What’s your story?

Thanks to Gabriel Mansour, I was part of a fun podcast with Joey de Villa (Accordion Guy, Tucows). Joey and I chatted about the Philippines, tech, moving to a new country, Emacs (“For those of you listeners who haven’t heard of Emacs, it’s a text editor—” “It’s a way of life!”), and other things. =) That was fun, particularly with Joey’s totally cool audio setup complete with nifty microphones and a sound mixer.

It inspires me to do my own podcast, particularly as I’m interested in
storytelling. I want to hear people’s stories. Here’s what I’m
thinking of: three minutes to tell a story that illustrates something
fundamental about you. Maybe it’s about your purpose in life. Maybe
it’s about what you want to do. Maybe it’s about one of your core
values. What’s your story?

What do I need in order to make this happen?

In terms of tools: I have a digital voice recorder that I just need to
remember to keep well-stocked with charged AAA batteries. That can
take care of real-life conversations for now, which is good because I
can attach bios and pictures.

I’d like to be able to interview people over the Net and over phone,
too. I should figure out how to record Skype conversations in order to
take advantage of free US/Canada long distance (to phone) and free
PC-to-PC calls. If I can’t get that to work, I can use Gizmo or
something like that instead, I guess. More of a hassle, though. As for
phone… I don’t know, maybe I’ll get some kind of gadget later on.

In terms of stories: I need to start off with an introductory podcast,
then I need to line people up for it. Maybe I can set once every two
weeks as a nice goal? Podcasts don’t have to be totally regular
(that’s what RSS is for!), but it might help. If I like the pace of
two weeks, I might even be able to step it up to once a week.

I want to hear your story. Interested in being part of something like this?

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Random Japanese sentence: テーブルに猫の足跡が付いている。 There are footprints of a cat on the table.

Learning how to tell stories

Thanks to Michael Nielsen and Jennifer Dodd for highly recommending
Made to Stick, a great book about storytelling. It arrived at the same
time as The Elements of Persuasion, which made a terrific
complementary read. Book notes to follow. =)

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Random Emacs symbol: radians-to-degrees – Macro: Convert ARG from radians to degrees. – Variable: Radian to degree conversion constant.

How to talk to execs and clients about social media

“Know the differences between Technology, Features, Benefits, and Value,” Jeremiah Owyang
 advises in his blog post about effectively talking to executives and clients about social media. He goes on to provide concrete examples of all four approaches, and suggests how to establish trust and respond to indicators of interest or disinterest. Good stuff.

I’m an emerging technologies evangelist focusing on social computing in the enterprise. Some people come to me with a technology focus. They want to use a blog or a wiki, but their objectives aren’t clear, and they don’t know where to start. Sometimes they start on their own, but they quickly lose interest in it when people don’t reply to their posts or update their wiki. Part of my role as a technology evangelist is to get them from focusing on the technology to focusing on at least the benefits as soon as possible. In order to do that, I need to know who they are and what matters to them. What are they looking for? What words do they use to describe what they do? Listening is a huge part of evangelism. (This makes me want to find another term, actually, as “evangelist” brings up images of people who just talk at other people.)

When I talk about benefits or value, I talk about WIIFM: “What’s in it for me.” It’s a good idea to lead with personal benefits, and let the social benefits follow. Blogs, social bookmarks, wikis… All of these things should pay off for you on a personal level, because the social benefits might not kick in for a while. When I talk to people who are new to blogging, for example, I emphasize how it’s useful as a professional notebook for recording lessons learned and questions to explore. I talk about how the practice I get in thinking about what I think makes it easier for me to talk to other people. I talk about how my blog helps me remember what I’m passionate and excited about. When the personal benefits are established, then I can talk about the social benefits: the unexpected connections, the deeper conversations, the online and offline interactions. But personal benefits have to come first. Otherwise, it becomes a chore and you won’t be able to appreciate the social benefits.

Kids are a great way to show some of those benefits, because kids pick up the technologies that have good WIIFM value. Here’s an example: At a recent kick-off meeting, one of the clients mentioned that he saw his daughter using del.icio.us to coordinate a school project with some of her classmates. Using del.icio.us, they could quickly put together and share relevant sites. And hey, if his daughter could do that, maybe people in his company could, too.

The caveat is that it’s also easy to get locked into thinking of social media as just for the kids, or just for our personal lives. That’s why it’s also important to tell stories about older people using social media. (My mom shares business tips on her blog!) It’s important to tell stories about the business benefits of social media. (I got my job because of my blog, my bookmarks, and my other social stuff!) We need to tell those stories so that we can help people see what’s in it for them and what’s in it for their company.

So how do you talk to people about social media?

  • Listen well. You need to pick up and use their vocabulary. You need to watch how they react. People give you plenty of cues; you just have to listen.
  • Focus on people and value, not the technology. The technical details come later, when you’re talking to IT for implementation.
  • Tell stories whenever possible. They make your benefit and value statements concrete.

(xpost: The Orange Chair (team blog), personal blog, personal internal blog; thanks to Stefano Pogliani for the link)

Storytelling in presentations

Angelina Gan asked me if my storytelling approach is based on Peter Orton’s (wonderful!) presentation on using storytelling in business, so I thought I’d share how I started telling stories and what my favorite resources are.

I don’t know exactly why I started telling stories instead of listing bullet points. Maybe it was because of the never-ending march of bullet-ridden presentations. Maybe it was because I kept skimming through business books that were all numbers or pithy sayings without anecdotes to make those statements come alive. Maybe it was because I watched terrific presentations highlighted on the Presentation Zen blog. Maybe it was because of the books I read about telling success stories to deepen your relationships with people, influencing change through story-telling, and telling effective stories. Whatever it was, I started collecting stories and sharing my own.

