7 Reasons to Attend a Conference

As part of my responsibilities as co-chair of the 2018 NFPW Conference, I wrote several articles promoting the conference. One of them was a list of 10 reasons to come to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where the conference is being held.

I should have also made a list of why it’s a good reason to attend a conference in person. Here’s my list:

Meet experts face-to-face. If the conference isn’t too large, there usually is time following a presentation to engage in conversation with the speaker and ask additional questions. Sometimes it’s about taking a photo with someone who has influenced or inspired you.

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I’m hanging out with NFPW member Donna Penticuff and Rick Bragg!

Last year, at the NFPW conference in Alabama, we heard from Rick Bragg. I have been reading his works for decades, first his articles in Southern Living and later his books. I was delighted to be photographed with him. At this year’s conference in Bethlehem, I’ll meet Shonali Burke. I’ve participated in her on-line trainings and have conversed with her several times digitally, but I’ve yet to meet her in person.

Discover new tools. I still remember the first time I heard the term, “blogging.” It was at a national communications conference, and I could not wrap my head around it. But an idea was planted, and I have now been blogging for a decade. This year, I’ll be learning about podcasting. I also enjoy vendor booths because I often discover tools that can simplify my life. Best of all, I can test them.

Be inspired in a new space. Sometimes at work I leave my desk and work for an hour or two in a conference room. I simply need a new perspective. Conferences provide an opportunity to learn in a new space and encourage fresh thinking and new ideas.

Cut through the clutter. I confess I am an information junkie. Sometimes it’s a challenge to find the time to sit through a webinar or listen to a podcast. And sifting through dozens of helpful links to find the most helpful is time-consuming. At conferences, speakers deliver the content I need to hear and share ideas that are often new to me. They also often remind me of the basics.

Hang out with your tribe. One of the benefits of a conference is being with like-minded individuals. These are people who want to learn and grow their skills. They also are people who understand the challenges you face. Not only can they commiserate, they can offer solutions from their first-hand experiences.

Network outside your comfort zone. As an introvert, I struggle with networking. Through the years, though, I’ve developed some tricks to increase my comfort. I don’t try to meet everyone at a conference. I do make a point to get to know the people sitting next to me or at my table. I learn about their profession and what we might have in common. I try to follow-up with the individuals once the conference has ended. I may share a book suggestion or provide them with notes from a session that I attended but they weren’t able to. I also try to chat with at least one vendor, too. Invariably I learn about a new product or service.

Invest in yourself. I almost didn’t include this one because it seems obvious. And yet, in many ways, it’s the most important reason to attend a conference. We all have things we can still learn, and we can continue to grow our skills. Attending a conference is an investment in yourself and your career.

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Prep Work Key to a Good Interview

“I wasn’t worried because I get to approve my quotes.”

“I thought she knew the details of my research. I didn’t know I would have to explain it to her.”

“I planned to use notes, but I was told I couldn’t.”

These are a few comments I’ve heard through the years when individuals with whom I’ve worked have been interviewed by reporters. Usually, the individuals came to me for guidance after having done the interview.

Inside Edition

Prep work is key to a successful media interview. 

As someone who works in media relations, I’ve learned that the most important part of a media interview is the prep work. If you are fortunate to work somewhere that has a media relations person, ask them to help prepare you for the interview. If you are new to the industry or need a refresher, these tips will get you started.

Research the reporter and outlet. What articles has the reporter written or broadcast? What is the tone? I also check their Twitter feed to say what they are saying about issues and to see what their interests are.

Prepare talking points. What are the two to three main points you want to share? Too often experts ramble because they are passionate about their research and have so much they want to share. Reporters, though, don’t have unlimited time for the interview or for the story. It’s in your best interest to select the key points and provide supporting details.

Know the rules. When you speak with a reporter, everything is “on the record,” meaning reporters will use it in their story. Don’t say anything you wouldn’t want to see in print. You also won’t get to see or review the story or broadcast in advance so don’t ask to do so.

Anticipate tough questions. Is there a downside to your story? If yes, be prepared to address it, if asked. If a reporter asks about an issue within your company that it would not be appropriate for you to address, refer the reporter to the office that should respond.

Practice. You don’t have to spend hours rehearsing your answers. You do want to know your information and doing at least one practice run with a colleague who acts as the reporter will help prepare you for the interview. However, don’t practice too much as you don’t want your interview to be scripted.

Now you are ready for your interview.

Are You Ready for Summer?

The first day of summer is tomorrow. Are you ready?

Summer days should be lazy and unstructured. I love that notion. In fact, I try to follow a saying by Annie Lamott:

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I fill my days off with pool time, bike rides and beach reads.

