Tag Archives: writing skills

We’re So Much More Than Books – Let Us Help You!

Because of the 20-year success of the First Friday Book Synopsis, I believe that many people think that is all we do.  We do much more than just synopses of books.  Here are many options that we have available to serve your company or association.  Please contact us at info@creativecommnet.com, for more information.

KEYNOTES

Ensure your audience leaves buzzing, “what a speech that was!”  We provide energetic, dynamic and focused presentations that are customized to send the appropriate message to your audience.  These keynote addresses are the perfect way to begin or end your conference or meeting, or for a general session for all participants along the way.

SPECIAL OCCASION

Are you looking for someone to give a speech of tribute for one of your honored employees?  What about the perfect address to mark a significant milestone for your organization?  We can research and deliver a presentation that will meet your needs and provide you and your audience with a memorable experience.

BREAKFAST, LUNCHEON, AFTER-DINNER SPEECHES

Our presentations provide just the right amount of humor to complement our message and provide the correct atmosphere for your organization’s meal event.  We have a wide variety of topics to customize according to your time and situation events.

COMPETENCY ASSESSMENT AND MANAGEMENT PERFORMANCE

Take your employees to C.A.M.P. with our exclusive system designed to identify specific competencies and opportunities for each position and role in your organization.  The resulting job profiles will assist your organization in establishing quality processes for selection, appraising and training your employees, as well as to implement a proper succession planning program.

MANAGEMENT AND LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

We provide training in basic and advanced skills designed to develop strong management and leadership for members of your organization.  Whether you are looking for line managers to learn and practice the fundamentals of supervisory skills or principles, or for senior executives to enhance their ability to construct and execute a mission and vision for your organization, our customized approach will provide you the results you desire.

MANAGER-AS-TRAINER SKILLS

In this program, we work with managers who are not professional trainers to assist them in developing their direct reports.  Our focus is on equipping these managers with the skills, techniques and tools that allow them to train their employees on-the-job without relying upon internal or external trainers, consultants or costly conferences or workshops.  Each participant leaves the program with an executable training contact, custom designed for one of his or her own direct reports.

PERSUASIVE SELLING AND HANDLING OBJECTIONS

Do your salespeople sell or just take orders?  Your organization will experience gains in volume, profits, market share and efficiency after your salespeople implement these effective sales techniques.  In this workshop, your salespeople learn and practice five steps that are essential for effective selling and four steps to turn objections from reasons not to buy into reasons to buy.  Participants practice skill-based activities throughout the program, using materials that we customize based upon your organization and industry.

ESPRIT de CORPS:  TEAM BUILDING FOR THE NEW MILLENIUM

The units of your organization can function as a team after your participants learn and practice the behaviors associated with effective teamwork.  Our exclusive intervention techniques begin with an assessment of team readiness.  Based upon these results, we then place proper emphasis upon four dimensions of teamwork:  goals, roles, processes and procedures, and relationships.  Our sessions are energizing and highly interactive and are based upon research principles that many organizations have successfully modeled.

EXECUTIVE SPEECH COACHING AND COUNSELING

Let us help you prepare and fine-tune that important presentation by coaching you in the skills that transform a good presentation into a “great” one.  Whether your concern is in the content of your speech, in your delivery or your non-verbal techniques, we can move your presentation to the next level of confidence and audience acceptance.  Through our analysis of your presentation on video tape, we can pinpoint areas for improvement and development with great precision.  We can also attend your presentation and provide you with continued coaching and development in a follow-up.

FACT-FINDING SKILLS

Our customized training provides you with the listening and questioning skills necessary to obtain the information that you need in an efficient and effective manner.  We know that on many occasions, proper fact-finding questions can provide you with a proper diagnosis of a situation prior to suggesting any prescriptive action.  You can improve your ability to ask and use probing questions in a variety of contexts, including sales, legal, medical, technical, mechanical, and survey research.

CONDUCTING PERFORMANCE APPRAISAL MEETINGS

It’s not the appraisal form that makes the difference – it’s the way that a manager communicates the content of the appraisal form in the annual meeting with his or her employees.  In this workshop, participants learn a variety of techniques and tools to establish a proper atmosphere, direct meetings, discuss ratings, introduce delicate problem areas, involve employees in a discussion, and link the content into a context for training and development.  We use the form approved by your organization as the context to discuss and practice these techniques.

