I Sprinkled Salt and Pepper on My Words and Ate Them

Three weeks ago, I wrote these words:

businessman-rips-open-his-shirt-to-show-his-presidential-seal-t-shirt-can-stock-photo-ijdema-72“The majority of the American people do not like Hillary Clinton and do not trust her. But she will win over Donald Trump, and win handily, because hers is the more disciplined campaign.”

Wednesday morning, I sprinkled salt and pepper on those words and ate them.

As a professional communicator and the veteran of several political campaigns, I firmly believe, as I wrote three weeks ago: “The No. 1 rule of any campaign—political or otherwise—is to stay on message. Being disciplined doesn’t guarantee success. But being undisciplined guarantees failure.”

President-elect Trump did everything wrong from a communications standpoint. He frequently veered off message. He consistently took the Clinton bait and kept a controversial story alive for days after it should have died from inattention. He lacked the get-out-the-vote structure every campaign needs to win.

Trump broke all the rules of modern-day politics and won. Why? Was Clinton that weak of a candidate? Is the electorate so undisciplined that Trump’s Wild West campaigning from an Ivory Trump Tower appealed to them? Was his seemingly undisciplined campaign weirdly disciplined?

A number of factors were in play, starting with yes, Clinton really was that weak a candidate. She is no Bill Clinton and no Barack Obama. She fails to inspire. Breaking the glass ceiling was not enough of a reason for Democrats—who have to be REALLY inspired to make the effort to vote—to strike a ballot for the team. Clinton stood for the status quo. Few are inspired by the status quo, particularly during the longest recovery in U.S. history peppered by ever-rising health insurance premiums and deductibles.

Clinton also took voters in Michigan and Wisconsin for granted—another usually fatal mistake. Never make your friends feel like stepchildren, especially when those friends are in a world of economic hurt. Trump’s six trips to Michigan stood out precisely because no one expected him to win there, but it showed he cared for their plight. Clinton’s last-minute visits were too little, too late.

So Trump pulled it off. Possibly he is the only one who could have because I believe the rule still applies to us mere mortals: “Being disciplined doesn’t guarantee success. But being undisciplined guarantees failure.” He overcame that by not standing for the status quo, by not taking voters for granted, and by being weirdly disciplined in the final weeks.

With digested words, I congratulate you, President-elect Trump. I wish you and my country well.

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications and author of Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They’ll APPLAUD! Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

Snarky New Yorkers Tell Cubs Fans, “You’re Welcome”

Is this the Year of the Tony?

Chicago Cubs fans can thank two snarky New Yorkers for the Cubs advancing to Major League Baseball’s World Series.

portrait-of-funny-goat-looking-to-camera-can-stock-photo-inc-stranger28It started nearly two years ago when my brother moved in and our Mets-Nationals rivalry heated up. Jim is a diehard Mets fan. I root for the home team wherever I happen to call home. For the past 18 years, home has been the greater Washington, DC, area.

Neither of us had followed baseball closely in many years. Jim had lived in the Carolinas, where baseball is nonexistent. I lived with my wife and two daughters, where testosterone was nonexistent.

Things heated up during the 2015 season as the Mets and Nationals fought for supremacy. The Nats faltered in August and never recovered. Nonetheless, Jim and I rooted for our respective teams on Labor Day at Nationals Park.  I hoped for a comeback, but the Mets won the game 8-5 and went on to win the Division title. They beat the Chicago Cubs in the Pennant Series to advance to the World Series, where the Kansas City Royals knocked them out in five games.

During the course of the 2015 season, Jim and I had assigned the Chicago Cubs to my son-in-law, Tony. We did it as a joke. Tony had never followed sports before. It seemed natural to assign him the Cubs, a perennially hopeless team. The Cubs finished 2014 with a 73-89 record. They had not advanced to the World Series since 1945. They hadn’t won a World Series since 1908. They had the curse of the goat, placed on them in 1945 by Billy Goat Tavern owner Billy Sianis when his goat, Murphy, was either banned from the stadium or removed from the stadium, depending on what story you want to believe.

Separate from being an unwitting Cubs fan, Tony is enchanted by goats. He often talks about buying enough land to run a goat farm.  In 2016, goat-loving Tony became a Cubs fan for real and paid attention to the games and standings. On Saturday—Tony’s 32nd birthday and the 46th anniversary of Sianis’ death—the Cubs shut out the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 to advance to the World Series. Tony is ecstatic.

Jim and I are bummed. The Mets blew the Wild Card game at home against the San Francisco Giants. The Nats, once again, failed to progress beyond the Division Series, losing to the Dodgers two games to three. It wasn’t our year.

It’s goat-enamored Tony’s year. Will Tony break the curse? If so, Jim and I say to Cubs fans, “You’re welcome.”

