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Monday, November 21, 2016

How do you know when your word choices and expressions need a make-over?

We are so accustomed to saying what we've always said that we forget that our word choice and expressions can become routine and tiresome to others.

Not only can they become tiring and repetitive, like "you know" and "etcetera, etcetera, etcetera" they can also have dated quality.

It's one thing to use the word "Groovy" as as kind of joke while watching a 70's program, but it's another event to keep using it in the 21st century without a 70's or even an 80's reference in sight.

The same awkwardness comes from using phrases like "You da bomb" which went out of fashion about three months after it was launched.

Just because you like saying something doesn't mean other people enjoy hearing it, and if they cringe when they hear it but don't tell you, it's like having bad breath and no one tells you it's time to change toothpaste or use a mouthwash.

So how do you fix a problem that you don't know about like repetitive word choices and dated expressions?

Listen to yourself.     Re-read your texts sent to others.


Are you seeing a pattern of repeating yourself?   Do you use the very same words and phrases--dated or not--with everyone in your circle to acknowledge an accomplishment or to avoid saying "thank you" or "I'm sorry"?   For many over used expressions are often place holders for other kinds of expressions that need to be made.

Reexamine what you are trying to communicate not only to them but about yourself, and assess whether you are accomplishing both goals.  Then take another look at your last few days of texts, and see if you have written the words "thank you" or "I'm sorry"  lately and ponder whether some of those over-used expressions were meant to cover up not wanting to be grateful because it feels vulnerable to you to be grateful or I'm sorry because it feels weak to you to apologize.

Depending upon what you discover about yourself and your expressions, find some other ways to communicate your enthusiasm or gratitude.   If you can't think of something catchy or phrases that make you feel hip or contemporary, try using the simple words you truly need to say instead.  The simple truth works pretty well in almost all circumstances and with all people of all ages and gender.

Daphne Simpkins' newest book is Christmas in Fountain City

Will Rogers: American Humorist (a story about a flyer)

Recently a flyer was created to announce that I would be speaking on Will Rogers, the American humorist, for an older group of people who enjoy the good food at the place where they meet once a
month and know who Will Rogers is--and not necessarily who I am.

Rogers is a great subject, rich in humor and acerbic wisdom that holds true today (live your life so that you are unafraid to give the family parrot to the town gossip).   He is the most important aspect of the presentation and second to him is the audience, who has had to listen to a great number of talks in their lives and should be treated with great care and consideration. Exquisite care.  Respectful consideration.  You cannot underestimate the amount of time spent in consideration of a group of listeners and readers when it comes to creating a document that acts as a matchmaker:  it introduces two different entities to each other.  In the case of the flyer for my talk, Rogers and the audience are the two parties who need to be introduced to one another.

I am the less important part of the story told in the flyer.  But if you must tell my story to introduce Rogers' story to the audience use a picture that evokes story and interest—not a head shot or a selfie.  Figure out the part of your personality as a speaker that will most appeal to an audience and choose a picture of you to appeal to them and signal: I’m this kind of person.

People are aware that images matter, but they don’t always know how to help you with these images. 

“Are you going to dress up as Will Rogers?” a friend asked me, who had heard about the talk and likes to dress up when she gives a presentation. 

“No,” I replied, keeping the reasons to myself.   

When giving a speech, I am not acting, so I do not need a costume. 

Like a person who is not acting while giving a speech and does not need a costume, so a flyer that is telling a story of an event does not need a get-up or decorations to make it a powerful matchmaking document.

 It does require thought from the creator.  And the first thought is that the template that is chosen should not dictate the lowest possible denominator of content chosen to highlight about the event.

Each presentation should be considered in terms of which part of it is most important, less important, least important.  Once that hierarchy of significance is confirmed, choose the content that fits the template.

For the Will Rogers presentation, a picture of that lassoing cowboy should have been used in that premiere spot rather than the easily-grabbed picture of me from the church directory that is four years old and not only not flattering (lighting is bad, angle of my head is strained to help the photographer not add a garish light to my eye glass lenses) there is no story.  It is just an image of a woman from the church directory.  Because I am not a famous person there is no immediate connotative value either.  It is just an innocuous picture chosen for the flyer because it was easy to find and use.  That should never be the reason you choose artwork for your fly, especially if the artwork dominates the flyer.


The content of the photo caption and the headline for the flyer:  Will Rogers, American Humorist and Political Satirist is almost enough.  Add the date, the time and the name of the speaker.

The next time it is your job to create a flyer for an event, take the time to think about the three decisions that need to be made before you create a flyer:

  1. What’s the most important part of the event:  the subject of the event or the person talking or presenting?
  2. Who is the audience and what about that event will matter the most to them?
  3. What is the least important part of this event?  Add whatever image or piece of information that enhances that needed emphasis, like previously published books or articles.

