Friday, August 30, 2013

Speaking of dangling

Being just too easy, I commit the crime of dangling modifiers more often than I like.

Needing help, Ben Yagoda, the most helpful professor of English and journalism at the University of Delaware, comes to my rescue:
In a class, I once assigned students to review a consumer product. One student chose a bra sold by Victoria's Secret. She wrote: 
Sitting in a class or dancing at the bar, the bra performed well…. Though slightly pricey, your breasts will thank you.
Now I'm just guessing, but I think Yagoda chose this example in an effort to appeal to the men slouching on the back row.
The two sentences are both guilty of dangling modifiers because (excuse me if I'm stating the obvious), the bra did not sit in a class or dance at the bar, and "your breasts" are not slightly pricey. 
Danglers are inexplicably attractive, and even good writers commit this error a lot... in their first drafts.
Told you.
Here's a strategy for smoking these bad boys out in revision. First, recognize sentences that have this structure: 
Then change the order to: 
If the result makes sense, you're good to go. If not, you have a dangler. So in the first sentence above, the rejiggered sentence would be: 
The bra, sitting in a class or dancing at a bar, performed well. 
Nuh-uh. The solution here, as it often is, is just to add a couple of words: 
Whether you're sitting in a class or dancing at the bar, the bra performs well.
Being a good way to remember this rule, I will now end this post.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Lose the hooptedoodle

He's watching you.
The novelist and screenwriter Elmore John Leonard, Jr., passed away on August 20. His earliest novels, published in the 1950s, were Westerns, but he eventually specialized in crime fiction and suspense thrillers, many of which have been adapted into motion pictures.

In 2001 he outlined his ten rules of writing in The New York Times. They were about fiction, of course, but can we apply them to the more prosaic business of business writing? I think so.

For example, Leonard's second rule is: Avoid prologues. "They can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in nonfiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want."

It has come up enough in my experience to be worth mentioning: often the beginning of a nonfiction book turns into a scrum among the first chapter, an introduction and a prologue. Too much stuff that feels introductory or necessary for everything that follows. I follow a simple rule based on absolutely no evidence whatsoever, and that is that I don't trust the reader to read anything before chapter one. So if it's important, put it in something labeled a chapter.

Leonard's fourth rule is to never use an adverb to modify the verb “said.” Well, we can adapt that to: never use an adverb. Make your nouns and verbs do the work. Adverbs are for sissies.

Rule No. 10 is: Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. "Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. What the writer is doing, he’s writing, perpetrating hooptedoodle, perhaps taking another shot at the weather, or has gone into the character’s head, and the reader either knows what the guy’s thinking or doesn’t care. I’ll bet you don’t skip dialogue."

So can we all just jettison the hooptedoodle? You know it's there.

"My most important rule, Leonard wrote, "is one that sums up the 10. If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative. It’s my attempt to remain invisible, not distract the reader from the story with obvious writing. (Joseph Conrad said something about words getting in the way of what you want to say.)"

Let me rephrase that. If you've just written something, and you think you're ever so clever, and you're preparing your Nobel acceptance speech, delete it immediately before anyone sees it.

Monday, August 26, 2013

When your first pitch is a voicemail

Good luck.
You plan and rehearse presentations to groups and to individuals. You think about letters and emails you send. You may think through an important upcoming phone call, even do a bit of role playing.

But how much thought have you given to voicemail?

I confess I have given it a lot. That "leave a message" message even seems to come as a surprise. Yet the odds are your first call to someone will end up in voicemail. Especially someone you don't know well. Someone you're trying to pitch.

Jake Fisher, a principal at Bridges Advertising in Oklahoma City, offers a model message to leave.
(Smiling) Hi, this Jake Fisher with Bridges Advertising. Fay Shapiro mentioned that I should call you about your upcoming outreach campaign. My number is 708-7901. That’s area code 405-708-7901. Talk to you soon. 405-708-7901. Jake Fisher with Bridges Advertising (Hang up)
Fisher was once a disc jockey, and he borrowed some techniques for voice mail from his radio days:
Smile when you talk. Radio listeners can’t see the deejay. But the subtle difference in verbal delivery that comes when the speaker smiles is clearly communicated through the radio speakers. I like to imagine that I have just finished laughing at a funny joke, and I am smiling in the humorous afterglow. So it is with a voicemail message. Smile when you leave a message. Even if you have to fake it, your message will sound more pleasant.

