Three Pieces of Bad Advice

(Listen to this post, here.)

Congratulations, you have survived yet another year as a business owner.

Now to survive the holidays with your relatives – a much more daunting task since, unlike clients, you can’t fire the difficult ones.

Which is why today, I bring you three pieces of advice, all guaranteed to improve the way you communicate with friends and family over the next couple of weeks:

  1. Speak very quickly. These are busy people with no time to waste.

  2. Stick to the facts. Nobody cares about you or your personal experiences.

  3. Keep it short. Limit all conversations to 500 words.

I hope you agree that with the possible exception of, “While travelling in a foreign country, talk loudly to help non-English speakers understand you,” this is the worst communications advice you’ve ever heard.

Clearly, when it comes to holiday gatherings, these guidelines seem (because they are) ridiculous.

And yet, this is exactly what many “experts” recommend when it comes to business communication – email newsletters in particular.

Let’s look at them one at a time…

#1. Speak very quickly.

I’ve never bought into the “nobody has any time” argument. There are precisely as many hours in the day today as there were thirty years ago.

And besides, if everybody is so busy, who are all these people watching Game of Thrones, posting incessantly on social media, and spending hours upon hours arguing that despite all evidence to the contrary, Tom Brady looks as sharp as ever (it’s possible this last one is only happening in New England)?

Yes, we all have more options for filling our day than ever before. But it still comes down to choosing how you want to use your allotted 24 hours.

As a newsletter publisher, you earn your five minutes of attention each issue by offering content that is good, relevant and useful.

#2. Stick to the facts.

The argument here is that sharing personal stories and information is “unprofessional.” So just give them the facts and data.

Two problems with that.

First, as we enter the third decade of the 21st century, facts are just a Google away. There are no insider secrets left to share.

Second, your knowledge (and experience and expertise) is no better than that of your competitors. The truth is, the only unique thing you have is the human that you are – your personal stories, experiences, style and point of view.

The more of that you include, the more interesting, unusual and compelling will be your communications, said the bald, middle-aged father of three who lives in a suburb west of Boston (see what I mean?).

#3. Keep it short.

Working from assumption #1 above, a popular solution to the “nobody wants to read long emails” assertion is to include a minimum of content in the email itself and link to a page on a web site where the rest lives.

Granted, this two-step combination does technically shorten the email itself.

But in terms of saving time, this is the equivalent of starting a conversation in one room, pausing, and then asking the other person to follow you to a new location to hear the rest.

To the extent your newsletter has a “too long” problem, cutting it into two pieces doesn’t fix that.

Here, too, don’t worry about newsletter length. 500 – 800 words is a guideline, not a law.

Here’s the bottom line.

If you want a simple rule of thumb regarding how best to communicate as a small professional service firm or solo, apply the “business lunch with a favorite client” strategy:

It’s friendly. It’s casual. It’s a mix of business insights and personal information – about the weather, your respective families, what you did over the weekend. It’s as long as it needs to be and it’s over when it ends.

It’s really no more complicated than that.

Now about Tom Brady…

Discussion Questions:

  1. I’m west of Boston. Where are you located?
  2. Shouldn’t you be doing “real work” instead of wasting precious time answering irrelevant geography questions?
  3. What’s the worst holiday advice you’ve ever received?

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16 thoughts on “Three Pieces of Bad Advice

  1. Don Kleiner

    Maine right near the southwest corner of Penobscot Bay.
    Nah, nobody is thinking of hiring a Maine Guide this week. Who needs a guide to open presents.
    God rest ye merry gentlemen

    1. Richard

      Don, these days you’ve got to be creative. You ask, “Who needs a guide to open presents” and I say, “Find a blind guy who celebrates Christmas.” You can thank me later.

    2. Michael Katz Post author

      Always great to see you here, Don! Stay warm up there (I love corresponding with people whose weather is colder than mine).

  2. Richard

    From Somewhere East of NYC (Gary Halbert lives!):

    I dunno, Michael. I followed your advice. I spoke slowly (Southern gentleman speed), told my listeners not only the details of my hernia operation but also salted it with many comments about the attractiveness of the nurses, my opinion of Donald Trump, various observations about the weather and how winters were colder when I was a boy, and spoke for roughly fifteen minutes before coming to the point of the conversation. I would’ve gone on longer but there was no one left to talk to. I guess it was just too much of a good thing.

    On the other hand, have you ever received one of those 40-page direct response letters touting a financial advice newsletter from the generous folks at Agora? Those Who Know claim that long-form copy sells better than short-form. I must be a Philistine. I might read the first, maybe even the second, page and then skip to the final page before I trash the whole thing. Actually, I do search for and read that half-page, tiny print, portion that discloses under penalty of death exactly how much some lucky guy got paid to write and distribute all that deathless prose. I’m thinking that somewhere between 500 words and the length of an unabridged dictionary there must be a happy medium [not a reference to a cheerful person who communicates with the dead].

    Did I tell you what my dog did the other day?

  3. Lori

    Coast of Maine
    I consider much of my “real work” societally irrelevant so all the same!
    Being told to douse my tofurkey in giblet-based gravy.

  4. Michelle Morris, CFP®, EA

    1. South of Boston!
    2. Probably
    3. Hmm, not sure about this.

    I do know that I am grateful to have dodged the bullet on the whole “Elf on the Shelf” craze. (My only child is in college). A client who is a nurse tells her son that the Elf is too sick to go back & forth and that’s why he hasn’t moved. (And of course, she is a medical professional, so she should know….)

  5. Georgy

    I’m in a suburb of St. Louis, MO.
    Taking time to connect with a friend, that’s the best thing.
    I don’t think I’ve listened to any Holiday Advice . . . maybe that’s a good thing.

    Thank you for asking and especially thank you for sharing.

  6. Patty Rechberger

    1. I’m West of Boston as well. Northwest, to be exact, in upstate NY.
    2. This is a perfect way to procrastinate, if you ask me, so no.
    3. “The holidays are fun!” No, they’re not, and I am grateful they are behind us.

    Thank you for all the good advice! I made a single professional resolution for 2020, and it is to improve my communication skills, so timing was perfect.

  7. LJ

    1. In sunny, warm Arizona…just 90 miles south and east of Las Vegas.
    2. Yup…I’ll get right to it after I go find my lost hours. I know I left them somewhere! I need them back! I’m pretty sure they all got “wasted” and then lost.
    3. Try deep-frying your turkey…it’ll be great!


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