the tamago report

Eggs benedictated

Tag: professional communication

Guest Post: From creativity to the C-suite

by MDY

Today’s tamago comes from Patrick Lin, our first guest writer and an old school friend of mine. Since he left for the States three years ago, I hadn’t seen much of Paddy until he came back down for his summer vacation – and a stint working alongside me in the world of professional communications. Here’s a little of what he’s learnt so far.

– MDY

On my first day at work I was asked to write a 1,500 word feature article. About a printer. For a magazine which talks solely about printers. I didn’t even know there existed articles of this sort, let alone entire magazines. It seemed unimaginable that there were readers out there who’d go reams of printer-related jargon with the same delectation I might with TIME or National Geographic. I amused myself for a second with the thought of printer nerds frothing at the prospect of cloud print compatibility and the highest DPI print technology can offer. In any case, to each his own; I was determined to deliver on my first assignment. After all, what good would a Williams education be if I couldn’t get a simple task like this done?

My article turned out to be a dog’s breakfast. Of course, my supervisor said it was great and immensely helpful for her to build on. But I knew I had to learn how to harness my university writing skills for the corporate environment. If you’re in university or any other educative institution, you’ll probably soon be writing for a business (or in the business of writing). Here are a couple of tips I’ve picked up to get you ready:

1. Understand the brand.

How does the company want to sell itself? Are they proper or laid-back? Who is their target market? These things will be predetermined by the corporation, but at times you will need to do serious detective work because some companies have more distinct brand voices than others. For example: Virgin Air has loud brand voice all about delivering mates rates all round because they know that not all of us treat a trip from Australia to Europe like an excursion to the zoo. On the other hand, Xerox’s language is at best elegant and at worst bland, and is in general unemotional. If you wrote for Xerox with the same “no frills” attitude of Virgin, it would not work.

Companies are like people: they each have their own voice and character. Get to know this personality first, then sell the company for exactly who they are in the best way possible.

Ed: This is also relevant when you’re writing cover letters or job applications – if you can align your tone with that of the company’s brand, you stand a far better chance of being hired than a cloistered English-Major who uses “ergo” in every second sentence. Unless you’re applying to be a Latin professor. QED.

2. Bring your business to life.

How often do you see companies champion “professionalism, integrity, respect,” in their mission statements? Or companies that write: “we strive to deliver excellent industry standards to our customers.” And my personal favourite: “your call is important to us” after being on hold for 20 minutes. This dull, impersonal language is the market norm and does not set companies apart from their competitors; it’s language customers can’t believe in.

We are more likely to do business with people we like. When you write for a corporation, don’t be afraid to write like there is a real person on the other end. At the end of the day, business is done by real people, not corporations.

Ed: Of course, the degree to which this holds depends on who you’re working for. Be personal, but don’t be an idiot.

3. Change the way you look at your undergraduate education.

There is one school of thought that says you go to university to learn a vocation. After all, you spent all of high school studying history and basket weaving.

But the times are changing. By the time you graduate from your vocational degree, you’ll probably be learning a different skill set. What is more valuable then, is your ability to grasp vast amounts of complex ideas and weave them into a cohesive, easily-understandable whole (Ed: like a basket).

And since we now live in the age of the cognitariat – a class of white collar workers who generate information – this skill will prove invaluable not only for lifelong learning. It’ll also be an important asset in the workplace, where you will undoubtedly be required to add to the wealth of information already floating around in the zeitgeist of our digital age.

Taking complex information and sythesising it into a coherent, easy-to-understand and original form is not something everybody can do. But you’re already doing it at uni. Don’t squander that opportunity.

In brief: Write in a voice that is true to the character of the business. Don’t be afraid to let people know there is a real person talking on the other end. While at school, read critically and write assertively.

Advertisements

Five tips to write (and think) faster

by MDY

Maybe you’re in an exam with too many unwritten words and not enough microseconds. Or your current/prospective employer has just thrown you such a curve-ball of a question that if you don’t catch it just right, you’re liable to get whacked into geosynchronous orbit. Or maybe you need to finish that cover letter or assignment or essay two minutes ago, because that was when the electronic submission box closed. Sometimes, no time is more than you have. You (hopefully) won’t use these too often, but here are some tips to help you write really really REALLY fast (and think even faster):

