May 27

Write a Basic Business Letter that asks a Question

Content is King

Business letters – whether written to apply for a job, or per the title of this post, to ask a question – have certain basic requirements. There are at least three basic items to put on your checklist, each with its own sub-components. Each is noticeable, and each has its own significance. In order of importance:

  • Content. Content is King, as the saying goes. Bill Gates said it. Google said it. Sumner Redstone said it before either. It’s not a catchphrase. It’s vitally important that fancy fonts, images, and artistic layout does not trump content.
  • Spell checking and proofing. I would like to “rest my case” right now, but suffice to say that mere spell checking is not enough. Take time to read and re-read what you wrote.
  • Formatting. This includes layout and organization, fonts, images or charts (if/when necessary), letterhead, the sequence or order of the letter’s content, and more.

My video accompanying this post appears here, on my YouTube channel. If you prefer the full article, please read on.

Written Content for a Basic Business Letter

I continue to emphasize in any course I teach at Seneca College that has a ‘document production’ or writing component that “content is king”. This is lost on some students, who either (a) are stronger in and prefer design or layout elements, or (b) don’t feel confident about their writing skills. For business letters, both (a) and (b) are important, but let’s start with content.

A basic four-point communication process begins with you, the source, and your message. Looking at the message, two things. First, if you are not clear about your message, your reader will be even less clear. Second, stay on point. If you have more than one topic in your letter, be clear about which topic(s) you’re talking about at any given moment. In this post, as I’m talking about asking a question – a very routine and typical business letter – be clear about the question you are asking. Get the details right. The details are not ‘little things’; they’re important.

If I were the recipient of your letter, here are several ‘deal-breaker’ items I’d expect to see:

  • That my information, as the addressee/recipient, is correct. This could make the difference between my reading your letter, or not. Title, spelling, position… all important.
  • That if you have included a subject line – which I recommend in most cases – it is relevant and follows basic guidelines. My set of guidelines includes that it should be between 6-8 words in length, and yet, as specific as possible. Bolding the subject line is a good idea as well. According to The Gregg Reference Manual, the ‘bible’ many of us use in terms of structure and formatting for business communications, the subject line should appear below the opening salutation.
  • If the first sentence or two of your business letter doesn’t summarize or otherwise speak to the main body/contents of your letter, you are not being helpful. At worse, I won’t read your letter. Subject line and first sentence(s) normally complement one another.
  • Once the above is place, there is the main body of your letter. This will probably be one or two paragraphs. Short paragraphs. You should ask your question, and if space permits or if it’s warranted, tell me why you are asking your question. Also, if warranted, give some specific background or other references for your question.
  • You will want to wind up on three notes, usually contained in your last paragraph. The first is how you prefer me to get in touch with you. If you don’t mention this, I will write a letter of response (providing I have your address information). The second (or third in some cases), a thank you. And the last, a call to action. The latter is more a marketing term or technique, but I feel it applies here. What do you want me, the reader, to do?
  • End with a business-like complimentary closing, allow a few lines for your actual signature, and then type your name and/or position or company.

Spell Checking and Proofing

This has been covered, to an extent, in the above. However, I cannot emphasize strongly enough how far proofing, including spell checking, goes towards getting your letter read.

Imagine how you would feel if I wrote a letter to you that misspelled your name? If you were a PhD and I left off your title of “Dr.”? If I spelled the name of your company wrong, didn’t get your address right, or failed to provide you with a way to get in touch with me? Further, what if my main point was ‘buried’ in some rambling sentence that you couldn’t understand?

See what I mean?

Need some help with this? Ask a friend or colleague to read your letter (if possible). Try rotating the page to landscape to see if you catch anything else. If you are using Microsoft Word, change the proofing options – see my screen capture of Word 2016, below – to give you more of a fighting chance. In addition, try waiting a few minutes or longer, then re-read and proof your letter.

Word Proofing options

Word Proofing options

Formatting Your Business Letter

Here I’ll include organization/layout, and other formatting.

