White House staffers resettle in Silicon Valley

Silicon ValleyKudos for the FT’s Hannah Kuchler for reporting on the number of Obama-era White house staffers who’ve gone West and taken up lucrative speechwriting and communications roles in Silicon Valley.

She notes that the talent from DC is a match made in heaven for Silicon Valley companies. There was always a simpatico feeling between leaders in tech and Democrats (with notable exceptions such as Republican ex-Cisco CEO John Chambers and libertarians including Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy and VC Peter Thiel). However, Kuchler notes that when Obama left office what had been a trickle became a flood:

Previously, tech companies had hired former Obama speechwriters and advisers, and a few Republicans. But last year came the flood: Facebook hired people who had worked on strategic communications for the National Security Council, trade policy and judicial nominations; Uber took on a special assistant from the office of international economic affairs; start-ups hired former Michelle Obama advisers on innovation and cyber-security policy.

These West Wing operatives will prove their worth if they are able to stem the backlash against the likes of Uber and Facebook as they struggle to win the hearts and minds of regulators worldwide.

Those of us who’ve written for the tech industry for years welcome the new blood, there’s a place for you in the Silicon Valley Speechwriters Roundtable!

Creative Video for Communicators

Brian WalterThis Saturday I attended the annual Presidents Day meeting of the National Speakers Association Northern California Chapter. As a past Chapter President (2008-09) I was invited to the meeting where the current national president, Brian Walter, CPAE, CSP held a brilliant workshop modestly titled ‘A Bazillion Extreme Ways to Use Video DURING Your Speeches’.

This was just as impressive as his 2011 Extreme Meetings presentation. He covered a wide range of options for the use of video by speakers and trainers with his typical infectious humor.

Why video? It’s for when your audience gets sick of you! It brings the real world into the artificial environment of a ‘meeting bubble’.

Brian began with some basic, very solid, advice:

  • Avoid streaming video over the hotel WiFi.
  • Instead, embed video in your slides (which he did throughout his 3-hour presentation).
  • Don’t project pixiliated ‘crappy video’ (as downloaded from YouTube or captured on a phone) full-screen. Instead, shrink it down to occupy a small part of your presentation screen, embedded in a slide background — such as a smartphone or monitor screen image.
  • Break up clips into short segments and turn each into a point to make in your talk.

Brian then explained the range of options (not a bazillion, but more than a few) for using video, from simple to elaborate. Absent his many examples these may not seem as impressive on the page as they were shown onscreen, but each is worth exploring.

Crowd-sourced video

Procurement TubeThis is harvested from the folks within an organization and embedded into a smartphone image (allowing for portrait or landscape source to be shown). It can be made into a parody video which can, in fact legally use images such as the YouTube logo if styled as, say, “Procurement (Department) Tube”

As-is Video

Licensed stock video clips from sources such as istockphoto can be purchased once and used over and over.

Libraries of commercials available for license from sources such as TVAds or, depending on the proposed use, from YouTube directly (assuming you are not going to embed the ad in product for sale, which commercial company could possibly object you showing an advert that was, in fact, designed to sell?). Brian made the point that the emotional charge of showing an advert to an audience is unique, since even those who might have seen it before will not have done so in a group setting where the impact is magnified. His example was the hilarious EDS cat herding Superbowl commercial (if you have not seen it, take a second…). Point is, EDS no longer exists, so ‘fair use’ is unlikely to be challenged.

Movie and TV clips can legally be shown if a speaker obtains an annual $625 umbrella license from the Motion Picture Licensing Corporation. Reinforcing Brian’s point they state:

Conference organizers and Public Speakers understand that movie scenes have the power to bring a presentation to life. The magic of the movies allows a presenter to stand out from the crowd and unleash his or her creativity without limitations. What better way to illustrate a point than by incorporating the perfect movie scene? More importantly, movies can do more than simply enhance a presentation, they can help create a more engaging and entertaining experience that holds an audience’s attention.

One license allows you to legally show clips from major motion picture studios in at conferences and events. Which clips to use and what to say about them? Brian has us covered. He recommends three books that deliver both the medium and the message:

101_Clips101 Movie Clips that Teach and Train, by Becky Pike Pluth

Let this book jumpstart your creativity for lesson planning or training design by providing you with the perfect movie clip for over 100 topics, including discrimination, leadership, team building, and sales. Each clip comes with cueing times, plot summary and scene context and cogent discussion questions.

