Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Legal Expertise on Open Source Licensing - and It's Free.

I work with Dan Glazer on the Coming To America Mini-Accelerator helping UK companies expand to the US.

The day is free of charge and requires no equity from participants.  Instead, it "accelerates" companies' progress in that we walked them through the visa process (new programme for entrepreneurs!) with the people who actually issue the visas to the US, gave them an hour with me to hone a 30-second pitch for the market, highlighted legal minefields others have walked into, and gave ideas on access to finance.

I don't usually work with Service Providers: my experience has been that they want to take from high- growth companies far exceeds the value they offer.  Although marketing and new client acquisition is always part of the thinking in any business, with Dan at Fried Frank, they have been giving at least as much to the London ecology as they have been getting.

I met Dan when I was thrown together with him and his Firm during the last UKTI Digital Mission to New York which they sponsored.  The lawyers participated in the pitching sessions and were genuinely concerned with the companies' successes.  So much so that Dan enthusiastically came up with one of the tag lines that one company still uses to represent itself.  It's hard not to like Dan.

Here's some more free information on legal issues to look out for, in the event that you're working with Open Source systems, or considering it.  This goes for large and small companies -- the issues are the same and can get quite complex.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Thank You for the Shout-Out, BBC Worldwide Labs: And Congratulations!

Had a great time with you all at the Labs, as I said in an earlier post about the BBC Worldwide's model for entrepreneur success.

For those who aren't familiar with the model, check out the kind BBC blog post

Hope to see you again soon and hear about which teams succeeded in working with a new client.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

TV and Film as Guides for Presentation Skills: But Beware of What's Left Out

Naturalism in Acting

It's pretty common for people with a theatre background, like me, to coach (read: collaborate) with business people in order to help them find a comfortable, persuasive manner and vocabulary for them onstage, in presentations, for pitches, and in conversations generally.  Why not when the goal of an actor is to persuade, create empathy, and generally win an audience over?

There is a lot to be learned from acting in this sphere, particularly when combining and tailoring a range of acting for a particular person's temperament, strengths, and blind spots.  Acting is really all about listening and reacting in the moment, and it surprisingly takes a lot of training to be natural in character.

95% practice, 5% inspiration, I always say.  And you can't depend on the latter without having done the former.

Theatre Vs. Film/TV

Although acting is often similarly natural across media, the effect is very different.  It's not just the live vs. non-live experience, which certainly changes one's experience of performance.  In business, think of it as the difference of being on skype and in the same room with someone.  The conversations won't be the same.

However, perhaps even more important, the dynamic of conversation is portrayed differently between film (and TV) and theatre.  In the former, your view of the dynamic between people as they talk is often obscured by focusing the camera in a close-up on one face.  So when using professional actors as role models, remember you're only seeing one side of the story.

Without a reaction from a listener, how can you be sure that the actor has hit the mark? 

An Example

I went to see The Audience with Helen Mirren as part of The National Theatre Live series.  It seems like an excellent deal: 20 quid to see a hundred-pound-per-ticket play televised as it is performed live.

The play depends on our belief that we are learning about Queen Elizabeth II as a human being through fictional, if informed, regularly scheduled visits she had with her prime ministers from her coronation through the recent Jubilee.  We learn, too, about her ministers, but the focus is Elizabeth as child becoming woman knowing she will be Queen, and then woman sustaining the dignity of the monarchy regardless of the personal cost.

What Was Great

The Audience pulled off an unlikely win in enacting the conversations of which the play is entirely comprised.  It's hard enough to suspend disbelief when a writer lays its credibility on the shoulders of 1 or 2 central characters' resemblance to historical counterparts.  Consider Frost/Nixon, The Iron Lady, Lincoln, or Peter and Alice.  Like The Audience, these were also composed almost entirely of conversations, but they only had to really persuade contemporary audiences that one of the characters seemed enough like the images with which we're all familiar.

However, The Audience's triumph is the credible representation of 10 or 11 characters as iconic as Churchill, the current Prime Minister, and the reigning Queen of England, even when the physical resemblance is more symbolic than photographic.

