Top 5 Presentation Blunders

Just imagine your audience naked. Practice in front of the mirror. Don’t wear brand new shoes on presentation day.

Sound familiar? We’ve all heard our profs and bosses utter these classic bits of advice on public speaking. Even if they do have our best interests at heart, no gem of advice—or mirror or comfortable shoes—can prepare us for the unexpected. And the unexpected is bound to happen when it’s least convenient…say, in front of all the company’s VPs or during that six-figure project pitch.

Recently, I asked LinkedIn LinkingIndiana members about the worst presentation blunders they’d witnessed. We’ve all experienced some public speaking catastrophes, no matter which side of the mic we’re on. The stories that make us laugh or cringe (mostly cringe). We can use these stories to stay just ahead of the unexpected curve.

5. Was that supposed to be funny? Ken S. advised hiring a comedian to present the keynote address at a company’s formal awards banquet. Instead of letting everyone in on the joke, the company president made no mention of the jester’s real intent, leaving his audience wondering whether they should laugh or start implementing his bizarre business advice on Monday. Ken S. said the company spent the next week trying to explain the gaffe to 600 employees. The moral: Tell people who the speaker is. Don’t keep big surprises when you don’t need to.

4. Your presentation got me all choked up. Gilles D. remembered a highly competitive interview process when one job candidate took a big gulp from his mug, choked, and then showered the hiring panel’s thousand-dollar suits with a mouthful of coffee spray. After a stunned moment, the panel just asked the next candidate to begin, abandoning Mr. Coffee to leave without a word.The moral: Take only small sips. Drink only water. Better yet, don’t drink anything.

3. No hablo Maltese? Rebecca M. was new in her supervisor job when she went out on a limb to get approval for an expensive training video. During her first presentation of the video to the senior team, the lights dimmed, the screen flickered, and then…none of the actors spoke in English. Rebecca says the only valuable information her audience took from the presentation was a long chat about which language it was.The moral: Screen your video before you buy it. Screen it again before you show it.

2. Do as I say, not as I do. IT issues are the playground of Murphy’s Law when it comes to presentations, but maybe a faulty LCD connection would have benefited Tom A. He remembers setting up to do some training for internal regional staff when a file he’d left open on his laptop flashed clearly onto the screen. The document his colleagues saw was his recently updated résumé.The moral: Spend 30 minutes going over your computer and making it presentation-ready –- close everything, put desktop files into a folder.

1. Getting intimate with your audience. It may sound like the urban legend of the conference circuit, but the response from a number of LinkedIn witnesses brings truth to the stories. I’ll flesh this one out with three simple words: wireless mic, bathroom.The moral: Remove your mic before you head to the bathroom.

The lessons here are pretty clear: be prepared and always remember to remove your mic. The real benefit of these stories is the connection they’ve fostered among the two dozen LinkedIn users who’ve responded.

Thanks to an off-the-wall question, we now have something in common: we like to laugh at others’ misfortune.

Or more accurately, we like to laugh at our own more.

Many of us pointed the finger at our own personal presentation gaffes. What links us is a common experience, but not one that we’d be likely to find on each other’s résumés or professional histories. By asking an off-topic question, we open ourselves to new groups. We can make genuine connections and grow our network by going beyond the standard, expected inquiries.

This idea is something I’ll keep in mind next time I’m in front of a group—whether we’re live and in person at that conference hall or swimming in a sea of social network profiles.

Anybody out there know how to break in a pair of new shoes before my presentation on Friday?

Why Corporations Shouldn’t Moderate Their Blog Comments

One of the biggest concerns we hear about from corporations is “if we have a blog, people will be allowed to comment, and they could say bad things about us.”

Exactly. That’s what you want.

This concern, more than anything, seems to keep the corporate lawyers up at night, and is the number one reason why blogs and social media ventures are killed before they ever start. (Don’t worry, I won’t turn this into a rant on why lawyers shouldn’t be allowed to make marketing decisions. But they shouldn’t. Ever.)

