Want to sell books to those who don’t read? Terry O’Reilly tells us how in this month’s issue of “Tell your Story Newsletter”

May 2022 Vol 4 Issue 5

Tell Your Story Newsletter (TYSN):

Specializing in Entrepreneurial and Organizational Storytelling

Let me tell your story!


ARTICLE 1: Want to sell or promote books to those who don’t read?! Terry O’Reilly tells us how

STORYTELLER’S CORNER:  The irritating case of “at this time,” with Bryan Garner




Welcome Mid-May 2022!

Mild temperatures and, for the most part, sunshine, have been very welcome through the first half of May, including a couple of days above 20 degrees Celsius! Some Saskatonians have broken out their shorts; and many, their sandals!

Garden centres are opening, with price wars beginning over hanging flower baskets, bedding plants and perennials. . . And the “perennial” question (asked by many, including Leisha Gribinski of CBC radio’s “Saskatoon Morning” last week) is this: “Do we really have to wait for the May long weekend to get planting?”

Hungry for green leaves and flowers, I’ve noticed some shoppers keenly surveying plants from the tantalizing displays at local grocers, as well as at the Berry Barn, Dutch Growers, Floral Acres and other local companies.

And at a recent meeting of the ESL conversation circle that I co-led for newcomers (through Saskatoon Open Door Society), the topic was, appropriately, “gardening tools.” My co-leader, herself an avid gardener, asked participants questions about gardening implements, how to use compost in the garden, and even whether they had inquired about  local seed libraries. Newcomers with backyards or access to community garden plots had stories of previous success.

Open Door’s conversation circle also stressed the importance of getting outside, “drinking in the sun and the air” and digging in moist soil with one’s hands, after another long, Prairie winter. For those living in apartments or condos, I reminded our newcomers that container pot gardening can be an enjoyable alternative. Even folk who have only houseplants can take them outdoors on a balcony, allowing them to flourish in the fresh air and direct sunlight.

What really matters, I suggested to the circle, was communing with nature as much as possible, such as by sitting outdoors with a cup of tea and a good book. It’s so important to be fully conscious of the beauty of these days and to store up that feeling to draw on, in the months after spring and summer end.

And since many people don’t have (or make) time to read during the year, just which book(s) we’ll read in our gardens depends greatly on how books are marketed. So, in “Article One” of this month’s issue of TYSN, I visit Terry O’Reilly’s recent podcast on how to sell books to those who “don’t read.”

In “Storyteller’s Corner,” I return to a usage tip from American etymologist Bryan Garner, for whom the phrase “at this time” is a weed to be pulled from our linguistic garden beds.

And “Shop News” refers to details from my recent ESL teaching and to excellent programs and products from local entrepreneurs who deserve close attention and patronage.

Valued readers, may the appreciable lengthening of our daytime hours and the human respect and equality we still find in our communities help us to cope with these late Covid days and with a globe so torn by violence and strife.

I send renewed wishes for good health, personal growth and prosperity to you all.



Principal,  Storytelling Communications



Article OneWant to sell or promote books to those who don’t read? Terry O’Reilly tells us how . . .

Recently, I listened to a fascinating episode of the CBC radio show, “Under the Influence,” hosted by Canada’s wonderful, (silver-tongued) ad-man, Terry O’Reilly. The topic was “book marketing,” so I knew I had to tune in!

In this late digital age, most ESL teachers, writers, editors, publishers and others who work with words know that promoting a book that they have written, or a bookstore, is not easy. (See Penelope Fitzgerald on this topic, The Bookshop, which for non-readers was made into a great film [lol!].)

As O’Reilly comments, 2.2 million books are published each year in English and yet most adults in North America do not read after high school. To sell a book, he says, you must have “luck, timing, word-of-mouth and some inventive marketing.”

While fewer people now read books than in previous centuries, even in our digital age, book reading is not dead. O’Reilly cites the success of the antique Portuguese bookstore, Avelar Machado (AM) which opened in 1876 and remains the oldest used bookstore in the world. It sells “almost pristine” used books, with barely noticeable imperfections, priced at a much lower rate than new ones.

AM is remarkable, however (O’Reilly tells us), because it has made advertisements to promote its used books that were “suitable for framing.” You may have seen reproductions of these ads—“improved upon” images of James Joyce, wearing taped eyeglasses; Agatha Christie, with a small bandaid on her forehead; and Mark Twain, with a shaving cut papered on his chin!

When classic authors like these bore barely noticeable imperfections, AM implied that gently used books would be just as good (not to mention cheaper) than their new counterparts. And it worked! AM’s sales spiked.

O’Reilly reported that Penguin Classics also created posters with the tagline, “Escape into a book,” with photos of people on busy subways, waiting for buses, or in airports, where remained a single empty seat on which an open book had been placed!

However busy you are, the marketing said, there is still time to escape into a great book. Similarly, Penguin posted images of well-worn, heavily annotated classics owned by famous contemporary authors. Those ads also succeeded.

More evidence that book reading is not dead, O’Reilly reports, comes from India, where the average reader reads 10 hours and 42 minutes per week; contrast that to Canada and the US, where we clock in less than six hours for that period!

How is it that Indians out-read us? In part it’s because more than 70 million people in India buy English language books. However, this has a troubled underbelly, O’Reilly says, since nearly 40% of those books are pirated copies, sold on the streets by gangs for “less than half of the cover price.” Most of the buyers don’t even know their copies are pirated, because the covers and bindings look legitimate. Publishers lose $620 million (USD) each year to such piracy.

Another example of book or arts-related marketing that O’Reilly shares is Netflix’s development of the “Because You Watched” tool, which appears at the end of any movie or show you view on the streaming service. The tool (which has an 85% response rate from viewers) recommends to viewers the next movie or show they should watch.

