Monthly Archives: January 2013

If practice makes permanent should you practise something you’re already good at?

ImageI’ve been riding horses for more than 30 years. But at least once a month I pay an instructor to give me a riding lesson. My mates think I’m mad. “You can already ride,” they say. “Why do you need lessons?”

The answer’s simple – I still think there’s something I can learn, something I can improve and I still need help to make it happen.

I always think it’s strange that in the UK you learn how to drive, pass your test and are never required to improve your driving skills ever again. That’s it – you’re done. From 17 to 75, provided you don’t do anything dangerous you’re good to go.

But think about the last time you were out driving – were you annoyed by other drivers’ skills? Did you struggle in the snow or squeezing into a parking space? Would it help if you’d had the chance to practice driving in poor conditions or if the driver in front of you had?

If you had to take your driving test again would you pass it? Possibly – but I bet I’d fail.

With more than 22 years driving under my (seat) belt I’ve developed some seriously bad habits. And with no-one keeping me right they’ve become permanent. Is there a case for refreshing the skills you think you’ve already got?

And can the same apply in your professional life? It’s something  everyone should watch out for.  If you’ve written press releases since you first cut your teeth in PR does it mean you can’t do better? Or if you’ve presented to the board every month for years, does it make you an engaging and charismatic speaker?

Training budgets are tight and are often the first thing to cut when budgets are sliced. There’s a temptation to focus on new skills but there’s value in making sure you’re still doing the basics well.

Top athletes are coached through every aspect of their sport till they are perfect. Then they practise perfection till it becomes permanent. They don’t practise being mediocre or just good enough.  Excellence has to be second nature to them – an automatic response.

So what can comms professionals do to make sure that as well as doing the right thing they’re doing things right – with little or no budget?

The answer as ever has to be get on line. Exploit your networks. Web sites of training companies often contain piles of useful information – as well as course details for those with cash to spend.

The CIPR website has tons of resources for non members  (although here’s a reminder of why all comms people should be members from Robin Fenwick :  )

Comms 2 point 0 collates best practice examples of real-life comms.

Skills Studio  has lots of helpful stuff to improve your presentations.

Or check out PR Examples

I’ll add more links as I track them down.

Meanwhile, I’d best get my boots on – there’s a brutal riding instructor waiting to put me through my paces.

(in the picture: My baby pony, Harris, and me, under the watchful eye of our trainer, John Cameron)



Filed under Uncategorized

Do you remember your first time?

ImageSomething different – a girl with a gun.

Remember the first time you tried something new? Here’s my take on my first attempt at clay shooting – written for the lovely


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Can you say a few words?

It’s a question which strikes fear into many – the prospect of speaking in public, giving an interview or making a presentation causes nerves to surface in almost everyone.
And this is probably because almost everyone has been on the receiving end of a truly dreadful presentation. Who hasn’t experienced death by powerpoint, or dozed off during a monotone delivery of complicated financial predictions?
Even people accustomed to performing live in front of thousands get nervous about making a speech or a presentation – just take a look at Tom from McFly’s wedding speech to see what I mean.

Yes, you can see he’s nervous but what gets him through is preparation – there’s more than 10 minutes and a panicked list of bullet points scribbled on a beer mat gone into this speech.

So if you’re asked to make a speech or presentation how can you make it easy on yourself?
Preparation is the key. Know what your key messages are – two or three are enough. Then work out how to put your messages across.
Being well prepared will help your confidence and make sure you don’t miss out anything important. This infographic from , a company specialising in presentation skills training, is a useful checklist to work through so you cover everything you need to.

Presentation planning infographic from Skill Studio

Presentation planning infographic from Skill Studio

There’s a lot of truth in the saying ‘It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it’. If you speak in a dull way your audience will remember your presentation as dull – if they remember it at all.

Regional accents add colour and personality to presentations, and provided you’re speaking clearly and slowly there’s no need to worry people won’t understand you. In fact, regional accents are making a comeback, according to the Daily Mail.

