My Guiltiest Twitter Pleasure:

OK, I’ll admit it. Very few days go by where I don’t check into Why? Because I like a good grin. And I like to find humor in offbeat and unusual places.

Favstar is like an underground Twitter subculture of frustrated writers and wanna-be comics. A Twitter companion site, you can simply go to and sign in with your Twitter account. On a completely selfish or business level, you can use the Favstar service to discover who has starred or “favorited” your Tweets. But there’s more to favstar than vanity searches for your surreptitious gold stars. Me TabBut first, why star instead of RT? Sometimes you really think a tweet is perky, funny, or entertaining — but you can’t retweet everything you think is great. That could really junk up your timeline. And it might not be relevant to your followers. Instead, you can give props to peeps who give good Tweets by bookmarking the Tweet with a star. This also lets you curate interesting Tweets as well as build relationships with people you think are witty.

I’ve been visiting for some months now. The people who are active on Favstar have formed something of a clandestine Twitter counter culture. They Tweet for the gold stars. It’s like applause to them.

At Favstar, you’ll find categories for funny, tech, and celebrity tweets. You’ll discover the NSFW — Not Safe for Work — section (don’t say I didn’t warn you). Favstar also helps you curate your own lists at Twitter, as well.

Favstar Leaderboard

All that said, I’m not terribly active on Favstar — I read & giggle & applaud by giving out gold stars more than anything else. Going to to read the “Leaderboard” is my guilty pleasure — as is curating a list of warm & witty Twitter newcomers to my Favstar lists. I’ve found fun people to connect with who excel at using Twitter for self-expression and pounding out one-liners.

Favstar is my guilty Twitter pleasure — what’s yours?

fun Presentation social media

Steal This Press Conference!

Actually, the title of this post should be:

“If you don’t like the news, why not go out and make your own?”

The above question is a quote from “Steal This Book“, a social instruction guide written by Abbie Hoffman in the 1970’s. Hoffman was a master at getting free publicity for his causes in the 1960’s and 70’s. He didn’t have the power of Goliath on his side — large corporations and governments certainly did not appreciate his approach! Instead, Hoffman used the stealthy power of a David to successfully change the course of the Amerikan conversation.

Abbie Hoffmancredit: osbomb

In one paragraph, Hoffman describes timeless presentation techniques for snatching free publicity using the conventional press conference system. With the popularity of social media channels, Hoffman’s techniques may be even more effective today than they were over 40 years ago.

The paragraph, in its entirety, is in italics below. I broke up the paragraph with free (stolen?) images from Flickr, for your viewing enjoyment.

Everything about a successful press conference must be dramatic, from the announcements and phone calls to the statements themselves. Nothing creates a worse image than four or five men in business suits sitting behind a table and talking in a calm manner at a fashionable hotel. Constantly seek to have every detail of the press conference differ in style as well as content from the conferences of people in power.

DSC_0069.JPGcredit: Andrew Feinberg

Make use of music and visual effects.

Bidê ou Balde - Natal da Integração Campo Bom - Dez 2008credit: Tiago Zaniratti

Don’t stiffen up before the press. Make the statement as short and to the point as possible. Don’t read from notes, look directly into the camera.

ACORN press conference 12/18/08credit: ProgressOhio

The usual television spot is one minute and twenty seconds. The cameras start buzzing on your opening statement and often run out of film before you finish. So make it brief and action packed.

GAW: Massive Dynamiccredit: Giant Ideas

The question period should be even more dramatic. Use the questioner’s first name when answering a question. This adds an air of informality and networks are more apt to use an answer directed personally to one of their newsmen.

TR20081106-011credit: Menlo School

Express your emotional feelings. Be funny, get angry, be sad or ecstatic. If you cannot convey that you are deeply excited or troubled or outraged about what you are saying, how do you expect it of others who are watching a little image box in their living room?

Bumper Sticker Wisdomcredit: Kevin Krejci

Remember, you are advertising a new way of life to people. Watch TV commercials. See how they are able to convey everything they need to be effective in such a short time and limited space.

A Christmas Present for My Snow-Bound Friendscredit: Caveman 92223

At the same tune you’re mocking the shit they are pushing, steal their techniques.

