14 October 2009

Think twice before you read or write

Late last night, Google Alerts took me to an article by Danny Finkelstein that was about to appear in The Times today about the point in David Cameron's speech last week where he surfed applause and which I'd written about a couple of times last week HERE and HERE.

Reading it at dead of night on a computer screen and in this morning's cool light of day in the actual (rather than virtual) newspaper yielded quite different reactions.

At first sight, I wasn't quite sure what to make of it. But this morning, the questions that came to mind then look like an unhealthy cocktail of paranoia and megalomania (and I'd only had two nightcaps, honest).

As I know that some of my garbled twittering got a few people wondering what I was on about, a word or two of clarification may help to solve the mystery.

Here are the questions that troubled me last night, followed by my answers after reading the same article in a hard copy of the newspaper earlier today:

1. Should I be pleased to be referred to as a 'guru' by such an eminent journalist and glad that the speech that had changed my life had changed his life too (Claptrap 1)?

Ans: Yes.

2. As one who writes books and runs courses on the subject, should I be annoyed that he makes it sound as though speechwriting is such an easy and straightforward craft?

Ans: No.

3. Did his casual use of the phrase 'surfing applause', as if everyone knows what it is, and his focus on the poverty point in Cameron's speech mean that he'd been following my blog and was now recycling some of it without much in the way of attribution?

Ans: Don't know.

4. Was he saying or implying that Ann Brennan didn't mean what she said in her speech and/or that I had claimed that Cameron hadn't meant what he said?

Ans: No.

5. And why hadn't he mentioned any of my books on all this, or at least supplied a link to my blog?

Ans: Because he's a journalist and doesn't have to.

Memo to self:
Be wary of jumping to conclusions on the basis of reading articles on computer screens late at night.

Remember that computers and the internet have made it far easier to write and post things without anything like the amount of care and reflection that was necessary to get anything out to a wider audience in days gone by.

Memo to journalists:
Remember that, with 115,000+ books being published each year, it matters a very great deal to authors to have their books mentioned in the media occasionally, and that you have the power to open and close an important door to public awareness (or lack of it) of particular titles.

Regular readers will know that I've blogged on this before in relation to BBC plug-a-book shows. Today, the mere mention of my name in The Times has already prompted enough people to type it into Google to double the number of visits to my blog (and there are still about 5 hours to go until midnight).

Today has also seen Speech-making and Presentation Made Easy and Lend Me Your Ears rise to their highest positions in the Amazon UK bestsellers rankings since the last time they got a mention on the BBC website.

So I am grateful to Mr Finkelstein and The Times for today's small mercies - but not half as grateful as I would have been if one of the book titles had appeared in print and/or if there'd been a link to this blog from their online edition.

And that, I suppose, is what really explains the initial irritations that struck me in the early hours of this morning.

I take it all back! Danny Finkelstein has done me proud - and predictably, for 3 reasons, the third of which also comes in three parts:

1. Mention of the name seems to be enough, as indicated in the comment below from Mr Anonymous (plus various emails and phone calls I've received today.

2. Blog visits yesterday were three times more than on Monday.

3. Danny Finkelstein has done me proud with two posts on his Times Online blog this afternoon in which he
  • mentions and links to one of my books and this blog,
  • shows the YouTube video of Ann Brennan's speech at the 1984 SDP conference and
  • ends with a hilarious story about how Roy Jenkins reacted to one of the best lines in the speech.


Anonymous said...

Max - there's no need for Daniel Finkelstein to mention the title of your books nor for you to worry. I have just this minute finished his article, immediately googled your name, read your blog and am about to buy two of your books. (A round of applause for my list please, which I will then surf) I'm a speechwriter, political scientist, journalist and communications advisor. You're out there - easy to find - we just need a name, a thought, a word and google locates it. Thank you Daniel Finkelstein for creating an opportunity to connect...

Neil F said...

Yep I agree with comment from anon. I read Danny's piece, looked your site up on google, watched the claptrap piece and was gripped.

Only today I mentioned you to a senior social marketing colleague and forwarded the link to your blog to him. I be buying your book and I imagine my colleague who is interested in this line of work may well do so too.

Max Atkinson said...

Well, this is all very good news and thank you both for helping to prove me wrong - see the P.S. since you commented.

My only slight reservation has to do with potential customers who don't have access to the internet.

Seeing a name, but no mention of a book title, in the hard copy of a newspaper may not be enough to put readers wandering through a book shop a few hours, days or weeks later in the right direction!

Anonymous said...

Hi Max,
I'm MrM Anonymous from last time. You're right of course about not excluding those without internet. That problem will recede over time but is very real at the moment for pre-google generations who don't share the same automatic instinct to search online.I read your book 'Speechwriting and presentation made easy' last night. I agree with your views on the strengths and weaknesses of Powerpoint. You might be interested to take a look at www.prezi.com that offers a very different presentation software. I think it could be a powerful way to communicate complex ideas that don't lend themselves to the linear narrative that powerpoint locks a presenter into. For example, take future scenario planning where there are a lot of interrelated variables and a great deal of uncertainty-prezi allows the presenter to show the overall complexity, then zoom in and deep dive into a number of sub issues, zoom back out or hop to another topic directly. James