Friday, April 29, 2011

Weekend read: My weekly share on Twitter, with favorites

How did your garden grow this week? By spring standards, both my real garden and my work garden are overgrown and need lots of tending. Twitter's another (pleasant) row to hoe, and I'm always turning up good finds, data and reads to share with you in this weekly post. I'm @dontgetcaught on Twitter, and these are my finds of the week:
And some items I marked "favorite" for later reading:
Hope you didn't miss yesterday's top 10 communications and social media tips--the most popular posts on this blog from the month of April  This is a good day to sign up for my free email newsletter for communications directors--a new issue will be out shortly. See the links below!

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

April's top 10 tips for communicators

April was the cruelest month for Flip camera owners, but more hopeful for readers seeking to blog more efficiently, use QR codes, learn how to pitch reporters or snag a speaking slot at TED. Here's what caught your eye this month, based on the most-popular posts:
  1. Cisco to kill Flip cameras and I own four of them: What to do now struck a chord with the blog's many Flip fans, and was the first of a few posts this month with updates on the change.
  2. How to blog or tweet more without working too hard was a close second this month. That tells me you want the best of both worlds, right? The post shares my tactics.
  3. 7 ways to use QR codes for networking, marketing and causes, from last August, is still popular today. 
  4. Audition your expert for a TED talk included a deadline this month for submitting one-minute videos, the first step toward participating in TED's first-ever public auditions. And this blog's readers are nothing if not deadline-oriented, judging by this post's popularity.
  5. 3 communicators you should know (including my favorite freelancer) introduces you to three wonderful colleagues of mine: a top freelance writer, a client and a former employee. All worth knowing! Find out why here.
  6. Call it the CEO secret: Posterous's new features make it even easier to blog, a January post, shares one of my better tips for communicators with CEOs who wish to blog, but lack time.
  7. Must-read: The PR guide to email pitching. Please. Now. shares a smart post by Jason Falls on using email for the pitch. The idea that unsolicited emails without an opt-out option are spam really rubbed his readers the wrong way, so check out the comments. I chimed in with a couple of tips, too.
  8. Pogue: There was about to be a Flip Live camera shares New York Times tech reviewer David Pogue's view that smartphones aren't yet ready to replace the Flip, and this heartbreaker: The camera was on the even of rolling out a live-broadcast version. Read it and weep.
  9. 10 Top-Chef-inspired "quickfire challenges" for writers will help mix it up, keep it fun and challenge your writing team. Try these at your next team meeting or retreat.
  10. Your all-in-one on life after Flip cameras rounds up the advice (don't toss them), analysis and alternatives you can consider.
Now's a good time to sign up for the newsletter, due out next week with fresh content that hasn't been seen before on the blog. Thanks for reading this month!

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Reinforce media or speaker training after I'm gone: 7 ways

Maybe you're the communications director who brought me in to media-train a team of executives, or a trainee who wants to extend the learning. You can extend that experience by reinforcing my training long after I've left your offices. Here are 7 great ways you can keep progress building and cement the learning after a training session:
  1. Use--and reuse--the takeaway materials: For many trainings, I bring handouts, or, more often, links to blog posts you can refer to again and again. They're an easy resource for trainees, who might pull out 12 questions to ask reporters before a media interview, or Confidence: Fake it until you make it before a big speech. Communications directors who've hired me as a trainer can always ask me to resend links and handouts to use as reminders.
  2. Schedule practice time on a regular basis: In any training session, my goal is to help you identify and start work on factors you'll need to practice further. Think you don't have time for regular practice? Check out my 5 stealth ways to find time to practice for speakers.
  3. Build message strategy time into your regular meetings: Whether you're facing an interview or a presentation, taking the time to think through what you want to say and how to say it is vital for trainees and communicators. Don't assume everyone's thinking the way you do about how to respond, or that you've got all the answers. Once it becomes a habit, you'll gain confidence and real skill.
  4. Get a practice pal, or team: A thoughtful practice partner can help you advance faster--and make sure you really do practice. If you've been trained as part of a group, snag a partner who's been through the same training and meet weekly after the training to try new things or take more time to perfect what you began in training. Use a camera to record your attempts, so you can review and plan to correct mistakes, and give your partner my 8 things to look for when your speech is recorded after each practice round. (A tip: Some clients plan ahead for this and hire me to train entire departments or work teams so they can leave training with a built-in practice team.)
  5. Check in with trainees about questions and progress: Communicators can help if they follow up after my trainings with an email, and later, a phone call to ask "What did you learn that you'd like to work on?" or "Are there interviews/speeches coming up that you're concerned about?" That small action will build trust and encourage your trainees to come back to you with issues and successes...and remind them that you're focused on their good performance.
  6. Work in training reminders when the occasion arises: Once I've been in to do a training, you can extend the outside consultant effect without bringing me in weekly, just by working in a reminder here and there. Lots of my clients prompt trainees with "What do you think Denise would've told you to do?" or "Didn't we go over that in your training with Denise?" Use me as your excuse to reinforce good habits and dissect mistakes.
  7. Steal good ideas: The easiest way to reinforce media interview skills is to watch them on television, listening and looking for what you learned in training. (Listening on the radio and reading them on the web or in a newspaper works, too.) Same goes for public speaking: Watch TED talks online or speeches and testimony on television. Make your own critique, then think about what you might do differently--and good tactics, phrases or gestures you can borrow.
Related posts:  The all-in-one on media training, today's way

