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Archive for April 2012

Telling Your Story: Say Less to be Heard More

 

Telling Your Story: Say less to be heard more

By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Counsel
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Telling Your Story: Say less to be heard moreWant more of your story to be heard? Try saying less.

One of the most common mistakes people make when telling their story is saying too much.

We all want to be heard and understood.

But laying out every fact and argument you have at your disposal to convince the rest of us usually doesn’t work very well. There are many reasons for this. Here are three of them:

  • Too many facts get in the way of your story. Humans have been sharing information through storytelling forever. Some scientists believe the narratives that make up stories are the fundamental instrument of thought. Stories help us arrange facts together in a way that give them meaning and help us remember them. Too many facts get in the way of your story and make it harder for the rest of us to remember what you’ve said. Don’t let too many facts get in the way of your story.
  • Having too many messages means you have no message. Communicate too much and you often end up communicating nothing because the rest of us don’t know what you’re trying to tell us. In his book Selling the Invisible, branding expert Harry Beckwith calls it the Grocery List Problem. I call it being unfocused. Your audience won’t remember everything on a long list. And they may remember things you don’t care about while forgetting the one thing you really want them to remember. Focus on a single message.
  • We live in a soundbite world. Take too long to deliver your message and your audience will check out or move on long before you tell them what you want them to know.

The bottom line? Have a clear message. Be able to say it in about 15 seconds or less. And find a way to say it as often as you can so the rest of us will hear it, understand it and remember it.

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Jerry Brown, APR, is a public relations professional and former journalist. He helps clients develop the content to tell their stories. He helps them with strategies for getting their stories heard, understood and remembered. And he provides media training and presentation coaching for clients who need to tell their stories to reporters or in front of an audience. 303-594-8016 | jerry@JerryBrownPR.com

Telling Your Story: Answer the Right Questions

 

Telling Your Story: Answer the Right Questions

By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Counsel
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Telling Your Story: Answer the Right QuestionsGood storytelling often is about answering the right questions — the ones your audience will ask on their own and the ones you want them to ask.

As I mentioned in my last post, during the 20 years when I was committing journalism we were told our stories should cover the five W’s — who, what, where, when and why.

We often skipped why because we didn’t know the answer and didn’t have time to find out before deadline. So, we were really answering four questions: Who, what, where and when. Our job was to answer those questions because they’re typically the questions all of us about any story. Pretty basic storytelling. Informative. But generally not persuasive. And not intended to be.

Of course, our stories had to be interesting. The word we used was “newsworthy.” Otherwise, no editor would agree to print them or put them on the air.

So, what do you do if your story’s not “newsworthy” but it’s important to you that the rest of us pay attention to what you’re saying?

One way to do it is to take the questions journalists routinely answer a step deeper in a way that makes the answers more interesting to your audience.

Here’s how I suggest doing that:

  • Don’t just tell me who. Tell me how your story affects me. Everybody’s favorite subject is me. So, telling me how your story affects me means I’m more likely to be interested in what you have to say.
  • Don’t just tell me what. Tell me why I should care, the so what of your story. I talked about this in my last post.
  • Don’t just tell me where. Localize your story to tell me how it applies to the geographic area of our audience — or an interest they share.
  • Don’t just tell me when. Tell me how.
  • Don’t skip telling me why the way the journalists sometimes are forced to do because of deadlines.

Asking this second layer of questions automatically takes your audience deeper into your story. And if you use them to lead the rest of us to answers to the questions you want us to ask, then you have a good chance of persuading us to do or believe what you want us to do or believe.

That’s my two cents’ worth. What’s yours?

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Jerry Brown, APR, is a public relations professional and former journalist. He specializes in helping clients develop the content they need to tell their stories. He also helps them develop strategies for getting their stories heard, understood and remembered. And he provides media training and presentation coaching for clients who need to tell their stories to reporters or in front of an audience. 303-594-8016 | jerry@JerryBrownPR.com.

Telling Your Story: So What?

 

Telling Your Story: So What?

By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Counsel
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Telling Your Story: So WhatBack in the days when I was committing journalism, we were told our stories should cover the five W’s — who, what, where, when and why.

But there’s another question that’s even more important: So what?

