Monday, October 26, 2009

Fall for our top 10 tips from October

 October saw our tips and tactics falling everywhere, from speaker situations to social-media strategy. Here's the best of the month for you to consider as we move into next month:
  1. What speakers can learn from Twitter hecklers, a post inspired by an audience meltdown during a keynote speech, drew thousands of readers from the conference in question and beyond. I used tweets from the audience to illustrate useful tips speakers can incorporate in their presentations to get ready for a really interactive audience.
  2. If you want to rev up an audience, whether online or live and in person, check out these 2 easy pieces to engage your audience, using examples from Purdue University and the University of Oregon. Think pictures and laser surprising uses.
  3. A behind-the-scenes look at how I manage this blog, based on reader questions, proved a popular post about the writing, planning and execution. I'm hoping it'll encourage those of you who are mulling your own blogs.
  4. In October, I went to two conferences where lots of participants joined Twitter for the first time. I was busy advising them to check out The Twitter Book, a great all-around guide to get started, making this older post popular once more. (I'm @dontgetcaught on Twitter--join and find me!)
  5. If you're trying to reboot your communications with social media, check out what my clients at UMBC have done, following a training retreat I facilitated for the university's public relations, alumni, marketing and related units earlier this year. They've launched a student blog on campus food and a special crowd-sourced social network for UMBC students. Two great examples here of what your future may look like!
  6. Visuals don't just mean video, as I learned at a hands-on workshop at the National Association of Science Writers' meeting this month. Check out this post on the handouts and resources from the workshop, including a great way to create slideshows with sound.
  7. If your only approach to communications is storytelling, this popular post lets you know about 5 ways you can skip storytelling and use a more effective tactic.
  8. Online video continues as the strongest social-media trend, and I've got a roundup of recent research and ideas to keep you ahead of the curve.
  9. Handouts from the Communications Network conference I attended this month--including a personal favorite on the best online tools you never heard of--form the basis of our #9 post. I'm happy to pass along these strong ideas for nonprofit communicators.
  10. Got writing standards? If you do, it may be time to reassess and review to be sure they still meet your needs and goals. Check out this weekly writing coach post for more.

new thinking for nonprofit communicators

At the recent annual conference of the Communications Network in Philanthropy, I had the chance to meet with hundreds of nonprofit communicators and hear about the reach, research and results they see with their communications vehicles. Now the Network has put available presentations and handouts from the conference online, so you can benefit from what we learned. One of the most popular so far is The Best Online Tools You Never Heard Of, with dozens of sites for pitching events, telling your story, fundraising, office support and more. Check out all the material for a view of how foundations and other nonprofits are navigating communications today.

making your website senior-friendly

 When you're targeting audiences, you may want to reconfigure your view of seniors. Now becoming a high-population segment with the entry of the baby boomers, they're more active, more technology-savvy and more inclined to volunteer and share information than previous generations of seniors--and they're among the fastest-growing groups in social media. And I have just one question for you: Is your website ready for an onslaught of seniors?

You can find out with this handy site from the National Institute on Aging and see an example from, which aims to include senior-friendly features. (The read-aloud features also may be popular with younger multitaskers.) Is your site senior-friendly?

Related posts: Why the age of your web users matters

Are you missing 20% of your audience? Configuring sites for people with disabilities

Friday, October 23, 2009

when to skip the storytelling: 5 ways

Storytelling is well on its way to becoming an overused term of art in communications. For some communicators, it serves to distinguish what they do from news reporting: the feature-length, loving coverage of a topic or area of focus. For others, it suggests the chance to highlight personal stories or exciting discoveries, making a big-picture tale out of what might otherwise seem mundane. Still others use it as an excuse to ignore the small, short or simple news and facts that--however useful to their audience--just don't have the zing, pull and lure of the well-told story. And some wrap themselves in the mantle of storytelling, suggesting it means that they don't spin (when, ironically, 'spinning a tale' is an ancient way to describe the art). Storytelling's invoked so often that our sources for the stories have learned, in many organizations and companies, to walk into the communications office saying, "I think we have a wonderful story to tell."

