Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Do you need a communications hackathon?

You've had retreats for your communications team, or team-wide training days--I know, I've facilitated them. But when was the last time you let your team create new things?

That's a hackathon in the high-tech world, and you can grab a good description of it in this interview with John Oringer, chief executive of Shutterstock:
We have hackathons, which are pretty fun. A lot of people get really excited about them, and they can build whatever they want for the company — it could be crazy, practical, whatever. We actually wind up implementing a lot of those things throughout the year. It pushes a lot of thinking. It’s pretty amazing what people can get done in 24 hours. Sometimes we talk about a new product feature and it can take three months to build. Then someone will prototype it overnight....Sometimes as a company you tend to overthink things. If you just sit down and try to do it, it turns out to maybe be easier than setting up meeting after meeting to get it done. So it’s a good reset point for us every year to remind us, “Yeah, we can just get things done quickly.”
There's your recipe: Keep it short, and wide open. Implement what's created, even if only as a pilot project. Encourage creative solutions to problems your team faces. That might mean rethinking whether you issue press releases, creating a new way of monitoring coverage, and more.

Hackathons can backfire if you're not ready to support what results from them. In Leadership lessons from the end of Google Reader, you're asked "How do you help ensure your staff shares its best thinking with the organization?" The caution comes because Reader's creator says now that he wouldn't have started it within Google if he'd known they would eventually kill the service; instead, he'd start it up himself. So it's not enough to just hold that hackathon. You've got to encourage your team to create solutions you're interested in supporting for the long haul. Have you had a communications hackathon?

I've got two smart workshops for communicators this fall, and you get good discounts if you register this month for Be an Expert on Working with Experts on October 8, or The Keys to Confident Public Speaking on October 17. Join us and register today!

Friday, July 26, 2013

The weekend read

Remember the weekend? It's that elusive spot you can almost see out the open window that was this week. Time soon to stop being an onlooker and jump into your weekend--I promise--but first check out these great finds I shared this week on Twitter, another kind of window on your world:
A window on two workshops: I've opened early registration for two October workshops, with discounted rates that stay in place through the end of summer. Be an Expert on Working with Experts is back on October 8 for a full day; the new workshop, The Keys to Confident Public Speaking, is a half-day session on October 17. Check them out and sign up early!

Roll up the shade on these communications jobs: Duke University seeks a science communicator. Go to that link and search for requisition number 400739635....AERAS needs a senior manager, strategic communications...Code for America is looking for a director of fundraising and marketing.

Let's just open that window and sneak out to the weekend together, shall we? Always good to meet up with you here. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Storytelling, strategy, social media: New directions for clients

For many of my clients this is a summer of pivots and turns, as they seek new directions, build skills and rethink their communications strategies. To help them, I'm facilitating training workshops and retreats that give them the time and space to consider where they're headed next, in areas ranging from storytelling and social media to strategic communications. Here are some of the projects taking shape this summer, in case you want to steal these good ideas from my clients:
  • Savvier SEO for writers: For a communications team that has begun to blog but wants to make sure they get the most from it, I've facilitated a retreat on what writers can do (and ignore) when it comes to optimizing their blogging and social posts for search engines. In this case, the client's organization blocks them from using certain social media sites (sound familiar?), so we focused on workarounds and creative options that kept them within the rules, but still effective.
  • Starting from scratch: For a small and brand-new nonprofit--so new, it has no web presence yet--I'm doing a series of retreats and workshops on using social media strategically to meet its goals of getting more media attention and featuring diverse voices on its issues. We started by reviewing the options for a strategic social media presence; now that the group wants to make a blog its social-media basecamp, we're working on how this small team can blog in ways that are efficient as well as effective, and working on a content calendar as well as skills-building.
  • Storytelling with social media: I'm developing a workshop requested by a client for a group that includes many nonprofit executives. The central focus is storytelling, and we'll explore that in three ways: through public speaking, through visual communication like infographics, and through social media sites. I'm excited about this challenge, which includes making sure the nonprofits have plenty of free and low-cost options they can put to work immediately.
  • Making a stock presentation sing: Another client is welcoming new board leadership and we're training them with a stock presentation--one they will be using as they speak to partner organizations, members and prospective members throughout the year. But we'll add a twist, giving them skills and strategies to make that stock set of slides work for each of them as individuals, as well as ideas for tailoring a set presentation for a variety of situations. Along with that, we'll rehearse how to plan a presentation so they don't put all the info into the slides, but spread it out over the presentation, the Q&A, and the follow-up materials.
  • Prepping a disparate team of experts for a special speaking event: Another client has me developing a training for a group of experts, all with different topics, who need to participate in short presentations for a special event. Brevity and clarity are the keys with these subject-matter experts, so we'll work on editing a message and keeping it clear for a non-expert audience.
Can I help you with projects similar to this one--or another direction you're contemplating? Email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Who do you love? Who loves you? Play to your faves on social media

