In Praise of the Human Touch

This article was written for PR News and published in the May 15, 2006 issue.

Technology is often viewed as a solution to problems. However, this solution has also created problems. The digital technology boom of present is causing problems in the public relations industry. Industry professionals are quickly trading face time for sleeker technologies like e-mail, blogs, wikis, and podcasts – for obvious reasons. The newer technologies allow public relations professionals to send targeted messages on behalf of their organizations to millions with the click of a button. Face-to-face communication will never offer professionals that level of service, and it can be labor intensive and expensive. But it is well worth the effort in certain situations where the human element is needed to get the message across. This includes the following:

When immediate feedback and true understanding are necessary. The immediacy of face-to-face conversations gives organizations an opportunity to receive and provide direct feedback, allowing for true understanding between the organization and its audiences. During conversations, it is possible to gain a greater comprehension of the values, likes, and dislikes of those engaged in the discussion. This unfiltered information is helpful when developing relationships, products and services that meet audience needs.

When messages contain conflict, emotion or priority. Always deliver your bad news in person – nothing is more impersonal (and perhaps insensitive) than sending bad news via e-mail. Other advantages of communicating face-to-face include increased trust and credibility between organizations and their audiences.

When showing emotions adds value. Studies show the ability to use more than one of your senses when communicating greatly increases message impact. During face-to-face encounters, you have the benefit of witnessing audience body language, and you can send quiet messages like sincerity, empathy and humility using non-verbal communication (i.e. facial and hand movements, body position, etc.). Understanding the benefits of face-to-face communication can greatly improve your business and personal relationships.

The old-fashioned meeting. Passé, you say? No way! Research shows that employees

like to receive information in person and from their direct supervisors. Meetings provide

a venue for this interaction, which can help strengthen relationships between senior management, middle management and frontline employees.

The speakers bureau. Engage your audience at their location by sending a representative from your company to discuss issues with them one-on-one by forming a speakers bureau. Speakers bureaus can serve both internal and external audiences and they give organizations an opportunity to create networks that carry intimate, interactive, human messages to key audiences. Through bureau dialogue organizations are able to connect with opinion leaders, who then spread organizational messages to target audiences. Speakers bureaus not only help increase external communication effectiveness; they are also excellent tools to help educate employees on organizational issues. Employees who participate in speakers bureaus understand organizational issues and how each employee contributes to the organization better than those who do not participate.

Hosting public meetings and other public events targeted to your audience. Extend an invitation to your audiences to visit you. Use the time to catch up on the latest in their world and to show off your space, products, or services. Make the presentation engaging, have fun, but most of all use the time to develop and maintain relationships. So, before you post the next message on your blog, record your next podcast or contribute to the wiki of choice, consider the value of face-to-face communication and put it in your communication mix.