Make an Impact with your Written English THIS PAGE INTENTIONALLY LEFT BLANK ii Better Business English Make an Impact with your Written English How to use word power to impress in presentations, reports, PR and meetings Fiona Talbot London and Philadelphia
Publisher’s note Every possible effort has been made to ensure that the information contained in this book is accurate at the time of going to press, and the publishers and author cannot accept responsibility for any errors or omissions, however caused. No responsibility for loss or damage occasioned to any person acting, or refraining from action, as a result of the material in this publication can be accepted by the editor, the publisher or the author.
First published in Great Britain and the United States in 2009 by Kogan Page Limited Apart from any fair dealing for the purposes of research or private study, or criticism or review, as permitted under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, this publication may only be reproduced, stored or transmitted, in any form or by any means, with the prior permission in writing of the publishers, or in the case of reprographic reproduction in accordance with the terms and licences issued by the CLA.
Enquiries concerning reproduction outside these terms should be sent to the publishers at the undermentioned addresses: 120 Pentonville Road London N1 9JN United Kingdom www. koganpage. com © Fiona Talbot, 2009 The right of Fiona Talbot to be identi? ed as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. ISBN 978 0 7494 5519 4 British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A CIP record for this book is available from the British Library. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Talbot, Fiona.
Make an impact with your written English : how to use word power to impress in presentations, reports, PR and meetings / Fiona Talbot. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references. ISBN 978-0-7494-5519-4 1. English language–Business English–Study and teaching. 2. Business communication. 3. Business writing. I. Title. PE1479. B87T355 2009 808’. 06665–dc22 2009017051 Typeset by JS Typesetting Ltd, Porthcawl, Mid Glamorgan Printed and bound in India by Replika Press Pvt Ltd 525 South 4th Street, #241 Philadelphia PA 19147 USA
Dedication I would like to thank my family, friends and clients for their support throughout my career. It is a wonderful fact that, by sharing experiences and lessons learnt, we all learn from each other, to our mutual bene? t. Special thanks must go to my dear husband, Colin. I would like to dedicate this series to him – and to my son, Alexander, and my daughter, Hannah-Maria. And to my mother, Lima. THIS PAGE INTENTIONALLY LEFT BLANK vi Contents Preface Introduction 1.
Writing English for business De? ning readers, customers and audience Your audience can be anyone and everyone Different cultures, different approaches Approaching that white space Different cultures, different personalities Your checklist for action Deciding your business writing objectives Describing what you and your organization do Focus on the message, not just the translation English dictionary syndrome Online translations ‘Brand you’ and your company brand Your checklist for action i 1 3 3 4 4 5 8 10 11 11 13 14 15 17 24 2. viii Contents 3. Reading and writing challenges and needs Help your readers Choose the right font for international business Underlining, italics and justifying margins Technology of the ‘instantly available’ Scan reading and skimming: a new norm Your checklist for action Writing for presentations and talks Create an advantage: get noticed for the right reasons Avoiding distractions I knew you would ask that!
Further tips for making life easier Your checklist for action We all need to write to market and sell Everyone is an ambassador and salesperson Writing is a key that opens the door Advertising and promotional literature for a global market Sales letters must enable that call to action Are you planning to buy? Are you selling?
Do not mislead your buyers or be misled by sellers Chasing payment: one style does not suit all Your checklist for action Making an impact through written word power The wow factor sets you apart Word power skills Look at the world around you Without common sense, you will fail Regularly refresh your word power An introduction to customer focus in writing 5 25 28 31 32 33 34 35 35 38 39 40 42 43 43 44 46 48 50 51 51 52 54 55 55 57 60 63 64 65 4. 5. 6. Contents ix Standard endings can destroy the personal touch Your checklist for action 7. Four steps to success The Word Power Skills system Being correct for purpose Write clearly How simplicity can free you to impress Plain English
Gobbledegook Structuring your writing Your checklist for action Writing press releases and editorial Create the right publicity Different words and styles for different target publications Standard press release layout Words to help your press release make an impact Product recall press releases Jargon in advertising and public relations Outsourcing your public relations Your checklist for action Writing reports The changing face of reports Evaluate your target audience and your role A checklist to help you plan Different perspectives Making your mark and anticipating questions Writing can inadvertently put up barriers Technical reports Your checklist for action 67 68 71 71 73 74 75 77 79 79 80 83 83 85 85 89 90 92 93 95 97 97 98 98 99 102 103 105 106 8. 9. x
Contents 10. Writing agendas, meeting notes and minutes Writing a meeting agenda Purpose and objectives in a typical agenda Make an impact in meeting notes and minutes Action sheets Style tips for minutes De? ning timescales will help you Converting notes to minutes: the vital stages Review of minutes: handle with care Your checklist for action 11. Word Power Skills 2. 0 Plain English manuals and instructions Websites: words are everything in cyberspace Forums: the power of a deluge of written responses Writing e-mails to make an impact Your checklist for action Conclusion 107 107 108 109 110 111 114 115 116 117 119 119 126 128 129 130 131 Preface
How this series works – and what it is about There are three books in the series, designed to improve your con? dence and competence in writing English for global business. They are designed on three levels, to ? t in with the three stages in the business cycle. My central philosophy is this: writing business English effectively for international trade is about creating clear, concise messages and avoiding verbosity. But the fewer words you write, the more important it is that you get them right. Book 1: How to Write Effective Business English This book assumes that you know English to intermediate level and provides effective guidelines. It deals with real-life xii Preface cenarios, to give you answers that even your boss may not know. It uses a system that also gives you the building blocks to take you to the next level in the cycle of success, set out in Book 2. Book 2: Make an Impact with your Written English This book will take you a further step forward in your executive career. You will learn how to use written word power to promote and sell your messages, as well as ‘brand you’. You will learn how to make your mark writing English, whether for PR, presentations, reports, meeting notes, manuals etc. And for cyberspace, where English is today’s predominant language. You will learn how to deal with pressing challenges that you need to be aware of.
And how to write English that impresses, so that you get noticed for the right reasons. Book 3: Executive Writing Skills for Managers This book deals with the English business writing you need at the top of your career and focuses on writing as a key business tool. It gives amazingly valuable tips on harmonizing the English that you and your teams use (for example, for evaluation performance) – tips that you quite simply have not seen before. It also introduces the concept of Word Power Skills 2. 0 – for uni? ed English business writing that keeps everyone in the loop. Preface xiii The importance of business English today Increasingly, English language is the language of choice used in multinational gatherings.
It may not be the predominant language of the group, but is the most likely to be understood by the majority – at least at a basic level – so becomes a powerful tool for communication and inclusion. You may have to unlearn some things you learnt at school Writing English for business today is highly unlikely to be the same as the writing you were taught at school or university. Apart from getting your punctuation and grammar right, the similarities often end there. This series works with the business cycle The series highlights the essential role business writing plays at every stage in your career path – and alongside the cycle of business in general. Figures 1 and 2 show how this works. I describe below how it relates to the three phases.
Phase one: joining an organization or setting up your own business English business writing needs at the outset of your career: a CV, letter, job application, start-up plan or business plan, routine business writing tasks. xiv Preface Manager Boss Owner Training and development CV Job application Start-up Figure 1 The business cycle: from the individual’s Figure 1: The business cycle; from the individual’s perspective perspective Mastery, wow factor Fine tuning It is often sensible to recheck the basics if you are unsure. Foundations: Basics Fundamentals Pillars Building blocks Figure 2 The business cycle: from the business writing perspectivebusiness cycle; from the business writing perspective Figure 2: The Preface xv
As you start your career, you need to understand how to get the basics right. You need to understand how to write correctly, how spelling, punctuation and grammar matter. You will not get to the next phase in your career – the pitching phase – without getting the basics right. Phase two: you develop through knowing how to harness word power Your developing English business writing needs; making impact in everything you write in English; personal selfdevelopment or other training. Great business English writing will generate ideas and sparks that capture readers’ attention and take your career forward. Powerful writing can sell your proposals so well – weak writing can do the exact opposite.
