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Words of Wisdom

Be a good listener. Your ears will never get you into trouble.

by Frank Tyger

Archive for the ‘Communication Training’ Category

Communication and Correct Terminology

Wednesday, September 20, 2017 @ 11:09 AM

Communication and Correct Terminology


Recently my daughter gently corrected me when, in conversation, I referred to an autistic child. She shared with me that the correct term was child with autism.  I don’t know about you but sometimes I find it hard to keep up with changing terminology outside my field. Like most of us, I never want to offend others by using an outdated or inappropriate term. However, if you aren’t part of the group or don’t connect with them regularly it can be hard to keep up with changes.


Many times old terms become slurs embedded in our day-to-day language. We are often unaware that the words are slurs. This is especially damaging as slurs, even when used in generic situations, bring up negative connotations about the group. Research shows this affects how the group is treated in the future. Slurs have a long half-life.


When you hear someone use an inappropriate term how can you make a difference? Researcher Benjamin K Bergen has the following suggestions:

  • help well-meaning people see the connection between the word and its potential to be inappropriate or hurtful,
  • if you are unsure about the appropriate term to use, ask a group member what they prefer.


I appreciated my daughter’s gentle correction and am grateful she brought it to my attention.  No doubt about it, I’m a work in progress just like the rest of us.


Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc

Communication Training and Presentation Visuals

Wednesday, April 5, 2017 @ 06:04 PM

Communication Training and Presentation Visuals


Visuals can enhance a presentation or leave the audience wondering what the heck just happened. Often people are told “don`t read your slides`. This is good advice. Generally, your audience can read and the back of your head is not particularly inspiring. You can take short glances at the screen but fifteen seconds or less should be enough. Avoid planting yourself in the corner of a darkened room and letting the visuals speak for you. If the entire presentation is the visuals then why not email it and save everyone some time. Remember, they asked you to speak because they want to see and hear you.


Are visuals important? Absolutely! I develop my training workshops and seminar content first then create the visual presentation piece afterward. This helps me decide what is most important and what key information needs to be visually displayed. Generally supplementary and secondary points are discussed and not displayed.


When considering the use of a visual ask yourself:

  • Will the visual add value and clarity for the audience?
  • Why do I think these particular points are compelling?
  • Do the points match the objectives of my presentation?
  • Am I giving the right amount of information or is there too much clutter?
  • Is there a better way to display the information such as drawing a diagram on a flipchart or white board?


I once watched a presenter use fifty slides in a seven minute presentation. It was like watching tennis at Wimbledon being played at warp speed.  The audience was so focused on watching the slides whiz by I`m not sure any of the message was absorbed.  Although there is no hard and fast number, a rule of thumb is six to ten slides or less for a 30 minute presentation.


When developing your slides, go for minimum content and maximum visual impact. The goal of a visual is to simplify the information. Graphs and charts can be great tools to represent and clarify your data. Here are some guidelines to make graphs and charts work for you:

  • Multi-line graphs should show a maximum of three lines to minimize clutter
  • Bar charts are easy to produce and give maximum impact
  • Stacked bar charts are simple to understand
  • Pie charts, especially with floating wedges attract your audiences` eyes
  • Graphics that clearly show relationships help the audience understand at a glance.


The use of visuals can put your presentation over the top. However, as my design professor once said, “When you think it needs just one more thing, that`s the time to stop.”  Visuals… just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.


Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc


Communication Training and Presentations

Monday, July 4, 2016 @ 09:07 PM

Communication Training and Presentations


If you are going to do a presentation you will have an audience. Many times presentations lack impact because the presenter fails to spend enough time thinking about the presentation from the audience`s perspective. What do they need or want from you? A careful audience audit will help you meet their needs. Find out who they are, what they need to know, their level of experience and how they will benefit from listening to you.


