Business Communication Instruction shares the latest news, tips, techniques, and methods being used by instructors today to make their classes more rewarding and enjoyable.

Why a Curriculum on Writing to Build Relationships?

With Labor Day and the start of the new school year, I happened to read two articles that covered the difficult role of adjunct instructors: "The Adjunct Revolt: How Poor Professors Are Fighting Back," published in 2014, and "In ‘Campus Confidential,’ a Professor Laments That Teaching Is Not the Priority of Teachers," published last month. With the struggles of adjuncts on my mind, I want to be sure business writing instructors know about my free curriculum, Business Writing That Builds Relationships. 

But why a business writing curriculum on building relationships? Below is an excerpt from the curriculum, an in-class exercise, that shows why.


Written exercise and paired discussion to gain insight into the importance of relationships.

Ask students to each think of a career they want to pursue or one they are considering as an option. Then ask them to list who their coworkers might be and who their internal or external customers might be.

Example: A student wants to be in sales. Her coworkers might be other sales reps and the sales assistants. She would probably have a sales manager and a sales director. Internally, she would probably deal with sales support, marketing, advertising, perhaps manufacturing, and inventory processors or supply chain managers. She would also have external customers.

Ask students to pair up. Their partners should review their lists to see if they can add anyone to the lists. Ask one individual to read his or her list aloud for a shared reference point.

Ask students to reflect on their lists:

  • Which of the people on your list do you need to have a good working relationship with?
  • Are there any people with whom a good relationship is not necessary or beneficial?

Students should experience an aha moment about the importance of relationships.

Point out that the value of relationships is not just their providing a pleasant working experience. It’s their helpfulness in getting information. Read aloud or show the Karen Stephenson quote from her essay "Trafficking in Trust: The Art and Science of Human Knowledge Networks," p. 10 in the text:

“Knowledge ebbs and flows down hallways, in meetings, and in private conversations inside and outside the office. The key to the way that knowledge travels lies in the relationships that can bypass the standard organization chart. . . . Relationships are the true medium of knowledge exchange.” 

Ask students:

As you look at your list of people in your work world, how many of them might provide you with useful information? (Probably anyone on their list could share useful information.)


That exercise takes place on the first day, followed by two ice-breaking exercises that help students build relationships with one another. Then they discuss the introductory chapter of Business Writing With Heart, which covers the ROI of writing with heart. 

Yes, I would love to sell more books. But even without book sales, if the free 90-page curriculum helps adjuncts or full-time business writing instructors in any way, their success will be my reward. 

Please share this information with the business writing instructors you know, especially any who may have just accepted a teaching assignment and are scrambling for a curriculum. They can check out the book's table of contents, get the free curriculum, and preview the first chapter.  

To all who teach, have an excellent start to the academic year!

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How to Unintentionally Diminish Others

The other day I met my friend Barb for lunch. She arrived at the restaurant first, and the server asked, “Just one?”

Barb often eats out alone, and she frowns when she hears that question. This time she replied, “Here is where I should have a snappy comeback, but I don’t.” Then she explained her issue with the question “Just one?” to the server.

When I arrived, Barb told me about the conversation. She explained that when she eats out alone, she does not want to be characterized as “just one.” She doesn't appreciate the suggestion that there is something lacking in her experience. One should be plenty when dining out. 

Of course, servers and greeters simply want to know the number of diners to expect. What could they ask instead of “Just one?” Which alternatives can you think of? I have a few below.  




Instead of "Just one?" they might ask: 

  • One for lunch?
  • Table for one? 
  • How many?
  • Will anyone be joining you today?

Any of those options would sound better to Barb and would not diminish her dining experience. 

Barb's feelings as a solo diner led me to think about ways in which writers make their readers feel the same way, that is, as though they are lacking or insufficient. As a reader, have you had any of the experiences below?

