Friday, April 30, 2010

Taking the guess work out of editor work

Ever started a managerial position in a communications or publishing shop and wished for a how-to manual? Ragan's David Murray maps out what every communications boss thinks -- but may not say -- to their corporate writers and editors.  From learning to say "no" to accepting unpopularity, the job of a word boss doesn't need to be a guessing game.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

PowerPoint: What's the point?

We came across this article on the proliferation of PowerPoint (currently the most popular read on, and it got us thinking: are these mind-dumbing slides more effective than traditional speeches or low-tech talks? Do they really help presenters drive home a message and/or persuade an audience?  We asked our writers to share their thoughts and experiences with PP, and below are a few of the responses we got.  If you've got  an opinion to add, please chime in.
This is a terrific piece.  I admit to harboring extreme prejudice about PowerPoint – it's a communication tool for people who haven’t learned to communicate properly.  Or it’s a classroom tool – but most of the world is not, narrowly speaking, a classroom.
     -- Heather Hurlburt, executive director at National Security Network
At KNP, we make it our business to rail against power point frequently, though our complaints are somewhat different from those in the article.  Our favorite is the "Move the Period" method of powerpoint creation, where the presenter writes out everything they want to say, and then moves the period from the end of each sentence to the beginning and rechristens is a "bullet point."  The author then reads the presentation to the audience, who read each slide for themselves when it comes up and then attend to their blackberries while the presenter catches up.  We teach clients how to present with powerpoint, because they will be expected to, but we often teach it without using powerpoint ourselves.  That's not to say slides can't be used well, they absolutely can.  Powerpoint just doesn't encourage the most effective strategies.  
     -- John Neffinger, partner at KNP Communications
To avoid insulting or condescending to your audience, your PowerPoint must complement and supplement -- never repeat -- the words coming out of your mouth. It should never take the focus from you for more than a moment. Dare to be minimal.
     -- Alan Perlman, communications consultant in Highland Park, IL
In school (pre-PowerPoint), I learned that a good outline contains complete sentences.  In fact, you could get the essence of a completed paper by looking at its outline. Have you ever seen a PowerPoint presentation whose slides you could decipher without the help of a voiceover? The decks I have seen are full of arrows, boxes, clouds, stock illustrations, pie charts, graphs and bullet points. They are full of distractions and template tricks. They have everything except a coherent story. You certainly need more than fifteen seconds to take in any given slide's message, and yet the presenter rarely keeps to a slide longer than that. I've often thought that if the slide were kept up long enough to study, the audience would see it was devoid of any fleshed-out thinking. Maybe devoid of any real content.
     -- Barbara Finkelstein, producer of Bookpod [], a weekly podcast about writers
"Hypnotizing chickens" -- that made me laugh.
     -- John Herr, speechwriter in Washington, D.C.

Around the Word Today

Get through hump day with these words of and to the wise...
  • Communications consultant Denise Graveline shares the visual "message house" that she uses to help her clients contextualize their main points
  • Poet and filmmaker Vernon Lott explores the perseverance of writers in his upcoming documentary Bad Writing, which features his own early and "deplorable"  poetry, alongside first-hand foibles from Margaret Atwood, David Sedaris, and George Saunders
  • Grammar gets a dose of sass with "Fake AP Stylebook" on Twitter. David Murray urges word mavens to lower their standards for a moment and follow the fun.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Around the Word Today

Two for Tuesday just wouldn't suffice...
  • Not sure how to grasp the voice of a faraway client? Speechwriter Colin Moorhouse recommends perusing the principal's last three speeches, and opting for terse sentences in the active voice
  • When it comes to proofreading, Ragan suggests a game plan: clear your desk, proof from back-to-front, and always enlist a second set of eyes
  • Wondering how to close a speech? Nick Morgan encourages you to get your audience engaged and out of their seats with a short group activity

Monday, April 26, 2010

Around the Word Today

We're starting the week off with a lot of bang for your blog...
  • Springwise tips off entrepreneurial writers to Leanpub, a site that turns your blog into a continually updatable e-book
  • In a complementary post, GalleyCat looks at the challenges many writers face in bridging the old and new worlds of media
  • Feeling guilty about procrastinating? You're in good company with copywriter Dean Rieck, who offers a tongue-in-cheek catalogue of the many different ways to delay

Friday, April 23, 2010

Obama Tones Home

By Dan Gerstein

From my dual-hatted perspective as a speechwriter and a political strategist, President Obama's speech Thursday at Cooper Union on financial reform was a near tonal masterpiece — precisely calibrated for his multiple audiences and his political objectives.