Get right to the hook. When a radio personality turns on the microphone, as the music is fading, the hr or she has only a few fleeting moments in order to hook the listener before finger touches button, and the listener punches out to another radio station. Voicemail messages are similar. You have just a few moments to engage your prospect before finger touches button and your prospect punches out to the next message. The simplest hook in a prospect voicemail is to invoke the name of a mutual acquaintance that is referring you. Of course, this requires that you ask a mutual acquaintance for a referral.

Repeat the important information. Do you ever notice how radio personalities tend to repeat the name of the radio station? They do this so the listener remembers the station name. Until recently, radio ratings (which are tied to revenue) were measured by the unaided recall, by selected radio listeners, of which stations that they listened to. That is why we are used to hearing radio stations constantly identifying themselves. In the case of a voicemail message, the most important part is MY phone number and name. I want the prospect to call me back. They must remember my phone number and who I am. Even in the age of caller ID, I say my number and name three times in a phone message.
Who'd a thunk it? I learn something new everyday.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Let us now praise Jeff Bezos

Oh, no, not for buying The Washington Post, but for banning PowerPoint at Amazon headquarters.

So have you already stopped reading this and started preparing your resume to send there?

Bezos requires his employees to communicate through six-page narrative memos, and he starts meetings with quiet reading periods -- “study halls” -- in which everyone reads the memo from beginning to end, Jacqueline Pfeffer Merrill writes.
If you know you must write six pages—and that others will publicly read and discuss it—you’ll take the time to do it as well as you can. 
Composing six well-crafted pages requires thought—not just a list of topics and disjointed points but the development of an argument. As Bezos put it in a 2012 interview: "When you have to write your ideas out in complete sentences and complete paragraphs, it forces a deeper clarity of thinking."
As a former PowerPoint employee described:
Now we’ve got highly paid people sitting there formatting slides—spending hours formatting slides—because it’s more fun to do that than concentrate on what you’re going to say. . . . Millions of executives around the world are sitting there going, “Arial? Times Roman? Twenty-four point? Eighteen point?”
“Writing is thinking," NEH chairman Bruce Cole has said. "To write well is to think clearly. That's why it's so hard."

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

How consulting firms market themselves

Follow the eyeballs.
Consulting firms still rely mainly on their own seminars and speaking at industry events to make themselves known to potential clients. 

Following closely behind are online activities that didn't exist just a few years ago. A survey by The Bloom Group, Bliss PR and The Association of Management Consulting Firms revealed the next activities:
Search engine optimization is third, firm microsites – a pure social media channel – is fourth, and articles authored by consulting firms and published in third-party online channels are fifth. Webinars rank sixth in effectiveness. 
A group of social media activities rank in the middle of the pack: consulting firm pages on social networking sites, discussion forums on firm microsites and other online forums. The remaining social media activities, including Twitter and company blogs, fall toward the bottom of the ranking, just edging out print and online advertising. 
Many of the most effective activities that do not involve social media are nonetheless online and have only emerged in recent years: email newsletters, online video clips, eBooks and podcasts, to name a few. 
A number of traditional marketing activities continue to be important: articles in print publications, books by consultants, and meetings with journalists, for example. 
Clearly, consulting firms have big expectations for social media, the survey's authors write. 
Channels such as microsites and webinars (if they count) are already important components of the marketing mix. However, many others still get uncertain returns. We believe this is because many consulting firms have not yet figured out which channels are most important to them, how to get good returns from them, and how to integrate them into their overall marketing strategy. As firms gain more experience, some of these may disappear from firms’ portfolios, while others gain traction and are integrated into the mix.
I suppose this online shift reflects the growing online orientation of an ever-younger cohort of executives who make the decisions on hiring consultants. Not too long ago many of those decision makers were still having their assistants print out their email.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The 7 things persuasive people do

Kevin Draum in Inc. Magazine:

1. They Are Purposeful

Truly persuasive people understand that most conversations do not require trying to get someone to do or accept something. Aggressive pushers are a turn-off and will put most people on the defensive. It's the person who rarely asks or argues that ultimately gets consideration. Simply put, they pick their battles.

