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BEAT THE CHANCELLOR – or why we’re knocking off what he’s putting on

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We know how hard it is making ends meet in the Third Sector. And George Osborne’s decision to increase VAT to 20% from January 2011 can only make it harder still. But we also know that maintaining investment in staff development is vital if the Third Sector is to continue delivering high quality services to some of the most needy and vulnerable people in society. So we’ve introduced a new charity rate for all of our training and consultancy services to help training budgets go that little bit further.

To cancel out the VAT increase registered charities qualify for 20% off our “pay-later” prices and 10% off our online “book-and-pay-now” rates.* But we’re not waiting until the New Year to bring in the discount. It takes immediate effect. To ensure that you receive your discount you must enter your charity registration number in the promotional code box on our booking page. Please note that your registration number may be checked against the Charity Commission’s records in England and Wales or with the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator in Scotland.

We run media training courses, provide training for trainers, can show you how to write a press release or how to make a podcast. We train people in presentation skills and public speaking and can help with writing for business

Click here to browse all our workshops, check dates and venues and book your discounted places.

*Workshops that are already discounted for promotional reasons will not be discounted by an additional 20% under this scheme but will receive discount from the full price at whichever is the higher rate.

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Approx. reading time: < 1 minute

Whether you’re a Radio Four fan and listen to Just a Minute or are more into movies and like Nick Cage in Gone in Sixty Seconds, a new feature has been added to the ACM Training website. You can now listen to our trainers give a minute long “taster” of selected courses – like media training, writing for business, writing press releases, presentation skills and training for trainers – by clicking on the media player below the hourglass icon on the workshop pages. Try it! Click here for Richard Uridge’s presentation skills course summary.

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Approx. reading time: < 1 minute

The cumulonimbus cloud spills his blue black ink across the blotting paper sky of evening. Swifts write invisible hieroglyphics on the spaces in between.

The enemy of summer is moored on the horizon.

Tar black hulls strain at their moorings on a sea of ripening corn. Above the farmland deck, sailcloth billows skywards:  hauled up invisible masts by sheets of simmering heat.

A flash of gunpowder.  The crump of canon. For an instant  the canvas turns negative and for an instant longer the silver iodide image remains on the retina before being wiped clean by the blink of a rheumy eye. “One thousand, two thousand, three thousand…” the old man counts out loud the gap between the sight and sound of the advancing artillery. As a child any number less than ten would have him scampering for the security of the cupboard under the stairs. But now he wants a front seat for the battle of which the still distant rumbles are merely the opening shots.

Do swifts compute the relative speeds of light and sound, he wonders.  They must because when the first fat musket balls of rain begin to fall the birds continue to strafe the hedge line. But when volley becomes fusillade the sickle wings are folded in mud brick hangers.

For now though the fighter pilots continue to perform their drop-dodging aerobatics. They can’t waste a moment. Each fly shot down fuel for their southward flight to a place beyond the line of gathering galleons where summer is just beginning.

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CHOMSKY’S A CHUMP – why Noam’s a numpty

Approx. reading time: 2 minutes

Noam Chomsky may well be an expert linguist. But his suggestion in a recent Daily Telegraph article that oratory is unnecessary is ludicrous. ‘I am no Barack Obama,’ he told the interviewer, Nigel Farndale. ‘I don’t have any oratory skills. But I would not use them if I had. I don’t like to listen to it. Even people I admire, like Martin Luther King, just turn me off. I don’t think it is the way to reach people. If you are giving a graduate course you don’t try to impress the students with oratory, you try to challenge them, get them to question you.’

Well Noam I beg to differ. Hearing you drone on would bore me, however interesting the content. I’m glad I’m not one of your students at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I’d be the bloke at the back dozing off.

Great communicators combine content with style. Okay so no amount of style can make up for a total lack of content. But great content can be spoiled by poor delivery. Try reading any of Churchill’s famous wartime addresses to the nation in a boring voice. Or Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech for that matter.

Classical music provides an appropriate metaphor. Imagine Beethoven’s 5th played on just one instrument. And, what’s more, imagine that the instrument played just one note. Wouldn’t be much of a symphony. Blah, blah, blah…You wouldn’t want to listen beyond a few blahs – oops I mean bars – now would you?

