And the award goes to…The Set

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Last night’s Academy Awards ceremony was a reminder to communicators about how important environment is to the communication process.  Based on the evening’s Twitter feed, the most impressive element of the Oscars was the creative visual environment.  The producers created an excellent environment for the broadcast, with funny videos, enormous screens, great lighting, holograms, and music.  (I especially loved the way videos were shown on massive, arching screens.) 

These elements were impressive, but they competed with, and stole the show from, the communicators.  No one was tweeting anything positive about James Franco.  The tweets about Anne Hathaway were nice, but left you feeling like Paula had just told her how pretty she looked before Simon told her never to do this again.  They did not interact well with the environment.  They seemed to be in competition with it, and the set won.  Hands down.

As the communicator, your message can be enhanced as you interact with the visual environment.  Every element of your services should move toward one idea, and your communication should be the apex of the idea.  Do not rely on cool sets, graphics, videos, and music to communicate your message for you. 

It’s not a good thing if people are complimenting the creativity, instead of the creativity complementing your message.  At the end of the day, you don’t want to hear people say, “That (fill-in-the-blank creative element) was so cool!”  The reason for creative elements in church services (and awards shows) is so that people will say, “That (fill-in-the-blank creative element) really helped me understand what you were saying.” 

Are Your Logos Creative or Criminal?

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I have designed logos for sermon series and ministries.  Often, the church wants to tap into a pop-culture reference to teach biblical truth.  The nineteenth century advice to “preach with the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other” still applies today, but studies (http://people-press.org/report/689/) have shown that it is now the Bible and television and the internet.

Using pop-culture and current events to “sell” a sermon series or a ministry is creative.  What is not creative is modifying a trademark.  When churches do this, it is not creative.  It is illegal.  I have been asked many times what percentage a logo can be changed, because there is a myth that if you only use part of the logo it is legal.  This comes from copyright law, where you can use a portion of a published work (with citation) without infringing on the copyright owner.  For example, the following paragraph is from Disney’s Corporate Website (http://corporate.disney.go.com/corporate/conduct_standards18.html):

Under United States law, a federally registered trademark provides the registrant with nationwide protection against another’s use. Any use of another party’s trademark that gives rise to a likelihood of confusion as to the source or sponsorship of a product or service constitutes “trademark infringement” and violates the law. It is also impermissible to duplicate the packaging of a rival firm in a way that deceives or is likely to confuse the public.

I quoted just a small portion of the website, and gave you a link to go to the original content, so I am not violating copyright law.  There is no such provision in trademark law.  As Disney’s legal experts state, ANY use is a violation of the law.

Consequences of violating trademark laws include cease and desist orders to lawsuits. Lawsuits do not often result in fines or punitive damages for churches, but the lawsuit itself costs on average $151,000 for litigation and $300,000 for a trial (http://www.ficpi.org/library/montecarlo99/damages.html).  This is not the way most congregations would like their tithes and offerings spent, so why take the risk?

The worst consequence, though, is when churches use trademarks in an effort to identify with the culture, they are identifying in a negative way.  It does not demonstrate creativity; it demonstrates disrespect for the law.  Advertising agencies work diligently to create the perfect brand for their clients.  Instead of stealing their work, churches should work just as diligently to bring the essence of the cultural icon into a design that is our own creation.  It’s okay to use the idea, just don’t use the artwork.

Delegate Everything Under the Sun

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Sometimes we hold onto all of the work we need to do because we don’t trust the people to whom we should give it. How often do you think that it would “just be easier to do it myself” instead of delegating?


“So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the work into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 2:17-19, NIV)


We can really begin to hate life because of our workload. Not sharing our work with others causes us to be overloaded and them to be unfulfilled. How can you trust the next generation of leaders if you give all of your effort and skill to your tasks, instead of giving some of your effort and skill toward developing others? Developing leaders is a creative act that requires communication. Find trustworthy people who are good at and passionate about things that you look upon as anxious striving. Share your ideas with them, and ask for their help. Listen to their solutions, and equip them to make those solutions reality. Give feedback throughout the process. Focus on building into them the skills they will need to become leaders themselves.


“A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?” (Ecclesiastes 2:24, NIV)


The great part about delegation is that you get more creative solutions than if you tried to do everything yourself. Delegation is hard work–it doesn’t make your job easier–but it can make the results so much more satisfying.

Men Report, Women Rapport

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It’s a given that women and men communicate differently.  Since communication is not just talking, but sending and receiving messages, and since approximately half of our audience is of a different gender, it is important to understand these differences.


Recently, Mike and I sat in the backseat as another couple drove us to a restaurant.  As I observed their interactions, I realized they were almost identical to ours when Mike is driving and I am navigating.  We are very different from this couple, and yet the conversation was the same.


