Friday, June 28, 2013

The weekend read

It's the end of the road for this week--otherwise known as Friday, the day I round up the best of my finds, reads and leads shared on Twitter during the week. The goal: Making you look smarter by Monday. Hit the brakes before you fly off the end of that short pier, and check out these gems:
The road is just beginning in this newly open communications job: The Children's Law Center in Washington, DC, needs a communications director...And if you're recruiting, find out why Twitter might be your best recruitment tool.

Short detour: Next week, this blog is closed for the week, to get some routine maintenance and planning done. The weekend read will come back promptly on Friday, July 12.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Why rethinking yourself isn't a midlife crisis: For transitioning communicators

I follow Scott Berkun on public speaking and innovation issues (he's the author of Confessions of a Public Speaker), but last week, he shared a post of his own that resonates strongly with me--and I suspect will do so with you, particularly if you're among my many friends and clients who are in the midst of transitions.

I nearly wrote "career transitions," but in fact, making changes in your work creates change in your life, and vice versa. Right now, people in my circles are looking for new jobs, moving to other countries, starting the books they've been putting off for years, switching fields and specialties, or going back to their original choices after long detours.

Changing your life is not a (mid-life) crisis nails something I've felt for years. But then I've learned to make changes in my life that keep bringing me closer and closer to who I am and what I want to be doing. Berkun's theme reflects the awkwardness that change-agents ('cause that's what you are when you are transitioning) feel when others react to their new dreams:
We have no label for an adult who continues to grow, who works to better understand themselves, and who periodically chooses to re-align their life with their dreams. And most of us, as friends, don’t know how to respond when someone tries to step out of the box we’ve held them in, a box much like the one we hold ourselves in all the time.
That might be why I so treasure a client and friend's recommendation for including these words: "You can be in the business 25 years and still learn a lot from her, in part because she herself is always learning and growing." That kind of reinforcement for making changes is rare and refreshing, and Berkun explains why:
When you share your deepest dream it’s surprising who understands and who is mystified, or even disappointed. Part of the adventure of a big change is resorting who your allies are, as you can’t predict who among those you know will be most connected with the person you’re becoming. And the biggest surprise of all is the new important friends you make along the way, happy consequences of a scary choice made with conviction.
The good news: If you open yourself up to change and new experiences, you'll get even more ideas and opportunities, in my experience. Berkun's a good writer and uses metaphor skillfully in this frank and honest piece. Enjoy it, and pass it around. We all need more reads like this one.

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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

When you're coaching experts, can you get out of the way and let them be authentic?

One of the nicest reviews of my recent workshop, Be an Expert on Working with Experts, said, "I particularly appreciated her emphasis on understanding a speaker's needs and motivations in order to help them deliver the best possible presentation."

Asking about motivation and preferences is a standard part of what I do when I'm coaching experts and executives for speeches and interviews, and it should be what you do, too. Do it before you offer the tactics and talking points. Do it before you smooth out those seemingly rough edges. Your sandpaper--your unwillingness to let them risk being themselves--may be scrubbing out the one thing that will let them connect with the audience in any medium: Authenticity.

Jim Garrow of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health says you just have to get out of the way. He pokes at public information officers who populate organization blogs with corporate posts, rather than let the subject-matter experts in the organization blog on a regular basis:
...And then something newsworthy happens and you ask a subject-matter expert to write about it. In a format that they’re not familiar or comfortable with, under a deadline that they feel stressed about, and to readers who don’t know this lady from a hole in the wall. This is supposed to be helpful?...[W]e need to get the hell out of the way. Let your agency shine through every day. Give your experts the podium they deserve. Build them a following (or let them build a following).
It's tough to get more authentic than AthenaHealth CEO Jonathan Bush, one of the speakers I worked with at TEDMED this year. If you think he's overly energetic in this TEDMED talk on the Kennedy Center stage, embedded below, you should see him in an office, just as exuberant and passionate and ready to storm the battlements--in this case, of a lopsided market in which nonprofit health institutions are making corporate-style profits.

Is this a popular stance? No. Was there likely some cringing as he named companies, universities and nonprofits? You bet. Did he tell every corner of the health care industry how to upend itself? No question. Was it boring? Not for a nanosecond. Would you have been tempted to put him in a suit jacket, tell him to gesture and jump around less, modulate his voice, mention his own company more (or at all), work in the corporate message points?

