From Push to Pull: How to Be More Persuasive in Your Writing

If you are like most international professionals I know, you literally spend weeks each year writing business correspondence: reports, letters, slide presentations that are in fact documentation… and let’s not forget emails!

When you start writing these business documents, you usually have a goal in mind. Then sometimes you get lost in the detail, you write too directly, or your key messages get lost in the lengthy paragraphs.

Results can be disappointing: No action was taken, no decision was made, no one mentioned your brilliant report in conversation at the weekly department meeting. Sometimes you can’t even be sure than anyone even read your document!

If this sounds familiar, then hang in there, because there is hope!

How to make your writing more persuasive

Just about every client I work with wants to know how to make their reports more persuasive, so the reports, recommendations and writers have a positive impact on the business.

My clients want to influence decisions, get actions taken, and create positive change. They understand that when there is no change, there is no growth.

How can you persuade in writing to increase your impact and influence positive change? Here are 5 of the foolproof techniques I share with my clients in my Writing for Impact workshop:

1. Start with a structure

No matter what your reporting template looks like, make sure you’ve got a logical structure built into your document. Whether it’s an audit report or a scientific report, it’s easier for the reader to grasp your key messages and follow your argumentation if you have a structure.

Your structure may be explicit, using subtitles, or it may be implicit, embedded in the language you choose. Either way, a structure will help you create a convincing argument.

2. Add facts and figures

No business report would be complete without facts and figures to anchor your arguments. These facts and figures should be indisputable. They will establish the foundation for your supporting analysis, comparisons and conclusions.

Add figures like graphs, charts and images as long as they support your argumentation. The key point of any figure should be self-evident, otherwise it will distract the reader rather than add clarity.

3. Explain the impact

I’m a firm believer in the idea that people will make better, more informed decisions when they understand the impact of doing – or not doing – something. It may be impact to the organization, the environment, the team or something personal. Regardless, knowing the impact gives your business partner the opportunity to make a different decision than they might have otherwise made.

Add in equal measures of sincerity and authenticity, so that no one feels like they are being manipulated or bullied.

4. Invoke the pain-pleasure principle

In the end, we all make decisions because they will either add pleasure or take away pain. If your recommendations will save my unit $15,000, 15% or 15 man-days, then I want to know about it. And I will most likely implement it.

Remember that emotions play a part in every decision we make, so always, in a professional manner, appeal to their emotions, even in writing. Difficult? Yes. Impossible? No.

5. Make your document ‘easy on the eye’

Please. I can’t stress it enough. There is (almost) nothing worse than opening up a document and seeing page after page after page of 20-line paragraphs. Nothing kills my joy at learning something new than having to weed through pages of text that have no breaks, no diagrams, no subtitles, no numbering and no white space.

Write more persuasively immediately

These strategies come straight from my experience, working with international professionals and having reviewed literally hundreds of their reports. They are things you can put to work TODAY in your business writing to help you persuade, increase your impact and influence others to take decisions and action.

Let me know how these strategies help you, and please add your own in the comments below.

All the best,

Tracie

Quality Assurance Communication

Advertisements

Deliver a killer presentation with these strategies

Several times a year, I deliver a workshop called Preparing Powerful Content for Presentations. It’s a two-day workshop where we look at strategies, techniques and insights on how to create a killer presentation. Essentially, the workshop is all about what you can do from the point you are first asked to give a presentation, to when the slides are finished.

In the workshop, pushback inevitably comes when participants are asked to take a step back and rethink the concept and create a storyline for their presentation based on what they’ve learned. I get responses like ‘I can’t change it. I’ve already delivered the presentation’ or ‘But I’m just preparing the presentation, I’m not delivering it.’

These responses will NOT help to create positive change in your organization.

Trying new concepts to create ‘more’

And so I encourage my participants to start from scratch. Yes, restart the whole thing. Are they happy to do that? Maybe 30% are ready and excited to jump in and start all over again.

But let me tell you, after we finish, 100% of the participants are glad they did!

Something magical happens when you turn off and tune out old ideas, preconceived notions, and perceived limitations. And it’s a joy to see the final result.

