Friday, February 22, 2008

weekly writing coach: twitter it

Readers of the coach's musings know I advocate tight, short writing. That's always been true, but never more so than now, in a world where readers' attention spans are distracted from all directions. So this week, in honor of George Washington's birthday, let me urge you to practice crafting messages the size of a "tweet," the popular name for the 140-characters or less you can use on Twitter.com to send micro-blog-posts to a collection of friends--or marketing messages to key audiences.

Writing in just 140 characters is tough, we know, so I'll give you a warm-up: Try 140 words first. And that's where Washington comes in. Our first president had the honor of delivering the shortest inaugural speech ever, just 133 words and 90 seconds long. Once you're down to 140 words, the 140 characters can't seem so far off. Seriously, though, you'll find more and more opportunities to communicate that require short writing. Practice until you've mastered the 140-character length that seems to be the new standard for short.

Monday, February 18, 2008

spring brings CEO and speaker secrets

We're springing forward into 2008 with more speaking engagements in March and April--both with a focus on women. I will join speechwriter Jeff Porro at the Tower Club in Tyson's Corner, Virginia, March 10 for the presentation "Take Your Next Speech from Good to Great: Speaker Secrets for Executive Women." The luncheon costs $35 for club members and $40 for non-members, and will take place from 12 noon to 2pm. Go here to register now. The presentation will help you build on your presentation skill set, avoid pitfalls and take advantage of women's particular strengths in front of an audience. Tips and advice on wardrobe, gestures and anecdote delivery, as well as using an executive speechwriter to advantage, will ensure you're an even more sought-after speaker.

In April, I'll serve as moderator and interviewer for the "CEO Insights" speaker series for the Washington chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners. This time, I'll interview Chef Nora Pouillon of Washington's Restaurant Nora, the nation's first certified-organic restaurant. Pouillon helped found the very first producer-only farmer's markets in the nation's capital, and has helped develop a number of school-based nutrition programs for children. The event takes place April 16 at Restaurant Nora, with registration and networking from 6:30pm to 7:15, and the program following. Seating is limited, and the early registration rate ends April 1; register here.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

weekly writing coach: global word view

A hat tip to friend-of-the-blog David Hollis, who shared his subscription to World Wide Words, a site that observes international English from a British view, with great vocabulary, usage, word history and grammar tips, including little-known or -used words. My favorite section is called Sic!, after a term that means "thus," and is used to indicate that a sentence has been reproduced exactly as written, usually to show an error. Author Michael Quinion offers this example in a recent edition:
My wife and I were puzzled by an advertisement in the Guardian Weekend magazine recently for a UK short-break holiday: “Scenic Scottish Railways by air.” We visualised low-flying helicopters.
You can subscribe to this amusing and useful newsletter via email or RSS. Add it to your weekly refreshers and practice!

public radio overtakes public TV

Wondering whether public television may be the medium left behind on the road to bigger audiences, today's New York Times reports on audience trends for both public radio and television. Here's the picture you should tune in to, according to the article:
Lately the audience for public TV has been shrinking even faster than the audience for the commercial networks. The average PBS show on prime time now scores about a 1.4 Nielsen rating, or roughly what the wrestling show “Friday Night Smackdown” gets.

On the other side of the ledger the audience for public radio has been growing: there are more than 30 million listeners now, compared to just 2 million in 1980. “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered,” NPR’s morning and evening news programs, are the second and fourth most listened to shows in the country.
Noting that both mediums have long been challenged by commercial competition with bigger budgets, the article notes that "Cable is a little like the Internet in that respect: it siphons off the die-hards. Public television, meanwhile, more and more resembles everything else on TV." And content, it concludes, makes the difference for public radio, which aims to fill a void that no one else can on the radio dial.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

are you ready for YOUR embeds?

During a presidential campaign, most people wind up grateful that they'll never get the level of scrutiny the candidates must sustain. But we know that the campaigns also serve as the leading edge for innovative news coverage and public relations techniques--witness their uses of blogs and social media, which set the example for the business world--so get ready for this:  Embeds, "off-air reporters" who carry cameras and recorders to capture moments that might not otherwise be widely seen. These reporters' roles began as a money-saving maneuver, and the New York Times reports this week that, with the explosion of Web-based video, their work is taking off:
Spurred by the proliferation of inexpensive hand-held video cameras and broadband Internet access, the dispatches that were once distributed internally are now published on blogs, and the video clips that would have wound up on the cutting room floor are posted on Web sites.
The article notes that it's not just news media with this potential, as most citizens carry at least a cell phone with camera capabilities. When you're in a crowd--at a conference, event or other public venue--are you thinking about how what you're doing and saying would look on YouTube? Don't get caught without thinking ahead to embeds (or just curious audiences) with the tools to spread your actions widely on the Web.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

