Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A blog about blogging - 7 tips for a better blog


Writing a blog can be tedious and painful, but only if you are unprepared to write a focused piece on a specific topic.

The beauty of blogs is that they are meant to be short, narrow in scope and conversational. That should be easy, right?

So why isn’t it?

Because as a general rule, we sit down and just start writing – no outline, no idea of our main point, no end in sight. In short, no forethought.

With apologies to my high school English teachers who incessantly encouraged us “to just write,” and "start from the beginning," I respectfully disagree.

As a peace offering, though, here are my seven tips for easy and better blogging:

1.     NEVER – not even for a billion dollars – write about something you have no interest in.

The point of a blog is to be a snippet of advice from experts or an opinion from an advocate. You have to care about the subject to be able to write about it well. (I agree great writers can pull off good pieces on things they don’t really care about, but then it wouldn’t come easy and I doubt it would be up to their level of writing).

2.     Pick ONE aspect of the topic to write about.

If you love cooking, you can’t write one blog on cooking. But there are thousands of great ideas around very small but interesting aspects of cooking – 12 ways to make your favorite Italian meals healthier; 5 ways to eat out on a budget; The 4 best aisles at the grocery store for a healthy diet; 8 indulgences you should never turn down; 15 beers you must try before you die (any takers on that blog research?)

If you love sports, for example, pick one sport, then pick one part of it to complain about, then think of a creative way to demonstrate your disdain.

This is truly where Buzzfeed has cornered the market. Buzzfeed never does the same story yet it is doing stories on the same issues all the time.

The reason it works? Because each time it is a narrow focus with a creative angle on it, so it doesn’t seem the same.

3.     Write a one-sentence, straightforward lead that highlights the main point you want to make by the end.

Quit thinking you need to develop some background to give readers the big picture.

The opposite is true. Tell them what your piece is about so they can decide right away if they want to keep going.

4.     Do some research.

No one knows everything. And no blog is any good without links and references to other info out there.

Find out some cool facts even you didn’t know. That’s also a great way to write a more creative blog about the thing you love.

Instead of the more typical “4 things you should do before a beach vacation” you can write the Buzzfeed-esque approach, “13 things sunscreen can be used for besides blocking UVA .”

5.     Plan.

My CEO husband loves to say, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” It’s so cliché and so absolutely true.

Do not – I repeat – do not do what your English teachers told you and “just start writing.”

Stream-of-consciousness text is ruining society. Since so much communication is done electronically and on social media, you have to train your brain – and your fingers – to think of the end point first.

Then start writing.

6.     Edit.

This is my biggest pet peeve with blogs (OK, my second biggest. See No. 7.)

Never write something and then publish.

Obviously editing is good for checking punctuation, grammar, and my favorite, AP style.

But the main reason is that the first time you say something, you usually don’t say it in the most concise and coherent way. (For example, this is already the third version of this sentence.)

7.     Keep paragraphs short.

For the sake of all that’s good and right in this world, make paragraphs one sentence. Two if they are both short.

AND THAT’S IT!!

I guarantee you read this faster because I followed my own rule.




Saturday, February 8, 2014

'Dear Mr. Manning' letter goes viral

I teach my students that good writing will get attention. And that a topic that resonates with people along with the right timing will ensure a lot of attention.

But I had no idea how much attention my "Open Letter to Peyton Manning" would actually get.

Thanks to all of you who read, shared, commented, debated and reached out to me.

I knew my thoughts were neither revolutionary nor remarkable. But the overwhelming response on social media and the news media proves my point - Peyton Manning deserves to be celebrated no matter how good/bad he plays in the most recent game.

*And for those who called me a soccer mom who just wanted to emphasize playing the game and not winning it, you missed the point. I'm all for winning and preparing to win - just as I believe Manning is. And while I know the Super Bowl loss will tarnish his NFL storied career, it does nothing to tarnish his legacy.

But I digress.

For those interested, here is a round-up of some of the media play:

'Dear Mr. Manning' 


A Broncos fan's letter to Manning a fantastic read



A mom's letter to Peyton Manning


Mt. Pleasant woman's 'Dear Mr. Manning' letter goes viral





Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Open Letter to Peyton Manning



Dear Mr. Manning –

I am not a sports reporter, not an NFL analyst, not a former player.

I’ve never studied film, and I’ve not catalogued all the best and worst moments in football history.

I know the game of football well, though I still can’t figure out why you can challenge a first down spot but not a pass interference call.

What I have done is played some seriously rugged flag football games, donned blue and orange every Sunday from August to January for the past 43 years, sat through some unbelievably frigid games at Mile High (once while 7 months pregnant) and cheered for the Denver Broncos since before I can remember…even during the heart-crushing games.

