Friday, January 29, 2010

a fun media training video

The BBC turns its lens on the typical broadcast news story and does one that explains, er, the broadcast news story--in humorous fashion.  Might be useful to show colleagues who wonder why TV news reporters put stories together that are too short, skim the surface of a topic, add unnecessary pathos and more.  Enjoy this chuckle for the day....

January's top 10 tips

The holiday parties are over, the resolutions made, you're back to work. This month's top 10 posts will help you meet those promises to speak better, write better, build great communications strategies or just get savvy about where and how you communicate:
  1. 12 questions to ask reporters:  You'll improve the interview experience for yourself and for the reporter with these 12 savvy queries. This update of a don't get caught classic post was far and away our most-read tips in January.
  2. Do you know the ABCs of presenting in 2010? That's audience, backchannel and communications style. All three are changing, and I offered 17 ways my presentations training will change in 2010 to accommodate new trends. A great list for your own presentation renovation.
  3. Trends and changes in broadcast TV may well shape the ways your organization looks to that medium for your communications. My third-most-read post of January.
  4. Are you social-media-ready for success?  You can't just wait for something to announce, then jump into social media.  This popular post recounts case studies for building up your networks, then using them to communicate your wins.
  5. You've got a blog. You've got a crisis. Are you taking advantage of that?  Johnson & Johnson, once the model for crisis communications in a product recall, stumbled this month by not responding quickly to another one, even more widespread.  I recounted 9 posts I wish we'd seen on the J&J blog that might have made this episode another case study to copy.  Use them to forestall your own crisis.
  6. Clients come up with the best ideas for communications retreats. This popular post shares what they request when they want me to facilitate.
  7. Got a scientist who needs communications training?  Two workshops coming up next month will help them grasp video skills and basic communications skills. I'll be attending the former and facilitating the latter.
  8. The weekly writing coach went after overstatements this month with tips for spotting them and rooting them out of your writing. No more excesses in the new year!
  9. S.M.A.R.T. objectives you've heard of. But S.M.A.R.T. writing?  The coach shares five ways writers--and their assigning managers--can adapt the S.M.A.R.T. priniciples to improve your written products and make them more effective.
  10. Are your own words ensuring you're about to get caught?  Stay alert to these 3 danger signs (and how to get out of them) for your speaking, presenting and interviewing.  If you can catch yourself when you hear these signals, you can avoid getting caught by a questioner.
A note to subscribers to our newsletter:  Starting next week, the monthly don't get caught newsletter will refocus its content and become For Communications Directors, a free newsletter with news about communications training, strategies and content development.  Our speaking and presenting content will move to a new newsletter, Step Up Your Speaking, based on The Eloquent Woman blog.  You can go to the link below to choose which newsletter you'd like to receive.  Existing subscribers will receive both newsletters so they can choose for themselves.

If you're looking for more information, ideas and inspiration about public speaking and presenting, please also check out our sister blog, The Eloquent Woman, and become a fan of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook, now more than 1,800 fans strong.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

about to get caught? 3 ways to tell

Ever watched a colleague, your CEO or perhaps yourself go too far in a speech, presentation, or media interview--and then get caught by their own words?

Of course you have. And if you haven't seen those examples, there are plenty to choose from on television, every day.

Helping clients avoid getting caught by their own words is often the best training I can provide.  It happens most often when you're off-script, as you are in so many everyday situations from speaking engagements to interviews and presentations. The good news: in many cases, the speaker or interviewee gives the listener a clue right before he misspeaks.  If that's the case for you or a colleague, that clue can become an important tool to help the speaker catch herself--even mid-sentence--before she gets caught by her own words.  Next time you notice someone verbally stepping on themselves, look for one of these three clues and share it with the speaker so he can recognize it and use it to stop himself before trouble begins.
  1. Answers the question, then keeps going:  You may have answered the audience member or reporter's question well and fully--then felt like you had to keep talking to fill a silence. But you don't. If you really have answered the question (and you should), stop and wait for another. It's how conversations work, and how you can pause to see where the other person is going before you make any assumptions.
  2. Says "probably....":  "Probably" says, "I'm going to guess that what I'm about to say is right, even though I don't have anything with which to back it up."  A great way to stop yourself here would be to say, ", I really don't know. I don't want to speculate."
  3. Says "everyone," "no one," "anyone," or other absolutes.  Particularly trouble-making when coupled with "knows," as in "Everyone knows," these overstatements beg your listeners to wrack their memories for exceptions to whatever comes next in your sentence.  (It's why journalists are taught, "If your mother says she loves you, check it out," and never to write that "everyone had fun at the picnic," lest the unhappy people who attended protest.)  Again, the way to stop yourself if the trouble word has emerged is to say, "Everyone....well, no. Let me speak just for myself here. In my experience..." That's all, at the end of the day, you can really do.
Want more tips on how to spot and root out troublesome overstatements? Check our weekly writing coach advice on how to get over overstatements and rephrase them to stay out of harm's way.  And if you have other verbal clues to share that will keep us all out of trouble, share them in the comments.

