Friday, February 27, 2015

Curing Toxic Email Syndrome in An Organization

When's the last time that you had an offensive, rude or snarky email in your inbox? If you don't remember then consider yourself lucky. If you're looking at one right now then maybe your organization suffers from Toxic Email Syndrome. Luckily we have a cure for that and it isn't so difficult to apply.

Toxic Email Syndrome seems to occur spontaneously in many workplaces. One person has a bad day and sends a mean-spirited email that they might regret later. Others respond to that in the same way and even more are influenced by the tone to follow in the same style. Over time the culture of sending toxic emails becomes sedimented in the company culture. But there is no reason for this to start and once it has started it can actually be stopped simply by following three best practices:

MANAGEMENT HAS TO SET A GOOD EXAMPLE. People don't do what you tell them to do, they do what they see you doing. When the management is sending impolite and disrespectful emails to each other and to employees this sets the tone for the communications in the entire organization. So the management has to be trained or at least advised to reflect carefully before clicking send. Management can also help by making sure that employees who send an offensive email are told by their direct supervisor that this is not the right way to do things and that they don't want to see emails like that again. When the response of management to a hostile email is always swift and negative people quickly learn the new company culture.

EMPLOYEES SHOULD NEVER SEND A TOXIC EMAIL. Employees should all be trained in some way that toxic emails are strongly discouraged by management -- which they will see in action if you are doing the first point. They should also be trained that toxic emails are also ineffective. In most cases they worsen the problem and, more importantly, they fail to achieve results. Remind employees that they are measured on results like sales booked, lines of code written and so on. Nobody gets a bonus for winning flame wars. Once employees realize that their work becomes easier in a non-toxic email environment it gets easier to convince them to follow policy.

EMPLOYEES SHOULD NEVER RESPOND TO PROVOCATIONS. Even if you apply the second point there will still be the occasional email that is out of line, perhaps coming from a newcomer or from outside. Every employee has to be taught how to deal with this. I have covered this in more detail in Three Tips for Responding to Angry Emails but the key learning is that you respond to the substance of a message and ignore all the parts that you perceive to be rude, hostile or just snarky. Answer the factual questions and ignore all the rest. Not only does this help work get done, it also de-escalates conflict and makes people feel better.

Once a workplace email system has been purged of toxic emails employees will be more productive and less stressed. The negative consequences of toxic email syndrome are often underestimated so this small effort can yield impressive results. When people are no longer afraid to open emails, when they don't feel their blood boiling when the email notification appears then the are able to focus more energy on constructive work.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching & Writing

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Simple Ways to Record a Natural Sounding Speech

Maybe you are a pretty good speaker but when you try to record speeches they always sound wooden, hesitant or just plain boring. Luckily there are some simple methods that anyone can apply to make recordings sound better, and perhaps also easier to make, using no more than a laptop and free sound recording software.

Before you start recording, though, make sure that you have practiced the delivery of the speech so that it sounds as natural as possible. Avoid reading a script, using instead a list of keywords to jog your memory about the key ideas. Unless you are a highly-trained actor it is very unlikely that you will be able to deliver a convincing performance from a written script.

Then when you have mastered the content use these best practices to capture a good recording.

RECORD THE SPEECH USING SOFTWARE THAT ALLOWS EDITING. Record your speech using a laptop with digital audio workstation software like the free Audacity package, which you can download free from or the new ProToolsFirst free version of the industry-standard ProTools package. You can also use audio recording tools like Hokusai on a tablet or even on a smartphone in an emergency. The advantage of these tools is that you can very easily cut pieces out of the recording, adjust levels, adjust speed and otherwise improve the recording. You don't need much skill in sound recording to do the basic editing; with tools like Audacity you can literally cut and paste chunks of sound with your mouse.

WARM UP YOUR VOICE BEFORE YOU START. If you start from cold and speak for a few minutes you'll notice that your voice probably doesn't stabilize for the first minute or two. If you try to warm up the voice then pause before the actual recording there will still be a brief time when your voice is still warming up. The way to avoid these problems is to talk for a few minutes then segue smoothly into your speech with just a short gap. Start the sound recording software before you start the warm-up and leave it running until you have finished the recording of the speech. Later you can trim the recording to remove the warm up. You can warm up saying anything you want, though I usually just use the introduction of the speech repeated a few times until it feels smooth.