Reel_LessonsReel Lessons in Leadership, by Ralph R. DiSibio

A unique study of leadership qualities using memorable films and their characters. The author takes a unique approach to studying the overwritten topic of leadership by using scenes and characters from popular movies. For each of the dozen movies, the author identifies leadership traits that the main character symbolizes.

Big_PictureThe Big Picture: Essential Business Lessons from the Movies, by Kevin Coupe & Michael Sansolo

Shows you how the stories in movies can inspire solutions in your business life. From brand marketing to ethics, leadership to customer focus, planning to rule breaking, everything you need to know about business is found in your favorite movies

As-Is Plus Video

Simple edits can be made to stock video that will enhance the message for the audience. These include subtitles, comment boxes, counters and more.

For-You Video

These are typically testimonial videos about you or your organization made by others. You bask in the reflected glory of their words. Be sure they mention your name up front.

By-You Video

If featuring you, these are the classic speaker videos. They need to be short, since people did not attend the meeting just to watch you on camera.

If they feature others, they really ‘bring the real world’ into your meeting. Examples featured employees saying what makes them feel appreciated, shown to HR managers. These can be ‘scrappy’ videos filmed on your phone, embedded in a suitable background.

Animated Video

Here Brian showed the great GoAnimate tool, which I used back in the day during my time in executive communications at Cisco. Really easy to make and effective at getting issues across in a powerful way. This explains how it works:

One tip from Brian: Don’t fade up from black. Simply add a still cover image with a half-second delay in PowerPoint before it plays.

Star-You Video

This was the highest level of video Brian discussed, explaining this puts you in the role of producer who hires scriptwriters, sound & camera people, editors and more. Coincidentally, there was just such a resource in the audience that day — Joanne Tan from 10+ Visual Branding.

My fav example from Joanne’s portfolio has to be the ad for this local Brazilian waxing salon, located right next door to the restaurant where the past-presidents met for a late lunch. How convenient!

Book Review: Disrupted, by Dan Lyons

Disputed Book Cover People in Limerick like to point out that Angela’s Ashes is more a story of Frank McCourt’s life in a dysfunctional family with an alcoholic father than it is about growing up in the Ireland of the 1930s. I’d like to point out that Dan Lyons has written more of a story about one dysfunctional and bizarre company in Boston than any ‘trenchant analysis of the start-up world’ in general.

I can claim to know what I speak of, since I’ve spent my entire career in Silicon Valley and I’m a good decade older than Dan, working in a company where many, but not all, of the employees are half my age. There’s nothing remotely similar to his experiences at HubSpot in the various marketing departments I’ve worked in.

How the mighty have fallen

Perhaps because I did not come from as a rarefied an environment as he did working for Pulitzer Prize winners and interviewing Bill Gates, I’ve never been discombobulated by the generational differences that keep Dan awake at night.

Unlike Dan, I walk to work every day past the Salesforce Tower without thinking of Marc Benioff’s genitalia.

I can converse with younger workers who are the age of my own kids without feeling demeaned by the experience.

I take pride in writing blog postings and managing social media (despite my advanced age…) for the various organizations I’ve worked for.

Bursting the bubble

That said, Lyons does get it right in his broader analysis of the tech world, specifically his telling critique of the well-funded software start-ups that are currently burning through the VC’s cash with abandon. Just this morning I heard a radio program about the dozens and dozens of new companies offering Parking Apps. How many will be around a year from now? These may well become the poster children for the coming collapse of the new tech companies just as pets.com and others were for the first dot-com bust.

Ageism in the software industry

Likewise, he’s got a point about ageism in tech. After all, Mark Zukerberg did say that young people are just smarter and the thin disguise of hiring for ‘cultural fit’ often results in clones of the founders filling the cubes. But just as guilty are the recruiters for trading floors and venture capital companies.


