Friday, February 28, 2014

The weekend read

Want to preserve this week...or make potpourri out of its dried remains? Before you stop smelling the roses, check out the garden of good reads, leads and finds I shared this week on Twitter and curated here for you, communicators. I smell the sweet smell of success here:
Today, I'm working with a great group of women on improving public speaking skills and confidence in my new workshop, Be The Eloquent Woman, in Washington, DC. I'll be offering this one again on April 2 in Oxford, UK. If you're interested in attending the UK session, you can still register here. We'll be holding that session as a pre-conference workshop at the Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference in Oxford, also well worth attending!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

What Hemingway wrought: Word-limited storytelling's 2nd wave

They say that Ernest Hemingway won a bet in a bar when challenged to write a six-word memoir (some versions of the story add "that would make people cry"). His answer? "For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn."

You'd think that would be enough to make everyone else give up, but no. (He was, according to Fast Company, a productive badass in six different ways.) Thanks, perhaps, to the age of Twitter, limited word-count storytelling is seeing something of a renaissance, with new variations, options and challenges aplenty.

It's a great writing exercise for your team. Can you reinterpret a news announcement, an essay, a long-form article into six words? Or, take a leaf from others' books and try it as a social media engagement project. Can you get your fans, customers, staff, donors, suppliers, partners, students, readers or members to submit word-limited messages--perhaps centered on a special occasion, product or issue you wish to highlight? Here are some high-profile examples and variations you can explore to use as models, although I say there's none better than Hemingway:
  • One sentence, six words: The Race Card Project, created by NPR's Michele Norris, sticks with six words, but requires you to keep them all in one sentence while answering the question "How would you distill your thoughts, experiences or observations about race into one sentence that only has six words? The project has an empty Twitter account, but you'll see the vitality of this as a social media sharing project by following the Twitter hashtag #racecardproject to see examples.
  • A 10-word question, a 10-word (or less) answer: NPR's Project Xpat: What the World Thinks of America encourages Americans living abroad to share "what do people in your host country think of America?" (No, you don't have to use the word "Project" all the time for these exercises, despite the penchant of NPR types for doing so.)
  • Five sentences: Spine is an app that lets you create or collect five-sentence stories. Some call it a social network for poets, although your entries don't need to be poetic.
  • One more word: Brain Pickings blog summarizes the seven-word autobiographies of famous artists, culled from the exercise they're put through when participating at the New York Public Library's interview series: The interviewee is asked for the seven words to serve as her introduction, a clever use. Can you make your bio into a six-word summary of you? Challenge the speakers on your next panel to do so?
  • Thank you. Thank you very much: We might blame Elvis for the five-word thank you, but the Webby Awards have institutionalized the process, limiting all acceptance speeches to just five words. Read the archive here to get ideas for your own next thank you speech.
  • Six words as writing prompt:, an online marketplace of services for the self-published writer, shared this six-word writing prompt--appropriately, on Twitter. Could you do this?
Storytelling magazine SMITH ran with the original concept of six-word memoirs and has collected many examples in these books, which might be good starting points if your team wants to dig into the form:

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Is social media "worth it" if your audience is small?

"Altogether, we compose some 3.6 trillion words every day on email and social media — the equivalent of 36 million books."

You knew you were writing a lot, didn't you? That's more books than are in the Library of Congress, thank you. And in Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better, Clive Thompson says that's a good thing. The bigger the network and the more content available, the smarter our thinking will be, he says...and the more influence our blogs will have. In part that stems from what he calls the "audience effect." Just having to answer to an audience makes your thinking smarter and your writing better, and thus, more influential. Here's more from an excerpt in Why even the worst bloggers are making us smarter:
Interestingly, the audience effect doesn’t necessarily require a big audience. This seems particularly true online. Many people have told me that they feel the dynamic kick in with even a tiny handful of viewers. I'd argue that the cognitive shift in going from an audience of zero (talking to yourself) to an audience of 10 (a few friends or random strangers checking out your online post) is so big that it’s actually huger than going from 10 people to a million. This is something that traditional thinkers of the pre-Internet age—particularly print and broadcast journalists — have trouble grasping. For them, an audience doesn’t mean anything unless it’s massive. If you’re writing specifically to make money, you need to draw a large crowd. This is part of the thinking that causes traditional media executives to scoff at the spectacle of the “guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas writing what he thinks.” But for the rest of the people in the world, who probably never did much nonwork writing in the first place—and who almost never did it for an audience—even a handful of readers can have a vertiginous, catalytic impact.
Thompson writes about how this "thinking in public" aspect of blogging turns ideas over to the networks, in which connections build upon them and carry them forward. It's big-picture thinking about blogging and influence and a refreshing read that might give you more perspective about your blogging. I know that the audience effect is one of the strongest payoffs for me in persisting with a blog, and it's nice to have that confirmed by a big thinker.

