With hybrid work environments becoming the rule, not the exception, it’s time for a reminder about what’s appropriate to put in writing. The informality of email and digital channels permits communications to be fast, funny, and even sarcastic. Most of us would never take this approach in a formal letter or document.
Content shared via email, texts, or through team collaboration channels like Slack, Microsoft Teams, or Google Chat, can become problematic in litigation, particularly if it involves an employment situation. There are countless stories of people who thought their business emails were private. They’re not. They may be discoverable if relevant in a lawsuit.
Here are five tips to ensure a quick and “harmless” message doesn’t become a future problem.
1. Choose the correct channel. Would a call or an in-person meeting be better? Emails can be forwarded to individuals they were never intended for and anyone with a smartphone can take a screenshot.
2. Watch your tone. Email is eternal. Business communications should be appropriate, safe for work, and inoffensive. Don’t write anything that you’d be uncomfortable with others reading. Including your grandmother.
3. Is it clear? Read it over. Could anything be misconstrued or taken out of context? If you enter litigation, your intent will be analyzed closely by the other side.
4. Don’t begin or continue an argument. If someone shares incorrect information, it’s OK to clarify and provide the facts, but don’t debate or argue through email.
5. Avoid irony, sarcasm, and exaggeration. A message dashed off in a hurry often falls into this category. So does humor. But these are exactly the communications that can be problematic if a lawsuit occurs.
The office setting may have changed, but the risk has not. It’s even more important now to raise awareness about appropriate workplace communications so everyone understands what’s at stake.
We recently prepared a presentation for a client that had more than 100 slides…for a one hour meeting. Do the math: If you calculate time for introductions and leave even five minutes at the end for questions, that’s a pace of two slides per minute during the presentation. A blistering pace.
Then consider the content on the slides: lots of words, tables, and occasional graphics. Typeface size was 18 to 28 point. You get the picture. The intent was to hammer home thousands of ideas and facts. The client could not be swayed. They needed every one of these slides to deliver a successful presentation. They just wanted us to “make it pretty.”
I wish I could say we used our magical powers of persuasion to enlighten them to use a strategically messaged, visually compelling presentation. Didn’t happen. I did wonder what it was like in the room for the audience… and the presenter. I imagine they were both exhausted when it was over.
Presenters often start with a bunch of slides and try to cram them into a narrative—and it shows. The most effective presentations look simple because they were planned that way.
When your objective is to communicate, educate or influence, the most important work starts with the result in mind:
What is the point you’re trying to make or what must the audience learn?
Why is it important to the audience?
What story can you use to bring the material to life?
What do you want them to do with the information?
Every presentation should tell a story or take the audience on a journey. This applies even if you’re sharing quarterly returns (some of the most important stories). Once you identify your objective, develop the slides that are clear and compelling. Be concise. Use as little text as possible. Because you don’t want them to be reading your slides, you want them to be listening to you.
Then practice, practice, practice. The more comfortable you are with the information, the less you’ll need to rely on slides. Your audience will be grateful.
With a dizzying number of tools, apps and online resources available to business communicators, it can be difficult to keep up. Here are five of our favorites; our go-to sources for inspiration, innovative design and fresh ideas. Happy Holidays!
Creative Market— Creative Market is an online marketplace for community-generated design assets. The website sells graphics, WordPress themes, stock photography, and other digital goods. If you are building infographics, there are thousands of icons to choose from. www.creativemarket.com.
Grammarly—Unlike cursive handwriting, correct grammar never goes out of style. Grammarly’s writing app helps ensure your writing is easy to read, effective, and mistake-free by automatically detecting grammar, spelling, punctuation, word choice and style error. It’s available as a free Chrome extension or online at www.grammarly.com.
HBR IdeaCast—This weekly podcast by the Harvard Business Review features leading thinkers in business and management. What’s the connection to communications? Great leaders understand the value of communications and alignment with corporate values. There are lots of clever ideas to nab here. Available on Apple Podcast and www.HBR.org.
Ted Talks—Everyone needs a 15 minute mental vacation from the daily grind. Watch a Ted Talk. Our recommendation for business communicators is Talk Nerdy to Me by Melissa Marshall. In less than five minutes she outlines a formula for bringing scientific content to a general audience. Use this approach whenever you’re sharing complex (or boring) information. www.TedTalks.com
Unsplash—There is no better site for beautiful, free images and photos than Unsplash. You can download high resolution files to use for any project. No attribution required (although always appreciated). Just spend 10 minutes scrolling through the photo files and you’ll be inspired to improve the look of your presentations or handouts. www.unsplash.com
Want to learn something during your internship? Add one employee handbook, five blog posts, one print check, two client meetings, and the launch of a start-up. That should do the trick.
