Effective decision making | Business English materials

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Here are some more materials I developed on the ITDI course – Creating ELT Materials with Katherine Bilsborough. The assignment brief was to design wrap-around materials with short authentic texts. I chose four tweets by an American facilitator and performance consultant, Thiagi on decision making. Thiagi often tweets pithy messages on a variety of management and leadership issues. The original materials had screenshots of his tweets but I wanted to get permission before I circulated them more widely. Unfortunately, I haven’t heard back so I’ve replaced the screenshots with QR codes and links.

The context of this 60 minute Business English lesson is effective decision making and it explores language for giving advice using imperatives along with some vocabulary related to decision making. Learners will gets lots of opportunities to speak in pairs and groups and will also write an email and a tweet.

Image attribution: Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

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Spin to win | A verbing game with ‘body parts’

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In July, I did an ITDI course with Katherine Bilsborough on Creating ELT Materials. I plan to write a longer post about the experience at some point. In the meanwhile, you can have a look at this summary by Geraldine who was also on the course. Over the next couple of weeks, I plan to share the materials I designed for the course’s assignments.

Here’s my first one … well it’s actually the fourth and last assignment. Interestingly, it was the simplest (at least from my perspective) and the one that I spent the least time on.

Katherine asked us to create a game or a puzzle for this assignment.  Spin to win – the game I designed introduces Business English learners to idioms that use parts of the body as verbs in a process that’s called verbing. But I reckon you could could tweak it a bit and use it for other contexts because not all the idioms are necessarily businessy. You’ll find teacher notes on page 4. Let me know what you think!

 

5 minutes of Feedly | EFLtalks

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I did a 10×10 (10 slides over 10 minutes) presentation at yesterday’s EFLtalks Business event. It was a lot of fun and some of the other speakers were very interesting. I particularly enjoyed Rob Szabo and Pete Sharma’s talks.

I talked about how I use a news aggregator app called Feedly with Business English and ESP learners. I work with a lot of professionals from technology and consulting organisations in India. A recurring need they experience is engaging in small talk with their global stakeholders because their conversations tend to be extremely transactional – focused almost solely on project deliverables.

The EFL perception of small talk is that it’s about things like the weather and the weekend. But in business in general and in consulting in particular, small talk is often about what’s happening in your industry. It’s an opportunity to demonstrate your credibility and expertise, develop a good working relationship and potentially deepen customer accounts because you might be able to cross-sell services in future. So, there are clearly benefits to this kind of small talk to both the individual and the organisation.

My learners find talking about what’s happening in their industry and the business world challenging because they rarely read. Continuing professional development doesn’t exist and information flows in a top down manner in training programmes and through communication from leadership. They’re often subscribed to role-based emails that curate articles but these tend to be full of internal thought leadership (read propaganda) which can give people a flawed view of developments in their sector.

Feedly aggregates updates from different sites. So once you’ve done the initial legwork of populating and organising your ‘feeds’, it becomes an easy way of reviewing what’s happening in your industry as well as parallel sectors. In this presentation, I’ve suggested some activities using Feedly which mirror the sorts of tasks people do at work. By incorporating tasks that get learners to use Feedly on their phones or laptops, they develop the habit of staying on top what’s happening in the business world in a way that’s quick and efficient.

Here’s a slightly modified version of the presentation I used for the EFLTalks Business event.

You can find out more about EFLtalks from its site (it’s temporarily offline), its YouTube channel and Facebook group.  Alternatively, you could also connect with its founder, Rob Howard.

Going paperless with OneNote

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Over the weekend, I presented at a professional development event in Chennai – Perspectives in Business English Training – hosted by ELTAI BESIG and Ethiraj College. We had Evan Frendo from IATEFL BESIG as our keynote speaker. Here’s a summary of my presentation on going paperless with OneNote.


I started exploring OneNote a few years ago in response to some conclusions I arrived at after reflecting on my ESP courses.

