Friday, August 30, 2013

The weekend read

This is your last weekend to catch summer and hang on to it. I know how that makes you feel, so I cast a wide net this week on Twitter and grabbed these great finds, data and reads for you. You may not be thrilled come Monday, but you'll be smarter:
I caught a few good comms job in my net this week: The Wilderness Society wants a director of wildlands communications...Duke University is looking for a director of strategic communications...SEIU seeks a director of national communications.

Love having you here every Friday. Now get out of the office and get the long weekend started--but grab the workshop discounts below, first. See you next week!

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!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

What's in a filename? The story of scipak and why filenames matter

There's an ambassador for your brand, company, organization or self out there, one that could be working harder for you--if you'd name it differently. It's the filename for that document you just emailed, uploaded or shared with your client, customer, or colleague. You know, the one you titled "contract.doc" or "newsrelease1234."

A little over 20 years ago, I came up with a filename that is in such wide use today, it's taken the place of the original product name. It's "scipak," my filename shorthand for what was then called "the Science package," a weekly embargoed release of new research findings published in the journal of the same name, where I was then communications director.

Today, scipak's now in use the world over by the journalists and public information officers who use the package, long after I left the building at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which publishes the journal. My former colleagues there tell me that filename has taken on a life of its own. I'm just glad I went with a handy abbreviation for the real thing, something short, convenient, recognizable and specific.

Perhaps you don't think of filenames as "electronic mediators," but you should, in the same way that you may have customized your email signature or fussed over metadata. Is your file name lazy? Subtle (and thoughtless) resume mistakes puts it this way for job-hunters:
If you're emailing or uploading your resume, be mindful of the file name. The person doing the clicking probably doesn't know what a stunningly unique snowflake you are, meaning that all the signals they're getting about your personality, work ethic, and attention to detail are mediated electronically--it's the same reason your terse emails offend people or you text like thissss. Designer Pete Juratovic has a word of advice: He says that candidates often send resumes titled "Resume2013" or "revision5résumé." This makes you look clueless to how other people experience your work. Instead, help them out: re-title that file to your first and last name.
Like most good "sticky" messages, that filename needs to be something concrete and specific to make it memorable--and to help it stand out from the blahblahblah filenames around it. Do your filenames pass that test?

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!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Does your CEO really want speaker coaching or media training?

Communications pros are great at behind-the-scenes advising of their CEOs, but there's one communications gap between them that I see again and again. It has to do with arranging speaker coaching or media training for the CEO.

The communicators are often right to be sensitive on the topic. I've seen university presidents, hospital CEOs, and even government agency heads kick their communications or public affairs director out of the room before training begins, despite my recommendation to have them there in "fly on the wall" mode. Some CEOs give off clear signals that suggesting training means that you think they have some character flaw, and so the topic never comes up. Sometimes you can smell the top-level expert's fear of failure, and that feels like enough reason to drop the idea of training, no matter how much it's needed.

Now comes new research to suggest we should all stop tip-toeing around the CEO's training needs, because they welcome the help. Harvard Business Review's What CEOs Really Want From Coaching presents results from a study of more than 200 CEOs, board directors and senior executives about seeking and using leadership advice. The conundrum? While two-thirds of the CEOs reported they do not receive coaching or leadership advice from outside consultants or coaches, and half of the senior executives also are going without advice, nearly 100 percent of the CEOs said they enjoyed the process of getting outside perspective and coaching.

When it comes to seeking coaching, 78 percent of the CEOs don't have it thrust upon them, but seek it out themselves. This correlates with other studies that suggest that the higher the level of expertise, the more the trainee welcomes negative feedback as a means of improvement. Your CEO may also find useful these questions to get into the mindset needed to participate in effective coaching.

If I were in your shoes, I'd use this data to start a conversation with your CEO. What does she want in terms of training? Which skills does she feel she's mastered, and which need work or make her uncomfortable? In my workshops for communications pros on working better with experts, I find again and again that the communicators haven't asked the experts or CEOs what they want to accomplish--something that's critical to gaining their acceptance and participation. You also can make training more welcome by ensuring your CEO has one-on-one training rather than a group training that includes subordinates. My exception to that rule is the communications director, who can always sit in on my trainings at no extra cost--but I draw the line at observers there.

