Friday, August 28, 2015

The weekend read

Did you drop the ice cream cone that was this week, communicators? I've got a replacement treat for you: My finds of the week, shared via @dontgetcaught on Twitter and curated here just for you. Don't cry over spilt ice cream:
Make that ice cream truck stop playing 'Turkey in the Straw:" Buy my new ebook, The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panelssign up for my free monthly newsletter, or let me know how we can work together in 2015 with an email to eloquentwoman at gmail.com.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Caro Willis)

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain called. They want their quotes back.

Speechwriters and social media mavens alike love the famous quote, and so do their audiences. But quotations are one form of literature that has suffered sorely in a social-media age, where nearly everything seems to have been said solely by Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, H.L. Mencken, Mae West, Maya Angelou, or Winston Churchill. If food lovers say "Everything tastes better with bacon," social media users must be thinking "Everything sounds better with Lincoln." Actually, I think Mae West said that first. Don't get caught in this slippery slope, communicators.

Instead, shine a light on quote attribution and follow the lead of some social media (and traditional media) mavens who are fighting back and establishing who said what, when. They're taking the only sensible route and serving as verifiers and fact-checkers, something you can consider for famous quotes that emanate from your company, organization, or university. Check out these examples:
The reverse of this problem will delight speechwriters: President Lyndon Baines Johnson's speechwriter, Liz Carpenter, shared LBJ's method for handling quote attribution:
You’ve got to make sure that everything you write will be understood by the audience. There’s a famous story about LBJ going over a draft of a speech by a new speechwriter. He was reading it aloud to [Congressman] Jake Pickle, and he got down to a quotation from Aristotle. LBJ exploded: “Aristotle? Aristotle? Those people don’t know who the hell Aristotle is!” So he took out his fountain pen, crossed out “Aristotle,” and wrote, “As my dear old daddy used to say . . .” Any speechwriter would say that’s fair.
I'm not as worried about the paraphrased quote, or even the one attributed to your daddy. But the misattribution issue is not as small a problem as it may seem. Even the U.S. Postal Service misattributed a quote on its Maya Angelou tribute stamp, a mistake so expensive they aren't going to correct it. If you're sharing quotes in speeches or social media, more and more, it pays to spend time fact-checking or getting a librarian or researcher to do that for you. A good start: Buy an office copy of They Never Said It: A Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes, and Misleading Attributions. And if you're in a position to establish what your key figure in history did and did not say, please do--and share it widely.

Got a panel coming up? Whether you're a conference organizer, speaker, or moderator, you'll have a better panel--and a sparkling discussion--if you plan with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels. At just $3.99 in all ebook formats, it's like having a coach with whom you can prepare and bring on stage with you.

Friday, August 21, 2015

The weekend read

Got your boats all tied up with no hope of enjoying the blue beyond? Nonsense, communicators. Time to set sail for the weekend, with my finds of the week, shared via @dontgetcaught on Twitter and curated here just for you. Is that my private island off in the distance?
Take that boat further: Buy my new ebook, The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panelssign up for my free monthly newsletter, or let me know how we can work together in 2015 with an email to eloquentwoman at gmail.com.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

An ode to my favorite social media throwback skill: Touch typing

When I'm working with clients on social media strategies, I often find myself reminding them that social networks and mobile devices are no different from the technology of yore. They're the medium, not the message, and your long-standing communications skills still apply. And I have no better reminder of that than the social media skill I use every day: Touch typing.

Yes, that's right. You probably already know I'm not a digital native. More like a long-lived, adaptable, evolutionary Galapagos tortoise with mad social media skillz, if the truth be known.

Touch typing could not be more old school. Seemingly, it's out of date. Yet I use it every day, all day, fulfilling a defiant prophecy I made in high school. A teacher who also managed the honor society wanted to talk me out of taking a full-credit typing class. She kept suggesting other, "more intelligent" classes. But knowing I was barreling toward a career as a writer, I turned down each option saying, "I may not need that, but I'll be typing every day for the rest of my life, and I want to learn it now."

By the time I was done with that high school typing course, typing was a part of my DNA. I worked my way through college with it, as work-study secretary to a great broadcasting professor. A college friend just reminded me that she associates images of me typing with the movie Julia, in which Jane Fonda, playing author Lillian Hellman (a favorite of mine) threw a typewriter out the window in frustration. For the record, I never got that far, but you can always feel free to compare me with either Fonda or Hellman. And the typewriter I used in college was a beast. If I'd thrown it out the window, casualties would have occurred.

Today, I use lots of tools to keep up with my social media publishing presence, which includes three blogs that together post six times every week; two Facebook pages; several Pinterest boards; two Twitter feeds; a Google+ account and blog community; a LinkedIn presence. And while I rely on Blogger and IFTTT and a host of other tools, I couldn't sustain all that in the compact number of hours I do without touch typing. I can do it eyes closed. I can tell when I'm making a typo or my fingers haven't hit the keyboard in the right spot. And I'm still close to 100 words a minute when I can type uninterrupted, which means I also can transcribe fairly well when needed.

