Make a Positive Impression During Phone Meetings

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Chances are you’ve seen this TV commercial for pretzel snacks where a young man working from home is on the phone while his colleagues across town wait in an uncomfortable silence listening to the man’s loud snacking over the intercom. Until one  of the colleagues finally suggests that he should disconnect the line.

I imagine somewhere in the world, someone has made that mistake during a phone meeting. That kind of mistake probably doesn’t go over very well with employers or clients. The young man probably could have spared himself much embarrassment if he used common sense and followed certain meeting prep guidelines.

With more remote workers and better technology, phone meetings are becoming more commonplace. When participating in phone meetings, it can be tempting to do your own thing. No matter where you work – at home, in an office, hotel room or co-working space – it’s important to present a positive image, even when the other meeting participants can’t see you.

Good impressions in telephone meetings are important for several reasons, writes Darlene Price, author of Well Said: Presentations and Conversations That Get Results in a recent Forbes interview. Phone meetings are more common because of newer technologies, so it’s easier, faster and cheaper to get key individuals into a phone meeting at one time.

Second, phone meetings often serve as the initial introduction to a company or potential client. As the old adage goes, you never get a second chance to make a good first impression. The first 10-15 seconds of a meeting can make or break your chances for success. So make sure you are ready from the get-go. If you miss the opportunity to make a good impression in the introduction stage, you may not get another chance.

Finally a positive phone presentation can lead to better opportunities and career advancement, says Price.  When you speak confidently, people take notice because you come across as a strong, confident leader. They are more likely to listen to what you have to say. You’re able to persuade others to a call for action, such as support a cause, fund a project, negotiate a pay raise or win a new client.

A professional phone image is more than just your voice. It’s also the way you dress. Business meetings are still business, so dress appropriately as if you were there in person.

Numerous other factors can make or break your meeting. Here’s a quick rundown to help you prepare for your phone meeting to ensure a successful outcome.

1. Do your homework. If this is the first time you are speaking with the other person or with this company, find out more about them ahead of time. Check out the person’s LinkedIn profile and find out what organizations they belong to. Browse their company website to find out its history, mission statement and latest accomplishments. The more you know about who you are dealing with, the more comfortable you will feel during the phone meeting.

2. Be prepared. Compile notes, and keep them nearby so you can refer to them easily. Make a list of questions you want to ask and key points you want to cover. If you plan to use your cell phone and laptop, keep them fully charged and ready to go. Keep a glass of water nearby too in case you get thirsty and sip it quietly between questions. If you have a tendency toward allergies and nasal congestion, it might help to gargle with salt water to clear your throat beforehand.

3. Find a quiet place to converse. A small sitting room, your living room, even a closet will work. I would avoid coffee shops because they can get too busy and noisy, especially if they play music overhead. You want to be able to converse without distractions.

4. Get comfortable. Find a comfortable seat wherever you are. Sit up straight and practice good posture. Don’t slouch. I know I sound like your grade school teacher saying that, but it’s true. When you slouch, you lose energy. When you sit tall and straight, you breathe more easily through the body and you feel more energized.

5. Be on time for your meeting. Don’t linger in the bathroom to practice your speech. Being on time shows you take the meeting seriously and that you are prepared.

6. Be succinct with your answers. When others in the phone meeting ask questions, be brief and to the point. Don’t give long-winded answers or go off topic, which can give the impression that you aren’t prepared

While these are the most important things to consider when planning for your phone meeting, here are a few other things you should NOT do, according to Glassdoor.

1. Don’t talk about your personal life. Unless the client or other party asks about your weekend or ask how you deal with stress, keep your personal life out of the conversation.

2. Resist the urge to multi-task. Don’t try to write a proposal during a phone meeting which can only distract you from the conversation. Give the meeting your full attention and take notes. If your mind is elsewhere, you might miss an important detail.

3. Never talk over the interviewer. Allow the interviewer to finish asking their question before jumping in with your answer. In fact, wait one or two beats before answering. Those few seconds allow you to absorb the meaning of their question and gather your thoughts.

4. Don’t assume your phone reception is good. No matter where you are, even at home, you may get spotty reception or the Internet service goes does. Test the connection beforehand by either calling your cell phone from a landline or asking a friend to call you.

One final thought: Don’t chew gum or eat during the phone meeting. This is a no-brainer. Just because other participants can’t see you doesn’t mean you can start snacking away. Don’t be that guy in the TV commercial. Phone meetings are no time to get complacent.

Forget Jargon and Clichés; Write and Speak in Plain English

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Has this ever happened to you? You are on the phone with a potential client. They ask a few warm-up questions to break the ice and get to know you better. The interview seems to be going well. Or so you think. Until the interviewer – a high-level marketing exec – begins to ask questions filled with marketing buzzwords you are not familiar with.

How would you respond? What would you say?

