Communication Skills and Innovation

June 26, 2010 By Gary Vardon

Part of being a good innovator and being creative is being able to communicate your ideas well. This article comes from the book Consulting For Profit published by PublishAmerica in 2010. It covers active listening, taking good notes, using powerful phrases, outling and summarizing.


Skill in your primary profession is, of course, vital. Therefore it certainly pays to keep current in your field of consulting and it makes excellent business sense to be a noted authority in your field. One way to do this is to publish. This is mentioned as a marketing tool. But it's more than that. It's good to be known and to contribute to your field.

New developments are constantly occurring, and it's not only good but necessary to keep up with these developments. Reading is one way of doing this and attending professional meetings of other noted experts in the field is another. Hear what they have to say. Not only is this good for you in sharpening your professional skills, it's also interesting and pleasant.

When you select clients to work with, select clients that presents interesting technical problems for you. Don't just pick safe assignments. Pick assignments that you can grow and learn from by solving.

Of course, you can take courses too. It may not be easy to fit a course into one's busy schedule, but it is an alternative to consider. You can also learn from computer programs and audio cassette tapes. Surfing the web is another way to keep current. Learn to use the deep web.

Communication skills are probably one the most important aspects of the consultant's image and work. As a consultant you will spend most of your time communicating with clients or potential clients, suppliers, employees, government agencies, the public, etc. You will communicate in terms of writing your proposals, final reports, interim reports, memos, or letters. You will also communicate by speaking with clients, questioning the clients, and addressing feedback from your clients, including complaints. You will talk to other members of the client's organization, your family and friends about your assignments. You will also perform research by reading, and so on. Most assuredly, much of the consultant's time will be spent in forms of communication of one sort or another. So it is necessary for you to be very good at communication.

The Corporate Identity
Communication is part of your image as well. Having a logo and a corporate identity is part of maintaining a good image. And developing a company image is one of the most important steps any business can take. It means giving your consulting business a visible identity. Your business card will speak for you long after your personal encounter with the client. Your stationery and your invoices contribute to your reputation and the impression you give clients as well.

A good graphic design for your logo will represent how professional you and your company are. It's probably better to have this logo custom designed or spend a lot of time designing it yourself, rather then just going to a local copy shop and choosing a design from the clip art books.

A logo can just be a business name. It can include your initials. It can be a graphic design. Or it can be any combination of these. The logo should be easy to read. And it should be simple enough to be used in various sizes and easy to duplicate. For example, your business card can be just a smaller version of your stationery. Some logos are more expensive then others to reproduce. And what runs up the costs of printing are color, oversized art, non-standard colors of ink, designs in which two colors are very close together, or large areas of ink coverage on the paper. A full fledged graphic artist might cost up to a $100 an hour. So you might want to try using computer art program or desk top publishing software to design your own logo. Some firms will even give you marketing assistance and help you in preparing the copy you need for your written material. So one important aspect of your image is your logo. This is part of communications too. Every piece of literature you produce is part of the communication process. Professionalism is the key element of success in business, which is not always easy to achieve. That professionalism includes your corporate logo.

Also the type style or lettering you choose for your business cards and stationery should be consistent with the type of business you have. A flowery typeface may not be best for a consultant, perhaps Helvetica, a more professional typeface, might be better. You might also choose a paper that will compliment your design for your stationery. Possibilities include just black ink, two-color or full color. When designing your company logo, you will want to keep marketing in mind, especially for your business cards, letter head, and brochures.

In a brochure or on your business card you will want to list all the services that you conduct. You want to make sure that you list your business name, your address, your phone number, your website URL, your email address and possibly your hours of operation.

As your business gets bigger, you may want to create more documents. But keep them consistent. You don't want an image that keeps fluctuating, but rather is rock solid, so that you can project an image of being well-established.

Active Listening
Another very important aspect of communication is active listening. You have to listen to the client to understand his needs. You should have constant contact when you work with the client. By keeping in constant contact you can make sure that what you do will fulfill his expectations. Constant contact with the client is an attribute of a successful consultant.

In many conversations there are people who are not listening to each other. In fact, if you get the chance, you might eavesdrop on someone's conversation. And you might find it rather humorous to hear that they are not listening to each other. You might find that even though the people appear friendly at the time, one person may not actually be listening to the other. These people may not converse again in the future. They may limit their conversation even though they appear cordial. Therefore, you should try to listen carefully to people. If you don't actively listen to your client, it could be quite disastrous. You don't want to have misunderstandings. You don't want to start on one project, where in fact the client wants you to do something else. So active listening is an important aspect of successful relationships between you and the client.

There are times when people listen against each other rather than for each other. In other words, the person listens for flaws and mistakes in the other's arguments rather then trying to understand their point of view. There may be times when this type of listening is appropriate. For example, if you were having a political debate with a member of the opposite party you might want to listen against them rather than to them. But typically with a client, your goal is to listen to the client and
try to understand his viewpoint. Your job is not to refute his arguments but to help him.

