Start Goal Setting Today!


The idea that adaptability and goal setting are good for your career isn’t rocket science. In fact, the University of Toronto’s Towards 2030 report highlights adaptability and self-management as two of the top 15 core competencies that positively impact your career. But while many people only begin seriously mapping out their goals in the early to mid-years of their professional life (or after a real or imagined career crisis), some students at David Thompson Secondary School in southeast Vancouver are getting a head start thanks to a new innovative career conference.

Launched by their principal Iona Whishaw with the help of career counsellor Jacky Mulder, this year’s David Thompson Career Conference was inspired by evidence that Whishaw saw presented at an education conference in San Antonio, Texas. At the conference, Whishaw was inspired by a workshop led by a principal from a poor neighbourhood in Los Angeles, who explained how simple goal setting at the age of Grade 9 had led to a significant increase in his class’ eventual graduation rate. The act of focussing on a goal/career and mapping out what’s needed to achieve it worked wonders for many of the school’s urban students.

David Thompson is a long way from an inner city school, but Whishaw discerned that the principles could be just as valuable to her students as the poorer kids described in the San Antonio workshop. Forget what The Harvard Business Review tells you about goal setting, because the Center for Education Policy at The George Washington University Graduate School of Education of and Human Development released a report in 2012 that says it does matter. A lot.

This year’s Career Conference drew roughly 300 Grade 8 students, 55 mentors (or “panellists”) and a handful of Grade 12 students to facilitate the conference’s workshops. During the daylong session at David Thompson, students had the opportunity to explore a variety of different sectors by asking candid question of local professionals from a wide range of fields of work including Trades, Film, Arts and Design, Air Traffic, Business/Commerce, Journalism, Health Sector, Enforcement, Hospitality (to name just a few). You can read more about the conference from a panellist’s point of view in the Vancouver Sun.

After talking to panellists in at least two sectors, students were then tasked with developing their own personalized career plan. While there’s discussion about the value of building a career plan for a job that may (or may not) exist yet, it is clear that the practice of thinking about what fields of work you want to work in and how you’re going to get there is a transferable skill that can used long into the future. With this in mind, students were tasked with researching the required courses and post-secondary education requirements they’d need to enter the profession they were most curious about and tasked with outlining the type of skills they’d need to hone in order to help their future employment prospects.

It was clear to Whishaw that what a student thought was interesting in Grade 8 might drastically change by the time they got to Grade 12. With this in mind, everyone was encouraged to modify/update their plan yearly. While the goals will evolve, Whishaw says she felt the practice of consciously mapping it out in an organized and thoughtful manner will yield significant dividends for her students in the future.

We weren’t all lucky enough to have someone force us to think of our goals (and more importantly the skills and time we’d get there) at such an early age. But we all have the opportunity to consciously consider our goals and what the best way to accomplish them. There are a number of resources out there connected to goal setting, particularly in a career context.

Once you’ve arrived at your goal – or your idea – career development research finds that the next logical, and exciting, step is to explore your options. Sure there’s always the internet, but an equally effective way to judge whether a career path or position is suitable for you is to discuss it with someone in an industry that interests you. That’s where information interviews can be so helpful.

Ultimately, there’s a reason why New Year’s Resolutions are so popular. Goal setting can be valuable to the evolution of your career. Research and information gathering from someone doing what you might be interested in doing in the future is a great way to begin transforming your ideas into reality. So what are you waiting for?

Photo courtesy of jean-louis zimmermann

What to Say When You Just Don’t Know

Every once in a while we’ll be asked questions that we don’t know the answer to. It could be a complex question in front of a large group of people or a brief query from your mentor. Failing to have the answer at your fingertips can be upsetting. No one likes to look stupid in front of their boss, co-workers or friends. To cope with this feeling, many people make things worse by making up an answer, theorizing at length or dodging the question. This can be damaging to your reputation and is a waste of everyone’s time.

The first thing you can do to avoid this embarrassing situation is be prepared. This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised by the number of people who show up to a meeting without reading the agenda, minutes or considering the possible topics of discussion.

If you’ve done your homework in preparation for a meeting and still get hit with a doozy of a question, take a second or two to assess what they’re asking and why they’re asking it. Too often, people jump into a conversation and bombard the discussion with a range of anecdotes and interesting (but sometimes irrelevant) segues. Worse, sometimes you can provide an answer that’s not only false but also harms your objective in that meeting. If you aren’t entirely clear about what the questioner is asking you, take a moment to consider it.

