Friday, May 30, 2014

The weekend read

This weekend read arrives on my birthday, so have your cake and eat it, too: Celebrate the end of the week or the start of my new year, as you wish. There are gifts for everyone, in the form of my finds-of-the-week, shared on Twitter and curated here for you, communicators. Let's get this party started:
I'll always invite you to my party on Fridays. Thanks for reading and being here again this week!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Are experts really "too busy" for communicating?

Sometimes, I start my workshop on how to Be an Expert on Working with Experts (next session June 19) by asking the professional communicators present to give me one word that describes the experts with whom they work. The adjectives vary, but "busy" nearly always tops the list.

I'd call that sign-number-one that your efforts to get experts to cooperate with your communications projects--media interviews, donor meetings, testimony, public outreach--aren't working. That's because "busy" often is just an acceptable way of saying "no" when the expert feels ill-prepared, uncomfortable or just uncertain of the outcome. The communicator who stops at "busy" may never discover an easy way to help the expert get around, over or through that discomfort. You may be missing the chance to answer a simple question, offer coaching, or find the next great science or policy communicator if you stop at "busy."

At the same time, communications pros, with their imprecise and often last-minute requests, look an awful lot like unorganized piles of work with little payoff that matters to the expert, making "no" an efficiency. Who wouldn't be busy then? One of my favorite experts called me once upon a time to say "no more interviews." When I probed why, he told me a formula: "I get 10 percent of my calls from reporters and they take up 80 percent of my time." I had an easy fix for him. No more one-on-one interviews, except in special cases. More conference calls with groups of reporters. Better filtering. Problem solved--but only because I didn't stop at "talk to the hand."

That's why we spend time in the workshop unpacking the personalities and priorities of experts, how the typical communicator's request comes across, and realistic ways communicators can identify and work with rather than at odds with the expert's motivations and priorities to achieve your public communication goals. We also talk about working with big-ego experts and those for who whom the public spotlight prompts vulnerabilities, and how to support them both without becoming roadkill or missing a cue.

Previous participants call this a "truly great workshop" and "Best training I've ever had. Informative and eye-opening." It's designed specifically for communicators who work with subject-matter experts, policy wonks, scientists, doctors, engineers. This session has new content and exercises, based on updated research. You'll learn a lot and have fun, and have the chance to network with a great group of communications pros in all sectors. We've had everyone from vice presidents to junior associates attend this workshop, and I just led a pre-conference session of this workshop for the National Cancer Institute Public Affairs Network at its recent meeting in Columbus, Ohio. (You can read more about that session here.)

All registration for this workshop closes in less than two weeks, at midnight EST on June 11. Many smart communicators come with their teams. At the PAN conference, one table of participants came from all the functions in a single public affairs office, from director to webmaster. It's a smart way to make sure you can reinforce the learning long after our time together is over.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The weekend read

This week, did your ideas spread like weeds or bloom like flowers? Time to weed and feed the weekend, starting with my curated collection of finds from the week, shared with you on Twitter. No need to uproot yourself to get smarter by Monday:
Just a short time left to register for the June 19 session of Be an Expert on Working with Experts, my workshop for communications pros who work with subject-matter experts, physicians, scientists and engineers. It's a one-of-a-kind professional development opportunity. Are you in? 

I don't need to pick the petals off in a love-you-love-you-not game. Love that you're here again on a Friday! Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Q from #AF4Q: How do I get my comms director to omit NASCAR slides?

I planned for a lot of questions in my workshop on How to give a killer presentation at the annual meeting of Aligning Forces for Quality. It's a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation--a former employer of mine--that brings together health coalitions in communities around the nation, aiming to find ways to improve health and health care. But one question stopped me in my tracks.

"You say to get rid of those NASCAR slides. How do I convince my communications director to agree to that?"

