Communication Skills


Tiled double shower in master bathroom.Why do we think of so many great ideas in the shower?

Four conditions are generally in play:

  1. Our brain is relatively quiet with minimal electrical activity.
  2. We’re internally focused, letting our mind wander rather than being stimulated by external activity, such as digital screens.
  3. We’re in a positive mindset.
  4. We’re not directly working on any problems, especially work challenges.

As Dr. David Rock explained in his book Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long, it’s not the water that helps you get insights. It’s that you break the impasse in the way you’ve been thinking.

You’re lathering up while your subconscious brain works in the background. It taps into your stored memories and experiences and connects neurons in new ways for you.

And all of a sudden—as it seems to your conscious brain that has been taking a break from logical thinking—you have that “aha” moment. You’ve reached a great insight! (This is multi-tasking in a powerful, efficient way!)

Now contrast your experiences like this in the shower with what frequently happens at work.

Your prefrontal cortex—commonly referred to as the “executive function” of your brain—is often on overload. You’re trying to juggle a number of thoughts, you’re keeping an eye on your phone as well as the room you’re in, you’re listening to colleagues talking over one another, you all are on deadline to solve a new problem creatively, and you’re anxious about it and several other topics, especially since your boss just scared you about the consequences of last quarter’s performance on your department’s budget. Oh, and you’re hungry.

No wonder that only 10% say they do their best thinking at work, according to David. 

What can you do to improve your focus and your thinking at work?

Short of constructing a shower in your cube, start small with some tiny steps.

First embrace the concept of “will, skill and hill.”  

The “will” refers to your motivation to take control of your mind and thoughts. In other words, resolve not to play the victim, letting yourself and your thoughts be hijacked by others.  Granted this is easier said than done; however, if you’re willing to become more mindful and more self-aware about what distracts you, you’ve taken a large leap forward.

The “skill” is to learn and adopt new behaviors that will help you clear your mind, improve your focus and think more creatively. Consider starting with Tiny Habits®,the innovative program designed by Dr. BJ Fogg.

This past week, as a certified Tiny Habits® coach I coached people in a pilot program of Tiny Habits for Work. We designed many of these habits to improve mindfulness, productivity and satisfaction with work.

For example, some effective Tiny Habits for Work are taking three deep breaths, affirming what a great day it will be and walking around the office. 

Hill” is all about taking steps in your environment to reduce or remove the barriers so you can get over the hill that’s in your way and be more productive. You may not be able to shrink a mountain into a mole hill, but you should be able to start building a path that’s easier to go across.

How can you set yourself up for success to think more clearly and creatively?

Some ideas that work for others include: Set an alarm so you’ll take breaks every 60 minutes or so to stretch or even better, walk outdoors. Keep a file of cartoons that will make you laugh. Have flowers on your desk. (Or walk to the reception area and smell the flowers.) Spend a few minutes doodling or drawing.

Next, you need to experiment to find out what works best for you. 

Head And Brain GearsTo help you do so, join me for the webinar Stop Your Stinking Thinking: 7 Ways To Use Neuroscience To Sharpen Your Mind and Be a More Powerful Communicator and Leader  on Wednesday, May 21 at 12 noon ET (9 am Central). The webinar sponsor Communitelligence is offering $50 off when you use the code connect50.  Many of the ideas I’ll talk about on the webinar will help you improve your focus and your thinking as well as be more influential.

By the way, if you’re interested in diving into some of the research on this topic, check out the work of Dr. Mark Beeman at Northwestern University   who’s an expert on the neuroscience of insights. Also look at the research of Dr. Stellan Ohlsson at the University of Illinois  who studies the “impasse experience.”

Meanwhile, if you want any help becoming a “showerhead,” contact me. Who says showerheads should be limited to devices that control the spray of water in a shower?

Showerheads also can be those of us who think creatively in and out of the shower. What do you think?

By Liz Guthridge, Connect Consulting Group LLC

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Monument ValleyAs anyone who has crammed for an exam can tell you, usually the number of hours we work without interruption is inversely proportionate to how much we accomplish. So how do these entrepreneurs manage to work so many hours without suffering from brain fatigue?

Well, first of all, it is because they truly love being an entrepreneur and are passionate about their enterprise. But, I believe, part of the answer is that they wear so many hats. They never get stuck doing the same kind of work for too long.

Here are some more brain-based tips that can work wonders and could be what helps propel entrepreneurs forward:

1. Buy a good office chair, or get a standing desk. 

Focal Upright Furniture has a brand-new chair-and-desk combination on the market. Invented by Martin Keen, of Keen shoes fame, it uses a position between sitting and standing, and allows lots of movement as you work. It also helps those who use it remain attentive.

2. Do not multitask.

John Medina, author of Brain Rules, tells us the brain cannot multitask, period. What it does do is switch back and forth between tasks very quickly. Someone whose attention is interrupted not only takes 50% longer to accomplish a task but also makes up to 50% more errors. A study in The New England Journal of Medicine found that people who talk on the cell phone while driving are four times more likely to have an accident, because it isn’t possible to devote your full attention to both driving and talking at the same time. Hands-free calling offered no advantage. What’s the lesson to take away? Focus on one task at a time, and you’ll accomplish each better and faster–without killing anybody.

3. Use all your senses.

Work is more entertaining for your brain–and therefore makes you more alert–when you engage as many of your senses as possible. Use colored paper and pens. Experiment with peppermint, lemon, or cinnamon aromatherapy. Try playing background music.

