Let’s check out an example of office communication that may not be working so well.
We’re going to talk mainly today about how to speak easily and confidently about the VSCPA, our mission statement and what you do. Don’t overlook the importance of verbal communication – it’s an extremely important way to reach people.
Luckily, knowing your stuff doesn’t take a lot of work or preparation. The VSCPA mission statement is short and sweet: To enhance the success of CPAs. You have a frame on your desk to help you quickly and easily remember our value statement acronym, CPA: Connect, Protect, Achieve. As a reminder, we connect our members to the resources, benefits, CPE (etc.) that they need to do their jobs successfully. We help protect the CPA profession through advocacy in state and national legislative & regulatory areas. We help CPAs achieve success. Your job: No one knows more about what you do than you do! But you don’t need to describe your job in detail. “I’m the communications director here,” is sometimes enough if I’m talking to someone on the phone. If I’m calling a potential author, I might say, “I’m the managing editor of our member magazine…” Tailor your message to your audience.
In all spoken communications, it’s okay to show heart and display your personality. We don’t expect you to recite our mission statement like a robot. You can express passion for our members, get to know them and talk to them on a personal level. Part of our new brand is getting to the personal side of membership – and that includes staff, not just members. That’s why we’re advocating for more personal e-mails from individual staff members to staff.
Your voice is a very important tool, and it should be used accordingly. Sound conversational and not bored. Are people always saying “huh” and “what?” when you talk? Then you’re not being clear enough. Don’t mumble! Smiling will automatically make you sound happier. Slow talkers can be perceived as incompetent, tired or uninteresting. Fast talkers fare better, but they can be offputting if they give the impression that it’s a one-way conversation.
You don’t need to be a walking dictionary to communicate well. HOWEVER, you do need to: Pronounce words correctly! People will judge your competency through your vocabulary. If you aren’t sure how to say a word, don’t use it. If you’re not sure of the meaning of a word, don’t use it.
Here are my top 10 tips for communicating well with the written word. These apply to anything you write, from letters or e-mails to minutes or any other copy. These are also the types of thing the Communications Team looks for when editing your materials, beyond grammatical basics and our style standards.
Taking a minute or two to figure out what you need to say, before you say it, can help you create a more cohesive communication. This can be as simple as planning in your head what you would like to say, or as complex as creating a detailed outline (if you are writing something comprehensive).
People often (and erroneously) believe that complex sentences make them sound smart. It’s the opposite – people interpret complex sentences as trying to hard. For example, if you are writing an e-mail to a member to set up a time to have a phone conversation, which would you prefer? a.) I am writing to ask you if it is possible to discuss this matter over the phone at your earliest convenience. b.) When are you available this week to talk over the phone? When writing, remember this: Cut, cut, cut and cut some more. Any initial thoughts are almost always littered with unnecessary and useless words.
Just like in verbal communication, avoid using inflated words in your written communication. Here are examples of words that mean the same thing, and the shorter, simpler versions are vastly preferred by communicators: Speed up instead of expedite Plan instead of strategize Use instead of utilize Try instead of endeavor Sent instead of transmitted To instead of “in order to” (depends on context)
Keep those verbs active! Avoid passive voice like the plague. Passive voice has its place, but good writing uses it very sparingly. When we speak, we go for active verbs on instinct, but for some reason we convert those words to passive voice in writing. “Stephanie gave a riveting Town Hall presentation.” versus “A riveting Town Hall presentation was given by Stephanie.” “One hundred VSCPA members attended the Leaders’ Summit.” versus “The Leaders’ Summit was attended by 100 VSCPA members.”
Short paragraphs are where it’s at … they enhance readability and comprehension, and they help you keep your thoughts in order. Always put one idea in each paragraph. In business communications, two sentences per paragraph are recommended. Aim for 2 or 3 and you’ll be in a good place. This works for e-mail as well as other written communications. Everyone needs a breather between thoughts, and short paragraphs allow your ideas to settle.
Sometimes you have a lot of short points to make – and that’s where bullets come in. They can be easily used in e-mail as well as other communications, and they provide a roadmap for your reader by leading them down the page, point by point. Bullets are a gift to your reader!
Your job may not be to communicate member benefits, write articles for the magazine, or edit copy. But all VSCPA employees are expected to maintain a basic grasp of communication skills – and that includes a working knowledge of how to communicate about the CPA profession and professional topics. These basic skills include.
These are just a few examples, but you need to make sure you’re aware of the CPA profession and what it entails – and that you can properly communicate it. If you are ever confused or have questions, the Communications Team can always help.
You don’t need to know the ins and outs of tenses and clauses … but you need to have a handle on basic grammatical skills. The VSCPA Style Guide has sections on word usage, punctuation and grammar, so that’s a great place to start. If you want to look further, the Internet has a wealth of resources…
The spellcheck and grammarcheck features of Microsoft Office often have stigmas – but there is no shame in using them. Run spellcheck on your e-mails. Review your Word documents to see if any words are highlighted as misspelled or grammatically incorrect.
BUT REMEMBER: Spellcheck is far from foolproof. It often highlights proper nouns as misspelled. And certain sentences will escape its review. Here are some examples.
What do you do when spellcheck fails you? This should go without saying, but it’s the most important! Re-read everything you write – even a basic e-mail. You’ll catch typos and make corrections. Any changes you make enhance the quality of your written communication.
Nonverbal communication encompasses everything that language does not, such as: Facial expressions Eye contact Tone of voice Body posture Body motions Even the clothing we where …or our silence I will briefly detail ways to have positive nonverbal communications … and these may or may not accompany a conversation or spoken communication.
Listening may not seem like a form of communication, but it may be one of the most important. When listening, be sure you: Focus on the speaker: Mentally put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Hunt for the message behind their message: Why are they saying what they are saying? How are they feeling as they are saying it? You’ll need to read body language and tone to figure this out. Ensure you understand exactly what they are saying: Focus on clarity. If you need to, ask clarifying questions and repeat back.
Smile during conversation and presentations to show you’re engaged. Smiling conveys friendliness, warmth, liking, affiliation, etc.
When people fail to look others in the eye, it can seem as if they are evading or trying to hide something. On the other hand, too much eye contact can seem confrontational or intimidating. Remember: Good eye contact does not mean staring fixedly into someone's eyes. How can you tell how much eye contact is correct? Some communication experts recommend intervals of eye contact lasting four to five seconds.
Gestures in conversation are a good thing. Otherwise you’d look stiff, wooden and BORING. Most people use their hands and faces, raise their eyebrows, roll their eyes, etc., in conversation or giving presentations. There’s no “right or wrong way” to gesture. Just be aware that gestures are powerful communication aids, and should match your other communications.