My So-Called Public Speaking Career

A friend recently asked me if I had done anything specific to develop public speaking skills. Though the answer is technically no, it’s just something I naturally enjoy, the question did prompt me to reflect on some highlights (and lowlights) in my speaking career.

1975: I asked if I could say grace at Thanksgiving dinner. I “surprised” the crowd by singing the ABC’s in my doll Gloria’s voice, several octaves above my normal register.

1980: I ran my own school, attended by neighborhood kids, and somehow managed to keep several squirrelly kindergarteners entertained and educated for several hours a day. Inside! In the summer.

1987: I delivered my high school valedictory address on the “daring” theme of how we were butterflies emerging from our cocoons. I managed to keep my cool and deliver my earnest, trite teenage speech while being attacked around the ankles by savage mosquitos.

2001-2008: I had numerous opportunities to deliver a “gong speech” at Cranium, which is how we celebrated company milestones such as new hires, new products, and awards. My most memorable (though not my best) was the one where I got streaks-of-mascara teary welcoming our new publishing partner. In my defense, I was seven months pregnant, I had just hosted an intense two-day kick-off meeting, and I had walking pneumonia. I can safely say that this particular combination is unlikely to repeat itself.

Catherine wearing Cranium brain helmet
Sometimes I even gave gong speeches wearing the brain helmet. It’s actually quite heavy.

2008: Soon after Cranium’s acquisition, I flew to Hasbro’s headquarters in Pawtucket to introduce Cranium to a packed crowd of executives and a mix of curious/skeptical/excited employees. A deadly combination of time-zone change and insomnia meant that I got about 1.5 hours of sleep the night before. The Hasbro exec appointed to oversee the transition hovered anxiously, cutting slides deemed too “wacky” and–two minutes before I went on–letting me know my allotted time had been slashed from 45 minutes to 15. It went well, however, and the Cranium team was nominated for a Hasbro “Inny” award for giving outstanding presentations.

2010: My inspirational and much-loved grandfather died at the age of 103, and I delivered a heartfelt eulogy–miraculously, without mascara streaks. You can read the text commemorating this remarkable man here.

August 2011: I delivered my first “Ignite” talk, “You Are Not Your SAT Score” to an all-ages crowd at an outdoor venue. This was partly to spread the “multiple intelligences” message that there are lots of ways to be smart and partly to demonstrate to my kids that I can do more than make quesadillas to order. It was also my first time giving a talk without being in control of the clicker–the slides advance automatically every 15 seconds, whether you want them to or not. (Holy cow…have you ever tried that?) My endless practicing paid off, though, and I’m still thankful that I only came close to stepping backwards off the stage in the middle of the talk (spatial intelligence is not my strong suit.) You can watch my Ignite talk here.

On the stage at Ignite Seattle 15 (image: Ronald Woan)

October 2011: I was invited to be a featured presenter at the Red Pencil in the Woods conference. I put together a talk called “Twitter: A Cocktail Party for Word Lovers” and had a fantastic time demystifying Twitter for a terrific group of editors and writers. The best part was seeing the event hashtag catch on during the session and to see all the conversation that kept going for weeks afterward!

Case Study: Mix-N-Match with Sir Mix-A-Lot, June 2011

Client: Giant Thinkwell, Seattle, WA

Mix-N-Match with Sir Mix-a-Lot, Facebook Game

The Challenge: Create hundreds of buzz-worthy questions for a Facebook game featuring pop culture icon Sir Mix-A-Lot  on a fast, fluid schedule. Drive outreach and launch on a shoestring budget.

Secret Sauce Contributions:

  • Established overall content approach, voice, and high-level parameters to support game spec and deliver innovative Facebook social gaming experience.
  • Crafted 1,000+ clever, entertaining game content elements to engage Sir Mix-A-Lot’s fans.
  • Helped mastermind and execute social media and PR strategy behind what GeekWire called “The greatest PR pitch ever.”

“[Catherine] instantly gets the idea, makes it better, asks tough questions, drives the process, and then delivers the most awesome content one could have imagined on time and on budget.” Adam Tratt, CEO of Giant Thinkwell (full recommendation here)

The Results:

“MixNMatch is Giant Thinkwell’s first game, and it’s cute and funny enough that we would like to see more from this shop.” Jolie O’Dell, Sir Mix-A-Lot Likes Big….Facebook Games, Mashable

Insights:

  • Researching and referencing personal details in PR pitches gets them noticed.
  • Creating an optimized social media dashboard is a cost-effective way of amplifying a launch.
  • When you can make a bona fide character like Sir Mix-A-Lot laugh out loud, you’re on the right track with the content.

