Race #1 – The Great North Run

A weekend to remember

I’m embarrassed to say that despite making it to the ripe old age of 40, Friday was my very first trip to the North East of the UK.

After picking up the children from school, 3 of the challenger families hit the road and convoyed to Durham. Some of us stopping at a rather splendid American Diner, somewhere on the A1 to begin the process of carb loading, without feeling guilty. Even then, we were surrounded by tables of runners and families – the scale of the event began to hit us.

The Saturday was spent in Newcastle, under blue skies with hundreds watching the Great North mini-run. My son Matthew making his debut at the 1.5km distance along with dozens of other children – some being chased by ‘accompanying adults’, whilst some were some way ahead, leaving their so-called ‘accompanying adult’ for dust.

Matthew, Amelia, Dominic and Jessica from our team all did a fantastic job and enjoyed their receiving their medals.

It was then onto the pasta party. The lengths us Brits will go to for a free bowl of pasta is amazing. Fortunately the 30min queue wasn’t 30 mins – and the process of carb loading for the next day continued. The sky remained blue as one of the older children, Lewis entered the 4.5km in the afternoon, shortly after the legend Mo Farrah competed in the City Games – also being held on the quayside.

Our first experience of Newcastle was a good one. Today we were standing under the Tyne Bridge spectating. Tomorrow we would be running across it on the way to our first half marathon.

The challenger team continued to join via train throughout the day and even more carb loading took place in Durham in the evening at the very accommodating Zizzis.

After debating whether beer contained carbs, we all agreed one wouldn’t hurt (like any group of elite athletes). Simon “The Machine” Hodgkinson opted for a second, to much tutting. It turned out he knew what he was doing.

Sunday started earlier than planned with an unscheduled 5.25 alarm call (sorry again Paul). One day I’ll learn how to use my iPhone. At 6.30, we got up and can I just give a massive thanks to the Premier Inn, Durham – they started breakfast early for us runners. I would imagine the Quaker Oats factory had been working overtime that night – a lot of porridge was consumed, not to mention a handful of cheeky fry ups – Mo Farrah would have been proud.

Without any form of plan b, we then took the very last possible train to Newcastle. The weather was perfect from a running perspective – not so from a crowd perspective. We were early to the start line and only then did it dawn on us all the scale of the Great North Run. 55,000 runners is a lot of runners and a lot of baggage and a lot of water bottles and a lot of toilet queues!

The magnificent team were now assembled….

  • Carol was walking – she was injured and had planned to revise for her interview on Monday by studying postcards on the way round.
  • Paul was heavily loaded with gels – carefully positioned around his activity belt.
  • Simon downed a litre of Castrol GTX shortly before putting his baggage in the bus.
  • Murray mainly worried about whether there was enough time to get changed and get his kit on the bus.
  • Harvey wore far too much lycra, mainly obscuring the cause we were running for.
  • Jonathan was lucky enough to be selected by me as my pacemaker.
  • I continued to maintain I wasn’t interested in running a good time. I was there just for the fun. I lied.

The start line was amazing – the Red Arrows, the warm up and the Mexican Wave will remain with me for a long time.

At 10:40 the gun went. At 10:59 it started raining. At 11:00 we went over the start line!

Before we did though, I was lucky enough to ‘high five’ the legend that is Mo Farrah who held the starting gun. His hands must have been seriously sore by the end.

The rain came down, the crowds came out and the first 5 miles literally flew by. We were running a good pace.

We were helped at 4 miles by the Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research team bus – much cheering and support from our families from a very wet top deck.

At around 6 miles, I had to stop for a rather special experience with Denise Lewis:

The remainder of the race got harder and hillier. Murray was a legend – he took over as ‘my pacemaker’ – and really forced the pace.

The last mile was pretty special – not only did it feel like it lasted 3 miles, the crowds grew, we were finally on the flat by the beach and we could taste the Powerade and chocolate miniroll cocktail we were about to enjoy.

Massive respect to Simon The Machine, who finished in an incredible 1’32.

Huge respect to everyone else too – everyone did great times. Particularly Carol, who obviously did run, despite being injured and Paul who by his own admission hates running and will be hanging up his trainers when this is all over. That’s what makes all of these people very special in my eyes.

We were all greeted at the charity tent by our families who had covered almost as many miles as us around the course. The children had been fantastic – on ferries, trains, buses and on foot.

Wind forward a mere 10.5 hours and we were all home safely in Bray.