Sometimes a speaker is unsure of how to interact with the audience. It’s important to remember interaction indicates the audience is listening. If you hear:

  • Agreement with your points from statements made by an audience member respond or acknowledge the comment and thank them for their input
  • Additions or follow-up information to what you have presented, thank them as well
  • Objections from the audience, paraphrase the point and check for understanding, a gentle disagreement from your perspective may be in order and possible follow-up from you
  • Disruptions in the audience or questions which aren’t logical or disturb the flow of your presentation acknowledge them and then bring the talk back and continue.


If you provide an opportunity for questions be sure to listen carefully, confirm your understanding, think about the question`s merit and respond thoughtfully and respectfully. If you receive a multi-pronged question or a request for your response to several related issues:

  • Paraphrase to confirm your understanding
  • Ask them to repeat themselves if the questions are unclear to you
  • Arrange the questions in the order you wish to respond to them

If you are asked a question and you don`t know the answer or it is a question with no answer:

  • Acknowledge your inability to answer at present and offer to find out
  • Throw the question out to the audience. If there is no response acknowledge it is a challenging question.


If you prefer not to take questions during your presentation give participants a piece of paper to note down their questions or use a ‘parking lot’. A parking lot is a place to gather questions from the group that can be addressed at the end of the talk. It can be helpful for another person to handle the parking lot while you continue presenting.


I believe a great presentation is all about the audience. No matter how comfortable you become with presenting, proper care and attention to your audience never goes out of style.


Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc


Communication Basics- Part 5

Monday, February 16, 2015 @ 06:02 PM

Communication Basics- Listening

Previous posts in the Communication Training series included the basic process of communication, barriers to getting the message across and the impact of nonverbal and paraverbal behaviour. This leaves us with what I consider the most important ingredient in successful communication- listening. It has been noted that we have two ears and one mouth which suggests we should probably listen twice as much as we speak. Strong listening skills are critical for effective communication and for many of us, listening may be one of the hardest areas to develop.

Good listeners have a larger listening “tool kit” and some skill applying those tools. This allows them to choose the most appropriate behaviour in a given situation. They consider the communication from multiple perspectives and use their empathy to understand the speaker’s perspective as well as their own. During the conversation effective listeners are self-aware and understand how their reactions may impact the conversation. Perhaps most importantly, good listeners care and strive to be better communicators.

The major skills of effective listening are attending, following and reflecting. Attending skills show we are ready and want to listen. Body language, eye contact and a distraction free environment are examples of attending. Following skills indicate we are still “at home” and want to be part of the conversation. Acknowledgements, prompts for more information and silence are following skills. Reflecting skills show the speaker we understand their viewpoint. We may ask questions, paraphrase, summarize and share our own experience to reflect our desire to understand their communication fully.

Communication is something we all do; however we don’t all do it well! Communication is a complex process. Barriers, nonverbal and paraverbal language and inadequate listening skills are some reasons why this seemingly simple communication process is less than simple. The good news is communication skills can always be developed and improved. Effective communication is within everyone’s grasp.

Fern Richardson

Communication Basics- Part 4

Monday, February 16, 2015 @ 05:02 PM

Communication Basics- Nonverbal and Paraverbal Components

Previous posts in the Communication Training Basics Series looked at the process of communication and barriers that can get in the way of clear communication. Other considerations include both the nonverbal and paraverbal components of interaction.

Imagine this. You are busy at your desk and a colleague walks by coming back from an important meeting with the manager.

Scenario one: Magda is smiling and she moves with quick, confident strides. When you ask how the meeting went she responds with an upbeat, “Fine.”
Do you think Magda had a successful meeting? Why?

Scenario two: Magda is scowling, her shoulders droop; her steps drag as she walks by your desk. When you ask how the meeting went she responds with a short and unenthusiastic, “Fine.”
Do you think Mary had a successful meeting? Why?

As you considered these two scenarios you used interpretation skills in both nonverbal communication, sometimes called body language, and paraverbal communication. Paraverbal or paralanguage refers to the vocal aspects of a communication. Paralanguage provides information beyond the word’s literal meaning. For example Magda’s tone of voice and the nuances in her response result in a different interpretation of each scenario.

If the words, body language and paraverbal component don’t match we put more emphasis on the body language and paralanguage. For example, in scenario two when Magda’s response is “Fine.” her tone of voice and body language tell us things are not so fine.