Musician Jonathan Mann did some big thinking about this same issue in a different way. He's the "Song a Day" man who's been writing, performing and posting a song a day on the Internet since January 2009, and we've worked together at TEDMED where he's done daring feats like sum up the previous day's sessions in song at the top of the morning. In this thoughtful essay, Every Day I Write the Song, he wonders about the same thing you wonder: Is it worth it to throw more content into the belly of the Internet beast, if no one is going to see it? And he concludes it's worth it, even if just one person sees it. He writes:
When I make something that comes from my heart — even if it’s silly, topical, or off the cuff — there’s always a chance that it helps make a great connection that I could never imagine. I never know when those links will happen, but they have and I know they will continue. No matter how I feel about a song on a particular day, someone will like it. There is someone, somewhere out in the vast reaches of cyberspace that will get something from it. Even when I’ve written a song that I’m sure is horrible, I hear from someone whose day it’s brightened. I have an established audience now, but this was true even when I first began, and I could count on the fingers of one or both hands who would see my work. And over seven years of posting work my songs, it happens like clockwork, again and again. This is the true nature of the Internet.
Right on, brother. Here's a reel that captures how he got the live crowd going at TEDMED. I love Jonathan's essay and the spirit in which he makes the Internet better for all of us:

Friday, February 21, 2014

The weekend read

Ready to hang up your skates this week? If this week has felt like you've been competing in the Olympics without a medal in sight, get on this podium called the weekend. I'll award you this list of carefully curated finds, reads and leads collected and shared on Twitter this week:
Workshop reminder: Registration closes tonight at 12 midnight ET for the Washington, DC, workshop. Seats are still available! 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. 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. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Where to catch me this spring

I've got a busy schedule for the end of winter and the beginning of spring this year. Here's where you can catch me in the coming weeks and months:
I'm happy to bring any of my workshops to your city, workplace or conference. Just email me at eloquentwoman AT gmail DOT com. I already know I'll be seeing readers of my blogs at these sessions, but do let me know whether you will be among them.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The weekend read

Did you feel the love at work this week, communicators? All flowers and candy and dim lighting, was it? Steak dinners and perfume? No? No worries. It's not just the weekend, it's Valentine's Day, and I curated this box of candies, sweets and reads--all my best finds of the week on Twitter--just for you, darling:
I love you, a bushel and a peck. Thanks for being my date on Friday again this week, Valentines.

I'd love to see you or your colleagues at my 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. 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 13, 2014

Scientists: When talking to public audiences, do you describe or explain?

As scientists and communicators gather in Chicago this weekend for the American Association for the Advancement of Science 2014 annual meeting, communicating science will be a front-and-center topic. But the place I didn't expect to find a gem about communicating science was in an on-stage interview for On Being with fiction writer Marilynne Robinson and astrophysicist Marcelo Gleiser. Host Krista Tippett let the two interview subjects ask questions of one another. That's when Robinson put her finger on a subtlety of science communication: The default tendency of researchers to start explaining, rather than describing, their work.

The nuance is an important one from the point of view of the scientist's non-technical or public audience. Often, the explanation follows a curious question, but turns the exchange into a lecture that takes the listener back to the chronological start of the field of study, rather than answer the question. Many of the scientists I've worked with feel they must "educate" even a casual questioner in this way, but that approach doesn't take into account findings, such as this research, which show that "the dominant approach to science communication risks further alienating scientists from the public by placing scientists in the role of teachers." That's why the tactic is on my list of the 7 ineffective habits of scientists who present to public audiences. 