You can already see that business letters must include certain key elements, in a very top-to-bottom linear way. Here’s a fuller list, in bullet-point form:

  • Return address. This is your address and contact information. It should – or can – go right at the top of the letter.
  • Date. Spell it out completely.
  • Addressee/Recipient. Use standard formatting for this. (If you’re living in Canada, follow these excellent Canada Post guidelines). Get this right to get someone to keep reading.
  • Opening Salutation. If you know a person’s title – are sure you know it – include it. Common titles include Ms., Mr., Dr., and Mrs. A typical opening salutation, including standard mixed punctuation, would look like this: “Dear Mr. Neilly:”
  • Subject Line. Already discussed.
  • Body of Letter. Many basic business letters have four to five paragraphs. The first is a mini-summary, the next two to three form the main body of the letter, and the last contains a thank you, how you can be contacted, and a call to action.
  • Complimentary Closing. Most typically, it will be the word “Sincerely,” (include the comma for mixed punctuation), followed by enough blank lines to allow a signature, followed by your name and/or position/company if applicable.
  • Additional. If you are enclosing anything – which should already have been referred to in the body of your letter – following a blank line below the last line of your letter, type the word “Enclosure”. Note that using “Encl.” is an accepted abbreviation.

In Conclusion

Hard to know where to include a mention of fonts, so I’ll do it here.

Decorative or interesting fonts, like Bauhaus, or Comic Sans MS, really add visual appeal to many documents. That said, avoid them in a business letter. There are some exceptions: e.g., you work for or are perhaps writing to someone involved in graphic arts, illustration, and certain other industries. I am not one to hearken back to using Times New Roman, and certainly, the whole topic of typography deserves more than a mere mention. I’ll recommend Georgia for now, but you need to make the final determination on the font you use.

The above represents a snapshot of the usual elements of a typical business letter that asks a question. I didn’t include some of the extra elements you may need: e.g., a continuation page header, if your letter is two or more pages, a delivery notation (By Fax, for instance), and more. But this should be enough to get you started.

Need more help? Please contact me to discuss your needs.

 

May 21

Computer Maintenance and Protection

Very recent history… a virulent ‘strain’ of ransomware affected hundreds of thousands of computers – most of those in workplaces – in approximately 150 countries. Time to consider a few techniques for basic computer maintenance and protection?

Computer Maintenance and Protection

There are vendors and experts who advise extreme caution during any (on-line) computer use; at times such warnings reach paranoiac levels. In many cases that’s justified. To satisfy yourself that you are taking all of the basic steps you can to protect your data – and no, such steps will not guarantee its safety – there is a three-part basic approach one can easily start with. It involves maintaining, updating, and protecting your computer. If you prefer a ‘short strokes’ video, it is on my YouTube channel. If you prefer more detail, please read on.

Computer Maintenance and Protection

Maintaining your computer won’t necessarily protect it, but it’s a good first step, and it will allow other the two other components I have mentioned – updates, and the issue of protection – to function better. Like any other complex machine, your PC requires routine (and sometimes more) maintenance. The Microsoft Windows operating system, especially since Windows 8, has built-in maintenance features that run (generally) in the background when your machine is on, but is ‘idle’.

Using Windows 10 as an example, to check your current settings, click the Start button and start to type “security“. Most likely, the best match will be Security and Maintenance. Go ahead and click it. Click the Maintenance button next. The resultant window should look like the following screen capture.

Windows - Security and Maintenance - Maintenance

Automatic Maintenance is enabled by default. There are ways to disable it, but I don’t think that’s a wise idea and so won’t cover that here. Likewise, I feel very strongly that you should automatically allow Windows Update to download and install updates, even if, as in my case, that gives you occasional heartburn!

I talk about Updates below.

As you can see in the above screen capture, you can perform maintenance right away by clicking the Start maintenance link, or you can set an option – it’s in the Change maintenance settings link – to actually have Windows ‘wake-up’ your PC at a specific time to do the work. In any/either case, I recommend you allow Windows to perform the maintenance tasks it needs to.

Windows Update

Does Windows always ‘get it right’ in choosing and installing its updates for you? My answer is a qualified “yes”. I wish it were a 100% yes, but I’ve never found that to be true. But do read on, as I do talk about what to do when an update doesn’t quite work out or causes computer problems. Windows Update is part of basic computer maintenance and protection; yes, part of both of these things.

To find out the current settings for Windows Update, click the Start button and start to type “windows update“. Click the link for Windows Update settings. In Windows 10, you should see a screen similar to the one below.

