The in-brief method of communications began more than 30 years ago in 1980 when CNN went on the air, followed in 1982 with USA Today. Pretty soon, we became a society conditioned to hearing news in sound bites.
We now live in a time when texting and Twitter are the de facto standards for communication in the workplace. Say goodbye forever to written memos and hello to everything-mobile. According to MillennialMarketing.com, even e-mail usage has declined; for 25- to 34-year-olds, e-mail decreased 11% from November 2009 to November 2010. Technology enables us to leave fewer and fewer voice mails in favor of using only 140 characters, so to speak—hardly enough time to even get noticed, let alone get your point across.
If this sounds like you—a CPA early in your career—you should take the initiative to help firm and company leadership understand how they can improve communications. Nevertheless, you’re often on your own to learn how to write and speak without using text message shorthand. Review these proven tips to learn how to communicate effectively, in brief, without losing your intent and meaning.
Although we’re using less and less e-mail, it isn’t going away any time soon. As a result, you must figure out the best ways to capture the attention of your recipient.
- Subject Line: Label your message with a short attention-getter, but don’t be too cutesy or rude. Avoid numbers, and symbols such as # and !, because using these will send the message into a spam folder.
- Body: Be short and concise. No one is going to read a long e-mail message. If you can’t say what you want in two to three paragraphs, then it’s time to pick up the phone and call your recipient.
- Call to Action: What do you want the reader to do? You must provide some kind of call to action at the top of the e-mail message. If a deadline is involved, put this date in the subject line. For example, “First Quarter Reports Due Friday” is better than just “First Quarter Report.” The more specific you can be, the better the response will be. Put yourself in the reader’s shoes and think about all the e-mail that crosses this person’s desk during the day. It’s overwhelming!
- Avoid “Reply All”: This is the bane of most e-mail. Unless really necessary, use the “reply all” button judiciously. Overuse only serves to irritate others instead of covering your bases.
No matter how much you try, you just can’t get away from meetings. The trick is to use the time sensibly and be considerate of others.
- Have an Agenda: No meeting should occur without some kind of agenda. If you are not the meeting leader, you can help the leader create one in order to stay on point.
- Establish an Ending Time: Better meetings take place when everyone knows the time the meeting will end. You have something to work toward rather than just keeping it open-ended.
- Don’t Text or Use Your Laptop: Sure, emergencies occur and sometimes you have to pull out your phone or laptop to communicate, but avoid using them if you can. You’ll come across as much more credible and respected rather than your colleague at the end of the table whose nose is in his BlackBerry.
- Tame the PowerPoint: How many times have you sat through a boring PowerPoint only to walk away without a clue as to what you just heard? Whether you’re giving the presentation or just sitting in, try getting by without it. You want your audience to hear you instead of reading the slides. If you want to provide a leave-behind resource, hand out copies of your slides after your talk, not before.
If you are going to text, then find the way to use it to your advantage.
- Establish the Ground Rules: Some firms encourage texting with clients if the messages are short and do not require a longer explanation, but the recipient must agree to this process. Similar to sending unsolicited e-mail, there is nothing worse than texting to a client who is unaware that he or she will receive a text.
- Look at the Time: Applicable to clients and co-workers, observe the workday instead of any hour of the day. For example, don’t text after hours. If a matter is that important, pick up the phone and call.
- Watch your Shorthand: While it’s trendy to use text shorthand (example: ur for “your”), the recipient may not understand what you’re trying to say. Again, set the ground rules and have a simple conversation to set up the process of text messaging. Although this sounds like an incredibly mechanized way to approach this kind of technology, it will save embarrassment, and may even help you retain the client or relationship for the long term.
Although we’ve hit on just three forms of communication, you can gain huge strides by continuously assessing the way you write and speak. Ask for feedback from your co-workers, managers, and even clients. Be flexible and willing to compromise.