Cover versions are never better than the originals

18 July 2008

I just experienced first-hand one of the things Phil talked about in his TechCrunch pitch (by the way, the event write-up is now online!), when I tried to book a hotel earlier today.

I know, I know. Phil has said it already, but I want to do my own “cover version” because it just happened to me and besides, I am sure I have a better singing voice than he does.

I was browsing AsiaRooms, with TripAdvisor open in another tab for reference, but just got tied in knots trying to get to grips with making my decision based on the reviews. In Asia Rooms, I had back-to-back reviews that were as different as “The room itself was horrible…” and “Good hotel, with huge rooms…”.

And TripAdvisor didn’t help at all either, with their 6th best hotel in Manila displaying the review “Biggest Hotel Disappointment I’ve ever experienced!”.

Eventually I managed to find a hotel that seemed to have a fairly consistent set of reviews. Hooray!!

Of course, when I tried to book it, the rooms were all gone…

I’ll finish with an extremely tenuously-related list of interesting cover versions that you can see on YouTube:
London Bridge – such a great version
Hey Ya – the original is great, but this is as good in an oh-so-different way
Living on a Prayer – not such a great original, but mad skills in this cover
Umbrella – surprised at how good Mandy Moore sounds
Boulevard of Broken Dreams – I just wish a bit more of a Japanese accent came through
The Godfather Theme – not sure what Brando would make of this
Feeling Good – but are they?

PS So maybe I don’t have a better singing voice than Hofmeyr, but that’s okay. He needs a good voice to go with his rock-star looks

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Keepin’ it real

6 June 2008

Last night was the grand finale of the excellent gateway2investment (g2i) programme I have been attending over the past few weeks.

Snagsta was invited to pitch to a group of 50 or so investors at a very swanky venue on the banks of the river Thames called the Deck. (Thanks to Kirsten for the link to such an excellent Funky Venues site).

I used to love presenting to live audiences but developed a weird phobia a couple of years back which really dented my confidence. Coming to terms with that was tough for me; it wasn’t something I ever had to deal with before. After some soul searching I did eventually get myself back on track by experimenting with different presentation styles.

I tried writing everything out in long hand and reading it but that proved too stiff and uncomfortable. Based on the advice of a friend (that reprobate Marcus Spurrell) I then tried memorising it instead. This kind of worked but it still felt a bit too scripted.

I needed to find a style that suited me but I just wasn’t getting it. Phil showed me an amazing clip of Steve Ballmer of Microsoft fame going mental on stage. Bizarrely that really helped.

It seems to me that presenting isn’t really about what you say. It has far more to do with delivering your message in a natural style that fits your personality. Running around the stage screaming al la Steve Ballmer wouldn’t have worked for me but it strangely suited him!

Yesterday I went back to using cards with a few trigger words to help me keep things structured but natural. Although far from word perfect, I was really happy with how it went. If you’d like to check it out you can see the presentation here:

The lesson for me was: be yourself. People are much more likely to connect with someone who is genuine; and it’s also a lot easier than trying to be something you’re not!

Lastly, as always, I will finish with a list. This one comes from the Snagsta site and is entitled “9 Ways to Stand Out As A Conference or Tradeshow Speaker” from marketing guru Rohit Bhargava:

1. Have a simple theme

Speaking is not that much different from messaging a product or brand. You need to go in having a theme for what you will be talking about and a central message you want to leave people with. Focusing on what this message should be to best help you get value out of your appearance (without overtly pitching or being too “salesy”) is a necessity.

2. Fly solo

You can be part of a panel, moderate a panel, or have your own session. If you can pull it off, I highly recommend trying to get your own session. If you can create something memorable and engaging, the value of that appearance can go straight to you without being shared. In perception also, speakers who have their own sessions tend to be looked at by other attendees as the biggest experts.

3. Ditch the bullets, go visual

Before my presentation at SNC, I reread Garr Reynolds great book on presentations called Presentation Zen. I highly recommend picking it up as it has many wonderful lessons on how to create a stronger presentation. Chief among them is to use strong visuals and as little text as possible. And definitely ditch the bullet points.

4. Make your point quickly

Whether you have your own session or are part of a panel, this point is important to remember. Much of the “conversation” on these panels consists of repetition. The less you fall into this trap, the more people will respect and listen to you when you do speak.

5. Ask and take questions

Taking questions while you talk is a great way to involve the audience, and even better is to ask questions to help tailor your presentation. When I started my presentation about talkability at SNC, I asked who already had a social network and who was considering starting one to get a sense of the room. It helped me to tailor my examples and discussion to what would be more useful for the audience.

6. Talk last

Timing is another important element in standing out as a speaker, particularly when you are in a session with others. Speaking last about a point gives you the chance to offer a unique and considered point of view, and also gives you the benefit of hearing other’s points of view first. This is not about having the last word, but about having a chance to distill other’s voices and your own into a short point of view people will remember.

7. Offer to connect

Adding a URL to the end of your presentation or mentioning one in a presentation is one way of offering to connect, but it is self serving. Instead of doing that, I mentioned during my presentation that I love to try out new social networks and would be willing to try any new ones from people in the audience if they sent me an invite. That alone resulted in more than a few follow up emails from people, invites to Linked In, followers on Twitter and several Facebook friend requests.

8. Stick around

The biggest mistake many speakers make is to run out of an event right after they present. We are all busy, and it’s tough to afford to take an entire day out to speak and attend an event. If you need to skip the event, my advice is to skip the part before you speak. Sticking around after you speak is invaluable to give people a chance to connect with you. And if you don’t do it, what’s the point of being at the event anyway?

9. Stay real

The last point on my list of tips for standing out as a speaker has to do with ego. I’ve got one just like most bloggers and speakers out there. The challenge is not to let it get in the way of dealing authentically with people. Everyone has something to offer and whether they are trying to sell you something or are in a position to help you, staying real will pay off in the long term. By the way, related to point #8, nothing helps you stay more real than actually staying to watch another session beside the one you spoke at.

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