Now, I personally hate stereotypes, but you really cannot avoid noticing similarities like this.  Deborah Tannen, in You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation (1994) uses report talk to describe the way men seek status through a demonstration of knowledge or skill, instrumentality, command of the conversation, assertive expressions, and impersonal terms.  Women seek relationships by engaging in rapport talk, emphasizing equality, responsiveness, maintenance of the conversation, tentativeness, and personal experiences.


For example, a wife tells her husband she had a bad day at work, using specific examples of why it was bad.  The husband responds by asking her what she did to solve those individual examples, or telling her how she should have solved them.  The wife is frustrated that the husband is trying to solve the problem instead of just listening to her, while the husband is frustrated that the wife doesn’t take his advice on how to solve her problems.


Taking this to a broader audience, when leading a mixed-gender team, the leader should take care to speak both languages.  Women can work at reflecting less on personal experience and emotional details and demonstrating knowledge and skill through conversation.  Men can try to speak more personally with less concern for commanding the conversation.  This is also important to understand when writing a promotion for an event or series at your church, or in your sermons or presentations.  By blending report giving with rapport building, you are speaking a language that can be received and processed by both genders.

A Gladiator’s Sweet Spot

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Last Friday I attended a seminar for doctoral students at Indiana Wesleyan University. The speakers were Dr. Christina Bodurow of Eli Lilly and Bill Stanczykiewicz of The Indiana Youth Institute. 

Dr. Bodurow’s presentation was titled “Living in Leadership.”  Her first point: as leaders, we need to know our strengths, passions, and the what is needed for the mission. The intersection of passions, strengths, and organizational needs (mission) is your leadership sweet spot. The Venn diagram she used reminded me of the one I saw on Bud Caddell’s blog a while back: http://bit.ly/5z566p. If you aren’t operating in your sweet spot, which one of these areas needs adjusting?

Mr. Stanczykiewicz’s presentation was titled “Leadership and Management at the Movies,” as he used movie clips to illustrate leadership principles. His first principle was drawn from Jim Collins’ Good to Great, using a clip from the movie Gladiator to illustrate Level 5 Leadership. (This process is a communication lesson in itself.  Using pop culture references to make a point makes that point more memorable. The scene is where Caesar meets with Maximus to offer him the leadership of Rome. Maximus demonstrates loyalty to the organization, moral leadeship, humility, and emphathy for followers.) The Level 5 Leader looks out the window when things go right (acknowledging the contribution of others) and in the mirror when things go wrong (accepting the mistakes they made), because the Level 5 Leader’s ambition is geared to the success of the organization, not personal achievement. It would seem that the Level 5 Leader has achieved all the growth that can be achieved, so what is left to be accomplished?

Putting the two thoughts together, the path of growth for Level 5 Leaders is growing others, and one of the best ways to grow others is by helping them discover and live in their sweet spot. 

This communication lesson is what I call “mini-mentoring.” When you see an individual in your organization who has undirected passion, think of how that passion could connect with the organizational mission in a way that would optimize their strengths. Give someone who has obvious strengths that would benefit the organization something to get excited about. Tell them that they are good at something. Encourage them to pursue their passion. Thank them for contributing to the organization. Each time you do any of these things, you are moving them toward their sweet spot. Each time a leader communicates, the result should be a mini-mentoring session where the person knows just a little more about who they are and where they should be.

LOL, ROTFL, and Loop Closing

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Feedback is defined as “a system of loops that connect communication and action.  Individuals provide messages to others, who then respond to those messages in some way.  The response closes the loop, providing communicators with information about how their messages were received.”  Facebook gives us the opportunity to send messages and post feedback in the form of comments, and we often use shorthand like LOL (laughing out loud) or ROTFL (rolling on the floor laughing) to respond.  These are usually hyperbole (although you may have laughed audibly, when was the last time you literally rolled on the floor laughing?), but they do convey a positive response to the person who sent the message.


Unfortunately, sometimes leaders can practice facebook-style communication.  They share the vision, then sit back and wait for positive comments and productive compliance.  Positive feedback feels great, but is only half of what is needed for success.


To be successful, an organization needs both positive and negative feedback.   Often, negative feedback seeks to reestablish high expectations or quality.  This type of feedback often stings, but whether the complaint is completely true or an emotional, exaggerated reaction, there is truth in the individual’s perception, and they are making an effort at loop closing.  It may not be what we want to hear, but we need it to genuinely evaluate the organization’s vision, strategies, and communication.  Does your organization invite both types of loop-closing feedback, or is it clear that leaders want you to be their BFF who <3s everything they do?