Posted by: Nancy | June 11, 2016

Professional Communications Services

Plan your communications to drive your business strategy

Know your audiences

Deliver effective messages

Use a variety of communication channels


These are the services I provide.

Science Molecule DNA Model Structure, business teamwork conceptThe communications plan supports your business goals, aligns with your strategy and keeps your messages attuned to your audiences.

Your audiences may be your internal employees or your business clients, patients, consumers, vendors, government, media, shareholders. Or other. Knowing your audience is the
first step to effective communications.

is a two-step process. It’s not enough to just send a message. It has to be received. It has to tell a story, evoke a feeling, call for action.

IMG_1753There’s more than one way to tell your story. Consider where you’ll best meet your target audience, then tailor appropriately. Test, measure, modify, interact. Be prepared for all channels: owned and earned media. Print/digital/video. Social. Event-driven. One-to-one.And more.

If you need a professional writer and editor versed in strategy and planning, let’s talk.


Posted by: Nancy | November 10, 2016

What She Taught Me

Sweet Beth is gone, not her spirit. Not the love and lessons.

bethtracewellIn preparation for her celebration (held Nov. 9, 2016, at the wonderful Open Door Art Gallery in Columbus, Ohio), I started a list of the things she believed. It helps define her character.

Beth’s Lessons

  • Dance with joy
  • Sing as loud as you want
  • Try new things
  • Cheer on your team
  • Be nice
  • Laughing is fun
  • Be gentle with all creatures — cats, dogs, birds, etc.
  • Believe in your own art
  • Know that love is forever
  • Trust in others
  • Choose to be happy
  • Enjoy dessert

Samples of Beth’s art are published at the Open Door Art Studio’s memorial page.


Posted by: Nancy | March 4, 2016

“Fiore profumato petaloso”

Did you hear the story of the eight-year-old Italian boy named Matteo who created a new word in an exercise for school?Matteo2

He was tasked with writing words that describe a flower. He wrote “Fiore profumato petaloso.” The first two words translate to “Fragrant flower,” but “petaloso” — that doesn’t exist.

But it should. It comes from the noun “petalo” (petal) and the suffix “oso” (full of). The word means “full of petals.” Petaloso.

His teacher loved the made-up word — it does sound beautiful, doesn’t it?

But, being a good teacher, she marked it wrong. And, being a good person, she wrote on the boy’s paper that it was a beautiful mistake.

The boy decided he would like it to be considered a real word. So his teacher suggested he write a letter to his country’s national language academy — Academia della Crusca, founded in 1583, the oldest linguistic academy in the world —to ask them to include it in the dictionary.

The linguists, remarkably, explained to the boy that while the word was well-formed, people must use the word and understand its meaning before it could be included in the dictionary.

Enter #petaloso.

The teacher posted a photo of the letter and when I last checked, it had been shared more than 99,334 times.

The story has appeared on BBC and NPR, and dozens of websites, including the European Parliament and the online magazine Caffeina (which is where I copied the photo of the boy, Matteo). The Italian Prime Minister tweeted his congratulations to the student, and the Zanichelli publishing house, which publishes one of the most widely referenced Italian dictionaries, hinted in a tweet that the word might make its next edition.

I have hope for the world.

An eight-year-old boy created a beautiful word, and hundreds of thousands of people supported him by using the word, making it real. I love adding to my vocabulary anyway, but using this one gave me joy.

I can’t wait for my springtime garden — perhaps my flowers will be worthy of of the adjective petaloso.

Posted by: Nancy | February 11, 2016

A Communicator’s Bookshelf

I recently attended a local conference for professional communicators and came away with nice list of books referenced by the experts.

I found it intriguing that the books reflected a broad range of topics — mythology, history, psychology, literature, science fiction. It was, I decided, a good way to show what communications is really all about.

So, here is the list of books I noted from our speakers at the  Business Communicators Summit, sponsored by the Kansas City chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators (KC IABC). By way of full disclosure, I’m proud to be a member of the board.

Now, this is a “partial” list because it wasn’t possible to attend all of the breakout sessions. There may be a dozen more, and I welcome comments to round out my list.