You can see a summary of the study's results here. Now, I'll ask you again: Does your CEO really want speaker coaching or media training? If so, email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz so we can come up with a coaching solution that works for your CEO.

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, August 23, 2013

The weekend read

No need to get all prickly about your week. It's Friday, and time to turn your thoughts to the weekend and the best finds I shared on Twitter this week. If you spent the week stumbling around the desert of your desk looking for inspiration and insights, here's your oasis:
An oasis of communications jobs: The Center for Reproductive Rights needs a U.S. press officer...the Center for Responsible Lending wants a media relations manager.

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. Those discounts are ending soon, so join us and register today!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

What you can learn about media relations from The Haggler

My delight on a Sunday morning is to tuck into The Haggler column in the business section of the New York Times, and not just for the crazy tug-of-war between companies and the customers they purport to serve. The Haggler, aka David Segal, is one of those reporters who like to divulge the ways of PR people, spokespeople and other media relations practitioners, both when they do it right and when they fall down.

Many who practice media relations bemoan the difficulty of getting to know the reporters who cover their topics; reporters recommend it, but rarely have time to participate in anything that looks like a learning session. Enter the Haggler, who is sending you not-so-coded public hints, tips and all-out pleas, enough to guide any novice or seasoned pro. I've been collecting my favorite columns with media relations advice, and they constitute a great mini-manual, complete with examples:
  • Put the primary source in front of the reporter: In The Auto Loan That Went Haywire, you get a twofer: A bad example and a good example. The bad one involves an inquiry to McDonald's in which the PR rep simply stopped answering follow-up questions once a non-answer answer had been provided. The good example: The column's central question about a messed-up loan from Mercedes-Benz Financial Services, in which the query got a call back from a customer service vice president, not a PR rep. Read her response: It's nice, direct, complete, prompt, and answers the question. Imagine.
  • Think through your tone before you respond: In Skip the Romance, She's Going to Court, the president of a dating service under siege from customer complaints "started off with plenty of mea culpa, but then segued quickly into customer culpa, if you will. And there’s just no upside to customer culpa." It's a case of reacting to the question without considering what the tone sounds like. Sounds to me as if this rep never learned how to respond, rather than react, to media questions.
  • Don't let your lawyers do your media relations: In When Customer Service Isn't Even Half-Baked, a truly messed-up consumer situation with Whirlpool got even worse when the company's response to the Haggler inquiry involved sending the customer a refund offer with a confidentiality clause baked into it. And it gets worse. We can only agree with the Haggler here, who said, "It’s tempting to call this ham-handed, but that seems unfair to ham."
  • Stonewalling could lead to crowdsourcing: In Summoning the Power of the Crowd, the Haggler hits a stone wall in getting a response from Radio Shack, so he uses his column to ask the CEO publicly to respond, and to give readers the spokesperson's email address so they can join him in demanding the response. This of course helped the response resume, albeit with mind-numbing excuses reprinted in full for the readers. It used to be that reporters with sources they respected didn't display all the workings of your interactions with them, let alone your email address. Then again, there was little here on the part of the spokesperson to gain that respect. It's a good reminder that you're always on the record, darlings.
  • Make a name for yourself: In Samsung and a Reader's Printer Problem, the technology issue was smoother than the PR issue. In response to the Haggler, Samsung's PR firm, Weber Shandwick, offered up a rep with a name who told him to attribute a written statement to "a spokesperson," and declined to name the spokesperson. This ignited a big debate in journalism circles, captured on Steve Buttry's blog, which quotes numerous reporters on how they'd handle such shenanigans, with the consensus being this: If you're going to offer a statement, attach a name to it. Personally, I'd never heard of this tactic myself, which is why I read the Haggler to keep up on the latest bad PR trends.
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!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Never spin a spinner: 8 ways not to pitch me

I've worked as a journalist and as a communications director, and while I've been fortunate to work for some fine organizations where the job was less spin and more public information, I know my way around the spin cycle. That's in part because I'm a Washington, DC-based communications consultant and speaker coach: In this town, I've had a front-row seat and, occasionally, a backstage pass with which to observe spin at its best and its most outrageous.