Use the 5 W's to figure out your communications training needs

9 lessons I've learned from my trainees that you can use

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Friday, April 22, 2011

Weekend read: My weekly share on Twitter, with favorites

Feel like you've been on the Tilt-a-Whirl ride this week? Time to get off the Ferris wheel? Check out the posts and articles I shared this week on Twitter, where I'm @dontgetcaught. Lots of interesting leads and insights caught my eye on the midway that is Twitter this week:
And a few items I marked "favorite," to save for later reading:
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Thursday, April 21, 2011

10 Top-Chef-inspired "quickfire challenges" for writers

From time to time, my clients ask me to coach writers in their communications operations, and part of that process involves coming up with challenges that limit the amount of time or tools they can use to prompt some learning. It's a great way to help writers learn how to jump into a task, or to find out what they can do in a short amount of time. I'm inspired, often, by the "quickfire challenges" I see on Top Chef, where the chefs have to cope with ingredients from vending machines or cans, or other liabilities, while preparing something fantastic in five minutes. Here are some quickfire challenges you can use with your team of writers, or just another writer you want to pair up with so you both can improve:

  1. Mise en place writing relay: On Top Chef, this is the preparation nightmare: Two relay teams have to decide who's fastest at several basic prep chores, like chopping a bowl of onions in fine dice or breaking down a chicken or separating eggs, then the team to accomplish all those chores satisfactorily and fastest wins. Get creative with this one: Your mise en place might put teams through the process of finishing the microcontent that accompanies a news release or article, with the first person writing a headline, the second person finding an appropriate photo, the third person writing the summaries for the web and the keywords, the fourth person writing Facebook and Twitter updates. In that case, it should be a release they haven't seen before. Or, choose another writing task that involves a lot of prep, break it down and give it to the relay teams.
  2. Pacesetter practice: Get the fastest, strongest or most senior writer to set the pace by producing a short piece of writing as fast as she possibly can (you'll want to choose a format in advance). Run a timer while she does it; when she's finished, that's the time to beat--everyone else has to do the same writing exercise in her time, or less. (When chef Tom Colicchio did this on Top Chef All-Stars, the chef contestants had to beat his time of just over 8 minutes preparing a complete entree. They all had a chance to see and taste his dish before their timer began.)
  3. Canned-content challenge: Everyone gets a different stock photo and has to write a caption for it in 5 minutes--in a way that would allow it to work in one of your publications or websites. (The chooser of the photos can have some fun with this.)
  4. The missing ingredient test: Write a document (speech, letter, invitation, news release, quote) using no adjectives. Or, no use of the words "the," "new," or the common word of your choice. (In one communications shop I worked in, that would have been the word "major.") A variation: Give everyone the same document and tell them to edit it so that certain words don't appear, but are replaced with better alternatives. Don't let them use a thesaurus, and give them 10 minutes.
  5. Throwdown challenge: Draw names to pair up with another writer in the office. Write down something you write better than anyone else, then swap: She has to produce your special skill, you have to produce hers--in 15 minutes.
  6. Out of your box challenge: Write down three things: a) one format you don't like; b) one type of content you've never produced (or have not yet produced well); and c) your favorite style or writing trick. In 15 minutes, write something that combines a) and b), but omits c). Get a panel to read it and rate it.
  7. Pairings practice:  The leader chooses three existing written items about disparate topics--say, an event announcement, a news release about a new research study or product, and an award or promotion. Writers get 20 minutes to figure out a theme that will tie all three disparate items together, and to write the transitions that will make that flow through the three-item piece. How can you make them go together when they don't match?
  8. Writing mistakes bee: Have the entire team crowdsource a group of tough-to-sport writing errors and mistakes (grammar, spelling, formatting, you name it). Make a list of 25-50 items and get the team together. One person starts by identifying the error and its solution correctly; if she makes an error, she's out and the next contestant steps forward until only one person is left standing. (If someone can't identify the problem in 10 seconds, he's out.)
  9. MacGyver challenge: Create a news release without access to a computer or smartphone. If it has a battery or a plug, you can't use it. Or, do it with one hand tied behind your back. You have 15 minutes for this one.
  10. Divide and conquer challenge: In 30 minutes, using just a news release and its contents, write as many other types of content as you can: letter, tweet, Facebook update, speech, etc.
You can get more inspiration (or a great appetite) from Top Chef: The Quickfire Cookbook.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Shift time, access and place to reach your social media audience

