Tuesday, May 29, 2007

weekly writing coach: pointed letters

If you haven't tried writing an op-ed (our tips appear here), try the shorter letter-to-the-editor first. The form's the same: introduce the problem and where you're headed in paragraph one, and put your summation in the last graph. In between, sandwich one or two (at most) paragraphs of proof to underscore your point. You should still be able to read the first and last paragraphs and get the entire viewpoint.

Why bother? Well-crafted letters to the editor may get published as short op-eds. It's a great way to practice and break into the editorial pages. Your task this week? Take an op-ed out of your favorite paper and rewrite or edit it into a shorter letter to the editor. Try this one in today's Washington Post by Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution, on the rise of income among the lowest ranked families, and how to build on welfare reform for further progress.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

what are your group's little-known facts?

Today, we're facilitating a daylong retreat for the communications team of a major Washington-based nonprofit organization. Even though your staff communicators know plenty about the organization they represent, we're conducting two exercises during the day involving little-known facts -- about the participants and about the organization. Members of the group submitted advance little-known facts about themselves, and will try to match those with their colleagues, either by prying the information out of them or just plain guessing. (It's a great icebreaker for your next event.) Later, they'll share little-known facts, and the sources for same, about the organization they work for, as a means of teaching one another about the nonprofit, which has a long history.

The exercise yields lots of insight and fun. Soon, we'll be facilitating a group that includes a former singer of Janis Joplin songs, an American Idol songwriting contestant, someone who kissed a whale, and a bike rider who's logged all 184 miles of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal route here in Washington. Denise Graveline specializes in staff and staff-and-board retreats on communications, based on her extensive experience at the helm of communications operations for major nonprofits and the federal government. Find out more about our retreat services here.

Monday, May 21, 2007

the end of the interview?

That's the dramatic question posed in today's Washington Post by media critic Howie Kurtz, based on the rise of the email 'interview,' and the ever-rarer face-to-face interviews. While you could blame this on busy schedules, the global village and a 24/7 news window, Kurtz reports that it's sources taking the interview into their own hands that's the real cause
:...in the digital age, some executives and commentators are saying they will respond only by e-mail, which allows them to post the entire exchange if they feel they have been misrepresented, truncated or otherwise disrespected. And some go further, saying, You want to know what I think? Read my blog.
Is it a power shift? Maybe. Truth be known, skilled interviewees always have been able to control their interview output. Email just makes that easier, but it comes at the expense of spontaneity and interesting turns of phrase, as Kurtz points out:
...let me say a word in defense of face-to-face discussions, or even telephone chats. When you see someone's expressions or listen to someone's voice, you get a sense of the person that words on a screen lack. A back-and-forth in real time often leads to illuminating moments. And, of course, typed answers can be rather bloodless -- and they make it impossible for me to write, he said with a smile:).

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

weekly writing coach: length variations

The next time you write a paragraph, take a look at sentence length. Do short sentences pepper the graph? Are all your sentences, cut and stacked one atop the other, exactly the same size? Do long sentences rule? If you identify a pattern, make an effort to stop your preference -- long, short or in between -- and add variance in the editing phase. Your readers will thank you with greater attention. Varying sentences helps the eye avoid fatigue. One tip: Check for one-, two- and three-clause sentences, and use punctuation to help guide the reader through longer sentences similar to this one. Do it now!

are you smarter than a....

...twelve-year-old? We trained our youngest-ever participant -- 12-year-old Alma -- in media interview skills yesterday in Sacramento. She's one of almost 100 adults and teens participating in the Sierra Health Foundation's REACH program, which aims to reach adolescents in that city and engage them in healthy, safe activities that meet their needs.

Alma's reaction to her first on-camera interview? "HORRIBLE!" But she and others agreed that it gets easier when you have a plan for what you want to say, and after practice. The group worked together on message development, presentations skills, media interviews, how to work effectively with reporters, and getting their message across visually and verbally. To find out more about our group trainings for your organization's junior members, grant recipients, coalitions or others, contact us at info@dontgetcaught.biz.

Monday, May 14, 2007

marketing and event planner blogs

We've pledged to post examples of new blogs authored by alumni of our "Blogging for Your Business" workshops, and here are two more. The Accidental Marketer, by nonprofit marketing and communications consultant Don Akchin, includes down-to-earth tips, perspective and resources on marketing for good causes. Here's a favorite post on jargon in marketing trade publications. Meet 'n Dish offers event planner Jennifer Collins's perspective on cities, venues and other factors you should take into consideration for your next event. In this post, take a look at the "before and after" views of a space that could have been awkward, but turned out elegant in Jennifer's hands.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

weekly writing coach: myth buster

For many writers we coach, mistakes -- or frequent edits and corrections -- sap their confidence. In that state, we often see writers creating myths about the writing process and its difficulty, myths that stand in the way of their progress.

To the rescue comes the National Council of Teachers of English, with their "10 Myths About Learning to Write." Written, as one might expect, in a refreshing tone, the teachers set us straight with such wisdom as this myth:
4. You have to know what you are going to say before you begin writing. The funny thing about writing is that it actually helps you think. Many writers don’t discover exactly what they’re trying to say until after they’ve written for pages. Writing not only helps kids think deeply, but it helps them find out what they already know—not just in English class but in everything from math to biology to music.
Read the full list of myths here. Are any of these holding you back? Let the English teachers talk you out of it.

newseum update

Here in Washington, they're building a new downtown location for the Newseum, a museum of all things news and reporting. The New York Times offers a long update on its progress here, and, during the many years of construction, the museum has maintained an excellent online presence to provide access to its collections until the physical space opens October 15. Our favorite feature: "Today's Front Pages," a visual collection of more than 556 newspaper front pages, updated daily. It's a great way to build a relationship with museumgoers and newsmongers while their doors are closed.