But, O’Reilly reports, the problem is that often the recommended next movie usually has no relevance to the one you just saw! Analyzing the nature of the new (suggested) show reveals only vague similarities in theme or casting to what you’ve just seen. Accuracy is not the promo’s strong suit, and yet the response rate flourishes.

More relevant still, when Brazil’s bookstore “Librarie Cultura” (LC) saw this “Netflix” effect, it decided to try it with its own spin: LC featured in-store posters and graphics on its social media accounts, connecting movies and TV shows to books.

For instance, one poster said, “Because you watched ‘House of Cards,’ next try reading Othello.” Shakespeare’s themes of politics, murder and betrayal, it implied, make it a good pairing with the Netflix series.

Similarly, O’Reilly reports that LC connected the supernatural, science fiction and horror of another Netflix series, “Stranger Things,” with books or stories by Stephen King and Edgar Allan Poe. Similarly, “The Matrix” was paired with Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

In such campaigns, O’Reilly observes, marketers “connect the dots” between Hollywood and classic books, creating a “powerful gateway to binge reading” among people who would never otherwise read.

In a similar vein, the “Carrefore” supermarket chain in Europe boosted the sales of its “discounted grocery store books” by displaying them near the food they featured: Moby Dick appeared in a stand near the fresh fish section, Snow White next to fresh apples and Bram Stoker’s Dracula near the garlic display! It’s hard to deny the appeal . . .

O’Reilly cites another case of book marketing that (literally and figuratively) takes the cake: a restaurant in Union, CT, which has lined its walls with 9000 books—the “side-order” of any meal ordered there. For every dinner you eat, you can take up to three books home, at no further charge.

Diners are known to peruse the book collection for hours, and the menu is thematically clever, featuring Catcher in the Rye (for a sandwich on rye bread) and a “Charles Dickens’ wrap.” The restaurant’s owners regularly scour used bookstores and sales to stock the restaurant’s bookcases. Movie and music stars Robert Redford and Bruce Springsteen are among the celebrities who have visited, such is the restaurant’s quirky and fun reputation.

In all this marketing, savvy strategists like O’Reilly know, paradoxically, “If you want to reach people who don’t usually buy books, you have to reach people who don’t usually buy books.”

That is, you need to find new ways to reach this audience.

Finally (and the most dynamic story from O’Reilly’s show) is that of “Editora Carambaia” (EC), a Brazilian publisher that has mounted a bookselling campaign like no other. They teamed up with a local college professor, who was leading a bookclub at a nearby prison.

The publisher donated books to the prison to help inmates develop their analytical and communication skills. Soon the prison inmates were found to have read nine times more books than civilians!

So the National Justice Council and EC created a program called “The Prison Reviews,” which turned prison inmates into literary critics by giving them 30 days to read a book, write and submit a review on it.

Some inmates were surprisingly insightful. A committee evaluated their submissions and found the reviews so remarkable that Carambaia turned them into an ad campaign!

Ads appeared over social media, radio commercials and on bookstore posters, bookmarks and other stationery, including videos of inmates reading online. These and a documentary were uploaded to YouTube.

“The Prison Reviews” program also improved inmates’ reading and writing skills, “alongside [their] hope and dignity”: each well-written review took four days off their sentences. (Inmates exchanged one kind of sentence for another!) The program gave a voice back to the most marginalized in Brazilian society and, as O’Reilly puts it, “allowed them to rewrite their destinies.”

So Terry O’Reilly asks, how does a publisher get a book noticed, in a sea of new releases? And how do you get people who don’t read (much) to pick up a book?

Inventive marketing, in his estimation, answers both of these questions.

He says—and all of the above stories confirm this—”the best marketing is rooted in insight and emotion.”

And now it’s your turn. When did you last read a book? And how would you try to market a book you like to non-readers?

Please write me on my “contact” page. I’d be delighted to hear from you.



STORYTELLER’S CORNER: Words, Stories, Riddles and Jokes on Writing and Editing . . .

This month: The irritating case of “at this time” 

The phrase “at this time” drew particular outrage from American etymologist, Bryan Garner, in one of his recent blog postings.

Using the phrase, “at this time,” he writes, “smacks of waffling OFFICIALESE, especially when the phrase comes at a SENTENCE END—e.g.: ‘We don’t have any comments at this time,’ said Disney spokesman Ken Green. . . .‘Our revenues and profits are record-setting at this time,’ Mr. Green said (Christine Wicker, ‘Giant Against Giant,’ Dallas Morning News, 14 June 1997, at G1.)”

The expression “at this time” is certainly verbal filler. But how else can we express something in the present?

Garner responds: “The more natural wording would be something like this: ‘We don’t have any comments right now.’” Or: “Our revenues and profits are currently setting records.”

Garner also cautions of the worse case of “at this point in time” or “at this present time,” which detract even further from concise (and therefore powerful) writing, which is always our writerly goal. (One imagines Garner even more outraged by these phrases!)

And now it’s your turn: Do you find many examples of  similar “filler” phrases like “at this time” in your reading and writing?

Please write in; I’d be delighted to hear from you. 



I’ve been delighted first to co-lead and now to lead solo a conversation circle  for English language learners at Saskatoon Open Door Society (ODS).  These circles are currently held online (due to our current Covid patterns) but soon will be held outdoors in some of Saskatoon’s most picturesque parks! Many thanks to coordinator Lisa Focardi for her organizing skills.

New immigrants to Saskatoon and area flock to these classes to improve their English language skills, so as to advance their education and/or to secure better jobs.

ODS works hard through many outreach activities  to meet the needs of newcomers to Saskatoon, often in very challenging circumstances. Thanks also to Sukhman Kaur and Kira Epp for the development of the conversation circle program.


Some hot-off-the-press news: Have you heard about the latest program offering from Saskatoon’s Praxis School of Entrepreneurship?

It’s called “digiSMART”, and it provides FREE classes on many aspects of digital technology to business owners, facilitated by team directors Monica and Brent Kreuger, chief facilitator, Deanna Litz, and selected alumni of the school’s earlier programs (me included).