Phase three: mastery of written word power enables you to shine and lead English business writing needs at the height of your career: mastery of written word power required for leadership, to shine as a manager, boss and/or owner. You do not get to the top by blending in. You have to build bridges, shape outcomes and lead through word power. You need to express your ideas in writing – so use business English that makes readers want to buy in. The series is an easy, indispensable, comprehensive guide It is an essential tool kit to keep by your desk or take on your travels. Dip in and out of it as and when you need the answers it provides, to help you shine in all stages of your career. xvi Preface
So each of the three books aligns with the business cycle and supports your development and perfection of writing English for business to gain the competitive edge – because the development of the written word goes hand in hand with, or even is, the business cycle itself. Get results! Just take a look at my methods, focus on the elements that apply to your business writing and make sure they become an intrinsic part of your real-life performance. This series does not take you away from your job; it focuses on your job and uses word power as a free resource. All you have to do is harness this – and enjoy the bene? ts of immediate results and sustainable improvements. Good luck on your journey to success! Fiona Talbot TQI Word Power Skills www. wordpowerskills. com Introduction
By the end of this book, you will know how to write business English from your readers’ perspective, so that your words say what you mean them to say! You will know how to succeed in writing English with the right impact for your target cross-cultural audience, how to sell your messages and promote your organization – and how to make your mark through ‘brand you’! THIS PAGE INTENTIONALLY LEFT BLANK 2 1 Writing English for business De? ning readers, customers and audience Throughout this book I use the terms readers, target readership, customers and audience interchangeably. I use ‘customer’ both in its most common usage as a person who buys goods or services from a business, and in the broadest sense of signifying a person that you deal with in the course of your daily work.
So the term applies just as much to internal colleagues, suppliers, those in charities or the public sector etc as it does to those who are external buying consumers. 4 Make an impact with your written English Your audience can be anyone and everyone I use many practical examples and scenarios in this book that relate to standard sales or customer pitches. Because we are all consumers in our private lives, we can easily relate to and understand these examples. What I would like to stress is that the concepts apply equally to every scenario in the list that follows. Think of lobbying; think of politics; think of charities; think of fundraising; think of promotions. Different cultures, different approaches
The ‘standard English’ I use throughout this book is likely to be understood by users of the other varieties of English that I will be describing. The list of these varieties is extensive; to give you an idea I will just mention UK or British English, Australian English, US English and Caribbean English. So what is meant by ‘standard English’? For the purposes of this book I use the expression to mean the English routinely described in mainstream UK English dictionaries and grammar books. How do I de? ne business English? English is a major international language of commercial communication. It is also the language of the internet and of global access to knowledge.
Business English is quite simply the name given to the English used for dealing with business communication in English. When I write in this book about ‘native English speakers’, I mean anyone who speaks any variety of English as their ? rst language. Non-native English speakers may learn English in any of the following categories: English as a foreign language Writing English for business 5 (EFL), English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) and English as an acquired language (EAL), all self-explanatory terms; and English as a second language (ESL). In the ESL category, learners are likely to be in a setting where the main or of? cial language is English but their native tongue is not.
It can be a confusing term when used to describe someone who is actually learning English as a third or fourth language, as can be the case. There is some debate within academic circles as to which of these terms (or others) should be used. As this is not an academic but a business-oriented book, I choose to use a different convention here. Throughout the book you will ? nd that I use: ? the term native English (NE) speaker or writer to denote a person whose ? rst language is English, and native English (NE) writing to refer to their writing; ? the term non-native English (non-NE) speaker or writer to denote a person whose ? rst language is not English, and non-native English (non-NE) writing to refer to their writing. Approaching that white space
During my Word Power workshops I ask attendees to think about writing on a topic of their choice, something about which they are very knowledgeable, on just one side of a sheet of A4 paper. They have that blank sheet in front of them and before they start I ask, ‘How much of that space do you think your writing will ? ll? ’ Before they answer, I already have a fair idea of responses I am likely to receive from different cultures. You might think the answers will be totally personality-driven. But the way we 6 Make an impact with your written English write can also be culture-driven, at least at the outset of our writing careers. As an illustration, compare your own response with what I have found to be a typical British response.
By their own admission, when the British write for business, they generally tend to feel that it is an obligation to ‘? ll all the white space’ with writing. This may seem strange as there is a very strong move in the UK to embrace plain English and concise messages. But this is a relatively new development and writers can have an instinctive (though false) feeling that readers might actually feel short-changed by brevity. This false premise can lead to writers overcompensating: writing too much information, without making an effort to prioritize key facts and edit out overload. Unfortunately, writing waf? e comes easily to the native English writer. Even when they know it is far from ideal, it can be a bad habit that is dif? ult to discard. To be fair, the British are certainly not alone: many other cultures favour verbosity too. In sharp contrast, some nationalities and cultures have a totally opposite approach. When faced with that blank piece of paper, they decide that the best way forward is to leave as much white space un? lled as they possibly can. They write short bullet points, short lists, and maybe add a diagram. There you are, they think, the job is done. But is it? Are such writers always really as ef? cient as they think? Do they ever realize that their writing may not actually work? The real proof can be in readers’ reactions and subsequent action (or inaction).
Great writing is certainly as concise as it needs to be, but it does not cut the intended and correct meanings out. Nor should it remove the right words to create logical connections to and for readers. Great business writers know when to amplify, with words that add value, and when to edit down, when to cut out the waf? e. It is about understanding what needs to be expressed rather than implied and what is not needed at any given time. Writing English for business 7 Just because we know what our shorthand and our stark bullet points mean, it does not necessarily follow that our readers do too. If we fall into the trap of excessive brevity, this is just as bad as the trap of verbosity and waf? e.
In both cases, we take our readers into a world of customer disservice. Readers of any nationality will not thank us for that. To demonstrate, let’s compare two rather extreme styles of writing. First example: The head of department reported that the additional, unexpectedly in? ated, expenditure on of? ce stationery, arising from the company rebranding exercise, could not be met from current reserves and that, although he might have to ask staff to make savings, it did appear that the expenditure could be accommodated by putting an embargo on any managers undertaking any ? rst-class travel in December. The length of the sentence and the number of commas needed show that the sentence needs editing.
All the reader really needs to know is that: ? there is additional, unexpected expenditure that cannot be met from current reserves; ? a ban on ? rst-class travel in December would recoup this amount; ? if not, staff might have to be asked to make savings. Here is the second example: ? Absenteeism; ? Stocking shelves; ? Waste. 8 Make an impact with your written English In the second example, a bullet-point list, only the writer knows what they mean. Even if it is going to be explained face to face at some stage, this writing is never going to be meaningful. Yet just a small amount of reworking would make it meaningful. For example, maybe ‘Absenteeism’ in the ? st bullet point means: ‘problem of absenteeism; solutions needed’. The subject immediately becomes more accessible and means more to readers, even before discussion. Which of the two examples is your style closer to? Is either extreme ideal? When you write for global business it is generally going to work better to go for a middle path. Develop a style that certainly edits down to the main points (cutting out waf? e) but also includes enough information, so that every message is entire and meaningful. It is crucial you do this in your writing. Writing is a medium that is likely to be read when you are not there to explain it – and which may also be relayed to recipients of whom you may be unaware.
Different cultures, different personalities It can help readers to know, in the broadest terms, what a particular non-NE writer’s background is. That writer’s choice of words and the way they write is likely to re? ect this. Armed with some awareness of this, readers are more likely to allow some leeway in interpretation – and be more tolerant. It can make all the difference; and it can provide ‘Eureka’ moments, in which readers are more likely to see why the writer wrote in a particular way. I will shortly use examples from ‘Dutch-English’ to illustrate this point. To put things in perspective, the Dutch can be some of the best business English writers in the world.
They get their English right, more than they get it wrong. A proud nation Writing English for business 9 of traders, they accept that Dutch is not a global language and that they need to master other languages to succeed in international trade. Yet even they routinely make the same mistakes when they write in English. Although these may be small mistakes, they can confuse native and non-native English readers unaccustomed to these idiosyncrasies. Here are some examples: The Dutch translation of the English word ‘or’ is ‘of’. So Dutch-English will regularly include errors such as ‘either you of Gert could go to the meeting’ (correct English: ‘either you or Gert could go to the meeting’).
