Reading time: Less than 2 minutes
If your company or group has something to announce — especially if it might be considered negative — you need to do some planning first. Here’s how to make a big announcement…
Planning an announcement is a little bit like launching a book or a new product. Details matter! Here are five questions you should be able to answer:
1. Who is your media spokesperson? It’s a good idea to identify ONE person and make him or her the only person who speaks on behalf of the company on this issue. This is important because it ensures your messages are consistent and it allows you to train just one person. But here’s the thing that many companies forget: they don’t tell their own organization who this spokesperson is. In particular, ensure that anyone who answers the phone knows the name of this person and how to reach him or her quickly (ideally by cellphone.)
2. What are your key messages? No matter how big the issue, you should be able to boil it down to three key messages. These messages should address most of the serious questions that the general public will have about your issue (so spend some time crafting them.) I will write more about key messages next week.
3. What is the timing of your announcement? If you have bad news, Friday afternoons are a good time to announce. (Fewer people watch TV news on the weekends and most daily newspapers have their weekend editions wrapped up early.) If you have good news, you want to try for a Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday morning. Do it in time to catch the noon news.
4. What supporting materials are you going to make available? Think about press releases, biographies, backgrounders, web materials (including FAQs) and photographs. Consider hiring a professional proofreader to review the material before you release it. You don’t want any mistakes.
5. When are you going to tell your employees? Many companies fixate on the media and forget about the need to inform their own employees. When I worked in the newspaper business, the company usually made its announcements at 6:30 am which meant that most employees heard the news about themselves on the radio on their way in to work. No employees (especially not media employees) like to be informed this way. Frequently — perhaps for legal reasons — you can’t avoid the problem but be sure to consider it and see if you can come up with a creative solution.
Yes, making a big announcement can be stressful, but you can minimize the stress with careful planning.
Photo courtesy FreeDigitalPhotos.net
No Responses/Posted March 7th, 2014 in Gray-Grant Communications
Reading time: About 2 minutes
I like to share interesting pieces of figurative language I encounter in my reading. I write today about a series of similes from Canadian writer Ian Brown.
I don’t know Ian Brown personally. But I feel as if I do, from reading his writing. A journalist for the Globe and Mail newspaper and the author of four books, Brown (pictured adjacent) is also the father of a severely disabled child.
This child — named Walker — is the subject of Brown’s achingly beautiful memoir, The Boy in the Moon.
When I read the book, I used an army of stickies to mark the figurative language (mostly similes). By the time I reached the end, it appeared as though the colourful soldiers had exploded along the edge of the book. Here are my favourites:
Sometimes watching Walker is like looking at the moon: you see the face of the man in the moon, yet you know there’s actually no man there.
Raising Walker was like raising a question mark.
She did laundry the way pilgrims perform religious rituals, precisely and at least twice a day.
He was cranky and upset, rasping his fingers at the site of his G-tube as if it were an open-pit mine.
Like most kids, he had diaper rash—but because it was Walker, my compromised son, it was the Chernobyl of diaper blights, requiring a day in hospital.
The default noise level, for starters, is usually half a dozen children crying at once, each in a different key and scale. Rossini would have made an opera from it.
It was a little like trying to explain the plumbing of a large complicated house in five minutes before you flew out the door.
Gratitude springs out of me like crabgrass out of a lawn, riots of it.
The evidence of Walker’s demanding presence never changes, the household stigmata of a disabled kid: the mangled window blinds, in whose jalousies he plays his fingers for minutes on end; the endless piles of laundry that self-propagate like jungle plants; his toothbrush in the kitchen drawer; the avalanche of potions and lotions and syringes and bottles held back by a cupboard door; all of it.
He looked like a more urbane, less afflicted version of Walker — curly hair and glasses, but slimmer and taller, CFC’s Noel Coward.
The geneticists themselves bore the slightly startled air of soldiers who had just emerged from the deep jungle, only to be told that the war they had been fighting had been over for twenty years.
