Monday, April 30, 2007

weekly writing coach: spelling

Even those of us born with a good spelling gene get caught by words we misspell on a regular basis. You know your spelling snafus: Accommodate? Mississippi? Then make your own list -- either electronically or on paper -- as a reminder, and put those words into your word processing program's dictionary. Fishbowl DC, a media gossip site, routinely interviews reporters about words they misspell. Here, an interview with CBS's Scott McCrary notes, in his own words, that he misspells:
Ahmadinejad. I'm famous for writing "the Iranian president" in draft versions of scripts to get around it.
Your coach won't let you get away with that solution, however. Learn your most-misspelled words instead.

bloggers: already in your press room

Today's New York Times covers a blogger with press credentials at the United Nations,suggesting that major organizations have yet to reconsider their press credentialling systems to include bloggers. But back in 2005, we blogged here about a blogger gaining White House press credentials and the National Press Club decision to admit bloggers as members. If you haven't acted to revise your press admission policy to reflect bloggers, do so now.

The next CEO's communications

This spring, many of our clients and colleagues await the naming of new leaders for their organizations, prompted by the retirements of their current CEOs. While the search committees deliberate, savvy communicators are planning now for the special needs of the next CEO -- and appropriate farewell communications for the departing leader. We recommend the following 'wardrobe' of options for the next CEO:
- Message development and a first-year communications plan that identifies the new leader's key audiences, messages, and opportunities.
- Presentation training, targeted to specifically address the audiences the new CEO is most likely to face, from staff members to donors to grantees. Ideally, the training focuses on specific presentations.
- Media interview training, with emphasis on the specific tough questions and opportunities the organization faces.
- Speechwriting services and a session that outlines how the speechwriting process will work, going forward.
- Portrait photography, as well as candid portraits of the new leader in action for use on your website, news releases and publications.

For departing leaders, consider special publications that summarize and make sense of the organization's accomplishments during her leadership; websites, publications and other outreach to important donors and partners; and "legacy" interviews with the reporters who cover your organization. Creating communications plans -- whether your CEO's coming or going -- help guide these important transitions, and let you and your CEO make the most of them.

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.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

weekly writing coach: pen the leader

Are you writing for the CEO, President or other senior official at your organization? Time to learn the language of leadership. We coach lots of writers who put words in the mouths of federal officials, university presidents, corporate CEOs and more. The best tip: Read your leader's peer group, in opinion articles and letters in trade publications for your field. Then find the favorite phrases that resonate for your leader, and mix.

For inspiration, try reading words written by or for great leaders in modern American history, including:

- Say It Plain: Live Recordings of the 20th Century's Great African-American Speeches: A Book-and-CD Set;

- Lincoln at Cooper Union: The Speech That Made Abraham Lincoln President;

-American Speeches: Political Oratory from the Revolution to the Civil War (Library of America);

- Let Every Nation Know: John F. Kennedy in His Own Words (With Audio CD)

a group gets blogging

After don't get caught president Denise Graveline spoke about blogging to the Consultants' Consortium here in Washington, DC, last month, the group embarked on an unusual experiment you may want to try: Using its existing member-only listserv, members will make two blog-style posts to the list, with one offering feedback and insights on our session together, and the other to demonstrate their expertise to potential clients. (The members consultants work in areas ranging from fundraising to nonprofit management.) They'll use this as a way to learn whether they can field a group blog to better serve their members by promoting their expertise more widely. We'll be watching the results closely!

You can find our collective wisdom on blogging from this blog here. And check out Blogs of Note, the team's compilation of interesting blogs, here.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

when great PR doesn't sell books

Lots of folks assume that all they need is some "good publicity" -- usually seen as lots of media coverage -- to raise money, get lawmakers' attention, or, in the case of book authors, sell books. Today's New York Times takes a look at one case where great PR hasn't yielded great sales: Author Leslie Bennetts's The Feminine Mistake, which looks at the risks of stay-at-home mothering. Widely debated on blogs, excerpted in Glamour magazine, seen on the 'Today' show, the book nonetheless has sold 5,000 copies since its debut April 3. Are readers angry? in denial? uncomfortable with the topic? or just busy being moms? No one knows for sure, but it's a cautionary tale for those who rely on publicity to do all the work. (Some authors quoted note that book sales aren't their real goal, either, in which case the public attention is a success in and of itself.) You'll find a link here to an article on our panel discussion on book publicity at last fall's National Association of Science Writers' meeting.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

weekly writing coach: space edits

We're big fans of self-editing, and it makes sense: Why not cut your own words, rather than wait for someone else to do it? You'll please yourself and your editor/boss/red penciler and spend less time agonizing. While we recommend a series of six self-edits to improve your manuscript (in ways ranging from active verbs to cadence and flow), a different editing task involves making quick cuts in your copy to fit the space allotted -- and that's when we pull out these five easy edits for space:
1. Cut widows: Any paragraph that ends with a short line -- one or two words on the last line of the paragraph -- has a "widow." Cut any words in the paragraph to bring that short line up. You'll save an entire line, but won't need to cut more than a couple of words.

