If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything – Mark Twain

Kindness is the essence of greatness and the fundamental characteristic of the noblest men and women I have known. Kindness is a passport that opens doors and fashions friends. It softens hearts and molds relationships that can last lifetimes. Kind words not only lift our spirits in the moment they are given, but they can linger with us over the years... [ Joseph B. Wirthlin]

The Power of Simple Words

With more than 10 years in PR and communications, I have drafted and edited countless speeches as a speechwriter and countless media releases as a communications manager and contractor. So I write this from extensive experience.

The power of words is seldom fully felt, until after they are spoken, or read.  The words we use can influence outcomes in organisations and governments. They can change the way people see the world and each other. They can be as sharp as a sword and as soft as a feather. They can divide or unite people. They can start wars in families and nations and around the world. They can bring peace back to the table and soften hearts. That is the powerful impact of words and that is why our word choices are so important.

In this post, I focus on the power of simple words. Factors like the way in which words are said, as much as who is saying it, and levels of trustworthiness with the intended audience are also important considerations.

A simple motive, word, idea can be powerful. Using plain language can be a potent device in well-written and carefully crafted oratory and media releases.

When it comes to word choices, I prefer a simple everyday word for speeches and media releases, rather than a fancy word or jargon that my audience hasn’t heard of. Why? Because you want to increase the chances of people understanding and accepting your message. Using jargon, particularly in a business and political setting, limits the pool of people who will understand what you’re talking about. (There are public examples, which I won’t go into here, where limiting people’s understanding of the issue is clearly the communications goal of the speaker. But that’s a post for another topic.)

Back to the power of plain language. Applying simple words as a deliberate choice helps to communicate clearly and concisely to people of all walks of life. It is an important lesson to grasp if you want your message to be heard and understood widely, across all levels of society including those with low levels of literacy in reading and writing, not just those who are well educated.

With large populations of people born overseas, it’s also important to consider the communications needs of people who have varying levels of English fluency, particularly if they are part of the target markets or audiences you want to reach out to.

When I have written public health communications for doctors and scientists, I focus on how to explain highly technical and often complex issues in ways that the general public will easily relate to. One way: instead of long academic sentences with plenty of jargon familiar only to scientists and specialist doctors, I take the scientific word or term and introduce a description and explanation and its relevance alongside the word or term, to help journalists and the public understand the message. That gives journalists, easy-to-understand, information they need to explain a complex issue to the public.

Because you cannot effectively communicate and persuade groups of people and communities, including those with English as a second language, to take protective actions to limit the spread of disease during an outbreak, for example, if the message is not plainly given.  Only medical and scientific professionals will understand the associated jargon but they’re not the key audiences you need to reach through the media during an outbreak. Therefore, to help people understand the risks, and take the necessary actions, keep it simple, clear and concise.

Use words to express yourself, not to impress. The latter doesn’t consider the audience’s needs. Focusing on the needs of the audience is the key to successful and influential communications.

What if you, regardless of my advice here, still want to use ‘big’ words that are highly academic or jargon? Unless you take the time to explain the word or term to your audience, describe how it applies and why it’s relevant to them, as I explained earlier in the health example, it often alienates listeners.

When you alienate listeners, you lose an opportunity to influence.

You see, if people don’t understand what you’ve said, they will stop listening, and be less likely to listen next time. Unless they trust you implicitly which means that one off speech, that didn’t make sense, may be forgiveable. But if you are new to an audience and trust is still up in the air, it’s far easier for people to stop listening, than to draw public attention to the fact that one did not understand the speaker’s message.

The power of simple words. It works.

An animated version of a lesson in simple words by TED animators.

The Internet’s Impacts on How Communities Come Together

Clay Shirky is a thought leader on the social and economic effects of Internet technologies. In this 2012 TED Talk, he talks about how the Open Source community has learned to deal with a flood of new, oftentimes divergent, ideas using hosting services. I’m not sure they have learned to deal with it, as much as having to deal with it. My opinion comes from thinking about the reality of cyber-bulling and cyper-crimes on the Internet and its terrible impacts.

