Tactical Tongue Twisters

Tongue twister rhymes have long been used to help people who suffer from speech impediments. But it can also be used for broader, commercial applications, which are just as useful…

You don’t have to be an eight-year-old child in the playground to enjoy tongue twisters. In fact, they’re fantastic for people who need to lose very strong accents for work reasons, such as those in services industries or roles which require a lot of public speaking or performance.

If you’re someone who tends to chew or muddle your words, or if you have poor elocution – especially if it gets worse when you’re feeling jittery before a public presentation, here’s a few brilliant tongue twisters to loosen your knots and steady your nerves:

  • Six sick slim sycamore saplings
  • A box of biscuits, a batch of mixed biscuits
  • A skunk sat on a stump and thunk the stump stunk, but the stump thunk the skunk stunk
  • Six thick thistle sticks. Six thick thistles stick
  • Is this your sister’s sixth zither, sir?
  • A big black bug bit a big black bear, made the big black bear bleed blood
  • The sixth sick sheik’s sixth sheep’s sick
  • Toy boat. Toy boat. Toy boat
  • Friendly Frank flips fine flapjacks
  • Vincent vowed vengeance very vehemently
  • Cheap ship trip
  • Lovely lemon liniment
  • Tim, the thin twin tinsmith
  • Gertie’s great-grandma grew aghast at Gertie’s grammar
  • Fat frogs flying past fast
  • The boot black bought the black boot back
  • Moose noshing much mush
  • Ruby Rugby’s brother brought and bought her back some rubber baby-buggy bumpers
  • Lesser leather never weathered wetter weather better

Try and repeat the above several times. The meaning will be completely lost – but it will help your diction to become pitch perfect.

WordSmith Jo

Give it to me in Three: Effective Communication Strategy for Time Poor Managers

Given the challenges, and constraints of heavy workloads, the modern Manager is a time poor creature, whom exists on a diet of coffee, mints between meetings, and the occasional back slap on getting a mammoth delivery in on time and under budget.

Historically, people had traditional lines drawn around their role, and rarely did anyone step outside the definition of their job. With corporates forever ‘streamlining, ‘restructuring’, or as I heard one callous GM refer to the dreaded ‘R’ as ‘tying up loose ends’, the reality for most people working in the corporate sector is that roles constantly shift, there’s no ‘safe seat’ and more oft than not, harassed managers juggle multiple roles, steering committees (for that too hard basket no one wants to touch) and of course, the aspirations and grievances of direct reports.

Most of us rely on other people to help us fulfill certain tasks within our own role; whether you are sourcing information, waiting for a response or action – we need each other to get the job done.

With everyone stretched to capacity, I’ve outlined a communications strategy to help colleagues stop and think about what they want, which in turn, allows for faster management decisions –

The Three Bullet Request & Response

If you need an action from someone, think about what you want from them, what they want from you, and assess the impact of inaction before you engage them.

The three questions you can put forward to your colleague is simply:

1. What do you need?
2. When do you need it by?
3. What happens if I don’t respond in time?

The Three Bullet Request & Response can also be used for managing projects when you require an end of day status update –

1. What did you achieve today?
2. What’s next for tomorrow?
3. What road blocks do you require assistance with?

By using a sweet short sharp approach, everyone is happy because colleagues can be quicker to respond to requests, and you can be straight to the point when making a request, and hopefully, those extra ten minutes you save each day in effective communication means an early mark on Fridays!

Till next time, crack a queer whid!

WordSmith Jo

Good Grace and Saving Face

Let me guess. You just had a really bad day at the office, the same person keeps giving you hell week-on-week, and all you want to do is wait for that perfect moment to stick the knife in and, viola! An opportunity presents itself… whoa back buck! Keep the knife in the scabbard and why not try a PGR instead?

PGR is an acronym that I literally just made up then – it stands for Personal Growth Response. It sounds very officious so I thought I’d use it.

We have all had to deal with difficult personalities, in and outside of work so I’m fairly confident, dear reader, you can relate to situational variations on the same theme – how to respond to a jerk in a mature way.