Windows Update

Once in the Settings, Windows Update window, you’ll see right away how Windows currently handles your updates. Depending on the current build of Windows you have, the Update status and Check for updates button may not look exactly like mine. Whether or not your screen is identical to mine, similar or identical choices and preferences can be set. For example, even though I see in my screen right now that Windows updated very recently, I can still run a check for new updates. I can do that anytime I wish. 

May I recommend, as mentioned before, that you allow Windows to automatically run its updates? When you get a chance to examine the Windows Update screen, click the Update history link, to review recent changes. As well, look at Advanced options, as that gives you a great deal of control over how updates are delivered or installed.

Issues Arising from Windows Update

I mentioned earlier that Update occasionally causes computer problems. There are a myriad of reasons why. Suffice to say with so many different computers out there, old and new, using so many different hardware components, and having so many configurations, it’s impossible for Microsoft to know exactly how an Update will work with your system. If you do encounter a problem after a Windows Update, there are steps you can take to fix it. What kinds of problems will you encounter? They are varied, but I’ve had two different ones over the past year or so:

  1. I couldn’t properly ‘see’ what was in my Start menu or screen. It’s not that everything was totally black or invisible, but it was difficult to navigate.
  2. Following a recent Windows Update (May 2017) a USB I use every day for the classes I teach, encrypted by Microsoft’s own BitLocker program, was unreadable. It could not be read at all on the laptop in question. I was prompted to format my USB. (Do not do that, as you’ll loose all of your files even if you can’t see them.)

Problem No. 2 caused me a great deal of concern, and as it turned out, unnecessary panic. How did I discover the problem was caused by Windows Update? Two ways. First, my version of Windows is Windows 10 Pro. At the time I bit the bullet on buying Windows 10 (though I had tested it before its final release), I decided I liked the idea of BitLocker being part of my operating system. Back to my account: I looked and looked after the Windows Update for BitLocker, but it no longer appeared at all. No BitLocker, no way to access the files on my USB. Fortunately, after an hour or two of such nonsense and a score of website, I removed the USB from the laptop and tried it in another. It worked perfectly. All files were intact.

To address the problem caused by Windows Update, I decided to ‘roll back’ the one that had installed a couple of days earlier. To do that:

  1. From the Windows Update window, I clicked on Update history
  2. In the Update history window, I clicked the link for Uninstall updates
  3. in the Installed Updates window, I double-clicked the most recent Microsoft Windows update to initiate the uninstall
  4. I rebooted my computer when I was done

A word of caution: you need to ensure, if possible, that it was in fact Windows Update that caused your problems. If you ‘roll back’ an Update, understand that whatever improvements it had made, and those might have included security fixes, will be rolled back as well. Normally, the Internet bursts alive with information when something like this happened, and within a short time, Microsoft fixes the issue(s) and you’re good to go on future updates again.

Computer Security

For countless years – decades – I used variations of Norton Internet Security (from Symantec) to protect my computers. It has only been within the last year that I stopped the practice personally. My decision has nothing to do with the effectiveness of Norton programs. They were, and I feel still are, very effective. Perhaps the best. My decision was based on freely available alternatives, and on performance issues.

There is no doubt at all that you should have one or more programs in place to protect you from computer viruses, malware (malicious software that can include ransomware), spyware, and all sorts of other nasty things. Almost all the nasties have to do with something online; you visited a website, you downloaded it, you opened it, or you clicked on it. There is so much destructive programming out there that everyone who surfs, who uses e-mail, who downloads, or in certain cases, who listens to streaming audio or watches online video, is vulnerable. I have never felt I was the excepted (or exceptional) one, and in fact have had computers struck by all manner of ugly things over the years.

Computer maintenance and protection should include, yes; various forms of protection. The steps you need to take to protect your computer are basic ones. In addition to maintenance processes and Windows Updates, the latter of the two especially important, you should have some kind of firewall installed, along with a robust and full featured Internet security program (again, Norton comes to mind). Right now, I have two different programs running on this laptop: Windows Firewall and Windows Defender Antivirus – Security Center. The first offers real-time protection from hackers and other bad guys trying to gain control of my PC while I’m online. The second protects me from potential viruses, spyware, malware, and so forth. Both, for me, seem to work fine. I allow both to update as and if needed. That last part is vitally important. Updates deal with new ‘strains’ of problems, which are, sadly, introduced or delivered daily.

