• All about the humanity of communication.

    All about the humanity of communication.

Today, business communication is simple.

You can communicate through email, instant messaging, your Web site, Web portals, Web casting, Web cams, streaming video, streaming audio, pod casting, video conferencing, phone conferencing, instant messaging, text messaging—not to mention mailing, telephoning, faxing, and myriads of other emerging methods—through an ever emerging plethora of electronic devices. Communication moves fast and furious, information is easy to find, easy to send, and easy to receive. Never before have you had so many options. Technology makes it faster and easier to communicate to a wider audience.

Or does it?

reflecting-treeWhile there are more methods than ever to send a message, are you really reaching your audience? And isn’t that the point? Too much communication today is focused around sending a message, telling what you want an audience to hear. But is it really something they want to hear; are they really listening to your message?

A constant barrage of messages inundate, interrupt, and overwhelm. Cell phones buzz often at inappropriate times; emails pop up to interrupt our thought flow and then contain links to even more annoying messages; web sites display annoying motion to distract and pop ups to sell unwanted items and services. It is information overload: so much to receive, so much to sort through for relevance, and so much left over to discard.

Besides having more ways to deliver messages, the methods are becoming more complicated to use. Do you know how to use all this technology, and when it is most appropriate to, say, email someone rather than phone them, send an electronic file rather than a printed version?

Take the telephone, a tool for having a conversation. Simple to use? Consider this example.

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On becoming visible

You check into a hotel. How do you know your room is clean? You visit a lawyer. How do you know she is competent? You stop at a tailor’s shop. How do you know he will sew a hem correctly? We encounter services like these every day. Since services are a process, not a tangible product, how do we evaluate them?

By what we see.

marketing-your-serviceIn a very specific way, it is what we see—the visual clues—that represent a service. The chocolate on your pillow, the plaques on the wall, the ribbon tape measure—they all identify the quality of a service and the expertise of the practitioner.

Current and prospective clients evaluate independent technical communicators the same way: by what they see. Why? Because we provide a service too—it’s at the core of what we do. We inform readers; we instruct them on how to perform certain tasks; we persuade them to act in a certain way. While much of our work centers on the written word—our product— marketing our service requires more than that: We must also pay attention to how customers perceive our service. So, independent contractors and consultants must carefully create, present, and manage the visual clues and nonverbal behaviors that represent our services.

Your goal: to have clients perceive you as an expert practitioner and better appreciate the service (and by extension, the product) you deliver.

Let’s examine this goal a bit more. I’ll start with the difference between marketing a product and a service; next, I’ll focus on some specific visual clues that can speak highly about your service; and finally I’ll present some nonverbal behaviors that embody you, the practitioner.

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Knowing who is in your audience enables you to better connect with them

My first time presenting to a meaningful audience happened within my first year at IBM. I had joined the company right out of college, so I was still young and, well, unseasoned. I didn’t really know what I was doing except trying to explain concepts.

guardI learned two important lessons that day. One, you don’t always know what you think you know until you have to explain it to someone else, or in this case, to a bunch of someone elses. Two, it’s critical to know who those someone elses are when you are presenting; in other words, who is your audience.

It’s also critical to know all of this before you present. I’ll get to that, but first, let’s take a closer look at each of these lessons.

Knowing what you think you know. In my experience, there are three tiers of knowing.

1. You think you know what you are talking about. This is delusional, because in your own mind, you are convinced you completely understand a concept, or completely enough that you can discuss it cogently whenever the time arises. Except, you don’t.

2. You know what you are talking about, and can hold an intelligent conversation with others who already have a bit of an understanding of what you are talking about. This tier is also a bit delusional because while you have hold of a concept, it’s still not a solid grasp.

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Outstanding presenters continually pursue these qualities

“Wow! Now I understand why it’s so difficult to become a good presenter,” gushed one of my students in a recent class I conducted on presentation skills. I had just put up a slide that, one by one, enumerated 28 qualities that every good presenter not only exhibits, but also embodies. These qualities seem to flow effortlessly from skillful presenters.

brick-wallTo become a skillful presenter, you must embody them too.

Twenty-eight qualities. Outstanding presenters continually pursue these qualities. Here they are, listed alphabetically accompanied by a brief descriptions of each quality. Because it might be easier to understand a quality by knowing its opposite, I’ve listed those too. You can see how diametrically opposed these qualities can be.