  • We use too much paper in Business English and ESP courses: the difference between the volume of paper handouts we use and the amount of paper that’s used in a large digitally driven organisation has only become more pronounced over the years. I recall walking past a series of meeting rooms with glass walls to the one that I was training in at the end of the corridor for an in-company workshop. All the other rooms were filled with people busy on their laptops, smartphones and at the whiteboard. I don’t think there was a single piece of paper in any of them. My room was the only one swamped by paper handouts.
  • Our courses don’t reflect the realities of the workplace and workplace communication: whether it’s in terms of the amount of paper we use, or the limited way in which we use technology, Business English and ESP courses are often divorced from how communication occurs in the workplace. Evan Frendo in a BESIG webinar once spoke about the tendency for teachers to ask students to stand and deliver presentations when the great majority of presentations at work are delivered sitting down and often over the phone.
  • Even millenials or digital natives need support with using technology meaningfully and resourcefully at work: we assume that young people are on top of tech. This isn’t necessarily true particularly when it comes to mapping the affordances of digital tools that are available at work to their communicative needs.
  • Texts within courses and training programs don’t reflect the multimodal nature of texts at work: coursebook texts are quite different than the range of texts that working professionals encounter which include multiple genres within a single text type, data, images, infographics, video, audio, hyperlinks, embedded social media, all of which are underscored by intertextuality (how texts connect and speak to each other).
  • Written tasks at work are often collaborative but written tasks in the classroom are usually done individually: I can’t generalize and say this is true for everyone. Certainly, when I think of a typical email writing task on my courses, I don’t usually set it up as pair or group work. But even emails are often written collaboratively by teams in meetings – not to mention other sorts of documents such as presentations, proposals and reports which often have multiple authors.

But it was a specific event that led me to OneNote. Four years ago, I was teaching a course that focused on improving communication in meetings and it also included some on-the-job coaching. One of the outcomes we focused on was getting learners to produce useful minutes/notes during the meeting. I got them to watch a lot of videos and participate in simulations, and write up minutes on flipcharts with colourful markers. By the end of the course, the walls of the room were covered with rainbow coloured ‘minutes’ in large writing. I was feeling very pleased with myself.

Later that week I found myself observing a meeting with three of these learners. It also included some attendees who’d joined in telephonically as well as a client who’d been dialed in. Interestingly, all three of my learners were taking notes in different ways. The first was using the Notepad application on his laptop. Notepad has no text wrap or formatting so he was essentially writing one long sentence across his screen. The second learner had an Outlook message open and he was typing the notes directly as an email. He even had all the attendees’ and the client’s email addresses filled in the To: field; presumably to send the notes the minute the meeting got over. The third learner didn’t have his laptop with him. Instead, he was writing in a physical notebook. Halfway through the meeting, the second learner suddenly put up his hands and started to apologise profusely – he’d accidentally sent the email with half-written barely understandable notes to everyone. He then went to his Sent items folder and opened the message, and started writing in it again! And all this while, his colleagues continued to make their own notes and the other virtual attendees were conceivably making their own notes.

I saw a need and a opportunity – and a definite gap in the way I was approaching course design and delivery. I needed to

  • Make in-class tasks more authentic
  • Mirror real life tech use
  • Build digital literacy along with language and soft skills
  • Allow for collaboration
  • Reflect the multimodal nature of work.

My research took me to OneNote, a relatively unknown application in the Microsoft suite. OneNote comes bundled with Microsoft Office which means a lot of people already have access to a licensed version without realising it. It’s certainly on most work systems that have Microsoft Office. OneNote also has a free app for mobiles and tablets although it restricts you to a maximum of 500 notes.

Initially, I only focused on getting my learners to use OneNote to take meeting notes. But I soon discovered what a versatile tool it is. It lets you record audio, draw, research, organise, and collaborate among other things. One of my favourite features is Insert stickers which lets you personalize stickers and use them to give quick feedback for written work. I also like the web-clipper which is a button that gets added to your browser and is an easy way to collect links, articles etc. This can be really useful for web quests with a bit of learner training. The best part is that it’s easy to share a Notebook with your learners and get them to work collaboratively on it either using the OneNote mobile app or on their laptops.

You’ll find more ideas in this presentation which is a slightly modified version of the slides I used for the session.

OneNote also has an additional Class Notebook add-in which is specifically designed for education with lots of useful tools. Unfortunately, this version is only available for people who have Microsoft Office for Education which in turn is only available to those in the formal education sector.

Free secondary images for Business English materials

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A secondary image is a picture that has a background. I prefer using primary images (which are basically cut-outs on a white or transparent background) in print materials but secondary images can look really good in presentations if used well. Here are some sites that provide free downloads of secondary images under a creative commons license. Note that some images under creative commons require attribution and others don’t – this is usually mentioned next to the image when you’re downloading it.

