Thursday, January 31, 2013

Should you ask for media training or speaker training? How to decide

"We want to talk to you about doing some media training for our CEO," say many prospective clients. Only after a few minutes of discussion, it turns out that the help that's needed involves improving a slide presentation or getting ready for a major speech. Still other clients call for a speaker trainer, but want to prep for a 60 Minutes-style interview.

Does what you call the training make a difference? After all, lots of people (especially in a town like Washington) think of media training and public speaking or presentation training as the same thing--putting yourself "out there" for public consumption. I've worked with executives who lumped all such training under the nickname "charm school," though charm usually has nothing to do with it. Here's my take: While they share a common core of solid communications theory, speaker training and media training are two different things, and it helps to know those differences before you inquire about either one.

Let's start with what they have in common. Both media training and public speaking training may involve work on developing a message, which is simply an organizing principle for saying what you want to say in a brief and memorable way. A good message allows you to answer a question quickly, or at length, in an interview, or it may serve as the outline for a slide presentation or a speech. Audience considerations also are a part of both media and speaker training, since whom you wish to reach will help shape what you're going to say; in the case of media training, you'll need to deliver that message to one audience, the reporter, and to the audience beyond her.

Speaker or presentation training also may include:
  • organizing a message and carrying it through an entire presentation, including examples, anecdotes, data and visuals, and how to edit your material to fit the time and specifications of the presentation; 
  • putting your content together with delivery skills, including eye contact, vocal variety, gestures, use of props or charts, movement around the room, and other tactics that help put the message across;
  • rules and restrictions (and opportunities) involved in specialized speaking gigs, from panel discussions to testimony before a legislature to a court appearance;
  • practice in Q-and-A with a live audience, anticipating questions and answers; and
  • focus on particular sections of a presentation, such as dramatic openings or strong closings.
Media training differs primarily in that it involves a highly specialized audience, journalists, who serve as gatekeepers or filters between you and the public audience you're trying to reach. As a result, it includes:
  • more familiarizing background on how reporters work, how your role in an interview differs from theirs, what you can and can't expect, and more;
  • how to prepare for and handle the interview itself, including difficult questions and answers;
  • technology involved in your interview, from video and audio recording issues to interviews with print or online journalists;
  • how you look and sound for broadcast interviews, as well as what you're going to say; and
  • practice in specific types of interviews, such as live remote interviews, so you're comfortable with the technology and setting before you encounter them in a real interview.
One more commonality: Good media training or speaker and presentation training includes opportunities for practice. Neither type of training should be solely in lecture mode. You want to look for a trainer who'll give you a safe place to fail, learn a new approach, and then succeed after more practice. I'm a Washington, DC-based speaker trainer and media trainer who works with clients in many locations. How I can help you? Email me at eloquentwoman AT gmail DOT come to find out more.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Don't just get your timing straight. Explain it.

Timing may be everything, but it's not always obvious, particularly to those outside your organization. More and more, I'm seeing a need for companies and organizations to be more, rather than less, transparent about the timing behind their announcements. .

Reporters pay particular attention to your timing, so you can expect them to flag anything that seems odd, out of kilter, coincidental or exceptional about the "when" of your announcements...sometimes, in graphic ways. New York Times Dot Earth blogger Andrew Revkin came up with the sign above left to flag research that is being promoted and released prior to publication in a peer-reviewed journal--skipping a significant quality-assurance step in the scientific process. He rolled the sign out for a Norway Research Council announcement on climate change research, but notes that he "will use it when needed." In his column, he shares an email he sent asking for clarification: Was this similar to a consensus report, such as those issued by the  U.S. National Academy of Sciences? That might be one reason this study wasn't yet published in a journal, but if so, it's a reason that belonged in the announcement. Yesterday, Revkin expanded on this theme of publicity before publication in a second post, parsing new information that certainly should have been included in the initial announcement, at a minimum.

