Communicate Data Better



Armed with a limitless supply of data we can understand our world more thoroughly than just a decade ago. If we listen closely to these numbers, they can tell us exactly what we need to do to succeed. But ignoring them can be costly. Data ignorance is a real business killer in today’s information-driven environment. Make sure you’re using data effectively to distinguish yourself and advance your business.

Data literacy is a digital age imperative. “Today’s most effective leaders have an excellent command of data,” says Michael Koppenheffer, executive director of content strategy for The Advisory Board Company, a global research, technology and consulting firm advising 230,000 leaders in 5,000 organizations. Michael explains, “they (leaders) understand what data is for and understand how it can help them… and they know how to ask data-driven questions.” If you truly aspire to inhabit the corner office, get busy: think about data through out the day and figure out how to incorporate it into your everyday work life.

“Data is everywhere,” says Michael, “we are all surrounded by it, yet people generally don’t have the skills they need to use it and let it improve their performance.” He says our educational system is partly to blame for our collective inability to better harness information. In high school, most of us saw calculus as the pinnacle of our math studies. Michael thinks this is wrong; statistics should play a more prominent role in our educational development. We find ourselves looking at the proliferation of data in the past couple of decades, but lacking the skills to grasp the big picture of the numbers were looking at and unable to put them into proper context for our audiences.

You don’t need to be a Stats Genius

Michael jokes that he got his worst grade in business school from his statistics class, but this didn’t hold him back from learning how to incorporate data into his day-to-day business dealings. You don’t need to be a statistics genius, he maintains, you just have to know how to use data. The skills Michael deems essential are the abilities to:

  • Summarize and aggregate data. Make observations about data leading to fresh insights
  • Compare data. Understand the differences and similarities between data objects. What new information can you glean from the numbers?
  • Incorporate statistical information. Use your findings in a meaningful way. Include data in your reports, presentations, emails and conversations.
  • Validate data. Make sure your data are accurate and tell a truthful story

Michael’s Advisory Board colleagues put together an infographic to get professionals to think more about data and the role it can play in advancing their business goals… and quite possibly their careers. It identifies five principles to better help you incorporate data into your everyday work life:

  • Be Data-Literate. Understand what you’re measuring and what makes it meaningful
  • Be Curious. See what data can do to help you answer questions
  • Be Action-Oriented. Use data to focus on your goals
  • Be Communicative. Incorporate data in your presentations, reports and day-to-day communications to prove your point
  • Be Skeptical. Make sure your data is helping you provide the right analysis

Check out Advisory Board’s infographic here:

We can all aspire to becoming data-wielding leaders. Classes in statistics or sociological methods can help you see data’s bigger picture, but often what’s needed is just better awareness. Michael suggests you do like the Nike ad campaign begs… and “just do it.”

While that suggestion may seem like a non-suggestion, there’s actually some logic behind it. Most of us are accustom to applying a rigid prescription to learning a new skill. But it’s not so straight forward when it comes to incorporating data into your business life. And this isn’t the first time I received this advice from an experienced communicator. While interviewing for my book, Supercommunicator, I met Alberto Cairo, a world-renowned infographic designer and professor at the University of Miami. Alberto has produced countless infographics that beautifully incorporate data to tell compelling stories. His recommendation was pretty much the same as Michael’s… Both men tell me it’s all about opening your eyes and allowing data to enter your world.

Become a Data Critic

Spend more time looking at how others use data; become a data critic. When perusing articles see what authors do to make numbers come to life. Do the figures hang out there in space? Or is the data organized to produce compelling stories? With so many numbers being hurled at us in these digital times, our simple human brains are struggling to keep up with so much information. We need to access data in a friendly manner if it is to make sense to us and actually stick as knowledge. Ask yourself: did the author of this article do a satisfactory job of presenting the data? Is it summarized well? Did the author incorporate facts naturally and meaningfully into the content? Or did the data just sit there like a day old dried out roast?

Today’s information consumer wants to be spoon-fed. The only way to make sure data becomes meaningful to the user is to present it in an appealing manner. This is why inforgraphics are increasingly in popularity and why storytelling is being touted as a business essential. Packaging data in an interesting format is an imperative. Is the author of the article you’re reading trying to engage you? Better yet, are they succeeding?

