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Alan Barker
Learning consultant and author, specializing in all things wordy.
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Winston Churchill: A Life in the News Richard Toye Oxford, 2020 £20.00 ISBN 978 0 19 880398 0 Richard Toye’s earlier book, The Roar of the Lion, focussed on Churchill’s speeches. The title of his new book indicates a more diffuse theme. Toye explores this very public life in three dimensions: Churchill’s own prolific writings; his media image; and his attempts to control the press. Churchill began his journalistic career in the last decade of the 19th century, just as the telegraph and the telephone were beginning to globalize the press. He effectively ended it in 1947, with an article... Continue reading
Posted Aug 12, 2020 at Alan Barker
I'll tell you why. And you can book a place here. I always try to take away just one new thing from every course that I attend; I feel that I’ve learned so much on this one. Definitely taking away more than one! Vlatka Lake, Space Station Your course was extremely helpful and ignited my passion for writing. In fact, you have given me some confidence, which is something that has always been an issue for me. Everything I learned from this course will most definitely be take on board. Thank you very much. Jane Smith [pseudonym], freelance copywriter I... Continue reading
Posted Jun 9, 2020 at Alan Barker
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I've been working with the British Science Association for over six years. The 2020 British Science Festival, of course, has been cancelled, but the directors of the festival have nonetheless made seven Award Lectures, as they do every year. Hopefully, they will deliver their lectures next year. I've interviewed all seven, and you can read the posts on the BSA blog. Scroll down and enjoy insights into cutting-edge science with brilliant early-career researchers. Dr Meera Joshi is the 2020 Isambard Kingdom Brunel Award Lecture winner for Engineering, Technology and Industry. Mortality rates from sepsis can be as high as 25%.... Continue reading
Posted Jun 5, 2020 at Alan Barker
Here's my new portfolio of online courses. Download Kairos_Online_prospectus_June2020_v5. The schedule runs till August, at which point it will almost certainly grow. Continue reading
Posted Jun 2, 2020 at Alan Barker
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Leading Lines Lucinda Holdforth HarperCollins Publishers (Australia) Pty Ltd (6 Feb. 2020) ISBN-10: 1460757297 ISBN-13: 978-1460757291 There are, broadly, two types of speechwriting book. There are manuals offering a systematic method, the most celebrated of which, currently, is probably Richard Lehrman’s The Political Speechwriter’s Companion. And there are the memoirs of speechwriters, most of them, according to Lucinda Holdforth in her new book, “laments over totally failed speechwriting relationships.” Leading Lines sits – quite comfortably, in fact – between these two camps. Dr Holdforth herself is no failure: she’s worked at the highest political and corporate levels in her native... Continue reading
Posted Feb 28, 2020 at Alan Barker
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Leading Lines Lucinda Holdforth HarperCollins Publishers (Australia) Pty Ltd, 2019 ISBN-10: 1460757297 ISBN-13: 978-1460757291 There are, broadly, two types of speechwriting book. There are manuals offering a systematic method, the most celebrated of which, currently, is probably Richard Lehrman’s The Political Speechwriter’s Companion. And there are the memoirs of speechwriters, most of them, according to Lucinda Holdforth in her new book, “laments over totally failed speechwriting relationships.” Leading Lines sits – quite comfortably, in fact – between these two camps. Dr Holdforth, be it said at once, is no failure: she’s worked at the highest political and corporate levels in... Continue reading
Posted Nov 25, 2019 at Alan Barker
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What’s the collective noun for a group of speechwriters? A proclamation? A peroration? A paradox, perhaps? Speechwriting is, after all, a profession full of contradictions. Speechwriters craft public language and lurk in the shadows; they crave close access to their speakers and often see their texts mangled by cloth-eared apparatchiks. They need to be agile networkers, and they work - for hours and hours - alone. A collective of speechwriters might seem an oxymoron. Which is why the very concept of a speechwriters’ conference promises intrigue and surprise. Both were evident at the 19th conference of the European Speechwriters’ Network,... Continue reading
Posted Oct 7, 2019 at Alan Barker
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Mid-September, and it’s time again for the British Science Festival. For the last five years, I’ve been working with the winners of this year’s Award Lectures, the festival’s flagship events. In July, we met in London to share and develop our ideas; now, as summer gives way to the stimulating nip of autumn, I’m at the University of Warwick to see cutting-edge science celebrated and witness some of the best science communication around. The Award Lectures have been presented by the British Science Association (the BSA) since 1990. The awards recognise and promote pivotal research being carried out in the... Continue reading
Posted Sep 9, 2019 at Alan Barker
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[image: DrAfter123 / Getty Images] We understand information by pattern-matching. If you can organise information into a simple pattern that your audience or reader can recognise, they'll be better prepared to understand it. For instance, we can explain in six different ways. I have no idea who first created this list of patterns, but my hunch is that it appeared at some point in the early nineteenth century. The list varies slightly from textbook to textbook; this is the version I've found most useful over the years. Example Categorising Definition Comparison and contrast Cause and effect Chronological or process pattern... Continue reading
Posted Jan 29, 2019 at Alan Barker
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[image via http://www.communicatescience.eu with thanks] The British Science Association is calling for applications for sessions at the 2019 British Science Festival, to be held in September at the University of Warwick. Maybe you're interested in applying. Maybe you're applying to another sciccomm event somewhere. Maybe you're just starting out planning one. Whatever your interest, these notes will help you hone your application. We'll go through a series of six questions. At this stage, you need only simple answers. You’re not planning your presentation yet, only putting together the proposal. If you can be clear about this key elements, your proposal... Continue reading
Posted Jan 29, 2019 at Alan Barker
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I've been blogging for the British Science Association for about three years. Here is a selection of my posts. Please browse. The AI Revolution: Jim Al-Khalili’s Presidential Address 2018 Don't take my word for it: Dame Uta Frith's Presidential Address 2017 What are universities for? Dame Nancy Rothwell's Presidential Address 2016 In the driving seat: what’s the risk with epilepsy? Resilient reefs A future divided? The weight of expectation Shedding light on baby brain injury Hunting for a Huntington’s treatment Getting in the neural groove From kings to keyholes Will you be my friend? The acoustics of nature Can astronomy... Continue reading
Posted Jan 2, 2019 at Alan Barker
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This is a pilcrow. It's the symbol used to mark paragraph breaks in old books and other documents. According to this article, the word comes from the Greek paragraphos (para, “beside” and graphein, “to write”), which led to the Old French paragraph. Somehow, the word transformed into the Middle English pylcrafte and eventually became the “pilcrow.” You can find pilcrows on Word and other wordprocessing programs, if you know where to look - or if you press the wrong button. But these days, the pilcrow itself tends to be rather shy. Paragraphs, on the other hand, need to be easy... Continue reading
Posted Dec 31, 2018 at Alan Barker
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In this last post, we look at the skills of using words to fill out the plan of your fundraising letter. We’ll start where we left off at the end of the second post: looking at narratives. How to use stories Storytelling is trendy. But a lot of talk about storytelling isn’t really about narrative; it’s about vivid writing. I think stories deserve more detailed attention. Stories are special because they follow a particular structure. That structure is often called a narrative arc. The narrative arc has a single function: to keep the reader reading. All stories – all stories... Continue reading
Posted Nov 5, 2018 at Alan Barker
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In my first post in this series, I covered the initial stages of preparing a fundraising letter. In this post, we’ll look at planning the letter’s structure. Long or short? Let’s begin with a surprising fact about fundraising letters. Long letters work better than short ones. This might seem counter-intuitive. We’re in the age of the text and the tweet, yes? When the attention span of the average human is now notoriously shorter than that of the average goldfish. Surely people are simply not sitting down and reading multi-page letters? Well, in fact, donors do respond more often to long... Continue reading
Posted Nov 5, 2018 at Alan Barker
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This is the first of three posts. If you work for a charity, a not-for-profit or any organisation that relies on donors for funds, these posts will be essential reading. Direct mail? Really? It’s time to rethink direct mail. Yes, GDPR has made a big difference. The regulatory landscape has changed and legal departments are being ultra-cautious. But, as Suzanne Lewis writes in a useful post, people still like direct mail: according to Royal Mail’s MarketReach, 87% of the public trust a letter, compared to 48% for email. Fundraising letters build relationships – and sustain them. If you rely on... Continue reading
Posted Nov 5, 2018 at Alan Barker
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[image: Harish Krishna on Flikr] In the previous two posts of this series, I’ve outlined some of the challenges facing scientists presenting to a non-specialist audience, and the need for a clear message. Once you've clarified your message, you need to find the structure that will work best for it. The thoughts in this final post arise from my work with the seven Award Lecturers at this year’s British Science Festival (2018, at the University of Hull).They were consistently inspiring. When I’m working with scientists on scicomm presentations, creating the structure is usually the most exciting part of the job.... Continue reading
Posted Sep 17, 2018 at Alan Barker
