Tag Archives: secretarial skills

Quick Tips for Good Business Writing

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Here are three quick tips to make your writing more effective (as shown in the revised message):

(1) Use Paragraphs Effectively

Each paragraph should contain one key point. A long paragraph with several key points is difficult to read and understand.

(2) Omit or Replace Unnecessary Words and Phrases

“Attached please find” and “As you can see” are pompous and unnecessary. They add bulk without adding meaning. Remove or replace them.

(3) Avoid Long Sentences

There are two ways to do this:

(a) Break a long sentence into shorter sentences.

(b) Remove unnecessary words (e.g.: “unless you decide to schedule something else on that day”)

Apply these tips to see an immediate improvement to your business writing.

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.

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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.

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 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.

Relax – It’s Only Grammar

Must we get grammar right all the time?

Although getting it right all the time would be ideal, it can be tedious. But you do want to make an effort.

Some may think that grammar is not the most important issue to focus on, as long as the words in the message are correct or appropriate.

However, did you know that using the wrong grammar can change the meaning of your message entirely?

Luckily, not all grammar mistakes have such a great impact. In fact, some minor errors can be overlooked (and often are), because they do not affect the message much.

Other more serious errors, on the other hand, must be avoided, or a different message (from what you intended) could be conveyed.

So just how well have you mastered grammar?  Take this grammar competency check to find out.

________________________________________________________________________

Grammar Competency Check

Correct the mistakes in this message: 

Dear Mr Tan,

I am writing about your request on the re-formatting of your PC hard-disk with no extra charge (Warranty No: 767668).

We do understand that because you have purchased an extended warranty on 20 Dec 2014, you did not expect to pay other charges for the servicing of your two month old PC.

However, your service warranty only cover hardware problems.  As your PC failure was caused by a virus introduced by a programme install after your PC Purchase, the Warranty did not cover this software problem.

Although I would like to help you, it was difficult for me to justify.  I hope you understand our position on this.

As he has explained to you on 3 Jan 2015, we can reformat your hard-disk with a fee of S$50.00 (plus GST).  Please call him at Tel: 6234 5433 if you wished to make a service appointment.

With Best Regards,

Thomas Tan

Service Department Manager

__________________________________________________________________________

The corrections are underlined and in bold: 

Dear Mr Tan,

I am writing about your request for the re-formatting of your PC hard-disk at no extra charge (Warranty No: 767668).

We do understand that because you purchased an extended warranty on 20 Dec 2014, you do not expect to pay other charges for the servicing of your two-month-old PC.

However, your service warranty only covers hardware problems.  As your PC failure was caused by a virus introduced by a programme installed after your PC purchase, the warranty does not cover this software problem.

Although I would like to help you, it is difficult for me to justify a fee waiver.  I hope you understand our position on this.

As our service technician, Mr Albert Lim, explained to you on 3 Jan 2015, we can reformat your hard-disk at a fee of S$53.75 (inclusive of GST).  Please call him at Tel: 62345433 if you wish to make a service appointment.

With Best Regards,

Thomas Tan

Service Department Manager

__________________________________________________________________________

Although most of the grammar mistakes in this message are minor and do not affect understanding, they do make the writer look careless and even a bit incompetent.

For example, in the last paragraph, the sentence beginning with “As he has explained to you” has a serious grammar flaw.  The pronoun “he” is not clear in indicating who it refers to, and this affects the reader’s understanding.

Understand and master the use of grammar. You don’t need to fear speaking or writing in English; in fact, communication can become a joy when you can convey your message in exactly the way you want it.

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.

Attending Meetings and Writing Accurate Minutes

Some people say that a meeting is an event where minutes are taken and hours are wasted.

It doesn’t have to be so. Attending meetings and taking minutes may be challenging, but these can be managed if you prepare well. And there are advantages in performing these tasks well.

In attending meetings, you are kept up-to-date with the latest developments in your department or organisation. When you conduct yourself professionally at meetings, you create a favourable impression and command respect from your colleagues, managers and associates.

Writing minutes allows you to hone your writing skills. You will become good at writing.

Quick tips for participating in meetings and writing minutes:

(1)   Prepare for the meeting.

If you go in cold, you will have little idea about projects and their statuses, and it will be difficult to keep pace with the discussion.

There are several ways you could prepare yourself:

–  talk to people who will be attending the meeting

–  read the previous minutes

–  get to know the terminology or jargon that will be used

(2)   Understand your role at the meeting.

In a meeting, you will play one or more of these roles – leadership, recorder or participant role.

If you play the leadership role, you will be chairing the meeting or facilitating the discussion. If you play the recorder role, you will be taking notes to write up the minutes. If you play the participant role, you must know how best to contribute towards the meeting of objectives.

Be clear about your role at meetings and prepare for it.

(3)   Know what you should be listening for. 

Many minute-writers are not sure what to record, and they end up recording much more than is required. This is a waste of time and effort, both for the writer and the reader.

To know what to listen for, you must know the objectives of the meeting. For example, if it’s a meeting on safety issues, then anything related to safety should be considered for recording.

Otherwise, if someone makes a casual, unsubstantiated remark on safety, it should not be recorded unless there is good reason.

(4)   Record action items clearly and accurately.

People rely on the minutes to recall what they agreed to do after the meeting. If your action items are unclear, they could be subject to different interpretations, and the required action may not be carried out.

In recording an action item, make sure to include these factors:

–  the person accountable

–  the action required

–  the deadline

Sometimes it is also necessary to record when the person accountable has to report the status to the meeting.

Write in full sentences, not sentence fragments.

Which of these action items is more complete?

(a)  Peter Lee to contact suppliers – 20 May 2014

(b)  Peter Lee will contact suppliers A and B by 20 May 2014.