Related posts:   More on speaking and presentation skills on The Eloquent Woman blog

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More on my training and coaching services

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

from clients: 10 retreats

Communications goes outward, so why take the time to pause for a retreat about your communications? I'll let my clients' reasons for convening communications retreats serve as the source for this list, since they start the process, telling me what they hope to accomplish with my facilitation help. Some are training-focused, some seek to even out disparities in understanding and skill, others are more strategic and reflective. See if any of these sound familiar to you:
  1.  We've got a complex initiative with partners in many sectors, conflicting messages and goals that are dependent on our partners' cooperation. We all need to come to agreement on what we can accomplish in communications, and come out of it with a plan.
  2. Last year was a tough year for my team. We lost staff and had a number of personal and professional challenges. I want my communications team to refocus for the new year, and set objectives to make this year more productive, while taking time to acknowledge last year's challenges.
  3. The board decided on a message for our nonprofit organization, but the members balked, and now we're not sure how to proceed. We want to start over, and this time we need a message or options for a message that reflects what our members said.
  4. I think our new marketing VP has some sweeping changes in mind. I want to figure out how to get my communications team ready for that, and figure out a strategic way for us to anticipate the changes ahead. (In this case, we invited the marketing VP to talk to the team directly about the changes--a step that let them see the path forward long before it was announced.)
  5. I have a lot of staff members who work in media relations, and I'm not sure that all of them understand how to pitch ideas to reporters effectively. We have longstanding relationships with news media, and we need to be sure everyone's on the same page about our approach.
  6. Our communications and related units are all over the map when it comes to understanding and using social media. I'm embarrassed to say we don't all know enough to decide where to put our efforts--and the staff members who know the technology aren't always thinking strategically. Can we mix training and strategy to get everyone on a level playing field?
  7. My writing team needs a shot in the arm--I want them to focus, find ways to turn in written work that needs less editing by me, and get creative.
  8. I need to make the case to my board of directors for why we need funding to carry out some communications research and they're skeptical about how that would work and what the return would be. We need a retreat that will inform them and persuade them, while giving them plenty of time to share their questions and concerns.
  9. We need people from our core management team to come to a group understanding of how we'd handle communications in a disaster, emergency or major crisis
  10. Our budget's going to face major cuts in the coming fiscal year. We need to reprioritize what we're doing in communications so we can be strategic in facing that challenge--before someone tells us what to cut.
If you need one of these retreats--or can add to the list with a new one customized for your communications team, company or organization, email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

Monday, January 25, 2010

2 workshops for scientists

If you're among the scientists and science communicators heading to San Diego next month for the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting, check out a special workshop taking place on Sunday, February 21 from 2-3pm. Science Through the Lens: A Digital Journalism Partnership of the National Science Foundation and NBC News  will train scientists and engineers to use hand-held cameras to communicate their research "in an effective and compelling manner." Communicators, it's a great way to get your scientists aware of and involved in providing audio and video you can use to share their research with public audiences.  Want to give your scientists a double-dose of communications skills? I'll be facilitating another of the AAAS-NSF sponsored "Communicating Science" workshops (pre-registration required) at the meeting on Thursday, February 18.

weekly writing coach: overstatements

I just bought a set of universal earphones for my new cellphone, because the old universal earphones didn't fit the new phone (same manufacturer)...and found they come with a universal adapter to fit all the phones the standard set doesn't fit, er, universally.

Get it? That's a classic overstatement. Now, get over it--by making sure you either self-edit overstatements before you submit your work, or stop yourself from inserting them into your writing in the first place.  As a reader (or earphone buyer), I'm more likely to find you credible if overstatements don't pepper your work. Here are 5 ways to steer clear of them:
  • Monitor those adjectives and adverbs:  Overstatements often ride the coattails of adjectives and adverbs.  If the conference is especially exciting, the speakers notable and widely recognized and even the auditorium seats are the most comfortable you can imagine, I'll be looking for unicorns in the lobby of your next meeting.
  • Get a sense of what you're reaching for:  With products, research finding and even government policies, there's a yen to make everything a breakthrough, a major advance or a significant step.  If you're feeling some pressure--internal or external--to make something sound better, stop and figure out why, and whether that makes sense.
  • Find another word:  Are all your programs major? All your research extensive? All your senior officials probing and sought-after?  See if some variety--either in new terms or a rewritten sentence structure--can help you dig out of the overstatement ditch you're about to fall into.  A good rule of thumb: Don't reuse accolades.  Once you've described one program as "ground-breaking," that's it.
  • Temper, temper:  Could, may and might are useful tools to keep you from the verb forms that lead to self-destructive overstatement.  Referring to a new study that could prove useful hedges your bets better than one that claims to have completely solved the problem. It's one of the true good uses for a passive verb form.
  • Says who?  Ask yourself that question after every claim in your sentence. What would your staunchest critics say about your overstatement?  A neutral source?  If you can't prove it, don't use it.  And if someone can disprove it, time for a rewrite. 

Friday, January 22, 2010

know the ABCs of presenting in 2010

Audiences, backchannels and communication styles--the ABCs of presenting in 2010--all have shifted dramatically in recent years, enough to prompt trainers and coaches like myself to revamp what we're emphasizing in workshops and one-on-one speaker and presenter trainings.  Grab these 17 clues from my 2010 playbook about timely changes you should consider for revamping your own presentations this year.  I'll be emphasizing:

Audience skills such as...
  • Planning and practicing ways to share control over the outcome of your presentation through audience voting, advance input, or using questions up front to set the topic parameters
  • Reading a room full of texters and tweeters, and how to get them to interact with you in real life
  • Using the precious few minutes at the start when attention is highest to gain credibility
  • Interacting with the audience before you ever enter the room
  • Interrupting yourself at planned points during your presentation to engage the audience and manage its expectations
  • Including the audience in your presentation to heighten engagement
  • Understanding and responding to what they really want to hear from you
Backchannel skills such as....
  • Working with the organizers in advance to understand how they'll manage and display the backchannel of comments from participants on Twitter and other social media sites
  • Handling responses to the backchannel in real time, during your presentation
  • Why you should welcome and work with the backchannel discussion
  • Finding practical ways to encourage productive backchannel activity and incorporate it in your presentation
  • Participating in those channels before, during and after your presentation to glean insights and share followup information
  • Working with online resources that will add context and information to the backchannel discussion, before, during and after your presentation
Communication style skills such as...
  • Planning the room setup and your movements to create a more lively, dynamic and engaging interaction with the audience
  • Learning active listening skills to aid your question-and-answer sessions and improve audience engagement
  • Understanding how to balance your speaking and audience input at a time when audiences increasingly expect to contribute throughout a presentation
  • Planning the impact you wish your presentation to achieve, and how to get there
If you or your team need one-on-one coaching or group training in presentation skills or public speaking, contact me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz to create a customize training that meets your needs in 2010.  Here's what some of my recent trainees have been saying:

What made the workshop especially interesting and memorable was Denise Graveline's radiant and cheerful, yet very effective communication skills. She did an outstanding job of keeping the attention of the audience and tying everything together very nicely.

The communication tips and message that you helped me develop were extremely useful...I felt much more confident talking to people about my research and why they should care about funding science.

Denise is wonderful at both the “room” level as well as one-on-one.

Denise was fun, irreverent and kept info fun and light. Day just flew by. Thanks!

Denise did a really good job teaching how to hone in on messages – many new topics/lessons.

I’ve attended other media prep courses. This was the best. Thank you, Denise!

Most valuable: Being able to see people on video and walking through the process of honing and developing a message. Denise’s facilitation was very effective.

Looking for more resources on presentation and speaking skills or training? Try these:
  • Read our sister blog, The Eloquent Woman, for public speaking and presentation tips
  • Become a member of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook, a thriving community to get extra content, early input into blog posts, and to share your questions, photos and video. 
  •  Sign up for The Eloquent Woman's free monthly newsletter, Step Up Your Speaking 
  • Shop for books, technology and supplies for speakers at The Eloquent Woman's Speaker Resources Store

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

weekly writing coach: where you write

This San Francisco Chronicle story about novelist and cop Robin Burcell caught my eye because of, oh, the places she'll apparently write. Burcell, whose latest book is The Bone Chamber, shared how she managed to write seven books over the course of 27 years of police work. Flexibility of location seems to have been a factor. From the article:
Burcell has been scribbling out stories and drawing pictures as long as she can remember. When she's away from her home computer, she has a notebook with her. Down time is writing time, and she has worked on her books in coffee shops, at her desk during breaks, in public parks and in her car.
And you? Where do you write? Is it a location of convenience, the ideal spot or just a way to get more words per day done? Leave your writing locations in the comments so we can crowd-source the ultimate list, and I'll report back.

Monday, January 18, 2010

9 posts I wish we'd seen on the J&J blog

Last week, it became clear that Johnson & Johnson may have forgotten where it put its own playbook for deft handling of consumer complaints and a product recall. One of its divisions announced on Friday a wide-ranging recall of products including Tylenol Arthritis, Rolaids and Benadryl...but did so only after an FDA warning, and 20 months after reports surfaced of a moldy smell in the products and digestive problems in people taking them. The New York Times reports that, despite two limited recalls late in 2009, the FDA said the company "did not conduct a timely, comprehensive investigation, did not quickly identify the source of the problem, and did not notify authorities in a timely fashion, prolonging consumer exposure to the products."

J&J's long been the model case study for product recalls that build, rather than destroy, consumer trust, thanks entirely to its handling of a 1982 episode where consumers died after taking tainted Tylenol pills. In a New York Times analysis of the fall from grace for this one-time role model, it's noted that, although J&J was among the first in its industry to publish a blog, J&J BTW, it waited until Monday of this week to make a post about the recall or the issue that prompted it 20 months ago.

Examining the blog in light of this incident, it's clear it wasn't truly seen as an open line of communication with consumers. The "about" page appears to discourage reporting of problems when it says the blog will "talk about Johnson & Johnson — what we are doing, how we are doing it and why...occasionally correcting any mistakes (not that that ever happens!) or simply providing more context." And since the time of the company's initial recall in November, 15 posts have almost exclusively covered the company's charitable and corporate responsibility topics: HIV/AIDS, Haiti's earthquake, swine flu, blood donors, climate change, even business ethics. There's no word until this week of the safety issues of its own products.

Given its own great track record in handling a consumer crisis and the opportunities offered by social media tools like blogs, reading about this incident made me wish those 15 blog posts had looked more like the 9 posts below. Some are time sensitive, some evergreen and intended to be repeated, but all of them would have made better use of the blog during such a crisis:
  1. "We're hearing about a problem..." The blog should report the first sign of trouble. "We've had word that some consumers are finding musty smells in Product X. If this has happened to you, please report it immediately to us at....", with contact and refund information.
  2. "We've reported this to authorities." Any time your product can be literally consumed by your customers, and there's a potential health issue, you should be embracing your federal regulators. After all, your customers pay for those services with their taxes--and better your company be the one to report the issue. Letting customers know that also helps close a critical reputation loop.
  3. "We've started an investigation. Can you help?" Start letting customers know immediately when you are investigating a problem, and ask them for clues and cues. Engaging consumers in this way, these days, is more possible than ever before--and more essential to your reputation in a crisis. Letting consumers help connect the dots can save you time and add to your responsiveness.
  4. "We're hearing about this problem in other products." If the problem seems to be spreading, spread the word--repeating for the new brands all the steps you took in blog posts for the first problem product.
  5. "We're voluntarily recalling all affected products." It's the err-on-the-side-of-caution aspects of the 1982 Tylenol case that struck the strongest chord with consumers and media alike. Waiting for authorities to order a recall has nowhere near the same impact.
  6. "With your help, we've identifed the problem(s) and are taking these actions." There's no point raising the issue if you won't close the loop by sharing specific steps your company is taking, along with a timeline for when the products will be back to a safe standard and credit for the consumers' help.
  7. Bring us your product questions: Rather than suggest problems don't happen, once a week, every week, a consumer products company should be asking for consumer questions about its products--how they're working, what's good or bad, problems with supply or delivery issues, and more. Posts like these should detail questions the company's willing to field, and encourage others beyond that list. That way, when problems occur, you're on the record as looking for information.
  8. Build on the playbook: Once a year, on the anniversary of the 1982 Tylenol recall, a post should look back at the tragedy and highlight the steps the company always takes whenever consumers report an issue. Even better: Thank the consumers who first brought the alert, and remind today's customers where and how they can share concerns--toll-free numbers, tweets, blog comments, and more.
  9. Reward the consumers who helped: Whether it's rebates, refunds, free products, a trip to headquarters or just featuring them on the blog and publicly thanking them, don't forget that rewarding consumers who sounded the alarm may be your best method of building a positive relationship from a negative incident. And sharing that information lets you take credit for it.
Don't get caught starting social media outlets but missing the chance to use them where they're at their best, for this kind of straightforward and ongoing relationship-building with consumers and regulators. For more thoughts on how to make your social-media strategy work for your company, contact me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

cures for restless communicators

It took me some time to figure this out--a couple of decades--but, speaking just for me, I do my best and most creative work just when I am about to become hopelessly bored and restless at my job.

