Yesterday I took part in a seminar on the topic of hotel website design and online bookings, for an audience mostly consisting of hoteliers from Ho Chi Minh City and around.

 During his presentation, one of my fellow speakers said the following:

 “Using an XML interface, it’s easy to connect your PMS to your GDS network.”

 Personally I didn’t bat an eyelid as I know what each of those acronyms means, but I noticed some of the attendees looking a bit confused and then one attendee put her hand up and said “Can you stop using abbreviations please, we are hoteliers not computer experts!”

It got me thinking that, whilst many companies have done a good job in removing industry-specific jargon from their communication, many of them have replaced it with acronyms. I’m currently putting together a glossary for our corporate website to explain the following to the uninitiated:

ERP
CRM
POS
CRS
GDS
EAM
CMMS
BPO
FMS
SEO
MRP
PPC 

…all of which appear on our homepage or on our product pages! 

Acronyms should be used with caution – they are after all just a form of shorthand to make communication between peers and colleagues quicker and simpler. When you’re communicating outside your peer group or your own industry, most of your acronyms no longer make sense. 

I can talk to my colleagues about how we’ve improved our ROMI by using PPC and SEO, but when I’m doing e-marketing consulting/training for our customers, I have to tell them how they can improve their return on marketing investment by using pay-per-click and search engine optimisation. It takes a bit longer, but at least they understand me. 

So next time you’re tempted to use an acronym, think about what it means, and think about who you’re talking to or writing for – if in doubt, write it out!

This morning I received in my inbox an Aberdeen Group report entitled Demand Generation Automation – Kick-Start your Business. Whilst the report was most useful from a marketing point of view, the author was clearly on a bet to use “leverage” as often as possible.

Here are some examples:

Best-in-class companies heavily leverage technology to manage leads

Best-in-class are two times more likely than Laggards to leverage a centralised repository for performance metrics

38% of Best-in-class currently leverage or plan to leverage an agency solution for demand generation

Based on other capabilities, these resources are clearly leveraging performance metrics

Industry average organisations may be more likely to leverage mass email through a CRM system

Laggards, on the other hand, are also more likely to leverage the low-cost email channel

Leverage technology to improve customer intelligence

Best-in-class use of CRM is an excellent example of how organisations should leverage demand generation technology

AAAAGGHH!!! PLEASE MAKE IT STOP!!! And have you spotted a common thread in all those examples? That’s right – in each case, the ‘L’ word could quite easily be replaced  by “use”. Madness. Utter, utter madness.

Impact is NOT a Verb!

28 September, 2007

A few weeks ago I read an article with the following title: 

How will Web 2.0 Impact the Travel Industry?

It seems that, like the aforementioned ‘leverage’, corporate-speak enthusiasts have also co-opted poor old ‘impact’ into their repertoire of sorely-abused nouns. 

The above title might just as easily be written as follows: 

How will Web 2.0 Affect the Travel Industry?

Or, if the writer was dead set on using the word ‘impact’:

What Impact will Web 2.0 Have on the Travel Industry?

You can ‘have an impact’ or ‘make an impact’ on something or someone, but you can’t ‘impact’ something or someone. OK, in the interests of brevity or saving printer ink it might seem easier just to abandon the ‘have an’ or ‘make an’ and just go with ‘impact’, but the simple fact is it’s WRONG!

A few days ago I received a message via Facebook from someone asking if they could “network with me over a coffee”. And I realised that the awful word ‘networking’ (which isn’t strictly a verb, by the way) had reached the ‘tipping point’, where an expression escapes its original user base and starts being picked up by everyone.

Anyway I didn’t reply. Had the person suggested meeting for a coffee, or chatting over a coffee, I would’ve done. But anyone whose motivation for meeting me is so transparently ‘business-only’ isn’t going to get a very warm response. It got me thinking about how what used to be called ‘social’ evenings are now known as ‘networking’ evenings, reversing the normal process by which you got to know people first and then moved onto business if you established some common ground. If you didn’t establish any common ground, no problem, at least you’d met someone you could go for a beer with some time. Now it’s “Can we do business? No? OK, I don’t want to know you.”

It happened to me just last week, when someone approached me and, before even finding out who I was or what I did, pressed his business card on me and began talking about wholesale kitchen equipment. Whoa there!