Sir Mix-a-Lot with Giant Thinkwell

If you need content or inspiration to support your launch, please contact us.

5 Ways to Amplify Your Trade Show Presence with Twitter

Toy Fair 2012, New York CityThere’s nothing quite like a big conference or trade show to gather fresh inspiration, make new connections, and plug into the shared energy of people with a common passion getting together to talk shop. Twitter can be a surprisingly powerful tool to fine-tune your event plan and make your presence even more successful. Here’s how.

1. Keep tabs on key contacts: Before you go, look up the Twitter handles of everybody you are planning to meet with and gather them into a Twitter list. Before your meeting, take a quick look at your contact’s tweet stream to get some context and look for opportunities to make a memorable impression. Is he frustrated by slow wifi? You can commiserate. Energy flagging? She’ll be delighted if you have a cappuccino waiting.

2. Tweet and retweet generously: You certainly don’t want everybody in the booth heads-down tweeting, but be sure to tweet throughout the event, always using the official event hashtag if there is one. Be generous in your approach, retweeting quality tweets even if they are coming from a competitor. Active tweeting gets you on the radar of event attendees and sets a positive, engaged tone.

3. Listen for relevant trends and hooks: Save the event hashtag stream using a client like HootSuite or TweetDeck so you can keep an eye on all the tweets about the event. When you notice someone tweeting about something that’s relevant to your offering, extend an invitation to stop by your booth for a demo. Make it personal, including your booth number and who to ask for.

4. Be on the lookout for new influencers: Even if you came with a lengthy list of key contacts and planned meetings, if you’re listening actively you’ll identify plenty of new influencers to build relationships with. Keep an ear out for bloggers, journalists, or critics who are actively tweeting about the trends or topics you are addressing, and extend a warm personal invitation to stop by for a chat.

5. Follow up: Trade show attendees meet dozens or even hundreds of people in a short stretch of time, so a follow-up tweet is a quick way to solidify your connection and make it easy to keep the conversation going. Make it warm and personal rather than generic–for example, “Stephanie, thanks for stopping by to play the new Dr. Seuss game! Hope you find some more comfortable shoes for tomorrow.” Of course Twitter shouldn’t replace other follow-ups, but it can be a powerful way to punctuate a positive meeting.

Bonus Tip: With some close coordination, some or even all of this Twitter dot-connecting can happen remotely! In some cases this setup can even be preferable, since on-site wifi speeds tend to be sluggish and schedules packed. As long as your Twitter point person can coordinate as needed with booth staff via email, phone, or text, you can drive a very effective event Twitter presence from miles or even time zones away.

What are your favorite Twitter trade show tips?

5 Examples of Creative Tweeting

I’ve always found that constraints lead to creativity, and Twitter is no exception. With only 140 characters to play with, I frequently have to do some creative editing and thinking to say what I want to say. And as a habitual writer of far-too-long long emails, I enjoy tweeting because it challenges me to be crisp and nimble with language.

I also enjoy seeing some of the creative things people do with the format. Here are a few.

1. @Sockington: Sockington, identified in his Twitter bio simply as “Jason Scott’s cat” from Waltham, MA, has a one-of-a-kind voice–and close to a million and half followers. Sample tweets: “SURPRISE NOT A GREY PILLOW it was me SO EASY TO FOOL YOU ARE this is totally why I run things around here” or “awaiting petting THERE WE GO hmmm have had better NO THAT DOESN’T MEAN STOP”

2. @VeryShortStory: So there are short stories, and there are tweet-length stories. For example, “I traced my finger along the map imprinted on your back. Soon I’d seduce your sister. With her map half, your father’s riches would be ours.” Not quite as short as Hemingway’s famous six-word story, but impressive all the same.

3. @JQAdams_MHS: The Massachusetts Historical Society regularly tweets excerpts from John Quincy Adams’s diary. Now truthfully, this is not a book I would be inclined to have on my bedside table, but reading a tidbit every day is fascinating. For example, “02/15/1812: Detecting domestic thefts and impositions. Dined at Raimbert’s. Took Charles with me. Montreal gave him a Magic Lantern.”

4. @520_bridge: This is a landmark in my city, Seattle, and somebody has taken to tweeting as the bridge. And, amazingly, people have taken to tweeting to the bridge. For example: “@520_bridge What’s your deal today?! Crossing you for 15 minutes!” To which the bridge responds, “Sun for first time in 5 days = peeps forgot sunglasses!” (For those who don’t live in Seattle, this is actually a completely plausible explanation.)

