• Fantastic Newsletters and How to Write Them

    Photo by Anne-Omyn on Pixabay

    I’m a subscriber. When your website’s form pops up, inviting me to subscribe to your newsletter, I comply. Sign me up! In my own defence, I have a reasonable explanation: as a business writer, my newsletter obsession is partly founded on professional curiosity.


    Email newsletters are a proven, effective marketing tool. But a peek at the open rate statistics of email marketing software providers reveals that most email newsletters, up to 85 percent in many industries, go unopened. 


    Considering a newsletter launch? Before you dive in, join me as we stalk the common newsletter in its natural habitat, the Inbox. Let’s look at a few easy basics to help you beat the open-rate odds, increase your chances of success, and deliver compelling, readable newsletters.


    1. Define your purpose


    What is your specific intent in sending each individual newsletter? Know exactly what it is you’d like your audience to understand or do after reading your newsletter. Write it down. That’s your foundation. And at the same time ...


    2. Maintain a reader-centred focus


    Remember that your newsletter exists in service to your readers. Focus on your audience: what do they want from you? What are you giving them?


    Giving demonstrates value and builds trust. Trust builds connectivity and underpins relationships. People want to work with or buy from those they like and trust.


    3. Think like Zorro: Get in. Make your mark. Get out.


    Writer's adaptation of The Mask of Zorro, Sony Pictures


    And follow the ABC’s of journalism when writing your newsletter: Accuracy, Brevity, Clarity.


    While the infamous shrinking attention span (“You Now Have a Shorter Attention Span Than a Goldfish!”) science that had us all reeling in horror has been busted as a myth, we all have way too many demands and distractions upon our attention.


    Photo by Aman Mahapatra on Unsplash


    Your audience has no time, and they need maximum ease.


    Plus, reading isn’t comfortable for everyone. The National Institute of Health estimates that roughly 10 percent of adults in all walks of life have reading difficulties and disabilities.


    Lanie Champigny, M. Sc., a leading speech-language pathologist who works in British Columbia’s public education system, sums it up this way: “Think about language complexity—how easy are the words to quickly grasp? Minimum processing effort matters.”  


    Summary: Trim fat, remove jargon. Clear, short, and simple wins.


    4. Use Imagery - visual presentation counts


    Research tells us people consistently remember pictures better than words, and that pictures help us retrieve information. So it is doubly important that your images are relevant, purposeful, and add value. 


    Consider your images a visual tagline for your written content.


    Beyond making your words more memorable, imagery

    • contributes beauty, professionalism, and branding identity;

    • creates interest and highlights key points; and

    • assists with sharing and helping others understand new ideas and information.


    Think beyond photos. Visuals can include:

    • your logo

    • graphic design elements including colour combinations

    • screenshots

    • infographics

    • icons

    • emojis

    • data visualizations


    Other considerations:

    • Text layout - don’t make readers’ eyes travel too far from left to right. Use a shorter column width.

    • Font choice - use large fonts, and when choosing, consider what feeling or tone you want to convey.

    • Font colours – think about contrast. For example, if you are using a white background, a dark grey font produces considerably less eyestrain than does black.


    And include your headshot in your newsletter, perhaps at the bottom, alongside or below your signature line. This personalizes and humanizes your message.


    Summary: Relevant imagery in any form adds value and makes your text more memorable.


    5.  Proofread and polish


    True story: I was considering purchasing a course from a writer who claims outstanding success in persuasive copywriting. I subscribed to her newsletter and read through six of them. All of them had more than one typo, grammatical error, or error in usage. Gasp! I unsubscribed.


    Photo by David M. Chambers


    While I admit to ownership of the mug, I’m not the prickly grammar police, gleefully pouncing on minute errors. Anyone can make a typo.


    But errors in written business communication can impact trust and credibility, cause loss of revenue, and send prospective clients elsewhere.


    So, try this:


    Print it out – this is a newsletter so it’s short, right? Research conclusively proves what most of us know and have experienced first-hand: reading on screens has a negative effect on reading performance in comparison to paper.


    Give it to someone else to read. There’s nothing like the cold, clinical eye of another to guard against errors.


    If you don’t have a fresh set of eyes to review your piece, read it slowly, aloud.


    Summary: Check, check, and check again to eliminate errors. At the very least, errors send a message about your attention to detail. And in this digital era, your mistakes will be open to global scrutiny.


    6.  Write an interesting—and shortish—subject line


    Photo by David M. Chambers


    Think of your subject line as a Lindt chocolate with the wrapper still on. Or a fortune cookie. Or the literary equivalent of (Avengers spoiler alert!) Thor’s potbelly reveal in Endgame: intriguing, entertaining, irresistible.   


    Some of the very best headlines perform one or more of these functions to engage readers:  

    • promise a benefit

    • evoke an emotional response

    • touch on a universal human experience

    • convey a sense of urgency

    • provide a solution

    • share an insider secret


    Ideal length? Marketing automation software company Marketo crunched the numbers and says shorter is better than longer (with an optimum length of 7 words)


    If you’re stricken with subject-line block, let someone else do the work for you. Consider using free online tools such as Sumo’s terrific headline generator.


