The Power of Short Stories and Conversation

For the first two years of my life, my dad was an itinerant preacher who would travel all over the country, usually by car, with my mom and his new daughter in tow, preaching at Bible colleges and churches big and small. We crisscrossed North America during that time – in fact, by the time I was two, I’d been to more than half the states in the US.

That’s a lot of time spent in the car and my mom tells me that for hours upon hours every day, she’d read to me.

This sparked a love of reading that carried me through school. I remember reading Les Miserables when I was about 10; it was the first book that made me cry, or more accurately, sob uncontrollably through the last chapter. I remember reading with the third graders in the school library when I was just a first-grader and feeling special. I remember leaving the public library in any town we lived in with more books than I could carry. I’ve always loved to read.

Fast forward to 2021 and I rarely read for pleasure. I read a ton, but it’s for work, for classes or for research. About a year ago, I started working with Reflection Point, a nonprofit that works with companies and organizations of all shapes and sizes to build relationships through storysharing. The concept sounds like a book club when you first describe it — a group of people get together and read and discuss a story. But it’s definitely not a book club.

The storysharing focuses on encouraging the participants (guided by a facilitator) to use the story as a springboard for conversations… for giving space for people to talk about their lives, their childhoods, their history, their families, their biases and their perspectives in a new way that isn’t threatening. In fact, it creates stronger teams and more inclusive workplaces.

I’ve worked with lots of clients that do lots of interesting things and I always try to immerse myself in their work to really understand them (shall I tell you about the time I learned to knit because I worked with a client that made exotic wood knitting needles?). Reflection Point has been a different experience.

I now read a lot of short stories and poetry – at least one or two a week. Sometimes I’m reading them for social media content, but more and more, I’m reading them for myself. I read through the lens of how do I relate to this story? how might others? what kind of conversations could we have about this? And once a month, I join the Reflection Point internal team for a facilitated conversation about a new story that they’re testing.

Turns out, we all have a lot in common and our conversations are funny, serious, thought-provoking, vulnerable and refreshing. I look forward to it every month.

Even if you’re not having conversations about them, read more short stories! And think about how you relate (or don’t) to the characters. Do they give you a new perspective on a problem or an issue? Some of my recent favorites:

I find myself saying, “I read this great short story!” and sharing those stories with my social media connections, my Reflection Point friends and saving them in a folder for another day when I might need that message.

I may not be able to curl up in a corner for hours on end devouring every book I can get my hands on, but I do feel more connected to the power of story and the impact a great story can have.

I’d love to hear your recommendations for stories you love.


Inspiration Launchpad: Is That a Light at the End of the Tunnel or an Oncoming Train Edition

We’re just a couple of weeks from the end of the term. My grading pile is thicc… or is it thick? Bottom line, it’s a lot. My calendar is full… My mom is calling to figure out when we’re coming down for Thanksgiving… I’ve got an out-of-town meeting looming… whew.

So is winter break that light at the end of the tunnel? I guess we’ll see. In the meantime, lucky for us, there’s great stuff to inspire us to talk, think and blog this week.

The value of getting personalization right–or wrong–is multiplying | McKinsey — We talked about personalization related to email strategy a couple of weeks ago. This article from McKinsey confirms that people expect personalization in their communication from brands. You’ll find some interesting data you can draw new insights from here.

5 Tough Job Interview Questions Answered | Korn Ferry — Some of these won’t feel like they’re relevant to entry-level jobs, but they are! How can you answer these based on your experience?

Other People Don’t Think You’re a Mess – Scientific American — Are you a beautiful mess? I love this article about vulnerability, self-compassion (hint: people are not viewing you as negatively as you view yourself).

Meghan’s Image, Battered in Britain’s Tabloids, Thrives in U.S. | The New York Times — US vs. British media is a fascinating topic and the specific treatment of Meghan Markle really highlights the differences.

Twitter Blue Is for People Who Love Reading the News | WIRED — New subscription model for Twitter is coming. I love the idea of less noise and an edit option! What do you think?