I have a rock-solid resume and have worked at some of the finest organizations in the world. But at some points in my career, I felt as if I had sand in my shoe: slightly uncomfortable, a little guilty about feeling almost bored, wondering whether I should be thankful for the routine or (in this type of economic weather) grateful to be employed. None of that felt good. None of it cured the restlessness.

My antidotes for this condition have taken many forms. What I know for sure: If there's sand in your wingtips, trade them in for sneakers, or vice versa. Make a change and get a new perspective on your communications approaches, and you might just see your way to an adventure that will keep your full attention. Here are some of the things I've tried:

  • Dive: I love being a generalist, but every so often, I've let myself go deep into one subject area. Drawing a focused line around the subject of your work might be the boundary you need to refocus your attention. Most recently for me, that has taken the form of The Eloquent Woman blog and Facebook page, which this year will expand from in-person speaker coaching and advice to webinars, ebooks and executive seminars.
  • Trade: One year, my management team all had long absences--due to deaths in the family or our own major surgeries. So we had to trade up responsibilities for 3-6 months, and choreographed as much of it as we could for the absences we were able to anticipate. By the end of the year, rather than feeling drained, we all realized we'd learned something new, gained a new appreciation for the others' work, and best of all, knew we had reliable backups in case it happened again. Call it cross-training and skip the emergency part.
  • Drill: My favorite media relations director used to remind me that we could run a press room anywhere, as long as we had our purses and our cellphones. So start imagining. How would you handle operations without electrical power? Without email? (Here's a great post on experimenting with no-email to inspire you.) With no administrative support? With no managers? You can create any number of scenarios...then test one a month.
  • Detour: At one scientific organization with a broad topic we were doing fine targeting and reaching science reporters. So we moved to one side and went after food writers, which required a completely different approach--one that later won us awards. The workshop where food editors from major magazines asked our chemist-cooking experts "Can we back up and review what a molecule is?" and learned that when they're taste-testing, they'd better know which of them is a supertaster told us this was fertile ground to plow. Later, the coverage proved that a shift in this direction was a worthy detour.
  • Experiment: Sometimes, playing with a new tool or technology (and there are plenty these days) can give you the spark you need to get creative. A colleague's working on a Google Wave to pull together communicators from a government agency, its contractors and regional outposts. A writer colleague has set about using Evernote as an archive and file-drawer for everything from photos to ideas. Pick one and try a pilot project--a concept I think communicators don't use enough. It doesn't have to be a lifetime commitment, just a useful, time-limited experiment.
  • Learn: No, don't go back to grad school. (See "dive," above, instead.) Ask your professional networking groups what resources they have for development and skills-building. The National Association of Science Writers, for example, has announced a second round of career grants of up to $2,500 for members who are either journalists or communicators, and many other groups offer free training, coaching or travel grants to attend meetings. Hire a coach for a focused, customized path to develop a skill.
  • Confide: If I had a nickel for every colleague who's confessed they were restless in the past year, I could put a nice dent in the federal deficit. Rather than keep it a secret, share it. "I'm getting a little restless. What do you think I could be doing if I weren't where I am now?" or "in my current position?" are great questions to ask. Then listen. Whenever anyone's confided that in me, I usually have a connection I can make.
Nowadays, I know that feeling restless is my about-to-get bored signal, and I act on it immediately. (The good news: Being an entrepreneur, for me, seems to be the permanent cure.) You should feel great that you've discovered the sand in your shoe...and the sooner you act on that, the better you'll feel.
Find out about my training and coaching services

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

weekly writing coach: S.M.A.R.T. writing

You've heard of S.M.A.R.T. objectives? The acronym that helps employees craft targeted steps toward the organization's goals can help managers who are making assignments to writers--and help writers focus the work so it can be done. Consider these S.M.A.R.T. writing guidelines, whether you're doing the writing or asking a writer to do it:

  1. Make the task and the words specific: If you're assigning, give the writer a clear sense of what you want the written piece to achieve, and what you envision for it. (See point number 2 for more on this, assigners.) If you're the writer, make the language as specific as possible. Concrete terms, rather than overused and bloated language, will make your writing stick. If it's a letter to donors, make sure they know what you're asking for. If a speech, that call to action for the audience should be easy to spot. Don't mince words.
  2. Make the assignment and the writing measurable: Give the writer the number of words or space or time limit she needs to fill, right up front. Share whether you want to see something in progress, or a completely polished, self-edited piece with no errors. And before you assign, figure out the intent: What is this piece going to accomplish for the organization? Make sure the writer knows that, so he can approach your ideal. If you're the writer, don't overshoot the mark, whether it's the word count or the time limit. Use your planning process to put aside extraneous material and sift your content options before you write, to make best use of the time and meet the measures against which the work will be evaluated.
  3. Craft achievable assignments and don't attempt the impossible. I am not making this up: A magazine editor of mine once asked me to write a sonnet in iambic pentameter in 15 minutes about the very first McDonald's being bulldozed. (I actually did it, but that's another story--and I made him go fetch me Shakespeare's sonnets from the library.) Is your assignment full of "this would be nice to do" items and few basics? Think again. Writers: If you think the time or other parameters just won't work, say so--but help to come up with a compromise solution rather than just complain. If there's too much material for one article, edit it into a two-part series. If it won't fit in the publication, add an "extra" on the web. You get the idea.
  4. Will this writing be relevant and get results? Managers and editors need to look for whether a written work hits the mark, reaches the audience and engages them as planned. So poetry in the annual report may not be the right tone. Be sure you've discussed what's relevant with the writer ahead of time. Writers, keep your eye on the ball. The purpose of your written work should determine what goes in and what stays out.
  5. Time frames, aka the deadlines, work both ways. Don't make writing assignments without deadlines--and do let the writer know at which stage and when you want to see work. The first thing a writer should do is map out the available time, building in some space to edit, panic or cope with delays. (See achievable, above.) Take those deadlines seriously, and beat them. That's smart for your career and your blood pressure.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

12 questions to ask reporters

It doesn't matter who called whom first. If you are the interview subject, you can ask any of these 12 questions of reporters to help you figure out how best to answer their questions. The bonus: Starting with question one, you'll establish yourself as a smart source, one worth calling again.

1. “Are you on deadline?” Make this your first question, whether you call or have been called. Reporters always appreciate a deadline-sensitive caller, and you'll stand out from the rest of their callers. Better yet, it lets you know how much time you have to respond, even if it's only the next 10 minutes.

2. “When is your deadline?” Essential fact to know, and adhere to. Responding late means missing your chance to contribute.

3. “What are you looking for from me/us?” In addition to your message, what's on the reporter's mind? The answer to this question will tell you the story's direction and what the reporter is hoping you can provide, whether it's background or a comment.

4. “Who else have you talked to?” Learn the context that other sources will provide, so you can better understand your role in supplying information. Be ready to suggest authoritative sources who agree and disagree with you.

5. “Is there a news event driving this?” The answer will tell you about the story's urgency, and angle. Is is a feature, analysis, or news?

6. “Is there another time we can talk? I’m right in the middle of something at the moment.” Most reporters' initial calls are simply to secure time to talk to you. You don't actually need to start answering questions right away, and may give a better interview if you have some preparation time. So take that opportunity, even if it's only 5 minutes.

7. “Do you need to call me during the work day (or later) in your time zone?” Be a thoughtful source who pays attention to time zones when you get calls from far-flung reporters.

8. “What’s the best time to reach you?” Don't make assumptions about reporters' schedules. Deadlines now occur hourly or sooner, and multiple times throughout the day. It's best to ask to find out this particular reporter's schedule.

9. “When do you hope this will appear?” A savvy question. Reporters aren't in control of when stories appear, but may have some sense of what to expect in terms of publication.

10. “Why don’t you ask me…?” If you've got a particularly relevant fact that the reporter hasn't probed and you haven't offered -- or, if you can only offer that fact if asked -- this is a great question that rarely fails to result in the question you want to answer. Just make sure you don't waste it on something obvious, gratuitous or trivial.

11. "What are you taking away from this?" Don't wait to read your words or suggestions in the published copy. Before you finish the interview, ask this question to learn what the reporter heard and the sense she has of your contributions. If you do it before you finish the interview, you can send the reporter off with the right take-away lesson.

12. "Where will this appear?" These days, no reporter is an island, and most are putting stories together to run in many formats. So ask this question, knowing that some stories will appear in many formats--video, audio, web and print--but sometimes, only in one format. You want to know which ones, and which will appear when--again, the reporter may not know the latter, but should have a good idea of the former.

Related posts:

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Got a social-media measuring cup?

I'll never forget the day I watched cookbook author Rose Levy Berenbaum -- the New York Times observed she may be "the most meticulous cook who ever lived" -- have a near-meltdown over a measuring cup.

The incident comes back to me whenever I hear communicators fretting over social media measurement issues. They want metrics and measurement tools for social media, even before they've tried them. They want to know which measurements matter most, or which ones they should track. They'd like something right now--so much so, they don't want to start trying social media options without clear-cut metrics and measurement tools.