RECORD IN ONE LONG, CONTINUOUS TAKE. A professional actor can record a speech then go back later and record additional words to correct an error with a voice that matches exactly the tone of the original recording. Normal speakers rarely have that skill so it is much easier simply to avoid the problem. Instead you should start the recording, then the warmup and then the speech in one long continuous take. Don't start and stop the recording because that can be distracting. What happens if you make a mistake? Simple, just repeat that section again. You can always delete all the bad sections later using the editing tools. To make this easier for yourself it helps to mark bad sections by making a loud click which can be seen very easily in the recording.

These best practices will help you to make a better recording, but you will still need to make sure that the delivery is good even to a live audience. There are some things that you can fix in the editing and post production, but if the speech sounds boring there is no ProTools or Audacity plugin that can fix that.

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Monday, February 2, 2015

How to Personalize LinkedIn Connection Requests

Networking experts never tire of telling people that they should always personalize LinkedIn connection requests. Many people ignore standard "I'd like to add you to my network" requests or at least are more reluctant to accept them. What the experts often don't tell you is that over the years personalizing these requests has become more difficult.

Back in the noughties when you clicked on the connect button you were taken to a dialog box where you have had the option to change the standard message to something more personal -- and more effective. More recently the connect button has been changed to send the request immediately. At first you could personalize requests from People You Might Know and user profiles. Today the only place where you can do this is from a user's profile.

What this means is that the connect button that you see in the People You Might Know section today is a one-click automatic request with the standard message:

The Connect button in LinkedIn's People You Might Know section. This is a one-click automatic request with no personlization.

In the same way the connect button you find next to people in the search results is also a one-click automatic request with the standard message:

The Connect button in LinkedIn's search page. This is also a one-click automatic request with the standard message.

But when you visit the personal profile of a user there is an identical connect button near the top of their profile:

The Connect button on LinkedIn's user profile pages looks exactly the same but opens a dialog box.

But in this case when you click instead of sending a standard request LinkedIn gives the dialog box which allows the text of the connection request to be personalized.

In the dialog box you can include a personal note, which you most definitely should do if you want the request to be accepted.

Connection requests with a personalized text are much more effective than standard requests so I would recommend that people always send requests from a user's profile page. This also has the useful side effect that just before someone receives the request they see that you have looked at their profile. I am always suspicious of people who want to connect to me but have not even read my profile.

Exactly why LinkedIn makes it so hard to personalize connection requests when this is so important is a mystery to me. In the past I have contacted LinkedIn to point out this problem but so far they never seem to go beyond acknowledging my suggestion. Here is one Twitter exchange on this topic from 2013:

Perhaps one day LinkedIn will address this problem. Meantime, remember that you should always send requests from a user profile page and personalize the text.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching, Writing

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Friday, January 30, 2015

How to Prepare Quotes that Journalists Can Use

Part of the everyday work of PR professionals is preparing quotes and comments for journalists. I have done it myself in the past but I have also been on the other side when I work as a freelance journalist and I have noticed that there some responses are exactly what I need, some are completely useless and most are somewhere in the middle -- ok, but could be better.

Crafting usable quotes is a mission-critical skill for any PR person. Usable quotes are more likely to be chosen and less likely to be edited. You are also more likely to be asked for comment again in the future if your response is usable.

So what exactly makes a usable comment? Why are some better than others and how can PR people learn to make their quotes easier to use?  Here are five essential tips:

DELIVER YOUR RESPONSE ON TIME. If you have been asked to deliver a reply by Monday then make sure that you are on-time. If you are late or might be late because you are waiting for an approval then send a note to alert the journalist. When you receive the invitation to comment don't forget to confirm that you are going to respond. Two days ago I received a request from the Wall Street Journal for a comment. The deadline was Friday 4pm. I confirmed within minutes of receiving the request and sent my comments on Thursday.

WRITE ANSWERS THAT STAND ALONE. If you have been asked a question don't prepare a reply makes no sense without the question. In most cases the question is asked to elicit a comment and the comment will be printed on its own so it has to be entirely standalone. This is actually good practice in any exchange with media, but especially important when you are asked for a comment. 

