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March 31, 2009


Business communications need to be as short and direct as possible. At the same time, you must thoroughly explain yourself. Never assume that your audience has the same knowledge you do. Open with the topic at hand. Make sure that your audience knows from the opening of your communication what topic you are addressing.
  • In an e-mail, use the subject line and first sentence to state the subject. Guessing at the contents of an e-mail is annoying, especially when you are looking through your e-mail archives for an important past communication. Find out if people with Blackberries (or other personal digital assistants with e-mail options) like to have the question posed to them in the subject line of the e-mail.
  • In a document, the title and opening sentence should state the main topic.
  • Keep all voice-mails under two minutes whenever possible. Meandering voice-mails are annoying and inefficient. Tell the person what you want to discuss in the voice-mail, and then follow up by e-mail or in person.
  • If you must leave a detailed voice-mail message, say in the beginning of the voice-mail how many points you have, and then enumerate each point. If you are leaving a message for multiple people, identify all the participants. For example, you could say, "This is Joan leaving a message for John and Mary regarding client X. X wants three things. One, X wants the product launch timeline via e-mail today. Two, X wants the weekly meeting scheduled for Monday changed to Tuesday. Three, X wants the engagement manager to fly out right after this meeting."

Lead with facts and findings in your communication and follow with your own opinions and recommendations. If you're at a meeting, start with an agenda and end with group discussion and debate. Too often, the presentation of your work is confused or derailed by a debate sparked by a single issue that takes over the entire conversation. Make sure people understand that your presentation will address several issues further on, and major debates should be reserved until the end. When presenting in person, you may want to pass out an agenda or write the bullet points on the board to keep people on track (and to signal to them what you are talking about).

Organize your thoughts in sections or bullet points. Your audience should be able to scan your document, e-mail, or their notes from your verbal conversation, and immediately identify the highlights. Make it easier for them by actually bullet-pointing or numbering your main points. If you are writing in sections or paragraphs, your reader should be able to read the first sentence of each paragraph and understand your message.

Address your audience in e-mails: If you have different questions for different readers, draw their attention to the section of your e-mail relating to them by putting their names in bold and caps there. You'll have a better chance that they will address your concerns. If you have a lot of action items associated with many different people, it may be more effective just to send separate e-mails so you don't lose anyone.

Purge redundancies in your points. Make sure each individual point conveys a new thought. Combine similar points into one.

Avoid overuse of subjective adjectives and adverbs. Don't muddy the facts and findings with too many subjective phrases that may sway your audience's opinion before they understand the full context of the work. For example, "unfortunately," "surprisingly," "disappointingly," reveal subjective opinions that should be reserved for discussion.

Purge conversational filler. Train yourself to avoid unprofessional and distracting conversational filler words, such as "you know," "like," "so" and "anyway" in your business communication. Post a list of words to avoid by your phone to keep them in mind during business calls. When you leave a voice-mail for someone, listen to it again before sending it to gauge your coherence and brevity. Make sure you know the system lets you erase and re-record before you decide to try again.

Be comfortable with silent pauses in an oral presentation or in a group discussion as your audience reads a slide or digests what you have said before moving on to your next point. Don't try to fill every moment with talk. Dont panic because you paused to remember a point or if you got sidetracked; these pauses are always shorter than they feel.

Outline what you want to say in a meeting or on a phone call. It's tough to get a group together on a call or in a meeting. Addressing all of your critical points in one conversation is particularly important. If you do forget something, follow up immediately by phone or e-mail.


Filed Under: Workplace Issues