Here's what happened with the measuring cup: We were at the International Association of Culinary Professionals conference, in the exhibits at lunchtime. I noticed a thick knot of people huddled around the OXO booth, but staying a respectful distance away. And then I saw Berenbaum, a bit of a rock-star in this crowd, whose recipes include dozens of steps and highly precise measures. She held a little OXO angled measuring cup, the kind that lets you look down into the cup and still get an accurate measure, instead of holding it up to eye level. And she was in the thick of an argument with the booth attendant. (The cups are common now, but at this conference, they were not yet on the retail market.)

"I want it," Berenbaum said to the young lady behind the booth.

"It's a prototype. I only have the one," she replied.

"I want it."

"It's a prototype. It may not even be accurate."

"I want it. Now."

"I need it for the next conference I'm going to. I'll get in trouble if I don't have it with me."

"I want it."

"Come back at five...."

Now, you could pre-order the cup at the conference and get your IACP discount to boot. But that wasn't fast enough, apparently. So Berenbaum took home a prototype cup, one that might not even measure accurately, rather than keep going with the tools she had that did work fine.

It wasn't until the Fannie Farmer cookbook appeared in 1896 that standard measures were used in recipes, from teaspoons to measuring cups. Before that, cooks worked by eye and by feel, and primarily experience. Some things failed, and they learned from their mistakes...and that, ultimately, is how standardized measures in cooking came to be.

We're in a transitional time with social media measurement, too. Old measures--and the factors we once considered gold-standards of communications success--aren't quite what they used to be. At the same time, standards are yet to be set for many of the new tools and options available to us. You may wind up measuring factors today that you'll ignore five years from now, or find a dozen new tools to try before you settle on the one that best meets your needs. And in this case, you may not want to be an early adopter (something few of us qualify for, in any case).

Most of the social-media marketing stars I've heard say, in effect, "Don't wait for that new measuring cup" before you get started. Now's the time to remember those cooks who worked before the measuring cup showed up. If what you're cooking up in social media is going to work, ultimately, you need to be trying your hand at it, over and over, until you get a feel for the right amounts and measures that result in a good recipe...and then use those measures to repeat your successes.
What are you using to measure social media progress? Are you cooking up a storm first, and waiting to find out what you should or can measure? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Friday, January 08, 2010

she mulls: your favorite headline words?

One convention from newspapers is thriving, even in a web-powered world: Headline words. They're the short words that allow a headline to pack a lot of thought into a small space--the reason, for example, that you never find a world leader pondering or thinking or deliberating about an issue of the day when he's covered in a newspaper. No, per the headline, he mulls.

"Mull" is my favorite headline word, hands down. You rarely hear it or see it used beyond a headline, yet it's compact and even poetic. If you've got a favorite short headline word, leave it in the comments so we can crowd-source a list of these gems that have yet to outlive their usefulness.

Related posts: Why short headlines are getting even shorter

A handful of exercises in writing short headlines

A lawsuit over pants inspired bad puns in headlines

are you social-media-ready for success?

 If folks at your organization think you can just add water and get a social-media presence, or are fussing that it needs to be perfect, here's a thoughtful reminder from Zack Barnett, director of web communications at the University of Oregon, who aptly said "you have to be willing to suck" at social media:

When you do have a success you want to share on social media channels, you need to be ready to catch that wave. There's no way to have insta-Facebook fans or a crowd of Twitter followers. Instead, you need to be trying, putting your toe in the water, falling off that surfboard, and learning about social media well before you get the chance to ride the wave of glory.

In Barnett's case, the willingness to try social media without insisting on perfection paid off when his university went to the Rose Bowl and he was able to build a special site, Celebrating Champions, that gathered up content from all the different social networks the university had cultivated. From his post:

See, we didn’t wait to generate momentum on those channels until we needed it. We consistently built our audience, moving runners around the bases with regular status updates, new videos and consistent — and fun — tweets. Then when it came time to swing for the fences, we hit more than a solo shot because we already had a loyal, growing and active community of fans. The Celebrating Champions site captured all the enthusiasm around athletic success to highlight the university’s excellence in scholarship and service. We grabbed a feed from an existing — and fan-created hashtag, #goducks. We solicited fan photos on the UO homepage and Facebook and used some of the photos in a slideshow on the Champions site.
His post details how they were able to maximize the social-network impact of the Champions site, and is well worth a look. It's similar to the groundwork my clients at UMBC accomplished with their social-media strategy, which began with a training retreat that involved a cross-functional team from advancement, public relations, marketing, alumni relations and graphic design and advanced into pilot projects. Then, six months later, UMBC was ready to take advantage of its social-media strategy, training and practice, when it was named number one in up-and-coming universities in the U.S. News & World Report America’s Best Colleges Guide, and later, when its president made TIME's list of top ten college and university presidents. UMBC units were ready with Facebook updates and Twitter posts that shared the good news with alumni and students followers, a solid group built up over time thanks to UMBC's extensive social-media presence--and a group that was happy to share the news with its networks. All that activity drove traffic to this celebratory page, which, like Oregon's, offers opportunities to find more specifics, donate or engage further.

