Category Archives: apps

How to MC a conference in 10 steps

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A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to MC the 10th edition of Web Directions. WebDirections is Sydney’s premier conference for the creative development scene with about 700 attendees and plenty of high-profile international speakers. I have to thank Maxine Sherrin and John Allsopp for trusting me to guide the  audience of the Product, Experience and Design stream.
It was an absolute pleasure and if I could, I would jump onto the next stage tomorrow and do it all over again. Judging from the audience’s reactions I didn’t do a shabby job either. Videos of each talk including my MC-ing bit will appear shortly and I will repost them here. So if are organising a conference, panel, session or series of talks or know someone who does, drop me a line and I’d be happy to help out in the near future. 😉

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Looking back, it was a fresh challenge for me to switch positions and, rather than being a speaker myself, talk to other speakers about their topic. During their speeches I was simultaneously taking notes, weighing up pre-researched questions with live tweets from the floor, scribbling tangential thoughts I had while listening. Most importantly I was judging the live audience’s physical reactions, whether they were leaning in, laughing or getting distracted.

15716387522_d299d71c79_zOverall it was a great training exercise in moderation. As for prep, I had the help of Andy Murray (Gatsby Studio) who is actually an illustrator and artist by trade. He brilliantly MC’d the previous conference I was speaking at, Sex Drugs & Helvetica. there is a short review from it here on my blog. As you might be able to tell from the two photos below, I nicked the idea of having seats and a table from the Sex, Drugs & Helvetica event. You can see that the furniture style and arrangement even looks similar, but that happened without me briefing Web Directions on it.

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There is a very comprehensive review of the conference and many speakers here on Ben Buchanan’s blog, additionally some observations here from Kye White. In the below I would simply like to add a few personal thoughts on what an MC is supposed to do. It is a combination of what Andy Murray told me and what I picked up during the day. Take it as advice if you’re planning to do something similar and let me know if it worked for you as well:

  1. It’s not about you, it’s about the speakers. So don’t play up your questions and opinions like you’re an additional speaker. Let the audience feel at ease, the first 20 – 60 seconds are crucial for it.
  2. Organise your notes on housekeeping, don’t stumble across details as to when the break takes place or who’s up next.
  3. Keep your question short, ideally no more than 7 seconds. Interviewees start thinking about their answer after that point. So they will be unable to listen any longer. You’ll notice it happen when an interviewee asks the MC ‘So what was the question again?’
  4. When you are interested, the audience will be interested as well. Try to find something that interests you personally – the audience will follow you. You direct their interest through you, just like actors create empathy for the roles they are playing.
  5. Do some research on the speakers, but don’t overdo it. You’re not acting as some sort of human wikipedia. As soon as you rattle off too many points, especially when reading them off a written card, everything will sound forced on stage.
  6. Your research will help you have an informal chat with the speakers beforehand. Have them tell you an anecdote, something that, when you retell it on stage, will make the audience believe you’re familiar with the speaker. Some people at WD believed I had known the speakers from before whereas I had only just met them.
  7. It’s your job to let speakers feel at ease, like they are just telling you their answer. An experienced speaker might be able to address both MC and audience simultaneously, but most speakers are professional experts in their field, not in public speaking.
  8. Try to draw connections between the talks where you can. Even if the link is spontaneous and idiosyncratic, it will make the audience feel like there is a flow and a theme to the event.
  9. Give the later speakers something to bounce off of. After I mentioned in one Q&A, that there might be too much agreement among the presenters, up came Dan Hon. He opened his talk with a slide on ‘controversy’ and ‘dissent’. This trick can also help the speakers energise their own talk. It then has a fresh element to the last time they spoke about the same topic.
  10. Finally, be respectful to an audience, be they paying or non-paying. Do a good job, be prepared, rehearse your bits and concentrate.They have come to give you their attention. So don’t insult them by trying ‘to just wing it’.

Overall it was fantastic opportunity to get to know some brilliant minds from around the world. There were some seasoned speakers among them, which helped me compare their styles in a short amount of time.

Douglas bowman Douglas Bowman, TwitterScottThomasScott ThomasThe Noun ProjectMattWebbMatt Webb, BERGScreenshot 2014-11-23 15.44.14Jonny Mack, Google15512650089_4fe346b266_oTom Armitage, InfovoreDanHonDan Hon, Code for America15512649569_07139ff2f2_oErin Moore, Twitter15700118352_3983ff3b5d_oYounghee Jung, Nokia/MicrosoftTobias RevellTobias Revell, Superflux/ARUPjohnallsopp2John Allsopp, Web DirectionsmaxinesherrinMaxine Sherrin, Web Directions15691117216_b946eb5672_zPhotos by Xavier Ho – Jump to Glide and Tim Lucas – ToolManTim, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Agency Open House Sydney

Register for our free event now: http://www.eventbrite.com/e/web-directions-agency-open-house-reactive-tickets-4776690209

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Next Wednesday afternoon, Sydney will see its first Agency Open House. You can visit and have a beer with people at places like Reactive, Host, Soap, Deepend Group, Digital Arts Network, Reborn, WeAreSocial, Pollen, TheFarm,Small Multiples or The Interaction Consortium.

Check out this Agency Open House microsite for Wednesday October 29 where you can also RSVP to the respective agency events. Rub shoulders with art directors, copywriters, uber-geeks, producers and strategy minds. Learn from their work exhibited, listen to talks, ask questions, make connections. You could score an internship, dream job or your next creative collaboration partner. As it is part of Web Directions 2014, expect some heavy hitters from their international speaker roster like Jessica Hische to maybe make a cameo appearance. Just saying….

Check out the full program to RSVP here

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We at Reactive are excited to partner with Web Directions & Creative Social to open our doors for a Sydney-wide Agency Open House So in particular we would love for you to join us at our office in Surry Hills next Wednesday afternoon (Oct 29), between 4-6pm. You can RSVP by registering online https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/web-directions-agency-open-house-reactive-tickets-4776690209

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What are Web Directions, Creative Social and this Agency Open House?

Since 2004, Web Directions has been Australia’s cutting edge conference that bring together the world’s most pioneering, interactive creative directors, business owners, strategists and other global experts of digital design and development. As a social warm-up for this year’s Web Directions (October 30-31) the aim of our joint Agency Open House is to have a beer and a chat, explore agencies’ work and workplaces and build some new connections. Reactive has been part of Creative Social since 2007 and together with this group of leading agencies, we recognise that collaborating in a digital landscape is how we will advance the whole industry and enjoy the journey.

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What’s the inspiration all about?

Reactive has been a partner of Web Directions for 3 years now. This year is particularly special as we were invited to create the opening title sequence for the conference. The film is completely HTML-generated and plays live in the browser, unlike traditional videos.

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One of our creatives involved, Melissa Baillache, explains the thinking behind the film:

“We wanted to touch on the importance of everyone that come together to imagine, design, create and build great digital products and services. The people, who passionately labour over the tiny details, behind the scenes as well as at the forefront of the digital world. In our film, all these individuals are represented by a ‘pixel’. Their stories evolve into playful geometric structures, yet always keep their original core—the element that binds everything together into a single experience.”

We’d be thrilled if you can stop by Reactive’s office for some beers, food and showcasing and explaining the tech behind the title sequence. Registering can be done by simply replying to this email or visiting the event page below:

https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/web-directions-agency-open-house-reactive-tickets-4776690209

We hope to see you next Wednesday arvo, guys!

That Startup Show starts up

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I am quickly coming back to my earlier post about Reactive working together with start ups. Now everyone can inhale a whiff of modern entrepreneurialism by watching the live YouTube project ‘That StartUp Show”. It kicked off in a pub-come-studio in Melbourne, which is by no means a statement on the city’s tech-edge over Sydney. Yet judging from how many times Fed Square, Flinders Street and downtown Melbourne were pushed in the interstitials (hello sponsor City of Melbourne) they kind of think it is. But being from the Emerald if not yet Silicon City, we’ll let that slide. So please watch the first episode down below.

Picking strong cues from ‘The Gruen Transfer‘ and a sprinkling of ‘The Dragon’s Den‘, it pairs stand up comedy with a bar-camp like crowd and light-hearted yet informative chat with founders, journos and (dare I say it) online gurus. I think the wild dancing sequence in the beginning of the show was a bit ill conceived. But keep on watching, the shows gets much better afterwards, decidedly more professional than lo-fi channels like Silicon Beach Santa Monica.

Thanks to host Dan Illic pounding on comic opportunities, we heard catchy lines like “St.Kilda is Sim City for Perverts” (take that, sponsor!) and “Google Plus is the Adelaide of social media“(take that, Google!). Guest and Google Australia’s engineering director Alan Noble just had to grin and bear it.

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More entertainment came from Dan re-combining 2 random expressions to create start up ideas: Pinterest for Babies, SnapChat for Kebab lovers and Procrastination Tool for Bored People (‘That’s Facebook!”). Other guests included the founder of (show sponsor) Blue ChilliSebastien Eckersley-Maslin. Start up incubator Blue Chilli is actually a place I have spoken at a while ago during one of their ‘Pizza and Beer’ weekly wind downs.

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While incubators like Blue Chilli and Muru-D don’t really rival our own agency offering, they do sometimes provide or connect to UI/UX and development resources. This is another sign of our two worlds overlapping In my view it’s for the greater good of creative ideas and speed of innovation in Australia. But maybe you disagree, what experiences have you made at the intersection of agency- and start up land?

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Sebastien Eckersley-Maslin sitting in the middle

Web Directions Respond Conference with Reactive

This week, our fearless Creative Technologist Drew Schrauf takes the stage at WebDirections Respond. It’s a “Festival of Responsive Web Design for designers and developers of the multi-device Web”. So it’s basically unmissable – unless you still code in tables or consider responsive publishing some sort of copywriting style. International thought and practice leaders like Brad Frost and Jason Grigsby grace our shores, so snap up one of the last remaining tickets here.

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Our relationship with Maxine and John from Web Directions has grown with hosting some pre-conference BBQs and speaking at smaller events like ‘What Do You Know?’ and now continues with our Drew presenting on the tricky subject “Picture Perfect: Tackling the Responsive Image Dilemma”
http://www.webdirections.org/respond2014/#drewschrauf

drewI know how chuffed Drew is to be invited to speak and I am happy that Reactive is able to contribute to such a cutting edge tech event in Sydney.

Thoughts on the new Jelly App

In a guest post Tim O’Neill, co-founder of Reactive spends a few thoughts on the Jelly app.

This week saw the launch of Jelly, the new start-up from Twitter co-founder Biz Stone. This pedigree guaranteed a certain amount of hype and uptake, with curious early adopters jumping on the Jelly wagon and testing it out, myself included.

Jelly is a blessedly simple concept: you can ask or answer image-based questions.

To pose a question, take or upload a photo and write a question (e.g. “what part of France is this wine from?”). Jelly connects to your Facebook and twitter accounts, and then posts this question to your Jelly-using network.

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To answer questions, swipe through the lovely ‘deck of cards’ interface, find a question to answer and write (or draw) a response.

Many have compared the site to existing services like Quora, Aardvark and Yahoo Answers (which are all Q&A services), however Jelly feels different – in particular with the focus on images. It also has an (almost) gamification aspect, with ‘Thank You Cards’ and ‘Good Answer’ messages when you’ve made a particularly thoughtful, accurate or funny response. This will likely develop over time.

One very cool aspect of Jelly is that it runs as an iPhone app, Android app and also as a mobile site – and you can share questions via SMS or email with people that don’t have the apps installed. This is supremely clever and impressive technically too.

One significant area of improvement is ‘App-store SEO.’ Currently searching for ‘Jelly’ in the iTunes App Store shows a lot of games, but not this app.

Naturally, the chatter on and around Jelly is a) how will brands jump onboard, and b) how will Biz Stone and his esteemed investors seek to monetise it. A good article on this is on Medium.

Right now, only one thing is sure: that this first release of Jelly is just the beginning and will certainly evolve (or maybe ‘pivot’) in the coming months as they learn from user feedback and usage patterns.

There will be the inevitable land-grab for Jelly “firsts” by brands, agencies and the like. Some of these will be heralded as genius, most will be predictable, others will create a customer backlash (it will be irresistibly tempting for a brand to start posting ‘branded questions’ and spamming Jelly).

I would end with “follow me on Jelly,” but currently there is no way to find or follow a person. Instead, download the app and have a play.

Follow Tim O’Neill on Twitter here

Google Chromecast in our boardroom

“The future is already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed” famously quipped cyber-punk authorWilliam Gibson in 1993. And in a very small way that is evident when little gadgets come out. Recently our Reactive brethren in the US were able to purchase a Google Chromecast, ahead of us here Down Under. But collaborative folks as they are, Carl Panczak and his NYC crew sent a device our way. So that we could experience the future!

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Chromecast is a small extension to your TV or boardroom display, essentially giving you the ability to display what’s happening in your browser (be it on the phone, tablet or desktop). In a nutshell: Send video or anything on the Web to your TV from your smartphone, tablet or laptop (as it says on the box). The fact that it uses your local Wifi to receive the content makes the performance quite appealing.

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We waited for a proper software update from Google (the original version wasn’t that smooth) plus Google only recently made the Chromecast manager app available for Australia. This meant we could finally set it up via our Android phone. Install the Chrome extension from here. And the Chrome browser has a new functionality currently in experimental stage that will cast your whole screen to the TV, which definitely makes this a promising (and cheaper) alternative to Apple TV.

Here are a few resources on how to use it. Sadly, some of the apps (like Netflix or Hulu) are still only available if you are of the American persuasion: Google Chromecast Home

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So next time you come visit us at Reactive Sydney, you can expect to enter the future.

Innovation powers Reactive ‘Code And Snags’ BBQ

Take some of the brightest and most cutting edge developers in Australia, add a few high profile international speakers from companies such as Google, Financial Times and MailChimp, throw in cold beers, tasty sausages and a sunny balcony and you got the Reactive ‘Code and Snags BBQ’. As part of the renowned ‘Web Directions South‘ conference (currently underway in Sydney) we hosted an impressive group of technical experts who are busy creating the future of the web.

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Walking through the crowd, you could hear our own Reactive ubergeeks discussing all kinds of questions with our guests, from the most pressing ones to the most decidedly esoteric. When was the last time you were chatting about musical robots, a metadata language for designers, the future of animation, why the Apple Newton lost to the Palm Pilot and finally the Internet of Things, all within an hour or two? Among our most esteemed visitors was Scott Jenson who used to work on the Apple Newton, Symbian OS, managed the Google mobile UX team and also spent time at Frog Design in California. Please check his blog for great thoughts on how to combine on- and offline in the Internet of Things (IOT).CodeAndSnagsBlog02-a4e6c02e-4c66-4e8a-afce-e42a25b32d76-0-400x1215

Drifting through our event was not only the scent of our grilled snags. It was (more metaphorically speaking) the question of ‘what it takes to innovate’. And the answer was present in the group of guests: a lot of experience and skills plus an insatiable appetite for combining things in a new way. And we are curious what these bright minds will come up with next.