Monday, December 19, 2016

Why Scheduling Regular Posts is a Good Idea

At the beginning of 2016 I decided that I would post one new story every week on this blog. Every week. Without exception.  More than that would be too much both for me and my readers; fewer would have made the blog seem less active. That much is clear enough. But why is it so important to be regular?
Creating regular content is good discipline for a writer because it reinforces one of the foundations of professionalism: dependability. Writing occasional brilliants posts at erratic intervals is much less impressive than delivering a new post every Monday morning. Any editor looking for a freelancer is going to be much more interested in your ability to deliver copy on time and take quality for granted. Other people commissioning writing work are also likely to be impressed.
But unless you have no other work to do and no other distractions, creating a new post every week can be a challenge. Sometimes on a Monday I am in some conference room delivering a workshop, or I might be busy coaching a speaker somewhere. Luckily there are some methods that make it possible to work around these problems and deliver a new post every Monday morning.

This is how to do it:

Keep a Pipeline of Ideas. Maybe your plan is to post a new article every week but you are not going to get a great new idea every Monday morning. Ideas come when they come and they usually they come in clumps. One day you might get seven new ideas, then for two weeks you have none. That’s why you need to keep a pipeline of ideas. Write down all the ideas that come to you and then each week just pick the one that seems most relevant or easiest to finish. Today, for example, this topic seemed appropriate for post number 52 of 2016.
Work on the pipeline. You should at the very least have an ideas file where you keep all your ideas for future posts, but its also good practice to work on these ideas in your drafts folder so that for some you have just a title, for others you have a title and an outline and for some you have the post half written already. When you have some time you can go through the drafts, bringing them all forward a little. Then when it’s time to create your weekly post you just pick one that seems almost ready and finish it.
Actively Seek Ideas. Some ideas will just come to you without warning and in these cases you should be careful to write them down immediately, before you leave whichever room you are in. These ideas might not be enough so you need to have some active processes for generating new ideas. One very effective method is to look through the questions on Quora. Often in answering a question you generate also the backbone of a useful post. This answer, for example, was inspired by a question on Quora. 
Once you get your ideas pipeline organized you will probably find that you always have plenty of unused ideas just waiting to be finished. Many years ago I used to worry about running out of ideas when writing a weekly column. It doesn’t happen. For every idea you use there are three more waiting to replace it.


Lectures, Workshops, Coaching, Writing

You can contact Andrew Hennigan for lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching or writing about this and other topics at 0046 730 894 475 or speaker@andrewhennigan.com

Thursday, December 15, 2016

One Simple Email Technique Could Have Averted Election Hacks

When the Democratic National Committee's email system was hacked it was not through some advanced technology but rather a very simple phishing mail. You might think that people dealing with sensitive information would be extra careful, and indeed they were. According to published reports like this one in the Guardian, campaign chair John Podesta received a phishing mail sent to a private account. An aide, Charles Delavan, spotted this and forwarded it to a computer technician intending to flag it as dangerous. But inadvertently he typed "This is a legitimate mail", rather than "illegitimate".

Thanks to this typo outsiders were later able to gain access to Podesta's emails, which were leaked in the run up to the 2016 presidential election. Quite possibly this single mistake cost the Democratic party a presidency and possibly much more. Emails often have consequences but this one will end up being a case example in email workshops.

Yet this confusion could have been avoided if more organizations would teach employees to use redundancy in their emails.  This simply means adding a few more words so that a single typo cannot reverse the meaning. So, for example, if someone asks if you will be attending a conference you could reply simply "yes", but if you type "no" by mistake because you forgot the exact question then there is no way that the recipient could detect that mistake. If instead you write "Yes, I will attend the conference and I look forward to meeting you there." then several possible typos would make it obvious nonsense and you would ask for clarification.

In the DNC email hack case if the message had been "This is a phishing message. Please remove it and change Mr Podesta's password." then there would be much less chance of the message being misinterpreted. One-word emails are very common, especially when people are writing one handed on a smartphone, but this is not good practice because misunderstandings are commonplace. There might be some cases where it doesn't matter very much, but when you know that a message is important and that a misunderstanding could have serious consequences then it is wise to make that extra effort.

This is not a new discovery and I have been teaching the redundancy method in email workshops since the 1990s. One real-life example I have often mentioned is the person who sent an email saying "I will come visit you on Wednesday 29th March", receiving in response "I could meet you on Tuesday 29 or Wednesday 30 but alas not Wednesday 29 because it doesn't exist."  If the original sender had said just the day or just the date the mistake would never have been caught and somebody would have traveled to another city on the wrong date.

