Category Archives: Business Meetings

Are Your Minutes Clear, Precise, and Accurate?

Minutes should demonstrate your efforts at promoting good governance. They should document agreements reached, decisions made, and actions assigned during the meeting.

As such, they must be clear, precise and accurate.

Here are some actual examples of unclear minutes:

(1)  The committee noted the increase in entertainment budget by S$10,000.

(2)  The meeting discussed the implementation of the new invoicing system by 20 June 2019.

(3)  It was clarified that the Annual Sales Conference will be held at Grand Hotel Singapore instead of Pacific Grand Singapore. This was decided at the committee meeting last week. This decision for the conference venue should be taken up as an action point.

Let’s see how each example is unclear:

(1)  The committee noted the increase in entertainment budget by S$10,000.

What does the word “noted” here really mean? The committee has been told about it? Or that they have pointed it out?

Write this in a more precise way.

Example

Sally Ling informed the committee that the entertainment budget has been increased by S$10,000.

(2)  The meeting discussed the implementation of the new invoicing system by 20 June 2019.

This is too vague to be any value as a record. What are the details of the discussion? What was the decision? Again, make it clear and precise.

Examples

Sally Ling reported that everything is on track for the implementation of the new invoicing system, and it will be implemented on 20 June 2019.

(OR)

Regarding the new invoicing system, Sally Ling reported that:

  • Betty Lim (Finance Dept) has briefed all staff and vendors involved on the implementation plan.
  • Five IT technicians will be assigned to be on-call (round the clock) from 9 to 20 June 2019.
  • The implementation is scheduled to take place on 20 June 2019.

(3)  It was clarified that the Annual Sales Conference will be held at Grand Hotel Singapore instead of Pacific Grand Singapore. This was decided at the committee meeting last week. This decision for the conference venue should be taken up as an action point.

In this extract, the passive voice has been used (It was clarified that… / This was decided… / This decision… should be taken up…)

The passive voice is not suitable for minute writing, because the writer is given the option of not including the active subject in the sentences. With this option, the subject is sometimes omitted, because it is easy to do that.

Once the subject is omitted, there is no record of who clarified issues, who made decisions, and who was assigned action points. In other words, accountability is not recorded.

Why Should You Care About Clarity, Preciseness and Accuracy in Your Minutes?

You should care because minutes are legal records, and they serve to:

  • Remind participants of discussions and agreements.
  • Remind participants of follow-up actions.
  • Serve as a record of discussions and decisions.
  • Help those not present to understand discussions and decisions.

Write your minutes with these objectives in mind. Be mindful of  what to include, and how clear and precise your recording needs to be.

Want to learn more? Attend our programme Writing Accurate and Effective Minutes on 28 August 2019.

Sharpen Your Written and Verbal Communication Skills

In today’s business world, where being connected is more crucial than ever, the ability to communicate effectively is highly sought-after.

If you provide administrative support in your organisation, you must be effective in both your written and verbal communications.

Written Communication

Written communication serves two purposes – to communicate (get a message across) and to document (put on record the communication).

Pay attention to your grammar and language. Know the level of formality you need for your written message, and use plain English and short words as much as possible.

Find out and use the acceptable formats required for different business documents – letters, email, reports, minutes, etc.

Your written communication must satisfy three criteria:

(1) It must be clear.

If you just need to communicate something, make sure that the message is clear and accurate. If you need to document the communication, include enough details to make it a complete record.

(2) It must be appropriately formal.

If you are writing to a close colleague, you can be less formal and more relaxed in your writing style. However, if you are writing to a superior or a customer, make sure you use an appropriately formal style.

(3) It must tell the reader what to do or expect.

Do not leave the reader guessing. Your message should have only one outcome – the outcome that you want. Not the outcome that the reader infers from your imprecise writing.

Verbal Communication

– Speaking in Front of an Audience

When you speak in front of an audience, consider these three aspects:

  • Visual aspect – Dress appropriately, and manage your body language to gain the confidence and respect of your audience.
  • Vocal aspect – Project your voice so that your audience does not need to strain to hear you. Articulate your words clearly and correctly.
  • Verbal aspect – Choose your words wisely. People form word associations, and your message can be influenced by your choice of words. For example, to tell your audience that you welcome them to do something is very different from saying you allow them to do something.

