Category Archives: Education Strategy

Fifteen Dos and Don’ts when Writing for Children- Recap of Jesse Florea’s Session at Write-to-Publish 2014

Some have a heart for children- others a heart for writing.  Marry the two and the world will change.

I had the pleasure of meeting with Clubhouse Magazine’s editor, Jesse Florea, at Write-to-Publish in Wheaton, IL.  He was at the conference looking for great stories for Focus on the Family and he presented a session on how to write for children. He’s also the author of several books for kids and their parents.

Who Is Generation Z, The Homeland Generation?

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Generation Z was born between 1995 and 2005.  They’re known as the “Silent Generation”, “Homeland Generation,” or the “Net Generation” because they’ve grown up with the Internet. They were born after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks when many felt safer staying at home. William Strauss and Neil Howe describe this group as “highly connected” and media technology savvy because they are “digital natives.”  During a naming contest sponsored by Neil Howe’s company website, Homeland Generation was the name chosen by the site’s voters to represent this generation.

Florea says,

“They’re self-directed. Parents no longer over-schedule their children like they did five years ago.  There’s a little more free time for this generation, which is good because they have time to be creative, but the bad part is that they have this technology and when you have technology and time, they can get into trouble with the technology rather easily.”

According to NC State University:

“Such connectedness has a dark side, however, contributing to a sedentary lifestyle and skyrocketing rates of obesity. This generation may live shorter, less healthy lives than their parents despite the medical advances of the last twenty years. Of 100 Generation Z kids, 47 will be obese by the time they reach adulthood.”

Florea says,

“Basically, that’s because they don’t have to go outside to be entertained. All the entertainment they need is at their fingertips with a gaming console or they can talk to their friends through any different type of social media. They don’t need to get outside to get together.”

In 2011, Grail Research provided a fascinating look into this next generation by comparing the relationship of Boomer parents to their children verses Generation X parents to their Generation Z children.  Fundamentally the differences lie in the comfort with technology that Generation X shares with its children. There is an increasing overlap between Generations X, Y, and Z and their channels of entertainment, technology, brand experiences, and family values.

“Generation X is raising Generation Z with a high involvement parenting style. Generation X saw a social trend of divorces and is expected to instill stronger family values, along with ‘old’ notions such as work ethic, etiquette, and resilience. This, along with better education, will make Generation Z more tolerant, respectful, and responsible.”

The Homeland Generation might be more financially conservative, too. Florea says,

“Generation Z is saving their money.” Also, “This generation identifies itself more as individuals, than as a team…Sort of like Generation X…They believe in their own character and they believe they have their own persona.  Generation Z doesn’t believe in getting agreement or living by social norms.  Their society exists on the Internet where they speak out their minds and express their opinions.”

 

15 Dos and Don’ts When Writing for Kids

To kick off his session, Florea asked, “How would you describe children?”  Words like “rambunctious”, “messy”, “innocent”, and “smart” quickly filled the room from the audience.

Florea mentioned, “We want all of that in your writing. I’ve been at Focus on the Family for twenty-one years.  You know of Dr. Dobson.  He wrote a lot of books.  A lot of dos and don’ts.  Having boundaries, having parameters can really help, so that’s how this workshop started. I’m going to share about 15 or 16 dos and don’ts” when writing for kids.

  1. Don’t underestimate your audience. 

    “Kids are thinking, feeling and smart human beings.  They just lack life experience and the wisdom we can share with them as writers. Don’t doubt a child’s ability to understand concepts and accomplish great things. Generation Z is a smart generation because they have at their fingertips, all the information in the world.”

    Clubhouse Magazine particularly likes to feature ordinary kids performing extraordinary feats. Challenge kids with your writing. Kids know that things aren’t always perfect. You can’t shelter these kids, there’s just too much readily accessible information. Don’t shy away from writing stories about kids in single parent homes, with special needs, or whose families are in financial duress.

