Who is your audience?

Audience analysis
The speaker-audience connection.

My friend, fellow communicator and screenwriter Jim Ramsbottom recently asked me to share some insights on public speaking and audience analysis as a guest on his podcast. Check out our conversation.

Listen to the interview.

Thank you, Jim!

 

Human error and Cold War memories

pbs-doc-recounts-the-nuclear-accident-that-nearly-destroyed-arkansasCommand and Control is the long-hidden story of a deadly 1980 accident at a Titan II missile complex in Damascus, Arkansas. Portions of the film were shot in an abandoned Titan II missile silo in Arizona. [Photo: courtesy of WGBH, PBS]

In 1980 in Damascus, Arkansas a Titan II missile complex exploded as a result of human error nearly detonating the missile’s nuclear warhead, a weapon 600 times more potent than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. I recently watched a documentary about this event that brought back some childhood memories and changed my thoughts on “human error.” Check your local PBS listings for this Command and Control documentary on American Experience.

My connection to this story: as an Air Force brat, my Dad was in the 390th Missile Maintenance Squadron at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base when we lived in Tucson, Arizona in the late 60s. There were several Titan II missile sites in southern Arizona. The Strategic Air Command’s 390th Strategic Missile Wing and its 18 Titan II ICBM sites around Tucson were activated in 1962; the squadron was deactivated in 1984. Following this duty assignment my father went to Vietnam, and upon his return, we moved to Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas where I entered high school as a sophomore.

The Damascus incident recounted in this documentary focuses on human error in a compelling way. Think about it – machine “errors” happen every day for most of us, big and small. Your coffee pot stops working unexpectedly on the day when you really needed that caffeine. On your drive to work, you run over a nail and your tire goes flat. Your newly installed computer software doesn’t work as promised.

Now consider nuclear weapons.

The thing is, nuclear weapons are just machines. And like all machines, sometimes they break, and sometimes, there’s user error. When the system that controls these civilization-ending weapons isn’t prepared for the inevitable technological and human screw ups, then we’re in real trouble.

According to American Experience Producer Mark Samels:

As safe, secure, well-designed, and well-operated as our nuclear weapons system may be, it’s subject to the X-factor—human fallibility. The most powerful weapons that we’ve ever created have a threat built into them. And that threat is us.

On another serendipitous note, in high school, I participated in local and state debate and individual events tournaments including oratory. This event required students develop a self-written, ten-minute speech on a topic of their choosing, informative or persuasive in nature, delivered from memory.

My presentation focused on the atomic bombing of Hiroshima during the final stage of World War II. I criticized our country’s decision to drop the bomb describing the utter devastation and loss of life and suggested that surely there were other options to bring the war to an end. Admittedly, remembering the point of view I asserted was naive in many ways, but seeing the pictures of injured children and reading about the loss of life was unforgettable even today. Something else I remember – my parents knew about my topic choice, yet neither tried to dissuade me from developing this presentation. Even my Air Force Dad.

How to make – and keep – New Year’s resolutions

happy-new-year-business

Did you make any New Year’s resolutions?

If you’re like me, these are the “things I said I would do,” including my goals, desired accomplishments, behavior changes, and so on. Contemplating the bold new world of 2017 deserves some focused thought leading to action, right?

The challenge is the “leading to action” part. Wishful thinking and “desired” results will take us just so far.

What’s on your resolutions list for 2017? How do you plan to turn your intentions into reality? Are your commitments realistic and achievable, and what will you need to do to make them happen?

By the end of 2017, if we look at our list of unfulfilled resolutions, we’ll probably move them into the “items to trash” bucket. We might resurrect them for the “new” new year. Time marches on.

Perhaps we should create a smaller list of “to-dos.” Let’s identify the key ideas worthy of our attention. Things we can and should do – and actions that will make a difference to others.

At the top of my list is blogging more. I will continue to share insights with followers on ways to become a more confident, effective speaker, and offer some best practice tips for writing.

Stay tuned and welcome to 2017!

 

About 2017

new-year-hope

How to spot “fake news” on social media

Although the topic isn’t new, the recent election has recharged the discussion on “fake news” in social media.
fake-news-in-your-newsfeed

 
What is fake news?

It’s information or data appearing on various social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter or other social sites – that readers often accept as real. Sadly, it isn’t necessarily true or factual.


What makes this “news” incredibly troubling (other than the fact it’s “fake”) is that a majority of U.S. adults – 62% – get their news on social media, and 18% do so often, according to a survey by Pew Research Center.

Now consider students. As a former college professor teaching public speaking, I explained why key points and messaging in presentations required  – no, demanded – the use of evidence. Objective data and facts from reliable sources. We covered how to source that information. Yet effectively evaluating source and site credibility was an issue for many student researchers.

