May 25, 2015

“Make the important interesting.”
— James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly

Paint word pictures

‘You’ll have your hand on your head with a knot under it’

My grandma and namesake, Annie B. Vrana, was an Oklahoma farm woman and one of the most colorful people I’ve known. When she spoke, she painted pictures in your head.

Paint word pictures

In living color Make your message more vivid with colorful language. Image by Futurilla

What I didn’t know then that I do know now is that word pictures increase understanding. Because Grandma talked in pictures, we could literally “see” what she was saying.

Here are some of my favorite Grandmaisms. See how she made concepts concrete by turning ideas into things.

What she meant

What she said

I’m gonna wallop you.“You’ll have your hand on your head with a knot under it.”
He’s lazy.“He was born tired and never did get rested.”
He’s vain.“His head is too big for his hat.”
He’s a conversation hog, liar and gossip.“His tongue is loose at both ends and split in the middle.”
Don’t pout.“Don’t drop your bottom lip like that; you’re going to step on it.”
I’ve been working hard.“I’ve been going all morning in a long, sweeping trot.”
Don’t be conceited.“Don’t get too big for your britches.”
I was discombobulated.“It got so bad, I didn’t know whether I was coming or going.”
We started dinner without you.“We’re waiting for you — like one hog waits for another.”
That’s unusual.“If that don’t beat a hen-a-peckin’ with a rubber bill.”

What’s wrong with this gene pool?

Now my sister, Lynn, is sounding a little like Grandma. Here are some of the colorful phrases she uses at work:

  • Let’s hunt where the ducks fly.
  • I did some quick napkin math …
  • I’ll shake trees and see if I can get an answer.
  • We need to brush out the hairballs on that poodle.

How can you make your communications clearer and more interesting by turning your ideas into word pictures?

Make Your Copy More Colorful

Would you like to learn to add color to even the most complex or technical stories? Become a wizard of wordplay? A master of metaphor?

If so, please join me at Master the Art of the Storyteller, a two-day creative writing master class on July 29-30 in San Francisco.

In this class, you’ll learn how to write copy that grabs attention, keeps it longer, communicates more clearly, enhances credibility and is more likely to go viral. You’ll walk away with techniques — not just what to do, but how — for painting pictures in your audience members’ minds so they understand your points faster, enjoy your information more and remember it longer.

Specifically, you’ll learn to how to:

  • Grab Attention With Feature Stories: Craft creative leads and kickers
  • Make Your Copy More Colorful: Engage readers with fun facts, juicy details
  • Play With Your Words: Spice up your headlines, leads and sound bites with wordplay
  • Master the Art of the Storyteller: Tap ‘the most powerful form of human communication’
  • Add Meaning With Metaphor: Clarify complex concepts with analogy
  • Edit, write, repeat: Bring your laptop and a story to work on, write and rewrite, get and give feedback, and leave with a totally rewritten piece

Learn more about the Master Class.

Browse all 2015 Master Classes.

Would you like to hold an in-house Make Your Copy More Creative workshop? Contact Ann directly.

Register for Master the Art of Storytelling Workshop in San Francisco.

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“Fantastic! Within 90 minutes, I was applying the ideas Ann presented.”
— Jennifer Uschold, senior manager, Internal Communications, Direct Energy

Master the Art of the Storyteller

Learn to engage readers with wordplay, metaphor, storytelling and more

My husband likes to quote Anonymous, who said: “If a man speaks in the forest, and no woman is there to hear him, is he still wrong?”

San Francisco storytelling workshop

It ain’t fluff. Learn to write creative messages that paint pictures in your readers’ minds so they understand your points faster, enjoy them more and remember them longer.

The corporate communication writer’s corollary: If you cover your terribly serious and important stories, and nobody pays attention, does your message still make a sound?

But at Master the Art of the Storyteller — a two-day creative-writing Master Class on July 29-30 in San Francisco — you’ll learn how to write messages that grab attention, keep it longer, communicate more clearly, enhance credibility and are more likely to go viral. You’ll walk away with techniques (not just what to do, but how) for painting pictures in your audience members’ minds so they understand your points faster, enjoy your information more and remember it longer.

