Showcase your idea, service or product for free

If a tree falls in the middle of a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Philosophical niceties aside, it doesn’t matter how good your idea, service or product is – if no one sees it, it might as well not exist.

In a world dominated by social media and the internet, the golden fleece of visibility is the viral video. Creating an online video that others enjoy, and want to share, is the communications equivalent of winning the lottery.

But can a viral video be made to order? Is there a magic formula we can follow that will enable us to produce one? Of course not, because a viral video, by definition, is always going to be something that stands out from the crowd.

Creating viral videos may not be an exact science, but it’s not an entirely random activity either! When we worked on our ‘Busting the Mehrabian Myth’ animation we intended to create something that would appeal to specialist and non-specialist alike. In line with our communications ethos, we attempted to make an animation that was engaging, persuasive and memorable.

Almost a year later, I think we can claim a modest success. ‘Busting the Mehrabian Myth’ has been viewed nearly 30,000 times in less than a year – which is pretty good going for a niche video about a relatively obscure piece of communications research. And when we started working with our client on ‘The Project Manager’s Story’ – the custom video I blogged about last week– we had the same aim in mind.

And yesterday the client who commissioned ‘The Project Manager’s Story’ called us with some encouraging news. She had just sent the animation to Project Manager Today – one of the industry’s leading magazines – and they liked it. In fact, they liked it so much they immediately posted it on their website and offered her the chance to write a piece about her company, which would feature the animation too.

So what is it about our animation that opened the door to such valuable free publicity for our client? I have a hunch it may be more than just the cartoon element…

Here are a few of the tips we give our clients when we begin the process of writing a script with them – they don’t add up to a comprehensive answer, but they’re a useful start:

The gift
Offer your audience something of genuine value – with no strings attached. Share a useful technique or insight with them – or simply set out to give them an enjoyable and amusing experience.

Keep it Simple
Turn the fact that you’ve only got one or two minutes to make your point into a positive advantage – think of the video as your online elevator pitch. Step outside your professional/specialist mindset and put your audience first. If your video can hold the attention of a twelve year old, you’re probably on the right track. Keep your language simple and visual – and avoid jargon!

Use metaphor
Translate your specialist knowledge into everyday analogies that are capable of conveying the idea and feel of what you’re saying to a non-specialist audience. It may seem counter-intuitive, but in our experience fellow professionals/specialists appreciate this approach too – think of Project Manager Today’s enthusiastic response to ‘The Project Manager’s Story’.

And finally,
Tell a story
We all love a story – and stories are a great way of shaping content, and making people care about it. The classic problem/solution – headache/aspirin – narrative structure can be an effective way of creating interest in your product or service.

Whether you’re writing a video/animation script or working on your elevator pitch, if you apply these tips, it’ll give your message a fighting chance of distinguishing itself from the competition – and, who knows, maybe you’ll be lucky enough to produce something that infects your audience and goes viral!

The premiere of our latest animation

Crack open the champagne and pass the canapés – we’ve just finished our first ever custom animation! And after you’ve watched it, I’d like to share a few thoughts about it with you.

Last July when we uploaded our ‘Busting the Mehrabian Myth’ to YouTube we had no idea just how much of a splash it would make. We certainly didn’t expect a niche video on the subject of nonverbal communication to attract nearly 28,000 viewers (and rising) in less than a year. And the thought of making custom animations hadn’t crossed our minds.

But a lot has happened over the last year. Our ‘Mehrabian’ animation has proved a boon for our business – and brand visibility – and has created a number of unexpected opportunities for us. In January, for example, we ran a two-day communications workshop in Athens for one of Greece’s leading executive coaching companies. It was a wonderful experience that came about simply because someone in the company had come across our video while surfing the net.

The popularity of our animation has also helped us link up with other communications professionals around the world, as well as giving a healthy, and sustained, boost to the flow of traffic to our website. Last September we were invited to give a talk and show our animation at the inaugural Speechwriters’ Guild Conference, and we’ve been invited to contribute to this year’s conference too.

However, one of the most exciting – yet unexpected – things ‘Busting the Mehrabian Myth’ has done for us is to generate a steady stream of custom video enquiries. The thought that making animations could become an important part of what we offer to clients has taken a little time to sink in but having now successfully completed our first custom animation, we’re open for business. In fact, we’re already working on our second custom animation for another client.

