Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Go to the edges: Working your niche in social media

Many organizations and companies tell me they're avoiding social media because their mission or product isn't broad enough. "We occupy a particular niche" is often how they put it, suggesting that their highly specialized work lacks wide appeal and has too many tripwires and limitations to let them play in the social sandbox.

My usual answer to these objections is "So what?" Far from needing to be Facebook-with-a-billion users, it's the niche players who are living in the future of social media and communications.

Seth Godin touched on this in a recent interview that adds perspective for those of you working to communicate a niche business, committee, pursuit, product or tool, and it isn't about becoming "a household word:"
...what this age we're living in is doing, is it's dividing the mass market, which is basically dead now, into hundreds or thousands of micro-markets — little markets of interest. So you can't make a substantial impact on everyone anymore. It's almost impossible....But what you can do is go to the edges, and go to the few people who care deeply and make a big impact there.
I love that: Go to the edges. We're always talking about angles, but that's what an edge forces you into, so embrace it. Social media platforms can be anything you want them to be, broad or narrow. Their easy availability has meant that many niche businesses and organizations are engaging their existing followers and broadening their base...but only where it makes sense. What's your edge? What's your angle: Consider:

Do you have a niche blog, Twitter feed or Facebook page? 

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How do I pitch reporters on social media? Questions we missed at #PRSANCC

One question we didn't get to last week at the PRSA-National Capital Chapter panel on social media trends was about how to pitch reporters on social media.

