Wednesday, November 28, 2007

weekly writing coach: author vision

Do your eyes have it--that glazed-over, squinty, tired look? Every writer we've worked with winds up with glasses and experiences eyestrain at some point. This week, your coach wants you to add a vision protection plan to your daily writing routine. Take the time, as advised in these tips from an eye doctor, to adjust your screen, chair, desk and font size. Make sure you give your eyes a frequent break from looking at your computer screen (it's a good excuse to print out and hand-edit your work for a while). We'd even suggest you shut your eyes and imagine a great ending for the project you're working on--as long as you make sure others' eyes don't see that as napping at your desk. Finally, get your eyes checked annually and make sure you have the lenses and help you need.

don't get caught hiding a photo op

This NPR interview with AP senior White House photographer Ron Edmonds offers insight into "photo opportunities," those posed chances for press photographers to see leaders not quite in action that were created by Reagan aide Michael Deaver in the 1980s. The resulting images are picked apart as signs of enthusiasm or dismay by politicos, but you can find a few practical lessons in Edmonds' observations of this week's Middle East peace conference in Annapolis, where the photo-worthy handshake between world leaders happened behind the lectern--and had to be moved into view by President Bush for the cameras to catch it. Don't get caught hiding that signature photo, and do plan ahead for just such an opportunity.

seeking cause-supporters on the web

Count the venerable Ad Council -- the coordinator for pro bono public-service ad campaigns by advertising agencies -- among those looking for supporters of nonprofit causes on the Web, a topic we covered for Maryland Nonprofits' annual conference earlier this month. Today's New York Times documents the Council's plunge into the new-media pool:
Not surprisingly, the changes in media choices have put more of the council’s ads online, in forms that include banner ads, sponsored links in search results, so-called buddy icons on AOL and commercials on video-sharing Web sites like YouTube. The council even has its own YouTube channel.
The Council's gone to the Web for two solid reasons: It's where the hoped-for audience gets information, and it can benefit from serendipity--those who stumble upon a message, allowing it to reach an unanticipated supporter. Good reasons for you to consider when pushing your cause.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

kindle your next speech?

I'm cross-posting this from the Eloquent Woman blog to let our DGC readers weigh in on this discussion: My speaker trainings help you learn how to speak eloquently and without notes where possible, but for many speeches, a text is essential...and creates more problems for speakers. Pages get dropped, make noise, look awkward when you're toting them to the lectern and occupy your hands when you might be gesturing. That's why I got excited this weekend reading about the new Amazon Kindle. This new e-reader device is sold out at the moment, so I haven't tried it yet. (I'll review it in a future post, and welcome comments from early adopters below.) But this latest entry into electronic books offers new features that have great potential for speakers. With it, you can:

-Display your speech--not just books with speeches: Its wireless access allows you to email your own documents (think speech text) to your Amazon Kindle and display them just as you would books; because the wireless access is built on cellular phone signals, it's available more widely (and it's free).

-No more shuffling pages: The page "turning" controls are large keys on either side, allowing easy movement back and forth; you'll use your thumbs to page through the text. This lets you avoid dropping pages, shuffling noises and carrying your very obvious printed documents to the lectern. (The Amazon Kindle is the size of a small paperback.) Looks to me as if you can page forward with only one thumb or finger, leaving another hand free to gesture.

-See your speech text in sunlight or indoors: No-glare screens that lack a computer backlight make it possible to read your text in any setting.

-Adjust to large-type settings: Six font sizes allow you to create the display you can best see.

I'm looking forward to testing the Kindle with our trainees and for my own upcoming speeches, and will report back here. In the meantime, if you've tried an Amazon Kindle, use it for displaying your speech text or talking points and give us your feedback in the comments below.

Buy the 6-inch Amazon Kindle

your nominees, please: 2007 DGC don'ts

We're looking for your nominees for the most notable examples of organizations--companies, government agencies or nonprofits--that got caught unprepared for a communications crisis. Give us the context, your reasons for nominating them, and what good communicators (and CEOs) can learn from these cautionary tales. We'll compile the examples and turn them around to offer lessons learned from these 2007 "don'ts." Feel free to add your nominees to the comments below, or email us directly at

Monday, November 26, 2007

to tube, or not to tube for business

Today's Wall Street Journal looks at using YouTube effectively to communicate about your small business or product, with tips that work for many kinds of organizations, from nonprofits to corporations. The examples fall into five groups that long have been staples of good communications -- such as be funny, tap into current events, be useful and get your customers involved. The fifth, "find a partner," tells us that YouTube (like blogging and social media) is still an awkward or foreign fit for many businesses; in that case, a lifeguard or life preserver may prove useful. How are you using YouTube to communicate, and with whom? Let us know your answer and, in the meantime, consider this review from the New York Times' David Pogue that explains why you may want a DV-tape camcorder instead of a disk version.

