The purpose of this tool

This tool is designed for anyone with responsibility for communicating with others at work, as an aid in choosing the most appropriate method to employ. The tool will be most useful when the communication goal is complex, when there are many alternative options or when you wish to critically examine your assumptions.

The fifteen communication
methods

For the purposes of this analysis, the various communication methods are classified under fifteen headings and to keep the analysis clearcut, some of these are defined more specifically than is usual:

Audio tape/CD: The playback of linear audio through a cassette or CD player, whether fixed or portable.

Video: The playback of linear video from a VCR or videodisc player.

CD-ROM: The use of a read-only CD as a source of data, program code, text, graphics, audio and video on a PC. It is assumed that the quality of audio and video can be as high as is required and that, through the program code, a wide range of interactive strategies can be employed.

Letters/memos/reports: Although on the face of it this seems very broad, the focus here is on relatively short, paper-based messages for which some form of response is expected. In this respect, this is regarded as an interactive category.

Manuals: These are paper-based documents providing a source of reference to large volumes of information.

Printed materials: These are paper materials designed and printed to the highest standards.

Fax: The use of the public telephone system to deliver paper documents from one place to another.

E-mail: The on-line equivalent of letters/memos/reports. The assumption is that e-mail is an interactive process in which short messages can be exchanged.

Intranet: The use of web technology within an organisation. In this case it is assumed that no audio or video is possible, although a wide range of interactive strategies can be employed.

Radio: The transmission of radio broadcasts for playback through a radio receiver.

TV: The transmission of linear TV programmes through the normal broadcasting system or by satellite to a standard television receiver.

One-to-ones: Meetings of two people, face-to-face.

Meetings: Three or more people meeting in person, with opportunities for visual aids if required.

Phone: Conversations between two or more people using internal or public phone networks.

Videoconferencing: Meetings of two or more people at a distance from each other, with pictures and sound.

Using the input page

The tool works by asking you a number of questions about your particular communication situation and then analysing your data according to a series of rules to provide you with suggested solutions. First specify what your problem is: the communication goal you are aiming to achieve, the audience you are addressing and the particular message you are trying to get across. Do not try to use the tool to analyse more than one goal, audience or message - the best way of dealing with complex situations is to break them down into their elements and deal with them one by one.

Having specified the situation, you will then be asked a series of questions. Each question is designed to narrow down the options in some way and can have a major effect on the outcome. Most of the questions ask you to rate a particular issue for its importance by picking one of five options, from minimum to maximum. The maximum option has a particular role - if you select this option, it makes that issue a 'must' and any communication method that does not support it will be crossed out. Whatever option you choose, points are allocated to the available methods to help you in ranking your options. There are seven categories of question:

Media issues: Determines what media characteristics the communication method should have.

Recorded v live: helps determine whether the ideal method will be prepared in advance of its delivery or delivered as it happens in real-time.

Passive v interactive: determines whether the method of communication should be one-way or two-way.

Local v remote: determines whether the method should be stand-alone and off-line or delivered at a distance.

Push v pull: determines whether the communication should be sent to specific recipients or made available to be accessed at the recipients' discretion.

Budget and timeframe: determines the importance of cost and the time it takes to prepare the communication.

Facilities: allows you to specify the equipment and facilities available to deliver the communication to your target audience.

To understand how the tool uses this data to analyse the communication situation, see the accompanying paper: Assessing your communication options.

Using the results page

When you have finished answering the questions, click on Results. You will be presented with a list of the fifteen communication methods. In most cases, some of the options will be marked with a cross, which means that they failed to satisfy one or more of your 'musts'. All other methods will be given a score - the higher the score, the more suitable the tool believes the method will be.

If you are uncomfortable with the results and believe that a particular answer has skewed the outcome disproportionately, you can click on Input to go back and modify your selections. You can go back and forwards between Input and Results as often as you like.

When you are satisfied with the results, use the browser's Print facility to obtain a hard copy. If you then want to analyse a different communication situation, click on Reset and start again.

Building up a
communication plan

A major communications exercise is likely to involve a number of communication goals aimed at multiple audiences and conveying many messages. Use the tool to address each element one by one, then bring your results together to summarise your findings. It may be that one method can be used to meet more than one purpose, even if it wasn't the highest scoring option in each case. There are likely to be cost and practical advantages to minimising the number of methods. On the other hand, it is quite likely that a number of methods is required to fulfil the requirements of a major communications plan.

Improving this tool

Real life is never quite as clear cut as your algorithms would like. No doubt the tool will initially be a blunt one. What's needed is feedback on how it helps in real situations, so it can be enhanced to be more useful to more people. Any help you can give will be much appreciated. Just e-mail the author at clives@fastrak-consulting.co.uk.

try out the tool

1998 Fastrak Consulting Ltd