Friday, March 30, 2012

Weekend read: My weekly share on Twitter

 If you're tired of the explorations and forced marches you had to make through the jungle that is your desk this week, put your feet up. It's time for the weekend read, full of trail markers that are my best finds, reads and resources from my Twitter stream. No need to wander back into that jungle. Follow this path to your weekend retreat:
Clients are starting to book late spring and early summer training sessions and consultations in social media, public speaking, media interview skills--for individuals or for groups. What can I help you with? Email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz, and don't forget: I'm happiest when you spend time getting lost in this blog. Have an amazing weekend!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Media interview smarts: Explain your process or method

When I'm coaching subject-matter experts for media interviews, they often make the mistake of thinking they need to simplify what they have to say so much that all detail is stripped out of it. Not so, and I think that's especially true when it comes to sharing some of your process or method, whether you're talking about research or a regulation.

Here's the thing: Very little is obvious--and even if it seems to be, reporters still need you to describe it so their readers/listeners/viewers can understand it. A case in point, in book form, can be found in Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics. The two nutrition researchers use the introduction to prominently explain all the reasons that nutrition, and calories, are difficult to research with accuracy. It's a great clear explanation that helps the reader get all the way through the book.

In interviews, there are more volatile reasons to include an explanation of your methods. For example, omitting an explanation of your process may imply you didn't have one, a dangerous thing in a controversy. You'll add to your credibility and that of your company or organization if you take the extra time to make clear the steps you took. Here are some prompts to get you to start sharing more about your process in media interviews:
  • How did you arrive at your findings, decision or choice? If there was a formal process, describe it. Scientists, here's where we want your methodology, and anything else we need to know to understand it. Policy makers, how was the sausage made? If others had to weigh in on a policy matter, share that. Don't assume we know about what went into that tough call on your part, or how you came to your conclusion.
  • What prompts the delay between an issue arising and your action? If you can't assure the safety of city drinking water until the tests come back from the lab, and that takes three days, say so. If accusations have been made but an investigation and a board deliberation have to take place first, describe those steps. When something prompts questions, but your action won't happen immediately, that's not a bad thing--as long as you make clear why.
  • Can you characterize it as a close call, unanimous, or a long and hard-fought debate? When you emerge with a board policy position, weigh in on a public debate on behalf of your members, or take a position based on feedback from your users, characterize the discussion for us--and the reporter. Your process, in this instance, can underscore the variety of views (or singular purpose) reflected by your crowd, and add perspective to a policy.
If you've got a good example where explaining your method made a difference in an interview, share it in the comments....

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Etch-a-Sketch tests for your next analogy: 3 fixes to use

The analogy worked so well, it went viral. All over the U.S., people hearing the quote could picture exactly what the spokesperson was talking about, so concrete and easy to understand was the comparison he chose. “Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again.”

An aide to presidential candidate Mitt Romney uttered those words, prompting endless jabs from his opponents and coining a whole new way to say "flip-flop." Unfortunately it wasn't a well-chosen analogy, just a well-phrased one. Here are three ways analogies can trip you up, and how to fix them before you blurt them out:
  1. When you use analogies to describe very large numbers, extra caution is called for, since most audiences don't have a sense of the number you're using to make the comparison. The Wall Street Journal's "numbers guy," Carl Bialik, writes here about using analogies to describe very large numbers and shares some bad examples, like the website that figured every American adult could buy two pairs of Manolo Blahnik pumps for the cost of the war in Iraq. He notes: " popular device is to describe a stack of bills stretching into space." Rather than stack up dollar bills or lay them out in a line a million miles long, don't compound the problem. Make the analogy simple: One expert suggested using costs per person rather than stacked-up cash. Check out Bialik's blog post on this column, which includes links to all sorts of sites that help you visualize numbers and dollars, as well as some real-life good and bad examples of analogies stretching to make big numbers more manageable.
  2. When you haven't tested the analogy, you get the Etch-a-Sketch problem: A facile analogy that unfortunately helps your opponent make a point against you. It's worth it to test your analogies in advance for clarity, brevity and that all-important "Russert test" we do in Washington, turning your words against you as your opponent (or a tough reporter) will do. The test was one used by the late "Meet the Press" host Tim Russert and any guests savvy enough to know it, often after getting hoist with their own petards during a bad experience on the air. In the Etch-a-Sketch analogy, pundits and comics were, by the weekend, pointing out how apt it was for politics, since you can swivel the knobs to the left or the right--and that's just one example of how this analogy could be used against you. 
  3. When your analogy doesn't stand the test of time, you may miss your audience completely by packing an out-of-date comparison that goes right over their heads--in which case, you've wasted precious time in an interview or speech. (The Etch-a-Sketch veers very close to being outdated, saved by the many Baby Boomer users and the fact that it is still manufactured today.) That works in the other direction, too, when you use a current pop analogy that older audiences might not get. Check out my four timeliness tests for your next analogy.
Do you have good--or misfired--analogies to share as learning examples? Put 'em in the comments....