What Was Missing: For Those Looking to Learn for Business

The problem with the National Theatre's televised version is that you rarely see two characters at once during a conversation.  Because the viewer/listener lacks context, we focus only on what one character wants to say about themselves and not the dynamic between the two.  In other words, we can't see the reason for much of the dialogue if we can't see the faces and body language of the listener.  We are left to assume the reason for response based on viewing close-up one side of the conversation.

Why This is Worth Remembering

All effective conversations and presentations begin a conversation that listeners want to continue, whether it is in the form of a monologue or dialogue, whether in a grand ballroom onstage or at a boardroom table. 

The way you present and the things you say should be effected by the body language and expressions of your listeners.  In any presentation, watch the listeners more carefully than whomever is speaking.  You'll have a better idea of how to persuade when you take into account what has impact on others.

Friday, June 14, 2013

BBC Labs: A Wide Range of Talent

I visited BBC Labs this week to help entrepreneurs pitch to internal departments. I have reason to believe a great time was had by all.

First, it's wonderful model with which to adapt technology within a large business.  Rather than offering the companies debt (most often known as "investment"), BBC Labs offers the companies office space and the chance to win a client in one of its departments looking for new tech strategies.  Revenue is hard to come by.  Debt they can get anywhere.

See some of BBC Labs entrepreneurs' results, even at this early stage in its development.

Second, the companies were all innovative, smart, and enough along in their product to offer something of value to the markets.  That's a hard thing to say about the choices made by an incubator, let alone an office space provider.

I had only an hour and a half with the group, most of whom hadn't had the kind of pitch training for clients that I offer.  I'm not sure why that is exactly -- to me it's rather common sense.  Everyone watched as teams got practice with feedback, one by one.  I focused on different issues for each, depending on the need.

The speed with which we worked created an intense room, but there was also a lot of laughter. 

I felt quite honored when Jenny Fielding, Head of Digital Ventures at BBC Worldwide, wrote:

Big thank you for yesterday - it was great. I caught up with everyone later in the day and they were all super impressed / appreciative. Let's see how they do today on round two...
This is the kind note I received from Hannah Blake, the organiser:

Annette - THANK YOU!
You were absolutely fantastic and we all feel so inspired.

To both of you, I'd like to say the feeling is absolutely mutual.  I'd come back anytime.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Idealism and Entrepreneurship? A Provocative Indictment of Silicon Valley Today

There is often an automatic assumption that the goal of a young entrepreneurs is to change the world for good.  And in the UK, San Francisco and Silicon Valley are the the destinations of choice, both for funding and for a sense that there are so many people all working toward a common goal of facilitating positive global transformation.

George Packer in The New Yorker wrote a provocative article on The Valley and culture of entrepreneurship that brings this into question.  As someone who hasn't been to California in over 10 years, it was rather distressing.

Monday, June 03, 2013

BBC Labs and Elevator Pitching

I've been asked to do some pitch collaboration with the companies at BBC Worldwide Labs on 12 June.  Hannah Blake, who blogs for BBC Labs and organises the programme, is wonderful to work with and very creative. 

For news and information, you can follow them on Twitter @bbcwlabs.  Lots going on worth checking out.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Annual Lecture: St. George's House, Windsor Castle

The Annual Lecture by Jane Goodall at St. George's House, Windsor Castle was thrilling.  Jane recounted her transformation from girl to scientist (at 5) that led to a move to Africa and field work (without a university education), and her subsequent work as an activist, first on behalf of research and then on behalf of the planet.

More for anyone pitching for clients of investment -- no matter how concise and expert you are within each piece of your message, discipline is necessary to win the day:
Although Dr. Goodall didn't ramble once --her mind is sharp and articulation of ideas crisp as ever -- her talk went on much too long.  It was a shame because what she said was so nuanced and powerful, yet the overall, final impression was completely diffused and vague.

The event itself was star-studded: members of the Royal Family, House of Lords, Bank of England -- you name it.  St. George's House is a tremendously rare valuable institution for conversations about Big Ideas, and anyone interested should certainly investigate.  I'm quite honored to have been made an Associate as an honor (generally you buy a seat), and I look forward to more adventures.