Market? Inform? Engage?

In a series of recent posts, Shel Holz shared a new model for employee communication. If you practice internal communications, you’ve got to read them and then go back and read them again. There are seven parts–a lot to digest–and worth it.

As I read the posts, I found myself asking a fundamental question that I’ve often faced in my career: What is the purpose of internal communications–to market,  inform, or engage? I think the answer is it can be all three. That’s because our work is so contextual. I think back, and note that sometimes I’ve supported an executive or an initiative. I’ve been positioned in HR or Corporate Communications or an operations department. I’ve been dedicated to a variety of functions and social responsibility. In each of those situations, I’ve had to be agile and responsive. Sometimes, I’ve focused on changing behaviors; yet other times, I’ve been all about getting the word out on time in the right template; and still other times, my work has been to foster engagement within a group. And in many of those situations, I’ve experienced a tension between myself and others with communication accountabilities or responsibilities.

In some of those situations, I’ve experienced a tension between myself and others with communication accountabilities or responsibilities.

Tension can be good. It forces you to strive harder, do better, deliver higher-quality.

Yet, when I’m accountable for changing behaviors, say, and you’re focused on processing the email according to standards, well, we can find ourselves out of alignment. And that causes a lot of tension. And worse than that, it hurts communications operations and delivery.

If we have a common, agreed-on purpose, however, then we have something to help us navigate the demands and pressures. We have guardrails to aid in our decision-making and to prioritize our resources. And I’m not saying that if your purpose is to market that you’ll never inform–far from it. But if you have clarity on your guiding purpose, the rest of the work will more easily fall into place.

Getting clarity around your internal communications purpose, then, combined with a great model is our way to success. So, I ask you: Can you say what the purpose of your internal communications function is? It’s worth thinking about.

 

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10 Ways to Break Through Writer’s Block

Time clicks by on your phone and wristwatch. Your article, letter, report, email reply, or blog post is due at noon. How do you get around the obstacles that block your writing flow? Try these techniques.

Writer's block

1. Imagine you are talking with your reader. Think about the things your reader wants or needs to hear from you. Then "tell" (write) any part–beginning, middle, or end. Don't worry about the perfect opening or a knock-'em-dead awesome close. Just start and keep going.

2. List the questions your reader would want answers to, such as "What do you want me to do?" and "What do you recommend?" and "Why should I care about this topic?" Answering those questions will get you started and help you continue. Start with any question, even the simple "Where do I get more information?"

3. Write without censoring yourself. Pay no attention to whether the writing is good. Just let the words and ideas flow. Writing and marketing expert Ann Handley calls this step "Show up and throw up" in her book Everybody Writes: Your Go-to Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content. After you have something to work with on the screen or legal pad, choose your "keepers" and build from them.

4. Ask yourself the question "Why am I stuck?" Focus on writing the answer to that question; then transition to the real writing when you have a clear answer. I myself do not use this approach, but other people insist that it works beautifully for them.

5. Strive for completion–not perfection. Your goal is to get out of the burning building fast, not to salvage every idea in pristine condition. Do not stop to polish each sentence. Reworking while you write takes too long. Besides that, you will often end up cutting the sentences you spent the most time on.

6. Review pieces of your past writing that make you feel proud.This look at good writing will build your confidence and may give you specific ideas about formats and approaches that work. (If the people who report to you are stuck in their writing projects, give them examples of their best work, and remind them of what they do well.)

7. Talk with people about what you are working on. Do not wait until you're done to tell about your struggles. The screen and page are blank now. Get help. Throw out a question and reel in the answers. Then see if those answers and suggestions move you to the next step.

8. Take a break that includes a change of scenery, or shift to another activity. This break doesn't need to focus on the coffee pot or snack machine. Check your to-do list to find something else you need to do. Maybe you need to approve art for a webpage. Maybe you have to return a borrowed book to your mentor. How about a quick walk around the block or the building? A registration for an upcoming workshop? A timely New York Times article to read? Just change what you are doing, even briefly.

9. Compare your writing project with something completely different, and think about how you would handle it. For instance, how would you move forward if the document were a fancy dinner you were going to prepare? A jigsaw puzzle you were just dumping out of the box? A garden you need to weed? A mountain peak you intend to scale? The ways you would approach those tasks may give you hints about what to do now.

10. Allow yourself to be awestruck. Look at something beautiful, for example, Diane Varner's exquisite Daily Walks photos. Or listen to music that makes you feel yourself flying or skating or dancing. Engaging other parts of your brain with things of beauty and awe–even for a few moments–can loosen the stuck places in your thinking.