All this once-upon-a-timing has me yearning for something less, and something more. Instead of telling me a story every time, skip the urge to go all narrative on me. Rather than publish a long report, documentary, photo album with narration or feature-length stories, try these five options instead:
  1. Share a sheet of facts: The fact sheet's a workhorse communications tool that's sadly underused. It's ideal for the data-rich or history-laden announcement; for the process with many steps to describe; or the news where many credits, special notes or clear distinctions need to be called out rather than buried in description. A short introductory paragraph followed by a list of bullet points is all that's needed.
  2. Give me data, minus description: If you've got a trove of data, photos, or records and they're searchable on the web, invite your audience (and reporters) to dive in and share what they find and notice. Don't just release it--make sure you offer to share and post what readers find.
  3. Point me in the right direction: Instead of adding to the narrative pile, be my guide to the rich content you have to share. Tell me a story about the places where I can find your stories on my own. Describe your archives, the types of experts you have or the questions they can answer (or are seeking), or the who-what-when-where of access. It's the opposite of deciding what I can see--just tell me where you're hiding it, and what lies where.
  4. Carve out the context: More than spinning a tale, tell me what's significant and meaningful about your data, photos, content--then let me at it. Give me some context and let me go.
  5. Put a LoJack on your information: I'd be a millionaire if I had a nickel for every time I went to a website and found it awash in 40-page reports, executive summaries, news releases, databanks, annual reports, newsletters, e-zines, video, art, photos and, yes, stories--all without RSS feeds. If you do nothing else, make sure I have at least one way to subscribe to each of your stories and datasets via RSS and pull your information into my reader. Why? It comes direct to me where I'm likely to read it; I can search it; I can store it; and I can compare it to other sources. All the storytelling in the world won't make up for the lack of this simple tool.
What else do you do instead of telling stories? Share your ideas and tactics in the comments.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

