5 Writing Tools (1)

5 Writing Tools

Options fall into two broad categories: digital and non-digital. Each tool is ideal for a different type of writing. I find that when I am stuck, changing to the more appropriate tool can turn things around. Here are five tools with distinct advantages (interestingly, 4 of 5 are non-digital; before I switched to iPhone, my BlackBerry would have been on the list, since the keys allowed me to write in long form with ease, which is sadly not the case with the iPhone):

1.  Whiteboards

The ultimate right-brain brainstorming tool, perfect for mind mapping, theme generation, experimenting with key messages, sketching out an agenda and room set-up for a workshop, or anything where visualizing the solution is as important as the words themselves. While normally used with a group, this is an amazing tool for solo work as well.

2. Large Notebook

Ideal for longer pieces, where thinking through the writing is required, and where the writing will require multiple sittings over a period of weeks or months. Such notebooks tend to age like wine does: some reveal themselves years later to contain beautiful words of wisdom, though some turn to vinegar! Either way, they are the workhorse of creative writing.

3. Small Notebook

Pocket size, a limited number of pages, easy to toss in your bag for an inspired moment. These are perfect for lists, precise thoughts, topics, titles, catch phrases, and concepts.

4. Scrap Paper

One of the biggest barriers writers face is wanting the first draft to be perfect, be it for lack of time to fear of failure. The proverbial “back of the envelope” has a liberating quality, making it clear to the writer that this is just a super rough draft, not a polished piece of writing.

5. Laptop

I live on my laptop. It is my office, instrument, tool kit, dashboard, lifeline, and central organizing tool. It is my primary writing, design, research, social media, and entertainment device. I use it for PowerPoint, Word, and email—the holy trinity of creative writing tools in the digital era. It is a love-hate relationship, and life without it is impossible to imagine.

What are some of your favourite writing tools? Are they more old-school or new-age, or a combination of the two? I’d love to hear from you.

This post wraps up my 5 Things mini-series on writing. I hope you have enjoyed reading them. In case you missed my first two, you can read them here.

Happy writing!

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BRUTALLY HONEST AUDIENCE BIOS

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A few months ago, our creative team stumbled across these brutally honest freelance bios from McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, a satirical website. As we laughed our way through them, it occurred to us that it would be really interesting to see how our own teams think about their jobs.

Because the thing about most online bios is – they’re dull. Informative, perhaps, but usually something of a slog to get through. So we thought we would ask our team if they had ever wished they could share their hilarious/lightly scathing exaggerations about  their work. The kind of response to “What do you do?” that culminates in a deadpan “I transcribe handwritten post-its from blurry photographs into global best-practices”? You know … deep reflection about your work.

We sent out the challenge. Here are our favourites. (Actually, if we’re being brutally honest … these were the only ones sent in. Because it’s summer and holidays and *cough* that’s how it all rolled out. But we love them! Honestly!)

 

Paul Bremner (Creative Director, CA) is staring at his computer screen, trying to write something clever for his “Brutally Honest Bio.” He does this often—stare at his computer screen, watching the cursor as it blinks. Soon he will take a nap, and he will have the idea for a half-baked meta approach, which you are presently reading. Even though Paul has billable work he should be doing, Paul finds the “Brutally Honest Bio” challenge much more fun, so he will focus on that first. This probably explains the state of Paul’s bank account. Eventually this will lead him to seek out more paying work, hopefully from Audience.

And so it goes.

Mike Hewlett (Creative Director, UK) is a writer, ideas conjuror, concept fixer, content meddler, words masseur, apostrophe fixer, book cover judge, bigger picture seer. To keep it brief (unlike the briefs we get), Mike can write half-decent copy, direct creative ideas, and go toe-to-toe with clients on their agenda content. He also knows a lot of pointless stuff from the world beyond communications, understands the psychology of winning at rock-paper-scissors, and even used to DJ across south London pubs in Peckham, Penge, and Plumstead. This was primarily for the glamour and still comes in useful when helping to choose walk-on music for the great and the good in PDMA. He is writing this himself using the third person.

Howard Gopsill (Managing Director, CA) does not like to wear shoes.

Nicolas Kopp (Managing Director, SA) wouldn’t be caught dead wearing flip-flops (or t-shirts, or shorts) to the office.

