Category Archives: Communication Technology

Status Bar

A Simple Answer to One of Life’s Nagging Questions

Are we there yet?

Wouldn’t it be great if more things in life came with a status bar? I’m sure my parents would have loved to have one during our long-distance road trips. As we nagged from the backseat, my dad could have pointed to the windshield where a little bar slowly filled in, indicating our progress. (Of course, Waze and Google Maps serve that function these days.)

Are we there yet?

They’d also be great at cocktail parties. Let’s say you get stuck in a pointless, one-sided conversation. As the other person drones on, a little bar floats above him, slowly filling in, letting you know how much longer you’ll have to wait before you can politely excuse yourself to freshen your drink.

Are we there yet?

Nonprofits and elementary schools have been using status bars since before they became commonplace on computers, smartphones and websites. They were the big thermometers that slowly inched up with every donation collected, every pledge made. These signs were a brilliant way to recognize achievements while reminding everyone just how much farther they had to go.

Are we there yet?

The question of just how much farther one has to go nags us all. At work, maybe we watch the clock ticking down to the end of a shift. Maybe we’re wondering how much more we have to do to bump up a performance rating from a 3 to a perfect 4. Or maybe we want to know how close we are to meeting a sales number, revenue goal or some other quota. A status bar could be the answer.

Are we there yet?

Status bars remind us to complete our LinkedIn profiles. They tell us not to wildly punch keys on our keyboards as our computers download files or open applications. They tell us not to stop, and give us a reachable goal. They nudge without nagging. They address the anxiety that comes from not knowing whether we’re making any progress. Imagine going to work every day and seeing an array of status bars that indicate your progress on personal goals and the organization’s progress on business goals. These cunning little graphics can help keep us all focused, patient and motivated by answering a simple, notorious question …

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Smith Bits

Q: How can I make this 24-page enrollment guide easier to review?

Make Your PDF “Interactive” And Improve Its Use

“I just need to jam in one more comment … no make that two … okay a paragraph or two … alright a few pages … but it’s all good stuff the employee needs to know.”  

Sound familiar? By the time we are done talking ourselves into an expanded benefits enrollment guide it has become so long, that if you printed it off, it would be a thick enough wad of paper to serve as a replacement leg on that broken couch.

It was Mark Twain who said, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Thus, poking fun at how we drone on and on and how difficult it is to edit our messages to make them sharp and succinct. Editing is a fine art that has become lost on many.

Still, when it comes to benefits information, it’s just not that easy. There is a lot of information that a person might need and could be critical in helping him or her make a decision that later has financial impact on their lives. Not every employee needs all of the information, but it still needs to be there for the ones who do. What should you do?

Your best bet is to organize the material so it is easy to navigate.  This isn’t Shakespeare you are editing, so it doesn’t need to be flowing prose that someone will study from beginning to end. Rather, your goal is to make it accurate, engaging and well-organized – and especially easy to find specific information. Most readers are hunting for a nugget of content and couldn’t care less about the other 23 pages of “mission critical” stuff you have jammed into the guide. If they can find it fast and with ease, you will win them over.

Layer Your Documents With Helpful Information

One of the niftier improvements by Adobe in recent years is the ability to create links within a pdf. The feature makes “wandering” to the information you want much easier and less frustrating.

Want to jump to the section on dental benefits? … easy peasy … just click here. Want to jump to the section on how to enroll? … fine and dandy … click on this link here. You can structure the contents of the pdf to create an experience much like you would have with a website … only all the links, jumping and content are contained in that one document. And … get this … it doesn’t cost anything more for this feature. It’s already built into the pdf software. It just takes a little planning on to set the document up to make it truly interactive.

So next time you create a bulky document that you absolutely, positively must send to all employees … make sure it is easy to find all those needed content nuggets. And, take the time to make it interactive so your readers can glide from section to section with ease. You may not satisfy Mark Twain, but you will empower your employees to experience a faster and better to interact with important content.

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Putting Games to Work

Gamers’ Pwn Scientists with Epic Win in Molecular Biology

Can games really change the world for the better? A few weeks ago, I finished the book Reality Is Broken by Jane McGonigal, PhD, a world-renowned designer of alternate reality games. In the book, McGonigal argues that gaming can lead the way to solving real-life problems.


There are some interesting takeaways for managers and employers of all kinds. For example, badges, or “leveling up,” could offer employees new forms of recognition and achievement that can engage them at work and encourage them to grow.

Already we’re seeing companies use games as a form of marketing. One example is Dodge’s hide-and-seek campaign for the Journey. The car company hid three of these vehicles around the country; find one and it’s yours.

But who has effectively used a game to solve a problem, as McGonigal describes, and not just as a marketing gimmick? Well, these guys have … Online Gamers Crack AIDS Enzyme Puzzle.

