Wife Paula, dog Brewster & some bearded guy. Photo by Shel

[Note: I first posted this in December 2003 and have reposted it every December since. I hope you enjoy it.]

I grew up in the 1950s in New Bedford, Mass., an overwhelmingly Christian city. Christmas was the biggest day of the year.  Schools were closed. Parents enjoyed rare paid days off. Often, snow coated the ground. Churches stood in every neighborhood and their bell towers would chime carols all day long.

I was a Jewish kid and I knew this day was not for me, But, I just couldn’t help feel the excitement. My parents, who were born in Europe at a time when it was unfortunate to be simultaneously European and Jewish, were ambivalent.  They loved the decorations and the excitement they saw in their younger son, but still, they kept reminding us that we were merely observers of someone else’s special day.

But we were active observers. We could not resist.

Our family would drive to gentile neighborhoods where we admire the lights, decorations and even manger scenes. One year, we  ventured all the way to Boston–in those days a two-hour drive. There we saw live reindeer fenced in on Boston Commons. If you looked from one side, you could see the Golden Dome of the Massachusetts, state house, a symbol of our government. If you looked the other way, there was the venerable Park Street Church. Beside our reindeer, was a huge, illuminated plastic nativity scene.

More than once, my mother cooked a turkey on Christmas Day and aunts, uncles and cousins family came for the day—but we never, ever admitted that the celebration had any relationship to Christmas. There were no stockings hung by our chimney with care, no bulbous piles of loot, no sweet smell of pine trees in our living room. It was just “the Holiday.”

Christmas was a source of huge confusion for me as a boy.

As a Jewish kid, we celebrated Chanukah. There were gifts, and cholesterol/carb-soaked latkas. We Chanukah songs and played with toy tops called dreydle and it was fun.

But the Festival of Lights, as it is called, seemed to pale in the shadow of all that Christmas glitter of tinsel and bright blinking bulbs. Christmas was everywhere: in the windows of homes and stores, on lawns in parks and even on rooftops. Yes, it was in the schools and no one even thought of objecting at that time.

While he was still alive, my grandfather, a white-haired kindly old man gave me Chanukah “gelt,” in the form of a silver dollar. A dollar was big-time money back then, and my brother and I looked forward to it long in advance.

But grandfather gelt wasn’t the main event.  How could my grandfather ever compete with the other white-haired guy, the one in the red suit toy-making elves, and flying reindeer?

I liked getting a gift each of the eight days of Hanukkah, even if most were  only socks and clothing that I would have gotten anyway. But while my Christian friends had only a single day, theirs seemed to be the Perfecta jackpot, dwarfing our quantity of days with their quality of day.

In January. when we went back to Betsy B. Winslow Elementary School, I’d hear glee-filled reports of how my Christian friends had awakened Dec. 25 to find  living rooms, like cornucopias, overflowing with great stuff like Schwinn bikes, Lionel Trains, American Flyer sleds, red wagons and Erector sets. All they had to do was to leave out some faith-based milk and cookies the night before for some strange guy named Santa Claus.

I wondered about Santa. He looked too fat for the chimneys he allegedly used for entry. He never seemed to land on burning embers and his suit never looked sooty. But still, the proof was there that the guy delivered.

But beyond the gifts and Santa mystery, there were the miracles. The Christian holiday was about the birth of God’s son on a night when animals talked. Ours was that a temple light burned for a long time. Big deal. Our most popular Hanukkah song was, “Dreydle, Dreydle, Dreydle,” which has the same melodic merit as “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” Not quite on par with “Silent Night,” “First Noel” or even, for that matter, “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” We had no Mormon Tabernacle Choir, no TV special with Perry Como crooning “Ave Maria.“ We never dashed through the snow, laughing even part of the way.

But Hanukkah had one special part for a Jewish kid in that era– latent machismo. The holiday story was about how Judah Maccabee had led a successful guerrilla war against Assyrian invaders,making himself a central figure in the whole Hanukkah tale. At a time when the stereotyped Jewish male was a bit of a wimp, Maccabee made me proud. He was our Rocky, our Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio, our Jackie Robinson. He was Jewish, tough and if you didn’t like it, he could kick your butt.

I started remembering all this while driving through the sad city of East Palo Alto (EPA). A few years back, EPA had boasted the highest murder rate in the country–outdoing Detroit, New York City and Oakland. They say it’s a lot better now that they’ve brought in a Home Depot, Ikea and the Sun Microsystems campus [now Oracle].

But as I sat at a traffic light watching a packaged goods deal between a dude in a long leather coat and a kid on a bike, I saw a sign that reminded me about what I envied most about Christmas. It hung in huge, slightly lopsided letters across University Avenue.

It said: “Peace on Earth.” There wasn’t space I guess, for the tagline, which of course is, “Good will toward men.”

Tomorrow will be my 68th Christmas. It was a great many Christmases ago when I first heard the words, and fewer Christmas ago when I came to understand the bigness of the concept and the power of the thought. Peace on Earth is much, much bigger than Maccabee kicking Assyrian butt.

Not too many years ago, I met Paula who is now my wife. She loved Christmas like the kids in the old TV programs sponsored by Hallmark cards. She loved the planning, and decorating; the gifting and wrapping and opening and putting ribbons on her head; she loved the cooking and filling the house with unlikely assortments of people who somehow enjoyed each other.

Her zeal put me at odds with my own deep and ambiguous feelings about the holiday. I’ve never been able to explain them to her in any way that makes sense and perhaps that’s what I’m trying to do in this particular blog.

There are now two things special about Christmas for me. The first is the big thought, dream or illusion of peace on earth and goodwill between its many inhabitants–Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus,  atheists, Confucians and even Republicans. In my travels, I’ve come to know people of many faiths and hues and I always marvel at how very much alike we are when we sit down and try to know each other.

I don’t pray, but I do hope. If you do pray for these issues, I hope they come true and I will be grateful to you if your prayers deliver the dream.

The second is smaller and more personal. It’s about Paula and how she catches the season’s joy as if it were something contagious. Whatever the germ, I’ve caught it as I find myself looking forward to the planning, and decorating; the gifting, wrapping and opening–albeit without ribbons on my head. Monday our home will filled with unlikely assortments of people and I already know it will work out just fine.

Happy holidays, whichever you choose to observe, and may the New Year bring all of us closer to peace on Earth.”

Today is the 10th anniversary of the death of my best friend, Charlie O’Brien. His daughter Michelle and I have started a Facebook Page to commemorate this sad milestone and to share photos and memories. Charlie was my mentor and editor, but he did not live to see me write my first book, something he had urged me to do for many years. Ten years have passed and sometimes an entire day goes by withut my feeling the hollowness caused by missing my best friend.

Shortly after he died, his family held a memorial service for Charlie, in a tent near the water in Quincy, Massachusetts. Some of us read eulogies. I worked hard on mine. I wanted to capture the spirit of our friendship and the story it told. Perhaps I’ll write that book some day. Carlie would like that I think.

 

Here’s what I wrote ten years back:

 

“Finally, I have the last word. After 37 years, I’m free of O’Brien’s editing. He can’t hammer me with a: “Jesus Christ, Israel, just cut to the bloody chase.” No more will Charlie tell me to move a graph up here, make a chop there. When I’m done speaking today, he doesn’t get his chance to turn to you and say: “What really happened
was …”

Charlie would have enjoyed today. To him, family and friends were as good as it got. Can’t you just picture him sitting here, listening– shaking his head side-to-side, tugging a beer, toking a cigar waiting his turn, saying a paucity of words, both wise and irreverent.

I wish this were a roast, but it is not.

For nearly 40 years, Charlie O’Brien and I laughed together, often at the expense of one of us or the other. Jousting was essential to our relationship almost to the end. So was humor. Hiking three years ago at
Tahoe, we sat drying on a rock after he had guided us into a snow drift. Earlier, that day, he had demanded that I accept he was going to die which was tough and for that reason, we had been hiking mostly in
silence until Charlie guided directly into a waist deep snowdrift.

As we sat there, I asked him if he had any wisdom to
impart–something he now saw that he had not understood before… Some
pearl to leave behind.”

He thought for a moment. “I might have been wrong about the
vitamins,” he said with the straightest of faces, then he gazed
pensively out at the Lake. Charlie, over the years, had fanatically
consumed entire alphabets of Vitamin pills, using a vile protein
concoction as his chaser.

Three years later, I would be sitting on a barstool next to Charlie
for the last time. Cancer and its so-called treatments had reduced him
to sipping soft drinks through straws. By contrast, I was downing his favorite droughts at a steady pace. There was a chance, he told me, that he’d be taking medical marijuana pills. The juxtaposition of
preferred recreational substances would become our last good laugh. He would die three weeks later in the company of people who loved him.

