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Client whispering – are we talking to our clients in words they want to hear?

I’m a consultant. But unlike many of my consultant colleagues, I don’t come from a substantial consulting background. I come from the other side of the fence…

The Client.

Clients are funny creatures. We look to consultancies for knowledge, advice and the latest industry best practice, but when they turn up to our offices with their laptops and tablets full of pre-prepared answers, we can be a bit wary.

Threatened even.

We tend to be on our guard, aware of our limited budgets and hoping they don’t get stretched too far.

After all, aren’t consultants always on the lookout for ways to part their clients from their hard earned revenue?

Often we find ourselves wondering what can they do that we can’t do ourselves? After all, we have Google.

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How our clients see us

This is the challenge every consultant is up against, every time you meet with a client – whether it’s the first pitch or the 5th workshop you’ve run in a 6-month project.

Clients will always look at you through a filter – “am I getting value for money from this person?” “can I or one of my team do this work for less?” “can I trust this person to do the work I need and not charge me for work I don’t need?”

To be a truly successful consultant we have to win our clients’ trust and keep winning it every time we interact with them.

Think of our clients as an Australian voter and you’ll understand what I mean.

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Do consultants really know our business?

Many years ago, I was the manager of an Australian software company’s global digital presence, my boss and I went out to the market, looking for some advice on how to improve uptake of a new product suite.

I’ll never forget the initial meeting we had with one of the consultancies we short-listed for the work.

Two suits walked in, suits that probably cost more than my car at the time. They shook us both by the hand, looked us in the eye and talked at us for 20 minutes straight. There were beautiful PowerPoint slides, with stylish graphics, there was talk of customer heuristics, competitor landscapes, marketing frameworks and a lot of “What you should do is….”.

Not once did they ask us a question.

After we’d thanked them for their time and walked them out to reception, my boss turned to me and asked “Do you think they even know what we sell?”

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When our colleagues ‘consultant’ us

OK, enough about consultants.

Let’s talk colleagues.

Let’s imagine, I say imagine because I’m sure this never happens to any of you, that you’ve had a particularly difficult time on a project. The team is very dysfunctional, there is a lot of infighting and you’re copping the brunt of the fallout.

It’s not a complete crisis. You’re fairly sure you can manage it, but you could do with a bit of advice and support from someone who’s been in this situation.

Fortunately, it’s Friday night drinks at the office. A few glasses of red and a download is just what you need.

Back at the office, drinks are in full swing. You grab a glass of Merlot and plunge in. 

One sip into your drink, you get chatting with Nic. Nic’s been talking to another person on your project and has heard about your team issues. Nic’s been with the company for a few years now and has a lot of suggestions for you.

For the next 10 minutes you hear a lot of. What I’d do is…  You need to….  Oh that’s a real problem. That could really impact the project. You have to…  If you don’t fix this, it could  ….

All good advice. But now you need another glass of red!

At the drinks table, you bump into Toni. You’ve always looked up to Toni. It’s hard not to be impressed by a person who has delivered that many successful projects.

Two sips in, Toni asks you if anything’s up. You look a bit stressed. To start with you don’t say much – who wants to admit to such a successful person that things are going badly on your project? But as you talk, Toni draws you out. You find yourself talking through the situation and, with a few pertinent questions and subtle suggestions from Toni, you think you know what’s causing the issues and what might alleviate the situation.

Who are you going to turn to the next time you have issues on a project?

Nic or Toni

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When language becomes the communication blocker

One of the things that always used to bug me as a client of consultants was the jargon. Half the time I felt like I needed a dictionary or Google to understand what they were telling me. This used to intimidate me a bit – sometimes I’d leave vendor meetings feeling like I was a bit stupid.

Then I realised the motivation behind it.

Imagine you’re in your car and it starts making a funny noise. You’re a sensible car owner, so you drop it off at the garage. Later that day they call you and say the bushes on your radius rods are worn and your thrust race is possibly on the way out. It’ll cost $800 for parts and labour, are you happy to proceed?