I’d taken up writing flash fiction (really short stories, typically 55 words long) in 2005, and that turned out to be surprisingly useful. Reading other people’s flash fiction stories taught me that you could tell a story with conflict and character development in a paragraph or two, and that it was fun keeping an eye out for story material. I had originally gotten interested in flash fiction because it felt like a code optimization challenge, and because the stories were short enough for me to write during lunch or a subway ride, on pieces of paper or even on my cellphone. I never felt particularly literary (and in fact had gotten Ds in my English classes in university for lack of effort), but finding and telling stories (or in this case, making them up!) turned out to be a lot of fun.

So when I came across the business applications of storytelling–from social networking to influencing technology adoption–and I saw how it dovetailed with my passions, I jumped right into it. I started collecting stories. For example, I started my master’s research by collecting stories about how people used Dogear (an enterprise social bookmarking system by IBM) so that I could figure out how people were using it in their work and how they could use it even more effectively. I collected stories to help me not only convince people to try out new tools but also give them models to follow and people they could relate to. I also told stories about what I was doing and how I was doing it, and that helped me get to know a lot of people as well. Besides, I love “catching other people doing well”–telling other people’s success stories, especially when they don’t realize they’re doing well.

The results? People act on what I share. They make my stories their own. Not only that, people also tell me that they enjoy my presentations and that my enthusiasm is contagious. Giving presentations – telling stories, having conversations – has become a lot more fun.

How do I find stories? I keep an eye out for things that happen in real life, like this conversation I had with J-. There’s a seed of a story in there, and by telling part of the story, I make it easier to remember later on. I also enjoy reading people’s blogs, because they tell stories from their experiences as well. I read a lot – it certainly helps to have a public library within walking distance. Whenever I come across a particularly good story in any of these sources, I write it down, I bookmark it, I add it to my notes. When I work on presentations, I’ve got a general idea of relevant stories that I’ve come across, and then I use my notes to look up the details.

For example, I was preparing a presentation about University Relations and the Net generation. I didn’t want it to be a boring list of bullet points or advice. I could’ve rehashed the presentation I gave at the Technical Leadership Exchange, but I wanted to make the most of my opportunity to speak with a group that could really make the most of Web 2.0. I remembered that some months ago, I had come across a terrific internal blog post about how a demonstration of IBM’s internal social tools got an audience of university students really interested. I had bookmarked it as a story about Web 2.0 and recruiting, knowing that it would be useful someday. Well, that someday had come! I checked my bookmarks, went back to the blog post, refreshed my memory, and added it to my presentation. I’m sure that the story will make my point more effectively than a list of bullet points.

How can you get started with storytelling? Keep an eye out for story material. Develop a system for filing those stories so that you can find them again when you need them. Tell stories. I’ve linked to some of my favorite books in this post – check them out for more tips. Storytelling is effective and fun. Enjoy!

Notes from WordCamp

wordcamptoronto on Twitter
#wpto08, #wcto08, which one?
Joseph Thornley
search.twitter.com
sociology + technology
RSS changed it from pastime to productivity tool
Magazine analogy – doesn’t make sense to keep physically checking newstand
Asked audience who has developed plugins, nice interaction
Check out category enhancements
wpdiso? profile plugin
live-conference.ca
phug.ca

Matt Mullenweg
If it takes you more than five minutes [to upgrade], you’re doing it wrong, as the lolcats would say (good idea for another presentation: bring in lolcats picture)
2 Wikipedias a month posted on wordpres.com
5 billion spam comments caught, 99.925% accuracy
camp vs conference, open source vs closed source
kudos to Davao WordCamp for being awesomest, mentioned karaoke sound system, pool, lumpia, super-passionate people, awesome shirt
Release cycles, time-based, 2 months dev 1 month cool-down, 1 month testing – reminds me of what Mark Shuttleworth said re cadence
Top 10 WordPress plugins
Looking into better multimodal support

Other notes
Wordpress help desk
Role scoper
Flashpress
Wordpress developer’s toolbox, Drupal version also
Flutter
Comicpress
Theme test drive
Wordpress e-commerce
Contact manager

Conversations
Himy – misses Emacs Planner PIM bliki
Brian Anderson, Mireille Massue, Elena Yunusov – storytelling
Mireille -SecondLife, presentations, storytelling, visual thinking – introduced by Tania Samsonova
Stuart Dykstra – SecondLife, virtual culture

Helping people learn about Web 2.0 through stories

I help people learn about social media and Web 2.0 through stories.

Bullet points and screencasts aren’t enough, but stories about how real people use these tools to reach out and connect can help inspire others to learn about and try those tools themselves.

But I don’t just tell stories. I make them, and that’s my favourite, favourite way to teach.

Take this week, for example. I was coaching a client on how she and others could make the most of LinkedIn. She called me up to ask me some questions. She started the conversation by asking, “How are you?”

“Fantastic!” I replied, as I almost always do.

“I know! You’re living an awesome life.”

That made me laugh. And then she told me that she’d been reading about my gardening, and that she’s looking forward to hearing more about it. Turns out that she’s also growing a garden, and has rather ambitiously planted fifteen tomato plants.

Fifteen! That’ll be quite a harvest. =)

We had a great laugh about that… and now she has a story about finding common ground that she might not have come across in ordinary conversation.

You can give a hundred presentations on social media and Web 2.0 without getting through, or you can make stories and cultivate the kind of environment and culture where other people will make stories. Focus on being part of other people’s stories, and make magic happen! =)

Coming soon:
Imagining stories
Helping people create even more stories for others