And if we'd had enough time--always a challenge at these broadly themed events--I'd have said "If you must, proceed with caution. Do it with the lightest of touches." But in fact, it's more complicated than that. I've pitched and am pitched, and I listen to a lot of reporters do something that rhymes with "pitch," about pitching. Here's the yield of my experiences on all sides of the fence around this ballpark:
  1. Sit in the bleachers before you suit up. Start by watching and listening, rather than pitching or broadcasting. One boon for PR pros is the ability to read and learn about what reporters want via their social feeds. The reporters I follow share awful pitches on social networks, and put their preferences in their bios (mostly they say "Don't pitch me here"). You can watch what they're watching, reading and discussing--and learn before you approach. Learn how reporters are using social media for reporting, via sites like 10,000 Words and Nieman Lab, and read Ivan Oransky's Embargo Watch to see stupid pet tricks involving embargoes, like breaking your own embargo with a tweet. Use social networking tools like Twitter SMS notifications to get a text when reporters you follow have tweeted, or follow RSS feeds from Facebook pages so you can see and understand their interests. 
  2. Figure out what's missing from the lineup. Pay attention to what they don't cover. I blog about women and public speaking, not about moms, makeup or all women's issues. A health reporter might write about research news, but never cover a hospital opening. A political reporter may be on the campaign beat, but won't cover legislation. The dogged investigative reporter who outs health code violations is probably not doing a review of that restaurant. Sometimes you'll be able to see a reporter's post explaining what he doesn't cover, but just as in traditional media, it's reading his work that will let you know the difference before you plunge in.
  3. Maybe they're sitting in the nosebleed section. Get a feel for which networks matter to which news outlets. My guess is that you'll find more reporters on Twitter, known as the place where news is breaking these days, but many reporters don't like being pitched there. Just like you, many use Facebook for personal friends rather than work. But some news outlets like NPR use their Facebook pages to elicit comments, ideas and sources, and other reporters prefer contacts on LinkedIn--both examples that arose in this Social Media Week DC panel of journalists speaking on what they do and don't want from you pitch-wise on social networking sites. (Listening in via hashtags to live-tweets from journalism panels and conference is an easy way to learn what reporters want on social media.)
  4. Beer here. Make information available, early and often. Build a good base for social pitches by using social networking sites to provide reporters easy access to your news. If you've got a specific Twitter feed for news, make sure to note that more than once, and keep it active: Here, the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew releases photos in advance of a major orchid show. If you choose to blog your news rather than pushing releases, a growing trend that lets reporters choose the RSS feeds they wish to follow, you can generate coverage, and save time and effort. If you've given up peddling releases via email, use social feeds to let reporters know that you've stopped clogging email inboxes. Trust me, you'll get a lot of love and respect this way.
  5. Bunt instead of blunt. Tip more, pitch less, to reach reporters. Give away something that has nothing in it for you, but is actually of aid to the reporter you're cultivating, before you start flinging those fastballs. What to share? News about Twitter (we can't get enough of that). Journalism resources, like Steve Buttry's tutorials on Twitter for journalists. Heads-up posts about unusual timing, a source who's coming to town, a report you're reading, a session you're attending, a link they may not have seen. If you can answer a reporter's question that has nothing to do with your organization, or point them to an interesting controversy on their beat, so much the better.
  6. Don't hit them with the bat. A lot of PR pros sound pretty desperate on social media, which sometimes leads to overkill in the pitch department. "You are here to cover my topic," one pitcher said in a direct message to me. "You must retweet because I asked you to." Not so much, actually. Don't treat Twitter or Facebook like email, sending the same thing to many reporters at the same time. Overusing direct messages also can backfire, so take your cue from the reporter in question. Social media's overloaded with marketers who don't get traditional media relations and use a heavy hand, so you can stand out as more trustworthy if you use a deft hand with social media.
  7. Use your own binoculars. Yes, it's more work to find your reporters directly on social media, but it's probably more accurate and up-to-date. Read this ridiculous story about a Bulldog Reporter list of mommy bloggers that included their home addresses, at least one dead blogger, and other errors and privacy violations. It's no surprise to me that many of these bloggers took to Twitter to out this egregious approach. Be wary of social directories of reporters, which, by definition, are not opt-in and permission-based. Start treating reporters and bloggers the way you would any "customer."
  8. Don't let your friends in under the fence. Beware eager fellow pitchers who want to friend you so they can spam reporters who are your friends. From time to time, a non-reporter friend connects with me and starts spamming the reporters in my circle--usually a prompt for me to un-friend. Yes, I see you doing that, and you wonder why reporters aren't responsive? Me, either. 
  9. That loudspeaker is on, you know. I see PR types who complain on Twitter about the reporters covering them--the same ones they are pitching--and those who pitch "exclusives" in tweets or comments that anyone can see. It's easy to mistake the false intimacy of social back-and-forth for behind-closed-doors conversation, but in fact, we can see all that going on. Check out my post Block and Twitter: E-tactics that don't work in media relations. As just one example, those direct messages may not be entirely confidential--and they can be discovered through subpoena or Freedom of Information Act requests. Jobs have been lost over things like this.
  10. Pass the peanuts. It's a great idea to share reporters' posts on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. There's no quid pro quo for doing this, but if you are becoming a visible source of great info on your topic, you'll find yourself sharing smart coverage of the issues you watch, and that'll include, one presumes, posts by the reporters with whom you want to start a relationship. It's a small and indirect thing that many communicators miss in their one-sided pursuit of coverage. Share and share alike.
  11. I can't listen to your game on TV, radio and the Internet at the same time. If you want to use social media to pitch, please don't pitch the same story to the same reporter on email, voicemail, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Pick a channel and stop using the others. This saves you time and builds sanity in the press corps, and who can't get behind that?
Don't just take it from me. Media relations is changing, and so are notable practitioners. Journalistics, a great blog about PR and journalism, today chimes in with similar ideas about inbound media relations--creating and blogging your own stories and using social networks to make them available, then generating coverage--and using social media to "newsjack," or horn in on breaking coverage.  

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Friday, February 22, 2013

The weekend read

I cannot tell a lie: I'm glad it's the weekend. That's partly because I can share the great ideas, data and leads I found and shared on Twitter this week. Let's chop down the week just past and let the chips fall where they may:
Where to catch me next: On March 6, I'm speaking in New York City on Pinterest for communicating science, at a joint meeting of the Science Writers in New York and the American Society of Journalists and Authors. It's free to members of those groups, or $10 for non-members. Pinterest was just valued at $2.5 billion, and occupies nearly as large a proportion of social users as Twitter, so yes, it's worth taking seriously. I think you'll be surprised by the examples we'll be sharing. Register here. I'd love to see some weekend readers in the audience.

Future president--or just your next job? RESULTS Educational Fund is looking for a communications officer...Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is hiring a senior science writer....the American Trucking Associations wants a manager, communications and multimedia...the Saginaw Community Foundation needs a marketing and communications officer...the UK's Society for Applied Microbiology seeks a communications manager for a 12-month period.