PUBLIC SPEAKING AND PRESENTATION SKILLS

Learn and practice techniques used by professional speakers that will take your presentation to the next level.  Whether you speak to audiences of 5 or 5000, we can help you polish the intricate facets of your presentation that will make you “top of the list” for repeat engagements.  We specialize in how to incorporate audio-visual accompaniments into your presentation smoothly and effortlessly.  We begin by watching you speak in person or on video tape and then meet with you to tailor a program to meet your needs.  Our public seminar, “Speak Up, Speak Out, Say It Well!” covers these principles on a general basis.

INTERVIEWER AND INTERVIEWEE EMPLOYEMENT INTERVIEWING

Our training focuses on constructing, delivering and answering questions from a behavioral interviewing perspective.  Behavioral interviewing techniques rely on past performance and events as the best predictors for future behavior.  Using your own resume, job description or other materials, we review your practice interview on video-tape to fine-tune your skills.  We pay special attention to the art of .asking and answering probing questions, which can make or break a successful interview.

PRESENTATION AIDS

This customized training program heightens your skill and confidence in using audio-visual accompaniments such as slides, overheads, flip charts, video tapes and brochures during your presentation.  We specialize in PowerPoint and Prezi presentations delivered from projection devices.  Our goal is to maintain a focus on you as the speaker, rather than on the presentation aids, in an effort to build a strong and credible presence with the audience.

WRITING SKILLS

Save yourself and others internal and external to your organization time and money by writing your materials once and where others read them only once.  Improve clarity, efficiency and effectiveness and get the results that you want from your writing.  Our individualized coaching program begins with our analysis of three brief and one extended writing samples that we assess against our exclusive writing principles.  We then meet with you to discuss our recommendations and follow-up, as necessary.  We also teach a classroom-style workshop, “Write Your Way to Success,” which emphasizes the P.A.C.E. structural format along with other principles, which lead to effective writing.

Expertise + Soft Skills (especially Communication Skills) = Path to Success

I was reading this article, Is a Science Ph.D. a Waste of Time?:  Don’t feel too sorry for graduate students. It’s worth it, by Daniel Lametti, and this grabbed my attention:

Even the Economist, despite its disdain for “pointless” Ph.D.s, likes to hire scientists. As the ad for their science-writing internship reads, “Our aim is more to discover writing talent in a science student or scientist than scientific aptitude in a budding journalist.”

Notice the formula:  expertise 1st, then writing talent.

This says two things.  Good communication skills without genuine expertise is just a little too short on substance.  Genuine expertise without good communication skills is just a little too incomprehensible.  Thus, the formula:

Expertise + Soft Skills (especially Communication Skills) = Path to Success. 

Karl Krayer and I present training on Writing Skills and Presentation Skills (actually, we both provide the Presentation Skills sessions; Karl leads the Writing Skills sessions) for all kinds of professionals.  Companies with engineers and scientists and “techies” hire us to help these folks become a little more “understandable.”  The reason is obvious.  Expertise that cannot be communicated is expertise that is not fully utilized.

I have no doubt that expertise is truly critical.  But there is a reason that Literature and Speech are “required courses” in practically every college degree program.  To be able to write clearly, and then to speak clearly, really is a job requirement, a “core competency,” in this hungry-for-good-information world.  The problem is that most students promptly forget what they learned in these classes, when they are immersed in their “real jobs.”  They tend to view their real jobs as the “work” they do, and they consider communicating their insight and findings as something of a “step-child,” kind of necessary “busy work,” but not critical to their job.

This is a mistake!  Communicating well is part of every job.  A failure to communicate leads to ripple effects that cause lost productivity, confusion… something close to “failure.”

Have you taken an inventory of your own skills?  If you have genuine expertise, do you write clearly?  Do you speak clearly?  If not, it’s time to work on these “soft,” but absolutely necessary, skills.

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Contact me at , or call Karl at 972-601-1537, and we can bring this training into your company or organization.

For Writing Skills 101 – You Might Have to Start with More Reading

This is prompted by a sad, disturbing piece…

My colleague Karl Krayer has a terrific workshop on writing skills.  Companies hire him to teach their employees how to write clear, understandable emails and memos and reports.  (Have you ever had to read, and re-read, and re-read again, an unclear e-mail?)

Sadly, many of them need a lot of help.