Bonus Tip. Although this tip doesn't work at the last minute, it helps with writer's block:

Start early. If your piece is due on Friday, start thinking about it the previous Friday. Come up with a topic, and then let your subconscious work on it over the weekend. You are likely to notice metaphors, examples, quotations, and other gems that will help you when it's time to write. 

Please share your tips for breaking through writer's block. 

Lynn
Syntax Training

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Tired of change? That’s a thing.

Change fatigue poses a real risk of scuppering the success of any change initiative. A recent CEB Risk Management Blog post, Keeping an Eye on Employee ‘Change Fatigue’, spelled it out: Change fatigue has emerged as a top risk for 2017.

And prior research has shown that change fatigue is why the majority of transformations fail to deliver on their promises.

So what is this thing we call change fatigue? It’s that employee feeling of apathy and resignation. Maybe you’ve heard it when an employee says, “Whatever” or “Meh”– or seen it when an employee gives an eye roll. The impact is pretty serious, as in lower productivity, poorer customer service, higher expenses. The list goes on.

I like the CEB post because it sees internal communications well positioned to combat change fatigue. It also makes concrete suggestions to foster employee engagement and empowerment.

But the one thing that the post forgets to mention is listening.

Listening is so basic–I guess it’s easy to overlook. Yet, during a period of change, all the lovely live events, sparkly social media outlets, hip hashtags and badass branding are nothing compared to leaders listening to employees.

I’ve written about the listening topic before. And it’s worthwhile revisiting it again because it’s such a powerful practice. We all get dazzled by YamJams and unconferences and business strategy-themed scavenger hunts! Activities like these are fun and have their place. But they’re check-the-box exercises if don’t include real moments of connection between leaders and employees. Without listening, you’ll be back to “whatevers” and eye rolls.

As the internal communications pro, look for ways to work listening into your company’s change initiative. Ensure that you have real moments of give-and-take between your leaders and employees. You’ll be managing a critical risk and making an invaluable contribution to your company’s change program success.

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Consistency is…well, you know

Recently, I was talking with an acquaintance about her social media presence. She’s on LinkedIn, has a Twitter handle, and is launching a Facebook business page for her brand new small business. She was chomping at the bit to start posting. Her fingers were itching to tweet. And her voice was breathless with anticipation as she spoke about her first Facebook Live event.

“I’ve been doing social for years,” she assured me. “I’m comfortable.”

The clue was right there. She’d been “doing social for years.” In fact, a quick look at her profiles affirmed it. And what she called “comfortable” was actually the potential stumbling block to the success of her new venture.

You see, she had set up her profile in LinkedIn a long time ago and hadn’t refreshed it since then. Why does that matter? Her profile wasn’t positioned to support her new venture. What’s more, her Twitter account was personal, and her handle didn’t complement her LinkedIn profile or her new business. And, while her Facebook page was the most up-to-date and focused of her social elements, its power would have been diluted by the drag of her irrelevant LinkedIn and Twitter accounts.

She had comfort, all right, but no plan.

What a shame! Because she doesn’t have to shoot herself in the foot. She can do a little planning and implement a consistent brand across her social platforms.

What I’m saying isn’t new. I happen to like this article–a quick read and to the point:

How to Keep Your Branding Consistent Across Social Media Platforms

Whatever brand you’re deploying–employment brand or small business brand–be sure to consider your approach across all your platforms. Because consistency is key.

 

 

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Keep Up the Networking

networkingI love it. We’re on the brink of summer.

For most of us, getting here has involved a big push of content–meetings, events, announcements, web pages–all before we end the second quarter. Yet, it was well worth it. Because this is just the time of year when business communications pros can ease back the throttle and enjoy the calm that comes after hectic activity.

Whoa there! Not too calm, I hope. Remember, summer is a great time to continue networking.

Networking is so important, no matter where you are in your career. I mean it! Intern? You want to network to better understand the working world, test new ideas of yourself and your career, and establish a foundation of professional connections. Mid-career? You want to navigate to your next great adventure, and grow your strengths and capabilities. Thinking about retirement? You want to link up with enriching connections who will support you as you reinvent yourself in a new context.

But the thing is…it’s summer! And with summer distractions–the kids, the dog, the beach, the softball game–and hours, it’s challenging to schedule a lunch, after-work drink, or attend an event. It’s takes planning and effort.

You got that right. It does take planning and effort. So, roll up your sleeves and schedule your next networking activity. It doesn’t have to be hard. Got a project you’re working on? Grab coffee with one of your teammates. Visiting the cafeteria? Join the table of someone you don’t know very well and learn about the work that they do.