Yes? No? What’s a radius rod? 

And when the blocker follows you to around

After forking out that much money on the car, you need a drink! So you swing by your local, to partake of your favourite beverage. Everyone around you is talking about a hurling game that finished on Foxtel just before you walked in. Hurling is a sport you know nothing about. No one explains the rules to you or who the players are, they’re too busy discussing the finer points of the game.

How do you feel?

That drink is looking like your only friend right now, isn’t it?

Two situations where people used language you didn’t understand. For two different reasons, but the effect was the same.

  • Our friend the mechanic was using technical language to justify a rather sizeable bill.
  • Our friends in the pub were speaking the language of a tribe – the tribe of hurling. 

Both situations will leave you feeling a bit isolated and out of the loop, not a pleasant feeling. Something to keep in mind when talking to our clients.

We may find that they are completely comfortable with our jargon – just as I am fairly confident my car-loving husband knows exactly what a radius rod is and why you’d be concerned about your thrust race – or they may not

They may even be Hurling fans.

There is only one way to find out.

Ask them. Listen. Adjust your language to match theirs.

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Why consulting can be a lot like online dating

I’m sure you’re familiar with the concept that consulting is all about building relationships, but let’s unpack that for a moment. What does building a relationship really entail.

The first thing I think of when someone uses the phrase “building relationships”, is romantic relationships (you know dating and stuff). And when you think about it, there are a lot of parallels:

  • The song and dance we go through before a first date is not that different from preparing for a client proposal.
  • Waiting for a client to get back to us afterwards is very much like the “will he/she call” – and it can have the same life changing impact (as I’m sure Upen would attest).

The parallels continue:

  • The thrill of acceptance when they say yes.
  • Growing confidence as you spend more time together, finding areas of commonality, developing your own “in crowd” language.

But there is one major difference – well OK two – there are certain behaviours expected in a dating relationship that would probably get you kicked off a client site.

The other major difference is a fairly critical one. A romantic ‘dating’ relationship grows out of mutual attraction – it’s a two-way consensual relationship. A consulting relationship is decidedly one way – the client is in control.

So it’s up to us consultants to attract the client and keep them attracted.

Let’s imagine we’re the client, and several someones are trying to attract us:

Someone 1.

First we meet someone #1. Sharp dresser – subtle but classy suit and a scent that leaves you thinking of 6 star hotels. Not an unpleasant addition to the decor! And when they open their mouths, oh the charm!! They’ve swallowed the etiquette book!  Yes, they know their stuff.

Once you get talking, it’s hard to find anything they haven’t done. Banking, insurance, utilities, construction, logistics – they’ve worked across the board – and always at the c-suite level. Business strategy, digital transformation, innovation, change management – they’ve set the standard in every discipline. And in their spare time, it turns out they’ve swum with sharks and bungeed the Grand Canyon.

You leave the meeting feeling rather dazed and not quite up to their standard.

Someone 2.

Now we sit down with someone #2. Another snazzy dresser, also very easy on the eyes and the nose. And very interested in you. Over a couple of long blacks, you’re skilfully interviewed about your business strategy, past performance, areas of difficulty and the measures you’ve put in place to address them.

Comments they drop into the conversation show they’ve researched your company – they quote your CEO from last week’s ABR. They know how well your share price has performed over the last year. After an hour, you realise you’ve gone over time and you didn’t even notice. You spent most of the time talking about your business area, what you’ve achieved and where you’d like to take it in the future – to an audience who seemed informed and really interested.

Who’s getting the second interview?

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Moving to a longer term (consulting) relationship

But relationships aren’t all about initial attraction. Ask any married person, the spark only lasts so long. After that you need a few more tools in your kit.

Whether you’re working on your marriage or your client relationship, there are key things you need to build and maintain:

  • Trust
  • Respect
  • Understanding

And again, it’s up to you, the consultant, to make sure these things are built and maintained.

Let’s use the marriage metaphor to explore this a bit – let’s see how those of you who are married answer, vs those who aren’t….

