By Judy Puritt
I am an avid lifelong learner. Travel, people, books, or general experience, I’m not fussy about the learning source. The thrill of sinking my teeth into something new and realizing the bit in my mouth is only the tiniest fragment of the enormous piece I’m attacking is both thrilling and terrifying. Today would be my first day back to teaching, if I wasn’t on leave. Ok, that sounds odd. I’ve been teaching at Algonquin College over a decade, but I’ve been a teacher much longer, and it seems to have become part of my DNA. Here’s a simple example: years ago, my youngest used a double negative while talking. Instinctively I corrected him. From his innocent 8 year old vantage he quipped, “I don’t have to do good grammar, Mom, it’s the weekend.” Still, for much of the past couple of decades I’ve taught in one capacity or another. So, while I’m revelling in the challenge of being Communications Lead at Askari, I have experienced a nagging feeling (in a truancy-kind-of-way) these past two weeks. I was not preparing to go back to class. No BlackBoard. No timetables. No brushing dust off my shelves from the summer construction. No reviewing the first week printed materials and class lists. No updating links to useful resources. No refreshing slides on core communications’ concepts including AP2E –an acronym for writing in an Audience-oriented, Purposeful, Professional, and Economical way.
Professional Development – for business not just education
And yet, PD was on my calendar both weeks, just as if I had been oncampus. First I attended concept Searching’s webinar, “Just the Facts – Classification and Taxonomies” on August 19. The session was set up as a discussion between Doug Miles and Don Miller, and it generally reinforced the value classification brings to searchability, productivity, and compliance. When it comes to managing your information assets – Askari’s core business activity – it doesn’t get more pointed than this. Presenting in support of auto-classification, the duo examined the challenge of people tagging their own items irregularly. It was a refreshingly objective and not product-focused presentation, which still emphasized the ROI available from deploying an auto-classification system. I liked their clear and logical presentation style. Then last week, CTE Solutions offered a Business Analyst Crash Course, and I felt an intense refresher would be useful to take on additional opportunities in-house. I had tracked down a 400ish page resource book from Daniel D’Alimonte, who had taken a similar course last fall, and previewed the content to know what I was getting into. Guiding BA principles were scrawled on the white board by Paul LaSalle, our instructor, before class even started. The first morning was so straightforward that I mused perhaps I should have just re-read the text and reviewed some of the workshops on my own. By the afternoon of Day 1, however, I was appreciative of a facilitator leading me through the content. His examples were responsive to our questions and very relatable. In both PD sessions, but especially over the two-day BA course, things repeatedly circled back to communications. Effective listening should start any genuine attempt to communicate. Beyond listening actively, a BA documents and records the user’s situation, eliciting details about the business process. Indeed, for ROI, a function or product that exists in an organization had better add value to the business. That in essence is the role of a BA: extract details that define the business needs and use that to form the basis of your analysis.
Using core communication concepts to improve your writing and speaking
The opportunity to learn something new typically quickens my pulse, and so the BA Crash Course was exciting. However, given my deep connection to communications, it should come as no surprise to read that I take great pleasure from reviewing material and crafting it into a tighter, more message-focused product. Any editor reading this post knows that teaching the skills of preparing an AP2E (Audience-oriented, Purposeful, Professional, and Effective) message or coaching others to better writing is an art. It requires finesse to uncover the true voice of the author and maintain that voice while cleaning up the mechanics and making the style consistent. I love that aspect of my work – it lets me bring others’ strengths to the foreground. Of course, communications in business is broader than editing or teacher-styled marking. To date, my major challenge has centred on preparing new or original messages. My responsibilities go beyond revising and coaching. The relatively easy and fun part of work is reviewing and editing written materials I receive from Askari colleagues; the tougher part is coming up with new insights and managing commentary on our assorted social presences: the website, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, and Facebook. In the process of developing an Askari voice and bringing our messages to a high standard, I have come back many times to core communications concepts. In my view, concepts such as AP2E are truly fundamental to successful communicating, and in a typical first year course it appears on the board every other class, if not every class! I have taught this notion hundreds, possibly thousands of times, formally and informally, to students and to friends just wishing to write a better e-mail message. Follow AP2E and you’ll notice your written work or presentations get a better response.
Become audience-oriented, purposeful, professional, and economical (AP2E)
For years, I have explained the notion that communicating your message is all about getting and keeping the relationship, or more specifically, the business relationship. Students might have a thorough understanding of accounting principles, how to plan a marketing campaign, or how to research laws related to property, but if they can’t explain it clearly to a client (or boss) the work will vanish. The AP2E principle is one that stretches beyond business communications too. It’s particularly beneficial in a time and dollar-sensitive area like business, but try it elsewhere (in your family and friends’ circle) and be amazed.
- Be AUDIENCE-ORIENTED: Think and use YOU more than I. Actively listen to your client or colleague by asking for more details and check in that you have grasped the key point(s). Use the brilliant polite command and start sentences with an active verb. Phrase news, announcements, policy changes or questions in a way that emphasizes benefits to your audience.
- Be PURPOSEFUL: Get to the point. Deliver your question or propose your idea purposefully. Think ‘elevator pitch’. Most times, use the direct approach: identify the reason you’re calling or writing, immediately. Can you reduce the explanation or concept to a short paragraph or keep it under a minute?
- Be PROFESSIONAL: Adopt a business professional style – not pompous and not too familiar. Take pride and care in your email, voicemail, presentations, reports, or even texts. Competency and impression matter; avoid errors.
- Be ECONOMICAL: Respect the time of your audience. Realize your audience has work and interests beyond you and your message. To be economical, communicate clearly and concisely so the message is understood the first time it is read or heard.
So that’s pretty much it. The essence of Economical business communications really comes down to the simple reality of the relationship. Business, the kind we seek and foster at Askari, is a long-term game. It’s part of our approach to each other, to our clients, and to our business partners. The golden rule, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you applies. And now, for me, it almost feels like I’ve prepared for the first week of school again. I’ve just delivered my Intro to Communications in a blog post instead of in a classroom. It’s a new twist. This approach is considerably less interactive than in a classroom. It has, however, been an interesting experience. Voilà, I really am an avid, lifelong learner. Perhaps I should go study other PD options down the road.