As you critique others’ work, look at their source data. Work your way backwards from the finished article or graphic. Pay attention to how they spun the raw numbers. See how they let a story develop from the source. If you spend just a little more time with data-infused content, you will slowly start to see the infrastructure behind the story. The more you train yourself to comprehend how others incorporate data, the more comfortable you will be in taking charge of your own numbers.

As your skills develop, you’ll become more mindful of how to read data so that you can create your own data-driven communications. You truly will become a critic as you notice that too many of the news stories or infographics out there are misleading. Watch out for data integrity. Sadly, many of the stories you see in social media or even in leading newspapers are exaggerated or taken out of context to create a more compelling story.

Advancing your Work with Data

For the truly dedicated data student, challenge yourself by thinking up your own story or attempt to create an infographic. Pick raw data from a business news source – find something in The New Yorker (they often feature data-intensive content) or a random press release – and see how you can mold that information into something compelling. To produce an infographic start experimenting with Illustrator and Excel. Don’t expect too much at first, but see how you develop a relationship with data. Gradually, you will see results.

Sound too implausible? Scott Klein, an editor of ProPublica, an independent newsroom that produces investigative journalism, begs to differ. He’s all about the do-it-yourself model of news applications. His Pulitzer Prize winning news service is known for its broad variety of infographics and tools that bring data to life. But here’s the interesting part… Scott tells me that most of their news apps are developed by liberal arts grads, not by high-powered programmers. His “highly trainable staff,” as he calls them, are able to search databases and develop stories from there. “Teaching them the code is the easy part,” says Scott. His staff has to have good journalistic instincts first.



Assume your Audience is Dense: Hit them over the Head with Benefits


sledgehammerWhen producing any communication piece –whether it’s on paper or digital – it’s your job to make sure the content is relevant to the people who are on the receiving end. Communicators need to spell out benefits for their audience. Hit them over the head with statements that help them understand what all the facts and figures mean to them. Don’t leave it up to your audience to figure out your subject themselves. As smart as your audience may be, chances are they aren’t doing the simple addition of putting together the ideas connected to your issue as thoroughly as you have. People pay attention only when they comprehend there’s something in it for them.

Do your job and help them get to the “aha” point of realization. Sell using “fact” and “benefit” statements. First you tell them a fact and follow it up with a benefit supporting that fact. Think the phrase “what this means to you” the next time you’re developing content or getting in front of a group. You don’t have to utter or write those same exact words, just use that phrase to develop a benefits-oriented mindset. Get the audience to try to imagine how they would profit from whatever it is you’re trying to sell them. Is there a way you can discretely insert benefits into your statements? Can you figure out a way to make the features resonate by helping them see what your topic means to them?

Consider these feature/benefit statements as examples:

  • Amazon Web Service gives you access to Amazon’s massive infrastructure.  What this means to you is you can use their resources to get otherwise costly services on demand instead of building applications yourself. This will save your company money.
  • NetJets offers charter flights for CEOs like you, who wish to avoid paparazzi or protestors. What this means to you is that your identity and destination will always remain confidential.
  • The Toyota Prius gets 49 miles per gallon.  What this means to you is that you’ll not only spend less on gas, but you’ll be doing less damage to the environment.

“But I’m not a salesperson” you may be saying to yourself. You may not be selling a product per se, but you are selling an investment in someone’s time and attention. So yes, you are a salesperson if you are creating content that needs to engage or influence. To hook your audience, think in terms of features and benefits. Ask yourself why they should care about the information you are to impart.  If you can’t think of a reason to include a piece of information, maybe you shouldn’t include it.

Simple? Yes… but effective.


Find “Shared Experience” to Connect with your Audience: 5 Examples


We like it when speakers or writers put us at ease by drawing in references we find relatable. We open our minds when we hear someone talking about something familiar before they tread into areas that are new or alien. Successful communicators know how to take shared experiences or current events and turn them into a learning experience. Soften your audiences with the familiar before you push their brains into overdrive. Make a comparison between your company’s new product launch and the NFL in Detroit and you might just create an image that resonates with your audience that resonates and is remembered.

But be careful. If you use the same football analogy in Shanghai or Lagos… you’re likely to be looking at a room full of confused people.