Monday, November 19, 2007

weekly writing coach: vocab edition

Last week, the The New Oxford American Dictionary announced that locavore is its "word of the year," along with such runners-up as bacn (desirable email -- think opposite-of-spam) and aging in place (growing old in your own home, versus a nursing home). But why learn just one new word a year? Your coach advises you dig deeper on the Oxford site and subscribe to the RSS feed for the "word of the week," which includes three words weekly: the dictionary's official word of the week; a "weird and wonderful" word; and an American slang word. This week, they range from 21st century high-tech (wrapper application), delightfully arcane (chelidonize) and fusty American (magoo). Sorry, you'll have to go to the link to get the definitions--then subscribe to the feed to have them served up for you weekly.

Buy The New Oxford American Dictionary

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Graveline speaks on new media at IABC

Don't get caught president Denise Graveline will speak to the Washington, DC, chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) September 11, 2008 on "The (New) Medium is the Message," a look at how new media are changing the way we communicate, and how communicators are adapting traditional techniques to new media. Check the IABC-DC calendar here for details to come.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

sticky messages for nonprofits

Before speaking about new media options at yesterday's Maryland Nonprofits annual conference, I listened to keynote speaker Dan Heath -- coauthor of Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die -- walk the crowd through the two sticky concepts he felt are most relevant to nonprofits: expressing ideas in ways that are emotional, to move people to action, and concrete, so that audiences can understand and embrace them. The problem? "Nonprofit language ain't concrete," said Heath, who'd analyzed mission statements of nonprofit organizations in the audience and showed them to the group. Those with missions to help "people everywhere" or "all citizens" are doomed to fail, Heath said, urging the group to make their organizations known to "the people that count" rather than the vague crowd. His take on why nonprofits cling to "boring, mushy messages?" Fear of turning people off, a risk he thinks worth taking. We carried that message forward in the session on "Energizing Your Communities of Support" by suggesting ways to use new media options from Facebook to blogging to find the people that count for your organization.

Buy Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

weekly writing coach: descriptive powers

Want to polish your descriptive powers? Try challenging your senses: Describe something you see (the view out your window), hear (chatter in the hallway), taste (that sandwich you brought to work) or touch (your keyboard?). For more inspiration, listen to the Vocal Impressions series, now in round 8 on National Public Radio. They play soundbites from famous speakers, actors and singers -- round 8 included Johnny Cash, Ethel Merman, Willie Nelson and Roy Orbison -- and ask listeners to send in their impressions of the emotions and sounds evoked by these well-known voices. The link includes sound from the voices of the next round of subjects: Fred Astaire, Joe Cocker, Katharine Hepburn and Janis Joplin. Be sure to listen to the audio of the report, as winning entries are read on the air--and will give you wonderful examples of using simile, comparison and just plain verve in description.

Monday, November 05, 2007

keeping your blog in the public eye

A hat tip to DC Blogs for pulling us to this Washington Post article on how to get your blog noticed -- a mix of promotion (entering contests), frequent posts, writing comments on others' blogs and creating a blogroll or list of other blogs that you post on your site to show what you recommend or read. Like anything else, blogs need standard publicity tactics to draw readers, so make sure you're using all your other options for communicating about your blog: links on your website and in your email signature, a menion on your business cards and stationary, inclusion in your ads, and yes, a news release. Driving traffic to your blog also depends on your content. Which keywords are you incorporating in your text? Those will lead to search engine entries that help readers find you based on the topics that interest them. Make sure all roads lead to your blog!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

boost your support base with new media

Post no bills when you're looking to round up or energize volunteers and supporters. Take your quest online instead. We're speaking -- along with nonprofit marketing guru Don Akchin -- later this week at the Maryland Nonprofits annual conference on using new media to energize your communities of support. Whether they consist of members, subscribers, donors, volunteers, board members, or informal advisors, your supporters form a community -- and so do many new media options. Here are some case studies we'll be sharing with the crowd on Friday at this sold-out conference:
  • Join any online communities your fans have started. National Public Radio host Ira Flatow learned that a college student had started a Facebook group called "Science Friday--the best day of the week." So he joined it himself, posting questions to the more than 800 group members, asking them to post videos on the Science Friday website, polling them for questions they want to ask the scientists featured on the show, and more. Participants have posted a video of Ira's first program on virtual worlds like Second Life--another new media community in which Science Friday participates--including footage of Ira meeting his avatar, Ira Flatly. And they post questions, discussion items and reactions to the show. It's a combination fan club and test market for new ideas, and an extra way to connect with listeners, Flatow tells us. (If you're in Second Life, your avatar can go to the SciFri simulcast and ask Ira Flatly a question that gets relayed via email to Ira while he's on the air--listen and you'll hear him pose Second Lifers' questions during the show.)

