Friday, November 14, 2014

Three Best Practices for Video Presentations at Conferences

Many conferences increase their pool of available speakers by using live video presentations from people who are unable to attend in person. With web-based video conferencing tools this is simple and essentially free, allowing anyone with a laptop or even a smartphone to speak at a conference on the other side of the world.

There are many techniques that speakers can use so that they look their best in these video connections. Some of these were presented in Ten ways to impress people in skype interviews and in How to look better in video, but there are also some best practices that are specially important for speakers at conferences. Here are three that I have found the most useful:

BRING THE CAMERA TO EYE LEVEL. One of the basic rules for framing video interview shots is to have the camera at the level of the speaker's eyes. Many people use the camera in their computer and when it is resting on a table the camera is too low, giving the typical Skype call look where you appear to be looking down. It looks much more professional to raise up the computer on a pile of boxes or books so that the camera lens is at the same height as your eyes. This simple tip makes your video image more professional and makes you look more credible. It might look odd to anyone who is in the room with you but it will look more natural on the screen.

USE TWITTER FOR FEEDBACK. When you speak to an audience far away one of the problems is to get feedback from the room, either from the organizers or from the public. All video conference tools allow some communication back from the conference to the speaker, but this is not always in a place where it can be accessed by the moderator or chair in the conference room, and passing feedback from the audience is complicated. A simple fix to this problem is to set up a laptop or tablet behind or next to the camera and on the screen of that device you display your twitter notifications. Then tell everyone who needs to know that you are watching for tweets sent to @username. This means that anybody on the organizing team can let you know if there is a problem with the connection, or if time is running out. The audience can also use the same method to send questions or comments to the speaker. To make the tweets easier to read you should zoom your browser to make the text larger.

ALWAYS HAVE A PLAN B. Technology is never 100% reliable so you need to have a plan B for when your laptop hangs or the video connection fails or is too low quality to be usable. Don't wait for this to happen and then think what to do. Anticipate that it could happen and have an alternative already planned. To guard against a laptop crash, for example, I usually have two computers logged in to separate accounts and ready to go, so I can switch from one to another very quickly. I usually also have a backup Internet connection using a 3G USB key. If you only have one computer and one connection and they fail you could plan to switch to an audio phone connection with a local copy of the presentation slides. Or you could send a pre-recorded video version of your presentation to be used only as a last resort.

Video presentations at international conferences are likely to become more common in future and allow popular speakers to contribute at more events, but there is a risk that your reputation can be impacted by poor quality or even a catastrophic failure. Mastering how to do these presentations effectively and preparing for disaster is therefore a smart career move.

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Monday, November 3, 2014

Revenue-Sharing Social Network Tsu Has Appeal, Clever Ideas and Risks

One of the strongest critiques leveled against social networks like Facebook is that the users provide the content but the owners keep all the profit. To counter this social networking companies usually argue that they provide the service free of charge, so why should they share the revenue.

But the revenue sharing idea still has appeal for many social networking users, especially the power users who contribute much of the content. This idea has driven Google to share revenues from YouTube videos and also to the creation of several blogging and networking sites that do share revenue. Back in 2012 Bubblews tried this approach with mixed results and others have followed with even less certain success. No revenue-sharing social network comes even remotely close to Facebook. Yet.

Now a new social network called Tsu is trying to execute this concept and they have some interesting new ideas that make it more promising than other rivals. Tsu looks more or less like a typical social network. You can build a profile, share posts, follow or friend other users, like the posts of others and so on. Where Tsu is different from Facebook is that any revenue generated by your content is partly shared with you. So far there is nothing very new, but where Tsu stands apart is in the way the revenue is shared.

You cannot simply create an account on Tsu, you need an invitation link from another user. This is not to limit the flow of signups or to make it sound more exclusive. Tsu needs to know who invited who because the users are structured in a tree, with every user being connected to the person who invited them and the people they invited.

This tree plays an important role in the revenue sharing process because of every dollar that your content generates Tsu keeps ten cents to pay for the cost of operating the service, pays 45 cents to you and divides the other 45 cents among the people above you in your tree. The person who recruited you gets 22.5 cents, the person above 11.2 cents and so on. This recursive incentive scheme means that a user gets rewarded both for their content and for the content of the people they invited, they people those people invited and so on, ad infinitum.

