Training to Communicate

Anyone that knows me well knows that I have a passion for writing – in fact, it’s really a passion for all things communication (including speaking, video, social media, etc.). As a blogger, I traffic in a lot of written material. Much of what I see is, quite frankly, pretty amateurish.

ID-10087526Writing clearly and succinctly is crucial to work effectiveness. And it’s a rarely-trained skill. It doesn’t matter what position people occupy in their profession. Everyone from the newly-hired salesperson to the CEO needs to sharpen communication skills, if they want to be viewed as professionals (see this recent post by Dave Kerpen).

If people are spending an average of 28% of their time dealing with e-mail – then just improving that one area of business writing can return a lot of potential productivity gains!

In the past month, I’ve sat down with a couple of great providers who do corporate training on communications/writing skills. I found myself nodding so vigorously during discussions that it’s a wonder I didn’t end up at the chiropractor’s office! As I underscore in my Vendor/Project Success workshops, the basic principles of project and vendor management will be used in all future career areas – just like learning to drive a car, it’s an “evergreen” skill set. Writing and communicating clearly? –even more so.

Clear communications lead to clear actions. Foggy communications lead to misunderstandings, back-and-forth clarifications, and frustration.

Let’s train ourselves and our people how to effectively move thoughts to the keyboard and beyond (and if you need a communications training vendor/provider recommendation, just let me know – steve [at] connectionagent dot com). It can never be wrong to sharpen this skill!

10 steps to successful business writing jack e-appleman-paperback-cover-artAlso, here’s a book recommendation for you. 10 Steps to Successful Business Writing* (by Jack Appleman) is a compact, simple-to-absorb volume that gives practical, step-by-step advice on how to write more clearly.

The opening paragraph in the introduction says it all:

Successful business writing starts with simplicity. The beauty of simplicity is that it can produce results faster.

With chapters like Know Where You’re Taking Your Readers; Be Explicit, Clear, and Concise; Grab Your Readers’ Attention; and Master The Documents You Use Most Often; this book dives immediately into straightforward advice with plenty of practical application.

I’ve spent a good bit of time with Jack lately (we have a common bond in the realms of clarity and training!), and he has shared with me how he can also partner with corporations and provide valuable training for employees. If you’re interested in Jack’s services, let me know and I’ll make the connection.

*Amazon affiliate link

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Postscript: Just saw this nice summary about how to write effective e-mails that people won’t ignore, by Bryan Garner via HBR blog.

Your Silent Audience

Blogging can be a discouraging enterprise at times.

Is anyone even reading what I write? Why are there so few comments? Where’s the engagement?

silenceWhile we all crave tangible evidence that people appreciate what we write, we should never forget that most of our audience is silent.

For every commenter, there are many others who are absorbing, thinking, learning, growing, laughing – privately.

Your every Facebook status may not garner a lot of comments. But you’ll be surprised how sometimes, months later, someone comes up to you and remembers. And comments. Live.

I don’t comment often on Jon Swanson‘s stuff. But I read it regularly. I keep very close tabs on Greg Hartle’s adventures, even if our on-line back-and-forth is more sporadic. Most of my direct banter with Tom Webster is ironic and punny, but the fact is, I relish his thoughtful posts.

Yes, we need to write for our more engaged readers. But don’t forget your silent audience. You might not hear much from them, but they’re waiting to hear from you.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Finding Your Blogging Voice

voiceAnyone can write a blog post (well, maybe not anyone, from some writing samples I’ve seen!)

But how do you find your unique blogging “voice”?

I’ve been blogging on marketing topics for over 6 years. Yet I feel as though I am only now finding my writing voice. Many of the same topics and ideas occupy my mind and flow out of my keyboard, but it has taken quite some time to develop the style and approach that is “me.”

Let me give you three steps to finding your blogging voice. Warning: simple to list. Hard work to implement!

  • Start
  • Interact
  • Continue

First, you have to start. You can’t develop your writing skills in the abstract realm of your private imagination. Every blogger looks back at early posts and cringes a bit. That’s normal. Drop the perfectionism and just start writing – assume that you actually do, right now, have something valuable to say!

