Wayne State University

Aim Higher

Communication

Development Suggestions 

1. Preparing. Make a checklist. What’s your objective? What’s your point? What are five things you want them to remember? What would the ideal audience member say if interviewed 15 minutes after you finish? Who’s your audience? How much do they know? What are five techniques you will use to hold their attention?

2. Rehearsing. Vary your volume and tone. Use your hands and body. Vary facial expression – if the words and the music don’t match, people don’t buy the message. Use pauses – for effect, to drive in a point. Be careful of repeating the same words too often. If you’re stumped for something to say, pause – uhs, ahs, and you knows distract and turn off some listeners. Avoid speaking too forcefully or using loaded terms that will annoy some listners.

3. Questions. Most fear being asked a question. There are infinite kinds of questions. Good questions and bad questions. Think about the 10 most likely questions you could be asked. Rehearse what you would say. Some questions come out of nowhere. Some rules: Make sure you know what the question is. Ask one clarifying question before you answer – do you mean how would this product work in a foreign or domestic market? If someone just won’t let go, say, “We must really have different experiences. It’s apparent we don’t agree so let’s just agree to disagree for now, but thanks for the debate.  Get it in your mind that questions are your friends. You just need five techniques to deal with them, including the dreaded “I don’t know, but I’ll find out and get back to you on that.

4. Being presentable. What is the impression they get by what you look like, how you carry yourself, how organized you appear to be, how prepared you are. All these may not be germane to the message but they are reflections of you. Part of speaking in front of people is marketing yourself as someone others should listen to. Watch what you wear. Don’t come casual to a business dress affair and don’t wear a suit to a casual setting.

5. Writing for different audiences. Unfortunately, one document generally does not play equally well across differing audiences. Many times you will have to adjust the length, tone, pace, style and even the message and how you couch it for different audiences. If you are writing a single message to multiple audiences, always ask yourself how are they different? Adjust accordingly. Writing for a higher level manager? Use an executive summary. One page. Just like your outline. At the end, tell the person what decision you are asking him or her to make. If the executive indicates interest, follow with the longer document. A support group? What resources will you need to support this activity? They probably need detail to line up their schedules. Legal? They need why, the history, parallels in the marketplace, legal potholes. Direct reports? They need implementation detail to understand the goals and outcomes you are considering. In one sense, you need to write the entire document and then chunk it up for the various audiences. Don’t try to make one document stretch.

6. Don’t drown the reader in detail he/she doesn’t need or can’t use. Use detail only when it’s essential to understanding your argument/thesis. What are five facts that show your point? Even if writing a lengthy report, those five facts should be highlighted in a paragraph or two, not revealed slowly. Readers will forget why they are reading about each problem since problems usually have more than one cause, and they will become distracted thinking about other matters. Few people read an almanac; if your argument is data driven, use the few; put the many in appendices.

7. Provide headlines and checkpoints for the reader, just as a newspaper does. If the communication is more than two or three pages, break it into headings such as “The Purchasing Problem,” “Why the Purchasing System is Breaking Down,” “Purchasing Options,” “Questions to Answer,” etc.

8. Don’t lose your readers with poor use of words. Eliminate embellishing words such as very, great, exciting, etc. Most adjectives and adverbs add nothing, cause the reader to pause, or come across as overstatements. Arguments are carried by logic and facts, not filler. Avoid stringing abstract words together – usually nouns – such as “optimal personnel interface.” Substitute common equivalents for these words. The numbing string of nouns above actually means “the best way for people to talk to each other.” Since all word processing systems have a thesaurus embedded in them, use this if stumped. Use Spell Check to correct misspellings and to spot commonly used non-words such as “irregardless, prioritize, or orientate.” Poor usage is more difficult to spot. Perhaps the easiest method is to have someone check your grammar. Another more difficult, but longer term, strategy is to get a copy of The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, a simple guide to the most common problems in grammar and what to do about them.

9. Action and visuals. Pep up your writing. Use words that call up pictures whenever possible. Vivid, visual arguments are best remembered. (Can you make the reader see the purchasing problem? “The boxes were stacked to the ceiling, blocking two rows.”) Vary sentence length and type. Too many writers fall into the trap of “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog’s back” – a string of simple sentences made long with lots of filler. Turning verbs into nouns makes writing dull – say, “X organized,” not, “the organization was accomplished by...” Use action – or active – words. Avoid “is” and “are,” double negatives like “not bad” or veiled insults like “not very good.” Say what you mean with active words. If a sentence has multiple commas, or multiple clauses, it may be too long. Say it out loud. Could you say it in half the words? Long, tortuous sentences usually come from turning the subject into the object of the sentence. In “Employees are inspired by X, Y, and Z,” the employees are passive recipients of X, Y, and Z, which comprise the point of the sentence. Decide what inspires employees and put it first. Try a little drama. In contrast to the above point, if you want to emphasize something, put it last: “In conclusion, doing X increased profit 14%” is more likely to make the point than “Profit increased 14% by...”

10. If your writing is repetitious, usually your second or third statement or qualifier will be the best. Often we write something, decides it needs clarification, and write another sentence or two to explain the first. In reading it over, we notice this and scratch out the later sentences, making the problem worse. First check the later statements to see if they are better statements; if not, combine the sentences into one. 

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