We were happy. We were exhausted. We were slightly achy, but we were ready for the next half marathon in Bristol.

And the total kept climbing…

Denise Lewis to interview Mark half way round!

I was absolutely thrilled to get a call from the BBC this week and find out Denise Lewis, the gold medal winning legend is going to be interviewing me half way round the Great North Run. Somehow, at the half way point, I need to stop, say something sensible, not dribble in front of a celebrity sports star and then carry on for another 6.5 miles!!

With a bit of luck, they’ll then show it at some point during the broadcast on BBC1 on Sunday morning.

To inflate my ego even more, Denise sent me a nice little message…

Alastair Campbell backs our cause

In another scoop retweet, Alastair Campbell, Chairman of fundraising for Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research backs our challenge:

Sir Ian Botham gives his seal of approval

Always rather special when a celebrity gets in touch. When it’s a knight of the realm and a sporting legend to boot – it makes me very proud.

Here it is – fresh off the Twittersphere. Click for full screen.

How to conduct an interview like a pro

Testimonials are an essential part of your sales strategy

 

This week I’ve conducted interviews on behalf of one of my clients with three of their customers in Stuttgart, Brussels and Barcelona. Today I do an interview in Colorado and next week I will conducting around 25 different interviews on a temporary green screen studio we set up in London.

I don’t watch TV in the traditional way any more, I spend all my time looking at how TV is made. Camera angles, questioning techniques, interview style and set layout are all I see now. I have to rewatch things to hear the content!

It’s fair to say I’m obsessed with how to get good at having conversations, which are being recorded.

I thought it was time to share what I’ve learnt about getting the best interview possible. Do note, this is not about interviewing candidates for a job, but how to create testimonials and case studies for your business and your customers’. There is no better method of delivering social proof on your website or collateral than real live customers extolling your virtues. This is how to do get it right.

The approach

It’s been said that the best time to ask for referrals and testimonials is as soon as someone signs up to your product or service. Grab ’em while they’re hot. I sort of agree with that concept, however I’d taper it a little. We’ve had situations where a customer has signed up and as part of the deal, we’ve asked for a testimonial interview in say a month’s time. This commits the customer, yet at the same time lets them get used to the service, experience what you can do for them and in short, give them more to talk about! There’s no point in asking for an interview, when the really juicy stuff might take them a couple of months to uncover. Be sensitive to this.

When you do approach a customer, it’s nice to ask on the back of something else, so it doesn’t sound so threatening. Maybe they’ve asked a question, submitted a support request or even are reporting a problem of some kind… solve their problem and ask them whether you could talk to them later in the month – you’d love to find out how they’re feeling about the service and whether they’d consider allowing you to record the interview.

Give them some options for times (being sensitive to time zones) or ask them for when suits. Confirm it in writing and be crystal clear on how long it will last, and most importantly, what your intention is to do with it once published. State that up front, so that there are no surprises later.

The method

Offer your customer a video interview first (that’s definitely the way to go)… if they’re not happy with that, then audio is second best. If they are close by, go and see them. Grab your PC or Mac, plug in a microphone and off you go. If they are further afield, then Skype is an amazing alternative. Skype recording has become part of my life.

For Skype video, if you’re on a PC, by far and away (and I’ve tested them all), Vodburner is the way to go. It’s a video recorder for Skype, requires a reasonable amount of processing power (well it is recording live video) and includes an editor within it, which automatically cuts between you and your subject and works a treat. Make sure you use a powerful, cleanish PC for best results.

If you’re using audio only, then www.voipcallrecording.com offers a completely free, and most excellent Skype recorder. You can learn a lot from the huge volume of podcast interviews around. One of my favourites is here. Listen to the natural conversation between Timbo and James – that’s one of the reason it works so well. Timbo is also a good ‘framer’ – he puts things into context a lot and is a natural guide, summariser and host.

Planning

Have you seen Frost Nixon, the movie? You should watch it if you’re going to do this regularly. The meticulous detail they put in around the questions was quite extraordinary.

Think about how you’re going to introduce your interviewee – what’s the context, their job title, company name etc…? Script it out if you have to, and it’s great to memorise your first 10-15 seconds, so you can get the first few words out confidently. Accept you’re going to be nervous – if you don’t do this often, (and even if you do) if you’re excited about who you’re about to talk to, you will have some nerves. These nerves will be magnified if you don’t prepare well. I was nervous for this interview, because my subject was a long time hero of mine (and still is!).