And if you act by May 29, you can save up to $300 on registration.

Fill your toolbox with tricks.

In two days, you’ll have time to cram your writer’s tool bag with tricks — hard-to-find but easy-to-implement techniques that will help you:

  • Grab Attention With Feature Stories: Craft creative leads and kickers
  • Make Your Copy More Colorful: Engage readers with fun facts, juicy details
  • Play With Your Words: Spice up your headlines, leads and sound bites with wordplay
  • Master the Art of the Storyteller: Tap ‘the most powerful form of human communication’
  • Add Meaning With Metaphor: Clarify complex concepts with analogies
  • Take Your Story From ‘Meh’ to Masterpiece: Bring your laptop and a story to work on, and leave with a totally rewritten piece.

If you’re a good writer, this Master Class will equip you with a bigger, better bag of writing tricks. If you’re struggling, the program can give you the tools you need to get up to speed almost immediately.

Wherever you are in your writing journey, in this workshop, you will:

  • Learn the latest, proven-in-the-lab approaches for getting readers to pay attention to your message, understand it, remember it and act on it.
  • Find out how to ditch outdated writing practices that actually annoy, rather than attract, readers.
  • Get the information you need to have a successful conversation with management about what works in writing and why.
  • Leave with fresh techniques based on relevant research that you can use to reach and sway your audiences.

Learn more.

Register for Storytelling workshop in San Francisco.

Meet me in San Francisco.

Look! There’s the apartment on San Francisco’s Montgomery Street where Alan Ginsberg wrote “Howl.” Here’s the site of the old Black Cat Bar that John Steinbeck frequented. And that spot right there — in the middle of the Bay — that’s the one Maya Angelou wrote about in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

You might think of San Francisco as home to tech gadgets and gear. But it’s always been a city of letters, as well.

Here, writers ranging from Alice Walker to Amy Tan and from Jane Smiley to Charles Schulz have plied their pens. You’ll find literary festivals, maps, museums, walking tours — and our summer writing workshop — in San Francisco.

Better by the bay - meet me in San Francisco

Better by the Bay Come for our Catch Your Reader writing workshop; stay for the City By the Bay. Photo by Bo Gaze

Why not make a long weekend of it?

I, for one, will be winding down from the workshop by scouring the shelves at City Lights Bookstore, picking out the perfect pearls in Chinatown, barking back at the sea lions on Pier 69, sighing over the bucatini at SPQR and taking in the Turner Show at the de Young Museum.

Maybe we’ll run into each other!

Learn more.

Register for Storytelling workshop in San Francisco.

Save up to $300 when you register by May 29.

I have no doubt that this Master Class will be the best money you invest on your professional development this year.

Plus, now you can save up to $100 with early bird registration if you sign up by May 29. And if you’re one of the first 20 people to register, you’ll get a free, three-month subscription to Rev Up Readership.

Save even more and earn more bonuses when you bring a friend, refer a friend or belong to RevUpReadership.com or PRSA.

Interested? Contact me directly, learn more or register now.

You’ll find out why Jim Masters, internal communication specialist at Accenture, said of Ann’s Master Class: “I have been a journalist for more than 30 years, published more than 10,000 times, and I have learned more about writing in the past two days from Ann than I have in all that time.”

I look forward to seeing you there!

Best,

Ann

P.S. Remember, the early bird discount ends May 29. If you’d like to get the best possible price on this workshop, register now.

Learn more.

Register for Storytelling workshop in San Francisco.


Browse all 2015 Master Classes.

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“When is the word ‘utilize’ better than the word ‘use’? Scrabble.”
— @MarkRaganCEO

Big stories, tiny words

The Times’ word length averages 4.9 characters

When I recommend to my clients that they limit their word length to 5 characters per word, they roll their eyes and chortle.

Big stories tiny words

Word to the wise Don’t overwhelm readers with long words.

