Wednesday, December 30, 2015

In 2016, find your "whoops": My wish for communicators

When my sister lay dying this year, I reminded her how she'd given me a tree for the front yard in my then-new home in Washington, 25 years ago. She knew the yard was small, a postage-stamp-sized city front yard. So she sent a dwarf red maple, the kind bred to grow to the size of a small bush. Something that would fit the limits of the yard.

Many of the communications pros with whom I meet and work in the course of a year feel their limits all too well. I'm not talking about budget and staffing, although those are plenty limited and limiting. I'm talking about your imagined and self-imposed limits, the things that reduce your goals to the size of a postage stamp or a city front yard. It seems easier, I know: Small goals are achievable, and don't get your hopes up. So you don't invest in your own further training, or create new projects with unseen results, or push yourself to dismantle the command-and-control approaches that aren't working so well anymore in a social media world. You take fewer risks, and you get fewer surprises...and fewer delights. You pick the dwarf tree, not the soaring oak, because it fits the limits.

When my sister sent the tree to me, I planted it dead-center in the small yard and watched it grow. And grow. And grow. Today, that tree is about 20 feet tall. It shades the yard, and screens the front porch, and turns scarlet--an unseemly, loud, bright scarlet--in autumn. It's clearly very happy where it stands, and it's clearly not a dwarf tree. This year, in the hospital, when I reminded my sister that the tree had outgrown its promised limits, she grinned. All she said was "Whoops," with a grin. It was a mistake, that tree, and a gift. And I wouldn't trade it in for a million bucks.

So in 2016, my wish for communicators is that you push past your limits and find your "whoops" moments, again and again. Question what you've been doing and test a new strategy. Find out what happens when you trade command-and-control for crowd-sourced and customer-driven. Invest in your own training and push yourself. Go do the things you keep helping others to do, like giving speeches and interviews. Get better at it. Seek out feedback, and use it. Encourage yourself, and someone else, while you're at it. Have the courage to make a mistake. Surprise yourself, and think of it as a gift. You just might wind up with something you wouldn't trade in for a million bucks.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Stanley Zinmy)

Friday, December 25, 2015

The weekend read

That great feeling when you find the right Christmas tree is just the way I feel when I come across the items that become my finds of the week, shared via @dontgetcaught on Twitter and curated here just for you. Stake a claim, communicators, and get yours here:
No trees were killed in the making of this post: Buy my ebook, The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panelssign up for my free monthly newsletter, or let me know how we can work together in 2016 with an email to eloquentwoman at gmail.com.

This week's your last chance: I've still got a few seats in my two small-group workshops coming up on Creating a TED-quality talk in Washington, DC, in January. Choose the January 14 workshop or the January 28 workshop. All you need to do is bring your one big idea for a talk in the style of TED. You'll learn how to plan, write, time, practice, and deliver it in a group limited to 5 people per workshop. Join us!

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Liz Randall)

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The DGC blog's top 10 posts in 2015

This is worth a toast or two: You read these posts the most in 2015, and as usual, you curate a great slice of what the year was like here on the blog. Social media trends, storytelling, accuracy, and training experts all took the lead in your reads. Together, they'll make you much smarter by 2016...
  1. Do your social channels have a nose for search? focused on investments many social media outlets are making in deepening search--and how you benefit.
  2. 5 things transcripts will do for your social media presence takes an often-forgotten option and shares its benefits, from boosting your search engine results to improving accessibility. Glad to see this Cinderella tactic shine.
  3. Tell It Better: Storytelling with themes and symmetry was the most popular in our storytelling series, highlighting the areas where your story falls short--but could shine, with a bit more effort.
  4. Tell It Better: Storytelling with surprise and suspense, the first post in this popular series, begs you to stop telling us what you're going to tell us, and why suspense needs a revival.
  5. Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain called: They want their quotes back looks at fake quotes and false quote attribution, and how you can avoid these traps--and carve out a reputation as a fake-quote-buster, a clever way to turn the tables.
  6. Tell It Better: Should you or your speechwriter get the story for that speech? When authenticity, verve, and excitement matter, this frequent speaker says the speaker, not the speechwriter, should be the originator of stories that get told in speeches.
  7. Is B2B storytelling possible? You bet! This post analyzed what works when you bring storytelling back to B2B sales. After all, you're still selling to a person...
  8. Live-stream video apps: Will they reshape your comms strategy? From Periscope to Meerkat and beyond, this post got you up to speed and considered your strategy options for handling audience livecasters and media relations.
  9. On last-minute blog checks and not getting caught looked at the bloopers in blog posts, how corrections are handled, and why more mistakes may be happening these days.
  10. Making communications training worth your experts' time shared some of my insights about what works when you're planning a training session and trying to get subject-matter experts to participate.
Happy new year, communicators--see you in 2016!

