Category Archives: storytelling


One of the lessons I learned early on was to remove all the speech fillers from my presentations. You know: those “ums” and “uhs” that pop up as we work to recall that perfect word.

We may need to rethink that standard. Here’s a study that suggests that – ah – such pauses can improve listener recall.

“This is speculation, but if the speaker doesn’t know what they’re saying very well, you pay attention more because you think you need to work harder to get it. One thing that disfluencies do is buy speakers more time. They are a signal to the person listening that I need more time.”  – Duane WatsonCognitive Science group

I wanted to give this a test, see how it sounds.

  • Soundbite 1 – (That sounds good!)
  • Soundbite 2 – (OK, I can see how that could help focus the listener’s attention.)
  • Soundbite 3 – (Too much! Lack of credibility.)

So if you’re worried about your public speaking skills, this is good news. It’s permission to relax a bit. Yes, you’ll need to rehearse your presentations multiple times before you deliver them – your confidence in your knowledge of the subject matter builds needed credibility. But once you’re in front of your listeners, don’t focus on every word you’re saying. Don’t get flustered when you do insert a speech filler here or there.  Allow yourself to speak naturally, to let the “ums” fall where they may.

Good news for President Obama, Jon Stewart, and you!

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Organizational Communication Resources

Stories of Organizational Communication, Final Post

Geri’s question: Do you have any good resources you can share?

On Writing WellA book that I absolutely recommend is “On Writing Well,” by William Zinsser. It’s a clear, fantastic book that is directed at writers of non-fiction, but is just as easily applicable to email, memo, and report writers.

Of course, there are numerous blogs that you can follow:

  • Communispond is one that I added to my RSS feed a while ago, and have never gotten rid of. They focus on making sales and on presentations. Each of those topics can be applied to Organizational Communication.
  • And I get some business writing pointers from Jonathan Clarke’s Business Writing Solutions – he sends out another eNewsletter.

And finally, every single piece of information that is handed to you is a great resource. How are other people writing? Not just the good writing, the bad writing is GREAT stuff.

An example:
The servicing rights to my home loan were recently transferred. During this process, I received several pieces of communication, one of which provided instructions on how to set up my automatic payments.

This document, sent out to customers, contained errors in the process outline and left out key information.

The errors involved the clicks the customer would make to access the auto payment form. A key piece of information that was left out, in my mind, was the fact that the auto payments were not being processed by the new services, but by Western Union.


  • Challenge your assumptions.
    The creator of the job aid may have assumed that all ACH payments go through a third party services like Western Union. However, my loan had originated with an institution that made it look as though we were making my payments directly to them.I needed to know not only that I would be taken to a third party site, but that there would be no fee for processing these ACH payments. (Western Union can charge between $8 and $15 for processing same-day transactions-we were concerned a similar payment would be assessed for the ACH).
  • Read your message aloud.
    In this instance, the creator of the job aid needed to go a step further. if you’re communicating a process, it’s not enough to read the document aloud. You have to step through the process while you”re reading it.

A final thought about resources:
Outlook is a great resource, but in a different way. Let’s say you take all this to heart, there’s still a possibility that you’ll remember something important you should have included in your message after you’ve sent it out. For email, there may be a way to help in the form of a rule – Outlook allows you to delay the sending of your email message after you hit send. For example, I’ve set up a rule that delays the sending of all outgoing email messages by 2 minutes. This has saved me many times from trying to recall a message (which really hasn’t worked for me), or sending follow-up emails explaining myself.

This is the last of a series of posts inspired by question prompts from Geri Girardin, the instructor of DHTV’s Organizational Communication course. Other posts in the series were:

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Should I Proofread Everything? Even Texts?

Stories of Organizational Communication – Part 7

Geri’s question: What about texting in terms of today’s topic of revising one’s writing?