However, just because you're listening to someone, this doesn't mean that you have to necessarily agree with that person. This is an important concept. Many people may be afraid to listen to someone, because they're afraid that by listening to that person, they are forced to agree with him. This isn't true. This even applies when you are dealing with a client.

It may be that the client has a very unrealistic perception to his problem or what you can do for him. He may underestimate or overestimate your abilities. Whatever the reason, he may have unrealistic expectations, and he may not even understand his problem. But still you should listen to your client even if you don't agree.

It also helps to understand as much as possible about the person you are talking with before you actually meet them. This may require much research on your part. But to be a better listener knows a lot about your client.

You should have a goal when you enter a meeting to try and understand the other person better. When you enter the meeting with this intention, this will help you to be a better listener.

It is frequently said, that you should match the voice tempo of the other person. If he talks fast, you should talk fast. If he speaks slowly, you should speak slowly. If he speaks softly or loudly, so should you. However, even if the other person speaks slowly or softly, this doesn't mean you should speak as slowly or softly as they are. This merely means that you should try to match their tone. Most people who speak softly, usually don't like to speak to people who have loud voices. If the person you speak with never uses profanity and is very offended by it, then you shouldn't use profanity in your speech. Incidentally, it is not a bad business practice, not to use profanity. It may rub your client the wrong way. Even if he uses profanity at a party, he may abhor using profanity at a stockholders' meeting. It's best to play it safe and not use profanity, particularly in business dealings.

Another skill in communication is to pay close attention to the other person. You don't want to assume what he is saying before he says it. This doesn't mean you can't anticipate what he is going to say. There is a difference between anticipating and assuming. To give you an example, say you are meeting with a client and you give him a proposal. He then calls you up and wants to have another meeting about the proposal you submitted. You can anticipate that he either wants to go ahead with the project or has some final objections, final thoughts, or final reservations about the deal. You don't necessarily assume that he's going to accept your proposal or assume that the project is going to go the way you wanted it. So you don't want to assume what someone is going to say, since this may bring about false expectations, and could be very disappointing. But you can anticipate what someone is going to say, so that you will be better prepared and be able to meet the client's objections.

Another important aspect of listening, which in fact is more like observing is to look for non-verbal ques or the gestures of the speakers or speaker. You want to compare the verbal and non-verbal communication. There may be contrasts. You should pay attention to even the smallest gestures. You'll make a better impression on people if you pay attention to their gestures.

One advantage of paying close attention to peoples' gestures is that you might see where there position is on the totem pole in the organization. This could be very valuable to you as a consultant. In other words, someone who hesitates before he enters an office might be a subordinate person, but someone else who just walks right in and speaks up might be an important person in the organization. He is not going to act so passively. You want to look at the non-verbal ques to see if there are contradictions. For example, the client might say he likes your proposal but is clenching his fists. You might wonder why that is. There might be some discrepancy between his verbal ques and non verbal ques. For instance, he may verbally say he likes your proposal, but non-verbally, he grimaces and clenches his fist, which might mean that he doesn't like the proposal. So you have to look at both the verbal and non-verbal ques. Some people may transmit more information in terms of non-verbal ques then they actually do verbally. You want to see if there is agreement. For one thing, people who behave inconsistently may be labeled as wishy-washy or two-faced or phony. And because of that, you as a consultant don't want to appear that way. You want to have your gestures and your vocal inflections match what you are saying. You don't want to send a mixed message to a client.

If you see a client giving you a mixed message, such as the above example, one thing you can do as a consultant is simply ask him about it. "Do you really like the proposal? Or are you just saying that to make me feel better?" The meaning of what is said is really a combination of all factors. It is where it's said, who said it, why he said it, how he said it, his emotional tone, your emotional tone, his gestures, etc.

Communication is a complicated event. Unfortunately, many people don't say what they actually mean and are somewhat dishonest about it. In other words, they don't want to say, "Sorry, I'm busy. Go away, don't bother me." It may be blunt, but that's the way someone might feel. Instead they try to be polite and say, "Leave me a brochure, I'll get back to you in a week." Unfortunately, they won't get back to you in a week, because they are not really interested. They just want to get rid of you. That's the nice way of saying it. Everyone has different motives. So you want to try and see the real motives people have.

Sometimes people are somewhat blinded to communication that is directed to them. In other words, if you were watching two people communicate you might understand what they were talking about. But if someone was communicating to you, and you had an emotional involvement, you might not really understand what is being said. For example, suppose you hear a client talking to a consultant. And the client offers certain suggestions to the consultant to change his work. You as a listener would in no way be upset about it. But say you were the consultant and the client was challenging your work, you might get quite upset. You as a client might have legitimate arguments and legitimate complaints, but the consultant, if he is sensitive about his work, might get upset because someone is questioning his professional integrity. In other words, your emotional involvement might cloud your judgment in your listening and communicating abilities.

One way to guard yourself against this sort of thing is to restate what has been said. Repeat what the other person has said in your own words. Say the client says, "I want you to rewrite the last half of this report". And you say, "So you want me to rewrite the last half of this report, is that right?" And then if that is not what the client had intended he might say, "Oh, I think you misunderstood. I just want you to edit the last half. I don't necessarily want you to rewrite it word for word." Anyway, you want to make sure you rephrase what the other person has said to make sure that you understand. And also to make sure that he knows you understand it. This makes the other person feel good too. Even if you don't come to an agreement, just having him know that you know his point of view, and understanding what he is saying, may make the other person feel good. And that is important. Therefore, restating is a good idea. It makes the other person feel good and makes for better communication.

Note Taking
Many a student takes notes and by taking good notes it helps him pass his exams. Most likely you are tested on what the professor has lectured in class, not necessarily what is in the textbook. Therefore, it is a good idea to take notes when you are in class. The same applies when dealing with clients. The consultant should take good notes. There is no one way of doing it. Some people believe you should take down everything word for word. Others believe you should only take down the important points. This method is usually the one chosen. But if you know shorthand, you might want to use that.

Some people may be uncomfortable when you take notes. But they would probably be less uncomfortable if you take short notes instead of long notes. Another point about taking notes is it might make the person feel good. They are in somewhat of an important and elevated position because here you are writing down everything they say. That's quite flattering. And when dealing with a client you want to flatter them when possible. He is spending a lot of money for your services, and he wants to get something for his money, including feeling good. One way of making that person feel good is by taking down notes on what is said.

Another important advantage of note taking is when you are working on an assignment you will frequently want to refer back to your notes as to what it is you are supposed to do. It helps to take notes since everything may not be written in the agreement. So, anyway, taking good notes helps a lot so that you can fulfill the client's expectations and also solve his problems. It's something like a detective solving a case trying to solve the client's problems. A piece of information here and there may be very valuable. Some of the things that are said could be vital, and if you have them written down, you can refer back to them to enhance your memory.

Taking notes can also be important in documenting your time use. You have a record of your time, which could be useful in terms of knowing if it's cost-effective dealing with a client and how much to bill and so on.

One of the problems of taking notes, is what to do with them afterwards. Most people just throw them away, since they aren't needed any more. But you may have to save your notes for future reference. At this point you could just attach the notes to your client's record and file it away.

Note taking doesn't just have to be for conversations. It can be for your own ideas. Ideas may come to you as an inspiration and it is a good idea to write them down before you forget. Some people like writing a lot of things down so that they don't burden their mind with non-creative tasks. Albert Einstein was said to refuse to remember his own phone number so that he could leave his mind free to focus on big things. So by writing things down, you don't have to memorize these things and that leaves your mind free to solve other problems. I'm not totally sure that your mind is in any way really burdened by memorizing your phone number, but still a lot of routine memorization can burden one's mind or at least waste a lot of time.

Taking notes also makes one more attentive. It's good when you have a phone call to take good notes. You want to know the person's name, phone number, subject matter, date and time. This isn't necessary for every conversation but it is a good idea for business conversations. When you deal with clients, it's an excellent idea to do this. They will think you have a more professional flair and they will think you have an excellent memory. If the client wants to review all that has been done to date, you can refer to your notes. It's a good idea to have call records in case the client asks about what's been discussed.

Good note taking will make you look more efficient and allow you as a note taker to make you more aware of your ideas, your actions, and keep you focused on your goals. Note taking is important. But you don't want to do too much of it. Like any good thing, you can over do it.

Some people would argue that how you take the notes is as important as if you take them in the first place. One thing you could do if you could afford it, is to have a secretary do this for you. He/she may take better notes and then type them up professionally. So if you can afford it, it's not a bad idea to have the secretary take the notes. Or perhaps you may prefer to use a recording device.

Just a few pointers to note taking, first of all, just do it. That's 75% of the battle right there. Don't forget to write things down. Sometimes people will say they will write things down later on, and they don't, they forget. Make it a habit to write things down. Do it every day. Do it whenever the need comes up. You might even want to keep index cards in your pocket so that you will have them available if you need them when talking with a client. Budget your time to do note taking. Try to keep your notes neat. Don't mix notes. For example, like school, you wouldn't want to mix your algebra notes with your chemistry notes. You want to keep your notes separate. You want to keep your notes from one client separated from that of another. Have a notebook with different sections. One category for people to call, things to do, and one for ideas for your report. Make it fun for yourself and you will do it more often. Don't take up a system that is too difficult or sophisticated for you. You don't have to make this a burdensome task but rather an enjoyable part of your life.

