Richard G. Jones, Jr.
Scholar, Educator, Author


Communication Competence Part1

Aug 20, 2014

Getting Started on your Road to Communication Competence

As we prepare for a new academic year, many students will take a communication course for the first time. Perhaps you visited this blog because my textbook, Communication in the Real World, is being used in your course. If so, thank you for visiting, and please feel free to contact me with any questions or feedback about the book.

Keep Calm and Enjoy College

For many students, their introductory course in communication is the only communication course they ever take. But, that doesn't mean that the need for improving our communication skills and increasing our communication knowledge will be met completely.

Being competent at something basically means you know what you're doing. Communication competence refers to the knowledge of effective and appropriate communication patterns and the ability to use and adapt that knowledge in various contexts. To better understand this definition, let’s break apart its components.

Gaining Knowledge and Communication Competence

The first part of the definition we will unpack deals with knowledge. The cognitive elements of competence include knowing how to do something and understanding why things are done the way they are.[i]

Competent PersonPeople can develop cognitive competence by observing and evaluating the actions of others.

Cognitive competence can also be developed through instruction.

If you are currently taking a communication class, I encourage you to try to observe the communication concepts you are learning in the communication practices of others and yourself. This will help bring the concepts to life and also help you evaluate how communication in the real world matches up with communication concepts. As you build a repertoire of communication knowledge based on your experiential and classroom knowledge, you will also be developing behavioral competence.

Using Your Knowledge to Communicate Competently

The second part of the definition of communication competence that we will unpack is the ability to use.

Individual factors affect our ability to do anything. Not everyone has the same athletic, musical, or intellectual ability. At the individual level, a person’s physiological and psychological characteristics affect competence.

Right? Wrong? It Depends.In terms of physiology, age, maturity, and ability to communicate affect competence.

In terms of psychology, a person’s mood, stress level, personality, and level of communication apprehension (level of anxiety regarding communication) affect competence.[ii]

All these factors will either help or hinder you when you try to apply the knowledge you have learned to actual communication behaviors. For example, you might know strategies for being an effective speaker, but public speaking anxiety that kicks in when you get in front of the audience may prevent you from fully putting that knowledge into practice.

Adaptability and Communication Competence

The third part of the definition we will unpack is ability to adapt to various contexts.

What is competent or not varies based on social and cultural context, which makes it impossible to only have one standard for what counts as communication competence.[iii]

Social variables such as status and power affect competence. In a social situation where one person—say, a supervisor—has more power than another—for example, his or her employee—then the supervisor is typically the one who sets the standard for competence.

Cultural variables such as race and nationality also affect competence. A Taiwanese woman who speaks English as her second language may be praised for her competence in the English language in her home country but be viewed as less competent in the United States because of her accent.

In summary, although we have a clear definition of communication competence, there are not definitions for how to be competent in any given situation, since competence varies at the individual, social, and cultural level.

Developing communication competence takes time and effort, but it can also bring many rewards. In the next entry, we will learn more about the types of communication competence that college students should gain and the potential benefits of them.

[i] Owen Hargie, Skilled Interpersonal Interaction: Research, Theory, and Practice (London: Routledge, 2011), 9.

[ii] Ralph E. Cooley and Deborah A Roach, “A Conceptual Framework,” in Competence in Communication: A Multidisciplinary Approach, ed. Robert N. Bostrom (Beverly Hills, CA: Sage, 1984), 24.

[iii] Ralph E. Cooley and Deborah A Roach, “A Conceptual Framework,” in Competence in Communication: A Multidisciplinary Approach, ed. Robert N. Bostrom (Beverly Hills, CA: Sage, 1984), 26.

Um, Uh, Like, Ah, You Know?

Apr 20, 2014

Why We Use Verbal Fillers and How to Avoid Them

Verbal Fillers

Verbal fillers are sounds that fill gaps in our speech as we think about what to say next. They are considered a part of nonverbal communication because they are not like typical words that stand in for a specific meaning or meanings.

Verbal fillers such as “um,” “uh,” “like,” and “ah” are common in regular conversation and are not typically disruptive. Verbal fillers can even serve a purpose: for example, helping a person “keep the floor” during a conversation if they need to pause for a moment to think before continuing on with verbal communication.

Verbal fillers in more formal settings, like a public speech, can hurt a speaker’s credibility.

A recent article in the International Business Times titled "Like, Uh, You Know: Why Do Americans Say 'You Know' And Use Other Verbal Fillers So Often?" explores the issue of verbal fillers.

Ah, So, You know?, Like, Um

The author notes an example of Harvey Weinstein, the famous Hollywood movie producer, doing an interview on CNN and using the filler "you know" 84 times during the broadcast! Here's one sentence from the interview that illustrates his noticeable overuse of verbal fillers:

"And then I met, you know, the Giffords, I mean whatever, and you know, they're amazing, Gabby, you know, and Mark, you know, and just incredible to me what they've done and what Mayor Bloomberg has done."

You can check out the full transcript for yourself here.

We can't just pick on Mr. Weinstein, we've all used more than our share of verbal fillers. As a scholar and teacher of speech, it's important to note that we can lessen our use of fillers, which may make our messages clearer and more credible.

Verbal fillers are often used subconsciously and can negatively affect your credibility and reduce the clarity of your message when speaking in more formal situations. In fact, verbal fluency is one of the strongest predictors of persuasiveness.[i]

Becoming a higher self-monitor can help you notice your use of verbal fillers and begin to eliminate them. Beginner speakers can often reduce their use of verbal fillers noticeably over just a short period of time.

Fluency Hiccups

Verbal fillers are part of a larger category of problematic speech elements that I call fluency hiccups in my book Communication in the Real World. As is the case with most communication phenomena, knowing more about them can help us become better communicators.

Fluency refers to the flow of your speaking. To speak with fluency means that your speech flows well and that there are not many interruptions to that flow.

Fluency hiccups are unintended pauses in a speech that usually result from forgetting what you were saying, being distracted, or losing your place in your speaking notes. Fluency hiccups are not the same as intended pauses, which are useful for adding emphasis or transitioning between parts of a speech. While speakers should try to minimize fluency hiccups, even experienced speakers need to take an unintended pause sometimes to get their bearings or to recover from an unexpected distraction. Fluency hiccups become a problem when they happen regularly enough to detract from the speaker’s message.

No hiccups

If you do lose your train of thought, having a brief fluency hiccup is better than injecting a verbal filler, because the audience may not even notice the pause or may think it was intentional.

Common Causes of Fluency Hiccups

  • Lack of preparation. Effective practice sessions are the best way to prevent fluency hiccups.
  • Not writing for speaking. If you write your speech the way you’ve been taught to write papers, you will have fluency hiccups. You must translate the written words into something easier for you to present orally. To do this, read your speech aloud and edit as you write to make sure your speech is easy for you to speak.
  • A poorly prepared speaking outline. Whether it is on paper or notecards, sloppy writing, unorganized bullet points, or incomplete/insufficient information on a speaking outline leads to fluency hiccups.
  • Distractions. Audience members and the external environment are unpredictable. Hopefully audience members will be polite and will silence their phones, avoid talking while the speaker is presenting, and avoid moving excessively. There could also be external noise that comes through a door or window. A speaker can also be distracted by internal noise such as thinking about other things.

Hopefully this information can help you become a better communicator!

[i] Owen Hargie, Skilled Interpersonal Interaction: Research, Theory, and Practice, 5th ed. (London: Routledge, 2011), 81.

Facebook: New Gender Options Help Users Better Communicate Their Identities

Feb 18, 2014

Facebook announced last week that it is finally expanding its options for gender identity. Martha Mendoza's story for the Associated Press notes:

"You don't have to be just male or female on Facebook anymore. The social media giant is adding a customizable option with about 50 different terms people can use to identify their gender as well as three preferred pronoun choices: him, her or them."

Facebook's original binary gender optionsThese expanded options are a relief, undoubtedly, to the Facebook users who don't fit into or resist the typical gender binary of male/female. While this development in the world of social media will allow people to better communicate and express their gender identities, it connects specifically to the transgender rights movement. to better understand the context behind this story, we must better understand how gender, communication, and identity intersect. The following is excerpted from the chapter on culture and communication in my book Communication in the Real World.

"Is It A Boy Or A Girl?"

When we first meet a newborn baby, we often ask whether it’s a boy or a girl. This question illustrates the importance of gender in organizing our social lives and our interpersonal relationships.

A Canadian family became aware of the deep emotions people feel about gender and the great discomfort people feel when they can’t determine gender when they announced to the world that they were not going to tell anyone the gender of their baby, aside from the baby’s siblings. Their desire for their child, named Storm, to be able to experience early life without the boundaries and categories of gender brought criticism from many.[i]

The emotional, sexual and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor says, It's a girl.

Conversely, many parents consciously or unconsciously “code” their newborns in gendered ways based on our society’s associations of pink clothing and accessories with girls and blue with boys. While it’s obvious to most people that colors aren’t gendered, they take on new meaning when we assign gendered characteristics of masculinity and femininity to them.

Social Construction of Gender

Just like race, gender is a socially constructed category. While it is true that there are biological differences between who we label male and female, the meaning our society places on those differences is what actually matters in our day-to-day lives. And the biological differences are interpreted differently around the world, which further shows that although we think gender is a natural, normal, stable way of classifying things, it is actually not. There is a long history of appreciation for people who cross gender lines in Native American and South Central Asian cultures, to name just two.

The Difference Between Gender and Sex

You may have noticed I use the word gender instead of sex. That’s because gender is an identity based on internalized cultural notions of masculinity and femininity that is constructed through communication and interaction. There are two important parts of this definition to unpack.

  • We internalize notions of gender based on socializing institutions, which helps us form our gender identity.
  • We attempt to construct that gendered identity through our interactions with others, which is our gender expression.

Sex is based on biological characteristics, including external genitalia, internal sex organs, chromosomes, and hormones.[ii] While the biological characteristics between men and women are obviously different, it’s the meaning that we create and attach to those characteristics that makes them significant.

The cultural differences in how that significance is ascribed are proof that “our way of doing things” is arbitrary. For example, cross-cultural research has found that boys and girls in most cultures show both aggressive and nurturing tendencies, but cultures vary in terms of how they encourage these characteristics between genders. In a group in Africa, young boys are responsible for taking care of babies and are encouraged to be nurturing.[iii]

Challenges to Gender Norms

There have been challenges to the construction of gender in recent decades. Since the 1960s, scholars and activists have challenged established notions of what it means to be a man or a woman.

The women’s rights movement in the United States dates back to the 1800s, when the first women’s rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. Although most women’s rights movements have been led by white, middle-class women, there was overlap between those involved in the abolitionist movement to end slavery and the beginnings of the women’s rights movement.

Although some of the leaders of the early women’s rights movement had class and education privilege, they were still taking a risk by organizing and protesting. Black women were even more at risk, and Sojourner Truth, an emancipated slave, faced those risks often and gave a much noted extemporaneous speech at a women’s rights gathering in Akron, Ohio, in 1851, which came to be called “A’int I a Woman?” Her speech highlighted the multiple layers of oppression faced by black women. You can watch actress Alfre Woodard deliver an interpretation of the speech here:


Transgender is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or expression do not match the gender they were assigned by birth. Transgender people may or may not seek medical intervention like surgery or hormone treatments to help match their physiology with their gender identity.

The term transgender includes other labels such as transsexual, transvestite, cross-dresser, and intersex, among others. Terms like hermaphrodite and she-male are not considered appropriate.

As with other groups, it is best to allow someone to self-identify first and then honor their preferred label. If you are unsure of which pronouns to use when addressing someone, you can use gender-neutral language or you can use the pronoun that matches with how they are presenting. If someone has long hair, make-up, and a dress on, but you think their biological sex is male due to other cues, it would be polite to address them with female pronouns, since that is the gender identity they are expressing.

Facebook's move to allow users to express their gender identities outside the typical binary is commendable and will hopefully help us all be more competent communicators when it comes to gender.

[i] Linsey Davis and Susan Donaldson James, “Canadian Mother Raising Her ‘Genderless’ Baby, Storm, Defends Her Family’s Decision,” ABC News, May 30, 2011, accessed October 12, 2011,

[ii] Julia T. Wood, Gendered Lives: Communication, Gender, and Culture, 5th ed. (Belmont, CA: Thomas Wadsworth, 2005), 19.

[iii] Julia T. Wood, Gendered Lives: Communication, Gender, and Culture, 5th ed. (Belmont, CA: Thomas Wadsworth, 2005), 51.

Media Multitasking - Are We Addicted to Technology?

Jan 30, 2014

Do We Have Shorter Attention Spans?

mediamultitasking2.jpgOf course, the questions I pose - "Are we addicted to technology?" and "Do We Have Shorter Attention Spans?" - are loaded. They aren't "yes" or "no" questions. True, research shows that we multitask with media more often than ever before, but the effects of that multitasking on our attention and productivity aren't cut and dry. Anecdotally, I know most of us (at least those of us over 30) would probably have negative things to say about media multitasking, like, "My students can't sit through a class without checking their phones," or "My daughter texts, tweets, and listens to Spotify while she's doing her homework."

There is a growing body of research on media multitasking. You can see a blog entry I wrote about it last year here.

For an in-depth discussion of media multitasking, check out the Kaiser Family Foundation's report.

Below is a great infographic from about the interaction between media multitasking and learning:

Online Learning and Multitasking

To Lecture or Not to Lecture? It Depends…

Jan 28, 2014

Voodoo Economics

Lecturing as a method of content delivery has long been established in higher education. As models of instruction have become more team- and activity-oriented in K-12 classrooms, students coming into college now may be discomfited by the wall of words they hit.

Stripper poleI was prompted to write this blog entry after hearing a fellow basic course director make the following claim: "Lecturing is the equivalent of academic pole-dancing." So, does this mean that college professors and instructors who lecture use it to be the "center of attention" and/or as a shield meant to deflect students' questions or challenges while simultaneously hiding the lecturers own insecurity? Well, probably not, but it was still fun to see how far we could take that analogy.

Much research has been done comparing lecturing with other teaching methods.[i] So, when should we lecture? When should we not lecture? How can we improve lectures?

Cons of Lecturing

  1. Lecturing does not help students retain information at the end of a course as well as other methods (like discussion)
  2. Lecturing is inferior to other teaching methods in helping students transfer knowledge to new situations
  3. Lecturing is inferior to other teaching methods in developing problem solving kills
  4. Lecturing is inferior to other teaching methods in motivating students for further learning

A cat looking bored

Pros of Lecturing

  1. Lecturing can be used to present up-to-date information that may not be included in textbooks
  2. Lecturing can summarize material scattered over a variety of sources
  3. Lecturing can help students read more effectively by orienting students to new material and providing a conceptual framework
  4. Lecturing can focus student attention on key content

Tips for Effective Lectures

  1. Put content that you are excited about in lectures.
  2. Move around to engage the audience; don’t get stuck behind a lectern or computer.
  3. Actually write out examples; don’t expect them to “come to you” as you lecture.
  4. Include notes to yourself to stop and ask for questions or pose a direct question to the audience.
  5. Start the lecture by connecting to something the audience has already learned, and then say what this lecture will add to their knowledge and how it fits into what will be learned later in the class.
  6. Do not lecture for more than twenty minutes without breaking it up with something more interactive.

[i] Marilla Svinicki and Wilbert J. McKeachie, McKeachie’s Teaching Tips, 13th ed. (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2011): 55–71.

A PR Director's PR Disaster

Jan 6, 2014

A Lesson for Competent and Professional Social Media Usage

A PR director with InterActiveCorp, Justine Sacco, tweeted the following before taking off to South Africa: 

Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white!

Obviously, such a comment draws on stereotypes of Africa and AIDS, and adding the "I'm white" part at the end brings up outdated tropes that position white, especially white heterosexuals, as immune to AIDS. Shouldn't a public relations professional know that what she says online can go viral in seconds? As a professional at a company that represents clients like OKCupid and UrbanSpoon know how to use competently her own social media? As a communication professional myself, I think the obvious answer to these questions is: yes!

Reliable Sources did a great segment on this called, "Trial By Social Media," in which they discuss how the internet exploded with reaction to Sacco's tweet, while she was presumably enjoying her long flight to Africa. By the time she landed, reporters had already gathered to question her about the tweet. Subsequently, she issued a public apology and lost her job. 

In my book, Communication in the Real World, I outline some guidelines for competent social media usage in my chapter titled, "New Media and Communication." What follows is an excerpt with advice that might have helped Ms. Sacco and may help us all. 

Twitter Fail

Competent Communication on Social Media

We all have a growing log of personal information stored on the Internet, and some of it is under our control and some of it isn’t. We also have increasingly diverse social networks that require us to be cognizant of the information we make available and how we present ourselves. While we can’t control all the information about ourselves online or the impressions people form, we can more competently engage with social media so that we are getting the most out of it in both personal and professional contexts.

A quick search on Google for “social media dos and don’ts” will yield around 100,000 results, which shows that there’s no shortage of advice about how to competently use social media.

One key piece of advice, relevant to the case of Justine Sacco is: Think before you post.

Think Before You Post

Software that enable people to take “screen shots” or download videos and tools that archive web pages can be used without our knowledge to create records of what you post. While it is still a good idea to go through your online content and “clean up” materials that may form unfavorable impressions, it is even a better idea to not put that information out there in the first place. Posting something about how you hate school or your job or a specific person may be done in the heat of the moment and forgotten, but a potential employer might find that information and form a negative impression even if it’s months or years old.

The Importance of First and Last Impressions

Nov 6, 2013

Communicating for Success

You never get a second chance to make a first impressionThink back to the first day of classes. Did you plan ahead for what you were going to wear? Did you get the typical school supplies together? Did you try to find your classrooms ahead of time or look for the syllabus online? Did you look up your professors on an online professor evaluation site?

Based on your answers to these questions, I could form an impression of who you are as a student. But would that perception be accurate? Would it match up with how you see yourself as a student? And perception, of course, is a two-way street. You also formed impressions about your professors based on their appearance, dress, organization, intelligence, and approachability. As a professor who teaches others how to teach, I instruct my student-teachers to really take the first day of class seriously (see post in this blog: "For College Teachers: How to Build Credibility and Create a Positive Class Climate on the First Day"). The impressions that both teacher and student make on the first day help set the tone for the rest of the semester.

How We Perceive Others Affects Our Communication and Our Actions

Even more generally, the perceptions that we make of others and that others make of us affect how weHello my name is Lasting First Impression communicate and act. I explore the role of perception in communication in my book Communication in the Real World. One aspect of perception that many people are concerned about is making a good impression.

Are you a good judge of character? How quickly can you “size someone up?” Interestingly, research shows that many people are surprisingly accurate at predicting how an interaction with someone will unfold based on initial impressions. Fascinating research has also been done on the ability of people to make a judgment about a person’s competence after as little as 100 milliseconds of exposure to politicians’ faces. Even more surprising is that people’s judgments of competence, after exposure to two candidates for senate elections, accurately predicted election outcomes.[i] In short, after only minimal exposure to a candidate’s facial expressions, people made judgments about the person’s competence, and those judged more competent were people who actually won elections!

The Power of First Impressions

Trimmed, shaved, smile, formal dress, handshake, postureThe old saying, “You never get a second chance to make a good impression,” points to the fact that first impressions matter.

The brain is a predictive organ in that it wants to know, based on previous experiences and patterns, what to expect next, and first impressions function to fill this need, allowing us to determine how we will proceed with an interaction after only a quick assessment of the person with whom we are interacting.[ii]

Research shows that people are surprisingly good at making accurate first impressions about how an interaction will unfold and at identifying personality characteristics of people they do not know. Studies show that people are generally able to predict how another person will behave toward them based on an initial interaction. People’s accuracy and ability to predict interaction based on first impressions vary, but people with high accuracy are typically socially skilled and popular, and have less loneliness, anxiety, and depression, more satisfying relationships, and more senior positions and higher salaries.[iii]

So not only do first impressions matter, but having the ability to form accurate first impressions seems to correlate to many other positive characteristics.

First impressions are enduring because of the primacy effect, which leads us to place more value on the first information we receive about a person. So if we interpret the first information we receive from or about a person as positive, then a positive first impression will form and influence how we respond to that person as the interaction continues.

Likewise, negative interpretations of information can lead to form negative first impressions. For example, if you sit down at a restaurant and servers walk by for several minutes and no one greets you, then you will likely interpret that negatively and not have a good impression of your server when he finally shows up. This may lead you to be short with the server, which may lead him to not be as attentive as he normally would. At this point, a series of negative interactions has set into motion a cycle that will be very difficult to reverse and make positive.

The Power of Last Impressions

Titanic: Last Impression: Nailed it!The recency effect leads us to put more weight on the most recent impression we have of a person’s communication over earlier impressions. Even a positive first impression can be tarnished by a negative final impression.

Imagine that a professor has maintained a relatively high level of credibility with you over the course of the semester. She made a good first impression by being organized, approachable, and interesting during the first days of class. The rest of the semester went fairly well with no major conflicts. However, during the last week of the term, she didn’t have final papers graded and ready to turn back by the time she said she would, which left you with some uncertainty about how well you needed to do on the final exam to earn an A in the class. When you did get your paper back, on the last day of class, you saw that your grade was much lower than you expected.

If this happened to you, what would you write on the instructor evaluation? Because of the recency effect, many students would likely give a disproportionate amount of value to the professor’s actions in the final week of the semester, negatively skewing the evaluation, which is supposed to be reflective of the entire semester. Even though the professor only returned one assignment late, that fact is very recent in students’ minds and can overshadow the positive impression that formed many weeks earlier.

The Take Home Message

Shaking handsAs we perceive others, we make impressions about their personality, likeability, attractiveness, and other characteristics. Although much of our impressions are personal, what forms them is sometimes based more on circumstances than personal characteristics. All the information we take in isn’t treated equally, so be conscious of how you are perceived and don't waste a chance to make a good impression.

[i] Charles C. Ballew II and Alexander Todorov, “Predicting Political Elections from Rapid and Unreflective Face Judgments,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104, no. 46 (2007): 17948.

[ii] Owen Hargie, Skilled Interpersonal Interaction: Research, Theory, and Practice (London: Routledge, 2011), 280.

[iii] Owen Hargie, Skilled Interpersonal Interaction: Research, Theory, and Practice (London: Routledge, 2011), 281.

Romantic Relationships in the Workplace

Oct 29, 2013

We've all heard the warning, "Never date a coworker!" But, that doesn't stop people from doing so, as evidenced by the number of organizations and companies creating policies for workplace romances. Of course popular culture is full of examples of workplace romances, some more successful than others. Perhaps the most famous, recent workplace romance involves Jim and Pam from The Office.

Workplace Romances

Workplace romances involve two people who are emotionally and physically attracted to one another.[i] We don’t have to look far to find evidence that this relationship type is the most controversial of all the workplace relationships. For example, the president of the American Red Cross was fired in 2007 for having a personal relationship with a subordinate. That same year, the president of the World Bank resigned after controversy over a relationship with an employee.[ii] So what makes these relationships so problematic?

Are They Good For Business or Bad For Business?

Jim and Pam from The Office

Some research supports the claim that workplace romances are bad for business, while other research claims workplace romances enhance employee satisfaction and productivity.

Despite this controversy, workplace romances are not rare or isolated, as research shows 75 to 85 percent of people are affected by a romantic relationship at work as a participant or observer.[iii]

People who are opposed to workplace romances cite several common reasons. More so than friendships, workplace romances bring into the office emotions that have the potential to become intense. This doesn’t mesh well with a general belief that the workplace should not be an emotional space. Additionally, romance brings sexuality into workplaces that are supposed to be asexual, which also creates a gray area in which the line between sexual attraction and sexual harassment is blurred.[iv]

People who support workplace relationships argue that companies shouldn’t have a say in the personal lives of their employees and cite research showing that workplace romances increase productivity. Obviously, this is not a debate that we can settle here. Instead, let’s examine some of the communicative elements that affect this relationship type.

I Love Workplace RomanceMotives Behind Workplace Romances

Individuals may engage in workplace romances for many reasons, three of which are job motives, ego motives, and love motives.[v]

Job motives include gaining rewards such as power, money, or job security.

Ego motives include the “thrill of the chase” and the self-esteem boost one may get.

Love motives include the desire for genuine affection and companionship.

Despite the motives, workplace romances impact coworkers, the individuals in the relationship, and workplace policies. Romances at work may fuel gossip, especially if the couple is trying to conceal their relationship. This could lead to hurt feelings, loss of trust, or even jealousy. If coworkers perceive the relationship is due to job motives, they may resent the appearance of favoritism and feel unfairly treated. The individuals in the relationship may experience positive effects such as increased satisfaction if they get to spend time together at work and may even be more productive.

Romances between subordinates and supervisors are more likely to slow productivity. If a relationship begins to deteriorate, the individuals may experience more stress than other couples would, since they may be required to continue to work together daily.

How Should Workplace Romances Be Handled?

Notice to all employees: No workplace romanceOver the past couple decades, there has been a national discussion about whether or not organizations should have policies related to workplace relationships, and there are many different opinions. Company policies range from complete prohibition of romantic relationships, to policies that only specify supervisor-subordinate relationships as off-limits, to policies that don’t prohibit but discourage love affairs in the workplace.[vi]

One trend that seeks to find middle ground is the “love contract” or “dating waiver.”[vii] This requires individuals who are romantically involved to disclose their relationship to the company and sign a document saying that it is consensual and they will not engage in favoritism.

Some businesses are taking another route and encouraging workplace romances. Southwest Airlines, for example, allows employees of any status to date each other and even allows their employees to ask passengers out on a date. Other companies like AT&T and Ben and Jerry’s have similar open policies.[viii]

So, time for you to weigh in! What do you think about workplace romances? How do they affect the communication that takes place in a workplace?

[i] Patricia M. Sias, Organizing Relationships: Traditional and Emerging Perspectives on Workplace Relationships (Los Angeles, CA: Sage, 2009), 126.

[ii] C. Boyd, “The Debate Over the Prohibition of Romance in the Workplace,” Journal of Business Ethics 97 (2010): 325.

[iii] Patricia M. Sias, Organizing Relationships: Traditional and Emerging Perspectives on Workplace Relationships (Los Angeles, CA: Sage, 2009), 132.

[iv] Patricia M. Sias, Organizing Relationships: Traditional and Emerging Perspectives on Workplace Relationships (Los Angeles, CA: Sage, 2009), 130.

[v] Patricia M. Sias, Organizing Relationships: Traditional and Emerging Perspectives on Workplace Relationships (Los Angeles, CA: Sage, 2009), 134.

[vi] Patricia M. Sias, Organizing Relationships: Traditional and Emerging Perspectives on Workplace Relationships (Los Angeles, CA: Sage, 2009), 140.

[vii] C. Boyd, “The Debate Over the Prohibition of Romance in the Workplace,” Journal of Business Ethics 97 (2010): 329.

[viii] C. Boyd, “The Debate Over the Prohibition of Romance in the Workplace,” Journal of Business Ethics 97 (2010): 334.

Choosing a Persuasive Speech Topic

Oct 21, 2013

As with any speech, topic selection is important and is influenced by many factors. Good persuasive speech topics are current, controversial, and have important implications for society.

I Love to Persuade ballcapPersuasive Speech Topics Should Be Current

If your topic is currently being discussed on television, in newspapers, in the lounges in your dorm, or around your family’s dinner table, then it’s a current topic. A persuasive speech aimed at getting audience members to wear seatbelts in cars wouldn’t have much current relevance, given that statistics consistently show that most people wear seatbelts. Giving the same speech would have been much more timely in the 1970s when there was a huge movement to increase seatbelt use.

Persuasive Speech Topics Should be Controversial

Many topics that are current are also controversial, which is what gets them attention by the media and citizens. Current and controversial topics will be more engaging for your audience. A persuasive speech to encourage audience members to donate blood or recycle wouldn’t be very controversial, since the benefits of both practices are widely agreed on. However, arguing that the restrictions on blood donation by men who have had sexual relations with men be lifted would be controversial.

