Tuesday, February 27, 2007

weekly writing coach: your process

Whether you're aiming for our 80 works in 3 weeks exercise or just doing lots of writing projects in general, you should take time to consider your writing process. The 80 works exercise helps you do that by forcing you to put aside perfection in aid of quantity; every night, you should be making notes on how your process worked that day in such a hothouse atmosphere, including:
- Did you procrastinate? Why?
- Which projects came easily to you, almost intuitively?
- Which took more thinking?
- Did you get stuck working on only one type of writing?
- Conversely, were you able to move to a versatile range of writing projects--a poem, a letter, a blog post, a speech introduction?
Asking yourself those questions will help you learn the areas on which you need to work, and those on which you can rely in a pinch.

Monday, February 26, 2007

the view from the blog class

Here's a great view of the Willard Hotel in Washington, DC, visible from the computer classroom at the National Press Club, where Denise Graveline led another "Blogging for Your Business" workshop today. Participants had little time to enjoy the view, however, as the 3.5 hour session took them from never-blogged beginners to bloggers with experience in formatting, layout, illustration and content development. The sessions also cover:
- who should blog for your organization
- how to select a blogger
- blogging policies you may want to consider putting in place
- handling and responding to comments
- using copyrighted material appropriately
- finding sources from which you can build content
- adding links, audio and other features
- driving traffic to your site and measuring it

Today's session included small business owners, national and international nonprofit organizations, and consultants, many of whom will keep the blogs they began in the workshop this morning. If you have been considering a blog as a strategic communications tool, but aren't sure whether to take the plunge, the workshop teaches you the skills and considerations you need to make the right decision for your organization. (We also teach you how to delete the blog you create in the workshop, if you wish!)

Our next workshops take place March 26 and 27 at the Press Club classroom (shown at left in the view our workshop participants see). You can register here for any session through June--workshops are offered twice each month. For more information, email us at info@dontgetcaught.biz.

science writers cover us like a book

Science Writers, the quarterly newsletter of the National Association of Science Writers, summarizes our October panel offering a "book PR bootcamp" at the NASW annual meeting here in an article accessible to NASW members. Denise Graveline is an NASW member and organizer of the panel.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

speaker pitfalls

At an art museum curator's talk this week, I had ample chance to ponder not the subject before us -- a preview of a major exhibit considered breathtaking in its scope -- but the pitfalls of the speaker. All of them, in my experience, represent major gaffes that could have been avoided, and skills you should practice and incorporate in your next speech:

- Make good on your promises to the audience: If you announce a promise -- I want to take up no more than an hour so we have time for questions, or I want this to be interactive so this feels more like a group discussion -- make sure you deliver. Audiences respond well to promises from speakers, particularly where time and participation are concerned. In this case, the speaker made both statements, then lectured the group and exceeded his time by nearly 25 minutes.

- Don't make the audience choose between you and the clock: By exceeding your time, as this speaker did, you push audiences to focus on something other than your words: The clock. You can guarantee that many of them will be watching it, and not you, if you push your time limits -- and you'll be making many more choose between moving on to their next commitment, or staying to ask the question they came to ask. Instead, plan to speak in less time than you are allotted, and use the question time to insert as answers key points you want to make. No audience will complain about a briefer-than-advertised speaker!

- When the lights go down, your voice needs to work harder to keep me awake: Rare is the art lecture without slides, but after-dinner speakers (and those at any time of day) need to remember to vary vocal pitch and inflection, and pay attention to volume, if the speaker can't be seen.

- No matter how brilliant the prose, don't read from the lectern: The speaker had co-authored a guide to the exhibition and nearly convinced me to buy it -- until he used part of his lecture to read long passages straight from the text. Tell the audience in your own words the same points in your written report or book -- there's no substitute for the energy and enthusiasm you can convey in your own words, no matter how well-written the ones on the page.

Check out our sister blog, The Eloquent Woman, for more on giving great speeches and presentations and become a fan of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook.

Monday, February 19, 2007

rather give that speech after all?

