Category Archives: Secretarial Duties

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.

Two Things You Must Know as a Secretary or Admin Support Professional

If you provide administrative support to your boss and your team, be proud of your job. You play an important part in your organisation’s admin support system.

Here are two things you must know in order to stand out as a valuable resource to your organisation:

(1) The Role You Are Playing

Your primary role is to support your boss and team.

To play this role well, you must understand the key objectives of your boss and team in the organisation. Is it to ensure customer satisfaction? Is it to generate revenue? Is it to work within a certain budget?

Knowing this is not enough. Use this knowledge. Make sure that the outcome of your tasks contributes toward these objectives.

For example, if you have to decide between outsourcing a service or doing it in-house, do not mindlessly consider the costs or the quality. Your consideration should be based on what your boss or the team is trying to achieve. Is it cost-efficiency or superior quality?

Apart from providing great support to your boss, be a team player. Ensure that office procedures are streamlined, and that communication among team members (including your boss) is smooth and effective.

(2) Acceptable Workplace Behaviour

Are you savvy about workplace behaviour? Do you unwittingly commit unintentional acts or make remarks that can affect your professional image?

Here are some quick rules of thumb regarding how you should behave at the workplace:

  • Show respect to everybody. Avoid name-calling or making derogatory remarks about people or situations.
  • Don’t share offensive jokes. (eg: jokes related to gender, religion, personal appearance, etc.)
  • Don’t flirt at the workplace. This can seriously undermine your credibility.
  • Manage conflict appropriately. Withdrawing and keeping silent when you are angry may be seen as being passive-aggressive, so whenever appropriate, talk things through with the other party.

Be friendly, respectful and dignified. This will earn you the respect and confidence of your boss and co-workers.

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 You Assertive? Three Quick Ways to Check.

Have you ever had a disagreement with a colleague, and you were not happy with how you handled the situation? Maybe you were too meek, too apologetic, or too aggressive?

Would you like to be able to handle disagreements, conflict, or unreasonable requests assertively? What does being assertive even mean?

Here are three quick ways to check if you are assertive in handling conflict:

(1) Do you let the other person know clearly how you feel?

It is easy to say “I don’t agree” or “I may not be able to help you”, but to be assertive, you need to be more precise.

Say how you feel. Here are some examples:

  • I am not willing to type this report because it needs more commitment than I can offer, and it is not really my responsibility.
  • I am not comfortable signing this proposal, as it contains some inaccuracies.
  • I prefer not to be involved in this discussion, as I feel it is not appropriate until we get more details about the situation.

Do not assume that other people know how you feel. To avoid ambiguity, tell them respectfully.

(2) Do you focus on the issue rather than the person?

When dealing with workplace conflict, focus on the issue. This leads to problem solving.

Here are some examples:

  • You are causing a delay in our month-end closing again with your late report. (focus is on the person)
  • Your report is late, and this is causing a delay in our month-end closing again. (focus is on the issue)
  • You always assign work to me at the last minute. There is simply no time to get it done. (focus is on the person)
  • I need more time to get the work done, but when it is assigned to me at the last minute, it is difficult for me. (focus is on the issue)

If you focus on the person, it is likely to lead to blaming and unhappiness.

(3) Do you try to preserve the relationship?

There is a clear difference between being assertive and being aggressive.

Being assertive means you deal with a conflict situation while preserving the respect and dignity of all parties involved. In other words, you are mindful of how the other person might feel, and you do not say or do things that may jeopardise the relationship.

Being aggressive means you only take care of your own feelings and needs. You do not care about how the other person might feel.

Here are some examples:

  • Your minutes are terrible. Are you even trained to do this? It is not my job to teach you how to write these minutes! (aggressive)
  • Your minutes do not capture all the discussion points clearly. Do you think some training might help? You could approach HR to discuss this if necessary. (assertive)

Being assertive leads to more positive outcomes. It will certainly reduce the risk of damaging the relationship, which will likely lead to distrust and more conflict.

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.

Fun with Adjectives

In grammar, understanding the parts of speech helps you to write grammatically sound sentences.

The eight parts of speech are nouns, pronouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, conjunctions, prepositions, and interjections.

Let’s have a little fun with adjectives today.

Adjectives are words that describe nouns. (Nouns are words that name things.)

We all know that adjectives come in three degrees – positive, comparative, and superlative.

Here are some examples:

Adjective Positive Degree Comparative Degree Superlative Degree
cold cold colder coldest
effective effective more effective most effective
good good better best

 

The (underlined) adjectives in these sentences are wrongly used. How would you correct them?

1.      Terry is the best of the two applicants.
2.      We had less complaints before we implemented the new system.
3.      Some systems don’t work as good as others.
4.    This is the most fastest machine among the four models presented.

