Thursday, February 4, 2010

Communications Tip: E-mail Etiquette

Since e-mail is likely the most common means of communication with your professors, prospective employers, and other colleagues, knowing how to effectively use the medium will increase your chances of successful communication.

Basic rules of e-mail:
1. Be professional: Include a salutation and closing signature.

2. Keep it simple: We’re all busy and don’t have time to read your 3 paragraph request for a meeting. Make it easy for your reader to answer your questions or address your concerns by keeping e-mails brief and you purpose for writing clear.

3. Respond in a timely manner: Especially when working under deadline and in groups, it’s important to provide information/respond to team member’s questions as promptly as possible.

4. Be polite: If you’ve sent a question or concern to someone, do send acknowledgment of their e-mail.

5. Feel free to use bullet points or bold (for deadlines or meeting times) to make finding the important bits easy for your reader.

6. Consider timing: True, e-mail is asynchronous, but unless your professor has told you in advance that weekend e-mailing is acceptable, expect a response during work hours, Monday – Friday.

7. A follow-up to point #6: Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on others' parts. Do _not_ expect an immediate response to your e-mails; in fact, give respondents at least a 24 hour window.

8. Follow-up: People are busy. If you’ve sent an e-mail to a prospective employer or team member and have not received a response, it is perfectly acceptable to send a follow-up message. [Use discretion: if you sent an e-mail at midnight and it is now 8a.m., refer to point #7.]

9. Guidelines for bad news e-mails:
-- ALWAYS REMAIN PROFESSIONAL (Incidentally, avoid using all caps in e-mail. It looks like you're yelling.)
-- Stick to the issues, avoid emotional phrasing/claims
-- Resist personal attacks
-- WAIT: Always write calm. It’s better to take longer to respond than to send something immediately that could potentially burn bridges.

10. Generating positive outcomes from bad news e-mails:
-- Consider the human element: Know your audience and consider their
needs/motivations when crafting your response.
-- Where appropriate and when it can be accomplished tastefully, use humor to lighten the situation.
-- Always try to end on a positive note.

--Monica Bulger

Monday, February 1, 2010

Mindful Presenting, Part VI: Defense Q&A

On January 8th, the Bren Communications Center hosted a 4 hour workshop on developing and delivering compelling presentations. We used Nancy Duarte's slide:ology as our text. This post is focused on part VI of the workshop: Defense Q&A.
Presenter: Dr. Monica Bulger
In preparation for your defense and public presentations, we asked MESM alumni to share their thoughts. Click here to download a handout from the workshop. Here are some additional tips for managing the Q&A portion:
  • Try to anticipate questions and figure out answers in advance.
  • Prepare a response for if you don't know the answer.
  • Always thank or acknowledge the person who asked the question. You don't have to use the words "thank you" every time. You could say something like "oh, interesting question" or "good point."
  • It's OK to think for a moment before you respond.
  • If it's a multi-part question, write down the question as the audience member is asking it and make sure you cover all parts. (That also means you should bring a pen and paper!)
  • If an audience member makes a suggestion, note it. Take it constructively (at least in the room) and/or write it down. Don't write it off!
  • If a second group member wants to add a follow up to an answer, that's fine, but keep it brief. You do not need to give two full answers, and definitely try to limit it to no more than two "answerers" per question.

Some groups in the past have had one group member act as moderator for the Q&A. This idea may or may not work for your group; you need to consider your own group dynamics. If you do use a moderator, there's a couple ways you can handle it. You can decide ahead of time who's going to field which type of questions, that way the moderator knows who to direct each question to.

Alternatively, you could use some sort of signal. One group last year had red and green cards to signal the moderator whether they felt the could answer the question or not. In addition, as one person was answering, the other group members could also use the green card to indicate that they wanted to add a follow-up point. That way, the person answering could do a "warm hand-off" to the other group member.

--Audrey Tresham

Mindful Presenting, Part V: Logistics

On January 8th, the Bren Communications Center hosted a 4 hour workshop on developing and delivering compelling presentations. This post is focused on part V of the workshop: Logistics.
Presenters: BJ Danetra and Monica Bulger

When planning your presentation, here are some "logistical" aspects of delivery that you should consider.

Always test out the space prior to presenting. Make sure that any technologies you use will function as planned. Test out the lighting so that you know if you'll be able to see the audience. Determine whether you'll be standing on a raised platform, or level with the audience. Knowing these small details will reduce your anxiety when you present.

Microphones. If there's a podium mic, get used to staying at the podium. Otherwise, you will not be heard! If you have a lapel mic, be aware of where the screen is--you want the lapel mic to be on the same side as the screen, so that if you turn your head to look at the screen, people can still hear you.

Podiums. Don't clutch the podium! Practice with a podium and get used to it. Act normal. If your mic prevents you from strutting across the stage, you can move a little bit around the podium, as long as you're still picked up by the mic. Practice speaking with out the podium and then practice standing behind it. Review TED talks for examples of people using the podium to their advantage.

Panels/tables. If you're sitting onstage at a table while someone else is presenting, don't look like a deer caught in headlights. You don't want to distract from the presenter. Look completely engrossed in whoever's presenting, laugh at the jakes (in a natural way), act like you've never heard the presentation before. When you're at the the table there should be NO audience eye contact--look at the presenter.

Lighting. If you have a spotlight on you, make sure you stay in the light. Believe it or not, sometimes moving out of the light confuses the audience and something in their brain can make them think they can't hear you (even if you're mic'd)!

--Audrey Tresham

Mindful Presenting, Part IV: Lessons from Bridget Dobrowski

On January 8th, the Bren Communications Center hosted a 4 hour workshop on developing and delivering compelling presentations. This post is focused on part IV of the workshop.
Presenter: Bridget Dobrowski

Bridget Dobrowski (MESM '09) contributed to our Bren blog last year (see "Suggestions for Developing a Memorable Presentation") and emphasized the following points related to delivery during our workshop.

Bring water. You'll want it, plus sipping it is a good way to slow down or take a moment to relax.

Decide WHAT you want to say but not HOW you want to say it. Don't say the same words every time you rehearse. It's very hard to have something 100% memorized and have it not sound rehearsed. Your audience is also going to take the gist of what you say and translate it into their own words/understanding anyways. So don't worry about exact wording.

Stick with simple language. You want everyone in the room to be able to understand you. For example, think of the word "biodiveristy." If you instead say something like "lots of plants and animals," the ecologists in the room will still translate that into 'biodiversity' and everyone else will still know what you mean (which they might not if you say biodiversity.)

Own your own presentation. Work with your group, but your group should not write YOUR script. Don't let them direct you over word use. If you don't plan to speak like you normally speak, in a way that's "you," then you'll sound like a robot.

You can write a script, but then forget the script! If it makes you more comfortable, write a script to make sure that you're including all the important information. But try different ways of "writing" the script: tape record yourself talking, speak out loud while you type. You want to make sure you're speaking a script that you're then writing down, and not writing out an essay that becomes a script. Memorize your script in terms of main points and the order (not specific wording). You want to be so familiar with the material that it's easy to deal with distractions that might come up.

After you know the material really well, start intentionally practicing in different ways or by not focusing on the "script." Try drawing out the slides from memory or bulleting your main points (again, in ideas, not in exact words). The point is to know your facts and the order you have to work through, but don't worry about memorizing specific wording. (You may get push back from your group on this, but resist it!)

Try to feel comfortable with your content and presentation plan at least a week before your presentation. That way, you have some time to relax and live with it, and pressure isn't building right up until the moment of the presentation.

Most importantly: don't act, just be you.

--Audrey Tresham