Presentation Skills
Another important communication skill is called presentation skills and that includes public speaking. Public speaking for many people is very scary. Should it be? No. It does require a bit of preparation, but it isn't scary. I haven't heard of too many speakers who have been stoned to death by their audience. There aren't too many bad consequences that can happen as a result of public speaking. But people being afraid of public speaking is notorious.

Do you know what makes a good speaker? Part of it is that a speaker approaches the job with enthusiasm. If you notice, the professional speakers all seem very enthusiastic. You want to be confident. And you want the audience to share in your interest and enthusiasm. The audience may well include the clients and his associates or prospective clients. And you, as a consultant, have every reason to be enthusiastic because you are selling yourself and your services. Be enthusiastic and be excited about what you are saying. You want to speak clearly. When people can't understand you, they won't enjoy listening to you. Try to use good English, use good grammar, and again, pronounce words clearly. Also you want to use enough volume so that you are heard, but you don't want to yell. Modulate your voice. Some words may be soft and others loud. You want to be heard, but you don't want to shout. You want to look at your audience. You want to make the audience think that you are speaking to them personally. That is an important factor in communication, eye contact. You don't want to look down at the floor or a piece of paper, you want to communicate with people. That is a vital skill. When you look at your audience, you get feedback from them. This helps you to see if points need to be emphasized, or if people like what you are saying, or if you need to talk faster, because people are looking bored. Feedback is very important and you get that from your audience. You shouldn't speak in a monotone. You should vary your voice. You don't want to have a voice that drones on and on. You want to vary your voice to stress important points. You don't want to bore your audience by a monotone, which might happen when you are concentrating on what you are saying. Try to put more feeling in your speech. It is better to speak to your audience than to read to your audience. It's better to work from an outline then to read from text. Basically you don't want to give the impression that you are reading. Especially as a consultant, you want to give the impression that you know what you are talking about. In public speaking, you don't want to appear too rigid while you are talking. You want to control your body movements and appear relaxed. Again this depends on personality types. A little gesturing doesn't hurt, but you don't want to have annoying little gestures that will be distracting. And of course you want to avoid repetitive phrases in your speech such as, "ah", "and", "you know", etc. You want to sound educated and cultured.

And of course you want to use visual aids as much as possible in your presentations. I think good visual aids can go a long way to make a poor presentation good, or a poor speaker a better one. It is important to make good use of visual aids. Different types of visual aids have their own advantages and disadvantages.

The old classic used by professors is the chalk board. It is particularly good when you want to erase an idea that is not fixed. It doesn't require much skill, and it is easy to correct. Or it is handy if you want someone in the audience to come up and write something. Colored chalks are great for emphasis and clarity. But sometimes writing on the chalkboard can become quite illegible and might be hard to read at a distance. And it's not too permanent. It takes up your time as a speaker as you have to look into the board as your speaking which also takes away from the presentation.

Another visual aid is to use charts. The chart is basically a two dimensional graphic. Charts can be used for many purposes such as discussing sales for the year, talking about company growth, or whatever. Charts can be quite versatile. And you can use cut illustrations from publications or create your own graphics using a computer or hire artists to produce them for you. You can flip the charts right when you need the information. And because they are already produced, you don't need to spend time looking at the charts, but rather you can look at your audience while giving your presentation. They in turn might be looking at the charts rather then at you.

You might even have visuals items produced for your audience. For example you could show them engineering products, small scale models, or photographs. And photographic ideas can be put into videos or slides. You could also produce motion pictures, although that might be quite expensive and time consuming. A home movie is rather easy. Or you can also use an overhead projector. Photography is useful. It can take a lot of time to take professional photographs, but it is quite easy to take average photos, and that may be all you need to show your clients.

Another idea is to hand out audio tapes to people or even play audio tapes for groups. This is not a bad idea. It is an excellent learning tool because you can listen to an audio tape where ever you are. If an executive is quite busy or hard to reach, you can just give him a tape with your ideas, and he can listen to them at his leisure. Producing an audio tape or CD is relatively easy as compared to producing a video tape or DVD. In some subjects, for example consulting, audio presentation may be more useful then video. Many people might not have time to view a video. Besides, it takes a lot of skill to put together a video and with competition getting stiffer, it might not look professional. People are very accustomed to top notch videos because they are used to television which is done very professionally. So professionals with a high budget and a lot of time are producing television shows and you wouldn't want to try and compete with that.

But with audio, it's not that difficult. It's much easier to produce a quality, professional audio cassette tape then it is to produce a video. You can produce audio cassette tapes rather inexpensively as compared to quality professional videos. And another advantage of audio cassette tapes is that you can listen to the audio tapes in many situations such as working on the house or driving to work. While with a video, you don't have much flexibility in watching the tape.

You could use the audio tapes for your work as well. You can have for example comments, interviews with famous personalities or recognized authorities recorded on tape. For example, if you had a recognized authority recommending you on an audio tape, you could use this as a selling tool to get clients who have heard your tape.

With an audio tape you can have things like sound effects and background music. This would especially be effective for a slide presentation that you want to give. So there is a lot of application for audio tapes.

Another idea, of course, and this is probably the most frequently used visual aid, is the handout. Some people would rather have the important points covered in a handout sheet, then writing the notes themselves. Particularly in scientific areas, the handout may have illustrations to illustrate a technical point and it might be difficult for the audience to duplicate the drawing. I'm sure that members of an audience would prefer to have a handout. Plus the audience can give the handout to others in an organization. If they have to use their own handwritten notes, they might be reluctant to pass them on since they might look rather sloppy. A handout is much nicer to pass on.

Some people claim it is a mistake to give out a handout to an audience because they can get ahead of the speaker and sort of steal your thunder by knowing what you are going to talk about ahead of time. You may not want to give out a handout every time or you may want to give a handout after you are done talking. Of course, if you take your own notes, you might remember things better that way. You might want to let people take their own notes at the beginning of a presentation. Then at the end give them a nice handout. Or you could even mail them a handout a few days after the meeting for them to review and see if they remember what was said.

If you do decide to use visuals in your presentations, you will want them to look professionally done. For example, you will want your lettering evenly spaced, and you don't want to forget words. But you don't need to be an artist to make a good presentation if you just use an easel and a pad of paper. You can use this just to highlight specific points. For example, you could draw such things as a dollar sign when speaking about money. They wouldn't need to look professional or fancy. Just a primitive picture to peak the people's interest. You could say things like, "a sure fire time saver", and write that down, or "time is running out", and draw a crude picture of a clock and people would get the idea. You can use this idea just to dash out
the high points.

When discussing visual presentations one must not forget Microsoft’s PowerPoint. I have been to numerous scientific conferences and nearly every talk was accompanied by PowerPoints. Many of the PowerPoint presentations were well done. So if giving presentations, it may well be wise to get good at giving PowerPoint aided talks.

A polished presentation will usually get future business for you or sell your client on your present work. Or both. However, you owe the client more than a visual presentation, if he is paying you as a consultant. You are not really considered to have done a good job if you can't document what you have done in your report. So it's important that you be able to write.

Business Writing
One of the most common uses of writing for a consultant is writing business letters. This is another aspect of communication skills. That's something you may have to do quite a bit of with any business. One of the major uses of letters are to handle routine matters such as order letters, letters requesting information, letters of inquiry, letters giving information, cover letters which are usually sent with something else, complaint letters, application, introduction, and recommendation letters, letters of refusal, letters of confirmation, or sales letters. An example of a business letter follows.

2450 S State Street
Salt Lake City, UT 84119
(801) 555-1212

January 1, 2009

Ms. Mary Anderson, President
River City Journal
200 River Road
River City, IL 60021

Dear Ms. Anderson:

I have always enjoyed working with you at the River City Journal. The employees were hard workers, and we succeeded in completing many projects.

However, I am currently involved with another assignment at this time. Since, this project is taking most of my time, I will not be able to accept your assignment.

I will be happy to help in some other way. I may be able to recommend another consultant to help you in your predicament. Please give me a call if you would like any recommendations.

Sincerely yours,

Gary Vardon

Your letters should always be courteous, since they represent you and your business. Even if you have to express a complaint, you can still do so in a friendly manner by choosing your words carefully so as not to make enemies. Perhaps you have to decline a prospective client's assignment. You may still want to write a courteous letter and retain good relations with the client since you may want to handle a future assignment with him. Your business letters should be brief, to the point, clear and courteous. Your business letters should not appear cold and unfeeling, but rather be rich with warmth and feeling. Every friendly contact you make helps retain the right relationship between your company and your client. So you want to write friendly letters to the client. And no letter should seem so unimportant as to not do a good job on it. Sales letters may have a direct relation to profit. So it's your obligation to make sure they are prepared in a way that they will most likely be effective. Remember haste and carelessness in writing your letter may well mean lost orders or clients and thus loss of profit. There is a name for people who write sales letters and that's copywriters. This is a vast field that will not be covered here. But nevertheless, if you are going to write a sales letter, you would be well advised to study the area in depth. If you use business letters intelligently, you will increase your business. This has been proven often. In fact it is vital for you as a consultant to write many letters to generate business. This requires skill in thinking as well as in letter writing.

It may be that there are times when writing the letter is a better approach then dealing with the client in person. And another advantage of writing letters is that you can say what you want to say from start to finish without being interrupted by the person you are talking to. You can put the facts before the client in a friendly manner. Sometimes this isn't easy to do in a personal conversation. You don't want to lose the client's good will by bickering and by writing a good letter you can avoid this. You want to write letters to the client to make the client feel he is important to you and to show that a human relationship exists between you and the client. Competition is keen in the consulting business and retaining clients is essential to your success and so you want to maintain good will between yourself and the client. Writing is one way of doing this. Letters are important as part of public relations. A good letter should be easy to understand and read. They should be friendly and courteous. Business letters should develop good will between yourself and the client.