But what is very interesting is that Shirky challenges governments, saying that if the Open Source world can deal with the flood of diverse opinions, why can’t governments? He presents ideas that are thought-provoking and challenging. He explains how democracies can take a lesson from the Internet and draw on the knowledge of all their citizens and be transparent.

Finding Your Imagination

This TED talk by artist Janet Echelman is a magnificent lesson in the power of imagination. Often it comes in the most unexpected ways and it stretches how we do things. I love how Janet Echelman’s mind works because she sees, dreams and creates things that most people don’t.

After watching her speak of the sheer scale of what her imagination has created, it makes me think that the human race, except for Janet Echelman possibly, clearly doesn’t use the full extent of our brain power and imagination.

That’s the beauty of a magnificent artist like her. She searches for beauty in the traditional and it is breath-taking and cheerful to watch. She shows how her mind made the impossible possible.

In the course of my work, I love exploring new ways to present information and reach out to target audiences. This artist imagination’s encourages innovation and imagination, and isn’t that a wonderful thing? I get excited seeing fresh and creative approaches unfold and being able to help someone present an idea or argument in a more beautiful or compelling way.

Her speech inspires people, like me, to keep imagining, keep pushing for creative and interesting ways to tell a story, to communicate an idea, to present the impossible. The power of the mind is limitless. Isn’t she an inspiration? Indeed.

Visuals that Tell The Vaccine Story

I am constantly on the look out for fresh ways to tell a compelling story on subject matters that have no entertainment or celebrity value. Like health, for example.  As we continue to see advances in technology and on social media, there’s an abundance of opportunities to find these examples. So thanks to social media, here’s a couple of examples I’ve checked out this morning and I thought I’d share them with you.

Video 1
The subject matter is important. It’s about vaccines and they save millions of lives.  But despite the importance of the message, a large number of people would rather watch news with entertainment value, then a message that could save lives. So that’s a communications challenge to resolve.

Just as I was about to stop watching this video, the unidentified hand doing the infographic grabbed my attention. I couldn’t take my eyes of it. Admittedly, I was looking for something to keep me interested and the hand sketching the infographic did it for me.  And before you knew it, I was listening to Bill Gates, no problem. To help the infographic sketching work with the voice track, the pace has been sped up to flow with the narrative.  Conclusion: using the infographic with hand streaming with voice works.

Video 2

This is compelling to me because it starts with the personal story of a mother who has lost her baby. That is heartbreaking. Yet her energy and commitment trying to persuade mothers in Gambia to have their children vaccinated is heartwarming and inspiring. Vaccines saves children’s lives.  She is saving lives by helping to spread the message. And that’s an incredible legacy to come out of great loss and suffering.

An inspiring story of a mother and the grassroots efforts using song that worked at inspiring village families to have their children vaccinated. This visual tells the story of vaccines as a personal story, strongly and simply.

The Digital Divide Hasn’t Gone Away

At least one in four teenagers aged 12 to 17 in America are “cell- mostly” internet users, according to the latest PEW research.  In the developing world, cellphone access to the Internet is much more widespread than using laptops and computers.

20-08-2013 PEW Research on Teen Cell Internet Use

And that all seems fine and dandy in terms of rolling towards a mind-blowing digital technology revolution.  But Mashable writer Jessica Goodman reveals some worrying trends and impacts on skill development and learning for young people in a story headlined The Digital Divide is Still Leaving Americans Behind .

When it comes to teens and cellphone Internet access, it’s no longer as revolutionary as it first appeared to me.  I’ve dispensed with the assumption that a young person who can easily access the Internet on a cellphone, and tweet and facebook at 100 miles an hour, automatically has a high level of computer literacy. That’s not an absolute. Through one tech teacher’s experience, as reported in the Mashable story, it shows there are direct costs and consequences to learning and skill development for a young person whose primary access point to the Internet is cellphone.   Good insights.

There are questions to ask but those initial findings provides a strong starting point if you’re interested in solving a problem like, how to cut the costs and consequences.  I don’t know what the answers are, as yet, but I intend to find out sooner or later.

