When speaking publicly, use the microphone

I was at an event a few months ago, which was being hosted in the office of a large company. It was the kind of event where multiple people would get up, come to the front, and educate the audience about what it was they were doing. It was a good event. It had all the tech required working well, including a great PA system and microphone for the presenter. There were about 100 people in the room.

One presenter got up after a break, and so wasn’t handed the microphone by be the previous person that spoke – as had happened throughout the sessions. The speaker looked at the microphone, before booming across to audience. “I’m not going to use the microphone – you can all hear me.”

I was at the front of the room, and close to the presenter. I stuck my hand up, and simply told them that I’d rather they did, so we could all easily hear. The speaker was a little taken aback, but dutifully picked up the microphone and proceeded to deliver a really good talk.

Ever since I worked at Ai-Media, I’ve learned to acknowledge that accessibility is something a lot of us take for granted. My old boss at Ai, Alex Jones, use to talk about when he was at school and how he would struggle in class when the teacher turned around and wrote on the blackboard. Alex is deaf, and so would lose his ability to lip read when the teacher stopped facing him. Since working with Alex, I’m much more aware of the different ways we can be unaccessible to others without realising – whether on stage or not.

1 in 6 Australians are hard of hearing, and in a large room with multiple people and at an event that can run for a couple of hours, people can’t hear you if you don’t use a microphone.

Sometimes, it’s not possible to use one. I’ve organised my fair share of events, and most of the time securing a microphone is expensive and adds an extra level of complexity. But when offered the choice, I now always use it.

How to make a successful phone call

This is a guest post from Dan Ednie, 22, who is a young Melbourne entrepreneur studying linguistics at the University of Melbourne. In 2008 he founded Global Heart Tours, a bilingual tour service that connects Australian Language learners with international students and generally travellers. He writes and consults primarily about second language acquisition and cross-cultural communication, but is able to consult for any linguistic problems. Email him at dan.ednie@gmail.com.

Dial number >> phone rings>> receiver answers

A: Yes

B: (1 second pause) Hi Steve, I mean, Good afternoon Mr. Jobs. My name is Dan and I’m calling with a stellar proposit….

A: *Beep, beep, beep, beep*

  Hello! Can I help you?

Photo by Fernando Mineiro  

We all know that the opening few sentences of any phone conversation are crucial. A stammer, a false start (“My name, My name is Dan Ednie umm”), a stunned silence, are all things which do happen, and can be hard to recover from. Phone manner is an art, and for anyone at any level of business it’s an enormous asset. In the above example, Dan is thrown off by Steve Jobs opening, he was expecting something like ‘Hello’, or ‘Steve here’ or ‘Steve Jobs’.

The question for entrepreneurs and linguists is, why has this been such a big factor, and how can we fix it?

Linguists have been writing in the last ten years, frequently: on phone exchanges; address terms (what we call each other by); and the causes of dis-fluency markers (ums, errs, mispronunciations). Honourable a study as it is, very little of the research has been made available and I hope to give some kind of an insight into what academic linguists make of this aspect of business communication.In 1979, American conversation analyst, Schegloff, concluded that the majority of American telephone openings have a direct identification and recognition. The four variations of these were:

1. a summons-answer sequence (e.g. the phone rings and the callee answers ‘Dave speaking’);

2. an identification and/or recognition sequence (e.g. ‘Dave!’/‘Hey Sarah’);

3. a greeting sequence (e.g. ‘Hi’/‘Hi’);

4. a ‘how are you’ sequence (e.g. ‘How are you?’/‘Alright, yourself?’)

These are all quite acceptable responses, and if we are trying to create a new relationship, set up an interview, or respond to their advertisement, we will deal with these openings with ease.Are these openings universal, can they cross national boundaries? With something as variable as how to answer the phone, we might expect to vary a lot. Especially if we keep in mind that in some cultures its normal for people to  actually wait for the caller to start, has this ever happened to anyone else? Hopper, Hymes and Chaika have found that these vary significantly across cultures, especially between different languages. Fortunately between English speakers the difference is not too great, there are some similarities between Americans and Australians, as both tend to answer the phone with ‘Hello’ in private calls, while business callees tend to provide explicit self-identification, often the name of the business. O’Loughlin’s (1989) reported a higher frequency of self-identification (67%) in business calls than private calls (34%). What is incredible is that 33% of business calls don’t self identify, and thus we see the abnormal ‘yes’, ‘hello’ or something else unexpected as quite a significant player.

But what about the traditional G’day, is that still happening, or in this age of iSnack Web 2.0’s have we lost our Paul Hogan heritage. O’Loughlin’s study found that the informal ‘G’day’ was used but twice by male callers and not once by a callee.

So, what went wrong for Dan in the Steve Jobs phone call? As an Australian Dan was used to either a ‘Hello’, Hello, this is Steve Jobs’ or a direct confirmation ‘Steve Jobs’. Receiving nothing but a terse ‘Yes’, the dialogue sequence is totally thrown off and the rest is history, Dan doesn’t even get to the pitch because he’s already proven himself as unprofessional, and unorganised. What we need to be aware of is that individuals will vary a lot in their opening sequences, and that when we are speaking to a non-Australia, then we need to plan for the unexpected, and have to composure to say what we have scripted or intended to say. When we contact individuals in a business context, they may be answering the call as though it were a private one, and their circles of friends may have effected a completely unexpected summons-response sequence.

Connectivity to solve poverty: How would you connect?

As I sit at home, exhausted after a huge last week and begin (finally) preparing my post for Blog Action Day, I have been contemplating a comment sent to me by my dear friend, Melina Chan recently. Melina is current located in Cambodia, working on an AYAD program around micro-finance lending and community development to alleviate poverty. She is an amazing person, and a true ‘squiggly thinker’ – she’s absolutely amazing at creating organic, win-win, high value relationships with good people to solve complex problems, and someone I have learned a lot from in the time I have known her.

She commented on one of my posts late last week asking for advice on how the many different AYAD participants, who are spread geographically around the Asia-Pacific region, could better communicate and share learning’s across timezones, locations and dodgy-internet. Specifically, she says:

“We are often isolated geographically, with limited internet access (ie. dial up speeds, unreliable connections, downtime in power shortages and thunderstorms), and are often the only native English speakers in our organisations.”

So, on Blog Action Day, I thought what better way to act than post about the problems Mel is having in Cambodia and hopefully, with your comments, provide her with information and possible solutions she can use in the fight against poverty. Please comment with any suggestions, technologies or any other ideas you may have. This is for her! Some of my suggestions are below, which I’ve tried to create based on three key issues Mel will be facing in the field:

1) Limited/sensitive connectivity means the internet can drop out or be unavailable at anytime. Thus, any service used must either be a) mobile web enabled or b) remain intact and accessible even if some people with the AYAD network can’t access it for a time.

2) Remain time-independent. The AYADs often travel in-country, and would often be away from a computer for days/weeks/months on end. Thus, organising time for the whole network to meet will almost certainly be impossible.

3) Whilst it will be tough for the whole network to group together at once, it should be easier to form small groups of conversations/sharing. Even just 2 person conversations are hugely valuable.  

Dealing with limited internet access

Obviously, this will be the toughest problem to solve. Tim Costello, in one of our interviews with him for the Learn About Poverty blog, commented that a reportedly better solution to poverty was to buy mobile phones for everyone in need due to the devices ability to connect people for trade, business and political opportunities.

So in this case, I would suggest giving some mobile connectivity devices such as twitter a go. World Vision International were using twitter for a time to communicate to a small internal audience with status reports from the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was an experiment, which was curtailed afterwards because of it’s inability to scale but the technology still worked. Perhaps, you could create a small twitter account which AYADs could update to with links or asks for help. ie: “Does anyone have a strategic planning framework to use when facilitating?”

Creating tacit knowledge ‘sinks’ 

The other option, if it eventuates that twitter doesn’t work, is actually a tool I posted about on the digital-flexi-tools post, Campfire. Campfire is a relatively low bandwidth program, which opens up a chat and allows you to swap files (hard under the conditions you’re in) and chat with people live. The real beauty of campfire, is that those conversations are recorded, so the history of your conversation remains there for other AYADs to view, creating instant, global access to tacit knowledge. I subject I know you (Mel) are very keen on!  You can create a sink of knowledge, but constantly having conversations on your campfire site, and encouraging other AYADs to do the same.


Unlike normal IM programs, Campfire can be organised by emailing a link to people and perhaps organising a time to meet there. Just like a true campfire, it tends to be used as a destination to meet. Once around the campfire, you can chat and discuss issues you need to, and share links etc etc on a low-bandwidth connection. If you had internet connection, I’m certain this would work (let us know how you go).

Utilise Google Docs to create copy-paste content

This is a tougher one. Google docs is a pretty awesome place to share documents without needing to send huge files over email etc. I would suggest that you move any documents you have, which may be valuable to other AYADs, to a google docs account. This way, you can include AYADs on any edits that take place, as well as allow people to copy-paste format independent content into whatever business/program/proposal template they may happen to be writing.