Then, interact. Find other people writing and blogging and read their stuff (here’s a good start, from writer/blogger Jeff Goins). Comment. Learn from them. Let others interact with your ideas – they’ll show you, even without meaning to, how to improve your skills (I just this moment got a DM on Twitter from a reader who provided a female perspective on my post this morning that I never even considered!)

Finally, continue. Blogging for people who want to become writers with a unique voice is a long-term commitment. Don’t get hung up on instant results. Your masterpiece work is probably a good ways in front of you, and you are building toward it.

You have a voice. You have to begin to let it out and train yourself over time. Lots of folks will help you develop. And, in the meantime, you’ll make an impact, even with a smaller readership. So…Go!

If you’ve been blogging for a while, how long did it take you to feel like you’d hit stride and found your voice? How did you get there?

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Hitting the Pinnacle of Buzzwords

I freely confess to hating business buzzwords and jargon. Like David Meerman Scott and many others, I find the practice of repeating technical-sounding phrases in an effort to appear knowledgeable to be pompous and counter-productive.

It’s an over-leveraging of verbal resources. Yes, I went there.

Now, at the same time, I love a broad and deep vocabulary. Words like “obfuscation” (which means, if you’re not familiar with it, the use of words to obscure rather than clarify meaning). Obfuscation is a great word that actually nicely describes what buzz-jargon does.

I have found one company (which will remain anonymous) which has managed, over time, to establish a new benchmark in meaningless blather. Every trip to the well of this company’s jargon pool brings forth a new wealth of meaningless bloviation (look it up – another favorite vocabulary word). I thought I’d share just a bit from the latest press release, for your edification and amusement:

____________ today published a strategy pharmaceutical companies can apply to reinvent growth for established drug brands. Addressing the total context of change reshaping the operating environment, the approach shifts the center of gravity in pharmaceutical brand management, focusing on market collaboration and novel linkages to create new health and business value. Available for download through the _________ website, the strategic brief builds on the concept of ‘health ecosystem design’ introduced by _____________ as a new model for competitive strategy, regionalization and employer initiatives, and account-based sales to integrated delivery networks.
_____________ has pioneered a methodology for market strategy defined in 21st-century terms, an approach that enables an evolutionary leap in solutions for growth and competitive advantage. The firm was the first to introduce ‘marketing ecosystems’ as a framework to synthesize strategy, media, content and distribution platforms for in-line products.

Now, I ask you – do you have any CLUE what is being talked about here? Oh, and this company’s tagline now is: A New Grammar for Strategy. Enough said.

Lesson: talk about your business in plain English. Leave obfuscation to the pros….

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The Blog Slave

When you started blogging, it was pretty liberating, wasn’t it? Finally, a format for expressing your ideas! No barriers of time or distance to an audience. And once you started mixing words with other bloggers (and eventually meeting those people at conferences and tweetups), the energy continued to flow.

slaveUntil you became a blog slave.

Blogging can be a delightful tyranny. As you build an audience, as you see more incoming links, as you check Technorati rankings or see your name for the first time on the Ad Age Power 7,545 list of marketing blogs (OK, they say 150, but it doesn’t seem to stop there…), you begin to feel the pressure. You don’t want to lose your standing. Your momentum. Your ranking. As they say in academia, publish or perish.

Dump that emotional ballast overboard as fast as you can, OK? Because you are not the sum total of your ability to produce. Your value is you, not your writing output.

I read today how blogging friend Beth Harte feels a need to suspend writing on her excellent blog, The Harte of Marketing, for a season. As part of her post, she says this:

As well, I know social media is quid pro quo and while I try my best to keep up with other blogs (reading and commenting), comments on my blog, etc. I am falling WAY short and for that I am terribly sorry. I would completely understand if people stopped commenting/tweeting my stuff.

Well, the fact is, other things really are more important than obeying Master Blog (as Beth discusses in her post), and Beth’s value to me is not tied to her “production.” She is a friend. She has nothing to prove. Her blogging production couldn’t possibly be top-notch anyway if she’s doing it out of a wearied sense of duty. Treadmills aren’t usually where we get into a creative zone.

