Keep trying something new

Three years ago I completed a creative project I’d never considered having the skills necessary to complete. I didn’t when I started. I had the curiosity and drive to give it a try. I learned as I went. I read some books and studied some models. While I wanted to use familiar styles, I also wanted to develop my own style to (as Christopher Griffin suggested at PAB2011) put my own fingerprints on my work.

It was a selfish project. True, the intent was always to promote others in a way that hadn’t been done before. Still it was really about me trying something new. As a friend once told me, we use personal projects and downtime to develop new skills we can apply to our life and work.

I’m proud of the outcome though it was the process that was most rewarding. You can’t invest 330 hours in a project and not get something out of it.

What was the project? Rock Stars of Reading — an ambitious 21-part series of documentary videos and audio programs about children’s book authors and illustrators, the book creation process and literacy. And, if the process and product wasn’t rewarding enough, shortly after posting the series online I received an email from a Hollywood production house congratulating me for doing something remarkable.

I’d mostly moved beyond the project when a series of recent events reminded about it. Prominent in that was the amazing PAB conference. Inspired, I’ve decided it’s time to take the next creative leap forward and try something new.

Here’s the first part in the aforementioned series. I’ve lined up the video parts in a Rock Stars of Reading video playlist.

Always check your equipment

Let me start by saying I’ve always been diligent when recording audio. That is to say, I often warn in-person interview guests that I routinely check the screen of my audio recorder to confirm it’s still on and recording; doing so is not a reflection of their voice, comments or my state of focus.

So, why did I decide earlier today that I suddenly trusted my equipment? Is it the years of reliable service? Is it that I was standing at a table about to record a conversation with Shel Holtz after meeting him for the first time yesterday evening?

Whatever the reason, I turned on my recorder, hit record, confirmed it was operating, then placed it settled slightly in its case to shield it as I often do when I record.

The conversation with Shel was fascinating. Besides having an incredible amount of knowledge about public relations, communication, public affairs and crisis management, he has a cache of knowledge on the knowledge – like mental metadata.

The conversation started out about public affairs and quickly moved to crisis communication. Specifically, Shel recalled his own experiences and those of others in this business. He talked about the good, the bad and the ugly and why organizations still fail (sometimes catastrophically) in navigating the sometimes heavy seas of our profession.

I’d like to share that conversation with you. I won’t. You’ll just have to believe it was fantastic because my audio recorder had other plans. It took advantage of my trust and shut itself off about a minute after we started. The conversation had no chance.

Thank you, Shel. I learned a lot from our conversation even if I’m not able to share it. And I gained practical experience to trust my instincts.

Time to review my notes on Jonah Lehrer‘s session on how we make decisions.

The right tool for the job

When selecting a digital channel to deliver a message, you need to think beyond the “sex appeal” of the tool you’d like to use and consider the message and desired outcome (if any). I’ve prepared a list of tools along with a summary of how you might consider using them. Note that each tool allows you to build and strengthen community in different ways.

BLOG, long form sharing and engagement

  • Opinion pieces
  • Short-to-long form information and entertainment sharing
  • Initiate and host discussions about nuanced issues
  • Multimedia sharing
  • Centralized community building
  • Informed commentary
  • Search engine optimized content

MICROBLOG, bite-sized updates and engagement (e.g. Twitter)

  • Breaking news
  • Brief status updates (what you’ve done, are doing, will be doing)
  • Discrete thoughts on a particular subject
  • Bursty conversations and engagement (short-term)
  • Focused questions (engaging community for assistance)
  • Links to articles and other online discussions
  • Promotion of your own online content
  • Event updates
  • Real-time photo and video sharing

SOCIAL NETWORK, medium-level discussions and sharing (e.g. Facebook)

  • Status updates (what you’ve done, are doing, will be doing)
  • Thoughts on a particular subject
  • Threaded discussions
  • Ask questions (engaging community for assistance)
  • Links to articles and other online discussions
  • Photo and video sharing

AUDIO, portable dynamic and personality-driven communication (e.g. podcast)

  • Inject personality into information and entertainment sharing
  • Interviews, discussions and issue-specific round tables (must be dynamic)
  • Event coverage (verbatim archive or documentary)
  • Generate rapport with audience
  • Very portable and doesn’t demand undivided visual attention

VIDEO, show and tell communication (e.g. YouTube)

  • Adds visuals to the mix (have something to show)
  • Interviews, discussions and issue-specific round tables (must be dynamic)
  • Event coverage (verbatim archive or documentary)
  • Generate rapport with audience
  • Accessing online video easier to understand than online audio

Photo: Bike Tools uploaded to Flickr by nocibomber.

A word is worth a thousand pictures

I’m a bit of an audio geek. I love the way the best producers are able to create scenes and situations in your mind with a few carefully chosen and well-spoken words. These create what radio has long called “driveway moments”; when commuter sits in their car, on their driveway, to hear the conclusion of the program.

I used to assume all of these seemingly natural storytellers were born with the built-in ability to craft images. When I interviewed Stuart McLean (one of Canada’s best-known storytellers) I was shocked to learn that some are dedicated artists or technicians. I’ll always remember the moment I heard him describe the process of writing and refining stories and then his comment about the process and participants:

We work very hard to make it look like we don’t work hard at all.

Frankly, it doesn’t matter to me. While my producer-self is desperate to know the minutiae of the process, my listener-self doesn’t believe it’s anything but chance when absorbed in a great audio program.

By the way, the same rules apply to video — a medium for which many amateurs rely far too much on the easy access to cameras and editing tools to create mundane content, mistakenly forgetting (or ignoring) the importance of good video elements and especially good audio elements.

Anthony Marco nailed it at PAB2010. He used his JOLT! to demonstrate — simply — how words can create images in the minds of the audience, and that less is more when it comes to giving your audience permission to be in the moment with you.

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