My own Geordie accent had the edges knocked off after living down south for 15 years but living on the west coast of Scotland means it’s creeping back.

Joey Barton received criticism for adopting a French accent when interviewed on French TV but it seems more likely he was just trying to fit in, using what experts call ‘speech accommodation’ – mimicking the accent of those present in an attempt to fit in.

So if your accent is fine what else should you consider?

Good advice is ‘Stand up, speak up and shut up’ – say what you have to say but don’t go on. If your voice doesn’t project very well can you use a microphone? It’s worth practising with one in advance – especially if it’s hand held.

Above all remember you’ve been asked to present or be interviewed because people want to hear what you have to say. So next time you’re asked to say a few words, take a deep breath, smile and say, “Of course!”


Filed under Presentations

Raising the tone

This week’s viral sensation is a letter from Lego’s customer service team to a seven year old boy who’d lost one of his treasured Lego figures. Unlike many of the so-called customer service letters which do the rounds this one is being shared because it’s ace – a perfectly pitched letter which actually solves the child’s problem without patronising him or (even worse) hiding behind ‘company policy’.

If you haven’t read it you can find it here:

So what did Lego do that was so right? It’s all in the tone – and they hit all the right notes.

Have you noticed that every time you read something you subconsciously adopt a little voice which ‘speaks’ the text in your head?

And if you read something aloud you most likely read it in the way you think it was meant to be heard.

Authors rely on this reaction so readers imagine the personality of the characters they created.

Imagine being a seven year old boy reading the letter from Lego. How impressed would you be that the guy in customer services had  passed on a message for him from his fictional hero?

Will anyone be impressed when they read your emails, leaflets, web site text or day to day correspondence?

Getting the tone right can mean the difference between your customers understanding what you are saying and how you are saying it. And chances are different customers will apply a different tone.

Try reading this sentence out loud:

I didn’t say she stole the money.”

Now say it again, but this time put emphasis on the first word. And again, with emphasis on the second. Repeat till you’ve stressed each word.

Each time you change the emphasis you change the tone – and with it the meaning of the sentence.

You have no idea of the tone your customers adopt when they read your text, or where they’ll place the emphasis, so you have to help them out.

Which voice and tone do you want them to use when they read about you?

If you want them to mimic a Downton character, in top hat and tails then you’d best get your dictionary out.

Often the most formal notices are in the least expected places.

bad ferry sign

This one, from a ferry journey I took recently, isn’t too bad but how many times have you visited a public toilet and been greeted with a poster declaring “Please be advised these conveniences are inspected at regular intervals. Should there be anything remiss we kindly request you inform a member of staff.”

It must be a nightmare for anyone who isn’t a native English speaker to pick through the flowery formal language to discover the toilets are checked and if anything is wrong they should mention it.

(Of course this begs the question, is the notice even necessary? If you visited a broken toilet you’d mention it, wouldn’t you?)

Tone of voice is as much a part of a brand as the logo. Big companies want to be friends with their customers and so speak to them in their language. It helps them build brand loyalty. I’m a particular fan of the tone used by First Direct, Boden, John Lewis and Naked Wines – but then I’m a fan of the informal. Other people will prefer something more official. Others will want to read something even more casual.

The important thing is to work out what voice your customers want – or which voice you’d like them to hear.

If you’re keen to be cosy and friendly then don’t refer to ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam’ and ‘ask’ people things rather than ‘request’ them (unless you’re being ironic – ‘Suit you sir!)

The Plain English Society has a useful list of words you can swap if you want to simplify your language.

You should know your audience – using jargon is fine if it’s appropriate. The horsey magazines I read can confidently refer to fetlocks and martingales because their readers know what they mean, but I’d expect The Times to explain that a fetlock is a horse’s ankle, as their readers aren’t in the equine-know. Don’t assume your customers are as well informed as you are.

And having waffled on for 500 words it’s time to take more advice – from Eric Barker – and shut up. Here’s his take on how to improve your writing. It’s good advice – if you don’t mind him using (mild) swearing. I guess his readers don’t – his tone suits his audience!


Filed under Uncategorized