I've written on my public speaking blog, The Eloquent Woman, about slides you should delete from presentations, including NASCAR slides. AF4Q readers, this is my other blog, the one that speaks to communications pros. True confessions? I've been a communications director many times over.

You know what I mean by NASCAR slides: They have logos galore, representing all your partners, funders or sponsors. In some academic settings, the logos get replaced with long lists of the names of the many graduate assistants who worked on a study, but it's the same effect.

This questioner really got at an everyday barrier to better presentations, and I'm sorry, but not surprised, that comms directors are the culprits. I know there's pressure to make sure all those sponsors are acknowledged,  I know that NASCAR slides seem to be an efficient, one-and-done way to ensure that happens every time. But in fact, they don't add any nutritional content to a presentation, nor do they provide the intended thanks. For the speaker, there's little to say except, "Here are our sponsors," and a click to the next slide.

I'd much rather have the speaker weave the thanks authentically and in context throughout the presentation, using them to add content and meaning. Here are a few ways to do that with ease:
  • "...and it's at this point in the research that Fred Smith, one of our wonderful graduate assistants, identified the change that made this result possible."
  • "You may not be aware that very few foundations fund the constructing of a building, so the Anningdale Foundation's willingness to support that work was crucial to the homeless shelter we have today."
  • "When Alicia Aebersold invited me to speak to you today, she made sure I understood that you wouldn't want the usual advice on giving presentations. And she was right!"
  • "You may have heard that Celcomp is one of our sponsors, but you probably don't realize that its CEO, John Jones, has been a mentor to me since my undergraduate days. It's so special for me to still be working with him, this time on a community-wide food bank."
Yes, communications directors, I know what you're thinking: That. Takes. More.Work. But it also Gets. Better. Results.

So here's what to do: Go to the people to whom you've previously issued NASCAR slides. Tell them they're in charge of thanking people, appropriately and in context. Give them ideas for how to do that. Tell them you don't want to get calls from angry sponsors who feel ignored. Then try this approach for six months or more, so it becomes a habit. 

I predict you won't want the NASCAR slides once you've tried such a pilot project. People sitting in the audiences of your presenters have many identities. Some are "just audience members" to you, but they also may be thinking about places to give donations, looking for business partners, wanting the services or products you sell. They might be reporters or bloggers whose attention will be piqued by a story nugget encased in that acknowledgment. They might have something to offer you haven't anticipated. How you thank your current sponsors, donors and partners might well inspire them to action. Or a nap. It's your choice, really. Make it an organization-wide challenge to surprise and delight your partners and sponsors every time a presentation is made.

One of the best examples of this I've ever seen belongs to Jennifer Granholm, when she was governor of Michigan. It's billed as a speech in which a $1 billion semiconductor was being announced, but in fact it's announcing something even more yawn-inducing to some communicators, the granting of a right-to-compete designation to two companies to produce solar panels as part of a larger state energy policy. And it required the thanking of legions of people. If we are honest, this is the kind of speech that many speechwriters and communications directors dread or push to one side, because listing lots of sponsors, honorees or acknowledgments doesn't involve great wordsmithing or communications excellence. 

But in Granholm's hands, this speech does both those things. Listen to and watch her artful and lavish thank-yous in the video below. I've rarely heard--but would welcome hearing--speeches in which this task has been handled as well. What could easily have been a NASCAR-slide episode left people feeling well-treated and eager to do more, something no slide can really accomplish.

One final note, for the speakers: You'll see advocates of the NASCAR slide more often in marketing operations than in communications shops, and perhaps the distinction means little to you, but it has to do with brand management. Regardless, you should take charge of this situation. Sit down with your communicators and talk about making thanks a more authentic and interesting part of your presentations, and assure them you'll be assiduous about it. Then follow through. Who knows? Working together, you might be able to shift this ridiculous presentation practice. 

Be an Expert on Working with Experts is the workshop I wish I'd had earlier in my communications career. Designed specifically for communications pros who work with subject-matter experts, scientists, policy wonks and other technical professions, this one-day session next takes place on June 19 in Washington, DC. Seats are already join us!

