Finding your voice – online discussion 6 August

When asked to host an online discussion at betternetworking.co.uk at 8pm on Thursday 6th August 2009, I chose the title ‘Finding Your Voice’.

Communication is the primary business tool. Whether you’re negotiating finance with the bank, instructing suppliers, motivating staff or selling to customers, you depend on words to inform people and to persuade them to take action. Instructions have to be clear, motivational messages inclusive and marketing messages compelling: our choice of words and how we use them can determine whether or not we achieve our business objectives.

If you’d like to  join in the chat on Thursday, visit betternetworking.co.uk.

An obligation to entertain

When I write for pleasure, I write to entertain myself. There’s no point in doing it if my audience – me – is not entertained. If other people are entertained by my writing as well, that’s a bonus.

When writing for other people, either businesses or theatre audiences, I have an obligation to entertain them. If not, businesses won’t read what I write and audiences will lose interest and walk out of a show.

It doesn’t matter how factual or important content is, people need to be entertained to take note of the message that’s being communicated.

Often this gets lost in the scramble to use technology to communicate. It doesn’t matter whether the message is written in 140 characters on twitter or daubed on a plywood sign at the side of the road: if it isn’t entertaining, people won’t take notice.

So do you need a creative person to write for you? They certainly should be able to help, but there’s nothing to stop anyone writing entertaining copy.

Think of it as telling a story or joke to your friends or recounting your latest achievement in your favourite hobby or sport. If you can make these sound exciting and communicate your enthusiasm, then why not anything else? All right, I recently struggled to make a piece on sewers entertaining, so there are some topics where a little extra effort can be required.

Always remember that, whatever the format or delivery method, we are obliged to entertain our audience.

That’s all for now, folks!

Talking is a tool to help weather the economic storm

Even without the BBC’s financial crisis logo, it’s easy to see that conditions are challenging for many sectors. With Vodafone reported as looking to make £1 billion in cutbacks and BT reported to be making 10,000 redundancies, the fallout will start hitting the wider community now and in early 2009, as it impacts on the suppliers of these big companies. From there it will spread to shops and other service providers of the people made redundant.

This scenario looks pretty bleak when transferred to other big companies and we must take it seriously. But is there anything else businesses can do to weather the storm? Of course, there is.

Communication, as ever, is the key. Companies must not only communicate more effectively with their customers to maintain sales, but they must talk internally. People get worried and want to be reassured. Executives can probably do most to improve performance by getting out there and talking to their employees. Tell them what’s happening. Listen to what employees say. Start to work together.

It doesn’t have to cost anything; the best communication is face-to-face. 

By coincidence, on the 25th anniversary of when I joined British Airways telephone sales, today brings back the memory of when, because there were very heavy call volumes on a Monday, the management asked us to give up our Monday morning tea break in return for free tea and doughnuts. These refreshments were served to us by managers and supervisors pushing trolleys round the reservations floor. It felt a bit like the war spirit: there was a problem and everyone chipped in to solve it. It also led me to say that I’d do anything for a cup of tea and a doughnut.

Anyway, it was a department of some 600 people. Now, say that 200 were manning the phones at that specific time and the tea break was 10 minutes long (from my memory), that’s over 33 extra productive hours available to BA on those mornings. It also meant happy customers, who didn’t have to hang on the phone to get through, and more sales. And all for the cost of some doughnuts and tea. How many companies these days would waste those 33 hours in meetings, agonising over what to do?

So businesses need to respond to their people. Get them on board and who knows what you’ll be capable of achieving? It need not take more than a bit of effort to achieve incredible results. What is there to lose?

It all starts with communication.