How to Read Like a Writer. | by Diane Callahan | Creators Hub — I’ve had to reengage with my “deep reading” skills recently. On one hand, I have a client that focuses on story sharing and we have a team short story discussion every week and on the other hand, I have a sophomore who is learning to think critically and annotate stories for his English classes. I loved this article for both purposes. Whether you’re reading fiction or non-fiction, being able to learn from what you read will make you a better writer.

Why more people are staying single—and how workplaces can adjust | Quartz at Work — Changing demographics are not just important for workplace policies but also for internal communication and employee engagement. How does data that say more people are staying single change the way you might communication with employees?

Taylor Swift Knows the Internet All Too Well | ICYMI Podcast — It’s Taylor Swift’s world and we’re just living in it. Love her music or not, Ms. Swift is one of the best promoters and marketers in the biz and understands how to bring her audience along.

How Americans feel about ‘cancel culture,’ offensive speech | Pew Research Center — Really interesting data from Pew Research. I think we’ve all used this phrase a lot and are familiar, but don’t assume everyone is. I liked this point/definition — Around half [of respondents] (49%) said it describes actions people take to hold others accountable.

A Year-Long Plan for Senior PR Undergrads – PRos in Training — I wrote this post a few years ago and periodically update it. You may find this helpful for mapping out your senior year.


Inspiration Launchpad: Mid-Term Buckle Up Edition

The “honeymoon” period may be over and the midterm “holy crap, we’re only halfway through the term” period is in full force. We’re doing some great work, don’t get me wrong! But we’re also all out of practice with this going-to-school-in-person thing and it is exhausting.

This week’s inspo launchpad has a handful of links to articles that will give you some fodder for your own blog (if you’re in my class) or just give you something good to read (if you’re not). Buckle up!

Inside Facebook’s struggle to keep young people | The Verge. Teens aren’t using Facebook and it’s a problem for the company. Why do you think the company isn’t working harder to curb issues that affect teen mental health? I’m always the cynic, but in this case (as with most…) you just need to follow the money.

The Science You Need To Make Your COVID-19 Decisions | FiveThirtyEight. Science and public health communication has… not been great over the last 18 months. Part of the problem, IMO, is a lack of science literacy (how does science get “done”?). FiveThirtyEight is a fascinating site that slices and dices data on all kinds of topics. How effective is a tool like this to help people make smart decisions for themselves and their families?

Atlanta Braves Will Chop And Chant Themselves Into Embarrassment During World Series | Forbes. This is a fascinating look at the risks that the Braves’ ownership is taking on a bunch of fronts to alienate their audience. I’m still mad at the Astros for cheating… and I love that the Braves beat the Brewers (I’m a Cubs fan). What’s a baseball fan to do? What do you think?

The Netflix Effect is Bigger in Texas | The Qualifier. If you’re watching Formula One racing, you can probably thank Netflix (and this isn’t the first time the “Neflix Effect” has been a factor. Can you think of other examples?

Mars Wrigley’s Allyson Park shares top skills for rising comms pros | PR Daily. Excellent advice from a veteran communications pro! My top skill is always “flexibility” and Allyson agrees. Is there anything on here that surprises you?

A guide to integrating Disability Inclusion in marketing campaigns | Twitter. This is a guide from Twitter about how to be inclusive of people with disabilities in your campaigns with some great examples of creators and brands.

TikTok is causing problems for teachers, and it’s bigger than just a classroom distraction | The Hustle. Every time I see things about stupid TikTok challenges, I sigh and shake my head and wonder who is actually doing this stuff. But it’s bad enough that the largest teacher’s union made a plea to the social media platforms to help protect their members. Like teachers don’t have it hard enough. What do you think?


Inspiration Launchpad: Face-to-Face Edition

After 18+ months it is pretty amazing to be face-to-face with my students. It’s exhausting but amazing.

This term, I’m teaching a PR writing class that includes a term-long blogging assignment. Students pick topics, set up blogs and prep to write between 10 and 14 posts between now and the first week of December. Each week, I find a handful of posts and news items from around the web that have caught my eye, made me think or that I think are worth a read for the students in my class. This is my first inspiration launchpad list — designed for students to use for inspiration on their own blogs to launch their own take on their own blogs.