Remember this helpful acronym: WAIT – it stands for Why Am I Talking?

If you need to, repeat back what you think your interrogator is looking for by framing your opening like:

“I just want to clarify what you are saying. From where I’m sitting you are looking to…..” or “Hmmm. This is an interesting question – I gather you are asking this because you want to understand …”

Framing up the issue and repeating the question can be very helpful particularly in conflict issues (as discussed in the great negotiation book Getting to Yes) or when you’re trying to understand where another party is coming from. This can be helpful in particularly in emotional and conflict-escalating situations as discussed by my former supervisor Deputy Superintendent Jordan Tinney, who recently wrote about on his blog.

You may be surprised that repeating this question can help re-frame what the issue is and help you understand what information your interrogator is looking for. It’s also great for helping your interrogator understand how you intend to answer their question.

If all this fails and you still don’t have a clue about how to answer their question, it’s ok to say, “I don’t know the answer to that question, but I will find the answer as soon as I can.” But with a few caveats:

  • Make sure to provide them with your thoughts on the situation and how you intend to solve the problem. Explain (as efficiently as possible) why the question is complex and how you plan on answering it
  • Provide a timeline – explain what steps you will take and when you plan on responding to them with an answer.

By clarifying, considering, re-framing (if necessary) and if all else fails, explaining that you don’t know but will get the answer, your response will be valued by your peers and superiors.

Four Reasons Volunteering Builds Career Success

In a world where many of us are already struggling to maintain some semblance of work/school-life balance, it is certainly challenging to spend your spare time working for free. While many people pursue volunteer opportunities purely for altruistic reasons, volunteering can also be a pragmatic and practical step for career development, which should appeal to even the most selfish of us. Here are four reasons volunteerism is an important part of your career.

Develops Your Skills

In university and college you’re paying to learn. Think of volunteering as a free program that has the potential to become a full time (paid!) gig. A volunteer opportunity, such as an unpaid internship or weekend service at your local community garden, will expose you to the hands-on requirements and the day-to-day environment of a job. It will force you to learn new skills, such as how to speak and write professionally or work on a team to achieve a strategic purpose and help you sharpen existing skills, such as researching, building websites or giving presentations, all without any necessary long-term commitment or stressful expectations.

Volunteering is the solution to the Catch 22 that so many young professionals face: they don’t have the skill to climb to the next level of their career, but can’t learn the skill unless they get the new job. Volunteering can offer a way out of this frustrating cycle. You can learn the skills on your own time and still help your organization.

Build Your Network

Most volunteer positions are connected to organizations with multiple employees or with other volunteers who may share some of your common interests and/or career aspirations. A volunteer position can be great for connecting you with the powers-that-be, who may one day be looking hire, know someone who’s hiring are willing to provide a helpful letter of reference. Your volunteering also gives you a platform to connect with people who share your interest in the organization and could one day support your career aspirations. Finally, once you’ve established your network, treat it like a puppy in need of lots of attention. Don’t ignore your new contacts once you finish your volunteer term. Stay in touch through social media (LinkedIn is better than Facebook), email or coffee meetings. Cultivate and nurture your network and it will positively influence your career direction in the future.

Volunteer Like a Pro

Volunteerism provides you with a wonderful way to demonstrate your work ethic. From an employer’s perspective this allows them to test out a potential employee without having to formally hire them. That’s why it’s important to treat your volunteer position like you’d treat a job. Do what you say you will do. Arrive promptly (or early) and try to add value wherever possible. Be proactive rather than reactive in your role. Finally, make sure you keep a smile on your face throughout your volunteer tenure. At the end of the day, your ability to get along with co-workers and your leaders will be a defining way you’ll be remembered.

Be Humble and Know Your Role

Many people are graduating from high school, colleges and universities with great education, but with few skills. Being able to think is important – especially the higher you climb –but when you are starting out, what is most important is being able to do stuff. When I worked in politics we frequently had volunteers approach us interested in writing policy. When I worked for a public relations firm, occasionally we’d have interns who were disheartened about being assigned the tedious task of media monitoring. They wanted to conduct strategic communications planning or crisis management. In each scenario the volunteers had unrealistic expectations about the value of their skills. Generally, organizations won’t put great responsibility on the shoulders of untested workers (let alone volunteers). That being said, by maintaining a positive attitude and treating your volunteer work as a learning opportunity to sharpen skills you can gain a huge amount of experience.

