Wednesday, October 31, 2012

When the Going Gets Tough, New York Entrepreneurs Get Going

New York is one of my all time favorite cities and have spent quite a bit of time in Manhattan enjoying the sights, sounds, restaurants, and oh yes, the shopping! I have fond and special memories of the "city that never sleeps", and it wrenched my heart to see pictures of the damage that was left in Sandy's wake.

However, New Yorkers are tough and resilient. It's heartwarming to read the positive, uplifting stories about how New York businesses and entrepreneurs are coming together to support each other after Hurricane Sandy. I loved the story about a lower Manhattan bagel shop owner who personally picked up her employees and brought them to work. Now that's a caring and dedicated boss!

Seth Godin, one of my favorite marketers, shared an inspiring post this morning on his blog:

"There's never been a better opportunity to step up and make an impact, while we've got the chance. This generation, this decade, right now, there are more opportunities to connect and do art than ever before. Maybe even today.

It's pretty easy to decide to roll with the punches, to look at the enormity of natural disaster and choose to hunker down and do less. It's more important than ever, I think, to persist and make a dent in the universe instead."

Sending positive, healing thoughts to all those who suffered damage and loss, especially small business owners. My heart goes out to you all on the East Coast!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Why It's Time to Get Rid of the Noise & Simplify Your Message

We are bombarded with noise on a daily basis. In my Modern Poetry class, there was a line in a Walt Whitman poem,"blab of the pave," that reminds me of all the noise that surrounds us, especially technological noise. When Whitman wrote "Song of Myself," he used this "blab" (and his rambling long lists and catalogs) to connect with his readers. Whitman was a democratic writer and wanted to include everyone in his message. However, blabbing in 21st century doesn't quite have the same impact unless you fancy yourself a Whitmanian poet. Good 'ole Walt wasn't known for  his less-is-more-approach with his poetry as he was quite wordy - and that's where you can get into trouble with your messaging.

If you feel like your messaging is getting lost and you are losing your audience as a result, it may be time to refine your message and keep it simple (the K.I.S.S. school of thought). You don't have a lot of time to make a good first impression so here are a few tips to help you cut out through the "blab" and stay on track with your messaging. Marketing and public relations isn't about who can be as grandiose as possible with their message. Sometimes simplicity can be just as powerful.

  • When writing a press release or blog post, don't cram every bit of information you possibly can into one page. Target your message and keep it news-worthy and pertinent. How will your audience benefit from the information you share with them? Just share the key points to get your point across. 
  • Say it with video or audio - the medium is your message. You don't always have to "write" your message. Use visual mediums to get your point across. You only have to look at the popularity of YouTube to know that video marketing can pack a walloping punch. Video is a very powerful way to send a message so look into shooting a short video to share your message - keep the video length around two minutes.
  • Scale back complex, confusing, and abstract ideas. Jargon can easily overwhelm your audience so remember to explain and present complicated ideas in simple, easy-to-understand language. 

Take a page from the Bard: "Brevity is the soul of wit." If you want to be an effective communicator, it's sometimes important to use less words in order to say more. While there is some "blab" that is important, blabbing for ten pages isn't always an effective way to get your point across to your audience.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The MOOC Debate: Does the Online Class Model Really Work?

I'm starting Week #4 of my Coursera Modern Poetry (ModPo) class and I'm learning more in just three weeks compared to college classes I took almost 20 years ago.

But there is a big debate buzzing around the academia water coolers. Does the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) model really work? Are we, as students, getting a watered-down education experience by enrolling in such free online courses offered through Coursera?

According to this article in the The Chronicle of Higher Education, A Pioneer in Online Education Tries MOOC, Ann Kirschner lends a somewhat biased opinion on her MOOC experience  specifically her experience with Coursera.

I find it interesting that she is quick to judge the entire MOOC model based on only one class she took through Coursera. Yes, she has experience in online education but times are-a-changing: add social media and you have a new dynamic when it comes to virtual learning.

She even readily admits that she made a half-hearted attempt and procrastinated throughout the class. As I mentioned to my fellow ModPo classmates, it's all about your personal experience with the class: you can make it good, bad, or indifferent. She was also quick to point out the flaws with the instructors and makes it sound that ALL Coursera classes don't work and will leave you with a bad taste in your mouth: i.e. how professors are not actively involved and that students are rude and leave nasty comments on the forums.

Of course, there are going to be techie glitches and there will always be trolls who purposely fuel the debate fires by posting incendiary comments. She does point out some "positive" benefits of Coursera, but the tone of her article leans to the side of anti-MOOC.

If you check out the comments left by my fellow students, many of us encourage Kirschner to enroll in Filreis' course. Yes, we are learning about modern poetry, but even more important we are creating a real online community - a virtual poetry salon that consists of 30,000 plus people learning poetry. I don't know how Al and our TAs keep up with our forums and Facebook group, but they do and actively post and interact with students. That has been the most impressive part about this class- to have a professor who genuinely cares, is very supportive of students, and leads by example. Al's enthusiasm and passion for poetry are contagious, and I am excited every time I click on "Go to class" on Coursera's site.

According to Kirschner, she is not entirely convinced that MOOC will work and poses that it could just be a passing "silly fad." My question to Kirschner: what's silly about opening up the education experience to people across the globe? The one point that she misses in her article is that the MOOC experience isn't just about the American-based higher education system. MOOC expands learning to the far corners of the world, and I don't find anything silly or bad about expanding people's minds - especially people from diverse backgrounds and cultures who want to learn about Modern American & Contemporary Poetry but would never have the opportunity to experience American poets otherwise.

You only have to peek inside the virtual doors of ModPo and see a shining example, thanks to Al and his TA team,  that MOOC and online learning really works and IS successful.

Therese Pope, Copywriter/Content Developer & Digital Buzz-icist

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