(Creative Commons licensed photo by dpotera)

Friday, December 18, 2015

The weekend read

Don't move gingerly toward the weekend, communicators--not with this army behind you. Let's sample my finds of the week, shared via @dontgetcaught on Twitter and curated here just for you. After all, the "you can't catch me" Gingerbread Man is our favorite mascot over here at don't get caught:
More cookies? Buy my new ebook, The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panelssign up for my free monthly newsletter, or let me know how we can work together in 2016 with an email to eloquentwoman at gmail.com.


(Creative Commons licensed photo by Flare)

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Does your top speaker have a repetitive phrase that tips off reporters?

You shouldn't be watching the presidential election campaigns just for their social media uses. Close listening can help you better guide the speakers with whom you're working.

Jeb Bush: Crying Out Loud, an opinion column by the New York Times's Charles Blow, reminded me that, much more than ums and uhs, communications pros should be listening for--and helping their principal speaker work on--repetitive phrases that give reporters (and others) inadvertent clues to what they're thinking.

I'll let Blow explain it for you:
As a person who uses language for a living, I find it hard not to notice rhetorical quirks committed by others. 
It has become something of a parlor game for me to note whenever he says “for crying out loud,” which always seems to signal some level of exasperation. And, somewhere around that phrase, he seems to say something interesting, sometimes something careless, nearly always something that makes news. 
It’s one of those subconscious things that speakers do — like scratching their nose while telling a lie or taking a drink of water when listening to a question that makes them uncomfortable — that journalists learn to pay attention to.
You can read the several examples in Blow's column as a guide to breaking down this type of rhetorical quirk. And there's more recent coverage of Bush's frequent use of the word 'serious.' It's a tough habit to correct, but if you're working with a speaker who does this, it can save you and your company or organization a world of public trouble.

I once trained an executive who'd handle media interviews perfectly--until a hypothetical question for which he had no information came up. Every single time, he would say, "Probably..." followed by a major conjecture. Inevitably, that became the story. We identified the trouble signal word via transcripts and a review of media coverage, then worked on having him stop himself mid-sentence once that word flew out of his mouth, to say, "No, actually, I don't have enough data to answer that. I don't want to conjecture." But this takes a lot of practice.

Don't know your principal speaker's giveaway words or phrases? Try running all her recent speeches and interview transcripts through a word cloud tool or just read them through, looking for repetition. Then analyze when it happens, and why it happens. That will give you the ammo for a tough but needed conversation.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Michael Vadon)

Friday, December 11, 2015

The weekend read

It's unseasonably warm where I live in Washington, DC, and I'm not complaining. I'd much rather have a slow start to the winter, and a fast end to the week. Let's speed forward, then, toward my finds of the week, shared via @dontgetcaught on Twitter and curated here just for you. Like the thermometer, these leads are hot:
Toasty: Buy my new ebook, The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panelssign up for my free monthly newsletter, or let me know how we can work together in 2016 with an email to eloquentwoman at gmail.com. And I've still got a few seats in my two small-group workshops coming up on Creating a TED-quality talk in Washington, DC, in January. Choose the January 14 workshop or the January 28 workshop. All you need to do is bring your one big idea for a talk in the style of TED. You'll learn how to plan, write, time, practice, and deliver it in a group limited to 5 people per workshop. Join us!

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Ray Bodden)

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Is that speech really a laundry list? A caution for communications pros

It's easy to forget now that TED talks have been around for so long, but one of the reasons for their success is that they stand in stark contrast to the type of speech you may be writing right now for your principal:: The laundry list.

Unlike TED talks, which focus on one big idea with just a few examples, the laundry list speech piles on a basket-full of programs, initiatives, product features, people to thank, or strategic goals. Instead of diving into one to three of those things, all of them must be hung on the line that is your speech.

That approach fails to give the ideas and content their due, and prevents the audience from hearing and comprehending any one thought in detail. So who is served by the laundry list speech? Typically,  not the audience. Instead, it's the company, organization, or the self-appointed committee members reviewing the content who require the piling-on of items. This turns a speech into a real-estate deal, in which various bits of laundry that need airing are attached to the same line. For many of these colleagues of yours, the speech is being treated as their only opportunity to speak, hence the piling-on. And I'll just say that speeches written, or edited, by a committee sound like it. Audiences aren't stupid.

It's not that every speech needs to be a TED talk--speeches have a wide variety of jobs to do. But you could do worse than insist on a single, core idea for your principal's next speech. That's true even--perhaps especially--for technical talks. Consider that PyCon, a technical conference for the Python programming language community, advises that talks should be "coherent," with this explanation:
Good talks are about one subject. A common bad talk proposal is a smorgasbord, a collection of half-a-dozen ideas, none of which were quite good enough to merit their own talk. Another bad proposal is the case study, where a high level discussion is had about lots of ways you tried to do things without success. 
The easiest way to judge coherence is to consider your talk as a story, with a narrative. Is there a beginning, middle, and end, with a theme that ties it all together? That's coherent.
If you're the speechwriter helping the speaker toward that one big idea, check the conference requirements. They may provide all the ammo you need to avoid the laundry list. If you're the speaker, try this approach and see how well it works. Your audience will not only thank you, it will be able to follow you.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Aldric van Gaver)

I've got a workshop on Creating a TED-quality Talk coming up in January 2016 in Washington, DC. It repeats twice in that month: on January 14, and again on January 28, and I'm limiting them to 5 seats per session.  All registration closes at the end of December or when all seats are filled, whichever comes first. Please join us, whether your goal is TED, TEDx, or just an elevated, current presentation style.

