Spirited Communication

Tag: tips

When Humor Helped Spread Serious Information About the Flu

Americans are suffering through the worst flu outbreak in a decade, and the deaths associated with flu are no laughing matter. But can communication professionals use humor to encourage people to take positive actions to stay healthy and limit the flu’s impact?

That’s exactly what I did during a different challenging flu outbreak: the 2009 H1N1 (Swine Flu) pandemic. This is an example of how to bring “Spirited Communication” to an organization. “Spirited” is defined as “full of energy, animation, or courage.” It takes courage to share potentially unnerving information with employees or customers, but creativity and humor can make the information easier to consider—and more memorable.

The 2009 Swine Flu pandemic was particularly alarming because, in addition to the very young and very old who more typically have critical reactions to influenza, Swine Flu strongly affected even previously healthy young adults. It was akin to a previous H1N1 influenza virus that in 1918-19 infected 500 million people worldwide and killed tens of millions of them.

Companies like VW Credit, Inc., where I worked as a communications specialist, considered how to inform employees about the steps to take to lessen the spread of H1N1. I met with the company’s business continuity manager to strategize a communication plan for sharing information about H1N1 without striking fear in healthy employees.

As I reviewed material from government and private health organizations, my creative energy sparked. H1N1 was nicknamed “Swine Flu” because the virus strain originated when a previous combination of bird, swine and human flu viruses further combined with a Eurasian pig flu virus.

My idea was to create a series of emails from “famous swine,” who joined forces to battle Swine Flu through dissemination of tips and information related to prevention and treatment. The information in the emails would then be used in a contest at the end of the campaign. By reading and keeping the emails, employees would continue to review and absorb the information, while enjoying the messages sent by “famous swine” including:

  • Wilbur, the pig from the novel, “Charlotte’s Web,”
  • Arnold, the pig from the 1960s television show, “Green Acres,”
  • Jasper, one of the Three Little Pigs, and
  • Miss Piggy from The Muppet Show.

Click image to read the .PDF version

The emails contained links to practical information regarding how to prevent and treat flu. I also posted basic health information such as the importance of washing hands to prevent the spread of infection in common areas.

It became clear from employee feedback that they found the campaign to be highly entertaining and informative.

More than 12% of employees participated in the final contest to answer a 10-question quiz on Swine Flu prevention and treatment.

Click image to read the .PDF version.

I was gratified to hear from several employees who said the campaign’s humorous approach made them more aware of the importance of preventing the spread of H1N1, while lessoning their fear. The campaign brought home the bacon!

How could this approach be used on the current flu outbreak? Think of a series of superheroes who fly to companies, schools or other groups to share tips for preventing the spread of influenza. They could promote flu shots and preventive treatments with a phrase such as, “We flew in to knock out the flu.”

Prepare for Brief Encounters

bigstock-Young-woman-in-jobWhether you need to provide an unexpected update to a boss, engage in a conversation with a stranger at an event, or “sell yourself” during a job interview, the ability to deliver an organized message off-the-cuff is a valuable skill to employ.

Many people feel unsure of their ability to respond in such situations, and can benefit from training and practice.

One activity that has worked wonders for me is “Table Topics” during Toastmasters meetings.

Table Topics help members develop their ability to organize thoughts quickly. During Table Topics, members respond to a question or statement that they hear just before they begin to speak. They are given one to two minutes to respond.

You don’t have to be a member of Toastmasters to practice this skill. Take time (10 minutes should suffice) during team meetings, small gatherings of colleagues or at job-search circles. Have one person ask a question that another person needs to address in one to two minutes. Use the stopwatch function on your phone to time them. You also can do a “round-robin” exercise, where several people take turns asking questions of others.

Encourage every participant to keep talking for at least the minimum time of one minute. Toastmasters uses a color-code system to advise the speaker about how much time has transpired:

  • Green at the minimum time of one minute
  • Yellow at the mid-point of one and one-half minutes
  • Red at the maximum time of two minutes

A “grace period” of 30 seconds is offered by Toastmasters, so that someone who speaks for up to 2 and one-half minutes is considered to have successfully completed the exercise.

I have seen how Table Topics have improved my ability to speak cogently at work and at events in my profession. It can work for you and your team, as well!

The ability to speak persuasively and in an organized fashion is just one aspect of effective communications. If you would like me to address a communication challenge or opportunity facing you and your organization, contact me to set up time to discuss it.

7 Tips To Reduce Physical Clutter

In my previous post, I suggested that we look for ways to remove clutter from our lives. That clutter could be physical, emotional, spiritual, or some combination of them all.

