Archive for the 'Communication skills' Category

Why Companies Need Media Training

Popularity: 23% [?]

Beware The Bold Button And Bad Formatting

Formatting your email with bullets, bold, italics and caps can be functional and useful when used (very, very sparingly) at the right times. But, if you don’t have anything really gripping to say, then putting every second phrase in bold is certainly not going to help your cause.

This was exactly the type of press release a marketing journalist received recently. About 50% of the text was in bold. And just to add a little extra emphasis, the headline and footer were in red. I felt a little like a deer staring into blinding headlights, I wasn’t sure where to start or what I was supposed to do…except to close the email. Phew, it was far too much effort to try and read. See for yourself, here’s a sample of the press release:

[Name], Managing Director, [company name] and [company name], will bring his expertise in the independent sector to [event name]. [Name] serves as the elected Vice President of WIN (Worldwide Independent Network), Chairman of the Board for AIR (Australian Independent Record labels association) and is also a current board member of MIFF (Melbourne International Film Festival), PPCA (Phonographic Performance Company of Australia) and ARIA (Australian Recording Industry Association).

This reminds me of the comments that Dorin Bambus, previously the editor of Blunt, said in some Encyclomedia research a while back on PR best practices. Commenting on email formatting, he said:

Press releases should make the reader think something is cool and interesting and newsworthy, not alert the reader to the fact that the writer thinks this to be the case. I can read, I don’t need every IMPORTANT piece of info “signposted” for me. It’s very annoying.

Popularity: 12% [?]

The Art of Communication - It Starts with Values

I’ve attended two of Dr Demartini’s talks this week and I thought I’d give you some quick feedback before his third Cape Town talk tonight - in case you’re still um-ing and ah-ing about where to spend your Friday night.

Our relationships with people, whether personal or professional, can often be filled with so many misunderstandings and misperceptions, which prevent us from communicating effectively. On Wednesday night, Dr Demartini spoke to us about how to empower relationships and master the art of communication. Although it sounds pretty serious, he had us in stitches of laughter with his sometimes subtle, sharp innuendos and other-times overt, candid stories and illustrations. He certainly entertains as much as he teaches and inspires!

The Nature Of A Good Relationship:
In talks I’ve done for companies about media relations, I’ve covered the fact that a good relationship simply means that you give someone something that they really want, and then they’ll help you get what you really want. It could be giving someone money for a service you need; or giving journalists good, relevant content to fill their magazines, helping you get publicity. It’s all about giving and receiving. But when it comes to communication, we need to be aware and artful in how we “give” our message, so that we can “receive” the response we’d like.

Value Determination:
It comes down to awareness of your own values and those of the people you have relationships with. By values, I don’t mean the high ideals of honesty, ethics, liberty, etc. Rather, Dr Demartini talks about your priorities and the things (or people, activities, goals) that are most important to you. These are normally the things that you spend your most time and money on, how you fill your space and spend your energy.

For example, a stay-at-home mom probably has her priorities fixed on her kids and will spend her money on school books and kids’ clothes before even thinking of luxuries like a gym membership. A training athlete values his fitness so much that he couldn’t imagine not going to gym or buying the latest technology in running shoes and wouldn’t even notice the 50% discount on kiddies sneakers. Another clue to picking up on people’s values is to listen to what direction they steer a conversation.

Whatever is highest on your values is where you have the most order, motivation and inspiration. On the other side, you tend to procrastinate on the things that are lowest on your values, which have the most disorder and chaos. Every single person’s values are different and they act as lenses through which we view and filter the world around us. If you expect people to live and react according to your unique values, you’re living in a fantasy and setting yourself up for disappointment.

However, once you recognise different people’s priorities, you can start to communicate in a way that builds lasting and meaningful relationships, whether it’s in business, social circles or family.

Gosh, there’s so much more to this - Dr Demartini speaks really fast so you can imagine how much he covered in his 1hour 30 minute talk. Have a look at this video clip so you can hear him explain how you can determine your own values.

Art of Communication:
The art of communication is in communicating your values in terms of the values of others. Ask yourself, how can I phrase what I want so that it serves the other person’s values in some way? What’s important to me and what’s important to them and how can I link the two?

