Archives for category: Communication

When I look back on individual short-term events in my life, or over long-term things like career, health and so on, I find that I have allowed external factors to shape and evolve me. I have on occasion rolled with the punches, got caught up in the forward momentum and gone with the flow.

I’ve not been in control. I have allowed the focus of control to be external of me, rather than internal to me.

I think it’s important to level-set every so often and endeavour to take back control. Take back control in everything from individual decisions to relationships with other people or entities and to strategy for companies and organisations. Not at the expense of others, that’s not what I mean here. I mean to be active, positive, current, engaged and decisive.

Yes, an important part of assessing our strengths and weaknesses is also assessing the opportunities and threats that are outside our control. Yes, sometimes we have to play the hand we are dealt.

But, if that hand is not what we like, or has developing into something that we don’t like, do we have the option to walk away, and play another game? A game that gives us back control?

It’s about options, isn’t it? If it is, then it’s about taking back control, because without it our options are poorer and more limited.

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To hyphenate or not to hyphenate, that is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind…sorry, bit of a tangent there. But, it’s a good question. When you’re using phrases like much appreciated, well versed, often forgotten and so on, when should you use a hyphen and when not? Here I’m really talking about attaching adverbs to verbs. There are many other instances when you have to decide on a hyphen, or not.

Tricky one, but here’s my rule of thumb on it. Could be wrong, but makes sense to me. When you’re using the supine – that’s the passive bit of the verb, but it applies equally well to a part of the verb like occurring, as in often occurring – in a verbal sense, then I don’t use it. When you’re using the supine in an adjectival sense, then I do plonk in a hyphen. It’s as much about directing the reader as anything.

A couple of examples might help. ‘Thanks, that’s much appreciated. It’s well thought out’ Appreciated and thought are verbal, so much and well are simply the adverbs, as in next to the verb.

‘He gave me a well-intentioned slap on the back’. Here, gave is the verb, and well and intentioned describe the slap, so they’re used adjectivally, so I hyphenate them.

‘Often fired, sadly missed.’ Bit of autobiography here. This sentence is actually engraved on a bench in the bowls club where my late father used to play. Here, both fired and missed are verbs, not adjectives, so no hyphens. Both clauses are a clever play on words, when you think about the context, eh? I can’t claim ownership, my youngest brother coined it.

So, with this poorly-exampled post, which I’ve often considered but never put down in print, I’ll take my well-earned but seldom-occurring leave and promptly sign off, until the next time.

If you’re reading this post on the day of its publication, I’ve been blogging for exactly six years, to the day. If you subscribe and you’re reading this post at the moment of publication, then I’m asleep, or at least blurry-eyed and limp-tailed at the end of a rather tiring music festival in central Ireland.

Six blogging years. Six bloody years you’re probably thinking, or six blasted years if you’re slightly more polite. Six years ago today I published my first post. 941 blog posts later and here is post number 942. A moment ago I cast my eye over previous blogging milestones and I’ve been rather tearing the seat out of this theme. My ‘sixth blogging year’, ‘my seventh blogging year’ – from a calendar point of view, four years blogging, and so on. I’ve been milking every anniversary and many ’round number’ posts since I started this 3-times-a-week blog.

I promise there won’t be any fanfare for blog post 950, since that’s barely a fortnight away and not really an important enough round number. It is, however, perilously close – 58 posts or less than 20 weeks – to a rather large monument, which is 1,000 posts.

At previous milestones I’ve introduced the idea, more to myself as I think out loud, that I might quit at 1,000. I think as the closer I get there, the more likely that is. Maybe that’s a symptom of me running out of things to say, though since the tagline of this blog is ‘Musings on stuff I come into contact with’, that seems an unlikely reason, unless I lose 3 or more of my senses. Maybe I’ll get to 1,000 and, rather like Forrest Gump running across America for the umpteenth time, stop.

Anyway, I hope you’ve been able to take something from the musings of the last six blogging years. Happy Monday!

