Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Google Reader is changing the way I Blog.

It is now 12 days since I switched to using Google Reader in which time you can see I have 58 blog subscriptions, have read over 1000 posts, starred 54 and shared 27. That took surprising little time and I thought I would share how using Google reader is changing the way I read and write blog posts.

First a few comments on how I am using the tools in Google reader.

I have set up a number of folders and tags that enable me to organise the subscriptions. Folders and tags are pretty much the same - except that I keep Folders specifically to organise the blog subscriptions by topic area and Tags to record individual posts I want to be able to refer back to. I was initially relying on the Star feature for this - but this quickly becomes unmanageable. When I come back to interesting posts I usually want to look at a specific subject area and so it is much easier to organise interesting posts with Tags than Stars.

When viewing the posts I either click on All Posts or select a specific Folder if I just want to review one topic. I have found the best way to read is to start at the bottom of the list of recent posts and press K to move up to the next. Once read it stays in the list until I refresh the page - then it is unlikely that I will ever see it again. You can start at the top and press J to move down but I found that unless I clear all posts I end up with unread posts getting older and older.

My sense of timeliness has also changed radically - when you get 100 posts a day - a week is a long time so I have noticed that I tend to scan more quickly though older posts when I subscribe to a new blog. I have also noticed how much more aware I have become of the interaction going on between bloggers. These are the main things I have noticed about the way I read posts that are changing the way I blog.
  1. I seldom follow through on a partial feed. If all that is available on the post is a heading and a few lines, it has to be pretty compelling for me not to press K. Denise from the Blog Squad posted a poll a few days ago on this and I see that currently nearly 65% are in favour of full feeds.
  2. The same is true of posts that rely on me following a link to get the information. I find I need a reason to to take the time to follow the link - I want to read a Blogger's commentary then follow through because it sounds interesting.
  3. FeedBurner's FeedFlare has suddenly become much more important because it allows me to place tools for social bookmarking at the foot of the feed - so they appear in the reader - most stuff from my blog never reaches the feed.
  4. I take about 2 seconds to decide whether to read or move on - so if the post is confusing and I can't see the message quickly - it's gone. The Title, the first paragraph and subheads are critical to draw a reader in and this is basic journalistic practice but I still forget.
  5. I am starting to add more links in my blog posts because I don't see any of the links around the post - at the same time I find lots of links in a post discourages me from reading it - needs a fine balance.
  6. Making comments is not so easy because the comments link is not included in the feed - so I have to make a point of going to a post on the blog to comment as a result I am not tending not to make as many comments.
The big problem for bloggers with Google reader is that you have no idea if I am reading your posts because Google only registers as a single reader in feed stats. Not sure if Google are going to deal with that but overall I love the product and it is definitely changing the way I do things.

Rikki Arundel
Motivational Speaker
Speaking and Marketing Tips
The GenderShift Blog

Sunday, January 21, 2007

People should need a licence to use PowerPoint

I do a lot of voluntary work in my local community and as a result I attend a lot of "presentations" and "workshops" presented by senior executives in public, private and voluntary sector organisations and there seems to be common feature with the presenters. They all use PowerPoint but have never learned how to use PowerPoint.

Most of these senior executives spend a great deal of their time communicating with a variety of stakeholders and community representatives, yet seem never to have spent a much time learning how to communicate. Having looked a number of job specifications for these senior posts however I can confirm that in every case "Excellent communication skills" is there as an essential requirement. I think the problem is that the interviewers for these posts are not good communicators so they set the bar of "excellence" very low.

Let me give you an example of how bad it gets. This is the wording on the first slide of a workshop I attended last week. (I have changed the names and departments to avoid adding further embarrassment)

Some Introductions
  • My name is John Smith, a senior officer with the City Council's Important Developments Department. I will give a short presentation.
  • This is my colleague James Brown who will help with any questions you may have and with the workshop that will follow the presentation.
  • You have probably met Jenny Jones and Peter Green of the Voluntary Council who are here to assist us all.
If he had actually understood PowerPoint I am sure he would have used Motion Path Animation to create a little black ball to bounce along the words as he spoke so that we could all join in :)

Inevitably the presentation was difficult to follow - because we were all trying to follow 33 slides packed with words and half way through I started asking questions and the meeting finally came to life. Unfortunately after a long and very interesting question and answer session they insisted on finishing the slides.

When I ask people why they use slides the most common answer is "I want to make sure I cover everything - and with out the slides I may forget". My response is "If you are having a problem remembering what to say, it's likely that the audience is going to have more trouble trying to remember it."

I think most presenters would be better off simply setting the scene and letting people ask questions - at least that way the audience get to hear what they came for. There is no justification whatsoever for slides full of bullet points - they destroy the presentation, make the presenter sound stilted, undermine any chance of building rapport and finally they make lousy handouts. So often the PowerPoint slides are the speakers notes or even worse their script and the speaker becomes the narrator to a boring slide presentation

Here is my advice.
  1. Write down your speech objective and how you will measure that it has been successfully achieved.
  2. Write your speech (and I don't mean write it out - I mean write your notes and structure - see my PEPP Talk recommendations for that)
  3. Add in a couple of questions to ask the audience to get them into the habit if interacting.
  4. Ask yourself - How would slides help this presentation? Be honest and then IF they are necessary, make sure you produce a professional looking presentation (hint - it takes time)
  5. Create a useful standalone handout that helps you to achieve your speech objective
When I use PowerPoint the slide presentation takes me days to produce - sometimes weeks - There are few words and few slides and I switch off the slides (press B on the keyboard) when I don't need them. I invested a lot of time in learning how to use PowerPoint and make my slides part of a performance - not my notes. Most importantly the slides are there to support me and help me to communicate my message (one message) more effectively.

Rikki Arundel
Motivational Speaker
Speaking and Marketing Tips
The GenderShift Blog

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Switching to Google Reader

One of the important lessons I am learning about blogging is that get readers to your blog you have to read and comment on other blogs. I have mentioned in previous posts a few tools I started using over Christmas to start interacting with other bloggers and the net result of using these tools is that I now subscribe to about 50 Blogs. That is a lot of information to sort in order to find the nuggets I need.

If you are subscribing to a few blogs then simply using the live links feature in FireFox or IE7 should serve you well - but if you plan to be come a serious blogger you are going to find you need a much better solution. Until now I have relied on Sage, an in browser add on to FireFox which has done the job well, but since the increase in blogs over Christmas it has become a bit of a pain.

I have been looking at on-line readers as an alternative and have played with Bloglines on an off for a couple of years but never really gelled with it and I had stumbled upon Google Reader sometime last year but having played with it for a while decided it was not for me. Oh I set up an account and subscribed to all my blogs on both to help my search engine presence, but as a usable tools neither were anywhere near as useful as Sage.

Then today I came across Robert Scoble's blog where there was a discussion about Google Reader recommending it to manage 29,000 posts in 30 days. Well that got my attention. Clearly I was not alone in my early view of Goole Reader because it has been significantly upgraded and I am very impressed - infact I am now in the process of switching over immediately. As seems to be typical with Google however they have not made a song and dance about the changes - in fact I keep discovering new products or upgraded products that were launched without any comment.

There are actually a few reasons for the switch and the most important was the need to change from a reader that is PC based to one that is web based. I use one PC most of the time - but increasingly I am finding my self using my laptop or working on a PC in another office. As some new plans for 2007 move into place it is inevitable that I will increasingly be needing to access by blog subscriptions from a variety of PCs.

The second reason is the shear volume of information I now need to manage with increasingly number of subscriptions which Sage is not good at because it essentially deals with each blog separately as does Bloglines. Google Reader allows me to manage blogs much more intuitively by tags and by folders (I can put a blog into more than one folder) and by setting the reader to display only unread blogs I am not cluttered with the ones I have read.

The third reason is a really neat tool in Google reader - Sharing. I can highlight specific posts in two ways - First I can star them so that they are easy to find again, but I can also share them. Sharing the post places it into a personal RSS feed on Google reader that I can then syndicate to my blogs, web sites or anywhere else that I want to promote my shared posts (which can include some of my own posts of course).

Rikki's Shared Blog Posts

One further advantage to Google reader is that everything in the Google stable seems to be being linked up where it can be and I am using more and more Google tools. I have just started using Google Calender which is really great - can't get access to Google Mail yet - but I gather then are some links happening there to Google Reader.

Rikki Arundel
Motivational Speaker
Speaking and Marketing Tips
The GenderShift Blog

Monday, January 01, 2007

Upgrading to New Blogger - Huge Task but Worth it

Happy New Year

I hope the new years revelries have not left you worse for the wear and if you are now considering your New Years' Resolutions I have a free gift that may help - no string - just pop along to Expect More From 2007 and download the eBook full of tips for being more successful from nearly 60 top professional speakers from around the world. My article is on Page 33. Feel free to send a copy to friends if you wish.

Now if you have visited my blog before you will I hope notice the complete new look and feel which I managed to complete late last night - actually it was early this morning - I know spending New Years Eve upgrading a blog is sad - but at least I am not sporting a mother of all hangovers this morning.

A week ago I mentioned Charlemagne Stavanger's Custom Templates blog which has provided me with two great three column blogger templates that I though would take me a couple of days to install as part of my Blogger upgrade - I was wrong - It has kept be very busy for most of the past week - actually installing the templates only takes a couple of minutes - populating the templates is a different matter.

I am sure there must me thousands of Bloggers dreading the fact that they will eventually need to upgrade to New Blogger which is why I thought it might be helpful if I blog some of my experiences from this past week. In fact upgrading to New Blogger is very easy - just a few seconds but that retains your old template. The challenge is moving to a New Blogger Template and Layouts because all your hacks and modifications, those that you can remember installing, have to be reinstalled and in many cases the previous code no longer works. Because this was going to be a huge learning curve I decided to leave this blog to last as it involved the most work.

First I converted my Personal Blog which was fairly basic with few modifications, using the standard new blogger template. Then I started adding page elements that I had not been using but were on this blog which helped me to learn more about how the page elements worked. Along the way I kept discovering new add-ons like MyBogLog and TheGoodBlogs so it was a fascinating learning curve.

Probably the most important discovery or realisation for me was that using Feedblitz or FeedBurner I could provide a means for visitors to subscribe to my blogs by email. This has been a godsend - I really have a problem with newsletters. I launched one in September 2005 and have still not managed to get issue 2 out yet - they are so time consuming. Yet I love Blogging. The only downside to blogs was that so few people understand about feeds or what to do with them. IE7 is going to help but now I can replace my attempts at developing an ezine with blogs.

By now I had also discovered the three column templates but was very uncomfortable about tackling this blog with such a huge change, especially as I was finding more neat add-ons. So I decided to get to work on my GenderShift blog which I have been meaning to start for a while. Having completed that I was even more nervous about this blog, when I read a comment somewhere on Beautiful Beta, a blog dedicated to hacks and mods for new Blogger, suggesting working on a test blog first. Such an obvious thing to do. Duhhh!

So that was yesterdays task - reconstruct this blog on a test site and then copy the completed template over here job done - NO! I don't know why but the widgets simply would not transfer - I am sure there was something I needed to have done but I really do not - (I did expand the widgets before copying) So I finally copied all the page elements one by one and it seems to have worked - I am sure there is probably some extraneous code somewhere - but it ain't broke so I am leaving it.

Just one final point. If you use a test template - or want to transfer lists of links between blogs I strongly recommend that you use the HTML widget and not the Links Widget. The Links widget is very basic and you cannot add attributes like "target" or "title" If you have even a basic understanding of HTML you will be frustrated by the links widget especially when you have to copy links between blogs they have to be set up again one at a time. With the HTML widget you can simply copy and paste the lot.

Well I'm proud of my new look blogs, excited by all the new tools and tips I am learning by being part of the blogosphere, pleased that I can drop my newsletter plans and stick to blogging and inspired to keep up regular posting to make the huge effort of the last two weeks worth while.

Rikki Arundel
Motivational Speaker
Speaking and Marketing Tips
The GenderShift Blog

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