Category Archives: Communication matters

My love affair with Twitter

In 2012, when I was new to Twitter, I was advised that the usual pattern of adoption, if that’s the way I wanted to go, would be along the lines of:

Denial – I don’t need it or want it – a waste of time

Curiosity – I wonder what they’re all talking about

Ah-ha! – I can see this could be fun

Obsession – I know it’s probably not the best use of my time, but…

Like breathing –  It’s a natural and welcome part of my daily life

14,000 tweets later, I feel it’s time to take stock and decide whether I’ve been wasting my time on Twitter for the past 6 years. I have no doubt my wife would have a three-letter-word answer to that – so I don’t need to ask her opinion.

As Valentine’s Day approaches I have to admit, I love Twitter. I feel I’m somewhere between the obsessional and like-breathing stages in my… I refuse to say ‘journey’ because I can’t stand the over-use and abuse of that word.  So, what’s behind the love affair?

I have Twitter to thank for introducing me to Men’s Sheds and Repair Cafés – in the same week around five years ago. Both have made a massive and positive difference to my life in the real, rather than the virtual, world. I am the first to admit that most of the ‘best ideas’ I’ve developed in recent years have their origins in the Twittersphere. I am regularly inspired by the creativity and humanity of so many people out there – it gives me hope for the future (just as the nastiness that is undoubtedly out there also gives me cause for despair).

Despite the ongoing romance, I feel in control – both limiting the messages I choose to see and the amount of time I spend viewing and, when I want to, responding to tweets. I ignore the etiquette of following people that follow me – I’m quite selective about the people I follow (I flirted with Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt but he was making me ill). I have a personal rule to follow no more than 50% of the number following me, so I get to see a reasonable range of tweets from those I do follow.

Like breathing, being part of Twitter is a daily pastime. Unlike breathing I can live without it – and do so when on holiday – and my mobile phone (much to the annoyance of some members of my family). For me, Twitter is a major source of news, comment and analysis and, for my paid job helping young people start businesses, it’s an essential tool for helping me to accumulate a steady stream of free business start-up resources that I drip-feed to over 150 young people every fortnight.

I personally regret the increase to allow tweets of up to 280 characters. As someone in marketing for 40 years, I liked the greater discipline to write clearly and concisely imposed by the old 140-character limit. But the new limit does potentially facilitate more meaningful exchanges. I’ve recently been party to an interesting conversation with similarly-minded people on the portrayal of older people in the media (and what we ‘should or shouldn’t’ be able to do as we grow older).

Finally, who follows me and how others respond to my own tweets, retweets and comments on others are, in my view, a real and meaningful barometer of what ideas and views (mine and those of others) strike a chord within the part of the Twittersphere I choose to inhabit. The fairly instant feedback is something that, after a 40-year career in communications, I value or, dare I say it, love.

See this wordsmith’s blog on the power of the Tweet  https://prism-clarity.com/2017/12/finding-story-part-3

www.facebook.com/TheRepairShed  www.facebook.com/RoystonRepairCafe

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Authenticity, creativity and better business

In my work with young entrepreneurs thinking of setting up their own businesses, I stress the importance of honesty and integrity in business practices. This is not just about keeping on the right side of the law and avoiding business bullshit in promotion and sales, it’s about being honest about strengths and weaknesses. Being self-aware is important as long as it’s balanced – absolute honesty in our relations with others doesn’t always help…

It’s also about business values – red lines that would-be business owners will not cross. This came up in a meeting last week when a young entrepreneur told me “I don’t want to develop my business if that’s the kind of way I’m expected to behave.” She might have been talking about a recent edition of The Apprentice; it was actually something closer to home. I congratulated her on making that stand – her personal integrity being more important than the pursuit of pure (or, in her view, impure) business success and sales.

The red lines are not nearly so easily drawn in other, more creative, ventures. Last Friday I had two demonstrations of this at different ends of the same day.

At a breakfast meeting with a photographer we were talking about the digital manipulation of images which, at its most extreme is the difference being a documentary record and a digital artwork. The photographer’s view was that, in artistic terms, if the final image (whether manipulated or not) pleases the viewer that’s what matters. He backed up his argument by saying that landscape painter Constable would manipulate the view, re-arranging trees and other intrusions, to create the desired effect. Whether enhancement is digital (as in fingers) or digital (as in electronic) he suggested, it’s a widely accepted tradition.

