Friday, March 28, 2014

The weekend read

This week, I'm in London, where I spoke last night to the Fabian Women's Network at the House of Commons of the British Parliament, about how to succeed as a speaker. Now that's a nice way to end the week. But you don't need to feel like a back-bencher. The weekend's front and center. I've got the usual curated list of my finds and reads shared on my Twitter feed for you. All rise...
We're adjourned--but not before I thank you for being present today, and every Friday. Have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Infographics Eleven: 10 books and an exhibit

Infographics take advantage of the strongest of all social media trends--the visual--but these powerhouse graphics, when done well, pack a lot of data as well as visual beauty. And in my book, they do not include those three-foot-long type treatments of something that's primarily text and probably should have been a blog post, just so we're clear.

Good infographics involve work to be sure you're conveying data correctly rather than just beautifully. I'm delighted to have found a not-quite-dozen books and a meaty exhibit that offer plenty of examples, ideas and nuances for your infographic adventures:
  1. Beautiful Science is an infographic exhibit currently at the British Library in London through May 26. I'm in London this week and can attest that this exhibit--which covers historic as well as current infographics--is a data-lover's dream. Check out an example at right, showing the number of fast food outlets per 100,000 population. The Library's holding a series of events to explore themes of the exhibit, such as picturing the public health of the nation and data visualization design techniques. You also can check out infographics from the exhibit on the British Library's Pinterest board.
  2. The Best American Infographics 2013 with an introduction by David Byrne, is an eye-popping collection that would be a great reference for the office. Brain Pickings blog looks at how to be an educated consumer of infographics, highlighting Byrne's introduction.
  3. The Best American Infographics 2014 with an introduction by Nate Silver is just out, and brings the collection (and your infographic ogling) up-to-date.
  4. Information Graphics offers a thorough introductory section, followed by more than 400 examples of infographics, each with a fact sheet and explanations of the methodology used and the graphic's objective.
  5. Infographics: The Power of Visual Storytelling looks at the full range of options, from the type-heavy versions I don't like to the visual displays of data that appeal to me more. Includes data on how and why our brains react so well to visuals of this type, something worth knowing before you plunge in.
  6. Cool Infographics: Effective Communication with Data Visualization and Design also covers why infographics work and how to create them, but focuses as well on such practical applications as "board meeting presentations, annual reports, consumer research statistics, marketing strategies, business plans, and visual explanations of products and services to your customers," as well as applications you might use yourself, like a visual resume.
  7. The Power of Infographics: Using Pictures to Communicate and Connect With Your Audiences emphasizes whether your audience will understand the infographic--something I especially appreciate--as well as the often-ignored step of planning for measurement of your return on investment in creating these graphics.
  8. The Functional Art: An introduction to information graphics and visualization is an option if you've considered taking a course to dive deep into infographics and how they're made: The book is accompanied by a DVD course on the topic.
  9. Designing Information: Human Factors and Common Sense in Information Design is another deep dive of a book, so comprehensive that it goes beyond the beautiful to provide you with examples of failed designs (and why they failed) as well as the exemplary.
  10. The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures takes a smaller and larger view, reducing your need for visualization to a few dots and marks on the back of a napkin, but zooming out to discuss the big picture of why conveying information doesn't need to be complicated to be clear.
  11. Visual Language for Designers: Principles for Creating Graphics that People Understand looks at infographics' visual language and its meanings. The action-oriented book considers how to direct the eye, make abstract concepts concrete and more.
Yes, these are Amazon affiliate links--so when you order a book via one of these links (or anything else on Amazon, for that matter), you are helping to support this blog at no cost to you. Thank you!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Communicators: Learn how to succeed in your work with experts

She knows a lot more than she lets on about the mentality of scientists, engineers and experts of all kinds...Like a river raft guide who knows where the rocks are hidden under the water, she not only knows what to say to scientists and engineers who ask for her help; she also knows what they are really thinking but NOT saying out loud, so she is able to address their unexpressed concerns, reservations, criticisms....

That's how one of my clients explains how I work with experts: subject-matter experts, policy wonks, scientists and engineers. It's the kind of expertise that comes from years of working with smart people in aid of communicating with public audiences and the news media. And believe me, it wasn't easy to come by.

