Business Writing, Media Training, Presentation (not Powerpoint) – All Rely on Communication Skills

Editing as Quality Control (Or How to Avoid Looking Like an Idiot)

“Everyone needs an editor.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

Papa Hemingway was honest enough to acknowledge that he wouldn’t have emerged as one of the 20th century’s most distinctive and popular prose stylists without help. He had Maxwell Perkins. You have colleagues and bosses and even subordinates who can help you exert quality control and sharpen your business writing skills. More importantly, you also have yourself.

Remember: Just because you’ve typed the last word doesn’t mean you’re finished. Assume you’ve misspelled at least several words. Assume you’ve dropped words as your fingers flew over the keyboard. Assume you’ve fallen into the “sentence fragment” and “comma splice” habits. DON’T assume that spell-check is enough.

Here are some fine examples from notes written to school by parents in Charleston, W.Va.:

“Please excuse Gloria from Jim today. She is administrating.”

“My son is under a doctor’s care and should not take P.E. today. Please execute him.”

“Please excuse Jimmy for being. It was his father’s fault.”

“Sally won’t be in school a week from Friday. We have to attend her funeral.”

See how spell-check can let you down? Keep this in mind: That’s YOU who signed the note or wrote the email or report. That’s YOUR name on the poorly edited — or unedited — piece of writing. And that’s a terrible impression of you and your business or agency or nonprofit.

Building a Bridge to the Press

If you’ve ever watched one of those Sunday morning shows where the late, lamented Tim Russert and his like question seasoned politicians and top Administration appointees and glib foreign leaders, you’re familiar with the thrust and parry of the sparring. Having been a reporter in Washington (national security correspondent for Business Week magazine), I can tell you that the “non-answer answer” is about as frustrating as it gets — particularly when we know that the public already finds the press obnoxious and pushy. But it’s an occupational hazard and we have to live with it.

What those guests are doing is “bridging” from the import of the potentially embarrassing question to the “spin” that they want to leave in viewers’ minds. Handled shrewdly, bridging often gets them through the half-hour untouched and perhaps even looking sharp and self-confident.

They come in with a message. If they don’t like the questions, they can deploy such bridging phrases as:

–”What’s important to remember, however…”

–”That’s a good point, but I think you’d be interested in knowing…”

–”Let me put that in perspective.”

–”What that means is…”

–”Yes, but that’s not a fair comparison. We do things differently because…”

Put Power Point In Its Place

Two things happen during a Power Point show — the lights go down and the speaker loses eye contact with the audience. Neither one helps you get your message across, particularly if you’re constantly looking over your shoulder at the screen and referring your listeners to one dense slide (too many words in too small a space, or yet another boring chart) after another.

I recently spent three days running a writing skills seminar for seven Navy SEALs who, between overseas assignments, were doing staff work at the Naval Special Weapons Development Group in Virginia Beach, Va. To a man, they slammed Power Point for expecting too much of the audience. “You see a Power Point, and you’re expected to be proficient,” one SEAL said of the classroom training they often have to sit through. “But it’s not enough.”

So we worked on presentation skills training without Power Point. Each one practiced traditional communication skills, looking from listener to listener as the rest of us played the roles of the generals and admirals and ambassadors and foreign dignitaries who SEALs brief around the world. They went to the whiteboard to highlight key points with a magic marker, maintaining that vital audience contact throughout. They learned to be concise and leave enough room for the questions that anyone proficient in presentation skills is sure to inspire. In other words, they communicated.

Avoiding Bad Debt Negotiations

Debt negotiations are becoming more popular among consumers today looking for a way out of their debt. While negotiations can be valuable tool for finding financial relief, there are many risks involved that can lead to more problems. Unfortunately, the bulk of problems involved with debt negotiations is dealing with scams or non-reputable companies.

The Federal Trade Commission has provided information for consumers to learn about debt negotiations and other relief solutions. This information is very important when seeking help with debts and can keep consumers out of the hands of scammers.

