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Bridges built by people, not computers

It’s about ‘More Than Words’. Having spent the past two days with colleagues committed to understanding and practising this concept, let me share with you the views of some of the world’s best communicators.

This past weekend, the Annual Convention of the National Speakers Association of Australia came to town, and judging by the stories shared and client lists aired, this is big and important business.

Who are the ‘agents of change in the midst of enormous social and business changes’?

The President of the NSA (USA) Dr Terry Paulson revealed that every person you work with, or against, knows something better than you.

“Find it and use it,” he urged.

On life, he urged the audience to imagine a moving vehicle without brakes, adding:

“It’s no accident that the rear view mirror is small, while the front windscreen is so wide...the obstacles, opportunities and life-preserving decisions lie straight before you!”

He spoke of leadership as the ability and increasing difficulty of combining the best people for a team — people who would remain focused and fight off the urge for perfection, avoiding falling prey to, “procrastination, paralysis and powerlessness.”

Today’s global outlook for business and its leaders is placing greater demand on skilful communication.

While e-commerce may be driving much of the transaction side of business, the hunger for our gold collar workers, our captains of industry, to explain their vision, the way forward — so that others can understand too — is more urgent than ever.

BHP’s new chief executive, Paul Anderson, might have been eavesdropping at the conference, but he’s publicly already walking the talk.

In engineering a smaller but more profitable ‘big Australian’, Mr Anderson sought conversations with some of his 50,000 employees worldwide before writing a blueprint for change, which he describes as “ something I can believe in and communicate to the organisation.”

Straight to the top of the class.

He has a much better chance of delivering a message that “the smaller dividend is economically necessary” to shareholders or brokers by, as he put it:

“Earning the trust of employees, customers and shareholders in being forthright through communications and consistently delivering on commitments.”

You see, the forces of the technological age cannot be allowed to overshadow proper design and delivery of information to the target audiences.

People learn best from honesty.

We have overflowing bags of life and business experiences and they should be used to wrap the facts and deliver the ‘gift’ of wisdom.

Traditionally, the professional speaker has been employed by business and industry to inspire, motivate, sell a philosophy.

This should be seen, however, as supporting management’s role, not as replacing their responsibility.

In the words of NSA Australian President-elect, Sarah Cornally: “We are seeing a greater need for leaders in business to be professional performers — trained speakers —using clear and effective communication skills to help shape their corporations.”

She added that the language of communication from the platform, which consisted of inspirational stories and visual imagery, was now an integral part of business.

“While words must have meaning, it’s more than words. Proper marketing of your subject means people have to get what you’re saying — only then will they follow the path you have laid for progress.”

So while loyalty might once have been taken for granted, and today certainty and security are far from guaranteed companions, perhaps we can begin to build new bridges of understanding on our preparedness to share our stories, our fears and our successes, so that our companies can recapture pride.

It is timely to see Paul Anderson showing the way — a leader who seems to be truly trying, available and accountable.

Someone who sees that in communicating your vision to stakeholders, you hope to be less likely a victim of someone else’s timetable.

This is a time when our companies and governments are exploring and executing every possible combination of change. The former are having to learn to relate differently to the latter as it shrinks in the wake of emerging corporatised, commercialised or privatised entities.

In the transitional phase, the challenge will be to listen to each other as new practices evolve.

The new emphasis on flexibility means being competitive, while increasingly aware that the window of opportunity is open to the world.

And we are seeing new approaches to business growth — relationships and communication at the very heart of concepts which promote alliances and create partnerships. In this true spirit of co-operation, value is added while improving profit, avoiding duplication.

Cyberspace must not replace our human networks.

Leaders, as managers responsible for the long-term vision, while making a difference in the short term, will only gain trust by delivering more than just words.



• Valerie DAVIES is a Director of One.2.One Communications, a communications specialist advising Perth’s corporate leaders. Her board memberships include Westralian Sands Limited, the Totalisator Agency Board, Asia Research Centre and ScreenWest.

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