When writing business letters, you want to avoid using archaic language or clichés. This makes for difficulty in reading. Avoid stuffy statements. You don't want to make your letter hard to understand by using language that no one uses any more. Following is a list of clichés to avoid in business letter writing.

Phrases in Business Letters to Avoid
according to our records
answering yours of
anticipating your favor
as per
as regards
beg to advise
check to cover
duly noted
enclosed please find
for your files/information
hereby advise
hoping your order
I have your letter of
in due course
in reference to
in receipt of
kind order
kindly advise
looking forward to
may we suggest
of the above date
our records show
permit us to remind
please accept/find/note
recent date
referring to yours of
regarding the matter
regret to advise/inform/state
take pleasure in
take the liberty of
thanking you in advance
trusting to have
under separate cover
valued favor/order
we are pleased to advise/note
wish to advise/state
with reference to
your kind indulgence
your letter of recent date
your Mr., Mrs., Miss

You don't want to use big words just to impress someone. Simple to understand words are better. The best writers do use simple words. This isn't to say you shouldn't have a very large vocabulary. I believe you should. But there are times a person might think a word is too large. Basically you want to keep your vocabulary simple so it can be understood by the average man. I have heard it said that you should try to write to the eighth grade level. A good writer uses short words. You should vary the length of your sentences in your writing. And you should eliminate the use of unnecessary words. You want to avoid profanity and slang in business letters.

One way to improve your business writing is to organize. Outlining is one way to do this and is a vital skill. Organization is important in planning ahead. Use subheadings to make your document easy to scan, get to your point quickly, and be brief. Vary your sentence length. Don't use redundant phrases such as "consensus of opinion". It is best to use an active voice rather than a passive voice in your writing. For example use "I think" rather than "It was thought" or "I decided" rather then "the decision was made". Ok, if the reader looks carefully he may see that this rule was violated on occasion in this work. There are exceptions to every rule.

You want to avoid what are called "weasel" words or "hedging", you don't want to say, "perhaps", "sometimes", or "maybe". This usually applies to business letters rather then other forms of writing. You want to be persuasive in your writing. And you want to have a call of action in your writing. That might be one of the most important things in your writing. Much good writing reflects speech. And, of course you want to spell things correctly and use proper grammar. And it helps to practice. You'll write better after practice.

Word Processing a Form of Communication
One modern day tool that is very useful for a writer is a word processor. For those who write frequently, a word processor is a necessity. You can modify, correct, and revise with little effort. It adjusts margins; inserts, erases, or moves sentences, paragraphs, pages or even blocks of text; it adds page numbers, headings, or footers. And the greatest feature of all is the fact that you can save your document to a portable drive. Gone forever are lost pages or documents or even carbon copies! The use of a computer is an efficient and cost-effective approach to written communication needs.

The word processor consists of hardware which makes the computer run, and software which performs the word processing. With added software you can even check spelling, check grammar or use a thesaurus. The more sophisticated word processing programs can also be used like a data base to write routine form letters, labels, or other fill-in-type documents such as the consulting agreement. Another advantage of using word processors is that one can have more creative time, since one doesn't have to think too much about how his document is being written. The ideas can be conveyed and then edited at the touch of a key with a word processor. The word processor also allows the consultant to increase his productivity in a shorter period of time. In fact, there are some consultants who specialize in the very area of word processing and instruct others.

Of course, do not forget email. The consultant can write a document and modify it for each client and email it as needed. Email is a very cheap and effective method of communication. But most people get too many emails and your email may go unread due to the tons of email many people get. Use an attention getting subject header to get the readers attention.
Summarizing Skill

Another skill in writing is the art of summarizing. It's a good idea to condense what you say for the reader's benefit so he can get the high points of the chapter. In fact, some people may just read the summaries instead of the text. It is a good skill to be able to summarize briefly what has been said in a chapter.

And the final aspect of communication is that of outlining. Outlining can be used to prepare a talk, a book, a proposal or a letter. And the ability to be creative and to organize your work for your client's benefit are vital skills for the consultant. Since the consultant handles new and complex problems for his clients, he must be well organized. Further, one key to solving your client's problems is to help him become better organized. You as a consultant will make a better impression if you appear to be well organized yourself. Your impact will be heightened and your work will be more useable by the client. You should determine how to be well organized. See what works for you! Outlining is one tool that allows one to be more organized and to draw out the client.

Following are some examples of outlining. Hopefully you will find some useful information in the examples. But don't worry about understanding the details. Just note some of the basic uses of outlining.