They can then add their own content back, and share it with you when you are ready. This is a key feature. Just like campfire, the content you put into the google docs account stays there, so it doesn’t require large active members, online live, to become a useful service. All you would need is the internet to be working (granted, not a guarantee) and you can access templates and content anytime, without needing to connect with others then. Again, this doesn’t need a huge number of people active within the community to be immensely valuable, and once you have two or three people adding content, the resource suddenly becomes much more powerful and more useful for others to see and add to.

Start small. Don’t expect to get to home base on the first date

Getting every member of the local AYAD network on board at the conception stage of these tools will be really tough. You’ll be better off Mel taking some advice from Ross Hill and just start small, with a simple idea of what you want to achieve. 

You might: Get up a campfire, and invite one other person in your time zone to join in. Discuss something of value to both of you, and then once you have that conversation ‘in the sink’ forward another invite and repeat it with someone else, building on the first conversation. Soon, you’ll have a comprehensive, recorded text discussion of how people would approach your topic. People will then flock to the campfire to remember what they discussed, copy-paste any useful content and generally use the service to improve their work. Once you have this in place, you can grow to including full business proposals on Google Docs etc etc, but start simple. You don’t expect to get to home base on the first date, so don’t expect it here 🙂

That’s some of my thoughts. Please, I’m want to hear your thoughts out there about how Melina could keep communication up between AYADs to improve their knowledge and sharing abilities. Hopefully, we can create a great ‘knowledge sink’ ourselves which Melina can use to make things happen and better deal with poverty.

I'm participating in Blog Action Day – are you?

I got very excited this morning when I stumbled upon this little beauty whilst reviewing my RSS feeds. The concept is the Blog Action Day, and it’s happening again this year on October the 15th. This years theme: Poverty.

I’m Participating, are you?

As most of you would be aware, I work at World Vision Australia, which focuses on providing life in all it’s fullness for children all over the world. We aim to help alleviate global, endemic poverty and do this through a number of ways, namely Child Sponsorship. Whilst I don’t always love the place, and at times find my ‘Brand Me Personality’ keen to escape to more naturally innovative pastures, I really enjoy my time here being a part of an organisation that plays a huge role internationally in making stuff happen to combat poverty and it’s terrible symptoms. There are some amazing people around who are literally saving the world, and working in that environment is pretty fascinating.

Which is why I’m really pumped for the Blog Action Day on October 15th. I plan to use the day to hopefully open a dialogue about how NGO’s in the poverty alleviation space can work in innovative ways to further leverage their advantages and resources towards making poverty history.

I’m not quite sure yet what my plan is for the day, but I’ll let you know what will be happening on this blog in due course. Until then (wait for the sizzle), keep thinking about what you can do on the day to contribute to a huge buzz about how we can fight poverty together from our keyboards. You can get involved here.

What are you installing?

I’ve come from a few beers with some pretty interesting thinkers tonight. Many a great thing was discussed over a Mountain Goat beer (or two) but one of the more interesting things to come out of our conversations was the concept of change management, and installing functions to support that.

Mental Model Install 

As you would know, and as many others are discussing now, Brand Me is real. People are defining their working lives not as professions or roles, but brands and value added. What you can do and what value you can create for an organisation are very different propositions. Often, to create real and systemic value in an organisation you have to embed it in the culture of the place (or group). To do this, you often have to introduce new infrastructure – whether that’s mental (new mental models to solve problems), Physical (new office space or way of organising your physical space to maximise flow) or technological (technical introductions or enhancements that help you do work better).

There’s plenty of examples here to draw from. Keith Don, a fellow colleague at World Vision, was hired to project manage our new digital strategy. Whilst Keith had brought a huge amount of knowledge to the role, the key piece of infrastructure he has brought is his strategic frame of view. He has forced many in the organisation to, for the first time, consider WHY they want a new website, WHY they want to do this piece of social media or WHY do people want to do whatever it is they, well, want to do. That strategic framework is hugely important when trying to create an innovation culture. I’ve had the privilege to get beside ‘Kbama’ and push my shoulder against the Jim Collins flywheel to help create change, and through his work we have begun to see mindsets and mental models shift to very cool places. This is just one example of someone installing new mental infrastructure to an organisation. Alice Clements, now of Scaffidi Hugh-Jones, has introduced Skype to her work environment to increase the knowledge sharing and virtual communication between herself and her peers. Col Duthie, of Ergo, moved his whole business to a new physical location to help drive a new identity after a re-branding. He now writes very succinctly and insightfully at the Ergo blog.  The list goes on…

So, when you next go into an organisation, consider this question. What do you, as a brand and person, install that helps move things towards a better outcome?