Showing posts from 2010

Recording Audio Podcasts: Five Best Practices for Fast, Professional Results

A few months back I wrote some practical tips for recording video interviews, in Recording Video Interviews: Three Non-Obvious Tips That Make a Difference. Now it is the turn of audio podcast recording with five best practices that will help you to record audio podcasts quickly and easily yet produce a professional result.

1. Create your podcasts on your laptop using a lapel microphone and Audacity editing software. This setup is effective, inexpensive and portable so you can record anywhere. Adobe's Audition editing software is also good, but Audacity is free and more than good enough.
2. Record each podcast in one take without interruptions. Read an extra paragraph or two at the beginning to warm up your voice then delete them later. If you make a mistake in any paragraph leave a pause then read it again. Later go back and delete the bad paragraphs. Mark them by tapping your pen on the table to make a visible mark (see photo). This method makes sure you have the same vo…

So You Hate The Way You Look & Sound in Video? Here's What You Can Do About It.

Many times I have heard people say "I hate the way I look on video", or "I hate the way I sound in recordings". This is nothing weird; if you are not used to being recorded then there is always a disconnect between the way you see yourself -- always a mirror image -- and the way others see you. And you hear your voice partly through your head so it sounds different to you. Add to that the technical limitations of affordable hardware and its no surprise that occasional video makers are so disappointed. But there are some concrete things you can do about it.

1. GET USED TO IT. First of all it helps if you see yourself and hear yourself on video more often so you get used to how it looks and sounds. The first time will probably be a surprise but after a few attempts it will seem much more like you. Try also watching yourself on video in a mirror to get a more realistic idea of how others see you.
2. LET THERE BE LIGHT. Many problems are just caused by poor light…

Writing & Speaking Lessons from a Primatologist: Learning from Frans de Waal

This week I was fortunate enough to see the primatologist Frans de Waal speaking at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm. He spoke about empathy in primates -- the topic of his most recent book, The Age of Empathy; he also spoke about popular science writing and how he mastered this difficult craft. His lessons are especially interesting for people who are at the beginning of their career, but also useful for people who are already well established in their field.

Professor de Waal explained that his career as a writer of scientific books for the general public began in the 1970s while he was a young scientist working at Arnhem Zoo in the Netherlands. Arnhem had at that time the world's largest colony of captive chimpanzees and his job was to study their behavior. Out of gratitude for this unique opportunity he volunteered to present lectures for visitors to the zoo. Visitors were mostly not scientists and this experience taught him what bores people and what enga…

Connecting With Your Descendants: How to Make Sure Family Stories and Treasures Get Passed from Generation to Generation

How many stories about your great-great-grandparents have been passed down to you through the generations by word of mouth? How many objects belonging to your great-great grandparents have reached your generation?
If the answer to these questions is more than zero then you are quite lucky. Most people have a family tradition that rarely goes past their great grandparents unless they are royalty or descendants of someone very famous.
In my own case the oldest object of certain origin is a pot made by my great grandfather Robert Douglas Marr at the beginning of his career as a potter. The oldest stories that have reached me by word of mouth -- rather than official records -- are more or less from the same period. From the records I know that Robert's grandfather was a carpenter named Andrew Marr, born in 1785, but no relative that I know has any stories to tell about him, nor do any artifacts survive. I suspect that he never gave any thought to the problem, but if he tried to pas…

National Stereotypes, Chuggington's Frostini and Why We Still Have a Long Way to Go

Classic cartoons from the golden age were riddled with clumsy national stereotypes, so that non-American characters were instantly recognizable by their accent, dress, actions and even profession. Mostly harmless, these stereotypes formed the minds of generations and created myths that persist even today.
Take, for example, the myth of the mandolin-playing, singing Italian waiter. I have been in restaurants in the US where waiters sing because "that's what they do in Italy", but though I lived a long time in Italy I never saw a waiter sing there. In fact the source of this myth for a generation of people is the restaurant scene in Disney's Lady and The Tramp -- the scene where the dogs eat spaghetti and meatballs. Just for the record, spaghetti and meatballs is also not something you would ever find it Italy, but that's another story.
Over the years the most offensive stereotypes were eliminated, even to the extent of censoring existing cartoons, but what surpri…

Recording Video Interviews: Three Non-Obvious Practical Tips That Make a Difference

In the YouTube age it's not just media pros who are recording TV interviews -- people in company PR, HR and training departments often find that they have to do it, too, and without any help.

If you are in this position you probably discovered already that you can Google tutorials about how to use the equipment and also find plenty of lists of Important Things to Remember. What is missing is the kind of knowhow you normally learn the unpleasant way through experience.