However, I also find that I need some structure otherwise I may not achieve anything. I particularly like this list from Online Colleges, which offers 100 productive ways to spend your summer vacation. Their recommendations include to take an education vacation, learn a new language or visit museums.

One of my favorite suggestions is from a 2013 article by Les McKeown who suggested doing something “It’s never the right time for.” I have several things that fit the description and I’ve now added them to my summer list with incremental deadlines. I already feel better knowing they might get done this summer.

Also on my list this summer:

#WalkOn: It’s a hashtag I used when I was consistently walking 10,000 steps a day. My stepping significantly decreased due to a knee injury, but I’m now building back up. I’m tracking my steps from Memorial Day to Labor Day, although instead of 1 million steps my goal is 750,000 steps. If you’re on Fitbit, let’s challenge each other and #WalkOn.

Writing books: I’m finishing my book of travel essays, and will spend the summer reaching out to agents and editors. I’m also going to pick up my mystery (it’s about time!) and resume writing it. And I’ll attend meetings of James River Writers and Sisters in Crime. Their programming helps me grow my skills and become a better writer.

Exploration: My vacation won’t happen until late in the year, but that doesn’t mean I won’t take some time to explore in my backyard. It’s always fun to visit a farmer’s market and see what is in season. Two area attractions have new exhibitions that I plan to see. And I’ll check out some new restaurants with friends.

Of course, the beauty of summer is that you can always toss your list and do nothing!

Fake News and How to Combat It

We may think fake news is something new, but it’s not.

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Tom Mullen, director of public affairs journalism at the University of Richmond and a former newspaper reporter, discusses fake news. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

“Fake news has existed as long as journalism has been around,” said Tom Mullen, director of public affairs journalism at the University of Richmond and a former newspaper reporter.

He cited an 1835 article in the New York Sun that said there is life on the moon. He pointed out that Joseph Pulitzer said, “You supply the pictures, I’ll supply the war.”

Speaking to Virginia Professional Communicators, Mullen noted that presidents and military leaders use the fake news term to push back against bad news. “When leaders use propaganda, it means they can’t persuade you with the truth,” he said. “That is detrimental to democracy.”

He challenged the notion of alternative facts. “A fact is a fact,” he said. However, while news is verifiable, people can have interpretations, he noted.

Unfortunately, social media is becoming the primary source of news, and that is not news, Mullen said. Stories on social media are easy to manipulate and to spread without verification. Stories that are shocking, surprising or play on emotions are the most easily spread.

“Journalism gives oxygen to democracy,”

Tom Mullen

To determine if a story is fake or real, Mullen said to consider the following:

  • What is the source?
  • How credible is the source?
  • What are other sources saying about the information?
  • When was the Twitter account launched?
  • How is the grammar?

“Grammar matters,” Mullen said. “You should thank your English teacher. Bots are always a little off.”

He also recommended holding politicians accountable. “Criticizing the press is part of a robust discussion, demonizing journalism and journalists is not.”

Individuals should not post, Tweet or spread anything that they are not certain is true, he added.

Another way to combat fake news is to support good local journalism.

“Journalism gives oxygen to democracy,” Mullen said.

He stressed that good journalism –

  • Gives people the information they need to make decisions about their lives
  • Provides an essential civic service
  • Is a tool of social justice by helping to give readers and viewers the information they need to correct injustices

Ultimately, we are each and all responsible for not spreading fake news.

Managing Your Professional Image

When is the last time you thought about your professional image?

I’m not simply referring to how you dress. Your professional image does include your appearance, and it also includes digital, competence and behaviors.

PRSA

PowerePoint slide from “Managing Your Professional Image” by Suzanne Updegaff

Suzanne Updegaff, president of Employee Development Systems challenged listeners on a PRSA webinar to consider our professional image and whether it is what we want it to be. This imagining, she said, “allows you to create and become the best you.”

Not only should we consider how we see ourselves, we should also consider how others imagine us.

The physical is noticed with respect to appearance, but there are other aspects of appearance to consider. For example, do you appear to be engaged in conversations? Are you bringing innovative solutions to problems?

Updegaff asked, “What would you like your appearance to tell others about you?”

I once worked with someone who wanted to be upper management. However, he did not dress the part, and others in the organization consequently did not see him in that light.

Another aspect to consider is how you behave and what the behavioral expectations are within your organization. If you work someplace that expects everyone to be in at 8 a.m. and you roll in at 9:30, your behavior may be perceived negatively. A good question to ask yourself, Updegaff said is, “Are you proud of your behaviors?”

Updegaff asked listeners what they wanted to be known as. Are these attributes aligned with your competence?