At the end of the day it’s obvious that Lyons was happier vaping cannabis oil on the west coast than eating humble pie back east. He’s one of the gang on the Sony lot in Culver City working with a team that he admits engaged in ‘trading the worst poop-related stories we’ve ever heard, and pitching jokes about enormous cocks’. One can only wonder if the culture shock he experienced at HubSpot would pale in comparison to someone whose not pickled in the same journalistic brine that formed him trying to hold their own in that environment.

Perhaps the best solution would have been for him to bond over a bong with the youngsters in the start-up, ensuring a mellow time for one and all.

Unmasking the Myths of Silicon Valley Innovation

Silicon ValleyAlerted to the work of the economist Mariana Mazzucato by an intriguing Lunch with the FT article I took a look at her blog.

She debunks the myth that innovation in Silicon Valley is a result of brilliant young minds (Jobs & Wozniak; Page & Brin) unfettered by regulations thriving in garages in a California where failure is rewarded and the streets are awash with VC funding.

While some of those myths have a basis in reality (garages were often the incubation environment from the get-go) the overlooked fact is that innovation in Silicon Valley is driven by public funding.

Entrepreneurs, as well as the venture capital funds that finance them, have often “surfed” massive waves of innovation that were essentially created by public money.

For example:

  • The internet grew out of DARPA
  • The GPS on your phone was funded by the U.S. government’s Navistar Satellite Program
  • Siri, the iPhone’s voice-activated personal assistant, and touch screen displays were both funded by the U.S. government
  • The Tesla electric car benefited from a $465 million government-sponsored guaranteed loan
  • One of the main flavors of UNIX was developed by Bill Joy and others at the University of California at Berkeley
  • Likewise, the algorithms that Google was based on were developed by Brin and Page while at Stanford on an NSF grant

Mazzucato concludes by saying

…you sometimes hear about the state as Leviathan, almost like a big monster getting in the way of innovation. The real task ahead of all of us is to make this debate less ideological. That requires us to understand the market as an outcome of public and private interactions. Rethinking a new relationship and deal between the state and the business, which will lead to the next big wave for future surfers to benefit from.

Understanding the history of innovation in Silicon Valley helps put the often heated debates about the role of ‘big government’ in perspective.

Money Talks: Silicon Valley Venture Capitalists

Silicon ValleyHere in California, the rush for wealth long ago shifted from the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains where the 49ers panned for gold, to the Sand Hill Road offices of Silicon Valley venture capitalists (V.C.’s).

Legions of young hopefuls pitch their ideas to shrewd investors ready to back the next new thing to the tune of tens of millions of dollars. Yet the chances of hitting the big time and getting a V.C. to fund a new company are slim. Thousands of companies present their ideas, few succeed in attracting investors.

Just how slim those chances are, and what it takes to grab the attention of the men with the money, is described in Tad Friends’ compelling profile of the Andreesen Horowitz V.C. firm (known as “a16z”), in the May 18, 2015 edition of The New Yorker: Tomorrow’s Advance Man.

Slim Pickings

Each year, three thousand startups approach a16z with a “warm intro” from someone the firm knows. A16z invests in fifteen. Of those, at least ten will fold, three or four will prosper, and one might soar to be worth more than a billion dollars—a “unicorn,” in the local parlance. With great luck, once a decade that unicorn will become a Google or a Facebook and return the V.C.’s money a thousand times over: the storied 1,000x. There are eight hundred and three V.C. firms in the U.S., and last year they spent forty-eight billion dollars chasing that dream.

With the odds stacked against them, young entrepreneurs have a lot riding on their presentation. Armed with a make or break set of slides, they have just a few minutes in the a16z boardroom to make a good impression.


So what does it take for a presentation to succeed? Forget everything the rhetoric books teach about ethos, pathos and logos. It takes balls.

The audience, especially a16z founder and Netscape Navigator inventor Mark Andreesen, are scary smart and don’t tolerate fools lightly.

Andreessen is tomorrow’s advance man, routinely laying out “what will happen in the next ten, twenty, thirty years,” as if he were glancing at his Google calendar. He views his acuity as a matter of careful observation and extrapolation, and often invokes William Gibson’s observation “The future is already here—it’s just not very evenly distributed…he asks questions that oblige his partners to envision a new world.