The more I help companies and organizations think about how best to reach their audiences, the more I wonder why there seems to be a universal desire to target people who are not fans of what you do.

That desire is what prompts polar opposites to keep arguing with one another in a comments thread, or professional groups to launch campaigns to convince "the public" that they're not so bad, after all. It's the organizational equivalent of "please like me," directed at folks who don't find you all that attractive. In some cases, it has a competitive feel (You will like us before this is over) and in others, it's woeful (Why don't they appreciate us?). If that's your approach, it means you are more likely to be broadcasting than listening to your audiences.

Either way, it's an approach to your audience that ignores a much more fruitful and satisfying path: Finding and appreciating the people who already like you. The ones you love who love you back. Asking "Who do you love?" may be the smartest communications or social media or marketing question you'll ever ask.

Trouble is, we don't tend to collect data on our fans and their reasons for loving us. In a 2000 report, the Wellcome Trust and the UK Office of Science and Technology issued a report on public attitudes about science that took this approach. Rather than focusing on the public's lack of knowledge or understanding--the idea that the audience you're trying to reach has a "deficit" of appreciation for your work--the study identified attitudinal groups, ranging from "confident believers," "technophiles" and "supporters" on the positive side to "concerned," "not sure" and "not for me" on the negative side. That key finding allows science communicators to focus on the top three groups, and leave the bottom three alone.

It's an approach that can help focus your efforts and your message, not to mention your budget and productivity. As Seth Godin points out, "Instead of working so hard to prove the skeptics wrong, it makes a lot more sense to delight the true believers. They deserve it, after all, and they're the ones that are going to spread the word for you." Writing for small businesses, Victor Ho urges focusing on "the vital few," noting that "a small business’s VIP customers--the ones who come over 10 times to a business--are the ones that drive the vast majority of revenue."

Instead of chasing after the elusive non-believer, the skeptic, the uninterested, why not figure out how to communicate with, engage and delight your fans? Who do you love? Who loves you?

Friday, July 19, 2013

The weekend read

Time to roll out the big guns: It's the weekend. I've put all the great leads, reads and finds I shared on Twitter this week into this armored tank to keep them safe for you and make sure nothing gets between you and that weekend you've been planning:
Roll over to these great communications jobs: The Urban Institute is recruiting two public policy communications managers...the German Marshall Fund of the U.S. needs a communications coordinator.

I'm giving you a 21-gun salute as we end the week. Thanks for reading and have a great weekend!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Media interview smarts: 3 things to ask for instead of a do-over

I wince every time I hear a client or communicator asking whether it's okay to request a "do-over" for a media interview, mostly because I come from the school of thought that says you have no business talking to reporters unless you are ready to do so.

Interviewees sometimes ask for do-overs because they figure a redo is in the realm of the possible. After all, that recording can be erased or the notes deleted, right? But even if that were true and honest reporting practice (which it is not), tight budgets and longer to-do lists for a shrinking pool of reporters means that the do-over just isn't practical. You also risk looking naive at best, or controlling at worst--two qualities that are unlikely to convince a reporter to call you next time.

