Just ZIP IT…listening is not so bad.

Have you ever attended an event or a conference and been overwhelmed with the personalities in the room? Have you walked into a new place or situation, and been in a place where there are a lot of smart people talking, exchanging ideas, and not know where to fit in? I found myself in those situations more times than not.

I am an opinionated person, passionate about what I believe. I am also a person that has to understand and assess the audience before engaging in the conversation. Sometimes I need to remind myself to just listen and learn.

Recently I have walked out of meetings and thought to myself, I need to keep my big mouth shut. My passion can get the best of me, engaging in a conversation where I will debate a point because it is hard for me to see past my point-of-view. I am human, I think we all do this from time to time.

Listening is key. Really listening to the people we want to have healthy conversations with, regardless if it is a meeting, conference, group, dinner, or a public setting. Sometimes we have to learn how to pull out the big black clip and use it to shut our lips together. Then take time to listen and learn from others. I am the biggest victim of this issue…speaking when I should be listening.

We are surrounded by smart people. Our friends, family, clients, customers, colleagues, students…they are all smart people. We could learn a thing or two sometimes. We should learn to stop trying to interject into a conversation that does not need our noise anymore. I know my big ole lips can flap a conversation into complete bordum.

Why do we do this? Well, we want to be heard. Whether it is the fact we are control freaks, or we have a good idea…we want our ideas to resonate with others. We want to be perceived to be smart and innovative. Sometimes it is fear or insecurity that drives us to fill the void…driving a conversation to the painful point of no return.

We should just shut our mouth and just listen. It is ok. We will be heard at some point.

I noticed the last few days my mouth has communicated my passion a bit much. I am passionate…but maybe I should use my passion just to listen. I might learn a thing or two!

Have you felt this way before? Do you think listening is a better form of communication than talking?

Where do those good ideas come from? Stories?

I was watching this great video that is the animation of Stephen Johnson speaking…and I began to think. Where do good ideas come from? He takes us down a path to show us that they start with a hunch…this hunch can take years and years to grow. But what ultimately brings this good idea to life is this idea of connectivity.

But to me…it is more than just connectivity…it is the sharing of the ideas with others, the language exchanged. Mutual discourse leads to innovation. Yes, we can be connected to one another, but we have to bring that idea to a path of articulation. Let’s think for a second. Two people can have the solution to the other’s problem…and their collaborative efforts could yield the tremendous result.  But they have to do more than meet, they have to share. We can be invited to some of the greatest conferences with the brightest minds, and those bright minds can stand side-by-side in that room and never share.

Connectivity does not solve the problem. Or maybe it does. Well…those good ideas come from the articulation of those ideas when connectivity is achieved. One of the tools I teach at Clemson is the classic elevator pitch. I found this nifty little tool from Harvard’s Business School which is called the HBS Elevator Pitch Builder…it identifies:

– What would you most want the listener to remember about you?
– State the valued phrase as key results or impact.
– What is the unique benefit?
– What are the goals?

Now this is not perfect when trying to move beyond connectivity to communication…but it provides a barometer for the conversation. How do we break through the connectivity, to find those relationships we trust, and freely exchange the ideas that lead to innovation? Let’s take Twitter for example. Millions of people online using a portal to freely express ideas. You can share, you can listen, and you can sit and watch. By merely opening a webpage and logging into Twitter…you are connected. But what does it take to share an idea openly? What does it take to engage with a conversation inside this massive paradigm of social interactions to exchange ideas. Yes, it provides connectivity…but it can be the same as screaming your idea out loud in a crowd of millions.  Bringing language to your idea is hard!

I remember having this idea a few years ago after graduate school. It is a cool idea that I think one day will come true. My father encouraged me to go after the idea, but I was scared. He told me to just write it down and share it with others. But who would I share it with? How would I explain the idea. I did not have the language to articulate this idea and the network of people to share it with to bring it to life. Bringing language to life, giving life to an idea is more than connectivity…it is learning to articulate that idea. It is learning to articulate that particular idea at the right time when connectivity presents itself.

