Monday, September 27, 2010

Tools of Engagement: How the World of Communication is Changing

I'm proud to announce that my new book, "Tools of Engagement:  Presenting and Training in a World of Social Media," is now available at As someone who has written extensively on video and presentation, I wanted this book to reflect the many changes that are impacting how we communicate with each other using technology.

The main theme of the book is that where presentations used to be targeted one-time events, they are now part of an ongoing conversation, and while authority figures may still claim the main podium, all presenters subject to a new democratic set of expectations of participation and engagement by their audience.

I strongly urge anyone with a message to avoid a "broadcast mentality" and simply give a PowerPoint presentation—and hope for the best. Such a strategy is doomed to failure today on many levels.

First there is the expectation of engagement and participation by any modern audience. Audiences expect a speaker or expert to have done a lot of research into their needs, and to be transparent and available online prior and subsequent to any presentation or event for interaction and feedback.

Whether the information is for internal or public consumption, a speaker today needs to have a presence, either through a blog, YouTube channel, Facebook group or event page, or some other interactive venue where the audience can get in touch and develop a sense of who they are—and often begin to interact with the speaker and become involved in the material directly.

There is also the phenomenon of the "Backchannel"; which is the reality that many of those attending any presentation are actively commenting and reacting with smartphones or PDAs, so that if the speaker is not aware of the sense of the audience, or engaged with the commentary, he or she will be tuned out.

Getting a sense of the reality of social media allows a presenter or trainer to be attuned to the needs of an audience and provide significant value. In terms of ordinary PowerPoint—it's the difference between trying to impress an audience with a spinning logo and information about YOU, as opposed to leading with insightful questions and foreknowledge of issues of importance to your audience.

For example, if a presenter has been active on blogs, monitoring and participating in Twitter and Facebook, or uploading video or images relevant to their field, they will generally find a receptive and knowledgable audience eager to hear more and open to calls to action.

These ideas have been well documented and presented in popular books like Groundswell, Tribes and Trust Agents, so what I've tried to do in my book is to provide some examples of the actual social and desktop tools and how to make them work effectively together.

For example, while PowerPoint is a staple for live presentations, its stale title and bullet slides are old hat, and professional speakers generally opt for more powerful visuals using image metaphors, analogies and diagrams. What I try to do is suggest how social tools like YouTube can set the stage for PowerPoint prior to an event, and then YouTube and its cousins SlideShare and AuthorStream (presentation hosting sites) can become powerful sources of additional content to maintain a connection with an audience.

I am also a big believer in the new web conferencing technologies which provide instant communication with a large group of attendees, but have the issues of maintaining a connection with an invisible audience, using just the power of the speaker's voice, message and visuals and graphics. In a world where getting anywhere is proving to be a challenge, going to a virtual event is proving very popular, but it has its own set of rules, risks and rewards.

What I want to do in Tools of Engagement is provide a reader with enough ideas and scenarios to spark the imagination in whatever his or her field may be—from an entrepreneur to a marketing executive at a large organization, to engage their colleagues and customers in ways that make the style of presentation effective and valuable.

I conclude the book with some speculation as to how social media and its impact on the organization may be evolutionary, in my hope that as a new "worldwide nervous system" the social Internet will either force or simply shift organizations to be more responsive to human and planetary needs, as opposed to simply making profits for shareholders.

Certainly it seems as though brands are having to listen more and more to customers online—we can only hope that this trend also translates into more than just public relations initiatives but eventually, with the instant involvement of customers and workers through the web—to a more natural and real awareness of higher values, like cooperation, philanthropy, compassion and wisdom.

If you're interested in discussing issues raised in the book, please feel free to comment here and perhaps we can demonstrate the power of social tools for engagement in a flourishing dialog.




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