(Bad) Examples to Use on the First Day of Class

So you may have two questions:

  1. Why are you writing about the first day of class when the school year just ended? Answer: It’s never too early to collect great stuff to use in the next school year!
  2. Where have you guys been?! Your last post was in January! Answer: Sadly, yes–that was our last post. Then various calamities, in the form of burdensome administrative tasks and health problems, hit. But we have emerged victorious and, like many of you, are happy to have the summer to recover, rethink, and recharge.

The first day of class is a great time to start sensitizing students to the importance of clear, successful business communication, so over the summer, watch your in-box, social-media feeds, and mailbox (and listen up during meetings and other encounters) for real examples that can make the point.

Here’s one I’m going to use. It was in an email message that I recently received from an environmental-protection organization. Though the message was, in general, well written, the first paragraph had a major problem. I’m sure you can find it (the boldface type was in the original):

“With graduation commencements happening at colleges all across the country, many of your students are probably still wondering, ‘What comes next?’ That’s why I wanted to let you know that we will be officially closing applications for the Green Corps Class of 2018 on Friday, May 26th.”

Wait . . . is this a good-news or bad-news message?! Despite the negative wording of the emphasized sentence, the intended message–that there’s still time for students to apply for a job with Green Corps–is actually good. Ask your students how they’d rewrite the problem sentence to emphasize this good news. I’ll be they can do it–and bolster their self-confidence and decision-making skill in the process.

Another problematic message I received not long ago was the “teaser” on the envelope of a fundraising letter. It read “IMPORTANT RENEWAL NOTICE” and then “IMMEDIATE RESPONSE REQUESTED,” followed by this question, in bold red type: “Have We Done Something Wrong?

The teaser did get me to open the envelope, whose contents revealed that the sender was Habitat for Humanity. Though this is an organization that I feel positively toward (and have supported), I found the envelope’s screaming (typographically speaking) announcement and its whiny, guilt-inducing question very off-putting. Thankfully, the letter itself talked about helping families, without further efforts to make the reader feel bad–but by then I’d already determined not to support whatever organization had sent me this message.

It’d be very interesting, I think, to share this story with our classes (minus my particular reaction to the message) and see what they’d have to say about the text on the envelope. I’m betting that somebody will say it was unwise not to reveal up front that the message was from Habitat, since the organization, as a popular and respected nonprofit, should have traded more on their “cred.”  I’m hoping they’ll also find fault with the shouted “RENEWAL NOTICE” message. And of course, I’m hoping that they’ll regard the emotional-blackmail ploy used by the question as dangerous. (Yes, it may get people to open the envelope . . . but would any letter be able to counteract the negative reactions generated, at least for some people, by the question? Plus, how would the reader know if the organization had “done something wrong?” Or what should he/she do if he/she believes that the answer is “yes”? It’s a negatively worded invitation for feedback that goes nowhere.)

We know many of you also collect examples of communication gaffes. Please share these, as well as good examples that catch your attention. They’re a great way, maybe the best way, to “keep it real” in the bcomm classroom.

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