How To Edit Your Own Copy

Writing for your web site or email newsletter might be the most important thing that you do — if people don’t want to waste time wading through your lengthy prose, they’ll never get to your amazing offer.  There are lots of great resources like MenWithPens and Dave Navarro and  Naomi Dunford and Sonia Simone to teach you all about it, but I’ll give you a little tip that I use right here.

Step 1: Cut.
Step 2: Cut some more.
Step 3: Cut a little bit more.

Most of us tend to fall in love with the sound of our own voice, whether it’s out loud or just the gentle clacking of the keyboard. So go ahead and write your paragraph, then start editing out every single word that you can. Do this until it “breaks” the meaning. And then you’ve got a winner.

Here’s an example of some copy for my Imaginary Swimming Pool Company:

pool#1 Summer Is A Great Time To Consider Buying One Of Our Swimming Pools!
As Spring turns into Summer, it gets warmer and we begin to think of how hot we’ll be outdoors. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a nice, cool, relaxing swimming pool to jump into after work so that we could cool off and enjoy ourselves once we’ve gotten home?

#2 Summer Is A Great Time To Consider Buying One Of Our Swimming Pools!
As Spring turns into Summer, it gets warmer and we begin to think of how hot we’ll be outdoors. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a nice, cool, relaxing swimming pool to jump into after work so that we could cool off and enjoy ourselves once we’ve gotten home?

#3 Summer — A Great Time To Enjoy Buy Our Swimming Pools!
As Spring turns into Summer we begin to think of how You’re going to be hot we’ll be outdoors this summer. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a nice, cool, relaxing swimming pool to jump into after work so that we could and cool off and enjoy ourselves?

Summer — A Great Time To Enjoy Swimming Pools!
You’re going to be hot outdoors this summer. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a cool, relaxing swimming pool to jump into after work?

Yada, Yada Yada. Blah, Blah, Blah. Get To The Point!

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It has come to my attention that some of you didn’t get the memo.  You’re apparently unaware that we’re living in a world of 15-second TV commercials, 140-character tweets, and three-minute “long-form” videos on YouTube.

Nobody gives a rat’s ass about your context, your setup, your overview, your background, your rationale, your reasoning, your formative thinking, or the deductive path that you followed.  Except maybe your mom.  (And she’s lying, you know.)

You need to get to the point, right now.

If it’s a presentation, make it clear and easy to understand.  Here’s one of the opening slides I used last week to explain the talk I was giving:

smc_columbia1

No animations, no bullets, no fancy fonts and it stayed on the screen for about 60 seconds.  But it clearly outlined what folks would be hearing from me, and I referred back to it at least a dozen times in the next 45 minutes.

And while this is great advice for a presentation, it’s also pretty wonderful for blogging, picture captions, white papers and email.  Tell me early on what the reason is for the experience, and let me decide if I want to know more about the other stuff.

(Now as an experienced education professional, with a degree and all, that’s not the way I’d always prefer to work.  If I’ve got you locked in a room with me for an hour, I may spend some time setting up what we’re doing, giving you the “big picture”, or somehow providing context.  But if we’re working online, I’ve got to accept that your forefinger is itching to click that mouse button and move on to something involving either cute kittens or hamsters.)

As a test, hand your copy to a friend and give them two minutes.  Then take it away and ask them to tell you the one big thing that came out.  If it’s not the main point of what you’re doing, draw a big red X through what you’ve done, and start over.

No, I’m Not A “Coach” — And You Shouldn’t Be, Either

Don't Be A Coach!

I’ve been following the discussion on my friend Havi’s blog about her aversion to being called a “coach” with great interest — because that’s one self-applied job description that still makes my skin crawl.  (Much like “Social Media Guru”, “Animal Psychic” and “Colonic Therapist”.)  Since I’ve spent most of my adult life in what’s called the Learning and Development pond, I get the wonderful opportunity to interact with people who have decided that they are coaches way more than I would like.

(To make things interesting, they keep changing the name of their discipline.  Recent ones have included “Human Potential” and “Human Capital” — bleech!)

Overall, the idea is that these folks have the power to remove your roadblocks and maximize your potential, while they actualize your internalized developmental possibilities which baseline the best practice modalities integral to moving to the next level as you break through your self-imposed limits.

Uh huh.

Now don’t get me wrong.  There is certainly a need to assist people as they struggle to improve on many fronts.  And there are lots of skilled folks in the world (like @Havi) who I would recommend you send big sacks of money to.

But “Coach” is such an imperfect metaphor.  Most sports metaphors suck, but this particular one sucks 1000%.  It comes to play, it shows up, it really comes down to any given day.

