Thursday, December 27, 2007

Does your media trainer use Bob Newhart?

I had fun watching the PBS 'American Masters' program on comedian Bob Newhart last night--but what came to mind were the dozens of media trainings we've seen in which one segment from the Bob Newhart Show in the 1970s was shown. This staple of trainers shows Bob squirming through a local television talk show interview in which he starts naively thinking the interviewer means well, but learns on the air that he got caught by her pleasant off-air style.

Trainers use this episode as a quick lesson in interview don'ts: Bob doesn't know the real topic, tries to answer leading questions and trusts the interviewer. The exaggerated style works, as any viewer can recount what Bob did wrong--and feel comfortable about it. Fun as it is to watch, it's now overused and outdated for training purposes, and takes up valuable time that your trainees could be using to learn skills.

How many trainers use this video? Newhart's website notes that its most frequently asked question is how to get a copy of the video for this episode. (For the record, it's called "Who Is Mr. X?" and is episode #81, released on a 2-video set called The Very Best of the Bob Newhart Show: Hi Bob!). Get one for your own viewing pleasure (VHS only), and ask your media trainer for an updated training that takes into account today's realities instead.

weekly writing coach: technical terms

Blogcritics offers a review of the new Webster's New World Telecom Dictionary by Ray Horak. Intended for those in high-tech industries, it appears to be equally useful if your writing includes more technical terms related to telecommunications, the Internet or computing:
It contains networking terms such as DHCP, DNS, and TCP/IP. It contains security terms such as spoofing, phishing, and pharming, as well as the more traditional terms relating to telecommunications like DSL, VoIP, and SONET.

While, by definition — pardon the pun — Webster's New World Telecom Dictionary is a technical book focused toward professionals yet written in a plain-English style that anyone can understand. Many of the entries are encyclopedic in that they not only define the item, but also expand on the issues entailed, including the technical aspects.
Smart writers stock their bookshelves--whether virtual or made of wood--with specialty dictionaries like this one. What's on your technical terms bookshelf?

Buy Webster's New World Telecom Dictionary

new media's next wave

UPDATE: Registration details for this event are now available here). "New Media's Next Wave: What to Expect in 2008" will be the theme for the Washington Women in Public Relations' annual meeting, set for February 10 at the Arts Club of Washington. Denise Graveline, don't get caught president, will join Scripps-Howard chief technology officer and American University professor David Johnson and David Weiner, emerging media specialist at PR Newswire, to foresee 2008 trends and answer members' questions about applying new media and social networking to communications efforts. In "Facebook is so last year," Bobbie Johnson, technology correspondent for the Guardian newspaper in London, gets a jump on the topic, looking at such sites as:
  • Twitter, less as a means of telling everyone what you're doing and more for extremely short posts (called 'microblogging') and easy ways to text-message a large group of people--say, your clients and customers, or your Facebook group;
  • Etsy, an Internet retail site for handcrafted items. This site takes to a new level a trend we've long observed in blogging: Handcrafters--especially knitters and crocheters--have taken a low-tech, high-touch effort and embraced its potential on the Web. (For a laugh, check out the 'What Not to Crochet' blog, which takes a unique viewpoint on the topic.)
  • Dopplr, a social networking site for frequent travelers. It's one of many Facebook-style sites that extend the trend to more focused and targeted audiences. Watch for more existing groups--professional associations and other member groups--to take the plunge in 2008. Johnson also cites Moshi Monsters, a site that combines virtual pets, networking and games for 7- to 12-year olds.
  • Seesmic, still in preview (you can sign up to join the alpha version) as a video diary site with webcam "conversations." Johnson notes another trend we've observed: This site plans to feed into Facebook and MySpace, rather than replace them, in a "don't beat 'em, join 'em" strategy you'll see more in 2008.
Post your questions about 2008 trends here, or join us on January 10 for a live, real-time conversation.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Web videos attract more TV viewers

A Harris Interactive poll of 2,455 American adults reports that about 65 percent have watched a YouTube video--a jump of nearly 20 percent from this time last year. And YouTube remains predominant in Web video, according to today's Reuters coverage:
Apart from YouTube, which most people favored because they felt it had almost every video they could find, 43 percent said they have watched a video on a TV network Web site, followed by 35 percent on news sites and less than 30 percent on search engines such as Yahoo and Google. Social networks such as MySpace and Facebook as well as music site iTunes also had a lower share of online viewers.
It's useful to note that respondents were less interested in amateur or user-generated videos in this survey. And with a writers' strike on network television, 2008 could see even more increases in Web video viewing.