I was in a similar situation a few months ago. When the marketing exec I spoke with began using marketing jargon, I suddenly felt ill-at-ease. I felt excluded from the conversation. I’m not a marketing person. I’m a writer and editor who happens to occasionally write marketing copy. If someone starts talking about SEO strategy and marketing ROI, my eyes glaze over.

My job as a writer is to communicate as clearly as possible with readers. I can’t get held up by industry jargon and buzzwords that might mean something to the company but does not communicate clearly with their audience. To truly understand what this exec wanted me to write for her organization would have taken far more time and effort to ask loads of questions, and I suspected she did not have the patience to answer them. Naturally, I did not get the assignment with this client.

Browse any corporate report and leadership communications, and you’ll see they are filled with industry jargon and clichés that confuse readers and don’t present the organization in a positive light. Jargon is language specific to a business or industry often consisting of acronyms, abbreviations and specialty vocabulary that’s used as a shortcut to meaning among those who understand it. The other problem in business writing is clichés, those overused phrases that really have no meaning at all, such as “game changer,” “value add,” and “blue-sky thinking.” (For a good list of these clichés, check out this recent Forbes article and this one on PlainLanguage.gov.)

If you want to distinguish yourself and connect better with readers, then you need to speak and write what you mean in plain English. In other words, watch your language.

How can these problems be fixed? Here are a few tips from Business.com to help your business writing become crystal clear without relying on jargon and clichés.

1. Know your audience. What is their demographic? Their education level? Once you identify your audience, speak in their language, not your own. If your audience is a department of IT professionals, of course, your language will consist of IT buzzwords because they are more likely to understand them. But if your audience is made up of customers, you’ll want to speak as plainly as possible.

2. Don’t dress up your message. Naturally, you want to come across as sincere and knowledgeable, but don’t gloss over the message by using longer words and convoluted language. That will only muddy your message and create confusion. You don’t want to make your message sound more impressive than it really is. If you need to communicate to employees that several people were laid off, say: “Because of the company’s poor sales performance the past year, we had to fire several people from our sales and marketing staff.” End of story.

3. Use shorter words and sentences. Studies have shown that shorter speeches and messages are easier to remember over the long term.

4. Avoid using acronyms and abbreviations. According to PlainLanguage.gov, abbreviations are often published in an inconsistent format. For example, IBM vs. I.B.M. Sometimes, abbreviations appear only once in a document so it makes no sense to include them in your communications. The general rule I follow is to spell out the full company name the first time it is mentioned followed by its acronym in parenthesis, then use the abbreviation for all subsequent mentions. For example, I would write the National Association of Realtors (NAR) for the first mention, then NAR for all other subsequent mentions in the same story.

5. Edit your message. Review and rewrite it until it sounds right. You can usually cut the first draft in half. It might be helpful to read it out loud so you can hear how it sounds to your own ears, or read it to one or two other people who can provide feedback.

Your communications don’t have to be complex and confusing. Keep it simple. When you use plain English to write or speak your message, you will not only communicate more clearly and succinctly, you will win the respect of your audience.

Employers Value Good Writing, But Good Writers Are Hard to Find

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Image courtesy of Pixabay

Many years ago when I worked for a property manager, I frequently drafted the manager’s correspondence to customers and residents. One day as she prepared to head out of town for business meetings, I happily volunteered to write a speech and a magazine article that she was obligated to write for a local association she belonged to. When she returned, she had two rough drafts on her desk to review. Needless to say, she was impressed. Not only had I saved her valuable time, but I showed that I brought added value to her management team. In fact, she was so impressed by my writing, she gave me more opportunities for writing beyond drafting her usual correspondence to the residents.

That’s just one example of how valuable writing skills are in the workplace. Even with the added emphasis of visual content, websites, podcasts and social media in today’s business environment, good writing still counts – a lot. If you can come to the table with strong writing and communication skills – skills frequently requested by employers – you can increase your value to bosses exponentially.

Despite the demands for strong writing skills, however, employers reportedly are having a difficult time finding qualified candidates with those skills.

In a recent study by Burning Glass Technologies, which provides job analytics to employers, employers reported have difficulty finding candidates with basic soft skills, such as writing, communications, customer service and organizational skills. According to their 2015 study of employer job postings, one in every three skills requested by employers is a soft skill. Even in highly technical jobs, like engineering and information technology, 25 percent of skills requested in job ads are baseline skills.

In another survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, employers were asked to prioritize the skills they sought most from college graduates. Some 82 percent of employers cited written communication, which ranked third behind speaking skills (85 percent) and teamwork (83 percent). Also high on the list of priorities are critical thinking and analytical reasoning (81 percent) and innovation and creativity (65 percent).

Why is good writing important for business? Writing is the fundamental basis for communicating with employees, customers, vendors, colleagues, and fans of your product. It’s a way of expressing thoughts and transporting messages, writes Jeff Bradford, President and CEO of the Bradford Group in Forbes magazine. “Good writing is good thinking that follows a logical path and is easy for someone to follow. Writing out what you want to communicate forces you to organize your thoughts.”