20-08-2013 Digital Divide America 2

20-08-2013 Digital Divide America

PolyFest Winners

Polyfest Manukau, Sat 16 March: St Paul's Collegiate, Ponsonby, wins First Place overall for boys schools

POLYFEST 2013, Manukau – Samoan Group, St Paul’s College, Ponsonby, Auckland.  Credit to Facebook S T Timoteo.

Pride beaming from their faces before they stepped onto the stage. One of them is my nephew, who, along with these fine young men, performed at Polyfest today. They’re representing St Paul’s Samoan Group and obviously they won. An all boys school, St Paul Samoan Group were the overall boys schools winner.

It’s incredible to think how far Polyfest has come since its early days.  Nowadays it’s regarded as the largest Maori and Pasifika cultural festival in the world. Who would have imagined that back in its early days? This secondary schools cultural festival began in 1976 at Southside’s Hillary College after a 16-year-old Otara student named Michael Rollo came up with the idea. Staff, students and parents supported the idea and off they went.  The aim of the Festival was to show pride in cultural identity, heritage and bring schools together to share this.  What was the catalyst for his idea? Where is Michael Rollo now? That’s what I wonder when I consider that the Festival has been going for over 36 years.

Meanwhile, this post is my way of celebrating my nephew for giving his all and doing his part to make their group a winning one.  He’s usually on the sports field and this was the first cultural group he’s ever joined to compete in Polyfest.

Young man, keep giving 110 percent, and then some, be it on stage, in classroom and on the sports field. I like it!

Familia Historia est Amazing

Two years ago, someone asked me to write down our Family Tree.  Ignoring my spare writing-to-do list waiting to be done, and always a long queue past my kitchen door, I went on a long search for my enigmatic ancestors.  I  have interviewed and quizzed family and strangers galore on family history, so intensely and persistently, this year. There’s still a few unanswered questions buzzing around in my head.…

Visualizing Data

It’s a beautiful thing to come across data presented in the language of the eye.  After attending #ProjectRevolution the last two days, I’ve noticed that even more.  Presenting data visually, if you can, helps an audience to see patterns, relationships and their impact.  It compresses loads of data into an easily digestible form, most of the time. There are plenty…

A hat tip to K.M. Weiland for this:

RIP Dr Stephen Covey

Thought leader extraordinaire. I have just heard the sad news that Dr Stephen Covey, the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, has died.   Published in 1989, he sold more than 20 million books in 38 languages so it would be safe to say that Dr Covey must have helped millions of  people from leaders and captains of…

Give the Apostrophe a Hug

Use the apostrophe to indicate possession and to mark omitted letters in contractions. Writers often misuse apostrophes when forming plurals and possessives. The fourth deadly sin misuse of the apostrophe The poor apostrophe.   Today after seeing one more misplaced apostrophe, I thought that’s it.  My cup runneth over.  How often must it be misused and abused for all to see? …

Community Relations & Engagement

This is something I fell into years ago in large part due to how I work with people.  What does successful community relations and engagement look like? When working on behalf of a company or an organisation, one of my first questions is: what are the needs of the community?  Information and facts. Answer top of mind questions and anticipate…

Family History Searches: Ellis Island

I’m researching aspects of my family history and have been, off and on, for years.  My desire is to record family stories before time and death take them away.  Fortunate are those for whom there are ample records that provide a paper trail for researchers.  But when a culture has lived by an oral history for decades, using elders, songs…

Curating Content Online

Noticed the word “curator” popping up online? When talking about web publishing, blogging, and sharing on social media?  It’s the perfect word for what we do online, those who have blogs and websites.  Smart move linguistically. Here’s a talk by Steven Rosenbaum which explains more on why curation.  He talks about the mainstream media’s role in being overwhelmed by the…

David Koker’s Diary

Books. Autobiographies. Non-fiction. My ears come alive at the mention of Jewish history, thanks to an elderly Polish neighbour, whom I wrote about a few years ago.   This story about David Koker appeared as a brief in Arts and Letters Daily.  It made me reminisce of those years, over 20 years ago, with my dear elderly gentle man. When David…

