The Power of Publishing Your “Big Why”

You wouldn’t guess the long, emotional journey that has driven Dr. Alanna Bree to establish A Children’s House for Pediatric Dermatology – nor its nonprofit counterpart, A Children’s House for the Soul. Her face only beamed joy as supporters streamed in the doors of The Health Museum in Houston. They were there to support the first annual happy hour fundraiser for the nonprofit. Bill Brown, the longtime voice of the Houston Astros, emceed an evening of tasty bites, signature cocktails, and auction items.

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But Dr. Alanna’s whole-hearted commitment was evident when speakers began sharing the impact of A Children’s House. A child life specialist explained the deep needs that the nonprofit fulfills in children and teens with skin disorders and birthmarks. A high school student with a rare genetic skin disorder talked about the respite from bullying that he enjoyed at the “Love The Skin You Are In” Family Days. A woman with a highly visible skin condition praised the nonprofit for helping her to embrace her unique beauty as a teenager. Through each speech, tears flowed quietly down Dr. Alanna’s face.

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This is her “big why.” Her whole purpose is to cultivate this healing and hope in the world – not only physically but also emotionally and spiritually.

This is what the whole evening was about. It was about more than what Dr. Bree does (care for children and teens with skin disease and birthmarks). It was also about more than how she does it (with compassionate, holistic care, flexibility, and reasonable prices). It was all about why she does it.

In his TEDx talk titled, “How great leaders inspire action,” marketing consultant Simon Sinek says this approach is what makes Dr. Alanna different from other physicians. You see, true leaders share their “big why” to inspire people to take action. Sinek says, “People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.”[1]

This is the reason Dr. Alanna just released, A Children’s House: A Small Story About a God-sized Dream. The 140-page autobiography chronicles her journey to becoming a pediatric dermatologist – and the four unmistakable words she heard from God that forever altered her course. She tells with honesty how she quit a successful but unsatisfying career to find her ultimate purpose and fulfillment. It’s a stunning read for everyone: medical students, professionals, believers, and nonbelievers alike.

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It’s also a stunning example of the power of sharing your “big why” with others. Dr. Alanna is communicating from “the inside out,” as Sinek calls it. She’s sharing the drive behind her cause, the whole reason her nonprofit exists. And it’s already making an impact.

As guests streamed out of the Health Museum, stakeholders stopped to tell Dr. Alanna that they were inspired by her message. Patients were grateful she hadn’t given up. Board members were surprised by their impact on her success. Dr. Alanna smiled at each of them. Now that they understand her “big why,” they are empowered to make a difference.

PubAuthor Portrait_editedElla Ritchie (left) is the founder of  Stellar Communications Houston, a business communications and book publishing team that brings clarity, quality, and integrity to nonfiction authors, business leaders, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies. Connect with the team on LinkedIn, Facebook, or the website for more information.

Alanna F. Bree, M.D., (right) is a board-certified pediatric dermatologist and owner of A Children’s House for Pediatric Dermatology, where she specializes in holistic care and effective treatments for skin conditions and birthmarks in infants, children, and teens. She is also the founder and executive director of a nonprofit organization, A Children’s House for the Soul, which provides social, emotional, and spiritual support for affected children and families in the Houston area. Connect with the clinic on Facebook and Twitter, or connect with the nonprofit on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

 

[1] Simon Sinek, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” TED, https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action#t-21349, accessed March 29, 2018.

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A Simple Lesson from Obama’s Speechwriter

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Courtesy of http://www.freeflagicons.com

It all comes down to one thing: emotion.

That’s what Cody Keenan told the Today show this morning. He said that communication comes down to simply creating emotion. And as President Obama’s speechwriter, he should know.

Keenan is the one who stirred laughter in the 2009 White House Correspondents’ Dinner remarks — and then stirred sobering respect in Ted Kennedy’s eulogy. He was the one who called for national unity in Tucson in 2011 when Gabby Giffords was shot.

And he is the one who stayed up this morning until the wee hours, putting the finishing touches on the State of the Union address that Obama will deliver tonight. Keenan has been applauded for creating the right emotion for each circumstance, and he’s worked hard with Obama in hopes that they’ve created it again for the nation.

So what does this mean for business leaders?

As you face 2016, consider the primary emotion that you want to inspire in your people. Peace, security, clarity, gratitude . . . . Think about the one thing they need most from you this year.

With this emotion in mind, rethink the ways you communicate in your personal and professional life. What’s working? What can be changed to create this emotion?

Here are just a few ways you can change your communication to inspire change in others:

  • Create peace by boldly talking about the elephant in the room, forming and documenting a resolution plan, and regularly checking progress.
  • Create security by keeping promises, regularly updating clients on projects, accepting ultimate accountability, and requesting online endorsements to prove your track record.
  • Create clarity by forming a mission statement, writing clear job descriptions and expectations, posting answers to FAQs, and providing a clear plan of action.
  • Create gratitude by steadily expressing appreciation for others in every situation.

When you focus on emotion, every form of communication becomes an opportunity to motivate and inspire others.

