February 2021 Vol 3 Issue 2
Tell Your Story Newsletter (TYSN):
Specializing in Entrepreneurial and Organizational Storytelling
Let me tell your story!
Welcome Mid-February, 2021!
Today marks the start of a reprieve from two weeks of unseasonable cold in Saskatchewan. The mind-numbing, bone-chilling temperatures, descending at times to –55C with windchill, have kept many of us indoors. As I write this issue, it is Valentine’s Day, and pandemic restrictions (on top of the inclement weather) mean that few couples are dining out and no one observing the holiday out-of-doors.
Local media have reported an unprecedented use of energy to heat our homes in Saskatchewan, during this “Polar Vortex.” We’ve also distracted ourselves by powering up Netflix (in my case, BritBox) in our leisure hours.
What are you “binge-watching,” this weekend, if the options touted on CTV’s supper-time news on February 12th, “The Notebook” and “Dirty Dancing,” do not appeal?
What about “Truly, Madly, Deeply” (featuring the late, great Alan Rickman) or the BBC adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel, North & South? Thought-provoking love stories that defy Hollywood’s “success” formulas.
And arguably more importantly, what are you reading, for leisure? I’m looking forward to delving into Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength and Happiness, by Rick Hanson. In a very different vein, Eliot’s Middlemarch is waiting patiently for me, although there never seem to be enough hours . . . . .
This month’s articles features a surprising encounter at my local gym; and writerly thoughts from GrammarGirl, Mignon Fogarty, on using “person-first language,” when we discuss people with illnesses or disabilities.
If Valentine’s Day has left you out in the proverbial cold, you may be interested to know that we have just entered into Asia’s Lunar New Year! So much of the Eastern Hemisphere is celebrating the Year of the Ox: That animal predicts that 2021 will be a year requiring hard work and steady reliability. Just the thought makes me crave some Valentine’s chocolate!
Wishing all my valued readers a good month ahead,
Principal, Storytelling Communications
IN THIS ISSUE:
ARTICLE 1: Uncle Frank’s morning constitutional and what it teaches us about writing good copy
On “person-first” language, with Mignon Fogarty
Article One: Uncle Frank’s ‘morning constitutional’ and what it teaches us about writing good copy
A few weeks ago, I witnessed an unusual scene at my local fitness facility. (Yes, it was open, but everyone there kept at least 10 feet apart and adhered to strict cleaning protocols. Those few of us “regulars” who still work out during Covid, tend to do so out of medical necessity.)
After I finished my workout and just as I was leaving, one of the retired (70+) members, a 5 foot 5 inch ball of energy, caught the front door, as it swung behind me and exclaimed “Thank you!”
Surprised to find anyone so close on my heels, I stepped aside to let him pass. A sight–and a story–ensued!
“Uncle Frank,” as he is known to us, clad only in a long green, terry cloth bathrobe and barefoot in slingback “croc” shoes, cheerfully passed by, padding down the sidewalk toward the back of the building,
“Clacketty-clack-clack,” his feet sounded, when his plastic crocs made contact with concrete. Although Saskatchewan’s current Polar Vortex had not yet set in, it was still a cold morning (-15 C), and with colder temperatures expected. When Uncle Frank’s feet met the snow and ice of the parking lot, his gait turned into more of a fast-paced shuffle–a sort of “swish, swish.”
Startled, I thought, “How far will he be going, dressed like that?” What about whatever health issues he may have?
But Uncle Frank, who by now was a good 15 feet ahead of me, continued to make his through the back parking lot, out onto the sidewalk, in the direction of the neighbourhood’s main thoroughfare. He evidently had no qualms of being seen in a bathrobe in high traffic.
Despite moving at a good clip, Uncle Frank, whose activity inside the gym I’d barely noticed, had an air of total nonchalance. He could have been enjoying an amble through his back garden in the height of summer. “Good Morning!” I heard him exclaim to a winter cyclist who was riding the wrong way, down the one-way street. The cyclist, a young man less than one-third of Uncle Frank’s age, sped by in full winter gear, pausing long enough to do a “double take” at the older man’s dress.
A middle-aged African Canadian woman, who was waiting for a bus, was the next one to catch sight of Uncle Frank. Her eyes boggled, as she exclaimed (in her francophone tongue): “Il est vraiment fou!”
And yet, despite the oddity of Uncle Frank’s behaviour that morning, he appeared to be firmly in control of himself and not someone I’d have thought an exhibitionist. For as many months as I could remember, he had regularly and energetically exercised on machines in the gym without raising an eyebrow. Now, however, he had let loose a quirkier side, making what some call a “morning constitutional,” in the out-of-doors. Instead of being satisfied with a routine “workout,” Uncle Frank engineered a “breakout.”
Witnessing this reminded me of the nature of copywriting—or, as many Saskatchewanians prefer to call it, business writing. Most days, Uncle Frank uses machines like treadmills and benchpresses. But on this day, after completing that activity, he evidently craved a more “creative” finish . . .
In the world of copywriting, similarly, writers know the usefulness staying “safely tethered to the fundamentals of persuasion” (to quote Canadian copywriter, Steve Slaunwhite). We think through questions when we start a project and often apply “starter” formulas, as well as SEO or A/B testing, when we draft our documents. These procedures are like the calibrated weight machines at the gym. When writing marketing materials, copywriters often measure success rates by numbers.
We tend to consult copywriters’ formulas, such as “the 5 Ps” (stating the problem; positioning one’s service as the solution; presenting the key features and benefits that differentiate one’s service; proving one’s claims by giving evidence; and proposing or inviting to act, via a call-to-action).
While such formulas help to structure our documents, good copywriters also know when to drop them, in favour of some quirkiness—a spark of insight or magic, some whimsy— that the standards alone do not allow.
Copywriting will only truly sing if we balance our use of standard, numbers and formulas with some creative play.
Did I mention that Uncle Frank took his “morning constitutional” that day, while sipping in his right hand from a dark mug of – water? Coffee? Something stronger? (No one seems to know!) Maybe he was shuffling his way toward the neighbourhood coffee shop, after he passed beyond my line of sight.
While other, more conventional athletes at my gym (me included) end our workouts routinely, Uncle Frank reminds us that writing (like exercise) only becomes truly interesting when we set conventions aside and open ourselves to something better.
And now it’s your turn. In the work that you do, how do you both adhere to standards and break free from them?
What do you do (in Covid times, no less) that reflects the spirit of Uncle Frank’s shuffle in his bathrobe and crocs?
STORYTELLER’S CORNER: On person-first language with “GrammarGirl,” Mignon Fogarty
American “GrammarGirl,” Mignon Fogarty, wrote recently in her newsletter on English usage that “the way we refer to people with diseases or conditions has changed in the last few decades.”
She posed the question: “Should you call someone a Diabetic or a person with Diabetes?” A few short lines later, she says that “it’s better to put the person first rather than emphasizing the disease . . . [So] ‘people with Diabetes’ is better than ‘diabetics.’ ” But she hastens to add that this is “not true for every group, and you should make sure you are referring to people the way they want you to refer to them.”
An unhappy correspondent challenged Fogarty to adopt this perspective, some months earlier, by complaining that people with cancer are not referred to as “cancerics” and those with colds as “coldics!”
I recall listening to another aspect of this debate, 30 years ago, when U of S
English professors Ron Marken and Terry Matheson (on CBC radio’s “Watch your Language”) decried how “politically correct” language used to describe people with disabilities could undermine the seriousness of these people’s experiences.
I distinctly recall one caller to that show saying that he was “BLIND, NOT visually challenged!” It was the early 90s, the heyday of political correctness, whereby garbage collectors were referred to as “sanitation engineers.”
So how do we separate “person-first language” (“people with disabilities”) from trivializing (and ultimately dehumanizing) political correctness? Use of the term “person-first language” itself began to rise between 1980 and 1990, after which “diabetics” was a still “more common [expression] than ‘person with diabetes,’ ” but was becoming much less dominant.
Fogarty adds that in 1990 in the US, the influential “Americans with Disabilities Act” (ADA) favoured the phrase “people with disabilities” above “the disabled,” further bringing “person-first language” into the mainstream. In some ways, these changes are positive.
But Fogarty rightly nuances the issue by saying that “person-first language isn’t as simple or black-and-white as it initially seems.” Identity-first language can, in one moment, reflect pride from a minority group; and other times, it can elicit stigma, as it implies that someone’s difference is a “problem” that needs correcting or controlling.
Some minority groups disagree with others on these issues, both inside and outside of their communities. For instance, some people who have autism prefer to be called “autistic” or “autistic people,” since they see their condition as part of “an identity in the same way that ‘American’ is seen as an identity (when you call someone an ‘American’ ).” Others find such terminology to be oppressive.
Fogarty’s conclusion makes sense: Simply ask people within a community what they wish to be called. If they are not available to answer you, then consult reputable online resources that reflect these people’s interests, to see which term(s) are in common use, today.
But, even more importantly, Fogarty reminds us, citing the Associated Press, “you should only mention a person’s identity if it’s relevant to the story.” Otherwise, it’s far more respectful–and appropriate–to “leave it out.”
And now it’s your turn: Do you use “person-first language?” How do you deal with the inevitable problems that can result?
Please send your comments to my “Contact” page. I’d be delighted to hear from you.
I am particularly grateful this month to the Can-Sask Labour Market Services, Monica Kreuger (CVO and Founder of the Praxis School of Entrepreneurship), and alumni of Praxis’ staySMART program, who have called upon me to revise some of my colleagues’ website copy; to interview and write promotional articles on them; or to edit some of their blog postings.
As an alumna of the startSMART program, myself, I’ve joined forces in this work with Christina Cherneskey (CEO of Christina Cherneskey Communications) and with Megan Kent (Project Manager of Little Ox Film Company), to help alumni, who started smart, to “staySMART,” especially in Covid times.
In this work, as a copywriter and editor, I have been delighted to interview entrepreneurs Ken Strohan (Your Own Way Residential, Ltd) and Miranda Young (Alt Haus Interior Design) to learn about their stories and to strengthen their website copy. More clients are queuing up for the same.
It’s a joy to share a common background and training with these clients, so that traditional interviews give way to informal but deep conversations about best practices, hopes, dreams–and, of course, the inevitable challenges and losses. These passionate, self-motivated individuals whose businesses were molded in the crucible of Praxis’ startSMART program, continue to thrive, while pursuing their livelihoods.
Special thanks also this month to Kanchan and Sona Manek of the Raj Manek Mentorship Program for organizing a thought provoking webinar on entrepreneurial “adaptability vs. extinction” by Brenda Nowakowsi of JNE Welding.
Brenda shared an intensive and inspiring presentation on how entrepreneurs must maintain a nimble attitude and forward-looking behaviours to seek “continual improvement,” if we want to stay ahead both of rapid digitalization and workaday challenges.
I’m very grateful, in other news, to exchange emails on starting to teach ESL, with Steve Cavan, pioneering craft brewmaster of SK (former director of Paddock Wood Brewery). Steve has also taught philosophy, classics and writing over many years at the U of S. His capacity to pivot in pandemic times inspires me, as does his sensible advice. Thank you, Steve!
On a related note, I recently completed my certification as a TEFL teacher (teacher of English as a foreign language), through Tefl.org in Inverness, Scotland. Their excellent training materials, useful webinars and job board are helping me to develop this new arm of my communications services.
Another thanks this month (it’s been busy!) to Rev. Roberto DeSandoli, Martha Fergusson and other coordinators of “Kidz Klub,” at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church (Saskatoon). They’ve kindly welcomed me as a virtual volunteer, so that I can immerse myself in working with children. This work is in part to give back to a remarkable faith community and partly to (re)teach me how to engage with children!
Another “shout out” to the very faithful staff at my local gym, who regularly prepare and (re)clean the spaces and equipment, making exercise possible in these deadening, Covid days.
As many Saskatchewanians know, the best way to shoulder the latest “Polar Vortex” is to keep one’s body moving, daily–and with it, increasing blood flow to one’s brain. Kudos and virtual hugs to gym staff Jackie, Fred, Val, Nima, Monika and other team members, who help us keep our endorphins flowing, and on a limited budget, too!
Special thanks, as well, to Delia, Anna and Abigail caregivers of an elderly relative; and the staff of the orthopedic division, SK Abilities Council (senior division); who support the elderly members of many families in Saskatoon, to live the best lives they can, in our community.
Between 2011 and December 2018, Elizabeth Shih Communications chronicled the stories of B2B marketing and communications on the Prairies and across the country.
Effective January 1, 2019, I rebranded as “Storytelling Communications.” I now write marketing and communications documents and lead workshops that help entrepreneurs and newcomers to Canada to strengthen their businesses or secure better jobs.
After I receive your message, I’ll be pleased to discuss projects with you!
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