– Participating at Meetings

At meetings, make sure that you are seen and heard.

Be prepared, and project an organised and competent image. Lean forward, show interest in what others are saying, and contribute your ideas clearly and confidently.

Communication is the most important link in most operations. Effective communication means fewer delays, reworks, and mistakes.

You Can Give an Effective Presentation

The fear of giving a presentation is very real among professionals. Many people dread it and try to avoid it.

However, being able to speak confidently in front of an audience is becoming necessary for career success. In the information age, you are only as valuable as the ideas you have to share.

Many course participants have asked me how to look and sound confident during a presentation.

When I tell them that being prepared is key, these are some replies I get:

  • But it’s not really a presentation. I just need to share information during meetings, and my focus is really on the information I’m sharing. Isn’t that preparation enough? And really, these are not presentations.
  • I don’t think it’s about being prepared. I’m just not very good at speaking, and to speak in front of people – that’s just hard.
  • But I always prepare! I have all my details on my slides. In fact, I spend a lot of time on my slides. But I still feel I’m not able to connect with my audience.

Slide1

Here’s a quick self-assessment on your presentation savvy. Answer True or False:

(1)  The best way to be prepared for a presentation is to have your notes in hand. During the presentation, just refer to your notes and read it out to your audience. If you read clearly, that makes up for the lack of body language and eye contact.

(2)  You can’t possibly establish eye contact with everyone in the audience, so it’s better to look at the screen and talk from there. This way, at least you don’t miss out any points.

(3)  When presenting, it is OK to have your hands in your pockets. It is better than waving them around or gesturing too much.

(4)  While presenting, you should stay at one spot. Walking around just distracts the audience.

(5)  When you use PowerPoint slides, put as much information as you can on your slides. That way you won’t have to worry about missing out any details.

See if your observations are accurate:

(1)  The best way to be prepared for a presentation is to have your notes in hand. During the presentation, just refer to your notes and read it out to your audience. If you read clearly, that makes up for the lack of body language and eye contact.

FALSE.  Just reading from your notes is the quickest way to lose your audience’s interest and attention. You might as well just give them the notes and have them read by themselves.

Your audience need eye contact. They need you to convey your message not just through your words, but also through your body language. They need to feel that you are engaging them, not just talking at them.

(2)  You can’t possibly establish eye contact with everyone in the audience, so it’s better to look at the screen and talk from there. This way, at least you don’t miss out any points.

FALSE.  Even if you cannot establish eye contact with everyone in a large audience, you should “sweep” the room with your eyes.

If the audience is watching your back, your profile, or your bent head most of the time, they lose interest very quickly. (Also, they may not be able to hear you if you are not facing them.)

(3)  When presenting, it is OK to have your hands in your pockets. It is better than waving them around or gesturing too much.

FALSE.  Putting your hands in your pockets as you speak gives the signal that you would rather not be involved in whatever you are speaking about.

It’s a casual gesture, and when prolonged, can convey a lack of commitment.

(4)  While presenting, you should stay at one spot. Walking around just distracts the audience.

IT DEPENDS.  You can choose to move around or stay at one spot. If you decide to move, take at least three steps. Any fewer and you may end up rocking on your feet.

For some topics and room setups, staying at one spot might be less distracting. For others, moving around might provide the necessary visual interest to keep your audience interested.

(5)  When you use PowerPoint slides, put as much information as you can on your slides. That way you won’t have to worry about missing out any details.

FALSE.  You want your audience to pay attention to you. If you have text on the screen, the audience will feel compelled to read them. Why compete with your own slides?

List the key points for the audience, and take the audience through each point. Without detailed information on the slides, they will focus their attention on you.

Slide1If you have to give a presentation, careful and effective preparations will help you to manage your anxiety and ensure success.