Facebook to add new Instagram safety features for children | NPR — Too little, too late? Facebook is facing an onslaught of issues related to a whistleblower’s claims, including that it’s ignoring safety in favor of profits.

How The PR Industry Can Help Tackle Vaccine Hesitancy | Provoke Media — Some perspective on what the PR industry could offer public health communications. Let’s be honest, the communication so far hasn’t been great (appearing inconsistent, contradictory, etc.) and it’s just been compounded by politics. What do you think?

Richard Blumenthal’s finsta question to Facebook: Actually, it was good. | Slate — Politicians are notorious for asking tech people really (really) dumb questions. But Slate argues Senator Blumenthal’s line of questioning in this hearing was actually good — and important.

Black Hair, Red Carpet: How the Push for Representation Is Reshaping Beauty in Hollywood and Beyond | Vanity Fair — I love the focus on representation and how and why that matters. It has to be an intentional and thoughtful process. This is a little longer read, but for those interested in consumer-facing product PR, it’s important.

How wildlife sightings create community (Sightings) | High Country News – I grew up in a small town and I understand where the author is coming from. Relationships in small towns are the glue of life, but can you be connected while still remaining true to your values?

What Does It Actually Mean When a Company Says, “We Do Not Sell Your Data”? | The Markup — Frankly, not much. But this is a great read to get literate about your privacy online. How do you think this affects brands who “need” your data for marketing purposes?

The NFL’s Empathy Gap | The Ringer — Another good, long read about the empathy problems in the NFL. I remember watching the Aaron Rogers situation this summer and wondering why they weren’t communicating. Obviously relevant if you’re interested in sports, but a good read, regardless.

What we do and don’t know about kindness | BBC Future  — Being kind makes us feel good. I love that people actively study kindness and give us important insights. What do you think? and how do the ideas about kindness apply to organizations?

Leadership Lessons from Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles | Black Enterprise — These two athletes have really lead the way in terms of showing that athletes can and should be taking care of their mental health. What can we learn from them?

OPINION: We need to think about college student hunger | Hechinger Report — Food insecurity is a tremendously important issue. Do you see ways for the UO, our community, organizations and students to address this? What kind of communication is needed?

My Post (2)
Getting Started, Guest Post, Networking,

Guest Post: Networking in the Time of Isolation

Kelli’s Note: Kayla has been a rock star with the informational interviews, not only doing a lot of them, but approaching each very strategically. I asked her to share her advice here.

By Kayla Thomet

Everyone says that the most important thing you can do during this strange and difficult time is network, network, network. That’s all fine and good, but what does it actually mean? How are we supposed to network in a time when we can’t even leave our homes?

For the past month, I’ve been on a complete networking journey – researching tips and tricks, delving into different platforms, and, of course, practicing. I’ve learned there’s a whole network of strangers out there on my team; all I had to do was ask.

Cold-calling is a stressful and nerve-wracking process. I always worried: “am I bothering them?” But what I learned is that people are not bothered at all; in fact, they find joy in helping you. Many successful professionals got their start from networking, from the kindness of a stranger. From over 35 informational interviews, I’ve learned a few best practices along the way.

LinkedIn can be your friend or your foe.

LinkedIn can be one of the most useful tools in searching for a job; however, it can also be intimidating to the first-time user. Take the time to set up your profile and perfect it – make sure to include featured work, a professional headshot, a goal-driven “about” statement, and a detailed description of all work experience.

Use Youtube and other online resources to learn how to use the filter features to refine your search. You must have a quality profile to attract connections and impress potential future employers.

Utilize your alumni network.

There are alumni networks for regions and cities all across the country full of professionals willing to connect and help. Reach out to alumni leaders in the regions you want to move to and ask if they know of anyone in the industry you want to work for.

Additionally, you can use filters on LinkedIn to sort by school; the University of Oregon, in particular, has amazing alum willing to chat with any fellow Duck.

Search for individuals who work in your field or for companies that you want to work for and connect with them.

Identify companies and specific industries you want to work for. Reach out to people working for your dream company; even though you may not start out there, you can learn different paths to get in and put your name on the minds of the people who work there.