AVOID ANY DIRECT SELLING. Resist the temptation to add a sales pitch to your comments. Make your response commercial and usually your comment will not be used and you will never be asked again. This is especially true when you have been asked a generic question about your business simply because you are an expert.

READ OUT LOUD TO CHECK SOUND. Way too many comments sent to journalists do not sound like they were said by the person they are attributed to and sometimes they don't even sound like they were uttered by a human. Always read your draft comments out loud to see if they sound reasonable. Try also imagining the person quoted saying these words. Is it the sort of thing they would really say or is it brochurespeak? Be brutally honest.

GIVE A LITTLE MORE THAN ASKED. When a journalist asks you for a short comment you should not send a longform essay, but it can be helpful to give a little extra so that they can choose the parts they find most useful. Ideally the comments you send should all be able to work alone, so that the journalist can take one sentence if that is all they need or more if that fits better. In cases where they set a precise upper limit you should respect that. 

Not every inquiry is clearly expressed so it is sometimes a good idea to ask for clarification -- especially about the amount that is required. Journalists receive more email than they would really like so don't be surprised if there isn't a quick response to your request. One simple workaround for this is to provide quotes at two different lengths so that they can choose them. Another technique I often use is to add an additional useful paragraph that adds another point and can be omitted without affecting the rest.

Related posts
Three Ways to Ensure That Journalists Will Contact You Again
How To Make Sure Journalists Quote You Correctly
Three Social Media Hacks To Find Media Opportunities

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching & Writing

For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing on this and other communication topics you can contact me at, through my website or by phone on 0033 6 79 61 42 81 or 0046 730 894 475.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Lessons from Old Media: Making it Easier for Readers to Share Content Through Twitter

Twitter has become an important source for news. Many people like myself find links to interesting articles in their feed and news stories that go Twitter viral soon end up being covered in media and the subject of conversation.

For many years newspapers, magazines, blogs and other media have all had one-click icons to share article links. Some even added a suggested tweet text to make it even easier. But now media are adopting other techniques to encourage readers to tweet, simple ideas that anyone can adopt without any special web development or coding.

Looking at an article published in today's Los Angeles Times Leading scientist warns that Ebola eradication may be elusive, for example, we see the usual Twitter sharing icon both at the top of the article and at the bottom. Clicking on this icon opens a Twitter composition window where we find a suggested tweet with a link to the article. Readers can edit this tweet or add hashtags before sending it. Readers with little time can simply click send, moving from article to tweet in just two clicks.

This much is standard practice, but where the Los Angeles Times takes it one step further is that there are also up to three more different suggested tweets under the title. Readers can thus pick the one they like the most, making it more likely they find something that they want to tweet and also making the tweets more varied.

There are even more prompts to share the content. When there are quotes highlighted beside the copy under each quote is another Twitter icon to share that specific quote.
At the end of the article there is, of course, another icon to tweet the whole article, so that nobody has to scroll back up to the top to use the first one.

These multiple twitter options encourage readers to tweet content from the LA Times more often. They are especially useful for readers using mobile devices who might want to share a story but can't easily type their own tweet. For papers like the LA Times this is now critically important, but website designers and communications managers everywhere can learn from their example, applying these surprisingly simple methods to encourage sharing.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching, Writing

For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing on this and other communication topics you can contact me by email at, by phone on 0033 6 79 61 42 81 or 0046 730 894 475 or through my website

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Three Reasons to Avoid Sending Angry Emails

In an earlier post Three Tips for Responding to Angry Emails I outlined some practical methods for responding to angry emails effectively. This solves part of the problem but it would be far better if angry emails were never sent in the first place.

There are some people who regularly resort to sending angry emails -- every organization seems to have at least one employee who is part troll -- but even otherwise calm and measured people can slip into this mistake occasionally. And this is a mistake. Sending angry emails can have negative effects that go beyond the obvious.

ANGRY EMAILS ARE NOT EFFECTIVE. A polite and respectful email is much more likely to achieve results than one that is angry and perhaps disrespectful, both in the short term and long term. Other people are always more co-operative with someone who treats them well and they will feel a stronger commitment to your goal when you ask nicely. Remember that at the end of the year when your results are being evaluated and rewarded nobody will ask you how many email battles you won. All they care about are the business goals and results you were expected to achieve; winning email battles actually gets in the way of the real objectives.

