Going Up?

Does this scenario sound familiar? It’s the start of the work day, you have your coffee in hand, and you board the elevator. You’re tired, you just endured a long commute, and you know you have a busy day ahead. MadMenElevatorScene

When you’re confined to a small place with other human beings, it requires a special type of etiquette to keep the ride pleasant and moving.

First off, maintain a quiet tone. It’s early, people are tired. Speak softly and it’s bound to be appreciated by those around you.

Secondly, if you’re feeling chatty, stick to a topic that easy, breezy. To master the small talk, pick a topic that’s simple and appropriate during your ascent. You can’t go wrong with the weather. “Wow, can you believe how beautiful the weekend was? Did you get outdoors?”

No one wants to discuss work topics before they reach their desk. Be courteous and give colleagues a chance to settle in at their computers before jumping on them first thing in the morning.

Finally, take notice of your fellow riders. If they give one-word answers and don’t fully make contact, chances are they don’t wish to engage in friendly banter. A simple smile and “good morning” are plenty. And if things get a little crowded, always step aside to let people off.

The morning commute doesn’t end when you enter your office building; it ends when you step off the elevator.  

Advertisements

Look Me in the Eye – or Can You?

The other night, while I was having dinner with my friend, there were two young women seated next to us. As my friend and I were enjoying a nice meal and stimulating dinner conversation, we noticed our “neighbors” weren’t saying a word to each other. Why, you ask? They were texting!

No, they weren’t texting each other. They were messaging other friends (or boyfriends), and carrying on separate, “silent” conversations. They did momentarily converse with one another to compare messages and have a giggle. But through it all, they didn’t look each other in the eye.

That got me thinking how little eye contact there is left. When I’m on the subway pressed against my fellow straphangers, we don’t look at each other. You see the tops of people’s heads because they’re playing games on their phones or they’re reading their Kindles.

If you’re seated at the bar waiting for a friend to arrive, you don’t make eye contact with people; you gaze at your phone, perusing the Web or checking your text messages. Don’t be surprised if the number of people meeting in bars has gone down. Instead of people checking you out, they’re checking themselves “in” on Facebook or FourSquare.iPhoneTexting

So where do you draw the line? Is it possible for people to balance digital and face-to-face conversations in their social lives?

With all the distractions our smartphones have (e.g. camera, Internet, SMS, games, apps, social media), there’s just too much temptation. Unless some type of etiquette is set, interpersonal communication will continue to be disrupted.

Perhaps restaurants (like gyms and movie theaters) can discourage the use of mobile phones. Or they can establish mobile-free zones, much like the old days of smoking and non-smoking sections.

Otherwise, “social” settings will be anything but.

Three Quick Tips for a Successful Interview

As a writer and video producer, it’s essential to master the art of interviewing. Having many years under my belt both writing and producing, I’ve developed some helpful techniques to ensure I get a good story.

1. Make your subjects feel at ease – You’re not going to get any content if the person you’re interviewing feels uncomfortable. To get people talking, start by making a bit of small-talk: ask them about their weekend, if they’re enjoying the weather, or any topic which fosters a nice rapport. The more comfortable someone feels with you, the better their interview responses will be. As you draw them out, slowly ease into the topic you’ll be speaking about. I guarantee, they’ll have a lot more to say then.

2. Allow a few minutes for people to think about their answers – If someone feels put on the spot with a particular question, encourage them to think over their response. As they mull over what they’re going to say, take a short break to grab a cup of coffee or check a few emails (if there’s time). Your interview will benefit from it.

3. Practice non-verbal communication – A smile goes a long way with someone, especially during an interview. Smiling and nodding your head will help to encourage your subjects to keep talking, while letting them know that they’re doing a great job.  Image

If it’s a phone interview you need to conduct, odds are the person might be pressed for time, so make sure you keep the exchange tight and succinct to get the answers you need. Apply some of the rules in #1 and you’ll be good to go!

Everyone Loves A Good Story

In corporate communications, storytelling has long been recognized as a successful tool to communicate important messaging. It’s easier to reach employees with engaging content that pertains to them. People want to read about people – the faces behind the words. Image

Of course, the power of storytelling extends beyond the workplace. We might enjoy a good story at a party, over a gossipy lunch with the gals, or while reading weekly issues of our favorite magazines.

Okay. So we’ve established that people love a good story but do we ever think about why we’re so attracted to the technique?

