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Would your customers recognise your business if it called?

Would your customers recognise your business if it called?What you say about your business and how you say it, is an essential part of your brand. Get your tone of voice right and customers easily recognise your business. Get it wrong and your message may never connect.

To show you what I mean, let me take you back in time…

As a child, I didn’t like answering the phone in my parent’s house. People would call and say “It’s me,” and I’d have no idea who they were.

This was back in the days when phones had handsets and dials or buttons, but certainly no screens, and answering machines were something you’d only find in the office. I was embarrassed and a bit nervous when I didn’t recognise who was calling and would ‘forget’ to take a message.

Now, imagine if that was a business call. Okay, these days technology makes it easier to identify who is on the line and most people would introduce themselves. But if you’re unfamiliar with a business, if you don’t recognise their name, or their voice, wouldn’t you be more cautious about dealing with them, until you establish a relationship?

I didn’t recognise the voices of my parents’ friends because I didn’t hear them as often as my parents did. Yet I could identify any DJ who hosted a show on my favourite radio station with only a few words. We become familiar with voices we know well. But new voices take a while to tune into.

Helping a business find its tone of voice

I’m working with a really exciting new client at the moment, helping to develop a tone of voice that will make their business stand out.

It involves a lot of listening. Not only am I getting to know the specifics of their industry and what they do, but I’m also getting to know them as people. What is it about this business that makes it different from others who make or deliver similar products and services?

Tuning into personality and values

I can hear they have bags of enthusiasm and tonnes of knowledge. They really have to be experts in lots of different areas to provide a great service to their customers.

They are incredibly creative and immensely resourceful. They get up early and stay up late, going the extra mile without even thinking about it. They really care about what they do and want to get to know their customers so that they can offer the right advice.

My challenge is to reflect all that. To put all those values and their personality into concise words that will appeal to their customers.

As I do that, I’ll also be thinking about how I do it, and developing guidelines that will help them maintain their brand voice throughout all their communications.

It takes a bit of time to ‘tune in’, to find something that a business is comfortable with and that will work for them. Developing a tone of voice for a business combines a mix of creative and analytical skills and it’s a process that I really enjoy.

Speaking about tone of voice for business

Inspire Network Northumberland meeting 18 July
I’ll be talking more about tone of voice and why it matters in business at The Inspire Network meeting in Bedlington on 18 July. Find out more and sign up to come along.

This is a ladies only networking event, but I offer training, presentations and advice to anyone interested. If you’d like an expert business writer to speak at one of your events or want to discuss  your writing training needs, please get in touch.

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Always learning

As a writer and trainer, I’m always keen on learning new things, that I can pass on to the people who come to my writing workshops or just to keep my own interests and knowledge up to date.

Here are a few things I’ve learned recently:

Simple visuals using Adobe Spark

A writer, I think, is someone who pays attention to the worldHypeStar provide training in digital and social media from their base in the North East, and are very generous in sharing some great hints and tips on their blog. That’s where I learned about Adobe Spark – a free tool to create graphics and simple video animations. Check out HypeStar’s simple guide to Adobe Spark and give it a try yourself:

https://www.hypestar.uk/make-stunning-visuals-videos-adobe-spark/

This has been a great way for me to add some visual appeal to some of my Twitter and facebook posts. A professional designer can create something more creative and stand out for your business, but for a quick post, I think this is a great tool.

How to avoid deleting shared files when using Dropbox

I picked up some more tips from technical writer John Espirian, including this reminder about the rules of dropbox sharing.

I’m starting to work with a client using Dropbox at the moment, so this was a very useful and timely reminder.

Contender for word of the year

I love a good discussion about words, so I always enjoy seeing what The Writer has to say in their email newsletter. They’re making an early prediction about the word of the year in 2017. 

I also enjoyed hearing how paying attention to language helped turn customer experience from bad to good for games company EA on their podcast. You can listen to it on iTunes and on everything else.

The black hole of Calcutta was a real place

Finally, Lucy Worsley always does a great job of engaging me with stories from history. I’ve really enjoyed the series of British History’s Biggest Fibs, and this week I learned about the origin of the phrase ‘the black hole of Calcutta’. Watch it again on BBC iPlayer.

