Making the Most of Networking

Networking Image

How likely are you to drive to a foreign location, full of strangers, and start a conversation with a dozen or more of the strangers? It is an odd set of circumstances, but this is what we put ourselves through at networking events. Networking events can be stressful for introverted and extroverted alike. There are some ways you can prepare ahead of the event to have a more successful networking function.

Be sure to see the list below of networking events related to communication and technical writing.

Know your event

Thorough preparation makes its own luck.” Joe Poyer

When reviewing a networking event to attend, be sure the subject aligns with your work and career goals. Are you interested in technology, teaching, programming, plumbing, camping? If the event is focused on the same thing, it may be a match for you. Once you have decided on an event, the other things to be familiar with are directions to the location, event and parking fees, and length of the event.

Set a goal for the event

People with goals succeed because they know where they’re going.” Earl Nightingale

Identify one or a few goals that you want to accomplish at the event. Perhaps there is one new person you would love to meet and establish a connection with. Maybe this could be someone you already know and want to strengthen your relationship with.  A simple goal by be to collect a set number of business cards or to make a specific number of connections. Set the goal and stay focused on the goal. It is very important to remember when meeting new people, this is your only chance for the ‘first impression’.

Do not be timid

It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.” Theodore Roosevelt

It can be difficult to start a conversation with a stranger. At a networking event you are all in the same boat. It is awkward for everyone. Start with the basics, say hello, introduce yourself, and as a basic question. For example, ‘How long have you been a part of this organization?’. The type of question could vary by the type of event. This author attended a networking function that was by invitation only and was set up by one person. Everyone at the event knew the organizer. The question that was asked the most was, ‘How do you know the organizer? Be sure to ask questions that will help you make a connection, after all that is what you are here for. Small talk is an art and will take time to master.

Networking Opportunities

Here is a list of a few  Pittsburgh based conferences and meetups on communicating and technical writing:

Association of Teachers of Technical WritingAccountability in Technical Communication, Pittsburgh, PA March 12-13, 2019

Grants Professionals of Western PA – Grant Writers, Next Meetup – Wednesday November 28, 2018

Pittsburgh Business Times – Holds multiple meetings per month with networking opportunities.

Pittsburgh Technology Council – Holds multiple meetings per month with networking opportunities.

Shadyside Young Professionals, Next Meetup – Monday November 12, 2018

Shut Up & Write! Pittsburgh, PA, Next Meetup – Friday November 9, 2018

Tech Happy Hour – Pittsburgh, Nets Meetup – Wednesday December 5, 2018, Mario’s East Side Saloon, Walnut Street

If would like to suggest another networking event, add it to the comments.

Content Automation: Impact on Communicators and Writers

Content Automation

Content Automation Defined

Automation is a term we here most being applied to manufacturing; technology and machinery that controls the production and delivery of goods. Performing tasks previously performed by humans. Automation can be incorporated into various industries including communication and technical writing as Content Automation. Communicators/writers create a large volume of content for specific people, at specific times, on specific devices. Traditional methods of creation, management, and delivery can be cumbersome, time consuming, and do not prevent duplication of content.

Content automation the process gives communicators/writers a whole new process to create and manage reusable chunks of content. The chunks can then be assembled, tracked, managed and updated. When Artificial Intelligence (AI) is applied to content these chunks can be self-assembling.

Content and User Experience (UX)

Improving user experience is a top responsibility for communicators/writers. Accuracy of information and timeliness of delivery are keys to increasing UX. There is some debate on whether content strategy is a part of UX strategy. Some say no because the content does not live within an application. It is this writer’s opinion that content must be considered a part of UX simply because the users use it. Communications and written aids do impact success levels.

Clients or end users need to have the most accurate and up-to-date standard operating procedures (SOPs) related to the job they are trying to perform. For instance, emergency procedures for evacuating nursing homes during a natural disaster. These procedures could be different today than for the last disaster even if that was in the last few weeks. User experience with content comes down to correct content, at the correct time, and the correct place.

Start with a Content Audit

When trying to adopt content automation, the first step is to know your content. Perform a content audit to determine the current state of the materials. This involves how it is created, by which teams, the roles of the communicators/writers, current tools used, method of deliver, and the frequency it needs to be updated. The results of the content audit will guide your next steps. Once the content is evaluated, you can set goals for the next iteration of the content.

