Tag Archives: google

The social speech: How your friends and followers can help you write your next presentation

Speechwriting is a notoriously solitary profession. You might have a few conversations with a client, their staff or — if you’re writing for yourself — a mirror. But a lot of your work is going to be just you, a keyboard and the unforgiving blank screen.

At least, that used to be the case. But when you’re crafting a social speech, speechwriting can be a team activity. And even though you still have to do the actual writing, you can draw on the ideas, experience and ingenuity of a large networked audience.

You may feel a little hesitant about asking your network for help, especially out in the open: aren’t you supposed to be the expert? But even experts have to do research. When you ask for suggestions or ideas, you’re acknowledging the collective knowledge, experience and expertise of your friends, fans and followers, and inviting them to make a contribution. That’s not admitting a weakness; it’s paying a compliment.

Here are five ways to bring your network in on the act the next time you’re working on a speech:

  • Crowdsourcing: Find yourself falling back on the same old examples and cases? Shake things up by asking your network for their favourites. A tweet like “Speaking to HR conference tomorrow – what are your favorite examples of innovative recruiting? #HRINS11″ can help you add a few new arrows to your quiver — for this speech, and future ones.
  • Storytelling: It’s one thing to set out an argument and back it up with statistics. It’s another — and a whole different level of emotional resonance — to illustrate that argument with a real-world story, attached to an actual human being. Ask your followers for their personal experience, and you can find some remarkable stories to share with your audience (with permission, of course). And if you want to go that extra mile, and you have a willing friend with a terrific story, a webcam clip can dramatically boost its impact.
  • Media: Flickr’s Creative Commons archive and iStockPhoto can get you some great images. But many of your network members’ hard drives are packed to the gills with their own photos and videos, some of them quite compelling. Put out a call for a specific image (“I’m looking for a photo of a really beat-up old car for my next presentation”) and you may well get just what you’re looking for. Alternately, you could consider having a series of related images — people making angry faces, beautiful shots of waterfalls, screenshots of error messages — and turn them into a mosaic or mini-slideshow that reinforces a particular theme in your speech. (Just do your due diligence about usage rights. Make sure the contributor is also the creator, and consider privacy issues around any identifiable individuals.)
  • Brainstorming: Want to see how an idea or a line of reasoning flies with people? Posting it and asking for feedback (or, if you’re up for it, pushback) can help you sharpen your thinking. You may get some encouragement and validation — or maybe you’ll hear an unexpected point of view that leads you to revise your approach. (Inviting perspectives from outside your organization and your usual circle can be a great way to break out of groupthink.) And even if you don’t change your mind, you’ll have a better idea of some of the objections your audience might raise… objections that you can address during your speech.
  • Polling: A service like PollDaddy, GoPollGo or Facebook Questions lets you create multiple-choice polls to unleash on your networks. Don’t go looking to draw any valid statistical inferences from the results… but if you’re looking for a general expression of sentiment, you’ll be able to tell your audience things like “More than three-quarters of the people I asked in a Twitter poll said they feel extremely swamped by email… and not one said they felt like they were on top of it.”

You can turn to a wide range of online services for inviting collaboration and soliciting contributions. Twitter is great for short questions and answers (if you’re asking people to share links, for instance). LinkedIn Answers lets you reach out to your professional network. Your profile or page on Facebook or Google+ can serve as a more conversational venue for longer contributions. A Google or Wufoo form can allow people to submit structured responses (the tradeoff being a slightly higher barrier to participation and a much less social experience). And if you have the viewership or readership to reach the right crowd, your blog or YouTube page can be an even more targeted, effective way of connecting with people.

It can’t just be one-way, of course, with your friends and followers giving and you taking. You need to thank your network members for their help, and encourage them to be there for you in your next speech:

  • Immediate thanks: Reply to everyone, if that’s even remotely feasible. If you’ve been deluged, then you might have to consider a group thanks — but most of us should be so lucky.
  • Credit where it’s due: If you’re using someone’s personal story, you want to attribute it to them (after confirming they don’t mind). And you should consider crediting somebody who’s provided an especially remarkable piece of information. Letting them know you gave them a shout-out in your speech is a great way to thank them.
  • Credit where it’s due, part 2: If you’ve used a photo or video clip in your presentation, you’ll definitely want to add a credit on-screen. Ask the contributor how they’d like to be credited – and keep the typeface readably large (without detracting from the image itself). If you’ve created a mosaic or a mini-slideshow, consider adding a credit slide at the end of your presentation.
  • Thanks afterward: A post-speech blog post or webcam video is your chance to thank everyone who contributed, and single out the folks you leaned on particularly heavily. And not just by name; linking to their online presence of choice is the sincerest form of gratitude.
  • Continued engagement: Now that they’ve contributed to your speech, your network members are going to feel vested in its outcome, and in your future presentations. Keep reaching out conversationally, even when you don’t have a speech on the horizon, and reciprocate in kind. You’re starting to build a more engaged, more committed following — one you’ll want to devote some genuine attention to.