Tonight he’ll be giving a 1hour talk, followed by the screening of the movie The Opus. His talk, entitled Activating Vision, will cover how you can be the difference and live an inspired and amazing life.

It’s at the BOE Conference Centre (next to the Clock Tower, V&A Waterfront) at 19:00. Read more details on

Popularity: 10% [?]

Mastering the Art of Communication

For those Capetonians interested in building greater networks, learning how to positively influence people and how to improve your professional and personal relationships, keep your schedule open on Wednesday night.

Dr Demartini, international authority on maximising human awareness and potential (among many things), is on his way to Cape Town this week to present a few talks and seminars. On Wednesday he’ll be talking about “Empowering relationships - mastering the art of communication”. It’s at 19:30 at the Westin Grand (next to the CTICC).

Dr John DemartiniAlthough I’ve heard him speak on this topic before, I’m not missing this one, because apart from being a philosopher, teacher, author and international speaker, Dr Demartini is an absolute genius and he generously shares his inspirational insights.

On Thursday night, this self-made multi-millionaire will be doing a talk on how to build wealth (no matter the obstacles) and master your finances. For these two talks, you can book through Computicket or find out more on Dr Demartini’s event schedule.

Friday night sees him joining a Going4Gold event where he’ll be talking about activating vision, how to be the difference and live an inspired and amazing life.

Popularity: 7% [?]

Mother’s Day or Mothers Day - Quick Lesson on Apostrophes

After Mother’s Day this past weekend, we’ve all seen enough adverts, posters, junk mail and retail signage to remind us of just where and how to spend our money spoiling mom. Of course, Mother’s Day promotional mailers and press releases were abundant too, but apparently the time for checking grammar was not.

In an email titled “Mothers should be Mother’s” (huh?), a well-known global skin care brand couldn’t quite decide which plural was correct, so they simply used them all. 

“This month we’re celebrating mothers’ everywhere…”

“The perfect gift for Mothers Day.”

And a little further in the email…

“The perfect gift for Mother’s Day.”

Ok, so not everyone is a grammar guru and apostrophes can be particularly tricky. But by nature, apostrophes tend to stick out, so here’s a quick lesson on how to use the darn things and get it right. 

There are several uses for apostrophes. They can be used to show the plural of an abbreviation, letters and numbers (there are two m’s in accommodation). They are also used in time expressions (one day’s leave). Here are the two other uses that I’ll focus on a bit more:

1. Apostrophes replace missing letters.
- We’re celebrating. (In full: we are)
- Don’t buy this. (In full: do not)

Please note that “it’s” is short for “it is” or “it has”. It is not the same as “its”.
- It’s been a great lesson. (In full: It has been a great lesson.)
- Its whiskers are long.

2. Apostrophes show possession.
- John’s coffee is great. (Whose coffee is great?)
- That shop’s flowers are fresh.

Before or after the s? This depends on whether the word is plural or singular. To show singular possession, put the apostrophe before the s. To show plural possession, put the apostrophe after the s.
- The cats’ bowls are empty. (Many hungry cats.)
- The cat’s bowls are empty. (One hungry and thirsty cat.)

The reason why so many people get it wrong is because there are several confusing exceptions. Plural words that don’t end in s have the apostrophe before the s when showing possession.
- The people’s poet.
- The children’s jackets.

Here’s another exception:
- James’ car is red. - Interestingly, James’s is also grammatically correct. It depends on whether you pronounce the word “James” or “Jamesiz”. The spell checker shows that James’s is incorrect though (and it just looks strange to me), so I prefer to stick to the first option.

As an example of people getting it wrong, here’s a piece out of a CV I received recently:

“Worked at a Candy flosss stand Andys’s Candy. Worker at Cathys’s gift shop. Worked as a manager for Ann’’s Beauty Salon.”

To learn more about apostrophes, here is a good grammar lesson that I used to check my facts for this post. :)

Popularity: 36% [?]

Replying to All in Email - Use Sparingly, Or Never

I’ve received a few marketing/spam emails lately, where the marketers have included the email addresses of their full recipient list for all to see. Although frustrating, this is of course nothing new. But I’ve never seen a reply, or a string of replies, quite like this before.

