Sunday, January 31, 2016

Cats on a Plane: The Downside of a Notorious Audio Brand

Audio branding is important; more important than most people realize. I have written about this topic before in Not Just a Jingle, Why using sound to brand your business could be more effective than you think but the message was driven home unexpectedly by a curious incident on an airplane.

Recently I was sitting in an airplane waiting for takeoff at Marseille Marignane airport. During the wait I heard a "meow" sound. Then I heard it again, and again and again. My first reaction was to roll my eyes and curse the ringtone department at Samsung, the company that gave the world the whistled "over the horizon" ringtone, probably the most disliked ringtone in smartphone history.

But then just after the plane rotated a flight attendant jumped out of her seat, ran up the aisle and came back carrying a terrified cat that had escaped from it's bag, returning it to its owner.

There are many reasons for taking good care of your audio branding. Probably the most important is that, properly done, it makes your brand instantly recognizable. Almost anyone who has ever visited France is familiar with the SNCF's "Tatatala" jingle played hundreds of times each day in every train station. In spite of all the repetition the Tatatala jingle, created by the audio branding agency Sixieme Son, doesn't appear to annoy anyone. If anything it has gone to the other extreme and impressed one traveler -- guitarist David Gilmour -- that he was inspired to use it in his song Rattle that Lock.

But the downside of a poor audio brand is not just lack of recognition. Done badly it annoys people to the point where they dislike not just the sound but also the product and the company who made it. As I discovered, subconsciously I associated annoying sounds with Samsung, even though the company is completely innocent in this case and, as far as I know, doesn't provide a meow meow meow ringtone.

Other ringtones have become unpopular simply because of their ubiquity -- Nokia's classic ringtone is a good example. But as the SNCF case shows mere repetition isn't enough to make people actively dislike a jingle; it has to be actively annoying. Apparently some people like Samsung's whistled ringtone, otherwise why would they choose it, but I suspect that testing would have revealed that the response to this sound is highly polarized. Better to drop a tone that some people like if many others despise it. Otherwise you end up being blamed for any other background noise, like in the Cats on a Plane story.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching, Writing

For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about branding and other aspects of communication you can contact Andrew Hennigan by phone on 0046 730 894 475 or 0033 6 79 61 42 81. You can also reach him by email at

Thursday, January 28, 2016

What to Do When Speakers Talk Too Long

One thing event organizers dread is the speaker who talks too long. This makes it impossible to maintain the planned schedule and annoys practically everyone.

Speakers should always be very careful to make sure that this doesn't happen. First of all find out how much speaking time you really have. This is not the same as the slot time because you might need to allow a few minutes for introductions at the beginning and questions at the end. When the program says that you start at 10:00 and the next speaker is at 10:30 this does not mean that you have 30 minutes to talk. But always check with the organizers because some give the slot time and some give the actual time. It's good practice to double check with the moderator when you arrive at the venue.

Once you know how much time is allowed the only way to be sure that you can respect this timing is to try several timed practice runs before the event. If you see that you are consistently over the time budget start to simplify the talk until you are consistently within the allowed time. This simplification will usually make your speech more effective, too.

For organizers prevention is better than a cure. To avoid speakers talking too long there are several ways to address the problem:

Choose speakers carefully.  Whenever it is possible choose speakers who can be trusted to prepare carefully and respect timing. With new speakers watch for clues like the questions they ask. A speaker who doesn't ask how long they have exactly should ring alarm bells.

Clarify the time available. Always spell out very clearly how much time the speaker is expected to speak and how much time you plan to allow for questions.

Organize a rehearsal. For major events a rehearsal is essential. This is not always easy to organize but it is the best way to identify potential problems while there is still time to fix them.

Arrange a visible clock: Place a countdown clock where it can clearly be seen from the stage. There are countdown timers that use a laptop screen to display the time remaining. Use one.

Hire a good moderator. In any case every event needs a competent moderator who can keep speakers on time. The moderator can start to move when they see that the time is finishing, move closer to the speaker and intervene if necessary to stop someone going over their time.

But what happens if in spite of all this preparation one or more speakers has spoken too long and you are now behind schedule. What can the organizer do? You have to recover the delay as soon as possible and you should do this without dropping speakers or breaks. There are several practical methods:

Let moderator absorb delay. By far the easiest way to catch up lost time is to have the moderator take time from questions and introductions. Your schedule should have allowed time for this but the moderator will be able to adapt these times as needed.

Ask another speaker to be brief. Another approach is to ask a later speaker to shorten their talk. Only do this with competent speakers who you are sure can make this last minute change without problems. For this reason you should always schedule some good speakers later in the day.

Ask all speakers to shorten their talks. An alternative is to take a short time from each of the following speakers, but this is more complex to organize and might stress them all.

By far the best way to manage time effectively is a combination of preparation and control. Always be very clear with speakers about the time they are expected to talk and always have a competent moderator who is skilled in keeping events on time.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching & Writing

For lectures, workshops, one to one coaching and writing about public speaking and other communication topics you can contact Andrew Hennigan by email at, by phone on 0046 730 894 475 or 0033 6 79 61 42 81 or through his website

Thursday, January 21, 2016

When It's Time to Clean the "Lost Soul" from Your Profile

Looking through the short profile bios on Twitter, Quora, Pinterest and dozens of other social media sites you will see that many people describe themselves as "lost soul", "optimist", "work in progress", "another brick in the wall" and other generic labels.

This might be fine if you are still in high school and only interact with your classmates, or if you have an anonymous or pseudonymous account and you are trying to hide who you are. For everyone else this is probably not a good idea. What works much better is to write something helpful about who you are, what you do and, if appropriate, where you are. This is extremely helpful for several reasons.

Helps People Find the Right Account. Let's suppose that I meet someone called Mario Rossi at a party. I know Mario is a graduate student and is based in Zurich. When I search Twitter to see if Mario has an account I find dozens of Mario Rossi's. I might be able to recognize him from the photo, but perhaps his profile photo shows him at the south pole, with his face covered. If there is no useful information in his profile nobody will find him.

Establishes Trust and Confidence. If you comment on a Quora answer I have written and suggest a factual correction I am much more likely to trust you when I know what is the source of your expertise. When your profile just says "human" I have no reason to believe you. But if the topic is a top French business school and I see from the profile bio that you are a student or faculty there I am much more likely to trust what you say.

Encourages Interaction and Engagement. Identifying what you do and where you are also encourages people to interact with you. When other people have no idea where you are or what you do they are less motivated to spend time talking to you. A random question from someone who is functionally anonymous doesn't inspire me to write a lengthy reply. Just knowing that they are a marketing person or an undergraduate makes it easier for me to know how to interact.

Brings More and Better Followers.  Only bots will follow people with no real information in their profiles. Interact with me and I will always look at your content to see if you are worth following, but even if you have not shared much of value just having a meaningful profile can make a difference.

As long as you limit your social media use to swapping cat pictures with school friends your profile bios are probably not so important, but once you start applying for higher education your digital footprint starts to become more critical. And later when you start to apply for interships and jobs having a clear presence on social sites becomes something that can sometimes make recruiters choose you rather than another "lost soul".

But even before you start applying for jobs having a strong digital footprint associated with your name can be important because it helps you to start building a network very early. Creating a network is a little like growing asparagus in that it takes time for the results to come. The sooner you start the better your network will be when you need it. To make that happen you need social media accounts in your real name, with a real profile photo and more than a one-word meaningless bio.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about networking, reputation management and other communication topics you can contact Andrew Hennigan by phone on 0033 6 79 61 42 81 or 0046 730 894 475, by email at or through his website

Monday, January 11, 2016

How to Make People See, Open and Read Your Emails

Most people get more email messages than they can handle comfortably. This means that before you can convince someone to do what you want you first have to make sure that they see, open and read your emails.

Sleazy clickbait style subjects and other ruses just don't work anymore, or they work just once. To earn and keep a reputation as a sender of useful messages that are worth opening and reading there are a few simple methods you can apply:

WRITE A MEANINGFUL SUBJECT. The message subject is extremely important, working like the headline of an article. People decide to open your message mostly after reading this subject line so you should always write it very carefully. Make sure that it is specific enough so that it doesn’t look like spam and try to state already the main message of your mail. A very vague subject like “Proposal” will sometimes be stopped by a spam filter and humans will not find it appealing.

PUT CONTENT IN THE FIRST TWO LINES Today the first two lines of  the message are very important today because many people like me first see most emails on a mobile phone. Make sure that in those two lines there is something relevant and interesting for the reader, not just a bland formality. Sometimes for a very important mail I send a draft to myself to see how it looks on the iPhone mail screen.

BE CLEAR WHAT YOU WANT In the body of the message always say exactly what you want to happen and get to this point quickly, not at the end. Sometimes I am willing to help someone but I can’t understand exactly what they want from me. Make sure that this is very clear. This, by the way, is the key secret of effective complaining emails. 

KEEP MESSAGES SHORT. Keep the message long enough to be polite but otherwise try to keep it as short as you can. Nobody today has time to read long emails. Write a long message if you want, but then cut away everything that isn’t needed before you send it. When there are many different subjects to discuss it is usually more effective to deal with one at a time, otherwise an email might be archived as “completed” when just one of the issues has been closed.

AVOID ATTACHMENTS. Never attach a file unless it is really needed. I have seen people send a message that simply says to read an attached DOC or PDF file. This is immensely annoying for busy people and is complicated for people who read emails on their mobile phone. Stick to simple plain text emails and only attach a document that is reasonable to attach, like a CV or a photo.

Follow these simple rules and people will see, open and read your emails more often. And when they read them you have a much greater chance that they will do what you wanted, so this is an essential part of any influencing toolbox.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about business email and other communication topics contact the author, Andrew Hennigan. You can reach him by email at, by phone at 0046 730 894 475 or 0033 6 79 61 42 81 or through his website