Finding Your Voice

Asserting your opinion in the age of “fake news”

By Tricia Goodwin
Senior Editor, MindEdge Learning
In this deeply divided political moment in the U.S., expressing your opinion publicly—even if it is well-formed, supported, and thoughtful—can be quickly dismissed as “fake news.” This conflation has, unfortunately, taken its toll on those who still want to express their voices as a part of thoughtful discourse. Reflexively labeling any opinion—for the simple fact that it is an opinion—as “fake news” can shut down effective communication. And effective communication is precisely what we need in a time of such divisiveness. Rather than move us forward, shutting down communication stifles debate and stagnates our society.

So what is the best way for you, as a writer, to assert your voice without having it dismissed as fake news? Carefully craft your voice and support it with reasoned, logical evidence before you present it publicly. Doing so will not only allow you to voice your opinion effectively in public arenas, but also help you carefully consider the voices that oppose yours. Through this process you will not only become a more seasoned writer, but you will also grow as a critical thinker and member of society.
Find your voice
What does it mean to “find your voice?”

  • First, consider your stance on a given topic.
  • Second, take stock: what do you know about the topic?
  • Finally, consider why your stance is what it is. Why do you have this opinion?

As you begin to write down your thoughts, be aware of the following:

  • Consider your audience.If you write for a large public audience, keep in mind that the audience is made up of three groups of people: those who agree with you; those who disagree with you; and those who are still unsure of their own stance on the topic. Always remember that you are attempting to build discourse—to build a communication bridge that moves the conversation on the topic forward.
  • Avoid language that alienates your audience.Remember: Your audience is a group of people who both agree and disagree with you. Alienating those who disagree with your shuts down communication.Some phrases to avoid: “Everyone knows” (Do they?) “You should believe” (Why shouldn’t I?) “If you believe X you are…” (“Well, then I’m not going to continue reading”) “The only logical answer is…” (Is it? Really?).

Support your voice
Once you have established your voice, be clear about WHY you believe what you do:

  • Where is your stance rooted? In your profession? In your personal experience? In what you’ve learned by reading or in school? Decide where your opinion comes from.
  • Consider where else you need to look for help in substantiating your opinion. Do you need to read articles that present different ideas about the topic? Do you need to review a textbook or other learning material? Can you effectively draw on personal experience in a relevant and thoughtful way?

The root of expressing an opinion in an effective way-—so that you will be heard—is to ground that opinion in sound reasoning and clear, thoughtful detail.
Consider the opposition
Your opinion and the way you support it do not exist in a vacuum. When forming your opinion about a topic, it is crucial to consider the voices that stand in opposition to your own.
Carefully consider at least one opposing viewpoint as you craft your own opinion. Decide how, and with what resources, you will support your opinion against this opposing viewpoint.
When you take the time to think about opposing voices, you realize three key benefits:

  • You reaffirm your opinion in your own mind.
  • You strengthen the support for your own voice by thinking ahead to what dissenting voices may say against your opinion.
  • You can more effectively refute an opposing viewpoint when it comes your way because you’ve thought through your opinion critically and thoroughly.

By working through this process, you grow as a writer and as a critical thinker.
Although the prospect of presenting your voice publicly can feel daunting, remember that our society moves forward through constructive, sometimes difficult, discourse. Your thoughtful and reasoned participation in this discourse is, ultimately, a win-win situation because it moves the public discourse forward. This process not only benefits you personally—your voice is valuable!—but also those who read, comment on, accept, and even refute your opinion.
For a complete listing of MindEdge’s course offerings on business communications skills, click here.

Copyright © 2018 MindEdge, Inc.

Why Do Commas Matter?

They’re little things that mean a lot

By Tricia Goodwin
Senior Editor, MindEdge Learning
it's time to eat grandma vs. it's time to eat, grandma

Have you seen the hilarious comma-error memes floating around social media? The ones where you forget to include a comma in a sentence—so instead of “it’s time to eat, grandma,” you get “it’s time to eat grandma”? In another, forgetting commas turns the list “Jane enjoys cooking, her family, and her dog,” into “Jane enjoys cooking her family and her dog.” Cannibalism humor aside, memes like this get to the heart of an important point: Commas DO matter.

What is a comma? What is it not?

Simply put, a comma is a type of punctuation that shows a separation or relationship between words in a sentence.