    If you follow these basic steps, you’ll increase the chances that your newsletter will be opened, read, and acted upon. But these are my guidelines – now I’d love to hear yours.



  • Leading Organizational Change

    Photo by Ian Parker on Unsplash


    Communication strategies for managing organizational change


    Organizational change can be challenging, especially for those of us who enjoy our familiar workplace roles and routines. While change is constant and brings with it progress, a certain amount of unease is a common reaction to proposed change. Most people just aren’t comfortable in the grey zone.

    Given the ongoing rapidity of technological change, increased globalization, growing international competition, and a movement away from static employment roles and permanent jobs, one thing seems certain – organizations need to be adaptive, and leaders need to support their people in getting comfortable with transitions and change at work.

    So how can business leaders facilitate organizational change?

    To discuss effective communication strategies during times of change, I recently spoke with Barbara Gobis, M. Sc., director of the University of British Columbia’s Pharmacists Clinic.

    Ms. Gobis specializes in developing, implementing and managing large-scale change initiatives.  She is also a PCC-level credentialed coach with the International Coaching Federation and an organizational coach at UBC.

    We discussed six principles to consider as you prepare for change and shape your communication strategy:


    You need a strong foundation before you consider implementing a change: “Make sure that your organization has a strong foundation and a healthy culture of trust and respect. You’re going to need a well-functioning team, supported by disciplined managers and leaders, to move an organization through change. The constants, such as your skilled leaders, your corporate values, guiding principals and mission, should be in place to provide stability, comfort, and control,” says Ms. Gobis.

    No matter how well planned the change, issues and discomforts will arise, but a strong foundation will make the transition much smoother. “The truth is, the best leader in the world parachuting into a dysfunctional organization will not be able to effect a successful change.”


    Know why and how at the outset: Know where you are, where you want to go, and what it’s going to look like when you get there. Why are you making this change? What’s your vision? What are the desired outcomes? Build vision alignment with your leaders and managers.

    At this point, you are (a) developing a path of actions and steps (the tasks) and (b) developing a vision of what the change is going to look like (the outcomes). Then create a framework for clear and consistent communication that includes both tasks and outcomes.


    Listen and support: Organizational change requires a humanistic approach. It’s not about data or devices; organizations are made up of humans, and humans need information and support.

    “It’s important to acknowledge that some people will be more, and some less, comfortable. Your team members should have the ability to say how they feel and what their needs are during a time of transition. Skilled leaders will create an inventory of the needs of their people,” confirms Ms. Gobis. Supported, engaged, and listened-to employees will adapt, transition, and thrive earlier and faster.

    Photo by Brian McMahon on Unsplash


    Team engagement: Involve your people in the organizational change goals, processes, and tools. Involvement leads to commitment.

    “Old methodologies and expectations, where leaders dictated change and employees were to unquestioningly believe, trust, and follow, are no longer effective. Your people are there to contribute, grow, and develop. Your job as a leader is in service to the people you lead; enable them to succeed,” Ms. Gobis notes. If your team is engaged and successful, then the organization is successful.


    Communicate often: When things are uncertain, there needs to be regular, clear, frequent communication. Foster a community of change with open and honest communication as the cornerstone.

    Communicate often, authentically and with integrity. As Ms. Gobis mentions, “Don’t leave people to speculate. If there is a lack of clarity or information, people will fill in the gaps with assumptions—and those assumptions are typically the worst case scenarios.” Moreover, employee engagement and morale will plummet.


    Communication guidelines:

    • Update and communicate with your team every step of the way.

    • Include multi-way, organization-wide dialogue.

    • Use a variety of communication tools and methods (video, intranet, employee apps, one-on-ones, speaking, small group meetings, etc.) tailored to the different audiences and stakeholders in your organization.

    • Involve the early adopters (your champions of change - those who are comfortable with change and pivot most readily). Key messages from these early champions can make it easier for others to more confidently jump on board.

    • As you move forward, monitor progress, analyse feedback, shape and continue the dialogue. It’s likely that your communication channels and messages will evolve through the course of your transformation. To some extent it’s an iterative process. Allow flexibility.


    For me, this quote from Louis V. Gerstner Jr., former head of IBM,  sums it up nicely: “ It’s about communication. It’s about honesty. It’s about treating people in the organization as deserving to know the facts. … You treat them as true equals, and you communicate, and you communicate, and communicate.”

    What are your strategies for change communication?

  • Five tips for better business writing

    Photo: David Chambers - icehound.net


    1. Let it sit, then proofread before you press send or publish.


    This is akin to performing a shoulder check before you change lanes. We omit this step at our peril. Spelling and grammar checkers are imperfect aids. 

    Important communications deserve a colleague’s proofread, if possible. The human brain is the best auto-correct around; you’ll automatically correct your own mistakes as you read, particularly on a screen.