In a Stanford Graduate School of Education study cited in an NPR article:

Many assume that because young people are fluent in social media they are equally savvy about what they find there, the researchers wrote. Our work shows the opposite.

Gone are the days of “depending” on others to vet sources, according to Stanford researcher Sam Wineberg, a professor in the Stanford University Graduate School of Education cited in the NPR news story.

The kinds of duties that used to be the responsibility of editors, of librarians now fall on the shoulders of anyone who uses a screen to become informed about the world. And so the response is not to take away these rights from ordinary citizens but to teach them how to thoughtfully engage in information seeking and evaluating in a cacophonous democracy.

We can do better. And we must.

College grads, employers want these skills

COMMUNICATION 3

A recent article in Forbes discussed the skills bosses say new college grads don’t have. Writing proficiency and public speaking skills were among the top “hard skills” graduates lacked, according to a survey conducted by PayScale, an online benefits and compensation information company.

Sadly, I wasn’t surprised.

My experience as a marketing director in the corporate world – reviewing job applications and interviewing recent college graduates for entry-level marketing and public relations opportunities – was eye-opening, even years ago. Many emails, resumes and cover letters had typos, incomplete sentences and other grammar errors. And even when a job candidate was selected to come in for an interview (based on their resume, job app, and phone screen), their basic communication skills could be disappointing. (Yes, I know it can be really stressful as an interviewee – I’ve been there, too – but you’ve got to be prepared to handle an interviewer’s questions with confidence.)

Whether you’re a recent college graduate looking for a challenging job, an employee seeking advancement opportunities within your company, or a career changer, additional training or instruction may be needed to enhance your communication skills. For current employees, many organizations offer education/training programs for skills development or continuing education. Take advantage of these opportunities.

Read the Forbes article

 

We’re here. Policymakers, wake up.

Freelancers

Fascinating article on freelancers from Fast Company. It’s time for the federal government to take notice of the fact that the workforce is changing.

Pay attention to freelancers

“Work” redefined: making a living has changed

WORK ISN'T WORK ANYMORE-As a baby boomer and the daughter of an Air Force veteran, early on I imagined I would find a job and stay in that job until I retired. It’s what everyone did, right?

Times have changed. Jobs have changed. Employers have changed. Where, when and how we “work” is very different than my father’s experience. He doesn’t understand why I don’t have a full-time job. (I’m a marketing communications contractor.)

Ross Perlin’s article in Fast Company offers a succinct summary of this shift – and explains how work is increasingly everywhere and nowhere.

Speaking and eye contact. Does it matter?

Writers write to communicate. Speakers speak for the same reason. So doesn’t it make sense that an article or blog post could be “converted” into a speech, word for word?

the eye

The short answer is no. Reading a manuscript doesn’t make it a speech (at least not a very good one). So why do so many speakers “read” their speeches? Laziness? Lack of preparation? Fear? The presenter just doesn’t know any better? As an audience member, I may not know why the speaker is reading, but chances are I’ll be tuning out shortly. An effective presentation engages listeners, and eye contact is one of the best ways to do that. Here are some top-of-mind tips to enhance eye contact.

  • Prepare and practice. Develop a clear statement of purpose and organize your main points. Use note cards, not sheets of paper. Rehearse your presentation out loud — more than once. Look up, not down.
  • During your presentation, scan the room. Don’t focus on a single audience member, or zero in on a spot above their heads at the back of the room. (Student speakers have told me this “looking-over-their-heads” advice was given to them — I disagree).
  • If you’re using visual aids such as PowerPoint, don’t turn your back to listeners and read from your slides. It’s okay to glance at your visual, or even turn sideways, but reorient yourself to face the audience.

Tune in later for more on how to improve your speaking skills and confidence.

How to create compelling content

Levi reads

I’m a writer and speaker always on the lookout for great ideas to improve my skills. Today was a splendid day for inspiration.

I read an awesome blog post from Sonia Simone, co-founder and chief content officer of Copyblogger Media, “What to Look for in a Professional Content Writer.” She clearly distilled the most important characteristics of a content professional, suggesting an organization should search for a writer with the creativity, insights and confidence to drive business.

Look for a writer whose work is interesting, funny, smart, perceptive, and convincing. Look for someone whose writing you just like to read.

Some have it and some don’t. Insist on hiring the one who does.

Also, a savvy content specialist must be able to connect with various audiences, tailoring copy strategically to grab attention and keep it. One size doesn’t fit all.

This post – all of it – is well worth reading.

Thanks, Sonia. Thank you, Copyblogger. I love writing and learning.