Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Starting a great conversation in your office about media interviews

"You started a great conversation in our office about being prepared for the media."

So said one of the researchers I trained in a small group session, for a relatively new research project team wanting to learn about working with the media before the need arose--the epitome of a "don't get caught" approach. Most of our session was a great conversation, but this participant was referring to something else: My suggestion that they continue to meet and talk about working with the media on a regular basis. 

Doesn't sound earth-shattering, and it's not. But it's also rarely done. Why? Media training is often done 1:1, which excludes any number of potential spokespeople, and it tends to be offered to the expert or experts with some demonstrated potential. And comms departments often are "too busy," or think their spokespeople are, to schedule regular meetings. I've seen communications departments do ongoing group discussions for their own teams, to develop media relations skills in those who will work most closely with reporters, but less often with the spokesfolk they want to involve.

But if communications pros will offer a regular, informal gathering for any subject-matter expert who wants to learn more about interacting with the news media, you will see some strong advantages. My own approach to media training runs this way, less top-down, more collaborative, more focused on the questions and concerns of those facing interviews--and I often recommend the "ongoing conversation" meetings as a way for a group to continue the learning after our initial training session. Here are some of the topics you might consider for these sessions:
  • Coverage of your topic and whether and how it works: Why not review and discuss recent coverage of your topic, both to let the experts know you're getting coverage and to explain why your institution is or isn't in the story?
  • Media strategy: It may be clear to the communications pros that you have a media strategy, but that has probably not trickled down to the people you're matching up with reporters. Share your areas of focus, and hear what a good strategy would look like to them, then discuss. I guarantee you'll have plenty to discuss.
  • Anticipate questions: Whether you focus on one potentially thorny, easy, or expected question per session, or just ask the spokesfolk about the questions they're worried about answering, this could form the most useful practice over time. Discussing the different ways to answer (and that they should answer) these questions will do more than most activities to make them feel prepared.
  • Meet the reporter: If you've got good relationships with the reporters who cover you, ask them to join for one of these sessions--one reporter at a time, please--to talk about what they look for, what's useful to their reporting, and what's not. Yes, many of them will say yes to such an offer. Try it.
  • Anticipate your announcements: Working well ahead, you can use these regular sessions to talk about anticipated announcements, how they will be handled, and what role your spokespeople will play. It's another smart way to lift the curtain on how the comms team operates, and share the contacts and considerations you are making in planning an announcement. Just hearing that you plan ahead, I find, encourages this behavior in others.
I'd also include an open-ended portion of the meeting for any questions or concerns, since your stance, comms pros, should be one of listening as much as leading this conversation. Want a media training session that gets your ongoing conversation started? Email me at eloquentwoman AT gmail DOT com. 

(Creative Commons licensed photo by the Institute of Network Culture)

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Friday, March 25, 2016

The weekend read

Here's a sweet thought: It's almost the weekend, communicators. Time to dig into row upon row of my finds of the week, shared via @dontgetcaught on Twitter and curated here just for you:
Peep further: Buy my ebook, The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels; tell your colleagues to put this blog in their feeds; sign up for my free monthly newsletter, or let me know how we can work together in 2016 with an email to eloquentwoman at

And it wouldn't be a peep-themed Weekend Read without the winners of the Washington Post's annual peeps contest, in which contestants make elaborate dioramas out of peeps. That should see you through until the weekend, peeps.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Mike Mozart)

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Does your public knowledge survey test how stupid we are?

I'm a fan of The Pollsters, a weekly podcast featuring Margie Omero & Kristen Soltis Anderson. It's particularly helpful in the election cycle, but the show also covers polls and public opinion research in pop culture, news, and more. And they gave me a new way to look at a common communications tool: The public opinion survey that tests the public's knowledge.

In this recent episode, they took a look at Edelman's Trust Barometer, which shared the finding that half of all people in 10 countries can't name a CEO. The survey took a one-two punch approach, asking whether respondents could name a CEO. Then, if they said "yes," they were asked to do so, yielding 60 percent who could not.

The Pollsters' take? Surveying a general population on knowledge and then sharing their failure is a great way to signal that you think they're stupid.

It's also called the "deficit model" of approaching your communicating with the public, the assumption that we are somehow lacking if we don't know what you know. I'm most familiar with it in action in the scientific community, where surveys of public understanding of science test knowledge about basic scientific facts. But expecting the broader public to know what you know isn't necessarily the most strategic communications goal. If the survey you conduct and publicize emphasizes that knowledge deficit, what's the signal you are sending? Does it tell us more about you than about the public? Does it distance you from those who might aid your cause or concern? Does it further your goal?