5. @cookbook: Maureen Evans, from London, tweets entire recipes: (Raisin Cookies: Mix c flr/½c brsug&raisin/t bkgpdr/½t salt&cinn/¼t nutmeg. Beat+egg/⅓c buttr/¼c milk/t vanil. Spoon16t 2″apart; 10-12m@375F.) It’s nothing short of virtuosic. She has even landed a cookbook deal, for eat tweet, a Twitter cookbook.

There are a lot of creative possibilities here, whether you are a content creator game for a unique challenge, an author working to develop voice for a character, or the keeper of some unique intellectual property that might be parceled out over time, tweet by tweet.

What are your favorite creative uses of Twitter?

Case Study: Empowered Careers Brand Guidelines

Client: Empowered Careers (formerly Encore Career Institute), Los Gatos, CA

The Challenge:

Establish a clear strategic foundation to guide brand development for a rapidly growing tech startup focused on continuing education. Create focused tools to get a complex web of employees, partners, and stakeholders on the same page and unlock visual and content expression.

Steve Poizner, founder of Empowered Careers

Secret Sauce Contributions:

  • Explored and reconciled competing visions for the brand through a brand archetype study. Rallied team (including high-profile founder Steve Poizner) around the “Hero” archetype.
  • Evaluated and synthesized competitive landscape to inform brand position.
  • Created 40-page brand bible to articulate brand fundamentals and inspire cohesive expression. Contents included archetype summary, competitive analysis, high-impact quotes to capture consumer insights, brand values, mission/vision/position, and brand pyramid.
  • Developed brand personality guidelines, including voice & tone guidelines, brand vocabulary, and high-level messaging framework.

“Online learning is by nature solitary & lacking in personal support — these are big drawbacks to an otherwise very successful program.” Student quote selected for inclusion in brand bible

The Results:

  • Team began using “Hero” language to determine brand approach and evaluate brand identity concepts.
  • Copywriter tackled content creation for dozens of site pages with a clear creative starting point.

I especially find the “Who Are Our Bad Guys?” section to be very empowering. It inspires me to do my job and fight for what’s right in online education.” Empowered Careers copywriter

Insights:

  • Hearing a brand’s story and vision directly from the founder is a consistently effective tool for bringing a brand into focus.
  • Taking the time to articulate high-level brand guidelines can go a long way toward minimizing creative churn, especially for a startup.

If your brand would benefit from some foundational documents to guide creative execution, please contact us.

Bud’s Keys to Good, Long Living (A Remembrance for my Grandfather)

This is the eulogy I gave for my beloved grandfather, Walter Brooks “Bud” Macky (1907-2010).

I want to share some thoughts about Bud, my grandfather, my children’s great-grandfather, and, I think we can all agree, a great, great person. Whenever I tell somebody about Bud, which I do a lot, their usual comment is that I have good genes, which of course I don’t take for granted, but I think there’s more to it than that. His life was not just long, it was rich, and he did a lot of amazing, interesting things, as long as he possibly could.

Walter Brooks Macky and Catherine Carr

Summer afternoon on the porch with my grandfather, July 2010

The truth is that I think Bud had a few things figured out, things that I have learned from him, and that I want to pass on to you, because they are things we can all do in our own lives, starting today, really, and I truly can’t think of a better way to honor him and his incredible, vital, radiant spirit. So let’s call these Bud’s rules for good, long living.