Telling me “what” provides information. But why should I care? That’s the “so what” of your story. And if you can give me a compelling reason to care, I’ll pay close attention to what you have to say — and maybe buy what you’re selling.

So cover the five W’s when telling your story. Otherwise, the rest of us may feel like you left us dangling without the information we need to fully understand what you’re saying.

But the money question — our reason for caring — is: So what? Include a compelling answer to that question in your story whenever you can.

That’s my two cents’ worth. What’s yours?
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Jerry Brown, APR, is a public relations professional and former journalist. He specializes in helping clients develop the content they need to tell their stories. He also helps them develop strategies for getting their stories heard, understood and remembered. And he provides media training and presentation coaching for clients who need to tell their stories to reporters or in front of an audience. 303-594-8016 | jerry@JerryBrownPR.com.

Telling Your Story: Everybody’s Favorite Subject

 

Telling Your Story: Everybody’s Favorite Subject

By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Counsel
www.JerryBrownPR.com

JerryBrownPR, storytelling, web contentWe don’t know one another. But I know something important about you.

I don’t know your name, what you do for work or fun, where you live. Your preference in clothes, books, food, politics or religion? Not a clue.

But I do know this: Your favorite subject is you. Just as my favorite subject is me. That’s something we all share. No matter how much we care about others or how much we do for them ultimately we’re interested in what works for ourselves.

Everybody’s favorite subject is me. It’s important to keep that in mind when telling your story.

You want to be heard, understood, appreciated and loved. We all do. So, that part of your presentation where you wax eloquent about how great you are? It’s your favorite part. Not so much for the rest of us.

We want to know what you can do for us, learn something useful to us or be entertained. If we’re thinking about hiring you, we need to know something about your experience and skills. But it’s still not about you. It’s about what you can do for me if I hire you.

If your story focuses on you, the rest of us aren’t very likely to hear it – or remember it if we do. But make your story about me – which is to say about something I want or need to know – and you’ll have my attention. If you do a good job of organizing what you have to say in a way that tells an interesting story and if you keep it simple, then there’s a good chance I’ll hear what you say, understand what you say and remember what you say.

The bottom line? Don’t let your desire to be heard, understood and remembered get in the way of actually getting heard, understood and remembered by making your story about you. Tell me a story. And make it about me.

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Jerry Brown, APR, is a public relations professional and former journalist. He specializes in helping clients develop the content they need to tell their stories. He also helps them develop strategies for getting their stories heard, understood and remembered. And he provides media training and presentation coaching for clients who need to tell their stories to reporters or in front of an audience. 303-594-8016 | jerry@JerryBrownPR.com.

Word Trippers: Distinction | Discrepancy | Disparity

 

Word Trippers: Distinction | Discrepancy | Disparity

I’ve been a fan for many years of Word Trippers, an ezine published by Barbara McNichol to explain commonly misused words. Or, as she puts it: Word Trippers help you write accurately every day (not everyday). Here’s the most recent version. – Jerry Brown

By Barbara McNichol
Barbara McNichol Editorial

Word TrippersThese three “d” words–distinction, discrepancy, and disparity–can easily trip us up. Pay attention to the important differences as shown in these examples.

“Distinction” often means a difference in detail that can be determined only by close inspection: e.g., the distinction between “good” and “excellent.”

“Discrepancy” refers to the difference between things that should correspond or match: e.g., there’s a discrepancy between his words and his actions.

“Disparity” is the condition or fact of being unequal, as in age, rank, or degree; e.g., the disparity (difference) between the two job offers was easy to quantify.

“Although he had served his clients with distinction, the discrepancy in his personal behavior led to a disparity of opinion among those who knew him best.” — Bill Sadler

“Due to a federal wage discrepancy, the disparity in pay for women employees lost the company its distinction as a female-friendly environment.” — Gordon Havens

One-Word/Two-Word BONUS: Here are four more in our series:  (This link takes you to the ever-growing list.)

Again, the examples feature this common thread: The two-word version is a verb phrase while the one-word version is a noun/adjective.

Sign up vs. signup (sign-up)

“Sign up” is a verb phrase meaning to enlist, as in an organization or group; to register or subscribe: e.g., to sign up for a class. As a noun, “signup” (or sign-up) refers to the act of enrolling or subscribing. When used as an adjective, it has a hyphen. “Use the sign-up sheet to sign up for the new ezine.”