But now that I don't spin for others, speak only for myself, and am doing more of my own writing and publishing, I'm getting pitched, and pitched hard. Problem is, many of those pitching me don't realize I have a hall-of-famer level of expertise on pitches and what they really mean, although you can find that info easily enough on my blogs. It reminds me of a saying I learned early in my days here in Washington: "Never spin a spinner, 'cause you might get hurt."  It's from the playbook of the it-takes-one-to-know-one school of communications.

Every reporter pal of mine can roll around the floor of her cubicle and laugh at me, now that I'm more often on the receiving end of pitches than the sending end, but it's for their sake that I want to out this behavior. It's 2013, communicators. Can't we find a better way? Here's my semi-annual list of pitch tactics I've seen directed at me, and why they won't work for me or for the reporters you are targeting:
  1. You're awash in euphemisms: "I just want to share my journey with you" from someone I don't know usually prompts me to think "No, you don't. You want coverage." Skip the sugar-coating, please.
  2. Your cut-and-paste is showing:  "Dear Janet," goes the email to me, Denise. "I just know that as a blogger on women's issues you will appreciate our new...."  You lost me at Janet, darling. If you're going to customize the email, send it to the right person. This pales in comparison to a reporter friend who received a customized 12-month calendar with his name misspelled every month, a nice variation on this soulless tactic. In its worst, most automated form, I've seen pitches sent to the art department of the magazine publisher I worked for addressed to "Art Dept.," with the salutation, "Dear Mr. Dept." Name us correctly, please.
  3. You didn't actually read what I write: One of my blogs, The Eloquent Woman, is about women and public speaking. Not women and shoes, bras, cars, cigarettes, heat-and-eat meals, baby products, hairstyling products, birth control, alcohol or cars--but I've been pitched stories about all of those things because the word "woman" is in the title of the blog. Two seconds on my blog would be enough to convince a sane person that those were inappropriately targeted pitches. You waste a little of my time, but a lot of the time for which your client is paying. 
  4. You think I work for you: Other pitchers have said "You are here to write about my topic." Actually, no, I'm not. I'm writing about this topic as a resource for my current clients, and to show prospective clients what I know. Sometimes that involves writing about other experts in the field, but rarely. See below about curating vs. kitchen sinks.
  5. You're leering at my readership: Some pitchers, noticing the large number of fans for The Eloquent Woman on Facebook and other sites, just drool all over their pitches. Get a hold of yourself, please. Praising me for the quantity of my readers tells me you have only one thing in mind, as Mother used to say. Recently, I asked readers what they'd like to see in my forthcoming book on women and public speaking and--I kid you not--one person wrote to say, in effect, "I would like to see me" in the book. At least that's not euphemistic.
  6. "You wrote about this but left out my book/app/product:" Yup. I did. Neither of my blogs is an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink catalog. The readers count on that. A close read would cure this one, and perhaps some work on the ego. Next time, don't go by what I have just written, but think about what I might do next.
  7. You copied my info from a list built for something else I covered: Book promoters, I'm looking at you: My coverage of one book from your list does not an open invitation make. With my specialized topics, the likelihood is high that I only wanted that one book. I'll email you if that changes. In the meantime, spam emails are against the U.S. federal law known as CAN-SPAM. Take a look at this article on whether PR should be CAN-SPAM compliant.
  8. You're just a little too polished and familiar: Remember, I've been behind the pitches myself and have extensive contacts in the public relations industry, so I've seen more than my share. These pitches are targeted well (check), personalized correctly (check), turn-on-a-dime timely (check). They're almost too smooth. My most recent favorite is one that began: "We don't know each other but you have made your way into our prospects database, and by today's social media standards, that practically qualifies you as a friend." Found my way into your database? Like I'm wandering in the forest and stumbled onto it? I think not, friend.
  9. You wrote the blog post for me: Having written many good ones, I don't mind getting a press release if I've signed up for your release list (the unsolicited stuff goes into a spam folder for automatic deletion, in case you are curious). Releases are designed to convey information and, at least in my world, they're there as a starting point, not an end product. But when the pitcher writes, as one did yesterday, to inquire whether I might cover a product and proffers a blog post, all in the same email, I wince. Aside from the fact that you're offering me, in most cases, a post that's generic enough to send to many blogs on my topic--and thus, too vague and in wide circulation for my purposes--you've skipped right over the simple inquiry and decided that this is your one shot to shove a lot over the e-transom. I sigh and delete.
I'm happy to say that PR Newser's list of no-nos for pitching bloggers aligns well with mine. The inquiries I'll always welcome? Reader requests, and tips from tipsters who clearly know the blogs. They're golden, rare and much to be desired, and I am fortunate to have plenty of these on hand. I'm a big proponent of the idea that communicators should tip more and pitch less to reach reporters, and that goes double for me. No spinners needed for those approaches.

