Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The short list: 5 more books on writing short

You write a post about word-limited storytelling from Hemingway to NPR, and another about a book on Microstyle, and guess what? You'll keep hearing from readers who want more about how to write short. Microcontent, headlines, web content, you name it. Brevity is not just the soul of wit these days, but a necessary format.

I'm happy to oblige. Here are more books to add to your (ideally short) bookshelf on short writing:
  1. How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times is writing guru Roy Peter Clark's contribution to the brevity business. He walks you through how to write short in the first half of the book, then how to do it with purpose, just to up the ante.
  2. Heads You Win!: An Easy Guide to Better Headline and Caption Writing is Paul LaRocque's laser-focused guide to the true short stuff. Headlines are more important than ever in building traffic, and captions never allow enough room. This guide walks you through structure, traps, pitfalls and the actual mechanics of writing headlines and captions, with exercises to try.
  3. Copywriting: Headline Wizardry: Learn How to Write Spellbinding Headlines, by Jack Chapman, takes a different tack, dissecting headlines by their purposes, tone and intent. You won't look at a headline the same way again.
  4. Letting Go of the Words, Second Edition: Writing Web Content that Works includes clear-writing advice as well as content strategy for websites, SEO and social media.
  5. Get to the Point! Painless Advice for Writing Memos, Letters and Emails Your Colleagues and Clients Will Understand, Second Edition deals with our most common forms of day-to-day writing, not noble but necessary.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The weekend read

I don't know about you, but I spent all week thinking it was one day closer to the weekend than the calendar said...the equivalent of peeking through the blinds to see if that package has arrived yet. You don't have to hide behind the blinds and peek any longer, communicators. It's the weekend, out in full view on the porch, and so close you could touch it. Time to settle down with my finds of the week, curated just for you from my Twitterstream, and let the sunshine in:
I spy the weekend. So glad you take the time to start it here with me!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The children's menu: Are you serving the chicken fingers of social media?

Living, as I do, in Washington, DC, I get visitors. Many with kids in tow. So the question I most often get doesn't involve monuments, but menus.

"We'd love to meet you for dinner," my friends say. "Is there a restaurant where we can get chicken fingers for Sara and buttered noodles or mac and cheese for George--that's really all they will eat." Sometimes, as an afterthought, they'll add, "And a steak and a martini for Mom and Dad. And do you mind eating at 5pm?"

We get something like 19 million tourists annually here, so yes, we have restaurants that meet those specifications (try Cafe Deluxe, Old Ebbitt Grill or Clyde's). I've stopped suggesting anything seemingly exotic, as long as the entire table doesn't need to eat the fingers of chicken, in deference to my guests. But we're missing some fabulous Lebanese and Analucian and Indian and French food. Just sayin'.

Looks as if that chicken-fingers approach is still afoot in companies and organizations just getting their toes wet in social media, as this post notes about Morgan Stanley's robotic tweets from brokers. "Planning a beach vacation?" or "Looking for some new golf clubs?" aren't questions you'd ask strangers in a bar, not if you actually wanted to connect with them. And I'm not sure I'd be talking about them with a new broker. They are, however, safe posts. Safe from controversy, safe from potential damage to the company image, and certainly in no danger of engaging anyone. Just to be sure of all that, they're also pre-approved by management.

Seth Godin recently described this "children's menu" approach, saying:
...chicken fingers are just a symptom. If we want to insulate ourselves from new experiences, ensure that we never eat something we don't like, never engage with someone we disagree with, never have to hold two opposing ideas in our head at the same time—chicken fingers are a great way to start.
His fix? Try new things, purposefully. In the world of social media, that might look like a pilot project--two of the most magical and little-used words in your arsenal of tricks--of three to six months' duration, something long enough to try a new tactic, measure the baseline at the beginning and your results throughout. It's careful without being comatose, reasonable without the robotics. Call it learning to swim without hanging on to the side of the pool, which really messes up your stroke, let alone your ability to get anywhere.

