By: Katy Nally

I find myself saying “Damn you 2020!” more frequently the closer we get to wrapping this dumpster fire of a year. So many bright spots were snuffed out by 2020, including dozens of events that ended up on the chopping block. For 2A, we skipped our annual summer party, which is normally a non-stop, oyster-and-champagne-fueled mingle-thon.

But fortunately, some good came from canceling our summer event. Turns out 2020 can’t take away our ability to support organizations in our community who do tremendous work. We polled the office and donated to a shortlist of nonprofits, including:

Friends of Youth
Atlantic Street Center
Mary’s Place
Africatown Community Land Trust
Mockingbird Society
Choose 180

We’re bummed our summer party was nixed, but we’re glad to see our donations make the rounds—even if we can’t.

Here’s looking at you, 2021!

By: Mike Lahoda

Remote onboarding is like flying an alien spaceship

At 16, I started my first job as a busboy. The most memorable part of that first day was meeting the bartender, Ryan. He didn’t even introduce himself. He just looked me in the eye and launched into an Oscar-worthy recital of Bill Pullman’s speech from Independence Day. You know, the one just before the ragtag team takes to the skies to fend off the aliens. The waitstaff assembled behind me and cheered as Ryan climbed onto the bar and finished his address, fired up for a night of slinging wings, pouring drinks, and defending the earth from alien overlords. I was pretty confused.

Leading up to my start at 2A, I was a bit nervous about the remote onboarding process. Starting any new job can be stressful, and with the addition of being remote I worried about feeling lost in space. Fortunately, Planet 2A is home to some of the friendliest, smartest humans in the galaxy, which made for a stellar onboarding experience. Here are my tips for getting up to lightspeed when beginning a new job remotely. 

Study your spacecraft

When Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum pilot the alien spaceship for the first time, they accidentally set off in reverse and almost crash. That’s kind of what starting a new job is like: there are a lot of unfamiliar buttons and you’re not sure what each of them do or when they should be pushed. Be patient and learn from others before flying solo.

Have a Will Smith to your Jeff Goldblum

You’re going to need a good co-pilot, and my manager Annie is an ace. In addition to frequently checking in with me, Annie guided me through our 2A Living Practice trainings, had me shadow her in client meetings, and answered the millions of questions I asked. She’s at the controls beside me as I take off on my own projects. 

Make contact and show that you come in peace

I made it a priority to schedule meetings with my teammates. In the dark void of space—I mean, the remote-working world—there’s no watercooler talk or popping over to a colleague’s desk to brainstorm. I’m still waiting on holographic communication, but video chat is a capable substitute, especially in one-on-one and small-group settings.

We’re living through a strange time. In 2020, the prospect of waking up to news headlines of invading extraterrestrials seems entirely plausible. Work is different now. If you’re starting a new job remotely, remember that this is uncharted territory for everyone. It will require patience, trust, and communication as we learn new ways of working together from the comfort of our own home planets.

By: Kelly Schermer

Book within colored swirls

My family has never let me live down the Christmas morning that I took charge of the video camera and escorted my loyal viewers on a tour of the table—from an ant’s perspective. To hear them tell the story you would think it was part of a premeditated plan to make them all sick. As it turns out, it was an excellent warm-up for Ana Pastor’s writing class that I took through the Hugo House.

In a nutshell (or an ant’s bathtub, as some of us prefer to think of it), the class followed Raymond Queneau’s book Exercises in Style, and taught us how to walk around and through and over and under a story. We started by writing a very simple story in the style of notation and then practiced 15 of Queneau’s 99 variations, including retrograde (telling it backward) and animism (giving the agency of the story to non-living things).

Did I get tired of thinking about my story? You bet. Were any two tellings of it remotely the same? No way. Turns out, you can say something again and again and again with varied results. Super interesting for a bunch of word geeks like my 2A posse.

And therefore, and so with, and wherein, I invited workmates to join me for a virtual lunch and test a couple of Queneau’s styles on our own unremarkable stories. We did notation, retrograde, and dream (in which you say it like it was…. well, a dream). Here are some of the results:

 Toddler strollin’ and podcast rollin’

  • Notation: Getting my kid ready for school takes 30 minutes when it should take 5. So sometimes I run him to school instead of walking him to school. And either way I get to listen to a podcast alone on the way home, which is a win.
  • Retrograde: I started my morning alone listening to the NPR Politics Podcast after running my kid to school in our jogging stroller. It was a lovely slice of “me time” after negotiating with a toddler to put on shoes for 10 minutes.
  • Dream: I show up to drop my kid off at school, but there’s a mom test I didn’t study for. All the other moms read the email and studied, but I missed the email and had no idea there was a test.

