Archives for category: Communication

What is the rule when it comes to using numbers in content? Should we use numeric symbols or spell them out? I don’t definitively know, but that won’t stop me offering some standards around which how I like to operate.

First things first: I think dates and big numbers should always be represented numerically. They’re simply too tiresome to spell out, unless for some quirky or emphatic reason. What I’m really talking about is the instances where we want to use smaller numbers.

1 example to start. It looks awkward if you begin a sentence with a number, unless it’s a bulleted or numbered list.

The key is consistency I think. If you’re going to use a small number a small number of times, spell the small number out. It can be quite emphatic and also easy on the eye. If you’re set on numerals, be consistent, but try not to begin sentences with a number. Here’s an example of a post I wrote where I spell out the numbers consistently and refer to dates numerically. Spoiler alert: you can’t click on that post until after January 1st 2020. I’ve never ever published a link to a document available in the future before, it feels slightly odd.

Where do you stop the bigger the numbers get, and how do you punctuate? I’m OK with seventeen. I’m also OK with twenty-three, if the context is right and there aren’t too many numbers in the content. What about one hundred and thirty-eight? It’a bit unwieldy isn’t it, and did I get the hyphen right? The higher the number, the more unwieldy, unless it’s a round number, naturally.

So, spelling out numbers depends on the 3 C’s: consistency, context and common sense. And would you believe it, according to this source you only need to hyphenate the numbers between 21 and 99, or twenty-one and ninety-nine. Technically, then, we’d write thirty-two million, seven hundred and ninety-eight thousand, four hundred and fifty-six, though why we wouldn’t put 32,793,456 is lost on me.

My Dad had several memorable phrases that you hardly ever hear these days, and even back then they would probably be viewed as fairly antiquated.

One of his favourites was to tell me I was ‘hoist by your own petard’. I never really knew what it meant, except that I was kind of the victim of my own devious plan.

Apparently, according to the good folks at wikipedia, the actual phrase is ‘hoist with his own petard’, from Bill Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It means to be blown up by your own bomb, petard being the bomb part. It has, or had, come to be used proverbially, when something to you try to do to bite someone ends up biting you back.

Fantastic! It came to me the other day, though I can’t remember how my brain accessed it. I do need to start getting it into everyday conversation, if at all possible.

Deck or doc, which are you? Slide deck or word document?

How do you prefer to get your information? Sometimes it depends on the type of information you’re getting. I’m a fairly visual person, and I like to be able to short-cut the information acquisition process and zero in on what I want. This is hard to do with a doc(ument), unless it’s well laid out and sign-posted. If I’m clicking on a web page link to learn more, I prefer a web page to a 2-minute or 3-minute video. I can scan the headings of a web page in a few seconds, rather than sit through something for a few minutes, or jump ahead and risk missing the nuggets.

I’m therefore a deck guy. By this I mean a slide deck. I find this kind of ironic since I’m better myself at creating words than pictures. I generally delegate the pictures to someone who’s good at pictures.

Some people are doc people. They prefer to absorb the information in a word-processed document to a slide or picture presenting document. They like the detail. They want to pour over it, or at least have the option to at a later stage if they need to.

Ask yourself this: when was the last time you said to your customer or your audience, ‘how would you like this information, by deck or doc?’ Even though some types of information are better presented in one format over another, your customer’s or audience’s preferences are important.

I travel on Irish Rail a lot. I never use the online seat booking system. Well, I used it once before, but once in 300+ journeys over the last 12 years is not much. On this occasion, however, travelling with my son into Dublin on a Saturday, I decided I needed to.

After selecting your train ticket type and times, you’re taken to the seat booking screen. The trouble is, it’s really hard to tell which is the front of the carriage and which is the back. They’re not marked. This is important if you like to face the direction of travel. Also, you’re not sure which is the front of the train, and which is the rear. Is Coach A at the front? I assumed so, and booked accordingly.

The main area of doubt for me was that the only other time I had booked a ticket, the train had arrived back to front, with Coach A at the back. So, on that occasion I did what every other passenger seems to do, at least during the week: they sit anywhere, even on a booked seat that’s not their booked seat, thus rendering the seat booking system a farce.

Anyway, coach A was at the front when we got on, but coach A was premier class, and I had booked standard. We sat there anyway. On the online booking system you have the option to have displayed your name or your booking reference number. I had chosen booking reference number. When we found our seats, they simply said ‘Seat booked from Galway’. How would we have proved that these were indeed our booked seats?

For the return journey, we booked coach A again. When we got to the platform, coach A was the first carriage, at the back of the train…

Room for improvement, methinks.

I was recommended to listen to a podcast the other day by a customer’s CEO. It was from the series Anatomy of a Strategy. The link to the podcast, which is well worth listening to if your business is content, is here.

In the podcast, Alex Hillman draws the difference between thinking of a blog post as ‘just a blog post’, a piece of ‘throwaway’ content, and viewing it as small product, in fact a ‘tiny free product that delivers value’. From here you can then deliver content which works up to your own paid product which delivers even more value.

This is, of course, correct and I agree with it. It treats a single piece of content as part of a process, or a strategy to build your customers.

It did, however, get me thinking about my own blog posting, since I’ve done several hundred of them at this stage. I seem to be not practising what I preach. My posts are often throwaway and often do not lead to a more engaged conversation on the topic or on what I do for a living.

Then again, you have to think about the end goal for me. I get most of my business from my network and profile within that network, but blogging is not about building my business. It’s about the joy and discipline of writing. And at its root it’s also about process.