It started with a well-meaning email, where the sender, Siva, was trying to introduce himself and his new business, apparently ignorant of the fact that he was spamming everyone on his rather long list. After receiving what must’ve been several scolding replies, he then emailed everyone again (with all the addresses on view, again) to apologise for spamming them.

I thought this was a little strange, instead of just replying to the specific complainants and leaving it at that. But, as it it turned out, the comedy hadn’t even begun yet.

Wim sends a “reply to all” asking Siva for a price list, while letting everyone know (through his signature) exactly who he is. In the meantime, several people on the recipient list feel that they can follow Siva’s unfortunate example and send their company info and promote their sms competition lines to everyone too. It starts to get a bit ridiculous when Emma shouts this reply:


To which Wim feels compelled to reply, replying to all, of course:

“I Agree… I only replied to a message sent to myself… So, some of you that swore at me, shame on you!”

A very frustrated Hermann, who had obviously emailed Wim privately before, now sends this message to everyone:

“I wrote you before DON’T SEND ME YOUR MAILS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 The final reply from Wim sends me into shrieks of laughter:


Well, I don’t think this post needs much more explanation. Revealing all of your recipients’ email addresses is dangerous; and using “reply to all” can be professional suicide.

Popularity: 7% [?]

Ten Excellent Networking Tips

Having just attended two networking events in an equal number of evenings (PR-Net and 27 Dinner), I had the opportunity to practice some of the tips I learnt from Colette Carlson’s “Communication secrets to change your life” seminar last weekend. I’m still learning and some of these tips take a bit of practice (they don’t call it net-work for nothing), but I’ve found them to be incredibly useful:

1. Wear your stripes

Make sure to introduce yourself at every opportunity. Let people know who you are upfront. Don’t lose an opportunity by simply saying “Hi, I’m Robynn”. Rather say “Hi, I’m Robynn Burls, the owner of Encyclomedia, the online media database for the PR industry. And you are?” Now people know who you are and it opens the opportunity for them to ask you more about what you do. 

2. Introduce yourself to the loners - you’ll be their hero

No-one likes to be standing alone at a networking event, it’s embarrassing! It makes you do stupid things like pretend you’re checking email on your cell (and we all know you’re really only trying to look busy).

Make a point of walking up to the person and introduce yourself. The loners will be so grateful to finally be involved that they won’t be able to forget you. Remember, the objective behind good networking is to become memorable in the minds of others.

3. Bring outsiders into the conversation - more hero-factor

When you’re chatting in a group and you see that certain individuals are being side-lined, pull them back into the conversation by saying “John, what do you think about that?” By giving him the opportunity to get back into the group, you’ll make yourself more memorable to John.

Also, when you are talking, be inclusive and connect with everyone’s eyes, not just the person who asked you a question.

4. Lost and alone? Start a conversation

It’s always tough, if not a little daunting, when attending an event alone. Don’t get stuck in a quiet corner playing with your phone. Walk straight up to the busiest area, normally the bar, or around the registration table. Remember to smile, it makes you look more approachable - people like friendly people. Find another person and casually comment ”I don’t know anyone here. How about you?”

There you have it, you’ve started a conversation and it wasn’t so difficult. The fear of doing something is always far worse than actually doing it.

5. Embarrassing silence? Prepare ahead

We’ve all experienced that dreaded lull in conversation where you nervously take a gulp of wine, hoping someone will think of something to say by the time you’ve swallowed. Now you can use this silence to your advantage. Depending on the type of people attending the event, take some time out beforehand to read some recent blog posts or newspaper articles related to their field of interest. Find something quirky or humorous (no front-page dreary news stories please) and keep it at the back of your mind.

The moment people start fidgeting and looking around, you can add “hey, did any of you read Dave Duarte’s post about Nokia’s hilarious “position art” campaign?” If someone says yes, then invite them to tell the group about it. Not only have you saved the conversation, for which everyone is enormously grateful, but you’ve also given someone else the opportunity to tell a story. This once again makes you more memorable in the story-teller’s mind.

6. Ask unusual, but appropriate questions

Aim to create conversations that connect. You need to be a little strategic and use the short space of time that you spend talking to someone to build rapport (find common ground). Talking about the weather or the view is only convenient when you can’t think of anything else meaningful. Don’t waste an opportunity, rather prepare some questions ahead of time. Remember, there’s a bit of “work” in networking.

