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"Thomas Clifford has made something useful here. This report will give you some really catchy, useful ideas.

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"Tom Clifford is by trade a filmmaker. For most of his life, he rarely wrote anything longer than a brief comment in the margin of a script. 

Now, though, he's producing tens of thousands of words a year, first as a Fast Company "Expert Blogger," and then as a writer for the Content Marketing Institute. 

How did Tom go from a non-writer to a prolific and much-read one? His eBook, '5 (Ridiculously Simple) Ways . . . , ' holds some of his secrets."

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“Anyone who wants to improve their writing needs this e-book. A lot of ebooks are short because they just don’t have much substance to offer. They’re not worth your time (and so are many of the long ones, too, for that matter). Tom’s is short because he’s so good at giving you only what you need to know. 

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Michael Martine, Blog Alchemist, Remarkablogger.com 


Wednesday
Nov042009

Employee Engagement Lessons from Fast Company’s “30 Second MBA” Part 1 

I’m a big fan of Fast Company’s “30 Second MBA” site.

The minute it launched, I felt it offered a simple yet highly effective way for organizations to integrate social media concepts into their internal communication strategies.

I wanted to know more. So I asked Ellen McGirt, the Senior Writer and Dean of “30 Second MBA,” a few questions about her experiences in launching the site. I was particularly interested in seeing how the “30 Second MBA” framework could be adapted for internal communication purposes. Here’s part one of the interview. And many thanks, Ellen, for sharing your ideas!

1. How did the Fast Company “30 Second MBA” idea come into being?
I pitched the concept about two years ago. I was looking for an unusual way to tell stories using video on the web. The verdict: Cute idea, we’re not ready.

Fast forward about a year and a half, and we had a new web direction, some development momentum and a new editor. I re-pitched the idea and it got some traction. We went ahead and started planning the interface, etc – and we got the news from our publisher that she’d been able to find a sponsor. Score! Suddenly we had some additional cash to build out the first version. Although we were prepared to go rogue and do it with existing resources, the new budget was a welcome addition.

2. Take us behind the scenes a bit. How are the videos created? How do you find your video guests? How many members are on your team? How are your themes for each week discovered? Any other things readers would find interesting?

The beauty of the idea is that it’s a real DIY project. And, although it’s labor intensive, it’s not expensive. I have a ready list of candidates – people who have appeared in the magazine or who are associated with industries or companies we’ve studied. The questions come from interviews I’ve conducted with both business leaders and readers, and range from the deeply philosophical – is technology changing the nature of leadership? – to the mundane – how do you run a meeting? (Contrary to popular opinion, actual interviews are a better way to get information from people, not web polls.)

I extend an invitation to potential participants via e-mail, and then offer an array of questions to choose from, with a deadline and upload instructions. I emphasize that rough is great – Flip cam, hand helds, Skype are all terrific. Tell us stories! These answers should be the type of personal advice you’d give a friend in need. And it’s very very cool to see people in their natural habitats, so I encourage people to shoot from their offices.

I’ve also reached out to many extraordinary people I don’t know, like Alan Mulally of Ford. He loved the concept and signed on before the site was even built! We want the project to be a reflection of the sensibilities of our magazine – about innovation, inspiration and possibility – and inclusive of all perspectives. So the mix of voices is profound -from the C-suites of Ford, Intel, Schwab, Facebook and USAA, to soldiers in Afghanistan/Iraq, artists, educators and social entrepreneurs in a variety of fields. There are some very cool surprises coming up.

This is a team effort of technologists and editors on both the digital side and magazine side – not to mention our magnificent publisher and marketing team. Now more than 20 people think about and work on Thirty Second MBA from a Fast Company perspective. That is absolutely my favorite part of this. It went from a crazy pitch to a full on team effort. Thanks especially to Bob Safian, our editor in chief; Noah Robischon, our web editor; and Christine Osekoski our publisher - for their guts, hard work and spirit.

3. If an organization wanted to adopt the “30 Second MBA” idea internally, what steps or ideas would you suggest to them?