4. Don’t make too many decisions in one day.

It sounds farfetched, but if you go shopping in the morning, then negotiate yourself out of eating a cookie at lunch, and finally try to decide between two job offers that afternoon, you might choose the wrong job because you didn’t eat the cookie, according to Scientific American. Making choices depletes your reserves of executive function, or “the mental system involved in abstract thinking, planning, and focusing on one thing instead of another.” This can adversely affect decisions you make later.

5. Take a quick break every 20 minutes.

A study in the journal Cognition reveals that people can maintain their focus or “vigilance” much longer when their brains are given something else to think about every 20 minutes. That’s the time when thinking becomes less efficient. This trick is called momentary deactivation. If your mind isn’t as sharp after a long period of work, it may not be completely fatigued. It just needs to focus on something else to refresh the specific neural network you’ve been using.

6. Work with your own circadian rhythms. 

Are you an early bird or a night owl? Do you fade every afternoon, or is that when you are strongest? Don’t schedule an important meeting at a time when you will be operating on one cylinder. And don’t waste your peak work time at a doctor’s appointment.

7. Relax for 10 minutes every 90 minutes.

When you’re awake, your brain cycles from higher alertness (busy beta waves) to lower alertness (alpha waves) every 90 minutes. At that point, you become less able to focus, think clearly, or see the big picture. You know the signals: You feel restless, hungry, and sleepy, and reach for a coffee. Herbert Benson of Harvard, author of The Relaxation Response, recommends working to the point where you stop feeling productive and start feeling stressed. At that moment, disengage. Meditate, do a relaxation exercise, pet a furry animal, go for a quick jog, take a hot shower, pick up your knitting, practice the piano, or look at paintings. Allowing your brain to go into a state of relaxation, daydreaming, and meditating will reset your alertness.

Read full article via Inc.



Your workplace is filled with liars! How do I know?

I’ve got this straight from one of the foremost authorities on body language in business, Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D. Carol conducted an extensive survey to research her new book, The Truth About Lies in the Workplace (Berrett-Koehler).

Here are a few of the startling facts she uncovered:

  • ·         67% of workers don’t trust senior leadership
  • ·         53% said their immediate supervisor regularly lied to them
  • ·         51% believe their co-workers regularly lied
  • ·         53% admitted lying themselves

Lies and deception are running rampant in the workplace. Fortunately, Carol’s terrific new book explains in easy to understand language:

  • ·         How to spot a liar and what to do about it
  • ·         How men and women lie differently
  • ·         How to deal with liars whether the liar is above, below, or on the same level as you
  • ·         The one lie you better not tell  your manager
  • ·         How to NOT look like a liar when you’re telling the truth
  • ·         Ways to foster candor and decrease deception in your organization

Carol’s advice applies whether the liar is a co-worker, boss, customer, prospect or board member. Her tips will help you defend yourself and your company from backstabbers, credit taking colleagues, lying bosses, gossips, and cheating job applicants.

I recommend that you read The Truth About Lies in the Workplace. When you order your copy now, you will also receive over $500 worth of career-building bonus gifts from Carol’s friends (including Communitelligence). And that’s no lie.

P.S. If you think you are too sharp to be taken in by a con man like Bernie Madoff, you had better read Chapter 3: Why We Believe Liars and How We Play Into Their Hands twice. Get your copy now.


This is a bibliography of writing books I recommend in my seminars. You may order most of these books by clicking the links below.

Bonime, Andrew, and Pohlmann, Ken C. Writing for New Media,

     New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1998.


Brooks, Brian, George Kennedy, Daryl Moen and Don Ranly. News

     Reporting and Writing, 8th ed. New York:

     Bedford/St. Martin’s Press, 2005.


Brooks, Brian, George Kennedy, Daryl Moen and Don Ranly.

      Telling The Story: The Convergence of Print, Television

      and Online Media. 2nd ed. Bedford/St. Martin’s Press, 2004.


Brooks, Brian and James Pinson. Working With Words, 6th ed.  New       

      York.  Bedford/St. Martin’s Press, 2006.


Caples, John, How to Make Your Advertising Make Money. Englewood   Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1983.


Flesch, Rudolf. The Art of Readable Writing. New York: Harper &    Row, 1977.


Kennedy, George, Daryl Moen and Don Ranly. Beyond the Inverted

      Pyramid. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992.


Kilpatrick, James. The Writer’s Art. Kansas City: Andrews,

      McMell & Parker, 1984.


Ogilvy, David. Olgilvy on Advertising. Toronto: John Wiley & Sons, Canada Limited, 1985.


Osborn, Patricia. How Grammar Works: A Self-Teaching Guide. New    York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1989.


Ranly, Don. Publication Editing. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt

      Publishing, 1999.


Strunk, William and White, E.B. Elements of Style. 3rd ed. New

      York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1999.


The Associated Press Stylebook And Briefing on Media Law.   

      Perseus Publishing, 2004. 


Zinsser, William.  On Writing Well.  2nd ed,, New York: Harper &

      Row, 1980.


Film and now electronic images have been influencing world events for almost a century now. The prison photographs coming out of Iraq this spring are images that not only are reshaping world opinion, but are also unique in both form and function. All of these pictures were made, as far as I know, by amateur photographers — people actually involved in the events themselves. Some say that as many as 1,000 such photos were made — all of them with digital cameras. In the past, most opinion changing images were made by professional photojournalists and videographers functioning as news reporters. These amateur photographers used digital cameras and computers — which allowed them to make, store, copy, and even transmit and ultimately publish their images via the Internet with instant ease, and at no cost. And so digital technology itself — this time in the hands of rank amateurs — has come to play a central role in shaping world opinion.

(Digital technology apparently also played a major role in still another picture-scandal coming out of Iraq this spring. Pictures published in the UK involving the British military were apparently electronic fabrications, undermining the validity of news reporting still again in this era of journalistic fraud.)

