Business Writing

A few months ago, I was asked to distil business writing skills into a 30-minute presentation followed by lots of practice. The delegates were managers and team leaders in a large British company. (Not IT or environment, as it happens.)

After much deliberation – cutting is so much harder than adding, I got the presentation down to a core of nine slides:

BW

You can get it/download it from SlideShare.

Hopefully, you'll find the tips helpful but, if you want more, please drop me a line – my name [at] tebbo.com is easiest.

Eggs and baskets

Being away from here has given me a chance to focus intensely on launching a new magazine without too many distractions. We now have five issues under our belt and I have reaquainted myself with the rhythms of conventional publishing. I know where the peaks and troughs of effort lie and I can get back to a more normal and less distorted life in the troughs.

Creating, editing and writing for Blue & Green Tomorrow has been a lot of fun and a lot of hard work. And it couldn't have happened without Simon, Lori and Dominic (publisher, sub-editor and designer respectively) and, of course, our marvellous contributors. Other people take care of 'webifying' the magazine at blueandgreentomorrow.com. You can register (free) which gives you an account tab and access to digital copies of the magazine. Otherwise much of the content is publicly available under the various themed tabs.

Even through the mayhem of the launch, I've continued to do the occasional course on how to handle the media, often with my long-time partner in crime, Martin Banks. We used to call ourselves 'Press Here' but, when we both deviated out into analysis work, we sold the domain and renamed ourselves greybeards. One look at our photos will tell you why. I also run the odd writing skills workshop for business people.

And, now, here I am blogging again. Given the nature of the magazine, I suspect that I'll be blogging more about sustainability (could a word possibly sound more boring?) than about IT. But it's hard to keep me away from software. Talking of which, I now have an HTC Desire smartphone running Android, and jolly pleased I am too. That could be another running theme.

We'll see. But, as you can see from the title, I think that a deliberate spread of activities, providing I can do all of them well, will makes for a more balanced and fulfilling life than having all my eggs in one basket.

So, the last post turned out not to be The Last Post after all, just a pause while I gathered my wits.

See you again soon.

David

 

The Last Post?

I have a feeling that Teblog has come to the end of its useful life. Postings are sporadic and run the danger of being ‘promotional pieces’, which is really not what blogs should be about.

The reasons are many but in my heart I’ve always wanted to deliver insights or information of some value. I’m finding that, this year in particular, my energies have been going elsewhere, especially into Blue & Green Tomorrow in the latter half. Plus media skills training workshops.

This focus (plus family, which I rarely write about) means I owe most of my thinking to my customers. If I have thoughts or insights into my training clients’ businesses then I share them with the client, not with the outside world. And, with the magazine (and, soon, its companion website, blog and newsletter) I tend to think for its benefit, rather than surface my thinking here.

If I have any profound, general-purpose, insights then you can bet that I’m not the first to have had them and I’ll simply be adding to the noise. If I find someone who’s articulated them well, I am happy to link to them through Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.* If, by some miracle, I think they’re original, I’ll Tweet them.

So, after six years of blogging (the first few months were on another platform) I’m seriously thinking of making this the last post.

For anyone who’s been kind enough to add me to their RSS feeds, I’d like to thank you very much and hope that you’ve extracted the occasional nugget of value.

The blog will stay live until the next renewal, in April. But don’t expect much, if anything to happen.

(The only vague germ of a thought that I’ve had is that if people wanted to ask me stuff, I could reply here. But, really, that could probably be done via Twitter – “Hey, @tebbo, any thoughts on …”)

So, thanks again, for your attention. See you on Twitter, maybe?

 

*I try to reserve Facebook for friends and family and LinkedIn for business people I know personally

Managing Brand and Reputation in a Social Media World

Last week I co-presented a BrightTALK webinar on the impact of social media on branding and reputation for an audience of media and marketing professionals.

The lead presenter was Cathy Pittham, MD of the European arm of global PR company, the Racepoint Group. (Its chairman, Larry Weber, is something of a new media marketing guru and has been writing books on the subject since before most of us knew it was a subject.)