It's not just reporters who notice. Increasingly, media-savvy audience members, particularly those on social media, are questioning the timing of announcements. Here's a classic example from a post I published in 2007 in which a caller to NPR's Diane Rehm Show wanted to know why the government had chosen to release a report on benchmarks in the Iraq war on September 11:
Didn't the White House understand the significance of that date, the anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon? Discussants walked us through the calendar, and planning process, just as any smart communicator would do. The law requires the report to be made by September 15; the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah falls on the 13th and 14th; and Labor Day, September 3, is a federal holiday that falls the week prior. The conclusion: It's a crowded calendar, not an intentional slight, that prompts the schedule this time.
As that example demonstrates, there may be more than one factor prompting your timing, but to the person  who's focused solely on September 11 and its significance, the confounding factors won't necessarily be apparent or as benign as you might think. Here are some announcement timing factors that you may need to explain publicly:
  • Required by law: Some public announcements are determined--right down to the date and the hour and minute--by court orders resulting from lawsuits. Your legal requirement to announce might be prompted by a court, by legislation or by executive order. Having handled dozens of federal EPA announcements forced by court order, I can attest that legal requirements are an important determinant in many news releases, and should be identified.
  • Required by propriety: Waiting to announce the names of the dead until their families have been notified might be the most familiar example, but as in the example above, religious holidays and other solemn occasions might prompt a timing change.
  • Required by the process: Whether it's the scientific process, a regulatory or legislative process, or some other type of deliberation, explaining the method and the steps taken and yet to be taken can alleviate misunderstandings and assumptions. Don't be afraid to say "we don't know yet, and that's why we're taking the time to do it this way," if the answer is just that simple. If you're skipping a step, adding extra steps, or otherwise mucking with the process, explain why. 
  • Required by reviews: Similarly, if your work product's subject to a review by an external group, or a vote, or some other approval process, describe it and the deadlines to come.
One timing factor--a made-up one--is worth taking out of your toolbox and retiring. Used to be that big organizations, including government agencies, got in the habit of releasing not-so-good news on Friday afternoons, when they were less likely to garner coverage and attention over the weekend. Take out the trash Fridays were memorialized in an episode of West Wing, but have become tougher to pull off in the Internet and Twitter ages. If you haven't updated your tactics to avoid this one, it's time to do so. For starters, Fridays aren't the black hole of information that they used to be. For another, the news media is on to this one, and has been for a long time. You're not really fooling anyone.

If you do have other timing factors outside your control, saying so may be your best bet. Don't be surprised if you need to repeat them a few times, even if it's a coincidence. Consider it a transparency factor, and build it into your communications plans.

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Friday, January 25, 2013

The weekend read

It's all downhill from here..but not in a bad way. That just means the weekend is ahead, and I have a snowbank's worth of good finds from Twitter, so we can face the weekend a little bit smarter:
Get out of your rut and sled over to these great jobs:  The German Marshall Fund of the U.S. is looking for an online communications specialist with both tech savvy and policy smarts...Planned Parenthood Federation of the U.S. needs a speechwriter to the president...the American Hospital Association seeks a senior communications specialist/writer for its advocacy and policy communications office in Washington, DC...the Chronicle of Higher Education wants a director of marketing communications.

Don't be snowed by others. I'm grateful this is where you hang out during the week and the run-up to the weekend. Thanks, as always, for putting the read in the weekend read.

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Five years in, data & lessons from Library of Congress Flickr project

A WPA-era poster from the collection on Flickr
It's hard to believe it's been five years since I reported on the Library of Congress using Flickr as a new-media way to adapt its collections for public use--in this case, collections of historic photos. Now the Library's reporting on this successful effort, a Flickr Commons with "more than 250,000 photographs with no known copyright restrictions...contributed by 56 libraries, archives, and museums worldwide, with new images added each week."

See what you can do on social media in five years?

One key to the Library's success has been its strong embrace of all aspects of social media. It announced the Flickr project without a news release, using only its own blog and communications with bloggers to spread the word, and it has recorded and reported on the statistics and measurement of the project routinely, as in this year four report posted on its blog so that others can see the full impact of the comments, shares, and the growth of the collection. (The original report, issued after the launch effort, also is well worth a read.)

Qualitative measures also have been recorded. Users have been encouraged to tag and comment on photos posted, particularly where little is known about the photographer or the subjects, and photography buffs often post questions or observations about the methods used to create the photos. In many cases, they've added direct knowledge to the Library's holdings, enriching the collections in this way. It's unlikely that most of these users would have visited the Library and its collections in person, but now they can contribute and participate, thanks to the use of open platforms and social media.

