Vol 02 Iss 03
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Quarterly Journal on Management
From the publishers of THE HINDU BUSINESS LINE

Vol. 2 :: Iss. 3 :: February 1999

Putting it Across

Getting your message across the right way.

Jonathan Davidar

A few years ago, advertisements, brochures, and corporate videos would have helped meet your communication needs. Today, you need more than traditional media to do your bidding. The age is digital. Multimedia presentations, electronic brochures, touch-screen kiosks, Web sites, and intranets are mushrooming in almost every large corporation. Reams of information that were previously print-based have been dumped onto the realm of digital media. This presents the problem of content creation. Information for digital media needs to be designed using a different paradigm. Of course, the communication objectives remain the same but the structure, format, writing style and presentation techniques differ.

The Web is concise

For instance, on the Web, users do not necessarily read text. Instead they scan the page. Usability studies show that content re-engineered for the Web is 125 per cent more effective in communicating. This implies that long-winded, unfocused copy is out and that concise chunks of information really carry the message. Jakob Nielsen, the Web site usability guru projects that in the next five to ten years there will be a major shift from structure to content.

When your company Web site is designed, ensure that your message is not swallowed by technology. Instead, get a focus on what you want to communicate. Blinking text, scrolling applets, glow effects and auto-scroll screens are not what you are trying to project. Get your message into the open. Corporate sites that succeed often fulfil a need. Content makes a difference, and people enjoy sites that have been designed for content, not the other way around.

Find out what the users need and then design your site to give users the information that they want. Of course, the advantage of the Web is accessibility and connectivity. So make sure that visitors find your Web site an accessible spoke in the wheel of the Web.

Multimedia Presentations - Having your Say

Slick multimedia presentations are competing with traditional corporate videos and other publicity material in a bid to create the right impression. Multimedia presentations have the innate advantage of multisensory engagement, interaction, flexibility and customisation. If you were to present a corporate video to a room full of people, you would need to pause, rewind, stop and perform a few other acrobatics to get your message across. Even then, your message will have only a linear interpretation.

With a multimedia presentation, you have the freedom to go into the sections that you want to explore. Further, if you are projecting a multimedia presentation to an audience, you can easily go into any of the modules that the audience wants to see, without breaking their concentration. What's more is that you can reuse the same presentation by changing the content, updating facts and figures and including your latest products in the Products module.

Multimedia presentations can be used to communicate a variety of objectives. You can design multimedia presentations for sales presentations, annual meetings, product launches and information kiosks and the list goes on. Ultimately, like all communication projects, the decision lies in knowing what you need to present and working with clear communication objectives. Once you have done that, you will need to research, collect, filter, condense and purify information before you finalise the storyboard from which the presentation will be designed.

CBT - Learning in Focus

Training sessions are no longer limited to an instructor and a training video. Computer-based training (CBT) has changed the way in which companies train people. On the surface, the advantage lies in self-paced learning, easy access to information and a system designed to check how much information the user has understood. Users in branch offices across the world can use the same CBT, establishing a uniform standard of information and learning. Broadly, there are two types of CBTs: multi-media and non-multimedia.

The Accessible Teacher - Multimedia CBTs

A full-fledged multimedia CBT is a powerful entity that is capable of informing, illustrating, testing and demonstrating complex concepts simply.

For example, users can view animations with a voice-over that explains how the internals of a machine work. They can also click labelled parts to get more details. In certain cases, the user's keyboard is assigned keys that enable the user to zoom in on and explore spaces such as the instrument panel of a sophisticated control system.

To take the experience into the real world, some CBTs have built-in simulation systems that enable users to key in the values for different parameters of a system and receive feedback on their inputs - the benefit is real learning without incurring costly repairs on account of incorrect system parameters. A large wastewater treatment company created a simulation CBT that outlined the concepts of wastewater treatment and eventually led users to a simulator to put their learning to the test.

The Mechanical Arm - ORM Manuals

The manufacturing sector across the world uses CBTs to train engineers to efficiently maintain complicated pieces of machinery. These CBTs are called Operation, Repair and Maintenance (ORM) manuals. They are similar to printed guides that accompany machines. However, the difference lies in the ease with which you can search for information. Two and three-dimensional animations are used to explain complex maintenance and repair procedures. This approach is suited to the heavy engineering and process industry, where it is not feasible to open-up large machines on a regular basis to train personnel.

The Instructor - Non-multimedia CBT

The non-multimedia CBT is used to present information in very structured manner with well-defined learning objectives. Often, this type of CBT is used to teach conceptual subjects such as science, management, computer languages and software programs. These programs do not have multimedia effects as they are designed to present information that can be accessed on a basic computer that may not be equipped with the hardware that drives multimedia.

These CBTs are the equivalent of well-designed textbooks and they are structured to gradually lead the user into the depths of the subject. Typically, these CBTs have a set of objectives, conceptual information screens, steps to perform specific tasks, illustrated examples and sets of test questions. They are used in the training divisions of software companies, schools, colleges and other training institutions.

Your Message is the Future

The digital media revolution is just beginning and the future is demanding excellence and information that reaches out to the user. Multimedia presentations, CBTs and Web sites are the communication tools of the age, and they present compelling and attractive ways to get your message across. It is easy to get carried away but it is far more fruitful to define your communication goals and then decide which digital realm best suits your needs.

Jonathan Davidar is a Chennai-based content developer. He can be reached at davidar@vsnl.com.


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