Reading nonverbal and paraverbal language is an art and a science. Some individuals display obvious signals and others are more contained. Many nonverbal gestures do not translate across cultures. For example, “thumbs up” in North America indicates something positive; in many other countries it is a rude gesture. Finally, the interpretation of communication clues and cues must be considered within the context of the complete message. An individual standing with arms folded across his chest could be: unhappy with the message, standing comfortably, cold or any other number of reasons.

It is important to remember you are both sending and receiving these nonverbal and paraverbal messages during every communication. These nuances form a critical component of the communication process.

Fern Richardson

Communication Basics- Part 3

Sunday, December 21, 2014 @ 06:12 PM

Communication Training- Part 3 Barriers

Previous posts in the Communication Training series highlighted the communication process. There are other factors to consider. For example, can you think of a time when communication went wrong in your workplace? What barriers caused the communication breakdown? What kinds of costs were associated with the miscommunication?

Communication barriers are often grouped under three major headings: physical barriers, word barriers, and emotional or judgment barriers.

Physical barriers can include issues such as hearing loss and environmental issues such as noisy or distracting workplace environments.

Word barriers can be related to grammar and punctuation (especially when communicating in writing); interpretation of the message which is based on the knowledge, education and experience of the individuals; the choice of appropriate language such as technical terminology and jargon; and in English many words have multiple meanings. For example, how many meanings can you think of for the word fast? provides seventeen adjectives, seven adverbs, one noun and two idioms. Many of the shortest words in the English language have multiple meanings which increase the potential of misunderstanding.

Emotional or judgment barriers may be the most significant of the three barrier categories. We think more rapidly than we speak therefore a common judgment barrier is to prejudge what the individual is saying. We often prepare a response even before they are finished speaking! Additionally, we all carry perceptions, biases and stereotypes which impact our interpretation of the message. Individuals who are preoccupied or emotional can often miss the complete message being conveyed or the nuances being expressed.

When we start to recognize physical, word and emotional or judgment barriers we can correct them during a conversation and minimize the costs of communication breakdown.

Fern Richardson

Communication Basics- Part 2

Sunday, November 16, 2014 @ 10:11 PM

Communication Basics-  Richness and Context

In the last post (Communication Basics- Part One) we saw that communication requires a bit of magic in encoding and decoding the message. If that isn’t enough there are a few other wrinkles to add to the communication process. The communication method you choose has an impact on both the intended message and how the receiver understands the message. Should you phone? Text? Talk face-to-face?

The richest method of communication is face-to-face because it includes visual, vocal and verbal cues that impact the message. The telephone is a less rich method of communication as the visual component is missing. Email conveys only the verbal part of a message and is a good example of one of the least rich ways of communication.

Another piece of the communication puzzle is the context in which the communication occurs. We chose to speak differently when we address a customer, our co-worker or the CEO of the organization. Context-related communication differences can also occur because of different physical environments, for example are you in the reception area, boardroom or loading dock.

As previously mentioned, communication is not a one way process. As the sender is creating and sending the message, the receiver is doing more than listening intently to the information. The receiver is interpreting and communicating back to the sender through visual, vocal and verbal means such as smiles, grimaces, nods and questions.

In addition to understanding the complexities of the communication process, effective communicators should consider potential barriers, the role of nonverbal and paraverbal messages and the importance of listening skills which will be discussed in future posts.

Fern Richardson

Communication Training- The Basics

Tuesday, September 23, 2014 @ 02:09 PM

Communication Training- The Basic Process- Part One

Everyone knows how to communicate so what’s the big deal? Why provide employees with communication training for such a fundamental human skill? It’s true we all communicate however we don’t always do it effectively. Many of our communication skills are learned from and influenced by observing those around us. The question is how skilled at communication are those role models?

Consider the following workplace scenario: Beth approaches Frank at the front counter and forcefully says, “There you are. I’ve been looking for you. I have a bone to pick with you!” How do you think the rest of the conversation will go? It wouldn’t be surprising if both Beth and Frank go into the conversation with defensive attitudes making the issue more difficult to resolve.