Some of the key learning points from my Preparing Powerful Content for Presentations workshop are:

  1. Know the goal

Know exactly what action you want the audience to take when they leave your presentation. Because if you don’t know, they won’t know either. There should always be an action, so push yourself to identify it. I guarantee there is more to your presentation than just ‘informing’. (Can’t figure it out? Get in touch and I’ll help you.)

  1. Create a gap

Create a gap, a pain, an opportunity, between the current situation and the future that could be, if only they take the action you are proposing. Because there IS a gap, there IS a pain point, there IS an opportunity. Otherwise what you want to tell them is of little value.

  1. Show multi-level benefits

Include the benefits of doing something and the risks of not doing something. At each of these levels: society and the environment (possibly), the organization, the department, the individual making the decision. Make sure to address each of those in your presentation content and strategy if you’ve assessed that it’s relevant for your audience.

  1. Get personal

The old adage goes, ‘People buy from people they know, like and trust.’ I take it a step further: People buy from, support, champion, recommend, refer, help and promote people they know, like and trust. Add anecdotes from your experience, empathize because you used to do their job, or show in some other way that you know what it’s like to be in their position.

  1. Inspire action

Inspire your audience with what is possible to be/do/have in the future. Many people are just fine with the way things are, thank you very much. So asking people to take on change can be tough. But if you believe in the change, in yourself, and in their ability to be successful with the change, you can lead them to a better position: in work and very possibly, in life.

Unlimited possibilities

Here’s what you can create:

  • A presentation with an active, compelling concept
  • A clear understanding of who the audience is and what they need from the speaker
  • An engaging storyline that keeps the audience’s attention and takes them on a journey
  • A slide deck that with key messages and supportive images that resonate
  • A clear and explicit action that the audience should take

Create more – for your audience and for yourself. Let us know how these strategies work for you.

Wishing you every success as you prepare powerful content for your presentations!

All the best,

Tracie

Quality Assurance Communication

5 Ways to Keep the Peace on Vacation or at Work

I’ve just spent a month with family. What struck me during this trip home is how different we all are. How varied our beliefs or ‘truths’ are. And how differently we communicate with each other.

There is the peacemaker, the influencer, the negative nelly, the researcher, and the know-it-all. It makes for interesting and stimulating dinner conversations, sometimes to the extreme. At times, the role we take on varies depending on how we feel or whose company we are in.

It’s how we deal with these differences in communication styles and opinions that I find intriguing, because you could compare our family dinner conversations to communicating in a business setting: Five people, different personalities, ages, life experiences, communication styles, needs and goals.

Breaking it down, here are some of the techniques we use in my family to manage our differences and conflicts, consciously or unconsciously:

1. Ask questions.

Sometimes we make assumptions about how someone will react to our opinion or desires, so we don’t ask for their help or opinion. We leap too far into a fantasy conversation and create an end-result that might never have been if we had actually had the conversation.

  • For more effective communication, and 100% better results, ask questions to get more information, clarify points or positions, and get agreement (or not!). We might end up where we thought we would, but we also have a chance of a very different outcome.

2. Listen with an open mind AND an open heart.

It’s so easy to listen superficially because we are texting someone not present or reading an article, newspaper or other document. This is a lose-lose proposition.

  • When we listen, and I mean REALLY listen, keep an open mind, and connect with empathy, we can truly understand what is being said and WHY. Understanding the motivation behind someone’s opinion can often lead us to a better understanding, a more appropriate insight, and a way to add value to the other person.

3. Be patient.

Occasionally when we are speaking with someone, they haven’t even stopped explaining the situation and we know what they should do. Or our speaking partner is taking forever to get to the point and we are mentally tapping our foot on the floor frustrated that the conversation isn’t going more quickly.

  • This is where we turn on the internal control of patience. Doing this allows others to finish what they are saying without feeling rushed. No annoyed facial expressions or verbal cues to signal the other person to ‘move it along’. It’s a sign of respect.

4. Be kind.

Does an unkind thought or word come to mind sometimes when you are speaking to someone? Do you want to tell the truth when the truth could hurt or cause significant damage to your relationship?

  • Let the unkind words go, and if you have to say something, choose your words carefully. Kindness is a currency with value than cannot always be measured in dollars and cents.