I went to Cathy because I felt she’d have far more practical advice to offer than I possibly could. After all, I was a bit of an outsider to marketing and PR – mainly an observer or a victim, depending on your point of view. So it ended up becoming ‘her show’ with me asking questions on behalf of the audience.

As we went through the preparation, it became clear to me that operating effectively in the social media world requires many of the hard-won skills from the traditional media world. It also needs a cultural shift by all participants towards openness, giving genuine value and two-way engagement.

Nothing new there, I hear you say. Which is true. Which is why the presentation focuses primarily on what good stuff and processes can be nicked or adapted from tradtional PR and Marketing activities.

As we discussed the powerful combination of traditional and social media techniques, I desperately wracked my brain for a suitable parallel. All I could think of was a nuclear chain reaction, which is triggered by combining two volumes of fissile material to make a single ‘critical mass’.

Which is what led to me slipping this final image into the slide deck.

Boom

The webinar (BrightTALK calls it a webcast)  lasts a tad under 45 minutes, unless you skip from slide to slide to make it quicker (and jerkier).

The social media world changes all the time but we hope that this presentation will offer you a durable ‘framework’ for your own planning.

Track what’s important with paper.li

To my (slight) shame, I periodically purge the list of people I follow on Twitter. I simply don't have the time to read the minutiae of some of their lives, despite the fact they occasionally come up with worthwhile gems.

Now, I've discovered a way of getting the best of both worlds: I can keep up with the more interesting/useful Tweets from whoever I like while keeping down the number of people I follow in Twitter itself.

So, three cheers for paper.li – a free service that builds online daily newspapers: from a Twitter user and the people they follow; from a twitter list; or from a hashtag. It looks for Tweets that contain links and publishes an extract from the destination, crediting the Tweeter at the foot of the piece. You can click the headline to go to the original article/site

Paper.li earns its money from small display ads dropped into your newspaper.

Paperli

'envirolist' is my Twitter list of people who specialise in environmental and ethical stuff.

You probably can't see the detail in the above picture, but it has a 'trending topics' cloud and a live Tweet stream from the people in the list over on the right.

I currently have two papers running and I can create a further eight. My two are paper.li/tebbo and the one above, paper.li/tebbo/envirolist.

As a quick way to catch up on what's going on, paper.li is a corker. It requires minimal effort to set up a paper and it will even announce each new edition to your Twitter followers if you want, complete with the inclusion of some contributors' names.

Envirolisttweet

[Update Sept 7: I switched the notification off two days ago. While no-one had complained to me, paper.li updates were beginning to annoy some Twitter users. This could only get worse as the service became more popular. Today, the company has changed the notification to top story only and it has dropped name plugs. It helps, but if anyone wants to follow my papers, the links are in my Twitter bio. I'm not switching notification back on.]

With paper.li's simplicity comes a lack of flexibility but, once you start complicating things, you have to start learning stuff. This turns (some) people off.

As it stands, paper.li reminds me of my first encounter with Google – it was a shock to just see a text box and a search button. And look what that led to…

One Tweet leads to an improved infographic

Although I was delighted with the infographic I ended up with in the last post, I knew it could be improved. If only I could figure out how to use just a single .gif, sliding the overlay elements into view as the finger or mouse hovered over them.

If you've not read the post, I used over 20 separate transparent .gif files, laying each one over the top of the background image in response to the mouse/finger hover position.

My CSS skills (or lack of them) meant I was spending days wrestling with the single .gif problem. And the work I'd already done was doing a good job anyway. The total size of all the files involved was about 180k and I figured I'd be unlikely to save more than a third of that. But, the elegance of a two-file solution (HTML/CSS in one, all the images in the other) appealed to the erstwhile programmer in me.

At the point of giving up, I thought I'd throw out a plea for a CSS wizard and, blow me down, one Ben Summers responded. I'd written a piece about his Information Systems company, OneIS, in 2008.