It’s a lot of work but really worth it. Keep the project and the subsequent requests for participation clear and focused – people want to contribute, but they also don’t want to be embarrassed. Be prepared to answer a lot of questions about what you want and how the project will be used. What can they expect? What kind of help or support? What do you want me to say again?

Be sure to frame the project as having a bigger objective. Our stated goal is to grow the leadership capability of our readers by giving them a nugget of wisdom from executives we admire that they can access when they need it. And, I make sure people know that I consider their participation a generous act.

Also, get buy-in from the top of your organization. I mean, I never do, but why make things harder than they need to be? ☺

4. A 2008 survey conducted by the Corporate Leadership Council indicates: “By improving employees’ level of engagement, organizations can see significant improvement in employees’ performance rating and decrease the probability of employee departure by 87%.”

With the phenomenal rise in social media, what ways can an organization use the MBA framework internally to increase employee and customer engagement and retention?

I am so lucky. As part of my job I get to have exceptional conversations with people who are making business happen – the Mark Zuckerbergs, the Paul Otellinis, etc. They invariably say something incredibly interesting about how they do what they do, how they’ve solved a leadership problem, or how their thoughts about work have evolved.

Almost never is that the subject of the interview or relevant to my piece. But MAN, I wish I had web cam in my brain to capture that moment. The 30 Second MBA was born from that wish, and a desire to share my world with my readers. (Without me in it, by the way. I don’t want to watch any more fake talk shows on the web!)

So what would that mean for your organization? What wisdom or inspiration is going unrecorded? When you hit your head and say – man, I wish my colleagues/customers/friends could hear this – you’re on your way to an idea.

I would also tap the routinely overlooked HR department for insight. They tend to know more than you think. It’s also helpful to think in modules. The 30 Second MBA works because it is both structured and diverse. We get five very different people to answer the same question, so the contrast is automatically interesting. Would it matter to you that the guy in the mailroom is also a hospice volunteer? That the VP of finance produces community theater? The very notion of introducing a company to itself is a valuable one. But to use it to teach what they know is really cool. And makes an excellent recruiting tool.

So maybe ya’ll are on a budget or not so good with a web cam. Even a simple Facebook network with a complete list of employees and their talents, skills, strengths and interests can help people in big organizations connect with others who can help them when they need them. It’s also a cultural thing – it must be unacceptable NOT to share your expertise with your colleagues whether you know them or not. That part comes from the top.

Stay tuned for part two.

Part 2 can be found here.

Originally posted on my Fast Company column.

Ellen McGirt’s Bio:
When she's not chasing former Vice Presidents or leaping social networks in a single bound, Ellen McGirt occasionally shows up at her job as Senior Writer at Fast Company magazine. She covers a range of business topics, but never stops looking for the writer’s holy grail: The business ideas - and people - who are changing the world.

McGirt joined Fast Company in February 2007 from Fortune, where she was a senior writer. She was also a columnist and editor-at-large for Money, where she covered a wide variety of health care, consumer, personal finance and investing topics. McGirt has served as a guest correspondent for CNN's American Morning, and has appeared frequently on Good Morning America, CBS Early Today, NBC Nightly News, CNBC, CNN, and American Public Media.

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Wednesday
Oct212009

5 Big Ideas: What Honda’s Mini-Documentaries Can Teach Non-Filmmakers  

Here are five ideas from Honda’s new corporate documentary, “Racing Against Time,” to help you take your videos from talking heads to interesting and believable stories. (RSS readers click thru to see the video.)

Have you checked out Honda’s “Dream the Impossible” mini-documentary series? The video series features several big ideas in a series of mini-documentaries. And yes, they’re beautifully produced.

But here’s the thing.
If you deconstruct Honda’s new documentary, “Racing Against Time,” you’ll find five big ideas you can use to make your own videos just as engaging and compelling as Honda’s. And the best part? You can integrate them into your own videos for next to nothing.

So what exactly are these five big ideas?