The Internet has made the world a smaller place by making it easier for people to connect. Sure, that’s great, but it also means that we need to consider that not everyone will view or Web pages, hear our presentation or see our videos will comprehend certain references. There are cultural traits we need to think about if our audience comes from a different part of the country or a different country altogether. In the digital age, communicators need to be more sensitive to the fact that their audiences may approach content from a completely different viewpoint.

Some experiences are universal… others, not so much. Here’s a list of five categories you can draw on to find “shared experiences” to engage your audience. The more globally oriented you make your content, the more difficult it will be to find common ground.

  • The Human Experience. There are some experiences that all seven billion people living on Planet Earth share. Bodily functions are something that all of us can understand, for better or for worse. Likewise, we all understand the daily rising and setting of the sun, the passing of a year, and the need to eat.
  • A Slice of Life. Recognizing products in a supermarket and the frustrations of highway traffic are among the situations that we might all encounter on any given day. Some of these experiences can be culturally based but still appeal to a general population.
  • Popular Culture. Audiences readily grasp concepts when they are compared to television shows, movies, etc. But make sure that your audience is familiar with the base comparison. You can’t necessarily expect someone living in Miumbai to grasp an analogy based on the popular American situational comedy Modern Family any more than you could expect someone in New York to connect with a comparison from India’s longest-running television series, I.D.
  • Many audiences respond well to sports references. Most of the world is crazy about soccer – except in the United States, where fans are more obsessed with American football.
  • Historical references work well because they put new concepts into a natural framework; just be mindful that you will need to save more obscure historical references for better-informed audiences.


Are Your Communications Transparent? Today’s Informed Consumer Knows How To Smell A Rat


Knowledgeable digital age denizens don’t pay attention to anyone selling a can of snake oil. While there’s no shortage of naïve consumers willing to buy the latest so-called miracle cure or life-changing kitchen gadget, many of today’s web-savvy generation are hip to gimmicks and empty promises. With so much information being hurled at them, they’ve become increasingly more discerning.

That’s great news for inherently honest communicators… but it also means now that we have to go extra lengths to prove we’re on the up and up… and not a carnival barkers out to swindle. You may be entirely straight forward, but nowadays the onus is on you to prove to that you’re upfront and legit. It’s about establishing a relationship with your customer, and showing them, not telling them, that you warrant their consideration.

Put a Human Face on it

While doing research on real estate opportunities in Central America, I came across two organizations with very different marketing styles that perfectly illustrate my point on the do’s and do not’s of transparent communication. One company, Viva Tropical,, comprehends the need to put a human face on their marketing and the importance of demonstrating transparency. Viva Tropical is a growing real estate investment operation co-based in Costa Rica and Panama owned by two surfer/explorer guys with big personalities. The other company, let’s call them Shyster’s Tropics (I don’t welcome a law suit so wont use their real name), is the polar opposite. US-based Shyster’s relies on old school marketing approaches devoid of personality. Their editor “signs” each communication, but we never find out who she really is. She’s just a figurehead to readers. But what’s worst than their lack of personal appeal is that their messages are plastic and make them come across like used car salespeople.

Read through Josh and Park’s articles on their site. Check out this video they produced introducing themselves:   They offer a virtual library of facts, figures and real life experiences of relocation to and investment in the tropics. Yes, they write about lower prices, proximity to the beach, and other benefits of the ex-pat lifestyle… but they also warn readers about many of the pitfalls and challenges people find when they chuck their US or European identities to move south. In a call with Josh, he told me point blank that living in Central America is not for everyone. His comments, made in writing and in person, make him trustworthy. His communications are consistently transparent. Who would you rather do business with?

The Comparison

Here’s how Viva Tropical stacks up against Shyster’s:

  • Prose: Shyster’s content is written like a travel brochure for a junket to Atlantic City. Overly flowery language captivates some, but turns off educated consumers. Viva “talks to us” in real language. They manage to pique a visitor’s interest in the adventure of life in the tropics, but don’t come off like cheap salesmen.
  • After a few minutes on their site, we know enough about Josh and Park to believe they are not just business people but real guys on a mission. They are likeable. Shyster’s speaks in a corporate tone that creates a distance between consumer and provider.
  • Honesty. Every day is sunny in Shyster’s Latin America. Viva Tropical’s world, however, is a bit more realistic. Josh told me he wants potential clients to comprehend the down-sides of life south of the border before they buy… he doesn’t want to keep running into them on the street and have them complain to him. Who can you complain to at Shyster’s if they screw you over?
  • Gimmicks. “Want extra income?” Shyster’s writes, “No problem!” They offer hour-long seminars they say can teach you how to make $2,000 a month as a freelance photographer or travel writer.   This is unsavory to me. Photography and writing are two difficult ways to make a living (trust me as a communicator with 25 years experience I know)! Shyster’s seems to be misleading potential customers down a path to making them believe they can make income overseas. Viva doesn’t offer any gimmicks to dupe folks into signing on the dotted line.




