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Two simple tips for practicing simplicity

Twitter is the new Mark Twain.

You’ll recall Mark Twain apologizing for the length of a letter, saying he’d have made it shorter if he had had more time.

Well, I recently started Tweeting as part of my new Consultant Launch Pad site (if you’re interested in following me, I’m @consultantlaunc) and it’s helping me think more about my messages.  I’ve found that 140 characters isn’t all that much to express an idea (even if you’re just tweeting a quote or a link to another article or blog post), but if you want your message to get forwarded, you need to take that character count down below 120.  That’s because a “retweet” also includes the name of the person forwarding it and that 120 characters needs to be even shorter if you want to give them space to make a short comment.

You’ll get a pretty good idea of how good or bad you are at communicating your message succinctly by the number of retweets and/or the number of people following you.  One way to practice is to Follow a number of people and enter into a dialogue with them.

Elevator speeches become "the 118"

Faster elevators now give you less than two minutes to sell yourself

Tip No. 2 has to do with a new book out on the elevator speech called The Mirror Test by Jeffrey Hayzlett, Kodak’s former chief marketing officer.  For now, I’ll point you toward an interview with and a mini-profile of him (they’re both short) but think his concept of what he calls “the 118” is pretty actionable.

Here’s an excerpt: “The 118 comes from the 118 seconds you actually have to pitch: 8 seconds to hook me and up to 110 seconds to drive it home — less than two minutes with only seconds to spare. The first eight seconds is the length of time the average human can concentrate on something and not lose some focus. It is also the length of time of one of the toughest rides in the world: a qualified ride in professional bull riding. In these first eight seconds, you must be compelling, strong, and focused to be successful. You must hold on as one of the meanest, toughest animals in the world tries to throw you off – just like any good prospect will. Make it those 8 seconds, and I’ll give you 110 more to drive your message home with no bull. But if you have not sold me at the end of the 118, I will start to tune out. At that point, we are moving forward to a sale or not.”

To summarize today’s two tips for a Twitter world:  2 Simplicity tips: Keep your Tweeting <120 charact and buy Jeffrey Hayzlett’s The Mirror Test.

And after attaching a TinyURL of this post, that’s 120 characters.  On the nose.

With Twitter, power now shifting to audience during presentations

Twitter:  Distraction or Presentation Aid?

Twitter: Distraction or Presentation Aid?

It used to be enough as a presenter to know your audience, have strong content, practice, and repeat.

Not any more.

Now you have to worry about the audience Tweeting about your presentation…as you’re giving it.  And sometimes the comments are being projected over your shoulder, right next to your slides.

I can actually see pros and cons with this.  On one hand, if you really know your topic and have practiced, this can be an opportunity to modify your presentation when you see the audience isn’t getting something or incorporate the answers to their questions right then and there, rather than hoping they’ll ask after you’re done.

On the other hand, monitoring Twitter could distract you from focusing on presenting and watching the audience for their reactions and lead you down roads that will undermine the preparation you’ve done.

And with Twitter, people who aren’t even at your presentation have an opportunity to weigh in and add to the confusion. 

This issue has really come to the forefront with a recent incident at the HigherEdWeb conference in Milwaukee a few weeks ago.  For some context, feel free to click on The Great Keynote Meltdown of 2009.  Simply put, the presenter appears to have been ill-prepared, used outdated slides, and was a poor presenter who disrespected his audience.  He took an ugly public (and private — people also texted his phone number to tell him how bad he was) beating.  But this isn’t a new phenomenon. 

I’m thinking about this as I prepare for a presentation on The Impact of New Credit Card Legislation on Students at a conference of financial-aid professionals in Orlando next month.  Some will argue I should have already done this, but I’ll be asking the conference organizers on Monday about the level of my audience’s social technology adoption to determine whether I need to (or even can) monitor the backchannel while I’m talking.   The next decision is whether I want to.  What I do know is that I’ll be intensifying my preparation over the next few weeks to ensure I’m not “that guy.”

I wonder how people who Tweet during a presentation can be doing that and still pay attention.  My 17-year-old, who IMs, Facebooks, and the like far more than I like, says he could — but that he would never use Twitter in that way.

I’d like to get a dialogue going on this subject.  Should Twitter be banned from presentations or is it a reasonable way for the audience to interact with the speaker and just a sign of the times of the audience gaining more power?  What strategies are you using in situations where conferences have a backchannel?