I must caution here that controversial is not the same as inflammatory. An inflammatory topic is one that evokes strong reactions from an audience for the sake of provoking a reaction. Being provocative for no good reason or choosing a topic that is extremist will damage your credibility and prevent you from achieving your speech goals.

Persuasive Speech Topics Should be Important to You and to Society

Keep calm and be a good citizenYou should also choose a topic that is important to you and to society as a whole. Our voices are powerful, as it is through communication that we participate and make change in society. Therefore we should take seriously opportunities to use our voices to speak publicly. Choosing a speech topic that has implications for society is probably a better application of your public speaking skills than choosing to persuade the audience that Lebron James is the best basketball player in the world or that Superman is a better hero than Spiderman. Although those topics may be very important to you, they don’t carry the same social weight as many other topics you could choose to discuss. Remember that speakers have ethical obligations to the audience and should take the opportunity to speak seriously.

Persuasive Speech Topics Should Connect to Your Interests and Passions

You will also want to choose a topic that connects to your own interests and passions. If you are an education major, it might make more sense to do a persuasive speech about funding for public education than the death penalty. If there are hot-button issues for you that make you get fired up and veins bulge out in your neck, then it may be a good idea to avoid those when speaking in an academic or professional context.

Choosing such topics may interfere with your ability to deliver a speech in a competent and ethical manner. You want to care about your topic, but you also want to be able to approach it in a way that’s going to make people want to listen to you. Most people tune out speakers they perceive to be too ideologically entrenched and write them off as extremists or zealots.

Persuasive Speech Topics Should be Argumentative

You also want to ensure that your topic is actually persuasive. Draft your thesis statement as an “I believe” statement so your stance on an issue is clear. Also, think of your main points as reasons to support your thesis. Students end up with speeches that aren’t very persuasive in nature if they don’t think of their main points as reasons. Identifying arguments that counter your thesis is also a good exercise to help ensure your topic is persuasive. If you can clearly and easily identify a competing thesis statement and supporting reasons, then your topic and approach is argumentative.

The purpose of argument should not be victory, but progress.

Review of Tips for Choosing a Persuasive Speech Topic

  1. Choose a topic that is current.
    • Not current. People should use seatbelts.
    • Current. People should not text while driving.
  2. Choose a topic that is controversial.
    • Not controversial: People should recycle.
    • Controversial: Recycling should be mandatory by law.
  3. Choose a topic that meaningfully impacts society.
    • Not as impactful: Superman is the best superhero.
    • Impactful: Colleges and universities should adopt zero-tolerance bullying policies.
  4. Write a thesis statement that is clearly argumentative and states your stance.
    • Unclear thesis: Homeschooling is common in the United States.
    • Clear, argumentative thesis with stance: Homeschooling does not provide the same benefits of traditional education and should be strictly monitored and limited.

Did Miley Cyrus Help "Twerk" Make It Into the Oxford Online Dictionary?

Oct 9, 2013

Did Miley Cyrus Help Twerk Make It Into The Oxford Online Dictionary? Well the answer is likely no, since these decisions are made far in advance of an announcement. Considering Oxford's announcement came just a few days after Miley Cyrus's now infamous appearance on the MTV Video Music Awards, it's more of a coincidence.

This does, however, illustrate an important principle of verbal communication - that language is dynamic.

Language is Dynamic

Language is essentially limitless. We may create a one-of-a-kind sentence combining words in new ways and never know it. Aside from the endless structural possibilities, words change meaning, and new words are created daily. Buzzworthy, me time, and selfie are just some of the other words that were included, along with twerking, in the Oxford Dictionary…well at least the online version.

Oxford Dictionaries


Neologisms are newly coined or used words. Newly coined words are those that were just brought into linguistic existence. Newly used words make their way into languages in several ways, including borrowing and changing structure. Borrowing is the primary means through which languages expand. English is a good case in point, as most of its vocabulary is borrowed and doesn’t reflect the language’s Germanic origins. English has been called the “vacuum cleaner of languages,”[i] as we have borrowed many words, like chic from French, karaoke from Japanese, and caravan from Arabic.

Structural changes also lead to new words. Compound words are neologisms that are created by joining two already known words. Keyboard, newspaper, and giftcard are all compound words that were formed when new things were created or conceived. We also create new words by adding something, subtracting something, or blending them together.

For example, we can add affixes, meaning a prefix or a suffix, to a word. Affixing usually alters the original meaning but doesn’t completely change it. Ex-husband and kitchenette are relatively recent examples of such changes.[ii] New words are also formed when clipping a word like examination, which creates a new word, exam, that retains the same meaning. And last, we can form new words by blending old ones together. Words like breakfast and lunch blend letters and meaning to form a new word—brunch. Or oblivious and idiot can combine to create "obliviot."


Existing words also change in their use and meaning. The digital age has given rise to some interesting changes in word usage. Before Facebook, the word friend had many meanings, but it was mostly used as a noun referring to a companion. The sentence, "I'll friend you," wouldn’t have made sense to many people just a few years ago because "friend" wasn’t used as a verb.

Don't make me unfriend you.


Slang is a great example of the dynamic nature of language. Slang refers to new or adapted words that are specific to a group, context, and/or time period; regarded as less formal; and representative of people’s creative play with language. Twerk, as a word and action, didn't originate with Miley Cyrus. As with many slang words, it can be difficult to trace the exact etymology, but it has been around for at least 20 years and was initially used in hip-hop dance circles by DJs in the south. The word may be a combination of twist and jerk, but we can't be sure of that.

Research has shown that only about 10 percent of the slang terms that emerge over a fifteen-year period survive. Other words take their place though, as new slang words are created using inversion, reduction, or old-fashioned creativity.[iv]

Inversion is a form of word play that produces slang words like sick, wicked, and bad that refer to the opposite of their typical meaning.

Slang: slick, dude

Reduction creates slang words such as pic, sec, and later from picture, second, and see you later.

New slang words often represent what is edgy, current, or simply relevant to the daily lives of a group of people. Many creative examples of slang refer to illegal or socially taboo topics like sex, drinking, and drugs. It makes sense that developing an alternative way to identify drugs or talk about taboo topics could make life easier for the people who partake in such activities. Slang allows people who are in “in the know” to understand what is being said and presents a linguistic barrier for unwanted outsiders. Take a moment to think about the amount of slang that refers to being intoxicated on drugs or alcohol or engaging in sexual activity.

Several slang words

New words can create a lot of buzz and become a part of common usage very quickly (i.e., twerk). The same can happen with new slang terms. Most slang words also disappear quickly, and their alternative meaning fades into obscurity. For example, you don’t hear anyone using the word macaroni to refer to something cool or fashionable. But that’s exactly what the common slang meaning of the word was at the time the song “Yankee Doodle” was written. Yankee Doodle isn’t saying the feather he sticks in his cap is a small, curved pasta shell; he is saying it’s cool or stylish. Who knows, maybe twerk will be just as meaningless as macaroni in fifteen years.

[i] David Crystal, How Language Works: How Babies Babble, Words Change Meaning, and Languages Live or Die (Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press, 2005), 225.

[ii] David Crystal, How Language Works: How Babies Babble, Words Change Meaning, and Languages Live or Die (Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press, 2005), 226.

[iii] “All of the Words of the Year 1990 to Present,” American Dialect Society, accessed June 7, 2012,

[iv] Keith Allan and Kate Burridge, Forbidden Words: Taboo and the Censoring of Language (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 69–71.

How to Prepare and Deliver an Effective Informative Speech

Sep 11, 2013

Why is Informative Speaking Important?

It's true that many people would rather go see an impassioned political speech or a comedic monologue than a lecture. Although informative speaking may not be the most exciting form of public speaking, it is the most common. Reports, lectures, training seminars, and demonstrations are all examples of informative speaking.

That means you are more likely to give and listen to informative speeches than other types of speeches.

Some organizations, like consulting firms, and career fields, like training and development, are solely aimed at conveying information. Even outside of those contexts, college alumni have reported that out of many different speech skills, informative speaking is most important in their jobs.

So, since your exposure to informative speaking is inevitable, why not learn how to be a better producer and consumer of informative messages?

Creating an Informative Speech

The goal of informative speaking is to teach an audience something using objective factual information, so, being a successful informative speaker starts with choosing a topic that can engage and educate the audience.

Your topic choices may be influenced by the level at which you are speaking. Informative speaking usually happens at one of three levels: formal, vocational, and impromptu.

Formal informative speeches occur when an audience has assembled specifically to hear what you have to say. Being invited to speak to a group during a professional meeting, a civic gathering, or a celebration gala brings with it high expectations. Only people who have accomplished or achieved much are asked to serve as keynote speakers, and they usually speak about these experiences.

Many more people deliver informative speeches at the vocational level, as part of their careers. Teachers like me spend many hours lecturing, which is a common form of informative speaking. In addition, human resources professionals give presentations about changes in policy and provide training for new employees, technicians in factories convey machine specifications and safety procedures, and servers describe how a dish is prepared in their restaurant.

Last, we all convey information daily in our regular interactions. When we give a freshman directions to a campus building, summarize the latest episode of American Idol for our friend who missed it, or explain a local custom to an international student, we are engaging in impromptu informative speaking.

In any of these contexts, your topic may stem from one of the following categories: objects, people, concepts, events, processes, or issues. Of course, once you know your topic, you must research it.

Researching an Informative Speech

Having sharp research skills is a fundamental part of being a good informative speaker. Since informative speaking is supposed to convey factual information, speakers should take care to find sources that are objective, balanced, and credible.

Find Novel Information: Aside from finding credible and objective sources, informative speakers also need to take time to find engaging information. This is where sharp research skills are needed to cut through all the typical information that comes up in the research process to find novel information. Novel information is atypical or unexpected and it takes more skill and effort to locate than boring mundane information.

Even seemingly boring informative speech topics like the history of coupons can be brought to life with information that defies the audience’s expectations. A student recently delivered an engaging speech about coupons by informing us that coupons have been around for 125 years, are most frequently used by wealthier and more educated households, and that a coupon fraud committed by an Italian American businessman named Charles Ponzi was the basis for the term Ponzi scheme, which is still commonly used today.

Provide Takeaway Information: A good informative speech leaves the audience thinking long after the speech is done. Try to include some practical “takeaways” in your speech. I’ve learned many interesting and useful things from the informative speeches my students have done. Some of the takeaways are more like trivia information that is interesting to share—for example, how prohibition led to the creation of NASCAR. Other takeaways are more practical and useful—for example, how to get wine stains out of clothing and carpet or explanations of various types of student financial aid.

Overcome Common Challenges for Informative Speaking through Your Preparation and Delivery

There are several challenges to overcome to be an effective informative speaker. They include avoiding persuasion, avoiding information overload, and engaging your audience.

Avoiding Persuasion: First, for informative speaking, a speaker’s purpose should be to create understanding by sharing objective, factual information. Specific purpose and thesis statements help establish a speaker’s goal and purpose and can serve as useful reference points to keep a speech on track. When reviewing your specific purpose and thesis statement, look for words like should/shouldn’t, good/bad, and right/wrong, as these often indicate a persuasive slant in the speech.

Second, supporting information should function to clarify and explain in an informative speech rather than argue or convince.

Third, the audience must perceive that the information being presented is not controversial or disputed and must perceive the speaker as a credible source of information.

Last, an audience must perceive the speaker to be trustworthy and not have a hidden agenda.

Avoiding Information Overload: Many informative speakers have a tendency to pack a ten-minute speech with as much information as possible. This can result in information overload, which is a barrier to effective listening that occurs when a speech contains more information than an audience can process.

Editing can be a difficult task, but it’s an important skill to hone, because whether it’s reading through an e-mail before you send it, condensing a report down to an executive summary, or figuring out how to fit a client’s message on the front page of a brochure, you will have to learn how to discern what information is best to keep and what can be thrown out.

In speaking, being a discerning editor is useful because it helps avoid information overload. While a receiver may not be attracted to a brochure that’s covered in text, they could take the time to read it, and reread it, if necessary. Since audience members don't have the luxury of a pause or rewind button, competent speakers, especially informative speakers who are trying to teach their audience something, should adapt their message to a listening audience.

Engaging Your Audience: As a speaker, you are competing for the attention of your audience against other internal and external stimuli. Getting an audience engaged and then keeping their attention is a challenge for any speaker, but it can be especially difficult when speaking to inform.

Some speakers fall into the trap of thinking that their content knowledge is enough to sustain them through an informative speech or that their position in an organization means that an audience will listen to them and appreciate their information despite their delivery. Content expertise is not enough to be an effective speaker. A person must also have speaking expertise.

Audience members are more likely to stay engaged with a speaker they view as credible. So complementing good supporting material with a practiced and fluent delivery increases credibility and audience engagement. In addition, good informative speakers act as translators of information, repackaging information into concrete familiar examples helps audience members understand the message.

TED Talks as a Model of Informative Speaking

The following speeches are good examples of informative speaking. As you watch them, consider the following questions:

  1. What can you learn from the TED model and/or TED speakers that will help you be a better informative speaker?
  2. In what innovative and/or informative ways do the speakers reference or incorporate technology in their speeches?

Andrew Blum’s speech: What is the Internet, Really?

Pranav Mistry’s speech: The Thrilling Potential of Sixth Sense Technology.

David Gallo’s speech: Underwater Astonishments.

On the 50th Anniversary of MLK's "I Have a Dream" Speech…

Aug 27, 2013

It Still Stands as a Triumph of Extemporaneous Speaking

The 50th Anniversary of "I Have a Dream"

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s world famous “I Have A Dream” speech hits a milestone on August 28th, as it turns 50 years old. On that day, fifty years ago in 1963, King used the power of his voice and the public speaking skills he had developed as a preacher, teacher, and activist to effect social change.

While many public speaking teachers and educators of all stripes have used King’s speech as an example of effective delivery and appeals to emotion, it is not as often analyzed as a great example of extemporaneous speaking.

Extemporaneous Speaking

In my book, Communication in the Real World, I outline the four methods of delivery, which include memorized, manuscript, impromptu, and extemporaneous. Extemporaneous delivery entails memorizing the overall structure and main points of a speech and then speaking from keyword/key-phrase notes. This delivery mode brings together many of the strengths of the other three methods.

Since you only internalize and memorize the main structure of a speech, you can adapt much of the content to a specific audience, an audience reaction, or an occasion since every word and sentence isn’t predetermined. Extemporaneous delivery brings in some of the spontaneity of impromptu delivery but still allows a speaker to plan the overall structure of a speech and incorporate supporting materials that include key facts, quotations, and paraphrased information. This is the preferred method of delivery for most classroom and workplace presentations.  

"The Dream" Wasn't Supposed To Be In The Speech

Many people don’t know that the last half of King’s speech was a deviation from his planned remarks. Although he had been testing out the “dream section” of his speech with various audiences in the previous months, he hadn’t prepared to include it in this monumental speech. Before we get to that crucial “dream section” let’s go back and analyze the earlier, and less familiar, first half of the speech.

Setting Up Historical Context: The First Part of the "I Have A Dream" Speech

Jamie York, in a story for On The Media notes that King started the speech by working quickly through themes, such as the Emancipation Proclamation and the Gettysburg Address that he had invoked many times before. After setting up some historical context for the current Civil Rights Movement and using analogical reasoning to compare it to previous moments of greatness in U.S. history, King begins to transition to the “plan” part of the speech. (See the first section of the speech in the video below)

Transition to "The Plan" Part of the Speech

During this transition (which begins at 3:17 in the speech), King uses the metaphor of the promissory note to create cognitive dissonance. In short, he is saying that although our country was founded on notions of equality, it is not realized in practice for “her citizens of color.” The thunderous applause and cheers following this section of the speech (seen in the video at 5:03) indicates that the audience is ready for a plan and a call to action, in which Dr. King speaks about the purpose of the march and the goals going forward.

"The Plan" And A Call To Action

This part of the speech (5:05 – 12:15) is the most concrete and substantive and is still in line with the prepared remarks that King took with him to the podium.

Until this moment in the speech, King is employing the manuscript method of delivery, which can be seen as he frequently checks his notes (especially during the first several minutes of the speech). Although used to speaking without notes, much of the content of the first half of the speech was only jotted down the night before during a meeting between King and close advisors. Clarence B. Jones, King’s speechwriter, was tasked with turning the notes from the meeting into something cohesive.

"The Dream"

Although the prepared remarks were inspirational and courageous, the switch from manuscript to extemporaneous delivery also marked a switch in tone and content. From the 12:15 mark on, King rarely looks at his notes and shifts even more into his comfort zone of the allegorically inclined preacher.

Why the Switch?

Famed gospel singer and good friend of King, Mahalia Jackson, took advantage of one of King’s pauses to allow for audience response, and shouted from the platform party, “Tell them about the dream Martin. Tell them about the dream.” Had King stuck to his manuscript and not made the switch to extemporaneous delivery, the phrase “I have a dream,” may not carry the same cultural, emotional, and social significance as it does today.

The Difference Between Impromptu and Extemporaneous Speaking

King was not delivering the final and most famous part of his speech “off the cuff.” He had incorporated the idea of a dream and a prophecy into other speeches and sermons, work-shopping them in a sense before he unveiled them in a larger setting. He had even worked into previous sermons the references to the song “My Country Tis of Thee.” King had already internalized the framework for the most influential speech of our time, but without a little prodding from Mahalia Jackson, the speech would have had a different conclusion.

We are not likely to find ourselves speaking in comparable circumstances to MLK, but we can learn from this world famous speech.

Although it can be comforting to have every word we plan to say in front of us, it often diminishes the connection between speaker and audience. Even though King's skills as an orator allowed him to connect with his audience, despite relying on notes, in the first half of his speech, the last half is unquestionably more immediate and evocative. Extemporaneous delivery gives us the power to be audience-centered and adaptable while still having the comfort of a pre-planned and organized framework. While striking a balance between structure and spontaneity is challenging, it is a goal that all speakers should work toward.

For College Instructors:

Jul 30, 2013

How to Build Credibility and Create a Positive Climate on the First Day of Class

We are coming up on the first day of class for many college instructors and it's not too early to start planning. The following tips will help you have a great first class day that will set your semester off on the right foot.

Printable Version

Read the Syllabus and Go? – No!:

“The first meeting of a class is much too important to be treated as something to be gotten over with as quickly as possible” (Friedrich & Cooper, 1999, p. 287). Just going over the syllabus and doing a brief introduction may leave many students frustrated and may further raise their anxiety about public speaking. Students want to acquire information to reduce their anxiety and taking advantage of the entirety of the first class period may be a great chance to do this (Draves, 1984). Setting up a class environment that is interactive and open from the beginning may solve common problems in a speech class before they can occur.

Reduce Uncertainty

Sharing the syllabus and detailed expectations for the course helps reduce students’ anxiety about the material, but they still don’t know who you are! Students will make impressions about you whether you want them to or not, so taking control of this will help establish a rapport that will carry through the term (McKeachie, 1999). This is done through impression management (Friedrich & Cooper, 1999, p. 293-295) and will be largely based on your immediacy behaviors (Copper & Simonds, 2003) and perceived credibility.

Use Immediacy Behaviors

Immediacy behaviors can be described as the positive affect you project as a teacher. “Immediate teachers are viewed as approachable, friendly, open, and responsive to student needs” (Cooper & Simonds, 2003, p. 44). Many studies have shown that students prefer teachers they perceive as immediate and positively evaluate them. “Students affirm teachers who affirm them” (p. 45). By developing and utilizing immediate behaviors, you will set a tone for the course, from the beginning, that involves a level of interpersonal trust.

Establish Your Credibility

Immediacy does not imply softness or easiness. It is just as important to establish your credibility on the first day as it is to establish interpersonal trust and a climate of closeness, and in fact, immediacy and credibility are relational. Studies have shown that students perceive teachers with positive immediacy behaviors to be more credible (McCroskey & Wheeless, 1976; Thweatt & McCrosky, 1998). Being prepared and organized also add to your credibility as well as your appearance. Remember, the first day is your best opportunity to set a high credibility threshold. It’s much harder to lower a credibility threshold that has been set high on the first day and even more difficult to raise the threshold if you did not raise it on the first day.

Basic Tips:

  • Be organized, prepared, and friendly (don’t forget to smile).
  • Even if you prefer to dress informally or casually when you teach, dressing up on the first day will raise your credibility threshold. You can even use it as a teaching tool to show students how they should dress for presentations.
  • Arrive early to make sure the classroom is already set up in the most conducive arrangement (students will probably automatically set the class the same way in subsequent meetings without you asking).
  • Arrive early and informally greet students when they arrive. DO NOT wait until a few minutes after class is supposed to start to make your grand entrance.
  • Don’t forget to introduce yourself. Let them know your qualifications and credentials (this is especially beneficial if you look young).
  • Try to learn as many names as you can the first day, your students will be very impressed.
  • Reduce uncertainty and increase predictability by using the entire class period to cover expectations, do introductions and ice breakers, and answer questions. Don’t be afraid to start course content.
  • Tease the upcoming class to make students look forward to what is next.
  • Reflect on the first day immediately after. What worked? What didn’t? What do you want to do differently next term?


Cooper, P. J., & Simonds, C. J. (2003). Communication for the classroom teacher (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Draves, W. A. (1984). How to teach adults. Manhattan, KS: Learning Resources Network.

Friedrich, G. W., & Cooper, P. (1999). The first day. In A. L. Vangelisti, J. A. Daly, G. W. Friedrich (Eds.), Teaching communication: Theory, research, and methods (2nd ed.) (pp. 287-296). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc.

McCroskey, J. C., & Wheeless, L. R. (1976). Introduction to human communication. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

McKeachie, W. J. (1999). Meeting a class for the first time. In W. J. McKeachie (Ed.), Teaching tips: Strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers (10th ed.) (pp. 34-41). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Thweatt, K., & McCroskey, J. C. (1998). The impact of teacher immediacy and misbehavior on teacher credibility. Communication Education, 47, 351-356.

NSA Leaks, Facebook Graph App, and More:

Jul 25, 2013

Privacy and Surveillance in a New Media World

Well, Edward Snowden's NSA leaks are now old news, but the implications for communicators in the real world are just now starting to become clear. Needless to say, the public discourse about online privacy and government and corporate surveillance has increased dramatically since Snowden’s revelations about the NSA’s PRISM and other spying programs.

In the wake of these revelations, you may be asking: What kinds of surveillance do governments and corporations engage in? What can I do to protect my privacy online?

Weighing Convenience and Privacy - Or, Why We Let Them Do It

We’re all familiar with names like Google and Apple. Those companies have turned information over to the NSA as part of their broad surveillance programs.

Every time we “accept” our terms of service or user agreements, we are essentially giving up the rights to the information that we transmit while using these largely free services. In short, the underlying argument is that we give up some of those rights for the pleasure and convenience of these free services and that the information that is vacuumed up is needed to help track user engagement to improve service and to target advertising, which helps make those companies profitable.

This shouldn’t be too surprising – after all, there is no such thing as a free lunch (or Tweet, status update, pin, like, or email). This becomes potentially problematic since companies based in the U.S., like Google and Apple, are then compelled to turn over information requested by the NSA because of the power of FISA court decisions and subpoenas.

There are other names that are less familiar - names like: Abine, DuckDuckGo, and FoxyProxy (and more I will discuss below). These are names of much less profitable (often because they operate under an open source model) entities that exist so that users can exercise more control over what information of theirs is tracked and logged. Since many of these services do not ever log user information or instead they encrypt it before it gets uploaded to their server, even if the NSA came a knockin’ they wouldn’t have any useful information to turn over.

As is often noted on pro-privacy resources, there is no single solution to managing your privacy online. In short, it comes down to how much effort you are willing to put into it. And, it seems that aside from hardcore privacy advocates, super paranoid people, and hackers and computer geeks who just get intrinsic pleasure out of reliving scenes from 90s hacker-thriller-action movies, people weigh more favorably the pleasure and convenience of free and user-friendly services like Facebook and Gmail than they weigh the tech-skills, patience, and time needed to put their online life on lockdown and cover up if not erase their digital trail.

From Online Surveillance to Content Blocking

When we take a look at countries most known for blocking and filtering internet content, we see names like: China, Iran, and Syria. But, a recent announcement from Britain’s prime minister David Cameron stated that within the UK, access to pornographic materials will be blocked unless individuals “opt out” of the filters that will automatically go into effect in about a year. If users do not opt out, the filters will automatically be applied to their internet service, including all devices on a home wifi network. Additionally, certain search terms will be blocked on search engines like Google and Bing.

Although technology already exists and is often used to limit access to such materials at the computer or network level (by parents or school administrators for example) there are concerns that these types of blanket restrictions can have negative implications for free speech.

In a previous blog entry I wrote about internet access and free speech regarding uprisings in countries and how governments block content. The most blocked categories of content are things deemed politically or religiously offensive and pornographic materials. It’s just unusual that a country like the U.K. takes such measures.

What Can You Do To Protect Your Privacy Online?

So, how much power do you have to protect your privacy? You can, surprisingly, do a lot if you’re willing to put the effort into it. But, it’s not as easy as some Facebook posts make it seem. The increased awareness of online privacy has also led to some misleading messaging. For example, memes regarding Facebook’s unveiling of its new Graph Search have gone viral. Perhaps you’ve seen or even posted statements like:


At best, those messages are misleading and lead people to waste some time by reposting them. At worst, they may lead people to click on links that are contaminated with viruses or lead you to unrelated services or apps that make false promises to protect your privacy.

If you want to take more action to ensure your privacy, I highly recommend listening to or reading the transcript from a NPR Science Friday episode.

Here are just some of the options discussed in the story by Jon Xavier, digital producer at the Silicon Valley Business Journal:

  • Web Browsing: Tor is "one of the most private ways you can browse the internet." It essentially bounces your connection and IP address through a bunch of servers so you can't be traced.
  • Search Engines: Startpage is "one of a few sort of private search engines that have sprung up." DuckDuckGo is another private search engine. "They don't track any information about you. They don't save your searches. They don't install any cookies."
  • Email: Enigmail is a plug-in for Thunderbird that encrypts all of your emails before they leave your computer. (you have to first set up your own email server to make this work)
  • Phone Calls And Texts: RedPhone is an app that can encrypt anything you send through a phone. TextSecure is a similar app. (you have to be calling or texting someone who also has the app for this to work)

Geofeedia and Broadcastify:

Jul 7, 2013

Two New Media Tools Used by Citizen Journalists to Cover the Asiana Plane Crash at SFO

Asiana Airlines flight 214 crash landed at the San Francisco airport around 11:30 am on Saturday July 6. Within minutes, passengers, iReporters, and citizen journalists were reporting on the story ahead of mainstream media outlets. For example, David Eun, a Samsung executive, tweeted the following picture and video immediately following his evacuation from the plane - even before the emergency vehicles had arrived.

Reliable Sources on CNN, included a segment on Sunday July 7, with Al Tompkins who reported on the important role of new and social media in the immediate coverage of the Asiana crash. Tompkins is associated with the Poynter Institute based in St. Petersburg FL, which is dedicated to teaching and consulting that improves the quality of journalism and media coverage.

Geofeedia and Broadcastify

Two of the tools that I find most interesting and promising are which allows users to access, for free, thousands of police, EMS, and fire scanner feeds. is another resource, that is currently only available for qualified users who must first request a 30-day trial. Geofeedia allows users to highlight a particular geographic area, for example the San Francisco airport, and monitor what is being posted on various social media sites. After doing some research on Geofeedia, I think it is one of the more promising social media aggregator tools. I have requested a trial but have not yet been approved. I hope to utilize this resource more and provide an update soon.

These are just a couple tools that enhance citizen journalism. What follows is a section from my book, Communication in the Real World, about the importance of citizen journalism in our social media saturated democracy.

Blogging's Big Bang and Web 2.0

Blogs were the earliest manifestation of Web 2.0 and marked the beginning of the turn to more user-generated content and the democratization of information gathering and sharing.

