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Assessing your communication options
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pixel.gif (807 bytes) The main communication methods
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AS A STARTING POINT, here is a brief description of what are probably the most popular methods for business communication used today. Some of these are universally familiar, others recent arrivals on the scene, but for completeness and to ensure a common understanding, I have attempted to describe them all.
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Audio tape/CD Although audio playback devices are not usually available at work, they are almost universal in homes and cars and can be taken practically anywhere in the form of personal stereos. Audio is used only infrequently as a means for business communication, primarily as a way of delivering information and training to employees such as salespeople, who are constantly on the move. Audio production is relatively inexpensive.
Videotape As soon as videocassette recorders became established within the home, their use within business flourished, primarily for formal corporate communications, but also for training. Although video will increasingly be transmitted by satellite to those organisations with large branch structures, or directly to desktop PCs over a company’s network, the videocassette will remain the most practical option for some time. Depending on the production values employed, video can be expensive to produce, though relatively inexpensive to replicate and deliver.
CD-ROM A CD-ROM is a compact disc used for storing computer data, although this data can be in practically any form, including audio and video. Although CD-ROMs are universal now on home PCs, as much as anything as a way of installing software, most business PCs do not require them. The primary use for CD-ROMs in business is the delivery of multimedia training or sales presentations, normally on specially-provided workstations. Depending on the nature of the media making up a CD-ROM and the degree of interactivity required, CD-ROMs can be expensive to produce, yet inexpensive to replicate and deliver.
Letters / memos / reports In spite of the increase in electronic communication, we all seem to receive our fair share of messages on paper. This may be because there is no e-mail link between the parties, because a hard copy is required to meet audit or legal requirements or because the recipient prefers to read from paper than from a screen.
Manuals Another common form of paper document, with the distinction that the main purpose is reference rather than gaining a response.
Printed materials A great deal of our post consists of printed documents in the form of brochures, fliers, magazines and newsletters, many of which originate from outside, although this format is also common for corporate communications. Depending on the production values and the number of colours, printed materials can be expensive to produce and replicate, except at high volumes.
Fax Fax uses the public telephone system as a way of delivering paper documents from one place to another, in those situations where a hard copy original is not essential.
E-mail E-mail has become the primary means for delivering short text messages within organisations that are networked. As e-mail between organisations becomes more common, the medium will increasingly take the place of fax, particularly as whole documents can be sent as e-mail attachments. E-mail provides many cost advantages when compared with the use of paper or the telephone.
Intranet An intranet uses the same technology as the Internet, but operates within the confines of a single organisation. Normally an intranet is used to deliver text and images, although the technology is capable of audio, animation, video and real-time 3D graphics (sometimes called 'virtual reality'). The principal constraint on the media that an intranet can employ is the bandwidth (capacity) of the organisation’s network, although it is also the case that few desktop PCs are currently capable of playing audio. Information is much less expensive to distribute and maintain with an intranet than with paper equivalents.
Radio With limited frequencies available, radio is used almost exclusively for public broadcast channels and has few uses for business communications. Furthermore, radio receivers are not commonly available in the workplace.
TV Like radio, broadcast TV is typically used for public rather than business purposes and few TV receivers are available at work. However, some organisations with large branch networks use satellite to transmit TV programmes to the workforce.
One-to-ones By this, we just mean two people meeting face to face, here and now.
Meetings And by this, we mean three or more people, meeting in person.
Phone Phones are universal and, with the advent of voice mail and mobile phones, it is now possible to reach people practically anytime, anywhere. Conferencing facilities also make it possible for meetings of three or more people to take place remotely.
Video conferencing Video conferencing uses phone lines to transmit video as well as sound, between two or more parties. Because cameras, microphones, audio playback, special software and high-bandwidth network cabling are required, video conferencing is used only infrequently and on specially-provided workstations. However, as networks become more powerful and the hardware components less expensive, it is conceivable that the facility will eventually be available on every PC.

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                                                     Fastrak Consulting Ltd, 1998. All rights reserved.                            Last revised 2/11/98.