Archive for the ‘Technology’ category

Pollyanna Pundit Predicts Pervasive Pandemonium

July 19, 2016


Early politicians had it SO easy. They literally stood up on a stump and gave a rousing speech to a couple hundred people, and reporters without a strong bias one way or the other reassembled it the best they could for actual “news” papers. It would take a few months for the story to reach the rest of the country and there was no critical blowback because readers did not have their own printing presses.

Instead, citizens discussed the issues facing their city, state and country in bars, places of worship and actual, not electronic, town halls. The trolls yelling insults from the back of the room were few and inconsequential. I’m sure they had spirited debate but didn’t shoot people over them, and the mainstreamers likely listened to others’ opinions before deciding how to vote.

Eloquent, positive and inspirational words travelled farther and faster than mudslinging, perhaps because people were looking for vision and strength in potential leaders… and could see past the rhetoric and dirty tricks. I don’t know it as a fact, but I imagine people even switched parties occasionally depending on the strength of the candidates and the most pressing issues of the time.

And now we’re doing this.



Embrace the sub-meeting

October 18, 2010

These days, meetings can take place in a conference room, video-conference, web conference or Starbucks. Sometimes there is a pre-meeting BEFORE the big client meeting, just to make sure everyone is on the same page. Sometimes there is a post-meeting to discuss what you discussed. And there’s one more meeting you attend whether you like it or not… the sub-meeting.

The sub-meeting happens during your “live” meeting. It’s quiet and covert and hard to prevent. Handled poorly, it can be a big distraction. Handled well, it can save the day. Thanks to collaboration technologies like WebEx, instant messaging and mobile devices, meeting participants have the ability to communicate silently with others.

It’s the equivalent of kicking someone under the table at dinner or passing notes under the desk in grade school.  Note: I got in trouble for this in school and I deserved it. The teacher expected full attention during his lecture, and I was just trying to find out from my buddy Jim if the new girl really “LIKED me, liked me.”

The same goes for a business meeting. If you’re completely checked out of the meeting and pinging your buddy for the over/under on the playoff game, you’re going to get busted when your name is called.

But consider the upside… you just heard the boss say that she wants to go around the virtual table and review each person’s part of the overall plan. You didn’t think this was happening until next Thursday. You open your draft powerpoint and chat to your friend in operations. “Have you got the last quarter results ready yet?” She chats back “Yes, but it’s rough. You want it anyway?” You beg for her to email it to you now, as your last name starts with a G and the boss loves to follow the alphabetical participant list. Voila! The day is saved, and no one got to see you panic.

Even when I attend a meeting face-to-face, I will bring my laptop and fire up the WebEx to give me access to the sub-meeting. It helps me round up latecomers, chat with colleagues for clarification, take screen captures of slides, google stuff and bring other experts in. The sub-meeting keeps me productive and quite frankly saves my butt over and over again.

My generation may have grown up with politeness and total eye contact, but Gen Y is wired for multi-tasking. I say embrace it and make it work for you. What do you think? Is it OK to be in two meetings at the same time?

Turn it on

August 27, 2010

When you ask co-workers to turn on webcams during an online meeting, some will say “Sure!” and appreciate the social connectedness it brings.  Some will reject it faster than a bushman afraid of losing his soul.  Everyone wants to look their best at work, but why is webcam video so different than a face to face conversation?  When should you turn it on?  After unscientifically polling my co-workers, I uncovered some interesting answers:

Why turn it off?

  • The camera adds “weight” to my appearance. 
    This usually has more to do with bad lighting than the camera itself. Typical office lighting is designed to be functional, not flattering.  Remember your childhood friend’s Barbie make-up mirror with the Day, Night and Office settings? Lighting makes a big difference (not  that I, uh, ever really played with the make-up mirror.)  TV studios do not use harsh overhead fluorescents or bright window backlighting on the evening news!  Before abandoning video altogether, why not make some adjustments on lighting?  Set up your camera at eye level near your screen (and please avoid the dreaded up-the-nose shot.)
  • The camera’s close-up view exaggerates my flaws.
    Don’t you think people across a conference table will notice spinach in your teeth faster than online folks?  Besides, your warm smile and passionate presentation will overshadow any blemish or bad hair day every time.  And if you’re really good, you will make eye contact with that soul-stealing black-hole of a camera lens.  It actually can help you connect with multiple people at the same time… something you cannot do in a conference room.
  • I will be caught multi-tasking during the meeting. 
    We could write a book on this one, and it would be a philosophy book.  Basically, if your boss’s management philosophy includes you paying full attention, show that you are paying attention by turning on your camera.  Turning OFF your camera is like hiding under the conference room table, isn’t it?  If the meeting leader is relaxed about multi-tasking, go for it.  We could write another book about meetings you should never be invited to in the first place.
  • I don’t like the loss of control.
    This was the most intriguing to me, a comment about not knowing who is looking at you and when. If someone is staring at you across a table in a room, you can usually sense it with your peripheral vision, and react by smiling or giving them the evil eye. However, when your “image” is being broadcast “who knows where” and being “scrutinized for facial flaws and signs of weight gain,” you “feel” like you have lost control of your image.  This is not online dating…try to relax and focus on work.