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, August 16, 2013

The weekend read

I scream, you scream, we all scream...for Friday, and the start of the weekend. (Ice cream wouldn't hurt, either.) Before you run to the freezer, I've heaped all the best data, leads and reads I shared on Twitter this week into this cone of goodness for you. You'll be smarter and happier by Monday:
These great communications jobs will ice your resume: Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center needs a social media specialist...Pepperdine University wants a director of communications.

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!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Five things I love about this Visual.ly infographic & what you can learn from it

Infographics: We love them, and we share them more frequently than other posts on social networks, by a mile. But the truth is, many infographics strike me as too much of a good thing. They're too packed with words, difficult to read, visually busy and ultimately, ineffective at getting their message across. Like a PowerPoint slide, many users fall for the temptation of loading up infographics until they look more like a Christmas tree and less like a quick way to share information. Yes, I saw that.

So I cheered when I came across this infographic created on Visual.ly. Created for 100 People: A World Portrait, it walks you through what the world would look like if it were only 100 people. Here's what I like about this infographic, and what I'd like to see more of when you create them:

  1. A comparison that helps, not hurts, understanding: Too often, we reach for analogies and comparisons that make it tougher to grasp the message, like comparing the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the number of Manolo Blahnik shoes everyone in America could buy for the same price. That happens all too often when you're working with big numbers. No one has a real sense of how far away the moon is, no matter how often you describe the stack of dollar bills that could reach it. But here, going with the message of the nonprofit it's representing, the infographic boils the world population down to a manageable size. We can all picture 100 people, and that lets us focus on the percentages and components being described.
  2. A little white space: One way many infographics pile on is with backgrounds, shading and color--all at once. This infographic goes for a clean look with a white background, which lets the information take center stage.
  3. Color to carry the data: Likewise, the design uses color strategically. Every color here plays a role by representing a particular piece of data, making it easy to scan and understand what's being conveyed.
  4. Simple charts and symbols: Check out the charts and maps. They're also easy to read, clean and simple. I wish your PowerPoint slides looked like this, too. No shaded cones and crazy charts with too much data here. Each one has a single point to get across. It's not a mistake that every section of this infographic would make a fine presentation slide. Think about that the next time you're creating one.
  5. Shareability: Using an infographic generator like Visual.ly allows you to make your creation shareable, and infographics were made to be shared. Don't make them just for yourself.
This infographic doesn't get in the way of its message. Instead, it underscores it and makes the message easier to grasp. Are you using all the components of your infographics to do the same?


If the World Were 100 People
by KVSStudio.
Explore more infographics like this one on the web's largest information design community - Visually.

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!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Did you just throw your speechwriter under the bus?

Come on, admit it: Did you just throw your speechwriter under the bus?

