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G is for Gimmick

Approx. reading time: < 1 minute

Using cheap tricks or stunts to grab an audience’s attention is the presentational equivalent of click bait. So here ACM Training’s communication coach, Richard Uridge, explains (with just a hint of festive irony) the difference between gimmicks and legitimate devices to hook people into your presentation. And, yes, you really won’t believe what he looks like today!

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It’s over darling (I mean dialling)

Approx. reading time: 2 minutes

My divorce should be coming through this week…

When we first got married more than a quarter of a century ago I genuinely couldn’t have lived without you. In fact, I’d loved you from afar for a whole lot longer. After all, we’d grown up together…

Through draughty red telephone boxes – less-than-cosy chats chewing through pockets full of tuppences. Through reverse charges when the money ran out (which it often did), three digit phone numbers and party lines. The operator sat in the exchange at the end of the road “putting you through now.”

We’ve been through more codes than Bond – 01, 071, 0171, 020, 0207 and counting…

We’ve been together through faxes. Through that weird whistling-while-you-wait dial up – all 56Kbps of it. And I’d like to say we’d been through twisted pairs together to the promised land of superfast fibre. But that’s where our relationship has been stuck. In the 3Mbps doldrums for many, many years and through many, many tears.

Let’s face it, we’ve grown apart. My need for speed is greater than your ability to deliver it. I’m sick of your excuses: too far from the exchange; not economically viable; not enough call for it in your area…

I know I’ve threatened to leave you many times before. And every time you came running back to me with promises you’d change. Like when you said you were over your love affair with the local copper. You telegraphed your intentions but in the end left me hanging from pole to pole.

So I’ve hooked up with somebody new. Somebody who can deliver. So long BT. It was fun while it lasted. But I should’ve left you years ago.

I hear you may be hooking up with a foreign lover. Good luck with that. They’ll promise you gifts. But they won’t deliver. Then you’ll know how I feel.

PS If you want to get a hold of us here at ACM Training you’ll find plenty of other ways than an old school landline on our website (which will, of course, one day be old school in itself but by then we’ll all have chips in our heads and just have to think of somebody and they’ll be in touch).

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How a treasury tag might have saved the Prime Minister’s bacon

Approx. reading time: < 1 minute

Every failure is an opportunity to learn and grow – even when you’re the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. And it’s to him that we dedicate this episode of the Z to A of Presenting: T is for Treasury Tag. Watch to find out how the PM could have saved himself a whole heap of grief in that lemon-chewingly embarrassing speech to the CBI with one of those little bits of string with a tiny metal bar at either end that are buried at the back of stationary cupboards everywhere. It could just save your next presentation from a #peppapig moment too!

PS Buy shares in treasury tags!

“I knew those treasury tags would come in handy one day.”

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The end of the F word?

Approx. reading time: 2 minutes

No not that F word! But the F pattern that describes the way the human eye takes in content from a screen. A quick scan from left to right along the top of the screen (the top bar of the F). A smaller scan just beneath it (the second horizontal bar). And a glance up and down the left hand side (the upright of the F).

Eye tracking and heat mapping studies of the human eye established this browsing pattern and, based on that research, web writers and designers were encouraged to string the hooks – the words and images – that grab a potential reader’s attention – somewhere along the F. Not bury those hook so far down that they wouldn’t be seen let alone read. Except maybe the F pattern no longer applies.

I say this because I’ve just updated my iPhone to iOS 15.1 and I’ve noticed the address bar has moved to the bottom of the screen (see screenshot). This may seem like a modest layout tweak. But this is HUGE change. It’s akin to the change from top-loading to front loading washing machines. Seriously, I don’t think anyone has yet fully thought through the implications. It could, for example, mean that the screen space just above that box with the URL in becomes as important as the top of the screen. So perhaps the F will morph into an E.

An annotated iPhone screengrab showing the address bar has moved from top to bottom.

That said, what hasn’t changed it is that words still matter. Always have. Always will. Top loading and front loading washing machines have clothes in common. F pattern or E pattern websites have words in common. The right word in the right place is always going to do better than the wrong word in the wrong place. So it’s worth asking: is this the right place? Right down the bottom here with the address bar (at least on my iPhone)? I’m keen to know your thoughts…

Still not sure what the F pattern is? Then here’s a quick video we put together for one of our clients who used our Ask the Owls service on our YouTube channel.

This post first appeared on LinkedIn and will be leading me to update (yet again) my modest little book Writing for the Web which is available to buy here and on the Apple and Amazon bookstores for just £4.99 which is probably less than you spend on coffee everyday and will give you a buzz for weeks.

UPDATE: Since posting this I’ve discovered that it’s possible to change the location of the search bar back to the top of the screen. So maybe news of F’s death is a little premature. If, like me, you want to change back to the old location go to settings>Safari>Tabs and select the Single Tab radio button as per the screenshot.

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Writing for the Web – now available on Apple Books

Approx. reading time: < 1 minute

The first volume in ACM Training’s Wise Owl how-to series is now available in the Apple Bookstore. As an e-book only (for the time being at least) the publication of Writing for the Web – why reading differently means writing differently is not quite up there with the excitement I felt as my first front page lead thundered off an old News of the World hot metal printing press back in my days as a cub newspaper reporter. But hey, that’s the post-Gutenbeg era for you eh?! At only £4.99 in the UK and a similar price in 50 other countries I reckon it’s brilliant value for money. But then I would say that… I’m the author. Judge for yourselves and please let me know if you agree. Or not.

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Albert Mehrabian and the “it’s not what you say it’s the way that you say it” rule.