So we are on the same page first, I have outlined what could reasonably be considered immature responses –

Pulling Hair (very career limiting move)

Offering to buy coffee for your arch nemesis, only to secretly spit and swirl in their beverage

Signing up your enemy’s work email to a whole bunch of dodgy websites that will end up in your IT Department’s quarantine in box –

Your Enemy: “I have no idea about any of these websites”.

Dubious and harassed IT Support Person: “Really? How odd.”

Instead, dear reader, I’m proposing the PGR method may result in a very favourable outcome – you might just turn a foe into a friend –

Ask to speak with the person privately – not in a meeting room that is all glass walls – preferably in a neutral space (i.e. not your home or office, but a park, café etc).

Start off with a positive statement that makes clear your intention i.e. you want to get along but feel recent events / interactions are making it difficult.

Give the person an opportunity to save face first. Instead of going into the plethora of offences (real or perceived) check in with what’s going on personally for them e.g. –

“Is everything okay? It seems lately you’ve been really stressed out – and acting out of character and I just thought you may need someone to talk too.”

Often times, people behave badly because things either professionally or personally are not going well for them. It’s easy to just dismiss someone as a jerk, and treat them accordingly, but it is so rewarding, and often times, pleasantly surprising, when we respond to bad behaviour with good grace.

By being kind to someone being mean, it often throws them off balance, and if they are really decent under all that gruff, (which most people are), they will self-correct and appreciate being told, in a very gracious way – to pull their head in.

Till next time, crack a queer whid!

WordSmith Jo

Interviewing Rock Stars

A great interview for content generation is rarely the result of a rigid ten point questionnaire session with your subject. It’s a genuine two-way conversation where ideas are exchanged, confirmed, challenged – with a few spasmodic belly laughs in-between.

The scariest thing about interviewing someone for information is when your subject is unresponsive; Monosyllabic, unyielding, unfriendly…yikes!

Below is a list of things which I have learnt over the years during the interview process which you may find helpful the next time you find yourself trying to squeeze information out of important time poor people or wary strangers –


Always record your interview and disclose upfront that your subject is being recorded.

Reassure your subject that they can request for you to delete the voice recording after your printed transcript has been done or offer for them to have a copy of the recording and transcript.

Disclose whether you will be passing on the transcript to a third party and get permission to do so first.

Make sure you have a Consent for Release form signed by your subject for any images or quotes you may use from the interview in external communications. It will be a lot easier to get this upfront than ask for it later.

Face to face interviews are always preferable because people are often more anecdotal and honest face-to-face. Most importantly, it helps to build rapport and trust quickly. When your subject feels comfortable with you, they will often give context without you having to ask for it to give you a deeper understanding of their position – which makes for a richer, and more meaningful narrative for your story.

Emails and phone conversations should really only be used for further clarification of what was said during the interview process.

Never start the interview with personal questions or hard questions. Always ease into an interview by asking the subject to talk about themselves in a general way first. That way the subject feels in control of the interview and will usually, after a few minutes, forget that that they are being recorded – which is great – because we don’t want them to feel self-conscious or guarded.

Once your subject is comfortable, then asked guided, open-ended questions and respond to your subject’s answer with your own views or experiences (being mindful that the topic is your subject, not you!). You will find that being open about your own experience or understanding usually opens up other lines of enquiry from your subject.

Always remember to smile and keep your focus on the person. It is very disrespectful to ask for someone’s time, but then show in your body language that you’d rather be eating pizza with a zombie.

Never take phone calls during the interview. Always let your subject answer their phone. They are your guest.

Never respond negatively to your subject. You may find what they say disagreeable or even repugnant. Instead, ask them respectfully to give context or justification to their line of reasoning. Remember, you don’t have to agree – you’re there to get as much information as possible.

Transcribing the interview is a pain – but – it is really important that you do it yourself. This is where the ‘angle’ or position of your narrative will emerge when you playback and transcribe it yourself. You can then structure your story according to your intention. Always look for standout ‘grabs’ and highlight them. These will be your ‘hooks’ or ‘pullout quotes’ and often these quotes are the heart of the narrative.

Where appropriate, offer the subject to review your first draft. You don’t have to accept any editorial changes, unless there is a factual error or clear misrepresentation. It is so important to use discretion when selecting quotes too. Always edit with the best of intention; a person’s reputation can take years to build, and a minute to wipe it off the map, so showing respect for your subject’s dignity and position is paramount.