2. They Listen

First, they are listening to assess how receptive you are to their point of view. Second, they are listening for your specific objections, which they know they'll have to resolve. Last, they are listening for moments of agreement so they can capitalize on consensus. Persuasive people already know what they are saying. You can't persuade effectively if you don't know the other side of the argument.

3. They Create a Connection

They will be likeable and look for common ground to help establish emotional bonds and shared objectives. They show empathy for your position and make it known that they are on your side. They manage their impatience and wait for you to give them permission to advocate their approach.

4. They Acknowledge Credibility

They value strong opinions and will make sure that you are entitled to yours. In fact, they will make sure they give you full credit for every argument of yours that has some validity. This makes it harder for you to fully dismiss their point of view.

5. They Offer Satisfaction

Smart persuaders know that they don't have to win every little battle to win the war. They are more than willing to sacrifice when it helps the overall cause. They are ready to find the easiest path to yes. Often that is simply to give you what you want whenever possible. Give ground where you can and hold your ground only where it matters. Choose being successful over being right.

6. They Know When to Shut Up

Wearing people down is not an effective strategy. They carefully support their arguments and check in with questions that will help to close the conversation. Then they step back. The great sales trainer Tom Hopkins still today teaches these decades-old techniques of his mentor J. Douglas Edwards. His most important lesson is "Whenever you ask a closing question, shut up. The first person who speaks, loses."

7. They Know When to Back Away

Urgency and immediacy are often the enemies of real persuasion. It's possible to close a less significant sale through urgency, but deep ideas require time and thought to take root. Great persuaders bring you along in your own time. And they give you the space and time to carefully consider their position. They know that nothing is more powerful than your persuading yourself on their behalf. That almost never occurs in the presence of the persuader.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Do you infer what I'm implying?

Infer this.
In an episode of Law & Order SVU, two cops have an exchange with a suspect:
Cop: What'd he do aside from keeping the victim from the cameras, thereby saving your five-star ass?
Suspect: He gave us no choice. He hasn't shown up for work since the event.
Cop: How convenient. The only employee that can testify in court.
Suspect: What you're inferring is preposterous.
Cop: Implying.
Other cop: You did infer what he implied.
Cop: But on the bright side, you did infer correctly.
By now the suspect should be ready to confess.

Here's the rule on these two words: Imply and infer are opposites, like a throw and a catch. To imply is to hint at something, but to infer is to make an educated guess. The speaker does the implying, and the listener does the inferring.

You'll just have to memorize them.

Imply comes from the Latin implicāre, meaning to implicate. Infer comes from the Latin inferre, which means to bring into.

So you can study Latin, or, as I suggested, just memorize them.

Some unruly types imply that infer can be used to mean imply, but don't infer anything: when we catch them, they're going to the slammer. Don't even think about it.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Your reader may well be on the phone

This is not your customer.
I increasingly use my smart phone for email and for reading as well. This means that if your email or website don't recognize my phone and adjust, I'm likely to give up on you,

A study by Litmus Labs shows 42 percent of the email client market share is found on a mobile platform, and between October 2010 and October 2012, the number of people who checked email on a mobile device increased by 300 percent.

