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Friday, April 27, 2007

Ignite Seattle videos - April 2007

The videos of the 5-minute "Ask Later" talks from the April 5 Ignite Seattle have been posted on The sound is surprisingly good, but unfortunately it's a bit hard to make out the presenters' slides. Highly recommended are Scott Berkun's talk on "Attention and Sex" and Christopher Johnson's "The Art and Science of Naming."

Here's my talk on "Workplace Survival":

[NOTE ADDED APRIL 28] The slides for this talk (no voiceover) are available as a QuickTime movie at:

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Classic rhetoric trumps ranting

The often-controversial physicist Gregory Cochran offers an original and highly plausible unified-field theory to explain the bizarre behavior of the Bush administration. His articulate analysis, in the April 9 issue of the The American Conservative online, is a refreshing change from the ranting and smug bombast that characterizes so much political discussion these days. I urge anyone who writes to advance political arguments to read this piece and to think about why it's such effective communication.

I'll think back on this article every time I hear Bush, Cheney, or Rice speak. I used to wonder "What the bleep could they be thinking of?" Now I know.

(Thanks to Mystical Forest for turning me on to the Cochran piece.)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Slugs on the web

A slug is not just one of those long slimy brown garden critters we have in Seattle to keep down the primrose population.

A "slug" is also the term used in newsrooms to refer to the short filename of a story or a photo. Slugs, assigned by the copy desk, might be something like "Bush Speech" or "Va Shooting."

Slugs are "insider" labels for stories that appear in the paper with much longer headlines and captions.

With the advent of the web, slugs are no longer "insider" information.

On a news site, slugs often make it into the HTML that refers to the name of a photo. They might even appear above a caption. Thus it's very easy for anyone to see a slug. So using a slug like "GAYSUIT" for the photo of a gay fireman who has filed a suit (and is wearing a suit at the press conference) probably isn't the best idea.

Metroblogging Seattle didn't like it, and apparently the Seattle Times, which had allowed the slug to appear above the photo caption, removed it when it was pointed out.

I have to say that I don't think a filename, particularly a clearly ambiguous one, warrants such a hissy fit. But maybe I'm just showing my calloused, reportorial side here. Comments?

Monday, April 16, 2007

Short story

Kristin at Metblogging Seattle sums up the local newspaper scene with one great sentence:

"What would Seattle do without both the Times and the P-I to report on important celebrity news?"

She's been updating her online coverage of the two papers reporting on themselves (and their joint operating agreement) throughout the day. It's (gasp) real news reporting.

So, will I now cancel my P-I subscription and get all my news online?

Not yet. A friend of mine is going to be a guest star on the new season of Paris Hilton's "The Simple Life" and I need to keep up with the celebrity gossip...

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Sounds familiar

I will always remember a writer friend from college who teased a musician we both knew with a comment to the effect of "gee, women never want to come over and watch me write."

As a writer, I'm often envious of the attention musicians and actors get for their live performances. But an amazing experiment, conducted earlier this year by The Washington Post, turned all that on its head.

What if you took one of the world's most acclaimed concert violinists (a strikingly handsome man, to boot) and had him busk solo in a Washington, D.C. Metro station? Would people notice or appreciate the extraordinary quality of his performance? Or would they hurry past, oblivious, yammering on their cell phones?

Leonard Slatkin, music director of the National Symphony, predicted that perhaps 4 out of 100 people would "recognize the quality for what it is," adding "Maybe 75 will stop and spend some time listening."

What do you think?

Here's what happened. And here's a link to the entire 45 minute performance.

Friday, April 6, 2007

20 slides in five minutes

A little bit about the communications aspect of the presentations at last night's Ignite Seattle. (I'll write more about the presentations themselves when the Ignite folks post the videos.)

Let me start by saying that all the presenters were experienced and skilled. So what I'll be writing about is how folks dealt with the constraints of making a five-minute speech when the 20 slides they had prepared were being automatically advanced every 15 seconds.

Scott Berkun, unquestionably one of the most polished of the speakers, stepped outside the box by simply giving a five-minute speech. His graphics-only slides ticked off the time, moving from 20 blue squares to none by the time he'd finished.

Chris Heuer of Social Media Club also finissed the 15-second rhythm by using very general photos of people at meetings. Since his slides illustrated the very top level of his presentation on face-to-face communication, they matched anything he was saying.

The rest of us attempted to stay in sync with our slides, sometimes with amusing results. In one or two instances, people found themselves tapping their feet while waiting for their next slide; more often, a slide would beat the speaker to the punchline. I admired the very calm, very articulate fellow who looked at a slide he wasn't ready for, looked back at the audience, and said "I'm just going to give my talk," and went on to ignore his slides.

If you are planning to present at Ignite Seattle and will be grappling with the unusual 15-second slide format, here are a few tips:

• If possible, pick a topic that has logical steps, so you'll never get out of sequence. Jordan Schwartz's presentation on the "hive mind" concept and how you can set up a beehive your backyard flowed perfectly because his slides and his speech were telling a linear story. (By contrast, Candance McNaughton's presentation on natural medicine Health Hacks and mine on Workplace Survival issues covered bullet points we could have presented in just about any order. A few times we had to turn around to look at our own slides to see what point was next.)

Time the comments you'll make with each slide. Make sure they're only 14 or 15 seconds, and edit relentless until they are! Once you've got them down to size, I found that chunking them into three phrases worked. I saw the slide image, it sparked the first phrase. The second phrase was a transition, and the third phrase was either a punchline or moved us along to the next slide. Each 15 seconds of text had a rhythm like a waltz, so I was ready for the next slide instead of jarred by it.

Practice til you own it. I had the speech function (part of Mac OS X) read the speech to make sure it was really 5 minutes long. The computer voice is a bit slower than mine, but I also realized I'd take up a bit of time here and there ad libbing or reacting to the audience. I then recorded myself giving the speech (to iPod via an iTalk mic) and went for a walk and listened to the speech a few times. When I got back I printed out the Keynote slides six to a page and tried to go through the speech using only the slide visuals as cues. When you can do that, you're ready to go.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Come fly with me

Thursday night is Ignite Seattle at the Capitol Hill Arts Center.

The event starts at 6:30 with the crafting of paper airplanes, followed by a competition to see who can send his or her creation winging through a target hoola-hoop onstage.

The updrafts of hot air begin at 8:30 with Ignite Seattle's rapid-fire 5-minute presentations, guaranteed to put any long-winded pundits into a fatal tailspin.

As one of the dozen or so "speed speakers," I'll be whipping through a few of my tips on Workplace Survival. Thanks in advance to the people I've worked with who have provided me with so many colorful anecdotes for the talk!