Category Archives: web2.0

Comedy and self-promotion

We headed out for taco salads and soup at the Easy Restaurant on King Street after our last class of improv comedy. My three classmates and the teacher were all deeply into the Toronto improv and sketch comedy scene. I was the lone non-comedian, and I got a fascinating glimpse into that world.

They talked about the awkwardness of telling non-comedians about your interests. When the conversation turns to what people do, they feel that people who are outside the comedy scene just don’t get it, saying: “Oh, you’re a comedian? Tell me a joke.” One of my classmates said that this was probably why practically all her friends are also in the comedy scene. I wonder if they also have problems with the echo chamber effect that we see online, when people end up talking only to people like them.

They talked about the challenges facing the Toronto comedy scene. There are lots of stand-up rooms in Toronto where people can practise their material, but attendance is hit-or-miss. If you liked a specific comedian, it was hard to find out when and where they’d perform next. Shows were better publicized, but individuals were hard to track. I asked them if it was a matter of marketing. To me, it seemed obvious: if you were starting out as a stand-up comedian or an improv comedy performer, why not make it easier for people to find out when you’d be performing next, and share your adventures along the way?

They reacted strongly against the idea of self-promotion. To them, the idea of an amateur having business cards, a website, or a Facebook fanpage smacked of pretentiousness. It was okay if you’d done a number of well-received shows, or had some kind of national profile. If you were just starting out, you needed to know your place.

I found that really interesting because we run into the same social norms against self-promotion in different business cultures, and it can get in the way of connecting.

I think people do want to keep an eye out for teams and people they like. Facebook’s use of “Fan” might turn people off, so they’d need a more neutral space that can keep track of teams, individuals, shows, and locations. It would be a natural fit for Facebook integration, calendar exports, RSS feeds, and mailing lists. You could probably build the whole thing using out-of-the-box Drupal and the Content Creation Kit. Data entry would have to be done manually for a while (listings from Now Toronto and from the major venues?), but it might eventually grow into something that people can update on their own.

I don’t see people paying to use a service like this, but it might be supported by advertising (and perhaps a share of ticket sales, if you have an e-commerce system tied into venues’ ticketing).

In terms of marketing, you’d probably approach venues that don’t have event lists, as well as teams and individuals. Teams and individuals would be your primary channel for marketing. You could also offer a badge for venues, teams, and individuals in order to advertise upcoming shows, and pre-designed flyers (like what Meetup now does), and provide webpages for people who don’t have their personal sites set up yet. Posters near established comedy venues would be good, too, and hand-outs given to people in line. Business cards might be interesting too.

A business idea for someone who’s really interested in the comedy scene, perhaps! =)

The man who should’ve used Connections

Wow. There are some seriously talented IBMers out there.

This is the latest installment in “The Man Who Should’ve Used Connections”, by Jean Francois Chenier (a project administrator at IBM Japan). He created it using Anime Studio, Garageband, and iMovie.

When I grow up, I want to do things like this.

Public speaker worried about losing control? Don’t have lectures – have conversations

Public speaking is the greatest fear people have, and losing control seems to be the greatest fear that public speakers have. Like the way that companies have to adapt to social media’s effects on brands, speakers have to adapt to the reactions that spread like wildfire through social tools, reaching people far outside the auditorium’s walls.

This fear of losing control is interesting, because I love turning that speaker-audience relationship upside down. It’s incredibly more powerful and more fulfilling than lecturing, and you’re going to love it too.

Jeremiah Owyang posted great tips on how power is shifting to the audience, and how speakers can develop social media strategies to adapt. He said:

Critics would suggest that monitoring the backchannel is counter intuitive to what a speaker should be doing: focused on presenting. Yet, I’d argue that some power has shifted to the audience –and with that comes responsibility of the speaker to respond to the power shift. As a speaker… I feel empathy and at the same time am scared this doesn’t happen to me. The best way for speakers to avoid this revolt is to make sure that they be aware of the changes in power shifts and develop a plan to integrate social.

I’d love to hear from you how speakers should respond to the power shifting to the audience, I know there’s a lot I can continue to learn in the craft of speaking. What should speakers do?

I love giving people power, and that’s part of why I love speaking. I love learning as much from people as they learn from me. I love discovering where we can go together. The word “audience” bothers me because it’s too passive, just as I hate being referred to as a “consumer”. So here’s the unconventional perspective that makes it easy for me to ditch my slides when I want to, embrace the backchannel, and have conversations instead of lectures:

A speech is the start of a conversation, not a one-way street. It’s not about advertising your company. It’s not about building your reputation. It’s about helping people learn something, understand something, or be inspired to do something. It’s about starting a hundred or a thousand conversations. It’s about discovery.

The speaker’s work is important. When you speak, you give abstract concepts names, flesh them out, and make them real. When you speak, you can weave different threads into stories that help people understand. When you speak, you can help people figure out what to do next.

The participants are the ones who do the real magic. If you can inspire people to think about what you’ve shared and build on it, if you can help them understand a complex topic and act on what they’ve learned, if they go on to share that with others… fantastic!

Your role as a speaker is to set the stage and enable people to succeed. You’re there to serve them, not allow them to bask in your presence. ;)

So for your next talk, flip your perspective around.
Realize that presenting is a privilege, and work on living up to it. Create as much value as you can. Look for ways you can learn from people. It may take some getting used to–learning how to wait in silence was tough for me, but it’s essential for drawing out questions!–but it’ll definitely be worth it.

But wait, you think, that’s all very good if you’re facing a small group, but what about a large session? I find that I can have a conversation-like atmosphere with around 300 people if I step away from the podium, use a lapel mike, warm up the audience a little beforehand, and have fun. I’ve given keynotes to larger groups before, and when you’re in an auditorium with a thousand people, that does get tough.

You can still have a conversation with thousands of people. You might not do it with interruptions from raised hands, but you can do it on your blog by posting your material before or after your session. You can encourage people to post their thoughts and comments in a backchannel, and periodically review that (maybe during your water breaks?) to check the pulse. You can keep the conversation going by giving people a link to your presentation or related blog post. (If you don’t have a blog yet, you should definitely start one.) In fact, the more people are listening, the more important it is that you have some kind of conversation going. If you’re off track, you’re wasting a lot of people’s time. If you’re not listening, you’re wasting a lot of people’s insights.

Okay, maybe not all sessions can be this interactive, but far more of them can have this magic than most people would think. I’ve had fantastic afternoon sessions even when I was the last person on the agenda after a full day of talks. I’ve spoken after lunch, after awesome speakers, after boring speakers. The challenge I’m currently working on is figuring out how to facilitate this kind of energy during teleconferences with people from different cultures. (People from North America and Europe tend to jump right in, while other people tend to be quieter, but maybe other techniques can help!) But there are far more opportunities to have these kinds of conversations that most people realize, and I hate watching people squander those opportunities on lectures. (Unless they can be as inspiring as the TED talks!)

Try it out – you’ll feel awesome when you build listening into your speaking. You might be wondering how you can manage listening to people while talking at the same time. Let your body deal with listening to people’s body language in the room. Pay enough attention and you’ll find yourself physically mirroring little things about the audience – tension, interest, understanding. Can’t read and speak? Read the notes during your water breaks and course-correct, or have a buddy in the audience give you cues. And when you pull off your first wildly interactive session, when you were totally in the zone and everything just flowed, you’ll feel such an amazing buzz.

Personal connection and a trip to the dentist

A personal connection can make going to the dentist a lot of fun.

I like going to my dentist. Part of it is because I get paranoid about my teeth, running to the dentist at the slightest hint of a cavity. Part of it is that my dentist’s office is pleasantly quirky, adorned with well-shot portraits and oil paintings of a pet poodle. (I kid you not.) It’s a little like getting to see his personal side.

The office manager knows me by name, reads my blog(!), and laughs about my own quirks: the virtual assistants who call her to schedule, reschedule and confirm appointments; the varied interests she reads about; the ways I handle my health coverage. (I think I’ll revert to the standard plan next year.) The dentist jokes about technology and asks about my trips. Sometimes the assistants chat with me about graduate school or life in general.

I like getting e-mail updates, hearing about the different things that are going on, checking out the pictures they’ve just posted.

Imagine if more companies and more services made you feel that they knew you as a person… =)

And for businesses: It’s okay to be human. It’s okay to be real. Those personal characteristics make it easier for people to relate to you.

(Note: I’m not getting anything for this post, although I like to imagine that my dentist is extra-careful when drilling because he knows I blog. ;) )

Brainstorming around Smart Work

IBM’s holding another one of its awesome collaboration jams (72-hour web-based brainstorming/discussion), this time on Smart Work.

I’m passionate about helping people connect and collaborate. All the topics highlighted are things I’m deeply interested in: teams, Gen Y, collaboration…. After I get through my 9-12 AM leadership development class (whee!), I’m looking forward to joining the Jam.

Anyway, I was inspired to make this:

There’s so much more to say, but I still have to figure out how to say it… =)

Join us for the Jam and/or the videocast! http://www-01.ibm.com/software/solutions/smartwork/virtual/

Deeper insights into private versus public

I was on a panel with Luis Suarez, Jeannette Browning, and Bill Chamberlin about choosing the right social networking tools. The panel was particularly awesome because we had a lot of interaction both on the phone and in the text chat, and the questions drew out all sorts of interesting insights.

A large part of the text chat was about how other social networking tools are supplementing or even replacing e-mail as the way people work. We talked about the etiquette of instant messaging and how near-real-time communication fits into the workplace without being disruptive. Thinking about the shift away from e-mail, though, I realized that there are actually several changes at play.

First, there’s the shift from asynchronous to near-real-time, which is what you get when you go from e-mail buried in people’s inboxes to instant messages that show up on their screen. People worry that they’ll interrupt others or that they’ll always be interrupted, but that can be addressed by managing your presence indicators (“do not disturb” is handy!). They also worry that information will be lost or things will be forgotten, because many people use their e-mail inboxes as their to-do list, and that can be addressed by better task management and better follow-up.

The more interesting shift for me, however, is the shift from private to public. This is what many people struggle with, because writing for an unknown audience is scary. It’s also one of the most powerful way social software shifts the way we work. By moving as much information as you can from e-mail, instant messaging, and other private channels, to public channels such as blogs, communities, and forums, you make it possible for other people to learn from what you’re doing and connect with you. You reach beyond your known area of influence.

It’s almost impossible to read a newspaper or watch a news show without being reminded of the dangers of sharing information online, but these warnings scare people away from the tremendous upside that they can gain by sharing knowledge and exercising a little common sense. There’s probably another good blog post in here somewhere. Food for thought.