Strut Your Stuff, or Why Communications Contests Matter

The other week a colleague asked me if I was entering the Virginia Professional Communicators contest. I said I didn’t really have anything to enter.

She immediately noted two or three things that she thought were worthy. We sat down and looked at our work for the year and realized we had achieved much more than we remembered. My feelings toward the prior year became much more positive.

I don’t have to win an award, but awards do have merit. They can provide validation. They may improve your work or make you try harder. And, they generally make you feel good.

capture_contestWhat do I mean by validation? If you’ve worked hard on an article, a campaign or a project, when it’s finished you, your team and your boss may acknowledge for a moment, but you are usually already hard at work on the next thing. An award for the article, campaign or project validates that you did great work and that others recognize that effort.

I always appreciate the judges’ comments. I take the time to read them. Most often they offer suggestions that would have made the work I submitted even stronger if I had had their tips or advice in advance. I find that useful as I embark on the next project.

Awards also make me try harder. When my colleague and I reviewed our work, we made a list of possible entries. A few days later, we reexamined the list. In one or two instances, we deleted the work from the list because while it was good, it wasn’t great. If we are going to enter a contest, we want to enter our best work. We discussed how we could have made the projects stronger and have noted it for future efforts.

I have another week to finish my entries. I’m already thinking ahead to next year and determining how I can do my best work this year.

Note: For tips on how to enter a contest, check out this post.

Top 16 Communiques of 2016

Lists and more lists. The word of the year. The color of the year. The best of. I decided that while I was reviewing my blog posts for the year, I, too, would compile my top 16 for 2016. I based it solely on numbers from WordPress because, honestly, I was too lazy to add in the posts that were most retweeted or talked about on Facebook.

I describe my blog as providing insights for communicators. However, what I am discovering is that the blogs that have the biggest views and the most comments are related to the career I’m moving toward; namely, that of life coach. That’s encouraging, and I’ll continue to offer more of these types of posts in 2017. I’ll still have posts related to communications and leadership because these are areas that remain relevant to me and, I hope, I can continue to share with you what I am learning.

If you missed out on some of the top posts, below are links to them. I’ve also shared a thought or two about each post.

Comments Wanted: I find it ironic that a post requesting comments was my most popular post. I can also tell you that the request worked. I had many more comments throughout the year. The reason I want more comments is that we can all learn from each other and have a stronger conversation. #KeepCommenting

My Weekend of Nothing: I did nothing and I was better for it. When was the last time you did nothing?

Do You Need an Accountability Partner?: I know I did and still do. Turns out that having an accountability partner helps you get things done. In 2016, I’ve been hard at work on a book, created my website, rejoined a mystery writers group and joined a coaching federation. My accountability partner is the best! Thanks @lizbryantmedia.

Don’t Waste Leap Year Day: An extra day gave us 1,440 additional minutes. I spent many of those hours writing. I asked readers to share how they planned to spend the day, and a few shared their thoughts. Most, I think, were too busy spending the minutes.

What’s on Your Happy List?: Sometimes we need to remind ourselves of what makes us happy.

My Travel Checklist: Since I love to travel, I shared some of the things I do to make traveling easier.

Creating a Powerful Presentation: Apparently, we’ve all suffered through too many insufferable PowerPoint presentations as many people read this post.

Do ‘The Hustle’ to Succeed at Pitching: I was delighted when Michael Smart agreed to an interview with me. I’ve been a member of his Inner Circle for some time, and his pitching tips are spot on.

Finding Direction This Summer: I love lazy summer days, but sometimes they need purpose. Readers provided additional encouragement.

Interview with Shonali Burke: I participated in Shonali’s Social PR webinar and wanted to learn more about her. She graciously agreed to an interview.

Blog Goals for 2016: Who knew that my post about my blog goals would make the cut, but it did.

4 Reasons to Join a Professional Group: If you haven’t given thought to joining a professional group, this post might make you consider doing so.

3 Steps to Transition from Vacation to Work: The three steps all involve managing your time.

Advice on How to Write a Novel: The surest way to write a novel is to start writing. Several authors share additional tips.