By treating your volunteer work for what it is, serious business that will inform your career, and mapping out what you want to learn (and who at your organization you’ll learn it from) you will develop more professional competencies than you ever could by pulling an all-nighter.

Five Attributes of Awesome Risk-Takers

Being comfortable with risk is pretty rare these days. Whether we’re transitioning from school to work, trying to move from one job to the next, pitching a new idea to the boss, or making a romantic move on a long-time friend, risk puts our confidence, money, reputation, and even our community on the line.

Risky business is known as scary business. But it shouldn’t be.

John in a beautiful arbutus tree (both human and tree are recovered and doing just fine)

Last weekend I was on Salt Spring Island celebrating my mom’s 60th birthday. During one of our hikes I decided to climb a tree. And then I came up with the idea to jump from the tree, swing on a branch, and land safely on the ground. The conversation with my dad went like this:

JOHN [in tree, gesturing confidently]: “So, I’m going to jump from the tree, swing on that branch and then land on the ground over there.”

DAD: “Don’t do it. The branch is dead and it won’t hold you. You will impale yourself on the rocks. Don’t do it.”

JOHN [jumps]

Lying on my back – impaled on the rocks, just like my dad said – looking up at the sky and my concerned/incredulous wife and parents, I smiled and reflected on my failure, knowing that the next time I attempted such a maneuver success would be achieved because I learned from my mistake. But don’t just take my word for it. Other thinkers, like Historian Engineer Henry Petroski, have opinions about the relationship between failure and success, too. According to an article in the Huffington Post by Ben Michaelis, Petroski argues that “limited failure early in your working life can be immensely helpful to your career trajectory. The takeaway message is that if you are not failing you are not trying.”

The world needs more risk takers, which is nicely evidenced by this Fast Company article that features the travel company Kayak – their Chief Technology Officer, Paul English, has this to say about their culture of innovation: “Everything we do encourages fast decision-making and risk-taking. We don’t do design by committee, and we disable large meetings here. We reward risk-taking and speed, even when it fails!”

Sure, my falling out of a tree is a silly example of risk when compared to some of the other things I’ve done (moving across the country for university, being friends with men from Halifax, studying History at graduate school, going to East Africa when I’m allergic to the Sun, pitching a service learning program to a business school, telling people I love them without certainty of reciprocity), but it is nonetheless an illustrative example of what I’m talking about.

With this in mind, here are five things that you need to know about being a professional risk-taker.

1. Be authentic. Following a risk I took and a failure I experienced, my past boss and current mentor said this to me: “When you make a mistake and fail you will always be okay because you are genuine and authentic. People know that you are doing things for the right reasons and have the best of intentions, never selfish ones.” When you genuinely have your community’s goals at heart then risk – and the failure that often comes with it – becomes more acceptable.

2. Jump in with both feet. A former student and current friend, David Singh, just left a great job in Deloitte’s Consulting group to join Kira Talent. This guy doesn’t know how to not go all-in, as he’s already wearing the value proposition of this awesome interviewing start-up on his sleeve.

Kym Banguis ( jumped in with both feet. The only problem was that she jumped off of a moving scooter. #risktaking

3. Take responsibility for your success (and failure). Managing risk can also involve simple experiences, as demonstrated by my former colleague and current friend, Holly Langland, who inspires teams with pop-fresh dance moves: “I was first on the dance floor at the xmas party on Friday. What this says about me is that I don’t hesitate to lead the way when needed…or I just don’t mind looking bad!” Regardless of how she looks, Holly owns it.

4. Have an eraser. Risk-takers need to have a long memory, for those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. That being said, it’s important to reflect on risks-gone-wrong and then erase them. As her tone-setting speech to ring-in the New Year (“September” is what people outside of Higher Education call this time of the year), my boss read us this awesome letter from everyone’s favourite holiday cop storyteller, John McClane Stuart McLean. The letter ends with this gem: “Don’t mind mistakes. The mistakes are how you learn. You have an eraser. Go ahead make the messes. Then … clean them up. Try again.”

