Tuesday, December 31, 2013

In 2014, opening to possibility and Lebenskünstler

2013 was a ride on a comet, a treasure chest with the key left in the lock, a new galaxy found, a banquet with endless delicacies. It rocked, rolled, raced, and spun like a top. My mind was focused, inspired, on fire. I was pushed, pulled, tugged, charmed, and challenged. I got used to being surprised. My heart was won and warmed. I don't think I've ever laughed and smiled as much as I did this year. I liked the feel of that. I logged 50,000 miles in travel and a million miles in mental ground covered.

All that happened because, back in 2012, I said "yes" instead of saying "no" to something I'd turned down before because it wasn't practical or on my agenda. Opening up to that possibility set in motion people, experiences, prospects and returns I could never have predicted. And once in motion, my year snowballed, pulling in more adventure and opportunity at every turn. New ideas, new clients, new friends, new vision.

Don't get me wrong. I have, at this point in my life and career, great boundaries, and saying "no" is a necessity when I feel as if I'm being asked to give (or give up) more than is right for me. I've still got a business to run, family duties, relationships to keep up, hobbies to pursue. The to-do list is firmly ensconced in Evernote, and my rational side is still my strongest muscle.

But I've thrived this year by exercising the yes of possibility, the kind that appears to bend away from your plans, your list, your agenda. The best decisions I made this year were those that combined mind and heart, rather than just one or the other. It's a tenet drawn from ancient philosophy, where the concept of mind/heart as one is central. Late in the year, I came across this article about one of the most popular courses at Harvard, which teaches ancient Chinese philosophy to strengthen students' openness to opportunities not on their plan:
Puett tells his students that being calculating and rationally deciding on plans is precisely the wrong way to make any sort of important life decision. The Chinese philosophers they are reading would say that this strategy makes it harder to remain open to other possibilities that don’t fit into that plan. Students who do this “are not paying enough attention to the daily things that actually invigorate and inspire them, out of which could come a really fulfilling, exciting life,” he explains. If what excites a student is not the same as what he has decided is best for him, he becomes trapped on a misguided path, slated to begin an unfulfilling career. Puett aims to open his students’ eyes to a different way to approach everything from relationships to career decisions. 
Being me, that all put me in mind of Auntie Mame's line, "Life is a banquet and most of you poor suckers are starving to death."

My gift of the year in 2013 was someone I almost didn't meet. Because both of us did something we weren't quite sure we were wise to do, it changed my life and work profoundly. I'm glad I never got to find out what the rest of 2013 would have been like without him. He gave me a word for that ideal state of seizing the day and possibility: Lebenskünstler, or the art of living--approaching life with the zest and inspiration of an artist.  I like that, and what Nelson Mandela said: "There is no passion to be found playing small, in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living."

I usually spend time at year-end assessing the year that's closing and sketching out the one about to open. For 2014, I want revolutions instead of resolutions, love instead of lists, change and chance instead of tried and true. I want to find interesting paths and hallways, and take them where they will lead. I have a book to write. I want to find cracks and crevices, nooks and crannies, gaps and great, wide open spaces I can explore. Let the year ahead be a boxful of paints and a banquet hall loaded with food and a walk on a never-ending beach, the wide horizon just ahead. Having had a taste of it in this year, I don't intend to starve in the next.

I hope you'll join me at this banquet, whether we are working together, laughing together, or exploring something new. Happy new year, indeed!

Friday, December 27, 2013

The weekend read

Freeze, right where you are: It's that crystalline moment called the weekend, the last one of 2013. Or almost so. That means it's time to check out the great reads, data and leads I found and shared on Twitter this week. This is where I curate my best finds for you, communicators. Icing your way toward the weekend and the new year in 3, 2, 1...
What a year it's been! Thanks for hanging around here this Friday and every Friday...

