A wild goose in Switzerland

The Wild Geese were Irish expatriates who served as professional soldiers with the Catholic powers of Europe, from the late 17th to the early 20th centuries. There’s a Wikipedia article on the topic that includes this amusing quote from one Diego Brochero de Anaya, writing to the Spanish King Philip III:

…that every year Your Highness should order to recruit in Ireland some Irish soldiers, who are people tough and strong, and nor the cold weather or bad food could kill them easily as they would with the Spanish, as in their island, which is much colder than this one, they are almost naked, they sleep on the floor and eat oats bread, meat and water, without drinking any wine.

(Both the diet and sleeping conditions have improved in Ireland since then and wine has become quite popular too, although the climate remains, in general, colder than Spain.)

The term the Wild Geese is also the title of a weekly series in the newspaper The Irish Times, where they feature an Irish person who is living and working overseas. The idea is to profile them, talking a bit about their route to their current role and place, as well as the work environment and opportunities in their adopted country. Last March, when a song I wrote made a bit of a splash on social media in the region and beyond, I was contacted about doing an interview, which I was more than happy to do.

It was a good experience: I enjoyed the interview and was happy with how it turned out. I’ve been teased (by Irish friends) about the headline they chose to run on the piece but I think Joanne Hunt did a nice job of capturing my career path and the broad strokes of my life here in Switzerland: ‘I would like my kids to grow up supporting the Swiss football team’.

As it happens, my first cousin Fionnuala, who has lived in Seattle for many years, was interviewed for the same slot, appearing in the newspaper just last Friday. Small country, big world!

Importing Zoom webinar registrations – a word of warning

If you’re using Zoom to run webinars, you should take care when it comes to importing registrations. The short version of this post is, don’t import registrants to a webinar where the registration form includes some mandatory custom questions – the attendees concerned will find themselves blocked from joining the webinar until they visit and complete the registration form.

I have informed Zoom support about this issue. I was told that a feature request to add a user warning about this issue has been added, but let’s see whether they actually take action.

Photo by Jose Aragones on Unsplash

What happened?

I recently organised a two-part series of webinars for a client. On the Zoom registration form for the first of the two webinars, in addition to adding their name and email address, attendees were asked to indicate whether they would like to be automatically registered for the second webinar. There were also a couple of questions about their membership of the organisation running the webinars. These are what Zoom calls “custom questions” and it was mandatory to provide an answer when registering.

The first webinar went well, with about 60% of those who registered attending it live. When it was finished, I proceeded with importing the details of all of those who had opted-in to be registered for the second webinar. Zoom allows you to import registrations using a CSV file, which can have three columns: first name, last name and email address. I successfully imported some 200 registrants, each of whom received a confirmation from Zoom as if they had registered themselves via the event link. So far, so good. As a means of monitoring the process, I had included my own personal email account in this process.

On the day of the webinar, after going live with the session as host at the appointed time, I tried clicking (on my smartphone) on the “Join this webinar” link in the reminder that was sent to my personal email address and was surprised to find that the Zoom app opened with a message saying “You must register to join this webinar”. This is when I realised what had happened: as the additional questions about membership, which were also on the registration form for the second webinar, had not been answered by those whose registrations had been imported, Zoom considered their registrations to be incomplete and required them to visit and complete the full registration form again. The message to users, however, simply made it seem as if they had not registered at all, meaning many of them simply gave up. The result was a lower attendance than the first webinar, despite having a much higher number of people registered. (Many had also registered directly for the second webinar, completing the form in the usual way.)

What Zoom should do

While I understand why this happened, and I would still recommend Zoom as an excellent platform for webinars, I believe the user experience is very poorly designed in this case. They should, somewhere along the line, have warned me, as a host, that my imported registrants would not be able to access the webinar until the custom questions had been answered. I see this as the minimum they should do to address this problem (which is not, as of today, covered anywhere in the Zoom documentation).

They could also consider allowing additional columns to be included when importing registrations, so that you can import answers to custom questions as well.

And, finally, the users who were unable to access the webinar should have a clearer message than simply “You must register…” – as far as they were concerned they had already registered: they had received a confirmation from Zoom to this effect, after all. The message shown in cases like this could be more along the lines of “The host requires some additional information before you can access the webinar – please click here.”

So, that’s my word of warning. It’s a niche problem, for sure, but I hope that by describing it here I can perhaps help others to avoid it. And perhaps Zoom will do the necessary before too long.