In the digital reality, Updegaff said, “Monitoring your digital image is just as vital as showing up.” She also asked us whether our digital voice had grown up.

One suggestion she made was to Google our names to see what others see. This is vital because people will Google us when they are considering hiring us. Those who work with us will Google us to learn more about us.

“Building your digital image is a proactive ongoing piece to your career development,” Updegaff said.

When you combine the four realities, they become your professional brand. Updegaff said, “Keeping up is about thinking forward in your career.” We need to ask what we will need to know, do or be next year that we aren’t today if we want to move forward. We should also consider what habits are holding us back.

Updegaff’s parting advice: “Imagine you as the most professional person you know.”

How to Build a Publishing Resume

I update my resume every year, but as a writer I recently discovered I should have a publishing resume. It makes sense. Why would a publisher or agent want my resume that lists career highlights that have nothing to do with my writing career?

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Editors and writers shared their tips for building a publishing resume. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

At a recent James River Writers workshop, I learned what to include on this type of resume, as well as how I could gain additional credentials to put on the resume. Such a resume can help authors secure fellowships, awards and prizes. A publishing resume needs to include categories such as awards, speaking engagements and published works.

Why You Need a Publishing Resume

“It sets you up for all sorts of opportunities,” said Dana Isokawa, the associate editor of Poets & Writers Magazine, where she edits the magazine’s sections on writing contests and fellowships, literary news and trends, and conferences and residencies. “It’s a literary calling card.”

What I like about this idea is that it’s a great summary of my work to date.

“You want to sell yourself,” said David Streever, a journalist, author and editor-in-chief of RVA Mag’s print quarterly. He recommends placing your publishing resume on your own website.

Published Works

When it comes to adding links to articles you have written, the panelists had several suggestions on how to find freelance opportunities. One suggested making a list of all the topics you know and are good, and then finding stories on those topics to pitch to relevant publications.

Pitching editors is most often done by email. Be sure to proof the emails. “I get nervous when I pitch,” David said. “My brain shuts off.” To avoid mistakes, proof the email several times or ask someone else to review it before sending.

Another way to build your writing portfolio is to write a blog.

Fellowships

One area that the speakers highlighted was fellowships, which provide opportunities to further your writing and to be inspired by other writers.

Martha Steger, a prolific freelance writer, did caution writers to look for hidden fees, such as fellowships that only cover the cost of the stay and do not pay for WiFi, parking or travel.

Writers’ Groups

The value of belonging to writers groups also was touted. “You want to be part of a community that really cares,” Dana said.

I belong to James River Writers, Virginia Professional Communicators/National Federation of Press Women and Sisters in Crime. All provide me with invaluable guidance and access to successful writers.

ROI

Karen A. Chase suggested creating a budget for your submissions. At the end of year, have an ROI. If you enter a cost that costs $50 and you get a prize of $100 that is a 50 percent return. By allocating a set amount and tracking it, you can determine where you have success and where you might need to make changes to your approach.

I’m going to spend my next writing block working on my literary calling card.

 

 

PowerPoint Presentations Require Planning, Practice

PRSA Hampton Roads

Presentations require preparation and practice. 

The Institute for Crisis Management tracked 801,620 crisis news stories during 2017, an increase of more than 25 percent from 2016.

That’s why when the Hampton Roads chapter of PRSA asked me to present on crisis communications, I knew I was going to have to do some research on the latest incidents. Plus, it had been about four years since I last presented on the topic, and I would need to rework some of the slides. In all, I spent about 15 hours preparing.

Based on the feedback and follow-up questions, I think it was worth it.

I share this because some people think they can simply whip up a PowerPoint and then present. To succeed, the prep time is critical. Here are some areas to consider:

Design

  • Decide what the look and feel of your slides will be.
  • Identify the photos, illustrations and artwork that you will use.
  • Consistently use font face and type size on all slides

Text

  • Keep words to a minimum on the slides.
  • Avoid full sentences.
  • Never read your slides.

Take Away

  • Always summarize your 2-3 key points.
  • Make the key points memorable so they will stick with your audience.

Audience

  • Know the composition of your audience and tailor your presentation accordingly.
  • Find out what they are expecting.
  • Always ensure that your presentation description matches what you present.

Practice

  • Know your slides.
  • Speak with confidence.
  • Don’t speak too quickly.

The first practice round I did with my colleagues, I realized I had too many slides, and that I was treating the presentation as if it was a full-day training session. I spent a few more hours on it. I cut slides, added case studies and identified key points. I did a second practice session, and knew I had the right presentation.

The effort put into a presentation pays off when you look at the audience and you see people taking notes, tweeting and nodding in agreement.