The good news: Right from the moment you begin talking to a reporter, you can ask for three things that may help you avoid the need for a do-over. Here's my short list of smart requests:
  1. Time to prepare: I can't count high enough to describe the number of interviewees I've met who think that they must start answering questions the moment the reporter calls and asks for an interview. In fact, most reporters are calling to see whether and when you are willing to talk, and in most cases, they don't need that to happen immediately--although they'll certainly let you talk if you want to. "What's your deadline? I'm right in the middle of something, but would like to talk to you if we can work out a time" may buy you 10 minutes, a day or even a few days to get ready. Why wouldn't you ask for that?
  2. Clarification on the question: Many interview questions are--by design or default--simple takes on complex issues. If you're not sure what prompts the question, or suspect there's more to it, ask for clarification. "Tell me why you ask in just that way" or "That's a complex issue. Talk a bit about what prompts that particular question" not only helps you understand better how to answer, but buys you some time to think.
  3. A review just before the interview ends: "What are you taking away from this?" or "let's review what I just said" are among the 11 questions you get to ask reporters--and this particular one was suggested by science reporter Andrew Revkin as a substitute for calling reporters later to complain that you were misquoted. Don't hang up the phone or let the camera stop until you've done this review and corrected any erroneous assumptions. The time to do that is during the interview, not afterward. 
Finally, if you find yourself making mistakes and seeking do-overs frequently, or just want to avoid that experience completely, do everyone a favor and get some media training. You can anticipate questions you're likely to be asked and develop answers for them, practice responding to questions that come out of the blue, learn how to become a trusted and successful interviewee and more. Trust me, reporters prefer sources who are prepared and know better than to ask them for a do-over. Email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz to learn more.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

My summer reads to feed creativity

I've bitten off more of a reading list than I can chew this summer, but I'm just loving it. When I was younger, I'd drink gallons of iced tea and sit on the wraparound porch and read all the way through Austen, or Shakespeare, or anything that moved. This summer's feeling a lot like that, except that I'm reading on the fly: while commuting, before I start writing, in waiting rooms. Kinda miss the porch.

I have a long reading list with purpose which you can see tomorrow on The Eloquent Woman. I'm researching a book and some articles on public speaking, and chairing a conference of speechwriters, many of whom have written books I want to read before we meet. But I'm also trying to feed my creativity with some reads I'm sneaking into the mix, new books and a few old favorites. Here's the fuel to my fire this summer:
  1. Hemingway's Boat: Everything He Loved in Life, and Lost, by Paul Hendrickson, is a book I've given to a couple of special Hemingway fanatics, and I'm in the process of re-reading it so I can discuss it with the latest recipient. I always hope I can do what this author does: Choose an unusual angle for a familiar subject. This book reminds me of some favorite writers who dive deep into their subjects, and it reeks of summer and sun and loss and love. I'm reveling in the re-read.
  2. The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life with Language, from Natalie Goldberg, is a new approach to writing developed after her classic, Writing Down the Bones, and it's based on writing retreats she does. It's not the only retreat-like book on this list, either.
  3. Conamara Blues: Poems is John O'Donohue describing in poetry his country, one of my favorite places. The first poem I read from this collection inspired some writing of my own.
  4. Challenges for the Delusional: Peter Murphy's Prompts and the Poems They Inspired is another retreat-in-a-book from Murphy, who offers writing seminars. I'm interested in the idea of prompts and  how they can jump-start writing.
  5. Smoke and Pickles: Recipes and Stories from a New Southern Kitchen is Edward Lee's new cookbook. I love cooking as creative work, and am eager to see what this Asian chef brings to Southern cuisine. Maybe it will prompt some mashups in my own work.
  6. Life Itself is Roger Ebert's memoir. I'm listening to this in audiobook form (although, due to his cancer, it's not read by Ebert himself) to learn more about this pioneering newspaperman and social media whiz. I miss him on Twitter every day.
  7. The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly? is Seth Godin's attempt to prod you out of worrying about flying too close to the sun and warn you about flying too low. A little inspiration for my summer.
  8. The Start-up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career from LinkedIn founder and chairman Reid Hoffman is the kind of book I often pass over. I'm glad I didn't. It takes an unusual look at networking and using your connections to create new opportunities, about which I can always use new ideas.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The weekend read

Feel like you've been on the grill this week? Time for the weekend! Well, almost. First, marinate in this mix of good reads, finds and leads I shared on Twitter this week so you can be smarter by Monday:
Jobs on a skewer: Athena Health needs a communications associate...the Asia Society in New York City needs a director of content strategy...the field center at Golden Gate National Park in San Francisco needs an environmental media specialist...the UK's Royal Society is looking for a social media officer.