I cannot believe he’s really gone. I expect to see him at any minute. I picture him packing for yet another trip. Charlie loved, LOVED to travel.

Our travels and misadventures together were legendary. They began in 1968 with a hike up a New Hampshire mountain. Of course we got lost and I swear it was his fault. Over the years we probably took more than 40
trips together, many on extended Thanksgiving weekends.

There were three rules for the annual trips:

(1) It had to be an adventure.
(2) It had to be cheap.
(3) It had to be new.

Cheap fell away first. Then, we repeated a few destinations, but the adventures were always unique.

We did amazing things.

We hiked the Grand Canyon, when I was 50 and he was 55, in a single day. We dived in the Seychelle Sea Caves in Mazatland’s Mayan Jungle, meeting locals who lived in thatched huts and communicated by cell
phone. We kayaked to a desert island on the Sea of Cortez where a monsoon marooned us for three days. We snuck into Cuba and spent two unsuccessful days searching for an authentic Cohiba Cigar staying in
the National Hotel, once owned by the Chicago mob. We visited Death Valley, where Charlie duped me into watching a ‘pantomime ballet performed by a 75-year-old pot-bellied hag dancing to opera on a
wind-up Victrola. We laughed so hard we had to go out side to pee.

Sailing to Catalina Island on “Manana,” the boat we owned together—actually the stern still said “Kewtie Pie– with a ‘K,’ because we never got around to replacing the sissy name the previous owners had given her– we hit a storm and I snarled the jib. We would have motored in but Charlie had bought another cheap
battery that–just like the last cheap battery– died. Ten-foot waves were breaking across our stern and we were losing our heading. Charlie shrugged and said it was a fine day to die, but it turned out to be a
better one to live.

One time, we were drinking in an Ensinada, Mexico dance hall, where locals paid ten pesetas to fox trot with Indian women and Charlie almost had me convinced that I really wanted to eat the worm, when Federales with loaded and pointed machine guns suddenly appeared, lining up everyone up against the wall for a search except for us two gringos at the bar who thought it wisest not to mention that the bad guys had ducked into the woman’s room and crawled out the window.

The last moment of the last night of most jaunts were usually savored on some hotel balcony overlooking outrageous beauty. We’d share cigars, cognac, philosophy and humor. “Great trip,” Charlie would
conclude–then fall asleep in his chair with drink in hand. We had already planned our next Thanksgiving trip.  We were going to follow the route of the Civil War from Gettysburg to Shiloh when cancer ended
our tradition.

Charlie’s versions of these stories and mine were almost always at
odds. It doesn’t matter whose were more accurate. Often, we were both
too loaded to know. We shared huge chunks of life together. They were
among the best of my life.

I met O’Brien in 1967 at the Quincy Patriot Ledger’s West edition
office. He was an editor and I a reporter. I applied to be his #2.
Everyone thought I was the worst possible choice, and they were
probably right. But Charlie swung the bat for me and I got the job. We
sat facing each other from midnight to dawn, five nights a week for
nearly four years. We got to know each other in eight-hour doses. He
was my boss but became my friend and eventually the best friend I would
ever have.

We were adventure companions and sailing buddies. As roommates for two years we were the oddest of couples. He was my mentor and surrogate big brother. Our adventures nearly killed us a couple of times. We
nearly got arrested a couple other times, or into a brawl or two in seedy, foreign places. We laughed lots and argued a fair amount. He understood who I was but liked me anyhow.

He was always calm–even facing death. Most perils, he described as “a bit hairy.” He called cancer, “the luck of the draw.”

He gave me the two things I need most—encouragement and shit. He gave a lot of people encouragement. He saved the shit for a select few of us. His encouragement pointed me toward the top and his shit stopped
me from going over it.

Charlie taught me about life and living; about death and acceptance. He taught me ethics without preaching, about tolerance without suffering assholes and about patience even if I wouldn’t get to the bloody point.

Charlie usually put his focus on other people. He was always non-assuming. I never knew him to betray a secret. He contrived little custom rituals with people he liked. He became my wife Paula’s cooking
assistant, where he gave her sage advice on children and her husband. He very rarely lost his temper except once when Paula hid his liquor on a camping trip.

Charlie was actually a very simple person. He didn’t change that
much in the years I knew him. In the end, he just wanted to have more
good days than bad and the good days were often defined by who he spent
them with. He enjoyed reading or hearing “a good yarn.” He cultivated a
hard-ass image but everyone knew he was a softie.

He had disdain for self-important people, Republicans and hypocrites. He didn’t usually trust people in uniform, expect Park Rangers. (Brother John, a Boston cop didn’t count ‘cause he never wore
the damned thing.) He was a committed atheist. He usually had a buck for the panhandler. He read voluminously and very slowly. He preferred fact to fiction. Three favorite books were: “Memoirs of US Grant,” “Into Thin Air” and “Undaunted Courage.” The only thing I ever heard him call inspiring was “Tuesdays with Maury.” He almost never lied and was consistently objective and logical. He almost always drove too fast.

Above everything, he valued his family and friends, even more so at the end.

Charlie considered himself a better editor than writer. Yet, he authored a truly unforgettable work: “Health Updates,” which his friends received by email. It broke newspaper rules by burying hard news leads inside little good news sandwiches. In the middle graph we’d find telltale words like “inoperable” or “a mild discomfort in the
lower jaw.” As the author warned, Health Updates would end sadly. Before it did, we learned about courage, strength, reality and that justice has nothing to do with it.

I last visited Charlie two weeks before he died. I stayed for only a few minutes because he was clearly suffering. There just weren’t enough good days left.

I miss him terribly. I’d give anything if he could tell me now to tighten and rearrange these few paragraphs. I still see him shaking his head from side-to-side, saying: “Jesus Christ, Israel—would you just
cut to the bloody chase?

I’d even give him the last word.”

There is nothing, absolutely nothing, like a face-to-face engagement despite what we zealots of social media like to think. Group Twitter and Facebook chats have value, but they often are confusing and misunderstanding sometimes is an unintended consequence. Webinars have a definite value, but when I present in that way, I often feel during my slides that I am presenting to an empty room..

But we keep trying new ways to present online and slowly steadily they get better.On June 5, I will be trying out a new hosting platform called Shindig. I have not used it or watched more than their demo, but it seems to me a most promising technology for bring speakers and their audiences closer together online.

Shindig, a New York City-based startup, is focused for now on authors, and I will be using my time to promote my new book Stellar Presentations at 2 pm PDT next Tuesday, but I hope some of you will attend just to check out the new platform.

Shindig has created a virtual library room, one that looks a bit like the great room at the NYC Public Library. On one screen, attendees will see me. On another my short deck. Then we will have a Q&A, or perhaps just a general discussion about presenting. When people virtually raise their hands and get recognized, they go live to ask their questions.

Go watch the demo you can find on the Shindig page I linked above. It’s easier than my telling you.

Shindig has started and it will be interesting to see how it develops. Fr me it looks like a fund way to see and share with people everywhere, from the comfort of my own home office. If you have time, I hope you will catch at least some part of this very promising social communications experiment.

 

 

My best friend Charlie O’Brien died ten years ago today. The sense of loss is still there. The pain is less frequent and a lot duller than it once was, I imagine like someone who has healed from the loss of a limb. Sometimes I go two-or-three days without thinking of him–but not often.

I have managed to purge him from all my mail lists and speed dials–but there are still scores of paper photos in garage-hosted boxes  that I cannot yet remove. And there is a certain pain when the Celtics are battling in the playoffs, because that was what I was paying attention to when I heard Charlie had finally died after a long and ugly bout with cancer.

I have lived a good chunk of life since Charlie died. As a writer, I have enjoyed my greatest success. I have written four books and have contributed to some respected online magazines. I have travelled to 15 new countries, often as a speaker about a subject that had not yet been named before Charlie died. I dedicated my second book, “To Charlie O’Brien. You should have been here.”

And he should have.

I would never have succeed as a writer the way I have without Charlie. He wasn’t just my friend, he was the editor who taught me to tell the story as clearly as I could and to get to the point as fast as I could. He was also my mentor, and I have become more patient and less aggressive than I once was because of the wisdom he demonstrated.

Charlie’s oldest daughter, Michele O’Brien has started a memorial page for her Dad on Facebook. She has asked friends and family to post memories of Charlie in the form of words and pictures. People can do and say whatever they wish to say. It is sort of a reunion in a space that did not exist while Charlie lived. Had he known Facebook, I think he would have been ambivalent about it. He preferred face and phone time, and it took him a while to warm up to email.

