by Fahim Mojawalla and Marty Johnson
How many times a day do you receive an email from a colleague and immediately, upon opening, audibly let out a groan because it’s so incredibly long and rambling? Internally, you say to yourself, “There goes Chad again, overexplaining his point five different ways when he could have just said it in two sentences.”
How many times a day do you receive an email from another
colleague that is so incredibly vague that you finish it and have no idea what
they’re asking of you? Internally, you begin musing like, “Goodness, Diane, I
can’t read minds. What in the world are you trying to say?”
Here are a few tips we’ve put together to help you keep
communications clear as well as consistent, thereby increasing your company’s
bottom line, decreasing your colleagues’ frustration with you, and making your
workplace much more efficient, happy, and productive.
notes from an effective meeting style.
On a recent episode of Fixable
titled “How to finally make meetings more productive,”
podcast hosts Anne Morriss and Frances Frei speak with Claire Hughes Johnson on
just how ridiculously unproductive some meetings can be, and how a few simple
fixes can make them much more effective. Basic things like having a clear
agenda, keeping everyone on track, summarizing and giving action plans at the
end, and being respectful of both introverts who need to think to speak and
extroverts who need to speak to think can make a world of difference in meeting
value…and therefore the company’s bottom line in reducing so much otherwise-wasted
An effective meeting has many similarities to an effective
email, blog post, or memo. If you go on too long, you’ll lose your audience. People’s
attention spans aren’t what they used to be. If you don’t begin with an outline
of what you want to accomplish, the readers struggle to find your point. If you
don’t summarize at the end with an action plan, the readers won’t know clearly
what you expect of them. And if you don’t take into consideration that the
readers likely don’t have the same information absorption style as you, you’re
not effectively communicating to them.
As an editor, Marty does a lot of proofreading and
communication zhuzhing for different professionals and organizations. He loves
to do it, which is great because most people either hate to proofread or they
just don’t know what to look for. That’s why the proofreading profession
exists. Most proofreaders and editors who charge by the hour will prorate by
the minute if they’re just looking over a memo, event schedule, eblast, or
email to check for glaring errors, clarity, and consistency. For the few bucks you’ll
spend to have that very important email glanced at before it’s sent, it could
save hundreds, thousands, or millions in lost business because you sent out
something unprofessional to that very particular client or potential client. If
you don’t want to hire a professional proofreader, find a colleague who has a
meticulous writing style and a clue about when to use “your” versus when to use
“you’re” and have them look at it for you.
consistent in style.
We’ll talk about consistency as it relates to scheduling in
the next section, but consistency in style is also so important. Pick a style
guide and stick to it, whether it’s APA, AP, Chicago, MLA, or whatever. If you
don’t know what that means, here’s a great website that we love to quickly and
easily check titles, sentences, cases, and more in a wide range of styles: capitalizemytitle.com.
We won’t get into all of the common grammatical errors here,
but one of the most inconsistent and glaring things we notice in unprofessional
communication (that is intended to be professional) is misuse of capital
letters. Professionally, capital letters are only to be used in acronyms, to
start sentences, and to denote proper nouns. That’s it. Capital letters are never
to be used for emphasis. This means that, in professional communication where
you want to be taken seriously and land the big clients, do not emphasize words
in all caps or by capitalizing the first letter of something that’s not
starting a sentence or a proper noun. Instead, to emphasize simply use
underlined, italicized, or bold text.
Maybe we’ll mention one more—something that vies with
capital letter misuse for first place in Marty’s exhaustive list of pet peeves:
do not pluralize words with apostrophes. Apostrophes are to be used for showing
possessiveness or for conjunctions, but not to pluralize. This is especially
misused when people pluralize last names. It’s spelled “Smiths” and not “Smith’s.”
If the Smiths are having a barbecue at their house, then make it possessive
after it’s pluralized like, “There’s a barbecue today at the Smiths’ house.”
Consistency also relates to scheduling, particularly in
social media posts, newsletters, and other outreach that a business does. A
schedule is also very helpful for internal business communication, like
updates, messages from upper management, and policy reminders.
Most business social media posts are done daily, though if
you can’t do that then do it at least three times a week in order to be
consistent. Keep them light. Build relationships through social media rather
than blatantly advertising. Share smiles. Share good news from your
neighborhood or industry. Share what you would share with a friend.
Most newsletters are done monthly, though some are done as sparsely
as quarterly or bi-monthly. There are also organizations who have enough to
share that they benefit from a weekly or bi-weekly newsletter, though we
caution that too much content quickly becomes too much time commitment and
readership takes a nose-dive if you over-inform.
Internal updates should be done whenever there’s big news to
share, a policy change that affects a large enough group, or something in the
news or ether that may be making the team a little bit on-edge. Internal
updates need to be thoughtfully spaced so they don’t surprise or scare or
overwhelm the team when done too infrequently or too frequently.
Nearly every professional uses a Google or Outlook or some
other calendar capable of setting regular tasks. So, if you have trouble
staying on track, simply set a repeating task for the points of contact that
you need to be more consistent on initiating.
you must be authentic.
Authenticity sells in 21st century business. Especially
as we’re entering the age of AI, genuine authenticity stands out and is
noticed. People want to do business with people, so be clear and consistent in
sharing your personality and that special sauce that you have that makes you
and your business unique, relatable, and desirable.
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