10 Ways to Give Thanks

Thanksgiving is a time to stop and reflect on all that is meaningful and special in our lives. Be sure that you’re not keeping your feelings of gratitude to yourself. Show your appreciation for others this week with more than just warm thoughts. Here are some ideas:

  1. Bake bread for your local crossing guard.
  2. Tip your waiter generously.
  3. Do the dishes for your parents after the big family meal.
  4. Pick up an extra coffee for the CTA employee at your stop on your way to work.
  5. Leave a container of home-made cookies and a note on top of your garbage can on pick-up day.
  6. Reach out to an old favorite professor.
  7. Give clothes to a homeless shelter.
  8. Send flowers to a friend far away.
  9. Babysit for your friend with kids for free.
  10. Rake your neighbor’s yard

A thankful heart is happy heart.

-Hannah Vander Laan

About the author

Hannah Vander Laan Hannah has a strong eye for detail and a passion for getting things done. An enthusiastic learner, Hannah enjoys using creativity and out-of-the-box thinking to problem solve. In her free time, find Hannah running, talking politics and hanging out with family.

KSA’s Best Advice

I’ve always loved good advice. In fact, every morning in middle school, I read “Ask Amy” and “Dear Abby” in the Chicago Tribune while eating breakfast. Today, I asked around the office and gathered some of KSA’s favorite pieces of advice. Enjoy!

Kathy Schaeffer, President:

“Never confuse effort with results.” Rick Jasculca, my former boss and one of the founders of PR firm Jasculca Terman and Associates.

Rick was fond of telling our team this, back in the day. Years before, one of his best clients had admonished him with that phrase.

I founded our firm, KSA, in 1994. Yet, throughout KSA’s 22 years, I have often thought of that phrase – and have used it with colleagues. Clients want to pay for results, not output. Whether you are a house painter (The customer doesn’t care if the job took 15 hours or 20 hours. What matters is how does the house paint job look?) or a PR professional (So, we reached out to 100 media outlets. Were they the right reporters and how many of them want to run stories about the client?) it’s the results that matter most.

Kim Pool, Operations Manager:

“Life passes you by while you’re worrying about things.” – Mom

Samantha Wolf, Account Coordinator:

 “To learn something new every day, you’ve got to read something new and talk to someone new every day.” – Grandpa, Walt Winters

Hannah Vander Laan, Executive Administrative Assistant:

“Touch it once.” – Mom

“Touch it once” is one of my mom’s cardinal rules of cleaning. Loose change in the sofa? Put it directly into the coin jar. Old receipts in your purse? Instead of emptying them onto your dresser, take thirty seconds to decide if they’re worth keeping. No more circling back. Touch it once.

-Hannah Vander Laan

About the author

Hannah Vander Laan Hannah has a strong eye for detail and a passion for getting things done. An enthusiastic learner, Hannah enjoys using creativity and out-of-the-box thinking to problem solve. In her free time, find Hannah running, talking politics and hanging out with family.

From the Recycle Bin to the Front Page: Get Your Press Release Read

Research, Research, Research

Selecting the right media outlets to contact is possibly the most critical step in the process. Research outlets that are most relevant to your press release and have published content similar to your story. After you’ve pinpointed your target outlets, find specific reporters who have written about your topic. Always remember that ten great contacts are way better than 100 strangers.

Who Cares?

No one is going to read your press release unless they find it interesting or relevant. Before even thinking about writing a press release, ask yourself: Who cares? Whether you’re announcing a new piece of research or trying to build awareness about an event, pinpoint why this piece of news is significant and tell your audience why they should care.

All about the Subject Line

First impressions are everything. An eye-popping subject line will catch a journalist’s attention amid the scores of releases in their inbox. Your subject line should be concise yet intriguing and indicate the value of your story.

Make the Journalist’s Job Easy

You want to make it as simple as possible for journalists to cover your story. Use phrases that can be easily quoted and incorporate bullet points or lists to make it easier to skim for essential facts. It’s also important to provide as many resources as possible for follow up, from event details to potential interviewees.

-Samantha Wolf

About the author

Samantha Wolf Samantha loves making ideas come to life. She pairs a light-hearted, positive attitude with a strong background in creative marketing. She believes that passion makes life fun, and is constantly seeking out opportunities to grow and learn. In her free time, you can find Sam cooking up a new recipe, cheering on the Cubs, or talking someone’s ear off about her home state of Texas.