Now I share that knowledge in a workshop I wish I'd had earlier in my own career. The next session of Be an Expert on Working with Experts takes place in Washington, DC, on June 19, and registration's open now--in fact, seats are already taken for this popular session. We've had every level of communications pro in this workshop, from vice presidents to new associates, and every session's different, depending on the issues you bring forward. But every time, we'll cover:
  • the default communications style of experts and how you can help them turn it around easily to communicate with public and media audiences;
  • the personality preferences of experts, and why your requests may be met with resistance--plus how to change that dynamic; and
  • approaches, tactics and ideas for accomplishing your goals together so both expert and communicator can succeed.
Previous participants call this the "best training I've ever had" and "Denise can offer you practical guidance that you'll be able to put into practice immediately. I particularly appreciated her emphasis on understanding a speaker's needs and motivations in order to help them deliver the best possible presentation." Come find out why.

You get an early discount if you register by May 9. Many communicators attend with their teams, a great way to ensure you can reinforce the learning with one another long after the workshop's over. Will you join us?

Looking to work on your own public speaking? 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. You can grab a sweet discount by registering by April 11. Go here to read how the first workshop went and what participants had to say. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

The weekend read

It's not teatime yet (at least, not where I live). That would mean we were that much closer to the end of the week, communicators. Still, you need a quiet ritual to get you to the weekend, don't you? Pull up a chair and sample my collection of great reads, data and leads, shared on Twitter this week and carefully steeped and stirred here just for you. Shall I pour?
I've opened registration early for two smart workshops coming up in May and June--and smart communicators are already registering. Check them out:
  • 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.
No need to read the tea leaves. I'll tell you straight: So glad you hang around here on a Friday. C'mon back next week.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Down with acronyms (DWA): Don't get caught making these mistakes

When I chaired the European Speechwriters Network conference in Brussels in September 2013, our lead speaker was Luuk van Middelar, Dutch historian and speechwriter to the president of the European Council. He set himself a personal goal when writing his book on the creation of the European Union, The Passage to Europe: Not using any acronyms in a close-to-400-page book about a multinational bureaucracy. The next day, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's senior planning officer and speechwriter Jonathan Parish shared a different reality. He told us that NATO--which covers 28 nations and 25 languages--has a dictionary of acronyms that runs to 300 such abbreviations.

Acronyms are useful shorthand within organizations. Once you start trotting them out in public, however, acronyms may act more as barriers than aids to your message. (These funny scientific acronyms, all of which amuse the insider, don't shed much light for the outsider.) I see too many organizations and companies starting the branding process with acronyms, rather than letting them follow a thoughtful communications planning process. Here are some considerations to make sure you don't get caught with an unwieldy abbreviation:
  • Acronyms that make cute names: Here in Washington, DC, our venerable Congress has taken to naming nearly every piece of legislation with long acronyms that make cute titles, a practice I abhor. Fortunately, the New York Times is with me on this. Few citizens realize that what we call the "Patriot Act" is really the "USA PATRIOT Act," short for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism. So why use it? The Times notes that this phenomenon occurred almost not at all before 1988, and that it might be worth changing, as bill titles seem to have an impact in U.S. Supreme Court decisions. Talk about getting caught...
  • Almost-acronyms: I'm a big fan of the marketing wisdom in Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, but the central tenets--simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, stories--almost spell "success." This requires one to spend more time explaining that it doesn't spell success than to discuss the central tenets. It's not solved by the typography (see below). 
  • The sound of abbreviation: If you wind up with an acronym that *must* have a particular syllable emphasized, that's an abbreviation that's too complicated. After all, you won't be around to correct everyone who attempts to pronounce it, right? I've seen clients get stuck with acronyms that sound odd when spoken aloud, and changing the syllabic emphasis doesn't really fix that. If you're a global organization, that acronym likely won't cross language borders--so is it worth it? Don't forget to consider how people actually say your acronym out loud. Having worked at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, I can tell you we got plenty of snail mail addressed to "Triple A S" because that's how people actually say the acronym.
  • All the kids are using it: If you think your acronym is going to help your complexly-named organization "stand out"--an argument I've heard many times--think again. Or rather, Google again. I've also heard executives complain bitterly about other companies and groups using "their" acronyms, perhaps forgetting that the English alphabet has but 26 letters in it. There are only so many combinations to go around. Try this exercise: Live completely without an acronym for the organization, initiative or product in question for a month. Then think harder about whether you really need it.
  • We can make it distinctive with a type treatment: I love typography and did a special study in it in journalism school. But let me assure you that no amount of mixing capital and lowercase letters or, heaven forfend, different fonts will somehow overcome an acronym that's in wide use or not very compelling.
  • We need one because our real name is too long: Really? There are plenty of alternatively understandable shorthand methods to refer to your organization. "The company," "the university," "the society," or even "we" will do just fine. If you're naming a new organization, consider the name length when you're starting out, rather than putting all your hopes on the acronym.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