While searching, make sure to connect with people in roles you are interested in – you may find that the reality of a position is different than you thought. 

Be sure to customize your invitations to connect.

On LinkedIn, you have the option to customize a message with your invitation to connect. Always customize a message to whoever you are trying to speak to – it shows effort and sets you apart from random requests. Explain who you are, what you hope to learn, and express your desire to learn about the company and its culture.

Follow-up, always.

Be sure to send a follow-up email or message the following day thanking them for speaking with you. I’ve found that it’s helpful to include at least one piece of advice which they gave you that resonated with you. It shows you listened and genuinely took their advice to heart.

Questions to ask once you get the informational interview:(Not a question) but make sure you start with gratitude and humility – you’re here to learn.

  1. Can you share with me a bit about your journey?
  2. How did you figure out what you’re passionate about?
  3. What is one piece of advice you wish you had known at my age?
  4. Do you have any newsletters or blogs you recommend I read?
  5. The golden question: who else do you recommend I talk to?

My name is Kayla Thomet and I’m a graduating senior from the SOJC at the University of Oregon with a major in PR and a minor in business. My greatest passions in life are fine wine, sustainability, and, above all, people. In the future, I hope I can find a career that will allow me to combine my passions to better the world.

Connect with me on LinkedIn

working from home
Career, Life, Tips,

Work from Home, Remote Learning… Whatever You Call It, Spring 2020 PR Campaigns Has the Tips

To start this bizarro-world term, I had students in my Spring 2020 PR Campaigns class spend some time thinking about how to set themselves up for success. Like it or not, working from home is going to be our new normal… even when things get back to normal.

I shared a handful of resources & then asked each student to find another that they found helpful to add to the list.

First, I’ll share my list. I wanted to both find practical tips, but also help them see that this term is a great time to build some skills in working from home… and honestly, that’s it’s not a fad. Much of the work we do in PR and comms is either already done remotely or easily could be.

Now for my students’ finds (and their comments about why they’ve shared a particular article or resource). You could consider this a master list of tips and ideas, to be sure! Also: Forbes in killing it in either good advice or good SEO… probably a bit of both.

10 Quick Tips To Create A Home Office You’ll Actually Want To Work In (Fast Company)

  • I’m sharing this article about how to make an at-home office space because I think it’s important to have a workspace that minimizes distractions and gives you a space to feel the most productive. – Suzie G.
  • I’m sharing this article about how to create an at-home working space that is separate from your living space and will allow you to be productive. – Hannah M. 

A Simple Trick for Staying Focused While Working From Home (Mental Floss)

  • This article stuck out to me because it addresses the overwhelming amount of distractions (social media, roommates, Netflix, etc). The author suggests that the most important tip for staying focused while working from home is to create a contract with yourself, which I think could be very beneficial. – Hannah C.

How To Stay Productive Under Quarantine (Forbes)

  • I enjoyed this article because I really liked what was said about mental and emotional health. This is obviously a time that is making everyone a little more on edge, so I think it’s important to practice self-care and do what’s best for yourself to stay happy and healthy. – Elise H.

How To Work From Home (Life Kit from NPR)

  • I want to share this article because it mentions the importance of technology in a tough time. It is the most effective way to keep communication with the outside world. Since most physical stores(including telecoms) are closing now, we need to repeatedly check our internets and other devices to ensure they are working in order. – Andy P.
  • I’m sharing this article because it ties in similar strategies like the ones above, such as being able to claim your own space and set your boundaries with those you might be quarantined with. – Savannah K.
  • This NPR article gives you 8 really good and concise tips on how to work from home and I found it really helpful! – Cole K

Josie Ruff 

Working from home with spouse: 7 tips to make it work (CNN)

  • This article is about how to work from home with a spouse, but a lot of the tips can work for family members, roommates or significant others who many of us may be quarantined with. We may usually be excited about the prospect of getting a day with them, but months on end can strain any relationships so setting up some rules may be really helpful. – Josie R.