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The most-read DGC posts of 2013: Communications edition

Now that we've summed up the top social media stories on the blog this year, it's time to turn to the more traditional tasks of communicators. This year, presenting and speaking, pitching reporters, and putting your leaders out in front all caught the eyes of DGC readers. Here are your most-read posts on communications topics:
  1. 7 ineffective habits of scientists who communicate with public audiences was prompted by a scientist who asked, cleverly, "What should I stop doing?" Not surprisingly, I had a list.
  2. 5 big myths about introverts and public speaking shared something I've known for a long time as a speaker coach: Introverts make great speakers, but have to approach it differently.
  3. Lose that gesture: Presenters, stop pointing to your slides is among the most common and most unnecessary gestures ever invented. Help me stamp it out.
  4. Does embargoed material really boost your chance of media coverage? Retraction Watch blogger and medical journalist Ivan Oransky did us all a favor and kept track of how embargoes affected his coverage. A good post to have in your back pocket the next time this comes up in the office.
  5. Never spin a spinner: 8 ways not to pitch me details the ridiculous approaches I get from people who want me to cover something on my blogs. Kids, don't do this at home.
  6. Hidden cameras and private footage: 4 important cases to watch keeps an eye on legal and other discussions about who gets to wield cameras and what they capture. Lots of PR cautionary tales in the making here.
  7. Don't get caught by a quid pro quo approach to media relations is a reminder that the time you spend with a reporter isn't necessarily going to show up in the finished product.
  8. If you must use embargoes: 10 guidelines from Embargo Watch is a list I've long wanted Oransky, who also blogs at Embargo Watch, to put together. Here it is--study this, please.
  9. When you're coaching experts, can you get out of the way and let them be authentic? shares an experience I had coaching a TEDMED speaker--and you can watch the video to see what I'm talking about here. A plea not to sandpaper all the rough edges, please.
  10. 8 questions for the CEO who wants to be a great public spokesperson shares the thinking I put into any one-on-one coaching or media training for a CEO, university president or other leader. It's changed over the years, and includes thinking about public failure and what's not in your message, among other things.
Thanks again for reading in 2013!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The most-read DGC posts of 2013: Social media edition

Social media--and using it strategically--is a recurring theme on the blog and in 2013, you went for the posts that looked at newish social sites like Pinterest and old standards like blogging, proving that we're all on one big learning curve. Here are the social media posts you read the most on this blog this year:
  1. 12 ways I'm using Evernote now on business travel was far and away this year's most read post. Are you traveling more, or just want to organize it better?
  2. Taking a blog from zero to 60: 5 lessons from GuideStarUSA, a guest post from Lindsay Nichols, shared tactics for taking a blog from moribund to award-winning.
  3. Wring out your existing content to get dozens of blog posts looked at an assignment from a client to find as much content as possible in a single webinar that could be turned into blog posts. And boy, did I ever do that. Here's how.
  4. 17 things science writers can pin on Pinterest that are not pillows or dresses met another challenge I was given as a speaker for Science Writers in New York: Is anyone using Pinterest for science? Answer: You bet. My presentation slides and data are in this post.
  5. How do I pitch reporters on social media? was a question I got when speaking on social media trends for communicators (see below), but we ran out of time. So I put 11 options together for you here.
  6. Social media trends for communicators was a presentation I made during Social Media Week for PRSA's National Capital Chapter. I think all these trends are still in force, so go ahead: How did your social efforts measure up to this list?
  7. My go-to online toolkit shared social and other online tools I use to make my business run. 
  8. New Pinterest tools and more examples of #sciencepins shared new options from Pinterest and more examples in the wake of my SWINY talk.
  9. 5 things I love about this Visual.ly infographic and what you can learn from it shares one of the simplest infographics I've ever seen. Find out why it works so well.
  10. Strategic View: Q&A with Case Foundation communicator Allyson Burns kicked off a new interview series and shared insights from a philanthropy that chose to help other nonprofits figure out social media as part of its own social media strategy. Great lessons here.
Thanks for reading in 2013. On Thursday, we'll have the top 10 posts from the year on communications topics.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The weekend read

Park it right here. I shoveled out the space for you and have filled it with the great ideas, data and reads I found and shared on Twitter this week. Let others scramble to find parking in a snow bank. You and I can get started on being smarter before Monday, now:
I was tempted to post an infographic on what you look like to social networks. But the design was such that I'd have to write a paragraph on how to access the info in the infographic, and the days are short right now. Also, that's just not worthy of the weekend read, which is curated just for you, communicators. You should see what else I left out...

Glad you parked yourself here again this week. Have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Best. ROI. Ever: Why invest in speaker or presentation training?

