Men in the workplace have historically not had many opportunities to show individuality. Take dress, for example. Most professional men, even today, look similar — dark suit, white shirt, black shoes. Rules of the workplace. The only sliver of personality they’re allowed is their tie. A tie can be purple, striped, packed with pictures of snowmen.
In work-related communication, your instant-message chat “status” is comparable to the tie. That’s where you can show your personality, and have some fun, without your colleagues thinking you’ve lost your mind. Your instant-message program will default to displaying an “Available,” “Away,” “Gone to lunch” or “Away for the day.” But using those is such a wasted opportunity, like wearing a gray tie. Or like the failed innovation described by the great standup comedian Steven Wright: pancake-flavored syrup.
Why not write something for your instant-message status that shows some personality — some purple or planets on your tie? Here are a few ideas to get you started…
CUSTOMIZED “AVAILABLE” STATUS IDEAS:
dragging down the curve
shading the truth
copying and pasting
justifying my existence
deciding it’s good enough
discovering new weaknesses
not being an enabler
avoiding eye contact
taking a personal day in my cube
begging for approval
forcing a smile
wishing I were a perfectionist
thinking positive thoughts
demanding a larger cup at Starbucks
trying to ignore the clock
looking up how much coffee is “too much”
looking for a closer Starbucks
elevating stress to an art form
far less busy than I’m pretending to be
ignoring the voices
submitting to authority
planning to stop procrastinating
complicating the simple
shallow in thought
asking Starbucks to super-size me
in need of adult supervision
making the semi-responsible look responsible
writing auto-response emails for folks I’m ducking
blaming it on a “corrupted file”
proving no amount of coffee can kill you
balancing work and sleep
testing the body’s junk-food limits
standing by the printer to look busy
three parts human, one part iced coffee
CUSTOMIZED “AWAY” STATUS IDEAS:
begging for forgiveness
shunning technology (except TV)
seeking happiness in food
eating “family-size” portions
having a meal between snacks
winning an eating contest
repeating the phrase “food is not love”
“You won’t believe our revolutionary abdominal exerciser until you’ve tried it!” “Come see our revolutionary stationery!” “Our revolutionary shower liner….”
Hang on. A revolutionary shower liner? Yep. Those are all real-world examples of marketers using – misusing – the term “revolutionary.” It took me 10 seconds to find those three. Unless they’ve invented a shower liner I can actually wear under my clothes to keep me clean all day, I don’t think they can call it “revolutionary.”
Small businesses and startups use this type of puffed-up, superficial marketing language to give the impression they’re larger or more established than they are.
Problem is, today’s customer is extremely sophisticated and jaded, so this tactic often backfires. Unless you want to signal to prospects that you’re a fledgling company with nothing concrete to say about itself, don’t use these words and phrases in your marketing literature.
“XYZ Company is the leading provider of brass plumbing fixtures for hotels and casinos.”
What does that mean? Is XYZ Company the top seller of brass fixtures for hotels and casinos? Are they saying they’re the most popular with buyers at hotels and casinos? Do they have the highest-rated brass fixtures?
No. When they use “leading,” XYZ Company isn’t actually saying anything. And today’s highly sophisticated customer knows this.
Instead of a vague and meaningless term like “leading,” find a quantifiable phrase that will positively position your company in your prospects’ minds. Some examples:
- “The largest brass fixture manufacturer in the Pacific Northwest.”
- “The most widely used brass fixtures on the Las Vegas strip.”
- “The brass fixtures of choice for five-star hotel chains on both coasts.”
- “The longest-standing makers of brass fixtures in the United States.”
“We’re the premier software training company.”
Like leading, “premier” is a vague term that leaves your heard-it-all, read-it-all prospect wondering if your company actually has any real accomplishments to its credit. And those accomplishments are important, because they make your prospects comfortable spending their money on your products or services.
Your reader will know intuitively your company chose such a squishy term as “premier” because you couldn’t use quantifiable terms like “largest” or “rated number one by….” That means your company’s competitors must be outperforming you – by every metric worth writing about.
Find a claim your company can legitimately make, even if it’s small.
A good rule: If you wouldn’t feel comfortable saying it, don’t write it. Effective marketing copy is conversational. If you met a prospect on a plane, you’d tell her your company is the largest in the Pacific Northwest. That would sound natural in a conversation. But would you tell her yours was “the premier maker of brass fixtures?” “The leading software training company?”
