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8 Keys to Communicating Information

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This article first appeared in our TECHMANAGE newsletter
August 1998, Volume 2, Issue 5

This is the final in our three-part series on acquiring and assessing information on your markets and then transferring that knowledge to others. While we have barely scratched the surface of the art and science of research, we hope you've found some of these ideas helpful.

1. A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

First question: what's a picture? Charts, tables, graphs, diagrams, clip art, photos, video clips. Not to mention WORD PICTURES and formatting to make your words stand out like a picture.

TMA site: map where our building is located in Chicago.

www.techmanage.com

Check out Purchasing Magazine's Web site archives:

http://www.manufacturing.net/magazine/purchasing/

Click on the "Plastics Outlook" link of the current issue, August 13.Complementing the text are a table that draws your attention to hard numerical data, and several bar and line graphs that reveal trends at a glance.

For a great illustration of a social network, go to:

http://www.cio.com/archive/enterprise/071598_intellectual.ht ml

A site that presents information on where venture capital funds were invested by geographic region in the U.S.:

http://www2.pw.com/vc/

The map shows the dollar amount invested by major geographic region and a click on a given area of the map will take you to information broken out by industry segment, company name and amount invested. Clicking on a company name listed takes you to a basic company listing and their web site, if available. You could produce a paper-based report containing the same information by reference "links" to appendix items or numbered tables.

The next is a site with seriously good content on outsourcing... that hits you right off with an amusing cartoon and rolls straightaway through a couple of introductory paragraphs to the essential bullet points. Pie chart, bar graph, bullet lists, tables, diagrams, a reference list and an Appendix.

And that's just a part of the "Executive Summary" mind you. Wonder what the actual paper is like.

http://dhrinfo.hr.state.or.us/intranet/tands/outsour/SUMMARY.htm

2. Color (with a caveat)

A world of difference. With inexpensive ink jet printers from the likes of Canon, Epson, Hewlett Packard and others, you can greatly increase your audience's retention of your important points (and keep them awake, besides).

My preference for paper-based reports is for gradients, rather than "flat" colors, and pastels. You may want to use primary colors, judiciously, for special emphasis, but your readers could get bleary-eyed with page after page of bright yellows and crimson reds (not to mention saving on ink and curling your printed pages as gobs of the stuff slather onto your sheets).

3. Humor

Tasteful (politically correct?), short, and to-the-point. And funny, please! If not, you're better doing without.

4. Stories, Analogies and Metaphors

No matter how new and different a concept is, with a little thought you should be able to draw a comparison. Of course, the older you are, the easier this is to do...the one saving grace of growing ancient!

5. Animation One of my favorite books is Andrew Grove's (Intel's CEO) fascinating book "Only the Paranoid Survive". Many chapter excerpts have a graph or illustration. The book's Web site has a simple, yet very effective graphical animation:

http://www.intel.it/intel/paranoid/excerpts.htm

6. Sound, video and VR

Whatever you do, be sure the bells and whistles don't overpower your message. What works at a trade show to attract attention to your booth could be terribly distracting if you are giving a technical paper at an engineering conference. Not that engineers don't appreciate midi sound clips, photos of stunning sunsets and the like, but if you've sat through a talk where the presenter was more in love with technology than the subject matter, you'll know what I mean. Lesson: don't let the medium overpower your message.

7. Formatting Bold, indent, double indent, boxes, highlighting, shading, font size and style.

Even plain-ASCII e-mail text can be formatted. Note how we tend to use numbers, indentation, short paragraphs, capitalization, simple page-wide dividing lines and other very basic means to help your brain assimilate what's in the text. If you'll go to our Web site, you'll see the richness that color, bullets and other tools can make. What we're trying to accomplish here is allowing subscribers with just the most rudimentary e-mail program to derive the same information as someone with all the latest features.

8. And now, a caveat:

THE MEDIUM IS NOT THE MESSAGE!

Sorry for shouting, but I know you've all received handouts passed on to you by someone else where the message is all but unintelligible. Pretty pictures, gorgeous graphs, but no meaning behind them. You had to be there, probably taking copious notes. And if you weren't there or didn't take notes, the likelihood is that those pictures without many words won't mean much when you look at them a year from now.

Keep in mind that a white paper or a report without graphics to illustrate important points may be boring, but it is still likely to contain information of value. At the other extreme, a report or a white paper that is nothing but tables, charts and graphs (even in color) is more likely than not to wind up as useful as a sheet of white paper.

As hinted at in our July issue, in September we'll be talking about a few means for collecting and organizing some of your internal information. Later we'll begin exploring developments in knowledge management thinking.

Technology Management Associates, Inc.
(312) 984-5050jogucwa@techmanage.com

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