  • Unsplash: different collections including  Workspaces, It`s business time, Computers, phones & tech, Desk + Work, Work and collaboration, generally no attribution necessary but some individual images may require you to credit the owner under Creative Commons.
  • Pixabay: a huge variety of business images including primary and secondary images as well as illustrations. Some require attribution, others don’t.
  • Picjumbo: Some beautiful shots but the range is limited to hands and laptops on desks unfortunately. No attribution necessary.
  • Gratisography: a limited range but high quality whimsical images including the one I’ve used in this post. After accessing the site, search for key words like business, work, technology etc. No attribution necessary.
  • Pexels: corporate looking images. No attribution necessary.
  • Burst: a nice range of business images with no fuss downloads. A bias for hands on laptops though. No attribution necessary.
  • Stockvault: free business stock photos – quite a large collection with no attribution necessary for their free stock photo collection. You’ll need to be careful on this site though as you could easily end up on Shutterstock signing up for a paid account.
  • Stockphotos: a limited collection of pictures but includes some primary  images, attribution necessary.
  • RGBstock: scroll down to the business categories – there’s a combination of illustrations and photographs. The site requires registration. I have to admit that I’m not completely convinced that the people who’ve uploaded pictures to the site actually own them.
  • Freerangestock: you need to register to download. This is another site where you can quickly end up being asked for your credit card details on Shutterstock. No attributions required.

Do you have any favourite stock photo sites which have a free section for business-related images?

The language of pep talks | An evidence-based activity

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I’m often asked by my clients to help their managers ‘motivate’ their teams more effectively. I usually excuse myself from supporting this request by suggesting that it’s out of my scope so I was naturally intrigued by this HBR article on some recent research on the language of motivation, perhaps bringing it into the ambit of ELT. Here’s a quick activity I came up with to help learners explore this research.

Materials & preparation 

  • It may be a good idea for the T to read the article, The Science of Pep Talks.
  • You’ll need to copy and cut up the jumbled functions.
  • You’ll also need copies of the speech from the article.

Procedure 

    • Pre-teach pep talk if necessary (you could also use an excerpt from an American movie – YouTube has loads – unfortunately, I couldn’t find any without inappropriate language).
    • Draw some speech bubbles on the board and ask learners to think back to the last pep talk they received from a manager or leader at work. What sorts of things did this person say? Do they give pep talks to their team members? What do they include in these messages?
    • Introduce learners to the three elements of pep talks: direction giving or uncertainty-reducing language, empathetic language and meaning-making language which Milton and Jacqueline Mayfield discovered were shared across motivating messages from different domains such as sports and sales.
    • Distribute the jumbled functions and ask learners to put them in these three categories.
  • Get learners to work in pairs or groups to come up with expressions for these functions which make sense to them within the context of their jobs.
  • Ask learners to discuss which of the three would be most difficult to incorporate into a motivating message  (The research suggests it’s meaning-making, for example, imagine how challenging this might be for a fast-food outlet manager trying to motivate his part-time employees to perform better).
  • Signpost the following speech and explain that it was spoken by Erica Galos Alioto, a sales leader at the popular social media company, Yelp. Sections of this speech have a number after them – ask learners to review these sections and decide which of the four techniques Alioto uses to motivate her team.

Let me just say how impressed I am with this group … Thank you for being the top office in Yelp right now, and for welcoming me with such incredible energy.

Right now the New York office is leading the company with 104% of quota, and there are two days left in the month. That’s absolutely insane.… Colleen is at $80,000. I tried to say hello to her yesterday, but she was on the phone, pitching like a madwoman, so I couldn’t ….1

Everybody knows how amazing the last day of the month is in the New York office. But LDOM isn’t really about the day of the month. It’s about how we approach that day. There’s something about that particular day that makes us come in with the ridiculous amount of grit and determination, the ability to make the unthinkable happen,2 the energy to achieve just about anything so that no matter where we are in relation to quota, we’re going to win. All those people who’ve been telling us no all month long—we’re going to turn that around and get a yes….3

Hopefully everybody has a pen and paper. I want you all to take a moment and write down what success looks like for you today. It may be how many business owners you talked to, or how many hearts and minds you won.… Write it down.4

When you woke up this morning, what was your mentality? Sometimes we get into negative self-talk. Sometimes it may sound like this: “Why is Jon at target today? He must have a really great territory.” Sometimes we believe if somebody is achieving something that we’re not, it must be because the other person has some advantage.5

Guess what? We also have plenty of examples of what people think of as a bad territory, and we put somebody new on it, and they go out and absolutely crush it.