Remember to have fun during the interview. Jokes are fine, as long as they’re clean and in context to the discussion. After all, who doesn’t like to spend time cracking lyrical with a captive audience over a café au lait?

Till next time, crack a whid!

WordSmith Jo

Increase Your Vocabulary

Calling all Comms people, smarty pants and scrabble fans – shutdown Angry Birds, cease covert glances at cute commuters and bleary-eyed stares at window graffiti and grey gum – why not increase your vocabulary on your early morning train commute?

There’s no need to spend hours reading former PM Kevin Rudd’s parliamentary transcripts to learn a new word or few, or risk losing street cred by reading a dictionary on the train. No, no no! I have a slightly less boring option, that will at least keep you awake long enough till your next destination.

Exercise– Chunking your Vocab

Pick a topic or theme. For example – Hunting.

Write the word Hunting in the middle of your paper and create a mind map with all the words that you can think of that relate to hunting. For example, dogs, horses, rabbits, tweed coats, blood, forest etc.

Now write separate sentences for every word from your mind map e.g. – “The dog sniffed the soil in anticipation, and the horse stamped its hoof, impatient for the hunt to begin.”

Try to recall as many synonyms and antonyms to the verbs and adjectives in every sentence and write them down in a list. Pick up a thesaurus to help you out.

Now write a short 300 word story with a twist, based on your theme e.g. The Hunting Trip that Went Wrong. It must include the synonyms and antonyms from your list.

Learning new words is a bit like learning the time tables; if you say it enough, in different contexts/arrangements, it should stay with you, ready to be plucked from your bag of rhetoric at a moment’s notice!

Till next time, crack a queer whid!

The Art of Empathy in Conversation

The pleasure of good conversation is rarely one of mutual agreement – because that’s dead boring. De Montaigne, in his famous essayOn Friendship’ (1580), urges us to cast aside harmonious conversation but to seek out worthy opponents, ones that ‘attack you on your flanks, stick his lance in right and left, his ideas sending your mind soaring…’ He argues that rivalry, competitiveness and glory is what opens the soul to new understandings.

The application of De Montaigne’s advice, in my opinion, is often misunderstood in Western culture, and no more is this demonstrated in our film culture. Audiences cheer when protagonists humiliate antagonists with loud verbiage and display, mistaking the pursuit of public humiliation for glory. We see gross manifestations of rivalry when one character undermines another to suit the means to what is usually a self-serving purpose and competitiveness is often portrayed as an apology for envy.

Robust debate, lively conversation is not only satisifying, it gives opportunity for personal growth – not just in subject, but in conduct – namely, empathetic listening of your opponent, allows for for genuine learning to take place.

Empathy in conversation starts with self-discipline. Curb your desire for one-upmanship and cultivate the desire to hear a contrary perspective. Considered listening of another opinion rarely results in agreement, but it always means respect. The best part about considering contrary opinions in earnest, is that it allows us to confirm or challenge our own convictions with more honesty.

Empathy in conversation means the more foolish your opponent is, the more humble one should be in conduct. Allowing a fool’s discourse (i.e. ignorant bigots on social media) to vex you to the point of succumbing to rude retorts is worse than being a fool – because if you know better, you should behave better. Being gracious is more conducive in turning an unworthy opponent, into a worthy one. Surely the one who can maintain constant virtue in the face of fierce opposition is the one we cheer loudest of all.

Empathy in conversation, above all, is about having a desire to learn. This means always thinking of yourself as the student, never the teacher – no matter how much of a smarty pants your mum says you are.

Till next time, drop a whid!

WordSmith Jo

Fly Away Fox News, Come Back Minstrel

In modern times, the morphing of hard news into news entertainment is not a new concept. In the Middle Ages, Minstrels wandered around towns, musical chroniclers and re-enactors of love and war, both local and foreign events, to a one man band soundtrack – usually a stringed accompaniment, either a tabor or on a viele which is similar to a guitar.

In Feudal times, the Minstrels were divided into various classes, and were attached to noble houses – wearing the arms of their patron, hung round the neck by a silver chain. The badge (brand) of the Minstrel profession was a wrest or turning-key.