Another common mistake is to use ‘or … or’ in English instead of ‘either … or’. For example: ‘or we go to London or we go to Paris’ (correct English: ‘either we go to London or we go to Paris’). These errors seem minor but they really can make life dif? cult for readers. If, however, readers understand that these are errors that the Dutch (as one example) often make, it helps them to understand the correct meaning. Understanding personality alongside culture can also be helpful. Some personalities tend to write the waf? e that takes readers all over the place rather than where they want to be. When readers know a writer’s background, they are likely to be: ? less offended by extremely direct exchanges; ? ess puzzled by deferential language where people do not appear willing to take the lead on decisions; ? less frustrated by hierarchical language where a writer will only deal with a chief executive; 10 Make an impact with your written English ? less impatient with writing by consensus where the individual is not empowered to respond; ? less bemused by overly polite language. Your checklist for action ? See writing as a fundamental skill for you as an individual and for your business. ? Develop and improve your business English writing at every opportunity throughout your career. ? Remember that business writing in its many forms is your most common route to market. Be the best. Consider cross-cultural socializing and networking, or formal company training in how to succeed in international business. You will learn much that will help you know how to write the right business English for your target audience. 2 Deciding your business writing objectives Describing what you and your organization do There is a three-way relationship between you and your business writing: ? First of all you need to know how to describe what you do. ? Second, you need to know how to describe this within the framework of what your organization does. ? Third, you must identify what you need to achieve each time you write. 12 Make an impact with your written English It sounds like common sense, yet people do not always take the time to think this through.
That is why I make a point of asking this question: why are you writing English for business? In my training workshops, attendees generally answer this by listing the following aims: ? to inform or record; ? to seek information; ? to write speci? cations; ? to achieve a standard; ? to write reports. They then come to a halt – even when sales and marketing teams are involved. I always have to quiz them: surely there are other reasons? After some head scratching and soul searching, some then manage to list the aims I am really looking for, namely: ? to persuade; ? to promote services; ? to engage interest and involve; ? to get the right results; ? to sell; ? to support customers; ? to improve life for our customers; ? o eat, breathe and live our vision. Interestingly and encouragingly, that last point, ‘to eat, breathe and live our vision’, was made by a relatively junior employee working for a charity. The workshop she was attending was an Deciding your business writing objectives 13 open one, and the majority of delegates were from the private sector. She made the point with such sincerity and conviction that she absolutely wowed everyone else. Surely words that wow should be uppermost in our minds when we write? If we hide the most important words and aims in the back of our mind, how can we ever write with impact? And why would we ever be motivated to bother?
I am going to show you a writing system in Chapter 7 that will help you design great written English for business. But it will not work nearly so well if you do not ? rst look at where you ? t into the picture. Focus on the message, not just the translation If you are a non-native English (non-NE) reader reading in your own language, let me ask you this: do you prefer reading business writing that is clear or complicated, even muddled? By far the majority of non-NE readers will vote for clear business writing. Yet the moment a reader becomes a writer can be the moment when they shift emphasis. It is as if nonNE writers almost worry that they might be too clear. It is as if they think that writing that is easy cannot impress.
Unfortunately, non-NE writers can have a general fear that they will fail when they write English for business. This anxiety can lead to a preoccupation about translating from their language into English, maybe on a word-for-word basis. The irony is that focusing on translating single components can make non-NE writers lose sight of their intrinsic business message. The overall meaning may not be the sum of each individual word, especially if you choose even one wrong word. What you are setting out to achieve gets lost, so your message becomes subordinate to the translation. 14 Make an impact with your written English English dictionary syndrome This is probably one of the biggest problems for non-NE speakers.
It happens when people turn to a dictionary to ? nd the most complicated-sounding translation of the word they are looking for. It is something that almost everyone does, and it can become a real problem. If you want to get your translation right, use standard and online dictionaries with the utmost caution. As a rule, go for the simple word in the list rather than the most complicated. You are not going to be seen as uneducated if you choose to write ‘wise’ instead of ‘erudite’ or ‘many’ instead of ‘a plethora of’. The opposite is true: the more complex the expression, the more likely it is that readers will judge your English as pretentious.
The irony is that people in business are usually more impressed by simply expressed facts. That is why there is a major shift these days towards plain English in business. This means using simple language wherever possible. So if all the words you ? nd in a dictionary are really unfamiliar, check with someone who really knows English whether they can verify their correct use. Another risk you run is that you may be seen as condescending (ie showing a feeling of superiority to someone of a ‘lower rank’). This can happen if you put someone in the dif? cult position of having to ask you what your writing means – that is, if they dare or can be bothered.
Also, although you may choose ‘intelligent-sounding’ words from dictionaries, they can seem odd, even funny, to readers in general. An example is antiquated English terminology that harks back to a bygone era; for example: ‘We cherish cooperation with your highly esteemed good selves. ’ Deciding your business writing objectives 15 This sort of language is strangely prevalent in brochures and on websites written in English for global business. If you know your writing needs evaluating, take this opportunity to revisit your words. It will not cost you much. In fact, word power is a virtually free resource that will enhance your business. Online translations Online translations can, on occasion, hit the mark.
But they can also have a bad effect on business performance. Blind acceptance of online translations can lead users to a false sense of security. Native speakers can spot the syndrome at a glance. It yields splendidly incorrect offerings such as: ‘The industrial area looked to carry off the market this summer. ’ ‘We need assignment professionals with a good eye for the detail. ’ I will convert these into ‘real’ English: ‘The manufacturing sector appeared to outperform the market this summer. ’ ‘We need committed professionals with a keen eye for detail. ’ You can see what has happened. Some online English translations are actually nonsensical.
They may seem to be free, but they will ultimately cost you by sabotaging your communication and therefore your business objectives. So can you ever justify using online translations? Yes, if you use them with care. Try to use the simplest expressions 16 Make an impact with your written English – and see if they are really being used in real life business today. Ask an English-speaking colleague or customer. Read current business books and articles; look at major companies’ websites in English. Get a feel for what works. You will see for yourself that it is not necessarily the biggest words or the longest sentences and paragraphs that are effective.
Good business English is not about what I call ‘out-Englishing’ or ‘over-Englishing’ the English. This describes what happens when non-native English writers fail by trying too hard. Idioms Nor is good business English about trying too hard by using too many idioms. An idiom is a phrase or usage peculiar to a language, and it can have a meaning that you may not expect. Never pretend you understand an English idiom if you are not completely sure of it, because it can land you in dif? culties. These examples show how you cannot work the meanings of idioms simply from the words themselves: ‘A penny for your thoughts’ means ‘What are you thinking about? ‘To make a mountain out of a molehill’ means ‘to exaggerate the importance of a problem’. ‘A little bird told me’ means ‘Someone (whom I do not wish to name) told me. ’ Also, if you do understand an idiom, do not use it if your target audience might not understand it. The advice works both ways. It can be too high a risk to try to translate an idiom from another language into English. The following example demonstrates this: Deciding your business writing objectives 17 ‘Don’t be the piano man. There’s no need to hit the keys too hard. ’ The example uses two idioms from another language that the non-NE writer translated (incorrectly) into English. Most of his target readership had no idea what he meant; nor do I. Do you?
Here is another example of a foreign idiom translated into English: ‘This is pushing me up the palm tree. ’ I am told that this means ‘This is irritating’ – though maybe it means something else. Such uncertainty is a problem, so why make life harder by making people unsure? ‘Brand you’ and your company brand The essential step towards total success is to realize that everyone in a company has their own identity. This coexists with, and depends on, the identity of the business for which they work. Ideally an organization should make everybody feel valued. Personal self-development should be encouraged, as should the fact that each person is an ambassador for that company.
If all embrace this concept, it becomes clear that every piece of writing you put out, can and should actively market both ‘brand you’ and your company brand. You do this by letting people see how, in everything you write, you come over as strongly as your organization. By doing this, you become valuable to your valued reader. Your commitment to making a difference by ‘being you’ – and seizing the opportunity that ‘being you’ brings – can yield such positive results. Others in your organization may get poor 18 Make an impact with your written English responses if their writing is unenthusiastic. In stark contrast, you can give your audience the feel-good factor through your own sense of pride, and therefore enthusiasm, about what you do.
From the start they will feel warm rather than cold towards your suggestions. Think about the cycle of business. Think about the value of your business English writing from the point when you apply for a job right through to excelling in that job and achieving promotion – and then throughout your ongoing career. Incidentally, did you know that if you write down your aspirations you are more likely to achieve them? And what if I said that the right written English could double your chances of getting your dream job? Then I would be wrong. It could actually quadruple your chances. That is how important words are – and how important English is globally.
So let’s put word power to work in de? ning ‘brand you’. It may be that you have never thought of yourself as a brand, but you will understand the concept of brand in business. So think of a well-known brand. I will take the example of CocaCola, simply because almost everyone has heard of it. Why is it well known? Largely because over years and years of clever global marketing and communication, the company has made you able to identify the product and bring it readily to mind. Have you ever been part of a branding exercise at work? I am not necessarily talking here about an explicit marketing assignment; it could be creating a new project or a new product launch to end-users.
