Category Archives: How to…

Listening to your client's feedback often means hearing past their words to what they're actually saying.

Translating client feedback: What they say vs. what they want

One of your most important skills as a speechwriter is listening to your client when they give you feedback. That often means hearing past their words, to what they’re actually saying… and it almost always means probing more deeply for the real issue behind a comment or request.

Here’s a little translation help – some of what I’ve learned to hear when clients give me feedback on the draft of a speech: Continue reading

(Illustration of speaking notes that start "In conclusion..."

The legend of Backward Speechwriter

So many speeches don’t (…dammit…)

Whenever I find myself repeatedly writing, deleting and re-writing the first lines of s (…augh…)

The Oxford English Dictionary defin (hell, no.)

Ever find yourself staring at a blank screen, stymied at how to start a speech?

With “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again” and “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” already taken, perfect beginnings can be awfully hard to find.

But maybe that’s because the beginning of the speech is the last place you should start. As far as the craft of writing is concerned, a powerful speech starts at the end—for the same reason that you (usually) don’t start a journey without some idea of your destination.

So think of your audience, and picture them at the end of the speech. What do you want them to do because of it? Do you want them to buy a product or service, sign a petition, donate money, storm the Bastille, vote for one candidate, vote against another, stop using petroleum products, write their legislator, join an organization, have coffee with a neighbour: what?

That’s your call to action. Write it down in one sentence, and label it sentence 1.

For them to take that action, something has to have changed in the way they see the world and their place in it. What’s that change in belief, in one sentence? Write it down as sentence 2.

One last question: what is your audience’s current belief—the one you’re changing? Write it down as sentence 3.

Your speech has to move your audience from believing sentence 3, to believing sentence 2, so they’ll do sentence 1.

Which means the beginning of your speech needs to launch them on that journey. What do they need to push them on their way? Answer that question, and you’re on your way to knowing how to begin the speech.

Five ways to reconstruct your life (and by “life”, I mean “timesheet”)

You track your time religiously, don’t you? Absolutely. Me too. And thanks to our meticulously-completed timesheets, we’re able to bill clients quickly; tell which projects we’ve underestimated on, and which ones aren’t taking us as long as we thought; and improve our estimating accuracy over the long run.

Yep, you and I track our time religiously… except when we don’t. A crisis comes up, you’re working overtime, and you can either fill in your timesheet or squeeze in enough time to ship a quick update to the client and a request for overnight help to a supplier. Not to worry, you tell yourself; you’ll remember how you spent the hours today and enter them later.

Or maybe it isn’t your fault: the spreadsheet you’re using to track your hours got corrupted, one of the kids put a powerful magnet on your backup disk (“But mommy, it makes such a funny noise!”) and the cloud-based backup company you use disappeared overnight, replaced by a salmon cannery whose occupants insist they’ve been there for 20 years. (“What is this ‘KloudStorajPro’ of which you speak? I am a simple salmon canner, and know nothing of peak traffic prediction algorithms, hardware deployment strategies and Series B financing for infrastructure-as-a-service startups.”)

Whatever the scenario, you’re a week behind. Maybe more. And those crystal-clear memories of how you spent your time have melted into a featureless puddle of damned-if-I-know. Now you’re going to have to play detective, and reconstruct the past week or two – kind of the way amnesia victim Leonard had to do in the movie Memento. (Hopefully, the body count in your investigation will be lower.)

The obvious thing to check is your calendar, which can identify appointments, meetings and events, and your task list, especially if it tells you when you ticked items off as complete. But that may still only fill in part of the picture.

If you aren’t sure where to turn next, here are five tools for your temporal detective’s kit that can help you close the case quickly, easily and – most important of all – accurately:

  • Email: Your email outbox may be your single richest source of information on what projects were occupying your attention on a particular day. But it probably won’t capture everything. If your email client supports it, set up a smart mailbox that searches for both incoming and outgoing mail between the dates you’re tracking. Then scroll through and see what jogs your memory.
  • Computer file dates: Your computer logs the dates files were created, last modified and last opened. And not just work documents. Things like chat logs can shine a nice bright light on what you were up to on a given day. Search for files created, last opened or last modified on the dates in question, and see what you – or at least your apps – were up to.
  • Cloud file dates: Don’t just look on your own computer. How about the files and documents you store online? What did you save to Google Docs that day, or upload to Slideshare?
  • Social networks: Did you post anything to Twitter or Facebook that could hint at what you were doing? Ask a LinkedIn question? Check in somewhere on Foursquare or Yelp?
  • Browser history: This is my secret weapon; we do a lot of work through our browsers, from online research to using web apps. If this was an episode of CSI, the browser history would be what I’d be taking into the interrogation room with my chief suspect. (“You’re crazy if you think I can remember what I was up to at three in the afternoon nine days ago!” “Maybe I am crazy. Crazy like a… Firefox.” No, no, wait – “You think my client’s going on a trip down memory lane with you, detective?” “Not a trip… a Safari.”)
Got any timesheet-reconstruction secrets of your own you care to share? Comment away!

Live-tweeting for the first time… or the fiftieth? Check this list out

5. Research speakers’ Twitter usernames beforehand. Keep them on a piece of paper or notepad for easy reference.

6. Confirm the event hashtag. Find out what the official hashtag for the event is, and make sure you use that watch out for typos. If there’s isn’t one, make a nice short one up check it’s not in use first.

7. Set up an automatically-updating search for your hashtag in your Twitter client. Since you are most likely on a mobile, an app like Hootsuite, Tweetdeck or Seeismic is really useful as they allow for you to save columns for individual searches.

8. Check whether your client allows you to automatically add a hashtag to tweets. It’ll save you some time and aches in your fingers.  I use the Twitter app on my iPhone, which does this when you tweet from the search screen.

via How to live-tweet from an event | eModeration

There’s some great advice here that you could easily turn into a live-tweeter’s checklist. If you’re having a staff member or volunteer live-tweet your next event, you could do a lot worse than point them to this post.

Filed under: Social Speech Tagged: how-to, live-tweeting, twitter

How to cartoon and (almost) post from 20,000 feet

I’m flying back from the Nonprofit Technology Conference (it was a great time – more on that soon) and we leveled off a few minutes ago.

So I thought I’d try something. I usually sketch in those minutes between the flight crew saying “Turn off your mobile devices! They are tools of the devil! Yes, you in 24A, I do mean you!” and that sweet moment when they permit us to go back to our productively wired lives (“Buh-CAAWWWWW!” “Oink, oink, oink.”).

Looking at my sketchbook just now, I wondered: could I post all of those sketches using only my iPhone? Continue reading

How to get your Wikipedia entry changed… without breaking the rules

It’s come up three or four times at workshops I’ve conducted in the past few weeks: people who work for organizations with an entry in Wikipedia, wondering whether and how they can edit it – if, for instance, misinformation creeps in. (I’m assuming you’re not trying to sanitize your entry. Which is not a good idea.)

At first glance, Wikipedia’s guidelines make it seem like your only option is to sit back and hope someone corrects it for you:

A Wikipedia conflict of interest (COI) is an incompatibility between the aim of Wikipedia, which is to produce a neutral, reliably sourced encyclopedia, and the aims of an individual editor. COI editing involves contributing to Wikipedia in order to promote your own interests or those of other individuals, companies, or groups. Where advancing outside interests is more important to an editor than advancing the aims of Wikipedia, that editor stands in a conflict of interest.

COI editing is strongly discouraged. When editing causes disruption to the encyclopedia through violation of policies such as neutral point of view, what Wikipedia is not, and copyright compliance, accounts may be blocked. COI editing also risks causing public embarrassment for the individuals and groups being promoted.

The temptation, of course, is to ask a friend of your organization to do it for you, which is the advice I’ve heard from others. But that doesn’t really let you off the hook; all you’ve done is delegate your conflict of interest.

So is all hope lost? Fortunately, no: Wikipedia has an answer. A few answers, actually.

First, there actually are circumstances where they don’t mind you editing your own entry:

It is generally considered okay for you to edit your own article in certain circumstances:

  • If the article is clearly derogatory in tone and was written based on questionable sources or no sources.
  • If it contains private information you strongly don’t want shared, particularly if you are not famous. (This might include, for example, your e-mail address, date of birth, religious affiliation or sexual orientation.)
  • If you believe it is libelous.