I even named my beloved Black Lab after John Mobley (who I still believe is responsible for saving the Broncos’ victory in Super Bowl XXXII against the Packers.)

And most proudly, I am a mom of two little boys who adore their #18 jerseys and can’t wait to find out “how Peyton Manning’s team did?” every Monday morning.

So I am undeniably biased.

And it is because of my bias – and lack of NFL analysis experience – that makes me far more qualified to talk about your legacy than any of those analysts, former players, coaches and commentators (I’m looking at you, Mike Greenberg and Cris Carter).

They operate in a world where recency dictates everything, and controversy and sensationalism make the headlines.

No, I am more qualified because I am a mom.

I actually understand – on the most basic level – what legacy truly means.

Legacy is something handed down that matters.

It is something that matters to young players and athletes and kids looking for mentors to help them find their way.

You don’t hand down Super Bowl trophies. You don’t hand down NFL MVPs or franchise records. And you don’t hand down touchdowns, statistics or win-loss records.

You hand down an example of work ethic, of courage to come back after a career-threatening injury, of humility in victory and graciousness in defeat, and of perspective on one’s own accomplishments.

That legacy matters, and that’s why yours is untarnished even - and especially - after Sunday's loss.

It matters that you’re professional in the way you talk to reporters.

It matters that you give credit to others – coaches, teammates, mentors.

It matters that you don’t give up in a bad game and keep fighting no matter the odds.

It matters that you take time to write hand-written notes to fans and sign autographs – even after crushing defeat.

It matters that you know the difference between being embarrassed by your team’s performance and just not being the best team on the field that day.

And it matters that you meticulously prepare to play the game...and encourage everyone around you to do the same.

I doubt you take stock in what those analysts say about your legacy (no doubt a trait your father has clearly bestowed upon you and your brothers), but I want you to know that this mom of two young boys who already recognize you’re different from the others, believes your legacy has never been stronger.

And I'm confident thousands of others agree with me. 

Whether you win another game, your accomplishments in football are nothing short of remarkable – alongside many other outstanding players.

But it’s your character that sets you apart from so many of your predecessors and peers.

And that’s a legacy that matters.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Storytelling, audience connections key for communicators, ESPN exec says

Norby Williamson believes the College of Charleston is a “kick-ass place,” and that’s a pretty good endorsement coming from a senior executive at ESPN.


But the executive vice president of the world’s largest sports television network reminded a room of communication majors Thursday not to worry about whether they chose the right path, the right school or the right major.

“Don’t second-guess yourself, but if the path you’re on is not the right one, take a different one,” Williamson said. “That was the lesson early on at ESPN – figure it out as you go along, put the work in and you’ll succeed. You have to have the concept of being able to evolve yourself.”

Williamson knows a few things about evolving.

Starting as a production assistant 28 years ago at ESPN when it was a fledgling cable sports network, Williamson worked his way through the ranks to his current position where he has been since 2007.

Along the way, Williamson produced “SportsCenter,” “ESPNEWS,”  “Baseball Tonight” and “NFL Gameday.” Prior to taking on management duties alongside production work in 1999, Williamson earned five awards, including Sports Emmy Awards for “SportsCenter” and “NFL Gameday.”

He also was responsible for major programming such as Monday Night Football, College Game Day, NASCAR, college basketball and football, plus on-site coverage of major sporting events like the Super Bowl, BCS national championship, Men’s and Women’s Final Four and the MLB All-Star game.

“There’s nothing impressive about me. I was in the right place at the right time, working my ass off,” said the 1985 graduate of Southern Connecticut State University, adding that students should be comforted that he made it at ESPN. “You can succeed by being tactical, taking strategic risks and working hard.”

Williamson acknowledged today’s students have a tougher environment to navigate for a job, but that isn’t always a disadvantage.

“It’s a mess out there,” he said, “which is good news for you.”

With the explosion of digital content and social media, ESPN and other networks are hungry for grads with storytelling skills, not necessarily technical expertise.

“Storytelling, writing, making a connection with the audience….that’s a lot more important,” Williamson said. “We hire smart people. We think we can teach you what you need about production, but we want creative, smart people who like things the way they are but are open to doing it different.”

In a social media-dominant world where athletes can control their own messages, and immediate still isn’t fast enough, Williamson said resonating with the audience is still the most important goal – whether it’s in a reality TV show or a 140-character tweet.

“It’s crazy. The greatest thing about social media is immediate feedback; the worst thing is immediate feedback,” Williamson said, admonishing students not to lose focus on what will connect with their audience. “A good story is always most important.”

Among his sage advice for the soon-to-be grads, Williamson reminded students to do what they are passionate about, always be decent to people and to stay curious.

“Ask yourself if you’re going anywhere,” he said. “Now is the time to take risks.”