I explained pretty much what I said in the previous post and within the hour, he sent me an email outlining how he would tackle the problem. He broke the log jam. I'd already prepared the new graphic in anticipation, slightly jazzing up the images as I went along, so all that was left was to replace bits of my code with bits of Ben's and insert the coordinates of the various bits of the new image.

This is a shrunken version of the new image with a ghastly yellow to show up the transparent areas:

ArchImage

The layout looks a bit peculiar because each overlay element needed to occupy its own rectangular area.

Ben's CSS used the z-index attribute to make sure that the hover layer was nearest the user, the overlay layer was next and the background layer (taken from the top part of the gif) was at the bottom. In my fumbled attempts to achieve a result, I got the hover and overlay layers the wrong way round, which meant that the hotspots were often hidden by the overlay element. Ben's code did it right, of course.

The hover layer was the bit that was giving me the most grief because I wanted to associate multiple hover areas with one overlay element. Here's the blended Ben/David answer for the transition element (the loopy thing about halfway down the image on the right):

#tr  .p1  {left:168px; top:301px; width:74px; height:70px; }
#tr  .p2  {left:243px; top:330px; width:46px; height:35px; }
#diagram #tr a:hover span.img
{
  left: 172px; top: 307px;
  width: 407px; height: 124px;
  background-position: -553px -1222px;
}

The first two lines define the hotspots and the third determines the hover action which is to display the overlay element defined in the lower curly braces. The first two lines in these braces determine where the overlay should be placed and the third shows where it can be found in the .gif image.

The HTML part for this same element looks like this:

 

#tr stands for the transition element. The 'a href=' anchor goes nowhere on click (but it could take you off somewhere else). The first two spans deal with the hotspots while the third slides the overlay in between the hotspot layer and the background.

If you want to explore the CSS/HTML and .gif in detail, they're at http://www.tebbo.com/howtohandlethemedia/index.html  and  http://www.tebbo.com/howtohandlethemedia/newarch.gif

Of course, it didn't end there. I offered to give Ben a hand with something he's doing. And, who knows, that may end up the subject of another blog.

Cheers Ben. Cheers Twitter. And good luck to you if you plan to go down the interactive infographics route. I've quite got the taste for it and I'm already planning my next one.

Interactive Infographic: How To Handle The Media

Since 1988, Martin Banks and I have been running media skills training courses. Early on, we introduced an ‘architecture’ for the process. We drew it on flipcharts for a few years then, in 2004, we formalised it and started giving it out as part of our wallet-sized plastic business card. The model acts as an ‘aide memoire’ for all who’ve attended our training.

Card

A few weeks ago, I was rummaging (as you do) some infographics – pictures that speak well over a thousand words – and took a shine to the interactive variety, where the graphic responds to the user’s actions.

I’d just been doing some training work with the Racepoint Group and, coincidentally, one of its US staff Kyle Austin wrote a blog post: Are Infographics the New Slide Shows?  Good point, I thought, having just taken someone through our ‘architecture’.

So I set to work to convert our flat image into something a little more lively. It’s aim is to refresh the memories of those who’ve attended our training and to give others an appreciation of how they might set about handling the media.

The first attempt was an animated .gif file with text boxes to expand on each element of the image. Horrible. Boring. Sequential. No user interaction. Didn’t lend itself to the web. Etc.

I wanted an interactive infographic that would work in more or less any browser and not depend on the presence of JavaScript, Flash or any other kind of plug-in. Just HTML and CSS. (I’d done some simple stuff before, here and here, so I was optimistic that it could be done.)

The second attempt was a graphic that the user could mouse over, highlighting image elements and showing the relevant text in a nearby box. The size was determined by my computer screen, which was a bit stupid because many of the people I’d like to share it with might have a smaller screen – an iPad for example.

So I reworked it with the iPad in mind. The hover can be achieved with a finger, even on the smallest graphical element. And while I was resizing everything, I added drop shadows and rounded corners to the text boxes.

