Business Speaking

Having an Awareness of Tone

02 Aug 2020

When speaking or writing in a business context, it is very important to be aware of tone. Tone has to do with not the meaning of words but how they are said or written. For example, if you invited three close friends over to watch a football game, the language you might use with them would be very different than the language you might use if you met the Queen of England or a very well-known politician. The difference in the way you'd say things to the Queen and your friends is called tone.

Think for a minute about your native language. How might you say these sentences (in your native language) differently, depending on who you were with:

Give me that pen.
Stop talking and listen.
Sit down right now.

We make things more formal, of course, by adding words like "please" and "kindly". We also make it more formal by adding phrases such as "Could you....", " Would you mind...," "I was wondering if you could..." etc.

Sometimes tone has to do, then, with being more polite. Sometimes, though, it's not a matter of politeness, but of formality. Some words are just more formal than others. Consider the following list of words, for example, which are rather informal. On the right are words that are similar in meaning but reflect a more formal tone.

informal formal
really very
better improved
go depart
at first initially
lucky fortunate
empty depleted
ask enquire
next following
help assistance
need require
in the end finally
whole entire
wrong incorrect
chance opportunity
cheap inexpensive
not as good inferior
over and over again repeatedly
get obtain

Keep in mind that this is certainly not a complete list. While it's incorrect to say that the words on the left are impolite, they are less formal. That means you would almost never use these words in a formal business letter, but you wouldn't use the formal words on the right if you were spending time with your friends at home. Also note that in North American and British/Australian/South African business circles, it is usually fine to be somewhat informal when speaking; this is not the case when it comes to writing, however.

 

Making Difficult Requests

19 Jul 2020

When making requests, it's necessary to be polite. In most situations, the standard request phrases "Would you...?" or "Could you .....?" are acceptable. For example:


Could you take these cheques to the bank?
Could you please handle my calls while I'm out?
Would you speak to Jane about this, please?
Would you make a copy of this report for me, please?

However, in certain situations, where the request will trouble or inconvenience someone, it is a good idea to use a stronger, more polite request phrase. The most common phrase is "I'd appreciate if you/we could...." Here are some examples:


I'd appreciate it if you could check this document for errors when you have time.
I'd appreciate it if you could show Jim how to use the new auditing software.
I'd appreciate it if you could extend the deadline by a week.

If the request is very difficult, use the phrase "I'd really appreciate if it you/we could..." Listen to these examples:


I'd really appreciate it if you could complete our order by 30 June.
I'd really appreciate it if you could extend our credit by a further 30 days.
I'd really appreciate it if we could postpone our meeting until next week.

Note: we don't say "I'd very appreciate it if you could." Use "really" instead of "very."

The other common phrase for making difficult requests is "I would be grateful if you could..." This phrase is used in the same way as "I'd appreciate it if you could..." Listen to these examples:


I'd be grateful if you could check this document for errors when you have time.
I'd be grateful if you could show Jim how to use the new auditing software.
I'd be grateful if you could extend the deadline by a week.

And if the request is very troublesome for someone, use the phrase "I'd be really/very grateful if you could...." This phrase is used in the same way as "I'd really appreciate if you could..." as in these examples:


I'd be very grateful if you could complete our order by 30 June.
I'd be really grateful if you could extend our credit a further 30 days.
I'd be very grateful if we could postpone our meeting until next week.

Why do we have to be so polite?

This is probably a cultural thing. In Western culture, people expect politeness. If your request sounds more like a command, then you're likely to cause offence, and there's a good chance they'll say "no." If you make a request and indicate your appreciation, your request is much more likely to be granted. Of course, much depends on the context of the conversation you have and the relationship you have with the person you're speaking to.

 

Improving your Listening

05 Jul 2020

Does this situation seem familiar to you? Your English is progressing well, the grammar is now familiar, the reading comprehension is no problem, you are communicating quite fluently, but: Listening is STILL a problem!

First of all, remember that you are not alone. Listening comprehension is probably the most difficult task for almost all learners of English as a foreign language. The most important thing is to practice listening as often as possible.

The next step is to find listening resources that you are really interested in on the radio, television and the Internet.

Listening strategies

Once you have started to listen to English on a regular basis, you may still feel that your listening is not improving. What should you do? Here is some advice:

  • First, accept the fact that you are not going to understand everything.
  • Don't worry that you can't understand every little word spoken.
  • Don't translate into your own language.
  • Listen for the general idea of the conversations. Don't focus on detail until you have understood the main ideas.

I remember the problems I had in understanding spoken French when I first went to France. At first, when I could hardly understand a word, I tried to translate everything into English. This approach usually resulted in confusion. Then, after the first six months, I discovered two important facts: Firstly, translating creates a barrier between the listener and the speaker; Secondly, most people repeat what they say. By remaining calm and focused, I noticed that I could often understand what the speaker had said.

Translating creates a barrier between yourself and the person who is speaking

While you are listening to another person speaking English, the temptation is to immediately translate into your own language. This becomes stronger when you hear a word or expression you don't understand. However, when you translate into your own language, you are taking the focus of your attention away from the speaker and on to the translation process in your head. This situation leads to less, not more, understanding.

Most people repeat themselves

When people speak in their own language, do they repeat themselves? I don't mean word for word; I mean the general idea. If they are like most people I have met, they probably do. That means that whenever you listen to someone speaking, it is very likely that they will repeat what they have said, giving you a second, third or even fourth chance to understand the main message.

By remaining calm, allowing yourself to not understand, and not translating while listening, your brain is free to concentrate on the most important thing: Understanding English in English.

 

Business Presentation Tips

07 Jun 2020

Above all, know your audience and match what you say to their needs. Creating your presentation with your audience in mind, will assure that your audience will follow you. If your presentation doesn't appeal to your audience - no matter how well you have developed your presentation - your presentation will fall on deaf ears.

This leads us to the next rule: Know your material thoroughly. Your material needs to be second nature to you. Practice and rehearse your presentation with friends, in front of a mirror, and with colleagues. If you are speaking in a second language, make sure that you record yourself and listen a number of times before going to practice with a native speaker (if possible).

Remember that you are an actor when presenting. Make sure that not only your physical appearance is appropriate to the occasion, but also the tone you use is well chosen. If your topic is serious, be solemn. However, it's always a good idea to begin your presentation with an ice-breaker.

Don't worry about making friends, rather lead the audience through your materials in a calm and relaxed manner.

Speak slowly and clearly, and remember to address everyone in the audience - even the person the farthest away from you.

To achieve the above goals follow these tips when giving your presentation:

  • Speak with conviction. Believe what you are saying and you will persuade your audience.
  • Do not read from notes. Referring to notes is fine, but do so only briefly.
  • Maintain eye contact with your audience. Making direct eye contact with individuals will help them feel as if they are participating in your presentation.
  • Bring handouts. Don't just use a PowerPoint presentation. Provide audience members with handouts of the most important materials so they can keep your most important take always in mind.
  • Know when to stop. This cannot be underestimated. You need to make your case, but continuing for too long will only ensure that the audience forgets what you have said.
 

Improving Your Listening Comprehension

24 May 2020

Don't Be Afraid of Errors, Guess Meaning, Speak Often

  • Accept your mistakes. Everyone learns language by making errors -- lots of errors. We try out new sounds, new words, new phrases, and new grammar; we see how the language feels and how others react.
  • Guess at meaning when you listen. You'll probably guess correctly most of the time!
  • Speak English as often as possible. Listen to other people; listen to television, the radio, and films.
Study and Practice All Aspects of English
  • Speak with everyone who will talk with you. Your listening comprehension and vocabulary will improve a lot, as will your ability to speak comfortably and quickly.
  • Continual study is necessary, too. Your accurate English grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation help you make English-speaking friends.
  • Study and practice saying useful phrases until you can say them well and say them confidently. Carry around a little notebook and study while you're in a queue, on public transport or just walking around. Rather than focus on isolated words, write down and practice phrases, expressions, common idioms, and parts of useful dialogues that you need in formal and informal situations.
  • Practice pronunciation -- not just individual sounds, but putting sounds and words together.
  • Keep studying grammar. Grammar isn't separate from listening and speaking -- language is grammar.
Find Opportunities to Practice
  • Be brave. Talk to your native-speaker colleagues or customers at work. Talk to your friends in English. Talk to your children in English.
  • Talk to yourself in your room. Create situations in your mind. For example, pretend you're at the library and need help.
  • Read a newspaper article and then, without looking, summarize the article aloud to yourself.
  • Keep a talking diary. Record your thoughts in English each night before you go to sleep.
 