I can tell because you dropped a few clues out loud during your remarks, presentation or formal speech. Nice, heavy, round clues, the public-speaking equivalent of a bowling ball on the speechwriter's foot. Most of the time, they sound like this:
  • "They told me I should say..."
  • "It says here that I should..."
  • "Let me just say that I haven't read these remarks ahead of time. But what they want me to say..."
  • "You know, they prepared these remarks for me, but I'm just gonna speak off the cuff..."
Speakers who use this tactic nearly always make the remarks sound off-hand and casual, but they're putting verbal space between themselves and the speechwriter, distancing from the results in case of failure. The phrasing suggests an open bid for sympathy: Surely the audience will immediately appreciate just how awful it is to have words put in your mouth. That's especially true when you say "They told me," even if the "they" is an underpaid, overworked party of one. Sounds more ominous to have a committee wagging its collective finger at you.

It's easy to blame the speechwriter in a world where we keep upholding the Etonian ideal of the effortless amateur, a myth to which we cling in public speaking more than any other area. Make it look easy, but not too smooth; smart, but not overconfident; thoughtful but unrehearsed. Everyone knows an effortless amateur wouldn't use a speechwriter. In fact, throwing the speechwriter under the bus early in your remarks lets you skip immediately to effortless amateur status, in less than a sentence. You've just announced you are going off-the-cuff, casual and without those prepared remarks that might make you look too polished.

Or, that's how the speaker thinks it's going to work. Let this speaker coach share an observation: Those under-the-bus phrases actually make you look like an amateur, and I don't mean the effortless kind. We see your discomfort, your fear of failure, and your willingness to blame someone else for it. Is that the look you were going for? I didn't think so.

Speechwriters would do well under the circumstances to remind themselves that what feels like a foot in your backside might really be a coded cry for help from the speaker. When I work with communications professionals, including speechwriters, to learn how to work more effectively with subject-matter experts, I remind them to put themselves in the shoes of the person they're pushing forward to speak, and to let the speaker retain his authenticity. Take a deep breath and start a conversation--with that speaker, with all the speakers you support, with your management--about establishing new rules around how speechwriters and speakers work together in your company, agency or organization. You can start with The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't. The book's invaluable for making the case for a rule change, as it details the actual costs to businesses of bad behavior like this.

What would a rule change look like? In a civilized workplace, you speakers wouldn't throw your speechwriters under the bus. You'd give that speechwriter more of your time in advance of the speaking gig to talk through what you do and don't want to say, how you do and don't wish to be seen, the grace notes you'd love to pull off. You'd share your discomfort in terms of delivery or tone, so solutions can be offered. One area of discomfort might be working with a prepared text gracefully. You'd share some details that would help you connect with the audience. You'd practice out loud with the text and the speechwriter there to listen to what works and what doesn't. You'd accept feedback. You'd allow time for changes to be made and practiced again.

Yes, I know: That's more work. They are paying you to work over there, aren't they? Good speeches take work.

I'd go further still with that rule change, based on the many times I've negotiated this dance between the speaker and the speechwriter. Here's the approach I've found that works best: Make a rule that speakers in your company, government agency or nonprofit won't throw the speechwriters under the bus. Make it a factor in how speeches are evaluated for effectiveness. Then, dear speakers, go get the coaching and extra time you need to prepare so you can make those words from the wordsmith sing, instead of tossing them aside. Put the time in with the speechwriter in advance of that bus trip. You'll do better, and so will she.

If you're a speechwriter, I hope I'll see you in Brussels in September for this international speechwriters conference I'm chairing, or at my workshop Be an Expert on Working with Experts on October 8, useful for speechwriters and others dealing with this type of expert. Speakers, I hope I'll see you at my workshop on The Keys to Confident Public Speaking on October 17--that extra boost of confidence might help you stop blaming the speechwriter and feel better about public speaking. Join us and register today.

(Photo from TWM's Flickr photostream)

Friday, August 09, 2013

The weekend read

It's Friday. Time to make like a tree and leave...but not before you check out the lush and abundant leads, data, reads and finds I shared on Twitter this week. Step into the shade and get smarter by Monday:
No jobs this week, but I can't leave this week behind without saying how much I love meeting you here on Friday. Have a wonderful weekend!

