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So there they were, Louise Minchin and Dan Walker, chatting to their guest on the bright red Breakfast News sofa at 6.45am.  I’m watching it out of the corner of my eye as I sit on BBC South East’s bright red sofa, up next to read our three minute bulletin to our regional audience.  And I’m thinking: what a powerful interview this is, and what a powerful message for anyone trying to communicate with clients and customers, or set a culture to their staff. 

Dan and Louise were interviewing a Kidney Specialist.  The reason he was in the news?  Because more than ten years ago he decided he was going to do something revolutionary.  Instead of writing to fellow consultants about their patients, copying in the patients, he was going to write direct to the patients themselves, copying in the consultants.  

What’s more, he was going to strip out the jargon.   A ‘chronic’ condition would be described as a condition that’s ‘been going on quite a while.’  ‘Acute’ as something that had ‘come on quickly.’  It caused a right rumpus at first.  The medical profession just didn’t DO that sort of thing.  But then patients started writing to him, thanking him for speaking to them in their language.  Word spread.  The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges got wind of it.  So did the Royal College of GPs.  Opposition fell away.  Today’s news was that it’s now been built into new guidelines. 

As a BBC TV journalist, I take great delight in hacking out the jargon in complex stories, writing in words that our audiences actually use.  You won’t catch me referring to a council’s multi-agency approach or a government report that’s been redacted.  So it was heartening to see that when it communicates with its patients, the medical profession is cutting out this sort of nonsense, too.

Do you use a lot of jargon in your workplace?  Are there some phrases and cultures in your business that just get repeated because nobody puts their hands up and asks what they actually mean?  Of course, technical language is entirely appropriate for an audience that understands the technical terms — consultant to consultant, for example.  But if it’s a different type of audience — an audience gulping some coffee while shooing the kids off to school, perhaps — then it’s surely in everyone’s interests to speak … everyone’s language.  

If you’d like your staff to communicate more confidently, my Newsroom Bootcamp might make a refreshing addition to your business skills training — high energy, in your office, with instant takeaways they can implement the next day.  Call for a chat — 07850 188620.  I promise there’ll be no jargon. 

August often strikes me as a good month to reflect and take stock (and not just because my birthday fell yesterday).  So here’s a suggestion of how you might get some perspective on your own career and business before we all knuckle down again in a couple of weeks.  Simply sit back and listen to a few other successful people reflecting on their careers. 

I’ve been doing this recently by downloading a few of the political commentator Peter Hennessy’s Reflections from the BBC Radio 4 website.  These podcasts are like a cross between Desert Island Discs and In the Psychiatrist’s Chair, with Hennessy chatting breezily to politicians whose heavyweight careers have now glided into a shady creek on the political lake. 

As I pull away from the age of 50, these conversations have certainly got me thinking about my own career as a BBC journalist — because I’ve interviewed some of Hennessy’s guests (Paddy Ashdown, David Blunkett, Michael Howard) myself.  My brief encounters with them didn’t secure me any scoops or prizes, but the mere experience of interviewing a senior politician relatively early in my own career gave me an insight into the process and artifice of government.  

It struck me at the time that we all knew perfectly well we were part of a process, no matter how hard I tried to make my questions sound original and tough, and they tried to make their answers sound authentic and fresh.   And that’s why this series of podcasts is so telling.  These powerful men and women admit the vulnerability politicians feel as they tinker with our lives, whilst also conveying a nobility in the causes they genuinely believed will improve those lives.  We got some things wrong, they seem to be admitting to Hennessy, but we got a fair bit right, too. 

Could you help your own staff by encouraging them to reflect on when failure might be a sign of broader success?  Does that mere thought stimulate you as your own September business reboot approaches?   By next August, what will we all have got right — and quietly got wrong?

If you’d like to take your staff on a roller-coaster experience of workplace failure and success in the space of a couple of hours, my Den of Decisions and Deadlines may fit the bill.  It’s based on my thirty year career in BBC newsrooms.