Why?  The short answer is this:  good writing comes from lots and lots of reading, spread out over the course of a human life, starting early, and going on as long as possible.  And most people simply have not put in the time to read in order to learn to write clearly.

(I know a man, a wonderful man now in the twilight of his years, who told me in tears that he simply can no longer see the pages.  He is a lifelong reader, and his failing eyesight is his single greatest loss – because of that love of reading).

There is a sad, disturbing piece by an anonymous adjunct professor at the community college level.  I have read the essay, from the June, 2008 AtlanticIn the Basement of the Ivory TowerThe idea that a university education is for everyone is a destructive myth. An instructor at a “college of last resort” explains why by PROFESSOR X.  And I have read the sample of his book.

Here are a couple of key excerpts in his article:

In each of my courses, we discuss thesis statements and topic sentences, the need for precision in vocabulary, why economy of language is desirable, what constitutes a compelling subject.

My students don’t read much, as a rule, and though I think of them monolithically, they don’t really share a culture. To Kill a Mockingbird? Nope. (And I thought everyone had read that!) Animal Farm? No. If they have read it, they don’t remember it.

Reading simply teaches so much.  Not only does it teach what is found in the content of the writing, but it also teaches how to put thoughts into an understandable order, how to get a message across, how to communicate what is important.  There is no short cut.  Thesis and topic statements, precision in vocabulary, economy of language, compelling subjects – these are modeled, inhaled, and then, with work, learned.

If you need to write better (if your employees need to write better) hire Karl Krayer to help you.

But – you might want to start by reading more.  A lot more.

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(You can contact Karl Krayer, my colleague at the Frist Friday Book Synopsis, on this blog, and in many other ways, through his web site for Creative Communication Network).

Why Can’t Our Students Write Well? Texting? – How About A Decline In Reading?

Photo illustration by Sergio Sanchez and Cody Richeson (for Eastfield Et Cetera)

 

R.I.P. English? Texting is giving proper grammar the proverbial ‘dirt-nap’ by Leslie Villeda.  I teach Speech at Eastfield College, one of the Dallas County Community College campuses.  This is the current cover story for our school newspaper.  Here are some excerpts:

OMG I cnt blieve ppl rly rite like diz. lol. Wats up wit dat??? SMH. 🙁

Millions of Americans communicate on a daily basis via text messaging, often using a cryptic new language filled with abbreviations and acronyms. And while technology has allowed people to communicate and stay in touch with friends and relatives, it may also be bringing about the downfall of the English language.

There was a time when kids went to school and were taught one simple rule about writing: You can’t break the rules until you’ve learned them. Unfortunately, the texters and grammar “rule breakers” are getting younger and younger these days. So young, in fact, that they are breaking the rules without giving themselves an opportunity to learn them.

This leaves no chance for learning actual English.

“As a writing teacher, I can tell you firsthand that it [texting] definitely is hampering the kids’ ability to spell, first and foremost,” said Keysha Smith, a seventh-grade language arts teacher at Robert T. Hill Middle School in Dallas. “Number two, students don’t have a good grasp of grammar or a complete sentence because they don’t write in complete sentences. Sentence structure is out the window.”

There is also a problem with kids incorporating texting lingo into their academic writing.

I think the article raises a really important conversation.  But…  here’s what I think.  Is the proliferation of the shorthand used in texting a problem?  Is it contributing to a decline in writing skills – writing with proper grammar, proper structure?  Probably.  But it is not the main culprit.  The main culprit is a little simpler – and much more alarming.

People are not reading enough!

Children and students (up through college age), are developing a habit that is far more deadly to their communication skills than their texting is.  That habit is a lifestyle devoid of reading.  The time that earlier generations spent reading, this generation spends on video games, and a whole lot of texting.  The average child-through-teenager literally sends (and reads!) thousands of text messages a month.  Consider this from a Nielsen Co. study (read the summary here):

The average 13- to 17-year-old sends and receives a whopping 3,339 text messages a month, and adults’ use of text messaging is starting to climb — although to nowhere near the levels of American teens.

With so much time spent in texting, the average teenager simply is not exposed to actual, good, writing.

So here’s my theory.   We need to help our teenagers read more.  We need to get militant/obsessed/fanatical about making our students actually read — read well written material.  Daily.  Weekly.  Over the long haul.

