Burgeoning Communications Inc. http://www.communicationstraining.ca Business Communication Training Sun, 15 Feb 2009 13:51:26 +0000 http://wordpress.org/?v=2.6.1 en Persuasive Appeals – Do It With Feeling! http://www.communicationstraining.ca/blog/persuasive-appeals-do-it-with-feeling.html http://www.communicationstraining.ca/blog/persuasive-appeals-do-it-with-feeling.html#comments Fri, 09 Jan 2009 02:44:45 +0000 John Burry http://www.communicationstraining.ca/?p=237 Persuasion depends on three basic “appeals”: credibility, emotion and logic.  This was news about 2000 years ago, when Aristotle defined these appeals as: ethos, pathos and logos (the three Greek musketeers of persuasion).  Though they’re now somewhat more refined and sophisticated, they’re still serviceable today because human nature (sadly) hasn’t really changed much in the intervening years. To be persuasive you have to use at least one, and preferably all three of these appeals – and notice that two of the three are emotional appeals:

  • convince the audience you’re trustworthy (ethos)
  • stir the audience’s emotions (pathos)
  • provide logical arguments and solid supporting evidence (logos).

The mistake many business writers and presenters make is assuming that you can persuade an audience using just logical arguments.  Unfortunately, psychologists tell us that those swayed by arguments alone are those who support the appeal before it is even presented – in other words, they’re the people who are using your arguments to reinforce their own biases or to bolster their uncertainties.  (It’s also why the most avid readers of the new car ad are those who have already bought the car – see cognitive dissonance.)

But swaying the skeptical and motivating the immovable demands an appeal to the emotions.  Unfortunately, many of us feel uncomfortable or awkward about crafting emotional or motivational messages – especially if it’s to a business audience.  There’s a long-standing bias against overt emotional appeals in Western business culture – as if there were something weak (unmanly?) or suspect about them.  But this attitude is changing.  In reality, feelings have always been present in business situations. That’s because feelings are involved whenever tough decisions have to be made. If we examine our own decision-making processes, we’ll recognize that feelings are, in fact, a vital prerequisite to understanding and acting.  This is not to suggest that presenting logical supporting arguments isn’t important – in fact it’s vital.  But, as all professional “persuaders” know, to succeed, you must address the audience’s emotional needs.

Successful persuaders begin by analyzing the emotions of their audience (Communication Rule #1: Know Thy Audience!). What objections will the audience raise?  Where, specifically, will the presentation meets its greatest resistance?  What is the emotional character of this resistance: Fear? Anger? Uncertainty? What evidence can be presented to counter these emotions?  What counter-emotions can be evoked to address these? 

It’s always easier to express the emotional component of your persuasive message during a presentation or speech – the audience wants to “see” how committed you are to the ideas and opinions you’re expressing.  A few words of caution, however; don’t be too emotional.  Your audience wants a convincing demonstration of your commitment, not a demonstration that convinces them you should be committed.  In short, don’t act irrationally.

In writing, we must be more careful in evoking emotions.  Remember that emotions surrounding an important issue are always lurking just below the surface.  Recognize these emotions and try to evoke those that can reinforce your persuasive efforts.  Every culture has its core values – values which always evoke strong emotions.  Think of President Obama’s speeches and how effectively he moved audiences to his cause by evoking the powerful emotions Americans value so highly: justice, democracy, freedom, security, family… Just reciting these values evokes a strong response.  Well, companies have core values too – service, growth, value, tradition, trust… By skillfully referencing them in support of your proposal, you can help generate a powerful and positive emotional response to your appeal. Strong leaders are never afraid of demonstrating their commitment to the ideas they’re promoting.  Simply put, this is why, if you want to look like a leader, you have to act like one. Like I said, it sounds simple.

Writing Persuasively – Part 1 http://www.communicationstraining.ca/blog/writing-persuasively-part1.html http://www.communicationstraining.ca/blog/writing-persuasively-part1.html#comments Wed, 19 Nov 2008 09:13:34 +0000 John Burry http://www.2dkm.com/?p=218 Persuasive writing isn’t the exclusive preserve of heart-tugging fund-raisers and slick advertising copywriters. In fact, to really give your career a boost, try thinking of everything you write as essentially persuasive in nature.