When it comes to social media, you may have put the key in the ignition, and even started the engine. But are you still in park--or driving in the wrong gear--on the road to reaching your audience? Shifting may be necessary in order to get where your audience is: the driver's seat.  Check out these examples of shifts in time, access and place as a guide to where you should be headed next:



Time shift: Your convenient time is not mine

I hope you've moved beyond just collecting Facebook fans to engaging them. In how to improve engagement on your brand's Facebook page, you'll find that businesses in many sectors are posting during business hours--but not getting lots of engagement. Why? Many users' time to play with Facebook happens at other times of day, and those times see far more engagement. Here's just one example: "Auto brands see the most engagement on Sundays, but less than 8% of posts go out on that day." The data presented come from a statistical analysis of Facebook wall posts conducted by Buddy Media. Other observers suggest the same for Twitter, noting that tweeting later in the day and later in the week, as well as on weekends, is more effective.

How can you change your post times to reflect your audience's preferred engagement time? If this is a big shift in your schedules, start small with a pilot project to observe and track when your audiences engage most.

Access shift: Let me into that exclusive space

In What could you gain by being radically open? on the Mixtape Communications blog, you'll find a thoughtful look at how the once-exclusive TED conference went from a high-priced 1,000-person event to a worldwide platform with volunteer translators, daily share-able videos with transcripts and spin-off events organized by volunteers around the world. Zan McColloch-Lussier notes that opening up your exclusive candy store requires you to share your goals--with an eye to making them inspiring as well as inclusive:
TED would have had a harder time finding passionate supporters if there goal was ‘bringing lectures to your computer’ instead of ‘sharing ideas worth spreading.’ Think about how you frame your goals so that they inspire.

Here's the speech in which you learn from the inside how TED evolved from conference to platform. Watch this and keep in mind something that's exclusive now at your company or organization--an archive, a conference, a private data analysis--and how you might take it from private to platform:



Place shift: Meet me on the battlefield

One of the most dramatic shifts for organizations that publish: It's no longer about publishing a report in one place and then distributing it, but more about publishing in many places, so you're where the audience is likely to find you. That might mean publishing your reports or materials as Kindle Singles (even if they're free), so people can find them on Amazon; publishing them on Facebook as long "notes;" and using other options.

Here, in a Communications Network video, German Marshall Fund communications director Will Bohlen describes how GMF uses Scribd, a social publishing site, to share its publications with a wider audience. It's a strategy that integrates targeted email distribution, web publication, Twitter and Facebook to bring the reports to the audience. A plus: Scribd will give you data on the audience using your materials, and you can hear Bohlen share some of GMF's data in the video:


Reach New Audiences with Scribd from Communications Network on Vimeo.

Related posts: Is your social strategy shifting along with your audience?

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Audition your expert for a TED Talk

Reporter Lee Hotz spoke at a TED event in Oxford.
Here's a novel way to feature an expert or leader in your organization who's a smashing presenter or speaker: Enter her in TED's first-ever public auditions, which could lead to the chance to give a real TED talk.

The TED (short for technology-education-design) conference and  its spin-off events feature short speeches of 5 to 18 minutes that push unusual ideas. For this audition, TED also is seeking creative formats, from presenting in front of a custom film, a "slide blizzard," or intense campfire-style storytelling. A straight TED-style talk is fine, too.

Better yet, TED's not afraid of the technical topic. You should by all means help your expert by sharing the "ten commandments of TED" with them--they're the rules that make TED talks so successful.