Even if you are called on suddenly to speak before an audience, know the basic principles of visual and vocal projections, and you will engage the audience and make an impact.

Are Your Minutes Clear, Precise and Accurate?

A friend in the banking industry once asked me this question:

____________________________________________________________________

Sometimes, we write minutes for meetings that are just for information. These minutes are used to demonstrate good governance to regulators and the authorities.

Therefore, these minutes are splattered with phrases like “The committee noted / The team discussed…” (Eg: The committee noted the steep rise in visitor arrivals for the year 2015.)

What do you think of this way of recording?

___________________________________________________________________

Your minutes should demonstrate your efforts at promoting good governance. It is for this reason that your minutes have to be clear, precise and accurate.

Examples of Unclear Writing

Here are some common unclear ways of writing minutes:

(1)  The committee noted the increase in entertainment budget by S$10,000.

(2)  The meeting discussed the implementation of the new invoicing system by 20 June 2016.

(3)  It was clarified that the Annual Sales Conference will be held at Grand Hotel Singapore instead of Pacific Grand Singapore. This was decided at the committee meeting last week. This decision for the conference venue should be taken up as an action point.

Let’s see how each example is unclear:

(1)  The committee noted the increase in entertainment budget by S$10,000.

What does the word “noted” here really mean? The committee has been told about it? Or that they have pointed it out?

Write this in a more precise way.

Example

Sally Ling informed the committee that the entertainment budget has been increased by S$10,000.

(OR)

The committee leader, Peter Tan, informed the meeting that the entertainment budget has been increased by S$10,000.

(2)  The meeting discussed the implementation of the new invoicing system by 20 June 2016.

This is too vague to be any value as a record. What are the details of the discussion? What was the decision? Again, make it clear and precise.

Example

Sally Ling reported that everything is on track for the implementation of the new invoicing system, and it will be implemented on 20 June 2016.

(OR)

Regarding the new invoicing system, Sally Ling reported that:

  • Betty Lim (Finance Dept) has briefed all staff and vendors involved on the implementation plan.
  • Five IT technicians will be assigned to be on-call (round the clock) from 9 to 20 June 2016.
  • The implementation is scheduled to take place on 20 June 2016.

(3)  It was clarified that the Annual Sales Conference will be held at Grand Hotel Singapore instead of Pacific Grand Singapore. This was decided at the committee meeting last week. This decision for the conference venue should be taken up as an action point.

In this extract, the passive voice has been used (It was clarified that… / This was decided… / This decision… should be taken up…)

The passive voice is not suitable for minute writing, because the writer is given the option of not including the active subject in the sentences. With this option, the subject is sometimes omitted, because it is easy to do that.

Once the subject is omitted, there is no record of who clarified issues, who made decisions, and who was assigned action points. In other words, accountability is not recorded.

Why Should You Care About Clarity, Preciseness and Accuracy in Your Minutes?

You should care because minutes are legal records, and they serve to:

  • Remind participants of discussions and agreements.
  • Remind participants of follow-up actions.
  • Serve as a record of discussions and decisions.
  • Help those not present to understand discussions and decisions.

Write your minutes with these objectives in mind. Be mindful of  what to include, and how clear and precise your recording needs to be.

Want to learn more? Attend our programme Writing Accurate and Effective Minutes on 5 & 6 April 2016.

Giving a Presentation? Read This First

Thomas was used to giving month-end presentations at the monthly divisional meetings. He thought he was rather good at it.

But last week, his boss told him that he should be more confident and inspiring while presenting.

Thomas was surprised, and he asked his boss to elaborate.

His boss felt that his body language was weak, his slides were too complicated, and he was rather boring to listen to.

As Thomas reflected on this, he realised that yes, the division heads were generally reading the notes he gave out. He wished they would look at him, so that he could establish some eye contact and connection.

However, he wasn’t sure about other areas in which he could improve.

Here’s a quick self-assessment on your presentation savvy. Answer True or False:

(1)  If you can have your notes in hand, just read it out to your audience. You can glance at your audience briefly between sentences. This is the easiest and most direct way of speaking to an audience.