Another unique aspect of these crudely made digital snapshots made by American soldiers in Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib Prison is that those who made them were actually recording their own criminality in progress. Some images not only document their actions, but even go on to show us how these soldiers felt about what they were doing, as they went about doing it.

Still another important fact has emerged — many of these photos apparently were made as part of the actual punishment and pressure these soldiers are applying to their prisoners. They were making these pictures not just to record the event as documentation or personal souvenirs, but to further humiliate the Iraqi prisoners in their care, in order to “break” them.

Ultimately, these electronic images were not only published in newspapers and magazines everywhere, but also shown by television networks all over the world, and with varying contexts. In the most recent, and horrific, twist, the kidnapped American, Nicholas Berg, was murdered on videotape. According to his executioners, the killing was in reprisal for the American photographs coming out of Abu Ghraib prison.

Nobody can say where all of this will take us. The images themselves are only evidence — the substance rests in the brutality itself and its political effect on history. But when that history is written, electronic imaging will loom large as the visual story teller.

Phil Douglis, The Douglis Visual Workshops

Editor’s note:  For another reading of these photos, see the May 23, 2004 
New York Times article Regarding the Torture of Others(must be registered) by Susan Sontag — whose essays and books on the role of photography in society have given us much food for thought over the last 30 years.


Lost in time, Lisbon, Portugal, 2004

I shot this scene from the top of Lisbon’s famous, if somewhat battered, Elevador de Santa Justa. The iron elevator was built about 100 years ago by one of A.G. Eiffel’s apprentices. From my perch high over Lisbon, I used a telephoto converter lens to focus on a decorative motif set squarely into the middle of an intersection a few blocks away. I shot picture after picture of people walking through that intersection. Finally, I was able to get the proper spacing and interaction that would tell a story. In this cropped shot, I isolate eight people walking either to or from that decorative square in the middle of the intersection. I frame the scene between two signs and three vintage streetlights. Seven of these people seem to know exactly where they going. One, however, does not. He incongruously stands on the decorative pavement with his hands to his hips, wondering which way to turn. Needless to say, I could see him but he could not see me. I felt sorry for this guy and can empathize with him — it’s easy to get lost in time in the 200 year old streets of Lisbon – they can often start and stop without notice, disappear into plazas, and climb around hills, all of which makes it one of the most intriguing walking cities in the world. 


The familiar profile of Half Dome is over eight miles from this viewpoint, which is just beyond a tunnel cutting through the middle of a granite cliff.

From Phil Douglis’ Wisdom Lesson: Landscape Photography


While visiting Chengdu’s Panda Research Center, we came upon a class of local students training for jobs in the hospitality and tourism industries. They were at the Center, no doubt, because of its importance to tourism in the area. The group was made up primarily of young women — the fellow in this picture has a tough act to follow.
Copyright 2004 Phil Douglis

Lisbon, Portugal, 2004
Lisbon’s famous Elevador da Gloria is bright yellow funicular street car that rattles up the steep hill to the Bairro Alto neighborhood. Needless to say it was out of service the day I wanted to take it. So I photographed Lisboans taking the long steep walk on foot. (The graffiti on the wall behind her is probably somebody’s signature.) 
Shanghai sits on the sea at the mouth of the Yangtze. Its land space is limited, and its eight million people make the population density of Shanghai one of the highest in the world. Its skyscrapers reach towards the heavens, as does this monument in the People’s Park. Copyright 2004 Phil DouglisDiscu
Yellow, White and Red

The colors of fall and winter greet each other near Bridgeport.

From Phil Douglis’ Wisdom Lesson: Landscape Photography


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CHICAGO (Reuters) – Forget about what mom said about keeping your hands in your lap while talking.

Gesturing while speaking appears to free up the brain to perform other tasks, such as remembering a list, scientists said on Thursday.

In experiments with nearly 100 adults and children, psychologists at the University of Chicago found that gesturing while explaining a math problem improved the recall of a previously memorized list of numbers or letters.

To draw the conclusion, memory test results were compared when subjects were permitted to gesture and when they were told to keep their hands still.

The value of gesturing to convey meaning to the listener has been shown in previous research, but it also may help the conveyor of the information, researchers Susan Goldin-Meadow, Howard Nusbaum, Spencer Kelly and Susan Wagner wrote in a report published in the journal Psychological Science.

They said that even blind people gesture with their hands when talking to blind listeners, suggesting another purpose to all the hand-waving.

“Producing gestures can actually lighten a speaker’s burden,” they wrote. The report suggested that by tapping into a different part of the brain dealing with visual and spatial subject matter, gesturing may make demands on other memory stores and allow the speaker to remember more.

“Whatever the mechanism, our findings suggest that gesturing can help to free up cognitive resources that can then be used elsewhere. Traditional injunctions against gesturing while speaking may, in the end, be ill-advised,” they wrote.

NOTE: complete details of this same story can found here


Judy Gombita spotted this list of Great Literary Taunts:

  • “A modest little person, with much to be modest about.” — Winston Churchill (about Clement Atlee)
  • “I’ve just learned about his illness. Let’s hope it’s nothing trivial.” — Irvin S. Cobb
  • “He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.” — William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway)
  • “He had delusions of adequacy.” — Walter Kerr
  • “They never open their mouths without subtracting from the sum of human knowledge.” — Thomas Brackett Reed
  • “I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.” — Mark Twain

One of the most debated questions in all of journalism is how to handle direct quotations. Journalists “claim” (what a nasty way to attribute something) that they put inside quotations marks only what a person says. That’s what I urge in a chapter on quotations and attribution in the Missouri Group’s “News Reporting and Writing” (Bedford/St. Martin’s Press). But I could prove on any given day in any given newspaper that that rule is broken as much as it is followed.

