It seems that hardly a day goes by without seeing a news item about another company banning its staff from using Facebook on their office PCs. As a regular Facebooker who uses the site both for business and pleasure, I find this attitude rather bizarre and very narrowminded, because Facebook is actually a fantastic business tool.

Sure, at first sight, the various pics, graffiti walls, music/film apps and other ephemera that make up the average Facebook profile (my own included) might make the site look somewhat frivolous, but dive deeper and you see there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye.

Groups
Facebook makes it easy for anyone to start their own group on whatever topic they like, meaning business can use the function to create customer committees, company events boards, staff intranets, recruitment forums, customer service/feedback areas, and much more.

Surveys
For a small fee, users can post surveys on any topic and make them available to the Facebook network of their choice – a great market research tool for companies targeting the Facebook demographic of 25-40 year olds.

Events
Users can post events free of charge, invite all their friends, and publicise them within their network and groups. I recently posted one of my company’s events on the site (a seminar on hotel web design & online booking). Not only did we get a couple of registrations as a result, but the event was also spotted by a local journalist from one of Vietnam’s biggest newspapers, who will attend the seminar and hopefully write a nice article about us!

This tool is particularly useful in a city like HCMC where events are usually badly publicised (if they are publicised at all), and where there are no decent listings/what’s on magazines.

Recruitment
As well as creating a company group with recruitment functionality, companies can also use Facebook to headhunt. Looking for a Java programmer in Vietnam? Go into the Vietnam network and dos search with ‘java’ in the ‘job’ field, and see what you can find!

Communicating/Networking/Socialising
One of the biggest drawbacks of business social networking site Linkedin is that it’s, well, boring. Facebook isn’t. Facebook makes it easy to find people in your area who you can do business with, helps you get to know existing contacts a lot better (I can look up people I know and find out their favourite films/music, what sports they like to play, how many children they have etc., which makes conversation a lot easier next time I meet them!), and facilitates the creation of social/business networks. Using Facebook as an internal tool also helps your staff get to know each other better, and as mentioned above, Facebook could even be used as a corporate intranet.

Development
Facebook’s open development platform allows anyone to create an application and make it available to the site’s users. Some apps, such as Top Friends and Funwall, have over a million active users. Whilst there isn’t any direct money to be made out of most Facebook apps as they are free to use, they’re a great way to get your brand name known and to attract people to use your paid services.

With Myspace only really appealing to teenagers, and Linkedin being as dull as ditchwater, more and more people are moving to Facebook and the site will shortly overtake Myspace as the web’s biggest social network – as of July 2007, it had 34,000,000 users with over 100,000 joining every day. With figures like that, and with functionality which provides communication, networking, marketing/market research and other business tools mostly free of charge, businesses can no longer ignore Facebook and should be looking at encouraging their staff to embrace it, rather than banning it!

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This morning I received in my inbox an Aberdeen Group report entitled Demand Generation Automation – Kick-Start your Business. Whilst the report was most useful from a marketing point of view, the author was clearly on a bet to use “leverage” as often as possible.

Here are some examples:

Best-in-class companies heavily leverage technology to manage leads

Best-in-class are two times more likely than Laggards to leverage a centralised repository for performance metrics

38% of Best-in-class currently leverage or plan to leverage an agency solution for demand generation

Based on other capabilities, these resources are clearly leveraging performance metrics

Industry average organisations may be more likely to leverage mass email through a CRM system

Laggards, on the other hand, are also more likely to leverage the low-cost email channel

Leverage technology to improve customer intelligence

Best-in-class use of CRM is an excellent example of how organisations should leverage demand generation technology

AAAAGGHH!!! PLEASE MAKE IT STOP!!! And have you spotted a common thread in all those examples? That’s right – in each case, the ‘L’ word could quite easily be replaced  by “use”. Madness. Utter, utter madness.

When conducting training sessions on subjects such as presentation skills or business communication here in Vietnam, one of the most difficult concepts for students to grasp is that of tone of voice. Vietnamese, like Chinese, is a tonal language, and tonal languages allow the speaker little flexibility when it comes to varying their tone or pitch, thus limiting their expressiveness.

Therefore, non-native English speakers not only have to battle with learning a whole new grammar and vocabulary, they also have to get the hang of the way we use tone to introduce thousands of subtle nuances of meaning. A native English speaker can hear someone’s tone of voice and instantly identify their mood and their relationship with the person they’re speaking to, but non-native speakers a) struggle to read such signals, and b) struggle to give out the right signals themselves.