Friday, March 23, 2012

Weekend read: My weekly share on Twitter

What was on your screen this week? Mine is full of finds from my Twitter stream, where the cast of characters provides more leads, ideas and plot twists than any teevee episode you can name. This week felt like sweeps week, there were so many good posts. Here are my must-see moments from the week just past, ready to usher you into the weekend:
And now, back to your regularly scheduled weekend, with thanks for including the blog in your week...

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Overdoing it in social media: Don't fall into these traps

You might think posting too much or too frequently are the only excesses of social media, but you'd be wrong. Here are three other ways you can fall into overdoing it, the ramifications, and some suggestions for how you can find out what "too far" means:
Got other solutions for not overdoing it in social media? Share them, selectively, in the comments.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Weekend read: My weekly share on Twitter

If you were going to make graffiti about the week, what would you scrawl or spray-paint on that wall? Get your artistic juices going with these data, ideas and inspirations from my Twitter stream this week. Let's all have an artful weekend, shall we?
This week, I was fortunate to surround myself with Rockefeller University's great communications team, led by Joe Bonner, and three groups of the university's engaged and thoughtful scientists, for a seminar on communicating science to the public, and two media interview skills workshops--a week's worth of work I loved doing. Thanks to you, as always, for being a part of that through the blog. I appreciate you as a reader.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Taking the high road: Can you get out in front of negative issues?

If your organization is facing a truly negative issue that hasn't become public yet, a lot of conversation will focus on defensive questions like "What if this gets out? What will we say? What questions will we face? What will happen next?" But how often do you and your management frame the question to ask "Can we get out in front of this issue and become a good example?"

When discussing strategies with my clients, I find that question's missing from the discussion around a crisis topic, more often than not. It gets pushed aside by damage control and the desire to minimize, rather than air, dirty laundry. But for the companies and organizations that understand how to take the lead on a negative issue, the rewards can be great. And the road is littered with those who stayed behind a defensive bunker and spent years undoing the damage when the issue became public....or the institutions that were caught unprepared when their motives were questioned after a negative event became public.

Last year, the issue of sexual assault on university campuses was thrown into high relief by two campuses with very different approaches. Yale University, where students filed suit about sexual harrassment, is under investigation for possible violations of federal Title IX, went largely silent about its case, issuing written statements to the media and a report that critics said didn't go far enough in its recommendations for change. But conditions on campus were such that when Good Morning America went to campus to interview female students on the quad, male students yelled expletives heard on the broadcast; you can watch the video at the link. No Yale officials appeared in that story, issuing a written statement instead.

Contrast that with the University of New Hampshire, which, like many universities, knew it had its own problems with sexual harrassment. It took a different approach by conducting research on rape on campus, creating prevention and awareness programs and more, making the issue public in an effort to reduce campus sexual harrassment. The White House chose UNH for a visit by the vice president and the education secretary when they kicked off a nationwide campaign about sexual assault awareness, calling the university a "model for the country." Yale was featured in the coverage, too, but not as a model.

