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.

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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.

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5 Must-know Techniques to Minimize Your Risk When Writing

I’m hot off a tour of Europe delivering four International Audit Report Writing workshops back-to-back. A common theme amongst workshop participants? How to minimize the risk that readers don’t arrive at the same conclusions we did. If we can minimize that risk, we stand a good chance that our recommendations will be accepted. And that makes it worth the time and effort we put in before and during the writing of the report.

Communicating in writing is a challenge

In several workshops, participants shared that after their on-site audit missions, they spent days, even weeks in some cases, drafting and editing their audit reports. The goal was always to deliver value-added recommendations to the audited entity and the organization in general. The challenges were writing clearly, concisely and persuasively.

If they didn’t, endless discussions and disagreements arose with auditees. Multiple meetings and calls followed; edits and sometimes rewrites were necessary. At times, this resulted in watered-down recommendations, escalations, and in the end, a less effective report.

To make it even more complicated, there were reviews and edits by four or five reviewers up the line once the initial reports were drafted. Some participants protested that the result looked nothing like the original text, and others were pained that someone else’s style was imposed over their own. Sound familiar?

Minimize your risk

There are numerous things you can do to minimize the risk that your readers won’t come to the same conclusions you did, and to ensure your recommendations are accepted. And it starts BEFORE you write!

Before you put pen to paper:

During the writing process:

  1. Write in short, digestible sentences. If you aren’t sure if your sentences are ‘the right length’, run the readability check available in MS Word to find out your average sentence length.
  2. Use plain English. There’s no need to use mysterious jargon, complex connecting words, and complicated verb structures. KISS is still a popular acronym for a reason.
  3. Interpret for your reader. Yes, the facts must be stated and ideally be indisputable. But facts aren’t enough. Interpret those facts for the reader, or they will do it for you.
  4. Structure your arguments. In audit, we use criteria, condition, cause, risk and recommendation as the desired structure. Not an auditor? Other structures work, too, to take the reader by the hand in a logical, persuasive fashion. The point is to have one.
  5. Make an action-oriented recommendation. One of the most frustrating things for readers is to plough through a long report and then not have a clear recommendation to act on. Tell your reader what you want them to do. Find out more here.

How do you minimize the risk when writing your reports? Share your writing strategies and techniques in the comments. I would love to hear from you!

Wishing you every success in your writing.

All the best,

Tracie Marquardt

Quality Assurance Communication

P.S.: I’m launching an Audit Report Writing webinar soon! One-hour of coaching for YOU from the comfort of your office or sofa. So stay tuned!

Oops, I did it again

This week I was in a meeting with 11 other attendees and I did the unimaginable. I interrupted the speaker in the middle of their speech. Thirty seconds later, I could have crawled under the table and been perfectly happy to stay there the rest of the meeting. You see, I fell off the wagon…

I have for years considered myself to be a recovering ‘interrupter’. I used to do it more often, say 10 years ago. I mostly had trouble during those annoying conference calls where you think someone has stopped speaking so you start. But in reality, they haven’t stopped talking – they were just taking a breath. I’m guessing most of you have experienced something similar.

But those weren’t the only occasions I interrupted. Sometimes it was inadvertent, and other times I wanted to jump in with my point – which is rude if I’m honest with myself.

How to stop interrupting others?

So I came up with a ‘recovery’ plan: On conference calls, I would literally sit at my desk in my office and bite the front of my tongue so that I wouldn’t speak. It worked most of the time, and I considered myself fairly cured of my interrupting habit.

Yes, I slip occasionally. Sometimes I catch myself: A sound has come out of my mouth already, but I stop there and try to focus once again on listening. And THAT is the real issue, isn’t it? Listening to what the other person is saying.

Most of us aren’t perfect listeners. (If you are, congratulations! Please share how you do it in the comments below – seriously.)

Why do we stop listening?

Some of you might be interrupters like me. Some of you may be daydreamers. Daydreamers think about something totally different from the topic being discussed in the meeting. (Because frankly, thinking about an upcoming holiday is far more interesting – sound familiar??)

Others ‘rehearse’ – I hear this often from my audit clients during my Interviewing Skills workshops. Auditors have certain questions they must ask, and they’re so focused on making sure they don’t forget the next question that they actually stop listening to their business counterpart. This is a dangerous listening block for an auditor because you can actually miss key points or evidence that is needed to achieve the right audit result.

Why should you listen carefully?

