Tag Archives: Communication

The Fog Of Language

“Simply stated, it is sagacious to eschew obfuscation.”

Norman Ralph Augustine

When it comes to written and verbal language, I’m a big devotee of precision. Nary a day passes without encountering people using words that are close but incorrect. For example:

  • “That doesn’t jive with the facts.” (jibe)
  • “We have to staunch the bleeding.” (stanch)
  • “I could care less about your problems.” (couldn’t)
  • “I feel nauseous.” (nauseated, unless you meant you feel like causing nausea)

A subset of this is made-up words, such as “flustrated”, “supposably”, and “sherbert”.

Laziness? Ignorance? An indictment of our public schools? I don’t know.

I’m also an enthusiast of precision’s offspring: clarity. Say what you will about politicians, their messages are generally clear. Misguided, bombastic, outrageous, disingenuous, sure. But rarely unclear.

Business is a different kettle of fish altogether. The language of business often seems designed specifically to disguise, confuse, obscure, and otherwise bamboozle. Meaningless clichés, tired idioms, and word-out bromides flow forth from businesses like bodily functions.

Often, strings of gibberish appear (“press releases” or “statements”) that reach levels of inanity as to beggar belief, as well as eliciting grudging admiration. After all, it takes real talent to create a combination of words that sound impressive yet are devoid of any real meaning. Sometimes the goal appears to be impressive without specifics; other times to simply hide something.

The careful reader can spot the nonsense. Consider these examples, taken from articles that appeared recently in the business section of my local paper.

Example 1: In a statement announcing that restructuring would cause 220 people to lose their jobs, the CEO stated the following (buzzwords noted in red):

Over the past five years, we have transformed our market focus, innovation portfolio and manufacturing capabilities to deliver value for customers, shareholders and employees. As we continue to shift our product portfolio to a richer mix of higher growth, higher profitability adhesive market segments, we need to ensure our resources align with our vision. The proactive changes we are announcing will allow us to invest in the highest opportunity areas within our portfolio and become more agile as we support our customers’ success and deliver our 2020 plan.

Did you break the code? They want to make more money by dumping some products and people. Interestingly, a company spokesperson noted that over the past four years the company had added 200 jobs. So perhaps in the next cycle they’ll add some more people, presumably to enhance their innovation portfolio.

Example 2: In announcing a global restructuring, the company’s CEO stated:

We continue to prioritize both growth and returns. The structural changes announced [Monday] will help us unlock global growth opportunities and go after them by efficiently restructuring our teams and processes.

Let’s parse this a bit, shall we?

  • We continue to prioritize both growth and returns. Maybe a nit, but can you prioritize more than one thing?
  • …unlock global growth opportunities and go after them… What’s the difference between “unlock” and “go after”? Isn’t it assumed that after you go to the presumed trouble of unlocking, you would then go after them?
  • …by efficiently restructuring… That means they’re going to restructure in an efficient manner, not restructure in order to become more efficient.

Example 3: Announcing the demise of the print edition of one of their magazines, the publisher’s chief business officer and president of revenue (now that’s a title!) stated:

By re-imagining how [the magazine] creates content and how we distribute it, we are uniquely positioned to give consumers more of what they love while creating innovative and engaging opportunities for our advertising partners

Just a guess, but “innovation” seems to be the buzzword du jour.

Credit where credit is due: business people know how to turn a phrase, even if the result is something described by old Bill Shakespeare in King Lear: “Nothing will come of nothing.”

So we are left with a choice: ridiculousness from politicos, or nothingness from titans of industry.

Choose wisely…

asd

Today’s Fact Cetera

China has more English speakers than the United States.

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Better Emails Can Be Yours!

“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.” Benjamin Franklin

Writing is a muscle: the more your exercise it, the stronger it will be. But you have to use the correct technique when exercising your writing muscle. You write several emails every day, so consider each one an opportunity to polish your writing skills.

It takes time to craft a powerful email…but not as much as you might think. And once you find that your emails are getting better responses, you’ll have a template for success that you can adapt and use with all of your clients, prospects and colleagues.

Here are some simple steps you can take to avoid the common email mistakes:

1.  Treat Each Email As Important.

Make sure it accurately reflects you and your offering, and know your Purpose for every email: what do you want the recipient to understand, do and believe from your message.

2.  Organize Your Message.

State your Purpose, provide Information, describe Action Steps, then make a Specific Request.

3.  Start & End With Strength.

Have a compelling Subject Line, then get right to the point by stating the most important thing first. And end your email with a specific Request or Call to Action; what you want to happen next.

4.  Write To Be Clearly Understood.

Be Concise by avoiding unnecessary words and phrases. Be Precise by carefully choosing your words. And Be Strong by using words that convey confidence instead of doubt.

5.  And Before You Hit “Send”…

Save your email as “Draft”, wait 5-10 minutes. then revisit to proofread for typos and to add clarity, confidence and strength. Caution: don’t relay on Spell-Check alone; words that are incorrect but spelled correctly won’t get caught (e.g., “there”, “their” and “they’re”.

You’d never consider showing up for a client meeting looking like an unmade bed; your emails shouldn’t look that way, either. Keep in mind the simple steps I have outlined, and you’ll make sure that your emails show up the way you want to: polished, professional and positive.

Happy Writing! And if you have examples of bad emails you have received, send them along.

asd

Today’s Fact Cetera

The average open rate of emails in the U.S. is 19.9%.

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More From The Big File o’ Misfit Emails

“Example is always more efficacious than precept.” Samuel Johnson

I recently had an email forwarded to me that promised to help “bust through the inbox clutter of busy people you want to connect with. Use these techniques to write messages that garner responses.” The rather long email went on to describe these techniques, all of which made sense. Except that the email they sent didn’t use any of them.

With that in mind, and in the spirit of old Sammy, here are some further examples of actual emails that serve as a warning to all of us.

First up, how to start off slow then peter out all together:

Big 1

This starts with double salutations: “Hi” and “Good Morning” (the latter capitalized and followed by a comma instead of a period), then follows with one of the great lines of all time. Might just have well have written “I AM going to waste your time, but not much of it.” After that dubious beginning, the second paragraph is filled with vague words: “leading”, “relevant” and “better”.

Next up, an email filled with excitement…and no writing skills:

Big 2

This was sent to an individual woman, so “Hi Guys!” goes sideways right off the bat. And the exclamation point doesn’t help. The breezy and informal tone continues in the first sentence, which could use a few commas. Then the sender launches into an animated description of their offering. One problem: the recipient is not in the restaurant or bar business. Even the exhilarating promise of “LED displays and bottle Glorifiers” (whatever those are) is not going to lead to a positive response.

And up last, a whiff of desperation:

Big 3

This poor sap is clearly suffering due to the lack of response to the previous email. His longing for connection is clear from the opening sentence right through to his inability to end the email with one specific sentence.

Again, all three of these beg the question: Why would I want to do business with you?

Every email sends two messages: the one you’re intending, and the one the recipient infers. The words, the punctuation, the flow, the tone…all contribute to the overall impression you are providing.

Take some time and care to make it a good one.

Next Time: Ideas for Better Emails

asd

Today’s Fact Cetera

70% of US Internet users prefer email as the method of communication for business-related matters.

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Common Email Mistake #5: Ending on a Low Note

“Everything you want is out there, waiting for you to ask.” Jules Renard

Emails that start out poorly often end the same way. As the recipient, you either aren’t clear on the Purpose or aren’t compelled to respond. It’s the same as writing “Move This To The Trash Immediately” in the Subject Line.

Countless emails are sent every day that do not ask for anything specific or suggest a clear action step. Ending your message without a clear and specific request reduces your chance of success to near zero.

Here are some examples of poor endings, as always, from real emails:

Low Note 1

I’ll bet you do! If only wishes made it so…

Low Note 2

A request is always better than a question. The sender might have written, “Please let me know your availability this week for a 15 minute call.”

Low Note 3

I’m confused. What if I don’t need more information? Does that mean we can’t discuss further steps?

Low Note 4

Oh, brother. Where to start? As a first contact with the recipient, this sets a very interesting (i.e., troublesome) tone. “Share some love”? “Pretty please with sugar on top?” If you’re inviting me to Sadie Hawkins, this might…and I stress “might”…be appropriate. But to expose my community of followers to you? Oh, I don’t think so. And when you ask a closed-ended question – one that be answered “yes” or “no” – you will likely get “No”. Or no response at all.

 

Low Note 5

This starts off with a rather non-specific statement of what the sender wants, but any potential meaning gets lost in the detail of what will happen next. Without a clear and specific request at the end, this may not get the desired response. And by the way, this was an internal email from the Communications department. Oh, my.

If you’ve ever wondered why you’re not getting a response from an email, it’s probably because you didn’t specifically ask for one. If you don’t know what you want the recipient to do, you’re better off not sending the email at all. If you do, make sure you make the request clearly and concisely.

Bear this in mind: If you ask for nothing in particular, that’s exactly what you’ll get.

Next Time: More Dismal Emails

asd

Today’s Fact Cetera

The second week of June is National Email Week.

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Common Email Mistake #4: Not Taking Out The Garbage

“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.” Hans Hofman

A significant number of emails are riddled with garbage: meaningless words and cliché statements that do not provide clarity or a compelling reason to read on.

Here are some examples, real emails that have been received and forwarded to me by clients, colleagues and all those who share my dislike for – yet fascination with – terribly written emails.

Garbage 2

As mentioned in previous posts, when you use “just” you may as well write “This isn’t that important…no reason for you to respond.” And recipients don’t care what you “wanted” to do, only what you want. For that matter, they don’t care what you’re “wondering” about, either.

Garbage 3

“Quickly” is meaningless in an email. Obviously, it was written quickly, but if the intention was to indicate that reading it wouldn’t take very long…well, too late.

Garbage 4

This is an example of visual garbage; a vain attempt to add significance to jargon through the overuse of highlighting. Secondly, unless it’s a specific request, asking questions in an email is a fool’s game. Recipients won’t answer them.  And as to the salutation, how does the sender know when the email will be read?

Garbage 6

Partner? Oh, never mind, because that’s the least of the problems with this one. First of all, there’s that pesky “just”. And then there’s the worn-out “touching base”. Don’t touch my base, don’t reach out to me, and for heaven’s sake, don’t threaten to give me a buzz. And why end the first sentence with a question mark? That ain’t no question, pal. And finally, if you must use an exclamation point, one will do just fine, thank you.

Here’s an assignment for you: review the emails in your “Sent” file, and see if you find any of these types of phrases:

Garbage 1

If you did, here’s your chance to turn over a new leaf. Make a vow to eliminate weak or unnecessary words and meaningless phrases.

Your email messages should be clear, crisp and on purpose. Anything that doesn’t serve the Purpose should go into the trash.

Next Time: Ending with Strength

asd

Today’s Fact Cetera

On average, Americans now spend 92 minutes a day with their email.

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Common Email Mistake #3: Burying The Lead

“The first rule of writing is to have one’s words read successfully.” Robert Brault

To “bury the lead” in journalism refers to beginning with details of secondary importance to the reader, forcing him or her to read more deeply into an article than they should have to in order to discover the essential point.

Chances are you have received more than one email that requires you to read several sentences before getting to the purpose of the message. And if it’s a first contact, you probably don’t bother to read on. Especially if you are reading it on your phone; if it takes multiple swipes to discover the purpose, most recipients will bail out.

If you spend too much time getting to the point of the message, you risk losing the attention of your recipient and any chance of a successful outcome.