  1. OK, let’s just get this out of the way: There’s a right way and a wrong way to tie a knot. The wrong way, Bud called a granny knot. The right way is a square knot. It’s pretty simple. I can show you later, if you want.
  2. Find a way to express yourself creatively. You don’t need a lot of fancy equipment, or lessons, or any of those things. You just need a willingness to try things, and the discipline to actually do them, even if it’s just a few minutes a day. I believe Bud was very creative and very talented, but what I really admire about him is how much he just did, whether it was carving ducks or building model ships or taking photographs or learning how to make pottery in his 90s or, of course, writing. If you do it from the heart, it has true value, even if you don’t do it perfectly.
  3. Walk. This is not just so you, too, can be a Senior Olympic Racewalking Champion, although perhaps you could–why not?–but Bud was just not one to be sitting around watching TV. He liked to be out in the fresh air, walking, thinking, saying hello to people, observing the changes in the sky and the trees. You don’t have to be in a hurry, and you don’t have to go far. You don’t even have to be going anywhere, actually. But walk when you can.
  4. Cultivate a sense of wonder. I think this is related to the walking, actually, but Bud had a real reverence for the beauty of nature, for the powers and forces that are beyond our ability to measure and comprehend. He appreciated the beauty of things, from tiny bugs and leaves to the vast canvas of constellations and galaxies. We live in a time when it seems to be getting harder and harder to be impressed, but I think Bud would say, there are a lot of things to be impressed about, if you just stop and think about it. Be impressed.
  5. It’s ok to have half and half on your cereal. It tastes really, really good and, I think it’s pretty obvious it won’t kill you.
  6. It doesn’t take a big, fancy house to make you happy. Bud and my grandmother Sally built their house on Kirk Lane just before they were married, and it was humble and creaky and sweet and absolutely packed with love and memories of parties, and music, and laughter, and fires in the fireplace, mint-chocolate-chip parfaits, and card games, and stories. It will always be one of my favorite places in the world. It was warm and loving. It was about family. That’s what matters.
  7. Laugh! I think one of the best things about Bud was his sense of humor. He was a character, right? When we were small he would tie our socks together and tickle our ribs until we could barely stand it. He would spend hours raking leaves and then let us jump around in them, just because it was fun. He always loved jokes, and games, he was always fun, and he had this incredible, beaming smile that I will never forget. Just a few months ago, at his 103rd birthday celebration, my mom had the stroke of genius to rent one of those jitneys with the striped awnings, that all the tourists pedal around Rehoboth, and send Bud out for a spin with four of his grandchildren–my sisters, Julie and Cara, and my cousins, Allen and Annie. I wasn’t there to see it but the report is that he was grinning ear to ear the whole time.

    Walter Brooks Macky, Catherine Carr's great grandfather, sledding

    I will never forget his smile and his laugh!

  8. Stay curious. Bud read and talked and thought and wrote, his whole life. When he said “That’s interesting,” which he did frequently, he actually meant it. He asked questions and debated and reflected and, in recent years, if he wanted to know about something, he and my dad would Google it. He never stopped wanting to know more, learn more, understand more deeply.

    Walter Brooks Macky, Catherine Carr's great grandfather, reading

    Read!

  9. Write it down. To me, this is probably the most important, and the most personal. I’m sure most of you know about his Woodshed Notes, the letters Bud typed and copied and mailed to a growing list of friends and family, every month, for decades. I consider these letters a family and cultural treasure because they tell us what it was like to sing in the Episcopal Boys’ Choir in the early 1900s, and what it was like to have a boxing ring in your back yard–and a boxing nickname (“Bearcat”), and what it was like to ski in the moonlight on wooden skis. I am so glad he wrote all this down.

This summer I discovered another treasure, which was a lovely leatherbound diary kept diligently by Honey, Bud’s mother, who I never got to meet, but who now I feel like I know because she wrote in such beautiful detail about Bud’s baby life: the first foods he ate, his babbling and cooing, when and how he had his bath, all those things that new mothers, myself included for sure, go so nuts about. Honey’s diary even solved one mystery for me, which was how young Walter came to be known as Bud by nearly everybody–it turns out that she started calling him that when he was just a few months old. “It just seems to suit him,” she wrote. I’m so glad she wrote this down.

Walter Brooks Macky, Catherine Carr's great grandfather, as a baby

Baby Bud, 1907

Earlier this year, Bud wrote down a list of all the songs and poems he could remember from his childhood, and I am so grateful that he did, because now I can surround myself with music and words that had meaning for him, that represents my family and my roots. Write it down. This doesn’t mean you have to write a book, or a blog, or a two-page letter every month, but try writing down a few simple things–maybe the song you danced to at your wedding, or your favorite books, or a special holiday memory you have, things that are meaningful to you, and share them with someone you love. Our world runs at a pretty fast pace these days, and I believe capturing and passing on these kinds of simple things has tremendous value, and gives us a sense of connectedness and perspective, and even comfort.

I want to read to you one passage from the November 1993 Woodshed Notes, when Bud was considering the question of human significance. “We have intelligence that can reach from the neuron to the farthest stars,” he wrote. “And we have imagination that transcends all that is material and factual. We have within each of us a spirit that rises above the perishable and the corruptible.” Intelligence, imagination, and imperishable spirit: Bud certainly had all of these things, and I feel indescribably lucky to have known him, to be his granddaughter, and to have all those things he wrote down.

So there you have it, nine things I hope to do to honor Bud’s memory and to keep him present, part of who I am, part of how I live, as long as I can. And I hope that you will do the same.