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  • When you should use apostrophes

    When should you use apostrophes?

    I find people often have trouble using apostrophes in the right way. Here are three examples of incorrect usage –

    • Microsoft Windows was launched in the 1980’s
    • More people expect to be working into their 70’s
    • He went to the mens room

    In the first two, the words in bold are plurals and plurals don’t need apostrophes. In the third, mens is possessive and means ‘the room of the men’ so it should have an apostrophe. The correct versions are –

    • Microsoft Windows was launched in the 1980s
    • More people expect to be working into their 70s
    • He went to the men’s room

    When should you use apostrophes?

    If you’re interested to know when you should use apostrophes, The Plain English Campaign instances three main occasions when they should be used – 

    • When there are letters missing, as in ‘’I’m going out’ (where ‘I’m’ is short for ‘I am’)
    • To show possession, as in ‘The company’s management’ (where ‘company’s’ is short for ‘the management of the company’)
    • In expressions of time such as ‘We have been given a week’s notice’ (where ‘a week’s notice’ means ‘notice of one week’)

    Land’s End or Lands End?

    But things are seldom straightforward: there are often exceptions to times when you should use apostrophes. Many relate to place names. In September last year Cornwall County Council decided, as part of a review of electoral boundaries, to change the spelling of Lands End to Land’s End. Whether or not you agree with this depends on your point of view and whether you believe Land’s End is correct, denoting possession – ‘the end of the land’ – or you think it’s the unique ID of a place called Lands End. Just to complicate matters, Visit Cornwall is still showing Lands End without an apostrophe, and Lands’ End, the American casual clothing brand, makes Lands plural in its brand name.

    Looking at place names elsewhere, there’s little consistency about the use of apostrophes. For example, correspondents on this language forum instance the city of St Albans in Hertfordshire but St Alban’s Head on the Dorset coast. If you’re travelling on the London underground you can go to Earl’s Court using an apostrophe, or Barons Court without using an apostrophe. And King’s Cross is commonly spelt both with and without an apostrophe.

    The apostrophe should be cherished!

    In 2013, Mid-Devon County Council caused public outrage when it proposed removing apostrophes from street signs. The public outrage was echoed by no less than the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). A spokesman said, ‘Whilst this is ultimately a matter for the local council, ministers’ view is that England’s apostrophes should be cherished’.

    I know text-speak commonly ignores apostrophes – and other punctuation – but I don’t think that means apostrophes should be swept away across the board. I’m with the DCLG’s spokesman – I think using apostrophes assists our understanding of the English language and removing them would leave our language the poorer. However, decisions about when (and if) you should use apostrophes is not in our collective gift: the English language has always evolved organically and not as the result of decisions made by regulatory bodies – and that’s why it’s such a delightfully rich and versatile language. 

    If you love the English language …

    If you’d like to know more about how our language has evolved, read Emma Bates’ (with an apostrophe!) excellent article Why I Love the English Language. As she says, ‘The only effective way to influence the language is to be good at using it’.

  • Overcoming call reluctance

    Overcoming call reluctance

    Last week I took part in a webinar given by Steve Mills, a business results coach.  During the webinar he described the ten keys to growing your business. In order to achieve better results, he said, we need to do things we aren’t doing now. One of these is making phone calls. But some people don’t like using the telephone, Steve said, so for them it’s about overcoming call reluctance.   

    In order to increase your sales, you need to be comfortable calling people in your network – people you’ve met through networking or connect with on social media, including current prospects and past clients. Steve emphasized how important the telephone (well, smart phone these days) is as a business tool. He calculated he’d achieved business worth about £60k over a year as a result of speaking to people on the phone. 

    Fear of rejection can increase call reluctance

    A basic human fear of rejection lies behind call reluctance, it seems. After Googling the term, I saw that various organisations offer training  to help with overcoming call reluctance. There are positive steps you can take to reduce it, as Connie Kadansky at Hubspot explains in her blog on cold calling.