Michael Burns, whose specialty is B2B PR and marketing communications, suggests that we:
  • Keep it short, sweet and pertinent.
  • From: If readers aren’t interested in who it’s from, it won’t be read. 73 percent of readers click “Report Spam” based only on who sent the email.
  • Subject: Keep the subject line at 35 characters or less.
  • Viewport: The most important information should be at the top. Use bullets, borders or background colors to encourage readers to scroll down.
  • Scrolling view: After reading the full message, make answering the call to action easy and obvious.
  • Make interactive elements large enough to easily tap.
  • Align links and buttons to the center or left for easy use.
  • Separate links so readers don’t accidentally tap more than one at a time.
  • Never say “Click Here” because mobile users tap.
  • Use fluid grids, fluid images and media queries to allow smart messages to sense the type of device and the right display.
  • Optimize the layout and graphics for a mobile device.
  • Stick to a single column and large text.
A laptop is easier than a desktop, a tablet is easier than a laptop, and a phone is the easiest of all. That's where they are today.

Monday, August 12, 2013

When consulting firms publish online

Thought followership.
Management consulting firms have been sharing their ideas online since the appearance of the World Wide Web. This trolling for new clients has had mixed results.

A survey of 50 firms by the Bloom Group and the Association of Management Consulting Firms found:
While consulting firms have no shortage of innovative insights, many of those ideas don't appear to make it to their websites. Half the respondents published 20 or fewer articles on their websites last year. Only 30% published more than 50 articles. And two-thirds of the content was written by consultants themselves; about one-third of consultants are averse to using ghostwriters.  
Many consulting firms generate few client inquiries from their online content. Half of consulting firms say their online publications generated 20 or fewer inquiries in 2012; only 14% generated more than 100 inquiries. Despite many consulting firms’ online publications being a source of sales leads, less than a third have automated the process of sending online viewer information to business developers, and only 21% say their salespeople actively use the information marketers give them about online viewers. For online content to spawn leads, it appears that quality trumps quantity. Consulting firms whose online publications generated the highest number of client inquiries in 2012 (a group we refer to as "leaders") actually produced less content per $1 million dollar in firm revenue than did the firms with the lowest number of inquiries.  
The online content of leaders was far more often based on primary research than was laggards' content. As a result, we surmise that the leaders' content was of higher quality. In addition, the marketing function in the leaders determined which content deserved extensive marketing campaigns; this was the case in only half the laggards, where consultants made that decision. As well, the leaders were much more open to allowing online viewers to post comments this year on their firm's website. And they relied more heavily on ghostwriters to publish content, rather than wait for consultants to carve out time to pen articles. 
One conclusion of the researchers: As consulting firms move the majority of their thought leadership content online, many cling to a publishing model that's a relic of the print era: hosting a monologue rather than a dialogue with the online viewers of their content. 

Friday, August 9, 2013

To stand out in a crowd, tell a good story

In 2006 a New York Times columnist got to wondering why one pair of shoes cost more than another, if they were of similar quality. Or why one piece of art was worth a million and another worth a few bucks.

As Ty Montague relates, the columnist, Rob Walker, concluded that the value isn't contained in the objects themselves, but in the meaning the objects represent to the owner.
Walker began buying random, worthless, or low-value objects at tag sales and thrift shops. The cost of the objects ranged from one to four dollars. An old wooden mallet. A lost hotel room key. A plastic banana. These were true castoffs with little or no intrinsic worth. 
Next, Walker asked some unknown writers to each write a short story that contained one of the objects. The stories weren't about the objects, per se; but they helped to place them in a human context, to give them new meaning. 
When Walker put the objects, along with their accompanying stories, up for sale on eBay, the results were astonishing. On average, the value of the objects rose 2,700%. That's not a typo: 2,700%. A miniature jar of mayonnaise he had purchased for less than a dollar sold for $51.00. A cracked ceramic horse head purchased for $1.29 sold for $46.00. The value of these formerly abandoned or forsaken objects suddenly and mysteriously skyrocketed when they were accompanied by a story. 
The project was so successful that it has been repeated it 5 times and is on the web
So what's your story? 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Time to get realistic about your resume

This is realistic.
Resumes have been passé for years. I remember an entire book announcing so many years ago when I was attending a course in how to write a resume.

Newsflash: They're still here, just like email, which has been declared dead as often as resumes. I think both are still around because they are "good enough" technology. We know how to use them, and we don't have to learn something new like Google Plus.