Please add a comment to this blog after you’ve watched ‘The Project Manager’s Story’ because we’d love to know what you think of it…cheers!

Mehrabian Nights – an informative tale about (mis)communication

A happy, healthy and prosperous New Year to all our readers, Twitter followers and clients. We’re ending 2009 with some good news: we’ve just found out that the TrainingZone community have voted my Mehrabian article the best feature of 2009 – and it has been read 20,564 times, so far. This is the article that inspired our Mehrabian animation, which is also about to reach 20,000 hits. In case you missed them, here they are again…

Here’s an urban myth about communication that’s harder to swallow than a whale. It’s one of the most influential and widely quoted statistical stories around, and it goes like this:

When someone speaks to us, only 7% of what they mean communicates itself through the words they use.

You have probably come across this figure before. It’s based on research which apparently demonstrates that most (55%) of what a speaker means is conveyed through their facial expressions and the rest (38%) is communicated through tone of voice. In one fell swoop, words are relegated to the role of bit-part players on the stage of communication. They hardly seem to matter at all.

But as with most urban myths, when you chew the story over, the alarm bells of common sense start ringing. Is it really possible that if I get lost and ask a passerby for directions, I’ll have to work out the correct route mostly from their facial expressions and tone of voice, and not from the words they use? As Mr Spock might say, “it’s communication, Jim, but not as we know it.”

Google the name ‘Mehrabian’ and you’ll discover any number of websites eager to inform you that these statistics are based on research done by Professor Albert Mehrabian. But – surprise, surprise – his research proves nothing of the kind, as he’d be the first to tell you.

The devil’s in the detail

On his own website, Mehrabian expresses the results of his research in the form of an equation:

Total Liking = 7% Verbal Liking + 38% Vocal Liking + 55% Facial Liking

He goes on to explain that “this and other equations regarding relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messages were derived from experiments dealing with communications of feelings and attitudes (i.e., like-dislike). Unless a communicator is talking about their feelings or attitudes, these equations are not applicable.”

What the pedlars of the urban myth version of Mehrabian’s statistical story don’t make clear – or perhaps don’t know themselves – is that Mehrabian’s research was concerned with a very specific, and limited, aspect of nonverbal communication – it’s not about communication in general. His work relates only to inconsistent messages about feelings and attitudes, that is, face-to-face exchanges in which the meaning of what we say is contradicted by our body language and tone of voice.

Mixed messages

Imagine a situation in which you’ve had a disagreement with a colleague but they insist they’re not annoyed with you despite the fact that they’ve got their arms tightly crossed, their head is turned away from you, they avoid eye contact and they deliver their words through clenched teeth.

Or you tell a friend a joke and they respond with a stony face but tell you they think your joke is really funny. Chances are you’ll be more influenced by their impassive look than their encouraging words – and you won’t be telling that joke again in a hurry!

As a result of his experiments, Mehrabian concluded that when we’re faced with a mixed message like the ones above, we’re much more likely to believe that the real meaning is contained in the nonverbal signals the person is giving off, rather than in the words they’re saying. His famous statistic is his attempt to express this kind of experience in the form of an equation.

But – and this is the crucial point – we must not lose sight of the fact that Mehrabian’s statistic only makes sense when applied to the very narrow range of communicative experience that he was investigating, ie the ambiguous expression of feelings and attitudes. The attempt to apply it to all face-to-face communications is both wrong and ridiculous.

The appeal of the urban myth

So why has the distorted version of Mehrabian’s statistical story been so eagerly embraced? Well a large part of its appeal – as with other urban myths – is that its message is simple, credible and, above all, surprising. It belittles the power of words and, in an instant, it turns everything we think we know about communication on its head. Could this be why so much current thinking about presentation skills exaggerates the significance of the finer points of delivery while underplaying the fundamental importance of getting the words right?

We should always bear in mind that words are the main ingredient of presentations, talks and speeches. But they have to be the right words, used in the right way, by the right person, at the right time. So maybe it’s no wonder that many of us would rather embrace the false comfort of a spurious statistic than face up to the creative challenge of trying to discover those right words.

UK Speechwriters’ Guild inaugural conference video

Here’s a video of the UK Speechwriters’ Guild inaugural conference. It was filmed last month in Bournemouth by talented film maker and producer Tim Clague – who’s done a superb job in capturing the flavour, and excitement, of the event.

