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You’re busy, I’m busy.  So I keep these blogs to five pithy paragraphs.  Thanks for taking an interest!

Public and Private Sector Contract Bidding.  Let’s face it: it doesn’t sound much fun.  But it’s a subject that matters to a lot of businesspeople I met recently at a very useful morning organised by that wonderful team at the Brighton & Hove Chamber of Commerce.  It was one of their Ride the Wave events, to encourage small businesses to think big.  It was a hot summer morning, and the room was packed.

I was delighted to have been asked to host the event, but there was a potential problem.  I’m not an expert in Public or Private Sector Contract Bidding, and would be introducing four guests who were.  My solution was to do what I do whenever I’m interviewing someone about something complicated for a TV news report.  My first question to each of them would be: how would you explain what you do to a child?

As this event was in front of an audience of fifty or so businesspeople, I took it a stage further by whipping out a photo (of two children, in fact — my nephews Mark, 7, and Ben, who’s 9).  This achieved two things.  It amused the audience (I know this because there were smiles and a ripple of laughter.)  And it helped prevent anyone in that audience — including me — from being bamboozled from the start.

One of the panellists then used a similar trick.  She was giving tips on how to make a bid for a contract stand out.  The first slide in her presentation wasn’t a bullet pointed list of tips.  It was a picture of a harassed looking woman with a vast pile of bids on a desk in front of her.  “This is Sally” she smiled. “She sifts though the bids.  You might want to picture Sally and her pile of bids when you’re figuring out why it matters to make yours stand out.”

So next time you’re trying to cut through the jargon, maybe have a think about what you’d say to Mark or Ben — and if your presentation’s looking a bit text heavy, remember Sally.  Those pictures made it all a lot more fun — and, I believe, a lot more effective.

If you know anyone who’d enjoy some team-building work on deadlines, quick-thinking and comfort-zone-breaching, give me a call to find out about my Newsroom Bootcamp workshops! 

Mark and Ben — explain it to them first.

I’m a journalist, so I’m addicted to News.  That’s the assumption most of my friends and family make about me, just as they might assume that my partner, who’s a gardener, can’t get enough of gardens.

And goodness me, in the past few months there’s been no shortage of news to feed that addiction — some of it landmark, some of it bizarre, some of it heartbreaking (and I’ll leave you to decide which recent news stories fit which of those gaping categories.)

But when I set up my business four years ago, bringing the cauldron of newsroom life into offices to develop workplace skills, I decided to do something rather counter-intuitive.  I cut down on news.  Out went the familiar terrain of debate and discussion on BBC Radio’s 4 Today programme between 6.30 and 7.30 each morning.  And in came the unchartered high tundra of BBC Radio 3, even though I’ve never really been terribly interested in classical music and couldn’t get away from Glyndebourne quickly enough when my father invited me to join him.

The result of cutting down on news:  I’m fresher when I work on a news shift, and more relaxed when I work on my business.  It’s opening my ears to Bach before Seven, and Chopin in the shower.   I’m ever so gently learning something new, and I think that’s opening my mind to new ways of approaching my news reporting.

It may not be right for everyone.  Other radio stations are available.  But by giving work a miss before I get there, it’s certainly working for me.

You’re busy, I’m busy.  So I try to keep my blogs to six crisp paragraphs.  Thanks for being curious about this one …

Here’s the story of a little failure that lots of people saw because it happened live on TV.

I was presenting a live election debate for the regional TV news on a glorious May evening from the beach at Hastings.  Because we were on location, there was no autocue, so it all had to be memorised.  Even so, I felt truly pampered.  I’m used to researching and preparing a lot of my own reports, but for this showpiece event I was part of a team who had already selected the guests, written me briefing sheets and typed up on smart A5 cards the names, constituencies and opinions of the politicians I’d be interviewing.

Because I’m a belt-and-braces sort of presenter (I don’t have much time for the ‘I’m-so-talentedI-can-just-busk-this’ school of broadcasting) I’d learnt the names and details by heart in the car on the hour long drive from Brighton that morning.  I’d then rehearsed them, along with all the complex issues and permutations of answers they might give, as I’d paced up and down the beach that afternoon.  And I’d rehearsed it out loud again, just to be sure, each time the cameraman and director had walked through the sequence with me in the hour before we went to air.

We then went on air.  The first item to be introduced was complex: a gesture to the sea, a bunch of facts to memorise, a phrase to insert, and all in ten seconds less than originally anticipated because of a late change.  That went fine.   And then it was time to introduce the guests.  (I didn’t even need to remember this: I had the names written down on those A5 cards.)  But that’s when I bungled it.  First name fine, second name, wrong constituency: I said Tonbridge, the candidate represented Folkestone.  Awkward on air correction required.

But here’s the lesson I learnt from this.  My perception was that I had failed, horribly, and let down the whole team.  But actually, the rest of the programme was pretty solid.  Others told me (and I don’t think they were simply being kind) that they’d barely noticed, and that as a team we’d done a decent job explaining complex issues to a voting audience that evening.  So next time you stumble during a presentation, don’t write it off.  You may yet get the job done.  (And, if you have notes on cards — don’t forget to use them!)

Want to have a go reading off my autocue — at one of my business skills workshops?  Have fun working on your deadlines at Headline Deadline in Brighton on Friday 2 June … click here for more details! 

This idea is nicked as much from the gym as from the newsroom, but bear with me.

It came to me the other day in the middle of the Fat Burn Circuits Class at The Gym (Madeira Drive — can’t recommend it highly enough).  Our feisty instructor (Saskia, can’t recommend her highly enough) was about twenty minutes into the half hour punishment session when she looked around at us all beginning to wilt and beamed “Come on guys, it’s called fat-burn for a reason!”

 

Do you see what she did there?  If not, try this — about ten minutes later, during the delicious cool-down phase (that’s when the pain is over and you’re lying on the floor trying to stretch rather than creak) Saskia said:  “We’ve done a lot of leg-work today, so this is a good stretch for those quads.”

 

Twice in a few minutes, Saskia had given me a reason to do something.  It meant that I made the connection in my brain between what I was doing, and what it was trying to achieve.  It made doing it easier.  And it made me realise how often in life and at work we chug along doing the same things the same way without reminding ourselves why.

 

But reminding people why they’re doing something can be very powerful.  In my newsroom world, I’m more likely to be fired up about a news story on hospital reform if my editor has reminded me the latest audience research has shown that health stories matter more to our viewers than any other.  I’ll accept defeat more gracefully when I’m told we’re headlining, say, the arty story instead of the sports story at 10.30pm — if I’ve been reminded it’s part of  a six month strategy to improve audience perceptions of our arts coverage.

 

Whether you’re on your knees making a case for a decision, or on your knees longing for that post-circuit shower, being reminded why you’re there might help ease the pain.

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