 

Did you get the correct answers?

Correct Adjective

1.    Terry is the best of the two applicants.

better

2.    We had less complaints before we implemented the new system.

fewer

3.    Some systems don’t work as good as others.

well

4.    This is the most fastest machine among the four models presented.

fastest

 

Getting the correct answer is the easier part. More importantly, do you know why the original sentences are wrong?

Correct Adjective

1.    Terry is the best of the two applicants.

better

Explanation:

“Best” is the superlative degree of the adjective “good”, and it is used for comparing more than two elements.

Here, there are only two applicants, so the comparative degree (better) should be used.

2.    We had less complaints before we implemented the new system.

fewer

Explanation:

“Less” is used for uncountable nouns.

The noun “system” is countable, and “fewer” is the correct adjective.

3.    Some systems don’t work as good as others.

well

Explanation:

In this sentence, “good” describes the word “work”.

However, “work” is not a noun. It is a verb, and an adverb (well) is needed to describe it.

4.    This is the most fastest machine among the four models presented.

fastest

Explanation:

“Fastest” is the superlative degree of the word “fast”, and it does not need the word “most” to indicate this.

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

In Part 2 of this 3-part series for secretaries, PAs and admin professionals, we talked about the importance of managing communication effectively at the workplace.

Let’s talk about managing interpersonal relations at the workplace in this part.

In order to work effectively with people, you must manage your interpersonal relations well.

Here are some aspects to consider:

Gossip Management

Gossiping, it is said, is natural to most people.

We gossip for various reasons – to bond with others, to dispel boredom, or simply to manage our frustrations.

However, we must understand the negative effects of gossiping – the damaging of trust and loss of professionalism. In a workplace where people whispering about other people is common, you can expect that the trust level would be low.

To be truly professional, do not participate in gossips. And certainly do not start any.

When others gossip about you, and it could affect your image and performance appraisal, there are 2 things you can do:

  • Talk to the person who started the gossip. The idea is not to get an admission of guilt; rather, it is to make the person know that you do not tolerate it.
  • Clarify the issue at a meeting. Educate the group about how gossips can destroy trust and teamwork.

Conflict Management

A conflict occurs when another party’s priorities (eg: objectives, opinions, values, or concerns) are different from ours.

Some conflicts can be overlooked, especially if they are one-off, minor, or do not affect our performance results.

Other conflicts could result in more drastic outcomes like missed deadlines, lost revenue, or the loss of trust among team members.

In such cases, manage the conflict by talking things over respectfully with the other party involved.

In managing conflict, do not just focus on what is not working for you.

Get the other party’s perspectives and viewpoints. Ask questions tactfully, listen actively, and exercise empathy. Try to understand the situation as clearly and objectively as possible, before trying to reach a resolution or mutual understanding.

In managing conflict, accept that solutions are not always possible, and compromises or even delayed resolutions can sometimes be expected.

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.

Things You Must Know as a Secretary or Admin Support Professional (Part 1 of 3)

If you provide administrative support to your boss and your team, be proud of your job. You play an important part in the admin support system of your organisation.

In this 3-part series, we examine the things you MUST know in order to stand out as a valuable resource to your organisation.

Here are the things you must know:

The Role You Are Playing

Your primary role is to support your boss and team.

To play this role well, you must understand the objectives of your boss and team in the organisation. Is it to ensure customer satisfaction? Is it to generate revenue? Is it to work within a certain budget?

Knowing this is not enough. Use this knowledge. Make sure that in your daily tasks, the outcome contribute towards these objectives.

As a quick example, if you have to decide between outsourcing a service or doing it in-house, do not mindlessly consider the costs or the quality. Your consideration should be based on what your boss or the team is trying to achieve – cost-efficiency or superior quality?

Apart from providing great support to your boss, be a team player. Ensure that office procedures are streamlined, and that communication among team members (including your boss) is smooth and effective.

What is Acceptable Workplace Behaviour

Are you savvy about workplace behaviour? Do you unwittingly commit unintentional acts or make remarks that cause embarrassment or affect your professional image?

Here are some quick rules of thumb regarding how you should behave at the workplace:

  • Show respect to everybody. (Avoid name-calling or making derogatory remarks about people or situations.)
  • Don’t share offensive jokes. (eg: jokes related to gender, religion, personal appearance, etc.)
  • Don’t flirt at the workplace. (This can seriously undermine your credibility.)
  • Manage your anger appropriately. (Withdrawing and keeping silent when you are angry may be seen as being passive-aggressive, so whenever appropriate, talk things through with the other party.)

Be friendly, respectful and dignified – this will earn you the respect and confidence of your boss and co-workers.

In the next part, we will discuss how you should manage the various types of communication at the workplace.