I’m pleased to give public speaking tips to English-as-second-language speakers in this Business Venezuela magazine. (The article appears in both English and Spanish.)
Te invitamos a leer Nuestra Edición Digital N# 360 2018 “TOP 100 COMPANIES” 20 Años presentando el mejor ranking de negocios en Venezuela.
To read my featured piece click here.
On June 22, my condo was destroyed by a building fire. My salvageable belongings were boxed into storage, and I moved into temporary housing. I remain in temporary housing.
That’s the short story.
The long story is that it’s been an eye-opener – and not a good eye-opener, I might add.
The disaster was started by a kitchen fire on a floor above me. A cardboard pizza box had been placed on a stovetop. The rest is history.
A long, expensive, stressful, time-consuming, and frustrating history.
Resilience gets me through. Resilience – and a fair bit of stubbornness, I think.
I stood on the sidewalk, taking videos as I watched the smoke pour out. I thought my heart might break as I watched the scene unfold, but that did not stop me from documenting the scene.
As soon as firefighters let me back into my condo, I took videos of water streaming down the walls … photographed the buckled ceilings … recorded the sound of water raining from vents into buckets (honestly, when I closed my eyes, it sounded like a bucolic waterfall in some pleasant woods somewhere – except it wasn’t).
Disaster crews put an abatement process in place, knocking down walls to dry out the space. Much of my office was dumped into black garbage bags.
I’m monitoring the rebuild process. Smooth, it is not.
If you know me well (and many of you do), then you already know how the writer in me would research every stinking detail of the building fire that made my condo unlivable and turned my whole life upside down.
In the months since I was displaced from my home, I’ve researched residential fires. I’ve talked with insurance agents, real estate agents, fire fighters, safety professionals, public adjusters, physicians, and – most enlightening – other victims of residential fires.
Here’s what I’ve learned: Fires happen a lot. They happen far more than you might imagine.
Also, they’re pretty much needless. They never should have happened at all.
True, you’ll hear the occasional dramatic story about a lightning strike, but the culprits are more often mundane: smoking in bed, toasters gone awry, driers gone haywire. And, yes, insurance adjusters know all about pizza box stove fires.
Here’s what I want you to know about fires: They happen fast and move even faster. If you value your life, your family, your pets, your financial records, your medical records [go ahead, just try reconstructing your whole medical history!], your college memorabilia, your books, your grandmother’s portrait, the latest draft of your great American novel … you need a plan.
If you’re self-employed, you REALLY need to think about the consequences of a fire. Your livelihood depends on it.
- Review your insurance and see if you need to upgrade your coverage.
- Get referrals from friends/neighbors/relatives who needed to use their fire insurance. What advice can they give you?
- Keep important documents in a safe. Buy multiple safes.
- Organize client files. Keep them handy in case of a quick exit.
- Backup. Backup.
- And ask yourself, “If I lost my home to fire tomorrow, where EXACTLY would I go to live/work?” The time to identify options for good temporary housing is now – not when you’re forced to. It took me several tries until I could find a solution that worked.
My previous blog post talked about the injuries I sustained from a hit/run driver back in November 2017. At the time, many of you wrote to express your concern and to send good wishes. Thank you so much. Your caring words meant a lot. I am making a recovery, but the hit/run injuries were serious and presented complications.
Combine the November 2017 hit/run crash with the June 2018 building fire, and it’s accurate to say: Within the past year, I’ve paid a terrible price for actions that were entirely outside my control.
Resilience keeps me moving forward.
Writers must write, and speakers must speak. I’m taking a lot of notes, and I intend to do both.
Some of you may have noticed that I haven’t written a blog post, attended professional meetings, participated in conferences, taught speechwriting classes, or conducted workshops in recent months.
Back in the autumn, en route to visit an elderly aunt in Central Pennsylvania, I took Amtrak from Philadelphia to Lancaster PA. Less than 10 minutes after leaving the Lancaster train station as a passenger in a car, I was seriously injured in a motor vehicle collision. (And yes, I was wearing a seat belt – I always do.)
The chest pain was stunning. More frightening, I had an immediate loss of lung power. Unable to speak in those initial moments, I texted my Power of Attorney, my alternate Power of Attorney, and my doctor.
Never did words mean more to me. In a situation totally out of my control (talking was almost impossible), the ability to text people who could help was empowering. I made every word count.