It is a common misconception that a comma occurs where one would naturally “take a breath” while speaking the phrases in the sentences. A comma’s job is more formal than that; because it is their job to show relationships between the ideas in a sentence, commas need to be used properly in order to communicate ideas clearly (remember: you don’t want to eat grandma for dinner!).

How do you use it?

So how and why do you use a comma? Below, you’ll see a few different real-world scenarios where using a comma improves the clarity of the sentence:

  • Use a comma in a direct address.

    In a work email, you want to call out one person among several who are included on a message or post. Doing so is called a direct address. With a direct address, you can either include a comma after the person’s name or include a comma before the person’s name. “Thank you all so much for your hard work on this project. Dreena, can you come by my office and drop off the report?” OR “Thank you all so much for your hard work on this project. Can you come by my office and drop off the report, Dreena?” Using a comma with Dreena’s name shows the readers that you are addressing the second sentence directly to her.

  • Use a comma after each item on a list.

    Commas are used to separate three or more items listed in a sentence and should be placed after each list item. Including a comma after each item on a list helps clarify the sentence. For example: “the meeting was attended by the two vice presidents, Henrietta and Geno.” Does this mean that two or four people attended the meeting? Clarifying the list with commas helps answer this question: “The meeting was attended by the two vice presidents, Henrietta, and Geno.” Now we know that four people attended the meeting.

  • Use a comma when you want to improve your sentence clarity.

    Marco is writing an email to his boss, and he wants to discuss his goals for that week. He writes,

    “Once I get the LOA out I want to find five new leads and I plan to draft an email template for prospective clients. After that my goal is to follow up on my leads from last week but not before I place two phone calls with clients who need some additional assistance.”

    As you can see, these two sentences are a mouthful! Let’s break them down into related ideas or chunks:

    1. Once I get the LOA out
    2. I want to find five new leads
    3. I plan to draft an email template for prospective client
    4. After that
    5. my goal is to follow up on my leads from last week
    6. but not before I place two phone calls with clients who need some additional assistance

    Which of these ideas stand on their own as a complete sentence? If you said 2, 3, and 5, you are correct! These three phrases include a subject (who’s doing something) and a verb (the something they are doing), the basic requirements for a complete sentence. The remaining phrases—1, 4, and 6—cannot stand on their own as complete sentences.

    What does this tell us? It tells us that we need to clearly connect 1, 4, and 6 to phrases that DO create a complete sentence (2, 3, and 5). How? With commas!

    “Once I get the LOA out” is connected to “I want to find five new leads.” We connect them by placing a comma AFTER the dependent part (1) and before the complete sentence part (2). “Once I get the LOA out, I want to find five new leads.” Now we know the relationship between these two parts: The first part will be done first, and the second part will be done second but ONLY after the first part is done.

    “After that” is connected to “my goal is to follow up on my leads from last week.” We connect them by placing a comma AFTER the dependent part (3) and before the complete sentence part (4). “After that, my goal is to follow up on my leads from last week.” Now we know the relationship between these two parts: After he completes the previous parts, he will tackle this next part.

    “My goal is to follow up on my leads from last week” is connected to “but not before I place two phone calls with clients who need some additional assistance.” In this example, the first part (5) is a complete sentence while the second part (6) is not. To join these two parts, add a comma before the “but,” the part that shows us the relationship between the two parts. “My goal is to follow up on my leads from last week, but not before I place two phone calls with clients who need some additional assistance.” “But not” and its comma tell us something; now we know that he plans on doing the second part first and the first part second. Thanks, comma, for clarifying!

As you can see, correct comma use is not random, nor is it designed to torture us unnecessarily. There are real, practical reasons for clarifying a sentence through comma use.

For a complete listing of MindEdge’s course offerings on business communications skills, click here.

Copyright © 2018 MindEdge, Inc.

Advice to Nonprofit Marketers: Don’t Forget the Human Touch

In the nonprofit universe, there’s two kinds of marketing: reaching out to potential clients, and establishing relationships with potential donors. Julia Campbell, founder and principal of J Campbell Social Marketing, reminds us that in either case, there’s no substitute for the human touch. Most important of all: Don’t ever forget to say, "Thank you!"
For a complete listing of MindEdge’s nonprofit management courses, click here.

Copyright © 2018 MindEdge, Inc.

