Tuesday, March 27, 2007

new words: can you use in a sentence?

The Oxford English Dictionary updates its content quarterly, and the March releases of newly included words would challenge even the best sentence constructor: ixnay, pre-boarding, ta-da, virtualize, and wiki. If putting those together makes you pale, try answering OED's call for entries to help them determine the earliest known uses of a list of elusive words, here.

put credibility in your communications plan

We called our company don't get caught to encourage clients to think ahead about communications problems, and to plan for them long before they arise. Time and again, we've seen otherwise savvy organizations fail in foreseeing easy-to-avoid problems that later create firestorms in negative publicity. And, far from suggesting they hide bad behavior, we urge them to rethink it before they get caught in the headlines.

Today, another nonprofit CEO's fallen victim to what we'd consider easy-to-avoid credibility issues caused by compensation, perks and travel: Lawrence Small, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, has resigned in the wake of news and inspector general reports about excessive spending in a time when the institution itself has been cutting operational costs. A larger-than-normal nonprofit and recipient of hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars, the Smithsonian has financial, scientific and public responsibility reasons to do a better job managing its credibility with the public audiences that crowd its hallways.

Today's New York Times notes that the institution's board, initially reluctant to take action, has decided on next steps:
In response to criticism, the regents announced this month that they would be setting up a committee on governance. The committee will be led by Patty Stonesifer, who is a co-chairwoman of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and has been on the Smithsonian board since December 2001. The committee will compare the Smithsonian’s governance with that of other institutions and present a “best practices” plan to the full board.
We urge the group not just to cherry-pick policies from other nonprofits -- many are sorely lacking in this area -- but to create policies that build credibility with defensible practices, including checks and balances to enforce them. We hope they'll include communications pros in the process from the start, to offer feedback on how key audiences, from the public to the Congress,will receive their actions.

When was the last time you considered the policies and financial practices that could create credibility problems for your organization? You'll find some ideas in our previous blog posts on nonprofits and credibility issues, here. Today's New York Times story is here, and a complete roundup of the Washington Post's coverage of the issue, which led to the public outcry, is here. Or call us to do a public credibility audit for your organization. Email us at info@dontgetcaught.biz

Monday, March 26, 2007

weekly writing coach: don't start at the top

In our coaching, we encounter scores of writers who get caught up in writing the lead paragraph. They stew and fret and revise that initial graph until they deem it perfect, and use most of their time on that first impression. Our counsel: Don't start at the beginning. Instead, try this method:

- create one document with every fact or point you anticipate making, leaving one line per point;
- rearrange that draft so that all like topics group together;
- organize those topical groups of facts in the order you plan to present them, to create a functional outline.

At this point, still minus that shiny first paragraph, you have a working draft. Now edit the content, creating sharp sentences and organized paragraphs. Add transitions between them, and then write the first and last paragraphs, to build the strongest lead and conclusion based on the content. In our experience, you'll spend less time and get better results.

Friday, March 23, 2007

need a candidate for a good opening line?

When we tell folks that our name, don't get caught, refers to not getting caught unprepared, we have in mind moments like the ones we heard last week, when NPR gave airtime to coverage of the 2008 presidential candidates who flocked to speak to the 1,000 members of the International Association of Firefighters, meeting here in Washington. "Over the course of a long day, it wasn't all serious," reported Don Gonyea, who captured two gaffes from the candidate pool. Interestingly, both occurred in the moments during the speakers' introductory words -- in our experience, the first moment when speakers are tempted to go off script, but shouldn't. Some examples from the story:

- Kansas Republican Senator Sam Brownback's introduction aimed for a joke that, well, misfired: "I hope there are no fires breaking out anywhere across the country with all you guys here." He did his own first responding and quickly regrouped to say "I'm sure people are covering."

- "The day's oddest moment," according to Gonyea, belonged to New York Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton's opening remarks. "Thanks so much, and thanks for last night, too," she said. (She was referring to a reception the evening before.) As the largely male audience laughed, she realized her gaffe and laughed, too.

Gonyea's take? The candidates are "still working out their material." Ours? They recovered quickly and genially -- always a good look to laugh at yourself -- but you should work out your opening, no matter how casual, and stick to your plan. First impressions still count, and we can help you work on yours to create a strong start to your next speech. Check out the full Morning Edition story here.

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.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

make sure you're understood

Take note, public speakers and those who write for them: Can your audience understand what you're saying when it's spoken? You may want to read that draft speech out loud after seeing this article in today's New York Times about the difficulty court reporters have in transcribing courtroom proceedings -- at a rate of 250 words a minute:
Anthony D. Frisolone, a court reporter in federal court in Brooklyn, recalled a case in which three men shared a similar last name with separate spellings: Said, Sayeed and Sahed. He politely stopped the proceedings and asked a lawyer to clarify. There was another case, he recalled, in which the names included Zao, Zhao and Tzou.

“We’re not in an age of Smith and Jones anymore,” said Mr. Frisolone, 33, who also oversees mentoring for the New York State Court Reporters Association. “At 250 words a minute, it all sounds the same.”
Take the time to read out loud your speech with an audience, even of one other person, to be sure your words don't take on unintended meanings once spoken. We offer speech preparation and training skills; for more information, contact us at info@dontgetcaught.biz.

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, March 19, 2007

weekly writing coach: passive-aggressive

When we're analyzing your writing during a coaching session, you can be sure we're looking for all the passive verbs that are lurking in your sentences. Why? Passive verbs are the number one culprit that is weakening your sentences. If you want to be a writer whose work is going to grab the reader's attention, use the "find/replace" function on your word processing program to find out how many passive verbs are in your document, select them all, and make sure they are highlighted in bold. Then, as you are editing the document, make sure each passive verb is replaced with a construction that is more active--and your writing will be greatly improved.

...now, let's make that paragraph follow its own advice:

When we coach writers, we look for passive verbs lurking in your sentences. Why? They weaken your sentences. To grab the reader's attention, search for passive verbs with the "find/replace" function on your word processing program, select them all, and highlight them in bold. Then edit the document to replace each passive verb with an active construction. You'll improve your writing greatly.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

a goldmine of women's speeches

Looking for inspiration from a gifted woman speaker? Check out Gifts of Speech, a database of women's speeches that goes back to the 19th century. You can search speeches by the name of the speaker as well as by the year in which the speech occurred; additional databases include Nobel lectures and the top 100 speeches. You'll find Congressional testimony, commencement talks and large-group public addresses.

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.