weekly writing coach: behind the scenes

Janet Kuntz (@IM4Ward on Twitter) asked about how much time I spend planning and updating this blog. It's a question similar to others posed to me in the past couple of weeks, along the lines of "Where do you find the time?" and "How can you do that on top of your regular work?" Let me attempt to answer those questions that apply to all kinds of writing, by the way, and perhaps inspire some of the great could-be-bloggers I know to post more frequently. Here goes:
  • How do you find the time? I don't find time, I plan time--and take advantage of some skills and services for which I'm grateful. I'm a former magazine writer and editor who can write and type fast and short, particularly when I have an idea in mind and resources or links at the ready. I organize my RSS feeds--that is, reading material from the websites and blogs I follow--in Google Reader, which has a wonderful search feature that lets me find anything I've already read. I've also learned I can do a post under all sorts of circumstances, and even from email, using Posterous. All those tools let me tuck a blog post into a crowded day. I've also begun to use a freelance writer to contribute a specific series of posts on a research-intensive topic on The Eloquent Woman blog...but only on that one topic.
  • How do you decide what to include? I planned my blogs' content and focus before launching them, so everyday choices also are focused. It's as essential to know what you won't write about as what you will write about, in my experience. While I write about social media trends for communicators, for example, I don't try to do real-time coverage of new applications or services--too many other great blogs, like Mashable, do that. To get on the blog, it has to fit in my areas of focus.
  • So what do you cover on each blog? The conceit behind the don't get caught news & info blog reflects the work I do as a communications consultant: communications strategies, training and content/message development. That includes big-picture strategy, like rebooting your communications operation for a social-media world, as well as media-training and speaker-training tips, and advice on writing and developing messages. I also cover what I'm doing or speaking about; what I've done for clients; and case studies and good examples. If I'm doing it right, it reads like a private memo for communications directors/managers about what they should know right now. The Eloquent Woman blog covers ideas, inspiration and information on women and public speaking--while the tips can work for men and women, there's a specific focus on issues women face. I like the mix of practical solutions, role models to follow from past and present, and good data and reporting. For that blog, the reader may be a beginner speaker or one trying to brush up her skills--and she should find it a ready-reference she can use before, during or after a talk.
  • What percentage of time do you spend planning and updating your blog? The amount of time varies widely from week to week (as you'll notice if you are a close reader). If I've been smart and brainstormed a set of ideas ahead of time, the planning takes no time at all in any given week--I just write. Overall, I probably spend the equivalent of a day a week on both blogs, but spread over the course of the week in small spurts. Once a quarter, I sit down and check my plan and assumptions to see if they're still working, and edit older posts so there are links to new ones on related topics. The quarterly review for each blog takes at least a day. At that point, I update my grid of story ideas, so it's available when I have no new material. On a day-to-day basis, my best time-saver is that I think about blog posts while I'm doing other things instead of staring at a blank blogging interface. So when I sit down to write, I'm ready to write.
  • How often do you post? This, too, varies widely. I don't, for example, post just to post--I want to be sure I have appropriate material. At the same time, if there's a lot of news that fits my readership or a major event (planned or not) relevant to my blog, I want to cover it in a timely way. In an average week, I aim for roughly 5 posts on this blog. I'm blogging with more frequency on The Eloquent Woman, my blog on women and public speaking, in part because I'm running a weekly series of online coaching sessions right now.
  • How can you do that on top of your regular work? This is my regular work: Offering advice and ideas to existing clients, and marketing my skills and services to prospective clients. Blogs can let you show what you know, if you plan them right. It's not at all unusual for me to get a call from a new client who's been all over my blog and website first, getting a sense of what I can do. I acknowledge that with posts like "what to ask the media trainer." Most of my business comes from referrals and from people who've found my blogs, or met me on Twitter or Facebook, or seen me speak. (All of which help drive traffic to the blog.) If this weren't my regular work, I still think I could spend a profitable hour a day, five days a week, on my blog to get it started. Start with what you can manage. It gets easier the more you post.
  • Where do you get your ideas? Here's a writing coach post on that topic. One advantage of having a blog that's active: My readers give me lots of ideas these days, and I'm inviting more and more of them to give me guest posts or participate in tests or projects. My very favorite readers are the ones who point me to leads I might have missed, and who've read the blog so closely that they know precisely my angle on a topic--they're priceless to me. When people ask questions, I often turn the question into a blog post, just as I did in this case; you learn quickly not to waste material. I read widely in my topic areas, and am always looking for good examples to share when I hear a speaker, talk to a client or meet someone new. What do you want to see on my blogs? Please tell me in the comments!
Janet, I hope that answered your question (and all the others). Anyone thinking about writing a blog should check out two fantastic blogs on the topic: ProBlogger, which has a wonderful 31 Days to Build a Better Blog series that will walk you through the process, and Remarkablogger, with inspiring content ideas to get you going.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Camera Man: online video updates

Online video continues as the strongest trend in social media, by sheer number of participants alone, so there's plenty to catch up on. Here are the latest data, tips and tricks to know in online video:
  • YouTube continues to dominate online video, in terms of monthly total streams (6.69 billion in September 2009 alone) and unique viewers (106 million in the same month), according to Nielsen. Don't skip YouTube if you want to maximize your reach.  Facebook, which lags well behind in streams, actually comes in third when you count unique viewers, behind Yahoo! and YouTube.
  • Wish your Flip camcorder had wide-angle capabilities? You could order another pocket-sized camcorder like the Kodak Zi8with widescreen built in, or you can use this set of tips from the Advancing the Story blog about hacking your Flip with a wide-angle lens adapter kit. (Advancing the Story's a great source for the intersection of broadcast journalism and online video.)
  • Flip cameras have gone through recent upgrades, and it's worth paying attention to the fine print with the new and old models so you can take advantage of improved features--or reduced prices. The new Flip MinoHD Camcorder 2nd Generation has a whopping 8GB of memory and can record 120 minutes without a charge. Important upgrades include audio, with a built-in wide-range, omni-directional microphone and a built-in speaker with software volume control; and a widescreen TV output with HDMITM. The Flip Minos include a built-in rechargeable battery (you just plug it into your computer's USB port). But if you don't want to risk an uncharged camera, the Flip Ultra 2nd Generation uses two AA batteries and gets similar long-recording times (but not the audio upgrades).
  • While we're waiting on our tests of the Kodak Zi8 to come in, tester Jim Barlow shared this YouTube video that unpacks the camera, looks at its features and tests the external microphone jack.
  • Other models of ultralight camcorders are flooding the market, among them the JVC PICSIO GC-FM1A HD Camcorder, which is tested in this video of the reviewer shooting sporting clays. (One of my testers tells me this would've worked better with a gun-mounted camera. Kids, don't try this at home.)
  • As we've noted before, upgrades to Flip cameras mean the earlier, simpler models--still great camcorders--are now at bargain prices.
(Hat tips to Jim Barlow, Karl Leif Bates and Joe Bonner for additional source material for this post.)