Using the International Alphabet

10 May 2020

When talking on the phone, you may have difficulty with clearly communicating the spelling of your name, or understanding an important word spoken by the person you are calling. In these situations, it is a good idea to use the International Alphabet:

Play the audio file below to listen to the alphabet:

A for  Alpha

B for  Bravo

C for  Charlie

D for  Delta

E for  Echo

F for  Foxtrot

G for  Golf

H for  Hotel

I for  India

J for  Juliet

K for  Kilo

L for  Lima

M for  Mike

N for  November

O for  Oscar

P for  Papa

Q for  Quebec

R for  Romeo

S for  Sierra

T for  Tango

U for  Uniform

V for  Victor

W for  Whisky

X for  X-ray

Y for  Yankee

Z for  Zulu

So if your name is Zhane, you would say:

"My first name is Zhane. That's Z for Zulu; H for Hotel; A for Alpha; N for November; E for Echo - Zhane."

Keep the international alphabet with you when you make a phone call, or better still try to memorise it!

 

Job Interview Tips - Part 2

19 Apr 2020

You've written a great CV (resume) and covering letter, and the company has asked you to attend an interview. You need to make sure that you make the right impression to get the job! Here are five more tips to help you succeed at the interview.

1. Check you understand what people say to you.

When you say ..., do you mean ...?
Could I just go over this point again?
Sorry, do you mean ...?

2. Use a range of vocabulary to present your achievements and experience.

I achieved sales growth of ...
I managed sales of ...
I increased sales by ...

3. Try to remember names and titles (or company positions) when you are introduced.

A good way of remembering names is to use them immediately after you hear them. So, if someone introduces you to "Deborah Jones, our Marketing Manager" you can say immediately "Pleased to meet you, Ms Jones."

Pleased to meet you, Ms Jones.

4. Be aware of your gestures and movements during the interview.

Nod your head to show you understand and agree with the other person. Keep eye contact with them and try not to use nervous gestures. Ask your friends to help you rehearse the interview - they can tell you if you appear nervous!

5. Make sure you know what will happen after the interview.

The interviewer could say things like:

So we will contact you in a couple of weeks.
We'll let you know at the beginning of next month.

 

Job Interview Tips - Part 1

05 Apr 2020

You've written a great CV (resume) and covering letter, and the company has asked you to attend an interview. You need to make sure that you make the right impression to get the job! Here are five tips to help you succeed at the interview.

1. Use polite phrases.

Remember that if someone asks you "How do you do?" the correct response is "How do you do?"

When you meet someone for the first time, you can say "Pleased to meet you." If someone says this to you first, you can reply "Pleased to meet you, too" or "It's a pleasure to meet you, too."

If you didn't hear someone's name, you can say "I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name."

Pleased to meet you.
Pleased to meet you, too.
It's a pleasure to meet you, too.
I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name.

2. Ask questions which you have already prepared.

You should have the opportunity to ask questions at the end of the interview. You can prepare some before the interview. This will help you research the vocabulary you need and it will make you look interested in the company and the job.

There are different types of questions. "Direct" questions use words like "who", "when" or "what" or have an auxiliary at the beginning of the question.

Who is the manager of the department?
When would the job start?
Do you have a company pension?
Can I also work from home?

 
You can also ask "indirect" questions to make what you say sound less demanding. Indirect questions start with an introduction:
 

I'd like to know if you offer private health care.
Could you tell me if you offer options?