Keeping it Real, West Jerusalemcredit: David Masters

How many of Hoffman’s techniques can you “steal” to help promote your own worthy cause? And how astute is  “the establishment” (politicians, governments, large corporations and organizations, etc.) becoming at using Hoffman’s style to promote their own agenda?

How many of these techniques have you seen successfully deployed lately? Book burning, anyone?

PS — If you’d like to steal Hoffman’s book, I found it as a free pdf download here: I wonder how long before it will be a free Kindle download on Amazon… it only seems fitting.

fun Presentation social media Twitter

Holy Mackerel! What’s the Best Speaker Gift Ever?

Recently, I received a can of mackerel as a gift. It wasn’t a speaker gift. It was, however, an unusual gift.

It was also an unusually thoughtful gift. How so?

A week earlier, I told an off-topic story. I heard an interview on NPR that fish at the bottom of the food chain — sardines, anchovies, herring, mackerel — are nutritious and better environmental choices than salmon and tuna.

However, most Americans haven’t developed a taste for these “lower food chain” fish. I mentioned that the NPR interview gave me the inspiration to try to develop a palate for these fish:

  • Herring, I already like.
  • Anchovies, they’re OK to cook with occasionally.
  • Sardines, meh. I had a sardine bake last week. It was OK, not great. But I love canned sardines on rye! Bonus points for hot sauce.

As for mackerel, I’ve been warned against it repeatedly. I’ve never tried it.

Holy Mackerel Speaker Gifts

That was the gist of my off-hand story. A week later, I received the can of mackerel as a gift, with the challenge to try it. I love a challenge, so I’m going to do it. I’m going to eat that can of mackerel.

More than anything, I love that someone was listening to my offhand comment, and took the time to respond with a thoughtful — albeit unusual — gift.

This made me think of business and speaker gifts I’ve given and received over the years. I once gave a man a smoked salmon as a speaker gift — long story, drug dogs at the airport went insane, security guards drawing weapons — but in the end, it all worked out. The guy’s secretary probably loved the story of temporary airport incarceration more than the actual salmon. But ever since, I’ve been leery of giving the gift of fish. It’s an act of crazy bravado.

However, you’ve really got a challenge when you give a speaker gift. How can you top an unusual, personalized gift like a can of mackerel or a story of incarceration?

The Best Speaker Gift Ever! One of the keys of giving a truly thoughtful gift is to listen to your speaker. If you’re hiring someone to speak at your event or for your organization, read their blog. Follow them on FaceBook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. Watch for that offhand comment — it may be about a mackerel, a passion for falconry, adventures in beekeeping — who knows? Once you know a little bit more about your speaker, you can find something more personal that the leftover SWAG that’s been gathering dust in your office.

It may not be the actual gift that’s treasured — but the story behind the gift. Give the gift of listening and storytelling. Those are the best gifts any speaker can receive.

That, and cash.

PS — What are the oddest — and best — speaker gifts you’ve ever given or received? (And if you have any good recipes for canned mackerel, I’d love to read them…thanks!)

fun Presentation

Top 3 Ways Presenters Can Make Sex Boring

Let’s imagine that you’re asked to give a presentation about sex. Really!

Your audience of adult coworkers are eagerly anticipating the fascinating insights you’re going to share with them in your one-hour presentation.

I’m seriously asking you to imagine this. Go ahead. Giggle, blush, scoff —  but ask yourself:

How might you prepare? What might you say? How will you handle Q &A? What props will you use?

boring presentation

As exciting as the topic is — and as riveted as you know your audience will be to hear you talk — there are three pretty typical ways a business presenter can make even sex boring! Here are the top 3 ways you can make any presentation deadly dull — even if the topic is incredibly provocative.

1. Tell the audience everything you know. Let’s say you  know quite a bit about the topic. You have a list of facts. You know the latest research. You’ve read volumes of historical, sociological, and anthropological perspectives. Jamming it all into one short hour is going to require fast-talking and lots of bullet points.

Instead, resist the urge to sound like a smarty-pants. You’ve only got an hour. Pick a narrow niche. Go deep, not broad.

2. Share facts, not stories. You don’t want your presentation to get too personal. People need solid information, not jokes or anecdotes. Every second you spend sharing a story or a smile is just a lost opportunity to cram in another important fact.

Instead, try the exact opposite approach. Your audience is more likely to learn from a story than from swallowing a list of facts. Tell a story that relates to your topic. People will do more than learn: they’ll remember.

3. Disconnect yourself emotionally. If you want people to take you seriously, you’d better play it straight. Divorce yourself from your emotions, and read stoically from a teleprompter. Use a monotone. Do not make eye contact with the audience.

Instead, try using some emotional range. Good news may require a display of cheer, bad news may go down easier with an honest display of concern or remorse. You can even spruce up an emotionally neutral topic with some sincere enthusiasm or humor.

Business presenters seldom get to deliver a presentation on a topic as exciting as sex. However, “The Top 3 Second Quarter 2010 Business Unit Challenges” can be a downright amazing presentation if you pick a niche, tell stories, and deliver your presentation with passion!

How else can presenters make sex boring?

fun PowerPoint Presentation Presentation

Professorial PowerPoint Humor

I’ve only been teaching at the college level for a few terms. One of the chief complaints I hear from students about PowerPoint lectures (from other instructors!) is the unbearable boredom when a professor uses the pre-packaged presentations included with the course textbook. These CDs contain mostly bullet-point outlines of the entire book.

Yes, you read that right. Bullet-point outlines of an entire textbook.

Professors read this mess for an hour or two. In front of their classes!


With all we know about learning and cognitive function, you’d think that professors — dedicated to a career of imparting knowledge — might spend a minute or two understanding that this approach doesn’t help students understand course material. You’d think that textbook publishers — also dedicated to the art of imparting knowledge — might actually read a book or ten about brain function.

PowerPoint expert Ellen Finkelstein poses an excellent question in her LinkedIn group, Great Communicators! Effective Presenting & PowerPoint. Ellen asks,

With so much information about good presentation techniques available, why are there so many Death by PowerPoint presentations given every single day?

Great question, Ellen. You can read some of the answers on her LinkedIn Group… and chime in with your own answers, too.

If you’ve ever experienced a bullet-point textbook presentation, you might enjoy this classic video on YouTube that parodies the horror. Wait for the Q&A session near the end — classic.


content ideas PowerPoint Presentation Presentation

What is the most interesting part of your presentation?

Let’s say you’ve been asked to stand & deliver a one-hour presentation to a large business audience. So you craft a presentation. You rehearse.

At this point, it’s time to deploy an old speechwriter’s tip. Ask yourself: “What is the single most interesting part of my presentation?

Answer honestly. Your response should give you some profound insight.

I like asking this “single most interesting” question. It gives me amazing ideas for re-crafting, editing, or restructuring a speech or presentation. When I ask the question and get a shrug, “nothing”, “everything!” or “I don’t know” — I have my work cut out for me!

exciting interesting presentation

But here are 3 other answers to the “most interesting” question that indicate a speech or presentation is in serious trouble:

  • “Why, the incredible design and nifty animations in my PowerPoint slides, of course!”
  • “The overwhelming amount of facts and statistics that support my main thesis.”
  • “That part in the middle where I share an emotional & dramatic anecdote.”

If your slides, stats, or center are the most interesting or exciting parts of your presentation, uh-oh! You’ve got troubles, my friend! Why?

Good storytelling always trumps fabulous design. You can design the most beautiful slides your audience has ever seen. But in the absence of a good story paired with outstanding delivery, all the audience will be able to remember are pretty pictures + special effects. Remember, design supports the story — not the other way around!

No one likes being slowly clubbed to death with facts. I like facts. And I like statistics. I just don’t like be repeatedly clubbed over the head with them. If you aim to overwhelm your audience, overwhelm them with emotion. In a heightened emotional state, your audience might be more predisposed to accept your logic… or maybe even a fact or two.

Audience attention wanes about every 9 minutes. If the most exciting part of your presentation is in the middle, for heaven’s sake — move it to the beginning. Start strong! Then, craft at least 5 more compelling stories to tell for the duration of your 1 hour presentation. No matter how exciting you are, audience attention wanes about every 9 minutes.

Of course, what you think is the most interesting part of your presentation and what your audience thinks may be two different things entirely! That’s one reason why planning to talk for only 35-40 minutes out of your allotted 60 is generally a swell idea. When you open up the discussion for questions and answers, you’re more likely to find out what’s really most interesting to your audience.

So go on. Ask yourself:

What is the single most interesting part of my presentation?

You’ll be amazed at the insight this simple question will give you!


How much health info should you share on FaceBook?

Stop discussing your family’s medical conditions on social media channels like FaceBook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Stop blogging about your children’s illnesses. Please.

You want support and information?

Pick up the phone and talk one-on-one with medical professionals. Join a confidential support group. Discuss your concerns over dinner with your family and loved ones. Get counseling.

Sharing Health Info on FaceBook

FaceBook, LinkedIn, and Twitter are completely inappropriate communication channels to bandy about personal medical and health issues. Personally, I don’t want to hear about your teen daughter’s battle with depression, drug addiction, and bulimia. It’s none of my business. Telling stories about your grandmother’s dementia helps you deal with caretaker stress — but probably at the expense of her dignity and privacy. Pimping out your baby son as the face of a chronic disease — not to help him personally, but to “raise money to find a cure for all those afflicted” — is particularly despicable.

Knock it off.

On a certain level, I understand how tempting it can be if you are going through a difficult time with an ailing family member. You want to reach out and feel the love. But laying out others’ illnesses (or your own!) on social media channels to get pity, support, sympathy, or money from strangers and near-strangers can seriously limit opportunities.

Let me summarize a few stories I’ve heard from employers. The stories, in essence, go like this:

“We had a great job candidate. We did a search on FaceBook. Found out through a family member that he has diabetes / arthritis / cancer / high cholesterol / etc. We know this shouldn’t matter, but we also know that we need to keep our health insurance costs down. A well person is likely to be more productive than a chronically ill person. But we don’t have to tell him that. We can just say: ‘Sorry. We found another candidate that more closely met our needs.'”

It’s pretty to think that we have laws and policies to safeguard against this kind of discrimination. It’s wonderful to believe the hiring managers are nice people who can be counted upon to rise above such obvious prejudices. It’s also a sad reality that getting health insurance or even a job is a struggle for many in the United States. Why make it even more difficult?

I don’t want limit the career opportunities of the people I love. I don’t want to narrow their choices for accessing health care. And I don’t want to put their private matters into the hands of strangers so that I can selfishly squeak out a little sympathy for myself. How about you?

How much family health information do you share on FaceBook, Twitter, and LinkedIn? What’s in it for you?


How Twitter is like a Native American Talking Circle

What if you were to approach Twitter as if it were a Native American Talking Circle? In the Talking Circle format, you value every voice equally. You listen respectfully. Everyone can contribute. You share your soul, learn from others, and make decisions. You build ideas and relationships in a collaborative environment.

Twitter Talking Circle

The Talking Circle uses a simple format that loosely models the synapse and spark of your brain. Ideas bounce from one part of the circle to another. The Talking Circle is often leaderless, but may deploy the use of a talking stick or talking feather (or hashtag!) to help facilitate respect for those who are speaking. Modern teams may toss balls or Frisbees as fun, concrete tools to help keep order while inspiring ideas.

And because Talking Circles and Twitter encourage talk with no apparent purpose other than the act of talking and sharing, they are often dismissed as a valuable business format. But discussions in Talking Circles and Twitter can be oddly transforming. Open discussions can generate new ideas. They release creativity. Open dialogs using a Talking Circle format can foster community, trust, and respect.

And I have to admit, tossing around ideas on Twitter and in Talking Circles can be fun. I also enjoy the element of play — when we toss about a brightly colored Koosh ball, we not only keep order and focus, but we add a bit of levity to a creative meeting. When we banter on Twitter, we not only generate more ideas, but we simultaneously build relationships.

In modern business, new-fangled concepts like open innovation and crowdsourcing are gaining momentum and respect. However, these new buzzwords seem to be based on old-fashioned notions like Talking Circles and Coffee Klatches. (Note the growing popularity of ‘doing business’ in wireless coffee houses.)

What if we ran more meetings and presentations in this time-honored format? Open and leaderless, allowing meaningful ideas to emerge organically? Would we improve collaboration, trust, and creativity? Or would meetings degenerate into endless meetings for the sake of meetings?

How are you using old-school open collaboration formats like Talking Circles in modern environments? How is it working for you?

content ideas Presentation

Be yourself? Why not be someone else?

Say you’re giving a live presentation to a large audience. And let’s say this is not something you do on a regular basis.

You might be a little nervous about your presentation, so you turn to friends or the internet for some public speaking advice. As you do, you’ll undoubtedly hear or read this strange bit of folkloric wisdom:

Just Be Yourself! Act Natural!

The problem with this advice is that you’ll find yourself in a completely unnatural environment — alone in front of a large group of people, lights shining in your face, a mike wire dangling from your lapel to your fanny, monster visual displays behind your back — just exactly how do you go about acting “naturally” in such an unnatural situation?

And suppose your “natural” self is rather shy, nervous, or introverted? How does that help?

Telling a nervous neophyte speaker to “act naturally” on stage sets them up to flop. Rather than trying to “act naturally” — whatever that is — why not try one of these three more specific courses of action?

1. You can make the environment seem more natural. Nothing takes the jitters out of a presentation like a real, live, full dress rehearsal. Get lots of practice! Physically walk on the stage. Feel the lights on your face, the fanny pack on your belt, the video remote in your hand. Once you’ve experienced your surroundings, the stage environment is going to seem more natural — so there’s a better chance that you can act naturally, too.

2. If you’re going to be yourself, be your best self. There’s really no point in being yourself if you’re naturally dull. Getting up on stage will only amplify your natural witlessness and bore your audience. Instead, natural dullards would do well to work with professional speech writers and coaches. Professionals can help buff a dull personality or presentation so that it shines on stage. If it’s an important presentation, don’t mess around — hire a pro.

3. You can be someone else.
OK, you can’t really BE someone else. But you can channel the spirit of someone you admire, and project their personality when you speak. This actually takes a speech out of the realm of “presentation” and into the realm of “performance.” It’s called “acting” — and you may have heard that many audiences find a good performance highly entertaining and enriching.

If you know who you are and are completely comfortable with the stage — you might do well to act naturally. You might do even better to act appropriately for the audience and the situation.

And hey — what exactly does it mean to “be yourself?”


What’s your trademarked hand gesture?

Sarah Palin writes notes on hers. Bill Clinton is famous for the modified fist with the softened thumbs up gesture. TV pundits vary their hand gestures for emphasis and interest.

hand gestures in presentationsWhat do you do with your hands during a presentation?

For the past year, I’ve seen an alarming trend in presentation hand-gestures — especially by young men during technical presentations.

It’s the lackluster “hands in pockets” gesture made popular by the slacker dufus in those “I’m a PC” commercials. He’s the guy whose posture represents disinterest. He has nothing to do, so he stands with his hands in his pockets, listening to what the more entertaining fellow has to say.

“Hands in Pockets” might be appropriate during the “Q” part of “Q and A”. It can signal, “I’m open to listening to you”.

But it’s not a polite posture to adopt while speaking.

Worse, I frequently see the “hands in pocket” presenter fidget on stage. The hands start to dig deeper into the pockets. Fiddling commences.

I like to imagine the presenter is toying with his keys or a thumb drive, but I’m not entirely sure what he’s playing with down there. It makes me uncomfortable. I tend to lose focus on the presentation, worrying about what he might pull out of his pocket. Curiously, I seldom see women thrust their hands in their trousers while presenting. It seems to be a guy’s gesture.

What do you do with your hands? During your next presentation — watch what you do with your hands. Avoid inadvertently rude gestures. Vary the gestures throughout your speech.

And what’s your “trademark” gesture — the one gesture you can become famous for?

Just keep your hands where the audience can see ’em, please!