People tend to get passionate about this and give it their all. In fact, that is when people may give their best performance. So with all this in mind, why should it be any different when you are thinking of starting a new job, career or venture? When the brand is you, you should be looking for your personal best. If you realize that you are the benchmark, then everything you do from that point on will be just as good. Deciding your business writing objectives 19 Why save your best for someone else? Of course you need to do your best for others too, but become number one in your own sense of self-worth. The best you can be. Identify how you could take the opportunity now of de? ning ‘brand you’.
Do this in writing, and in accessible English. Then write your formula for success and see how you can make it happen. Once you have created your brand, this will give you the con? dence to excel at everything you do. To help you, just think about the words in English that most accurately capture ‘brand you’. It is important to be realistic about this and not exaggerate. You have to deliver what you say. Maybe some of the following words ? t the bill: highly motivated; enthusiastic; energized; hard working; good communicator; self-driven; self-starter; creative; team player. It may help to ask colleagues what words they would use to describe you.
They may come up with other suggestions, such as: high-achiever (perhaps over-achiever); conscientious; 20 Make an impact with your written English reliable; polite; considerate; good mediator; calm under stress; quality conscious; totally professional; pays attention to detail. Why not make a note now of some English words and phrases that capture what you think best describes ‘brand you’? Understanding the image you should promote at all times is one way in which you can make your mark through the medium of business writing. You may be a Nobel-winning physicist, but if you just have to send one e-mail to a person, that may be all they know about you.
So if you write blandly, for example, ‘It appears this may have some potential’, your readers will most likely perceive you to be bland – even worse, uninteresting and uninterested. On the other hand, if your English expresses interest and enthusiasm – for example: ‘I’m excited by this opportunity’ Deciding your business writing objectives 21 – you are far more likely to engage their attention and make your mark. Indeed, once you see this potential for dual marketing (ie of both yourself and of your organization) this can transform your performance. You too can sell, without expressly being part of your company’s sales team. Naturally, I’m talking here about implicit selling as opposed to explicit selling.
Effective writing should sell personal expertise as well as a company’s products and services (by implication at least). After all, when we talk about a consistently professional and qualityconscious workforce, this has to mean everyone, every time. Let’s look at examples of e-mails in English that may sell the writers short. They may feel they are totally professional but their writing suggests otherwise. They may also be quite unaware of the judgement others might make. The ? rst is a request for information. The following e-mail was sent to an external provider by a company’s training manager: ‘Hi can you send out a quotation for a training course? ’
The recipient’s likely perception is that the request could be more professionally presented, not only in terms of layout but also in terms of introducing the writer and their company, and at least outlining likely needs. Also, there is no ‘please’ or ‘thank you’, which really need to be expressed in e-mail just as much as in letters. Next is an example of an interim reply. This update was sent by e-mail to an internal colleague: ‘Sorry this is late but I hope you don’t mind. Please bare with us while we gather the remaining info. ’ Here the recipient’s likely initial perception is that there is some empathy here, which is good: at least the writer is sorry 22 Make an impact with your written English that the update is late.
But actually, yes, perhaps they do mind that the reply is late, and they may sense that the writer does not really care. In fact, the writer could not be bothered to check their spelling – it should be ‘bear’, not ‘ bare’ – nor could they manage to write ‘information’ instead of ‘info’. This writing is simply not professional. Now an example involving the sending of a presentation. This e-mail was sent to an external client: ‘Please ? nd my presentation attached. I have to tell you at the outset that I haven’t had much time to prepare, so there are sure to be mistakes. ’ The recipient’s likely perception is that they really do not want to see a mistake-riddled piece of work. Do they not deserve ? rst-class attention?
No doubt they would have been much happier if the writer had taken more time to prepare and check the quality, even if it meant negotiating a slight extension of time. How to promote brand you: some examples There are some business writers who manage to put their imprint on everything they write. Even though, like everyone else, I receive a barrage of e-mail, their messages shine out and make me want to read them. These writers make a difference every time they write. Here are some e-mail extracts that demonstrate what I mean. Deciding your business writing objectives 23 Dear (name) Spring days, full of summer promise I hope this e-mail ? nds you very well indeed.
The winter is over, the spring buds are awakening, so let me now introduce our summer schedule, which is full of good things to look forward to. (signature) E-mail disclaimer (part extract) We have an environmentally friendly e-mail policy and hope you share this with us. When we print an e-mail, we make sure we use recycled paper and we dispose of it responsibly. Please pass the message on! An ideal solution for your needs Many thanks for your e-mail and for setting out your precise requirements. I have pleasure in enclosing what I think you may see as the perfect solution, which has the added bene? t of being well within your budget. Of one thing you can be sure: our company is 100% committed to your satisfaction.
Your support appreciated Very many thanks for your great efforts in coming up with a more affordable and even more helpful solution for our clients. I greatly appreciate your support and they are going to be delighted! ‘Brand you’ is what you make it. Nobody else but you can ? ll in the detail. I cannot tell you how to de? ne your personal brand – but I can encourage you to identify it and not to undermine yourself. Take time to think through the image you wish to present. Link this to the message you also need to project. Then ensure you do this consistently in your memos, e-mails, reports, letters, presentations, website and brochures – in fact, in everything you write in English.
I cannot stress 24 Make an impact with your written English enough how this can show both brand you and your company brand (or, in the non-commercial sector, your organization’s values) in a good light. Your checklist for action ? In everything you write in English, focus on the message, not just the translation; don’t rely on online translation tools – always review results critically. ? Avoid making your writing over-complicated by choosing dif? cult English words from dictionaries. ? Recognize that it may be better to avoid idioms when writing English across cultures. ? Identify ‘brand you’ and how you should project this positively in your writing. Promote your company or organization values and your personal brand or values in all your writing. ? Do not sell yourself short: be totally professional at all times. ? Make your mark every time you write in English – and elicit favourable responses based on your own sense of pride about what you do. 3 Reading and writing challenges and needs Help your readers It may surprise you to ? nd that even your choice of font or margin layout impact on whether your written English is intrinsically ? t for your international target audience. There is a commercial need to address the overall look and legibility of your writing, as this chapter will show. All readers have needs, whether internal readers within our organization or external readers.
Both are likely to have the same concerns when they read business communication. Indeed, whether our writing succeeds or fails depends very much on readers’ reactions to the following statements or questions: ? I like the look and feel of this. 26 Make an impact with your written English ? This is important. ? It is clearly in my interests to read this and/or react to it. ? This is sincere; I like a company to care about my needs and serve me well. ? This is enthusiastic and reasoned; I can buy into this. ? This seems like an organized business that knows what it is writing about. ? I can make an informed decision based on this information. ? I know what to do and when – and it’s easy. ? What does this mean? I cannot begin to think how to reply to this, so I’ll put it to the bottom of my in-tray. ? This is not important. ? This is insincere or grovelling. ? This is badly presented and looks boring. ? This is disjointed. It probably represents the way the company does business. ? There’s too much hassle involved to know what to do and whether it’s right for me. ? Do I have to do anything or not? I’m too busy, so I will do nothing. If we now substitute the word ‘customers’ for ‘readers’, does this make you want to get each message right ? rst time? I hope so. Try to have the image of a customer in mind when you write anything at all. If things need doing, always give the reasons why. Reading and writing challenges and needs 7 If you want to get the positive responses in the ? rst half of the list above, then design writing that will achieve this. If necessary, refer to the overall context to help you succeed. If you cannot be bothered to do this, then be prepared for the responses typi? ed by the negatives in the list! Reading and writing challenges – how writing with impact can help Almost everyone gets tired when reading large amounts of text, and this is especially true when we read from computer screens. It is a major reason why good writers of web copy break their material into sections and then subdivide these further with headings, subheadings and links.
By clicking on the links, readers can access further information as and when they need it. The choice and the timing are theirs. For some people, reading presents more challenges than for others. Imagine how much more dif? cult it might be for them to read English if it is not their ? rst language. So write English that everyone has more chance of reading easily. Writing is not just about words. It can be about appearance too. If you have dyslexia or the visual condition known as Irlen syndrome, to take just two examples, this can alter the way you see the written word, even in your own language. Your eyes may not just tire when reading, you may also ? d it dif? cult to read. It may be a problem for you to keep track of words on a line and you may skip words. All the more reason for writers to understand that writing with impact makes practical sense – from all angles. If you can colour-code information, that can be a great help to readers. If you can research what your readers like, do so. If you know that someone in your target audience is colourblind, you might want to avoid red and green. Certain coloured paper can help print stand out for certain readers (cream and 28 Make an impact with your written English pale yellow suit many) but a patterned background can make things far worse for others.