Zen and the art of dishwashing

  • Notation: I put on headphones and walk into the kitchen. I scroll for some music or a podcast.  I stare out the window. I turn on the water and wash the dishes.
  • Retrograde: I turn the water on and wash the dishes. I stare out the window. I scroll for some music or a podcast, after walking in the kitchen and putting my headphones on.
  • Dream: I float into the kitchen. Noise is everywhere. I look out the window and see our neighbor, my uncle, and old boss floating down a river.

Thin-soled, thick-skinned runner

  • Notation: I stepped on a rock while running in my thin-soled shoes. My foot seemed fine for the remainder of my route. When I stopped running, my foot began to hurt.
  • Retrograde: My foot hurts, like it’s bruised on the bottom. It seemed fine when I was running just a couple minutes ago. I guess I did step on a rock with my thin-soled shoes.
  • Dream: I stepped on sharp stones, I couldn’t avoid them no matter how hard I tried, but I was able to continue on without pain. As I slowed the stones disappeared, and my feet felt cold.

Cool, right? Same ideas, same words, different stories. In summation (please approach the following as a choose-your-own-adventure call to action):

  1. If you’re feeling stuck in your writing, take a page from Queneau’s book and try a different angle or 78 of them.
  2. If you, too, need a fun way to give everyone at work a brain reboot, run an Exercise in Style workshop.
  3. If you’re more of a picture person than a word geek, check out Matt Madden’s 99 ways to tell a story to see how boss he was at making this technique his own.
  4. And, if you’re tempted to hijack a family holiday in favor of building empathy for ants, just hand over the camera.  

By: Clinton Bowman

Repairing with gold: making work more personal from afar

I did my undergraduate degree in art. While I love making art, my favorite thing about the program was learning art history abroad. One of the sections I remember most vividly was the Japanese ceramic technique of kintsugi, which dates to at least the 16th century and binds broken ceramics back together using liquid gold. The result is a rejuvenated ceramic that celebrates flaws and imperfections.    

Things feel quite broken right now. We’re working from home. The days and months are blurring together. The social, political, and healthcare situations in this country are spinning out of control. And it’s not clear when any of that’s going to end. But just because things are totally broken doesn’t mean they can’t be mended back together, even stronger than before.

Over the past several months, my client relationships have gotten exponentially deeper. There is a certain amount of humility and grace that comes with trying to get everything done during a pandemic. For me, I’ve regaled clients and co-workers with a cacophony of noises including puppy barks, Amazon delivery door knocks, phone calls, and even dump trucks bustling outside my window. In turn, I’ve had clients equally trying to fend off the world around them in order to work with me. And while we always apologize for these moments and ask for forgiveness, I can’t help but see the bond being built as we all move through this collective mayhem together.

Years ago, when I worked in Washington D.C., everything was very buttoned-up. Work was some mix of pressed shirts and pants, fixed hair, shined shoes, strong handshakes, and social decorum. It was all very formal. But if anything is true now, it’s that formality of that caliber is gone. What is emerging now at work is the respective acknowledgment of each other’s personal circumstance.

As much as we all try, at the end of the day, we’re just people and some things are simply beyond our control. The freeing part is that by acknowledging this with clients, we can celebrate it. We can rejoice in the absurdity and inject more humanity into our working relationships. We can build something better and stronger than before.

I won’t miss the pandemic when it’s finally over—not by a longshot. I do, however, hope this trend of openness sticks around because I find this new professional reality to be pure gold.  

By: Sarah Silva

Three tips for partying like it’s 2045

As COVID-19 cases climb in the U.S., we are all getting used to the idea that no matter what phase your city is in, large group gatherings aren’t going to be on the approved list. So how can we get our social fix when we can’t congregate in our usual spots?

Party like it’s 2045.

Having a party with as many friends as you want over the internet sounded like a dream in 1999. But after a work week of showing your face across Zoom, Teams, Skype, Chime, and FaceTime, the last thing a lot of us want to do is spend more digital time with others.