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications and author of Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They’ll APPLAUD! Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

Undisciplined Trump Hands Election to Distrusted and Disliked Clinton

When Donald Trump loses the presidential election 19 days from now, it won’t be because he’s a misogynist, bigot, or an egomaniac. It won’t be because of some vast left-wing conspiracy. It will be because he ran the most undisciplined campaign in modern American history.

discipline-bridge-weak-to-strong-can-stock-photo-inc-andreyncBecause of that, he will lose to a Democratic candidate who was easily beatable. Hillary Clinton has more skeletons in her closet than a party store the day after Halloween. The majority of the American people do not like her and do not trust her. But she will win, and win handily, because hers is the more disciplined campaign.

Donald Trump would not be our first misogynistic, bigoted, and egomaniacal president. But the other misogynistic, bigoted, and egomaniacal candidates ran disciplined campaigns and we didn’t know the true measure of those traits until they left office.

The No. 1 rule of any campaign—political or otherwise—is to stay on message. Being disciplined doesn’t guarantee success. But being undisciplined guarantees failure. The Republican’s message should have focused on healthcare and the middle class. On small business taxes. On how Obamacare has made health insurance unaffordable for the masses and deprived small businesses the opportunity to care for their employees. It should have been laser-focused on Hillary’s ties to Wall Street and the hundreds of thousands she was paid for just three speeches to Goldman Sachs. Although the details leaked just a few days ago, the fact that she would not disclose anything about them was damning on its own.

Those are the messages Bernie Sanders used to come from way behind and nearly knock her off the November ballot.

But The Donald could not do that. Instead of privately fretting with aides about the media, or the bimbos, or the Mexican-American judge, those were the topics he publicly laser-focused on. Instead of apologizing sincerely for the 2005 videotape, he attacked others over it for days and ensured it remained the focus of news coverage.

Here’s how that should have gone for The Donald:

“I said some hurtful things about women for which I am not proud. It’s not the man I am. I apologize to the women I have denigrated and advise all boys and young men to take this as a lesson as how not to treat women.”

If it was brought up again, he could point to his apology and move onto healthcare for mothers. Or his plan to make the workplace equitable for all. “Because that’s how you treat women in our society.”

Instead, he denigrated women some more. Not a word on healthcare. Not a word on lowering taxes for small businesses.  He took the bait.

He took the bait when Gold Star father Khizr Khan criticized him at the Democratic National Convention. He took the bait after the first presidential debate by keeping alive the controversy over former Miss Universe winner Alicia Machado, including several middle-of-the-night tweets. He is so easy to knock off message, the disciplined Clinton campaign sets him up for it.

“The Clinton campaign could not have asked for more,” Clinton supporter David Axelrod told Politico after the first debate. “[The Clinton campaign] wanted to make this an issue and he is cooperating in that project. And I’m telling you, none of his advisers are telling him to do this. This is the way Donald Trump is. He’s very reactive. The Clinton folks figured that out, they were pushing his buttons all throughout that debate and he is still reeling from that.”

Had Trump been disciplined, he could have won the White House against a very weak Democratic opponent. He would have proven himself fit for office. Hillary Clinton should not be able to claim the mantle of the presidency. But she will. Because she ran the disciplined campaign against a candidate who could not rise above himself.

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications and author of Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They’ll APPLAUD! Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

Vote for the We Party!

My fellow Americans, I am honored to run for president of these United States as the candidate of the We Party! This is HUUUGE! We are going to Make America Intoxicated Again! Intoxicated with Freedom! Intoxicated with Security! And Just Plain Intoxicated! We can all agree on that, can’t we?

intoxicated-red-hatWhen I am your president—and I will be your president—you can bet on that—we are going to fill our highways with driverless cars. We already have a lot of them on the road now. Anybody drive here today? Did you look at the other cars around you? With texters, makeup artists, and breakfast eaters, we already have driverless cars! But we’re going to make every car a safe, reliable, driverless car. Oh, I know the wimp Obama issued driverless car “recommendations” last week. More red tape. Red lights really. But we’re going to put government money on the road and create jobs. Lots of jobs. So many jobs you won’t believe it. And, with driverless cars navigating the highways and byways for us, we can get rid of those pesky open container laws—because We Party!

As your president, I will solve the Aleppo problem. No one knows Aleppo better than me. No one. Full of despicables and deplorables. Aleppo is an acronym, you know. It stands for: Alleged Libertarian Education Perfectly Preserves Obtuseness. Sad, very sad. We must bring knowledge to the third parties again. Particularly the Libertarians, because they want to legalize pot, which we support—because We Party!

Speaking of acronyms, I will ban them from the federal government. Ban them. No one hates acronyms more than I do. No one. They’re confusing and the antithesis of transparency. Did you know there are 10 different meanings for the acronym AA, including Any Agency? I. Kid. You. Not. Having 10 AA acronyms could drive someone to Alcoholics Anonymous in a driverless car. As your president, I will defund Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s a wasted program. Completely wasted. But I will increase funding for Planned Parenthood because of its obvious consequence of We Party!

I will outlaw gyms so no one ever has to exercise again! Gyms are an anti-American, socialist conspiracy. America doesn’t have an obesity epidemic! We have a success epidemic. America is the fattest nation in the world because we’re the richest. We have lots of food to eat, and we do, because Americans don’t want to waste it. Skinny people are losers. Losers! True Americans show their pride in our country by pigging out when We Party!

Speaking of American pride, NATO needs to be strengthened to protect western civilization’s right to We Party! Puny Putin is trying to exert his influence in the world. But he has tiny hands. Very tiny hands. And China continues to exert its military might. But while protecting American interests, we must be careful not to block vodka or egg rolls. Both are key ingredients when We Party!

But we will build a wall—and make Canada pay for it. Because as the great American Lewis Black said, Canada is where the cold comes from. Cold is important to beer. That’s why God invented refrigerators—to keep the cold contained. But we don’t want the cold to drift in and put a big damper on our backyard barbecues. (As your president, I will ensure you receive a tax credit for every new barbecue you buy. You can thank me later.) Now I can see some confusion in your faces. You thought we were going to build a wall along our southern border. Certainly not! That’s where tequila comes from. Building a southern wall would be the antithesis to We Party!

My fellow Americans, we live in sobering times. But we can Make America Intoxicated Again and eat, drink, and be merry. So vote for the We Party! I guarantee a new high for America!

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications and author of Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They’ll APPLAUD! Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

Be Stylin’ and Communicate Consistently

I love the English language. It’s got rules, man! It also has so many exceptions to the rules to make the rules virtually useless.

canstockphoto23031403That’s one of the reasons you need a stylebook if you communicate as a company, organization, or personal brand.

Merriam-Webster defines a stylebook as “a book explaining, describing, or illustrating a prevailing, accepted, or authorized style.”

That’s a verbose way of saying a stylebook provides consistency to your messaging. Without one, you’re at the whim of the moment.

For example, do you use the Oxford comma—also known as the serial comma—before a conjunction in lists of three or more? Is it the Washington Post with a lower-case, unitalicized “the” or The Washington Post?  Should The Washington Post be italicized? Is it acceptable to use CVC in first reference to Consistent Voice Communications? Why is The Washington Post italicized and Consistent Voice Communications isn’t?

Those are the questions stylebooks and style guides answer. For the purposes of this blog, a stylebook is a commercial publication, such as The Associated Press Stylebook or The Chicago Manual of Style. A style guide is an organization’s in-house publication. A style guide usually builds on and provides exceptions to a stylebook.  It also provides style information particular to that organization. For consistency, every business and organization should have one.

A quick quiz: Is the correct spelling “adviser” or “advisor”?

According to Merriam-Webster, both are acceptable. So you can use “advisor” all through your copy or “adviser” all through your copy. You can even interchange them throughout your copy and still be technically correct. If you do, you’ll make Mark Twain happy. He supposedly once quipped, “I don’t give a damn for a man who can only spell a word one way.” But most of us aren’t Mark Twain and most of us will mark you as sloppy instead.

Because the dictionary advises both adviser and advisor are correct, a style guide would spell out one or the other as the “authorized” spelling for your organization. (Some dictionaries note “adviser” is the preferred spelling. If your style guide designates a dictionary that makes that distinction as your base dictionary, you don’t need to list it in your style guide.)

Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t be. By basing your style guide on stylebooks, you don’t have to completely reinvent the wheel. Three of the most popular stylebooks are the aforementioned The Associated Press Stylebook and The Chicago Manual of Style, along with the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing. In addition, many organizations have their own stylebooks publically available, such as the American Psychological Association.

The Chicago Manual of Style is your generalist stylebook. But if your target audience is the media, choose The AP Stylebook as your baseline. If your target audience is the world of scholars, choose the MLA Style Manual.

Then build on it. If “The” is part of your name, as it is for The Washington Post and The Associated Press, your stylebook would reflect that. If CVC is acceptable to use in a second reference for Consistent Voice Communications and in media release headlines, your stylebook would reflect that.

Mark Twain notwithstanding, most of us strive for consistency. A stylebook provides that consistency by laying down rules in a largely lawless language.

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications and author of Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They’ll APPLAUD! Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

Licensed to Semicolon

“Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”

― Kurt Vonnegut

computer spring semicolon Can Stock Photo Inc. yandscreatorsWith all due respect to transvestite hermaphrodites, I like semicolons. How else is a writer to wink at his friends? ; )

But I realize I’m in the minority. Some of you detest emoticons. Others simply detest semicolons. Here’s what a friend—who not only has been to college but now teaches university-level journalistic writing—has to say about the eyes in a winky emoticon:

“Semicolons have got to be the most misused piece of punctuation. I like to joke there ought to be a semicolon license. People would only get a license if they could pass a test to prove they know how and when to properly use them.  Of course, semicolons don’t kill people, but people who misuse semicolons kill their writing.”