Wikipedia’s also cool with you doing minor cleanup and spam removal yourself – but they’d like you to log your change on the article’s discussion page.

Second, you can appeal to the Wikipedia community to make the change for you, making your case in the article’s discussion area. (You can find it by clicking on the “discussion” tab at the top of the article.)

Example of a discussion tab on a Wikipedia article

And third, if you can’t cajole the people reading that discussion to make the change, you can contact Wikipedia directly with your suggested changes.

There’s more information in this essay on avoiding conflict of interest issues. It’s not always a clear-cut question; whether you’re editing with nefarious intentions or good ones is often a matter of opinion or perspective. And there aren’t too many edits you could make that would be worth having to weather the accusation that you’ve tried to manipulate “the largest and most popular general reference work on the Internet“. When you aren’t completely certain of your ground, it’s a good idea to leave the actual editing to others, and opt for the discussion page or direct contact with Wikipedia.



What you don’t need in your Twitter biography

Nothing concentrates the mind, the saying goes, like the prospect of being executed in the morning. When you only have a few hours left, you want to make them count.

But substitute space for time, and give people a 160-character limit on summing up their life’s story (or even just the past 525,600 minutes), and they start adding the oddest things.

On Twitter, you have a tiny little space – your profile’s biography field – to tell people who you are. Obviously, that’s an impossible task: you’re a rich, unique and complex person, a proverbial unique snowflake, and your essence can’t be captured in 20 to 30 words.

So you’re going to have to make some choices. Everything you decide to put in that bio means you have to close the door on something else. Mention your dog, your kids, your love of Rational Youth and your significant other, and you have to leave out your profession, your aspirations and your recent Nobel Prize.

Or, if we’re talking about a Twitter feed for a brand or an organization, you may have to choose from among a mission statement, a positioning line, a list of the people tweeting on this account and your intention for this feed.

It comes down to this: people look to your bio to tell them what kind of things you intend to talk about on Twitter – and to make the case for following you. (Or, perhaps just as valuable, for deciding not to.) You have 160 characters to do that.

Let me make that a little easier for you by lightening your load. Here are three things I don’t think any Twitter bio needs – which should free up some badly-needed space for the stuff that counts:

Your follower policy: “I’ll follow back. But I’ll unfollow if u unfollow me!” Unless the central obsession of your participation on Twitter is who you’re following and who’s following you back – and you’re mainly interesting in talking with people who share that obsession – you can drop this. If you absolutely have to tell the world about your policy, then create a custom Twitter landing page on your web site and use it as the link in your profile. But understand that this is a red flag that you’re using Twitter to make up for some high school social trauma… and that never works.

A generic quotation: “Be the change you want to see in the world” is a lovely idea, but the words themselves have been repeated so often, by so many people, that they’ve lost their power. If you really want to use someone else’s words in your bio, choose something distinctive and memorable that we haven’t heard thousands of times before. You’re unique; why make your biography generic?

Your geographical coordinates: “49.268701;-123.178153” tells a potential follower next to nothing about you and whether you might be interesting to talk with. You’re already telling people what city you’re in in the “Location” field of your profile; if your specific neighbourhood’s really that important, by all means mention it by name. But unless you’re a geo geek of the highest order – not that there’s anything wrong with that – you can lose the numbers.

I asked my Twitter community what they’d like to see dropped from Twitter bios:

John Bollwitt and Paul Rickett each suggested geo coordinates (thanks, you two).

Phillip Jeffrey mentioned that he’d seen people include their Twitter URL in their biography – which is a waste of space, because it already appears on your profile automatically. Good catch.

Tris Hussey, Sean Moffitt and Christine Rondeau are going to have to duke it out; Tris and Christine don’t like “social media guru”, while Sean would rather see “guru” or “ninja” instead of “expert” (maybe because there’s a self-mocking connotation there).

Finally, Christine and Monica Hamburg mentioned religion. I understand why, but I’m prepared to give religion my tentative, uh, blessing… if it’s central to your outlook on life and relevant to your Twitter conversations. Just be aware that some people may well read something you might or might not intend into your profession of faith (or your declaration of lack thereof): for example, that you only want to connect with other members of your faith, or that you’ll be mainly talking about religion (or, again, your opposition to it).

How about you? What do you think people can safely leave out of their 160-character life story?