(2)   You can’t possibly establish eye contact with everyone in the audience, so it’s better to look at the screen and talk from there. This way, at least you don’t miss out any points.

(3)   It is OK to keep your hands in your pockets. It is better than waving them around or gesturing wildly.

(4)   When you are speaking before an audience, you should stay at one spot. Walking around just distracts the audience.

(5)   When you use PowerPoint slides, put as much information as you can on your slides. That way you won’t have to worry about missing out any details.

See if your observations are accurate:

(1)  If you can have your notes in hand, just read it out to your audience. You can glance at your audience briefly between sentences. This is the easiest and most direct way of speaking to an audience.

False. Just reading from your notes is the quickest way to lose your audience’s interest and attention. You might as well just give them the notes and have them read by themselves.

(2)  You can’t possibly establish eye contact with everyone in the audience, so it’s better to look at the screen and talk from there. This way, at least you don’t miss out any points.

False. Even if you cannot establish eye contact with everyone in a large audience, you should “sweep” the room.

Also, If the audience is looking at your back most of the time, they lose interest very quickly. Also, they will not be able to hear you if you are not facing them.

(3)  It is OK to keep your hands in your pockets. It is better than waving them around or gesturing wildly.

False. Keeping your hands in your pockets as you speak to an audience gives the impression that you would rather not be involved in whatever you are speaking about. It’s a casual gesture, and it does not show much commitment.

(4)  When you are speaking before an audience, you should stay at one spot. Walking around just distracts the audience.

It depends. You can choose to move or stay at one spot.

If you decide to move, take at least three steps. Any fewer and you may end up rocking on your feet.

Depending on your topic and the room setup, staying at one spot might actually be less distracting.

There is no “correct” decision on this. Keep assessing the situation and the audience’s reactions.

(5)  When you use PowerPoint slides, put as much information as you can on your slides. That way you won’t have to worry about missing out any details.

False. You want your audience to pay attention to you. If you have text on the screen, the audience will feel compelled to read them. Why compete with your own slides?

List the key points for the audience, and talk the audience through. Without detailed information on the slides, they will focus their attention on you.

Conclusion

If you have to give a presentation, careful and effective preparations will help you to manage your anxiety and ensure success.

Even if you are called on suddenly to speak before an audience, know the basic principles of visual and vocal projections, and you are more likely to make an impact.

Things You Must Know as a Secretary or Admin Support Professional (Part 2 of 3)

In Part 1 of this 3-part series for secretaries, PAs and admin professionals, we talked about the importance of knowing your role and being savvy about workplace behaviours.

In this second part, we will discuss communication at the workplace.

Written Communication

Written communication serves two purposes – to communicate (get a message across) and to document (put on record the communication).

The key purpose is to communicate, so make sure your message is clear and accurate.

You don’t always need to document the communication, but when you do, make sure that all the necessary details are included – even details that your reader already knows.

Pay attention to your grammar and language. Know the level of formality you need for your written message, and use plain English and short words as much as possible.

Be savvy about the formats required for different business documents – letters, email, reports, minutes, etc.

Verbal Communication

– Speaking in Front of an Audience

When you speak in front of an audience, consider these three aspects:

  • Visual aspect – Dress appropriately, and manage your body language to gain the confidence and respect of your audience.
  • Vocal aspect – Project your voice so that your audience does not need to strain to hear you. Articulate your words clearly and correctly.
  • Verbal aspect – Choose your words wisely. People form word associations, and your message can be influenced by your choice of words. For example, to tell your audience that you welcome them to do something is very different from saying you allow them to do something.

– Participating at Meetings

At meetings, make sure that you are seen and heard. Be prepared, and project an organised and competent image. Lean forward, show interest in what others are saying, and contribute your ideas clearly and confidently.

Communication is the most important link in most operations. Effective communication means fewer delays, reworks, and mistakes. Therefore, make an effort to communicate effectively.

In part 3, we will talk about how you should manage interpersonal relations at the workplace.

Are Your Minutes Clear, Precise and Accurate?