Gmail’s new design offers plenty of white space… and a good example

Gmail has had a very interesting redesign. (I love the big fat red “Compose” button. Doesn’t work on me, though; I press it, and I’m just as anxious as ever.) You can read about some of the details on the Gmail blog, including an account of the choices they made around designing the left sidebar.

That redesign has a number of people upset at the amount of white space it involves. I get that: it’s great to be able to skim tons of information at a glance. And nobody leaps out of bed grinning from ear to ear and says, “I get to do lots of scrolling today!”

But white space has its virtues, too. In the hands of a skilled designer, it can guide a user’s focus to the handful of things that matter the most on a page – maybe even letting you think about one thing at a time. (I know: heresy!) Yes, lots and lots of information can be great, but there’s real truth to the adage that when everything’s important, nothing’s important.

Back when I was designing leaflets and mailings for Members of Parliament, there was a constant battle between those of us who wanted to maintain some structure on the page and a sense of hierarchy, and the MPs who wanted to add just one more paragraph of information. “It can go right here – see that blank space? Oh, and there’s more blank space over there. You know, if you dropped the type size to nine points, we could fit a lot more stuff on!”

Thing is, for a small number of constituents, the jam-packed-with-information, looks-like-a-Dr.-Bronner‘s-Castile-Soap-label leaflets actually worked. They loved ‘em. And for those few dozen people, if we’d had the time and resources, it would have made sense to create a separate version.

But for the thousands of others we were trying to reach, not so much.

Google does have the resources, and in addition to the airy default (or “Comfortable”) layout, you can choose “Cozy” and “Compact” (or, as I call it – affectionately – “Bill Blaikie mode”). If you’re feeling the need to flood your eyeballs, by all means make the switch.

But maybe give “Comfortable” a chance first. You may surprise yourself.

And then ask yourself if your web site has enough room for your users to breathe – even if it means a little scrolling.

Use tags to replace the RSS feed from Google Reader’s “Share” button (Update: Or not)

Update: This tip no longer really works that well; the feed from the tag now requires you to authenticate as the user who created it, and the tag itself has to be chosen from your list of folders. I’m sorry.

Some big changes came yesterday to Google Reader, the venerable RSS newsreader that has become part of the texture of daily online life for a lot of us. The design has changed dramatically, in line with changes made to most other Google services. But there are big functional changes too, as Google aims to consolidate social activity in Google+.

That means the end of nearly all of Google Reader’s sharing features. There’s no more Share link; no more Followers; and no more public pages for starred or shared items. Instead, you click Send To under any post, and share it through one of a variety of web services (most notably Google+).

For many people, that will work just fine. But some of us have been heavy users of that Share link… and at least in my case, it’s been a great way to populate an RSS* feed of posts I come across in Reader. That feed can then do everything from generating Twitter posts to updating a widget on my blog.

If that’s one way you’ve been using Reader, then good news: you can still create an RSS feed of blog posts you flag from inside Reader. Better yet, you can draw on one of Reader’s lesser-known features – tags – to createseveral RSS feeds.

Here’s how it works:

  • Look at the bottom of any post in Reader. You’ll see several links: star, +1, Email, Keep unread, Send to, and – most interestingly – Edit tags.
  • Come up with a short distinct keyword that you want to use for shared items. Maybe it’s just the letter “s”. From now on, you’ll be tagging any item you want to add to that RSS feed with that keyword.
  • Click the Edit tags link. Enter your sharing keyword.
  • Once you click Save, the keyword becomes a hyperlink. Click it, and you’ll be taken to a page listing all of the posts that you’ve tagged with that particular keyword.
  • Click on the Folder settings… button at the top of the page. Then click “View details and statistics” in the menu that appears.
  • Hurray! You’ll see an URL for the RSS feed for this tag. Use it the same way as the RSS feed for Shared Items.

Note that this isn’t a new feature – you’ve always been able to find an RSS feed for any particular tag. But the latest changes mean it’s just become even more useful.

* Actually, it’s the Atom format. But people seem to be more familiar with the term “RSS”, so I’m using it generically here.

Three handy tools for engaging on Google+

If you’ve had the same experience of Google+ that I have, then you’re probably loving the more expansive conversational room, the in-context shared content, the simplicity of Circles, the immediacy of Hangouts.

But you may be missing the handy tools that more-established platforms have developed (or that others have developed for them). I’d like to share things right from Google Reader… share any web page with one click… and see who’s been sharing other pages on Plus.