I also thought about my go-to books, sources of inspiration and guidance. I’d have to add:  Envisioning Information (or anything by Edward R. Tufte), The Storytelling Animal by Jonathan Gottschall, and for breaking out with new ideas, thought experiments in Sum: Forty Tales From the Afterlives by David Eagleman.

I’m stopping here. The pile of books by my desk is now dangerous and I’m going to take a break to read some new ones and revisit some favorites.

Posted by: Nancy | November 20, 2015


Gloria1The Sunday afternoon crowd was mostly women — I’d guess fewer than 20 percent men. That’s unusual in itself, but even more unusual was the warmth of the crowd.

I don’t know when I’ve seen so many hugs, warm greetings, tender and gentle expressions happening spontaneously all around. Friends were calling out to each other, waving across the auditorium. There were grins and laughter, and even for those women alone, it was easy to strike up a conversation.

With so many people surging into the facility, there’s a level of management required. We were instructed to move into the interior, leaving room at the aisles so the people still coming could slip in quickly. We did. We were asked to help others find seats, and immediately hands went up, signaling open seats available.

Others chatted and helped each other remove coats, or offered to turn in tickets for the prize drawing, saving steps for others and easing the congestion at the drawing boxes.

I was there early, partly because I knew it would be full and could be difficult. It was fun to observe the solidarity and affection of so many women. I felt that old sense of sisterhood, a belonging with these beautiful creatures.

The affection was directed at the guest of honor, Gloria Steinem, but it radiated throughout the room. We spontaneously stood in welcome when she walked onto the stage, and we continued clapping our appreciation. She looked happily surprised and sat with the host, my friend Vivien Jennings, who talked with her about her new book (My Life on the Road).

steinembookIt was as though we were all eavesdropping on an intimate conversation, and yet all were participants in the moment, bound in the stories she shared.

Sisterhood. Despite vast differences, we are bound by common experiences. She encouraged celebration at our victories and stirred passion at the wrongs that still bind women — and men. Feminism is all about equality, she reminded us. It was not a lecture or sermon; it was a perspective that resonated in the truth of individual experiences. Individual experiences gave way to common, shared experiences.

Two favorite moments:

  • Listen to the turtle. In college, she took a geology course, expecting it to be least difficult of the options to get her science credits. The professor took them on a field trip, where she found a big turtle struggling on an incline toward the road. She held her arms out in front of her, as though carrying a beach ball, describing how she picked up the angry snapping turtle and deposited it back at the river’s edge, safely away from the danger of the road. The professor told her that it had likely taken that old turtle three or four months to get that close to the sandy soil by the road, where she would have deposited her eggs. The turtle would have to start over somewhere else now. Gloria was horrified at what she had done, but absorbed the lesson: Always ask the turtle. She explained: the people who bear a problem usually know what they need, what the right solution is. We must listen to them. We are the turtles who know what needs to be done.
  • Can you imagine? She gave us a thought experiment. What would happen if we could raise one entire generation without violence or shaming, with only a focus on developing the full circle of human capabilities? She challenged that it might be enough to break the cycle of violence and discrimination, to give new hope to the human race.  Years from now, she said, people will be amazed that we had such ridiculous conformist ideas of beauty, that skin color, gender, age, etc., had any bearing on the value of each individual human. We are still working our way out of this injustice and ignorance.

An afternoon full of those old feelings — solidarity, friendship, being on the right side of a just cause, a sense of power and, yes, sisterhood. The afternoon was all too short, but full of promise still. A reminder that we are still working toward our goals.

Posted by: Nancy | October 29, 2015

Lessons from Ned Yost

YostNYTNed Yost is the manager of the Kansas City Royals, currently leading 2-0 over the New York Me
ts in the 2015 World Series.

I’ve never met him. I’m not a baseball expert; I’m just a fan of my town’s team. I like the game, but even more, I like the way this team plays. Key word is “play.”

They have fun! There’s joy in this team, a genuine enjoyment and excitement in what they do. Certainly it comes from the players themselves, but I think part of it also comes from the leadership.

I found some evidence of this in a recent New York Times Magazine article on Yost (“How Ned Yost Made the Kansas City Royals Unstoppable”, Oct. 1, 2015). The article calls Yost “the most criticized manager in baseball” and its least respected. The author attempts to explain the Royals’ success.

