Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Social media: time to get serious

The hype around social media is beginning to die down. Now it's time to get serious. If you are going to make use of social media in your business (and you don't have to), then you need to have a strategy, a plan to measure the results, regular checkpoints, and a willingness to put some resource behind your efforts. 

Here are a few tips to crank up the volume on your social media campaigns.

* Make sure you can measure your results. If you can't measure, you can't judge how well you are doing. There are plenty of tools available.

* Behave professionally. Don't leave your Twitter feed to the office junior (unless they are very good).

* Get your internal people trained, so they are confident to use social media responsibly.

* Look for niches and special areas where your customers are speaking. You don't need a presence on every social network.

* Don't hide your involvement. It's no longer the time for limited test sites. Go mainstream.

Finally, don't believe what external advisors and consultants tell you without reviewing their evidence. By now, anyone who advises on social media policy should have a track record of success. If you're serious about social media, you need solid professional advice.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

7 ways to build a stellar reputation

Building a brilliant reputation isn't easy, but the benefits are immense. Your reputation is your biggest marketing asset, and will help you to win business in even the toughest times. Here are seven tips to help you become a company that everyone wants to work with.

Do the basics brilliantly You need to build on a solid foundation. Whatever business you are in, you need to to the simple things really well. People won't notice if you get them right, but if you get them wrong, they will complain bitterly.

Do little things that others don't Small touches can make a huge difference. It's not about delivering expensive add-ons, it's about unexpected delights. It's not the chocolate on the pillow, it's the "welcome back' from the receptionist when you haven't stayed there for years.

Make sure everyone delivers great service Everyone in your organisation is a reputation manager. It takes only one bad rude exchange or poor delivery to cause immense damage. Everyone needs to be trained, and given the responsibility, to offer exceptional service.

Make it personal This works both ways. People love to be recognised and addressed by name, and they also like to see the "face of the company". Who is your Richard Branson?

Fix mistakes quickly In every organisation, things go wrong. Everyone realises that. you need to take responsibility and fix things fast. Your reputation will be enhanced if people know that, should bad things sometimes happen, you will look after them.

Talk to the media You don't need to over-promote, but you do need to be available for comment. If you're delivering exceptional service, your comments will be sought, and you must be prepared to give them.

Have fun People love companies that inject humour into what they do. Aim to leave people with a smile, every time.

That'll do for starters. Get building!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Savile, Armstrong - Would I lie to you?

It's too late to challenge Jimmy Savile, and Lance Armstrong seems unlikely to recant, so we can only draw our own conclusions about who lied to whom about what. It seems undeniable that iconic public figures such as Jimmy Savile and Lance Armstrong created a web of lies so complex that we may never know the full extent of their duplicity.

We all lie from time to time, whether it's to our children about the tooth fairy, to our friends when they ask us out and we're just too tired, or to our partners when they ask us whether they're looking overweight. We tell ourselves that these lies don't matter, since they are well-meant, and no damage is done.

However, when people tell really big lies, as in the cases of Jimmy Savile or Lance Armstrong, people do get hurt, both physically and emotionally. It's not just the initial liars themselves who must bear the responsibility, since in both cases other people either knew of the misbehaviour, or turned a deaf ear to the rumours and allegations. Now that their actions have become public knowledge, there's a queue of people explaining the reason why they kept quiet at the time. 

Of course, I don't blame any of the abused victims of Jimmy Savile. They have suffered not only from the initial assaults, but from the guilt and fear of disbelief that they have lived with for decades. I do blame those who witnessed such acts and kept silent, or who heard the allegations and did nothing. I also blame the cyclists and team members who acted with Lance Armstrong to maintain a shroud of secrecy over many years of doping.

Yes, it can be hard to speak out when it could threaten your career. It may also be that if you don't have enough evidence, you aren't believed, and the misbehaviour continues. But put yourself in the position of those who knew about abuse or drug use. Would you have kept quiet? I hope not. 

As a speaker myself, and as one who helps others communicate, I talk a lot about authenticity. That's about not only being true to yourself and your principles, but also about being honest. The thing is, it is never the initial lie that brings people down, it's the complex measures undertaken to keep the lie hidden. In the cases of both Jimmy Savile and Lance Armstrong, the effort taken to keep the lid on things was enormous. 

There's no easy way back from a big lie. The only thing to do is not go there in the first place, or stop immediately and try to implement a recovery strategy for everyone involved. I strongly urge the former.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Skyfall - Two tickets to embarrassment...