That might well be your first impulse, and it would be 8,000 kinds of wrong. It also wouldn't work as a TEDMED talk. Bush held this audience in the palm of his hand. He connected, again and again. He left it all on stage. You can hear the cheers, applause and whistles from the crowd at the end, as it audibly reflects his passion and energy. Most important: He delivered the message he wanted to deliver, the one he cares about. That's authentic. Try not to get in the way of it when you see it.

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Friday, June 21, 2013

The weekend read

Cue the horns: The weekend is almost here, and I have a parade of good finds, reads and leads I shared this week on Twitter. Follow the drum major to get smarter before Monday:
Horn in on this conference: In September, I'm chairing the European Speechwriters Network autumn leadership and communication conference in Brussels. If writing speeches is part of your work, this is a high-value conference with smart attendees--and we're assembling a top lineup of speakers. Please do consider attending.

You'll have to toot your own horn to get these communications jobs:  Carroll University in Milwaukee needs a director of communications and marketing...the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Durham, NC, is looking for a public affairs specialist...Columbia University Medical Center wants a director of communications...

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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

From the vault: 11 ways I use Twitter to boost my creativity

With two blogs, a busy speaking schedule, and a business that offers clients creative communications strategies, training and content, I need all the ideas and inspiration and energy I can get. Where others are motivated by money or family or a cause, creativity is what pushes me forward. I draw creativity from many sources, including pursuing my own art and music, but Twitter's an indefatigable fountain for me to drink from.  Here's how I use Twitter to boost my creativity:
  1. To get viewpoints from many nations:  My follows include people on almost every continent (still waiting for some outposts at the poles to find me) who speak at least five languages. The ability to stream a world view's important to me, and gives me a richer perspective.  And it means there's always someone to hear from, no matter what the hour is. In fact, I wrote this post while traveling in England in 2010. Way out of my normal time zone, I got to listen in on a completely different set of conversations.
  2. To find new ideas and out-of-my-box examples:  I follow an odd mix of people, and I mean that as a compliment. My clients are always looking for ideas on using social media in their varied sectors, and the topics and people I follow on Twitter run the gamut--it helps me to fill my inbox with useful models.
  3. To get news, fast and furious:  I'm used to having lots of news streams, but Twitter is hands down the best and the fastest. If a late-breaking item fits in with something else I'm writing or speaking about, I have it at my fingertips, no matter where I might be. I can dip into the stream and enrich my work with it instantly.
  4. To learn from my curious followers:  Sometimes, the best way to see something anew is to be questioned about it by someone who's genuinely curious and doesn't know you well.  My followers on Twitter ask me all sorts of questions--about my blog, about public speaking, about social media, about food and travel and playing guitar--that prompt me to think with care about what I do.  It's a great playback machine.
  5. To master the art of tight spaces:  As a longtime editor, Twitter's my favorite tool to push my writing back into brevity. Making every word count rules this space, whether I'm crafting my own message or tightening someone else's so I can retweet it. The exercise, repeated dozens of times a day, is an essential writing and editing tool and forces you to think differently about your words.
  6. To work with great collaborators:  Having a regular crowd to help source my work is the greatest gift I get from Twitter. Many of my followers have become my best sources and tipsters, sharing items in their streams that they know I'll appreciate (and vice versa), or pointing me to them publicly or in direct messages. They alert me to typos, angles, sources, ideas and perspectives I could not easily find on my own.  We share manuscripts, support and encouragement. Because of Twitter, I've been able to publish useful guest posts from contributors in places far-flung from me, and to ask them for perspective when I'm covering an issue to which they live closer than I do. I'm pretty sure Twitter interactions helped me get invited to keynote a speechwriting conference in London, and I'll be chairing the next one of this group in Brussels in September. How does it get better than that for the creative soul?
  7. To find serendipity:  One day, I read posts from a communications colleague who was off to protest a cement kiln, followed by posts from a cement industry association on green uses for the stuff, and from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (a former employer of mine) on industry regulations...quite the cement mixer of people I follow, isn't it?  That kind of coincidence coughs up themes, gives me a broader and richer perspective and jolts my thinking.
  8. To have fun:  An essential element in my creative process, the fun comes in sharing enjoyment--whether that comes from humorous news items or a shared love of cooking.  Because I let loose with humor once in a while on Twitter, I get plenty back...and because I share personal interests, I have a richer sense of my collaborators on Twitter, and they of me.  We get to stretch our cleverness muscles in much the same way we help each other learn more.
  9. To spark ideas.  Some of the most popular blog posts I've ever written came from questions on Twitter.  "Could you help me do this...?" "Where do you find that?"  or "What do you think about...?" are my favorite queries, because they always spark ideas.  I think of them as reader requests, and run with them--and it never fails.
  10. To grow with an expandable universe:  Many of my very favorite follows of all were initially surprises to me...friends of friends, or those retweeted by people I followed first, who kept, well, landing on my doorstep, so to speak.  As for the colleagues I already knew in real life, some of them have surprised me, too, in this space. To me, Twitter's great possibility isn't about the numbers, but about the ability to expand a network of new thinkers in ways that make sense and surprise me all at the same time.
  11. To take a refreshing break:  I may have my head down, focused on a deadline, or be forced offline on a plane for a few hours. But Twitter's always an easy break to bring me back into the varied world I inhabit online.  Watching the stream go by, even for a few minutes, is bound to spark some ideas.
(This post updates one I wrote and published in 2010.)