That is why storytelling is a great thing. It is the ability to articulate an idea in a way that connects with our audience. To help the audience see an idea in their context. When we share, when we articulate an idea, when give voice to our thoughts…we are telling the story of our idea. Bridging the gap between two connected people is language…the story of our idea.

Stephen Johnson’s Book: Where Good Ideas Come From

Yes We Can!

Yes We Can!, originally uploaded by bobbyrettew.

These are two great books with great purposes! It is all about building communities of people that we share a common interest, and believing in ourselves!

organize this digital life…the digital divide

Hi my name is Bobby and according to my wife, I am gadget freak. Yes, I have an iPhone, iPad, MacBook Pro, Mac Pro, PS3, AppleTV and on and on and on. I love gadgets. I love the accessories that go with these gadgets.

I love bags. No…I am not a guy with tons on man bags. I have tons of camera equipment, lighting equipment, cords, gizmos, and gadgets to do my job. Oh yeah…I have other bags for my laptop, iPad, books, etc. So I love the idea of finding the best bag possible to organize these things and make them  quickly assessable.  My life…my entrepreneurial life…my small business life…quickly assessable.

Digital Dependancy
Everyday, I use these things that we depend on so much in this new digital life. Google Calendar, Google Docs, MS Word, iCal, BaseCamp, Quickbooks, Mobile Me, iMail, etc, etc, etc. I use these everyday to organize and execute my life to serve my clients. OK…are you annoyed? Yes…I am. My head is spinning.

Think about your day. If you are a technology person or live in this Corporate Americano…we are influenced to use so many digital tools. We check our email, update our calendar, take notes, use the CRM, pull out the iPad, take notes on paper, save our contacts in three places…we try so hard. This is a true digital divide…dividing us between all the devices/software and efficiency.

Have you tallied up your communication and online communication costs?  How about the time invested in creating the best tool from a piece of open source code? Oh yeah, how much time do you spend sifting through emails or even multiple email accounts? How many newsletters are you getting each day? How many different passwords do you have to remember for each login between all of those technologies?

So…I put my foot down.
I spent more time stressing out about what I am doing next and where to find what I am doing next. Notice the last sentence was in past tense! Yes…I have an assistant, but using the “digital” to find the “digital” is creating a huge digital dependancy. Why do think we text, Tweet, and consistently review our digital device while driving…because we can and we hope we can stay in-tune with our information. We do not have a clear plan.

So I went old school!
Yep…I did it and I have a planner again. Yes, you know that organizer that is a day timer? Yep, it is about the size of my graduate school classical rhetoric book. Guess…what, it is WORKING. Also…It has me thinking about all this digital dependancy.

Because if you are surrounded by the crowd I am around (offline and online), then you are always hearing about the next big tool, next big CRM, next gadget, next organizational “do-dad”…and we try it. We are entrepreneurs, small business owners, and we want the edge…the edge to get ahead. We live technology and we are conditioned to believe that killing trees is not the answer…just a better gadget.

Back to basics.
Yes…I have moved to the planner full of paper, a calendar, organizational tools, place to take notes, place to journal. Oh, I still use my iPhone and iPad with the calendar so my assistant can keep up with what I am doing. I am getting rid of all the stupid newsletters and blog posts delivered. I am also using my hand to write. It is amazing how much this helps me clear my head and articulate my thoughts. Plus…if I can add 30 minutes of time back to my life each day, then that is more time with the things I love…my family.

Social Media: “Where is the Beef” – Cleaning out the Noise!

It is about that time…time to re-evaluate and get organized. I have been using Twitter for the last year and a half; and now I am to the point to re-evaluate some things. About a month ago, Spike Jones cleared out his Twitter Account. Well, he actually closed his account for two weeks. Regardless of his intentions and underlying reasons, it got me thinking. What is the value of following close to 3000 people and have the equal number following me? What does that really mean?

When I train organizations to use Twitter for business, I describe “this” social media (Twitter) this way. It is like going to be ole event, say a conference. The people attending are those who you are following. When you walk through the doors of the conference room, you notice those 3000 people talking in groups or even just hanging out. When you walk into the room, you have some purpose for attending. Whether you are there to meet someone, find a group of people, or sit at a table; you make your way through the room, stop and talk with people for a minute. You shake hands, share pleasantries, and even engage for a few minutes in some conversations. You do this as you make your way through the crowd…jumping in and out of conversations. This is how I view Twitter and the conversations I engage while using TweetDeck.

Over time I started using Twitter lists…creating columns of people to watch and enjoy conversations. These conversations are organized in lists based on subjects. The subjects (or columns) I have been watching have evolved…and so have some of the relationships. Those online relationships I had last year have changed in some way whether it may be based on interests or different places professionally.

I use Twitter for BUSINESS. I forge personal relationships and business relationships via Twitter based on business positions. My business is my name (Bobby Rettew, LLC) and my business is both my personal and business life. So “Twitter Means Business” for me!

So…I have re-arranged who I follow, who I have in columns, who I have in lists, and have made a goal to forge new and exciting relationships along with continuing to grow current, strong relationships.

I am getting rid of the noise! Those senseless self, over promoters. Cleaning out the “Snake Oil” and bringing more “beef” to my online interactions.

Building a Social Media Presence around Video

Using video is one of those mediums that can really enhance your social media presence and can add so much to your campaign. BUT, you gotta think through this little bag of tricks. If done incorrectly, this integrated marketing tool can make you look like a dummy! (I almost just typed a bad word).

I am not going to talk about message development, that is a whole other ball of wax. I am going to talk about how using video online can help generate traffic, relationships, and enhance your SEO.

First…create a series of short messages around a campaign, event, and idea.  When I mean series, I mean more than 3 different video messages. These need to be targeted at a specific audience and a specific topic. This over-arching theme will bring these messages together.

Second…have a home-base for these video messages.  Whether it is a blog, a video section of your site, or the homepage; these video messages need a home so people can find them within one consistent place.

Third…these video messages need to have a equal treatment in production quality as the message itself. If it is meant to be shaky and  dark…your message better represent the reason why it is shaky and dark. But, be controlled in the delivery of the production quality. The person watching needs to understand your message, the production quality needs to enhance the message not detract.

Fourth…create a channel on YouTube, Blip.tv, or Vimeo to host all of these video messages. Once the messages are created, upload them to these channel and spend time developing the title for each video, the description, and the tags/key words. I sometimes use the URL of the homebase for these messages in the title.

Fifth…schedule a release of these messages. If you have produced 5 of these and you want to share all of them…maybe release them once a week. Use the embed code provided by YouTube, Blip.tv, or Vimeo and place them within the site. Once placed…tell the world!

Sixth…tell the world that they are updated on your home-base. Use TweetDeck and/Hootsuite to regually tell the world that a new video has been updated. Use email marketing and even LinkedIn to tell your spheer of influence that is it live and people can go watch it. Ohh…when you tell them, use the URL where it is located at the home-base and shorten the URL using TweetDeck or Hootsuite. This will allow you to track the clicks. This works well in a blog where you have a specific URL for each blog post.

Seventh…create a discussion around the video that was just updated. Get on your social networks and tell people about the video and ask their opinion about the content, create a discussion.

Eighth…repeat this process. Olivier Blanchard (@thebrandbuilder) talks about consistency and frequency when using new media and social media combined. It is smart thinking.

What does it really mean to tell a story? Finding the Zone!

What does it mean to really tell a story? What does it mean to be in the zone? To feel totally connected with the idea you are trying to reach into, understand, taste, smell, iterate? What is the zone…that common place that we feel extremely connected to something not beyond our reach, but beyond our discourse, the language that describes.

Telling rich stories is finding the zone of understanding, comprehension, imagination…and turning that realization into pieces translated so others with like minds comprehend and give language. Language is symbolic. Opposing arguments create connected drama.

I am always in search of a good story. One that puts me in the zone. I am in search of people that want to tell their story, regardless if they admit it or not. I am in search of people and organizations that have a story to tell but yet have no discourse by which to translate so others can see their viewpoint through their lens.

I am looking for layers. Stories with layers engage and are memorable. It is easy to tell the beginning, middle, and end…but what about the stories that are not that simple. Stories, layers, richness that require thought, context, and multiple viewpoints to bring the audience into the zone of complete and utter comprehension. Connection.

What is the zone…the true commonplace. The space that is closed between your idea of comprehension and the place where the orator brings you to see his/her viewpoint. You know that place. It is the place similar to the movie theatre when slowly but surely you loose your peripheral vision and you are totally and completely engaged with the storyline. You forget your surroundings so much that you can almost smell the flowers in the screen, you can feel the water around you. Have you been there before. What does it take to create you own theater? An emotional connection.

The zone is the place where the author/orator meet the audience and they dance to this merry little song where you can recite the words just the way the writer meant for you to sing. That moment at a concert where the singer on the stage pauses during a common part of the song and the audience sings without skipping a beat…you know the zone. The place where audience and author/writer/orator are in complete cadence.

What does it mean to tell a story? Well…it is helping the audience find your zone, their zone and see the same red-string, the same theme in complete agreement.

How political candidates use video to tell their story!

New media is a great new tool that has helped political candidates reach out beyond the traditional outlets, and tell their story. We witnessed history as the first African American ran for the highest political office in America, and he used the power of new media to reach his target audiences…his masses.

He engaged with YouTube, email blasts, Twitter, and other means to distribute his message. He coordinated this video message with television advertising. Then he used all of this connection points to bring the masses to watch a one hour television special from the eyes of his audience, telling their story. He was the host.

The one thing I have noticed when he used online video messaging, it always came from him looking directly at his audience. It was not these taped interviews where he was looking off camera, submitting to q&a from media outlets and pre-produced interview sessions. He had a script, it was well crafted, short and obtainable in one sitting, it was phrased in active voice, and he looked at his audience directly eye to eye, face to face.

He distributed these video messages with that same strategy that they were crafted. He used email blasts with embedded images that gave the illusion that someone was going to click the video and it opened up a landing page where the video would rest. Lots of times it was a place to sign-up to donate, sign-up for a newsletter, or commit to attending a rally or function.  He made this process easy…his team programmed and planned for the user interface to be easy and mindless.

He drove traffic to his YouTube site which housed all of his messages, this done by embedding the YouTube video within the landing page. This helped with SEO and creating digital connection points so that the keywords (the issues) where found easily when people used Google to find information. He created the illusion of the digital conversation.

We as business owners can learn a lot from this campaign, this practice, this initiative. People want to here from us, our story! They want to see us say it. They want to know what we look like, our expressions, our emotions, our passionate delivery. If you have listened to the critical analysis’s of his presidency, they spend a lot of time talking about his expressions. This conversation comes from digital penetration…he has made all of his emotions available but showcasing them on a regular basis for the world to see. Wouldn’t we be so lucky to have the same effect? These tools are out there for us to use! What is your story?

Building a campaign using the “Red-String” of Storytelling

So what is the Red-String when it comes to telling a story? Hmm…well it is the underlying theme that connects all the layers within a story. Bob Dotson of NBC’s American Story talks about telling a good story. A good story is one that is memorable…one with layers. Layers of individual stories bound together by an underlying theme or story-line, hence the “Red-String.”

Think about the best book you have ever read, or one of your favorite movies. It is a bigger story built around little micro-stories connected together by a “Red-String.” Each little scene or story is placed ever so appropriately at the right place, at the right time, in the right sequence to build and “argument” or thought.

Let’s take a look at the “Red-String,” as it is shown here graphically. This is the only way I know how to explain this concept.

As you notice the relationship is somewhat of a linear relationship between the audience’s engagement and time. Over a period of time, the story-line is moving along as the audience engagement increases during each micro-story or plot. As the story-line moves along, the audiences engages with some intensity during the rising and falling actions of each plot. As the story progresses through each plot, from one to the next, it is held together and connected by the “Red-String.”

At a specific point, at the right time…the author brings all the plots together with a reveal or rising action. This is where the “Red-String” ties the knot bringing all the story-lines together reveal the bigger picture, the main plot-line.

So this translates directly to any marketing campaign. It is my opinion that any effective marketing campaign capitalizes on building relationships with target audiences, delivering small messages over time. These messages build to a bigger “reveal” or “call-to-action.” These messages are little stories, micro-stories connected by the underlying theme of the campaign, or the “Red-String.” The point where the main “call-to-action” is placed is at the right time when the “Red-String” ties the knot.

Social Media Technologies are just another technology that is added to the bag of tricks; but what they really are….they are just distribution points. Some professionals refer to them as connection points, a point that allow users to interact with distinct audiences. Social Media outlets are just a bit different because they carry one inherent value that closely relates to word of mouth marketing, they use relationships as driving force. To build engagement, your must build trust…to decide to become a “friend,” “fan,” or “follower.”

The “Audience Engagement” axis is extremely important part of this discussion. Lots of professionals create Social Media “accounts” and immediately start marketing the goods/services. Unless you are “Hot” brand…you need to spend time building audience engagement before implementing an effective “call-to-action” campaign.

This is where the idea of “listening” is so critical. As in any relationship, trust has to be gained and the relationships have to be forged. As the trust builds, and the conversation increases, the audiences grow. And slowly over time, the stories can be distributed to create an awareness for the campaign. This is where the true effectiveness of the “Red-String” ties the knots of the stories, the campaigns, the message.

So in the world of storytelling, are you telling those stories that are connected by the “Red-String?” Is your campaign relevant or just a bunch of little messages with no direction, purpose, of relevant placement. What is the “Red-String” in your campaign?

Pulled the Trigger on the iPad 3G – WOOHOO!

OK…so I got the nod from the CFO, yes…my CFO is the wife and she gave the nod that it is cool to drop the dough on a glorified gadget that can be justified as a business expense! After a month of deliberating, hemming and hawing about the idea of purchasing it…I pushed the “Pre-Order” button on the Apple website.

I did spend sometime thinking, researching, and wondering if this was a good decision. Here were some of my initial thoughts:

  1. If I was going to purchase the iPad, it had to be the 3G version. Simply because there are so many times I am in a non-wifi zone and will need to send emails, download something, or just be online. I have contemplated getting a AT&T card for my MacBook Pro, but this makes sense. I know I have my iPhone, but need something a little more to finger scale.
  2. Tired of carrying around my 17″ MacBook Pro to meetings in a big ole bag. I have a “Producer” bag that I can throw the strap around my shoulder yet I spend so much time avoiding knocking something over with the bag and the contents.
  3. Want something small and mobile that is not another laptop.
  4. Price compared the iPad to purchasing a MacBook and the pricing was similar. But then I thought, why do I want another laptop for just searching the web, answering email, and other related web related items.
  5. Liked the idea of a “bigger” iPhone concept…seriously! So many times I have my iPhone as I lay in beg catching up on email or searching the web for stuff…and would like something bigger yet not the size of a laptop. Opening a laptop is a process.
  6. Excited about the opportunity to download books via the iPad…this will be new and cool experience!

So after weighing these thoughts…I pulled the trigger. So this is what I purchased:

  • iPad with 64GB of memory with Wifi & 3G Capabilities
  • iPad Keyboard Dock (so I can type on a real keyboard, if I so choose)
  • iPad Case (I am clumsy so figured I needed to protect my investment)
  • iPad Camera Kit (so I can upload pictures straight from a SD card)
  • iPad VGA Adapter (so I can connect to a screen or projector to show presentations, pictures, and videos)
  • Apple Care for iPad (once again, I am clumsy and this protects me from me)

All in all…I am pumped, the only thing now is that I have to sit back and wait. The expected shipping date for my iPad 3G/Wifi is late April! I am hoping it gets here before my vacation trip where Wifi is non-existent.

Now, once again my gadget life is complete with one more gizmo. Yes…now I can go over to my grandfathers house and wow him with a cool new gadget!