An EMT team placed me in an ambulance (without using a neck brace, if you can imagine that) and took me to the Trauma Unit of Lancaster General Hospital. At some point, I lost consciousness.
The trauma unit diagnosed broken ribs, a hematoma on my chest, thoracic contusions, bruises/lacerations, an injured foot, and a concussion.
As an independent speechwriter, coach, and media trainer, I’ve earned my living via words – working steadily in my own business since How To Write & Give A Speech came out in 1984. Suddenly, I couldn’t work.
Talk is my business. Broken ribs immediately put that business on hold.
Phone coaching had to be declined.
Invitations to teach at conferences had to be declined.
Corporate workshops had to be declined.
Computer time was strictly limited. Initially, it was impossible. The concussion had made it difficult for my eyes to focus.
Headaches appeared out of nowhere. A lifelong reader, I couldn’t open a book.
Eye “floaters” (read: black shapeless blobs) moved across my eye – disturbing both my vision and my concentration. Any writing was a challenge, to put it mildly.
For the first couple weeks, I couldn’t write even write a check. Writing a full speech? Unimaginable. 140 characters were pretty much my limit.
Noises became magnified – even soft classical music would hurt my ears. I needed silence to recover.
One time my son called me from Singapore, and I told him I couldn’t take “all the noise” in the background. He wondered what I meant: What noise? It turns out, he had water running in his kitchen sink. From half way around the world, even the faint sound of running water was too much.
That’s why I didn’t tell my online communities about the crash: I couldn’t process emails and couldn’t handle phone calls. Mostly I just rested quietly, as my doctors had ordered.
I told only a few clients. They were so considerate, thoughtful, and flexible. I told only my closest friends – asking them to not spread the news because talking and emailing tired me too much.
Medical professionals termed me “home bound” and assigned home health care for the first two months after the crash. I’m glad to report: Physical therapy works. I’m getting better. I’m looking ahead, not back.
But limitations continue.
Taking Amtrak from Philadelphia to coach clients in NYC or DC? Still not possible. (For the first month, it was hard to get out of a chair due to broken ribs.)
Physical therapy continues to rebuild my stamina. But flying to rehearse clients? That day has not yet come.
The home health care nurse said I was the most compliant patient she’s ever had. Well, yes. Let me put it this way:
When you’re happily self-employed … and suddenly you’re put out of business because two drivers had a collision … and you can’t walk 50 feet … and you can’t grocery shop … and you can’t visit friends … and you don’t know when you can even attend a professional conference, let alone lead a workshop at one … and you can’t go on a vacation … and you can’t do the work you love with clients who feel like family after all these years … well yes, you are highly motivated to recover from your injuries.
Compliant? File me under “Compliant Plus.” I want to get back to life and back to work. I’ll do all the PT it takes to get me there.
I’ve built my career on words, and strong communication skills have proven essential in handling my medical management tasks. Make no mistake: Recovering from a serious motor vehicle collision makes medical management a full time job. I spend hours each week just seeing doctors and processing the paperwork that powers their offices.
As my body recovers from these injuries, I’ll resume my career because I base my life on this fundamental truth: Words matter.
I saw the power of words when I was texting the people I needed from the back seat of that demolished car. “Help me” – and they did.
PS … The last blog post I wrote before my 11/11/17 motor vehicle collision was about the National Association of Government Communicators. During this post-crash period, I’ve missed all the online camaraderie with the terrific writers and communicators in my network: American Society of Journalists & Authors, International Association of Business Communicators, Philadelphia Public Relations Association, Authors Guild, Global Philadelphia, and NAGC. Catch-up sounds good.
I can’t respond to personal emails as quickly as I’d like, and I certainly can’t blog as often as I want. I’m still mending.
You know how it is:
Time, time. Tincture of time.
Mentoring Up: Training Your Boss About Communications Without Alienating Him or Her
NAGC President, Kathryn Stokes November 15, 2017, 1:00-2:00 p.m. Eastern
Government agencies are rife with political appointees who are put in their positions for a lot of reasons, none of which include their ability to communicate. Often, they have no idea what their new agency does or why. It is up to us as the professional government communicators in our organizations to remedy this situation.
In “Mentoring Up,” NAGC President Kathryn Stokes uses her thirty-plus years of experience, most in the private sector, to show government communicators her tips for “handling” new appointees (without seeming to handle them).