In his book Blink, author Malcolm Gladwell relates an interesting experiment that was conducted recently to find out why some US doctors are sued for malpractice more often than others. The researcher, Wendy Levinson, recorded hundreds of conversations between doctors and their patients, and soon found that she was able to predict which doctors were more likely to be sued.

The difference was not in what they were saying, nor in their diagnostic skill; it all came down to tone of voice. A psychologist called Nalini Ambady took the experiment one step further, taking ten-second extracts of the conversations and then removing the high-frequency sounds that allow us to distinguish individual words. All that was left was the sound of the voices. And Ambady was still able to predict which doctors were most likely to be sued with a similar degree of accuracy!

So tone of voice would seem to play a dominant role in how others perceive us – as Gladwell says:

“In the end it comes down to a matter of respect, and the simplest way that respect is communicated is through tone of voice.”

Of course, tone can also come through in our writing – compare the following two email extracts:

I’d like to see your report as soon as possible.

I’d like to see your report AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.

Of course, the first one sounds a lot more polite – using caps in an email comes across as shouting. One of the disadvantages of email is that, unlike typing a letter, sending an email is almost as quick as speaking, so if we’re in a bad mood that mood is more likely to come across in our message.

What this means for those of us working in different cultures is that firstly we have to be more careful with the way we say and write things, as our audience are more likely to misunderstand us; and secondly, we have to make allowances for the way others speak or write to us, as whilst they might sound aggressive or abrupt, they may not mean to.

Practice makes perfect

2 October, 2007

Just found this excellent piece on preparing for presentations by Rowan Manahan. I particularly liked the following point:

“The most impressive people I have worked with, the ones who make it look so effortless and so off the cuff, are always the ones who have put in the hours.”

From experience I know that to be true. I usually put in a lot of prep for presentations, often with my 5-month old daughter as audience (this isn’t as daft as it may sound – if she smiles and laughs I know my tone of voice, expressions and gestures are sufficiently lively for an audience – if she starts looking elsewhere I know I need to put more effort into it!), but on those rare occasions when I’m not so well prepared the end result is usually pretty poor, as I tend to rush it a bit.

Thorough preparation doesn’t mean learning a script off by heart – do that and your talk will come over a bit soulless – it just means knowing your topic well, knowing what slide comes next, what’s on it, and what you’re going to say about it (including any good stories or anecdotes), and what the time is.

Unprepared speakers can always be identified by the amount of time they spend looking at their own slides, and by the amount of words and bulletpoints thereon. A speaker without bulletpoints, who gives an engaging talk without constantly looking at the screen and appears to be delivering their talk off the cuff, is someone who has spent hours preparing!

No Logo!

28 September, 2007

The Rowan Report is an EXCELLENT blog offering advice on communication for non-profit organisations. The latest entry is a particularly good list of presentation tips – I particularly like no.8.

I recently wrote a piece on getting away from bulletpoints and rethinking your whole approach to slide design, and being forced to include a corporate logo/colour scheme on every slide is the exact anthithesis of such an approach.

If every one of your slides looks the same, people will quickly get bored and/or lost. If every slide is different, they’ll sit up & pay attention in order to see what’s coming next.

As a great journalist once wrote – NO LOGO!

Impact is NOT a Verb!

28 September, 2007

A few weeks ago I read an article with the following title: 

How will Web 2.0 Impact the Travel Industry?

It seems that, like the aforementioned ‘leverage’, corporate-speak enthusiasts have also co-opted poor old ‘impact’ into their repertoire of sorely-abused nouns. 

The above title might just as easily be written as follows: 

How will Web 2.0 Affect the Travel Industry?

Or, if the writer was dead set on using the word ‘impact’:

What Impact will Web 2.0 Have on the Travel Industry?

You can ‘have an impact’ or ‘make an impact’ on something or someone, but you can’t ‘impact’ something or someone. OK, in the interests of brevity or saving printer ink it might seem easier just to abandon the ‘have an’ or ‘make an’ and just go with ‘impact’, but the simple fact is it’s WRONG!

How to #!@$ up a Presentation!

27 September, 2007

You understand your audience, you’ve put together a great slideshow, and you know your subject inside out – but this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to give a great presentation and communicate your message in a coherent, persuasive and memorable way! Here are 10 things presenters do that can undo the best laid plans…

1.    Stand behind the podium

When I see someone standing behind a podium I’m taken back to boring classes/lectures at school or university. Podiums are a barrier between you and the audience and can even make you look arrogant and superior. Speakers use podiums because they’re nervous and need to feel ‘above’ their audience.

Get away from the podium and amongst your audience to quickly create a rapport. If there’s a podium in the room when you arrive, ask the organiser to take it away. You don’t need it.