Martha and I were invited to show our ‘Busting the Mehrabian Myth’ video and give a presentation about it. It was exciting for us to share the platform with such luminaries of the speechwriting world as Philip Collins (Tony Blair’s Chief Speechwriter), Max Atkinson (Paddy Ashdown’s former speechwriter), and Susan Jones (former UK Cabinet Speechwriter), to name but three.

Here are some quotes from conference participants that give a clear idea of what those who took part in the conference stand for:

“I felt this was needed because I have worked as a speechwriter for about ten years in a very isolated way… that in America they analyse the way people write and the way you can be creative… and they take it extremely seriously. Whereas England is quite old-fashioned in that people are expected to acquire these skills effortlessly along the way… Speakers today have explained that speaking is different from writing – people confuse writing with speaking – and if you know these basic techniques, you’ll transform the way you communicate… I just want to sort of draw attention to the fact that was mentioned earlier today that words – the way words are used – is extremely important” Brian Jenner – founder of the UK Speechwriters’ Guild

“So the question is: why are there so few professional speechwriters?” Martin Shovel – CreativityWorks

“I agree with the premise given in the previous presentation that actually a lot of the focus is on presentational skills – body language, tone – you know you feel very self-conscious and all that sort of thing. Whereas what the focus today has been about is the power of words, and that I think is a bit of a forgotten art…” Paul Harrod – Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Bristol North West

“All the emphasis in recent years has been all about presentation… actually, you know, the words are valuable, and that’s a good lesson to get out of today.” Roger Lakin – Speechwriter, Department for Culture, Media and Sport

“So there’s a demand for speechwriters. In industry I have estimated that the cost to British industry of people attending boring presentations is in excess of eight billion pounds a year… There is a demand for decent speeches – and that means there is a demand for speechwriters.” Max Atkinson – Communications consultant and Speech Coach

“In other countries I think speechwriting is a fairly well-establised profession, so there’s no reason why that shouldn’t be the case in Britain… Trust in politicians is very low. People want to hear what politicians have got to say. And they want to hear them say it in a credible way… There is a new need and a demand for a more elaborate art of speaking – for people to be actually trained in what to say and how to say it.” Dr Johan Siebers – Leader of a new one-year MA in Rhetoric at the University of Central Lancaster

“Well it’s the first of its kind – and I think it’s long overdue…There is a lot more to speechwriting and speech production than even I thought.” Phillip Khan-PanniPKP Communications

It can all be summed up by the final words of our ‘Busting the Mehrabian Myth’ video: “Words really matter – let’s give them the respect they deserve!”

Busting the Mehrabian Myth!

The story behind the video…

One Friday afternoon back in March we had an enquiry from a global company who wanted to get an important message about compliance out to their staff. They were thinking about using a short video animation for this, and they wondered if this was something we could do for them…

Maybe it was the spring air that did it, but we found ourselves agreeing to a further discussion, despite confessing to the client that we’d never made an animation before. Somehow the idea had taken root, so we spent the weekend researching how to go about it.

In the end, that project didn’t come off, but we had the bit between our teeth, and we wanted to try making an animation for ourselves. So we went ahead and put together a studio – camera, lights, tripods, sound-recording equipment, top quality whiteboard and pens. We installed Final Cut Express on our iMac, and we were ready to go.

Then, as is so often the way, we got sidetracked by other work, so we put the video project on ice. Strangely, though, it kept popping into conversations, and people kept asking us if we could make them a video. We told them we hadn’t made one yet, but it didn’t seem to put them off… so we set ourselves a deadline and a challenge: to see if we could communicate a fairly complex and abstract idea in a 3-minute animated cartoon.

We chose Martin’s article from 2007, ‘Mehrabian Nights: a tall tale about communication’ as a starting point. It’s been a hot topic in the presentation skills blogosphere in recent weeks, and we wanted to see if we could make a different kind of contribution to the debate.

We’d love to know what you think of it – and if you can see ways in which videos like this could help you, or any of your contacts, get messages across.

All content © Martin Shovel 2017 · All Rights Reserved · CreativityWorks Ltd

Company No: 4501101 Registered Office: 10, Greville House, Lower Road, Harrow-on-the-Hill, Middlesex, HA2 0HB, UK