Writing That Works By David Griffiths

Poor writing is an obstacle to productivity, a hindrance to customer and client relations, and an impediment to effective management. Good writing is an opportunity to be creative and crystallize thinking while portraying a consistently professional image.

Why should a well-run organization care about writing training? Because meaningful communication — whether in reports, memos or the ubiquitous emails that make writers out of all of us — is the key to good management. To get the message across internally, it must be concise, unambiguous and logically structured. Overly long, badly organized writing can create confusion.

And without clear management expectations of what constitutes effective writing, you leave yourself vulnerable to erosions in productivity and morale. Nothing can slow the pace of decision making like the seemingly endless “rewrite cycle,” as one management layer above another finds fault with a document that would have been clearly written in the first place had there been writing guidelines, with leadership insistence on a concise message.

The penalties for inattention to the quality of writing can be just as severe when it comes to external communications with clients, customers and other constituents. Letters or emails that look rushed and shows signs of shoddy — or nonexistent — editing can leave a harmful impression of the writer, his or her superiors and even the whole organization. In fact, errors — grammatical and spelling blunders, run-on and fragmented sentences, misleading punctuation, redundant content, passive verbs, sloppy organization — can all lead the reader to ask: What else is wrong with this? Can I trust what the writer is trying to tell me?

So what constitutes Writing That Works?

  • Usa a writing process that starts with a free-wheeling exploratory phase and ends with a concise product that demonstrates a disciplined approach to business and/or government communications.
  • Knowing your audience is an absolute necessity. Writing that looks and sounds professional must edify with straightforward English, not try to impress with “insidey” and often (albeit unintentional) pompous language. Respect the reader.
  • Writing is thinking. The writing process forces you to analyze and be creative, and maybe even surprise yourself at how much you know. Good writers exercise their minds.
  • Revise and edit. No matter how well crafted, your message can be garbled and you can project a negative image of you and your organization if you don’t cast a critical eye on your own work. Effective writers must learn how to edit and revise. It’s all about “quality control.”

A recent Business Week magazine poll showed that 41 percent of employees who are dissatisfied with training efforts offered by their employer plan to leave the company within 12 months, compared to 12 percent who are satisfied with the training.

It’s not too late. Effective business writing can give employees a greater sense of cohesion. What business couldn’t benefit from more confident communicators who shun jargon and bureaucratic padding.

David Griffiths with the Pincus Group is a professional with over 30 years of experience in writing, editing and communications coaching. He can be reached at info@thepincusgroup.com.

Want To Be A Better Writer? Don’t Go It Alone By David Griffiths

“Everyone needs an editor.” Ernest Hemingway

Papa Hemingway, one of the great prose stylists of the last century, was dead on. Human nature is such that we find it difficult to be rigorously honest about our own work. We may be able to spot the occasional misspelling or misplaced comma, but we won’t catch them all without help. The fact is that it’s a rare writer who can look at his or her own work with an objective and critical eye.

Why is editing — and more extensive revising, where needed — so important? Because sloppy or nonexistent editing leaves the reader asking: “If he uses spell-check as a crutch and doesn’t know the difference between ‘there’ and ‘their’ and ‘they’re,’ why should I take the rest of his writing seriously? Where’s the pride?”

Professional editors assume that the copy they’re working on is far from perfect. Viewing themselves as “first readers,” they start with a clear understanding of the audience for any particular piece of writing. Then they edit for message, organization, paragraph and sentence structure and length, consistency in internal construction, word usage, and errors in punctuation and spelling as well as typos.

Think of it as quality control.

The result should be writing where clarity and brevity are natural partners, the message is clear, and style doesn’t get in the way of content. As the novelist Somerset Maugham said, “The best style is the style you don’t notice.”

As published in: Training Magazine Communication Skills Vital Business Intelligence

When Leaders Get It Wrong

Nobody–least of all those in positions of power–like to admit they’ve goofed. So, you may be surprised to learn that more than 1,400 leaders, managers and executives opened up on the subject to Escondido, Calif.-based training and development consultancy The Ken Blanchard Companies. The findings of the study, released last month, reveal these leaders’ views on their most-needed skills and biggest mistakes.

An ability to crunch the numbers and meet the bottom line may have played a huge role in securing them that coveted corner office, but survey participants have a strong appreciation for the more subtle art of interpersonal relations–an area that also causes them some trouble. Forty-three percent, for instance, identified communications skills as the most critical skill set to possess, while 41 percent said that inappropriate use of communication or listening is the number one mistake leaders make.

Many agreed that a much too heavy-handed approach was sometimes used. Twenty-seven percent cited under- or over-supervising, giving directions or delegating as a problem when working with others. Fifteen percent said that empathy and emotional intelligence are critical to leadership success.

Interestingly, when asked to identify the five things that leaders most often fail to do when working with others, high percentages of respondents targeted the same handful of issues. Eighty-two percent, for example, cited failing to provide appropriate feedback, praise or redirection as a personal shortcoming; 81 percent weren’t satisfied with their ability to listen or involve others; 76 percent said they fail to use a leadership style that is appropriate to the person, task and situation, which then leads to over- or under-supervision; 76 percent cited failure to set clear goals and objectives as a problem; and 59 percent said people in their position too often fail to train and develop their people.

Aileen Pincus is a former reporter,U.S. Senate executive staffer, and public relations executive, who now provides crisis and media training, as well as presentation and speech training, as president of her own communications firm in Maryland.

One Disastrous Performance Public Speaking and the Lessons of Bobby Jindal

A once little-known senator from Illinois became living proof of the power of one great speech to launch a national political career. We’ve now had a painful reminder of just the opposite: a disastrous speech that may dim the national spotlight for an un-tested speech-maker.

