What Effective Communication Craves

by Joe Pelissier on September 3, 2010

Pea Shooter

Pea Shooter Communication

Effective communication comes in many forms. It is sometimes defined at the ‘art of expressing ideas’ or ‘the science of transmitting information’.

But this is all a bit one-sided. It ignores the desired behaviour or response of the person to whom you are communicating.

In this respect, two important words to consider if you are keen to establish a good rapport with visitors are feedback and congruency.

Effective Communication craves feedback

Without feedback you have no communication. It is the only evidence you have that your message has been received.

Otherwise, you are just a lone voice floating in the ether.

That’s why Web 2.0 is so successful. It allows anyone to have a voice and to express what they think or feel.

That’s why Blogs, Forums, YouTube and Facebook are so successful. They encourage active communication – they are  participative media.

That’s why sites that don’t encourage some form of interaction only deal with one-way communication.

It’s what the adman, David Bernstein called ‘pea-shooter communication’ – when you send out a message but invite no form of response.

How well you get people to give feedback depends on how successfully you engage with them, emotionally or intellectually. And the mechanisms and reasons you give them to respond.

Without either of these, you are in danger of pea-shooting – your message scores a direct hit but you have no way of knowing.

Effective Communication loves Congruency

In the online world, if you want master effective communication you must get comfortable with the word ‘congruency’.

It’s about knowing how to present knowledge and information that is in line with the expectation of your reader, regardless of the page they are on.

Take a look at the image below. It is a simple explanation of how you pass messages.

Effective Communication

As a writer or designer, you decide to ‘transmit’ a message to your reader. That message is made up of a series of codes, each with a specific meaning. Headlines, sub-headings, fonts, captions, hyperlinks etc are all examples.

However, the message is meaningless unless it is possible to decode it. In most cases, this is easy to do because your are familiar with the codes. You ‘receive’ them with no problem.

It sounds rather basic, doesn’t it?

It is, unless you decide to disrupt the transmission by being too clever or over-creative.

Effective communication avoids ‘noise’

You start to introduce ‘noise’ into the communication process by changing the ‘codes’ on each page. The layout is different, a new font appears, the headlines are a different colour and size, graphics appear unexpectedly.

Very quickly, as the ‘receiver’, your ability to decode the messages takes slightly longer. Not immeasurably, but significantly.

You will have experienced this yourself when the layout of a page suddenly changes or a site has a new design.

All of a sudden, what you are scanning or reading is not congruent with what preceded it.

And because your desire to access information at lightning speed is suddenly threatened, you subconsciously start to question the value of that page.

This is all because effective communication is built around consistency. The more things change on the page, the less consistent they are.

The less consistent, the harder they are to decode.

Hard decoding = ineffective communication

Why ‘noise’ can help effective communication

Does that mean that effective communication is about everything appearing the same? Not at all.

It’s about building trust, so that you know what to expect.

You are then in a far stronger position to break the rules and introduce ‘noise’ as a deliberate ploy to attract attention and focus the mind.

In television advertising, there is the term ‘video vampire’ to represent any visual element that deliberately detracts from the main selling thrust of the commercial. Done correctly, it acts as a ‘visual anchor‘ so that the ‘vampire’ is unwittingly associated with the product.

The pea-shooter above is an example of ‘noise’. It is not entirely congruent, just a relevant distraction.

How this affects you

You want congruent web pages and the chance for your readers to give you feedback.

Take a quick look over your website and think about how congruent each page is in terms of design and web copy. Are you introducing any sudden changes to shock or confuse? And are you giving your visitor plenty of opportunities to give you feedback.

And, please, give me some feedback in case this post becomes a classic case of ‘pea-shooter’ communication.

Related Posts

If you found this helpful, you may want to read other posts in the Internet Marketing category.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

PeteB September 4, 2010 at 9:39 am

Hi Joe

A very interesting article. The venn diagram of the transmitter -> message -> receiver is a good reminder of where (and why) to focus my efforts in getting the message across.

admin September 9, 2010 at 4:16 pm

That venn diagram is very powerful. I use it a lot in my web writing workshops as a reminder of what happens when you change all of the transmitter codes when the receiver is not expecting them.

You know how it is – when a designer or writer decides to do something ‘different’. All it does is confuse the web reader.


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