But for friends of Charlie, scattered all over this country and the UK, this is the best we can do in the form of a reunion. Remembering Charlie O’Brien is a public page. If you knew him, please share a thought. If what you see there inspires you to say something, please feel free to contribute. If it helps you deal with a loss of your own, then we who started the page will be happy.

Charlie would be as well.

 

 

 

Sometimes an entire day or perhaps two goes by when I don’t miss him. There has been some form of healing. Instead of a pain that sometimes agonized, there is now just an aching, I imagine like someone who has healed after an amputation. I no longer move to call him on Sundays to catch up on how his week went-three days

Ever since I started writing The Social Beat for Forbes, I’ve been wondering what to do with this, my beloved home blog. I have an idea. I currently crowd source my column ideas on Twitter and Facebook to get content, quotes and ideas that often find their way into the my columns.

But people send me lots of content that just doesn’t fit. It is not their fault. My descriptions are space limited at Forbes and my requests are often too open ended.  So I thought I would try expanding descriptions here. We’ll see how this works out.

Right now, I’m writing a story about Google+. My perspective is that Google+ could shape the future of Google, and that the company is in danger of being unimportant. I had hoped to have a Google spokesperson tell me why this is wrong, but after more than a month of requesting an interview, I’ve given up on having a conversation with anyone authorize to discuss it.

Here are my questions:

Have you used Google Plus? What was your experience?

Have you increased or decreased you use of it?

What do you think of their integration of Google+ with all other Google products? Is it anticompetitive? Does it make Google’s culture more social? Does it matter to you?

Do you have an anecdote about something that happened on Google+ that could not have happened on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Skype?

Additional Comments?

Please email me your answers. It is far easier for me that way than in a tweeted response.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I launched my new book, Stellar Presentations: An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Giving Great Talks six weeks ago. It is the most critically acclaimed of my three books. On Amazon, 10 people have given it five stars, two people gave it four stars and no one has rated it lower. Other blog reviews have also been highly favorable.

People who read it say the book is not just for entrepreneurs but for anyone who has to present in any kind or size of organization. I’ll let the market decide.

Some people think that because the book is so brief–just 76 pages, a two-hour read–that the price is high. I disagree, the value is in how the book can help you present, not the time it takes you to read it. But once again, I’ll let the market decide.

So for the month of April, I am offering  Stellar Presentations at significantly reduced price. You can now buy the paper version for $5.99 at Amazon and the Kindle version for just $4.99. This offer will expire at midnight April 30.

As my mother would say, “this is such a deal, as you wouldn’t believe.”

 

I am writing a column for Forbes.com called The Social Beat. Everything I write related to Social media, the web, startups and the tech sector will appear there. It will be the primary venue for my online writing. Please come and visit me there.

Occasionally, I will have something to say on other topics, particularly related to my book and speaking projects. I will use Global Neighbourhoods when that occurs.

Until then, I hope you will come and visit me in my new home.

 

 

 

 

The following is excerpted from Chapter One of my new book: Stellar Presentations: An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Giving Great Talks.

The Three Questions

I was raised as the youngest son in a Jewish family.  That meant that each Passover I recited the ritual Four Questions that launched the story-telling part of our Passover dinner. These days, I am rarely the youngest one at the table. But as a speaker and a coach, I begin the story that my clients or I will tell by reciting three questions:

  1. Who are the people in the audience?
  2. What do I have that they want?
  3. What do I want to accomplish by addressing them?

I ask the first two of these questions to conference producers. When they invite me. The third is mine to answer before I accept an invite. Then, as happened in India, I replay the questions and the answers I received just before I start my talk.

Whatever your goal, you will come closer to achieving it if you understand who is listening to you and what you have that will interest them in some way related to their business.

I just told you how great Steve Jobs, was as a presenter, but, like most speakers, he had his off days. In one such case, it was clearly because he didn’t understand what his audience wanted from him.

In 1997, shortly after taking the reigns of Apple for the second time, Jobs was presiding over a press conference, whose objective I do not recall. What was memorable, however, is that he was acting defensively and was evasive in answering direct questions. This made the reporters in the room increasingly aggressive.

Finally, he snapped. “I know you guys are out to get me, just like you were the last time.” The room went quiet for a long moment.

Finally, Greg Zachary of the Wall Street Journal broke the awkward silence.  “Steve, you have us all wrong,” he said. “We don’t care whether you win or lose. We just want a good story—and we get it either way.”

People who attend a presentation are not there to serve the speaker’s goals.  They are there for their own business goals. Conversely, speakers are there to fulfill audience expectations.

Reporters want a good story.  The recent college grads in your audience are looking for a good place to work. Consultants are looking for some new business to pitch, and so on down the line.

A presentation usually starts with the audience generally on the speaker’s side. Other than hard-boiled reporters, most people will benefit far more if you succeed in telling them something that is useful or valuable to them.

When I’m speaking, I treat the audience as my customer. I try to give them what I have that they want. This is not altruism so much as a business strategy. Only by pleasing my audience can I subsequently achieve any of my own business goals.

If you represent a startup, the audience will be willing to cut you a little slack. They don’t expect you to be as smooth as George Clooney accepting an award. They will forgive you a stutter or a stammer or even some minor typo in your slide deck. They will even forgive an occasional bug that pops up during your demo of a new product.

But this doesn’t mean you are home free.  The audience is yours to lose and there are many ways that can happen. You can be insufferably boring or ill-prepared; you can overstate your case, pretend to be someone you are not, or otherwise damage yourself by stretching credibility.

You can lose an audience by bad luck. Believe it or not, it is far better to follow a great speaker than one who puts attendees into nap mode. You might find yourself competing with a noisy lunch setup crew just outside your room or at the very worst; you can get caught in a lie.

I’ll address these issues in upcoming chapters.

My new book, Stellar Presentations is 76-pages on length and costs about 10 bucks. I estimate it will take two hours of your time to read it. Four times in the three weeks since I launched the book, people have complained that the book is too short and that I should add more chapters to make it worth the money I’m asking.

As I so often do, let me tell you a story to illustrate a few points:

A woman drives her Mercedes into a garage. The mechanic asks her what the problem is.

“I’m not sure. It just doesn’t sound right when it’s idling,” she says. The mechanic lifts the hood and asks her to start the car. He steps back and listens for a few moments. Then he turns and carefully selects a wrench from the arsenal of wrenches on his workbench. He asks her to race the engine for a second. Listening closely, he selects a different wrench. Then ge tells her to let the engine idle again.

He takes the wrench and taps the carburetor once. The engine immediately starts humming perfectly.

“You’re a genius,” she gushes. “It’s perfect. How much do I owe you?”

“265,” he answers and her jaw drops down.

“You only looked at my car for 5 minutes. How the Hell do you charge me $265 for just tapping my carburetor one time” she demand to know.

The mechanic doesn’t hesitate in his answer. “Lady, I only charged you $15 for the tap. I charged you $250 for knowing where to tap.”

I find it mildly amusing that people who complain about the brevity of my book keeps saying I should add more words  and chapters to it. So far no one has argued that it is over priced.

It took me approximately 350 hours to write the 14,000 words in Stellar Presentations. It took me 30 years as a consultant, a writer and a speaker to acquire the knowledge I put into the book. I wrote a short book because people planning to make business presentations are very busy people.

I think that’s worth ten bucks.

I can make the book longer. I can add a few more of the stories I like to tell. But I will not be able to impart greater wisdom for people who want to understand the strategy of public speaking as well as the specific tips I have on making a talk stellar.

I could make it longer, but that would not make you a more successful speaker. I could charge less money, just like the mechanic could charge less for tapping the carburetor. But I don’t think that would be fair to either my theoretical mechanic or me.

And as far as price goes for either that mechanic or me, you get what you pay for.

I am thrilled to announce I have started writing a column at Forbes.com It’s called ItSeemstoMe, which was the name of my first blog. While my original blog was about anything I wanted it to be, this new column is about issues, trends and news in the tech sector.

I’ve already posted my first and second columns.

As always, I’ll be writing for business audiences about social media and web companies as well as the events surrounding them. I am also still very much interested in startups that have a shot at changing the world. I would also like to profile some of the original thinkers in the technology industry. ItSeemstoMe will be more issue oriented than I have been, looking deeper into issues that are likely to shape how today will become tomorrow.

Above all, I am a sucker for a good story, so please tell me one, so long as it touches on technology and it’s nonfiction.

If you think you have something that fits in, please let me know. The best way is via good old retro email. Put the word Forbes in the subject line and send me 2-3 paragraphs on why you think it would work in my column and some links you think I should see.

I ask you to do only two things first: 1. Read some of my stuff, and 2. Tell me me, don’t sell me.