7 Tips to Get the Most From a Conference: Prepping before a conference and taking a nap during the conference are two of my tips for getting the most from a conference.

Dial Down Your Stress: I offer three suggestions on how to dial down your stress.

Reviewing my blogs has helped me prepare for 2017. I also have a request (or two) to make of you. If you have suggestions for topics, please let me know. If one of these blogs resonated with you, please post a comment and share why. Even better, please share my posts with your colleagues and friends.

Here’s to a great 2017!

Why Emails Are Not My Priority

If I keep checking my emails, I can keep up with them.

If I don’t check my emails, I might miss something urgent.

I have told myself both of these statements more time than I can count. And either way, I don’t succeed with my emails.

dscf2419I have made strides with my inbox, but the other month something Michael Smart said in an online workshop hit me.

“Stick to a schedule when checking and responding to email,” he said.

Now he’s not the first person I’ve heard say that. But for some reason when he said it, this time it resonated.

It may also be because he helped me to realize that emails are not my priority. They often are a means to reach my priorities – whether that is pitching a story and having it placed in a news outlet or tracking down information to write a blog post.

I’d been thinking about my priorities and how I often find myself busy, but not productive. Reading Greg McKeown’s book, “Essentialism,” is helping me to focus on getting the right things done.

As a result, I’ve slowly been weaning myself from checking emails constantly. I also no longer reply to an email the second I see it so that the sender won’t always expect me to be so speedy with my replies. And I try to never respond to emails on the weekend unless it is a crisis.

There are some exceptions for me with respect to checking my inbox. If I have just sent a media release or if I am handling a crisis, then I am checking my emails constantly, you might even say continuously. It’s okay in those situations.

When I am out with friends, I may keep my work mobile handy in case it rings. Only a few colleagues have the number, so if it rings, I know it’s urgent. I don’t have to keep checking the screen and the emails.

Ultimately, managing my inbox is not about the emails. It is about managing my priorities, and I know I need to spend my time at work pitching the media and strategizing. At home, I need to spend my time writing my book or relaxing.

Finally, emails don’t own me.

5 Steps to Simplify Complex Topics

One of my college journalism teachers told me to write my stories so my grandmother could understand them. His point was that stories need to be written so that anyone can read and comprehend them.

dscf4270How do you write a complex story in a way that my grandmother (or yours) can understand?

Take a lot of notes when you interview your subject matter expert or source. Even if you don’t use all of them in the story, they will aid your comprehension.

Use Google to help with your understanding. If the person you interviewed used words and terms you don’t know, Google them. If it still doesn’t make sense, find a video that might explain the concept.

Distill the information. In other words, keep digging until you can boil the story down to a few key points. From that you can build your and the reader’s understanding by adding layers to the story.

Find the holes. As you build the story, identify any holes and find the missing information. You may have to call your source back or complete additional research.

Write to make people interested. Ultimately, you are telling a story. What is that first attracted you to the story? Why do you want to tell it? If you keep those questions top of mind as you research and write, you will interest others in reading the story.

4 Time Management Tips to Help With Writing

Sheri Reynolds, whose novel the Rapture of Canaan was an Oprah Book Club selection, says she likes to think of herself as a little gifted. What she really is, though, is persistent.

And being persistent is key to not only writing and editing a book but to getting it published. She has published six novels and one play and has developed some time management tips to help with her writing.

One tip is to go on an overnight trip once or twice a year to push through on your writing. When Reynolds does this she will work for about three hours and then take a walk. After another writing push, she will go to dinner.

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The beach is one of my favorite places for writing. When I need a break, I can go for a long walk. 

My most successful writing has happened just this way. I think of them as mini sprints. In fact, I have three days scheduled this holiday season at the beach where I will do just as she prescribes — write, walk, dine. I have daily goals and look forward to celebrating reaching the goals each evening.

Reynolds also is a proponent of scheduling some time each week with your characters. “I have a little liaison with my fiction life,” she said.

I haven’t done this yet, but I’m looking forward to having lunch with Frank, a detective in my novel. During our lunch, I’ll learn more about his character and think about how he is conducting the investigation.

