Posts Tagged 'Why we bother'



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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Dr Eurfyl ap Gwilym gives Paxman a mouthful

I know I’m behind on my posts, but until I finish them off I’ve got a quite exceptional interviewee here to keep you occupied: Dr Eurfyl “you let me finish my point” ap Gwilym, senior economic advisor to Plaid Cymru. If there was ever an example of how simple, well-presented statistics can give you the edge in an argument – against Jeremy Paxman at his sneeriest, too – this is it:

Boom! Stay in school kids, and one day you’ll be able to argue like him.

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The spade nomenclature differential dynamic

So I’m walking through Waterloo station and I see this billboard claiming  jargon-free insurance policies. Usually I don’t write about advertising because most of it irritates me; though I did like the little puppets that shout “C’mon!” But this billboard was right on my metaphorical platform.

I thought it would be worth testing whether spades really are being called spades at the moment, so I did a Phillips Weasel Index search using the whole world’s published articles about everything since 2003. I compared the number of articles mentioning the word spade with the number that use any of the synonyms for spade listed by Thesaurus.com. It’s bad news for Talknormalisers: it suggests you are about twice as likely to find someone literally not calling a spade a spade as you were six years ago.

For garden centre managers, driven insane that customers now take so long to ask for the product they want, this is – wait for it – groundbreaking research.

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.

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.

There’s an app for Talknormalisers, too

What do you give your dearest office friends for Christmas, especially if you can’t be bothered to go outdoors in the snow or don’t want to buy something expensive, like a scratch card or a jumbo Twix from the vending machine? It’s possible you might want to spend 59p on the iPhone app Meeting Magician, which is produced by this guy. It helps to while away the time in dull meetings.

It would be stretching the point to call it useful, but it allows you to work out how much money you’re wasting in your meeting, and as you can see from the video it will even set up an automated fake call to get you out of the room in a “sorry, I’ve got to take this” sort of way – so that you can go and read Talk Normal instead while the people still stuck in the meeting room stare daggers at you through the glass wall.

If you were thinking of buying one for me, thank you – but I’ve already got it. On the other hand I don’t have the Associated Press Style Book iPhone app yet, mainly because it costs $28.99! Strewth. It’s like a tax on competence. But, if you want to thank me for all the graphs I’ve drawn for you this year, I’d be delighted to receive it: imagine my happy face when, I finally work out, where to put my punctuation.

A tripe-hound on frog island

If you are interested in words, good writing, and how it is still strangely acceptable to caricature intelligent women over 60 in the press as lonely obsessives, you hit the trifecta with this wonderful blog post by Professor Christian Kay, the editor of the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary. You might have heard Prof. Kay on the radio last month – after all, an expert on strange historical words who has been compiling a book on and off for 44 years is a gift to any news programme.

It’s a fascinating book, and an important historical document that shows how our language has evolved, but the coverage of it owes more to those shows in which people sit in a bath of baked beans for a week. We’re no longer comfortable talking about books and knowledge, but we know how to deal with harmless eccentrics.

In her blog she writes about the odd process of publicising an academic book to journalists (In the Thesaurus: tripe-hounds) who so desperately want her to be a caricature of herself: they want a bookish, Scottish, tweedy little old lady who is doing the literary equivalent of crocheting the world’s longest scarf. One even went as far as to ask the Honorary Professorial Research Fellow at the University of Glasgow if she actually had a big piece of knitting to get back to:

I’d like to put it on record that I do not have, and never have had, “a big piece of knitting”,

Prof. Kay tells us. Instead she brings lists of strange words to interviews because that’s what they’re going to ask (paddanieg: an island with frogs on it). And like most women over 40 in the media she finds herself defined over and over again by her age. Her colleagues offered to give her a badge with I am 69 written on it “to forestall such questions”.

Prof. Kay seems to have handled the tedious sub-Miss-Jean-Brodie ageism and sexism cloaked as human interest with good humour. But she writes that she was nevertheless

startled that in 2009 a newspaper would produce a headline describing me as a “lingo-loving spinster”, and one, moreover, who “coyly confessed” to celebrating publication with a glass of champagne.

I’m offering no mugs for guessing which paper described her that way (The answer is here). So I guess she got off lightly: had she been an asylum-seeking gay single parent, we’d have never got as far as frog island.


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