 

3. Try to predict the questions and plan the answers.

Can you tell us more about your experience with ...
Oh yes. When I ...
What qualities can you bring to this post?
Well, I'm an organised person and I ..

 

4. Show you are listening.

As well as maintaining eye contact, you can use phrase such as "Mmm", "I see" or "OK" to show the other person you are paying attention.

5. Don't be afraid to ask for explanations if you don't understand something.

I'm not sure I understand completely the relationship between these two departments. Could you explain a little further, please?
I'm afraid I don't really understand the difference between these two contracts. Could you go over it again, please?
I'm sorry, but I didn't understand what you just said. Could you repeat it please?

 

How to Give a Speech in English

22 Mar 2020

Every speech or presentation has two main aspects:

  • WHAT you say (content)

  • HOW you say it (delivery)

You obviously have a lot of control over the content, because you can plan out exactly what you want to say. But you can also do a lot to make sure your delivery is effective too. The advice that follows will help you deliver a powerful speech:
  • Remember that a listener usually only has one chance to understand what you are saying. So you must do everything you can to make it easy for him or her to follow your ideas.
  • The best way to do this is to "signpost" your speech. At the beginning, say how your speech will be divided up. During the speech, make it clear when one part has finished and the next part has started. (For example, "Now that I have explained some of the causes of air pollution, I want to tell you what we can do to reduce the problem.") At the end of your speech, make it clear that you are finished (e.g. by simply saying "Thank you!").
  • The most important parts of a speech are the beginning and the end. Think about a strong first sentence that will capture the attention of the listener. Be calm and confident; give the impression that you are well-prepared and have something interesting to say. End with a strong sentence: make people laugh or give them something provocative to think about.
  • Practise your speech before the big day. In particular it is useful to think about how and where you will stand/sit, and where you will put your materials before and after you have used them. Practise using your speech cards.
  • Speak loudly and clearly. Remember that your voice (your intonation) must do the job that punctuation does in your writing. Try not to speak too fast. Never just read full sentence notes - it is boring and makes your speech very difficult to follow.
  • Make sure you can be seen as well as heard. Don't hide behind your sheets or the overhead projector. It is important that every listener feels you are talking to him or her personally. Therefore look round the room and try to make eye contact with everyone in the audience at least once during your speech.
  • Be careful not to distract your listeners by swinging on a chair, tapping your feet etc.
  • It is useful to include visual material with your speech. For example, if you are talking about places, show a map. If you are using numbers, write them for all to see. (It's very difficult for listeners to keep large or many numbers in their head.)
  • If you are going to have audience participation be very clear exactly what you want from them. If you ask a question, be ready for strange answers, and expect to have to answer it yourself.
 

Telephone Answering Tips

08 Mar 2020

Telephone answering skills are very important for businesses. The telephone is still the main point of contact with customers for most companies. And the way you answer your company's phone will form your customer's first impression of your business. These telephone answering tips will ensure that callers know they're dealing with a professional business:

Answer all incoming phone calls before the third ring.

When you answer the phone, be warm and enthusiastic. Your voice at the end of the telephone line is sometimes the only impression of your company a caller will get.

When answering the phone, welcome callers politely and identify yourself and your organization. Say, for instance:

Good morning. Cypress Technologies. Susan speaking. How may I help you?

No one should ever have to ask if they've reached such and such a business.

Enunciate clearly, keep your voice volume moderate, and speak slowly and clearly when answering the phone, so your caller can understand you easily.

Control your language when answering the phone. Don't use slang or jargon. Instead of saying, "OK", or "No problem", for instance, say "Certainly", "Very well", or "All right". If you're a person who uses fillers when you speak, such as "uh huh", "um", or phrases such as "like" or "you know", train yourself carefully not to use these when you speak on the phone.

Train your voice and vocabulary to be positive when phone answering, even on a "down" day. For example, rather than saying, "I don't know", say:

Let me find out about that for you.

Take telephone messages completely and accurately. If there's something you don't understand or can't spell, such as a person's surname, ask the caller to repeat it or spell it for you. Then make sure the message gets to the intended recipient.

Answer all your messages within one business day.