You learn to write partly by exposing yourself to good writing – by reading good books by good authors.  Texting may contribute to bad writing habits, but it is only the current evasive activity.  Put lots of good books in the hands of students, and make sure they actually read the books – this is the need of the hour!

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A personal note:  of course I think things were “better” when I was young (doesn’t everyone?).  No video games.  No texting.  Lots and lots of books.  In my own life I started with comic books, then went to the Hardy Boys, then Nero Wolfe, then Mickey Spillane, then “serious books.”  I read every Hardy Boys book, every Nero Wolfe book (still re-read these periodically), every Mickey Spillane book…  and now, I read every Malcolm Gladwell, book, and nearly every book by quite a few other authors (Michael Lewis comes to mind).

Do you read?  How did you learn to love reading?   I imagine that you learned to love to read by reading.  I know of no other path.

Effective Business Communication – It’s Simple

Effective business communication (spoken and/or written) really is simple.  Not necessarily easy.  Just simple.  As in, keep it simple, direct, to the point.

My colleague Karl Krayer leads a terrific writing skills training session for people who have difficulty writing clear e-mails.  And, sad to say, this is a universal problem.  For this training, Karl developed the PACE format:

P- (Point)
A – (Action)
C – (Content)
E – (Evidence)

Get to the POINT;
What is the expected/needed ACTION;
What is the CONTENT that elaborates on the point and the needed action;
What is the EVIDENCE that backs up the need for the Point and the needed Action.

It is a simple approach.  It puts the intended message of an e-mail right at the beginning of the e-mail, which is about all the “focus” many readers actually give.  And, it works!

Well, this weekend, as our son and his wife visited (and our one and only grandchild, a wonderful little girl – I tend to forget how one baby can leave four grown adults so exhausted at the end of the day!), I stole a look at my daughter-in-law’s book Better Legal Writing:  15 Topics for Advanced Legal Writers, by her professor at the University of Texas School of Law, Wayne Schiess.  She especially wanted me to see the sections on rhetorical strategies and persuasion.  Those sections were good, and I enjoyed them both.

But it was this section that jumped out at me:  Better email:  E-writing like a pro.  This chapter had some great advice, like:  Think. Pause. Think again. Send.  This is a reminder that what you first write may not always be exactly what you intend to, or should, actually send.  Really good advice!

But I especially appreciated this, and it affirms what Karl has been teaching for so long:

Put the question or point up front.  If you ask the question up front, you’re more likely to get an answer…  Sure, the recipient can scroll down and reread what she asked you, but you make things clearer and easier by restating the question up front.

If you’re not asking a question but instead making a point, use the first sentences of the email message to summarize your point…  You’ll get better results if you summarize the point first and give the background or support later.

Professor Scheiss may use slightly different terminology, but this sounds like a solid affirmation of Karl’s PACE format.  And, needless to say, I agree.

And Professior Scheiss has the clearest counsel for us all with this phrase:  make things clearer and easier.

“Throwing Money” At Your Training Needs Just Might Be A Very Wise Investment

“most of the research shows that when class size reduction programs are well-designed and implemented, student achievement rises as class size drops.
Intuitively, it makes sense that the more attention a teacher can focus on each student, the more the student will benefit and, therefore, perform at a higher level.”

(excerpted from here).
and
As business leaders, we’re voracious seekers of business improvement ideas in the form of conferences, books, blogs, and training.  We want our performance to be better, and we know it should be better.
(Gary Harpst:  Six Disciplines Execution Revolution)

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It’s Saturday.  Let’s think about a big question/problem for American business.

The conventional wisdom goes like this.  When you hire someone, make the right hire. If you make the wrong hire, you’ve got trouble.

If you make the right hire, and the person you hired needs to improve in a specific area, or two or three, then provide the right training.

This I know.  It is foolish to have a good person (i.e., the “right hire”) trying to succeed at a job that he/she is not trained to succeed at.  And when the “right hire” receives the right training, and then gets the right encouragement/supervision, the person, and the company, is more successful.

So – what is the right training?  Let’s think about this training question.  This is a big issue because in these tight economic times, companies cut expenses where they can – and training is one of the areas that gets cut.  And the result of such cuts can definitely lead to more difficulties.  When training budgets get cut, people don’t get trained.  And then they don’t get better at their jobs.  And then, because they don’t get better at their jobs, companies lose more money, or, at least, don’t make as much money as they could.

So – back to the question.  What is the right training?

