Courage and the future of communication


It’s interesting how the word ‘courage‘ crops up a great deal when I talk about communication.

I frequently use it when considering what I believe communicators must do in organizations – the ones they work in or those of their clients – when trying to persuade others to a particular course of action, or persuade others to change behaviours.

It’s a word that has great significance when we talk about the future of communication as that future involves a great deal of change and will require courage of communicators who must take a leading strategic role in ensuring the successful outcomes of such change.

It’s a word that I believe is central to a primary role of a communicator in the foreseeable future – that of calculating risk in the context of digital transformation in the workplace.

It underpinned much of my thinking last week when I gave a presentation jointly with Silvia Cambié about the future of communication at the IABC EMENA Leadership Institute 2013 conference in London on November 4.

It was a pleasure working with Silvia as we share much thinking about organizational communication, its evolution and the changing role of the communicator. And it was a pleasure to be part of an IABC event again.

In a post she published prior to the conference, Silvia speaks of how corporate communication is changing thanks to social media and new ways of working that collaborative technologies are bringing to organizations.

A new era is dawning, she declares, a view I believe in as well.

So we shared some metrics with leaders from across IABC’s Europe, Middle East and North Africa region about trends, changes and events that we see all around us in business, in people’s behaviours and desires, in technology developments and the contexts of many of those developments.

Behaviours, Mindset, Technology

We painted a picture of a landscape that is rapidly evolving and transforming, presenting significant opportunities and major challenges to organizations, their leaders and communicators – a landscape where people’s behaviours and their mindsets are huge drivers of change, and where technology is the enabler of change.

In my part of our session (the presentation deck I used is available for view or download from Slideshare), I outlined my belief on that risk assessment role I mentioned earlier:

The Communicator’s Role is to Calculate Risk

  1. Recognise and understand change
    – In the workplace
    – In stakeholder behaviours
    – In your overall landscape, internal and external
  2. Be attuned to trends and be able to interpret them
  3. Take a proactive and credible lead to educate and counsel
  4. Listen, learn, recommend

It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Yet it’s complex and requires deep understanding of the organization of which the communicator is part, its vision and mission, its leadership personalities, and much more.

It requires courage to navigate the organization and effect change. When you examine the scope and scale of the opportunity and challenge awaiting the communicator in this new era that Silvia speaks about, it becomes very clear to see that courage really is the requirement of the communicator in the future we talked about.

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A day of value and insight at #smwSMILE

Simply SMILE 2013

Last night, I was reviewing the videos, photos and blog posts written about Simply SMILE, the one-day conference focused on internal communication and social media that took place on September 23, 2013. It was part of Social Media Week London, with the hashtag #smwSMILE.

It all reminded me what a valuable, useful and enjoyable event it was. So many people – presenters and participants alike – sharing their knowledge and experiences that offered genuine insight into what many people have done and are doing in their organizations where social media plays a major role in enabling those organizations to achieve their measurable communication goals.

SMILE – which stands for Social Media In Large Enterprises – is the largest one-day event in Europe dedicated to exploring how large companies and organizations are using social media tools behind the firewall.

Things kicked off with a run-through of the results of a survey carried out by Rachel Miller into social media use within large enterprises. Reassuring results showing 87 percent of those responding to the survey saying they do, up from 72 percent a year ago.


So for the majority, SMILE was about learning more, exchanging experiences, finding out what others are doing, sharing questions, sharing problems and finding some answers.

For the 8 percent “thinking about it,” SMILE unquestionably offered valuable knowledge that would help them determine how to get balls rolling in their organizations. Ditto the 5 percent who aren’t doing anything yet.

I took part in the event, one of twelve moderators who facilitated individual discussion and conversation on particular topics during a 30-minute morning session.

My topic was leadership communication and I was very pleased to have ten people crowded around a table to exchange views, ask questions and discuss their experiences and ideas. They came from organizations of different types including those in regulated industries.

It pleasantly surprised me that everyone was so forthcoming, both with ideas and questions, as well as with sharing some thorny issues relating to leadership and social media that they’re trying to address within their own organizations.

It’s quite clear that not everything is plain sailing when it comes to introducing new thinking and new ways of doing things within large organizations where leadership commitment is pretty important. You’re in a bit of a quandary if that commitment is less than you really expect, or isn’t there at all.

Even though the session was strictly 30 minutes, I used a deck, embedded below, not as a presentation tool but on a tablet as a means of keeping the discussion focused and to enable me to be sure to address some key points that were central to the overall discussion. People told me they found the deck pretty helpful; I made it available on Slideshare where you can download it, too.

The day was filled with some terrific presentations and discussions. SMILE chief organizer Marc Wright uploaded a huge deck (92 slides) to Slideshare that is the deck of record of all the presentations and discussions that went on during the day.

Things I learned from two presentations in particular have stuck with me since last week:

  • The City of London Corporation who introduced social media into the organization without any formal strategic plan. What they did have was bags of belief and passion and a leadership that firmly supports the notion of enabling employees to use social media. Make it happen! That’s the battle won right there. (There’s a great case study about the the City of London Corporation and its use of social media on the Simply Communicate website. You’ll need to register to read it.)
  • The European Commission uses Yammer for internal private social networking. Not an extraordinary idea in itself – Yammer is a staple of internal communication in many organizations. But EC employees increasingly chat in their native language – potentially, in any one of the 24 official languages of the European Union rather than only in English-as-a-second-language – and the translate feature in Yammer presents a chat text to you in your language. ‘Machine’ translation, to be sure, via Microsoft translate, but good enough from what I’ve seen of it. Disappearing barriers when you can just talk in your native tongue knowing with confidence that the other person will understand you.

