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It’s over darling (I mean dialling)

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

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“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

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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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Ctrl copy ctrl paste | the two greatest enemies of creativity

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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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Learn how to deal with difficult people – in your own time

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For years our best-selling workshop was dealing with difficult people. Then along came Covid-19. And something significant happened: working from home meant that the difficult colleagues you’d been encountering in the office Monday to Friday were suddenly no longer such a challenge. Why? Because they were in their homes and you were in yours. Put simply out of sight very often meant out of mind. Which was good for your mental health and well being. But bad for our business!

Now, however, as social distancing measures are eased and people are heading back to the office we’ve noticed that interest in our dealing with difficult people training is picking up. And we’re hearing that in some cases people’s behaviour is getting even more challenging than before – perhaps because of the stresses and strains of the last year or so.

So our dealing with difficult people guru, Sandy Keating, has been busy authoring a comprehensive, self-guided online course. At just £19.99 we reckon it’s great value for money. Just click the find out more button to look at the course content and to see a free preview of Sandy in action.

Prefer to sit an interactive, trainer-led session or want to book an in-house workshop for a group of colleagues? Then click here.

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Coronavirus crisis communications

Approx. reading time: 3 minutes

Many companies (I’d hazard most) don’t have a crisis communications plan. A vague idea about what to do in an emergency? Yes. A carefully considered and well rehearsed business continuity plan? Maybe. A clear idea of what to say to stakeholders either internally via the usual channels or externally via the media including, where appropriate, social media? No.

But coronavirus has the potential to make us all wish we had. With the level of infection and disruption now being anticipated at the very highest levels of government, businesses large and small (my own included) face an existential threat. And effective communication with staff, clients, suppliers and others over the coming weeks and months could (and I don’t think I’m overstating this) make a life and death difference. Not just company life and death either.

How so? Because clear, consistent, truthful and timely communications can, for example, make the difference between a pissed off workforce who think their bosses really don’t care and a highly motivated workforce who feel valued and are prepared to be flexible in the face of adversity by working from home, working odd hours, foregoing bonuses, taking unpaid leave…

Because clear, consistent, truthful and timely communications can persuade suppliers to delay issuing that invoice even though they’re experiencing similar cash flow problems. Because effective communication can lower the expectation and heighten the appreciation of customers.

But while being truthful should come naturally 😂 being clear, consistent and timely needs planning and practice.

“The virus is on us. Isn’t it too late now?”

It’s never too late to make a plan which, in any case, doesn’t need to take long – especially in smaller, less complex organisations. The first planning step is to work out what you need/want to say and to who: in other words your key messages and your target audiences. The next step is to map the audiences to what become your target media and channels – internal email, the intranet, external media the internet. Make sure those key messages are clear and concise and can be readily understood by the audience. You might be inclined to say “we’re facing challenges on the supply side of our business so our customers may experience issues with their orders.” Your customers would prefer you to say: “We’re sorry but because of coronavirus it may take us a little bit longer to deliver your parcel. We know you’ll understand. And here, as a thank you for your patience, is a discount code for your next order.”

Being consistent means everybody is communicating the same message (not that the message can’t change – flexibility is key in a crisis). A lack of consistency can lead to confusion. If your line manager is saying staff can work from home but your boss says you’ve got to come to work unless you’re ill you’re likely to lose faith in both.

Being truthful is, I hope, self-explanatory. I may be naive, but honesty and integrity are rewarded. People want to work for and with organisations that genuinely embrace these things. Yes, price is important but value can be expressed in other ways. So what I mean here is more about being open. The truth will out (and with social media probably sooner rather than later) so why hold back. Imagine the furore restaurant chain would face if it didn’t reveal kitchen or wait staff had fallen ill with the virus until two weeks after the outbreak?

Being timely is tied into the above. When a situation is rapidly evolving there’s an inclination to keep quiet until the picture is clearer. But witness the backlash the government has experienced by only issuing virus updates weekly. A backlash so significant that it’s backed down. A “communications fumble” as the Chief Medical Officer admitted. That position was clearly untenable for UK plc and should be for all companies in these worrying times. I’m not suggesting you need to issue a running commentary to staff or in the media. But if the gaps between company bulletins are too long then all sorts of information can rush into the vacuum. Information over which you have no control. In a word or two: fake news.