We all have to ‘network’ at some point during our working week/month, so here are a few tips to make the process more enjoyable and fruitful for us all…

  • Change your mindset – you’re not networking, you’re socialising!
  • We all know you’ve got a product or service to sell, but most of us like to be ‘chatted up’ first!
  • Get to know someone first before handing over a business card – you may run out of cards later and then meet someone you can really do business with.
  • Remember it’s easier to talk business with someone you’ve got to know personally than it is to talk business straight away.
  • Vary your approach – the standard hello who are you what do you do routine quickly gets boring. Scott Ginsberg, “The Guy with the Nametag”, has a website with lots of useful articles about how to make yourself more interesting and approachable at www.hellomynameisscott.com
  • Find out what the other person does before launching into an epic monologue about your business. If you sell cigarettes and your new ‘friend’ is an oncologist, you just blew that relationship!
  • If people want to know more about your company, they’ll ask. If they don’t ask, don’t tell them.
  • Focus on the conversation in hand, even if it seems uninteresting. Don’t look around the room for someone more interesting while someone is talking to you!
  • Spending 10 minutes each with 3 interesting people is probably more worthwhile than 30 minutes running around getting 30 business cards.

In short, don’t be like the guy who buttonholed me in a hotel bar in Johannesburg a few years ago with the following introduction:

“Hi, I’m Bill from Chicago, it’s great to meet you and I hope we can do business together. Here’s my card – I export grain from the US to Africa.”

Well Bill, it’s great to meet you too but if you’d bothered to observe the usual social niceties first you’d have discovered I work for a travel software company in the UK and thus have no interest in grain exporting between the US & Africa. Or anywhere else for that matter!

He Who Hesitates…

17 September, 2007

We’ve all read it, and probably written it, a thousand times. “If you require any further information, please do not hesitate to contact me.”

When you look at it, it’s an utterly bizarre sentence. As if there are people out there who, when they require further information, invariably hesitate before asking for it. And yet it has passed into the very DNA of business correspondence across the globe.

An example. I occasionally deliver training courses on Effective Business Writing to Vietnamese employees. The aim of the course is to promote the ABC – Accuracy, Brevity and Clarity – of Business Writing, with a focus on what has come to be known as Global English; not the stilted, 1950s grammar book version still taught in most Vietnamese high schools, nor the impenetrable legalese that made up the standard business letter as recently as 20 years ago. The concept being that, as they are often writing in their second language to people reading in their second language, they really should keep it as short & simple as they possibly can.

So I tell them not to write ‘commence’ when they can write ‘start’, nor to write ‘at this present moment in time’ when they can write ‘currently’ or ‘at the moment’ (or even just ‘now’). All this is eagerly taken on board. Yet when I tell them to cast ‘do not hesitate to’ to the four winds (leaving the simpler but just as polite ‘please contact me’) they react as if I’d just drawn glasses and a moustache on a portrait of Ho Chi Minh.

“They told us to write that at school!” “It is polite!” “Many foreigners use it!” That may be so, but it doesn’t mean you have to use it. It takes up space for a start – leave all the do-not-hesitates, the I-am-in-receipt-ofs and at-this-present-moment-in-times in your letter/email, and it will take twice as long to read. And the longer your sentences, the bigger the likelihood of your making a mistake.

So “do not hesitate to” has now become the leap of faith of my training course – encourage trainees to throw away the phrase, and everything else will naturally follow. If you have any thoughts, please do not hesitate to leave a comment.

One area in which gobbledygook has run amok is British local government recruitment. Scour the public sector job ads in The Guardian and you’ll see countless ads for Diversity Managers, Inclusion Officers and the like, all accompanied by utterly incomprehensible job descriptions.

 Here’s an example I saw today – East Sussex County Council are looking for an Involvement & Consultation Project Manager, which apparently involves the following: 

This role’s all about providing that valuable support that helps make projects successful. You’ll be a natural ‘people person’ adept at working with groups to empower them to achieve their goals, as well as helping to ensure that the results of consultations are understood and translated into reality. With exceptional organisational and communication skills, you’ll have a passion for service improvement and will value hearing people’s views and acting on them.

Have you read between the lines? They want a secretary don’t they?