What I like best here: The social media strategy isn't an add-on to existing communications efforts, it is the communications effort, with posts on the blog and on Flickr taking the place of published reports, news releases and other traditional products. Can you do the same? If you've got a comparable example, please share it in the comments.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

8 books for the communicator's challenges, large and small

Maybe your challenge is better communications planning, or punching up the language in your speeches, or deciding whether to jump ship and go freelance...or just plain punctuation. Whether your communications challenge is large or small, find great solutions with each of these eight volumes:
  1. Plan-o-rama: There are only 365 days in the year ahead, but there are 12,500 different holidays, anniversaries and other events/weeks/days of note scheduled on those days. Before you plan your announcement against one of them, or fail to take advantage of another, invest in this year's model of the venerable Chases Calendar of Events 2013 with CD-ROM. It's an invaluable and easy way to avoid lousy timing, conflicts and other snafus in your communications and editorial calendar this year. Reporters will thank you for using it to remember the many, many things people think they should be covering on any given day--an average of 34 events a day, by this count.
  2. Blogalicious: Problogger's a premier website all about blogging, and ProBlogger: Secrets for Blogging Your Way to a Six-Figure Income got an update last year. It's the condensed wisdom from the blog that helps others do it right. Now, whether that six-figure income belongs to you or your company...
  3. Free agency: Maybe you're an independent communicator like me, or one with a day job who dreams of the sweet life on the other side, or just a communicator who works with lots of freelancers. You'll want to dive into The Freelancer's Bible: Everything You Need to Know to Have the Career of Your Dreams - On Your Terms. Author Sara Horowitz heads Freelancers Union and is a MacArthur "Genius" who's the voice for thousands of freelancers. You'll learn everything from where the term originated (Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe) to how to actually run your independency. Based on my two experiences working this way, the book rings true..
  4. Pinpoint your style: The 2013 edition of the Associated Press Stylebook is due out in July, but you can further hone your AP Style with one of its more specialized guides, The Associated Press Guide To Punctuation. Put an end to those office debates about parentheses and serial commas, with authority.
  5. What was that don't get caught thing? Much of what we know about communicating effectively comes from cautionary tales, and last year's confessional Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator stirred the controversy pot, while offering a good reminder of why your efforts in outreach are met with increasing skepticism. A must-read for the seasoned veteran and the stars-in-eyes newbie.
  6. Verb-iage for your next preso: The more active verbs you use in writing or speaking, the more concrete you'll sound--and that makes you more persuasive. Get better at that precise skill with Power Verbs for Presenters: Hundreds of Verbs and Phrases to Pump Up Your Speeches and Presentations, forthcoming in February.
  7. Point, counterpoint: If you're writing opinion pieces or if editorial boards are part of your media relations efforts, you'll want this best practices manual from the Association of Opinion Journalists, called Beyond Argument: A Handbook for Editorial Writers. Learn how editorial writers do it, and what will work for you.
  8. Network like an introvert. Yes, you: I know plenty of introverted communicators, and this 2012 book puts a new spin on the conundrum of networking when you'd really rather be alone. Network Like an Introvert: A new way of thinking about business relationships reframes it all for you, and works whether you are introverted or extroverted.
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Friday, January 18, 2013

The weekend read

It's awards season, but I'll bet your hoorays for Hollywood are drowned out by your cheers for the weekend. Don't head for the hills, though, until you've checked out all the star-studded finds I made on Twitter this week--just the data, leads and reads you need to make yourself the star of the office. Let's open that envelope and find out who the winners are this week:
Casting your next movie: Population Services International seeks a senior manager of online engagement...Serious Eats is looking for a community manager...Penn State University needs a vice president for marketing and communications...Compassion & Choices is looking for an online communications manager...Elsevier in New York wants a PR coordinator to focus on European media relations...the Hewlett Foundation is searching for a communications officer.

Technical Oscars: Did you miss my workshop last week on how to Be an Expert on Working with Experts? We had a great group of communicators, discussing smart tactics and some tough realities. Here's what one participant said afterward:

Stay tuned here for more news about future workshops. And enjoy the movie that is your weekend. I hope you get the starring role you deserve...

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

The secret sauce of message crafting: You are not your audience

When I'm working with clients to help them figure out what they want to say and how to say it, the most common message-crafting mistakes they make involve the audience. Or should I say they don't involve the audience?

That's because mistake number one typically involves forgetting the audience entirely. As one of my scientist-trainees said, "I had no idea that I should take into account what the audience knows or wants to hear instead of what I want to say." I'd rather you took the approach of novelist Ursula K. LeGuin, who told an audience of graduating seniors, "I have no right to speak to you. What I have is the responsibility you have given me to speak to you."

Mistake number two, for speakers and communicators who do think about the audience: Confusing the audience with yourself. The most recent example comes courtesy of a Pew study that shows that most Americans under 30 don't know what "Roe v. Wade" was about--even though both sides of the abortion debate have long made it their shorthand for the 40-year-old abortion law. So every time that term is used, it loses people in that age group who are part of the intended audience. Even among Americans over 30, just over 60 percent knew what the term meant, not a ringing endorsement. I've seen the same thing happen with scientists who assume the public hates them or politicians who assume the opposite (neither of which is typically supported by data).