I’m not exaggerating. Remember, even a routine e-mail has to persuade the reader to open and, finally, to read and maybe even respond to it – no small feat when you consider how many other e-mails it’s competing with. (How many e-mails do you get each day? How many do you delete before opening?)

The first commandment of persuasive writing is: “know thy reader”. It’s actually the first rule of any form of successful communication, and it explains why we get all those phone calls around dinner time asking us if we’d mind completing a short survey (while our dinner cools). I hate to disillusion you, but that person collecting information about you isn’t really interested in your friendship. They are, however, interested in getting to know you better.

And that’s so their employer’s sales/customer relations departments can communicate with you much more persuasively. Basically, they want to know whether you might be interested in their particular product or service and, primarily, whether you can afford it. By the way, this explains why most of us are not on the local Ferrari dealer’s mailing list.

To persuade anyone of anything, you first must get their attention. To do that, it helps if you know what they’re interested in. And if you don’t know your audience really well? Then you can always appeal to that old standby…self interest. If there’s a benefit to be gained by reading your e-mail, (time-saving, cost-saving, image-enhancing, productivity-boosting…) tell your reader about it pronto – like in the subject line.

I like to use the subject line the way a newspaper uses a headline – to identify immediately what’s of interest and value to the reader. This captures their attention and persuades them to move on and read the first sentence of your e-mail. It’s in this first sentence/paragraph where you elaborate on the subject line. Explain why the reader should continue reading – identify the important issue or benefit. But save all the details, explanations and situational history for the following paragraphs (the ‘body’) of your e-mail. Try keeping that important first paragraph short, certainly no longer than three short sentences – and even that’s stretching the reader’s already short attention span.

And by the way, nobody said subject lines have to be short. Don’t use those boring one- or two-word subject lines. “Meeting”, for example, isn’t a subject line, it’s a label. It tells the reader nothing about why he or she should attend that meeting. Instead, identify a reason for attending. Try something like: “Vacation schedule-planning meeting, 9:00 a.m. Friday”. Even if there isn’t a readily identifiable benefit, at least provide enough detail so the reader can decide what to do with your message. Try to address in the subject line the first questions every reader asks: Why should I read this? What’s in it for me?

And like I said, to really answer those questions, you’ve got to know what motivates your reader. It’s not only the first rule of writing persuasively, it’s also the first rule of successful communication. Remember, you can waste a lot of earnest time and energy trying to persuade somebody who can’t see any benefit in listening. More about this later…

How to Create Business Communications That Get Noticed http://www.communicationstraining.ca/blog/how-to-create-business-communications-that-get-noticed.html http://www.communicationstraining.ca/blog/how-to-create-business-communications-that-get-noticed.html#comments Sat, 18 Oct 2008 04:30:54 +0000 John Burry http://www.2dkm.com/?p=179 Information Overload = Information Overlooked

Overheard at an electronics trade show: “If this is the Information Age, how come nobody knows anything?”

Maybe it’s because nobody’s really listening or reading.  We skim e-mails and reports and only listen or read the parts we find personally relevant.   The irony here is that there has never before been so much one-way “communication”.  We all keep sending, though it’s apparent that nobody really wants to receive. Office communication surveys reveal that, in an ideal business environment, each of us wants to be able to contact anyone – instantly – though we, ourselves, would prefer to remain selectively inaccessible.

The overwhelming speed of information, made possible by the new information technologies, is the single greatest (though not the only) obstacle to real communication in business.  That’s because, with so much to read, who has time?  I know a senior vice president of a telecommunications firm who claimed to process more than 130 e-mail messages a day. This was in addition to his usual full-day agenda of meetings.  His coping strategy was brutally simple: at the end of each day, he skimmed them quickly and responded to none.  “If it’s really serious,” he claimed, “somebody always manages to reach me.”