If this techniques sounds familiar you have probably heard of the 2009 Darpa Challenge, where this technique was famously used by a team from MIT to locate ten red balloons placed in visible but unknown locations across the US. The MIT team succeeded in locating all ten balloons in the shortest time because they offered half of the $40000 prize divided up recursively between the people who actually spotted the balloons and the people who recruited them. This technique motivates the greatest number of people to actually look and to recruit extra searchers because you could still earn part of the prize just by encouraging friends to join the search.

You can already see the effects of this recursive incentive scheme on Tsu. Many people are sharing their invite link as widely as possible in the hope that many people sign up using their link. In that way they could earn money even if their own content is good. So, for example, if Lady Gaga or JK Rowling were to sign up using my link and then post copious quantities of compelling content then I would earn half of what they earn.

With this kind of reward existing users are highly motivated to attempt to recruit other users so this part of their scheme appears to work as expected. But there is a downside risk to the emphasis on paying users for their content.

Money attracts spammers and I am sure that I am not the only person to realize that you could make money using Tsu simply by posting clickbait or, worse still, pirated content. Spammers have probably already discovered that they can earn more by creating many accounts or creating their own recursive tree so that the money is shared between themselves and their sock puppets. Policing this kind of activity will be very hard so some people will be attracted to post content by the incentives but there will not be so many people there to consumer the content.

If Tsu can find a clever algorithm like the recursive incentive to solve this problem, too, then maybe one day it will challenge Facebook. Though if that happens I would not be surprised if Facebook doesn't just copy the revenue sharing features or offer the investors behind Tsu a few billion dollars to sell up.

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Monday, October 27, 2014

Ten Ways to Impress People in Skype Interviews

When you are looking for a job, an internship, a place in a business school or whatever you are likely to be interviewed through Skype, Google Hangouts, Facetime or other Internet video call apps.

Skype interviews save you the time and trouble of travelling. They also broaden the range of opportunities because you can do more interviews with people you couldn't meet face to face. They also have a downside, because most people do not come across so well in a Skype interview as they do face to face.

But the good news is that someone who is well prepared can easily outshine their rivals who just sat down at the computer and hoped for the best. Theoretically an interviewer could make allowance for shortcomings in the way you use Skype, but subconsciously they are influenced by the image you project. They might also draw some conclusions about your abilities from the simple observation that you had not prepared for a call. This, they will reason, might mean you are equally careless about other things.

1. PREPARE BEFORE THE CALL. Don't be the guy who is still trying to start Skype and find the microphone when it is time for the interview to start. This will give a very poor impression and also undermines your own confidence. Always set up everything long before the interview is scheduled and test that everything works correctly.

2. PLACE YOUR CAMERA AT EYE LEVEL. Many people lean over a laptop looking down at the camera. This looks bad. Take a tip from professional video camera operators and set the camera at the same level as your eyes. If the camera is built into your laptop then raise the whole laptop on boxes or books until the camera is at eye level.

3. MAKE SURE THERE IS PLENTY OF LIGHT. Modern video cameras will work with very low light levels but the image gets grainy and the colors fade. Find a place with plenty of light from a window or arrange a light to illuminate you. Sometimes a desk lamp is enough; sometimes I use two. But always check the result so that it doesn't look strange.

4. GET THE BEST POSSIBLE SOUND QUALITY. In an interview the sound is extremely important because if the interviewer cannot hear very well they will not ask you to repeat everything so after a while they miss important points. Choose a location with little background noise. Turn off any equipment nearby and close windows to keep out traffic noise. Always use a microphone close to your mouth because this will both reduce background noise and echo. It's worth trying a few microphones to find the one that sounds best. It's worth it: that microphone could mean the difference between getting a job and getting rejected.

5. CHECK THE BACKGROUND. Look at whatever is behind you and can be seen in the video. It should not be distracting so find a clear, tidy corner to do the call. Make sure also that there are no windows behind you where people might walk past. This is very distracting.

6. LOOK AT THE CAMERA. It is tempting to look at the picture of the other person on the screen. This does not look good because everyone can see you are looking down. It's better to look straight at the camera and just glance occasionally at the screen. If you have a separate camera you can do it the way I do: I put the camera on a tripod just in front of the screen or tape it to the screen right in front of the image of the other person.

