22 May 2009

Drop the Bullets and Start the Story

Tell the story and drop the bullet points Tell the story and drop the bullet points

Anyone can stand up in front of an audience and present. Presenting well so that people enjoy your presentation and feel moved in some way by it is a skill which takes practice. Many presenters have the attention of their audience for the length of time it takes to say "Hello" and quickly lose them before they even say "I'm...".

This week I spent two days at a conference in London which had a good selection of people presenting topics covering digital publishing subjects. Overall, the presenters were good mostly, and some were excellent. The presenters that gripped me were not the ones I would have necessarily have thought would have a subject that interested me. No, the presenters that were  gripping, inspiring and interesting were good story tellers.

The poor presenters disconnected themselves with the audience in two ways:

  1. They expected us to read their slides.

  2. They did not build a relationship with us.

When you watch a film at the cinema, the most text you see in them are the credits. The main film stars, the director and the producers get their names displayed briefly at the start but rarely do you see two names on the screen at the same time. Everyone else gets their names displayed at the end as the audience is walking out. In scenes when a character is, say, reading a note, the director zooms in on the single line of text or they will highlight the important sentence. But the director does not expect you to read the whole letter or newspaper.

So, why then do so many presenters think that we can do the same when trying to follow their presentations? When was the last time you saw a film at the cinema which contained bullet points? I expect you cannot recall one film that used bullet points.

Relationships take time to build. You never start a good relationship by talking to someone you are trying to attract as if you were trying to speed talk. To build a relationship, you speak slowly so that your words are heard. You listen, you watch for body movements and you don't ask questions which give the person you are opposite no time to think. You ask them questions which are easy to answer.

And yet, so may presenters fail to connect with the people they are trying to attract because they do not make their audiences feel as though they have any empathy with their situation. For instance, Barack Obama's slogan for his presidential campaign in was "Change We Can Believe In". It wasn't "Change I Can Believe In".

Nevertheless in the conference this week, the zeitgeist on Twitter from the audience in several presentations was along the lines of "This guy is trying to sell to me and I don't like it". The audience switched off from listening and moved in protesting. Business life has moved on and people are more sophisticated. You cannot sell to them. They have to buy from you and they only buy from you if pass through a process of building trust to form a good relationship.

As a result, the presenters who didn't connect with the audience wasted a huge amount money and opportunity at the conference by distancing themselves and failing to entertain us.

Here are my recommendations for excellent presentation skills:

  1. Go and watch a film and note how much text you see in it.

  2. Judge the script and the acting and ask yourself how you would improve it.

  3. Buy the book 'Beyond Bullet Points' by Cliff Atkinson and practice what he preaches.

  4. Read this blog - Presentation Zen

  5. Spend some time studying relationships.

  6. Practice in front of a mirror until you find yourself entertaining.

21 May 2009

People Will Pay for Content Online

Publishers fear that people will not pay for content online. People are so used to reading newspapers online for free, for example, that the expectation is that they will never pay for anything that is published online. The Wall Street Journal is a major exception to the rule.

But, listening to Ben Edwards from Economist.com at the 'ePublishing Innovation Forum 2009' in London this week, he thinks that is not the case. His view is that people will pay for content content online and that "publishers have failed to build experiences which people willing to pay for". Fair point.

The New York Times has recently launched a desktop version of its online newspaper which is accessed through a free download. You get the front page news for free. Any news you want to see beyond the front page have to be paid for through a weekly subscription. Their revenues from digital business has grown every year as a percentage of their business from 4% in 2004 to 12% in 2008.

Julian Shambles of The Telegraph Group, recently explained at the ePublishing Innovation Forum in London, that simply transferring headlines that work on a printed newspaper simply don't work for online versions. The infamous anti-Europe headline from 'The Sun' "Up Yours, Delors!" has no meaning on the web.

Why is that? It's because people find news on the web differently. They use  a search engine to find news and when they look for 'euro-sceptic' related news, they probably use that phrase in their search, and not the headline which grabs people's attention to the newspaper on a stand.