To help you control the message and draw up and execute your own crisis comms plans we’ll be running a series of webinars for the duration of the coronavirus outbreak. More details to follow. But if you’d like to sign up email me – and I’ll be sure to send you a link and access code.

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We understand why you might be reluctant to book a workshop with all the uncertainty surrounding Covid 19. Will I be well enough to attend? Might I have to take time off work to look after children or elderly relatives? Will public transport be running? Is gathering in even a smallish training group sensible in the circumstances? And, of course, because none of us is immune from the potential disruption, will ACM’s trainers be affected? So we give you our coronavirus guarantee: that if for public health reasons you can’t attend or your workshop is postponed then your place is transferrable free of charge to a future date. For many of our more popular courses there will be several dates to choose from up to six months or more ahead so you should be able to find a suitable alternative. And if you can’t? Your money back. Guaranteed.

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Prince Andrew and that Newsnight interview.

Approx. reading time: 4 minutes

Let me start by declaring an interest: I believe the monarchy should be abolished and that the UK won’t become a mature democracy unless and until it gets rid of the royals, although I appreciate the enormous sacrifice the queen has made in service of her country and would only make this long overdue constitutional change at the end of her reign.

So the republican part of me was pleased that prince Andrew made such a hash of his Newsnight interview with Emily Maitlis. But the media trainer in me was appalled that someone should perform so badly. Or as one royal watcher put it:

“I was expecting a train crash. That was a plane crashing into an oil tanker, causing a tsunami, triggering a nuclear explosion level bad.”

Charlie Proctor, Royal Central website editor.

The purpose of this post then is to help you avoid a similar nuclear explosion level bad interview should you find yourself in a bunker like the prince.

People with controversies swirling around them do interviews in an attempt to put the record straight and, in doing so, rescue their reputations. But if, as a result, records ends up wonkier and reputations more tattered, then saying nothing is probably the better option – the least said soonest mended approach as it were. It’s a tough call though, not least because you have to factor in not only what you say in response to the questions asked – the content – but how you say it – the tone. And you’ve got to get both right. Plenty of innocent interviewees have been found guilty in the court of public opinion not on factual but on tonal grounds. I should add at this point that although Andrew is being judged on both counts I’m going to limit my comments here to matters of tone because none of us (him and his alleged victim aside) has any way of telling his absolute guilt or innocence.

Being tonally correct means saying you’re sorry even though you may think you have nothing to apologise for. Being tonally correct means conceding some ground. And it means showing compassion.

Show some compassion

It might not have got him off the rap entirely, but imagine how much better it would’ve been had Andrew felt able to acknowledge right at the start of the interview that he appreciated his discomfort was nothing compared to the pain and suffering felt by the victims of sexual abuse. That he couldn’t begin to imagine how awful that would be. That by speaking he wasn’t in any way, shape or form trying to belittle or undermine those who’d experienced it.

And being truly compassionate extends beyond victims to perpetrators. So Andrew should next have nodded to the anguish that led his friend, Jeffrey Epstein, to take his own life and to the grief felt by the financier’s close friends and family.

Concede some ground

When you’re under attack defending every inch of ground seems instinctively like the right thing to do. It rarely is. In military metaphors and media interviews if the ground you’re on is dodgy then pull back to safer ground. To a position that is easier to defend. And concede it voluntarily. Don’t be forced to retreat. Because otherwise there’ll be casualties. A bloodied reputation. What Andrew should have said more plainly than he did, is something like this:

“I was a poor judge of character. With hindsight I was wrong to count on him as a friend. Again with hindsight, I was wrong to see him (as we often see our friends however badly chosen) through rose-tinted spectacles. And out of misguided loyalty I was wrong not to have ended that friendship much sooner.”

Note the number of wrongs in the preceding paragraph. I accept, of course, that three wrongs don’t make a proverbial right. But repeating a point at least that many times reinforces it and prepares the ground tonally for the next step…

Say sorry

Now because you’ve conceded you were wrong, wrong, wrong you can say you’re sorry, sorry, sorry reinforcing that point in a similar fashion. You’re sorry that while you personally saw nothing untoward, the hugely disturbing fact remains Epstein abused girls and young women. You’re sorry that you were such a poor judge of character (whilst adding that abusers go to great lengths to hide their behaviour from those around them). You’re sorry that you didn’t end the friendship sooner. Sorry that by association the royal family has been tarnished. Sorry, especially, that your own daughters have been affected. Sorry that you haven’t on this occasion upheld the extremely high standards demanded of royals.