But when I tell them I know they can do it, because The New York Times does it every day, they sit up and take note. (The Wall Street Journal also accomplishes this feat, day after day, rarely rubbing its head against the 5-character ceiling.)

And that’s important. Because every syllable you include adds a fraction of a second of processing time. Those fractions of seconds add up to more effort for the reader — a primary cause of lost readership.

Just ask the folks at the Times.

Benchmark your writing against the Times.

We analyzed 99 stories in the Dec. 15, 2014, edition of The New York Times. (We skipped the sports pages.) On that day, Times words:

Target 5-character words.

The Times makes big, complex stories accessible to millions of people through words that average 5 characters or less, like these:

Jack Phillips is a baker whose evangelical Protestant faith informs his business. There are no Halloween treats in his bakery — he does not see devils and witches as a laughing matter. He will not make erotic-themed pastries — they offend his sense of morality.

Can’t Have Your Cake, Gays Are Told, and a Rights Battle Rises

The company, which spun off its previous mobile carrier unit in 2001, said on Monday that it had entered into exclusive talks to acquire EE, the British mobile phone business of Orange of France and Deutsche Telekom of Germany, for about 12.5 billion pounds, or about $19.6 billion.

British Telecom Company BT Is in Exclusive Talks to Buy EE

Since she stepped down as secretary of state in 2013, Mrs. Clinton has worked with her daughter, Chelsea, who also attended the event, on a separate partnership between the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that seeks to collect data on the progress women and girls have made globally.

Cordial Ties for Bloomberg and Hillary Clinton

How low can you go?

While aiming for an average of 5 characters, don’t be afraid of super-short words. These, from the Times, weigh in at:

… 4.2-character words

It was only this year when he turned himself in that the Army and his family learned what had happened.

Army Deserter Is Jailed for Chasing the Conflicts That Steadied His Mind

… 4.1-character words

In recent weeks he has also moved ahead again among the 25-54 group.

NBC Extends Contract of Brian Williams for ‘Nightly News’

… 4.0-character words

By the time his $10-an-hour playtime was up, Mr. Metairie had made plans to take the cat home and rename her Amélie.

To Spur Adoptions, an Oakland Cafe Puts Cats Among the Patrons

… 3.8-character words

There is no limit in the number of times an act can be nominated, so perhaps the fight can start all over again next year.

Lou Reed, Green Day and Bill Withers to Join Rock Hall of Fame

… 3.7-character words

He kept his belongings stored in his car, and many nights, he said, he did not sleep at all.

After Working in Film, a Queens Man Hopes for a Life in Technology

… 3.5-character words

I would have thought you were crazy.

Stepping Back Into a Role’s Shoes

Avoid long words.

Of course, even the Times occasionally gets it wrong. Avoid writing long words like these, which weigh in at …

… 6.1 characters

Nonetheless, he proposed using federal Medicaid funds available under the law to cover some 200,000 low-income residents through their employer’s health insurance plan or the state’s Medicaid program.

With Hospitals Under Stress, Tennessee’s Governor Pursues Medicaid Expansion

… 7.0 characters

The new, independent school organization would take ultimate fiduciary responsibility for itself.

Wright Architecture School Sets Fund-raising Goal for Independence

… 8.1 characters

Artificial intelligence describes computer systems that perform tasks traditionally requiring human intelligence and perception.

Study to Examine Effects of Artificial Intelligence

What’s your average word length? Could you make big stories more accessible to more people if it were shorter?

Learn more about writing short words.

Cut Through the Clutter

Is your copy easy to read? According to communication experts, that’s one of the two key questions people ask to determine whether to read a piece — or toss it.

Fortunately, academics have tested and quantified what makes copy easy to read. Unfortunately, that research virtually never makes it out of the ivory tower and into the hands of writers who could actually apply it.

