Advertising
Advertising

Help a Reporter (and Yourself) Out

Help a Reporter (and Yourself) Out

20080901-reporter

    Ever wonder where journalists and other writers find the experts they quote in their stories? In the past, reporters counted on their own networking, and on a service called ProfNet. ProfNet lets journalists search their database of experts and contact them individually to see if they’d be interested in being interviewed.

    Until recently, ProfNet has been about the only game in town, as far as finding real experts is concerned. Which might be why their website is a little less than user-friendly – no competition. But things have been shaken up rather thoroughly in the last couple months, with the arrival on the scene of a new service aiming to connect journalists and experts.

    Advertising

    Help A Reporter Out (HARO) is the brainchild of Peter Shankman, founder and CEO of marketing/PR firm The Geek Factory, Inc. The idea is simple, but incredibly powerful. Journalists post requests using a simple form, detailing their story and the kind of expert they’re looking for. Experts – on whatever – subscribe to the HARO mailing list. A few times a day, the requests over the last several hours are compiled and sent out to everyone on the mailing list. Subscribers skim the list and see if there are any stories they feel they can contribute to, and they email the reporter directly.

    It’s that simple. It’s almost stupid! But it works – in a few months it’s membership has grown to over 12,000 people and Shankman is sending out 50 or more HARO requests a day.

    Why bother to help a reporter out?

    Why should you take the time and energy to read HARO’s twice- or thrice-daily email, looking for HARO requests that apply to you?

    Advertising

    There are several answers, all of them good. The first, of course, is that you know something that might help a reporter to be more informative or more accurate, and therefore in some small way you can contribute to the world’s store of knowledge. That’s what knowledge is for, after all – sharing.

    But, you say, I get paid for sharing my knowledge. Hey, good on ya! Maybe the warm fuzzies aren’t enough.

    Fair enough. While journalistic ethics generally precedes paying sources, people who volunteer to help reporters with their story get another kind of payment: exposure. And no minor exposure, either – being quoted in a major newspaper or national magazine can bring a flood of traffic to your site, new clients, job offers, you name it. And smaller outlets can be just as good,or even better – being quoted as an expert by a niche publication means that the people who will see your name referred to as the go-to guy or gal on your topic are exactly the people you most want to see you as an expert.

    Advertising

    PR folks know this, which is why when I sent out a HARO request recently, about 1/3 of the responses I got were publicists and marketing folk offering to connect me with their clients. It’s an excellent opportunity to establish yourself as an expert in your field.

    There’s one more reason to respond to HARO requests: it can be fun. You get to share your thoughts with someone who, while maybe not an expert, at least has an interest in the field you work in (usually, or the story would have been assigned to someone else). Speaking with a skilled interviewer is a great way to clarify your own thinking, too.

    What if I need some help, too?

    HARO is, at least for now, an open system. I’ve seen requests from bloggers, in-house writers, people taking surveys, and of course actual jourrnalists on assignment. There is no verification system in place to make sure your request is “legitimate”, and while that might become a problem down the line, for now it’s working pretty well. (I shouldn’t say no verification system – people aren’t going to respond to requests that seem phony or amateurish, so in that sense, the system is self-regulating).

    Advertising

    What that means is that, if you need to interview an expert, and can offer a reasonable amount of exposure, there’s no real reason not to try a HARO request.

    And it works. My first HARO request was for an expert n what I thought was a pretty obscure topic. Within a few hours, I had 14 responses! What’s more, almost all of them were good – real, bona fide experts in the rather tiny niche I was writing about.

    If you want to improve your chances of getting a decent response, there are a few things you should do:

    • Be real: I can imagine all sorts of ways that people are going to try to game the HARO system. Here’s the thing, though – you’re interacting with real people – smart ones, at that. They are experts, after all. If your request comes off as scammy, you won’t get a response – but even if your request does get a response, people will realize soon enough that you’re full of… it when you start responding of when you get them on the phone.
    • Explain your topic thoroughly: HARO gives plenty of room to describe who you’re looking for; be as specific as you can. Don’t think you’re being clever by being vague, or that you’ll improve your chances of finding someone if your request is so loosely worded that just about anyone might feel that they’re the right person for you. The people who sign up for HARO’s list are looking for particular requests that they feel a connection with. Ideally, you want a handful of people to read your request and feel like you’re talking about them specifically.
    • Be respectful: You don’t get to expect a response, you get to appreciate one. If someone takes the time to respond to your request, even if you can’t use them for your project, try at least to respond and tell them “no thanks”. You never know when you might need their assistance in the future, so don’t burn any bridges by being a jerk.

