What Corporate America Can’t Build

Fisher (Martha Fisher & Associates) presents tips on ‘How to Build a Sentence.’
Fisher (Martha Fisher & Associates) presents tips on ‘How to Build a Sentence.’

The answer, according to both the New York Times and Marty Fisher, principal of Martha Fisher & Associates, is a sentence.

Why it’s important
According to Fisher, poor writing will cripple communication to the point of removing all credibility—for the author and for the organization.  All audiences who spot mistakes will focus on the issues in the communication, not the message. Clearly, that’s the last thing any communicator wants to have happen.   The fact is that poor communication is an epidemic—not just an issue for the insurance industry.

Biggest issues in communication?  Well, studies show the biggest problem areas are:

  • Poor punctuation, bad grammar
  • Failure to come to the point
  • Inappropriate tone
  • Lack of clear action items

What’s the big deal?
Simply put, poor communication costs organizations time and money.  Recent studies show an estimated 80 percent of lost business in America slips away because of an indifference communicated to the prospective client or customer.  An estimated 70 percent of mistakes in the workplace are attributed to ineffective communication.

For customer service professionals, the issue of poor communication in the workplace is important; for insurance industry consumer affairs professionals the lack of effective communications is critical.  After all, in any financial service industry (insurance especially) the only thing the consumer has to show for premium payments is…a promise—a promise delivered in the form of business communications.   A recent survey found that most Americans receive more than 190 messages each day—from more than 12 sources.  How, then, can consumer affairs professionals get their messages to the top of the pile (electronic OR print)?

Getting to the top of the heap
Fisher pointed out that, mostly due to the Internet and the speed with which communication is deployed, we are living in a wonderful time where much more is known about how communication is processed, what audiences will pick up and what will be rejected. Now, communicators understand that all communication passes through a four-question sorting by audiences—a negative answer to any of the four main sorting questions will cause a communication to be stalled.  The questions are:

  • Why should I read/view/listen to this?
  • Why should I believe this?
  • Why should I do this?
  • How much time will it take?

The truly great business communicator will craft messages that lead the audience to answer all four questions positively so that the communication is reviewed and acted upon as the organization intends.

Great communicators are taught not born
Crafting communication for audiences is a skill, one that takes time and practice.  Most experts agree a business communicator, writing for high-speed readers (again, almost everyone due to the Internet) has specific goals to accomplish.   The most important goals for the insurance consumer affairs professional are:

  • Crafting the message without abdication—meaning if you sign it, make sure you’ve reviewed the final iteration
  • Understand the audience, your message and your medium (no throwing in legalese, citing esoteric documents or talking around the audience)
  • Eliminate accurate but useless information but still make the…
  • Complex clear—for your audience.

Fisher urged the audience to note that nowhere on this list of communicator goals is the notion of using the communication tool to prove how smart, right, important, dedicated the author is OR how important, big and determined the organization is.  Audiences simply do not care.

Big five of crafting great communication
Creating great communication (for the audience) is not a complex initiative, but it does take thought.  Fisher urges all communicators to:

  • Know what the purpose of the communication is and work on a tone that will convey that purpose.
  • Know the audience—if the audience cannot be entirely understood, make assumptions about education, industry knowledge base, motivation for reading your document—and write toward those assumptions.
  • Write like USA Today, not Beowulf—shortcuts are acceptable in business communications that might not be in academia (use contractions, sentence fragments, short sentences, common words).  These shortcuts are acceptable because they deliver speed to your audience without sacrificing comprehension.
  • Choose your words carefully—this is one area where you have total control, use it wisely.
  • Be organized—the author’s organization of the information is another area of total control.  YOU determine what’s remembered by organizing a message that makes sense to your audience.

Unpardonable errors
Some problems frequently encountered in business communications are stubbed toes, easy to shake off.  Some are unpardonable errors that will cripple the communication to the point that all information is stalled.  Some of those errors include:

  • Use of jargon, acronyms and esoteric language
  • Technical language with a non-technical audience
  • Made-up words
  • Poor tone
  • Poor spelling

Good communication is a win-win
A great communicator has an awesome responsibility because you determine what an audience will pick up and act upon and what an audience will push away.  You determine how your organization is perceived and interacted with.  Equally important, those with great communication skills have been shown to have more earning power and tend to rise to the top of any organization.

Fisher concluded by encouraging all attending to make the commitment to becoming a great communicator because everyone wins—the communicator, the organization you represent and, most importantly, the consumer.


Martha Fisher
Martha Fisher & Associates
4781 Coach Rd.
Columbus, OH  43220

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