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Basic business communications principles deliver results

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by Peter Caulfield

By the time we are in our 20s, most of us have learned how to converse with other people and to do it in a way that gets an answer and doesn't raise eyebrows.
Basic business communications principles deliver results

So if we already know to talk to other people, what else is there to know about communication at work, or business communications, as it is often called?

Plenty, says Robyn Braley, president of UniMark Creative Inc.

"There are some basic principles of speaking that need to be followed to communicate effectively," said Braley, a writer and speaker in Calgary.

First of all, decide exactly what you want to say.

Once you've started speaking, talk slowly and raise your speaking volume slightly.

"That gives you more authority and confidence," Braley said. "It also ensures you're heard clearly."

Other speaking tips: Don't prattle on; pause occasionally for emphasis; make eye contact with your listeners; smile when you speak and mean it.

Written business communication also has its do's and don'ts.

"On the subject line of an email, use more than one word," Braley said. "Use enough words to make yourself clear. That will make it easier for the recipient to understand it and act on it, and easier for you to file away for future reference."

Other writing tips:

Break up sentences so that they're no longer than 15 to 20 words; keep your paragraphs to no more than two or three sentences and;

Use bullet points and numbers wherever and whenever possible, because they attract and hold the reader's eye.

Braley says another form of business communication — coverage in the industry media — can also reap big rewards.

"Editorial profile is valuable, because it can shape opinions and promote ideas and opportunities," he said.

That's good advice, but many companies are unsure of what the media is looking for.

"We want stories on such topics as trends and innovations, that impact the industry and industry practitioners," said Vince Versace, national managing editor of the Daily Commercial News and Journal of Commerce.

"Most of our stories fall into one of two categories: News stories that cover a single subject in 400-500 words, or features, which are longer pieces with more than one source and that dig deeper into a subject."

Many businesses don't know how to contact the media.

"Either phone first and tell us you'll be sending an email, or send us an email and then call to make sure we received it and to answer any questions," said Versace.

The media is also always looking for good photos.

"For example, a project photo with a couple of lines of description is good," Versace said.

Versace says "the key thing" is for readers to reach out and connect with the media.

"Let us know what's going on in your part of the industry," he said. "We have a good network, but we can't know everything. You can help us cover the industry."

The future of business communication lies in social media, says Jordan Bateman, director of communications of the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of BC (ICBA).

"There are a number of social media platforms the construction industry needs to be aware of and use," said Bateman.

Examples include Facebook, the number one publisher in the world; Twitter, for interacting with the media; LinkedIn, for staff recruitment; Instagram and Pinterest, for posting photos; and Podcasts, if you're an expert on some subject.

Bateman says small- and medium-sized companies should be realistic about the ability of social media to raise their profile in the marketplace.

"They need to carefully measure the expected payoff against the time and effort that goes into it," he said.

There are innovative new communication technologies that are being used not to raise a company's profile, but to enhance its productivity.

"Many construction companies are putting cameras on-site so they and their clients can watch the progress of construction," said Philip Hochstein. "It enables improved daily reporting from the work site to head office."

Because of its specialized line of work, Grant Metal Products Ltd., a custom manufacturer of sheet metal products in Rocky View, AB, takes communications with its customers and within the company seriously.

"Missing a small detail can lead to big headaches for everyone," said general manager John Reitmeier.

"We ask our customers to submit written descriptions of what they want, plus drawings or photos."

On the shop floor, Reitmeier says, the company's ERP (enterprise resource planning) system forces it to "fill in all the blanks," so it can track the progress of a project.

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