Nevertheless, it’s a whole different story in corporate communications and news releases. I have been amused in seminars to corporate communicators how shocked they are when I tell them to change direct quotations however so slightly. For example, people use “very” very often in their everyday speech. I’d knock it out in direct quotations. Shocking. These same people often have little trouble making up whole quotations. Often the direct quotes are long, wooden and pretentious. I often ask, “Does he really talk like that?” Sometimes the answer is , “Yes, you betcha.” If he does, should you let him in print?

Do you have a policy on direct quotations? What is it? Join the discussion.

Don Ranly

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Steven Covey had the right idea.  There are discreet skills and attitudes, habits if you will, that can elevate your conflict practice to a new level.  This article shares a selection of habits and attitudes that can transform a good conflict resolver into a highly effective one.  By that I mean someone who facilitates productive, meaningful discussion between others that results in deeper self-awareness, mutual understanding and workable solutions.  

I have used the term ‘conflict resolver’ intentionally to reienforce the idea that human resource professionals and managers are instrumental in ending disputes, regardless of whether they are also mediators.  These conflict management techniques are life skills that are useful in whatever setting you find yourself.    With these skills, you can create environments that are respectful, collaborative and conducive to problem-solving. And, you’ll teach your employees to be proactive, by modeling successful conflict management behaviors

Understand the Employee’s  Needs

Since you’re the ‘go to person’ in your organization, it’s natural for you to jump right in to handle conflict.   When an employee visits you to discuss a personality conflict, you assess a situation, determine the next steps and proceed until the problem is solved.  But is that helpful?

When you take charge, the employee is relieved of his or her responsibility to find a solution.  That leaves you to do the work around finding alternatives. And while you want to do what’s best for this person (and the organization), it’s important to ask what the employee wants first— whether it’s to vent, brainstorm solutions or get some coaching.   Understand what the person entering your door wants by asking questions:

  • ·         How can I be most helpful to you?
  • ·         What are you hoping I will do?
  • ·         What do you see my role as in this matter?
  1. Engage in Collaborative Listening

By now everyone has taken at least one active listening course so I won’t address the basic skills.  Collaborative Listening takes those attending and discerning skills one step further.  It recognizes that in listening each person has a job that supports the work of the other.  The speaker’s job is to clearly express his or her thoughts, feelings and goals.  The listener’s job is facilitating clarity; understanding and make the employee feel heard.  

So what’s the difference?  The distinction is acknowledgement.  Your role is to help the employee gain a deeper understanding of her own interests and needs; to define concepts and words in a way that expresses her values (i.e. respect means something different to each one of us); and to make her feel acknowledged—someone sees things from her point of view. 

Making an acknowledgement is tricky in corporate settings.  Understandably, you want to help the employee but are mindful of  the issues of  corporate liability.  You can acknowledge the employee even while safeguarding your company.

Simply put, acknowledgement does not mean agreement.  It means letting the employee know that you can see how he got to his truth.  It doesn’t mean taking sides with the employee or abandoning your corporate responsibilities.  Acknowledgement can be the bridge across misperceptions.  Engage in Collaborative Listening by:

  • ·         Help the employee to explore and be clear about his interests and goals
  • ·         Acknowledge her perspective

o       I can see how you might see it that way.

o       That must be difficult for you.

o       I understand that you feel  _______ about this.

  • ·         Ask questions that probe for deeper understanding on both your parts:

o       When you said x, what did you mean by that?

o       If y happens, what’s significant about that for you?

o       What am I missing in understanding this from your perspective?

  1. Be a Good Transmitter

Messages transmitted from one person to the next are very powerful.  Sometimes people have to hear it ‘from the horse’s mouth’.  Other times, you’ll  have to be the transmitter of good thoughts and feelings.  Pick up those ‘gems’, those positive messages that flow when employees feel safe and heard in mediation, and present them to the other employee.  Your progress will improve.

We’re all human.  You know how easy it is to hold a grudge, or assign blame.  Sharing gems appropriately can help each employee begin to shift their perceptions of the situation, and more importantly, of each other. To deliver polished gems, try to:

  • ·         Act soon after hearing the gem
  • ·         Paraphrase accurately so the words aren’t distorted
  • ·         Ask the listener if this is new information and if changes her stance
  • ·         Avoid expecting the employees to visibly demonstrate a ‘shift in stance’ (it happens internally and on their timetable, not ours)
  1. Recognize Power

Power is a dominant factor in mediation that raises many questions: What is it? Who has it? How to do you balance power?  Assumptions about who is the ‘powerful one’ are easy to make and sometimes wrong.  Skillful conflict resolvers recognize power dynamics in conflicts and are mindful about how to authentically manage them.  You can recognize power by being aware that:

  • ·         Power is fluid and exchangeable
  • ·         Employees possess power over the content and their process (think of employees concerns as the water flowing into and being held by the container)
  • ·         Resolvers possess power over the mediation process ( their knowledge, wisdom, experience, and commitment form the container)
  • ·         Your roles as an HR professional and resolver will have a significant impact on power dynamics 
  1. Be Optimistic & Resilient 

Agreeing to participate in mediation is an act of courage and hope.  By participating, employees are conveying their belief in value of the relationship.  They are also expressing their trust in you to be responsive to and supportive of our efforts.  Employees may first communicate their anger, frustration, suffering, righteousness, regret, not their best hopes.  You can inspire them to continue by being optimistic:

  • ·         Be positive about your experiences with mediation
  • ·         Hold their best wishes and  hopes for the future
  • ·         Encourage them to work towards their hopes

