COM0014 – Blog #2: ‘The signal within the noise’


Typical children’s books are image-laden and light on text. / Pixabay

Storytelling is not optional for communicating, it’s essential. It’s what grabs the reader, listener or viewer, what gives shape to the information they’re receiving. It’s what can move them to a new or different thinking pattern or action. This is true across time, across cultures, and across mediums.

As writer Frank Rose points out in Wired magazine, storytelling is fundamental to human existence.

“Stories are recognizable patterns, and in those patterns we find meaning,” he writes. “We use stories to make sense of our world and to share that understanding with others. They are the signal within the noise.”

Whether our audience hears “the signal within the noise” will depend on how well we’ve understood our audience and crafted our stories to suit them.

Travelling in Different Circles

We can hardly expect a three-year-old, for example, to comprehend a Condé Nast Traveler article about the benefits of travelling to San Francisco in spring.

We could expect them to understand some facts about they city when they read “This is San Francisco,” a classic children’s book full of pictures and light on text.

Pictures – moving and still – are, in fact, great storytelling aids for the digital age. They convey much more quickly a notion or an idea than a mass of words do, and the best can tell a story on their own. No words necessary.

Pictorial Present: The Emoji

An understanding of our audience is still crucial though. Take the emoji, a great tool for digital storytelling, but only if the recipient can understand and interpret it.

In 2015, Chevrolet issued a news release written entirely using emojis in an apparent bid to reach a younger demographic than the one typically associated with the traditional U.S. carmaker. Car and Driver writer Bob Sorokanich reported that the release was written entirely in “the inscrutable digital hieroglyphs central to preteen electronic communications.” He clearly he wasn’t in their target demographic.


Can you read this news release from Chevrolet?* / Chevrolet

Perhaps we’re not ready to go that far in our communications, but in a 2015 article, The Atlantic reported on a survey that showed more than 75 per cent of Americans had used an emoji in a work-related communication, a move that not long before would have been deemed inappropriate.

So it would seem that in the digital age there’s lots of room for growth in the way we communicate, as long as we remember that story will always need to be at the heart of our communications and that we need to tell our stories in a way that audience can hear – and it a way that allow them to respond.

What do you think? Are we ready to dispense with written words and return to the pictorials of the past?

*Here’s the translation. (See the full release here.)

DETROIT — In two days at the Fillmore Theatre at 7 p.m., a new Cruze will be born and you are going to love it.

The all-new 2016 Cruze blends innovative technology, striking design and impressive efficiency into one sporty ride. It’s the best new thing since sliced bread for stylish and socially connected people. A Chevrolet spokesperson said: “We had the idea that the new Cruze could change the world.”




COM0014 – Blog #1: My Book, or How I Spent My Summer Vacation

COM0014 – Blog #1: My Book, or How I Spent My Summer Vacation

swing-1188132_1920Someday, I’m going to write a book. “Playgrounds of Ireland” is the working title.

I’m sure it will appeal to that especially intrepid traveller, the one whose travel partners think chicken nuggets and fries are gourmet foods and who are best amused on swings, monkey bars, and merry-go-rounds.

How did I spend my last vacation? In the playground. In many playgrounds, actually. All over Ireland.

I could have stayed home and done this, I thought more than once during our three-week holiday. But if I’d done that I wouldn’t be able to share how awesome the playgrounds were. Truly awesome.

Doorly Park, Sligo

Our first visit was to Doorly Park Playground along the banks of the Garavogue River in Sligo, the “Gateway to the Northwest.” It’s in a riverside wetland park that also features a large wooded area with a five-kilometre path looping through it.


Between the park and the playground neither child nor adult would have cause to be bored. For children, a really great climbing net was the highlight, and adults could use the equipment in the “green gym,” rugged versions of adult exercise equipment typically found indoors.

The children thought it was the highlight of Sligo. The real highlight was the dash we made for a beach on the coast, after the rain had stopped and the sun came out. It was 8:30 p.m. and the sun wouldn’t set for another hour and a half.

Active Ennis Tim Smythe Park

Off to Ennis, where we quickly discovered a very different – but equally excellent – playground in the Active Ennis Tim Smythe Park. The Park itself featured sports fields, another “green gym,” a running track, and walking paths, and the playground was no afterthought. There were swings, see-saws, and roundabouts – my favourite – as well as a great climbing tower that included several enclosed twisty slides. Fun for every age!

playground spring toy

It was much, much busier than the playground in Sligo was, and we passed the time  chatting with locals and visitors alike.