I really appreciate it when people share their interests and knowledge and add to mine. Is there anything you’d like to know more about in the realms of copywriting and business writing?

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Writing workshops – my training formula

I run writing training and tone of voice workshops to help business people write communications that connect with their customers.

The tools of my writing workshops - coloured pens and pencils

I don’t know how it happens, but sometimes the act of putting words on a page, or these days, tapping characters onto a screen, makes people sound different. Maybe it’s the thought that this is business, that makes some companies come over all stuffy and formal. You can almost hear the pin-stripe suit and the overly tight collar (even when they’re actually wearing jeans and a T-shirt).

My aim when I run one of these workshops is to help people sound more like themselves. Or at least, more like a living, breathing human being, than a faceless corporate drone.

My training formula

When it comes to writing, or any kind of training, I apply a very simple formula: See one. Do one. Teach one. I’ve used it many times in lots of different types of training and it really works.

See one

Showing someone how to do something, or demonstrating good practice is a great starting point. In my writing training, I might do this by picking out some good, and not so good, examples of writing that I see the businesses using already.

Or I might take some memorable marketing straplines and invite people in my workshop to fill in the missing words.

It’s easy enough to demonstrate good examples, or how things should or can be done. What I help to do with ‘see one’ is to unpick why they are good examples. What works well, what doesn’t work so well, what could be better and so on.

Most people instinctively know, or understand what sounds good when it comes to communications. I can help you understand why that happens and how you can use that to your advantage in your business.

Do one

Writing training workshop table

It’s all very well seeing and being shown how to do something. But the real way to make any kind of training stick is to put it into practice.

That’s why you won’t find me standing at the front of a room giving a lecture when I do my writing training. It’s you who will be doing the work, thinking, scribbling things down, trying out new ways of writing. And I’ll try to make sure you have things to work on well after the session has ended too.

My workshops and training sessions offer a chance to get away from everyday distractions and really think about how you communicate, who your audience are and the language you use. It can be refreshing, eye-opening and illuminating.

While you’re playing games with language and testing out new things in the safe confines of a training session, my aim is always to make what you learn relevant to you and your business.

Teach one

I used to do quite a bit of practical training when I worked at the BBC, showing new reporters how to use digital editing programs, or to use a content management system to publish web pages. That’s when I discovered, that you only really know you’ve understood something when you have to share it with someone else.

Finding new ways to explain something you know well can be a challenge. I’ve learned to adapt to lots of different styles of learning, from those who learn best from seeing or hearing examples, to those who like to get hands on and move around as they take in new information.

In training other people, I’ve often found I have to explain something in a different way, or been challenged to look at something I take for granted from a new angle. It’s a big confidence boost for me to see and hear people I’ve trained passing on what they’ve learned to others.

When training gets tricky

I have had workshops when I’ve expected 12 people and only 4 turned up. I had to do some rapid re-planning for group exercises. But I have learned to adapt to almost anything (I think).

When I’ve done training sessions in large corporate environments, I sometimes got the sense that people had been told to come to my workshop, but didn’t really know why they were there.

At times like this I felt like a stand-up comedian in front of a tough crowd. But like the best stand ups, I had belief in my material and kept going, trying to engage with my audience and find a common point of interest that would get them on my side.

Common points of interest would often be ‘things that other people write that make us squirm’, or ‘my boss says I shouldn’t say…’

My favourite training sessions

The best writing training sessions are when people are really engaged and ask questions or challenge points I make.

When someone asks me ‘Why?’ or says “But we have to do it like this…” I know they are taking an interest and I have a great opportunity to make that session really relevant.

Always learning, always improving

All writers are magpies. We steal inspiration, words, phrases and ideas from anywhere and everywhere, then make them our own. I do the same with training courses. I’ve had the benefit of some excellent ones, from Dark Angels26The Writer and Scarlett Abbott, to name just a few.

As well as learning about the subject of the course, I try to take away something that I can apply to my own workshops.

Was there a good ice-breaker? How was the session structured? How was the information presented? And when I can, I’ll pick the brains of other people who do training sessions. They are always very generous.