Emails that start with phrases like “How are you?” or “I hope this finds you well” may sound polite, but they quickly become an annoyance…especially if the recipient doesn’t know you.

Here are some real examples that have been forwarded to me by my clients. See how quickly (if at all) you can answer these two critical questions:

  1. What’s this about?
  2. Why should I keep reading? In other words, what’s in it for me?

Ready? Here we go….

Lead 1

The “What” is clear from the Subject Line, but not the “Why”. And the reference to previous emails indicates that nothing about them answered those questions either. And apparently the sender wasn’t too keen on sending the email, but his or her director told her to. Compelling? I think not.

Okay, here’s number two:

Lead 2

Hmmm…the “What” is a request for NetMeeting, but why would I want to be introduced to this company? And while we’re at it, why no periods at the end of the first two sentences? If the attention to detail in this email is any indication, you are right to question the so-called solution.

Let’s try another:

Lead 3

That’s quite a Subject Line. But what is “this”? And that first sentence! Sounds like a pitch for a questionable pharmaceutical, or perhaps a request for money from a Nigerian prince.

And now for the finale:

Lead 5

Oh my, what a wonderful story. But what’s the point? Although the rest of the email (which I have spared you from reading…you’re welcome) went on to discuss the power of conversations, I doubt anyone would read much past the beginning…especially on a cell phone.

Here’s how to avoid burying the lead:

  • Keep the Purpose of your email the Purpose of your email.
  • Have a clear and compelling Subject Line.
  • Start strong: get right to the point and state the most important thing in your Opening Sentence.

Remember, you want to explain what the email is about and why the recipient should keep reading…or even care about your message, and do it as quickly as possible.

Unless you do that, you’re wasting their time…and your own.

Next Time: Garbage Removal

asd

Today’s Fact Cetera

33% of emails are opened because of the Subject Line.

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Common Email Mistake #1: Premature Sending

“There are two kinds of writer: those that make you think, and those that make you wonder.” Brian Aldiss

It is astonishing how many emails ask the recipient to consider a product or idea, yet are riddled with errors in grammar, punctuation, spelling and sentence structure.

Sending a sloppy email communicates to the recipient that you are not professional. Your message is undermined, and you’ve lost before you’ve barely begun. The recipient makes the logical assumption that if you can’t (or won’t) take care with your written communication, it’s unlikely you will take care in other areas of your work.

Even basic things are often missed. Nothing says “I don’t care about you or your business” more than misspellings; especially the name of the recipient or their organization. Yet it happens…and it happens with appalling frequency.

Here’s a real-life example, sent to me by a business colleague:

Email 1

This email is an excellent example of what happens when you hit “Send” before you have proofread your email. I count 5 glaring mistakes…can you spot them? (Answers at the end of this post…no peeking!)

This was the first contact between the sender and recipient. All the recipient had to judge the value of this offering was the writing. Do you suppose this was the first impression the sender was hoping for?

If you don’t care how you are perceived by the recipient, or really don’t want the recipient to take action, then by all means hit “Send” before you have reviewed your email. Or better yet, don’t even bother sending it at all. At least you won’t be making things worse.

On the other hand, there are some simple steps you can take to ensure you are putting your best foot forward:

  • Treat every email as important. Make sure it accurately reflects you and what you are communicating.
  • Know your Purpose for every email. What do you want the recipient to understand, do, and believe from your message?
  • Organize your Message.
    1. State your Purpose.
    2. Provide Information.
    3. Describe Action Steps.
    4. Make a specific Request.

Here are the five problems I found in the above example:

Email 1A

  1.  “Sales Leads” is inconsistently capitalized.
  2. The space between “email” and “snail” should be after the comma.
  3. “Just” implies that this isn’t important.
  4. The use of “guys” is informal, especially given the recipient is a woman.
  5. The last phrase should be a new sentence.

Next Time: The Myth of Efficiency

asd

Today’s Fact Cetera

In Dutch, the @ sign is called “apestaart”; that’s “monkey’s tail” in English.

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