Sunday, 28 July 2013

A tweet experience

Over the last few years I have developed a strong attachment to Twitter. I look after several organisations' accounts and use it for promoting services; conversations, keeping up to to date, and what I most like using it for is to vicariously attend conferences via event hashtags.

A developing relationship
As much as I have always enjoyed reading event tweets, it was not until I volunteered for the task of 'official tweeter' for a conference that I fully appreciated the skill behind it. I have now completed this task for the two London Information and Knowledge Exchange (LIKE) conferences which have taken place and I have most definitely learned from the experience.

As the first conference was about social media, it was obvious that Twitter should focus quite heavily in the marketing so I tweeted social media related questions in the run up to the event to generate and maintain interest. Once I had got used to writing with an appropriate tone - professional, friendly and inclusive - it became easier to do this. The only downside was that it was quite time-consuming so I used to write them on my very long commute at the time to work and, unfortunately, this meant most people were still in bed. Had I discovered Hootsuite much earlier than I did, I would have used this to schedule a few tweets for during the day too.

Due to the nature of this first conference, it was expected that others would tweet too. I've heard of some events (not going to name names) where the speaker has specifically asked for attendees not to tweet. I think that a few years ago it would have seemed quite rude to have a phone or laptop during someone's presentation. Now it is expected and speakers are berated as being behind the times if they don't allow it. I can see both sides. I think that if speakers don't want their audience to tweet (perhaps because they like to see the front rather than the tops of people's heads when they are talking)  then they should make a real effort to make the session as interactive as possible so there isn't time to do it rather than announce a ban and face resentment.

I used to find it difficult to tweet while listening because, although it can encourage critical listening; picking out the salient points and formulating them into something short and pithy, I would find it difficult to carry on listening. I was able to write notes while absorbing further information but was unable to do this while typing. I tended to lose track of where I was and I think this is because I would never need to show my scribbled notes to anyone but tweets are there for all to see so need more care taken over them.

After that conference, I asked myself what I would have done differently. I would have:
  • asked who was following the tweets as I really don't see the point in just tweeting for the audience who are there anyway. I think mingling and networking are much more important for making connections at a live event
  • not spend too much time panicking about the quantity - I would have selected my words much more carefully. Quality over quantity
  • Sat closer to the action - I had sat near a plug in case my battery run out but this meant I ended up with rubbish pictures 
Fortunately I remembered my own advice so this time I was sat right at the front; I knew in advance that people were following outside of the event and I focused more on soundbites rather than recording everything word for word.  I also set up an Eventifier archive so I could share the collated tweets and images which was a nice way of amplifying the group and what it does. It all seemed to work and I felt much more relaxed about the whole experience. I have since tweeted at other events where people who couldn't attend have asked questions of the speaker so I have acted as a conduit for this, which I think is a lovely way to increase participation.

I now find it much easier to tweet and listen and regularly use my tweets as memory joggers to help me write up blog posts later on. I also tweet events much more often because I get so much out of it when I can't attend and others do so. I do wonder if attendance levels have fallen since people started doing this especially as the slides can often be found on Slideshare too; so far it doesn't seem to be the case. Personally, and where possible, I would always rather be in physical attendance. 

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Creating inspirational, motivational and insightful lectures

The purpose of a lecture is to inspire, motivate and offer insight.

University lectures are sometimes seen by both staff and by students to be a  form of knowledge transfer; students want to record their lectures to check facts or to refer to something they may have missed and I think they are missing the point. If you want to check a fact - you can refer to an encyclopedia, however, if you want to relive the experience of a lecture because it moved and inspired you and sparked off a creative process then great. I love the TED talks for this - I know some don't as they are cliquey and don't always get the facts right but I watch them on Netflix or Youtube avoiding the exorbitant charges and have a pinch of salt at the ready.

Found on

On 11th July, I attended a staff development session from Kissing with Confidence's Russell Wardrop entitled Lecturing with Confidence. I like teaching but most of my experience has been with small groups with fewer than 30 students, so more of a trainer really than a public speaker. In my current job I now have to sometimes give lectures for up to 200 people at a time so I was after some tips.

Our first task, set by the witty, fast-talking Glaswegian, was to speak to someone we didn't know about what we most admired in a speaker - for me it was the self-confidence and the clear and strong articulation they used when presenting their ideas to huge audiences. Russell assured us (in his what normally is a 2 day session squashed into a half day workshop) that a lecture wasn't about the technical knowledge, as it should be a given that we have that already, but about the delivery. We should be aiming to make an emotional connection with our audience as it makes them much more likely to retain the information. I know I often remember things much more if it has strengthened a previous memory or is something which resonates inside me.