copyright this for your next speech

A couple of months ago, I saw this LinkedIn question: "I'm doing a presentation to students about my industry... what do they want to know?" The speaker noted his competitors would be present, so he didn't want to disclose proprietary information, and that, if pressed, he couldn't recommend many of the courses in the curriculum for his specialty area. I answered:
The answer to your question is "ask them questions." It's one of the most effective tools a speaker can use to engage the audience from the start of--and throughout--a speech. It also helps you avoid disclosing too much....start the speech by taking a poll of the audience. How many tinker with video on their own time? How many have internships? How many have studied it in class? How many want to work in the field? Then ask them what they want to know from you.
You'll find a good example--and the lessons the speaker learned from it--in David Pogue's piece about copyright in yesterday's New York Times. He asked audiences for his speeches about what they think is right or wrong about copying digital information -- music, DVDs, and more -- and found a striking generational divide, all with a show of hands. Taking a poll of your audiences not only gets their attention and engagement, but helps you shift on the fly, if necessary, so your remarks hit the mark. For more presentation and public speaking tips, check out our sister blog, The Eloquent Woman, on women and public speaking.

weekly writing coach: your conditions

Find yourself blaming your surroundings for your inability to write? I've coached distracted writers to turn away from the window, close the door, silence the talk radio, increase the lighting and send calls to voicemail in aid of focus and finishing a piece. In today's "Writer's Almanac" from American Public Media, find your inspiration in one writer who needed no such pampering:
It is the birthday of the man who wrote the longest novel in the English language, Anthony Powell, (books by this author) born in London (1905). Despite being a successful author, he wrote his million-word book, A Dance to the Music of Time, on an ancient typewriter at a card table squeezed into his bedroom.
Now, take a moment to appreciate your computer, your voicemail button, your closed door, your ergonomic chair....and get to work.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

the incredible shrinking reading audience

Who are the readers in your audience? Chances are, they're a shrinking--but active--group, according to a recent National Endowment for the Arts report and coverage of same in the New Yorker magazine. The New Yorker article, which contrasts reductions in reading habits with the rise of high-tech and television viewing, notes:
...the N.E.A. reports that readers are more likely than non-readers to play sports, exercise, visit art museums, attend theatre, paint, go to music events, take photographs, and volunteer. Proficient readers are also more likely to vote. Perhaps readers venture so readily outside because what they experience in solitude gives them confidence. Perhaps reading is a prototype of independence. No matter how much one worships an author, Proust wrote, “all he can do is giveus desires.” Reading somehow gives us the boldness to act on them.
The report itself takes care to note "no causal relationship" between reading and other activities. But the data should give sports, fitness, arts and nonprofit volunteer organizations a new window into their active audiences and their reading habits. And for the rest of us, the report serves as a reminder of the changing attention span of Americans in relation to books, newspapers and traditional print media.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

weekly writing coach: guns for commas

The next time you insert a comma or two in a sentence, will it take the Supreme Court to figure it out? That's what Adam Freedman wonders in a New York Times op-ed article on the forthcoming decision on the District of Columbia's ban on handguns, the first Supreme Court case to consider the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights in nearly 70 years. The author of The Party of the First Part: The Curious World of Legalese, Freedman notes that:
...little is known about the justices' views on the lethal device at the center of the controversy: the comma...The official version of the Second Amendment has three of the little blighters: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
The op-ed is titled....wait for it..."Clause and Effect." It notes that previous Second Amendment cases have called the commas in question "unusual," but Freedman explains:
In the 18th century, punctuation marks were as common as medicinal leeches and just about as scientific. Commas and other marks evolved from a variety of symbols meant to denote pauses in speaking. For centuries, punctuation was as chaotic as individual speech patterns.
He recommends taking away all the commas to see the sentence's grammar; in Freedman's view, what's visible then is a causal link between militias and the right to bear arms. His op-ed walks you through that rationale, and you can fall back on this guide to comma usage from the Online Writing Lab of Purdue University if your commas are becoming, well, fodder for a legal case.

