Time Enough To Shine"You guys line up alphabetically by height. And you guys pair up in groups of three, then line up in a circle."
~Bill Peterson, a football coach at Florida State
Written or spoken, nothing reflects our intelligence or lack of it like the language we share. Use it thoughtfully, and you've got readers or audience nodding along with you, receptive to more of your ideas. Use it rashly or with far too much spontaneity and you can look like...well, a coach at a big-school football factory.
In a gem of brevity and clarity, the author Anne Morrow Lindbergh was the first to spell out what is second nature to every effective writer or speaker or public presenter: "Writing is thinking."
Whether dealing with Navy SEALs or insurance safety engineers or senior NASA officials, I open every writing and presentation skills seminar by introducing the three pillars of effective writing. In previous newsletters, I've discussed the need to know -- and write to -- your audience, and the primacy of editing and revising (quality control). The third one is the premise that writing makes you think, makes you look smart.
Writing gives you the gift of time. Picture this: You run a small business that does software training. It's a crowded field and you spend at least half your time marketing your services. One fine day, you find yourself hosting a booth at a business expo. The HR director at a well-known securities firm stops by and tells you she's having trouble bringing her people up to speed on the latest software. It's pretty clear that she's comparison shopping, so you hand her a couple brochures and blurt out a solution that you hope will fill her needs. She nods politely and wanders off.
What if you'd asked a few questions, and she'd said: "I'm close to making a decision, but before I do I'd like to know more about your training, customized to my company. Could you send me an email on that by, say, tomorrow afternoon? If it looks OK, then maybe you could come and do a presentation for our staff." Now you’ve got time to think it through, don’t you? Now you’ve got a chance to shine, a chance to display the communication skills of a consummate professional.
You may be writing your own press release (yes, you can do that without calling on a slick, high-priced PR firm). You may be finding the news angle you need to help market a new product or service. You may even be preparing (instead of reacting when it's too late) to handle an incipient crisis involving your company or nonprofit or agency and a suddenly attentive news media. Whatever the case, you need to take AIM.
When I guide people through media relations seminars, I prepare them for role-playing exercises by introducing the acronym:
- Audience -- There's that word again, just like in writing tasks and presentations that work. Whose attention are you trying to get? What are their needs? Is it a general audience or a well-defined market niche? Do they have to be educated, or is the need clearly established? Are you going through print or broadcast reporters or both?
- Intent -- Are you trying to sell a product or service, persuade someone to adopt a point of view or steer them away from a point of view, vote a certain way, send you money, or analyze a complex matter?
- Message -- Are you grabbing the attention of readers, listeners or viewers, and motivating them to follow your thinking? After the first paragraph or two in a press release or the opening minutes of a presentation, do they know why you approached them in the first place? Do you follow up with supporting details? Do you anticipate their questions?
There's more, of course, but not even the most precisely AIM-ed message will get you where you want to be if the substance behind it is thin or absent. In the words of the celebrated public relations pioneer Edward Bernays, "It is futile to attempt to sell an idea or to prepare the ground for a product that is basically unsound."
Birth of a Blog
I'm finding that a blog makes for a nice, relaxed and stimulating conversation. Please join me and react to my meanderings by sounding off on anything touching on communications and all its promise and pitfalls. I'll continue to share what I know about the news media and how you can gain from press encounters, as well as writing and public speaking for success.
I look forward to hearing from you.