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You’re busy, I’m busy.  So I keep these blog posts to five pithy paragraphs, all based on thoughts nicked from the newsrooms I work in every week.  Thanks for taking an interest.

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I’ve just been catching up with a good journalist friend of mine who I worked with back in the nineties.  We were  both reporters at the local TV newsroom in Newcastle upon Tyne.  It’s reminded me of the bitter north-east winter morning when one inspiring News Editor gave us all a bit of a shock — and succeeded in getting us all out of a rut.

It was the first blast of winter.  Snow had fallen hard overnight.  In radio and tv newsrooms, this poses challenges for the Early News Team who have to battle their way into their studios before the snowploughs have done their work.  The early newsreader will find a set of news stories, ready to go to air, prepared by the Late News Team,  who’ll have left around 11pm the night before.

On this occasion, I was that early newsreader.  Relieved to have got in by 5am at all, I carried out the routine check calls to police and fire headquarters for any news that had broken overnight (there wasn’t much), and at around 6.15am entered the studio to read, more or less, the six or seven stories that had been left for me the night before.  I can’t remember them now, but they’re likely to have been updates on court cases, a row over school funding perhaps, maybe a local council health campaign.  Good, solid, regional news, rounded off with a twenty second summary of the weather.  Except that wasn’t the news people needed that icy morning as they headed out for work and school.

At around 9am, our News Editor arrived.  His job is to hold the first meeting of the day, to set the day’s news agenda.  It was normally held in a warm conference room with a big desk and lots of chairs. But that morning, a tannoy went out inviting us to gather in the car park.  We grabbed our coats, scarves and hats, puzzled, and headed to the door.  Our Editor was waiting for us.  “So, what’s the lead story today?” he asked, muffled by his scarf, but glancing at me.  “Is it really that on-going court case?”

Twenty years on, I look back on that news meeting as one of the most effective I’ve ever attended.  Tough, perhaps.  But brilliant at making me spot my mistake: the weather was the only thing that mattered for an early morning audience, and I should have given it a lot more than twenty seconds.  By jolting us out of a sterile conference room and into an icy car park, he’d given us an in-your-face reminder of why we hold news meetings in the first place.  It was, truly, a breath of fresh air.

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If you’d like your team to work, think and laugh a little faster, give me a call to see if my Newsroom Bootcamp workshop might fit the bill.  Or come along to my next ticketed event in November, and try it for yourself!

Thanks to northeastexposure.co.uk  for the photo image — happy memories of Gateshead 

You’re busy, I’m busy.  So I keep these blog posts to five pithy paragraphs, all thoughts nicked from the newsroom I work in every week.  Thanks for taking an interest.

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It was all my idea, because I love showing enthusiastic young people around TV newsrooms.  Erin, nearly 10, and her brother Calum, nearly 8, had watched a video clip of me reading the news that their father had shown them, to embarrass me, when we came round for a meal in the middle of August.  They were so curious that I found myself saying to their parents: “Well, if you’ve got a couple of free hours this week, I’m on news reading shifts — so do drop in and take a look.”

I have done this many, many times — the BBC’s rule is that they remain supervised, and my rule is that the children are interested in the first place.  But this time, something struck me for the first time.  The kindness of my colleagues.  And that, I reckon, must play a part in building better working relationships in any environment.

A picture editor who I’ve always loved working with fired up some editing kit she’d just shut down ahead of her break, to show them how our news reports are built with different sound and video tracks.  She then let them have a go, smiling that her kids had been intrigued at that age too.  The producer of the programme answered all the children’s questions warmly, and it occurred to me that I wasn’t entirely sure whether he was a father himself.  And then, in the news gallery (the cockpit of the newsroom where there are as many buttons to press as there once were raspberry ruffles in a Woolworth’s Pick’n’Mix) I made a real discovery myself.

The sound engineer showed the children — and me — the Bong Button.  This is the button that is pressed to add drama to the news headline sequence, issuing forth a ‘bong’ between each headline.  I have been reading headlines now for 19 years, and had no idea such a button existed.  Imagine my delight when, once Erin and Calum had pressed it, I was granted permission to press it too.  Ed mentioned that he loved working in sound because he composed music in his spare time.  Hmm, I thought.  I did know that, but I’d forgotten.

