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Academic writers, academic speakers, academic audiences

As a long-time fan of Steven Pinker, I’m inclined to read everything he writes. Pinker is professor of psychology at Harvard University, chair of the usage panel of the American Heritage Dictionary, and author of The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, recently published by Viking. In short, he knows a lot about language. If you’re not familiar with his work, I highly recommend picking up a book or two. Excellent.

His September piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education  recently caught my attention: “Why Academics Stink at Writing”. In fact, it caught my attention on the same day I spoke about presentation skills at a national transportation conference. One of the conference attendees asked me, “Why is it so hard to connect with audiences in academia?” And this came just days after a skilled speechwriter vented her frustration to me, “Why is it so hard to do good speechwriting for colleges and universities? Why do academics and their administrators resist the best speechwriting techniques I offer?”

Why, indeed?

As another college speechwriter told me, “After two years of speechwriting here in academia, I don’t have any samples that I want to show in my portfolio.” Now, that’s a career problem.

While Pinker focuses on the writing that academics produce, his observations offer useful insights that will apply to speechwriters who work with academic clients, as well as to speakers who address academic conferences.

Read on. And take heart.

is a professor of psychology at Harvard University, chair of the usage panel of the American Heritage Dictionary, and author, most recently, of The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, just out from Viking. – See more at:
Steven Pinker is a professor of psychology at Harvard University, chair of the usage panel of the American Heritage Dictionary, and author, most recently, of The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, just out from Viking. – See more at:
Steven Pinker is a professor of psychology at Harvard University, chair of the usage panel of the American Heritage Dictionary, and author, most recently, of The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, just out from Viking. – See more at:

How to celebrate a landmark anniversary: 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall

When I read the following article on Deutsche Welle, I thought of all the speechwriting assignments that revolve around anniversaries. If you work as a speechwriter long enough, you’ll have a portfolio full of anniversary speeches.

If you’re a freelance speechwriter, lucky you: You’ll have even more anny samples in your speechwriting portfolio because you work (or, you certainly should be working!) for a wide range of organizations. Since a smart portfolio is the key to a successful speechwriting career, this provides a career advantage.

The following article describes a fresh perspective on marking an anniversary. While focusing on an exhibit at the British Museum, the piece offers inspiration/ideas/techniques for speechwriters who want to create more memorable remarks for any anniversary event.

From Deutsche Welle:

To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the British Museum’s “Germany: Memories of a Nation” exhibition offers food for thought to those who think they know Britain’s one-time enemy.

It’s no secret that Germany doesn’t have the best image in England. In covering international sporting or political events, British tabloids like to let the symbols of enmity with its 20th century rival resurface: tanks, guns and military uniforms. They serve as frequent reminders of the divided past between these two nations.

But the British Museum’s “Germany: Memories of a Nation” exhibition makes a point of avoiding the clichés, instead offering many positive-minded pieces from the last 600 years in Germany history.

Opening the exhibition is a map of a reunified Germany in black, red and gold, bearing the words “Wir sind ein Volk” (We are one people). In 1989, demonstrators in East Berlin famously held a sign with the same message.

That version of the German flag is significant because of the special message it conveys, says Barrie Cook, curator of the exhibition. The poster is on loan from the German Historical Museum in Berlin. Cook says the organizers chose to use German unity as a starting point for the exhibition because many people can still remember the relevant events, having witnessed them personally.

Mission: Changing perceptions

Germany is a new country, and a new country needs a new history, commented the director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, in an interview with “Radio Times.” The Scottish-born director says he is on a mission to change the British perception of Germany – and encourage people to reflect on it.

That helps explain why a blue wetsuit is included in this look back at German history. The suit is emblematic of some East Germans’ decision to try and escape to freedom not by climbing the Berlin Wall, but by navigating the Baltic Sea – despite fears of freezing to death or being shot.

Guests may also wonder about a porcelain rhinoceros included in the showcase. The template for the sculpture stems from a 1515 creation by Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer. MacGregor says the template is one of 10 objects that reflect modern Germany. Craftsmen and women at Dresden’s famed Meissen porcelain manufactory create the rhinoceros based on Dürer’s model, even though the artist never saw a rhinoceros himself. That didn’t stop him, notes MacGregor, from creating a wonderfully detailed and charming version of the animal.

