Up Front Communication

Helping people and businesses through the art of communication

Muscle madness

Old Spice: the bodywash that makes my husband stink like a dog in a swamp but that has one of the best advertising departments ever.

Here’s one of their latest interactive internet ads.  I’m not even going to try to cleverly tie this to a communication quip.  All I can say is that it made me laugh until I knocked over a laundry basket of carefully folded and ironed laundry.  Thanks, Old Spice.

Old Spice Muscle Music

The chatty chameleon

It helps to be a bit of a social and verbal chameleon.  Matching your language, demeanor, and expression to the expectations of your audience is generally a good thing.

Adapting yourself to your audience is not about abandoning your personal style or changing your message to suit someone else’s expectations.  It’s about increasing your personal accessibility.  Even if you are preparing for a speech or presentation that’s intended to stir the proverbial pot, you can still increase your appeal by ensuring that your vocabulary, expressions, and even your behavior is consistent with the social norms of the audience.

We adapt to different codes of language and behavior constantly in our daily lives.  Those who don’t usually find it difficult to get along with all but a small minority of people.  Those who can generally find it easier to meet new people and navigate difficult social situations. The key is adapting yourself while maintaining authenticity.

So how can you stay authentic while still being a bit of a social chameleon?  It has less to do with modifying the opinions you express and more to do with modifying the way you express them.  Try to match your words and speaking style to the words and style of your audience.  Watch for common expressions or slang that you can pick up and deliver back at them.  Avoid colloquialisms that might be unfamiliar to the people who you are addressing.  If the audience expects very formal language, dress things up; if they are more casual, tone the formality down a notch.

To get really, really good at being a social chameleon, expose yourself to the current pop culture of a wide variety of groups.  Listen to other varieties of music, read a wide range of online and print material, learn about different cultures.  The goal isn’t to become an expert on three hundred different social groups; the point is to prime your brain to notice social customs quickly and easily.  This will help you adapt at the drop of a pin.

Remember: we generally like people who are like ourselves.  How can you be more like the person or people you are speaking with?

But how does it sound?

Voice quality is a very, very important thing.  A beautifully timbered voice can make the foolish sound clever.  A juvenile, chirpy tone can make the experienced professional seem like an vacuous twit.

And a well-placed voice over can turn a touching scene into this:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WfAww-6X2Ig&w=420&h=315]

This is an old video, but I laugh myself silly every time I see it.

Fear-based communication

How many messages do you encounter in a day?  Discounting the ones that come from your own head (and lord knows those can be interesting), how many bits of info do you process on a daily, hourly, or even minute-by-minute basis?

Let’s dig a little deeper: how often do you consider the tone of those messages?  This is a pretty important question when it comes to evaluating the suitability or reliability of information.  In our hyper-marketed world, the emotional tone of professional communication is one of the first – and most effective – tactics in generating an overall message.

It is difficult to divorce emotion from communication; after all, we’re emotional beings and our daily experiences are largely understood through the emotional state in which we perceive them.  Heck, the entire pathos branch of rhetoric is based around appeal to emotion.  When creating a message, I always consider the sort of emotional effect I’m going for.  Appealing to your audiences feelings is neither a good thing nor a bad thing.  It’s another tool in your toolbox.

I draw the line, however, when emotional appeal becomes overly exploitative.  This is very easily seen in advertising directed at a vulnerable audience base.  Fear-based selling is common and nearly unavoidable.  It sells products, services, and media outlets (think of the use of disaster and fear-based stories on most cable news channels).  It is ruthlessly leveraged against audiences whose circumstances involve some form of instability or unpredictability.

As I’m preparing for the birth of my first child, I’ve been rummaging through plenty of pregnancy-related magazines.  Expectant mothers and fathers are concerned about the health and future of their child, which makes them ripe for fear based advertising.  In one issue of Fit Pregnancy, I counted no less than six advertisements for cord blood banking, three of which occupied entire pages, and one of which was a spectacular two-page spread.  All of these ads featured messages such as “secure your family’s future” and warnings about the likelihood that the child will develop a severe or terminal illness.  One particularly dreadful ad shows a picture of a baby’s foot, with each toe labelled thus:

  • This little piggy has a 1 in 17 chance of getting juvenile diabetes.
  • This little piggy has a 1 in 2 chance of getting cancer.
  • This little piggy has a 1 in 303 chance of getting cerebral palsy.
  • This little piggy has a 1 in 217 chance of needing a stem cell transplant.
  • This little piggy has a 1 in 66 chance of getting leukemia.

While it is reasonable for services such as cord blood banking to use illness information to sell their product, the way these ads communicate the risks borders on cruel.  I believe that ethical communication involves educating your audience about different sides of an issue, not whipping them up into a panic that leads them to a blind purchase.

In today’s blog post, Seth Godin summed up top level business practices as having focus on “respect and dignity and guts…”.  Most fear-based communications is neither respectful, dignified, nor gutsy.  Don’t fall into the trap of relying on fear to communicate your message.

I can has poker face?

Control over your facial expressiveness is a boon.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the ability to let your face show people what you want when you want is worth many, many hours of embarrassing practice in front of your bathroom mirror.

The importance of this skill is demonstrated beautifully by Denver the Yellow Lab in the following video:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B8ISzf2pryI&w=560&h=315]

It seems Denver needs more time in front of the mirror.