When you are forced to attend a lecture or concert, don’t dread it. Instead, Reynolds said to think of it as mandated day dreaming time. When she does this, people think she is taking notes, but she is really writing. Airports also are a good place for writing.

A final piece of advice is to always keep a notebook for writing. You can jot ideas and record research. Best of all, Reynolds said, you won’t stress when the train or your doctor is running late.

 

Dial Down Your Stress

Here’s a conversation I have all too often with friends:

Me: “Great to see you! How is everything?”

Friend: “Crazy busy! I just don’t have any time.”

When I ask what is happening, the friends shares a few things but nothing that sounds “crazy busy.”

The friend asks me how I am, and I reply: “Great. Things are great.”

I tell this story not because I don’t have stress, because I do, but because when I was sharing how busy I was, how crazed I was, how much I was working, I found that I often exaggerated based on what others said. I’ve observed my friends doing it, too.

It’s as if we are in a competition to be the busiest, the craziest, the most sleep deprived.

For the past few years, I have worked really hard to dial down the stress. I routinely get my required sleep. I rarely work weekends, and I manage my work hours. Of course, there are times when work is a bit busier and I might have to work some extra hours, but it’s not routine.

When a friend tells me they are staying late regularly, I’ll ask why. Often the person doesn’t have a great explanation. It’s so easy to slip into bad habits, which is why I don’t want to get into a contest with my friends about who has the worst schedule.

Here are some tips to dial down the stress –

Don’t overcommit: Michael Hyatt, co-author of “Living Forward: A Proven Plan to Stop Drifting and Get the Life You Want,” talks about triaging your calendar. I’ve learned that I need one evening during the work week in which I schedule no activities. It’s my night at home to be a slug. It’s usually Tuesday night when some of my favorite shows are on. I need an evening in which I am being entertained. I also know that I need one weekend a month to hibernate. That means no commitments (no matter how much fun), no traveling, no making long to-do lists. Instead, I enjoy the weekend as it unfolds, and I mainly sp20140727_180844end it in my home or yard and going for long walks or bike rides in the neighborhood.

Plan: A few years ago I realized that there are seven days in the week (five in the work week), which means I don’t have to do everything on Monday. I’ve learned to plan better and spread out deadlines. When I return to my office from a meeting, I schedule my action items on my calendar so they don’t get lost. In December, I plan my vacations for the coming year.

Reduce the drama: Be careful of the words you are using. Overemphasizing your situation is not helpful. One way to recognize all the good in your life is to keep a gratitude journal. Each evening I write down three to five things from the day for which I am grateful. Some days, it’s a struggle, but when I pause and reflect, I come up with the items, and I realize life is good.

How do you dial down the stress?

Strong Quotes Can Make a Media Release

quote-marksWriting a media release is always a challenge. Sometimes, I have to convince others that the topic doesn’t even warrant a release.

When I do have a topic that is worthy of a release, I try to think about what would work best for the media.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the basics of a media release, which includes:

Strong headline: This is what reporters and editors see first so you want to make it memorable.

Strong lead: Focus on answering the who, what, when, where, why and how. Be sure not to bury the lead.

Strong quote: Add comments from key spokespeople, and make sure the quote adds value to the release.

Quotes can be a challenge. Often an individual wants to provide input for the quote, but what is offered is lengthy and doesn’t add anything new to the story.

Ann Wylie, who frequently provides writing tips, offered a PRSA webinar about writing media releases. Here are three tips to write better quotes in your releases from Wylie –

  1. She stressed that a quote ideally be one sentence and contain 20 words or less, plus attribution.
  2. To make quotes stand out in online stories, she suggested creating a quote rail by moving the quote off to the side of the article. If a release has long quotes, Wylie suggested removing them and using them to create a blog or a tweet.
  3. Quotes should not include clichés. Words such as pleased, excited, proud, thrilled and delighted should all be removed from releases, Wylie said.

I cringe to think how many of those words may be in my releases. I’m going to go back and review.

After hearing the presentation, I issued a two-part challenge to myself –

  1. Use only one-sentence quotes as often as possible.
  2. Avoid the clichéd words that often appear in releases.

Anybody else want to join the challenge?