Friday, December 04, 2015

The weekend read

Better put some more tape on the package that was this week, communicators. You want to be sure it doesn't fall apart over the weekend, finally here. I've just delivered my finds of the week, shared via @dontgetcaught on Twitter and curated here just for you to, well, un-tape:
Buy my new ebook, The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels for one moderator or--as one recent purchaser did, for all 27 moderators at her conference; sign up for my free monthly newsletter, or let me know how we can work together in 2016 with an email to eloquentwoman at gmail.com.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Amanda)

I've got a workshop on Creating a TED-quality Talk coming up in January 2016 in Washington, DC. It repeats twice in that month: on January 14, and again on January 28, and I'm limiting them to 5 seats per session. All registration closes at the end of December or when all seats are filled, whichever comes first. Please join us, whether your goal is TED, TEDx, or just an elevated, current presentation style.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Tell It Better: A street doctor's lessons in #storytelling

It was all about the foot bath.

Do you know how to get a homeless person to trust you, if you're a physician working at a shelter? Don't ask them how they are feeling or what's bothering them, and really don't ask to examine them. Maybe--no, certainly--don't tell them you're a doctor. Instead, offer them a hot, medicinal foot bath. And maybe a pair of dry socks afterward. After a few weeks, again maybe, they'll tell you what's bothering them.

I learned that from James O'Connell, MD, when I was directing media relations for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and he was directing our national program for homeless families. And as O'Connell is quick to say in his new book, Stories From the Shadows: Reflections of a Street Doctor, he learned it from a seasoned team of nurses when he first started treating homeless people. In fact, the nurses ordered the neophyte doctor to avoid telling anyone he was a doctor, and set him to the task of giving those foot baths every day for two months.

O'Connell is one of the best storytellers I've ever worked with. He knows these stories backwards and forwards, the nuances, the sharp details, the surprises, the twists and turns. And he shared many of them recently in a lovely long interview on NPR's Fresh Air (listen here or read the transcript, and read an excerpt from the book here). I recommend it to you wholeheartedly, as you'll learn so much about storytelling from him. Here are just some of the lessons I've learned from him:
  • Set up your story: O'Connell likes to use the foot baths, his own introduction to these patients, as an entree for his listeners. But he often begins presentations by showing a picture he'd taken from the roof of Boston's biggest homeless shelter, showing the long, snaking line of homeless people queued up to enter at the appointed opening time--a daily line. Then he talks about the foot baths, and how long many of his patients had walked that day before getting to that line, mileage that puts your exercise regimen to shame. It's an irresistible set-up for his stories, one that puts the listener in the moment. After that, you and your attention are in the palm of his hand.
  • It's not about you, the storyteller: I don't think I've met a more humble person in my career, and the evidence is in O'Connell's stories: He is continually giving credit where it's due, to the nurses or the homeless patients who have taught him these insights. In that way, he becomes simply the storyteller, getting out of the way of his own story and letting it take the spotlight. It's refreshing, and effective, every time.
  • It stays messy: O'Connell is not a saint (and that was one of the questions in his Fresh Air interview). In fact, he shares stories that are as messy about him as they are about his patients. Far from being inspiring because they always turn out wonderful, these stories have not been neatened up into "happily ever after" scenarios. Plenty of time is spent on struggles, failures, and less-than-ideal endings. As a result, we trust these stories more.
  • The eye for detail should never shut: When O'Connell starts describing his work, you can see it in your mind's eye--a tactic I call the invisible visual. He doesn't really need slides to describe what he does, so well does he share the details that make the story concrete, and credible. These stories don't need embellishment, just the details.
O'Connell's book benefits Boston's Health Care for the Homeless program. Buy it, and learn from it. Give it to your CEO, and to your speechwriter. It's a true treat for me to hear him telling these stories for a wider audience, and in this holiday season, the stories will remind you of what you're grateful for.

Check out the other posts on storytelling ideas and tactics in our Tell It Better series.
 
I've got a workshop on Creating a TED-quality Talk coming up in January 2016 in Washington, DC. It repeats twice in that month: on January 14, and again on January 28, and I'm limiting them to 5 seats per session. All registration closes at the end of December or when all seats are filled, whichever comes first. Please join us, whether your goal is TED, TEDx, or just an elevated, current presentation style.