Tips for Writing Smart, Professional Emails

Be courteous, be careful, and think about what you’re trying to say

By Jennifer Conroy
Senior Editor, MindEdge Learning
Since it first became the preferred method of business communication, email has stood the test of time: it remains a convenient, efficient, inexpensive, and effective way to relay information to your professional contacts. But the many benefits of email go hand-in-hand with some real disadvantages.
Because emails are sent and received instantly, there is no turning back once you push the “Send” button. Misinformation, typos, and carelessly composed statements cannot be retracted. Urgent messages can get lost in an overly cluttered inbox. And even the most skilled writers’ messages are open to misinterpretation.
Here are seven simple tips for writing smart, professional emails that deliver the right message to the right audience.
seven tips for writing smart, professional emails
Tip #1: Think before you write
Before composing an email or responding to a message, think carefully about the importance and urgency of your message, as well as your emotional state. Do you have all the necessary facts and details that you need to make your point(s)? If not, gather all the information you need first. Does your message contain urgent or sensitive information? If so, consider whether a phone call or in-person meeting would be more appropriate. Are you feeling unsettled or overly emotional? If so, perhaps you should wait until you are ready and able to respond dispassionately.
Tip #2: Remember the human factor
In many cases, in-person communication (or a phone call, if you are dealing with a remote contact) is more appropriate than an electronic message. If the subject you hope to discuss might elicit an emotional response, remember that you cannot soften an email message with body language. In general, emails are viewed as impersonal, soyou should only use them for formal and neutral situations.
Tip #3: Be mindful of tone
Because workplace emails are typically brief, they leave a lot of room for misinterpretation. For instance, an email that only contains the question “When will you be finished with your report?” could be interpreted as both a casual inquiry as well as an angry demand. Consider adding some surrounding language that can help the recipient better understand the context of your message. Avoid making jokes or using slang that could easily be misconstrued as offensive or unsavory.
Tip #4: Choose your recipients wisely
When composing an original email, use discretion when using the “CC” (or “carbon copy”) and “BCC” (blind carbon copy) fields. Remember that only the addresses listed in the “BCC” field will be invisible to the whole recipient list. And when replying to an email, consider carefully whether you should reply to the sender only or “reply all.” You can also create a new email chain if you are worried about information landing in the wrong hands.
Tip #5: Write the body of the message first
We have all experienced the anxiety that arises when you accidentally send an email before it was ready to be sent. One simple way to avoid this mistake is by filling in the “To” line last, after the email has been fully composed. This gives you a chance to proofread your message and avoid sending it out prematurely.
Tip #6: Be courteous
Good manners never go out of style, and your business emails should be polite and strike the right balance between formality and friendliness. Emails addressed to your superiors or formal business contacts should begin with a proper salutation (e.g. “Dear Mr. Jones” or “Good Morning!”) and conclude with a simple “thank you” and a request for any follow-up communication.
Tip #7: Proofread your message
While “textspeak” has taken over the instant messaging realm, it is still considered unprofessional and inappropriate for use in business emails. Write in complete sentences, keep formatting simple, use a spelling and grammar check tool, and reread your message before clicking the “Send” button. Remember that you are a representative of your company when using your business email account, and the quality of your language use is a reflection of your professionalism.
For a complete listing of MindEdge’s course offerings on writing effective emails and other business communications skills, click here.

Copyright © 2018 MindEdge, Inc.

