How to Captivate Your Audience (Instruction 101, Part II)

You have to give a presentation, and you find yourself wondering: “Will anyone be listening to what I say?” With time and attention in such short supply, it’s easy enough to imagine audience members checking their email, napping or, worst of all, tweeting to each other about what a snooze your presentation is.

You can avoid this by knowing how to engage your audience from beginning. Here are six tips from the experts for keeping your audience hooked during any presentation:

1. Make it interactive. Even though you’ve wisely done your homework and know what your audience is looking for, start by asking some questions. “It shows interest from your side,” says Lawrence Burgee, department chair of The Division of Information Technology at Stevenson University. “If I go home to my spouse, it’s better for me to say ‘How was your day?’ instead of just telling her about my day. It works for business associates too.”

Besides, you may learn something you need to know. John Proffitt, senior consultant at the computer support company Design-PT, was conducting a training session on a new phone system with many different features recently. He mentioned in passing that the system would allow users to send calls to a “parking lot,” where any other user could pick up the call. The audience responded immediately. “I had thought I understood how they handled calls, but I didn’t realize this would be a big hit,” he says. “I had to let the students teach me.”

2. Get buy-in. You do this by explaining up-front what your audience will learn during your session, and how this new information will benefit them. “I’ve seen too many presentations where a geeky person launches right into walking the audience through the technical information,” says Burgee. “You have to build rapport first by letting them know you’re there to help them.”

3. Speak plain English. If your audience is non-technical, they won’t react well to technology terms, even those that seem completely clear to you. “It’s easy to be passionate about new technology and wind up talking over people’s heads,” says Mike Scheuermann, associate vice president of Instructional Technology Support at Drexel University. “Showing passion is good, but you have to put yourself in the shoes of your audience.”

4. Remember to “chunk.” Most people can only assimilate information in limited amounts at one time. That may be 15 minutes or half an hour or more, depending on the subject matter. You can help them by taking breaks at regular intervals and dividing your information into modules that the audience can focus on one at a time.

5. Get feedback. Asking the audience to fill out an evaluation form is a great way to find out if you succeeded in engaging their interest. Burgee also recommends following the session with lunch or some other informal gathering. “You get a lot of valuable feedback that way.”

6. Follow up one-on-one. “If I can, I walk around the location right after the class or later that day,” says Proffitt. “You can catch people one-on-one and say, ‘Is there anything you didn’t understand?’ They can ask the questions they thought were too stupid to ask in front of everyone else.”

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Can Video Help Your Small Business?

Video has become a killer app for small-to-midsized businesses. You can now use live video conferencing and collaboration between remote employees, provide streaming video for websites and social networks, and more.

“Video is indeed becoming more pervasive in the enterprise,” says Phil Karcher, a researcher at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass. “Tools like online video platforms make it easy for marketers to embed video on their websites and syndicate content to their YouTube and Facebook pages.”

However, there are a few challenges in keeping up with the Joneses -- from taxing network resources to privacy and security concerns. Is video really worth it for your business? Consider the following:

The Value of Video
Even though it takes some planning on the part of IT, Forrester Research says your business can’t afford not to embrace online video. Video is 53 times more likely to appear on the first page of search results than text-related pages on the same topic.

Unlike television, radio and newspapers, online video also lives forever, is forever searchable and helps create a personal connection with the viewer, as it can generate discussion and debate between commenters. As opposed to other media, Internet video can also be viewed whenever, wherever -- whether the viewer uses a computer, a smartphone, a tablet, a portable media player or an Internet-connected television.

Video Conference for Productivity
Companies are also recognizing the added value of video conferencing, says John Bartlett, principal of NetForecast, a consulting firm that benchmarks, analyzes and helps improve performance of networked data, voice and video apps. “It’s a better way to establish and enhance a relationship,” says Bartlett. “Video enables the ability to read body language when communicating with a client and provides a more efficient way to collaborate with colleagues.”

However, video conferencing presents a bigger issue for your network, says Karcher. “The major gating factor is the network’s ability to handle two-way video, which is more sensitive than one-way streaming video,” explains Karcher. “Desktop videoconferencing puts a lot of pressure on the network backbone, therefore companies that add more video to the network need to think about tools to manage bandwidth and assure reliable performance.”

Choosing a Network for Your Video Needs
Depending on your company’s needs, size and budget, you’ll have to decide if a regular Ethernet connection can handle everything, or if you should invest in a dedicated enterprise-grade pipe to handle your business’s video and other applications.

“Companies need to understand the impact on the network,” explains Bartlett. “If Skype is acceptable to you, then your regular broadband connection might be fine. But an enterprise network, while more expensive, will give you more bandwidth and better-quality video.”

Privacy and Security Concerns for Video
Don’t embrace video without a security strategy in place, cautions Bartlett. You’ll need a secure firewall, and you must “consider tools or services for encrypting video calls so the man in the middle can’t listen in,” he says. “You need to think of how it affects content management, compliance and security -- and you will need tools to search, secure, track and report on video too.”

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Photo: Getty Images

Instruction 101, Part I: Get Your Message Across

It’s a moment many geeks dread. At some point in your career, it’s likely you’ll have to teach your peers -- or worse, your non-technical co-workers or customers -- about a new technology.

Doing so can be a real boost to your career, not only because it gives you great visibility within your organization -- and sometimes beyond it -- but also because it will help you increase your expertise. “You never truly master something until you teach it to someone else,” says Jeremiah Dunham, president of the IT support company Design-PT and an adjunct professor at the University of Alaska in Anchorage.

Teaching is daunting, especially if you’ve never done it before. Here are four keys to making sure you come across like a pro:

1. Know your audience. Find out who’s likely to be there, and most important, what they’ll want to learn from you. This is especially vital when teaching a non-technical audience about technology. You may love the new technology or product for its elegant design and functionality, but that’s unlikely to matter to a lay audience that will only want to know how the product can help them do their jobs more easily, increase revenues or save the company money. They may also be worried that newer, more efficient technology will result in layoffs, so make sure you’re sensitive to those concerns.

2. Set the stage. Finding the right location for your teaching session can be tricky. You want a setting where you won’t be interrupted or distracted by nearby noise. “A lab type of environment, where everyone has their own computer, is the most effective setting if you’re teaching a new piece of software,” notes Dunham.

Always visit the room beforehand. “If you’re in a new venue, you need to check out every aspect of it: room size, chair arrangement, lighting, acoustics and any technology you’re going to use,” says Mike Scheuermann, associate vice president of Instructional Technology Support at Drexel University. “If you have a glitch because you didn’t prepare, you can undermine your own effectiveness.”

3. Dress the part. Your audience will feel more comfortable with you, and thus be more receptive to what you say, if your attire reflects theirs. In most cases, this means that you, as a geek, will have to look more formal than usual. But the reverse can also be true.

Early in his career, Lawrence Burgee, department chair of Information Systems at Stevenson University had to make a presentation to 500 public utility workers. He arrived dressed for business, as was required in the company’s headquarters offices, where he worked. But the utility workers, who spent their time out in the field, were wearing jeans and T-shirts. “As I walked through the door, I heard one audience member tell his neighbor, ‘Here comes another suit!’” Burgee recalls. “I set the wrong tone by dressing wrong.”

4. Plan to record. “We encourage everyone we deal with to at least consider recording their presentations,” says Scheuermann. “It provides a great benefit for audience members to be able to go over the material again, whether or not they attended the session face-to-face. There are vast numbers of technologies that let you record with different feature sets, and the less expensive ones can be just as effective. It’s a best practice to always make a recording.”

Mastering these steps should give you as much confidence in your presentation skills as you have in your tech know-how.

Coming next month: “Instruction 101, Part II: Keep Your Audience Engaged.”

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Google Chrome OS Notebook: A Security Game Changer?

Google’s much-hyped Chrome OS notebook is just a few months away, promising to deliver a lean, minimalist approach to mobile computing. Fast startup time, long battery life thanks to lower power consumption, and a heavy emphasis on cloud computing add up to plenty of interest from businesses of all sizes.

But will this new operating system mean fewer security headaches for you as an IT professional? Yes and no, say technology experts who are familiar with Chrome OS, scheduled to power mobile computers from the likes of Samsung and Acer by the middle of this year. Here’s what you should consider.

The Google Chrome OS: Effective but Limited
Dino A. Dai Zovi, a New York City-based independent security consultant, says he has been playing around with Google’s Chrome OS notebook prototype, dubbed “Cr-48,” for more than a month. Although he thinks it’s an effective tool for Web communication, it likely won’t be his primary computer.

“I don’t see how you’d want Chrome OS as your main computer, because there isn’t support for popular Web apps, such as Skype, and it’s unclear what native clients will run on Chrome OS,” says Dai Zovi. “But Chrome OS could be useful as a secondary device, as a competitor to, say, tablets.”

Google OS Chrome Security Is Relative
Although Google OS Chrome notebook files are stored in the cloud, Dai Zovi says that doesn’t translate into bulletproof security. “One big limitation for business is no support for encrypted emails -- unless you use a third-party Web-based encryption product,” says Dai Zovi, who has co-authored the books The Art of Software Security Testing and The Mac Hacker’s Handbook.