While “web logging” existed in various forms before 1999, that year marked blogging’s “big bang” as the software application Blogger made it easy for people who did not know HTML (the computer code used to build websites) to compose and publish their blog as well as link to other blogs and relevant content.[i]

Just as then, today’s blogs provide information that varies in terms of depth, quality, and credibility. Blogs that are most relevant to our discussion of democracy are those whose authors engage in citizen journalism and/or gatewatching.

Blogs and Citizen Journalism

Blogs are an accessible and popular outlet for citizen journalism, which is reporting done by individuals or small groups outside of the media establishment as a corrective to mainstream journalism, which may inaccurately or under report a story.[ii] Citizen journalists increasingly play a part in shaping local and national discussions of news and have received positive and negative evaluations from mainstream media and audiences.

Citizen Journalism and Gatewatching

One corrective function of alternative media and citizen journalists is the gatewatching function. Through the gatekeeping function of mass media, reporters, editors, executives, and advertisers influence what content and how much of it makes it to audiences.

Citizen journalists revised this notion to be more actively involved in the process, so gatewatching refers to a media criticism practice that seeks to correct or expand mainstream media reporting. These citizen journalists look for stories or information that will be relevant to their often smaller more niche audiences. Since many people use new media to access information, they seek out information specifically targeted toward their interests and needs.

New media make this type of “micro media” a viable alternative to mass media. The citizen journalists then transmit that information to their audience through a blog or microblog, such as Twitter. In this sense, they act as gatewatchers for the mass media and serve the traditional gatekeeper function for their niche audiences.

They may comment on how one media outlet covered a story while another did not or how one outlet used more credible sources than the other. They may also critique a media outlet for shallow coverage or overcoverage. Interestingly, the information generated by these citizen journalists increasingly influences the mainstream media’s coverage. Stories that may not have been picked up by a major media outlet now get covered after they receive much attention through new and social media.

A recent example of this type of citizen journalist gatewatching is the Trayvon Martin murder. A very detailed and solid analysis by Matt Stempeck of MIT's Center for Civic Media traces how the Internet helped sustain the coverage of the murder and eventually brought it to a national audience. Another article by Brian Stelter of the New York Times traces the "long route" that the Martin case took to get to the national level.

Legacy Media Outlets' Reactions to New Media Citizen Journalism

The advent of these new, collaborative, participative, and democratizing media has been both resisted and embraced by old media outlets.

Increased participation and feedback means that traditional media outlets that were used to one-way communication and passive audiences now have to listen to and respond to feedback, some of which is critical and/or negative.

User-generated content, both amateur and professional, can also compete directly with traditional mass media content that costs much more to produce. Social media is responsible for the whole phenomenon of viral videos, through which a video of a plane crash, an earthquake, or even a kitten doing a flip or a parody of a commercial can reach many more audience members than a network video blooper show or an actual commercial.

Media outlets are again in a paradox. They want to encourage audience participation, but they also want to be able to control and predict the media consumption habits and reactions of audiences.[iii]

[i] Megan Boler, “Introduction,” in Digital Media and Democracy: Tactics in Hard Times, ed. Megan Boler (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008), 40.

[ii] Megan Boler, “Introduction,” in Digital Media and Democracy: Tactics in Hard Times, ed. Megan Boler (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008), 40.

[iii] Eugenia Siapera, Understanding New Media (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2012), 56.

Paula Deen's Brand Crisis

Jun 23, 2013

And How a Crisis Communication Professional Could Have Helped

Paula Deen's Brand Crisis

The Food Network announced on Friday June 21, 2013 that it will cut ties with Paula Deen at the end of the month. This is just one more piece of fallout following the first revelation in 2012, that Deen and her brother were being sued for harassment and discrimination by a former employee.

Things got stirred up even more late last week when the contents of a recorded deposition for the lawsuit became public. The contents indicate, among other things, that Deen admitted to using the "N-word" and telling racist jokes.

The controversy gained more media attention after Deen failed to show up for a scheduled appearance on the Today show where she was expected to answer questions about the allegations. A few hours later, Deen uploaded an "oddly-edited" video apology that was 46 seconds long. Soon after, that video was removed and a longer, more continuous video apology was added.

Why I'm Scratching My Head

As a communication professional, I am baffled by this muddled and mishandled response by a woman who has enough "media savvy" to build a 17-million-dollar business empire. Even if she doesn't have the ability to address this, shouldn't she have people that work for her who can do it? This didn't come out of the blue. Deen and her staff have had more than a year to strategize and prepare for potential fallout from the lawsuit.

This is just another example of the important role that communication crisis professionals play in our media rich and largely reactionary society. Ideally, crisis communication professionals should be on staff and not only sought out after a crisis starts. But a small portion of Deen's millions of dollars could have hired a communication professional after the fact and helped her better manage this situation.

What follows is a section from my book, Communication in the Real World, that discusses the role of crisis communication professionals.

Crisis Communication Professionals

Crisis communication professionals create crisis communication plans that identify internal and external audiences that need information during crisis events. Effective crisis communication plans can lessen the impact of or even prevent crises.

Aside from preparing for crises and identifying stakeholders/audiences, crisis communicators also construct the messages to be communicated to the stakeholders and select the channels through which those messages will be sent. The crisis communicator or another representative could deliver a speech or press conference, send messages through social media, send e-mail or text message blasts out, or buy ad space in newspapers or on television.[i]

Crisis communicators must have good public speaking skills. Communicating during a crisis naturally increases anxiety, so it’s important that speakers have advanced skills at managing anxiety and apprehension. In terms of delivery, while there will be times when impromptu responses are necessary—for example, during a question-and-answer period—manuscript or extemporaneous delivery are the best options.

It is also important that a crisis communicator be skilled at developing ethos, or credibility as a speaker. This is an important part of the preparatory stages of crisis communication when relationships are formed and reputations are established. The importance of ethos is related to the emphasis on honesty and disclosure over stonewalling and denial.

A myth regarding crisis communicators is that their goal is to “spin” a message to adjust reality or create an illusion that makes their organization look better. While some crisis communicators undoubtedly do this, it is not the best practice in terms of effectiveness, competence, or ethics.

Crisis communication research and case studies show that honesty is the best policy. A quick and complete disclosure may create more scrutiny or damage in the short term, but it can minimize reputational damage in the long term.[ii]

Denying a problem, blaming others instead of taking responsibility, or ignoring a problem in hope that it will go away may actually prolong media coverage, invite more investigation, and permanently damage an organization’s or a person's image.

[i] Alan Jay Zaremba, Crisis Communication: Theory and Practice (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharp, 2010), 23.

[ii] Alan Jay Zaremba, Crisis Communication: Theory and Practice (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharp, 2010), 111.

Cheers, Slainte, Skal!: How to Deliver a Toast

Jun 23, 2013

Cheers, slainte, skal, prost, and salud!” All these words could form the basis for a toast, which is a ceremonial speech that praises or conveys goodwill or blessings in honor of a person, accomplishment, or event.

Toasts are usually the shortest special-occasion speech, which is good since people’s arms get tired if they have to hold their drink up in the air for too long.

The degree of preparation needed for a toast varies more than any other special-occasion speech type. Some toasts are practically spontaneous and will therefore have to be impromptu.

People can toast an accomplishment, completion of a task, a holiday such as New Year’s Eve, a favorite sports team winning, or the anniversary of a special event.

Wedding toasts are more formal and more preparation is needed and expected. Although toasts are generally supposed to be conversational and appear spontaneous, because that makes the content seem more genuine, in situations that are more formal or where there is much at stake, brief notes are OK. You wouldn’t want to see a person giving a toast pull out a stack of notecards, though.

Toasts are definitely a time to include a brief personal anecdote and/or humor, but always make sure to test your story or joke out on someone who knows you and knows the person or people you will be toasting. As I’ve already warned, using humor in a speech can be dangerous, since most people who try to use humor publicly think they are funnier than they actually are. Not having someone else vet your toast material can lead to embarrassment for many people.

Aside from having someone review your content, it’s also a good idea to not get too “toasty” before you deliver your toast, or the story or joke that you decided to leave out earlier may find its way back into the speech.

Awkward and embarrassing toasts make funny scenes in movies and television shows, but they usually go smoother in real life, especially if you follow the previous advice. You can also spice up your toast by adding a cultural flair. You can see how to say “Cheers!” in many different languages at the following link:

Additions to the Daily Show's Advice for Hillary Clinton's Twitter Foray

Jun 13, 2013

On June 13, 2013, The Daily Show's social media correspondent Jessica Williams offered some advice for Hillary Clinton as she made her first foray into the Twitterverse.

The tips from the Daily Show were:

  • First of course, don’t tweet your junk Hillary!
  • #2 Don’t be boring.
  • #3 Seriously though, don’t tweet your junk.
  • #4 Don’t be weird.
  • #5 Highlight your superpowers but set limits.

Citing many recent examples of politicians' poor social media persona management skills, Williams backs up her advice in a humorous and instructive way.

Even those of us who aren't as recognizable and powerful as the former First Lady and Secretary of State need to develop and employ social media communication competence. The following is a section from my book, Communication in the Real World, with five additional tips for social media competence.

Using Social Media Competently

We all have a growing log of personal information stored on the Internet, and some of it is under our control and some of it isn’t. We also have increasingly diverse social networks that require us to be cognizant of the information we make available and how we present ourselves. While we can’t control all the information about ourselves online or the impressions people form, we can more competently engage with social media so that we are getting the most out of it in both personal and professional contexts.

A quick search on Google for “social media dos and don’ts” will yield around 100,000 results, which shows that there’s no shortage of advice about how to competently use social media. I’ll offer some of the most important dos and don’ts that I found that relate to communication.[i] Feel free to do your own research on specific areas of concern.

1. Be consistent.

Given that most people have multiple social media accounts, it’s important to have some degree of consistency. At least at the top level of your profile (the part that isn’t limited by privacy settings), include information that you don’t mind anyone seeing.

2. Know what’s out there.

Since the top level of many social media sites are visible in Google search results, you should monitor how these appear to others by regularly (about once a month) doing a Google search using various iterations of your name. Putting your name in quotation marks will help target your results. Make sure you’re logged out of all your accounts and then click on the various results to see what others can see.

3. Think before you post.

Software that enable people to take “screen shots” or download videos and tools that archive web pages can be used without our knowledge to create records of what you post. While it is still a good idea to go through your online content and “clean up” materials that may form unfavorable impressions, it is even a better idea to not put that information out there in the first place.

Posting something about how you hate school or your job or a specific person may be done in the heat of the moment and forgotten, but a potential employer might find that information and form a negative impression even if it’s months or years old.

4. Be familiar with privacy settings.

If you are trying to expand your social network, it may be counterproductive to put your Facebook or Twitter account on “lockdown,” but it is beneficial to know what levels of control you have and to take advantage of them. For example, I have a “Limited Profile” list on Facebook to which I assign new contacts or people with whom I am not very close. You can also create groups of contacts on various social media sites so that only certain people see certain information.

5. Be a gatekeeper for your network.

Do not blindly accept friend requests or followers that you do not know. Not only could these requests be sent from “bots” that might skim your personal info or monitor your activity; they could be from people that might make you look bad. Remember that people form impressions based on those with whom we are connected. You can always send a private message to someone asking how he or she knows you or do some research by Googling his or her name or username.

Questions to Consider:

1. Identify information that you might want to limit for each of the following audiences: friends, family, and employers.

2. Google your name (remember to use multiple forms and to put them in quotation marks). Do the same with any usernames that are associated with your name (e.g., you can Google your Twitter handle or an e-mail address). What information came up? Were you surprised by anything?

3. What strategies can you use to help manage the impressions you form on social media?

[i] Alison Doyle, “Top 10 Social Media Dos and Don’ts,”, accessed November 8, 2012,

Practical Ways to Manage Your Fear of Public Speaking

Jun 9, 2013

This article is the first in a series on public speaking anxiety. Check back for more posts on the most recent public speaking anxiety research and more strategies for addressing this common problem.

If you feel fear, anxiety, or discomfort when confronted with the task of speaking in front of an audience, you are not alone. National polls consistently show that public speaking is among Americans’ top fears.[i] Yet, since we all have to engage in some form of public speaking, this is a fear that many people must face regularly.

Effectively managing speaking anxiety has many positive effects on your speaking. One major area that can improve with less anxiety is delivery. Although speaking anxiety is natural and normal, it can interfere with verbal and nonverbal delivery, which makes a speech less effective. In my book, Communication in the Real World, I address public speaking anxiety in more detail, but below are some tips for addressing public speaking anxiety.

What is Public Speaking Anxiety?

Public speaking anxiety is a type of communication apprehension that produces physiological, cognitive, and behavioral reactions in people when faced with a real or imagined presentation.[ii]

Physiological responses to public speaking anxiety include increased heart rate, flushing of the skin or face, and sweaty palms, among other things. These reactions are the result of natural chemical processes in the human body. The fight or flight instinct helped early humans survive threatening situations. When faced with a ferocious saber-toothed tiger, for example, the body releases adrenaline, cortisol, and other hormones that increase heart rate and blood pressure to get more energy to the brain, organs, and muscles in order to respond to the threat. We can be thankful for this evolutionary advantage, but our physiology hasn’t caught up with our new ways of life. Our body doesn’t distinguish between the causes of stressful situations, so facing down an audience releases the same hormones as facing down a wild beast.

Cognitive reactions to public speaking anxiety often include intrusive thoughts that can increase anxiety: “People are judging me,” “I’m not going to do well,” and “I’m going to forget what to say.” These thoughts are reactions to the physiological changes in the body but also bring in the social/public aspect of public speaking in which speakers fear being negatively judged or evaluated because of their anxiety.

The physiological and cognitive responses to anxiety lead to behavioral changes. All these thoughts may lead someone to stop their speech and return to their seat or leave the room completely. Anticipating these reactions can also lead to avoidance behavior where people intentionally avoid situations where they will have to speak in public.

Since we can't always avoid public speaking, the tips below can help you address your fears of public speaking.

Click the infographic thumbnail below for a downloadable version of the list.

Top Ten Tips for Reducing and Managing Speaking Anxiety

10. Remember, you are not alone. Public speaking anxiety is common, so don’t ignore it— confront it.

9. Remember, you can’t literally “die of embarrassment.” Audiences are forgiving and understanding

8. Remember, it always feels worse than it looks.

7. Take deep breaths. It releases endorphins, which naturally fight the adrenaline that causes anxiety.

6. Look the part. Dress professionally to enhance confidence.

5. Channel your nervousness into positive energy and motivation.

4. Start your outline and research early. Better information = higher confidence.

3. Practice and get feedback from a trusted source. (Don’t just practice for your cat.)

2. Visualize success through positive thinking.

1. Prepare, prepare, prepare! Practice is a speaker’s best friend.

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[i] Graham D. Bodie, “A Racing Heart, Rattling Knees, and Ruminative Thoughts: Defining, Explaining, and Treating Public Speaking Anxiety,” Communication Education 59, no. 1 (2010): 70.

[ii] Graham D. Bodie, “A Racing Heart, Rattling Knees, and Ruminative Thoughts: Defining, Explaining, and Treating Public Speaking Anxiety,” Communication Education 59, no. 1 (2010): 71.

Can Men and Women Be Friends?… Of Course they can!

Jun 7, 2013

Gender, Communication, and Friendship

Mars? Venus?… How about Earth.

You no doubt frequently hear people talking and writing about the “vast differences” between men and women. Whether it’s communication, athletic ability, expressing emotions, or perception, people will line up to say that women are one way and men are the other way.

Socialization Sets the Stage for Gender "Differences"

While it is true that gender affects our perception, the reason for this difference stems more from social norms than genetic, physical, or psychological differences between men and women. We are socialized to perceive differences between men and women, which leads us to exaggerate and amplify what differences there actually are.

We basically see the stereotypes and differences we are told to see, which helps to create a reality in which gender differences are “obvious.” However, numerous research studies have found that, especially in relation to multiple aspects of communication, men and women communicate much more similarly than differently.

Do Men and Women "Talk Different"?

Click the infographic to the left for a full size image.

Anecdotally, people say that different ways of talking presents a challenge for male-female friendships. Gender does affect how we use language, but not to the extent that most people think.

Although there is a widespread belief that men are more likely to communicate in a clear and straightforward way and women are more likely to communicate in an emotional and indirect way, a meta-analysis of research findings from more than two hundred studies found only small differences in the personal disclosures of men and women.[i]

Men and women’s levels of disclosure are even more similar when engaging in cross-gender communication, meaning men and woman are more similar when speaking to each other than when men speak to men or women speak to women. This could be due to the internalized pressure to speak about the other gender in socially sanctioned ways, in essence reinforcing the stereotypes when speaking to the same gender but challenging them in cross-gender encounters.

Gender and Expressing Emotions and Affection

So, if communication style isn't a big barrier for female-male friendships, what is?

Gender influences our friendships and has received much attention, as people try to figure out how different men and women’s friendships are.

There is a conception that men’s friendships are less intimate than women’s based on the stereotype that men do not express emotions. In fact, men report a similar amount of intimacy in their friendships as women but are less likely than women to explicitly express affection verbally (e.g., saying “I love you”) and non-verbally (e.g., through touching or embracing) toward their same-gender friends.

This is not surprising, given the societal taboos against same-gender expressions of affection, especially between men, even though an increasing number of men are more comfortable expressing affection toward other men and women. However, researchers have wondered if men communicate affection in more implicit ways that are still understood by the other friend.

Men may use shared activities as a way to express closeness—for example, by doing favors for each other, engaging in friendly competition, joking, sharing resources, or teaching each other new skills.[ii] Some scholars have argued that there is a bias toward viewing intimacy as feminine, which may have skewed research on men’s friendships.

While verbal expressions of intimacy through self-disclosure have been noted as important features of women’s friendships, activity sharing has been the focus in men’s friendships. This research doesn’t argue that one gender’s friendships are better than the other’s, and it concludes that the differences shown in the research regarding expressions of intimacy are not large enough to impact the actual practice of friendships.[iii]

Cross-Gender Friendships

Cross-gender friendships are friendships between a male and a female. These friendships diminish in late childhood and early adolescence as boys and girls segregate into separate groups for many activities and socializing, reemerge as possibilities in late adolescence, and reach a peak potential in the college years of early adulthood. Later, adults with spouses or partners are less likely to have cross-sex friendships than single people.[iv]

In any case, research studies have identified several positive outcomes of cross-gender friendships. Men and women report that they get a richer understanding of how the other gender thinks and feels.[v] It seems these friendships fulfill interaction needs not as commonly met in same-gender friendships. For example, men reported more than women that they rely on their cross-gender friendships for emotional support.[vi] Similarly, women reported that they enjoyed the activity-oriented friendships they had with men.[vii]

As is demonstrated through popular movies and television shows, sexual attraction presents a challenge in cross-gender heterosexual friendships. Even if the friendship does not include sexual feelings or actions, outsiders may view the relationship as sexual or even encourage the friends to become “more than friends.”

Aside from the pressures that come with sexual involvement or tension, the exaggerated perceptions of differences between men and women can hinder cross-gender friendships. However, if it were true that men and women are too different to understand each other or be friends, then how could any long-term partnership such as husband/wife, mother/son, father/daughter, or brother/sister be successful or enjoyable?

[i] Kathryn Dindia and Mike Allen, “Sex Differences in Self-disclosure: A Meta Analysis,” Psychological Bulletin112, no. 1 (1992): 106–24.

[ii] Rosemary Bleiszner and Rebecca G. Adams, Adult Friendship (Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1992), 69.

[iii] Michael Monsour, “Communication and Gender among Adult Friends,” in The Sage Handbook of Gender and Communication, eds. Bonnie J. Dow and Julia T. Wood (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2006), 63.

[iv] William K. Rawlins, Friendship Matters: Communication, Dialectics, and the Life Course (New York: Aldine De Gruyter, 1992), 182.

[v] Panayotis Halatsis and Nicolas Christakis, “The Challenge of Sexual Attraction within Heterosexuals’ Cross-Sex Friendship,” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 26, no. 6–7 (2009): 920.

[vi] Rosemary Bleiszner and Rebecca G. Adams, Adult Friendship (Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1992), 68.

[vii] Panayotis Halatsis and Nicolas Christakis, “The Challenge of Sexual Attraction within Heterosexuals’ Cross-Sex Friendship,” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 26, no. 6–7 (2009): 920.

Five Listening Tips for College Students:

Jun 1, 2013

Listening Success in the Classroom

As the infographic above notes, 400 first-year students were given a listening test before they started classes. At the end of that year, 49 percent of the students with low scores were on academic probation. Only 4 percent of those who scored high were.[i]

Listening Takes Work

Listening effectively isn’t something that just happens; it takes work on the part of students and teachers. One of the most difficult challenges for teachers is eliciting good listening behaviors from their students, and the method of instruction teachers use affects how a student will listen and learn.[ii]

Given that there are different learning styles, we know that to be effective teachers may have to find some way to appeal to each learning style. Although teachers often make this attempt, it is also not realistic or practical to think that this practice can be used all the time.

Therefore, students should also think of ways they can improve their listening competence, because listening is an active process that we can exert some control over.

5 Listening Tips for College Students

1. Be prepared to process challenging messages

You can use the internal dialogue strategy we discussed earlier to “mentally repair” messages that you receive to make them more listenable.[iii] For example, you might say, “It seems like we’ve moved on to a different main point now. See if you can pull out the subpoints to help stay on track.”

2. Act like a good listener

While I’m not advocating that you engage in pseudo-listening, engaging in active listening behaviors can help you listen better when you are having difficulty concentrating or finding motivation to listen.

Make eye contact with the instructor and give appropriate nonverbal feedback.

Students often take notes only when directed to by the instructor or when there is an explicit reason to do so (e.g., to recall information for an exam or some other purpose). Since you never know what information you may want to recall later, take notes even when it’s not required that you do so. As a caveat, however, do not try to transcribe everything your instructor says or includes on a PowerPoint, because you will likely miss information related to main ideas that is more important than minor details. Instead, listen for main ideas.

3. Be deliberate about where you sit

Figure out from where the instructor most frequently speaks and sit close to that area. Being able to make eye contact with an instructor facilitates listening, increases rapport, allows students to benefit more from immediacy behaviors, and minimizes distractions since the instructor is the primary stimulus within the student’s field of vision.

4. Know your learning style

Figure out your preferred learning style and adopt listening strategies that compliment it.

Take the Learning Styles Inventory survey at the following link to determine what your primary learning style is:

Personal Learning Style Quiz

 Do some research to identify specific listening/studying strategies that work well for your learning style.

5. Don't be hesitant about asking questions

Let your instructor know when you don’t understand something. Instead of giving a quizzical look that says “What?” or pretending you know what’s going on, let your instructor know when you don’t understand something. Instead of asking the instructor to simply repeat something, ask her or him to rephrase it or provide an example. When you ask questions, ask specific clarifying questions that request a definition, an explanation, or elaboration.

Question to Consider:

1. What are some listening challenges that you face in the classroom? What can you do to overcome them?

[i] Martha S. Conaway, “Listening: Learning Tool and Retention Agent,” in Improving Reading and Study Skills, eds. Anne S. Algier and Keith W. Algier (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1982).

[ii] Melissa L. Beall et al., “State of the Context: Listening in Education,” The International Journal of Listening 22 (2008): 124.

[iii] Donald L. Rubin, “Listenability = Oral-based Discourse + Considerateness,” in Perspectives on Listening, ed. Andrew D. Wolvin and Carolyn Gwynn Coakley (Norwood, NJ: Alex Publishing Corporation, 1993), 277.

How Do the Big Five Personality Traits Affect Your Communication?

May 29, 2013

I occasionally have potential employers of students I have taught or supervised call me to do “employment verifications” during which they ask general questions about the applicant. While they may ask a few questions about intellectual ability or academic performance, they typically ask questions that try to create a personality profile of the applicant. They basically want to know what kind of leader, coworker, and person he or she is. This is a smart move on their part, because our personalities greatly influence how we see ourselves in the world and how we perceive and interact with others, which affects our communication.

What is Personality?

Personality refers to a person’s general way of thinking, feeling, and behaving based on underlying motivations and impulses.[i] These underlying motivations and impulses form our personality traits.

Personality traits are “underlying,” but they are fairly enduring once a person reaches adulthood. That is not to say that people’s personalities do not change, but major changes in personality are not common unless they result from some form of trauma. Although personality scholars believe there are thousands of personalities, they all comprise some combination of the same few traits.

The Big Five Personality Traits

Much research has been done on personality traits, and the “Big Five” that are most commonly discussed are extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness.[ii] These five traits appear to be representative of personalities across cultures, and you can read more about what each of these traits entails below. If you are interested in how you rank in terms of personality traits, there are many online tests you can take. A Big Five test can be taken at the following website:

  • Extraversion. Refers to a person’s interest in interacting with others. People with high extraversion are sociable and often called “extroverts.” People with low extraversion are less sociable and are often called “introverts.”
  • Agreeableness. Refers to a person’s level of trustworthiness and friendliness. People with high agreeableness are cooperative and likeable. People with low agreeableness are suspicious of others and sometimes aggressive, which makes it more difficult for people to find them pleasant to be around.
  • Conscientiousness. Refers to a person’s level of self-organization and motivation. People with high conscientiousness are methodical, motivated, and dependable. People with low conscientiousness are less focused, less careful, and less dependable.
  • Neuroticism. Refers to a person’s level of negative thoughts regarding himself or herself. People high in neuroticism are insecure and experience emotional distress and may be perceived as unstable. People low in neuroticism are more relaxed, have less emotional swings, and are perceived as more stable.
  • Openness. Refers to a person’s willingness to consider new ideas and perspectives. People high in openness are creative and are perceived as open minded. People low in openness are more rigid and set in their thinking and are perceived as “set in their ways.”

Personality, Perception, Reality TV, and Communication

Scholarship related to personality serves many purposes, and some of them tie directly to perception. Corporations and television studios spend millions of dollars on developing personality profiles and personality testing. Corporations can make hiring and promotion decisions based on personality test results, which can save them money and time if they can weed out those who don’t “fit” the position before they get in the door and drain resources.

Television studios make casting decisions based on personality profiles because they know that certain personalities evoke strong and specific reactions from viewers. The reality television show Survivor has done more than one season where they bring back “Heroes and Villains,” which already indicates that the returning cast members made strong impressions on the show’s producers and audience members.

Think about the reality television stars that you love to root for, want to see lose, and can’t stand to look at or look away from. Shows like Celebrity Rehab intentionally cast fading stars who already have strong personalities and emotional and addiction issues in order to create the kind of human train wrecks that attract millions of viewers. So why does this work? It is likely that you have more in common with that reality TV star than you care to admit.

We tend to focus on personality traits in others that we feel are important to our own personality. What we like in ourselves, we like in others, and what we dislike in ourselves, we dislike in others.[iii] If you admire a person’s loyalty, then loyalty is probably a trait that you think you possess as well. If you work hard to be positive and motivated and suppress negative and unproductive urges within yourself, you will likely think harshly about those negative traits in someone else. After all, if you can suppress your negativity, why can’t they do the same? This way of thinking isn’t always accurate or logical, but it is common.

Hopefully now you have a better idea of how the Big Five personality traits can influence our communication.

[i] Steven McCornack, Reflect and Relate: An Introduction to Interpersonal Communication (Boston, MA: Bedford/St Martin’s, 2007), 95.

[ii] Robert R. McCrea, “Trait Psychology and Culture,” Journal of Personality 69, no. 6 (2001): 825.

[iii] Steven McCornack, Reflect and Relate: An Introduction to Interpersonal Communication (Boston, MA: Bedford/St Martin’s, 2007), 95.

5 Communication Concepts to Help Leaders During a Crisis

May 26, 2013

Laura M. Foote notes in a recent article in the Journal of Management Education that, “communication by leaders in the wake of a business crisis can frequently determine whether the crisis gets resolved quickly, escalates in severity, or becomes an opportunity to transform or strengthen the organization.”

In this article, I overview 5 communication concepts that can help leaders during a crisis. They are:

  1. Audience Analysis
  2. Public Speaking Skills
  3. Mindfulness
  4. Cognitive Flexibility
  5. Tolerance for Uncertainty

What is Crisis Communication?