Outline Example I

I. First Quarter
A. Sales
1. Eastern Region
a. North East
b. South East

2. Western Region
a. North West
(1) Quotas
(a) Short Term
(b) Long Term
(2) Incentives
b. South West

B. Inventory
1. Beginning
a. Perishables
b. Non-Perishables
2. Ordering
a. Method of Payment
b. General Guidelines

3. Ending
a. Age
b. Disposal of Expired Goods

Outline Example I (Cont)

II. Second Quarter
A. Sales
1. Eastern Region
2. Western Region
B. Inventory

III. Third Quarter
A. Sales
B. Inventory

IV. Fourth Quarter
A. Sales
B. Inventory

Outline Example II

1. Better Self Image
2. Better Health
3. Better Thinking, i.e., a Healthy Mind in a
Healthy Body
4. A More Attractive Appearance
5. A Longer Life
6. More Fun From Life
7. A Better Personality

Outline Example II (Cont.)

1. A More Healthy Workforce, i.e., Fewer Days
Due to Sickness
2. A More Productive Workforce
3. Higher Employee Morale
4. Sets a Good Example for Industry


1. Time for Sports such as Basketball
2. Time for Exercise
3. Doing Work Related Activities that Promote Fitness such as Unloading Trucks

1. With Financial Incentives
2. With A Greater Chance At Getting Promotions
3. With Recognition
4. More Time Off For Fitness Related Activities

1. Managers Setting a Good Example
2. Communications to Employees for the Benefits of Fitness
3. Bring in Fitness Experts From Outside the Lab
4. Sending Employees to Courses on Fitness and Healthful Living
5. Giving Employees Memberships in Spas or Gyms that Promote Fitness
6. Paying Employee Expenses that are Fitness
7. Supporting Employee Sports Teams such as
Softball and Basketball
8. Encouraging Employees to Walk or Ride Bikes
9. Providing an Exercise Room with Items such as:
a. Weights
b. Lockers
c. Exercise Bikes
d. Exercise Machines
e. Ping Pong Tables
f. Cables
g. Rowing Machines

10. Providing Sports Facilities such as Basketball Courts

Outline Example III

An Outline to Describe a Conference

I. Introduction
A. Size of Conference
B. Quality of Conference
C. Location of Conference
D. What Conference was about

II. Exhibits
A. Number
B. Dionex
1. New and Improved Columns
C. Perkin Elmer
D. Zymark
1. Robotics
H. Tubing
1. Making Connections
2. Material
3. Maker

III. Talks I Attended
A. Icp-aes

Outline Example IV

An Outline of a Magazine Article on Command

I. Introduction
A. Tells the importance of good commanders
B. Importance and interest we have in great men
C. Many men later had high level positions in government, e.g., George Washington
D. Importance seen clearly in war games.

II. Training and Law Giving
A. Belasserius and the Mounted Byzantine Archers
B. Lycurius and the Spartans
C. Stalin and the USSR
D. Guderian and Biltzgried warfare
E. Understanding modern weapon technology and using it

III. Setting the Right Morale Climate
A. George Washington at Valley Forge
B. Churchill in World War II
C. Patton in his commands in World War II
D. Almost every successful commander inspires
E. Communists use psychological warfare. Understand and counter act.
F. Not to crack under strain. Not simulated well in games

IV. Tactical Ability
A. Alexander the Great
B. Julius Caesar
C. Belasserius
D. Westmoreland in Viet Nam not strategic ability
E. Fighting the battle well
F. The Greeks with their Greek fire in the middle ages

V. Strategic Ability
A. Fighting the right battle, i.e., knowing who to fight
B. MacArthur and Nimitz island hoping in the Pacific in WWII
C. The US Pacific Strategy in WWII
D. Scipio Africanius in the second Punic war in invading first Spain then Carthage
E. Being bold but not stupid
F. Having a war winning plan that isn't overly costly and successfully carried out
G. Zhukov in the battle of Stalingrad

VI. Political Ability
A. Holding an alliance together, e.g., Ike in WWII
B. Getting Allies
C. Not getting removed from command by jealous rivals
1. Stalin's purges
D. Getting support from the home front for your war efforts
1. We failed in Viet Nam.
E. Not making enemies unnecessarily
1. The Kaiser failed in WWI
F. May be hard to have both political ability and be a good fighting commander
G. Creating the right image, e.g., like Ike.
H. Getting important, desirable commands. Not easy.

VII. Other Personal Qualities
A. Good communication ability
B. Good luck
C. Good health
D. Good looks in the sense of inspiring others to think of one as a leader.
E. High intelligence reflected in many of the other categories
F. Fight for the right cause. Knowing what is and is not a good cause to fight for.
G. Good personal fighting ability. Belasserius killed many enemies with his bow or hand to hand.
H. Many other factors too numerous to mention.