5. Change the subject

You’re not getting the response or result you want. Or you can see that the other person is simply not going to change their mind, or worse, calm down. It can make for an uncomfortable situation.

  • Once in a while, it ‘pays’ to change the subject, agree to disagree, or even walk away. Not all conflicts can be resolved in the moment, whether it’s family or business. So take a step back, rethink your position, and decide on an appropriate course of action. Sometimes you have to pick your battle, and permanently damaging the relationship may not be worth it.

I’ve had a wonderful, refreshing visit with my family. It has enriched me and most definitely challenged me on many levels. I’ll take what I’ve learned this trip back into my work, helping international professionals communicate their key messages more clearly, concisely and persuasively. These same strategies and techniques contribute to communication success in business and with your families, too.

All the best,

Tracie

Quality Assurance Communication

Are You Accidentally Making Yourself Look Less Professional?

“I, um, I just wanted to say that, ah, …”

I just came from a presentation given by an expert in their field. Well, the presenter’s bio said they were an expert in the topic. But right from the beginning, I had my doubts. It had nothing to do with content of the presentation and EVERYTHING to do with delivery. You see, I counted 5 ‘um’s and ‘ah’s from the speaker in the first 3 minutes of their presentation. Not a good sign. I knew it was going to be a painful 90 minutes.

You might wonder why I started counting the ‘um’s and ‘ah’s. It comes naturally, from being a Toastmaster. One of the things we do at our Toastmasters meetings, at least at my club, is to count ‘um’s, ‘ah’s and other filler words spoken aloud … by EVERY person attending the meeting.

The Ah Counter, the person spending the entire meeting focusing on this task, reports the number of times – every – single – person – said those words during the meeting. At first it sounds like an awful thing to have done to you: Someone counts your ‘um’s and ‘ah’s and then tells the entire room how many you uttered. Embarrassing!

In fact, it’s a gift. You can no longer live in blissful ignorance of your bad habit. And that’s a good thing. Because once you are aware of your penchant to say ‘um’ and ‘ah’, you become instantly aware of it the next time one of those words comes out of your mouth.

So you can immediately begin to STOP saying them by developing strategies and tips to put in place each time you speak in public. It all starts with awareness. And then you work at it, every time you speak in front of others.

And don’t forget the pride that will result from this: The day the Ah Counter SKIPS your name because you didn’t utter a single ‘um’, ‘ah’, or any other filler word is a great day! That, my friends, is a real moment to celebrate!

You can be THE expert in your field, but your content and your professionalism won’t shine through to your audience if you utter 177 ‘um’s and ‘ah’s in your 87-minute presentation.

Yes, that was the final count during the presentation I watched today: 177 ‘um’s and ‘ah’s. I didn’t bother to count the other filler words. The 177 was bad enough. It was painful for the audience. It was all anyone talked about at the break. But did the speaker even realize they had this habit?

I engaged the speaker during the break, asking a question about the content of the presentation. After a few moments, the speaker asked for some feedback on their presentation. They brought up the topic of the ‘um’s themselves, which created an opening for me introduce ways to overcome them. All in all, it worked out well. The fact that the speaker was already aware of the bad habit to some degree made it easy for us to have the conversation.

Here are some strategies and tips to stop saying filler words that have worked for me and for my clients:

  1. Create an awareness that you say ‘um’, ‘ah’ and other filler words. Have a colleague be your own personal Ah Counter, record yourself, etc.
  2. Know your topic inside and out and know what you want to say inside and out. That way, the information comes out of your mouth with ease and confidence; no searching for what to say next.
  3. Keep your mouth closed. When you are thinking of what to say next, make an effort to keep your mouth closed. When we open our mouths when we are thinking, we tend to utter sounds like ‘um’, ‘ah’ or other filler words.
  4. Choreograph how you will move from idea to idea, slide to slide. That means knowing what comes next, and next, and next in your presentation. You don’t have to memorize a script, but you should know the flow of your presentation by heart. (After all, what would you do if you had no slides??)
  5. Work on your confidence speaking in front of a room. You might even consider joining Toastmasters.

Have an insight, strategy or tip for reducing the number of filler words we say? Please share in the comments below.

Wishing you every success in your public speaking!