Crisis communication is a fast-growing field of study within communication studies as many businesses and organizations realize the value in finding someone to prepare for potential crises, interact with stakeholders during a crisis, and assess crisis responses after they have occurred.

Crisis communication occurs as a result of a major event outside of normal expectations that:

  1. Has potential negative results
  2. Runs the risk of escalating in intensity
  3. May result in close media or government scrutiny
  4. Creates pressure for a timely and effective response[i]

Some examples of crises include natural disasters, management/employee misconduct, product tampering or failure, and workplace violence.

The need for crisis communication professionals is increasing, as various developments have made organizations more susceptible to crises.[ii] Since the 1990s, organizations have increasingly viewed their reputations as assets that must be protected. Whereas reputations used to be built on word-of-mouth communication and one-on-one relationships, technology, mass media, and now social media have made it easier for stakeholders to praise or question an organization’s reputation. A Facebook post or a Tweet can now turn into widespread consumer activism that organizations must be able to respond to quickly and effectively.

Concept 1: Audience Analysis: Stakeholders and Crisis Communication

Crisis communicators don’t just interact with the media; they communication with a variety of stakeholders. Stakeholders are the various audiences that have been identified as needing information during a crisis. These people and groups have a “stake” in the organization, the public interest, or as a user of a product or service. Internal stakeholders are people within an organization or focal area, such as employees and management. External stakeholders are people outside the organization or focal area such as customers, clients, media, regulators, and the general public.[iii] Foote notes in her article that leaders who delay their response while waiting on additional information can worry stakeholders, which escalates a crisis.

Concept 2: Public Speaking Skills

Crisis communicators must have good public speaking skills. Communicating during a crisis naturally increases anxiety, so it’s important that speakers have advanced skills at managing anxiety and apprehension.

In terms of delivery, while there will be times when impromptu responses are necessary—for example, during a question-and-answer period—manuscript or extemporaneous delivery are the best options.

It is also important that a crisis communicator be skilled at developing ethos, or credibility as a speaker. This is an important part of the preparatory stages of crisis communication when relationships are formed and reputations are established. The importance of ethos is related to the emphasis on honesty and disclosure over stonewalling and denial.

Concept 3: Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a state of self- and other-monitoring that informs later reflection on communication interactions. As mindful communicators we should ask questions that focus on the interactive process like “How is our communication going? What are my reactions? What are their reactions?” Being able to adapt our communication in the moment based on our answers to these questions is a skill that comes with a high level of communication competence. Reflecting on the communication encounter later to see what can be learned is also a way to build communication competence. We should then be able to incorporate what we learned into our communication frameworks, which requires cognitive flexibility.

Concept 4: Cognitive Flexibility

Cognitive flexibility refers to the ability to continually supplement and revise existing knowledge to create new categories rather than forcing new knowledge into old categories. Cognitive flexibility helps prevent our knowledge from becoming stale and also prevents the formation of stereotypes and can help us avoid prejudging an encounter or jumping to conclusions. To be better communicators, we should know much about others and ourselves and be able to reflect on and adapt our knowledge as we gain new experiences.

Motivation and knowledge can inform us as we gain new experiences, but how we feel in the moment of communication encounters is also important.

Concept 5: Tolerance for Uncertainty

Tolerance for uncertainty refers to an individual’s attitude about and level of comfort in uncertain situations.[iv] Some people perform better in uncertain situations than others, and crisis communication experiences inherently bring up uncertainty. Whether communicating with internal or external stakeholders during a crisis, we are often wondering what we should or shouldn’t do or say.

Situations of uncertainty most often become clearer as they progress, but the anxiety that an individual with a low tolerance for uncertainty feels may lead them to leave the situation or otherwise communicate in a less competent manner.

Individuals with a high tolerance for uncertainty may exhibit more patience, waiting on new information to become available or seeking out information, which may then increase the understanding of the situation and lead to a more successful outcome.[v]

Although each of these communication concepts corresponds to skills that must be developed over time, putting them to use in your everyday communication encounters should help better prepare you to use them when a crisis emerges.

[i] Alan Jay Zaremba, Crisis Communication: Theory and Practice (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharp, 2010), 20–22.

[ii] W. Timothy Coombs, Ongoing Crisis Communication: Planning, Managing, and Responding, 3rd ed. (Los Angeles, CA: Sage, 2012), 14.

[iii] Alan Jay Zaremba, Crisis Communication: Theory and Practice (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharp, 2010), 30–31.

[iv] Judith N. Martin and Thomas K. Nakayama, Intercultural Communication in Contexts, 5th ed. (Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill, 2010), 469.

[v] Margaret D. Pusch, “The Interculturally Competent Global Leader,” in The Sage Handbook of Intercultural Competence, ed. Darla K. Deardorff (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2009), 69.

Benghazi, the AP Phone Records Seizure, and the IRS Scandal:

May 21, 2013

Using Critical Listening Skills to Decode Political Spin

Three concurrent White House scandals

Over the past few weeks, the Obama administration has been at the center of several high profile scandals including the handling of the terrorist attack in Benghazi, the overreach of the IRS into political matters, and the Justice Department's interference with well established principles of the "freedom of the press." This has brought political communication to the forefront again, as politicians and spokespeople on multiple sides of each of these issues try to "spin" the media coverage in their favor. These scandals have also brought up references to Watergate, which harkens back to a more sinister, but less sophisticated time of political spin.

So, how can we use our critical listening and thinking skills to see through political spin in order to better evaluate the messages we receive about important issues like the three mentioned above?

The rise of political fact-checking

In just the past twenty years, the rise of political fact-checking occurred as a result of the increasingly sophisticated rhetoric of politicians and their representatives.[i] As political campaigns began to adopt communication strategies employed by advertising agencies and public relations firms, their messages became more ambiguous, unclear, and sometimes outright misleading.

While there are numerous political fact-checking sources now to which citizens can turn for an analysis of political messages, it is important that we are able to use our own critical-listening skills to see through some of the political spin that now characterizes politics in the United States.

The media's role in fact-checking

Since we get most of our political messages through the media rather than directly from a politician, the media is a logical place to turn for guidance on fact checking. Unfortunately, the media is often manipulated by political communication strategies as well.[ii]

Sometimes media outlets transmit messages even though a critical evaluation of the message shows that it lacks credibility, completeness, or worth. Journalists who engage in political fact-checking have been criticized for putting their subjective viewpoints into what is supposed to be objective news coverage. These journalists have fought back against what they call the norm of “false equivalence.”

False equivalence and two perspectives on journalism

  • One view of journalism sees the reporter as objective conveyers of political messages. This could be described as the “We report; you decide” brand of journalism.
  • Other reporters see themselves as “truth seekers.” In this sense, the journalists engage in some critical listening and evaluation on the part of the citizen, who may not have the time or ability to do so.

Michael Dobbs, who started the political fact-checking program at the Washington Post, says, “Fairness is preserved not by treating all sides of an argument equally, but through an independent, open-minded approach to the evidence.”[iii] He also notes that outright lies are much less common in politics than are exaggeration, spin, and insinuation.

Political spin and the gray area of communication ethics

This fact puts much of political discourse into an ethical gray area that can be especially difficult for even professional fact checkers to evaluate.

Instead of simple “true/false” categories, fact-checkers like the Washington Post issue evaluations such as “Half true, mostly true, half-flip, or full-flop” to political statements.

Although we all don’t have the time and resources to fact check all the political statements we hear, it may be worth employing some of the strategies used by these professional fact checkers on issues that are very important to us or have major implications for others.

Fact-checking resources

Some fact-checking resources include,, and the Washington Post's fact checking site.

The caution here for any critical listener is to be aware of our tendency to gravitate toward messages with which we agree and avoid or automatically reject messages with which we disagree. In short, it’s often easier for us to critically evaluate the messages of politicians with whom we disagree and uncritically accept messages from those with whom we agree. Exploring the fact-check websites above can help expose ourselves to critical evaluation that we might not otherwise encounter.

Questions to consider

1. One school of thought in journalism says it’s up to the reporters to convey information as it is presented and then up to the viewer/reader to evaluate the message. The other school of thought says that the reporter should investigate and evaluate claims made by those on all sides of an issue equally and to share their findings with viewers/readers. Which approach do you think is better and why?

2. All of the fact checking resources listed above currently have pages on the front page that fact check recent statements about Benghazi and the IRS scandal. To enhance your critical thinking, find one example that critiques a viewpoint, politician, or political party that you typically agree with and one that you disagree with. Discuss what you learned from the examples you found.

[i] Michael Dobbs, “The Rise of Political Fact-Checking,” New America Foundation (2012): 1.

[ii] Michael Dobbs, “The Rise of Political Fact-Checking,” New America Foundation (2012): 1.

[iii] Michael Dobbs, “The Rise of Political Fact-Checking,” New America Foundation (2012): 3.

Using Social Media to Track Hate:

May 16, 2013

Humbolt University, Twitter, and the Hate Map

This is the fourth article in a special week long series on "Social Media and Communication."

Social media is now being used in really interesting ways to study socio-demographics and even track the use of hate terms to create a composite of what areas are the "most hateful." A project at Humbolt State University has tracked the use of "hate terms" on Twitter and now has a public, interactive, map they call the "Geography of Hate." On this map, you can see the frequency of use of hate terms related to race, sexual orientation, and ability in any area in the United States.

This is yet another way that social media intersects with an important communication issue - hate speech, which I discuss in the chapter on verbal communication in my book, Communication in the Real World.

Defining Hate

Hate is a term that has many different meanings and can be used to communicate teasing, mild annoyance, or anger. The term hate, as it relates to hate speech, has a much more complex and serious meaning. Hate, in this context, refers to extreme negative beliefs and feelings toward a group or member of a group because of their race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or ability.[i]

The Difference Between Anger and Hate

We can get a better understanding of the intensity of hate by distinguishing it from anger, which is an emotion that we experience much more regularly.

  • First, anger is directed toward an individual, while hate is directed toward a social or cultural group.
  • Second, anger doesn’t prevent a person from having sympathy for the target of his or her anger, but hate erases sympathy for the target.
  • Third, anger is usually the result of personal insult or injury, but hate can exist and grow even with no direct interaction with the target. Fourth, anger isn’t an emotion that people typically find pleasure in, while hatred can create feelings of self-righteousness and superiority that lead to pleasure.
  • Last, anger is an emotion that usually dissipates as time passes, eventually going away, while hate can endure for much longer.[ii]

In short, hate speech is a verbal manifestation of this intense emotional and mental state.

How is Hate Speech Used

Hate speech is usually used by people who have a polarized view of their own group (the in-group) and another group (the out-group). Hate speech is then used to intimidate people in the out-group and to motivate and influence members of the in-group. Hate speech often promotes hate-based violence and is also used to solidify in-group identification and attract new members.[iii]

Perpetrators of hate speech often engage in totalizing, which means they define a person or a group based on one quality or characteristic, ignoring all others. A Lebanese American may be the target of hate speech because the perpetrators reduce him to a Muslim—whether he actually is Muslim or not would be irrelevant. Grouping all Middle-Eastern or "Arab-looking" people together is a dehumanizing activity that is typical to hate speech.

Hate Speech and the First Amendment

Incidents of hate speech and hate crimes have increased over the past fifteen years. Hate crimes, in particular, have gotten more attention due to the passage of more laws against hate crimes and the increased amount of tracking by various levels of law enforcement.

The Internet, and social media, have also made it easier for hate groups to organize and spread their hateful messages. As these changes have taken place over the past fifteen years, there has been much discussion about hate speech and its legal and constitutional implications. While hate crimes resulting in damage to a person or property are regularly prosecuted, it is sometimes argued that hate speech that doesn’t result in such damage is protected under the US Constitution’s First Amendment, which guarantees free speech.

In 2011, the Supreme Court found in the Snyder v. Phelps case that speech and actions of the members of the Westboro Baptist Church, who regularly protest the funerals of American soldiers with signs reading things like “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” and “Fag Sin = 9/11,” were protected and not criminal. Chief Justice Roberts wrote in the decision, "We cannot react to [the Snyder family's] pain by punishing the speaker. As a nation we have chosen a different course—to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate."[iv]

Questions to Consider:

  1. Do you think the First Amendment of the Constitution, guaranteeing free speech to US citizens, should protect hate speech? Why or why not?
  2. Visit the Southern Poverty Law Center's "Hate Map" to see what hate groups they have identified in your state. Are you surprised by the number/nature of the groups listed in your state? Briefly describe a group that you didn’t know about and identify the target of their hate and the reasons they give for their hate speech.

[i] Michael Waltman and John Haas, The Communication of Hate (New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing, 2011), 33.

[ii] Michael Waltman and John Haas, The Communication of Hate (New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing, 2011), 33–34.

[iii] Michael Waltman and John Haas, The Communication of Hate (New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing, 2011), 3.

[iv] "Regulation of Fighting Words and Hate Speech," Exploring Constitutional Conflicts, accessed June 7, 2012,

[v] “Hate Map,” Southern Poverty Law Center, accessed June 7, 2012,

How Do Different Generations Use Facebook?:

May 14, 2013

Intergenerational Communication and Social Media

Note: This is the third article in a week-long special series about "Social Media and Communication."

One of my graduate students recently completed her thesis project on how parents and their young adult children communicate on Facebook. The project was both timely and relevant given the rapid change in age demographics taking place on social media sites, Facebook in particular.

The following quote from a Time Magazine article served as the inspiration for the project: "There's no buzz kill quite like getting a friend request on Facebook from [your parents].” Basically, we wanted to interview parents and their young adult (18-22 years old) children to see how they communicate on Facebook.

Intergenerational Communication

Intergenerational communication, which is communication between people of different age groups, is a growing subfield of communication studies. For the first time since industrialization began, it is common to have three generations of people (and sometimes four) working side by side in an organizational setting. While this is a new development, the family unit has always been a primary place for intergenerational communication, and the parent-child relationship is probably the most studied intergenerational relationship.

Changing Demographics on Facebook

More generations are now using Facebook, which has been referred to as the "graying of Facebook." A few years ago, it was noted that sixteen-and-a-half million adults ages 55 and older engage in social networking, and that number is sure to be larger now. In fact, it has been stated the fastest-growing Facebook user group is women fifty-five and older, which is up more than 175 percent since fall 2008. The number of men, in that same age group, using Facebook has increased 138%.

Why Parents Join Facebook

While parents likely have multiple reasons for joining Facebook, some researchers have suggested that joining social networking sites (SNSs) is a good way for parents to stay connected, and even spy on their children. Parents may use Facebook as part of their parental monitoring, which would be a part of a helicopter parent's repertoire of monitoring strategies.

From a less sinister viewpoint, we can see that parents can discover information they may not otherwise have known about their children, and use it to spark discussions, either in person or through social media. Parents can also use Facebook to keep in contact with their children who have gone away for work or school.

The Effects of Intergenerational Communication on Facebook

I'm sure we've all heard or read about funny interactions between parents and their kids on Facebook. Although they are at times horrifying for the kids, the posts on sites like and others, and the stories told on those sites aren't very different from what parents and kids conveyed during their interviews with my graduate student.

For example, Molly, a 19 year old college student wasn't too excited about being friends with her mom on Facebook. And, after she accepted her mom's friend request, she stated: "my mom started blowing up my Facebook." Basically, Molly's mom was continually writing on Molly's wall, commenting on statuses, and "liking" her pictures. Molly eventually de-friended her mother, stating: "I don't see a point of parents getting on Facebook just to creep on their kids.”

While Molly's initial interactions with her mom on Facebook were negative, another daughter had a more positive experience. Callie believes that Facebook is a prime place to see her mother's true personality. Callie states: "It lets me see her personality more...I can see how she interacts with her friends, something I wouldn't necessarily see in person." In this sense, Facebook can help forge a stronger parent child bond.

There were many other interesting findings that came out of this study, but I will summarize a few below:

  • Although most of the young adults were not initially excited about being friends with a parent on Facebook, they eventually saw the benefits of it, especially around the age of 21 or 22.
  • Parents learned how to "read" their child's Facebook page and when to post and when to leave some distance, eventually getting better at balancing the tension between autonomy and connection.
  • Photo sharing was listed as a key benefit of Facebook for both parents and their children. But many of the young adults interviewed are selective about what photos they post because their parents are on Facebook or they use privacy settings to limit what their parents can see.
  • Facebook helps the parent and child experiment with boundary management which is a key part of this developmental period. The lessons learned through boundary management on Facebook can translate into offline life as well.

Other References:

Brandtzaeg, P.B., Luders, M., & Havard Skjetne, J. (2010). Too many facebook "friends”? Content sharing and socialability versus the need for privacy in social network sites. International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 26(11-12), 1006 – 1030.

Jackson, J. (2011). The graying of Facebook: Emerging adults and their parents as Facebook friends. Master's Thesis, Eastern Illinois University.

How Does Social Media Affect Our Relationships?:

May 12, 2013

Interpersonal Communication in the Digital Age

This is the second article in a week long special series about social media. Check out yesterday's article about Social Media, Digital Trails, and Your Reputation.


How does social media affect our interpersonal relationships, if at all? This is a question that has been addressed by scholars, commentators, and people in general. Social/New media have been the primary communication change of the past few generations, which likely accounts for the attention they receive. Some scholars in sociology have decried the negative effects of new technology on society and relationships in particular, saying that the quality of relationships is deteriorating and the strength of connections is weakening.[i]

Social Media Affects How We Use The Word "Friend"

Facebook greatly influenced our use of the word friend, although people’s conceptions of the word may not have changed as much. When someone “friends you” on Facebook, it doesn’t automatically mean that you now have the closeness and intimacy that you have with some offline friends. And research shows that people don’t regularly accept friend requests from or send them to people they haven’t met, preferring instead to have met a person at least once.[ii]

Some users, though, especially adolescents, engage in what is called “friend-collecting behavior,” which entails users friending people they don’t know personally or that they wouldn’t talk to in person in order to increase the size of their online network.[iii] This could be an impression management strategy, as the user may assume that a large number of Facebook friends will make him or her appear more popular to others.

Social Media Affects How We Think About Our Offline Social Networks

Although many have critiqued the watering down of the term friend when applied to SNSs (social networking sites), specifically Facebook, some scholars have explored how the creation of these networks affects our interpersonal relationships and may even restructure how we think about our relationships.

Even though a person may have hundreds of Facebook friends that he or she doesn’t regularly interact with on- or offline, just knowing that the network exists in a somewhat tangible form (catalogued on Facebook) can be comforting. Even the people who are distant acquaintances but are “friends” on Facebook can serve important functions.

Rather than Facebook users seeing these connections as pointless, frivolous, or stressful, they are often comforting background presences. A dormant network is a network of people with whom users may not feel obligated to explicitly interact but may find comfort in knowing the connections exist. Such networks can be beneficial, because when needed, a person may be able to more easily tap into that dormant network than they would an offline extended network. It’s almost like being friends on Facebook keeps the communication line open, because both people can view the other’s profile and keep up with their lives even without directly communicating. This can help sustain tenuous friendships or past friendships and prevent them from fading away, which is a common occurrence as we go through various life changes.

Social Media Affects How We Present Ourselves

A key part of interpersonal communication is impression management, and some forms of new media allow us more tools for presenting ourselves than others. Social networking sites (SNSs) in many ways are platforms for self-presentation. Even more than blogs, web pages, and smartphones, the environment on a SNS like Facebook and Twitter facilitates self-disclosure in a directed way and allows others who have access to our profile to see our other “friends.” This convergence of different groups of people (close friends, family, acquaintances, friends of friends, colleagues, and strangers) can present challenges for self-presentation.

Now we likely have people from personal, professional, and academic contexts in our Facebook network and the growing diversity of our social media networks creates new challenges as we try to engage in impression management.

Social Media Affects How Others Perceive Us

We should be aware that people form impressions of us based not just on what we post on our profiles but also on our friends and the content that they post on our profiles. In short, as in our offline lives, we are judged online by the company we keep.[vi] The difference is, though, that via Facebook a person (unless blocked or limited by privacy settings) can see our entire online social network and friends, which doesn’t happen offline.

Recent research found that a person’s perception of a profile owner’s attractiveness is influenced by the attractiveness of the friends shown on the profile. In short, a profile owner is judged more physically attractive when his or her friends are judged as physically attractive, and vice versa. The profile owner is also judged as more socially attractive (likeable, friendly) when his or her friends are judged as physically attractive.[vii]

Social Media Affects Our "Support Networks"

Aside from influencing how we are perceived by others, SNSs provide opportunities for social support. Research has found that Facebook communication behaviors such as “friending” someone or responding to a request posted on someone’s wall lead people to feel a sense of attachment and perceive that others are reliable and helpful.[viii]

Social Media Affects Relationship Maintenance Behaviors

Much of the research on Facebook, though, has focused on the less intimate alliances that we maintain through social media. Since most people maintain offline contact with their close friends and family, Facebook is more of a supplement to interpersonal communication. Since most people’s Facebook “friend” networks are composed primarily of people with whom they have less face-to-face contact in their daily lives, Facebook provides an alternative space for interaction that can more easily fit into a person’s busy schedule or interest area. For example, to stay connected, both people don’t have to look at each other’s profiles simultaneously. I often catch up on a friend by scrolling through a couple weeks of timeline posts rather than checking in daily.

The space provided by SNSs can also help reduce some of the stress we feel in regards to relational maintenance or staying in touch by allowing for more convenient contact. The expectations for regular contact with our Facebook friends who are in our extended network are minimal. An occasional comment on a photo or status update or an even easier click on the “like” button can help maintain those relationships.

Social Media Can Expand Our Perspective

These extended networks serve important purposes, one of which is to provide access to new information and different perspectives than those we may get from close friends and family. For example, since we tend to have significant others that are more similar to than different from us, the people that we are closest to are likely to share many or most of our beliefs, attitudes, and values.

Extended contacts, however, may expose us to different political views or new sources of information, which can help broaden our perspectives. The content in this posting hopefully captures what I’m sure you have already experienced in your own engagement with social/new media—that they have important implications for our interpersonal relationships.

[i] Kathleen Richardson and Sue Hessey, “Archiving the Self?: Facebook as Biography of Social and Relational Memory,” Journal of Information, Communication, and Ethics in Society 7, no. 1 (2009): 29.

[ii] Kathleen Richardson and Sue Hessey, “Archiving the Self?: Facebook as Biography of Social and Relational Memory,” Journal of Information, Communication, and Ethics in Society 7, no. 1 (2009): 32.

[iii] Emily Christofides, Amy Muise, and Serge Desmarais, “Hey Mom, What’s on Your Facebook? Comparing Facebook Disclosure and Privacy in Adolescents and Adults,” Social Psychological and Personality Science 3, no. 1 (2012): 51.

[vi] Joseph B. Walther, Brandon Van Der Heide, Sang-Yeon Kim, David Westerman, and Stephanie Tom Tong, “The Role of Friends’ Appearance and Behavior on Evaluations of Individuals on Facebook: Are We Known by the Company We Keep?” Human Communication Research 34 (2008): 29.

[vii] Joseph B. Walther, Brandon Van Der Heide, Sang-Yeon Kim, David Westerman, and Stephanie Tom Tong, “The Role of Friends’ Appearance and Behavior on Evaluations of Individuals on Facebook: Are We Known by the Company We Keep?” Human Communication Research 34 (2008): 41–45.

[viii] Jessica Vitak and Nicole B. Ellison, “‘There’s a Network Out There You Might as Well Tap’: Exploring the Benefits of and Barriers to Exchanging Informational and Support-Based Resources on Facebook,” New Media and Society (2013).

[ix] Jessica Vitak and Nicole B. Ellison, “‘There’s a Network Out There You Might as Well Tap’: Exploring the Benefits of and Barriers to Exchanging Informational and Support-Based Resources on Facebook,” New Media and Society (2013).

Does Your SnapChat Pic Really Get Deleted?:

May 11, 2013

Social Media, Digital Trails, and Your Reputation

This is the first posting in a "Special Week Long Series on Social Media and Communication" so make sure you check back for updates throughout the week! And don't forget to click "Share Article" below to quickly and easily post to Facebook, Twitter, or other social media sites!

Although social networking has long been a way to keep in touch with friends and colleagues, the advent of social media has made the process of making connections and those all-important first impressions much more complex. 

Just looking at Facebook as an example, we can clearly see that the very acts of constructing a profile, posting status updates, "liking" certain things, and sharing various information via Facebook features and apps is self-presentation.[i] People also form impressions based on the number of friends we have and the photos and posts that other people tag us in. All this information floating around can be difficult to manage. So how do we manage the impressions we make digitally given that there is a permanent record?

Research shows that people overall engage in positive and honest self-presentation on Facebook.[ii] Since people know how visible the information they post is, they may choose to only reveal things they think will form favorable impressions. But the mediated nature of Facebook also leads some people to disclose more personal information than they might otherwise in such a public or semipublic forum.

These hyperpersonal disclosures run the risk of forming negative impressions based on who sees them. In general, the ease of digital communication, not just on Facebook, has presented new challenges for our self-control and information management.

Sending someone a sexually provocative image used to take some effort before the age of digital cameras, but now "sexting" an explicit photo only takes a few seconds. So people who would have likely not engaged in such behavior before are more tempted to now, and it is the desire to present oneself as desirable or cool that leads people to send photos they may later regret.[iii]

In fact, new apps give people a little more control over the exchange of digital information. The app "SnapChat" allows users to send photos that will only be visible for a few seconds. Although this isn’t a guaranteed safety net, the demand for such apps is increasing, which illustrates the point that we all now leave digital trails of information that can be useful in terms of our self-presentation but can also create new challenges in terms of managing the information floating around from which others may form impressions of us.

Questions to Consider:

  1. What impressions do you want people to form of you based on the information they can see on your Facebook page?
  2. Have you ever used social media or the Internet to do “research” on a person? What things would you find favorable and unfavorable?
  3. Do you have any guidelines you follow regarding what information about yourself you will put online or not? If so, what are they? If not, why?

[i] Junghyun Kim and Jong-Eun Roselyn Lee, “The Facebook Paths to Happiness: Effects of the Number of Facebook Friends and Self-Presentation on Subjective Well-Being,” Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking 14, no. 6 (2011): 360.

[ii] Junghyun Kim and Jong-Eun Roselyn Lee, “The Facebook Paths to Happiness: Effects of the Number of Facebook Friends and Self-Presentation on Subjective Well-Being,” Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking 14, no. 6 (2011): 360.

[iii] Natalie DiBlasio, “Demand for Photo-Erasing iPhone App Heats up Sexting Debate,” USA Today, May 7, 2012, accessed June 6, 2012,

Update on Saturday, May 11, 2013 at 3:14PM by Richard G. Jones, Jr., Ph.D.

After I published this, I came across this recent story that explains that SnapChat files are deleted and it explains how.

How to Get Rid of Your Cable Bill:

May 8, 2013

Cord Cutting and the Online TV Generation

Cord Cutters and the New Challenge to Cable Television

For the past few years, cable companies have grown increasingly nervous about a new trend in television-viewing habits. The practice of cord cutting refers to people who cancel their cable television packages and rely on broadband Internet service and traditional broadcast television signals to watch the programming they used to receive through monthly cable subscriptions. Although the number of television households in the cord-cutter category increased by approximately one million in 2011, they still only account for about 5 percent of total television households.

Age as a demographic category is key to understanding this phenomenon. There is a generation of television viewers that grew up on free broadcast television, didn’t get cable or satellite when they became popular in the 1980s and 1990s, and still doesn’t pay for television and never will. Market analysts note that this segment of the market is elderly and will not be around for much longer.

Many baby boomers who saw the advent of cable and satellite and have long enjoyed the diverse programming their subscriptions offer view their monthly bills as a standard utility and will likely continue subscribing until they die.