Governor Bobby Jindal had his national debut February, delivering his party’s response to the President’s first speech to the joint Congress. It wasn’t just that Jindal suffered by comparison to the accomplished communicator-in- chief (he did), but that he failed by any measure.

The popular Louisiana Governor, touted as the “rising star” of his party, not only fell miserably short of communicating his message. Both stylistically and substantively, Jindall proved, in just one amateurish, jarring performance, he was not ready for the national stage.

Jindall’s mistakes were numerous and they were devastating. Chief among them:

  • Tone-deafness: In an apparent effort to overcome his ’first geek’ image, the Governor tried on a new, folksy demeanor. Not only did the result appear staged and uncomfortable, it had the unfortunate effect of branding him un-statesmanlike. Call this the Al Gore lesson: Seek to show you are comfortable in your own skin. Don’t confuse public speaking performance with acting.
  • Message-deafness: Jindal’s speech seemed oddly disconnected from all that preceded it. A lengthy introduction juxtaposing the president’s immigrant roots with Jindal’s own seemed out of place given the urgency of the crisis he was there to address. His on-going criticism of big government, coming as it did from the governor of a state receiving billions of federal dollars in Katrina aide, coupled with finger-wagging lessons on clean government from a state not known for it, only further strained his credibility. Lesson learned: Get the right messages. Warning: Proximity to the speechmaker may cause blurred vision. Seek an objective critique outside the inner circle.
  • Image-deafness: For all the hype surrounding President Obama’s “natural” talents as a communicator, his is a learned skill, honed most recently over a grueling, two-year campaign. Jindal’s attempts at imitation were painfully unsuccessful. His hallway walk to the camera was awkward, the standing delivery painful to watch, the disconcerting hand motions, sing-song delivery, and tentative voice at best amateurish. Lesson learned: Play to your strengths. Imitation is not flattering for the one doing the imitating. Find your leadership communication style, work on it, own it.

Whether Jindal will recover from his stunningly poor performance is yet to be determined. What is certain is the continued and dominant role powerful public speaking will play, even in this digital age.

Aileen Pincus is a former local and national television reporter and senior Senate Staff, now a leading executive communication coach, training corporate, government and non-profit executives in the art of communication.

Media Tips for the Novice A media training guide for those new to the media spotlight

Media interviews can be difficult even for those used to public and media attention -but they can be downright terrifying for those who’ve never been in the media spotlight before.

For many who’ve never interacted with the media, fear of the media usually stems from a feeling of lack of control in the process, and concern over the reporter’s motives in doing the interview. Will I be able to answer the reporter’s questions? How will I know the reporter won’t make me look bad?

Reporters, of course, understand many of their interview subjects will react this way, and good ones will do what they can to put their interviewees at ease. Reporters though have a tendency to believe people’s fears about the media are, for the most part, groundless. As a media trainer and former reporter, I know it’s not that simple. Facts often don’t speak for themselves and interview subjects can indeed look foolish, inept or worse, even if that wasn’t the reporter’s aim.

The goal of media training is to teach you how to serve both reporters’ goals and your own, truthfully, factually, and with confidence. Media training is designed first and foremost to allow interview subjects to understand how to exercise the control they often don’t even know they have over the process.

The first thing for the novice interviewee to understand is that he or she is in far greater danger from a reporter who doesn’t get it, than from a reporter who is out to get you. The vast majority of reporters want to get the story right. If they work for a mainstream news organization, there are standards they must meet and higher ups to hold them accountable to those standards. That’s not to say reporters don’t sometimes get it wrong. It means if they’re a professional, they have a stake in getting it right and value their reputations. That means you need to concentrate on telling them what they need to know to get it right. I firmly believe that it’s always in people’s best interests to engage the media rather than shun them. Here are some basic rules for media interviews for you to keep in mind:

  • No Spin: Don’t lie to a reporter. Ever. It doesn’t mean you have to tell all, explain all and reveal all. It means you need to maintain your credibility at all times by making sure the veracity of what you say can be counted on. It also has the advantage of reducing the need to correct statements later.
  • Preparation is key:  Reporters are looking to tell a story others can relate to or at least find a connection with. Think beforehand about the main points you want to make with a reporter and how you want to get those points across. This is called messaging and it’s a vital part of any interaction with a reporter.
  • Think about why you’re being interviewed: You are probably not speaking with a reporter just to provide them with raw data. More likely, you’re there to provide some kind of perspective. Concentrate then on the bigger picture regarding the issue or the event — as an expert, an observer or a participant.
  • Less is more: Speaking to reporters requires getting to the bottom line as quickly, and as quotably, as you can. Deliver the supportive data, facts and backup information after you’re sure you’ve delivered your message. Try to make your message as accessible as you can to the greatest number of people (no jargon, slang, or “inside language”) and if you tell a story, make sure it’s a succinct one that makes the point you really want to make.
  • Practice, practice, and practice: It takes a while to get comfortable with developing messages, reducing them to a few well-spoken statements, and staying on message through questions. The more you do it, the better you will get. No matter which reporters you speak to — trade, local, regional or national, print or broadcast — follow the same process of knowing who you are speaking to, for what reason, and determining what you want to say.

Media interviews should be a process of mutual gain. The media gets information, perspective, an interesting story or point of view, and you in turn get to reach the audience watching and listening to that segment of media. So give reporters what they’re looking for-access, good quotes and reliable information-and you’ll be rewarded with access to their audiences. Don’t let your lack of experience stop you from engaging with the media and with the public you want to reach.

Aileen Pincus is a former local and national television reporter, Senior Hill Staffer and leading executive communication coach, training corporate, government and non-profit executives in the art of communication.