People talk. There's no getting around it. People talk about each other and about themselves because we are social animals who love to communicate. This month we look at talk from three different points of view: talk as a marketing tool, as a sales technique and as an organizational development device.

Talk is at the heart of The Anatomy of Buzz: How to Create Word of Mouth Advertising by Emanuel Rosen. Why does a sleeper become a hit movie? Because people raved about it to their friends. Why did 65 percent of Palm Pilot users buy a Palm? Because someone told someone who told someone else the Palm Pilot was a great product. That's buzz, the largely immeasurable word-of-mouth network that spreads product information from one user to another potential user. This column is buzz, since I'm telling you about books I like.

Buzz is also the impression a product leaves with consumers. To create buzz, Rosen says, a product must have clearly identifiable traits. In addition to being innovative or solving a practical problem, the product becomes more useful as more people use it. If it also practically advertises itself (How many of your neighbors have blue New York Times bags on their lawn?) you've got buzz. How did you hear about the best-selling novel Cold Mountain? You probably read a review or someone told you about the book. That's buzz at work.

The Anatomy of Buzz follows the footsteps of Paul Lazarsfeld, a communications researcher who, in the 1940s, studied the influence of the mass media on election politics. He concluded that many factors played into voters' decisions, including the beliefs of "opinion leaders," people who influenced their decisions. The Anatomy of Buzz deftly links such communications theory with buying theory. This is not a stuffy research volume or a textbook, however. It's a layman's approach to a marketing strategy, one that many marketers have overlooked. They rely heavily on expensive ad campaigns that may not reap results. These days that's a huge and costly mistake. The Anatomy of Buzz should be required reading for anyone who works with new product development, advertising or public relations. Don't spend your money where it won't work, Rosen advises. As an alternative, talk is cheap and very effective.

Several years ago, the buzz word in sales and marketing circles was the "guerilla" approach to sales. Almost everyone knows a guerilla salesman at work. He's the guy with the take-no-prisoners attitude, who has perfected the hard sell and always seems to know what to say. In Three Steps to Yes: The Gentle Art of Getting Your Wayauthor Gene Bedell offers a primer for those of us who are flummoxed by guerilla tactics, but still need help in becoming effective communicators. Whether you're a salesperson, a PTA member or a job applicant, Three Steps to Yes shows you how to sell your ideas or yourself without subscribing to guerilla tactics.

Bedell refers to all of us who aren't comfortable with guerilla tactics as "poets." He prefaces Three Steps to Yes with the assurance that poets can learn to sell their ideas in ways that make sense to sensitive hearts. The author outlines a clear guide for instilling trust and respect in buyers, helping poets to say what they need to say. He teaches a method of understanding buyers' needs, all the while assuring poets that they need not compromise their values to make a sale Three Steps to Yes is peppered with stories from Bedell's home and work life. He makes it look as easy to talk with a 13-year-old as it is to win a new job. Illus- trated with cogent examples, interesting narrative and simple outlines, Three Steps to Yes helps poets slide quietly past guerillas in the war of words at work.

As the author of another new book sees it, all of us are "gorillas," and evolution can help us make sense of the workplace. In Executive Instinct, Nigel Nicholson uses evolutionary psychology to explain how organizations function.

This snappy, smart book convincingly draws parallels between the work environment and sociological models of human behavior. Executive Instinct gives common sense explanations of a range of human relations topics. Why do men and women have different work styles? Why do people need to share office gossip? Do you want to understand why your office atmosphere is stagnant and starched? Nicholson can tell you.

People enjoy gossip and networking because "evolution designed us to talk," Nicholson says. At the same time, we are not innately equipped to read and write. These attributes play out at the office and are reflected in workplace statistics. Nicholson notes that most managers show a strong preference for oral over written communications and hate to write. Employees also prefer talk, citing face-to-face channels as the top form of boss-employee communication.

Yet e-mail proliferates. Nicholson uses his evolutionary approach to argue that e-mail is causing a rash of communications disorders in organizations as people rely on it as a substitute for face-to-face meetings. Before you implement that new communications technology designed to put the whole company in touch, read Nicholson's book. What you may need instead is a new water cooler for employees to gather around. Our evolutionary instincts are clashing with our technological capabilities.

Executive Instinct is full of fresh, brash theories. Has evolution designed us to work in groups of no more than 150 employees? Nicholson says yes. He criticizes conglomerates that fail to make distinct small groupings within their organizations. Small groups feel more rational to humans, he says, because we have evolved in them. Companies like Dell Computer and Toyota, which have created rational groups, are the future, he says. Each has a modular structure and a decentralized supply chain. The best companies will manage with evolutionary insight, adapting organizations to nurture human nature. Briefly noted The Board Bookby Susan F. Shultz is a valuable tool for any business or nonprofit organization. Most CEOs underutilize or largely ignore their corporate boards in the day-to-day rush through business, but the collective wisdom, big-picture perspective and advice board members can provide is an invaluable resource. Best of all, it's free.

Shultz gives practical advice on how to choose, train and utilize a corporate board, and offers insights on managing board conflict and setting the stage for board leadership. Informative for CEOs and directors alike, this is a no-nonsense book that focuses on practical issues for board participation in the success of a company.

Sharon Secor is a Nashville-based business writer.


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