When communicators are prepping an expert or spokesperson, or getting in fights over particular favorite words and phrases, you often hear this expressed as "But I understood what that meant" or "But I think that sounds effective." Communicators make this mistake themselves, usually when they groan about using repetition of a message or tactics that help your messages stick with audiences. "I'm so tired of hearing this again," they'll say.

But you're not the audience, friends. And when we're working on a message, I don't want only you. I want your audience, in order for real communication to take place.

One reason I think spokesfolk make this mistake is that it's easier to go with what you want to say than to parse out who is in your audience. That's particularly true in the age of "the people formerly known as the audience," in which they, too, are communicators. For some experts, the idea that everyone may not accept or understand their views is anathema. To me, those are signs that you should be thinking more precisely about your targets and how they relate to your subject matter.

Put another way, the audience is your secret sauce when crafting a message. I know, you think the emphasis there is on "secret," and it's true that you won't be able to know everything about the audience you aim to reach. But the more you consider your audience, the better and more thoughtful your communications will be. Can you come up with a few profiles of the people you're trying to reach? Can you describe them in demographic terms? Can you think like a calendar to use the age of your audience as a guide to what they know, as in the Roe example above? Do you know anything about their preferences in terms of receiving and using information? Do you know their likely level of knowledge about your topic? Communicators have a critical role to play here by filling in the blanks for spokespeople and experts on their audiences. Starting to develop a message without your audience means they won't be with you when you need them most.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The tweeting, blogging, LinkedIn-savvy CEO: An update

CEO blogs and social postings are like catnip for customers, offering the promise of access and a listening ear and all perspective from the corner office. The good news: There are more CEOs and presidents than ever participating in social media. The (maybe) bad news: That group may not include yours. I say maybe because you just shouldn't get caught forcing someone to blog or tweet, even if she's the CEO--and because there are plenty of CEOs who just shouldn't tweet in the first place. Check out these data-laden reports, good and bad examples and case studies to figure out whether and how your CEO should tweet or blog:
If you've got a CEO who's ready and willing to blog/tweet/get a LinkedIn following, but there are smaller logistical barriers in the way, check out my 6 ways to get past CEO barriers to social media. And it's always worthwhile to start with solid guides like The Twitter Book,or The Corporate Blogging Book. Can I help you come up with a smart strategy for your would-be social CEO? Email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Where to catch me

To catch me today, you'd have to be registered for Be an Expert on Working with Experts, my workshop for communicators who work with smart people, scientists and subject-matter experts. I'm looking forward to working with the savvy communicators coming from Connecticut, Maryland, DC, California, Arizona and Louisiana at today's workshop, from major nonprofits and conferences, universities and scientific societies. I'm looking at dates in May or June for the next session, and you can catch it next time by going here to sign up for the waiting list; enter your email and you'll find the wait list as one of your options. Here are some other places you can catch me in early 2013:
I'd be delighted to hear from you about speaking opportunities, and hope I'll get to see you in person at one of these events. Email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz for more information.

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Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Does embargoed material really boost your chance of media coverage?

One of this blog's most-read posts last year shared 10 big myths about embargoes, and myth number one was "Reporters won't cover your story if you don't embargo it." Reporters wanted me to be sure to put that in the post, but that may not be enough to convince you. So I'm grateful that Reuters Health Executive Editor Ivan Oransky took the time to compile some data on the proportion of embargoed studies covered by his health news service.

The occasion was this post on his Embargo Watch blog about a new journal that chose a no-embargoes policy for releasing its studies, itself a good case study if you are thinking about going embargo-free. But what caught my eye was this paragraph pulling together 2012 data from actual coverage through the end of October: 
[S]ince I run a little health news service at Reuters that reaches millions of people, I can quantify just how much embargoes drive our coverage. By the end of October, we will have covered 122 studies from journals for our consumer service. Of those, 45 were embargoed — but we didn’t hit the embargo on 12 of them, because we had better things to do, like cover more interesting studies that weren’t embargoed. And sometimes when we did cover such studies, it was knowing they weren’t terribly compelling, but we wanted to get better reporting out there than I suspected some of our competitors will do. (I like to think of that as using the power of bigfooting for good.)  
One limitation of my “study” is obvious: I’m the one making the decisions. But I know we’re not alone in seeking out studies that were neither press-released nor embargoed, because I see big news outlets covering those kinds of papers every day.
Let's recap: Of the journal studies that got coverage from Reuters Health in the first 10 months of 2012, fewer than half were based on embargoed press releases. And they let embargoes dictate when they'd cover stories just 27 percent of the time.