Here are three quick reasons to listen to your business counterparts:

  1. It’s a sign of respect. Someone is sharing their thoughts, opinions and results of their work with you. Give them your full attention, even if it is just long enough to ask them to come back later.
  2. You may learn something that will help you move forward in your work or your life.
  3. It’s an opportunity to learn what your business counterpart wants and needs. And once you know that, you can propose a solution, product or service that will fill their want and help you build your business.

What are YOUR listening blocks?

Have a look at these examples and choose the block, or blocks, that are most applicable to you. Then sit back and think of how you can overcome this block(s).

Common Listening Blocks: Which are yours and how will you overcome them?

  • Filtering: Listening for particular information and ignoring the rest.
  • Judging: Jumping to conclusions based on your own opinions and experience.
  • Solving: Thinking about solutions before your business counterpart has stopped speaking.
  • Appeasing: Politely agreeing so you can move the conversation forward more quickly.
  • Rehearsing: Determining what to ask next while the interviewee is speaking.
  • Daydreaming: Letting your mind wander to other (more interesting) topics.
  • Interrupting: Interjecting before the other person is finished speaking.

Good luck in your self-assessment of your listening blocks. Get in touch if you would like some advice!

Wishing you every success with your listening skills.

All the best,

Tracie Marquardt

Quality Assurance Communication

Why your audience is critical to your success

No matter which workshop I’m teaching, we always talk about ‘the audience’ of your communication. Because the audience is relevant, whether you’re delivering a presentation, crafting a report, giving an update in a meeting, or writing an email.

In fact, if you’re communicating anything – to anyone – you have an audience, which is fantastic: It’s an opportunity for you to share, connect and add value to others.

And when you do that, you can create positive change and growth: for your audience, for you, for your company, for the world.

Take advantage of the opportunity

Your audience wants something from you. They want you to give them wisdom, insight, facts and figures, results of research, a recommendation, details on the new process, etc. And they want you not to waste their time, because they are all busy.

In business, your audience might be a set of stakeholders that you communicate with regularly. Do you know exactly who they are and what they need from you?

A real-life stakeholder conundrum

In a recent presentation I gave to a group of audit executives at the Audit Challenge in Frankfurt, we talked about audit report stakeholders, and how knowing their needs drives audit’s success in an organization.

Case in point: There were 12 participants in one my audit report writing workshops earlier in the year. I asked two questions at the beginning of the first day of the workshop:

  1. Who are your stakeholders?
  2. What do they need from your audit reports?

I got eight different opinions, not just on stakeholder needs, but on who those main stakeholders were. (Nope, not kidding!)

Why were there so many different opinions, especially since all of the participants worked for the same company?

Blame it on poor communication

I believe it was a communication issue, or to be more precise, a ‘lack of communication’ issue.

This team couldn’t agree on who their main stakeholders were because they had never discussed it before. They had assumed it was clear within the team, but that wasn’t the reality.

Not having agreement on who their main stakeholders were created the follow-on challenge of trying to identify the most critical information to include in the audit reports.

As a result, this team’s reports were not as effective as audit management wanted. Their department was not adding the desired value to the organization. And that can spell disaster for long-term trust, confidence and growth.

The lesson learned

This team learned that they needed to regroup and ask some questions, both internally within their department and externally within the company.

  • Who are the potential stakeholders of their reports?
  • Of those, who are the main stakeholders?

Then they put themselves in the shoes of those main stakeholders and asked:

  • What would I need from the audit reports to do my job better?

The department then took a very important step:

  • They asked these stakeholders what they wanted from the audit reports.

Finally, the department compared this information to their own ideas, and made minor modifications to the audit report template and guidance to ensure their stakeholder needs were being met – and ideally, exceeded.

Applying these lessons to your communication

You may not be an auditor, but there may be takeaways for you, too, in this tale.

Every time you communicate with an audience, learn who they are and what they need and want from you. Then make sure you give it to them.

You may want to give them more, but don’t give more without giving what’s truly needed. And don’t give them so much that they can’t find what they need because of excess information.

And remember: Your stakeholders’ needs can change over time. So if you have an audience you communicate with regularly, make sure to build in a mechanism to find out if their needs and wants have changed. The information you provide will stay relevant, and so will you!

Wishing you every success in your communication!

All the best,

Tracie Marquardt

Quality Assurance Communication

Writing Efficiently Is An Art, Not Rocket Science

 

Writing efficiently is a concept that sometimes seems unachievable. We write, and then we edit. And then our bosses comment and edit. Then we rewrite. Then our boss comments and edits again. This can go round and round, especially when multiple stakeholders have a say in the final document that is released.