Power of Content Automation

When traditional static documents (Word or PDF) are created. This is time consuming, has a higher error rate, and the information is locked in the document and cannot be reused. When content automation is applied, communicators/writers create intelligent content or reusable components of text, charts, images, and video. Once a component is created it can be added to multiple documents; it is reused over and over. When the component is changed each use of it is updated automatically. These components become the single source of truth.

Let’s say your company is hosting a trade show.  You have created online, and print versions of the vendor showcase floor layout, session guide, and networking events.  As session presenters are accepted you add them to a location and time for presentation. John Presenter has an emergency and cannot make it to his session nor will he be displaying in the vendor showcase. He offers to send Jane in his place. If you are single sourcing/chunking information, you can change John’s name to Jane on  in the main location or chunk where this information appears, rather than to change the name on each online or print piece. Once changed, the information will automatically update in the online and print versions.

Figure 1: John Presenter

Figure 2: Jane Presenter

Impact for Communicators/Writers

The goal of content automation for communicators/writers is to allow them to focus on their strengths. Content automation allows these workers to focus less on managing information and reviewing materials. They can spend more time on creating original content.

Neil Perlin has identified 4 characteristics of content in Information 4.0 which includes content automation. These characteristics embody not only the words that are written, but the format, chunking, release, timeliness, accessibility, and responsiveness to context of that information.

  • Dynamic: Content chunks that can be updated in real-time. When information in the system changes, the content or the user should be able to trigger its build or generation, rather than the writer.
  • Ubiquitous: Content available everywhere, independent of device. It must be online searchable and find-able.
  • Offered: Specific content made available when users encounter an issue rather than all information related to all tasks all the time. Content is online, print medium is ruled out.
  • Spontaneous: Content triggered by the context. Meaning the orientation of the device being used or perhaps a specific context for an issue. An example is that information for de-icing a plane would only be available if the outside temperature is near 32 degrees.

Top Skills for an Interviewer

At some point we have all been in an interview as the interviewee. Perhaps you were interviewed for a job or for an article or a newspaper. Some interviews are great, you connect with the interviewer and feel as though you have gotten our point across. Other interviews fall short. You may feel as though you and the interviewer are speaking different language and you may leave the interview wondering what you could have done better. I have been interviewed more times than I have conducted an interview. In an effort to push through my comfort zone, I would like to become an interviewer. Watching those with this skill set conduct an interview is much like watching a great painter paint.

Lets break down the interview structure; the one-one-one conversation. The whole crux of an interview is to gain information about the respondent and their point of view in a manner that they feel comfortable enough to surrender their true thoughts. This holds true while interviewing a candidate for a hiring position, conducting a journalistic interview of your favorite writer, and when moderating a focus group for market research. The interviewee has information that you need for yourself or that needs disseminated to a larger audience. Your task as the interviewer is to get the information out, the truthful, usable information.

The Interviewers To-do List:

  1. Punctuality: Once the interview appointment is scheduled the interviewer should be ready to start at the agreed upon time. Do not be fashionably late.
  2. Prepare the Interviewee: Let the person or persons know what to expect. This could be the order of operations if there is a group being interviewed vs. a single person or simply how long the interview will take. Knowing what will happen will make the person being interviewed more comfortable.
  3. Environment: Select a location that will limit distractions. If the interview is over the phone or Internet, be sure to select a quiet place. The environment can have a negative impact on the interview. Dogs barking or doors slamming can be a detraction.
  4. Prepare Notes: You want to be prepared with questions to ask and notes on the background research you have done on the person and subject matter. These notes are to help you prepare and for reference if you need them but relying on notes to heavily can make you seem unprepared. You want to ask insightful questions about their vision, ideas, and goals. These questions are to be open-ended, but no so open or vague that the interviewer does not know how to answer. For instance, “Tell me about yourself” is very vague. Here’s a great question I was asked at my graduate entrance interview, “Can you tell us why you have selected Chatham University’s Master of Professional Writing program?”. As a person I usually choke when I am asked to speak about myself, it is not my favorite topic. But when asked about a program of study I find it easy to put words together. I can put a purpose to it.
  5. Let go of Your Ego: Even though the interview is a one-on-one conversation, the interview is about the interviewee, not you. As the interviewer, when you speak encourage the other person to talk about their story or experience. The words you use should always be taking the interview further, diving deeper into questions to gain more insight or information.
  6. Be a Good Listener: Practicing active listening will help you know when to dive deeper into a question or take the questioning in a different direction. Listening will also show that you are genuinely interested. There is no need to take notes during the interview, just listen. Asking the interviewee if they mind the interview being recorded will provide a method of going back and allow you to listen instead of taking notes. While they are speaking this is their chance to get the point across. Their answer to a question may help you select which question to ask next.
  7. Not-So-Awkward Pause: No one wants the uncomfortable pause but taking a slight pause rather than interjecting with the next question too quickly can allow time for the responder to add more information. Use the silence to draw out more information. Maybe they will add more info on the question or offer information on a new idea.
  8. Close the Interview: Too short of an interview may show your disinterest as an interviewer and too long of an interviewer may result in diminishing returns in the quality of information gained. Once you have finished with your questions, be sure to ask the interviewee if there is anything they would like to add; you may be surprised that they will offer information you did not think to ask about. Finally, be sure to thank your interviewee and be sure to help them exit the interview as you