I’ve attended some of digiSMART’s modules and they’ve been amazing –first rate learning and networking opportunities!

digiSMART even includes customized coaching that will assist entrepreneurs in integrating technology into their pre-existing businesses.

An intake is already underway and the program is currently FREE to attend! So call or email program administrator, Elaine Mantyka, NOW, for more information: (306) 664-0500 and elainem@globalinfobrokers.ca


Later this summer, valued colleagues and I will present through digiSMART modules on communication methods:

Christina Cherneskey will teach a powerful podcasting seminar. Read more about her work at PodcastBlast.cc and find her on Twitter and on TikTok @ccherneskey.

Megan Kent’s videography firm, “Little Ox Film Company” will facilitate classes on video production, which has become central to so much of today’s marketing.

And I’ll happily reprise a revised seminar on blogging, also as part of digiSMART. I look forward to helping established entrepreneurs write more of their own marketing materials.


I’m also delighted to promote this month a great local business–Prairie Office Moving and Installation (POMI). It’s located at Unit 6–56th Street East (between Miners and Millar Avenues) in Saskatoon. It’s worth the call and the short drive!

POMI sells gently used office furniture (filing cabinets, desks, shelving units, etc.)  from their storage bay, which is open to the public to view. Its receptionist, Wanda, is knowledgeable and welcoming to clients and positive about phone contact, even after hours.

I found a first-class lateral filing cabinet but also saw other, gently used, pieces at prices far lower than their competitors’! And this, amidst Covid-related shipping supply problems that are said to have inflated the cost of metal furniture.

So for great deals on gently used, office or home office furnishings, visit POMI’s website or call Wanda first:  (306) 477-7778!


There are always more local entrepreneurs and small businesses to promote (and I receive NO affiliate fees for doing so). So please contact me with your good news supplier stories!

But this is a wrap for mid-May!


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 assist SMEs in closing more sales by communicating more effectively; I help Canadian newcomers land better jobs by improving their language skills; and I write the legacy stories of major companies.

Interested in learning more? Please contact me through my CASL-compliant website. After I receive your message, I’ll be pleased to discuss projects with you!

Please visit my website for more information:

www.storytellingcommunications.ca .



Do you talk too much in ESL classrooms or entrepreneurial boardrooms? Four ways to improve participation in this month’s issue of “Tell Your Story Newsletter”

April 2022 Vol 4 Issue 4

Tell Your Story Newsletter (TYSN):
Specializing in Entrepreneurial and Organizational Storytelling
Let me tell your story!

ARTICLE 1: Do you talk too much in ESL classrooms or entrepreneurial boardrooms? Four corrections to improve class and boardroom participation

STORYTELLER’S CORNER: On Canada’s version of “Wordle”–“Canuckle!”




Welcome Mid-April, 2022!
After experiencing a lovely 10-day stretch of warmth in March, we descended this month into more wintry—and very windy—weather. The wind has affected Wi-Fi, causing disruptions to Zoom calls, and has also curtailed the number of daily walks that folk in my neighbourhood have been taking!

Along the South Saskatchewan River, however, athletes still determined to run out-of-doors have added gloves and ear-muffs to their workout gear. And local gardeners anxiously gaze at the calendar of our oh-so-short growing season, wondering what and when to plant, since last year brought frost
after Victoria Day.

Still, as I edit this newsletter, we are nearly through Easter weekend and, while we continue to be dogged by Covid, many of us anticipate a lovely  Saskatchewan summer, with outdoor festivals and gardens. And this weekend, at least some have enjoyed indoor Easter treats, such as hot-cross buns
and Easter egg hunts to buoy our spirits!

Since I now teach both English as a Second Language (ESL) and business communication, I discuss in this month’s “Article One,” four corrections that both ESL teachers and entrepreneurial leaders can make, to prevent ourselves from talking too much. What can we do to improve classroom learning
and the sharing of ideas in boardrooms or offices? Saying less can often accomplish more.

Then, in “Storyteller’s Corner,” I bring to you “Canuckle,” the Canadian version of the online word game, “Wordle” (discussed in last February’s issue of TYSN). Like the original game on whose coding it’s based, “Canuckle” has captured a bevy of followers.

And in “Shop News,” I update you on recent developments at “Storytelling Communications,” as I prepare to teach ESL to local new immigrants. I also promote the remarkable new program “digiSMART,” from Saskatoon’s own Praxis School of Entrepreneurship. digiSMART features the
work of mentors, veteran facilitators and communication specialists (like me) who help participants to integrate digital technology into their businesses. Sound interesting? If you’re a business owner, register through the link, below!

May the lengthening of our spring days and our hopes for greater freedom from the pandemic and from winter bring you renewed health, personal growth and prosperity, valued readers.
Storytelling Communications

Article One: Do you talk too much in classrooms or boardrooms? Four corrections to improve participants’ contributions

During the first year of Covid and in response to it, I trained as an ESL/EFL (English-as-a- Second, or Foreign, Language) teacher. Since that time, I have taught adults online–first in an internship to students in Quebec and Ontario; then for a Chinese company, to students in Eastern Europe, Asia and
the United States.

Teaching is not new to me, since I was a Teaching Assistant (TA) in English literature for several years during my graduate studies in Southern Ontario.
But more recently and over three years, the amazing team at Saskatoon’s Praxis School of Entrepreneurship has invited me to teach business communication seminars—which will soon resume, since their exciting “digiSMART” program has recently launched!

Since teachers’ salaries are rarely large, some entrepreneurs might wonder why I’d pivot my business toward teaching. But the opportunity to share language skills and cultural experiences with new or prospective immigrants—and, most recently, asylum seekers fleeing Ukraine— is invaluable. I can’t
imagine feeling more useful or relevant!