Sometimes, I hear (or find out) that prospective clients are wary of investing in speaker or presentation training. That might stem from the common idea that polishing your speaking skills is a frill, window-dressing, "charm school"--we've found a lot of ways to make fun of the effort to communicate smoothly and with engaging content, haven't we? Others worry about the cost and the time involved, sounding "too slick" or just reject the notion that their presenters can be trained, pegging them as beyond hope. That's also the outlook of any executive worrying that spending professional development funds will go to waste when the trainees leave the company or organization. In all those scenarios, the return on investment seems low.

That's why I love Peter Baeklund's quote, above. If you're debating whether to invest in speaker or presentation skills-building for a lead executive or an up-and-coming team, ask yourself what will happen if you don't make that investment, and they stay with the company. Then you can envision years of bad PowerPoint presentations...talks that go on too long or don't get to the point...leaders who are never asked to keynote major professional gatherings...junior executives who can't tee up a persuasive presentation for the decision-makers...senior executives whom you are unwilling to let speak in front of the CEO.

If the investment is in your own presenting or speaking skills, cast your mind to years of never making partner because you can't express yourself...no chance of getting elected president of your professional organization...feeling tongue-tied when asked to make the case for something on the spot...continuing to feel over-stressed and under-prepared when you give a talk or speech...getting exhausted by speaking gigs because you haven't figure out how to manage your introversion as a public speaker.

What happens if you don't work on those challenges and problems? Don't find out the hard way. Invest in training or coaching for yourself or your team in 2014. Email me at eloquentwoman[at]gmail[dot]com to learn about your options.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

2014 communications conferences: Cool. Skillsy. Not the usual suspects.

Here, I'm chairing the European Speechwriter Network
conference. Max Atkinson is speaking.
"I have to recommend some conferences for myself to attend as part of my 2014 professional development," said my client recently. "Any come to mind?" When I asked for more guidance, she reeled off several subject categories in communications, then added that she was really "looking for something kind of cool so I am into it and not bored feeling like 'I have to be there'."

I look at conferences these days like theater subscriptions: There came a time, after attending a well-respected theater for 20 years, when I realized that I was able to accurately guess the director, lead actors and even the look of a production just by hearing which play they were going to produce...so I started going to jazz concerts, less predictable and more improvisational. So too it is with conferences. When I can predict who'll be on the panel or who's doing the moderating, every time, no matter how much I like the people, I start looking around for new ideas. 

Here's what I recommended to my client, expanded slightly. I hope you find a cool new communications conference to attend in my mix:
  • Blogging: BlogHer is huge, with thousands of women bloggers and bloggers on women's issues, not all of whom are women. There's overlap with every subject category here, and the networking is outstanding. Often the conference is preceded by one-day sessions on special topics like health or politics, but the joy of this conference is its focus on skills-building (camera work, understanding FCC marketing rules, writing and more). Whether you blog or want to reach out to bloggers, this is the place. BlogHer also runs several smaller, subject-specific conferences for food bloggers and other specialty areas.
  • Speechwriting: Get thee across the pond, Americans. I recommend the UK Speechwriters Guild conference (spring, this year in Oxford, UK) or European Speechwriter Network conference (fall, Brussels). Sounds like a long way to go, but the group always includes outstanding pre-conference workshops, and the overall content of the conference is at a very high level.
    Join the group for good discounts, plus the useful books and guides you get as part of your membership. (One pictured here, "Trade Secrets," is not for sale and only provided to members.) The group's active on social media and welcoming to newcomers, and the size of the conference is compact enough that you won't find it overwhelming. I've keynoted and chaired these conferences and am always focused on how to get back to them. You should be, too.
  • Reporters' conferences in your subject area: Some specialty journalism organizations like the National Association of Science Writers and the International Association of Culinary Professionals, which has a section of food journalist members, include communicators and sessions for them in their conferences. Others, like the Association of Healthcare Journalists don't admit PR types as members and charge them more for attending their conferences. Either way, find the specialty group of journalists who cover your subject area and find out whether you can attend, observe and chat up reporters in an atmosphere more relaxed than the everyday attempts you make to bombard them with info. Just behave yourself.
  • Specialty communicators groups: You'll find these just under the radar in your profession. One I'm fond of that is both longstanding and well-run is the Public Affairs and Marketing Network (PAN) of cancer centers funded by the National Cancer Institute, which holds its conference jointly with another group of cancer center fundraisers. I'm doing a pre-conference session version of my popular Be an Expert on Working with Experts workshop at the 2014 PAN conference. The Communications Network, for communicators working in philanthropy and the nonprofit sector, is another good example of the specialized communicator's conference; it's meeting in Philadelphia in 2014. With any specialty group, of course, make sure you qualify to attend.
  • Negotiation: Good communications pros are negotiating every day, with employees, management, clients, reporters. I have found the training offerings of the Harvard Program on Negotiation helpful for a variety of management situations, from dealing with vendors to negotiating with employees or boards, to managing difficult conversations. All these sessions are run by negotiation lawyers, some with the authors of Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. A huge value with excellent hands-on practice and thoroughgoing takeaway materials.
Got a go-to conference for communicators that's cool and unusual? Share it in the comments.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The weekend read