(Creative Commons licensed photo by andres musta)

Friday, March 18, 2016

The weekend read

When it comes to the week just past, communicators, were you the headlights shining...or the deer caught in them? No matter. It's Friday, time to look forward to well-earned rest in the form of my finds of the week, shared via @dontgetcaught on Twitter and curated here just for you, oh shiny ones:
Illuminate your way: Buy my ebook, The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels; tell your colleagues to put this blog in their feeds; sign up for my free monthly newsletter, or let me know how we can work together in 2016 with an email to eloquentwoman at

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Thomas Halfmann)

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Framing your message with brevity: What leaves us *wanting* more?

Forget one PowerPoint slide. Can experts keep their advice to public audiences simple? Can they, for example, fit their most important advice on an index card?

The New York Times article How should you manage your money? And keep it short shares a slideshow of several index cards from noted financial planners, all pinging off the ideas in The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn't Have to Be Complicated. Trouble is, many of the cards in the slideshow are complex, with hundreds of words on them. Only a couple are easily readable, short, and simple.

In other words, experts have a tendency to do with index cards what they do with slides, cramming as much information as the space will allow, even if that leads to unreadable, small-type full sentences. Ask, as I have, a roomful of subject-matter experts to write down three key points about their work, and you're likely to get three lovely 1,500-word abstracts, unless you specify otherwise (which I do in any workshop I'm leading).

"It will serve as a leave-behind," they tell themselves, hoping the audience will make up for their lack of brevity by reading on their own time. To the audience, I often hear technical experts "apologize for the eye chart" before they unveil a particularly dense display of info. Data show that the shorter slide deck is more likely to be read, and read for a longer period of time, when shared as a handout, so the overall size of your slide deck has a real impact on how long an individual slide will be read. Pair that with dense individual slides, and I think you're really pushing the limits of your audience members' patience.
Neither really helps.

I think there may be hope for the index card, but we need to reframe the instructions. You don't want to aim for "more" at the outset, but those things that will leave the audience wanting more.

That advice hails from the days of live-performance variety acts on the vaudeville stage: If you didn't want boos and rotten tomatoes tossed at your head, you kept it brief, on the idea that it's better to be called back for an encore than hissed off the stage. So if you're an expert (or a communications pro working with experts), try putting three things on an index card that you think will leave the audience wanting to know more about what you have to say. And then you'll have something to work with--a more realistic starting point for your message.

Friday, March 11, 2016

The weekend read

Spring is springing into action where I live, and so are you, communicators, now that it's the weekend. Time to share the ideas sprouted and shared via @dontgetcaught on Twitter and curated here just for you. I see some great things emerging in time for the weekend:
Emerge, already: Buy my ebook, The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels; tell your colleagues to put this blog in their feeds; sign up for my free monthly newsletter, or let me know how we can work together in 2016 with an email to eloquentwoman at

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Simon Huggins)

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Turning my office into a moveable feast

I'm starting the 13th year of this business, and two things about it have been true from the start until the present day: About half my time is spent with clients at their locations, and the other half in my home office--or, as I like to call it, my world headquarters. Likewise, half my time is spent standing, typically when I'm leading workshops. That means I'm also at risk of sitting half the time. So I've spent a fair amount of time working on how to turn my office into what you might call a moveable feast, opportunities to move, rather than sit. Here are the tools and tricks I use to keep my office mobile in a different sense:
  1. Standing desk: Safco's Muv Stand-up Adjustable Height Stand Up Desk with Keyboard Shelf is my longest-standing, so to speak, element in making my office more encouraging of movement. I like this model for its compact size, and it's been in play for six years. And I've just added a smaller portable presentation lectern on wheels for use when I'm catching up on email in front of the television, to offer an alternative to sitting.
  2. Non-sitting chair: Balans The Original Kneeling Chair is a product I've come back to--I had one decades ago. It's what I use to *not* sit at my sitting desk. I don't miss the traditional office chair at all.
  3. Standing mat: Topo not-flat standing desk mat by Ergodriven is a new element, but perhaps my favorite. It's what makes my standing desk really work for me. The mat uses a calibrated surface to offer you dozens of different ways to stand. Changing your stance is an important factor when using a standing desk, as experts say that too much standing is no better than too much sitting. This mat also serves as an anti-fatigue mat, and is thick and comfortable.
  4. Minimal shoes: Working and exercising in minimal shoes--those with no heel elevation and less padding overall-- also has made it easier to stand and move. I've got little to no foot pain or strain these days, and my feet are stronger and more supple. I like shoes by Vivobarefoot and Vibram five fingers best. Easing into using these shoes is the key to success.
  5. Reading and listening about better movement, while moving: If you're going to ease your way into minimal shoes, and want a thorough briefing on better movement, please read Whole Body Barefoot: Transitioning Well to Minimal Footwear and Move Your DNA: Restore Your Health Through Natural Movement. These two books by biomechanist Katy Bowman helped me figure out how to improve my office arrangement (and how to get more work done outside the framework of the office). The books, in audiobook form, and Bowman's useful podcast are resources I listen to while moving, a tactic I use with all my audiobook listening that adds to my movement every day.
  6. The floor and a floor cushion: Sitting on the floor is a great way to use different muscles and prevent that rut your body gets into in a traditional chair. I sometimes also use a Zafu meditation cushion for cross-legged sitting
  7. A kettlebell: kettlebell in the office lets me do swings or lifts if I'm sitting too long. I like a five-minute kettlebell break to counteract sitting action. Get some coaching from a qualified personal trainer before you try this on your own--it makes a difference.
  8. The phone: I sometimes do remote speaker coaching by phone, and invariably, I stand and move while listening and talking on the phone. This helps me in a couple of ways: I get more movement in, and I sound better and more energetic, something to keep in mind when you're doing a media interview or job interview by phone. Now, a phone call is a prompt for me to stand and move, a great habit. If I need to take notes, the standing desk and laptop are where I head during a call.
  9. Upper body bar: I installed a doorway pull-up bar, which has turned out to be a great way to counteract the forward lean you develop in front of screens (ditto that for my standing desk, which is set at the perfect height to keep my shoulders back and down). 
  10. Movement tracker: My Withings Activity-Tracking Watch keeps me honest about how much I'm moving in the office and when I need to get out and move more. In conjunction with its tracking app, this has proven to be an effective prod and effortless tracker.
Finally, I've learned to look for reasons to move and work, so I walk during conference calls, listen to audiobooks while walking with a package that needs to be shipped, walk to the bank and to meetings. And if I'm somewhere that requires me to wait, I walk while I wait. As Bowman advises, I "stack" activities so that they can occur while I'm also getting in movement, and that works well, whether I'm in the office or outside it.

(Image by Topo)

Friday, March 04, 2016

The weekend read

I've got my eye on you, communicators. It's the end of the week, and I know you're hungry for my finds of the week, shared via @dontgetcaught on Twitter and curated here just for you. Let's come into the first weekend in March like a lion, shall we?
Roar some more: Buy my ebook, The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels; tell your colleagues to put this blog in their feeds; sign up for my free monthly newsletter, or let me know how we can work together in 2016 with an email to eloquentwoman at

(Creative Commons licensed photo by jerry dohnal)

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Communicators, you've got a new cautionary tale for your CEO

The president of Mount Saint Mary's university resigned this week under pressure, and the full story offers communicators a great cautionary tale you can use with your top spokespeople.

It's a multi-part tale of miscommunication. First, the president used a violent and inappropriate analogy in front of sources. They were so upset, they shared it with the student newspaper. Then the president fired several executives in retaliation over the issue being discussed, itself a heinous idea: a policy of weeding out struggling freshmen to improve the university's retention numbers. Why do it that way? It's a path, he thought, to improving the university's rankings in the US News & World Report list of top universities, aka a public relations move.

The analogy? Using a Glock to kill bunnies. I don't even need to make things up to fill this blog.

From the New York Times coverage:
In January, the article by two student journalists, Rebecca Schisler and Ryan Golden, in The Mountain Echo reported two notable pieces of news. It said that the administration was planning to cull struggling freshmen as part of an effort to improve retention numbers — a major factor in rankings published in publications like U.S. News & World Report — and that Mr. Newman had used startling language to convince a skeptical professor last fall of the idea. 
“This is hard for you because you think of the students as cuddly bunnies, but you can’t,” Mr. Newman is quoted as saying. “You just have to drown the bunnies.” 
He added, "Put a Glock to their heads."
In my storytelling series, we looked at whether your metaphor is working, or working against you, and advised testing even your favorite metaphors to see how they'll read with your audience. That clearly didn't happen here. And I've written about what happens When your out-front person uses an inside voice, as in those public talks where the university president starts tossing around technical insider terms about issues like fundraising in front of donors. But this is another kind of third rail for your top spokesperson, if she's the kind of CEO with a sharp tongue in private settings. Those conversations can offend listeners in private settings to the point where they feel no need to withhold reporting what they heard to news media.

The harsh reality? Someone that harsh in conversation is unlikely to have the good internal boundaries needed to control his speech in public, in which case I recommend my list of 9 books for communicators with big-ego experts. Even if you can't change your sharp-tongued CEO, it's worth sending this coverage around with a reminder to your senior management that private conversations aren't necessarily private, along with an offer to help them hone their analogies if not their sharp tongues.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by anemptygun