Here's the process: You make a one-minute video to show how you speak and any creative format you choose, and upload it to YouTube or Vimeo. Then send a link to your video along with an application. Speakers chosen from the video auditions will get to give their TED talks in front of a live audience of TED staffers and their invitees. Your one-minute video is due April 25, 2011 by 11:59 pm Eastern time. Check out the blog post for the full schedule.

And if you enter, keep us posted! You'll find useful tips on video for speakers below.


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Monday, April 18, 2011

Must-read: The PR Guide to Email Pitching. Please. Now.

I wish you could hear what I hear when reporters decide to complain at me about how you pitch them. That's why I like to share gems like this one: The PR Guide to Email Pitching, from Jason Falls over at Social Media Explorer.

Falls teases out and stomps on many of your assumptions about email pitches, including the idea that an email pitch sent to a reporter who didn't request it and who doesn't know you is okay. Far from it. He notes it means "you are — at most — introducing yourself. If you do anything more than that, you are spamming them."

You'll get a walk-through about what constitutes spam (that would be any pitch email that doesn't offer a clear and permanent opt-out option), good sample language you can add to your emails to do that, and a stern reminder that building relationships doesn't scale just because you have a directory with a downloadable list of thousands of reporter names. Falls says:
You can build a list all you want, but call each person on it. Reach out to them. And reach out with nothing but getting to know them a bit in mind. If the list is too long for that to be practical, then the list is too long for that to be practical. Edit it
Cleaning up your reporter lists and taking the time to find out their preferences is part of my recommended spring cleaning for communicators. I will now save myself some angry Twitter DMs and add, email the reporters first, as so many of them don't like calls. But either way, introduce yourself and what you've got first.

Now that I'm once again on the receiving end of pitches, I feel compelled to add a big thumbs-up to this post -- and I have two more things to add:  Ditch those gigantic attachment files on your email until the reporter tells you to send them, or make them available online. And consider using a program like Constant Contact or another email service that includes opt-in and opt-out while maintaining your list and a history of what your recipients opened and shared. Make it easier on yourself and the reporters.

What do you think about this guide? Falls is asking communicators to take the time to retweet it, share it on Facebook or email it (with an opt-out, of course) to other communicators you know. Share the wisdom....

Related posts:  Fear of phoning, part 3: Phone tips for communicators who hate to pick up the phone

Tip more, pitch less to reach reporters

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Friday, April 15, 2011

Weekend read: My weekly share on Twitter, with favorites

Spring's shown up in a hurry where I live, riding in on a wave of warm temperatures, rain and bouts of sunshine. I'm at that point where I almost wish I could slow it down a little...somewhat like a Twitter feed? This week, I shared a lot, but these are the best of the best, to my eye. I'm @dontgetcaught on Twitter, where you can find more like these:
And some of the items I marked "favorite" to read later:

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Pogue: There was about to be a Flip Live camera

David Pogue, New York Times technology writer, shares his mourning of the Flip camera and discloses today something nearly as tragic: There was going to be a Flip Live, a real-time-to-the-web broadcasting function. That camera was scheduled to ship the day after Cisco decided to pull the plug. From his column, this view of what that would have been like, based on his conversations with a product manager at the company:
...when you’re in a Wi-Fi hot spot, the entire world can see what you’re filming. You can post a link to Twitter or Facebook, or send an e-mail link to friends. Anyone who clicks the link can see what you’re seeing, in real time—thousands of people at once.
Think how amazing that would be. The world could tune in, live, to join you in watching concerts. Shuttle launches. The plane in the Hudson. College lectures. Apple keynote speeches.
Joe Bonner shared this first in my stream, and I'm almost sorry to have read it...And ironically, the photo was taken by me with a Flip camera at a London cemetery, this time last year.

Related posts: Your all-in-one on life after the Flip camera from analysis to alternatives

Cisco to kill the Flip, and I own four of them: What to do now


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Your all-in-one on life after Flip cameras: Hold or fold?