All triumphs aside, the exhibition cannot disregard the darkest chapter in Germany’s 20th century history. Curator Barrie Cook reflected on the difficulty of presenting the Holocaust in the exhibition – saying the experience of doing so as an outsider offered him insight into how difficult it must be for Germans themselves to grapple with this element of their past.

The exhibition includes a replica of the concentration camp gate from Buchenwald bearing its original inscription “Jedem das Seine,” a bitterly cynical slogan that could be translated as, “To each, that which he deserves.” The original gate was designed by a prisoner in the camp. Prior to his encampment, he had been a pupil of the Bauhaus school.

The reconstruction that began after 1945 is also a part of the exhibition. It includes Max Lachnit’s colorful mosaic “The Trümmerfrau” (The Rubble Woman), made of hundreds of pieces of marble and basalt the artist collected from the rubble left behind in Dresden. Museum visitors can also experience the astronomical clock from inside the Strasbourg Cathedral. Though no longer part of Germany’s territory, cities like Strasbourg, Basel, Kaliningrad or Prague are also featured at the British Museum.

Many of the exhibited items, which span five centuries of history, are on loan from German museums. Some of the displayed items are traveling outside of Germany for the first time. The exhibition concentrates on pieces that shape Germany’s identity through to the present and showcase the country’s history. Museum director MacGregor says having at least a sense of Germany’s perspective is essential to understanding today’s world.

MacGregor treads new ground with the exhibition in a number of ways, having partnered with BBC for a 30-part radio series. As of mid-September, the museum director has described a piece of German history on the air each week. Topics include the Brandenburg Gate, Gutenberg’s printing press, the poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe as well as the Volkswagen Beetle’s cultural influence.

Of course, a few German clichés – including Bratwurst – have to be included. MacGregor talks about the myriad of German sausage choices, whose staggering variety he says can even compete with that of French cheeses.

The “Germany: Memories of a Nation” exhibition runs from October 16, 2014, to January 15, 2015.

Author: Annika Zeitler / bf, hjh

Editor: Greg Wiser

Download the Deutsche Welle News Portal at:

How to get more attention for your speakers: A tip from successful museums

The travel section in today’s New York Times carries a marvelous piece called “A Museum of Your Own” (by Stephanie Rosenbloom). The gist of the article? “In an Instagram age, how to slow down and take in the view”

If you have ever raced through a large museum, trying to see as many famous paintings as possible, only to wind up tired and cranky … well, this article will give you creative tips and new hope for your next museum visit.

But it also has savvy insights that apply to speakers and the forums who invite them.

Do you organize conferences? Do you invite speakers to appear at conventions? Would you like to get more attention for your speakers series? Consider this excerpt from the article:

“…many museums are encouraging visitors to take selfies with the art and post them on social media. (In case you missed it, Jan. 22 was worldwide ‘Museum-Selfie’ day with visitors sharing their best work on Twitter …” )

Organizations booking speakers can use the same technique. Allow time at the end of any speaking event for the audience to greet the speaker and take selfies. Many speaking events include a book-signing. This is a natural time to welcome selfies – promoting not just the organization’s event, but the speaker’s book.

Words mean something: Mental Illness Awareness Week

As I’m writing this, the U.S. is wrapping up Mental Illness Awareness Week – established by the U.S. Congress in 1990 to be observed the first full week of October.

Throughout the week, I’ve read informative tweets and LinkedIn posts about a wide range of MIAW topics. Good to see!

But I have to say: It’s discouraging to still see people-who-should-know-better glibly using mental illness terms in both oral and written communication. Surely there’s a better way to say: “I thought the whole idea was schizophrenic” or “The strategies seemed sort of bipolar to me.” Yes, I’ve heard these lines used by both business communicators and government communicators.

I’m reminded of the terrible tsunami that struck Japan a few years ago. Within days of that disaster, I heard the term “tsunami” used [I should say, grossly mis-used] in speeches, meetings, even sales pitches. With the total deaths still uncounted, I actually heard a presenter refer to “a tsunami of new business coming in.”

Words mean something. They also set a tone. Let’s set the right tone.

Translation rights for books and their income potential for writers – a great article from Deutsche Welle

Over the years, my public speaking books have been translated into Japanese, Dutch and Polish. With 2014 marking the 30th anniversary of How to Write & Give A Speech (St. Martin’s Press), Alba Editorial in Spain will publish a Spanish edition in February 2015 – translation by Elena Bernardo.