Have your questions ready. Write them down in front of you. Think about all of the different permutations of things you could ask. Phrase open questions – how, why, who, when, where. Know your subject, research them, surprise them with what you know – it’s OK, it’s not stalking – it shows you care. It will also help to engage with them if you show you’ve done your homework. Don’t be afraid to write down questions which are more personal to them – expose their personality – that’s interesting to listen to.

On the day

If you planned well, the interview generally will go well.

Greet your interviewee, whether online or face to face. Brief them. Tell them exactly what to expect and what will happen – guide them through the process. They will be nervous unless they do this all the time. They are even more nervous with three cameras, mics, a cameraman, a green screen, an autocue and a set of lights. Your job is to put them at ease. I like to say we’re just here for a chat, and avoid the ‘interview’ word… that helps.

Record nothing to start with. Rehearse the interview through. Run through the questions with them and get them to give you a couple of fullish answers. Help them get over any nerves by rehearsing.

Here’s the next really important bit… ASK THEM if they’d like to add any questions to the ones you’ve rehearsed. Typically, they’d like to say something you might not have thought of – give them the option of adding something – it could be a real gem you’ve not thought of!

It’s then time to hit the record button, whether on camera or on microphone.

Get your opening words out correctly and aim to do this right first time. 2nd takes are invariably worse than first takes in my experience. Everything’s ‘fresher’ first time round. If there is a stumble on a question or answer, pause and redo that part, but keep things rolling… you can edit it out later. Get the good stuff down on ‘tape’ first. Act as the host. Guide and prompt your interviewee. Don’t be afraid to ask additional/different questions to the ones written down. Your planning will allow you to do this.

LISTEN to their answers! React to them – don’t just ask the next question blindly – turn it into a conversation. That’s what your audience will enjoy.

When the conversation comes to a natural end, keep things rolling and ask your subject how they felt it went, whether they’d like to redo any of their answers, and whether you missed anything – and then keep going until you’re BOTH happy it’s worked. Make sure it has a rounding off statement (pre-prepared). It could be a call to action… “Take a look further down the page at more examples…” “sign up using the button just below…” etc etc. Think about that in advance!

Rounding off

Thank your subject – sorry to state the obvious – but it’s sometimes forgotten. Explain how long it will take you to complete the edit and explain they’ll be able to see / hear it before anyone else, to check they’re happy with it… OR ask whether they would like to. Most people don’t – if they’re happy with their performance, they won’t need to.

Publish, promote, rinse and repeat…

Love to hear about your experiences below.

The Reading Half Marathon – a good training ground

Sunday was wonderful. 5 of the team got stuck into 13.1 miles around Reading and its environs. The amazing thing was that all five of us did personal best times.

Carol and Mark M, two of our team are also running London in 3 weeks’ time, and so had something to prove. They both did magnificently.

I think the photo of Carol’s daughter says it all really.

For those of you watching carefully, Carol’s exploits are featured in yesterday’s London Standard!

You can check out the article here.

10 things I learnt by watching a top comedian at work

Up close and personal with Dara O’Briain

Recently, I was fortunate enough to see a work in progress and I learnt a lot. Myself, my wife and 58 others crammed into the most gorgeous, tiny theatre on Monday evening to watch a work in progress – it was a warm up gig for one of the UK and Ireland’s top comedians. Being up so close and personal, I learnt a lot. Dara O’Briain, is host of the BBC’s Mock the Week and Stargazing Live, amongst many other things and is about to embark on another sell-out UK tour from January.

Here’s what I learnt:

  1. Even if you’re on top of your game, you’re never too good to test your customer / audience reaction.
  2. Even when you’ve established yourself with a new market, unless you have something interesting to say, you will not engage your audience. Jerry Seinfeld once said he has three minutes where he can rely on his brand and the audience will listen to whatever he has to say. After that, he has to be as funny/engaging as any other comedian. Dara was in the same boat.
  3. You’re only as good as your last gig /communication.
  4. Honesty and transparency will win through every time – Dara explained from the outset that some things may not work. (Most things did).
  5. Practice, practice, practice whatever you do. The 10,000 hours rule applies to so many walks of life. I bet Dara’s done his 10,000 hours – and it shows.
  6. It’s OK to be nervous – it shows you care and are passionate about what you do. It was noticeable he was more nervous at the less tried and tested parts.
  7. I stood up in front of two audiences last week and presented what I do. I stood up and talked for 30 minutes. 20 minutes is the accepted length of time to hold an audience’s attention. Dara stood there for an hour and a half with 60 people hanging on his every word. That’s really tough. Next time you do a business presentation, I don’t recommend you try it.
  8. Stories he told about himself and every day life resonated most. Stories win every time. Audiences love stories. Especially ones that show challenge in the face of adversity and ones that people can relate to.
  9. Audiences / clients generally want you to succeed when you stand up in front of them – start with that mindset and you won’t go far wrong.
  10. Whilst this clearly wasn’t a business event, it amazes me the number of people who don’t get that communications in business can be entertaining too. When you are trying to deliver a message, if you do it with humour and energy, you’ll get a better response every time – because it’ll be memorable.