7. SMILE TO LOOK NORMAL. Video cameras tend to reduce the happiness of a face so if you look neutral in reality you look sad on the screen. Compensate by having always a slight smile so that you look natural. But test this first to avoid looking scary creepy.

8. PUT NOTES WHERE YOU CAN READ THEM. Don't keep looking down at your notes. Print them in a large font and place them on a wall behind the camera or write them on a post it and put it next to the Skype window on your computer.

9. TEST THE CONNECTION, MICROPHONE.  Ideally you should make a quick call to a friend just to make sure everything is working, that the microphone level is right and so on. Now that many people have Skype in their phone it isn't hard to find someone to do a test call. In the worst case if no friends are available use the Skype test call function. Don't wait until the recruiter for your dream job is on the line to discover you plugged the microphone into the headphone socket. And don't begin by asking "Can you hear me?". That gives the impression you are used to failing. Just start talking as if you knew it would work.

10. SCOUT FOR SKYPE LOCATIONS. When you are doing calls from home you can identify and prepare a conveniently quiet, luminous corner for your Skype interviews. But sometimes there are only limited time slots available and maybe you have to do the call from somewhere else. Since this could happen to anyone it's best to think ahead and look around for suitable quiet rooms you could use if needed. In many buildings this is surprisingly difficult so plan ahead.

Taking great care with your Skype interviews will make you stand out among the other candidates and even if the interviewer recognizes that you have done this deliberately they will be impressed that you take care to do things effectively. There are not many jobs where they are looking for people who are sloppy and careless, so this is another reason why they should choose you.

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Monday, October 13, 2014

Three Questions for Conspire, the Email Traffic Analysis Networking Site

Conspire is a very interesting new networking tool that uses email traffic analysis to determine how strong are the connections between two people. Using this information it can determine the strongest connection path between a user and anyone else.

This approach addresses a well-known weakness of the market leader in professional networking, LinkedIn. Though one of your connections might be connected to someone interesting it sometimes happens that they do not really know each other. Some people are careful to only connect with people they know -- I do this myself -- but there are many others who send and accept random connections. Conspire does not rely on self-declared connections, determining from the frequency of contacts, if and how fast the person responds and other factors to measure the strength of a connection.

When you sign up for Conspire it asks for access to your Gmail account and analyzes this data using only message headers, so it does not store your message content. Once this processing has been done you can type in any name and then you will see the most efficient connection paths between you and the target. This is certainly an interesting idea, but there are some questions about the way it is currently implemented that could make some potential users wary.

PEOPLE DON'T LIKE GIVING ACCESS TO EMAIL ACCOUNTS. My business emails are not terribly exciting to outsiders, but like many people I am reluctant to give access to my email accounts unless there is a very compelling reason. I do not fear government surveillance but I do have a healthy concern that every additional access I grant gives criminals another weakness to probe. Even major software companies like Adobe have had their security compromised so we have to assume that everyone is potentially vulnerable. In the case of corporate business email accounts it is also quite likely that your company forbids allowing access in this way.

MOST PEOPLE USE MORE THAN ONE ACCOUNT. On a typical working day I use four separate email accounts for my business contacts. Most people have at least two addresses because they need to separate work from private or just to have a stable account for when they change jobs. At present Conspire only tracks my Gmail account so it misses most of my connections. For one partner in Europe I have also been assigned an email in their domain so all connections through that company are invisible to Conspire. You can see the results of this when you search for someone you have regular business contacts only to be told that there are no paths.

MANY OF MY GMAIL CONNECTIONS ARE IRRELEVANT. I often use email to exchange information with tax authorities and other organizations that are not related to my work. It might be true that I have regular contacts with the business account adviser at the bank or the international taxation experts at the French department of public finance. These people also have strong connections with other business people but I can hardly use them as stepping stones to approach other business people.

There are also some nagging doubts about the damage to your routine self-deception since Conspire, like Google Now, uncovers the stark reality of your relationships with other people rather than the way you prefer to see them. James Carmichael wrote in the Atlantic about this problem recently in Google Knows You Better Than Yourself, drawing attention to this growing problem. Maybe not all of our LinkedIn connections are as strong as we would like but a little self deception is good for your self esteem.