Always ask the caller if it's all right to put him/her on hold before doing so, and don't leave the caller on hold for very long. Provide callers on hold with progress reports every 30 to 45 seconds. Offer them choices if possible, such as:

That line is still busy. Will you continue to hold or should I have xxx call you back?

 

Making Polite Requests

23 Feb 2020

When you are asking someone to do something for you or trying to influence their actions, you can often show that you want to be polite by saying things in an indirect way:

  1. Help me file these documents (please). (Very Direct - more demand than request)
  2. (Please) will you help me file these documents? (Less Direct)
  3. Could you help me file these documents (please)? (Neutral)
  4. Do you think you could possibly help me file these documents? (Indirect)
  5. I was wondering if you could possibly help me file these documents? (Very Indirect)
Generally speaking, the more indirect the expression you use, the more polite you will seem.  If you are too direct you may be considered impolite.  However, the more indirect expressions can sound "too polite".  When deciding which expressions are suitable for which situations it is useful to ask certain questions.
  • What is the relationship between the speaker and the listener? More direct expressions are often used between friends or when the speaker is in a position of authority.

  • How important is the action to the speaker? Usually, the more important the action, the more indirect the expression.

  • How much inconvenience will the action cause for the listener? If, for example, the listener is being asked to make a lot of effort or do something which they do not usually do, the speaker will probably use a more indirect expression.
 

Participating in Business Meetings

09 Feb 2020

In a business meeting, there are two situations in which people often run into difficulties. These are when you want to interrupt someone who is speaking, for whatever reason, and when you are asked to comment on something you don't want to comment on (either because you don't have enough information to give your opinion, or because you
don't wish to speak for your own reasons).

If you need to interrupt, here are some phrases you may find helpful (and remember to consider your timing when using them, too!):

 
Do you mind if I interrupt? I must just say that...
Just a minute...
May I add something here?
May I interrupt here?
May I just say something on that point?
Or use that wonderful word, "sorry":
 
Sorry, I must just point out that...
Sorry, could I interrupt a moment?
Sorry, but I must say that...
Sorry, could I just say something?
"Sorry" makes an interruption of a meeting a little more polite.

But to avoid making a comment on an issue, "I'm afraid" works better:

I'm afraid I can't comment at the moment... (then give a reason why: ...as I need to check on the latest information / ...as I'd like a little more clarification on this issue from Ms. Leung, etc.)
I'm afraid I'm not able to say. (+ reason)
I'm afraid I'd rather not go into detail here, if you don't mind.
Using "I'm afraid" is better here than "I'm sorry", as "I'm sorry" puts the blame on you and indicates that it is your fault, while "I'm afraid" just indicates that you may feel some regret, but it is not necessarily your fault.

Other options include:

 
Do you mind if we talk about that later?
Can we put it off until later?
I don't think there's any point in going into detail at this stage.
That information isn't available yet, but we could talk about it... (give date or time)
I'd rather not say. (simple and direct, but honest)
 

Tips for Effective Negotiations

26 Jan 2020

Rapport

Try to establish a good rapport with your opposite number from the moment your first meet, whether or not you already know each other. Some general 'social talk' is a good ice-breaker in this respect.

Simplicity

Keep your language simple and clear. Take your time and use short words and sentences that you are comfortable with - there's no point in complicating a difficult task with difficult language.

Clarity

Don't be afraid to ask questions if there is anything you don't understand. It is vital to avoid any misunderstandings that might jeopardise the success of your negotiation.

Listening and Response

Listening attentively at every stage of your negotiation will help avoid misunderstanding and create a spirit of cooperation. Also respond to what your opposite is saying with words or phrases such as "I see what you mean" or "You have a point".

Review

Summarise and review your progress at regular intervals during the negotiation. This will give both parties a chance to check understanding and if necessary clarify and rectify any misunderstandings.

 

Explaining Procedures – Sequence Words and Phrases

12 Jan 2020

To help you with explaining procedures, you can use certain words to show a sequence of events.

To explain the order in which certain things are done

First ...
First of all ...
Initially...
Next ...
The next thing you have to do is...
Then ...
After that...
After you (have done that / do that) ...
Finally ...
...And then finally...
Lastly...
Afterwards...