  1. Pause. That’s right. Even when you can’t afford to, take the time to think and plan what you want to write (or say). Come up with a brief structure in your head, and maybe one or two examples. This should take you five, ten seconds at most. If not, look at yourself in the mirror and answering the insecurities which spring into your head as quickly as possible. That should give you ample practice material.
  2. Speed-writing. The more you write, the better you get. To practice your quick-draw, sit at your desk and take in your surrounds. What’s the first thing you think of? Oranges? Good. Write for a minute about oranges. If you don’t reach 200 words, slap yourself and try again. Repeat. Like speed-dating, but more productive and sadomasochistic at the same time.
  3. Don’t talk smack. Cut out weasel words, jargon, and anything longer than 3 syllables. Trying to buy yourself time with obfuscation and verbal fluff is akin to cementing a wall together using fecal matter: sooner or later, your shit’s going to fall apart. Write or speak plainly and with honesty. If you don’t know, say so.
  4. Stay consistent. What’s the one thing you simply have to say? Got it? Now say it, and keep saying it. Don’t lose sight of your single message – it’s probably all you have time to offer up anyway. If you’ve done 1 and 3, this should be easy: the less you write, the more consistent you’ll sound.
  5. Own it. Write with gravitas. Speak with confidence. Most people will care less about what you say and more about how you say it. And an articulate, clear fool can carry the day far better than a mute genius. If you sound like you know what you’re talking about, people will think you do. This blog is a good example.

In brief: Clean up your mind, and you’ll write faster. Planning, structure and plain diction will help you know more quickly what you have to say. And then you’ll be able to say it.

Goodbye, hello: the art of salutations

by MDY

The first words are the hardest. Your salutations in written correspondence are a lot like striking up a conversation with the cute guy/girl/amoeba at the bar, or being introduced to the parents of the aforementioned guy/girl/amoeba who just happen to have a net worth with more digits than your hands. Most people think of salutations as stock-standard phrases which don’t mean much, but they can (and often do) say a lot about your professionalism, personality and persimmons.

(We will get to gratuitous alliteration in another post)

How do you say what you want to with your salutations? Here’s a quick guide to help you say goodbye and say hello:

Be polite: Which would you prefer – sounding a bit too formal, or coming across as a inchoate slob? Err on the side of propriety if you’re at all unsure what register to take: a “Dear Mr/Mrs ______” is always a safe option, as is “To whom it may concern” for letters of bureaucracy, administration, etc. Remember, “Hey” is for horsing around at the bar, not professional communication.

Use their name: Most people say “Hi, John” in real life and “Dear Sir” in their letters. I write “Hi, John” in my letters and say “Morning, Sir” in real life. Result of a grammar school education? Definitely. Pompous and off-putting? It works for me, but who knows. However, nobody – particularly executives or C-suites who might be reviewing your cover letter, RFP-response or wedding invitation – likes being called “Sir/Madam”* or “whom it may concern”. Take names and kick ass. Even better – get to know the people you’re writing to first.

Stay consistent: If you start off sounding formal, keep it up through your entire email or letter. Same thing if you lead with a jovial “How’s it going?”** or a comradely “Yo waddup my homie brudda” or my favourite of all passive-aggressives, the “Hi.” No matter how smoothly you may think you’re doing it, changing register in the middle of your email/letter/birthday invite doesn’t establish rapport with your addressee – it makes you sound incoherent. Or schizoid.

Say what you mean: What’s the difference between “yours sincerely” and “yours faithfully”? One means you’re being sincere, the other means you’ll be faithful. Personally, I prefer not to use these stock sign-off lines, and when I do I make sure I mean it.

For example, I’ll say “Warm regards,” if I have a warm and fuzzy feeling about my fellow correspondent.

Or “Many thanks,” if they’ve done something I’m actually grateful for.

Or “Hi.” if they’ve really ticked me off.

My usual line for “first approach” letters (where I don’t know the person) is

Hope to hear from you soon, and thanks for your time,

-M.

A bit long, but it speaks plainly: I’m hoping the person gets back to me, but I want to thank them for reading my letter regardless. In most other correspondence I avoid getting bogged down by degrees of warmth (lukewarm regards, anyone?) and sentiment and stick with the simple

Cheers,

-M.

It’s ugly, but that’s why we drink.

In brief: Approach salutations as any other form of writing – a means to say what you want to. Sincerely.

*Even amoebas.

**You should know by now I’m pretty relaxed about formalities and manners, but this one really bugs me. It’s intrusive, kitsch, and usually signifies some sort of brutish attempt to “establish rapport” in order to sell me some piece of worthless junk or scam me out of my collection of 20c coins***. How’s it going? The same way as the Titanic – because you just sank your chances.

***Yes, it exists. No, you’re not getting any.