The Minstrel was a high-honoured and welcome guest after supper when cups of sticky mead were passed around a ready crowd, eager to receive the latest news of victories over common enemies which would incite the simple folk into cries of war, or whet their eyes and soften hearts with tales of loves lost.

However, the job of Minstrel fell into low esteem, after Queen Elizabeth passed an Act of 1597, which relegated Minstrels to the status of rogues, vagabonds and beggars. Cromwell, another cheerful fellow, denounced severe penalties against fiddlers or minstrels too, making the profession as appealing as contracting syphilis.

We’ve experienced technology making past vocations obsolete and how new technology creates future vocation pathways. Indeed, the Minstrel was no stranger to restructuring too. Over time, the Poet took the song, and the Juggler and Tumber stole the movement, leaving the Minstrel a player of only music.

Now that five hundred years is past since the Minstrel hey-day, I propose a full Minstrel Revival. Today’s news providores generally trade in slander, rumour and mostly conjecture to suit the economic/political agendas of private interests. The Minstrel on the other hand, was refreshingly neutral and multi-talented. They were an independent news source that was vulnerable to immediate and sometimes fierce public feedback – which made them not only entertaining, but deeply accountable.

Till next time, crack a queer whid!

WordSmith Jo

Plug Proper Press Releases to Publishers

Like all genres and styles of writing, each mode has its own convention, or what is generally considered as best practice. Here’s a few winning tips to help your Media Release be picked up for the Afternoon Edition or that trade publication your client has been dying to get free press in…

By submitting a polished, press-quality Media Release (MR), your chances of being picked up greatly increases. This can be boiled down to a few reasons:

Most writers have experienced just how stingy print publishers can be and frankly, it’s not their fault. Print Publishers (unless you’re the Editor of US Vogue) run on a fairly low margin and with the Accountant breathing down their necks, they are always looking for ways to save a dollar. As Publishers will have few paid Journalists and Subeditors on staff, most of what you and I read are submitted by freelance writers. Publishers love to receive press-quality MRs because they don’t have to allocate manpower to tidy up the story.

Secondly, and most importantly for your client, your primary intention should be to submit an MR with very targeted key messages, so if a subbie has to hack through your MR to make it press ready, you run the risk of your client’s key messages not being received as intended.

Also, as Journalists are underpaid and overworked (freebie from companies plugging their goods just doesn’t pay the rent) they embrace press quality MRs because it means they can submit your work, with their byline, without having to do any work – so it’s a win-win deal all round.

My top tips for writing a winning MR:

  1. Ask yourself – who is my audience? Make sure your writing style reflects the style of publication
  2. Ask yourself – what is the purpose of this MR? What do you want the audience to do or think after they have read your MR? In other words, how do you want to ‘position’ the reader? By asking yourself these questions, it will help you filter out any content that is not on message.
  3. Headings should never be more than six words. Use narrative devices such as alliteration, consonance and assonance to help your MR stand out.
  4. Slugs will sell your article. You have one or two sentences to hook your audience in – and to encapsulate what your story is about.
  5. Do not ask a rhetorical question in the Heading or Slug
  6. Do not start with a quote in the Heading or Slug
  7. Do not start with numbers or dates in the Heading or Slug
  8. The body of your MR should be in order of priority of information. Think of a reverse pyramid and write the most important information in the first three paragraphs. This is because the subbie may need to cut out words to make space on a page layout, and they will cut your MR from the bottom up.
  9. The first paragraph needs to include details on who, what, where, how, when and why.
  10. Use present tense instead of past tense. This helps your Media Release to feel relevant and gives it a sense of immediacy – which is what you want in a news story.
  11. Introduce subjects as Position Title / Name first and any subsequent mentions with last name only.
  12. Use short paragraphs and simple sentences.
  13. Highlight what you think is the best grab in the article and italicize/bold it. This is a subtle way to suggest to the publisher what should be a pullout grab, without telling them how to suck eggs.
  14. Most importantly, always submit two high resolution images with your MR and a photo caption.
  15. At the end of your MR, make sure the publisher has your details to contact for further information if they want to flesh out your MR into an extended feature article.

