Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Tell It Better: Breaking down storytelling skills for communicators

Lots of communications pros style themselves as storytellers...but are all at sea when it comes to story choice, components, structure, and other basics. So I'm breaking down those storytelling skills for you, using our Tell It Better storytelling series to give you the basics, special story tests, and good examples, with 14 important factors you should know:

Storytelling structure:
  1. Avoiding chronological order when telling a story: Many storytellers (hello, scientists and ye who labor in academe) have been taught that you have to start at the beginning and plow straight through a story. But sometimes, changing the chronology takes a story from plain and uninteresting to special and mesmerizing. I have a Nobel laureate's example for you at the link.
  2. Why you should 'plant the seed' for a storytelling payoff: When you want to really underscore a point in your story, it pays to think about the payoff--and how you can set that up earlier in the tale.
  3. Storytelling with themes and symmetry: Themes are an important part of any layered story, and if you can reflect them at the beginning and end, your audience will be more satisfied with the outcome. That symmetry pays off in greater understanding.
  4. Who's the hero when you tell the story of your customer's journey? If you thought that was you, your product or service, or your cause, you're wrong--in a way that will make all the difference when you're using storytelling to pitch.
On choosing which story to tell:
  1. Borrowing a story: If you want to add personal touches to your story--which are like catnip for the audience--but don't want to share your own story, borrowing one is a time-honored tradition, although there are some rules that go with it.
  2. Should you or your speechwriter get that story for your speech? If you're lucky enough to have a speechwriter, you shouldn't necessarily delegate to her the responsibility for finding a story for your speech. A frequent speaker explains why. Speechwriters, listen up.
Components that enhance or hurt your story:
  1. 4 ways slides can interfere with your storytelling: It's not that you can't use slides with storytelling, but that you must use them wisely. Here's my shortlist of pitfalls.
  2. Using metaphor to tell a visual story can reinforce your message, particularly when you carry it all the way through, verbally and visually. I have a great example at the link.
  3. Is your metaphor working...or working against you? Use metaphor, the power tool of public speaking...as long as you test it first. A great cautionary tale here.
  4. Storytelling with surprise and suspense: In our era of informational slide presentations, we've taken all the surprise and suspense out of our presenting. Good storytelling can bring that back. Here's how.
Great storytelling examples:
  1. The Whistlestop podcast shares campaign stories that review American politics through the lens of history, and in the process, shares some great storytelling examples for you to follow.
  2. A street doctor's lessons in storytelling take issues of health care and homelessness and make them real. One of the most compelling storytellers I've worked with shares lessons and examples.
  3. Getting patient data in healthcare from storytelling shares a bonus that emerged from a group of community health activists I coached for a conference: Storytelling can be another way for policymakers to collect data.
Want a workshop on storytelling for your executives, or your communications team? Email me at eloquentwoman AT gmail DOT com.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Phillippe Gressien)

Don't get caught unprepared, speechless, or without a message, but do catch me on Twitter, on Google+, and on the don't get caught page on Facebook--all great places to add your comments to the discussion. Subscribe to my monthly newsletter, Speakers & Communicators, to make sure you don't miss a thing on my blogs and get the first news about new workshops and projects.

Friday, November 25, 2016

The weekend read

I reject the notion that the weekend read is like your Thanksgiving leftovers. This, my friends, is a curated sandwich of elements cooked precisely for this purpose, from my finds of the week, shared via @dontgetcaught on Twitter and don't get caught on Facebook. Dig in:
(Creative Commons licensed photo by jeffreyw)

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

What your email auto-respond can do for you

"I saw your out-of-office message," said the vice president, the boss of the group of general managers I was training at a big corporation.

I'd crafted a message that told clients where I was traveling, which companies and groups I was working with and what we were doing, with links to my clients' websites...including his. And, of course, when I'd be back and how I was handling responses.

"I'm going to steal that idea," he said. "My group travels a lot, and their auto-responses could be telling clients and prospects about our work, and sharing examples, instead of just saying we're out of the office. And I like that you promoted us and the training we are doing with you. Makes us look smart."