Yale's approach is typical for an institution responding to a lawsuit and a federal investigation: closed, contained and careful. But even if there were no investigations, many companies and institutions do the same when there's an ongoing problem or issue. From coverage of the UNH model:
“Sexual assault is a problem that most universities deal with in silence,” said Victoria Banyard, a professor of psychology at UNH who directs its Prevention Innovations: Research and Practices for Ending Violence Against Women on Campus and serves as an advisory board member at its rape crisis center. “There’s always been an ambivalence about dealing with this. But it happens everywhere. If we can acknowledge the problem, we can be so much more effective at addressing it than if we just pretend it’s not our problem.” “Every school has this problem,” said Alison Cares, an assistant professor of Criminal Justice & Criminology at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. “No school wants to admit it.”
Here are the advantages I see in the UNH approach:
  • Going public for more than just publicity's sake: In its case, UNH went public for a more important reason than image. Making the issue of sexual assault public was a safety first choice, with the kudos coming later.
  • Status as a rare but available example: Getting out in front of the issue, in public, meant UNH was one of a handful of choices the White House had when looking for an available example to underscore the new guidelines being issued on the topic. Any institution also working on the issue, but behind the scenes, didn't have that chance. 
  • Smart positioning: UNH can better answer questions about whether it's doing enough to protect students, how it will handle any future assaults should they occur, and make its prevention program a safety selling point. Taking a point of view on the issue also makes it easier for UNH to position itself as a thought leader on the issue, with speaking engagements, op-eds and more.
  • The relief of being able to answer the questions: At many organizations, the best they can hope is that nothing gets out and no one asks about stinky issues--because they don't have great answers for them. When you get out in front of the issue, you can be forthright and transparent, as long as the substance is there to stand on.
  • The absence of smugness: Colleges and universities are frequently criticized for ivory-tower, superior attitudes. Here, I don't get a whiff of that--in fact, the approach seems to be "this could happen anywhere" rather than "we cornered the market on a solution." That comes from being careful not to brag too much about being out in front on what is, after all, a negative.
You may be at a company grappling with a labor issue or a contaminated batch of consumer products, a lab grappling with animal rights issues or a nonprofit with an executive compensation or tax issue. No matter where you are, you need to put a lot of thought behind the choice to get out in front of the most difficult negative issues. Of course it's better if you start thinking about this approach before you need to do so--and perhaps just as important for communications directors is introducing this as an option to your management. Add a question about "should we think about getting out in front of this as a leader?" to your back pocket for management discussions, or for when you're scanning the landscape for what's next on the horizon. I'd love to hear your good examples of companies and organizations that got out in front of a problem in a smart way, in the comments. (Photo by Jose Gil /

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Reporter shares what makes research news & how to get reporters' attention

Reuters Health Executive Editor Ivan Oransky gave this presentation on what makes research news and how to get reporters' attention this week at a conference for children's hospital executives, and I think it's so useful I've embedded it here for you--and not just because my advice to tip more and pitch less to reach reporters is cited. Of particular interest to communicators with health and medical stories will be the data that's packed in this presentation, from a look at health reporters' education levels to what studies show about news releases from academic health centers and the stories that are most covered.  Somewhere in here is ammo you can use when explaining health coverage to your management, experts and even your team, with a healthy dose of don'ts as well as to-do's. Dive in and enjoy--and if you don't already read them, keep Ivan's blogs Embargo Watch and Retraction Watch in your feeds.What makes research news?
View more PowerPoint from ivanoransky

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Where to catch me, & a workshop waitlist

Spring has me working on both coasts this year, with a nice mix of workshops, lectures and private training sessions for individual clients. Here are some of the places you can catch me in the coming weeks:
  • New York: This week, I'm in New York to facilitate two media interview skills workshops for researchers at the Rockefeller University, and giving a general seminar titled "Can you explain it to your grandmother? The impact of clear communication skills on your research." I'm coaching an individual client, too.
  • Eugene, Oregon: In April, I'll be conducting a workshop in communicating with non-technical audiences for the University of Oregon Women in Graduate Science and delivering a lecture on women and public speaking to the same group.
  • Portland, Oregon: In May, I'll be speaking on "The Care and Feeding of Your Blog" to the annual meeting of the National Cancer Institute Public Affairs and Marketing Network, an audience of communicators from cancer centers and institutes.
I'm setting up lots of group and individual trainings for the spring and summer in public speaking skills, communicating science to public audiences, media interview skills and more. If you're looking for a speaker or a training session, check out my pages on speaking engagements and on training for communicators and training for experts, executives and scientists for more information.

Waitlist for next "Be an Expert on Working with Experts" workshop

I'm working on scheduling another "Be an Expert on Working with Experts" workshop in May or June this year in Washington, DC. While I work out the logistics, I've formed a waitlist to keep track of interested participants. You don't need to register now, but please do go to this link to sign up. After you enter your email, you can sign up for the waitlist, as well as other choices for information on workshops, ebooks, and my free monthly newsletter, Speakers & Communicators.