V.C.s are the “arms merchants” of Silicon Valley. They turn ideas into reality. Apple and Microsoft got started with venture money, as did Starbucks, the Home Depot, Whole Foods Market, and JetBlue. Facebook and Google are emblematic of the new age of the Valley, with Facebook literally occupying the abandoned offices of defunct Sun Microsystems.

In this environment, only the boldest presentation succeeds.

Pitch meetings are minefields. If a V.C. asks you, “When you get to a hundred engineers, are you worried about the company culture or excited?,” the correct answer is “A hundred? I want a thousand!” Reid Hoffman, a V.C. at Greylock Partners who co-founded LinkedIn, told me, “I look to see if someone has a marine strategy, for taking the beach; an army strategy, for taking the country; and a police strategy, for governing the country afterward.”

The key is thinking outside the box, way outside.

A16z wants to learn if the founder has a secret—a novel insight, drawn from personal experience, about how the world could be better arranged. If that new arrangement is 10x better, consumers might be won over. Balaji Srinivasan contributed the concept of the “idea maze”: you want the entrepreneur to have spent years thinking her idea into—and out of—every conceivable dead end.

Embracing failure

Despite all the hype and hoopla in the pitch sessions, V.C’s in Silicon Valley have a mixed record of accurately predicting the future.

Of the eighteen firms that V.C.s valued at more than a billion dollars in the heady days of 1999-2000, eleven have gone out of business or have been liquidated in fire sales, including @Home, eToys, and Webvan … The random, contingent way that the future comes to pass is a source of endless frustration in the Valley.

At the end of the day, it’s a numbers game.

It’s fine to have a lousy record of predicting the future, most of the time, as long as when you’re right you’re really right. Between 2004 and 2013, a mere 0.4 per cent of all venture investments returned at least 50x. The real mistakes aren’t the errors of commission, the companies that crash—all you can lose is your investment—but those of omission.

Given the need for aggressive proposals it’s little wonder that many outsiders, such as some Australian tech companies, are intimidated by the attitude adjustment needed to successfully pitch to V.C.’s.

Standing Out from the Crowd: The Secrets of Interactive Meetings

The Saturday meeting of the Northern California Chapter of the National Speakers Association featured two interactive sessions that helped professional speakers stand out from the crowd.

Sarah Michel: How to be The Session Everyone is Talking About!

Sarah MichelSarah Michel, CSP is a meetings architect with over 15 years of experience designing one-of-a-kind meetings that matter. Sarah showed us you how to collaborate directly with audiences to generate deep meaning. She built on many of excellent suggestions in the report she helped author: Conference Connexity: Delivering on your Networking Promise.

From taking charge of the seating to allow conference attendees to interact freely, to chunking down content into shorter segments so that attendees have plenty of time for small group discussions, Sarah walked the audience through a number of ways to deliver on the promise of networking time (the main reason many people attend live events).

She used a model of how the brain learns and retains information. We start by receiving information (from the presenter) and then integrate it by reflecting and making connections. More powerful integration occurs when we make sense of the content and finally we gain maximum benefit if we test ideas by speaking or writing about it.

She had us discuss how we can encourage attendees to develop their own ideas about the content. I worked with my table mate Rick Gilbert who shared that middle managers at his executive presentation courses brainstorm and role play solutions to engage C-Level audiences.

Sarah shared a useful report that her consulting company has written for conference organizers on ways to improve the experience of attendees’ networking experience.

Sarah is a believer in really scaling back the amount of content in presentations to allow for a third- to two-thirds of the total time to allow for interaction between audience members to connect and discuss content instead of just listening and note taking.

Jim Carrillo: Innovative Video Skills

Jim CarrilloPast Chapter President Jim Carrillo led a hands-on workshop which demonstrated some basic, powerful and effective video skills. As speakers, we are all able to articulate our message. Video is the easiest way to amplify this message to the world: on social media, our own blog or website, as training aids for our presentations.

Jim forcefully made the point that we have reached the point in time when video captured on the smart phone is available to anyone. Gone are the days when formats had to be translated, cables hooked up from camera to projector or any of the other large or small barriers to getting video done. Now it is a simple matter of point, shoot and post.

