Re-Defining Today’s Communicator


Two weeks into 2014 and much of the talk about what’s hot and what’s not for communicators is about technology.

Of the many, many tech topics that appear on trends and predictions lists, there are three that I believe warrant our attention in early 2014 above all others:

  1. Mobile: especially usage shifts and trends such as BYOD, the mobile cloud, and the “appification” of the workplace and business generally.
  2. Collaborative economy:  access to and/or use of an asset – a product or a service – when it’s needed, rather than the actual ownership of that asset; and the rise of peer communities to facilitate the sharing of and  access to products and services. This shift has big implications for businesses, both in how they sell products and services and in how employees work.
  3. Data analytics: gaining actionable insight from raw data needs a broad understanding of tools and methods to process that data, quickly and effectively. It also means a greater need to filter information, knowing what to look for and what to ignore. The need for expert knowledge is paramount, so the role of data analyst will grow. Yet not everything needs deep or detailed analytics, meaning the communicator needs “DIY skills.”

For communicators, the focus at the very least is understanding the role of technologies and behaviour shifts like these in the organisational communication setting, internally and externally. It’s not about being expert in use – although proficiency is clearly a good thing – nor being the go-to guy or gal for everyone with a question.

It’s about understanding…

  • the relevance and context of such technologies and behaviours in the workplace;
  • what communicators need to do; and
  • how, where and when.

Understanding digital and how to use social media have been a huge focus for communicators during the past few years. As knowledge of social networks, tools and channels have become mainstream – in society and in the workplace – and use more universal, the pressure for communicators to “embrace social” has grown to be almost overwhelming.

But today’s communicator must do much more than tweet and post likes to her timeline or pics to Instagram. Today’s communicator – at whatever level he or she occupies in the organisation – must, as never before, have clear vision and understanding of how communication and the communicator are key strategic assets that support measurable business objectives.

Here’s what you need to have as your foundation for 2014:

  1. Deep understanding of organisations and how they function.
  2. Understanding of your own organisation culture and structure.
  3. Knowing who the major influencers and key subject-matter experts are within the organisation.
  4. An impeccable understanding of your organisation’s business vision and mission.
  5. A clear view on the measurable benefits that can arise from being a ‘social business.’

Your foundation is critical to enabling you to fulfil the important role you must play in the rapidly-changing landscape that embraces organisation change, behavioural change and technology change; and where the three intersect, online and offline.

In an age where anyone can claim to be a communicator in business, it’s time for professional communicators to prove their relevance and context in what they do for their employers and clients, showing evidence through confident knowledge and the context of its benefit – the ROI – to the organisation.

Let’s get cracking!

First published by on January 10, 2014, as part of a larger feature entitled Internal Communications predictions for 2014.

The feature includes opinions from Marie Wallace, Analytics Strategist at IBM Social Business Division; Mike Grafham, Yammer Customer Success Lead; Kevin Ruck, Co-founder The PR Academy; Mark Morrell, Intranet Pioneer; Stephen Welch, President of IABC UK; Ian Buckingham, internal communications champion, senior partner at various IComms consultancies and author; Marc Wright, Publisher of simply-communicate; Tim Johns, Change Agency; The IC CrowdRachel Miller, Jenni Wheller, Dana Leeson; Euan Semple, Director, and author; Gloria Lombardi, Community Manager, Webmaster, Reporter at simply-communicate; and Neville Hobson (that’s me).

Dilbert cartoon at top of page by Scott Adams, published on December 26, 2010.

Scoble and Israel join up the dots #AoCUK #CIPR

[L to R] Neville Hobson-Shel Israel-Robert Scoble

About 100 people gathered in Google’s London campus last night to hear Robert Scoble and Shel Israel talk about concepts, ideas, experiences, trends and realities surrounding some of the themes and topics in their new book, Age of Context, published in September.

The widely-anticipated event was organized by the CIPR and sponsored by Precise.

Age of Context is the embracing term to anchor five converging forces the two authors see as profoundly changing almost every aspect of work and life in the next decade: mobile, social media, data, sensors and location.

Copies of the book were to be given to every event attendee. But, as Shel explained as the discussion got underway, the packages being delivered by DHL never made it in time for last night’s event, inevitably linking DHL to the hashtag #DHLfail.

Once the books do turn up, the CIPR will arrange for copies to get to everyone who bought a ticket to last night’s event.

My role as discussion facilitator was to keep the conversation going, moving it across the spectrum of topics the book addresses. If I’d had any concerns about continuity and flow, they were unwarranted as both Shel and Robert are articulate conversationalists on topics that both have clear, strong and passionate views about.

