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I hope you find my writing and business tips and observations useful. My business and blog are dedicated to helping businesses communicate clearly and reach their potential. Read, subscribe to my newsletter, enjoy! Tash

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bit off track

Why support children learning to read?

I came across this great infographic outlining why children need to be able to read.

As well as being a good message in itself, the infographic also supports Buk Bilong Piknini (a charitable organisation funding books and reading programs for children in Papua New Guinea).

Buk Blong Pikinini Infographic about children reading

What do you think – why is it important we encourage children to learn to read, and then read some more?

I would also encourage everyone to help ensure our children are literate – whether by donating to groups such as Buk Bilong Pikinini, helping at schools or giving books as gifts, every bit helps.

Helping children learn to read

I frequently help at my children’s school by listening to children (usually not my own!) read and helping them build the skills of sounding out new words, ensuring the words make sense and getting a full understanding of what they are reading.

Why do I (and many others) help these children?

  1. learning to read opens many opportunities for children – through learning, ideas and comprehension
  2. the sooner they learn to read, the easier other aspects of school become – delayed reading can limit other learning and become a downward spiral for education
  3. I love reading – books give me pleasure, ideas, an escape and relaxation – and I hope to share that pleasure with children
  4. all the children benefit by their classmates being able to read – teachers can concentrate on contact rather than reading if all students can read competently (for their age) and each child can contribute more ideas and experiences if they are well read
  5. seeing me place an importance of everyone being able to read, encourages all the children to value reading
  6. seeing people volunteer to help at school also teaches children about community spirit, generosity and being able to make positive change in small ways

What have you done to help children (or adults for that matter) learn to read and enjoy reading?

AWPA Dinner

As a writer and communications consultant, I spend much of my working time at a computer and it’s not too glamorous, so it is nice occasionally to do something more interesting in the name of work!

Last night is a perfect example as I went to a function with a client (as their Communications Manager).

The Australian Women Pilots Association (AWPA) held their annual conference in Bendigo this year, so I went to their gala dinner and had a great night. In particular, it was great to see a male dominated industry have a strong female element supporting each other and encouraging young women to enter aviation.

CHinese dragon welcome in Bendigo

Some of the highlights of the night were:

  • a welcome from two Chinese dragons
  • hearing an Air force Captain {I wish I had written down his name at the time!} announce that the air force expects to have 25% female members by the mid 2020s, with 25% of applicants in the last year or so being female
  • sitting at the same table as the granddaughter of Nancy Bird-Walton, and hearing so much admiration for her and her peers
  • meeting various women with fascinating stories about how they (and others) got into aviation and how they have interacted with other pilots (such as one couple having may pilots visit them in bad weather as they had a runway on their country property)

I would love the opportunity to interview many of those women and write their stories. As a collection, I think it would be interesting, inspiring and a historical reference and record.

Do you know any female aviators? Or been inspired by any of their stories?

Good communication can vary

So what is good communication?

I’m sure there would be many answers to this, but generally we mean being able to effectively give our message to another person (s).

That being the case, how do we classify something as good communication and set rules for good communications?

Communication impediments

Iconic person listening via a megaphone

Good communication requires good listening as well as using good speaking techniques.

While there are some basics that help with clear communications face to face, such as making eye contact, not interrupting and being polite, such things are not always possible and we may need to work around them.

Today I came across a blog post about communicating face to face and I was surprised and somewhat horrified by one of the tips given. Basically, the writer suggested that you should avoid stammering or stuttering as it can hinder clear communication. He did not allow that it was unavoidable for some people and implied it was just a behaviour they were choosing to exhibit.

There are impediments for some people in conventional communicating – blind people can’t meet your eyes, deaf people may focus on your lips instead of your eyes, someone with Tourette’s syndrome or Asperger’s may seem impolite and various people (including stammerers) may be harder to understand.

And yes it may be easier for us if those people did follow the ‘rules’ of good communicating, but they can’t so we have to learn to be patient and understanding. I found it insulting that this writer included ‘stop stammering’ as a means of communications.

Have you come across examples of people setting communication rules that are excluding certain groups of people? Or people with rigid ideas of what good communicating look like?

Production English

Last night I heard of production English for the first time and am quite fascinated with it.