Conspire is still very new and I expect that some of these questions will be addressed in future upgrades, but in the meantime these uncertainties offset the brilliance of the idea and could deter many users. Corporate users in particular will be less than enthusiastic and this weakens the strength and utility of their social graph. On the other hand people questioned the value of LinkedIn in 2003 but now it has more than 300 million accounts and it has become almost indispensable for career minded people.

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For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing on this and other communication topics you can contact me by email at, through my website or by phone on 0046 730 894 475 or 0033 6 79 61 42 81.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Talko Is Useful for Workgroups But Won't Replace Plain Old Telephone Service

Of all the new iPhone apps I have tried in the last year Talko is probably the one that impressed me the most -- a good idea, well executed, easy to use and actually real-world useful.

Talko is the latest brainchild of Ray Ozzie, the person who gave the world Lotus Notes, the de facto standard for collaboration in pre-web days. What the app does is to reinvent the telephone using all the possibilities modern smartphone technology brings that Alexander Graham Bell could never have dreamed of.  You can have one-to-one voice conversations, you can have group calls and you can send spoken recordings to people. You can also switch seamlessly from recording to live and vice-versa. Better still, you can also illustrate your calls by tapping the camera icon as you talk, sharing an image of what you are seeing, and you can tag parts of a call and send them to others.

Where Talko will be most useful will be in enhancing the communications of project teams. You just can't beat spoken communication to quickly solve many problems and the extra features of the app compensate for the limitations of a voice-only medium. In this scenario an organization can simply decide that the team will use this app and just make sure everyone is equipped. But outside of this space Talko will not replace plain old fashioned telephone service simply because not everyone has the app and not everyone has an iPhone to run it on. With a regular phone call I can call from any telephone to any other telephone in the world and be sure they can hear me. With Talko you first need to find someone else that has the app, and quite likely they don't want to talk to you.

In my iPhone Talko joins dozens of other apps that are functionally excellent, but not as useful in practice just because they are not global standards like telephony or email. It's a product and one that will never be available to everyone. It reminds me of GoogleWave and many other neat ideas that never went mainstream because there was nobody to talk to. After creating a Wave account I understood how Bell must have felt, sitting watching the first telephone and wondering why nobody called.

Some kind of Talko-like functionality would be useful in a second-generation telephone network but I don't think that will ever happen with an individual product; it has to be the fruit of a standards-based solution that can be implemented by anyone. Meantime, though, if you have a team of people working closely together on a project a bunch of iPhones with the Talko app is going to make them work better than plain old conference call technology.

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Friday, September 26, 2014

How to Make Sure Journalists Quote You Correctly

People who have been interviewed by journalists are often disappointed by the results. Sometimes they are misquoted or quoted out of context but this is not always the fault of the journalist. The person who is being interviewed can also minimize the risk of being misquoted by making it easier for the journalist to capture their ideas accurately. 

Since I have been both a freelance journalist interviewing other people and also an expert being interviewed by journalists I have seen this problem from both sides. I have learned that there are some simple best practices to follow to get the best results. These work with both face to face and telephone interviews.

Prepare before the interview. Never go into an interview unprepared. Think about the messages you would like to give, make a list of points and check the facts that you plan to use. If it is a phone interview you can have your notes in front of you; if it is a face-to-face interview check your notes just before you go in. Some people use the bathroom for this last-minute preparation if there are no other quiet spaces.

Speak slowly and leave pauses.  You have to speak slowly enough for the journalist to keep up with what you are saying and leave some pauses so that the journalist has time to write what you have said. Watch what they are writing and don’t start on a new explanation if you see that they are still scribbling the last thing you said. One of the most common problems is to keep talking quickly without leaving any gaps so there just isn't time to keep up. Then it is hardly surprising if you are misquoted.

Always give answers that are complete.  A good answer is one that is complete and will work without the question. This makes it much easier for people to quote you accurately. When the interviewer asks, for example, “What should you do to be quoted accurately?” a normal conversational answer might be something fairly unstructured like “Well, pauses. And slow down. Time to catch up, you know…”. This kind of response works fine in normal conversation but it is unusable in an interview. A much better response would be something like “If you want to be quoted accurately in an interview you should speak not too quickly and leave some pauses when you see the journalist is busy writing.”

Think before you answer.  Don’t rush to answer before the question is finished. Take your time, think first and then state your points as coherent thoughts without rambling. If you find yourself rambling consider restarting the answer. If you give a very messy answer it will need to be reworked more and this process can introduce changes in emphasis that you would call mistakes. 