Right-Size Your Content: Lessons I Learned From Ira Flatow


“There are some details that are important to some but may be beyond the understanding of me or other people,” Ira Flatow, author and host of the popular NPR radio program Science Friday explained to me in a phone interview. And there’s nothing wrong with that he says.  People with big ideas often give too much information … and this can paralyze audiences, rather than excite them. Are you right-sizing the information you’re communicating?

Sometimes you have to leave out details. One of the reasons scientists, engineers and other big idea generators don’t always succeed in generating excitement about new discoveries or innovations is that they often bog down audiences with too much information. Give them too much detail and they’ll miss seeing the big picture.

In my work with clients, especially folks in science, technology and law, I see this all the time. If you’re a specialist discussing a complicated topic you may feel compelled to share every glorious detail with the world. But please restrain yourself. Perhaps it’s the sheer joy you get from doing your work or the thrill you’ve experienced by making a new discovery, but hold back. If you are one of the scientists, economists, lawyers, or other professionals lucky enough to be engaged in a project that you’re passionate about… great. But remember, not everyone is going to be interested in the same level of detail you find exciting.

Flatow’s program Science Friday 1.3 million global listeners tune in each week for a broadcast that piques their curiosity about a broad range of topics in science and technology. Part of the broadcast’s success, notes Flatow, is that they don’t drill down so deeply into topics so their discussions become boring or too taxing to the majority of their listenership – intellectually curious people.

Like his radio show, Flatow’s book, Present at the Future is filled with great examples of challenging topics made easier-to-understand by avoiding minutiae and focusing on big picture ideas instead. He offers welcoming discussions on “difficult” subjects like cosmology and grey matter in physics that lead you to an “aha” point of understanding.   You don’t have to have a PhD in engineering to comprehend his chapter on nanotechnology, for example. Flatow introduces this topic by explaining the origin of the term, offers a brief historical overview to put the subject in context, then continues to explain nanotechnology while presenting the benefits associated with this new field. He describes how nanotechnology can revolutionize electronics by shrinking a computer chip down to the size of a single molecule or how bionanotechnology can be useful in medicine by helping doctors detect a virus in real-time. That’s the kind of information enthusiasts want to know about. By omitting potentially tiresome discussion on the inner workings of nanotechnology, and focusing instead on its benefits, he is engaging his audience with meaningful information.

Flatow’s advice to scientists and technologists is to go ahead and savor the beauty of the details you see in your subject, just don’t think everyone else needs or wants to experience it at the same granular level.   “If you look at a flower you see the beautiful petals, you see the gorgeous colors… it’s just a beautiful thing of nature. But a scientist or someone interested in nature who studies the actual structure of the petals, the cells, the pigments and the mathematical progression of the petals… they’ll have a different joy of the flower than someone who enjoys it just for its natural beauty. You can see a whole different kind of structural beauty that makes it more fascinating.”

I’m a big believer in “knowing thy audience.” Ultimately the solution to making challenging content manageable to non-technical audiences is to know who they are and what they need from you. Sadly, too many professionals don’t understand this basic rule of communication. Don’t be one of them!

Think Digitally: 7 Ways To Make Your Content Come Alive

digitalcomm The classic printed book, with roots going back to the Renaissance, is a centuries-long tradition of static, text-heavy documents that progressed in a linear fashion. Growing out of the physical reality of what came off the printing press, the nature of the printed word influenced our minds to take on its characteristics. But in the Internet Age its time to do things differently. The digital medium gives content developers more flexibility to explain and express ideas. Multimedia opens the doors to an increasingly engaging environment stressing visual appeal, openness as well as immediacy.

Have you made the transition to communicate like a digital native? Or are you still stuck in the Elizabethan era when if comes to sharing content?

Here are seven tips to help you think digitally. Today’s communications are not just about using new digital tools, but knowing how to use them to deliver a different experience with information than reading a page of text in a book.

Print-Based Media Digital Media Characteristics
Static Interactive/Dynamic
Text-heavy Visual
Linear Nonlinear
Defined entry point Multiple entry points
Dense Digestible
Broadcast Dialogue
Opaque Transparent
  1. Make it Interactive and Dynamic… Not Static

We’re no longer content with words sitting on a page. Digital natives don’t want to merely read about something, they want to experience it. New multimedia tools facilitate a bi-directional dialogue that engages as they inform. Users – not just readers anymore – are taking advantage of an assortment of new applications that personalize information. Interactive maps and tools that calculate numbers specific to the user’s needs are just a sampling of hands-on applications that make information gathering a more dynamic experience.

  1. People Respond Better to Visual, Not Text-Heavy

No one wants to read too much text. Dense paragraphs are like death sentences in the digital world, where information is increasingly communicated through visual means. Readers are naturally drawn to pictures and symbols. A smart infographic can often tell a story more efficiently than a 1,200 word article.

  1. Go Non-linear To Provide A More Customized Experience

Digital natives want to choose how to experience content on their own… and it’s usually not in a straight line. Users create their own paths to the information they want most – not depending on an author to direct them. Websites help facilitate this desire. Click on the information you want when you want it.

  1. Offer Multiple Entry Points

The users enter into an interface at a point of their choosing. We no longer have to start with the introduction and muddle through an obligatory “up front” discussion before getting to the meat. This feature is especially important in this era of social sharing of direct links and search as a starting point.

  1. Make It Digestible, Not Dense

Forget your 700-page tome; no one’s going to read it. Short, crisp and to the point is how digital natives like it. Boston Consulting Group’s Global Marketing Director Massimo Portincaso told me they no longer expect clients or prospects to consume 10,000 to 15,000 words in one sitting. Portincaso says they have to “pre-digest” some content to reduce intellectual capital to its key points. People prefer to read no more than 1,000 words at a time.

  1. Engage In Dialogue: Don’t Broadcast

Social media enables digital natives to engage in conversation if not debate. This is much more appealing than reading an edict written in stone. Interactive applications too, engage the reader in a way that feels more customized. Craft communications that speak directly to individuals; not anonymous groups of people.

  1. Make Your Message Transparent

Digital natives are big believers in transparency and, unfortunately for criminals and crooks, the Internet makes the world a more difficult place to hide. Be truthful and forthcoming. Don’t present yourself as something you are not.

Building Blocks: Explain Your Complicated Idea By Layering Content

istock-alphabet-building-blocks-1-4-mb           Stop overwhelming your audience! Eager to jump to the big idea, writers and presenters often get too complicated too quickly leaving knowledge seekers dazed in confusion and decidedly tuned out. When exactly did they stop paying attention to your presentation? Was it five minutes or did they make it to ten?

Be gentle with your audiences. Don’t hit them over the head with a complicated idea before they are mentally prepared to receive and process it. Help them work their way up the ladder to your big concept step by step.   Don’t expect too much from them in the opening minutes of your talk or your paper.

“Building blocks” or “layering” is a great technique to help us dole out bite-sized bits of information in moderation. We take one simple idea and gradually put it on top of another idea … giving our audience the chance to absorb new material. We increasingly add slightly more complicated ideas as we progress. Comfortably, we break through barriers of bafflement and disbelief by taking one step at a time. We never force our audience to digest too much information at once. We smoothly elevate them to a higher plain of understanding. Like climbing a mountain – look at the short path before you, not the entire route to the peak.

When a subject is truly complicated we need to nurture our audiences to help them comprehend.   Raise them to a more mature level of understanding, but do it gradually. Help them along by using the building block technique. Adult learning specialists Ruth Colvin Clark and Richard Mayer advise you to “help the learner manage the complexity by breaking down the lesson into manageable segments – parts that convey just one or two steps in the process or procedure.” They recommend we “minimize extraneous cognitive loads so that learners can allocate limited working memory resources to learning.”

If your audience doesn’t have the prerequisite knowledge to understand your idea, you have no choice but to give them a tutorial to help them build a path to comprehension. Invest a few paragraphs at the beginning of your paper or a few minutes at the start of your presentation to lay the groundwork. By breaking down your complicated story into manageable chunks, you can construct building blocks. Think of a complicated idea as the sum of smaller, easier-to-comprehend nuggets of information.   Reveal the building blocks to your audience at a gradual pace – let them acclimate bit by bit – not revealing the entire 50 story building or 12,000 foot mountain all at once.

Each step is a block of knowledge that’s useful to understanding the greater topic. Let your reader or audience member take one simple step at a time. Let them take a subject they are already familiar with and add on an increasingly difficult layer of complexity. Keep building layer on top of layer, step by step, taking what is already known and expand upon that knowledge. Build a staircase to your ultimate complexity.

The goal is to make the abstract attainable not in one swoop but through a graduated, more digestible, approach. When we encounter a new concept our brains intrinsically scour our memories looking for a similar experience to attach the new situation. That is, the brain “looks for” connections to earlier information so it knows where to store new sensory input. Adult learning specialists Kathleen Taylor and Annalee Lamoreaux write in an article “Teaching with the Brain in Mind” that our brains want to find existing patterns that appear to “make sense” of an idea and thus be more likely to be remembered. When a brain can’t find a commonality, it can’t forge meaningful links to existing patterns.

In layering, you search for a series of simple steps that can lead your audience to an understanding of something they have never encountered. This exercise forces you to not only comprehend the essence of your subject, but to understand the entire framework the concept is built upon. A superficial understanding isn’t going to work here. That’s actually good. You’ll be a better communicator if you comprehend the details lying beneath the surface.



4 Tips From America’s Top Doc: Dr. Anthony Fauci

ASF clinic HIV 1980s        Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, one of theworld’s most quoted scientists, is a brilliant communicator. He has to be… as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) he’s the go-to guy for just about every medical malady and contagion known to man. He consulted five different US presidents on emerging health threats as well as their potential danger to entire populations. Fauci played a pivotal role in driving government action during the AIDS crisis.

When I met America’s top doc he asked me abruptly: “What can I do for you?” Nervously I answered: “What makes a good communicator?”

“Know thy audience,” he replied with power and conviction sounding like God presenting the Ten Commandments to Charlton Heston.

Know Thy Audience

 Fauci’s right – “know thy audience” – if there were a cardinal rule of communication, this would probably be it. Fauci won’t accept a speaking engagement unless he’s confident he has enough information on the audience. He always asks questions about the audience’s scientific/medical background, professional responsibilities, personal experience with issue, education level and other factors – before he starts to prepare any remarks. Finding out about your audience – and developing a clear idea about who they are and what they need – can make a crucial difference in your communication effort.

Too often, communicators either speak above or below their audience’s level. Giving too much information leaves non-specialists in a daze with nothing tangible to take away from a presentation. On the other hand, communicators who simplify content until its distilled pulp aren’t much better. “Avoid giving your audiences fluff,” Fauci warns. (He likes this word “fluff,” I noticed). The secret to effective communication he says is to know enough about your audience and customize your remarks to speak directly to them addressing their specific concerns and interests.

But that’s not all I learned from the master. Fauci has other tips from his decades of experience talking to everyone from average citizens to top scientists to world leaders.

Focus Your Audience’s Attention

Fauci doesn’t like when presenters flip flop from one topic to another without offering audiences reference points along the way. They need a cohesive story line, something to hold onto throughout a presentation so they don’t get lost. Once some orators get started and proceed at full speed, they don’t realize that some audience members aren’t keeping up with all the information coming their way. Fauci says effective communicators need to bring audiences back to base camp so they feel grounded.



For presentations of a linear nature, Fauci uses a timeline matrix as a device to keep bringing the audience back to the story’s chronology. Using this simple device he figured out a way to turn his presentation into a story… It became easier for his audience to comprehend all the information they were getting because of the easy-to-comprehend manner in which it was framed. For example, when Fauci spoke at a global conference on AIDS, he kept bringing his audience back to the timeline showing them the story chronologically so no one would get lost.

Be Human

A photo of a young, brown-haired doctor doing his rounds at NIAID adds a nice human touch to a fact-filled slide deck at the conference. Note the above picture of Fauci visiting a patient in the HIV ward surrounded by about a dozen medical professionals. He lightens the somber tone of his remarks by joking that he is the doctor leading the rounds – you just can’t recognize him because his hair was brown – not the silver it is today. The audience lets out a laugh for this prominent person’s self-deprecating comment. The famous immunologist just endeared himself to his audience and made a 30-year retrospective of a disease more personal.

Crafting your own unique voice that shows your humanity yet retains a professional tone is essential to win over audiences. Don’t be a faceless entity devoid of emotion or character. Develop a personality with distinct viewpoints so your audience can engage with you on a personal level. Let them know that you’re human – communicate with a tone, style and pitch reflective of your own distinctive voice. Striking the right style will put your audiences at ease and help you develop a relationship with them.

 Make Graphics Easy on the Eyes



Fauci uses quality graphics to explain some of the more complicated issues in his presentations.   He prepared this slide for the same AIDS conference; it’s clear and easy on the eyes; audience members in the back row can see it without strain. The illustration is not junked up with too much text or other distractions. The visual makes a point that is easy for the audience to grasp.

Visuals can help you explain complicated topics easier, but you have to know what you’re doing. Too often presenters cram an abundance of content into a single slide presenting a jumbled mess. Graphics should be used purposefully and compelling. Don’t make them data dumps or novellas.


Podcast with Paul Smith: Addressing Multiple Audiences

Do you usually create only one communication piece to explain your complicated idea? Sometimes that’s good enough.  But all too often producing only one Powerpoint or white paper can leave audiences scratching their heads in confusion.  Sometimes we must create multiple products to address multiple audiences.  Find out how Smithsonian anthropologist Dennis Stanford figured out how to talk to multiple groups in his latest book.  Listen in on my chat with Paul Smith:

Dennis Stanford and Clovis Points Portraitple-audiences-idea/

A Blog that Questions Blogging: Andrew Sullivan’s Decision to Quit the Dish

A true blogging pioneer is calling it quits. That’s right, Andrew Sullivan says he’s just plain burned out from cranking out his wildly successful blogs for the Dish. In less than two decades, blogging and social media have transformed how we express ourselves in an unprecedented way. Sullivan played a critical role in advancing blogging, a genuinely new form of writing. But now the writer reveals he’s suffering from a digital age malaise of sorts. In his announcement Sullivan states: “I want to read again, slowly, carefully. I want to absorb a difficult book and walk around in my own thoughts with it for a while.”


Wow. I didn’t see that coming. But I can’t say I am entirely surprised. Sullivan is, after all, a writer at heart. He has brilliant credentials with powerhouse publications like The New Republic and The New York Times. But blogging isn’t terribly satisfying for many of us who like depth. He notes: “I want to have an idea and let it slowly take shape, rather than be instantly blogged. I want to write long essays that can answer more deeply and subtly the many questions that the Dish years have presented to me. I want to write a book.” Touché, Mr. Sullivan.

After generations of writing long, well-developed text, twenty first century communicators made a quick about face and started sharing their ideas in short blurbs they cobbled together in minutes between meetings or before their next Starbucks run. Like Sullivan, I too have my issues with today’s new digitally driven trend. I’m a writer by nature and, while I enjoy blogging, I get frustrated that so many communications these days are reduced to the written equivalent of sound bites. Blogging is good because it enables people to share ideas at unprecedented numbers. As a communicator, I’m glad that there is a new form of communication to help us get our messages and opinions out. But it’s frustrating that this comes at the cost of efforts that tackle more complicated issues deserving of time and space.

As one researcher quipped, we are quickly becoming a society of “Twitter brains.” Too many underdeveloped ideas distilled to their absolute core coming flying at us at warp speed on the Internet. We get a lot of information these days, but is it quality information? Is it content we get meaningful to our lives? Effective communication is about balance. Blogging has a role in our new digital society, but we can’t abandon cultivating ideas and shaping them into substantial content.

I plan to continue blogging… but will always be mindful that many ideas need time and space to incubate. In our crazy paced digital world, we can’t afford to give up on our analog basics. I hope our educators continue to teach our youth to take the time to reflect and develop ideas. Otherwise we are left with nothing but noise. Working with clients, I am likely to continue to recommend blogging… it’s a digital age necessity for most. But count on me to be there insistent that there must be substance behind the sound bites.