One of the reasons people tell so many tall tales at communication conferences is the darn things are so big that no one ever gets to feeling secure enough to tell the truth. So the first liar doesn't stand a chance.
Another reason is that most communication conferences are aimed to rope in everybody—from employee communications to marketing, from public relations to organizational development. So you can't assume the other attenders share your aims, or even your language.
And a final reason is that the conference producer shares everyone's interest in phony big talk, because flattering the crowd is a big part of the racket.
What if you got just a few serious communicators together—a certain culture of communicators, executive communications pros and speechwriters only, say—and the discussion was moderated by someone interested only in knowing the truth about how things really work. Someone who understands that no communication department feels "world class" from the inside. Someone who acknowledges you weren't born to be a corporate communicator and you've got other ideas still.
And then one at a time, everyone just shared the work they'd done that they were proudest of, and let the others ask questions. Then after that, everyone went around and shared their biggest problems, and let others make suggestions?
And everybody ate and drank in between, and got to know each other real well, and kept in touch, some for many years?
Wouldn't it be fun to go to a conference like that? Wouldn't it be exciting to go to a conference like that?
Well that's the kind of meeting that Vital Speeches is holding, at Pfizer headquarters in New York, Oct. 14-15. It's called Leadership Communication Days, and the format won't vary much from what I've just described.
I know, because I'm organizing the thing, and I'm going to be that awesome moderator.
There's a downside to keeping a group small, of course (we're capping it at 25): We have to charge about $2K for the event; and because it's such a pint-sized posse, the hotel drove a hard bargain and people have to reserve their room by Aug. 13.
So if you happen to be interested in coming to this one, register quick.
If you're interested in going to another conference like this on a subject closer to your heart, let me know.
I always love to get together and tell the truth about things.
The Tribune Co.'s new CEO Randy Michaels is "rethinking" the media conglomerate's business, according to a July 26 interview with The Wall Street Journal. For instance:
WSJ: You've centralized the production of foreign and national news across your papers to save money and manpower. What have you done and why?
Mr. Michaels: Stories [are] laid out in modules—standard sizes with collections of headlines, content, images [reducing the need for layout and copy editors]. ...
WSJ: How are you keeping employees motivated?
Mr. Michaels: We recognize people who've had great ideas. A fellow in Florida figured out a way to save us a couple of million dollars [in] the way we buy newsprint. We gave him a $25,000 check, took his picture, sent it around. There were some people who groused about that, but there were a lot more people who sent us ideas.
WSJ: Are companies spending money on advertising again?
Mr. Michaels: We're seeing a substantial rebound in certain sectors. Auto [advertising] is back to a large extent, particularly in broadcast, but I don't believe auto sales are matching ad spend. If that doesn't change it could be a different situation. BP is spending a lot of money [on ads]. There apparently is a bright side to polluting the planet.
Rethinking? He's not even thinking in the first place.
At my anger management class this week, I'm going to bring up two words and an expression that are causing me to want to step on bugs that aren't even in my path.
• “Learnings.” This is part of the PowerPoint culture. We can’t simply learn something. That would be too too homely, and a failure; after all, we read at least a hundred bullet points, did we not? But neither can we politely declare, “I learned three things today.” That sounds so brash! And so we say, meekly, “I took away three learnings ...”
• “Wonderings.” I'm peripherally involved with an institution where employees don't criticize one another's ideas; rather, they express their “wonderings." And believe me: Their wonderings are never, “Gadzooks, however did you conjure such an equitable and elegant solution?”
• “Just a thought.” When this phrase appears at the beginning of an e-mail, watch out: Some seriously passive-aggressive stuff on the way. When it appears at the end of an e-mail, it means something else. It means, “Somewhere in the course of writing this e-mail, it has dawned on me that my idea is utter baloney. But I’ve spent so much time writing the e-mail, that I’d rather you shit-can my idea, because it’ll be so much less painful for you than for me. 'kay? Bye!"
Let's make this group therapy. What do you have?
Normally I wouldn't have given myself permission to be touched by this, but it came from the self-actualized, white-maned, visual-communication goddess-among-us Suzanne Salvo, who lives in Italy half the year and whose taste is more refined than mine. So it's okay.
I'm accused of bringing too much emotion and not enough intellect to my linguistic analysis.
If anything, I think I'm not emotional enough.
I'm not a professional linguist; I only care about language to the extent that it pleases me, or pisses me off. It pisses me off when it's pretentious, or inherently dishonest.
Watching this Diane Sawyer interview with the Facebook geek Zuckerman, I ran across an example of usage that pissed me off mightily. Watch the video, and see how he repeatedly uses the quickly-uttered word "right" in what's either a totally presumptuous or an utterly manipulative way.
This usage—and I see it out of the young smart alecks from Silicon Valley to MSNBC—puts forth a coercive assumption that whatever the speaker is saying must be "right."
This is right up there with people—the same well-educated young-ish people, usually—who say "sort of" way too fucking much: At some level, I sort of felt a kind of enui.
Hey kids. You know how you sometimes watch FOX to see what the morons are talking about, and then Sean Hannity opens his mouth for four seconds and says something so jerky that you switch the channel real fast because you don't need more anger in your life?
Well what do you think the clodhoppers do when they click over to MSNBC and in the first minute, hear Rachel Maddow and her guests starting answers to questions with the word "so," saying "right" at the wrong time and using "sort of" three times in a sentence?
Think like an Ivy Leaguer; talk like a regular human being.
Today is the call for entries in the Strategic Video Awards, where we recognize videos that serve a strategic purpose.
It's the first video awards program strictly for professional communicators, as opposed to professional videographers, producers of commercials or other techno-slicksters.
As I explain on the website (I'm program chairman):
No matter what the entry category, the only questions our judges ask are: Is it absorbing? Is it persuasive? And most importantly: Did it work?
So whether you make videos for public relations, employee communication, marketing or customer service, you need to enter the awards program that rewards not the style of your videos, but the substance of your video communication.
The entry deadline is Oct. 15.
Let's see your best stuff.
Did you get this bulletin?
"Peritus is proud to announce our new expanded website!"
"With enhanced visual images and streamlined navigation, we've made it easier for you to get the info you need."
If you're like me, I know what you're thinking about this shocking development. Even though you have no idea what a Peritus is or what kind of info you could possibly need from it, you want to know only one thing, How can I help?!
And you're in luck.
"Find us on Facebook and Twitter and tell us what you think!"
Go! There's no time to lose!
Digging out last week after my vacation, I came across a big news item I'd missed; a communicator posted it on Facebook. Sorry for the late notice.
A worldwide group of communicators finalized "The Stockholm Accord" June 15, a call to action to improve our reputations.
Boy. Nothing'll ever be the same.