Be Resilient.   Remember the last time you were stuck in a conflict?  You probably replayed the conversation in your mind over and over, thinking about different endings and scolding yourself.  Employees get stuck, too.  In fact, employees can become so worn down and apathetic about their conflict, especially a long-standing dispute; they’d do anything to end it.   Yes, even agree with each other prematurely.  Don’t let them settle.  Mediation is about each employee getting their interest met.  Be resilient:

  • ·         Be prepared to move yourself and the employees though productive and less productive cycles of the mediation
  • ·         Help the employees see their movement and progress
  • ·         Be mindful and appreciative of the hard work you all are doing

Hopefully, you’ve discovered that these are your own habits in one form or another and that your organization is benefiting from your knowledge.  You can learn more about workplace mediation and mediation in general from these books and websites:

The Power of Mediation

Bringing Peace into the Room

Difficult Conversation: How to Say What Matters Most (The New England Association of Conflict Resolvers)  (mediation portal site) (conflict management toolkit)

“Mediation is based on a belief in the fundamental honesty of human beings. Which is another way of saying we all want to be treated justly – that is according to our unique situation and viewpoint on the world. And we cannot expect to be treated justly if we do not honestly reveal ourselves.” ~ the Honourable Neville Chamberlain, British Prime Minister 1937


Dina Beach Lynch, Esq. was formerly the Ombudsman for Fleet Bank and is currently CEO of, an online conflict management toolkit.  Dina can be reached at


Dick Weiss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch does some neat stuff on writing  in his Weiss on Writing at  His address is  Recently he did a nice paragraph about punctuation and then took off about the exclamation point.  His title was “Ban the exclamation point — period.”  It’s a bit overstated, but that’s OK.  I feel even stronger about banning MOST dashes.  I say beware the dasher who when it doubt dashes.  If you see a dash in the first paragraph, start counting them.  Dashers are even worse when they have another point to make in a sentence and can think of no way to add it except after a dash.  Another sentence usually works just fine.  I had a teaching assistant once who said her high-school teacher told her class that they were allowed one dash per essay.  I like that.  Save the dash for dramatic contrast or emphasis.

Some members of our magazine faculty here at the Missouri School of Journalism got stirred up over something the person who is teaching Magazine Editing this semester wrote.   He questioned the use of the semicolon, especially in direct quotations.  He doesn’t mind the semicolon to break up lists that have commas inside them, but he wonders why and how we can determine whether two complete sentences or independent clauses are closely related enough to skip the coordinating conjunction and use  the semicolon instead.  I think that careful writers often do want to show a close relationship between two complete thoughts.  For example, “He enjoyed writing; he wrote every chance he had.”  Certainly we don’t want to join two complete sentences with simply a comma.  A comma alone joining two independent clauses is a comma fault or a comma splice.  I don’t allow them — ever.  I do allow three or more short sentences to be joined with commas.

The professor questioned how we ever know a speaker means to have two thoughts closely related.  Isn’t that interpreting what the speaker is trying to say?  My answer is, first of all, that if the speaker does not use a conjunction, we shouldn’t insert one.  Second, we always interpret what a speaker is saying or trying to say.  People don’t speak using punctuation marks, except perhaps for Victor Borge.  We insert punctuation marks such as commas, question marks, and even sometimes, exclamation points.

He emailed me that he thought semicolons in direct quotations looked funny.  I emailed him back that he had a strange sense of humor.  Of course, I don’t think we should overdo the semicolon between sentences, especially in direct quotations.

See how journalism professors spend their time?

Don Ranly


Writing good is a big deal these days. A bigger deal then math, according to my friends and I, but I’m not hear to represent there views. But, I thank it’s important to know the English language and all it’s rules.

Did you catch all the errors in that first paragraph? The spell-check on my laptop didn’t.

The College Board – those friendly scholars who bring us the SATs and other fun tests – recently released the results of a survey by its National Commission on Writing. The news is not good. A majority of U.S. employers say about one-third of workers do not meet the writing requirements of their positions. “Businesses are really crying out,” College Board President Gaston Caperton told the Associated Press. “They need to have people who write better.”

The employers who say people need to write better are in some surprising industries: mining; construction; manufacturing; transportation and utilities; services; and finance, insurance and real estate. It seems companies want everyone to be able to communicate effectively, not just the executives, lawyers and public relations people.

This might come as a surprise not only to people in the working world, but also to people who are preparing to enter it. Students who believe the informal shorthand of e-mail and instant messages is acceptable in corporate America might be in for a shock when they lose the jobs of their dreams because of misspelled words on their resumés. I recently read a self-promotion posted by a recent graduate on a job-seekers discussion board for the public relations industry. The misspelled words, poor sentence construction and grammatical errors were enough to make E.B. White turn over in his grave. It’s bad enough that the job seeker embarrassed herself in front of thousands of professional peers (she even proudly announced the college from which she graduated). I only hope no one committed the greater sin of actually hiring her.

I have a friend who recently left the practice of business communication so he could teach it to the next generation of professionals. In just a few weeks in the classroom he has experienced something akin to culture shock. “It is disturbing how little these students know about the English language and its proper usage,” he lamented recently.

A lot of people ask why it’s important to use correct grammar, spelling and punctuation in their jobs. I have two answers:

  1. Standards are necessary for society to function. Imagine if a construction company decided it was no longer important to follow standards of measurement. One foot might be 13 inches or 12 inches. Who cares? Just as chaos would reign in that scenario, the same would be true if we didn’t follow standards of language. Clear communication would be impossible.

  2. Credibility is at stake. I would not trust a computer programmer who doesn’t know code, a chef who doesn’t know how to measure ingredients, or a doctor who doesn’t know the human anatomy. Just as these people must know how to use the tools of their trade, so anyone who uses English to communicate must know how to use it correctly.