Stand alone vs. standalone (stand-alone)

As a verb phrase, “stand alone” means to take a stand by oneself. “They stand alone in their support of the new requirement.” As an adjective, “stand-alone” means self-contained, able to operate without other hardware or software. “Unlike a printer, a fax machine is a stand-alone device because it doesn’t depend on other equipment to operate.”

As a noun, a “standalone” (or “stand-alone”) is a device or program with these characteristics.

Turn around vs. turnaround

The verb phrase refers to reversing the direction or course of something or someone. “Good consulting firms consistently turn around failing businesses.” As a noun, “turnaround” means the total time for a process, or the round trip of a vehicle or other conveyance; also a change of allegiance, opinion, mood, policy, etc. “The short turnaround from galley proof to publication
surprised everyone.” The adjective form is also turnaround (no hyphen).

Yes, more examples of one-word versus two-word phrases are lurking. Tell me which ones trip you up.
***
The NEXT Word Tripper — practicable vs. practical. Please craft an example sentence for the next Word Tripper–practicable vs. practical–and send it to me by Thursday, April 19. I’ll include the best ones in the Word Tripper of the Week that follows.

© 2012 Barbara McNichol. Reprinted with permission.

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Barbara McNichol specializes in editing nonfiction books, one-sheets, and marketing materials. She helps writers find the perfect words in everything they write and publish. Learn more at www.BarbaraMcNichol.com. Or sign up for your free email subscription to Word Trippers at www.WordTrippers.com.

Writing Tip: Talk on paper

 

Writing Tip: Talk on paper

By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Counsel
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Talk on paperNow that you’ve taken my advice to add punch to your writing by turning commas into periods, you may be wondering what to do with all those leftover commas.

Turn them into apostrophes and put them into contractions. They’ll make your writing more conversational.

Many of us write more formally than we speak. We learned that in school. Quit it. Use your writing to talk on paper.

Almost everyone I know, including me, uses contractions when we talk. But a lot of people avoid them entirely when they write. Why? Because we learned in school that nice people don’t write that way. Yes, they do. Your teachers lied to you.

They probably didn’t mean to lie. Most of them probably were nice people. And they probably used contractions when they talked — just like you and me. Well, me for sure. I’m guessing about you.

But those teachers who told you to be more formal in your writing learned to do that when they were in school. And it’s what the textbook they were using said to do when it was time for them to teach you. Who’s going to argue with that? Me, for one.

Making your writing more conversational — talking on paper — makes your writing friendlier, more fun to read and easier to understand. So, if you’re still following those rules you learned in school about being more formal when you write than when you talk, I encourage you to loosen up. Putting your thoughts into writing will be easier for you. And reading them will be easier for the rest of us.

Here are a few more things you can do to make your writing more conversational:

  • Split your infinitives. It’s okay to intentionally split infinitives. Like I just did in the sentence before this one. Did you notice? Did you care? Probably not. But sometimes people write awkward sentences to keep from splitting their infinitives because we learned in school that splitting infinitives is a big no-no. If you’re still writing those awkward sentences, quit it. Don’t worry about splitting those infinitives. They don’t mind. Neither should you.
  • Use personal pronouns. Remember when you wrote book reports in school but weren’t allowed to use personal pronouns like “I” or “you”? Remember the awkward sentences you had to write sometimes because of that? Things like: “As one reads this book, one is reminded that . . .” If you and I were talking with one another, we’d use words like “you” and “I” and “me” all over the place. You can do the same thing when you’re writing. One caveat: If there are too many ‘I’s” and “me’s” in your writing, you may have another problem: Being too self-centered. But that’s another issue entirely.
  • End sentence with prepositions. We learned in school that you should never end a sentence with a preposition. Baloney. It’s okay. Really. Don’t know what a preposition is or what a sentence with a preposition at the end of it looks like? Then you’re almost certainly putting prepositions at the end of some of your sentences and don’t notice that the rest of us are doing it, too. Keep it up. But if sentence-ending prepositions bother you, then use Google to check out the “rule” about prepositions at the end of sentences. You won’t find much support for your queasiness.

One important footnote: Making your writing more conversational works in most situations. But not all. If you’re writing an academic paper, legal filing, grant application or some other formal document, you may need to ignore my suggestions and follow the conventions required within that environment.