Shambles went on to say their recent success in growing their audience and viewers online was part of a whole mix of digital re-thinking which included ensuring that their journalists were trained and familiarised with 'search engine optimisation' so that they wrote their articles with the thought on how to make them as friendly and searchable to Google as possible. Furthermore, news has started to be published online first rather than how it used to be with their web version being an after thought.

The emerging model in the world of digital publishing which appears to be gaining some success takes advantage of the fact that an online or digital version of a publication costs very little to produce compared to the paper version of it. So, publishers can afford to give away a lot of access for free with a small minority paying for richer versions of the publication upon which the publisher can make a profit. This is called 'freemium'. (I did hear one comment at the Forum say "..there is a bit too much 'free' in my experience, and not enough 'mium' in it".

So, the fact is that people will pay for content online as long as they feel as though it is a good experience. We are overloaded with information from every imaginable source now, but there is precious little knowledge available. We are not prepared to pay for magazines or publications which are little more than advertising hoardings for recruitment companies with a few pages of poorly written articles. We will pay for knowledge, experience and insight. But has that not always been the case?

Meaningful Web 3.0

web 3.0

Who would be Gordon Brown after the last few days in British politics? He might be thinking about how he would like to be making decisions which will have a dramatic and positive impact upon the electorate's lives rather than worrying about the less than spotless behaviour of some of his MP's and their expenses.

It would be interesting to have dinner with him this weekend. You would doubt that he would be in a position to be very cheerful. Except that he has invited Tim Berners-Lee to dinner this weekend at Chequers, where it is likely that he is going to be talking about the future of the world wide web.

What is the future of the web? Many people may know about what is called 'web 2.0' which has seen the web moving from a one-way conversation in its early days to a two-way conversation which enabled us to contribute to the web. Web 2.0 has seen the massive growth of services like Facebook and Twitter where we can self-publish.

Despite the amazing ability for everyone to publish their thoughts, to find information through Google or to publish their videos for the world to see, we are starting to stretch the current web structure to its limits. For instance, searching on Google limits your query to the search engine finding words which you typed into the search box which will bring up relevant web sites which have those words in them.

But the words (or keywords) which Google found in the web site might not actually bring up a web page which is useful to you. The words in it might not be related to your query and, therefore, your search results are meaningless because the search engine looks for words and not for the meaning of the words. e.g. If you type in the sentence "The sky has the colour blue" Google will look for web sites with those words in them but it may not connect the words together to seek the meaning of that sentence.

This is one the most important aspects of where the web will go in the next few months and years. Web 3.0 is about meaning. When you type a question into a search engine such as "Why is my left foot larger than my right foot?" search engines will be able to understand the question and not just search for the words in a web page. The search results will bring up web sites which answer the question and which also make suggestions on what you can do about it if it is a problem, rather than bringing up a load of web pages just about feet.

This is called the 'semantic web'. And this is what Tim Berners-Lee, Dame Wendy Hall and their colleagues have been developing for a long time. The UK Government will soon require that all of their published information to be described with something called 'RDF' (Resource Description Framework) so that all their data and information will be linked and so we will be able to find meaningful information more easily than we can today.

So, cheer up, Gordon Brown. The freedom of information which has opened up a few weeks of trouble for you will seem insignificant to what you and Tim will be discussing this weekend. You will be making the first steps to making the web that we know now, which is about masses of information, into a connected world of knowledge and meaning.

11 May 2009

News on your desktop
Reading a newspaper is an immersive experience. Getting the Saturday newspaper is one of the weekend's great pleasures. The number of topics covered is large but interesting. I may not read all of it but I will read most of the newspaper. There are usually one or two articles which stick out which are particularly memorable and thought provoking.

However, during the week reading a newspaper is a different matter. I read a newspaper in a different manner which means fitting in reading an article or two when I am on a train, having a sandwich at my desk at work or briefly in the evening after getting the children to bed.

As a result, I buy a newspaper less frequently but I do read their digital versions for catching up on the rugby team I support, business news or technology news. I read the news through my mobile phone or on my laptop. All for free, of course. I also follow a number of blogs which are all 'aggregated' through an application called 'ShareFire' which presents them all in one place for me to read when I can. ShareFire is a simple, free and easy to use tool which saves me having to log into each blog on the web.