The question becomes, how do we minimize everyone’s time invested in writing a quality document that achieves the desired result?

It’s not rocket science. It’s an art. And it all hinges on planning.

This might seem counter-intuitive, but the more time we spend up front planning, the less time it will take to create the desired final document. As Mark Twain says, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

Here are my top 5 techniques and strategies for writing efficiently:

1. Know your purpose

Why are you writing this particular document? What are you trying to achieve? Try writing the purpose of your report in 140 characters or less. The clearer you are on your purpose, the more efficient you will be when you write. Because everything you include should support that purpose, no more and no less.

2. Know your reader

Who will read the report? What information do they need from you to do their jobs better, make a decision, or approve your recommendation? Understanding what your reader needs means you don’t have to include what they don’t need.

3. Plan the content

Start with your template. What are the sections you need to include, and what is the main point(s) for each section? If you’re old school like me, scribble your notes on a pad of paper or use small cards, one for each main point. If you prefer using technology, use your tablet to draw a diagram of concepts or some other program to record your ideas – without starting to write the full document.

4. Cut, cut, cut

Forget about writing everything you know about the topic, or everything you did to come to your conclusions and recommendation. Granted, sometimes this is necessary, e.g. in a research report, but most business documents are not research reports. Include only what you need to support your conclusions and recommendations. That means facts, figures and surrounding context. You’re not writing a book; you’re writing with a specific purpose.

5. Put yourself in the readers’ shoes

As you finish up with your document, think back to your planning stage. What do your readers need from this document? Read the report as if you are your reader, whether it’s your boss or five other people in the organization. Would you need all of the information included in the report? Many times we feel like we must include all of the extra information because it shows the amount of effort we put into the research, it shows how well we understand the topic, and sometimes, that it justifies our being on the payroll. My response to that? Leave it out.

The end result

By spending up-front time planning what should be in the document, you’ll end up writing less. This means less writing time, and less editing time when you send it to your boss or other stakeholders for their input.

Over time, you’ll see your report writing efficiency increase. It’s like exercising and creating muscle memory. The more you practice these efficiency techniques, the faster you’ll get, and the more time savings you’ll realize. Your reports will be short, clear and concise. And your readers will thank you.

We all have our own techniques and strategies for writing efficiently. What are yours? Share them in the comments below. Because by sharing, we create more value for those around us who have the same interests and needs.

All the best,

Tracie Marquardt

Quality Assurance Communication

A small shift in learning philosophy can increase your ultimate success

Recently, I asked one of my clients how often they present. The answer: twice a year, maybe. My client was referring to how often they stand in front of a roomful of people with a slide presentation behind them. Hmmm… Really? Is that all?

I would like to broaden the definition of ‘presenting’ to any time we have to speak to someone and persuade them to take action, support a project, sign a contract, give up the old way for the new way of doing something, etc. With slides or without slides behind us.

That means you are presenting every day: in meetings, on telephone calls, on video calls, in elevators or sometimes, even in a bathroom. (A wee anecdote comes to mind about convincing a female Head of IT of the importance of certain system functionality while we were washing our hands at the same time – she was really hard to tie down for a meeting!)

What does it take to be successful if we use the new definition of presenting?

  • Topic expertise
  • Well thought-out arguments and logic
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Confidence
  • Excellent communication skills: questioning, listening, negotiating, speaking, influencing, etc.

Yes indeed, the same skills you need when you present with slides behind you twice a year. That’s why it’s so important to work on improving our ‘presentation’ skills every day, not just in spurts twice a year to get us ready for the official presentation to a roomful of people.

I can imagine the moans and groans now: I don’t have time to worry about my communication skills every day! Of course I am emotionally intelligent – that’s just a buzzword anyway! I’m right brained so naturally, I’m logical!

I believe there is always something we can learn from others at meetings, in presentations and on calls. The learning might be acquiring new information and knowledge. It might also be learning communication strategy and techniques.

We can learn what NOT to do by watching or listening to others. (You know what I’m talking about. Remember that time you were sitting in a meeting, watching and listening, and then something went wrong. You thought “Note to self: Don’t ever … “)

Or we can learn what TO do by watching or listening to presenting ‘greats’, from skilled colleagues to Steve Jobs and Martin Luther King Jr.