What Makes a Good Moderator?

It’s Presidential Debate Season and we’ve seen on national TV just how difficult it is to be a moderator when two larger-than-life personalities are verbally sparring. Moderating a U.S. Presidential Debate carries an Olympic-level degree of difficulty and should only be attempted by highly experienced pros. However, watching news anchors attempt to moderate the debates provides a good time to explore what makes a good moderator.

I’ve been privileged to moderate many panels and forums over the years in my role as president of Kathy Schaeffer and Associates, Inc. (KSA). With that experience and feedback from panelists and audiences, I offer the following 10 tips for being a good moderator.

Study the material. Be as knowledgeable as possible about all the topics of the panel discussion so you can: ask good follow-up questions; detect when speakers wriggle out of the truth lane; and quickly move the discussion to a different topic as needed. However, remember that the moderator is not a primary speaker; leave the limelight for the panelists.

Know your panelists. Get their bios. Google them to learn what professional accomplishments and interests occupy their time. Identify organizations to which they belong. Talk to them ahead of time.

Prepare your panel. A pre-panel phone conversation to confirm topics for the panel discussion is crucial to success. This conversation allows you to learn the speaking styles of the panelists and how they might interact with one another. It allows you, the moderator, a chance to rehearse the panelists on a few questions you’ll ask during the actual panel discussion. At this time you also can set ground rules and boundaries for the upcoming panel discussion. Help the panelists become confident in your moderating skills.

Craft and organize questions. Imagine you are creating a screenplay for the panel discussion and develop and organize your questions for the panelists in a way that can bring that screenplay to life. Arrange your questions in modules, by topic, so you can easily move from one topic to another, as the panel discussion unfolds.

Listen. Some of the most memorable moments of a panel discussion occur when panelists interact with one another or a panelist injects an unexpected, yet appropriate, topic. Be alert for such instances and help foster the line of conversation by drawing other panelists in. During the discussion, the moderator should listen 85 percent of the time and speak 15 percent of the time, or less.

Promote dialogue. Panel discussions where individuals make speeches but don’t interact are boring. As moderator, it’s your job to include all panelists in the dialogue, which can make the actual program more valuable than the sum of its individual parts.

Be provocative. It’s up to the moderator to sense when the panel discussion is getting slow and then do something about it. Toss out a thought-provoking question that panelists each are likely to answer differently.

Police the discussion. Make sure all panelists speak multiple times, even if it means cutting off the long-talker and prompting the quietest panelist to dive into the fray. Promote civility. Steer the conversation back to the main points the panel discussion is supposed to be covering. Change direction completely if the conversation is getting out of hand or unruly.

Mind the audience. Pay attention to how those in the audience are reacting. Intently listening? Reading emails on their phones? Barely containing themselves because they want to ask questions or refute a panelist? You, as moderator, also represent the needs of the audience and have the power to bring the audience into the discussion, or ask them to settle down – all according to the ground rules set earlier for the panel and audience.

Deliver success. It’s the moderator’s job to elicit the best possible performances from the panelists and help ensure a discussion that the audience believes is worthwhile, at least, and engaging, educational or entertaining, at best. In the most successful discussion, the audience will be paying so much attention to the interesting panelists that they barely notice all that the moderator is doing to ensure a good show. The moderator is a supporting actor, not the star of the performance.

And, while doing all of this, it’s really good if the moderator can have fun and help the panelists and audience members enjoy themselves, too.

-Kathy Schaeffer

About the author

Kathy Schaeffer Kathy is a lifelong Chicagoan who’s built KSA, an issues-oriented PR firm, in the city she loves. CEOs praise Kathy’s media and spokesperson training and strategic counsel. Intuitive, inquisitive and straightforward, Kathy stands apart from sycophantic publicists. When she’s not counseling clients, you can find Kathy swimming, cooking or comparing Old and New World wines.

Laughter Yoga and Other Ways to LOL More

Have you ever heard of laughter yoga? Created in the 90’s by Indian physician Madan Kataria, laughter yoga is a practice that involves prolonged, voluntary laughter. Kataria’s website explains that laughter reduces the level of stress hormones in one’s blood, which leads to immense benefits to the body and brain. Laughter Yoga instructors guide participants through voluntary laughter exercises. Kataria argues that the human body cannot distinguish between real and fake laughter and that both result in an uplifted mood and a decrease in anxiety throughout the day.

Pretty strange, huh? Well, as a fan of both laughter and new experiences, I tried a session a few years ago. It was certainly bizarre — at one point I was pretending to jump into rain puddles while laughing loudly– and I was accused of being shy!  Whether or not Laughter Yoga is for you, I am a huge advocate for making laughter part of one’s daily routine.

Here are a few ways I sneak real laughter into my everyday life.

  1. Comedy podcasts: I often listen to stand-up routines during my daily train commute. The slight embarrassment of laughing alone in public is a small price to pay for the benefit of continually arriving to work in a good mood.
  2. Find others who laugh: My best friend laughs easily and often, and the joy is absolutely contagious. Seek out people at work and in life who find humor in the small things. If you’re in need of a belly laugh, call an old friend to reminisce about funny memories.
  3. Find a funny TV show: Ditch the drama, satire and social commentaries for a show that actually makes you howl. (Friends and New Girl are my favorites.) Find what tickles your funny bone and watch an episode while you fold laundry.
  4. Hang out with kids: Children have a candor and creativity that is disarming and hilarious. Call your nephew, stop to talk to your neighbors or smile back at the baby in line at the grocery store. It’s good for your soul.

-Hannah Vander Laan

About the author

Hannah Vander Laan Hannah has a strong eye for detail and a passion for getting things done. An enthusiastic learner, Hannah enjoys using creativity and out-of-the-box thinking to problem solve. In her free time, find Hannah running, talking politics and hanging out with family.

PR for Nonprofits

A nonprofit knows that the more goodwill it can build with the community, the more positive an image it can cultivate, the more people will know about it, and the more opportunities it will have to achieve its goals. Those goals include a variety of objectives beyond simply raising money. Here are three ways nonprofits can use public relations to help accomplish its objectives:

Volunteerism

People want to feel both informed about and connected to the causes they support. That’s why more people are willing to donate their time to nonprofits with a positive public image. Strategic public relations are critical for nonprofits that rely on volunteer help to accomplish their mission.

Education

If the goal of a nonprofit is to get the public to act in specific ways, public relations helps get the word out about these specific issues. Using a targeted media strategy or event production are great ways to inform and excite people about your cause.

Legislation

The goals of a nonprofit are often enhanced through legislation. Nonprofits can use PR to improve their public image and visibility, which increases the likelihood that state or federal legislation will provide funding and aid to the cause.

-Samantha Wolf

About the author

Samantha Wolf Samantha loves making ideas come to life. She pairs a light-hearted, positive attitude with a strong background in creative marketing. She believes that passion makes life fun, and is constantly seeking out opportunities to grow and learn. In her free time, you can find Sam cooking up a new recipe, cheering on the Cubs, or talking someone’s ear off about her home state of Texas.

 

 

How Do You Ask Good Questions?

Good communications is at least as much about asking good questions as it is about having the right answers.

The “For Dummies” website offers very sensible advice on how to ask good questions, including such tips as: planning your questions; listening and not interrupting; and focusing your questions.

Since I learned to talk, I’ve always processed my world through questions. And, with 10 years’ news reporting experience before I became a PR professional, I’m a trained question-asker.

Here, I share five additional question-asking tips I’ve learned over the years:

  1. Think like a 5-year-old. Ask fundamental questions that get to the root of things, just as an uninhibited child might ask. Hint: many of these start with the word “why.” To get at these questions, ask yourself, “I wonder….”
  2. Think like a teenager. Would my question cause eye-rolling if I asked a 14-year-old? Depending on whether I want to evoke that reaction, I may or may not edit the way I ask it.
  3. Prefaces cut both ways. Prefacing a question with, “I’m just curious” could disarm the person with whom you’re conversing. On the other hand, a long, rambling preface laden with personal observations, dependent clauses and more questions could confuse the other person so much that he or she has difficulty discerning the real question.
  4. Be kind. We all like direct questions. However, sometimes if a question is asked too forcefully, it can sound prosecutorial when you don’t mean it to be harsh. Use simple and kind language, particularly if there is a lot of emotion around the topic.
  5. Know when a question isn’t a question. Sometimes a question carries so much baggage that it’s actually a statement, for which the person asking is seeking validation. Know the difference between asking a question and stating an opinion and respect the difference.

–  Kathy Schaeffer

About the author

Kathy Schaeffer Kathy is a lifelong Chicagoan who’s built KSA, an issues-oriented PR firm, in the city she loves. CEOs praise Kathy’s media and spokesperson training and strategic counsel. Intuitive, inquisitive and straightforward, Kathy stands apart from sycophantic publicists. When she’s not counseling clients, you can find Kathy swimming, cooking or comparing Old and New World wines.

 

3 Unique Ways to Avoid Over-Using “Like”

It can be tricky to rid your vocabulary of the over-use of the word “like.” While my vocabulary is far from “like-free,” I admire people who speak clearly and concisely, and resist the urge to sprinkle unneeded “likes” throughout their sentences. Fortunately, there are countless articles written on how to nix the word from your lexicon once and for all. I’ve settled on my three favorite tips. Enjoy.

  1. Value your thoughts and opinions – Huffington Post http://huff.to/2cAlTVV

Jess Catorc writes that “expressing a new thought or opinion can feel daunting.” She believes that part of the reason that people slip “likes” and “ums” into their language is because they feel vulnerable. “Like” often is used to soften the blow of our messages, in case the receiving party doesn’t agree. Catorc suggests that learning to speak with conviction and confidence will ultimately make our sentences flow much easier.

  1. Talk with your hands – Mashable http://on.mash.to/2dh8L7y

Amy-Mae Turner believes that people resort to “linguistic crutches” (such as “like”) when they’re worried they aren’t successfully or correctly conveying their message. She suggests using hand motions to add nuances to your words to help get your point across. Helpful body language, such as gesticulation, is received much more favorably than the overuse of “like.”

  1. Try new filler words – The Muse http://muse.cm/2d0GrVA

Sara McCord writes that “like” isn’t an altogether useless term. In fact, “it can be used for anything from pausing without dead air to purposefully lightening a statement.” Instead of “like,” try using “for example,” “nearly,” or “about.” You might end up liking these options more.

-Hannah Vander Laan

About the author

Hannah Vander Laan Hannah has a strong eye for detail and a passion for getting things done. An enthusiastic learner, Hannah enjoys using creativity and out-of-the-box thinking to problem solve. In her free time, find Hannah running, talking politics and hanging out with family.

Talk Less, Say More: Brief Yet Impactful Messaging

We’ve probably all heard the term “bite-size” or “snackable” content. And we’ve definitely all consumed our fair share of tweets, Vines and memes. So what can we glean from these new smaller and smaller formats? It turns out that these tiny pieces of content can teach us a number of lessons. Here are just a few:

Quick Pitch: Your audience should be able to read the first sentence or headline and get a sense of the entire story. Think of the last email you sent. Did the subject line convey the message of the email? Approach every story or piece of content the same way. Make sure the title or first sentence is catchy, attention-grabbing and reflective of the rest of the message.

Use Resources: Use images, links and other visual content to attract your audience. You can always provide additional information with attachments or other references. Your story should be first eye-catching, then informative. Remember that order.

One size does not fit all: Not every piece of content needs to be small. Think of your messaging strategy like a closet: you mix and match different pieces to work together. Mix and match different size media to best share your content. A video posted on Facebook, a blog post on your website and a hashtag campaign on Twitter can all be used in conjunction to make your messaging more powerful.

-Samantha Wolf

About the author

Samantha Wolf Samantha loves making ideas come to life. She pairs a light-hearted, positive attitude with a strong background in creative marketing. She believes that passion makes life fun, and is constantly seeking out opportunities to grow and learn. In her free time, you can find Sam cooking up a new recipe, cheering on the Cubs, or talking someone’s ear off about her home state of Texas.

Realistic Life-Work Balance Tips

Feeling the pressure of trying to successfully balance your professional and personal life? In this Inc.com article, Marcel Schwantes, Principal and founder of Leadership From the Core shares 10 things to do to help you maintain a healthy life-work balance. Life should come first, right?

Read Marcel’s ideas, here.

-Kim Pool

About the author

Kimberly Pool As Operations Manager, Kim keeps KSA running smoothly for colleagues and clients. Kim’s adventurous, cool, and calm under pressure approach allows her to make things happen and get things done. In her free time, find Kim saving animals in need or getting lost somewhere in Chicago.