Tears in a lecture theatre? Who could ever have imagined that a lecture could be so emotional, but that is what happened when Ian went back to his alma mater, Robert Gordon University (RGU), to deliver a guest lecture on communication.
Towards the end of the hour-long session as one of the TV adverts he was showing came to an end, Ian looked round the class and spotted a student with tears rolling down their cheeks. What was the advert that tugged the heartstrings so much? John Lewis’ Christmas offering from last year, and the student sitting in the lecture theatre wasn’t alone in needing a hanky to dry their eyes. When the advert was shown on TV screens in 2011 it provoked a crying fit among the public and reduced celebrities and TV critics to snivelling wrecks.
But why was Ian standing up at the front of a room full of students showing them TV adverts in the first place?
After he graduated from RGU with an honours degree in Tourism and Hospitality Management Ian spent five years working at Aberdeen’s exhibition centre. While there he wasn’t able to shake off his links with the university as students studying his old course visited the venue annually for a tour and presentation. When he moved to Innes Associates in 2009, his old lecturers tracked him down and asked if he would deliver a guest lecture to first year students studying hospitality, tourism and events courses.
Having endured all manner of guest lectures during his studies he knew how important it would be to make the session as entertaining as possible in order to hold the class’s attention. Thankfully the days of Kepplestone with its hard seats – padding had been worn away by years of use – and overhead projectors and acetates were long gone. Replaced instead by the Garthdee Campus’ comfortable tiered theatres that are fitted with an array of multimedia, allowing videos to be played with ease.
After defining communication and poking fun at our nosy nature, he looked at communication methods and compared today’s methods with those of 25 years ago. Here he felt rather old – most of the audience were children of the 1990s and knew little of BBC computers, walkmans and car phones!
That section was rounded off by looking into the future and highlighting some of the technologies that are likely to be commonplace in a few years. He also touched on how social media and technology is making it very easy for people to complain and suggested that they watch Dave Carroll’s video United Breaks Guitars. The idea was to get them thinking about what communication methods they and their customers might be using when they enter the world of work.
Ian underlined that we don’t just communicate by written and verbal means; our dress, poise, actions and gestures communicate a lot as well. Then it was into explaining the differences between internal and external communication by splitting it into the who, what, why, where and when of communication. Having worked in all of the sectors that the students are studying, Ian was able to give real examples of the differences between internal and external communication in different situations.
Before giving his vocal chords a rest by showing the students some adverts, he explained a little about what he does for clients at Innes Associates. But why play the students TV adverts; surely they see enough of them when they’re watching daytime TV?
Each advert was chosen because they are felt to be good examples of effective communication because everyone could relate to each of them in one way or another. First up was Hovis’ 2008 epic 122-second advert that took viewers on a journey through 122 years of the firm’s history. Featuring 750 extras, it depicts landmark events since 1886 that every viewer can relate to either in person or through their knowledge. It also taps into our thirst for nostalgia and refers to the Hovis lad of old.
Then there was Cancer Research UK’s 2009 advert about being diagnosed with cancer. It uses a minute-long montage of different people to provide the narrative that takes the viewer on a rollercoaster of emotion. Again, everyone can relate to it and it tugs on the heartstrings and stops people in their tracks.
Next up was John Lewis’ 2011 Christmas advert. Set to the Slow Moving Millie track “Please, Please, Please”, it was both amusing and unexpected. It stirred the soul and took everyone back to the days when as a child they wished Christmas would hurry up and arrive as they knew there would be the chance of some presents being delivered. But there was a twist and this is what catches the viewer off guard and winds them. The wee lad wanted Christmas to come quickly so that he could get pleasure out of giving presents to his family.
Finally there was the BA Taxi advert from summer 2012 that showed a plane taxiing through the streets of London in advance of the Olympics. An online version encouraged the public to enter their postcode and take a flight down their street. The advert was personalised by using Google’s Street View, something that could be included in more adverts in the future.
The session was rounded off with a slide on differences in tone. It covered the importance of spelling correctly, choosing the right words for a particular situation or publication, and not using text speak in letters and documents. There was also a cautionary note regarding the internet with students being advised to think before posting pictures and text online as they are there for all, including prospective employers, to see.
So go forth and communicate, but as your Granny might say, remember your hanky!