Earlier this month, I published my fourth book, Stellar Presentations, an Entrepreneur’s Guide to Giving Great Talks on Kindle. The paperback is due out by March 1.  It is a very short book designed to help anyone who needs to make a public presentation, but particularly it is for entrepreneurs at conferences, with the media and investors. While it is a “How-To” book, I wrote it as a story-teller with over 35 years experience.

It is an extremely short book. It will take you a mere two hours to read it. But it took me 25 years of attending media interviews and conferences to gather the wisdom that I share in the book.

Here’s a sample:

Introduction:   But What if I Suck?

I was standing in front of a room filled with Indian entrepreneurs. The event was the annual NASSCOM Product Conclave, that country’s largest gathering of startups and the people who care about them.

It looked like I’d be speaking to a half-empty room, but it turned out that Vinod Khosla, the luminary billionaire Indian-born American venture capitalist was speaking in the room next door. When his session filled up, the overflow drifted in to the next closest venue where I was about to speak.

I was a bit apprehensive.  This was my first visit to India. While, I have Indian friends in the San Francisco Bay Area where I live, this was different.

I was not yet sure I understood the culture of India. I had hoped to have a few days to glimpse the country before speaking there, but I had missed my original flight and barely got to Bangalore in time for my scheduled appearance.

So there I was in front of a room filled mostly with people who’d rather be listening to the hometown hero next door, covering a topic I had not previously talked about.

The lights were dimmed. A moderator said a few kind words and all eyes turned to me. A few seconds passed as we checked each other out.

I began by sharing a thought that had occurred to me as the room had filled up: “I’ve been assigned to talk about how to give a great presentation. This is scary. What if my presentation on great presentations sucks?”

A few people laughed. Then almost everyone joined in.  Their faces went from neutral but curious to a look that said they were interested in what else I had to say.

I had made it to first base—or wherever Indians go when they get a hit in cricket, their sport of choice.

My talk went very well. When it was over, a small crowd gathered around me asking me questions. Some followed me out into the hallway. A few inquired about hiring me to consult or coach them.

I am still enjoying online conversations with people who saw that presentation and I’ve been invited to speak again next year. This is important because succeeding at a business-related presentation is merely a first step. The furthest you get is first base. I’ll explain more about that later.

One outcome of that talk is this book.  I realized that the majority of the people who came to see me speak were technology entrepreneurs. They were very well-educated as engineers, but they knew little about the communications issues I covered.

The invitation to speak to startups about how to give great presentations made me realize how much I have learned on the topic over the past 30 years.

I came home to America thinking about the strategic importance of skillful presentations to startups, particularly at the critical moment when they are launching their company or flagship products.

So I decided to write Stellar Presentations, a small book for a niche market that I know and love. This is a book for tech entrepreneurs who need to present at conferences. I hope you find it useful.

I also hope that you find it fun. As I will explain, I believe fun is among the most vastly underrated of all business tools.

Throughout Stellar Presentations, I will share stories about speakers I have known, and why some of them remain fresh in my memory after many years and why some of them, well, memorably sucked.

Please tell me what you think: email: shelisrael1@gmail.com. On Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or LinkedIn, I’m shelisrael.

I have often felt that publishing a book is the closest I–as a male–can come to experience what it’s like to have a baby. Earlier this week, I delivered my fourth, but you would think it was my first because the experience has made me jittery to say the least.

So yesterday, when someone on Twitter pointed me to Jane Friedman’s  Please Don’t Blog Your Book and I was , I was crankier in my tweet response than I should have been. I apologize for the argumentative tone I adopted, but at the core of it, I believe her advice was really bad. I think she  displayed more ignorance than wisdom in her piece and I mean that in the politest of ways.

It’s a subject that I have a good deal of experience exploring and I doubt that I would be enjoying the success that I have– had it not been for how I used social media to interact with people.

My first book was Naked Conversations, co-authored with Robert Scoble. Robert had the heretical idea that we would blog our book as we wrote it. I humored him, reasonably no publisher would allow it. But some smart risk-taking people at John Wiley like Jim Minatel who was instrument in getting our publisher to allow us to publish interview notes and the first drafts of every chapter. This had never been done before, and it has never been repeated, so it may have been that Robert and I went through a brief window that slammed shut after we were done.

I don’t have the stats, but I am willing to bet that most people who followed the book online bought the final product. I know I signed hundreds of copies from people I got to know while blogging the early drafts.

Then all sorts of people from all over the world jumped in. Some corrected facts. Others pruned typos. Still others suggested stories to add and a few of them were the best in the whole book. One follower led a campaign to stop us from calling the book “Blog or Die,” which would have likely hurt us with the corporate readers we targeted.

So first off, bloggers helped us write a better book, far better than if we had worked under the cloak of silence that most traditional publishers required.

But wait, there’s more. When Naked came out, bloggers became our champions. Most of those who were consulting in the enterprise knew most of what we had written, but they loved how we said it and the brought the book into the enterprise where it did quite well. It is often called a seminal blog for business blogging and that would not have happened without the collaboration we enjoyed with hundreds of bloggers all over the world, as we wrote the book.

By the time I wrote Twitterville, social media had changed dramatically. Much of the conversation had moved from blogs onto social networks. My new publisher, Portfolio, was unwilling to let me post early chapters, but they were willing to let me maintain an ongoing conversation about the book and what I was writing about on Twitter.

The result was that over 50% of the stories I wrote about in Twitterville were delivered to me by tweeters. When the book was published, Portfolio did a remarkable job of traditional PR. I got interviewed by almost every major business publication I can think of. But I remain convinced that the word-of-mouth of people on Twitter made my book among the two-or-three most successful of the 43 books published with some derivative of Twitter in  the title.

I didn’t make as much noise in social media with Stellar Presentations, which launched two days ago as a Kindle-only book. This was because, I had originally planned it as a Kindle Single, which requires nothing be published in advance. Now that I’ve changed courses, I will post selected sections in the coming weeks.

But on this the second day, the only way anyone as ever heard of Stellar is on one previous blog post and a few dozen tweets that I have posted. To my surprise and relief, the book is doing quite well, thanks to the support of social media people who are spreading the word–not to benefit me so much–as to tell their friends about something they like.

Friedman noted in our tweeted conversation that she doesn’t acquire books to publish in social media. That explains why she wasn’t a pioneer. But to advise authors of any subject not to blog all or part of their books is pretty backward thinking or so it seems to me.

She knows as does just about everyone else that traditional publishing is in deep trouble. By now she should realize that online distribution and conversations have a great deal to do with the disruption of her profession. My advice to any aspiring author is to follow your reader who now is likely to hang out in social venues, who now is likely to buy books recommended by online peers.

Five times in the last two days I have offered to send my book to people for free. Five times they have refused saying they would prefer to support me by purchasing the book on Kindle.

Has anyone ever said something like that to a publisher? I don’t think so,

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am thrilled to announce that my fourth book, Stellar Presentations: An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Giving Great Talks has gone live on Kindle. A paperback version should be available by Feb. 22. It is not a social media book.

Stellar Presentations is a brief but deep look at the craft and strategy of presentation. While I focus on startups and conferences, I believe that the book contains useful content for anyone who needs to speak in public.

It is based on my many years experience as a presentation coach, a conference reporter and as a keynote speaker.

It is a very brief book–I guess it will take you about two hours to read. Startups are at their most frantic when preparing to introduce their products, so I’ve tried to cut to the chase and to not waste anyone’s time.

Simultaneously, it covers a lot of ground. Stellar explains the three key questions that starts your preparation process on the right track. It tells you what attendees want from you and what you should expect from them. It explains why credibility is like virginity and why that matters to you as a speaker and it tells you about the secrets of cantaloupe.

It analyzes Powerpoint versus Storytelling, the two most common approaches to a presentation’s structure and it looks at the advantages of being small as a company. It also explains why Steve Jobs was the best presenter in tech history, but why you should ignore what he did on stage.

This is my first self-publishing effort and I had a lot of fun writing Stellar Presentations. To buy, just click on the book cover icon to your right. I’ve tried to make it a fun read as well. Fun makes serious points more memorable as I point out in the book as well.

As a self-publishing project, your feedback is more important to me than it has ever been. And your comments on Amazon will help thers decide if this book is right for them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t get me wrong. Hell will freeze over before I would ever vote for Newt Gingrich. First, off the man was named for a lizard. Secondly–and more seriously–you can directly track the origins of the current polarization between the two major US political parties on Gingrich’s tenure as Speaker of the House.

And like every candidate in this the most mud-slinging president primary campaign in history, he has been made to look bad in a great many ways. It is hard for me and others to recognize what sometimes happens and that is good ideas come from bad people.

A few weeks back, Gingrich proposed that we build a space colony on the moon and that has been the subject of a great deal of ridicule. Comedians are still having their fun with that one and Tweeters still wonder what Gingrich was smoking.