After 3 years in your current role, you realise you’re not happy in your job. It’s very stressful and you’re working long hours which doesn’t leave much time for the family. But the role pays well, very well. You’re way ahead on the mortgage and you’ve managed two overseas holidays in the last year.

So you sit down with the other half to discuss your options. Let’s look at two ways this could do down:

Conversation 1.

You talk about how stressed you are and how you’re finding it harder and harder to get up in the morning and go to work. Your other half listens, comments that they had noticed you were not your usual self and starts to talk through options.

You say that, really, you’d like to leave the role and find something less stressful. Your spouse is concerned about the loss of income but starts to suggest ways you both can economise. They ask you if you can last in the role long enough to adjust your budgeting to adapt to a lower income. They also suggest that maybe you could talk to your manager about making your current role less demanding or finding ways to reduce the stress.

Conversation 2.

Starts the same way, with you expressing your dissatisfaction with your job. Your spouse listens but seems to be distracted. When you finish explaining the situation and how you feel, your other half sits for a moment and then tells you that right now you can’t afford to give up your job.

They assure you that there are ways to deal with stress and the family is OK with your long hours. After all you’ve had those lovely overseas holidays. After that, the conversation loses momentum and you turn to other subjects.

Later that week you find out that your spouse has told your family that you’re really busy at work right not so they shouldn’t tell you that they miss you being at home.

Which conversation is would you prefer to have?

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Whispering the right words

Each one of these examples is a parallel for a situation we consultants can put our clients into.

  • Focusing more on demonstrating our knowledge than their needs.
  • Presenting solutions, rather than listening to problems – the ones they DON’T know about as well as the ones they do.
  • Using the latest lingo, or jargon we’re comfortable with, and not checking if the client understands.
  • Making decisions for our clients because we KNOW its right for them or the project.

So what does all this say about a client / consultant relationship?

  1. Consulting is not all about us, what we know or the latest theory we’ve read about – it’s about our clients, what they need and the problem they are trying to solve.
  2. Good consultants take the time to listen to their clients, empathise with their situation and work WITH them to find solutions. Understand that the project we’re delivering is just a part of a bigger picture – their business.
  3. Language is vitally important. It is, after all, our primary means of communication. We need to make sure the language we use is our client’s language, not just ours.
  4. Just like we do with our better halves. We need to put the client at the centre of what we do – it is our job to make them feel like they most important person in the room, the hottest ticket in town and the most interesting project in our lives.

So, when we find ourselves short-cutting a client conversation to save time and get to an outcome or drive a project goal or when we feel we have all the answers and want to jump straight to presenting a solution to our client – we need to remember – they can swipe left any time they like.

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Do we really want to be ‘equal’ at work?

Workplace equality. The holy grail of every forward-thinking company.

Wouldn’t it be lovely to have a workplace where women are paid equally, treated equally and represented equally at all levels (particularly the higher ones)?

We’ve all asked for it, campaigned for it, protested for it (well I have, but then I was quite feisty at Uni) and hoped that “one day” it might be a reality.

But sometimes I wonder.

I’m a big fan of the ‘paid equally’ bit and a huge fan of the ‘represented equally’ part – I’ve read no end of studies that show how companies and employees thrive when managed by women – but I wonder if the treated equally bit is all it’s cracked up to be.

Not one of the boys

I’ve worked in the IT/Digital industry for the best part of 20 years. So it goes without saying I’ve worked with a lot of men. And I’ve watched how they treat each other.

I’ve also spent time around adolescent boys – I have two nephews and a step-son – and sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between the blokes in the boardroom and the boys in the schoolyard. (Sorry chaps, I don’t mean this as a put-down, merely a comparison).

The way our menfolk compete for dominance is remarkably similar to their adolescent selves. Very different from the way us girls interact.

Yes, we have our ways of competing but power and dominance are not our goals.

Some of the tricks my husband and his best mates play on each other, I wouldn’t try on my worst enemy.

Hierarchy and the pecking order are important to men. Whether you’re the smartest, tallest, strongest or simply the wittiest in the group, men need an “est” to define themselves.

