Friday, April 21, 2017

The weekend read

I've seen a lot of airplane wings this week, having done a workshop in Dallas, Texas, and a keynote speech in Lexington, Kentucky, by way of Charlotte, North Carolina. Time to land in the weekend with my finds of the week, shared via @dontgetcaught on Twitter and don't get caught on Facebook, and curated here for you. Let's fly away...
(Creative Commons licensed photo by Dion Gillard)

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.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Should we ditch analogies to explain science--or just use them sparingly?

Professional communicators like me have been urging scientists to use analogies and metaphors for a long, long time, as part of the effort to make their work clearer to public and non-scientist audiences. But on the eve of the March for Science here in Washington, DC, I think we may need to reconsider this advice, because we're in danger of overload. It's not that they're ineffective, one at a time. But we seem to be overusing this tool.

Scientists rewrote the DNA of an entire species, a Vox article, shows why. Here are the metaphors and analogies I found in the article, all referring to the same discovery. Some are from the journalist who wrote the story, some from his scientist sources:
  1. tailoring microorganisms
  2. snip out one single gene
  3. a rewriting and reorganization of the entire genetic book
  4. base pairs...are the individual building blocks that make up DNA
  5. if you know how a radio works, you should be able to take it apart and put it back together
  6. what yeast genes are necessary for keeping it alive and which are bloatware
  7. if you think of yeast as a factory, then its genome is the operating system
  8. if scientists can re-engineer yeast from scratch, they can teach it a few more tricks
  9. we wanted to make changes that are very difficult to make without rebuilding it from the ground up
  10. the scientists have designed some new “programs” into the genome. One is called a “scramble” function
  11. The analogy is if you had a million decks of cards, there would be one that would give you the best hand at gin rummy, there would be another that would give you the best hand at Texas Hold’em
  12. the biologists have done some tidying up of the genome
  13. An architect can draw the most beautiful building her mind can imagine. But if an engineer says it can’t be built, it can’t be built. A similar thing happens with DNA design.
  14. they have to get glued together at very specific points
  15. there is no DNA “printer” that can perfectly spit out that many in a stable chain.
  16. We’re not starting with a bunch of inanimate chemicals, mixing chemicals, and having life pop out
Some of these metaphors and analogies are used as shorthand, some as comparisons. But 16 metaphors or analogies is about 15 too many, folks. You can tell when the author realized he may be using one too many, because he puts quotes around them, as if to apologize. The quotes also delineate metaphors that might be taken literally, a big fat clue that you should reconsider their use. Adding confusion--or quotation marks--is not the goal.

And boy, are these metaphors mixed. They draw from 17 sets of imagery: tailoring, sewing, books, toys, radios, software, factories, computers, dog training, building, codes, card games, cleaning, architecture, engineering, glue, printers, and pregnancy (or, possibly, toasters, or gopher holes). And by the end of the article, they do little to enhance actual understanding of the process being described.

Better are the simple-language sections of this article which describe the methodology, step by step. It's a misstep I see all too often in the way communications pros coach scientists when they are preparing for media interviews. "Skip the methodology and use a metaphor," scientists are urged. But the method often is what makes your research unique and understandable. I'm a big fan of figuring out how to describe the method first, and then deciding whether a metaphor helps, or hurts.

The article could be seen as an example of how frequently and easily we use metaphor, but I know better, because I've heard the advice for decades about being deliberate with this choice. Even if it's natural to reach for metaphor, taken together, they are overwhelming. In the end, that's the editor's job to fix, but scientists can help by choosing with care the tools they use to communicate.

Another sign that analogies and metaphors are the default: The Sideways Dictionary, which translates tech terms into analogies, was built by the Washington Post and Alphabet to explain tech to non-techies.

Don't get me wrong: Metaphors and analogies are powerful tools, great for translating from the technical. Here's what TED curator Chris Anderson has to say about them in TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking. He's breaking down what works in Dan Gilbert's talk, The surprising science of happiness:
For an explanation to be satisfying, it has to take puzzling facts and build a connection from them to someone's existing mental model of the world. Metaphors and analogies are the key tools needed to do this. They help shape the explanation until it finally snaps into place with a satisfying aha!
And of course, he worked in two metaphors right there at the end, didn't he?