I’ve learned how to create and run my writing training workshops by watching, listening, thinking and doing; through experience and analysis. I’m always looking for things that I can learn from, so I can improve my skills as a trainer.

What are your top tips for a great training session? How do you prefer to learn?

Need writing training in your business? Want to find out more about the workshops I offer? Please get in touch.

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Life as a trainer

Most often when I write about training, it’s in the context of physical training for the sports that I do, but today I’m thinking about the other training that I do in business writing.

I run writing and tone of voice workshops, to help people connect with their customers with communications that sound like they come from human beings rather than nameless, faceless organisations.

As many of the people who attend are in customer support roles, these sessions are always about how we speak as well as how we write. And increasingly I’m being asked to offer advice on things like webcasts and social media platforms as the range of ways of communicating expands.

Coloured post it notes laid out  on a piece of paper

My low tech approach to workshop planning helps me structure and balance the session

I’ve had the benefit of some really excellent training throughout my working life. At the BBC it was often technical and skills based as I learned how to edit, first on tape and then digitally; how to ‘drive’ a studio desk; how to interview and construct radio packages quickly. Later I would learn digital skills, working on websites, using basic HTML, photo manipulation, and content management skills.

It was at the BBC that I started training other people. At first, it was just about passing on what I’d learned, helping someone put together a radio report, as someone had once helped me. But again, someone showed faith in me, and actually took the trouble to say “You’re good at training.”

I realised that I really enjoyed it too. I was there long enough to see people I’d trained passing on what they’d learned to others. I get a real kick out of that.

I have a little training mantra: “See one, do one, teach one.” I probably stole it from a medical drama, most likely ER. But I’ve found it really works, as you really know and have confidence that you know how to do something when you  can teach someone else.

In my last blog post, I talked about having doubts and insecurities as a writer. When I’m doing a training session or workshop, if I have any, I can’t let them show. I have to have confidence in my knowledge and ability to deliver the materials and to make them interesting.

Not every workshop is perfect. Some are better than others. But the participants will never know if I rushed through an exercise because we were short of time, or handled a question differently the next time I was asked it.

Sessions can be tricky when I’m expecting a room full and only a handful turn up. I have to mentally rejig how I’ll manage small group discussions as they take their seats and adapt as I go.

Or  when I get the sense that people have been told to come to a workshop, but don’t know why. Sometimes I feel like a stand-up comedian in front of a tough crowd. I just have to believe in my material and keep going, while trying to find the level of the room.

The best sessions are when people are really engaged and ask questions or challenge points I make. When they ask ‘Why?’ or say “But we have to do it like this…” I know they are taking an interest and I have a great opportunity to make that session really relevant.

Most writers are magpies. We steal inspiration, words, phrases and ideas from anywhere and everywhere, then make them our own.

I do the same with training courses. And once again, I’ve had the benefit of some excellent ones, from Dark Angels, 26, The Writer and Scarlett Abbott, to name just a few.

From classroom based to online learning – as well doing my own learning, I take notes and reflect on the content later. Was there a good ice-breaker? How was the session structured? How was the information presented? And when I can, I’ll pick the brains of other people who do training sessions. They are always very generous.

I’ve got some sessions with finance teams coming up. So right now, I’m gathering materials, thinking about aims and objectives for the sessions and looking forward to putting them together.

No one taught me how to be a trainer, or how to put together a workshop. I’ve learned by watching, listening, thinking and doing; through experience and analysis. I’m always looking for things that I can learn from, so I can improve my skills as a trainer.

What are your top tips for training?

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How a little support goes a long way in writing and training

I had a moment during the triathlon I was taking part in this weekend when I thought I couldn’t go on. The wind had whipped up waves in the lake as I was swimming. Instead of a lungful of air when I turned my head to breathe, I got a face full of water. For a few seconds I thought, “I can’t do this.”

After a pause, treading water and giving myself a bit of a talking to, I managed to overcome my flight response, drew on my training and race experience and continued to swim, cycle and run my way to the end of the course.

It’s a feeling I’ve had as a writer too. That I can’t do this. That somehow, I’m  just pretending, and one day someone will challenge me on it.