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This is the second of three posts. What makes for a zingy science presentation? In my previous post, I highlighted the need for scicomm practitioners to answer the ‘so what?’ question. How can we produce a science presentation that’s truly meaningful for a non-specialist audience? The sessions that I’ve seen in the last two days all delivered simple messages. It was the clarity of those messages that made them satisfying and enjoyable. We took them away with us. They were truly take-home messages. The message depends more on your audience than it does on your subject matter. Every ordinary presentation... Continue reading
Posted Sep 12, 2018 at Alan Barker
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[image with thanks to magnoliamc.com] This is the first of three posts. Links to the other two are at the end. This week, I’m at the British Science Festival in Hull, which offers hundreds of exciting events creating a conversation between science – and scientists – and everyone else. It’s a great place to observe the challenges facing science communication, and the thrill when good scicomm successfully engages its audience. This year’s festival is likely to be dominated by artificial intelligence – not least because the British Science Association’s new president, Jim Al-Khalili, will be devoting his Presidential Address to... Continue reading
Posted Sep 11, 2018 at Alan Barker
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Is it magic? Do you have to pay an outsider good money to get great copy? Well, maybe. But you can also build your own skills. The key is being adaptable: daring to go beyond your first draft. Here are five tips to help you. Focus on the reader Don’t talk about stuff; talk to your reader. Address them directly. Imagine speaking to them, and write down exactly what you would say. Then edit the copy – ruthlessly. Think benefits, not features. Why should your reader care about what you have to say? A colleague of mine talks about ‘tuning... Continue reading
Posted Jan 12, 2018 at Alan Barker
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If you work in a not-for-profit, you don’t need me to tell you that effective copy is at the heart of effective campaigning. You know, to use the buzz words of the moment, that the third sector marketing space is increasingly crowded. You know that your organisation’s key messages need to cut through the noise. And you probably also know that charity communication is coming under increasing scrutiny: targeting your supporters must not become harassment. New data protection legislation, and the Fundraising Preference Service instituted by the Fundraising Regulator, quite rightly help people manage their communication with charities more easily... Continue reading
Posted Jan 9, 2018 at Alan Barker
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A selection of comments on speechwriting from Philip Collins' new book, When They Go Low, We Go High. Numbers in brackets are page numbers where the quotes appear. You can find a review of the book here. The aim of good public speaking is to borrow the rhythms of everyday speech but aat the same time to heighten its effects. The objective is to write high-octane ordinary speech, as if an eloquent person were speaking naturally at their best, fluent and uninterrupted, with all the connecting threads edited away.(11) An audience gets only one hearing, and pictures dwell longer in... Continue reading
Posted Oct 12, 2017 at Alan Barker
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Philip Collins When they go low, we go high: speeches that shape the world – and why we need them 4th Estate, 2017 ISBN 978 0 00 823569 7 £8.99 Ignore the clunky title. Philip Collins’ impressive new book is not just another anthology of speeches, but a powerful and passionately argued polemic. Collins believes fervently in liberal democracy. And open, public speech is democracy’s very life blood. But our democracy is in poor shape. “If we want to attend to the good health of our democracy,” he writes, “and we really must, then we need to attend to the... Continue reading
Posted Oct 12, 2017 at Alan Barker
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“For beginning writers,” writes Jon Morrow of Smartblogger, “power words are one of the easiest tools to master. Unlike many storytelling strategies, which can take years of practice to master, you can start sprinkling power words into your writing, and you’ll notice an immediate lift in the quality of your prose.” A power word, according to Morrow, “is defined by its ability to make you feel.” It derives its power from the emotional reaction you have to it. Because that reaction, like all emotional reactions, is unconscious – at the edge of rational control – power words promise to sneak... Continue reading
Posted Aug 14, 2017 at Alan Barker
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Picture source: http://kwhs.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/generation-z.jpg This post is based on research conducted by George Beall, Altitude (check out this post), Deep Patel and Cory Munchbach. Many thanks to all of them. Very few ideas here are my own. I do, however, have a question. How genuine is this category? Discussions of Generation Z seem to be distinctly US-biased. Nothing wrong with that. But to what extent does a Chinese, or a Sudanese, or a Bolivian Gen Z kid fit the category? Maybe the technology is creating a global phenomenon (see below). But I think we need to ask the question. Who are... Continue reading
Posted Aug 9, 2017 at Alan Barker
This workbook and slidedeck support the course that I am currently running at Gloucestershire County Council. Feel free to download both. Download GloucestershireCC_man3_Creativity_and_Problem_Solving_backgroundmanual Download GCC_Creativity_and_problem_solving_slidedeck Continue reading
Posted Jul 18, 2017 at Alan Barker