Natalie Canavor

Business communication: author, writer, teacher, presenter


10 steps to great interviewing

September 19, 2018

Tags: How to interview, interviewing skills, talking to experts, asking questions

Every journalist develops good interviewing skills--or goes out of business. But most work on a trial and error basis and build an individual M.O. over time. I’ve rarely met a public relations professional who consciously built the skill, even though they are essential to generating good press releases, product information, articles and presentations.

If you’re in business and act as your own PR rep, smart interviewing helps you carry out all these functions and more. The techniques enable you to better interface with technology suppliers, collaborate with or hire specialists in diverse fields, and explain why a complex product is of value, for example. A systematic approach helps you gain useful information from experts ranging from management consultants to insurance providers, architects and microbiologists.

You are also equipped to handle personal situations more effectively. When you deal with medical personnel, for example, if you know what questions to ask and are ready to understand the answers, you’ll get much better information and can make better decisions. Focusing on strategy has a side-benefit--it enables you to bypass any emotional aspects.

For years a major part of my work as both a journalist and PR professional has involved interviewing highly technical people and translating that information into copy that engages non-technical readers. It isn’t easy to draw good ideas and information from a thermonuclear scientist, electrochemical engineer, or computational motor control researcher--even the job titles are hard to understand!

Over time I evolved a system that works well and applies to many situations that might otherwise create an “in over my head” feeling. Here is that system in 10 steps.

Before the interview or conversation:

1. Do some homework: Ask your subject for materials to read, no matter how academic or complex, and scan them. Or find material on the Internet. Look for the (more…)

WHY: The silver bullet of business writing

May 12, 2018

Tags: How to write, business writing, business messages, learning to write, writing emails, persuasive writing

Recently I led a business writing workshop for young mid-level accountants. One of my scenarios called for a memo asking a subordinate to perform an unattractive task: spend part of the weekend reading material about a client prospect that the writer would pitch in person on Monday.

"Just say, 'Jerry read the attached file and report to me Monday at 9 a.m. sharp,'" one person suggested. But consider the result, I pointed out: a resentful employee who'll do a halfway job.

Much better to write a memo that would generate support and enthusiasm, I began. A (more…)

Writing email subject lines: How to say "open sesame!"

March 10, 2018

Tags: email subject lines, subject lines, writing emails, business writing, better emails

These days, just getting people to just open an email is a challenge. I probably open less than 5% of my in-box messages, even though at some point, I asked to be put on most of those mailing lists.

We all constantly filter out what doesn’t relate directly to us in some way. Otherwise, given the ongoing deluge of information and promotions and enticements, we’d go mad. But few writers take account of the narrow window for interesting our target audiences. (more…)

Business Writing: The Right Words (in the Right Size) Make Your Business Findable

February 9, 2018

Tags: Business writing, business messages, business promotion, business names, using tag lines, business building

A few days ago I shampooed my hair with mouthwash. Not on purpose—the words on the hotel give-away bottle were too small for me to read without glasses, which are tricky to use in the shower. Considering that at least 60% of ALL Americans are farsighted, it’s amazing how rarely manufacturers think about readability. Somewhat often I’ve washed my hair with conditioner, because even the big expensive bottles rarely say ‘shampoo’ or ‘conditioner’ in type bigger than 6 point.

My not-so-nice hair got me thinking about how hard many businesses make it for people to find them--or understand what they do. It's not always about search engine optimization. It's more basic. For example:

  • I have a favorite piece of decorative art and want to buy similar work for friends who admire the piece I own. But the creator didn’t put his name on it, yet alone a way to reach (more…)
  • Better Business Writing: Tips from a Fiction Master

    November 7, 2017

    Tags: Business writing, business messages, better writing, learning to write, Hemingway, clear writing, business writing models

    The idea that good writing is an inborn skill--or not--is probably the biggest roadblock to successful business communication. Maybe some great fiction writers are naturals, but most, like Hemingway, tell us that they never stop practicing the craft.

    When it comes to business writing––everything from everyday emails to “big” documents like proposals and reports––practice also helps, I won’t kid you. But toss out the ideas that undermine (more…)

    Business Writing: Feeling blocked? 9 ways to unfreeze yourself and your message

    August 4, 2017

    Tags: Writer's block, business messages, overcoming writer's block, learning to write, business writing tips

    “Writer’s block” is a convenient catch-all name for our reluctance to put things on paper, physically or virtually, when we need to. It’s not the sole province of fiction writers. Businesspeople too may feel stalled when they want to write a blog, produce a challenging proposal or solve a problem with the right email or letter. I find that many people fear the idea of writing on its own account.

    Most cases of business-writer’s block can be treated by identifying the problem—and moving past it. See it as tough love for our communicating selves.

    Here are 10 practical ways to unfreeze yourself to write successful business messages and documents. Try out one or more of the techniques that resonate with you. (more…)

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