5. Be playful and have fun with it! My Frientor (friend + mentor = Frientor), Rodney Payne, eloquently summarized how approaching life with playfulness is an important part of approaching risk: “Teaching myself to kiteboarding when it was really unsafe has taught me everything I know about calculated risk. You need to be comfortable with risk in order to innovate.”

Failure is a part of life. You know this. Being comfortable with and open to failure, which will happen, is the kind of common sense that is not common practice. So, by starting small (talking on the phone to a prospective romantic partner or professional employer instead of texting them) or going big (jumping out of a tree twice the size of the one I swung from and/or starting your own business), think about how you will bring positive and calculated risk to your community today.

Masthead photo courtesy of Frank Wuestefeld’s photostream on Flickr

Pitching a News Story: The Phone is Your Best Friend

Photo courtesy of NS Newsflash

In this email saturated world, it’s difficult to penetrate the din and connect with a journalist about your story idea. Granted, you probably have a great idea that includes many news elements or is a perfect fit for the media you’re pitching, but if you aren’t able to communicate it effectively to your targeted audience, your idea will sit by itself on your blog and/or be discussed amongst your colleagues around the water cooler.

When I worked at a public relations agency one of the primary reasons our clients came our way was because of our ability to convince journalists that our stories were worthwhile. We didn’t usually accomplish this through well placed emails. We accomplished it on the phone.

Emails are easily ignored.
Photo courtesy of Sean MacEntee

There’s little magic to this method, but when compared to simply emailing journalists, the results are staggering. When making a call, make sure to call early in the day (ideally before 8:30 AM). Keep your call short, polite and “news-packed”, unless you sense the journalist is interested in chatting. Always ask if they have a moment for a quick pitch before giving them the details. They may not, and if they say so, respect that and call back another time. Never leave a message on an answering machine unless you have an incredibly hot topic or happen to work for President Obama.

For many junior communications people, picking up the phone can be intimidating. Cold calling is never easy and getting barked at by an impatient assignment editor can be particularly off-putting. Despite these reservations, it’s important to recognize that there’s a reason people do business over the telephone. Part of the reason for a phone call is that it allows the communicator more time to present the value of the story. Most emails (particularly those sent by PR people) will be lucky to get a scan by a busy journalist. Many emails are deleted before being read. A well placed call, on the other hand, gives you 15-30 seconds to sell your story to an (somewhat) attentive audience. If injected with enough news hooks, colour and enthusiasm, 30 seconds can mean the difference between a bite and another missed opportunity. As with email, you can still be ignored, but at least on the phone you’ll know you are being blown off or your idea isn’t getting traction.

In addition to giving you a better chance to convince a journalist to cover your story, the phone call also gives you the ability to begin the development of a relationship. This is key in sales, development and, most importantly, securing informational interviews. While email is passive and allows for little dialogue (unless the journalist is interested), a phone call, particularly during slower news times like very early in the morning or after deadline in the evening, gives you a chance to connect with your audience. What area is the reporter particularly interested in? Is there a longer-term story they are working on that you can help them with somehow? What do they think of the day’s news events? Any way you can connect with them so that they see you as a human being, not a faceless caller, gives you extra points! The stronger the connection you can develop with the journalist, the more helpful you can be (and they may be to you) in the future.

By picking up the phone practiced communicators know they can turn a good idea into a great news story. There’s no magic to it, just a simple method that anyone can pick up and find success.

Header photo courtesy of psd

Three Reasons Why Panda Bears Are Horrible Role Models

Aka Hige – Flickr Creative Commons

Panda bears are the poster-animals for numerous conservation causes and luck-based Chinese philosophies. Yet these malnourished creatures are not adaptable to their changing surroundings. So, here is an argument to stop celebrating these overrated beasts.

Every day we hear stories and see images that our global economy/marketplace/village is changing at hyper speed. University students will wind up working in a job that didn’t exist when they started school. Fast Company is writing interesting articles about GenFlux leading teams within the chaos of our modern world. Popular media and memes change faster than Survivor “stars” and Lady Gaga’s hair colour. Organizations merge, expand and downsize. Units are eliminated or integrate with others. Change is the only certainty. Shift happens.

Adaptability is crucial for success (career, community, family). People who are flexible with how the world is changing will lead its future as opposed to forever playing catch-up because they live in the past (are you listening, Republicans?). When it comes to building community, embracing change and nimbly adapting to life’s shifts are incredibly important – even necessary.