2. Look for repetition: Are you using the same words again and again? Combine those points and shorten the relevant sentences.

3. Reduce the article's scope: For drastic cuts, when you need to reduce your text by one-third to one-half, consider your article or document as a whole. Can you omit one category of information, focusing instead on one topic rather than two or more? If you're writing about safety tips for drivers,for example, keep the focus on what to do before you leave OR what to do while you're on the road, rather than both.

4. Cut adjectives and adverbs: Nouns and verbs create shorter, stronger descriptions, adding "fiber" to your manuscript, while adjectives and adverbs lack nutritional value--and take up space. "Omit needless words!" as Strunk and White advise.

5. Omit or shorten quotes: They may be your favorite parts of the article, but when push comes to shove at production time, narrative beats a quote -- the latter should elaborate on a point already made. If space is short, it's expendable.
Ask about our self-editing seminars for your writing team. Email us at

lecterns: use 'em or lose 'em

I hate watching speakers cling to a lectern as if it's their last hope. To avoid what's known as "lectern lock" in the world of speaker training, here are five things you can do to lose the lectern:

1. Walk away from it: Especially effective when you're telling an anecdote you know well, this technique ensures audience attention. You can always return to the lectern after the anecdote to refer to your notes. (Be sure you have a portable microphone!)

2. Make a grand gesture: Step out from behind the lectern if you gesture requires it -- a sweep of the arm, for example.

3. Take a one-hand stand: Stand to one side of the lectern and rest the closest hand on it. A casual, connected look.

4. Put your organization's logo behind you: Some organizations use the lectern to get their logo out front, but if you're going to move across the stage, you may as well have it projected behind you, or elsewhere on the set.

5. Ignore it: Take your microphone and move elsewhere--across the stage, into the audience, you name it.
So what's a lectern for? Don't forget these four often-ignored but good uses for a lectern:

1. If you can't see your script without squinting, ask for a Yellow Pages book or other hefty reference and put it on the lectern to prop your speech text up close to your line of vision. Most large books will be hidden by the raised top of the lectern, and no one need be the wiser. (It's easier than getting a new eyeglass prescription, too.)

2. Make it a prop: Act and react, using the lectern as a stand-in for another prop. Are you talking about big-box stores? Outline the shape of the lectern with your hands to push the point. Showing how hard it is to push against the forces of evil? Lean against the lectern as if to shove it out of the way.

3. Hide and seek: Want to find -- or hide -- something during your talk? Put your water glass, watch or timer, and notes on the lectern before the presentation, and you'll find them more easily (and be less distracted) when the time comes to talk.

4. Mark your point: Make gestures that touch the lectern, but gently, to make your point. Just be sure that you're mimicking the gesture -- appearing to pound the lectern, rather than actually pounding it -- because a fixed microphone will make the real gesture far too loud. You want emphasis, not earaches.
I offer coaching in how to move, gesture and hold the audience's attention. Contact me at for more information.

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, April 16, 2007

smart viewers like their news funny, too

For all those who fret about the audiences that skip traditional news in favor of Jon Stewart's The Daily Show or Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report, take heart: A new survey says that those faux news shows command the attention of viewers with the highest level of news knowledge. Today's New York Times summarizes the Pew Center for People and the Press survey here, with this ranking that compares the fake news with the real thing:
The six news sources cited most often by people who knew the most about current events were: “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” (counted as one), tied with Web sites of major newspapers; next came “News Hour With Jim Lehrer”; then “The O’Reilly Factor,” which was tied with National Public Radio; and Rush Limbaugh’s radio program.
More disturbing, for those looking to grab public attention or those who think the media serves to educate the public? Only 69 percent of people in the latest survey could come up with Dick Cheney when asked to name the vice president. That smart audience seems to be shrinking, compared to previous surveys. See the original data at the Pew Center site, here.

Friday, April 13, 2007

update on our blogging classes

We're postponing our "Blogging for Your Business" workshops while we seek a new venue. Instructor Denise Graveline is still available for group trainings or on-site trainings, and for consultations on setting up a blog and blog policies for your organization. To get on a waiting list for future notification, or to arrange a training or consultation, contact us at

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

blogs v. newsletters

Today, don't get caught president Denise Graveline speaks to the Consultants' Consortium here in Washington about blogs versus newsletters -- which, if any, should you use to promote your business strategically. (For the curious, here at dgc, we use both tools.) We've seen businesses that view blogs simply as a new publishing platform; they use blogs to publish their newsletters easily and without tech help. For others, it makes sense to save up news items until a quarterly or monthly newsletter. And for others still, it makes sense to blog daily and summarize those posts in a monthly email that keeps all clients informed--blog readers and non-blog-readers.

This week, blog search engine Technorati released its State of the Live Web report, which notes that blogs now number 72 million, but their growth is slowing, with the total number of blogs doubling only annually. We recommend you wait to blog until you're sure you can do so strategically -- and are ready for all the responsibilities that come with this easy publishing tool.