So, while I agree that each blog post is indeed a product of Paul Dilger inc, a mini-destination if you like, it’s also a small journey for me.

 

 

A good while back I blogged about how to discern between its and it’s. Easy, right? Its is always the possessive pronoun, as in ‘the dog buries its bone’, and it’s is only ever an abbreviation of ‘it is’ – unless of course it is capitalised to IT, as in ‘IT’s role in shaping world economies’. And don’t be confused with those speech marks either, they’re not apostrophes!

And then I read this phrase, quite recently: ‘it’s more trouble than it’s worth.’ No, no, no! I said to myself, the second it’s should be its, as in ‘It’s more trouble than its value.’ Until I googled it, and discovered that the more commonplace version uses it’s, as in ‘It is more trouble than it is worth.’

Wrong all those years.

Fortunately, both versions are acceptable – and in fact both versions mean pretty much the same thing – but it gives you an idea of the differences between the economy of spoken English and the clarity of written English. I’d always heard the phrase and assumed the noun worth, and therefore the pronoun its, when in fact it is more commonly the verb ‘to be worth’.

Sheesh! Did you follow that? Panic over.

For what seems like an age my good lady and I have been considering switching banks. They’re such a traditional, archaic industry that, naturally, switching from one bank to another is not remotely straightforward.

It really should be the responsibility of the incoming bank to do all the work. Instead, companies cover themselves so if something goes wrong they fall back on the small print which blames the customer.

We recently changed from Ulster Bank to KBC Bank. A few forms, quite a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and a whole bunch of standing orders and direct debits that needed to move from one provider to the next. I was sceptical that it would work seamlessly. After all, there’s a bunch of stuff that can go wrong.

Lo and behold, the payment on our car failed to go through and we get a letter from the car finance company to say that we owe them money, probably to the detriment of my credit rating. A quick call to our new bank and they refer to us to a small section of the document that indicated we should have, in addition to passing through the bureaucratic eye of the needle, also called all of the companies with whom we have a direct debit or standing order and tell them. In other words, use manual methods in case the human-driven automated process falls over. We had a lot of these arrangements in place. My view was, I’m the customer, why should I? It’s not my responsibility. I’m not the one getting all the business.

Anyway, I got a rather large shock from my old bank during the week. It was a letter detailing the charges they’d levied in the last 12 months. €214.34. No, that’s not a typo. It was the main reason why we changed, apart from the fact that all banks are generally a degree of rubbish. It’s a case of trying to establish which one is less rubbish than the others. What a terribly and depressingly low bar.

I was in a meeting a good few years ago. It could have been any meeting over the last 5 decades, or any meeting you’ve had. It was fairly typical. Some progress, but also frustrations and miscommunications.

People were not listening to each other, they weren’t answering the question that had just been made. They wanted to make their own point. As a consequence, there were some frustrations, raised voices at times, and frayed tempers. One particular person was asked what they made of the meeting, while we were still in session.

‘Well,’ he said, ‘I’ve heard a lot of heat, but not much light.’

And that is the essence of a good meeting, isn’t it? You want the light, you don’t want the heat. One of them illuminates, the other makes you hot and bothered. One of them makes a meeting worthwhile and a good use of the considerable resources in the room, and the other doesn’t.

Since then, I’ve tried whenever I can in meetings to provide light and not heat. After all, it’s all about productivity, forward momentum, direction, speed and group harmony. Light helps with all of those, whereas heat almost never helps with any of them.

 

Everyone’s been all in a tizzy over the customer experience the last few years, with bags of content being produced and companies popping up all over the place with offerings to help companies focus on their customers’ buying process and the end-to-end journey.

This is all great, but what’s not really talked about much is the employee experience. You see, a company’s most important stakeholder is usually not their customer. It’s their staff. If you have good staff they’ll take good care of your customers.

From this, it follows that getting the customer experience right is actually secondary to getting the employee experience right. How many times have you worked in companies – or been a customer of companies – where the staff don’t know what’s going on, they’re not brought along on projects and processes or the left hand doesn’t know what the right is doing when it comes to news, launches and the like? This is a top-down thing, and to get the employee experience and internal communications right senior people need to follow a similar process as they should do for marketing to their customers.

Here’s a link to a really good whitepaper from Hubspot on how internal communications can be the secret weapon within the marketing function.

I saw a young lady with a see through handbag the other day. I’m not talking about one of those recently fashionable items that has an opaque handbag inside another transparent handbag. I mean one of those handbags where you can see the contents of the bag.

It evoked in my mind so many different feelings that you could ascribe to the wearer and the viewer that I’m going to list some of them, four for and four against:

  • I can find everything I need quickly with this handbag
  • Using this handbag will mean I only carry what I really need
  • I don’t care that you can see what I carry in my handbag
  • I don’t care that you can see the condition of what I keep in my handbag
  • My handbag carries a multitude of sins and there’s no way I’m going to advertise them to other people
  • You have no privacy with that handbag
  • I don’t feel like my belongings are secure when others can see what they are and where they are
  • I carry a lot of stuff in my handbag and I still wouldn’t find what I need quickly

I thought the handbag was cool, but it was a little odd seeing the mobile phone, tissues, lipstick and make-up case of a total stranger. I think, on further reflection, that it would also remove a great deal of the taboo around topics like hygiene if one happened to see other items in there.

Where do you draw the line with the public display of things considered private in most societies, like underwear? Is it OK in the US for me to carry my pistol, for which I have a license, in my see through manbag?