The Art of the Dinner Party

by Sarah Sherwood

Think of the beginning of your Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn experience, building an audience until it takes off. That is the ancient art of the dinner party. 

They come to forget about the stock price, the mother in law, or the missing pearls. Some come nervous; some cannot wait to jump in and put their best foot forward. 

As with well-designed social media campaigns and sites, it needs to be a great place to go. You’re throwing a dinner party; fun and indulgence in the 1920’s will forever have its place. Making it perfect requires details just as important as the photos in Pintrest, or the recommendations on LinkedIn. 

A dinner party must be a place where people can come to forget about their troubles, and gather to celebrate life with friends, acquaintances, and people they would want to meet. It doesn’t have to break the bank—it has to distract in order to bring out what is lovely about life: good hearted people, lively music, delicious food and then things like color, a little nature a la flowers, and all in the appropriate spot and, just in time. 

To plan your party, like your web site, step back and ask yourself: when people walk in the door, for the first time, what do you want them to see? What do you want to communicate straight on? As they move about the evening, what do you want them to remember about their experience?

Good party (and on line) planning considers the visitor, and his likes, so that means you will consider whom she wants to sit next to—this matters tremendously. How can you encourage the best of conversations? Answer: with beautiful art, travel photographs and, in some cases, with children running around. People love to talk about other cultures and their kids. 

Put away your electronics, unless they are truly the next best helpful thing, and do not, and I mean this, carry your cell phone. If you are the lucky guest, you must make sure that any technology you carry is transported with class. If your boss calls, please politely step outside. Being a nerd can be very helpful, but not at a dinner party. I have a friend who is a genius Hollywood high tech executive, and he has the best way of showing off with music and technology. He enlists his baby grand and highlights it with some beautiful black box that carries the music throughout the house. It works.

I think about web sites with phony, flashy technology and shake my head.

Once they have arrived, take good care of your people. Refresh them with not just a drink; but with your prized smile. A happy host or hostess, not overdressed, but elegant and kind, steals the show. 

Now it is time for the toast. Make it about someone you love and you will shine. If you fumble, laugh at yourself and carry on. If announcing you are running for office, be human.

And then you know you’ve made it; you look around and even so and so is having a great time. Because, and this is the point, the conversation they longed for has taken place. 

Ah, community. Someone needs to tell Sartre that heaven is other people, too.

How Women in Business Are Moving Forward

by Sarah Sherwood

This is still so pertinent I want to republish this article from two years ago…

As seen in the Grassy Road Blog:  http://pennyherscher.blogspot.com/2014_06_01_archive.html

“Don’t be a woman in drag,” went the article. “Act like a lady,” was the advice. In my 20+ years as a publicist I have seen this kind of counsel hurt women both personally and professionally. The truth is that women have been transcending this kind of advice since we have worked outside the home, which is as long as men have been working, actually. We’re acting as if women just walked into the boardroom and they can’t figure it out, when working is what women have been doing for many, many years. It’s mildly annoying to be told how to be, how to act, or how to go through any “how-to-be” training program.

At American University, where I studied public communication, there were basically two different camps in communications theory, a.k.a. preparing clients for how to be, in public. One group believed that public communicators must tightly control the client and then manage closely, moving them with the script. People in politics tend to follow this formula.

The other group believed more in authenticity, arguing that you can damage their communications with too much control. This group of communicators give their clients a few perimeters based on their goals and work with the client’s own style to bring out what they want to say. This makes some communication professionals nervous. What it does is force them to sign good clients who have positive intentions.

I’ve been in the later camp since I left graduate school, but even more now. This is what we women need to do: lovingly, and without worry, self-police ourselves. Speak up, yes, and speak authentically. People can see right through the kind of personal positioning that Penny refers to in her post because the words you choose are insignificant compared to the tone you use, which come from your beliefs. When you come from what you believe you’re always more powerful. This is what I tell women.

Successful women have figured out that to solve problems, we need to first prioritize, hire what we need, work hard and be who we are. That’s it. These women are taking time out to raise their children, or looking for good quality childcare. They are having long talks with their husbands and their bosses. They are concerned about quality relationships in and out of the office. And they are making it work. They always have.