Like any language tool, however, metaphors and analogies are best used with care. You'll do better, scientists, by finding one metaphor and working it all the way through your discussion--be it a presentation or a media interview--and by testing your metaphors before you bring them forward, lest they fail to do the task you intend them to do. The cautionary tale at the link is one from science, and once you read it, you won't look at metaphor the same way again. Start by choosing one analogy and sticking with it, resisting the urge to pile on more. It's not helping. And journalists, how 'bout a better edit?

If you want to learn more about metaphor and how we use it, I recommend two books: George Lakoff's Metaphors We Live By, which is a landmark book explaining the facility with which we use metaphor to make sense of the world, and James Geary's I is An Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How It Shapes the Way We See the World. It's worth learning more about how you use metaphor now, and how you might use (or avoid) it in the future.

My thanks to Tiffany Lohwater, who pointed me to this article and its basketful of analogies.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Tiago Daniel)

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, April 14, 2017

The weekend read

I'm back in Washington, DC, where there seems to be at least a protest a day at lunch hour, before work, and after work--and on the weekends, protests are the new brunch. No need to protest the weekend itself. Instead, carry a sign for my finds of the week, shared via @dontgetcaught on Twitter and don't get caught on Facebook, and curated here for you. Let's march our way out of this week, shall we, communicators?
(Creative Commons licensed photo by Hernán Piñera)

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.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Why comms leaders need to be able to take the call

I had to chuckle when I saw the article That time Bill Gates answered a tech support call...and crushed it. It brought me right back to a time when my communications team had agreed that all incoming phone calls should be answered in three rings or fewer. Not long after that, I was standing out in the office bullpen, and the phone rang. Once, twice, no one answering, despite the availability of many. So I picked up the phone on ring number three. "Communications, may I help you?"

The reporter on the other end told me she was calling from the Wall Street Journal and wanted to pursue a story on a topic for which we weren't covered enough--one that would be meaningful to us. "I'd be happy to help you with that," I said. "And who might you be?" was the reporter's somewhat snide rejoinder.

"I'm the director of this office," was the only reply possible. That seemed to suit her, so she proceeded with the details of her request.

In Gates's case, he asked to field some support line calls, and, as the article notes, didn't give away his identity, naming himself as "William" to the caller. But when the customer called back and asked for the "nice" rep named William, he was told it had been the CEO who answered the call.

Our two stories have their differences, but the article's point is the same as mine: Communications leaders *should* be able to field incoming calls of all types, and handle them appropriately, even if my team members were mortified when they figured out who'd caught the call. It certainly helped make my point about why it's important to answer calls promptly--you'd hate to have missed the Journal's call. But I know my team members also were impressed that I could "still" do it.

Go one step further, and spend a few hours a month answering calls or fielding emails. See what comes in over the transom, and then ask the people who do that on the regular what they notice. Tell them what you notice. Are there gaps between what you think is a well-handled call, and what they think it is?  And if you don't know how to field and direct incoming calls, get your team to teach you. It's leadership perspective that can work for you as well as Bill Gates.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by OnInnovation)

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, April 07, 2017

The weekend read

April showers time, communicators. That would seem to work well as I've been in London this week, although spring and sunny weather happen to be in full force here. Rain or shine, stay dry and check out my finds of the week, shared via @dontgetcaught on Twitter and don't get caught on Facebook, and curated here for you. I'll always share an umbrella with you:
(Creative Commons licensed photo by D. Julien)

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.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

12 lessons, 12 years in on the DGC blog

I like coincidences, and today just happens to be the 12th anniversary of this blog. This blog is so much a part of my world and my work that I often miss the anniversary, but something prompted me to check this time.

I must say that if there's one thing that keeps my spirits and intellect high and sharp, respectively, it's blogging. Running your own business, as a mentor of mine predicted, is the most intellectual activity you'll ever attempt. But maintaining a blog well comes a close second to that...just what makes work a joy for me.

