Saturday, October 31, 2009

Intimacy: The New (Technical) Frontier

At the Tuttle Club yesterday, I had a rather inspiring conversation with FJ van Wingerde. For those of you who don't know FJ, his thinking is wonderfully, productively disruptive. His comments are also right to the point.

We talked about the mobile industry -- as well as (conversationally) ubiquitous social media (so how could we avoid it, really?). Here's the interesting part.

My feeling has been since the early mid-90s that what technology has to aim for is intimacy. As FJ said, we can call it "personalization", but it's personalization for the purpose of intimacy. FJ also noted that at a large entertainment company, he worked with others on finding ways to make mechanical devices (such as phones) into characters for the sake of creating relationships with users. Second Life does this with avatars. And games like WOW do it with communities.

As a theater person, I think we're missing the performance aspects of the Web and mobile -- after all, every medium should be explored to its unique full potential. Those in advertising talk about "engagement", but is it engagement we're after for its own sake?

OK, the overall goal is roi (usually for businesses) or repeated use (for geeks who just love getting things right). But before we get to the end, let's really break down the the path we're using to get there.

The bottom line is: when it is with the aim of creating intimacy that we go for expanding the possibilities of theatricality, engagement, or any other web-possible activity. That's how you hook consumers. That's how you create a relationship between a mechanical device and a human being.

FJ noted that people probably won't feel comfortable with word "intimacy" in a working environment. He's not wrong -- "intimacy" in work always implies sexuality.

But take the sex out, and remember that the reason people hate spam with their name at the top is the note's inappropriate intimacy. What else can you call it?


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

One more piece published . . . .

You will probably recognise a lot of this material if you follow this blog, but here you go: Enterprise Nation just published my article on presentations.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Article on mSearchGroove: How to Sell Investors

Peggy Saltz has put a small piece of mine on mSearchGroove, a publication dedicated to mobile.

Here's the link to the article on presentation skills.

Let me know if it's anything I haven't said here yet-- happy to elaborate.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

A Little Meisner for a Grey Wednesday

Reviewing Sandy Meisner and his performance technique is a pleasure. One of his tenets: the foundation of acting is the reality of doing.

"Acting" here is taking all the walls away from being yourself in front of other people.

OK, it sounds obvious -- and simple. But how many people do you know who are great presenters? Here's a little more that will demonstrate the connection I'm making between professional performers and business people trying hook an audience at a conference.

Meisner says,

" . . in most professions, every practitioner uses the same tools and techniques, while the actor's chief instrument is himself. And since no two persons are alike, no universal rule is applicable to any two actors in exactly the same way." (Sanford Meisner's On Acting)

This is as true when presenting information that you've written as when it's material a playwright has concocted.

What exactly does it mean to be "yourself"? In front of people?

You either do what you're doing (eg explain -- really -- "the reality of doing") or you play AT it. Who cares what the content is? You're genuinely talking TO listeners (or talk AT them). As we all know from sitting through presentations, the second ends up being very dull.

Both are characters purpose-built -- but one is much more effective than another.

I have a nice example of Lloyd Davis in the reality of doing. He plays a great ukulele, too.

Friday, October 02, 2009

BizSpark and SeedCamp

As I've mentioned, I was asked to coach teams for investor pitches at both SeedCamp London and at Microsoft's BizSpark. Very exciting, both. And everyone has been kind in their feedback.

The results were very different for each set of teams. And the adjustments one inevitably makes due to space and time allotments made everyone rise to the challenge.


At SeedCamp, I worked with a content expert.

The room was an auditorium. The teams were given five minutes to present, and then mentors were given five minutes to give feedback. I hardly heard what was said. My responses was focused on how the material was presented physically and the resulting engagement (or lack thereof) with the audience.

The space was ample for performers to practice. Perhaps equally important, the auditorium was where they would later pitch for investors -- for real.

Teams pitched and were given feedback by us in front of all their competitors. This is a different reaction than I've got in more academic classes, and I was both pleased and surprised.

I was told that feedback for one team often helped prepare the next, and everyone was to have been in a room of critical voices. It was a pretty exciting experience.


This was the first year of BizSpark, and the events' full, high-calibre schedule made it impossible to practice in the room in which teams would perform.

So instead, we were put in a room usually used for meetings. The table was pushed back, there was enough room for teams to move around as they would in the auditorium. They showed their slides on their lap tops.

An odd thing happened with the energy in the room that didn't happen at SeedCamp. Because the laptops took so long to get ready, and because the space was temporary, teams seemed both more relaxed (it was an ad hoc space) and more nervous (it was an ad hoc space -- so what was the relationship to the one in which they'd pitch?).

A good thing -- at BizSpark, I had each team one-on-one for fifteen minutes, and we worked on 3 minute presentations rather than 5. This works very well for students who would like to articulate their anxieties and concerns. It would be impossible in a room full of competitors.

The work wasn't less effective than at SeedCamp, but it was very different. The changes from rehearsal to final performance were different, too -- at SeedCamp, those with challenges seemed to struggle more with content in their final pitch. At BizSpark, teams were thrown off a little by the space change. So any awkwardness was with how to move and where to look.

And So . . . .

I've got nothing but happy feedback, and it will all go up on the Stradbroke site in about a month when our webmistress returns.

However, I've learned a few things about making an environment friendlier, and that's a good thing.

And, contrary to my expectations, one-on-one teams could use more time with me than those in front of large groups. The latter expect to be thrown in the deep end and prepare as the last group is finishing. The former are not exactly sure how to settle into the space immediately. It takes a little more to make them feel comfortable.

That's the great thing about collaborating -- you never know what's going to happen. And you always have to stay on your toes.