Can't lie about this, either: I'm glad you're ending the week right here. Have a restful, fun weekend!

*Disclaimer: Please note that I didn't say millions of what, but apparently there are, at a minimum, millions of nice adjectives for this fantastic person.

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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Will you leave communications training money on the table this year?

Will you leave your professional development training money on the table by not spending it in time this year? Gosh, I hope not. But at the end of every fiscal year--whether that just happened for you in December, or will come up in the summer--I have clients who call and say, "Quick! We need to spend our training budget. Can you hurry up and...."  I'm always happy to help, but you and your team members will get much more from training that's part of a larger plan and tied to your goals.

Right now, early in the year, it's a great time to plan how you want to spend that training budget, and build into your calendar the opportunities to do so. Without a plan for training, you might as well take the money and leave it on the sidewalk or in the back seat of a cab.

If your answer is "Training money? What training money?" remember, it's still important to have a plan ready. If training was cut from your budget, but you're not ready to say why it should be restored, or how you'd spend it if it were brought back, you might wind up missing a major opportunity. Use those unfunded months to stay on top of what you and your team need to learn, so you're ready when that door opens again.

You also may be surprised at the value you can get in one-on-one coaching or a training tailored directly to your team's needs. Rather than sign up for a cookie-cutter offering that doesn't quite meet your situation, try a more customized training. I'd love to work with you to come up with something that fits into your plans and helps your team achieve its goals in 2013, no matter when your fiscal year ends. Email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz to set up time for a consultation. Here are some examples of the training work I do for my communications clients:
  • Social media content development training on things like how to launch, plan for or mature a blogs; develop an editorial calendar for your social posts and learn ways to easily come up with content ideas; developing a strategic Twitter feed and how to manage it effectively; or any other social network you prefer;
  • Retreats for communications teams, to help a new team or new leader come together as a group, to re-orient the group's approach to changes in communications or staffing, or to assess the year just past and the year ahead. Some teams use such a retreat to gain a joint understanding of and approach to social media or media relations;
  • Coaching for communications directors or managers to work on their professional development goals, build teamwork, and help their operation shift from traditional to social media, or a mix of both, effectively;
  • Workshops to train scientists and engineers to translate technical topics into clear, concise messages for public audiences without "dumbing down" the content or losing needed detail, for experts based at universities, government agencies and corporations. For the communicators who work with experts, I offer a targeted workshop on how to work better with your experts;
  • Pitching workshops for media relations teams to practice skills needed to reach reporters effectively, with data on what reporters expect and want from those exchanges and how to add value to them;
  • Extemporaneous speaking workshops to help executives learn how to present without a script or notes, develop memorable messages, handle audience questions on their feet, and incorporate gesture, movement, visuals and props effectively into a presentation or speech. In some cases, I do workshops to help an entire team up its presentation game and update its skills in this area; and
  • One-on-one coaching for public speakers to address issues better suited to private training or to focus intensely on improving a specific presentation or talk. I've helped people make it to partner in their firms, give their first big talk at all or a bigger TED talk, or just learn how to handle a board meeting, committee presentation or panel moderation better.
Learn more about my retreats for communicatorstraining for communicators, or training for your experts, executives and scientists. How can I help you advance your skills in 2013?

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Social media trends for communicators: My PRSA-NCC Social Media Week talk

