Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Craigslist and Communism

Isn't it great how Craigslist keeps getting weird looks from established capitalist institutions? Always makes me laugh.

The idea of a company which doesn't exist to maximize profits, or even make profits, is intriguing because at heart we all want to make our services and just enough to live off of. We learn in finance classes and business that it's essential to maximize shareholder value and issue the largest dividends possible and blah blah, but that's hardly inspirational.

Nobody gets inspired to start a company with 'Someday, i'll issue large dividends to tons of people I don't know.' The point of a business is, first and foremost, to provide a service. Of course, sometimes the service is maximized profits, but our deliberate, well-structured financial system has skewed investing away from the original point.

Business is a test. It's a test of how well your idea scales to the general populace, a test of your ability to capitalize on opportunities, a test of how well you can build a team to build and improve products, and yes, a test of your ability to maximize investment. But before all of these things, Business is a test of whether you want to test your idea.

Craigslist represents the "new" for-profit charity model at its finest; the company exists to fulfill a niche, build a product, and test an idea first and foremost, and revenue only exists to maintain its hardware and equipment. I use the irony (read: quotation) marks because this philosophy is a return to the basics of business, not something new at all.

Non-profit charity is the fundamental process that drives every entrepreneur to invest time and effort into a risky idea. Entrepreneurs succeed when they have a drive to build something useful that they want, and to scale it so that other people can use it too. It's not about maximizing revenue, or it would never get off the ground.

The new environment is great for encouraging entrepreneurship of this sort because frankly, the internet's nothing special anymore. Ut's a big deal, but it's not a magical land where anything's possible. It's a tool, an environment, a part of the real world. There are so many fledgling services and companies out there right now that you can't jump in with both feet hoping to maximize revenue. Even if you can find the motivation to start the company based on that, there are dozens of companies stealing your market share and customers' attention.

From the view of established companies like those looking askance at Craigslist, this makes a bubble because there are too many companies trying to take advantage of too small of a space. But really, it's just the long tail again. Everybody's going out and making their own for-profit charities, offering their services and hoping that if other people like it they'll come and visit. And because of AdWords and other similar services coming out (some of which are really cool), this is actually a viable model without relying on non-profit status and handouts.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Innovation and Speed

Innovation and Speed are two key components of startups in the web 2.0 world as well as any modern industry. A recent Businessweek Article highlighted some of the trends of modern business success. I'll summarize for the ADDled blogosphere.

Common features of successful, innovative and speedy companies like Richard Branson's Virgin group and Google include;
At their Fingertips
"The Internet has become ubiquitous, so companies can connect with talent anywhere in the blink of an eye, inside or outside the company. Open-source software can be plucked off the shelf to become the foundation of new software programs or Web sites. Algorithms can be used to slice and dice market information and spot new trends.

Perhaps most important, today's fleet companies are embracing a management approach that would have been heresy just a decade ago: If you don't fail occasionally, you're not pushing hard enough. Executives tend to try lots of things, expecting a number of them to flop. It doesn't matter as long as you produce a steady stream of hits. Even losers can burnish a company's reputation for innovation if they're seen as exciting experiments. "It's not just O.K. to fail; it's imperative to fail," says Seth Godin, a marketing expert and author of several books, including Unleashing the Ideavirus."

Companies are reaching and stretching out toward increasingly distant and strange opportunities, knowing that failure is inevitable in these new arenas.

Businessweek's strategies for finding quality new opportunities included;

Finding new ways to spot hits
"Electronics retailer Best Buy Co. has begun checking with venture capitalists to find out what their startups are working on. Procter & Gamble Co. uses online networks to get in touch with thousands of experts worldwide."

P&G highlights a particular finding from a little known Italian professor through the internet which allowed it to print jokes onto pringles.

Keeping your Launch Team Agile

This example seems lacking in strong case studies... but the description of Raving Brands and their "SWAT team in chinos and polo shirts" is good for a laugh at least.

Breaking your unwritten Rules

I'm not sure if this is supposed to be a list of features of newly successful companies or ancient cliches... Think outside the box, anyone?

Hand off tasks to Specialists

Anyone who needs to be told to outsource should really be trying to invest in speedy companies, not become one.

Once you have it right, repeat

Hm... Apparently Franchising works. Who knew.

Nothing amazing, but some of the case studies bear thought. I'll be keeping my eye on a few of these companies to see what real, new strategies they pick up and whether they thrive or die based on those.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Screw Finals: the 80/20 rule and Simplicity in Design

I've been ignoring my finals (as hard as I can), and found some interesting articles on Design and Simplicity in between my customary perusal of my feel-good websites.

A nice highlight comes from Joel Spolsky, software developer in NYC, who says
"Devotees of simplicity will bring up 37signals and the Apple iPod as anecdotal proof that Simple Sells. I would argue that in both these cases, success is a result of a combination of things: building an audience, evangelism, clean and spare design, emotional appeal, aesthetics, fast response time, direct and instant user feedback, program models which correspond to the user model resulting in high usability, and putting the user in control, all of which are features of one sort, in the sense that they are benefits that customers like and pay for, but none of which can really be described as “simplicity.” For example, the iPod has the feature of being beautiful, which the Creative Zen Ultra Nomad Jukebox doesn't have, so I'll take an iPod, please. In the case of the iPod, the way beauty is provided happens to be through a clean and simple design, but it doesn't have to be. The Hummer is aesthetically appealing precisely because it's ugly and complicated."

An interesting perspective on design. It definitely helps me to grab onto the crux of this question of simplicity and what features are essential to look at Apple's design philosophy, as they've consistently been design trendsetters in electronics, software, and hardware. Steve Jobs says "Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works." Definitely in agreement with Joel S., they're both saying that the design is everything and the features can't be separated for convenience purposes without losing the entire intent of the project.

But wait, this is in direct disagreement with The Man! Conventional philosophy on product design says that you can separate the items and pick and choose. In fact, Joel's article specifically brings up the 80/20 rule, which states that 80% of users use 20% of features. The conclusion businesspeople draw from that is you only need those 20% of features and your product will do well, hence the argument for simplicity within the product. By picking out those specific features, you make only the product people will use. Brilliant.

An excellent example of how picking a target market can hurt is the Newest Console Wars between the PS3, Xbox360, and Nintendo Wii. The consensus on this round is that the PlayStation3 and Xbox360 are gunning for the hardcore gamers, releasing more powerful systems and hoping to make up for lost profits on peripheral sales. (note; source states that the Xbox 360 is now profitable with each unit sold, last year at initial release they were not.) The Nintendo Wii, on the other hand, has said Screw it, and gone for a system without comparable capabilities to the 360 and Ps3 in favor of an innovative control system based around motion sensor technology.

While the ps3 and xbox360 are focusing on the 20% of features that hardcore gamers care about, the Wii has gone for a more holistic design philosophy and decided that all the features of a great system were there in the last generation of hardware. So they just kept the gamecube, invented a way to make it more accessible to non-hardcore gamers, and are doing quite well.

IMHO, the strategy of Apple and Nintendo has a lot in common and actually does follow the 80/20 rule. The reason why it doesn't look like they're following it is because they have a much larger target market in mind. They're saying screw the arms race, instead of better nukes we'll go into biological warfare. It works because nobody else is prepared to deal with Biological warfare and they'd have to change their entire industry to do so.

While a company might look at MicroSoft(MS) word and say 'Nobody's using this and this and this,' cut them out, and suffer because of it, a better design philosophy would look at MSword and say 'Who isn't using it yet? Why?' or 'How could people use MSword better?' or 'What features is MSword missing and who would use them?'

Once you assuming that the entire world is your target market, it's easier to figure out which features are important and which ones get the axe. Dozens of features within MSword are used by different groups for different reasons, so trying to cut the huge programs that MS puts out into more palatable chunks and market them separately are neglecting the fact that MS doesn't need to be efficient or have certain target features; it's got momentum and a huge company on its side. Trying to get a chunk of MS's market without acknowledging that the market isn't actually built on the strength of specific MSword features anymore is what makes me cringe whenever new companies release an open-source MSword or office killer based on the 80/20 principle.

Companies who try to look at the 20% of features people use in a product and focus on those aren't looking at the Long Tail. The 80/20 focused companies are leaping to cater to a hypothetical ideal customer who doesn't exist. Joel makes the excellent point that different people use different 20%s, so the trick is in

1. You don't need the sheep; Recognizing that you're not trying to take the entire existing market share

2. Finding a real market; Clarifying your end goal and the spectrum of people who would use your product
3. Making a real product; Making enough features to give them the utility they need and the diversity they want.

The reason why this strategy is superior to trying to compete on the same market and level of the big boys is that generalization is always cheaper than specification. The Wii is immediately profitable because all the expensive parts have already been made cheap by the last round of console wars, people can make games for it right off the bat, and all they had to do was aim for a totally unaddressed market. Anything they made would be better than what was out there.

To quote Richard Kiyosaki, "anything worth doing is worth doing poorly". Because of this, the 80/20 rule is best applied to the world as a whole. And it's terrible at determining target markets.

Sunday, December 10, 2006


Blog is on hiatus for Finals week.

We'll be back for regular postings on the 18th.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Microsoft's American Idol

Businessweek's What Entrepreneurs need to know is a decent synopsis covering first, Microsoft's push for the small business market with its Ultimate Challenge, described in the businessweek article as a
nationwide small-business plan contest that's part marketing push, part business-idea roundup, and part American Idol.

Interesting description... it sounds more to me like a Microsoftian (read: Embrace, Extend, and Extinguish") attack on the recent trend in Venture Capitalism from companies. While at least one prominent tech company has managed to deal with the evolving Venture Capitalism climate in an Interesting way, most of the other high-flying tech companies are using the customary strategy of wait, then devour in a hugely expensive manner.

While this decision by Microsoft might be described by Businessweek as nothing more than a marketing scam with the potential to pick up business ideas and get the american audience off their couches for something business related, I think it's a clever way to take advantage of the Web 2.0 trend toward user-generated content.

For a business to get onto a web 2.0 news portal, say, Digg, it has a much better chance if it's cited by a fairly reputable source. But most small companies in the modern investment climate are simply getting lost in the static of all the new startups. If Microsoft uses its ability to make news with every sentence of press release to give these startups the initial eyeballs for the seed money they need to come from Google, they can take advantage of their ability to simply make news to a) fund a new startup with what can be a surprising amount of money, b) develop a good relationship with a new company which has decent funding already and improve their contactability by , c) market their new office suite's ability to work within a small business and d) increase the popularity of their own website as a new web 2.0 news portal.

In other words, this could be one of the opening salvos of Microsoft's new plan to take over the internets. It satisfies their yearning to seem cool, their desire to profit from web 2.0 (not die from it), and does it all without seeming like anything but marketing fluff or spending a lot of money.

A clever innovation on Microsoft's part.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Learning from History

tIP of the iceberg

Lots of interesting things going on in IP these days. If you're an artist of any bent it would do you well to pay attention to some new copyright legislation being presented to congress.

This new legislation is pro-business (read: RIAA&MPAA), as this excerpt from the above-linked article mentions:
"It's disturbing that this business-friendly legislation has the backing of the administration while the consumer-friendly Digital Media Consumers' Rights Act sponsored by Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA) has remained bottled up in subcommittee for most of its existence. As currently written, the Intellectual Property Protection Act would tilt the balance even more heavily in the favor of content producers at the expense of American consumers."

Check it out, gives a good rundown.

Also on the Intellectual Property front, apparently the Supreme Court is taking a closer look at Patents. This could be good or bad, there's still a lot to be considered before they hand down their decision, but it's definitely good if you're a proponent of the theory that the judiciary is hijacking America.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Latest in Entrepreneurship.

There's been a lot of hooplah about Web 2.0 and what the implications are to Venture Capitalists. And now people are even starting to talk about Web 3.0, internet run mostly by artificial intelligences. Lets look at some of the main perspectives on what Bill Gates called " Nothing like the '99-'00 bubble," and what it means for Entrepreneurs.

1. Web 2.0 is full of easy ways to make money.
There's all sorts of money to be had in Web 2.0. Sources Abound pointing at ways to use these newfangled internets to pump out some quick cash, but perhaps the most interesting ways to make money off web 2.0 is the New Media trend. Youtube went from nothing to 1.65 billion in 18 months, in case you've been in a hole for the past... two years? Not that long, it's possible. More interesting for those of us not interested in starting company after company trying to get hit in that crap shoot, Some people have been making obscene amounts of money off of Google Adwords. Hopefully I'll be joining them shortly.
What you need to know is that there's a ton of money floating around waiting to be grasped, and for once if you just provide a useful service online (like digg, weblogs, inc., or techcrunch.)

Please note that every single one of these sites provides a useful, timely service. Trying to duplicate any of their achievements won't gain you much. If you want to learn how to take advantage of the Web 2.0 your best bet is to go the Digg, Youtube, or route; Learn some basic programming, spend some time researching useful tools online and how people surf the web, and make it easy for the early adopters to make it easy for other people to do it. That's the essence of the Web 2.0 business model, not blogging or online journalism or online video sharing. And that's how an entrepreneur makes money off of web 2.0.

2. Web 2.0 is easy to get into
As mentioned above, the business model of Web 2.0 success stories is simple: Make an online product that motivated other people can use, and make it good. This is easy to get into because all you need is to learn how to program computers. Which is just learning another language.

Actually, you don't even need that. New services abound which use these same web 2.0 principles to allow anyone to make their ideal program without knowing a lot about programming. For example, Ning allows people to use pre-made templates to create their websites. This means that you can also pick apart their templates, pull out parts that you like, and put them on your blog or website. Ning gives handy tutorials on how to do this. I linked one right there two sentences ago.

This new sort of programming is called a Mashup, and it's really the future of entrepreneurship. Just as entrepreneurs in the physical world have two tactics; doing something someone already does better, or making a synthesis of two disciplines which hasn't been done before, entrepreneurs online are gaining access to the second option. Mashups and similar tools are allowing people to make programs faster and better, and this will probably lead into a lengthy period before web 3.0 becomes real. If it does. If you're interested in making the kind of money that digg, youtube, and are, i suggest you check out those mashup links above. I know I am. :)

Tune in over the next couple of days for more on the Web 2.0 climate...

RSS- Your Computer, anywhere.

I've discovered the wonders of RSS, really simple syndication. It's basically a way for you to collect all of your favorite blogs, webcomics, and internet content in one place for easy viewing.

I spent some time researching various RSS aggregators, software that collects and displays your feeds, and was referred to several services including news is free, which offers not only an aggregator but many many feeds to search (the feed is the link between the website and content you want and the aggregator, the small piece of software that goes and gets your news for you) to find the ones you like.

However, being the lazy bum I am, I just wanted to use my google signin. Wouldn't want them to miss a piece of my information. So I did a little looking around and found my Google Reader, a google based news aggregator. So far it's working out pretty well.

In order to make even more of my computer available online, I went over to If you're like me, you'd heard of the danged thing but dismissed it because of the ridiculous name. allows you to put your bookmarks onto their service for access from anywhere online. Combine this with your google reader and with two tabs you have access to your entire online experience (gmail [or your e-mail provider of choice] and Anything without an RSS feed (look around on your favorite sites, they're probably on there in some nook.) can be added as a simple bookmark in

Not a lot of work, considering how much easier it is to peruse all your websites from any computer with those nifty services.

P.S. Now if only someone would make a mashup that lets you use your or google login to save all of your passwords... Sure, it'd let someone else get into your Cloud of Information with a single password, but this isn't access to anything they couldn't find on their own online anyway.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Impromptu Part III- The Main Example

This is the second most important part of your speech. An example that summarizes your entire argument well and can be used for transitions and the conclusion.

Lets look at the 'Greed is good' example again. I'll use Alexander the Great's decision to conquer the world as my intro/main example for this. We'll get into how to choose and refine examples in a moment (it's number 3 in importance). For now, just know that you need a good example here. I usually do the main example last for just this reason.

This example needs to encapsulate your interpretation, your argument, and your main two points, and it needs to do it all in 30 seconds. That's actually a little bit shorter than most examples. So it needs to be well chosen. This is your second priority. I do it last because then I can pick from all the examples I've come up with for the speech.

Think of this as your entire argument in example form. I'm saying that greed, irrational desire, is good (thesis) because it lets you ignore other people and drives you to success (argument). Alexander the great is an awesome example for this because he's not considered greedy, yet was. He was very greedy. I think the word usually used is heroic, or grand, but anybody quoted as saying 'Is it not worthy of tears that, when the number of worlds is infinite, we have not yet become lords of a single one?' is greeeedy. Greed for what, is the point.

Start your intro with a powerful sentence which clearly states what you're talking about, something like 'Alexander the Great was a greedy, greedy man.' Humor is good here but if it's not your thing just be clear. Make your entire point in the first sentence. Then elaborate; 'He wanted to take over the entire world and started out with nothing but a small army, a rebellious peninsula, and a pocket full of dreams.' Then, once you've elaborated a little bit, make your argument. 'Alexander's pocket full of greedy dreams, however, proved to be the key factor in his success; his greed led him to attempt what others said was impossible, and also led him to relentlessly continue until he achieved his goals.'

Mkay, three sentences. That's pretty good. Now you can throw in some filler for a sentence or two, make it funny if you can or play to your unique strengths, but also make it cogent. Talk about his greed, his attempts, his success, his crazy quotations and tendencies, whatever.

Finally, before introducing your quotation, introduce intrigue! Believe it or not, this is one of the most important parts of your speech, and also ridiculously easy. Just give people a reason to consider disagreeing with you. Something like 'But Alexander's greed led him to do such... interesting... things as burn the great city of Thebes to the ground, kill one of his generals for arguing with him, and pick up another wife on his travels.' See, now you're like Hm. Which sentence was his argument? Is he saying greed is good, or greed is bad?

This leads us into today's quotation, from the film Wall Street. You should see how that led into the quotation, and why it's worth thinking about. Then you go into your thesis and argument and preview and that's how your intro ends.

The main example is key for giving your audience something to hold on to, a common thread throughout your speech. You'll come back to it twice more in conventional, NFA impromptu, once when transitioning between your points and once in the conclusion. That's why it's important that it summarize your argument, the controversy, and the ideas in the thesis well. It's your audience's liferaft. Make it good.

Tomorrow we'll look at how to pick examples in general, and my favorite ways of outlining and remembering them.

Impromptu Part IV- Examples in General

Picking, refining, Examples in general.

Examples are a tricky subject. Everyone has their own examples because Impromptu speaking is all about what you're comfortable talking about. People have all sorts of methods to pick examples, because it's the easiest part of impromptu to prepare and codify. I don't like the interpretation that if you just have a million examples you'll win. Like I said, this is only the third most important aspect of impromptu. If you've got a solid interpretation and are looking for a main example, you'll do well even if your entire speech is about Alexander the Great during the Battle of Guagamela.

I tend toward business and history examples and definitely away from pop culture examples, just because it's easy for me to put my interpretations in terms of past events or modern methods of dealing with common problems. And I don't watch a lot of movies or TV, so my pop culture is limited. I do use House, M.D. a lot. Favorite TV show ^_^

Here's how you come up with good examples: Pick three or four general topics, such as History, Theories, Pop Culture, and Literature. This is just so you're guaranteed variety in your examples: three historical examples are boring. Mix it up unless your audience is full of history majors. Even then, they'll appreciate the variety.

I group people in with their main group. For example, my constant Alexander the Great examples fit under History, Steve Jobs goes under Pop Culture (as does all history from the last 20 years), Faust is in Literature, and Thomas Hobbes is in Theories. There are some people who cross fields. One of the reasons I like using Machiavelli and Google are because of this fact: Machiavelli's the Prince works for Literature, has theories in it, and the guy himself has an interesting history. Google is a business/Pop Culture example, a good story (it'll fit in history when it's not pop culture anymore), and their motto and purpose statements show unique theories.

Here's how I sort and record my examples:
History examples: First, make an in-depth timeline. Then note major people involved with each event, then note major cultural clashes or battles. Again, major people on each side of the conflict are useful to give your audience something to latch on to. When using history examples, begin with a brief summary of the times, then mention the important people, before finally stating why it's relevant in the terms of the quotation.

Example (Shortened version of my entry for Rome):
Founding- circa 9th century BC (753?)
Romulus/Remus found city. Romulus kills his brother and gives city his own name.

Rule of the Seven Kings of Rome- 753-509
Final king of Rome thrown out by ancestor of Brutus.

Creation of the Republic- 509 BC
Rome takes advantage of pressed Etruscans to rebel and form a republic with other latin city-states.

Gauls invade Rome- 390 BC
Rome Rebuilds city quickly and goes on the offensive, securing northern marches and continuing in conquest until Punic Wars, at which time Rome is foremost city on the Italian peninsula.

Punic Wars- 264-146 BC
Rome V. Carthage for dominance of Mediterranean. Roman Statesman Cato ends every speech with ‘Destroy Carthage,’ no matter the topic. In 146, Carthage and Corinth are razed.

Social and Civil wars, emergence of Marius, Sulla, Pompey, Caesar- 146-44BC
At the time, Rome dominates Mediterranean, largest city in the world until 19th century. Size maintained by subsidies, not trade like Alexandria.

Roman Empire- possibly at Julius Caesar’s claiming of dictatorship(44), battle of Actium (31), or date of granting of Augustus title to Octavian (27).
Roman republic had been weakened by the Gaius Marius v. Sulla, followed by the civil war of Julius Caesar v. Pompey. Caesar wins, takes title of Dictator Perpetuus. Caesar is assassinated by senators fearful that he would take the title of monarch, led by Brutus. War follows between his heir, Octavian, and Marc Antony. Octavian wins and is crowned Augustus, gains no more technical power, but is in essence dictator behind the scenes of the republic.

Romulus/Remus, Kings of Rome, Brutii family, Cato, Gaius Marius, Sulla, Pompey, Julius Caesar, Marc Antony, Augustus Caesar.

Founding, Creation of Republic, Gaul Invasion, Punic Wars, Civil Wars, battle of Actium, Creation of Empire.

Culture Clashes:
Roman v. Carthaginian, Barbarian v. Roman, Hellenic V. Roman v. other

Back to Greed is Good. Say my main example is Julius Caesar. I'd start out with

'About 50 years before the birth of Christ, Rome was in the middle of a huge civil war. On one side were Julius Caesar and his forces, and against them were the armies of Pompey. Of course, we all know Julius Caesar won, and the reason why he won was because he was greedy for a new Rome. His greed for what was, essentially, a dictatorship in the place of the republic which had brought about the civil war drove him to ignore his rationality and defeat the forces of Pompey. However, once he had won the war, he spared many of Pompey's generals because he knew that they were just greedy like he was; they were hungry for a better Rome. Julius Caesar's greed in wanting to personally remake all of Rome first drove him to irrationally fight a civil war and then let him empathize with the same attribute in his former enemies and grant them leniency. But it was this same series of events which would later lead to his death in the Senate at the hands of those people he spared. So we wonder... How good for Caesar was his greed? This leads us into today's quotation..."

43 seconds. Too long for an intro unless you've prepped for under 30 seconds, but it's typed out. I'm much more verbose in print. ^_^ and I love my long intros.

That should give you an example of how to use examples. I suggest doing single example preps, where you get a quotation, form your argument, and try out whatever new example you've got as the main example. It will give you a good idea of how useful your example is and how to phrase it in a speech.

Remember, just like any other activity, public speaking requires constant practice. However, it is much easier to practice impromptu and extemp than other events; just talk to people. Try using an impromptu example in normal conversation, a pop culture one if you like. Whip out a 'Well, Google's corporate motto is 'Do no evil.' They've made it work, why can't we?' at your job, or a historical example in the middle of class to illustrate a point. It seems weird, but I guarantee it'll at least give you something else to talk about.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Sidenote: Speech and the Triumvirate

I talk a lot about Speech on this blog because I consider it an excellent way to learn communications skills, same as being a salesperson for years or learning to act.

My philosophy has three parts; Talking, Thinking, and Testing. Talking, again, is about communication and poise (talking through your composure and staying composed). Thinking is about philosophy and planning far into the future based on ideals, and testing is about the numbers and getting out and trying things so you can see how to get better at them.

In my Charisma Major I focus on these three components, and right now I'm working on Talking/Poise. I often get asked why speech? Obviously it helps make me a more charismatic communicator, but so does selling cars really well or being a stellar actor.

It's partially personal, I've done speech, know what to expect, and it's something I'm good at. Much better at than selling cars or acting (though I am getting into Dramatic Interp this year...). But the rational (read: thinking) reason to do Speech is that speech has much more variety than sales or acting. True, you can go out and try to sell all sorts of things, but not at once. Likewise, acting requires a plethora of skills and abilities, but it also requires either contacts or a degree from an established institution. Both of those fields are limited by their established nature, in a way. You need to go through the channels to get the benefits.

I like speech because I can go out and in one weekend (If I'm ridiculously good :)) Give six impromptu speeches, six Extemporaneous speeches (Impromptu based on current events with 1/2 hour prep), six persuasive speeches, six After Dinner speeches (funny persuades), six Dramatic Interpretations and six Informative speeches. The three different types of Speech teach how to talk in the three different languages of my philosophy; Limited prep (impromptu and extemp, as well as Debate in many ways) teach how to test and use what you know, Public Address (informative, persuasive, partially after dinner) teach how to communicate learning, and Interp teaches you how to get feelings across and all the nuances of connecting with your audience.

Now, obviously I won't be doing six events at once, but I will be working on those three different areas at any given time. So in one week of working on my current speeches I'm learning all the aspects of communication if I do one event from each of the three areas. I bet you could do that in Sales or Theatre, but it requires a lot more background work before you can do it. In speech, it's almost a given.

It's pretty much the same thing that motivates me into a lot of my activities; it's the easiest way to achieve all of my goals for the moment at once that I've found. Once I start doing an interpretation event I'll be learning everything there is to know about applied communications every weekend I take my events out, or every time I go in to coach.

That's why I do speech. Shortest distance between me now and more charismatic communicator me.

Impromptu Part IIb-Thesis/Argument Contd

I'll elaborate on why the thesis and argument are the most important parts of the speech.

You could be talking on any topic, from a sentence your friend just said to an excerpt from shakespeare, and give an impromptu speech. Why give an impromptu speech, why analyze your topic at all, if you're not going to give your personal interpretation. And don't tell me you're just analyzing it from society's perspective, it's about YOU and how you feel about the topic. Your thesis is the summation of your feelings on the entire topic. It's your chance to say 'Here's what x means.' Your argument is your defense of your feelings on the topic.

The thesis and argument are the most important parts of your impromptu speech because they are the reason for the speech. They're why you want to talk about the topic and why what you think is true makes sense. Even if you're just talking about the topic because you're doing College Forensics and needed another event, you're doing college forensics! So you're giving an impromptu speech because you care enough to do forensics! Make it count!

That's what the thesis and argument are all about: making your speech important. Here's where you say 'This is the topic. I agree, because of this.' Or disagree or whatever. The entire point of the speech is not to give good examples, or to have perfect structure. It's just getting your point across, period.

That's why I like impromptu so much. It's all about YOU, your interpretation, and your ability to defend it. Your argument is a summary of your entire belief system with regards to the topic, your examples are just case studies of times when you've recognized your feelings elsewhere. What matters is what you think, and how you say it. That's what verbal communication is all about, and impromptu is verbal communication at its finest.

The Thesis and Argument is why you're talking about the topic at all. Without a good, clear thesis and a solid argument there is no reason to give a speech, period. So your thesis and argument should be the focus of your work on impromptu speaking and the entire point of why you've decided to speak up.

Later today I'll go on to cover the second most important part of Impromptu speaking, the main example.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Impromptu Part II : Thesis and Argument

The most important part of impromptu speaking are your Thesis and Argument.
It's all about the subject.

The trick to Impromptu speaking is knowing how to adapt your examples to your topic. Notice that it's not about the examples, it's about the topic and the adaptation. A wide variety of examples definitely helps, but if you know a single example really well you can make it work if you try hard enough.

For instance, say you're giving an impromptu speech on the following quotation:
"Greed is good."- Wall Street

The Thesis Statement.
You could just say 'Of course it's saying greed is good,' and go on to agree or disagree with that. That would be your thesis statement.

A better thesis would go more in-depth and say "The quotation is saying that 'Greed, meaning wanting more than you need to survive, is good' Or 'Greed, unquenchable thirst for more, is good.' Make sure you define ambiguous terms like 'Greed' or 'Honor' or 'life.' Summarize.

The important thing in the thesis statement is to clearly articulate your interpretation of the subject. Note that it is Not about the 'correct' interpretation of the subject. It is about whatever interpretation works for you, but it should be true. This is much more important with more ambiguous quotations, but true at a basic level. Every quotation is open to (mis)interpretation. If you make your thesis statement interesting, your speech will be interesting.

Then you agree or disagree with your interpretation of the subject. This is usually combined with a sort of pre-preview of your main points; make your argument while stating your (dis)agreement. For example,

"So we need to look at today's quotation, "Greed is Good," from Wall Street. This quotation claims that Greed, an unquenchable thirst for more, is a positive trait. This is true because greed allows us to ignore rationality, and because greed allows us to empathize with other people's struggles."

Make clear assertions here. Do not say 'First we'll look at why greed is good, second we'll look at why greed may not be good.' The audience should know exactly what you're going to say. Greed lets us ignore rationality, greed allows us to empathize, greed is good. Simple, clear, intriguing. Empathy through greed? Say wha? Now I'm interested.

Go to and get a few random quotations. Don't use a stopwatch for this part, but look at the quotations, notice the ambiguous terms, and summarize it as quickly as possible.

Example: "Action is Elegance"- William Shakespeare
Elegance, Action, and The relationship between the two all need definition. Good quotation :).
Action is taking immediate steps to achieve your goals. Elegance is being stylish and powerful at the same time. Taking immediate steps to achieve your goals is the best way to be stylish and powerful at the same time. Bam, thesis. Again, it's a good impromptu quotation because it's short and yet wholly ambiguous. Thank you, Shakespeare.

Try running this same quotation five or six times and you'll see how a finals round looks: everyone makes an immediate, probably different, interpretation of the exact same quotation.

Tomorrow we'll look at the second most important part of Impromptu, the Main Example.

Impromptu Part I: How to give an Impromptu Speech

Today we're going to start a week-long series on the basics of Impromptu. Today I'll give you an overview, tomorrow we'll go over the most important part of impromptu, the thesis. Thursday I'll briefly cover the 2nd most important part and get started on examples, and then I'll go over how to find and use good examples.

An impromptu speech is any speech on a topic without time for preparation. I extend this definition to include short prep times, under five minutes usually.

I do impromptu speaking in College forensics and am qualified to nationals (read: made it into finals several times and done well. Considered in the top 10% of impromptu speakers.) In college, we get 7 minutes to prepare and speak, usually broken up into less than 2 minutes of prep and around 5 minutes of speaking.

Here's what you need to know:
First, Impromptu speech organization usually goes like this, just because it's effective:
Intro: Main Example. (under 30s, clear example which illustrates your interpretation. However, directly before transitioning into statement introduce controversy: Answer Why this is worth talking about.)

Statement of Subject. (Read the quotation, state the subject, tell us exactly what you're talking about)

Interpretation of subject (thesis statement, what does the subject mean.)
Agree/Disagree with interpretation (one sentence, yea or nay.)
Preview of Speech (Cover the main points.)
I. Point one of speech
A. Example 1 (subpoint 1-A)
B. Example 2 (s. 2-A)
Review of point 1, Transition to point 2 (link back to main example.)
II. Point Two of speech
A. Example 1 (s. 1-B)
B. Example 2 (s. 2-B)
Review of point 2, transition to conclusion.

Restate subject (Today we looked at the (quotation, subject, etc.)
Thesis (We interpreted this to mean...)
Review points one and two,
link back into main example.

This is a very common organization just because you have justification for everything: Your main example justifies your thesis, arguement, transition and conclusion. The subpoints justify the points of the argument. Nothing non-essential.

Prep notecards using this format.


That's all you need. The rest is just stuff to remember. Tomorrow we'll cover the most important single part of your impromptu: the Thesis and Argument.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Blogging Information

I found a great video on business blogging (transcript here

Summary of important points:
o How often do you update your website? Search Engines are how people find your webpages, not intra-site navigation, and search engines look for fresh, quality content.

o A Blog is a Tool for website management: It's up to you to make sure that it meets your needs. Ignore Blog Nazis, who dictate the definition of a blog.

o 'Pretty good is better than perfect.' A cheap blog is better for progress than a hugely expensive website that never goes anywhere, and they are hugely search engine friendly. (Corollary: Anything worth doing well is worth doing badly.)

o By aiming your Blogging, you can get ahead of the search engine curve. Look where they are trying to get, aim for that, reap the benefits. ( SEO)

o Blogs are fun. You can Pontificate! Websites suck in terms of fun (you get it good enough and stop, hassles on page updating.

o Establish a Dialogue with your Customers. Everyone in business should recognize how good this can be.

o Schedule things to be published in the future. Teach search engines to look for you every day even while on vacation. (Cycle reduction every time they find you've updated.) Post Every Week. Comments update your blog! They freshen pages you're never gonna touch again.

o "Bloggers are a very Cranky Whiny lot." Whatever you do, someone will tell you you're doing it wrong. Expectations of blog definitions, update frequency, format, etc. Whiny lot, bloggers.

o Set guidelines for bloggery. Look at myspace for idiocy. Don't do that. A business blog should be about business. You should take your other business elsewhere.

Recommended Blogging Techniques:
- Allow Comments.
- Have an Authentic Voice- Put a Face on your Company.
- Identify your bias
- Establish Credibility through Consistency
- Follow your industry and market news
- Stay Focused

All in all, a good presentation. At the end he showed some examples from his blog of topics already covered.


I spent some time looking at various presentations this week, and decided to post some of the more interesting speeches along with analyses of why they were interesting and how they might have been improved.

1. OSCON 2005 Keynote - Identity 2.0
Dick Hardt | Founder & CEO, Sxip Identity

This speech is an amusing and fast-paced presentation which relies heavily on quickly moving visual aids to keep the audience enthralled. He uses hundreds of slides to take advantage of the stickiness which always accompanies shiny things: they're cool because they're shiny!

The Good: A lot of material covered quickly while using visual aids to keep the audience interested.

Common Mistakes Made- OverReliance on Visual Aids
get a remote or an assistant and move away from the computer. Movement and physicality can help more emotionally driven or tactile people connect to your presentation if they don't like the shiiiiiiny visual aids. However, it's worth noting that his particular choice of presentation does translate extremely well to posting online and making into a movie. If you watched it online, you know what i mean. It's fast, it's shiny, it gets the point across.

Possible Improvements if you'd like to use this method: (in person) Look at The Word from the Colbert Report. It similarly uses visual aids (primarily words with a few pictures), but improves on the methods from this speech in that Colbert also has his physical humor and amusing reactions to the visual aids to play off of. Use both and you look much more prepared in person.

2. Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink presentation at SXSW 2005.

Besides being an excellent writer (everyone should read Blink and The Tipping Point), Gladwell is a good presenter for these reasons: He knows what he's talking about and thus doesn't need visual aids to structure his speech, and he shows passion.

Good: Fast paced, good material, no visual aids, passionate.

Common Mistakes Made- Happy Feet! This bane of the speech world causes the speaker to move unconsciously, shifting their weight and generally being distracting. Only move when transitioning from one story to the next or switching points or, for advanced speakers, moving into the audience to make an emotional connection. Otherwise, your movement is a distraction.

Little Improvements he could've made: Enunciation. If you're talking fast, enunciate way more than you need to.
Pace yourself. Another way to tae advantage of a fast speech is use dramatic pauses to their utmost- if you've been moving quickly the whole time, when you do slow down EVERYBODY pays special attention. If you're looking for it, his pauses are for thinking and phrasing, though the 'Dead Silence, Mein Gott' is an excellent example of what you should try for. Practice makes perfect.

3. Steve Jobs- 1984 Macintosh Presentation

Ah, I do love watching Mr. Jobs go. It's been a while, so the (in)famous Mr. Jobs has already fixed most of my comments. He could've benefited by being memorized at the start, but the dramatic effect from walking over and actually setting up the computer is a masterful touch. When the computer talks, everyone listens.

Common Mistakes Made- Staring at the Script
This common mistake makes it harder for the audience to think of you as reputable due to the lack of eye contact as well as the implication that you don't have the material down pat.

Little Improvements: Go watch a more modern Steve Jobs presentation.
Some things to look for are the use of the reciprocity principle, the use of stories to connect with the audience, and his gosh-darned enthusiasm for his products and actions. To emulate these attributes, make your speech as short as possible, use stories of events which actually occurred or are directly metaphoric to your situation, and decide on your motivations and your audience's going into the event. No one is just presenting to inform. If you are being informational, you are persuading the audience that your interpretation of the information is worth listening to. If you're actively trying to persuade, you're converting your audience to your religion. That's why they're usually hostile, unless you're preaching to the choir. Use the tricks of influence and social psychology to get yourself a neutral audience, and then be enthusiastic and mean what you're saying.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Journalism Blogging: A Place to Start

I was looking over my last post and some more of Guy's tips on how to work the bloggy crowd and I decided to give what he does a shot.

The Top 10 Editing Tricks to take the Diary out of your Blog

1. Think 'Not Diary.' Strange as it may seem, nobody wants to read your diary. Or my diary. Or even Leonardo DaVinci's Diary. Hm. My link appears to contradict my statement. But it's safe to say that nobody wants to read YOUR diary.

2. Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide. Or in this case, the little devil on your shoulder that says 'That's really not important, is it?' From someone much more famous than I am, "Now that you're thinking of your blog as a product, ask yourself if it's a good product. A useful test is to imagine that there's a little man sitting on your shoulder reading what you're writing. Every time you write an entry, he says, “So what? Who gives a shiitake?” If you can't answer the little man, then you don't have a good blog/product. Take it from someone who's tried: It's tough to market crap, so make sure you have something worth saying. Or, write a diary and keep it to yourself."

3. Lrn 2 Ed1t, n00b. Seriously. Spelling and grammar may not matter to your friends in IM (lol liek he knos whut IM is), but people will get sick of it if they see it on a blog, just like they would get sick of it in your local newspaper.

4. Think New York Times. Would your article make it into the New York Times? Granted, it doesn't have to (it's a blog, for chrissake. Nobody expects the Times to ever actually become a big RSS feed... or do they?) But just like WWJD, it'll help you stay on-track.

5. It Doesn't Always Have To Be Journalism. This may seem to fly in the face of my previous comments, but my point was not that you have to be a journalist all the time, but that it's a better place to start and get used to than book or diary. A Blog is much more than just journalism. If people just wanted journalism, they'd go read the newspaper. It's your blog, do what you want. However, people do read the paper every day. Not many books can claim the same honor.

6.Stick to What You Know. If you're going to write something, try to know something about it first. This one's really easy: just don't go out of your way to find anything to put on your blog.

7. Link people who know what you don't. I do Extemporaneous speaking on a college level, and here's why it's suggested that we cite a source on why our question is important: Because authority makes people pay attention. If you aren't an expert, find one and link them. Use the internet. Your readers might want more information on a topic, and make sure they can find it without their own google searches.

8. You Do Not Talk About Fight Club. This goes along with the Journalism thing, but please don't put inside jokes and annoyingly lengthy anecdotes on your blog. Keep it short and sweet. If you can edit out words, do so. In the words of Blaise Pascal, 'I am sorry for the length of my letter, but I had not the time to write a short one.' Follow this maxim. Cut your stories. What's the point?

9. Keep Up the Pace. I suggest you don't leave your readers on pins and needles as to when you're going to update next. A couple of times a week is great, people will wait if you're a busy CEO, but you should try to stay consistent. Some of the most famous webcomics have achieved their notoriety simply through persistence (got sidetracked looking for one of the ones that's updated every day for the past seven years... ah, wigu) and some... are infamous for never updating! Try to at least get somewhere in the middle?

10. Last, but not least, Go Find Information. The real trick to journalism, blogging, and life in general, is to be where the action is. If that action happens to be on the internet, Go Forth, my minions, and search the internets! If it's in your neighborhood bowling alley (and that had better be some good action there), go check out the bowling alley. Find some useful, interesting information (or make it up), and your Journalistic Blog will thrive.