A course participant recently asked me this question:

________________________________________________________________________

Sometimes, we write minutes for meetings that are just for information. These minutes are used to demonstrate good governance to regulators and the authorities.

Therefore, these minutes are splattered with phrases like “The committee noted / The team discussed…” (Eg: The committee noted the steep rise in visitor arrivals for the year 2013.) What do you think of this way of recording?

________________________________________________________________________

Yes, our minutes should demonstrate our efforts at promoting good governance. It is for this reason that our minutes have to be clear, precise and accurate.

Examples of Unclear Writing

Here are some common unclear ways of writing minutes:

(1)  The committee noted the increase in entertainment budget by S$10,000.

(2)  The meeting discussed the implementation of the new invoicing system by 20 November 2014.

(3)  It was clarified that the Annual Sales Conference will be held at Grand Hotel Singapore instead of Pacific Grand Singapore. This was decided at the committee meeting last week. This decision for the conference venue should be taken up as an action point.

Let’s see how each example is unclear:

(1)  The committee noted the increase in entertainment budget by S$10,000.

What does the word “noted” here really mean? The committee has taken note? Or that they have pointed it out?

Write this in a more precise way.

Example

Sally Ling informed the committee that the entertainment budget has been increased by S$10,000.

(OR)

The committee leader, Peter Tan, informed the meeting that the entertainment budget has been increased by S$10,000.

(2)  The meeting discussed the implementation of the new invoicing system by 20 November 2014.

This is too vague to be any value as a record. What are the details of the discussion? What was the decision? Again, make it clear and precise.

Example

Sally Ling reported that everything is on track for the implementation of the new invoicing system, and it will be implemented on 20 November 2014.

(OR)

Regarding the new invoicing system, Sally Ling reported that:

  • All staff and vendors involved in the exercise have been briefed about the implementation plan.
  • Five IT technicians will be assigned to be on-call (round the clock) from 9 to 20 November 2014.
  • The implementation is scheduled to take place on 20 November 2014.

(3)  It was clarified that the Annual Sales Conference will be held at Grand Hotel Singapore instead of Pacific Grand Singapore. This was decided at the committee meeting last week. This decision for the conference venue should be taken up as an action point.

In this extract, the passive voice has been used (It was clarified that… / This was decided… / This decision… should be taken up…)

The passive voice is not suitable for minute writing, because the writer is given the option of not including the active subject in the sentences. (With this option, the subject is sometimes omitted, because it is easy to do that.)

Once the subject is omitted, there is no record of who clarified issues, who made decisions, and who was assigned action points. In other words, accountability is not recorded.

Why Should We Care About Clarity, Preciseness and Accuracy in Minutes?

We should ensure that our minutes are clear, precise and accurate.

Don’t forget that minutes are legal records, and they serve to:

  • Remind participants of discussions and agreements.
  • Remind participants of follow-up actions.
  • Serve as a record of discussions and decisions.
  • Help those not present to understand discussions and decisions.

With these objectives in mind, you should have an idea of what to include, and how clear and precise your writing should be.

Want to learn more? Attend our programme Writing Accurate and Effective Minutes on 18 & 19 November 2014.

Who Should Vet My Minutes?

Many minute-writers ask me this question – Who should vet my draft of minutes?

My answer is this – the person who chaired the meeting. Only the chairperson has the power to vet your minutes.

Some minute-writers circulate their draft of the minutes to everyone who attended the meeting for vetting. Can you imagine the potential for abuse and chaos?

Let’s say I participated in the meeting, and I did not like the group decision that only $15,000 will be allocated to my project (I had initially asked for $18,000).

If I were also given a chance to vet the minutes, what’s to stop me from amending the figure to $18,000?

And if many people were to take such liberties, can you imagine the nightmare of tracking and correcting these attempts at changes?

Can you imagine the arguments and proving of who-said-what involved?

To sum it up, only the chairperson should vet and amend your draft of minutes. And this draft should be written up within 2 days of the meeting and submitted to the chairperson, so that discussions and agreements are still fresh in the chairperson’s mind.