The writer: 

  • Emphasizes your mistake or forgetfulness, with a direct statement like "You have the wrong price" or "I told you that in my previous message."
  • Leaves you feeling uninformed by using jargon or abbreviations you don't know.
  • Asks a question similar to "Just one?" that minimizes your experience, such as "Is that the only item you want to order?" or "Is that your only feedback?" 
  • Focuses on what you can't do rather than what might work, with a statement like "You cannot open an investor class account with an amount that small" or "That ballroom is not available to your group." 
  • Introduces negative words to characterize your behavior, such as "I received your complaint" or "I understand your confusion."

What's your experience? Do you occasionally receive messages that seem to diminish you? Could you relate to Barb's feelings? Or do you recognize how you might improve your own communication? I look forward to your comments. 

To learn how to strengthen relationships through writing, get my award-winning book Business Writing With Heart: How to Build Great Work Relationships One Message at a Time.

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How to Keep Your Readers’ Attention

Someone who was starting a new business asked me to review a marketing piece he had written. It was approximately 350 words long, yet not one of those words was you. Although it kept the writer's attention–after all, it was all about him–his readers would have stopped reading after the first few lines.
Here are five easy ways to engage your reader:  
1. Use less I, more youYour readers care about themselves, and you is the word that most immediately engages them. Compare these examples:
  • I will show you how to get more done in less time.
  • You will learn how to get more done in less time.


  • I would appreciate the opportunity to present this information in a web demo that will take 30 minutes.
  • In just 30 minutes, you will find out how to save yourself hours of . . . . 

The pronoun I makes your reader an observer. The word you brings readers into your message. 


2. Use you from the start. Speakers often begin their speeches with a question, and that question typically contains the word you. Don't save your you pronouns for the middle or end of your message. Use you in the first couple of sentences. Notice that the name of this piece is "How to Keep Your Readers' Attention." If it were "Things That Keep a Readers' Attention," you might not have recognized that the information had value for you.
3. Write to one of your readers. Your readers do not think of themselves as a group. Each one of them reads as an individual. If you refer to them as a group, you minimize their role in the message. Compare:
  • Each one of you has an opportunity to step forward.  
  • You have an opportunity to step forward.


  • Those of you who love crafting will want to bookmark this site.
  • If you love crafting, bookmark this site.  
In each of those pairs, the second sentence singles out and speaks to the reader. 

4. Get beyond the "what." Focus on "so what." It is easy to write about what interests you, but that information must be tied to your readers' interests. If you don't connect the information to your readers, they will ask "So what?" or simply stop reading. Compare these approaches:

  • The new web calendar provides one information source for all staff on company events. [tells what]
  •  With the new web calendar, you can quickly find the company event information you need. [tells so what]


  • There is plenty of room in the trunk [boot] of this model. [tells what]
  • The trunk has plenty of room for your gear or luggage when you feel the urge to travel. [tells so what]

5. Answer your readers' questions. Before you write, think about what your readers would ask if you were sitting face to face. Then when you write, answer those questions. If something you write is not an answer to your readers' questions, they won't care about it. 

For example, if your readers would not ask, "What is the background?" don't write a background section. But if the background is about them, recognize that they would ask "What do you know about my situation?"

It's all about you, the reader. Just remember that fact as a writer, and you will keep your readers' attention.  


Here's a discount for YOU, the reader of this blog: Use the coupon code August anytime this month to get 20% off all Syntax Training guides and courses

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Market? Inform? Engage?

In a series of recent posts, Shel Holz shared a new model for employee communication. If you practice internal communications, you’ve got to read them and then go back and read them again. There are seven parts–a lot to digest–and worth it.

As I read the posts, I found myself asking a fundamental question that I’ve often faced in my career: What is the purpose of internal communications–to market,  inform, or engage? I think the answer is it can be all three. That’s because our work is so contextual. I think back, and note that sometimes I’ve supported an executive or an initiative. I’ve been positioned in HR or Corporate Communications or an operations department. I’ve been dedicated to a variety of functions and social responsibility. In each of those situations, I’ve had to be agile and responsive. Sometimes, I’ve focused on changing behaviors; yet other times, I’ve been all about getting the word out on time in the right template; and still other times, my work has been to foster engagement within a group. And in many of those situations, I’ve experienced a tension between myself and others with communication accountabilities or responsibilities.