New country, new language

When many people arrive in Australia, they learn English to be able to communicate with other people who live here. English classes teach them things like ‘hello, how are you?’, ‘can I please buy…?’ and ‘where is the library?’

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

I assume the same thing happens for most people who move to a country with a language different to their own.

welcome into a pit - an unexpected sign

How would you interpret this situation if you couldn’t read much English? Safety can be jeopardised if people can’t read or understand notices.

What about less generic language?

The challenge really starts when people need more specific language – the words and phrases you don’t get in beginner classes.

For instance, trying to follow a procedure or read instructions on machinery can be quite difficult if you only have basic English.

Especially once you consider grammar and similar words (that is, homonyms and other potentially confusing words that I define in Monday Meanings) can make it even harder to understand – just like pilots can have trouble if English is not their native tongue.

The story I heard last night was about a group of people who work well at their jobs but are sometimes limited or put at risk by the fact that they don’t have ‘production English’ to help them at work.

Obviously, ensuring that procedures and instructions are written as simply and clearly as possible is one aspect – and still a very important task.

Yet it is also critical to help such people learn relevant words in English. And there are programs in Melbourne now that are working on solving this issue, at least for some groups of immigrants.

Does your business have procedures or instructions that would be challenging for someone with only basic English?

 

* Image courtesy of 123RF

Bringing IWD into your business

International Womens Day logo

International Women’s Day on 8 March – what does it mean to you?

International Woman’s Day (IWD) is on Saturday 8th March. It is both a celebration of women and an acknowledgement that many women are living difficult lives.

In some countries, IWD is a public holiday (at least for women) and is similar in importance as Mothers Day.

While it is not a holiday in Australia, you can choose to make it important – or simply acknowledge that it is important to many of your customers.

Celebrating IWD

Some of my ideas for celebrating IWD as a business are:

  • treat your staff to breakfast or morning tea – even if  your staff consists of you and a pot plant!
  • get the males to do something nice for the women they work with (obviously this requires the men to be willing to participate!) Maybe they bring in food for morning tea, make the tea/coffee all day or ‘man the office’ so the women have a longer lunch break
  • offer specials or extras to female clients for the day/week/month
  • encourage women to take an interest this month, especially if you industry is not seen as particularly female-friendly or of interest to women. For example, I’ve helped AvSuper prepare information about super for women; a mechanic could run a basic car maintenance course for women; local tradespeople could teach women to do minor repairs through a class or articles in the local paper
  • put up a poster in the office/shop or add a banner to the website to acknowledge women – it could be generic or somehow relate to your business
  • do some fund-raising during March with the proceeds going to a women-centric organisation
  • donate x% of March profits to a women’s cause
  • send an email or card to your female clients thanking them for what they do (and for being your client of course!)
  • sponsor a local activity or group participating in IWD – schools and sporting groups in particular may appreciate this

What ideas have you considered for your business?

Have you been inspired by another business’ involvement in IWD? What did they do?

Answering complaints

I have been on the receiving end of poor business service recently – and it really is not pleasant.

Losing my business should be unpleasant for that supplier, too, as it means I no longer refer clients there.

Not delivering as promised has had a huge impact on my client – that put the supplier in a bad light, of course. And needing to make multiple requests to find a revised delivery date became very annoying very quickly.

But what has really made me turn my back on that supplier is how they handled these delays.

Dealing with complaints and problems

In life, sometimes things go wrong and promises aren’t kept.

Angry man about to hammer a piggy bank.

Do you want your customer to be this angry? It could cost you a lot more than coins in a piggy bank if you don’t try to resolve their concerns.

When your business can’t deliver, though, you have two basic options. Be honest and apologise to the customer, or ignore it and pretend there is no problem.

Guess which option the above supplier chose…

I was given an excuse the first time I complained. The second time I was told ‘I can’t see any record of you calling on Monday’. And it still took a week for the sales person to respond to those messages. And more days before she gave me a revised date.

Every contact from the sales person had a little ‘sorry for the delay :(‘ message and ‘I look forward to hearing back from you again’ but generally ignored most of what I wrote in my formal complaint. I did not feel she was taking my concerns seriously nor that she was particularly interested in helping me get my order fulfilled.