Generation Xers, who are currently in their thirties and forties, are caught in the middle. Many of these people are technologically savvy and know how to access (and occasionally do access) online television and movies. Many of them may also find their monthly cable or satellite bills annoying but acceptable. This group of people will likely keep their subscriptions as well, out of convenience, but could be tempted to cut the cord if they hit a financial hardship and/or the process of going to an online-only viewing model became easier.

Last, we have a generation of people who are in college or are recent graduates who happen to be coming of age during a harsh economic crisis. They have also spent much of their lives watching online videos, television shows, and movies. The thought of committing to a monthly cable or satellite bill that would likely run them upwards of $100 a month when money is tight and they know how to access their entertainment elsewhere doesn’t sound like a winning proposition.

In a time when we can get unlimited streaming on Netflix and Hulu Plus for about $8 a month each, a la carte access to programs through iTunes or Amazon Streaming, or illegal downloads of shows through torrent services, cable and satellite have to face challenges that many of us couldn’t have imagined just ten years ago.

Even though 98 percent of television viewing still occurs through traditional means (cable, satellite, broadcast, or telephone company), 9 percent of US Americans have cut the cord to rely only on online viewing content, and an additional 11 percent are considering doing the same, which points to the fact that this practice is only going to increase over the coming years.

Luckily for the cable and satellite companies, many subscribers don’t cut their services completely, since they may also rely on the company to provide the Internet access they need to switch to online-only viewing.

Questions to Consider:

  1. How do you access your television shows and movies? What is your preferred way? How do you think your age group/generation feels about monthly cable/satellite subscriptions?
  2. Do you think cable and satellite companies have a future in providing television programming? Why or why not? As we have learned in this chapter already, many forms of media have to adapt as technologies change and competition increases. How might cable and satellite adapt to these changing forces?

Jason Collins' Coming Out

May 5, 2013

Brings Attention to Verbal Communication and Sexual Orientation

When Jason Collins, a current NBA player, announced via a Sports Illustrated story that he is gay, he reportedly became the first male professional sports player in the United States to "come out" while actively playing. Since that time, news stories have covered his coming out, commented on the state of homophobia in professional sports, and commented on the media coverage of such high profile self-outings. Communication scholars have addressed issues of sexuality in sports over recent years as well. For example, a 2009 article titled: "‘Have You Got Game?’ Hegemonic Masculinity and Neo-Homophobia in U.S. Newspaper Sports Columns" explores, in detail, how sports columnists covered John Amaechi's (a former NBA player) 2007 coming out.

Communicating about identity and difference is complicated and often uncomfortable. My chapter on verbal communication, in Communication in the Real World, discusses strategies for communicating about race, gender, age, sexual orientation, and ability.

Verbal Communication and Sexual Orientation

Discussions of sexual and affectional orientation range from everyday conversations to contentious political and personal debates. The negative stereotypes that have been associated with homosexuality, including deviance, mental illness, and criminal behavior, continue to influence our language use.[i]

Terminology related to gay, lesbian, and bisexual (GLB) people can be confusing, so let’s spend some time raise our awareness about labels.

First, sexual orientation is the term preferred to sexual preference. Preference suggests a voluntary choice, as in someone has a preference for cheddar or American cheese, which doesn’t reflect the experience of most GLB people or research findings that show sexuality is more complex.

You may also see affectional orientation included with sexual orientation because it acknowledges that GLB relationships, like heterosexual relationships, are about intimacy and closeness (affection) that is not just sexually based.

Most people also prefer the labels gay, lesbian, or bisexual to homosexual, which is clinical and doesn’t so much refer to an identity as a sex act.

Language regarding romantic relationships contains bias when heterosexuality is assumed. Keep in mind that individuals are not allowed to marry someone of the same gender in most states in the United States. For example, if you ask a gay man who has been in a committed partnership for ten years if he is "married or single," how should he answer that question?

Comments comparing GLB people to "normal" people, although possibly intended to be positive, reinforces the stereotype that GLB people are abnormal.

Don’t presume you can identify a person’s sexual orientation by looking at them or talking to them. Don’t assume that GLB people will "come out" to you. Given that many GLB people have faced and continue to face regular discrimination, they may be cautious about disclosing their identities. However, using gender neutral terminology like "partner" and avoiding other biased language mentioned previously may create a climate in which a GLB person feels comfortable disclosing his or her sexual orientation identity.

Conversely, the casual use of phrases like "that’s gay" to mean "that's stupid" may create an environment in which GLB people do not feel comfortable. Even though people don’t often use the phrase to actually refer to sexual orientation, campaigns like try to educate people about the power that language has and how we should all be more conscious of the words we use.

[i] “Supplemental Material: Writing Clearly and Concisely,” American Psychological Association, accessed June 7, 2012,

How to Tell When People Are Lying:

May 1, 2013

It's Not as Easy as You Think

Unlike Pinocchio, we don't have a dead giveaway that signals we are lying.

The research on deception and nonverbal communication indicates that the heightened arousal and increased cognitive demands that occur during deception contribute to the presence of nonverbal behaviors that many people associate with lying. This is referred to as "nonverbal leakage."

Remember, however, that these nonverbal behaviors are not solely related to deception and also manifest as a result of other emotional or cognitive states. Additionally, when people are falsely accused of deception, the signs that they exhibit (as a result of the stress of being falsely accused) are very similar to the signals exhibited by people who are actually engaging in deception.

There are common misconceptions about what behaviors are associated with deception. Behaviors mistakenly linked to deception include longer response times, slower speech rates, decreased eye contact, increased body movements, excessive swallowing, and less smiling. None of these have consistently been associated with deception. [i]

Additionally, people also tend to give more weight to nonverbal than verbal cues when evaluating the truthfulness of a person or her or his message. This predisposition can lead us to focus on nonverbal cues while overlooking verbal signals of deception. A large study found that people were better able to detect deception by sound alone than they were when exposed to both auditory and visual cues.

So, aside from looking for nonverbal cues of deception, also listen for inconsistencies in or contradictions between statements.

The following are some nonverbal signals that have been associated with deception in research studies, but be cautious about viewing these as absolutes since individual and contextual differences should also be considered. [ii]

Gestures. One of the most powerful associations between nonverbal behaviors and deception is the presence of adaptors. Self-touches like wringing hands and object-adaptors like playing with a pencil or messing with clothing have been shown to correlate to deception. Some highly experienced deceivers, however, can control the presence of adaptors.

Eye contact. Deceivers tend to use more eye contact when lying to friends, perhaps to try to increase feelings of immediacy or warmth, and less eye contact when lying to strangers. A review of many studies of deception indicates that increased eye blinking is associated with deception, probably because of heightened arousal and cognitive activity.

Facial expressions. People can intentionally use facial expressions to try to deceive, and there are five primary ways that this may occur. People may show feelings that they do not actually have, show a higher intensity of feelings than they actually have, try to show no feelings, try to show less feelings than they actually have, or mask one feeling with another.

Vocalics. One of the most common nonverbal signs of deception is speech errors. Verbal fillers and other speech disfluencies are studied as part of vocalics; examples include false starts, stutters, and fillers. Studies also show that an increase in verbal pitch is associated with deception and is likely caused by heightened arousal and tension.

Chronemics. Speech turns are often thought to correspond to deception, but there is no consensus among researchers as to the exact relationship. Most studies reveal that deceivers talk less, especially in response to direct questions.

Question To Consider:

1. Studies show that people engage in deception much more than they care to admit. Do you consider yourself a good deceiver? Why or why not? Which, if any, of the nonverbal cues discussed do you think help you deceive others or give you away?

[i] Peter A. Andersen, Nonverbal Communication: Forms and Functions (Mountain View, CA: Mayfield, 1999), 296.

[ii] Peter A. Andersen, Nonverbal Communication: Forms and Functions (Mountain View, CA: Mayfield, 1999), 284.

Why Do People Cheat?:

Apr 25, 2013

Infidelity, Jealousy, and the Dark Side of Relationships

In interpersonal communication, we have a fancy term for cheating - extradyadic romantic activity (ERA). Since most romantic relationships involve two people, they are considered dyadic. So, extradyadic, means that one person is going outiside the primary dyad for romantic activity, which includes sexual and/or emotional activity.

Given that most romantic couples aim to have sexually exclusive relationships, ERA is commonly referred to as cheating or infidelity and viewed as destructive and wrong. Despite this common sentiment, ERA is not a rare occurrence. Comparing data from more than fifty research studies shows that about 30 percent of people report that they have cheated on a romantic partner, and there is good reason to assume that the actual number is higher than that.[i]

Although views of what is considered “cheating” vary among cultures and individual couples, sexual activity outside a primary partnership equates to cheating for most. Emotional infidelity is more of a gray area. While some individuals who are secure in their commitment to their partner may not be bothered by their partner’s occasional flirting, others consider a double-glance by a partner at another attractive person a violation of the trust in the relationship.

You only have to watch a few episodes of The Jerry Springer Show to see how actual or perceived infidelity can lead to jealousy, anger, and potentially violence. While research supports the general belief that infidelity leads to conflict, violence, and relational dissatisfaction, it also shows that there is a small percentage of relationships that are unaffected or improve following the discovery of infidelity.[ii] This again shows the complexity of the dark side of relationships.

The increase in technology and personal media has made extradyadic relationships somewhat easier to conceal, since smartphones and laptops can be taken anywhere and people can communicate to fulfill emotional and/or sexual desires.

In some cases, this may only be to live out a fantasy and may not extend beyond electronic communication. But is sexual or emotional computer-mediated communication considered cheating? You may recall the case of former Congressman Anthony Weiner, who resigned his position in the US House of Representatives after it was discovered that he was engaging in sexually explicit communication with people using Twitter, Facebook, and e-mail. The view of this type of communication as a dark side of relationships is evidenced by the pressure put on Weiner to resign.

So what leads people to engage in ERA? Generally, ERA is triggered by jealousy, sexual desire, or revenge.[iii]


Jealousy is a complicated part of the emotional dark side of interpersonal relationships. Jealousy may also motivate or justify ERA. Let’s take the following case as an example. Julie and Mohammed have been together for five years. Mohammed’s job as a corporate communication consultant involves travel to meet clients and attend conferences. Julie starts to become jealous when she meets some of Mohammed’s new young and attractive coworkers. Julie’s jealousy builds as she listens to Mohammed talk about the fun he had with them during his last business trip. The next time Mohammed goes out of town, Julie has a one-night-stand and begins to drop hints about it to Mohammed when he returns. In this case, Julie is engaging in counterjealousy induction—meaning she cheated on Mohammed in order to elicit in him the same jealousy she feels. She may also use jealousy as a justification for her ERA, claiming that the jealous state induced by Mohammed’s behavior caused her to cheat.

Sexual Desire

Sexual desire can also motivate or be used to justify ERA. Individuals may seek out sexual activity to boost their self-esteem or prove sexual attractiveness. In some cases, sexual incompatibility with a partner such as different sex drives or sexual interests can motivate or be used to justify ERA. Men and women may seek out sexual ERA for the thrill of sexual variety, and affairs can have short-term positive effects on emotional states as an individual relives the kind of passion that often sparks at the beginning of a relationship.[iv]

However, the sexual gratification and emotional exhilaration of an affair can give way to a variety of negative consequences for psychological and physical health. In terms of physical health, increased numbers of sexual partners increases one’s risk for contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and may increase the chance for unplanned pregnancy. While sexual desire is a strong physiological motive for ERA, revenge is a strong emotional motive.


Engaging in ERA to get revenge may result from a sense of betrayal by a partner and a desire to get back at them. In some cases, an individual may try to make the infidelity and the revenge more personal by engaging in ERA with a relative, friend, or ex of their partner. In general, people who would engage in this type of behavior are predisposed to negative reciprocity as a way to deal with conflict and feel like getting back at someone is the best way to get justice.

"Take Away Message"

Whether it is motivated by jealousy, sexual desire, or revenge, ERA has the potential to stir up emotions from the dark side of relationships. Emotionally, anxiety about being “found out” and feelings of guilt and shame by the person who had the affair may be met with feelings of anger, jealousy, or betrayal from the other partner.

[i] Melissa Ann Tafoya and Brian H. Spitzberg, “The Dark Side of Infidelity: Its Nature, Prevalence, and Communicative Functions,” in The Dark Side of Interpersonal Communication, eds. Brian H. Spitzberg and William R. Cupach (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2007), 207.

[ii] Brian H. Spitzberg and William R. Cupach, “Disentangling the Dark Side of Interpersonal Communication,” in The Dark Side of Interpersonal Communication, eds. Brian H. Spitzberg and William R. Cupach (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2007), 16.

[iii] Melissa Ann Tafoya and Brian H. Spitzberg, “The Dark Side of Infidelity: Its Nature, Prevalence, and Communicative Functions,” in The Dark Side of Interpersonal Communication, eds. Brian H. Spitzberg and William R. Cupach (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2007), 227.

[iv] Abraham P. Buunk and Pieternel Dijkstra, “Temptation and Threat: Extradyadic Relations and Jealousy,” in The Cambridge Handbook of Personal Relationships, eds. Anita L. Vangelisti and Daniel Perlman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 540.

How to Communicate with Your Boss:

Apr 22, 2013

Upward Communication in Business Contexts

Upward communication includes speeches, proposals, or briefings that are directed at audience members who hold higher positions in the organizational hierarchy than the sender. Upward communication is usually the most lacking within an organization, so it's important to take advantage of the opportunity and use it to your advantage.[i]

Upward messages usually function to inform supervisors about the status or results of projects. They can also allow employees to provide suggestions for improvement, which can help people feel included in the organizational process and lead to an increased understanding and acceptance of management decisions.[ii]

So how do we adapt messages for upward communication?

The "executive summary" is a form of upward communication adapted to fit executives' tight schedules and preference for concise, relevant information. Executive summaries are usually first produced in written form and then later conveyed orally during a meeting or briefing. You should build some repetition and redundancy into an oral presentation of an executive summary, but you do not need such repetition in the written version. This allows you to emphasize a main idea while leaving some of the supporting facts out of an oral presentation.

If an executive or supervisor leaves a presentation with a clear understanding of the main idea, the supporting material and facts will be meaningful when they are reviewed later. However, leaving a presentation with facts but not the main idea may result in the need for another presentation or briefing, which costs an organization time and money. Even when such a misunderstanding is due to the executives’ poor listening skills, it will likely be the employee who is blamed.

Employees want to be seen as competent, and demonstrating oral communication skills is a good way to be noticed and show off your technical and professional abilities.[iii] Presentations are "high visibility tasks" that establish a person’s credibility when performed well.[iv] Don’t take advantage of this visibility to the point that you perform only for the boss or focus on him or her at the expense of other people in the audience.

Do, however, tailor your message to the "language of executives." Executives and supervisors often have a more macro perspective of an organization and may be concerned with how day-to-day tasks match with the mission and vision of the organization. So making this connection explicit in your presentation can help make your presentation stand out.

Be aware of organizational hierarchy and territory when speaking to executives and supervisors. Steering into terrain that is under someone else’s purview can get you in trouble if that person guards his or her territory.[v] For example, making a suggestion about marketing during a presentation about human resources can ruffle the marketing manager’s feathers and lead to negative consequences for you.

Also be aware that it can be challenging to deliver bad news to a boss. When delivering bad news, frame it in a way that highlights your concern for the health of the organization. An employee’s reluctance to discuss problems with a boss leads to more risk for an organization.[vi] The sooner a problem is known, the better for the organization.

Question to Consider:

Think of a recent instance in which you engaged in upward communication and it didn't go as well as you wanted? Could any of the suggestions above have helped?

[i] Ralph G. Nichols and Leonard A. Stevens, “Listening to People,” in Harvard Business Review on Effective Communication (Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 1999), 15.

[ii] Robert B. Adler and Jeanne Marquardt Elmhorst, Communicating at Work: Principles and Practices for Businesses and the Professions, 8th ed. (Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill, 2005), 15.

[iii] Fernando Bartolome, “Nobody Trusts the Boss Completely—Now What?” in Harvard Business Review on Effective Communication (Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 1999), 92.

[iv] Rick Weinholdt, “Taking the Trauma Out of the Talk,” The Information Management Journal, 40, no. 6 (2006): 62.

[v] Michael B. McCaskey, “The Hidden Messages Managers Send,” in Harvard Business Review on Effective Communication (Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 1999), 128.

[vi] Fernando Bartolome, “Nobody Trusts the Boss Completely—Now What?” in Harvard Business Review on Effective Communication (Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 1999), 81.

Persuasive Speaking and Aristotle's Ethos, Logos and Pathos

Apr 20, 2013

Ethos, logos, and pathos were Aristotle’s three forms of rhetorical proof, meaning they were primary to his theories of persuasion.


Ethos refers to the credibility of a speaker and includes three dimensions: competence, trustworthiness, and dynamism. Competence refers to the perception of a speaker’s expertise in relation to the topic being discussed. A speaker can enhance their perceived competence by presenting a speech based in solid research and that is well organized and practiced.

Trustworthiness refers to the degree that audience members perceive a speaker to be presenting accurate, credible information in a nonmanipulative way. Perceptions of trustworthiness come from the content of the speech and the personality of the speaker. In terms of content, trustworthy speakers consider the audience throughout the speech-making process, present information in a balanced way, do not coerce the audience, cite credible sources, and follow the general principles of communication ethics. In terms of personality, trustworthy speakers are also friendly and warm.

Dynamism refers to the degree to which audience members perceive a speaker to be outgoing and animated. Two components of dynamism are charisma and energy. Charisma refers to a mixture of abstract and concrete qualities that make a speaker attractive to an audience. Charismatic people usually know they are charismatic because they’ve been told that in their lives, and people have been attracted to them. In short, dynamic speakers develop credibility through their delivery skills. Unfortunately, charisma is difficult to intentionally develop, and some people seem to have a naturally charismatic personality, while others do not. Even though everyone can’t embody the charismatic aspect of dynamism, the other component of dynamism, energy, is something that everyone can tap into. Communicating enthusiasm for your topic and audience by presenting relevant content and using engaging delivery strategies such as vocal variety and eye contact can increase your dynamism.


Logos refers to the reasoning or logic of an argument. The presence of fallacies would obviously undermine a speaker’s appeal to logos. Speakers employ logos by presenting credible information as supporting material and verbally citing their sources during their speech. Carefully choosing supporting material that is verifiable, specific, and unbiased can help a speaker appeal to logos. Speakers can also appeal to logos by citing personal experience and providing the credentials and/or qualifications of sources of information.


Pathos refers to emotional appeals. Aristotle was suspicious of too much emotional appeal, yet this appears to have become more acceptable in public speaking. Stirring emotions in an audience is a way to get them involved in the speech, and involvement can create more opportunities for persuasion and action. Intentionally stirring people’s emotions to get them involved in a message that has little substance would be unethical. Yet speakers who are skilled at evoking emotions have taken advantage of this skill to get people to support causes, buy products, or engage in behaviors that they might not otherwise.

Effective speakers should use emotional appeals that are also logically convincing, since audiences may be suspicious of a speech that is solely based on emotion. Emotions lose their persuasive effect more quickly than other types of persuasive appeals. Since emotions are often reactionary, they fade relatively quickly when a person is removed from the provoking situation.

Emotional appeals are also difficult for some because they require honed delivery skills and the ability to use words powerfully and dramatically. The ability to use vocal variety, cadence, and repetition to rouse an audience’s emotion is not easily attained. Think of how stirring Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech was due to his ability to evoke the emotions of the audience. Dr. King used powerful and creative language in conjunction with his vocalics to deliver one of the most famous speeches in our history.

In summary, ideally, speakers should strive to appeal to ethos, logos, and pathos within a speech. A speech built primarily on ethos might lead an audience to think that a speaker is full of himself or herself. A speech full of facts and statistics appealing to logos would result in information overload. Speakers who rely primarily on appeals to pathos may be seen as overly passionate, biased, or unable to see other viewpoints.


Should Doctors and Patients Be Facebook Friends?:

Apr 14, 2013

The Intersections of Social Media and Medicine

A recent story reviews several new reports that recommend doctors engage with social media cautiously. This is just one in a series of recent stories in USA Today, Forbes, and other outlets. These stories are in reaction to a recent position paper published in the prestigious journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

This is the first big step in the medical community toward offering recommendations about health care provider - patient interactions via social media. The paper is called: "Online Medical Professionalism: Patient and Public Relationships" and it offers some of the following recommendations:

  • Not "friending" or connecting with patients on social media
  • Not using text messaging for medical interactions, unless doctors exercise extreme caution and have consent from the patient
  • Being cautious of what material doctors post and what online content is attributed to them
  • Encouraging education programs that take a pro-active approach to [medical professionals'] digital image or online reputation

The obvious positives of doctor - patient interactions via social media include ease of contact, which can allow patients to get advice sooner than later, since many of us postpone going to the doctor. Doctors can also provide useful links to credible medical information that patients can access, which may be more reliable than the information patients find while doing their own internet "research." After all, about 25% of the Google search results for "headache" discuss brain tumors.

There are obvious negatives as well. The blurring of lines between professional and personal can lead doctors and patients into ethical gray areas.Another recent news story reported that the most common violation of professional ethics is doctors asking their patients out on dates via online dating sites or social media. I was actually surprised by this, but medical boards are taking it seriously, with over half of the cases leading to serious punishment including revoking medical licenses, and the results of the study being published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Questions to Consider:

  • What other positives and negatives of doctor-patient interactions via social media can you think of?
  • Would you be open to communicating with your health care providers via social media? Why or why not?

Plagiarism in College:

Apr 13, 2013

How to Avoid Academic Dishonesty when Researching and Writing

During the process of locating and incorporating supporting material into your speech or paper, it’s important to practice good research skills to avoid intentional or unintentional plagiarism.

Plagiarism, as we have already learned, is the uncredited use of someone else’s words or ideas. It’s important to note that most colleges and universities have strict and detailed policies related to academic honesty. You should be familiar with your school’s policy and your instructor’s policy. At many schools, there are consequences for academic dishonesty whether it is intentional or unintentional. Although many schools try to make a learning opportunity out of an initial violation, multiple violations could lead to suspension or expulsion. At the class level, plagiarism may result in an automatic “F” for the assignment or the course.

Over my years of teaching, I have encountered more numerous cases of plagiarism. While it is not a large percentage in relation to the large number of students I have taught, I have noticed that the instances have steadily increased over the past few years. I don’t think this is because students are becoming more dishonest; I think it’s become easier to locate and copy information and easier to catch those who do.

I always remind my students that they do not have access to a secret version of the Internet that faculty can’t access. If it takes a student five seconds to find content to plagiarize online, it will take me the same amount of time. Software programs like also aid instructors in detecting plagiarism.

Being organized and thorough in your research can help avoid a situation where you feel backed into a corner and fake some sources or leave out some citations because you’re out of time. One key to avoiding this type of situation is to keep good records as you research and write.

First, as you locate sources, always record all the key bibliographic information. I know from experience how frustrating it can be to try to locate a source after you’ve already worked it into your speech or paper, and you have the quote or paraphrase but can’t retrace your steps to find where you took it from. Printing the source, downloading the PDF, or copying and pasting the URL as soon as you locate the source can help you retrace your steps if needed.

Save drafts of your writing as you progress. Each day that I work on a writing project I go to the “File” menu, choose “Save As,” and amend the file name to include that day’s date. That way I have a record that shows my work.

The various style guides for writing also offer specific advice on how to cite sources and how to conduct research. You are probably familiar with MLA (Modern Language Association), used mostly in English and the humanities, and APA (American Psychological Association), which is used mostly in the social sciences. There’s also the Chicago Manual of Style (CMS), used in history and also the style my book is in, and CBE (developed by the Council of Science Editors), which is used in biological and earth sciences. Since each manual is geared toward a different academic area, it’s a good source for specific research-related questions.

When in doubt about how to conduct or cite research, you can also ask your instructor for guidance.

Questions to Consider:

  • 1. Why do you think instances of academic dishonesty have been steadily increasing over the past few years?
  • 2. What is your school’s policy in academic honesty? What is your instructor’s policy? What are the potential consequences for violating this policy at the school and classroom levels?
  • 3. Based on what you learned here, what are some strategies you can employ to make your research process more organized?

Lessons in Gender and Communication from Sheryl Sandberg's "Lean In":

Apr 11, 2013

Do Women and Men Communicate Differently?

You have likely heard of Sheryl Sandberg's new book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Win. In short, the book, according to a NPR story, "critiques the lack of women in top leadership positions in business, government and beyond" and the author "advises women to 'lean in' to their careers, embracing ambition and resisting the tendency to hold back due to actual and anticipated challenges in negotiating work-life balance." As I note later in this post, research has found that men tend to lean in more during interactions than women, but, what does this mean?

Well, Sandberg's "critiques" have garnered their own criticisms. One of the critiques I heard was Maureen Corrigan's review in NPR's Fresh Air. She stated: "Most of the book is kind of blah, composed of platitudinous-corporate-speak-intermixed-with-pallid-anecdotes." While I have not read Sandberg's book, the general premise and the conversations it has spurred connect to much of what I write about in my textbook, Communication in the Real World, about gender and communication.

Although gender stereotypes are perpetuated in the media and public discourse and internalized by many people, men and women actually communicate much more similarly than differently. The book Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus makes it seem like men and women aren’t even species that hail from the same planet. The media is quick to include a blurb from a research study indicating again how men and women are “wired” to communicate differently. However, the overwhelming majority of current research on gender and communication finds that while there are differences between how men and women communicate, there are far more similarities.[ii]

Even the language we use to describe the genders sets up dichotomies. That’s why I suggest that my students use the term "other gender instead of the commonly used opposite sex. I have a mom, a sister, and plenty of female friends, and I don’t feel like any of them are the opposite of me. Perhaps a better title for a book would be Women and Men Are Both from Earth.

Gender and communication scholar Kathryn Dindia contests the notion that men and women are from different planets and instead uses another analogy. She says men are from South Dakota and women are from North Dakota. Although the states border each other and are similar in many ways, state pride and in-group identifications lead the people of South Dakota to perceive themselves to be different from the people of North Dakota and vice versa. But if we expand our perspective and take the position of someone from California or Illinois, North Dakotans and South Dakotas are pretty much alike.[i]

This comparison is intended to point out that in our daily lives we do experience men and women to be fairly different, but when we look at the differences between men and women compared to the differences between humans and other creatures, men and women are much more similar than different. For example, in terms of nonverbal communication, men and women all over the world make similar facial expressions and can recognize those facial expressions in one another. We use similar eye contact patterns, gestures, and, within cultural groups, have similar notions of the use of time and space.

As I reiterate throughout my book, it’s important to understand how gender influences communication, but it’s also important to remember that in terms of communication, men and women are about 99 percent similar and 1 percent different. Of course this doesn't change the fact that the value we place on men and women in our society does differ and that sexism and patriarchy are still very real parts of our culture.

Research has found some general differences in the communication between men and women, but, again, these are generalizations that can be informative; however, they don't apply to everyone and we shouldn't expect them to.


  • Women use more gestures in regular conversation than do men, but men tend to use larger gestures than women when they do use them.
  • Men are, however, more likely to use physical adaptors like restless foot and hand movements, probably because girls are socialized to avoid such movements because they are not “ladylike.”


  • Men are more likely to lean in during an interaction than are women.
  • Women are more likely to have a face-to-face body orientation while interacting than are men.

Women’s tendency to use a face-to-face body orientation influences the general conclusion that women are better at sending and receiving nonverbal messages than men. Women’s more direct visual engagement during interactions allows them to take in more nonverbal cues, which allows them to better reflect on and more accurately learn from experience what particular nonverbal cues mean in what contexts.

These are just some of the insights that decades of gender and communication scholars have found, but unfortunately, the public and the press prefer to talk about sensationalist books that pander to stereotypical views of men and women from different planets.

[i] Brenda J. Allen, Difference Matters: Communicating Social Identity, 2nd ed. (Long Grove, IL: Waveland, 2011), 55.

[ii] Peter A. Andersen, Nonverbal Communication: Forms and Functions (Mountain View, CA: Mayfield, 1999), 106.

Digital Natives and Media Multitasking:

Apr 8, 2013

Should Students Be Able to Use Laptops in Class?