I've had an online video update post in the works for a while--but I didn't think it would be about Cisco's decision to discontinue Flip cameras, a post that is now the number two most-read post ever on this blog. You can see Flip's popularity in the rush to read more. The move left some scoffing about smartphones' superiority and others despondent about a favorite tool. Still others see this as a nudge to consider other options. Here's what you need to know on all scores, based on this week's take:

What happened?
Here's a roundup of the most useful reading I've seen about how to weather (and understand) the discontinuation of Flip video cameras, to get you started on your transition:
What next?
I did a small poll about what readers are doing about Flip camera transitioning on the don't get caught Facebook page, and readers suggested some alternatives, like the Kodak Zi8,the Canon PowerShot G11,and the Canon EOS Rebel T2i (the latter two are well beyond the typical Flip budget). But most said they wanted to wait and think through options--or were going to hang on to their Flips for the time being (about which, more below). But if this is your prompt to upgrade or change models, consider these two lists to get you started:
The case for holding
The uber-geek high-tech blogs have been full of "who needs Flip when they have a smartphone?" coverage. But lots of readers--here on the blog, on Facebook and on Twitter--noted that smartphones don't work as an alternative to Flip cameras, for a lot of reasons. For me, training sessions are one such reason. I need a camera I can use in multiples, that's easy for any newbie to use in seconds and without much instruction--and it needs to be a single platform, so I can aggregate and show their videos quickly and seamlessly. Using everyone's smartphones as an alternative assumes too much: Many people don't have them, don't use them for video and means I'd be dealing with too many platforms.

Editing options also matter, as do shooting functions. Smartphones aren't great with image stabilization and I haven't seen one with an external mic jack nor a connector for a tripod, clamp or other device that would give you an extra set of arms, in effect. Don't get me wrong--a smartphone's a great go-to tool for video and photos. But it doesn't scale, even on the small scale I need. Oh, and then there's that pesky "what do I do when I'm shooting video and the phone rings?" thing. A small wish: Flip's willingness to customize camera designs or allow you to personalize them with photos or brand them with your logo was brilliant. I hope another maker picks up that option, small as it is.

As a result, you may well want to hold on to your Flips, and use this chance to get some real bargains as prices drop.  Gizmodo knows there are bargain-hunters out there and offers where to buy cheap Flips before they go extinct. As this post notes, prices will continue to drop as inventories do, so stay tuned for updates. The Mayo Clinic's Lee Aase, another Flip fan, ponders that he might buy another one, and also upgrade his iPhone to meet future video needs.

The case for changing
If you're going to use this as a chance to change, make sure you think about features you need now. The very latest Flips finally included an external mic jack (so if you're buying bargains, get the latest round); any new camera you buy must have one for better sound quality. In my earlier experiments with the Kodak Zi8, I found that its editing software automatically imported any Flip videos stored on my computer into the editing interface--a useful tool if you are making a transition, but don't want to toss that old Flip footage. A nice touch here: You can alter the Flip videos using the many editing tools included in the zi8 software, from sepia tones to black-and-white.

Still nostalgic? You can read through all my previous Flip camera posts here. Leave word in the comments, if you like, about your strategy. Look for inexpensive Flips and Flip options in the don't get caught store on Amazon, where you need only click on a Flip model to see the steep discounts in action.

Lots and lots of readers helped shape this post with shared items, comments on Twitter, poll responses on Facebook and more. I'm grateful to you all!

Related post: Cisco to kill Flip cameras and I own 4 of them: What to do now

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

8 steps to spring cleaning for communicators

It's not about your desk. My version of spring cleaning for communicators means reviewing your plans, lists and policies, plus a quick look at your gadgets to see what needs to be kept, tossed or adjusted. Here's my short list of 8 targets for your communications spring cleanup:
  1. Media lists: Email reporters confirming changes in their beats or interests, and renew policies that govern your interactions.Reporter Ivan Oransky's Embargo Watch blog shared this good example of how one agency went about cleaning up its media lists. No, it didn't involve buying a new directory or calling everyone.
  2. Partner lists: You work with lots of external partners--some around the corner from your building, some across the world. Send them an email with your contact info, and ask for a refresh of theirs.
  3. Social media policies: Schedule time for the team to review the policy (or lack thereof) and make fine-tuning suggestions, or call in outside help. What missteps and missed opportunities can be reflected in a policy adjustment now?
  4. Other policy changesTake a look at your other policies. Will this be the year you stop acting like a news release vending machine? Should you announce that you'll be issuing press credentials to bloggers?  Figure out adjustments and share them with affected groups.
  5. Web content:  Meet Content, a new higher education web content blog, suggests you do a ROT analysis for web content that's redundant, outdated or trivial.
  6. Gadgets: You can lose the USB drives, point-and-shoot cameras and more in the New York Times's list of gadgets you should keep or toss in your spring cleaning. (But even though Cisco announced yesterday that it's killing the popular Flip video cameras, you may want to hang on to yours for the time being.)
  7. Crisis communications plan: Make a spring ritual of reviewing your crisis communications plan. Is there a better technology, backup or fix? Should you keep more documents accessible in the cloud? Does your crisis plan have its own social-media plan?
  8. Financials: Read and understand your organization's financials and meet with your CFO at least annually to learn about any forthcoming issues or issues that will be raised by recent filings. Nonprofit communicators, don't neglect thinking through these executive compensation issues.
You should be doing these types of scans more frequently (I'd say once a quarter for many of them), but if at no other time of year, make spring your cleanup time. If you want a more thorough-going look at your policies, ask me about  management coaching or facilitating a communications retreat --email me at info@dontgetcaught.biz.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