In recent weeks, I’ve received many inquiries from authors (and would-be authors) wanting to know more about the international book market and its incoming-producing potential.

Last evening, when I read this article from Deutsche Welle, I thought it would be helpful to share.

HarperCollins ventures into German book market

HarperCollins has unveiled plans to expand in the German book market. At the Frankfurt Book Fair, DW’s Manuela Kasper-Claridge spoke to CEO Brian Murray about new book formats and their challenges for the US publisher.

DW: Mr. Murray, do you see any new market trends at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair?

Brian Murray: We still see this trend of globalization where rights are being sold of our authors in more and more countries. And also there’s this continuing trend of innovation on the digital front. There are more and more places for us to sell e-books and there are new digital business models, subscription models for books, for example, that continue to take off in different markets. So these trends, globalization and digitalization, continue in the book business, and I believe they are very positive trends for both publishers and authors. HarperCollins has been doing everything we can to take advantage of these trends, and providing our authors with new avenues to reach readers around the world.

DW: Does it also make book publishing more difficult?

It’s not more difficult, it’s more interesting because there are so many new things that we can do, and we have only so many people. So we have to pick… are we going to do A or B? We can’t do everything, but we are doing a lot of innovation in trying new things. We learn what works, and when it works we continue to do it for more authors and for more markets. So it’s a very exciting time to be in publishing because of this rapid rate of innovation.

DW: Could you describe what you do when you discover good author with a good manuscript. How do you go about publishing it?

We have editors all around the world, and with our recent acquisition of Harlequin we have offices in 15 different countries so that we can now publish in 16 different languages. When we get a good manuscript that comes into one of our offices, we start sharing it with editors in the other offices and we get an assessment as to whether or not this particular book can sell in multiple markets. Then the editors will work on that and not every book travels to other markets. But that editorial conversation begins the process of deciding whether or not we will publish in one market… or only in English, or in many foreign markets as well. We have people all over the world that share their manuscripts, and then if we decide to publish in many markets, then our marketing teams begin to share their ideas about how to market the book to readers.

DW: Is Germany an important market for you?

Germany was Harlequin’s largest foreign language market. Now that we’ve acquired Harlequin, we have announced today (08.10.2014) that we are forming HarperCollins Germany using the team that has been here for some time. We’ve also announced that we will begin to publish 50 titles in German and in other languages, which is going to be a HarperCollins International List. And reading that list for us is Daniel Silva, who was a New York Times number one bestselling author for HarperCollins. We will also be publishing his books in 16 languages beginning next fall. So that’s our big announcement, and we are very excited, we’ll be investing in Germany in our publishing capabilities here in trying to grow our business. It’s the largest market outside of English that we have. We have big ambitions to get even bigger.

DW: But in Germany you will also have many competitors.

There are many competitors in all international markets. In fact, when we were thinking about ways to enter into Germany, Italy or France you can either build organically… which is very difficult to do because there are so many existing publishers. We decided to acquire Harlequin because then we’d have offices in all these countries. Harlequin has been in Germany for more than 30 years, and they have expertise in the mass market and the women’s fiction area. So we plan to use this expertise and then to build and move into general commercial fiction. In a very small way to begin with, but we will hire people to help us editorially and in marketing to realize that potential.

DW: Book prices are fixed here in Germany. Is this an advantage for HarperCollins?

All of the markets are very interesting because they differ. Half of the markets are fixed-price, and half of the markets are not. I know that here the fixed prices have served the German market very well; we’ve seen some growing particularly on the e-book side. But there is tremendous diversity in retail, which is probably a function of the fixed book prices. So I’m looking forward to learning more about that, most of the English language book markets have not fixed prices. The UK market was years ago, but that has changed. So I have to learn a little bit about fixed prices, but I’m very interested. Generally, I think it does publishers and retailers in Germany very well.

DW: Do you think that printed books still have a chance in the long run?

Absolutely, the print book is not going away. I would point to the US market where the e-book grew the fastest. The e-books were very inexpensive compared with the print books, but despite that we’ve seen a balancing between the e-books and the print books. There is still growth in e-books but the print book is here to stay forever. It is a terrific gift, it is a terrific format, and I think “print” and “e” can complement one another. That’s beginning to happen in the US where there is a nice balancing on the market between formats. We want to give consumers as much choice as possible, we want them to choose if they want an e-book, or a hardback or a paperback; I don’t see that changing.