Here are some of these things for people who need to record a video interview: Three Non-Obvious Practical Tips That Make a Difference:

1. Always warm up the interviewee before you start the interview to make them relaxed and comfortable about talking in front of the camera. You can start by reassuring them you can re-record anything that doesn't work but more importantly ask a few other warm up questions before you start the real ones.
2. Keep your own mouth shut as far as possible. Don't comment during a…

10 Things That Companies Do With Their Twitter Accounts but Maybe Shouldn't.

In the last post I gave seven reasons why companies should have a well managed Twitter account. Now I am going to explain what I meant by well-managed by listing 10 Things That Companies Do With Their Twitter Accounts but Maybe Shouldn't.

Just to be clear, these are the things that you should NOT do:

1. Use the account only to retweet articles from other sources that they find interesting without adding anything about their own news and activities. You can do this with your private account but not for a company.
2. Tweet special offers and other routine trivia during a crisis. Yes, people have done this.
3. Tweet nothing for a month then send 20 tweets in 20 seconds. You would be amazed how many otherwise sensible companies do this.
4. Tweet just links to other pages without any content in the tweets. This is annoying and unfriendly.
5. Tweet replies to customers to contact them through other channels. If you have an account then use it.
6. Let someone else register the t…

Seven Reasons Why Your Company Needs a Properly Managed Twitter Account

There are still companies that either don't have a Twitter account or -- maybe worse -- have an account that is not properly managed. In my experience there are two reasons why this is so: either they don't know why they need an account or they do but they just don't know how to run it. Today we'll deal with the first problem; I'll come back to the other later.

So, why does a company need a properly managed Twitter account? Here are seven very good reasons.

1. BRAND PROTECTION. If you are not registering your brand somebody else might hijack it either to attack you or to try and make money selling it to you later. If you are the PokaPola company make sure that @pokapola belongs to you and not some student in Shanghai. It's free, it's easy.

2. FAST NEWS DELIVERY. When crisis strikes believe me there is no faster way to reach stakeholders than through Twitter. You can access it from any mobile phone and reach a global audience in seconds. CNN can'…

Communications Lessons from Aviation: When "Rogering" People is Good Business Practice

Just a few days ago I ordered some printing work by email. My message was sent but there was never any acknowledgment of the order or notification that the work was done. In the end I had to ask if they had received the file. But suppose it had been urgent and my mail had not been delivered? Acknowledging messages is such an obvious good idea that I used to wonder why some people don’t do it. In some cases it is probably a mix or carelessness and too much work; in other cases there is a cultural element (more about that later). Whatever the reason my advice is that you should confirm receipt of most but not all messages, and that in some cases you need to confirm your understanding by “reading back” the key messages in your own words.

These are lessons that I have borrowed from the world of aviation where the consequences of misunderstandings can be fatal, so over the years the authorities have developed some very effective practices. Communications, in particular, are regulated by …

Social Media Trend: How Twitter Menaces Call Centers

If you were planning a career in the exciting world of call centers think again. Yesterday's experience rebooking a volcano-delayed flight convinced me that in the future Twitter is going to take a large slice of this business.

With rolling cancellations of flights over a period of several days airlines have been faced with thousands of callers trying to rebook their flights. Call centers and website collapsed under the strain. I know because I was trying to rebook a KLM flight.

Checking the Twitter account for information I also noticed that they regularly tweeted a message inviting people who had this difficulty to rebook through Twitter. That's right, not just information but also services.

The way it worked was very simple. You just tweet to @KLM that you want to rebook and first they follow you, then they invite you to send your details by direct message. A few minutes later you receive another direct message confirming the re-booking.

If you think about it this is good …

E-mail Across Borders: Three and a Half Secrets of International Email

Anyone who has worked with other people in other cultures is aware that emails across borders sometimes have unexpected results or even no result. To address this issue people sometimes focus on visible details, like how to begin and end messages, but the real problems are deeper. This means they are less evident but let you predict how people will react in many different situations. The good news is that most problems are all caused by just three basic differences. Understand these concepts and you can make your international email communications more effective.

1. DIFFERENT ATTITUDES TO HIERARCHY: in some cultures hierarchy is very strong, so there tends to be a greater distance between managers and employees. In these cultures you must remember to keep bosses in the loop by copying them on mails and you should not address mails to people in other departments without going through the hierarchy. Breaking these rules can cause offense and maybe low level people will be afraid t…

Nine and a Half Tips for Presenting to C-Suite Executives

Let’s assume that you are pretty good at creating and delivering presentations, but now you have a chance to present to someone at the top, the Chief Executive or someone else at the C suite level. How is it different? What do you have to do and what fatal mistakes should you avoid? Here are nine and a half proven tips and tricks to help you succeed.