That was when I told him I'd stolen the idea from another client, who was using her out-of-office automated messages to say things like "I'm in Portland, Oregon, for the week, working with the most amazing scientists and hearing about their plans to change how we protect the environment!" -- a message with good internal and external content, and likely a real team-builder, if nothing else.

Much as I learned in What's in a filename? The story of scipak and why filenames matter, these seemingly mundane, routine bits of content can play a powerful role in your messaging. And by that, I don't mean adding your corporate tagline to your signature block. I mean going a little further, being concrete and specific and authentic to what's happening right now, since an auto-responder most often reflects something that's happening right now, aka your absence. Your primary message is about how long you're away and how you will handle messages during that time. But you *could* add value by telling us more about the work you are doing, where you will be, with whom you are working, whether you want to meet up with people who also are there, and more. And that lets you co-promote your colleagues, your clients, and your portfolio.

If you work with clients, internally or externally, this is a no-brainer. Even if you can't mention with whom you are working or the specifics of the job for an external client, you can say you're in Seattle to work with a major client in aerospace or a corporate client for a high-level training. Get descriptive. And if it's your internal client taking you out of town, treat them the same way. "This week, I'm teaming up with our publishing department to work with the top editors of our award-winning magazine" will win you a few bonus points at the office.

I'm looking forward to seeing the new out-of-office messages that work better for you.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Tommaso Galli)

Don't get caught unprepared, speechless, or without a message, but do catch me on Twitter, on Google+, and on the don't get caught page on Facebook--all great places to add your comments to the discussion. Subscribe to my monthly newsletter, Speakers & Communicators, to make sure you don't miss a thing on my blogs and get the first news about new workshops and projects.

Friday, November 18, 2016

The weekend read

See no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil--it's the ancient version of "don't get caught," communicators. But it's Friday. Peek through your fingers for just a few minutes, now, and check out my finds of the week, shared via @dontgetcaught on Twitter and don't get caught on Facebook, curated here for you:
(Creative Commons licensed photo by Japanexperterna)

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The 15 percent less rule, a lifesaver for speeches & media interviews

It's said that former U.S. President Bill Clinton--famous for talking well past his assigned time slot, earlier in his career--has been able to rein himself in with what I call the "15 percent rule." The rule: You plan to fill 85 percent of the time allotted.

That leaves 15 percent of your time as a cushion to ensure you don't exceed the limit. But the benefits go further, and Clinton uses it as time in which he can make an aside, or do some back-and-forth with the audience extemporaneously, based on where he feels the audience is emotionally, on the spot.

This rule also works when you a media interview before you. You'll often hear radio interviewers signal, "We just have 20 seconds left..." to prompt the interviewee to be brief. Why not make better use of your time by stopping short of what you see as complete?

When I coach a group of speakers, or train a group of experts in media interview skills, I sometimes ask them to complete a questionnaire in advance. "I talk too long" is among the most common self-assessments they make, and to my ear, that reads as "I'm unwilling to take the time to plan and make choices about the content I'm going to present, based on the needs of the audience or the interviewer." I always recommend the 15 percent rule as one of the tools you can use to achieve better media interviews and speeches. The old vaudeville rule "Leave them wanting more" really says it best!

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Luigi Mengato)

Don't get caught unprepared, speechless, or without a message--but do catch me on Twitter, on Google+, and on the don't get caught page on Facebook--all great places to add your comments to the discussion. Subscribe to my monthly newsletter, Speakers & Communicators, to make sure you don't miss a thing on my blogs and get the first news about new workshops and projects.

Friday, November 11, 2016

The weekend read

We're tired, fatigued, exhausted, communicators. Flat on the floor, and not just from the election season. Let's end the week with something woke: check out my finds of the week, shared via @dontgetcaught on Twitter and don't get caught on Facebook, and curated here for you. You still have time for a nap before you get smarter by Monday:
(Creative Commons licensed photo by Henti Smith)

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

What leaders should ask for instead of "more" media coverage

The CEO of a nonprofit client popped in as a surprise when I was training his media relations team a few years ago. He ostensibly wanted to thank them for their efforts and say how important he found their work. It was all good, until he left them with these parting words: "Remember, when it comes to media coverage, I want more, more, MORE!" And off he went.

You can imagine how *that* felt in the room, after he left. After all, we're in an age when legacy media is decreasing, and smart social media measurement doesn't overemphasize high numbers of likes alone. "More" isn't necessarily better when it comes to media coverage, but often, leaders don't know what else to ask for. So here's my list of suggested targets for a good media relations team to aim for, instead, in expanding its range and its coverage:
I can say with conviction--because I've done all those things--that your media coverage will improve by avoiding problems and by building better awareness within your company, among your experts, and among reporters. Better than a thousand press releases and pitch calls.

Finally, if your CEO wants "more, more, MORE" media coverage, sit down and talk to him about his executive compensation and whether and how it is likely to make news--again, an issue for nonprofits as well as for-profits. That might change his "any publicity is good publicity" perspective.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Ernst Moeksis)

Friday, November 04, 2016

The weekend read

The autumn leaves are fiery, scarlet, ruby-colored...oh, let's just call 'em red, communicators. That gives us more time to check out my finds of the week, shared via @dontgetcaught on Twitter and don't get caught on Facebook, curated here just for you:
(Creative Commons licensed photo by Ian Sane)

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

What Bob Dylan can tell you about your awards program & publicity

It's making headlines that Bob Dylan has "finally" acknowledge his Nobel Prize. And if you're a communicator, or working in any capacity for a company or organization, you should be asking yourself why that is.

The answer is not as simple as Dylan's apparent refusal to answer the Nobel committee's call or talk to the press on the day the prize was announced (or for a couple of weeks beyond that, as it turned out). But the answer is hinted at by what the Brits would dryly term the "shock-horror" implied in the coverage: Can you believe that he didn't take the call or acknowledge the award? The nerve!

The real answer lies in the expectation behind the prize, prompting a question for you: Why are you sponsoring a prize or award?

When I've asked this question from within organizations--some of them with hundreds of prizes to hand out--the answer often is "for the publicity." Sometimes, the answer is "to draw attention" to the issue or topic that's the focus of the prize. Sometimes, the answer is "public outreach."

The problem with that expectation? It's rarely based on facts. If you survey reporters (and I have), awards and prizes are the very last thing on the list of topics they might cover. If there were a box to tick saying "Never," they'd tick that one. The Nobels are a notable exception each year, but it's possible that even that organization has fallen for the attention racket. If the expectation was that the winner was going to answer that early morning call and talk to the press, Dylan didn't get the memo, and the coverage didn't go in its expected direction. A member of the Swedish Academy called him "impolite and arrogant." Dylan, when he did surface, said the award had left him "speechless."

The reporters I know are skeptical of awards for all sorts of reasons. They don't see awards selection as unbiased, and it typically isn't. They view askance the funders of awards--a common aspect, as many nonprofits don't have endowments that allow for prizes, so they raise money and get corporate sponsors for awards. Reporters, then, want to know what the funder's motivation is, and the organization's motivation. And finally, most important of all, there are simply too many awards to cover, a result of thousands of groups having the same idea at the same time.

Most awards are most effective within your organization, but have little impact beyond it and virtually no impact on your media coverage. There, I've said it out loud. Your press office, if it's smart and not pandering to internal critics, will issue just one type of press release for an award: One targeted to the hometown media of the winner, with the headline "[Insert Name of City] Woman Wins National Award for [Topic]." Asking them for more is a waste of time and effort, generally.

If we can acknowledge that reality, then we can consider what your organization's real motivation is for awarding this and other prizes. Better reasons might be motivation your members, saluting career achievements and big discoveries, sharing stunning examples of the craft, and creating incentives to invent new things. Those really should suffice, shouldn't they? If those are your reasons, enjoy promoting the awards to the audiences that really care about them: Your members, customers, partners, and allies.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Dena Flows)

Don't get caught unprepared, speechless, or without a message, but do catch me on Twitter, on Google+, and on the don't get caught page on Facebook--all great places to add your comments to the discussion. Subscribe to my monthly newsletter, Speakers & Communicators, to make sure you don't miss a thing on my blogs and get the first news about new workshops and projects.