Use the tips given throughout this book to understand when to use visuals and visual imagery, pie charts, bar charts, pictograms and numbers (which many readers will ? nd particularly useful) alongside your words. Managers need to be aware that they should support staff that may need help regarding these issues. It all impacts on writing English for business successfully. Choose the right font for international business Most of us do not have secretaries or typesetters, but have to do our own business English writing or typing. Even choosing the right font – one that most readers can read – can be essential to getting your business English right and ? t for purpose.
Choice of fonts may have to be made on a corporate basis. If not, you may have the chance to make your mark by choosing a reader-friendly font. So what fonts should you choose? Many non-English-speaking companies use Times New Roman for English. This is a very readable font – and readability is certainly important. Some foreign readers would ? nd it dif? cult to read some other fonts that are routinely used for English. This may be because of the way they scan a page in their own language. The UK Learning and Skills Council recommends Arial, Times New Roman and Helvetica. Other fonts such as Tahoma and Verdana are favoured by website designers for their readability online.
In normal circumstances, it is generally recommended that 12-point size is used for ordinary type and 14-point for headlines. This can be varied according to your target audience and indeed may have to be increased for some readers. Reading and writing challenges and needs 29 When writing English for websites or lea? ets, check whether any legislation applies regarding readability. This can vary from country to country. But readability is not the only factor. When it comes to writing business English, do you want a readable font for an international arena that readers also perceive as artistic and creative? Or solid and dependable? It may seem strange to write this way about fonts, but readers do have such perceptions.
For example: Comic Sans MS can seem to indicate conversation and can be perceived as friendly. Times New Roman is de? nitely readable but can seem oldfashioned these days. Yet this is the font that many countries use as a default font for writing English, without realizing that it may not be appropriate for all. Verdana was designed as a font for e-writing. Century Gothic is viewed as artistic, though many complain it is not easy to read. Arial is chosen by many government of? ces and learning providers as being easy to read. Tahoma is also chosen by these users for the same reason. What do you think about the following font, which I have seen businesses use?
The look and feel of documents are also very important in any book about effective writing. How might your readers or customers feel about reading this, especially if there’s a really important message embedded in it? What might happen if you or your colleagues cannot be bothered to set out letters and other documentation the way your readers expect? 30 Make an impact with your written English If you are a non-native English writer you will have your own dif? cult-for-foreigners-to-read fonts (maybe antique-style) in your own language. They may work in some areas of your home market. But can you see how dif? cult to read they may be for foreigners or people who ? nd it dif? cult to process things visually?
In case you cannot decipher the text in the last box, let me now show you how much easier it is to read in a clear font: The look and feel of documents are also very important in any book about effective writing. How might your readers or customers feel about reading this, especially if there’s a really important message embedded in it? What might happen if you or your colleagues cannot be bothered to set out letters and other documentation the way your readers expect? Companies generally use handwriting style fonts where they want to appear ‘friendly’ and informal and reach out to new markets. There is certainly nothing wrong with that, but there are fonts (such as Comic Sans MS) that will achieve a similar effect and still be readable for most people.
Feedback that I have collected is that the ‘spidery’ font shown on the previous page comes across as almost unintelligible and un-businesslike. The commercial outcomes can be: ? Although there are times when a jokey font or slogan validly engages readers’ attention, it is never good news for readers to view your core business as a joke. ? If your message is so embedded in text that your target readers cannot read it, they may not even be bothered to try. ? Non-NE readers especially may misunderstand your message. Reading and writing challenges and needs 31 ? Any reader may take the wrong action, or no action at all. ? Readers might come back to you for clari? cation (which costs you and them both time and money). They might tell others about you (in a negative way). So do make an informed choice as to which font is right for your business and your international readers. A further tip: be aware that much of the design and thought you put in may be lost when sent to an electronic device. This point is especially important if you are likely to send written messages while travelling abroad. Underlining, italics and justifying margins There is de? nitely less underlining in business English writing today – probably mainly as a result of the fact that so much writing is now electronic. Website designers discourage any underlining that does not denote a hyperlink.
This is to avoid confusion, as these days we expect underlining on our computer screens to signify a hyperlink. We expect to be able to click on it and be taken immediately to some new information. It puzzles us if this does not happen. The trouble is, a lot of standard textbooks in English have not kept up with this development and may still show letter or e-mail templates that use underlining. Or you may have been taught to use underlining in report headings and ? ndings. Italic writing can also be dif? cult for non-native English readers to read, so use it sparingly in your business English writing. 32 Make an impact with your written English
Before we leave the physical appearance of writing in English, it is worth mentioning that non-native (but also many native) English readers can ? nd it easier to read writing in which the margins are aligned on the left (‘left justi? ed’) but are ragged on the right of the page. Publishers adopt a different convention, as you see in this book. Technology of the ‘instantly available’ Newcomers to the workforce from the i-generation, the Google generation, or whatever term you choose to use, are increasingly comfortable with the fact that business writing needs to adapt to new technology and conventions. This means that conventions in business writing are changing.
The traditional model for writing that many of us know (from writing English essays or dissertations at school or college) is becoming sidelined. The model that is being ditched is: beginning; middle; end. Why? Because the ? ow of the new technology that feeds an ‘I want it now’ mentality in users is unstoppable. Information in English (especially as this is the predominant language of the web) is more often than not now broken down into bitesized (and byte-sized! ) chunks. Even when a traditionally constructed report is prepared in English, business writers today often highlight the main points in a covering letter, note or e-mail. Reading and writing challenges and needs 33
Another tip to help you is this. Because of information ‘fastload’ and overload, we may not think about things as much as we should. This is when mistakes happen. So if you are a non-native English writer writing in English for business, do factor in extra, not less, time than when you write in your own language. Scan reading and skimming: a new norm A really helpful tip is this: understand that today’s readers tend to scan read or skim read. They look at written text quickly to identify relevant information and get an overview of contents. It is: ? partly to do with processing information overload; ? partly because reading from computer screens is tiring; ? artly because readers actively want to reduce the number of words they have to read. Writers cannot ignore the fact that readers will probably make less commitment to read what we write online than on paper. Quite simply, they will give up faster. Tips to help you are these: ? Scan and skim reading are further evidence that readers are likely to react fairly instantly to the look of writing. ? If they are external readers who are unknown to you, they are likely to ask themselves: ‘Do I like this writing? Do I need it? Will it help me better than information from another provider in more accessible English? ’ 34 Make an impact with your written English They are also likely to consider: ‘Will this writing help me now, or do I bookmark it for later? ’ All the more reason to make initial impact – maybe deliver fuller meaning later in the writing. ? You can help your written words make this initial impact by choosing simple yet powerful words, great visuals, meaningful topic headings and subheadings; also by reinforcing your messages. ? Non-native English readers, who may be overwhelmed by language they do not fully understand, can then have the opportunity to focus at the later (revisiting) stage on any words that they may need to look up. Your checklist for action ? Today the initial impact of your writing is key. Design it well – to be effective immediately. Take care to choose the right font, other visual devices and layout to help you write English for your international target audience. ? Consider a house style (that everyone in the organization can reproduce) for a professional look and feel. ? Be aware that writing is rapidly evolving, especially in business. This is driven by the various online electronic channels now becoming dominant in all our lives. ? Design your key messages in instantly accessible English so that even in a world of distractions they can be seen and understood at a glance. 4 Writing for presentations and talks Create an advantage: get noticed for the right reasons We almost all have to give presentations or talks in business today.
There is an irony here though: both can actually be as much about writing as about talking. Why? Because both usually start out as points captured in writing. And an often overlooked fact is that both usually end in writing too – whether in the shape of a handout at the time or a written follow-up afterwards. That is when your words can be judged by your audience in the cold light of day – when you are not there to explain them. So if you are using English, you better get your written English right! 36 Make an impact with your written English There is something else you also need to appreciate if you are truly working in English in a global arena. It is that presentations can be the new form of the business report.
You may think you are presenting to six people, but your wellwritten slides may in fact be sent out internationally. People do not listen to the words at that stage; they read them. In fact, I have clients whose English slides have actually become company mantra. That is how important the writing – not the speech – has become. Why do any of us give a presentation? Is it for fun? I doubt if anyone would say that. It will almost always be for a clear business purpose. The same goes for your written proposal answering a formal request for information. In fact, a good written proposal can be the key to that ? rst step inside a potential customer’s door.