UPDATE: I have just received an email from Peerindex offering two free tickets for Skyfall at a time and place we choose. Well handled, Peerindex. The cautionary tale below should be read in that context.

Today my wife and I set off to see the new Bond film, Skyfall. We were looking forward to it, especially since the nice people at PeerIndex had sent us a couple of vouchers which read;

"Take this voucher to your local Picturehouse cinema to get free entry to the movie of your choice. Enjoy!"

Well, that's an offer which is hard to resist. Of course, there was some small print, which read;

"Terms and Conditions. This voucher is valid only until 01/11/2012 and redeemable at Picturehouse cinemas only, and cannot be used to book online or by phone. Excludes all opera, live satellite and premium-priced events. Standard terms of admission apply - see Picturehouse website for details."

Well, that all sounded fine. Our nearest Picturehouse cinema is in Stratford, close to the Olympic site. It's a few stops on the central line from our home. Since we couldn't book online or by phone, we set off this afternoon, aiming for the 3pm performance. When we arrived at 2.45pm, there were half a dozen people in the queue. It was clear that the showing would be far from full. A good sign. I reached the front of the queue, handed over the vouchers and asked for two tickets to Skyfall. The cashier looked at the vouchers and read them carefully. She said "I've never seen these before, I need to call someone" She meant it literally, shouting into the foyer for the manager. She also decided to call his phone, and as the queue was now building behind us, asked me to step to one side.

After an embarrassing (for us) wait, the manager arrived and reviewed the tickets, shaking his head. He said "I'm sorry, I can't let you in with these, since the Terms of Admission say that they aren't valid for this film. If you want to complain, contact Sony - it's their film."

That was it. No admittance. We left to the stares of the queue, and I felt almost as though I'd been caught trying to cheat. There was no indication anywhere that the vouchers couldn't be used for any particular film. We'd had a round trip of an hour, spent a fiver each on tube fares and ended up being both disappointed and embarrassed.

Naturally, I checked the terms of admission on the Picturehouse website when I got home. It took quite a time, since they are over two thousand words long. I finally found the relevant rule, 5.14, which states:

"5.14. Complimentary tickets cannot be used for free-list-suspended films. These are films whose distributors have suspended the use of complimentary tickets during the opening week(s). This restriction does not apply to Members' free tickets."

Clearly, Skyfall is currently a "free-list suspended film". But who is to know? The fact is not mentioned anywhere on the Picturehouse website. The only way to discover it is to go to the cinema, stand in a queue for tickets, and then be turned away. 

It's a daft way to behave. I'd have been perfectly happy to be made aware that certain films weren't included in the offer, and provided with a list to check. It wasn't about the potential for free tickets - we'd happily pay to go and see Skyfall, and instead of the cinema, we ended up going to a restaurant. The frustration was the fact that we had an unavoidable pointless journey, on the basis of receiving a "reward". I wonder what Bond would have done?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Hyperbole Anonymous now offering free coaching

I've just set up an organisation called Hyperbole Anonymous or HA! for short.

The objective is to help victims afflicted by excessive overstatement, inappropriate hyperbole and overblown claims. Hyperbole can affect lives by making people look and sound ridiculous, damaging both their business and personal relationships. In some parts of the world, it is already endemic, and the aim of HA! is to stop it spreading further.

The signs of early-onset hyperbole are easy to spot. If you notice anyone using certain phrases, try to calm them down with a cup of sugary tea while persuading them to seek help.

Some of the tell-tale phrases are:

"It was awesome..."

"I'm the country's leading practitioner of...."

"You can be anything you can dream...."

"This is the most unbelievable offer ever...

"Make millions working at home in four hours a week...."

Fortunately, there is a cure. I am able to offer free coaching and therapy sessions for a small number of individuals. The sessions are brief but effective, and use the technique of slaps in the face with a large wet fish every time hyperbole is used. A few sessions usually sort things out.

If you, or anyone you know, is suffering from this debilitating ailment, don't hesitate to get in touch.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Social media is a big con trick

Social media is a big con trick. In fact it's at least three cons; Conversation, Content and Consistency. 

Conversation - You need to get involved. It's no use simply posting messages saying how wonderful your company is, or what an interesting blog you have just written. You need to respond to questions, add to debates, and offer a point of view on issues. That's what engages people. Don't be scared of getting into a debate and then leaving it again, since it may run for days or weeks. Simply add to the debate while you are there. 

