Communication Made Easy — Speaking, Editing, Writing, Marketing, Networking Answers

A picture may be worth 1,000 words, but words themselves are at the basis of all communication. Whether we are communicating for business or personal reasons, our spoken and written words matter. These posts will address issues and answer questions related primarily to business communications, as they affect writing, credibility, marketing, and networking.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

There's No Shame in Being a Bad Speller/Poor Grammarian

IThe following is the transcript of a recent voicemail I received from a client:

Hi, Laura. It's Elizabeth*. I really hope I caught you in time. You know that article I sent you to edit? Don't open it! I mean, I hope you didn't look at it yet. I just reread it, and realized it's terrible. I need to rework it. I'll see what I can do with it later this afternoon, and send you my improved version tonight or tomorrow. Thanks.

Unfortunately, Elizabeth still has not sent me the revision.

It's a funny thing about writing. Many people have absolutely no confidence at all in their ability. Thing is, they are often more skilled than they give themselves credit for. And for those whose ability is less than stellar, that's the whole reason they hire an editor, isn't it?

What I'd like to convince my client, Elizabeth, though — and everyone else out there who feels like she does — is that there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed about, with regard to her writing skills. No matter how bad the spelling or how egregious the grammar errors, none of that is representative of how smart she is or how important the information she wants to share with her audience.

In a 2000 article, "What Does Your Spelling Say About You Behind Your Back?" Sandra Linville references Marilyn Vos Savant's book, The Art of Spelling: The Madness and the Method. Vos Savant wrote her book after conducting a 1998 survey in her Parade Magazine column, in which she asked, "What does your spelling really say about you? Is spelling ability a measure of your education, intelligence, desire, or none of the above?"

In her article, Linville explains, "The survey garnered more than 42,000 responses, indicating that better organizational skills benefit spelling ability, rather than intelligence. However, Vos Savant realizes that inept spellers can look inept in other ways. A misspelled word can kill a job offer or result in a rejected proposal. She also states that an English-speaking perfect speller doesn't exist."

Corresponding with Vos Savant's theory, it is widely reputed that Albert Einstein, the unquestionable genius physicist, was so bad at spelling that he was initially assumed to be retarded. In fact, according to the 1998 article, "Ten Obscure Factoids Concerning Albert Einstein," Factoid #3 is:

He Was a Rotten Speller. Although he lived for many years in the United States and was fully bilingual, Einstein claimed never to be able to write in English because of "the treacherous spelling." He never lost his distinctive German accent either, summed up by his catch-phrase "I vill a little t'ink."

Renowned social scientist Howard Gardner has done much research on the concept of multiple intelligences. Essentially, although each of us has many ways in which we learn and perceive information, we generally have one primary area where we excel.

Although Gardner originally determined seven different intelligences, an eighth one, naturalistic intelligence, has recently been added to the list. Brief descriptions of each intelligence are:

Verbal/Linguistic — This intelligence is related to words and language, both written and spoken. It dominates most educational systems in the United States.

Logical/Mathematical — Often called “scientific thinking,” this intelligence is related to inductive and deductive thinking and reasoning, numbers, and the recognition of abstract patterns.

Visual/Spatial — This intelligence relies on the sense of sight and being able to visualize an object, including the ability to create internal mental images/pictures. People who enjoy mediation and guided imagery or hypnosis are commonly very visual or spatial learners.

Intrapersonal — This intelligence relates to inner states of being, self-reflection, metacognition (i.e., thinking about thinking), and awareness of spiritual realities.

Interpersonal — This intelligence operates primarily through person-to-person relationships and communication.

Bodily/Kinesthetic — This intelligence is related to physical movement and the knowing/wisdom of the body, including the brain’s motor cortex, which controls bodily motion.

Musical/Rhythmic — This intelligence is based on the recognition of tonal patterns, including various environmental sounds, and on sensitivity to rhythm and beats.

Naturalistic — This intelligence is based on the sensing of patterns in and making connections to elements in nature.

So although verbal and linguistic may arguably be perceived as the most commonly emphasized of the eight intelligences, it is far from the only one. The fact is that each us has special skills — and it's not always spelling and grammar. Those may be my personal strengths, but just ask my niece about my fiasco as a sub, teaching math to her 6th grade Montessori class.

My client who said she needed to rewrite her article before she sent it to me reminded me of those people who feel they have to clean their houses before the housekeeper arrives. That one also baffles me. If we could all just get past our shame about our deficiencies and focus on the things we do well, life would be so much easier.

