Tag Archives: Communications

Letterman’s Top 10 Tips for Better Communications

David Letterman, The Late Show, 33 years

Letterman keeps it real.

We all know David Letterman just ended his 33 years on late-night TV. You don’t have to be a comedian, or even a Letterman fan, to have picked up some communications tips from him over the years.

In keeping with one of his most cherished bits, here’s my Top 10 Easy Tips for Communicators  from David Letterman.

  1. Be yourself. Letterman was a goofball from the start, cranky, ironic and snarky. He was no Hollywood smoothie like Johnny Carson, and didn’t try too hard to make people like him, as so many do. He always was Dave, the one and only.
  1. Be consistent. Even on two networks and with two names, Letterman’s show was remarkably steady. They’d try new bits, of course, but it all felt of a piece, of one sensibility and in a respectful routine.
  1. Guide the discussion. That cranky side of his personality was a bit much sometimes, but he also knew how to keep bloviating celebrities in check.
  1. Branding, branding, branding. The Top 10 lists, Stupid Human Tricks, The Velcro Suit, Stupid Pet Tricks… What were your favorites? We’ve been talking about them all these years.
  1. Share the Spotlight. Paul Shaffer and the great band. Larry “Bud” Melman. Neighborhood deli owners. Audience members… Letterman was always the center of his show, but he knew that he shines best, and the message is best delivered, when he’s surrounded by a team that complements him.
  1. Share yourself, but not too much. Letterman’s been super-famous for most of my life, but I know almost nothing about him. His adorable, white-haired mother made a series of appearances. He talked about his health troubles and young son from time to time. But the show was about the audience, not the host’s personal life. That’s a nice, difficult balance of message and messenger.
  1. Be real when you need to be. Letterman’s style of “crisis management” was to drop the irony and reticence to be serious – notably in 2009 when he discussed an extortion plot and confessed to having affairs with staff members. The lesson for everyone: Address a crisis promptly, honestly and directly.
  1. Be versatile. Letterman seemed just as comfortable and skilled talking with presidents, movie stars and common folk. All communicators should strive for such a deft touch.
  1. Give good content. In addition to being authentic and consistent, Letterman’s show was funny. Very, very funny — almost all the time, night after night, for 33 years. If we all give our audiences a good product, we’re more than halfway home.

… And the No. 1 Easy Tip for Communicators  from David Letterman is… 

  1. Know when to wrap it up. Could Letterman keep going? Absolutely. But it’s always best to choose your own departure and craft it yourself, instead of being shown the door. Keep that in mind next time you’re writing a speech for a long-winded executive, or going on too long on, say, a blog post about skillful communications.
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15 Sure-Fire Ways to Always Have Plenty to Write About

ideas to write about, blog, writing, inspiration, muse, writing techniques, content creation

Elmo, Katy Perry and Charles Dickens can help keep your ideas flowing.

How do you come up with ideas to write about?

It’s a question all writers hear – and sometimes struggle with. And it creates anxiety that keeps would-be writers from getting started.

But there’s no mystery to generating ideas – whether writing at your job, for personal reasons or even in artistic pursuits. And the same applies to creating content of all kinds. Anyone who’s done it for a while knows there’s  no mystery, no magic, no reliance on a muse.

So here are 15 sure-fire ways to keep the ideas coming, inspiration or not. Mix and match with your own to come up with reliable, proven techniques, and apply them as part of your ongoing process. (Even when you don’t want to. That’s why it’s called work, after all.)

  1. Jot them down. Good ideas can come at any time – while you’re driving, trying to sleep, watching TV. And, if you’re like me, you probably won’t remember them later unless you scribble them down on a notebook or make a recording on your smartphone. I compile them later on a Word doc and refer to it regularly.
  2. Tickle yourself. Keep a “tickler file” – either a literal file or something on your computer or phone – of articles, photos or links about things that are coming up that might yield good content. For instance, if your neighborhood organization is hosting a City Councilman, put that in your tickler file – and link it to your calendar for a reminder. This is especially helpful with events that repeat regularly, on a monthly or yearly basis.
  3. Follow the news. That includes niche sources about your topic, profession or industry. You should stay informed, of course, for other reasons. But events and headlines also are great sources of ideas.
  4. What's Tom got to do with it?

