This interview with Fiona Talbot is one of two interviews with the co-authors of Improve Your Global Business English: The Essential Toolkit for Writing and Communicating Across Borders.
Can you tell us a little about yourself, Fiona?
Yes. I read Latin and English Literature at Reading University and was also lucky enough to study Linguistic Science as well. One of my lecturers was the world-acclaimed expert, David Crystal – and needless to say he further fuelled my enthusiasm for words!
My original career was in public sector administration but a move to the Netherlands in the 1990s brought out the entrepreneur in me. My communication skills helped me become a highly sought-after private sector business consultant for many multinationals there who needed business English for international marketing. I was particularly in demand for senior executive / Board level mentoring.
On my return to the UK, I have also become an internationally-acclaimed Business English author / consultant / feature writer and remote business editor. I am immensely proud of my wordpowerskills brand and system, used by colleges and businesses in the UK and indeed around the world.
How did this joint project with Sudakshina come about? And is there another book in the pipeline?
My three books comprising The Better Business English series were published internationally by Kogan Page in 2009 and have been reprinted a number of times. They are a concept series, designed as an essential office and career toolkit. They deal with the three phases of the business cycle: from induction /entering the workplace, to making an impact mid-career, through to leadership.
Kogan Page then approached me to see if I was interested in launching a new global, social media–oriented title to add to this successful series.
As a keen Twitter aficionada, I came across Sudakshina, as you will see from her interview, and I saw great potential in us harnessing our complementary global skills in a new venture. I come from a business background and Sudakshina from a lecturing one and we span different generations – which is immensely useful in any book such as this. Pooling our knowledge and our cultural diversity, we have the know-how to give tips from the outset of one’s career through to senior executive and leadership matters.
The rest, as they say, is history, as the new book has literally been born out of our meeting on Twitter!
One of the main themes in Improve your Global Business English is the importance of seasoning your Business English to taste – can you explain to our readers what you mean by this?
We are passionate about our key message that global Business English has to be a hybrid: one size won’t necessarily fit all. The English idiom that may be understood in your home market may confuse a manufacturer in China, for example. Or the jokey, informal comments you may make to a Western supplier may offend those from a reserved, formal culture.
As our book is a self-study tool, we wanted to provide worksheets throughout, that readers could customise for their real life writing tasks. We wanted the book to give them the answers to their specific questions and be a working part of their business life. That way it could be integral to their continuing career success.
We came up with the ‘seasoning’ metaphor because each culture has its own taste preferences! We give examples of real life business writing examples throughout the book – and then ask readers to examine whether the writing would have ‘the right flavour’ that is, strike the right chord for their audience? If not, what should be done, to make it do this? It could be as simple, as setting spell check to American English etc. ‘flavor’ instead of ‘flavour’!
In answer to your further question: no, there’s no new book planned just yet – as this one is just off the press!
Can you give us five top tips for making your business writing more professional?
We identify so many top tips in the book, it’s actually a challenge to limit ourselves to five! Here goes though, in addition to the points I’ve already made:
1. Great communication – whether talking or writing – is about knowing when and how to listen too. Build your knowledge about the issues and objectives, so you know what needs to be communicated. That’s actually where professional writing starts!
2. Do you do yourself justice every time you write? If not, why not?Try making every piece of writing about your business – e.g. e-mails, blogs, websites, reports, order confirmations, presentation slides (the list is endless!) – your opportunity to shine. Be clear but not curt – and be error-free, as most readers do see that as a mark of professionalism.
3. ‘Always appreciate your audience and show that you care’ is something we stress throughout the book. Real professionals know how to identify and write content that is valuable not just for themselves but for their valued readers too.
4. Don’t forget to be as positive as you can when you write. Readers prefer that wherever it’s feasible. If there is bad news to convey, empathise with your readers – and do them the service of giving reasons why you have to write as you do.
5. Writing is the prime driver of social media, websites and so many business transactions today – but don’t automatically assume readers are going to be interested in what you write. You have to do some leg work… and pull out some word power to make what you write interesting. The great news is that this professionalism will take your career forward too!
Do mistakes in a business’s written communication really matter if they’re doing everything else well?
It is a shame sometimes but readers do have a habit of focusing on what they see as mistakes. Even if a person’s work is otherwise brilliant, bosses, colleagues and external readers may judge it as less than professional. Unfortunately it can lead to complaints too – and we know that many recruiters say they routinely bin job applications with typos, wrong details and other errors such as not correctly answering the questions asked.
Poor punctuation is very prevalent in today’s writing – particularly in the fast-moving global digital environment – but it can create major errors in understanding. Care should be taken to avoid such pitfalls and particularly when writing for a non-native English audience.
An important point here: I’m very aware that writing can be difficult for people with dyslexia and other reading challenges. Many are clients of mine, as they find the system I show in the book really helpful. No one is more of an advocate on their behalf than I am and I always encourage them to ask for support – or I ask managers directly to help. There are always solutions.
How useful have you found social media for promoting your book?
The global reach we the authors are attaining is invaluable, as you would expect from the storyline of ‘the book born out of Twitter’! We also have publishers who use social media internationally as well, to bolster our efforts. The world is becoming a smaller place in the digital age!
Thank you very much, Fiona
Improve Your Global Business English: The Essential Toolkit for Writing and Communicating Across Borders is available on Amazon
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