And for you Dara if you read this – make more the of corporate mockery – it’ll resonate across the country… your Dutch accent sounded French until I prompted you… the Call of Duty stuff was great and do more with the Dad’s late night telly – it makes us squirm and that’s funny.

I now have a new found respect for stand up comedians – you’re very alone on that stage and 90 minutes of saying original, interesting, funny, entertaining stuff with nothing but a mic to hold onto is tough.

The perfect consultant’s office setup

Everything becomes so much easier when you’re organised.

I’ve always loved my office – because, well… it’s mine. I can have it set up however I want – no one can tell me what I can and cannot do and like all the best things in life, it’s evolved over time.

Part of the evolution I have to attribute to an episode from Freedom Ocean – the excellent podcast with Timbo Reid and James Schramko. Thank you guys.

So – in the video below, I talk through what I think is the perfect office set up.

Details of some of the kit I mention:
USB mic http://amzn.to/vOT7vS
Boom: http://amzn.to/uC6h7F
Webcam: http://amzn.to/owLB0W

(FREE) Software – two pcs, one keyboard and mouse: http://synergy-foss.org/

Is your marketing as bad as this?

Don’t make Ryanair’s mistake!

I’m constantly on the lookout for examples of good and bad marketing campaigns alike. I get inspiration from walking down the street, on Tube trains, online – wherever I roam really. My brain has been naturally tuned over the years to notice messages, process them, dump the bad ideas and to somehow harness the good ones.

The example below is about as bad as it gets.

In Ryanair’s rush to make money (from anything), someone somewhere thought it would make an excellent idea to make a couple of cents per click at most, by displaying links to their competitors, possibly offering better prices or at least the ability to compare their offer, in a matter of seconds.

Examples of bad marketing

Who in their right mind would allow such ridiculousness? “I know – let’s make a couple of cents, and hijack our core business by advertising our competitors next to our buy now page.” – you can just imagine the months of meetings that went into this strategy.

DON’T make their mistake – THINK through what you are doing before executing.

My top 10 highlights from 2011

2011 – what a year!

It’s always good to look back on the year and figure out whether you’ve achieved or not, above and beyond the financial goals you may have set yourself.

2011 has been an amazing year for me in many ways and so I wanted to document my highlights to look back on for prosperity. In no particular order.

  1. After a year of courting and 3 months of working together on one of the worst projects I’ve ever been part of, I sacked a Fortune 500 client in April this year and haven’t looked back. Yes I was nervous, but boy was it the right thing to do.
  2. I took a 6 week, round the world, mini-retirement in July/August with my family.
  3. My proudest moment to date, Customer Thermometer launched to the world in January and boasts some ENORMOUS clients who literally rave about it on a daily basis. I’m seriously proud of what we’re creating.
  4. I tweaked my video production company, The 8.45 Club and now have a very healthy looking 2012 ahead producing Business TV for clients. I get to play presenter and talkshow host. So I’m like a pig in muck…
  5. I’ve just finishing watching my 4 year old daughter go through her first term of school and it’s been an absolute joy watching her love every moment.
  6. I watched James Schramko tell his life story in February and met him for coffee in August. He’s been a big inspiration in how I now do things.
  7. I’ve totally reconstructed how I present myself and my business(es) thanks to Ed Dale’s recommendation of this book. I cannot begin to tell you how much it’s changed my business career.
  8. I’ve got to talk to two marketing heroes of mine this year, David Meerman Scott and John Jantsch. It just proves once again, if you don’t ask, you don’t get.
  9. I ran a half marathon in sub two hours in March and have now set up a charity challenge around the running theme for Sept 2012 – more on that soon.
  10. I celebrated my 40th birthday in style in Ibiza and finally wrote the story of how I very nearly didn’t make my 30th birthday, let alone live 10 years beyond that.

What a year. These are just a handful of my personal highlights. Bring on 2012.