How to Get Ideas for your Blog

It’s as simple as looking around you

Some days you wake up and you’re all out of ideas. Too bad, because your schedule calls for a 750-word blog post today.

My presentation at Chicago Blog Week (Nov. 9, offers some easy concepts that will stimulate your brain and help meet that deadline, based on an earlier blog post (“Jumpstart Your Car by Answering Five Simple Questions“).

Check out the slides, and if you’d like a fuller explanation one-on-one or in a workshops, just ask.

Jumpstart Your Blog by Answering Five Simple Questions

Statistics would show (if there actually was such a statistic) that a huge number of blogs on the web haven’t been updated since Al Gore invented the Internet.

(True, Gore didn’t really invent the Internet, but then why is so much technology based on an Al-Gore-ithm?)

Many executives, PR people and entrepreneurs start a  blog with all good intentions, posting weekly, then monthly, then every couple of months, then “I don’t remember the last time I posted something.” This makes your site out of date and doesn’t reflect well on your organization. You’re missing out on the benefits of content marketing.

But it’s not so easy to find something to write about, right? I have a simple procedure that will stimulate your creativity, getting you past your writer’s block and back into the grove of blogging.

Here are five creative questions. Pick one and write out your answer. Make it at least 300 words. That’s the first post on your newly resurrected blog. Then pick a second question — and that’ll be your second blog post.

1. Where did you get that idea?

You’re the head of a successful company. Tell us what inspired you to develop the product or service that made you rich.

2. What did you do yesterday at 3:30?

You could blog about your job title or description. Boring!

On the other hand, Lia Lehrer tells me that a very effective interview question focuses on a single moment. Perhaps you were on a call with a prospective client. Write about your sales pitch. Or maybe you were reviewing plans for a new product introduction. Blog about how you select new offerings. (If you were taking a nap, you could write about work-life balance.)

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The Day I Quit the Best PR Job in Chicago to Start My Own Company

Exactly 15 years ago — on Feb. 1, 1999 (my birthday!) — I walked away from the best PR job in Chicago.

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Jonathan Lehrer,  Gov. George Ryan

Former Illinois Secretary of State George Ryan (before he was governor and before he went to the slammer) thanks me for my service on the Safe Trucking Task Force (1991).

This is still true! (Chicago Sun-Times, May 5, 1991)

This is still true! (Chicago Sun-Times, May 5, 1991)

Keeping the media and public informed about Chicago-area highway projects.

Keeping the media and public informed about Chicago-area highway projects.

This is still true! (Chicago Sun-Times, May 5, 1991)

This is also still true! (Chicago Sun-Times, May 5, 1991)

Frightening thought: More than 15 years later, I'm still wearing that hat and coat.

Frightening thought: More than 15 years later, I’m still wearing that hat and coat.

Jonathan Lehrer marks 15 years as an Internet communications consultant.

Welcome to the Internet of 1999. Using my then-new Web site to explain why I walked away from the best PR job in Chicago. (Click the image for a readable version.)

At the AAA-Chicago Motor Club I was vice president of public affairs, nearing my 18th year of service. As spokesman for the company, I was occasionally seen and heard on TV and radio offering tips on cold weather driving, gas prices and traffic safety; I was regional editor of the club’s travel magazine; and an active participant in a number of government and community committees and task forces.

It was my annual practice to bring a cake for the office on my birthday. (It was also my practice, on days that were not my birthday, to wander from department to department all around the building, foraging for other employees’ b-day goodies.)

On this particular occasion, I instructed my staff to refrain from cutting in to the cake until later.

I had been planning this day for some time.

For the previous few years, I had been doing some free-lance work for several Jewish organizations and a small business. That business was owned by my long-term friend, Joe Sameh, who sensed (before I did) that it was time for me to move on with my life. He offered me a part-time position, with a computer, an office, a phone and a health-insurance plan. Too good to pass up, right?

In pursuit of poetic justice, I targeted my birthday as Day One of my new career. It was not unusual in many companies for a resigning exec to be stripped of his company stuff and escorted to the door by security. I had no reason to think that would happen to me. But in the weeks leading up to the big day, I copied files from the computer I thought I might need and surreptitiously took home my Rolodex and other personal items. I also cleaned out the company car that was assigned to me and arranged for my wife, Estee, to pick me up at the office in case the car was taken away.

After depositing the aforementioned cake on top of a file cabinet to discourage hungry staff members from jumping the gun, I called Zoe, the executive secretary, to get me an appointment with the company’s president, Rich Bensen.

What would I tell him?