This is good news for professional writers everywhere. There’s still a place for us in the business environment despite recent technologies and growing emphasis on visual communications that seem to undermine good writing. Before you develop your visual presentation, website or podcast, you need good writing first.

Whether you describe yourself as a good writer or aspire to be one, here’s what good writers bring to the business environment, according to Business World magazine.

1. Good writers can make a positive first impression. When readers receive messages that are well-organized, well-thought out and grammatically correct, they form a positive opinion of the writer, and by extension, the organization the writer represents. In contrast, a message that is poorly written with misspelled words and grammatical errors gives the impression that the writer is disorganized, unintelligent and unprofessional.

2. Good writers demonstrate courtesy. They keep the writer’s information needs in mind as they draft their message. By paying attention to the tone of the message, writers show respect for readers.

3. Good writers have more credibility. Employers and clients view good writers as being more reliable and trustworthy. A well-organized and researched message also shows that the writer is knowledgeable and takes the time to plan their message rather than rushing to send it out to readers.

4. Good writers are more influential. There can be a persuasive quality to their writing. They know how to present messages in a way that influences people to take action, whether it’s to donate to a cause, join a membership organization, elect a political candidate, or purchase a product.

5. Good writers are sought-out for their writing expertise. Once word gets around what a word hound they are, co-workers and colleagues may ask for their assistance in editing their pieces or helping them write it. Good writers can gain more responsibility and recognition for their achievements.

6. Good writers understand that an online presence starts with good writing. With so much information on the Internet, good writing is needed to tell clients and customers about business goals, the company’s brand and products. Presentation matters, and it begins with good writing.

7. Good writers make good team players. People with strong writing skills are able to share ideas, give clearer explanations, and coordinate projects easily. Work partners value the clarity of their ideas and explanations. It makes working with them more enjoyable.

8. Good writers gain professional confidence. With each successful writing project, whether it is the launch of a website or a business proposal that wins a new client, good writers gain confidence in their abilities and are inspired to pursue new writing opportunities.

Not every employee has good writing skills. That’s why they are so highly valued in the workplace. If your writing skills are lacking, there are several things you can do to improve them. Take a few classes at a community college or grab a book and read about writing techniques. Most important, practice, practice, practice.

If you are a business owner or manager who doesn’t have good writing skills and doesn’t have time to do some self-study, look for someone who can help you. Hire a freelance writer, an administrative assistant, or editor who can help you formulate your messages and make you look your best in writing.

No matter what field you work in, the ability to write simply, clearly and concisely will help you become a valued member of the team.

Spice Up Your Business with Laughter

“A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay

No matter how stressed or worried you may be about what is happening at your job or in your personal life, studies show laughter has been known to boost mood and release tension.

According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter has both short-term and long-term effects on the body. It increases the intake of oxygen, which stimulates the heart, lungs and muscles. It improves the immune system, relieves pain, improves mood while lessening anxiety, and makes it easier to cope with difficult moments in your life.

So why aren’t more people cultivating more humor and laughter in their lives, especially at work?

For starters, they may be perceived in the workplace as not being truly serious about their work, as being a goof-off, or not being promotable. So they keep their humor in check rather than risk reprisals at work.

But studies show that humor and laughter can boost work productivity. According to this Forbes article, humor can be key to business success in several ways:

* Humor, when used wisely, can help win friends and influence people. People enjoy working with people they like. But don’t be snarky, say experts, which is not good for team building, and don’t offend others.

* It boosts morale among team members. People who share a good laugh form a bond over a shared experience.

* Humor can make your company differentiate itself from competitors. If you can make customers laugh, it makes your company more memorable, and it can be part of your branding.

* Humor helps create an upbeat office environment that encourages interaction among team members and brainstorm new ideas, which lead to greater productivity and greater product innovation.

* Humor is a stress-buster, puts people at ease and builds trust.

Whether you work from home alone without co-workers or work in a not-so-fun office, there are ways to bring laughter into your work life. Here are a few ideas:

* Sign up to receive a joke of the day or cartoon of the day from any number of websites. My personal favorite is Savage Chickens by cartoonist Doug Savage. (www.savagechickens.com). Each morning during the week, I receive a cartoon in my email inbox, and I start my day with a smile with minimal interruption to my work day.

* Post a few funny cartoons at your desk so you have something to laugh at throughout the day.

* Recruit colleagues to participate in a skit that encourages them to express their humorous side.

* Set out games that team members can work on throughout the day, such as a crossword puzzle or chess board.

* Away from work or in off hours, indulge in a comedy-a-thon, playing back-to-back-to-back episodes of your favorite comedy or movie series.

* Visit a comedy club, or take an improvisational class.

* Spend a few minutes (and I do mean a few minutes, not hours) on YouTube videos. Just don’t spend so much time on the site that it interferes with your work.

* Enjoy a comedy festival, like the Cat Video Festival that tours the country each year.

Laughter is good for your heart, mind and soul. Take the time each day to put a little more laughter into your life, and share it with someone else. It just may improve your work life.