Erin and Calum left that afternoon bubbling with stories of a teleprompter they were able to read off, buttons they were allowed to touch (supervised, of course) and people whose units of productivity were ‘stories’.  I left with an insight into my colleagues that day-to-day routines routinely preclude, and a belief that the next time we work together, we’ll work even better as a result.  I also now know where those bongs come from each evening.  And all because we got some kids in.

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If you’d like your team to work, think and laugh a little faster, give me a call to see if my Newsroom Bootcamp workshop might fit the bill.  Or come along to my next ticketed event in November, and try it for yourself!

You’re busy, I’m busy.  So I aim to keep these blogs to six pithy paragraphs, all inspired by ideas I’ve nicked from the newsroom I still work in.  Thanks for taking an interest.  

Here’s an idea if you want to make your meetings a bit more effective.  Put the music on.  Jazz, Pop, Classical, Salsa, Thrash (well, perhaps not Thrash) — most of them should work.

We’ve all known since the nursery how music can transform mood.  And we all know how sterile the mood can be as people shuffle into a meeting room or a training event.  So here’s my trick.  I play a few minutes of music that I’ve downloaded into the first slide of my presentation — music that will suit the age of the audience as they arrive and cluster around the coffee.  I find jazz often works.  If nothing else, it breaks the ice.

It’s a device we use quite regularly in TV reporting — if a news story requires reflection, I find a little music laced between interviews and voiceover can add a third dimension (though it has to be carefully measured, and if misjudged can cause more irritation than pleasure.)

As a way to set the tone for a training workshop, nervous arrivals have told me it’s reassured them — “hmm, I didn’t see this coming, this might be a bit different, this might even be fun …” 

If the idea works for you, you might want to think about using it at the end of your meeting, too.  I give all my guests a one page feedback form to fill in.  I’m currently playing an upbeat Amy MacDonald track as they do so.  I don’t think it’s cheating.

If it all sounds a bit cheesy (echoes of The Office?), then maybe it is.  But I’ve had no complaints so far, and a fair bit of quiet thanks.  If a different vibe is what you’re after at an event that can be all too predictable, maybe a different vibe is the answer.

If you would like your team to work, think and laugh fast, give me a call to see if my Newsroom Bootcamp workshop might fit the bill.  Or come along to my next ticketed event in November, and try it for yourself!    

(photo courtesy of cloudpix.co)

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

My friend Juliette with a little girl in Kabubbu

Abigale Spree, missing from Rainham since 22 July

A thought about focussing on the actual point of why you’re doing what you’re doing. 

Do you sometimes lose sight of what you’re trying to do in the first place?  I’ve done it twice this week.

The first time was this weekend, when my husband Henry and I opened our garden to raise funds for the Quicken Trust, a charity based in East Sussex that is doing mind-boggling things (building homes, schools, a health centre, providing water and the internet) in Kabubbu, a village in Uganda.  We’ve volunteered there ourselves, so know what is at stake.   Several thousand miles away, our garden is (though we say it ourselves) a startlingly large hidden Victorian gem on the Brighton seafront, and in previous years we’ve rustled up about £800 for Kabubbu village from generous tea and cake hungry visitors.

We opened at 11am, but it wasn’t until about 2pm I realised what I was allowing to happen.  All the chatter, curiosity and flattery was about our secret garden.  I’d done next to nothing to quietly hand out the leaflets, point out the Ugandan craft on sale, and talk about the bare vegetable gardens of Uganda.  At this point the rains came and the visitors didn’t, but I made sure I did things a little differently the next day.

The second time was yesterday, in the TV newsroom.  I was overseeing a rather alarming report about Abigale Spree, a 15 year old girl who’s been missing from Rainham for nine days.  Our report used, with the family’s blessing, some tearful interviews from her aunt and father, and shots of posters being put up in North Kent.  But when I checked through the report shortly before broadcast at 10.25pm, I realised something was wrong.  We hadn’t used as many close up pictures of Abigale herself as we could have, in a news report that had a duty to inform.  Thankfully, we had time make the change.

So next time I’m preparing a special event or compiling a report, I’ll try harder to remember why I’m actually doing it, and what I hope its outcome might actually be.

Kent Police are keen to hear from anyone who can help with their enquiries about Abigale — more details here.   The Quicken Trust is based in Hailsham, East Sussex, providing support for the village of Kabubbu, north of Kampala.

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 sounds a bit complicated.  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! 

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