Category “Communication”

Finding Inspiration When Blogging

Tuesday, 17 September, 2013

It’s often really hard to just launch into writing a blog. Beyond the possible technical challenges, there’s also the inevitable questions like “what do I write about?”, “what should I sound like?”, “will anyone even read this junk?”…. I find one of the best ways to get inspiration, ideas, and hopefully peace of mind, is to start by reading other blogs. Don’t copy them, but pick out what you like and don’t like about them. What works? What doesn’t work? What makes you want to keep reading?

Once you have built up some ideas, then start writing. Ensure you use your own voice in your blog and focus on writing something that you could imagine yourself reading. Start a list of topics so you don’t run out of steam and keep practicing.

For some ideas, you can take a look at this list of blogs that a colleague at BCIT and I developed for a recent Tech Writing Alumni Lunch:

For Business/Writing:

For Pleasure:

Whether you learn from good blogs or bad, don’t let anything stop you from just going for it!

Geraldine

 

How Long Should Your Resume Be?

Monday, 12 August, 2013

Cartoon about resumesSomewhere along the line, we were convinced that there is a set length to a resume.  I remember how adamant a student of mine was once about keeping her 1-page resume format, despite it looking cramped and sounding incomplete. Others have shuddered at the thought of condensing their 3-page resume. Some recruiters insist two is the magic number. So what’s the ideal length? I would say it depends, much like the resume as a whole, on your preferences and what you’re applying for.

Length ∝ Job

One of the biggest mistakes people make with resumes is not to customize to the job, and length is part of this. I would argue that the length of your resume can be directly proportional (∝) to the job you’re applying for. If you’re fresh out of college and applying for an entry level position, then 1-page works well. If you have more experience, and it’s all relevant, then make it 1 1/2 or 2. If it’s executive level, then 3 could work.

However, I would also argue that it depends on the industry and the company. Perhaps, even for a high level position, a 1-pager would make more impact – it states the highlight of your career  and it guarantees the reader will absorb more information more quickly. After all, with a wealth of experience, what could you give other than core benefits your skills would bring to the employer? I think that if you’re applying for an unsolicited job (i.e. there is no ad, but you’re submitting your resume to a company you really want to work at), then perhaps a 1-pager also makes the most impact;  a teaser that says “call me if you want to know more”. 

Philip Berne, in his blog post titled The Zero Page Resume, discusses how we may be heading towards online resumes – no pages at all, but formats like LinkedIn to replace the traditional version. If you’re running a smart self-marketing campaign through social media, then much of your resume should be online already (think LinkedIn). Personally, I feel like a combination is ideal. Again, you have to look at the industry expectations, the information preferences of the reader, and what type of job you are applying for.

You vs. “They”

Regardless of what “they” say (including me 🙂 ), I think you have to decide what best represents you and what you think your readers will expect and need to see. And above all, follow the job ad guidelines to the letter – they’re telling you what they want, so give it to them. Don’t include every single job you’ve had; include the most relevant and get around the date gaps by using “Related Word Experience” or “Relevant Work Experience” as your work section heading. Tailor to the ad, the company, the industry. Highlight measurables. And edit, edit, edit.

Remember that these days recruiters scan through resumes very quickly (and they may be scanned by machine beforehand or after to look for keywords), so don’t overwhelm the reader with reams of information. Choose your highlights. And go with the length that works for you.

Geraldine

“Suiting Up” Your Language

Monday, 29 July, 2013

Image of Edited GraffitiA video a friend recently sent me in which Stephen Fry decries “pedants” had me thinking about language. While I would not describe myself as a grammar Nazi (others apparently do 🙂 ), and as much as I delight in the deliciousness of language (particularly cuss words; yes, I know, a filthy habit), I do still think there is a time and a place for good grammar and professional writing skills.

I have definitely become aware of amusing or infuriating mistakes in the world around me more because it is part of my job (not to make them, of course, but to correct them). I have also become more aware of the decided decline in correctness. And then there’s the fact that I’m constantly torn between Canadian and British/South African spelling…. But most disturbingly, I have become more aware of how little people seem to care about the impression this all makes on others – particularly in a business context.

I was grabbing a coffee on my way to work today and I overheard the manager of the coffee shop interviewing a candidate. I couldn’t believe how many times the interviewee said “like” and “whatever”. Even for a coffee shop job (and perhaps even especially for a coffee shop job where you deal constantly with the public),  sounding professional is vital. The interviewee came across as very young and not particularly clever as she answered the manager’s questions. While I am sure the young lady is perfectly capable, she really didn’t seem it in her answers.