But the novelist and the astrophysicist got at this nuance in a simple, straightforward way, by delineating the difference between describing something and explaining it--and why science can't always really claim to explain as much as it does:
Ms. Robinson: Oh, my. One thing that I find when I'm reading, you know, scientists that write in a popular way, writing these issues and that frankly I've found a couple of times in your book, is a tendency to use the word "explain" when I would say the appropriate word is "describe." You know, if they figure out the fine points of photosynthesis, you know, maybe we'll say, well, it's a quantum phenomenon or something like that, that's a description. It's not an explanation. You know? And perhaps there are things that are not — don't make themselves available to explanation but that does not mean that description stands in the place of explanation. 
And sort of like if somebody says why does a clock tell time, you can describe the mechanism of the particular clock or you can say people arrived at a convenient definition of one day, divided it into arbitrary segments, and made a mechanism that would measure those segments because culture required timekeeping with that degree of precision. Now, that's not a complete explanation but it is explanatory whereas the other one is only descriptive.
And I think that's a very important distinction that is not made because very often when people look at religious accounts of things, people looking at them from the outside, they say, no, that's not an explanation. Actually, the explanation is that it was beneficial to the leopards' existence that it blended into a shadowy landscape — hence, spots. You know what I mean? This is descriptive. It is not explanatory.
Dr. Gleiser: I'm fine with that. [Laughter from audience] 
Dr. Gleiser: I mean, I think that — I don't think I have any claims there. I would say that we are just trying to make sense of physical reality in the best way we can, and perhaps what you are implicitly referring to is the lack of humility that sometimes comes with the scientific kind of rhetoric. You know, that there is sort of this like "this is how it is" kind of thing. And the ones that probably bother you the most are the ones that get the public voice and that do make rhetorical statements about things such as now science can understand the origin of the universe. You know, which is absolutely not true. You know, formally not true. You know, but the statement comes out in the media and in books by very famous people all the time. 
Gleiser rightly points out that it's a combination of how you approach the answer to a question, and how high your need is to sound definitive and authoritative. I work with scientists who hesitate to say "I don't know" in public and media interactions, and I always work hard to dispel the myth that that's a weakness in a researcher. After all, if you could answer all the questions and did so, you'd be out of a job. Scientists, of all professions, should embrace "I don't know" as a fulcrum to introduce into the conversation the idea that research is a search, not the end of the process.

Next time you get a question from someone whose expertise is not your own, ask yourself--or better yet, ask the questioner--"Is this something she wants me to describe or explain?" Descriptive mode might help you avoid sounding like a lecturer, and better meet your public audience's needs at the same time. 
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. 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!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Strategic View: Q&A with Jennifer Collins, The Event Planning Group

(Editor's note: This interview series brings you the strategic views of top communicators who are working creatively--all people in my extensive network. Washington is a city that thrives on events, and as president of The Event Planning Group, Jennifer Collins leads a team that prides itself on creating engaging brand experiences. She does that from a solid public relations background, and I'm delighted to share her insights on using social media with you.)

Go back to when you were considering how to use social media. What did you decide on as an approach, and how did you come to that decision?

I considered the recommendations of others who suggested that I use the platform that makes the most sense. Essentially, I was counseled that I shouldn’t get caught up in using all mediums just because they are there, and “everyone’s using them.” So I considered the places where my audience would be most informed about our capabilities as well as those with the best networking opportunities.

Another important consideration was deciding who would be the best person(s) to populate each platform. As company President, it was not in my best interest to personally try and engage all platforms. So I decided that Twitter and LinkedIn were the best tools for me to engage. We are in the process of designating another team member to maintain our Facebook page and develop video outreach.

Have you replaced any traditional PR methods using social tools only? Share some examples that you think are working well.

We are pretty much only using social media for our outreach. Our main focus at this time is building up content on our blog. We then push the blog postings to our other targeted platforms. What we’ve found is that there is an entire other “universe” on social media. For instance, Twitter has delivered networking and visibility across the globe. Many of our postings have been retweeted as industry resources. We have also been able to meet some of our followers at industry events.

What's a big lesson you've learned in using social media?

To respect social media for its power. While I tend to be a slow adopter of technology, I do see the benefits.
As a business owner, marketing the business using social media is much easier than when I first started out. In 1997, we were mainly using hardcopy brochures, direct mail and traditional PR. Social media has the capability of “expanding our coast” further and faster. It’s just now a matter of being consistent and organized in its use.

Which platforms are you using now?

We are using Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. We plan to begin using videos as well.

How do you measure results?

We do not have firm statistics of contracts being won due to social media. But what the outreach has done is generate visibility, which has led to inclusion in requests for proposals, speaking engagements and consideration as a resource.

What would you like to be able to do that you're not doing now?

I would like to increase our blogging capability and develop a video component to our outreach.

Finally: Share some links to examples of your social media efforts.
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. 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!