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!

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Test driving beta opportunities: Why communicators should

I volunteer to beta test all sorts of social apps and services--Tweetdeck and Pinterest are two favorites whose potential I could see even in the beta stages--because my clients want me to sort out the options for them. But there are plenty of other reasons a communications professional should consider beta testing, from better media relations savvy to the chance to improve your productivity.

Most important, in my view: Getting in the habit of beta testing gets you ready for changes, new features, and new ideas. Instead of bemoaning a small design change on Facebook, you can smile knowing what's coming next. It's a selling point when you're seeking advancement or new opportunities, and it's a smart way to stay a step ahead. You also may get direct contact with the creators. I've had tech support from the founders of Tweetdeck when it was in beta, and just yesterday, from the co-founder of Feedly Pro. Here are a few more substantial ways I think communicators can benefit from betas:
How to become a beta tester? Put your hand up and volunteer. Many apps, services, sites and gadgets need willing testers, and while you may need to wait, just keep entering those opportunities. Google "seeking beta testers" and you'll find opportunities like this one from Infoactive, where "you can connect dynamic data streams and share drool-worthy interactive visuals." And don't forget, these are beta tests, so you may not enjoy full functionality--that's why you're testing. While you're on these sites, take the time to subscribe to their blogs for more product updates. What are you beta testing?

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!

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Faking social (or real life) engagement: How do you get to that point?

We talk and talk about transparency and authenticity in speakers, in social media, in corporate communications. And then, even as they're paying lip service to these ideals, some communicators figure it's just better to fake it.

Chipotle recently admitted that it faked a hack of its Twitter account as part of its 20th anniversary promotional campaign. Among the "positive" results of the fake hack:
Chipotle's Twitter account added more than 4,000 followers the day of the "hack," compared to its normal rate of adding about 250 followers a day. The supposedly hacked tweets, which have not been deleted, were retweeted about 12,000 times. By comparison, Chipotle's Twitter account usually sees about 75 retweets per day. Chipotle isn't the first brand to fake having its Twitter account hacked. Shortly after Burger King and Jeep had their accounts hacked in February, both MTV and BET  decided to stage their own hacks to get in on the press coverage.
Great job boosting the numbers...oh, snap. Aren't we supposed to be aiming for quality of followers, rather than just quantity? Does getting people to follow you over a fake count as engagement, or just trickery? "It was definitely thought out: We didn't want it to be harmful or hateful or controversial," said Chris Arnold, a Chipotle spokesperson. Somehow "honest" didn't make that list. Arnold also said, "It's certainly not a well you can go to often." Then why go there at all?

Add money to the faking, and you can get into even more trouble: Samsung's PR firm was just revealed to have offered money to bloggers for posting "organic" comments on Stack Overflow app forums, as a way of promoting its app-development challenge....aaaand one of the bloggers approached in this way outed the bribe.

Not all fakery happens aforethought. More often, you set something up that becomes a slippery slope. In many companies, the slippery slope begins when communicators start ghost-writing blogs for CEOs. The thinking? It's better to have a CEO blog than not, but the CEO lacks the time to blog, or might go off-message. Yet that ghosted blog robs the effort of a true power tool in social media, the unique and authentic voice of the leader. Ironically, that fake CEO voice isn't going to engage anywhere near as well as the actual CEO would. The perfectly sensible alternative, no blog, seems less popular than the fakery.

Some fakery is well-meaning. On occasion, a client will ask whether we should include "trainees" who already know how to deliver a message well, to serve as good examples for the rest of the group. On occasion, they ask whether they should plant some questions in the audience for my lecture, so I don't wind up hearing crickets at Q&A time. My response to both ideas? "Please don't do that." I'll take my crickets and my not-polished trainees, thanks. As a speaker trainer and media trainer, I'm in a trust relationship with the people I'm training. One whiff of fakery undoes my credibility in seconds.