The Worst

The risks associated with third party debt relief companies is knowing whether or not you are getting a fair deal. There have been instances in which consumers paid money for debt negotiations that never even took place. As the consumer went on about their business thinking their debts had been resolved, their accounts were accumulating penalties and holding a delinquent account status. If even a deal had been negotiated, failing to get a copy of the deal in writing can lead to difficulty proving fraud down the road.

Most people never think twice or question the company they have hired to perform debt negotiations, which can be a big problem. It is always acceptable, and should be commonplace, to ask questions to the debt negotiator. Maintain an active role in the debt process and let the negotiator know you are paying attention.

The Best

The most important thing to remember in debt negotiations is that you have the right to negotiate directly with your lender. There is generally no need for a third party negotiator unless you need additional assistance. A debt negotiation lawyer can be highly beneficial in these situations as they are well versed in negotiations and are bound by an ethical code of conduct. However, if you choose to hire a third party company be sure they possess certain characteristics.

A reputable company will not attempt to sell one particular service or push for a commitment. While these companies are offering you a service, you should never feel pressured or rushed in your decision. The company will also staff licensed or credentialed employees such as financial advisers or accountants. Any company whose employees do not hold a degree or only boast “in house” training should be avoided, you want someone who knows what they are doing. A legitimate agency will not require upfront fees for services or will offer a money back guarantee if services are not rendered adequately.

How to Structure a Presentation That Sells

You know all about your products and services, you know all the features, the advantages over the competitor’s products and the benefits that you can deliver. You understand the problems that your prospects face on a daily basis, or what they would like to achieve. Now all you have to do is create a presentation to describe all this and make them want to buy it.

How should you structure your presentation for maximum effect?

Here is a 10 step model which will have them begging for more.

1. Start with a “SMART” objective (SMART = Specific, Measurable, Appropriate, Realistic and Timely). Decide what it is you want to accomplish with your presentation and how you will measure your success. This should be in terms of what your audience members will do directly after they have heard your presentation.

2. Now, start your presentation by grabbing the audience’s attention. The reaction your are looking for is for people to think “I thought this was going to be good, but wow! this should be great, I really will have to listen”. Rhetorical questions are often a good way to achieve this.

3. Once you have grabbed their attention it is usually worth a sentence or two to establish your credibility. Why should these people listen to you? What experience do you or your company have in this area?

4. Now given that you are trying to sell something, whether it is a product, a service, a solution or maybe just an idea or way of working, then you need to identify why it is needed. Because without the audience knowing that they need something there is no way they will spend money, time or resources on obtaining it. Usually the best way of doing this is to describe the problem they are no doubt experiencing without it. So describe the problem and the pain, make it as real as you can.

5. Having established the problem (or opportunity if you prefer to remain positive). Now is your opportunity to establish a vision of success. How wonderful it could be, if you no longer had that problem. It is vital that your audience buy in to this vision of success, that they really want it or need it. If they only pay lip-service to this vision of success they are unlikely to buy.

6. Now, tell them how your products, services, solutions, or ideas will work to start delivering that vision. You may like to use cause and effect models, or problem/ solution models to help achieve this. As long as this middle part of the presentation is structured so that your audience can follow what you are saying, the actual structure is of less importance. Don’t forget to describe the benefit (“the what’s in it for you”) for every feature you mention. If you can’t think of a benefit to go with a feature, don’t mention the feature.

7. Once you have fully described you offering, finish with a summary of the benefits.

8. Now, given that this is a business presentation, and no-one can do business on their own, now is the point in the presentation where you put in the call to join together. Tell your audience that by working together you and them can achieve their hopes and desires.

9. In fact by working together you can achieve the vision of the future that you laid out near the start of your presentation and that they all bought in to. So restate the vision, now.

10. Finally, you can have a Question and Answer session, and thank the audience for their time, but the last thing you should say before you sit down, is your call to action. Your call to action is an instruction to the audience on how they can fulfill your objective which you identified, right back up in step 1.

Structure your presentation around these 10 steps and I guarantee you will generate a better response.