I hope that's enough data to spark a discussion as you consider your own media relations policies. Embargoes and their management are often cited as "time-savers for everybody," but in fact, they take an enormous amount of effort for communicators to manage. Are all those hours being spent for naught? The only way for you to find out is to check in with the reporters who cover you on a regular basis, and keep track of their coverage. Don't just ask whether they prefer embargoes. Instead, ask what proportion of their coverage comes from embargoed material, and whether the embargo actually mattered in the coverage. You might be surprised. Need help considering or reconsidering an embargo policy? Email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

UPDATE: Want to share this as a tutorial in your office? Here's the post in SlideShare form:

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Friday, January 04, 2013

The weekend read

It's the first weekend of 2013, and this week, the good reading and insights piled up in my Twitterstream like a powdery drift of snow. Get smart before the weekend with this flurry of finds:
No jobs this week, but a job-related reminder: I learned this week that only 12 percent of professionals get appreciated frequently at work. But I appreciate you--so much that I definitely want you on my side in a snowball fight. Enjoy your weekend...

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Wednesday, January 02, 2013

How not to get caught in your 2013 communications

For those who haven't been with the blog forever, my communications philosophy of "don't get caught" is a framework for communicating effectively.  It goes like this: If you're prepared, knowledgeable, trained and ready, you won't get caught by surprise, a clever interviewer or an irate audience member.

People get caught when they're communicating every day. That happens mainly because they haven't taken the time to come up with a plan or to prepare for what they're going to say and how they're going to interact with an audience, whether that audience is live and in front of them, a reporter behind a microphone or a smartphone, or "friends" scattered and on social networks. But if you're also a professional communicator, you can get caught in more ways that one: Publicly, like everyone else, and behind the scenes. They're equally fraught with peril.

This time of year, I often express my own goals and course corrections as ways to avoid getting caught--it's a life philosophy as well as a business name. While you're coming up with your own list, take a look at one that I have in place for myself, most of the time. Let this be the year that you won't get caught:
...without a sense of what your questioners will ask and how you will answer them
...without editing and proofreading your work, again, before you submit it to your editor/boss/next-level reviewer, which would remind them that you made them do the work for you
...ignoring that sand-in-your-shoe feeling about an impending problem
...getting too fond of a particular feature or option in social media, or an entire site or service
...announcing you'll never need a particular social media feature, option, site or service that presentation without practicing it enough, or at all
...forgetting to keep track of your accomplishments, large and small, and all the things you did right this week
...ghostwriting the CEO's blog
...using the same presentation style you've used for the past 10 years
...forgetting to build a relationship with that reporter, employee, boss or client
...trying to do it all in social media, poorly, instead of doing one thing well
...maintaining a Twitter feed, Facebook page or other social presence that you never participate in or update
...reading and believing your own press releases too much
...starting somewhere other than where that reporter, employee, boss or client is, whether that's a million miles behind you or a step or two ahead of you
...ignoring the calendar of what's ahead in your world and the world at large, where your competition lives (if nothing else, the competition for attention)
...using a clever analogy, metaphor or any message without having thought it through first
...forgetting to network before you need to because you're that "behind the scenes" communicator (and if you're not sure, use Lifehacker's "layoff test")
...failing to invest in your own development, no matter how senior or junior you are
...failing to plan for crises and how you'll communicate during them
...leaving training money on the table this year
...thinking that you need to be a 'natural' to do well at speaking or presenting
...using tools like embargoes, exclusives and off-the-record without actually knowing how they're supposed to work
...hanging on to communications tools and tactics that aren't working well anymore, no matter how longstanding they are or how much you dread the search for alternatives
...skipping the opportunity to review, reconsider and refresh your approaches to social media, public speaking and media strategies at least once this year
In 2013, I've got my own plans for refreshing my approach to this blog's content. You'll see more frequent posts, along with a wider range of content--interviews with communicators with case studies to share, more professional development resources for communicators, ebooks and more. I'm also introducing a "tip jar" for paid subscriptions or one-time donations to support the additional research, writing and curation activity anticipated in the coming year. And I've eliminated ads entirely from the blog, although I will continue to include affiliate links for books and other products that I recommend. I hope you'll consider participating as a subscriber or donor if this blog is among your secret weapons for not getting caught in your communications. Happy new year!

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