This was a new way of understanding Walker— instead of broken, he was simply slightly flawed, like a discounted but perfectly wearable pair of shoes at an outlet mall.
She was pinned on her wheelchair like a lepidopterist’s specimen, but like a butterfly she was never ungraceful.
It may seem overwhelming to read all at this figurative language at once but note that it never feels overwhelming in the book, where it acts like a series of carefully crafted grace notes, adding depth, interest and feeling.
No Responses/Posted March 6th, 2014 in Figurative language
Reading time: About 1.5 minutes
Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: desultory.
Whenever I read I like to record words that either tickle my fancy or that I don’t yet know on a first-name basis. (I use the notes section in my iPhone for this. This is because it’s usually close at hand and because it keeps the notes together in one place.) Desultory is one of those words. I’ve recorded it dozens of times over the years and yet I’ve never been able to retain its meaning.
I encountered it most recently in the fine novel Look at Me by Jennifer Egan. Here is the sentence in which it appeared:
And yet the boredom and stasis of my present circumstances were driving me to retrospect in the desultory way that a person cooped up in an old house will eventually make her way to the attic and upend a few boxes.
Perhaps it’s the multitude of definitions that has outfoxed me. ( I find if I can’t create a picture in my mind’s eye then my memory just won’t cooperate!) Desultory means:
1. Something marked by lack of definite plan, regularity, or purpose
2. Something done without serious effort.
3. Something not connected with the main subject
3. Something that is disappointing in progress, performance, or quality — as in a desultory fifth place finish.
I often find that learning the etymology of a word helps me to remember its meaning. The adjective dates back to the 1580s and comes from the Latin desultorius meaning “hasty, casual, superficial.” This word, in turn, comes from the noun desultor referring to a rider in the circus who jumps from one horse to another while they are in gallop.
Surely the image of a circus rider on a horse will give me enough of a visual image to jog my memory about the meaning of desultory in future.
2 Responses/Posted March 5th, 2014 in Word of the week
Reading time: About 3 minutes
Here’s my advice: don’t plan to write when you go on holiday. Instead, take a break….
My husband and I had been out for dinner. I awoke at 4:30 the next morning feeling vaguely “off.” After tossing and turning for half an hour, I decided to get up and work. The next thing I knew, I was in the bathroom vomiting.
I dislike nausea with an intensity that’s completely out of proportion to the pain it causes me. I’ve upchucked fewer than 10 times in my life (and this includes when I was pregnant with triplets.) But two of those times occurred in the incident described above, two weeks ago.
I had food poisoning.
And here’s what made it even worse: we were just about to go to Palm Springs, on holiday. So, instead of performing my patented “get-everything-done-before-leaving-town” manoeuvre, I spent the next day in bed. I was groggy, dozing and trying hard not to throw up again.
Could things possibly get worse? Indeed they could. Thanks to a storm, we lost our power at 5 pm so I packed my suitcase by the light of a battery-powered headlamp. Sick, tired and unable to listen to the radio, I went to bed at 8 pm and woke at 11 pm when the power finally came back on. I said hello/goodbye to our adult kids, and rallied myself to get up and work on essentials for an hour before crawling back into bed.
We left for the airport at 6:15 am.
I had planned to work on my book while away. It would only take 30 minutes a day, I figured, and I would be relaxed and wouldn’t feel the pressure of my regular job. I enjoy writing and figured it would be a welcome, pleasurable break — that would serve to throw the larger break of the holiday into even greater relief.
That, at least, was the plan. But I was too sick for it. Our February holiday usually consists of hiking in the canyons and lying by a pool, reading. This time, I could barely read. My writing ambitions dissolved like salt in warm water.
Worse, in addition to feeling bad about not meeting my commitment to myself, I also felt awful about not meeting my commitment to the group of people writing a book with me. As a way of ensuring that we get our work done, we post our writing achievements daily. This kind of external accountability is excellent way to ensure performance. It can’t overcome food poisoning, however.