Friday the 13th has always been a lucky day for me. No ducking out of the paths of black cats or avoiding ladders here. And you're lucky enough to have my curated list of great finds and leads I shared on Twitter this week. Will you find something to make you smarter by Monday? Fingers crossed....
I count myself lucky that you show up here every Friday, 13th or not. Have a wonderful weekend and thanks for reading!

(Photo from Clio20's photostream on Flickr)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Persisting with a blog, part II: Payoffs that help you persist

In The payoffs for persisting with a blog, part I, I detailed some of the benefits I get for my business--real returns on the investment--from maintaining two blogs. Today, I want to consider another set of payoffs, those that help me generate the content that powers my blogging. Many of these have come only with time, so persisting with my blogs has helped them happen, and they return the favor. This time, I'll focus on examples from my blog on women and public speaking, The Eloquent Woman:
  1. A particular focus: Sometimes, success in blogging has as much to do with what you leave out as what you put in. When you start a blog, you'll hear inner and outer voices asking why you don't cover a wider swath of subject matter, and there may be a sinking sense that you'll run out of material. Don't listen. Instead, focus on a narrow path and cover it like a blanket. Because The Eloquent Woman has a special focus on women and public speaking, I can choose to ignore some public speaking topics or speeches that everyone else is covering, in favor of the particular theme I want to explore. I tested both readership for this topic as well as its long legs by piloting what would become The Eloquent Woman on this very blog first, then spinning it off as its own entity. The blog's focus is a huge creative payoff, one that keeps giving me inspiration.
  2. Scarcity: One of the qualities of that particular focus, if you really want to succeed, lies in the scarcity of your topic. When I started blogging on women and public speaking, it was tough to find other blogs covering the topic, even occasionally. 
  3. Audience: One thing that isn't scarce is my audience. I was coaching women who told me of issues with public speaking I'd never heard from men, and that got me exploring. Sure enough, there were more like them. Not only is focusing on women a smart tactic, but plenty of men read the blog alongside them, a win-win for everyone.
  4. My questions to readers: One way I use my social channels on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest and Twitter is to ask questions of readers of The Eloquent Woman. I ask for tips, ideas, leads, issues they are facing and more. If enough readers respond (about which more below), I've got an almost-instant blog post. Readers love reading advice from other readers.
  5. Reader questions to me: Readers also love reading questions from other readers, along with my answers. I know that any time a reader asks a question, there are hundreds more like her who want to know the same answer. Now, instead of responding directly to a reader, I'll put the answer in a blog post most of the time, so all may benefit. This is not just a boon to the blogger and the reader, but it's smart search-engine optimization, particularly when your post title is framed as the actual reader's question--since that's the type of phrase others enter when doing searches.
  6. Reader finds: Periodically, I post information--on social channels or on the blog itself--about what I'm looking for, or simply letting readers know I want their suggestions. It never fails to generate sources for posts. I get articles, pointers to famous speeches and sometimes, extras like translations of a speech or perspective on an event. This is my favorite kind of reader engagement, and a goldmine for keeping the blog going.
  7. A cultivated network of colleagues: Every specialty blogger eventually gets followed by competitors and colleagues doing the same work. How and whether you do anything with those specialized followers can make a difference in helping your blog to persist. Through The Eloquent Woman, I've come to know speaker coaches and speechwriters on every continent but the poles, and have met many of them in person, a process eased by our social media conversations in advance. Many of them have contributed guest posts, asked questions, shared pointers and ideas, and compared notes with me, a process that also fuels my creativity. And they're generous sharers of and commenters on my work. Let's call them uber-readers.
  8. Some automated solutions and string-saving notebooks: I've written before about how bloggers can play with IFTTT, Evernote and other tools to build a content stash. My rule of thumb is relying on services like IFTTT and Evernote, which both are compatible with scores of other applications, making string-collecting easy. If you see it on the blogs, the likelihood is high that it came out of my notebook stash.
You'll notice this list doesn't rely a lot on reader comments. Someone asked me recently whether it bothers me when I post a question and no one responds, which is often the case. What I've found is that my readers like to "comment" directly to me, in DMs, emails and other forums, so I make sure my ear is to the ground where they are. In that scenario, questions I pose to readers in a post are designed to prompt their thinking, and to let them know I'm open to hearing from them--I don't care where they respond. Not obsessing about a metric like number of comments makes sense when you consider that my readers are sending me speeches, offering ideas, translating speeches, writing guest posts, sharing posts and giving the blog shout-outs on social media. That's what I call engagement.