Fixing the problem that the College Board survey exposes is not easy. Teachers will have to stop misspelling words on the communications they send home to parents. (Yes, I’m the parent who keeps sending those notes back with proofreading marks all over them.) Students will have to take Language Arts more seriously, like it’s a ticket to a decent job. Most difficult of all, employers will have to insist that the people who work for them – no matter what their jobs or salaries – begin using correct grammar, learn how to write well and spell words correctly. Annual bonuses should depend upon it.

By the way, my laptop’s spell check caught only one out of at least seven mistakes in the first paragraph. “It’s” should be “its.” (I believe the second sentence is a fragment, which would be an eighth error, although the laptop doesn’t think so.) 

Robert Holland

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A woman from the audience followed me into the hallway. “I think we’re married to the same man,” she said. Successfully fighting the urge to fire off the snappy reply, “Could be. I travel a lot,” I simply smiled back. I’d heard this before.

I’m introduced as a change-management expert – married to a man who refuses to change anything. So, during my speech, I tell humorous stories about the resistance my husband puts up – and how I learned, from managers I’d interviewed, different ways to handle his protests.
After every speech, audience members come up to me to comment on my husband. Many people recognize their co-workers or loved ones (or themselves!) in him, and some (like the woman who’s own spouse’s behavior so resembled mine) jokingly commiserate with me. The thing I find most intriguing about this phenomenon is that in my twenty years of professional speaking, no one has ever approached me after a program to say they most appreciated my fifth point. That’s because they don’t remember what my fifth point was. But they do remember my husband and the lessons about handling change resistance that they learned through my stories.

As a communicator, stories can be your most potent allies.
Social scientists note that there are two different modes of cognition: the paradigmatic mode and the narrative mode. The former is rooted in rational analysis; the latter is represented in fairy tales, myth, legends, metaphors, and good stories. Good stories are more powerful than plain facts!
That is not to reject the value in facts, of course, but simply to recognize their limits in influencing people. Stories supplement analysis. Facts are neutral. People make decisions based on what facts mean to them, not on the facts themselves. Facts aren’t influential until they mean something to someone. Stories give facts meaning.

Here is the difference: Trying to influence people through scientific analysis is a “push” strategy. It requires the speaker to convince the listener through cold, factual evidence. Storytelling is a “pull” strategy, in which the listener is invited to join the experience a participant, and to imagine herself acting on the mental stage the storyteller creates. Stories resonate with adults in ways that can bring them back to a childlike open-mindedness – and make them less resistant to experimentation and change.

Compared to facts, stories are better for building community, capturing the imagination, and exerting influence. Stories about the past help employees understand the rich heritage of an organization, stories about early adopters offer successful examples of dealing with change, personal stories are powerful leadership tools for building trust, humorous stories can ease tension and, if you interview key staff, stories can capture their wisdom.

Stories can address universal human themes
Michael LeBoeuf, author of How to Win Customers and Keep Them for Life, illustrates the power of making people feel important with the following story:

Jane, recently married, was having lunch with a friend, explaining why she married Bill instead of Bob.
“Bob is Mr. Everything,” Jane said. “He’s intelligent, clever and has a very successful career. In fact, when I was with Bob, I felt like he was the most wonderful person in the world.”
“Then why did you marry Bill?” her friend asked. Jane replied, “Because when I’m with Bill, I feel like I’m the most wonderful person in the world.”

Stories can show how to approach your work
I once asked Sanjiv Sidhu, the CEO of i2 Technologies, what kind of attitudes he encouraged in his work force. Although his is a high-tech company, he told me a story about cleaning houses. It’s the same story he tells employees.

“Most people would think that cleaning houses for a living was a pretty boring job. But I believe that if you had the right attitude, cleaning houses could be intellectually stimulating. Let’s say it takes you four hours to clean a house, and you’re doing three houses a day, six days a week. That’s 72 hours of really boring work and a pretty sure recipe for burnout somewhere down the line. But if you redefined the job, said to yourself that you were going to do each house in two hours, there’d be an innovative component in the work suddenly. You’d need to do a study that asked, for example: ‘Am I going to vacuum the whole house first and then go back and polish the furniture, or am I going to do everything in one room before moving on to the next?’ And if you added to that goal the goal of being the best house-cleaner ever, then you really would be stretching your mind, the job wouldn’t feel boring anymore and you probably wouldn’t burn out because your own innovative thinking would keep you interested.

But then suppose you shifted gears again and said, ‘Okay, now I’m going to clean each house in ten minutes!’ That’s where the real fun would begin for someone like me because I’d know I couldn’t hit that target by merely tinkering with spatial tasking. I’d have to start thinking about new kinds of house-cleaning equipment–or maybe even new kinds of houses that cleaned themselves. That’s the kind of thinking we’re encouraging in our employees all of the time.”

Stories can make values come alive
Nordstrom is one organization that does a remarkable job of using anecdotes about its sales force to communicate its value of impeccable customer service. There is, for example, the often-repeated tale about the saleswoman who took her lunch hour to drive from downtown Seattle to the airport to make sure that her customer received his new business suit. The customer had purchased the suit that morning to wear at a meeting in another city the next day — and then discovered the garment needed alterations. The Nordstrom saleswoman had promised to have the suite altered and delivered to him before he left town. She kept her promise.