How to blog or tweet more without working too hard

"Is that really you doing all that?" a client asked me recently about my Twitter stream, and a colleague confessed "I'm amazed at how prolific you are with your blogging." Mind you, whole days go by without a post from me. But I've found there's a lot of material to share, and my readers engage more when the content is fresh and frequent. 

So I post a lot...but also run an active business, speak frequently, take guitar lessons, travel, make art (I'm hoping for my first exhibit this summer), and socialize plenty...in person. My weekends are largely post-free zones. Here's how I do it, with a few not-so-secret tools and techniques that help me to share without sweating too much:


On Twitter: Thank the stars for that 140-word limit, itself a time-saver. Here are the rest of my tactics:
  1. Share buttons help me to be in two places at once: On Twitter, I believe in sharing as much or more from others as from my own blogs. While some of that happens in real time on Tweetdeck, many of my Twitter shares happen while I'm in one of two places: Google Reader, my primary RSS feed source with a handy "share" or "share with comment" button, and the New York Times's Times People, which puts a handy "recommend" button at the top right of my reading. I've set both of them up to share only to Twitter.
  2. I schedule some Twitter posts: The first time my blogs publish, Feedburner posts them to Twitter. I repost them 2-3 times over the course of the day, using scheduled posts and spacing them well apart. But that's the limit--I don't auto-tweet, for the most part.
  3. When I engage directly, it's for a focused amount of time: First thing in the morning and late afternoon often are good times for me to check in, listen to what others are talking about, dish about something new, thank folks for retweets or comments. But that's certainly not an everyday occurrence.
On the blogs: No character limits here, so blogs take more strategizing. A few things that work for me:
  1. I collect searchable string: When I'm reading--in Google Reader, on the web, on Twitter--I borrow from my  journalism days and "collect string" on topics about which I want to write. The difference? I clip or email it into Evernote, or store it in folders in Google Reader. All I have to do is search, since both storage options are completely searchable, instead of looking for links. That saves an enormous amount of time.
  2. I keep a grid of ideas: Problogger -- a great blog about blogging -- suggests you start a grid with as many story ideas as you can muster, then build on them by writing down related posts at the same time. You don't need to post them all at once, but you'll always have ideas waiting when you need them. I find it's useful to revisit and refresh my idea grid once a quarter.
  3. I start partial drafts: Like many other prolific bloggers, I spend a few minutes a couple of times a week setting up drafts. I'll take ideas from my grid, enter them into my blogging platform with a headline and photo, and perhaps a few lines of the lead or some notes on which links go into the piece. That way, when it's time to write, I don't waste time on the window-dressing. I just write. Another enormous time-saver. I always have 20-40 partial drafts hanging around at any time, waiting to be finished.
  4. I think short, and in multiples: I write plenty of long posts, but mostly, I keep it short and focused. Instead of jamming two big topics into one post, I'll separate them into two. (Look! I just doubled my output!) Sometimes a post can be a short announcement or question--no need to write "Gone With the Wind." And a complex topic can be broken into an entire series of posts, so I try to think in series when I can, a step that helps to organize and multiply my ideas all at once.
  5. I recycle and repurpose: Compilation posts help readers find lots of posts on one topic. Take a look at my "all-in-one" posts on topics like getting started in social media or my "weekend read" posts that compile the best of what I've shared on Twitter--the latter a good example of repurposing what I've done on Twitter, for another audience. I also end each month with top-ten posts compiling the most-read items of the month, and later, for the entire year. 
  6. I waste nothing: If you ask me a question like "How do you manage to post so much on your blogs?" it's likely to become a post. Reader comments, other people's tweets, questions via email or at speaking engagements, and material I used to put into handouts all become blog posts. This way, ideas are never scarce.
  7. I only write when I'm ready: By collecting string, taking time to mull, setting up draft posts and repurposing, I'm able to just write when it's time to write. I don't waste time looking for links, dressing up the post, or looking for photos. And if I don't have my thoughts together yet, I don't write or post.
  8. I schedule posts: Some of my best and most-read posts were done quickly and in response to moving events. But most weeks, posts are written and scheduled well ahead. (You can always reschedule them if a breaking post intervenes.) If I'm going on vacation, I'll spend a week or two writing two posts for every one I would normally do, and scheduling them for the away days.
  9. I love guest posts. While I've invited many guest posts, few people deliver on the invitation. So when I read a post and think "That's perfect for my blog," I fire off an email to ask whether I may reprint it. I always include a link back to the original post and a generous introduction to the blogger. Those posts add spice and perspective I can't bring, and the email's far easier to write than a post.
I'll confess, I started out as a magazine writer who was forced to write fast, short and accurate. That's still the skill set I use every day when blogging or tweeting. I also limit my time on many social networking sites, monitoring most of them through columns on Tweetdeck, which also lets me schedule posts, if need be, on Facebook profiles and pages. As a result, I spend less time elsewhere. The tactics on these lists, however, are what really make it possible for me to publish as much as I do. Care to share your secrets? Leave 'em in the comments.