Each of these fake variations, whether planned or not, signals an underlying lack of comfort with uncertainty. We might not get "enough" Twitter followers. Our anniversary might pass unnoticed by anyone but us. Our experts might find out the hard way, by making a mistake in a workshop, that they need to improve their speaking skills. The speaker might suck all the oxygen out of the room and generate no questions, or our audiences are surly and sit on their hands. So the thinking seems to be "let's make some certainty, even if we need to fake that."

Communicators without strong muscles around uncertain outcomes might want to take their cue from the sciences. This post, Communicating the uncertainty in science is necessary to improve public confidence and decision-making of non-specialists, introduces a new guide, Making Sense of Uncertainty. The thinking behind it: If you avoid talking about uncertainty, you'll miss important discussions.

That's also true whether the conversation takes place in social networks, training rooms or auditoriums. The followers who stick with you will do so because you're authentic, not because you pulled a stunt once. The trainees who do the best in my workshops trust me to create a safe place where they can try, fail, learn, try again and succeed. And I always get questions when I speak, perhaps because I make sure the audience knows I'm there as much to listen to them as I am to speak.

Whether you're trying to gin up activity where none exists, or smooth out the perceived rocky path when your experts are being trained, stop and think again. The real reason to embrace uncertainty and the authenticity that comes with it is your credibility. In all these examples, I'll wager not one person thought "what if we get caught?", but you certainly should. Is it worth it to miss the real conversation and perhaps lose your credibility?

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, August 02, 2013

The weekend read

Park that bumper car you've been riding in all week and gather round: It's nearly the weekend and time to stop the carnival atmosphere while you check out the great finds I shared this week on Twitter. Steer your attention here so you can look smarter by Monday:
A bumper crop of communications jobs: The University of Arizona seeks a director of media relations and communications...Chicago's Blue Cross Blue Shield Association wants a director, executive communications...the James Irvine Foundation needs a digital communications officer.

If working better with the experts you represent is a strategic goal--or just the thing that's keeping you from being successful--come to my October workshop, Be an Expert on Working with Experts. You care now because you'll get a much better discount if you sign up by the end of August. Or come out of the shadows and get The Keys to Confident Public Speaking, also in October, also with a good early discount.

Love bumping into you here on Fridays. Enjoy the weekend!

Thursday, August 01, 2013

'Be an Expert on Working with Experts' workshop returns in October

If you're a communicator who has struggled to get inside the heads of the experts with whom you work, Be an Expert on Working with Experts returns October 8. The reason you care right now? You'll save significantly on registration if you sign up by August 30. (All registration closes in late September.)

Previous attendees range from vice presidents to entry-level communicators, and they say this workshop is the "best training I've ever had, informative and eye-opening," and full of "practical guidance that you'll be able to put into practice immediately." I call it the workshop I wish I'd had earlier in my long career working with scientists, policy wonks and subject-matter experts in every discipline--but you can benefit from the lessons I learned the hard way.

Here's what you'll learn in the one-day workshop:
  • How to anticipate experts' default communications style, how to help them see it, and how to show them what public and media audiences want instead; 
  • Why they don't need to "dumb down" their information to communicate clearly (and how to handle other common objections they raise); 
  • How to assess experts' communications skills and training needs, to help you approach coaching in savvy ways; 
  • Handling hands-on feedback to smart people, pushback and Q&A when you're training experts. Find out what they don't know--but won't tell you--and how to fix that.
We'll talk about communications challenges that include experts who blow off media interviews or object to speaking in non-technical language when they meet with donors, public audiences or legislators. If you've been avoiding putting certain experts out front because you don't work well with them or have given up on getting them to communicate clearly, we'll address what you can do differently to build a more successful relationship. The session includes plenty of time for your questions and challenges, including a working lunch session in which you can ask me anything, to make sure you come away with real ideas and solutions for improving the way you work with experts.

Can't make it October 8? Ask me about bringing the workshop to your city, workplace or communicators' conference, with an email to info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz. But I hope I'll see you among the smart communicators at the next workshop. Want to work on your own communications skills? Check out my half-day workshop, The Keys to Confident Public Speaking, on October 17.