Here are a few tips to generate excitement for a digital party, happy hour, or networking event:

Create a theme

Similar to a party IRL, having a theme can make your digital gathering stand out from the weekly sales call. Encourage people to bring a themed beverage or create a unique background for the party. Got clothes or a prop that match the theme? Bring it on.

Time it like an actual party

When you invite people to an event, you will have punctual eager beavers, and those who like to be fashionably late. To keep things feeling more natural, share a light agenda. If the party starts at 6:00pm, let people know you’ll be greeting folks until 6:15pm. Once you’ve reached critical mass, move on to the main event. Set an end point for the party, giving folks who want to hop off a natural exit, and those who want to keep socializing a time to start the after party.

Limit the guest list

Normally it’s “the more the merrier” but at a digital event, more people can mean more awkward starts and stops to conversation. Think about limiting the number of guests to 15 so conversation can flow more naturally. Need to invite a larger group? Consider creating breakout rooms. Give them clever names that match the event or theme, and then watch as people have a side chat in the “kitchen.”

By: Katy Nally

Amazing case studies start with radio-worthy interviews

Terry Gross could interview a ham sandwich and I’d still sit enrapt on the edge of my seat. Terry is an interview master, no doubt because she’s been doing it for 47 years. On her show, Fresh Air, she’s interviewed presidents, journalists, authors, musicians, you name it. If I’m lucky enough to be cooking dinner when her show is on, it’s a good day—especially now that COVID-19 has squashed my entertainment plans. 

Lately (let’s just say I’ve had more time for the radio) I’ve paid special attention to how Terry conducts her interviews, hoping to garner some wisdom I can apply to my own day job. As a writer for a marketing agency, I often interview customers or partners and use their insights to build out case studies. My goal is always to channel my inner Terry and stick to these best practices that earned her a black belt in asking questions.  

Construct a narrative arc with questions 

This isn’t just Terry’s trick for engaging radio. Organizing your questions into a beginning, middle, and end will help warm up the interviewee to feel more comfortable and make it easier for them to follow your thought process. The narrative arc for case studies is pretty straightforward—situation, challenge, solution, results—and that can serve as the framework for your questions. That being said, don’t be afraid to go off script and ask follow-up questions that are outside your conversation guide. If it seems like a juicy thread to pull, by all means, yank it.  

Give quick context to frame questions 

There are three kinds of interviewees—the talk-too-much, the talk-too-little, and the talk-just-right. I’ve never actually encountered that last group, but they’re rumored to exist. For the other two, giving enough context will save you time and dignity. For the talk-too-much-ers, you’ll want to frame your questions in a way that tells them what you already know, then you need to be very explicit about the answer you’re looking for. This will stop them from spending 10 minutes of your precious interview describing the landscape you’re already familiar with. For the talk-too-little-ers, questions with no parameters might freak them out and lead to three-word answers. A little context will go a long way to make them feel like they’re talking to someone in the know who’s actually listening. Of course, that means you have to do your research up front! 

Ask what we’re all thinking 

Terry asks the questions we’re all dying to know—not right away of course, where’s the suspense in that!? But it’s a good reminder not to shy away from tough questions just because they’re potentially uncomfortable. For case studies, that could mean asking how a customer could have done it better, or faster. Or asking how much money they made. This requires some tact and transparency, making sure the interviewee knows they’re allowed to push back.   

All that in mind, the best advice is to shut up and listen. You likely only have 30 minutes to an hour with the interviewee, so try not to waste precious minutes giving your opinion on things. And when in doubt, ask yourself what would Terry do.  

By: Erin McCaul

Case studies worth putting on repeat

Some songs are so good they deserve to be on repeat, like my current favorite, 25 or 6 to 4 by Chicago. The upbeat guitar riffs, sprinkle of trombone, and clever lyrics make the song worth hearing over and over any time I find myself facing a creative block.

Here at 2A, we recently redesigned our website—giving our storytellers, designers, and devs a unique chance to flex their creative muscles, explore new sources of inspiration, collaborate, and think big. The part I keep playing over and over? Our shiny new case studies.

GreenSock animations make our stories dance

When we sat down to brainstorm ways to make these stories stand out, a key theme bubbled to the surface: interaction. Inspired by the layouts, transitions, and animations on Apple‘s website, we went to work exploring ways to bring our case studies off of the page. But first, we had to learn: How does Apple make their website look so cool? The answer? GreenSock.