The games McGonigal explores in her book encourage collaboration, give people challenges that test their skills and provide recognition for reaching the next level of achievement. But, applying game theory doesn’t mean employees will trade in their drills for joysticks.

As a communicator, I see games as a useful metaphor, a new interface with work, a new context and fresh language for the work experience. In this sense, gaming seems to be an effective way to communicate the personal value of work to the individual. I mean, wouldn’t it be more interesting to “beat a high score” than “reach a quota”? Would you rather be a “Level 5 Project Management Guru” or a “PMO Coordinator”? The idea is to apply to work the elements of gaming that are shown to engage players for hours on end in tasks that, when you get down to it, are needlessly difficult and have no material benefit other than a feeling of total immersion.

Could re-imagining work as a game at your company help you untap your employees’ full potential? If carefully designed, the answer seems to be yes. If gamers did in three weeks what scientists had been unable to do for years, it might be worth popping in a quarter and giving it a try.

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ABCs of a 21st Century Writer

Making Sense of Prose and Pixels


Start with your audience—what they know, what they need to know and how they make sense of the world.


Tight copy may be the “soul of wit,” yet it takes twice as long to write.


A pre-existing set of conditions affect how audiences hear. Incorporate context to add layers of meaning. Ignore context and risk failing to connect.


The third draft is always better than the first or second. The fifth? Not so much. Exert the right amount of effort and resist obsession.


The Greeks knew some stuff. Beyond the prevailing zeitgeist, every corporate culture, marketplace and social media following taps into specific memories, values and language to make meaning. Persuasiveness often hinges on these.

Feedback Loops

Natural feedback signals are lost when we use any media—from writing books to broadcasting video. Many of today’s technologies, like social media, are including ways to measure audience reactions. Click-through rates, watch-times and other social media listening techniques act virtually to tell us what’s resonating and why.


Modern readers unconsciously judge our visual production values against everything else they encounter. Graphic design increases readability and keeps our messages relevant in fast-moving media environments.

Hyperlinks Definitely the most underappreciated, yet one of the most powerful, writing developments in our lifetime. Hypermedia de-clutters our prose while adding unimaginable richness to our documents.


Our documents are read on a myriad of screens—some the size of matchbooks, others the size of walls. Anticipate which interfaces your audience uses to design features like graphics, audio, video and interactivity.


Compare and contrast to help delineate and distinguish.

Knowledge Management

Communication is more and more about managing information flows, platform integration and data analysis. Technology and numbers can often intimidate communicators. They shouldn’t. Written language is a profoundly complicated technology. If you can master English, spreadsheets should be like coloring books.


Comedy is best left to professionals.

“There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.” — Erma Bombeck


Text is great for brevity and/or complexity. Video captures short attention spans. Audio contains subtle cues and emotional richness. Interactivity engages the mind, the will and the body. What mode is best? Digital communication is beautiful because we can incorporate all of these into our campaigns.


It’s not all sunshine and lemonade. If you are actually saying something important, someone else is likely disagreeing. Anticipate possible negative reactions and integrate effective responses when possible. On social media, always have strategies for dealing with negative posts. Especially learn how to deal with trolls.(Hint: don’t feed them.)


Don’t do the thinking for your audience. You’ll bore them and lose them.


I know we have to use PowerPoint, but why so badly? When you use it, avoid the well-known sins that lead to glassy looks and ineffective presentations.


For interest, create questions in the minds of your audience; questions they must answer for themselves. For clarity, answer questions for your audience; questions they might ask if they could.


If it needs to be said, say it again and again. Then say it a different way. Then repeat it. Then recap, referencing the first three times you said it. Cut a groove into an audience’s memory that isn’t easily erased.


Quick turnarounds, instantaneous responses and on-the-go content development are creating pressures for communicators to be faster and faster. It’s amazing and exhilarating to open a mobile app and produce a fully formatted video that posts 5 minutes after initial inception. It’s also exhausting and sometimes reckless to move at the pace afforded by these platforms. Tap the brakes for better content.


Impatience can cause an argument or initiative to fail on the launch pad. Measure the moment, looking for what the Greeks called kairos (the fullness of time, the pregnant moment). This is especially important to campaigns where information builds upon itself or momentum is desired.

Unaddressed Issues

When you choose not to address issues that are important to your audience, it’s often helpful to signal that and why you’ve made a conscious choice and are not guilty of ignorance or oversight.


Professionals often find it easier to slip into their client’s voice than to find their own. We all have a style. We just have to open our mouth and sing to find it.


I love words. You love words. The right word is a delicious morsel; the crafted sentence a feast. It may seem that technology is pushing words aside, but fear not. Words accomplish things AI never will. In the hands of artisans (Smiths), words reach into our memories, touch our hearts and create our possible worlds.


Always avoid blue jokes and references (see Laughter).



Zig when others zag.

If everyone is using digital, it may be time to mail a beautifully crafted, glossy print piece.

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