That’s my two cents’ worth. What’s yours?

Writing Tip: Turn commas into periods

 

Writing Tip: Turn commas into periods
By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Counsel
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Turn commas into periodsWant a quick way to add punch to your writing? Look for opportunities to turn commas into periods.

The first place to look? Commas following words like “and” or “but.” They taught us in school never to begin a sentence with those two words. But it’s okay. And it’ll make your writing easier to read.

I’m not suggesting you ban commas from your writing. They’re important to have around. A missing or stray comma can change the meaning of what you say.

For example: Let’s eat grandma. Let’s eat, grandma. In the second example, grandma is joining you for lunch. In the first example, she is lunch. Yikes.

Another example: When hunting, tigers hide in the bushes. When hunting tigers, hide in the bushes. Moving that comma over one word turns the tigers from predator to prey.

This is designed to make you chuckle: What’s that crawling up, your leg? This may evoke at least momentary terror: What’s that crawling up your leg?

So, commas are powerful. Use them well. But look for opportunities to turn them into periods, too. Your writing will be easier to read. And have more impact.

Writing Tip: Grab Google and people

 

Writing Tip: Grab Google and people
By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Counsel
www.JerryBrownPR.com

The bear stared at meThe bear stared at me. I stared back. What I did next probably saved my life. And it could save yours.

Want to know what happened next? Me, too.

Even though the bear encounter is my story, I don’t know what happens next because it didn’t really happen. I made it up to illustrate a point: If you want the rest of us to hear your story, you have to make it interesting right from the start.

In the B.G. era, the olden days Before Google, people like me (I spent 20 years committing journalism) often relied on a catchy lead to pull readers or viewers into our stories. And that was generally good enough.

We assumed they’d already found the story. We just had to hook them into reading or watching what we had to say — and then keep them reading or watching until the end.

Today, things are different. If you want your story to be heard (or read), you still have to make it interesting enough for the rest of us to care about what you have to say. But you also have to entice Google to bring your audience to your story. You can’t assume we’ll find it on our own.

The challenge is that Google and humans are enticed by different things. Google likes key words. It doesn’t care about things like human interest, drama, surprises, irony or a good joke – the kinds of things we humans tend to like a lot more than key words.

So, what’s a writer to do? Find a way to grab Google so it will bring your audience to your story and to grab your audience once Google gets them there.

The lead I opened with would have worked just fine in the olden days before Google – especially for anyone concerned about what to do if they encounter a bear during a hike in the woods.

But for Google’s benefit, I’d probably add something at the front like: How to survive a bear attack. The words “Writing Tip” in the headline are for Google spiders as well as human readers. The rest of the headline is for those of you who are human.

So, today’s writing tip: To be heard, your story has to be found. To be understood, it has to be easy to comprehend. And to be remembered, it has to be interesting.

That’s my two cents’ worth. What’s yours?

Telling Your Story: Good messaging is simple and clear

 

Telling Your Story: Good messaging is simple and clear
By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Counsel
www.JerryBrownPR.com

JFK quote: Ask not . . .“Remember the . . .”

“Damn the torpedoes, full . . .”

“Ask not . . .”

“I have a . . . ”

Most Americans can complete all of the phrases listed above — even if we don’t remember who said all of them or precisely why.

Good messaging is simple, clear and easy to remember. It’s like the punch line of a joke. If you have to explain it, it doesn’t work.

Hearing a joke once is usually enough. It loses its punch after that. Your message is just the opposite. The more you repeat it — and the more the rest of us hear it — the more powerful it becomes.

Make your message simple. Follow the 15-second rule. If you can’t say it in 15 seconds or less it’s not clear enough and simple enough for the rest of us to remember it. Sounds easy. It isn’t. Coming up with clear, simple messaging is hard. And it’s essential if you want to be heard and understood.

To be remembered, your message has to be relevant to your audience. Speak to their needs, fears or desires. And repeat it as often as you can. Once you’re so tired of saying it that you can’t stand listening to yourself the rest of us are beginning to hear what you’re saying.

Two books I strongly recommend if you want to add power to your message are Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s what People Hear by Dr. Frank Luntz and Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.

That’s my two cents’ worth. What’s yours?

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