But wait a minute. Forget who the source is. Think about the idea. We elected the current incumbent because we thought he had a vision for America, because his eloquence fooled us into thinking he could lead better than he has led. And among his early actions was to shut down NASA’s manned space program. Too expensive he said. These are tough times.

So a bunch of our nation’s brightest scientists got laid off and a whole supply chain of human’s got financially hurt in the name of this great frugality.

Years ago, a young visionary president who made great speeches was elected president. In his first, special address to Congress, in his first of three springtimes in office Jack Kennedy said, “Before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important in the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”

And, as I recall, their was a landslide of comic parody, as well as editorial columns explaining why man could never walk on the moon and besides what would he do once he got there?

The answer, of course, is the reason people should walk on the moon is the same reason why humpback whales jump completely out of the ocean: Because they can.

It seems to me, that what makes us unique from other animals is that our entire history is based on going beyond what we have done. Before we consider the benefits or catastrophes, we simply have to see if we can do it.

Why should man walk on the moon? Because some day, we can build a colony on it? What will we do then? Look around and see what else we can do, where else we can go, we can learn more about the moon, and thus about the earth and our universe and how life got to here and anywhere else that it might exist.

And yes the cost is huge at a time when people are losing their homes. But to me, the cost is an investment, one that will create a great many new jobs that may be more appealing than the manufacturing our current president seems to be focused upon.

What we learn along the way will give the world new technology that is likely to pervade into computing, science, medecine, earth sciences, the classroom and places that we cannot yet imagine.

It seems to me that Newt’s Moon Colony is the only idea I’ve heard from any candidate for president, and what we need more than business managers, speechmakers and ideologues in the White House is someone with vision and leadership capabilities.

No I do not want Newt to be president. But I do think he should be commended–not ridiculed–for this idea which s entirely worthy of consideration and intelligent debate.

Don’t you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yahoo! has announced appointment of a new CEO: Scott Thompson. Who, you might ask? Well he’s a guy who lifted PayPal from a billion-dollar subsidiary of eBay into a multibillion dollar entity. What does he plan to do, you might ask. Well, he doesn’t yet. In a conference call with press and analysts he kept emphasizing that he just got there and he needs time.

That’s precisely what Carol Bartz said for the years during which she was at the helm, watching the Yahoo ship slowly and steadily sink below the sea of change that the company has ignored for more than a decade.

How will Yahoo under Thompson be different from Yahoo under Thompson? He doesn’t know he needs time and thus the once-magnificent Yahoo, once a flagship of online consumerism continues to sink–perhaps just little faster.

Yahoo used to be filled with young, bright, irreverent determined talent. They were part of the culture that moved people’s habits online. It was where we began to talk with each other, shopped, got our news, stored and shared our photos. It is one of the fountainheads from which sprung the ideas and entities that dominate online today.

It’s survival has been in question for a long time and before that it’s direction as well as it’s decision-making. It’s founder declared search to be worthless, which turned out to be a bit short-sighted. His replacement had a vision to Hollywood and Silicon Valley cultures.  That seemed like it would be as daunting as getting sheep and cattle to graze on the same land. It proved to be harder than mating them.

The talent in the company remained for many years at the middle of the company. They did not start leaving the ship when the leaks began. They only started leaving–reluctantly when they realized that the decision-making level was clueless on how to stem the leaks and adjust course.

In short, Yahoo is one big directionless mess, lacking mission, vision, talent and a constituency that includes, early adopters, social strategists and a compelling reason for any adviser to choose them over companies like Google who thought search had some chance of being worthwhile.

Into this steps Scott Thompson. I never heard of him before today, which says nothing about his ability to lead and inspire a foundering and demoralized team. I’ve read a bit about him today and could find not a single quality in his past to make me feel any more confident today than I did yesterday in terms of Yahoo’s future.

What I see is someone who managed PayPal during a period of organic growth. He replaced the innovators and disrupters who started the company and made it valuable, and he made PayPal dull but valuable.  Yahoo is already dull. It loses more value every day.

What had I hoped would happen? Who would I have looked for to replace the acerbic Carol Bartz?

Well, I would have looked for someone very different from Bartz. The only difference I see is that the new captain does not swear like a sailor. Other than that, they are both visionless managers who understand operating margins and SEC regulations and none of the stuff that goes to the soul of a living corporation.

Yahoo needs a visionary leader. Instead, they chose someone who seems to have less vision than Ray Charles, and I doubt he can sing or play the piano with any unique style.

Yahoo needed as Steve Jobs. Instead they got something that is quieter and grayer. They need to find and excite new, younger

customers. Instead they have someone who understands operational efficiencies. They needed a showman of  Nolan Bushnell qualities. Instead they have selected someone with all the charisma of a tax auditor. They need someone who can present a vision to a new generation of users, rather than faire well at a shareholders’ meeting.

Yahoo needs to join the social conversation. Bartz eschewed it completely. She thought that Yahoo’s customers were the advertisers, when in fact they are the people advertisers want to reach and we have left Yahoo in droves over the years. Yahoo’s constituency is now older, slower to adopt new technology, has less disposable income and is likely to live [and spend] for a shorter time than his or her grandchildren in college.

Is it too late for Yahoo? probably. Is there still hope? Of course there is.

But the appointment Thompson gives me less of it, not more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s the last day of an odd year and many people are reflecting on life. Some of my friends are using blogs to write about the death of the blog. Others are reviewing the great moments in technology or social media in 2011. But too me, there were very few truly great moments in technology. We have as an industry evolved from a period of great disruption and are now focused on refinement.

This may be good for users and business, but it is pretty boring for writers, or so it seems to me.

So, I thought I would dedicate my last post of the old year to one of my great passions: books. I read a lot–almost entirely nonfiction.  I like action/adventure, biography and history, which dominates this list of my 2011 favorites.

So, in order of my preference, here’s my list

  • Unbroken by Laura Hilenbrand. This is my 2011 Shel Book Award winner, perhaps the only great book of the past year. Hilenbrand’s last book was about Seabiscuit, a homely and unwanted horse that turn out to be the world’s fastest. Unbroken is about Louis Zamperini, a juvenile delinquent to emerge into possibly the world’s fastest human. But his competing career was interrupted by World War II where he joined the Air Core. That in turn got interrupted by his plane crashing, where he drifted with others for an epic length of time in shark-infested waters, before the Japanese picked him up. That began a sage of abuse in interment camps.  If you only read one book on this list, choose this.
  • The Filter Bubble by Eli Pariser. This book examines how Online Companies watch your habits and choose what you get to see in social networks, search, purchasing and even movie rentals. The book opened my eyes to the impact of data personalization practiced by Facebook, Google and virtually all major online businesses. It made personalization my top concern in technology.
  • Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson This is currently Amazon’s top seller. An authorized biography by perhaps the best current biographer, this book gives you an inside view of Jobs and what happened along the way of his piloting the company from start up into the world’s most valuable company. I already knew a fair amount of Jobs in the early years and found Isaacson’s depiction completely accurate. I learned a great deal that I did not know about recent years. While this book is definitely worth a read, I somehow found myself disappointed in a few ways. While it is a balanced look at one of technology’s great genius/assholes, I felt the hard-to-reach soul of Jobs remained out-of-reach to the author and as compensation, he gave a little too much redundant information on Jobs obsessions with control.
  • On China, by Henry Kissinger. I am no great lover of Henry Kissinger, but I cannot deny his brilliance. I am not certain he actually wrote this deep and comprehensive work, but whoever did is one Hell of a good writer. Kissinger looks far, far back then brings us into the times where he was a player and then into China today. It is my 7th book on China and in my view the best. There are a few slightly self-serving sections, but Kissinger manages overall, keeps his significant ego under control.
  •  Fire on the Horizon by journalist Tom Shroder and oil rig captain John Konrad takes you inside the events leading up to and including the BP Gulf oil rig disaster. It lets you understand–but certainly not condone–how people who were not idiots could have made a string of decisions that led to the worst oil spill disaster in history. Very well written. You get to see the humanity in the players.
  • In Spite of the Gods, The Rise of Modern India by Edward Luce. In preparation for my first visit to India this year, I read three books, each dealing with modern India [after the death of Gandhi.  In my view this one, written by a Financial Times editor who lived there was clearly the best. It gave me great insights into the experiences I had during my brief visit.
  • Rawhide Down by Del Quentin Wilber tells the story of the near assassination of Ronald Reagan by one of the secret service agents who was there. It is a surprisingly candid, human and gripping narrative. Quite well-written.
  • Into the Forbidden Zone by William T. Vollmann. Is a Kindle Single–essentially a long magazine article by a journalist who visited north Japan after it was walloped by a tsunami and subsequent nuclear disaster. He paints a bleak picture that educated me far beyond the news accounts I had read. It got me to understand and appreciate the potential for the new Kindle Single publications that Amazon has been pushing.
  • David Suskind by Stephen Battaglio. There was a time when television could have stirred a Renaissance of culture, news reporting and shared information. It obviously lost. Susskind, along with NBC’s David Sarnoff was a giant in trying to bring quality to TV when it was still new. I find Suskind’s story–and  the whole issue of what happened to TV to be of great relevance to those of us concerned with the future of social media. A good read.
May the new year bring you joy. If 2011 was a bit odd, I hope 2012 will be more even for you no matter what you do.