If there’s anything negative in your thinking, I encourage you to turn that thinking on its head. Instead of looking at the differences between you and somebody else with a lot of success, look for similarities.6

We’ve got two days to make it happen. Everything you do today, every action you take to make that successful outcome, every time you pitch, every business owner you talk to, every time you encourage a teammate to be better, every time you win the heart and mind of a business owner, you’re not only helping yourself—you’re helping your team, you’re helping your office, you’re helping your company, and you’re helping Yelp get where it wants to be.7

Source: McGinn, D. The Science of Pep Talks. HBR Jul-Aug 2017

Here’s the answer key:

1: Empathetic language – Praising the group and individual contributions 
2: Meaning-making language – Portraying LDOM as a significant event and connecting the reps’ actions to a larger goal 
3: Empathetic language – Acknowledging that some people are lagging, but emphasizing their self-efficacy and resilience 
4: Direction giving or uncertainty reducing language – Offering specific guidance on how to approach the day’s task 
5: Empathetic language – Recognizing employees’ tendency to get discouraged, rather than be emboldened, by colleagues’ success 
6: Direction giving or uncertainty reducing language – Instructing reps to avoid negativity 
7: Meaning-making language – Connecting today’s work to the company’s larger goal.

  • Ask learners to reflect on their own leaders’ pep talks; do they have these three elements? What about their own pep talks?
  • Learners then work in groups to create notes on a pep talk for their team members which incorporates these three techniques. Ask them to use Alioto’s speech as a guide but create something more concise, which they can then pitch to their peers.
  • You may want to combine this with a session that explores techniques for using the voice effectively.

Image attribution: Pep talk by Kenneth Moore | Flickr |CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Using The Economist’s covers to teach idiomatic language

Business English activity

The Economist, that venerable magazine that so many of my learners swear by and in all probability have never read. The Economist tends to have really creative covers with interesting allusions and clever word play. Here’s an activity that’s perfect for business contexts that exploits these covers to explore idiomatic language, practise speaking, and doesn’t require learners to dive into those sometimes dense articles.


Materials

You’ll need covers from the Economist and you can get them for current and previous issues from this site.  You could then either display it on a slide or print it out or as I prefer, take the print copies of the magazine in (but of course you’ll need a subscription for that).

Preparation 

You’ll find a variety of of interesting language features on the covers including idioms, allusions, word play, metaphors, and tongue in cheek subverting of all of these.  Choose ones that are appropriate for your learners. For some of the writing courses I teach on business thought leadership, I focus on covers that use allusions and metaphors. But the ones in this post are for exploring idiomatic language.

Procedure

  • Get learners into small groups and distribute the covers to them.
  • There are several ways of doing this. You could give each group all the covers you’ve selected or have each group look at the same cover and discuss it before moving on to the next one or you could do it like a jigsaw task and assign a different cover to each group. You could also assign the covers using slides without physically distributing any printouts.

The activity has four steps:

  • Step 1: Ask groups to guess the idiom being referenced by the cover image and text and what it might mean.
  • Step 2: Give groups the idiomatic language but with gaps such as “Paper ______” and then get learners to match the idiom to the cover.
  • Step 3: Ask learners to use the frame “The Economist claim(s) that _______________ + [idiomatic expression] because …” and complete it with what they think the Economist might be saying. For example, “The Economist claim(s) that India under Prime Minister Modi is a paper tiger because …”
  • Step 4: Ask groups to discuss what they  know about the subject and if they know enough about it, whether they agree or disagree with The Economist’s perspective.

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Key

  1. Paper tiger: something that seems very strong and threatening but is actually weak and ineffectual.
  2. To walk on water: to perform superhuman feats (this one’s also a Biblical allusion).
  3. To dig yourself into a hole: to get yourself into a difficult situation.
  4. Keep your fingers crossed: hope that things will go well or the way you want them to.
  5. A long and winding road: a complicated and difficult future path (strictly speaking, this might be a fixed expression but still useful for learners)
  6. This could either be “to go the way of the dinosaur” (not a frequently heard idiom) or “to be a dinosaur” in the sense of “your phone is a bit of dinosaur” but both refer to something that’s become outdated or past its prime.