Dianna Booher is an expert in the field of business communication and productivity. Her extensive and ongoing research and published works serve as the foundation for her firm’s communication skills training and consulting services. She is the author of 46 books, including her classic, Communicate with Confidence: How to Say it Right the First Time and Every Time, and her 2011 title, Creating Personal Presence: Look, Talk, Think, and Act Like a Leader.
Booher has been interviewed by a variety of print and television media, including Good Morning America, USA Today, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, National Public Radio, and The New York Times. The National Speakers Association inducted her into the CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame, and Successful Meetings magazine named her one of the 21 Top Speakers for the 21st Century.
What was your first job, and what lessons did you take away from it?
My first job was in high school when I worked at Six Flags. There I learned the importance of the proper image—how you look and dress, friendliness, and customer service. When I was hired as a 16-year-old, the vice president of HR looked at me and said, “You have a tiny pimple on your chin. You need to get that cleared up before you report for work.” He preached that image was everything at the amusement park.
The second lesson I learned was the importance of confident communication. As teens, we had to give directions to adults and communicate with authority to keep them safe on the rides. If you had a great presence about you and good communication skills, patrons did what you said.
How did you initially become interested in the field of business communication and productivity?
I always liked to write papers in high school, college, and graduate school. In early adulthood, I had several older friends who happened to be executives at major oil companies in Houston, where I lived. They were continually complaining about their employees—engineers, lawyers, and IT staff—who couldn’t write. And I always thought, “How hard is that?” because I love to write.
I was writing a novel at that time while going to graduate school, and I asked my agent: “Do you think you could sell a book on business writing? I can write a book to help engineers learn how to write. They think logically, so I can create a logical, five-step plan and measure the results—how much faster they can write with this system. I can save the company money.” My agent agreed, and that’s how I sold it.
I wanted to become the expert, so I went to my executive friends and asked for writing examples. I picked out passages and put them in my first book, Would You Put That in Writing? Since then it’s been renamed and updated, and today it’s called E-Writing: 21st Century Tools for Effective Communication.
What are the latest trends emerging in corporate communications?
I see three. First, communication is going in all directions without an organizational hierarchy. It used to be that downward communication dominated. But now, both internally and externally, because of social media, people can communicate in any direction—up, down, and sideways. They can go around their boss two steps if they want to. And even outside an organization, customers expect to hear from the CEO. So really, the hierarchy in organizations is collapsing.
A second trend is that whoever can articulate best takes the prize. We used to respect titles and roles, but now there is so much noise with the ability to communicate through technology and with everybody on their mobile devices and social media, that if you can get your message out fast, then you get the prize—the budget, project, contract, plum assignment. There is no loyalty. If you can shout loudest, articulate best, be the most influential, and get the bigger platform, then you “win.”
That’s what we’re hearing with the high-potential employees. How do those people get identified? They articulate best. They articulate their value. They articulate their skill set. They articulate what they have in their toolbox. They articulate their relationships. They articulate whatever it is that they contribute until others recognize their value and select them as high potentials.
The third trend is that people value speed as much as, or sometimes even more than, accuracy. And I don’t know if this is a good trend, but I think it is generational. For years the focus was on accuracy—making sure that you are accurate in what you say and in your data, numbers, and facts. Now we see some people saying: “But that’s slow; that takes a long time. I want to get things out there. Decide. Do. Create. Produce. Speed is the goal. I want a fast response.”
And so there is a war going on. Which is better—accurate or fast? Of course, many people would say both. But that war is still raging.
Why is creating personal presence vital to one’s professional success?
I think it’s the easiest and most observable characteristic about someone. It’s how we engage and capture attention. In my book Creating Personal Presence, I use a diagram to illustrate this puzzle of sorts where you move through a continuum of how people perceive you. They perceive you first by how you look. Then they start filtering their perceptions through how you talk, and then how you think, to how you act. And that last part of the perception, how you act, is the most important—your character and integrity—yet it’s the most difficult and time-consuming to observe.
This is why your personal presence is important to your success: It’s all part of the way you capture someone’s attention. It’s the first filter that one uses to judge you because it takes a while to understand your character—sometimes 10 months, sometimes a lifetime. How you look, how you talk, how you think on your feet, how you express yourself, and how you articulate vision, strategy, and character are all part of those judgments.
You can’t hide your presence. You can disguise it. In other words, it can be edited because of technology today. When you go on camera, people can edit your words and physically make you up so that you don’t even look or sound like you. But when someone sees you one-on-one, that filtering process immediately begins. You start creating that first impression. And once someone has an impression about you, it’s very hard to change their perception.
What can you share about the impact technology and social media are having on human communication in general and business communication specifically?
Technology and social media demand 24/7 access and assume that you’re going to be available. And because of that, people are working longer and longer hours. This can be good or bad. In other words, that access grants much more freedom for people to work at their own pace and on their own schedule. On the other hand, if they want to get away for a vacation or a long weekend, and the boss demands accessibility around the clock, they may not work out so well.
Another impact on human communication in general is how a poorly chosen word or phrase in a tweet, blog, or Facebook post can trigger a riot, end someone’s career, or provoke an unstable person to commit suicide or even murder. There are instances of all of these things happening that can be traced back to someone’s tweet or post. While the person may not have intended to communicate in this manner or cause such consequences, there’s an increasing awareness and responsibility for our words.
As far business communication, technology and social media create that same awareness for organizations. One ill-chosen word or phrase from a company official or employee can send the stock market soaring, push the financial markets around the globe into a freefall, cost the corporation’s reputation overnight, or cut the company’s share value by half in 24 hours. These are consequences of people’s off-the-cuff remarks or gut reactions to a news event or a recent emotional conversation. This is part of the awareness that people are coming to grips with now.
Are you working on any new books or special projects?
I am working to bring together my entire communication library. It comprises more than 200 products, courses, and publications. I’m putting them all in one collection so that clients can access them through a membership. And I’m working on another book, but that’s under wraps right now.
What do you like to do for relaxation or fun?
I have grandkids, so they’re part of our relaxation and fun. My two young granddaughters love to write, and we’re always co-writing stories and adventures back and forth by e-mail. That’s always great fun. Also, since I travel frequently for my work, my relaxation is to stay home, and just sit by the pool in the flower garden and read.