From HBR's How People Really Use Mobile
This morning, I'm on a Social Media Week panel on social media communications trends for communicators at PRSA's National Capital Chapter here in Washington, DC. Since this overflow crowd is likely to include everything from newbies to seasoned social strategists, we'll be starting with questions from the audience. Even so, I have a few solid trends to share here, with links so you can share in the insights and use them later. My take on 2013's social trends for communicators looks like this:
  1. Visual: It always was the strongest trend in social media and that only gets bigger in 2013. Most of our online content is visual in some way, whether it's video on YouTube, Twitter's short Vine videos or Facebook; video chat with groups on Google+ Hangouts; or photographs on Pinterest, Instagram or SnapChat. The trend expands with infographics, charts, and slides online. Even quotes are getting graphic treatment, and we spend so much time on YouTube that it's the second-biggest search engine after sister site Google. The appeal of visual hit home last year with the rise of Pinterest, which was valued most recently at $2.5 billion and became the fastest-growing social network, rising to third behind Twitter and Facebook. The proportion of social users on Pinterest comes very close to that of Twitter, so don't write it off just yet, even if you're not yet sure how to use it. 
  2. Mobile: If you've got a 4G smartphone, you're among those with expanded chances to watch video on the fly, a big reason for the continued strength of visual and video platforms. But don't let the bells and whistles distract you. This Harvard Business Review gets at how we're using mobile, and that's where communicators should put their focus in 2013. Notice this in the chart at right: 46 percent of our interactions were dubbed "me time," pure entertainment, relaxation, or fun. Next comes social, then shopping, and only then productivity. Keep that in mind when you're reaching out to mobile audiences. Also worth recalling: For some demographics, a mobile device is the primary computer; households without a desktop may have even more power and capability in the residents' pockets.
  3. Personable: That fun thing? It's a strong reason why you should go get a personality for your social media presence, if you don't have one already. If we like you and feel like we know you, we'll trust you and check in more frequently. Be like General Electric, which is styling Thomas Edison into a geeky Ryan Gosling in its "Hey Girl" board, or NPR's radio valentines, both playful examples from Pinterest. Your personable approach doesn't need to be funny, but it does need to get real and connect with readers in a relaxed, informal and informed way.
  4. Focused: Even thought leader Chris Brogan's said it out loud: We're tired of social media for social media's sake. Seth Godin says you should forget mass markets and work the edges, the niches, the small, focused spaces. And you're not helping your brand or cause if your presence on social networks is lagging or outright abandoned. So make 2013 the year you focus. I'd rather see you use one network well and thoroughly, where your audience is already active, than see you scattershot and ineffective. One way to work smarter but not harder is to find social tools that multitask: SlideShare cooperates well with your blog, Facebook and Pinterest, and is itself a great traffic driver. Pinterest lets you post photos, video, slides and text, and you can link to anything with an image, including sale items. And IFTTT (short for If This Then That) is a Swiss Army knife that helps you automate posting, filing and alerts.
  5. Integrated: From an operational standpoint, the biggest roadblock I see to social media as an effective communications tool is still the tendency to see it as something you add on to your to-do list, rather than a tool that integrates with and changes your communications efforts. So in 2013, consider using blog posts in lieu of press releases--what I call the press release diet--both to save time and effort and get better results from reporters and search engines. You can see all my press release diet posts here, with data, case studies and how-to information to get you started. Use private social options, from private Facebook groups to private Pinterest boards or private Evernote notebooks to preview materials for reporters in advance of release. Let your board, donors, advisers or customers take over a Twitter feed or Facebook page or video channel in a mashup of insider perspective, volunteer energy, consumer feedback and public outreach. Use a tool like Sparkwi.se to collect data and qualitative progress on a dashboard that can replace your brochures, annual reports or whitepapers. Find some clever ideas for using Pinterest for a word-of-mouth campaign, pledge drive, "traveling" museum exhibit, blog promotion and more.
I work with government agencies, companies, nonprofits and universities to create social media strategies and pilot projects in social media that meet their communications needs and fit into their workflow. I've helped groups get oriented to social media, and facilitate planning retreats where your entire team can work on strategy, get some training, and come up with ideas that fit your goals. Can I help you take advantage of these social trends in 2013? Email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz. And if you're looking to refresh or mature your blog, go here to sign up for the waiting list for a forthcoming workshop, Refreshing Your Blog, coming up this spring.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

7 ineffective habits of scientists who communicate with public audiences


I wasn't surprised when one scientist decided to pick my brain about his own presentations this weekend, while we were both at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston--that happens a lot when you tell people you're a speaker coach who does a lot of work with scientists. But I was surprised by his question. "I've heard a lot about what I should do," he said. "But what should I stop doing?" he wanted to know. He didn't need to ask me twice: I recognized the rare chance to help a self-aware speaker. I gave him my take on the 7 ineffective habits scientists fall into when presenting to non-scientists, all tactics I hope you'll choose to lose:


  1. Reverting to the default communications style you use with other scientists: While this is the scientist's verbal wheelhouse, it just doesn't work with public or non-technical audiences, which prefer and expect a communications model almost the reverse of what scientists are taught, as shown in the chart above. Flip your familiar model to start, rather than end, with the results, and you'll have our attention faster. And if you're addressing a "mixed" audience with some scientists and some non-scientists, play to the non-technical side of the house.
  2. Assuming your audience needs and wants to be taught: Some researchers at the AAAS meeting stopped bemoaning the public understanding of science to look at whether scientists understand the public. By comparing how scientists view their public audiences with data on what's behind the public view of science, the researchers concluded that "the dominant approach to science communication risks further alienating scientists from the public by placing scientists in the role of teachers." In my experience, non-technical audiences can handle plenty of complexity, so there's no need to "dumb down" your content, nor to lecture. Scientific societies and others in the field have moved from seeking public understanding or appreciation from audiences to public engagement, a process in which the non-scientists also get to speak and share. So leave out the lecture and let them contribute. 
  3. Failing to answer the "so what?" question: That chart, above, includes a key moment for your non-technical audience: The "so what?" question. If you can't tell me why this matters to me, or to people to whom I can relate, you'll lose the chance to connect and really make your points. This is far more important than making sure you have covered everything you know, because it keeps your audience's needs front and center. (At one private foundation, the "so what?" question routinely followed your hour-long presentation. Those who could answer got funded, those who couldn't, didn't.) Without an audience that's willing to listen, you're not communicating--it is a two-way process, after all. What's more, the "so what?" question is a useful tool to help you cut to the chase, getting to your point quickly and briefly. 
  4. Hiding behind the lectern, PowerPoint and your pointer: TED and TEDMED talks have hundreds of examples of scientists who can put across highly complex ideas briefly, flying without slides and without a remote, pointer or lectern in sight, all at the urging of the conference organizers, who give their speakers the TED Commandments and the TEDMED Hippocratic Oath as guidance. As a result, TED and TEDMED scientist speakers do a better job connecting with the audience and are able to get us to think. Telling personal stories is one tactic for being able to speak without notes and slides, and tomorrow in New York City, Spot On has a program on the power of personal stories in science to get you started.
  5. Using your slide deck as an educational takeaway tool: Scientists are taught to show their work, but these days, that seems to happen most often in the gift of a gigantic slide deck, left as a "handout" or takeaway to further enlighten the audience. Before you shove slides into an email attachment, you might want to read these data on whether anyone will read that slide deck: Decks with 20 or fewer slides are read by just 40 percent of the recipients, and the proportion of your audience that will read those slides drops precipitously the more slides you include. So do the seconds they spend per slide.
  6. Wasting our attention at beginning or end with a long list of credits: Your audience attention is highest at the start and the end of your presentation--but many scientists throw it away when they insist on showing or reading a long list of acknowledgements for all the graduate students who worked on a project and the funders who supported it. This happens in media interviews, too, and not to your advantage. I'm not the only observer who thinks you should omit these credit lists, but I will give you alternatives: Mention those graduate students in the context of telling the story of your research, at the points where their help was significant, and tell us what the funding allowed you to do that would not otherwise be possible. Create a team presentation that includes some of those worker-bees, or let them do the talk or interview entirely, a great way to underscore how science is done. Save the start and finish of your presentation for the results (at the start) and the takeaway (at the end).
  7. Reacting, rather than responding, to questions: There's no question science is under attack in many quarters, and scientists do take it personally. But when a provocative question prompts you to react, rather than respond, you lose the argument--and lose the chance to add perspective to the debate. Cultivating the ability to give a non-anxious, non-reactive answer to a wildly provocative question does take practice, a sense of humor, and some distance, but it can be done, as in this great example from Neil Tyson on Real Time with Bill Maher. What does he leave out? Shock, disbelief, and trying to argue an inarguable viewpoint, all in favor of sharing a simple fact as a counter:


It's always fun for me to attend the AAAS meeting, having served as its director of communications and as a consultant and trainer as well. I've trained and coached scientists in all disciplines in effective public communications, presentation and public speaking skills for a wide variety of research organizations, from universities and scientific societies to government agencies and research fellowship programs and the TEDMED conference. My own background in working with thousands of scientists gives me a unique approach to their communications training. Can I customize a training session for scientists at your institution or coach you as an individual? Email me at eloquentwoman[at]gmail[dot]com.