From the article:

‘‘This is a very culturally diverse team,’’ says Ben Zobrist, a utility player who was traded to Kansas City from Oakland in July. ‘‘But these guys for sure feel comfortable with each other. When a clubhouse is that comfortable, it has started with the manager.’’

‘‘He allows us to be ourselves, on and off the field,’’ says Lorenzo Cain, the center fielder. ‘‘And we have a blast doing it. We laugh together, have a great time. The chemistry on this team is amazing. That reflects on a manager. And it matters.’’

So what is Ned’s secret? The article subhead pointedly notes what is NOT the answer: “The most criticized manager in the major leagues dismissed metrics and embraced failure — and broke his team’s three decade slump.”

It’s not the data or the analytics, then. It’s not the adherence to a long view, following a strategy that sometimes backfires in the short-term. It’s not just a drive to be the best. Here’s what I think is the real key, again quoting from the article:

‘‘I love these guys,’’ Yost told me. ‘‘I really love them. You have to, in order to understand them. And you have to understand them in order to manage them. If you understand their backgrounds, why they are the way they are, you can understand what motivates them.’’

A lesson not just for management or baseball. For living every day.

Start with love.

Posted by: Nancy | October 25, 2015

The Engagement Dilemma

Everywhere I turn, there seems to be an industry crisis in connecting, truly connecting, with a desired audience.

The buzzword for this is “engagement.”

As in: civic engagement, donor engagement, board engagement, patient engagement, client engagement, reader engagement, employee engagement, stakeholder engagement … you get the idea. natura di autunno

The prevailing best practices on engagement issues typically call for a task force between IT and marketing to figure out a way to hook the preferred audience digitally, via smart device or laptop. There are weighty discussions about the merits of text, video, email, calendar alerts and sensing devices. There are promises of always-on connections, giving ubiquitous access to everyone and everything else with just-in-time info.

But I can’t help wonder if we’re going about this engagement crisis the right way.

Perhaps it takes a human touch first. Someone who will take time to listen to the desired audience. Someone who will capture attention with an irresistible story that’s meaningful to the individuals who make up the audience.

I was in a busy physicians’ office this week. There was a line at the reception desk, staffers were processing each person and diligently following a new script: Would you like to sign up for our new portal? 

One older woman didn’t understand the question. “What does that mean?” she asked. The receptionist tried again: Do you have a computer? You can connect with us online. 

“Oh, no I don’t have a computer — what would I do with a computer,” the woman said, shaking her head at the idea. Then, brightening, she added:  “Now my daughter, she has a computer and you should see the things she knows how…”

The receptionist interrupted her with the next question: Have you been to West Africa recently? The woman looked at her utterly confused.

Engagement? A man and woman are holding hands and comforting each other in a park

She may not have been eligible to “engage” online, but she certainly was willing to engage on a human level. She was ready to tell a little story about her amazing daughter who uses a computer. It clearly made her happy to think of her daughter. I wondered if she might have asked if she could use this “portal” with her daughter.

We don’t know.

I’m pretty certain she will be logged in a database somewhere with a negative score on engagement. The physicians’ office and the hospital administrators will look sourly on that and try to figure out why they can’t reach this patient.

What’s missing?

Engagement, like communication, is a two-way street. Success requires a transmitter and a receiver, as well as a compelling connection between the two. And it takes time, a commitment on both sides.

How can we ever expect to solve the engagement crisis (let alone the next crisis— empowerment) without listening to each other? Caring for each other? Taking time for each other?

Now, I’m no Luddite. I’m an amateur futurist, a fan of technology and a student of how it intersects with humanity. I believe big changes are near and I want to make sense of them now. I play in Big Data, and I love being able to make meaningful decisions with information never-before available. And I can’t wait for the Internet of Things (believing we can overcome the privacy and security issues). The idea of having everything interconnected, accessible is fantastic because it will prompt new knowledge.

We’ll develop new ways to analyze and process all this this information; we’ll need new ways as humans to absorb the data. (See the umwelt story.) I imagine that “data empathy” will become a desired skill; we’ll study how some people just “know” things from looking at data.