Why turn it on?

Why bother making adjustments to get past all the mental barriers above? Choosing to use video is very situational, and sometimes it matters more than others.  But here are some good general reasons why you SHOULD turn it on…

  • Build rapport.
    My friend Gus Ruiz uses his office environment to break the ice with sales prospects. He’ll even place artifacts in the background as conversation starters. “Yes, that IS a signed Mickey Mantle ball… I’ll show you a close-up.  Are you a baseball fan?”  People like seeing you have some fun and it makes you appear more human.  I usually get a laugh when people see my noise-cancelling-but-ridiculously-large headset.  It cancels the dogs barking at my home office, but it looks like I’m landing a 747.
  • Social connectedness and trust.
    You’ve heard that “seeing is believing.”  Why not REALLY make your presence known by turning on your webcam when you can’t physically be at the meeting?  We are social beings (well, most of us) and video adds a human element you cannot get with voice alone. If you pay attention, you will also benefit from telling facial reactions, body language, and eye contact from your audience.  (Like when someone is throwing their head back in silent laughter while you are being totally serious.)
  • Show your passion
    When it is your turn to sell an idea, you want to make a positive impression and be memorable.  I’ve seen colleagues who have raised their desks in their cubes to allow them to stand and deliver, with a range of gestures and vocal power similar to projecting on a stage.  Your video image can augment your voice, help get attention and hold it with your audience.

Do you agree?  I’d love to hear what you think.  Can you share one of your online meeting experiences where the video either distracted you, or made a significant positive impact?

Stop the inanity

May 14, 2010

Originally published at Ideas in Motion. 

That’s not a typo in the title.  I’m talking about the inane commentary that initially turned me off to Twitter.  Why does anyone care if you blew out a tire and fell off your bike?  Well, if you’re Lance Armstrong, there are lots of people who care.  Some high school daredevil… not so much.  As with most communication channels, you get the bad with the good.  The trick is being able to filter, sort and extract what you want.

I experienced a new taste of Twitter when I moderated a recent WebEx meeting with Guy Kawasaki.  He let loose with a fire hose of facts and advice on how Twitter can be used effectively in marketing, and I fired questions at him from the online audience of over 2000 attendees.

While I was doing my moderator thing, I was also watching the twitterstream we set up #meet@webex. (Hint: Use for an auto-refreshing stream.)  Guy was sharing the desktop from his Mac, and throwing out really cool bits of advice.  I noticed in Twitter how certain phrases caught on with the audience and were instantaneously re-tweeted to trusted networks. 

Like an army of reporters typing in time with a drummer, they tweeted

  • “Twitter is fast, free, and ubiquitous.“
  • “Social Media today is what the internet was 15 year ago.”
  • “Critical mass for using Twitter as a marketing platform is probably 5000 followers.”
  • “It’s not the number of followers you have; it’s the number who are engaged with what you have to say.”
  • “Anybody who claims to be a social media expert is not a social media expert.”
  • “If you’re not pissing off a few people everyday you’re not using it right!”

It’s cool to see what others in the audience are thinking in real time.  Guy himself joined the Twitter conversation after the event, sharing more on how to be fascinating.

The point is this… what’s happening with twitter is not inane at all.  I think the focus on foolishness is subsiding, and there are real benefits emerging from this and other social media channels.  You can tap into a rich storehouse of up-to-date knowledge delivered by fascinating people if you know how to find it.

It also dawned on me that a digitally captured conversation or meeting has a lot of value.  Many in the audience were begging for a link to the WebEx recording so they could drink what they missed from the fire hose the first time, as well as share it with their own social networks.  Would you agree that a recorded meeting is a valuable chunk of media that is worth saving, sharing and talking about?

Check out the recording link at “Getting Social with Guy Kawasaki.”

Sharing the virtual stage

April 15, 2010

With the proliferation of webinars as a common communication vehicle for business, odds are that you may eventually be asked to present in one – maybe as a featured speaker, or as a panelist sharing the virtual stage with others.  I’ve heard plenty of advice on how to be a good moderator, but not as much on how to be a good panelist. 

