While you are studying and have not yet started your professional hospitality career, you need to take advantage of the university environment and support system to learn as many transferable skills as possible.
Best way to learn anything is to practice doing it.
As I share with you the 4 Essential Business Skills you need, I will give you examples of things you can do right now, at university, to learn and develop those skills.
4 Essential business skills you need to have
- Writing emails
- Creating and delivering presentations
- Organising meetings
- Project management
But before we dive into them, let’s step back and look at the big picture.
At the bottom of it all lies communication. It’s all about getting the right message across to the right people, at the right time.
What is communication?
According to Dictionary.com, communication is:
“the imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions, or information by speech, writing, or signs”.
It is the process of passing information from one source to another via written words, spoken words, images, or other visual formats.
Here is a great article on that if you want to read further on communication.
Everything is communication and communication is everything.
That said, let's start with the one that most people take for granted: writing emails.
Email is essentially the main communication channel at work these days, with both your colleagues and guests, which means that you need to know how to use it correctly.
The 3 things you need to know to write a good email:
- Who are you writing to?
- What are you trying to say?
- What do you want the person receiving the email to do?
Yes, it’s that simple, yet it’s easy to get it wrong. Let’s look into it.
The first step is the key to formulating an email. You need to know how the person likes to receive information to be able to get the response you want.
This is the most important part and if you are not sure and have no one to ask, be polite, respectful, and provide extra information.
The second step is to be clear in your subject line and your email body what the email is about.
The subject lines are tough to write, they need to be clear and brief. Enough to understand what the email is about and if it worth opening.
If your headline is not clear, the email may not even be opened!
Start your email strong with the key message of why you are writing this email in the first place. The reader needs to understand what you want or what the issue is straight away. Don’t dwell too long on describing things (or if you have to, present the information in an organised matter).
What to do
Finally, the recipient needs to be able to quickly scan the email and identify what you want them to do next. If it is not clear, it is unlikely that you will get what you want.
You will be left frustrated with them, without understanding why they are not being helpful.
Consider these examples:
[URGENT] Issue with content delivery is delaying campaign launch
Hi Boss name,
When trying to upload content to the web for the launch of the campaign, we encountered an issue which is going to cause a delay for the launch. The issue is… We are investigating the cause…. We are informing the stakeholders…
This may delay the launch of the scheduled campaign, we don't know by how long.
On top of what is being done to fix this, I suggest we do… Do you agree?
Let’s review this:
I know my boss doesn’t have much time for email so I make sure that my subject line has a clear topic they can identify when scanning their inbox.
The body of the email goes straight into the point: the issue in question and what impact it has. My boss needs to understand the challenge.
At the end, I clearly outline what I need my boss to do.
Make sure to have agreed to established etiquette, you shouldn’t send the same email to your colleagues, your boss, or a guest. Always consider cultural differences and boundaries.
Provide relevant information for the recipient.
Here are a few more examples of email subject lines for other situations.
- [FYI] Q1 Report of guest feedback at The City hotel
- [ACTION] Feedback on the copy for the Christmas newsletter
The use of the brackets [ ] is my personal preference in case of urgency, but it depends on who you are writing to.
In the following example, I am asking a colleague for their point of view.
Breakfast overflow on weekends
Hi Colleague Name,
We have analysed the situation of the breakfast overflow on weekends and derived a few alternative solutions. I would love your viewpoint on this because you have dealt with this before.
Solution A is…. The benefits are… the potential issues could be…
Solution B is… The benefits are… the potential issues could be…
Since our desired outcome is... I think that we should implement B.
What do you think?
I need the receiver to provide their opinion on the two options A and B. I make sure I highlight why I think this person should share their point of view with me and make clear what each is.
I provide my viewpoint as well. They have the minimum required information for them to be able to provide their opinion.
Writing a professional email is not something you are going to get a lot of practice at university, unfortunately. This is something that is totally up to you to learn now, rather than later.
You need to create opportunities for yourself to learn this skill before you enter the workforce.
How to practice writing emails at university
Send emails to prospective employers and ask for a meeting or their opinion on the local market growth or latest hotel industry trends - be specific.
Email your professors with questions and meeting requests to discuss the courses, assignments or even just their viewpoint on future trends.
During an internship, find out if there is an opportunity to manage an inbox and respond to questions sent in.
Creating and delivering presentations is something you do a lot at university, but it is not the same at work as it is at university. So make sure to make the most of it now!
Here is how the presentation style differs between the university and work.
The content of the presentation
At work, you need to get straight to the point, be very clear with the objective, deliver content, problems, and solutions in a structured manner.
Compared to academic studies, your work will not require you to do theoretical research based on academic papers and textbooks, but your work will require you to have evidence, facts, and references (real-life ones).
If you are proposing a change, you have to back it up with proof that the change will do on of the two things:
- solve an existing problem or
- result in a benefit for multiple stakeholders involved.
If the reason for your proposal is based only on that you think it is a good idea and you have no data to support your ideas, your proposal will not be considered.
You need to always make sure that the content on your slides is on point and does not have any “fluffy stuff” that is so popular at university.
(The presentation should be structured and has the detail that the audience you are speaking to wants to see, not the detail you want to present. Know your audience.)
Presenting your content
The way you speak when you present makes all the difference. You can have the most smashing content slides but still, miss the whole presentation if you do not deliver it well.
Your voice and message need to be clear.
Do not stumble.
Make sure you are prepared to present your content and take questions, i.e. know what you are talking about.
At university, you are in the best environment to practice your presentation skills, make the most of it, don’t shy away.
It is not going to get easier, it will only get more difficult.
At work, unlike university, you are going to have to host digital presentations via tools such as Google Hangout, Webex, Skype, you name it.