5 Ways to Manage Stress During the Coronavirus Outbreak (Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic)

  • This article offers five clear, simple ways to manage personal stress during this pandemic. I appreciate these suggestions because stress management is a key to success; I  am  more productive when I’m not stressed out, so finding ways to keep ourselves calm and collected will be helpful throughout this term. – Jodi A.

9 Tips For People Taking Online Classes (Forbes)

  • The article offers helpful tips for students to adapt to remote education, some of which I had not even thought about myself such as the advice for optimizing my internet. – Lorenzo C.

3 Productivity Tips From Work-From-Home Veterans (Forbes)

  • I’m sharing this link because it’s very authentic. A lot of people are writing about this topic and giving their opinions given society’s new way of life, but the employees referred to in this article have done it for years and offer good advice. – Regan H.

7 Tips for Working Remotely During the COVID-19 Crisis (Dice)

  • I found this article entitled 7 Tips For Working Remotely During Covid-19. I am going to share this because I am going to write these 7 steps in my planner notes to remind me that remote work is achievable and I can be successful during this time if I create a set schedule for myself. – Caitlin E. 

Easy Recipes to Cook During Your Coronavirus Self-Quarantine – The New York Times  

  • These are not the healthiest recipes (there’s a lot of baking!) but they use a lot of items that can be easily found in a pantry. – Sara E.

5 Tips To Balance Remote Working While Your Family Is Also At Home (Forbes)

  • Trying to work from home while balancing family priorities is a new challenge. I liked this article from Forbes sharing how to balance different relationships at home while still making time to get your work done. – Kelsey F. 

Coronavirus: How to work from home, the right way (BBC Worklife)

  • I thought this article was really interesting.  It helped me think of ways to stay productive and positive while at home! – Emma S. 

The Ultimate Working From Home Guide (Investopedia)

  • I like this article because it covers all of the aspects of working from home and how to execute them successfully. – Ashley H.  

Work From Home Tips for the Coronavirus Quarantine (Staffbase Blog)

  • I really liked this article because it is very applicable to this class and how we can be successful in our teams! It talks about staying connected to your co workers,  having clear communication, outlining expectations etc. – Maddy F. 

Coronavirus: Mental Health Coping Strategies (NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness)

  • I think assessing one’s mental health is already necessary, but even more so with coronavirus. A little unrelated to resources for at-home productivity, but definitely essential for getting through your day and staying healthy in the long run. – Alexa M. 

People are sharing their best advice for working from home (Cosmo)

  • I liked this Cosmo article because it provided people’s actual experiences from their “home offices”, so you get real feedback about what works and what might be helpful to you too. – Gracyn E.
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Making the Most of Office Hour Meetings with Me

I truly enjoy meeting with students. One-on-one chats provide time to explain a confusing topic, go over feedback on an assignment or just chat about career (or life) goals. And everyone’s time is valuable – your time as a student, my time as faculty member and a PR pro.

I ask students to make appointments with me using an online calendar system because it helps me manage my schedule and be more available and present for students.

Telecommunication Digital Device Networking Concept

Do You Know Anyone At….? LinkedIn Research Tips

We’re in the thick of job & internship season. LinkedIn can be your best friend for researching contacts, companies and opportunities.

The most frequent question I get is “do you know anyone at XYZ organization?” With a little research via LinkedIn, you can answer this Q and ask instead, “I see you’re connected to this alumni, can you help connect us?”

Advanced search filters are your friend! Here’s how to use them:

  • Enter the company name in the search bar at the top of the screen and find the company’s page on LinkedIn
  • Check out that right side info. It’ll tell you if you have a contact there (or in this case, 32 contacts).
  • If you have contacts, you can click on that line to see who you know. You can narrow by location — in this case, I’m interested in who I know at Edelman in Seattle.
  • Then narrow to alumni. #OnceADuckAlwaysADuck

And voila! You’ll end up with a nicely refined list.

But what if you don’t have any contacts at the company? A common dilemma when you’re just starting to build your network.

In that case, click on the number of total employees and refine with the search filters.

In this case, I’m looking for 2nd degree contacts, who are also alumni of the University of Oregon, and work at Logical Position in Portland. Take note of the search filters across the top.