They need to feel they stand out from the crowd.

Boys to men – they all need to prove themselves

If you look back over time, in almost every culture on earth, becoming a ‘man’ (transitioning from boy to man) meant a chap had to pass a series of ‘manly’ tests. You could be born male, but you had to earn the right to call yourself a man. These tests usually included proving strength, independence and the ability to survive ‘in the wild’.

Women just had to reach the age where we could conceive and bear a child (yeah, we just had to get our periods). Our ‘status’ didn’t really change. Same chores, same respect (or lack of) just more work – that would be the conceiving, bearing and raising children bit.

This hasn’t changed much down the years. Just look at 20th/21st pop culture and you’ll see two types of messaging:

Men should be: tall, strong, commanding, good at sport, the provider.

Women should be: pretty, caring, seductive, domestic, the nurturer.

It’s no wonder we’ve learned two different sets of behaviours. And certainly not surprising that this has led to different behaviours in the workplace.

And this is how it plays out at work

This brings me back to my ‘adolescent’ workmates. I’m sure you’ve met them. They’re the ones who always talk over each other in meetings and spend their free time arguing over who has the fastest car, loudest stereo or best gadgets, or who can eat the hottest Indian food.

Compare this with the women in the office – we listen more in meetings and our arguments are usually over who’s going to win “MKR” and where to get the best deals on the latest fashions. We may indulge in bitchy gossip now and then, but when we’re not picking holes in the fashion sense of the latest “Bachelorette” we’re swapping ideas on how to best navigate the ins and outs of the corporate jungle.

Sure we compete – we’re human after all – but we also support each other and swap strategies on how to succeed in the patriarchy.

Are we losing out by not competing?

Women and men play by different rules. Hell we play completely different games! Men take great pleasure in setting each other up to fail – look at the popularity of shows like “Punked”. They seem immune to insults, practical jokes and other humiliations their ‘friends’ inflict on them. They don’t get upset, they get even.

Women don’t tend to play such tricks on each other. (Yes, I know I’m generalising outrageously, bear with me.) Whether it’s because we find this behaviour childish and beneath us or whether we’re merely avoiding retaliation, we don’t feel the need to sabotage and undermine each other.

I wonder sometimes if this very lack of competitive behaviour in women is what is holding us back. Maybe if we competed more and spent less time looking after our sisters (and the bros) in the workplace, we might find workplace equality just happens naturally. We’d end up on top by playing the game man-style.

Certainly that is a strategy more of us could benefit from trying outside of work.

We’re certainly behind the 8-ball at home

Did you know that, according to the 2016 Australian Census figures, women do up to 14 hours’ unpaid domestic housework each week? Men reportedly do under five hours a week.

But wait, it gets worse. When men and women live together (ie shack up) women end up doing more domestic work and men end up doing less.

It is no wonder workplace equality is such a hot topic, we don’t even have workplace equality at home!

So what’s the answer?

Gosh I wish I knew! For an issue this big, I don’t think there is one answer. I do have some suggestions though.

  1. We women need to stand up and value our soft skills (and not see soft as a bad word). We’ve been the unsung heroes of the workplace for decades:
  • The secretaries without whom the boss could barely tie his shoelaces, let alone run the company.
  • The nurses who made doctors look good (and made sure patients didn’t die from neglect).
  • The teachers who taught all those little boys to read and write so they could become men.
  • The wives, mothers, housekeepers, hostesses, cooks, cleaners and waitresses who ran the household and made sure their husbands never wanted for a thing.
  • And the many other jobs we’ve taken on because no man would ‘lower’ himself to do women’s work.

It is time we recognised the work we put in – at home and work – and stopped belittling our own talents.

Stop letting men talk over us, talk down to us or talk for us – we’re capable of speaking up and making ourselves heard – in stand-ups, meetings, workshops and contract negotiations. If we don’t speak up, someone else (a man) will speak for us and our voices will never be heard. We’ll remain the (quiet) women behind the (louder) men.

