7 tips on why TED became a global phenomenon.

18 May

That’s Me @ the TEDxSummit, Doha

A few weeks ago, the annual Mashable Connect conference took place in Orlando. The most committed communications gurus attended and presented to the audience.

One of the talks that has captured the attention of the social media outlets has been the presentation given by June Cohen, TED’s Executive Producer of TED Media (@junecohen). June talked about how TED’s brand has evolved, particularly in the last couple of years, and which were the key elements that allowed for this brand to become a global phenomenon embraced by many individuals committed to the sharing of ideas worth spreading.

Having attended the TEDxSummit in Doha last month, I can tell you that TED is a magnet for like-minded people. Individuals who are innovative, energetic, love learning and are committed, are the kind of people that gravitate towards TED and its brand. So how did they do it? How was TED able to attract such a talented crowd? Here are few of the tips June accredits for this success:

  1. Feed the Hunger of Participation.

People want to participate in inspiring/life-changing sensations. TED was able to become a global marvel for 2 reasons: (a) it was able to recruit the best inspirational minds; and (b) it empowered them to participate in the process by allowing volunteers to translate talks, recreate events in their hometowns, and engage in communities of practice (for lack of a better word) that are constantly providing feedback to each other.

2. Encourage Sharing

This one is my favorite since knowledge sharing is one of my favorite areas of expertise. Currently, TED has about 1200 talks that have been viewed, on average, 800 million times!! June explained that social media has, without a doubt, played a crucial role in the sharing of ideas. She also explained how they were flexible with their knowledge sharing strategy, always embracing new trends in an effort to reduce the hurdles between the ideas and their community.

3. Listen to your users

In my opinion, TED has been incredibly successful because they listen to us. At the TEDxSummit, one of things that was constantly stressed was that they have brought us together so we can learn from each other, but also because they (the TED core team) wanted to learn from us. This is a key element to outstanding leadership! One of my favorite quotes from June was that she said that “No one has monopoly over good ideas” and that is why they are compelled to listen to their audience to whom she accredited most of their best innovative ideas.

4. Reach people everywhere

TED saw their ability to reach people everywhere and not just online. They expanded their platform to allow individuals to recreate a TED event in their own community. These are the world famous TEDx events (organizers, we call ourselves “Tedxers”). TED really empowered individuals to come together and organize these events. At the same time, this allowed TED to continue spreading their message to broader audiences. It was a win-win situation!

5. Telling a story

The way in which TED has reinvented the conference has been outstanding. The best trick of it is “storytelling”. The most inspiring talks are the ones telling a story to which people can relate and engage in the process. During the TEDxSummit, I took an action lab with Chris Anderson, TED’s curator, in which he talked about the “A, B, Cs of a terrible TED Talk”. One of these points was “not telling a story”. He stressed the importance of presenting what you can share with the world in your own way. Telling a story and making it authentic. And this has been TED’s greatest success: allowing individuals to tell their personal stories while inspiring and moving others.

6. Engage Emotionally

This, I think we all can very well relate. When we engage with something we believe in, we fall in love with those projects (and in this case, the TED core team is genuinely in love with their jobs. I can attest to that!)the results are overwhelmingly positive. TED is a good example of that.

7. Focus

Another point that was constantly stressed during the TEDxSummit and that June pointed out in her presentation is to never lose focus. We should concentrate and envision what we want the outcomes to be.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why TED has become a global phenomenon. Do you have other ideas on how TED became a successful venture? Do share!


Social Media Lessons from Yogi Berra. Really!

7 May
Pic from modelsown.blogpost

Pic from modelsown.blogpost

I am not a big fan of baseball, however, I am a huge fan of Yogi Berra – and so is my dad.  Today I came across an article by Heidi Cohen, president of Riverside Marketing Strategies, where she makes a whimsical correlation between Yogi Berra’s famous quotes and social media.

I remember my dad used to have (and probably still has) a book solely devoted to quotes from this Yankee’s baseball player.  I am happy to see someone was clever enough to relate these funny quotes to social media use.

Here are Heidi’s 13 correlations:

1. “You can observe a lot by just watching.” Before jumping into social media, spend time listening to the conversation. Understand where participants’ focus is and what their concerns are. Bear in mind that social media isn’t another one-way broadcast channel where you can blast your promotions.