PowerPoint Rules of Thumb

Tips for a Successful Slideshow

By Jennifer Conroy
Senior Editor, MindEdge Learning
Is there anything worse than sitting in the audience during a presentation, as the speaker reads word-for-word from a series of PowerPoint slides? Does he really not understand that you can read the slides for yourself? Why not just print out a set of slides for everyone in the audience and let you all continue on with your day?
Using PowerPoint slides can actually be a wonderful enhancement to your presentation, but only if you know how to use them properly. Here are some basic rules to consider in order to keep your audience engaged.
five powerpoint rules of thumb
Rule #1: Think before you act
Before deciding to use PowerPoint slides as a visual aid, ask yourself a few basic questions: Will these slides be a helpful tool in organizing my ideas? Are there visual images and graphics that would help me communicate my key points? Would this specific audience be receptive to a visual presentation? If you cannot answer “yes” to all of these questions, then you should consider alternate ways to present your information.
Rule #2: Avoid text-heavy slides
Keep the content of each slide short and sweet. Use bullet points rather than paragraphs. Highlight only the key concepts; you can (and should) elaborate on the fine points during your talk.
Rule #3: Use simple colors and fonts
Extreme color choices and fancy fonts can be distracting and make it difficult for the audience to focus on your key points. Choose a simple background color and make sure that any text and graphics show up clearly against that background. And think twice before using a red font or ALL CAPS, which can often signal warning or danger in a reader’s mind.
Rule #4: Be consistent
Keep the design of each slide consistent throughout the presentation. Background colors, fonts, and the number and size of images should not vary wildly from one slide to the next. The slides as a whole—particularly if you are printing them out and distributing them—should feel like one cohesive unit.
Rule #5: Don’t rely on the slides
Like death and taxes, technological difficulties are a certainty of modern life. You need to know your material cold, so you’ll be prepared in the event that you cannot show your slides during the presentation due to power failures, faulty computer programs, or other technological gremlins. Remember that your spoken words should be the “meat” of the presentation; the slides are just optional enhancements, and you should be able to carry on without them.
By keeping these rules in mind, you can create and deliver PowerPoint presentations that are memorable…in a good way.
For a complete listing of MindEdge’s course offerings on business presentations and other communications skills, click here.

Copyright © 2018 MindEdge, Inc.

Gone Phishing? Don’t Take the Bait

As phishing and other cyber-attacks grow increasingly more sophisticated, it’s important to know how to guard against online scam artists. MindEdge’s cybersecurity team has put together a video to help you identify phishing emails and avoid getting taken to the cyber-cleaners. Rule number one: "Always initiate the transaction—never respond!"
For a complete listing of MindEdge’s cybersecurity course offerings, click here.

Copyright © 2018 MindEdge, Inc.

Chill Out: Tips for Overcoming Speech Anxiety

Do you have glossophobia? If you’re like most Americans, you certainly do.
Glossophobia, a/k/a the fear of public speaking, is one of the most common fears affecting Americans in the workplace. To combat it, you need to calm both your mind and body—which is often easier said than done. This video has some tips that may help.
For a complete listing of MindEdge’s course offerings on public speaking and other communications skills, click here.

Copyright © 2018 MindEdge, Inc.

Ethical Communication in the Workplace

Honesty, Transparency, and Respect Are Key

By Tricia Goodwin
Senior Editor, MindEdge Learning
Most of us spend half (or more than half) of our waking hours in the workplace. At work, we communicate with a range of people with different roles, experiences, cultures, perspectives, and power levels. Knowing how to communicate skillfully across such a wide spectrum of colleagues is an essential skill set in the modern workplace.
Workplace communication often involves the delicate intersection of authority, power dynamics, and collaborative teamwork. We often refer to this intersection as “workplace politics,” though these politics have less to do with the White House and more to do with the underlying attitudes that influence how ideas are received and adopted within a workplace.
But what do we mean by authority and power, and how do these relate to collaborative teamwork? While “authority” is the power that comes with a specific role or title, “power dynamics” refers to the ability of one person to influence the behavior and attitudes of others— and how those others respond to the person with influence. The “power” of one individual or team over others sometimes sets up an unhealthy dynamic that can be reinforced through communication styles. Indeed, the quality and tenor of communication may have a negative impact on different individuals and teams— and that, in turn, can affect the entire company’s well-being.
Current news outlets are full of stories detailing how communications between authority figures and workplace subordinates have led to deeply troubling power dynamics. Companies, therefore, need to model and practice ethical communication at both the policy and every-day levels, to maintain healthy workplace politics.
“Ethics” refers to the behavior of people to choose the right or best path, and to make the most correct choice from a variety of choices; this includes how and why they communicate with their colleagues and clients. In the workplace, you will face a variety of ethical choices that can influence how others relate to you and how deeply they value you as a coworker. Your communication, therefore, needs to reflect your ethics.
What does it mean, then, to communicate ethically in the workplace?
A graphic showing three icons with the words honesty, transparency and respect.
Honesty should be the cornerstone of all your workplace communications. Honesty builds trust between you and authority figures, as well as between you and your colleagues and clients. Communication can be both verbal and non-verbal. Your actions are just as important as what you say or write. Honest communication not only builds trust, it also helps you and others identify and work on any fissures that may arise in the intersection between authority, power, and teamwork. Without honesty, communication fails at its core purpose.
When communicating in your workplace, transparency is key. First, you need to be clear in your purpose and message. You also need to be lawful (i.e., you must know the laws and regulations that govern communication in your industry); reveal any research that contributed to the content of your communication; and identify any errors you’ve made. Your willingness to admit when you are wrong not only shows your degree of honesty, it also shows how you and your colleagues can learn from your mistakes.
Respect is essential to ethical workplace communication. This concept should seem self-evident, yet there are many ways in which a lack of understanding can result in workplace communications that lack proper respect. Consider, for instance, whether there are cultural or gender differences and dynamics in your workplace; if there are, you should fashion a communication plan that builds equitable bridges between these differences, rather than relying on outdated hierarchies that stymie communication.
How can you do this? Be a careful listener, especially to those whose backgrounds and perspectives differ from your own. Use affirmation and encouragement to build bridges between communication gaps. Ask polite questions to help Improve your cross-cultural competency, both within your company and outside it. Clue in to personal space, as different cultures have different social norms around personal space. Again, what you do often communicates as much as what you say and write.
Remember that effective, ethical communication is foundational to a healthy work environment, because it is how you represent yourself and your company as a whole. Ethical communication is, therefore, essential to fostering positive, respectful working relationships— both within your workplace, and between your workplace and others.
For a complete listing of MindEdge’s course offerings on business communications skills, click here.

