Deep (Throat) Lessons From Bob Woodward: Strike Up Conversations, Then Listen Up

Do you have the gift of gab?

It’s actually a trick question–because it’s not a gift at all, but a series of choices. The biggest one is to choose to put your focus on others rather than yourself.

Professional, ethical, effective journalists cannot write with long gazes into their navels. They must seek input from other sources.

Public relations professionals seeking to build solid rapport with media members do not merely “smile ‘n’ dial” and hope that some coverage-worthy mud sticks to the wall. PR pros try to figure out how journalists tick, what they are looking for, and in what form they prefer to receive information.

The top-performing salesman poses a few questions, allows the prospect to talk about his or her objections and needs, and then zeroes in on the closing approach that stands the best chance for success.

In all of those cases, the individual seeking to learn more from key contacts is taking a page out of the playbook described in Dale Carnegie’s classic How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Carnegie shares the story of how he met a botanist at a party and sincerely began asking questions about his world. The botanist talked for hours. At the end of the evening, he gushed to the host about Carnegie, whom he described as a “most interesting conversationalist.”

Noting that he “had said hardly anything at all,” Carnegie recalled that the key was that he had “listened intently.”

“I had listened because I was genuinely interested. And he felt it,” Carnegie stated. “Naturally that pleased him. That kind of listening is one of the highest compliments we can pay anyone.”

If it’s such a precious commodity, then why is it so rare? Much of the answer boils down to fear. Fear of the unknown and fear of rejection are two biggies.

Those are self-absorbed ills. All of the focus is on our little selves, and worst-case scenarios of what could happen to us if this, that or the other thing ensues. But those are statistically remote illusions, a fervent faith in negative results that hardly ever materialize.

Consider what you can gain by practicing the discipline of focusing on others, of speaking very little and listening very much.

In his account of how he first met W. Mark Felt, the man who would later become his pivotal Deep Throat source, Bob Woodward experienced the powerful impact of looking beyond himself and stepping out of his comfort zone.

In 1970, while he was in the U.S. Navy, Woodward was in the White House waiting to deliver documents to the chief of naval operations. Felt sat down near him. After several minutes of silence, Woodward introduced himself.

For many of us, saying anything to a stranger can push us out of our comfort zone—especially when we are in the company of someone whose stature may intimidate us. (Woodward recalled Felt as “very distinguished looking” with “a studied air of confidence.”)

Woodward went on to share more about himself with Felt. Though the older gentleman initially did not reciprocate, he became more engaged when Woodward hit on common ground. Woodward was taking graduate courses at George Washington University, and Felt replied that he had gone to night law school there before he joined the FBI.

Bingo, a key fact emerges. From there, the two found more common ground and spoke at length as Woodward continued to push through any comfort zone constraints he may have had.

“I peppered him with questions about his job and his world, and as I think back on this accidental but crucial encounter–one of the most important in my life–I see that my patter probably verged on the adolescent. Since he wasn’t saying much about himself, I turned it into a career counseling session. I asked Felt for his phone number and he gave me the direct line to his office. He was going to be one of the people I consulted in depth about my future.”

While the meeting may have been “accidental,” Woodward’s boldness and persistence transformed what could have been a routine, superficial mutual head-nodding moment into an historical turning point.

Think about your moments, minutes, hours and days ahead.

It’s not a gift, it’s your choice.

What’s the worst that can happen if you say “hello” to someone on the elevator? How uncomfortable is it, really, to introduce yourself to someone in the crowd at the city council meeting? Why don’t you make that contact you’ve been putting off for days?

Better yet, ask this question: What’s the best that can happen?

Matt Baron originally wrote this column in July 2005, and posted it on his PAVE The Way to Powerful Communication blog.

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Chicago Mayoral Race Lesson: Details Matter

The list of Chicago mayoral candidates is only slightly longer than the list of those same hopefuls who are so quick to distract and deflect when faced with evidence of their dubious decisions or dealings. (Looking at you, especially, Bill Daley and Toni Preckwinkle.)

The latest twist is another candidate, Amara Enyia, who overstated her ultra-distance athletic prowess. Rather than acknowledge the inaccuracy, and move on, Enyia chose to lash out with a defensive, dismissive reply. She called it “nitpicking” in comparison to the alleged issues of others in the race.

If only it were the first nit to have been picked.

However, in much more serious matters, she has been revealed to have less-than-sterling integrity. As the Chicago Tribune headline declared last week, “Amara Enyia’s financial problems: Underreporting income, tax lien, lawsuits.”

In my 20 years as a journalist, military service and/or decoration, athletic achievement, and academic achievement — those are the three big spheres where folks fib. Often, and very often many years later, those lies get exposed. Lying about business accomplishment is another area, though it’s often murkier to get to the bottom of those claims, since there is not a centralized “Business Database” the way there are clear-cut lists for the other areas.

The bottom line, whether you are a candidate for higher office or anyone else trying to make your way in the world: details matter. If you are sloppy, misleading, or outright deceptive in the small ones, how can you be trusted with the much bigger ones?

Just the same, when the spotlight does turn to you, it’s an opportunity–so don’t dig your credibility hole even deeper. Take responsibility and own it, and demonstrate that you have learned from the mistake. Glossing over it, and pointing fingers elsewhere, does not inspire faith in your ability to lead.

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Behind the Scenes: Story-Telling Artist Shines Light on Realtor Building Transformation

This summer, I had the pleasure of collaborating with friend and next-door neighbor Joe Crosetto to write a story about the work that his firm, Interactive Building Solutions (IBS), is involved in: the make-over of the Realtor Building in downtown Chicago.

It is located at 430 N. Michigan Avenue, where the National Association of Realtors (NAR) is making major changes to the 56-year-old building that has been their headquarters since 1978. The complex effort benefits from other experts, including Grumman/Butkus Associates, GNP Realty Partners, and ONE Development.

Joe has the title of “sales engineer” at IBS, but an overarching description of him really must begin with “artist.”

Those artistic talents extend to a variety of creative art forms, including sculpture and pottery-making. Among other pieces, he makes beautiful travel mugs and pots that you can see at Art-O-Rama.

The four-page story spread.

In much the same way, from conception to completion, Joe brought this story to life. Through words and images, he translated his initial vision for communicating the behind-the-scenes transformation of this Magnificent Mile building.

The result: this striking November 2018 cover story for Chief Engineer magazine, which you can read here as a PDF posted on the IBS website. Thank you, Joe, for allowing me to come along for the ride!

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Don’t Wait ’til News Breaks–Anticipate the Break, Break Through With Coverage

“I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”
–Wayne Gretzky

That philosophy surfaced on the PR front last week with a news release providing insights and counsel on snow and ice management. The release had been in the works for over a week for McAdam Landscaping, a longtime Inside Edge PR client.

Then Old Man (Early) Winter cooperated with the blizzard to make it especially timely. You can see the release online at TribLocal.

Here is a particularly interesting detail that I learned in the course of developing the release:

Clients must also be conscious of new legislation in the state of Illinois. With the passage of the Snow Removal Service Liability Limitation Act in 2016, property owners can no longer transfer liability to a contractor for losses that were not the fault of the contractor.

“This is very important legislation for our industry and even more important for clients to be aware of,” said (Scott) McAdam Jr. “Prior to this Act’s passing, a property owner could transfer all liability to the contractor, even if the contractor fulfilled their obligations and were not at fault. With this Act, the client assumes some of the liability for potential losses, so choosing a quality contractor will greatly reduce that liability.”

Speaking of liability in another vein, you don’t want to get caught flat-footed when a “change in the weather” (metaphorical or literal) offers an opportunity to serve your client’s want (coverage) while also taking care of the media’s need (timely, newsworthy content).

The media relations moral of the story: don’t wait until news breaks–anticipate the break, and be ready to deliver quality content when it does.

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Blogging Statistics & Trends 2018, Thanks to Andy Crestodina & Orbit Media Studios

This is a blog post about blogging: how original.

But really, it is original… that is, original research by Andy Crestodina of Chicago-based Orbit Media Studios.

As was the case at least a few times before, I was one of those who responded to this year’s survey. The results from my answers, as well as those of 1,095 others, are linked below. It’s an excellent overview — with fascinating trends and clarity on what tends to work most effectively (measured by the subjectively termed “strong results”).

Having created well over 500 posts in a decade-plus, my pace has slowed considerably (as you can tell by clicking on the month-by-month archives on the left side of this page). At the same time, I have been getting better at reviewing, updating and in some cases re-purposing old blog posts. (Hey, there’s no such thing as plagiarizing yourself.)

A few other observations from my experience:

*It’s remarkable how many links get broken over time.

Be sure to clean ’em up on your website, as I strive to do on mine. Spot a broken link or some other problem on this post, or anywhere else on my site? Let me know at matt@insideedgepr.com. In fact, I have blogged about the power of kindly alerting folks to these types of boo-boos.

*A few years ago, I added “Related Posts” at the bottom of each post, to guide visitors interested in digging deeper on a topic.

I have also “back-filled” many of the posts from over the past 11 years or so. It’s a continual process and I chip away at it, little by little in 10 to 30 minute pockets of time. Speaking of time, did you know I have included the word “time” in over 20 blog posts, including this one about disgraced Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte?

OK, enough about me and my precious hyperlinks. To learn about the latest trends in the world of blogging, just click on the image below:

Blogging Statistics and Trends: The 2018 Survey of 1000+ Bloggers

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