2.    Wear a jacket

I don’t care how smartly dressed your audience are – when you wear a jacket, you look as if you’re not stopping! Taking your jacket off makes you look and feel more relaxed, helps you move about more, and signals to the audience that you’re not about to rush off somewhere more important.

3.    Drink too much coffee

You’re nervous about your talk – it’s normal – so you didn’t sleep too well last night. You get to the venue. They offer you coffee. You drink it, & you feel more awake. They offer you more. You drink it. They…you get the point.

You might feel more alert, but all that caffeine will make you feel even more nervous and jumpy. Coffee dehydrates you so after you’ve been speaking for a few minutes you’ll get a very dry mouth & you’ll need to drink water. And even the strongest of bladders will give in eventually! Stick to one cup and then drink lots of water.

4.    Hold a microphone

Nervous speakers like to have something to hold onto, and what better (and less obvious) than a nice big microphone! However, unless you’re a rock star, the chances are that mike will make you look very awkward indeed, and you’ll either hold it too close to your mouth or too far away. Also, holding a mike inhibits the hand gestures that good presenters use to emphasise certain points and provide some visual stimuli.

Most venues these days can supply clip-on mikes so always ask for one. Or even better, if you’re speaking in a fairly small room, check the acoustics and you’ll probably find you don’t need a mike at all.

5.    Make inappropriate comments

I attended a large seminar in Ho Chi Minh City a couple of months ago, organised by a well-known US organisation. They’d flown in a guest speaker for the event and, like many speakers, he began his talk by praising the local city and country – a good way to get a rapport going, after all. However, instead of focusing on the food, the hospitality or the architecture, he homed in on the attractiveness of the local females, and even pointed out a few choice examples in the seminar room. Thus he revealed himself from the off as a bit of a sleazeball and this first impression coloured everyone’s reaction to the rest of his talk.

So if you’re giving a talk in another country, do a bit of basic research into cultural dos & don’ts before you go, and if you’re in any doubt, leave it out!

6.    Apologise

Sometimes, things go wrong. The laptop which worked perfectly well in your office the night before has suddenly decided to crash. The hotel’s projector can’t display your carefully-chosen images clearly. The aircon isn’t working. Sometimes it’ll be your fault, sometimes it won’t. But don’t apologise. Apologies make you look incompetent and not in control of the event.

Technical glitches are a good opportunity to ad-lib and have a bit of banter with the audience, to show that you’re not just a public speaking robot. I recently did an event with Microsoft Vietnam, and their speaker had prepared a video to show the audience, but Windows Media refused to play ball. “Just because I work for Microsoft doesn’t mean it always works for me” he said, getting a big laugh from the attendees.

Sure, apologise if you’re late, or if you spill water over someone in the audience. But don’t apologise on behalf of your technology – sometimes it just has a mind of its own, and everyone in the room will have experienced similar problems themselves.

7.    Touch the laptop

If you’re hitting the spacebar to advance your slides, you’re tied to the same spot. Invest a few quid in a remote clicker. Using a small clicker which the audience barely notice makes you look like a real pro.

8.    Keep looking at the screen

The constant glance behind at the screen is the sign of a speaker who doesn’t know their material. And you’re not reading off your slides anyway, are you?

I always try and make sure that my laptop is positioned somewhere within my line of vision, usually front-left or front-right, so I can make the occasional glance just to check I’m where I think I am! Position the laptop in front of the audience and most of them won’t notice what you’re doing.

9.    Finish with a Q&A

“Any more questions? No? OK, thanks for listening…” Not the most memorable way to end a presentation, but it’s how most presentations end – or rather, fizzle out.

Make sure you end with a bang by having a good story, anecdote or fact to hit your audience with AFTER the Q&A has finished. It makes you look professional and ends your talk on a memorable note.

10.    Rush off

The 10-15 minutes at the end of your talk are often the time when meetings are arranged, business gets done, and attendees praise your talk and even invite you to speak again for them. Yet it’s surprising how many speakers don’t hang around to chat to their audience individually, field private questions, or exchange contact details.

If you’ve followed steps 1-9 you will have come across as being very approachable, and your audience will want to approach you – stick around and give them the chance!

Speaking can be a stressful business and you’ll doubtless commit at least one of the above sins during your next talk, maybe without even realising it! But avoiding these common mistakes goes a long way towards helping you communicate your message as effectively as possible, makes your presentation enjoyable for the audience, and gives you a professional and approachable image in the eyes of your audience – some of whom will be future customers, partners or even employers!