Beth doesn’t strike me as the type who wants to live like that. She’s a community-builder. And I would like to hope that putting my keyboard aside for a time would not cause the wonderful people in my network to drift away or be less than the great people I know they are. Otherwise, I’ve failed to build and be part of a community. Or I’ve associated with a bunch of artful fakes! (which I don’t believe for a nanosecond).

If you’re strictly building an “audience” for your “production,” then it will be hard to avoid the slavery. Blogging will be a chore. At times, yes, all the creative and interaction work can be a bit of a slog now and again. But let’s never become slaves, trying to produce bricks without straw, and expect that of others. That’s when I quit for good!

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Five in the Morning 020309

Geoff Livingston over at the Buzz Bin has some meaty thoughts about personal branding vs “team social media” within a larger company. This is a valuable discussion. Personal branding for a solo entrepreneur is one thing, but how do we approach putting a “face” on an organization when interacting with the world at large? Just for the fun of it, here’s a mega-post with a bunch of recent links touching on personal branding, from David Petherick.

Mario Sundar is on a tear on his personal blog. First, Using social media to help your friends find a job (this is a real passion of mine). Then, Perfectionism ain’t Bliss –  just do it and don’t worry about making it perfect. And finally, some lists of Twitter worthies to follow. Mario, for those who don’t yet follow him, is LinkedIn’s chief blogger; he also maintains his own personal blog.

Image Recognition Software/Service – from TechCrunch blog. This is a big deal, actually. There are so many images now published on-line, a huge challenge is going to be finding/sorting/identifying/filtering. Here is one company (Milabra) that’s making a run at it, and their solution sounds very promising.

It’s easy to just listen to the voices that you already agree with. We also need to consider other points of view, lest we become infected with group-think, or an inflated sense of self-importance. This muse/rant by Kevin Palmer is a needed corrective as we consider the place of social media in the world. Guest post is found on Social Media Explorer blog – it must be good, because I rarely point to the same blog 2 days in a row (nice job, Jason Falls)!

Downturn. We’re in it. From the NY Times Small Business Toolkit section – Lessons Learned from Hard Times Past. There’s a surprise quote in there…

PLUS – What Happened to your Nose? The latest from Ann Handley‘s A N N A R C H Y blog. If you’re not subscribing to this wonderful treasure of muses and amusements, you should be (Ann – the Zamboni reference is a stroke of genius!)

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PLEASE NOTE: There is reason to believe that the Google/Feedburner changeover has created “issues” with RSS feeds for my blogs (and others). Here are the feeds for my three blogs; if you’re a reader, would you please re-subscribe just to make sure? Thanks!

:: Subscribe to the StickyFigure blog (that’s this one!)

:: Subscribe to the Steve’s Leaves blog (that’s my personal blog – you’ll see a story from there below)

:: Subscribe to the Impactiviti blog (that’s a pharma-specific blog, for my consulting business)

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Five in the Morning 010809

Real-time. Chris Brogan today talks about real-time coverage of events, using as an example his live-tweeting of a press conference last night. What do you think – how much of a game-changer is this? Frankly, I think that the convergence of the tools (cameras, smartphones, etc.) and the platforms (blogging, Twitter, etc.) has already fundamentally changed the game. Immediacy is now here, and we’re just realizing it. Latency is….well, a thing of the past.

2009 – The Year of Going Social. From the blog of Laura Fitton (Pistachio). “The bad news for business? You’re late. The good news? You’re not too late…”

Is Social Media the same as Marketing? Beth Harte‘s asking – what do you think? I’m guessing most of us have had this discussion, at least in our own heads. “…a good communicator does not always make a good marketer nor does a good marketer always make a good communicator. They are two different disciplines.”

Want a nice daily summary of some Social Networking headlines? Here’s one of my secrets. Business Week‘s Business Exchange. Worth a daily visit.

Jeremiah Owyang provides a nice summary blog post of Social Networking news each week. Well worth subscribing to. Here’s the latest.

PLUS – What’s Cramberry? A cool spin on an old technique. Too neat-o to pass up a link. From ReadWriteWeb. And, just because the headline is so imaginative: The Art of One Butt Cheek Blogging (from Copyblogger).

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