Monday, February 20, 2017

Guarding Against the Risk of "Fake Audio"

When Adobe demonstrated their Project VoCo at the MAX event in November the media focused mostly on the downside risks, though the tool potentially has many legitimate uses.

All you have to do is feed this experimental audio workstation tool a sample recording of someone speaking then you can rewrite the text and the audio will be automatically corrected, even creating new words with the correct voice.

For media production companies this kind of tool will be immensely useful, making it possible to correct voiceovers and dialog without having to bring the talent back into the studio. Actors might be less enthusiastic and will have to consider this possibility in their contracts.

But much of the media coverage focused on dark applications of this technology. With this tool you can literally put words in someone's mouth, editing a speech so that someone appears to say something they didn't. Sooner of later someone will actually do this in the wild, but I suspect that the biggest danger is just that politicians will learn to dismiss secret recordings as "fake audio". We will never know if an audio recording is genuine or not. Or will we?

VoCo is not available yet in any commercially available tool, and there is no news yet about when it might be available, but meantime I have been wondering if there is any way that people can protect themselves. To a certain extent the answer is yes;

Politicians will be able to guard against this type of audio manipulation to some degree by providing a video recording of each speech where there is an uncut single camera view of their lips. Any manipulated version of the audio will not match this reference recording and it will be much harder to change the video to match a faked audio track. It could be done with CGI but this would be expensive and take a long time.

Journalists can protect themselves from spurious audio recordings simply by being very suspicious about the provenance of recordings. A file that comes directly from a known source is more likely to be genuine than something found on YouTube or SoundCloud.

Everyone else should be wary of any audio recordings that do not come from a trustworthy source and especially when there is no matching video. I would also caution people to be more suspicious of phone calls that sound like they come from someone famous. Next time you have someone calling who claims to be Vladimir Putin don't believe it just because the voice is right.

But will this technology be a problem anyway? My first reaction last year was to fear the worst, but I said the same at the beginning of the 2000's when I first tried Syntrillium's Cool Edit Pro digital audio workstation software, a product that later became Adobe Audition. I used to demonstrate this by taking JFK's "Ask not what your country can do for you..." speech and with a few mouse movements I moved the "not", reversing the sense. You can do the same yourself using the free open-source audio tool Audacity.

At the time I suspected that this kind of manipulation would become commonplace but it never did, even though any user of any digital audio workstation tool could do this. Perhaps it didn't catch on because video dominates news cycles today and perhaps Adobe's VoCo will have a limited effect for the same reason. But in any case I suggest that everyone be aware of the risks that this technology poses. Be suspicious of any audio that comes to you through indirect sources and remember that with this kind of technology anyone can fake a voice realistically.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching & Writing

For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about communications you can contact Andrew Hennigan at or 0046 73 089 44 75

Monday, February 13, 2017

Why White-on-Black Slides are so Popular

At TED and TEDx talks, major product launches and other big-budget events you will notice that the presentation designers often opt for white writing on a black background. There are actually good reasons for this.

To many people it simply looks cool and professional, but there are also practical choices that make this style appealing. One of the most compelling is that a white background adds a significant amount of light to the room. In a major conference where there are plenty of spotlights on the speaker and the room is professionally lit this does not make much impact, but in small and medium size events or in company meeting rooms you might notice that the brightness of modern projectors can be an issue.

One way to deal with this problem is to have a fairly constant intensity presentation where there are no slides that are significantly darker, but this can be monotonous. If you blank to black the screen when the images are not needed the impact is even worse. Back in the days of projection CRTs the screen image was so dim that this was never an issue. Now the kind of projectors you might find in any company meeting room can be bright enough to be a problem;

Apart from the distracting changes in light when slides change or the screen in blanked, a white background aggravates another issue. In many company and hotel meeting rooms it is hard for the speaker to stay entirely out of the projector beam all the time. When a slide is just a line of white text on a black background this problem is minimized. But when you have black writing on a white background you are much more likely to have some light from the beam in the speaker's face. This is annoying for the speaker and distracting for the audience.

You can reduce this effect another way by using a short throw or ultra short throw projector behind the speaker -- and possibly add two LED spotlights to brighten the speaker's face -- and you should definitely consider this for your own meeting rooms. But most speakers have more say in the making of their slides than in the equipment of meeting rooms so a white-on-black style is a simpler solution.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

If you would like personal one-to-one coaching to improve your speaking and presenting skills you can ask about buying blocks of hours either by email at or by phone at 0046 73 089 44 75. I can also do group coaching, lectures and workshops for groups of people who need to become more effective presenters.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Crowdsourcing User Needs for a Book

When the first edition of my book about professional networking, Payforward Networking, was first published in 2015  it was based on the workshops I did for business school students and focused mainly on the core concepts that could be taught in one day. So it explained why networking is so important, how it works and ways of doing it in real life and online, but it didn't focus so much on details like practical mingling tips or the needs of specific groups.