From my perspective, it is easy to see that people everywhere are oversold. They see through the B.S. and yearn for a quieter place. What do they want besides an efficient solution to their problem? They want honesty—basically a friend in business. How many companies have this kind of relationship with their public? I applaud those who do.

So please stop telling us how to behave. We moved on a long time ago, figuring out that it is much better and much easier just to be us.

Improving the Image of Physicians in the U.S.

by Sarah Sherwood

In Dr. Kaci Durbin’s excellent article today for KevinMD.com entitled Doctors: You Have a PR Problem, she describes the response to the negative portrayal and assumptions of physicians as near silent amidst the firestorm of criticism. Indeed, the public perception of physicians has been on the decline, while they are being framed as greedy and limited in knowledge. As a communications professional who has worked with scientific organizations for more than 25 years, I can assure you that not enough has been done to correct this misperception—a larger communications campaign is needed to ensure the integrity of the physician reputation. The basic communications lesson is this: If you don’t continue to define yourselves in an effective way, you will be defined by someone else. And that someone else doesn’t understand medicine as you do. Here are my recommendations:

1.  First, Increase Your Understanding of the Communications Profession

“Next to doing the right thing, the most important thing is to let people know you are doing the right thing.” – John D. Rockefeller

What is PR, exactly? In the medical field, there is a lack of understanding of what good communications is all about: educating the public with facts and important points of view. Good PR professionals share the truth, connect scientists with the right reporters and utilize critical third parties to educate the public. Professionals with international agency experience, and/or agencies on the international level have the skills necessary to actually alleviate perception problems. They present the facts effectively not just to the traditional media, but also directly through integrated marketing and social media campaigns. Your job is to be available to speak out on behalf of the profession and your patients.

Action:  Hire International Agency Experience to Integrate Improved Skill into Your Campaigns

2.  Move Out of Your Comfort Zone: Speak Out

I speak about this regularly because it is so critical to public identity. Being defined by your audience is often not a good place to be, because there is a true lack of knowledge when one doesn’t go through medical school or have the experience with patients over the long haul. The public doesn’t benefit from this lack of knowledge about physicians, and what they actually do for patients and society. The images we hear about are reinforced by the physician scientist, who has been socialized by our culture and through medical school to speak conservatively. But studies show that physicians have a strong intuitive side and many are extroverts—and these are the professionals who would make effective spokespersons. However, I have worked with many introverts who are successful in educating the public in a substantive way. What matters is that you do speak out. Your concern about patients each and every day is equally critical to the message as showing how much knowledge one has.

Action:  Cultivate Excellent Spokespersons

3.  Coalesce To Build Strength in Your Public Communication

Keeping quiet has significant negative ramifications, but struggling through this negative perception individually is worse—not just on morale, but on the collective reputation. An effective public campaign includes a coalition that shows strength in numbers and in the extrinsic commitment to patient care. There are many great physician organizations who concentrate on their members, but not enough on reputation and public identity. The good news is it is easily remedied through effective public education campaigns.

Action:  Support each other publicly as well as internally, with a shared campaign

4.  Empower Female and Minority Scientists To Speak Out and Educate

The physician reputation doesn’t need to soften or be ultra-personalized—that is a mistake—instead, it needs to show effectiveness and inclusion. There are patients who need to hear from female or minority physicians. Particularly, the history of women in the profession, recent and even not so recent, is not always so helpful and can add to the negativity. But that is changing, and there are many male leaders in medicine who regularly empower their female colleagues. Moreover, the strength of each culture involving women and minorities can only add to the profession’s reputation. Show off the brilliant diversity in medicine and diminish the perception (and myth) that medicine is only for white men.

Action:  Increase the comfort with the profession through important groups

Thanks to Dr. Kaci Durbin and others, we are moving toward solving the identity problem in order to understand the necessities and complexities of the profession and transition from the problem she so aptly describes. Medicine needs to be understood. Medicine needs to be appreciated for all it provides, under sometimes difficult circumstances. Medicine needs a public information campaign.

Sarah Sherwood is a publicist who has been practicing since 1990. She can be reached at sarah@sherwoodcommunications.com