Mitch Joel said in his blog, Six Pixels of Separation:

Most company Blogs blow because companies understand only one-way dialogue (from their mouths to our ears). The companies that are great at it (and the good folks over at the The Blog Council were kind enough to point some of them out over here: Here are a few trustworthy corporate blogs) are the ones that understand the new two-way dialogue or, as Clay Shirky (author of Here Comes Everybody) calls it, the “group expression.”


Basically, if you don’t want your blog to blow, you want that two-way conversation with people. You get that by allowing comments on your blog, and never, ever moderating them, including the negative stuff. You want people to air their complaints, express their frustrations, and say why they disagree with stuff you do. If you block comments, you come off looking bad.

(NOTE: It’s important to point out that negative comments do not include abusive, vulgar, mean, racist, sexist, or derogatory comments. You can get rid of those all you want.)

1. It lets you deal with customer service problems. If someone is unhappy with your product or service, you want them to air that complaint on your website, because it lets you fix the problem publicly. People who visit your site and see the complaint get to see what you did to fix it. You look like a caring company, and it improves your standing in future customers’ eyes.

2. It reduces the number of comments made in other places. Most people only have so much time and energy to devote to a complaint. They’ll post a few comments in different places before moving on to the rest of their day. Make sure one of those comments is your site, not another site you didn’t discover. Then, you get to fix the problem, as per #1

Comcast was so opposed to allowing customers to interact with them that NPR radio host Bob Garfield created ComcastMustDie.com, an angry blog and website that let customers post all sorts of complaints about the cable giant. It wasn’t until thousands of people piled on complaints and the site got all sorts of media attention, that Comcast finally realized they had a problem. If only they had started a blog and fixed a problem (as in item 1), Garfield would never have gotten so angry that he started his own anti-Comcast movement.

3. It encourages conversation with your customers and fans. Social media is no longer about the broadcast one-to-many model of communication. It’s a two-way conversation. I’ve had several conversations with customer service people in my day-to-day dealings with other people. The companies I liked best were the ones whose customer service people had conversations with me. The ones I didn’t were the ones who tried to avoid speaking with their customers at all.

4. It humanizes the corporation. Right now, corporations are often seen as faceless automatons or inflexible martinets who won’t post directions to the bathroom without a ten-page review from Legal. But a blog with comments will make your company seem like real people. Remember, people buy from people they like. They get angry with people they can’t talk to. Do you want people to buy from you or be angry with you? If they’re angry with you, you could be on the wrong end of someone like Bob Garfield.

5. If you don’t, you could get hit by the Streisand Effect. That’s what happens when you censor or remove information, and it gets widely publicized. The Church of Scientology saw it happen when a leaked Tom Cruise video hit the Internet. The first sites were threatened by the church to remove it or else, but other sites already had it in place. Soon, hundreds and thousands of sites were showing the video. Too many for the church to keep up with, so they gave up, after giving it more traction than the video ever would have gotten on its own. The moral is: if you censor blogs or moderate or edit comments of people who disagree with you, you’ll end up creating a bigger monster.

If you want to make your blog work for you, enable your comments. If you want to be seen as yet-another uncaring, unfeeling, faceless corporation whose latest problems will be revealed at YourCompanyMustDie.com, by all means shut off your comments.

Your customers will still be talking about you. You just won’t know about it.

Hey, Social Media Experts – Get a JOB

There are a lot of people betting their careers on social media. They’re granting themselves fancy titles like social media expert, social marketing gurus, or social media optimizers. SMEs and SMOs. Here’s some stark advice to most of these so-called experts.

Give up while you can.

I’m not trying to be a jerk or to get rid of the competition. I’m pointing out a reality. The career choice of most social media experts is going to be short-lived. Why? because, there’s only so much they can contribute.

Let Me Explain

Anything that you can know well enough to be an expert at in 1,000 hours or less is simply not worth pursuing as a career. For those counting, that’s the equivalent of about one year of school. That’s not very deep. In fact, most of the intern level people I interview have at least 2,000 hours of MySpace, Facebook and LinkedIn experience under their belt just from being in school and looking for a job. That makes most recent high school graduates bona fide social media experts (not like this guy).