Lastly, when you submit your MR, don’t just email it and hope for the best. Follow up with a phone call to the features editor and introduce yourself and let them know what you’re sending through for their consideration.

Till next time, crack a queer whid!

Wordsmith Jo

Negative Capability and the Creativity of Angst

We are often confronted by images of bleached teeth and tanned faces plugging books on the power of positive thinking. The hook is generally centred on the premise that anything is possible if only you’d cogitate, day and night, on your own personal awesomeness.

If I was to make a value judgement as a cultural critic, I’d say it’s a narcisstic proposition based on delusion; from a literary perspective, I’d say it’s just plain boring.

In literature (and life), the most complex, memorable and intriguing characters are those who face situations where they are wracked by indecision and uncertainty, terrorised by the prospect of making a wrong choice, frustrated by the sheer unpredictability of life’s outcomes… I would argue, that when a character is forced to make an emotive decision wrapped in self-doubt, this creates the best kind of dramatic tension – because inside this tension lies a space where all possibilities exist – and that is damn interesting!

Poet John Keats understood this state, by coining this quality as ‘Negative Capability’ and as a writer, I give Keats a double thumbs up in this regard.

Keats argued that when a man is capable of being in a state of uncertainty and self-doubt and doesn’t give two cahoots about trying to reason himself out it, something beautiful happens – the character is released and is not subject to ordinary standards of evidence or truth – he overcomes all considerations. Hence, he arrives at a state where anything is possible.

So next time you are tempted to blow six hundred bucks on hearing some dude on a sponsored podium wax conceited about being a better you, remember that plenty can be achieved if you just embraced you in all your uncertain glory… and it won’t cost you a dime. Surely, it’s the lessons learnt from our frailities and failings that fuel human fascination and creativity.

Till next time, crack a whid!

WordSmith Jo

Put your Proposition in Pole Position

Anyone whom has worked on Bids or Proposals knows that no matter how many hours or late night pizza and pepsi your team may have consumed to produce a bid you’d be proud to show prospective employers, we know that the first page the Tender Assessor goes to is the Tender Form (to see just how little a margin you’re going to make on the job).

While most Tender criteria is heavily weighted on cost (generally seventy percent) don’t let this discouraging little fact stop you from trying your darndest. Keep in mind the following hot tips for your next bid strategy meeting:

Resist the temptation to declare a plethora of promises and capabilities. Unless you’re a super niche business, your competitors will most likely offer the same services. Instead, focus on the ‘how’ – select one value proposition (VP) that is most aligned to what is important to your client.
Communicate your VP clearly and simply.

‘Unpack’ your VP by elaborating on what it means to the client, and how it will add value to the job and their overall service experience.

Make sure any justifications and images you include (i.e. capabilities/experience) complement and reaffirm your VP.

Put your VP on page three of your Tender Response. Page three is the ‘Park Lane’ of your Bid. It is the first page that people will give the most time to read (after checking the price) so make sure your VP is carefully constructed in the page layout so it can be identified and understood within five seconds.

Till next time, crack some whids!

WordSmith Jo

The Power of Nostalgia in Advertising Copy

Real Estate Agent’s usage of the idiom ‘old world charm’ isn’t just floral white-wash for ‘termite addled house with fifty-year old carpet’. It is a narrative device that plays on buyers’ emotions by evoking connotations of antiquity (e.g. quaint, wholesomeness, traditional values, romance, nostalgia etc).

In real estate copy, the word ‘house’ is rarely used because its denotation is merely functional (e.g. shelter). By using the word ‘home’ it dennotes a place where one lives too, but its connotations – sanctuary, coziness, comfort – invites the buyer to imagine themselves in their ‘new home’.

Copywriters value nostalgia because it at once makes a product familar to the buyer (here, meet your old friend!) and familiarity engenders trust. Secondly, feeling nostalgia in the present, elicits a feeling of longing for a happy memory to be suspended in time (buy this product and you will always live your happiest moments).

Advertising constantly references the past in written and visual texts because there is a perception that the past adds legitimacy to the present (old things are expensive, old people are wise).

Perception is always reality in the land of Advertising, and, for the promise of a happy moment, the copywriter only needs to suspend your belief just long enough for you to open your wallet.

Till next time, crack some queer whids!

WordSmith Jo