  1. Challenge kids spiritually. Years ago, Clubhouse Magazine received a letter saying that it was “boring.” Florea took the letter, published it, and asked, “Okay, readers are we boring?” He received close to 500 responses.  One of the common threads through all of them was that kids want to be spiritually challenged. They don’t just want to hear a Bible story.  They want to see its application.
  1. Do get into a child’s mind. Know their interests.  What makes them tick?  What do their parents want them to learn? This is important because parents are the ones buying the magazines.  Spend time with kids and know what they’re studying in school.
  1. Do work on a gripping opening. Capture their attention within the first three sentences.  You have to have a good hook.
  1. Do use vibrant, active verbs.  Kids need action.  The story needs to move. Show the action, don’t tell it. A Wheaton professor of Florea’s used to say, “There’s always a better way to start a story than with ‘it’ or ‘there’.” As soon as you start with it or there, you’re using passive voice. When editing copy, Florea seeks out and circles it, there, was, is, and were and reconsiders what these words add to each sentence.
  1.  Don’t go adjective crazy. “One well-chosen adjective is better than three adjectives strung together. Adjectives slow down your writing, while verbs keep up the pacing and make everything go faster.” Also, when using dialogue, just use said. “Said” is an invisible word that people read through.  If you go for fancier words like “chortle” or “mused”, you’ll stop the narrative. The person reading will stop and think, “Oh, why are they using that word?”
  1. Do use interesting and realistic dialogue.  Don’t try to use the cute catch phrases that the kids are using today because those words may be out of style by the time the article or book is published.  Florea looks for stories with active verbs, compelling dialogue, and believable characters.
  1. Show the action. 
  1. Do use humor. People retain 80% more when they’re laughing. To achieve humor you can use repetition, switches, exaggeration, extremes, and word plays.
  1. Don’t wrap up your story in a nice, little bow. Kids know that’s not how the world works. Be honest.  Former IU professor, Peter Jacobi, once said “The ending should leave the reader with satisfaction tinged with dissatisfaction.” Do leave readers with a nugget of truth. From age five on, children are able to relate to stories in characters just like adults. A value development specialist, who once visited Focus on the Family, said that “by age ten, right and wrong are locked in for a child.”
  1. Edit your copy.  Some professional writers work through up to thirty revisions before sending in a story. Cut the fat. Stay away from clichés.
  1. Do be creative. Don’t copy the world.
  1. Know industry trends. Go for “edu-tainment” (educate and entertain), which is like writing a chocolate bar packed with a vitamin. Watch movie trailers to see what will be big when each movie comes out the next year.
  1. Do write compelling characters. Write characters that are going through a lot of things. Also, don’t have the adults solve the problems.  Let the kids solve the issues without preaching from the adult characters.
  1. Do be yourself.  Kids can spot a phony a mile away.

 

Next June, make a point of visiting the Write-to-Publish conference in Wheaton.  The people are welcoming and you may soon find that you’ve developed relationships with mentors and fellow writers who will guide you throughout your career.  Meet one-on-one with acquisition editors and publishers, while also absorbing valuable insights and industry trends.  We especially thank Jesse Florea for sharing his expertise in children’s publishing with My Web Writers’ readers!

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Filed under Audience, Conferences, Editors, Education Strategy, School Websites, Women Writers, Writing Careers, Writing for Children

Two Unforgettable Keynote Speeches and Why They Were So Good

It is that time of year when the successful, the esteemed, and the sages are orating all over the country. We’d all benefit from turning an ear to their decrees of wisdom.

2014 Graduation SpeechesThese days, we are all privy to the pearls wisdom from the elite through social media. As a result, we have on record some of the most profound and universal principles that have guided the successful for decades.

Graduation and commencements are still taking place. Bill and Melinda Gates will be speaking at Stanford in a few weeks. The first of its kind joint commencement speech will surely have some noteworthy truths shared. But for now, we have chosen these two very different speeches to glean from.

Colin Powell at High Point University

Colin Powell gave the May 3rd commencement address for High Point University. The General’s calm authority is powerful. His recent talk echoed much of his core beliefs regarding the importance of a life dedicated to service, compassion, and making the choice to be a problem solver for others.

Here are some of his words of advice for the class of 2014:

  • “Make sure you share the talent and the time and the treasure you have with others who are in greater need than you.”
  • “Go forth and raise strong families remembering that all you can ever leave behind is your reputation, your good works and your children for the next generation.”
  • “As you go through life, listen to the other side. Have your eyes and your ears and your heart open to counterviews…”
  • “If you want to save the world, start by saving just one kid. That’s what it’s all about.”