There is no doubt most would fail the professor’s test and either be ticketed for punctuating without a license or arrested for murdering the English language.

I took to Twitter to see what the masses are saying about the semicolon. High-schooler @nicolekiluk is more mature than she knows:

“maturity to me, is admitting to myself that I will never be able to use a semicolon with confidence,” she tweeted.

Although one hopes @nicolekiluk will capitalize and use commas with confidence someday, her teen attitude on semicolons could put her on the verge of collecting Social Security. I base that on what @boothair tweeted:

“I’m almost 60, and I still; don’t know where a damn semicolon goes in a sentence.”

So, for @nicolekiluk, @boothair, and everyone in-between, let’s review semicolon etiquette. There are basically three uses:

  1. To link two independent and related clauses. Independent is key here. If each clause cannot stand on its own as a sentence, use a comma, not a semicolon. Related is also key. The second independent clause continues the thought of the first clause. An example from the Chicago Manual of Style: “Though a gifted writer, Miqueas has never bothered to master the semicolon; he insists that half a colon is no colon at all.”
  2. To separate items in a complex list. Here’s an example from Grammar Monster: “I have been to Newcastle, Carlisle, and York in the North; Bristol, Exeter, and Portsmouth in the South; and Cromer, Norwich, and Lincoln in the East.”
  3. In a winky emoticon.

And that’s it. So use them sparingly, but do use them. For, as @BigDaveSmith tweeted, “There’s something generally arousing about the proper use of a semicolon.”

; )

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications and author of Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They’ll APPLAUD! Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

To Compete with Cats, Become an Author

funny-cat-watching-a-movie-on-television-in-3d-glassesAre you among the 81% of Americans the Internet says want to be an author?

If you want to successfully compete with your competitor cats, you should be.

Because, as print author and electronic communication aficionado Brian Solis noted at a recent PR Measurement Conference, “We all compete with cats.”

For the uninitiated, video-tracking company Reelseo (now Tubular) counted 2 million cat videos on YouTube in 2014, which had been viewed a staggering 24.6 billion times. Solis was making the case that online marketers compete with cat videos—and many other distractions—for attention from our potential consumers. Therefore, to distract people from watching cat videos long enough to watch your video or to take action on your message, you have to stand out.

What does that have to do with becoming an author? It’s that way in the non-virtual world too. As small business people, you also compete with cats. Your cats are the furry and smooth-skinned competitors who do the same thing you do. To stand out, to distract your potential clients from your competitors, you need to do something very different.

Being an author is a very good way to stand out. Even Solis, who lives in the virtual communications world, has published print books to stand out.

Authors are rare. I was at a networking event in April right after I published my first book. Friends Colleen and Tad attended to kick off their celebratory birthday weekend because our event host was a local craft beer brewery. Colleen’s daughter Erin had come up from Richmond to partake in the festivities. Erin made the comment, “I don’t believe I’ve ever known an author before.” To which I rather stupidly and flippantly replied: “Now you have.”

I said that because I was surprised by her statement. I live in a circle of fellow writers, several of whom are published authors. But that’s my circle. I hadn’t realized how small a circle it was. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports only 136,500 writers and authors were employed in 2014 out of a population of about 320 million. That’s not a lot—.0004%—and I would say most of them are writers but not authors.

I say that because even though I know many authors, most of the writers I know are not authors. In fact, when I published my book, several of my writer friends congratulated me with something to the effect of: “Congratulations. Many of us talk about writing a book, but few of us do.”

If you actually write one, those 81% who are thinking about writing a book are going to think you’re pretty cool because you’ve accomplished something they have only talked about.

Think about it. People talk about being part of the 1%. How about being part of the .0004%? Publishing a book puts you in very, very exclusive territory. It makes you stand out among the cat videos. And it makes you pretty cool in the eyes of just about everyone around you. Even after you say something dorky to Erin.

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

Book cover for Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They'll Applaud!In three chapters, Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They’ll APPLAUD! gives you the tools you need to produce a more effective, powerful, and memorable speech. Chapter 1 discusses the rules and good practices of all effective writing. With that foundation set, Chapter 2 sets out the ways in which speech writing differs from other forms of writing, and how spoken language allows you to make your words come alive. Chapter 3 provides you with techniques to write more powerful and memorable speeches through storytelling, timing, and rhetorical devices.
Tom Pfeifer has been a professional communicator for more than 30 years. In Write It, Speak It, he uses research and personal stories to show how you can write speeches they’ll applaud.

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