Talk in a normal conversational tone.  Speak in a normal conversational voice and avoid sounding like advertising copy or a bad press release. When your answer sounds like advertising it can't be used without some twisting so it is very likely to be ignored or distorted. So, for example, if someone asks "Why has become so successful?" never answer with something like "World leader in enterprise grade acme's, has been voted the world's most voted acme provider for three consecutive years and...". Just answer the question. You're not writing a press release.

Spell out acronyms, names and other unusual terms. If deadlines permit consider sending an email with the names and technical terms spelled out but ask the journalist first. And be especially careful when you are using a common acronym in an unusual way. To most people B2B means business-to-business though some people now use it to describe brain-to-brain communication. Spell out your own name very carefully and give the journalist a card to help them get your name right. This is not just about your pride; it is also important so people can find the interview with search engines.

Radio/TV only: Never talk over the questions. When you are being interviewed on radio or TV be very careful to start talking after the question is finished. If you talk over the question you make it much harder for the person who is editing the interview to separate the question from the answer. Maybe they wanted to use an answer but because of this problem they use another part instead or just drop your piece from the show. 

Follow these best practices and you will find that you will be more satisfied with the results, but the only sure way to make sure that your quote is never mangled or used out of context is never to do interviews. Just like a cyclist knows that sooner or later they will fall off the bike, every interviewee knows that there is a downside risk. You can minimize that but never eliminate it completely. Learn to manage both the way you respond and also to recognize what a successful interview looks like. Maybe some parts make you cringe but perhaps to others it is clearer than the way you would have written it.

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Why Email Isn't Dead or Dying Anytime Soon

Five years ago the Wall Street Journal declared the end of the reign of email in the article Why Email No Longer Rules...  They were not the only people to announce the death of email. At the time everyone thought that email was finished and that soon the stuffy old timers who persisted in using it would see the light and move to new tools. Some said that we would all be using new communication tools like GoogleWave, launched with great fanfare in 2010 as the future of mail but then shut down three years later. Others said that we would all use Facebook, Twitter or other social sites. They were all wrong.

Now more than forty years after it was introduced email shows no signs of going away and indeed there is no credible alternative on the horizon. You could, people argue, use Facebook messenger instead, except that not everybody has Facebook messenger. You could, others say, use WhatsApp, except that not everyone has WhatsApp. You could use instant messaging, a few argue, but there are dozens of incompatible messaging systems and the lack of a permanent "paper trail" makes them unappealing for business use.

And therein lies the problem.All of the common alternatives to email are products that you can only use if you install the client or the app. In most cases they can only be used with a limited range of hardware -- try, for example, installing WhatsApp on a Linux desktop or an old Windows laptop. Most if not all also rely on a single service provider that might go out of business or simply discontinue the service, as happened to the now-defunct Shortmail service.

Email is different. It is and never was a product. It is instead a suite of standards -- like the World-Wide Web -- that simply define how messages should be exchanged between computers. As long as your email software respects these standards it can communicate with any other device that follows the same standards. This means that you buy hardware from any vendor and install software from any vendor and you will still be able to communicate with everyone. As an added bonus you have the time-machine effect that equipment from different eras can also communicate thanks to these standards.

You can send an email from an old Windows desktop to a new MacBook Air. You can send a message from an old Handspring PDA to your iPhone 6, or even to wearable devices not yet on the market. And you can, of course, send your mails anywhere in the world and at least one off-Earth location -- I understand that the International Space Station is equipped to send and receive standard Earth emails.

No "walled garden" single product is going to replace this standards-based approach. And today's email standards have such a large user base that it is going to be extremely difficult to replace it with a newer standard -- every single device will need at least a software update. This means that we are effectively stuck with email as a universal mean of exchange for quite a while yet, though in the meantime we can use better tools to contact the people around us. Effectively email has become another of these immortal standards like QWERTY that could have been replaced many years ago but never will because of inertia.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching, Writing

These thoughts about the immortal life of email are taken from a workshop Writing Effective Emails in a Global Business where I teach people how to use traditional email is the most effective way possible. This is available in half and full day versions plus a shorter lecture format. For details of this and other communication workshops, lectures, one-to-one coaching and writing you can contact me at, through my website or by phone on 0046 730 894 475 pr 0033 6 79 61 42 81.