Last Friday night, 14 hours after my discussion with the photographer, I was at our local folk club enjoying a breath-taking performance by a guitar-playing singer-songwriter backed by six very talented string musicians. The room was too small and too hot for comfort, the sound was unbalanced, and the guitar for the first number was out of tune. But the performance was amazing – raw, untamed… in a word, authentic. I bought a CD of the pieces the band had performed – engineered in a studio to iron out all the music imperfections. It was still a delight, but a pale imitation of the authentic original live performance.

For value-based enterprises, a business manifesto is one way to wear your heart on your sleeve http://www.valuablecontent.co.uk/blog/how-to-write-a-business-manifesto

See also https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2017/08/09/are-experts-overrated

Are experts overrated?

In my work with young people who are thinking about setting up their own business, I constantly stress the importance of honesty. I mean honesty with themselves as much as with anything else. Being self-aware and having the confidence to share personal weaknesses, as well as strengths, can be very powerful in our famous-for-15-minutes-for-doing-nothing society.

Of course, we’re taught to ‘present our best side’ at job interviews and on CVs and a certain amount of ‘embellishment of the facts’ is almost expected. But I tell young entrepreneurs when it comes to business plans, it’s best to be realistic but positive. Business pitches with sky-high sales expectations and false claims about relevant skills (‘extensive experience in market gardening’ was how one young man described his two-week work placement) will be found out and can ruin reputations.

Which is not to say we have to spend all our time telling others why we’re a liability rather than an asset – that’s not the way to make friends and influence people.

In a previous advisory role I worked with charities and social enterprises and, at a first meeting, I’d say “tell me a bit about your organisation”. I still remember the Chief Officer who said “we’re good at this, this and this, we need to get better at this, this and this”. Here was someone I could work with – he knew what he didn’t know (if that doesn’t sound too Donald Rumsfeld). Not surprisingly I’ve forgotten those who, at that first meeting, denied they had any areas for improvement (in which case, why was I being brought in to support them?)

Readers of earlier blogs will know of my love of language and my loathing of carelessly used abbreviations, jargon, and red-rag words such as ‘deliver’ and ‘engage’ which are so vague as to be meaningless. It’s a lexicon for self-styled experts, so insecure in their knowledge and status that they feel the need to dispense wheelbarrow loads of bullshit.

Whenever I doubt my own knowledge (more often than not!) I tell myself that a real expert is prepared to admit their ignorance. Many years ago I was at a public meeting with the then Chairman of the Forestry Commission. He was asked an apparently very straight forward questions by a lad in his early teens. Lord Taylor (the ‘tree expert’) paused for a moment then said, “you won’t believe this, but I don’t know the answer to that… but I’ll find out and let you know.

And even if you are an expert – with certificates, letters after your name, and all the associated bells and whistles to prove it – don’t think you can sit back and bask in the glory. There’s something else to keep you awake at night – the ‘impostor syndrome’. Also known as the fraud syndrome, the term was coined as recently as 1978 by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes. It afflicts high-achieving individuals who are unable to acknowledge and accept their accomplishments and, as a result, they have a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud’.

So maybe bullshitting has its appeal after all…

The power of networking

Many years ago I went to a talk in Cambridge by Hilton Catt, co-author of The Power of Networking. I don’t know whether the publicity was ambiguous or what but, it being Cambridge, there was a digital divide within the audience – one half thought it would be about virtual networks, the other half thought it would be about ‘real’ human networks.

I’m pleased to say it was about the power of the face-to-face – in Hilton Catt’s case, for job-hunting. I was unemployed at the time and, while the evening didn’t result in my immediate employment, it reinforced what I’d been told by other jobhunters and confirmed my belief in the benefit of seeking and nurturing contacts for both professional and personal progression.

To this day, I still think you can’t beat close encounters of the personal kind – even in our tech-rich, time-poor working lives – and more so in an age of faux online friends, false news, and reality TV shows that suggest that, in business, someone has to lose for you to win.

Call me old-fashioned, but my experience of working with small business start-ups for more than a decade is that they have far more to gain by sharing their ideas (rather than protecting them) and seeking partners for mutually beneficial relationships. I’m not starry-eyed about collaboration and co-operation (as opposed to competition) but I recommend it daily, and will do so until someone convinces me there’s a better way.