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Monday, April 11, 2011

Fear of phoning, part 3: Phone tips for media relations types who hate to call

First, managers asked me for tips on fear of phoning reporters and others, a trend they were seeing among media relations staffers reluctant to pick up the phone. (I've observed this, myself, for many years.) Then, junior communicators responded with the phoners' side of the story, asking how to succeed in phoning when under pressure from an anxious boss.

Now, in Mastering the lost art of actually talking on the phone, we have a post that helps your reluctant phoners figure out, step-by-step, what they need to know to make a call successful, written by a fellow reluctant phoner. Pass this one around the office, and post it in a pull-out drawer near your phone.

Managers will want to go further to be sure this isn't just about logistics and etiquette, however. Showing your media relations team how to tip reporters more and pitch less may make them more effective on the phone and otherwise. You also may want to share these 6 ways to change your timing when pitching reporters.  And one call they can get rid of, according to reporters? That "did you get my materials" follow up call, beloved by no one. Finally, know your reporters. Many prefer a well-crafted pitch by email. If so, take that route.

Got more tips for placing calls for communicators? Don't phone them in; leave them in the comments. One of my training workshops for communications teams is pitching practice, which helps make sure your entire team is approaching this work consistently and effectively. To find out more, email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

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Friday, April 08, 2011

Weekend read: My weekly share on Twitter, with favorites

When I take the measure of the week, preparing this post offers me a good look back on what caught my eye, got discussed and was put aside for more thought and reading. I hope you think that way, too.

Someone just asked whether all my shares on Twitter are "you, or auto-tweeting?" I've scheduled some don't get caught announcements ahead, using Tweetdeck or Feedburner. But mostly, I take advantage of sharing tools when I'm reading--like the "share" button in Google Reader, my RSS feed, or the New York Times's "recommend" button. What you're mostly seeing is that I read a lot, not that I tweet a lot!

Here's my selection of what I shared this week on Twitter, where I"m @dontgetcaughtt, along with items I set aside as "favorites" for future mulling. Hope there are some finds in here for you:
Speaking of hires, my wonderful clients at UMBC are looking to hire a Director of Communications. It's a wonderful team to work with, an easy commute from Washington or Baltimore, and a position with lots of opportunity. Please do apply or share it with a qualified applicant.

And a few favorites to mull at a more leisurely pace:
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Thursday, April 07, 2011

3 communicators you should know (including my favorite freelancer)

You know you're doing well when great people around you are doing well--and I'm fortunate to have three friends who are having great success. They are all communicators you should know, for many reasons. So please meet:
  • Becky Ham, who is, hands down, my favorite freelance writer. In my recommendation on her brand-new website, I call her "my secret writing weapon. She’s everything you dream of, but rarely get all at once in a freelance writer: ridiculously fast and accurate, requires minimal direction, produces sparkling-clean copy that requires almost no editing, and takes the time to figure out the tone and voice needed....She’s tops. Don’t hesitate." And I'm almost sorry I just shared that. Find her at beckydham[at]gmail[dot]com.
  • Tom Evelyn, who directs news and media relations for Bucknell University, a client of mine. He's moving to St. Lawrence University, where he'll be the new Vice President for Communications. Smart writers and communicators might want to start getting in touch with him now about opportunities and ways to work together, since he's a fantastic person to work with. You can find Tom on Twitter as @tevelyn.
  • Hillarie Turner worked for me at the American Chemical Society and she'll always have a spot on that fantasy communications team I keep rearranging in my head--I'd work with her anytime. Now an account supervisor handling health PR with Environics Communications here in Washington, DC, Hillarie's started her posts on the company blog with this very nice one about my mentoring. Right back at ya, I say.
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Wednesday, April 06, 2011