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Friday, June 14, 2013

The weekend read

It's time to wash the dust and dirt of the week off the convertible that will take you to the weekend. But while that car's going through the wash, take a couple of minutes to get smarter by Monday with the great reads, data and leads I found and shared on Twitter this week:
Hire me. Well, not me, but maybe you: The University of Pennsylvania is looking for an assistant director for news.

Feeling all shiny and new having you visit here on Fridays. Have a great weekend!

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Thursday, June 13, 2013

You're behind the scenes, communicator. Why would you need speaker training?

In every communications director post I've ever had, I saw myself as a behind-the-scenes person, a strategist and advisor. And in every one of those posts, my image was the opposite: Fellow executives described me as the out-front person, and made all sorts of assumptions about my public speaking and presenting skills. It felt as if those bars were set higher for me. No one would expect the finance director or the head of operations to hit one out of the park in a presentation, but the communications pro? Had to be excellent.

No wonder I get puzzled queries from communications pros about public speaking, many at my blog The Eloquent Woman or in the training sessions I conduct across the country. They're apologetic, or defensive, or just confused. "Shouldn't I already know how to present? After all, I'm a communicator," or "Why don't I feel more confident about speaking? Shouldn't I be a natural at it?" or "It's too late now--I've been doing this for years." Or, "I think of myself mostly as a writer, but they think I need to talk."

Here's the truth: Just as you weren't born a writer or strategist, you weren't born a great public speaker or presenter. It's a skill we give short shrift to in the business world. Plenty of people give presentations, but few are taught how--or what they could do better. If the skills are learned at all in a formal setting, they're rarely updated for new technologies or best practices, even though the art of presenting has moved light years from what you may have started out with. And just like others, you might be an introvert who needs a different approach to presenting, or a young executive who needs to establish credibility, or a seasoned pro who's picked up some bad habits and needs to unlearn them.

Being a communications pro doesn't mean you're perfect, after all. In fact, I've seen communicators so used to putting their experts out in front that they stumbled when they had to do the honors at a speech, presentation or media interview. Maybe that's too comfortable a position for those of us working "behind the scenes."

Professional development opportunities--good ones--get harder and harder to find as you advance in any field, and that's true in communications as well. Over time, I've found that the skills I've developed in public speaking and presenting are the ones I use every day, just as much as I use that other skill we spend so much time developing, writing. They work at networking events, in one-on-one conversations, in speeches and presentations, when I have to give impromptu remarks or introduce someone--or just explain what it is I do. And if you believe, as some do, that we'll all be entrepreneurs and free agents at some point, take it from me: Presenting well and with confidence will make your business thrive.