The end result being that I am working with my bank to get a full refund and I will not use this supplier again.

Positive responses to complaints

To learn from my ex-supplier’s example, here are things they could have done to improve the situation – even if the delivery was delayed by more than two weeks.

  1. Ideally, they could have contacted me with an expected delivery time when I first placed the order – especially if they knew they were busy and couldn’t make the promised times on their website. And especially as I had requested this in my original order…
  2. As soon as I made contact about the delivery not reaching me as expected I should have received contact from the sales person. A quick ‘sorry for the delay – let me look into what is happening and get back to you’ would have been better than silence as I would have felt they were interested in serving customers
  3. After multiple contacts from an unhappy customer, they could have tried to help me get my delivery and feel better about them. Whether that was regular follow ups, a discount, a bonus offer or something else doesn’t matter – the lack of that meant the problem is what I associate with their brand now.
  4. The sales person could have actually answered my concerns in her email – and probably could have left out sad faces, frankly. I’ll give some examples of that in a separate post next week.
  5. Acknowledged my frustration and let me feel heard. For instance, instead of telling me they hadn’t recorded my first call they could have said ‘sorry – we should have answered you by now.’
  6. When they told me ‘I’ll get back to you soon’, they should have contacted me rather than wait for my next complaint. Again, it would have been much better to have kept their word by contacting me and letting me know what was happening (even if it was limited information) than let me wait and lose any confidence in their business.

Do you deal with complaints?

Have you ever thought about how you respond to complaints from customers?

It can be confronting to admit you’ve done something wrong (or less than ideal anyway) and may be tempting to hide from it, but you can turn things around if you deal with a complaint well. Or at least minimise the damage.

Preparing an attitude and perhaps a procedure ahead of time may help your business do better with complaints than my ex-supplier. I hope you do a lot better, in fact!

* Image courtesy of Kozzi

A rose by any other name

Last week my father-in-law died.

A red rose with dew drops

A red rose is beautiful and simple – nothing more is needed to be said.

So it’s been a hard week and I haven’t posted in the meantime.

I also haven’t listened to all the Problogger sessions thus haven’t shared any more ideas nor implemented any myself.

But it has made me think about choices of words and the hidden context of words we sometimes need to be aware of when we communicate to people. Especially to people we may not know well so may not know what context they will use to understand our words.

Similar words convey different messages

The day Tony died, we went to the nursing home he had been in.

A lovely staff member spoke to us and would only refer to Tony passing. She was obviously very uncomfortable with saying someone had died.

Conversely, other people I spoke to during the week commiserated and mentioned people they had lost in the past.

While most of us would understand what someone means with ‘ we lost my father-in-law last week’, it doesn’t feel right to me. At least in part because it reminds me of a comedian routine giving responses such as ‘was he labelled so someone could return him’ and ‘that was careless of you’.

Having written many things for superannuation funds, I have had to write about death (that is, explain their life insurance policies). And again it is interesting how different people react to this topic.

In my usual less-is-generally-best style, I write ‘if you die’. Various fund staff wanted words like ‘in the event of your death’ because it seemed softer or less ‘in your face’.

A few years ago, I interviewed Robyn O’Connell for an article. As well as having written a book on death for children (which I made use of with my children leading up to the funeral), Robyn is a celebrant and has done a lot of work around bereavement.

Robyn was strongly of the belief that saying die/dead is better than any euphemism because it is clear (which appeals to me!) and makes it easier to accept the reality to aid the grieving process.

Choosing the right word

It’s not just about the obvious meaning. We need to choose words that give the right meaning without the incorrect hidden message or the wrong emotional reaction.

What thoughts and feeling do you have to die compared to passed away compared to lost or any other euphemism you know?

Someone calling a rose by another name puts the wrong images into our minds. Of course, if a rose actually had a different name it may be perceived differently – who knows!

I wish I had taken a photo of the roses we had on the coffin on Monday. They were beautiful and would have suited this post perfectly.

But I didn’t think of taking photos during a funeral and wasn’t really in that emotional place anyway.

Interestingly, someone did take photos at the funeral – perhaps not at the church but certainly at the cemetery and wake. I was surprised to see him doing so but not offended by it. How would you feel about someone taking photos in an unexpected setting such as a funeral?