Content - You need to offer something useful and of interest. This may seem contrary to what I said above (I'm even debating with myself here), but if you post an interesting and valuable article, other people will publicise it for you. Your comments on other people's blogs may also offer useful content, so don't simply say "I agree" or "This is rubbish". 

Consistency - you need to make regular appearances. That does not mean every day, and certainly not every hour. However, if you only appear once or twice a month, post a ton of material and then disappear again, you won't attract many friends. Small, regular postings seem to be much more effective than rare long ones. Little and often - that's the way.

Of course, there is also Connecting, Confidence, Consideration, Congratulating, etc.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Why not try being the same person on all social networks?

Are you always who you really are? I know, it's a silly question. Of course you are. But think again. Do you post in a different way on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter? Many people do, since the advice from "experts" is that you should treat different audiences in different ways. I'd tend to agree, if it wasn't for the fact that the people I know on LinkedIn are often the same people I know on Facebook and Twitter. OK, I can hear you muttering "Come on Alan, LinkedIn is for business networking. It's full of serious business people. Those guys don't want to know that I just enjoyed watching X Factor, or that I finished 3,478th in the Great North Run".

I beg to differ. People do business with people they like. More often than not, the first few minutes of any business meeting are taken up with what is wrongly called "small talk". In fact, this apparently idle chat about holidays, shared friends and experiences is the social glue that holds society together. We do need to get down to the serious stuff, but not until we feel comfortable with the people we're getting serious with.

Provided you lead a fairly blameless life (you do, don't you?), than sharing your photos of family barbeques and tweets from rock concerts is not going to lose you any business. Quite the reverse, in fact. I used to find it was quite stressful to remember what sort of content I could post where. Can I put a blog about business strategy on Facebook? Can I mention a great film on LinkedIn? Is it OK to have a conversation about business in the public Twitter stream? In just about every case, I now think the answer is "yes". Sure, you wouldn't breach any confidences, or make personal remarks, but that's always been the case.

So here's an idea. Why not, just for a day or two, not worry about what content you post to what social network. Just be yourself. You may be surprised to see that the reaction is positive, and good for business too.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Running an event - Tips for top MCs

Being the Master of Ceremonies (MC, which I use to cover both genders) is a critical task at any event. I took on the role at the recent Professional Speaking Association convention, and received some great feedback, so I thought I'd offer some tips on being the person who links everything together on stage. 

Firstly, and most importantly, the job of the MC is to make the other speakers look as good as possible. It's not about stealing the show. You aren't there to tell jokes and stories (unless you have to fill, but more of that in a moment). Preparation, as ever, is very important. As soon as the speakers have been selected, make contact, explain your role, and ask them to supply an introduction. Be sure to ask if there are any matters that are concerning them, such as rehearsals and audio-visual requirements. It isn't your job to resolve these issues, but you should act as a go-between to ensure that everything is covered. 

There will usually be an event organiser who will arrange a timetable for the event. They are a critical contact for you, and you should keep in close communication with them at all times. When the speakers arrive for their rehearsal, you should be there with them to check their introduction, handover, and what to do if the technology fails. You will be expected to literally step in and cover if anything should go wrong. 

It's perfectly acceptable (in fact essential) for the MC to take notes on stage. There may be formal announcements, or a precise form of words that a speaker insists on. You don't have to learn their introduction, but you should practice the technique of reading a phrase at a time and looking at the audience when delivering it. Ideally, you should mention the name of the speaker only at the end. 

During the speech, you need to keep an eye on timing, and alert the speaker with a pre-agreed signal if time is running out. Your job as a professional is to keep the event on time. If that means shortening a break, that's what you do. Slippage through a day is a common fault, and is disrespectful to both the audience and the later speakers. 

Finally, ensure that everyone is thanked before the event closes. Then you can relax and have that refreshing beverage you've been looking forward to all day.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Speechwatch: David Cameron's speech to the Conservative Party Conference, October 2012

David Cameron's warm-up man, Mayor Bloomberg of New York, called him a "gold-medal winning Prime Minister", but did he live up to the accolade? By the way, Mayor Bloomberg also referenced Winston Churchill as an example of "putting the good of the country ahead of party politics". That didn't go down too well in the hall. I'm not sure it was a great piece of scheduling to put an orator like Bloomberg on just before David Cameron's big moment.

There was an uneasy and rather bizarre pause before William Hague appeared to do the intro. It wasn't the greatest intro, either. More golf club dinner than party conference, in fact. The usual video played, reminding people what he does. This is now a cliché at every party conference, and is seen and heard only by the delegates in the hall, as the broadcast channels either play music over it or continue with the punditry.

David Cameron began by saying "In May 2010, this party stood on the threshold of power for the first time in more than a decade..." He adopted a sombre demeanour before explaining the potential problems we face in the future. Unlike Ed Milliband and Nick Clegg, he stood behind a lectern, adopting the statesman-like pose rather than the chatty leader. Like Ed Milliband and Nick Clegg, his choice of neckwear was a purple tie. Perhaps it's now the law for party leaders.

He invoked the spirit of his son Ivan, in an emotional reference to the Paralympics, leading on to a "one-flag" reference and a dig at SNP leader Alex Salmond. He called the audience to their feet for an ovation on behalf of the armed forces, which was the longest sustained applause until the end of his speech. When he claimed "this is the party of the NHS", the applause was much more limited. On a personal note, and as a gamesmaker myself, I'm not convinced that all of us felt we were demonstrating or representing the "Big Society" as David Cameron claimed.

His tone throughout was more management consultant than orator, which was probably deliberate. It was intended to show a steady hand on the tiller in rough seas rather than an inspirational vision of the future. He used "one nation" as part of an insult to Ed Milliband, saying "We don't talk about one nation but practice class war". However, he also said "they call us the party of the better-off...but we're the party of people who want to be better off" which was a mistake, in my view. Never remind people what opponents say about you. It was a technique he used several times: "They say cruel Tories...." "They say elitist Tories.." before gainsaying the statement.

The speech was littered with standard content-free phrases that are the stock-in-trade of all party leaders: "Let me put it like this..", "Let me tell you this...", "I say this to you.." As ever with party leader speeches, it was also short on jokes, but did include a moderate pun at Ed Milliband's expense: "Labour - the party of one notion - borrowing"

He returned to the home-owning vision of his hero, Margaret Thatcher, before addressing the issue of welfare reform: "Welfare isn't working and this is a tragedy". There were several references to that political favourite "hard-working families". He likened the government to "pushy parents" when he turned to education. He outlined his vision of "millions of children sent to independent schools in the state sector".

There was one great sound bite that summarised his speech, though it was almost a throwaway remark: "I'm not here to defend privilege, I'm here to spread it".

He delivered a rousing finale, which is the first time he really became animated: "This is still the greatest country on earth....hard work, strong families, taking responsibility, serving our best we are unbeatable.....there's nothing we can't do....Let us build an aspiration nation....Let us get out there and do it"

Overall, it was a speech to get the job done. It was strong on encouragement for party loyalists, full of praise for hard-working people, and included jibes at opponents. My assessment - seven out of ten.

Here's my review in video form:

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Speechwatch: Ed Miliband's speech at the Labour Party Conference, Manchester, October 2012

Ed Miliband needed to nail this one. He decided to take on the mantle of a former Tory Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, who became known as a "One Nation" Tory 140 years ago. Mr Miliband's theme was 'One Nation" Labour, in an attempt to position himself as the leader of a party that represents everyone (and by implication, not a party representing a particular class). The "elitism" of the other parties was a theme that was threaded through the speech, either explicitly or by implication. 

Like at a Jimmy Carr gig, the pre-speech visuals warmed up the audience and delivered generous applause. The video was like a minature Olympic opening cermony (images of the Olympics mandatory). His opening lines.. "It is great to be in Labour Manchester" were followed by a few comedic (or at least intended to be comedic) asides. He adopted a very conversational style, and told a story about his three-year-old son, Daniel on a  trip to the park. Daniel asked for "flying dinosaurs", and then hit a very poor punch line about "predators last year". By the way, his tie is the same colour as the one Nick Clegg wore last week. Is purple the new yellow and red?

He used the classic technique of the personal history; "My family hasn’t sat under the same oak tree for the last five hundred years. My parents came to Britain as immigrants, Jewish refugees from the Nazis."   He developed his theme; "I was born at my local NHS hospital, the same hospital where my two sons were born. And I went to my local school with people from all backgrounds". For a while, it was a bit like an episode of "Who do you think you are?".

Despite being "improvised", it was clear that much of his speech had been memorised. He overdid a few phrases, especially "but you know what?" and "that is who I am". Most of all, he repeatedly used the words "us", "we" "we the British people", and especially "one Nation". 

He used the "no notes" technique as a way of making an impression (actually, we professional speakers never use notes, but never mind). That meant no copies of his text for the assembled hacks, which appeared to make them pay close attention. As Channel 4's Jon Snow tweeted from the hall, it made reporters listen to what he said, rather than how he said it. There was no podium or lectern either - a good move in my view.