When public speaking your voice is an instrument. So use it as such. Unless, of course, you’re in possession of one of the world’s greatest intellects. And are arrogant enough to believe that alone will compel people to listen to you.

Are you a Chomsky or a Churchill? Take my presentational skills quiz.

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GLAMOURPUSS OCTOPUS – or why the media loves animals and celebrities

Approx. reading time: 2 minutes

One’s an octopus. The other’s a glamourpuss. And they’re both suckers for soccer (or soccer players) in their own peculiar way. But Paul and Cheryl have more than that in common. Over the past week their tentacles have reached deep into the murky depths of the British media demonstrating once again that there’s nothing like animals and celebrity (or better still a combination of the two) to whet the appetite of a silly season sub editor.

First to Paul. That’s the unlikely name given to an octopus who lives in a tank at the Sea Life Aquarium in the western German city of Oberhausen. Since when has Paul been a German name? And aren’t octopuses supposed to have alliterative monikers like Otto (which at least has the virtue of sounding vaguely Germanic)? But then Otto doesn’t scan too well with Paul’s skill as a psychic. Herr Otto, I mean Paul, has managed to pick the winners of every game involving Germany during the World Cup by choosing mussels coded with the national colours of the various teams. Call me an old cynic but clearly the England team’s mollusc was laced with a particularly nasty form of shellfish poisoning to avoid any slip ups in the group stages. Whether Paul’s punditry is a freak of nature or a fluke of chance matters not – you can’t buy this sort of publicity (see if you missed it) but you can manufacture it. I’d stake my modest reputation on the fact that the managers at Sea Life set up the whole thing as a publicity stunt. Now that’s what I call a story with legs (or is it arms)? All you need to get free advertising in the editorial media is an understanding of what gets us hacks going. And Paul ticks a lot of boxes (as you’d expect with all those limbs) – his story’s topical, involves the national sport, is quirky and gives us a chance to have a wry smile at zose crazee Germans…

And so to the Geordie songstress. Cheryl’s story – or at least the most recent chapter – was an unfortunate accident. Let’s face it not even publicity-hungry ex-WAGs deliberately get themselves infected with something as nasty as malaria to try to deflect attention from their philandering former friends. But as soon as she contracted the disease – and even as she was being treated in intensive care – there were media opportunities being sought and exploited.

Malaria kills up to three million people a year – mainly in sub-Saharan Africa – and all those deaths rate barely a mention in the UK media. So you could, not unreasonably, argue that our obsession with celebrity is obscene when the relative value of human life seems so out of kilter. But at least Ms Tweedy’s suffering has put malaria on the map. Charities fighting the disease and its consequences have not been slow to use this opportunity for the good. In the same way that cancer charities sensitively handled the death of Jade Goody.

I’ll leave you with this question: which is the bigger parasite – the media or the malaria-causing Plasmodium protozoan carried by the female Anopheles mosquito?

If you’d like to use the media proactively (like Paul) you can learn how on our media strategies and campaigns workshop.

If you’d like to learn how to deal with the media in emergencies then our crisis communications workshop is for you.

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The tree tops are immersed in molten copper. Cast with the the horizontal rays of a dying sun. But the death of day breathes life into the night. And the blue black shadows, born short and shy in the seconds after midday, rush ever faster towards maturity. Across field and valley, through farmyard and village to a vanishing point where, after the pale hours of a summer night, tomorrow will send them into a reverse journey from the infinity of dawn to the oblivion of noon. And where just a second later the cycle will begin again.

But for now the sun has gone and the shadows have melted away like my fair weather cumulous friends and I am left alone in my Garden of Eden.

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ON YOUR FARM – health food

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What would you rather eat if you were laid up in hospital – a freshly cooked meal prepared from locally sourced produce or something knocked up in a factory and heated in a microwave? A no brainer isn’t it? The “real” food is tastier, nutritionally better and cheaper. So why are so many hospitals still serving ready meals that, according to experts, risk starving their patients? I’ll tell you why…because some NHS Trusts are seduced by the smooth talk of big business.

