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Book icon on Margot Lester's writing coach page

I'm superstitious and I'm always seeing "signs". I have to wear the same sweatshirt when Carolina plays basketball until we lose and then I switch. When I see a red-tailed hawk, I think it signals good luck. And when two good pieces about storytelling and a promo for STORIES: The AIDS Monument landed my lap on the same day, I feel like the universe is trying to tell me something.

Story gets a lot of lip service in the content marketing universe, but it's as old as the cave drawings. That's how important narrative is to us at people on an almost molecular level.

Read these terrific treatises on storytelling and start thinking about how you can incorporate some of these ideas and tactics into your work.

  1. Using storytelling to combat climate change from PRI's The World. Tips on how to deploy narrative to make something as critical, controversial and complicated as the climate emergency meaningful.
  2. The Wall Street Journal's Sue Shellenbarger investigates the positive impact of family stories on our psychological development.
  3. Jane Lynch discussing the importance of memorializing those lost to AIDS/HIV via STORIES: The AIDS Monument project.

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I'm still floating a bit on the energy from last week's National High School Journalism Convention in DC. Over the course of two days I spoke to more than 400 scholastic journalists -- reporters, editors, columnists, yearbook staffers, radio show producers -- and a few of their advisors. It was invigorating and reassuring to sit down with so many young people eager to use words and pictures to tell better stories, right wrongs and -- as hokey as it sounds -- make the world a better place. I was both heartened and impressed by their interest in and passion for news and analysis.

(That's me, bottom left)

Working with young people is one of the best things about my job. If you're not already involved with local schools, youth groups or other organizations catering to teenagers (especially those considering journalism), I invite you to re-consider. Working with these kids, even just for a few minutes during a break at a conference, gives them access to professionals and real-world perspectives. And it creates an opportunity for us to develop and nurture the next group of people we'll be hiring or relying on for our news.

Margot Lester speaking at the National High School Journalism Convention in Washington, DC, with journalist AK Clemmons in the background. November 2019.
During my session on better interviewing with my friend and journalist Anna Katherine looking over my shoulder

Whether it's a structured thing like speaking at NHSJC or working with your local school paper, or a more casual thing like having coffee with an aspiring writer, getting involved with the next generation is good for all of us.

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Extending the ladder

to high school journalists

It meant a lot to me as a high school journalist to meet and learn from pros already in the field. Luckily, one of my Dad's best friends and poker buddies was the editor of the local paper, Jim Shumaker (on whom the Shoe cartoon was based). That ensured I had opportunities and mentoring as I found my way and learned the ropes.

NHSJC 2019 logo

That's why I present at the National High School Journalism Convention. It's a terrific opportunity to return the favor done to me by those reporters, columnists and editors who gave me a hand when I was a scholastic journalist.

I'm giving five workshops this year:

  • Be a Better Interviewer: Getting sources talking
  • Revisiting Revision: 10 strategies
  • Source Diversity: How to get it
  • Identifying Credible Information Sources
  • Opinion & Editorial Writing: Capture the power of your ideas

Download slides with tips for high school journalists

These are largely the same decks I use when coaching and training professionals -- only some of the examples are different to improve relevance. Feel free to share with the writers (young and older) in your sphere.

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One of my favorite things is teaching others to write more persuasively to advocate for the things they care most about. This weekend, I'm taking my show on the road to the North Carolina AIDS Action Network's annual conference, Building Power Across the Spectrum, in Charlotte, NC. It's an annual gig I love for an organization that shares my values around equity and support for people living with HIV and their family members.

Here's the slide deck:

First slide of Margot Lester's writing for advocacy slide deck on The Word Factory blog
Click to download the slides.

Get the worksheet Writing for Advocacy Using the People-Ideas-Goals Strategy

Side Note:

My grandmother, Memory Lee Aldridge Lester, was an amazing storyteller and I like to think of myself as an acorn that didn't fall far from her tree. My "energetic" style was captured by the event photographer last year and made it onto the hold the date card for this year's event. That's me there in the lower left corner. Don't ask me what I was talking about in that particular moment!

Margot being demonstrative on the NCAAN conference mailer

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Time off for Election Day

Early weekend voting makes it easier for many people to exercise their rights to vote. But we can make it simpler still by giving staff paid time off to go to the polls on Election Day or even engage in other Election Day activities.

(Some states already have outlines employers' responsibilities related to workers' voting rights. Learn more from NOLO here.)

Please vote

Studies show that giving employees time off to participate in civic activities like voting can boost employees' performance and their attitudes. It's also a good way to show corporate social responsibility. Get tips on creating voting-leave policies and more from the Society for Human Resources Management.

I take every Election Day off to work the polls. Sometimes, I welcome voters on behalf of my party and answer questions about the ballot or candidates. Other times, like today, I invite voters to cast a ballot for a particular candidate or issue. My teammates here at The Word Factory are encouraged to do the same, or serve as a poll judge, do last-minute door-knocking or phone-/text-banking or engage in voter-protection activities (Read up on voting rights and protections for North Carolinians at the Democracy NC site.)

The point is, candidates running for every seat at every level of government make decisions that effect us as private and corporate citizens. Making it possible for staff to participate in the process is vital to building and sustaining a strong community and country.

The Word Factory’s Margot Lester advocates for time off to vote and engage in other Election Day activities.

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