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30 Ways To Get People Talking

Photo by Martin via Flickr
  1. Advice, especially "insider"
  2. Animals
  3. Babies 
  4. Before and after - e.g. a dramatic makeover of one's life or looks
  5. "Caught on tape"- video, audio - funny, unusual, extreme, tragic
  6. Celebrity-related, including business leaders, politicians, religious figures
  7. Connect disparate people around an issue or interest
  8. Controversy
  9. Craziness, how insane or disturbed people think
  10. Eternal love and/or doomed romance
  11. Etiquette 
  12. Extreme, unusual or unpopular culture or point of view
  13. Friendship
  14. Fun facts, statistics, etc.
  15. Gender-specific or debating issues related to gender 
  16. Grief
  17. Heroism
  18. Honesty, preferably unusually raw
  19. Imagination
  20. Inspiration, e.g. a quotable quote
  21. Moral dilemma
  22. Physical or emotional struggle
  23. Rebellion against dictatorship, breaking free from ordinary existence
  24. Safe topic for the watercooler
  25. Scandal
  26. Secrets - reveal something previously hidden
  27. Surprise -  tell us something we wouldn't have believed was true, or show us a photo of something unusual
  28. Timesaver
  29. Tragedy
  30. Travel-related - show us another part of the world
What would you add to the list?

* All opinions my own.

5 Change Agent Tips For The Powerless

"The Red Sea Splits" via

Tip #1: Understand that power may come through people, but it does not come from people.

Each of us has seen some amazing things in our lives. Baby geniuses. People who survive grueling attacks in wartime and not. Technologies that lift 200 people in the air at a time and fly us halfway around the world. 

Yes, it is true that people can try really hard and achieve great things. But no, they're not doing it alone. There is something more out there. And no human being owns it or can control it.

Tip #2: Act "as if" your behaviors made a difference. 

This principle follows on the previous one.

You alone can't tear down the walls that represent barriers to change and positive growth. But you can approach the walls and start to kick, climb, spray-paint, and otherwise tear them down.

The act of faith alone is what prompts the Universe to back you up.

For example, the woman in the photo below has no money. But she is still majoring in a world-changing profession, journalism, learning the techniques of effective investigation and communication.

You never know what you will do in life, or even if you will end up a journalist full-time. But you can always use these skills for some positive end.

Screenshot via WeAreThe99Percent

Tip #3: Don't expect the world to support you.

To stay with the same example, the woman pictured here is self-supporting. 

She has high ideals - calling her line of work a "civic duty" - but doesn't expect the world to come to a halt in response.

It is normal for change agents to experience backbreaking pain as a result of their efforts. Consider this a part of the territory.

Tip #4: Think and act in terms of baby steps.

Take it one step at a time, slow and steady.

There are so many graphics out there depicting this idea...footsteps on the sand, etc. etc. But we still don't get it - otherwise those big corporate change initiatives would not fail at the rate that they do.

The truth of the matter is, bottom-up change initiatives are MORE likely to succeed than those that come from the top down. A case in point is social media.

This is not only because the people closest to the action know better than anyone else know what's important.

It is also because when powerless people take action, they usually do so a little bit at a time. It's not because they're plotting in a brilliant way, but rather because this is all they can do.

So take it step, by step, by step, by step, by simple step.

Tip #5: Don't talk about it until it's well underway. 

Ha-ha! You see, you thought I was going to say the opposite, right? That you should blah, blah, blah explaining what you're trying to do at every turn.

Screenshot via

There are two reasons why blabbing at the early stages is not optimal.

* It makes you look like a big talker who does not actually do anything - you lose credibility.

* It invites opposition, perhaps ruining your chance to actually make the change you want.

Rather than announcing what you plan to do, start communicating once the effort is partially underway and has shown signs of success.

* All opinions my own.

Why & How To To Deal With Your Detractors

Illustrative photo of bullying via Wikimedia

When someone is hitting you, and you cannot escape their punches, you have to hit them back.

Watch Hillary Clinton at the Benghazi hearing - fast forward to 1:25. 

She is getting hammered with questions from Sen. Ron Johnson. He outright accuses the Administration of lying to the American public, putting her on the defensive.

"We were misled that there were supposedly protests and that something sprang out of that -- an assault sprang out of that -- and that was easily ascertained that that was not the fact, and the American people could have known that within days and they didn’t know that."

But just when you think she's down for the count, Clinton turns the tables right back on Johnson:

"With all due respect, the fact is, we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night and decided they’d go kill some Americans? What difference – at this point, what difference does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator.

Clinton could have chosen to respond very literally to the Senator, that is to keep justifying and justifying the Administration's actions. But instead she demonstrated the #1 principle of dealing with a detractor: Attack, attack, attack - never defend. 

Here's another video clip that illustrates the "attack, never defend" principle with some added and effective twists. The topic is clemency for Edward Snowden. The combatants are journalists Glenn Greenwald (obviously, pro as he actually assisted Snowden's cause) and Ruth Marcus (con).

What's interesting about this example is the triple-punch Greenwald uses to go after Marcus personally, as opposed to simply making his points and letting Marcus make hers.