I’ve just presented a programme for BBC Radio Four on the Nottingham hospital trust that is refreshingly different. It’s supporting local farmers by sourcing all of its fresh food and drink from local producers. I talked to dairy farmer Robert Walker and followed his milk from cow to hospital ward, and along the way met butcher Richard Taylor, who supplies meat to the hospital. And at Nottingham City hospital I met the man behind the project, John Hughes.

You can listen here

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(MC)CHRYSTAL CLEAR – pouring trouble on oiled waters

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General Stanley McChrystal may be a brilliant military strategist but he ain’t gonna win any media campaign medals. His sacking as the commander of US-led forces in Afghanistan by American President Barack Obama for telling a reporter from Rolling Stone magazine there were “wimps in the White House” demonstrates that the ill-chosen word is mightier than the sword.

Eating one meal, running seven miles and sleeping for only four hours every 24 has clearly softened the hard man’s mind. Why else would he forget one of the rules of engagement with enemy media forces: don’t say what you think unless you’re happy to be quoted on it and can live with the consequences?

Another man to shoot himself in the foot is BP boss Tony Hayward. Telling the media he “wanted his life back” was an insensitive choice of words so soon after the loss of nine lives in the rig explosion that led to the Gulf oil spill. A PR gaffe compounded by the suggestion (true but unpalatable) that, relatively speaking, the leak was a drop in the ocean. He’s guilty of pouring trouble on oiled waters.

Frankly they’re both paid enough to do better and, money aside, are surrounded by advisors who are either useless or unheeded. Let me make myself McChrystal clear: think before you speak; ask yourself what the television-viewing, radio-listening, newspaper-reading, web-surfing public will make of what you’re about to say; and if you’re still happy then go ahead punk make my day – pull the trigger and let those words come firing out.

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Approx. reading time: 2 minutes

Words matter. Well chosen they have the ability to move us to tears. Of sadness. Of joy. They can pluck our emotions as assuredly as a classical musician plucks the strings of a harp. Or, if you prefer, play our soul like Noel Gallagher tweaking his Telecaster. Written for the eye or spoken for the ear, words can transport us through time and space. Badly chosen words can move us too. Spark moral outrage and indignation. Provoke anger and frustration. Or, more likely, send us to sleep through a fog of I-really-can’t-be-arsed-to-read-this indifference.

Most of the time we choose the words we speak or write instinctively. We don’t, consciously at least, consider whether they’re the right words. And, as a consequence, sometimes they’re the wrong words. Which may not matter a whole lot if we’re talking to friends or writing to family. But which may matter heaps if we’re comunicating with a wider, possibly less tolerant, more critical audience.

Take the word communicating in the last sentence. It’s missing an m. And while that may not bother you there’ll be some readers fulminating at such a basic mistake. It would undermine my credibility as a communications coach and make selling my services to the angry reader an unlikely prospect. Yet every single day I receive letters and emails exhorting me to buy something that are littered with literals, or are simply (and often complicatedly) inelegant, ineffective, inept, inane. And occasionally insane.

Consider for a moment the poor soul at the NHS who wrote the letter sent to 8.5 million patients advising us that our healthcare records were about to be put onto the computerised Summary Care Record system and that we could opt out of the move if we wished. According to the Telegraph (June 17th 2010), just 15% of the letters were read which means 7.2 million letters were not. A remarkable reflection on our indifference or a sure sign that the letter was poorly written? If you’ve received such a letter let me know your view by posting a comment. Oh and if you’d like to learn how to write professionally and creatively (yes the two can go hand in hand) sign up for my creative and professional writing skills workshop.

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Lock up your hens

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Scary creatures stalk wood, field and heath.
Fox and badger with fearsome teeth.
Death and destruction wherever they pry.
Henhouse, sheepfold, pond and sty.

All is happening while the farmer’s asleep.
Rounding up flocks of imaginary sheep.

And by the time he awakens when the cockerel crows
And the sheepdog is nibbling his corny old toes.
The entrails and bloodshed have been cleaned by the crows.

And a chorus of birdsong replaces the screams.
And the terror of night is consigned to our dreams.

But next time you ponder the moon or a star.
The darkness they lighten is not very far.

So when blackbird sings sweetly from his eventide perch.
And the eastern sky purples with a sun setting lurch.
The song is a warning of dangers to come.
The notes may be gentle but the message is RUN