Over her ten years in government service, she has used these techniques to move projects from idea to fruition, gaining the respect and trust of her agency leadership along the way. Kathryn will share discreet ways to not only educate a new leader but to gain her or his confidence. She’ll give us ideas for dealing with folks who feel they do not need help and pass on her own best practices for moving mountains—a little at a time.
Register Now for “Mentoring Up,” Wednesday, November 15.
If you have a question about an upcoming webinar, contact NAGC Headquarters at (703) 538-1787 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For starters, don’t read any introduction from your cell phone. I’ve watched this several times, and it was always a disaster: squinting eyes, inaccurate scrolls, “Oops, I lost it”, “Just a moment – I’ll find it”, no eye contact with the audience, and no eye contact with the speaker being introduced.
Do not read a canned introduction from a cell phone. Do not read an HR bio from a cell phone. Do not read a LinkedIn profile from a cell phone. Are we clear on this?
Instead, write a great introduction and print it out. In just 1-2 minutes, a great intro explains:
Become known for giving great introductions. It’s a valuable career asset.
I rejoined the International Association of Business Communicators – Philadelphia Chapter. I started my career as a member in the New York City chapter – seldom missing a meeting.
Keep in mind:
You don’t have to join a professional organization to start getting involved. You can follow an organization on Twitter (IABC has great #commchats), get practical info through the group’s website, go to a local chapter meeting, grow professionally by attending the annual conference (I’ve presented on speechwriting at several international conferences and can vouch that IABC provides a well-run learning experience), or visit a distant chapter when you’re traveling.
Did you know, for example, that Toastmasters has chapters around the world? If you take a business trip to Singapore or vacation in Ireland, why not attend a nearby Toastmasters meeting? You’ll get a warm welcome – and boost your global network.
Each week, I do one thing to boost my engagement in a professional organization. I look forward to becoming more active in IABC again.
How will you grow this week?
E-mailing Customers and Colleagues: What Internal Communicators Can Learn from the Contact Center World
Wed Oct 18 Webinar (1-2pm, ET) from the National Association of Government Communicators
With Leslie O’Flahaven of e-Write
So much e-mail, so little time. You need to get critical agency information into the hands of your colleagues, but their inboxes are inundated. When your messages arrive, they’re rarely opened, let alone read.
What if you took a different approach to your writing? Could you craft messages that will be opened, read, and (hallelujah!) responded to? Yes! By using lessons learned from contact centers, where customer service representatives deal with questions and complaints by using effective subject lines, empathy, integrated online resources, and templates that don’t sound like form letters.
Leslie O’Flahaven will walk us through the steps in NAGC’s October 18 edition of Webinar Wednesday.
Can’t wait ’til then? Check out her online training on lynda.com.
Join NAGC this Friday October 6th for Encore!
Uprising: A City Divided With Mark Basnight Senior Public Affairs Training Specialist, National Public Affairs Academy, Argonne National Laboratory
In crisis communications, you can’t know what’s coming. But you can look ahead to prepare for the unexpected. And you can look back to learn from what others have been through. At our next Encore! presentation, emergency management communications expert Mark Basnight will walk us through Charlotte, North Carolina’s public response to the riots that broke out just a year ago following the officer-involved death of a local man.
Why was the situation extraordinary?
How did two different narratives emerge?
When did officials begin to respond?
What did Charlotte learn from the division among its citizens?
Mr. Basnight’s session was standing room only at the June Communications School. This is your chance to hear his riveting story and why the lessons learned in Charlotte will be critical to other government communicators in the future.
#LibraryCardSignUp Month. If you don’t already own a card for your local public library, get one now.
Then get cards for major libraries throughout the country.
You don’t have to be a resident of Philadelphia to apply for a card at Philly’s terrific Free Library. While you’re at it, follow @FreeLibrary to learn about all the digital resources available to you.
You don’t have to be a New York City resident to apply for a card at the NY Public Library. Getting your NYPL card this
#LibraryCardSignUpMonth is easy – and so worth it. http://on.nypl.org/2wgYxhC Be sure to follow @nypl on Twitter to get up-to-date info on reference sources (from podcasts to lists to Ask The Librarian).
Check this blog space in the days ahead for more reference tools.
Remember: Your speeches and presentations can only be as strong as the research you put into them.