Related posts: 27 ways to Flip your PR visuals

Online video: Time's now on your side as audiences want longer videos

Get caught (up) with online video: 7 ways

Visuals don't just mean video: workshop materials

nonprofit tagline winners named

Nothing packs a punch like a great tagline--and "Nothing stops a bullet like a job," the tagline for nonprofit Homeboy Industries, is the top winner in the 2009 Getting Attention Nonprofit Tagline Awards. Winners were selected in 13 topical categories, ranging from environment and animals to grantmaking, and were selected from 60 finalists drawn from 1,702 nonprofit taglines submitted. More than 4,800 nonprofit professionals cast votes in the final selection round. A full report will be issued in November, and you can receive it on publication if you subscribe to Getting Attention's e-newsletter.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

visuals don't just mean video: workshop

Looking for ways to add visuals to your website or blog? There's no excuse with the toolbox of tools and ideas I got at the National Association of Science Writers annual conference (search for #sciwri09 on Twitter) during a hands-on workshop led by Karl Leif Bates of Duke University, Lee Clippard of the University of Texas at Austin, and John Pavlus of

We focused our time in the workshop on learning Soundslides, a paid download that offers a free trial period and lets you combine photos with narration or music in an intuitive editing interface. (Soundslides has a great tagline: Ridiculously simple storytelling.)

Beyond that, the panelists set up a special website to serve as a ready-reference "handout" that covers topics we didn't get to in the workshop: Where to find ready-made visuals, do-it-yourself ways to do data visualization, pointers on online video, and equipment advice for hardware and software, as well as a trough of inspiring examples. You also can find more advice from Bates and a panel of journalists on using multimedia to communicate science and health topics (or any other topic) at this link, which includes video of the panel.

Related posts: Using mulitmedia for science and health communications (panel on video)

students take the social media wheel

The crowd's the great advantage of social media, a tool that means you don't have to do all the work, even as it invests the audience in your site. But on campuses across the U.S., communicators are debating whether they should let students blog on the school website--unedited. Will they do it for no pay? What if they say something, um, problematic? Shouldn't we just supervise and lightly edit them?

We discussed the same questions earlier this year at a special training retreat I co-facilitated with Charlie Melichar for UMBC, the University of Maryland Baltimore County. In the past two months, UMBC has launched two ideas that grew out of that retreat: UMBCeats, a student-run blog about on- and off-campus food, and College.Be, a community crowdsourced by UMBC students with their tweets, photos, videos, blogs and music. And in both cases, the students power and supply the content.

The new sites take two different approaches. College.Be works on an aggregator platform, so students can feed their existing photos, tweets, posts and other material into the site from their own or third-party sites. It's a crowdsourced destination where students--and prospective students, the real target of this effort--can dive into what's happening on campus from the perspective of many students. And while posts are monitored, they're not edited. UMBC posts its community standard (a term I wish more organizations would use instead of "social media policy") to define and explain what content should and should not include. And the posts reflect the full range of views you'd expect.

UMBCeats sits on a WordPress blog platform, and lets loose student perspectives on dorm food, campus cooking, on-campus restaurants, free food and off-campus eating options in Baltimore and Washington, DC. While some would consider this a dangerous topic (you remember mystery meat), it's also a sure-fire topic of interest, both on campus and in society. I remember this coming up at the retreat and reinforcing it as a keeper, so I'm especially delighted to see it served up for others to enjoy. The blog held a campus launch party with free cupcakes, cookie-shaped promotional pins and other materials to introduce itself and its student bloggers to the community. It also aims to build community while serving as a source for prospective students, with links to admissions, the main UMBC page, and a student-run blog on UMBC matters.