To add a further point

Make sure you (don't forget to)...
Oh, and by the way, don't forget to...
Oh, and be careful not to ...
Make sure you.../ Make sure you don't...

To check that the other person is following you, or has understood

OK, so is that clear?
Does that make sense?
So there we are / that's it. Do you have any questions?

 

Speaking English on the Telephone

29 Dec 2019

If you have to talk on the phone in English, don't be afraid! The fear of talking on the phone in a second language will disappear if you practice often. The most difficult part about using the phone in a language that is not your own is the fact that you cannot see the other person's eyes, mouth, and body language. Although you might not be aware of it, in face-to-face conversation you lip-read and watch for smiles, frowns, and moving hands, all of which can help in understanding meaning.

In addition, it is true that telephone interaction is perhaps not taught enough in ESL classrooms, nor is textbook treatment of telephone conversation adequate. These deficiencies pose a serious problem for ESL learners, given how much everyone relies on the telephone in everyday life. Telephone talk appears to be one area in which ESL learners are particularly sensitive, since they frequently state that it is difficult to talk on the telephone and they either avoid or limit such interactions.

Here are a few tips for speaking English on the telephone:

Speak Slowly and Clearly

Listening to someone speaking in a second language over the telephone can be very challenging because you cannot see the person you are trying to hear. However, it may be even more difficult for the person you are talking with to understand you. You may not realize that your pronunciation isn't clear because your teacher and fellow students know and understand you. Pay special attention to your weak areas (such as "r's" and "l's" or "b's" and "v's") when you are on the phone. If you are nervous about using the phone in English, you may notice yourself speaking very quickly. Practice or write down what you are going to say and take a few deep breaths before you make a phone call.

Make Sure you Understand the Other Speaker

Don't pretend to understand everything you hear over the telephone. Even native speakers ask each other to repeat and confirm information from time to time. This is especially important if you are taking a message for someone else. Learn the appropriate expressions that English speakers use when they don't hear something properly. Don't be afraid to remind the person to slow down more than once. Keep your telephone in an area that is away from other noise distractions such as a radio or television.

Ask another student to practice talking on the phone with you. You might choose one night a week and take turns phoning each other at a certain time. Try to talk for at least fifteen minutes. You can talk socially, or role play different scenarios in a business environment. If you don't have access to a telephone, you can practice by setting two chairs up back to back. The most important thing about practicing telephone English is that you aren't able to see each other's mouths. It is amazing how much people lip-read without realizing.

Use Businesses and Recordings

There are many ways to get free telephone English practice. After business hours, you can call and listen to recorded messages. Write down what you hear the first time, and then call back and check to see if your notes are accurate. Use the phone in your everyday life. Call for a pizza delivery instead of going out to eat. Call a salon to book a hair appointment. You can even phone the movie theatre to ask for the listings instead of using the newspaper. Some large cities have free recordings you can call for information such as your daily horoscope or the weather (make sure that you aren't going to get charged for these numbers first). Some products have free phone numbers on the packaging that you can call for information. Think of a question you might want to ask and call the free number! For example, call the number on the back of the cereal box and ask for coupons. You will have to give your name and address. Make sure you have a pen handy so that you can repeat the information and check your comprehension.

Learn Telephone Etiquette (manners)

The way that you speak to your best friend on the phone is very different to the way you should speak to someone in a business setting. Many ESL speakers make the mistake of being too direct on the telephone. It is possible that the person on the other line will think that you are being rude on purpose if you don't use formal language in certain situations. Sometimes just one word such as "could" or "may" is necessary in order to sound polite. You should use the same modal verbs you would use in a formal "face-to-face" situation. Take the time to learn how to answer the phone and say goodbye in a polite manner, as well as all the various ways one can start and end a conversation casually.

Practice Dates and Numbers

You should practice saying dates and numbers aloud. You and a friend can write out a list of dates and numbers and take turns reading them over the phone to each other. Record what you hear. Exchange notes the next day and check your answers.

 
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