You can see General Powell’s speech here in its entirety.

Jennifer Lee at the University of New Hampshire

Jennifer Lee was the honored speaker at her alma mater, the University of New Hampshire. Who is Jennifer Lee? Lee is simply the first female director of a Walt Disney Animation Studios feature film and the first writer at any major animation studio to become a director. That is a big deal. Then she takes it up a notch and writes a little screenplay, Frozen, which goes on to win the Academy Award for the Best Animated feature film.

Looking like she may be a former model, Lee was humble and honest in her appeal to the graduating class of 2014. Like many creative people, it seems that this groundbreaking director has wrestled self-doubt and won. She shares, almost in the tone of a “12 Step meeting,” what happens when self-doubt takes root. She describes how it clouds everything you do and see. It is the opposite of wearing rose-colored glasses. Lee shares, “The lenses of self-doubt are nasty and thick, big and filthy and covered in swamp scum. They are the lenses of, ‘I’m not good enough.’”

Ms. Lee shares from her heart for nearly fifteen minutes. She takes us on her journey through adolescent and young adulthood. Her story is one that everyone can identify with on some level. All, except that blockbuster hit she has on her resume, of course!

Ultimately, Ms. Lee’s speech was worth sharing as another example of how women are respectfully breaking through ceilings. Even having the vulnerability to share authentically, in the vein of Brene Brown, is a bit revolutionary. She implores the graduates to join the revolution.

“When you are free from self-doubt, you fail better. You accept criticism and listen,” Lee told grads. “If I learned one thing, it is that self-doubt is one of the most destructive forces. It makes you defensive instead of open, reactive instead of active. Self-doubt is consuming and cruel and my hope today is that we can all collectively agree to ban it.”

Ban self-doubt? We couldn’t agree more.

There is also no doubt that there will be other great speeches given over the next few weeks that deserve to be shared. Let us know if you spot one so we can all learn from the lives of the successful.

~ Jennifer

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Filed under Colleges, Keynote Ideas, Leadership, Speeches

Leverage the Power of the Second Axiom with Customers

The way you look at the world today is not the way you looked at it when you were ten. Back then, the teacher who frowned and ordered, “walk in the hallway” was “mean.” Going back to visit today, you’d probably find that not only is the building a little smaller, but that mean old teacher is, too.

Teacher and Student RelationshipsIf you were to take her to lunch, you might even find her to be rather “nice” and full of interesting stories and insights about you, your family, and the other kids you knew. You had no idea what the principal was really doing or how two of your favorite teachers never really got along. Maybe she’d even share a story about a child who she really helped. Further, as you think about it more, you might discover that child is you!

The second axiom of Paul Watzlawick’s Interactive Communication Theory is:

“Every communication has a content and relationship aspect such that the latter classifies the former and is therefore a meta-communication. Each person responds to the content of communication in the context of the relationship between the communicators.”
(Wanterfall)

Knowledge and experience shape how we see a situation and react to it. Whether we’re young or old, living in a hut or in a mansion, we bring our own worlds to each interaction. Meta communication is the sub-text through which the real message is found. “It is based on the idea that the same message, accompanied by different meta-communication, can mean something entirely different, including its opposite, as in irony.” (Wikipedia)

Watzlawick’s Interactive Communication Theory suggests that:

“Communication happens because all of the communicators are not ‘speaking the same language.’ This happens because people have different viewpoints of speaking.”

Communication BreakdownThis second axiom begins to explain why some customers don’t respond well to certain emails, commercials, websites, or blog posts- yet alone the newest sales guy on your team. Customer perspectives alter your message.

Just like the teacher didn’t seem so mean after the boy grew up and had a perspective change, so your clients might one day appreciate your product, service, brand, or channel when needs or experiences change perspectives. Of course, until then, you might want to further analyze how to alter how you say what you say, so that it’s more favorably received.

Dominos decided to change the perception of its pizza. Executives spent eighteen months perfecting their product before hiring an ad agency reshape the brand’s message and image. According to Adam Toporek, “All of the campaigns mentioned above blended… the three legs of the modern marketing stool: traditional advertising, public relations, and online/social. The Turnaround Campaign did not approach public relations in isolation and made sure all campaign components supported its core messages.”