Culture, practice and customs seem to highly sway the concept of punctuality. In some cultures it’s considered bad form to be late; in others, it’s considered the norm.

Context is another aspect to punctuality. There’s no point turning up fashionably late for a train, a flight or a show, but in many cultures it’s advised for things like parties. Perhaps that’s why the rather helpful ‘7:30 for 8’ invitation works so well. Don’t turn up any earlier than 7:30, but the important thing starts at 8 so come and have a chat or nibbles and don’t be later than 8. A 30-window is enough for the top 90% of organised people.

Which got me thinking: speaking for my culture, punctuality is one thing, but being early is often as inconvenient to your host or the person you’re picking up as it is being late. If someone says they’ll pick you up in 40 minutes, which gives you enough time to pack, shower and get ready, and then they turn up 20 minutes later, when you’re in the shower, you get a rushed and stressed start to your day.

There always has to be the first people to arrive at a party, but have you ever got the time wrong and arrived early? Misread or misremembered an 8 til late as a 7 til late? It’s a major pain, for you and your host.

Same rules apply in business and work, methinks…

A while ago I wrote about the distinction between ‘urgent’ and ‘important’ when it comes to work, tasks, jobs and so on. On another occasion I wrote about the differences between liking something and something being ‘good’. It’s time to revisit these themes, or more specifically the word important.

When we think about things and events, we often have to make a judgment on them. There’s a subjective way of reaching a decision and answering the question, and an objective way of getting there too.

‘Do you like this song?’ ‘Is it a good product?’ ‘What do you think of iTunes?’ What about this development? You can give a subjective answer, by saying whether you like it, or whether you think it’s good. You can also choose not to answer it and say, ‘well, it’s important.’

You could argue, of course, that you’re still making a subjective judgment on the weight or value you attach to something. My view is that you’re rising above the personal preferences and saying, in effect, I’m not saying whether I like it or not, or whether it’s good: I’m simply saying it merits respect because of what it does.

Of course, by saying something’s not important, you’re also implying it’s not even worth addressing subjectively. You’re not going to bother assessing whether you like it, or whether it’s good, you’re done with it.

 

Town planning is a tricky but fascinating thing, isn’t it?

When you think about your own town or city, is it new or old? Has it grown organically or in a more structured way? Can you easily get where you need to get to, and out again? What’s the transport infrastructure like for public and private travel to a big event?

I live in a small town and I work from home a fair bit, so my measure of how well a town has been planned is how quickly I can get to strike all the errands off my list at lunchtime. You’d be surprised at how much you learn about traffic flows, parking, accessibility if you’ve only got 20 minutes and 3 different places to go.

My town is well served by trains, but not well served by bridges, which means it’s well served – if that’s the right word – by train barriers to block pedestrians and vehicles while the train traverses the road to get from A to B. The upshot of this is that it’s not uncommon for you to be caught for 5 minutes at a barrier both on your way into town and out of town. If you’ve 20 minutes for errands, driving or walking, you’re stationery for half of it in this scenario. Your alternative is a long detour round the town’s medieval and therefore maddeningly narrow one-way streets to use the one railway bridge.

We have loads of train advocates in our area, and it does provide an important link to the east and west of the country. I’m not sure, however, if those advocates factor in how it plays with the other 2 modes of transport, especially at lunchtimes when you’re under pressure.

In a recent post I explained that the 4 basic questions you need to cover when you introduce yourself is who you are, what you do, who you do it for and why it matters.

A really good follow up question from someone who is sufficiently engaged with you is ‘how do you do that?’ They’ll only care about the how if they’re genuinely interested or they’re making polite conversation. This got me thinking about how I would explain the process by which I get companies to accelerate their time to market and their sales growth.

Imagine holding an imaginary set of bellows or a concertina in your hands. Then you bring your hands together, before bringing them apart. That’s exactly what you do in sales and marketing to grow more quickly.