Copyright © 2018 MindEdge, Inc.

How to Quell Those Public-Speaking Jitters

Seven Tips for Delivering a Successful Speech

By Jennifer Conroy
Senior Editor, MindEdge Learning
Do the words “public speaking” make you feel excited—or do they make you want to hide in a corner? For a select few, speaking in front of an audience can be a comfortable, even enjoyable, experience. But if delivering a speech or a presentation stirs up feelings of anxiety and doubt, just know that you are not alone. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld captured the prevalence of public-speaking anxiety in this famous quote:
“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
As with most anxiety-inducing tasks, when it comes to public speaking preparation and practice are the keys to managing your nerves and performing with confidence. The following tips can help you focus your preparation so that you can deliver a successful speech or presentation:
7 tips for delivering a successful speech
Tip #1: Establish a clear purpose for speaking
In the first few sentences of your speech, you should clearly establish your purpose or goal. Are you introducing yourself or another person? Are you trying to persuade the audience to adopt a certain point of a view on a topic? If the audience is busy trying to decipher the main idea of the speech, they will likely miss other key points that you are making.
Tip #2: Understand your audience
A speech that you deliver to a group of friends and personal contacts would obviously be different in tone and style from a speech that you deliver to a professional audience. It is vital that you know the makeup of your audience before you plan out your speech, so you can tailor your language and delivery to meet the preferences and expectations of that specific group.
Tip #3: Create an outline for your speech
No matter how much you rehearse your speech ahead of time, it is likely that you will forget certain items as you are presenting. Having a printed outline in front of you will help you stay on track. You may also consider providing a basic outline of the presentation to the audience, so they can aware of the topics you will be covering.
Tip #4: Back up your claims with research and evidence
If you are trying to convince your audience that your point of view is valid, you need research and evidence to back it up. This is particularly important when speaking about a hot-button issue that typically leads to debate. By having clear examples and solid research to back up your claims, you can effectively and confidently defend your statements.
Tip #5: Keep the audience engaged
There is nothing worse than watching your audience doze off during your presentation. Try to make eye contact with multiple audience members and smile occasionally. Infuse some humor into your speech, if appropriate. The audience will feed off of your mood; if you are lively and excited about your topic, then your audience will respond with more excitement.
Tip #6: Anticipate rebuttals and questions
Following your speech, be prepared to answer any and all questions that challenge the points that you have just made. Have the latest research handy so that you can easily defend your ideas. But be grateful for any questions and feedback—it shows that your audience was actually listening to what you had to say!
Tip #7: Rehearse your speech
Perhaps the most important tip is to be prepared. It is painfully obvious when a speaker is presenting information without having practiced beforehand. By reading over your notes multiple times, rehearsing in front of a couple of friends, and using strategies to stay calm before delivering a speech, you will feel prepared for success.
For a complete listing of MindEdge’s course offerings on public speaking and other communications skills, click here.

Copyright © 2018 MindEdge, Inc.