All the best,

Tracie

Quality Assurance Communication

PS: Keep an eye out for my open workshops in the Rhein-Neckar region on how to Prepare and Deliver a Dynamic Presentation hosted by the IHK. The next one is in three weeks!

From Good to Great Business Reports in 3 Easy Steps

Working with a new client recently has hammered home a few key points about how any team can take their business reports from good to great. This is especially critical if you have a new team, new report writing responsibilities in an existing team, or a team that is located around the globe.

As part of the project to improve their report writing abilities, I analysed the reports this new department had published so far. In parallel, I had in-depth conversations with management about the department’s role, their stakeholders and the desired impact of their reports on the organisation.

What I realized was that the same limitations and roadblocks that affect well-established teams as they write and publish business reports affected this department. Very often:

  • A report template exists, but it is being used differently by the teams or team members within the department.
  • Report writing guidance in the form of a manual doesn’t exist, or it exists but isn’t being used actively by members of the team.
  • No official report writing ‘quality control mechanism’ exists within the department, except for the ‘chain of command’ review when a team is finalizing a report.

As a result, there is no consistent content, style, language or formality in the reports published.

This can be further complicated by having strict limitations on the length of reports. One recent conversation with a client went like this:

Me: “How long are your reports on average?”

Client: “Up to 30 pages, two pages maximum is allowed per topic, and the executive summary can only be one page long.”

Me: “I notice that risk to the business isn’t addressed in the executive summaries of half of the reports.”

Client: “That’s because we ran out of space, so we left it out.”

Me (in my head): Ouch.

Does any of this sound familiar? If it does, there are 3 easy steps that you can take to ensure your team’s business reports go from good to great:

1. Document internal guidelines

Document internal guidelines for business report writing that define the content required in each section of the report, common terms that should be used in your specific context, and style and formality requirements.

It’s okay to include desired length of sections, chapters and the full report, but these should be a guidelines. If team members are struggling to meet these limits, the underlying cause may not be report length, but critical thinking skills.

2. Conduct team training globally

Conduct team training globally to push out the new report writing guidelines. Such training is much easier these days because of the wonders of technology. Gone are the days of having to bring your entire team together physically.

It can also be helpful to provide the team with a report that is already written using the new guidelines. That way, your team has a model so they can see how the new guidelines work in practice. When the team is aware of and understands your expectations, they can meet them!

3. Get buy in from the top.

It’s important that the team’s top managers support the guidelines and contribute to having them taken on board. This might mean an encouraging email sent to all team members or a short introduction at the beginning of the training session.

Feedback will ensure the new guidelines are followed. I propose that as a team manager, you edit less, and instead, meet with your team member who wrote the report. Highlight where the report hits the mark, and where the report misses the report. Then send the team member off to make the necessary adjustments.

In no time at all, your team will be writing more consistent, professional, value-added reports. Your stakeholders will notice the improvement (remember, no news is good news, but positive feedback is great). And you’ll save time, because you aren’t the one actually making the revisions. Win, win, win!

All the best,

Tracie

Quality Assurance Communication

Put Your Dancing Shoes On, It’s Time to Rock the Stage

Preparation is critical to my success, whether I’m delivering a workshop or speaking to a roomful of my ideal clients.  And whenever I get ready to speak in those situations, I like to take a step back and plan my dance moves… I like to call it my ‘choreography’.

This week I’m delivering two Audit Report Writing workshops to a new client. Because it’s the first time I’m delivering a full workshop(s) to them, it’s important that I get it right.

I’ve invested time getting to know the client and their staff, I’ve tailored the training material to their audit methodology, and I’ve gotten the stamp of approval from the Head of Internal Audit to deliver the workshops.

There’s one thing left to do before I go ‘on stage’: make sure I am ready to seamlessly move from one key message to the next, change from one slide to the next, and transition from topic to topic.