Photo by Jose Aragones on Unsplash

I’m after writing a blog post

As of this month, Ireland has become the most populous English-speaking country in the European Union. Its population of 5 million is about ten times that of the other anglophone country, Malta*. Of course there are EU member states that are home to more people who speak English – apparently 15 million speak the language in the Netherlands, for example – but Ireland has, in a way, now become the standard-bearer for English in the EU.

EU member states post-Brexit. (Original map by Ssolbergj)

I grew up speaking Hiberno-English, the version or dialect of English used in Ireland. I often find myself chatting with non-Irish friends and colleagues here in Switzerland about some of the peculiarities of Irish English. And, living away from Ireland for more than 15 years now, my own use of the language has changed as I have spent more time around people who may not immediately understand the way I might instinctively say or write something.

A brilliant article by a writer and editor called Stan Carey, published in the Irish Times** last month, goes into detail on many of these linguistic quirks that are part of day-to-day discourse in Ireland. If you’re interested in this topic, I strongly recommend you jump straight to that article now, as the rest of this post consists of a few examples I’ve picked from it. (It’s around 3,000 words, so you may want to save it for later.)

The after-perfect

The Irishism I mention most often when asked about this topic is, I now know, called the “after-perfect”. An Irish friend might ask you “What are you after doing?“; or you might call home to say “I’m after missing the bus!“. These are very typical sentence constructions in Ireland, but can be the source of much confusion elsewhere. As the article says:

“One study asked Irish English and British English speakers the meaning of the line I’m after getting a cup of tea. Nearly all the Irish understood it as “just got a cup”; most of the British interpreted it as a wish for tea.”

The after-perfect is an example of a construction that arose from applying the way something would be said in the Irish language to English. To again quote the article, “Since Irish lacks a verb for have, a literal translation of the perfect tense (“I have eaten”) was not possible, so we transposed Irish phrases like tar éis and i ndiaidh to form “I’m after eating”.”

He refers to Loreto Todd’s book Green English: she says that when Irish language speakers in the 17th century began to communicate more with English speakers, there emerged “a form of English that reflected Irish influence at every linguistic level” – sound, syntax, rhythm, idiom, vocabulary.

Am I or amn’t I?

Another Irishism I like is “amn’t”. It’s not a word I use today, but used it often as a child. As Stan Carey points out, it’s actually more logical than the form we’re taught to use in school, “aren’t”, as the intention is usually to say “I am not”; hence “I amn’t”!

Five million Irish people beg to differ!

He also highlights the way in Ireland we use “ye” for the second person plural: Are ye coming or what?. Again, this was just an ordinary part of speech for me growing up in Ireland, although today I use it more selectively. As the article points out, it’s not limited to that single word either:

“An array of ye and youse forms are so established in Irish English that we inflect and affix them in every imaginable way: yeers, yeez’d, youse’ll, yehs’ve, yizzer.”

As a final example, we can look at adjectives. It’s another topic I’ve discussed before with friends: the creativity that goes into choosing and using adjectives. Of course this happens in most other dialects too, but I feel like the Irish have made a fine art of this.

“Take its adjectives, many of which convey broken, drunken, exhausted, or other subpar states: arseways, banjaxed, bockety, buckled, fluthered, killed, ossified, polluted, thick, wrecked.”

Come to think of it, several of those terms might come in useful when discussing the chain of events that led to Ireland becoming the leading anglophone country in the EU. But sure that’s a whole other story!

*It’s noteworthy that both Malta and Ireland have their own second official language that predates the use of English, although Wikipedia suggests that Maltese is much more widely used than Irish, relatively speaking.

**Actually, the Irish Times article is an abridged version of a longer text published in a magazine called The Stinging Fly. The author’s website is at stancarey.com.

Using StreamYard, Zoom and Acuity Scheduling to create an online tradeshow

Last week saw the first DVB DEMOS event, an attempt to replicate key aspects of a physical tradeshow using online platforms. The event was well received and I thought it would be useful to describe how we* put it together. It might inspire you to do something similar in your own domain.

Eoghan and Riccardo at DVB DEMOS
Each exhibitor’s demo slot was followed by a short interview.

With the major broadcast technology exhibitions being cancelled in 2020, the companies that make products based on DVB’s media delivery standards were denied a crucial marketing channel. And for the DVB Project itself the IBC show in Amsterdam is an annual flagship event to show early implementations of new DVB specifications.

We decided during the summer to target running our own autumn event, rather than trying to break through the noise at the online version of IBC2020. The idea was to give DVB members an opportunity to demonstrate their products based on DVB’s newest specifications and enable them to have one-to-one meetings with prospective clients or partners.