Signing up for the waitlist doesn't involve registering at this point, but it will help me with scheduling and planning--so please put your name on the list if you're interested. I'd be delighted if you shared this information with your colleagues, too.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Weekend read: My weekly share on Twitter

Safety vests on, people: It's the weekend, and you want to float there, not have to swim all the way. I've had lots of good ideas, reads and resources wash up in my Twitterstream this week, and these are the ones I'm taking to that desert island with me:
  • Putting store contents on the map: The great Google Maps Mania blog looks at a mashup of map and store photos from Uniqlo--you don't just get a store location, you get fashion looks and more. It's nearly a website on a map. How could you use this?
  • I keep telling you: And now here's more data: Pinterest drives more traffic to blogs than Twitter.
  • Move over, AP: Alternative weeklies are working on a content exchange of their own. Think about how and where that belongs in your press list.
  • Inside the stream: A smart piece about Twitter's approach to advertisers, and, as my tipster says, its users as well.
  • Talk to me: The Guardian has a discussion going on between scientists and journos, and the latest is Nine ways scientists can help improve science journalism. Pass this on to a geek you love--it's a good start.
  • Pintastic:  Pin a Quote lets you do just that, converting text into a pinnable image you can share on Pinterest via its bookmarklet. I love this. 
  • How to make a great blog: I stumbled on Parla Food, Katie Parla's amazing blog about eating and living in Rome (and a few other places), just after it began three years ago. Now she's written a post about how she put that blog together. It's a good read. Fair warning: It doesn't pay to read her blog when you're hungry, but I now know I'll be eating supremely well in Rome from now on.
  • How to end a great blog: Restauranteur Bruce Buschel has been writing the "start-up chronicle" part of the New York Times's great "You're the Boss" small business blog (a team effort you could learn from). We readers have lived through the opening of one of his restaurants, the fire that devoured it just as its big season got underway, and all that followed. But now that it's not a start-up, the blog is done. Another good reminder that you can and should end blogs from time to time. I'll miss this in my feeds.
  • This week's most useful read: The new timeline format also lets you tier access by admins, and now a Facebook product manager weighs in on the 5 kinds of admins every Facebook page should have. This is one time technology will click with how your office functions. And even if you are all 5 admins, yourself, it's a smart discussion of the different tasks. (Yes, I see you out there, you one-armed paper hangers.)
I've set up some new lists where you can sign up to get information on things like upcoming workshops, ebooks I'm rolling out this year, individual speaker training, or customized workshops on-site at your location, along with my list for subscribers to the free monthly Speakers & Communicators newsletter. Among them is a waitlist for the next "Be an Expert on Working with Experts" workshop for communicators, which I'm working on for May or June. No obligation to sign up on the waitlist, but it will help me plan ahead. Go here to check out the new lists and get more information.

And as always, I'm so glad you're reading. Thanks for sticking with me, and enjoy your weekend.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

From Pinterest to FB timelines: 8 ways to rethink your visual strategies

The visual has long been a strong--if not the strongest--trend in social media, but until recently, video was the visual medium that took precedence. And then came the new Facebook timeline "cover shots" for profiles and brands, and Pinterest, which puts images front and center. If all that has you rethinking your visuals in social media, here are 8 resources to consult as you do so:
  1. Rethink your profile images: Your profile images might be the most important ones you put online. Here's a photo-cropping tool that will help you extend a photo over several thumbnails in your Google+ profile banner. 
  2. Cover yourself:  For Facebook's new timeline "cover photos," here's a precise set of measurements for the images. Facebook also offers advice for choosing a photo for your FB timeline cover, and here's advice on how to rock a cool cover image even if you can't afford a designer.
  3. Is it you, rather than your cover? If it's a photo of you we're talking about, here are tips for achieving a better business photo of yourself.
  4. Make your images move: Tumblr is a popular home for animated GIFs (just search the tag GIF to see), and recently upgraded capacity to allow 1MB per photo post, which leaves lots of room for creative animated images. In a different way, you can animate your Google+ profile images, which appear in a line across the top of your profile. 
  5. Want to pin? Look to your blog images: If you want to pin posts from your blog to a Pinterest board, they'll get more attention if you have a smashing image already in the post. Here are some tools and ideas from Problogger about creating sensational blog images.
  6. Tweeting when you're a visual brand: If your work is built around images, Twitter can still be a useful tool for highlighting your visuals. Here are 4 tips and tricks. Don't forget that Twitter's redesign means users can see your images and videos in-line, making it a stronger visual site than ever before.
  7. Improving your images? Just don't overdo it. Lifehacker looks at how to enhance your images without making them look all Photoshopped.
  8. Are you a source for others' images? It's always smart to think not just of the images you're pushing out, but the ones your fans are taking. Make it easy for users to take and share photos of your products, location, buildings or other visual treats. Here's a great blog post from a Washington, DC, museum with tips for how to take photographs of its art collection.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