We've been guilty of repeating the myth that people fear public speaking more than anything else, but checked to get the data -- and in fact, snakes are feared more than public speaking, by 56 percent of those surveyed compared to 40 percent who fear public speaking, according to a 2001 Gallup poll. (The snakes have been winning this contest since 1998, according to Gallup.) In fact, fear of public speaking decreased from 45 percent in 1998 to 40 percent in the more recent poll. However, women were more likely than men to fear public speaking (44 percent of women compared to 37 of men surveyed). Still, those surveyed feared public speaking more than many other uncomfortable situations, including (in descending order) heights, being closed in a small space, spiders and insects, needles and shots, mice, flying on an airplane, dogs, thunder and lightning, crowds, going to the doctor and the dark. We can't teach you about those fears, but we can coach and train you to be a more confident and effective public speaker. Check out our collection of tips on this blog about public speaking here, and learn more about our training services here.

And take a look at our sister blog, The Eloquent Woman, for more on giving great speeches and presentations and become a fan of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook.

annual meeting blogs for nonprofits

We've been boosters of using blogs for single-purpose events, such as nonprofit membership organizations' annual meetings, for some time now -- blogs let you release news, alert on-site reporters and participants to event changes, and even show off your news coverage in real time. This week, as the American Association for the Advancement of Science convenes in San Francisco, it's using a blog, here, for all those purposes. Not to be outdone, AAAS' journal, Science, has its own blog of meeting coverage here. Among the findings out this week: Certain types of cocoa may improve blood flow to the brain, covered here by the Associated Press in time for our frigid East-Coast temperatures this week.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

hungry bloggers: some favorites

Today, my food writing colleagues in the International Association of Culinary Professionals and I will chat in a teleforum called "You Started a Blog in Five Minutes...Now What?" and find out what's on the minds of food bloggers, current and future. Here are some of my favorite food blogs and what they do to keep me -- and other readers -- hooked:

- Hal McGee's News for Curious Cooks blog takes what might seem a narrow focus -- scientific research about food -- and makes it easy to apply and understand in your own kitchen, as in this recent post about researchers salting tomatoes while they grow to enhance the flavor. Hal doesn't just report on the research, but adds his own training in science and cooking to the mix, and makes science look easy.

- Rose Levy Berenbaum's "Real Baking with Rose" not only displays knowledge, but her own mistakes -- in this post, her first-ever failed genoise -- with a sense of humor. If you know what a stickler she is for measurement and detailed directions, you can appreciate the humor in her conclusion, after failing and then trying the recipe again: "So the lesson is clear: Don't be fearful; and follow the instructions in the Cake Bible, especially if you wrote it." Berenbaum uses lots of photos in her posts, a must if your food blog demonstrates techniques, and includes a sidebar link to "book errata," using a blog effectively to correct her cookbooks.

- The 28 Cooks blogger, "vegiquarian" Christiane Britton, built her readership and community with other food bloggers by inviting them to let readers "behind the apron" by posting photos of themselves in their kitchens on their own blogs, then sending her a link. She compiled all the "behind the apron" shots here.

- Foodie Farm Girl's "Farm Girl Fare" mixes recipes with photos (one per day) and tales of farm life -- she moved from California to Missouri to tackle farm life head-on. Here, she posts about a bread recipe she now refers to as "Braindead Bread," because it's so easy to make. Her blog creates a running storyline, an essential feature many blogs miss, and gives the reader a reason to imagine returning. WellFed.net named this "best food blog - rural" for 2006 and you can find links to other winners here.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Boost your blog to the next level

Even if you've been blogging for some time now, it pays to review your business blog to determine whether you're taking advantage of all the features that keep readers coming back for more. Here's a checklist to consider when you want to take your blog to the next level:
- Photos, graphics and art: Readers gravitate to blog posts with visual appeal, so if you haven't been uploading photos or other visuals in your blog posts, aim to do it every other time you post. If you lack a ready source of copyright-free photos, take your own -- at meetings you attend, speeches you give, or of your workplace and staff in action. Or look on the Web for sources of freely available photos and art, such as US government agencies, Library of Congress, or Flickr.com, where some artists and photographers offer permission for use of their photos.

