Category Archives: Bits & Pieces

Whatever your profession, you also need to be a professional communicator. ETC is pleased to share these essential Bits & Pieces to help you polish those skills.

Why I Hate “Work/Life Balance”

This month’s rant is about a cliché we all hear and many of us use – ‘Work/Life Balance’. I understand and love the concept …  but I hate the words used. So please, humor this incurable wordsmith a little.

The connotation implies that ‘life’ is the opposite of ‘work’ and must be balanced with it. Conversely, ‘work’ is the opposite of ‘life’.

There’s also the negative inference that work and life are somehow not connected or inter-related and that ‘work’ must be bad because it’s the opposite of ‘life’, which is a good thing.

No question about the importance of having enough time and energy to enjoy a life outside of the workplace. I’d just like better and more accurate words. While ‘work/personal life balance’ is a little better, it does suggest individual over family and is clunky. ‘Home life’ is also a little better, but doesn’t suggest travel, recreation or a social life.

So, here’s a solution to this semantic problem that I can easily live with. Wait for it … ‘Work/Non-Work Balance’. It’s clear and logical.  You’re either at work or not at work. The two sides of the equation are implied to be relatively equal and neither term is negative or judgmental.

I do hope you learn to love ‘Work/Non-Work Balance’ as much as I do.  Don’t thank me, it’s what we wordsmiths do.

Why I Love Proper Quotes

I love using quotes in my writing and presentations – I really do.They can add sizzle, credibility or perspective to the message. However, I really love using quotes correctly by including author details.

Few people are so well known that they don’t need any reference, like Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, Winston Churchill or Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. For the rest, I always answer the question readers or listeners often have – ‘So … who is this person?’

I regularly use Wikipedia to find the source details. That helps me include century (actual dates are less important) and three facts about the person. Easy. Very easy.

It doesn’t take much time or effort to go beyond just listing ‘Tom Peters‘…  to ‘Tom Peters, contemporary American management expert & author of ‘In Search of Excellence’. Same goes for ‘Oscar Wilde, 19th century Irish poet, playwright & novelist’, ‘Voltaire, 18th century French writer, historian & philosopher’ and ‘Jerry Clower, 20th century American humorist & writer’. Adding that information enhances the value of the quote, because ‘who’ said it and ‘when’ may be more important than ‘what’ he or she said.

When listeners or readers encounter quotes without identification, they might think the writer or speaker was too lazy or indifferent to find out that information – not good for their image. Or, they assumed everyone knew who that person was … possibly making some people feel stupid when they shouldn’t. Also not good for reinforcing positive image.

So, harness the power of using quotes correctly and invest the extra time to indicate source details. It won’t take long for you to love using quotes just like I do. And … you can quote me!

Phil Stella, contemporary communication consultant, writer and executive presentation coach.

Why I Hate ‘Small Talk’

A regular reader recently asked about using small talk while networking. My response was short and simple – just say ‘NO’ to small talk. It doesn’t help you that much. Go for ‘Big Talk’ instead.

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Why I Love Letter ‘B’

Imagine you’re delivering a presentation with some projected support slides. You get to a section that has no slides – what do you do? If you leave up the last slide that now doesn’t relate to the content, it looks like a mistake and can be distracting, If you bring up the next slide that doesn’t relate to the current content either, the same thing happens. It looks like a mistake4 and can be distracting.

Here’s a solution as simple as ‘A – B – C’ … or, least as simple as ‘B’. When your keyboard is connected to a projector to run the slides, my favorite letter on it is ‘B’. With a properly set up system, ‘B’ causes the screen image to go black. The projector is still on and hitting ‘B’ again shows the last slide up.  The same happen s with letter ‘W‘ – the screen goes white.

With a properly designed audience-centric presentation that has specific periods without any slides, ‘B’ makes it easy to avoid having slides up too long or too early and keeps you from looking lame.

Simple, easy and flexible. See why it’s my favorite letter?