Brandy Ryan (Creative Director, CA) manages her creative chaos systematically (as in: her systems have systems). This involves: colour-coding her handwritten notes. Cleaning whiteboards with hand sanitizer. Pushing chairs back into the table after she (and everyone else) has left. Clearing her desk at the end of each work day. (She will resist tidying your desk if you leave it a mess while on holiday, but only for one week.)

Mark Higgins (Creative Director, CA) is a collector and purveyor of rare and precious items, such as the semi-colon.

Copy of 5 Writing Tools & 5 Great Places to Write (FB) (1)

5 Great Places to Write

My last blog post asked you five questions about your approach to writing. As important as what, why, how, and when you write, is where. My own experience suggests that for at least some of us, the best spaces are betwixt and between office and home. As I travel extensively for work, my places reflect that, but I am sure if I worked from home I would need to find their equivalents. Here are my favourite five, in no particular order:

  1. The Train

I have an advantage living in Switzerland, where the trains are clean, efficient and quiet, but I learned this back in Toronto taking the subway (which is anything but a Swiss train!). As long as I have a seat, I have the perfect environment for right-brain writing: journaling, sketching, listing out theme ideas or composing short, concise speech copy. I can move quickly through a long list of items in this environment.

  1. The Airport Limo

On the rare occasion, when I’m a passenger in the back of a luxury town car for 30-60 minutes, especially in the early morning when the traffic is light, and I have given myself plenty of extra time, the peace has an uncanny effect on my thinking. From the moment I tell the driver which airline I’m flying, it takes about two seconds to plunge deep into thought, almost like going into a waking dream. This is the kind of writing where you write one sentence after 10 minutes of just thinking. Invariably, we are “suddenly” at the airport, and I feel great in knowing that I have accomplished an important piece of the puzzle on which I am working.

  1. The Shower

Like most clichés, it’s true! My big “eureka” moments are more likely to come in the shower than anywhere else. Like the Greek scientist Archimedes, the alleged coiner of the term “Eureka!”, 72% of us are inspired while in the water, according to Dr. Kauffman, psychologist and co-author of Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind. But this is no accident. I load my brain before the shower, lining up the specific problem I am trying to solve. Then, I turn my brain off and go about the routine of getting ready for work. There is something about the unconscious but primed mind that, like the CERN particle accelerator, makes an “accidental collision” certain to happen, eventually. By trusting that the key is NOT THINKING about the problem, the solution reveals itself out of nowhere.

  1. The Hotel

The first hour of the day when staying in a hotel, particularly in a different time zone, is for the hard-core productive laptop-based writing: presentations, proposals, business plans, workshop agendas, creative themes, or campaigns. I get up at 5:00 AM, crank up the in-room coffee, no matter how good or bad (from Nespresso to god-awful instant), and work until 6:00 or 6:30 before anyone on the planet knows I am awake. A writing task that seemed impossible the night before is now easily dashed off. When I am done, and I have texted my wife or started working on my email, I feel I have already accomplished a day’s work.

  1. The Airport Lounge

If I am early, and it is on the way back, and I need some to get some tough thinking or writing done, nothing beats a decent airport lounge (around the world the variability of lounge quality is massive, so you can’t count on this one). For some reason, the pressure of the gate time, combined with the anonymity and timelessness that comes with the airport experience, makes coming to conclusions relatively easy. The free drinks might help too! In any case, if I need to “close” something, the lounge is the place to do it.

Oddly, the place that many people like writing that does not work for me at all is on the plane itself, even when flying business class.

Where are you inspired to write? Are you more of an Archimedes or a business- class writer? I would love to hear from you!

The Cohesive Creative

The Cohesive Creative

 

Our favourite kind of creative concepts are those that run deep within a project. Think less “theme,” and more “creative platform.” Beyond a single word, tagline, or logo, the creative platform has nuance and richness. It extends naturally into elements that can go in multiple, diverse directions. And it is always clear and accessible to the audience. The creative platform doesn’t need to be explained at every turn; it simply is the fullness of the experience.

We had the chance recently to build and realize just such a project, and we’d like to share some of its highlights with you. A quick note, though: don’t read this if you’re hungry.

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5 tips and tricks when writing.