 

 

John Naughton, writing in the Guardian has a good piece based on email he received from Mark Zuckerberg, forecasting the death of email. It will be replaced, if Zuck has his way, with Facebook’s new Messenger service. Naughton does a good job of refuting the self-serving prophesy, but I think there are more reason why the imminent death of email is less vision and more hallucination.

Naughhton is wrong on one point. Predicting the death of email is not new. I’ve been hearing such forecasts ever since blogging and social media started gaining momentum. Dr. Danah Boyd, the a professor at UC Berkeley researching the impact of social media on youth, made the prediction at a 2004 conference, and she built her case on the same premise that Zuckerberg uses: Young people are using less and less email.

Seven years have gone by. Many of the youth Boyd studied are now college graduates and in the workplace where I’m betting most of them now have to use email and see the wisdom of that requirement. Dr. Boyd herself is now at Microsoft Research, where I’m betting the company requires her to use email for her confidential business communications.

And that word “confidential” hits a nerve when we discuss Facebook Messenger eclipsing email. I can think of no company to trust less than Facebook with your confidential business information. Facebook has a much-noted and hopefully, long-remembered disdain for user privacy. They seem to think that if you post content there, then they own it, and they just might elect to reuse it in collaboration with advertisers.

There are other reasons that email will endure. For example:

  • The archiving is better and more searchable.
  • Managing and downloading attachments remain superior to Facebook
  • It’s easier to review long threads that take place over lengthy periods of time
  • It’s often easier to find a specific conversation in email
  • With GMail, it is easier to manage and delete spam than it is in Facebook
Don’t get me wrong. I remain an early and passionate champion of social media in work and life. I could write a book about why I think you should use social media. In fact I did–twice. But I do not think social media will replace email any more than Rock music replaced the symphony.
Yes, I probably use less email than I would if social had not come along. But then, I’d probably listen to more symphonies if Rock had not come along.

But at the end of the day, with all the social networking we use, there is a time to communicate online in private. EMail remains an excellent choice in many, many situations, and for me, when Facebook and privacy are mentioned in the same sentence, I find myself becoming immediately uncomfortable.

I tend to avoid predictions, because the neat thing about the future is it always brings surprises when it becomes the present. But I will predict that email will outlive Facebook. Don’t get me wrong. I recognize that Facebook is the great success story of the first decade of this century.

Today the conventional wisdom is that the company is unstoppable in its attempt to transform the Web into one huge walled megalopolis called Facebook.

The tech cemeteries and old age homes are filled with other companies that held similar aspirations and positions in their times, companies that took down giants to become giants then, in turn, got taken down by some disruptive upstart that they had disdained.

Facebook is just a company. Like those before it will flourish, grow fat and old and be replaced. On the other hand email is a generic thing and in one form or another is likely to last a much longer time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wife Paula, dog Brewster & some bearded guy. Photo by Shel

[Note: I first posted this in December 2003 and have reposted it almost every December since. I hope you enjoy it.]

I grew up in the 1950s in New Bedford, Mass., an overwhelmingly Christian city. Christmas was the biggest day of the year.  Schools were closed. Parents enjoyed rare paid days off. Often, snow coated the ground. Churches stood in every neighborhood and their bell towers would chime carols all day long.

I was a Jewish kid and I knew this day was not for me, But, I just couldn’t help feel the excitement. My parents, who were born in Europe at a time when it was unfortunate to be simultaneously European and Jewish, were ambivalent.  They loved the decorations and the excitement they saw in their younger son, but still, they kept reminding us that we were merely observers of someone else’s special day.

But we were active observers. We could not resist.

Our family would drive to gentile neighborhoods where we admire the lights, decorations and even manger scenes. One year, we  ventured all the way to Boston–in those days a two-hour drive. There we saw live reindeer fenced in on Boston Commons. If you looked from one side, you could see the Golden Dome of the Massachusetts, state house, a symbol of our government. If you looked the other way, there was the venerable Park Street Church. Beside our reindeer, was a huge, illuminated plastic nativity scene.

More than once, my mother cooked a turkey on Christmas Day and aunts, uncles and cousins family came for the day—but we never, ever admitted that the celebration had any relationship to Christmas. There were no stockings hung by our chimney with care, no bulbous piles of loot, no sweet smell of pine trees in our living room. It was just “the Holiday.”

Christmas was a source of huge confusion for me as a boy.

As a Jewish kid, we celebrated Chanukah. There were gifts, and cholesterol/carb-soaked latkas. We Chanukah songs and played with toy tops called dreydle and it was fun.

But the Festival of Lights, as it is called, seemed to pale in the shadow of all that Christmas glitter of tinsel and bright blinking bulbs. Christmas was everywhere: in the windows of homes and stores, on lawns in parks and even on rooftops. Yes, it was in the schools and no one even thought of objecting at that time.

While he was still alive, my grandfather, a white-haired kindly old man gave me Chanukah “gelt,” in the form of a silver dollar. A dollar was big-time money back then, and my brother and I looked forward to it long in advance.

But grandfather gelt wasn’t the main event.  How could my grandfather ever compete with the other white-haired guy, the one in the red suit toy-making elves, and flying reindeer?

I liked getting a gift each of the eight days of Hanukkah, even if most were  only socks and clothing that I would have gotten anyway. But while my Christian friends had only a single day, theirs seemed to be the Perfecta jackpot, dwarfing our quantity of days with their quality of day.

In January. when we went back to Betsy B. Winslow Elementary School, I’d hear glee-filled reports of how my Christian friends had awakened Dec. 25 to find living rooms, like Cornucopias, overflowing with great stuff like Schwinn bikes, Lionel Trains, American Flyer sleds, red wagons and Erector sets. All they had to do was to leave out some faith-based milk and cookies the night before for some strange guy named Santa Claus.

I wondered about Santa. He looked too fat for the chimneys he allegedly used for entry. He never seemed to land on burning embers and his suit never looked sooty. But still, the proof was there that the guy delivered.

 

But beyond the gifts and Santa mystery, there were the miracles. The Christian holiday was about the birth of God’s son on a night when animals talked. Ours was that a temple light burned for a long time. Big deal. Our most popular Hanukkah song was, “Dreydle, Dreydle, Dreydle,” which has the same melodic merit as “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” Not quite on par with “Silent Night,” “First Noel” or even, for that matter, “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” We had no Mormon Tabernacle Choir, no TV special with Perry Como crooning “Ave Maria.“ We never dashed through the snow, laughing even part of the way.

But Hanukkah had one special part for a Jewish kid in that era– latent machismo. The holiday story was about how Judah Maccabee had led a successful guerrilla war against Assyrian invaders, making himself the central figure in the whole Hanukkah tale. At a time when the stereotyped Jewish male was a bit of a wimp, Maccabee made me proud. He was our Rocky, our Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio, our Jackie Robinson. He was Jewish, tough and if you didn’t like it, he could kick your butt.

I started remembering all this while driving through the sad city of East Palo Alto (EPA). A few years back, EPA had boasted the highest murder rate in the country–outdoing Detroit, New York City and Oakland. They say it’s a lot better now that they’ve brought in a Home Depot, Ikea and the Sun Microsystems campus [now Oracle].

But as I sat at a traffic light watching a packaged goods deal between a dude in a long leather coat and a kid on a bike, I saw a sign that reminded me about what I envied most about Christmas. It hung in huge, slightly lopsided letters across University Avenue.

It said: “Peace on Earth.” There wasn’t space I guess, for the tagline, which of course is, “Good will toward men.”

Tomorrow will be my 68th Christmas. It was a great many Christmases ago when I first heard the words, and fewer Christmas ago when I came to understand the bigness of the concept and the power of the thought. Peace on Earth is much, much bigger than Maccabee kicking Assyrian butt.

Not too many years ago, I met Paula who is now my wife. She loved Christmas like the kids in the old TV programs sponsored by Hallmark cards. She loved the planning, and decorating; the gifting and wrapping and opening and putting ribbons on her head; she loved the cooking and filling the house with unlikely assortments of people who somehow enjoyed each other. Her zeal put me at odds with my own deep and ambiguous feelings about the holiday. I’ve never been able to explain them to her in any way that makes sense and perhaps that’s what I’m trying to do in this particular blog.

There are now two things special about Christmas for me. The first is the big thought, dream or illusion of peace on earth and goodwill between its many inhabitants–Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus,  atheists, Confucians and even Republicans. In my travels, I’ve come to know people of many faiths and hues and I always marvel at how very much alike we are when we sit down and try to know each other.

I don’t pray, but I do hope. If you do pray for these issues, I hope they come true and I will be grateful to you if your prayers deliver the dream.

The second is smaller and more personal. It’s about Paula and how she catches the season’s joy as if it were something contagious. Whatever the germ, I’ve caught it as I find myself looking forward to the planning, and decorating; the gifting, wrapping and opening–albeit without ribbons on my head. Monday our home will filled with unlikely assortments of people and I already know it will work out just fine.

Happy holidays, whichever you choose to observe, and may the New Year bring all of us closer to peace on Earth.”

It’s December and like a great many professionals in the tech industry, I’m trying to determine what events to plan and budget what I do for next year. There are a great many people looking at the same time/place/budget issues, ranging from home office folk like me, to C-elevel global enterprise executives.

It surprises me how incredibly difficult it is to gather what I need. I asked about this on my social networks, and three sites were frequently recommended: Plancast, Upcoming.com and Gary’s Guide. Each of these sites is useful if you want to find a meetup, tweetup or greetup in a specific major city, in the next 30 days or so.

But they are useless in letting you look at the country or the world over the next year and they are even worse at letting you slice by industry segment, rather than geographic megalopolis.

What I did earlier today is exactly what I did last December. I went to various sites to see what dates have been set for Techcrunch Launch SF & NYC, SxSW, Launch, SxSW, MacWorld Expo, PopTech, TED, Gnomedex, Web 2.0, BlogWorld Expo and DEMO. There’s also an international element. I want to know when Les Web is taking place in Paris, when Nasscom Conclave will be held in India and what’s big and promising in China or Japan.

I won’t go to all of these. But knowing when and where they are being held is useful to me in many ways. To make my decision, I don’t want a week-by-week list, I want to see 2012 on a single screen [scrolldown permitted].

If you stop right there, you will make me happy. If you want to start there then continue tp the point where you could make revenue for your effort, I see quite a few cool ways to expand:

  • Drill-down by segments for social web, technologists, B2B, etc. indepth
  • Offer links to all the sites where we can see details and register.
  • Provide space for citizen reviews.
  • Hire professionals to give reviews available just on your site.

It surprises me that this does not seem to exist. If I overlooked something please let me know. If you would like to start something like this in your spare time, I will be happy to help you figure out how to build and market it.

I’m convinced it is a mousetrap worth building.

 

Marc Orchant was my friend. He made a single statement that may have saved Global Neighbourhoods from becoming yet another failed book project. In March 2005, Scoble and I talked our publisher, Jon Wiley into hiring Marc as our editor.

Thirty days later, Robert and I had not yet produced a single chapter to edit. In fact, we had not filed a single word. We were too busy fighting like Oscar and Felix in the Odd Couple. We disagreed on everything about the book, including the title, the language the writing process and inadvertently, we had placed Marc in between us like a ping pong ball between two paddles.

Marc called me late on a Sunday afternoon to inform me that he was resigning from the project. “You guys don’t need an editor,” he told me. “You need a marriage counsellor.” Marc’s resignation jarred Robert and I into the reality of our situation and we started collaborating in earnest. We produced a pretty good book and I told Marc that we owed him a debt of gratitude for the wake up call.

Marc died suddenly on Dec. 2, leaving a wonderful wife and two kids. I think of Marc from time-to-time, as most people remember friends who have gone, but I had no plans to share this story, until Twitter today, recommend that I follow Marc. I clicked on it, and saw that his last tweet is still in December 2009.  As I thought about it, I realized that I almost certainly still follow Marc. It shouldn’t matter because he is not posting and most of us don’t think to unfriend and unfollow people we care about when they die.

I did mention the incident on Twitter and Facebook and received several comments on people who have had similar experiences. Deb McAllister mentioned she had received a similar invite from Facebook on the first anniversary of her friend’s death.

Deb and I and other people who share similar experiences will survive the little twinges of sorrow that such macabre reminders cause. The question is why should we?

It should be a pretty simple process to take down all accounts that remain inactive for a period of time–let’s say 90 days. The social networks do not need to investigate why an account goes inactive, but if someone does not use their account for 90 days, it should be classified as inactive and not be counted.  Accounts that have gone dormant should certainly not be recommended to active users at any time for any reason.

So why doesn’t Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or other socnets exercise the good taste and sensitivity to quietly de-active aging dormant accounts?

I don’t know the answer but I suspect it is headcount. There is news value and ad revenue attached to headcount. It can impact investment dollars and company valuations. For us users, such practices may be sad reminders of people who we’ve lost for some company decision makers, it can be a case of the more the merrier–or least the more lucrative.

They used to call Chicago’s election day “Resurrection Day,” because it was when the dead would rise to vote–often several times. It explains such mismatches that have Twitter claiming 200 million users, while others estimate those who are active at closer to 80 million.

It might also explain why Facebook claims the incredible number of 800 million accounts, or about one in seven people on Earth. The percentage grows higher very fast when you start deducting people who have no electricity, are illiterate, old, infirm, under the age of 10 or perhaps just, plain dead.

With Facebook’s estimates being generally regarded as true, I begin to wonder when they will have more users, than the Earth has people.

As for me, I have to admit, I’m just a bit thankful. I was reminded of someone who I really liked and how his one-liner very likely changed the course of my life while demonstrating a great example of what we would soon call a naked conversation.

 

A few days ago, I posted a piece about the Pepper Spray incident at UC Davis. When people saw the original video clip, they overwhelmingly supported students and felt the police had acted harshly and without justification. When I posted a longer video clip, those who commented on my blog, on Twitter and Facebook were about evenly divided on whether police actions were justified or not.

The point of my post seems to have gotten a little lost. I was calling for a need for balance in citizen-generated news content. I was emphasizing that when we see content from sources we don’t know, we need to keep an open mind on what we see.

Yesterday, an Oregon Judge ruled that Crystal L. Cox, had to fork up $2.5 million in libel damages because she was not a journalist, and therefore not protected by Oregon Shield Laws. This ruling, in my view, is hogwash. It goes against at least two previous rulings and I am reasonably certain that if Ms. Cox stops trying to defend herself in court, a decent lawyer will win her case on appeal.

Social media and traditional media is all media. Every company is now a media company and every person who posts on Facebook–or anywhere else–is now a journalist. And as has always been the case, there is a chasm of difference in the quality of reporting in the media–all of the media.

So while I think Cox deserves to be called a journalist, protected by Shield Laws, I don’t think she is a very good one. Take a second to read the post that got her into trouble. It is more name-calling than it is a report. The names that could be considered libelous are: “Thug, thief and liar.” Those terms can certainly be considered defamatory, a key issue in any libel suit. Her tone of writing seems intended to hold an executive up to public scorn, another component of libel.

In reading the Cox blog post, I am unsure whether or not what she wrote is true, and truth is the ultimate defense of libel.

In short, while I absolutely defend Cox’s right to be a journalist, I do not defend a blogger’s right to slander someone. The content is justifiably challengeable, if you ask me, whether the publisher is Crystal Cox or the NY Times.

To me this case and the Pepper Spray Videos are two closely related issues. It is self-evident that we are now the media. But what needs to evolve is that we need to behave with the same level of responsibility that professional journalists have been expected to use since long before the first blog was posted to the internet.

I write a regular column for OpenForum, the American Express small business community forum. I am always interested in story leads from small businesses, companies targeting small businesses, or their PR representatives.

But we will both save time if you take a few moments to read my stuff–just a few columns to see what interests my readers and me.

To summarize, I look for:

  • Case studies of how a new mobile, web or social app is allowing small businesses to succeed in ways that is interesting or useful to to small businesses
  • People who have useful tips on some aspect of social or mobile apps–but they have to be unique and valuable. We all keep seeing the same advice over-and-over again.
  • A company to profile who uses social or mobile for highly localized or niche-focused communications
  • Launches of new products or companies that break new ground. Another social network does not interest me. A new service that helps people deal with healthcare insurance companies, or provides advanced analytics to small businesses does.

I do not cover products that do not exist. I am not interested in how great it will be until it can be downloaded. I am not interested in reporting on another restaurant, coffee shop or law office, real estate office because I already have covered those topics. I am looking for new and different.

