You talkin to me?

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taxi driverEffective communications. I love it. For years I have made a living at it, teach it at Universities and try to help clients understand how to do it. It is, however, not easy.

The internet has been a boon to communications and has in someways pointed out just how poor we are at communicating effectively.

Albert Mehrabian of UCLA discovered   7% of the communication is the words, 38% is tone of voice and 55% is facial expression. Ergo a posting online or in an email leaves out 93% of the important stuff. Sure we have smileys πŸ™‚ but they are simply not enough.

So how would we be effective on this Net thing when, we Cluetrain fans say, it is all about Conversation? Well, it is not really a conversation is it?

If so much of effective communication revolves around tone and expression, then how are we to effectively communicate online on our Blogs, websites, email and the like?

It all comes down to writing skills. Having a voice. Your individual voice.

Lewis Lapham is one of my favorite writers – In fact in this month's Golf Digest there is a great article on his Grand Father who was Mayor of San Francisco. (This is not online – go buy the magazine. Boy, can he write!)

In one of my favorite interviews of this writer …

In response to Orwell's quote Politics and the English Language, that "One ought to recognize that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end." Do you think we're not teaching our students to write anymore, and that is part of the solution to this problem of restoring the democratic [discourse]?

Lapham said …

It isn't only that people don't learn to write, because they don't acquire the habit of reading. It takes time to teach people how to write. You have to learn grammar and syntax, and you must read because there's no other way to learn it. And that's not the way it's [taught] in many of our schools. We're not teaching it that way.

Ten years ago I taught a course at Yale University in writing, and it was a course for credit, it was not just one of these visiting celebrity type things. These are very bright kids, they were juniors and seniors, and I had twelve of them in the class, and I made the mistake of saying — it was thirteen weeks, and I said there'd be a paper every week. I had no idea how hard that was going to be to correct those papers. These were kids that supposedly wanted to become writers of some sort, and so the first essay I assigned them was "What do you read?" And "very little" were the answers on the twelve papers. I mean, they read one or two magazines and they would read — let's say as a junior they would read Dickens' Great Expectations and they'd read it very carefully and they'd be able to analyze — you know, follow the course instruction and analyze it on five levels of allegory and six levels of symbolism, and so forth. And then I'd say to them, "Well, did you ever read another novel by Dickens?" and it had never occurred to them! Of the twelve kids in the class, three could write, three almost could write, and the other six simply couldn't. It was painful. They were very, very bright, but their heads were filled with images.

I've seen eighth grade examinations that were given in Kansas in the 1880s and there's no Harvard student in the world that could even come close to passing one of these tests. Because without the phone and without the television, people would read. I, at one point, was going to do a television show on the exploration of the American West in the 1840s, the Western movement, and I read letters, many, many letters from individuals traveling in the trans-Mississippi west, writing back to their families in the east, and they're amazingly wonderful letters. The spelling's not right, but the fluency of the language and the ease — and these are not university students. But it was a natural language. It was as natural to them to write as it would be to us to talk on the telephone.

I personally found this out myself. just out of curiosity I would ask my classes at York University " What books are reading currently? " Most said they were not.

To write effectively, requires reading.

Again a quote from Lapham …

1941 the average vocabulary of a high school senior was something like 9000 or 10,000 words, and four or five years ago when I last saw the statistic it was down to 5000 words. That's a result of television, of the broadcast discourse.

To alleviate this, the way we write, I believe, should be the way we speak. It is a start until you develop your style or voice. My personal voice ticks people off sometime. I am sorry about that, but it is my voice and, right or wrong, it gets the point across. I have never written to get everyone to agree with me. I write down what I believe. And put my heart on my sleeve.

So try fewer acronyms, less fumbling to try and craft the perfect sentence – spit it out!

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