    • Use new-media privacy options for select support communities. Most blog platforms (like Blogger) now offer options for subscription-only blogs. Your selected group gets an invitation, registers with Blogger, and uses that login to access the blog; you decide whether they can add postings or just comment on your posts. You can set up such a blog for a member committee, contest judges or advisory boards to deliberate privately. And one smart private foundation executive we know is thinking of using a private blog so donors can share ideas with one another for results of their donations or for directing future gifts.
      • Use easy-to-publish video and photos to engage supporters in your events. Don't just blog about your executive director's speech -- be sure she takes a photo of the full audience and posts it with information about the questions that were asked. Take a video camera to your next alley cleanup, cancer fundraising walk, or gala fundraiser and post clips to YouTube; better yet, turn the camera on your legislative testimony on a key issue or interview your volunteers about a story that got them involved on your issue. Let them explain why they're passionate about your cause and give the bug to others. (Look here for more on how the Skoll Foundation's video posts helped a social entrepreneur connect with a donor.)

        • Get your current community to join an online group together--then add new members from that online site's other like-minded users. LinkedIn -- a professional networking site -- as well as Facebook and social activism sites like ThinkMTV offer you the ability to email your entire group, share photos or videos, or send out a call for information, changes of schedule or notices of new events. Most of the services are free, so why build your own system? In many cases, these messages go right to users' primary email box -- but because they know it's from a select community and not spam, your message may get more attention. And because you're not just using a private email system, others can learn about your group and cause, and join you.
        • A good first step: Survey your community and ask which online communities they belong to and why. You may find volunteers willing to help you set up a presence with one of these new-media options, or get insight into which option would yield the most benefit to your organization.

          Saturday, November 03, 2007

          get your toes wet in the new media pool

          For every cutting-edge experimenter who's using new and social media to communicate to key audiences, we meet 9 more who are holding back, because:
          - I don't have time to blog/use Facebook.

          - I don't want to add one more project.

          - The people I want to blog for my organization have doubts. I don't know how to get everyone on board, and I can't answer their questions.

          - I have enough trouble with my first life--forget Second Life.

          - I don't understand how it would make a strategic difference, but I feel we should decide.
          Instead of diving in -- or swimming by holding on to the edge of the pool -- let us suggest you get your toes wet by convening one of our customized strategy sessions on new and social media. You gather the decision-makers, naysayers, potential bloggers, leadership and assorted questioners. We'll facilitate a customized half-day or full-day session, depending on the number of participants and issues to be covered, that will:
          • orient you and your team to options that suit your needs, from blogs and Facebook to YouTube and Second Life. You decide which options you're curious about, and we'll show you examples relevant to your mission, along with data and metrics to show you what results you can expect.
          • review the policy decisions you need to make for effective use of new media, from time and costs to staffing and managing interactions with your audiences.
          • suggest solutions you may not have considered, like member-only blogs seen only by your invited participants or using blogs or Facebook to replace publications--or at least reduce your printing budget.
          • help you think about driving traffic, promoting your new blog or page and other practical matters to ensure you reach the right audience.
          • answer the questioners and naysayers, to eliminate the wondering and get you closer to an informed decision, yea or nay.
          Want to wade further in? We can add a half-day training for those ready to learn, or incorporate the training throughout the orientation. You may never have an avatar, a Facebook friend or post to a blog, but if you're curious -- or challenged by others' questions -- this combination orientation and planning session will help you get strategic about new media. For more information, contact us at

          grantmakers grab new media options

          We've just come from the Communications Network in Philanthropy annual meeting in Miami, where the group got its hands around options for using new and social media--not just to replace traditional communications, but to engage applicants, field-test ideas, network with key constituencies, and more. After a video tour through YouTube, MTV's, and other sites being used to engage volunteers and donors (from a 21-year-old intern at the Knight Foundation), we heard what's already in play. Perhaps boldest are the MacArthur Foundation experiments with Second Life, where they've created meetings on philanthropic issues and hope to get feedback on new funding ideas; these Second Life forays grow out of an initiative exploring digital life and its impact on young people. Covered here by the New York Times, and here on the foundation's website, the initiative is described with care by the foundation, which emphasizes it's experimental, and notes:

          ...we are cautious about claims that technology can solve longstanding social problems. The unintended or negative consequences of virtual worlds may demand the attention of foundations as urgently as any exciting benefits. MacArthur’s digital media and learning blog has already been discussing such unexpected consequences as girls’ career choices. In virtual worlds, it is reasonable to expect that some social concerns may quickly benefit, while others may face new challenges.
          The Skoll Foundation's Social Edge site combines blogs, discussion threads, YouTube video interviews with social activists, iTunes podcasts and more. Storytelling is key, we were told by the foundation's Victor d'Allant, who showed gripping video interviews from Global X, a series of 3- to 7-minute video interviews with leading social entrepreneurs talking about stories that had a significant impact on their lives and their view of the world in 2017. They're consistently ranked at or near the top on iTunes podcasts, and some have resulted in direct calls from funders to the entrepreneur on the video, offering funds.

          New ways to reinvent annual reports, outreach to youth audiences and other uses for new media also were covered, but the proof that new media have caught on came when some of the group created on the fly a Facebook group for the network, to encourage meeting participants and network members not present to continue the discussion online, by way of practicing use of social media.