5 Big Ideas: What Honda’s Mini-Documentaries Can Teach Non-Filmmakers

1. Capture passionate storytellers
It pretty much goes without saying: you need people on-camera who can share their passion, drive and determination for your product or service. Video is unforgiving in what it captures. Feature people who love what they do and can express their emotional passion without hesitation.

2. Music matters
Try this experiment. Play the Honda video. Turn your monitor away so you can’t see it. Now just listen to the soundtrack. You’ll notice a few things about the soundtrack. The music:
• Changes several times throughout the video
• Varies when ideas vary
• Stops abruptly to enunciate a point
• Creates suspense and drama
• Connects with the ticking of the stopwatch

Avoid the temptation to just pick a single piece of music and use it throughout your video. If having a video custom scored isn’t possible, consider changing the stock music frequently to reflect the ideas in the video.

3. Use testimonials for extra credibility and believability
Honda tapped into skateboarding legend Tony Hawk, "Star Trek" and “Transformers” screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman and IndyCar driver Tony Kanaan for added dimension. Adding comments from outside a company gives a video depth, breadth and insight not typically found in business videos. They can help a video feel less provincial while giving it a “universal” feel and element to your story– letting more people to relate to your message.

4. Put a “dragon” in your story
Adding an obstacle or problem to your video not only makes it more believable but creates tension. Even a small amount of tension makes it hard for viewers to leave your story.

What is the “dragon” in Honda’s “Racing Against Time”? Deadlines. Losing time. Working under pressure. Racing against time. All variations of the same theme. Imagine how less effective Honda’s video would be without the dragon of deadlines and competition. What dragon is in your video? What obstacle are you battling?

5. Eye contact matters
In my “ three stage evolution of video conversations” post, I shared how direct eye contact is becoming critically important in social videos.

Social media is driving conversations one-to-one. Social video will follow the same format. But how? Through direct eye contact. Conversations on-camera are shifting from people talking off-camera with an interviewer to talking directly into the camera. One-to-one. Me-to-you. Eye-to-eye. You can achieve this effect simply by attaching an affordable mirror device to the front of the camera.

Incorporating a few of these ideas into your future projects can easily turn a talking head into a captivating and believable story.

Want to see more examples from Honda?
You can catch more mini-documentaries from Honda on their YouTube channel or their “Dream the Impossible” website.

---Tom

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Tuesday
Oct202009

Tom's SpeedLink #12

Time to share some pretty cool links...

1. New book: "Believe Me: Why Your Vision, Brand, and Leadership Need a Bigger Story."
Michael Margolis, my friend and remarkable business storyteller, just released his first book yesterday entitled, "Believe Me: Why Your Vision, Brand, and Leadership Need a Bigger Story." It's a "storytelling manifesto for change-makers and innovators." Yes, I ordered my copy and can't wait to dive in to it!

2. Honda Launches New Docu-Series On Twitter
Honda's corporate mini-documentaries are some of my favorite programs. I'll have a full article on this new video release on Thursday.

3. Swim Lane Diagram: Dive Into Complex Decision-Making
Paul Williams, branding and marketing genius, gives another neat diagram to help us figure out when we need help ranking and filtering ideas. This diagram was inspired after his Two-by-Two Diagram was such a big hit.

4. Showdown At The Web Corral: Convincing Your Boss to Fix a Hideous Website
I love how author Dan Heath of "Made to Stick" fame answered this delicate question from a reader. I bet you can use this method for other ideas, too.

5. Crude: The Real Price of Oil
Filmmaker Joe Berlinger ( Brother's Keeper, Paradise Lost, Honda mini-documentaries) brings us an amazing new documentary.

---Tom

Wednesday
Oct072009

9 Super Simple Ways to Rock Your Company Video 

It’s the small things that can make a big difference.

Anyone can implement these ideas.

And the cool part? They’re free or next to free.

See if you can sneak a few of these tricks into your next project. It will help your video story feel more believable and interesting. And rockin'.