My business students tell them that, on average, they spend no longer than two or three seconds (and often less than that) reviewing each e-mail before deciding to read or delete it.   How long do you give each e-mail?  Think about it: quick peek, who’s it from, what’s the subject line say?   Admit it – on those days when your mailbox is clogged with long lists of importuning communicants hammering on your skull for attention, you actually look for an excuse to delete each one, instead of carefully searching for the one or two messages providing important reading. (I know this is what a head-hunter friend of mine does.  Processing twenty to forty resumes each day, she looks for a reason to throw each away:  “Colored stationary — gone. Cover letter - sorry…”

The Blessed Marshall (McLuhan), patron saint of the technologically-besieged, always maintained: Information Overload Yields Pattern Recognition.  In practice, this means that when we’re faced with an overwhelming barrage of information, we each process that information by devising a comprehensive set of personal “in-baskets” or labeled pigeon holes into which we cull and group all the bits of information that are meaningful to us.  The key to getting read and understood is putting our own bits of communication into each recipient’s appropriate in-basket. Easier said than done, or I wouldn’t ever get hired to provide communications training.

This process is more or less workable when processing all the crap cluttering your mailbox each day, but what happens to your own enduring missals?  How do you manage to slip your own vitally important communications through the recipient’s impenetrable screen?  How do you get read?

Keeping it Simple

One thing you do to improve your email “readability” is avoid anything resembling “fancy” writing.  The cardinal rule for all forms of communication is: keep it simple.  Rigorously delete from your writing anything that sounds “impressive”, anything that resembles “biz-speak”.  A good rule of thumb is: any sentence longer than eight words and you’re risking confusion. (However, keep writing eight-word sentences and you’ll risk sounding like Hemingway on a bad day.) The more words that come between the subject, the verb and the object of any sentence, (the ‘who’ does ‘what’ to ‘whom’ of the sentence) the more confusing things get for the reader.

Think about it: “The dog bit Fred.”  It’s hard to misunderstand.  But start adding words between the subject, the verb and the object…”I awoke in the early hours of a bright Sunday to howls of pain and rage from my visiting cousin Fred who was protesting, in the most direct way possible, that my canine companion, the normally placid Lou, had, inexplicably, extracted a sizable lump from poor Fred’s posterior…” and it’s anybody’s guess what the reader comes away with.

As straight forward (not to say simplistic) as this advise sounds, it’s the hardest lesson for my students to accept.  Simple sentences don’t sound “impressive” enough, they tell me.  One of the unspoken rules of business prose is that it must make the writer sound imposing, educated to the point of obfuscation. This is a hard attitude to change.  You’d need the help of a ruthless copy editor relentlessly cracking knuckles to break deep-set attitudes like those. (I can still feel the ghost of my first copy editor frowning disapprovingly over every sentence I write.) Our goal here is to learn how to create business writing that’s easy to read and understand. We’re seeking to express, not impress.  Trust me on this, business writing that’s easy to read and understand is pretty impressive.

The point of all this is that you really don’t have to memorize a dictionary to be a good business writer. (The ‘Conrad Corollary’ states that if you do memorize a dictionary, you end up sounding like a pompous ass – a little black humour.)  This should also come as good news to anyone whose first language is not English.  Just keep the sentences short and simple and you’ll avoid lots of problems.

That bad business writing is so prevalent should surprise no one.  After all, how many of us ever receive formal instruction in business writing?  I’ll bet you certainly didn’t learn about it in high school Lit 101.  No self-respecting Arts grad ever took such a course.  And, unless you were very lucky, you didn’t get much on-the-job instruction either.  So how do you learn good business writing techniques?

It’s been said that good writing is like good jazz: you can learn it, but it can’t be taught.  I tend to agree.  But then, like I said, we’re pursuing clarity here, not high art.

Alright, so you’re thinking: “So if good writing can’t be taught, what staggering insights do your training seminars and lectures impart?”  Well, I strive to impart a little bit of business communications “philosophy” and a few simple strategies and writing techniques gleaned over more than 30 years as a professional business writer and university instructor. And some of these communication techniques aren’t even really about the job of putting words together.  That’s because a major part of good writing and communicating is about developing a writing strategy, which is what evolves in the planning stages of composition, even before the first draft gets written.

In my seminars, we deal with some business writing and communicating basics and then practice applying them to typical, real-world communication situations.  Among many other topics, we typically deal with things like: how to organize routine communications so that readers can find the “real” news fast; how to convey negative news without upsetting the reader or getting yourself sued; what’s the strategy behind writing really effective reports and presentations; how to use graphics to make important information stand out; how to write persuasively – that last one’s a personal favorite of mine. (I believe every type of business communication is actually persuasive in nature – but that’s a subject for another article.)

Thanks for your interest. Your comments are always welcome.