Media multitasking specifically refers to the use of multiple forms of media at the same time, and it can have positive and negative effects on listening.[i] The negative effects of media multitasking have received much attention in recent years, as people question the decreasing attention span within our society. Media multitasking may promote inefficiency, because it can lead to distractions and plays a prominent role for many in procrastination. The numerous options for media engagement that we have can also lead to a feeling of chaos as our attention is pulled in multiple directions, creating a general sense of disorder. And many of us feel a sense of enslavement when we engage in media multitasking, as we feel like we can’t live without certain personal media outlets.

Media multitasking can also give people a sense of control, as they use multiple technologies to access various points of information to solve a problem or complete a task. An employee may be able to use her iPad to look up information needed to address a concern raised during a business meeting. She could then e-mail that link to the presenter, who could share it with the room through his laptop and a LCD projector.

Media multitasking can also increase efficiency, as people can carry out tasks faster. The links to videos and online articles that I included in my book, Communication in the Real World, allow readers to quickly access additional information about a particular subject to prepare for a presentation or complete a paper assignment.

Media multitasking can also increase engagement. Aside from just reading material in a textbook, students can now access information through an author’s blog (like this one) or Twitter account.

Media multitasking can produce an experience that feels productive, but is it really? What are the consequences of our media- and technology-saturated world?

Although many of us like to think that we’re good multitaskers, some research indicates otherwise. For example, student laptop use during class has been connected to lower academic performance.[ii] This is because media multitasking has the potential to interfere with listening at multiple stages of the process.

The study showed that laptop use interfered with receiving, as students using them reported that they paid less attention to the class lectures. This is because students used the laptops for purposes other than taking notes or exploring class content. Of the students using laptops, 81 percent checked e-mail during lectures, 68 percent used instant messaging, and 43 percent surfed the web. Students using laptops also had difficulty with the interpretation stage of listening, as they found less clarity in the parts of the lecture they heard and did not understand the course material as much as students who didn’t use a laptop.

The difficulties with receiving and interpreting obviously create issues with recall that can lead to lower academic performance in the class. Laptop use also negatively affected the listening abilities of students not using laptops. These students reported that they were distracted, as their attention was drawn to the laptop screens of other students.

Questions to Consider:

  1. What are some common ways that you engage in media multitasking? What are some positive and negative consequences of your media multitasking?
  2. What strategies do you or could you use to help minimize the negative effects of media multitasking?
  3. Should laptops, smartphones, and other media devices be used by students during college classes? Why or why not? What restrictions or guidelines for use could instructors provide that would capitalize on the presence of such media to enhance student learning and help minimize distractions?

[i] Fleura Bardhi, Andres J Rohm, and Fareena Sultan, “Tuning in and Tuning out: Media Multitasking among Young Consumers,” Journal of Consumer Behaviour 9 (2010): 322.

[ii] Carrie B. Fried, “In-Class Laptop Use and its Effects on Student Learning,” Computers and Education 50 (2008): 906–14.

Tips for Conducting Informational Interviews

Mar 28, 2013

In many academic, professional, and civic contexts you will need to interview people to get various kinds of information. As with job interviews, you need to prepare for an informational interview to make sure you make a good impression and get the information that you need.

Tips for Conducting Informational Interviews

  1. Do preliminary research to answer basic questions. Many people and organizations have information available publicly. Don’t waste interview time asking questions like “What year did your organization start?” when you can find that on the website.
  2. Plan questions ahead of time. Even if you know the person, treat it as a formal interview so you can be efficient.
  3. Ask open-ended questions that can’t be answered with only a yes or no. Questions that begin with how and why are generally more open-ended than do and did questions. Make sure you have follow-up questions ready.
  4. Use the interview to ask for the personal side of an issue that you may not be able to find in other resources. Personal narratives about experiences can resonate with an audience.
  5. Make sure you are prepared. If interviewing in person, have paper, pens, and a recording device if you’re using one. Test your recording device ahead of time. If interviewing over the phone, make sure you have good service so you don’t drop the call and that you have enough battery power on your phone. When interviewing on the phone or via video chat, make sure distractions (e.g., barking dogs) are minimized.
  6. Whether the interview is conducted face-to-face, over the phone, or via video (e.g., Skype), you must get permission to record. Recording can be useful, as it increases accuracy and the level of detail taken away from the interview. Most smartphones have free apps now that allow you to record face-to-face or phone conversations.
  7. Whether you record or not, take written notes during the interview. Aside from writing the interviewee’s responses, you can also take note of follow-up questions that come to mind or notes on the nonverbal communication of the interviewee.
  8. Mention ahead of time if you think you’ll have follow-up questions, so the interviewee can expect further contact.
  9. Reflect and expand on your notes soon after the interview. It’s impossible to transcribe everything during the interview, but you will remember much of what you didn’t have time to write down and can add it in.
  10. Follow up with a thank-you note. People are busy, and thanking them for their time and the information they provided will be appreciated.



Timeline of Gay Rights Advances

Mar 22, 2013

And Key Historical Events Related to Sexuality and Identity

As with other cultural identities that I discuss in Chapter 8 of my textbook, Communication in the Real World, notions of sexuality have been socially constructed in different ways throughout human history.

Sexual orientation didn’t come into being as an identity category until the late 1800s. Before that, sexuality was viewed in more physical or spiritual senses that were largely separate from a person’s identity. The table below traces some of the developments relevant to sexuality, identity, and communication that show how this cultural identity has been constructed over the past 3,000 years.

This table is especially relevant given that the U.S. Supreme Court will be hearing arguments next week in two key cases related to gay rights. It's been ten years since the Court heard a significant case related to gay rights, so even though gay rights have been in the news in a lot of other areas, a case at this level is a rare occurrence.

1400 BCE–565 BCE

During the Greek and Roman era, there was no conception of sexual orientation as an identity. However, sexual relationships between men were accepted for some members of society. Also at this time, Greek poet Sappho wrote about love between women.


Byzantine Emperor Justinian makes adultery and same-sex sexual acts punishable by death.


Civil law in England indicates the death penalty can be given for same-sex sexual acts between men.


Napoleonic Code in France removes all penalties for any sexual activity between consenting adults.


England removes death penalty for same-sex sexual acts.


The term heterosexuality was coined to refer a form of “sexual perversion” in which people engage in sexual acts for reasons other than reproduction.


Dr. Magnus Hirschfield founds the Scientific Humanitarian Committee in Berlin. It is the first gay rights organization.


Doctors “treat” homosexuality with castration, electro-shock therapy, and incarceration in mental hospitals.


The first gay rights organization in the United States, the Chicago Society for Human Rights, is founded.


Tens of thousands of gay men are sent to concentration camps under Nazi rule. The prisoners are forced to wear pink triangles on their uniforms. The pink triangle was later reclaimed as a symbol of gay rights.


The terms heterosexuality and homosexuality appear in Webster’s dictionary with generally the same meaning the terms hold today.


American sexologist Alfred Kinsey’s research reveals that more people than thought have engaged in same-sex sexual activity. His research highlights the existence of bisexuality.


On June 27, patrons at the Stonewall Inn in New York City fought back as police raided the bar (a common practice used by police at the time to harass gay people). “The Stonewall Riots” as it came to be called was led by gay, lesbian, and transgender patrons of the bar, many of whom were working class and/or people of color.


The American Psychiatric Association removes its reference to homosexuality as a mental illness.


The Vermont Supreme Court rules that the state must provide legal rights to same-sex couples. In 2000, Vermont becomes the first state to offer same-sex couples civil unions.


The US Supreme Court rules that Texas’s sodomy law is unconstitutional, which effectively decriminalizes consensual same-sex relations.


The US military policy “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” is repealed, allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly.

Adapted from Brenda J. Allen, Difference Matters: Communicating Social Identity (Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, 2011), 117–25; and University of Denver Queer and Ally Commission, “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, and Queer History,” Queer Ally Training Manual, 2008.

Communication in the Workplace:

Mar 19, 2013

How to Deliver Briefings at Work

Briefings are short presentations that either update listeners about recent events or provide instructions for how to do something job related.[i]

Briefings may occur as upward, downward, or horizontal communication. An industrial designer briefing project managers on the preliminary results of testing on a new product design is an example of upward briefing. A nurse who is the shift manager briefing an incoming shift of nurses on the events of the previous shift is an example of downward briefing. A representative from human resources briefing colleagues on how to use the new workplace identification badges is an example of horizontal briefing.

Briefings that provide instructions like how to use a new identification badge are called technical briefings, and they are the most common type of workplace presentation.[ii] For technical briefings, consider whether your audience is composed of insiders, outsiders, or a mixture of people different levels of familiarity with the function, operation, and/or specifications of the focus of the briefing. Remember that technical speaking requires an ability to translate unfamiliar or complex information into content that is understandable and manageable for others.

As the name suggests, briefings are brief—usually two or three minutes. Since they are content focused, they do not require formal speech organization, complete with introduction and conclusion. Briefings are often delivered as a series of bullet points, organized topically or chronologically.

The content of a briefing is usually a summary of information or a series of distilled facts, so there are rarely elements of persuasion in a briefing or much supporting information.

A speaker may use simple visual aids, like an object or even a one-page handout, but more complex visual aids are usually not appropriate.

In terms of delivery, briefings should be organized. Since they are usually delivered under time constraints and contain important information, brief notes and extemporaneous delivery are effective.[iii]

There is much more information about communication in general in my textbook Communication in the Real World, published by Flat World Knowledge.

[i] Robert B. Adler and Jeanne Marquardt Elmhorst, Communicating at Work: Principles and Practices for Businesses and the Professions, 8th ed. (Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill, 2005), 427.

[ii] Toastmasters International, “Technical Briefings” accessed March 17, 2012,

[iii] Robert B. Adler and Jeanne Marquardt Elmhorst, Communicating at Work: Principles and Practices for Businesses and the Professions, 8th ed. (Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill, 2005), 428.

Workplace Bullying:

Mar 17, 2013

Handling Communicative Aggression at Work

Workplace bullying is a form of communicative aggression that occurs between coworkers as one employee (the bully) attempts to degrade, intimidate, or humiliate another employee (the target), and research shows that one in three adults has experienced workplace bullying. [1]

In fact, there is an organization called Civility Partners, LLC devoted to ending workplace bullying—you can visit their blog at

Communicative aggression has psychological and emotional consequences, but it also has the potential to damage a company’s reputation and finances.

While there are often mechanisms in place to help an employee deal with harassment—reporting to Human Resources for example— the situation may be trickier if the bully is your boss. In this case, many employees may be afraid to complain for fear of retaliation like getting fired, and transferring to another part of the company or getting another job altogether is a less viable option in a struggling economy.

Some characteristics of communicative aggression [2] that are often used by bullies are included below:

  • Degrading (humiliating, blaming, berating, name-calling)
  • Physically or emotionally withdrawing (giving someone the cold shoulder, neglecting)
  • Restricting another person’s actions (overmonitoring/controlling money or access to friends and family)
  • Dominating (bossing around, controlling decisions)
  • Threatening physical harm (threatening self, relational partner, or friends/family/pets of relational partner)

Questions to Consider:

  1. How can you distinguish between a boss who is demanding or a perfectionist and a boss who is a bully?
  2. If you were being bullied by someone at work, what would you do?


[1] Lauren Petrecca, “Bullying by the Boss Is Common but Hard to Fix,” USA Today, December 27, 2010, accessed September 13, 2011, money/workplace/2010-12-28-bullyboss28_CV_N.htm.

[2] René M. Dailey, Carmen M. Lee, and Brian H. Spitzberg, “Communicative Aggression: Toward a More Interactional View of Psychological Abuse,” in The Dark Side of Interpersonal Communication, eds. Brian H. Spitzberg and William R. Cupach (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2007), 303-305.

Tips for Using Statistics in Speeches, Papers, and Presentations

Mar 14, 2013

Statistics are numerical representations of information. They are very credible in our society, as evidenced by their frequent use by news agencies, government offices, politicians, and academics.

As a speaker, writer, or presenter you can capitalize on the power of statistics if you use them appropriately. Unfortunately, statistics are often misused by speakers who intentionally or unintentionally misconstrue the numbers to support their argument without examining the context from which the statistic emerged. All statistics are contextual, so plucking a number out of a news article or a research study and including it in your speech or paper without taking the time to understand the statistic is unethical.

Although statistics are popular as supporting evidence, they can also be boring. There will inevitably be people in your audience who are not good at processing numbers. Even people who are good with numbers have difficulty processing through a series of statistics presented orally.

Remember that we have to adapt our information to listeners who don’t have the luxury of pressing a pause or rewind button. For these reasons, it’s a good idea to avoid using too many statistics and to use startling examples when you do use them. Startling statistics should defy our expectations. When you give the audience a large number that they would expect to be smaller, or vice versa, you will be more likely to engage them, as the following example shows: “Did you know that 1.3 billion people in the world do not have access to electricity? That’s about 20 percent of the world’s population according to a 2009 study on the International Energy Agency’s official website.”

You should also repeat key statistics at least once for emphasis. In the previous example, the first time we hear the statistic 1.3 billion, we don’t have any context for the number. Translating that number into a percentage in the next sentence repeats the key statistic, which the audience now has context for, and repackages the information into a percentage, which some people may better understand.

You should also round long numbers up or down to make them easier to speak. Make sure that rounding the number doesn’t distort its significance. Rounding 1,298,791,943 to 1.3 billion, for example, makes the statistic more manageable and doesn’t alter the basic meaning.

It is also beneficial to translate numbers into something more concrete for visual or experiential learners by saying, for example, “That’s equal to the population of four Unites States of Americas.” While it may seem easy to throw some numbers in your speech or paper to add to your credibility, it takes more work to make them impactful, memorable, and effective.

Tips for Using Statistics

  1. Make sure you understand the context from which a statistic emerges.
  2. Don’t overuse statistics.
  3. Use startling statistics that defy the audience’s expectations.
  4. Repeat key statistics at least once for emphasis.
  5. Use a variety of numerical representations (whole numbers, percentages, ratios) to convey information.
  6. Round long numbers to make them easier to speak.
  7. Translate numbers into concrete ideas for more impact.

FCC Re-Charters Diversity Committee:

Mar 12, 2013

Will It Make a Difference?

Today the Federal Communications Committee (FCC) announced that it has re-chartered its "Diversity Committee." An excerpt from the official announcement is below:

“Washington, DC: The Diversity Committee is a critical component of the Commission’s diversity agenda.

The Committee's expert insight has informed Commission policy on vital issues like…the importance of data driven action on diversity, nondiscrimination in advertising, and many others.

The Committee’s mission is to advise the Commission regarding policies and practices that will enhance diversity in the telecommunications and related industries. In particular, the Committee focuses on lowering barriers to entry for historically disadvantaged men and women and creating an environment that enables employment of a diverse workforce within the telecommunications and related industries.”

This announcement today, March 11, 2013 is important because this is an area of concern for those who study mass media is the representation of diversity (or lack thereof) in media messages. The FCC has identified diversity in programs, ownership, and viewpoints as important elements of a balanced mass media that serves the public good. [1]

This view was enforced through the Fairness Doctrine that was established in 1949 and lasted until the early 1980s when it began to be questioned by those in favor of media deregulation. The Fairness Doctrine was eventually overturned in 1987, but the FCC tried in 2003 to reinstate policies that encourage minority ownership of media outlets, which they hoped in turn would lead to more diverse programming. It remains to be seen whether or not minority-owned media outlets will produce or carry more diverse programming, but it is important to note that the deregulation over the past few decades has led to a decrease in the number of owners of media outlets who come from minority groups.

Hopefully the announcement today will lead to some concrete results that make our airwaves and broadband more diverse and inclusive.

Please be on the lookout for an upcoming post about the diveristy of characters in primetime television.

[1] Caridad Austin, “Overwhelmed by Big Consolidation: Bringing Back Regulation to Increase Diversity in Programming That Serves Minority Audiences,” Federal Communications Law Journal 63, no. 3 (2011): 736–42.

How To Work Well and Communicate Effectively in Virtual Groups

Mar 10, 2013

Virtual groups are now common in academic, professional, and personal contexts, as classes meet entirely online, work teams interface using webinar or video-conferencing programs, and people connect around shared interests in a variety of online settings.

Virtual groups are popular in professional contexts because they can bring together people who are geographically dispersed.[i] Virtual groups also increase the possibility for the inclusion of diverse members. The ability to transcend distance means that people with diverse backgrounds and diverse perspectives are more easily accessed than in many offline groups.

One disadvantage of virtual groups stems from the difficulties that technological mediation presents for the relational and social dimensions of group interactions.[ii] An important part of coming together as a group is the socialization of group members into the desired norms of the group. Since norms are implicit, much of this information is learned through observation or conveyed informally from one group member to another.

In fact, in traditional groups, group members passively acquire 50 percent or more of their knowledge about group norms and procedures, meaning they observe rather than directly ask.[iii] Virtual groups experience more difficulty with this part of socialization than copresent traditional groups do, since any form of electronic mediation takes away some of the richness present in face-to-face interaction.

To help overcome these challenges, members of virtual groups should be prepared to put more time and effort into building the relational dimensions of their group. Members of virtual groups need to make the social cues that guide new members’ socialization more explicit than they would in an offline group.[iv]

Group members should also contribute often, even if just supporting someone else’s contribution, because increased participation has been shown to increase liking among members of virtual groups.[v]

Virtual group members should also make an effort to put relational content that might otherwise be conveyed through nonverbal or contextual means into the verbal part of a message, as members who include little social content in their messages or only communicate about the group’s task are more negatively evaluated.

Virtual groups who do not overcome these challenges will likely struggle to meet deadlines, interact less frequently, and experience more absenteeism.

What follows are some guidelines to help optimize virtual groups:[vi]

  1. Get started interacting as a group as early as possible, since it takes longer to build social cohesion.
  2. Interact frequently to stay on task and avoid having work build up.
  3. Start working toward completing the task while initial communication about setup, organization, and procedures are taking place.
  4. Respond overtly to other people’s messages and contributions.
  5. Be explicit about your reactions and thoughts since typical nonverbal expressions may not be received as easily in virtual groups as they would be in colocated groups.
  6. Set deadlines and stick to them.

Questions to Consider:

  1. Make a list of some virtual groups to which you currently belong or have belonged to in the past. What are some differences between your experiences in virtual groups versus traditional co-located groups?
  2. What are some group tasks or purposes that you think lend themselves to being accomplished in a virtual setting? What are some group tasks or purposes that you think would be best handled in a traditional co-located setting? Explain your answers for each.

[i] Manju K. Ahuja and John E. Galvin, “Socialization in Virtual Groups,” Journal of Management 29, no. 2 (2003): 163.

[ii] Joseph B. Walther and Ulla Bunz, “The Rules of Virtual Groups: Trust, Liking, and Performance in Computer-Mediated Communication,” Journal of Communication 55, no. 4 (2005): 830.

[iii] Debra R. Comer, “Organizational Newcomers’ Acquisition of Information from Peers,” Management Communication Quarterly 5, no. 1 (1991): 64–89.

[iv] Manju K. Ahuja and John E. Galvin, “Socialization in Virtual Groups,” Journal of Management 29, no. 2 (2003): 164–65.

[v] Joseph B. Walther and Ulla Bunz, “The Rules of Virtual Groups: Trust, Liking, and Performance in Computer-Mediated Communication,” Journal of Communication 55, no. 4 (2005): 831–32.

[vi] Joseph B. Walther and Ulla Bunz, “The Rules of Virtual Groups: Trust, Liking, and Performance in Computer-Mediated Communication,” Journal of Communication 55, no. 4 (2005): 834–35.

The Media as "Watchdog" In a Democratic Society:

Mar 7, 2013

Or Is "Lap Dog" or "Attack Dog" More Appropriate?

While countries like China, North Korea, Syria, and Burma have media systems that are nearly if not totally controlled by the state regime, the media in the United States and many other countries is viewed as the “watchdog” for the government. This watchdog role is intended to keep governments from taking too much power from the people and overstepping their bounds.

Central to this role is the notion that the press works independently of the government. The “freedom of the press” as guaranteed by our first amendment rights allows the media to act as the eyes and ears of the people. The media is supposed to report information to the public so they can make informed decisions. The media also engages in investigative reporting, which can uncover dangers or corruption that the media can then expose so that the public can demand change.

Of course, this ideal is not always met in practice. Some people have critiqued the media’s ability to fulfill this role, referring to it instead as a lapdog or attack dog. In terms of the lapdog role, the media can become too “cozy” with a politician or other public figure, which might lead it to uncritically report or passively relay information without questioning it. Recent stories about reporters being asked to clear quotes and even whole stories with officials before they can be used in a story drew sharp criticism from other journalists and the public, and some media outlets put an end to that practice.

In terms of the attack-dog role, the twenty-four-hour news cycle and constant reporting on public figures has created the kind of atmosphere where reporters may be waiting to pounce on a mistake or error in order to get the scoop and be able to produce a tantalizing story. This has also been called being on “scandal patrol” or “gaffe patrol.” Media scholars have critiqued this practice, saying that too much adversarial or negative reporting leads the public to think poorly of public officials and be more dissatisfied with government. Additionally, they claim that attack-dog reporting makes it more difficult for public officials to do their jobs.

Questions to Consider:

  1. In what ways do you think the media should function in a democratic society?
  2. Do you think the media in the United States acts more as a watchdog, lapdog, or attack dog? Give specific examples to support your answer.
  3. In an age of twenty-four-hour news and instant reporting, do you think politicians’ jobs are made easier or more difficult? Do you think reporters’ jobs are made easier or more difficult? Support your answers.

Gun Control vs. Gun Violence Prevention:

Mar 4, 2013

The Power of Words to Shape Public Opinion

Mark Glaze, the director of the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns was quoted on a recent story on NPR about the power of words in the “gun control” debate. He stated, “We talk about gun violence prevention, because that's what it is.” As you can see, the framing difference here is between "control" versus "prevent."

Generally, the word “control” is more intrusive than the word “prevention.” After all, we consent to rules and regulations that seek to “prevent” something more easily than we consent to “control.” Although there may not be a rational or practical difference between the two positions, the power of words to influence our perceptions about one or the other is unquestionable. Glaze points out that his organization’s polling suggests that “gun violence prevention" polls much better, up to 20 percent better, than “gun control.”

While some people might say that such distinctions are just a matter of semantics, the tweaking of words can change opinions – even when the words essentially refer to the same thing. Fortunately for politicians and unfortunately for people trying to make sense out of what politicians say, many of the words we use to discuss deeply held beliefs are abstract and have many different connotations. In this sense, a liberal politician and a conservative politician can both use the word “freedom” to refer to very different things. To return to the gun control debate, the National Rifle Association prefers the term “gun rights.” Using the word “rights” evokes strong reactions in many Americans and people in general.

George Lakoff a linguist at UC Berkeley is featured in this NPR story and he is someone that we turn to frequently in Communication Studies to explore the power of words. He notes that the words we use influence the way we see the world around us. They also affect our reactions. Just as different notes played on a piano evoke different emotions, so do different words.

Republican strategist Frank Luntz is also featured in the story. He is well known for helping the Republican party reframe the “estate tax” as the “death tax,” which essentially changed public opinion about the tax overnight, even though it was the same thing no matter how it was labeled.

There are many other examples. Would you be more likely to support oil drilling if it was called “energy exploration”? Does climate change or global warming matter more to you? Although the terms refer to the same general problem, climate change was introduced as an alternative to global warming which had almost become a joke.

Many people who identified as liberals became "progressives" when liberal became a dirty word. But, liberal is being reclaimed again.

When I teach about gender and communication, I often ask my students to raise their hand if they consider themselves feminists. I usually only have a few, if any, who do. I’ve found that students I teach are hesitant to identify as a feminist because of connotations of the word. However, when I ask students to raise their hand if they believe women have been treated unfairly and that there should be more equity, most students raise their hand.

Words don’t just convey meaning. They can also perform actions and shape our reality. These are just some examples of the power of verbal communication. I have a whole chapter devoted to verbal communication in my textbook, Communication in the Real World, so feel free to check it out!

Leadership as the Foundation of a Career

Mar 2, 2013

Leaders share traits, some more innate and naturally tapped into than others. Successful leaders also develop and refine leadership skills and behaviors that they are not “born with.” Since much of leadership is skill and behavior based, it is never too early to start developing yourself as a leader.

Whether you are planning to start your first career path fresh out of college, you’ve returned to college in order to switch career paths, you’re in college to help you advance more quickly in your current career path, or you’re already well into your career path, you should have already been working on your leadership skills for years; it’s not something you want to start your first day on the new job.

Since leaders must be able to draw from a wealth of personal experience in order to solve problems, relate to others, and motivate others to achieve a task, you should start to seek out leadership positions in school and/or community groups before you’re actually in your career. If you’re not sure what you want to do in your career, try to get a variety of positions over a few years that are generally transferrable to professional contexts.

In these roles, work on building a reputation as an ethical leader and as a leader who takes responsibility rather than playing the “blame game.” Leaders still have to be good team players and often have to take on roles and responsibilities that other group members do not want. Instead of complaining or expecting recognition for your “extra work,” accept these responsibilities enthusiastically and be prepared for your hard work to go unnoticed. Much of what a good leader does occurs in the background and isn’t publicly praised or acknowledged. Even when the group succeeds because of your hard work as the leader, you still have to be willing to share that praise with others who helped, because even though you may have worked the hardest, you didn’t do it alone.

As you build up your experience and reputation as a leader, be prepared for your workload to grow and your interpersonal communication skills to become more important. Once you’re in your career path, you can draw on this previous leadership experience and volunteer or step up when the need arises, which can help you get noticed. Of course, you have to be able to follow through on your commitment, which takes discipline and dedication.

While you may be excited to prove your leadership chops in your new career path, I caution you about taking on too much too fast. It’s easy for a young and/or new member of a work team to become overcommitted, as more experienced group members are excited to have a person to share some of their work responsibilities with. Hopefully, your previous leadership experience will give you confidence that your group members will notice.

People are attracted to confidence and want to follow people who exhibit it. Aside from confidence, good leaders also develop dynamism, which is a set of communication behaviors that conveys enthusiasm and creates an energetic and positive climate. Once confidence and dynamism have attracted a good team of people, good leaders facilitate quality interaction among group members, build cohesion, and capitalize on the synergy of group communication in order to come up with forward-thinking solutions to problems.

Good leaders also continue to build skills in order to become better leaders. Leaders are excellent observers of human behavior and are able to assess situations using contextual clues and nonverbal communication. They can then use this knowledge to adapt their communication to the situation. Leaders also have a high degree of emotional intelligence, which allows them to better sense, understand, and respond to others emotions and to have more control over their own displays of emotions.

Last, good leaders further their careers by being reflexive and regularly evaluating their strengths and weaknesses as a leader. Since our perceptions are often skewed, it’s also good to have colleagues and mentors/supervisors give you formal evaluations of your job performance, making explicit comments about leadership behaviors. As you can see, the work of a leader only grows more complex as one moves further along a career path. But with the skills gained through many years of increasingly challenging leadership roles, a leader can adapt to and manage this increasing complexity.

Questions to Consider:

  1. What leadership positions have you had so far? In what ways might they prepare you for more complex and career-specific leadership positions you may have later?
  2. What communication competencies do you think are most important for a leader to have and why? How do you rate in terms of the competencies you ranked as most important?
  3. Who do you know who would be able to give you constructive feedback on your leadership skills? What do you think this person would say? (You may want to consider actually asking the person for feedback).

Speaking and Communicating in Science and Math

Feb 28, 2013

Speaking in science and math usually focuses on using established methods and logic to find and report objective results. Science includes subjects such as biology, physics, and chemistry, and math includes subjects such as statistics, calculus, and math theory. You may not think that communication and public speaking are as central to these courses as they are in the humanities and social sciences—and you are right, at least in terms of public perception. The straightforwardness and objectivity of these fields make some people believe that skilled communication is unnecessary, since the process and results speak for themselves. This is not the case, however, as scientists are increasingly being expected to interact with various stakeholders, including funding sources, oversight agencies, and the public.