In my day-job I support young people in their efforts to turn business ideas into viable and hopefully sustainable enterprises. Entrepreneurship can be a lonely road to take, so I encourage then to seek out like-minded people – even the competition – for advice about mistakes made, lessons learnt, and what works well.

The young entrepreneurs are constantly astonished and delighted by the helpfulness of others (people who remember when they were starting out maybe) with no expectation of a payback. I also pull in my own personal and professional contacts when I can. In the last six months, I’ve fixed a fence erector up with a van, I’ve arranged a would-be photographer’s night at a music awards ceremony in London as professional snapper’s assistant, I’ve unearthed (pun intended) a garden designer to pass judgement on a newbie designer’s work, and I’ve steered others towards potential collaborators, including business networks.

The day that ‘who you know’ becomes less important than ‘what you know’ and online communications make face-to-face connections unnecessary, I think I’ll pack up and head for the hills (preferably somewhere there’s no broadband).

Small card, big message

In my day job I work with young would-be entrepreneurs to support them in setting up in business if they have an idea they want to pursue. As most people know, writing a business plan is a good place to start – to get the ideas out of heads and on to paper where it can be developed, adapted and, if need be, rejected.

When it gets to the publicity section I’m always intrigued that, in an age of social media and worldwide online communication, when asked how they plan to promote their business, nearly every young person writes ‘business cards’. How do they even know about business cards?!

I think the attachment to this humble handout is a combination of it being tangible (unlike things like ‘brand’ ‘values’ ‘and ‘social media’). It’s also cheap – most people know companies that will hook you in with an offer of your first 50 business cards free. Then there’s the comfort of conforming – ‘me too’ – everybody talks about business cards and seems to have then, so why don’t I?

This is not to knock the potential value of professionally produced business cards but, as money is always short, I tend to design and print my own (certainly when I’m paying for them) because I use so few. But then maybe, after 35 years in marketing, I’m missing a trick…?

A business card can, and should, say a lot about you and your business – your quality, character, professionalism, and quirkiness if that’s the business you’re in. Above all, it should be the ‘calling card’ that convinces your target customers that it’s worth making that phone call.

I’m someone with an interest in clear and concise communication in all its forms, so I find the business card an interesting challenge. Like most publicity pieces, it can be both ephemeral – one of many gathered at an event soon to be ‘filed and forgotten’, or essential for safe storage (in my case in a pile on my desk) for easy retrieval when the time is right. Surprisingly often I reach for one I know is in there somewhere, but the beauty of the business card for me is in the use of the limited space (in seconds and centimetres) for grabbing attention.

I’m a sucker for gimmicks so I’m usually more attracted to the design than the content. I’ve been working with a young person who plans to offer soft and hard garden landscaping services. We’re currently trying to produce a business card that grows using paper embedded with seeds. We’ve got the paper from my friends at the Frogmore Paper Mill.  Now it’s a matter of working out how to create the cards so they sprout and grow when watered carefully on an office desk – watch this space…

 

Last week in Bristol I was attracted to a slightly-larger-than-standard business card from a local company – Florentina & Chalky. What you can’t tell from the photo is that the card has a unique feel – like chalkboard – so they go one better than the company that ‘does what it says on the tin’!

What next – a scratch and sniff business card for a cheese shop?

http://florentinaandchalky.blogspot.co.uk 

http://www.thepapertrail.org.uk

PS – a re-use tip: If you’ve gathered a pile of business cards with blank backs and you don’t want them, you can use then as a deck of cue cards for your next talk – a handy-sized pack of prompts.

Nine Healthy Signs (NHS)?

Some years ago a wiser man than I observed that, while the ability to demonstrate on the streets is often cited as a manifestation of democracy in action, this is not necessarily the case.

He argued that a public demonstration is, in fact, a last resort when all other means have failed to get our voices heard – as such is it a failure of the democratic process. He’d had more than enough time to come to this conclusion having spent many years in solitary confinement in a Middle Eastern jail – fallout from a clampdown on free speech.

Without meaning to make a trite comparison, it felt a bit like a last resort to me last week as we gathered in Tavistock Square (home of the British Medical Association’s HQ) to proclaim and reclaim #OurNHS. The march from WC1 ended in Parliament Square, home of a government that seems bent on dismantling the NHS in the name of increased efficiency – by which they mean meeting an ever-growing need with ever-decreasing resources. Even the best miracle cures cannot square that circle.

