Simple Steps for Better Communications in 2012

by: Kathleen Martin

There are people like me who make lists of the words we hope to use someday in a sentence. Words like frenetic. Or imbued, a word that comes from the Latin imbuere, to drench. Drench, another word that doesn't get used enough (well, maybe here in the Pacific Northwest it does). You see? I don't want to call it a problem, but, well.

I take note of how people use language because words are tools that shape the world into something that makes sense. And because I spend my days using these words--with the Outlier team, clients, vendors, the baristas at Stumptown--I also think about how we take those words and turn them into something more.

I know what you're thinking here. Who cares how it's done as long as people catch your drift? Well, that's almost true. Except that how you pass along the message is often as important as the message itself. Communication is a skill that too often gets short shrift due to time constraints and filled inboxes.

I admit, as a writer in a marketing agency, the complete sentence often gets thrown by the wayside in lieu of a quick phrase that adds punch, power and immediacy. And I've been known to start the occasional sentences with, well, and. (In my defense, beginning a sentence with a conjunction was perfectly acceptable--in the 1700s). So I don't claim perfection. My claim? Take a few extra minutes with your communication and you will reap the bounty of direct, meaningful messaging.

So here you go, my communicative friends. My top 5 tips for fine tuning your communication efforts and, in the process, making yourself look like one of the smarter people you know.

  • Spell check. It literally takes less than a second to spell check a document. Literally. Spell check exists everywhere, from word processing programs to text messaging. There is no excuse NOT to. So why are so many people skipping it?
  • Re-read. This takes more seconds than spell check, but a quick once-over may show that the brilliant thought you just had lost a lot of its luster when you rewrote the same sentence twice in a row. Or you jumped mid-sentence to a new topic. It happens! Brains work faster than fingers. Catch your mistakes; if you don't, someone else surely will. And be sure to let you know about it.
  • Revise. Even if it's a quick e-mail to a business associate to confirm your Tuesday meeting, you will doubtless find at least one word you would change if you could. You can. Change the word, shorten the sentence, move your contact information so it's more visible. Concise writing doesn't always come on the first try, why expect miracles? I revise at least once before I publish anything. That quick e-mail doesn't need hours of deliberation, but a quick re-read and slight tweak can save your readers time, too.
  • U would Great. Save it for channels like text messaging and social media.
  • My last piece of advice is simple: pay attention to your audience. It's common sense not to use off color language when writing to a new business associate. What's surprising is how often lesser versions of this happen because a writer didn't think about the audience. You don't use the same tone for your Grandma and your Accountant, do you? You do? Stop it.

That's it. Five easy steps to becoming a communicator who gets the job done all the while looking like a million bucks. Good work, team. Now go figure out how to use conflagrate in your next conference call.


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