English: one size doesn’t fit all

More SMEs are doing business abroad than ever before. But with great power comes great responsibility. Author Fiona Talbot imparts some advice on how to articulate yourself more clearly – no matter where you’re selling your wares

English: one size doesn’t fit all

Currently, English is the most used language in business today. Great, isn’t it, for us as native English speakers? The language ‘belongs to us’, right? Others ‘borrow it’ as the ice-breaker language and wherever we go on holiday abroad or whenever we try to negotiate a deal overseas, English is often the language used.

But wait a minute. Just think about it: if you count up the number of people worldwide who are using English as the language of commerce, what do you find? Most (by far) are non-native speakers.

The upshot is that, in the global context of things, the way we use English has to depend on the cultural, social and professional backgrounds of our readers, customers and target audience. One style of English won’t suit all. The world may seem a smaller place, but that doesn’t mean the way people conduct business doesn’t differ enormously depending upon geographical location.

Thanks to the reach of websites, blogs, Facebook, Twitter and social media generally, even the smallest start-ups now have the potential to go global. Alongside the bigger players, it’s time for everyone to reap the benefits these developments bring.

In the run-up to the new year and new resolutions, in November 2012, the Wall Street Journal ran an article listing clear communication and an ability to create connection through personal branding as the top two must-have business skills for 2013. Unsurprisingly, the advice went viral. That’s the power of digital. We would like to add our two penneth worth here, to help you kick-start your communication success for 2013.

Decide your business-writing objectives in the digital age 

Writing is the key communication medium today (think about emails, websites, social media, as well as more traditional writing, such as reports, manuals, brochures and presentations etc). Every company relies on written correspondence to some extent – yet how many are systematic about writing really well?

Gain the upper hand by:

• Working out in your head what you hope to achieve before you write. If you don’t know where your writing is leading, you can’t expect anyone else to either.

• Understanding you have the power to choose the words you write and choose the right ones to get the results you need.

• Realising that you won’t communicate your your objectives professionally if you don’t send out the right information, which also means mistake-free communication that reflects a quality corporate image. So use spell and grammar check every time and, if in doubt, ask for help. To do so is a strength, not a weakness.

Be clear, use words that people will understand

In a time of information overload, you need your voice to be heard above the noise. You will get your points over clearly by highlighting them concisely to readers. A good structure can help your words stand out. Also, if you write a sentence of more than 40 words, you’ll find a high proportion of even native English readers have to go back and reread it. So, shorter is usually better.

Give yourself the advantage by understanding:

• In today’s world and with the advent of the new social media, eg Twitter, ‘simple is the new smart’.

• You should ditch the waffle.

• If you want to use idiom or slang, think carefully first. What might work for a local market might be misunderstood globally. It might even cause offence.

Make the right impact 

The great news is that every piece of writing you put out has the potential to showcase your talents and brand you (a smart career move), as well as highlight what’s good about your organisation. The bad news? The reverse is also true if you don’t make the right impact. So:

• Use words that your readers like to see (so the words engage them) or need to see (if you are selling solutions, for example). Examples of impact words people might like are: new, advantage, easy, help, cost-effective – basically, these words highlight the benefits. Examples of impact words people might need to see are : ‘can you afford not to’, ‘avoid risk’, ‘minimise your liability’.

• Break down chunks of text into bite-sized portions – with interesting captions. It can make all the difference between boring readers or engaging their interest.

Write with customer focus

Think as if you were in the reader’s shoes and write from their perspective if you can. Also, remember: not all customer complaints about writing are about unprofessionalism and sloppiness. Lots are about abrupt tone or, at the other end of the scale, over-familiarity or lack of respect (often cultural considerations you need to factor in). So:

• Let your communication show that you careabout your readers. Use pleasant words and ‘people’ words such as ‘you’, ‘we’ etc.

• Cut out jargon that they won’t understand – and that can actually create barriers.

• Understand how the personal touch can boost the customer experience.

These are just some tips from the helpful new self-development and office handbook Improve Your Global Business English by Fiona Talbot and Sudakshina Bhattacharjee.

Fiona Talbot
Fiona Talbot

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