* This name has been changed to protect my client's identity.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

You Don't Have to Be a GREAT Writer to Communicate Well

My particular literary gift is making other people's words sound better, clearer, more professional, funnier, more interesting, more persuasive. "Better" takes on all shapes and sizes because I work with all shapes and sizes of writers, each with varying degrees of skill.

Regarding the specifics of writing skills, a recent conversation comes to mind. I was talking with a woman from a networking group I belong to. She has an interesting product, and an even more compelling personal reason for promoting the product. Such seems to be the case for many in the direct marketing field, as those in other segments of sales. More often than not, people sell products or services they believe in. It just makes marketing easier if you are enthusiastic and engaged in the product or service you're promoting.

As a marketing advisor who enables my clients to use their writing to promote their goods and services, my natural first question to my friend was, "Have you ever considered writing an article about your involvement with products that promote a healthy environment for kids?" Her response to me was one I hear again and again – and the very reason I have a thriving practice:

"I can't write at all."

Let me offer various translations of that for you:

  • "It's been a long time since I've written anything and I'm just terribly out of practice as a writer."

  • "A long time ago, someone told me my writing wasn't very good."

  • "For a long laundry list of reasons, I lack confidence about my writing."

  • "I have great ideas, but it's impossible to get them out of my head, down onto paper."

  • "I always get writers' block every time I try to write something, even an e-mail."

Almost anything but, "I'm atually just a terrible writer."

And even terrible writers can still have fantastic messages. One of my longest-term clients is one of the worst writers I've ever known. But he's brilliant and has an amazing amount of information to share. Most importantly, though, he recognizes his weakness and hires someone (moi) to compensate for his deficiency in the area of written communication.

The truth is that most people just need more confidence and more practice to become better writers. Writing is like most skills: if you don't use it, you lose it – at least to a certain degree.

Another way to become a better writer is to become a better reader. Study writing that appeals to you, paying attention to sentence structure, word choices, cadence, tone, etc. Practice mimicking that author's style with your own writing.

There are hundreds of books and tools out there to help you, as well. Just Google "book" and "become a better writer" and you will almost immediately have more resource choices than you could ever hope to read in a lifetime.

One last way to make writing easier for you, if it's the writing part that has always been a struggle for you, is to dictate – speak instead of write. Services like and offer unbelievable steals on dictation services that arrive in your e-mailbox like magic. So think about talking your next book or article, instead of being fearful of that blank page.

Whatever you do, make sure you share your message with the world. You were blessed with talents and skills, and part of honoring your human contract is by using them as widely as possible.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Understanding the actual request

How often do we hear a question or receive a request and completely misunderstand or miss the point?

This happened recently in my Toastmasters club. We had a request to make a presentation to a group of employees for a local company about how the participants could improve their public speaking skills.

Understandably, our leadership saw this as a great opportunity to promote Toastmasters, an organization whose mission is precisely that — to enable individuals to practice and perfect their public speaking skills. However, the request from the company was not for us to come in and sell Toastmasters to their employees. It was to teach them some public speaking basics.

Public speaking basics include such things as:
  • Knowing your audience
  • Knowing the goals for your presentation (persuasion, entertainment, damage control, sales, motivation, etc.)
  • Writing your speech out ahead of time — but focusing primarily on the opening and conclusion — that it's OK to extemporize the middle
  • Knowing that sometimes you just have to throw out the speech you've prepared and wing it — if it's not working, the subject is not fitting the audience, you've lost them and they are falling asleep, etc.
  • Understanding how important rehearsing ahead of time is Remembering to BREATHE while you're up there
  • Mastering use of the space
  • What to do with your hands
  • The importance of vocal variety
  • How to incorporate props approriately
  • Trying to work without notes as much as possible
  • Remembering to have fun — if you're bored, scared, or nervous, your audience will sense that and you will be much less effective
In our enthusiasm to demonstrate our Toastmasterability, we came close to missing the mark entirely. Although I believe that we should not miss the opportunity to make a pitch for the attendees to think about joining a Toastmasters club — or forming their own internal club — I believe that should be only as a small segment at the END of our presentation. The thing is, if they want to know more about Toastmasters, all they have to do is visit any meeting. A Toastmasters sales pitch was not their request and it should not be our sole focus.

How often, though, do we do this in our businesses and in our lives? It's sometimes hard work to understand what people want when they ask questions or make requests — but if we want to be the best communcators we can be, we must get to the core of the actual question and answer that. To do otherwise convolutes the process and can lead to some sticky situations and, in the case of personal relationships, potential hurt feelings.

Three basic rules of communication:
  1. Say what you mean.
  2. Make sure you understand the question that is being asked.
  3. Speak your truth (with honesty and integrity, always).

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