But now that I’ve recovered and had a 10-day break from all my work, I’m seeing things in a new light.
- I have more energy. Instead of feeling tired and worn down, I again feel energetic and enthusiastic.
- I have better ideas than I had before leaving. My creative brain works more effectively when it’s had the chance to sleep in, view different scenery and feel the blankness of the bright cerulean blue desert sky.
- I have longer days now — not in the negative sense of days that just won’t end because of the crushing volume of work required — but in the positive sense of days that stretch out with seemingly endless possibilities.
Funnily enough, while I was away, a student from my Extreme Writing Makeover course sent me an email. “Question about writing five days a week,” she wrote. “Why not write seven?”
Here was my reply: “The main reason is that you don’t want to burn yourself out. If you take some time off each week, you’ll be renewed rather than spent. This will allow you to maintain the writing habit. Slow and steady wins the race.”
The same thing is true about vacations. Make sure you take enough time to truly renew yourself.
How do breaks help YOUR writing? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in my blog (just scroll to the end for the “comments” section.) And, congratulations to Lori, the winner of my book prize, A Case of Exploding Mangoes for her comment on my Feb. 11 post. Your book will go into the mail as soon as you email me your street address, Lori. Anyone who comments on today’s blog post (or any others in March) by March 31/14 will be put in a draw for a copy of the very funny novel Mount Pleasant by Don Gillmor.
13 Responses/Posted March 4th, 2014 in Power Writing
Reading time: About 1.5 minutes
This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss a piece of software — designed to help you write like Hemingway — available free on the Internet…..
I’ve never been a huge Ernest Hemingway fan. I found the book about his first marriage, The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain, more interesting than anything he wrote himself.
That said, I deeply admire his writing principles: short sentences, short words, active voice, few adjectives. Thus, I was delighted when one of my readers, Mohan Arun, wrote to tell me about a new free app called, Hemingway.
I gave it a test drive this morning and I can tell you it’s a winner. Simply go the app, paste in a piece of your writing and hit the “edit” button (top right.). It will give you a grade ranking (I hit grade 7, which made me happy.) Then, see how it neatly highlights anything it regards as a problem. I especially liked the way the app uses different colours. Hard-to-read sentences are marked in yellow. (I had two of those, which I fixed immediately.) Very hard-to-read sentences are marked in red. (I had three — note my use of the past tense.)
Adverbs are marked in blue. Astonishingly, I had six of them although after review, I decided to keep them all. (That’s one of the great things about the software. You’re free to disregard anything you don’t agree with.) Complex words or phrases are marked in purple (I had two, which I edited.) And passive voice is green. (I had one, which I changed.)
The Hemingway app is similar to readability statistics but it’s better in that it also gives you more specific feedback. I suggest you give it a try.
No Responses/Posted March 3rd, 2014 in Writing about writing
Reading time: About 1.5 minutes
Personal pronouns can be tricky. Here’s a primer on when to use I and when to use me.
As I write this post I am eagerly anticipating National Grammar Day, March 4, 2014. Yes, I realize this is a US holiday, but there’s no good reason why Canadians shouldn’t mark the day as well. My contribution to festivities? A column on whether you should use “I” or “me.”
The personal pronouns I and me are often used incorrectly, frequently by senior executives. (Well, frequently by just about everyone, but it stands out more with senior executives because we all expect them to be smarter.)
Here are some tips to help save you from embarrassing yourself:
- Use I when it is the subject of a verb. (A subject is the person who or thing that performs the verb.)
I went for a walk.
I want a bonus payment.
James and I are going for a walk.
In the last example, the words James and I, form the subject of the sentence, so you need to use I rather than me.
- Use me when it is the object of a verb or preposition. (An object is a person or thing affected by the verb.)
Madison helped me finish the report.
The IT department helped me close the sale.
The CEO toured the plant with the VPs and me.