    What’s Tom got to do with it?

    That means pop culture and sports. We just had the Super Bowl – one of the biggest sports/cultural/media events ever. Even if you don’t care about football, you should know who played (and won), who performed at halftime, and which commercials blew up Twitter.

  5. Revisit your own content. You should periodically go through your existing content of all kinds, not just articles, and see what you can dust off. Chances are, readers won’t remember that you already covered a topic. And you can easily find a fresh way to top, update or present the information.
  6. Repurpose new stuff, too. Maybe you wrote a long article for your company website that can also be turned into a list for the e-newsletter. Did you have extra material from the Q&A with your CEO that you could put on your company’s internal social media channel?
  7. Read, read, read. Books, magazines, websites. All kinds of things — literature, trade publications, Stephen King, People magazine.
  8. Steal from the best. When you see something you like or find useful, see how you might apply it to your own situation. By the time you tailor it for your needs, you will have made it your own.
  9. timer-15-minutes-18884254Write for 15 minutes. And don’t stop or edit or second-guess. This is favored by a noted songwriting coach in Nashville. He tells students to sit down, with pen and paper (no electronics), and … just. Start. Writing. Let your mind and pen flow freely and, after 15 minutes, you go back and see if you haven’t inadvertently come up with a few good expressions or ideas. Even if you haven’t, it’s a great way to just Shut Up and DO IT. (Write, that is.)
  10. Curate content. We don’t have to write or create everything all the time. Sometimes, it’s best to share what others have written or produced and make a list to share. I did this over the weekend for the Super Bowl and got good traffic. So much content had already been created, and this was an easy way to join the conversation.
  11. Ask your friends and colleagues. You don’t have to say, “I have no idea – help me!” (Although you can do that sometimes.) But talk to people you like and respect, listen to what they’re saying, ask how they might write about a topic or present it in a video or a webinar or whatever.
  12. Get out of the office. Go to community events, conferences, speeches, ballgames – and pay attention. I get great ideas from the monthly luncheons of the Georgia chapter of the  Public Relations Society of America. The panels are interesting, the speakers diverse, and the audience smart and curious. Your topic, business and audience will present similar sources.
  13. Remember the basics. Always ask yourself: What am I trying to say? To whom? And why? That will help you focus, which will help you think of ideas.
  14. Find freedom in boundaries. Your boss or client wants the content delivered on time and on budget, and it has to include some key elements? Awesome. Within parameters, even those we set for ourselves, we can find great freedom to create. It forces us to focus on what is possible, not what might be ideal.
  15. Do one thing different. Try a different grocery store. Watch a different news program. Toss the football instead of a Frisbee with your kid. It doesn’t really matter what. But you’ll be amazed how even the smallest new experience can help you look at things in a new way.

‘Everybody Writes’ in the Content Age

Ann Handley, Everybody Writes, content, content marketing, brand journalism, book on writing better, how to write better, improve your writing, public relationsShe had me at “learnings.”

That’s when content-marketing expert and author Ann Handley won my heart. About halfway through her newest best-selling book, “Everybody Writes,” Handley lists the business jargon terms she most dislikes.

I was enjoying her choices, since they mirror mine. The “Yeah, yeah — what she said” admiration I’d been developing through the book warmed as the list progressed.

And when Handley concluded with “learnings” … well, that was it. I have a new girl-crush.

Or in Twitter parlance, Handley is my first #WCW (Woman Crush Wednesday).

“Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content” is:

  • A leading addition to the growing canon of books on content marketing/brand journalism/storytelling.
  • A snappy guide to help people write better in the Strunk & White vein.
  • And an endlessly valuable resource for anyone wanting to improve his or her communications skills, learn more about writing in today’s marketing context, and make sense of the various social media channels.

ALSO READ… ‘Epic Content Marketing’ … and ‘Tweet Naked,’ 2 More… 

It’s also ideal for browsing, dog-earing and highlighting phrases, experts and websites. It’s the kind of book you go back to and say, “Ooh, where was that thing…” and flip around till you find it. (Buy a printed copy, instead of the Kindle version I read.)

Handley’s helpful, no-nonsense approach seeks to demystify writing, and she breaks it down into endless useful tips — from the basics to a wide range of content creation.