In some of those situations, I’ve experienced a tension between myself and others with communication accountabilities or responsibilities.

Tension can be good. It forces you to strive harder, do better, deliver higher-quality.

Yet, when I’m accountable for changing behaviors, say, and you’re focused on processing the email according to standards, well, we can find ourselves out of alignment. And that causes a lot of tension. And worse than that, it hurts communications operations and delivery.

If we have a common, agreed-on purpose, however, then we have something to help us navigate the demands and pressures. We have guardrails to aid in our decision-making and to prioritize our resources. And I’m not saying that if your purpose is to market that you’ll never inform–far from it. But if you have clarity on your guiding purpose, the rest of the work will more easily fall into place.

Getting clarity around your internal communications purpose, then, combined with a great model is our way to success. So, I ask you: Can you say what the purpose of your internal communications function is? It’s worth thinking about.


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10 Ways to Break Through Writer’s Block

Time clicks by on your phone and wristwatch. Your article, letter, report, email reply, or blog post is due at noon. How do you get around the obstacles that block your writing flow? Try these techniques.

Writer's block

1. Imagine you are talking with your reader. Think about the things your reader wants or needs to hear from you. Then "tell" (write) any part–beginning, middle, or end. Don't worry about the perfect opening or a knock-'em-dead awesome close. Just start and keep going.

2. List the questions your reader would want answers to, such as "What do you want me to do?" and "What do you recommend?" and "Why should I care about this topic?" Answering those questions will get you started and help you continue. Start with any question, even the simple "Where do I get more information?"

3. Write without censoring yourself. Pay no attention to whether the writing is good. Just let the words and ideas flow. Writing and marketing expert Ann Handley calls this step "Show up and throw up" in her book Everybody Writes: Your Go-to Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content. After you have something to work with on the screen or legal pad, choose your "keepers" and build from them.

4. Ask yourself the question "Why am I stuck?" Focus on writing the answer to that question; then transition to the real writing when you have a clear answer. I myself do not use this approach, but other people insist that it works beautifully for them.

5. Strive for completion–not perfection. Your goal is to get out of the burning building fast, not to salvage every idea in pristine condition. Do not stop to polish each sentence. Reworking while you write takes too long. Besides that, you will often end up cutting the sentences you spent the most time on.

6. Review pieces of your past writing that make you feel proud.This look at good writing will build your confidence and may give you specific ideas about formats and approaches that work. (If the people who report to you are stuck in their writing projects, give them examples of their best work, and remind them of what they do well.)

7. Talk with people about what you are working on. Do not wait until you're done to tell about your struggles. The screen and page are blank now. Get help. Throw out a question and reel in the answers. Then see if those answers and suggestions move you to the next step.

8. Take a break that includes a change of scenery, or shift to another activity. This break doesn't need to focus on the coffee pot or snack machine. Check your to-do list to find something else you need to do. Maybe you need to approve art for a webpage. Maybe you have to return a borrowed book to your mentor. How about a quick walk around the block or the building? A registration for an upcoming workshop? A timely New York Times article to read? Just change what you are doing, even briefly.

9. Compare your writing project with something completely different, and think about how you would handle it. For instance, how would you move forward if the document were a fancy dinner you were going to prepare? A jigsaw puzzle you were just dumping out of the box? A garden you need to weed? A mountain peak you intend to scale? The ways you would approach those tasks may give you hints about what to do now.

10. Allow yourself to be awestruck. Look at something beautiful, for example, Diane Varner's exquisite Daily Walks photos. Or listen to music that makes you feel yourself flying or skating or dancing. Engaging other parts of your brain with things of beauty and awe–even for a few moments–can loosen the stuck places in your thinking.

Bonus Tip. Although this tip doesn't work at the last minute, it helps with writer's block:

Start early. If your piece is due on Friday, start thinking about it the previous Friday. Come up with a topic, and then let your subconscious work on it over the weekend. You are likely to notice metaphors, examples, quotations, and other gems that will help you when it's time to write. 