The ability to edit and discern what information is relevant for a presentation is very important in these fields. Scientists and mathematicians are often considered competent communicators when they are concise but cover the material in enough detail to be understood.[i]

Poster presentations are common methods of public communication in science and math and are an excellent example of when editing skills are valuable. Posters should be professional looking and visually appealing and concisely present how the information being presented conforms to expected scientific or logical methods. It is difficult, for example, to decide what details from each step of the scientific method should be included on the poster.

The same difficulties emerge in oral scientific research reports, which also require a speaker to distill complex information within a limited time frame. Research shows that common critiques by biology instructors of student presentations include going over the time limit and rambling.[ii]

Some presentations may focus more on results while others focus more on a method or procedure, so it’s important to know what the expectations for the presentation are. Scientists also engage in persuasive speaking. Scientists’ work is funded through a variety of sources, so knowing how to propose a research project using primary-source scientific data in a persuasive way is important.

[i] Deanna P. Dannels, “Time to Speak Up: A Theoretical Framework of Situated Pedagogy and Practice for Communication Across the Curriculum,” Communication Education 50, no. 2 (2001): 151.

[ii] Trudy Bayer, Karen Curto, and Charity Kriley, “Acquiring Expertise in Discipline-Specific Discourse: An Interdisciplinary Exercise in Learning to Speak Biology,” Across the Disciplines: A Journal of Language, Learning, and Academic Writing 2 (2005), accessed March 15, 2012,

Tips for Students in Online Classes:

Feb 24, 2013

How to Effectively Communicate and Learn in a Cyber-Classroom

Online courses are becoming more common. You may have even taken an online course or may be taking one now. Although we have an understanding of how the typical classroom functions, since we have been socialized into it, the online classroom presents a whole new set of variables and challenges. Some of our past classroom experiences will be relevant and some will not. Many online instructors and students are expected to “figure it out” as they go, which leads to frustrated teachers and students.

We’ll learn some tips for making online teaching and learning more effective for instructors and students next. The amount research and information available about online teaching and learning has increased dramatically in recent years, so there is much more information that isn’t included here. More resources for online teaching and learning can be found at the following link:

Tips for Students in Online Classes:

Schedule a time to do your online class work that works for your schedule and stick to it. Make sure that the time spent engaged directly with the course at least equals the amount a regular class would meet, typically about three hours a week for a sixteen-week semester. This doesn’t include homework and study time, which will also need to be scheduled in.

  1. Since technology is the primary channel for your learning, plan ahead for how you will deal with technology failures. Identify an additional place where you can access the Internet if necessary. Keep all your course documents backed up on a thumb drive so you can do course work “on the go” on computers other than your own.
  2. Ask questions when you have them so you don’t get lost and behind.
  3. Practice good “netiquette” when communicating with your instructor and classmates.

Questions to Consider:

  1. What are some positives and negatives of online learning—from a teacher’s perspective and from a student’s perspective?
  2. What courses do you think would translate well to an online environment? What courses would be difficult to teach online?

Self-Disclosure, Impression Management, and Social Media

Feb 22, 2013

In a Post Manti T'eo Scandal World

Kareem Copeland's recent post on a NFL blog starts with the line: "Be careful what you post on the Internet. You never know who's watching."

That's good advice that applies to all social media users whether you are a student, an employer, a potential employee, or a professional athlete. We use social media to engage in several key types of communication. For example, we use social media as a channel for self-disclosure - meaning that we share things about our lives on these public or semi-public forums. We also engage in impression management, meaning we try to strategically present aspects of ourselves in order to make particular impressions; for example, to be seen as competent, smart, cool, edgy, aloof, or attractive. We also use social media to initiate and maintain interpersonal relationships.

Since most of use use social media for personal and professional reasons, we have to figure out how to engage in self-disclosure and impression management in appropriate and effective ways.

Copeland's blog post, titled "Manti Te'o Case Spurs NFL Teams to Watch Social Media," notes that NFL recruiters are more closely looking at the social media of potential recruits. This type of social media data mining is not new, but it's happening more often.

You're probably all familiar with the Te'o hoax. Although all of the facts are not yet known, he was at the center of an internet hoax, in which he led a long term and long distance relationship with a woman who didn't actually exist. During this same time period, a few players for theWashington Redskins found out that they had been tricked into communicating with a person who had created a fake online identity. The team went so far as to post messages in the locker room stating: "Stay away from @RedRidnH00d. Avoid her on Twitter. Avoid her on Instagram. Do not converse with this person on any social media platform. She is not who she claims to be."

Of course, some people aren't tricked into self-disclosing personal information or potentially harmful or embarrassing information online - instead, they do it on their own, perhaps without thinking about the consequences.

Facebook and Twitter are undoubtedly dominating the world of online social networking, and the willingness of many users to self-disclose personal information ranging from moods to religious affiliation, relationship status, and personal contact information has led to an increase in privacy concerns. Facebook and Twitter offer convenient opportunities to stay in touch with friends, family, and coworkers, but are people using these social media responsibly?

Some argue that there are fundamental differences between today’s digital natives, whose private and public selves are intertwined through these technologies, and older generations (sometimes called digital immigrants). Even though some colleges are offering seminars on managing privacy online, we still hear stories of self-disclosure gone wrong, such as the football player from the University of Texas who was kicked off the team for posting racist comments about President Obama or the student who was kicked out of his private, Christian college after a picture of him dressed in drag surfaced on Facebook.

However, social media experts say these cases are rare and that most students are aware of who can see what they’re posting and the potential consequences.

Questions to Consider:

  1. How do you manage your privacy and self-disclosures online?
  2. Do you think it’s ethical for school officials or potential employers to make admission or hiring decisions based on what they can learn about you online? Why or why not?
  3. How do you decide who to "friend" and who to ignore?

The Rarest Type of Leader:

Feb 17, 2013

What Makes an Achievement-Oriented Leader?

Achievement-oriented leaders strive for excellence and set challenging goals, constantly seeking improvement and exhibiting confidence that their group members can meet their high expectations. These leaders often engage in systematic social comparison, keeping tabs on other similar high-performing groups to assess their expectations and the group’s progress.

This type of leadership is similar to what other scholars call transformational or visionary leadership and is often associated with leaders like former Apple CEO Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Clinton, and business magnate turned philanthropist Warren Buffett.

The achievement-oriented leadership style is less common than other leadership styles (for example" autocratic leaders, democratic leaders, laissez-faire leaders) since this style requires a high level of skill and commitment on the part of the leader and the group. Although rare, these leaders can be found at all levels of groups ranging from local school boards to Fortune 500 companies.

Certain group dynamics must be in place in order to accommodate this leadership style. Groups for which an achievement-oriented leadership style would be effective are typically intentionally created and are made up of members who are skilled and competent in regards to the group’s task. In many cases, the leader is specifically chosen because of his or her reputation and expertise, and even though the group members may not have a history of working with the leader, the members and leader must have a high degree of mutual respect.

Questions to Consider:

  1. Can you think of other examples of achievement-oriented leaders aside from the ones mentioned above?
  2. Have you ever had an achievement-oriented leader? What was his or her communication style like?

Tips for Using PowerPoint Effectively

Feb 13, 2013

How Should I Use PowerPoint?

The prevalence of computers and projectors in most schools, offices, and other presentation facilities has made using computer-generated visual aids more convenient, which has led many of us to ask the question that I posed at the beginning of this posting.

PowerPoint is the most commonly used presentation software and has functionality ranging from the most simple text-based slide to complicated transitions, timing features, video/sound imbedding, and even functionality with audience response systems like Turning Point that allow data to be collected live from audience members and incorporated quickly into the slideshow.

Despite the fact that most college students have viewed and created numerous PowerPoint presentations, I have still seen many poorly executed slideshows that detracted from the speaker’s message. PowerPoint should be viewed as a speech amplifier. Like an amplifier for a guitar, it doesn’t do much without a musician there to play the instrument. The speaker is the musician, the speech is the instrument, and PowerPoint is the amplifier. Just as the amplifier doesn’t dictate what the guitar player does, neither should PowerPoint take over the speaker.

I like to distinguish between using PowerPoint as a presentation aid and as a visual aid. PowerPoint, with all its bells and whistles, is designed as a presentation aid. Presentations are generally longer than speeches, at least fifteen minutes long, and are content heavy. College lectures and many professional conference presentations fall into this category. In these cases, PowerPoint generally runs along with the speaker throughout the presentation, reviewing key points and presenting visual aids such as pictures and graphs. The constant running of the slideshow also facilitates audience note taking, which is also common during presentations.

Speeches, on the other hand, are usually fifteen minutes or less, have repetition and redundancy built in (since, ideally, they are adapted to a listening audience), and carry less expectation that the audience will take detailed notes. In this case, I believe PowerPoint should be used more as a visual aid, meaning that it should be simpler and amplify particular components of the speech rather than run along with the speaker throughout the speech.

Tips for Using PowerPoint as a Visual Aid

  1. Do not have more than two slides per main point.
  2. Use a consistent theme with limited variation in font style and font size.
  3. Incorporate text and relevant graphics into each slide.
  4. Limit content to no more than six lines of text or six bullet points per slide.
  5. Do not use complete sentences; be concise.
  6. Avoid unnecessary animation or distracting slide transitions.
  7. Only have a slide displayed when it is relevant to what you’re discussing. Insert completely black slides to display when you are not explicitly referencing content in the speech so the audience doesn’t get distracted.

Public Speaking Advice: Have You Been Misled?

Feb 11, 2013

Public Speaking Advice: Have You Been Misled?

There's no shortage of advice on public speaking out there. So, the question is, who is giving this advice?

My advice on getting advice on public speaking is this: Get advice about communication, from communication scholars. I don't mean you have to automatically go to a Communication professor for advice, because in many cases, people who are working in a particular field will have better advice than a professor. But, the practitioner that you seek our for advice should have at least some college-level instruction and training in communication. While experience with public speaking is very important, it doesn't come with the foundational content knowledge of the field of communication that helps provide context for the practical and applied experience.

An experienced public speaker can tell you what they do that works for them, but they will not be as prepared to offer a tailored communication plan for someone else. Formal instruction and training in communication allows communication scholars to assess a situation and apply relevant theoretical and conceptual lenses in order to better understand all of the nuance that is present in any communication encounter. With the assessment complete, the communication scholar can then "diagnose" and give the appropriate advice.

Let's look at a bad example of "public speaking advice." A recent Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story that quotes no communication scholars offers some rather shallow and misleading commentary. The author of the post states:

"Most schools and universities offer classes in public speaking, but one semester spent making speeches doesn't make you an effective communicator any more than one semester of French qualifies you to become a U.N. interpreter."

A communication scholar would probably be able to identify this unqualified statement as a "false analogy," which is a fairly common logical fallacy employed by speakers (and writers) when they try to make conclusions without the appropriate research or level of critical or analytical thinking.

Now for a better example: When I first saw the blog headline,"Why you suck at public speaking: you've been lied to," I honestly didn't have high hopes for the content I would soon be reading. But guess what? This article has some great advice. You can read the full article by clicking this link, but the list of "truths" offered includes the following:

  1. Great communication is not 'natural'
  2. Communication habits develop over time
  3. We can change our behavior.

And, as it happens, the author of this post is Curt Steinhorst who was a Speech Communication major at Texas A&M University (and the student class president, and graduated Magna Cum laude). Go Curt! Way to represent!

"Getting Real" - What is Business Casual?:

Feb 6, 2013

Guidelines for Professional Dress and Appearance

“Getting Real” - What is Business Casual? Guidelines for Professional Dress and Appearance

No matter what professional field you go into, you will need to consider the importance of personal appearance.

Although it may seem petty or shallow to put so much emphasis on dress and appearance, impressions matter, and people make judgments about our personality, competence, and credibility based on how we look. In some cases, you may work somewhere with a clearly laid out policy for personal dress and appearance.

In many cases, the suggestion is to follow guidelines for “business casual.” Despite the increasing popularity of this notion over the past twenty years, people’s understanding of what business casual means is not consistent.[i] The formal dress codes of the mid-1900s, which required employees to wear suits and dresses, gave way to the trend of business casual dress, which seeks to allow employees to work comfortably while still appearing professional.[ii] While most people still dress more formally for job interviews or high-stakes presentations, the day-to-day dress of working professionals varies. Here are some tips for maintaining “business casual” dress and appearance:

Things to generally avoid. Jeans, hats, flip-flops, exposed underwear, exposed stomachs, athletic wear, heavy cologne/perfume, and chewing gum.

General dress guidelines for men. Dress pants or khaki pants, button-up shirt or collared polo/golf shirt tucked in with belt, and dress shoes; jacket and/or tie are optional.

General dress guidelines for women. Dress pants or skirt, blouse or dress shirt, dress, and closed toe dress shoes; jacket is optional.

Finishing touches. Make sure shoes are neat and polished, not scuffed or dirty; clothes should be pressed, not wrinkled; make sure fingernails are clean and trimmed/groomed; and remove any lint, dog hair, and so on from clothing.

Obviously, these are general guidelines and there may be exceptions. It’s always a good idea to see if your place of business has a dress code, or at least guidelines. If you are uncertain whether or not something is appropriate, most people recommend to air on the side of caution and choose something else. While consultants and professionals usually recommend sticking to dark colors such as black, navy, and charcoal and/or light colors such as white, khaki, and tan, it is OK to add something that expresses your identity and makes you stand out, like a splash of color or a nice accessory like a watch, eyeglasses, or a briefcase. In fact, in the current competitive job market, employers want to see that you are serious about the position, can fit in with the culture of the organization, and are confident in who you are.[iii]

Questions to Consider:

  1. What do you think is the best practice to follow when dressing for a job interview?
  2. In what professional presentations would you want to dress formally? Business casual? Casual?
  3. Aside from the examples listed previously, what are some other things to generally avoid, in terms of dress and appearance, when trying to present yourself as a credible and competent communicator/speaker?
  4. In what ways do you think you can conform to business-casual expectations while still preserving your individuality?

[i] Lisa Takeuchi Cullen, “What (Not) to Wear to Work,” Time, June 9, 2008, 49.

[ii] Susan M. Heathfield, “Dress for Success: A Business Casual Dress Code,”, accessed February 7, 2012,

[iii] Amy Verner, “Interview? Ditch the Navy Suit,” The Globe and Mail, December 15, 2008, L1.

Groupthink and Hazing:

Feb 3, 2013

Taking Conformity Pressures to the Extreme

Groupthink is defined in chapter 13 of my textbook as: A negative group phenomenon characterized by a lack of critical evaluation of proposed ideas or courses of action that results from high levels of cohesion and/ or high conformity pressures. Hazing can be defined as actions expected to be performed by aspiring or new members of a group that are irrelevant to the group’s activities or mission and are humiliating, degrading, abusive, or dangerous.[i]

People who have participated in hazing or have been hazed often note that hazing activities are meant to build group identification and unity. Scholars note that hazing is rationalized because of high conformity pressures and that people who were hazed internalize the group’s practices and are more likely to perpetuate hazing, creating a cycle of abuse.[ii]

Hazing is not new; it has been around in academic and athletic settings since ancient Greece, but it has gotten much attention lately on college campuses as the number of student deaths attributed to hazing behaviors has increased steadily over the past years. In general, it is believed that hazing incidents are underreported, because these activities are done in secret within tightly knit organizations such as fraternities, sororities, and athletic teams that have strong norms of conformity.[iii]

The urge to belong is powerful, but where is the line when it comes to the actions people take or what people are willing to endure in order to be accepted? Hazing is meant to have aspiring group members prove their worth or commitment to the group. Examples of hazing include, but aren’t limited to, being “kidnapped, transported, and abandoned”; drinking excessively in games or contests; sleep deprivation; engaging in or simulating sexual acts; being physically abused; being required to remain silent; wearing unusual clothes or costumes; or acting in a subservient manner to more senior group members.[iv]

Research has found that people in leadership roles, who are more likely to have strong group identification, are also more likely to engage in hazing activities.[v] The same research also found that group members who have supportive friends outside of the organization are more likely to remove themselves from a hazing situation, which points to the fact that people who endure hazing may be doing so out of a strong drive to find the acceptance and belonging they do not have elsewhere.

Questions to Consider:

  1. What is your definition of hazing? When does something cross the line from a rite of passage or tradition to hazing?
  2. What are some internal and external pressures that might lead to hazing activities?
  3. Do some research on hazing incidents on college campuses. What concepts from this chapter do you think could be used in antihazing education campaigns to prevent incidents like the ones you researched?


[i] Brian K. Richardson, Zuoming Wang, and Camille A. Hall, “Blowing the Whistle against Greek Hazing: The Theory of Reasoned Action as a Framework for Reporting Intentions,” Communication Studies 63, no. 2 (2012): 173.

[ii] Shelly Campo, Gretchen Poulos, and John W. Sipple, “Prevalence and Profiling: Hazing among College Students and Points of Intervention,” American Journal of Health Behavior 29, no. 2 (2005): 138.

[iii] Brian K. Richardson, Zuoming Wang, and Camille A. Hall, “Blowing the Whistle against Greek Hazing: The Theory of Reasoned Action as a Framework for Reporting Intentions,” Communication Studies 63, no. 2 (2012): 185–220.

[iv] Shelly Campo, Gretchen Poulos, and John W. Sipple, “Prevalence and Profiling: Hazing among College Students and Points of Intervention,” American Journal of Health Behavior 29, no. 2 (2005): 137; Aldo Cimino, “The Evolution of Hazing: Motivational Mechanisms and the Abuse of Newcomers,” Journal of Cognition and Culture 11, no.3–4 (2011): 235.

[iv] Shelly Campo, Gretchen Poulos, and John W. Sipple, “Prevalence and Profiling: Hazing among College Students and Points of Intervention,” American Journal of Health Behavior 29, no. 2 (2005): 144.

What Can You Do with a Degree in Communication Studies?

Jan 31, 2013

Communication Studies is a diverse and vibrant field of study. The multiple subfields and concentrations within the field allow for exciting opportunities for study in academic contexts but can create confusion and uncertainty when a person considers what they might do for their career after studying communication.

It’s important to remember that not every college or university will have courses or concentrations in all the areas discussed next. Look at the communication courses offered at your school to get an idea of where the communication department on your campus fits into the overall field of study.

Some departments are more general, offering students a range of courses to provide a well-rounded understanding of communication. Many departments offer concentrations or specializations within the major such as public relations, rhetoric, interpersonal communication, electronic media production, corporate communication, and so on.

If you are at a community college and plan on transferring to another school, your choice of school may be determined by the course offerings in the department and expertise of the school’s communication faculty. It would be unfortunate for a student interested in public relations to end up in a department that focuses more on rhetoric or broadcasting, so doing your research ahead of time is key.

Since communication studies is a broad field, many students strategically choose a concentration and/or a minor that will give them an advantage in the job market. Specialization can definitely be an advantage, but don’t forget about the general skills you gain as a communication major.

You can also use your school’s career services office to help you learn how to sell yourself as a communication major and how to translate what you’ve learned in your classes into useful information to include on your resume or in a job interview.

The main career areas that communication majors go into are business, public relations/advertising, media, nonprofit, government/law, and education. Within each of these areas there are multiple career paths, potential employers, and useful strategies for success. 

  • Business. Sales, customer service, management, real estate, human resources, training and development.
  • Public relations / advertising. Public relations, advertising/marketing, public opinion research, development, event coordination.
  • Media. Editing, copywriting, publishing, producing, directing, media sales, broadcasting.
  • Nonprofit. Administration, grant writing, fund-raising, public relations, volunteer coordination.
  • Government/law. City or town management, community affairs, lobbying, conflict negotiation/mediation.
  • Education. High school speech teacher, forensics/debate coach, administration and student support services, graduate school to further communication study.

Questions to Consider:

  1. Which of the areas listed above are you most interested in studying in school or pursuing as a career? Why?
  2. What aspect(s) of communication studies does/do the department at your school specialize in? What concentrations/courses are offered?
  3. Whether or not you are or plan to become a communication major, how do you think you could use what you have learned and will learn in this class to “sell” yourself on the job market?

Tips For Running Effective Meetings

Jan 26, 2013

Over eleven million meetings are held each day in the United States, so it is likely that you will attend and lead meetings during your career. Why do we have meetings? The fundamental reason is to get a group of people with different experiences and viewpoints together to share their knowledge and/or solve a problem. Despite their frequency and our familiarity with them, meetings are often criticized for being worthless, a waste of time, and unnecessary. Before you call a meeting, ask yourself if it is necessary, since some issues are better resolved through a phone call, an e-mail, or a series of one-on-one meetings. Ask the following questions to help make sure the meeting is necessary: What is the goal of the meeting? What would be the consequences of not having it? How will I judge whether the meeting was successful or not?

Tips for Running Effective Meetings

  1. Distribute an agenda to attendees two to three days in advance of the meeting.
  2. Divide items up on the agenda into “for information,” “for discussion,” and “for decision.”
  3. Put items that warrant close attention early on the agenda.
  4. Since senior attendees’ comments may influence or limit junior people’s comments, ask for comments from junior attendees first.
  5. People sometimes continue talking even after agreement has been reached, so it’s important to know when to move on to the next item in the agenda.
  6. At the end of a meeting, recap what was accomplished and set goals for the next meeting.
  7. Compile meeting minutes within forty-eight hours and distribute them to the attendees.

For Obama's Second Inauguration…

Jan 19, 2013

Chief Justice Roberts Gets a Do-Over with the Oath of Office (and Doesn't Mess It Up This Time)

On the first day of the semester, I have students in my public speaking classes indicate on a note card what their level of public speaking anxiety is on a scale from 1-10, with 10 being the highest. The class average is usually around a 6 or 7. While some people may think it would be a good sign to see a 1 from a student, I usually see that as a red flag. Why? Well some anxiety is good because it's motivating. After teaching this class 37 times, I can say that the students who put a 1 or 2 are usually over-confident in their abilities, which leads them not to prepare as much as other students. Needless to say, these students are surprised and often embarrassed when they don't perform well on the first graded speech.

While this is a good life lesson for a first year college student, one would think that an accomplished lawyer and academic wouldn't make the same mistake. Well, this wasn't the case when John Roberts, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, performed his most public duty, delivering the oath of office for the newly elected president in 2009. Being a Constitutional expert, the Chief Justice figured he knew the 35 word oath well enough to wing it so he declined the opportunity to do a run through before the actual event.

What resulted was a very public and embarrassing series of fumbles. As Adam Liptak noted in his blog entry for the New York Times:

For a couple of smooth-talking constitutional experts, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and President Obama had a hard time getting through the constitutional oath of office.

Because of some concerns that the flubbed oath might be used to say Obama wasn't actually sworn in, the Chief Justice went by the oval office the next day and did it again, just in case.

Well, the 2013 oath went much more smoothly, as you can see in the video below.

So, the lesson we can take away from this? Don't be over confident and practice when you have an opportunity!

"Hashtag" is American Dialect Society's 2012 Word of the Year

Jan 18, 2013

And "Mansplaining" is the Most Creative

You're all familiar with the power of the hashtag at this point. The word is so powerful, in fact, that the American Dialect Society recently named that the "2012 Word of the Year." #CongratulationsHashtag

In the announcement, they quote Ben Zimmer, who chaired the new words committee, as saying:

"This was the year when the hashtag became a ubiquitous phenomenon in online talk. In the Twittersphere and elsewhere, hashtags have created instant social trends, spreading bite-sized viral messages on topics ranging from politics to pop culture."

The announcement also features other word categories you may want to check out. For example, the word voted "most creative" was: mansplaining: a man’s condescending explanation to a female audience.

Fiscal cliff won "most likely to succeed" and "legitimate rape" got the much deserved distinctions of being the "most unnecessary" and the "most outrageous."

As we move into a new year, take note of new words and phrases that enter frequent usage. Also note old words that make a comeback.

Verbal Fillers and Public Speaking:

Jan 16, 2013

Eliminating "Umm" from Your Public Speeches

As we begin a new semester, I was thinking about the goals that I often suggest my students (who are new to formal speaking) set for themselves. One of the first things I suggest they work on is eliminating verbal fillers. Verbal fillers are words like "um, uh, like, whatever, ah" (and there are more!) that creep into our speaking when we pause to think about a word, pause because we lose our train of thought, or just have a hiccup in our fluency.

They are a completely natural part of our everyday speaking. In fact, they often serve important purposes in our everyday speaking, for example, by signaling that we are not done with our conversational turn - that we are simply pausing but want to hold the floor.

They can however, interfere with our ability to effectively communicate and lead an audience to question our credibility or competence if they creep their way into a formal or professional speech. Steven D. Cohen, a professional speaker, recently wrote a blog post on Harvard University's Extension blog about these dreaded verbal fillers.

He suggests that armed with the knowledge about why and when we use verbal fillers we can work to eliminate them from our formal speaking. This is good advice. It's what we, in the Communication Studies field, call becoming a higher self-monitor. This basically refers to becoming more aware of our communication and behavior, and it is a critical ingredient in the recipe of communication competence.

My students are often shocked when they watch the recording of their first graded speech and notice that they said "um" 20 times but didn't realize it. Once they realize this, they can more successfully monitor for it and by the second speech, they use noticeably less verbal fillers.

Of course, one or two verbal fillers isn't the end of the world, but much more than that can start to chip away at your credibility.

Questions to consider:

What verbal fillers do you most often use? (Suggestion: if you don't know, audio record yourself giving a presentation or speech and then listen to it)

Have you ever been distracted by a speaker's use of verbal fillers?

Worst Plagiarism Cases of 2012

Jan 7, 2013

As is the case every year, there are several high profile cases of plagiarism that can serve as useful warnings to all of us, and some are outright cases of intentional deception while others are the result of laziness. In either case, it's safe to say that the 10 people on this list wish they would have made different choices and done their own writing.

The article on written by Sydney Smith is titled, "2012: 10 Worst Plagiarism and Attribution Cases."

On this list are the following instances:

Number 7: An Arizona newspaper the East Valley Tribune disclosed that an unnamed intern from Arizona State University plagiarized in "several articles." The Phoenix New Times later linked these incidences of plagiarism to the student newspaper at ASU, The State Press, which has also been in the middle of a plagiarism scandal that resulted in the firing of student Raquel Velasco's.

Number 6: CNN and Time magazine both suspended journalist Fareed Zakaria after he apologized for and admitted to his "terrible mistake," which refers to the fact that one of his columns had plagiarized content from an essay written by another journalist.

Number 4: Steve Jeffrey resigned as publisher of the Canadian newspaper, Anchor Weekly following accusations that "more than 40 of his weekly columns" were plagiarized.

Number 1: Jonah Lehrer lost his job at The New Yorker for plagiarizing himself and others and fabricating facts. The magazine Wired had a journalism professor review Lehrer's work and found: "recycling", "press release plagiarism", "plagiarism", "quotation issues", and "factual issues."

What Words Should Be Banished from the Queen’s English

Jan 3, 2013

For Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness?

Luckily, for the past 38 years, the good people at Lake Superior State University have been putting just such a list together! And this year, the "List of Words to Be Banished From the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness," included “fiscal cliff,” (which I'm sure we're all a little tired of) “trending,” (which I think still serves a purpose and isn't that over-used) “double down,” (which I think definitely needs to go) “bucket list,” (which I thought went away soon after that mediocre movie was made) and “job creators,” (which is typically used meaninglessly by politicians). There were other words on the list, which is gathered by nominations through the Facebook page.

Big Data? Whatever!: Best and Worst Words of the Year

Dec 27, 2012

In the field of communication studies, we study verbal and nonverbal communication as parallel systems, but most people spend more time thinking about the words we use rather than how we use them.

Words often take some of the "end of the year" spotlight as linguists and others reflect on the best and worst words of the year.

Let's start with the most annoying words of the year.

According to the Marist Poll that is taken each year, the following are the top four most annoying words we hear on a regular basis:

  1. Just sayin
  2. Ya know
  3. Like
  4. Whatever (number one for the third straight year)

As I discuss in my book Communication in the Real World, verbal fillers like "like" and "ya know" can negatively affect a speaker's credibility. According to this poll, they can also be annoying!