But to build true engagement, let’s keep a priority on the old-fashioned, ordinary kind of empathy — caring for other people, understanding their feelings and state of being. Let’s use that to build connections between people first, and then let the high tech interfaces supplement the human ones.

Successful engagement has to start with a one-to-one connection that has meaning and value to both parties. Then add the technology — sensors, social media, texting, alerts, alarms, natural language processing, telepresence and all the rest of it. An ongoing engagement has to bring value to each of the engaged individuals, and that human connection might end up being the most valuable bit in the equation.

Posted by: Nancy | August 29, 2015

She is here.

My beautiful sister-in-law Phyllis passed on Monday.what are you looking at owl

We’d been fortunate to have been with her just a week earlier. She was weak but radiant, laughing and fighting with the most intense courage I have ever seen. We found reasons to giggle and cry together. I felt so close to her.
I still feel her close to me. I still feel her love.

She is here.

On Tuesday morning, I’m in my usual ritual, walking outside to pick up the newspapers, cat strolling with me. A sudden flurry of wings nearby and a massive creature lands above me.

It’s our owl. It’s only the second time the owl has shown himself, although we regularly hear him outside our window. I sat on the front porch and we watched each other for several minutes until something beckoned him to float away on great silent wings.

A bit later, I’m at my desk on a call. I have a window in front of my desk, usually an uneventful view — a bit of brick wall, vines, juniper trees. A small movement in the vines and I see a mother cardinal, carefully feeding a young hatchling. Cardinals, I know, are often thought to be a representation of loved ones who have passed. It’s a nice thought, but even nicer to see that this cardinal is a mother gently tending her young.


Later still, I stroll the garden as I love to do. I take note of the progress — bunnies continue to feast on my scaviola and sweet potato vines, but sun coleus are competing for showiest colors while canna lilies stretch skyward.  And then a surprising new bloom — a white iris. In late August.

A tiny bit beyond, and another surprise. My trumpet vine, with its exuberant green growth, has at last produced a bud.

I felt love in every one of these moments. Every one made me think of her. She is here. She is loved.


I know, this sounds deranged, goofy.  There is nothing so out of the ordinary of any of these things.

The owl lives here too, why shouldn’t I see him occasionally? And while most cardinals have young in spring and early summer, an August hatch is not unheard of. I know that some irises will re-bloom (they are described as remontant);  I know that trumpet vines can take years to mature to bloom — mine just finally reached its time.

But does it matter either way?

I see love in these small things, and I feel love with each one — for Phyllis, for my dear friend Nancy, for those around me, for the universe. And it is real.

Posted by: Nancy | August 2, 2015

Summer Zen Moment

IMG_2357The afternoon appointment was cancelled and rescheduled. An open spot appeared on my mid-week calendar.

Summer in full glory, beckoning. I closed the computer and left the smartphone on my desk to go outside into the back yard. I wanted a new full focus, if even for a few minutes, unpolluted by my guilt and undisturbed by my devices — I know I should be working; I could be researching, planning, targeting, analyzing, being productive.

Outside won.

I sat, stretched, and didn’t move, impersonating my favorite tree in the back yard. It is serene and stable, unmoving yet barely swaying, like the act of breathing. I am calm. Watchful.

Reward comes in a first small jump of action, a blur of movement from an invisible spot on the trunk to a branch. Then another, and another. Suddenly attuned, I saw the tree was alive with small finches flitting methodically from cone to cone, tiny beaks reaching into cones crevasses.

I’d already noted the common mourning dove sitting on a lone branch. But I had not seen the others. I sharpened my focus and saw what I was missing — a tree full of life.

There was a small flicker, a black and white spotted downy woodpecker with tiny red hat, bobbing up the trunk. I saw it disturb a butterfly that had been invisible and motionless until it softly fluttered away. A screeching blue jay whirled through and left in a harrumph. I watched a grey squirrel nearly camouflaged as it stretched lazily on a branch. A raft of finches and sparrows flew a chirpy and choppy circuit from feeder to birdbath to various hiding spots in bushes and branches.