Stories can become the symbol of change
There is a story I tell in the book, “This Isn’t the Company I Joined” – How to Lead in a Business Turned Upside Down: Buckman Laboratories has been in the specialty chemical business since 1945. Under the leadership of Robert H. (Bob) Buckman, it also became a world-class, knowledge-sharing organization. Bob would tell you that converting a command-and-control organization into a networked one was not without its challenges and setbacks. Still, by 1994, Buckman Labs had jumped into full-bore knowledge sharing: new software and connectivity had been installed, most of the associates were equipped with laptops, and online Forums were up and running. To honor and reward the top 150 people from around the world who had done the best job of sharing knowledge with the new technologies, a “Fourth Wave Meeting” was held in Scottsdale, Arizona. The meeting was three days of fun, celebration and work – specifically, critical discussions about business trends and strategies. It was also the setting for the following story:

Through the entire conference, a man wearing shorts, a T-shirt, and sandals sat at the back of the room, chronicling the meeting on his laptop and sending live messages onto the Forum for the rest of the company to read. His name was Mark Koskiniemi. About midway through the meeting, one of the organizers (a manager) approached Mark and asked him to stop sending out notes on the meeting. Mark refused by saying he didn’t feel that was appropriate. When the organizer suggested that the request to cease came from the top, Mark countered by saying he’d appreciate hearing it personally.

A few minutes later, a break was called, and Mark found himself face-to-face with Bob Buckman. Here is how Mark recalls the conversation:

Mark: Hello, sir.
Bob: Mark, I understand that you have been posting notes from the meeting on the Forum. I have to say that I have not read them, but are you sure that is such a good idea?
Mark: Do you trust me?
Bob broke into a big smile, nodded slightly, and nothing further was said about Mark’s continued reporting of the events.
As Mark later said: “If knowledge sharing is built on trust, then to me this moment over any other demonstrated that Bob Buckman really trusted the associates of Buckman Laboratories to take the company forward.”

There were two results from Koskiniemi’s reporting:
1. In all, he sent more than 50 Forum or e-mail messages related to the reports coming from the meeting.
2. Koskiniemi (who is now head of Buckman’s operation in Australia and New Zealand) told others the story – and it came to symbolize the desired culture change.

Carol Kinsey Goman, Kinsey Consulting Services


It’s easy to play up the adversarial relationship between “Hacks” and “Flacks,” but the truth of this perennial love/hate relationship is that that we really do need one other. Although the value of PR professionals to journalists is often called into question, as this article points out, “the popularity of services like HARO and ProfNet should be proof enough that journalists have a need for PR professionals.”

That said, as PR professionals, our jobs are two-fold: Not only are we advocates for our clients, but we’re also here to make life easier on our journalist comrades. Between a non-stop news cycle, scary budget cuts and mounting competition for clicks, there’s a good chance they’re working in a pressure cooker environment, so the best thing we can do is to think from their perspective and assist rather than annoy. After all, it comes down to relationships, and there’s nothing worse than trying to work with someone who makes your job harder.

So, without further ado, here are our “Top 10 Yeas and Nays” for better PR practices. Although some may seem pretty obvious, those are often the ones that are first forgotten.

DON’T even think about…

  1. Not doing your research/reading a journalist’s articles before pitching. Know who you’re targeting, and only send something to them that you think would be of interest.
  2. Sending a pitch via email blast. The shotgun-spray approach is not appreciated; rather, think like a sniper.
  3. Asking if you can see and/or edit an article before it’s published. This is a huge no-no!
  4. Making up a response if you don’t know the answer. It’s perfectly acceptable to say, “I’m not sure. Let me check and get back to you.”
  5. Disregarding deadlines. Your journalist friend has theirs, so make sure you meet yours.

If you want to develop good working relationships, DO try…

  1. Respecting the journalist’s preferences. If they’re an email person, and you’re more comfortable on the phone, adapt. Work their way.
  2. Keeping pitches and releases short and to-the-point (and as buzz-free as possible). Repeat after me: Less is more.
  3. Thinking about how to streamline the process. Have assets and answers ready, and be available when the reporter is writing and may have a question. (Package the story beforehand as much as possible: angle, visual content, facts, references, spokespersons, etc.)
  4. Proofread, proofread, proofread. And when in doubt, hit spell check again before sending that pitch – perhaps even send to a colleague to review with fresh eyes before contacting the reporter.
  5. Focusing on relationships. I said it above, and I’ll say it again – it’s all about relationships. They make the job easier and a whole lot more fun! For example, interact with, read, comment on, share and praise a reporter’s work that you find of interest –  not just when it’s a story about your company or client.
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To create a cross lighting situation, try getting two stage lights, each hung from a “tree.” A tree is just a big metal pole that sits in a round heavy base with a smaller metal pole across the top that holds one to four stage lights. Position the trees on opposite sides of the room.

A typical stage light is called a Leiko. It is usually 500 to 750 watts (or more) and has four adjustable shutters for directing (cropping) the light into a target area without spilling onto another area, specifically the screen.

When you use stage lights on trees, it’s best when the ceiling height is 15 feet or higher, and free from obstructions such as low-hanging chandeliers. Higher ceilings allow the light to cast down onto you and create less spill onto the front rows of the audience.

The lower the ceiling, the lower the lights hang from the tree. Low hanging lights usually spill into the first few rows of the audience, and you end up with shadows of people on your body as you move in the Presenter’s Triangle (TM). Use the shutters to crop the lights from the bottom if the ceilings are too low.

Finally, add a dimmer pack to adjust the light level so that the presenter can still see the audience while speaking. A dimmer pack can be a small switch with a rotating round knob or it can be a complete lighting board with moving levers to reduce the intensity of the lights.

Tom Mucciolo – MediaNet, Inc.

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So you’ve just finished your big speech. You think you covered everything. You hope you did a great job. You think you’ve done a great job. People start coming up to you and telling you, “You did a great job!”