What's on your social media menu? Email me at eloquentwoman AT gmail DOT com to work on your strategy.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by street walkings)

Friday, September 19, 2014

The weekend read

Was this week a blur, communicators? Too many things flying by too fast in your feeds? No worries. You can push pause and check out my curated collection of this week's finds on my Twitterstream. After all, there's still time to get smarter by Monday:
I'm launching a new workshop, Speechwriting for Communicators, in Washington, DC, on October 9. If you find yourself writing speeches, remarks and talking points, but have never learned how to do it, find out what you may have missed in this one-day session--including how to do more with boring speech occasions. Every participant gets an online toolkit of resources, too. Join us!

I'm not at all fuzzy on this: Love that you head back here every Friday. Please share the weekend read with your friends and colleagues. Just like a deadline, it sharpens the mind wonderfully.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

What's your list of words you love not wisely, but too well?

Words we love too much is one of the entries in the New York Times's blog After Deadline: Newsroom Notes on Usage and Style, a collection "adapted from a weekly newsroom critique overseen by Philip B. Corbett, the associate managing editor for standards, who is also in charge of The Times’s style manual."

The examination shows that both "deep-pocketed" is overused as a descriptor for the wealthy, and bars are too often "watering holes," which Corbett feels should be reserved for science stories about herds of zebras. I foresee a piece about high-end bars called "Watering Holes for the Deep-Pocketed." 

You don't need an ombudsman to search your own databases of published documents, particularly press releases, for the terms that appear over and over again. Try it once a quarter. Pop all the text into a word cloud and see which words take precedence, then share them with the team to come up with alternatives.

You'll find more on this issue in You and the overused word: A major problem of historic proportions. What's your favorite overused word?

Friday, September 12, 2014

The weekend read

This week, I've been backstage at the TEDMED conference in Washington, DC, coaching speakers and hearing about new ideas in health and medicine. Coaching this conference backstage is a lot like the weekend read: Speakers share all sorts of things with me and I help them focus on what's important. So here's your roundup of what's important, communicators, all in aid of getting smarter by Monday:
I'm launching a new workshop, Speechwriting for Communicators, in Washington, DC, on October 9. If you find yourself writing speeches, remarks and talking points, but have never learned how to do it, find out what you may have missed in this one-day session--including how to do more with boring speech occasions. Every participant gets an online toolkit of resources, too. Join us!

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Beyond pillows and dresses: New ways of looking at Pinterest

Pinterest still mystifies many communicators who've mastered other social media sites for business purposes. That's what prompted my perennially popular posts on 17 things you can pin on Pinterest that are not pillows or dresses, and 17 things science writers can pin. But with its strong investments and expanded capabilities, you didn't think Pinterest would stand still like a real bulletin board, did you? Before you misunderestimate Pinterest any further as a useful tool, consider these perspectives:
(Creative Commons licensed photo by Niharb)

Friday, September 05, 2014

The weekend read

Think of Friday like it's a farmer's market. I found great leads, reads and data in my feeds, shared them on Twitter, and have curated the pick of that harvest for you. Feast away, weekend readers:
  • Organize the bins: Picdeck is a new app that's being called "like Tweetdeck for your Instagram."
  • Yes, we have no bananas: Few companies have done them, but a video earnings call could truly change how business is done. If you're interested in how news conferences are changing, glean some lessons here.
  • A message from the farmer: The guy who created Google Maps and the Facebook "like" button is working on a Google Docs/Microsoft Word killer with messaging and document creation.
  • Productive harvest: As an Evernote fan, I always pay attention to nominees for its platform awards, all apps that work with Evernote and make it do great things for you. Here are this year's productivity and education nominees.
  • App-les and oranges: Keep an eye on DWNLD, a new app that hopes to make it easy for you to create an app and get it into the app store.
  • Blueberries: The New York City Police Department's putting officers in social media classes following some Twitter debacles.
  • I trust this is fresh: Building trust with your customers is the overlooked benefit of social media.
  • Fast food: Hyperlapse time-lapse videos made using Instagram are already getting some creative use.
Harvest some skills while you're at it with my latest workshop, Speechwriting for Communicators, in Washington, DC, on October 9. If you find yourself writing speeches, remarks and talking points, but have never learned how to do it properly, find out what you may have missed in this one-day session--including how to do more with boring speech occasions. Every participant gets an online toolkit of resources, too. Join us! Seats are filling....