+++ Image of a lovely old newsreader next to a lovely old BBC microphone courtesy of critical thinking.com.  (And yes, the microphones I use each week for my own news reporting are still bakelite, and do look a bit like that one …) +++

I’m writing this on my lunch break sitting in a plastic chair outside Courtroom 2 at Hove Trial Centre. At any moment after 2pm, a tannoy could summon us into the courtroom itself to hear the verdict in a rape trial. Precisely when this happens will depend entirely on when the jury reaches that verdict. It could be within minutes. Or some time before the court closes at 4pm. Or tomorrow. Or perhaps next week.

I’ve been a journalist for nearly thirty years now, and days like this still make me a little nervous. But here’s why I think that nerves can be a good thing.

  1. Feeling nerves shows you still care. Nerves are often created by an awareness of the emotions around you, and that can create empathy. For the people sitting here, today, this isn’t Wednesday’s news story — this is a defining moment in their lives. It’s good to be reminded of that. (The defendant’s family are sitting downstairs, the alleged victim’s family sitting two rows from me upstairs.)
  2. Conquering the nerves can give positive results. I’ve quietly introduced myself to both families, to reassure them in case they’ve been spooked by my BBC badge, or wanted to ask me anything about the reporting of this case. Yes, it took a deep breath on my part; it always does. But the response has been warmer than you might imagine.
  3. If you’re nervous, you’re learning. As one BBC training guru once told me, it’s only when you step outside your own comfort zone that you add to your skill set.

You may think this is all nonsense, and that confidence is the only emotion you should aim to feel at work. But either way, here’s my tip on what to do when you are nervous.

Smile, and look people in the eye.

Ahead of a big job interview, a public presentation, a sporting performance — or introducing yourself to two families who may not particularly want to meet you — it’s the best way I’ve found of ensuring that nerves recharge my batteries, rather than drain them, and that the charge created is a positive one.

If you have a workforce you’d like to take to the edge of the comfort zone, my Newsroom Bootcamp workshop may fit the bill. It’s safe, fun, serious workplace skills development — based on my newsroom theme. It’s training they’ll remember, and thank you for.

Let’s face it, blogs can be boring, so I keep these to six snappy paragraphs — do  spread the word if you find them amusing or helpful! 


Wasn’t it a perfect day?  Perfect weather, perfect bride, perfectly adorable bridesmaids and pageboys — even if the Most Rev Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon may have raised the eyebrow of whichever courtier was frantically trying to keep it all to time.  But a few days later, it provided me with a perfect example of why light and shade matters in news, and, I believe, in business.

The day after the photographs appeared of the happy couple in the grounds of the castle, word reached our regional newsroom that the photographer had been trained at Brighton University.  Regular viewers of the programme I work on will be aware that Brighton is well and truly deemed in our patch.

Further inquiry established that Alexi Lubomirski’s training was in fact in the late nineties, and he did now live a jet-set lifestyle based in New York.  So the question at our newsdesk became: should we (as the regional news service for Sussex) be covering the story at all?  And the answer, as the rousing Rev himself might have put it, was hell yeah.

 

News bulletins can be gloomy affairs.  Stories like this lift them.  The artist was happy to give us an interview, the University were happy to arrange shots of their current photography students, and I was interested to ask the students themselves what they made of it all.  My journalism that day won’t be winning any awards.  But I do think it will have put a smile on some faces.

What does your company do to put a smile on your staff’s faces?  An article I read recently made a link between productivity and happiness.  A no-brainer, perhaps.

But with the World Cup coming up, would a flexible attitude to working hours be an idea?  My suspicion?  Hell yeah!


If you’re looking for a teambuilding activity that will cheer your workforce up a bit (but give you the satisfaction of knowing you’ve challenged and developed them meaningfully too) why not give me a call to discuss a spot of my Newsroom Bootcamp


Many thanks to my 6 year old niece Sophie, and 4 year old neighbour Evie, whose portraits of the happy couple have helped me get around any copyright infringement risk if I’d shown you Alexi’s photographs. 

 

 

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?

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