You have to reduce in order to increase. By that I mean that you start with your market, then you narrow down the segments of that market until you’ve identified the ideal target audience for what you do. Then you design your offering and your marketing and sales messaging to that audience. Because it’s tailored to the specific requirements of your tightly defined target audience, you have good success and you quickly grow your business or your new product or service.

So, how you do it is by reducing to increase. I imagine that the next time someone asks me how I do what I do I will accompany my explanation by the bellows or concertina hand actions, to reinforce my point.

When we’re introducing ourselves to people for the first time, even if we’re not in the selling business, there’s the opportunity to sell ourselves, to make a good first impression, or to influence people in a positive way. They might not need our services, or to be our friend, but they might know someone who does.

So what are the four introductory must dos? I see four questions that we should answer for the person we’re meeting:

  • Who? Who are you? What’s your name? Not necessarily the organisation you’re with, your name is more important. They have to remember it. I’m sometimes not a fan of leading with yourself, but in this case they need to remember your name when you accompany it with a handshake
  • What? What do you do? What do you provide? Can you describe this simply, without jargon? This is the bit that’s going to catch their attention, since they will use it to pigeonhole you in their mind
  • For whom? Who do you provide what you provide for? Who are your customers, stakeholders, patients, students or constituents?
  • Why? Why should the people for whom you provide what you provide care? What do they get out of it? This is the bit that adds value, your chance to say what makes you different

For some people, you don’t need to cover these four bases. “Hi, my name’s John Smith, I’m a dentist.” You can pretty much stop at second base. But for others, perhaps those in more complex business-to-business roles, you’ll probably need the last two, especially if you’re networking. “Hi, my name’s Paul Dilger, I’m a sales and marketing consulting to small to medium-sized companies so they can grow their business more quickly.”

If it feels unnatural to add the fourth point, you can always drop it into the conversation later, especially if the first three points resonate, make a connection or provoke a positive reaction.

 

I’ve just renewed a contract with my mobile telecoms provider. Along with the 2-year deal came a free upgrade to a better smartphone.

Not the latest smartphone, you understand, because I don’t need the latest smartphone. I’ve eased from an iPhone 6S to a 7. An improvement, I think. I got more data too, which is nice.

One of the ‘improvements’ of the 7 is that it does away with the circular port for the headphones. You get headphones with a firewire thingy that goes into the firewire charging port.

This means two changes in behaviour for me, none of them good. Firstly, it means I can’t charge my iPhone 7 and use it with the headphones at the same time, which I used to do a lot. Secondly, it means I need one set of headphones for my laptop (standard earphone port) and one set for my iPhone (firewire). I travel quite a bit, and now I need to pack two sets of headphones for any trip. Harrumph

Of course, I could spend more money on bluetooth earphones that will pair with both laptop and phones. Double harrumph…

The lack of time and thought invested in accessories compared to the base product is something I’ve blogged about before.

What’s the right blog length for a post? Isn’t a bit like asking how long a piece of string should be, and that of course depends on the purpose for the string.

That said, there’s never a shortfall of best practice articles trumpeting the right length for a blog post. It’s an old chestnut, and it keeps changing. A few years ago it was about 450 to 500 words. These days, for long term SEO they reckon 1600-1800 words, which is clearly way more than 500 words, and waaaay more than my typical post. Perhaps the advice is not exclusively for blog post content, but you get the impression it is.

As with all things marketing, you have to keep your objective in mind. SEO is about attracting people to your stuff and building a following. I’ve always said that the purpose of my blog is rather self-serving, to keep the discipline of writing, in which case I can make them as short or long as I like. As it happens, they retain a striking consistency of length.

The current vogue for longer ‘anchor’ or ‘capstone’ blog post content doesn’t seem to hurt Seth Godin. An early inspiration for my own blog, Mr G seems to have garnered an immense following with a pithy style and length that hasn’t changed in a decade. Mind you, he has broken ground in marketing on numerous occasions and has a large bunch of other strings to his bow.