This search gives me 34 people. Under each person there’s a small line that says how many shared connections we have. If I was interested in connecting with anyone on that list, I have two options:

  • First, ask a mutual connection to make an e-introduction or provide an email address. This can be helpful if there’s a specific opportunity you’re applying for. You can say, “Kelli, I see you’re connected to XYZ on LinkedIn. I’m applying for an internship there. Would you mind making an email intro so I can ask a few questions or get some tips for my application.”
  • Second, reach out myself! Click that connect button and send a note that says something like, “I’m a soon-to-be-grad of the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon and excited to launch my career in Portland. I’m building my network of fellow alums who work in public relations/marketing/advertising in the area.” This is a powerful way to build your network and connect with alumni.

Don’t be shy! Ducks love helping Ducks.

Looking for more tips? LinkedIn has a great guide for college students with lots of how-tos and tutorials.

Career, Networking, Professional Advice,

I Went on an Agency Tour! Now What?

More than 50 public relations Ducks spent two days in San Francisco meeting with agencies and PR teams. It was two days of soaking up all the info, walking all the miles and meeting so many alumni and friends. 

Our PR Ducks are lucky to have the opportunity to participate in several experiential learning opportunities — Golden Gate Ducks (San Francisco), Windy City Ducks (Chicago) and quarterly professional development tours with our Public Relations Student Society of America chapter

So, what’s next? Take advantage of all the learning done and connections made: 

OutCast Agency
  • Take a minute and capture your key takeaways. Review your notes, reflect on the experience, write a short blog post for your own blog or as a guest blog for a student group, a professor or your school. (Note: I’d be happy to host a blog here!) 
  • Connect to the people you met on LinkedIn. When you ask to connect, leave a short note that says when you met and thank them for their time/expertise/inspiration. The Muse has some advice about connecting with people.
  • Follow-up more directly with your priority contacts. Send a handwritten card or a thank you email that calls out your specific interest in their organization. Not sure what to say? Here’s some advice. 
  • Set up Google Alerts for your priority agencies/companies and their clients. When a client gets a piece of coverage or some exciting news, you can follow up again with your contact and congratulate or ask about how the campaign worked. 
  • Try out the specific advice that your connections offered. For example, several panels mentioned things like read relevant media every morning or practice your writing. Find a way to build that into your routine! 
The SalesForce “Ohana” Floor

Our SOJC alumni and friends are so generous with their time and energy! Make the most of the visit with a few simple steps. Have others to add! Share with me.

Office buildings

Guest Post: Five Takeaways from #GoldenGateDucks

Kelli’s Note: Jillian was one of 33 students who went with Instructor Courtney Munther and me to San Francisco in early December. I was impressed by her preparedness, smart questions and overall professionalism during the trip. In fact, I’ve been pretty impressed with all my interactions with Jillian. Man, we have great students! I’m happy to share her five takeaways here. 


A few weeks ago, I was lucky to have the opportunity to travel to San Francisco with fellow UO students to tour PR agencies and communications branches of companies. I left inspired, starry-eyed, and a tad intimidated. But most of all, I left with some key advice:

1. Opportunity only knocks once.

When an opportunity presents itself, take it. You should try everything once. This will help you become versed in numerous disciplines. This attitude will not only help you at work, but in life.

2. Not every question has an answer.

When a supervisor asks you to research something, ask them how long they want you to spend and what they expect you to find. If you have spent an hour looking for something with no success, it may not be there to find. Ask for help, but accept defeat when necessary.

3. ESP

  • Eye contact
  • Smiling/nodding
  • Paraphrasing a question when you answer

(These are key qualities to focus on in interviews to seem more personable.)

4. Comparison is the thief of joy.

Don’t compare yourself to others. At your age, no one really knows what they’re doing. Anyone can portray themselves differently from who they really are. You never know someone else’s truth.

5. Never burn a bridge.

It’s a small world. You never know who from your past could connect you to your next job.

Jillian Niedermeyer is a University of Oregon junior majoring in public relations and media studies. She is originally from Portland. She is currently a member of the PRSSA Bateman Competition team, working for Allen Hall Public Relations as an account executive and trying to catch up on much needed sleep. You can find her on LinkedIn

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