But at the end of the book there was an extra chapter where I invited readers to ask about any other aspects of networking they were interested in. If the reader's question wasn't answered by the book I would, I promised, answer it either directly or through the writing of a new chapter. Many people took up this offer and asked questions that inspired new chapters. I sent a draft of each new chapter to the person who first suggested it.

Now all of these additional chapters have been gathered together in the revised and expanded second edition of Payforward Networking, which is now available from Amazon in both paperback and Kindle editions. This new edition covers in much more details about practical mingling techniques, how to use public speaking for networking, activity-based networking, networking for students, rainmaking, networking architecture and connections in high places.

In this new edition this same promise is maintained. Read through the first 26 chapters and if your professional networking question has still not been answered chapter 27 invites you to ask me for help through social media or email. For quick questions I might answer directly through social media; where a new chapter is needed I will send you a draft as soon as it is written. A final version will be included in the next edition.

You can order Payforward Networking from Amazon here.

Lectures, Workshops; Coaching and Writing

In addition to writing books about networking Andrew Hennigan also delivers lectures and workshops on th same topic for universities, business schools, companies and anyone else who is interested. You can contact him for details at or 0046 73 089 44 75.

Monday, January 30, 2017

How to Grow Your Network Without Going to Events

There are many people who dislike conventional face-to-face networking events, partly because they take up so much time but mainly because they are rarely enjoyable. Luckily there are also many ways to build a healthy professional network without ever attending any event that the organizers might describe as being primarily for networking. You may find that you get more and better connections elsewhere. Here are just a few ideas:
Conferences: Attend selected professional conferences related to your field, a field you would like to work in one day and, occasionally, some business that you have no connection with today. Plan ahead and make good use of the opportunities and you will come away with some healthy new connections. For the conferences not in your field choose a short, free event close to your home base. It will feel strange at first to be with people in a different business but you will be surprised what useful things you can discover.
Courses: Sign up for an MBA or some other course and if you participate actively you will bond with your classmates and make connections that will last a lifetime. Choose the school and course carefully to maximize the networking opportunities. Check how strong their alumni network is. Some schools have a very strong global network, some are weaker -- and if you manage a business school better make sure that your school passes this test.
Non Profits: Volunteer to work for or lead some sort of non profit like the local TEDx group, a professional organization, your school’s alumni group or whatever. This gets you visibility and many opportunities to make connections. The value of this kind of contact is that you work alongside someone but without the pressures of a corporate environment. 
Lunch Dates: Try organizing some lunch dates with people you don’t know. There are some apps that make this very simple, like Lunchback, where you can choose from a selection of people to lunch with. They also have an interesting AI tool called Lunchback Magic that connects people who have opted into the program for a weekly lunch.
Public Speaking: Learn how to be a popular speaker and find opportunities to speak at events. If you don’t ask for money this is quite easy. The advantage of speaking is that people come to you, so you meet people automatically. Everyone notices the speakers and they get all the company in the mingle afterwards.
Writing: Write articles and books and people will start to contact you for all sorts of reasons. These contacts are sometimes the start of fruitful connections. One of the pleasant side effects of writing my own book Payforward Networking is the number of people who get in touch with questions, requests for new chapters in the next edition, networking war stories to share and so on. Writing is hard work but the rewards are excellent.

Activity-Based Networking: Just meeting someone and exchanging elevator pitches is a terrible way to make connections anyway. Better to do something with other people so that they can see how you work, your attitude, your dependability and so on. Spend 54 hours with people at a Startup Weekend event and you will make some really solid connections with people who have seen how you work. And it’s fun. There are many other ways to get involved with other people through activities — perhaps helping to restore an antique airliner, building a replica of a mechanical computer and so on.
Classic networking events can be useful from time to time, but with so many other ways to connect with people it should be only part of your networking plan.

2017 Edition of Payforward Networking.  There's more about this and other networking techniques in the 2017 edition of Payforward Networking, available in both paperback and Kindle editions. You can get it from Amazon here:

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

If you would like lectures, interactive workshops, one-to-one coaching or writing about professional networking or related topics you can contact Andrew Hennigan at or 0046 730 894 475.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Hard Work is the Secret of Convincing Presentations