While Apple’s product technology is historically secretive, their website uses open source technology called GreenSock to make a lot of the magic happen. Open source code is all about collaboration. It’s accessible for both tech giants like Apple, and small-but-mighty agencies like 2A. GreenSock makes creating animations and transitions a breeze with readable code, cross-browser and device compatibility, and modular code that allows developers to create an animation once and reuse it where needed. You can see this on our case study buttons. When you click a button to view a case study, there’s an animation that loads the page seamlessly. Once the page is loaded, a reverse animation makes the button disappear. GreenSock magic!  

Leaning in to fun concepts like a Grateful Dead spin on an AWS road show and a stadium-level roar for  The Sports Institute at UW Medicine, let us shake up the generic case study format and surprise viewers with unexpected content.

It’s not often we get to be our own client, and these opportunities to explore, experiment, and play recharge our creative batteries. If you’re looking for a little creative inspiration, take our case studies for a spin…again, and again, and again.  

By: Kelly Schermer

Decks without talk tracks are like dancers without pants

We’ll be the first to admit that building a PowerPoint deck is a strange dance. First, you whittle the key points into slides using design to make them visually compelling, then you write the talk track to tell the overarching story. It seems out of order, but over the years we always come back to it. We’ve learned that by carefully deconstructing and then retelling the story it gets stronger and clearer.

In the race to the perfect presentation, talk tracks are often overlooked. The energy goes into developing the slides, and when they’re done, the presentation seems ready. But it’s important to remember that presentations are about speakers presenting. Slides provide smart visuals that give the main points wings, but it’s the talk track that determines how well your speaker lands the story.

A talk track is a well-constructed script that can be practiced by the speaker to ensure they’re interpreting and sharing the story the way you intended. It provides an easy-to-follow narrative that gives speakers confidence and enriches the slides. From a pitch deck to a keynote, every presentation needs a talk track. It can make the difference between a sale and a goose egg, or a high-earnings projection and a slip in market confidence.

By following the 2A approach of whittling, prodding, and testing, you can build a better story for your slides and your speakers. And be confident that speakers from anywhere—with any level of expertise—can bring the story to life.

Want some help practicing your presentation dance moves? Let’s give it a twirl together!

By: The 2A Team

We stand in solidarity with the protesters and organizers working to end police violence toward black people and systemic racism in the US. While we are heartbroken by the murders of George Floyd and countless others, we are not surprised. That, in itself, is a tragedy.

We’re posting this statement because we wish to speak out publicly against this ongoing violence and blatant murders. We also recognize that simply sharing our solidarity is not enough. Actions can make progress. We will support the movement by listening, giving money, buying from black-run businesses, signing our names, and amplifying black voices.

As a company, we’re digging in to bias training, inclusive hiring, and spending with purpose. We’re also doubling our employee giving match to organizations run by black people working for equal justice. It’s a few steps of many.

By: Katy Nally

Three tips to add public-speaking pizzazz to any conversation

Sharpening my public speaking skills wasn’t exactly a priority for me. I’m not a big deal (I only have a few leather-bound books), and I don’t appear at conferences. I figured public speaking just wasn’t in my future, so why bother improving? Montana Von Fliss made me think again. Her take on public speaking is so fundamental, within the first few minutes of her course I realized I had room to grow in so many places. In our all-team training, Montana showed us that public speaking is the art of taking your audience on a journey—telling them a story so they understand your perspective

Here’s how you can bring some public-speaking pizzazz to any conversation.

Use storytelling to add emotion

It’s easy to dive right into the tactical tidbits of a conversation, for instance, showing your boss all the amazing progress you’ve made on a project. But it pays to step back and set the scene a little. Tee-up your spiel by giving some context on the problem you were trying to solve. Add some emotional flare by explaining the potential damage the challenge could have caused, then tell how your perspicacity saved the day. After all, a story without emotion is just a chronology…more like a yawn-ology.  

Keep it relevant

Now that your audience is listening and smitten with your insightful decision making, don’t lose them by talking from the wrong perspective. Remember to frame your discussion from their point of view. Explain how everything you did will benefit them, not the other way around.

Ooze confidence

I tend to start off strong, then run out of steam halfway through presentations. Don’t do that. Remember, you’re the confident captain of this conversation. How can you keep the audience hanging on your every word if your delivery is weak sauce? Channel your Captain Kirk and stand up, project your voice, try to pause instead of inserting filler words like um, and bring them along for an unforgettable (in a good way) journey.