I've taken the occasion to think about 12 lessons I've learned in that dozen years of blogging, still and always my primary platform. These are lessons aimed at those of you, like me, who use a blog as a primary marketing platform for your services:
  1. 90 percent of blogging is showing up, consistently and frequently. I started with monthly posts and quickly found my rhythm at 2 to 3 posts per week. Today, I'm up to three blogs that post at least 6 times per week, all together. It makes a difference in followers, in search engine results, and in content.
  2. Blogging's the best exercise to develop your writing muscle. There is no writing task that puts me off now. It's the antidote to writer's block. If you are struggling to populate a blog with posts, know that the solution lies in posting more, not less. It does get easier.
  3. Put enough of yourself into your blog so that, when prospective clients call, they already know everything they need to know to hire you. You don't want them to hire just anybody. You want them to hire you. Make sure your blog doesn't read like just anybody's blog.
  4. Your readers will give you the best content and ideas, ever. If you let them. Encourage comments, read their tweets, ask audiences to find things for you, listen to their requests. Use their questions as post titles, a smart SEO-based strategy. It's all useful for content.
  5. Everything is copy. Reader comments, what you're reading, your own schedule, exchanges on Twitter, experiences in your work, what you see and hear, what you're listening to. I find content everywhere, and I use what happens on my other social channels in my content, so that the blog becomes my collector-of-record for my online presence...and readers know where to look to find everything.
  6. If you wouldn't read it--for any reason--don't publish it. Simple as that.
  7. This is how clients find you. I used to say that 50 percent of my new clients found me by finding and reading one of my blogs. Now it's more like 90 percent. I have a great mix of new and repeat clients, thanks to the information I'm sharing on the blogs, and they are what marketers like to call "highly qualified"--in other words, they know they want to hire me. Less selling on my part.
  8. It's more than just a blog, if you let it be so. My blogs are the first drafts of books, collections of curated reference material, *and* my primary marketing tools. How efficient can you get?
  9. Be ready for people to have read you closely and to quote you back to yourself. Ye gods, it's always a bit of a shock when someone says, "I know you think this" or "I know you prefer that," until I realize that they've done some deep diving and reading on the blog. And that's a good thing. 
  10. Be a filter. I know when I read blogs, I'm looking for distinct points of view, and particularly, people who will filter and curate for me the facts, ideas, products, and trends that they notice, like, or dislike. I want them to tell me why, too. I want to hear their stories and perspectives and opinions. So I try to do the same. None of my blogs could belong to anyone else, and I like it that way.
  11. Figure out precisely what can--and can't--be delegated in blogging. While I invite the odd guest post here or there, most of my content is written by me. But with three blogs, choices need to be made about the other tasks. I use my virtual assistant corps at FancyHands to do research, transcribe short videos, find videos and copyright-free photos, track down texts and transcripts. Evernote keeps all my clippings and threads and ideas in one place so that I am ready to write when I'm ready to write. Don't forget that, once you build a following, your followers will start sharing content and ideas. 
  12. Be where your readers are. My longtime social media strategy is to use my blogs as my online basecamp, and to use my other social channels to bring the blog where my readers are (see the links at the bottom of this post). But the blogs offer the most complete view, my publishing tools-of-record, as it were. I have some readers who follow me on all channels, and some who only see my work on Facebook, or on Twitter, but they all wind up here.
One more thing I know for sure: The sooner you get going on your blog, the sooner 12 years will pop up in the rearview mirror.
(Creative Commons licensed photo by Etienne Girardet)

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, March 31, 2017

The weekend read

This week, I've been at Magdalen College at the University of Oxford for the Spring Speechwriters' and Business Communicators' Conference, one of my favorites. Yesterday, I led a breakout group for speechwriters on prepping speakers for TED talks. Time to check out some breakout ideas in my finds of the week, shared via @dontgetcaught on Twitter and don't get caught on Facebook, and curated here for you. Cheers for the weekend:
Next, I head to London for a conference on virtual reality and immersion journalism, followed by my workshop, Creating a TED-Quality Talk

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Adrian Scottow)

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.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

From photography rights to pizza: Prep your comms team for protests

In an era when protests are happening daily in cities around the U.S., communications pros may find that their camera-wielding, microphone-carrying comms teams are singled out for extra scrutiny and attention.