Outline Example V

I. Aid in Writing
A. Special Projects
B. Methods
C. Journal Articles
D. Memos and In-House Reports
E. Speeches

II. Aid in Thinking
A. Projects
1. While Planning
2. To Show Supervisor
3. To Show Others in Project
4. To Show Progress

B. Problems
1. To Clarify Thinking
2. To Get New Ideas
3. To Look at Problems From a Fresh Viewpoint

III. Aid in Organizing
A. Material
1. Chemicals In-House
2. Special Project
3. Instruments In-House

B. Budgets
1. Yearly
2. Special Project

C. People
1. Special Project
2. In the Lab
3. In the organization as a Whole

To conclude on outlining, some of the above examples demonstrated the use of outlining. Most of the time you will want to flesh out the outline with more information. But for a brief talk, all the written material you will need can be contained in the outline and be able to refer to it while you deliver your talk.


Communication skills are the most important of consultants’ skills. Most of the consultant's time will be spent communicating in one form or another. So it is necessary to learn good communication skills.

The Corporate Identity
Your corporate identity or logo tells a client a lot about you. By having a good graphic design imprinted on your stationery, business cards, brochures and other literature, you will project a professional image.

Your logo should be simple, easy to read, and easy to duplicate. You should choose a design that is inexpensive to print. Using oversized art or many colors increases the difficulty and expense in printing. As your business gets bigger, you should keep all your literature consistent. By remaining consistent, you project a well-established image.

Active Listening
One important communication skill is active listening. This is vital in being able to better understand your client's needs. Keep in constant contact. And don't listen against your client by listening only for his flaws and mistakes. There are many times when this type of listening is useful, but not with a client. But because you are paying close attention to your client, doesn't mean that you have to agree with what he says.

Another helpful tool in listening is to understand your client beforehand. You might want to do some research on your client to better understand his personality and needs.

When conversing with your client you want to match his voice tempo. If he speaks softly, you speak softly.

You should also pay attention to the non-verbal gestures or body language. Sometimes the non-verbal ques will tell you a lot more then what the person is saying. And because someone can send a mixed message, by saying one thing, but the body movements saying another, it is advisable for the consultant to control his non-verbal actions. It could be quite disastrous in the consultant-client relationship if you were to send your client mixed messages.

Also being too emotionally involved can cloud your judgment as a consultant. You may not be able to listen effectively to your client if you are too emotionally involved.

One way to guard against this is the "parrot-effect", repeating what your client says. This way your client is hearing what he is saying, and if there is a discrepancy, it can be cleared up. Thus avoiding misunderstanding.

Note Taking

Taking short notes is better than taking long notes. It is best just to get the high points rather then writing down everything that is said. This may make your clients feel flattered. It makes them feel important that you are writing down what they are saying.

Note taking also helps you remember more. It helps you to document your time use so that you know what to bill your client. It is good for writing down ideas when you get a flash of inspiration. And your mind isn't so burdened with a lot of memorization and is free to concentrate on creativity.

Note taking should become a habit. Carry a small notebook with you where ever you go. Budget your time to write down your notes and be sure not to mix your notes. Note taking will make you more efficient, so make it fun. Don't make it too complicated so that it is a burden to do.

Presentation Skills
Public speaking can be scary, but it may be necessary for the consultant. If you approach public speaking with enthusiasm and interest, the fear will fade away. Besides, you have every reason to be enthusiastic, because you are selling you and your services.

Being a member of Toastmasters made me a better speaker. Consider joining.

When making a presentation, use good English, use correct grammar, and speak clearly. Avoid repetitive phrases such as, "you know". It is best to moderate your voice and not speak in a monotone, as if you were reading directly from your text. Eye contact with your audience is especially important. It makes each individual in the audience feel as though you are speaking to him personally. This also gives you feedback. By looking at your audience you know if they are getting bored or if you need to emphasize a point or two. And most of all, relax! Don't be rigid. A gesture or two won't hurt. Practice making effective gestures.

The use of visual aids can also make the presentation seem even more professional. Visual aids can be a chalk board, charts, flip charts, small scale models, products, videos, slides, or the usual aids, handouts and PowerPoints.

Just remember, a polished presentation will get you future business.

Business Writing
Business letter writing is an essential for all consultants or anyone who is in business. Letters come in all different forms from the letter of inquiry to the letter of apology.

When writing a business letter always, always, be courteous. Even if you are expressing a complaint, write it in a friendly manner. Be brief, to the point, and clear. Avoid using archaic language, slang, profanity, clichés, big words, unnecessary words, redundant phrases, and "weasel" words. Use an active voice in your letter rather than passive. And when possible, include a call of action in your letter.

Word Processing
Word processing is a modern day tool that is a necessity for the writer. You can edit at a touch of a key and save your documents on disk for many years. And the word processor increases productivity in a short period of time. Tie word processing to email.

Summarizing and Outlining
Summarizing is a good skill when you want to emphasize just the key points. It teaches you how to be brief and to the point. Outlining is a good tool for organization. Learning how to outline is helpful in writing long proposals or books. It is also helpful in writing speeches. By using an outline, a speaker can obtain the high points of his speech and fill in the rest from memory.

Submit an Innovation Article