2. “It was impossible to get a conversation going; everybody was talking too much.” Since there is a lot of multiple conversations going on simultaneously, it’s important to determine which mentions and conversations require a response.

3. “If the fans don’t come out to the ballpark, you can’t stop them.” On social media, you can’t force people to engage with you. Remember they’re on social media to socialize.

4. “If you ask me anything I don’t know, I’m not going to answer.” Berra had it right. Transparency is crucial on social media platforms to build relationships based on respect.

5. “Anyone who is popular is bound to be disliked.” Popularity has always bred jealousy. Remember that many of these social media elite (in terms of the number of followers and friends) have built their popularity outside social media as rock stars and actors.

6. “Half the lies they tell about me aren’t true.” Refrain from the desire to spread. You need to be careful and not fuel the gossip mongering.

7. “Never answer anonymous letters.” Instead of letters, social media is filled with anonymous comments, many of them negative. Occasionally, a respondent keeps ranting without reason. If this happens, stop engaging.

8. “It ain’t the heat, it’s the humility.” Berra’s fracturing of the word humidity provides insights for businesses on social media. You must always respect others on these platforms. Don’t assume that you know your audience’s perspective. They may have a very different frame of reference, language, and/or belief system. Remember, social media has a social responsibility.

9. “The other teams could make trouble for us if they win.” Because social media is today’s 24×7 news channel, businesses must be ready to respond with real-time PR to issues related to their business, brand, executives, or competitors.

10. “Even Napoleon had his Watergate.” On social media, there’s always the potential for a flare-up that will have an impact on your business. What’s important is being prepared with a PR crisis plan.

11. “We made too many wrong mistakes.” Mistakes can’t be hidden for long. It’s important to come clean quickly and take the air out of the issue on social media. Admit any mistakes.

12. “It ain’t over till it’s over.” Berra understood that you had to play the entire game to know the final outcome. Similarly, you need to be present on social media for the long term. You can’t just run it once and stop.

13. “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” Build your own social media presence, such as a blog. History has shown that once-hot social media platforms can become less relevant and fade from the center of consumers’ focus, as MySpace did.

In addition to providing a good laugh, Yogi Berra’s quotes hold true for social media. You need to get to know the participants on various social media platforms without interrupting their personal conversations. With all the interaction happening concurrently on social media, understand that difficult issues are bound to pop up. Therefore, be prepared with a PR crisis plan.

Tell me your favorite Yogi Berra quote!

10 tips to Communicate International Development

4 May
Picture from GlassFrogForum.blogpost

Picture from GlassFrogForum.blogpost

Today there was a great article published on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation website written by Gerry PowerGerry is the Managing Director and Head of Innovation at InterMedia, based in London.

I will briefly list these tips, but I highly encourage you to visit the full document.

1.        Use language that is understandable to the general audience. Nothing irritates me most than reading reports full of terminology I don’t understand.

 2.       Instill a deep understanding and appreciation for the objectives of international development when people are young and where values are nurtured –Present international development as part of mutually beneficial initiatives in an increasingly interdependent and globalized world.

 3.       Approach engagement with international development as a multi-dimensional experience.  Their motivations to participate and/or volunteer will depend on their understanding of international development.

 4.       Respond more prominently and creatively to citizens’ desire to see the impact of the work that is being done.

 5.       Do not underestimate the challenge of leveraging public opinion as a means to influence policy, since only a minority of policy-makers consistently take public opinion into account when forming policies.

 6.       Facilitate more effective information and data gathering and sharing strategies for government decision makers.

 7.       Strengthen the communications about the resources and position of developing countries as centers of excellence in international development.

 8.        Optimize the unique value of the various contributors to the international development information environment. Close examination of the networks in the digital information environment will uncover valuable insights to achieve this optimization.

 9.       Establish protocols regarding the information management and communications of international development so that there is greater consensus on what success looks like at the policy, influential and citizen level.

 10.   Consider a formal seat at the table for the private sector. There needs to be an understanding of the modalities of social bonds, impact investing and new forms of philanthropy.

 Do you have another tip to add to the list?  Please feel free to share.

Fellow Ink-Sniffers: Let’s Preserve the Culture of Books!

