Friday, November 28, 2008


Now there's an abbreviation that is useful. TMI - Too Much Information. It's handy to drop into a conversation when one of your dinner guests starts banging on about their most recent surgical procedure. It's also very useful when talking to your web designer. The last thing you want on your web page is TMI.

For example, I was viewing a website for a dentist the other day (no, I'm fine, it was a chap who was following me on Twitter). On the front page, before my very eyes, were two large pictures of infected teeth. That's not what I wanted to see. Smiling "after" pictures and "no pain" testimonials were what I as looking for - TMI!

Don't frighten your site visitors with TMI. Show people the solutions to their problems, not the mess they are currently in. Keep it brief, concise and relevant. At all costs, avoid TMI. Here's my idea of a site with the right amount of information on (warning - it starts with a song)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Mubai attacks first reported on Twitter and Flickr

As I write this, I'm viewing pictures and reading reports of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India. But these images and reports are not on "traditional" news websites. The pictures are on, and the reports on

In fact the latter micro-blogging service, which I often mention and use a lot, was probably the first medium to break the news of the attacks. The world of news is changing, and the phenomenon of "citizen journalism" is becoming significant, particularly in the area of "breaking news". Sites such as NowPublic and GroundReport are often ahead of the mainstream news media. However, in my opinion, the professional reporters and editors score heavily (and probably always will) in terms of detailed reports, verification and analysis.

The great thing about citizen journalism is its immediacy and lack of censorship. The drawback is the lack of verification. But there is one more factor. The police in India apparently asked Twitter to block their service, since the terrorists also have access to the twittered information. That's where things get tricky.

What's your view? Is citizen journalism a good thing?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The 7% myth

It's funny how some untruths become widely accepted as true. The oft-quoted statistic "Only 7% of our communication is conveyed by words (38% tone of voice, 55% body language)" appears in many textbooks, and is quoted by speakers and "communication experts" as though it were not only true, but proven.

In fact, it is a huge misinterpretation of an experiment carried out many years ago by Albert Mehrabian, when he studied feelings and attitudes when people make a judgement about liking or disliking someone. Mehrabian himself has stated that he never intended his results to be applied to conversation (and definitely not to public speaking).

Yet the myth has been propagated far and wide, by people who should have checked what Mehrabian really did. (I'm sure you were never fooled, of course).

Alas, I have debated many times with people who believe that the 7-38-55 rule can be applied to almost any communication, completely ignoring the evidence of their senses, let alone the origin of the figures. I have had several on-stage debates with NLP practitioners, who have professed "it must be true - it's in our textbooks".

Of course, tone of voice and body language are important, as is congruence between verbal and non-verbal communication. But please, let's not propagate this 7% myth any further

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Get a (Second) Life..

For some time now, I've been encouraged by a pal on another social network to "join my community in Second Life". I've never had much interest in that kind of online community, but I thought I'd take a look, so a few months ago, I signed up. To begin with, I had to select a funny name, since only a limited range of surnames was on offer. All of the common names were gone, so I ended up as "AlanL Svenska", which is as close as I could get to reality (little did I know how true that thought would become).

After downloading the software, there was a bit of a learning curve. Apparently you can "fly" and "teleport" if you know how to do it. I found walking in a straight line a bit if a challenge (no change there, then).

I did eventually find the community I'd been invited to join, on a virtual island. Somewhat to my surprise, some of the people I knew in real life had decided to manifest in a different gender in this virtual world. I didn't ask. Each to their own. Suffice it to say, that, like the reporter from the News of the World, I made an excuse and left, and haven't been back.

I was reminded of this when I read about a woman who is divorcing her husband for "virtual infidelity" with a cartoon character (sorry, avatar) in Second Life. Yesterday, I read that Reuters news agency are "recalling" their reporters from Second Life since "it no longer fits our communication strategy". However, some large businesses remain in the cyberspace world.

I'm an early adopter - I love Twitter, Qype, SocialMedian, and all that stuff. But am I missing something? Is there anyone who finds SL useful for business? Frankly, I'm baffled by it.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Advice to storytellers - avoid penguins

The best presenters are often good storytellers. There's nothing that people like better than a good yarn well told, provided it has some relevance to them. Think carefully about how you can use stories to illustrate a point, or demonstrate a technique. If possible, find an image that goes with the story to provide some visual interest.

When you are deciding what stories to tell, you might try following my storytelling rules.

1. Tell your own stories
2. Don't tell other people's stories
3. See rule 1

OK, it may be just about acceptable to tell one second-hand yarn in your speech. If you do, make sure that you make it clear whose story it is, where you heard it, and who told you. And then think if you have a better story. I bet you do, if you think hard enough.

And don't overdo the images to illustrate your story. I once attended a presentation by a well-known adventurer. He illustrated his talk with pictures of his latest trek though the snowy wastes around the South Pole. As about the thirtieth slide hit the screen, there was a groan from the back of the room, and a voice called out "Not another bloody penguin".

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

How to become a Professional Speaker

I'm appearing on a teleseminar this evening (Weds 19th November, 8pm UK time), organised by Bernadette Martin.

This is one of a series of teleseminars, and if you haven't listened to one in the series so far, this one is free.

I'll be talking about my journey through professional speaking, from starting out to reaching the Presidency of the Professional Speakers Association. I'll give you my best advice about how you can make it a great career. You even get a free ebook from me - 10 steps to the perfect speech. How good is that?

Drop an email to register to

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I know my rights!

When you do a media interview, you have certain rights that are not always mentioned to you in the rush to put you on air. All broadcasters will give you the right to know:

* the programme title and timing
* the style and approach of the show
* whether the interview is pre-recorded or live
* whether there are other interviewees
* what precedes your interview
* how you will be introduced
* the first question (sometimes there is no time to establish this)
* the length of your interview

You will also have the right of reply to correct any factual errors, even after transmission.

However, there are some things that you do not have the right to do, such as:

* decide where you appear in the running order
* reject anyone from a panel discussion
* receive a list of questions in advance
* specify topics that are not to be discussed (unless there are legal issues)
* give approval to, or reject the interview before it is transmitted

Make sure that you know the rules of the media game before you step into the studio.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A speech is a two-way thing

A speech should never be a monologue. Leave those to actors and poets. Although you do most of the talking (unless you have a serious heckler), you still get feedback in the form of expressions, body language, laughter and applause. You need to be responsive to the signs. In order to do that, you need to watch your audience, not bury your head in your script.

Your audience does not want you to talk at them. They don't want you to talk to them. They want you to talk with them. This reinforces the sense that you and your audience are "in this together", on the same side. A speaker that ignores the response of an audience can appear confrontational, while one who appears not to notice an audience at all can appear distant. Neither of these approaches will help you to deliver your message.

The way that you make eye contact, the way you gesture towards your audience and the way you move around the stage can all have a significant effect on how you are perceived. Stand-up comedians will alter their act, bringing forward their best material from the end of their performance if they aren't getting laughs. You also need to be prepared to adapt if the audience are not in tune with what you are saying. For example, if many members of the audience look puzzled, you may need to go back a few steps and explain yourself in more detail. On the other hand, if they look bored, you may need to pick up the pace.

It's a conversation.

Sunday, November 02, 2008