Lessons From Netroots: Dos and Don’ts of Presenting

Spent the weekend at Netroots Nation learning some tech-savvy online organizing tips. In the more than five years in this field, I’ve been to 1 to 2 of these conferences a year and I think I’ve finally hit the point where, for the most part, I can clearly identify the sessions that will work for me. And, when I miss the mark, I often find it’s less that concept of the session is off, and more that the presenter is breaking a few basic rules:

  • DON’T use the session as a sales presentation. I don’t care if you just invented the online organizing version of an iPhone just don’t do it. I did not come to this conference in order to be sold to.
  • If you must highlight your product, DO highlight it in terms of a solution to a problem I already have. Teach me something, show me how to solve an issue for my organization. If your new widget/program/company is a solution to the problem, that’s great, but don’t lead with the sales pitch, lead with the problem/solution.
  • DON’T take your one case study and try to expand it into an overarching lesson. Have the outline of what you want to teach and then find a mix of examples that fit instead of trying to pull lessons from your single success story. Otherwise it’s too hard for people to relate to their own goals unless they have the exact same foal as you. Any scientist will tell you that a sample size of 1 is useless.
  • DO use audience participation, not just a lecture. The three best sessions* I attended truly engaged the crowd on the topic at hand, either testing the tool, crowdsourcing a new meme, or proving the importance of paying attention when it comes to rapid response pinging people on Twitter in real-time while the presentation was going on.

* Specific credit to those sessions that were great:

Michael Sabat’s “Winning Wireless” skirted perilously close to being just a sales presentation, but he managed to make it “You need to be on mobile, here’s why, here’s how easy it is.” And that last part that was so key, as he was able to show the org’s standpoint of setting up a campaign and then had us pull out our phones to try it from the end-users’ standpoint. So of course he had to show HIS product, as that’s what he had access to. But the overarching point wasn’t “Buy my product” it was “You need to be on mobile, and it’s easy to do.”

Jenifer Daniels “Words that Work(ed)” was not only fabulous in that she tapped into a lot of issues I’ve been itching over (like progressives’ naive insistence that facts will win the day) but she taught us some basic ground rules and then asked us to implement them by crowdsourcing a new tagline/slogan for an issue that the room deemed critical. It was great to be handed a set of tools and then immediately be asked to put them to use.

Chris Cassidy’s “Rapid Response Across Mediums” was a fun, information-filled presentation. But what really drove it home was that while he was lecturing on the ABCs of rapid response (pay Attention, Be prepared, Close), his colleague was in the back of the room tweeting fake comments/pictures about those in attendance in a real-time test of who was, in fact, paying attention. Even for those who arrived late and didn’t sign in (personal *whew* there) it’s still likely a lesson attendees won’t soon forget.

An Amazon-Free Existence: My First Big Hurdle

Last December I hit the limit on how much I was willing to let my money go toward a company I found shady and questionable–Amazon. And it’s been fairly doable.

The biggest change has been the lack of one-stop shopping–but more exploring. Without the default of “Amazon will have it” I need to think about who will. Sometimes that means finding a new outlet on the web, but sometimes it means finding a new store in my area. And while I’m OK at Internet communities, I need some work at connecting to my actual community, so anything that helps me do that is a bonus.

So life Amazon free has been a bit pricier amod takes a bit more time, but still worth it. And then…

In case it hasn’t been made obvious, I’m an Amanda Palmer fan, so news of her latest Kickstarter had me completely psyched. I was all set to donate anD then I saw the little Amazon Payments logo.

Commence sinking heart.

I did my research in the hopes that, maybe my money, no matter how small a fraction, wouldn’t be going to Amazon. No such luck.

So I didn’t give. Which makes me sad. But I’m also happy that I stuck with my convictions. Thankfully, Pozible is NOT linked to Amazon, so I can and did (and you should to) donated to Tom Dickins’ newest album. So hooray for supporting independent projects without supporting Amazon.

Thanks For Making the Choice Clear, Amazon

Though I’ve resisted for a while, I’ve been thinking of getting an e-reader. Finally realized that it won’t be in PLACE of actual books, but in addition too. I still love having actual books, but there are certain scenarios where and e-reader makes more sense. Like being able to bring a bunch of books on vacation without hauling…a bunch of books. Or being able to read and knit at the same time cause I don’t have to hold a book open.

I was leaning toward a Kindle Fire (inexpensive tablet AND e-reader), when the latest Amazon story broke about their price check app, where they offer discounts and coupons for customers reporting on competitors’ in-store prices.

Really Amazon?

Despite some past missteps of theirs, I’ve been a fan. I don’t buy myself books there as I try to support local indy bookshops, but I definitely buy a bunch of other stuff through Amazon because of the ease. No longer.

They can claim all they want that they’re not trying to go after small businesses but rather big retail chains, but that won’t stop them from getting data on and increasing their advantage over small business while using their customers to do so. And really, the whole idea of it just feels….sleazy.

So between my already well-entrenched loyalty to my local bookstore and this latest sign of corporate greed, I’m done with Amazon. I will not get a Kindle. I will be closing out my Amazon Visa. I will not buy anything else from them. And I will, in general, be spreading the word to others that it’s worth considering doing the same.

So what’s my e-book solution? Looks like I’m going with a Nook. Might seem a bit counter-intuitive to go from one big corporation to another, but there’s a Barnes and Noble just up the street from my office and, as the receipts from my local indy bookshop note:

How much money stays in your community when you spend $100?
At a locally owned business: $68
At a local chain: $43
At Amazon: $0 *

So bound books from the independent bookstores. E-book reader from a local chain. And since Amazon gives $0 for my community, from now on I will give $0 to them.

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*I have no idea how accurate these numbers are**, but the logic and point behind it is sound. With a locally owned business, the taxes, staff wages, and profits stay in the community. With a chain, the taxes and staff wages stay in the community. With Amazon….yep, that’s a big fat zero.

**Edited to Add (12/19/11): I checked with the bookstore and apparently they were using a Civic Economics study for these numbers. It’s from 2004 and focused on Chicago, but my guess is that, while the exact numbers might not hold true, the theory behind them is still pretty solid.

Trademark ME!

Face in a crowd from http://www.flickr.com/photos/vividbreezeIt’s hard to work in online communications and not trip over the concept of “personal branding.” While the cynic in my gags a bit at the buzzword bingo aspect of the phrase (as we shift the paradigm outside the box etc.), I can also see the value in it in my peers’ actions and online presence.

A brand lets you boil something down into its basic concept. Think about a few brands and what comes to mind? Google —> Search. Facebook —> Social. Ikea —> DIY. Nike —> Sports.

My problem is that I tend to be a generalist, rather than a specialist. But it makes it difficult to find a “brand.” And in the world of online communication, when you have to be available 24/7 and the lines between professional and personal blur. That can be an issue.

I see my colleagues solving it by hyper focusing on a certain aspect of their interests and making that the entirety of their “personal brand.” There’s the woman who is into social networks as tools to celebrate and protect wildlife. Or the guy who does video work for non-profits.

But I keep snagging on that generalist thing. Sure, shallowness is often taken as a bad character trait, but really, instead of taking a focused deep dive into a limited number of topics (think Blue Hole), I’m much happier with a broad, shallow interest in a BUNCH of topics (think the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool).

While I do envy those people who have identified their passion, I love constantly exploring new areas and the variety of things that I encounter. True, this means I’m often on the edges of communities that are tied together by a shared interest, it also means I get to experience a lot of different communities.

Those generalist leanings are why this blog has such varied topics, with limited connections. In fact, the only solid connection they ALL have is me. And maybe that’s the most personal of personal brands…that’s what’s at the end of my brand equation: Me  —> Me.