Which is why panda bears are horrible role models for everyone everywhere. Including you.

Here’s why:

1. They hate sex. “Male pandas suffer from a chronic lack of sex drive – more than 60 per cent show no sexual desire at all in captivity, and only a tenth of them will mate naturally,” says The Independent’s Clifford Coonan. “Zookeepers have even resorted to using videos of mating pairs in the hope that “panda porn” will help the bears get frisky, although scientists say the films don’t have much effect.” Unreal. This becomes even more infuriating when you examine the animals’ eating habits and state of their youngsters.

2. They are totally useless for the first six months of their lives. Polar bear cubs leave their ice caves when they are three months old, walk for dozens/hundreds of kilometres to find food, don’t find any because of climate change and adapt by fighting walruses or armed folk from Churchill, Manitoba. Panda bear cubs are blind for the first10-20 days of their lives. They can’t walk, hunt or function before they’re three months old. Sure, they’re cute, but so are kittens, which, as it turns out, are more ferocious and adaptable than panda bears.

3. They refuse to adapt. While the Internet insists on proving me wrong (thanks for nothing, The BBC, National Geographic and, I’m pretty confident that Planet Earth’s David Attenborough told me that panda bears mostly eat bamboo (it is allegedly 99 per cent of their diet), even though their bellies are designed to digest meat, just like the stomach of any good carnivore. Their refusal to consume non-bamboo-based-foods is mostly to blame for their low sex drive and weakling children and, with the erosion of this food supply in China and beyond, it seems startling that pandas don’t incorporate other food (meat, berries, garbage, etc.) into their diet, like tigers, penguins and grizzly bears. Penguins, on the other hand, are outstanding adapters – they can live on the beaches of South Africa or the freezing ice fields of Antarctica. It’s penguins that should bee on the World Wildlife Fund’s posters and calendars, not panda bears.

So, if you’re taking professional cues from panda bears, stop. It’s both weird (seriously, they’re bears) and counterproductive (you need to be adaptable and should also enjoy the physical act of love) for building positive and thriving communities at home and at work.

Get adaptable. Get flexible. And get comfortable with change. Because so much more is coming.

The Foundations of an Effective Strategic Plan

Chess is strategic. You should be too.

Getting promoted and succeeding in a new managerial role often requires you to think strategically. One of the best ways to begin thinking strategically, organize your priorities, determine which projects to pursue and integrate your ideas with your organization’s vision is to build a strategic plan.

Building such a plan – as opposed to executing tactical tasks – means thinking differently. It requires you to take a step back from your day-to-day tasks to critically and systematically articulate the goals and associated strategies of your organization or department. Ultimately, your strategic plan needs to chart a path around how your team’s work will be connected and how it will inform the mission of your organization.

When tasked with creating such a document, consider it as a pyramid of action. At the very top of the pyramid is your goal or objective. This is the overriding priority for your team. Your goal or objective will generally be broad and usually fairly high level. For an organization like the Vancouver Whitecaps, a goal might be to transform the team and its associated apparatus (fans, community partners, sponsors) into a significant community asset. For an organization like the Vancouver School Board, your strategic communications objective may be to increase public awareness around its core priorities of an inclusive district of engaged learners and caring communities. The higher level your role, the more all-encompassing your goal will likely be. Here’s an example of a very high level executive strategic plan for an entire school district (the tactics of this specific plan aren’t available to the public). While the detail and focus may change depending on your level, the same rules of organization tend to apply. Try to keep your goal(s) short and sweet. Refine them to a sentence or two. If they seem to grow longer, consider breaking it up into multiple goals.

Once you’ve got your goal(s) set, now it is time to think about how you’ll get there. The next level of the pyramid is the strategic level. What strategies will you seek to implement to get your organization to where it needs to be? If you are creating a strategic communications plan, you might want to consider implementing a comprehensive social media outreach program, developing a proactive media relations campaign, implementing an engaging community outreach program, or having your executive deliver multiple keynote speeches to grow brand awareness.

Try to consider all the different ways that you can reach your overriding goal. What are some of the blue sky options (what you could do if money/time were not an obstacle) that might really help you accomplish your strategic objectives?  Consider bringing together your team to get their thoughts and feedback. Once you’ve got a whiteboard full of ideas, start classifying and prioritizing them. You likely won’t be able to do everything, but try to include a few more ambitious strategies that could help you really move the metre.