5 workshops for speakers & communicators: London, Oxford, Ohio & DC

From Ohio and Oxford, UK, to Washington, DC, my list of speaking gigs and workshops is expanding in April, May and June. Some are open to the public, others to conference attendees; some are for public speakers and presenters, others for communications pros. Check out this updated list of where to catch me and join us if you can:
  • On March 27, I'll be speaking in London to the Fabian Women's Network on Succeeding as a public speaker. We'll be meeting at the Palace of Westminster--yes, Parliament--and examining common challenges and mistakes in public speaking as well as useful tips for the network, which encourages women to achieve social and political change and participate in public life. As a former public official myself, I'm looking forward to meeting these engaged women. 
  • On April 2, I'll be in Oxford, UK, to bring Be The Eloquent Woman, my workshop on women and public speaking, to the annual conference of the European Speechwriter Network and the UK Speechwriters' Guild. The workshop is open to the public and seats are still available. Go here to register. While you're at it, register for the speechwriters conference--it's a fantastic meeting. I'm so looking forward to learning from these wonderful colleagues.
  • On April 23, I'll be leading my workshop on how to Be an Expert on Working with Experts, with cancer communicators and fundraisers at the annual conference of the National Association of Cancer Center Development Officers (NACCDO) and the National Cancer Institute Public Affairs and Marketing Network (PAN) in Columbus, Ohio. Go here to read more about the session, which is open only to registrants of the conference. I'm looking forward to joining this lively group of smart communicators again--it's one of the best-organized meetings I attend.
  • 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. You can grab a sweet discount by registering by April 11. 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. And I'm happy to share that hard-earned wisdom with you. While this is the latest workshop on my calendar, seats are already filling for this session...don't delay your registration.
Participants in my workshops say they're loaded with info, fun and interactive. You'll learn new perspectives, and the networking can't be beat. These aren't off-the-shelf professional development offerings, so sign up today.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The weekend read

Spring hasn't quite sprung, at least not at my house. But the weekend is here, which means you'll soon be sprung from the office (I hope). Let's make sure the week goes out like a lamb, with all my best finds of the week, shared on Twitter and curated here for you communicators:
Have you signed up for my free monthly newsletter? It's out next week, and you'll have access to first word of new workshops, discounts and lots of tips on social media, communications and presenting and public speaking. Now, put a spring in your step and enjoy that weekend...I'm so glad you stopped by here on a Friday again.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

For your communicator's bookshelf, Microstyle: The Art of Writing Little

After reading my post on What Hemingway wrought: Word-limited storytelling's second wave, speaker training colleague Alan Barker had another great suggestion for my communicator's bookshelf (and yours): Microstyle: The Art of Writing Little.

It's essential if you find yourself--and who doesn't?--focusing more and more on writing microcontent, from headlines and tweets to Facebook posts and hashtags. You might want to master those and even learn good structure and style while you do. But you also might want to get more creative, to think about sound and expressive grammar, coin a new word, push buttons or create your own microvoice. This is the book for you, then.

Author Christopher Johnson also writes the Microstyle blog, and The Name Inspector, on naming, taglines and verbal branding. The book and the blogs should be part of any communicator, marketer or writerly arsenal in the age of the tiny message.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Media interview smarts: Neil DeGrasse Tyson on prep & managing time

Science communicator Molly McElroy pinged me recently with this tip: "Did you hear Neil DeGrasse Tyson on Fresh Air? I thought of you when he talked about how his "gift" at communicating science isn't a gift. It's hard work...and he gave an example of how he prepared for the Daily Show as an example."

Tyson is a scientist who makes communicating look easy, and it's therefore equally easy to hint that you could never do the same. But he breaks down the hard work involved (good mathematical principle there, to show the work) in this example--and the result is a useful guide to thinking about how to manage your time when you're answering questions in a media interview.
The answer came out of the suggestion that he has a gift for communicating with public audiences. From the show transcript:

....before my first interview on Jon Stewart - you know, that's a tough interview right there, all right, because he's brilliant and he's laden with pop culture referencing. And so I said to myself: If I'm going to have a successful interview with Jon Stewart, I want to study how he talks to his guests. So I sat there and I timed how long he lets you speak before he comes in with some kind of wisecrack or a joke. And what's the average time interval of that? Is it a minute, 90 seconds, 30 seconds? And I would create a rhythm in the parceling of the information I would deliver to him so that a complete thought would come out. So that when he does interrupt, there's a complete thought and then a fun joke, and then there's a resonance to that where you can then move on. Yeah. No, it's not a gift.
Far too many media interviewees approach the interview without a single thought to how long or, really, short their answers will be, let alone creating a rhythm. But it's a smart move. If you work on what it takes to be a good interview guest, you won't be making 15-minute speeches--and you might, then, get called again and again by the reporter or host. Need coaching? Ask for media training from a trainer like me or from your in-house communicator.

For more ideas, check out my 12 tips and resources on answering media interview questions, and 8 things to do in a media interview so you'll get called again. It's no surprise that, after his first well-planned foray on Stewart's show, Tyson has become a frequent and popular guest there. Will you be next?

(Creative Commons photo from Greyhawk68's photostream on Flickr)

Friday, March 07, 2014

The weekend read

Bright lights, big week...or were those just glimmers of the weekend? Never mind, it's here, along with this curated collection of my best finds of the week for communicators, shared on Twitter and here to, er, shed some light. You do want to get smarter by Monday, don't you?
Be among the first to know: I've opened registration for two Washington, DC workshops in May and June:
  • Be The Eloquent Woman is my subversive workshop for women speakers, to help them upend common perceptions of women speakers with content, confidence and credibility. It will take place May 15, and you get a sweet discount if you sign up by April 11. Tell your friends.
  • For communications pros who work with smart people, Be an Expert on Working with Experts will help you become more effective in working with researchers and subject-matter experts. It takes place June 19, and you'll get a discount for signing up early, by May 9. Tell your friends, again.
I light up like a Christmas tree when I think about you hanging out here on a Friday. Hope you have a wonderful weekend in store!

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Seats filling: @naccdopan experts workshop for cancer communicators


I'm delighted to be offering my popular 'Be an Expert on Working with Experts' workshop as a pre-conference session at the 2014 annual conference of the National Association of Cancer Center Development Officers (NACCDO) and the National Cancer Institute Public Affairs and Marketing Network (PAN), which takes place in April in Columbus, Ohio. And seats are already filling for this workshop, so if you want to add it to your registration, move quickly. Although the conference is handling registration for the session, I've been hearing directly from participants like the one who wrote to me earlier this week to say, "I am thrilled to see you have a day-long workshop...I will sign up."

These organizations are a wonderful and longstanding network of professionals who do the fundraising and communications for NCI-funded cancer centers around the United States, and the conference is perhaps the best-organized professional development offering I've ever attended. I've spoken before to this group, on 12 ways to make it easy to blog and 10 things communicators don't know about experts, a good preview to the workshop, although we'll go much more in depth in this session.

That's because registration is limited to a small group, which will allow us plenty of time to divulge common experiences that communications and development officers experience when working with their center's researchers, as well as time to discuss individual experiences and challenges. The group will work together on strategies and solutions, and my goal is for each participant to leave with a stronger sense of how to work better with experts and how to help them meet their centers' goals for funding and public outreach.

Here's what participants in previous versions of this workshop had to say:
  • "If you ever have the opportunity to take a workshop with @dontgetcaught, do it! Best training I've ever had. Informative and eye-opening." -- Ashley Berthelot, director of research communications, Louisiana State University.
  • "I recently attended Denise's one-day workshop called Be an Expert at Working With Experts. I found her instruction clear and insightful, her tips useful and her presentation style engaging. If you're looking for help as you try to get the best out of the people who speak on behalf of your organization, Denise can offer you practical guidance that you'll be able to put into practice immediately. I particularly appreciated her emphasis on understanding a speaker's needs and motivations in order to help them deliver the best possible presentation." - Rachel Coker, director of research advancement, Binghamton University.
Go here see this session's description, which you'll find under the "PAN sessions" tab; an extra fee is required beyond standard registration for the conference. Once the registration is full, this option will be gone from the registration page, so sign up soon. We'll convene from 9am to 4pm on Wednesday, April 23.

While this session is only open to NACCDO and PAN members attending the conference, I'm happy to bring a version of this workshop to your city, workplace or conference in a similar way. I'll also be convening a session of Be an Expert on Working with Experts on June 19 for which anyone can register, in Washington DC. You'll get a sweet discount for registering early for the DC session. Please join us!

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

What the shift away from hard news means for your media relations

The tide's turning, and the news business is just now coming to grips with it. That's all I can conclude when I read recent columns like these:
  • If you read the weekend read here on Fridays, you saw that Margaret Sullivan, the New York Times public editor, looked at how little hard news is in the newspaper these days. "Even in this digital age, I’d argue, the printed front page is still a strong indication of editors’ news values," she writes, noting that on one recent day, she found just one front-page article of 13 that could be called news.
  • The Atlantic's Derek Thompson, in "The Facebook Effect on the News," writes "The stories and videos most likely to be shared, emailed and posted on Facebook aren't necessarily the newest stories, but they are the most evocative." He notes specifically that "our most successful stories on Facebook often aren't news-pegged—that is, they're not about recent or upcoming events. Instead, they are what journalists call 'evergreen' stories—essays about diets, Millennials, and happiness, studies on coffee and decision-making, or beautiful photos."
Having come out of the world of magazine journalism, where the "evergreen" topic has long been considered catnip for readers, I can only guess that these journalists dismissed this undercurrent because the genre of "what the people want" had no appeal to them as writers. At the recent annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, scientists interested in Engaging with Journalists wound up hearing this:
But there's no doubt that once you put publishing tools in the readers' hands, they will tell you what they want. And what they want drives the advertising train, in the end.

If media relations is your bag, that may mean just as many shifts. Those stories you could dismiss out of hand as "not being newsworthy" might garner your greatest engagement...and so rejecting non-news stories is not going to win the day. If you were counting on that as a way of controlling workflow, you'll need to think again. Letting journalists' feedback steer you in the right direction also may no longer work, particularly if they are as far behind the curve as the columns above suggest. So what do you do?
  • Identify your internal and external influencers: Who's sharing/tweeting/blogging about your topic within your company or organization, or outside it, with a large following? Which of those influencers are most credible and popular? Start measuring the reach of potential partners inside and outside your base. They're the new "reporters" you'll need, both to push out information and to help engage the audiences you want to reach. Yes, this involves legwork. Yes, it will pay off.
  • Rethink the data you're collecting and making available: Data's the new base of many stories, and the New York Times just hired a biologist with a PhD in theoretical physics to lead its "machine learning" team. What data do you have to offer? What data will you have in the years to come? Are you encouraging users and reporters to dig into it? Do you make it available in useful ways? It might shape the coverage you get going forward, newsy or not.
  • Lavish attention on the people who cover you like a blanket: That might mean refocusing your media relations love on trade publications, or those freelancers who really know how to mine you for information. Or that guy in Florida who just happens to like your topic and shares it with a wide following. Instead of categorizing your lists as you once did, make sure you're encompassing the full range of potential sharers.
  • Rethink your formats: I advocate the press release diet because new formats like blogs continue to prove more effective at getting your news, large and small, where it needs to go--and there's a reason why my post Instead of a press release: Options to add to your press release diet is the runaway number-one post with my readers. If you're not spending time reformatting your news to fit Twitter, Facebook and other social sites, you're closing a door to greater visibility and attention.
  • Use reader/member/donor/real person generated content: The people closest to you--members of membership groups, faculty in universities, consumers and retailers for product manufacturers--could be your best source of content. Create content for them, and ask them to create content for you. Readers and audiences love to see themselves reflected in what you're promulgating, and so do the rest of us.
  • Think "not the usual suspects" when it comes to breaking and hard news: Like Wikipedia. The video below is a lecture about a study of 3,000 Wikipedia articles about breaking news--from natural disasters to shootings and more--and what we can learn about how those articles were updated and edited.