If you’re interested, the end result is at How To Handle The Media

IPad1

I hope you enjoy it.

 

PS If anyone wants the gory technical details of how to do this sort of thing, I’ll pen another post. Just ask.

On Style Guides

Neville Hobson blogged today about writing-style guides. And, for those of us with a passion for the written word, we can't get enough of them.

The average business person, though, probably has a different view. This is the essence of the comment I wrote on Neville's post:

People in business want to communicate effectively. Unless they can gather their wits in the first place, then no amount of style is going to rescue them.

Assuming they have got through the wit-gathering stage successfully, they then don't want the hassle of reading fat style guide books. They'll end up confused and worried. Their focus could easily drift away from what they're trying to write to how their writing will appear to the erudite. What matters is how it appears to their target audience.

You're right to distinguish between informal 'social' writing and 'business' writing (thankfully, you've avoided 'academic' writing) but it's probably better to encourage people to shed their inhibitions, than to create new ones.

The bottom line for your readers is, "Don't be intimidated by grammatical rules and the like" and, "Your value is in knowing your subject matter and how it benefits your audience".

If you can speak clearly, then (IMHO) you're ninety percent of the way to being able to write well.

(I will confess to a small amount of editing as I read through the above. The version on Neville's blog was straight off the cuff.)

Media Skills 101 (reprise)

First of all, apologies for radio silence. I’ve been on holiday. Very nice it was too. We hired a motorhome and stayed at four sites in Dorset. We hired the highly specced and almost new vehicle from Ferndown-based Abacus which turned out to be a very professional company. Highly recommended if you fancy that sort of holiday.

Before I get stuck in to blogging again, I thought you might be interested in some posts I wrote over five years ago about handling the press. While a lot of the press appears somewhat emasculated these days and the new media folk are largely more kindly, the suggestions I made then are no less valid for shaping your outlook and approach to the media of any kind.

Unearth, Write, Polish, Share

Well, the die is cast. It took a while but my new life is well and truly sorted out. The idea that I'll spend the rest of my working life helping others to be better communicators feels really good. The ego's parked and the doors are open for business at Tebbo Towers. Actually, the 'Towers' is a joke. I live in a bungalow.

Before I say anything else, I have a ton of 'thank you's and I hereby grovel if I've left anyone off the list. These are to people who, wittingly or not, have helped me gather my thoughts this year: Adriana Lukas, Al Tepper, Anne Marie McEwan, Brian Smithson, Cathy Pittham, Dale Vile, David Terrar, David Topping, Euan Semple, Luis Suarez, Marjolein Hoekstra, Mark Chillingworth, Martin Atherton, Martin Banks, Matthew Pudney, Nick Spencer, Robert Norum, Ronnie Simpson, Sophie Morrow, Tim Lawes, Tom Foremski and Tracey Poulton.

In different ways, whether it was feedback or inspiration, every one of those people has edged me closer to an understanding of what services I should offer and what my website should look like. Along the way, I've tried to give some value back to some of these people. It's been unevenly distributed and, for that, my apologies.

Tom Foremski deserves special mention for his understanding of the role of the organisation in new media terms. His slogan "Every Company Is A Media Company" may still be ahead of its time, even though it's already four or five years old. 

I take the view that we are in a period of transition: some organisations buy into Tom's story and they're out there delivering real value directly through (mainly) new media. Others are holding back and still getting their stories out indirectly through traditional journalists and bloggers. Yet others have a mixed model. No-one knows where this will end. I'd like to think that the value of real journalism will become appreciated once more. But maybe the checks and balances will come from the more responsible parts of the social media world. We'll have to see.

In the meantime, with the help of Tom and others, I have been lucky enough to construct a life that is based on one thing: enabling skilled communication. And, whatever the evolving shape of the media, these skills are universal and perpetual and they apply to other spheres of our lives.

If you have a moment and you're interested getting help with unearthing and sharing your valuable stories, then please drop me a DM, an email or give me a call. The details are on the website at http://www.tebbo.com/. I look forward to hearing from you.