The conversation was wide ranging and did what I see as the book’s crowning achievement – helped join up the dots of disparate-looking and seemingly-individual technologies and human behaviours that enable you the reader to see and better understand how and why convergence of the five forces the book addresses is already happening, what it will mean to each of us as individuals and to society at large.

In the book’s foreword, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff tells us to “be prepared to see the future in these pages.” Both authors helped everyone in the room see more than just simple glimpses of that future.

Which led to a good discussion on a topic that rears its head ever more these days – privacy, discussed at length in the book itself.

As you’d expect at any event worth its salt, a great deal of commentary and opinion about what people thought and were experiencing was shared on Twitter linked to the hashtag #AoCUK. Gabrielle Laine-Peters has done a great job capturing much of those conversation contributions – tweets and photos – in a terrific Storify curation.

The full one-hour discussion was video- and audio-recorded. The video will be published by the CIPR; the audio will be published as an FIR Speakers & Speeches podcast. Both should be available sometime next week – keep an eye on the #AoCUK hashtag for news.

In all, a terrific event, well organized and managed by the CIPR. Thanks to Shel Israel and Robert Scoble for sharing their insights and giving us opportunities for seeing more clearly what’s happening, what’s coming and what we can do about it as communicators.

And thanks to everyone in the audience last night who asked questions, tweeted their opinions and became integral parts of the conversation.

Talk about converging forces!

(Montage of photos at the top of this page courtesy of Thomas Power.)

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Should PowerPoint be banned from meetings?

"PowerPoint Poisoning"

If you’ve suffered through meetings where colleagues use PowerPoint decks as their autocues for droning ‘presentations,’ you’ll love this development at two leading companies that could be a model for others to emulate.

Author and communicator Eric Bergman reports that two CEOs – Jeff Bezos at Amazon and Jeff Weiner at LinkedIn – have eliminated slide-driven presentations from their meetings.

In the case of Amazon, the ban on PowerPoint presentations includes a ban on printed decks as well, as Bezos said in an interview with Charlie Rose, a US talk show host and journalist.

[…] “All of our meetings are structured around six-page memos,” Bezos says, pointing out that this also eliminates bullet points. “When you have to write your ideas out in complete sentences and complete paragraphs, it forces a deeper clarity of thinking.”

Bezos believes that PowerPoint is easy for the presenter but difficult for the audience. Meetings may start with up to 30 minutes of silence while everyone reads the documents.

The result of separating the written word from the spoken word? “It saves a lot of time,” he points out.

Bergman quotes from a blog post by LinkedIn CEO Weiner, who says that information about a meeting is sent 24 hours in advance to give the participants an opportunity to review that content before the meeting.

[…] However, not everyone can find the time, so five to 10 minutes is set aside at the start of the meeting to give everyone time to review the written document.

“Once folks have completed the reading, it’s time to open it up for discussion,” Weiner writes. “There is no presentation.”

The benefit? “You may be pleasantly surprised to see a meeting that had been scheduled for an hour is actually over after 20-30 minutes.”

Are these behaviours workable in other organizations? Are they effective ways to conduct meetings?

Eric Bergman thinks so:

[…] Cognitive science tells us that humans cannot read and listen at the same time. In fact, trying to do both is absolutely the least effective option and a virtual waste of time – terrible news for the “average” PowerPoint presentation delivered in boardrooms, meeting rooms, training rooms and conference halls.

While I agree with Eric about the ineffective way in which the “average” PowerPoint deck is used by people in so many meetings, I’m not sure that outright banning the presentation software as Amazon and LinkedIn have done is right as a general rule.

When a PowerPoint presentation is used well – in my view, primarily as a visual aid to what the speaker is saying, not the script for each slide to read out verbatim – it is a powerful tool that can aid effective communication.

Indeed, that’s a general point Eric highlights in his book 5 Steps to Conquer Death By PowerPoint, published last year (and which we discussed in an FIR Interview in London in July 2012).

It’s not so much about not using PowerPoint at all – it’s more about how to use it effectively.

So before you jump with glee at the very idea of “no more PowerPoint!” think first about how a visual tool like that can help you connect and engage with the people you’re trying to persuade to a point of view or whatever is the topic of your story-telling, if you use it well.

Think of events you’ve been in, either as a speaker or presenter or as an audience participant, where someone used a PowerPoint deck in such a way that he or she wowed you with their memorable story-telling that concentrated on the telling.

During the past twelve months, I can think of one person who did just that for me – Microsoft’s Dave Coplin speaking at The B2B Huddle in September 2012. With a PowerPoint deck.