Throughout my seven week internship with Insight Strategic Communications I had the opportunity to work on projects that ultimately gave me a better understanding of brands, employee ownership, and proofing with the audience in mind.
The word “brand” was not new to my vocabulary; however, throughout the course of my internship, I gained a better understanding of the definition. I had never realized how many factors went into creating and maintaining a brand and how many different types of rules and standards must be considered when developing products—things such as font, color, positioning, and tone. As a communications consulting firm, we have to be aware of a client’s brand as we write, proof, and create content for them.
I spent a bulk of my time writing and proofing content and materials for our new company Nest Egg Communications—a communications agency that provides communications toolkits for employee owned companies. At the start of my internship I had no idea what an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) was, let alone what it meant in terms of business. I now know that ESOPs give employees a way to share in the wealth they create, no matter what job they hold.
I had the opportunity to refine and practice my writing and proofing skills while also learning to consider the audience and how the message might be perceived. Before I started reading something I would ask “who is the audience?” This was new for me, I had always edited content by determining if it was perceived well by me; but, what I gained from my experience is that the writing is ineffective if the intended audience can’t understand the message.
With this internship being my first real-world job, I was both nervous and excited; I was eager to learn but also afraid I didn’t know enough going in. However, through lots of questions and experiences I now know that not only can I meet expectations and do the work, but with some more practice I can thrive in the communications field and create great work.
If you’re like us, you’re always looking for ways to get your message across in new, unique, and interesting way. One form of communication that you might not have considered is the use of infographics. What exactly are infographics you might ask? Infographics or informational graphics are graphic visual representations of information, data or knowledge that present complex information quickly and clearly. Many of your colleagues are visual learners and a graphic representation of complex information might be just what is needed to communicate your message.
Think about it. Which would you rather read– a multi-page word document or a one-page graphical representation of that data? Studies have shown that people remember more of what they see than what they read. Images grab your attention and are more engaging than plain text. Seizing and retaining your audience’s attention is crucial. Once you have their attention you can get down to the data.
There are many ways you can graphically represent data. One of the quickest and easiest ways to present large amounts of quantitative data is through graphs and charts. Infographics put a fun, colorful twist on a typical bar graph or pie chart.
Quantitative data seems like an obvious match for an infographic but what if the data or message you want express is qualitative? Maps are often used in infographics to express step by step directions. This can be a great tool if your business is introducing new policies or procedures.
Visual stories are another type of infographic that give your audience a large amount of data without having to read large amounts of texts. A few areas where you might want to consider incorporating infographics include: recruiting, simplifying complex information, recognizing achievements, raising awareness for company changes, presenting data and promoting events.
There are really no limits or restrictions to how you incorporate infographics into your company’s communication plan. Think outside the box and see what ideas you can come up with. For smaller companies that might not have the budget to pay for design work check out canva.com and explore their free design tools.
Sometime in my late teens, I was forced to think critically for the first time about something I’ve seen every day of my life — typefaces. It happened when I showed up to my graphic design class in college and my professor showed us the brilliant film Helvetica. I distinctly remember looking around the classroom about 20 minutes after it had started, expecting to see numerous faces concentrating on the screen and beaming with intellectual passion. Instead, I mainly saw heads lying face down against desks, with only a few ambitious students finding some time to get ahead on some of their other assignments. I didn’t understand why they weren’t as enthused.
“Graphic Design is the communication framework through which these messages about what the world is now, and what we should aspire to — it’s the way they reach us. The designer has an enormous responsibility. Those are the people, you know, putting their wires into our heads.”
Rick Poynor, designer and author, Helvetica.
I’m not kidding. Typeface is the most important aspect of design, if for no other reason than because we are totally surrounded by it. But just because we take it for granted like the air we breathe doesn’t mean it isn’t having an effect on our opinions and choices.
Steve Jobs once said, “…focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end, because once you get there, you can move mountains.”
Keep that quote from Jobs in mind as we look at a case study of the famous “Cola War” between Pepsi and Coca-Cola. Pepsi has never been able to outsell Coke. Granted, Coke has at least one considerable advantage in that it was already selling a million gallons per year by the time Pepsi appeared on the market. But let’s examine what those companies looked like, literally, when Pepsi appeared in 1898.
Now think about Jobs’s quote again. Coca-Cola came up with a clear and simple design early on, and moved mountains with it. Pepsi’s logo, on the other hand, looks like it was designed by Tim Burton, and they’ve spent more than a century and nearly a dozen more logo designs trying to catch up.
Graphic design, and specifically the typography used therein, was a fundamental aspect in Coke’s stranglehold of the cola market. This is a lesson for any company out there, no matter its type or size. And don’t think it’s just down to logos either. Just about all communications a company has, either internal or external, can either reinforce or conflict with its brand.
What do you think? Share your insights and ideas with Joe: firstname.lastname@example.org