And, as freelance life often shows, the connections and complementarities that develop between old and new services (i.e. copywriting, editing and teaching) can be revelatory and even joyful. This month’s article considers one such connection: how to teach ESL and lead entrepreneurial meetings without talking too much.

In a 2014 article from the British Council, author Declan Cooley recommends four ways to lead ESL classes that prevent the teacher from “talking too much.” I draw parallels to entrepreneurial settings with clients or customers or between leaders and a company’s delegates.

Most of us know that new and inexperienced teachers (“greenhorns”) tend to talk too much. The tendency to lecture often reflects their own experiences of learning, as youth. Teacher trainees have to “unlearn” the assumption that because they have authority, they should “instruct,” which means
“talking a lot.” STT (student talking time) always needs to be greater than TTT (teacher talking time) and the passage between the two can be direct and collaborative–not clumsy.

Similarly, in a company boardroom or a networking event, some entrepreneurs and business leaders tend to lead by talking too much, reducing prospects, clients, participants or delegates to a stupor, where joint or group exchange would be more enlightening and productive.

Even small “asides,” murmurs and anecdotes from teachers and leaders may “leak out in many small, often unnoticed, ways,” Cooley writes. “When added up, these leaks can diminish the quality of the learning [or decision making] experience,” giving students and participants “less . . . space to
practice,” discuss skills or issues, in the classroom or the boardroom.
Cooley adds that even seasoned teachers sometimes fall into the habit of talking too much; ditto for accomplished entrepreneurial and business leaders.

(1) One way that teachers and leaders talk too much is by repeating instructions unnecessarily. causing students to “switch off” under the burden of so many words! The more words involved, the less impact each has.

Cooley cites an almost laughable example of one ESL teacher to his students:
“‘Read out the cards; don’t show each other and then, if they go together, sit down. So these cards belong together, so this person needs to find this person and they need to sit down together . . . I’d like you to read it to other people in the class. Remember: no showing and . . .’”

After giving a simpler, one-time statement of the rules, teachers can avoid repetition by following up with instruction-checking  (concept checking) questions: “‘Do you show your partner your card?’” (Wait for students to
reply, ‘No.’)

“‘What happens when you find your partner?’” (Wait for students to reply, ‘Sit own together.’)

In a boardroom or business setting, immediate instruction giving and receiving may occur less often. But here, too, leaders can confirm instructions pithily: “Does everyone follow this idea? Do you have any questions?” Good leaders and entrepreneurs speak professionally with as few words as possible,
repeating only if asked for clarification.

ESL teachers can emphasize their instructions by simultaneously using gestures to reinforce: for instance, they can move their hands to “stand up,” to “sit down,” and to “form pairs” for assignments, and so on.

(2) A second way teachers and leaders talk too much, Cooley says, is by saying more than students or participants do, to respond to a student response or question. If a student says (quietly), “That happened 10 years ago,” the teacher can inadvertently drown them out (e.g. “ ’Would you like to tell everyone the answer you were thinking of again, because I don’t think they heard it when you spoke so quietly and I’m sure we’d all like to hear it, if you could please?’ ”)
Business leaders outspeaking team members (i.e. participants) is similarly a problem: If Jones says, quietly, “With that model, the evidence runs counter to the theory,” the CEO should not respond, ad nauseum: (“Jones, would you please repeat that comment, because I suspect not everyone in the
room heard it and you were too quiet and we don’t want to miss out on the criticism, so one more time, OK?”)

Instead, cupping one’s hand to one’s ear and politely beckoning, “Louder, please!” works better.

(3) A third way teachers and leaders talk too much is by asking lengthy questions. Cooley provides this example, from a teacher: “‘ If I were to ask you for your opinion on the topic of genetically modified food, what do you think you might say to me in reply to that?’”

Such tentativeness and wordiness may reflect the teacher’s effort to be polite, but such an effort doesn’t work in the classroom or the boardroom. Students don’t process long questions.

Leaders and entrepreneurs can make similar mistakes (e.g. “Barker, does that slide indicate the ratio of gross quarterly profit per marketing output that you introduced three slides ago, but with reservations about the integrity of gross data values when net numbers were unavailable or may, perhaps, undermine your overall valuation of the systemic processes—could you just clarify that for
us, please?”).

(4) And a fourth and final way that teachers and leaders talk too much is by unnecessarily echoing too closely what students or participants have said, in answer to a question. Cooley writes this example:

(Student giving opinion): “I like going to the beach, because it is fun.”

(Teacher): “OK, so you like going to the beach, because it’s fun. Right, good.”

Cooley observes that there is no reason to echo the student’s/participant’s answer, if everyone in the class or boardroom has clearly heard it. If you think other participants did not hear it, then simply say, “please try louder.” Repetition can also unintentionally sound sarcastic, which would further
undermine the communication process.

By contrast, one time when repetition can be useful, is when a teacher or leader repeats a student or participant’s answer, in order to correct it: the teacher/leader can emphasize certain words or syllables, raising their tone to make it a question. (“Phillips, ‘yesterday I go out to buy a pizza,’
or ‘yesterday I __ ?'”) Also, teachers and leaders can use meaningful (never mocking) facial expressions and gestures to reflect that correction is needed.

While it can be laughable to read the over-talking of (usually inexperienced) teachers or leaders, sometimes even good lessons or meetings involve too much TTT. Cooley says that sometimes teachers–and leaders, I would add–unconsciously and wrongly feel “the [one] who talks a lot is
teaching a lot.”

But in reality, most often when teachers or leaders talk too much, it’s because they are falsely reassured by the sound of their own voices or because they are clinging to the spotlight to bolster their egos. And neither helps students or participants to learn or work better. While all teachers and leaders can start reducing their TTT by simply being aware of it, Cooley warns us not to be “too self-critical. Simply noticing the tendency and stopping it in its tracks earlier
and without self-reproach is a sensible path to follow.”

With this awareness, we can direct a classroom and boardroom with more of the needed silence in which students’ and participants’ thinking and voices can thrive.

And now it’s your turn: Do you (or others near you) outspeak students or colleagues in ESL or entrepreneurial settings? Will these four strategies help to resolve that? I look forward to hearing from  you at www.storytellingcommunications.ca/contact   .



This month: On Canada’s word game, “Canuckle!”

In last February’s issue of “Tell Your Story Newsletter,” I discussed the history of “Wordle,” a free, online word guessing game that appeared on Twitter in late December (2021) and went viral.

Developed by the code of a Welsh software engineer, Josh Wardle, for his partner, a lover of word games, Wordle consists of yellow, green and grey squares (in a five by six square grid). The reader must guess the letters and so discover the word, in no more than six tries per day.

Starting with fewer than 100 followers when first published, Wordle garnered 300K players between October (2021) and early January (2022). By the end of that month, the game had reached millions and was subsequently sold to The New York Times (TNYT) for a fortune.

Since then, it seems as though everyone is copying the code that Wardle developed to create word games of their own.
And Canadian game enthusiasts were no different, as Ottawa resident Mark Rogers released a Canadian version of Wordle on February 10th. He calls it “Canuckle.”

Canuckle looks very similar to Wordle, featuring five-letter words based on words related to Canada, and using red, yellow and grey squares.
But Rogers says that in Canuckle, “every word . . . is going to be related to Canada in some way and it’s got some sort of theme that can be tied back to Canada.”

He also developed his version of the game to feature more common words than Wordle does (e.g. words such as Canadian Bob and Doug
MacKenzie’s “hoser”; and terms like “igloo,” “canoe,” “maple,” “donut” and so on).
Rogers says the game will have a relatively short life, with a planned ending on Canada Day (July 1st), this year. After you fill in your answer (within six tries), a “fun fact” about Canada appears over Twitter. While highbrow entertainment this is not, youth, newcomers to Canada, and non-native speakers of English
are among some of the devotees to the game.

Want to give Canuckle a try? Here’s its official page,
online: https://canucklegame.github.io/canuckle/

And now it’s your turn: Have you enjoyed Wordle? What about Canuckle? How important are online word games to distract us from late pandemic days and a slow start to spring?

Please weigh in to the “contact” page of my website (www.storytellingcommunications.ca/contact).
I’d be delighted to hear from you.


SHOP NEWS:Starting shortly, I’ve invited to assist/co-lead a “conversation circle” at Saskatoon’s Open Door Society, likely online (given fluctuating Covid patterns), and where new immigrants flock to improve their English language skills in order to secure better jobs. I look forward to assisting newcomers with integrating into our community. Saskatoon Open Door Society is a remarkable
not-for-profit organization that meets the needs of newcomers to our city, often in very challenging circumstances.

Some news that’s hot-off-the-press: Have you heard about the latest program offering from Saskatoon’s own Praxis School of Entrepreneurship? It’s called “digiSMART”, and it provides FREE classes on various aspects of digital technology, facilitated by team members Monica and Brent
Kreuger, Deanna Litz, and selected alumni of the school’s startSMART program (me included).

I’ve attended some of digiSMART’s modules and they’ve been amazing –first rate learning and networking opportunities!
Later this spring, my valued colleagues and I will present on communication formats: Christina Cherneskey (who has been working on the marketing of digiSMART) will teach a powerful podcasting method. Read more about her work at PodcastBlast.cc and find her on Twitter and
TikTok @ccherneskey.

Megan Kent’s videography-partnership firm, “Little Ox Film Company,” will facilitate classes on video production, which has become the bread and butter of almost all marketing, these days.

And I will soon teach an updated seminar on blogging, which continues to be a mainstay of my business, “Storytelling Communications.”
“digiSMART” presents an opportunity not to be missed and even includes customized coaching that will assist entrepreneurs with integrating technology into their pre-existing businesses.

An intake is already underway, currently without cost! So call or email program administrator, Elaine Mantyka, immediately, for more information: (306) 664-0500 and elainem@globalinfobrokers.ca
In other news, “Get well” wishes go out this month to my (nearly lifelong) journeyperson stylist, Holly Dishko, tamer of curls and coiffures at local business, Blush Salon and Studio, in Saskatoon’s Riversdale neighbourhood.

After being injured in an otherwise carefully planned family holiday in Mexico, Holly is recovering at home and assisting her colleagues with client hair care instructions, so they can temporarily fill her shoes.
Thanks for your dedication, Holly, and to the lovely women of local business, Blush Salon and Studio, for taking great care of their clients.
There are always more local entrepreneurs and small businesses to promote (and I receive no affiliate fees for doing so).

But this is a wrap for mid-April!



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 teach new and prospective immigrants to secure better jobs by improving their English language skills; I continue to write communications documents that help small- and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) to close more sales by communicating more effectively; and I research and write chapbooks that
promote the legacies of major companies.

Interested in learning more? Please contact me through my CASL-compliant
website (www.elizabethshih.com).

After I receive your message, I’ll be pleased to discuss projects with you!
Please visit my website for more information (www.storytellingcommunications.ca)

Find interviewing tough? Veteran British journalist Simon Hattenstone shares how to elicit (and share) stories

Ask any writer (whether journalist, copywriter, content writer or other) how they experience interviewing, and, if they’re honest, many will express deep ambivalence or even distaste for the process. Whether an issue with  approaching an interviewee, conducting an in-person or online meeting, or trying to anticipate how a story will unfold,  interviewing is usually anything but easy—for me, included.

Over the years, I’ve sought out explications and advice for the process, such as in books like Heat and Light: Advice for the Next Generation of Journalists (by Mike Wallace and Beth Knobel,  2010). But it (and they) barely broach the subject. anxiety and interview

Members of my writers’ group have bemoaned everything from the anxiety as to whether recording devices will work (in pre-Covid interviews) to the agony of transcribing the recordings themselves, as they try to fill the gaps in the messy notes they’ve scrawled during the intensive time of the interview. Even when the interview is over,  writers can’t celebrate, as much work remains to be done.

So imagine the excitement last January, when I received an email promoting an interviewing “masterclass” by Simon Hattenstone, a 30-year veteran features writer for arguably the world’s best English language newspaper, The Guardian.

With more than 1,235 articles archived on The Guardian’s website and having interviewed everyone from rapper Snoop Dogg to Boris Johnson, Sir Desmond Tutu, Greta Thunberg, footballer Marcus Rashford and many in-between, Hattenstone can elicit good stories of folk from any conceivable walk of life. While he has written about many celebrities, such as Angelina Jolie, he has found the most meaningful work in speaking with the friends of homeless people who have died on Britain’s streets.

Subscribing to the “masterclass” was a “win-win” opportunity: while listening to Hattenstone’s insights, I could indirectly support a newspaper that has consciously remained free to readers across the globe. Profits made from  such online classes that feature experts from all fields of inquiry enable the newspaper to stay accessible. Newspapers have large expense sheets, beyond what advertising brings in. 

These “masterclasses” are wildly successful online events: Hattenstone drew some 700 listeners to the call, which included a breakout-room application and an extensive Q&A that followed. In all, the class lasted some two hours and could easily have run longer.

Hattenstone was gritty, funny and insightful. Using often salty, down-to-earth language (‘wanker,” “rubbish, ” and some other, less polite, terms ), he shared genuine tips and insights garnered by his 30 years in the business. Here are some of the best:

Interviewers, he said, need to be aware of their “intuition,” to be interested—even “nosy”—about others, and most of all,  to be able to “communicate.” We are not supposed to work out philosophical arguments, as “huge brains” (academics) might try to do. We should not try to “make friends,” with our interviewees, as well, but instead to combine respect, background knowledge (preparation) and empathy with the ability to compose a narrative.

Interviewing is hard, Hattenstone says, because writers must impose a structure, a story, over the fragments of an interviewee’s life, that do not reach us in story format.

He comments that interviewers can learn old and new things, touch people, inform and entertain them, while also making the lives of our interviewees better—by being understanding and respectful of them. We also inform the reading public who consume the stories.

Interviewing—to find out new things that haven’t already been said—”is not a casual job,” Hattenstone says, and “it’s not about making friends, at all!”

He referred to different approaches to interviewing, including these:

  1.  We can be interrogators, focused on potentially hard-hitting questions, especially if we know the subject is being dishonest or corrupt;
  2.  We can be performers, who aim to “get something out of the interview” by heavily managing our exchange with the interviewee;
  3.  We can be sharers—by offering something relevant about ourselves to establish a feeling of safety and empathy. But in such cases the interviewer should share only briefly, so as not to intrude too much on the interview;
  4.  Hattenstone advises that “interviewing is like speed-dating, you can be hard, fair, make light fun of someone, but . . .  don’t shit on them or be unfair.”
  5. If we encounter a problematic story (e.g. an interviewee with a history of abuse, etc.), it’s “not the end of the world to keep quiet about them,” he says. “Your trust may allow you to tell their story later.” Often, several-stage interviews can reveal a more complex story over time, as Hattenstone found with the American student, Amanda Knox, who was convicted in Italy of the death of her roommate, Meredith Kercher (making international news in 2007).

As interviewers, we can ask good questions by looking at “news in brief” (NIBs) of any newspaper to find interesting interviewees and topics. Hattenstone says that looking for past media “cuts” (pieces) via Google is another great way to find subjects, as interviewees often speak less guardedly earlier in their careers. We can refer to these earlier clips, as he did when interviewing Dame Helen Mirren. Social media, he says, makes it much easier to trace interviewees’ earlier thinking.

We can find responsive subjects by finding “bored” actors waiting in dressing rooms for their plays to start in London’s West-End (and equivalents, elsewhere).

Hattenstone says that there are many ways an interviewer can “screw up” an interview: we may fail to research sufficiently a subject (He recommends that interviewers prepare roughly  30 questions and relevant material, knowing you’ll get only to one-third or fewer of them). The interviewer may fail to make sure their recording device still works (having two recording devices handy is wise, unless you know shorthand well). And interviewers shouldn’t worry about “looking cool” when nervousness is a sign of respect for the interviewee and for the process.

Recording an interview is essential, even though it can raise nerves for both parties, because the interviewer needs time to observe our interviewees, while they speak. If we obsessively trying to write down what they say, we’ll miss out on a lot, Hattenstone says.

When preparing, he suggests asking a good friend or colleague who knows our subject matter and can give us some background to work with. Such a friend should be “cheeky” and can encourage you to ask equally “cheeky” questions that haven’t been previously asked or answered. Overall, Hattenstone says: “research, research and research” your interviewees’ lives.

We can look for a particular issue to plumb, such as a crime they committed and/or a scandal that ensued.

Use some close-ended questions to establish the information, especially for politicians and people in public service (e.g. “Did you believe in X?”)

When writing for the news, ask “what they did”: when writing for features, ask “Why it mattered,” the story around the story.

Hattenstone says the most important questions are “What do you mean and how?”

He says never to worry about looking uncool or knowledgeable on a topic. It doesn’t matter if you read your own questions, or  pause, saying, “I’m sorry. I’ve forgotten myself. I just need a moment.” Simply put, allow for some painful silences. What comes from them are often the best moments of any interview.

If your interviewee  bursts into tears, just “let them go through it and allow their silence. Don’t try to comfort them,” he says.

If our interviewee’s field of knowledge is not transparent, it’s fine to say “I’m sorry, but I just don’t get it. Tell it to me in baby language.”

If we meet a resistant subject and things “go badly,” ask “Why do you dislike interviews,” “Are you OK,” and “Do you want to talk about something else?”

If an interviewee asks to keep something off-the-record, don’t betray that trust by telling it. But we can try to persuade them to let us include it in the interview.

Don’t stick to a script too closely, as often the most interesting insight will rise from digressions, Hattenstone adds.

Be a good listener and be aware that we may have to do a cross-examination. “If you tell a slanted story,” Hattenstone says, “you’ll get hammered.” For example, he would ask an alleged criminal “If you’re not guilty, why did you confess to something you didn’t do? People think you’re involved . . . .”

He says that the “easiest way to get a story is to ask someone about something else.” Try to get any resistant interviewee to complain about politicians or to say something negative about current events.

But don’t try to settle a dispute (as an arbitrator would), he adds.

It can be helpful just to let our interviewees talk. Sometimes the only way to bring yourself in, especially if you’re interviewing famous people, is to highlight with incredulity something that they’ve said. Like, “What do you mean?” or “How so?” Or “Seriously?”

Hattenstone emphasizes that we should observe our interviewees closely: if we don’t tend to notice things such as the way they’re dressed, how their hair is cut, how they interact with the waiter at your table, etc., we’ll lose valuable information for our stories. If they have a scar or noticeable feature, ask them about it, because some of their life story will inhere in it.

Ask them what the most important story is, in their life? If the interviewee distracts us from observing them, ask them to describe something themselves, such as the clothes they’re wearing that day. This process will allow us to observe them observing themselves. Then observe as we ask our interviewees to describe their work and what they’re contributing to their fields.

ALWAYS check your facts, Hattenstone also urged. We may have to call or consult someone to verify facts. If we find a quotation is inaccurate, no matter how quotable it may be, he urges, leave it out! If we know that we’ve being deliberately lied to,  point that out as part of the article.

Anecdotes do not make good print journalism: if our interviewees tend to use them, he says, “hurry them along, especially if you’ve heard the stories before and if they take a lot of time to share.”

When it comes to pitching articles, Hattenstone says, we should keep our emails short and use bullet points.  We should include roughly five links to relevant online sources. Similarly, he says, we should ask questions only the interviewee can answer and say as part of our questioning: “Only you can answer this . . .” Then leave the pitch for one to two weeks before following up:  Hattenstone says a good commissioning editor will take the time to consider a strong pitch, however busy they may be.

He also advised to “be thick-skinned in journalism, generally, and especially when pitching story ideas.” What seems like a brilliant idea or story concept to you may not seem so to a newspaper editor.

Even with the unfavourable exchange on the Canadian dollar and despite some technical glitches, The Guardians “masterclass” on interviewing, facilitated by Simon Hattenstone, was filled with valuable insights.  Have the above highlights inspired you to adjust your interviewing practices? Do the above comments make interviewing seem a more reasonable process?

Please write in; I’d be delighted to hear from you.

Meantime, sign up for invitations to other masterclasses on The Guardian newspaper, to learn more from some of the world’s best thinkers and doers.

Local, everyday heroes: Meet Steve Cavan (ESL/EFL teacher extraordinaire)

As many of my readers know, at least one daily television newscast in Canada has long featured “local everyday heroes,” as a way to improve upon the often depressing and painful realities of world news.  Starting this week, and on occasion, I want to introduce in this blog often unseen colleagues, contacts, and other entrepreneurs or artists in our community,  who embody a “heroic” kind of decency  in their daily lives.

But can the word “hero” or “heroic” have any integrity of meaning,  at this time in history, you might ask. In his recent collection of interviews, Extraordinary Canadians, CBC journalist Peter Mansbridge defined the term “hero” as anyone who puts the needs of others before themselves.  The book collects the stories of the bravery and service of some dozen Canadians, from all walks of life.

As you may recall, during early Covid times , I completed my certification to teach English as a Foreign (or Second) Language, through TEFL.org (based in Scotland). I discovered before the pandemic began how much I had missed learning foreign languages, since I stopped studying French and Spanish at the end of my undergraduate studies, more than 20 years ago.

Due to the long distances that separate English language learners around the world and teachers, like me (who also come from all over the globe), much ESL teaching now occurs online, using platforms like italki.com  or Cambly.com (amongst numerous others). Of course, Covid has only intensified the need for online instruction, so platforms like Zoom and Skype are heavily used in language instruction.

Getting to know and use online teaching platforms, as a way to meet and teach students, is not for the faint-of-heart. There are often many functions of networks that are not self-explanatory; some trial-and-error is involved and teachers often worry about securing good rankings from their students, so as to sustain a strong flow of clients.

While my knowledge of English grammar was relatively good as a writer, editor and former graduate student of literature, I have learned more since becoming certified in ESL. Even so, English can be a messy language, at times, and I’m occasionally stumped by questions I encounter. At such times, having a mentor or advisor can be a God-send. It also breaks the isolation of Covid self-distancing to have someone available to discuss queries online.

Enter Steve Cavan, a professional ESL teacher on italki, who has taught himself linguistics and (over the years) English grammar to better help English language learners around the globe.  Steve helps students improve their pronunciation in order to reduce the distortion caused by their accents and an ensuing lack of comprehensibility that often occurs for  foreign speakers of English.  Some of these students are training to teach English, themselves, in their own countries, or seek to learn it  to advance their careers. And some go online sheerly out of personal interest.

Steve is known locally as the talented spouse of one of the University of Saskatchewan’s resident geniuses in the English Department, Professor Kathleen James-Cavan. Steve is brilliant in his own right (and was once accepted to do a doctorate in the UK, after earning Master’s degrees in philosophy and Classics in Southern Ontario).  I would include his photo in this posting, but that would fly in the face of his modesty.