You see, in today’s athletics, “coaching” has become pretty much a lowly-paid guy who gives advice to highly-paid superstars.  Who then pretty much ignore that advice, and go ahead and do whatever they want.  Mostly to raise their personal stats, which increases their income and cements lucrative endorsement deals.

And in the corporate arena, where I work, “coaching” pretty much has become a lowly-paid manager trying to get lowly-paid employees to do the work of several people (who were laid off) for a company that really doesn’t care about them and sees them as interchangeable parts.

Yogi Berra was a Coach.  And he said that “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.”

haviselma1008_whiteSo how about if you consider becoming a “Habits Educator” like Havi, or a Performance Facilitator, or a Supporter Of Those Who Wish To Be Amazing.

Just don’t coach.

The Only Ones With A Problem With Our Interface Are The Users

users

In a perfect world, we’d all create software and websites and knowledgebases and blogs and videos and e-learning and such that would be posted and then never be opened up to the most evil and destructive beings on the planet.

Users.

usersOur work would shine brightly, with buttons and links perfectly aligned, un-clicked and never seen, so that we’d never have to hear those annoying whining noises.  “I can’t make it do this” and “It won’t do that” and “It doesn’t have any of those” keep echoing in our heads at night, as we try to sleep.  Don’t they know that we’ve created perfection?

Users!

You can’t live with ‘em.  And you can’t kill ‘em, chop ‘em up, wrap ‘em in paper, and UPS ‘em to random people from your phone directory.  (At least according to last week’s version of “CSI: New York” you can’t.)

So what’s a poor coder to do?

You might think about doing a little usability testing.  It’s not really that hard, and if you integrate it from the beginning of your project it can really improve the final product.  The problem is that you (and your little Red Bull drinking buddies) really aren’t the target users.  You know too much about whatever it is that your software does.  So you’ll need to buy a couple of pizzas for a user group, show them some mock-ups, and then SHUT THE HELL UP as they try to complete some simple activities.

Video tape the action, and then bring it back to deconstruct.  Work a little further, and repeat.  And repeat.  And repeat.

Don’t know how to do a simple UI review?  Point your mousie over to http://www.useit.com and listen to Jakob Nielsen, the God of web design.  Do what he says.

Or hire an expert.  There are lots of good people available to hold your hand and make sure what you’re developing actually works for the poor fools who give you money.

Then you can buy more Red Bull, games, and a membership on Match.com.  Maybe even move out of Mom’s basement.

Is Using Social Media Like Pulling Teeth?

One of my favorite evangelists in the Social Media space is Jeff Hurt (@JeffHurt on Twitter) the Director of Education and Events for the National Association of Dental Plans (NADP)– a small nonprofit headquartered in Dallas, TX.

Jeff_Hurt_10-14-2009_2-55-51_PMYou wouldn’t think of dental work and social media, but he’s done great work in getting a pretty stodgy group to use some really neat tools — and I ran across a great interview where he actually listed off all the tools that he and his staff use on a daily basis:

What social media sites/tools are you using?

  • Animoto Videos (free or low-cost video creation)
  • Blogtalkradio (interview members, speakers, board candidates, etc.)
  • EventCenter & EventPartner Webinar Platforms (which include webinar microsite, registration process, podcast recording features, text chatting)
  • Hootsuite (to schedule our daily tweets)
  • iCohere eCommunity (velvet rope eCommunity for members only)
  • Facebook Fan Page (for conferences and events)
  • Google Alerts & Twitter Search (for NADP as well as specific industry key words)
  • LinkedIn Group
  • Ning groups (for our own professional learning)
  • Social Collective Conference eCommunity (which also includes event registration, marketing and crowdsourcing features.)
  • Tinychat – to engage in conversations with general public about dental benefits
  • Tweetdeck (to monitor chatter on specific association keywords as well as government initiatives)
  • Twitter
  • Vovici for our research and surveys
  • Wiffiti.com
  • WordPress Blogs (conference blog, public outreach blog, advocacy issues regarding healthcare reform)
  • YouTube


How To Handle Tough Questions From Reporters

I got an email today from Ragan Communications with a lovely little video on “How To Handle Tough Questions From Reporters” that had most of the standard “fess up and take your medicine” sort of advice that your mom would probably give you.

But really, in today’s world of social media tools, there are better ways to handle a reporter trying to nail you on a big story.

If A Reporter Asks About Your Mistress…

…post something on your Facebook page, talking about how you’ve adopted a deserving 27-year-old lingerie model who was so skinny that she might have starved to death.  Remember to link to photos to prove your case.

If A Reporter Questions Your Expense Account…

…tweet that your Gulfstream has been in the shop for the last time, and you’re purchasing Willie Nelson’s old tour bus and will be driving to all of your overseas fact-finding missions from now on.  Don’t mention the ganja in the master suite.

