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 Prepare and Practice Your Presentation

Advance preparation and practice are crucial when it comes to delivering a speech, presentation or even your 30 second elevator pitch.

Successful speakers always plan and rehearse their presentations as far ahead of the event as possible. They never leave anything to chance.

Before I discovered the value of preparation and practice I was guilty of

· Thinking I knew the subject so well, I didn’t need much preparation or practice

· Convincing myself that being unprepared meant I would sound more ‘natural’ and spontaneous

· Not getting the results I wanted

After a few presentations I was not happy with, I grudgingly admitted to myself that perhaps my problem was lack of preparation. I thought it was time to give it a go.

Then I fell into another comfort zone – spending so much time preparing, I had no time left for practice. This time I was guilty of

· Preparing and rehearsing the material so much in my head that I had little time left to get it down on paper

· Spending so much time editing the words and sentence structure I had no time to rehearse

· Trying to memorise the words to make up for the lack of rehearsal

Eventually, I had to admit it – the time had come to learn how to prepare and practise properly. I did it by using the old adage, ‘Learn one, teach one.’ I learned from the experts, then I taught other speakers and now I teach my clients how to do it. It’s called The 3 P’s – Prepare, Practise and Present and here it is:

HOW TO PREPARE

1. Research and gather material relevant to your subject.

2. Organise your speech using the method that suits you- spider diagram, mind maps, bullet points. Make sure you cover all the points you want to make.

3. Write your talk out in full on paper or screen with a beginning, middle and end.

4. Edit out superfluous words and phrases, repetition and clumsy phrasing.

5. If you can, record your talk and transcribe it. Then, remove all the spoken fillers such as um, ah, actually, obviously, in point of fact, to be honest – the list is endless.

6. Once you are satisfied that your speech or presentation is as well structured, succinct and as clear as you can make it, you are ready to rehearse.

HOW TO REHEARSE

1. Read your presentation silently to yourself several times. The purpose of rehearsal is to help you internalise your ideas and message rather than learn the words off by heart.

2. Then read your script out loud a few times to hear how it sounds. Make any necessary adjustments to make it flow more smoothly.

3. Next, say it without notes as if you were speaking to a friend. If you can’t explain your subject without notes, go back to reading it aloud until you do know it well enough.

4. Finish each rehearsal completely. If you stumble over your delivery at any stage, keep going until you finish. Mark the spot on your script and when you finish the session, go back and find out why you are stumbling. You may need to change a word or the construction of a sentence. Correct it and begin again.

5. Get feedback from an objective third party or record yourself and watch or listen to the recording. Do you sound natural and relaxed? Is the structure clear? Is it interesting and engaging? Is there anything you can do to make it better?

Having a well prepared speech or presentation not only gives you confidence but it helps steady your nerves and allows you to focus on getting your message across to your audience. It’s not about us, as speakers, giving a wonderful performance. It’s about getting our message across, for the benefit of the audience. Remember the 3 P’s – Prepare, Practise and Present.