We came up with a two-part event: in the morning we delivered a two-hour live stream where each of the 14 “exhibitors” was given a six-minute slot in which to present a short demo. We used StreamYard to produce a live YouTube stream that we could embed on the event’s landing page**. The stream was fully open, with no registration required. And then in the afternoon we ran a Zoom meeting where each exhibitor had their own breakout room and attendees could book appointments.

The live stream served as a kind of shop window and focal point for the event. The exhibitors did a super job of putting together their demos, with a mix of prerecorded videos and fully live demos, but in all cases at least a live introduction and summing up. Throughout the two hours we encouraged viewers to make appointments for the afternoon session. We used a tool called Acuity Scheduling to manage individual calendars for each exhibitor – they received an email notification each time somebody booked a 15-minute slot in their room.

While the numbers were modest – around 200 watching the live stream and around 100 private meetings in the Zoom breakout rooms – the general feedback was that the format worked well. The live stream was short enough and with sufficient variety to be engaging; and the afternoon session yielded one or more potentially valuable leads for most of the exhibitors.

Tips for success

Many other online events of this nature have relied heavily on prerecorded content; the liveness of our live stream was appreciated by those who watched. Personally I feel that watching a live event feels fundamentally different to something you know or sense is prerecorded – it’s a little like the difference between watching a sports fixture live or deferred, even when you don’t know the outcome in advance.

A few other tips if you try to do something like this yourself:

  • StreamYard is a user-friendly tool for producing a professional quality live stream with multiple contributors. Make sure to have at least one rehearsal with each exhibitor – you can set it to stream to an unlisted YouTube video so that they can watch their own rehearsal back later. While I did both the presenting and the production (vision mixing, graphics, triggering videos) myself in this case, I would separate those roles in future.
  • Zoom still seems like the best option for the breakout rooms. While you can allow participants to move freely between breakout rooms, we needed to retain control in this case, so we disabled that option. However, as only the host can then move people from room to room (and co-hosts, which was the role we assigned to exhibitors, can move themselves between rooms), there’s a lot of pressure on one person to move the attendees into and between meetings.
  • Acuity Scheduling is a powerful tool for allowing people to book meetings. There was a bit of a learning curve with regard to setting it up for multiple different exhibitors, each with their own logo, description, etc. While we required both a Zoom registration and a booking on Acuity for this first DVB DEMOS event, next time around I think we can manage with just the Acuity bookings, providing the Zoom link in the confirmation email. (Indeed, one could imagine sending a dedicated online meeting link for each individual booking, perhaps even having the exhibitors use their own platform of choice.)

I’m happy to provide more information about how we put DVB DEMOS 2020 together. Just send me an email.

*I’ve been associated with the DVB Project for a long time, originally as an employee and now as a consultant providing support on communications and events. I worked with DVB’s Head of Technology Emily Dubs to put the DVB DEMOS event together.

**Note that YouTube now places restrictions on embedding live videos. You must have a channel with more than 1,000 subscribers and meet a couple of other minimum requirements. These rules don’t apply to channels that have been around for more than a couple of years, which was – happily – the case for DVB.

Twenty Twenty plus Twentig equals a match made in WordPress heaven

For a recent website project, I decided to see what I could manage without using a premium WordPress theme. I used the Enfold theme to build this site, and a couple of others, but in the meantime WordPress has undergone a radical improvement with the addition of Gutenberg blocks for editing.

I decided to use the default (and free!) Twenty Twenty theme and see how far I could get with my fairly limited skill set. A plugin called Twentig proved to be really helpful. I’m writing about it here as it didn’t come up immediately when I was searching for ways to simplify the customization. As I write this it stands at about 2,000 active installations, having been created in December 2019.

Whether you have some WordPress experience already or are trying it out for the first time, the combination of Twenty Twenty and Twentig is a great starting point. Kudos to @twentig, whoever you are!

You might also like to take a look at the Atomic Blocks plugin and the Shortcodes Ultimate plugin. Both provide further ways of building clean, attractive and responsive pages.

I can’t share the site in question here yet, as the project is still ongoing, but I wanted to shine a light on Twentig so that others can benefit from it as I did.

Bonus tip!

I also dived into Advanced Custom Fields for the first time on this project. Other WordPress sites that I work with (on content strategy and creation) use it extensively, but I hadn’t previously tried to build with it myself.

ACF is a very powerful tool that allows developers to quickly build custom page components for just about any type of content or use case. In this case I wanted to try building my own Gutenberg block, that would allow the site editor to easily add a book’s cover, title, author and link, and then format those elements on the page.

