
Social Media: the new business communication landscape
Social Media: The New Business Communication Landscape - for Ark Group
How to get started with podcasting in your organisation
How to get started with podcasting in your organisation - for Melcrum Publishing
How to use social media to solve critical internal communication issues
Contributing author to How to use social media to solve critical internal communication issues - for Melcrum Publishing

How to use social media to engage employees
Contributing author to How to use social media to engage employees - for Melcrum Publishing

Contributing author to How to communicate with hard-to-reach employees - for Melcrum Publishing

 

 

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