Some  practical tips:
  • personalise your message by using the words I, we and you in sentences - I use 'you' a lot but don't often use 'I' unless I'm saying I'm here to help
  • use metaphors and analogies to help people relate and understand more - I use this occasionally but could use it a lot more
  • use humour but don't start with this as you've not built up rapport yet - I use this when feeling comfortable with a group
  • using case studies/references/quotes implies a broader and deeper knowledge - I do use examples but have never used quotes, apart from once where I used a Woody Allen quote in an off the cuff thank you speech to the Leadership and Management Division of the Special Libraries Association. That was scary
  • use props; powerpoint, flipcharts etc but a word of warning: using video and audio will kill your lecture as it terminates the connection between yourself and the audience - I was quite surprised by this as I had thought that using these helps break up the lecture and provides a breather. I could see though that it also gives people the chance to be distracted 
  • structuring your speech around your powerpoint will kill it - I generally write my thoughts out on scraps of paper before organising it using powerpoint. I wouldn't be lost without my slides but might be if I didn't have the internet as I often have to refer to databases and webpages
  • Lectures should appear to be spontaneous - flipcharts are good for this - I don't and have never used flipcharts, something to consider but I would get through a heck of a lot of paper with the amount of sessions I do

The three components of delivery are:
  • Energy - if you give out vitality and passion you will get it back from every person there
  • Spontaneity - be responsive - if you stay in the moment, mindful of what's going on then so will your audience
  • Creativity - this will help the memory of your lecture be retained

Speaking in lectures:
Get the pace, voice, pitch, tone and pauses right. I like to speak fairly rapidly in my sessions as I feel it offers a sense of enthusiasm and passion, however, I am going to follow the recommendation of being clearer and slower at the beginning of the session as I can always ramp it up later.

Individually, we had to (very quickly) come up with the idea of a lecture, practise the first minute of it in front of the people we were seated next to and then receive feedback from them. This was a really interesting exercise; some started with jokes, some stood but stooped over their notes and some were so quiet they were difficult to hear.

The feedback I received was that they were not expecting to be able to hear me because in general conversations I have quite a soft voice but actually I was much louder than they expected. Also, I can sometimes wave my hands around a lot. I already know this and try, usually, to slow these down and not be all 'flappy hands' instead using them only to demonstrate key points. On repeating the exercise, after feedback had been received, everyone improved their performance.

  • Analysis
    • why are the attendees there?
    • how many of them are there?
    • what previous knowledge do they have?
    • try to visit the room beforehand to give confidence
  • Brainstorm 
    • come up with your stories
  • Construct them into themes - there should be no more than five themes in a lecture and ideally just three
When I deliver lectures to large groups I often get them to talk in pairs and then small groups to encourage active rather than passive involvement, however, I occasionally struggle to get their attention back to the room. Russell's tip was to make it much snappier i.e give two minutes rather than five for people to talk and then call them back after a minute and a half. This will keep the atmosphere buzzing and alive. 

I learned about the preparation elements on my Preparation to teach course and don't have a problem with sticking to time, covering too much, or writing objectives. What I had hoped to gain were tips on making the delivery and style much more interesting and to increase my confidence in doing so; by the end of the session I felt I had definitely achieved this.

Three things I am going to try out initally in my future lectures:
  • use stories - this will be the most difficult I think. I use examples from previous students but generally don't give much of myself away. I'm willing to give it a go though, as all the best lectures I've heard have featured personal stories. I'll try to throw in a few analogies and metaphors too
  • get familiar with my book of quotations
  • use Russell's tip on pacing

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the session, finding it very practical and easily applicable, and will most definitely be trawling through their website to pick up further tips.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Effective influencing skills

The ability to influence is not just a management skill. It is a life skill. It means getting a result which meets the legitimate needs of both parties involved, changing a mindset in the process. It is a very useful skill to have.
I attended a day-long session on developing influencing skills on 10th July, led by Alan Richards from Metice. We were a small group of attendees, six in all, which gave us lots of opportunity to tell our stories, practise our newly developing skills and reflect on them. I attended this session, primarily, because I wanted some tips to enable me to encourage senior academic staff to get behind some reading list software we have introduced at the university, but also to help give me more confidence in doing so.

Influencing, we were told, is not about using Machiavellian techniques nor is it about being a bully. Using either of these styles when managing can often get things done but does not influence, does not 'bring people along' and often means the person in charge won't get the full picture of what's going on as people are wary of engaging in a full discussion. Influencing is much more about instilling trust and cooperation.

Throughout the day we took part in several exercises, below are three which particularly stood out for me:

The Push/Pull exercise - in pairs with palms facing each other, one person would push the other and then vice versa. Then both partners would push each other.  This exercise not only got us out of our seats moving around but demonstrated the push and pull flow in a conversation. To influence effectively, Alan explained, there has to be some push (stating what you want, expressing views, opinions and feelings and using pressures and incentives) and pull (actively listening, encouraging and questioning, being open to suggestions and building rapport). If both parties are being assertive, both pushing, then it is more difficult for progress to be made. I liked this exercise for its simplicity in making this point - it's easy to talk about it but when you're physically pushing against someone the process is instantly recognisable.

Some examples of language to use in these situations:

If someone is being too aggressive or assertive, say "can I just stop you there" . This will then give you space to be assertive in response

To build rapport:

  • "what do you need from me?"
  • "tell me a little bit more"
  • "what difficulties are you facing?"
  • "how can we work together?"
Active listening - in turn we listened to our partners speaking about a particular topic of interest to them and then had to relate it back to the room. I've done similar exercise before, most recently at LIKE 43, however, despite listening intently and caring I don't always remember the details. Active listening comprises:
  • giving full attention
  • reflecting data
  • reflecting feelings
  • interpreting
  • encouraging
  • summarising

While I tend to give my full attention, reflect feelings and encourage, I realised I could perhaps reflect, interpret and summarise a bit more. In the exercise, I was able to re-call quite detailed information, which I still haven't forgotten, so I'm looking forward to trying this out more often.

Found on
Saying 'I want' and 'No' - Due to spending lots of time with my nanan and her friends when I was younger and because my family weren't well off, I was brought up to mind my ps and qs, to respect my elders, to do as I was told,  and to never ask for anything. So saying 'I want' and 'no' in the group sounded very impolite to me. However, they are direct, clear and decisive statements and don't need to be said aggressively - tone is important here. I often say 'I'd like', 'I'd be grateful if' or  'it would be really nice if' and while these are still the polite thing to say in a conversation, when I want to get a task done they are far too passive to use.

This all may seem very obvious to some people, none of it is revolutionary and I'm sure we've all heard it before at some point or another, however, how many of us actually do it? Despite attending this session for a specific purpose, I discovered tips I could use on a daily basis and it encouraged me to reflect on the way I communicate with people.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

LIKE Ideas 2013 - From big data to little apps

The full title of the second LIKEIdeas conference to be held was: 'From Big Data to Little Apps; How you can access, present and deliver information in the workplace' and this is exactly what the five speakers showed us over the course of the afternoon.

The keynote speaker, Dom Pollard from Big Data Insightannounced he was going to demystify big data & explain how to apply it in the workplace. He explained that big data is about volume, variety & velocity and it has become much more accessible to smaller companies due to cloud computing. Strong emphasis was given to the benefits of collaboration which can open up many new possibilities, some examples given were:

  • the pairing of Spotify and Songkick
  • retailers using Met Office weather data to boost bikini sales
  • the UK government potentially saving billions if it used social media data to prevent benefit fraud

Both Dom and the next speaker Michael Agar emphasised the importance of data analysis, stressing that it is important to ask the right questions, to not just do analysis for the sake of it and that data in and of itself is not useful until it has been interpreted. Michael's role was to help people visualise data and explore it in more detail through the use of infographics in order to tell a story. This led to questions from the audience about transparency as the sources are not always clear; infographics are being used quite heavily by marketers so it is becoming increasingly important to question and verify where the data originated from though this is not always easy to do.

Manny Cohen, told us what it was like to be a technological innovator, apparently this is difficult because no-one realises they need your creation! The technology is fairly simple to develop and, according to him, is generally the easy part; the most difficult aspect is changing social attitudes. This became clear when we were all asked to, in groups, consider the future of data in the next 5,10 and 15 years. There was a lot of optimism regarding technical advances and social adoption as we shared our answers, many of which were very similar focusing on better battery life, augmented reality, wearable technology and possibly revolting in 15 years away from all the technology as we realise it's taken over our lives. 

One thing which did vary massively was the time scales - there was a huge variation around the room regarding when we though the 'take-up' of these technologies might occur. And perhaps the revolt away from technology has already started as I have recently seen holidays advertised as being technology free and there seems to a proliferation of people returning to 'dumbphones'. In the future, maybe people will choose which side of the digital divide to be on. And, people will still be sharing picture of cats.

#LIKEIdeas attendees listening to Monique Ritchie's take on big data.

After we spent the break ruminating about the future of data, with a bit of networking thrown in for good measure, we returned to LIKE MIC, a panel of speakers comprising James Mullan, Monique Ritchie and Andrew Grave who in turn spoke about creating well-designed dashboards to create meaning from information within law firms, emphasising the importance of relationship building within the academic sector and ensuring academic staff are creating stable and secure places for their data, ie, not memory sticks, and finally, looking at how technology processes have changed in the last five years.

I went to this conference partly because I was helping to organise it but also because I wasn't quite sure I 'got' big data. It's a term which is used often and seemingly by everyone but which no-one seems to be able to succinctly explain. By attending the conference, I felt that actually, after all, big data is not a big deal. It's about information and people - something I am perfectly at home with.

The slides from the day can be found on the LIKE website.
The #LIKEIdeas tweets have been archived at Eventifier.