Knowing that this will be easier said than done for some of us, I’m allocating the next couple of posts to specific tips for reducing clutter.

Today, let’s take a look at physical clutter.

We may be able to hide emotional and spiritual clutter from people around us, but physical clutter tends to stand out. Unless we keep people away from our desk and surrounding office space, closets, garage and basement storage area, we WILL be found out.

A close family member and his spouse continue to rebuff my suggestions that they invite me to visit with them at their home. He is clear about the reason: they have too much “stuff” scattered throughout their home, and he doesn’t want to:

  • Clean and organize it
  • Deal with the reaction of visitors like me, if we would see the “mess.”

When I point my finger at my relative, I absolutely have three fingers pointed back at me. My wife and kids have commented several times regarding the number of boxes and bags that I have filled with notes and reference material for books and other projects that have not yet been completed (or started, in many cases).
Here are tips that I’ve found helpful, as I’ve begun to remove physical clutter from my home and workplace:

  1. Admit that you have a clutter problem. Because most people don’t spend time seeking out individuals who might require an intervention from a clutter issue, face reality if more than one person comments about the clutter in your workplace, car or home. Accept that your clutter is particularly noticeable—and that you probably could benefit from reducing it.Ask yourself: ”Would I feel less stressed and more efficient if I were to reduce the clutter in my life?”
  2. Get help—from an “accountability buddy.” At a minimum, you will achieve more if you ask someone to serve as an objective voice of reason and accountability. As you begin to decide what to keep and remove, this buddy will keep you focused and help with difficult decisions. The accountability buddy also will provide encouragement as you achieve small successes that you might not otherwise consider worth celebrating.
  3. Take it one step, one closet, one box at a time. I began my decluttering project recently by emptying one of the many bags that I have stored in my home office and basement storage area. I put aside a few items that were important and useful, threw away or shred many documents that were unnecessary, and made digital memories of items that I want to remember, but don’t need to keep.
  4. Digitize! I have accumulated a great number of trophies, certificates and knickknacks from my participation in professional organizations including Toastmasters and the International Association of Business Communicators—as well as from work-related conferences, workshops and promotional events. I’ve begun to scan the documents that I want to remember (drawings made by my kids when they were preteens are particularly valuable to me). I use my iPhone or a digital camera to photograph bulky items such as trophies. Then I either find a place that accepts those items (like the Nationwide Trophy Recycling Program), or I dispose of them.
  5. Donate. In addition to old trophies, look at other items to donate to worthy causes.
  6. Organize. Once you have cleared a shelf, a closet or a desktop, only put back items that are necessary, and be intentional about how you use that space, so that you aren’t tempted to put something there that doesn’t maintain the space’s primary purpose.
  7. Repeat. Understand that reducing physical clutter is not a one-time event. It is a daily necessity. Use discretion as you make choices regarding whether to bring new items into your work or living spaces.

Have you used any techniques for reducing physical clutter? I’d love to hear them. Either comment here or send me an email.

Next post: Reducing emotional and spiritual clutter

‘Me, Myself and I’—The Correct Ways to Write About Yourself

Me Myself IMost of us want to make a good impression when we write and speak. The sad fact is that too many people have fallen into a grammatical quagmire by incorrectly using “me,” “myself,” and “I.”

Each of those three words has a specific, non-overlapping purpose.

“Me” is a singular personal pronoun used as an object in a sentence. For example:
“He gave additional work to me.” “Penny asked me to finish the assignment.”

“Myself” is a reflexive pronoun used in conjunction with “I” when describing something about yourself. For example, “I, myself, had to retake the test several times.” “I’m going to push myself to complete the run by 3 p.m.”

“I” is a first-person singular pronoun used as a subject within a sentence. For example:
“I completed the task.” “You, Elizabeth and I scored the highest.”

Here are some recent examples that I’ve seen, followed by a suggested correct construction. To avoid embarrassing anyone, I’ve changed names and other identifying nouns.

WRONG: “Please email myself, Mary and Carol a profile picture of yourself to help us promote you and the program.”
CORRECTION: “Please email me, Mary and Carol a profile picture….” It helps to read the sentence without the other names. It wouldn’t sound correct to write, “Please email myself a profile picture.”

WRONG:Myself and our former editor could not see the little twerp succeeding in the NFL.”
CORRECTION:I and our former editor could not see the little twerp….”

WRONG: “Between you and I, that last call was terrible!”
CORRECTION: “Between you and me, that last call was terrible!”

WRONG: “She sent the email to Sue and myself.”
CORRECTION: “She sent the email to Sue and me.”

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