Yes, I meant my LinkedIn profile to look like that…

Over the years, I have been asked about my LinkedIn profile as I have been told that it ‘seems a bit disjointed’. Recently, one of my corporate teachers subtly said to me, ‘you know, there are a lot of theatre references on your profile?’ with another colleague from the education sector telling me that it didn’t ‘look professional enough for the companies we’re dealing with’.

I have taken these comments on board and seriously considered them over the last few years. I even thought about splitting myself in two and having two profiles – one creative, one professional. It seems that there is an expectation out there to be wedded to one single objective and to follow one single path in order to achieve it but, somehow, this contradicts the era into which I was born. With parents of the Builder/Silent Generation, they had little opportunity to follow their dreams and therefore, encouraged me to be whoever I wanted to be.

So, I travelled, lived abroad in France and The Netherlands, taught English to business people, studied the Arts (French, English Literature and Theatre with some disturbing moments of diving deep into the cultural realities around the First Peoples of Australia, Feminisms and Post-Colonialism) and after an attack of being responsible, I studied to become a high school teacher, which I never practiced but used to become a Director of Studies and now a small business owner of E4B | English for Business.

Along the way I have consistently loved and worked in the arts. I love culture and I am particularly interested in the miscommunications that occur when different cultures come together. In fact, as I look back over the theatre work I have done, it has been in new Australian writing, new voices and new stories that we don’t always see represented in our media or on our stages.

So, it seems that the stories I’m interested in hearing have the same objective as the culturally and linguistically diverse people I’m interested in working with and with the ultimate goal of bringing together a unified and diverse community. I yearn to see more representative numbers in high levels of management and I yearn to hear more stories that represent the whole Australia I see around me.

Is it possible that there is room for these stories in corporate Australia? They could help bridge the gap between the older, dominant, migrant culture and the newer, minority, migrant cultures (not to mention indigenous cultures) that always seem to have to go through their period of initiation or submission into leaving behind parts of themselves in order to fit the dominant, western mould.

Is it possible that we are just tolerating our diverse makeup rather than celebrating it? And what would happen if we seriously invested in celebrating who we really are: ethnically, creatively, professionally or even sexually? Your own diversity is because of your special mix of any of these elements and many more that place you in your unique position. Fitting the mould with a perceivably professional profile that ticks all the boxes is not always going to be what gets you the job.

My interest in storytelling, whether on theatre stages, with corporate clients or in classrooms, makes me more open to listening and looking for the differences. It might even help me open my eyes to different ways of communicating, problem solving and just being in the world. So, by bringing the two fragmented sides of my LinkedIn profile together and being a whole person, it might just make me a better communicator and storyteller as the two sides nourishes each other giving me my specialised niche.

So yes, I meant my LinkedIn profile to look like that…

Are you feeling high or low?

“You don’t have to tell me again, I’m not a child”

“If you don’t understand, you’re…well…hmmm.“

A high-context communicator is someone who uses words in a way that relies heavily on the context in which they are used or, in other words, someone who relies on the things that are not said or rather implied, to communicate the real meaning of what is meant. This often happens in environments that are quite homogenous and often result in languages being formed around fewer words to express meaning because one word can mean a number of things in different contexts.

“Tell them what you are going to tell them; tell them; then tell them what you have told them”

“If you don’t understand, it is my fault.”

Low-context communicators, on the contrary, do not rely heavily on context and are therefore more explicit in their communication. These types of communicators can come from more newly developed countries that have been built on immigration where many cultures live side-by-side and require more explicit communication to ensure that everyone is on the same page (even as I’m writing this, I feel for that very reason, it’s important to explain that ‘on the same page’ means ‘everyone understanding each other’).

Low-context; rich vocabulary

English is arguably one of the richest languages, namely due to its Germanic origins and historical influences from Viking and Norman domination and more specifically Norman French and thus Latin. The link that I hadn’t made until recently was that rich languages like this are possibly an indication of low-context cultures because so many more words are needed to express explicit meaning rather than the alternative of intuiting meaning by what was not said or ‘reading the air’.

“Sinister buttocks”

Upon reading this article, I suddenly realised our rich language might seem to be laden with choice – many words meaning the same thing and therefore synonyms being readily available – meaning a number of different words can be inserted into a phrase to make it more sophisticated or, more sinisterly, to dodge the plagiarism accusation. This article has some hilarious examples of some awkwardly chosen synonyms and has led, aptly, to yet another addition to the English dictionary – ‘rogeting’…

Speak with Sophistication

When I meet student for the first time it is often at an initial hour-long interview in order to establish a thorough needs analysis. The more I do, the more I notice that corporate English students want to speak with more sophistication often when discussing complex ideas.