In Conclusion

This post scratches the surface of three basic sets of steps or processes you can follow to keep your computer healthy and, as much as possible, away from threats. Computer maintenance and protection should be a normal part of what you do with/on your PC. Many websites will help keep you apprised of the latest threats, and as I’ve suggested, new things are happening everyday. Choose credible, reliable sources if you are interested in knowing more about cyber threats. I have already mentioned Symantec and Norton, but others like McAfee and Kaspersky are among other top 10 contenders. Of course, Microsoft has you covered as well.

No matter how careful we are, or how well-maintained or protected our computers are, we can still, even if inadvertently, infect our PCs. It pays to at least do the basics!


Rob Neilly has been teaching technology and business communications to students at various colleges in the Greater Toronto Area for over 25 years. He is currently a contract professor for Seneca College, for their School of Legal and Public Administration / Office Administration. In addition to teaching, he writes business copy for clients and has at times offered social media management to his expertise. To contact him, please write to rob@wordsbydelphian.com.

Sep 12

5 x 5 Client Communication

Communicating with a potential or existing client – important stakeholders – needs to be on a level that’s either “readable” or “perfectly readable”. A signal of ‘5’ is perfectly readable. The same is true with the clarity of your message: ideally, you want another “5”.

Signal and Clarity

The 5x5 of CommunicationHow do you know if your signal is clear, if its readable or better, and not merely a “1” or “2” out of “5”? One thing you can and should do even before you choose the communication channel is ensure you understand your main message. Or messages. If you don’t, your audience won’t.

Another thing you can do is examine how you structured your message. Does it have ‘bookends’; a message supported by a strong introduction and conclusion? If it’s persuasive, does it have a call to action? In other words, what’s the net purpose of your message? Is it to get someone to support your cause, visit your website, or perhaps be informed? If it’s persuasive, consider the AIDA sequence: Attention, Interest, Desire, and… Action. The sequence, or formula as some call it, doesn’t only have to be relegated to pure marketing.

So you’re working on your signal. How about it’s clarity?

There are numerous tools out there to help you determine if your message is sound, and clear, and you can certainly use some of them before you cast your blueprint. For example, as I write this blog post, its relative effectiveness is being measured by the Flesch Reading Ease Formula. I’m constantly being prompted to change, modify, shorten, clarify. (This doesn’t mean I’m doing a good job. You’ll be the judge of that!)

There are other tools, and some of the more simple (even if mildly effective) are right at our fingertips. The following is an example.

Many of you will use Microsoft® Word to compose your messages. I do a lot of the time, and in fact I teach Word and some writing basics to college students. Word has a very standard way of checking spelling and grammar. You can up that game ever so slightly by altering one of its options. Note that this choice exists in versions of Word up to 2013:

  1. From a blank or any document in Word, click File, and then click Options
  2. Choose Proofing from the categories in the left panel
  3. In the When correcting spelling and grammar in Word section, check what the drop-down menu beside Writing Style says. If it says Grammar, click the arrow, and change it to Grammar and Style.
  4. Click OK

Here’s another (shamefully) simple tip, and I learned this from a radio guest I and a friend interviewed a few times on one of our online shows. The client asks you a question. You answer the question, but then you ask the client: ‘did I answer your question’? You may be surprised how many times this results in a request for slight clarification.

Communication

We all communicate. Every day. With friends, family, clients, coworkers. This list is long. We do so verbally, through writing, drawing, and through non-verbal gestures. Even how we dress communicates something to our audience. Yet some of our communications may suffer from a weak signal, or a lack of clarity. The 5 x 5 or “loud and clear” formula is a potential guide you can follow. There are others.

Keep it Brief

Brevity is often considered important by our audience. This is very true if our audience consists of busy business people. Get to the point!

I used to have an employer who, though genuinely greeting us every morning, would keep his greetings to the bare essentials. The same held true when he was holding or attending a business meeting. He used to, efficiently I would now call it, move from “how are you” to “what’s on your mind”. I like chit chat. But over time, I learned to respect his approach.

Many business reports or pitches have an executive summary as part of their front matter. Depending on your relationship with your client(s), you may need to executive summary it on occasion. Give her or him a thumbnail view that perhaps has main talking points or actionable items. If she or he wants the rest, well, that’s why you’re there, or why you wrote that 50-page report! It’s been my experience that brevity in the business world is appreciated.

Did you find something of value in this article? Please let me know.

Apr 04

Business Writing in the North American Market

You feel good about your business communications skills, and are more or less confident about your business writing skills. Are these things enough?

Business Writing Challenges

If any of the following are true for you, then you need to either hone your business writing skills or work with an expert:

  • English is not your first language, or you’re not fully fluent in it.
  • You are not immersed in or familiar with the North American market.
  • Business writing is not one of your writing strengths.
  • Writing isn’t one of your strengths.
  • Your effective writing simply needs some polish.

All of the above challenges can be met and exceeded.

Confidence grows with, among many other things, increasing your vocabulary, more exposure to the market(s) you are interested in, and without a doubt, writing more frequently. Business writing in particular has its own subset of protocols and rules. Contractions like “can’t”, “don’t”, or “haven’t” are only okay in certain circumstances. Being concise counts in most cases. Using proper titles, addressing, and business writing formats – whether in an e-mail, letter, or report – may make a critical difference.

Effective Business Writing

In general,  effective business writing requires at least the following three ingredients:

  1. Being fully familiar with your main message or messages. If this isn’t true for you, your lack of clarity will show in your writing.
  2. Understanding as completely as possible your audience. Demographics are helpful. Psychographics even more so. Beyond those, that you take the time to perform your basic due diligence will go a long way.
  3. Knowing which communications channel to use. Is an e-mail message appropriate? Should you send a letter via postal mail? Would a text work?

The more time you invest in understanding exactly what it is you want to communicate, knowing your audience, and  choosing the right channel or channels, the more likely your message will be read, and understood. And oh yes, backing up your messages with sound social media when and where appropriate can’t hurt.

Need help with your messages? Please connect with me.

 

Dec 28

Would you like fries with your Windows 10?

Actually, I would like fries with my Windows; fries with anything! But if Microsoft’s new operating system serves up everything, maybe I won’t need them. As the image attached to this post indicates, and as has Microsoft itself, the push is on for us to get our free version of Windows 10. I already have it installed on one computer: a success story, really. I’ve repeatedly tried to keep it installed on another. In this post, I’m going to be quite subjective in telling you my Windows 10 story.

Get Windows 10 - Or Not

Windows 10 Beta Tester

I am part of Windows’ intended audience, so decided to get in on their second level of testing. That’s what beta testers do. In this case, it wasn’t really a unique thing to do: there were at least tens of millions of us. Beta testing an operating system requires a level of comfort with a computer…things are likely to go wrong, and one needs to be able to recover from what Bob Ross would have called “happy little accidents”. I was also a good candidate to be a tester because I’ve worked in the past with a large textbook publishing company to ‘test’ lessons in their upcoming textbooks. So I bravely went forward, had quite a few happy little accidents, and more or less survived the experience. (I had to reset to factory my laptop more than once during this phase.) Later, I became a Windows 10 Insider. As such, I had the choice to fast track my updates, which I did at times, or go the safer route, waiting on each new “build” do go through some testing first.

During this several-month process, I did do a little ‘testing’ for that textbook company, and eventually got Windows 10 settled in on one of my two laptops. That part of my story is coming right up.

Continue reading

Apr 20

Writing – Messages

When you are writing, keep in mind your key message or messages.

Mar 23

The Semicolon

And you thought this would be boring!

The proper usage of commas and semicolons eludes most; myself included at times. One of my favourite resources for writing, citation, and punctuation rules is The Online Writing Lab at Purdue University. The OWL, as many call it, contains thorough resources for anyone who wants or needs to improve their writing. How thorough? The subject of comma usage alone occupies several pages! Commas aren’t the only punctuation game in town: at some point you’ll need to move on to other ways to pause or interject in your writing. This is where the semicolon may come in handy.