JC Penny, on the other hand, lost market share when trying to turn around losses in sales. Because of his previous experiences at Apple, the new CEO was out of step with the majority of Penny’s shoppers when he rid the retailer of couponing. Some say that bargain hunting is part of a female shopper’s DNA.

The relationship one has to the content determines how the content is received. What could make your message more effective?

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Filed under Branding, Education Strategy, Marketing

Disruptive Offline Content

Content on the Internet will continue to be needed.

Could an under-riding current, force, or attitude ever topple the rigorous success of today’s Internet giants? As spring conference goers chatter about high-tech wearables and ranking methodologies, business appears to march forward- as usual.  According to the US Census Bureau, in 2005 about $5,498 million was earned in publishing and broadcasting content on the Internet.  Plunkett Research expects that number to grow to $61.4 billion in 2017.

Google’s Hummingbird update paved way for deeper, more semantically relevant and meaningful content to exist for a very long time.  Consumers want to interact, understand concepts, and contextualize ideas. Hummingbird makes it faster for consumers to find those answers and it depends heavily on the planet’s best writers and producers to deliver the words, pictures, and videos needed for consumption.

It seems like Google is poised to stay at the top of its game for years to come.

Many remain skeptical of the Internet.

But, according to the NY Times in May 2013, about 15% of US adults still don’t use the Internet.  Tens of millions of people in the US are not plugged into computers for a variety of reasons including “lack of interest, lack of skills, or computer illiteracy.”  Given the recent €150,000 fine for privacy violations in France, there are large populations- even governments that remain pensive about spying, data collection, and bitcoins being exchanged on the Internet.

While there is often a knowledge discrepancy between those who manipulate the mechanics of the Internet and those who consume its content, consumers aren’t ignorant of what makes them uncomfortable.

Business is more competitive online today.

Even those who work within the search industry freely admit that staying abreast and ahead of the rapid changes is crucial to survival in the space. Some have replaced their SEO services with a hip suite of content marketing services, inbound services, publishing services or link removal services to stay current, but the costs of the industry’s leading software and manpower to deliver those services aren’t cheap. Each year the space becomes more and more competitive because online advertising dollars spent are increasing.

The Theory of Disruptive Innovation

According to Clayton Christensen, Harvard Business School professor, disruptive innovation “describes a process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves up market, eventually displacing established competitors.”

It is conceivable that the innovator who embraces the concerns of the fifteen percent of the population still holding out against technology, could force the Goliaths in the Internet industry to stumble or to fall- even though that appears improbable from today’s vantage point. After all, anyone reading this post is probably not in the fifteen percent.

Revamping offline

April_Cover-229x300

I recently met a gentleman who sells high-quality, community magazines, which include articles and pictures of new residents, community happenings, meet-ups, and local features. The writers live within the communities and often include resident teenagers, who are required to perform community service for their schools.

The company sells local and national advertising in these magazines and delivers the magazines for free to residents. When I asked how it was that people were willing to share such intimate descriptions and pictures of their children’s activities, schools, interests, favorite vacations, and other details with the friends and strangers in their neighborhoods, the gentleman said, “Well, it’s a closed community. We let people know that nothing goes online. Each community is affluent. Advertisers want to reach these decision-makers in their homes- away from the office.” The equation works even though many online versions of magazines exist today.

This offline, mini-version of Facebook generates millions of dollars a week. While the model might be a throw-back to an era gone-by and it’s naïve to think that content wouldn’t end up online, the magazine’s laser-like focus on local, micro-communities is nonetheless finding avenues to reach the elusive 15%.

What are the attitudes consumers harbor, but don’t necessarily express and do any of those silently resonate with the majority who do work online, but are frustrated by credit card security lapses and account hacks?

Think of the seventies clothing some wore as kids, laughed at as teens, and then revamped and wore again as adults.

Could social media, search, content creation, and advertising be disrupted by retro-like, offline versions in the future?

Anything is possible.

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Filed under Business Strategy, Content, Education Strategy, Marketing, Queries & Articles