Providing valuable support = office lackey
People person = don’t argue when you’re told to make the tea
Helping to ensure that the results of consultations are understood and translated into reality = typing up reports
Exceptional organisational and communication skills = admin

It’s easy to laugh of course, but the chances are, when the recruitment process has finished, neither party (employer or new recruit) will have got what they wanted or expected. The employer ends up with a creative, gregarious, ambitious employee with project management experience, when they really needed a secretary or a more experienced admin assistant; the employee ends up doing basic admin tasks which are beneath their experience, quickly gets fed up, and inevitably infects the rest of the team with their disillusionment.

Such are the results of trying to tart up an essentially basic, mundane, entry-level job. Recruiters who write this sort of nonsense do a disservice to both themselves and their applicants. Better in the long run to write a warts & all ad, being honest about the nature of the job and the duties involved.

Even more insulting, but again sadly all too common, is this little beauty:

you’ll have a passion for service improvement

I’m sorry? A PASSION for service improvement? Come again? Similar cobblers can be seen on the website of a former employer of mine, who have since recruited someone who is “passionate about development methodologies”. Wow, I bet he’s fun at parties.

People are passionate about many things – their wives/husbands, music, art, dancing, sport & the like – but in all my life I have NEVER met anyone who was passionate about mundane business procedures. I enjoy designing Powerpoint slides, writing press releases and speaking at seminars, but that enjoyment is a long way from passion, and long may it remain so. Unless they’re in the adult film business, employers have no right to expect passion from employees.

 Employees want honesty, fair reward and appreciation of their work, and as much job security as economic conditions will permit. Give them that and they’ll reward you with commitment, hard work and enthusiasm. Oversell the job or expect them to live every moment at the office as if it is their last, and they won’t stay long.
 

Ill Communication

13 September, 2007

Communication is a skill not possessed by all. For those who struggle to communicate clearly and persuasively, there are fortunately numerous courses, seminars and conferences available to help. However, I wouldn’t recommend the following event, to which I was invited last month. Here is the invitation email in full:

Corporate Communication Conference
“Becoming a crisis prepared, zero communication barrier, and positively reputated organisation”

1st & 2nd October 2007

Crowne Plaza Galleria Manila, Philippines

Dear Mr Tim Russell

Effective communication internally and externally can generate many business opportunities and avoid being caught unprepared during times of crisis. Preparedness is also crucial for your organisation to direct or shift strategies at the same speed at which external events are occurring.

This Corporate Communication Conference will address the main concerns and discuss on the latest issues pertaining Corporate Communications. You will hear successful communicators sharing their experiences on setting up, implementing, and accessing an effective team. Listen to what they have to say on how to deal with the media in both Philippines and other countries in the region. Gain productive benefits on managing crisis and using technology to facilitate communications for your organization.

Key Benefits that you will gain by attending this conference:

1)       Measuring and assessing the performance of Corporate Communications

2)       Increasing stakeholder’s confidence by enhancing the effectiveness of your Corporate Communication strategies

3)       Getting prepared for a crisis and developing an effective Crisis Communication Plan to counter it

4)       Elevating the transparency of your organization by understanding the role that Corporate Communications plays in Corporate Governance

5)       Capturing the media’s attention and successfully maintaining good rapport with them

Where do I begin? With their creative coining of the word ‘reputated’? The unfathomable phrase ‘accessing an effective team’ (‘access’, like ‘leverage’, frequently and incorrectly used as a verb)? The almost metaphysical concept of ‘Elevating the transparency of your organisation’? The numerous grammatical mistakes, which indicate that the company organising the event can’t even afford a proofreader?

I could mention all of these but instead I will merely focus on the fact that a company organising a conference about corporate communication can’t even put together a coherent email explaining the content and purpose of the event, and on the damage to a company’s image that can be done by bad communication such as this.

I organise 2-3 events per month and know full well the importance of clearly communicating the content and purpose of each one. If the agenda isn’t clear, people will not register. Or maybe they’ll think they’re going to get something different, register, and then complain when the event fails to meet their expectations. Either way, my company’s reputation suffers. We would become, as the author of the above email might say, negatively reputated.

I haven’t named the perpetrators of the above assault on the English language but I did reply to them personally suggesting that, if they want to teach businesses how to communicate, they should teach themselves first. I have yet to receive a reply.