The love of stories dates back to our childhood. How many times did our parents read us a story when they tucked us in at night? Their soothing words would lull us into a deep sleep. We felt comforted by the strong bonds that formed. And a good night story was our opportunity to wind down after a long day of school and homework.

Fast forward to adulthood and not much has changed. Effective storytelling provides escapism. Whether it takes place at a water cooler in the office or on the phone with a friend, storytelling is our chance to relate, engage, and entertain. Without storytelling, there would be no rapports. It’s an opportunity to share and keep things personal – whether you’re in an office or enjoying a Friday happy hour with friends.

Without storytelling, we wouldn’t be human. It’s what connects us. If we didn’t have it, we’d all be machines, just carrying out our day-to-day tasks with a bit of small talk here and there, at best.

Having covered a plethora of conferences over the years, I’m pleased to see more executives relating their own personal experiences to connect with audiences. And it’s working: surveys are revealing that employees want to hear from bosses, and that they want to feel connected to companies’ visions, missions, and values. It’s those stories that will help keep staff feeling connected. Effective internal communications tools will help to ensure that employees will also receive a voice and have the chance to share their own stories and experiences inside the company.

Thanks to social media, we all have platforms where we can share stories, whether they’re on Facebook or on a blog post like this one.

Storytelling helps us to feel, to empathize, to understand, to appreciate, to take action, to vent, to connect. It keeps things real.

Has technology made us lazier communicators?

Remember when we used to wait by the phone to ring or when we checked our answering machines when we got home, in anticipation of a special phone call? We relished the communication and our hearts skipped a beat when we heard the person’s voice.

Now, it’s Facebook. Or Twitter. We get a ping. Or a poke. Or a Like.

HiRes

We don’t get a Happy Birthday phone call but there’s a post on our walls. Any recognition is nice, of course, but what’s missing is the personal aspect of communication. I won’t dwell on this too much because by now, there have been countless articles and blogs about this. But a newer trend I have been noticing is that blogs and Facebook/LinkedIn posts have been getting less comments. But they are getting Likes.

Similarly on Twitter, you tend to see a lot of re-tweets or favorites, but there are fewer conversations. And rather than personally messaging people to thank them for a follow, many tweeters are programming annoying auto-responses with a link to their websites. Boy, that’s personal.

My point: technology is resulting in less effort to communicate. It only takes a second to hit a Like button but to actually have to comment and participate in a back-and-forth conversation? Forget about it. People just don’t have the time these days. However, they do seem to have time to play Candy Crush or Pengle. Games win out over thinking and communicating any day.

Technology and social media are great, but through all our gadgets, texting, and tweeting, we mustn’t let our brains turn to mush. We need to remember to keep engaging, keep conversing, and keep building the relationships that we want to grow. We need to actually be SOCIAL.

It’s not in the cards

What’s not in the cards, you ask? Proper sentiments.

Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, or maybe I remember a time when greeting cards expressed the perfect sentiment. These days, however, many cards have become downright insulting. Jokes about getting old, watching your weight…whatever happened to simple sentiments – short and sweet greetings that get the simple message across: “I think your great.”? Or, “I hope your day is truly special.” Done. The End.

Yes, I am writing about this topic because it’s Mother’s Day. I went to two different card stores before I found an appropriate card for my Mom. And when I did, I knew it was the one. It was cheerful and tasteful. Do you know what it said? “Mom, you’re awesome. Love you.” That’s perfect.

You don’t need a paragraph of schmaltz. Or a card that’s going to poke fun at what a handful you were as a child. That actually brings me to another thought – is it just me or have cards, like most humans of 2014, become increasingly self-absorbed? Or they’re a reflection of our self-absorbed society. I’ve read countless cards with similar written messages – “Sorry, I only had time to get you this card.” Or – “You already have the perfect gift – me!” I kid you not.

And people wonder why the greeting card industry is suffering.

While we’re at it, can we talk about cliches for a second? With Father’s Day coming up next, I know I’ll be faced with the typical yearly dilemma: my Dad doesn’t golf, he doesn’t drink beer, he’s not into race cars. Well, that just about wipes out every card theme for fathers, or men in general. 

My Dad loves cats. Why aren’t there Father’s Day cards with cats on them? Because felines are viewed as too feminine? Hence the crazy cat lady cliche? How about a sweet card that reads, “For a purr-fect father”?