Why I Hate Automated Voice Messaging

When calling a business or colleague, how often do you hear ‘Your call is being forwarded to an automated voice messaging system … 475 338-0298 is not available … ‘ I really hate that – it’s cheap, lazy, impersonal and not caller-friendly.

 How much better to have taken a few minutes to record a short, customized message, like  ‘Hi, this is Ben Dover with Glitztronics. Please leave a message and I’ll get back to you by the end of the day.’ 

I wouldn’t hate that at all. Would you?

Why I Hate ‘two (2)’

I recently got a document from a client asking me to review and comment. Happens all the time. My pleasure to be of service. But, this one had the phrase ‘… schedule two (2) planning meetings … ‘. I’m not making this up.

It’s 2024 and people still think they need to tell readers that the word ‘two’ means 2. Most workplace readers know that ‘two’ means 2 – that practice can be insulting or annoying. Or result in a sarcastic ‘Really?’

What to do? … Simple. With numerical references zero – nine, write out the words, as in ‘three weeks’ or ‘eight revisions’. For references 10 or greater, use numbers, as in ’20 team members’ or ’11 percent’. But there’s never a good reason to do it two (2) times. Make sense?

I Love Escalator Speeches

We all know that Elevator Speeches should be the short and simple answer to the often-asked question at networking events –  ‘What do you do?’. Sometimes, they’re even clever, but most of the time they’re lame, too long and forgettable. Even so, they’re still a fact of business life.

So, that’s why I love Escalator Speeches. Assume you’re on the down escalator as someone passes by you going up on the other side. You only have a few seconds to communicate, so you must be focused, concise and engaging.

Mine is ‘I empower business leaders to take away the pain from workplace communication.’ Short, simple and likely to generate some questions when the other person turns around and follows me back down the other side.

The best one I’ve ever heard is from a financial planner colleague. He says “I help take people from fear and frustration to financial freedom’. (Thanks Lamar). Also short, simple, catchy and memorable. No mention of titles or words with lots of baggage. Both are benefit statements citing the value people receive when they work with us.

Crafting something that concise is a lot of work, I admit. But, it’s well worth the time and effort if you want to make a memorable impression on the escalator.

I Hate ‘No Problem’

I’m really getting tired of ranting about this issue, but it looks like my work here is far from over!

Why do so many people respond to ‘Thank you.’ with ‘No Problem.’ today? I doubt that many of them felt that the act I just thanked them for was, in fact, a problem. Maybe it would usually be a problem, but not this time. Or maybe a problem with other people, but not me.

Maybe it’s a generational thing, as many restaurant servers, store clerks, admin assistants, etc. are young … certainly, younger than me. Could even be my steady evolution into a curmudgeon!

While saying ‘No problem.’ is really no problem, it doesn’t add anything positive, either. It just ends the conversation on a dull, if not lame note. So, turn this situation into a teachable moment the next time you overhear a staff member respond with ‘No problem.’

Suggest that ‘You’re welcome.’ would be better. Even better is to respond with what they teach everyone at the award-winning Ritz Carleton hotel chain to say every time – ‘My pleasure … ‘.

So, if this simple little act makes sense to you, then consciously turn ‘No problem’ into ‘My pleasure.’  Anyone have a problem with that?

I Love ‘Show Password’

Does this ever happen to you? Your in a hurry entering your password on your phone or tablet with your finger but you make a mistake and the site blows you off. You try again and still mess up. Then, the site locks you out for a period of time due to too many ‘suspicious’ attempts to log in. Not very user friendly!

That’s why I love the ‘Show Password’ option a few sites offer to help us out. I don’t understand why more don’t. Are they concerned that some invisible force will lurk behind you when you’re using your phone in your office or car and steal your password to Tony’s Pizza?

Why I Hate Titles

I hate titles … I really do. And I especially hate title-happy people.

While skimming some LinkedIn postings recently, I encountered a person who was seriously title-happy. After his name was ‘… MBA, BA, BS, NP, MPM.’ Wow – aren’t you impressed with his credentials! Read More »