One last point. Try to visualize each of these qualities to get a better idea of how to exhibit them.

1. Adept nonverbally: clear communication with body language. Your nonverbal communication—body movements, gestures, posture, and facial expressions—speak louder than your words. Opposite: stilted.

2. Adept verbally: full speaking command; uses great words. Your verbal communication—the way you speak—can carry an audience: your tone, inflection, and volume, and how you pace, pause, and enunciate. Opposite: speechified (in other words, as if you are reading a written speech—for the first time. Yikes, how boring!)

3. Animated: full of life and excitement. Act alive! Opposite: lethargic.

4. Assertive: being strong and forceful (but not overbearing). This is in between the bookends of aggressive and passive. Opposite: timid.

5. Astute: keen ability to accurately assess a situation or person and turn it into an advantage. Opposite: unintelligent.

6. Cheerful: noticeably happy and optimistic. Simply smile while you present. Opposite: dreary.

7. Clear: easy to perceive, leaving no doubt. Attain clarity by testing your message beforehand. Opposite: vague.

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These three editing levels ensure your writing informs and garners results

The advantages of working with an editor kept burgeoning. First there were the nine tasks of an editor, then the five levels of editing that incorporated these tasks, and finally the five extraordinary tasks that an editor could perform.

archwaySo much to consider, organize, implement, and assess. The manager was just beginning to get a handle on all this information when the team leader walked into the office.

“I’ve discovered another way to establish editing levels,” the team leader said.

“There’s more?” came the incredulous query.

“Just a different way of looking at it.” Pause. “Perhaps a better way of looking at it, actually.”

The team leader produced a copy of Levels of Technical Editing (by David E Nadziejka, ELS, published by the Council of Biology Editors: contact me for a copy) to review.

“After a little research, I’ve discovered this small guidebook. It takes a bit of a different tack with the levels of editing.”

“Why do we need another method?” asked the manager. “I haven’t even wrapped my arms around all this editing stuff, and now you want to change it?”

“I think, after I explain all this, you’ll see that this adds another set of choices for us, and doesn’t scuttle what we have already discussed.”

“Okay,” conceded the manager. “Tell me why there is a need for another take on the levels of editing.”

Here’s what the team leader passed on to the manager.

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Turns out that an editor can do a lot more than edit

After their meeting, the manager had a lot to consider. The team leader gave the manager the copy of The Levels of Edit§ to review. (§ The Levels of Edit, by Robert Van Buren and Mary Fran Buehler, published by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), California Institute of Technology, Second Edition. See April 2012’s blog post for details.) Much of what the team said was clearly articulated in this booklet.

bustAnd to the manager’s delight, much more. The additional information would make life easier as they embarked on a measurable program of incorporating an editor into their process. Already the manager could envision a professional editor making their project studies, resource plans, technical reports, and business proposals easier to read and understand, and thus more readily accepted and adopted.

The section entitled “The Condition of the Manuscript” garnered these insights:

  • The effort required for any level of edit directly relates to the condition of a manuscript. Better prepared manuscripts require less effort; poorer ones require more effort.
  • The condition of the manuscript directly affects the budget and schedule.
  • The level of edit defines the quality of the final document, but not the effort required to attain that quality.

All these insights help predict the time and effort required of an editor, regardless of the level of editing involved. While assessing the actual amount of time creates a bit more work upfront, it clarifies the scheduling and budgeting for a project.

A final section described five extraordinary functions that an editor could perform whenever necessary. This, the manager found enlightening because there had been circumstances in the past when an editor could have helped out in many of these areas.

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Bringing measurability and clarity to the nine editing tasks, helping your writing count

As the manager read the nine tasks of an editor§, the technical team stood by and watched the manger’s body language and facial expressions change as the document was read.

salisbury-close“That’s a lot,” the manager finally looked up and said. “Nine tasks.”

The team looked at each other, encouraging expressions slowly dawning on their faces.

“It is a lot,” they said almost in unison. “That’s what we’ve been saying. An editor can get our writing to count.”

They had made their point clear, and the message was delivered, much to their manager’s credit.

“And there’s more,” they said.

“Tell me.”