IMG_2361Unmoving, focused, there is even more. I become aware of the melody of cicadas, the changing pitch, the rise and fall no longer just a background hum. The wind is gentle, caressing the leaves each in its own way — the bristles of needles bounce, the willow sways, the pin oak leaves shimmy and the walnut branches slide vertically creating a shadow mosaic below. A chipmunk with racing stripes zips by.

I’m entranced and can’t stop watching the tree. Another mourning dove arrives and pesters the first, attempting to mount. The chase is on, they jump from branch to branch until first dove moves to another tree, outside my gaze.

Suddenly a flurry. A big muscular sharp-shinned hawk zooms from nowhere to the pin oak to the pine, pauses for just a moment then takes off, soon is soaring and wheeling in the endless blue above. Calm returns, it feels like the smaller birds have sighed in relief as they resume their patterns.

A tiny burst of energy appears, little more than a punctuation mark in a poem. It is a ruby-throated hummingbird, a sharp needle beak on a teardrop body zigging between the bristles. Until it stops. It rests. I hold my breath, and time stands still for a moment.

Posted by: Nancy | July 15, 2015

Why I Love New York

Spent a week in NYC recently, came home with a string of pearls — lovely, charming, fun momentary encounters:

Azi on the plane: Azi is 18 months old, traveling with his father. He was quite possibly the most well-behaved child I’ve ever seen on a plane, and I had the pleasure of sitting next to him from Kansas City to LaGuardia on a full flight.

Azi has chocolate brown eyes and the longest eyelashes I’ve ever seen. He had a great smile, and that look of wonder in his face. I got to hold him for about 40 minutes, giving his dad a little break.

He giggled when I cooed in his ear. He squirmed and laughed, squeezed my hand, played peek-a-boo and methodically shredded a couple of pages from the in-flight magazine. I just purred with delight. The flight went by entirely too fast.

Taxi man at sunset: We settled into a cab, small conversation with the driver, who wasn’t entirely chatty. Until suddenly he exclaims: “It’s sunset!” He’s grinning and looking around, relieved.

He explains: This is Ramadan; I have been fasting all day. Just now, it is sunset and I can now eat. We ask what he will eat, how will he celebrate. Watermelon comes first, he says.

How sweet that watermelon will taste! We wish him a happy Ramadan when we leave.

On the streets: I always make a point to visit Patience and Fortitude; this time was no exception. I love the library for its beauty and sturdy adherence to honor the value of books, learning, knowledge.

IMG_2306Not just within the granite walls. On the front patio, there’s a lesson underway in fly fishing. Yes! Earnest students are practicing throwing their lines, trying to get the snap just right, watching the arc of the line before it hits the pavement.

After a while, their instructors place cardboard fishes on the ground, adding to the challenge. I imagine the fish swimming in the dappled sunlight under the great plane trees.

Behind the library, in Bryant Park there are juggling lessons underway, open to all. The instructors warm up, some in teams, tossing pins back and forth.

IMG_2311The students share a look of extreme concentration while around them, the park buzzes with activity — friends having picnics, young lovers kissing (and passerbys snaking photos of them), the carousel spinning IMG_2314with Edith Piaf music, chess matches, runners, dog walkers, and on and on. A glorious pageant unfolding on a beautiful morning.

I felt like the entire population of people that I encountered were insiders, like they were all sharing some amusement. They were friendly, none of the old stereotype of mean and impatient New Yorkers. They were quick to laugh, a trait I love and share, and as a result, I had a lot of smiles with strangers.

Sure, some of it might have been spawned by corporate policy encouraged by hotels and restaurants, but it worked. These were human-to-human encounters, and while they were brief and of little matter, they were real.

Like the solemn young Greek bartender named Lazarus, who told us that he is serious about his craft of service. He proved it with his attention to detail; in conversation, with his thoughtful comments. A rare smile felt like a reward.

Like the doorman on the day we were leaving — he asks how was our stay, and then interrupts us, a careful look. Hey! he says, I recognize you. You were here last year!

I confirm that we had been here last year, but he’s already convinced. I remember you, he says, because you guys make such a great couple. With that, we’re on our way. I admit that we wondered if it was a gimmick, but it made us feel good and it was a nice experience. It worked.

New York, New York — what a wonderful town.

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