What emotion will drive your communication in 2016?

Ella Hearrean Ritchie is the owner of Stellar Communications, a Houston-based publishing company that delivers quality editing, writing, and publishing services on time to nonfiction authors, business leaders, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies.  Connect with her on LinkedIn or check out her website for more information.

Leverage Your Executive Biography

shoesHave you heard that women base their first impression of a man on his shoes? I didn’t believe it until the first time I caught myself glancing at the shoes of a speaker. He was articulate and well-dressed, and I was curious if his shoes were as polished as the rest of him. (They were.)

Your biography is the proverbial shoes of your brand. It is the fine detail that prospective clients use to gauge the quality and personality of your organization. This is why so many executives invest in a professional writer. A writer weaves your experiences, strengths, recognitions, client testimonials, and more into a tight selling package. And when prospects glance at your story, they’ll notice polish in the details.

But communicating quality isn’t the only benefit to a well-crafted biography. The best part is the incredible opportunity to leverage your investment. Just a handful of nips and tucks can adjust your biography into many different formats and purposes that all tie together. Here are some ways you can use your executive summary with a few tweaks:

  • website biography page
  • print materials
  • boilerplates at the bottom of online or print publications
  • personal or corporate LinkedIn profiles
  • Facebook business page
  • introductions to speeches
  • media kit
  • email introductions
  • email announcements or ads
  • resume

Take a look at your biography. How can you leverage it to add value to your corporate materials?

Ella Hearrean Ritchie is the owner of Stellar Communications, a Houston-based editing and writing company that delivers quality content on time to business leaders, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies. She is also the director of publishing at Chart House Press, which publishes and promotes books and business brands with purpose. Connect with her on LinkedIn or check out her website for more information.

Everything I Know About Business I Learned from Writing

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1. Get clear on your purpose. What value are you uniquely qualified to provide to the world?

2. Know how you want your story to end. Without vision, you’re just rambling.

3. Create an outline. Give some structure to your plan by splitting up and prioritizing your work into smaller tasks.

4. Know your audience. Appeal to your ideal customer.

5. Put it all on paper. Give it all you’ve got. The best stories are risky.

6. Expect writer’s block. Accept your limitations but don’t let them stop you for long. Tap into resources to push through obstacles.

7. Check your tone. Attitude is everything.

8. Create margins. Give yourself a little breathing room to rest, exercise, and have a little fun.

9. Expect mistakes. The first draft is usually rough.

10. Seek feedback. Surround yourself with people you trust who are wiling to say the hard things.

11. Reflect. Give yourself time to take another look tomorrow with fresh eyes.

12. Edit. Prune out the clutter that distracts you from your purpose.

13. Meet your deadline. Stay accountable. Honor your commitment to yourself and others.

14. Sign your name. Own your brand. Share the successes and take responsibility for the failures.

15. Get published. Accept that you’ll never reach perfection. Put yourself out there and be vulnerable.

16. Keep reading. Learn from others’ style and techniques. Stay humble.

17. Celebrate each step of the process. You’re never totally done, so recognize your milestones along the way!

Ella Ritchie is the owner of Stellar Communications, a Houston-based editing and writing company that delivers quality content on time to business leaders, publishers, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies. Connect with her on LinkedIn or check out her website for more information.

Is Your Writer a Robot?

Image courtesy of https://tctechcrunch2011.files.wordpress.com.
Image courtesy of https://tctechcrunch2011.files.wordpress.com.

Quick: Can you spot the writing of a robot?

Exhibit A: “WYNN-US’s return on assets has declined from above median to about median among peers, indicating declining relative operating performance.”

Exhibit B: “Despite an upper single digit sales CAGR through 2025, limited margin leverage mutes earnings momentum. Intuitive has the highest high OM/GM ration in devices even following recent softer top-line growth pressuring operating margins through 2015.”

These were the two samples that Stephanie Yang presented in her Wall Street Journal article, Is Your Wall Street Analyst a Robot? If you guessed that a robot generated Exhibit A, you’re correct.

Yang explores the rising trend of financial-services businesses to rely on software for computer-generated news like this sample. In fact, she says automated writing has become so popular that financial firms make up 60% of the client base at Narrative Sciences Inc. Other startups that use artificial intelligence are clamoring to get in on the action.

So, what does trend this mean for financial advisors and investors?

Let’s start with the good news: Automation brings with it a world of efficiencies. Although Yang couldn’t get firms to talk cost, sophisticated software programs that use algorithms to synthesize information enable business to publish thousands of corporate summaries and marketing materials quickly and relatively cheaply. Analysts, in turn, are less preoccupied with reports and more free to focus on higher-value time with clients. And they apparently don’t need to be concerned about being replaced by a robot: Yang cited a 2013 Oxford University study in which financial analysts were ranked as safer than 70% of other occupations.