Steve has taught extensively Greek and Roman Classics, history and writing for non-Arts majors, amongst other disciplines, for St. Thomas More College at the U of S. To read more about his remarkable (and varied) career, please read my book, Keep Going: Five Creatives Build Resilience, which is available here: www.storytellingcommunications.ca/books

I know Steve best as an interviewee in that book, where I discussed his resilience in developing and operating (as chief brewmaster) Paddock Wood Brewery (PWB).  Steve pioneered craft beer brewing in Saskatchewan, long before it became the popular industry it is now. He started PWB in 1995 and operated it for more than 20 years, through choppy waters that included outdated government policies, operational challenges  and more.

One of his colleagues, Stephen Ross, writes this about Steve Cavan’s work:

“Steve is a professional in all his business dealings, and his contagious passion and dedication to craft brewing drive all his decisions. I had no hesitation in partnering with Steve, or in following his lead in groundbreaking small market brewing in Canada. Under Steve’s direction Paddock Wood has grown from a small pilot project to Saskatchewan’s first and only microbrewery, with multi-provincial distribution.”

Dozens of popular microbreweries that now dot Saskatchewan’s landscape owe virtually everything they can do to Steve’s pioneering work.

He has achieved similar success with his more recent business idea, of teaching ESL, one-on-one, to students internationally. He works on the Chinese network italki, as I now do, with his encouragement.  Steve is one of the platform’s highest ranked English teachers and has built a following of students from South America, Russia and elsewhere–countries where time zone differences from Saskatoon are manageable.

But what makes Steve a “local, everyday hero” is his willingness to share with a new teacher, like me, and with all of his students, the finer points of grammar, usage  and even the italki platform.

He could easily roll out a training program and charge a high fee for subscribers. (Many entrepreneurs do.)  But Steve scrupulously refuses to do so.  He reads, teaches and writes, quietly and modestly, passing incognito through much of both our academic and entrepreneurial communities.

So  I hope you’ll join me in raising a glass–perhaps of one of the fine beers that he once pioneered at Paddock Wood– to toast Steve Cavan as one of Saskatchewan’s amazing local heroes. He is a teacher with a passion for learning, educating and helping others. Although he would resist the term “hero,” his generosity with and compassion for others, along with his commitment to excellence, make him a true exemplar of the word.


On Wanting to Change–a Meditation on Entrepreneurship from Brianna Wiest

In 2020, Anthony Hopkins received an Oscar nomination for his role in “The Father,” as a man with dementia struggling for control with his daughter, played by Olivia Colman. (The film was featured at the Toronto International Film Festival last year.) Hopkins commented that the film was his personal favourite, following astonishing performances in such earlier films as “The Remains of the Day”  and “Silence of the Lambs.”

Hopkins himself has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and in an interview with the CBC”s Tom Power (during TIFF)  spoke with characteristic humility about the film and about aging.


Over the last few years, the essay I post below has been attributed to him.

Like so much on social media, the attribution is incorrect. (As readers well know, over the years powerful epigraphs have been misattributed all over the internet.  For instance,  I remember several associated with the Dalai Lama which were not his, and that only scratches the surface.) Snopes.com attributes the  essay associated with Hopkins to writer Brianna Wiest:


While we could debate the problems of misattributed writing forever (remember when it was new to question Shakespeare’s authorship?), Wiest’s essay warrants reading, especially given the  attention recently devoted to the role of boundaries in entrepreneurial relationships. The essay speaks (allegorically) to those and not only to romantic relationships. It could better be called, “On Wanting to Change.”

“I Need This In My Life” (Brianna Wiest)

′′Let go [of] the people who are not prepared to love you. This is the hardest thing you will have to do in your life and it will also be the most important thing. Stop having hard conversations with people who don’t want change.

Stop showing up for people who have no interest in your presence. I know your instinct is to do everything to earn the appreciation of those around you, but it’s a boost that steals your time, energy, mental and physical health.

When you begin to fight for a life with joy, interest and commitment, not everyone will be ready to follow you in this place. This doesn’t mean you need to change what you are, it means you should let go of the people who aren’t ready to accompany you.

If you are excluded, insulted, forgotten or ignored by the people you give your time to, you don’t do yourself a favor by continuing to offer your energy and your life. The truth is that you are not for everyone and not everyone is for you.

That’s what makes it so special when you meet people who reciprocate love. You will know how precious you are.

The more time you spend trying to make yourself loved by someone who is unable to, the more time you waste depriving yourself of the possibility of this connection to someone else.

There are billions of people on this planet and many of them will meet with you at your level of interest and commitment.

The more you stay involved with people who use you as a pillow, a background option or a therapist for emotional healing, the longer you stay away from the community you want.

Maybe if you stop showing up, you won’t be wanted. Maybe if you stop trying, the relationship will end. Maybe if you stop texting, your phone will stay dark for weeks. That doesn’t mean you ruined the relationship, it means the only thing holding it back was the energy that only you gave to keep it. This is not love, it’s attachment. It’s wanting to give a chance to those who don’t deserve it. You deserve so much, there are people who should not be in your life.

The most valuable thing you have in your life is your time and energy, and both are limited.

When you give your time and energy, it will define your existence.

When you realize this, you begin to understand why you are so anxious when you spend time with people, in activities, places or situations that don’t suit you and shouldn’t be around you, your energy is stolen.

You will begin to realize that the most important thing you can do for yourself and for everyone around you is to protect your energy more fiercely than anything else. Make your life a safe haven, in which only ‘compatible′ people are allowed.

You are not responsible for saving anyone. You are not responsible for convincing them to improve. It’s not your work to exist for people and give your life to them! If you feel bad, if you feel compelled, you will be the root of all your problems, fearing that they will not return the favours you have granted. It’s your only obligation to realize that you are the love of your destiny and accept the love you deserve.

Decide that you deserve true friendship, commitment, true and complete love with healthy and prosperous people. Then wait and see how much everything begins to change. Don’t waste time with people who are not worth it.

Change will give you the love, the esteem, happiness and the protection you deserve.”

And now it’s your turn: As a new program year begins in this “fourth wave” of Covid, what changes are you making to your career or personal relationships?