Then, use a font and type size that is readable and almost never written in reverse print—any kind of white letters on any kind of dense, solid color or black.  Dark letters on a light or white background are more readable than white lettering on a dark background.

Stay with those three (okay, four) considerations and your flyer will draw more people to your event because it will meet the needs and interest of the audience before it tries to communicate any other message.

Daphne Simpkins offers a speech on Will Rogers through the Alabama Humanities Foundation speakers bureau.  Her latest book is Christmas in Fountain City

Friday, November 18, 2016

New book by Alabama writer Daphne Simpkins: Christmas in Fountain City

Press Release from Quotidian Books

RE:  New Release Christmas in Fountain City

Synopsis of Christmas in Fountain City:
Ostensibly a simple love story set in a small Southern town not unlike Prattville, Alabama, Christmas in Fountain City takes on bigger themes than the holiday or how and when to use the phrase “Merry Christmas.”   Thematically tied to a  fundraising slogan called “Faith Promise,”  the residents of Fountain City explore giving from a variety of angles, and reach the conclusion that the love they have for each other is enough to keep them looking out for one another and even strangers.
The eighth book by Alabama writer Daphne Simpkins, Christmas in Fountain City is a feel-good read which  has arrived just in time for the holidays but also in time for the January discussions that happen inside churches which involve pledge cards for missions and other goals for the coming year.

For jpegs of Daphne Simpkins or the book cover, contact:
About Daphne Simpkins:

Daphne Simpkins has written over two hundred articles, essays and short stories which have been published in the United States and Canada in periodicals like The Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun, Tropic Magazine, The Christian Century, the Christian Courier, Esprit, and many others.  Named recently by MOSAIC magazine as a top speaker in the state, Daphne is an active member of The Alabama Humanities Foundation Road Scholars Speakers Bureau.  She may be contacted at

Christmas in Fountain City

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Do you need a bigger vocabulary in the workplace?

Chances are you are moaning about the size of your vocabulary.  Most people feel self- conscious about the size or limitations of their vocabulary, which is too bad because most people have a set of words at their disposal that will tell the truth just fine in the workplace. 
The words in your vocabulary are timeless and potentially each one is valuable for all kinds of reasons.  The precise word is what you need, but sometimes you will choose a word for the way it sounds and fits inside a sentence or because it is a go-to word and you have forgotten to think carefully about the impact of certain words upon readers.  It isn’t complicated.  Just use the precise word that you need to say what you want to say.  It can be a short, good word.  For instance, when some people are trying to sound more businesslike, he/she might choose the word “utilize” over “use.”  But “use” works just fine, and it doesn’t sound better or impress the reader, which is why people often use it.  Don’t look up any big words to show off.   Everyone has enough words to write in the workplace because the words you use in the workplace should be everyday words—not dress up words or big words for the sake of using big words.  Choose words for clarity.  Choose them for color or action or courtesy.  Choose them mindfully with a purpose you hope to achieve.  Choose them for the sake and interest of your envisioned reader.
 You don’t have to learn 100 new words; you simply need to be more careful about using the ten most commonly overused and not specific-enough words:

  1.        Things—vague and over used
  2.        Do—an all-purpose verb that often stands in for actions like chop, mow, eat lunch
  3.          Get—Listen to yourself use this word and ask:  Which action am I trying to point to with this vague imprecise word?  Use that verb instead of get.
  4.         So—For a word as small as this one, “so” tries to accomplish some very big jobs. Most often that job is to prove a logical conclusion that may not exist.  Listen to how people use “so” and you will see it as the connector between one action and the implied effect of that action. Just because people use the word “so” to connect an action to an effect doesn’t mean that the conclusion is trustworthy or reliable.  That is true of how the word sounds to other people, and when you use “so” very often and recklessly, others may view your logic in just the same way.
  5.        A lot—A description for many items or a great deal of time, money or things in general.  If your answer is:  a lot of things, then you are using two vague ideas to try and represent a concept or item that is much more specific than these two words.
  6.        Is—Try to see this soft, passive verb as a yellow caution light.  When you see it and you are the person who wrote it, ask yourself:  “Is there an action verb that could precisely replace it?”   Sister words for is include:  are, was, were, be, being, and been. 
  7.       Awesome—This word is almost a filler now and means about as much as the sound of a sneeze or conversational fillers, such as “Hmmmm” or “Yay.”  Look for the adjective that describes that awesome sunset, that awesome dessert, that awesome song, that awesome bug on the wall and any other focus that has your attention.
  8.       Amazing—See the above description for awesome. The same logic applies.
  9.        You—Think “you” for the reader but don’t use the word very often in writing.  Minimize its use because while many writers intend for the use of the word to create a bond with the reader, it can sometimes feel to the reader as if he/she is being jabbed in the chest with a pointed finger.
  10.     I—Presently our culture is built on building everyone’s self-esteem by celebrating the “I” in all of us.  Celebrate other people more than you do yourself, and you will be a far more effective communicator and your self-esteem and theirs will be just fine.