One of the students in the Organizational Communication class made a comment on how language is ever-evolving.  He noted that Google is now a word. I’ll see him and raise: the Oxford English Dictionary, which is considered THE record of the English language, just added LOL to its lexicon. Texting is causing the English language to evolve.

Damn You Autocorrect - killing her seems a bit harsh.

Texting is a different form of writing. It’s so informal, so instantaneous, it’s practically verbal. Therefor, texts don’t follow the same rules for rewriting. I mean, I won’t sit on a text before I send it.

That said, we shouldn’t ignore the opportunity to make sure we text what we mean to.

There are plenty of sites that poke fun at poor texting on the Internet. I’ve seen one site, Damn You Autocorrect, get picked up in the morning news shows now and then when they need a lighthearted story. The image to the right is a typical example: people take snapshots of text messages in which the context of the message is changed completely when their iPhone’s auto-correct function doesn’t recognize a word and inserts its best guess of what the correct word might be.

And it’s funny, and we laugh, but think about this: each of those funny word insertions or misspellings was created because the writer didn’t check his or her message before sending it. Rather, they all trusted the computer to get it right. And the computer can’t do that. Spellcheck only works so well. Voice is not replicable. Tone is often exaggerated.

Text messaging tends to be more informal than other forms of communication, but it still deserves a once-over to make sure that you are saying what you meant to say.

This is one of a series of posts inspired by question prompts from Geri Girardin, the instructor of DHTV’s Organizational Communication course. Other posts in the series were:

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Better Writing Through Rewriting

Stories of Organizational Communication, Part 6

Geri’s question: How can I (or anyone) become a better writer thru revising my writing?

Pen as instrumentHow can I become better at anything?
How does one get to Carnegie Hall?
(Practice, practice, practice.)

That’s an old joke, of course, but it says a lot. Musicians need to practice to get recognized as skilled in their craft, and they often practice the same piece over and over. Musicians -and I’m talking about the GOOD musicians, the experts at their craft, be it Yo Yo Ma or Steve Vai or Usher – they all dig into a piece that they plan to play. They practice measure by measure, staff by staff. They play a phrase and then they reflect: was that pianissimo soft enough? Did I get enough reverb off the last chord? And then they practice it again.

Rewriting is kind of like that, where the computer keyboard (or, if you’re old school like me, the pen) is your instrument.

  • If you’re trying to write a best-selling novel, you’re going to be like a musician and analyze every sentence, every phrase, every word.
  • If you’re drafting a presentation or writing a report, you’re going to analyze every paragraph. Am I clear enough? Am I forcing my audience to make assumptions because I’m leaving something out?
  • If you’re writing an email, you’re going to read over the email for tone and complexity. Am I writing something that someone will read, or skim, or ignore?

Let’s go back to that offhand comment I made – thank goodness I don’t write like I think. Actually, I do, at first. When I write something – email, training material, anything – I typically write down the basic information my audience needs to know first, and in the way that I usually write — like I’m talking.

Sometimes that’s enough. Give ’em the basics then get out of their way. But more often the basics just bring out more questions – who else is involved? What details support the main action? Can I provide a little advice on how to proceed?

So the first draft gives them the basics. The reviews and rewrites address the details, and edit my conversational voice into a written voice.

What I learned over time is that my communication is clearest when I can distill it down to three key sentences:

  1. This is what you need to know/do.
  2. This is why you need to know it.
  3. This is when it needs to be completed.

More often than not, that becomes my structure.

Before you put something out there, reflect on what you produced. See if you can make it better. Hone your skills by doing so.

This is one of a series of posts inspired by question prompts from Geri Girardin, the instructor of DHTV’s Organizational Communication course. Other posts in the series were:

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Finding Your Voice As A Writer

Stories of Organizational Communication, Part 5

Geri’s question: It seems to me that having a writing ‘style’ is all about finding your voice as a writer. What thoughts do you have about this statement?

When I read that question, the Concrete Blonde lyrics: “And if I had the choice/I’d take the voice I got/’Cause it was hard to find,”  popped into my head.