  1. Let’s take them on at their own game and show them how to play. We’re in the workplace now, we’ve been watching the boys play their power games for decades. There is no reason why we can’t play those games and make the rules suit us.We don’t need to drive a faster car, have a bigger desk or drink more alcohol to ‘win’ in the boyish games. We have skills and tools they’ll never have. We might as well use them 😉

    Let me tell you about a workmate of mine. She’s beautiful, very feminine and she dresses to take advantage of her every curve. She prides herself on being ‘high maintenance’ to the point where I’ve nicknamed her ‘Princess’.

    You’d think that this paragon of womanhood could be belittled or sidelined by our XY colleagues. “She’s too pretty to take seriously.” “She wouldn’t want to break a nail by working hard.”

    On the contrary my friends. Princess holds her own with senior management on a daily basis. She owns her beauty and her high maintenance exterior and wields it as a weapon in her arsenal of workplace tools. No man can withstand her combination of pin-point perfect presentation, needle sharp wit and sheer hard work.

    If she can do it, ladies so can we.

  1. But it’s not all up to us. Our friends in the testosterone camp have work to do too (and if they want their dinner on time and not in the rubbish, they’ll get that work done).I don’t think I need to tell you that workplace inequality is not of our making. The boys created this situation so they need to put some work in to change it.

    They may need a bit of education from us, but that’s nothing new. We teach them everything else – from tying their shoelaces to how to dress for a first date – we might as well give them some tips here too.

    For us women to be truly equal in the workplace, our natural skill-sets need to have equal value and status in that workplace. The male tools of aggression, posturing, one-up-man-ship and ‘length’ comparison need to make room for more female tools like communication, compassion and understanding.

    We put in as effort into work as they do (sometimes more, when you think of all we have to do just to just GET into work) we need to credit ourselves for that and work with our menfolk so they credit it too.

Thanks to the Institute of Entrepreneurship Development https://ied.eu for the awesome image.

Want people to take your seriously? Say what you mean.

As a radio presenter, my job was to communicate clearly and to say what I meant.

Then I got a corporate job – in a government department marketing team. You can imagine my confusion. No one said what they meant. In meetings, emails and even face to face, people talked in circles.

My role was change communications for a round of redundancies – management called it ‘right-sizing’ and ‘rationalisation’. The 1,000 people who were ‘let go’, and those of us losing colleagues and friends, called it something else!

Since then, I’ve worked in a lot of large companies, in NZ and Aus, and I still find the language challenging.

Everyone’s ‘shifting paradigms’ to ‘create synergies’ so they don’t ‘boil the ocean’.

It may sound knowledgeable and ‘managerial’ but really, it’s just hiding behind buzz words.

By using jargon and buzzwords, you stop people questioning you. How can you debate with someone if you’re not sure what they said?

You may ‘win’ the conversation, but you also may lose your colleagues’ trust and buy in.

Want your colleagues to work with you? Drop the jargon and say what you really mean.

Scary? Yes it can be. Effective? Always

The hidden power of context

Sophie’s campaign for clear communication

Context. Such a simple word. But, one with hidden power. Often, it’s the only difference between clear communication and complete confusion.

I was at a networking lunch today, listening to a guest speaker presenting his take on effective marketing. The audience was really engaged – I could tell because they kept taking pictures of his slides with their phones.

Then… he lost us. We went from an interesting talk about a new way at looking at customer experience and marketing to a sales pitch.

Not an open “Like what you see? This is how we can implement it in your company or work with you to implement it with you clients.” But a blunt “Here’s some figures of ROI improvements for our clients. Any questions?”

You could see the mood of the room change. He’d lost us.

We thought we were listening to a presentation on a new concept. He thought he was spruiking his business / software.

Because the presenter didn’t give us a clear context for his presentation, he lost his audience (and possibly some profitable business).

Context! If you want to clearly communicate a concept, sales pitch or proposal – you need to set the context.

Good customer experience isn’t just digital

Sophie’s campaign for clear communication

I’ve read a lot about “CX” recently. (That’s customer experience if you speak English, not ‘abbreviation’).