He encouraged us to take simple, low-cost, steps to produce effective video. This includes:

  • Always hold the phone in landscape mode so that the video fills the screen on YouTube.
  • Lighting matters, but a simple lamp with paper clipped over it as a diffuser works.
  • Sound can be captured close up with a built-in mic. For distance, invest in something better.
  • A simple web-around backdrop or cloth held by willing assistants cuts the clutter in any room.

Jim demonstrated all this with a few volunteers and created a compelling video on the spot in minutes.

Jim Carrillo video

Jim has made resources available on his website. Check it out and you’ll see the results from his training session as well as find a host of useful tips and tricks. I recommend it!

Thanks to Sarah and Jim for one of the most useful Saturday mornings I’ve spent in a good while.

How Executives Can Keep Their Organization Informed via an Online Platform

INXPO LogoIn two weeks time I’ll be hosting an free webinar on How Executives Can Keep Their Organization Informed via an Online Platform on the INXPO Social Business TV network. I’ll be sharing tips on how executives can effectively inform and engage with their extended teams.

Based on my experience with Silicon Valley technology companies, I’ll suggest ways executives and executive communications managers can use video for everything from virtual Town Hall meetings to recorded customer testimonials. I’ll also review how to use the important Backchannel to engage with employees before, during and after an event.

The webinar happens on Tuesday February 12 from 9:00am – 10:00am (Pacific). Registration for the event is free. Click here to sign up.

Meanwhile, if you have any issues you’d like me to raise or questions you’d like answered during the event please leave a comment below.

Hope to see you online on the 12th!

Visionary Artist: Nam June Paik anticipated the internet

An astounding story on BBC America this evening about the Korean-born visual artist Nam June Paik, considered the father of video art, who coined the phrase “electronic superhighway” in 1974 while creating works that pushed the boundaries of television.

Cisco might like to claim Tomorrow starts here, but Nam June was building his version of tomorrow’s world a full 10 years before Cisco came on the scene and gradually built an internet backbone capable of handling video in ways that instantiate the artist’s vision.

Paik’s work, which has been put on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC, envisioned a future where the transmission of piles of data could happen instantaneously.

Paik, who died in 2006, was the first artist to experiment with the platform of television, seeing it as an open canvas on which many more artists would one day construct their works.

Smithsonian American Art Museum director Betsy Broun says the futurist was “like an antennae that was pointed out into the world, absorbing ideas”.


Smithsonian senior curator for media arts, John G. Hanhardt, speaks passionately about the impact of digital media on the global consciousness in a way that is beyond the boundaries of any one discipline:

You know, I really do feel that 20th century art history is going to be rewritten through the moving image: from film to video and television, to video games, interactive platforms, the Internet. All the arts—whether literature, poetry, dance, sculpture—have changed because of these media as art forms. The whole telling of stories has changed remarkably through the impact of cinema and television and all of these moving image discourses. And they’ve also become art forms themselves, not only as classical cinema but as avant garde film practice, documentary, narrative, video art, installation and performance all throughout the 20th century. The very exciting access to a global history of the moving image through the Internet as well as the mobility of the artist to work and create digitally in a variety of forms and through diverse media platforms. It is really the new paper, the new printing press. However you want to look at it! That changed how we saw information. I do think that artists give us new ways to see ourselves and see the world around us, it is at the center of art history. And Nam June certainly achieved that transformation of video through his art.

Were he alive today, I suspect Paik would be looking 50 years ahead to a future we cannot imagine, where technology that currently seems outlandish is commonplace.

Guest Posting: Executive Leaders Have Something in Common with Old Kings, Marianne Gobeil

Marianne Gobeil is the CEO and founder of Leading Communicators. A recognized expert in the area of strategic leadership communications, Marianne is a trusted adviser to executive leaders — so devoted to helping them advance their leadership goals and objectives that she formed a company around it.

Marianne GoebilI was watching the film “The King’s Speech” again the other day, and it struck me that executive leaders today have a lot in common with King George VI. Not because they both stutter – although some certainly do, at least strategically. But because each faced a cosmic shift when it comes to communication. And in both cases, the disruptor was technology.