But you’ll leave Catch Your Readers — a two-day Master Class on Oct. 27-28 in Washington, D.C. — with “the numbers” you need to measurably improve your copy’s readability. Specifically, you’ll learn:

  • How long is too long: For your paragraphs? Your sentences? Your words?
  • Three ways to shorten your copy — and which is the most effective way
  • How to avoid causing your reader to skip your paragraphs
  • A tool you can use (you already have it, but you might not know it) to quantifiably improve your copy’s readability
  • A seven-step system for making your copy clearer and more concise

Learn more about the Master Class.

Browse all 2015 Master Classes.

Register for Washington D.C. Writing Workshop - Catch Your Readers

Would you like to hold an in-house Cut Through the Clutter workshop? Contact Ann directly.

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“Where TV asked for your undivided attention, the web didn’t care as long as you went click, click, click.”
— Tony Haile, CEO of Chartbeat

Please remember this

A click is just a click … a share is just a share

The other day, I was discussing ROI with a group of ridiculously talented, impossibly young PR pros in their first year at a big agency. They report ROI to their clients in clicks, shares and likes.

What's in a click - a click is just a click

What’s in a click? This is a mouse. It is only a mouse. It cannot read your blog post. It cannot buy your products, services, programs and ideas. Image by Felix Padrosa

“As a business owner,” I told them, “if I invest a dollar in your services, I want to receive my dollar back, plus a quarter. That’s a return on investment.”

You’re not still measuring communication success in clicks and shares, are you? Let’s put aside for a moment the fact that our organizations and clients can’t spend clicks and shares. And let’s ask these questions: What’s a click worth? What’s a share worth?

Not much, as it turns out.

Or so says Chartbeat, a data analytics company. Chartbeat studied user behavior during 2 billion site visits to 580,000 articles on 2,000 sites and came to this conclusion:

Most people who click don’t actually read.

Clicks don’t equal reads.

In fact, 55% of folks who clicked a blog post headline spent fewer than 15 seconds on a page.

Chartbeat researchers then filtered for article pages only. Turns out that one-third of visitors spend less than 15 seconds “reading” articles they land on.

Likes and tweets don’t equal attention.

“But they like me! They really like me!” you’re thinking, doing your very best Sally Field impersonation.

That may be. But what does that thumbs-up really translate into, communications-wise?

Turns out that likes and tweets don’t equate to attention, according to a different Chartbeat study. Chartbeat analyzed 10,000 socially shared articles and found that:

  • The story that kept readers engaged the longest had fewer than 100 likes and 50 tweets.
  • Conversely, the story with the largest number of tweets received only about 20% of the total engaged time that the most engaging story received.

“There is no relationship whatsoever between the amount a piece of content is shared and the amount of attention an average reader will give that content,” writes Tony Haile, CEO of Chartbeat.

Measure what matters.

So if we’re not trying to “trick clicks from hicks,” in Haile’s words, what should we measure?

Let’s measure attention, Haile suggests.

“Measuring social sharing is great for understanding social sharing,” Haile writes. “But if you’re using that to understand which content is capturing more of someone’s attention, you’re going beyond the data. Social is not the silver bullet of the Attention Web.”

Hold a reader’s attention for at least three minutes, according to the Chartbeat research, and she will be twice as likely to return to your site than if you hold her attention for one minute.

So instead of chasing clicks and shares, write interesting, valuable blog posts that hold readers’ attention and bring them back for more.

Measure what really matters.

And then, let’s take the next step: Let’s measure action.

Ask, “What are my visitors doing after they click and read?”

If the answer doesn’t involve my getting my dollar back, plus a quarter in return for my investment, we’re doing something wrong.

Next steps: Measure What Matters

Want to know when you’ve reached your communication goal?

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“What I really like about a (press release) is when it scratches my reader’s itch and not your client’s itch.”
— A trade journal editor quoted in Public Relations Tactics

Do you give journalists a headache?

Make their lives easier with multimedia pitches

Nearly seven in 10 journalists believe their jobs have gotten harder over the past five years, according to a 2014 survey by media platform ISEBOX.

ISEBOX journalist survey

It’s tough out there! Journalists are working harder, according to an ISEBOX survey.

You don’t want to be part of that problem, do you?