How do I make a presentation convincing? This is a question that keeps coming up in coaching sessions and speaking workshops. I suspect that some people are hoping that there is some magical secret known only to the experts. But there is no magical secret. There are many techniques that you can use to make your presentations more convincing but all of them involve hard work. There are no short cuts.
What exactly are these techniques? To begin with you have to test all your ideas before you even start to create the presentation. You might have an idea in your head that you are sure is very convincing but it might not work with your audience. Perhaps they view it in a different context or there might be a step in the logic that is not clear. Test your ideas in conversations with colleagues and watch their reaction. Did they look unconvinced? Did they raise any objections? Did they disagree? Use this feedback to polish your ideas and keep testing.
When your ideas pass this first, basic test try presenting a draft version of your presentation to a test audience. Listen to verbal feedback and watch for any signs that people are puzzled or lost. Rework your content based on their feedback until you have a draft that works with test audiences.
After testing the ideas it is time to design the presentation itself. Create a presentation that is driven by stories and messages, not by the slides. Define your messages from the start and use the presentation to illustrate them, rather then presenting the content of the slides. Be ruthless in pruning unnecessary information, too, especially examples and stories that might be interesting but are not relevant. Building your presentation around a hidden structure is also a good idea. It helps you to remember where your are and it helps the audience to follow your logic.
There are some other practical techniques to keep the attention of people. Focus on your the words you say and not the slides. Just say your points and illustrate them with selected images on the screen. Never talk about the slides or, worse, simply comment them. Speak from memory and avoid looking at the screen. Look instead at the audience, maintaining eye contact. Make it easier for you to know what is on the screen behind you by placing a laptop somewhere in front of you and always use a clicker. Practice speaking using this arrangement until you can deliver the presentation without hesitation. If you have trouble memorizing your content perhaps it is too long and unstructured. Prune and restructure it until it is simple enough to memorize.
A convincing presentation is always the result of hard work. Put in the hours of preparation and practice, listen to feedback and you will always be more effective.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

Andrew Hennigan does lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about speaking and other communication skills. If you would like him to coach you or deliver a speaking workshop for your organization you can contact him at or 0046 730 894 475.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

How Encouraging Networking at Events Actually Works

At the Nordic Business Forum in Stockholm this week the organizers made serious efforts to encourage networking -- one of the key value adds for conferences like this. Among other things they had a designated area for Brella meetups arranged through the event meetup app Brella, with prizes for the most active networkers and they took care to promote networking from the stage.

Before the very first break the event moderator André Noel Chaker stressed the importance of being open to networking, displaying a diagram on the big screens showing how people should stand in open mingle groups to encourage other people to approach. This didn't work as well as it might. But he also told the audience to be open to meeting new people and invited everyone to commit to this. Borrowing from the "Commitment and Consistency" chapter of Robert Cialdini's classic textbook "Influence" he invited everyone to commit to this openness before leaving the room.

Did it work? Anecdotally it did. Since I have been teaching networking for ten years and literally wrote the book on the subject I am always interested in what works and what doesn't. My experience in the breaks is that it did work, though perhaps not in the way that you might expect. I doubt that anyone in the audience is really unaware that they should be open to meeting new people, but where the moderator's words succeeded is in giving the mostly Nordic audience -- all the people I met were Swedish or Finnish -- an excuse to talk to strangers. Several people opened conversations with words like "Since the guy told us to be open...", suggesting that otherwise they might have struggled to find an excuse.

So in a way the moderator's words did have some impact, perhaps motivating some people to reach out more but more likely helping to overcome people's discomfort when talking to a stranger. There is a useful lesson in this for all event organizers aiming to boost the networking at their conferences. And making the networking more effective makes the event more successful, so this should always be a top priority. Perhaps the attention given to this at the Nordic Business Forum has contributed to the growth of these conferences. At the first event in Stockholm this week there were a thousand people in the audience; most of the people I talked to were planning to attend next year. Count me in, too.

2017 Edition of Payforward Networking.  There's more about this and other networking techniques in the 2017 edition of Payforward Networking, available in both paperback and Kindle editions. You can get it from Amazon here:

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

For lectures, practical workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about professional networking, influencing, speaking and other communication topics you can contact Andrew Hennigan on 0046 730 894 475 or

Monday, January 9, 2017

How to Speak Without "Um"s and "Ah"s

Most people use some sort of filler sound when they are speaking. Often it is "um", "ah" or "er" though sometimes it is "and", "right" or something else. When it happens too often it is very distracting; even occasional fillers can sound unprofessional. One of the most common questions I am asked when I coach speakers is how to avoid using these fillers.
One way is to be better prepared. Fillers tend to come out when you are still thinking what to say and the thought isn't ready yet. If you have prepared and practised well enough your brain should not need this thinking time. But there are also some simpler, more "mechanical" cures.
Close your mouth. This solution is very simple but surprisingly effective for many people. When you have said something just close your mouth and open it again when you have something else to say. That way the fillers just can't get out. Leaving your mouth open in the gaps between ideas just makes it more likely that unwanted noises will come out.
Speak more slowly. Fillers tend to come when your mouth is ahead of your brain so you have gaps to fill while you think. Speak a little more slowly and your brain is able to keep up with your mouth, always being ready with the next idea without needing any filler noises.
Look at people. While you are speaking try maintain eye contact with people in the audience. Fillers tend to come more when you are looking in the air for inspiration, or looking at your shoes in embarrassment; they are much less likely when you are talking directly to someone.
In addition to these three techniques just preparing better and practicing will greatly reduce the fillers. Most people use them to cover the moments when they are thinking. If you have prepared well for a speech the words come more easily and you are never lost for words. Design your speech so that it can be delivered smoothly from memory and practice it until you can deliver it without hesitation. 

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

Andrew Hennigan can help with one-to-one speaker coaching and speaking workshops for groups of people in companies and universities. He can also help to write or rewrite speeches. You can contact him at or 0046 730 894 475.