It is clear that they are able to speak with confidence in casual environments like these initial meetings but when it comes to communicating complex accounting structures and concepts to non-specialised staff they tell me that it becomes difficult. Equally, when in a social situation it is easy to talk about the weekend but when it comes to discussing the recent budget or Thailand’s recent military takeover, adequate vocabulary tends to be more challenging.

In a recent professional development, a presenter told a story of a man who learnt new languages by reading the newspaper. That might sound a bit optimistic but if I break it down a bit it becomes a handy exercise for building more sophisticated vocabulary.

Rather than just reading for meaning, he would highlight all the collocations and then transpose them onto a page. If we focus on Thailand’s recent shift to martial law he might have ended up with a list of words like this.

  • military takeover
  • former prime minister
  • prominent politicians
  • took over
  • temporary replacement
  • prominent figures
  • military facility
  • military spokesman
  • senior military official
  • top political posts
  • seized control
  • declared martial law
  • restore order
  • push through reforms
  • political turmoil

Following that he would look at the list and try to tell a story out-loud (even to himself in a private place) by using these words to solidify them in his brain.

By doing this relatively short activity, he not only built his knowledge of current affairs and therefore his ability to build rapport with other, but he also built his transferrable knowledge of collocations and his overall vocabulary – and a sophisticated one at that.

Try and make a story with the above words and then read the article they were taken from:

 

Ted Talk of the Day and Business English Presentations

In this Ted Talk of just under 7 minutes, Emdin talks about motivating teachers and changing the classroom with gusto.

While the tone seems a bit too American for an Australian context there are a number of things he does well and all of these elements translate into giving a good presentation for anyone.

  1. He tells a story. I know I’ve been talking about this before, but this really is the way to engaging your audience.
  2. He paints a picture. We can imagine the black church and its parishioners.
  3. He uses irony. We can see the bored education student listening to the tired lecturer about engaging the audience.
  4. He has passion and enthusiasm for his subject.
  5. He sets the scene. “Right now, there is an aspiring teacher who is working on a 60-page paper based on some age-old education theory developed by some dead education professor…”
  6. He uses repetition. “Right now, there is…”
  7. He uses body language. He makes eye-contact.
  8. He uses a personal pronoun. “Right now, there’s a student to come up with a way to convince his mum or dad that he’s very sick and can’t make it to school tomorrow.”
  9. He has great threads too.
  10. And, he uses humour.

See if you can weave some of these elements into your next presentation.

Click here to watch.

Never let a story get in the way of a good phrasal verb

The ever-feared phrasal verb is one of the main causes of concern for advanced business English speakers. This is especially the case in the workplace where native speaking colleagues consider them to be the easiest thing in the world to slip into conversation.

Generally speaking, business English phrasal verbs are a less formal way of communicating, which pretty much means they are being spoken in meetings, over the phone and in the lunchroom. They are probably being used in most emails too but rarely in more formal emails, official documents or reports where more Latin-based words are preferred.

So how to conquer the phrasal verb in the business English context?

My number one tip for improving your phrasal verb knowledge is to listen. Listen to your colleagues and develop your own personal phrasal verb lexicon and start working them into your conversations and emails where possible. If you currently have a teacher, present your list and ask for an activity that will help you exercise them. If not, find a confidante who will help you use them correctly.

By successfully stealing phrasal verbs from your colleagues you will find the ones that are most suitable to your unique business English context. The trick with phrasal verbs is that there are thousands of them and the other trick is getting the word order right.

Take a look at this online tool Lexchecker and see if your phrasal verb explanation can be found here.

Otherwise, search this online thesaurus for the correct usage and related synonyms.

And here is a good list of business English phrasal verbs to test your knowledge.

If you’re going it alone, why not try reading the MX newspaper on your commute home for a good variety of phrasal verbs. At least this might keep you more entertained than reading the articles. You could also try taking a few phrasal verbs from your favourite movie the next time you watch it – that shouldn’t detract from the storyline too much. Anyway, never let a story get in the way of a good phrasal verb.

8 tips on how to prepare for meetings

We all know that if – before any meeting, discussion, or even an important conversation – we prepare ourselves by thinking carefully about what we want to achieve and how we’re going to achieve it, the result will be far better than if we just go in cold and hope for the best.  What we say, and how we say it, can be critically important.