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Core Concept: Key Ingredient for Blogs, Facebook and More

Dear Mr. Communicator: Should I blog? Should I be on Twitter? — an executive looking for inspiration

Use your Fundamental Idea as the key ingredient, whether the recipe is for a blog, a website a company brochure or a white paper. If you get this right, you deserve latkes — potato pancakes — with applesauce (lower left).

When clients ask me these questions, the answer is almost always, “do you have something to say?” In other words, if you don’t have a message — a Core Concept — it’s fairly useless to worry about how you’ll deliver it.

To the business owner who dreams of getting a lot of “likes” on his Facebook postings, the concept of a message strategy can seem a bit foreign. So I illustrate it by talking about my favorite topic: dessert.

Lately, as I have been having occasional business meetings at Baker’s Square – for their free wireless Internet, of course – I’ve been thinking about pies.

Should I have Country Apple, French Apple or Apple Cinnamon? Should I accompany the pie with a cup of apple-flavored herbal tea?

They’re all different formats of apples, and obviously they couldn’t exist without the apple.

(At about this point, it should occur to you that in my fruit-flavored analogy, the apple represents the Core Concept. Clever, no?)

Let’s expand the analogy to include just plain apple slices, apple slices with peanut butter, apple slices in a salad, applesauce (on potato pancakes, of course), apple cider and taffy apples (a favorite of both my wife, Estee, and my daughter, Lia).

Before Blogging, Know Your Basic Message

If you don’t have an apple – a Core Concept – you’ll have a hard time coming up with something to blog about on a regular basis.

But if you have a basic message, or a perspective on your business, you’ll never run out of topics.

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‘Live Drafting’ on Large Screen Makes Collaboration Quicker, More Effective

“Oh no, not another Mission Statement meeting!”

How many times have we professionals heard such cries of anguish when faced with the prospect of updating their organization’s 10-year-old corporate mission to 21st-century language?

Whether it’s a mission statement, a proposed Web site content tree or a plan outline, they all involve collaboration among a roomful of people.

I’ve developed a process called “live drafting” that makes these sessions more bearable and maybe even productive.

Through live drafting, cantankerous co-workers needing to collaborate can quickly consolidate comments on the same page.

Materials needed:

1. Computer with any word-processing software.

2. Projector and screen (or Smartboard).

3. Facilitator who’s a good listener and wordsmith as well as a quick typist (yes, I’m available!).


Set up the computer to display the word-processing window on the screen for all to see. Beginning with the initial draft is quicker than a blank screen.

I find it easiest to facilitate the meeting and do the typing at the same type, but these jobs could be split between two people.

All eyes will be focused on the screen (as I said, everyone will be on the same page). As suggestions and comments are offered, edit the document. Remember, you’re an editor, not a court reporter. Rewrite while your colleagues talk. Participants either will say “oh, that’s a lot better than what I just said,” or, equally likely, “that’s not at all what I meant.” Your continued edits should be moving the group closer to consensus.

 (When the conversation gets off track, I’ll sometimes put a comment on the screen like “what time is lunch?” If I’m lucky, that gets a laugh and focus returns to the screen.)

By the end of the session, you’ll have a new draft that immediately can be emailed to all participants.

You can make the entire process even more collaborative by using Google Docs and allowing computer-equipped participants in the room – or across the world – to make changes simultaneously. Try doing that with pen and paper!

3 Reasons I Won’t Give 3 Reasons

Man cannot live by bullet points alone

I have this recurring nightmare that I’ve been found slumped over my keyboard. The medical examiner determines that my brain is riddled with bullet points.

Bullet points and Top Ten lists are everywhere

Bullet points and Top Ten lists are everywhere: Image from LinkedIn group email.

PowerPointization is evident everywhere. Even the TV newscasts have resorted to summarizing their stories in bullet points on the screen, as the anchorperson reads a voice-over. Now it’s creeping into the Public Relations and Communications community on LinkedIn.

While we may blame David Letterman for injecting Top 10 lists into our culture, let’s admit that enumeration serves a purpose. But as professional communicators let’s also promise to stretch our creativity in different ways.

3 reasons I won’t give 3 reasons

1. Everybody else is making numbered lists. My message gets more attention if it doesn’t look like everybody else’s.

2. There aren’t enough good points. I started out to write Top 10 Ways to Work Less and Earn More, but I can only think of two, and I risk wasting the reader’s time by inventing another eight.

3. Enumeration interrupts storytelling. Journalism schools teach how to tell stories, not write articles. Numbering my content distracts the reader from a smooth flow (unless I’m writing about Snow White and those guys who hung around her).

Wait, what? Can’t bullet points help?

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