1. PRESENT THE CONCLUSIONS FIRST then give all the supporting data and analysis. At this level they want no slow buildup to a surprise conclusion.

2. KEEP THE PRESENTATION VERY SHORT because they have no time or inclination to sit through a long PowerPoint show.

3. DON’T TELL THEM WHAT TO DO. Remember who is in charge. Present the facts and your analysis but be careful to avoid saying things like “you should” or, much worse, “you must”.

4. BE READY TO DROP YOUR PREPARED PRESENTATION. They control the meeting and may interrupt you often to ask questions. Be ready to deliver the key message points in answers without using your slides.


When No Communication is Best: Speed Skating, Morphine Overdoses and the Wings Fall Off Button

Very often I advise people how to communicate their messages more effectively, but there are some cases where the best idea is not to communicate anything at all but to design a product, process or system so that the message is not necessary. Intuitive user interfaces, for example, mean that you don’t need a user’s manual, and safety interlocks eliminate the need for warnings.

Occasionally, though, people go to the other extreme and design their solution so that without very robust communication some errors are very likely. I call these design flaws “wings fall off” errors in honor of the classic Gary Larson cartoon showing someone sitting in an airplane fumbling for the recline button and touching instead the “wings fall off” button, unwittingly causing a disaster. We laugh because no airplane designer would even have a “wings fall off” button and it certainly wouldn’t be next to the recline button*.

But in many real life cases people do exactly the same thing, designing consequences t…

“Snotmarks”: The Curious Practice of Registering Offensive Trademarks

You might think that the trademark database search page of the United States Patent and Trademark Office might be a bit dull -- it certainly looks so – but if you try typing in certain words that you think cannot possibly be trademarks then you make an interesting discovery. Not only are words like snot, piss and asshole all registered trademarks, they have all been registered dozens of times and clearly with deliberate intent.

I discovered the USPTOs little secret a few years back when a customer called to ask how he could register a product name he had thought of. First, I explained, we google it just to make sure that there are no obvious conflicts, then I ask my network of contacts around the world to make sure it doesn’t sound offensive anywhere. After that it goes to the trademark lawyers for a formal search. I asked what name he was thinking of.


For the benefit of non English speakers this is not a nice word and I explained this.

“Are you not allowed to register not nice…

If Fish Could Draw II: Reflecting Spheres and the Search for Old Paintings

In September 2009 I blogged about how the limitations of one media often drive creativity in another (If Fish Could Draw, 28 September 2009).One of the examples I gave was the art of Catarina Kruusval , whose illustrations are sometimes drawn with distorted verticals and perspective like the view from a fisheye lens.I am still convinced that she was inspired by wide angle lenses but it turns out I was rash to say that this view had never been seen until such lenses were invented.

Artists have, in fact, been looking at this kind of perspective since they first made metal spheres shiny enough to reflect a wide angle image. There is a famous picture of MC Escher holding a shiny sphere in his hand and observing the reflected image; he used this sphere in the 1920’s and 1930’s to make woodcuts and lithographs where he was at the center. I will be very surprised if nobody thought of this before Escher.

One earlier example is a photograph taken in 1910 by an unknown amateur photographer an…

When it’s a Good Idea to Use the B Word: Two Simple PR Lessons from the Nestlé Baby Milk Saga

Preparing for a lecture about how a PR crisis can become “chronic” I have been fact checking some case studies such as the long running “Nestlé Boycott”.This case is very interesting in many ways, but today I have noted two apparently trivial details that are instructive for anyone who is creating content for websites, blogs and social media.My first step in research is often to google the topic and the search string I chose for the first attempt was “nestle boycott” – a fairly obvious choice.Scanning the results I noted that this search locates all the content produced by the boycott campaign -- for example -- and the helpful Wikipedia page but it does not find any response from the Nestlé company. By searching the company website very diligently I was able to find at least one document that includes what is effectively a company response -- buried in a 1999 speech at…

Seven and a Half Things to do When Someone Asks You to Deliver Their Presentation

When I coach people in speaking and presenting skills I always ask what they need to know about and especially what they fear the most. Pretty consistently the nightmare of most people is having to present something that someone else has prepared. These are mostly people who are already confident presenters of their own material but they dread being handed a pile of possibly poor quality slides and having to stand up and present them.

Fortunately there are some tried and tested methods for dealing with this problem and I have distilled them into a quick checklist of seven and a half things to do. I hope this helps you one day.

CHECKLIST:Seven and a Half Things to Do When Someone Asks You to Deliver Their Presentation

1. CONSIDER SAYING NO. Say no when there is no advantage to you, but consider benefits to relationships and career if you accept.

2. TALK TO THE AUTHOR. Talk with the creator of the presentation even if they have only a few minutes. If you just have one minute use that…