To build blocks you need to pay for the PRO version of the ACF plugin. It took me a couple of hours of following tutorials (like this one) and some trial and error, but I got there in the end. If you want to take your WordPress skills to the next level, I recommend giving it a try.

A refreshing approach to event registration

With the RegOnline platform shutting down at the end of 2019, we needed a new event registration solution for the DVB World 2020 conference. After researching the available options, we went for Tito. It’s not as well known as some of the other options in this space (e.g. Eventbrite, Ticket Tailor), but I’ve been very impressed so far.

DVB had been using RegOnline for more than ten years and it had served the organization well. It had nevertheless begun to feel a bit clunky, particularly in comparison with other modern web-based services.

The experience for those buying tickets with Tito is clean and fast. The backend is also easy to get to grips with. Setting up the event was quite straightforward – both the documentation and the very responsive helpdesk meant we could do everything we needed in terms of discounts, group rates, optional extras, etc.

Thinking differently about registration

Using Tito forced us to think a bit differently about the whole registration process. In the past, we would collect a full address from every user and ask questions about social events and other extras before the user paid for their tickets. Now, if they’re paying by credit card, we only ask for the user’s name and company, before passing them to Stripe for payment, also quick and easy. Once the payment has been made, they can deal with other matters in their own time: assigning attendee names to the tickets they’ve purchased, adding a job title or letting us know if they’ll attend the social event.

This approach from Tito is very deliberate. To quote from a blog post explaining their ticket purchase flow:

“The traditional solution is to require information before the attendee can purchase the ticket. It’s always been very important to us, however, that our users are never presented with any type of panic-inducing form. So instead, we only ever ask for the minimum amount of information required to complete the transaction. If we’re not providing a fast and simple method for a customer to secure a ticket, we’re doing it wrong.”

The rest of that post is worth reading. It certainly gave me food for thought regarding the user experience and “panic-inducing” forms!

As a tech company, Tito seems to be flying below the radar a bit. I believe this is a choice they have made and I hope it leads to them remaining independent in the long run. I’ve only been working with the platform since October, but I would definitely recommend you consider it if you’re looking for an event registration solution.

As a bonus, it has turned out to be cheaper than RegOnline was, particularly with a special rate for non-profits. And if your event tickets are free, the platform is free to use!

How a fresh pair of eyes can help get your document unstuck

For two recent projects, my task as an editor was to help get a publication over the finishing line. In both cases, the document was already in the form of a complete draft when I got involved, but needed a considerable amount of work to get it to the point where it could be published. And in both cases the document owner had taken it as far as he or she could – they needed a fresh set of eyes and some fresh thinking.

(I struggled to find an image for this post, but when it comes to getting things unstuck, Oliver Jeffers is a good reference!)

If you feel like you’re blocked on a publication, bringing in someone who is seeing the text for the first time is a great way to get unstuck. This stage comes before copy editing and proofreading – it’s not someone to correct grammar and spelling errors who is required. Rather it’s a substantive editor who will interrogate the content, check whether the structure makes sense, spot where something that is clear to the author(s) may not be so clear to the reader, and so on.

In both recent examples, the text had been authored by several different people over an extended period of time, each working on his or her own section of the document. This can naturally make for a very disjointed publication. Bringing consistency with regard to style, tone, the depth of the information, etc. is often best done by someone who has not previously been involved with the document. In fact, it can even help if the subject matter is not familiar to the editor. One of those recent jobs was my first for that client and I was able to challenge assumptions that may not have been so obvious to those working in the sector.

It’s very easy to get bogged down with a long report or proposal. If you can no longer see the forest for the trees, an external editor might be just what’s needed to take a wider view and ensure that the end result is as good as it can be. (And I happen to know one who may well be available to work on your document. Get in touch!)

From podcast listener to podcast presenter

Being a fan of the format, I was thrilled to be asked to host a new podcast. It is part of a European project to help the media sector change the way it approaches innovation.

I enjoy listening to podcasts when I go running or on long journeys. I listen mostly for pleasure (Richard Herring, Adam Buxton, BBC Fighting Talk, Sodajerker on Songwriting), although some can also feed into professional interests from time to time (99% Invisible, RadioLab).

The new podcast is called MediaRoad SkillBytes. The aim is to examine what the digital transformation of the media industry means in terms of professional journeys: jobs, skills, recruitment, training, etc. MediaRoad is the name of the European project and the European Broadcasting Union, one of my main clients, is a project partner.

