Being in the right place at the right time often means gaining a valuable opportunity. I call it positive visibility. Many people assume it is simply a matter of luck. Others know better. I have always liked the definition of luck suggested by Ann Landers: “Luck is when opportunity and preparation meet. It is often disguised as hard work”.
If positive visibility is not just luck, then how do you make it happen? Here are several strategies that have worked for many people.
Write articles for industry trade journals or your own company magazine. Editors are always looking for good writers who have something worthwhile to say. The more your name appears in print the better your chance for positive visibility. Volunteer to present papers at industry conferences. It takes more effort, but the results can be amazing. One young man leapfrogged three levels to a vice-presidency on the strength of a paper he presented. Was it just luck that the president of the firm happened to be in the audience?
Make the most of any opportunity. A great five-minute presentation at a management meeting could do more for you than five years of experience. Be prepared. Rehearse. Dress well. Act like your career hangs in the balance. Learn to network. Go to association meetings, conferences, or alumni functions in your area. Friendships developed are often stronger than you realize. Don’t be insincere, but be your most positive self. Polish your speaking and writing skills. Even mundane memos can be a visibility opportunity. An increasing number of people speak and write poorly. Someone who does both well will stand out immediately.
Develop your people skills. Learn to read people accurately and respond appropriately. Discover fresh ways to motivate and persuade others. Be polite and positive. Good people skills are highly visible and long-remembered. Good writing is increasingly critical in most jobs. Yet according to the experts, the average adult is a poor writer. For instance, most of us use three or five more words than necessary to say what we have to say.
Here are several guidelines which can help you use fewer words, say more, and say it better.
Keep sentence short – no more than 15-20 words. Long sentence are hard to understand and slow to read. Use the active voice. Most business writing uses the passive voice, which requires 30-50 percent more words. Use simple, ordinary words. Avoid big words, fancy phrases, technical jargon, and worn-out clichés. Keep paragraph short. In most cases, three or four sentences per paragraph is plenty.
Identify the exact result you want before you start. What do you hope to achieve with your letter, memo, or report? Make an outline. What is the best way to achieve your intended result? Think first, write second. Edit, edit, edit. Do it yourself or ask someone to do it for you. Try one of the new computer programs like Grammatik. It checks your writing against various rules for good writing. Write like you talk. People who could tell you something clearly and concisely often write obscurely. Get a good style manual. My preference is Elements of Style, by William Strunk and E. B. White. First published in 1929, it is still the best71 pages available on good writing. Practice using their principles.
The rewards for good writing are increasing. While you may never win a Pulitzer Prize, you can easily enhance your career. The good news, though, is that anyone can learn to be a better writer.