I'm always glad to see you here on Fridays, cookout or no cookout. Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Where to catch me: Autumn conferences

Even though it's soupy, humid July, I'm already booking my fall conferences and speaking gigs. One of my favorite things to do is meet longtime colleagues and new friends from social media while I'm traveling, so please let me know if you'll be attending either of these conferences:
Both of these conferences have nice early registration discounts that end soon--after July 14 for the Communications Network, and after July 15 for the European Speechwriters Network. Come join me for these wonderful professional development and networking opportunities

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Using a muse for feedback

Creativity, the life of the mind, revs me up. When my mind's on fire, my writing and thinking and speaking have all the warmth and crackle and power of a flame. Call it, as Shakespeare did, a "Muse of fire." I write, work or speak fast, edit crisp, make it sing. I've found my voice. The ideas flow, weave themselves together, persuade. There's urgency and agency. I've even noticed a pattern: Sometimes, I intuitively start my most creative work right before I am about to get bored with what I'm doing.

That's on a good day. Trouble is, on many days, it feels as if the muse is out of matches. When I can swing it, I wait for the muse to fire up again--I insist on waiting to write until I'm ready, most of the time. But, like any fire, I've also learned it's good to tend the hearth and keep the fire from going out. For me, that means finding authentic sources of feedback to fan the flames.

These are my real muses of fire, and I can count them on one hand. One watches me conduct training workshops so I get feedback on my content and delivery, and runs scenarios with me to think about how I can do things better. A frequent collaborator meets with me at least once a year in person and many more times by phone to compare notes on our businesses and our writing. I've learned to listen for her perspective, different from mine and full of inspiration for me. Another strategic mind takes me to the 30,000-foot view faster than anyone else I know. "Why not this?" she'll say. Yet another is the prototypical reader for my blogs, the person I'm writing for most of the time.

My latest muse heard me mention the book I want to write, asked about it, then suggested a chapter that will make everything else fall into place. I'd been waiting to start because I was stuck. Now I can feel the book taking shape. He'll be my first reader when it's done, because I can expect him to find all the spots that don't quite work yet, hold them up for me to see, shake the dust out of them and say, "Isn't this what you meant to say?" Or, where the writing's right, "Here, you're in the zone. More like this." I've been writing almost every day for decades, and that kind of help comes along once in a lifetime.

Is it uncomfortable to have this kind of feedback? You bet. Often it comes just when you thought you were finished with something, or unable to start, so part of the discomfort is your own inner critic. But I think we also flinch at the idea of feedback because we've all met that person who nitpicks and backbites and second-guesses everything, flinging "should" around like a boomerang. In an insecure world, it's easy to make yourself feel good by being critical. Many days, it feels as if we've forgotten that in "critical thinking," you need thinking, as well as an understanding that "critical" can mean analysis and not just disapproval.

My muses are different. I know I can trust them to give me feedback lovingly, with respect, with the idea that I'm already amazing and could be yet better. They listen, again and again and again. They ask questions. They don't try to fix anything for me. When I ask them about my work, they tell me the truth--not what I want to hear, and sometimes, not what I asked about in the first place. Certainly not the comfortable stuff.

Here's what makes it tick for me: Their ideas differ from mine, and stretch me. They're funny, smart, spot-on observers of me and many other things. When one of them tells me something, I'm much more likely to say, "Tell me why" or "Talk more about that" or "Tell me why you put it in just that way," to draw them out and make sure I am hearing what they're trying to tell me. That's where the insights lie. They don't praise gratuitously, but when they do offer praise and encouragement, it has warmth and crackle and power for me. I always walk away with my mind on fire, full of new ideas, glad I had the feedback. Who's your muse?

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Closed for the week

We're taking a short hiatus in the week of July 1, 2013, to work on routine maintenance and do some planning for the remainder of the year. But fear not: don't get caught will be back in action next week, starting on Tuesday, July 9, as usual. Your presence here every week is very much appreciated--we'll see you back here in a week!