Here are 7 of the strategies I use to prepare myself for any presentation or speech, which I share in more detail in my Preparing Powerful Content workshop:

  1. Plan the first section of your presentation carefully. I still do it for my Audit Report Writing workshop, even though I’ve delivered it well over 50 times.
  2. Identify the relevant aspects of your experience and qualifications to resonate with that particular audience. This will create instant credibility during your self-introduction.
  3. Plan the key messages for every slide. Include supporting anecdote/example/comparison, and timing.
  4. Identify the ‘Ah-a moment’ of each slide in the body of your presentation. If there isn’t one, don’t show the slide.
  5. Plan the transitions between slides and topics. Use signposting language to take your audience by the hand with you.
  6. Know what you can cut out per slide and overall. Flexibility is key, and the audience shouldn’t feel that you are cutting anything out even if you are.
  7. Plan your conclusion. Skip the ‘Thank you for your attention’ slide and instead, focus on your main messages and call to action.

Why choreograph your next presentation?

When you are clear on these things, you can deliver with confidence and authenticity. Planning may take you 5 minutes, 50 minutes or 5 hours. Regardless, you will be far more successful, and your audience is much more likely to benefit from your messages if your choreography is mapped out before you put on your dancing shoes and step onto the stage.

Wishing you much success in your next presentation, speech or workshop!

All the best,

Tracie

Quality Assurance Communication

Create a communication playbook to get better results

“Tracie, I’m frustrated. At meetings, I need to get agreement from my business partners, and it’s just not happening, or the process is lengthy and painful. How can I get better results from my meetings?”

This was one of the questions that was posed to me at the beginning of my Global Communication Competence workshop last week. Almost every workshop participant was nodding their head in unison as Mark asked the question.

It’s a common pain point: We spend so much time in meetings, discussing back and forth, often not really hearing what the other is saying. And as a result, no one actually gets ‘their’ desired outcome.

There is a host of things you can do before, during and after a meeting to support an outcome that suits all or most stakeholders. One of my favorites is making sure your communication playbook is updated and in order before the meeting. That way you can reference it during the meeting exactly when you need to.

What is a communication playbook?

An easy way to understand a communication playbook is to think about a sports playbook. If you’ve ever watched an NFL football game, you’ll be familiar with the concept.

A playbook is a collection of ‘plays’ or tactics that cover possible situations that the team wants to execute or react to on the football field. The plays in the book include common plays that are used quite often, and other plays that are used less frequently but are useful to get the football down the field in tricky situations.

Your communication playbook should include tactics and strategies for common communication interactions and challenging situations that might arise.

In Mark’s case, his communication playbook should include how to prepare for meetings where he has to get agreement with stakeholders, whether that agreement is on recommendations, audit findings, or next steps.

create-communication-playbook-better-results-tracie-marquardt-2

 

What should you include in your communication playbook?

Your personal communication playbook is just that: personal. You decide what to include and in how much detail. You decide if it is written in a notebook, on your computer, on the back of an envelope, or is only in your head.

At a minimum, I recommend addressing common communication interactions in your communication playbook, as in Mark’s case above.

To help Mark get started, I proposed he add the following aspects to each play in his communication playbook, and then add relevant questions for each aspect. I’ve given you a couple of examples to get started:

  1. Stakeholders
    Who are the stakeholders in the meeting?
    What do I know about each stakeholder? Include both personal and professional details.
  2. Objectives
    What is my objective for the meeting?
    What do I think their objective is?
  3. Positioning
    What is my position?
    What do I think their position is?
  4. Objections
    What might their objections be? List each objection.
    How can I overcome each objection?
  5. Team
    Who is on my team with me?
    What role will each of us play?

How can you benefit most from your communication playbook?

Prepare for each situation by first looking at existing plays in your communication playbook to determine which would best apply. But don’t forget that every communication interaction is slightly different: different business partners, different topics, different goals, different conditions and different consequences.

It’s a good idea to consult your playbook and then reflect on this particular situation. Decide how you might use the identified differences to create a different strategy, and likely a better outcome, than if you apply the same strategy to every communication interaction.

Wishing you every success as you develop and use your communication playbook!

All the best,

Tracie Marquardt

Quality Assurance Communication

P.S: Start 2018 the RIGHT way! Mark your calendar: My open webinar How to Write a Persuasive Audit Report will take place on January 9, 2018, at 18:00 CET. You’ll learn strategies and techniques that I’ve shared with thousands of audit professionals around the world. So save the date in your calendar TODAY. A registration link will follow in my next Up Your Impact newsletter.