The words the VPs and me form the object of the last sentence, so you need to use me rather than I.
Most people don’t make mistakes with the simpler constructions but they get into difficulty when more than one person is involved in either the subject or object. Here is a quick and dirty fix that will help you. Simply remove the other person and then try both I and me to see which is correct:
WRONG: Me is going for a walk.
RIGHT: I am going for a walk.
Thus, you should say: James and I are going for a walk.
WRONG: The CEO toured the plant with I.
RIGHT: The CEO toured the plant with me.
Thus, you should say: The CEO toured the plant with the VPs and me.
I know this sort of double-checking sounds like a nuisance but it takes only a few seconds. And you can forever save yourself from a bad impression you might otherwise create.
3 Responses/Posted February 28th, 2014 in Gray-Grant Communications
Reading time: Less than 1 minute
I like to share interesting pieces of figurative language I encounter in my reading. I write today about a metaphor from poet and novelist Jane Urquhart.
I admire the writing of Jane Urquhart, even though I don’t like it very much. I’ve read three of her novels — The Underpainter, The Stone Carvers and, more recently, Sanctuary Line. The writing is a bit too mannered for me, and too cold, although I see much to recommend it.
Sanctuary Line is set on a farm on the shores of Lake Erie, Ontario, revealing events in the lives of the members of one family, including a young woman who dies during a tour of duty in Afghanistan.
Urquhart, who is also a poet, has an ear for metaphor. Here is one from the book that I liked, in particular:
How frail life is. We mow a meadow and kill a thousand butterflies.
The image — a sort of elegant corollary to “if you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen ” — works perfectly for Sanctuary Line because the main character is an entomologist who spends her life studying butterflies. I also like the alliteration of mowing a meadow.
No Responses/Posted February 27th, 2014 in Figurative language
Reading time: About 1 minute
Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: turgid.
I have a daughter with a genetic disorder. She’s done really well, but the nature of her condition (neuro-fibrom-atosis) means that something can go wildly wrong at any time. It makes me wary.
It also makes me interested in other kids (and their parents) who have to deal with the genetic lottery. One such parent is Ian Brown, a reporter with the Globe and Mail. His son’s fate is far more complex and serious than my daughter’s. The boy has cardiofaciocutaneous syndrome (CFC), a so-called “orphan syndrome” (because it’s so rare) affecting no more than 300 people world-wide.
The symptoms are brutal. Walker (the child) has an unusual facial appearance, no ability to speak, and a compulsion to punch himself in the face. He’s thought to have the mental capabilities of a three-year-old.
But he’s lucky to have Ian Brown for a dad. Brown and his wife (also a journalist) raised him for the first eight years of his life. Then they found a group home for him with full-time staff.
Their story is told in loving detail in the heart-wrenching book The Boy in the Moon. You don’t need to have a child with a genetic disorder to be moved by this account. I’ll write another day about the plethora of figurative language contained in the text. Today, I simply want to focus on a single word, turgid. Here’s how Brown used it.
At home, what had begun as a normal concern for a preemie baby had mutated into a twenty-four-hour state of turgid alarm.
The word means “swollen” or “distended” and is often used to describe rivers, engorged by flood waters. The adjective dates back to 1610s, from the Latin turgidus, meaning ”swollen, inflated.” I like the way Brown uses it — unusually — to describe an emotional state.
No Responses/Posted February 26th, 2014 in Word of the week
Reading time: About 3 minutes
We all let our writing productivity wane from time to time. Perhaps we’re frightened. Or tired. Or overwhelmed. Don’t let this happen to you!
Is your writing as productive as it needs to be? Here’s a checklist that will help you figure that out…
- Do the most important job first. I’m a strong believer in writing first thing in the morning. You don’t have to get up at 5:30 or 6 am, like I do, but try to write before you do anything else, even everyday stuff like eating and having a shower. The critical brain seems to be slower to wake up in the morning, meaning that you’ll find it easier to write without your internal editor giving you a bad time.
