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Cautiously Optimistic

Social media for better communication and a better life

Posts Tagged ‘communication

For Good Communication, Less is More

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One of the best tips I ever got while working in radio journalism was to never forget the phrase “less is more.” After researching a story, interviewing an expert on the topic, editing the audio clips, and beginning to write, I felt a bit like an expert myself. That made it tough to choose which of my babies to kill. Figuratively, of course, as I worked to remove fifty percent of the excellent words I had just written, while keeping the central idea of the story. It’s not easy.

Turns out I was doing it backwards. This great article from Erika Andersen of Forbes via Lifehacker boils down the “less is more” concept to three central rules of clear communication:

  1. Listen. It’s the first and most important part of communicating. If you don’t know what the other person is saying or thinking, how can you effectively connect with them? You can’t.
  2. Cut to the chase. You absolutely must get to the point quickly and simply, or your audience will wander away. Every story should have a beginning and an end, so just get from A to Z without wasting a bunch of time on L-M-N-O-P.
  3. Read the room. Are the people you are speaking to yawning and checking their e-mails? Time to stop talking. Saying more words likely won’t make it better.

These rules may be hard to follow, but the results will be worth the effort.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

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Written by Charles Primm

April 30, 2012 at 5:38 pm

Infographics – Classic Communication Made Modern

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Infographics are becoming a hot topic among social media outlets and communicators.

Bloggers such as Maggie Koerth-Baker at Boing Boing and Marcie Giovannoni at Complex Visuals have written about the recent jump in interest in infographics, which deliver often numerically-laden information in a way that helps, not hurts, understanding. Koerth-Baker also explores the history of this communication art, including an illustration considered to be the best infographic ever created, the map by Charles Joseph Minard that illustrated the destruction of Napoleon Boneparte’s army in the Russian campaign of 1812.

Charles Joseph Minard's map of Napoleon's 1812 Russian campaign lossesPublic relations practitioners are climbing aboard the infographics party train. PR Daily’s Meryl Serouya recently wrote an article specifically exploring the use of infographics as press releases, citing their brevity and focus, especially when distributed via social media channels.

Serouya wrote that infographics “can prove especially powerful in press releases by extending the core message and highlighting the important components to bring the text to life.”

I agree completely. Infographics certainly are full of promise as communication channels, although I would not go so far as to say they should replace a news release. If I was advising a client about the use of infographics, I would say that they do have their place, but not as stand-alone releases.

SC Johnson infographic on shifts in consumer environmental actions and behaviorAn interesting infographic could accompany a news release, whether it is e-mailed to media outlets, posted to an organization’s Facebook page, or Tweeted to its followers, giving the story extra context, drama, and background while explaining the more complex parts.

Even though infographics have been around for a long time (like the 17,000-year-old Lascaux cave paintings in France), a well-crafted infographic still has the power to take dry information and make it seem fresh and new and understandable. I’m looking forward to seeing how this hybrid of art and communication will change and grow in the future.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

A Good Way to Break Bad News

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Being a better communicator means sometimes having to break bad news, in a sensitive but direct way.

Public relations practitioners sometimes find themselves in no-win situations, explaining or justifying their organization in the face of criticism from external audiences and their own internal stakeholders.

We sometimes find ourselves in no-win situations in our personal lives as well, when we must share something that we really, really wish we didn’t have to. It reminds me of the title of the Harlan Ellison short-story collection “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream,” when we discover that we are simultaneously torn between having to say something and being unwilling or unable to say it.

Writer Adam Dachis of the Lifehacker blog recently posted some good advice on how to break out of that “can’t say it/must say it” trap. It sounds simple, but is quite powerful: instead of beating around the bush, you must phrase the bad news in as simple a message as possible, and then go ahead and deliver the message.

Putting things off or minimizing the impact of your words will not make a situation better. It’s like only partially removing a splinter from your finger. It may not hurt as much, but the pain is still there.

To that, I would add the thought that you must be prepared for the consequences of the bad news you have just shared. You can choose what to tell someone, but you cannot choose how they react to it. Only they get to decide how they want to react to it. It’s like un-ringing a bell: you can’t do it. Once you have said something, it’s out of your control.

It’s the same way with social media, only faster. If you give a person bad news in a direct, face-to-face conversation, it may not go much farther than that. But if you post bad news to your social media sites, it’s instantly shared with everyone you know, and archived for all time in The Great Internet Cloud.

That loss of control is one reason why I don’t think social media are an appropriate place for sharing bad news. More than one person I know has accidently informed all of their Facebook friends of a breakup by allowing their change of relationship status to be posted to their news feed.

So even if it is not possible to avoid being the bearer of bad tidings, there certainly are better ways to do it.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

February 2, 2012 at 6:29 pm

Look on the Bright Side!

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Welcome to the first entry for my first blog, “Cautiously Optimistic.” True to its title, this blog is not going to break any dishes, shatter any paradigms, bloody any noses, or get too carried away. At least not too often.

What I hope it will do is set a tone of hopefulness, wisdom, and, yes, optimism about the future.

My professional background is in journalism and public relations. I will share what I have learned over the years, both in school and in the School of Hard Knocks, as well as my thoughts and opinions of current events and future trends, to explore how we can improve ourselves and each other, how we communicate, and how social media can play a role in that process of discovery and improvement.

My goal is to use this forum to persuade you that improvement is possible in all areas of our lives. Will I achieve that goal? As you might have guessed, I remain cautiously optimistic.

-CP

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

January 24, 2012 at 8:00 pm