As she points out, in today’s business world, “writing matters more… not less” and it’s a skill to be learned, not a rare talent that alights only the inspired. Her book will be a solid refresher for seasoned writers; helpful to print veterans navigating their way into digital; and most useful to non-writers who realize — or accept or admit — that  they really do need to develop writing skills.

Now that would be a learning.


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5 Great Lists and 1 Free Download to Help You Write Better

ON READING: Which book should you pick up next?

The blogosphere is full of great content about content — writing about great writing, useful tips about how to be useful. I love it. Here are six posts I’ve come upon lately that engaged me and helped me. Share your favorite posts or ideas, too. Thanks.

grammar, grammarly, write well, write good, how to write, improve your writing, jay croft, blog, storycroft.com, storycroft, write hard die free, write free die hard, how do i write better

From Grammarly’s Facebook page

  • 15 Content Ideas That Your Followers Will Love to Share, by Kim Garst. She says, “It’s GREAT if our current readers like what we have to say, but what types of content are they most likely to share, retweet or link to?” I’m combining several of these with this post — it’s a list, it’s curated, it’s a roundup…
  • Fifty (50!) Tools Which Can Help You in Writing, by Roy Peter Clark at the great Poynter Institute. The first one’s a bad link, but don’t let that stop you from the rest, which include Seek Original Images, Show and Tell, and Self-Criticism.
  • 13 Vital Reminders for Writers, on The Conversationalist. Tips from great artists like Toni Morrison, Hemingway and Leonard Cohen My favorite, at least today, is from Isaac Asimov: “You are my idea of a good writer because you have an unmannered style, and when I read what you write, I hear you talking.”
  • Words that Get Content Shared, an infographic shared on PRDaily, “aggregates a few studies that look at which words will prompt people to retweet, share, and engage with your content on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+.”
  • The Marketer’s Pocket Guide to Writing Well, a free download from HubSpot, demystifies writing for non-writers with a helpful no-nonsense guide that should help anybody who’s afraid or intimidated to get past it, get better and get the work done well and on time.

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And Now a Word about Words: 6 Useful Points on Storytelling, Content, Brand Journalism…

Jay Croft, Atlanta, writer, newspaper, Journal-Constitution, Cox Enterprises, storytelling, corporate communications, content, gay, pop culture, movies, music, TV, Poncey-Highland, Virginia-Highland, Inman Park, Old Fourth Ward, who is a good writer in Atlanta, public relations, marketing, social media expert

Jay Croft

I used to be a journalist. Hard-news reporter, then a website and features editor. At daily newspapers, for a long time. Later, in corporate communications, I learned how to create and share information in a corporate setting.

Today, communicators in businesses, social media, public relations and marketing like to talk about content, storytelling and brand journalism. Which is great — because I love it all and it makes complete sense within broader technological and economic changes in our line of work — and it makes my dual background ideally useful in today’s communications world.

But terms get tossed around so loosely that I’m not always sure everyone’s using the same definitions. Here are a few examples I’ve found recently that state things well. I’ve edited for brevity, redundancies and clarity.

1. From ‘Just What the Hell is Content?’ on Loyalty360.org

Content includes words, images, video, and physical stuff. Content is everywhere. In law firms, it’s in boxes. In architectural firms, it’s made from balsa wood or CAD drawings. At my firm, it’s often in people’s heads.

There’s no difference between a website and content. Why do you have a web site? What’s it for? Or that mobile site? Or that app?

Content is singular in its purpose: to achieve a desired result for as many relevant people as possible.

2. From ‘Content Marketing – What Kind of Content are we Talking about?’ on exploreB2B

The list of possibilities for content you can use in content marketing is literally endless. As the success of content marketing strongly depends on the content you provide, use your imagination. Your content should stand out from the masses, provide something new and unique.

(A list of 10 suggestions follows. Being an old reporter, I like No. 9.)

Interview someone who can give your readers, and possible customers, some insight – use the questions to direct the content into your chosen direction and show with intelligent questions your knowledge on the topic.

3. From ‘The narrative is the thing: the art of corporate storytelling,’ on ZDNet

All the stakeholders of an organization—customers, employees, investors, partners, vendors, and yes, even competitors—are telling some aspect of the story of the brand.