    I, for one, will be watching closely to see how Help A Reporter Out develops. It’s such a simple idea, but it works – and in the long run, may be a huge step forward for journalism. And for self-promotion – what a great way to get yourself noticed by people in your niche!

    I’d love to hear other people’s stories about HARO. If you have any, please share them with us in the comments.

    More by this author

    How to Become an Expert (And Spot out One Nearby) The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works) Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed Back to Basics: Your Calendar Learn Something New Every Day

    Trending in Communication

    1 How to Talk to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward 2 What Are Interpersonal Skills? Master Them for Better Relationships 3 How To Stop Negative Thoughts from Killing Your Confidence 4 This 4-Year Old Girl’s Explanation On the Problem with New Year’s Resolutions Is Everything You Need 5 What You Really Need to Feel Secure in a Relationship

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on January 15, 2019

    How to Talk to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward

    How to Talk to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward

    Many of us feel awkward talking to strangers. I’m a very outgoing person, even though I sometimes feel uncomfortable walking up to someone and asking a question or starting a conversation. I consider myself pretty high up on the extrovert meter. So what is it that makes us pause and become worried or anxious about talking to people we don’t know?

    In this article, we will discuss why we feel this way as well as some tips on how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

    Step right up, don’t be shy!

    Why We Feel Awkward Talking to Strangers

    The next time you feel uncomfortable talking to a stranger, tell yourself that’s completely normal. There are numerous reasons why it’s actually natural to feel awkward talking to strangers:

    Our Stress Levels Rise Around Strangers

    Numerous studies have show that our levels of cortisol go up when we are around strangers.[1] Cortisol is the hormone inside of us which produces stress responses.[2]
    So there you go, right off the bat you can see part of your standard response to strangers is due to a chemical reaction!

    A very interesting by product of increased cortisol is that it makes us less empathetic. More than likely this can be traced to our evolution. The increase in the cortisol and the corresponding decrease in empathy makes us want to stay away from strangers. We are biologically wired to feel concern around strangers.

    Evolution Taught Us to Be Wary

    Evolution has also taught us to be wary of strangers in general. Humans as a whole have spent a large chunk of their history banded together in small protective groups. We did this in order to help protect each other and maximize resources.

    When you think about it in this context, outsiders to our small groups or strangers are considered potential threats. Fear of strangers is common across almost all human cultures.

    Culturally Conditioned

    We can also thank our society for helping us feel uncomfortable and sometimes afraid of strangers. The term “stranger danger” is something most of us can relate to either growing up or raising kids. Or both.

    I remember hearing this from my parents, mostly about not getting in someone’s car I didn’t know. And as the father of 2 teenage girls, you can be sure I’ve talked to them about this very concept more times that they want to hear.

    The thought that strangers can be dangerous is built into us as it is. Toss in the amplification of the media on strangers doing things such as kidnapping kids and it takes it to an even higher level.

    Advertising

    Now that we’ve reviewed some of the reasons why we are nervous, let’s look at why you should talk to strangers more.

    Benefits of Getting over the Awkwardness

    Let’s take a quick look at some of the advantages of how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward. These are some high level benefits of talking to strangers.

    1. Broadens Your Network

    After you talk to someone, you didn’t know previously they become someone you know at least a little bit. This alone helps broaden your network of people you know. This is helpful in many ways whether it is work related or socially related.

    2. Improves Your Communication Skills

    I am a huge proponent of the value of solid communication skills and have written about it often. The more you talk to people, especially people you don’t know, the better your communication skills become.

    Interacting with a wider variety of people will bring the added benefit of improving your communication skills.

    3. Continually Learning

    So many of us don’t actively seek to learn new things. This is one of the primary keys to staying engaged in life and our own personal self fulfillment.

    Almost every time I speak to someone I didn’t know previously, I’ve learned something new. When we speak to strangers, it pushes us out of our comfort zones and we tend to learn new things.

    4. Increases Self Confidence

    Every time we learn to do something we were previously anxious about, we feel better about ourselves.

    Forcing ourselves to talk to strangers will lead to increased self confidence. As we get more and more comfortable doing something that previously made us feel awkward, our self confidence will go up and up.

    So, how to talk to strangers to reap these benefits?

    How to Talk to Strangers

    Here are some tips to on how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

    Advertising

    1. Say Hello

    Putting “say hello” first may seem a bit obvious but let’s take a deeper look. Much of the social awkwardness when speaking to strangers is simply breaking the ice. The first words that will engage someone.

    Most people will respond when someone says hello or hi to them. And those that don’t, you probably don’t want to talk to anyway.

    Practice being the person that opens the door to a conversation. Say hello.