Buy The Party of the First Part: The Curious World of Legalese

Monday, December 10, 2007

shining a light on nonprofit communications

Today's Wall Street Journal includes an opinion article that suggests that charities and foundations should share more information --and no surprise, they call for more information on nonprofits' websites. Fair warning: You'll need a free 2-week subscription or a paid one to see the full article, which calls for the following:
Specifically, charities and foundations should provide detailed information on their Web sites--everything from board members and their bios to an open discussion about problems they've encountered while trying to achieve their goals. Charities should also explain to donors how they measure their effectiveness--and stop flouting existing efforts at self-regulation. Finally, more charities should embrace rigorous forms of evaluation and report their findings to the public.
Two new efforts underway at the Communications Network in Philanthropy will help meet the need described in the article. They include a yearlong study of how foundations are using new and emerging digital media "to improve communications and advance organizational objectives," and developing a toolkit to help foundations evaluate their communications efforts.

how do you spell publicity?

Today's New York Times looks at a trendlet among dictionaries declaring a "word of the year" as an effective way of getting attention. Most recently, the New Oxford American Dictionary declared "locavore" its WOTY, and a staffer explains why:
“There are very few good ways to get publicity for a dictionary,” said Erin McKean, a lexicographer at Oxford. While publishers can rely on coverage for new entries in just-published dictionaries, some reference books go for as long as a decade between revisions. “We are constantly surveilling the language to see what new words people are coming up with,” Ms. McKean said.
From TIME's "person of the year" to the local sandwich shop's employee of the month, these self-declared weekly, monthly or yearly events nearly always come in for some reporter criticism--after all, there are more than 12,000 special days, weeks or months already on the calendar. (Today, December 10, has almost 30 separate designations, for example, including the Nobel Prize ceremonies and Human Rights Day.) My advice has always been to check key calendars to see how crowded the field is in your chosen day, week or month--and consider whether your special designation will really achieve the attention you seek.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

your blog's mini-me: try a blidget

Some of my clients worry that if they start a blog, they'll be scattering seeds in a field of dreams. "If I build it, will the readers come?" they wonder. Not without some effort to promote it -- but today's new tools and applications make it easier than ever to put your blog before potential audiences and draw them in. Widgets--easy-to-create windows to the Web that can be incorporated into your blog or website--offer just such a tool.

Widgets let you add counters, calendars and content generated by others to your website. (A popular example, Daily Puppy, lets you add a box to your website in which a new puppy picture will appear each day.) Now you can create a widget that features your own blog. That's called a "blidget," and if you have an established blog, you might create a blidget in these situations:

  • To share content with your customers, members or subscribers: A nonprofit membership organization might offer blidgets to local chapters with updated membership information from its blog, while an auto manufacturer could do the same with dealerships, whose websites might benefit from new-model updates. If your publication's editor also blogs, her insights might be offered in blidget form to subscribers for their websites; a textbook publisher might offer one to teachers and schools.. In this scenario, your blog becomes a value-added proposition for your audience: They get faster access to your material, and can offer it to their readers as free web content that's frequently refreshed. (Of course, you'll need to let them know the option is there for the taking.)
  • You just want to expand your blog's audience. Blidgets let you take advantage of one of the great phenomena of Web 2.0: the serendipity involved when people start exploring and finding sources they've never heard of before. Just by creating a blidget on sites like Widgetbox, your blog's "mini-me" is posted to a completely new set of readers. Widgetbox lets you tag your blidget to help its site's visitors find it in topical areas of interest to them.
  • Your audience is already on Facebook or other social media sites. Many widget- and blidget-creation sites offer options to create a Facebook application so your blog can be added to participants' pages, whether they're your "friends" or not. The option makes it easier for the active Facebook participant to see and share your blog without having to leave Facebook to do it. Think "reader convenience." (Search for "The Eloquent Woman blog" on Facebook and you'll find our Widgetbox application that you can add to your own page.)
Blidgets allow your reader to download the application while changing its format (say, to show only blog post titles, or titles with pictures, or titles and some text), color and size to better fit their own sites. From the readers' viewpoint, this is true customized publishing, and it's a big part of the appeal.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