It too is writing that may be passed around and judged in your absence. A presentation is an area where you usually have to deliver very quickly. A company to whom you are pitching for new business may give you 15 minutes maximum. That gives you as little as 10 minutes to pitch and 5 minutes to answer questions. So if you are not to waste your or their time, you must use the time to shine. If you do not go ? at-out to ensure that the presentation or talk propels you into your target company’s future, why bother to be there? And remember, most presenters run out of time. This is why great written slides and handouts with the right call to action become invaluable. They can sell for you after you have left.
You can create a position of strength by being a non-native English presenter Whatever you do, do not get noticed for the wrong reasons. You will be noticed a hundred times more for using the wrong Writing for presentations and talks 37 written word than for avoiding it and choosing the simpler English word that everyone understands. Get the right spotlight on yourself whether you are delivering an internal or external presentation. In terms of quality, why differentiate? A presentation should always be good. Your internal presentation may be for the people who hold the purse strings or are key in? uencers. Never settle for second best. Remember ‘brand you’!
So how do you make your presentation to optimum effect? What are the particular challenges you will face when presenting in English? Is there any way you can actually use this to your bene? t? You might ? nd it helpful to approach these questions from different angles. You could ask yourself: ? Do I want to remind readers in a positive (not apologetic) way that I am not a native English writer? ? Can I actively get them on my side by asking them to stop me at any time to explain anything that I may not have made entirely clear? ? Do I want to impress them with perfectly composed slides written in perfect English? You need to have con? dence in your ability from the start.
It is quite common, and self-defeating, for presenters in their own language and to an audience of their own nationality to apologize before they have uttered one word. Like me, you will have heard this type of thing on numerous occasions: ‘I’m sorry if this seems unprepared: I didn’t have much advance notice. ’ ‘Please forgive me in advance; I’m quite nervous about presenting. ’ 38 Make an impact with your written English These are unnecessary signs of weakness. They are like saying: ‘This is not going to be good. I know it and you’ll know it soon enough. ’ You get your audience wondering why they bothered to come. So instead create a position of strength. Face your audience con? ently and invite them to stop you at any stage if they need you to explain the words you use. By doing this: ? they sense your con? dence; ? they sense that you know what you are talking about – and what your slides are written about; ? they appreciate your care in helping them follow where you lead. Avoiding distractions One way of keeping people from getting distracted is to talk them through a roadmap. Manage expectations. This roadmap must also be written down and plain for all to see – be it on a ? ipchart as part of your introduction or even on a handout. This is why you need great English business writing skills. Create and explain a structure to your presentation and stick to it.
It means that people can navigate that written path with you and will not get lost, even if momentarily diverted for any reason (for example, if a latecomer interrupts). What distracts you? Probably your main distraction during any presentation is any questioning. While questions are an important form of interaction (which I will shortly deal with) there are cases where questions will answer themselves during the course Writing for presentations and talks 39 of a well-prepared presentation. To avoid having to answer questions that you know are subsequently covered, you can save time by asking attendees to write their questions down. Then ask them to save these questions for the end of the presentation. Many will then tell you that they were covered, as you anticipated.
Once again we can see how useful writing can be. It may be silent but it is an immensely important factor in successful presentations in English within global companies. People who do not work internationally often fail to grasp the importance of this. Which means that you can easily be one step ahead of your competitors! What do readers say distracts them? A lot of people admit that they do get distracted when: ? a slide contains a word they do not understand; ? there is a spelling or grammatical mistake; ? there is a ? aw in logic. People may not mean to focus on these but they often do. It can have the unfortunate effect that they lose focus on subsequent points as a result.
Although some people may query a point, the majority tend not to interrupt a presentation to ask for an explanation. This may be polite – but they can miss the point and you can lose the business. I knew you would ask that! Every time you prepare your presentation, keep in mind that it should be leading to a dialogue. For instance, for every 15 40 Make an impact with your written English minutes of presenting there could be 5 minutes of followup discussion. There may then be the questions that your presentation has not been able to cover. So try to ensure that any questioning takes you forwards towards your goals, not backwards away from them.
If your presentation is not clear or if there are mistakes on your slides, people will ask the wrong questions. It can take their and your focus away from the primary objectives of your pitch. So your presentation in English actually starts at the writing stage. This is when you ask yourself: what could be asked here? Write bullet points to outline the issue. Presenters who fail to do this are the ones who are heard exclaiming: ‘I knew you would ask that! ’ when questioned by a member of their audience. An unkind questioner could reply: ‘Well, if you knew I would ask that, then why didn’t you cover it? ’ There is a serious message here. Your audience might act as if such a situation were amusing but they could actually be offended by your omission.
Their unspoken feelings might be that if you knew they would ask the question, then why are you wasting their time by not giving the answers they need? Further tips for making life easier Create an opportunity for follow-up dialogue in writing If I do not already have attendees’ e-mail addresses (for example, if I am giving a public talk) I ask the audience to give me their addresses if they would like a summary e-mailed to them after the event. This is useful for them, as I always include useful tips. It is useful for me too, as it takes me into a future with those people. Writing for presentations and talks 41 My half-hour talk may be over on that day but I will schedule more time with those delegates.
I am not cold-calling them: they have asked for more, so it becomes an ongoing dialogue in writing. That is a great business result. Eliminate the guesswork; rely on yourself Most presentations today are electronic. This can easily lead to problems: unfamiliar systems, power failures etc. I guarantee you know what I mean! Another reason why a good written preparation (at least for yourself) makes sure you can carry on. Do not rely purely on technology; rely on yourself. If there are any words or English acronyms of a technical nature on your slides, take the time to ensure that your audience has really understood what you mean. This is particularly important in multi-cultural groups.
People are often reluctant to speak up for fear of embarrassment, but it is also more common than you may think that people convince themselves of an entirely incorrect meaning of a word based on something similar from their own language. Do not be afraid to ask and clarify – you all bene? t in the end. Eliminate the guesswork. Visuals Great visuals can reinforce your writing. In fact, a good picture can ‘speak volumes’. But do ensure that your pictures ? t that writing. Once again, it is likely to be a question of mixing and matching to suit your target audience at the time. Be aware, for example, that some people love tables and pie charts. Others hate them. Even colours can be lucky or unlucky, depending on cultural sensibility. So if you are pitching to a particular country, choosing colours from their ? ag may be a very useful way of knowing which colours will work. 42
Make an impact with your written English Your checklist for action ? Prepare well and plan your words with con? dence. ? Make the right impact – remember ‘brand you’. ? Realize that presentations can be a new format for business reports: the words on your slides and handouts are ‘business writing’ that can be forwarded to others and read after the speech has been forgotten. ? Therefore ensure that your slides are in well-written English. ? Explain any technical terms, English acronyms etc that may be in your slides. ? Give your audience a clear written roadmap through your presentation. ? Do not let written English errors on your slides cause distractions. Anticipate likely questions and try to write answers in your presentation. ? Consider what will work and what might not for your particular audience: visuals, colours etc. ? Try to create a dialogue in your slides and handouts that will continue after your talk. 5 We all need to write to market and sell Everyone is an ambassador and salesperson In Chapter 2, I highlighted how it helps us achieve our business English writing objectives by embracing the fact that we can all actively market our organization and sell its messages every time we write. We fail when our audience ? nds our writing ineffective. Feedback suggests that this can result from it coming across as: ? over-complicated; ? uncaring; ? ritten by a ‘jobsworth’ type of person; 44 Make an impact with your written English ? sloppily presented, with mistakes; ? full of jargon; ? impersonal. Ineffective writing will imply that you have put the shutters up and closed the door. Given a choice, your customers may well walk away. Unless to make a complaint, they will not necessarily call again. The good news is that your audience is likely to give your writing their full approval when they are able to see and say: ? It is in my or our interests. ? I know what I must do, why, how and when. ? I or we feel appreciated. ? This is de? nitely the product or service or message etc of choice.
You simply have to achieve this approval to be an effective ambassador and salesperson for your organization, whatever your actual job speci? cation. Writing is a key that opens the door In the past, a customer’s ? rst contact with an organization was often more likely to be by telephone than by writing. If you were promoting a message or actively selling in your job, this could offer you an advantage. When you hear a voice, you have an opportunity (however ? eeting) to ask questions and, even better, try to develop rapport. Increasingly these days, the ? rst point of contact with a prospective client is when they write an e-mail. It is cheap, We all need to write to market and sell 45 easy and fast for them to do this – and they can keep their distance from you.