In memory of Tony

Tony Brown, Graduation photo, University of Melbourne, 1959

Tony Brown, Graduation photo, University of Melbourne, 1959

It has been a tough week. And this is where I indulge in something more personal in the form of a mini tribute to a lovely man.

Tony was a gentle man, a very generous man who gave a lot. For one thing, he was president of the E W Tipping Foundation for 21 years. Intelligent and respectful, Tony was a man of few words.

A loving father and grandfather, Tony will be missed by many. The number at his funeral showed that, too.

Rest in peace, Tony.

How to use important points…

Notes on teh end of tree branches

Conferences notes can lead in many directions, every one can be important and strong. You just need to find the right notes for you.

There are great quotes around. Some of them can be very inspiring or lead you to new ideas that can change your life.

I think we all come across great sayings, lyrics, words that make us think. Yet it is so easy to forget them in the everyday or hear so many at once that the wisdom doesn’t have the opportunity to really sink in.

Seminar and workshop notes

As I am watching the twitter feed for PBEvent, I can see many nuggets of information and wisdom that are great and worth taking note of.

For example…

Final roadblock – the comparison trap. If you’re compelled to compare, compare yourself now to when you started. Not to others. Darren Rowse

How do we do what we were born to do?, asks @ClareBowditch. We Begin. Carly Findlay

The best businesses and blogs solve a problem in the world. ProbloggerEvent

I am trying to write down those that really stand out to me – which is sometimes a challenge to keep up with the feed speed and write. But it is obvious that getting information solely through the twitterverse is limited in two ways.

For one thing, it is going past so fast that I can assess something is important and/or useful but not really process it.

The other is that there is no background context. This means I may be missing part of the point, of course but also that there is less opportunity to absorb the bigger picture and get my own ideas sparked by little things said.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m loving the technology that allows us to share in the event despite not being there! Twitter is live and awesome, virtual recordings later, it’s all good!

And I often shares tidbits of information when I attend a conference, webinar or whatever, too as it helps me cement ideas and I like to share. And I figure tidbits are better than nothing.

Making use of those tidbits or information and wisdom

So how can we maximise these bits of stuff we’re getting via tweets or quote websites and the like?

Please share your ideas and how you learn from others in the comments below – I want to learn rather than get overwhelmed or miss the very points I notice!

So some ideas from me to get us started…

  1.  focus on one medium at a time – trying to keep track on twitter and Facebook while listening to recordings will send you mad I think! I’m watching twitter now and recordings later.
  2. write down some of the points that really stand out for you – you just can’t write them all down!
  3. if following on Twitter, retweet some of the good ones. It helps share the love obviously but also gives you a reference point to go back to for information later
  4. if people share links, open them but leave them until later for reading – blog posts and the like will wait 🙂
  5. I know tweets are short, but feel free to shorten them if it helps! As long as it still makes sense to you, skip words and abbreviate other words
  6. Join some conversations where you can – it can add depth to things. Obviously not easy on a busy twitter feed but it is interesting and works along the usual social media premises.

Have you ever followed a live feed for an event?

How did it go? Did you learn enough to make it a worthwhile experience?

 

 * image courtesy of 123rf

Not going to Problogger event?

Darren Rowse at Problogger 2012

Darren ended Problogger 2012 with a chat to us in the stands of the MCG

If you keep on an eye on the blogging community in Australia, it would have been a bit hard to miss the fact the Problogger event is on this weekend.

In fact, #PBEvent has already started trending on Twitter and the event hasn’t started yet!

Does not going mean missing out?

Speaking for myself, I’m now getting itchy feet about not being there. I loved it last year and am sure this year would have been even better.

For one thing, this year there are 3 sessions on most of the time (mind you it was hard enough to decide between two at times last year!) and I would have loved catching up with some people from last year.

And I simply hate missing out on things, lol!

However, it just wasn’t possible for me this year due to family commitments, especially as the travelling would put me so much further away.

There are many blog posts around at the moment about preparing for and getting the most out of PBEvent, so I thought I’d write a post for those of us itching to go but staying at home this weekend.

The PBEvent you have when you don’t go to PBEvent on the Gold Coast…

These are just my ideas and if you can add to the list, please do in the comments below as I want the best non-event I can get!