tagline, you're it: take a survey

Nonprofit marketer Nancy Schwartz wants to know how you apply your skills to your nonprofit's tagline with a new survey. Here's what she's seeking:
In today's competitive marketing environment, nonprofit taglines must be strong enough to get attention and provoke questions. Effective taglines complement an org's name, convey the unique value its delivers to its community and differentiates it from the competition. (Americorps' "Getting Things Done" is a great example of a tagline that works on all three fronts.) But more often, nonprofit taglines are vague, ambiguous, over-reaching, too abstract or simply non-existent. Unfortunately, there’s little available guidance for organizations striving to strengthen their taglines. That's why I'm making a special effort in 2008 to help nonprofit orgs craft better taglines.
If you respond to Schwartz's survey here, she'll send you a report on the results on request, including trends, best practices and tips. I'll report on it, too.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

weekly writing coach: shorter headlines

Google has informed Business Wire that the outer limits for headlines are shorter than you thought:
Google alerted us this week that press release headlines should not exceed 22 words. That’s eight words shorter than what we were told months ago. “An ideal headline should be between two and 22 words,” advises the search engine giant.
The penalty: Missing the chance to see your news release posted in Google's search engines and on Google News, not an option I like to consider. Based on what's in the news, headlines of five to seven words seem to be "all the headline that fits." Take your last ten headlines and make them shorter. Stumped? Try these self-editing tips, or refer to the The Dictionary of Concise Writing: More Than 10,000 Alternatives to Wordy Phrases

Buy The Dictionary of Concise Writing: More Than 10,000 Alternatives to Wordy Phrases

Monday, December 03, 2007

don't disappear: wear a dark suit

Whether your next appearance is before the television cameras or a ballroom full of listeners, consider your coloring when choosing an outfit. Those of you who with light hair (red or blonde), white hair or no hair should be wearing a dark suit to bring your facial features forward. Women can get the same effect while avoiding black and navy by choosing darker shades in many colors--from garnet to purple. You may love that winter white ensemble or the khaki tan suit, but save them for a day when you're not front and center with a crowd or a cameraman. If your facial features are fair, consider dark-rimmed glasses and eye makeup to further draw focus to your face. Want to enhance your skin tone, no matter its color? See our tip on wearing blue close to your face, in a shirt, blouse or jacket.

weekly writing coach: holiday greetings

'Tis the season for organizations to send holiday--or new year--greetings to their supporters, members and donors. Today's exercise: Choose one of these options and write it in 20 words or less, including the cover copy, as if it were for your organization's most important audience. Ambitious? Try all of the options:
1) A year-end greeting without a holiday emphasis that highlights 2007's most important event, accomplishment or issue for your group. "As we look back on the year, your support during the spring flood remains the finest example of our community support" helps highlight an unusual cause and special efforts to meet an unanticipated need.
2) A new year greeting that anticipates a 2008 goal, event or theme. Want to highlight a goal in your strategic plan or a new CEO initiative? This is the place to try. If you plan to ask for support, hold meetings or seek volunteers for the effort, say so--briefly.
3) A winter-themed greeting that uses the seasonal conditions--whatever they may be in your geographic area--to highlight your cause. A community theater group in a mountainous area could get humorous with a line about "packed powder," referring to makeup rather than moguls, for example.
You'll do better at this if you come up with up to three versions for each example. Then share them with colleagues and get feedback. Which ones stand out? Which ones stick? Which ones take advantage of unique timing--say, sent in January, rather than during the December rush? Finally, set a time limit on this exercise. Keep it short, just like the greeting card.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

the CEO's publicity clothes offer clues

Much as with bad publicity, "It's easy to spot a bad chief executive once the damage is done," writes Clemson University management professor Terry Leap in a leadership column this week in the Wall Street Journal. And, no surprise to us, an over-the-top yen for publicity is among the clues Leap offers to hiring committees if they want to avoid hiring a "dysfunctional CEO:"
A reputation for shameless self-promotion. Executives who constantly seek publicity, are always looking for a better job or trumpet their successes while quickly distancing themselves from setbacks are sending strong signals that their egotistical ways may eventually cause major problems
So choosing a CEO may become a smart part of your organization's communications planning. We'd love to see search committees interview prospective leaders in the for- and non-profit sectors about their communications skills and expectations. Smart leaders are forthcoming with bad news as well as good, take the time to build their public and interpersonal communication skills and listen to good counsel that encompasses a variety of viewpoints--including "we're not that desperate for publicity and can take a pass on this opportunity."