Others who were there have written some excellent posts recounting their thoughts, what stood out for them and what they derived from being part of SMILE. A handful of note to mention:

Plus the videos of presentations and photos of everyone I mentioned earlier. And the excellent Storify curation created by Gloria Lombardi (who did a superb job in making sure things went smoothly on the day).

Simply, SMILE was excellent.

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The Age of Context comes to London in October

Age of ContextIf you’re a follower of trends in technologies and people’s behaviours – and that mashup between the two – an event in London next month will be of interest to you.

On October 28, Robert Scoble and Shel Israel will be in London as guests of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) and their partner Precise to talk about the Age of Context – the title of their new book, out in November.

Age of Context is an 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.

Age of Context is a follow-up to Naked Conversations that the two authors wrote in 2006. That book examined the then-emerging field of blogs and blogging and its disruptive effects on how businesses should communicate and engage with customers. (I reviewed it in Feb 2006.)

Naked Conversations is widely regarded as a seminal work that influenced opinion and corporate behaviours in many organizations in how people in those organizations communicate with customers and other stakeholders.

Seven years on and the landscape is very different and a more complex one than that described in 2006.

Where ‘blogging’ was ‘social media’ back then, today the latter term embraces a wide and deep spectrum of tools, networks, channels and behaviours across a huge social web that connects well over a quarter of the world’s population.

I’m thrilled to have been asked by the CIPR to facilitate the conversation, as it were, with Robert and Shel at the evening event in London on October 28 that takes place at Google’s new Campus London facility in the heart of Tech City in east London.

I’m sure this event will sell out fast – just look at how fast the official US book launch event in California on November 7 has sold out – so I suggest you get your London tickets now!

Register at Eventbrite

Everyone who comes will receive a free copy of Age of Context. And, the discussion with and between Robert and Shel and the audience (and those connected online via Twitter and other social media) will be recorded and published as a For Immediate Release Speakers and Speeches podcast.

Hope to see you there!

More information in the CIPR’s press release, issued today.

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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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Courage is what it takes

Courage is what it takes...

This month, I’ve led ‘thinking meetings’ at three different organizations as part of processes to help communicators and others understand the evolving nature of the business landscape in which the people in each of those organizations dwell.

We’ve considered trends that matter and the essential steps individuals must take to best prepare their businesses for the new (to some) ways of engaging with others – both within and without the organization – where the direct rewards will not be financial but instead closely connected to earning influence, trust and reputation.

Increasingly, the conversations about social business (definition 1, definition 2) are focusing on the steps communicators must take to encourage mindset shifts and behaviour changes within their organizations, first and foremost. Those steps require courage and perseverance, often (usually, in many cases) in the face of strong and relentless resistance to change.

Indeed, it is all about organization change and not about social media or other enabling tools. It’s also about facilitating change in small steps rather than tackling the big and seemingly huge-and-impossible picture.

I’ve been using a simple deck that is 85 percent the same content that’s relevant to whoever I’m speaking with, with 15 percent that’s specific to a particular organization.

This deck focuses on listening – a courageous step for many when the desire or pressure to talk instead seems overwhelming.

I’ve embedded the 85 percent version below, lightly edited for public use, so you can get a sense of where I’m taking this story where the element of being courageous is central. Once you see and understand that, it can become far less daunting to determine what you actually must do.

The deck draws upon some broad concepts I first presented in a keynote speech at the Like Minds conference in May 2012. Luke Skywalker and Yoda played a starring role in that session.

Today, they’re accompanied by more down-to-earth concepts including The Hero’s Journey as envisioned by Brian Solis that is all about taking courage and is one of the most compelling perspectives that bear strongly on the tasks facing communicators today.

If you have perspectives on those tasks, please share them. We can all learn more that will help us take courage.

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FIR Speakers and Speeches: Brian Solis at The B2B Huddle in London

The Hero's JourneyOn July 12, 2013, Brian Solis spoke at a B2B Huddle event in London. Brian is widely regarded as one of the most credible and compelling speakers on topics and themes related to business disruption, transformation, and change.

He’s the author of three best-selling business books and co-author of two others. His latest book – What’s The Future of Business? – was published in March.

The sponsor of this event was Dell, who provided every participant with a free copy of Brian’s latest book; and Microsoft, who hosted the event.

In this podcast, you’ll hear Brian’s keynote speech (and the question-and-answer session that followed) in which he takes us on a journey that explores the future of business taking in perspectives on ‘digital Darwinism’ and the rise of the connected consumer, and with a vibrant message throughout on the need for vision and courage to enable and manage change.

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About the Speaker

Brian SolisBrian Solis is globally recognised as one of the most prominent thought leaders in new media. A digital analyst, sociologist and futurist, Brian has studied and influenced the effects of emerging technology on business, marketing, and culture. He is a principal at Altimeter Group, a research firm in Silicon Valley focused on disruptive technology.

He is the author of What’s The Future of Business?, the best-selling business book published in March 2013; his previous works include Engage! and The End of Business As Usual. His blog,, is among the world’s leading business strategy and marketing resources.

Connect with Brian on Twitter: @briansolis.

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Intro music clip from Accelerated Ideas and used with permission.

(Cross-posted from For Immediate Release, Shel’s and my podcast blog.)