Saying Goodbye to the Preposition Rule

As a writer,  I obsess over grammar rules.  I break grammar rules too, at times.  It’s a tricky one with the borderless world of the Internet because there are grammar rules that are country or culture-specific. But this, my friends, is not one of them.  The dreaded “preposition” rule. In my early training as a writer/journalist, I came away with…

Silent Poverty

Had a thought-provoking day out this week. Got back to my car and I was approached by a well-dressed Indian or Pakistani man begging for money to buy food. It shocked me to see him, well dressed, well-spoken, asking me for money, in a part of town that has never seen beggars, in my experience. I wonder, thinking about it…

The Painting

You must see this. It is so amazing and refreshing to watch.  This video, showing  the work of performance artist David Garibaldi, is a joy to watch. I have seen this video a number of times. Each time I’ve come away inspired by his gift. When I first saw it, it wasn’t on YouTube and didn’t have a headline or…

The Internet at Its Worst and Best

I wrote a submission to the New Zealand Law Commission’s Review on the Regulatory Gaps and New Media. Phew. Mine was an 11th hour effort.  But I submitted because I believe there is value in participating in parliamentary and legislative processes.  That’s where the public has an opportunity to participate in the decision-making processes of Parliament. If your voice isn’t…

What is a waterspout? Auckland had one

Two days ago, Auckland saw this gigantic waterspout in the afternoon. I saw it! What a thrill. Amazing. Beautiful in its formation and size. Watched it for at least two minutes from one of the old buildings at Greenlane Hospital, now used as office floors. Stunning and terrifying cloud formation bearing down near Sky Tower, or so we thought at…

Steve Jobs on Loving What You Do

It’s the start of 2012 and I love this. So let me share it with you.

Apple’s Steve Jobs speaks about the need to have a lot of passion for what you’re doing because it’s so hard.

Without passion, any rational person would give up. So if you’re not having fun doing it, if you don’t absolutely love it, you’re going to give up. And the ones that didn’t love it, quit. Because they’re sane, right?…Who would put up with this stuff if you don’t love it?

Two Uncommon Hopefuls in America

The Year 2012 marks  a milestone. It’s the first time in my lifetime that I will have seen two publicly identified Mormons, or members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, make it to the primary elections as  American presidential hopefuls. What’s the world coming to? Well, America has adopted the message of change, thanks to President Barack…

Speaking So People Will Listen

I would describe this video, a TED speech by Julian Treasure this year, as useful for professional and personal development for speakers. He takes an holistic approach that covers personal and professional conduct with topics like trustworthiness, tone, style, pace and volume.

He recommends a series of vocal, arm and mouth exercises before you speak in front of a key audience. It is actually similar to the exercises you do if you are a singer, or taking vocal lessons.

Dan Pink on The Puzzle of Motivation

Dan Pink on rethinking how we run business and engage and motivate people. I am posting this here so that, when I finally have some spare time, I’ll come back and watch this in full.  According to Wikipedia, he has written five books on changing the workplace. I’m interested in his findings from an internal communications perspective, particularly in relation to motivating staff.

When I get a chance, I may post more, if I have time to do so.

Using Social Media to Build Community

I have posted two TED talks for a handy reference on developing online and offline communities. I’m not sure if they will provide any new insights if you are an active social media user for work and personal from the start, and you’ve already had some years of experience developing online communities. This won’t provide you with light bulb moments or new ideas. That was how I felt watching these talks. But this is a good starter if you are new to developing an online community. The first talk is very helpful in terms of breaking the ice and taking away the mystery.

If you are new to developing an online community in an area of interest, the best advice is, once you have assessed resource capacity and availability and for how long, to simply start. Online engagement and social media is one area where the best learning is from simply doing it.  Give the people information they want and need. They will come back for more and tell others.

Community Engagement Through Social Media-Sarah Lee

She makes that the key point about social media, is the word ‘social’. She emphasizes making that connection.

Online communities as sites for engagement – Rosianna Halse

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0JmFXtbsL2g