5 Questions About Writing

What does it take to write a great novel, screenplay, song, or poem? Does it come easily to even the great writers, or is it always hard work? Ask any professional writer, and they will give you a similar list: time, focus, discipline, commitment, routine, persistence, courage.

Now, that PowerPoint presentation you are planning to write on the plane? It is no different. It takes time to move human thoughts onto paper. Each writer needs to find their own way to be a creative, thoughtful, and productive writer.

Here are five questions to ask yourself about your approach to writing. The sharper your answers, the more writing success you will have:

1. How much time have I scheduled for writing?

Here is a good rule of thumb for a short talk: one hour for strategic thinking, one hour for “right brain” creative writing, and one hour for “left brain” editing (followed by and an hour to rehearse). It’s advisable to take a break between the writing and editing; stepping away and coming back to your writing at a later time will give you a fresh perspective.

 2. What is the time and place?

Early morning or late at night? Listening to music or enjoying pure quiet? Café, quiet corner, or on the train? Door open or closed? Series of intense short sessions or long marathons? There is no one right answer; sometimes a writer has to try different times/places before figuring out what works best.

 3. What are the right tools?

Pen and paper, tablet, or laptop? Index cards, blank sheets of computer paper, whiteboard or flipchart? Notebook, legal-sized yellow notepads, fancy paper, the back of an envelope? The tools a writer uses depend on the situation, availability and sheer preference; again, there is no one right answer.

 4. How many drafts?

The Canadian novelist Timothy Findley told me, “first write, then get it right.” He meant that the first drafts are just getting the ideas out, that you don’t know what to say until you have tried saying it. In the busy corporate world, it is natural to want to the first draft to be the final draft. Go for at least two, three, four or more.

 5. Who is my editor?

Behind every great writer is a great editor. We need someone with a reader’s perspective to see the areas that make sense, those that don’t, those sentences that can be cut, and the parts that need to be expanded. Find someone you trust and make a habit of getting their feedback. And remember, for many writers the part they personally love the most is the part that needs to go.

Happy writing!

IMEX

Audience @ IMEX 2017

 

Audience Account Director Jeff Bateman represented Audience at IMEX 2017 (known as “The worldwide exhibition for incentive travel, meetings, and events”) in Frankfurt, Germany. This four-day immersion into the world of meetings and events includes a three-day trade show and the chance to keep current with the latest trends. This is the event for people in the meeting and events industry, and it never disappoints.

Highlights

This year offered some new touches, including an education day to kick off the conference—called “EduMonday”—and the intention to “live and breathe its 2017 Talking Point – Purposeful Meetings.” Over 9,000 buyers and visitors took part in this event, taking in education, technology, and presentations.

The focus on the purpose of meetings and events—the content and presentation—rather than the destination was a welcome change of pace. In the past, our industry has wowed audiences with spectacular destinations and top-notch hotels—but hasn’t always concerned itself with the details of what happens there.

Also a refreshing part of the “purposeful” focus was two “Be Well” lounges and the creation of “white space” areas to offer a chilled-out, tech-free vibe. Given the bustling marketplace, a genuine alternative and emphasis on self-care was appreciated.

The Thing About Presentations

There is no one thing, of course, but IMEX’s talking point did a fantastic job of setting up Jeff’s “Presentation Strategies” session. Intended to be a “campfire” session of 5-10 attendees, the appetite for content brought in 35 people, all keen to gain insight into how presentations can engage audiences and offer purpose.

Jeff’s session covered the fundamentals of presentation strategies (including the Audience Triangle), the form and function of presentations, and a framework for focus. The group also covered tips on body language—an imperative for anyone who gives presentations.

It was a happy accident to align so closely with IMEX’s focus on Purposeful Meetings, particularly as travel budgets change, travel security is harder to navigate, and the carbon footprint is more challenging to justify. Meetings and events are at an exciting moment of change right now.

Hologram Technologies

So what do organizers do, given the changing needs and capacities for meeting travel? In some cases, we know, meetings are going digital, with live streams and video launches across the globe. Another option? Holograms.