Now....turning our attention to the more appreciated words of the year:

NPR's linguist Geoff Nunberg has broken with others who have offered words like YOLO, frankenstorm, and fiscal cliff as the "word of the year." Instead of these words, which received more popular attention and common usage, Nunberg suggests that "big data" should be the words of the year. Given the explosion of data collection and analysis based on user's digital trails, he makes a good point.

Questions to Consider:

  1. What's the word that annoys you the most?
  2. What do you think the word of the year should be?
  3. How do lists like these help us understand the dynamic nature of language?

Social Media Literacy: A Useful Skill for Digital Natives

Dec 12, 2012

(And Converted Analogue Natives Like Me)

Leora Arnowitz recently reported on the 10 biggest celebrity social media screw ups of 2012. This is just a reminder that in our age of new and social media, we need to be more competent about what we say and how we present ourselves online.

I'm sure you don't want to end up on a list of social media blunderers (like Kim Kardashian who decided to comment on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or Chris Brown bragging about his Grammy win) so here's some advice from my textbook about how to use social media competently. 

Social Media Literacy

We have increasingly diverse social networks that require us to be cognizant of the information we make available and how we present ourselves. While we can’t control all the information about ourselves online or the impressions people form, we can more competently engage with social media so that we are getting the most out of it in both personal and professional contexts.[i]

Be consistent. Given that most people have multiple social media accounts, it’s important to have some degree of consistency. At least at the top level of your profile (the part that isn’t limited by privacy settings), include information that you don’t mind anyone seeing.

Know what’s out there. Since the top level of many social media sites are visible in Google search results, you should monitor how these appear to others by regularly (about once a month) doing a Google search using various iterations of your name. Putting your name in quotation marks will help target your results. Make sure you’re logged out of all your accounts and then click on the various results to see what others can see.

Think before you post. Software that enable people to take “screen shots” or download videos and tools that archive web pages can be used without our knowledge to create records of what you post. While it is still a good idea to go through your online content and “clean up” materials that may form unfavorable impressions, it is even a better idea to not put that information out there in the first place. Posting something about how you hate school or your job or a specific person may be done in the heat of the moment and forgotten, but a potential employer might find that information and form a negative impression even if it’s months or years old.

Be familiar with privacy settings. If you are trying to expand your social network, it may be counterproductive to put your Facebook or Twitter account on “lockdown,” but it is beneficial to know what levels of control you have and to take advantage of them. For example, I have a “Limited Profile” list on Facebook to which I assign new contacts or people with whom I am not very close. You can also create groups of contacts on various social media sites so that only certain people see certain information.

Be a gatekeeper for your network. Do not accept friend requests or followers that you do not know. Not only could these requests be sent from “bots” that might skim your personal info or monitor your activity; they could be from people that might make you look bad. Remember, we learned earlier that people form impressions based on those with whom we are connected. You can always send a private message to someone asking how he or she knows you or do some research by Googling his or her name or username.

Questions to Consider:

Google your name (remember to use multiple forms and to put them in quotation marks). Do the same with any usernames that are associated with your name (e.g., you can Google your Twitter handle or an e-mail address). What information came up? Were you surprised by anything?

What strategies can you use to help manage the impressions you form on social media?

[i] Alison Doyle, “Top 10 Social Media Dos and Don’ts,”, accessed November 8, 2012,

Ethnic Cleansing, Homophobia, and Islamophobia:

Dec 11, 2012

Three Words You Won't See in AP News Stories Anymore

Most of the news stories you might see online or in a newspaper on any given day are either written by or cite the Associated Press (AP). Just as the Modern Language Association (MLA) and the American Psychological Association (APA) have guides for authors, journalists often turn to the "AP Stylebook" for guidance on grammar, punctuation, and word usage. So the AP’s recent decision to recommend that reporters not use words like Islamophobia, homophobia and ethnic cleansing has gotten attention in the press. It seems the AP is making news instead of reporting it. Obviously, certain words are left out of reporting: racial slurs, profanity, and pejorative terms are not used by journalists.

The reasoning behind the removal of the words from the journalistic lexicon is to avoid misleading language in news that strives for clarity and objectivity. A “phobia” is a mental disability that is recognized by the American Psychiatric Association as such. So, in many instances the usage of homophobia or Islamophobia are not accurate, when, for example, anti-gay or anti-Muslim/Islam would probably be more accurate.

A recent NPR segment, featuring the syndicated columnist Clarence Page, critiques the move for taking the power out of such words. But then the question becomes, what words do we use in their place?

Conversely, ethnic cleansing doesn’t capture the horrors of genocide. As Page states in the interview: “Ethnic cleansing is too mild. It doesn't evoke enough of a powerful response. I think that was the AP's objection that it's used so often as a euphemism for what is essentially a very, very brutal practice outlawed by the U.N. for a very good reason.”

The move has also been criticized by scholars of language. For example, Lawrence Heinen of Harvard University stated the following’s posting about the AP’s move:

This is completely wrong. They have confused the WORD "phobia" with the SUFFIX "-phobia". The word "phobia" is just what they said: a technical term denoting an extreme, debilitating fear. The suffix "-phobia", on the other hand is much broader. It can mean not just fear of, but also dislike of, aversion to, prejudice against, having a really bad (physical) reaction to, etc. Consider "Anglophobia", "Francophobia", "hydrophobia", photophobia, etc. It has become an all-purpose (suffix) antonym to "-philia" (bibliophilia, bibliophobia).

Questions to consider:

  1. Should the words be removed? Why or why not?
  2. If they were removed, what could be used in their place?

Are You A Good Liar? Gullible?:

Dec 7, 2012

Deception and Communication Competence

The research on deception and nonverbal communication indicates that heightened arousal and increased cognitive demands contribute to the presence of nonverbal behaviors that can be associated with deception. [i] Remember, however, that these nonverbal behaviors are not solely related to deception and also manifest as a result of other emotional or cognitive states. Additionally, when people are falsely accused of deception, the signs that they exhibit as a result of the stress of being falsely accused are very similar to the signals exhibited by people who are actually engaging in deception.

There are common misconceptions about what behaviors are associated with deception. Behaviors mistakenly linked to deception include longer response times, slower speech rates, decreased eye contact, increased body movements, excessive swallowing, and less smiling. None of these have consistently been associated with deception.

People tend to give more weight to nonverbal than verbal cues when evaluating the truthfulness of a person or her or his message. This predisposition can lead us to focus on nonverbal cues while overlooking verbal signals of deception. A large study found that people were better able to detect deception by sound alone than they were when exposed to both auditory and visual cues.

Aside from nonverbal cues, also listen for inconsistencies in or contradictions between statements, which can also be used to tell when others are being deceptive. The following are some nonverbal signals that have been associated with deception in research studies, but be cautious about viewing these as absolutes since individual and contextual differences should also be considered.

Gestures. One of the most powerful associations between nonverbal behaviors and deception is the presence of adaptors. Self-touches like wringing hands and object-adaptors like playing with a pencil or messing with clothing have been shown to correlate to deception. Some highly experienced deceivers, however, can control the presence of adaptors.

Facial expressions. People can intentionally use facial expressions to try to deceive, and there are five primary ways that this may occur. People may show feelings that they do not actually have, show a higher intensity of feelings than they actually have, try to show no feelings, try to show less feelings than they actually have, or mask one feeling with another.

Vocalics. One of the most common nonverbal signs of deception is speech errors. As you’ll recall, verbal fillers and other speech disfluencies are studied as part of vocalics; examples include false starts, stutters, and fillers. Studies also show that an increase in verbal pitch is associated with deception and is likely caused by heightened arousal and tension.

Chronemics. Speech turns are often thought to correspond to deception, but there is no consensus among researchers as to the exact relationship. Most studies reveal that deceivers talk less, especially in response to direct questions.

Question to Consider:

Studies show that people engage in deception much more than they care to admit. Do you consider yourself a good deceiver? Why or why not? Which, if any, of the nonverbal cues discussed do you think help you deceive others or give you away?

[i] Peter A. Andersen, Nonverbal Communication: Forms and Functions (Mountain View, CA: Mayfield, 1999), 282-297.

Text Messaging Turns 20-Years-Old, But 'OMG' is 95?!?

Dec 4, 2012

As the always charismatic Brian Williams points out in this video from the December 3, 2012 NBC Nightly News broadcast, the first text message was sent on December 3rd, 1992. So let's take a moment to wish text messaging a happy 20th birthday! Visit for breaking news,world news, andnews about the economy.

While text messaging itself is still relatively young (not even old enough to buy alcohol in the U.S.) a popular bit of text-ese, OMG, was actually first coined over 90 years ago by British Admiral Lord Fisher in a letter to Winston Churchill.

The (Over)Reach of Social Media:

Nov 29, 2012

Would You Name Your Baby "Hashtag?" Or Take a Hashtag Hostage?

Hashtags have been in the news a lot in the past week. The little symbol (#) is widely known, by people those who were born before today's digital natives, as the symbol for the "pound key" on a telephone or as an abbreviation for the word "number." But, the "hashtag" has taken hold of a generation of people who communicate via Tweets of 140 character or less.

Aside from helping us follow what's trending on Twitter or filter through the millions of Tweets to find things that interest us, the hashtag is now being used in new and controversial ways.

Last week, while it's unclear if this is real or a joke that's taken on a life of its own as a result of social media, bloggers and reporters atThe Guardian, People Magazine (Theresa Walsh Giarrusso, 11/28/12), and PC World (Damon Poeter, 11/28/12) have all reported the story. So the question is: Is this the first in a series of social media inspired baby names?

The hastag has also made its way into "big P" politics as President Obama has tried to use the hashtag "#my2k" to bring attention to the estimated $2,000 a year tax increase that could befall many working and middle class Americans on January 1st, 2013 is congress and the president can't come to some agreement about how to face the "fiscal cliff." Allen McDuffee's article for the Washington Post, titled, Fiscal Cliff: Obama's #My2K hijacked by Heritage Foundation discussed how the hashtag social media wars can work, when the players are motivated enough. In this case, the Heritage Foundation, a conservative organization, paid the money to "promote" the #my2K hashtage which meant that those who used the hashtag were presented with a link to a blog with content that runs counter to the President's message. And, so, the hashtag hostage wars begin!

Free Speech and Internet Access:

Nov 29, 2012

Communication Ethics in India and Syria

Two news stories today are bringing issues of free speech and access to communication technology to international attention again.

Shaheen Dhada is at the forefront of a national and international discussion regarding social media and freedom of speech. The 21-year-old, who lives a couple hours outside of Mumbai, posted a message on Facebook last week that led to her arrest. As NPR reports, “her ‘crime’ was questioning the shutdown of Mumbai as mourners gathered for the cremation of Bal Thackeray, who had dominated the city's political stage for decades with cagey intimidation tactics.” In her November 18, 2012 Facebook posting, she wrote: "Every day thousands of people die, but still the world moves on. ... Today, Mumbai shuts down out of fear, not out of respect."

The NPR story quoted Dhada as saying: "Within 10 minutes, the police came and told me to come to the police station. I had to apologize in a written statement." She was held at the station until 2 a.m. when she was let out after bail was posted. A friend of Dhada’s who “liked” the posting was also detained by the police and a mob of people angered by Dhada’s posting surrounded the police station, scaring both Dhada and her friend.NPR quotes Dhada’s father as saying that freedom of speech in India "exists only on paper."

It was also reported that essentially all high-speed internet in Syria was shut off today, presumably to hinder the communication and fighting ability of rebels who have been challenging the government of President Assad.

In stark contrast to this move, presumably made by Assad’s government, some countries including Finland have included, since 2010, access to high speed internet as a human right guaranteed by the constitution.

Further, the National Communication Association’s “Credo for Ethical Communication” reminds us that communication ethics is relevant across contexts, is a central part of democracy, and applies to every channel of communication, including media. The credo states that human worth and dignity are fostered through ethical communication practices such as truthfulness, fairness, integrity, and respect for self and others.

While the Credo advocates for, endorses, and promotes certain ideals, it is up to each one of us to put them into practice.

Here are some of the principles stated in the Credo:

We endorse freedom of expression, diversity of perspective, and tolerance of dissent to achieve the informed and responsible decision-making fundamental to a civil society.

We condemn communication that degrades individuals and humanity…through the expression of intolerance and hatred.

We are committed to the courageous expression of personal convictions in pursuit of fairness and justice.

We accept responsibility for the short- and long-term consequences of our own communication and expect the same of others.

You can read the rest of the Credo, as well as other statements by NCA about communication, technology, democracy, and ethics here:

Questions to consider:

Should Dhada's comments on Facebook be protected as "freedom of speech"?

Where should social media sites, governments, and individuals draw the line between freedom of expression and speech that threatens national security or public safety?

Are there any situations in which you would think it okay for the government to cut off internet access?

Integrative Learning and "Communication in the Real World"

Nov 25, 2012

As a communication scholar and professional, I abide by the notion that communication is integrated into all parts of our lives. I also constantly try to highlight the practicality of communication for my students and to translate communication theories and concepts into concrete examples. These are some of the reasons that I decided to name my book Communication in the Real World. I wrestled with this title though because I am often irritated when people set up a false dichotomy between the academic world and the real world. So I wanted to used to this blog entry to explain the relationship between integrative learning and real world communication, as I see it.

So, Communication in the Real World is designed to help people see the value of communication in the real world and in our real lives. When I say real, I don’t mean to imply that there is some part of our world or lives that is not real. Since communication is such a practical field of study, I use the word real to emphasize that my book isn’t just about theories and vocabulary or passing a test and giving a good speech. I also don’t mean to imply that there is a divide between the classroom and the real world.

In order to explore how communication is integrated into all parts of our lives, I have divided up our lives into four spheres: academic, professional, personal, and civic. The boundaries and borders between these spheres are not solid, and there is much overlap. After all, much of what goes on in a classroom is present in a professional environment, and the classroom has long been seen as a place to prepare students to become active and responsible citizens in their civic lives. The philosophy behind this approach is called integrative learning, which encourages students to reflect on how the content they are learning connects to other classes they have taken or are taking, their professional goals, and their civic responsibilities. Here are some of the ways I challenge students to see how communication is integrated into all four of these spheres.


It’s not usually difficult to get students to see the relevance of what they’re studying in a given class to academic contexts. At least while they are taking a communication course, studying communication is important to earn a good grade in the class, right? Beyond grades, I challenge students to try to make explicit connections between my course and courses they have taken before and are currently taking. I also challenge them to connect the content in future classes back to what they learned in my class. I also stress that improving communication competence can help in many areas of academics, as communication skills are tied to academic success. For example, students who take a communication course report more confidence in their communication abilities, and these students have higher grade point averages and are less likely to drop out of school.


The National Association of Colleges and Employers has found that employers most desire good communication skills in the college graduates they may hire.[i] Desired communication skills vary from career to career, but again, introductory communication courses provide a foundation onto which students can build communication skills specific to their major or field of study. Research has shown that introductory communication courses provide important skills necessary for functioning in entry-level jobs, including listening, writing, motivating/persuading, interpersonal skills, informational interviewing, and small-group problem solving.[ii] Interpersonal communication skills are also highly sought after by potential employers, consistently ranking in the top ten in national surveys.[iii] Poor listening skills, lack of conciseness, and inability to give constructive feedback have been identified as potential communication challenges in professional contexts. Employers appreciate good listening skills and the ability to communicate concisely because efficiency and clarity are often directly tied to productivity and success in terms of profit or task/project completion.

Despite the well-documented need for communication skills in the professional world, many students still resist taking communication classes. Perhaps people think they already have good communication skills or can improve their skills on their own. While either of these may be true for some, studying communication can only help. In such a competitive job market, being able to document that you have received communication instruction and training from communication professionals (the faculty in your communication department) can give you the edge needed to stand out from other applicants or employees.


While many students know from personal experience and from the prevalence of communication counseling on television talk shows and in self-help books that communication forms, maintains, and ends our interpersonal relationships, they do not know the extent to which that occurs. My students often remark that they already know from experience much of what’s discussed in the interpersonal unit of the course. While we do learn from experience, until we learn specific vocabulary and develop foundational knowledge of communication concepts and theories, we do not have the tools needed to make sense of these experiences. Just having a vocabulary to name the communication phenomena in our lives increases our ability to consciously alter our communication to achieve our goals, avoid miscommunication, and analyze and learn from our inevitable mistakes.


The connection between communication and our civic lives is a little more abstract and difficult for students to understand. Many younger people don’t yet have a conception of a “civic” part of their lives because the academic, professional, and personal parts of their lives have so much more daily relevance. Civic engagement refers to working to make a difference in our communities by improving the quality of life of community members; raising awareness about social, cultural, or political issues; or participating in a wide variety of political and nonpolitical processes.[iv] The civic part of our lives is developed through engagement with the decision making that goes on in our society at the small-group, local, state, regional, national, or international level. Such involvement ranges from serving on a neighborhood advisory board to sending an e-mail to a US senator. Discussions and decisions that affect our communities happen around us all the time, but it takes time and effort to become a part of that process. Doing so, however, allows us to become a part of groups or causes that are meaningful to us, which enables us to work for the common good. This type of civic engagement is crucial to the functioning of a democratic society.

The American Association of Colleges and Universities has launched several initiatives and compiled many resources for students and faculty regarding civic engagement. I encourage you to explore their website at the following link and try to identify some ways in which you can productively integrate what you are learning in this class into a civic context:

Question to consider:

  1. How does communication play a role in each of the four spheres of your life? (academic, professional, personal, and civic)

[i]National Association of Colleges and Employers, Job Outlook 2011 (2010): 25.

[ii]Vincent S. DiSalvo, “A Summary of Current Research Identifying Communication Skills in Various Organizational Contexts,” Communication Education 29 (1980): 283–90.

[iii]National Association of Colleges and Employers, Job Outlook 2011(2010): 25.

[iv]Thomas Ehrlich, Civic Responsibility and Higher Education (Phoenix, AZ: Oryx, 2000), vi.

[v] Scott Jaschik, “The Civic Engagement Gap,” Inside Higher Ed, September 30, 2009, accessed May 18, 2012,

Can a "Conversation Chemistry Course" Help Women and Men Communicate?

Nov 24, 2012

A new "resource" has recently made its way onto the web, which promises to help people of the "opposite sex" have great conversations. According to PRWeb's promotional article for the product, "Customers learn the secrets of communicating with the opposite sex both during the initial meeting and dating phase, and using communication skills to have a great long-lasting relationship."

While this sounds like a fresh change to the shallow and stereotypical articles in men's and women's magazines, a little more digging leads me to believe that this is just another "self-help" gimmick that promises much but only delivers what people want to hear and relies on stereotypes that make things black or white.

You no doubt frequently hear people talking and writing about the vast differences between men and women. Whether it’s communication, athletic ability, expressing emotions, or perception, people will line up to say that women are one way and men are the other. While it is true that gender affects our perception, the reason for this difference isn’t due to actual genetic, physical, or psychological differences between men and women. Instead, we are socialized to perceive differences between men and women, which leads us to exaggerate and amplify what differences there actually are. We basically see the stereotypes and differences we are told to see, which helps to create a reality in which the differences actually exist. However, numerous research studies have found that, especially in relational to multiple aspects of communication, men and women communicate much more similarly than differently.

Gender and communication scholar Kathryn Dindia contests the notion that men and women are from different planets, and instead, uses another analogy. She says men are from South Dakota and women are from North Dakota. Although the states border each other and are similar in many ways, state pride and in-group identifications lead the people of South Dakota perceive themselves to be different from the people of North Dakota and vice versa. But, if we expand our perspective and take the position of someone from California or Illinois, North Dakotans and South Dakotas are pretty much alike.[i] The point of this comparison is to point out that in our daily lives we do experience men and women to be fairly different, but when we look at the differences between men and women compared to the differences between humans and other creatures, men and women are much more similar than different.

Although the course, which is offered by the website, has been reviewed by a dating advice blogger, these types of resources and guides are rarely, if ever, reviewed by experts (those who have been trained) in gender and communication or interpersonal communication.

Questions to consider:

  1. Do you think differences between men and women are exaggerated? Why or why not?
  2. What accounts for the large number of books, articles, and blogs that discuss the vast differences between men and women and how those can be overcome?
  3. How might things be different if we thought of men and women as being from the same planet, or even neighboring states as Dindia suggests?


[i] Peter A. Andersen, Nonverbal Communication: Forms and Functions (Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company, 1999), 106.

[i] Steven McCornack, Reflect and Relate: An Introduction to Interpersonal Communication (Boston, MA: Bedford/St Martin’s, 2007), 93.

The Public Speaking Skills that Lead to Barack Obama's Successes

Nov 23, 2012

Transcendence, repetition, and gestures and voice. What do these three things have in common? According to Carmine Gallo's article for Forbes titled "Barack Obama: A Master Class in Public Speaking," these are three of President Obama's public speaking strengths. In the following video, Gallo, who is a "communications coach," author, and professional speaker, analyzes some of the President's speeches.

As you watch the video, see if you agree with Gallo. Do you see any other strengths in the President's content or delivery? What weaknesses do you see?

Click here to access the video

Walmart and the Economy: To Purchase or Picket?

Nov 21, 2012

As we approach Black Friday, there have been several news stories about protests being launched by workers in the form of picket lines and petitions against chain stores that are vying to get all the consumer dollars they can in this recessed economy.

As Rick Newman reports in his article for U.S. News and World Report titled "Wal-Mart Protests Pit Workers Against Shoppers", Wal-Mart has been the target of much of the controversy, as it, along with many other chain retailers, are opening earlier and earlier, which is drawing criticism from people who think consumerism is overtaking what the holidays are supposed to be about, which is giving thanks, serving others, and spending time with loved ones.

The persuasive speech presented below was presented at Eastern Illinois University's Betty Balasi Public Speaking Competition in November of 2011.

As you watch the speech, think about the speaker's arguments. What do you find most persuasive? Do you agree with the speaker's thesis?

Race, Appearance, and Hollywood Casting:

Nov 20, 2012

Who should play Nina Simone?

A story on NPR today discussed a recent controversy that is relevant to the concepts of race and identity.

After years of speculation, a bio-pic about the famous singer and activist Nina Simone is scheduled to come out relatively soon. Simone, who commented on and critiqued the ways in which darker skinned African Americans are marginalized and sang about her own dark skin, will be played by the lighter-skinned Zoe Saldana. People have criticized this choice, saying that a darker skinned actress should be cast in the lead role.

Questions to consider:

  1. What message does casting a lighter-skinned actress in the role of Nina Simone send to audiences?
  2. How does the tone and/or color of one's skin play into our perceptions of race? How does it play into stereotypes?

Is "Facebookistan" a Democracy or a Dictatorship?

Nov 19, 2012

Getting to know you. Getting to know all about you…"

"Sometimes I feel like, somebody's watching me…"

There are several different song lyrics that are pretty applicable to many of Facebook's practices, and WNYC and NPR's awesome weekly podcast/radio show On the Media recently did a whole episode on Facebook, which was both enlightening and unsettling.

Rebecca MacKinnon, an accomplished reporter turned advocate for internet transparency, coined the term Facebookistan to capture the near totalitarian rule that Facebook exercises in creating policies and generally governing what happens within its social media borders. And, in terms of the number of users, Facebook has enough people within its "borders" to make it the third largest country in the world.

Here are a couple interesting facts from the episode:

It used to be impossible to delete your Facebook profile once created, but after user complaints it is now just really difficult. Click here to read Steve Coll's article "Leaving Facebookistan" from the New Yorker Online about his experiences deleting his Facebook profile.

Facebook has the largest user base in the history of the internet.

The "tag smart" facial recognition software that helps suggest who might be in photos is no longer used in Europe because of privacy concerns.

A Facebook user successfully petitioned Facebook to give him the data they had on him. It was over 1000 printed pages, and that didn't include everything.

Question to think about:

  1. How do you feel about being a citizen of Facebookistan?

How to Deliver Effective Conference Presentations

Nov 15, 2012

An Introduction to Conferences: Undergraduate students, graduate students, faculty, and administrators have opportunities to present at academic conferences, which are local, regional, national, or international events at which students, teachers, professionals, and practitioners gather to discuss and share knowledge in a particular field of study. Presenting at or even attending a conference can be intimidating. The National Communication Association provides useful resources on the “how to” of academic conferencing including frequently asked questions and professional standards and guidelines that will be helpful when preparing for any conference:

Give Your Presentation a SEXY Title: When planning a presentation at an academic conference, you should spend time creating a “sexy” and descriptive title. You want something “sexy,” meaning that it gets people’s attention and connects to a current and relevant topic, and descriptive so that people can get a sense for what the presentation will include. Most conferences have numerous concurrent sessions running, so in a way, you are competing with people in other rooms who are speaking at the same time slot. Getting people in the room is important for networking to take place. The blog entry at the following link contains useful information about “How to Write Killer Conference Session Titles that Attract Attendees”:

Figure Out the Take Home Message: The “take home message” is the one concept or finding that captures the combined importance of all the data and findings. This is what the speaker wants the audience to have memorized by the end of the speech. It provides a theme or thread for the whole presentation and can therefore be used to help determine what needs to stay in the presentation and what should be left out. This functions like the thesis statement of a typical informative or persuasive speech.

Identify the Main Question: The next step in preparing the presentation is identifying the main question. The main question will be answered in the talk through the presentation of data and findings. The take home message should be related to the main question, perhaps even answer it, as this provides a logical flow for the presentation. Explicitly stating the take home message and main question in the speech helps the audience process the information, and helps a speaker keep only the information relevant to them, which helps prevent information overload.

Don't Speed Talk or Speed Read: A frequent complaint about conference presentations stems from speakers who try to cram too much information into their ten-minute time-slot. Presenters at academic conferences are usually presenting recently completed original research or research that is in progress. The papers that are submitted for review for the conference are usually about 25-30 pages long. It would take about an hour to present the whole paper, but since most conference occur as part of a panel, with four to five speakers and a 75-minute time slot, each speaker usually gets between 10 and 15 minutes to present. Therefore, conference presenters must use their editing skills to hack their papers apart to fit their time limit.

Don't be THAT Person: Even at communication conferences, where presenters definitely “know better,” I’ve seen people try to speed read their way through a 10-12 page paper because they could only bring themselves to cut it down by half. As a writer, I know it’s difficult to cut your own work down, because we often think that everything is important, but it’s really not, and even if it was, there’s not time to go over it all.

How Many People Will Show Up?: Additionally, it’s very difficult to anticipate how many people will attend your conference session – it may be forty, or two. I usually prepare a typically formal conference presentation for an audience of ten to thirty people, but I am also prepared to do something more informal. Especially in situations where there are more panelists than audience members, I’ve found it useful to just make a circle with chairs and have a more informal and interactive discussion.

Additional Info: The following link contains some information from the National Communication Association about “How to Make the Most of your Presentation.”

National Communication Association (NCA) Conference 2012

Nov 14, 2012

The 98th annual National Communication Association Conference has started in Orlando Florida. I am still in chilly Charleston IL, but I'm heading down there in a couple days. I'll be giving three presentations, which I made sure to tell my students today so they know that I have to practice what I teach.

Students who are interested in studying communication should take some time to look at NCA's website and should consider getting involved in the conference. There are many opportunities for students of all levels to present their research, volunteer, or get involved in other ways.

Communication in the Real World Blog Launches

Nov 14, 2012

In early 2013, Rich Jones' textbook Communication in the Real World: An Introduction to Communication Studies will be published by Flat World Knowledge. This blog should be considered a free supplement to the textbook and/or a resource for anyone who is interested in the field of Communication Studies or in communication in general.

Although the book will not be in widespread use in classrooms until the Fall of 2013, I am starting to populate the blog now, so that there will be an archive of relevant materials for both instructors and students by the time they start to use the book in their class.

I welcome comments and suggestions, and I look forward to sharing my passion for communication with the world and learning lots of things from my readers in the process.