.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

CommaKazi Speek

A blog (weblog) containing harsh realities, bitter truths and other reasons to smile

Monday, July 31, 2006

Avoid blogger “road rage”

[This is a post that I entered into a contest sponsored by Ted Demopoulos on his Blogging for Business site. I won a copy of the book, and am enjoying it immensely.]

I was listening to a podcast discussion about the heat that Dell was taking following the launch of its One2One blog, when I began to get frustrated with the driver in front of me. He was driving too slowly, and I was growing impatient, waiting for him to speed up. We finally reached a portion of roadway with a second lane, and when “Mr. Poky” didn’t immediately move to the right lane to let me pass, I gunned my Passat, swung into the right lane, and roared past him.

Of course, I had to shake my head at him and swerve in front of him as I passed. How else was he going to learn the consequences of inferior driving?

Well that sad example of road rage is also a cautionary tale for communicators participating in a blogging initiative within a company. As we are seeing with Dell’s critics, some people have a low tolerance for a person or company entering slowly onto the blogging highway.

It really reminds me of my run-in (fortunately not a run-into) with that slow driver. I’m comfortable handling my car, and I’ve been driving long enough to know when to be aggressive, and when to cruise along with the flow. It helped to grow up in Chicago, where you either learn how to drive, or resign yourself to using public transportation.

But what about the people who are just learning to drive—or blog? Should we honk our horns at them, or try to force them off of the road? If someone had done that to us, how many of us would have been dedicated enough to get over the learning curve without spinning out?

My advice to corporate communicators is to prepare their management to the reality of a medium that encourages transparency and conversation. They will read things that disturb them. They may be criticized as they try to find their individual voices while publishing their initial blog posts. Some “blogging expert” might even try to send them into the ditch.

Tell them to grip the wheel comfortably and keep their eyes on the road ahead—and don’t run out of gas.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Presenting: A Train Wreck


Just days after communications consultant Shel Holtz celebrated his earning the top rating as one of 73 breakout session speakers at the 2006 IABC International Conference, I received my evaluation. This comment from one of the attendees seemed to sum it up nicely:

Don’t ask him back next year.
To use a baseball analogy, if Shel's performance ranks him as the Detroit Tigers (the best in the league), mine would rank me with the Kansas City Royals (nowhere to go but up). I wish I could have compared myself to the Chicago Cubs--although they are perennial losers, some people consider them lovable. Unfortunately, my results were just plain ugly!

I actually can identify more with the major league debut of a Seattle Mariners player: infielder Ron Wright. Here's how San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Chris Jenkins described that first experience in the "big leagues":

Wright's mistake was just getting out of bed, let alone Tacoma, the Mariners' AAA locale. Indeed, we're talking about perhaps the worst major league debut of all time.

For the record, Wright struck out in his first major league at-bat, then hit into a triple play on his next at-bat. The tail end of the triple play came on Wright's ill-advised break for second base, where he was thrown out by the pitcher. "Hey, dude," Jenkins quoted second baseman Bret Boone as saying to Wright, "that was bad."

Things got better in Wright's third trip to the plate, when he "only hit into a 6-4-3 double play," Jenkins wrote. "For those keeping score, that's six outs in three at-bats. Gotta be some sort of record."

Well, records were meant to be broken, and I believe that my recent presentation has lowered the standard for a debut. Rather than sulk about it (I did that on the day that I received the evaluation), I prefer to believe the quote that "whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

So to make your presentations stronger and to let you benefit by NOT doing what I did, here are some thoughts to consider if you ever are asked to be a last-minute fill-in speaker at a major conference or event.

  1. Be sure that you understand the topic. I know that this sounds very basic, but consider my recent experience. About 3 1/2 weeks before the 2006 IABC International Conference, I received an email from an IABC staff member, asking me to serve as a fill-in. She mentioned a couple of communications professionals who "suggested I contact you, as you know the subject matter – managing change brought about by social media." I was flattered to be asked, and considered it a great opportunity. But I dismissed the fact that the heart of the presentation required experience with building online communities --experience that I didn't have.
  2. Make sure that you have enough time to prepare. Sure, we've all had experience with pulling all-nighters and weekenders to complete some rush project. I wasn't concerned about getting the IABC presentation done on-time--particularly when I emailed the original presenter, who was very willing to share his thoughts on what he planned to deliver. I'd just combine some of the original material with my own experiences. That way, no one would feel cheated, I reasoned--incorrectly. I spent too much time trying to weave together the unfamiliar material with my own thoughts. In fact, I was tweaking the presentation all the way up to the day it was to be delivered. That led to another big mistake:
  3. Don't ever, ever, ever read the slides. I knew this; I hate this when other presenters do it…yet I still read some of the slides. Why? Partly due to nerves, partly due to the lack of time to practice enough, and partly due to a lack of time to create presentation handouts. I wanted to emphasize some points, and since I couldn't assume that everyone in the audience could quickly spot and read the points on my slides, I started reading. As Jethro Tull sang in Locomotive Breath: "old Charlie stole the handle and the train won't stop going --no way to slow down." My trainwreck was underway!
  4. If you can't do justice to the original topic, try to adjust it to something you can discuss well. With the feedback from the original presenter, I felt that I could prepare a hybrid presentation that would go over as well as the new hybrid cars. The reality was that if hybrid cars had the same performance specs as my presentation, we would all soon be riding bicycles. I would have been better off speaking entirely on material I knew well--or declining the invitation to speak.
Good thing that I have this blogging thing to fall back on.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A (film) critic's view of blogging

Judy Gombita, Communications Manager at the Certified General Accountants of Ontario, spotted the following editorial letter written by Gavin Smith in Film Comment, published by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, New York. Because it relates to the roles of journalists (film critics, to be specific) and bloggers--the subject of my post: Is Our Role Changing?--Judy obtained permission of Gavin for me to reprint his letter.

Editor’s Letter
Film Comment
July/August 2006

Confession: the exuberant and ever-proliferating world of Internet blogs and websites sometimes scares me. Online publishing is faster, more immediate, more flexible, and sometimes more comprehensive and expansive than a bimonthly magazine can be. What’s more, online content is free of charge. By comparison, print publications are slow, limited in editorial space and reach, and costly to produce. At this point you’re all waiting for me to use the D-word—“dinosaur,” as in: extinct. But as tactile, physical objects, magazines will only be as obsolete as the radio, the postal service, matchbooks, shoelaces, wool, and ocean liners. If blogs are double-decker Airbus jets, print publications are ocean liners.

The Internet is transforming film criticism just as it is every other sphere of human activity. Today, writing on film is thriving and mutating beyond the wildest dreams of those who lived through the heyday of movie culture 30 years ago. Via the Web, voracious cinephiles can read daily or hourly updated report from bloggers attending film festivals near and far. By contrast, our Cannes coverage is appearing long after the dust has settled—over a month after the festival’s closing night.

Film Comment has been around for 40 years. Some feel its best years are behind it, others that it’s never been better. (One thing’s for sure: it’s never looked better.) If that makes us middle-aged, then online film culture is in its adolescence, with everything that implies: tremendous potential and obvious limitations. I tend to think that blogs are long on opinions and short on ideas and insights. The speech with which people can write and post is exciting, but isn’t conducive to more considered, reflective viewpoints. As exponents of the DIY philosophy, bloggers just like writers in other media, would nevertheless benefit from a little editing (but then, as an editor, I would say that, wouldn’t I?).

But if the hotbeds of online cinephilia are, to paraphrase Lester-Bangs, oftentimes a space where people who can’t write chase the attention of people who can’t read, they are also a vital training ground for developing writers. Talent will out. There’s no reason why today’s bloggers can’t be tomorrow’s professional film critics and journalists. (Some of them already are, sort of: Dave Poland and Harry Knowles may not possess the most scintillating critical minds, but apparently they have become indispensable.) Sure, some blogs are conduits for diaristic solipsism, trivial buzz, and endless smackdowns, but the best are about community building, engaged debate, and promoting a genuinely discursive approach to criticism—and the overall result is tremendous vitality. Moreover, as general-interest newspapers and magazines dumb down and ditch knowledgeable film critics in their quest for the next Anthony Lane, the online world has been and will continue to be a haven for migrating print writers who haven’t run out of things to say—as Dave Kehr’s thriving website attests.

In the end, apart from a devotion to cinema, the staff of this magazine and its contributors have one big thing in common with all of those bloggers and website creators out there: all of our publications are labors of love.

Gavin Smith

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Is Our Role Changing?

A recent podcast by Neville Hobson recorded thoughts of professional journalists who are grappling with the effects of social media. One of the thoughts raised actually can be extended to any professional communicator: What is our role in a changing world that now includes social media?

The professional journalists gathered on June 28 for a panel discussion on the topic, “The Future of Journalism - Ethics in Journalism,” organized by the Club of Amsterdam a self-described “independent, international, future-oriented think tank. ”

The first podcast recorded separate presentations by Neville and two journalists, all focused in some fashion toward ethics. But in addition to ethics, the three presenters spent a good deal of time discussing how social media is changing journalism, and how those changes will impact professional journalists, “amateur” communicators (including bloggers and podcasters) and the people who consume news and information (you know, the entire world).

Although I have a Journalism degree and some experience as a newspaper reporter, I would be considered an amateur journalist as a blogger, according to the first presenter, Milverton Wallace, founder/organizer of the European Online Journalism Awards. Wallace referred to all bloggers as “amateurs,” which can either be an accurate, or insulting, designation, depending on which of Merriam-Webster’s definitions is used:

one who engages in a pursuit, study, science, or sport as a pastime rather than as a profession
one lacking in experience and competence in an art or science

But Milverton did point out that “news” was published by “amateurs” long before the “profession” (he prefers the word, “craft”) of journalism was established. As everyone involved in communications continues to watch–and participate–in the changing world of “news gathering,” two things remain true:

  • People will continue to seek out sources of information who can prove themselves to be reliable and accurate.
  • Both bloggers and “professional” journalists will continue to be transmitters of information, and will find ways to monitor and evaluate the work of the other.

Why you'll never see the best "Office" promos

YouTube and the people behind the hit television show, The Office, launched a contest to let people create their own 20-second promos for the show. Selected entries will appear on YouTube.com and NBC.com, and the winners will air on NBC during The Office this summer.

I doubt that we'll see the best promos, unless the promo creators have either:

  • Super-understanding, cool bosses, or
  • Another job waiting.
When I heard about the YouTube contest, I immediately came up with an idea, and I knew that I had the perfect video footage to use. My idea was to use some hilarious footage that I shot during a company meeting. The person who led the meeting planned some team-building activities, and boy, did we have some doozies!

I knew that I could tape myself saying something, and then let the team-building video carry the promo to victory.

Then reality set in.

None of the people who participated in the team-building activities had given me permission to use their images outside of official company purposes. Some of the people had since left the company, and I didn't know how to contact them--even if I thought that I had the slimmest chance of their agreeing to be laughed at on national television.

If I thought that it would be hard to get buy-in from the people in the video, I knew it would be nearly impossible to get my management to see this as a positive for the company. Although I might be able to keep the company anonymous in my video credits, a simple Internet search would quickly reveal the name of my current employer.

I'm curious to see the winning promos in the YouTube contest. I look forward to reading where the creators wind up a year from now.