The president did not come to the belly of the bull to push or persuade.  He has already won the larger fight — Wall Street and their Republican defenders in Congress have  lost any hope of killing the Democrats' bill, and there will be serious financial reform passed in the next few weeks.  So Obama was there largely to begin negotiating the terms of the surrender, and in particular, to maximize his advantage in those endgame discussions of the bill's contested details.

The best way to do that: to own the reasonable center, define the parameters of acceptability, and marginalize the outliers.  Extend your hand to your opponents inside as well as outside the room and give them the face-saving space to meet you halfway, while simultaneously showing your spine to those who continue to resist the inevitable.

Viewed through that prism, Obama's rhetoric was multiple missions accomplished.  He was statesman-like, well-reasoned in his argurments, genuinely respectful of the hometown crowd without being obsequious, and perhaps most important of all, acutely mindful of the legislative context.

The president didn't need to score political points — he needed to strengthen his field position.  And by resisting the temptation to replay the blame game, artfully connecting the shared fate of Wall Street and Main Street, and clearly communicating his policy bottom lines, the Speechifier-in-Chief did just that.  In the process, he reminded us why he's the best in the business at the rhetorical balancing act today's politics demands more than ever.

Around the Word Today

Three writerly insights we couldn't help sharing...
  • Speech writing expert Tom Shanahan deconstructs Obama's speech on Wall Street reform, finding little more than meek rhetoric and long shadows
  • Mark Ragan shares his tips for writing arresting headlines. Chief among them? Making clear why a reader should be interested
  • From instructional works on building story to self-help-y books on finding the courage to write, GalleyCat puts in their vote on the ten best books on writing. What books have helped you?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Around the Word Today

Lots of posts caught our eye today...
  • Ragan gives a much-needed grammar lesson on the misuse of "I"
  • In our era of nonstop information, Kitty Kelley predicts that in-depth, unauthorized biography writing may be on its way out
  • Ragan's Jim Ylisela begs corporate journalists to take a cue from their colleagues and invest in short, teasing leads
  • Nick Morgan analyzes what makes a stellar speech sink -- from excessive self-referencing to lacking an arc, watch out for these sure-fire ways to fail
  • The 100th anniversary of Mark Twain's death was marked with a seance and the burying of a time capsule at his Hartford, CT home. GalleyCat takes a stab at how other literary greats will be celebrated

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Getting It in Writing

This week the Hartford Courant featured a wild story of inky ambition.  In an unlikely act of permanent consequence, Kevin Baum, a CT broker turned marketer and author, got a tattoo across his chest -- backwards, no less, so that he can see it in the mirror -- that reads "New York Times Bestseller."  He believes that making the infamous list with his latest book, Roar! Get Heard in The Sales and Marketing Jungle: A Business Fable, to be published by John Wiley & Sons, will give him the marketing credibility he needs. In an era when publishers often leave the promoting to their authors, is promoting via pectoral art really so outlandish?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Around the Word Today

News you can use on Kind-ling, positive spam lessons, and memorable memoirs...
  • Author Jeff Rivera talks to GalleyCat about earning his keep through eBooks, and why publishers can't keep up
  • Marketing pointers from spammers? Who knew! From massive subscriber lists to on-point copywriting, Copyblogger swears by these tips
  • Meghan Ward shares her secrets to building a better memoir, chief among them arc-building and a balance of scene and summary

Monday, April 19, 2010

Around the Word Today

A couple posts that caught our attention today...
  • The Associated Press stays up to speed by changing its style from "Web site" to "website," The Oregonian Editors report
  • Inspired by the start of baseball season, Ragan's Jon Thomas got to thinking about presentations -- how can speakers grip their audience the way the Sox and Yanks do?   From telling a joke to posing a question, playing like a pro has never been so easy

Friday, April 16, 2010

Around the Word Today

Two pieces with helpful perspectives we wanted to share....
  • For you authors and ghosts, Men with Pens offers an agent's guide to compositional improvement. From honing in on your choice medium -- be it blogging, scripts, or poetry -- to analyzing the structure of a work you admire, you can learn a little more about how to make yourself more salable. 
  • Speaking guru Nick Morgan lets us in on a few secrets to standing ovation generation. Among his top tips:  Feature a person-centric narrative, ask for audience input, and close with a clear and compelling call to action.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Today's Tips: Focus Your Blog, Overcome Your Auto-Delay