All too often, I see people setting up barriers for social-media communicators, barriers that are sometimes created by looking at the ground one step in front of them (But I only use email! I'm too old to Facebook!) rather than the vision of success on the horizon. Taking that long view--and the lumps that come with falling off your surfboard a few times--should be part of your social-media strategy.

Related posts: You can't be Mary Poppins in social media

Is social media "unprofessional?"

More about our workshops and training options

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

weekly writing coach: short stack

The past 20 years have seen writers learn new formats from tweets to blog posts, but a tried-and-true format remains the news story or news release that's patterned after a classic journalism inverted pyramid style, where the broadest statements come first and the specifics follow in descending order. With the new year, however, comes a manifesto suggesting that you cut that large portion down to a short stack: Michael Kinsley's penned a lengthy Atlantic article titled "Cut That Story!" that takes a fresh look at news stories now that we're well into the Internet age--and he finds them fat, over-written and out-of-touch with what audiences want from their news today. Here are just a few of his observations on what could be cut from a news story:
But the old wordy conventions survive. Quotes from strangers restating the reporter’s opinion are one. Another is adding protective qualifiers to statements about which there is no real doubt (as when I wrote above that the bonus restrictions “may have” backfired). A third—illustrated by the headline on that story, “Windfall Seen as Bonuses Are Paid in Stock”—is to attribute the article’s conclusion to unnamed others. Somebody sees a windfall. We’re just telling you about it.
If you take the time to read Kinsley's article--which proves that writing analysis takes up more space than describing the thing being analzyed--you'll find many more things you might consider cutting from your own news writing, with sweeping historic frames for small actions and passive verb constructions among them.

Kinsley also shares this recollection from his own early days in journalism:
On the first day of my first real job in journalism—on the copy desk at the Royal Oak Daily Tribune in Royal Oak, Michigan—the chief copy editor said, “Remember, every word you cut saves the publisher money.” At the time, saving the publisher money didn’t strike me as the world’s noblest ideal. These days, for anyone in journalism, it’s more compelling.
This week, take a look at your news story or news release style. How should--how will--you start to reform this format? Which conventions of style will you put on a word diet? It's an even more important question now that news releases are used less and less for their original purpose--gaining media coverage--and more as general information packages. If the target audience is no longer a journalist or her editor, but your direct audience, be it internal or external, how should the writing change?

Sunday, January 03, 2010

An eye on broadcast TV changes

Broadcast television may seem to have taken a back seat to online video, but 2010's shaping up to be a year of major shifts and changes in the traditional broadcasting world. In this thorough Associated Press analysis, it's noted early on that "the business model is unraveling" at the major networks and their local affiliates, thanks to cable television, online viewing and videos and the recession. The likely sacrifice: Free television signals, as the networks begin to experiment with versions of cable-style fees as soon as 2011 to replace, in part, their loss of advertising revenue.

And the losses are mounting. Pepsi just announced it will not advertise in this year's Super Bowl, for the first time in more than 20 years. Instead, it'll spend $20 million on a social-media campaign designed to support local organizations around the U.S. The Forrester blog for online marketers has this excellent description and analysis, and notes rightly that Pepsi isn't just creating an online set of pages or accounts, but using them for a specific marketing purpose--focusing on a marketing task, rather than merely counting fans and followers. Forrester calls this "another nail in the coffin of merely likable advertising," as audiences continue to respond to more engagement and involvement with brands. (In the case of the Pepsi campaign, people will be able to vote for local groups and Pepsi support of them--a tactic that's proven effective for Target and other companies on Facebook and elsewhere.) You'll see fewer companies with annual television ad budgets, it's suggested, and more use of social media for brand marketing.

You can see hints of these changes by looking back at the just-ended decade's worth of television, as NPR's Linda Holmes just did in this piece. Her take? We gained unscripted shows and DVRs and lost laugh-tracks, viewers, and the importance of the schedule, now that you can watch later on DVR or online. She does a good job describing the multi-headed trend we call "reality TV" and points up the growth of youth programming (via Disney Channel) as well as the demise of some once-inviolate assumptions about the TV box and what's in it.

That's the message I'm taking into the next decade: The assumptions are dwindling and it'll be a while before we can form new ones. Be sure you don't get caught with the usual assumptions about television, its audiences and what works until this trend shakes out further.

Related posts: People prefer TV for local news: Pew study

Online video: Where it's headed