From what other writers have confided, I’m not alone in this. We all have our moments of doubt. As professionals, we question our worth. 

Just as in my athletic pursuits, it’s not just training and experience that makes me a writer. There’s also a strong element of self belief too. Of believing I can do this. I have the skills, the knowledge and talent. 

I finally started to really believe in myself as a writer after spending some time with John Simmons. 

John was director of verbal identity at Interbrand; has written for companies big and small and is a founder of 26. His books include, We, Me, Them & ItDark AngelsThe Invisible Grail and 26 Ways of Looking at a Blackberry, as  well as Room121: a masterclass in writing and communication in business co-written with Jamie Jauncey. When it comes to copywriting – he literally wrote the books.

So when John Simmons tells you, you are a writer, it’s good sense to believe him. I can think of no greater compliment, or anything else I’ve been prouder to hear. In triathlon terms it’s like finishing first in the World Championships, winning gold at the Olympics and qualifying for Kona all rolled into one.

cover of Leaves by John Simmons

Through John, I’ve developed confidence in my skills and voice as a writer. Felt more assured about asserting the creativity that feeds into the commercial work of a copywriter and opened up opportunities that allow me to explore that creativity beyond the office walls.

It’s a special day for John today, as he launches his first novel, Leaves. A story he began 45 years ago, now published by Urbane. It’s sad, elegiac and so beautifully written, there are sentences in it that I will read again and again.

I heartily wish I was in London tonight to celebrate with him, but distance and demands of my working life mean I can only be there in spirit.

Through spending time with John, discussing writing, meeting fellow writers on Dark Angels writing courses and reading his regular, always thought-provoking blog posts, I feel privileged to call him a friend as well as a mentor.

On today’s blog he offers three pieces of advice, which all strike me as absolutely true. But the one that really resonated was this:

Writers need people to show faith in them, to express confidence in their writing

A shout from a supporter, or a spectator in a race can make me smile, encourage me to keep going, or stop me from giving in. 

It’s the same with writing, although generally a little quieter in tone. A simple thank you, ‘nice work’ or even better, a ‘wow’, can really lift my spirits, and encourage me to give my best every time I put pen to paper.

I’m very grateful to John, for showing faith in me, and for introducing me to a wider network of wonderful writers. I raise a virtual toast to us all. May you look each person in the eye and say with confidence “I am a writer. I write.”

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Dark Angels, Merton

I’m just back from the latest Dark Angels course at Merton College, Oxford. It’s been an intense and inspiring few days of writing, listening, exploring and working with a group of wonderful writers.

Merton College, Oxford

Merton College, Oxford

Our archangel tutors, John Simmons, Jamie Jauncey and Stuart Delves did what they do so well, feeding us prompts, giving us briefs and deadlines and then setting us free.

Our voices ranged wide. Even when we were given the same starting points, the writing that came back was very different in its tone, content and imagery. Over the course of a few days we heard tales that inspired laughter, sent chills down our spines, brought tears to our eyes, and made us think about the world around us.

Spending time in my rather blank, spartan, but perfectly adequate room, it was easy to see how Merton was designed for study. A tour of its ancient library, accompanied by an enthusiastic Classics student reinforced its long forged links with learning.

Separated from the rest of the busy, commercial world of modern Oxford by the college gates and portals, it would be easy to imagine a rather monastic, or closed off existence. But for me, it was the opposite. The shared experience of living, eating and working together with my fellow writers gave me a great feeling of opening up.

Writing and reading is important to me. Not just because it’s my job, but because its part of how I define myself. In choosing an identity for this blog, I sought out words associated with writing. So there’s an uncomfortable irony in the fact that writing and reading barely get a look in amidst my tales of racing and training.

I want to change that. The running, training and triathlon side of things will remain. But I want to reflect something more of my writing self. So, I’m going to commit to posting once a week on a writing theme. In this, I’m following in the footsteps of the great archangels, John Simmons and Jamie Jauncey whose weekly blogs I always enjoy.

Those are huge steps to follow in, but just as consistent training has helped me improve as a runner, I hope the discipline of a weekly blog will help me unlock more of my writing self.

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