He had the alliterative slogan - "the forgotten fifty per cent who do not go to university" (with perhaps an implied criticism of former leader Tony Blair and his "fifty per cent to university" pledge).  He also had a lot of choreographed gestures; You (points at audience), Me (points to himself), This party (points to the floor). He delivered the tributes to the Olympic and Paralympic gamesmakers (thanks, Ed, that's me), the army and the police. He still has the political empty phrases "I say this" and "I tell you this", but so do many politicians these days.

There was a huge cheer for his criticism of Andrew Mitchell, followed by a jibe at the "born to rule" government, and a very good rising cadence of a list designed to evoke applause (what the speech expert Max Atkinson calls a "claptrap") - a clearly rehearsed sound bite. He followed it up with a few decent comic remarks. Never a comedian, but not bad for a politician. 

Rhetorically speaking, he was on form with "those with the broadest shoulders will always bear the greatest burden" and "We can't go back to old Labour....we must be the party as much of the private and the public sector....south just as much as much of the squeezed middle as those in poverty". Nice example of anaphora there. He had a good tricolon: "A one nation party, a one nation government to build a one nation Britain" and a neat example of chiasmus "we need banks that serve the country, not a country that serves its banks"

He focused on one of his most potent weapons - the National Health Service, and a great piece of call and response with the audience. It was Obama-like. His conclusion was a personal one "this is where I am, this is who I am, this is my faith". He told a story of his Polish roots, and said "Britain has given my family falls to us to re-build Britain". His final phrase: "One nation - a country for all with everyone playing their part, a Britain we re-build together"

His real task, of course, was to convince voters that he is a credible Prime Minister in waiting. He made no spending commitments. He announced no new policies. This was about Ed Miliband as himself. It was a clear pitch for the centre ground, and an attempt to marginalise the coalition government as unrepresentative. My assessment - his best speech so far as leader. Eight out of ten. 

Here's the summary in video:

Speakers: Tell them YOUR story

Storytelling is a great way to engage an audience, but you need to be careful about the stories you tell. I was reminded of this today when an email arrived from a client I've been coaching on speech construction and delivery. She recounted a visit to a political event last week when two speakers told the lighthouse story. A few years ago, I was working in the US with Stephen Covey, and he opened his speech with the lighthouse story too. In fact, I must have heard the story directly, or second hand hundreds of times.

There are a number of stories which fall into this category. They include:

1) The lighthouse story, where a night-time conversation between a US warship and another "vessel" builds up, with each asking the other to change course. It ends with the line "We're a lighthouse - your call"

2) The starfish story, where a man meets a boy throwing beached starfish back into the sea. He say "With so many starfish, how can you hope to make a difference?" The boy replies "It made a difference to that one". Even Barack Obama has been caught telling that yarn, attributing it (wrongly) to an original experience of Ed Kennedy.

3) The boiling frog story, where we're told that a frog placed in boiling water will jump out, but one placed in cold water that is then boiled will die, because it doesn't notice the change. Charles Handy used to tell that one many years ago.

There are many more - the three bricklayers, the shoe salesman in Africa, the lipstick on the mirror, etc, etc. They may have happened once, but they won't have happened to the storyteller. What's worse, they are used so often, they have lost their impact.

Professional speakers don't use these types of stories. They use their own, because they won't have been heard before, they are easy to tell, and they can still make a strong point, For example, I talk about founding a pirate radio station in 1967, playing a Glaswegian shopkeeper on Italian TV, and being the holder of an unbreakable TV Guinness world record. No-one else can tell those stories (and if they do, I will be after them).

So if you use stories in your speeches, as I hope you do, use your own. It's the professional thing to do.

Monday, October 01, 2012

On the panel tonight....

Panel debates often feature on broadcast news channels or may be set up to give audiences a chance to ask questions of politicians. If you find yourself on a panel, here are a few tips which may help: 

  • Find out who else is on the panel, and do some research on their opinions
  • Prepare a couple of stories that make your point
  • Never interrupt. Listen and plan your response
  • Lift your hand to indicate you wish to speak
  • Address your responses in general to the person chairing the debate.
  • If you speak directly to the audience, make it brief.
  • Never insult another panellist, or use abusive language
  • Respect the views of others. Don't react. Directors love reaction shots.
  • Stay calm, even if others become angry
  • Have a prepared and powerful statement to finish on
Finally, stick around after the debate to chat to the presenter (if they have time) or production team members. You could find that you are asked for a one-to-one interview.