the one-armed paper hanger's new job

I'm in the process of downsizing a large house with a goal of literally reducing my home's footprint--and eradicating paper's the key, I've found. So phone books, lists, books and files are on their way out, replaced by online resources, an e-book reader, computer files and PDA list managers. Today's New York Times looks at the metrics for reducing paper in the home and finds that per-person paper consumption is down, demand for scanners and other services to convert paper to bytes is up, and consumers and businesses are developing systems that move paper out of the home or office as quickly as it comes in. And I see a nexus between this trend and the as-yet untapped availability of new and social media for communicating your organization's messages. While many organizations are struggling with holding on to paper communications, others have replaced paper in these creative ways:
  • using blogs to replace newsletters, news releases, donor communications and even reader/subscriber/customer mail;
  • putting Facebook and MySpace to work as membership directories, "yearbooks" for alumni of special classes or workplace programs, and fundraising drives;
  • email newsletters as invitations, news releases, and even-more-direct-mail with higher open rates and the ability to drive traffic around your web presence;
  • web-based press rooms and blogs to give reporters fast and even access to quickly changing documents and source updates, particularly for annual conferences and events;
What are you still printing on paper? Annual reports, magazines, newsletters and letters still have a strong presence for many organizations' communications departments. We'd love to hear where you're choosing to use paper and why--or to help you conduct a communications audit and plan ways to replace paper communications tools with more effective and efficient online and electronic options.

Monday, February 04, 2008

weekly writing coach: essay, again

I've urged you before to practice the essay, and I'll do it again this week: A well-written essay is our favorite form of writing. Over on this site's sister blog, The Eloquent Woman, I've just written a post about a moving "This I Believe" essay on National Public Radio, and this ongoing contest offers a series of essay writing tips you can use to improve your own essays. Search the site's essay database to find examples and models. You may find it helpful to follow the rules of the contest, in order to limit your word count -- and to make it more personal.

what should I do with my hands?

I often ask participants in my presentation or speaker trainings where they think their hands belong when they are not gesturing. Most people immobilize their hands, gripping them together in front or in back of their torsos or grabbing both sides of the lectern. Your hands will best serve you during a speech or presentation if they're available for your use at a moment's notice--and that means you should hold them at rest with your elbows bent, and fingers touching, but not gripping, those of the opposite hand. You can rest one hand on the other lightly, but don't grip.

This option helps you in two ways: Your hand and arm are now free to gesture up or down without having to travel a long way (distracting to you and your audience), and you're not immobilizing them.  On camera, you'll need to be gesturing near your face if your hands are to be seen. Holding them at your waist keeps them closer to the place they need to be.  Most important of all:  If you grip your hands or otherwise hold them still, you're more likely to make a verbal error.

Once you practice this, it will seem and look relaxed and natural, giving you the appearance of a calm, collected speaker. This technique also works for people with the opposite problem, those who gesture too much. Holding your hands at the ready can feel like a gesture and give your hands something to do other than flapping.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

retreat, ye hearties


Like pirate crews with the King's Guard bearing down on them, the communications teams we work with and support never seem to run out of challenges, clients and clock-induced pressures. That's why our savviest clients choose communications retreats for their teams (and, on occasion, jointly with other teams in their organizations) to regroup, strategize and pinpoint solutions to nagging problems. Here are some examples of themes and issues our clients have requested for retreats facilitated by don't get caught:
  • Setting team standards and skills development: Whether it's the focus of the retreat or just one component, many clients ask us to help their teams agree on or improve their media pitching skills, writing or presentation skills, or specialized skills like blogging.
  • Solving recurring client problems: We've worked with teams to help them devise appropriate team responses to clients who only want one solution, or brought client and communicator teams together to help them appreciate and work together in useful ways.
  • Strategizing to address new opportunities, from using new and social media to developing new messages and media plans for a new CEO, expanded organizational goals or special occasions.

Friday, February 01, 2008

what if we threw a party and....

...everybody came? That's the challenge some organizations are facing when they don't take the time to think through their experiments in using social media as an announcement tool. Witness this, courtesy of the DCist blog: The Embassy of Sweden's new Washington, D.C., home, House of Sweden, decided to post an invitation on Facebook, highlighting an art exhibit opening at its new digs. At DCist's time of posting, 2,100 people had replied "yes," a number that later climbed to more than 2,700, with more than 700 "maybes" (you'll need a Facebook login to see the page). As with the advent of other new technologies (think voicemail, or the Web itself), social media options can expand your audience responses before you have time to say "Swedish Embassy." The solution: Old-fashioned communications planning. Think through the possible scenarios, and your solutions and responses. In this case, the Embassy -- with a capacity of 400 people per event -- decided to start a rope line, admitting people only once others departed. And in this case, we're sure that the lack of planning had an impact on everything from building maintenance to the bar and catering orders. We don't see the overflow as a crisis, but advise you don't get caught underestimating your audience in this way. (DCist itself was surprised when its first exhibit of photos published on the blog drew nearly 600 attendees, even though it was only advertised on its own site.) We still hear too many clients assuming that Facebook, MySpace or other networking sites yield only limited responses--just be sure you're ready for any scenario.