For King George, it was the “wireless” that fundamentally changed how he engaged with the British people. Have a listen to the counsel his father gives him:

Suddenly, centuries of tradition were disrupted. The old ways of ruling – from a distance, seen and heard by few – had been supplanted by a device that forged an immediate, close connection between the King and his people. The radio meant he was now present in their homes, and created the perception that he was speaking to them personally. What he said, and how he said it, now mattered, as there was a direct and immediate connection to them.

And now the same is true of executive leaders. We’ve all been customized for many decades at having people speak to us in our homes through radio and television. It had already started to surface in a different level of expectation outside the home as well; people wanted to feel that same sense of connectedness whenever someone spoke to them, even across a podium.

But now it’s different. People not only expect a speaker to connect with them; they expect to be able to connect right back. Social media is the great disruptor of our age. It’s opened the channels, and made one-way communication insufficient and perhaps ultimately obsolete.

The impact on executive leaders is huge. The two-way nature of social media has changed the rules of engagement. Like old kings ruling from a far, executive leaders can no longer lead from on high; they need to engage. They must be seen and heard by their employees and other stakeholders. What they say, when they say it, and how they say it matters because it carries far and fast.

So here’s the new reality for executive leaders: Speak up. Engage well and often. And when you speak, whether at a podium or across a meeting room, be sure you speak to the actual people in the room. Show them that you are aware of their specific interests and concerns, use the language and level of detail that they understand, and give them an opportunity to respond. The old days of one-way communication are gone, and clinging to them will reflect badly on your leadership.

This post originally appeared in Marianne’s blog. It is re-posted here with her express permission.

Interview: Paul M. Wood – Transmedia Storyteller

Transmedia storytelling is a hot topic. It’s a form of storytelling where multiple platforms tie together to tell a common story. It has been heralded as “a new storytelling form that is native to networked digital content and communication channels.”

UCS professor Henry Jenkins coined the term transmedia storytelling, and defines it as representing:

“…a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience…”

There’s many examples of transmedia, with projects around novels, TV shows, videogames, music and movies as well as a few examples in the corporate and executive communications space.

The more elaborate of these can involve the expense of year-long “teaser” campaigns for movies, or mass-participation alternate reality games.

However, transmedia storytelling can be a low-cost re-purposing existing video and audio digital content for multiple distribution channels. This might put your video used at trade show presentation on a massive screen into a format suitable for a laptop or smart phone. But it’s not just changing the aspect ratio and being done. It’s thinking of savvy ways to fracture a coherent story into pieces while keeping a core theme alive in different media. It’s weaving the storytellers magic in the digital age.

I’m just starting to learn about transmedia storytelling, but the impression I’ve got is that it is evolving rapidly and, if it delivers on even a part of the promise, will be a VERY BIG DEAL.

Paul M. Wood: Transmedia Storyteller

AE35 MediaI recently met with one of the more savvy transmedia storytellers in Silicon Valley. Paul M. Wood is a principal in the boutique communications firm AE35 Media.

Paul is a commercial and independent film director who grew up in a creative family. His father was an artist and his mother a musician. He studied at NYU Film School and has knocked around the tech industry.

After a decade making niche-busting films for Fortune 500 companies such as Cisco Systems, Paul is now calling upon his diverse background as both visual artist and technologist to bring storytelling into the twenty-first century by producing tales which cross not only genres but platforms and delivery systems as well.

AE35 Media believe that the days of executive communications managers creating a message and pushing out to the world as a scripted speech for a corporate big-wig to deliver once with the hope that it was clever or engaging enough to be noticed are over.

Things have changed.

We’ve gone from being a world where information is pushed out to the masses, to become one where the information is now pulled in by individuals. The tech industry knows this applies to their products, not too many yet realize it might equally apply to their corporate spokespeople. While information itself is shared, the act of acquiring it is now solitary and intimate.

Appealing to ONE large mass of people is one thing. It’s an auditorium filled will people listening to your CEO deliver a keynote. It’s an event, managed by the event production team. However, appealing to MILLIONS of individuals and having them own your brand or message as much as you do? Well that’s no longer a mere event. That’s a universe and within it the possibilities are limitless — this is the promise of transmedia storytelling.

To hear Paul discuss the potential of transmedia storytelling and how he sees it as a natural extension of his video production skills, click on the podcast icon below.