Incidentally, you should never ask for pity – certainly not explicitly. Show pity for others and others, if they think you deserve it, will show pity for you. Pity has to be earned. And while we’re on the subject of pity, in crisis communications (and this certainly qualifies as that) pity is one of the three Ps. The other two are praise and promise. So Andrew might also have added his praise for the hard work and diligence of those investigating Epstein’s crimes and promised to do all he can to assist those inquiries. Which begs a follow up question (and did from Emily Maitlis): so you’d be happy to travel to the US and speak to the FBI if necessary? To which there is but one short response: “Yes, of course. I want to help and I have nothing to hide.”

Unless you do. In which case you’ve got to be a great liar. Hope there’s no smoking gun. Or exercise your right to remain silent. Which brings us right back to where we started and the decision to do the interview in the first place. We’re led to believe Andrew’s spin doctor resigned after just a few weeks in the role because his advice to the prince was to take the fifth as the Americans might say.

So what would my advice have been? If I thought the prince could manage the interview process as I’ve outlined above and proved he could do it during some realistic rehearsals (with me playing the role of Maitlas) then I’d have told him to ask mum. If he couldn’t, then I’d have told him to keep mum. As it is, he didn’t seek my help and, like I said, I’m a republican so there’ll be two heads on pikes outside Buckingham Palace: mine and his. My Aunty Dee always said I looked a bit like him and we’re about the same age. So if you’re passing I’ll be the one mouthing Two Princes by the Spin Doctors.

I ain’t got no future or a family tree
But I know what a prince and lover ought to be

The Spin Doctors – Two Princes

Richard Uridge facilitates ACM Training’s media and communications workshops.

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What #Boris should’ve said

Approx. reading time: 2 minutes

When even the usually pro-Johnson Daily Mail joins the now deafening calls for our wannabe Prime Minister to say something about that row, the MP and his advisors will know that saying nothing is no longer an option. Not that it ever was in my view. Questions, however intrusive, have to be dealt with. Because until they’re dealt with it’s nigh on impossible to move on.

But there’s a world of difference between dealing with questions and answering them. And it’s in this gap that if I was coaching the MP I’d seek to find some wriggle room to do six things:

  1. Say sorry.
  2. Say thank you.
  3. Offer some context.
  4. Concede some ground.
  5. Make a promise.
  6. Sound contrite (but without completely losing the BoJo mojo – whatever that is).

So here’s what Boris should’ve said:

“First of all thank you to our publicly-spirited neighbours for being concerned about our welfare and doing the right thing when they couldn’t raise us by ringing the doorbell. And secondly thank you to the police for responding so swiftly. Better safe than sorry is, very sensibly, their guiding principle. 

What Boris Johnson should’ve said but didn’t

“The police were quickly assured that this was nothing more than a full and frank but otherwise run-of-the-mill exchange of views between two colourful adults. 

And I would like to reassure you in turn that our only sin was to fail to realise that we were discussing matters – yes animatedly and at the end of a stressful week – a little louder than we’d realised and a little louder than is sensible with thin walls and open windows. 

Now I don’t mean to make light of matters but this was nothing more than one of those ding dongs that many, many couples have when they let off steam. To read anything more into this whole affair, to impugn my character and, more importantly, to impugn Carrie’s character is plain wrong. So too is questioning the motives of our neighbours. They did what is right and I commend them for it. To condemn them  is again plain wrong. 

I apologise for having drawn them and you all into this. In most circumstances this kind of lovers tiff would be forgotten with the kiss and make up. But I accept that running for PM is not most circumstances and you have a right – up to a point – to inquire into my private life. That’s why I’ve said what I’ve said today. I shall be saying no more on the matter if for no other reason than to give poor Carrie a break. She and I both agree that there are very many more important matters which we should be discussing and it would be a crying shame if those issues weren’t properly aired because the two of us had aired our difference of opinion so vocally. 

So forgive me if I move on.

I call this my deal with and move on approach. Compare this to the one he tried which might loosely be called the ignore and move on technique. It rarely works except where the questions you’re ignoring are trivial and the audience agrees they’re trivial and sides with you instead of the journalists asking such trivia.