  1. Problogger, Darren Rowse, has helped us a lot by making a virtual ticket available again this year so you can hear sessions soon after the attendees do. So step one – grab◊ a virtual ticket!
  2. Listen to the virtual sessions. Sounds silly but a virtual ticket is pointless unless you listen to the recordings! What’s more, try listening to at least one or two during the weekend so you not only get the buzz but also can follow related conversations as you go.
  3. Set up a twitter search for #PBEvent. Be prepared for a lot of tweets to flow past you. I know last year there was a lot of chatter during the sessions as people shared things they learned as well as discussing and expanding on points made. Just cherry pick things from the Twitter feed and you will gain ideas and inspiration is my (educated) guess.
    Twitter feed for #PBEvent

    Already #PBevent is trending on Twitter – tweets will fly over the Problogger conference weekend!

    There will also be related hashtags as each session will have its own – I guess the trending hashtags list will give us a clue on the day!

  4. Find out who is at PBEvent (many have announced that on Facebook, in their blog, etc) and keep an eye on their blog and social media feeds. A lot of valuable information and insight will be shared in the next week. And you can select bloggers from your industry to refine the information, too.
  5. Got some blogging friends or contacts who are in your area instead of the Gold Coast? Why not get together for an hour or two this weekend? Watch the social media feeds and discuss some of the ideas you read. Not as good as the main event but you can still get some camaraderie and new ideas – and maybe a laugh or two while you’re at it!
    Of course, making local blogging contacts can have a long lasting impact on your blogging, too.
  6. Look up posts and other resources from last year’s PBEvent (I listed some in posts here and here). I intend dong this before any recordings are available  – partly to pick up some of the excitement again but also to remind myself of what I learned last year and how it worked (or didn’t!) for me.
  7. Blog! If you can’t be with them, at least make that motivation to write some posts!
  8. Plan for next year. What stopped you going this year? If it was money, plan how you can raise that extra mony for 2014 (there is an affiliate session by Darren, a session on starting to monetise and a selling stuff session by Shayne Tulley to help, too!) If it was timing, can you schedule things differently for next year now so you can be at PBEvent?
  9. Give yourself thinking time over the weekend to consider your blog. Ask questions like why you blog, what is and isn’t working, are you reaching the right audience, is it worth adding more (or less) media to your blog, and how can you best measure the success of your blog.

 

 

◊ Yes, this is an affiliate link. However, I suggest this because I know how great the event was last year. If I help cover my costs through an affiliate link, it helps my blog keep going and it doesn’t cost you anymore than if you bought a ticket directly. And it’s all done through Problogger so I never see any of your details.

Enthusiasm generates interest

young girl cheerleader with pom poms

You don’t have to have cheerleaders to show enthusiasm…

Enthusiastic sponsor mentions generate interest for the sponsors and the supported organisation. I’ve been watching it happen.

I’m sure you’ve seen lists of sponsors before, whether it is for a conference, a charity event or a local club or group. Listing sponsors is fine, but how often do you really take notice of many of the sponsors in such a list?

An enthusiastic thanks

Recently, I have seen some gratitude to sponsors that stood out – and made me truly notice the sponsors. Ok, I haven’t actually used those sponsors since then but I have a higher opinion of them now than before!

The Heartkids 24 hour bike-a-thon is basically promoted via a Facebook page. Whenever a new sponsor joins in, an enthusiastic, heart-felt (sorry, no pun intended) update is added to the page to thank the sponsor.

Occasionally, other mentions of the sponsor are made as an update, too.

Heartkids charity bike marathon poster for 5 to 6 October

The Heartkids charity bike marathon – a good cause and a good business example.

And as a shameless plug, the bike marathon would love more sponsors or donations if you feel inclined. I’ll be doing a small part of the bike riding, but the more support generated for Heartkids, the better.

Adding enthusiasm…

For the Heartkids bike marathon, this is not a marketing ploy – there is genuine gratitude and excitement behind those status updates.

If you have real enthusiasm, how can you show it in your business?

If you don’t have real enthusiasm, it will probably show through so what can you be enthusiastic and passionate about to gain that interest?

Put the enthusiasm and passion in – someone like me can always tweak the words to read well – and people will instinctively been drawn to what you are saying.