If A Reporter Hears About Your Un-Documented Nanny…

…blog that you’ve embarked on a new Rosetta Stone “full immersion” language lesson series where you get not only the DVDs and tapes, but an actual Spanish-speaking person to come to your house for 45-days to help you prepare for your trip.

If A Reporter Prints That Your Wife Has Left You…

…post a travel review to Yelp claiming that Delta Airlines booked a ticket for a woman with your wife’s name to Mazatlan, along with your pool boy and all your mutual funds.

If A Reporter Calls To Confirm That You’ve Been Laid Off As CEO…

…crumple paper near the receiver and claim a bad Skype connection.

Why “Best Practices” Will Blow Up In Your Face

xjsv12

If I hear one more highly-paid consultant talking about “best practices” I may just have to drop kick them through the uprights on the practice field.  The whole idea is such a crock that I’m amazed anyone takes it seriously.

Here’s a 30-second video of the “Best Practice To Light Your Charcoal Grill Quickly”.  Take a look.

Will you be using this technique soon?  I won’t — unless I want to lose my deck, my wife, and melt my Weber Kettle down into slag.

The point (he has a point?) is that the concept of “Best Practice” assumes that we all share the same conditions, the same metrics for success, and the same risk/reward structure.  The guy in the video was only interested in how quickly he could get that charcoal going — so, for him, it truly was the “Best Practice”.

In my field, learning, I see the same thing happen.  Someone comes out with a list of “Best Practices In e-Learning” with no context.  They suggest that you offer multiple methods for learners to take in the information.  They suggest that you include rich animations, videos, talking parrots and streaming video.  They suggest that you comply with SCORM, NORM, and NNPT. Not to mention offering versions for the deaf, the visually impaired, and those who are allergic to keyboard dust mites.

Uh huh.  My development budget is $250 this quarter.  Not gonna happen.

The whole concept of a “best” anything is a crock, anyway.  What’s the “best” car?  Well, I’m partial to the Jaguar XJS V-12, but it’s hard to haul plywood home in it from Home Depot.

xjsv12

So why do people keep publishing this dreck?  Because we want to THINK we can come up with some kind of one-size-fits all listing of answers that won’t require you to actually know anything about the discipline involved to be an expert.  Sure would be nice:

Jet Pilot
“Best Practice if engines go out, hit big red “fix it” button on control panel.”

Neurosurgeon
“Best Practice if patient acts nutters, stick long steel rod up nose and stir around.”

Hockey Player
“Best Practice to score goals, hit puck thingy into net thingy.”

The harsh truth is that there ARE no real “Best Practices”.  Unless you come up with an exhaustive list of conditions and specifications — developed by an expert who understands both the situation and the discipline — and even then, all you’re getting is an educated guess.

Fire your consultants.  Hire someone who’s actually done it, multiple times, successfully.

Turns Out That Great Content Grows Your “Google Authority”!

It’s always nice to hear that you’ve been barking up the right tree.  And now I’ve got proof — or “woof” — of that, from Chris Garrett, in a great post about how content improves your Google Authority.

High on the list of “negative influencers”:

“Thin or Spammy Content – Duplicate, scraped or feed content, or spammy gibberish is likely to get marked down. As you would expect, Google is aiming to promote the highest quality. They will use human checks, algorithms and watch the behaviour of their customers to see if what they are delivering meets expectations.”

Of course, there are other important issues — like links, traffic, and what your site looks like in general.  But you’ve got that covered already — right?

Using WordPress As A Content Management System

usmag

I’m a happy WordPress user for several blogs, but one of the best-kept secrets about this software is that it does so much more than just blogging. I ran across a great article on how you can also use it as a Content Management System (CMS) that opens up a whole new world of ideas:

WordPress is often thought of as little more than a blogging platform. But it’s capable of so much more. Through a little customization and the use of plugins, WordPress can easily be transformed into a full-featured content management system. Here are more than 25 sites who have done just that (and done it well).

This is the second article in the four-part series, “The Comprehensive Guide for a Powerful CMS using WordPress“.


UGSMAG

UGSMAG is a Canadian hip hop magazine. The home page is laid out in a grid, with featured articles along the left two columns and news on the right. The color scheme and design choices reflect the young, independent audience they attract. The lack of a category list (other than the top nav, which simply lists “News,” “Features,” and “Interviews”) and archives lend the page to looking more like a traditional news or magazine website than a blog.

usmag

Subtle changes to individual article pages, such as removing the category labels, the use of a drop cap initial character, and moving the date from it’s usual blog-centric location under the title to the upper-right hand corner of the page all also contribute to the site looking more like a magazine and less like your standard blog.

Read more…