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?

Is It Time To Recalibrate?

When you are driving in your car following the directions from your navigation system and make a wrong turn, the system immediately alerts you that you have gone off route. Then the system says it is “recalculating.”

Quickly, you are back on your way headed to your destination.

map1The other day when I heard my system say this, it struck me that I need to be as flexible in my life. I had lost my rhythm with my blog. I also had missed an accountability meeting. I was frustrated.

Then I decided to recalculate, or, recalibrate. Here’s how I did it:

Reviewed my goals. Whether personal or professional, it’s good to have goals. Mine are written down, and I review them routinely. I spent an hour looking at my goals and determining where I had made progress and where I still needed to make progress.

Developed a timeline. I looked at my goals and recalibrated how I could reach the goals and by when. I readjusted deadlines and also set interim deadlines.

Scheduled time. Now that I have reviewed my goals, I needed to block time to work on them. I scheduled two-hour and four-hour blocks on my calendar and what I am going to accomplish in those blocks. It’s amazing how much you can get done when you know you have a set time period on which to work on your goal.

Celebrated the victories. I met with my accountability partner the other week, and while I was not as far along on my writing as I would have liked, I had made a list of what I had achieved. When I saw the list, I was encouraged that I had made the progress that I had. It was good to see it in writing.

Get an accountability partner. I’ve written about the importance of an accountability partner. Knowing I have an upcoming meeting encourages me to spend the time working toward the goals I said I would. I don’t want to waste her time, and I want to have something to show since the last time we met. My accountability partner helps me to stay focused on the things I have said are important to me.

 

Tweet Your Way to Media Success

For years I had a Twitter account but never did much with it. In the last few years, though, that has changed, as I have found it to be an invaluable tool to help with media relations.twitter-1

Twitter is useful in several ways. You can use it to –

Conduct research and learn what is trending. When you are on Twitter you can see what reporters are covering and what are the current events. You also can discover the relevant hashtags.

Respond to reporters. Not all reporters put our requests for experts via Twitter, but there are many that do, and I try to follow reporters who cover the sector in which I work.

Amplify your reach. Once I have sent a media release, I always share it a few times on Twitter. If a reporter writes about my organization, I will tweet the story and acknowledge the reporter.

Talk about your business. You may have lots of great content on your website, but if no one knows to go to the site or where to look the information, it’s not helpful. Tweet about the content and include a short link to the content.

Pitch the media. If you aren’t getting any traction reaching out to reporters via email or with a media release, try a tweet. When I’ve done that, my stories have been picked up by outlets I was not aware of and I was able to get more coverage of a story.

This post is adapted from a workshop Cynthia teaches on using Twitter for media success. If you are interested in having her present on this topic or others, including crisis communications, personal branding or media training, please contact her at cynthiapricecp@gmail.com.

September Resolutions Offer Fresh Start

059Back-to-school time was always a fresh start. Even after I graduated college, there was always something about September.

Perhaps it is the crisp, cool temperatures. Or maybe it is remembering the trips for new school clothes and supplies.

I like to think of it as my new year. This is the time of year when I make new resolutions and review the ones – if any – I made in January.

It’s the time of year when I really get organized. Maybe it’s all of the calendars on display, the planners for students, the colored markers. Whatever it is, I find myself making lists and figuring out what I want to accomplish between now and the end of the year.

If you’re ready for a fresh start in September, here are a few areas in which to maximize your fresh start:

Fitness I’m excited about the cooler temperatures. This summer I walked one million steps between Memorial Day and Labor Day. On the hot, humid days of summer it was a challenge My new challenge is adjusting to the lack of sunlight. I bought a light to use when I walk in the morning. In the evenings, I walk as soon as I get home from work. Then I eat dinner, which is the reverse of my summer routine.

Closets With the cooler temperatures, I am more willing to tackle the attic and the garage. Because it’s darker earlier, I’ll clean out files, and shred the papers while watching the new TV shows. I also reorder my closets to match the season and identify clothes and any other items to donate.

Writing I spend more time working on my books because I am not at the swimming pool or working in the garden. To keep myself on track, I’ve set daily and weekly goals, and I continue to meet with my accountability partner.

Finances This time of year, I always review my investments, track my expenses and begin thinking about travel for next year and how I will fund the trips. I make adjustments as needed and feel good knowing that I have trips planned and some savings in the bank.

Books Since the days are shorter, it’s the perfect time of year to tackle the pile of books I have amassed. Every year I say I’m not going to buy any books until the current pile is eliminated. Every summer I buy too many books and spend the winter catching up.

If you have additional September resolutions, please share them in the Comments section to inspire others.