If you think that (b) is more complete, you are right. Unfortunately, (a) is a very common way in which people write action items.

(5)   Know the sections in a set of minutes.

Find out how to write each section of the minutes, as well as the grammar to use. Here are some quick references:

(a)  The Apologies section is where you record the names of people who are not present, whether they have informed you, or they have simply not shown up.

(b)  The Minutes of Last Meeting section is for confirming the minutes of the last meeting. This is to prevent individuals from amending the minutes unofficially, as only the set officially endorsed at the meeting is the official copy.

(c)  The Matters Arising section provides a link to outstanding action items from the previous meeting.

(d)  The Any Other Business (AOB) section allows for last-minute items to be discussed. This refers to items that arose after the agenda was distributed, and the chairperson must decide whether to adopt the items for discussion under AOB.

Accept the challenges of attending meetings and writing minutes confidently. Adopt a learning mindset. Don’t be afraid to clarify and confirm issues before, during, and after the meeting.

Love Your Job as a Secretary or Administrative Professional

Slide1

In your job, do you need to provide administrative support to your boss and your team? If you do, you are likely working in the capacity of a secretary or administrative professional.

Here is a fictional account of a workday of an administrative professional, Kathy.

Kathy works in the Sales Department. It is 8.20am, and Kathy arrives at the office. As usual, she goes to the office pantry to make herself a cup of coffee. Two colleagues, Sue and Lay Yin from R&D, are at the coffee machine, so Kathy joins them for a friendly chat.

It turns out that Sue and Lay Yin are talking about how a male colleague in the Finance Department is frequently seen leaving the office with a married female colleague. They are speculating on the nature of their relationship. Kathy gleefully joins in and voices her own speculations. They have a laugh and return to their own desks.

Kathy’s boss comes in at 9am, and asks her to send an email to Mr Henry Tan, a new client, to inform him about a meeting that has been confirmed. Kathy writes this quick email and sends it out:

________________________________________________________________________

Hi Mr Tan,

The meeting with our Mrktg Dept has been confirmed on 25 Feb at 2.30pm.  Venue details to follow.

Have a fantastic day ahead!

Best regards,

Kathy

________________________________________________________________________

Just before lunch, Kathy’s boss calls her into his office to discuss the training plans for the department. Her boss wants all the 12 staff members in Sales Department to go through a customer service training programme.

He wants Kathy to think about whether it is better to send the 12 persons to external training programmes, or to have a training provider run an in-company training programme for them. Kathy is to propose the better option for further discussion in their departmental meeting later in the week.

After her lunch break, Kathy does some quick checks and comes up with this information:

– Cost per person for a 2-day customer service programme with ABC Training Pte Ltd – $700
– Cost per person for a 1-day customer service programme  with Excellence Pte Ltd – $450
– Cost of running a 2-day in-company customer service training workshop (max 15 participants) – $8000 (about $660 per person)

Kathy does a comparison and feels that running the programme in-company is the most cost-effective, so she decides to propose that to her boss in their departmental meeting two days later. It’s an easy decision to make.

At 3.20pm, Kathy walks into the photocopier room and sees John at the machine. It is too late to beat a retreat, as John has already seen her. With his usual flamboyance, he says, “Hi there, sweetheart. What a sexy pair of shoes!”

Kathy doesn’t like it, but she gives John a tight smile, pretends to sort some papers, and leaves the photocopier room in a bit of a huff. If only she had the courage to tell John to stop being so annoying!

At 5.25pm, Kathy is getting ready to leave the office. Her boss has already left for the day.

Ms Shelly Teo, the Finance Manager, comes up to her desk and asks her for some sales figures from two years ago. Shelly says it is very urgent, and Kathy reluctantly (and unhappily) agrees to stay late to retrieve the data for Shelly. She works till 6.45pm.

If you were Kathy, what would you have done differently in the various situations? See if your observations match ours.

Some things that Kathy could have done differently:

(1)  Refrain from participating in office gossip.

Kathy should not have joined Sue and Lay Yin in their gossip about two colleagues going out, even if she had opinions about this. Gossip, especially when it involves speculations about personal conduct, can be hurtful. Gossip also undermines trust in an organisation.

(2)  Use the correct style and formality level in business email. 

Kathy’s email to the new client, Mr Henry Tan, is too informal and does not show enough respect and decorum. As an administrative professional, Kathy must understand the style requirements of different types of business messages.

(3)  Use a logical decision making process.   

Kathy did well to do some research and gather price information from two training providers, but she should have used a logical decision making process.

Cost-savings may not be the only objective her boss is trying to achieve. Other critical factors like quality of training and instructor, the location of the training, etc., may also need to be considered. Kathy should also be able to show her boss that she has analysed the various risks involved.

(4)  Know what acceptable workplace behaviour is and speak up for herself.  

Kathy obviously disliked John calling her sweetheart and commenting on her shoes, but she couldn’t find the courage to tell John that. She should know how to handle these situations where she feels harassed and stressed.

If she allows this to continue, John may get the wrong message that it is acceptable, or worse, that Kathy actually enjoys the flirting.

(5)  Be more assertive.   

When the Finance Manager approached Kathy at 5.25pm for help, it was up to Kathy to decide if she wanted to help. Kathy was not willing to do it, but she was not assertive enough to turn down the request. This resulted in her working late and becoming resentful.

Slide2

This may be a fictional account, but the individual encounters are happening daily to secretaries and administrative professionals in many workplaces.

As a secretary or administrative professional, you are expected to streamline office procedures, strengthen working relationships and support the boss and other colleagues. And you must maintain the right attitude and poise while facing these challenges.

To go on loving your job and keep away negative stress, know the common expectations and qualities of a high-performance administrative professional, and acquire the relevant skills to become competent and confident.