Friday, February 07, 2014

The weekend read

Just over that bridge lies the weekend, communicators, and there's not a troll in sight--just my curated collection of great reads, leads and ideas shared on Twitter this week. Cross over the bridge to a smarter Monday:
I used to have a boss who would say, "We'll jump off that bridge when we come to it." (And you wonder why I'm my own boss, do you?) Instead of that, let's meander over the bridge to the weekend, enjoying the view. Thanks for being here again on a Friday...

Seats are filling for my 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. 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 06, 2014

Where's your audience now? 3 big shifts in traditional media

I'm sure I'm not the only person who has wondered why, in the age of social media, network television has seemed to sail through the transition from its traditional roots and print media like newspapers have stumbled. In the past week, a trio of articles came through my feeds, each with a different piece of the same answer: One medium knows where to find and assemble its audience and the other doesn't, yet.

In Super Bowl underscores the big business of must-see live TV, media critic David Carr not only confesses his family had a bucket of KFC for the big game, but puts his finger on television's sweet spot: Live TV events give us shared experiences in a way no other medium does. The Super Bowl is just one example, with the last four contests each ranking as the most-watched television program in history in total viewers. Even the less-watched game this year set a record. NFL games overall this season drew more than 20 million viewers, three times the average television program audience. But there's more:
...even as network ratings have dropped 29 percent over the last decade, the Grammys have added six million viewers, the Academy Awards have added three million give or take, and the Golden Globes have managed to hold steady over the same time period, according to the Nielsen Company. No wonder that Dick Clark Productions is adding as many live events as it can get its hands on and that William Morris Endeavor recently made a huge bet by buying IMG to gain access to sports, powered as it is by live events.
Unscripted live television has high potential to delight, disrupt and surprise us, and those are the moments that get people talking the next day--or the day before. No wonder, then, that Facebook was offering deals to celebrities who posted about the Super Bowl; it wanted a piece of that second-screen audience. In a world of many options, television has figured out how to do what it always did best: Get us to gather around a screen with a group of friends (and plenty of chips and dip so we don't have to miss a moment).

While network television's going wide, streaming services like Amazon and Netflix are narrowcasting. When the consumer can choose where and when to watch, even binge-watching an entire season in a weekend, that's a winning strategy that takes advantage of our desire for customized experiences. Want to watch that show again and again? Want to know all the plotlines by Monday? You can, and so can you. A new sign of the robust strength of this trend: Netflix is raising $400 million so it can produce more original content like my beloved House of Cards.

The Netflix and Amazon models take advantage of an approach you can use, hyper-categorization. That means more tagging and targeting content to particular users and subgroups of users--exactly the opposite of that big-group shared experience that live TV is cornering. In effect, it's a menu of opportunities in which many users can find themselves and their particular likes and passions. You're telling them where to quickly find what they want.

That's not yet the case with the news apps coming out of traditional print media. In Everyone's making news apps but no one knows the right way to read them, Business Insider writer Ryan Bushey highlights a formatting issue you may have missed. Used to be that all newspapers followed the same format for readability and news order. That lead story was always at the top right corner of the front page, which itself said "this is the summary of what's most important today." But now, a thousand options are blooming in how news app let you navigate and in what they offer you to read. There's no consistent way for a mobile user to approach several news apps. 

It's one reason Bushey thinks the boomlet in news apps is not long-lived. "With so much information available online, it's tough to be able sit down and read everything regardless if a story is spruced up with sleek visuals," he notes. He predicts that most of the news apps that debut in 2014 won't be around by year's end.

(Creative Commons licensed photo from U.S. Army Korea's photostream on Flickr)

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. 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!

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

New free guide to verifying digital content during a crisis

I've been tracking how you should correct the moving record that is Twitter in a crisis for some time now, so I was just delighted when contributor Steve Buttry shared the availability of The Verification Handbook: A Definitive Guide to Verifying Digital Content for Emergency Coverage. Written for journos, this is a guide that communicators need, particularly those whose work encompasses emergency and crisis communications.

The guide emphasizes how journalist can verify user-generated content during emergencies, looking in-depth at video, photos and other content as well as how news organizations can harness the power of the crowd in a crisis. You'll find a meaty chapter on verification tools of all kinds as well as tips for news orgs looking to plan ahead for crisis coverage, including how to create a verification process and checklists.

Communications pros should snap up this free guide and make it mandatory reading--then rethink your crisis communications plans so that a verification process is embedded in your procedures. Don't get caught without this valuable new tool.