Please share your tips for breaking through writer's block. 

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Tired of change? That’s a thing.

Change fatigue poses a real risk of scuppering the success of any change initiative. A recent CEB Risk Management Blog post, Keeping an Eye on Employee ‘Change Fatigue’, spelled it out: Change fatigue has emerged as a top risk for 2017.

And prior research has shown that change fatigue is why the majority of transformations fail to deliver on their promises.

So what is this thing we call change fatigue? It’s that employee feeling of apathy and resignation. Maybe you’ve heard it when an employee says, “Whatever” or “Meh”– or seen it when an employee gives an eye roll. The impact is pretty serious, as in lower productivity, poorer customer service, higher expenses. The list goes on.

I like the CEB post because it sees internal communications well positioned to combat change fatigue. It also makes concrete suggestions to foster employee engagement and empowerment.

But the one thing that the post forgets to mention is listening.

Listening is so basic–I guess it’s easy to overlook. Yet, during a period of change, all the lovely live events, sparkly social media outlets, hip hashtags and badass branding are nothing compared to leaders listening to employees.

I’ve written about the listening topic before. And it’s worthwhile revisiting it again because it’s such a powerful practice. We all get dazzled by YamJams and unconferences and business strategy-themed scavenger hunts! Activities like these are fun and have their place. But they’re check-the-box exercises if don’t include real moments of connection between leaders and employees. Without listening, you’ll be back to “whatevers” and eye rolls.

As the internal communications pro, look for ways to work listening into your company’s change initiative. Ensure that you have real moments of give-and-take between your leaders and employees. You’ll be managing a critical risk and making an invaluable contribution to your company’s change program success.

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Consistency is…well, you know

Recently, I was talking with an acquaintance about her social media presence. She’s on LinkedIn, has a Twitter handle, and is launching a Facebook business page for her brand new small business. She was chomping at the bit to start posting. Her fingers were itching to tweet. And her voice was breathless with anticipation as she spoke about her first Facebook Live event.

“I’ve been doing social for years,” she assured me. “I’m comfortable.”

The clue was right there. She’d been “doing social for years.” In fact, a quick look at her profiles affirmed it. And what she called “comfortable” was actually the potential stumbling block to the success of her new venture.

You see, she had set up her profile in LinkedIn a long time ago and hadn’t refreshed it since then. Why does that matter? Her profile wasn’t positioned to support her new venture. What’s more, her Twitter account was personal, and her handle didn’t complement her LinkedIn profile or her new business. And, while her Facebook page was the most up-to-date and focused of her social elements, its power would have been diluted by the drag of her irrelevant LinkedIn and Twitter accounts.

She had comfort, all right, but no plan.

What a shame! Because she doesn’t have to shoot herself in the foot. She can do a little planning and implement a consistent brand across her social platforms.

What I’m saying isn’t new. I happen to like this article–a quick read and to the point:

How to Keep Your Branding Consistent Across Social Media Platforms

Whatever brand you’re deploying–employment brand or small business brand–be sure to consider your approach across all your platforms. Because consistency is key.



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Keep Up the Networking

networkingI love it. We’re on the brink of summer.

For most of us, getting here has involved a big push of content–meetings, events, announcements, web pages–all before we end the second quarter. Yet, it was well worth it. Because this is just the time of year when business communications pros can ease back the throttle and enjoy the calm that comes after hectic activity.

Whoa there! Not too calm, I hope. Remember, summer is a great time to continue networking.

Networking is so important, no matter where you are in your career. I mean it! Intern? You want to network to better understand the working world, test new ideas of yourself and your career, and establish a foundation of professional connections. Mid-career? You want to navigate to your next great adventure, and grow your strengths and capabilities. Thinking about retirement? You want to link up with enriching connections who will support you as you reinvent yourself in a new context.

