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Archive for August, 2012

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 :: Posted by Keith on 08-20-2012

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Workshops at conferences are great… networking is better

 :: Posted by Ambre on 08-15-2012

At QuBComm, we’re constantly on the lookout for the latest trends and breakthroughs in the world of business communications. To accomplish such a task, we attend conferences every year. I look forward to the workshops and training sessions at conferences, but that’s only a little slice of what they have to offer.

The shy kid at the conference
I was barely a freshman in college when I went to my first conference. It was the 10th annual Penn Writers Conference held at the University of Pennsylvania. Most other attendees surpassed their college years when I was in grade school, so I felt like the baby in class.

I sat in the front row for every workshop, took notes, and hung on every word. I froze when the speaker asked me to share what I wrote during a writing exercise. When it was time to mingle for meal time, I focused  my attention on my notes and my tuna sandwich.

What you should do at a conference
Conferences are the perfect place to meet people in your field — something I didn’t realize until I joined the QuBComm team. Sure, the workshops offer a wealth of information. But you’re not going to get your (or your company’s) money’s worth unless you get out there and meet some people.

Whether it’s a conference for writers or one that’s specifically geared for your field, you can learn a lot from other attendees. For example, you can:

  • Find out how other people in your field do their job
  • Learn how to improve the way you do your job
  • Exchange contact information with others in your field
  • Talk to someone who really “gets” your trials and tribulations at work
  • Get your or your company’s name out there
  • Talk to major players in your field

Don’t get sticker shock
Some conferences seem a little pricey, especially if you’re a manger who is sending employees to a conference that’s far away. But in most instances, the ends justify the means. Mike Doyle, a conference organizer in the field of technical communications, has created a handy worksheet you can use to see if the conference is worth the money.

The networking and educational opportunities at conferences are sure to help your bottom line.

Written by: Ambre Amole

It’s what we do

 :: Posted by Josh on 08-13-2012

Before reading this post, be sure to check out http://qubcomm.com/blog/2012/06/12/plain-language-the-government-is-on-board-are-you/

Who?

The Plain language Action and Information Network (PLAIN) is a group of federal employees who support the use of plain language when writing for the government. Plain language should not stop there, though. I must admit, when I rummage through various state and federal websites for specific documents, it can be tedious. The words chosen to explain different sections can be confusing and even challenging. The average reader best comprehends text when it is written at a sixth grade reading level. Unfortunately, many government agencies continue to write for a small percentage of the population.

What?

Even worse, there are thousands of businesses and companies who also write for only a portion of humanity. They use legalese, jargon, and a slew of confusing words and sentences that often leave the reader scratching their head. QuBComm is a firm believer in plain language for business communications.

Why?

Oftentimes when a corporate writer creates brochures, documents or other texts, they are familiar with the legalese and terms. They understand it. The average reader does not. Knowing your audience is half the battle. That’s why we’re here.

How?

We can turn those documents into easy-to-understand language. Getting the reader to understand the text is the first step, but certainly not the last. The reader must feel comfortable and “at home” with the text. Once that is in place, action is practically guaranteed. The reader will follow through – they’ll make that call, sign the waiver, ask for your business, etc. Our trained specialists are able to turn legalese of any kind into easy reading.

5 tips for a powerful Powerpoint presentation

 :: Posted by Josh on 08-07-2012

Powerpoint presentations are an effective and reliable tool for business communications, but only when used correctly. I have been in countless meetings that revolve around the powerpoint presentation and rarely is it used effectively. Here are a few simple tips to effective and powerful presentations.

  1. Don’t read the presentation word for word.

Your audience will be able to read the slides; it is your job to thoroughly explain each point. Some of the most effective presenters have even said, “Please read the slide, then I will discuss more in depth about it”. The last thing anyone wants is to have the presenter read the slide word for word and simply move on to the next slide, just to do the same. Elaboration is necessary, so know the topic you are presenting!

  1. Use the 6 x 6 rule

Have you ever witnessed a presenter read a two-paragraph slide to the audience? Nothing makes the day drag more than a slide-reader rather than an actual presenter. Limit your slide to 6 words per line and 6 lines per slide. This is a fantastic method to remain organized and not overwhelm the audience – or yourself! Then, you can explore each thought more in-depth.

  1. Limit time spent on each slide

Depending on the importance of a particular slide, the time spent on each should be short. If you spend 15 minutes on a single slide, you’ll lose your audience. Keep it simple, straightforward and concise.