I've been editing my current resume for 15 years or more, and studying resume writing all the while, and I've got some pretty hardened opinions about the things. The look of it is important: the reader's eye has to be able to take your life in in about 15 seconds. You need good typography and lots of white space to accomplish that. See that photo? As the person on the other side of the desk I used to sit at a table in HR and slog my way through piles like that. Think I spent an hour with each one?

Another thing. A resume has uses beyond landing that coveted deputy assistant VP job at Really Big Corp. you actually believe you want. It is often useful if you're selling your services as an independent contractor or freelancer. Your profile on Linked In has the form of a classic chronological resume, and I sometimes use that.

Marie Raperto has some ideas as well, and hers are worth paying attention to. She's a New York-based recruiter in the communications field. She has good list of 10 pointers, from which I'll draw a few:
No functional resumes. Functional resumes are definitely out of favor for a number of reasons — they were overused, they are used to hide information, and they are hard to read. Hiring managers scan resumes and scanning a functional resume does not work. Candidates should also avoid using functional resumes to answer online job ads as they do not fit the Applicant Tracking System format used by most companies.
I agree, although I'm sympathetic to a hybrid functional/chronological format. I once used that with a client who wanted to change fields. It was necessary to show how what she knew in one area could be applied in the new area she wanted to enter.
Fluff phrases. Demonstrated leadership, years of success, unflappable, history of relationships, liaison, meaningful are all useless words. Think managed, supervised, achieved, promoted.
Puh-leeze. If you've got those words in your resume, please hire a jaded editor like me and let him or her drag you off your cloud. How many "energetic, results-oriented professionals" are wandering around out there?
Objectives. The ‘objective’ of a resume is to get a job. Instead of an ‘objective,’ use a ‘summary’ to highlight your background as it pertains to a particular job.
If you've been around the bend a few times as I have, you need to find a way to highlight the really good stuff hiding on page two or three. A summary can do that. I have several versions of my resume that differ only in the summary. I aim the summary directly at the job being advertised. I copy and paste the job description and qualifications right onto the Word document of my cover letter to address each one. I do the same with my resume summary, although not in such detail.

You can find more advice from Ms. Raperto here.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Where your customers are these days

You may lose this customer.
I'm glad to know I'm trendy.

I read a lot these days on my phone -- while I'm supposedly watching TV, when I'm waiting somewhere for something to begin. I chose my phone, a Samsung Galaxy 3, because of its large screen. I'm not so happy with the blue-gray background of pages, although much of what I read is through apps like Flipboard and Feedly that provide a white background. If a page isn't mobile-ready, I'm gone.

I mention all this, because eMarketer has just come out with some research that says I am not alone.

Get this:
Adults will spend an average of 2 hours and 21 minutes per day on nonvoice mobile activities, including mobile internet usage on phones and tablets—longer than they will spend online on desktop and laptop computers, and nearly an hour more than they spent on mobile last year.
That's more than two hours on mobile a day!

As we watch Jeff Bezos throw the Washington Post in his cart and proceed to purchase, we don't have to wonder where readers are these days.

Any firm that wants to reach people today has to be on mobile. Hey, that's where I'll be!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Talk amongst yourselves

At least he's smiling.
I've attended my share of networking meetings over the years -- for job seekers, budding entrepreneurs, you name it. There's a meeting for everyone.

At some of these occasions people are asked to stand up and introduce themselves to the group. At others, this torture is conducted one on one, usually, at least for me, near the cookie platter.

As I listen to the words that come out of people's mouths, I wonder if they speak this way at home to the kids. "What does daddy do? I'm an energetic, results-oriented professional."

The so-called elevator pitch people share at these meetings often reminds me of the movie "Speed," in which the opening scene features a mad man trying to blow up people trapped in an elevator. There's just a whole lot of tension.

Everyone should have an elevator pitch, whether you're looking for a job (and maybe you should be, know what I mean?) or trying to start a business, or just trying to survive a neighborhood cocktail party.

