Reach your audience – don't talk about Web 2.0 or social media

12/5/2008 | Christian Kreutz

Is it enough to present to an audience the many opportunities of the web and the "amazing" variety of web tools existing nowadays? From my previous presentation experiences throughout this year, I can say I doubt it. Surely you can catch the attention or curiosity of some of your audience, but they do not necessarily find it relevant to their work and context. Therefore, I have come to at least try to bring my presentations  to another level, in order to address the whole audience, from the sceptics to the absolute beginners. It is an often neglected fact that the majority of employees in organizations have not yet used the social web particularly for their work.

Tools to present take too long A presentation leaves you definitely not enough time to explain a tool sufficiently enough. Alone, a social bookmarking tool,  can take up to an hour to train and discuss its different angles. I have had fascinating discussions just about tagging that could have continued for hours.

So is the case of the example of the invention of the desktop and folder system – the PC desktop was developed in the seventies portraying a normal desk with papers and folders on it. The problem about it is that in the digital space, as tagging proves,  relevance and links are in a three dimensional space and go potentially in every direction. So we still use our computer in a very primitive way one could say. I blogged about the connection to hierarchy here.

Constraints you encounter In most cases there is little time to show the audience the potential for the social web for knowledge sharing – 20 minutes if you are lucky. Not only time is a challenge, but also the difference resistance you might face – listeners are overwhelmed by information, the amount of tools, or simply bored of listing to words such as "social media", web 2.0, Blog, Podcast, Twitter and so on. Instead, it is important to address the audience demand or talk about their biggest problems and catch them by the strength of examples. Sometimes I like to ask if somebody wants to play the devil advocate, which often triggers interesting discussions and shows how little we focus on how we work and so much on what we work.

How to approach your audience? From the knowledge management perspective not much has changed and the deficits are the same: Finding the right information and the person behind it when needed; how to tackle the information overload; create spaces of creative exchange. During a presentation I try focusing on these basic questions and showing the audience examples and approaches to use different tools to tackle some challenges. My key lesson learnt throughout the year is to focus on scenarios and leave out tools and all the fancy new words. In addition, I like to leave it up to the audience how and what they actually like to pick up. In most cases, I assume, anyway, the wrong tool as the one to get the most attention. The context and the different ways of personal work styles vary just too much.

Examples of approaches kmhelp.png

I gave a presentation at the European Commission last Monday and did not know exactly what kind of an audience to expect. So I started with the usual challenges of  a knowledge worker such as information overload, difficult to find first hand experiences, exhausting complex team collaborations and problems about how often we reinvent the wheel. In the next slide I presented different approaches of companies and organizations tackling these problems with social web applications.

bestcaseskm.pngI talked about how Hewlett Packard wants to untap the experiences "lost" in email boxes and encourage employees to post their answers in forums. By the way Luis Suarez has a great experience going on working with as little email as possible.  Explaining email as a challenge for knowledge management triggers quite interesting dicussions. Then I explained the example of Sun Microsystem and the one I did internally myself with GTZ. I ended with an older study around the use of Wikis in Dresdner Bank, where they have reduced emails considerably (unfortunately the study is not anymore available on the social-text website). Having alone documents at a central place open to everyone is quite convincing. For the rest of the presentation I went on quite different topics such as networks for development cooperations, which triggered different attention. When I was talking about wiki, I simply recited the example of Wikipedia, which in most cases works perfectly.

kmcircle.png For another presentation I tried encountering it from the well known knowledge management circle.  It goes as follows (1) start and orientation, (2) research, (3) strengthen competencies, (4) apply learning, (5) store knowledge, (6) exchange knowledge and (7) evaluate knowledge. The circle can vary in many ways, but it helps to present the concept of knowledge management relatively easy and then attach to each point some potential scenarios, where you can use social software. (1) RSS/Feeds - subscribe the web, (2) social bookmarking, (3) blogging, (4) outside the web, (5) tagging, (6) social networks and (7) easy engagement through rating and commenting. This circle can be applied of course to all kinds of purposes but can be focused on the personal knowledge management of each person. I was inspired by a presentation by Dirk Röhrborn (German).