The children thought this playground was the Ennis highlight. The real highlight was trekking over to Miltown Malbay, where thousands of musicians and music-lovers from around the world had descended on the seaside town for the Willie Clancy Summer School. We didn’t go to school, but we did sit in on many of the music sessions held at the town’s 13 pubs, and we also headed to the Armada Hotel in adjacent Spanish Point for some Irish country dancing.

Malahide Castle

Last on this short list is Malahide Castle Playground near Dublin.

The huge playground was divided into sections suiting younger and older children, and had every kind of swing, slide, and climbing contraption a child could want.

And the children thought this was the highlight of Dublin. The real highlight was the evening we spent in Howth, just north of the city. We combed the beach, chatted with the fishermen on the wharf, and savoured a lovely meal at The Oar House Fish Restaurant.

But the real highlight of the whole trip?

The time we spent together and the gift of seeing Ireland through the eyes of our children.

What about you? Do you read up on the playgrounds before you choose your travel destinations? Do you have a favourite? Is it still worth it to travel with young ones or do you think it’s better to wait till they’re older?


Photo source: Pixabay
Staying sane. Enjoying the game.

Staying sane. Enjoying the game.

Are you still trying to organize your sports teams using email? Does this make it difficult to keep track of who’s coming to which game or practice and who’s not? Does sharing photos of your team’s events seem like more of a burden than a joy?

Maybe you need an online team management system.

There are lots to choose from offering similar capabilities, so deciding which one to use will likely be a decision about whether you want to spend additional money for a more extensive paid service and which interface works best for you.

The Basics

All of these apps replace the traditional tools of the coach, manager and player parent, like the clipboard, the telephone and the email used to send photos around to the whole team. And they offer much more besides.

They all offer a place to list games and practices, allow players to indicate their availability, keep team lists and statistics, and set up pre-event alerts. You can designate people to certain roles, and ensure everyone knows who’s bringing the snack or who’s working the clock. Most of them also allow parents to make team payments through them, eliminating the need to deal with cheques or bank transfers and lists of who’s paid and who hasn’t.

You can also synch the schedule with your calendar and share it with others. You can post and share photos easily, and for those who like to keep statistics, you can do that, too.

Free Offerings and Upgrades

All the apps offer free options, and some, such Teamer and Teamstuff, are entirely free, making their money on transaction fees or advertising. Other apps, like TeamSnap and RosterBot, offer a free plan as well as and one or more paid plans offering greater services. And they’re all optimized for mobile devices, too.

Beyond the Basics

TeamSnap even includes a Community section with blog posts and podcasts related to amateur sports on topics like communications for coaches, concussions, and easing the stress of athletes’ parents. It also has extensive skills and drills for numerous sports, all of which can be accessed without a membership.

Spoiled for Choice

The bid by numerous companies to get a small slice of the youth sports market, which was worth $5.7 billion in Canada in 2014, according to a Solutions Research Group study, is a good thing for the coaches, manager and parents.

It means we’re spoiled for choice when it comes to sports management apps, and the competition keeps pushing the companies to make them better.

What about you? Do you have a favourite sports management app? What was the worst thing about managing communications for a sports team before these apps came along?



Are you still managing an amateur sports team with a clipboard and a telephone? You need a sports management app. Read my blog to find out what some of the benefits are.



Amateur sports team manager, coach, player parent? A management app can help keep everything organized. #sportssanity


Photo: Pixabay




Here I am … but I’m not happy about it


Apparently, I’m not the only one who’s social media shy. And that’s a huge relief. I am not alone.

Being “out there” on social media has long been a struggle for me. For example, despite Facebook offering the perfect platform for sharing the ups and downs of having a new baby with friends and family, when my son was born in 2007 I actively shunned the platform in favour of email. There’s still a folder in my Gmail account labelled “Baby has arrived,” which my husband used to send out an announcement. It has 64 contacts in it. Sixty-four!

And it would be more than two years more before I would join Facebook. I posted twice in 2009, not at all in 2010, and 16 times ins 2011, with the bulk of the posts being news story shares.