It’s fascinating to see the different interpretations of CX. Customer experience – the step by step, emotion by emotion experience your customer has when they interact with your business.

Pretty simple right? Apparently not.

Given many customers experience your company in the faceless world of websites, apps and call centre IVRs, it is hard to ‘know’ what they go through.

To me, that’s half the problem. When I read about ‘CX maturity’ and ‘optimising the customer experience’, what I see looks more like a digital strategy than a customer one.

Yes I know, we’re all online now. Everyone’s glued to their devices 24/7 (even me – Miss iPhone, iPad, laptop, Kindle girl).

But does that mean the only experience customers want is digital?

I don’t think so. I think for every time-poor, smart-phone addicted online native, there’s a human being wanting to walk into a shop or pick up a phone and TALK to someone.

So my customer experience strategies include off-line options. Call it omni-channel if you want to, but give your customers choice.

Can you handle (telling) the truth?

Sophie’s campaign for clear communication

Have you watched a Youi ad recently? The clean-cut young man interviewing customers on ‘how they use their car’ and ‘why their home is important to them’. Then ‘finding out’ how much they saved by choosing Youi for their insurance.

I find those ads fascinating.

It’s great that ‘Chris from Sydney’ saved $236 on his car insurance, but what is that saving based on? Did he move from another insurer and Youi’s premiums are $236 cheaper? Or did he just choose the cheapest Youi option – and the most expensive option would have cost $236 more?

That “what are they not telling me” feeling undermines any positive messages I get from the ad.

As marketers, we don’t have the luxury of telling half-truths if we want our campaigns to cut through. Customers want to know the whole story, not just the positive bit you want to tell them.

Stephanie Klein said “Tell the truth, or someone will tell it for you.”

Who do you want telling your truth?

Why are we still ‘Clicking here’?

Sophie’s campaign for clear communication

If you Googled ‘Click here’ in the early 2000s you got the download page for Acrobat Reader. In those days, every website had screes of PDF documents on their pages and obligingly included a link to download the reader – just in case this was the first PDF you’d downloaded. The text for that link was invariably “Click Here”.

We’ve come a long way since then. Most of our web content is in HTML, not PDF, and we confidently assume that most browsers can read PDFs if we need to include one.

But we still love ‘Click here’ and its friends ‘Read More’, ‘More Details’ and my personal favourite ‘More’.

Why?

I know we’re all tailoring our content to be Mobile First and satisfy our smart phone addicted millennials and Gen Zs. But are we also assuming they have psychic powers and can guess what content we’re hiding behind our one-word, generic link labels?

I don’t want to use the word lazy, but when I see these generic link shortcuts, I am sorely tempted.

Do your readers (and me) a favour. Splash out and – write link labels that actually describe the pages they link to.

The lift in usability, conversion and NPS for your site will be your just reward.

Customers are smarter than we think they are.

Sophie’s campaign for clear communication

I’ve been reading about Trivago’s run-in with the ACCC – if you haven’t read about it Trivago got fined for making misleading price claims. This is a typical case of a company treating customers as revenue, not thinking people.

Sometimes it seems that advertising is just promises to pull in customers – without thinking about the plausibility of those promises.

“If you find a better price on the same item, we’ll beat it by x%” – when you’re the only seller of that product.

“Permeate free milk” – when most milk doesn’t have permeate in it anyway.

And don’t get me started on the iddy biddy Ts and Cs at the bottom of the screen!

Persuasive arguments, on the surface. But more and more customers are looking beyond the advertising to the actuality beyond.

As a consumer and a digital marketer, I have this request. Don’t wait until you get slapped on the wrist. Look at your messaging and make it honest.

Show some respect for your customers’ intelligence and tell them the truth. Find the REAL benefits of your product offering and promote them.

Do it right and you can avoid prosecution and gain loyal, profitable customers.

The pluses and minuses of email

Sophie’s campaign for clear communication

I’m an email addict. I love getting them and I send more than I should. (This is at work, at home it’s all Messenger, emojis and face to face time.)