The all-in-one on media training, today's way

Later this week, I'm heading out to train the senior team of a university that wants to be ready to respond appropriately if it's ever in crisis mode. We'll be anticipating a range of scenarios and finding out how each member of the senior team will respond to surprises--without knowing what the others have said. And being savvy, my client has chosen a range of issues that are front and center right now, so we'll get to think through how they might take a leadership role in responding.

Those are just some of the things I can do in a media training--and these days, my media trainings look less like the "we'll do a CNN-style ambush interview" trainings of yore. Instead, I like to focus on:

Here are my suggestions for what to ask for when you're requesting a media training for today's circumstances, including social media encounters, and basic questions to ask a media trainer before you hire her. I'd love to help with one-on-one or group trainings.. Just email me at info@dontgetcaught.biz.


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Tuesday, April 05, 2011

UMBC seeking new Director of Communications #job

I'm helping my client UMBC to spread the word about a great new opening for a Director of Communications.


UMBC is located in Baltimore County, Md., south of Baltimore and an easy, low-traffic half-hour drive from Washington, DC, with access to commuter trains from Washington and points north. It's an "up-and-coming" university in U.S. News and World Report's rankings and its president, Freeman Hrabowski, was named one of TIME's 10 best college presidents in 2009. (This position works directly with the President, among other duties.)

I've worked with UMBC on expanding its use of social media to engage key audiences, and it now has a robust series of projects in that area. I've blogged a bit about those efforts here, and current efforts go well beyond what's in that post.
To apply, please do not send your materials to me. Follow the directions in the attached posting to direct your materials to the search committee. Resumes will be accepted until the position is filled, but for best consideration, applicants should submit a cover letter, resume and contact information for three professional references  by April 18, 2011.

Here are some links to give you a sense of the campus, its accolades and its current communications efforts. It's a wonderful, innovative team of people, and I hope you'll explore this great opportunity.
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Do fence me in: How limits boost creativity, identify weak spots

When I do public speaking or presenting workshops, many of the exercises have to take place in short timeframes, with little time for preparation--a result of the schedule, or the number of people, or other factors. In no way do I pretend it's an ideal situation.

But a recent participant gave an unusual insight on a feedback form: "By forcing us to work quickly and without too much preparation time, you got us to show what we normally revert to," he wrote. "That let us see what needed correcting, for ourselves."

Setting limits can help you identify your communication weak spots or advance your creativity, whether you're writing, shaping content for a Facebook page or a Twitter feed, planning a speech, and more:
  • Limit your words: I think Twitter helps boost your creativity--the built-in limit of 140 characters forces you to get creative with your spelling, your editing, and your thinking. But you can do the same with an Ignite talk (5 minutes + 20 slides), or by setting a word count before you issue a writing assignment (and I don't mean 10,000 words).
  • Limit your time: How much can you do in 15 minutes? Set a timer and find out. I've been writing an ebook this way, in between conference calls, and I'm 15 chapters in. You? Or, write a timed piece, a three-minute speech or five-minute essay.
  • Limit your choices: Force yourself. Choose just 3 options on which to focus, decide to hone in on one angle, pick a format. Then adhere to it.
  • Limit your ability: No one likes this choice--in fact, I've had trainees say "If only you had told us precisely what to do at the outset, we would have succeeded" (but learned very little). But if you throw yourself into situations where you are a novice, you'll learn much more. The toughest of limits, but one that yields great rewards, if you are willing.
  • Limit your vision: In practicing public speaking, most people despise hearing their own voices or seeing themselves on video. And yet that view--the one view that is not your own--is the most useful, dispassionate and practical one. You'll learn all sorts of things by watching your speaking on video. Here are 8 things to look for when your speech is recorded.
What limits do you set to boost your creativity--or figure out your weak spots?
(Photo from sillydog's photostream on Flickr)

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