The weekend's upon us, and I'm so glad you spend time here picking out what looks good to you. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

The speechwriter's tour of Washington, DC

It's a certainty that I'll have visitors from the speechwriting and speaker coach world visit me here in Washington, most recently, Peter Botting, who wrote about our speechwriter tour here. That's a good start on the places I point out when colleagues who love speeches come to the nation's capital. Here's my list:

  • The Lincoln MemorialLike many of our classic memorials to presidents, this one includes excerpts from Lincoln's speeches--including the full text of the very short Gettysburg Address. But putting your feet on the spot where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his "I Have a Dream" speech is the ultimate destination. Look at the space on the plaza and around the pool and imagine the audience of 250,000 people that day--so many, they were sitting in the trees on either side. Here's Peter Botting, at right, in front of the Gettysburg Address at the memorial.
  • The Washington Monument: Our first president, George Washington, gets the tallest monument. You can go all the way to the top for the best aerial view of the city, and don't forget to turn around and view the Lincoln Memorial from here, whether you're at the base or the top.
  • The King Memorial: One of the only memorials in town to honor a non-president, it's loaded with quotes from his speeches, so take your time here. In the spring, it's surrounded by cherry trees and their famous blossoms.
  • The Jefferson Memorial: This memorial also is adorned with the words of this president and author of our Declaration of Independence. I like to remind speechwriters of President John F. Kennedy's great line when welcoming the Nobel laureates from the Western hemisphere to the White House: "I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone."
  • The FDR Memorial: This may be my favorite memorial, with outdoor "rooms" for each of his four terms in office, and quotes from his speeches on the walls. There's also a tribute to Eleanor Roosevelt, herself a frequent speaker as she could travel more easily than her husband; here, the nod is to her work after his death, leading the international diplomatic effort that led to the Declaration of Human Rights. Here's Caroline Johns, Deloitte's top speechwriter, with the statue of Eleanor Roosevelt.
  • The Willard Hotel: Martin Luther King, Jr. put the finishing touches on his "dream" speech in his suite at the Willard, which also is the hotel where the term "lobbying" is said to have been coined. Lincoln touched up his first inaugural address here, at a time when the Willard was one of the few tall buildings on this stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue. The National Press Club was born in the hotel's Round Robin bar. Much more on Willard history is here, and it's right around the corner from the White House.
  • The Mayflower Hotel: Room 776 is where Franklin Delano Roosevelt wrote his first inaugural speech, which contained the line "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." This is a few blocks north of the White House.
  • The White House: The site of too many famous speeches to mention, not to mention the offices of speechwriters, which are not on the public tours. But many of the formal rooms on the tour have been the locations of remarks by the presidents.
  • The Capitol building and rotunda: You can request guided tours of the Capitol through your Member of Congress or Senators if you are a U.S. citizen, or online for all. I like to call Washington "a small town with a lot of hot air," and since so much of it emanates from this building, that must be why there's a dome on top. If Congress is in session, you can see for yourself by getting tickets to the visitor's gallery. The rotunda includes statues of many famous American speakers.
  • The National Building Museum: This is where Hillary Clinton gave her concession speech in the 2008 campaign for the U.S. presidency. Imagine this big open space filled on every level--it was an impressive setting.
  • The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery: This museum has a portrait of every U.S. president in one gallery, along with a video loop of FDR speeches. You'll also find portraits of many famous speakers in revolving exhibits.
  • The Lincoln Cottage: 
    Lincoln and his family lived here during much of his presidency and it's where he worked on the Emancipation Proclamation. He used to commute to the White House on horseback, a journey described by poet Walt Whitman, who developed a nodding acquaintance with the president. If you're a speechwriter inspired by Whitman's "Oh, Captain, my Captain," made famous again in the movie Dead Poets Society, it helps to know that the poem was his tribute to Lincoln after the president's assassination. Here are New Zealand speaker coaches Tony Burns and Olivia Mitchell with the great man and his horse.
There's much more, including sights you'll remember from The West Wing and House of Cards, two series that speechwriters and speakers love. And there's always the chance you'll see the current occupant of the White House, as Jan Sonneveld from The Netherlands did: