Tuesday, July 28, 2009

What I've Learned from Scripting Corporate Vids

As the script writer for several 11gR2 vignettes, I have been thinking about what we have done right so far and what we can improve. Here are my top five thoughts:

1. Remember that people watch these all the way through because they care about the characters, not the information. Information delivery must be subservient to the story.

2. Don’t work too hard to build gags into the script. Concentrate on the motivations of the characters and let the gags come to us. For example, in the Active Data Guard video I worked to build the snow globe gag into the script, which in the end didn’t add that much to the story. By contrast, in the Advanced Compression video one character’s natural motivation to buy more hardware was shown brilliantly with the Disks-R-Us centerfold; we got humor and never left the main thrust of the story.

3. Don’t let marketing considerations kill the dramatic beats of the story. These beats take the viewer step by step in the direction we need them to go, both to satisfy the needs of the story and the needs of information delivery. In a beat, one character answers the thrust of another characters comment and moves the conversation in the direction he/she wants it to go. As the conversation moves along, the viewer is drawn naturally in the intended direction. But when we get bogged down with marketing requests too late in the scripting process this natural flow gets interrupted and the story suffers.

4. Get scripts to the producer with enough time for him to live with the script for a few days. This gives him time to design shots and suggest lines to fulfill his vision for the characters. If the script is built on solid character motivations and dramatic beats the producer, and later his actors, can let it all hang out and we end up with a better, funnier video.

5. On the day of the shoot have a product expert on hand to help with pronunciation and give the green light to ad libbed lines. If the product expert is laughing with the producer and actors, they know they can go for it.

I look forward to working with everyone on the next round of vids.

Come in, Relax, Enjoy a Little “Implicit Learning”

Pick up Winifred Gallagher’s new book “Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life”, and you’ll find arguments to support the “tech vignettes” we’ve been filming for Release 2 of Oracle Database 11g.

She describes “implicit learning” as a process of leaning something without intending to. It is, say researchers, the most natural way of acquiring information and skills. It’s how you learned to speak and perhaps how you learned to cook. Implicit learning is effortless. Think of watching Flags of Our Fathers vs. reading a dry WWII textbook. How does this link to our vignettes?

If you want to learn something, anything, you must pay attention to it. You must be, as the title of Gallagher’s book suggests, rapt by it. Our vignettes attempt to hold our visitors rapt by telling them a story. They provide relief to the overburdened attention spans of our customers by not asking them to read marketing copy, but instead immersing them in the story and allowing them to receive a little implicit learning.

The stories last a little over a minute and are based on funny, sympathetic characters living out struggles Oracle customers will instantly recognize. In the process of watching, they learn something valuable about the technology at the heart of the character’s dilemma.

They will save us all from another video white board session. Look for these vignettes to hit Oracle.com in mid August.

Friday, July 17, 2009

An Interloper at ODTUG

If you see me at a user group conference pondering the conference guide, don’t think I’m looking for my session. What I’m looking for are the people who attend and teach sessions. Watch out, I might be looking for you. I’m at the conference to collect stories and information from experienced technologists and share them around. Here, for example, is what I picked up on two days at the recent ODTUG Kaleidoscope conference

Three professionally produced videos: Two for Oracle Magazine that will be available later according to the magazine’s editorial calendar, and one for the OpenWorld blog. Thanks to Scott Smith for his camera work and editing.

Two magazine columns for my Up Close series (print, video) on user groups. Those, too, will be available in future edition of the mag.

Three flip video interviews for the Oracle Database Insider blog, (and here)which will be featured in the Oracle Database Insider newsletter.

Just as important are the current output of stories, are the people I get to know at meals and periods of goofing off. As an example, my attendance at Kaleidoscope was a result of this earlier interview with ODTUG President, Mike Riley, whom I came to through an encounter at the BIWA Summit.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Experimental Skype Interview with the Linux SIG

Oracle has better things to do with its money than send me to Milwaukee for a single interview. And yet I still have to get the story, AND the video. So Todd Sheetz of IOUG’s Linux SIG, was kind enough to take part in an experimental Skype interview for my Up Close column, which Scott Smith filmed and choreographed. You can also read my Oracle Magazine Column about Todd’s experience with the SIG.

Note: One thing I would do differently next time is to plug a microphone into my laptop to improve the sound of Todd's voice. We made the mistake of recording it off the speakers in my laptop.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Gift of Slack

I wanted to expand on Tom Kyte’s short post about SLACK, which takes its cue from this post by Seth Godin.

My addition to Tom’s advice is this: If you find yourself suddenly with extra time on your hands (read laid off), offer your talents and your leadership to an Oracle user group. From what I’ve seen over the last year of writing the Up Close column for Oracle Magazine, the groups are almost always hungry for volunteers to help them with their mission. In return for your time you gain notoriety, make new contacts, and you LEARN.

Imagine the difference between going to an interview as an out of work DBA or developer vs. as an officer of an Oracle user group who is shopping his/her skills and contacts to a few lucky organizations.

Side note: Slack time is when ideas erupt to the surface that have been long bubbling in your subconscious. They’ve been held down by a thick layer of deadlines and near term problem solving that fill the days of fully employed technologist. Take. some. time. to calm the waters of your mind and see what brilliant stuff floats to the top.

Friday, May 8, 2009

More APEX Fun! Or, Can We Meld Creative Processes with Corporate Video?

It’s been instructive to observe our progress as a creative group at Oracle as we strive to integrate our video department into the creative work process.

For the first time we are producing videos that feature neither talking heads, nor corporate profiles, two things at which our video department excels. Instead we are attempting to use our studio’s skills in lighting, sound, camera work, and editing to tell stories. Sound simple?

It’s not. Instead of turning a camera towards an acknowledged expert and letting him/her speak, we’re crafting a script populated with characters who have motivations. That means we must first decide who those characters are and what their relationship is to each other. We must show that relationship while developing an overall message dictated by Oracle product managers. This requires a creative process whereby we generate ideas, we trash ideas; we write scripts, and then we argue over them and hone them with an eye towards the needs of the camera person, the actors, and eventually the film editor.

It also means we must edit video with a new kind of precision and a new level of feeling. We need to edit film with our senses engaged enough to create tension with a pause or humor with a cut away.

We have a lot of learning to do on all sides, but this silly little video represents a big step in the right direction. Enjoy.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Looking Forward to Kaleidoscope

Watching this interview with Mike Riley of ODTUG reminds me of how proud he is of his user group’s annual conference, Kaleidoscope. He knows people get a lot out of attending, and he convinced me; I’ll be there. This was Mikes first interview as president of the group and he did a great job for a guy who isn’t used to being peppered with questions on camera. You can also read my column on Mike, "Seriously Practical", in the May/June 2009 issue of Oracle Magazine.

Monday, April 6, 2009

My Video Breakfast Takeaway: Work with a Storyteller

Corporations are beginning to wrap their heads around Web video. Here are my quick impressions from a Web video leadership breakfast last Thursday morning. It was attended mostly by large Bay Area firms and the ad agencies that server them:

Basic take away:
There is nothing better, of course, than having your customers or rank-and-file employees tell the world how great you are. So encourage and display user-generated videos. Or, when you create your own videos, take time up front to work with a writer and story teller to make your content compelling and enjoyable. Regardless of what video you run, put the video where readers can lean more, or better yet, where they can (or must) provide contact information to become a sales lead.

Autodesk does a good job of incorporating video from their users. As a company who’s software enables 3D design, they get cool videos from users. Note that if you try to watch several videos, they will ask you to register; an example of turning video into lead generation.

Autodesk’s presenter used an acronym I like: SPLAP. It’s used by the creative underclass at Autodesk when dealing with company marketing people and executives. It means “Speak Like a Person”.

Cisco discussed, among other things, how they bring video into their internal corporate communication. Their advice in a nutshell:
  • Keep it short (60 seconds, 90 seconds are best.)
  • Keep it human
  • Integrate your brand look and feel
  • Invest in communication (drive people to the video, give them somewhere to go after)
One simple thing that tells me Cisco knows what it’s doing is the quick, well-branded intro to this Web videos.

Sun presented what they’ve learned on Channel Sun. Because they were early adopters of Web video there is a lot of stuff here that doesn’t work. What I think works best are the round table discussions where you get the opinions of several different people guided by a moderator.

PR Newswire showed their video enabled, multimedia press releases.

I was unaware that Oracle would be presenting and found the most interesting part of our presentation to be the company’s attempts to host virtual events and virtual trade shows. But those are mostly behind the firewall, so no links here.

I managed to ask one question during the panel session. I asked whether solid script writing and storytelling was something these people valued. I got a pretty honest response. The said that they valued it, but that it was hard to come by. Often they just had to shoot, edit, and post a video with no storytelling oversight. That, they agreed, was regrettable.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Video Fun with Oracle APEX 3.2

I ran into David Peake several months back at a small OTN event and we had the following conversation while waiting for an elevator:

David: I have a cool new release coming up but not enough dough for a full-blown demo project.
Jeff: I have an idea for a short video show that could work for you.
Dave and Jeff together: Let’s do it!

The result is the video below. This is the first One-Minute Oracle show, so I am anxious for feedback. Caveat: This is an awareness tool, not, obviously, a technical how-to video (I’m working on those, too).

Caveat #2: This is a marketing piece for one technical approach that is not necessarily recommended by Oracle. Oracle offers other approaches you should explore.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

LA Story: Being vs Doing at Oracle?

The most important thing to take from Bob McKee’s story seminar is not a set of techniques, but an understanding of motivations. Why do people do what they do and how do they react when things go wrong?

Part of the weekend is given over to watching and analyzing Casablanca. The main character’s battle is best characterized not as a quest for love, but as a battle between Being and Doing. Being is pure love, constant and always, and Doing is duty and social demands. The hero must find in himself a way to reconcile the two.

When a writer can look more deeply and clearly at his or her characters' motivations they can rest a more solid story on their shoulders. I don’t see my columns and stories for Oracle taking on the weight or Being vs Doing. But I can think more clearly about the motivations of each actor in them and build a stronger narrative. The weekend was well worth it.

Warning if you go: Don’t let your phone or computer make any noise or he’ll charge you $10. My iPhone chirped with a meeting notice and I had to walk to the stage and hand him the money while the audience laughed. If you have an iPhone, clicking the silent mode isn’t enough, you must disable sound for meeting notices in the preferences.

Monday, February 23, 2009

A Salute to Dan Vlamis' College Girlfriend

My interview with Dan Vlamis, of the BIWA SIG, is missing some key points. Neither the video nor the Oracle Magazine column talk about his degree in technology from Brown or the fact that he took the job that launched his Oracle-based BI career just to be near his girlfriend. But these my friends are facts. The Oracle business intelligence and data warehousing world can thank that girlfriend (soon to become his wife) for luring Vlamis to Information Resources, Inc. where he worked on the pcExpress calculation engine that is even today part of Oracle OLAP.

Up Close Interview: Dan Vlamis, BIWA Summit from Oracle Magazine on Vimeo.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Coming to a Playful Decision

While watching this eight-minute talk by John Cacioppo on economics and social behavior I couldn’t help think of the Oracle user groups I’ve come to know in the past year.

“Bringing experts together isn’t sufficient,” say Cacioppo. Real progress is made “when you foster a deeper connection” between people with different experiences.

Here, for me, is the heart of his talk:
After you spend quality time with people at an event -- walking together, eating together -- you stop saying, “this is what I know,” and you start to actually know and like people and want to understand more about their perspective. Now you can start taking advantage of the knowledge that is unique to each person, not just the common knowledge of the group. That’s when growth happens. Curiosity wins out. You come to much better, deeper, more playful decisions.”

Thursday, January 29, 2009

What Good are Tech User Groups?

Last week I met Ronan Miles of the powerhouse UK Oracle User Group (UKOUG). Just look at their event list. I put a simple questions to him: Why be part of a user group?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Lesson and a New Goal for 2009

Just interviewed Mike Riley of the Oracle Development Tools User Group (ODTUG). He’s in town for the IOUC conference . He didn’t say this on tape, but in the car back to his hotel he said being a member of ODTUG makes him much better at his work and helps him enjoy his job. He’s been a developer and project manager at the same insurance company for twenty years. TWENTY years. He says that ODTUG membership makes him part of a community that is “always trying something new, and always willing to help you,” he said. He also likes that his fellow members, based all over the world, look to him for his knowledge and leadership.

My Up Close video interviews for Oracle Magazine are convincing me that being part of a self-formed group pursuing excellence in any endeavor is a key to maintaining happiness and meaning in your work.

I’ve been toiling on my own for too long. Another goal for 2009: join a group of writers and work with them to pursue excellence -- it is, I am learning from my tech friends, a route to happiness.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Goals for 2009

I just came across Seth Godin’s admonition on goal setting. I agree with him; goals are how we can make sure the work we do every day is taking us someplace we want to go. Upon quick reflection, my goals for 2009 as tech editor at Oracle:

1. Make my new show “One-Minute Oracle,” into a hit. OMO explains Oracle technology announcements in quick, fun Web videos. I want each one to be featured on the top blogs dealing with the technology I’m explaining. I want my videos to feed a large number of eyes to more detailed stories in Oracle Magazine and to resources in the Oracle Technology network. The first show hits Vimeo in early Feb.

2. Bring the Oracle Database Insider blog up in the rankings to be constantly in the top 20 Oracle blogs. This won’t happen over night (and luckily I’ve got several good partners in Oracle marketing who carry a lot of the weight). I will do my part to grow the blog the same way people accomplish everything that matters -- through consistency and relationships. If you’re in product management at Oracle, you might be getting a call or visit from me about this.

3. Turn my magazine column and video podcast series, Up Close, and Up Close Video into a teaching and marketing resource for people involved in the user community. Up Close features interviews with leaders and members of the myriad Oracle technology user groups worldwide. These groups form independent of Oracle Corporation and are one of the company’s greatest assets.

4. Do Lunch. Once a month I will arrange a lunch with an interesting outlier. I have acquaintances with expertise in finance, retailing, design, medicine, religion, and lots more. I’ll book ‘em, pay for lunch, and pick their brains. Last month I did lunch with Xavier Helgesen, CEO of Better World Books. BWB is a top seller through eBay and Amazon, and an example the best in socially responsible business. I learned a lot about retailing online and the meatloaf at Q was delish.

5. For everything else, my goal is to simply show up ready to play. My tactics for this: wake up early, write in the morning to set my direction for the day, run most days, put in a good day’s work, be honest, be frugal, be kind.