Words Are Like Seeds

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Tracie Marquardt

Quality Assurance Communication

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5 Things They Don’t Teach You in Communication Skills Training

More and more, I’ve started incorporating concepts, strategies and techniques into my communication skills training that I learned during the first three years of starting my own business, Quality Assurance Communication.

My typical clients are international professionals working in Europe. Very often, the articles I write are written to ‘speak’ to internal audit professionals who travel the world assessing governance, internal controls and compliance with policies and regulations.

Audit not your thing? No problem. What I share can be applied to any other function, whether you work for a global conglomerate or you’re an entrepreneur.

Let me explain by starting with my pitch. It goes something like this:

“I empower international audit professionals to communicate their key messages more clearly, concisely and persuasively, so my clients achieve better audit results than ever before.”

You can argue the merits of the exact wording. I can tell you that the wording changes slightly each time I present myself. You could say its imperfect… imperfect wording or an imperfect pitch. I’m absolutely fine with that. Because it gets results.

Here are five of the strategies and concepts I learned while starting my business, and why I think they can help you refine and target your communication skills and strategy.

1. Take imperfect action

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned is to take imperfect action.

I consider myself a ‘recovering perfectionist’. This means I have to work on not being a perfectionist. Every. Single. Day. If you are like me, you know that being a perfectionist means it can take you a lot longer to complete a task than ‘normal’ people who don’t suffer from this affliction. Learning to take imperfect actions means you get stuff done. Faster, if less perfectly. But I promise you, it will get you results and move you forward. Much more than striving for and achieving perfection ever will.

2. Build strong, trustful relationships

“People buy from people they know, like and trust.”

This is a long-used sales phrase that is just as valuable today as it was 30+ years ago. I use it in my communication skills training all the time now. Why? Because if you take the time and make the effort to build strong, trustful relationships, you’ll get better results, faster. (Am I starting to sound like a broken record? Good!) I believe wholeheartedly that people champion, support, promote, recommend, cooperate with, take action for, etc., people they know, like and trust.

3. Make it personal

You want me to implement a new global procedure that adds work to my day and has a less-than-friendly user interface? Frankly, it’s not very motivating, or convincing, to tell me that “Global department X is rolling this out at every subsidiary”. The benefit to the global organization may not trigger an emotional connection for me.

Dig deeper, and tell me the impact this new procedure will have on my daily work: pros and cons. How will this change benefit me? How will it improve my world? That last question is the one many of my presentation workshop participants struggle with: You’ve got to be able to answer it. Because if you can answer it, you WILL get cooperation, action, and commitment.

4. Make results clear

I’ve got to be really clear on what results working with me will bring to my clients. This concept works for everything, not just for training: Tell me the expected results and show me examples of similar results, and you’ll influence the decision so it’s a win-win.

Don’t know what the results are of what you are proposing? Then it’s back to the drawing board, my friend. Know the results. Communicate the results. Deliver the results. A simple formula for success.

5. Know your ‘why’

Simon Sinek said it best: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

My goal is not to offer training to the wider world, my goal is to connect with my perfect customer. Someone, and yes it is one person, who understands my ‘why’, because it is their ‘why’. The pitch I shared with you at the beginning of this article resonates with my perfect customer. They hear, they see, they feel, they believe me when I tell them that my purpose is to help internal auditors improve their communication skills so they can be more successful, and get better audit results, than ever before.

By implementing these strategies and techniques, I know, I believe in my bones, you will take your relationships, your communication, and your business to the next level. Results, results, results – for you and your clients.

All the best,

Tracie Marquardt

Quality Assurance Communication

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

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.

7 Ways to Get Better Results from Small Talk and Networking

Love it or hate it, networking is a valuable way to move yourself and your business forward.

And the more you network, the more you will network. I’m a believer, two years after starting my own business and putting myself and what I am passionate about out into the world every day.

What I’ve learned is that one connection leads to another. These connections can lead to helping someone else achieve their goals, aligning myself with a new colleague to create inspired collaboration, meeting my perfect customer, and signing contracts that benefit both my new clients and me.

Some results of networking are achieved almost immediately. Others can take quite some time to realize. Either way, it’s all worth it. And that’s why we need to keep refining our small talk and networking skills.  With that in mind, here are 7 ways to get better results from networking events:

1. Understand WHY you are networking.

Trying to sell a specific product or service at a networking event can start you off on the wrong foot right from the get-go. Attend a networking event to meet people, listen, learn and add value.

2. Don’t be a shark.

We all want SOMETHING from our networking efforts. It’s how we go about getting ‘the something’ that matters. Your communication skills, your empathy and your authenticity will contribute to your success. (And don’t forget your sunny, engaging personality.)

3. Put your excellent communication skills to work.

The ability to present yourself, the skill of active listening, the art of asking questions, the insight of sharing relevant experiences …  All of these will help you navigate a networking event successfully.

4. If you aren’t enjoying yourself, fake it.

Confession: I used to hate networking. I wasn’t comfortable, I wasn’t sure what to say or ask, and frankly, I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. Thankfully, I’ve grown into ‘the networking skill’. Now, I have a hard time finding a downside to networking.

5. Make sure you follow up in a timely manner.

If you’ve promised to send someone a document, tip or book recommendation, do it the next day. You are fresh in their minds, and following up right away will reinforce the know-like-and-trust factor. This is easier if you have made notes on their business card or in a small notebook during your discussion.

6. Do a bit of research before you go.

Who is sponsoring the event and why? Who is attending? Doctors, lawyers, auto mechanics or astrophysicists? What do they need to be successful? Put yourself in their shoes before you go, and be ready to ask questions and really listen to the answers.

7. Learn the art of small talk.

Small talk gives us an opportunity to share a bit about ourselves while determining if we have common interests that encourage further exploration. If you are new at networking, prepare one or two opening lines and probing questions to get you started. The more you practice, the better and more natural you will become. And you don’t want to kill the conversation before it even starts.

What are your secrets to being a successful networker? Share them in the comments below. We can always learn from each other.

All the best,

Tracie Marquardt

Quality Assurance Communication

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!