    If you don’t have a colleague/editor/proofreader to review the piece for you, let it rest for a short time. Then slowly reread it aloud, or whisper to yourself. Tell your bemused coworkers you’re practising reputational self-defense.


    2. Be friendly. Don’t discount the value of a hint of personality or humanity.


    Business communications needn’t be entirely clinical, depending on the context and your relationship with the recipient. Writing with warmth and empathy leads to greater engagement.

    To paraphrase the great journalist William Zinsser: All writing invites the reader on a journey. Given the choice, we’ll choose the travelling companion who will make the journey a bit brighter.


    3. Brevity is key.


    Know your primary purpose before beginning. Then keep it lean; keep it brisk. Eliminate where possible.


    4. Avoid bafflegab, cliches, redundancies, legalese, and puffed-up or padded language. Plain is best.


    Which do you prefer to read—clear, simple, direct, and readable, or … the opposite? Ever waded through something like this? “We are making an effort to think outside the box and are reaching out to dialogue with you on this issue, therefore we ask that you kindly advise forthwith: of the two (2) options presented hereafter, indicate your preference for one (1) of the two (2) options by marking an X in the respective box accompanying same.”

    Your readers shouldn’t struggle in order to soldier through your communication. They’ll disengage.


    5. Jargon: sometimes a yes, most often a no.


    Know your audience. If you are exchanging industry-related communications with someone in your field, jargon may be acceptable. Otherwise, do not assume those outside your field of expertise are familiar with its jargon, acronyms, and particular terminology. Assume they know none of it.

    If you must include industry-specific jargon, terminology, and concepts which may be unfamiliar to the reader, take the time to break them down and briefly explain.

  • Beginner's Guide to Improving EQ in Corporate Communications

    Photo: JeShoots - Pixabay


    Emotional intelligence (known as EI or EQ) is defined as the ability to recognize, understand, and manage our own emotions as well as recognize, understand, and appropriately respond to the emotions of others. Proponents of EQ believe it’s as relevant as IQ. 

    To learn more about the benefits of EI in corporate communications, I recently chatted with Caroline Stokes, a certified executive coach and the energetic founder of Forward, an executive search firm. Here’s what I learned:


    1. An emotionally intelligent approach supports key business (and human) benefits such as engagement, morale, and productivity.


    CS: The World Economic Forum in 2016, 2017 and 2018 stated EI is an important skill to constantly work on, evolve and develop – not only to be successful now but to be relevant and employable in the future.

    Emotional intelligence awareness and development is key to all aspects of business communication with colleagues. Verbal, non-verbal, written … our emotions ebb into all these communication styles, so it’s important to develop EI to enhance our business relationships.

    From a business perspective, the benefits include a sense of collaboration, understanding the real goal and being able to reach the goals needed. When people have that (business) relationship through an emotionally intelligent approach, everyone is engaged. Engagement comes from building areas of our emotional intelligence across composites that are all connected. Our EQ is unique, so we each have to work on our EQ uniquely to ensure we can produce results that impact growth in our goals and growth with the people we work with.


    2. Before hitting Publish or Send, enlist your EI


    Poor writing leads to miscommunication and wastes time and money. Best practices include reinforcing robust writing abilities with keen emotional intelligence, thereby decreasing the likelihood of miscommunication—the sort that may impact the bottom line.

    CS: I once fired a client and had email fisticuffs with a website developer when they were unable to communicate as business partners. I wasn’t looking for one-sentence emails in a barking format, which is what I got. I’m more than happy with brevity as long as it demonstrates sound reasoning. I would argue that their email emotional intelligence needed work, as I’ve seen it impact relationship productivity and success.


    3. How do we improve EI in our written communication?


    CS: Ask people if they feel warmth from your communication or directives. Do your communications go back and forth with intelligent curious questioning - or could you ask for a phone call at times? Before you press send, are you aware of all the areas the recipients might be curious about to help them understand exactly what the next steps are? Understanding how you communicate in written form, and how you interpret and respond to others’ messages such as email, Facebook communications or business social media platforms enables you to perform optimally.

    Think about all the angles people might need to know. Put yourself in their shoes. What is the goal? What does good look like? What are the hurdles? What are some solutions? What do you know about the other person (or people included in the communication) being able to handle this? What are the deliverables? How will this impact them, the business, and whatever else springs to mind? Ask people for their input. Ask if there might be anything that could get in the way of meeting the goal.

    Avoid language that reflects badly on yourself. Work on turning frustration or anger into curiosity. Yes, it’s hard to do, but the more you can turn a negative trigger into one that focuses on a goal or solution, the better the end result so everyone collaborates to reach the favoured conclusion.


    4. And if the robots are coming ... you need to be your “best human”


    Experts predict significant job growth in those fields that relate to supporting and facilitating humans in efficient and effective human-robot interaction. Our levels of both cognitive and emotional engagement will need to be high.

    CS: It will never be more important to hone all of our emotional intelligence during this next revolution. If machine learning, analytics and technology automates and simplifies most of our repetitive job functions, we have to be our best possible human to interact with others and the technology simultaneously. You can’t be your best human without constantly evolving your EI.