Networking for your continuing professional growth has got to be systematic, if it’s going to be effective. This means you need to keep it up even during the summer.

 

 

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Get the Foundation Right

Recently, I’ve been busy working on different writing and editing efforts. For example, I’ve prepared a video script here, an electronic postcard there, and I’m looking ahead to a brochure–you get the idea.

As a writer, I find it an interesting challenge to address each of these outlets and prepare content that is relevant to the format. In other words, how I approach a two-minute video script is very different from how I approach a four-panel printed brochure.

At this point, you might say, duh.

But I had this blinding flash about my work, and while you’re thinking I should probably get out more, I wanted to share it with you. My work in any of these channels is only as good as the communication foundational elements that underpin them. If I get the foundational elements right, then I can produce better work in any outlet.

This was brought home to me when I reviewed one of my recent efforts.

I’ll paint you the picture.

Speed was of the essence. We had to distribute an email announcement to a group of employees by a certain date. We had a sense of what our themes should be because we were working on our communication strategy and message house. But we hadn’t distilled our thinking into tight, crisp messages yet.

So what happened? We got the email out on time, but the content was, well, messy. The messages meandered. There was copy flab that distracted from what we were trying to say.  Yes, we accomplished what we needed to yet I felt I could have done a better writing job.

But that’s not the ending. You see, we continued to work on the strategy and message house. And my next writing effort–a multi-page document–reflected the refined messages. The result was on target, I’m happy to say. Much clearer and more invigorating copy. And it gets better because as I look ahead I could work on posters, web pages, or speeches.  And whatever channel the work leads me to, I’m well equipped with my communication foundational elements to do my best efforts.

Tweet this! Get your foundation right, #InternalComms pros! Tweet: Get your foundation right, #InternalComms pros. https://ctt.ec/Y9ff7+

My advice? Get your foundation right. Prepare your strategy and key messages, and you’ll find yourself rendering higher-quality work in every channel and outlet.

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Call to Action: For the Future

I always get excited when people say, “The future is here, now.”

My mind overflows with images of throwing off old shabby coats and well-worn hats and scarves, to reveal bright colors and airy fabrics that reflect the glorious sunshine, which, by the way, is what I’m looking at outside my window as I write this post.

Okay. So maybe “The future is here, now” is a pretty common phrase. I’ve heard it many times. Maybe you have, too? Yet it never fails to work its magic on me.

But, if I’m so excited about hearing the phrase, can you imagine how excited I feel when I’m actually witnessing the future?

That is, can you guess how I feel when I work with young people who are coming up in the advertising/public relations/marketing and communications fields? I am exhilarated! I get to see their new ways of doing things and their fresh approaches. And I feel the radiated glow of their energy and commitment.

Last month I had the great good fortune to be a part of a student development event at a local college, and since then I’ve been doing some one-on-one mentoring with another young person who is embarking on a communications-as-a-profession journey.

I’m so grateful for these opportunities. And while I hope that I’ve contributed something to the young people in these cases, I have to admit, selfishly, that I’ve gotten so much more out of them for myself. Novel ideas. Radical perspectives. Re-commitment to values. Renewed energy. Oh, and a lot of laughs.

So, here’s my call to action to you, communications professional: Reach out to your local college, high school, library, community center, or the professional association to which you belong, and find a way to contribute to the up-and-coming generation by sharing your expertise and know how. Maybe you can provide writing help. Maybe you can share your hard-won career wisdom. Maybe you have technical wizardry to dole out. Whatever your communications experience or specialty, there are young people who are the communicators-of-the-future who will benefit from your acumen and skills.

You’ll be so glad you did because the future will be here, now, before you know it.

 

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Bill Murray on Art & Life

Embed from Getty Images

 

Bill Murray is a wonderful storyteller. A couple of years ago, I linked to this wonderful interview with Bill Murray by Howard Stern. In this radio interview, Murray said the key to being funny was being able to tell stories. How, then, does one become a good storyteller, Stern asked. “Is it something you are born with?” Murray’s reply:

“No, I don’t think you’re born with it. You have to hear stories and you have to live stories. You have to have a bunch of experiences and be able to say ‘Here’s something that happened to me yesterday….’ And if you can make people laugh by telling them what happened to you, then you are telling the story well. So that’s what I learned in improv….”

People often ask great storytellers—writers, producers, directors, authors, etc.—where they come up with their stories. They inevitably say something like “write/tell what you know.” In other words, write (or speak) from your own life experiences. This is why I always say you have to live a life to tell a life. I believe this is what Murray is saying above when he says it’s important to have a “bunch of experiences” from which to draw. The experiences—good and bad (but especially bad)—are like a persona library of history and insights for the storyteller.