I do not mean to infer that this is only a problem with the young. And I do know that given my profession, I am perhaps more acutely aware than others, but I see this sort of informal/haphazard/unprofessional communication in both the written and the oral communication around me. Heck, even on the evening news… and even in the communications I receive at work (at BCIT and through my own business, as well as in other previous situations). When I was helping to find a candidate to replace me at my job at Wordtravels, for example, I was astounded at how terrible the spelling, grammar, and general writing skills of the applicants were – and this was for a writing and editing job!

I’ve read so many reports that say hiring managers will not call someone for an interview if they see even one spelling or grammatical error in a resume or cover letter. I’ve spoken to professionals who say they will not promote someone who doesn’t have excellent written and oral communication skills. And yet the more we use social media, texting, the tiny predictive text keyboards on smartphones, and even email as our primary tools of communication, the worse we seem to get.

I’m not sure what the cure is, but it’s vital to remember that just as people’s first impressions can come from what you look like, they can also come from what you sound like. And you always need to adapt your message to your audience and context. So while you’re putting on that business suit for your job or a job interview, don’t forget to “suit up” your language too.

Geraldine

Tips for Blogging Inspiration

Monday, 22 July, 2013

It’s often really hard to just launch into writing a blog. Beyond the possible technical challenges, there’s also the inevitable questions like “what do I write about?”, “what should I sound like?”, and “will anyone even read this junk?”…. I find one of the best ways to get inspiration, ideas, and hopefully peace of mind, is to read other blogs. Don’t copy them, but pick out what you like and don’t like about them. What works? What doesn’t work? But ensure you use your own voice in your blog.

Look at how the bloggers connect with their readers (or don’t), how they use language, but also how the posts themselves are set up in terms of how they look. Are the titles effective? Are they tagged and categorized clearly? Is the message engaging?

For some ideas, you can take a look at this list that a colleague at BCIT and I developed for their Technical Writing Program’s annual  Alumni Lunch:

For Business/Writing:

For Pleasure:

Whether you learn from good blogs or bad, don’t let anything stop you from just going for it!

Geraldine

What are Tags and Categories in Blogging?

Tuesday, 11 June, 2013

Let’s face it, the odds of becoming a famous blogger are not really in our favour, but ultimately with any social media and online interactions, it’s about the quality of your communication, not the quantity. However, if you are trying to get your blog  read and attract followers, then you need to do what you can to help potential readers find your posts. Enter tags and categories*.

What are Categories?

Adding Tags and Categories on WordPressWhen you write a blog post, categorizing it allows you to connect it to a list of topics/subjects/categories – rather like an index in the back of a book.  Think of it as you “filing” your posts under key words that readers might search for (e.g. Blogging Tips); essentially you are optimizing your posts for search engines. If someone is searching for a particular, broader topic, and if you’ve categorized your posts effectively, then they are more likely to find your blog/posts. Personally, I also like to categorize my posts under my full name, the blog’s name, and my company name. If any one searches for me or my company, then they are more likely to also get the option to view my blog.

Remember that the default is “uncategorized,” so make sure you start adding categories that are relevant to your posts and the blog’s focus to avoid everything falling under this. In WordPress, simply use the “Add New Category” option on the right hand side of your posts (as shown in the image left). You can also choose to use “parent categories” – so I could have “Communication” as a parent category, and “Communication Problems” as my sub-category. These are like sub-folders in your filing system. I tend not to use them as I find it adds too many layers and too much work!

What are Tags?

In comparison to categories, tags are more specific keyword phrases (and usually a little longer). They serve the same function as categories, but for more detailed search terms (e.g. How to Add Tags to Blog Posts). These you add simply by separating the tags with commas to create a list. WordPress also allows you to choose from your most used tags (see image), so if you’re writing about the same/related topics, you can simply use these. Once you publish the post, WordPress now provides you with a list of other keywords it pulls from your post and you can simply click on these to add them to your tags list.

Final Tips:

  • Include verbs (action focused words) but also nouns (usually people, places, things) because although readers prefer verbs, search engines like nouns
  • Think  about what relevant key words readers (or you) would search for related to the post topic and use these for your tags and categories
  • Avoid too many tags and categories; you want to sign post your blog entries, not create an overwhelming list that becomes visually distracting
  • Use the analytics tool on WordPress to see what tags and categories of yours are being clicked on the most (this gives you a good idea of which posts are most popular, and can therefore guide your topics for future blog posts)
  • Play around, experiment, and try different tags and categories – you can always uncheck them on your posts or delete the tags.

Geraldine

*Tags and categories are used in WordPress; Blogger calls them “labels,” which limits you to a combination of the two.

Meerkat Communications Turns 5!

Friday, 26 April, 2013

Picture of MeerkatsIt’s Meerkat Communications’ 5th year – hard to believe that time has gone by so quickly!

It’s been a privilege to work with a great group of clients in a range of industries and to help them express their ideas in various formats, whether in a brochure, sales sheets, or their company website. I love being able to help transform concepts into concrete copy and to help clients see the power of words in reaching  target markets.

Here’s to many more years of successful collaboration,welcoming of new clients, and of making words work for you.

Geraldine

Vintage Social Networking

Tuesday, 2 April, 2013

Back in the day…

 

vintage social networking

A Mere Cat?

Monday, 4 March, 2013

Too precious!

Meerkat Meme

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Unfortunately I don’t know the original meme source)

Don’t Hide Behind Email: Tips for Better Verbal Communication

Tuesday, 22 January, 2013

Image of  a telephoneYou know how it goes… you have to have a really important but potentially very difficult business-related conversation. You know that calling the person would be the best approach to get a direct response, but you don’t want the stress. What if you stumble over your words? What if the person doesn’t listen properly? Misunderstands? Gets really angry? So you do one of two things… you dial when you know the person is likely to be busy and pray for voicemail and then mumble awkwardly if they happen to answer, or you chicken out and send an email instead.

While written records can be essential in certain business situations (whether positive or negative), sometimes conversations have a time limit – you need immediate feedback and you need to be able to ask/answer questions right away, so a phone call is really the best means of communication to achieve your purpose.

Tips for Improving Your Verbal Communication

It can be really hard to ensure a conversation goes smoothly and that you get results, so here are seven tips for improving your chances of success:

1. Analyze your audience. Consider your audience’s reaction/response. Would they react better to a more direct approach to the issue? Or should you consider “sandwiching” the bad news in between any possible good/positive information?

2. Decide on your main point. Work out exactly what the outcome that you need is and clarify your exact purpose for contacting your listener. Gather any resources you may need (copies of previous correspondence, resources, legal notification, etc.)

3. Write yourself a script. You shouldn’t read this off word for word, but brainstorm your main ideas and put together your supporting evidence. Organize this into a logical order (direct or indirect) of information. Maybe write down a few really important points that you can recite exactly, to help ensure the main message is understood.

4. Keep your tone and language neutral. As tempted as you may be to get angry, all this does is distance you from your audience and often it escalates the problem, because the audience gets defensive and stops listening properly.

5. Make the audience’s next step clear. What do you need your audience to do? Is it clear for them? Have you ensured they have all the information they need to resolve the issue (including relevant contact info)? Make this very easy to follow to ensure you get what you want.

6. Know when to end the conversation. Conflict can drag on or escalate. Make sure you’ve written down a ‘conclusion’ to the conversation. Make it clear to the audience that your time is up and you have to end the call. Try to close off with a positive thought and a reminder of the main idea.

7. Follow up in writing. If there are specific steps the audience needs to take, ensure that you follow up your conversation with an email that briefly summarizes the conversation and that lays out the next steps (including a deadline, if appropriate/relevant) in an organized list. This ensures you still have a written record and that you’ve doubled the chances that the audience will understand the message.

This doesn’t have to take you a long time, but organizing your information, being clear on your audience and purpose, and writing a script will make you feel more confident and in control of the conversation.

So don’t hide behind email when a phone call is more appropriate. Make your own life easier and ensure you get the job done, with a well thought out, well planned, old fashioned phone call 🙂

Geraldine

What Is Writing?

Monday, 21 January, 2013

Typewriter - copyright Geraldine EliotSomething I struggle with a lot is creating the time to spend on my own writing; on the creative writing that fuels me or on the journalling that keeps me sane. I find myself making excuses for not setting a per diem writing word count or for not just sitting down and doing it. And I beat myself up if I’m not blogging regularly, and yet I always  say to myself “I’m a writer”.

That got me thinking.

What does that mean? Yes, it’s what I do for a living (both teaching web/business writing and my Meerkat copywriting), but what does that really mean? Sometimes I feel that it’s not an accurate reflection of me, because I’m not really doing enough writing other than for clients (don’t get me wrong, I LOVE doing that), but does that make me a writer? What is writing? What is writing to me?

For some, writing is a confessional. For some, writing is a secret hobby (teenage diaries being scrawled in the half dark; bad angsty poetry written by moonlight). For some, writing is what keeps them feeling alive – it is meditation, inspiration, and income. Or it is simply a mundane task that has to be completed every day at work.

And for me, I think it’s all of the above sometimes – or has been in different stages of my life. But one thing that will never change is my love of words. And how good I feel when I am writing – whether for myself or a client.

So I guess I can call myself a writer and I just have to not doubt that that is what I am. Who I am.

Geraldine