Friday, December 06, 2013

The weekend read

Was this a museum-quality week, one that deserves to be treated with kid gloves and low humidity, special lighting and high-priced tickets? If not, don't worry: You can still have something to show for it if you take a guided tour of my best finds on Twitter this week. These leads, reads and data are worth preserving, so you can get smarter by Monday:

Glad you come back to my curated collection here every Friday...thanks for reading!

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Gifts for communicators: Cameras I have my eye on

Visual trends are still the strongest of all social media trends, so if you're looking to reward a communicator in your life or your communications team, I'd be looking at video cameras if I were you--with these specialty cameras front and center on your list:
  1. The hot camera of the moment is the tiny GoPro HERO3, small enough to tackle live-action sports footage if worn by the athlete. You can mount it on the collar of a dog, put it on a car or boat, or just use it as a packable, lightweight option for capturing video. There's even a waterproof "surf" version. 
  2. For a still-and-video combo, try the Nikon COOLPIX L820, which has a 30x zoom lens and 1080p HD video capability. It's got enhanced performance sensors for low-light conditions.
  3. For a camera anyone can use, I employ the Sony Bloggie Touch, which has both a one-button option for recording as well as more sophisticated editing and sharing capabilities. This one is a workhorse in my training workshops, where participants record one another as they try out their messages. The USB connection lets us load and watch the videos on any laptop, right on the spot.
  4. The comprehensive kit in the Zoom Q2-HD Handy Video Recorder with Accessory Pack, which comes loaded with a 16G SD card, a speaker bag for monitoring recordings, and more. Zoom's audio quality is outstanding, so if you're looking for video recording with great sound, this is your kit.
  5. For time-lapse camera work, the Brinno TLC200 Pro HDR Time Lapse Video Camera can generate 720p time-lapse images under all lighting conditions, and creates the file in the camera so there's no need for post-processing.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Word nerds: Kickstart @SchwaFire, a new trove for wordsmiths

If you work with words and like reading about them, it's time to get in on the ground floor Kickstarter campaign of Schwa Fire, a digital publication that's all about language. It's the brainchild of writer Michael Erard, author of two great books about language: Um. . .: Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean and Babel No More: The Search for the World's Most Extraordinary Language Learners. I'll let him explain, from his Kickstarter page:
Schwa Fire is a digital publication that will marry language geekery with long-form journalism.  I’ve been saying that Schwa Fire is going to be like This American Life, but for language. We'll pull out the language aspect of the human story, and pull out the human part of language. Stories will be relevant to the times and accountable to the facts, and you won't have to become a linguist to understand them. We don't profess; we inquire. We'll commission pieces from people who know both story-telling and language because they've been involved in both for years. This expertise will allow them to dive into the language-related implications of a story while keeping readers asking "What happened next?" 
Perks for backers include such things as serving as an editorial adviser, so it's a great opportunity for all the wordsmiths among my clients and readers. Erard has added some stretch goals for the publication, including translation of some of the stories into other languages, so the goal is now 130 percent of the original.

I've quoted and interviewed Erard for The Eloquent Woman, my blog on women and public speaking, and for the cover story I wrote in this issue of Toastmaster magazine on technology's impact on public speaking. He's a smart, creative thinker about language who has written for the New York Times, Science, Wired, New Scientist and Slate, among others. Let's help him build this new lens on language with help from fellow wordsmiths, shall we?