And that is the newspaper publishing industry's problem in a nutshell. I am a contributor to their current demise. I admit it. I read far more than I ever used to than when I just read a newspaper.

But something caught my collective eye at work today. As a technology company, we are always looking at new trends, technologies and applications. This morning, our 'Chief Geek' spotted an blog article by Serge Jespers about an application built in Adobe Air and Flex by The New York Times for their readers.

It's a free download which provides non-subscribers with a limited amount of news at no charge. To get the full version, you need to pay a subscription of $3.45 a week. You can search the newspaper, watch videos of the news, see the news in pictures all for free too, and all from your desktop (which means that the application loads pages in the background so you can move between them quickly).

Another article today on the BBC technology blog site by Rory Cellan-Jones highlighted an interesting comparison to how the newspaper publishing industry could learn a lot from the English Premiership which is very successful at making sure that people pay for their content through subscriptions. Commentators were saying that the football league example was not good because people are happy to pay for live football games to be streamed onto their TV's but not so keen on watching highlights or replays. However, news is even more short-lived than a football game and few people want to read yesterday's newspaper, unless you buy 'The Week' of course.

There is great talk about devices designed specifically to enable people to read eBooks and electronic versions of newspapers and magazines, such as Amazon's Kindle 2 or Sony's eReader. But, these are expensive and most people won't want to fork out a load of money when they already have a decent laptop, web-book or PC from which they can easily read.

So, the development by The New York Times of a branded reader application for their news which enables the publisher to get paid for their content and which helps customers get up to date news in a well presented way is a move which could start to pave the way for the publishing industry to secure its future. I will be watching with interest.

06 May 2009

Mobile Marketing Gets to the Point

Nokia Point & Find connects offline to online

The next time you are standing at a bus stop, or you are waiting for a train, take a look around at anything that interests you and take a photograph of it with the camera on your internet enabled phone. For instance, that poster advertising a film that you have heard good reviews about, or perhaps the advertisement for a chocolate bar. Chances are that you will just have photograph of an advertisement on your phone and a pretty shaky one at that unless you are a professional photograph specialising in photos taken through phones.

But wouldn't it be useful if that photograph led to you finding out where you could see that film in the cinema nearest to you, at what time and buy tickets for it then and there? Or by photographing the chocolate bar on the poster you received a digital voucher which you could redeem in your local corner shop on one of those chocolate bars? Another useful application of your mobile phone could be when you are driving around an area looking for houses you might be interested in buying.

Currently, you have to get the details from an estate agent or an online service about houses and then plan a tour around the area to see which ones you want to view. But, if you see a house on your tour for which you had not printed off the details you would have to mess about calling the agent or logging onto the web to get the details. It's frustrating and the speed at which you find details on the internet at home or at work makes it all the more so because you cannot find them so quickly when you are away from the web. It would very useful if you could take a snap of the outside of the house on your phone and see details about it immediately to see whether it is in your budget.

Well, this capability is now available through your Nokia mobile via their 'Point and Find' service. It allows you to find information like this now. All you need is the 'Point and Find' software on your internet enabled phone to get instant information. The service is quick and easy to use. For marketers, it gets around a major hurdle with mobile marketing which is the fact that people don't like having to tap out more than basic messages on their phones. The three keys activities carried out on mobiles are search, social networking and photography. But search is limited by people's reluctance to type on their keypads so Google is developing a voice driven mobile version of their search engine.

With services like 'Point and Find' or 'Amazon Remembers' you just need to photograph what you are interested in to get the information you want about the product or service you have seen. The possibilities are endless. And they both meet the 'Want It Now!' feeling that we all experience now. Consumers hate having to wait.

Marketers will be able to understand which of their off-line marketing collateral is most effective and which locations are most productive. Marketing investment can be targeted more effectively and efficiently. Mobile marketing will become more mainstream with the reality of instant gratification as the database of products and services are increased in these services.