There’s something seductive about flicking off an email. Think a bit, type a bit and Send. Another task off your plate and somebody else’s problem.

But are we creating more work, not less? How do we know our email is read and actioned? Sure there’s Read Receipt but putting that on every email, would be creepy, and you’d still have to follow up each unread email.

Time consuming.

Surely it’s quicker to walk to a person’s desk and talk to them? OK, so they may be in another building/city/country but you have a phone, don’t you?

When I want something from a person at work I:

1. Talk to them – face to face if possible or on the phone.
2. Follow up with an email – so they have a written record.
3. Thank them in person when they’ve given me what I wanted/needed.

A lot of work? Maybe, but I build networks and good will, and my communication is clearer and easier. And as I build my network, each interaction takes less time and goes more smoothly.

And I’m racking up steps, walking around the building!! So the smart watch is happy too.

Silence really is golden

Sophie’s campaign for clear communication

Want to sound smart? Stop talking.

When I was a little girl, I loved to talk. Every thought that came into my head went out of my mouth. I was the youngest in a family of strong personalities, so getting anyone to listen was a big win. I learned to make the most of every gap in the conversation.

Talking became my ‘thing’. I was chatty, talkative and the life of the party. I even turned my love of talking into a career – I became a radio presenter and documentary maker for New Zealand’s public radio.

Now I’ve left the world of radio for a corporate life, I’ve learned how to really control the conversation… stop talking.

I spend the bulk of my working hours in meetings, workshops and endless conversations with my colleagues.

You’d think a chatty girl like me would be all over these opportunities to talk, but I find the less I talk the more I get out of a conversation. I learn more, argue less and can steer the conversation – with a few well-chosen words.

By being quiet, I have more impact when I speak. By listening, I have a better idea of where the conversation is going and how to steer it where I want it to go.

If you want to have impact in your next big meeting or workshop – try not talking. Or at least not talking until you can speak with impact.

When communication becomes a sugary drink

Sophie’s campaign for clear communication

When you work in PR or marketing it’s very easy to ‘drink the kool aid’ of your company – in other words, get sucked in by your own marketing messages.

It happens to the best of us and it can be amusing to the outsider when it does – just watch any speech by Donald Trump and you’ll see what I mean.

I saw a closer-to-home example today. An insurance company (we don’t need to say which one) has the caption “we make your world a safer place” on their reception wall.

I looked at that for quite a while, thinking “Do they?Really?”

“Surely you just pay up when something bad happens.”

When I dug deeper, I realised the caption is linked to a series of safety messages across their channels. But, in isolation, it comes across as a bit Trumpy.

We all get a little kool aidy when we work in corporate (or even small business) comms. We need to believe in what our company stands for and be able to talk up the products and services.

But, it’s wise to maintain a balance and stay credible. Too much kool aid can lead you in Trumpish directions.

So the next time you’re working on a pithy one-liner for your company’s big campaign – ask yourself “Does makes sense all by itself – or am I sipping kool aid?”

Hitting the mark with humour

Sophie’s campaign for clear communication

I have a very quirky sense of humour. It keeps me entertained and it can be very useful in business situations. But not everyone gets my jokes.

So I have to do some careful ground work to make sure my one-liners warm the room, rather than fall flat at my feet.

Humour is a powerful communication tool – when it works. It can break the ice in tense meetings, put new people at ease when you meet or brighten up a boring presentation.

When it doesn’t work, you can end up feeling like a right prat.

A lot of communication is like that. What you’re thinking in your head is not necessarily what comes out of your mouth (or keyboard) and certainly not what ends up in the minds of your listeners (or readers).

So the next time you share a gem of a yarn with those around you, take a moment… and follow the same steps you do with your ‘serious’ communications:

  1. Think of your audience.
  2. Ask yourself what message you’re trying to get across.
  3. Decide on your desired outcome.
  4. Shape your message with these things in mind.

Make sure your audience get the FULL story and can enjoy your humour as much as you do.

Next step – Saturday Night Live!