There are many rules for semicolon usage, but the following may represent the three most common (with thanks to my Office Admin colleagues at the college for extra impetus and ideas):

  1. Use a semicolon to separate two closely related, but independent clauses. Example: Cindy’s train arrives at midnight; Jerry will pick her up.
  2. Use a semicolon in sentences that do have conjunctions, but where commas are already in use. Example: I asked my best friend, Cynthia, if she was going to the practice run tomorrow; and after thinking about it, she told me she would.
  3. Use a semicolon to help you with grouping. Suppose you were talking about your road trip, and wanted to list both cities and states? Example: During last summer’s vacation in the United States, we visited Boston, Massachusetts; Elizabeth, New York; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 

Punctuation can be one of the more demanding tasks when it comes to writing; my transcription students remind me of this every week in class! With resources like the OWL, or if you’re fortunate enough to have a copy,The Gregg Reference Manual, you can get through this!

Jan 02

Data Encryption in Evernote

Your data is your most precious asset! You want to feel comfortable that it’s protected.

Evernote

If you’ve never used Evernote – a way to keep notes of various kinds (links, text, photos, voice, and more) about anything – you may want to first check out this link before reading further: https://evernote.com. In brief, Evernote is an electronic note-taking software program of great power and versatility. It can be used across all of your devices, and indeed, synchronizes, flawlessly, your information across them.

Data Protection

In order to use Evernote, you’ll have provided login information; that includes a password. All of your data is very safe, insofar as ‘safe’ data on the Internet is concerned. So without the proper login credentials, unauthorized access to your notebooks and notes is … difficult. However, nothing on the Internet – no information – is inviolate or 100% protected. So in relative terms, all Evernote data is highly protected and secure. But perhaps you want another layer of protection? Evernote gives all users one extra layer, and Premium users, an additional one. Any Evernote account holder can encrypt selected text within a note. Premium users can do that, and take go one further step: they can assign a PIN/Passcode to the Evernote app itself on their mobile device (see https://blog.evernote.com/blog/2013/08/09/how-to-enable-passcode-lock-in-evernote/ for more information).

Unprotected Evernote Text

Have a look at the following Evernote screen capture:

Unencrypted Evernote Text

I have clicked one of my notes, and in the preview screen on the right side it shows the content of the note; in this case, it was a copy of an e-mail I’d received from IABC (a communications association I’m a member of). If someone had access to my Evernote account, they could see everything in every note … including this one. But what if I had perhaps planned in part for such a contingency? If I had, I could have selected text – for instance and argument’s sake, the e-mail’s header information – and encrypted it.

Encrypting Evernote Text

Let’s assume I had selected the e-mail header information (Subject, From, etc.). Here’s what I would do to encrypt the selected text:

  1. Click Format on the menu.
  2. Click Encrypt Selected Text.
  3. Type an encryption passphrase.
  4. Clicked OK (or pressed Enter).

What I would then see is the following:

Encrypted Text in Evernote

If there was an unauthorized access of my Evernote account, and if someone was reading through my Notes, in the above note, they would see the lock you see above. On double-clicking it, they would need the passphrase I used to encrypt the information. It’s that easy!

More Data Protection

As mentioned above, Premium users can assign Passcode Protection on their mobile devices. Aside from that, there’s been a lot of chatter on the Net in various forums about adding a feature to Evernote that would allow you to, say, encrypt an entire notebook. It hasn’t happened yet. Until it does, if you need more protection, consider various third-party software applications like BitLocker; a Microsoft product. You would need the right version of Windows to use this, so you may want to investigate something like Symantec Endpoint Encyption instead.

 

 

Dec 09

Delivering Bad News

Poor service, crossed-communication, awful performance … these, and more, are bad news scenarios. While some prefer hearing bad news straight up, one of the more effective ways to deliver it in written form is by using the indirect approach. This approach doesn’t skirt the negatives; it simply frames them. It’s a given that most people do not want to hear bad news!

Let’s consider the following hypothetical situation: you overcharged a client for a smartphone, but didn’t notice it at the time. Company policy doesn’t allow for refunds or credits. Your task is to address the situation, in writing, while trying to retain your client.

The indirect method should begin with a descriptive but neutral subject line.

