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You’re busy, I’m busy — so I keep these tips, based on my newsroom life, to six paragraphs.  I love writing them, and hope you find them useful.

A few weeks ago I was asked if I would help out with a rota problem in our TV newsroom by producing the lunchtime news, rather than presenting it.  The idea intrigued me.

Producing a BBC news bulletin requires a very different skill-set from presenting or reporting.  It’s less about the writing and the story-telling.  Much more about the delegation, trust in the team, holding your nerve — you’re the one deciding what goes into the entire programme.   Here are three things it taught me.

  1. You’ll probably discover that the other job isn’t as easy as you thought. This is of course good, because only by going under the bonnet of a colleague’s working day can you develop the empathy required to be a really good team-mate.  I was reminded that there were a raft of unexpected little decisions to be made and tasks to be performed (newspapers read and monitored, captions chosen, on-screen graphics commissioned …)  That will help me next time I’m needing the lunchtime producer’s attention.
  2. You may well discover that the other job is a bit easier than you thought. And no, I don’t think that’s a contradiction to Point 1.  One of the things I quietly realised that morning was just how many other people there were to support me, waiting for me to delegate the tasks to them.  As someone in the newsroom who’s generally seen (amiably, I hope) as a bit of a control freak, that forced me to test a set of skills in myself.
  3. You may well enjoy a shot of pure adrenaline that will leave you bursting to tell your partner about your day when you get home.  I certainly did.  And not just because, with four minutes to air, two of our live connections to our reporters hadn’t yet been established, and one of my the two edited reports I needed to fill the bulletin wasn’t yet finished.  I’m quite used to holding my nerve filing a live report with minutes to spare — but it was quite a novelty to face last minute drama in the control room, with others looking to me for decisions on how we were going to fill an entire eleven minute news bulletin as the problems mounted.  The adrenaline was not from doing it, but discovering I could do it.

What reasons can you think of to try someone else’s job in your workplace?  Which members of your team could you switch around for the day, without compromising quality?   Of course, it will never be possible for everyone.  But with a bit of imagination and support, wouldn’t the personal development be worth the risk?  I’ve been working in TV news for almost 29 years.  But I think I’ll be a bit better at it tomorrow, than I was last month.

If you’d like me to create a little newsroom chaos in your workplace for a couple of hours, maybe we should chat about running one of my Newsroom Bootcamps for your staff?

This is the story of a 25 year old man who is dying of bone cancer. It’s a little longer than my usual posts. But I want to share it with you to help spread the word about the charities he is supporting — and tell you the precise wording of a question that has never failed to help me when interviewing people who may be nervous on camera, and when I may be nervous, too.

It was just after 2pm when I took the call from my News Editor. My assignment that afternoon would be to drive to the St Peter and St James Hospice in Chailey, about 40 minutes away, to meet David Willie, a young man who may have only months to live. He had been due to marry his girlfriend Olivia Meheux in early April, but after receiving the latest medical prognosis, they had brought the marriage forward by a month.

I set off from Brighton thinking hard. I was due to meet them within the hour, my report broadcast that evening. As a journalist, I am paid well to think of appropriate questions, in difficult circumstances, on tight deadlines. I make no apology for saying I felt anxious as I drove past the sun drenched daffodils along the drive to the hospice. I simply had to get this right.

I needn’t have worried. David and Olivia were smiling when we met, and remained smiling throughout the hour we spent together — as my cameraman George filmed David being craned into a wheelchair, and wheeled by his bride into the gardens to pat the donkeys in the meadow beyond. They chatted happily on camera in the hospice’s bright day room, talked us through their photo album, and then, as George moved quietly around them, got stuck into a game of Trivial Pursuit.

I had chosen four questions. I asked them how they had met, and what it was like planning a wedding in ten days. I asked them what their best memories of their wedding day were. And finally, the one question that reminds me without fail why I choose to be a reporter. “What” I asked them, “do you want people to think as they hear your story?”

“What do you want people to think tonight?” It is a question, I believe, that distils the essence of journalism. Yes, questions to those in power often need to be tough, and probing, perhaps crafty or blunt. But very often, we are interviewing those that feel power-less. Good journalism should surely hand over power, not display it. Hand power to those let down by authority. Hand power to victims of a crime. Hand power to a dying man and his bride with an urgent message.

“We want to tell people about the work of this hospice , the charity that helped us arrange the wedding, the campaigns (Sarcoma UK and Bone Cancer Research Trust) to tackle this disease, chondrosarcoma,” David and Olivia said. Olivia then added, as David nodded vigorously: “We don’t want people to feel sorry for us. We want them to be happy for us — yes, happy, that we got to have our special day.”

I look back on that hour with a happiness of my own, their gift to me, a special day of my own. It was one of the most privileged — and powerful — of my working life.

You can see David and Olivia in the BBC South East report here: https://vimeo.com/261075700

You’re busy, I’m busy, so I keep these thoughts to a few pithy paragraphs once a month — I hope you find them both amusing and useful!

A few years back, when I was on secondment training BBC journalists, I set myself a rather agreeable assignment.  I visited a local pub with my Iphone, and asked anyone who was prepared to talk to me if they knew what three particular phrases (often heard on the news) actually meant.    I wonder if you do?

  1. Judicial Review
  2. Government White Paper
  3. Government Green Paper

The results confirmed my hunch.  We journalists often forget one of our primary roles: to translate things.   Many of the drinkers in that pub had a decent stab at it, and I seem to remember that a couple got two out of three spot on, but most were rather perplexed.   (A judicial review, by the way, is when the courts step in to take a long hard look at a public decision; a government White Paper is what ministers want to do once they’ve sounded them out in an earlier set of ideas, their Green Paper.  I looked them all up to find out.)