I'm lucky: I'm a writer. So when people ask what I do, I say, "I'm a writer." The brilliance of this is that it produces the same response every time: "Oh, what do you write?"

That allows me to expound on whatever unfinished project comes to mind.

"I'm a writer" is about as natural as I can be. Too many people, however, think the elevator pitch has to be something expressed in impenetrable bizspeak. "I help startups maximize their social media strategies to grow their customer base..."

That's an example used by Deborah Grayson Riegel, and author and communications advisor, in a piece in Fast Company magazine.
The problem with most elevator pitches is that they get crafted on paper but not adjusted to sound like how a real person speaks. The majority come across as synthetic as an infomercial (“We help startups maximize their social media strategies to grow their customer base…But wait! There’s more!”). It’s one-way delivery system, designed to make a powerful, positive first impression, but listeners tend to feel “pitched at” rather than engaged with.
Ms. Riegel advises people to not speak the way they write and to use common, simple language:
“I help individuals, couples, and families make sound financial plans so that they don’t outlive their money” may read well on a website, but doesn’t sound the way people really talk. When speaking, you might start with, “I’m a financial planner, and I make sure my clients don’t outlive their money.” Much more compelling, genuine and even fun. 
Your organization’s mission statement may talk about serving “the growing population of at-risk adolescents” but most people would say “kids who are at risk” in regular conversation. So say that.
"Let us make a special effort to stop communicating with each other," Mark Twain said, "so we can have some conversation."

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Does anyone know what version this is?

Don't let this happen to you.
As a writer I've worked with a lot of consultants and executives over the years, and the subject matter is typically leading edge ideas about business, economics or technology. I can keep up with that. I can also handle the writing.

What drives me nuts is version control.

It's not unusual to get into a double-digit number of versions of, say, a book chapter or a journal article. Sometimes there are several people on the other end. Sometimes there's a whole committee.

And everyone has his own ideas about naming files. I try to play traffic cop, usually with little success. That means people pay me to sit here and try to figure out who just did what.

Let me make a suggestion, even though I know it won't do any good. In fact, since nobody will pay it any attention, let me just be dogmatic about it. Here's how to name your files:

Create a folder named Our Book.
Create a subfolder named Our Book Chapter One
Create a file named Our Book Chapter One 1.0

1.0 always means the very first draft.

When anyone makes a change to draft 1.0, the file is renamed Our Book Chapter One 1.1.

When anyone makes a major revision, he or she renames the file Our Book Chapter One 2.0. The decision to go to 2.0 is arbitrary, so just do it if it feels right.

At the top of each file, after you've finished working on it, enter this before the text begins:

1.03 08.01.13 Accepted Trevor's edits and rearranged some grafs

Just leave the previous notes in place and add yours under them.

If everyone on a project does this, the files will line up on everyone's hard drive or in some central repository chronologically. Some people like to put dates in file names, and that's okay, but they have to be written identically every time and appear in the same place, so that the files line up. My system lines things up chronologically and refers to dates in the file itself.

All of the "Our Book Chapter One" verbiage is helpful if the file gets isolated from the others. This explains what it is. I guarantee that in six months nobody will know what "Chapter Three" is without "Our Book."

Here's a good article about all this in PC Magazine, although I would quibble with it. The writer's file names look like code, and people forget what codes mean, even the coder. For example, she uses "bg" to stand for blog. I guarantee you that if I did that I wouldn't remember what that means in six months. Neither will anyone else. So just use natural language.

Please use the tracking function so that the next person can see what you did. You don't have to change the file name when you edit and mark it up. You do need to change the file name when the edits are accepted.

If you're paying a writer, delegate version control authority to him and tell him to come up with a file naming protocol that will be clear to the company gardener. If you're the writer ask for that authority, but don't hold your breath.

If you're working with a committee it helps to establish a pecking order so that each version flows to each person in the same sequence. That means the last person is the boss. Working with a committee is enlightening. Another fun thing to do is adopt six kittens at the pound and train them to do synchronized swimming.