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Five Questions to Ask Before You Hit Send

§ June 25th, 2010 § Filed under communication, writing § Tagged , , , , , , , , , , § No Comments

“When I get ready to talk to people, I spend two-thirds of the time thinking what they want to hear and one-third thinking about what I want to say.” – Abraham Lincoln

One of the biggest communications problems is the lack of complete information. This results in a slew of additional back-and-forth emails, voice and text messages until the full information is received and acknowledged.

How much time do you spend having to get additional information when someone has sent you an email or left a message on your voice mail? Wouldn’t it save time if the pertinent information was included in the original message?

The easy way to make sure you are communicating complete information is to ask yourself a few questions:

Who? Who is the intended recipient? If it is written, who else might end up reading it? Who else needs this information?

What? What is the reason for the message? If it’s an email, make sure the subject reflects the content. If you are leaving a voice mail, leave enough information so that the recipient can respond.

Where? When? If you are sending information about an event, be sure to include the location and the day and time. If you are requesting information, be sure to specify when you need it. “As soon as possible,” “quickly,” “immediately,” and “in the next few days” mean different things to different people. Be specific.

Why? Explain your need for the particular information so that the recipient has some context.

How? How do you want the information delivered? Do you want a phone call? Or is postal mail appropriate? How do you want a task completed? Have you provided enough specific information that the recipient will understand exactly what you are asking? How will this message be received? Have you been diplomatic? Have you been too diplomatic?

You won’t need to answer all the questions every time you send a message, but it’s a good practice to simply read through your message and run through these questions. It’s a first step toward becoming an effective communicator. The truly gifted communicators follow Lincoln’s ratio.

What My Father Taught Me About Communication

§ June 20th, 2010 § Filed under communication, training § Tagged , , , , § No Comments

My dad was an amazing man. He grew up in Southern Arkansas. His family had a farm and owned a general store. His father lost most of the family’s finances when a business he owned went under. Life was a bit more difficult from that point on and my dad had to drop out of college to help support the family.

Daddy grew up in a typical Southern family with the values that were common during those years. Family was important. Paying your bills and being honest were core values. So was a strong belief that there was a difference between the races. My grandparents would never have treated anyone so rudely, but there was a belief that the racial attitudes of the day were correct.

Somehow my father developed a very different attitude. He saw hard working black sharecropping families and did not see a difference between them and their white counterparts. He entered the Navy during World War II and then the Air Force Civil Service afterward. He met people from all walks of life and developed a belief that all people were similar, decent and worthy of respect.

That belief was the cornerstone of my father’s life. He never met a stranger. He never believed that people were anything more than ill-informed. He never demonized the people he disagreed with.

For a long time, I thought my father was naive. He found it difficult to see that people were actually mean, or hard-hearted, or selfish. As I have gotten older, I’ve realized that my father chose to believe the best of people, at least until he had evidence to the contrary.

I once read this quotation (I believe it is from Cicero): A man without malice is incapable of seeing malice in others. That quotation sums up my father.

The lesson I learned from my father’s life is not that it is of benefit to be naive, but that when two people want to communicate, it is best that they assume that each is coming from an honorable perspective. Although we may disagree on particular points, if we start with mutual respect and a strong belief that we each want the best for all involved, we have a chance at communicating. If, as we get deeper into the conversation, we have evidence that the other is not coming from this positive position, we can take another tack. But we need to start from this point. Otherwise, we will miss the opportunity to communicate with most people with whom we disagree.

Happy Father’s Day, Daddy! Thank you for your thoughtful and intelligent example. I miss you.

Five Low-Cost Marketing Solutions

§ June 19th, 2010 § Filed under communication, marketing, small business, training, writing § Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , § No Comments

If you are a small business owner, you know how difficult it is to get publicity in order to let your potential customers know you are available. One of the ways you can jump-start your marketing efforts is to brand yourself as an expert in your field. Help people discover that you are the one to come to when they need your type of service. Here are some suggestions to show off your abilities in your particular area of expertise:

Teach a class. Offer your topics to the community education department at your local school district. These classes usually don’t pay much to the instructor, but the exposure may be perfect for your business. The trick here is to offer some real help or information, not just market your business. One coffee shop owner offered a class on the different types of coffee drinks, providing participants with samples of espressos, lattés, Café Americanos, etc. A website design company can offer a class on search engine optimization. Find something your company does well and teach people the basics. They will come to you for the more difficult tasks.

Donate your services. No matter what your area of expertise, there is a non-profit that can benefit from your help. Provide your service free of charge in return for using the non-profit as a reference.

Provide a sample. Samples give prospective customers an idea of the quality of your work and help them see how they can benefit from your services. One desktop publisher received a newsletter from a real estate agent. She created a mock-up of a redesigned newsletter and showed it to the agent. He loved the first page, but when he turned it over the flip side was blank. She explained, with a grin, “If you want the rest, you’ll have to pay for it.” As a result, the agent became a long-term customer. Give potential clients samples of your work and let them know how to obtain more of your products or services.

Do a newsletter. Include short articles related to your area of expertise and send the newsletter out to your email or postal mailing list. If you need help writing or don’t know how to put a newsletter together, contract with a writer, desktop publisher or communication coach. Send it out once a month or once every other month. The focus needs to be on helpful information, not on selling, although highlighting current sales can be a portion of the content.

Write articles or start a blog. If you don’t want to commit to a regular newsletter, pitch your article ideas to a local newspaper or webzine. Associated Content is a great place to start. You might also want to start a blog. Again, the focus needs to be on information that is helpful to the reader, not sales copy. If you don’t have time or don’t feel comfortable writing, hire a communication coach or writer to do it for you.

Consider the time and money you spend on these activities part of your advertising budget. You’ll find they pay off in ways you never anticipated.

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