Your prospect knows enough about your industry to want the specifics of why your product is state-of-the-art. So using that term leaves your prospect completely unsatisfied – and suspicious.
Suppose you sell a network device that uses the new 802.11n standard and can handle 8Mbps of data, while your competitors use an older wireless protocol that can transmit only 6Mbps. In this case, your product is state-of-the-art.
But how much more interested will your prospect be to read the specifics – the latest wireless protocol, 33% higher data rate – than merely to be told yours is “state-of-the-art?”
The flipside is also true. Imagine your prospect reads your brochure or press release and finds your company is touting a new, state-of-the-art wireless device. If you don’t clearly state why your product is state-of-the-art, won’t they wonder if it really is?
“We make a revolutionary soap substitute….” (Yep, that’s a real company’s marketing copy.)
With all the supposed “revolutions” marketers want you to believe are happening, shouldn’t everyone be dead already?
I mocked the often-comical overuse of the term “revolutionary” in this article’s opening because 1) it’s usually a meaningless, wasted term, 2) it’s almost always completely untrue, and 3) your prospects will know it’s untrue.
I can think of very few products and services are that truly revolutionary: for example, the Internet (which has changed the way billions of people live) and the cell phone (ditto).
If your solution is even a slight improvement over the existing offerings on the market… or even slightly less expensive… or offers even a small service customers can’t get elsewhere… those can be tremendous benefits to your prospects. So state those benefits in your literature – clearly and honestly.
Your prospects might even find your marketing materials revolutionary! Just kidding.
A colleague sends you a request to review a 100-page response he’s written to a Request for Proposal from a major prospect. You’re busy and don’t have time. In fact, you and this colleague discussed just the other day how much your workload has increased. So you write a cute response like, “Sure thing! I’ve got nothing but time today. Ha ha.” You go back to work.
Five minutes later, your email inbox dings again – this time with another message from your colleague. “Thanks,” it reads. “I’ve attached the doc and hope to get your input by the end of the day. Come and find me when you’ve reviewed it and you’re ready to discuss.”
Sarcasm doesn’t work in email.
Sarcasm requires gestures, facial expressions and word inflections. Your recipient can’t see or hear any of these things in your email.
A good rule: Don’t use sarcasm in your work-related emails. Ever.
Another good rule: If you write an email that includes any humor, show it to a colleague before sending. As the email’s author, you can’t fully detach from the content and read it entirely from your recipient’s point of view. So give it to a smart, trusted coworker and ask her to answer three questions:
- Is the humor in the message actually funny?
- Does the message come across in any way as hostile, angry or otherwise unpleasant? (Jokes can often be misconstrued this way.)
- Do you find the points (and jokes) I’m making absolutely clear?
If your message fails any of these three tests, rewrite it.
The worst thing you can do to start your presentation is thank people. The meeting organizer. The exec who allowed your audience to attend. Jay, the audio-visual wiz, who set up the equipment…. Blah. Yawn. Game over. You’ve already lost your audience.
Your talk gets off to a terrible start and you lose precious credibility with your listeners, who desperately want you to be interesting and engaging.
Instead, start with a story. If the first words out of your mouth are, “So I’m standing in line the other day…” you’ll have everyone’s full attention.
You know, when you talk, sometimes the next point you want to, um, make, you know, doesn’t like come to you, uh, right away. So, um, I mean, you know, well, you’ve got to use some filler words.
Ready to strangle me?
In conversation, silence is a valuable tool. A speaker can use a well-placed second of silence to make his points more powerfully. It can give the listener a chance to digest the last point and ready herself to fully focus on the next one.
But even in cases where you’re not trying to underscore a point or add dramatic flair, silence is better than all those filler words I used in that first paragraph above.
If you need a fraction of a second to come up with your next word, take it, quietly. Don’t add a series of ums and uhs and likes and you knows to fill the air.
Now, chances are you don’t even know you’re doing this. So find out. Ask a trusted friend or colleague. Make a tape of yourself speaking. When you’re in conversations, pay attention to whether you use filler words like this—and, if you do, make a conscious effort to stop.
Your listener will thank you.