The Message Is The Message

Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post is by Philip Murphy, a corporate communications executive at a Fortune 100 company.

Good news for English majors. Richard Anderson, chief executive of Delta Air Lines, gave an interview for the New York Times’ Corner Office column recently and said what most of us have felt deep inside – the ability to communicate effectively is an increasingly rare and valuable skill in corporate America.

When asked what a company looks for in a new hire Anderson says, “You’re looking for a really good work ethic. Really good communication skills. More and more, the ability to speak well and write is important. You know, writing is not something that is taught as strongly as it should be in the educational curriculum.”

Anderson also makes an important distinction between communicating and putting a bullet point on a slide. “I think this communication point is getting more and more important,” says Anderson. “People really have to be able to handle the written and spoken word. And when I say written word, I don’t mean PowerPoints. I don’t think PowerPoints help people think as clearly as they should because you don’t have to put a complete thought in place. You can just put a phrase with a bullet in front of it. And it doesn’t have a subject, a verb and an object, so you aren’t expressing complete thoughts.”

Going a bit further, or course, is Edward Tufte, the Yale statistician and author of such beautiful books on visual communications as “Envisioning Information,” who blames the destruction of the space shuttle Columbia on NASA’s reliance on PowerPoint slides to convey vital data.

Much of what passes for communication in large American corporations these days is really more like a channel fetish than communication. Just because you’ve sent an e-mail memo or a taped video or created slide deck does not mean you’ve articulated a thought or shared something important. The medium is not always the message. Sometimes the message is the message.

So the basics of communication are still crucial. Once you master the basics you can go on to higher concepts such as brevity, candor, authenticity. At that point, the medium is just that – a means of delivering a message

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