Posts Tagged 'Heroes of Talknormalism'



You read the blog, soon buy the book

The first Ronald McDonald. Note that Mr McDonald is now the company's chief happiness officer, which makes me want to shove his head down a toilet even more.

To quote John Oliver from The Bugle podcast: “We are back! Is it better than ever? No. It was happening, then it stopped for a little bit, now it’s happening again.”

As Talk Normal starts the Autumn term, I have announcements.

News part one: monetization of assets

There’s going to be a Talk Normal book. That’s right! In a while you’ll be able to read the best of Talk Normal by paying money for it, rather than getting it for free!

But there will be lots of new material too. Before I write it, I have a question:

News part two: crowdsourcing

What would you want to see in the book of Talk Normal?

Imagine it’s the sort of stuff you get only on prescription. Suggest something in the comments, or email me if you are shy. There’s a limited edition Talk Normal mug for any that I use in the book.

News part three: don’t worry, I’m in control

People who should know better put me in charge of the Market Research Society‘s Social Media Conference on 23 September. Are they mad? I had to tell them that I might not make the planning meeting because I’ll be on the way back from Bestival. They would never have had this problem had they booked Brian Conley.

The keynote’s being given by Andrew Keen, who wrote Cult of the Amateur: How the Internet is killing our culture. On the face of it, it’s like putting on a Vegetarian Society conference and asking Ronald McDonald to keynote. I’m hoping it kicks off a bit, then at least I won’t have to do the: “No questions? Ha ha well it must have been an excellent presentation ha ha” covering thing after he finishes his speech.

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The enemy within

"Firmly grasp large-scale revolutionary criticism"

It’s not fair to blame everybody for the amount of crap that plugs up our inboxes. Anecdotal evidence suggests that a few people ruin it for the rest of us. This table of jargon that I compiled from 2009 press releases demonstrates it:

What’s can it mean? Read across the row. There’s a 3.7 per cent chance that a press release will use robust. But, if it also describes something as next generation, it is three times as likely (10 per cent) it will chuck in robust as well. And if it describes something as next generation and flexible, now there’s a 17 per cent chance you will find robust in there as well.

In short, the more jargon you use, the more you’re likely to use.

We get to the silly situation where, having described the product or service – or, I’m willing to wager, the solution – as next generation, flexible, robust, world class and scalable, more than a quarter of press releases chuck in easy to use as well.

I have three explanations why the press releases might need to call on “easy to use” in this situation:

1. It’s really important for sales: the company thinks that something which is next generation, flexible, robust, world class and scalable might sell badly because we worry that we won’t find the on switch.

2. Ease of use is not an obvious feature: if you can’t even write a press release that ordinary people can understand, it’s unlikely we will believe you can make a product that ordinary people can use.

3. Once I watched a TV report on how they used to typeset Mao-era Chinese communist newspapers. Because the Mandarin alphabet has a basic vocabulary of more than 3,000 characters it was easier for the typesetters to keep entire ready-made Cultural Revolution jargon phrases at hand, like the one at the top of the page, and just assemble the daily paper from the revolutionary brainwashing twaddle kit with a few names thrown in.

When we close our minds we tend to rely on empty, grandiose phrases to please authority. Of course in the West we’d never do anything like that, because here we are free to choose which words we use. Apparently.

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Talk Normal in meatspace

"Tools that help us": keeping my options open on instruments of torture; you never know.

Thanks to Claire Thompson and her extremely constructive The Tools That Help Us initiative, I’ll be a panellist in a session called Cleaning Up Communications at Tempero, 14-16 Great Portland Street, London W1W 8QW, on 25 June at 2pm.*

Click on the link to sign up. It’s free. Also on show: Darika Ahrens, Grapevine Consulting, on #fixpr; Richard Ellis of the Public Relations Consultants Association; Molly Flatt, 1000 Heads; Adam Parker, An Inconvenient PR Truth.

I’m allowed to talk for five minutes – rather than the five hours I’d prefer – so I’m taking advice on what to say if you’re coming along and want me to do requests.

Otherwise, show up and ask me a question, and we can exchange ideas. Remember when we used to do that? Now we can go to Twitter and ask the opinion of millions of people we don’t know, instead of just five of us. But let’s give this conversation thing one more go. For old time’s sake. Promise I won’t ask again.

* To save you the trouble of looking it up: North Korea v Ivory Coast, Brazil v Portugal.

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Draw me a picture

I don’t want to tell you how to do your presentations. Oh, who am I trying to kid? I’d love to tell you how to do your presentations, especially if I might have to listen to one of them. As I’ve pointed out before, it’s not the design, it’s the lack of thought behind the slide that bothers me. Which is why I’m very fond of Indexed, a blog run by Jessica Hagy that publishes a graph or diagram drawn on an index card once a day, every day.

Indexed isn’t a secret – it even has its own book and range of T-shirts, and has clever graphs about anything from chewing gum to virginity to dog breeding:

None of her thoughts took longer than 30 seconds to draw (I’m guessing), but it probably much longer to think about the point they’re making – the opposite of most presentation slides I see. And five minutes of browsing at Indexed is more stimulating than most one-hour presentations. Try it. After a couple of minutes you’ll be chuckling to yourself and clicking on the little envelope that emails the picture of the index card to your mates.

This might not seem very relevant if you’ve got 30 slides to deliver on process optimisation at 9am tomorrow, but you’re so wrong. Nagy’s talent is to make us work out the point she’s making by using our imagination and making our own connections. You’re much more likely to understand and to remember it afterwards.

Of course, to do this, you do need to have a point – but that’s another post.

Even if you sneak just one Indexed-inspired thought into your presentation, you’re waking your audience’s brain from its bullet-point-induced slumber. Delete your corporate SnoozePoint, go to the pub for inspiration, draw your slides with a biro on index cards for tomorrow’s process optimisation presentation when you get home at 1am, and get ready to cause a sensation. Imagine your excitement when you wake up at 8.35 on the morning of the presentation thinking, “Why is there a pile of index cards where my laptop should be?” While you might be unemployed by the end of the day, you’ll be a hero of Talknormalism.

Indoctrinate your children now, before it is too late

A quick extra post for those of you with small children. You want to be a good parent, so start them off in life with a clear signal that they’re not going to take any crap in meetings.

The tiny clothes are nothing to do with me (I just found them on CafePress while Googling myself. Come on, we all do it), but I endorse the message. Order one for the special toddler in your life – or maybe they will sell a large size for your boss to wear at weekends when he goes to that special house where he sleeps in a big cot.

The Win-Win scenario

You might recall I promised to buy an Oxfam pig to help a family in Cambodia if 285 of you signed up to receive Talk Normal by email before Christmas. The excellent news was that at least 100,000 times that number of people assured me that they were just about to sign up right now just as soon as they had finished doing this thing that they were doing just this minute, but of course many of them (translation: “you”) were lying. As long as you keep coming to visit we’ll overlook it; but if you stop reading Talk Normal don’t come crying to me when your conference calls last three hours or you can’t understand your own press releases.

Thanks in part to you but mostly to me, Win-Win the Talk Normal charity pig has now been purchased. He’s happily snuffling around his sty in Cambodia, as you can see from this official photo:

Subscriber or not, thanks to everyone for reading, commenting and suggesting in 2009. The long yet rewarding process of Talknormalisation continues in 2010.

Giving your all (plus 0.8 per cent)

Hero of the USSR Alexey Stakhanov, by my criteria, gave around 3,000 per cent.

As we’re getting close to the time of year when people like to make resolutions to try harder, I thought I’d do a quick bit of research to work out how much harder we ought to try, and who should be trying harder to try harder.

I searched for stories where people claimed to give certain percentages (or % or per cent) of effort to find how hard we have been trying in the last few years. I examined a spread from “give 120 per cent” down to “give 80 per cent” on the assumption that anyone claiming to give higher or lower percentages is either a fantasist or lazy enough to ignore.

Ideally any society will have a cadre of capable people who tell you they are giving 110 and 120 per cent. The most noticeable tend to work in professional sports, though as they also tend to assure us they are taking each game as it comes, we can’t assume this is a long term trend. If it is, I’ll be over the moon.

Imagine if we let the 100 percenters carry on as before, then we pair each person who claims to give 120 per cent with someone who wants to give 80 per cent, each person giving 110 with a 90-percenter, and so on. By finding the average I’m effectively measuring who is left over after we do this.

Note that I assume that someone claiming to give 110 per cent is as likely to fulfil that promise as someone who claims to give 90 per cent. This is obviously problematic from a strictly statistical point of view, because it’s what statisticians call “impossible”. So that’s problematic in the sense of “not true”. But I don’t make up the numbers, I just report them.

We need our hyperbolic elites to balance out those who shamelessly give 90 or 80 per cent and aren’t scared to tell the press about it. In normal times a society can celebrate both over- and underachievers, and so will score a solid 100 per cent. Yet, in times of crisis, perhaps more than 100 per cent effort is required – which is why I looked at the statistics for 2009. We’re averaging 100.8 globally, so that’s all right:

I conclude:

1. We’re doing better than we used to. At least, we’re saying that we’re doing better. The global effort mean for the noughties was about 96 per cent.

2. The BRIC countries say they’re trying harder than we are. Anyone who has ever spent a couple of hours in the presence of an Indian company manager, watched all those drummers at the opening cermony of the Beijing Olympics, or looked to see where all your spam comes from will believe this.

3. The UK and the US are above average. Our economies are dead in the water and we’re basically owned by China, but the index shows that we keep telling people that we’re trying; which is endearing.

4. Journalists claim to work harder than politicians. But I’m sure politicians are also claiming another couple of percent in their expenses – not least because they score less than 100 per cent.

5. Surprisingly, sportspeople are below-average hyperbolists. An odd result considering the number of high-profile bullshitters who work in the business. The low score is maybe because, even if they insist they’re giving 120 per cent, they’re giving it twice a week for an hour and a half (though I’m not sure how this would be reflected in the data). Or it might just be that cricket, a game where it’s not polite to try too hard and which is the only sport deliberately scheduled around sit-down meals, drags the average down.

Good news: if you’re worried that your New Year’s resolution might be too testing, you don’t need to try as hard as you think. If your peer group wants to top the charts next year all you need to do is let the press know that you consistently give 101.7 per cent. You’ll be top of my pile for hyperbolic ambition, if not for quotability.


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