Too corny? Maybe. But I’ll take that over insults and self-absorption any day.

The art of email writing

If there’s one form of communication that people bitch about, it’s email. Messages flood our inbox and reading each one can be time-consuming, yet alone responding to them. Before you know it, you have one big email chain.

With such a large volume of messages, how do you ensure that yours get read? It’s all in the writing. If you want to persuade someone to do something (in my case, it usually involves an interview for an article), you need to come up with an effective method to get the response you need. Here’s how.

1. Subject line – In your subject line, you need to get to the point. If it’s an interview for a newsletter article, I state that right up front. With time being a factor for many, I usually like to add the word “quick” – such as, “Need a quick quote for the newsletter”. If it’s something that won’t take long, make that clear so people realize the action won’t take up too much of their time.

2. Tone – Always maintain a pleasant tone. Even if a person hasn’t gotten back to you after two attempts, remain persistent and polite. If you use phrases, like “Following up”, people will know you’ve contacted them before and that they need to respond. Reiterate that your meeting (or other action) will only take up a little bit of their time. Ending the email with, “I look forward to hearing from you,” is again, a subtle way of reminding the person that you’re awaiting a response. Throwing in a “Best wishes”, “Kind regards” or “Cheers” is always a plus. Sometimes signing an email with only your name can be a bit impersonal.

3. What’s in it for them? – As with most things in life, people want to know “what’s in it for me?”. In the case of newsletter/intranet articles I write for clients, many pieces typically highlight a particular program or employee. Everyone loves to be recognized for noteworthy achievements so that’s the chord I strike when reaching out to people. I let them know that they’ll be spotlighted for exemplary work and ten times out of ten, they call me to arrange an interview.

4. Less is more – Busy schedules and shortened attention spans are always a challenge so be sure to keep email messages short and sweet. Summarize your main points in a short paragraph, offering the opportunity to speak on the phone or in person to discuss further.

5. Proofread before sending – My golden rule of email writing is to proofread all messages before hitting the send button. Even the slightest typo can indicate a lack of attention to detail. Treat your emails like regular documents. Make sure they’re error-free and that the sentences flow. People will be more likely to respond to you quickly if your emails are well-written and typo-free.

6. Add a personal touch, if necessary – I recently had to send a mass email to 15 different people inside an organization. Do you know how many people responded to my initial email? Zero. So I re-sent it a few days later (2-3 days is usually an effective rule for a gentle prod). I reminded them that the end of the month was nearing and I needed the information as soon as possible. Including a date is often a good wake-up call for people because it gets them thinking in terms of a deadline. As a result, I started to get some responses. However, there were still a few people who owed me a reply. The solution? Email each individually, and voila, I got my remaining responses. If you opt for one-to-one communication, it adds a direct, personal touch, vs. a group email which many may tend to ignore.

7. Name-drop – Want a surefire way to get a fast email reply? CC supervisors and executives if the situation calls for it. If your contact sees that a boss is awaiting a critical piece of information, include the boss in the correspondence. That way, your message carries more weight. Plus, you’ll be creating a paper trail that shows that you did everything on your end to obtain the information needed.

8. Give thanks – Follow what your Mom taught you: always say “thank you.” Seems like a no-brainer, but during a busy work day when you’re writing multiple emails, the possibility of forgetting to say “thank you” exists. Sometimes adding an exclamation mark is also a good idea – it shows added appreciation and increases your chances of a quick response.

9. To smiley-face, or not to smiley-face? – Ah, the smiley face. Equally loved and hated by many. So is it too cheesy to include in corporate correspondence? Generally, yes. However, it depends on how closely you work with the person you’re contacting. If it’s a colleague you know very well needing an extra prod to do something, feel free to include a smiley face if you feel it’ll soften the blow of bugging the person multiple times. Obviously, if you’re emailing a higher-up, leave the smiley-face to your personal Facebook messages in the evening!  🙂 – Sorry, couldn’t resist using a smiley face here!

10. Timing is everything – Finally, if you’re sending an important email, make note of the best time of day to send it. Since Monday mornings tend to be hectic, wait till early afternoon if possible. I find Tuesdays and Wednesdays to be an excellent time to send emails since by then, many will have gotten caught up. Friday mornings are also favorable since people tend to be more relaxed the day before the weekend.

Follow these words of advice and you’re sure to see results!