As for LinkedIn’s rule – information about a meeting is sent 24 hours in advance to give the participants an opportunity to review that content before the meeting – I think this is great whether there are decks or not, although my podcasting partner Shel Holtz wasn’t so positive about it when we discussed this in FIR 715 last week.

Still, there’s something here for everyone, depending on the particular circumstances in your organisation or situation.

On a final note, the Dilbert cartoon by Scott Adams that I included at the top of this page is the strip first published on August 16, 2000. That’s thirteen years ago.

The PowerPoint dilemma isn’t new!

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Immersive LeWeb London

LeWeb London 2013

Today, June 5, is the first day of LeWeb London 2013, the two-day biz-tech fest that nearly 900 people have signed up to be part of, along with speakers, sponsors, journos and official bloggers. In that latter group, I’m one.

The programme is terrific, and I’m really looking forward to being part of it all over the next two days. Thanks to the magic of WordPress scheduled posts, you’ll read this post at about the time on Wednesday morning I should be coming out of Westminster tube station for the short walk to Central Hall Westminster, the venue, and joining the queue for badges.

I won’t be doing much blogging, if any, while I’m at LeWeb. For live blogging of the event, I recommend you follow Adam Tinworth  – who’s also an official blogger – who will be doing a lot of that on his blog.

Keep an eye on the speakers’ Google+ Hangouts schedule – you’ll be able to see live video of some of the sessions.

I will be listening a lot, though, and tweeting, instagramming, G+ing, maybe even a Vine or two; plus recording audio, and capturing a great deal of input for a review I plan to write next week, including a commentary for the business podcast I co-host with Shel Holtz. Some interviews with interesting people are possible, too.

Also, this Friday June 7, I’ll be speaking on Marc Wright’s live Simply TV show with some impressions of LeWeb that are relevant for internal communicators.

If you’ll be one of the 900 or so LeWebers and would like to connect, well, lets’ do that. Mind you, I have a feeling direct SMS or Twitter will be more effective communication channels. Or, if you’re using the neat Bizzabo event app, try that.

In any case, I’m looking forward to a terrific event.

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Good reasons to be at LeWeb London in June

LeWeb London 2013In ten days time, LeWeb London takes place. The overall theme is the sharing economy; the speaker line-up is fabulous, the agenda is compelling and, so, far, over 850 people have booked to be there on June 5 and 6.

This third LeWeb conference in London – to complement the winter LeWeb Paris that’s been happening every year since the mid 00s – looks set to be as good as every LeWeb in recent years, and will once again feature live video events including Google Hangouts On Air that I participated in for previous LeWebs.

This time, I’ll be physically at the event, as one of the official bloggers. I’m looking forward to the overall experience and meeting and  connecting with some interesting people, friends and new encounters.

If you’re thinking about going to LeWeb London, but have yet to finally decide and book your ticket, here are nine good reasons that will help you make up your mind.

9 reasons

Compelling headline reasons:

  1. Explore the revolutionary sharing economy
  2. Hear from and connect with leading speakers
  3. Meet people from around the world
  4. Meet and talk to press and bloggers
  5. Find and secure key investors
  6. Connect with leading companies
  7. Find the next wave of great startups
  8. Explore and experience an amazing city
  9. And find opportunities

See you there?

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Here’s what I do

Every now and again, I meet someone who knows a bit about me from reading my blog or following me on Twitter – but still asks “So what is it you do?”

Even though I’ve been writing this particular blog since 2006 and have wording on it that talks about what I do, it’s really not very clear. Even I have trouble finding information sometimes. An encounter a few days ago and the inevitable question prompted me to do something about that asap.

The result is detailed new content to answer that question, published on a new website under a domain I’ve had for some years but never used in a meaningful way.

Neville Hobson business website

Although the new website at runs WordPress, it’s not set up as a blog – the place for that continues to be at The new site comprises just five content titles that should give very clear signals as to what topics each content page addresses:

About | Consulting |Speaking | Writing | Podcasting

If you arrive on the site’s home page, you’ll find a kaleidoscope of content from my social stream, courtesy of Rebelmouse. It’s a service I’m experimenting with – and have had a version running on this blog for some months – that takes what you tweet about and automatically creates a visual display of the content that’s compelling and attractive to look at and interact with.

I think it also gives anyone a little insight into the types of content someone finds interesting and sharable from a range of their places across the social web including Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Flickr, RSS feeds from blogs and more. See if you agree.

Putting Rebelmouse on the home page, incidentally, came after I saw what Paul Chaney did with his business website. Like it!

So, in the interests of clarity, I’ve finally explained a few things, hopefully better than I had before. I don’t expect anyone to ask me “So what is it you do?” once they’ve taken a peek at anything on the new website.

Feedback and opinion welcome, thanks.