Would you entrust your corporate social media campaign to an 18-year-old? Didn’t think so.

You Can’t Hire the Real Thought Leaders

For those looking at social media in a PR, marketing or brand monitoring role, here’s some advice: look for people who can get things done, and shy away from “thought leaders.” Why? Because the self-proclaimed social media experts are not the real thought leaders. The real thought leaders in social media have names like Mark Zuckerberg (creator of Facebook), Evan Williams (founder of Blogger and Twitter), and Reid Hoffman (of LinkedIn fame).

With all due respect to our local social media experts (including us), guys like Evan Williams clearly are not the ones that are showing up, hat in hand, to sell you that blogging boot camp or the “how to use” LinkedIn consulting. They’re a little busy changing the world at the moment. If a person calls themselves a thought leader, they either really are, or they have a lot of time on their hands to do lots of thinking and not a lot of working.

Here’s the second issue with most SMEs: They know enough to be able to help the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker. They generally can help small business find local customers on Twitter and even set up effective profiles on Facebook or LinkedIn. But that’s about it.

But larger corporations need to move beyond the local push. They need to reach people in their industry or demographic profile. They need to be able to measure the ROI of their efforts. They need to know immediately when one tweak or tiny misstep could result in a half-point shift in their market share, because that could translate into millions of dollars.

Your run-of-the-mill SME doesn’t have the skills, tools, or wherewithal to handle that. PR professionals and marketing companies with a part-time social media intern aren’t going to be able to turn on a dime like that.

There’s a lot more to social media than setting up a couple of profiles, tossing up a blog, and twittering. You need to strategize, develop an entire campaign, and then be able to measure the results. (Hey, even TV advertising and PR can’t adequately measure their results.)

Work With a Team Instead of a Talking Head

If you should shy away from the SMEs, then who should you trust? Social media agencies. Why? Because most social media agencies have been busy working instead of talking. Nothing is new to them (blogs have been around since the 90s, MySpace started in 2000). They’re not distracted by the latest shiny object or hopping on the latest craze. And they’re able to pull from an entire staff of experts, not just whatever they read on Search Engine Watch last week.

Most of us agency types see social media for what it is: a lot of work, that, if done right, has a high return on investment. We see it as a component of a larger program, be it advertising, public relations, marketing, or even creating shifts in public opinion. And we’ve got years of experience in advertising, public relations, marketing, and creating shifts in public opinion.

The question corporations should be asking of your social media partner is simple: “Can you get us where we need to go?”

That means a lot more than, “Can you create a YouNoodle profile for my new startup?” (And if they say, “huh?”, you don’t want them anyway).

It means, “Have you ever run an online grass roots campaign before?”

It means, “Do you know how to build a reader base for my blog?”

It means, “Do you actually have a clue about marketing, sales and PR that extends beyond Twitter?”

It also means, “Do you have the right capabilities to help us get this done?” More often than not, that last question is the show stopper for SMEs. Social media is a lot of work and often is too much work for a do-it-yourself approach, especially if they have more than one client. Because this job is more than just “First, you need a Facebook page.” And if that’s all an SME is telling you, run away. Very fast.

In short, many social media initiatives fail because they’re a lot more work than anyone expected. Especially the expert.

So if you’re one of those newly-minted SMEs, ask yourself: do you have the knowledge, experience, and tools to create a professional campaign that meets your client’s expectations? Are you willing to put in the hours and hours beyond a Twitter profile? Or are you going to risk your client’s money and your professional reputation to find out the hard way that you can’t?

Social Media: What You Say Matters

Be Careful What You Tweet
Be Careful What You Tweet

Be Careful What You Tweet

It’s interesting how many people think that what they say in the big conversation either is or should be exempt from consideration when big decisions are being made – like the decision to hire you or contract your firm. Setting aside politics for a moment, simple emotional outbursts like this have great impact:

Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work.

To see what happened to this poor twitterer, there’s more to the story here: How to Tweet Your Way Out of a Job « I’m Not Actually a Geek

Or take what happened to this poor FedEx employee from Ketchum who decided to trash Memphis on Twitter when he got to town. This poor guy got crucified and he didn’t even say the word Memphis:

True confession but I’m in one of those towns where I scratch my head and say “I would die if I had to live here!”

The result was everyone in this poor guy’s chain of command was told about the incident and how little they appreciated it. (there’s so much more to the story – Be Careful What You Post)

So, if people are that fickle about fairly harmless statements, what happens when you say something a little more emotionally charged?  Ask this 19-year-old resident of Athens Tennessee who found himself charged with inciting to riot for an emotional outburst on MySpace (Top Stories: MySpace.Com Death Threats – www.newschannel9.com).

The moral of the story is that you have to remember that no matter if it’s Facebook, Twitter, MySpace or a local Ning group that what you say is recorded forever and very public. That freedom of speech thing does not protect others from using what you say to make decisions, especially the ones that affect you personally the most.

But Won’t That Damage My Social Graph?

Go to search.twitter.com and run a search for phrases like “social media guru” or “social media expert.”

I expect the majority of tweets you find will be tongue-in-cheek mockeries of people that lay claim to these titles. It has become a cliche, a joke, a new stereotype. Why? Because the industry has been inundated with supposed gurus and experts with about as much expertise as my grandmother, and people are lashing back. They’re tired of being spammed with e-book advertisements or so-called experts who don’t know the difference between podcasts and peapods.

And what are most of these supposed experts and gurus telling you? That you have to connect with the “right” people or you’ll damage your social graph. This is either code for “I’m not following many people on Twitter, here’s a reason for that” or they really don’t realize that who’s following you has little impact on your supposed “cred.”

It’s Hard to Damage a Social Graph

Unless you’re trying to portray yourself as an elite A-Lister, following a large number of people is rarely a detriment. In fact, the people that have been most successful, like Guy Kawaski, have also been the most open to meeting and connecting with new people. The others, with tens of thousands of followers, and only a few dozen they follow? Some might call them elitist snobs who are more interested in growing fans than actually being a social media practitioner.

The other argument is that if you make an effort to connect with the right people, you’ll grow faster because you’ll be more trusted or have more “cred.” The question then becomes, well, who are the right people? Paying customers? Or other “social media gurus?” (And frankly, you can’t swing a dead cat on Twitter without hitting three social media experts.)

But, It Can Be Done

Connecting with people isn’t going to damage your social graph. To do that, you’ll need to spam, spout offensive remarks or, the ultimate death sentence, lose your sense of humor.

Is Twitter Overrated?

Twitter isn’t in the Oxford English Dictionary yet, but more than 4 million people have added it to their vocabularies and use its 140 character posts to answer the question “What are you doing?”

Inventing new words may be part of the game with Twitter, as people have adopted a whole new language. Twitter people are Tweeple. A Twitter meetup is a Tweetup. And on and on.

InTwigued? To put Twitter’s 4 million users in perspective, when Facebook was getting similar attention, its ranks numbered 24 million. So is Twitter overrated or as valuable as its fans claim? And will it be around long enough to make it worth our time?

Time is one feature that Twitter boasts. It offers users real time connection, an instant, short glimpse into all the moments between emails and blog posts. Friends could find these momentary updates useful when we’re looking to join the party or running late for lunch, and businesses are beginning to employ Twitter marketing to announce short-term specials, like the deal of the day. Twitter even scooped more traditional media with first news and instant updates of recent earthquakes, rocket attacks, and plane crashes. We all hope catastrophes are few are far between. So do the many people or businesses who have news that’s noteworthy enough to fill the moments between blog posts and e-blasts.

For many, Twitter is truly like a micro-blog, like using only the status section of Facebook. Fans say this feature inspires conversation and connections. It can also provide the curious spark that drives “followers” to blog posts, Facebook pages, and more in-depth web presences. When Barack Obama used Twitter during his presidential campaign, some argued that his tweets got followers to visit more than just web sites. Either way, the voters visited the polls.

And while Twitter users may number just a fraction of other online social networks’ crowds, Facebook did float a $500 million stock offer to bring Twitter into its realm. That’s 500 million reasons that Facebook thinks Twitter will stay and grow.

Several Twitterers we know admit to feeling like they were in their own foggy Twitter bubble (Twubble?) when they first joined the network. John H. suggested new users should be warned with a disclaimer, something like, “Warning: During your first 30 days of using Twitter, you will have no idea what the heck is going on. Only after 30 days will you begin to understand its value.”

Several other users confessed to giving up within those first 30 days after tiring of the useless updates and the time wasted. It seems most of us are Twittering and following tweets to be part of the experiment, to learn to tailor the Twitterers we follow to accomplish our own information goals and to enjoy the simplicity of short, quick updates.

So is Twitter overrated? Our opinion is no, it’s got nowhere to go but up. But maybe you think differently. Is Twitter is an endangered species under the pressure of larger social networks? Leave your comments (even with more than 140 characters).

Twenty Common Blogging Mistakes

New corporate and small business bloggers have a steep learning curve. But it’s not the technology that’s the problem. It’s the etiquette, best practices, and even what you write about that can cause your blog to fail. Here are 20 common blogging mistakes that most bloggers make. Avoid these, and you’ll be ahead of most bloggers out in the blogosphere.

1. Assuming Blogging is a Technology Problem
Despite your IT guy and hosted service vendor’s assurance, blogging is not a technology problem. It’s a human problem that requires time, talent and experience. All the amazing software and automation in the world will not fix the fact that your staff may not have the time, ability or motivation to keep the blog going.

2. Arrogant Personal Stories
People really don’t want to read about how great your new Ferarri is. If you want to get something online about how cool you are, remember it’s not cool to do it yourself. Here’s what the internet does to people that like to brag too much.

3. Starching blog posts
Most corporate communications are written in the third person using passive voice. Most of the time these blogs are written avoiding the words “you”, “we”, and “I”. It’s boring, dry and impersonal and people have a hard time understanding these posts. Blog articles are supposed to be less formal, and much more engaging. Don’t starch and press blog posts, unless you want another boring business blog.

4. Hiring a cheap ghostwriter for $10 per post
If you haven’t figured it out, $10 turns into $5 for overhead and $5 for the writer. Not many American English writers can survive on $2.50 per hour. So, the options are badly written articles, plagiarism or copyright infringement.

5. Not Promoting Your Blog
You really want hit a grand slam in front of empty stands, don’t you? Probably not. If you don’t promote your blog, even the search engines will ignore it.

6. Silencing Your Critics
If you have never heard of the Streisand Effect, click here. When you silence your critics by removing their comments, thousands of people will be told about it. And those people in turn will tell thousands more that you are a bully and censor. And that might even make the news.

7. Launching Lawyers at Bloggers
I know, you really don’t like the article that accused your company of willfully poisoning the water. It really got under your skin when someone pointed out you could buy your product on the grey market for half-price. Your lawyer says he can make it stop. The problem is, when you attack a blogger legally you risk getting drug through the mud even worse than you did before. Here is what happens when lawyers try to attack bloggers. And here. It’s the Streisand Effect, but now with 67% more sharks!

8. Don’t Tell Anyone You Have a LinkedIn Profile
If a blog is your portfolio, LinkedIn is your résumé. Make sure people know how to find you, whether it’s a potential employer, client, or former colleague. Tie your blog to your LinkedIn profile, and vice versa. Use a widget like Lijit to put on your blog sidebar to point to your different profiles.

9. Don’t Put Your Photo on Your Blog and Social Media Profile
If you want to be a credible source and the face of your field or industry, put your photo on your blog and other social networks. This lets people know what you look like, you’ll be easily recognizable, and it’s a chance to develop your personal brand. If you want to be a boring, anonymous writer who fails to capture interest, don’t.

10. Don’t Tell Twitter You Have a New Blog Post
If you build it, they’ll come. (No they won’t.) If you tell one person, they’ll tell two people and they’ll tell two people (No, they won’t.) Because everyone will instantly recognize your genius, and they’ll call you the next blogging genius. (No. They. Won’t.). It’s really simple: 1) Get a Twitter profile. 2) Follow people who share your interests or are local. 3) Automatically feed your blog to Twitter.

11. Don’t Allow/Have Comments, or Just Ignore Them
Here’s a great way to kill your blog: Don’t allow comments on a controversial blog post, don’t have them in the first place, or ignore them completely. Comments are a big source of link juice for the search engines, so if you don’t have them, your blog is nothing more than a flier on a rarely-used elevator.

12. Failing to Link to Other Blogs
More links = more link juice = higher search engine rankings. No links = no link juice = Google relegating you to the 10th page (hint: nobody visits the 10th page). Your blog is there to help you communicate with your customers, but to help with your search engine rankings too.

13. Ignoring Your Blog
You can’t just set it up and forget about it. You need to post at least once a week, but 2 – 3 times a week is better, and daily is best. If you can’t get to it more than once a week, you’re better off not having one.

14. Assuming Blogging is a Marketing Problem
Marketing should be in charge of the blog, but they shouldn’t have sole control the content, otherwise it just gets boring and turns into nothing but product promotion. Plus they say things like “we cultivate out-of-the-box infomediaries“, and we don’t want that. If your blog is about technical issues, work with the subject matter experts. If it’s about the inner workings of the company, talk to operations. The marketing people can turn the jargon into everyday language, but don’t let them communicate impactful synergies turn it into marketing-speak either.

15. Making Your Blog Fully Personal or Commercial
If you have nothing but personal posts, you have a diary. While there are some successful diary bloggers, they don’t sell anything. If you have nothing but commercial posts, you have a splog. There aren’t any successful spam sites, because people hate them, and they really don’t sell anything. If you’re going to sell something, provide knowledge about the product. If you’re a house painter, teach people how to paint a house. If you’re a marketing agency, tell people how to do marketing. Your reader will see you know how to do your job and hire you.

16. Disrespecting Your Readers
Surprisingly, corporate or business bloggers are typically less web-savvy than their readers. They’ve usually been recruited to share their thoughts on the blog but don’t really understand the various ways the posts will be read. The result? A painfully text heavy site, sparse or silly use of images and an RSS feed that is either truncated randomly or formatted incorrectly. Respect your readers by learning about online content structuring and management.

17. Letting Your Rear End Talk Too Much
Some bloggers seem to think every post must contain a big promise, hyperbolic phrasing, and earth shattering stats to engage the reader and get subscribers. With this premise, they can’t help but create blathering posts that underwhelm. Readers want relevant information, not hype, not promises, not made-up-on-the-spot stats. Do your research and know what is relevant to your readers.

18. Turning Into a Professor
A professor stands in front of a class and lectures on and on. What’s more, they like to use the buzzwords they found in their favorite academic journal. Blogging like this is the equivalent of showing up at a conference with a tuxedo or evening gown and addressing everyone from the stage, mic in hand. Blogging works best when you speak to one person at a time, in a conversational style, and use short, everyday words.

19. Being Too Keyword Obvious
Blogs should contain keywords. They should not be riddled with them. This post is about blogging mistakes, so we used the keywords “blogging” and “mistakes” in the headline, the first part of the text, and a few times throughout the post. We didn’t say “Read this blogging mistakes report on blogging mistakes to learn to avoid blogging mistakes.” (That one didn’t count.)

20. Being an Idealistic Ida or a Negative Nancy
The venom you have for the world around you influences the words you write. If you’re easily irritated by the masses who aren’t in lock-step with your mantras, corporate blogging probably isn’t for you (personal blogs, on the other hand, are wide open). If you think everyone could just get along if they all held a puppy and heard the laughter of a child, it’s not for you either. It’s okay to have ideals, and it’s okay to be irritated once in a while. But if this is the entire point of your blog, you’re either going to run out of steam or of readers. Or both.