Conducting an interview involves critical reasoning skills and imaginative thinking skills. Be aware of the details without losing sight of the big picture. Much like any other form of communication or writing, the more you are an interviewer, the better you will be.

10,000 Hours, or One Golden Hour?

10,000 Hours

Outlier: A person, situation, or thing that is different from others (Gladwell, M). In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell tells us that with the perfect combination of time and opportunity people can be successful. The magic number is 10,000 hours. If someone can put in 10,000 hours worth of practice at a given task, then he can become a master. Bill Gates and the Beatles are both outliers; they put in 10,000 hours, and they are considered masters in their field. Better than the rest and known for their success. In a time of crisis PR professionals don’t have 10,000 hours to work with, they have mere minutes.

The Golden Hour

PR Professionals have a mere sixty minutes to handle a crisis. This one hour can make or break a company if handled incorrectly. In this time PR should notify news media, social media, internal publics, external publics, and lawyers. With technology at our fingertips, we demand information immediately following a crisis.

Court of Law vs. Court of Public Opinion

A PR professional must make an important decision when crisis arises, will the organization be scrutinized under the court of law or under the court of public opinion? We all know that under the court of law we are ‘innocent until proven guilty;’ however, in the court of public opinion, we are ‘guilty until proven innocent.’

PR Outliers

Johnson and Johnson

Most of you are probably familiar with the Johnson and Johnson crisis of 1982. Someone (still unknown) laced tylenol with cyanide and killed seven people in the Chicago area. Johnson and Johnson is still studied in books now because of the way they masterfully handled the situation.

Jetblue

In 2007, Jetblue left passengers stranded on a runway due to snow. Even though the crisis was due to weather, Jetblue took full responsibility for the incident and promised to take future steps to prevent future problems.

The NBA

After the owner of the Clippers, Donald Sterling, was recorded making racist comments the commissioner of the NBA, Adam Silver, took quick action against him.

After the incident the NBA went on to create a “We Are One” ad.

Future Recommendations

  • Assess your risks before they happen.
  • Create a crisis plan (framework, teams and responsibilities, key messaging, procedures, internal and external contact lists, checklists).
  • Designate a spokesperson.
  • Create a sense of “we-ness” among internal publics (employees, management, interns, retirees, stakeholders).
  • Get information out fast, but always be accurate.
  • Never reveal assumptions to the media.
  • A crisis is interesting. Make it uninteresting by continuously providing information to the public.
  • Know your key message, and keep reiterating it to your audience.
  • Never turn a problem into a crisis. Fix the problem, but don’t make it bigger than it needs to be.

Challenges to Environmental Communication and How to Overcome Them

Climate change has been a topic of inquiry for many years, but recently it has dominated news headlines. With the involvement of politics and policy changes that affect the Earth, there is a great debate involving what people should do to fight these issues. With overwhelming scientific evidence that humans have significantly accelerated climate change, environmental communicators can feel frustrated when faced with people who refuse to believe that the changing climate is a problem. Walls are put up between those who passionately work to prevent further climate change and those who do not accept it as a legitimate problem, and it sometimes feels like there is no common ground between the two populations. Here are some of the biggest barriers to understanding climate change and the environment, and how communication professionals can attempt to break through and make this issue relevant.