A college professor friend of mine shared that her students had gone back to hand-writing notes in class, because they don't know how to touch type and can't keep up on a laptop. Take that, high school teacher.

The clever reader will notice that I'm hanging on to a typing skill, and not the typewriter itself. While I love seeing them, using them was another thing entirely. Maybe we'd all be better off if we stopped yearning for ancient technologies, but hung on to the skills that are universal enough to move forward with us? If you're feeling pangs of nostalgia for your typewriter days, there's an app that emulates what typing was really like to talk you out of that reverie. Apply as needed.

Check out the typewriter-throwing scene in the Julia trailer below, and type on!



(Creative Commons licensed photo by Anthony Albright)

Got a panel coming up? Whether you're a conference organizer, speaker, or moderator, you'll have a better panel--and a sparkling discussion--if you plan with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels. At just $3.99 in all ebook formats, it's like having a coach with whom you can prepare and bring on stage with you.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The weekend read

Keep rowing, communicators: The weekend is in sight, like the shore ahead. Time to take a dip in my finds of the week, shared via @dontgetcaught on Twitter and curated here just for you:
Stay longer at the lake: Buy my new ebook, The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panelssign up for my free monthly newsletter, or let me know how we can work together in 2015 with an email to eloquentwoman at gmail.com.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Tell it better: Storytelling with themes and symmetry

Call me the theme-spotter. Time after time, speakers will send me their scripts for talks in the style of TED, or for TEDMED or TEDx conferences, and they'll fail to connect the dots, develop the theme, or bring the story back around to a point established earlier.

I might blame presentation style for our lost ability to recognize themes and symmetrical structures and bring them forward in stories. After all, in an informational presentation, there's an unwritten rule that you need to build one new fact upon the last, in succession. But numerous facts that top one another aren't always the best approach. And I can't solely blame slides here. We've just forgotten how to tell stories.

Cycling back to show us a theme or symmetry may take fewer points and make more out of them. Here are some ways drawing out themes and symmetry in your stories may not be working now, and how to fix that:
  1. You've got crisis or failure without redemption: Audiences of all sorts have long loved stories of personal failure or crisis, and every dramatic arc relies on the high point of a crisis to put the drama in the arc of a story. But if we love crisis and failure, it's because we're hoping for redemption: what you learned, what changed, where it led you, why it's better today. I see lots of speakers aiming to emulate TED talks who do a great job on the failure, and forget the redemption. Consider redemption an essential mirror for a failure story. Without it, we're looking in a mirror with no image coming back to us.
  2. You've only told one side of the story: I'm not advocating a he-said, she-said argumentative approach. Rather, this is just a simple plea to read your story--whether it's a blog post, a long caption, a podcast, or a speech--and listen for whether the perspective is all one-sided. Why? If you don't provide that counterpoint, we'll be reading or listening and supplying it in our minds. So dig in and show us the symmetry of what others might have said or done, and why you chose the path you did. Adding some perspective other than yours makes the story richer. It may suggest a major theme, add the missing drama, and keep your story from sounding like a press release.Think of that opposing viewpoint as a mirror for your protagonist: What can she learn about herself looking into that opposite view?
  3. Your theme is hiding in plain sight, but not made clear: When I'm working with a speaker prepping a TED talk, the speaker often has a group of stories or examples she wants to consider including in the talk. Time after time, I see rough drafts that include anecdotes, facts, and story sections that could be tied together thematically, but aren't even noticed. It's a case, many times, of being too close to your own story. Ask a colleague to do some theme-spotting for you, looking at your story for similar situations, words, descriptions, or just one particularly juicy one. Recently, I helped a scientist with a talk in which she was describing the impact of citizens making different choices as an aid to conserving natural resources. She had a line about what different people in community gardens plant. This led us to a discussion about gardening, whether she had one (she does), and my confirmation that the garden is a powerful metaphor for the environment--one that's easy to grasp. That led her to recall a saying of her mother's, also garden-related, that helped tie the talk together.
If your storytelling is missing the element of themes and symmetry, it will be a poorer story for it...and we'll be a poorer audience, too.  Call *that* a missed opportunity to make a clear impression on your listeners and readers, whether you're doing a speech or social media.

Storytelling's the big buzz word in communications and marketing. But we've forgotten how this ancient art works. This "Tell it better" series hopes to revive and hone your storytelling skills for any format, from public speaking in the style of TED to social media. Want a storytelling workshop? Email me at eloquentwoman AT gmail.com

(Photo of and by my friend gallery director Ksenia Grishkova, next to her mirrored portrait by artist Timothy Johnson at Touchstone Gallery in Washington, DC. Check out more of his work at the link. Images used by permission.)