Imagine being able to present—or co-present—from your local office to a global audience: they can see you and hear you, and you can see and hear them. The interactive possiblities are fantastic, and the freedom to engage audiences without having to accommodate travel time and cost is going to have a huge impact on our industry. While the cost of this technology might initially seem prohibitive, it could replace (perhaps even reduce) the usual travel costs for attendees and presenters.

For a taste of what that might look like, check this out. We can’t wait to explore the possibilities.

From the Inspiration Hub: An Idea Shower

IMEX’s Inspiration Hub offered attendees the chance to meet in small groups with experts and presenters, to talk, and to play. In one such setting, the “Idea Shower,” we talked through how the Sharing Economy impacts our industry.

The Sharing Economy has become a pretty big part of how we travel (Uber), accommodate (airbnb), and trade items (Canada’s Bunz) or homes (lovehomeswap). But it seems anathema to business and industry, where competition has been the dominant ideology. As with other parts of our industry, this too seems to be changing.

Rather than competing for clients, experts are now talking about collaborating for mutual benefit, forming new partnerships where access trumps ownership. We’re keen to explore how these new partnerships will enhance and elevate audience experiences.

IMEX 2017 in Frankfurt was a fantastic experience, a chance to meet up with old connections and make new acquaintances. Meetings with purpose, the time and space to be well (and un-deviced), encountering new technologies and ideas—we were thrilled to be part of this experience.

5 Helpful Analogies

5 Helpful Analogies for Presenters

Presenting is a skill like any other: to be good takes practice. The notion of the “natural presenter” is almost 100% false (there are those naturally gifted, but this is extremely rare). Here are five ways to think about improving your presentation skills:

1. Cooking
Those who love to cook understand the importance of preparation. The right recipe, best ingredients, and proper equipment are all essential. And after all that careful preparation, the moment of truth comes once the heat is on and it all goes into the pan.

2. Golf
What worked beautifully on the last hole won’t necessarily work on the next. Club selection is important, but nothing is as important as technique. Controlling stress is crucial. Every hour on the driving range is a small step to mastery. Lose your focus, lose the game.

3. Travel
Preparation is, on the one hand, the secret to success, and on the other hand, going with the flow is where the magic happens. When travelling, keeping your eyes and ears open will allow you to adjust to the surroundings and demonstrate you are more than just another tourist. Every journey is a lesson if you are open to learning new things. Local customs must be honoured and respected. Show your gratitude, and you will be a welcomed guest.

4. Running
To prepare for a 10K race, you don’t run 10k over and over as fast as you can. You build up over time, doing drills, short runs, long runs, and rest days. Conditioning is everything. A week before the race your physical training is done. The mental and emotional game of preparing to be in the zone on race day is a science and an art. Adjusting your mood before the gun goes off is essential.

5. Entertaining
The house is clean. The food is ready, and so are the drinks. You’ve showered and changed, taking the time to look your best. You’ve kissed your spouse; the children are in bed. A final look in the mirror. The doorbell rings – you are ready to embrace and enjoy your guests thoroughly.

Happy presenting!

5 PowerPoint Goals

5 PowerPoint Goals for Presenters

My friend Simon Morton, the author of The Presentation Lab, puts it beautifully: “no other software has become synonymous with an activity like PowerPoint has become with presenting.”  Presenting is, of course, an ancient form of communication that was around long before Bill Gates started Microsoft (can you imagine Gandhi, King, or Churchill presenting with slides?). To break the mold, here are five goals for your next presentation:

  1. No Slides

A sure-fire way to stand out from the crowd. If you are well prepared, the feeling is liberating and energizing. Tell your story, engage your audience, create an experience—they won’t ask for their money back because you didn’t bring slides.

  1. Few Slides

Corporate presentations average one slide per minute. Two slides per minute are considered a minimum. This is crazy. Try one slide per five minutes, because each one is so important—experience the difference.

  1. No Template

Edward Tufte, the author of The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, says of templates: “At a minimum, a presentation format should do no harm. Yet the PowerPoint style routinely disrupts, dominates, and trivializes content. Thus, PowerPoint presentations too often resemble a school play—very loud, very slow, and very simple.”* So, drop the meeting logo and banner to give yourself a blank page, and fill it with something content rich.  *Tufte, The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint, p. 22.