Here is a series of steps you can take that will help you prepare the language you’ll need if you’re going to get the result you want:

1.  What is the purpose of the meeting, discussion or conversation?  Who will be present?

2.  What is your role? Who will you be speaking to? What will you be saying?  Will you be presenting? Proposing? Explaining?  Asking questions or answering them?

3.  Depending upon the nature of the encounter, think of what you’re most likely to have to say – particularly your opening comment(s) if you’re leading the discussion – and any key issues you want to raise, points you want to make, questions you plan to ask, or answers you expect you’ll have to give.

4.  Write these down as you think of them and then go back and turn them into good sentences.  (If you’re in a course, bring these to class so that together with the trainer you can polish them.)

5.  Practice the sentences so that they become second nature and you don’t have to worry about how you’re going to construct them when it comes time to speak.

6.  Come prepared to your classes so that you can role-play the language for each situation with the trainer until you are confident in your ability to deliver it well whenever it’s needed.

7.  But . . . remember that the pursuit of perfection can be the enemy of effective communication, and that sometimes it’s better to continue to speak out firmly and confidently even if you stumble or realise you’ve made a mistake.  Doing so will make you far easier to listen to than if you hesitate and backtrack as you struggle for 100% correctness.

8.  Recognise too that that each situation you prepare for in this way will strengthen your ability to perform well even when you’re faced with a situation you haven’t rehearsed – and that the more preparation practice you have the more effective you will become.

Speaking Up in Meetings – when and how to interrupt, correct someone or ask for clarification

Business MeetingHow many times have you sat through a meeting with something brilliant to say but never knowing quite when to say it? Or realised half-way through the meeting that your colleague who spoke up has said something you completely disagree with? Or worse yet, found yourself nodding and smiling in agreement while wondering what in the world the discussion was actually about?

Speaking up in meetings — to interrupt, correct someone else, or ask for clarification — can be extremely intimidating. Having a few useful phrases available can go a long way towards giving you the confidence and tools you need to be able to interject your thoughts and opinions effectively in group situations and meetings.

When You’ve Got an Idea

Often people don’t speak up because they’re afraid of being seen as wrong, uninformed, or putting forward a stupid idea. A great way to sidestep this fear is to depersonalise your idea by putting a question to the group. When you think you just might have a good suggestion but aren’t absolutely confident about it, go ahead and start by introducing it with a comment that suggests it’s something the group might want to consider:

  • Have we thought about… getting Steve involved in the PR campaign directly?
  • Did anyone mention… the Brealy report? I seem to recall it covered some of the same topics Andrew has raised here.
  • Another option we might want to consider… is pushing back the timeline until early October.
  • Is it worth revisiting…last week’s minutes from the meeting to review the product specifications agreed upon?

The subtext here is that you’re contributing to the conversation and adding value to the group — but not personally claiming ownership of the idea or taking over the conversation. By using a more informal question you’ll be able to make your voice and idea heard, without overstating your commitment to that idea.

When You Disagree

It’s hard to disagree without being disagreeable. When the conversation is heading in a direction that you don’t agree with, it’s often hard to keep your mouth shut. Of course, it’s your right (and perhaps even your responsibility) to speak up when you want to challenge what has been said or give a completely different opinion.  The key is knowing how to adjust your comments so you don’t come off sounding tiresome or offensive. Here are a few strategies and helpful phrases to use in those awkward or tense moments:

  • Be very direct: I’m afraid I disagree with that assessment, Jon. Or, My experience has actually been quite different…I found the team to be highly engaging.
  • Be cautious: I just want to play devil’s advocate here for a moment, but what if we were to… go with the opposite approach and use direct mail marketing instead of relying solely on social media efforts?
  • Be provocative: This may shock you, but I want to…challenge our assumption that we have to take the deal.

When You’re Confused

And finally, what’s worse than sitting in on a meeting and having no idea what’s going on? You may have stumbled in late, tuned out at exactly the wrong moment, or simply never known much about the topic being discussed — and found yourself becoming more and more confused as the meeting progressed. Whatever the situation, the longer you wait to ask for clarification, the harder it is to meaningfully reinsert yourself into the conversation. Here are some good phrases to use the next time you find yourself lost in a meeting:

  • Forgive me if I’m missing something here, but I’m a little confused about…which marketing program you’re suggesting we table.
  • I’m not entirely sure I follow you – could you please recap what you just mentioned regarding… the August delivery?
  • I’m sure I’m supposed to know this already, but… how many attendees are we expecting at the conference next week?
  • I apologise if this is totally obvious to everyone here, but what does CAFE stand for?
  • This may be a stupid question, but I’m still not up to speed on why…we’re not using rail instead of truck.