The first thing he does is dehumanize her by calling her part of the Washington establishment, the elite, who supposedly protect their own. (He also calls her an "Obama loyalist" -- bam, as they say, right in the kisser.) It is all about "us versus them":

"That's what people in Washington do. They would never call on someone like James Clapper, who got caught lying to Congress, which is a felony, to be prosecuted. They only pick on people who embarrass the government and the administration to which they are loyal like Edward Snowden. It's not about the rule of law."

Having knocked her off her feet, Greenwald asks Marcus a difficult question - whether she thinks James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, should be prosecuted for lying to Congress.

Marcus tries to avoid the question by calling him out over rudeness.

"You know what? I let you make your point. Why don't you let me make my point, OK?"

Which is odd. Because she's already answered the question, sort of:

"I think James Clapper lied to Congress and I don't think that he should be in office, and I wrote a column saying exactly that."

Marcus makes it worse by arguing that she doesn't need to answer the question. She hides behind legalese:

"No, I don't actually need to answer that question because then we're going to get involved in a whole conversation about what the exact elements of perjury are."

Finally she says, yes, he should be prosecuted, but again hides behind technical-speak:

"...if federal prosecutors believe that they could make a case under the perjury statute."

TV arguments are won in simplicity and not lawyer-talk, especially when the person using that talk is a journalist.

When you consider how much trouble Snowden is actually in, the feat Greenwald pulled off is quite amazing. He in fact won that round. Because he made Marcus -- whose arguments were technically reasonable -- look like an elite, lying apologist.

Greenwald succeeded against the legal detractors by

1) Exhibiting righteous anger while seeming sort of hopeful and upbeat - like he is serving a cause. (Marcus in turn seems like a negative sour person, sort of like a scolding teacher with nothing really positive to add to the conversation.)

2) Turning the issue into "little guy vs. big guy,"

3) Going directly and personally after his debate opponent with enough factual basis that it made sense to do so

4) Creating drama sufficient that the TV host let him take control of the interview. Not to mention that

5) Taking up a lot of airtime - the clip runs about 12 minutes!

Some people worry that by acknowledging their detractors they are giving them credit. But that is absolutely not the case.

When someone is attacking your reputation, they are challenging you to a duel. Are you going to let them slice your throat off with the sword?

Heck, no.

Some people shy away because they feel subconsciously guilty. They've made mistakes. They can't "prove" that everything they've done is right.

That's ridiculous.

Make a decision: Do you believe in yourself? 

  • If you do, go after the other guy. 
  • If you don't, you can and should throw in the towel and go home.

The task at hand is to face yourself and become comfortable with being human.

Then speak the truth - your truth - in every environment, regardless of where it leads.

Remember: Not everything is so black and white. You've got to trust your own perspective.

* All opinions my own. Not a political commentary.

What A Little GIF Can Do For Your Agency's Mission

 photo ArchivesInnovation-OpenTheBox_zps3ec2f029.gif
Gif by me.

Why GIFs?

Is it me, or are animated GIFs all over the place lately? My work team makes them, some Twitter avatars are them and they populate Buzzfeed (BF) posts regularly.

Although it's impossible to learn everything, I do think it's important to keep up and it seems to me that knowing how to do a good GIF is worth its weight in gold for a communicator.

Fortunately there was recently a post on BF called "24 Invaluable Skills To Learn For Free Online This Year" with a ton of good links to free courses or tutorials, among them how to make the GIFs.

I don't want to repeat the tutorial because it pretty much tells you exactly what to do.

I do want to explain how I used it for my purposes and what the GIF above means.

A Real World Use-Case 

Before I go on, please know that I am speaking in a personal capacity now, and not as an official representative of the National Archives (NARA).

At NARA's Office of Innovation, our main job is to make it easier for people to find and use the historical records we hold. The big job is to get these records into the online catalog, while at the same time finding ways to make the catalog talk to other information repositories where the public congregates.

(I have one employee who spends all his time finding ways to get images into Wikipedia, which is where they are exponentially more often accessed than from our website or physical buildings.)

We also ask the public to help us add information to U.S historical records so that they are more complete.

The Communication Challenge

NARA has a range of specialized audiences among the general public, such as geneaology researchers, veterans, teachers, and of course history students and researchers. Of course there is also a broader open government audience for whom access to the nation's archives is of primary importance in the context of transparency.

The public wants access to the records. And yet archival culture and tradition focuses mainly on records preservation. This is the job of literally receiving, organizing, labeling and storing boxes (or other storage devices) with paper records and other media.

The head of the agency, Archivist of the United States David Ferriero, repeatedly makes it clear that access is a top priority - in fact "make access happen" is our number one priority.

And yet - "make access happen" is not a totally clear or compelling headline to anyone that I've spoken to about my job.

What a Little GIF Can Do

Among all of our social media tools, Today's Document is by far the most popular. People want to see visuals - images, video, original documents, and so on.

So having a short and punchy GIF that "tells the story" seems to me like an important tool to have on hand.

The image above conveys that our job is not only to hold things on behalf of the public, but also to provide these things to them. We are only stewards who receive things packed in boxes and then unwrap them, organize and preserve them, and then make them available to whoever might want to need them.

A GIF seems like a simple tool. But it is the simplest tools that are often the most critical when it comes to educating people about a very important mission - both inside the agency, to achieve cultural unity, and outside.

* All opinions my own.