Once you’ve nailed down these strategies, consider who will be executing them. Will it be you, one of your team members or will you outsource the work? You may also want to put an estimated price tag on each strategic option and a timeline for them. Some strategies may take longer than others to implement. If there is no cost (aside from staff time) all the better. You may also want to divide up the strategies into several categories: the basics (what you need to do or are doing already) and the recommended options (what you would like to do in the future).

Now that you have your strategies mapped out, it gets easier. The tactics are the things you might have been doing a lot of when you were lower down the organizational food chain. Tactics are things like “tweet three times per day on the company’s topical issues” or “develop short pitch note for one top employee per unit to showcase their excellence.” These are the day to day things you will initiate in order to achieve your strategy.They should fit nicely under each strategy and will vary. Keep in mind, tactics need to be short and concise and you will likely not want more than five to ten tactics per strategy.

The aim of this strategic planning exercise is to allow easy assignment to various team members while always ensuring that all members are working towards the same goal. If you can develop and execute a good strategic plan, you’ll be worth your weight in gold as a middle or even senior manager.

Eight Ways to Practice Pragmatic Consensus-Based Decision Making

On the surface, consulting everyone and deciding by consensus seems like a no-brainer, the perfect model for making any and all decisions. Its rationale is that   every decision should reflect an equal amount of input from all parties, interested or otherwise.

For centuries, the importance of individual voices in decision making has been enshrined in Western thought. One of our collective narratives out of this era   is that in a democracy, everybody should have a voice. The problem is the bigger the state/organization/company and the more political parties, legislators and special interests in the mix, the more difficult arriving at a consensus becomes. Seth Godin illustrates this problem in his book Linchpin when he notes that coordination of handshakes gets increasingly complex when you add more people into the mix. While the idea of being heard is very important, it is important to recognize that since most of us are faced with hundreds of decisions every week, many mediated by other people, it is nearly impossible to have the same level of input on each decision.

Despite the complexity of large organizations, like governments or large companies, it is possible for consensus to be reached. In order to foster effective consensus-based decision making, practical logistics have to be exercised. There also needs to be a mechanism for making a final decision to move forward, even though there may be some opposition. Steve Jobs called this “shipping” a project – a project is nothing unless it’s on-time and complete.

I grew up in a church with a consensus-based model, and one thing I noticed was that every issue was always up for discussion, and if someone wanted to re-open an issue and put a halt to implementation, it was easily done. Meanwhile, other churches seemed to have different ways of doing things – there was equal and open   discussion, but once a decision was brought to a vote, they moved on to new business – no re-opening the old decision.   In some ways, this model was preferable because it was more efficient. While both scenarios were “consensus-based”, one was far more efficient than the other.

To enable pragmatic, efficient consensus-based decision making, here are some simple rules to follow:

1. Learn who the stakeholders are and make sure that collectively they each have a voice.

2. Help articulate the major themes for each group.

3. Listen to the values of each group, and what drives them to be there (often this is more meaningful than the issue).

4. Thrash early, not late. Ask Seth Godin if you have questions about this.

5. Focus on common ground.

6. Commit to making a decision by a certain date and then implementing it. If no consensus can be reached, agree to an amicable “no-deal”.

7. Don’t confuse people with problems. Breakthroughs often happen when people get to know each other better.

8. Tell corny jokes like, “A termite walks into a bar and asks, ‘Hey, is the bar tender here?’”

Communicating to Different Media

Photo courtesy of Kdt. (on Flickr)

There are many stories out there. Some are so important that every media outlet in your area, region or country will want to cover them. Other stories are of more limited interest to particular media groups. Identifying which stories will be attractive to which media will save you a great deal of time when it comes to communicating your idea. It can also significantly aid you in the development of your story pitch and allow you to be much more convincing when you are on the phone speaking with a journalist or producer.

Here are some simple things to consider when you are deciding what, and for whom, is newsworthy.