In the face of such apparent indifference to reality, ignoring the views of health professionals at the frontline, and a dogmatic refusal to consider other views, maybe marching, chanting, and singing is all we have left in our armoury to foster a sense of common purpose, fellowship and, however small, power and influence?

In the end the #OurNHS march was a great day out with family and the weather was kind. But it didn’t feel like a mass demonstration and the mainstream media coverage was disappointing, even the rallying speeches at the end seemed a bit tired. But in one respect the loudest noise was made, not by voices, but by the messages on placards and banners. Each competed for attention with their soundbite 140-character quips and some seriously clever imagery.

 

With camera phones capturing and communicating every detail, we live in hope that social media might somehow magnify the impact of the march itself and make it all worthwhile. Maybe those placard bearers will have the last laugh. I share some of their messages here in the hope they will help lift your spirits and stave off the need for you to use the NHS for a little longer.

The story so far

latitude-books-2I was thinking about the power of storytelling the other day when advising young entrepreneurs about how to present their business ideas without using jargon, exaggeration or clichés. In other words, without bullshit. How do you grab attention in a matter of seconds; leading to the much-talked about ‘elevator pitch’?

One way is to say something that surprises your audience. I recently saw a beautifully designed standing desk. It was being promoted with a question – ‘did you know that standing for an average three hours a day at your desk for a year burns more calories than running ten marathons?’

Yes – it surprised me as well. I regret I couldn’t afford to buy that particular standing desk, but the appeal of such calorie loss (even if it’s not true!) while using my laptop was enough to inspire me to design and make my own not-so-beautiful standing desk from an abandoned wooden garden chair.

Another way to connect powerfully with an audience is through storytelling. Antony ‘Tas’ Tasgal, author of ‘The Storytelling Book’, believes stories are under-rated and under-used in business. After being exposed to around 6,000 business presentations, Tas is leading the fight against the debilitating effects of Powerpoint (which he describes as “people in power who can’t make their point”).

But the battle is not yet won; we continue to be bombarded by bullet points and deluged with data. Too often we still experience the mind-numbing effect of the presenter reading each slide as if s/he is seeing it for the first time, which may be the case. And often all this follows a delay to get the computer to talk to the projector. Never perform with children, animals … and technology.

Tas believes we need to develop and polish our story-telling skills, to bring the human element back into business transactions. “We often forget that all of us in sales, marketing and communications are – at least partly – in the business of storytelling” he says “We seem to have fallen headlong into a culture in which business thinking, business talking and business doing have been overtaken by a system that is contrary to our hard-wired storytelling instincts…”

Which is not to say that words alone can always tell the full story. Despite widespread condemnation of the misuse and abuse of statistics, figures do, of course, have a role to play. A fellow business adviser once suggested ‘never present figures without a story, and never tell a story without figures’. Accountants would, of course, argue that a set of figures tell a story without need for further embellishment…

latitude-books-1In the non-for-private-profit world, the art of storytelling can also be used to communicate a charity’s mission effectively, particularly when the stories feature real life experiences. A useful communication tool for trustees and directors is a small set of postcard-sized profiles of individuals who have benefited from the charity’s support. Each one describes the individual’s situation when they first contacted the charity, how the charity worked with them, and their new situation after the charity’s intervention. It has everything – a focus on real people and real benefits, bringing authenticity to the illustration.

A final word from marketing man Andy Bounds “Facts tell, stories sell. Tell stories about what you’ve done for others; don’t just list facts about what you do.” Andy Bounds has made a name for himself writing about ways to make ideas sticky. But that’s another story…

Further insights into the use of stories:

The Storytelling Book http://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Anthony-Tasgal/The-Storytelling-Book–Finding-the-Golden-Thread-in-Your-Communications/17487848

A great infographic on capturing and using stories  http://www.imaginepub.com/Image/zTSY2BGi00imRglC0cmfgw/0/0

A word of warning from Seth Godin http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2016/01/3-d-printers-the-blockchain-and-drones.html

Why stories are good for our brains http://lifehacker.com/5965703/the-science-of-storytelling-why-telling-a-story-is-the-most-powerful-way-to-activate-our-brains

Storytelling and presentations http://blog.strategicedge.co.uk/2015/03/better-storytelling-in-your-presentations.html