“Not My Problem”

Psychological studies have shown that all around the world, those who directly experience the effects of climate changes are the ones who feel most compelled to act and who are concerned about the future (need to find this citation again). People living in coastal cities, cities with normal high temperatures that continue to rise, or historically cold towns that are experiencing mild seasons see in their every day lives that the world is changing, and they dramatically hope that the rest of the world takes action. However, a large part of the world doesn’t have this same perspective. They have not noticed the changes in their lives that much. Therefore, it is up to communicators to show these people that there ARE affects that will eventually be seen in their families lives. Through creating interactive experiences and making messages targeted towards the audience’s own life and experience, they will pay more attention to what is said and potentially be more compelled to take action.

“Not My Political Party”

Issues concerning the environment have become partisan. Many people use a political party as a part of their identity, and therefore form opinions around that party as to affirm this identity. It is important for communicators to remove political bias when speaking about the environment. That said, politicians do not always make the best spokespeople for these issues. Instead, a more unbiased voice should be used to address an audience and present facts.

“Not My Field of Study”

When you get down to it, greenhouse gasses, carbon emissions, and the specific scientific effects of climate change can be complicated matters, especially to people who do not like science! Many people truly do not understand, or choose to tune out language that they are not familiar with. While specific scientific facts are vital to those that study this phenomenon for a living in research labs and in the field, others who do not have the same background knowledge need a more baseline understanding. Messages need to be simplified and not focus on details that require a bachelor of science degree to understand. Making information available to everyone, regardless of education level, is key to getting the entire world on board with sustainable practices.

Sharing is Caring: The Power of Storytelling in Non Profit Campaigns

A Future of Sharing

How would you feel if I told you that sharing something as personal as your health and sicknesses on social media could someday help track the spread of disease? You might say that’s a little crazy, but would you do it if it meant keeping others healthy? Would you want others to do it if it meant keeping you healthy? Patrick Tucker thinks that soon the CDC will use our ever-posting social media habit to determine where illnesses are and where they’ll spread next, making Minority Report a thing of the present.

Although we’re not yet there, some health non-profit organizations have utilized this same idea of sharing personalized stories during campaigns, so people can talk about personal experiences and connect with others to spread information about certain diseases.

March of Dimes: Share Your Story

The campaign, ShareYourStory, by March of Dimes brings to life a safe online community in which the “neighbors” are families who all share in one particular struggle: a sick newborn. Members of this virtual “neighborhood” are able to share the struggle  they are having, offer and receive support, and spread information.

“ShareYourStory is home to all of us who have not had that picture-perfect pregnancy, who struggle with little ones in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, or forever hold their child in their heart. It is where I found hope for the future,” said community member Lauren Wilson, from Hawaii.

The shareyourstory campaign easily connects to social media platforms so that they can be circulated to an even wider array of people. By using avatars and enabling videos and stories, the campaign to improve the health of babies becomes human, personalized, local, and gives the families a way to see the faces of the people that they connect with on a daily basis. The dedicated website, shareyourstory.org, brings families to a blog forum where they can post and react to others’ posts. Yesterday, for example, twenty members posted and commented on each others’ stories, questions, and messages.

The Power of Storytelling

Stories are so powerful because they withstand the tests of time. They spread from person to person, community to community, through families and friends; they change, but what is at the heart of a good story remains the same. By using storytelling as the main mode of communication in a campaign, organizations are able to tap in to human emotions and create common bonds.

Each campaign uses the very powerful tool of empathy. This is something that needs to be employed more in our health systems in order for patients and physicians to have a strong trusting relationship. Now, don’t confuse sympathy with empathy. Where sympathy leads to disconnect, empathy drives connection by staying out of judgement and communicating to a person that he or she is not alone. The problem with sympathy is that it always tries to show people the “good” in something bad. Health care providers need to be able to deter sympathy and understand this difference.

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it” ” -Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird.

If physicians can step in to their patients’ shoes, then they can start treating patients as individuals instead of just another number. Interacting with patients not only helps create bonds, but allows physicians and healthcare providers to learn about individuals on a personal level. When a patient sees that their physician cares for them as a fellow human, it allows space for open dialogue between patients and physicians which leads to better, personalized care.