- Add more links to make each post a one-stop shop: When you blog about important issues in your work, make sure you're including a comprehensive set of links, so that readers don't need to stray from your blog to find all the background they need. If you're blogging about an industry trend, for example, you might include coverage from today's New York Times, a link from your own webpage that deals with the issue, a link to a industry trade group report on the issue, and even links to previous posts on your blog related to the topic. Remember, links in your blog posts can help readers find what they need on your own website or blog.

- Consider your sidebar: If you haven't been adding links to your sidebar, you're missing out on the chance to give added value to your readers. Most blog platforms allow you to add lists of links to sites that you prefer, and even links to other posts on your blog. While all your posts will be automatically archived by date, you may find it useful to index links by subject using labels or tags, or create more descriptive links to previous posts.  Think of your sidebar as a reference shelf for your readers. What do they need to know to understand your business better?

Monday, February 12, 2007

a collection of blogging tips

Tomorrow, Denise Graveline is set to speak to the Consultants' Consortium here in Washington, DC, about using blogs and newsletters to communicate effectively about your business...if the predicted snow, sleet and freezing rain don't keep the participants at home. Even if you can't make it, you can find our blogging tips labeled and collected here from all of our blog posts -- or just click on the label "blogging" after any blogging-related post to find the rest of our tips. Perfect for a snowy day activity....or if you're aiming to improve your business blogging skills.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

weekly writing coach: plan your 80 works

I hope you're brave enough to try the 80 works in 3 weeks writing exercise, but it requires planning. Populating a list of 80 works takes, well, work. Here's what to do:

- Review your collection of of writings that inspire you, and your notes on why each piece does. Your notes will tell you the elements of writing that not only inspire, but to which you aspire. Make a list of them, and plan to include similar pieces in your 80 works.

- Reflect on types of writing that trouble you. Leads? Endings? Dialogue or quotes? Avoiding passive verbs? Finding new word choices to replace the favorites you overuse? Captions? Headlines? Writing shorter or longer? Essays? Op-eds? Include a few of each in your list of 80 works to do.

- If you've been avoiding a particular type of work, by all means, include it now. Never written an essay for an annual report? Try it now. Never really mastered a memo? Put it on the list. Designed to plunge you into new ways and processes, this exercise replaces perfection with trying. Try.

- Finally, what types of writing in your work or life would benefit from frequency or quantity? Now's the time to include them on your list. The peritpatetic blogger might use this exercise to vow at least 30 posts in 3 weeks (leaving just 50 other "works" to do)...the vaunted lover could post 30 poems to his or her love in that time....the news release writer 30 awesome leads....the speechwriter 30 introductions or conclusions. If you are just starting a blog, a book, a poetry collection, a portfolio of samples, this is your chance to vault your work forward.

Please feel free to post your comments, questions and sources of inspiration for all to share while you try this exercise...

Monday, February 05, 2007

writing coach: inspiration, analyzed

If you're following the "80 works in 3 weeks" exercise, I've asked you to collect samples from writers who inspire you in a vareity of genres, and to write down why they inspire you -- what you hope to emulate in each example. Push yourself to say more than just "he's funny" or "she has wonderful insights." Look at the writer's sentences, use of active verbs, word choice, brevity (another word-choice skill). Make a list of those qualities,too. Here's an example and inspiration found in yesterday's New York Times: Dan Barry's roving America column, this time on a bookmobile in New Mexico. His lead grabbed us, but then all his active verbs hooked us completely. Check out this paragraph that glistens with active verbs:
In ascent, the bus pants a trail of diesel exhaust. In descent, its pencil drawer slams against the back of the driver’s seat. Up or down, the fly swatter dangling from a hook swings like a metronome. But the 3,500 books, arranged on slanted shelves, never shift.
That's what you're looking for. Now, go find it and more like it. I'll post later this week about how to plan to write your 80 works in 3 weeks.