Monday, August 31, 2009

Starting Ingredients

I attended an excellent panel discussion last week organized by the American Chemical Society in which three CEOs of biotech start-ups shared their experiences of establishing new companies.

The three key ingredients to a successful start-up are: great science / intellectual property, experienced people and of course, financial backing. Each company had started out with a different one of these three ingredients, and then sought out the the other two.

Food for thought - in today's world, new companies build a core team as soon as funding is first received, almost always with former coworkers whose experience and capabilities are a known quantity. As product development progresses, these companies plan on using expert consultants and outsourcing to handle specialized, but non-core activities, rather than hiring and building these capabilities in-house.

Main take-away: if you are interested in joining a start-up company the best place to start is re-establishing contact with former coworkers and those who know what you can do. The evening finished on a very upbeat note, encouraging entrepreneurs to take courage and take the plunge now, at a time where start up costs, rents and used equipment are low, and dream teams are ready, willing and available.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Facebook Faux Pas

Do you use Facebook? If you do, the following article may resonate with you:

Here are some additional categories of annoying facebook updaters:

1. The Spammer
How could you avoid noticing a spammer? These people fill your wall with one post after another, in fact Facebook kindly hides the proliferation of posts with a link inviting you to peruse "4 related posts." I often wonder how spammers hold down a job since they are posting on Facebook all day long.

2. The Soul-Barer
These honest folk's first reaction is to bare their innermost feelings via their Facebook page. Do they realize or care that the whole world could be watching? Typical revelations include "I hate my job / my boss / my neighbors" or "I am going for a job interview / a pregnancy test / I will be out of the country on vacation from Saturday for a month". Hello! Did you stop to think whether your past, current or future employer or the local burglar might be among your readers?

3. The Proud Parent
Cute photos of your offspring are nice to share, but please spare us the details of what Junior just said, or is watching on TV. You don't need to tell us how adorable they are. Why not set up a separate page so that you can share Junior's every waking moment only with his doting Grandma?

4. The Vote Chaser
An extreme example of the Self-Promoter, the Vote Chaser spams Facebook Friends daily, or more than daily to cast votes in an online ballot for their pet cause, often themself. Vote for me!

What responses can we make to these irritating individuals? It's probably a good idea to refrain from public criticism or comment on the offender's Wall - it can be amusing to watch in mild cases and in extreme cases there are always the options of sending a private message to gently explain that you find the posts inappropriate, or if you don't care to preserve the friendship, just quietly unfriend the person - chances are they will never notice...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Moderator Tips

I never appreciated the importance of good moderation of a speaker panel until attending a poorly moderated panel discussion recently. The meeting promised very well - great panelist line-up, interesting topic, strong attendance, combined with a venue that provided excellent logistics, refreshments and audiovisual set up. But despite all these advantages, the event was marred by poor moderation and both speakers and audience were left disappointed by the experience.

What can we learn from this about good moderation?
1) Preparation is key.

a) Selecting panelists. Three to four panelists is an ideal number - fewer and it can be difficult to present diverse points of view, more than four and there won't be enough time for each panelist to contribute meaningfully. Consider the diversity of your panel too - not just by type of company, consider women panelists as well as men and panelists with international experience.

b) Briefing panelists. Contact each panelist beforehand to get their bio and check how they wish to be introduced (and the pronunciation of their name and company). Explain the topic for discussion and your expectations for their participation - e.g. will they be expected to give a short presentation? With powerpoint or without? How long? Ideally, get your panelists together beforehand either by teleconference or prior to the panel discussion, for breakfast or lunch, so that they can get acquainted and start to identify issuues of interest for the panel discussion.

2. Facilitating the discussion.

a) It is your job as moderator to get the discussion going and guide the pace and direction. But remember the audience has come to hear the panelists speak, not you, so avoid making over-long introductory comments. Invite each panelist to introduce him or herself (no more than 5 minutes) and then start by posing a few questions that you have prepared beforehand with the panel. One good approach can be to pose a general question and invite each panelist in turn to express his or her view.

b) Usually there will be questions from the audience. If the question is not audible, repeat it so that everyone can hear - it can be helpful to have a microphone available for audience questions so that you do not need to repeat them. Sometimes audience members may use the opportunity as a platform or make long rambling comments prior to their question. The moderator is responsible for bringing these questions back to focus, and if necessary for moving the discussion on to the next question. Do not allow any one individual to monopolize the airtime but firmly interrupt if necessary and direct the question to another panelist, or invite another person to ask a new question

3. Time management. The moderator is responsible for keeping the discussion on track. Carefully plan your time beforehand - for introductions, the main topics to be covered and allow time for audience questions at the end.

I hope these moderator tips are helpful in eliciting lively and dynamic panel discussions from your invited experts. What other tips can you share?