TV producers want stories that are visual. Cute kids performing a play, a car crash, or the infamous Vancouver riot make for very good TV (just ask CTV’s Rob Brown). If a picture says a thousand words, a minute and thirty seconds video clip can say the same thing as a cover story in The Atlantic. When you are considering your story, think about what people will see. If there are compelling visuals, the story doesn’t always need to be impactful. Since TV’s deadlines are usually tight, revolving around an evening news segment, producers and editors generally need to be in the studio with the day’s footage by 4ish at the latest. So, if you have an event and you want TV cameras there, try not to schedule it in the afternoon (this goes for radio and print as well).


There are two types of radio. The talk shows are great for longer more in-depth conversations. Producers generally want something that is topical and someone who is articulate, punchy and willing to talk candidly about interesting stuff. Consider the host of the show to whom you are pitching and make sure you call them a week or two before the segment. If you have a hot guest to offer up, this might not be necessary, but in many cases, some lead time will be helpful for everyone.

The other type of radio journalist to consider are newsdesk reporters. These radio reporters are frequently the first on the scene and because of the very short format of the medium (most news radio stories are only a few sentences sandwiching a quote from someone), they can turn around their news very quickly. At the school board, we frequently hear from the radio stations before anyone else in times of crisis. Keep in mind that good radio reporters are always thinking of background audio. CBC’s radio reporters do a terrific job of integrating this into their stories. If you have some good background sound that helps tell the story (like a choir at a school concert or the sound of a raging river near an environmental event) consider mentioning that to the reporter.


These folks are best if you have an in-depth story that requires a significant amount of explanation. Stories about money, trends, big chunks of complex data, a big investigation, or that involve multiple sources/characters print can be a good medium to pursue. If you have an argumentative position, you could also consider a commentary or op-ed piece.

Because there tends to be more of them out there, print journalists frequently have a little more leniency (especially beat reporters) than the daily grind that TV and radio reporters are hampered with. This means that if the story warrants it, print journalists can often spend more time researching and writing their piece. Once you get really up there, feature stories and magazines pieces will often take months to pursue.

These observations and helpful recommendations around how various media types differ, ideally, will provide you with an in-depth understanding of how to communicate your story to the right audience at the right time so that it engages the public in the right way.

Header image courtesy of Roadside Guitars

How Outcome Based Decision Making Can Get You Through a Crisis

One of the unfortunate facts of life is that, more often than not, we’re forced to make some of our most important decisions under pressure. Whether that pressure comes from time constraints, high emotion or some kind of crisis, it’s just not a good time to successfully arrive at good decisions. But whether you like it or not, there’s a good chance that at some point in either your personal or professional life, you will be confronted with tough choices under less than ideal circumstances.

So how can we try to make sure that the decisions we’re making in a crisis are the right ones? The answer is to focus on the outcome.

Our brains are hard-wired to only consider immediate survival goals when we’re under pressure. This is great when you’re being chased by a grizzly, but not as useful when you’ve got two hours to think through the implications of a hostile takeover bid for your company.

Here’s a few steps that you can take to shift your brain away from the grizzly and back to the boardroom.

1. Be Ready

The best way to ensure a good decision is to plan for it. Every organization should have a crisis management plan, and every individual should have an emergency plan. But often, both organizations and individuals make the mistake of hypothesizing the crisis rather than envisaging a way out of it. It’s important to remember that the type of crisis doesn’t matter, so long as you know the outcome needed for success. Once you know the outcome you need, taking the steps backwards to your decision will be a lot clearer.

2. Trust Your Crystal Ball

Once you’ve worked out your outcomes, you’ll need to do a bit of informed fortune telling to predict the consequences of your decision. The best way to do this is by thinking through where each of your options put you (or your organization) in the future. Try to predict the consequences in a day, a week, a year from now. It’s easy to get sidetracked by thinking about the short-term consequences when you’re under pressure, but the impact of your decision in the long term is where your perspective should lie.

3. Commit

The thing about making decisions under pressure isn’t just that they’re hard to make in the first place, it’s that they’re hard to commit to. I think everyone knows the feeling of decision remorse, where the words ‘did I do the right thing’ seem to be permanently attached to your consciousness. The best way to overcome these feelings is to start implementing your decision as soon as possible.

You can never totally remove the emotional responses that come from being under pressure, but you can minimize the impact that they have on your decisions. So next time you’re faced with a big decision, instead of focusing on madly putting out the fire, try to focus on building a long term solution. It might sound like semantics, but you’ll be surprised by the shake-up it gives your mind.

Header courtesy of JasonLangheine