Business Leaders, Stop Performing at the Podium!

SpeakIf you’re a business leader who makes frequent presentations, here’s an excellent piece of advice from speechwriter and speaking coach, Matthew Cossolotto: stop “performing” at the podium and communicate authentically instead.

Every speaking engagement is an opportunity to make a genuine connection with your listeners and deliver your message in a way that is straightforward and true.

Sadly, many business leaders choose a completely different approach. They deliver an information dump and do everything they can to end to the occasion swiftly. To be fair, this is understandable. Public speaking can unnerve even the most seasoned executive. However, most of these speakers are eager to give the impression they’re relaxed and talking naturally. Hey, no problems here. I’m chill!

Alas, there is a problem: they are NOT chill. They’re a million miles away from chill, and their actions show it. Some pace the stage like restless cats, never settling in one spot for long. Others cling to the lectern as though battling vertigo. Almost all of them avoid making sustained eye contact with listeners. And those speakers who do make a point of scanning the audience as they talk are largely bluffing. They’re not really seeing anyone.

All of these tactics work against speakers and presenters, prohibiting them from connecting with their listeners and making a lasting impression.

If you really want to get your point across, Matthew advises, use the following strategies to communicate authentically:

  • Speak to your audience one person at a time. Make eye contact with a single individual, maintain it for several seconds, then make eye contact with someone else. The connections you’ll establish with this approach will be palpable. And your audience will be far more likely to hear and remember your messages.
  • Say what you mean with clarity and conviction, just the way you would if you were speaking to a friend or loved one. If you approach the podium with the intention of “giving a speech,” you’re liable to sacrifice clarity for the sake of appearance. Remember — we’re all real speakers. We do it all the time!
  • Allow your emotional state to come through, whether you’re nervous, joyous, puzzled or passionate. You allow your emotions to shine through when speaking to friends, don’t you? You owe this same honesty and respect to your listeners. After all, they’re giving you their time and attention.

Authentic communication will lift your presentations to entirely new and unexpected levels. Put Matthew’s advice to use and you’ll enthrall your audiences.

In fairness to my friend, Matthew, I’ve distilled only a very few of his astute precepts here and not as elegantly as he would have. Visit http://www.thepodiumpro.com/ for direct access to his wisdom on speaking and authentic communication.

Posted in corporate communications, leadership, public speaking | Leave a comment

On Extended Hiatus

Wow. Talk about embarrassing …

It’s been more than two years since I posted here. Clearly not a recipe for blogging success. But I’ve been busy, okay? In early 2012 I took a job at HRmarketer, a great marketing software company here in northern California. And I’m now a member of the company’s new marketing and media relations agency, fisher VISTA. See? Busy.

Of course, none of that is really an acceptable excuse. So this is my official mea culpa. Time to get back on the horse. But not quite yet. I want to make a few changes to this blog, mostly to the subject matter. I think I want to broaden its horizons a bit — maybe write more about communicating in general, not just marketing communications and copywriting. And I’m thinking about tackling some of my other interests (nameless for the time being). But I want to give this all a bit more thought before I restart the machine.

So I guess this has been a fairly elaborate note to myself, which makes sense since anyone who once read this blog with any regularity has long since stopped.

Well, it’s better to have blogged and stopped than never to have blogged at all, I suppose. But not much.

Back soon.

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2011’s Biggest PR Blunders

I came across the article, “The 5 Biggest Crisis PR Blunders of 2011” today and (aside from the typo) thought that it was worth sharing. These kinds of articles are always fun to read, especially if you work in PR or corporate communications. They also can be instructive.

As Ronn Torossian, author of the article suggests, Herman Cain, Anthony Weiner and Penn State were all guilty of burying their heads in the sand, hoping their problems would simply go away. And Bank of America practically fell all over itself to do the right thing — but only after it realized that doing the wrong thing couldn’t be “explained away” piecemeal.

There are plenty of crisis PR lessons to be learned from the incidents Torossian highlights, and he sums up the most basic in just seven words: “Tell the truth as quickly as possible.” Understand that time is of the essence, he counsels, and take responsibility.

Sounds simple. But lots of companies get it wrong.

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Business Writers, Are You Leveraging the 2/20 Rule?

I didn’t even know the 2/20 Rule existed until I read this article: The 2/20 Rule: Producing Nonlinear Interactive Content.

Basically, the 2/20 Rule urges you to create web site content that delivers your message effectively whether visitors spend two minutes or 20 minutes reading that content.

As a speechwriter, I long ago learned the importance of following the 2/20 Rule, although I didn’t know it had a catchy name. I just knew that I had to deliver my message strongly in the opening moments of a speech … and then I could take the next 10, 20 or 30 minutes to amplify and illuminate that message.

In fact, I’ve been writing this way (or trying to) ever since. Doesn’t matter what I’m writing—speeches, web content, marketing materials, whatever—I follow the 2/20 Rule to ensure that I capture my audience’s attention from the get-go. This also increases my chances of holding their attention for a while longer.

Following the 2/20 Rule also shows that I respect my audience’s most limited resource—time. People are busy. Their attention spans are limited. They appreciate straightforward communication.

The 2/20 Rule, as Martha Stewart might say, is a very good thing. (Did I just quote Martha Stewart? I think it might be time for a fishing trip with my buds.)

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5 Things Copywriters Are and Aren’t

If you ever need to hire a copywriter, you should know a few things about us before you do. Things such as …

1.

Copywriters ARE sponges. Meaning we’re absorbent, not freeloaders—well, not all of us. When we sit down to discuss a project, there’s no such thing as too much information. Share everything that bears even a remote chance of being useful. Allow us to drink it all in and figure out how it all fits together as we write.