These days, I offer training in media interview skills, public speaking and presenting, and I'm happy to tailor communications training for communicators. While you're scheduling training for your experts and fellow executives, maybe it's time to put some on the schedule for yourself. You can choose to customize that training, by the way. Ask me about a session that gets at your weak spots, prepares you for a bigger audience or a different presenting task, or gets you ready for your next professional move. I've been there, myself, and I'd be happy to help you.

(This post updates one I published in 2012.)

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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

What does it take to be a good interview guest?

The New York Times took a look at the U.S. Sunday morning political talk shows, and in pointing out that they tend to feature the same politicians over and over again (Senator John McCain is a favorite), the article leaves a trail of breadcrumbs from which you can glean what makes a good guest on an interview program:
When it comes to a dream guest, program hosts say, Mr. McCain checks almost every box: a senior Republican senator who can speak authoritatively and contemporaneously on many issues, flies secretly to Syria, compares members of his own party to deranged fowl and yet is a reliable opponent of most Obama administration policies. “What makes a good guest is someone who makes news,” said Mr. Wallace, the Fox host. “To make news, you have to be at the center of the news and willing to talk about it in a noncanned way, someone who always come to the shows ready to play.”
Put another way, you've got to have an opinion--ideally one that flies in the face of the prevailing messages out there--and be willing and able to share it with authority:
“In order to deal with complexity but also create a basis for entertainment,” said Aaron David Miller, a vice president at the Woodrow Wilson Center, “you need someone who knows what they are talking about who is pursuing daylight between themselves and the administration.”
I've come to like the term "guest," because most would-be interviewees rarely think of themselves that way. It's not just about what you want to say. You're being invited to a discussion, a very public one, but a discussion, nonetheless. Holding up your end of that conversation well means letting the interviewer have a chance to ask questions--even the ones you don't like--and answering them without taking up all the oxygen in the studio.

MSNBC host Chris Hayes shared more insights you can use in this recent FreshAir interview. In a meta kind of moment, his interview turns into an interview about interviews, starting with his answer when host Terry Gross asked him what he tells guests right before they start the program:
HAYES: fact normal human conversation does not consist of a succession of declamations by individuals but in fact people asking each other questions. And so everything that I say before the interview is to try to get people in the mindset of forget the cameras, forget that we're on television, forget the commercial breaks. We are just trying to genuinely have a conversation in which we relate to each other like actual curious human beings. 
GROSS: So one of the things that drives me mad sometimes is sometimes a guest will come on the show and think, oh, it's public radio, I can relax, I don't have to speak in soundbites. And instead of speaking in soundbites, they'll make like 15 minute speeches, which is not good either. 
HAYES: That's not a hint to me, right? 
GROSS: No. (LAUGHTER) But do you have to also reign in your guests if they're - this is more shop talk - if they're talking like too long, what do you do? 
HAYES: Yeah, I interrupt them, and I move things along. I mean you can't be shy about that. I'm very aware while we're sitting there that we are on live television and that, again, every second of air time is precious and that I want to keep the pace of the conversation going. And so if things seem to come to a stall, if someone seems to be going on too long, there's a bunch of nonverbal cues that I'll send them, and I'm sort of looking at them, nodding my head with more vigor than usual, as in OK, let's get to the point.
These insights tell you that being a good guest also means having a good balancing act: They want you to talk, but not to fill all the time allotted. They want you to have an opinion, but leave room for other views to be aired. So if the host's nodding too vigorously or getting "too interrupty," as Hayes terms it, take your cue and end that sentence, or let someone else on the panel have a turn. Sometimes, it's a simple as reminding yourself to respond, rather than react, to another person's statement. After all, there's plenty about an interview that you can't control, but you should be able to control how and when you react.

Now, get out there and try not to make the same impression. Check out my all-in-one post on answering media interview questions, and if you need media training, email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.
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Friday, June 07, 2013

The weekend read

Let me reflect this week back to you: It's almost over. Set your sights on the weekend, why don't you, but take a look at the great finds I shared on Twitter this week first. The weekend is just over the horizon...
Don't shade your eyes from this brilliant communications job: My client and former employer, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, is looking for a senior web developer.

Thanks, as usual, for shaking the week's sand out of your shoes right here on my beach. TGIF...