Too often we see communication as a straightforward, one way process. Communication is something we do to others. We see it working like this: I tell you something; you listen carefully and follow my directions. What could be simpler? Unfortunately communication is not that straightforward. In reality communication is a complex process where an intangible thought or idea forms in the sender’s brain. The sender decides how to turn that intangible idea into a tangible message for the receiver. The receiver interprets the message, once again turning it into an intangible thought or idea as they seek to understand the message. As you can imagine there are any number of things that might go wrong as the message is encoded and decoded. Communication training offers ways to build on existing communication skills to overcome many of the common barriers.

Stay tuned for the next post in this series to discover what else is going on in this seemingly simple process.

Fern Richardson

Communication and Web Posts

Tuesday, July 29, 2014 @ 06:07 PM

Communication and Web Post Management

Do you spend much of your time reading comments posted on websites? Some sites provide the opportunity for a useful exchange and more than a few cause me to question the value of an open opinion forum. Recently I found some great information on how to manage comment posts to create a high value discussion forum for the readers and contributors. The key is to make sure the site is actively monitored to encourage civil debate. Some ideas include:

• Be polite and civil in your posts and comments to set community standards
• Encourage quality contributions by responding personally and publicly to comments
• Differences of opinion are valuable as long as a civil discussion is maintained
• Require real name identity on comment posts. Removing anonymity can bring accountability
• Control the space and remove undesirable comments quickly
• Use strong communication skills to manage the forum effectively and share the community standards you have set
• Delete abusive posts and ban repeat offenders

Research suggests that online conversations work best when the conversation group is smaller. More tightly knit groups develop and the group takes some ownership for managing the discussions. The manager of one forum I use posts a yearly update on forum standards and practices. He doesn’t hesitate to step in with corrective information if a standard is infringed upon.

It takes time and effort to manage a website discussion forum and comments section. It is time well spent to create a useful forum for the exchange of ideas and it adds value to you, your contributors and readers.

Fern Richardson

Clive Thompson: Smarter Than You Think: How technology is changing our minds for the better. Penguin Press, 2013


Communication and Diversity Training

Friday, April 19, 2013 @ 11:04 PM

Communication and Diversity Training


Canada’s workforce reflects the multicultural face of our country. This diversity brings untold opportunity when we understand and appreciate our differences. Many workplaces offer diversity training programs to help encourage the appreciation of differences. Two important issues these programs address include group norms and stereotypes.


Norms are a standard or pattern of behaviour developed by a group of people. Norms can be positive patterns such as welcoming new employees into the workplace or negative patterns such as avoiding new people in the workplace.  It seems norms affect us even when others in our group are not present. As Timothy Wilson says in his book Redirect, “We think about what we think people we care about are doing and what we think they would want us to do.“ (You may want to read that again slowly!) Wilson suggests a successful diversity program should: be sanctioned by those in authority in the organization; encourage a shared common goal; provide equal status for all and; engage the participants in a cooperative activity.


Stereotypes are exaggerated generalizations about a characteristic attributed to a group. Like norms stereotypes can be positive – Canadians are polite; or negative- today’s youth lacks a strong work ethic. Wilson offers thoughts on dealing with racial stereotypes. If we meet someone atypical of the stereotype we hold, we may choose to believe they are an anomaly and still believe the stereotype  is  true for all others  in that group. When we have positive interactions with an individual more representative of the stereotype we hold, we may change our perspective about the stereotype. This can lead us to redraw our mental models and shift our attitude. We redirect our narrative from:  “I won’t speak to him as we won’t have anything in common.” to “Maybe we have something in common…I will go talk to him.”


I have found the richest conversations about differences happen in settings where people of diverse backgrounds can share their stories, challenges and observations in a safe and open environment. Everyone walks away with a deeper appreciation and understanding of norms, stereotypes and diversity.


Fern Richardson


Timothy D. Wilson: Redirect: the surprising new science of psychological change. Little Brown and Company, 2011