Here’s how to avoid being a journalist’s worst nightmare:

1. DO the math.

Most journalists produce at least five articles per week. (Two in 10 write more than 10 articles a week.) But they receive at least 20 pitches a week.

What sets your pitch apart from 75% of your competitors?

2. DON’T burden them with extra work.

More than 80% of journalists say photos, infographics or videos are “very important” to the story. But one-quarter of stories include no multimedia content.

That means at least 30 minutes of extra work for writers who have to source photos, logos and videos themselves — a source of frustration for eight out of 10 reporters.

“If a pitch doesn’t contain graphics I can include with my article, it’s hard for me to take it on,” says Karen Fratti, freelance writer and regular contributor for Mediabistro and Huffington Post.

ISEBOX journalists survey on multimedia

Picture this Missing multimedia adds half an hour of extra effort for journalists on one-quarter of stories.

3. DO make your content easily accessible.

Where to place this multimedia?

Attach it to your emailed pitch, share files via user-friendly platforms such as Dropbox, or send journalists USB flash drives.

But skip cumbersome platforms such as FTP, download sites that require logins or making journalists follow up manually to request visuals.

ISEBOX journalist survey on multimedia materials

Don’t make me ask you again Attach multimedia files to your emailed release. Don’t expect journalists to follow up for visuals.

“When a pitch comes with everything attached, no cumbersome downloads, I want to hug that PR rep,” Fratti says. “And, I’m more likely to pick up on the next release from them, too.”

Enough said.

Related stories:

Next steps: Get the Word Out With PR

Want to reach bloggers, journalists and readers with effective PR pieces?

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“I loved that I’m walking away from this with a better understanding of how to grab our readers’ attention.”
— Jessie Jenkins, associate account coordinator, Capstrat

Ann’s touring schedule

Polish your skills at one of these events

Alas, I can’t invite you to the in-house seminars I present for private organizations.

Ann's touring schedule image

Come along for the ride Catch Ann at one of her upcoming workshops.

But everyone’s invited to these upcoming public seminars in:

  • Orange County on May 14: Catch Your Readers, a one-day writing workshop for PRSA Orange County
  • San Francisco on June 15: Lift Your Ideas Off the Screen or Page, a one-hour breakout session at the IABC 2015 World Conference
  • San Francisco on July 29 and 30: Master the Art of Storytelling, a two-day Master Class. Learn to engage readers with metaphor, wordplay, storytelling and more. Bring your laptop, and leave with a totally rewritten story
  • Tacoma on Aug. 19: Create Content Marketing Pieces That Almost Write Themselves, a half-day workshop for PRSA Puget Sound
  • Washington, D.C. on Oct. 27 and 28: Catch Your Readers, a two-day Master Class

Would you like to attend? Please contact meeting planners directly for details.

Can’t make these events? If you’d like to bring me in for a workshop at your organization, contact me.

Want to polish your skills? Keep up with Ann’s latest two-day Master Classes.

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Where in the world is Ann?

Cut your training costs when you piggyback your program

Save money when you piggyback your workshop by scheduling it when I’m already “in the neighborhood.” Book your program the day before or after another organization’s and split my airfare and ground transportation with the other group.

Ask about piggybacking on my upcoming engagements in:

  • Austin, Texas: July 9
  • Cleveland: May 6
  • Houston: Sep. 2
  • New York: June 8-12 & Sep. 24
  • Orange County: May 14
  • Portland, Oregon: June 30
  • Raleigh, North Carolina: May 27-28
  • San Francisco: June 15 & July 29-30
  • Seattle, Washington: Aug. 18
  • Tacoma: Aug. 19
  • Washington, D.C.: Oct. 27-28

Save even more: Ask about my communication-association discounts and second-day fee reductions.

Contact me to discuss piggybacking.

Want to polish your skills? Bring me in for a workshop at your organization.

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What are we up to?

The folks at Wylie Communications have been enjoying

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Keep up with my calendar

Find out when I’m coming to your neighborhood, learn when you can sign up for one of my programs and otherwise keep up with my calendar.

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