Selecting a communication method depends on the intended audience, the size of the audience, the topic, and the speed required for the message. Best practice requires a balanced combination of all the different methods; i.e. face-to-face, telephone, email, video, teleconference, audio-video conference, etc. Successful communication is dependent on the preparation for the event by the communicator. The communicator must have a clear understanding of the communication goal. It is helpful to notify the audience about the topic in advance and if possible, get some audience feedback prior to the event.
The optimum method is meeting with individuals or small groups face-to-face in an office setting. Pre-meeting communication is important to identify the purpose of the meeting, and sufficient meeting time must be planned to allow quality dialog. It is important to create a business atmosphere without distractions in an office environment. A written meeting summary is the best practice. Face-to-face meetings require the most time to implement but have the potential to create the best quality of communication. A balanced, multi-method communication plan should always include face-to-face meetings.
Audio-video conferencing has become a primary communication method, particularly in the pandemic era. Advantages include the speed of setup, no travel logistics, audience size, audience participation and time control. As with face-to-face communication, pre-meeting identification of goals and the planned agenda are critical to meeting success. While the advantages have been experienced by many, it is also true that there are disadvantages to the audio-video conferencing method. Two of the prime disadvantages are: the inability to effectively deal with audience segments (e.g. new versus experienced team members) and the inability to get dialog from audience members who feel intimidated by the method and/or other meeting participants. Dealing with different audience segments is a significant disadvantage as no successful communicator wants to pay too much focus to one segment and risk losing the interest of other audience segments. From our experience, audio-video conferencing should be part of a balanced communication plan, particularly if audience members are from different geographies.
Email is always an integral part of effective communication plans. It is the most effective method to communicate the meeting goals, the agenda and the timing of the meeting. Email allows for give and take before the actual meeting and can be used for post-meeting summaries. Email skill, e.g. clear and concise messages, is an important facet of this communication method. While an integral part of any plan, email alone is not a best practice without the balance of face-to-face or teleconferencing.
A good addition to communication plans is recorded video messages which can be attached to an email. The video-enhanced email allows the audience to visually experience the body and voice language used by the communicator. The video messages are easily produced and demonstrate a commitment to high-quality communication by the communicator.
Voice communication by phone, on an individual basis, has largely been replaced by text messaging. Similarly, teleconference meetings have been replaced by audio-video conferencing. Teleconferencing can still be an effective method for small groups from one to four participants. The major negative is the inability to ascertain the participants’ attentiveness and reaction to the message. The advantage is speed and ease of implementation.
While generally not acknowledged as a standard method, informal and ad hoc office encounters are still effective for communication. Many messages have been communicated in the morning coffee area.
In summary, understanding your audience and selecting the right method are keys to effective communication.