Intended as a B2B podcast, it’s primarily targeted at those who deal with HR and training in media organizations. With technology changes having such a huge impact on media jobs, the idea is to help identify how employee profiles are changing and the mix of skills and competences that will be needed in future. The interviews may also be interesting for technology managers and even media students.

Eoghan O'Sullivan and Léonard Bouchet
My first interviewee was Léonard Bouchet, in charge of data and archives at Swiss public broadcaster RTS.

I have the enjoyable task of interviewing a different media professional for each episode. The first interview was with the head of data and archives at Swiss broadcaster RTS, while the second episode features the head of innovation at BBC Monitoring. We plan to publish a new episode each month, each one around eight to ten minutes long.

A personal challenge

I started my professional career in radio, two decades ago, but I never did much presenting. While I’m comfortable in front of a microphone, there’s a world of difference between standing on a stage with my guitar as a shield and sitting face-to-face with an interviewee.

Podcasts are a very intimate format; more intimate than radio even, I think. The podcasts I enjoy the most are those where the people speaking sound totally at ease, with themselves and each other. My goal when I sit down to do each SkillBytes interview is to focus on having a relaxed but engaged conversation.

I’m at the very start of my podcasting career. I think it’s going fine so far, but I’m looking forward to the challenge of getting better. I’m very lucky to have talented EBU colleagues as a production team and, in Michael Curling, we have a really expert editor.

You can find the podcast by searching for MediaRoad or SkillBytes on your podcast platform of choice.

Still that comms guy; still enjoying it

I’ve been working as THAT COMMS GUY for over two years now and am pleased to say that things are working out well. 2018 was a busy year, but also a balanced one, with plenty of time for family, music and other projects.

About 50% of my time last year was spent working for the DVB Project, providing communications support on a mix of operational and strategic tasks. I worked for DVB from 2004 to 2009, so I’ve been going back to the future; and I’m glad to continue this work for the next 12 months. The DVB World 2019 conference in Dublin looks set to be one highlight and there are other exciting developments in the pipeline.

Almost another 40% of my client work is for the European Broadcasting Union, another former employer (and the host of the DVB Project Office, which is handy!). I continue to provide support on events and publications for the Technology & Innovation Department, and also did some report writing for the Media Department, notably in connection with the Digital Transformation Initiative. I particularly enjoy editing the quarterly tech-i magazine and am looking forward to a new podcast-related project in 2019.

How my client work broke down in 2018.

While all this means – and the chart illustrates – that 90% of my income effectively comes from one building in Geneva, DVB and the EBU are two entirely separate organizations, so it’s not as risky as it sounds. And the remaining 10% comes from several other interesting clients: I’ve continued to do some copywriting for Hilti AG, provided web support for Partners for a New Economy, Bright Green Learning and Fondation Segré, and event communications support for SDNsquare. I was also pleased to work with the Sphere organization for a couple of days.

All in all, I couldn’t be happier with how this adventure in freelancing is working out. I’m grateful to all the people I work with for their trust and confidence in me.

I’m hoping that 2019 will bring the same mix of stable, stimulating work from my regular clients along with one or new things to keep me on my toes. Get in touch if you’d like to chat!

Montage of photos showing a mug with the THAT COMMS GUY logo.
Oh, and I also got a new mug in 2018!

A practical tip when writing for the web

When writing for the web, it often turns out that your last sentence is actually your first sentence. Allow me to explain.

I’ve been editing text a lot recently and have noticed that short articles, whether news items, event reports or blog posts, can often be made more immediate and engaging by using what was originally written as a closing sentence as the opening sentence. Or at least using a sentence from elsewhere in the article, and I find that it’s usually close to the end.

We all have a habit, when telling stories, of starting by establishing the context. We do this whether we’re telling an anecdote at the pub or writing a report in a professional context. And in general, when you have a captive audience, it’s a good habit. You get to set the scene and fill in the background before building to the climax. However, when it comes to writing short texts for the web – say 150 to 500 words – you probably don’t have a captive audience, and you certainly do have an easily distracted audience. You need to engage readers right from the start; but also to ensure that if you lose them quickly, they will at least have picked up the main information.

In practice, it can be hard to sit down and write an engaging and informative opening sentence off the top of your head. I usually just start drafting the text in the normal way and then look to see if the best opening sentence is buried somewhere within the text. Another way of thinking of it is to ask yourself which sentence you might choose as a pull quote or even a tweet. You may well find that, well, when writing for the web, it often turns out that your last sentence is actually your first sentence!