Why? Your videographers and photographers may be caught up in a crowd situation and mistaken for protesters, Or you may be on the receiving end of handling controversy when your security team oversteps good-sense limits or the First Amendment during a protest situation. Or you might have a thousand protesters sitting in your lobby with no intention of leaving, hunger, and a need for restrooms.

Whether you're at a corporation, on a university campus, or working for a nonprofit, and no matter where your location may be, the smart comms pro will be armed with these facts and resources before the crowd arrives:
  1. Brief your team on their rights during protests and police actions: It makes sense to buy and share with your team these wallet cards from the American Civil Liberties Union that summarize your rights for demonstrations and protests,when you are stopped or detained by police, and when you are stopped or detained for photographing or videotaping.The link above takes you to the variety pack with 10 cards for each of the three topics above, or 30 in total, for just $10.99. (I don't get anything for sharing this, but the small fee and the shipping do benefit ACLU.) It's a small investment, but one that means your team will be ready in case something goes wrong.
  2. Understand your state laws about recording conversations: The Digital Media Law Project shares these state laws and guidance for recording phone calls and conversations; in America, as of 2014, 11 states required the consent of both parties before such recordings are made. Make sure your team is up to speed on pertinent laws in your state before they head out to record interviews and convos.
  3. Work through how you'll get work done virtually or on the move: Are you prepared, as a colleague of mine used to say, to run your comms shop in a parking lot out of your purse and cellphone? If not, sit down with your team and come up with systems that will make it easy for all of you to do your work with mobile devices and out of the office.
  4. Have a sit-down with your organization's security team: If you have not done so (and you should do this at least annually), meet with the security team at your company, university, or nonprofit. Discuss how they will handle protests, and share your input on what that will look like when shared on social media and covered in traditional media. Make sure they have access to the same rights information your team does, so they are not inadvertently violating the rights of others. Share with them Arresting photographers: What should your security team know in an age of cellphone cameras? and "We'll just arrest the reporters:" What's your security team communicating? to get the conversation going. And ask them: Would they try arresting reporters? Or protesters? Why? When? You may need to include others in the discussion, but it's worth having before the trouble arrives at your door.
  5. Know your local police contacts: Get in touch with your police department--both the station that oversees your area, and the public information officer--to introduce yourself, exchange contact info, and talk about what happens in the event of a protest. Ask how your employees should be identified during a public demonstration to avoid arrest. Ask how they are likely to handle a swarm of protestors on your property. Then share what your company or organization would prefer. Loop your security folks into this discussion, please, or ask to be included when they reach out.
  6. Have the pizza factor ready: I'm not kidding. Buying pizza for protesters is one of the smarter ways to handle a sit-in or other invasion of your organization's property, and looks so much better than, say, calling in extra guards. It would not go amiss to have a few pizza parlor phone numbers in your shared contacts for just the right moment. And while you're at it, open your lobby-level restrooms if protesters are nearby. The Smithsonian museums got a lot of love by doing so during the Women's March on Washington, while maintaining their screening and visitor policies.
  7. Reach out to your physical neighbors: Your organization might not have a lot in common with the business/nonprofit/hotel/campus next door, but during a protest or other fast-moving crowd action, you'll save a lot of time by making yourself known to your communications counterparts in nearby buildings. Again, share contact info, ask how they are prepared to act, and do this ahead of time.
What else would you add to this list? Head to Twitter, Facebook, or Google+ at the links below to continue the conversation.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Jason)

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, March 24, 2017

The weekend read

The cherry blossoms here in Washington have had it tough this year, with early warming and late snow. They'll be about half of their usual gorgeousness. But they're still worth a look, just like my finds of the week, shared via @dontgetcaught on Twitter and don't get caught on Facebook, and curated here for you. Let a thousand ideas bloom:
(Creative Commons licensed photo by Khai Nguyen)

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.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

How to inject creativity into social media (or any comms) this year

Pushing my creativity in social posts--particularly on my three blogs--is not only essential to getting and keeping readers and followers. For me, it's the biggest motivation in my work, the thing that keeps me going.

But finding inspiration to fuel that creativity isn't easy. Fortunately, I've found a few inspiring posts that are helping to shape my creativity this year.

