Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Start with a laugh ... end with a tear

Liz Carpenter had three simple rules for writing a successful speech:

Start with a laugh to put the audience in a good mood and get their attention.
Put the meat in the middle by addressing your main points.
Wave the flag at the end by inspiring and motivating the group to take action.

That’s pretty good advice, upon which Carpenter elaborated in her practical, charming and often funny 2000 book, “Start with a Laugh.” The book is filled with lessons learned, tried-and-true advice and wonderful anecdotes from the author’s long public life including, of course, her days in the Johnson White House.

For example, I chuckled when I read Carpenter’s advice for handling quotations, which stemmed from LBJ’s reaction to a quote someone put in one of his speeches.

“LBJ was so determined to make his words understood by the people that once, when he came upon a speech draft quoting Aristotle, he turned to the startled writer and said. ‘Aristotle? Those folks don’t know who the hell Aristotle is.’ Then he took his pen, crossed out the reference to Aristotle and wrote in, ‘as my dear old daddy used to say.’”

When Carpenter died last week, most of the obituaries identified her as Lady Bird’s former press secretary. But she also should be remembered for writing the 58 impactful words that a clearly shaken LBJ spoke when upon arriving at Andrews AFB on that terrible day in November 1963:

"This is a sad time for all people. We have suffered a loss that cannot be weighed. For me, it is a deep personal tragedy. I know that the world shares the sorrow that Mrs. Kennedy and her family bear. I will do my best. That is all I can do. I ask for your help and God's."

Typically humble, Carpenter was reluctant to take credit for those words. “God was my ghostwriter,” she said.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Shared Experience Becomes Experience We Share

This is a guest blog recently posted on the BurrellsLuce "Fresh Ideas" blog. Reprinted here for those who didn't have a chance to see it there.

Instead of being a “shared experience,” TV is quickly becoming “an experience we share.” That observation, made on a recent episode of NPR’s always-enjoyable Culturetopia podcast, really rings true for me.

I’m a first-generation television kid and am old enough to remember when the television dial was really a dial with 13 numbers. There were just three networks plus an educational channel and an independent channel or two that mostly showed old movies. Miss “The Twilight Zone,” “Ed Sullivan,” “Laugh-In” or, later, “Saturday Night Live” and you risked being left out of the lunchtime conversation.

That was pretty much the way of the world until the first video recorders began appearing in homes and offices in the 1980s. Almost overnight it became possible to borrow a missed episode of “Cheers” from a coworker who hadn’t forgotten to set his VCR (as long as he didn’t have a Beta machine).

This opened up a whole new world for communications professionals. Suddenly it became possible to record, copy, and share cassettes of the annual meeting or positive media coverage with employees, customers, and other stakeholders.

Fast forward a decade or two and digital technology made it possible to post videos on company websites and e-mail links – or even short clips – to your key publics. Even more importantly, you could forward clips of cats playing the piano or bears catching fish to your friends.

Technology has continued to advance at warp speed. You can now see most of your favorite shows online or buy them for a couple of bucks on iTunes. More than 65,000 videos are posted on YouTube every day. And someone somewhere almost certainly watched the Super Bowl on his cell phone.

With more than 100 million viewers, the Super Bowl is one of television’s few remaining shared experiences, something almost everyone watches at the same time. Maybe Michael Phelps swimming at the Summer Olympics or the finale of “American Idol” also qualify. I’d like to hear your nominations.

So what does all this mean for professional communicators?

In some ways it makes our jobs harder. We have more channels to monitor and more competition for people’s attention than ever before. We have to do a better job of training, prepping, and equipping our spokespeople, because screw-ups can live on and on in cyberspace. And we’ve got to be more prepared than ever to respond quickly, effectively, and creatively to disasters, rumors, and PR challenges that didn’t even occur to us a few years ago. Bad news can go viral faster than you can bathe in a KFC sink.

On the opportunities side of the ledger, we also have more tools at our disposal than ever before. We can respond to negative press overnight or, ideally, even quicker. We can set up dedicated YouTube channels, as Best Buy, Mercedes Benz, Apple and hundreds of other companies have done. And we can get the word out – from executive speeches to news clips – faster and to a broader audience than ever before, with a few mouse clicks.

Six decades after television took over America’s living rooms, its power to communicate, persuade, and entertain continues to grow. What are you doing to tap into the power of television in the social media age?