    2. Ask About Them

    Something that I have noticed over the years is that people love to talk about themselves. Even fairly private people tend to open up when asked about events in their lives.

    You can ask leading questions that get people to talk about themselves and recent events. Things like recent movies watched or the summer vacation are great to get someone talking.

    As a father, I also know that people love to talk about their kids. Asking about kids is a fairly easy topic to bring up and in general, most people will expound upon all the great things their kids do or are involved with.

    3. Just Do It

    One of the biggest reasons we don’t do things we want to or know we should is because we overthink it. Quit thinking about it so much and just do it.

    When you give yourself the time to analyze every little angle about a situation, you also give plenty of time to talk yourself out of it. You’ll wind up thinking what if this happens or what if that happens.

    Try to force yourself to jump right in without thinking about it too much. Whenever I have done this, I always feel great about it afterwards, no matter how it turned out.

    4. Don’t Take It Personal

    One of the greatest lessons in life I ever learned was don’t take anything personally. We all go through life with our own sets of experiences and see things through our own lens. The way people react to different situations has almost nothing to do with us. It has to do with previous experiences and the way people feel about things other than us.

    When someone’s reaction isn’t what you’d hoped or expected, chances are it has nothing to do with you. Remember that and keep it in context.

    Advertising

    5. Get a Chuckle If Possible

    I used the word chuckle purposely because it makes me laugh. In my opinion, it’s one of those funny words. We all like to laugh because it makes us feel good. And when someone makes us laugh, we typically remember those people in a positive light.

    One of the best ways to make a conversation easy and free flowing is to get some laughter going. It doesn’t mean you have to be the master joke teller or anything. See if you can work in a way to make the person you are talking to get a smile or some laughter in. In fact, laughing at yourself maybe a nice try.

    6. Detach

    A great feeling is when you don’t mind which way something turns out, that you will be fine no matter what happens. Kind of like when I watch my two favorite football teams play against each other. I don’t really care who wins, I just want a fun game.

    Treat talking to strangers the same way. You don’t really care how the conversation goes because you are detaching from the outcome. Make it a fun time with yourself and if the conversation goes well, awesome! If not then no big deal, move on.

    7. Share Your Stories

    Well, all like to feel connected to other people. And many times we wind up hanging out with people that we have things in common with. No surprise here.

    To help with how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward, tell stories that have commonalities with the person you are talking to. Kids are an easy one. I have a daughter who was a competitive cheerleader and now plays club volleyball. I have instant connection and stories with strangers I speak with who have kids that play sports. It’s easy to relate to.

    So when you are speaking to a stranger and you have a story or mutual connection point, bring it up.

    8. Give a Compliment

    Almost everyone likes hearing a compliment, whether they admit to it or not. As a general rule, we don’t give out enough compliments. It’s amazing how one small remark someone tosses your way about how good you look can literally make your entire day.

    When you are speaking with someone you don’t know, see if you can work a compliment in. Nothing creepy here. Not a good idea to tell someone you just met that they are the prettiest or handsomest person you ever met. However, if you can share how you like their tattoo or shoes or something like that, it will help put the conversation into an easy going, smiling place.

    9. Relax Your Body Language

    If you go into a situation all worried and nervous, it shows on your body. Your shoulders are tensed up, there’s a look of consternation on your face, things like that.

    When you engage a stranger in conversation, make it a point to relax your body language. Take a deep breath before you engage the person, let your body relax, and put a smile on your face. This will help relax you and it has the added benefit of putting the other person more at ease.

    Advertising

    If they see that you are relaxed, it helps them relax. Plus having open, engaging body language is very conducive to inviting someone to open up into a conversation with you.

    10. Practice, Practice, Practice

    Like everything else in life, talking to strangers gets easier with practice. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

    Make it a point to talk to several strangers each week and it will definitely help you relax as you do it more and more.

    After a while, it will become something you don’t even think about, you just do it. And that takes all of the awkwardness out of being in these type situations.

    The Bottom Line

    As we have seen, it is perfectly natural to feel awkward talking to strangers. We are biologically built that way and we have our own society constantly warning us how dangerous it is. It’s no wonder we feel awkward talking to strangers!

    There are numerous benefits to learning to be more comfortable talking to strangers. See if you can employ some of the techniques mentioned to learn how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

    Once you start practicing speaking with strangers more often and utilizing some of the tips, you will become more comfortable doing so. This in turn will lead to a learned new skill and increased self confidence.

    Remember, everyone you know was a stranger at one time. Now get out there and make some new friends.

    More Resources About Strengthening Communication Skills

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

    Reference

    Read Next