ANGRY EMAILS INCREASE STRESS. There's an interesting exercise you can try one day when you are very calm: sit down and try to write an example of a hostile email. What you will discover is that even writing just an example email never intended for sending makes you feel uncomfortably stressed, a fact I discovered once just preparing examples for an email workshop. By deciding to send only calm, polite and respectful mails you reduce the stress levels of the people around you and you reduce your own stress. When someone resorts to hostile emails everybody suffers, including the sender. Increased stress is by itself a problem and can lead to a higher staff turnover. It also impacts performance negatively.

ANGRY EMAILS CAN EMBARRASS YOU. If ineffectiveness and stress are not sufficient reason to avoid sending angry emails, consider that they can also come back to embarrass you in a very public way when they are given a circulation broader than you intended. Before you send a mail ask yourself how you would feel if it went viral on social media or if it were published in major newspapers. This is a genuine risk. Ask Neal Patterson, who as CEO of the Cerner Corporation in March 2001 famously sent an angry email to company managers who leaked it to media. The resulting media storm caused the company's stock to fall 22%. This tale is immortalized in the Wikipedia biography of Patterson and lives on in the archives of media in articles like the New York Times' A Stinging Office Memo Boomerangs; Chief Executive Is Criticized After Upbraiding Workers by E-Mail. More recently executives at Sony Pictures were also embarrassed when hackers stole and published internal emails never intended for the public. As Rory Carroll warned in the Guardian article Sony Style Hack Attack Could Happen Anywhere this is a warning to all companies: this could happen to anyone and your snarky, childish mails might end up on Reddit. Facebook and Twitter for everyone to read.

There is a very clear lesson here that you should never be writing or sending angry emails. There are many techniques for avoiding this, some of these are already mentioned in Three Tips for responding to Angry Emails but there are many more and this will be the topic for another post in the not-so-distant future. If you have a management role you should also be watching that none of your subordinates make this mistake. Let it be clear to everyone in your organization that email wars are an unproductive waste of time and should never be started or continued by anyone in your team.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Three Ways to Ensure Journalists Will Contact You Again

Recently I wrote some guidelines about How to Make Sure Journalists Quote You Correctly. Since then several people have asked about a related question: how you make sure that journalists will ask you for comments again in the future.

As a freelance journalist I have asked many other people for comments and in my role as consultant I have also been on the other side, so I have learned why some people get contacted just once while others are asked again and again. There are actually just three simple yet important rules to follow.

RESPOND QUICKLY. When you are asked if you are interested in commenting on some topic you should respond as quickly as possible. The journalist is almost certainly working to deadline and needs to talk to a number of sources. Knowing who is interested and who isn't is very important. If you don't respond they don't know if you plan to respond later and maybe have to choose someone else instead. At this stage it is enough to state that you are interested and intend to respond, asking for clarification if needed. This simple gesture makes you stand out as a useful and dependable source even before you have answered any questions.

RESPECT DEADLINES. Always make sure that you know when the deadline is and respect it. If you promised to send something by Friday make sure that you send it by Friday. Comments that are too late might still be squeezed into the article, but they are likely to be further down or in a less important role. They might also be thrown away if they arrive too late to be used. What is worse is that once you miss one deadline you are likely never going to be asked again. On the other hand if you are scrupulous about respecting deadlines you stand out among all the other sources and you are almost guaranteed to be asked again, unless your inputs are not usable.

PROVIDE USABLE ANSWERS. Confirming availability and meeting deadlines are very important, but even that will not get your name added to the list of trusted sources unless you actually provide usable answers. There are three elements in this. First of all you have to read all the instructions very carefully and make sure that you are addressing the right question. At the same time provide more than is actually needed so that the journalist can choose the best parts but without sending too many words. Finally, make sure that your comments are not over-promotional. Never use the language of brochures or advertising in your responses, avoiding the kinds of phrases like "world's leading X" that do not sound like serious journalism.

Follow these three rules diligently and you are likely to be asked to comment again in future by journalists you have already spoken to. You are also more likely to be contacted by other journalists who have either seen your name mentioned in other articles -- often the sign of a good source -- or you are recommended to them by people you have impressed.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing on this and other communication topics you can contact me at or by phone on +33 6 79 61 42 81 or +46 730 894 475. You can also find more information on my website