What They’re Saying & Yada Yada

Testimonials. Does your site include them? Today they seem to be a standard, if a little hackneyed, part of every website. That got me wondering about fresh approaches to using testimonials and endorsements. Here are two good references on writing and asking for testimonials, courtesy of Google: www.internetbusinesscoach.net. Meanwhile, I’m interested in hearing from you about original approaches to use of testimonials, whether in where and how they’re displayed or their actual content.

Al McCoy

A great big thank you to Al McCoy, the voice of the Phoenix Suns! One of my favorite clients, Yavapai Exceptional Industries (YEI!), celebrated THIRTY years in our community on January 28. YEI! creates meaningful work, volunteer, and recreational opportunities for over 150 developmentally disabled adults. Brad Newman, Executive Director (and all around fun guy) and I were brainstorming creative (and low cost!) ways to celebrate this milestone. We asked Mr. McCoy if he would record the after-hours answering machine message at YEI! and he did so for us gratis, for the SECOND time: we first asked him five years ago when YEI! was commemorating their silver anniversary. I just want to personally thank Al for his kind and generous gesture. If you’d like to hear the message, call this number after 5:00 p.m.: 928.445.0991.

I would also like to commend Harkins Theatres on their public service announcement policy. They generously donate on screen ad space to qualifying non-profits, as space permits. The Marketing Department at Harkins shepherded us through the process of creating a compliant ad for our friends at Yavapai Exceptional Industries (YEI!) and you can see it for yourself if you visit the Precott Valley Harkins between March 5 and April 1, 2004. Thanks, Harkins, for your clear guidelines and spirit of community service!

Pretend Vacation

January just comes swooping in, doesn’t it? Just when you feel you might be gearing up to tackle all those resolutions, so do all your clients! Everyone gets back on the treadmill in a big way the first week of the month!

If you’re still catching your breath, try this: take a pretend vacation over the weekend, even if you really can’t go anywhere but your living room. Maybe do a little dreaming (with or without an actual nap), non-work related reading, and give yourself a home spa treatment. (My friend Linda Williams can set you up with the products you need for an enjoyable in-home spa day, whether you’re a guy or a gal.)

My “baby” had his 16th birthday recently, so now all I need to do is remind myself that I don’t actually have to wrap up my day at 2:50 p.m. to go to school and pick him up any more. This also means that I can take on some new projects or activities without overloading my circuits. One such activity that I recommend if you’ll be in Prescott on Friday, March 12, is that you attend this workshop: “Marketing Basics,” from 1:30 – 3:30 at the Prescott Police Department. Michele Pariza Wacek is the instructor.

San Miguel de Allende

I was fortunate to enjoy the most enchanting experience recently: a good friend asked if I would like to be one of eight people to share a villa in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico for two weeks. Clareen Barrett, a most gifted and phenomenally prolific painter, was the ringleader, and she assembled a dynamic group of artists to share this memorable experience.

Our host in San Miguel was Paloma I. Leon Rosa. Her lovely B & B in Calle Ladrillera is located very near the Jardin, the center of town. The warm hospitality shown by Paloma, our housekeeper Naibi, and everyone we encountered will never be forgotten. This American’s command of Spanish is less than remarkable, but my efforts to communicate were graciously received. For some images of this beautiful city in central Mexico, look here. A big thank you to everyone who was a part of this experience, and to Clareen for including me in it!

Ten Ways to Request—and Receive—Constructive Criticism

This article was contributed to LooseEnds.net by Beth Mende Conny in 2003.

1. Understand and recognize the difference between constructive and destructive criticism.

The former may not make you comfortable, but it does make you think and ultimately act to improve your writing. The latter saps you of energy and confidence, setting up hurdles and blocks that slow or halt your personal or professional growth. Constructive criticism is to be embraced, destructive criticism is to be ignored.

2. Don’t ask if you’re not willing to accept.

Criticism, however constructive, can be hard to take. Nonetheless, it’s imperative that you take it well, and even with grace and style. Remember always, it ain’t personal. It’s about how you can improve on something, make some thing better. You must understand and accept this if you are listen to what others have to say with an open mind and heart.

3. Choose your audiences carefully.

Don’t request feedback from negative or small thinkers, e.g., individuals who have hidden agendas, difficulty accepting the success of others, or a limited vision of what’s possible. By the same token, don’t choose folks who love or respect you so much that they would rather placate or protect you than offer feedback that is honest and thereby helpful.

4. Choose an audience of 3-plus.

One person’s opinion is, well, just one person’s opinion; it may or may not have validity. Two or more people saying the same thing, even if in different ways, is harder to dismiss. The key then is to have three of more “critics” to discern if there are any “recurring themes.” If so, you will know that you have an issue that must be addressed if your writing is to move onto a higher level.

5. Choose your audience the way you would a team.

Pick individuals with distinct experiences, areas of expertise, and tastes. Each will come at his/her task from a unique perspective, adding invaluable dimension to your project. Too, these varying perspectives can pinpoint holes in logic, substance, and facts that you might not have identified otherwise.

6. Provide instructions.

Let your “critics” know if there’s anything in particular you want them to read or look for. This enables them to focus their sights on what’s most important to you and to report back accordingly, be it on your delivery, organization, choice of topic, appearance, conclusions, etc.

7. Make your expectations clear.

State up front the kind of criticism you expect to receive. Let your “critics” know it must be constructive, not destructive, and that it must be specific. Comments like “I liked it,” “You did a good job,” “Looks good,” are practically meaningless. Too, they’re as unsatisfying as a limp handshake; one gets the sense that the other person isn’t (wasn’t) fully engaged. Worst of all, such comments don’t help you improve, because they give you no solid information to work with.

8. Take two steps back.

All criticism (especially that coming from several “critics”) takes a while to sort through—and that’s just fine. In fact, it’s preferable. Let the comments of others filter through your system; let them co-mingle, evolve, take new shape, and open new doors. Only when you’ve fully absorbed what’s been said can you decide how (or even if) you’ll act on it.

9. Consult your most important critic.

Who is that all-important creature? You—first, last, and always. Remember—your opinion matters. After all, you know your work better than anyone else. You know what it was meant to be. And you are the one, the only one, who can deliver on its promise. Sure, the comments of others count; sure they can be wonderfully helpful. Ultimately, however, you’re the one in charge. You have the final word. You are the one who must step up to the plate and swing.

10. Become a constructive critic yourself.

When others ask for your feedback, model the best qualities of a constructive critic. Be honest, specific, relevant, caring. Most importantly, be present. Commit to really absorbing and thinking about another person’s work. It has taken a lot for them to put themselves in your hands; be worthy of that trust.

©1999 by Beth Mende Conny. All rights reserved in all media. Reprinted with author’s permission.

Beth Mende Conny is the founder and co-president of WriteDirections.com, a virtual university that offers practical, conveniently scheduled teleclasses for writers of all levels. Beth has penned several columns over the years, including “Sunshine,” a humor column that ran in parenting monthlies across the United States. Her weekly columns, WriteQuotes and WriteDirectionals, are available through WriteDirections.com.