I suggest a simple formula:  when the skill/deficiency is a simple matter of learning — for example:  how to use a new software program; how to be proficient on Excel; how to create PowerPoint slides — then a training class of many, even very many, students can do the trick.

But the closer you get to what we call the soft skills — which are critical to a person’s success in so many jobs – then a large training class with very many students may not do the trick.  No, that’s not strong enough.  The closer you get to the soft skills, a large training class, with little one-on-one attention and follow up coaching, will not do the trick.  It just won’t.

Let me describe an underlying bias, and then give an example.

A couple of decades ago, George McGovern came to Dallas to speak to a political group.  One question he was asked during the Q & A was this:  “How can we improve education in this country?”  That qualifies as an important need.  He said something like this (paraphrased, from memory):  “People say that you can’t fix education by throwing more money at the problem.  Well, I’m not so sure.  Because hiring more teachers takes money.  And if there is one thing that we know is true about education, it is this — the smaller the class size, the smaller the teacher-student ratio, the better the educational outcomes.”

Is that true – about the class size issue?  Take Dallas.  One of the schools that is legendary for its very successful educational outcomes is the private school St. Mark’s School of Texas in Dallas.  Now, I know that the parents are very involved.  And the students come from families that truly prize a good education.  And the school is very demanding.  (Check out their current summer reading assignments.  This is a school with very high expectations!).  And, yes, the teachers are certainly among the very best possible.

But here is a simple fact about St. Mark’s: the teacher-student ration is 6.83 to 1  (I did the math from this page on their website).  Let me say that again – that is better than one teacher for every seven students. How does that compare?  Well, nationally, the teacher-student ratio is higher in public schools than in private schools.  And St. Mark’s ratio is substantially better than the national average for private schools.  (You can compare some of these national average numbers here).

In other words, enough money is “thrown at” education at St. Mark’s to guarantee more personal attention.  And personal attention produces more development, more correction…  better educational outcomes!  And those outcomes are better at St. Mark’s than in schools that have higher teacher-student ratios.

So, back to the business lesson.  What if you “throw more money” at training?  The closer you get to a low teacher-student ratio (trainer-employee ratio), especially for those hard to teach yet very important “soft skills,” the better the training outcomes.  It really is, to state the obvious, simple math.

Here’s one example.  Say you have an employee who needs to make presentations.  This employee is smart, qualified, knowledgeable – but not very adept at making presentations.  What do you do?

You can send that employee to a speech class at a local community college.  (I teach such classes).  That will help – a little, and it will cost very little.  But I have classes with up to 25 students.  The time I have for one-to-one, individual attention per student is practically zero.    And, as much as I hate to admit it, all I can do is “tell” the basics.  I can’t do much “coaching” in such classes.  And, I am sad to say, many of my students in these classes show little actual improvement in their presentation skills over the course of a semester.

Or, you can bring in a good trainer for presentation skills training.  (Karl Krayer and I offer that through Creative Communication Network).  And the outcome is almost utterly predictable – the smaller the group of people, the more one-on-one coaching we can provide in the training experience, the better the training outcome.

For example, we are about to lead a two-day session for a company sending 4 people to the training.  That is a trainer-employee ratio of 4-1.  We will “tell,” but then each participant will practice, over and over again, for the two days.  We will video tape, we will point out the bright spots, and then offer suggestions, and corrections.  This is very high-impact training.

And, it is possible to get even better outcomes. Say a key employee has a very important presentation or series of presentations to make, and it is important for the company that these go well.  If the employee could be more successful, and thus the company could be more successful, if he/she got substantially better, then you could hire a one-to-one presentation skills coach.  (Yes, Karl and I offer this training also).  This coach will provide some initial training, with very focused one-to-one practice and skill development, then watch a few presentations, offer correctives, point to ways to improve, and then provide periodic check-ups.

This is very expensive training.  But maybe not as expensive as continued inadequate performance.

This approach can be repeated with other skill development.  For example, Karl Krayer teaches a half day business writing skills session, then meets one-on-one with each participant, going over actual writing examples, and then provides follow up.

Why?  Because we forget what we hear/read in the training sessions.  We forget what our “coach” told us.  There’s a reason why great sports teams practice every day.  And there’s a reason why the best sports teams have very low coach-athlete ratios.  It takes a lot of work to get good, and than really good, and then even better, at anything.

Such are my thoughts for a Saturday.