Archive for category Business Communications
Years ago, a conference presenter spoke about doing business with the Dutch. He noted that while it generally took them much longer to commit to something, once they signed on, he said, they were committed 100 percent.
The speaker paused and then said, “Compare that to Americans.”
Wow, he’s right. How often have you seen people offer or promise to do something then miss a deadline or completely blow off the project? We’ve all been pulled away by competing priorities, and while it’s often understandable, the odds are good that someone was let down by the change of direction.
Years ago, the acronym DWYSYWD began circulating around Corporate America. It’s meaning, Do What You Say You Will Do, must seem obvious — perhaps even silly — to the Dutch. After all, why do you need to be told to do something you agreed to do?
Food for thought…..
Ever feel like you’re on a treadmill that’s going faster and faster? That seems to be the new norm, with less downtime to just sit and relax for a moment.
As people feel the constant tug for their time and attention, the importance of clear, concise communications becomes more important.
So how do you reach someone who is reading your message while making dinner, helping the kids with homework, and answering an after-hours text message from her boss?
- Begin with your most important message.
- Use bullets. They help break up copy and make reading easier.
- Opt for simple words and avoid jargon, acronyms, and words that readers may not understand.
- Use examples to illustrate complicated points.
- Offer a contrast or comparison to create an image in your readers’ mind (“The ship is the length of two football fields.”)
- Stay away from too many fine details.
As I write this, we’re enjoying a beautiful late-winter day — and waiting for the arrival of a sizable winter storm.
Snow brings a unique and unmistakable beauty to a scene, particularly when it reflects the morning light. There is, however, the issue of clean-up.
As a kid, I didn’t mind snow because it often gave us a day off from school, as well as a few dollars for shoveling driveways. Year later, I clear the driveway that leads to my home, although my bright red snow blower stands ready when the snowfall exceeds a few inches.
In the early days, however, there was no snowblower, just me and my handy shovel. Sometimes the snow was heavy and the work exhausting. During those days, I learned to look down and focus on the work in front of me, not the long section that lay ahead. When I needed a quick break, I’d take deep breaths while purposefully looking back at the section that I had already shoveled. In an odd way, that motivated me.
The same can be done in life or work. When faced with a daunting task or project, keeping my head down and plugging away helps move things forward. And reviewing progress still prods me to continue the work still to be done.
Early in my career, I worked as a weekend sportscaster at the local CBS television affiliate. Some days, the clock would tell me we had 45 minutes until air time, and I’d wonder how the work would get done. I’d take a deep breath, and tell myself, “You did it last week, you can do it today.” Then, just like after a snowstorm, I’d put my head down and get to work.
I was recently interviewed by a budding PR practitioner for a college class. The conversation made me think about the pros and cons of the business, and what I wish someone had told me in the early years.
- A great variety of tasks ensures you’ll never be bored — from writing to photography to media relations.
- You get to do a lot of fun things. Top of my list? Taking courtside photos at a Boston Celtics game. I’ve also done aerial photography and handled media relations for an event that featured former Secretary of State George Mitchell as the keynote speaker.
- You learn a lot. About a lot of things.
- And get to hang with interesting people — celebrities, authors, elected officials, company leaders, and national media. One of my favorites was working at a Leon Redbone concert, and being in the Green Room after the show.
- The CEO knows your name and returns your emails.
- PR people have a seat at the table, whether in a leadership meeting or a crisis response.
- Along with the variety comes a high degree of unpredictability. Issues and projects have an interesting way of popping up at the wrong time.
- You’ll run across people who think they know your job and — often well-intentioned — tell you how to do it.
- Pressure. PR has been listed among the most stressful jobs.
- Lack of control – you can do everything correct and still not have the outcome you desire: rain washes out your outdoor event; a significant event bounces your story off the news, etc.
- 24/7 – Lots of things happen off work hours, from customer events to a middle-of-the-night crisis.
Your mistakes are often public.
Doing the Job
- Ask questions – If something confuses you, it likely has the same effect on your audience.
- Show common sense – Be the person who says, “This doesn’t pass the straight-face test.”
- Know numbers – A good business sense helps you understand your organization and boosts your credibility.
- Be quick – The clock is often ticking, so learn to write and think quickly.
- Act with integrity – It’s the right thing to do and you’re asking for trouble if you veer off course.
Your turn, PR people. What advice would you share with a hopeful practitioner?
There is a simple secret to improve your writing — and your communications in general. Okay, it’s not really a secret, but it is very, very simple.
Use “you” more often.
Yup, I’m serious. Do that and you’re on your way to being a better writer and communicator.
Have a conversation
Using “you” (or forms of it) shifts your messages from talking at someone to speaking with them, making your message more personal and conversational.
Let’s look at a couple of examples to illustrate:
Old School: “Benefit enrollment packets will be mailed to employee’ homes in November.”
New style: “Look for your Benefit Enrollment Packets, coming in the mail in November.”
Old School: Students should return their permission forms by Tuesday.”
New Style: Please return your permission forms by Tuesday.”
Old School : “Members and their families are invited to attend the annual banquet….”