Far Behind the Facebook Curve

A Wikipedia entry about the history of Facebook puts the average monthly growth of active users in the early days of the platform at 178.38%. I could have been a part of that. But instead I was so far behind the curve I joined when Facebook’s monthly active user growth averaged just 6.99%.

I’ve posted a lot more on Facebook in more recent years, but even now my posts tend heavily toward sharing news from other sources, not my own.

And it’s not that I’m shy. My friends and family  especially the introverts — will tell you I’m anything but. What it comes down to is that I’m still trying to get over the feeling that I don’t want all my life out there for everyone to know about and comment on.

I suppose I’ve made some peace with Facebook. I feel like I contribute enough to be more than a lurker but — once again far behind the curve  I’m still struggling with Twitter and Instagram, where most of my friends post regularly but I can’t seem to.

Trying to Figure Out Who Cares

My biggest difficulty is trying to figure out who beyond the tight circles of friends and family I interact with off-line cares what I think … or even more so what I drink. In case you’re wondering, I have posted to Instagram once, coffee art, not original, but unthreatening. Like this:


And maybe that’s the answer. I think what makes me uncomfortable is the oversharing on much of social media, Facebook particularly, and that’s tainted my own view of it and comfort with it as a tool for personal connection.

Being OK with Where I’m At

And maybe that’s OK. Maybe just because it feels like everyone else is putting everything out there, doesn’t mean I have to as well. Showing up at a party doesn’t oblige me to tell everyone else there my innermost thoughts, and showing up on social media doesn’t either.

What about you? Do you spill the beans about every aspect of your life on social media, do you keep most of your private life private, or do you fall somewhere in between?


I’m not quick to share much about my personal life on social media, mostly because I’m not sure any beyond my immediate circle is interested. What about you? Are your Facebook feed and your Instagram page full of intimate details about your life or do you hold back when it comes to social media? #notalone #whocareswhatIthink



Discovering I’m not the only one who doesn’t want to spill everything on social was a relief. I don’t struggle alone! #whocareswhatIthink

Photo 1:  courtney guttenberg. Cropped. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Photo 2: Pixabay

Hands off the hashtag, Jim


The old joke is that Jim Watson would go to the opening of an envelope.  The unveiling of a plaque marking a site of minor import, the pie-making contest at the local fair, the spaghetti-dinner fundraiser in the church hall. You can count on the mayor to be there.

You can count on the mayor to be there online, too, on Facebook, Instagram, Flickr and Twitter. He’s as savvy about the opportunities on social media as he is about the opportunities at the strawberry social. He’s so savvy, in fact, that in 2015 he was a guest speaker at a Third Tuesday Meetup, a monthly gathering of communications professionals and marketers interested in networking and learning about the use of social media in business and government.

The Mayor’s Three Tips


He gave them three tips, according to a report posted on Thornley Fallis Communications’ website: Join the conversation, make it personal, and keep it friendly.

But Watson failed to follow his own rules – in spirit if not in letter – recently when he tried to start a Twitter-storm using the hashtag #SaveConfedPark.

It’s a great hashtag, actually. It’s smart, it’s clear, and it’s to the point. You know, “Save Confederation Park,” it screams.


The only thing wrong with it is that Confederation Park doesn’t need saving. And by that measure alone it must be judged “unfriendly.”

The hashtag was a salvo in a battle that didn’t exist against a small – though vocal – minority of Ottawa citizens who didn’t like the location being recommended for a new public library main branch.

Just days before the Ottawa Public Library board was to vote on that new recommended location – chosen from a list of 12 that DID NOT include Confederation Park – the idea of locating it there turned up in a couple of spots, including in an Ottawa Citizen op-ed and in a YouTube video created by opponents of the recommended site, as Metro newspaper reported here.

Not conversational

So Watson used his considerable clout as a mayor — clout magnified by his more than 100,000 Twitter followers — to stir up opposition with this hashtag that suggests a fact the mayor knows not to be true. T

In using this strategy, Watson sowed confusion in the public conversation and left himself open to accusations of being a purveyor — or at least an instigator — of “fake news.”

This isn’t conversation, this is manipulation.

In the event, the hashtag didn’t get much traction. A few people retweeted the mayor’s tweet and a few more used the hashtag in their own tweets about not giving up the park to a  library, and there were a few, too, who pointed out the park wasn’t in need of saving.