8 things to do in a media interview so you'll get called again

Sometimes, when I do a training in handling media interviews, I see trainees who are totally focused on one interview only--when they really should be thinking longer-term. If you're willing to do media interviews, then you should be looking at each one as a way to start a relationship with a reporter. Problem is, many interviewees don't handle interviews in ways that suggest they're worth a second try. You can improve your odds of another call from a reporter in a positive way by making sure you hit these 8 marks in the interview you're doing right now:
  1. Return the phone call or show up for the interview. If that sounds obvious to you, let me share that the single biggest barrier I've seen to experts getting mentioned in news coverage is their own failure to show up. That might mean failing to show up for interviews to which they've agreed, or their failure to merely return a phone call inquiring about an interview. Instead of blowing off that phone message, call back--even if it's to say you are not available, but would be willing to talk another time. 
  2. Ask about the deadline, right away: This is the easiest way to let the reporter know you take her inquiry seriously. It's how her world is organized. Besides, asking about the deadline first helps you prioritize how much time you have to prepare.
  3. Let the reporter get a word in edgewise: The entire point of a media interview is to get information from you--but that doesn't mean you have to take a deep breath and dump all your information at once, in the first answer. (Scientists and engineers, I'm looking at you--and that goes twice for starting at the beginning of time to explain the entire field to the reporter when all he asked was a question from today's world.) Work on a short answer that summarizes a few aspects of your field or topic, then stop. If the reporter wants to know more, trust me, he'll ask (if you let him.). This goes double for live interviews, folks. A deep breath in between each of your statements also helps provide the reporter with a shoehorn to wedge in another question, so pause plenty.
  4. Show up prepared: Reporters' time is limited, and they move fast. Take the time to anticipate what the reporter might ask, how you might answer, how it sounds, what needs a clearer explanation, what's too long or too short, and what the news context is around your topic this week.  Have the reports, data, visuals or other materials you might want to share at your fingertips. I'd rather see you spend even just 10 minutes gathering your thoughts than spend those 10 minutes in the interview fumbling around for an answer--that's a waste of your time and the reporter's time.
  5. Answer, or at least address, the questions: Despite what you've been coached elsewhere, you need to answer the reporter's questions--otherwise, what are you doing the interview for? If you can't answer right now, address that issue forthrightly. That might be as simple as saying, "We're not ready to answer that definitively, and here are the things that will have to happen before we can..."  It's the reporter's job to press the question; it's your job to answer or explain why you can't answer. I see far too many interviews in which the reporter feels compelled to mention that the interviewee blithely ignored, roared past, or never got around to answering the question. They notice, and they get to mention that they notice that you're dodging. Seeing that in a news story where you're the source doesn't help establish you as a source worth calling back.
  6. Ask for the reporter's understanding of what you said before you hang up: Rather than ask to see the story before it airs or hits the web, or complain later, why not end the interview by asking for a recap of what you said to make sure you're both on the same page? Reporters appreciate getting the facts right....before the story is done. The interview is your opportunity to make sure the facts are straight.
  7. Be available for follow-up questions: Your willingness to answer follow-up questions, along with your availability to do so after hours if need be, are an "extra mile" that will set you apart from many sources. But don't count on a follow-up call. Make sure you get the main facts into the interview, then stand by for anything else that may come after the reporter has talked to others.
  8. Offer other sources unconnected to you: That might mean sources of data, like reports the journalist hasn't seen, or other experts in your field who can offer another perspective.  Be generous with information in this way, and you'll reap the dividends. 
Do you or your team need training in media interview smarts? Email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Get my free notebook on Facebook timeline changes

You've got a month to get your new Facebook page timeline together, but if you're like me, you want to start reading now about the tips, tricks, shortcuts, recommended tactics and frequently asked questions involved in putting a good timeline together.

The changes are worth studying, since they obliterate some current features of Facebook brand pages--like landing pages--but add distinct advantages, like filling out your organization's history on the timeline or making better visual use of the page with a strong "cover photo" (an example from Manchester United is shown here). Facebook will turn on the timeline format on March 30, 2012, so it pays to start now on this project.

To help you, I'm going to share the string I've been collecting on Facebook timelines via a published Evernote notebook full of articles, tips, resources and examples about how companies, universities, nonprofits and government entities are using Facebook timelines so far. Click here and select "I want the Facebook timelines notebook" list to sign up for this free resource. It's a dynamic notebook, which means you'll get new resources and articles as I add them. If you select only this list, you'll only get one email with the notebook link, but please do feel free to sign up for my free monthly newsletter, Speakers & Communicators, as well as other lists to stay informed about training options, workshops, and more.

Want to share your own Facebook timeline? Leave us a link to it in the comments.