  1. Coordinate colors, backgrounds, transitions, pictures and videos.

Use neutral colors, like light blues and greens for the majority of your powerpoint. Keep the background the same for all of the slides. Focus on having the same transition between slides. Include one video or one image for each slide. Once these guidelines are established, you can play around with using colors to strike attention or importance to a particular idea. Use reds and yellows for certain key words – but use those colors sparingly. Ask yourself, “What is the one thing I want my audience to remember after this presentation?” After you have discovered your answer, attract the audience to the idea using those striking colors, or a key image or video.

  1. Use a “clicker”

Walk around the room and stay on your feet. All eyes are on you or the screen. If you are seated or even standing in front of your monitor, your audience will find you boring. Use a clicker so you can roam and speak to your audience, while still having the ability to transition to different slides during your presentation. Clickers have become an advanced form of technology, giving you the ability to do more than just, well, click between slides! If you are only interested in slide transitions, they can run you between $10 and $15.  But for double that (and sometimes more), you’ll have the opportunity to own a clicker with all the functions of a mouse – clicking icons, opening new windows, lighten/darken the screen, etc.

Visual aids can turn a dreary presentation into a work of art. Using Microsoft Powerpoint can help you achieve a successful presentation. Tangible items are equally effective in creating a solid presentation. Try to bring in something to pass out or show your audience. When you give your audience the opportunity to use more than a couple senses, your presentation will be memorable.

Find and replace with plain language

 :: Posted by Josh on 08-06-2012

Here at QuBComm, we edit our hearts out every day. Editing is a process not suited for everyone, but there are many basic techniques you can follow to ensure reader-centric content is created for your business. Here is a list of 5 words or phrases that you should replace in all future business communications:

1. Prior to

Use “before”

Tell the audience what you really mean. Since the definitions of “before” and “prior to” are identical, why confuse them with an extravagant version?

2. Utilize

Use “use”

There is not a single sentence that I can think of in business communications that would actually require the word “utilize” over the word “use”. Keep it simple for your audience.

3. Via

Use “through” or “by”

There may even be a few other words that could be used instead of “via”, just be sure to consider the context. “Via” is a preposition, but a vague one at that. Be precise by offering the reader the exact method or action that should take. “Respond via email”? How about, “Respond by email”.

4. In the amount of

Use “for”

This one seems like a no-brainer. Simplify business communications by reducing the amount of words used. In this particular example, an identical meaning is present in both. Use the simpler form to communicate effectively.

5. In order to

Use “to”

This example is quite similar to #4. Don’t worry, you can start the sentence with the word “To” on occasion. The reader will appreciate it.

For example: “In order to expedite your shipment, please include your return address”

Write: “To expedite your shipment, include your return address”

 

There is a long list of words to use instead of legalese and other lengthy words on the plain language site: http://www.plainlanguage.gov/howto/wordsuggestions/simplewords.cfm

If you have already typed up that document and it’s ready to be mailed, there’s a cool tool in Microsoft Word that allows you to find and replace words with other words. Here’s a brief tutorial:

On the “home” tab, look above “editing”, then click on “find”:

After clicking “find”, a dialogue box will appear:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Type in the word you wish to find:

Then, click the “replace” tab within the dialogue box. Type the word you wish to replace.

You can choose to replace the found word throughout the whole document by clicking “replace all”, or specific places throughout the document by clicking “find next”. This feature can be useful when you are interested in seeing how many times a word has been used throughout a document too.

Overcoming writer’s block

 :: Posted by Josh on 08-03-2012

Have you ever fumbled with composing a paragraph or piecing together a quality sentence? Have you pulled your hair out trying to find that perfect word?   If so, you may have experienced writer’s block. It’s a condition that varies greatly – from a momentary lapse in writing to a total career change! After discovering the benefit of using plain language, writer’s block seems to remain at bay, but every so often, the evil beast rears its ugly head. College and the workplace seems to be the place where it thrives, probably because of strict deadlines. I tend to work well under pressure, but sometimes procrastination makes writer’s block an impossible hurdle to pass. Here are some tips to overcoming writer’s block:

1. Use plain language

The simplest word is probably the best. Impress the audience with your logic and thinking, not with your prose and multisyllabic words.

 

2. Take a break

Step away from your writing and think about something else. Then, come back to your work and reread what you have already written. This method will give you a fresh start.

 

3. Listen to some tunes

I listen to everything, but jazz tends to ease the mind. Medeski Martin and Wood (jazz trio) help me to break down the wall that is writer’s block. Maybe Motley Crue does it for you. Whatever it is, the music will give you a necessary change of pace.