Reputation at Risk

I get that the mayor was trying to head off what he saw as a potential threat to the park, but his hashtag strayed a little too far from reality and in doing so put his good name and his reputation at risk

What do you think? Did the mayor go too far with his hashtag? Do you think it will affect his reputation? What do you think about this kind of offensive play?


Facebook Post: Mayor Jim Watson’s trying to get people to stop the new public library being built in Confederation Park using the hashtag #SaveConfedPark. The problem is the park isn’t under threat – it’s not the recommended site and wasn’t even on the list for consideration. Did the mayor make a good offensive play or not? Do you think it will affect his reputation?


Twitter Post: Ottawa mayor’s offensive to stop library from being built in park goes too far. There’s no threat of that. #saveConfedPark #jimwatsonploy





Confederation Park: Robert Linsdell. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Jim Watson:QUOI Media Group. Cropped. Licensed under Creative Commons.

How the parents in the stands helped me confront my hockey hesitation


It wasn’t mean to be this way. Not in my family, not with my child. It wasn’t mean to be all about hockey.

My child was going to cross-country ski, and he was going to love it. My child was going to speed-skate, and he was going to love it. My child was going to hop out of bed on Saturday mornings raring to get on his bike and go for a 100-kilometre ride.

That was my child. That was, at least, the child of my imaginings.

But that’s not the real child, the flesh-and-blood nine-year-old boy who has his own opinions, about most things, if the truth be told, but definitely about sports.

That child?

That child likes to ski, but only if there’s hot-chocolate afterwards, that child  likes to ride, but only to the beach, and that child, yes, that child likes to skate, but only if he’s got a stick in his hand and a helmet strapped firmly to his head.

That child turned me into a hockey mom, a hesitant hockey mom, but a hockey mom nonetheless.

Sound familiar?

If you’re a hesitant hockey mom, too, you need to know that you’re not alone. Not remotely.

What I discovered once I reluctantly joined the hockey mom ranks, is that there are lots of hesitant hockey moms out there. Some are hesitant because of the fighting in hockey, some are hesitant because they’ve heard terrible stories about hockey parents and how they act, some are hesitant because of the cost or the number of activities their children are already in, or because they didn’t grow up playing or watching the game.

And some are like me, hesitant because they’d rather their kids did things the whole family could do together.

I wanted to be like the family of Canadian freestyle skier Alexandre Bilodeau. I remember during the Vancouver Olympics, after he’d won moguls gold, listening to him talk about how he gave up hockey — a sport he loved — to take up a sport everyone in his family could do, including his older brother, Frédéric, who had cerebral palsy and couldn’t skate.

What selflessness! And what a gift to the whole family!

That’s how I imagined it.

But a funny thing happened once I’d signed the boy up and bought all the equipment and lugged myself to the rink a few times. All the parents who started out sitting apart from each other started to talk, and they started to sit together, and talk about the play and talk about their lives, and become friends even.

It got so that I looked forward to going to the rink where we’d all cheer like crazy when one of the Lightning Bolts had the puck, where people didn’t get annoyed when I asked for probably the 100th time, “What just happened?” and where my child was really happy. It looked really fun, too.

Check out how fun it looks in this video of novice players!

These parents weren’t crazy, either, they didn’t love fighting in hockey — at least not when it involved nine-year-olds — and they all somehow managed to balance the activities their kids were in and the rest of their lives.

It was such a great season that I felt — bereft is too strong a word — but sad, definitely, when the season came to an end. It felt like something was missing that first weekend without hockey. Something fun, and something that even felt like it was a family affair.

And I’m back in the rink again this year, cheering and asking questions — “Was that offside?” — and getting to know another great group of parents.

What about you? Are you a hesitant hockey mom or do you embrace the rink? How did you learn to love being a hockey mom?

Join the conversation by leaving your comment.

Facebook: I was the poster child for parents who didn’t want their child to play hockey. I had my own reason but there are lots of others. Are you a hesitant hockey mom? What are your reasons? Read my blog to find out how I learned to embrace the game and join the conversation in the comments.  #hesitanthockeymom

Twitter: Not every Canadian mom wants her son to play hockey. Find out what changed the mind of this #hesitanthockeymom.

Photo: Pixabay