The issue? They’re not always talking about the same thing.

How do you get everyone on the same page? The corporate narrative provides the framework. It is a story that embodies the essence of your business in action, comprised of more than just products and services, and more even than your mission statement. It’s what your company stands for, and how it’s making the world a better place. It’s a story that comprises your strengths AND your weaknesses.

4. From ‘Publishing Is The New Marketing: Epic Content Marketing,’ on  Loyalty360.org

Some businesses think storytelling is about explaining what you sell or telling people what you do. But effective storytelling explains what you do for your customers. The power of stories lies in making the reader and the consumer part of the story.

I wrote the foreword for Joe Pulizzi’s book “Epic Content Marketing.” In it, Joe states that “Publishing is the new marketing.” As it is the only way to “cut through the noise, commotion and bad information that is right now cluttering up your customer’s digital space.”

If we think and act like a publisher, we will create more of the content our customers are looking for. And LESS of the content they ignore. One of the biggest challenges in content marketing is to put the needs of our customers ahead of our own and to tell stories that connect with people.

Identify your potential customers’ top questions. At a minimum, your content should be helpful. Ideally, try to even entertain them.

5. From ‘A Meeting of the Minds: Content Strategy for Great Storytelling,’ from Pace

(This is the best writing I’ve seen on the subject, from the North Carolina-based agency Pace, winner of the 2013 Content Marketing Agency of the Year from the Content Marketing Awards. Do yourself a favor and click through to the white paper. It’s clear, compelling, useful and entertaining.)

What role does content strategy play in content marketing and brand storytelling? How much content strategy does a brand need? And, oh, by the way, what is content strategy?

The Pace approach to content strategy:
At Pace, content strategy is the carefully conceived and developed plan by which the substance of a brand message is communicated—in various formats via selected platforms—for the purpose of informing and inspiring a target audience to act, thereby achieving a stated business goal or objective.

The role of content strategy in Pace’s content marketing business:
Our methodology puts content strategy (processes, structures and technology) in the service of content marketing (great storytelling), rather than the other way around.

6. From ‘How is brand journalism different from marketing?’ on shiftcomm.com

You could also make the very valid argument that brands have always used journalism-like tactics to promote their own stuff. Marketers invented the advertorial and infotainment, after all. In those cases, that’s not really journalism so much as paid media. That’s not what brand journalism appears to be, however. We’re seeing brands trying to become the media, and attempt to be true, actual media sources. This is partly what differentiates brand journalism from standard content marketing and inbound marketing – brands are seeking in some cases to become media sources that consumers would choose to consume independently, even if it’s not directly related to the brand’s product offerings. That makes brand journalism a true force to be reckoned with.

(For a world-class example of this, look no further than Atlanta’s own Coca-Cola. Its website is as fun and compelling as those of many general-interest publications, with original content on restaurants gearing up for Valentine’s Day, the Olympics, recipes, sustainability and lots more.)

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When Speaking, Remember the Power of the Pause

Next time you have to talk in front of a group or in a one-on-one presentation, remember this advice: Hold on a bit.

Jorge Barria, Speakeasy, storytelling, corporate communications, Atlanta, Buckhead, executive speeches, how to teach executives to speak, training, leadership, leaders, when to pause

Jorge Barria of Speakeasy

“Pausing is one of the best choices you can make in a speaking situation,” says Jorge Barria of Speakeasy, a Buckhead communications consultancy that helps executives and others improve their storytelling skills.

“It allows you to inhale and exhale to relax, and it gives you time to think, so it reduces your fear that your mind is going to go blank. The pause also helps you be a more effective speaker because it helps you project authority, energy and audience awareness.”

I enjoyed the expertise of Barria and the Speakeasy team recently. The teachings are invaluable to me. Although I’m comfortable writing stories about other people, I’m less confident talking about myself. In particular, I sometimes struggle to find the right balance between humility and appropriate self-promotion. Go too far one way and risk appearing arrogant — too far the other way and I might seem dispassionate.

Barria likens the pause to a Swiss Army knife because of its multitude of uses. It lets your audience absorb your content. And in storytelling, in particular, it can help… build… anticipation.

Anticipation, yes, and … payoff.


 

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