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Thursday, June 06, 2013

7 creative backup tools for photos, texts, emails, files and more

The more you work and play online, the more you need to be thinking about backup. Here are seven simple tools to help you create new backup systems or just think them through:
  1. Photos: With 1TB of storage space for your photos, Flickr gives you 200 times more storage space than either Dropbox or Google Drive. Yes, you heard me right. Here's how to use Flickr as a photo storage backup service. 
  2. Texts: Yes, you can back up texts. Here's a smart roundup of apps to help you back up text messages.
  3. Evernote: I don't know about you, but I've got a treasure trove in my Evernote notebooks. Check out these tips for backing up your Evernote notebooks.
  4. Audio interviews: In how to take advantage of IFTTT for reporting, you'll learn how to easily create a backup for your MP3 recordings of phone interviews.
  5. Video: Now YouTube lets you download the original video you uploaded, using Google Takeout. That means, in effect, it can serve as a backup for your videos in their original formats.
  6. Music: If you're still using iTunes and thinking about moving all that music to the cloud, read I just deleted all my music on the NPR blog All Songs Considered, about making the leap to cloud backup.
  7. Email: If you're a business customer of Google, you can more easily archive and search emails permanently--say, when you need to go through a legal discovery process--using Google Apps Vault.
Share your cool backup tools in the comments.

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Tuesday, June 04, 2013

8 questions for the CEO who wants to be a great public spokesperson

In my work as a Washington, DC-based speaker coach and media trainer, I work with lots of leaders and CEOs, not only to help them deliver messages effectively but to think them through before they march out in public. That's the core of what don't get caught means: 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--mainly because they haven't taken the time to come up with a plan and 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 or scattered and on social networks. And that goes double when you're the CEO.

Over time, I've come to see CEO training differently than I did a decade ago, based on the real-life CEOs with whom I work. When I'm planning to train your CEO, I have 7 key questions in mind--questions your CEO should be asking herself, and be able to answer. Those questions are the prep work I give to CEOs before we meet in a training, and they frame the discussion and learning. But any CEO can use these questions to become a better public spokesperson. Try them out on your leader:

  1. What's my message? Smart communicators won't be at all surprised to hear that I encounter many CEOs and board presidents who have no idea what their message should be--or CEOs who confuse their internal message or "inside voice" with what they should say externally. Knowing what's in your message and how to get the most out of it is a basic but critical first step for an out-front leader.
  2. What's not in my message? Knowing what's not in your message--and along with that, knowing why those things are not to be emphasized--is equally important. It can keep the CEO from getting off track in media interviews, or stay focused in speeches and Q&A.
  3. Can I respond, rather than react, to public questions and criticism? The CEO who can respond to public and media questions and criticisms can reduce anxiety, calm critics and look like a leader. The CEO who reacts looks defensive, unprepared and anxious. Which would you like to be?
  4. What's a unique role for my voice, and how can I occupy it? CEOs do best when they break out of the usual jargon and boilerplate and come up with a unique voice, one that reflects a particular role they want to play. Your CEO may be an agitator, a visionary, a peacemaker, a negotiator. When faced with a difficult issue, does she hunker down or get out in front of the issue, leadership-style? Do her words reflect that? Do her messages amplify that role? How does that play out in different settings, from speeches to interviews?
  5. Where can I get maximum impact for my words? When you CEO seeks platforms for these messages, do they provide maximum impact? These days, that platform may look as much like a blog as a podium or interview chair.
  6. How can I use my platform to give others a voice? A great leadership role for a public spokesperson at the CEO level is to use her platform to give voice to others. Looking for opportunities to do so will help your CEO take up residence in that public leadership role. 
  7. How can I fail gracefully in public when needed? We don't do enough work on what happens during the inevitable failures (or perceived failures) that our leaders walk us through in public. With CEOs figuring out their messages, I like to work through a variety of worst-case scenarios with an eye to how those messages can help them meet a public crisis. (Hint: The ability to say "We were wrong, we're sorry" is a muscle every CEO should exercise.) Even in a crisis, there are opportunities to remain consistent with your message and look like a leader--but it helps to have worked that out in advance, before stuff hits the fan.
      If your CEO hasn't yet answered these questions--or hasn't reexamined them in a while--let's talk about creating a communications training for her. Email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.