Consider whether you’re willing to entrust your data to one entity, say the experts. “With Chrome OS, you need to ask yourself if you’re putting too much trust in the hands of Google,” says Bruce Schneier, a security tech consultant and author. “If you’re someone like my mother, who isn’t tech-savvy and is afraid of losing information, sure, you might prefer for someone else to take care of it. But if you’re talking about Citibank corporate accounts, forget it.”

Google’s cloud-based apps provide a uniform standard of security that works great for many people, but Schneier cautions it may not meet your organization’s standards if you need to adhere to policies or regulations. “If you have to ask Google where your data is being stored and if it’s leaving the country, then it’s not for you,” he says.

Weigh the Convenience vs. the Risk of Chrome OS
Your end users are likely to enjoy the convenience of Chrome OS’s cloud-centric approach, says Dai Zovi. After all, you can access files from virtually any online device in the world. You can collaborate and share documents easily, and data is protected from local damage, such as flood or fire or computer theft. However, there may not be adequate layers of protection for your organization’s online data.

“If your data is simply protected by a password and no additional layer of security, that’s simply not enough for many businesses,” says Dai Zovi.

Dai Zovi says Google may be considering expanding its two-step authentication system that is available on Google Apps, where the user receives a text message with a code to type in for access to the application, along with a password. But even a two-step security measure isn’t foolproof, says Dai Zovi, who recalls a recent Firesheep (Firefox extension) vulnerability that led to “sidejacking” attacks among Gmail, Facebook and Twitter users.

As it is, it’s not clear exactly how the system will be embraced. “It’s a new platform, so it’ll take a while to see how this can be a good fit for consumers and businesses,” says Dai Zovi.


5 Tax Security Strategies for Small Business

When tax time rolls around, it isn’t just CPAs who spring into action. It’s a big time for hackers as well, who bank on sensitive information getting transmitted over the Internet via online filings. And if the hackers are working OT, you know what that means: more work for IT too.

Like everyone else, your company has two options: File taxes yourself or go through a third party. Each choice comes with its own risks, which you can minimize with some foresight and common sense.

Tax Security Tip No. 1: Secure your connection.
If your boss is the do-it-yourself sort, you as the IT brain face the same headaches as the average Joe taxpayer. Is the PC you’re using secure? Are you sending the information over a wireless network? If so, are you using a WPA2 connection or a less secure one?

Jeff Lanza, president of The Lanza Group and an expert on computer security matters, recommends using a wired connection if possible and making sure the PC your company uses to file those taxes has updated security software. “You’re giving up Social Security numbers, birth dates and all sorts of information that can lead to identity theft,” says Lanza.

Tax Security Tip No. 2: Check out the CPA.
Outsourcing your company’s taxes to a third party may seem like a safer option, but Lanza suggests that you play detective first. “If you’re using a CPA, you want to ask how they protect the information and what they do keep your info secure,” says Lanza. Don’t just leave it to management to select a tax preparer. Explain that you need to ask critical IT security questions.

What kinds of questions? Ask what type of software the tax preparer is using and whether he or she has installed the latest security patches. Examine the firm’s security and privacy policies and find out if the preparer uses SSL encryption. Lanza says emailing data can also be risky, so either go with a secure email service or hand-deliver the information.

Beyond that, Robert Siciliano, a security analyst and consultant, suggests doing a simple background check. “Whenever you’re doing business with anyone, you should know who you’re doing business with,” says Siciliano. “It wouldn’t be a bad idea just to do a quick Google search on them.”

Tax Security Tip No. 3: Go directly to
No matter who’s filing, the ultimate destination is Subsequent links from that page should be in the secure “https” format. Caution tax filers about clicking on pages that aren’t secure.

Tax Security Tip No. 4: Warn your unsuspecting end users.
Now is a good time to educate your end users about phishing scams. Tell them about common scams around tax time, like hackers posing as representatives from TurboTax or H&R Block in an effort to get consumers and businesses to give up sensitive information. Another common scam is a warning email purportedly from the IRS. Remind end users that the government will never solicit their sensitive information via email.

By preparing end users, you’re not just protecting their info. If end users click on a malicious link using a company computer, you’ll have the hassle of dealing with the threat to your company’s data.

Tax Security Tip No. 5: Store tax records securely.
After the taxes are completed, the best way to protect your company’s sensitive tax-related information is to take it off the hard drive and put it on an external drive instead. And finally, a few months down the road, take the final, most crucial precaution to make sure you’ve safeguarded data: “Check your credit report,” says Lanza. “You should be doing that on a regular basis anyway.”

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