Five levels of edit. “To build on these nine tasks, the booklet we told you about combined them in a cumulative manner into five levels of edits.” They listed them:

  • Level 5 Edit incorporates the Coordination and Policy editing tasks.
  • Level 4 Edit adds the Integrity and Screening editing tasks.
  • Level 3 Edit continues this trend, adding the Copy Clarification and Format editing tasks.
  • Level 2 Edit contains eight of the editing tasks by adding Mechanical Style and Language.
  • Level 1 Edit, the most comprehensive of these five levels, contains all nine editing tasks; it adds the Substantive task.

The Levels of Edit, by Robert Van Buren and Mary Fran Buehler, published by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), California Institute of Technology, Second Edition. See April 2012’s blog post for details.)

Some problems solved. “Working with these five levels enables us to solve two inherent problems when working with an editor.

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Nine hierarchical tasks enable an editor to ensure your document fulfills its intended goal

They returned dejected, and a bit humbled, filing slowly into their manager’s office. Their manager started.

“What happened?”

salisbury-bridge“We weren’t invited to present.”

That was surprising. “Why not? You told me we had a great proposal, that we could clearly meet all their needs.”

“We do, and we can.”

“Then… what happened?”

“They rejected our proposal out of hand.”

“Huh? What does that mean?”

“They told us our proposal didn’t read well, that it was disorganized, wasn’t clear—‘fuzzy’ is what they said—that it rambled, was a little redundant, had some typos, and…” the hardest part, “it didn’t follow the rules of their RFP.”

“I don’t get it. I thought you guys had this all down pat, that you were expert.” It was more a statement than a question.

“We are expert in all the technical aspects required in the RFP. But…” The pregnant pause hung in the air. “But, as we’ve said before, it’s one thing to be technical experts, it’s another thing entirely to be able to communicate that expertise clearly, concisely, and conclusively. That we struggle with.”

The feeling of disappointment was almost palpable. Mildly accusatory glances circled around.

“We have a solution though.” Wary eyes. “We’ve said this before.” Wary looks. “We need an editor; it’s not a luxury.”

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Your editor is not adjunct, but essential to your writing’s clarity and cohesion

“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”

One of the most famous and memorable lines in all of movie history wasn’t written by the script writers—it was created on the spot by Humphrey Bogart while filming one of the many lightening-rod scenes in Casablanca. Not only is Casablanca stonehenge-2011considered the best movie of all time by most film critics, but its script is also considered the best of all time by the Script Writers Guild. Even with those sterling achievements, Bogart’s ‘editing’ of that crucial line improved the dialogue and the film. As a result, the line endures 70 years after Bogart uttered it.

This is the value that an editor enmeshed with the writers can bring to improve written text.

Self-editing as a choice. More than likely, neither the documents you write, nor the ones I write, will carry the same longevity of Casablanca’s script. Nonetheless, your writing is important. And yet, many of us—myself included—often self-edit and eschew the brilliance that an editor can bring to our writing.

Make no mistake, self-editing often is a useful way to improve your writing. Letting text you’ve labored over to rest for a few days enables you to see that text from a new and expanded angle when you return to it. There’s a renewed clarity after your subconscious has stewed, which allows you to improve and build upon your initial text. In general, though, you are still bringing the same mind-set to your text, using the same base of information and perspective that you brought at the beginning.

Continue reading An Editor: Your First Reader and Collaborator

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A clear, compelling objective forms the foundation of every great presentation

“Where are we going?”

My teenage son and I sat in the car in our driveway. He was behind the wheel, beginning another training session as he learns to drive. No engine started yet, when he posed that question. I just looked at him quizzically.

bikes“You’re kidding, right?”

“No”, he said. “I don’t know where we’re going.”

I sat in silence for a bit, absorbing that. Okay, I thought, let’s start somewhere else.

“What are we trying to do?” I tried.

“Buy sneakers for me.” That’s good, at least he knew that.

“And where might we get those?”

“I don’t know.” The standard teenage response. Then he thought for a second. “How about the outlet mall? There’s a couple of stores there.”

“Let’s go then”, I said.

He started the car, and rolled a short distance, then stopped. He just sat there staring straight ahead. He looked deep in thought, pondering. I looked at him again, wondering.

He slowly turned to look at me, and with a look of chagrin said, “How do I get there?”

I laughingly smiled.

“You don’t know how to get there?” I asked with some incredulity.

“No”, he stated matter-of-factly. “How would I know that? I’m used to just sitting there and going along for the ride.”

Let’s pause the story there, and shift gears from driving to presentations.

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