So here we go… 3 tips that have helped me pull off successful webinar appearances over the last 7 years – Prepare, Project and Pay Attention.

1)     Prepare.  You already know your subject so well… is it really necessary to rehearse?  Unequivocally, yes.  Even before you get to the “dry run” or dress rehearsal, you should have prepared the key messages that YOU want to rise to the top during the live session.  Write out an introduction, a closing and at least 3-5 key supporting points.  Rehearse them out loud until they come out in a confident and conversational tone.  If you express them passionately during your dry run, your moderator is more likely to ask you about them during the live event. Encouraging your moderator to ask you transitional questions between your slides will help you sound more natural and conversational.

I’ve also found it helpful to ask to see the presentations from my fellow panelists in advance. It’s awkward to show up at the prom with matching dresses, and painful to be blindsided with controversy.

2)     Project.  Present with more power than you think you need. Typical webinars with audio and PowerPoint slides are a lot like doing a radio show.  Listen to a radio talk show host in your car and note the pace, energy and vocal variety used to keep your interest. Without body language to help you engage your audience, your voice must do all the work.

Instead of sitting at your desk with your phone to your ear, put on a good quality headset and stand up to present. Don’t hold back on gesturing with your hands, even if your office mates begin staring at you.  Your energy and airflow will be much stronger, and the audience will hear the difference.

3)     Pay attention.  This seems obvious, but I’ve heard great speakers who are so focused on their own words that they repeat something already said by another panelist. It is also more interesting to the audience to hear a conversation or debate instead of a one-voice lecture or product pitch.

Pay attention to courtesy – take care to let other panelists get in their equal share of “air time.”  You can even ask them what they think about your last point to get them talking (also a great stalling technique if you need a drink of water.)

Help your moderator during Q&A by suggesting commonly asked questions the audience may be interested in.  If you’re using WebEx, send private chat messages to the moderator about questions you want to be asked or corrections you would like to make.

Pay close attention to what is being asked during Q&A and give short impactful answers.  If needed, use the “defer and segue” technique for tough questions, perhaps adding in a valuable point that you wanted to make. 

For example, “That’s a deep dive question that would be better answered by one of our engineers, and I can connect you with an expert after the session.  But your question is part of a larger issue we’ve heard from others in your industry… how much time and money should you spend on customization for your end-users? We have deployment experts who can help guide you in that decision.”

Prepare, project and pay attention.  Follow these tips to ensure that your message is well-delivered, even if your moderator is not quite up to par.  The audience will appreciate it and seek you out for more information after the webinar. And the skills you develop for online presenting will be just as helpful for face-to-face presentations. A webinar may be virtual… but it’s still stage time.

Originally published with Toastmaster practice tips at Are you in Northern CA or Nevada? Check it out.

iThink iPad is a great name

February 1, 2010

Were there NO women on the naming committee? How could a smart company like Apple miss the obvious connotations for a name like iPad?  Answer… they knew exactly what they were doing.  And not only did they capture the usual technology press for their product launch, they captured the comedy press as well.  Yes, I think we now have a new record for jokes about the formerly taboo topic of feminine hygiene.

After the jokes die down and the product works its way into the hands of cultish Apple fans, you will appreciate the brilliance of the name.  It passes the crucial naming test… is it simple, easy to pronounce, spell and remember?  Yes.  Does it follow a product family naming convention that is synonymous with cool, successful products?  Yes.  It is just one letter away from being “iPod,” one of the most revolutionary consumer products of the last decade?

This is the most compelling reason why it was not called iTablet or iTab.  This thing is a lot more like an iPod than a Tablet computer.  I heard two engineers complaining about the lack of a removable battery and USB port.  Exactly. Apple is NOT releasing another pen-based Tablet computer, a category that has still not caught on with the mainstream.

Instead, it looks to me like they are releasing a larger iPod, which solves the problem of trying to watch movies or read e-books on a tiny little hand-held screen.  The eyesight-challenged over-40 crowd thanks you for this.  Add wireless Internet and you don’t need to plug-in to get your media.  Apple just changed the game with a device that incorporates multiple revenue streams for them, and endless opportunities for the app-generating generation.

Laugh all you want.  Steve Jobs is once again laughing his way to the bank.  Stay tuned for the next launch… Apple’s new cosmetically-challenged personal aircraft, the iSoar.

You have my divided attention

December 12, 2009

Multi-tasking is not a crime.  For knowledge workers today, it is a survival skill.  If you can’t manage and filter streams of data coming at you from multiple synchronous and asynchronous channels, you are doomed to drift aimlessly at sea.  The ability to keep swimming in a somewhat forward direction requires tremendous effort, and the ability to ignore as well as pay attention.