New Style: “You and your family are invited to the annual banquet…”
Be casual and clear
As you can see, incorporating “you” makes your writing more casual, conversational, and clear, while the old school way of referring to your audience in the third person is impersonal, and frankly, a little boring. And “you” is almost like calling someone by their name, one of the best attention grabbers available to communicators.
So give it a try and let me know what you think. While you’re at it, toss a “we” or two. I think you’ll like what you see.
I recently discovered ABC’s Shark Tank, a show that brings together entrepreneurs who ask a group of billionaire “Sharks” to invest in their product or service.
Even if you’re not an entrepreneur, the show is interesting and provides some good tips about business and finance:
Whether you’re interviewing for a job or applying for a loan, the person on the other side of the table will have a list of questions for you. Anticipate what they might ask, and be ready with responses — and data to back them. How? See the next bullet….
Know your audience
It seems as if some of the entrepreneurs on Shark Tank have never watched the show. For example, offering a 5 percent share of your company in exchange for a Shark’s investment pretty much guarantees a black mark on you ledger, yet it continues to happen. Before you walk into a meeting, learn as much as possible about the interviewer, client, employer, etc., to avoid making obvious blunders.
The Sharks can be harsh at times, but the entrepreneurs pitching their products need to stay on the high road. Rudeness often brings a quick dismissal from center stage.
Listen to experts
In addition to their financial investment, the Sharks bring a wealth of knowledge. Some entrepreneurs take their advice to heart; to others it sounds like Charlie Brown’s teacher. If a successful person offers a suggestion, listen carefully.
Be flexible and realistic
Entrepreneurs often walk away empty-handed after turning down a counter offer from a Shark. One man declined a multi-million dollar deal for his company. Understandably, he has a passion for the product, but $4 million is a big hunk of change to pass up. Think carefully before you turn down an opportunity because it differs from your original plan.
Your turn. What lessons have you learned from watching Shark Tank?
I’ve always been a bit of a jokester. In my last performance review, my boss mentioned my sense of humor more than anything else (I hope that’s good).
Years ago, a striking lesson taught me the best way to joke at the office, or anywhere else for that matter.
A coworker on the other side of the building had just moved into a new office, complete with a window — a rarity for that particularly company.
He was sitting there, quite pleased, when I stuck my head in. We chatted, spoke about his kids’ photos, etc, and I left with something like, “Cool office. You look right at home.”
The next day he stopped by my office to thank me. When I asked why, he said, “You’re the only one who didn’t make fun of me.” Apparently, others asked who he slept with to get the office, etc.
That hit me like a lightning bolt, and changed the way I joke with people.
Now, I focus on comments that are funny, but positive. For example, if asked about my boss, my reply is something like, “She’s awesome. The best. Very smart, supportive, and never hits me on the nose with a newspaper.”
Okay, it’s a little corny, but you get the point. It’s clever, gets a chuckle, and leaves a positive feeling.
Do no harm
There’s an old saying about truth in jest, and I’ve learned that negative jokes can leave people wondering if you’re serious. Years ago, at a going-away party, my outgoing boss said, “I’ll miss all of you — well, all but one of you …” I thought he was clearly kidding, but a coworker later asked me who the boss meant.
Be funny and kind at the same time. Sometimes that takes a bit of creativity, but the goodwill it generates is worth the effort.
Your turn? How do you kid around the office?
People are well-meaning and sincerely want to help when giving advice,but sometimes our thoughts come across the wrong way.
Follow these seven tips next time you choose to give advice and you’ll be seen as a confidant and trusted adviser.
Let’s say a friend is thinking about leaving her job. You think it’s a mistake, but before you tell her, ask why she’s leaving. Her response, and the facts she provides, might change your mind.
Support, rather than debate
Sometimes a decision is already made and the best guidance you can provide is helping the person reach their goal. If your daughter wants to backpack across Europe after college graduation, and is determined to do so, work with her to ensure her journey is both safe and enjoyable.
Put yourself in their shoes
Your coworker is miserable in her job and wants to quit. You like her boss and can’t understand why she’d leave such a good company. Telling her that would discount her feelings and potentially drive a wedge between you. Before you speak, remind yourself that we’re all different, and what you consider a great work environment might be horrible for others.
Don’t downplay the consequences
People try to be supportive by downplaying the possible consequences of a potential decision. For example, “The worst think that could happen is you’ll have to get a second job,” or “If it doesn’t work, you’ll only be out $50.”
Problem is, the person giving the advice doesn’t have to deal with the consequence, so of course it’s not such a big deal to them. It’s easy to shrug off the results if someone else is paying the piper.
Whether you agree or disagree with what a person thinks, you’ll go farther with an encouraging approach. For example, your nephew Jimmy wants to play professional baseball. You can tell him that the odds are one in a million, or you can tell him to work hard, do his best, and see how things fall out.
Remember, history is full of successful people who were told they didn’t have what it takes.
This one’s tough, particularly if you don’t agree with what the person is thinking. If I’m not an expert on the topic, I’ll generally defer when asked my option. For example: “Geez, I couldn’t do that, but you may be better equipped to make that choice.”