Redundancy might seem like extra work, but sorting out the consequences of over-terse emails will make even more work.


Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

Contact Andrew Hennigan on 0046 730 894 475 or speaker@andrewhennigan.com if you'd like to talk about a workshop to learn how to write emails that are effective, efficient and safe.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Using Video Effectively in a Presentation


Video clips can be a useful addition to a presentation. Done well they enrich the overall experience and make the speaker appear more compelling. But when they are used badly they have a negative effect, so how can you use video clips effectively in your presentations?
Video Should Support Not Replace. Probably the worst mistake is to use video to replace the speaker rather than support what they are saying. A video that was originally designed as a standalone video on YouTube usually makes a poor presentation video because it is designed to be self explanatory and not need a speaker. What will work much better is a short clip that shows the detail that you need to show to support your explanation and nothing more. So if you are speaking about a movie effect a clip from the show reel would be relevant, or if you are explaining a new process for encapsulating single cells then a microscope video showing the process would be helpful. A complete video explaining something without any help from the speaker only makes sense in cases where you are talking about videos and campaigns. In this case showing a complete sample can be useful.
Video Should be Friction Free. Your video should start, run and finish without the audience bring aware of how it was done. At conferences where there is a technical support team the video might be separate and started by someone else on your cue; in smaller events the video clip must be embedded in your presentation file so that it starts automatically when you click to the page. Make sure that you test before the event to make sure that it works. Never rely on streamed video unless you are sure that the connection will work -- a copy on your hard drive is much safer -- and always have a plan B in case the video doesn't work. This plan B must not include complaining about the video. Replace it with something else or just move on without drawing attention to the problem.
Video Should be Relevant. It is tempting to show a cool video just because you have it, but always ask yourself if it is really relevant and contributes to your message. Otherwise just drop it. Be especially careful of popular viral videos that the audience might be sick of seeing. You can sometimes sense the collective groan as an audience recognizes the start of a video they have seen a thousand times.
Normally i would also recommend that video not take up too much of your time. A presentation is essentially a talk illustrated by images, videos and props. To focus too much on the support undermines your attempt to connect with the audience. There are exceptions to this rule, and a presentation about movie CGI technology will contain more clips than usual because of the nature of the topic. Usually I would also advise against starting or ending with video, but don't be too strict about this rule because there are situations where it works. 

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching & Writing
For lectures, workshops, coaching and writing about speaking and other communication topics you can contact Andrew Hennigan on 0046 730 894 475 or speaker@andrewhennigan.com

Monday, December 5, 2016

Learning from a Near Miss in Interactive OOH


Like the monolith in the movie 2001, a digital out-of-home advertising display stands all alone in a large open space at Munich Airport in Germany. But this is no ordinary display. Players from the local Bayern Munich soccer team appear one after another on the life-size screen beckoning you to stand on a yellow spot marked on the floor a few meters in front of the display.

When someone accepts this invitation and stands on the spot a Kinetic sensor hidden underneath the screen detects this and switches the unit to an interactive exercise routine where the soccer player does some simple exercises and encourages you to do the same, through gestures and written messages in English and German. The game is part of Lufthansa’s "Fit to Fly" campaign.

If you perform the exercises well enough – that Kinetic sensor is watching you – the soccer player congratulates you and invites you to take a selfie with him. The soccer player moves to one side of the frame and a dotted outline appears next to him, showing where you should stand. A final message suggests that you should share your selfie with the campaign hashtag.



Production quality is good and the gamified exercise looks fun, but where the campaign stumbles is in engaging the public. Though the soccer players on the screen are continually beckoning people nearly everyone simply walks past it, like it didn’t exist.

In one hour of observation I saw just two people brave enough to try the interactivity. Both of them were clearly lukewarm about the exercises and neither appeared to understand how the selfie idea worked. They both stood on the yellow spot, smiling, evidently expecting the display unit to take the picture from a distance.

Most people just don’t notice the display at all. Every airport user I have asked about this answers “what display?”  They never saw it. And the people who did see it were probably too shy to try. Most people just don’t like to be the first person to try anything and they demand social proof that the activity is acceptable – especially when crowds of people are watching. If there is a lesson in this story it is that just building a neat interactive experience isn't enough. You also have to convince people to play.



Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

If you'd like a lecture, workshop, coaching or writing about this or other communication topics you can contact Andrew Hennigan at speaker@andrewhennigan.com or 0046 73 089 44 75.