You could say something like “tell me what you do on weekends”. This is a clever question because it lets the person speak about their passions. People find it easy to talk about things they’re genuinely passionate about, so you can easily accelerate the conversation from there. If someone says they like to go hiking, then simply say “oh, tell me about that”.

7. Focus on others

It’s better to be interested than interesting. It’s a funny thing, but research has shown that the more you get a person to speak about herself, the more she will remember you as being interesting.

8. Make notes of people’s interests

When you get home after a networking event, make a note of everything that you can remember about the people you met - how many dogs and cats they have, what their children’s names are, what their hobbies are, etc. You could put this into a spreadsheet and categorise it by event or industry. Preferably synch the spreadsheet with your phone so you can quickly check the details again on-the-go.

The next time you meet the person, try asking how the wife’s rowing regatta went and see how his face lights up!

9. Give before getting

Once you know what a person’s interests are, take it a step further than simply bringing it up the next time you meet. Use the information to help you connect and build a relationship. Use Google Alerts, Amatomu, Muti or Afrigator to search for new content relevant to the person’s interests. Then send a quick email with a link to the article or blog post saying that you thought he or she would find it interesting.

Wow, now you’re making a real impact in the person’s mind. Try to help others get what they want and you become a trustworthy, memorable contact.

10. Close a conversation with class

When at a networking event, it doesn’t serve you to spend the entire evening chatting to one individual. The objective is to meet as many people as possible who can help you get your ideas, interests and agendas heard (whether that’s making a new bunch of friends or finding potential clients).

So when you find yourself stuck in a long-winded conversation, take advantage of a natural lull. Confidently say “well, it was really lovely meeting you Fanie, I hope we get to meet again soon. Enjoy the rest of your evening”. Then you’re free to shake hands and move on back to the bar where you can start again and meet someone new.

Popularity: 49% [?]

Do you know how to ask for what you want?

I’m sure most PR and communications practitioners have attended a class or course on assertive communication at some stage. But I recently learnt a whole new angle of assertive communication that is particularly useful for PR people to know. If you want to learn how to ask for what you want (with grace) and get what you want, then read a little further.

Communication secrets
Colette CarlsonI attended a seminar this weekend in Cape Town entitled “Communication secrets to change your life”, by international motivational speaker Colette Carlson, who is also a communications skills expert and “mentor” in the movie called “Pass it ON”. A major part of the seminar was focussed on assertiveness, which at first concerned me, because I can still vividly remember Mrs Janse van Rensburg’s explanation of aggressive, passive and assertive communication in the PR classroom – yeah, she was a good teacher and I have a good memory! :)

Thankfully, the content quickly moved into new territory and my ears pricked up at the term passive-digressiveTM. “This is new” I thought, and indeed it was a new phrase coined by Colette (hence the little trademark thing). You can have a look at Colette’s full explanation and examples of passive-digressive types, but in short, if you tend to hint for things that you want (“ooh, this bag is so heavy”), or if you like to ask for things so “nicely” that you circle around the question (“do you always keep the air-con so low?”), then you are using passive-digressive communication. You’re digressing from the point and sending mixed messages.

Colette explains that “rather than not speak up for yourself at all (passive behavior) or speak up in a way that disrespects the needs of others (passive-aggressive behavior), the Passive DigressiveSM individual speaks sideways. Rather than be clear and direct (assertive behavior) they zigzag around an issue by being roundabout.”

Now if this is sounding somewhat familiar, it’s important to know that this type of communication is certainly not helping you get what you want and it’s also often perceived as manipulative.

How to get your message across
Public relations professionals and marketers are expected to be communication experts, so it’s really important to learn how to avoid this communication mistake. Colette’s advice is to clearly and succinctly say what you want. Be direct rather than hinting and circumnavigating the issue.

Start by describing a fact or how something affects you (not just an opinion that someone can argue with): “I see the air-con is set to 16 degrees. My toes are turning blue”. Then state what it is that you want and look for agreement: “Would anyone mind if I turned it up to a more comfortable level at 20 degrees?”

You’ll probably hear a collective sigh of relief from every other shivering person in the room, because they were all too “polite” to ask for the same thing. We can really be ridiculous sometimes, can’t we?

Popularity: 12% [?]