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Communicate or Stagnate: Next Generation Communication

Technology is changing the way we interact and communicate.


Former president Gerald Ford was interviewed following his term of office. When asked the question, “President Ford—if you could do your career all over again, what would you change?” his answer was quick and candid. He simply said, “I’d go back to school and learn to communicate more effectively. So much of any career depends on the effective communication of ideas and vision.”

Information is more readily available today than ever before.

Communication, however, is an increasing challenge. We just don’t have time to really communicate well. Our current culture, full of technology, speed and convenience, makes effective communication even more challenging. Consequently, people long to follow a leader who is a great communicator. Consider this…

  • Attention spans are becoming shorter.
  • Expectations of value are getting greater.
  • Patience for “average” content is becoming slimmer.
  • The demand for customization in a message is growing larger.
  • The price people will pay for left-brain information is shrinking faster.
  • The filters in our brains that screen information are getting stronger.
  • Competition for attention is becoming stiffer.

That’s why great communicators are so highly valuable. One of my greatest concerns for higher education is the disparity between the ways faculty and students prefer to give and receive communication. It isn’t that teachers cannot communicate with students anymore. It’s simply that the desired modes of communication are changing with our culture, and many of our schools’ faculty in the U.S. won’t change with them.

I must admit, I have my own issues. Last year, I mentored a group of student leaders in Atlanta, where I live. After each meeting, I’d email the students to remind them of our next meeting and the assignments from the last meeting. Finally, I realized the students never got my reminders. I asked them why they weren’t getting my emails. One of the students got honest. He said, “Mr. Elmore, I never read email. Can you text us?” It was a light bulb moment. That little comment began a conversation where I learned that those students viewed email as a way to “communicate with older people.”

In 2008, we hosted a focus group of students (ages 16-24) and asked: What are your preferred mediums of communication? Their response wasn’t surprising. Their top eight mediums of communication are:

1. Text messaging

2. Internet (e.g., Facebook)

3. iPods and Podcasts

4. Instant messaging

5. Cell phones

6. DVDs / CDs

7. Books

8. Email

I want you to notice a few things about this list. First, note that email is last on the list. As I mentioned above, students often view email as “a way to communicate with older people.” Second, with one exception, this list moves from more personal to less personal in nature. They want something customized, not generic, if they’re gong to pay attention. Third, and most importantly, these students prefer a “screen” for six out of their top eight favorite methods of communication.

It’s instant, it’s customized, it’s personalized, it’s almost always visual – if we want to connect with the next generation, our communication must be as well!

Good communication today doesn’t involve changing the “what” of our message, but the “how.” For the most part, our content and lesson plans are sound. The need is to re-visit the “how” of our message. How are we delivering the content we wish to communicate to students?

Let me suggest some ideas below to discuss with your team. In my book, Habitudes For Communicators, I include the following images that give us a picture of what next generation communication looks like.

1. Mirrors and Windows

Communicators must use mirrors and windows when they speak. When a communicator provides a window for people to see into his/her life, they receive a mirror to see into their own. Speakers must identify with the people. When they do, their window puts a mirror in the hands of the listener.

2. #3 Pencil

A pencil company couldn’t even give away their #3 pencils. Why? They are too hard to use. Communicators make their message user-friendly. They keep things simple, not hard. Both the big idea and the action step they hope for are simple to grasp and act on. Read more about #3 pencil in this post.

3. House on Fire

Students learn on a “need to know” basis. Don’t just jump into your topic, take time to explain the relevance of it. Why should they listen? If their house is on fire—they will listen. We must create incentive for them to believe they need to know what we are communicating.

4. Movies or Meetings

Which would you rather attend: a meeting or a movie? Are you kidding? 99% of the time, people would much rather go to a movie than a meeting. Why? Movies contain something most meetings don’t: Story. Conflict. Action. Resolve. Good communication contains those elements as well.

5. Find Your Mom

People’s number one fear in life is public speaking. One of the quickest ways to reduce anxiety as a speaker is to find friendly eyes in the audience; people who want you to win—like your mom. Good communicators find ways to remain poised and deliver their content in a natural and confident way.

How does your communication need to adjust to connect with the next generation?

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