So if you are really going to be proactive in your job (and I hope you are), you may have to work that little bit harder, to make your English business writing the key that opens the door to new or continuing business. Writing must be an effective point of contact How can you achieve this? Try analysing other people’s writing to get some answers. Why not start by looking at things as if you are the consumer about to make a purchase? Imagine you sent a request for information and you have two pitches from two different companies. Imagine that the services provided and their prices are the same – but one company sends a professional, courteous e-mail, the other a poorly presented one. Which one are you likely to favour? Feedback consistently suggests that most people will be drawn to the former.
It is a common perception that an organization that cares about presentation is likely to have a professional, quality, systematic approach generally. Writing well is an opportunity to open that door to new customers. Never waste it. Just a few months ago, a jobseeker sent me an unsolicited letter and CV, and asked for a job with my consultancy. She wrote that she was a communication skills training professional. Fair enough; the English she used was good. But overall she was not professional enough, because her letter – that crucial ? rst point of contact – was covered with coffee stains. Why did she not realize that a prospective employer would probably make an initial judgement based on that?
Could I let someone present such a sloppy image to my clients? And what did it say about her attitude to me personally? Did I not deserve a clean sheet of paper (and the respect that this implies), especially as she perceived me as a potential boss? 46 Make an impact with your written English These factors all come into the business writing equation. And my view is shared by others. In fact, time after time, recruitment managers tell me they throw badly written letters and e-mailed applications from jobseekers directly into the waste bin. Procurement managers do the same with shoddily presented bids and proposals. This can apply even where huge international contracts are involved.
Mostly it is to do with the standard of written English, because if you cannot be bothered to match the brief, or even get your potential clients’ details right, why should you get the contract? What does it say about you compared with the people who take the care to get it right? Try to look at your own writing objectively, as your readers will. That way, you will soon manage to identify the words, formats and also the presentation of material that make the right impact. Your writing will build bridges to enable readers to cross to your side instead of pushing them away as a lot of writing does, totally unintentionally, especially in crosscultural scenarios.
Advertising and promotional literature for a global market Companies can fail to realize that points that may be of interest to a local market may be of little relevance to a global audience. Thus we may have a company proudly announcing in the opening lines of their new brochure: We all need to write to market and sell 47 Jones Management Services Ltd Based in the south of England, Jones Management Services Ltd have been established for 60 years and have amalgamated with four other local companies in that time, closing down satellite of? ces in order to consolidate in one city-centre site. The company are highly accredited management services providers to clients from diverse areas.
It is their insistence on maintaining ? rst-class credentials that makes Jones stand apart from other providers in helping companies succeed internationally. This company has wasted the ? rst three lines – which should always be dedicated to engaging an audience’s attention. Prospective clients probably do not need a complete history of a provider’s previous local of? ce accommodation, even if they are only targeting that local market. Surely Jones’s key message for an international audience is: Building on a solid history of 60 years’ success and ? rst-class credentials, Jones Management Services have unrivalled expertise in helping companies ucceed internationally. In short, open your horizons as you write. Do not just translate the brochure and the details you may include in your own language. Trading internationally may require a totally different mindset, coupled with a different advertising angle – and probably different words. 48 Make an impact with your written English Sales letters must enable that call to action It is remarkable how often writers forget that they should be promoting their message each time they write. Even professional salespeople can miss obvious opportunities that writing presents to enable calls to action: that is, to help prospective buyers actually buy.
If, for example, you are trying to sell insurance in English and you send details of your company policy to someone who has made an enquiry, why end your pitch as so many sales people do, with ? at, lacklustre words? Contrast these two examples: ‘Please do not hesitate to call for further information. ’ ‘I will call about this next Tuesday, if this is convenient. ’ Be proactive and enable that call to action in whichever way is right for your customer. Then do what you have said in writing you will do. If you have said you will phone, then make sure you do. This crucially important tip applies to everything you send out, not just sales letters. Your writing is judged for what it is. International readers are particularly likely to focus on the literal meaning of every word you write.
What does it say about you and your organization if you promise something that you have no intention of delivering? This is not good news, is it? Would you buy from someone like that? Beyond the very obvious courtesy to your reader of doing as you say you will, another factor comes into play. If you tell someone you will be making contact, you improve the chance that they will keep your letter in their in-tray. There are no guarantees, but if they are even half interested in your We all need to write to market and sell 49 proposal, they will be expecting your call. It makes it less of a cold call, which acts in your favour. I once received a mailshot from a Mercedes-Benz dealer.
It impressed me, in principle, as it explained the company’s aim to offer ‘a more personal approach to the business user’. The writer had included her photo in the letter and she looked professional and personable. Whatever the size of company – from the one-person operator through to the ? eet manager of the largest company – she was on hand, to offer guidance and advice. She ended the mailshot: ‘I will give you a call in the next few days to see what arrangements we can make. ’ So she had built up an expectation on the reader’s part. As it happened, I was quite interested (‘a hot lead’ in sales talk) and was a prospective client. I was keen to know what she would say when she called. And do you know what happened? Nothing; the call never came.
This led me to think: why did she write that? If the timescale was unrealistic – say, because she could not make all the calls she had promised to make in the ‘next few days’ – then why had she set that deadline? Setting a timescale was her decision, after all. Not to deliver on her promise undermined her performance and that of her company, in my (and no doubt other readers’) estimation. Setting deadlines in writing Let’s develop this point. If we feel that setting a deadline is going to help us, then let’s make sure that the deadline is one that we can meet. And it makes sense for our international target audience: time-zone considerations can come into play.
Tuesday is not always Tuesday, depending on where you are in the world. 50 Make an impact with your written English You can even impress readers by setting a deadline that you know you can beat. So, for example, if you write, ‘I will deliver this information by Friday 12th March,’ and you actually deliver it on Wednesday 10th March, two days before, then your recipient may be delighted. Are you planning to buy? Here are some standard English expressions that you may be able to use or adapt: Thank you for your recent quotation and please ? nd our order attached. With reference to our telephone conversation earlier today, please can you con? rm receipt of the enclosed order by letter or e-mail?
Please could you deal with this as a matter of urgency? Can you offer a volume discount? (a discount for large orders) We reserve the right to refuse faulty stock / to refuse goods delivered after the agreed date. Please con? rm that we will receive the delivery by mid December. Your competitors offer signi? cantly lower prices; can you match them? Can you deliver anywhere worldwide? We all need to write to market and sell 51 Are you selling? Here are more English examples that you may ? nd helpful: Thank you for your provisional order. We enclose our invoice for €800. On receipt of your payment, we will be pleased to despatch your order within seven days. We are pleased to con? rm your order.
All items are in stock and we will advise you of the delivery date shortly. We regret that items 1 and 2 are currently out of stock. Would you like us to order these for you? Your order was sent by airfreight yesterday and should be with you within a few days. The shipment is due to arrive on 6 July. All orders placed during the exhibition are subject to a 10% discount. Our prices are subject to currency ? uctuations. We would like to offer a free, no-obligation consultation. Do not mislead your buyers or be misled by sellers There are some regrettable instances where you may get your English advertising totally correct yet still alienate your customers. An example that springs to mind is this.
A student advertised a new Xbox 360 box online. He described it as the hit of the year; it was brand new and he had the product receipt. He also included some small print: ‘You are bidding on an authentic Xbox 360 box. ’ 52 Make an impact with your written English Demand was high, bidding went up and up and he sold at a much higher price than the recommended retail price of the Xbox product at the time. The trouble was, the buyer found to his cost that he had bought a new, empty box. His expectation was that he was buying the box plus product that he assumed was inside. When he looked again at the advertisement, the empty box he actually received did ? t the description.
It really was only the box that was being advertised. There was no illegal claim – and therefore no fraud – involved. As a result, the buyer had no way of seeking his money back or gaining any other form of compensation. I have three tips here: ? Make sure that your writing does not mislead, either intentionally or unintentionally. We should care far too much about our readers and our customers ever to run the risk of deceiving or otherwise alienating them. ? Make sure that you always read (and if necessary re-read) writing carefully, so that you understand what the print (especially small print) is telling you. ? If you are not sure on any level, check before you proceed to the next stage!