(Photo via George Takei)

I'm offering a new workshop on women and public speaking. Be The Eloquent Woman will take place in Washington, DC, on Feb. 28, and in Oxford, UK, on April 2, 2014. The day-long workshop will help you build confidence and competence as a speaker, and help you subvert the expectations that many women face when they speak. Please join me for these unique professional development sessions!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Training watch: Professional development opps for communicators--with me

I've got a busy speaking schedule this year, and it's a delight that so many of my gigs are at outstanding professional development conferences or sessions for communicators--the kind where the organizers put us speakers through our paces to ensure that you get the most value and the best insights. While some of these sessions are limited to members, many offer a range of registration options at great prices. Here's where to catch me and learn a few things at the same time:
  • On February 20, I'll be on a panel on social trends for communicators in 2013, organized the the National Capital Chapter of PRSA here in Washington, DC, during Social Media Week. This session is already at a record registration, so sign up soon.
  • On March 6, I'm in New York City speaking on innovative uses of Pinterest to communicate science, with examples for journalists, bloggers, job-hunters, science museums, science career promoters, writers promoting books, science outreach organizations, scientific journals and more. The session is presented by Science Writers in New York and takes place at the American Society of Journalists and Authors, and is free to members of either group. This session also will be webcast, and  I'll be posting slides to SlideShare, too, so you can have all the links and ideas.
  • On April 25 in Denver, I'm speaking to the National Cancer Institute Public Affairs and Marketing Network of communicators for cancer centers around the U.S. on 10 things communicators don't know about experts (and vice versa). I usually summarize my PAN talks in a blog post, so stay tuned for the resources we discuss.
  • On May 16, I'll be in London to keynote the spring conference of the UK Speechwriters' Guild and the European Speechwriting Network, and I hope all my UK and European readers will flock to this conference, which is bookended with workshops and skills-building. It's a real thrill to be able to meet with so many of my readers and colleagues across the pond at this special conference.
All of these are great groups to join, if you qualify, and many offer student or retiree or nonmember prices so you can sample what we're offering--and they are excellent networks, I can attest. I know I can expect thoughtful questions from attendees at all of these meetings.

Also in May or June, I plan to convene another session of my popular workshop, Be an Expert on Working with Experts. Sign up here for the waiting list for information about this session--just enter your email, hit "go," and make sure you tick the box for this workshop's list.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Great ways to use Pinterest: 11 examples from the DGC board

One of the first things I did on Pinterest was to set up a board of Great ways to use Pinterest. It's where I collect tips on how to use the site, along with repins of real examples of how organizations, companies, professional groups, retailers and others are using it for business reasons.

Why do they use Pinterest? If they're like me, these businesses find it a great way to drive web traffic, boost engagement with customers and improve their search results. Here are some favorite business-related pins I've come across. Shockingly, they include no decorating, clothing or craft examples:
Looking for more ideas on how to put Pinterest to use? Check out one of my most-read-ever posts, 17 things you can pin on Pinterest that are not pillows or dresses, or email me to help you put a Pinterest strategy together, at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

And if you're in New York, I'll be speaking to the Science Writers in New York on March 6 about using Pinterest for writers and communicators of science. We'll be looking at uses for journalists, bloggers, job-hunters, science museums, science career promoters, writers promoting books, science outreach organizations, scientific journals and more.  The session takes place at the American Society of Journalists and Authors, and is free if you're a member of either ASJA or SWINY. See details and register here.

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Friday, February 08, 2013

The weekend read

Whoa. It's the weekend. Pull up here for a bit, and stop racing around the track that's your workweek, so you can sample the good finds, reads and leads I was tracking and sharing for you on Twitter this week. They're all winners:
Saddle up for these jobs: The Women's Media Center seeks a programs director...Planned Parenthood Federation of America needs a national health media director in New York City...the National Electrical Manufacturers Association wants a director of communications and marketing...the Nature Conservancy is looking for a global director of public relations...Bloomberg Government needs a director of communications. And the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's advertising a marketing development and social media outreach "internship" for its WaterSense program--really a postgraduate paid full-time one-year post that can be renewed for more time.