I think my little experiment was a wakeup call for the journalists I was training, and I think there’s a lesson in there for business, too.  We don’t like to admit when we don’t know things, so we shelter behind a quiet hope that other people do.  Honestly?  How often have you written or approved a document for public consumption that you haven’t fully understood yourself, using phrases borrowed from someone a bit senior, in the blind hope that everyone else probably does understand them?

Here are a couple more, rather topical.

  1. Screenplay
  2. Customs Union

Confession time: I had to google ‘screenplay’ once to find out what all those earnest people were actually winning at the BAFTAS and Oscars — the Arts Correspondents never actually used the word ‘script’.   And I’m still wrestling with the difference between the Customs Union, a Customs Union, and the European Union.

It’s good to know I’m not alone thinking this.  Arnando Iannuci, the actor and director, made this very point in an excellent podcast a few weeks ago.  Reporters, executives, film-makers, politicians — we often speak the language we’re fluent in, and forget at our peril that not everyone in our audience has taken the advanced class.   So let me end on a challenge.  What phrases would you put in a Dictionary of your business’s jargon, and what would the translations be?

If you’d like a bit more from where that came from, do sign up for one tip a month here — and ask for a reduced rate if you book me for a workshop!

Up against it in Hastings …

You’re busy, I’m busy, so I keep these thoughts to a few pithy paragraphs — thanks for reading!

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I was approached by a guy trying to sell me dope a couple of weeks ago, and it got me thinking about how you can develop your networking and reporting skills in the most unlikely company.

Forgive me for sharing this detail with you, but the story does require it.  This all unfolded at Barbados’s funkiest Friday night venue, the Oistins Fish Fry.  Music pumping, bottles of beer popping, marlin sizzlin’ in vast aromatic vats.  A great way for me to round off a week’s work in this not unappealing part of the world.

Beer in hand, I had snuck away from the roadside hotspot for a few moments to gaze at a sliver of moon suspended above an inky Caribbean sea.  After a few moments, I noticed the shadow of a young-ish man at my side.  “Hi brother!” he began.  “Just chillin’?  I’m Tyrone — how ya doin’?”

And so our mellow chat began: questions from him about the UK and our January weather, the reporter in me curious to find out about his life as a fisherman, and emotionally engaged by hearing about his ambition to own his own boat.  So it must have been a good six or seven minutes before the pause that ended with “So — you fancy a bit o’ weed?  I got some good stuff …”. (That’s Tyrone talking, not me.)

What my new dope-dealing friend had done so skilfully was to be likeable first, then build a little trust, and only then get down to business.  It’s the same in networking, don’t you think?  Sometimes in the past I think that maybe I’ve mentioned my workshops just a little too soon.  Journalism is similar: the best reporters achieve the most powerful interviews from people who like them first, and then grow to trust them.

I’d like to think it goes without saying that I declined Tyrone’s kind offer, and as such his networking strategy did fail.  But I do thank him for giving me a breezy insight into what effective business-building can look like.

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If you’d like to have some fun developing your own business skills whilst doing a spot of (dope free) networking, I’d love you to join us at my next Newsroom Business Bootcamp — half a day of adrenaline, laughter and serious business development just minutes from Brighton Station on Thursday 22 February … find out more here!

You’re busy, I’m busy. So I try to keep these thoughts, based loosely on the life of a journalist, to a few pithy paragraphs.  I hope you find them helpful … 

One of the first lessons I learnt as a BBC trainee nearly thirty years ago was from a radio engineer in a studio deep in the bowels of Broadcasting House.  I had clamped on a pair of Bakelite headphones, but heard a high pitched squeak.  Something to do with the microphone too close to a speaker.  “We don’t call that feedback here, chum” he said.  “We call it ‘howl-round.’”

But upstairs in the radio newsroom, they certainly did use the word ‘feedback’, very robustly.  It wasn’t a technical word, it was editorial.  “That phrase doesn’t bl***dy mean anything, ditch it!” one editor yelled at me after I’d filed a story about a government department’s multi-agency approach.  “I wanted this report 45 seconds long, not 47 — do it again!” was another kindly yelled suggestion when I was working on Radio One’s Newsbeat.

But it didn’t put me off seeking feedback.  It’s the only way we can see ourselves and our work through the prism of our actual audience.  It’s a reality check on authenticity and it builds our resilience.  Every single member of staff I deliver my workshops to is given a chance to fill in a Feedback Form before I leave.  I like to think that each one of them will either reassure me or, better still, improve me.

This past week, I’ve been working abroad, and lucky enough to receive some very perceptive feedback from a mind-readerKennedy’s quite a find: his act is part stage-show entertainment, part thought-leadership for business staff who sit, wide-eyed, as he adds a different dimension to a client’s conference.  So we could have been rivals: both our businesses offering energy and fun to business clients who are trying to make (a little) hay with their Away-Day.  But instead, we’ve become friends, and sat down several times to compare notes on how we actually came across from the back of the venue, and what we might have done even better.

I don’t think you can ever be too big for feedback.  Julia Chanteray, a highly respected business coach based in Hove, has just launched a new course, and kindly asked me to don my journalist cap to offer some thoughts on how the copy on her website came across.  I am happy to report that I scored her more highly than Daisy scored me after I’d delivered an Employability Skills workshop in her school several years ago (see photo). Daisy’s thoughts certainly did make me howl at first.  But they also made me realise that although you can’t please everyone, every day, you will please more of them if you actually listen.

If you’d like try out one of my half day business skills workshops for yourself, while doing a spot of networking, do join us in Brighton on Thursday 22 February.  Details here!

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