Here are 10 ways you can learn and improve your communication skills every day without much effort:

  1. Ask for feedback from someone you trust to be honest with you after a business interaction.
  2. Assess the outcome you got from a business interaction against the outcome you wanted, taking into account mood and tone at the conclusion of the interaction.
  3. Sign up for internal seminars on communication strategy and techniques – they are often less expensive than external seminars.
  4. Read/listen to online resources like LinkedIn, podcasts, etc., on your ride to/from work.
  5. Organize a brown-bag lunch series at work to share expertise and experience.
  6. Read a non-fiction book for 30 minutes a day. (I’ve just started The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, M.D.)
  7. Do something you’re scared of every day, like making that call you have been avoiding or calling someone and sharing with them how you can help them be more successful.
  8. Join Toastmasters to improve your public speaking skills. (I’m the Vice President of Education at the Heidelberg International Toastmasters Club at the time of writing – I highly recommend Toastmasters to improve your speaking skills within a safe community.)
  9. Call someone in your network to catch up: ask questions, listen to answers, share insights, offer help and share successes.
  10. Consistently ask for and volunteer for opportunities where you have to speak in front of others, whether it’s one person, three people or 60 people.

Learn by listening. Learn by watching. Learn by doing. If you consciously build this philosophy into your life, you’ll improve your communication skills and your success before you know it.

And number 11: Find a communication skills trainer or coach. We’re here to help.

Wishing you every success in your journey to excellent communication skills and success.

All the best,

Tracie Marquardt

Quality Assurance Communication

The ABCs You Were Never Taught at School

  • A scientist who loves research but hates presenting his results to management because speaking in public is out of his comfort zone.
  • An American project manager living in Germany who has realized the hard way that working internationally means that shifts in style, tone and language are required when communicating across cultures.
  • An auditor struggling during international audit missions because he is perceived as being very direct and sometimes demanding, putting off audit clients and even causing escalations.

These are three of the people I met at a recent networking event, where attendees were asked about the challenges they face in their professional lives. Every story I heard was unique, but there was a common thread: A gap in communication competence and comfort.

So while it was a great networking event, I felt there was something missing from the discussion: WHY are these successful international professionals experiencing these challenges?

What’s missing might be those things most of us never learned at school. I call them the ABCs of communication success: Assertiveness, Behaviour and Competence. So let’s get back to the basics:

A: Assertiveness

Being assertive means you are confident in expressing your thoughts and ideas while respecting those of others. You can stand up for yourself without being aggressive. It’s the best way to communicate to ensure your messages are heard and acted on.

If you are overly passive, people may use you as a doormat if you aren’t careful. You might take on too much work or not give your opinion in a meeting… and your opinion might just be the voice of reason that carries a great idea forward.

The good news: You CAN learn to be assertive rather than aggressive or passive.

B: Behaviour

Your behaviour, or your response to someone else’s behaviour, can make or break your success. There’s good news here, too: You are free to CHOOSE your behaviour, and you are free to choose how you REACT to someone else’s behaviour.

Helping others, avoiding overly emotional reactions, and avoiding overtly competitive behaviour when it’s not appropriate in the situation – these will help you communicate effectively. Doing the opposite can prevent you from being successful.

C: Competence

When I was at university, there wasn’t any guidance on HOW to communicate well. And I never knew what I was missing until I started working in the real world.

Writing an action-oriented report, delivering a dynamic presentation, facilitating meetings, motivating a team to success – these are all skills we need to master. And if you’re like me, a little practice goes along way.

A Strategy to Strengthen Your Communication Skills

If you are not sure why your messages aren’t being appreciated or acted on, or why you are constantly having issues with clients and colleagues, it’s time to find out.

  1. Make your own observations about where YOU feel you aren’t succeeding or communicating well.
  2. Ask for feedback from your boss, colleagues, clients and other business associates.
  3. Analyze all of the feedback together, looking for patterns, repeated observations or common situations.
  4. Prioritize the communication skills you want to tackle first, so you get further, faster.
  5. Identify resources to help you fill the gap, including books, workshops, and finding a mentor.
  6. Take advantage of every opportunity to practice: Volunteer to run meetings, ask to lead a project group, offer to give the monthly departmental presentation, write the next report due to the Board, etc.
  7. Keep a journal of communication goals, successes and challenges. Track what works, what doesn’t, and write down your ideas of how to change it next time.

The scientist, the project manager and the auditor are all educated, intelligent and considered successful by their peers. By identifying their communication skills gaps and executing a plan to fill them, they can reach their ultimate potential. And you can, too!

Which of these ABCs do you need to work on? Let me know in the comments below.

All the best,

Tracie Marquardt

Quality Assurance Communication