You too? Then I have good news.

The folks I cartoon for every week at ReadWriteWeb unleashed a rapid-fire series of posts today, each with a handy tip or tool for making Google+ engagement that little bit easier:

I’m delighted to see more and more tools coming out to support the Google+ ecosystem. I’ve found it to be a great place for more indepth, thoughtful conversations, and for discovering content with more context than just the usual “OMG u have 2 c this!!!”

Got any favourite tools, browser extensions or other Google+ add-ons?

Google Circles is great. But I’m waiting for Google Venn Diagrams.

If you’ve managed to sprint inside of Google+ during one of those brief periods when the front door has been left ajar, then the first thing you’ve seen has been Google Circles. It allows you to organize your contacts into lists, based on how you know them, how much you trust them, whether you consider them cool, how you want to communicate with them… whatever criteria you want.

It’s a great feature, done in an appealing way. But it only goes so far.

If I want to create a circle called Close friends, for people I deeply trust, and another called nptech, for folks active in the non-profit technology field, I can. But say there’s something I want to share only with close friends in the nptech community. There’s no way to say “Share this with the people who are in both of those circles, but not with the people who are in only one of them.” Instead, I’d have to — manually — create a new Close nptech friends circle.

So either I’m creating a lot of circles, some of which I may only use a handful of times, or I’m missing out on the potential power of the feature.

The thing is, this is exactly the kind of issue Google deals with easily in its search function. (Yes, Google still does search.) If I wanted to search for content that contains both the phrase “Close friends” and the word “nptech”, I’d just enter this:

“close friends” nptech

If I wanted pages that contained “close friends” or ”nptech”, or both, I’d enter this:

“close friends”|nptech

And if I wanted pages that contained “close friends” but not ”nptech”:

“close friends” -nptech

I can do it (and much more complex queries) with search terms. I can do it with iTunes playlists. Why not with Circles – either post-by-post, or with automatic smart circles?

Added competitive bonus: I can’t do it with Facebook Lists.

Social media in 2010: a cartoon year in review

The year that started with Angry Birds and wrapped up with Angry Delicious Users is finally over.

I’ve spent the past week (between meals of turkey leftovers) doodling my cartoon retrospective of the year in social media – and I think I showed tremendous restraint in avoiding any direct mention of the iPad. Instead, I paid tribute to the Device of Devices by drawing the roughs (and a few of the finished cartoons) on one.

You can find the individual cartoons (and much more!) at the main Noise to Signal site. (There’s also a free 2011 calendar for you to download. Enjoy!)

Northern Voice: Chris Messina on the open web – and what threatens to close it up

Chris Messina, Google‘s new open web advocate, just wrapped Northern Voice’s second keynote with a call for the defence of the open web from the gatekeeper mentality. (Which is why I just hit “publish” on my last blog post – it covers some of the same terrain, and I’d like to contribute to that conversation.)

I’m liking this no-PowerPoint thing a lot. Here are my notes from Chris’s speech:

Notes from Chris Messina's keynote at Northern Voice, part 1

Notes from Chris Messina's keynote at Northern Voice, part 2

And yes, the iPad I drew this on is one example of that locked-down, gate-keeper, appliance model that Chris dubs “pop computing”. But as he points out, those can be great… provided they’re not your only device.

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Google profiles Social Signal’s project management process

Social Signal regulars will know that we’ve (and by “we”, I especially mean “Alex”) put a lot of effort into finding the perfect solution to our project management needs. We’ve tried web apps like Basecamp and Remember the Milk, desktop apps like Daylite… but nothing has met all of our needs.

Which, frankly, doesn’t surprise us too much. Every organization has its unique demands and idiosyncrasies, and short of a tailor-made solution, no off-the-rack suite is going to drape every bump and curve in the most flattering way.

But we came remarkably close with a combination of project-management upstart Manymoon and Google Apps. (You may remember Manymoon from such blog posts as this one, and such podcast episodes as this one.)

And now the nice people at Google are telling the story of how we did it, as part of their series of customer profiles. (To see Social Signal’s article, selected “Professional services” and “Small business”. Or view it as a Google Doc right here.)

It’s boggling to realize how recently you would have had to pay thousands of dollars for tools like these – mainly because they were only being built for enterprises, if at all. Yet the no-charge edition of Google Apps is more than enough for most organizations… and Manymoon is almost shockingly affordable.

And therein lies an untold story. How big an impact has the arrival of new, no-to-low-cost business applications (and their open-source counterparts) had on the creation and growth of small businesses and non-profit organizations? So many of them run with such tight margins that I’d be surprised if it isn’t substantial, but I haven’t seen any research on the question. Anyone else?