  1. No Bullets

Slides don’t kill audiences, the bullets do! Bullets are almost always speaker notes for the presenter, not helpful information for the audience. Other forms of visual information do a much better job and should be used as inspiration: movie posters, print ads, billboards, album covers, and book covers. Create bullet-free slides, and spare your audience death by PPT!

  1. No Looking

Even a slide-heavy presentation can be saved by knowing it so well you don’t need to look back at the screen to know which slide you are on. Set up your laptop so that it is in FRONT of you, and use it as a comfort monitor. The best software lets you see the current and next slides, to make transitions seamless. If you turn your back to the audience to read your slides, game over!

Happy presenting!

5 Simple Enhancements

5 Simple Enhancements for Presenters

 

Assuming you have done your audience needs assessment, tailored your content and rehearsed your presentation, you can now spice it up. Sprinkle these 5 enhancements into your next presentation and make it an experience:

1. Walk-in / Walk-out Music
Pick songs that give you and your audience energy. Last year’s Top 40 is usually a safe bet, or, calculate the average age of your audience and select the top hit from the summer they were 18 years old. Or ask the sound tech to choose a playlist. Start the music before the doors open, right up until you take the stage, and have them play the walk out music as soon as your presentation is done.

2. Treats
Chocolate. Candies. Healthy snacks. Fancy sparkling water. It is amazing how far the small things go.

3. Icebreaker
You want to know your audience, and your audience wants to know each other. Take 5 to 10 minutes from your presentation time for interactivity by simply having everyone introduce themselves to the people beside them, or by asking them to work in pairs to create questions for you. A favourite at Audience is a two-minute interview on a question relevant to your topic, such as “who was the best presenter you have seen in the past year and what made them so good?”

4. Handouts
Something to write on, something to read. Gadgets, mind teasers, arts and crafts materials, or even just coloured markers and sticky notes. Link them to your message, create engagement, and give the audience something they can carry home.

5. Gratitude
For investing their time in you, listening with an open mind, and asking you pertinent questions, don’t forget to show your audience your appreciation. Take time for a thoughtful, sincere thank you.

Happy presenting!

Organizational Binaries, Revisited

 

The CCD

We posted back in March 2016 about our efforts to find the sweet spot between creativity and organization, complete freedom and rigid order. Over this year, we’ve moved deeper into the idea of mental models, designing and building a Creative Concept Database to house some of our best work.

The process of thinking through what we want to catalogue, as well as what makes a project exceptional, has been revealing. We’ve identified certain creative patterns and design processes within these 5-star projects—and identifying them has led us to solidifying the workflow and clarifying the deliverables. And while it might seem backwards to do this organizational work after the fact, rather than mapping it out beforehand, it’s proven invaluable. We’re learning more about ourselves, our clients, and our audiences as we invest this time.

Time and Space—Away

We’ve also learned that one of our best creative habits is to get offline and away from the screen. Whether that means going for a walk, writing by hand on paper (writing, not printing!), or taking five minutes to chat with colleagues (about anything, but most especially about anything outside work/jobs/clients), our teams are breaking up time and moving into different spaces.

And we’re not alone in this: It’s Nice That posted about the connection between switching off and creativity; Mashable reminded us what it was like to have a phone that was just, you know, a phone; and Wired acknowledged the value of leaning into boredom, rather than Netflixing (or Instagramming, or Tweeting, or Snapchatting) it away. When was the last time you were genuinely bored? It might be a good time to revisit that experience, and see what you can create with it.

The Well

Which leads to our next (re)discovery: creativity needs to be fed. Regularly. It’s easy, especially in our industry, to devote all our time to clients. Because we’re trusted with their projects, and because those relationships matter to us.

But when we’re not taking time off/away, particularly in creative environments, we start to run dry. The usual tasks can become harder and slower. We’re proud of the creative, offline work of our team: we have musicians and photographers and artists and singers and hockey players and chefs and DIYers in our ranks. But we realized, this past fall, that we haven’t been prioritizing creative encounters in/as teams.

The RGD DesignThinkers Conference—where we sent members of our Creative and Account teams—was electric. Inspiring. And so deeply resonant: we’re still having conversations about what we saw and heard there. Letting our creativity hang out with the creativity of others is unsurprisingly rich in its results.

So here’s to more of all that, as well as a glance back to where we were last year…

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