The video above is a nice example of a simple, short story that Murray tells, seemingly impromptu, to a question from the press during a panel interview for the film The Monuments Men. Most people may think nothing of this tale from his life, but it’s a great example of the everyday kind of real-life memory from one’s past which holds a lesson or a gem of wisdom. His recollection is a kind of “man-in-hole” story. Right from the beginning, we hear of a traumatic failing that sends Murray out onto the streets of Chicago for a long walk. He’s at his lowest, and things look like they will get worse. He continues to walk, not feeling especially hopeful, until he stumbles upon the Art Institute of Chicago. There, expecting nothing, he is moved by a piece of art. His day went from one of his worst to one with hope and a new perspective, in part because of being exposed to The Song of The Lark, an 1884 painting by Jules Adolphe Breton.

Bill-Murray-quote.003


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Got Communicator Brand?

During the past couple of months, I’ve met or refreshed contact with several interesting communication professionals. What makes them so very interesting (and admirable) is that they all offered different attributes and skills in the field of organizational communications. What’s even more impressive is that they presented themselves in a way that was crystal clear. I mean it was really easy to “get” what each one offered that was special. In other words, each one had brand.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot because we hear about personal or professional branding in the context of job search and networking. And while those are the times during a career when personal/professional branding is essential, job search and networking were not the settings where I met these talented people.

So, I had to reflect on what makes them so successful at conveying their unique offerings, and I realized they are living their brands every day.

How do they do that? How do they enable the people they come into contact with to easily grasp who they are and what they have to offer?

I think it begins with self-awareness. I think that either naturally or intentionally, these people have stepped outside themselves. Perhaps they’ve worked with coaches or in workshops or conducted self-examinations. They’ve inventoried their experiences and skills and cultivated a deep understanding of their abilities and interests. They’ve assessed what motivates and inspires them, and what doesn’t. And they’ve considered those things they’re not so good at. Finally, and this might be most important and most fearless, they’ve accepted their whole selves. That doesn’t mean they’re not developing areas where they want to be stronger, but it does mean they understand themselves and they’re not trying to be someone else. They’re being authentic.

Wow. That’s powerful.

There’s nothing new about self-awareness and self-acceptance, of course. (How many books and articles have you read?) Yet it’s often forgotten when the pressure is on. In those moments where we’re squeezed from the outside to do this or deliver that, go here or go there, we may find ourselves blowing up smoke and fog, which causes others to struggle to see us, which leads to relationships of confusion. In those moments, if we could sharply focus on our one-of-a-kind offerings, others would see us with clarity, which would lead to relationships of trust and confidence.

The process to gain that professional clarity requires hard work, tenacity, and courage. And it needs to be regularly refreshed. Yet defining and honing your personal/professional brand is so worth it!

All this to say, I’m going to commit myself to work on my communicator brand. What are you going to do about your communicator brand?

 

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National Grammar Day: March 4, 2017

Joy! Rapture! It’s almost here!

National Grammar Day.

Yes, here in the U.S. we’ve got a day for grammar. It means a lot to me because, truth be told, I’m a grammar prodigal. There was a time when I spent a good part of my day turning my nose up at grammar rules and eschewing commonly-accepted usage.

Needless to say, at that time I wasn’t earning my living using my writing skills.

But I have seen the error of my ways. Today I am in grammar recovery and that’s why I want to celebrate by sharing some grammar sites that I’ve found helpful:

  • LinkedIn Learning: From Fundamentals to Syntax, there are courses and videos for beginner, intermediate and advanced levels.
  • Grammarly: Downloadable apps that help you monitor your grammar as you write. Tame those chronic commas and dastardly dashes in the moment!
  • Grammar Girl: Quick and Dirty Tips: Rich resource of information for grammar, usage and word play. Fun!
  • Class Central–Grammar & Writing: A long list of free, online courses on writing, grammar and related topics. Coursera is the most popular source but there are offerings from edX, FutureLearn, and others.
  • Harvard College Writing Center: Quick reads with good advice about checking your writing for common grammar and punctuation mistakes.
  • Poynter: The learning section of Poynter offers great advice for better writing–and  tips on good grammar are regularly featured.
  • Daily Grammar: While it’s targeted to teachers and school-aged children, there are many  lessons that are presented in a way that’s visual. If you’re struggling to recall the basics, you just might find this site does the trick for you.
  • Business Writing: This blog is dedicated to business writers. Succinct posts typically refresh you on the parts of speech, usage, and syntax.

I’d love to hear how you are going to celebrate National Grammar Day! Leave me a comment.

 

 

 

 

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