    So far, so good. But what would you say to someone who won’t use the phone? Indeed, they have no experience of using it, because they communicate solely by text messaging? A friend of mine who works for a local county council interviewed a nineteen-year-old for a job recently. During the interview the subject of making calls came up. This was because the job involved using the phone regularly. The candidate should have been ruled out if they couldn’t overcome call reluctance and use the phone as part of their work.

    Texting vs making phone calls

    Being a person of mature years, call reluctance is foreign to me: in my teens and into my twenties, I remember being on the phone to mates and friends endlessly. It used to cause arguments at home because nobody else could use the phone for hours while I was on it! OK, we didn’t have smart phones then. But if you’re used to communicating by phone, overcoming call reluctance may not be as big a problem as it obviously is for a nineteen-year-old with no phone experience.

    What’s the solution? I’m guessing this isn’t an isolated case and there are plenty of nineteen-year-olds who text all day long but don’t phone at all. Texting is a very different type of communication with its own linguistic characteristics; so for them it’s a big step overcoming call reluctance and developing a confident telephone manner.

    People buy from people

    Perhaps there’s a need for more focused coaching, in school and through career and employment organisations, to help young people overcome call reluctance and become confident making telephone calls? Of course, you can read books about increased prospecting but that’s a stage beyond offering advice on using the telephone to prepare yourself for work.

    Steve Mills is right – the phone’s an essential verbal tool because ‘people buy from people’. We need to build relationships, so talking on the phone is next best to having a one-to-one meeting. Once you’ve established rapport, the other person should feel confident enough to buy  from you, whether it’s a window-cleaning service or something else.

    Verbal skills are vital

    Don’t get me wrong – text messaging has its place, just as emailing or posting on social media do. But human beings are social animals and we need to use our verbal skills too, so we don’t lose them. That’s why overcoming call reluctance and being able to communicate by phone – whether to increase sales or just make somebody smile – is vital.

    Our story has a happy end – my friend saw that the nineteen-year-old candidate had many great attributes and she was taken on. This friend then spent time teaching the new employee how to overcome call reluctance and become confident on the phone. 

  • Achieving greater things in oxfordshire

    Achieving greater things in Oxfordshire

    I’ve been a member of The Oxfordshire Project (TOP), a collaborative networking group that extends across Oxfordshire, for a little over a year now, and rate it as one of the best networking groups I’ve become involved with. It certainly inspires people,  so that they’re achieving greater things in Oxfordshire.

    Top talk

    TOP run meetings at attractive venues in Thame, Witney, Didcot, Abingdon, Bicester, Oxford Central, Banbury and Faringdon every month. There’s a lively talk by a TOP member at each meeting, helping listeners achieve greater things in business in Oxfordshire.  I’ve learnt something useful from every talk I’ve heard so far.

    Supportive connections

    Unlike some networking groups, there’s no pressure to provide referrals and the atmosphere is friendly, uplifting and collaborative. The TOP mission statement is ‘To support, connect and inspire great people so they achieve greater things’, and you do feel supported, connected and inspired. As a member, benefits include a complimentary mentoring session with a member of your choice (or with one that’s been recommended) and a coaching session with a member having expertise in an area you’d like help with.

    In the spotlight!

    A new initiative is the TOP Business Spotlight, and I was chosen as one of the first twenty businesses to be in the spotlight. You can read my spotlight feature here on Linked In. After having to think quite hard about some of the questions I was asked, I’m really pleased with it – it’s a great idea to help build awareness of your business, inspiring you to achieve greater things in Oxfordshire.

    Reach out

    TOP say their members have a giver’s ethos based on ‘how can I help?’ rather than ‘what’s in it for me?’. In a world where, it seems, there’s a lot of focus on ‘me, me, me’ I find it refreshing to belong to an organisation that places emphasis on reaching out to others to improve business, personal life, and community at home and abroad.  

  • Badly worded signs mislead the pub;lic

    Badly worded signs

    Badly worded signs are misleading. There are plenty of examples of such signs. But, mostly, the errors are all too obvious to the reader. You can look at pictures of these badly worded signs on the internet – they often make us laugh. After all, a sign that has obvious errors in it can still be understood – it won’t do any harm other than raise the occasional eyebrow.

    But sometimes a sign can be perfectly spelt and still be completely misleading. The author of the sign knew what he or she meant to convey but  failed to make that meaning clear.

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  • Your document's finished or is it?

    Your document’s finished – or is it?

    It’s time to start composing that important document! But once you start, it’s tempting to ‘go for it’ and write as much as you possibly can. The thoughts are coming thick and fast, and you’re intent on capturing them all before they vanish again! Then it’s done, and a weight is lifted from your shoulders! Your document’s finished – or is it? 

    No, in most cases it isn’t.  This first draft is a long way from being the finished version.

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  • Giving constructive feedback

    Giving constructive feedback

    Most of us try to do our best when we’re asked to carry out a task or respond to an enquiry – whether this is from customers, clients, colleagues or our nearest and dearest. But how do we know when we’ve done our best? Were we given any constructive feedback? Could we have performed better? Were there aspects we could have improved if we’d been aware they were required? 

    There’s usually some learning to be taken on board, no matter how experienced we think we are. The only way we can really improve is by receiving feedback. But this is mostly not given unless specifically requested.

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  • Overcoming fear f blank paper

    Overcoming fear of blank paper

    Overcoming fear of blank paper is something most of us have wondered how to do at some stage. We have sat in front of that blank sheet or screen, wondering what on earth to write and where to begin.

    Some people find it easier to handwrite initially, others prefer the keyboard or tablet. It doesn’t matter which medium you use, just choose the one you feel most comfortable with. 

    Switch on the light!

    Perhaps you’ve been asked to write a job description or a difficult letter, a marketing strategy or business proposal, or simply summarise outcomes from brief (and now difficult to make sense of!) notes you made at a meeting? Time ticks by and you still haven’t written a thing!

    But there’s no need to feel defeated by the blank paper (or screen) in front of you. Just start somewhere.

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  • Engaging with readers stimulating interest

    Engaging with readers

    I love reading articles by many different writers because every one of them has his or her own style and vocabulary. Each writer has their own way of engaging with readers. No-one writes in the same style as the next person, which to me is part of what makes us unique as human beings.

    Sometimes a writer will use a word I’ve not come across. Being a wordsmith, I usually do a Google search to find out what it means! The writers I’m talking about write for newspapers and magazines. Their aim is to entertain as well as stimulate interest, engaging with the reader and capturing their attention. Good writers succeed in doing this. The best writers are those whose articles provide a pleasurable reading experience. They write well about things that interest us.

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  • Avoid email misery read emails carefully before pressing 'send'

    How to avoid email misery

    I expect you, like me, have received unpleasant or disagreeable emails. These emails were often sent on the spur of the moment, without thought of the hurt they might cause when the recipient read them. If only the senders of badly worded emails had thought twice about how to avoid email misery at the receiving end before pressing ‘send’.

    Silent conversation

    Email messages are a great way to communicate quickly, but the speed and ease with which they can be sent means they are also easily abused.  When you’re writing a report or proposal, it’s going to be checked before it gets sent anywhere. But emails are exchanges of dialogue between two or more parties. They’re like having a live conversation with someone, but it’s silent.

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  • Personalised handwritten mail

    Mail is better handwritten for uplifting response

    I was half-listening to a programme on BBC Radio 4 recently, during which the reporter remarked, ‘…ripping open envelopes feels like such an old-fashioned thing to do’. This comment struck me as bizarre. I half-wondered if the reporter had removed his letterbox on the grounds that he no longer received post – whether impersonal direct mail  or personalised handwritten letters. However, I feel sure he won’t have done so. Any more than he employs a private letter-opening assistant so that he doesn’t have to undertake such a menial task.

    While it’s true that we receive much less personalised handwritten mail these days – birthday cards and Christmas cards are major exceptions – business mail isn’t in decline with the rise of the internet, contrary to what some may believe.

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