Finally, you relax. You really did a great job! And to think you were so nervous. Now you can relax…the tension has been relieved.

In fact, when the conference organizer comes up to compliment you after you speak, you can’t resist confessing “I’m so glad that speech is over. I was a nervous wreck.

Stop! This is a big mistake. You’ve just spoiled your whole image as a successful, poised professional.

In theory, everyone loves a candid, non-pretentious individual. But as human beings, we can’t help but be shaped by the last thing we hear from someone. And if the last thing we hear from someone is that they are scared and wallowing in self-doubt, then that is what we remember about that person.

Best practice advice: act as though you thoroughly anticipated that your speech would be successful. Act poised and confident at all times. This is not the same as acting smug or arrogant. Then, when you leave the conference or place of business and arrive home, you may confide to your best friends and loved ones that you were a nervous wreck.

It is critical that you keep your game face on until you have long left the arena.

TJ Walker, Media Training Worldwide

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If you plan it right, you can choose the exact moments to add impact to your presentation just by switching from the REST position to the POWER position from any of the three places in the Presenter’s Triangle.

For example, let’s say you have 20 minutes to present. You decide to start off in the middle of the triangle in the “rest” position (at a 45-degree angle to the room). On a particularly busy visual, you decide to move to the back of the triangle, closer to the screen, but still in your rest position. Then, from that same spot, you choose to square off into a “power” position just long enough to emphasize a key point. A moment later, you revert to the rest position, again, as you continue to present your information.

Perhaps later during your presentation you decide to move to the front of the triangle, and you get a little closer to the crowd, still in a rest position. As you tell of an experience related to the topic — at the high point in the story — you square off to the audience for impact.

The point of all this is that you planned some of the action. You don’t have to plan a move for EVERY spoken word! But, certain moments can be critical in your talk and you can create a plan for how your body will support the effort of your well-chosen words. If you can get used to being a “visual” presenter, the positions of the triangle and the angles of the body will be additional tools available for you to create impact.

Tom Mucciolo – MediaNet, Inc.

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How do you define a GREAT presentation?  Is it the comfort level you feel when presenting, OR the positive response you get from your audience? What if I told you that it should be both…by that definition, are you a great presenter?

Let’s delve into the elements of a successful presentation and discuss eleven really useful techniques you can implement right away.

1)   Define the reason you are presenting; what is the RESULT you want to achieve?  Are you training others, looking for investors, trying to sell a product or service, trying to get your budget or plan approved?…The list can go on an on.  It is important to be very specific about what you want before you prepare your presentation.  Your result must resonate throughout your presentation so that by the time you get to the end, the message is clear.

  • So take the time in the beginning of the process to write out the result you want to achieve, and be specific.

2)   Build your presentation points yourself; the story needs to be yours.  If you are given a pre-made presentation to present, modify it to your voice.

  • Make sure you brush up on your PowerPoint skills so you have the ability to do this.  It may be as simple as adding in transition slides, but you need to make it yours.

3)   Make sure your presentation tells a story with a beginning, a middle and end.

  • The beginning should resonate with the place your audience is currently at mentally (Obviously you must know your audience!).  If, for example, your area of the business has not been doing well…start there.  That is what they know, don’t hide it, get their attention by proving you understand them and their concerns.
  • The middle of the presentation should be a philosophical journey taking them from point A (the beginning of the presentation), through to point F, to point N, to point T.
  • The end of the presentation should be obvious by the time you get there.  You will have taken your audience on a journey; their mindset should have transformed to where you want them to be.  The end of your presentation should be your final points making sure there is a take away that everyone can clearly and collectively define.  An actionable summary that includes follow-up dialog, approvals, timeframes, etc.…

4)   Practice in front of a mirror, every page, over and over.  Nobody gives a presentation with 3×5 cards, or at least they shouldn’t.  Those days are over.  You need to be able to give your presentation at least 10 different ways.  By practicing in front of a mirror, you will force yourself to have eye contact, be aware of your appearance and be comfortable with the information you are presenting.  The more you practice, the better able you will be to adlib the material, answer questions and modify your approach based on the response of your audience.

  • Practice your presentation from start to finish and time yourself as if you were giving it to your audience.  Don’t start over mid way through…you can’t do that when it is real, so why practice that way.
  • Keep to your allotted time and modify your presentation accordingly.

5)   Memorize the first two or three sentences of your presentation, and the last two or three sentences as well.  DO NOT memorize anything in-between. You need to be able to adlib the majority of the presentation, but don’t leave yourself in an uncomfortable position in the begging or end.  You must force yourself off to a good start and finish on a high note, no matter what happened in-between.

  • Make your words meaningful, use some humor if you like but make sure it is actually funny.  I recommend some powerful statements that ask a question like…why are we here?
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The “priority” buttons are very useful, especially when your slide contains many objects or layers. By priority, we mean these buttons will allow you to change the “order” of how your objects appear in relation to each other. You can move objects behind, or in front of, other objects.

This ordering is controlled by a set of four buttons. They are quite simply, “Bring to Front”, Send to Back”, Bring Forward” and Send Backward.” Although they appear as a sub-menu to the “Drawing” menu, it’s much more convenient to have them displayed on the toolbar for easy access.

The “Group/Ungroup” set of buttons are also very handy to have on the toolbar. These buttons allow you to quickly group or ungroup a selection of objects for moving, copying, or editing. The grouping feature helps to keep your slide “organized” for easy editing. Keep in mind, that any animation effects applied to a “group” will be lost when “ungrouped”, and any effects applied to individual objects before grouping will be lost when they are grouped. So it’s a good idea to make a duplicate of the slide before editing, just in case.

Tom Mucciolo – MediaNet, Inc.

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