Copywriters ARE NOT Vulcans. We can’t do that nifty Mind Meld thing, which means we need you to talk to us. In detail. Be explicit about your needs, expectations, timelines and deliverables. This responsibility isn’t all yours, however. Your copywriter should be equally communicative. If he/she isn’t, it might be a sign you need a different copywriter.

2.

Copywriters ARE sounding boards. When you talk over a project with a copywriter, don’t censor yourself. Share all of your ideas, no matter how unsure you are of their value or relevance. Some ideas will pan out and some won’t. But be sure to voice them all. Quite often, it’s a seemingly half-baked idea that makes a written piece really come to life.

Copywriters ARE NOT miracle workers. Remember the old computer programmer’s adage, “Garbage in, garbage out?” Well, it applies to copywriting as well. Not all of your ideas need to be gold but the information you provide should be solid and your directions clear. When this is the case, you have every right to expect a sound final product. But if you provide poor information, ideas that lack clarity or originality, and little or no direction, then you shouldn’t be surprised if the end result suffers.

3.

Copywriters ARE strategists. While we’re happy to simply write copy, we’re equally happy to bring strategic insights and our own creative vision to the table—as long as they’re welcome. If you’re interested in hearing our thoughts on content, approach, audiences, communications channels, outcomes and other issues, just ask.

Copywriters ARE NOT novelists. Short and pithy is the rule of thumb when it comes to business writing. That could mean 100 words or 10,000. Depends on the topic and the project. But even white papers are getting leaner these days. Blame it on busy schedules and short attention spans.

4.

Copywriters ARE flexible. Especially when it comes to the first draft. Yeah, we all want to hit it out of the park on the first pass (nothing beats hearing, “It’s perfect!”) but we don’t actually expect to get every single word right the first time through. In fact, clients often use the first draft to “test” their ideas, to see how well they hold together once we put them to paper. Bottom line, we expect you to ask for edits. It’s part of the process.

Copywriters ARE NOT complaisant. Yes, we’re flexible but most of us balk at endless wordsmithing and repeated changes in direction. I know what some of you are thinking: “Why can’t I change anything I want, as radically as I want, as often as I want if I’m the one writing the checks?” Well, you can. I’m just saying that good copywriters will oblige this behavior only to a degree because we work very hard to get things right from the outset. Besides, if your copywriter hasn’t hit the mark in two or three attempts, chances are you should look for someone else.

5.

Copywriters ARE quick studies. We have to be! After all, we might be writing about arbitrage pricing theory one day and telephonic health coaching the next. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you need an expert in your field to write the copy you want. You’re the expert. You simply need someone who can channel your expertise and convey it compellingly. That’s us.

Copywriters ARE NOT sales people. Yes, business copy is always about selling in one way or another—even if that simply means selling an idea. Good copywriters have a gift for engaging audiences and persuading them to take action. That’s sales, right? Right. But you can’t expect the copywriter you’ve just hired to know your customers’ needs and pain points the way your sales team does. So do yourself a favor and make sure your copywriter has access to at least one member of your sales force.

Posted in business writing, copywriting, writing | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Seeking Marketing Wisdom, Grasshopper? Learn from Twitter Tactics.

If you’re still trying to figure out how Twitter can help your company’s marketing and communications efforts, read Dave Kerpen’s latest article on Mashable, 9 Lessons From Successful Brands on Twitter.

Kerpen (CEO of a social media agency called Likeable) offers nine excellent examples of companies that have learned how to strengthen their customer relationships and their brands through Twitter.

Bergdorf Goodman is one of these examples. Kerpen notes that the famous Manhattan-based luxury goods retailer tweets about topics including New York, fashion and style. “They do an excellent job tweeting about the kinds of things their followers would be interested in, rather than only sharing about the brand,” he writes. “Lesson: Twitter’s not about you, it’s about your audience. Figure out what your audience wants to hear about and tweet it.”

Great advice. And this part is worth repeating: Twitter’s not about you, it’s about your audience.

In a previous post (Is Your B2B Site an e-Comfort Zone?), I made a similar case regarding corporate web sites and other marketing collateral. Sure, in the end it all points back to your company but that doesn’t mean the spotlight should always shine on you. Point it at your audience instead. Illuminate their needs and interests.

Do that and you’ll be surprised at how quickly they’ll want to talk to (and about) you.

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Copywriters, Don’t Let Your Clients Jump the PR Gun

Karen E. Klein, who doles out small business advice on behalf of the Los Angeles Times, recently received the following question from a woman designing her own line of jewelry: “Should I try to get an agent or PR firm?”

“What you need is a distribution channel,” answered Ms. Klein. In other words, first things first.

Copywriters often face a similar situation. Clients — especially startups — want to jump the gun on PR because they believe media attention automatically translates into sales. It doesn’t. Plenty of companies have gone belly up despite churning out press releases and journalist pitches. They would have been better off putting their energy into marketing and sales.

Take our fledgling jewelry designer. Unless her story is a jaw-dropper (e.g., she’s blind and secretly designing Lady Gaga’s jewelry from a prison cell) a PR firm probably doesn’t have much to leverage or work with to win media attention. And while an agent might be of some use to her, an experienced sales representative would be far more helpful. Bottom line, she should wait until her business is more firmly established to invest in an agent or PR firm.

When I’m asked to write press releases, media alerts and journalist pitches for startups or clients looking to generate sales, I try to gently remind them that PR sometimes helps boost sales but it’s not guaranteed. And PR is definitely not a substitute for basic marketing initiatives.

In other words, copywriters … first things first. Work with your clients to craft stellar marketing collateral. Then help them shoot for the stars with PR.

Posted in copywriting, marketing, media relations, PR, writing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment