Presenting with power means PowerPoint must not be a crutch

We are currently planning the next Social Innovation BarCamp for 6 Nov 2010 in Sydney and I’ve just written a post about it called 4 Principles and 2 Laws of Social Innovation BarCamp.

Thinking about the state of conferences over the past few years I have become enamoured of unconferences. In the case of Social Innovation BarCamp, the sessions are facilitated conversations. That is, there is no speaker at the front of a room in a traditional sense, nor is there an audience per se.

Instead there is a facilitator or session leader who frames and encourages a conversation about the topic that they have proposed. Participants come along ready to get involved and not just sit back as an audience.

This is similar to the process Dave Winer outlines as used at the well-known BloggerCon and updates it here:

“…there is no audience, there are no speakers. There is a discussion leader, a person responsible for the flow of the discussion.”

I have concluded that the old conference model with experts out front and a passive audience is no longer sufficient to grapple with the big ideas that we must confront in business and society today. The old conference model harnesses only a small fraction of the brainpower, passion and intelligence in the room.

Further, I have come to realise that many of us are not focused on communication any longer . Instead we tend to  focus on the presentation itself. This is because the presentation tools we use – things like PowerPoint, Keynote or Prezi – tend to conform our communications to their own patterns.

I realised how much of a communications crutch that PowerPoint had become for me while delivering a talk at Parliament House earlier in the year.  At the last minute I discovered that it was not possible to use my carefully prepared PowerPoint slides.  It was a cathartic experience in many ways.  It also led me to define the following law for the next Social Innovation BarCamp:

“The Law of No PowerPoint, which states simply, we know you’re used to the crutch of PowerPoint (or Keynote or Prezi, etc) but you need to leave it behind for the day. Instead use other forms of communication (perhaps draw a poster or write on a whiteboard?) to help get your message across.”
Source: Kate Carruthers

It’s going to be interesting to see what happens without the comfort of a data projector and slideshow. Now is as good a time as any to re-discover the joys of communication without relying on technology to mediate our ideas.

Inspiring: Girl Develop IT #becauseiamagirl

One thing I’m passionate about is the possibilities opened up for all of us by technology. And techincal literacy is an important way that we can open up those possibilities for women.

Another thing I’m passionate about is people who make a difference – those who get up off the sofa and take action. Sara Chipps is someone who has seen a need and taken action with her Girl Develop IT program, as she explains:

It can be intimidating for women to learn and ask questions when they are in an extreme minority. While open and welcoming, today’s budding developer community is up to 91% male. There isn’t a comfortable place where women can learn at their own pace and not be afraid to ask “stupid questions.”

We decided it was time to provide a place where all questions are OK and everyone can learn in a supportive environment. Our courses focus on coding, leveraging existing technology, and having something to show for it (aka building sweet websites).

And in Australia Pamela Fox has been inspired by Sara’s lead and is setting up a local version of Girl Develop IT in Sydney.

Kudos to Sara and Pamela for getting off the sofa and doing something to help build up technical literacy for women and girls.

This all fits rather nicely into the Plan Australia Because I am a Girl campaign:

You Can Help Change the World

Plan International says “There’s no greater enemy of inequality than keeping quiet!”

Act now! Spread the ‘Because I am a Girl’ message throughout your network of family, friends and colleagues.

Simple Things You Can Do Right Now …

  • Share your story here
  • Inform people about the campaign through your websites, newsletters, emails and other touch points. Plan can provide you logos and information on the campaign.
  • Host lunches with friends, partners and clients. Depending on the event Plan can provide content and speakers.
  • Plan can work with you to see how your business can build awareness among your customers and suppliers.
  • You can donate to Plan in Australia’s GirlsFund, that works to address the unique obstacles faced by girls.
  • You can sponsor a child with Plan. Over 48,000 individuals and businesses in Australia sponsor children with Plan.  Plan uses funds through child sponsorship to support projects that bring lasting change to a child’s entire community, such as gender equality.
  • For more ways on how you can support the campaign visit Plan Australia’s ‘Because I am a Girl’ website
  • Because I am a Girl Facebook Group
  • Twitter: @invest_in_girls

Public discourse and private citizens – how free is freedom of speech? #groggate

A recent disclosure that a Federal public servant has been blogging about matters political in his personal time has come to be referred amongst Australian journalists and bloggers alike as #groggate.

There has been much discussion about the rights and wrongs of this unmasking of a pseudonymous blogger who had the temerity to question the efficacy of the retinue of journalists who were following the election candidates around the country.

The debate about this continues to rage across the blogosphere and twittersphere; and in the publication that outed the blogger it seems they are using the issue as linkbait in fine blogger tradition.

But, as some wiser folks have realised, this matter is not about one public servant and his blog. It is about participation by private citizens in public discourse.

Up until recent times the opportunity for the average citizen to participate in public discourse was extremely limited. Instead participation by private citizens in public discourse was mediated by newspapers, magazines and television channels – the professional news media.

Because of this historical role as gatekeepers of access to public discourse the professional news media in Australia appear to believe that they have a privileged position to maintain. I believe that this feeling was what drove the unveiling of the author of the Grog’s Gamut blog.

It appears to have been a rearguard action by members of the professional news media who feel their gatekeeping role with respect to public discourse is being eroded. Funnily enough they are right. Their role as gatekeepers who set the agenda for public discourse is eroding under their very feet.

Instead we are seeing a fragmentation of the media landscape. Eternal verities such as guaranteed audiences are splintering and nobody really knows what will happen next. And into this shifting media landscape new voices – those of private citizens – are flourishing in niches. Not every new voice is excellent or expert. Not every new voice is skilled in the ways of fact-checking and other journalistic niceties. But some of these new voices are finding loyal and interested audiences. Grog’s Gamut was one such new voice.