UMBC's one of several clients who have asked for social-media staff training, an orientation in how others in its sector use social media to reach key audiences, facilitated brainstorming and the creation of pilot projects. Armed with that background, the UMBC public relations, marketing and alumni teams at the retreat have been busy using online video, Twitter, blogs and Facebook for a variety of purposes, reaching arts, alumni, news media and other audiences (and a clever omnibus Twitter account, UMBC Tweets, that aggregates all its tweets from various accounts, saying "we do the work for you"). If your organization needs the focus of a customized retreat on social media applications for your communications, contact me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz for more information. I'm delighted to see these great examples of UMBC's creativity in letting students take the social-media wheel.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

where's that kodak zi8 camcorder?

It's not quite Where's Waldo or Flat Stanley--yet--but I've had a postcard of sorts from my out-for-testing camcorder. A few weeks ago, I sent out the Kodak Zi8 HD Pocket Video Camerato the first of four testers--all university communications shops--so they could compare its features and functionality to other ultralight camcorders like the Flip MinoHD Camcorder. Here's a still shot of the camera in use for an interview with a faculty scientist at Rockefeller University in New York City, sent as a progress report. After a 2-week test in New York, the camera's on its way to Oregon for two weeks of testing.
I had the chance to see my tester's preview footage yesterday, and each tester will be posting footage and impressions on this blog so you can see the camera in action, and hear how it compares to other ultralight camcorders. Feel free to post your questions about this or other ultralight camcorders so our testers can try out your ideas. (Photo by Joe Bonner)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

weekly writing coach: standards editor?

What are your writing standards? I don't just mean which stylebook you follow, but whether you have standards for your writing and monitor your work over time to make sure you're maintaining your standards. Even a quarterly review may turn up changes in your style, usage, grammar or spelling that have crept in slowly, and offer you the chance to correct them, or to consider the need to revise your standards.

This post from the New York Times's standards editor makes the case for why the paper (and you) should periodically review your work--in this example, to determine whether writers are using colloquial terms too often. Here's a sample:
Many blogs have a more conversational tone than a straight news story. But if every blog is peppered with colloquialisms, slang, jargon or fad words, the fresh effect is likely to “curdle,” as The Times’s stylebook puts it.
If you're writing as part of a communications team, consider pulling a small group together to meet quarterly to review written products across the team and then report to your teammates on what you noticed. One example noted in the Times: use of the term "horticulturalist," about which the editor says, "Look it up, save a syllable: it’s 'horticulturist.' We’ve had this wrong more than 200 times over the years." Rather than wait till it gets to that point, consider a periodic review.