4 May
Picture from Kidd's presentation on TED

Picture from Kidd’s presentation on TED

I have to start off by saying that I love my iPad.  The iPad has completely revolutionized my work and personal life.  However, one thing I refuse to do on my iPad is to buy a book.  Why, you ask?  Because it is just not the same to touch, smell and flip over pages…. Call me old-fashioned, but a book is a book and nothing, not even the smartest technology, can replace that.

And I am all for i-pads and kindles.  I think they are excellent educational tools.  I encourage my staff to use them….I even got them for them!  But, when it comes to reading a book, I want the actual object.

“Much is to be gained by eBooks: ease, convenience, portability. But something is definitely lost: tradition, a sensual experience, the comfort of thingy-ness — a little bit of humanity.”

This quote is from Chip Kidd.  Kidd is best known for the book covers he does as associate art director at Alfred Knopf. Kidd has designed shelves full of thousands of books, including classics like: Jurassic Park, Naked by David Sedaris, All the Pretty Horses …

Below is a link to a beautiful video by Chip Kidd that shows the beauty of branding a book.  Working on Communications, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is your branding.  Kidd stressed 3 main points:

  1.  Branding is important because it gives a visual of your first impression.
  2. Branding gives a face to your product, in this case, books.
  3. Branding (of books)  comes with a three-fold responsibility: to your reader, to your publisher and to the author.

One thing is for sure:  I will never look at a book cover the same way…..

Check out his video on TED.com:  http://bit.ly/Kl6THc

Disseminating Knowledge Products

3 May
Image from webseotraffic.com

Image from webseotraffic.com

A couple of months ago, I was asked to do a presentation at the Inter-American Development Bank on Disseminating Knowledge Products in an International Organization.

When they told me the topic, I froze for a couple of minutes.  How can I address something so broad, something that probably needs a whole book to explain in detail, in only 10 minutes?  So I divided the presentation in 3 short sections.  First, a definition on dissemination was definitely a “must”.  Second, explain the types of knowledge an international institution has.  Third, address the challenges and recommendations.  In addition, because of the broadness of the topic, I decided to only focus on the area of climate change, mainly for 2 reasons:  one, it is an area that I am very familiar with, and second of all, it is an area which the Bank considers a priority on their list.

I will walk you through this presentation.

At the simplest level, “dissemination” is the delivering and receiving of a message; the engagement of an individual in a process or the transfer of that process/product.  According to the Asian Development Bank (ADB) dissemination can be thought of in 3 broad ways:

  • Dissemination for awareness
  • Dissemination for understanding
  • Dissemination for action

An effective dissemination is the one that has all these three incorporated.

So what can an international organization do to improve the dissemination of its knowledge products?

To try to explain this, I focused on the 3 types of knowledge that  international organizations produce:

  • Operational knowledge
  • Thematic, technical knowledge
  • Country-focus knowledge

 I.                    OPERATIONAL KNOWLEDGE

HOW:                    Improve the Knowledge and Information Sharing system

Here I focused on the internal audience – the Bank – and the external audience – the stakeholders.

Internally I suggested having a designated space where all the information relevant to the climate change program (contracts, concept notes, guides, FAQs) is stored.  If there are multiple repositories of information these should be integrated to avoid duplicates, save time and be more efficient.

But more specifically, I recommended having specific guidelines/standards as to how these are going to be shared.  Setting up clear incentives for the proper gathering, organization and dissemination of information is key to effective knowledge sharing. 

For external stakeholders, such as governments, NGOs, decision makers,   I recommended organizing the information for them and have them identify themselves (as either NGO, government, etc) on the landing page of the internet.  So when they click the ‘search’ buttons all the information relevant to them would appear.


  1. Information gathered should be properly tagged and catalogued so that when clients search for that information they get it in all available formats (publications, videos, Pdfs, HTMLs, list serves, etc).
  2. Organization of data.  Make sure that M&E processes stored in the system and used as part of knowledge sharing and that data is authenticated to assure accuracy.
  3. Sharing/Dissemination.  Make sure this information is available in different platforms like: intranet, internet, workshops, breifings etc.