Maybe you use or overuse some words not on that small list of ten words. They key to creating a sharper and more powerful vocabulary is to know which words you overuse and start using more precise words that say exactly what you mean.
            Here are the key ideas to remember about your vocabulary:
  • ·          Big words are not more valuable than smaller words.  
  • ·         You already have enough words.    
  • ·         The right word carefully chosen is priceless.

  • Daphne Simpkins' newest book is Christmas in Fountain City

Monday, November 14, 2016

Will you help me out?

Like you probably, I receive frequent requests from former colleagues (often very short-termed colleagues) who seek an endorsement for their employment opportunities.

I am not always sure how to respond.                                                          

I know the standard way of thinking about recommendations:  say what you know about the work performance in relation to the job for which the applicant is applying

Only with the various new ways of seeking generic endorsements from kith, kin and acquaintances (often I fit this latter category), I consider how to write what doesn't feel so much like an endorsement as it does a word of encouragement. These words are often recruited for public forums that are the professional social media version of Facebook, often   Instead of writing, "Excellent work habits. Reliable.  Professional.  Customer-oriented. Logical.  Innovative thinker" I have to say more truthfully, "Nice guy who showed up when he was supposed to. Didn't make much fuss about anything.  Flew under the radar unless it was necessary to take a stand and he took one at what I considered the right time."

Truthfully I think these short declarations of what are my lasting impressions of people with whom I worked briefly tell the truth in ways that longer, more formal letters of recommendation do not.  And in a way that is different from the well-behaved letters of recommendation that are only positive for who would write a bad one (why waste your time and the reader's?), they tell a fresh kind of energized truth about the person who is seeking endorsements that show up in your e-box with words like "Can you help me out?"

Sure. If I can.

Do these short blasts of encouragement built on fragments of memory and good will help others?

I don't know.  No one who has ever asked me for this type of professional endorsement has ever sent a follow-up and said, "That did the trick."

In looking for a job, it's hard to know what the tipping point will be in the landing of a job.

One can deduce that every action of effort to get a job--and every act of good will that helps anyone along the way--has some part to play in the development of another person's professional life.

So, when someone asks me for some help that is partly an endorsement and maybe more encouragement, I try to write something good and true.

If I can't, I write nothing at all.

Daphne Simpkins' most recent book is Christmas in Fountain City

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Make a proposal that others will accept.

Recommend what you prefer and watch what happens when you do it mindfully.

There is a difference between recommending an idea for consideration or a product and showing your own unbridled enthusiasm for it.

Sometimes I receive emails or Facebook messages that begin with LOOK! or CHECK IT OUT!  What follows is a gush of description that captures the honest, excited feeling the writer had to a product or idea but there is no summary of the benefit of the product itself for me, the reader and targeted customer. 

 To effectively pitch a product there must be a benefit for the intended reader or customer, and the enthusiasm can lead them to it but it is not a substitute for it.

How do you know whether you are offering a cheerleader response or a considered evaluation of a product or idea whose strengths rests upon reasoning rather than an effusion of emotions?

Check your wording and the style of the sentence you use.

A description contains adjectives and exclamations points, often.

A recommendation built upon a summary always points out a benefit for the reader that makes logical or common sense. 

Here’s an example of a recommendation for a book.

Description:  There’s some rich content in it.  I loved it!!!!

Summary:  Dr. James Doty’s new book Inside the Magic Shop explores the dynamic of neuroplasticity  from a neurosurgeon’s perspective, reaching the unexpected conclusion that practicing compassion builds better mind muscles and creates a more harmonious lifestyle for people who understand this.

How to know if you are someone who writes descriptions rather than summaries with benefits just watch how long it takes you to write an excited description and how long it takes to write a summary with benefits.

Time to write:  It takes five seconds to write a description. It takes about two-minutes to write a summary.  

The big difference is that the first grows tiresome to people who confront and brush off spammy posts, emails, and recommendations; the second one builds trust and offers benefits to the reader who knows the difference between an emotional response and a well-conceived logical one.

If you are trying to build a rapport with a consumer base through social media or your email contact list, take the extra minute and a half to craft a summary rather than spout an exclamation that could also just as easily be represented by an emoji.  How often do you think long and hard about an emoji’s content?

That’s about as long and as focused as a reader will respond to your recommendation that is based on your excitement rather than benefits to be gained from the product you admire.

 Daphne Simpkins' most recent book is Christmas in Fountain City