As always, I'm so glad you decided to take this ride with me. Enjoy your weekend!

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Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Reads & references for speechwriters: 13 unusual suspects

After writing my share of speeches and coaching thousands of speakers here in Washington, DC, and around the U.S., my preference is for speechwriting books with more specific angles on the craft.  That saves time and adds focus and perspective--and that's half the battle. Try these unusual suspects for your own reference shelf:
  1. Neverisms: A Quotation Lover's Guide to Things You Should Never Do, Never Say, or Never Forget is the book you want when your speaker is handing out warnings, admonitions and cautionary tales--or countering the advice of yore. Naysayers, look no further. I'd put this to good use for op-ed writing as well as speeches and debate notes.
  2. The Metaphors Dictionary has 6,500 comparative phrases--including hundreds from Shakespeare--arranged in dictionary fashion to make them easier to find and use. From crisp to colorful, this book is a great prompt when you run short of metaphoric magic.
  3. Um. . .: Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean is Michael Erard's smart and rollicking look at the very thing your speechwriting can't completely conquer, in part because ums and uhs are normal in every language. But you'll learn when we first began to note them (hint: recorded sound) and why people keep trying to eradicate them, among many other things. You'll also learn much about how your speakers produce speech in the first place.
  4. Geary's Guide to the World's Great Aphorists pulls these pithy and circular quotations ("A woman is like a tea bag. You don't know what she can do until she's in hot water.") into searchable form. You'll love browsing this well-organized and inspiring book.
  5. I Is an Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How It Shapes the Way We See the World, also by James Geary, dives deep into why and how we use metaphor in speeches and everyday life, from the neuroscience of how metaphors work in the brain to what life would be like without them. You could do well in speechwriting with just these two Geary tomes on your shelf.
  6. The Gigantic Book of Baseball Quotations can propel a speech around the bases or hit a home run. Sports metaphors are wonderful when you're sliding home to convey movement or action, when you're describing steps (or strikes) in a process, and when you want to snatch victory from, well, you know. For a great example, watch reporter Ivan Oransky, baseball in hand, deftly toss around game metaphors in his TEDMED talk on "Are we over-medicalized?"
  7. The Story Biz Handbook: How to Manage Your Storytelling Career from the Desk to the Stage is a twofer, both a how-to on storytelling and a career guide for those of you devoted to the craft. Perhaps you'll find new career options for those speechwriting skills here?
  8. The Biteback Dictionary of Humorous Political Quotations, forthcoming in March, is the first in a series of dictionaries of humorous quotes, this one with gaffes and intentional humor from politicians around the world. 
  9. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking gets at what makes introverts tick, and has public speaking as a central theme, as that is author Susan Cain's own challenge as an introvert. She went on to give the most-viewed TED talk of 2012--an online audience of 3.6 million and counting. That makes her a good model for any introverts for whom you are writing speeches, and you can glean much about their habits and public speaking preferences from the book. 
  10. The Forbes Book of Business Quotations: 10,000 Thoughts on the Business of Life is a time-saver for the corporate speechwriter who doesn't want to wade through the words of poets and politicians. It's all business, all the time--no need to wade through Greek philosophers and poets when what you need is bottom-line thinking.
  11. Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, 19th Edition, has just been updated and is "unlike any other reference book that exists, anywhere." If that junior speechwriter (or your forgetful self) doesn't know where "caught red-handed" or other colorful phrases and stories originated, this is the place to find out. I wouldn't write without it handy.
  12. Outspoken!: How to Improve Writing and Speaking Skills Through Poetry Peformance lets you capitalize on spoken-word poetry tactics to boost both speechwriting and speaking skills. Poetry adds drama and cadence to speeches, and this helps you suggest new uses for it as well as delivery tactics.
  13. The Quotable Woman: The First 5,000 Years is a no-excuses guarantee that you'll be able to correct the gender balance in your speeches, making sure you have plenty of women's words to choose from.
Speechwriters looking for more inspiration can always check out my other blog, The Eloquent Woman, with a focus on women and public speaking and resources that include an index with 100-plus famous speeches by women, tips, ideas and inspiration. And check out my post on 8 must-read books for communicators, recently featured on Ragan.com.