Friday, April 28, 2017

The weekend read

Please let me finish the week, communicators! It's the weekend or nearly so, time for my finds of the week, shared via @dontgetcaught on Twitter and don't get caught on Facebook, and curated here for you. I promise to finish all the sentences in this post, too...
(Creative Commons licensed photo by mermaid)

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 26, 2017

You've got quotation books on your speechwriting shelf. Now get this.

Thanks to forces ranging from the Internet itself to the propensity of modern folks to want to put words in the mouths of the ancients, it's difficult to know whether that quotation actually was said or written by the person you want to quote in a speech today. And while compilations of quotations are useful, perhaps more practical is a new book that gets behind the problematic quotes.

In Hemingway Didn't Say That: The Truth Behind Familiar Quotations, Garson O'Toole uses his own mishaps in searching for quotation sources, describes the forces that shape our misquotation habits, and offers "the first careful examination of what causes misquotations and how they spread across the globe." He groups them as mistakes made by groups, by readers, and by authors, and every chapter is loaded with famous quotes...and who really said them first.

Naturally, this is a book loaded with references, a yeoman task that will save speechwriters lots of time. There's also a handy index by quotation, and another by author, making this a truly useful speechwriting bookshelf standard.

For more on misquotation, check out my post Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain called. They want their quotes back, a good companion to this new guide, including other sources to check your quotes.

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 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.