But the thing is…it’s summer! And with summer distractions–the kids, the dog, the beach, the softball game–and hours, it’s challenging to schedule a lunch, after-work drink, or attend an event. It’s takes planning and effort.

You got that right. It does take planning and effort. So, roll up your sleeves and schedule your next networking activity. It doesn’t have to be hard. Got a project you’re working on? Grab coffee with one of your teammates. Visiting the cafeteria? Join the table of someone you don’t know very well and learn about the work that they do.

Networking for your continuing professional growth has got to be systematic, if it’s going to be effective. This means you need to keep it up even during the summer.



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Get the Foundation Right

Recently, I’ve been busy working on different writing and editing efforts. For example, I’ve prepared a video script here, an electronic postcard there, and I’m looking ahead to a brochure–you get the idea.

As a writer, I find it an interesting challenge to address each of these outlets and prepare content that is relevant to the format. In other words, how I approach a two-minute video script is very different from how I approach a four-panel printed brochure.

At this point, you might say, duh.

But I had this blinding flash about my work, and while you’re thinking I should probably get out more, I wanted to share it with you. My work in any of these channels is only as good as the communication foundational elements that underpin them. If I get the foundational elements right, then I can produce better work in any outlet.

This was brought home to me when I reviewed one of my recent efforts.

I’ll paint you the picture.

Speed was of the essence. We had to distribute an email announcement to a group of employees by a certain date. We had a sense of what our themes should be because we were working on our communication strategy and message house. But we hadn’t distilled our thinking into tight, crisp messages yet.

So what happened? We got the email out on time, but the content was, well, messy. The messages meandered. There was copy flab that distracted from what we were trying to say.  Yes, we accomplished what we needed to yet I felt I could have done a better writing job.

But that’s not the ending. You see, we continued to work on the strategy and message house. And my next writing effort–a multi-page document–reflected the refined messages. The result was on target, I’m happy to say. Much clearer and more invigorating copy. And it gets better because as I look ahead I could work on posters, web pages, or speeches.  And whatever channel the work leads me to, I’m well equipped with my communication foundational elements to do my best efforts.

Tweet this! Get your foundation right, #InternalComms pros! Tweet: Get your foundation right, #InternalComms pros.

My advice? Get your foundation right. Prepare your strategy and key messages, and you’ll find yourself rendering higher-quality work in every channel and outlet.

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Call to Action: For the Future

I always get excited when people say, “The future is here, now.”

My mind overflows with images of throwing off old shabby coats and well-worn hats and scarves, to reveal bright colors and airy fabrics that reflect the glorious sunshine, which, by the way, is what I’m looking at outside my window as I write this post.

Okay. So maybe “The future is here, now” is a pretty common phrase. I’ve heard it many times. Maybe you have, too? Yet it never fails to work its magic on me.

But, if I’m so excited about hearing the phrase, can you imagine how excited I feel when I’m actually witnessing the future?

That is, can you guess how I feel when I work with young people who are coming up in the advertising/public relations/marketing and communications fields? I am exhilarated! I get to see their new ways of doing things and their fresh approaches. And I feel the radiated glow of their energy and commitment.

Last month I had the great good fortune to be a part of a student development event at a local college, and since then I’ve been doing some one-on-one mentoring with another young person who is embarking on a communications-as-a-profession journey.

I’m so grateful for these opportunities. And while I hope that I’ve contributed something to the young people in these cases, I have to admit, selfishly, that I’ve gotten so much more out of them for myself. Novel ideas. Radical perspectives. Re-commitment to values. Renewed energy. Oh, and a lot of laughs.

So, here’s my call to action to you, communications professional: Reach out to your local college, high school, library, community center, or the professional association to which you belong, and find a way to contribute to the up-and-coming generation by sharing your expertise and know how. Maybe you can provide writing help. Maybe you can share your hard-won career wisdom. Maybe you have technical wizardry to dole out. Whatever your communications experience or specialty, there are young people who are the communicators-of-the-future who will benefit from your acumen and skills.

You’ll be so glad you did because the future will be here, now, before you know it.


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