While it’s obviously preferable to withhold your interruption until the speaker pauses briefly, sometimes the value of what you want to say depends on interjecting it at the exact point when it will have the most relevance and impact.  Whatever you do, remember that any interjection can be made more acceptable if you preface it with some polite or apologetic words:

  • Sorry to interrupt…but I don’t quite see it like that
  • Sorry, can I come in here…there’s something I think you’ve missed
  • I do see your point, but…I really can’t support the proposal
  • Would it be fair to say…that we were a bit premature in signing the contract?
  • Could I add something here?…I believe that’s covered in their latest annual report
  • I’d like to say something if I may…there may be another way we can go with this
  • My apologies, but I think you might be mistaken on that point…there’s really no evidence to back it up

At the end of the day, you’ll do better for yourself if you speak up in meetings and make your case — whether to push a new idea, correct a misconception or simply keep yourself up to date and current on what’s really going on. You owe it to yourself and your team to contribute to your fullest potential — it’s far less intimidating then you may think.

Written by David Andrew

Storytelling and Building Rapport

www.ted.comIf you’re not familiar with Ted.com, get in there now – but be careful! These up-to-20-minute presentations are highly engaging and addictive. They’re stories told by people with a passion and often a profession in the field of medicine, environmental science, the arts and business.

Ted Talks have become very useful not only as a source of entertainment but also as a learning tool. The Ted style of storytelling is effective yet highly diverse in style, so, you might ask yourself, how could I ever learn to communicate like that?

I speak to a lot of people – managers and students – about corporate-level English and one of the main communication skills needing change is the increase the confidence levels towards being able to more effectively building rapport with clients and colleagues.

I remember what this was like. I lived in France for a number of years and my French was good but, even when it was at its best, I still felt that there was part of my personality missing in French. There was still part of me that I couldn’t easily communicate to those around me. This not only knocked my confidence but also knocked my ability to have that easy, casual conversation that usually leads to making others feel at ease, which leads into building rapport and then trust and later friends.

Don’t worry, I did eventually make some friends but it took much more effort in French than it normally does in English.

I am convinced that one way to put others at ease and build rapport, whether in a personal or a business situation, is to have a handle on a couple of personal stories that you can pull out in different situations.

Start looking around you at people who handle social situations well and see what stories they tell about themselves. It can be tricky finding the right story for the right situation but start by observing and then give it a shot.

Ted Talks are fabulous for this. The speakers often integrate personal experience and story into their talks. Take a look at these ones and let me know if you find any others that you think use this theory too.

Elif Shafak – The politics of fiction

Brené Brown – The power of vulnerability

Andrew Stanton – The clues to a great story

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The danger of a single story

 

The Elephant in the Room

131209 elephant-in-the-room imageIf English is your second language it can be common to be nervous in client meetings. It is also common that your client might be a little nervous too.

The possibility of not being understood or not understanding what someone else says often creates tensions on both sides of the conversation.

A good way to diffuse all this discomfort, is to acknowledge the elephant in the room, which will hopefully put both parties more at ease to getting down to business, building rapport and focusing on what is important. You might say something like,

“As you might be able to guess, English is not my first language so I want you to feel comfortable to ask for clarification if you don’t understand anything I say and, similarly, I will ask you any questions if there is something I am unsure about.”

If your client feels confident that you will go away making sure you understand the situation fully and that they are free to ask questions for clarification, you will both have greater confidence in each other and your professionalism will shine.

 

Fluency Over Accuracy

I often ask new clients what they do if they recognise that they’ve made a mistake when speaking. There tends to be a pretty even balance between two answers: I go back and correct it; or, I keep going in the hope that no one noticed.

My advice on this one would be the latter – fluency over accuracy – keep going at the risk of making the odd mistake.

While accuracy is important – and there’s always room for improvement – the right amount of confidence plays a huge role in building relationships and getting the job done effectively.

If your listener has understood the gist of what you said – keep going. If you are unsure whether they have understood you or not, you would be better to check their understanding later in the conversation by asking for any questions or recapping the main points of what you spoke about.

Especially if you tend to be on the shy side, try soldiering through the some of the mistakes and concentrate on the content.

And remember – fake it ’til you make it!