Chasing payment: one style does not suit all If you ever send letters or e-mails chasing people for nonpayment of accounts, you will know that customers fall into different groups. So should you really send the same wording to really valued customers as you send to those who are or may be a bad risk? Naturally all customers matter – but when it comes to payment, you need to receive it to survive. So let me give you some tips to help you. We all need to write to market and sell 53 Writing to a valued customer There will never be one formula that we can use for our business writing, as we should always customize our writing for our organization’s and our audience’s needs.
That said, the following extract softens the tone so that customers know they need to settle their account, without the request being too abrasive. We do not appear to have received payment for invoice RD78 for ? 780. 57, which was due at the end of last month, in accordance with the agreed terms. Please could you make payment within seven days, or let us know if there are any problems of which we are unaware. If you have already paid this account, please ignore this letter and accept our apologies. Writing to a customer who you feel is a bad risk The following is an extract from a letter a company is sending out to a customer who has ignored requests to pay an account:
You have not replied to our letters of 18 January or 22 February and we have been instructed by our accounts department to request immediate payment of this overdue account. Payment should be made to this of? ce at the above address within the next seven days, or we may have no alternative but to take further action to recover this amount. 54 Make an impact with your written English You can see how the style is much heavier handed than the ? rst example. This style should only be used when there is a real problem – and it is very regrettable when companies use it too readily. Customers are precious and we offend them at our peril. Once you have identi? ed that a ? nal demand – ather than a request for payment – is appropriate, then you need to make it clear that the customer must pay. Nevertheless, you can see how the passive construction ‘we have been instructed by our accounts department’ helps the writer make the situation less personal? This conveys the sense that any (implied) legal action against the customer will be initiated by a department, not by the writer. This extract shows that in certain situations the English passive form can be useful. Where the writer moves back to the active construction ‘or we may have no alternative but to take further action,’ they still manage to soften the harshness of approach slightly by using the verb ‘may’ rather than ‘will’. Your checklist for action Writing English for international business is a key that opens the door to business – and that can keep it open. ? Avoid upsetting customers or potential customers through unclear or inappropriate business English writing. ? Try to encourage follow-on action or dialogue in writing. ? Be aware that writing can be a permanent record: be sure you can deliver what you propose. Never mislead. 6 Making an impact through written word power The wow factor sets you apart Great writing is how you can make your mark and it sets you apart from the rest. Why not be proud to make a difference and improve performance too? After all, nobody ever made it to the top by blending in.
The right impact puts you in pole position to secure the right responses and sell whatever it is you need to sell. The wow factor can be as simple as words that stand out from the page. 56 Make an impact with your written English Powerful descriptions sell For practical examples let’s look at the world of online auctions. Two separate sellers each has one of two identical brand new CDs to sell. Seller 1 simply lists the CD’s title (and spells it wrong) and names the asking price. Seller 2 writes the CD’s title correctly and also mentions the fact it is brand new and one of the most acclaimed CDs of the year. He sets out fully correct information in a most professional manner, and asks a considerably higher price than Seller 1.
You may think the better price will win each time – but this is not always the case. On occasion the one with the power wording will sell for double the price. The more expensive the product, the greater this effect is, because people will often pay a premium for the right quality. Let’s stay with online auction sites. It may surprise you that even when it comes to buying large specialist items, a written description may be the most important aspect that a potential buyer has to focus on. As an illustration, imagine you are selling a power generator online. You have a potential buyer who is not going to be able to try it out and is very unlikely to ? nd a product test or review.
He has narrowed it down to two models: yours and a competitor’s. The two models are very similar: indeed, a buyer may even suspect they were made at the same factory under different brand names. Yet the price difference between the two could be as much as 300 per cent. Seller 1 has posted a picture and price. Seller 2 has added a description using written English power words such as ‘state of the art’, ‘reliable’ and ‘guaranteed’. Once again, a dynamic, comprehensive written description makes the words stand out. This in turn makes the product stand out and all of this engages buyers’ attention. Ultimately, it sells. Making an impact through written word power 57 Good written words can create a following
Good written words not only make people pay attention and buy the goods or services you are offering, they can create a following too. This means that people will be more likely to buy from you in the future. They may ask you to develop your range if they like what you have already provided. So if you are failing to see the potential that well-chosen English writing has to open doors, improve performance and actually boost pro? ts, then you are certainly failing to use word power. Why do that, when the power to choose the best words for your business is an undoubtedly crucial step on any ladder to success? Word power skills Marketing teams know that they need to identify the words that are most likely to engage their target audience’s attention.
After all, engagement and involvement are the ? rst step in selling. You have to present your message in a way that your target market can and will relate to. You have to write with impact. One thing is absolutely sure: if you are not enthusiastic about what you are selling, you lessen your chances of engaging that interest. Knowing how to harness word power is an excellent way of fusing these two strands of enthusiasm and interest in your writing. Knowing how to develop word power skills is fundamental to successful business writing. That is why I named my website www. wordpowerskills. com right from the start. So how do you harness word power in written English?
A very good start is to identify words that make the most positive impact on you. Sometimes we like the words that 58 Make an impact with your written English other people use, without realizing that maybe we too can use these words (or similar ones) to take our businesses forward. We can all make a difference. It is not just creative design agencies who have the monopoly to innovate and succeed. Let me highlight two letter headlines and you will get a feel for what I mean. The background is the same in each case: two separate tour operators were con? rming a holiday booking I had made with each. The letter from tour operator 1 had the headline ‘IT’S ALL BOOKED! ’ The letter from tour operator 2 had the headline ‘Con? mation of booking’. Compare the two and you can sense the far greater enthusiasm in the ? rst than in the second. The ? rst operator has harnessed written word power. Naturally, we have to judge what is right for our target readers. For me, it certainly worked. Although e-mail etiquette suggests that it is wrong to write in upper case (because it is taken to be SHOUTING), I think it is acceptable in this letter. I do not mind if they are shouting with happiness because my holiday is arranged; I am happy too. It is true that the second operator’s headline is ? t for purpose. The headline cannot be criticized for this, and it may be entirely right for the reader.
But if we are always cautious writers who keep our enthusiasm hidden, we may ultimately lose out to competitors who seem pleased when things go right for their customers. What is likely to happen once we see writing expressing that a company is delighted to have the opportunity to help with our travel arrangements? And wishes us a great holiday and thanks us for our custom? Generally, as long as we sense it is sincere, we rather like it. The company that simply con? rms the booking may start to look slightly less attractive. In our estimation, we may downgrade their good performance to ‘satisfactory’ and may upgrade the enthusiastic company’s good performance to ‘excellent’. That is what harnessing word power can do.
Making an impact through written word power 59 In order to understand how to harness written word power, I suggest you look afresh at the written English words that businesses use successfully. You can do this by actively identifying words that engage your attention in a positive way. They may be words used within your own workplace, but they do not have to be. They can be words that attract us as consumers. In the business writing workshops that I run, these are the power words that people routinely say attract them most: free, advice without cost, value for money, low cost, cost effective; success, successful; now, immediate, fast, today; easy, ef? cient, effective; bene? s, advantages, results; help, support; expert, expertise, professional, professionalism, know-how; latest, world ? rst; best, excellence, ? rst class; safe, green, eco-friendly, energy ef? cient; valued, valuable; please, thank you. As these are the words that consumers themselves identify as attracting their attention and buy-in, these must indeed be very powerful words. They therefore provide an excellent base for the sort of words you could and should be choosing routinely to get yourself and your organization noticed for the right reasons. 60 Make an impact with your written English Take a moment to identify which of these words you could justi? bly and comfortably use in your daily business writing. Now for a crucially important question: do you use any of them currently? If not, why not? Remember that any list does not have to end here. Can you think of other words that you could add, to make your own customized list of business power words? My clients over the years take delight in compiling their own lists of power words. Ask your colleagues to join you in this exercise and make a list of any relevant power words, as and when they occur to you. Power words that I (or we) should be using Look at the world around you Looking at the world around you is not just useful from the point of view of identifying power words.
It also helps you see that making the best connections with readers can also be about designing writing where the focus is not just on you or your organization. For example, we may buy products because they are endorsed by celebrities whose buying power gives them access to the best choices available and we may therefore think that if they use these products, then we should too. In fact, one very well-known international cosmetics retailer uses English to suggest that we buy their celebrity-endorsed products because, by implication, we are ‘worth it’. They very neatly convert the self-preoccupied ‘I’ of the celebrity to the inclusive ‘you’ Making an impact through written word power