1. Talk first. Your best storytellers are hiding right under your nose– your employees. Figure our what your video is about. Pull up a chair and get talking. Ask lots of different questions. Employees rarely get this kind of chance to be heard and recognized. You’ll be amazed at what you hear and capture.

2. Script second. Now that you’ve talked to your storytellers, you can put a script together. The secret behind to pulling this off successfully is simple– get your interviews transcribed to paper. Cut and paste your favorite quotes into a compelling story.

3. Put a dragon in your video. Add some conflict. It doesn’t have to include cars tumbling and light sabers clashing. If you solve problems for your clients, there must be a problem somewhere, right? Some challenge that needs to be overcome? Slip in a little drama. You’ll come across being more believable.

4. Capture more than you think you need. Instead of just asking a few questions during your on-camera interviews, ask several more. Go off track. Listen carefully. You’ll capture ideas for short videos or audio podcasts to be posted at a later time.

5. Keep it simple. Use stock photos from your company’s archives. If you don’t have time or resources to film additional footage outside of the interviews, compliment your interviews with still photography. You can create some interesting attention-getting results by incorporating stills into your video.

6. Keep it short. In general, 2-3 minutes seems to be the ideal time for online videos. Some studies indicate viewers drop off significantly after a minute. Of course, every project is different. If you think you need more time for your video, consider breaking up the one video into several shorter videos.

7. Show your passion. Video is the perfect medium to transmit emotions. We can see it. We can hear it. We can share it. We can even feel it. If you’re not passionate about your story, your viewers will know it in seconds.

8. Talk to the audience. Remember– your video is not about you: it’s about your audience. Every question and answer should be framed with your particular viewer in mind.

9. Add simple graphics. White text on black. Or black text on a white screen. Use title cards to break up the pace of your story. These title graphics can help create rhythm. Use title cards to ask questions, create themes, and reinforce ideas.

Of course, this list is far from complete.

Got a tip? Rocked your videos with interesting ideas? Drop a note and share it here.

---Tom

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Wednesday
Sep232009

7 Fascinating Filmmakers to Follow on Twitter 

Think today’s filmmakers are stuck behind the camera? Or the edit room?

Think again.

Many filmmakers are harnessing the power of the web to tell another side of the story– their story.

Readers enjoyed my earlier post, “7 Interesting Storytellers to Follow on Twitter,” so let’s continue this series with some interesting filmmakers.

Keeping in the spirit of Twitter, the following “tweets” are 140 characters or less.

7 Fascinating Filmmakers to Follow on Twitter

1. Errol Morris @errolmorris
The Oscar-winning director of ‘Fog of War” often tweets zen-like koans. Witty and always thought-provoking.

2. Michael Moore @MMFlint
Yes- the Academy-Award winning filmmaker is on Twitter. Currently promoting his new documentary, “Capitalism: A Love Story.”

3. David Lynch @David_Lynch
Mixes “transcendental” tweets with updates about his new storytelling project, @InterviewProj. Pioneering personal stories for the web.

4. Bluedot Productions @bluedot_
Game changers. Really. These “quantum activist” filmmakers are creating “quantum leaps” in documentary films.

5. PBS Point of View @povdocs
Beyond promoting POV documentaries, watch for tweets on interviews and educational resources.

6. Frank Kelly @frankwkelly
The filmmaker behind the “140 Project.” 140 filmmakers from 140 countries captured 140 seconds of unedited footage. Truly fascinating.

7. Peter Marshall @bcfilmmaker
Veteran filmmaker/workshop teacher/social media proponent. Tweets often & covers the intersection of traditional filmmaking with new media.

BONUS #1: The Documentary Blog @DocumentaryBlog
A great place to keep up with the latest documentary news. Thoughtful, in-depth reviews.

BONUS #2: National Film Board of Canada @thenfb
Awesome resource for all things documentary. Tweets a wide variety of topics. Highly interactive and engaging.

Want to discover more filmmakers and conversations?
Follow the #documentary trend on Twitter.

---Tom

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