Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The sounds of speechwriting: Where to find them in podcasts

Slate's podcast Working had a brilliant idea this year, the last year of the Obama administration. The series, which interviews people about their jobs, is doing a run of episodes focused on jobs in the White House. And recently, the series caught up with speechwriter Cody Keenan.

There's much for speakers and speechwriters to glean from this episode, including how the President works with his speechwriting team, layers of review, how speeches get started, and much more. Keenan estimates that, over the eight years of President Obama's administration, the speechwriting team will have worked on 3,500 speeches, a volume that explains the need for speechwriters. You'll also learn how much the president works on his own speeches, which is to say a lot.

There are other episodes in the series with relevance to speechwriting, including those on scheduling, and the office of correspondence, which sifts through the constituent letters that sometimes find their way into the President's speeches. (Using customer or constituent letters is a great way to give your speeches perspective from personal stories that have already been offered to you.)

It's certainly not the only podcast that has touched on speechwriting issues, particularly in this presidential election cycle. In the Hillary Clinton campaign podcast, With Her, episode two interviews her running mate Tim Kaine, who shares his tendency to avoid telling stories about himself in speeches--and why he changed his mind. Speechwriters' suggestions helped tip the balance.


There are plenty of podcasts with historical perspectives on presidential speechwriting. Slate's Whistlestop podcast is one of my favorites, and reporter John Dickerson's book by the same name is just out if you prefer to read the expanded version of these fascinating campaign stories--the book has much more detail, and there is an audio version. And as the Washington Post's Presidential podcast works its way through each American president, in order, you'll often find speechwriting gems. For example, this episode on Franklin D. Roosevelt includes observations by current White House speechwriter Sarada Peri, as well a look at how FDR wrote his famous Pearl Harbor speech--dictating it, and then editing it himself, since his two speechwriters happened to be out of town at that crucial moment. You'll learn how and where he made the changes that made that speech particularly memorable.

Not to be outdone, the White House itself issues an audio feed of the current President's speeches on iTunes, iHeartRadio, and other online sources; this feed is freely available. And for more historical perspective, the US National Archives has a podcast with historic speeches, interviews, and conversations with previous presidents.

(Photo: President Barack Obama works with Cody Keenan, Director of Speechwriting, in the Oval Office, April 17, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Speaking of speechwriting, join me in Edinburgh, Scotland, on October 20 for a new workshop, Add Meaning with Metaphor: Improve your Speeches with the Most Powerful Figure of Speech. It's a pre-conference workshop at the Edinburgh Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference, designed to help both speakers and speechwriters use this powerful tool. You can register here for just the workshop, the conference, or both.

Friday, August 26, 2016

The weekend read

Feeling burned at the end of the week, communicators? Grab your aloe and a shade umbrella and check out my finds of the week, shared via @dontgetcaught on Twitter and curated here for you. You can get smarter by Monday here without blistering:
(Creative Commons licensed photo by Phil Kates)

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Tell It Better: Who's the hero when storytelling your customer's journey?

Corporate marketers have learned by now that storytelling's a key skill in communicating the value added by your company or organization. And in many companies, they describe that story as "the customer journey," an apt metaphor. But one part of the story remains a mystery--or at least a struggle in understanding. Who's the hero of the story?

I've come to that conclusion after leading many storytelling workshops in which I teach the workings of the dramatic arc, and ask the participant "who's the hero?" in the story they're trying to tell. All too often, corporate marketers think the hero of the story, the one who saves the day, is their product or service. That's what solves the problem and brings the conflict to resolution, right?

I see it differently. To me, the protagonist or hero of your corporate story is always the person on the journey: The customer. And you don't need to work in corporate circles for this to work. Nonprofits, government agencies, universities, small businesses, consultants all have customers – even though you may call them donors, employees, volunteers, members, students, faculty, board members, or supporters.

Yes, your product or service plays a role, just like the magic beans or the goose that laid the golden eggs do in the fairy tales. But it's the person who makes use of your product or service who is the real hero of the story. If you can make your customers feel like the heroes of the story, you've got a much better chance of making a sale.

Why? Good storytelling involves conflict and problems to solve. The protagonist or hero faces an uphill struggle, and in classic dramatic storytelling, often tries one or several approaches that don't work, creating setbacks and discouragement, before finding the thing that saves the day. That makes your story relatable and realistic. Help your customer see, through storytelling, how your product or service helps them be that hero, and your sale is closer to closed.

Marketers often struggle, too, with boiling down the arc of the story in a way the lets them share it with others on the team who will interpret that story in various media. To solve that problem, you need to act like an author in search of a publisher. Author Natasha Lester offers this formula for writing a six-sentence synopsis of a novel's plot, a useful tool for authors pitching publishers--and a critical outline for corporate marketers hoping to plot out that customer journey. Just substitute "customer" for "protagonist" or "main character" in the list below to clarify that story:
  1. What is life like for my main character/customer at the start of the book/story? In marketing, this establishes that you understand your customer's underlying conditions and challenges. It also offers the chance to contrast current conditions with what the world will look like later, when you've helped them solve the problem. 
  2. What is the thing that sets the protagonist/customer off on their journey? Lester also describes this as "the inciting incident, told in a compelling way." What propelled your customer on the journey?
  3. What is the journey or the goal of your character/customer and why is it so important to them? You've got to be able to articulate their goal and its importance to understand what makes your customer tick, and how best to approach them.
  4. What are a couple of obstacles that get in the way? Aside from being a critical part of a dramatic narrative, showing that you understand obstacles means you understand what your customer's reality is like. It's the opposite of magical marketing speak, and a real opportunity to connect.
  5. What is the biggest obstacle of all? This is your hero's--customer's--priority.
  6. End with a question/hook. Lester writes, "It’s a question that hints at the drama that will unfold, that makes your story sound compelling, that lures the reader...in to wanting to know more about the book." It sums up the dramatic challenge in the story.
If you really were a novelist, the six-sentence synopsis is something you'd write after writing the story, but in marketing, I think these questions, asked in advance, can help you shape the story.

The six-sentence synopsis also helps with brevity, a must in the corporate world. You're aiming for six sentences, and no more than 200 to 300 words in this summary. Many people struggle with keeping the story short, particularly when you're using it to help others on the team--from social-media managers and speechwriters to marketing copywriters and strategists--understand the core of the story.

Storytelling's the big buzz word in communications and marketing. But we've forgotten how this ancient art works. This "Tell it better" series hopes to revive and hone your storytelling skills for any format, from public speaking in the style of TED to social media. Want a storytelling workshop? Email me at eloquentwoman AT gmail DOT com

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Staci Myers)

Join me in Edinburgh, Scotland, on October 20 for a new workshop, Add Meaning with Metaphor: Improve your Speeches with the Most Powerful Figure of Speech. It's a pre-conference workshop at the Edinburgh Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference, designed to help both speakers and speechwriters use this powerful tool. You can register here for just the workshop, the conference, or both, and you'll get the best discount if you sign up by August 1.

Friday, August 19, 2016

The weekend read

Let's sneak right up on the weekend, communicators, shall we? Direct your soft-soled shoes this way to check out my finds of the week, shared via @dontgetcaught on Twitter and curated here for you. Yes, you *can* get smarter by Monday:
(Creative Commons licensed photo by charamelody)

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Are you overlooking the easiest way to build a Facebook page audience?

Maybe you've been rethinking whether you need that Facebook Page. Perhaps the number of people liking the page--as opposed to the posts--is flat, stalled in place. Maybe your posts get a handful of likes here and there, but nothing magical, aside from the occasional super-well-received post. And no doubt you've read all the news about Pages getting less priority in Facebook users' news feeds. All that might add up to wondering whether you should shut down the page or give it less priority, right?

Well, no. Not until you take care of a little housekeeping item that many Facebook Page managers overlook: Engaging with post likes.

This is one of those areas in which you may not be taking advantage of all of Facebook's features. On any post which people have "liked" or reacted to, you will see a clickable link that shows the like icons and "Jane Jones, Fred Smart, and 344 other people." Clicking on that will give you a pop-up box that lists each person who has liked or reacted to that particular post.

For each person, you'll see a thumbnail of their profile picture, along with one of three buttons that show you how and whether they engage with your page on a regular basis. So those who have liked the page will have a shadowed button that says "Liked." You can skip over those folks. You also may see a bolded button that says "Invite." These people have liked the post, but not the page. Finally, if you have clicked on that invite button to invite them to like the page, it will display the shadowed text "Invited," so your invitations are tracked.

Now, like anything, it's completely up to the user to decide whether to like the page. But if you are not inviting people who already like one or more posts, you may never realize your potential on this platform.

If you like, you can make a pilot project out of this. Measure your page likes now as a baseline, and go look at your page's Facebook Insights to see how long it took you to gain your most recent, say, 100 followers. Then start inviting likers of posts, and keep it up for three months. At the end of three months, calculate the growth and compare the rate of growth. Then keep doing it.

This is one of the easiest ways to boost your page likes and followers, and that in itself brings other benefits. Once you pass a certain threshold, Facebook will start sending you data summaries each week on your page engagement, and your posts will be seen by a wider audience, which in turn means their followers and friends are more likely to see your posts.

It's certainly wise to do this if you have a post that has gone viral, even in a small way. But frankly, this is a basic housekeeping chore you should be doing once a week, on every post. You're already getting notifications when people like your posts, so it's easy enough to click on the notification, click on the list of likers, and take it from there. Or, if you like to batch things, wait till Friday, then do it for all the week' likes.

You may find, as I have, that you have a few people who like a lot of posts...but haven't gotten around to liking the page. Why not make that fan relationship a little stronger? This is a type of engagement seen only by you and the person doing the liking, so it's a much more personal type of outreach.

The other good news? I can't find a statute of limitations on this option, so if you go back through your posts and their likes, and start inviting, you will find your follower count creeping higher. Go ahead, don't take my word for it. Try it. I've read before that the vast majority of Facebook Pages have 250 fans or fewer. Perhaps this is why?

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Bob Doran)

Join me in Edinburgh, Scotland, on October 20 for a new workshop, Add Meaning with Metaphor: Improve your Speeches with the Most Powerful Figure of Speech. It's a pre-conference workshop at the Edinburgh Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference, designed to help both speakers and speechwriters use this powerful tool. You can register here for just the workshop, the conference, or both.

Friday, August 12, 2016

The weekend read

Feel like you've been standing under a tree in a thunderstorm, communicators? Time to take cover in a safer place – I call it the weekend – and check out my finds of the week, shared via @dontgetcaught on Twitter and curated here for you. Let the sparks of inspiration fly upward:
(Creative Commons licensed photo by Leszek Leszczynski)

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Tell It Better: Avoiding chronological order when telling a story

People often ask me "What's your favorite TED talk?" I always tell them that my favorite TED talk wasn't actually a TED talk: It's this tale of a family tree told by Sir Paul Nurse, a Nobel laureate in genetics research. He's now the head of Britain's Royal Society, but at the time, was president of Rockefeller University in New York City. And the thing I think I love most about this story is the way it plays with chronological order.

Briefly, the talk establishes Nurse's early curiosity about why he was different from his siblings, and an awkward conversation with his mother about the family tree. Then, moving into the present day, he learns while applying for a work visa for the U.S. that the person he thought was his aunt was really his mother. After that, he unravels the mystery, going back in time to describe what happened to his real mother and himself as a child. He comes back to the present briefly to reflect on what he's learned, and ends with one unforgettable thing: That his mother always kept a framed photo of him on her nightstand, alongside those of her other children, all the years they were apart.

The chronological shuffle is a feature that differentiates this talk (and your storytelling for professional purposes) from the way most of us tell stories in everyday life. We start at the beginning and plow straight through to the end, no detours, backtracking, or moving around of the timeline. The trouble? Listeners get impatient with the long way around version of most stories, which often lack mystery and suspense. (If you've found yourself thinking "And then?" during a story, this is often the culprit.) There's a tendency to explain the significance of early steps in the story, rather than to plant the early seeds of the story and let them payoff later. Nurse certainly could have started this story with his mother in her youth, and fast-forwarded to the present day. But that wouldn't have been as gripping, nor as satisfying in the end. Go ahead, try it for yourself: Retell the story in chronological order and see whether it works as well.

There are many more features that make this talk irresistible. The protagonist, like a good hero in a dramatic story, has many tries and failures before he discovers what he is seeking. The story is built around a mystery, a long-held family secret--secret even to the teller, who was most affected by it. That adds the essential element of suspense and surprise in storytelling. It's a humbling story: Who can brag about not know who his mother was, particularly when his own field of research is genetics? And the rearrangement of the chronology creates a kind of symmetry in the storytelling--or, as one of my workshop participants has said, the stories here nest within each other. It's got humor and deep pathos, making it cathartic for the audience. And it ends with what I call the invisible visual, that indelible mind's-eye image of the framed photographs at his mother's bedside.

But what really helps this talk unfold, and keeps the audience fully engaged, is that chronological shuffle. How can you reshuffle your story's chronology to make it more compelling?

Read the text of the talk here, and watch the video here or below:


The Moth and the World Science Festival present Paul Nurse: Family Trees Can Be Dangerous

(Creative Commons licensed photo by David Flam)

Friday, August 05, 2016

The weekend read

I spend the week scouting items you might think of as Olympic hopefuls, weeding them out until I've assembled the team that makes up my finds of the week, shared via @dontgetcaught on Twitter and curated here for you. Let's win this week and get smarter by Monday:
(Creative Commons licensed photo by id513128)

Join me in Edinburgh, Scotland, on October 20 for a new workshop, Add Meaning with Metaphor: Improve your Speeches with the Most Powerful Figure of SpeechIt's a pre-conference workshop at the Edinburgh Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference, designed to help both speakers and speechwriters use this powerful tool. You can register here for just the workshop, the conference, or both. UPDATE: The early registration discount has been extended to August 15.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Is that one blog post or five? Use your listicles to create more content

I nearly made this mistake the other day, but I caught myself. I had a great, meaty, long blog post with five killer tips in it. A great headline. Pertinent picture. Stellar content. And then, as I looked it over one more time, it hit me: I was looking at five short, meaty blog posts, not one long one. Maybe six if I rounded them all up once the five were published.

Don't get me wrong. I love a listicle, the modern-day name for an old magazine content staple (I started out in the magazine world, back in the Pleistocene era). But you can have your listicles and your extra blog posts, too, you know.

Here's how: Just carve up that lovely meaty blog post into its component parts and make it into a series. If you're smart, you wrote a good intro paragraph that can be used with adjustments to introduce each of the shorter posts and establish them as part of a series. Then space them across your queue of scheduled posts. Later, perhaps a month or two later, collect them all back into a listicle with less copy and links back to all the short posts.

That's it. World's simplest antidote to your empty or skimpy queue of blog posts. And, if you're clever like me and have the right kind of other blog, you write a post like this one about writing posts like those. That makes seven for me. How about you? You can read more about my penchant for wringing out your existing content to get dozens of blog posts to get more ideas.

Join me in Edinburgh, Scotland, on October 20 for a new workshop, Add Meaning with Metaphor: Improve your Speeches with the Most Powerful Figure of Speech. It's a pre-conference workshop at the Edinburgh Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference, designed to help both speakers and speechwriters use this powerful tool. You can register here for just the workshop, the conference, or both.