“Finding your voice” shouldn’t be hard to do, because you’ve got a voice as a person. You use it every day. You use it to share stories and ideas. You use it to convince people to see things your way. Why shouldn’t that be your voice as a writer? But we seem to be conditioned that the voice we’ve got is not the right voice for writing.

I’m going to quote William Zinsser, who said about voice: “My commodity as a writer, whatever I’m writing about, is me. And your commodity is you. Develop one voice that readers will recognize when they hear it on the page, a voice that’s enjoyable not only in its musical line but in its avoidance of sounds that would cheapen its tone.”  He’s talking about non-fiction writing here, not organizational communication. But the principle is the same.

Here’s how I found my voice — I began to write like I talk. Fortunately, I don’t write like I think – then I’d be all over the place. But I write like I talk. My friends and co-workers will read something of mine and tell me that they’ve heard my voice in their heads. In some cases, that freaked them out.

Yes, I said earlier that writing like I talk got me in trouble. That’s because I didn’t edit what I wrote after I “said” it.

What we need to do is refine our voice. Because I talk like I think all too often(for evidence, find the video of me on DHTV’s COMM300 Organizational Communication class), I need to edit myself when I write. This is where we often lose our voice – our editing becomes a sort of censorship. We try to sound like someone else – our writing instructor, our favorite author, our boss. So our writing becomes unrecognizable as our own.

But as you edit your material, applying your own voice can help you if you do it properly. For starters, proofread your material — aloud.

Read your message aloud (whisper it to yourself if you don’t want your cube mates to hear, but the words must pass through your lips and your ears) to catch mistakes and things that don’t “sound right.”

For example:

  • Have you ever been talking to someone and realized you were rambling? If you ramble in your written material, you’ll catch on to that.
  • Have you ever been trying to convince someone who just doesn’t get it, and as you listen to what you’re saying you realize that you’re leaving key information out? If your written material contains such lacunae, you’ll catch on to that.

Reading your message aloud also helps you pick up on your “tone.” How many of you have heard the maxim that people understand most of what you say by how you say it? If your voice isn’t part of your written communication, people often insert the tone they think you’re using. If you read your message aloud, you can often avoid your reader’s tendency to  insert a tone you didn’t mean.

There’s one more thing about your voice as a writer: Consider the format.

Email, in this Information Age, needs to be short and to the point. If there’s an action that is needed to be taken, I include that action within the first paragraph. If there’s a lot of information to be shared, I break it up into bullet points. If there are multiple points I’m trying to make, I label them.

For longer documents I tend to follow the introduction/main points/conclusion format that we’re more familiar with, although I recognize they’ll be skimmed, so I use headings to help the reader focus wherever he wants to focus.

In other words, sure, you’ve already got your distinct voice.  You’re going to need to edit it, to pare it back a bit, but all the same, allow it to guide what you say.

Concrete Blonde, True
“If I had the choice…” begins at 1:00.

This is one of a series of posts inspired by question prompts from Geri Girardin, the instructor of DHTV’s Organizational Communication course. Other posts in the series were:

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Can There Be Unbiased Messaging?

Stories of Organizational Communication, Part 4

Geri’s question:  In the 3P’s section of the text, focus is directed towards unbiased messaging. Can we really get away from this in today’s world where there are so many differing points of view?

I’ll start off with a confession: I didn’t read that portion of the text, so I’m not really sure what the “three P’s” are.   But my short answer is:  why not? If my purpose is to inform, then why does my message need to have a bias because I know someone else has a differing viewpoint?

If my purpose is to convince, then sure: bias will exist.

For example, I have this professional blog that focuses on the T&D field. Typically, my posts are meant to provide information in a way that convinces designers to create material in a certain way – try this, your learners will like it, sort of thing.

BUT sometimes my posts are simply meant to inform. I recently posted on our Chapter Blog a summary of the keynote speeches at last week’s ASTD TechKnowledge along a specific theme. I had no intention to convince anyone of anything – the content was more geared towards Organizational Development than Training, that’s not my expertise – but I thought it was an interesting topic, and I wanted to share.

So my response would be, it depends upon the purpose of your content. But yes, we can communicate in an unbiased way.

Hopefully, “purpose” is one of the three P’s.  If it isn’t, it should be.

This is one of a series of posts inspired by question prompts from Geri Girardin, the instructor of DHTV’s Organizational Communication course. Other posts in the series were:

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Positive Impressions

Stories of Organizational Communication, Part 3

Geri’s question:  In your writing, do you grapple with ensuring that you incorporate “positive impressions”. What does that look like?

Early in my career, no.  People used to comment that they liked my conversational style.  I took that to heart, and said whatever came to mind. And I was rewarded for this. My eNewsletters for ASTD-Orange County were applauded for their informality and friendliness. They weren’t stiff; the language encouraged people to read them.

But you can become too conversational, and if you’re not watching out, you can find yourself choosing words that are regrettable.  You can find yourself venting about something that frustrated you.  You can get in trouble for the very informality that you embrace.

After a while, poor messaging impacted the perception of others who had a say in hiring me.  I got reprimanded in performance reviews, and the words I chose cost me real dollars in the form of raises, and promotions.

I learned. As I gained more responsibilities at work, the messages I sent became a measure of who I am.

Now, I seek a few things in my writing:
• Clarity.
• Conciseness
• Clear conscience – I never want to have to wonder if I should have said something.

My successor in the Communications post at ASTD-Orange County has a similar tendency for informal communication, and he took that casual, friendly tone in our eNewsletters to a new level — they were very popular. But, I contend that his willingness to publicly air what he thought could have damaged our organization’s reputation if I hadn’t, for one episode, stepped in.

My successor had sent an eNewsletter advertising a popular event and indicating that a limited number of seats were available. He urged our members to reserve their seats soon. Shortly afterward, my successor received an email complaining that the author of the email had attempted to take his advice, but found the event to be sold out. In her angry response, she accused my friend of creating a sense of scarcity in the Chapter.

My friend took umbrage to that email; he felt it placed him in the ranks of door-to-door snake oil salesmen.  I don’t necessarily blame him there. He composed a lengthy, angry response that admonished the complaining email’s author for scolding him without knowing the facts.  And then he posted the email he had received, and his response, on our Chapter Blog.

That’s where I chose to step in.  There were two things to consider:

  1. The initial communication that had drawn my friend’s ire had been sent only to my friend, not to everyone in the Chapter. His response didn’t need to be public; it should have been in kind — a reply email. As it was, my successor was inviting a flame war on a professional blog. I suggest that a professional blog is not a place for such venom.
  2. Rather than respond in anger, my friend could have put on a customer service hat and calmly explained the procedure that he had followed. That at the time the eNewsletter had been sent, he had believed that seats were still available.   The general content would have remained the same — our volunteers work very hard to provide valuable services for our members — and any other members of the public could have been informed about why they were inconvenienced.

My friend and I had a lengthy discussion about his right to respond to the email openly, and although we agreed to disagree, he removed the post and uploaded an edited version that extolled the virtues of the hard-working volunteers of the Chapter.

Although I infer in my previous points that an email from one person to another enjoys a certain level of privacy, I would like to quickly assure you that email is not a private method of communication. Very often it is a public method of communication, even if it’s only to one person. And that’s because once I receive an email, it’s mine to do with as I please.

A case in point would be Ocean Marketing’s self-destructive emails to a customer wanting to know where his product was. This is a case study both in poor communication, and later in damaging communication. But it shows how quickly anything someone writes can go viral. So whatever you write, write something that leaves a positive impression.

This is one of a series of posts inspired by question prompts from Geri Girardin, the instructor of DHTV’s Organizational Communication course. Other posts in the series were:

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