 

4. Read something else for pleasure

Another’s perspective can be enlightening and inspiring when producing your own work, even if it has nothing to do with what you are currently writing.

 

5. Eat something

A healthy snack, such as a piece of fruit or a steamed veggie can do wonders for your brain. Avacados are rich with fatty acids and broccoli with antioxidants and Vitamin C.

 

6. Go for a walk

Many of us are so prone to staying in front of our computers all day that exercise remains on the back burner. Take a moment to get your blood flowing, which will get your creative juices flowing again. Find your happy place – a place that is a short (or long) distance away from your computer. It would be beneficial if your happy place is beautiful.

 

Many of these solutions have one thing in common: walk away from your work! It will give your brain the opportunity to take a break and think about something else, so later you can refocus your energy to your work. QuBComm is interested in knowing what YOU do to overcome writer’s block…

 

Top ten tips for professionals who get stuck writing: #1

 :: Posted by Josh on 08-02-2012

Organize your thoughts in large projects

Try to keep a logical flow to the information. Tell a story. For larger projects (manuals, newsletters, product brochures), make a list or a web (a “brainstorm” web or “spider” web for all of you young at heart) of everything you need to discuss. When you have all your thoughts, think how it should be organized. If the points are random, see how one item impacts another and cluster them. Put the most important points up front. If the piece is instructional, organize chronologically. Post-it notes are great for really large projects. Write one thought on each note and move them around until you’re happy with it. Use them as a guide to flow your thoughts onto paper.

There are some fantastic programs out there that allow you to organize your thoughts for large projects ranging from free to costly. Plus, they’re fun! Here are a few free ones. Just click the picture and you’ll be at the site!

 

 

 

After creating your web, be sure to share it with others before publishing. These sites are wonderful for collaboration. Also, you can save your web and use it when writing that manual, brochure, newsletter or whatever publication is necessary for your business. Remember in school when the teacher would ask you to, “Use the writing process”? Well, with the advancements of technology, you can brainstorm and order your ideas electronically. Organizing your thoughts  is one of the most important tips because without a logical flow of thoughts, your reader has already given up on you. Remember, tell a story in a format that is reader-centric. Doing so will give you a reputation for quality and your customers will be excited to receive correspondence from you and your business. Organization in the key to success.

Top ten tips for professionals who get stuck writing: #2

 :: Posted by Josh on 08-01-2012

Limit topics in smaller communications:

I can tell you from experience — even if all your points are crystal clear, readers will not get everything. Even in a simple e-mail to a colleague, if you ask three questions, you’ll get one answer. If you give three action items, you’ll get results on one. Try not to inundate your audience with too many messages at once. Keep it simple and break it up to multiple communications if necessary. That means, if you have 3 requests, send 3 separate emails. This will make it easier for the audience to respond accordingly.

If you are not interested in sending multiple forms of communication when more than one request is necessary, it may be equally effective to compose something less daunting! A reader is rarely interested in reading multiple paragraphs. Instead of writing a lengthy request, use bullets, numbered lists, or even a table to ease the stress.

Instead of:

Welcome to the Company Business* community! Now that you are a member, you must complete a few items. First, be sure to send your completed enrollment forms in the self-addressed, stamped envelope that is included. If you have recently relocated, be sure to include new contact information, including an updated address and phone number on the appropriate forms. As a member, you have access to certain programs to help you. In order to have access to these programs, you must sign up on our website at www.companybusiness.us. After you have signed up, you’ll be able to access our programs. Also, don’t forget to bookmark our website for quick access from your home computer.

If you are interested in receiving special benefits that will help you save money at various community locations, all you need to do is fill out the form enclosed in the packet and send it back with your enrollment forms.

We look forward to providing you with stuff you need! Thanks

-Company Business

 

Write this:

Welcome to the Company Business community! We are pleased to provide you with quality business. We need you to complete a few short forms first:

1.       Complete your enrollment packet and send back to us in the self addressed, stamped envelope

2.       Update your address and phone number on the appropriate form

3.       Sign up online at www.companybusiness.us to get special benefits and access to money-saving programs. Don’t forget to bookmark us!

That’s it! We look forward to meeting your needs!

-Company Business

Limit your requests to a few simple items in a bulleted list, or use multiple forms of communication to have single actions completed. Not only will it save ink for your business, your audience will be pleased you took the time to shorten the process by using plain language and simple steps.

*Please note that Company Business is a made up company to prove a point.