Approx. reading time: < 1 minute

“Heard of Albert Mehrabian? Probably not. But you’ll almost certainly have heard his work quoted or, more likely, misquoted: that 55% of face-to-face human communication is non-verbal; 38% is para-verbal (that is, to do with the tone and volume); and that only 7% of meaning is derived from the actual words spoken.

There was nothing wrong with the UCLA professor’s original research back in the 1970s. His sample was small and the circumstances narrowly defined. But that didn’t stop the media misinterpreting the results and Mehrabian’s work has been misrepresented ever since.

The fact is that as a presenter words are your principle tool for communicating. And whilst I have no empirical evidence to quote, I’d hazard a guess that in most presentations your words account for nearer 93% of meaning than the remaining seven. If so, then the words you speak are important. The words you choose are important. The way you put those words together is important. In short words are important.”

This is an excerpt from Speak Easier, Richard Uridge’s excellent little treatise on presentation and public speaking skills which is available to download now for the special price of just £4.99.

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Things you can do with Zoom and never realised

Approx. reading time: < 1 minute

We’re often asked how our Zoom and Teams meetings and training sessions here at ACM are funkier than most. So here’s the answer! Our chief geek (and media and communication coach) Richard Uridge runs through the kit we’ve put together to make our online courses visually stimulating.

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The Z to A of Presenting: Z is for Zoom

Approx. reading time: < 1 minute

The first in the “Z to A of Presenting” (because why start at A when everyone does)? In this Halloween-themed episode Richard Uridge explains how a simple sticky can help you keep your audience engaged. Watch to the very end if you want the full, scary surprise.

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Ctrl copy ctrl paste | the two greatest enemies of creativity

Approx. reading time: < 1 minute

Original writing is just that. Something new. Something that’s never been written before. And, by extension, something that’s never been read before. That’s not to say it’s any good. Original writing can be crap.

So why on earth would we want to use copy and paste? If the writing we’re copying is, indeed, crap we’re just adding to the dung heap. And if it’s any good we’re, at the very least, guilty of being unoriginal.

Whilst they have their uses those two keyboard shortcuts stifle creativity. So use them sparingly. Or, as this article in the Guardian suggests, be more like the actor Tom Hanks and use a typewriter instead.

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Crisis comms and expecting the unexpected – or what to do when a multi-coloured monkey with a fake penis swings by

Approx. reading time: 3 minutes

We advise clients on our emergency planning and crisis communications courses to gaze at the horizon and draw up a list of bad things that could happen. And then, in the name of preparedness, to map against that list the key messages their nominated spokespeople would deliver via the media should those things happen. Saves a lot of time and effort scrabbling around for what to say and who to say it mid-crisis.

Most come up with the obvious: floods; fires; financial irregularities. Many have now added pestilence (aka Covid-19) to their Four Horsemen of the Corporate Apocalypse risk registers. But I’d wager not one organisation anywhere has a plan for what to do when their reputation takes a hit from a six foot rainbow-coloured monkey with bare breasts, buttocks and a clip on willy. I mean why bother? It’s not going to happen is it? Too off the wall…

Except that’s exactly what happened to a local authority. Said primate turned up at a reading event for children. Yes, for children! And I don’t mean randomly or mischievously gate crashing proceedings uninvited, causing red faces out of the blue as it were. I mean actually booked to appear in all its semi-naked glory. So you can imagine it caused quite a heads-must-roll kerfuffle, quickly spilling over from social to print and broadcast media. Politics being what it is the affair even trended on Twitter for a time giving the council’s head of communications pink kittens (if you’ll excuse the mixed animal metaphor).

I won’t add to the council’s embarrassment by naming it here. My purpose is simply to ask: what’s the lesson – beyond the trite expect the unexpected?

Strikes me that although the specifics of the case are so bizarre as to be wholly unpredictable, it does fit into a category that one could loosely call offence caused but not intended. The mayor having a wardrobe malfunction at a civic function might also fit into this category along with a council flyer containing a double entendre that the sub editors missed. The idea is you work out in the planning phase what to say in these kinds of cases. Then at least you have a working set of generic key messages that can be tweaked to fit the specifics. Quicker than starting from scratch.

So here are my generic key messages for OCBNI (horrible acronym alert – offence caused but not intended) situations with suggested quotes for the specific situation in italics:

  1. Say sorry swiftly. Sorry may seem to be the hardest word but it costs nothing and could save a run on your reputational stock later. “It certainly wasn’t our intention to cause offence but clearly we have and for that, of course, we are truly sorry.”
  2. Explain what the intention was. People (and monkeys) often get hold of the wrong end of the stick. Sometimes deliberately so. The story then becomes all about the stick. So remind people what the real story is. In the above case you could say something like: “Our intention was to get young people interested in reading. It didn’t go quite to plan (smile) but reading is such an important life skill and we certainly make no apology for trying really hard to encourage it.”
  3. Concede that something went wrong or, at the very least, didn’t go right. Journalists, interviewers, the baying social media mob love to push back. If you step back voluntarily there’s nothing for them to push against. “This shouldn’t have happened. We need to understand how it happened. And when we understand how it happened – even if it was just basic human error, someone not engaging their brain before booking the monkey act – we need to do our best to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
  4. Steer the interview process so you can re-iterate and, therefore, reinforce the apology but be determined to end on a positive note. “So our apologies for any offence caused but remember reading is a vital skill – quite simply people who learn to read well in childhood tend to earn more, enjoy better health and live longer. (And that definitely isn’t monkey business.)”*

*I’d be inclined to omit the bit in brackets depending on the tone of the interview/interviewer and the nature of the audience.

This article originally appeared on my LinkedIn profile but with the word penis redacted because I didn’t want to cause offence! But, of course, if I have here I am truly sorry…