I find a majority of my stories through social media. I regularly ask for story ideas on Twitter and Facebook all the time. Those networks are a good way for starting a conversation, but the best way to pitch me in any detail is to send me a few paragraphs by email at shelisrael1@gmail.com.  A good subject line is “OpenForum story idea,” or something of that nature.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about Apple Computer and its steadfast, top-down policy of avoiding online conversations. As an Apple product enthusiast who spends much of most waking hours following and evangelizing social media, the issue has been a nagging thorn in my side.

A couple of weeks ago I was interviewed by a Hebrew language blogger/journalist about social media. I talked about the extremely cool things being done by Dell Computer, SAP, Ford Motors and IBM, when he dropped the “A question.”

“What about Apple. They don’t do anything in social media, and they are doing just great. If social media is so important why is Apple doing so well?”

Good question. I’ll try to answer below.

Simultaneously, I’m reading Walter Isaacson’s brilliantly balanced authorized biography of Steve Jobs. This is a book, the Jobs, knowing the secret that the cancer that had attacked him was going to kill him, repeatedly urged Isaacson to write a book that would remind us of all the Apple founder’s many character flaws and inform readers of some previous unknown. It puzzles me, that Mr. Command-and-Control, would authorize and encourage such a tell-it-all biography.

Now, yesterday, my friend and namesake Shel Holtz wrote a blistering condemnation of Apple Computer, for it’s lack of transparency. I agree with almost every observation that Shel makes in his broadside. Where he and I differ is that because of Apple’s refusal to join the conversation, Shel refuses to buy the company’s products.

Conversely, I swim in Apple Products. I’m currently sitting at a desk, looking at no less than six Apple products [MacbookPro, Bluetooth keyboard, mouse, iPad & iPhone 4S].  I have consistently underestimated the quality and brilliance of them. Perhaps my worst all-time call was when I called the iPad “an oversized cellphone that doesn’t allow calling and generally an ugly puppy.”

I also wrote scathingly several years back about a company arrogant enough to call its product support staff “geniuses” and a company so foolish as to rent expensive retail space and leave the square footage so dramatically sparse.

Since then, I have spent my share of time leaning over the Genius Bars of several Apple stores. I have found the quality of staff to be consistently excellent. I have never walked away without my problem being solved. In fact, it is probably the best retail support I have ever experienced.  Likewise, I have learned what Apple planned to do with all the “Zenly” open floor space–they have filled it with customers–almost all of them happy.

So how do I reconcile my argument that all businesses need to join the conversation, while simultaneously being an Apple products and support zealot.

Well, let me take a step back. Since 2005, I’ve consulted about 100 companies on some aspect of social media strategy. I’ve also written about another 300-400 companies. I’ve covered all sizes and many categories of companies and I am convinced that online conversation is becoming a universal, valuable and mandatory way of doing business and providing support solutions. It is essential for recruiting the best and brightest of people, particularly of  newest generation to enter the workplace. Social media allows companies to bring new and improved products to market faster, at lower cost and with reduced marketing expenses.

So why does Apple Computer get away with ignoring it?

Well, one of the few common threads in these hundreds of companies I’ve talked with is that each had a problem, an turned to social media as a solution or at least part of it. Apple did not. Apple has been under the thumb of one of the most brilliant command and control people of industrial history.

The brilliant part is a key. He seems to have known what we customers wanted before we did. There are few industrialists who have had this talent. One was Henry Ford. Ford, supported Adolph Hitler for many years, published America’s leading anti-semitic newspaper, hired professional thugs to bash the heads of strikers, had far more contemptuous traits than did Steve Jobs.

Yet he created the automotive industry as we know it. For better or worse, his own mind created the first mass-produced automobile for everyday people and thus changed the world. He too, did not listen to customers, abused employees and kept his cards so close to his vest that they might have been tattoos. He is famously quoted as saying that customers can have any color car they choose “so long as it is black.”

What happened next is often overlooked. A startup that would eventually be called General Motors [GM]  started producing cars in multiple colors–even two-tones. Henry Ford lived far longer than did Steve Jobs. He lived to see the decline and fall of his political views and the decline from pre-eminence of his car company.

Steve Jobs did not. He left a legacy of great products and services that will be remembered for a very long time. But sooner or later–as happens to all leaders–Apple will stumble. And when it does, it will not be in position to join the online conversation and it’s failure to be a social company will be a factor in it’s downfall–or so it seems to me.

As far as social media, Apple Computer and the choices I make. My loyalty doesn’t stay with any company. It stays with users. I will favor the company that offers the best product and the best service–until it is replaced by a new company doing a better job. My next car is likely to be a Ford, because I like their new products and and am convinced that the people who run the company today do not adhere to the founding Ford’s political views. My next computer is likely to be an Apple product–unless of course another company comes up with something better.

 

 

 

 

You’ve probably have already seen the UC Davis Pepper Spray Video. You probably already have an opinion and its likely you have strong feelings about it. The problem is what you saw was severely edited to give one perspective of a series of events that are not as simple and straight-forward as that short clip would have you believe.

Watch this long version. Yep, it’s all of 15-minutes long, about the length of 30 Fox news clips. But if you do it this one time, you may start to understand how news editors can snip out balance to promote agendas.

In fact, after watching the long version, my opinion did not change. But my concerns that the new citizen journalism can present through a lens that is as filtered as the shoddiest of traditional news organizations have been known to give us.

It is obvious, that the original pepper spray video was shortened to promote a point of view and to me that lessens the credibility of students who risked arrest and pepper spray for a cause that many of us do not understand–but they passionately believe in.

Did the police act rightfully or wrongly? You and I may continue to disagree. But we cannot intelligently decide unless those reporting the incident are responsible to give us a reasonably ba;lanced report on what happened.

Distortion of the truth in the name of a cause damages the credibility of that cause if you ask me.

Let us understand that non-violent protest is designed to provoke authorities to further a cause. Leaders through the years have suffered arrests, beatings and gas. This raises public awareness and sympathy. It is very powerful and has brought down governments, ended wars, destroyed unjust and discriminating causes.

The essence of it is to reveal that truth is on your side. That’s what giants of protest Like King and Gandhi did. That’s why in America, students in the 6os sometimes died to end an unjust war or Jim Crow segregation.

Lying doesn’t get you there; nor does distortion. All that does is make you the citizen version of Fox News, grinding the facts through distorted lenses and filters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[Dell SM Listening Command Center. Dell File Photo]

I just read a New York Times item announcing that the Public Relations Society of America [PRSA] is launching a campaign to redefine the term “public relations” to make it more current in the 21st century.

I pointed to the article on Twitter and immediately got new jokes about the “spinners spinning their spin.” I see the humor, but it makes me sad. PR has so many true values to a company. One way or another every organization practices PR and it shapes who they are and how they fare in the marketplace.

The definition has remained the same for centuries. “Public Relations” is a self-defining term. It is the relationship between organizations of any size and people who make a difference to them.”

This has not changed, it is also highly unlikely to change moving forward.

What has changed are the tools of communications and the venues. The tools are now social and the venue is increasingly online. These two facts have upended virtually every profession and institution. They have forced the enterprise and corner store, governments and those who wish to overthrow them. It has changed advertising, news, religions, white-collar crime and just about all things–including public relations.

I can tell you the essential difference for the PR industry. People can now talk back at you and about you. They can do it with great speed and what they say can spread like wildfire faster than you can call a conference room meeting t discuss messaging or damage control.

I commend PRSA for understanding that something is broken. But I think they are trying to fix the wrong thing.

PR, for the past 60 years, has focused on broadcasting. They send messages out. When one approach doesn’t work, they try a new way to send the same messages in different forms. When talking doesn’t work, they shout.

In fact, what PRSA needs to teach its members is that they must learn to listen. They can now talk with customers, prospects, investors, potential employees and bring back the wisdom of vital crowds to organizational decision makers.

This is not touchy-feely thinking. This is serious business strategy. Dell Computer spent many millions of dollars to build a listening center. A staff listen to what is said about the company online every day. They monitor about 150,000 comments a week.

This listening engine fixes product flaws faster and less expensively than was previously possible. It turns ranting customers into ravers. It reduces time to market for new products and vastly lessens the burdens of customer support.

At Ford Motors, Scott Monty, the company’s top social media officer answers directly to the CEO. Ford has no desire to appear cool. But it understands that social media is where you spot problems and trends first and how you get the word out fastest.

If you don’t think these two cases are connected to public relations, then I just don’t know what to tell you.

My advice to public relations practitioners is that we live in a new, still-forming Conversational Age. It has replaced the Age of Broadcast. You need to join the conversation. It is where your customers are going and it is also where you should really shine.

After all, professional PR people are outstanding communicators, right?

PRSA is right that something is broken. The PR industry sees itself as being in he image business, yet they collectively have a truly awful image.