For starters, I'm planning to turn creativity into a kind of quality improvement this year. 10 ways to kiss boring goodbye in 2017 talks about focusing less on transactional content, and in fact, posting less content overall--but making it higher quality. That's a great target for raising the bar for yourself, and it's framing my own approaches this year on all of my blogs and social channels. Convince & Convert is a new favorite blog I've started to follow, and this post is a real keeper.

If you need more convincing on that point, Seth Godin, in a super-short but powerful post, looks at the concept of more versus less, and notes that the opposite of "more" is actually "better." This goes for many aspects of the professional communicator's work. We've explored here what leaders should ask for instead of "more" media coverage, and I have some clients who've stopped measuring overall coverage, preferring instead to focus on a few high-value placements instead of casting a wide net. You can apply that same thinking to your social posts. Instead of having a presence on 10 platforms, or all platforms, which one or two can you really thrive on?

But in order to get higher quality content, you'll need to get creative and be confident about it. Harvard Business Review looks at reclaiming your creative confidence, breaking down a variety of fears that get in the way of your creativity: fear of the messy unknown, fear of taking the first step, and more. It's a good place to start. Another is the book Creative Change: Why We Resist It...How We Can Embrace It. The book suggests ways you can get more comfortable with being creative, and if you're pitching ideas to nervous leaders, ways to get them more comfortable, too. Why your creative ideas get ignored explains more about the book.

How will you get more creative with your social media or other comms this year?

(Creative Commons licensed photo by harle.m)

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, March 17, 2017

The weekend read

Top o' the Friday mornin' to you, communicators, and happy St. Patrick's Day, to boot. Time for another round of my finds of the week, shared via @dontgetcaught on Twitter and don't get caught on Facebook, and curated here for you. May the weekend rise up to meet you...
(Creative Commons licensed photo by LenDog64)

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.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

4 communications lessons you can learn from anti-Trump protesters

Here in Washington, DC, not a day has gone by since the inauguration without at least one--and sometimes several--protests of the new administration. This isn't entirely new: Washington, as long as I've lived here, has been the place where the people come to air their grievances, so much so that locals turn to the Washington Post on Saturdays to find the routine reports that tell us which streets are closed over the weekend for which protests, and how big they are likely to be. And new data from Pew shows that Americans--across political lines--strongly support the right of the people to protest.

That steady pace of protests is magnified now, with more frequent and larger protests happening every day. The signs are getting more creative, too. And as the protests gather steam, there are some good reminders for professional communicators in their methods. Here are just four lessons you can learn from the marches and protests:
  1. Brevity matters: That long quote, or stirring paragraph, or speech fragment that inspired you to march is much harder to read, photograph, or broadcast than, say, "Now you've pissed off Grandma," one of my favorite signs held by a senior citizen during the Women's March. A protest sign is not even as long as a headline--or shouldn't be. It's a great time to practice your editing skills.
  2. Humor is essential: That "Grandma" sign also wins because it's a spot of humor in a sea of outrage. Humor allies you with others in your audience, and can be a sly psychological counter to dreadful policies. Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan, writing about how shared laughter helps your cause, noted, "A voter laughing is half yours, and just received a line he can repeat next weekend over a beer at the barbecue or online at Starbucks. Here is a fact of American politics: If you make us laugh we spread your line for free," as I am doing here.
  3. Be visible and legible: Most of the protests began in January, right after the inauguration--a time of less than 12 hours of daylight each day, in Washington, DC. So lighted signs, one person holding up each letter of a word, have become useful for extending protests during late-night U.S. Senate deliberations, as in the photo at the top. Brevity counts here, too.
  4. Use broadcast-quality messaging: You don't need a network anchor to hold your sign for this to be achieved, but you do need messaging that can be shown and repeated on air, whether radio or television. To wit: Keep the curse words off your protest sign or your interview comments. Many a university press officer I know can tell that a campus protest won't wind up on the local TV news when they see signs loaded with obscenities. (Protesters, listen up.) Air your frustration in other ways, and make your messages shareable.
(Pruitt protest photo by League of Conservation Voters. Grandma protest photo: Creative Commons licensed photo by Kristy)