But Grog’s blog was written under a pseudonym – it was not an anonymous blog as some have asserted. And the journalist and his publication could not resist the temptation to reveal the real name of the author.

That revelation means nothing to most people. But to this particular public servant it means scrutiny from mandarins at senior levels in the public service and the possibility that he might lose his job over his private opinions shared in his private time as part of his contribution to public discourse.

Further, it means that every other public servant will be watching what happens to the author of Grog’s Gamut. They will be watching to see if it is possible for a public servant to participate in public discourse in Australia. They will be watching to see if it is too dangerous for their jobs to put their heads above the parapet. They will be measuring the possibility of danger and assessing whether or not they should support Government 2.0 initiatives.

Other private citizens – those who work for major corporations – will also be watching what happens to Greg Jericho. Many will assess the risks of their participation in public discourse. Some might be discouraged from participation. But I hope that others will choose to embrace the new media tools and give voice to their opinions. I hope that others will share their opinions, ideas and information. I hope that they will continue to create niches and fragmentation of the traditional media.

We need new voices. We need to democratise participation in public discourse. Some of it will be ill-informed rubbish. But amongst the dross will be some gems and our society needs to find those gems.

Twitter, commonsense and journalism #groggate

I’ve been observing the discourse in the mainstream and social media worlds about the ‘outing’ of the blogger Grog’s Gamut – the so-called #groggate. Craig Thomler has made an excellent aggregation of the various sources of comment.

There were two things that really irritated me recently:

These articles irritated me because they each conflated ideas that were not necessarily related – activism and social networks.  And, in the case of Elliott’s article, he disingenuously used Gladwell’s arguments to continue the justification of The Australian’s recently declared war on bloggers and Twitter.

In my opinion Gladwell does his usual trick of lightweight commentary without bothering to delve into any level of depth or subtlety. This seems to be his stock in trade (and he writes entertainingly) so I tend to let it pass by.

But the value of Twitter in respect of creating loose ties than enable the development of deep, real life, and personal relationships cannot be underestimated. Twitter provides the regular interaction – much like at the water cooler in the office – that let’s us understand who we might want to get to know on a deeper level.

The ambient knowledge about people in your network that Twitter affords is invaluable.  It assists us in transcending physical separation and allows us to stay in contact with friends without the need for physical co-location. Another great benefit with Twitter is the ease of making new connections with people who share common interests.  The recent Social Innovation BarCamp in Sydney is a good example of an event that brought together many people with common interests – it was organised and publicised mainly via Twitter.

But Elliott notes “Malcolm Gladwell writes that social media is really activism-lite and a tool that makes participation in a cause more efficient: that is, through the click of a mouse one can make a donation to a cause or send a supportive tweet”.  He then argues that because Greg Jericho (who we now know as the author of the blog Grog’s Gamut) was not entitled to privacy because he was merely a “commentator” and not a “whistleblower”.

Elliott then goes on to compare Jericho’s situation with that of famous activists like Martin Luther King or Steve Biko and to note that Jericho is “now even more popular, thanks to The Australian“.  This comparison of Jericho to famous activists is spurious.  He never claimed to be an activist.  Jericho’s only claims were:

I’m a guy interested in sport, literature and politics. I have in turn wanted to be captain of the Australian cricket team, Olympic gold medalist, PM and Booker prize winner. Now I’ll just settle for blogger.

Thus no claim by Jericho to special privilege or “whistleblower” status.  Just an ordinary citizen taking advantage of the freedom of speech afforded in Australia to share his opinions and insights.

And, as for action by the people in the Twitter-sphere in response to Jericho’s outing by The Australian, no physical action was meaningful or relevant to the situation.

What physical action was possible, reasonable or sensible in the recent #groggate case? No physical action would do anything for Jericho except to inflame the situation. There is no direct analogy between the Grog’s Gamut case and calls to action like those issued by Martin Luther King or Steve Biko. Twitter is not peopled entirely by complete idiots.

Using Twitter to organise a picket line at The Australian’s offices would have been foolhardy and would have made Jericho’s situation at work more difficult. No need to take up a collection for Jericho’s legal fund as The Australian did nothing illegal.

All we can do is express our dislike of the actions of the publication and the journalists involved and express our disapproval of their continued self-serving justifications. We can mourn the death of any notion of journalistic decency.  We can feel sad that Australian mainstream news media is becoming as polarised and polemical as that in the US.  And we can note that by their actions James Massola and his colleagues have done a huge disservice to freedom of speech in Australia, especially for public servants. The use of pseudonyms has been an important part of free speech for a very long time. Pseudonyms proliferate in the mainstream news media – so why are they unacceptable from a blogger?

This whole affair does make me seriously question the journalists – what are their positions on political, social and religious matters. I want to know more about their backgrounds. What are their political and religious affiliations? And what about these mysterious people called Editors? Who are they, what do they stand for? Perhaps they’ve unwittingly raised the issue? But we need transparency from journalists as well as bloggers. It’s time for journalists to come clean about their personal viewpoints and perspectives, no more pretending to present facts in an objective and disinterested way. We need to admit that there is no such as as unbiased reporting and embrace transparency for journalists too.

As for activism, we are seeing real action happen as the result of social networks.  GetUp! is a good local example of this. Say what you like, but  raising enough money to put ads up on prime time TV via social media channels counts as real action, as does winning a High Court action regarding the enrolment of voters.

Many other NGOs are also working out how they can embrace the new media. It’s a pity the old media folks are so busy fighting a rearguard action to save the past that it seems they cannot consider the future in a positive way.