- Work with a timer clicking in the background. I’m a big believer in the pomodoro. This means working on anything, but especially writing, for 30 minute blocks of time during which you refuse to do anything except the work you’ve identified. (No email, no Facebook, no Twitter, no Internet surfing.) Initially, I’d thought I could ignore the clicking-timer requirement of the pomodoro. But I was wrong! The tick-tock of the digital clock I use (I’m on a Mac and I like Action Enforcer) keeps me focused and engaged. Maybe it’s Pavlovian conditioning, but now, as soon as soon as I hear the ticking, I want to write.
- Reward yourself. Celebrate every accomplishment. Even finishing one pomodoro on writing can be feted with five minutes on Facebook. (Use a timer, though.)
- Forgive yourself. So you don’t meet your goals. That happens to all of us! There’s no point beating yourself up about it. Just resolve to do better tomorrow.
- Write a to-do list, every day. Like every other activity in life, you’ll get more done if you make a plan for doing it. I recently upgraded my operating system and my much loved although weirdly named “to do” software, called Ghost Action, officially gave up the ghost. I’m now using a free app called Wunderlist and I like it almost as much. (It also works on PCs.)
- Make sure your well has enough water. Writers can’t write if they haven’t been surrounded by enough interest and beauty. Take more walks outdoors. Read more books. Listen to more music. Go to more concerts, movies or plays. It’s not procrastinating; it’s filling your well.
- Understand your top priorities in life. If you want to be a writer, make sure you give it the time it needs and deserves. You don’t become a writer by procrastinating about it every day. Or, paradoxically, even by being published. You become a writer by writing, a little bit every day. Here are some suggestions.
- Clean your desk. This may be a personal peccadillo, but I cannot work with a messy desk. It makes my mind feel cluttered. Even if I’m not actually filing the papers that mysteriously accumulate in my in-basket every week, it helps for me to sweep them away, temporarily.
- Break big jobs into smaller tasks. Never let yourself become overwhelmed by the size of any writing job. Instead, break it into a series of much smaller jobs. Writing a big report, for example could include: figuring out who to interview, conducting those interviews, doing a mindmap, deciding on a lede (beginning), writing a rough draft, letting it incubate and editing/rewriting.
- Delegate everything that doesn’t meet your goals. I know this will be hard if you’re self-employed, but figure out ways to get other people to do things you really don’t like or that aren’t core to your writing. I loathe everything to do with my own accounting so I have a bookkeeper. Preparing my files for him still exhausts me, so I’m trying to figure out a way for someone else to do it. Ask yourself: Can I ignore this? Can I get someone else to do it?
- Pick up your email manually. When you’re writing, be sure to turn off your email so it doesn’t arrive in your in-box automatically and taunt you with its little red number. Instead, pick up your email manually, after you’ve finished writing. Bonus points if you can pick up your email no more than twice a day.
- Read more books. I try to read for an hour a day and always finish at least 52 books per year. Reading relaxes and engages me. It also is the best and most cost-effective source of writing education on the planet.
- When overwhelmed, just write a little. We all have days that are too much. A child breaks a leg. A dog gets sick. We crash a car. We have 12 hours of work to do in six. Stuff happens. Still, try to find five minutes when you can write. It needn’t be more than a sentence. It can even be about what’s overwhelming you.
Develop the habit of writing for comfort, and you’ll have gone a long way towards improving your writing productivity.
How do you make your writing more productive? If you comment on my blog by Feb 28 you’ll be put in a draw for a copy of the novel A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif. (If you don’t see the comments box, click here and then scroll to the end.)
3 Responses/Posted February 25th, 2014 in Power Writing
I’m off for the week, escaping the rain of Vancouver and hiking in the desert. Will be back to my blog on Tuesday, Feb. 25. Happy trails!
No Responses/Posted February 19th, 2014 in Holidays