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, March 10, 2017

The weekend read

I've been in California this week to lead a masterclass for Mozilla Tech Speakers on how to manage questions and answers in any speaking situation. But there's no question what you should do now, communicators: Check out my finds of the week, shared via @dontgetcaught on Twitter and don't get caught on Facebook, and curated here for you. Any questions?
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.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Using a sports analogy or metaphor well

In Out of the park: Is that where your metaphors land?, I shared a caution about using sports as a comparison tool, particularly for Americans who unthinkingly use, say, baseball metaphors with non-U.S. audiences, leaving them at best confused. But recently, I heard a well-placed sports metaphor that used the difference between European and American fans to drive its point home.

In an On the Media interview with sociologist David S. Meyer about political protests, Meyer used a sports metaphor at the end of the interview to make his point clear. Here are the question and full answer so you can see it in context:
OTM: We're talking about the nuts and bolts of protest, but did they really matter? Do they ultimately ever change our politics?

Meyer: Not by themselves, and not necessarily in the short run. It's quite likely that these large demonstrations in Washington DC and the airport protests are going to be followed in short order by political defeats. But in order to execute those policy gains that the movement views as defeats, the Trump administration is going to spend political capital. They're going to strain political relations with their own allies, and you often see the impact play out over long periods of time. 
For example, in 2009, the Tea Party focused on stopping Obamacare. There were big rallies, disruptive town hall meetings, and in the short run, they lost. Obamacare was passed. But the Tea Party actually grew afterwards, and we're seeing a President who is really the Frankenstein monster of the Tea Party now. So yeah, protest matters, but not as quickly as the story mass media like to tell. 
And if you go into a bar and watch people drinking and watching a soccer game, you will see them cheering and yelling about a run down the side of the field that didn't lead to a score. But it did tire out the opposition, it did reveal weaknesses in positioning, and it set up another score, maybe 40 minutes later. European viewers have some sense of how that game works. Americans don't.
Score! Sports metaphors are wonderful for describing forward action; winners and losers; waiting and overtime; competition. This one goes further, and uses the progression of a game to describe the progression of protests and what follows them; to describe the effect of an action now and later; and uses opposing teams to compare with opposing parties or stances. So the metaphor works on many levels and allows those levels to be explained easily. Go and do likewise, communicators.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Denisenfamily)

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, March 03, 2017

The weekend read

It's early by normal standards, but the robins are back in my yard, so spring must be here. Spring into action, communicators, and check out my finds of the week, shared via @dontgetcaught on Twitter and don't get caught on Facebook, and curated here for you. Call them harbingers of spring:
(Creative Commons licensed photo by britta heise)

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.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Reviving your op-ed skills in a world of alternative facts

In a world of 'alternative facts,' fast-moving positions, and policy changes, it doesn't matter whether you're a corporate, government, or nonprofit communicator. An op-ed or letter to the editor give you the chance to publicly counter, fact-check, or refute those decisions about which you have a different set of evidence.

It doesn't matter where you stand on the issues. What matters just now is your level of skill with op-eds, opinion articles that may be essay or letter length. (For example, the New York Times is currently encouraging 800-word essays from university students, professors, and administrators.) Fortunately, I have some catch-up lessons and cautionary tales to get you up to speed:
  1. Can everyone on your team write letters to editors and op-eds? If you're going to need to frequently counter or disprove what's out there, you need many utility infielders to handle the op-ed load. Letters to the editor are the short form of the op-ed, and both are on my list of 20 writing tests for communications pros.
  2. Can your op-ed land the one-two punch? This is the most basic test of whether an opinion article will work, and it's the first thing I look for when reading them. Protip: So do the editors to whom you are submitting.
  3. Op-eds take a range of formats in the social media age. Here is a quartet of options for social op-eds, and 8 more tools for the op-social world. They range from blogs to video, and everything in between. It's a good time to consider how to turn your social channels toward sharing your point of view.
  4. Sometimes all you need are some good examples, so here's why Warren Buffet's now-famous 'tax me' op-ed worked so well, from surprise to word choices.
  5. My 5 fixes for a lame opinion piece will let you save that op-ed that is never going to make it, and turn it into one you can place. And next time, use this list in advance, rather than as a rear-guard action.
Want to develop the op-ed writing expertise of your comms team or your expert spokespeople? I can design a workshop that gets them poised and ready. Email me at eloquentwoman AT gmail DOT com.