The presentations done digitally are very different from the presentations you deliver in person.
The receivers often cannot see you, so the main communication tool you have along with your slides is your voice. (Or sometimes just your voice)
Leading the conversation with only voice can be harder than doing so when you are in person. When facilitating a discussion you need to be able to encourage conversation as well as lead it.
However, if you are just delivering information or content without creating an engaging conversation, it is easier. You can feel more relaxed as you can flex just one muscle - your voice.
But because people cannot see you, you have to articulate with your voice more and you can not see how they are actually paying attention to you.
These are harder to practice during your university studies as you are more likely to have real-life presentations, but if you are the king/queen of the live presentations, you will certainly be able to do digital ones.
I personally find live presentations more challenging in a work environment, especially when the group gets larger and requires you to stand to present.
How to practice your presentation skills at university
Research presentation skills
Watch videos on body language during presentations, on verbal presentation skills, on how to seem confident (fake it until you become it) and then implement those tips in your presentations.
This one is one of my favorites:
It’s important to find the things that work for you, everyone has their own style and it takes trial and error to derive it, so don’t worry if you don’t have it yet.
Identify your pet peeves
Are you holding your hands in your pockets? Are you moving your hands a lot? Are you balancing on your legs and hypnotizing the audience with your constant movement?
Identify your thing by asking your teachers and peers, and consciously work to eliminate that. You can also film your presentations and see for yourself what others see. It will be a great point of comparison for you later, as you develop and improve.
To see if you are making improvements, ask your teachers and peers for feedback.
Once you get into the work environment you will have strong foundation experience and the importance of that cannot be underestimated.
If you are afraid of public speaking now, it will not get easier later. Work can often seem like a marathon of presentations.
Everyone has a bit of a love-hate relationship with meetings. We need them to share information, to get things approved, and to build relationships.
Yet we often find ourselves in meetings that waste our time. Bad meetings, ones that have no purpose or ones that get quickly derailed by other people that like to push through their own agendas.
Mastering the skill of organizing and holding a good meeting takes practice and the difficulty varies depending on the audience.
The basics of meetings:
Have an objective
- Have an agenda
- Invite only the people that really need to be there
- Be prepared, make sure that you don’t waste people’s time
- Keep notes of topics discussed and things agreed to
- Don’t be late
- Respect people's time: start on time and finish on time
If you are inviting a guest to your usual weekly or monthly meetings, don’t forget to explain why you are inviting them in the calendar invite.
Do not invite “everyone” that may be relevant, invite people that are relevant and are either going to help you or are people you are going to help.
If you’ve organised a meeting, you’ve asked people to spend their time on something you want to talk about - make sure you come prepared.
If you waste their time once, they will lose their confidence in you, which will hurt your reputation.
A good meeting has a purpose, so don’t waste the opportunity and take notes of what was discussed and agreed. If actions were agreed, don’t forget who it was for.
And please, don’t be late for your own meeting (or any meeting). You need to respect the time other people have chosen to allocate to you, so make sure to stick to it.
How to practice meeting organisation at university
This is a tricky one because your university peers are so different from your work colleagues.
The best way to learn to organise and host meetings is to join an organisation where you can take a role of some responsibility, and within that learn this skill and all others on this list.
The organisation type doesn’t matter so much, just make sure it is not the one where you gather weekly to watch a movie (although that does sound like a fantastic organisation to be part of) you should look for one where you can learn practical skills.
Personally, I joined AIESEC when I was at university, and the experiences there taught me a lot about organizing and meetings.
But off course you can pick whatever you fancy and have available in your university.
4. Project management
Once you have a project to do, it is never really something that only affects you.
In a hotel, your manager will be involved, you will work with other colleagues to complete the project and once you are finished, the result will affect the guests.
So you need to plan your projects and you need to communicate your plans.
Plan your project
- When kicking off a project I find it helpful to summarize a few key things on a slide:
- What is the objective?
- What is the background story / current situation?
- Who are the stakeholders and what role do they play in this project?
- What is my deadline for this project?
- Do I need a budget/funding for this project?
I then think about the key action steps in the project:
- What are the key actions that will help me to succeed?
- What are the milestones that I should aim for in the short term?
- What are the anticipated challenges and how can I pre-empt them?
Personally, it helps me to then create a timeline using the Gantt Chart style with key tasks, timings, and milestones.
I like the visual presentation and it is something that can be easily adapted when plans change.
Communicate your plans
Firstly, run your plan by your manager and seek their input. Did you miss anything? Once they approve and sign off your plan, move forward with the actions.
If there are people that you need to get involved in this project that are not part of the team, you need to engage with them in advance. Make it clear to them what role they play in your project, and regularly keep them informed.
People don’t like people that only reach out to them when they need something (especially if it is always “urgent”) so make sure to keep people updated so they feel like you have control.
Keep all stakeholders informed in the project’s process because they will help you to:
- stay on track,
- identify gaps,
- find solutions,
- see things from another perspective,
and in the end, it will make the final result better because it will already have the backing of key stakeholders.
How to practice project management at university
Practicing project planning at university is the easiest thing. The opportunities to apply this knowledge and gain experience are endless.
When you get your next assignment or have an opportunity to organize an event, use the questions listed above and start planning.
Create a Gantt chart and work towards the deadline in steps.
The process gets easier with practice and more complicated as the size of projects grows.
Don’t think that this is not applicable to you if you are looking to build a career in hotel or restaurant operations.
These are basic business skills and although they don’t directly seem to apply to hospitality, they unequivocally do.
Everyone everywhere writes emails, delivers presentations, and holds meetings about projects they are working on.
So don’t wait until you graduate to start learning these skills. Create a solid foundation to start on now, so that you can move forward faster later.