Friday, May 16, 2014

The weekend read

If, right about now, you're thinking all your hard work is lying in ruins around you, let's reframe that in time for the weekend. After all, the Roman Forum, the Parthenon and other ruins have lasted in that state for a long time. Time to build on that foundation, however scattered it may seem, and head for the weekend. My curated-just-for-you finds of the week, shared on Twitter, can be the building blocks you need to get smarter by Monday:
One of my favorite ruins in England was a stately home...until the owner gambled away the roof in a card game, leading to both his ruination and that of the home. (It later got some fame on a Rolling Stones album cover.) Don't get caught, indeed! You won't catch me ruining our great relationship. Thanks for strolling through the ruins of your week with me, as we do every Friday.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Just curious: Why are you endorsing me for press releases on LinkedIn?

You work hard on a blog to build an audience--in my case, to make sure clients and prospective clients understand what you do and what you can be hired to do. You create an entire series on the blog advocating a press release diet as part of your social media strategy, a series so widely read it's been reprinted on and shared by reporters and communicators around the world. It's even becoming more the norm than the exception at companies and organizations in every sector.

And then you get endorsed for "press releases" on LinkedIn. Not once, but dozens of times.

Don't get me wrong: I love you when you endorse me on LinkedIn. I love you even more if you've actually hired me, used my services or worked alongside me and took the time to write a recommendation of my work, which is what my prospective clients want to see. (Not all of my endorsers actually know my work, but that's for another post.) I really love you if you recommend me and aren't doing it just to get a recommendation out of me in return.

This is a phenomenon I just don't understand. I can see people fishing for return endorsments, even though I don't like the practice. I can see endorsing or recommending someone for something they've actually done when the recommender has direct knowledge about it. But recommending me for something I no longer produce and actively advise against? Emily Culbertson gets points for the tweet above, a wink to let me know she understands how odd this is. And then she did it, anyway.

This wouldn't seem so odd to me if I hadn't decided a decade ago, when I started this consultancy, on the things I would never do again in my communications work. Top of the list? Writing press releases and pitching stories to journalists. For one thing, I wanted to do more of my own writing and publishing. I started out in journalism and have always intended to get back to writing original work instead of pitching the work of others or serving as a source for other writers. Over time, I've also become less and less enamored of the blunt instruments communicators have traditionally used to generate news coverage. That knowledge comes firsthand, having seen it all work up close and behind the scenes. These days, when I advocate getting rid of releases, it's in aid of a service I do provide, helping clients to develop sound social media strategies. Yes, I can write one hell of a press release, better than average and highly effective. But not anymore.

I'm not the first person who's thought that LinkedIn endorsements are a low-energy way to get people interacting with the site, which means it has little to do with the person getting the endorsement. I get that. You can turn off endorsements in LinkedIn, and I've thought about it. Instead, I've settled for deleting lovely endorsements for press releases. This has only worked up to a point. Every month, even though "press releases" are not on my list of skills for endorsement, people still endorse me for it--a choice that involves more effort. And every month, I go in and weed them out. So save me some work, darlings. Endorse me for something else, will ya? Then I can honestly go in and endorse you for "thoughtful observations."

On June 19 in Washington, DC, I'll convene a session of Be an Expert on Working with Experts that's open to the public. Designed for communications pros who work with subject-matter experts, scientists and policy researchers, this is a popular workshop. It's also the workshop I wish I'd had earlier in my career, based on my own effort to understand why the smart folks I work with weren't always willing to cooperate with my communications efforts. Join us!

Friday, May 09, 2014

The weekend read

If you've felt like you were lost in the ocean like Nemo this week, communicators, now hear this: You're headed in the right direction, straight for the weekend. Time to plunge in and explore my finds of the week, shared on Twitter and curated here just for you, 'cause you didn't come this far to be breakfast:
This week marks 10 years since I started this consultancy. Time flies...and I'm glad you've been here to explore the vast seas with me. Thanks for being in my school of fish, this week and every week.