DW: Let’s talk about business books. Do you think they are in high demand, and what subject should they cater for?

The business market goes through different cycles. Some of our biggest business books… we’ve published Jack Welch, we’ve got a new Jack Welch book coming up, we’ve published Jim Collins – “Good to Great” continues to sell year in, year out. We’ve also done Drucker’s books (Peter Drucker is an Austrian-born management consultant) going back a long time ago. So, there are certain books that will sell for years and years, some of the books I mentioned are such books, and we sell them into dozens of countries. There is always a need for business managers to understand how to solve a problem, what is the right strategy, how to think about their organization. And books are a terrific format, that long-form narrative is a terrific format to help managers. Twitter, in doing a hundred characters, is not a sufficient way to communicate about how to run a business more effectively. I think books and business books will be here for a long time, but they definitely have cycles where there is maybe a hot book this year that really takes off, and then the next year there might not be as big a market. But they do continue to sell for years.

DW: Is there a business person whose book you would like to publish?

Well, I’m very excited about Jack Welch’s book. He had a big success with his last book, and it’s been some time since he’s published a book. He’s been out of General Electric, and he’s been working with a lot of startups. I’m very fascinated to read his next book because it’s going to bring a perspective of someone who’d been in corporate business and is now working with digital startups. I’m curious to see how he blends the two management philosophies. He’s the one I’m most excited about.

Brian Murray is Chief Executive Officer of HarperCollins Publishers since 2008. He’s engineered the acquisition of Toronto-based Harlequin publishing house in May 2014 under efforts to “expand the international footprint” of the New York company.

Author: Manuela Kasper-Claridge/uhe

Editor: Uwe Hessler

Download the Deutsche Welle News Portal at:

If you want to learn about science storytelling …

I just received this notice from SEJ (Society Environmental Journalists) and thought it might be useful for speechwriters who deal with science topics (which is to say, almost all speechwriters, at one time or another) as well as general science writers.

The training features accomplished speakers, and the price is very/very reasonable.

DATE: Nov. 3, 2014 APPLY BY:  Oct 13, 2014 LOCATION: Poynter Institute, 801 3rd Street South, St. Petersburg, Florida

Making Science Storytelling Engaging and Accurate

This is a one-day intensive workshop that will help science and environmental journalists, bloggers and students produce engaging and informative content. With increasing demand to produce compelling science stories, journalists are also faced with entertainment successes, such as “Shark Week” and “Sharknado,” that can confuse scientific fact and fiction. As the need for science stories continues to grow, it has left the American public more misinformed about science than ever. Join us for a comprehensive day of learning how to:

  • breathe excitement into your stories
  • pitch to editors
  • tap into research tools that make data accessible
  • begin an investigation into an individual or organization

The day’s schedule: (subject to change) 9:00 a.m. – 9:15 a.m. ~ Welcome

Jennifer Bogo Executive Editor, Popular Science

9:15 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. ~ Session 1, The Pitch with Jennifer Bogo Whether you are a freelance writer pitching various editors, or a staff writer pitching your boss, your pitch must be on target. In this session faculty will walk the workshop audience through the various methods for developing a story ideaand sounding it out to editors.

Angela Posada-Swafford

Freelance Science and Exploration Writer

10:45a.m. – 12:00 p.m. ~ Session 2, Getting it Right with Angela Posada-Swafford  There’s so much to get wrong. And it’s so difficult to find the right sources to provide the foundation for the best information. In this session, we will describe the methods for judging an expert’s appropriateness for contributing to a story, translating scientific jargon into the vernacular and fact-checking the work before publication.

12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. ~ Lunch

1:00 p.m. – 2:15 p.m. ~ Session 3, Longform Science Journalism with Angela Posada-Swafford A time-tried way to engage the public is by telling a good tale. But that requires the ability to organize and execute a complicated project, often within a short time frame. In this session, we will lay out the methods for organizing a long project from conception to publication.

2:30 p.m. – 3:45 p.m. ~ Session 4, Character-driven Stories with Jennifer Bogo Science is often complicated and inaccessible to the audience. One of the best ways to get readers over that hurdle is a character-driven story. In this session we will describe how reporters find characters and bring them to life in stories about science. 3:45 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. ~ Wrap-up Who Will Benefit: Science and environmental journalists, bloggers, students and anyone interested in reporting about science and the environment. Price: $79.00 (Lunch is included.)

