Words Matter

My company, Kauffman FastTrac, is hosting its quarterly certification event for our new clients today.  During lunch, I had a most interesting chat about the new nature of conversation with a group of folks from academic institutions spanning the globe – their universities are located in places like California, Kansas and Turkey.  Each expressed an observation and a frustration with what they characterized as a lack of value that they see being put on the importance of language by many students.

To put you in the right frame of mind, let me recall to you the scene from a family lake weekend last month.  My darling teenaged niece arrived at our family’s lake house with one of her friends.  At several points throughout the weekend, I witnessed the two of them in their room, sitting on their beds, not talking with one another, but both texting other people.  Note, it was the weekend, the weather was gorgeous, the other kids (all younger) were swimming and hanging out on the dock.  These girls were holding text-based discussions on their iPhones rather than being truly present with one another or others at the house.

This is what I mean by the new nature of conversation.  Each of the individuals who I talked with at lunch concurred.  They told me that students are writing less formal, more poorly worded term papers, expecting to have more casual relationships with one another as well as with their professors (that is not all bad, but you get my point) and frankly are valuing language less.  OMG!  In fact, as one of my colleagues said today, if you can’t fit it into 140 characters, it may not be worth saying.  LOL!  Ugh!

Not to sound like an old schoolmarm (I’m just not that old!), but I remember when language was really valued.  Grammar and punctuation and well-articulated ideas – they mattered.  And trust me, I don’t think that topics need to be beaten to death – I agree with Shakespeare that “Brevity is the soul of wit” and appreciate Blaise Pascal’s (and others who have said the same or similar) comment that “If I had more time I would have written a shorter letter.”  However, I still think there is great value in well worded letters, messages, conversations.  It helps to build stronger human relationships than would otherwise be built only through a series of text messages.

I urge you… yes, continue to tweet, to send text messages, to engage in quick hit dialogue, as necessary, but don’t forget to engage also in honest to goodness conversation and to value language, grammar and deep thought!  With that, I remind you of a few ways to continue to hone your language skills as it relates to networking:

  1. LinkedIn messages.  Do not, under any circumstances, use LinkedIn’s prepopulated text to connect with people or to congratulate them on job changes.  Pascal Finette, director of the Open Innovation Group and WebFWD at Mozilla and master networker in his own right says, “Never, and I mean never, send out an invite using the standard invite text.  The signal you are sending me by doing this is:  You are not worth the time for me to change this text and I just want to connect with you to add you to my collection.”  So, take time to write a unique, personal note to the person to sell them on the idea of connecting with you.  Make sure that they know how truly thrilled for them you are about their new position and that you had the interest and wherewithal to craft a custom message for them and them alone!  It should take you no time at all to do this – maybe a minute or two – it will be time well spent and well appreciated by your recipient.
  2. Handwritten notes.  All right, by now you know how I feel about the handwritten note.  It is a dying art and one that must be revived, resuscitated, whatever it takes to get others to engage in this important networking tactic.  There is no replacement for a short, sincere, handwritten note of appreciation or applause to make your contact sit up and take notice and to feel really special in the process.  Talk about earning social capital with your network!  And, of course, it should be free of text message type acronyms and abbreviations.  Price of your time:  About two minutes.  Price of the letter:  About a buck for the stationary or card and $0.45 for the postage.  Price of the goodwill:  PRICELESS (you knew I was going to say that!).
  3. Blogs.  As one of my partners, Michael Player, a marketing expert, said today, “Blog, blog, BLOG!”  He advised that blogging is a great way to get your organization listed earlier and more frequently on search engine searches and your ideas disseminated more readily.  I couldn’t agree more and I think it is a wonderful way to hone your language and writing skills – assuming you blog in more than 140 characters!  Truly an exercise with multiple, valuable benefits to the writer, his/her company and the reader.

In closing, I’m reminded of what my book editor, Leigh Haber, says about the importance of words:

From novels to works of history; from speeches to conversation on Facebook, words matter.  They entertain and educate.  They can foment political reform or fear.  They can seduce, or break hearts.  One of the reasons I love being an editor is simply because words matter.

So well said.  So well spoken.  Try fitting that into a tweet!

8 thoughts on “Words Matter

  1. Alana – really enjoy your blog. Words do matter. Over the last three weeks I’ve had the pleasure of conducting brand interviews with students who attend the free music school at which I volunteer. It has been a delight to talk to intelligent, thoughtful, well-spoken and really smart 13-16 year olds. They are GREAT conversationalists and can really carry engage. I suspect their written communication is just as strong. All is not lost on the next generation!

  2. Alana, we’ve never met, but as a subscriber to your well-written blog, I’m convinced we think alike on many, many topics. As a professional communicator, this particular post resonated with me so much that I’ve shared it with my friends on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Keep writing words that matter. You have readers who care.

    1. Duane — I so appreciate your support and encouragement. Thank you! I’m especially grateful to you for taking time to share your thoughts. Please let me know if there are topics that would be helpful for me to cover and/or to raise with our CoffeeLunchCoffee community.

  3. I’ll go farther than Duane did and confess that I plan to “use you” (well, at least your words) in support of the self-marketing efforts for a fledgling entrepreneurial initiative based largely on … words! Yes, I’m multi-lingual, i.e. I speak “social” as a second language. But I recognize the limitations of social language in the context of relationship management. Thank you!

  4. Alana–one of the reasons I am so excited to be working with you on this book is that you are expert at using words to connect people. Like me, you love words, and understand their power.

    By the way, I also love your anecdote about the teenagers being glued to their phones, texting (how true–but also true that this phenomenon is pervasive across generations, which I witness every day on the streets of Manhattan, as people increasingly bump into one another because they are staring down at their phones instead of watching where they are going), and your praise for the written letter, an art my mother is trying singlehandedly to keep alive…

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