Time has always been talked about as the most important commodity, with hundreds of books written on “time management.”  With knowledge workers struggling to deal with today’s digital avalanche, I propose that “focus” is the new most important commodity.

If you want focus from colleagues or subordinates on what you have to say, you cannot just demand it anymore.  You have to earn it.  And you have to compete with omnipresent digital devices that make your audience smarter, blur the lines between business and personal communication, and quite frankly, may be more interesting than what you have to say at that moment.

So what can you do about it?  Let’s talk about focus in meetings.  I define a meeting as a gathering of people with a need to collaborate to achieve some common business purpose.  In the old days (choose your own pre-90s decade) mono-tasking people would sit together in a conference room and talk, maybe with a few whiteboard drawings to punctuate important points.  Common courtesy required that you looked at who was talking, listened, waited your turn and then volunteered your opinion. 

Let’s be honest. This courtesy is not common anymore.  People (myself included) not only talk all at once, they bring their world with them to meetings in the form of iphones, blackberries and laptops.  Even though it is valuable to have knowledge at their fingertips, they also have the temptation to sneak quick looks at unrelated items in their inboxes. 

Extending your reach to remote participants via WebEx is a wonderful thing, but presents the challenge of not even being able to see when your audience begins to multi-task. They are sitting in front of computers with other business, entertainment and social media distractions waiting in the wings.

You could yearn for the nostalgia of the old days and label everyone “rude,” OR you could use this as a barometer of your own performance and run your meeting in a new way.  In Dead Air Dynamics, I talked about a few ways to earn focus at the beginning of a meeting.  Now let’s talk about how to maintain focus throughout your meeting.  Of course the size, length and purpose of meetings varies widely, but these general principles apply to most of the meetings I run or attend:

1)     Make a commitment.  Sincerely thank everyone for the time they are investing and ask them for their “focus investment” as well.  Explain the purpose and then commit that you will help navigate to that goal as quickly and efficiently as possible.

2)     Prepare and organize your content.  How many meetings have you attended when the host was winging it?  It’s hard to stay focused on a target when it is not clearly visible.

3)     Establish rules of engagement.  “I have prepared a 10 minute overview that will bring everyone up to speed.  At the end I am going to ask you a few questions.”  Every teacher knows the threat of a pop quiz will snap students to attention.

4)     Use stories to bring it to life.  Even a finance presentation can be made more interesting with an occasional metaphor or personal anecdote.  You can also ask your audience to provide color, “Does anyone have a story that supports or refutes this point?”  This temporarily shifts the burden of engagement from you and lets people know they could be called on next.

5)     Take a breath.  People enjoy monologues on the Tonight Show, but not in meetings.  If you don’t want or need dialogue, why did you call a meeting?  You should be asking a question (and listening) at least once every 5-7 minutes.  If you want to give a speech, record and send it to them so they can listen at their convenience.  Better yet, send it in advance of the meeting so the group is ready to discuss.

6)     Loosen up.  I used to be extremely uptight about people not looking at me or responding to me when I presented.  Once I was giving a marketing overview to a group of sales reps in a conference room.  As soon as I sensed the eyes starting to drift down into digital world, I stopped cold and announced a crackberry break.  “You have 5 minutes to check your inbox and make one quick call.  Then I ask you to come back and give me your full focus and feedback… Go!!”  You should have seen the look of relief in the addicts’ eyes as I let them have their fix.

7)     Give online participants a voice.  The most common question I hear is… “If I can’t see someone’s eyes or body language, how do I know if they are paying attention?”  There is one simple way to know – ask them.  WebEx provides you with a list of participants by name. It’s not just a nebulous conference call where you have to guess who’s lurking in the background.  Go down the list and include every person in the conversation, especially the silent one who is probably sitting on the best idea waiting to be asked.

My final bit of advice is something that has helped me tremendously in my career.  Work on your presentation and listening skills, and practice outside the business environment. I became active in Toastmasters five years ago to raise my game and this kind of coaching could pay off for you too.  When presenting face-to-face, your body language needs to be consistent with your message.  When presenting online, your voice takes the lead role and needs to be delivered with the power and passion of a great radio talk show.

People are judging your content and communication style every second that your mouth is open.  If they sense even for a millisecond that you are boring or disconnected from them, they will tune you out… and they SHOULD.  The truth about multitasking?  It’s a symptom of a greater illness.  Take it as valuable feedback from your meeting audience and tighten up your show.

What tips can you share about making meetings more dynamic? 

(Please submit in Comments below.)