Going Viral

Good morning! It’s flu season, so what better time to bring up the idea of “going viral”? See what I did there?

Anyway, the statement is apt, since the concept of going viral, meaning that something you post online (usually a video, but could include a photo, a manifesto, an app, or even a conspiracy theory) is passed around and shared by enough people that in a relatively short period of time, which could range from a day or two or a couple of months depending on who you talk to, a relatively large number of people (usually 1,000,000 is considered a threshold, perhaps hearkening to the days of the Gold and Platinum Record certifications) have seen it, heard it, watched it, or read it.

On the internet, the idea of going viral is most often connected with videos. There may be some debate about this (hey, debate is healthy) but the first viral video was considered to be “Lazy Sunday” which was a sketch performed on Saturday Night Live in December 2005. After being posted on YouTube, it was seen by over 5 million people, before NBC claimed copyright and made them take it down. Luckily, you can watch it here on the NBC website.

Although a lot of us tend to think that viral videos are usually associated with dancing babies, or children still dopey from a dentist visit, there have been many viral videos that are far more meaningful. In fact, the “most viral video” award probably goes to “Invisible Children” a 2012 video detailing the plight of imprisoned and exploited children in Uganda. It has been viewed over 100 million times.

Going viral may bring fame, and it can bring fortune as well. Monetizing content can happen in many ways, including through ad placements associated with the content, licensing its use to others, and merchandising. Even without a cash flow, a viral product will draw attention to the person, product or organization with which it is associated, and this can be worth its weight in gold.

Because of the utility of going viral, a lot of advice has appeared online purporting to give you a leg up on making your own content viral. For example, according to the ProBlogger Podcast, you can use a handy tool to take a blog post and turn it into a Facebook video that’s sure to be seen by the masses. Or, by following this step-by-step guide, you can make your visual storytelling go viral in no time.

Of course, some may argue that if the experts who advise us on how to get our content to go viral are so sure of their methods, why haven’t they figured out how to use their own tips to their own advantage. Kind of like the people who travel the country giving webinars on how to make killer apps or penetrate the mysteries of personal investing (or for that matter setting up universities to teach real estate tricks, like one celebrity did awhile back). If they know so much about how I can make money following their instructions, why are they wasting time putting on seminars? I can’t answer this question, but while you ponder it, I’d love for you to look at this compilation of great cat videos. Enjoy!

Presentation “Heroes” – My Mentors

I’m making a presentation at a big international behavioral health conference this week, so my thoughts have turned to those who I’ve learned the most from relating to making a good presentation. I thought I might republish this article from almost fours years ago – it’s still quite relevant!

Now, you may never give a Ted© Talk (I haven’t), or be the keynote speaker at a national convention (I have!), but chances are you will need to make some formal presentation or another over the next few days or weeks. It may be a business proposal to your executive team, a training project for your staff, or even a chat you have with your kids about why they should consider putting some of their allowance into a savings account! How will you do? Will you be persuasive, memorable, effective?

Developing good presentation skills is a worthwhile pursuit, and although there are a lot of elements involved in becoming an outstanding presenter (including tone of voice, body language, clothing selection, etc.), the selection of visual presentation aids is one of the most important. It’s common now to use PowerPoint – the standard (if not the gold standard) tool to provides slides to accompany your words, but there are other tools worth looking at, including SlideShareSlideRocket, and my favorite, Prezi!

Maybe equally important to the selection of your tool, is learning to use it well.
As seems to be true with everything, it’s always good to have a coach or mentor – or maybe two or three. When it comes to presentation skill, I have some recommendations for you. These are all people who have had an impact on my presentation skills over the years, and for different reasons. Taken as a group, they really fit my definition of a “Dream Team”. If you are looking for some good ideas that will help you become a better, more effective presenter, they may be of help to you as well.

I have to start off the list with Edward Tufte, who is a Yale professor emeritus of political science, statistics and computer science, and in generally acknowledged as the biggest names in the area of visualizing data. His first book on the topic, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information was published several years before the development of PowerPoint (a platform whose misuse or poor use Tufte has often criticized) and is both a classic treatment of interesting and compelling ways data has been presented over the centuries, as well as a visual delight to read through. Reading Tufte’s works will add a lot to your awareness of, and appreciation for the pictorial display of complex concepts.

Speaking of pictures, the person who has influenced my presentations the most would have to be Garr Reynolds. Since I first picked up a copy of his visually and mentally stimulating book Presentation Zen I have never made another boring, text filled slide presentation. He really has the handle on how to tell a story using great visuals (to show on the screen) and your well-chosen words (which you say out loud, not read to your audience!). His recommended reading list is beyond compare for anyone who is really serious about becoming a top-notch presenter. One of my favorite takeaways from Garr is his habit of asking “dakara nani?” which translates to “So What?” or “…and your point is?”. He reminds us that every visual you show or every point you make should have value or relevance or it can just be eliminated. Believe me, if you make more than one or two presentations a year, Garr will change your life!

If you are a fan of, or otherwise committed to PowerPoint as your main presentation tool, you need to know Ellen Finkelstein, a trainer, coach, writer, and PowerPoint Superstar! If you are a PPt user, you owe it to yourself to follow her excellent blog. Ellen also offers regular online workshops and webinars on the effective use of PowerPoint, and provides dozens of useful tips for free. Ellen is truly the antidote to Death by PowerPoint! (ref1) (ref2)

One of the latest additions to my mentor list is Nancy Duarte. Through her trainings, her blog, and a variety of recorded interviews, Nancy can turn you into an expert communicator, whether your audience is investors, employees, or customers. Her clear communication styles and tools perfectly exemplify what she is teaching. You really need to check out Slidedocs, Nancy Duarte’s solution to one of the most common problems we face – when people want copies of our presentations and we can’t be there to make the presentation itself. (If you’re a Garr Reynolds disciple and your work is 90% visual, this is truly a must!) A good Slidedocs presentation can be emailed, mailed, or printed and hand delivered, and you will be truly close the loop on effective communication!

These are my four superhero mentors, the people who have had the most impact on my communication skills and style. Feel free to borrow them for yourself. And, if you want to fill me in on someone I have missed along the way, please drop me a note and suggest them, much obliged!

For True Coffee Lovers!

Coffee is the common man’s gold. And like gold, it brings to every person the feeling of luxury and nobility. Where coffee is served, there is grace and splendor and friendship and happiness. All cares vanish as the coffee cup is raised to the lips.

The quote above is attributed to Sheikh Abd Al-Kadir, from a 1587 work entitled “In Praise of Coffee” (view more coffee quotes)

You can probably tell right off that this message is not directed to those of you who drink 30 cups of coffee a day (but can’t remember the last one), or those whose favorite coffee starts with F-O-L or M-A-X, or those who mainly drink coffee to “keep me awake so I can finish this paper/work project/assignment”. Nor is it meant for anyone who thinks that “pods” are a good idea – ecologically, or for making good coffee (and remember the evil forces in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” were called Pod People).

This is for the others, those whose approach to a cup of coffee is first to inhale the rich and rewarding aroma of a good cup. Those who don’t have to start the day with a coffee, but don’t mind if they do. Those who can drink one cup a day, or two, or ten, but only if it’s REALLY GOOD coffee – quality over quantity. Those whose word association with “coffee” is “ahhhh”.

You are the people who understand the rich history of coffee, dating back centuries to the (perhaps mythical) story of Kaldi and the Dancing Goats. The people who will drive miles out of your way to visit a great new coffee shop you have heard about, and whose googling history includes dozens of queries starting with “Where’s the best coffee in…”. The people who understand the health benefits of coffee, and may even be willing to go one step further and argue that coffee drinkers are more successful than other people.

You are the people who have tried many ways to brew the best coffee at home, and are happy to debate those methods (and defend your favorite) with fellow appreciators. You are the ones who include the potential demise of coffee as one of your strongest reasons for solving the climate crisis. Your “gift list” for yourself, or for many of your friends, could include anything shown here.

You may be like me, and have taken the next step towards the best coffee by roasting your own beans at home. By the way, Sweet Maria’s is one of the best sources I’ve found for buying green coffee beans for roasting, and I imagine their pre-roasted coffee is probably pretty darn good too.

If you are one of these people, you know that I could write, and you could read, pages and pages of prose in praise of this magical elixir, the favorite of commoners and kings. But I have a better idea. Go find yourself a great cup of coffee and enjoy the moment!

Practical Gaming

I was a fan of the idea of using games for practical purposes, long before I heard Jane McGonigle’s classic TED talk on the subject, but that doesn’t mean I don’t recommend strongly that you watch it. I have long believed that “all other things being equal, people respond as well or better when they’re having fun than when they aren’t” and fun and games (and humor) tend to go together.

Think back, way back and you might share one of my earliest memories of this toy scale, that was widely used to teach addition and subtraction. What is one of your first memories of using games and toys to learn something practical? Even the E-Z Bake Oven fits the description, I would argue.

But as I said, a few years pre-Jane, I had already begun experimenting with the use of online games to deliver counseling services in a fun and practical (particularly in rural areas) ways. Other multiplayer gaming-based purposes include pain management systems, training simulations, and many more.

Gamification, or the introduction of elements that are common to game play – things like competition, point tallies, trophies, badges or other recognition isn’t a new concept either. Anyone who has ever been in a sales position – be it automobiles, appliances, or insurance – is familiar with sales scoreboards and “win a weekend trip” promotions. But things are much more sophisticated and interesting now.

Introducing game elements, especially fun ones, can help businesses in a variety of areas, like recruiting great talent, corporate wellness programs, and nonprofit fundraising. Even the Harvard Business Review agrees that strategy games can be used to help solve real world business dilemmas. And you don’t have to be a large concern to utilize gamification strategies, they work for small business too!

I’m not sure where along the way we decided that “Work” is the opposite of “Play” but I am sure that the distinction is not nearly so obvious as it once might have been. Have fun!

You’re STILL Not Listening to Podcasts?

For the truly unaware, let me explain that a podcast is so named because it is a form of broadcasting that was designed and packaged to be playable on portable devices like the Apple iPod. You can read for yourself the history of podcasting, but suffice it to say that from humble and technically restrictive origins, the podcast has come a very long way. Today, there are multiple ways to listen to podcasts and you can do so using almost any device (phone, laptop, desktop, tablet) and even synchronize you listening so you can start an episode on one device and finish it on another.

Now, I love me some music, and I’m not likely to give up my Sirius XM subscription soon (or Pandora, or Spotify) but more often these days, I’ll listen to a podcast instead of E Street Radio, especially when I’m driving, and especially when the trip is going to take longer than just a few minutes. Podcasts are also great in other situations where watching a screen is difficult or impossible, like during a workout, or on a sunny day at the beach.

Podcast listening is extremely common – over 42 million Americans listen to a podcast each week – and the audience grows year in and year out at a rate of about 10% per year. (see more statistics, if you’re interested), The number of podcasts available is also growing and may well top 200,000 as of this writing.

Using popular apps (I like Pocket Casts) probably represents the best way to find an access point to large libraries of podcasts, but it’s also possible to stream a podcast direct from the originator’s web site. For example, a lot of NPR radio broadcasts (like Fresh Air) are available as podcasts right from the program site. Finding podcasts you want to listen to may take some trial and error, although Top Podcasts of the Year Lists are prevalent, including this group of 50 from The Atlantic. You can also find podcast listings for specific interests, like History (I’m happy to see they included a favorite, “The Dollop”), Business, or creative folks. We’ll explore some of these areas further in future editions of TNT.

Oh, and when you find a podcast you really enjoy, be sure to look into the options for subscribing, which will give you the opportunity to know when new episodes are made available and often access to archives as well. Happy listening!

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