The Five Step Indirect Writing Method

Subject line. Try something like this: Your recent purchase of a Scion Bright smartphone

Step One – begin with a neutral opening. Using our scenario, you might start with something like the following.

“Thank you for coming in on Monday, December 8, 2014 to purchase the new Scion Bright. It was a pleasure to meet you, and to help you select this great smartphone.”

Nothing fancy, granted. It acts as an introduction and brief summary.

Step Two – backgrounder. This is where you can fill in other details about the transaction, situation, or issue. You should provide a fact-based account of what happened, or how the situation presently sits. Here’s an example:

“The Scion Bright is one of the best new smartphones on the market. The 4.5” super amoled screen offers superb resolution and is protected under warranty from scratches or other minor damage. Our store offers two Scion phones: the S-570, which you purchased at full price without a data plan, and the S-590. The S-590 is priced at $725.99, which is $75.99 more than the S-570. The difference between the two phones, besides price, is that the S-590 has a slightly larger screen, plus a higher resolution camera.

A backgrounder is a way of setting the stage for what’s to come. Keep it neutral and objective.

Step Three – deliver the bad news.

“When I processed your purchase at the register, I discovered I had inadvertently charged you for the more expensive Scion phone. I apologize for my error, and for any potential inconvenience this may cause you. Unfortunately, our store does not allow refunds or credits.”

You need to be straightforward in this step, but ensure you don’t overdo it. If you made a mistake, apologize. More apologies, later on, are usually not needed (or welcomed).

Step Four – offer goodwill. Saying only something like “Thanks for shopping at _____” won’t cut it. The customer is already unhappy. The question is: what can you do to make this up to the customer? In this scenario, there must be a way for the store/you to compensate for the $75.99 overpayment. Try something like the following:

“Though we don’t offer refunds or credits on our products – all sales are final – I am going to ensure the store offers you something special to more than make up for the $75.99. I am pleased to provide to you:
– a two-year extended warranty, worth $99.99
– a free carrying case of your choice, with a value of up to $50.00
– an opportunity to upgrade your phone with no activation fees.
We value your business, and I would appreciate the opportunity to serve you better in the future. Should you have any questions about how to receive your extended warranty and other offers, please phone me at your convenience at my direct number: (416) 555-2501. Thank you.”

Genuine goodwill, even if not monetary, can go a long way.

There at times can be an extra step between steps four and five. Whether such a step exists – let’s call it “Alternatives” – will depend on the situation. For example, if you as an employer needed to temporarily save some money, you might have an alternative to laying people off: reduced hours, for example.

Bad news messages run the gamut from doctors needing to tell their patients devastating news about their health, to having to lay off, fire, or discipline employees, to having to write to an irritated customer.

Here’s one last thought: if you can, deliver bad news verbally. This provides the listener with a chance to react or respond immediately.

Nov 29

Effective Presentations

You have a presentation coming up; you want to wow your audience! And you can. Read the following tips, drawn from 20+ years of presenting in the classroom, presenting workshops, and presenting to prospective employers. Contact me if you’d like to explore this further!

Refine Your Main Topic(s)

If you don’t know your main topic or topics, your audience won’t either. Come to terms with what you’ll be speaking about. Introduce it, or introduce more than one topic, clearly. Stick to the plan.

Know Your Audience

Obviously, a key. How much do you know about your audience(s)? If it’s strictly demographic information, is it enough? Have you tried to find out more; to discover some psychographic information about them? You should. You need to tailor your messages and speak to your audience.

Organize Your Material

You would be surprised how many presentations go ‘sideways’ because a presenter, even having her ducks lined up in a row, didn’t organize her material. Make things easy for your audience.

Beginning, Middle, and End

Start strong, end strong. Also, try to have half a dozen main and important talking points throughout the presentation that the audience will remember. Attention span and retention are limited in any presentation.

Did They Understand?

Unless you ask, or are super-observant, you will not know … until it’s over and too late. I have a good friend — he’s an inspiration, really — and here’s something he does all the time. You’ll ask him a question. He’ll answer thoroughly. After he answers, he’ll ask you if he answered your question. A good practice I’d say.

There are many other pointers about delivering an effective (and remembered) presentation. For example, the slide 7 x 7 rule. And the use of humour. And the need to check out the venue. I hope for now you have a good basis to begin from.