Monday, September 29, 2014

The power lies in your hands

I almost didn't go to see Bedbugs!!! The Musical this weekend. Yes, it scored a rave review in The New York Times, but the mere sight of the title made my skin crawl. Not because of the bugs. Because of the exclamation points.

I hate exclamation points. To be clear: I don't like bedbugs any better, but I've been fortunate enough never to meet one in person. Exclamation points, on the other hand, seem to pop up after every sentence. And sometimes! in the middle! too!! OMG, you guys!!!

Bedbugs are easy to eradicate. Call in the bug-sniffing dog, fork over unconscionably large sums of money to the dog-handler, the exterminator, and your dry cleaner, and then never visit an urban public space again. (Or see the musical for an even more creative method.)

There are no exclamation point-sniffing dogs. No toxic substance can prevent their spread. We're in this fight alone.

But I bring you good news: The power to eliminate the exclamation point lies in your hands - and mine. If we can prevent our right hands from hitting the shift key while hitting the "1" key with our left, we will never see another exclamation point again.

Okay, sometimes words alone just can't express the level of excitement a writer truly feels. "I'm getting married." tells a far different story than "I'm getting married!" So perhaps we should keep one or two exclamation points around for emergencies. This writer's sainted English teacher suggested seven as an acceptable number. Sounds good to me.

I'll even throw in an extra three for free if you go see Bedbugs!!! - which you should.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The seven words I never want my clients to hear

I was sitting in a conference room with a dozen strangers a couple of nights ago, waiting for a presentation to begin. One of the women in the audience told the speaker she'd seen another of his presentations and decided to come see him again.

Before he could react to what we all assumed was a compliment, she added:

"I don't remember what you talked about then. Is this going to be the same presentation?"

I'm sure the questioner was just looking for information. But of course she wrapped her question in one of the most insulting things anyone can say to a speaker:

"I don't remember what you talked about."

To his credit, the presenter kept the smile frozen on his face. (Do not play poker with this man.)

I found his presentation both memorable and useful. But that woman's statement has stayed with me, too.

It's a reminder of what my clients pay me for: To make their ideas memorable.

And it's a reminder of the challenge we face in this world multitasking: How do we break through the clutter of other claims on the audience's attention (whether it's email or Facebook under the table or, in this woman's case, a take-out dinner on top of the table) to deliver a message that resonates?

The answer may be that sometimes we can't. Someone who is determined not to hear you will always find a way to succeed. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

When an office is more than an office

Back before the whole world worked in cubicles, I had an office on the 45th floor, with a nice big window and partial view of the mighty Hudson River. The rest of the view was the office tower across the street, which rose some 70 floors higher than my building: one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. (I could never remember which.)

I wasn't there in 2001, thank God, but I was in 1993 when the bastards tried to bomb it the first time. I felt our building shake, saw the black smoke coming out from where the parking lot vented, walked down 45 flights of stairs with my nervous colleagues.

Today, social media is full of photos of the towers. I even got an email from a clothing store assuring me: "We remember." I deleted it, and unsubscribed for good measure (it seemed opportunistic). I don't need photos or emails to remember that place or the thousands of people who went to the office that day - just as I had for many years - fully expecting that they'd go home.

How many forgettable workspaces are there in the world? On days like today, I wish I could forget that one.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Attention to detials

My friends sometimes make fun of me, but when I'm in a restaurant I refuse to order misspelled menu items. I figure if they can't spell it, how can I trust they can cook it?

Seth Godin makes the same point today about buying paper and pens at "stationary" stores. (Although, to be fair, those stores probably do stay in the same place day after day.)

Spellcheck only helps if you've created a word so garbled it can't suggest a tr[;svr,rmy (that's "replacement" if you shift your fingers one key to the right). If it's close to being an actual word, beware: You might find yourself with a strategy to "purse" rather than "pursue."

I admit I am sometimes guilty of relying on technology instead of my brain. A few weeks after I moved to my new town I realized that I didn't know the way to the supermarket because I always let my GPS guide me. I got lost a couple of times after I turned it off, but at least I was thinking for myself.

For the love of grammar, spelling, and sanity it's time to turn off the technology and take back our personal responsibility for paying attention to (did you catch it in the headline?) details.

Thnak you.