If the topic is a subject where I do have expertise or knowledge, I’ll either offer an alternative (“Have you thought about calling instead of sending an email?”) or pointing to data that supports an alternative view (“I’ve read that eating a healthy breakfast every day actually helps with weight loss.”)
The reason someone asked for your opinion is that she likely respects you and wants your advice. Remember to return that respect in you interaction.
Your turn. What guidelines do you follow when giving advice?
College graduation season is upon us, and for most, it’s time to turn in the textbooks and begin your career. I think back to those days — bright-eyed, ready to take on the world, and completely unaware of what waited around the corner. I wish there had been more real-world wisdom to draw from. Would have saved me many hard knocks.
In that vein, here are some thought for those just starting out, or anyone who looking for a few workplace tips.
Get out and meet people. Go to business or social events and introduce yourself. Connect with people on LinkedIn and other social media sites. More connections translate into more job leads, and also to more resources if you have questions or want advice.
Life isn’t fair, but that’s okay
Disappointment is part of life, and bad things happen for no reason: someone else lands your “perfect job,” your iPhone is stolen, or you miss lunch with a friend because you boss schedule a meeting at noon. Sure, that stinks, but what really matters is how you react. You can say, “Things happen,” and move on, or you can sulk and complain. I promise that if you do the former, you’ll be a much happier person in the long run.
Keep plugging — perseverance and patience pays off
My dream out of college was to be a sportscaster at one of the local stations. I learned of an opening that July, and spent much of the summer and fall helping out (without pay) and learning the ropes, until I finally got the nod from the news director — in December. I busted my butt for 6 months to show them what I could do, and to make sure they never considered anyone else.
Be ready when opportunity knocks
I’m a firm believer that if you prepare, the opportunity you seek will arise, whether it’s a job, a trip, or a date. In the example above, my foot in the door came when I ran into the station’s top news anchor in a parking lot. I introduced myself and asked for career advice. I had a degree from a great communication school, along with some solid experience, so she set up an interview for me with the Sports Director.
Be true to yourself
Look to work for organizations that share your values and personality. I spent 14 years at L.L. Bean, a company that prides itself on treating people — customers, employees, vendors, and its neighbor — with respect, honesty, and integrity. That was very important to me, and was one of the reasons I stayed there. The same barometer works with friends.
There’s an old saying that you learn more by listen than talking. Very true.
Look into the mirror
The person you’re most accountable to is you. Can you look at yourself in the mirror at the end of each day and be satisfied with your effort and actions?
Ask questions during job interviews
While a big part of an interview is promoting yourself as the best candidate, it’s also an opportunity to see if this is a good fit for you. Plus, hiring managers appreciate candidates who come prepared with questions.
Don’t oversell yourself
One of my graduate school professors told us were didn’t have enough experience for a two-page resume. And if you worked as a lifeguard, don’t put Crowd Control Officer on your resume. I know lifeguard work is tough, and I’ll give you points for that, but if you exaggerate, you’re onto the rejection pile.
A former boss of mine left a resume and cover letter from a potential intern on his desk. He’d circled all of the typos.
Do your homework
Check out a company before you meet with anyone. Look at its webpage, Facebook account, etc.
Everything works out
I’m a believer that things always work out in the end. So if you’re turned done for one job, be ready for the next one. You might find it’s an even better opportunity.
During a live shot on the news this week, a local reporter caught my attention when she used the word “I” three times in a sentence. Sure, it’s conversational and brings the reporter into the story, but at the same time, use of that pronoun takes away from the subject of the story.
Know your audience
Communicators often talk about identifying your audience. If you’re selling fishing flies, you want to target people who fish. Manufacturing a new soda? Aim for kids and teens.
That’s pretty basic stuff, but writing to your target audience is where many messages fall short.
My favorite example is the typical, annual benefits enrollment announcement that you see at many companies: “Benefit enrollment packets will be mailed to eligible employees beginning November 1.”
In this message, you’re talking at employees, not to them. Contrast the above example with, “Look for your benefits enrollment packets, coming in the mail in early November.”
The second version rises above the first because it 1) carries a friendly, more conversational tone; and 2) speaks to the reader, not from the company. It’s a subtle adjustment, but a very effective technique to improve your writing.
What’s the secret? Be humble, and put readers ahead of you and your organization. Think about what they want to read. It’s human nature to be proud of your accomplishments or your company, but remember that you’re writing for your readers, and the message should focus on them.
Company focused: XYZ Company, the nation’s leading developer of pain-relieving medications, announced a new, over-the-counter medication that extensive studies show significantly reduce pain caused by arthritis.”
Audience focused: Relief is on the way for arthritis sufferers, thanks to a new over-the-counter medication that studies show significantly reduces joint pain. The medication, Pain Away, was developed by researchers at XYZ Company, the nation’s leading …”
While the company was bumped from the first sentence to the second, your message is more likely to be read and remembered because it addresses an issues many readers have (arthritis pain). And that’s what matters.
Being humble does pay off.