 II.                  THEMATIC KNOWLEDGE

I took a look at the inventory of knowledge products that the Bank has in the area of climate change.  I found an overwhelming amount of information and products including: publications, data sets, research papers, impact evaluations, videos, social media hits, news, e-mail alerts, events.

One suggestion was to create a climate change portal.  This portal would promote the use of climate change information for project development within the Bank and outside the Bank.  It would be their online library of information on climate change issues.  This online tool will provide:

  • Access to data and tools and functions that can turn that data into information and hopefully transform that information into action.
  • Help visitors explore, evaluate, and learn about climate change issues, risks at multiple levels of detail.
  • Organize information (models, statistics, and projections) with an API system that will allow for different search engines to talk to each other and map that particular information.
  • Feature visualization of data.  Climate change is a gold mine for visualization of data.  Think about maps.  Maps that tell you the different temperatures around the globe.  Maps that give you projections of the 2020s, 2030s, etc… Interactive maps.  Think Hans Rosling type of creative data!
  • Provide a space for dialogue between stakeholders.  Let them ask questions, have debates…Provide a forum for exchange of ideas.  Perhaps even use “crowdsourcing” so that people can openly contribute to ideas/issues.
  • What is the oldest form of knowledge sharing? “Story-telling”.  Why don’t you give specialists flip cams so they can record stories from the field?  Post those videos on your portal.  You’ll be amazed how people are inspired by these real-life stories.
  •  Training and Outreach program

Another idea that came to my mind while developing this presentation was to develop a “training and outreach program” for bank staff, clients and stakeholders to encourage the appropriate use of this climate change data.  This can be something as easy as a webinar, or a face-to-face workshop.  Speaking of training…I am sure many of us have been held hostage at some point in a conference with boring speakers.  Invest in training your specialist in producing exciting and engaging presentations – perhaps you can convince them to adopt a TED talk style where they can present information and simultaneously inspire their audiences.

  • Improve relationship with colleagues

I threw another idea out there: to develop a close relationship with all of colleagues.  Hold regular meetings with them.  Train them in the use of proper techniques.  Encourage knowledge sharing and sharing of best practices.  Entice them to do social reporting from the field, from events. 

III.                 COUNTRY LEVEL

Finally we have dissemination of knowledge products at the country level.  To accomplish their mission, international organizations must refresh their stocks of knowledge by being part of relevant flows of new knowledge.  How can they do that?

Internally:           Work closely with country offices. 

Establish a mechanism to mutually alert climate change news, events. 

Train them on best practices of disseminating knowledge and sharing of best practices.  

Create learning and development opportunities.  Create online discussions.

External:              Strengthen the external knowledge of partnerships.  Create social platforms to encourage dialogues.

                                Explore opportunities to generate and share knowledge with decisionmakers in the region, before, during, and after interventions. (Ex:  events, dialogues (online and face-to-face)

                                Integrate knowledge components in external partnerships.

                                Conduct training of local governments, clients, and institutions related to climate change.  Promote your portal.


1.  Changing global context requires new approaches in learning.

RECOMMENDATION: Have flexible knowledge sharing and learning strategies that can adapt to these changes.

2.  Staff and clients many times are reluctant to change and adapt to new technologies.

RECOMMENDATION: Promote a culture of knowledge sharing and learning

  • Try to get a commitment from leadership.  Conduct training on the importance of KM
  • Provide incentives.  (EXAMPLE:  World Bank conducted a competition on creating climate change applications for tablets and mobiles.  This is a great incentive for specialists to share their findings and ideas with the world).
  • Train staff HQ and country offices on Knowledge sharing and learning tools and processes.  Organize thematic networks so that information is more easily shared.
  • Implement “quick-wins”.  These are rotational programs so that staff can learn what other colleagues are doing.
  • Embed KM instruments in programs, monitoring and staff performance.  Review job descriptions to include components of KM.

 3.  Many times, international organizations encounter a disconnect with units/departments.

RECOMMENDATION: Bring them together.  Organize  retreats. Do creative training!  Training that is innovative.  Use techniques like: open space, world café, share-fairs.  People are more willing to contribute ideas in these formats than the regular panel discussions or classroom-style trainings.

I then closed with a quote from Kofi Annan which says: “Knowledge is power.  Information is liberating.” Because we really cannot have development without the communication of knowledge.

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