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, February 24, 2017

The weekend read

I declare the road to the weekend closed, communicators, because we're at the end of the week...finally. Time to check out my finds of the week, shared via @dontgetcaught on Twitter and don't get caught on Facebook, and curated here for you. End times start now:
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.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Facing an angry crowd, from congressional town halls to your next talk

One of the stranger phenomena in a strange new political world has been the sight of Republican members of Congress running away from constituents gathered for live, in-person "town hall" meetings all over America.

A staple of the political world, town hall meetings are an open forum where anyone might attend. But with concerns about the new White House occupants and the Republican Congress running high, attendance has been at record levels--and even the New York Times has been signaling which reporters will attend which town halls in advance. For their part, elected representatives getting creative about how to avoid the in-person interaction, by cancelling the sessions, running out of them, trying to limit actual in-room attendance, and more. For this week's recess, some 200 Republican members of Congress plan to avoid, rather than meet with, constituents. From Vice:
Instead they’re opting for more controlled Facebook Live or “tele-town halls,” where questions can be screened by press secretaries and followups are limited — as are the chances of becoming the next viral meme of the Left. 
For the first two months of the new Congress, the 292 Republicans have scheduled just 88 in-person town hall events — and 35 of those sessions are for Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, according to a tabulation conducted by Legistorm. In the first two months of the previous Congress in 2015, by contrast, Republicans held 222 in-person town hall events.
So it was refreshing to see this headline: In Charleston, a rare show of civility between left-leaning activists and their conservative congressman. From the article:
Unlike Republican incumbents in other states, Sanford is not running from the opposition. Instead, he's engaging with his agitators, even agreeing to hold the town hall meeting Saturday morning at their request.
The activists, in turn, are taking a civil and diplomatic approach to their dialogue with Sanford, asking pointed questions on topics ranging from health care to federal regulations. They haven't started to hurl accusations, boos or jeers.
It's exactly the right approach when you are facing an audience that's at best skeptical and at worst angry with you, whether you are a climate scientist, an elected official, or the administrator who's made an unpopular decision. Step one is to face the crowd, rather than run away, avoid, or cancel, all steps that speak volumes, and not in a good way. If you can't show up for your own public meeting, dears, I can't help you further.

But step two can be helpful and disarming. Start with the crowd's questions and concerns, before you launch into your presentation. Starting with Q&A--much of which may be angry comments and accusations, rather than actual questions--may feel like you're facing a firing squad. But letting your constituents (be they voters, consumers, customers, or any other) have their say first will work magic if you listen attentively and acknowledge hearing their ire and concern.

Here's the trick: You do not have to come to agreement on every point, something that the person facing the questioning crowd often forgets. Engaging with a public audience doesn't mean you all have to wind up on the same page. Far from it. But it does require you to listen and hear what their views are, and give them the opportunity to speak. And once a comment, in particular, has been firmly expressed, thank the person sharing it, for sharing it. Acknowledge that you've heard them.

Do you get to say something? Sure, but make certain that you sandwich it in between Q&A sessions--a few minutes at the start for questions, then your short presentation, then back to questions. Or, opt for an all-questions session.

It may surprise you that this tactic takes a lot of the sting out of the proceedings. Angry public audiences who attend such a meeting may not get you to change your mind, but they can at least see you giving them a hearing, acknowledging what they've shared as a concern, and sharing your own views. That's a point too many in Congress will be missing this week, while they are on recess, visiting their home districts and trying to run away from voters.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by paolo barzman)

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, February 17, 2017

The weekend read, pony edition

There's a pony in here, somewhere, communicators. Its name is Friday, for the end of a long week. Time to dig out and feed the pony and check out my finds of the week, shared via @dontgetcaught on Twitter and don't get caught on Facebook. They're curated here for you. C'mon Friday. We're outta here...
(Creative Commons licensed photo by Jonathan Taglione)

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.