These helpful how-to's beg to be shared....
  • Chris Brogan shares the story of his blog's evolution  -- he started with fiction, fluttered to fitness, and landed (for the time being) at human business -- and stresses the importance of niche.  Staying focused on a purpose is your duty to readers, who come with an expectation on the type of content you deliver.
  • Keep commenting on other blogs? Writing ideas down but not actually writing? You may just be a blogcrastinator. Copyblogger's Michelle Russell steps in with a treatment plan of pre-determined time slots, brisk walks, and bullet points.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Around the Word Today

Some posts that got us thinking this morning...
  • Ragan's Ian Griffin gives his own say on how to best find a speaker's voice: tune into a speaker's accent, watch out for emotional sensitivities, and stick with cultural references understood by the audience.
  • Reeling from an unexpected criticism from his editor at Chicago Tribune, David Murray contemplates the overuse of "the" -- and is stumped on a replacement

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Around the Word

Here are a few of the writerly insights that caught our eyes over the last few days (while we were not preparing for our second anniversary party Monday night):
  • Copyblogger's Nathan Hangen shares his choice marketing mavens and how to transform yourself into a profiteering master
  • Chris Brogan finds some valuable business lessons in Donald Miller's A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, a book about getting off the couch and living your life like a story.  And with the option to follow the real-life characters on Twitter, the tale doesn't have to end
  • TopRank Online Marketing's Lee Odden enlightens us on the social engagement capabilities of content management tools, and parses out the value-add of different systems
  • Need help organizing your thoughts? Who doesn't.  Men with Pens presents twenty choice apps -- and no, Microsoft Word isn't one of them -- from which to choose your next virtual notebook

Friday, April 9, 2010

Around the Word Today

From clear-headed pitching to innovative speaking, today's posts offer valuable guidance ...
  • Literary agent Nathan Bransford urges pitching authors to know their book's essence
  • Nick Morgan spreads the word on new speakers swapping predictable platforms for innovative messages
  • Don't let writing become deadline chasing -- take time out to write for yourself, courtesy of these wise words from Copyblogger's Sean Platt

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Around the Word Today

Lots of fun news on the content-front this morning...
  • Ragan scans the thesaurus for an alternative to the overly democratic term "colleague," discovering just how demeaning synonyms can be
  • The time is ripe for a web-savvy style guide, and Business Insider reports that Yahoo would like to replace your dusty Strunk and White's The Elements of Style with a manual covering everything from semicolons to SEO
  • Men with Pens offers budding freelancers tips for snagging clients
  • Scrabble takes over the blogs!  The Gazette smells a PR ploy in recent game change rumors, while New York Magazine announces a scrambled version of the game set to hit the UK

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Today's Tip: How to Recharge Your Inspiration

What do you do when you're feeling uninspired — that is, after you have polished off that half-gallon of Chunky Munky? We all have a few tricks of varying effectiveness.  If you're looking for a few new spark-inducing ideas, check out Jonathan Morrow's latest words to write by today at Copyblogger.  Among his top choices:  scanning magazine covers, closing his eyes to hear the music, and going back to the basics with favorite quotations.  When we're frustrated, we're prone to re-read favorite passages from favorite works — the verbal equivalent of mood music.

Monday, April 5, 2010

A New Campaign to Save Old Idioms

Vital Speeches of the Day guru David Murray has a fun and moving post up today mourning the gradual extinction of some of our language's most colorful species of phrases.  He bemoans how young people he works with have never heard of old-timey idioms, like "that smarts" or "butterfingers"  or "in the catbird seat," many of which are historically rooted.  And he urges his fellow writers to reject the inevitability of obscurity and rage against the dying of these light-hearted words.

"We're writers, and one of the great benefits of the job is that we have more widespread influence on the language than anyone else," Murray argues.  "I propose a movement: Pick your favorite old word or expression, and jam it into your writing and your conversations wherever it will fit, or even where it won't.  'That dog won't hunt,' you say? Now you're getting the idea."

We're officially enlisting.  We've got the same bee in our bonnet.  We just have one question: where do we get our cat's pajamas uniform?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Around the Word: Avoid Saccharine, Invest in Copyediting, and More

Here are a few items on the web that caught our writing eye this morning...
  • Copyblogger questions the value of the saccharine testimonial you often see on service provider websites, and suggests as an alternative a "reverse testimonial" that infuses a dab of doubt for enhanced believability
  • Obama may have an impressive team to sort his mail, but judging from a recent gaffe, NY Mag suggests the White House may need to add a copy editor to their payroll
  • Which witch is which? Grammar Monkeys parse out the delicate differences between "that" and "which"
  • Nick Morgan hones in on which marketing materials are absolutely essential to a budding career in public speaking