But automation comes with its problems: Just take a look at two writing samples again. Whereas the machine reported quantitative facts in Exhibit A, the human writer who composed Exhibit B weighed each word for quality. Yang points out the ability of a human to cut through industry noise to bring insight, advancement, and nuance to financial information. Every businessman worth his salt knows business is about relationships, and a human writer can build relationships with words that a machine cannot (yet).

Ultimately, even this writer has to admit that automation in writing is an interesting and worthwhile development. But as with any novel shortcut in business, recognize its limitations or risk alienating your investors. Only a human writer can truly leverage words to build business-sustaining relationships.

Ella Ritchie is the owner of Stellar Communications, a Houston-based editing and writing company that delivers quality content on time to business leaders, publishers, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies. Connect with her on LinkedIn or check out her website for more information.

How to Get Your Writer to Write Like You Talk

talkingheads“This sounds nothing like me,” a client recently confided about his content from another writer. “It’s not what I wanted.”

His disappointment was evident–and not uncommon.

What do you do when you read your first draft of content from your writer in high hopes . . . and feel disappointment instead?

Some people give up on their writer and return to cobbling together their own words. Some seek another writer, hoping to find The One that will magically breathe life into their content.

To be sure, not all writers are equal. Some are better than others at certain forms of writing, such as blogging, business, or advertising. And some are simply just better writers.

But before you ditch your writer, consider this: Have you provided her with enough guidance? Have you taken the time to tell her about you and what you want? Writers are a bit like hairstylists: Provide little instruction, and you’re likely to get a mohawk instead of that simple trim you wanted.

My clients are usually sure about one thing: They want a writer who can write like they talk. And a good writer changes her tone to accommodate each client as easily as she changes her wardrobe.

But what clients aren’t always certain of is how to communicate what they want to their writers.

To get your writer on board with your expectations, consider these four simple ideas:

  1. Compile a style guide, which is simply a list of what you want in your written communication. The most well-developed guide I’ve seen so far is that of Explore God, a nonprofit organization that invests deeply in its team of writers. In addition to six instructions dedicated to tone alone, the organization provides 15 more parameters as guidance—down to the ideal number of words to include in a sentence.
  2. Provide your writer with any existing corporate materials that help her get a feel for the way you’ve been presenting your company, including your online materials such as your website and social media forums as well as print materials such as article, brochures, and flyers.
  3. Provide direct, specific feedback. You’d be surprised how many people hesitate to tell their writer they’re unhappy with their content in an effort to avoid an awkward conversation. Experienced writers, however, already know that their writing will not satisfy every client, particularly a first draft. They appreciate clients who are honest and specific about what they want to change.
  4. Perhaps the most critical—and most overlooked—piece of information is the published version of your content. Don’t let your busyness or fear of an awkward conversation get in the way of this step. In addition to providing specific guidance to your writer, she can begin compiling a study guide based on the final product. That way, you both win.

With a little effort and communication, you can align your writer with your expectations – and you might get a better haircut to boot. What other strategies have you used to communicate with your writer?

Ella Hearrean of Stellar Communications is a Houston-based freelance editor and writer for companies, publishers, and organizations. Connect with her on LinkedIn or check out her website to continue the conversation.

Upgrade Your Genius

Photo courtesy of borntocompete.com
Photo courtesy of borntocompete.com

“Successful people simply practice successful habits.” – Brian Tracy

Successful business leaders are more than great visionaries. Their success is in their everyday habits — the small choices that build an empire over time.

One notable empire is the basketball career of Michael Jordan. Houston business coach Glenn Smith recently shared Jordan’s incredible story of successful habits with me.

“Michael Jordan without a doubt was one of the greatest basketball players in the history of the NBA,” he said. “But Jordan was not born a star basketball player. He was actually cut from his high school varsity team.

However, he didn’t let that stop him. He worked hard to play high school ball and even earn a shot at playing in college. He wasn’t recruited by the college he wanted to play for — North Carolina State — and he wasn’t drafted by the first two NBA teams that could have chosen him.

But Jordan never let any of this get in his way. At college, his coaches were taken aback by his willingness to work harder than anyone else. Even at the height of his success with the Chicago Bulls, his coach called him ‘a genius who constantly wants to upgrade his genius.'”

Michael Jordan’s story is a fantastic example of successful habits. Most notable is his daily investment of time and energy toward his vision in spite of obstacles and rejection.

Another notable habit was Jordan’s decision to resist distractions. Surely he was tempted at times to steer his attention toward other promising activities, people, or purposes, but he didn’t take the bait. Instead, he focused solely on doing one thing very well — “upgrading his genius.”

Like Jordan, successful business leaders define their vision and practice successful habits daily in spite of obstacles and rejections. But they also resist promising distractions. Even a worthy task, such as blogging, can prove to be an ineffective, distracting effort if a leader doesn’t have the time to maintain it properly. Business success includes tapping into resources and delegating tasks in order to remain focused on your primary genius.

What daily investments will you make — and what distractions will you delegate — to upgrade your genius this year?

Ella Hearrean of Stellar Communications is a Houston-based freelance editor and writer for business leaders, organizations, and publishers. Connect with her on LinkedIn or on her website.