American Diabetes Association’s campaign, This is Diabetes, uses the hashtag #thisisdiabetes, to encourage individuals or friends and family to post their own video of a personal story and struggle they deal with from the disease. What this campaign encourages is spreading awareness about parts of the disease that many people would not be aware of otherwise and what kinds of crippling effects diabetes has on other aspects of a person’s health and the other lives that disease touches.

The National Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society‘s, Together We Are Stronger Campaign uses similar tactics to inspire individuals living with MS to share their story through video and offer insights. It connects people together with different ways of dealing with the disease, educating people on the disease, and coming up with new ideas for a cure.

‘Empathetic Storytelling’

I call these campaigns  ‘empathetic storytelling,’ since they connect humans on a common health issue and provide support. They reverse the negative connotation that comes with the idea of spreading disease. Instead they spread information about a disease through words and symbols. By spreading words, instead of sicknesses, the information that is shared and reshared can help the listeners prevent their own risk of developing a disease, or even find a treatment.

Recommendations for Empathetic Storytelling For Health & Nonprofit Campaigns:

  • Utilize multiple channels and social media networks
  • Appeal to emotion, but don’t go too far (Think about the dog shelter commercials, how many times do you change the channel as soon as you see a sad dog come on your screen?)
  • Stories don’t always have to be sad, share some hope for the future
  • Mix words, pictures, and videos
  • Share your own story, this connects you to your audience
  • Create a powerful hashtag
  • Provide useful information (an audience needs to know about the cause in order to participate in the campaign)
  • Be cohesive and consistent, all the channels or networks you utilize should include the same information, hashtags, and look (branding, colors, etc.)
  • Try to stay away from medical jargon, in a health campaign it may be easy to use scientific words, stop and think about your intended audience (what is their knowledge, or lack thereof, on the topic)

 

 

Social Media for Nonprofits: New and Innovative or Disruptive?

Nonprofits are using more digital means to reach out to the general public, but do they benefit from this outreach?

Recently, technology has facilitated easier online and text donations. Even virtual reality has been used to give donors a way to have more first-hand experience with a cause.  Many articles can be found that summarize the identifiable trends for nonprofit organizations utilizing social media to reach potential donors and current supporters.

To adjust for these trends, fundraisers must be aware of the challenges that technology brings and be able to navigate around them.

“The Digital Divide”
Amy Sample Ward warns that some Americans do not use the internet at home or do not have internet access at all. She encourages groups to examine the “Digital Divide” between generations and between demographics. When bridging this gap, entire communities can unite for a cause and become involved in their activities.

“Slacktivism”
Nonprofit organizations can easily get retweets, likes, and use of their hashtags on social media, but support sometimes stops there. Recent years have shown many examples of people becoming aware of causes, spreading the word of them, but not moving toward any action. These groups are already clearly interested in the mission of the organization or support their movement, but the challenge becomes showing them the value in actually joining in.

Make it Personal
A way to make social media more than just a way to talk about causes is to make it more personal. Kevin Scaly, director of digital marketing for Smile Train, claims that individual interactions between and organization’s social media outlets and its followers can do wonders for its reputation. He thinks that by liking posts, responding to tweets, and sending personalized messages to followers, nonprofits are making a more special connection with their supporters. Engaging with them and putting more effort forth motivates interested and concerned people to join the movement.

Back to Basics
Interestingly enough, despite all of the social media and campaign strategists asked about trends in fundraising, Miriam Kagan has a slightly different idea. She noted that “less focus has been on the right ask at the right time to the right audience” because organizations are more concerned with keeping up with new technology. She believes that returning to basic storytelling and call to action is a refreshing way to make sure that the organization is staying true to its cause. Moving forward it would be helpful for organizations to work these basic strategies back into their digital efforts in order to blend traditional, tried and true methods with an evolving, technological world.

It is important for nonprofits to realize that technology affects the lives of their donors, and therefore also affects their strategies. Social media offers a unique way to connect with the public, but could also create new barriers. By assessing audiences and making appropriate choices in social media and technology, a nonprofit will be able to uniquely position itself as accessible while still staying true to traditional donation strategies.

Norris, Sean. “80 Nonprofit Trends for 2016.” NonProfit PRO. N.p., 09 Feb. 2016. Web. 20 Oct. 2016. <http://www.nonprofitpro.com/article/80-nonprofit-trends-for-2016/all/>.