Price for SEJ members and students: $59.00

Email SEJ HQ  or call 215.884.8174 for the promo code. Not a member of SEJ? Learn about joining HERE.

What speakers and speechwriters can learn from Ben Bernanke

A couple days ago, Ben Bernanke, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, was giving a speech in Chicago when he commented:

“Just between us, I recently tried to refinance my mortgage and I was unsuccessful in doing so.”

Naturally, the line grabbed the media’s attention and brought focus to Bernanke’s message.

While few speakers will ever get the media attention that Ben Bernanke commands, all speakers can generate more interest in their message by sharing some personal insight with the audience.

Last week I taught a speechwriting workshop in Washington DC, and I urged the writers to include casual phrases at strategic spots in their speeches:

“Let me share a story with you …”

“Listen to what I heard yesterday …”

“Speaking candidly … ”

“Guess what I saw on the way to this program?”

“For the first time, I’d like to say … ”

“This morning I got an email asking me to … ”

Or, as used so effectively by the former Chairman of the Federal Reserve:

“Just between us … ”

Here’s the coverage from The New York Times:

International Translation Day … why this matters to speechwriters and speakers alike

September 30th marks International Translation Day, promoted by the International Federation of Translators.

In 1991 the International Federation of Translators launched this annual day to unite the global translation community and also inform the global business community about the importance of the translation profession.

If you are a professional speechwriter or speaker, learn everything you can about the process of translation and interpretation.

Much of my speechwriting is international – with U.S. clients giving speeches in, say, India and Japan. I’ve taught speechwriting seminars to writers from Germany and Venezuela. Much of my speaker coaching is also international – working with speakers from Finland to Montenegro.

Sometimes I travel to rehearse speakers in other countries … sometimes I coach executives over the phone … sometimes I rehearse English-as-second-language speakers in New York City, where I keep conference space. In all cases, my ability to work with translators and interpreters has proven vital to the success of a client’s speech.

Most recently, I’ve had a unique translation experience. I’ve had the pleasure of working with professional translator Elena Bernardo Gil, who is doing the Spanish translation for the new 30th anniversary edition of How To Write & Give A Speech (St. Martin’s Press). Alba Editorial will publish the Spanish edition in February 2015.

My other books have been translated into Japanese, Polish and Dutch – but this Spanish edition marks the first time I’ve worked so closely with a translator. My appreciation to Elena Bernardo Gill for making it a most satisfying process!

And a reminder to all my fellow members of IABC (the International Association of Business Communicators): the “I” in IABC stands for international. Expertise in working with both translators and interpreters has to be part of our skill set. September 30 makes the perfect day for communicators to resolve to strengthen this area of expertise.

How a poor introduction hurts both speaker and audience

Within the past two weeks, I’ve attended four speeches/presentations. One thing they had in common? Either mediocre or flat-out terrible introductions. Not one of the speakers had the benefit of a great introduction.

Here’s an example:

The person making the introduction said (correction: read … she didn’t really say anything, she literally read every word of the introduction, head down, looking at her notes, never once making eye contact with the audience), “He [the speaker] has received many awards and honors, all kinds of recognition – too many awards, really, for me to mention them all now, so I won’t list them.”

In the time it took her to off-put the speaker and bore the audience with that empty remark, she could have said, “A Fulbright recipient and the ‘Best Professor of 2013′ – those are just two of his terrific credits.”

The speaker didn’t get the introduction he deserved.

Even worse, the audience didn’t get the introduction they deserved. This packed auditorium wanted to know about the credentials of their speaker. They certainly didn’t get the details they wanted.

In public speaking and speechwriting, excellence costs no more than mediocrity. Go for excellence.

Interview from BBC about “deadly speaking mistakes”

File this in the “small world” category for public speaking:

A few years ago, I spoke about speechwriting at a large writing conference in New York City. A reporter from Germany happened to be in that audience. (Lesson # One: You never know who will be in your audience.)

Fast forward: The reporter recently contacted me to do an interview about public speaking mistakes. Our interview had two parts: First, via Skype when I was in Prague; second, via phone when I was back in my office near Philadelphia. (Lesson # Two: When a reporter needs to speak with you, do everything possible to meet the reporter’s schedule.)

That interview is now out. Enjoy its international perspective.

The plain truth is: Public speaking is a global business skill. No matter where you work, you need to give effective presentations. No matter where you live, you need to communicate. I hope this article motivates you to polish your own speaking skills.

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