It's the last day to grab the early discount for my June 19 Washington, DC, session of Be an Expert on Working with Experts that's open to the public. Designed for communications pros who work with subject-matter experts, scientists and policy researchers, this is a popular workshop. This is the workshop I wish I'd had earlier in my career, based on my own effort to understand why the smart folks I work with weren't always willing to cooperate with my communications efforts.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

What my first tweet--and yours--can teach you about Twitter

Twitter now makes it easy to see your first tweet -- you just enter your @ handle and it takes you right back to day one. Aside from wincing, is there anything you can learn from it? I think so, and if you're still a regular Twitter user, looking back in this way might help you see the progress you're making in social media.
  • Did you plunge right in or put a toe in the water? I've lost count of the number of people who started with "Is this thing on?", a corny microphone joke. But plenty of others simply said things like, "I'm trying to figure this out," which is fair and sharing. Having read a lot about Twitter before jumping in, my first tweet gets right down to it. I wanted to jump in, not tiptoe, although either approach will do...and will tell you a lot about how you approach new things.
  • Was it personal, careful, goofy or super-professional? Or something else? I've written before about balancing personal and professional on Twitter--but that came two years after my first tweet. I'm glad to see my first effort was all personal, especially with the weekend ahead. I like the idea of starting informally, rather than with a polished professional pronouncement.
  • Would you tweet that first tweet today? If it was in the moment, talking about trying Twitter for the first time, perhaps not. But that's not really what I'm getting at. Is the tone, the voice, the content consistent with what you've come to establish as your tweeting today? If not, why not? What has changed, for good or ill?
  • Did you display your secret sauce? Were you authentic? I've said for some time that if you don't display your personality on social media, you'd better go to the store and buy one. That's the secret sauce. Did your first tweet tell us something about you? Was there a flash of humor or vulnerability--something to which we can relate? That's how connections are built.
  • Did you have difficulty with the character limits? If there was care taken with my first tweet, it was in the character count, since my first effort's half the allowable length. For me, then, getting comfortable with longer tweets was the next logical step. You might think about how you've changed your tweeting since day one to make the best use of the space allotted.
Enjoy checking out that first tweet. I won't tell anyone if you wince while you do it....

On May 15, I'll be convening another session of Be The Eloquent Woman in Washington, DC. It's a subversive new workshop that helps women executives and public officials learn how women speakers are perceived and how to turn those expectations on their heads with confidence, content and credibility. All registration closes May 8. Go here to read how the first workshop went and what participants had to say. 

On June 19, also in Washington, DC, I'll convene a session of Be an Expert on Working with Experts that's open to the public. Designed for communications pros who work with subject-matter experts, scientists and policy researchers, this is a popular workshop--and you get an early discount for registering by May 9. This is the workshop I wish I'd had earlier in my career, based on my own effort to understand why the smart folks I work with weren't always willing to cooperate with my communications efforts.

Friday, May 02, 2014

The weekend read

Some weeks feel like you're trying to sail and sell, paddle and peddle, row and show, all at the same time. Communicators, it's time to head for port and yell "Land ahoy" for the weekend, almost in sight. Use my finds of the week from Twitter, curated just for you, as a anchor:
I'm excited to say that I'll be leading a pre-conference workshop, Be The Eloquent Woman, at the European Speechwriter Network conference in Amsterdam in October. The workshop is a subversive look at perceptions of women public speakers, and offers confidence, credibility and content to upend those expectations.

Closer to home, you have just one more week to grab the early discount for the next session of Be an Expert on Working with Experts, or to register for the next Washington session of Be The Eloquent Woman. Get on it.

Now, stop rowing and put up your oars. We'll just glide into the weekend together, as usual...thanks so much for being here, again and again.