Monday, October 12, 2009

rebooting to social media? Bruce yourself

I saw Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band earlier this year, but they just closed down Giants Stadium this week, playing the last concert in that venue...and that trip down memory lane, updated for today, could be the best example yet for those of you trying to make the transition from traditional communications to social media and beyond. Springsteen's ability to connect with his audiences is legendary for a reason. Here's what I learned from The Boss that you might be able to use:
  • Take requests from your audience--even if they ain't your hits: The Rolling Stones' "This Could Be the Last Time" was the song Bruce chose from the requests written on signs from his fans (crowdsourcing at its best and most immediate). He called it "the perfect request for this evening." Be as gracious in including others' material and crediting them, and become a source online for good information--no matter where it originated--in your specialty area. I can tell you from personal experience that the crowd's fascinated watching an artist they love performing another star's song, because you can see how he learned and absorbed it. Even better: This crowd knew they'd help choose a special number. Try it with your fans.
  • Go deep into your backlog: At this final concert, Springsteen and his band played the entire "Born in the U.S.A." album, fitting because it was their debut hit when they first played the stadium in 1985. You've got just as much in your archives, if not more. Consider creating social media paths to let your aficionados, alumni and average-askers find and navigate the deep well of information they want. Check out the specs and evaluation data from the Library of Congress's experiment with Flickr collections from its vast photographic holdings, or the blog created from George Orwell's diaries as examples. What are you sitting on that could be shared? Can you offer one "album" of content from a significant part of your company or organization's past?
  • But don't just repeat yourself: Jay Weinberg, son of E Street band drummer Max, has been substituting for his dad on Bruce's tours this year--18 years old, and touring with The Boss!--and while Max was in the house for this concert, it was Jay who played on the Springsteen classic "Born to Run." In social media, switch up your bloggers and tweeters so that less experienced team members take a turn. You may discover new voices that connect with your audience in ways you can't imagine ahead of time.
  • Create special content: You can go here to see a video of Bruce singing "Wrecking Ball," the song he wrote for the occasion of this last concert in the stadium. It's written from the stadium's viewpoint, a twist his fans are analyzing even now. Better still: It's free, but only available on Bruce's website. Special content gives your longstanding fans a chance to find something new amongst the familiar, and builds a different level of connection and camaraderie with your audience.
  • Don't get too goofy: While there were many sentimental moments, Bruce also marked the occasion by calling the stadium "the last bastion of affordable sports seating," an echo of his well-worn description of the good life in the beyond as having "cold beer at a reasonable price." Have a self-reflective sense of humor about your communications with your audience and let it show...and don't take your social-media forays too seriously.
I've helped universities, nonprofits and companies with orientations, training and strategies in using social media as a communications tool, helping them choose and launch pilot projects tailored to their audiences' needs. Want to Bruce yourself or your organization in social media? Contact me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

speakers: learn from twitter hecklers

Just last week, I asked participants in one of my communications workshops what they learned that day that surprised them. "The idea that I should start with what the audience might want to know, or what they already understand, instead of starting with what I want to say," said one woman. Yesterday, on Twitter, another speaker -- this one at the HighEdWeb conference for higher education web professionals -- learned the same lesson, but the hard way: Live, in real time, from the audience. And because the audience decided to deliver the message via a backchannel discussion on Twitter, the rest of us had the chance to follow along.

What happened? People at the conference report it started with a near-invisible slide with yellow text on a white background, but the speaker's credibility took many hits due to his content and comments, most of which seemed outdated and out-of-touch to this social-media-savvy community. He's not on Twitter and wasn't following the backchannel discussion. His emphasis on snail-mail marketing techniques also hit a nerve. Once the piling-on began, people outside the conference chimed in, escalating it to a trending topic on Twitter--one that dominates the day's discussion.

Say what you will about live-tweeting at meetings (and I say it's a phenomenon speakers must expect these days), speakers can learn a lot from audiences by listening to what they have to say on Twitter. That's true not just of this disastrous presentation, but every day. I've gone back through the thousands of tweets commenting on this one presentation to glean what speakers can learn from this audience:

  1. Know--or get to know--your audience. For me, this always has been the starting point for any communication, in any format. The Eloquent Woman blog offers 5 ways to find out about your audience, and Twitter's an excellent resource if you're speaking to a social-media-savvy audience. (This conference also had its own online community that speakers could consult.) But you can't go wrong with asking and listening, in addition to research.
  2. Find out what their expectations are--and check your assumptions at the door. Speakers must add value. No one has to listen to you and everyone has other distractions--or can make some, if bored. Are you helping them learn? Think through issues? Strategize? A focused group like the one in this case comes to conferences for professional development, and if nothing develops from your comments, a revolt might.
  3. Think of technology as respect for the audience. That white slide with yellow lettering got the ball rolling--and to this audience, it signaled, "Watch out, if this is what we're in for." And while speakers may think of technology as something they can ignore, audiences see it as enabling a respect for your listeners. Can they hear you? Can they read your slides? Can they see you and what you're showing them? Are you leaving one slide up too long? All basic, and all essential.
  4. Learn to read when you're losing the audience. One tweet from yesterday's debacle noted that most of the audience's faces were lit by their smartphones as they tweeted and texted during the presentation. That's normal these days--but not throughout the entire speech. If you're not engaging them in real life, you need to change course. Check out The Eloquent Woman's tips on what to do when you're losing the audience. And look and listen to your audience while you're speaking. Develop a good ear for those dreaded silences.
  5. Listen to yourself before your speech. Audio- or video-recording, easy enough to do on your own, can help you learn which words you repeat. In this case, fillers like "actually" serve as a slightly longer version of "um." Like "um," if your audience is bored and hears any word too much, they'll start counting. Are you overusing other words, like "actionable" in this case? Find alternatives so your presentation holds the reader's attention better.
  6. Connect with the audience or it will connect elsewhere. Whether it's asking questions at the start of your talk, involving volunteers to make a point, or sharing examples from people you know will be in the audience, you need to make sure you're not talking over or at them, but with them. In this case, the connection was so unattainable that this tweet suggesting an "I survived..." t-shirt was met, minutes later, with a real t-shirt available for purchase. Don't wait till it goes this far to engage your audience.
You may see a horror story in this, but, as a speaker coach and trainer, let me urge you to use this backchannel--and more like it--as another form of preparation. The only way to stop this type of audience dissatisfaction, in the end, is for speakers to learn how to avoid it in the first place. Learning what today's audiences want and appreciate, as well as what makes them skeptical and cranky, should be on your list of presentation skills.
Want to see the presentation? One participant used his webcam to capture it here.

UPDATE: Based on the discussion in the comments, here are some related posts for you to consider:

Tweeting at meetings gets controversial (includes the debate about manners and professionalism)

Inviting live tweets at your meeting

Creating tweetable presentations (guest post)

Thursday, October 01, 2009

weekly writing coach: 8 edits for space

I know, I know: You're the writer, and cutting your own work is the last thing you want to think about--literally. That's especially true when you're trying to fit your work into a tight space, from a tweet on Twitter to that one-page-only memo your boss asked for.

If you've done all the other self-edits you should do as you're writing, and fitting the work to the space or the word count is your only remaining challenge, here are some tricks and tips to get your writing into its proper place:
  1. Cut dangling words: Known as "widows" because they're left all alone on a line, these are the easiest cuts to make for writers--you can gain a line by cutting just one word. Typically, that cut will come before the dangling word, in a line above it.
  2. Tighten up your descriptions. How many adjectives or adverbs do you really need? Can you choose one strong descriptor instead of three weak ones? Do those words hold their weight or take up extra space?
  3. Get active: Passive verb constructions take up more space, so move toward active verbs ("I've written" or "I wrote" instead of "I have been writing") and you'll improve your piece as well as shorten it.
  4. Think headlines: Particularly for tweets or short posts, using some tricks of headline style can save lots of space. "Study: Oldest hominid found" beats "Researchers discover oldest known hominid" for space-saving, while getting the essentials across. Using the colon helps you avoid a verb (and a few other words).
  5. Check your reps: If you're repeating phrases, lead-ins, or even key words, look for ways to group them into shorter constructions. Instead of three sentences that say, "I reported to the committe on x," "I wrote up the report," and "I prepared the minutes," get all the relevant points into a single sentence.
  6. Silence some quotes: Writing a longer piece and featuring quotes? Make sure they earn their space by using only quotes that add new information, instead of those that repeat and reinforce what you've said in narration.
  7. Eject your precious jewel. It's always good advice to chuck the portion of your writing you've polished and perfected. That may be what's holding your piece back, and in some cases, it can make shortening the piece even easier. Remember: If your written work doesn't fit in the space intended, no one will get to see what you've been polishing, anyway.
  8. Duck the bullets: Bullet points can be deceiving. They can push you into shorter constructions, but their indents take up precious space. Do eradicate widows from bullet points as well as full-to-the-margin sentences, and apply the same edits above within each bullet and the section of bullets.
This is a great exercise to try when you're tweeting, or on a piece already written and published. Think about what you'd cut on a longer piece if you had to lose one more line, one more paragraph, or one more column. For tweets, what else could you fit in if you cut?

Related posts: How short should your headlines be these days?

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