a street like yours

On Monday I was walking down a street like yours
I was reminded of begonia flowers
Folks sit on porches and pass the hours
Breezes blow fallen leaves about my feet
Yellow on one side, on one side red
Lifted up and whirled
Wet leaves leave rust stains on the walk
Dry leaves crush brittle under foot and boot
Bikes whir by
An occasional wispy cloud scutters across the autumn sky
Gusts bend branches, and blossoms and leaves cascade to the ground
Chimes lightly chime
Some old pumpkins slowly split and slump, collapse and crumble
Old man Marshall in overalls lumbers up and down a paint-spattered ladder
Hanging strings of small white lights
A small dog wobbles along on a discrete errand known to him only
Puddles rush out from under car tires and back
Rakes scrape graying leaves across lawns into heaps
Pink and orange the sky glows
And every branch and trunk is evenly lit, without anywhere a shadow
Dusk comes early and cold descends fast
as the sun behind grassy hills drops low
Crisp dark night sky stars shine
Smoke snakes above mossy roof tops
Inside, families gather cozy at flickering fires
Drinking cocoa, tea and nog.
Soon carolers will arrive
Wandering from home to home to home
Before long we will crawl under covers and cuddle beneath comforters
Sleep in a tangle of sheets
Easy dreams bring deep release

by DanShaw.com


as a mirror (poem)

I stand before you as a mirror
But not a perfect mirror, no
A piece of work rejected at the factory as flawed
Sold at a discount perhaps
Never framed, left around, moved here and there,
A corner chipped, then taped together
The silver peeled
Labeled ‘mirror’
Stained with fingerprints
Dirt adhered where gum from stickers long forgotten once stuck
Scratched by overzealous scrubbing
Tried to sell at a yard sale, unsold, given away
(I could not throw it away, it might make good art supplies)
Part of a growing collection of mirrors, no room, no room
I have others far better, some worse
I have written poems about this mirror; it would make a good movie, too
Fingernail polish makes a good paint
I have layered on other materials, too
I could not stop for the paint to dry
We stuck on other mirrors with little more than spit
It could not be moved or it might fall apart
There is no room to eat at the table, there is no time
Dinner doesn’t matter as much
The mirror must be layered, layered
With images of a kind
I do not see it as art just something that must be done
It must not be left undone
The mirror gives life meaning
What would I do without it
You may laugh and whisper but I do not notice and if I did I would not care
You may say that I can not separate myself from the mirror
But that is nonsense to me
I would not want to
The mirror is everything
Stand back make room I can not hear you shut up
What is the price of stopping?
I sharpen a knife to scrape away layer after layer and reapply pine needles
Please do not open the curtains, No!
There is no reason
To let outside life distract me
The life inside is life
I do not understand you, how can you have no mirror?

by DanShaw.com


Unless you’re here

There’s a lot of miles of road between my bonnie girl and me
A mile of road may as well be the Andaman Sea
Girl I’m missing you as soon as I open my eyes
Missing you from sunset to each empty sunrise
I console myself that we are looking at the same moon
Even through the distance we’re as connected as can be
Safe and strong in the connection that we share
Miles of stinging longing electrify the air
I’m afraid some jars will stay unopened until I get home
And who will read the poems?
Even flowers in the garden long to be taken home to you
My day hasn’t really happened unless you’re here to tell it to
The sorrow of separation can only be matched by the joy of reunion
God willing, I’ll be home before the first snow falls
And see your shining glow and feel your embrace
And gently stroke your glorious face and hair
And scratch your back where you can’t reach
And softly snore
In the warm luxurious comfort of home, and heart, and you

By DanShaw.com


Your business storefront sign could be 100% better

Some business owners spend thousands of dollars on a sign for their storefront, but most never really think through what makes a sign effective. By following these simple suggestions to design your storefront sign, you will bring in more customers and make more money.

Visible from up and down the road
If your sign is on the front of your building, and your building is close to the street, your sign will not be visible to passing traffic until they are in front of your business, and then only if the driver turns her head to read your sign. Your sign needs to be more or less perpendicular to the roadway, and so will have to be lettered on two sides. Even if your business is one a one-way street, your sign should be double-sided for pedestrians. A sign painted on the building will only be highly visible if your building is set back a good distance from the road. But even then, you should have a sign right up at the roadside. Pedestrians are not likely to wait for the signal to cross a busy street unless they can clearly see your shop sign.

Visible from sufficient distance
Your sign needs to be visible from at least 500 feet away. Especially if traffic is moving at speeds around 55 miles per hour, drivers need plenty of time to slow down safely to pull in to your business. Make sure that your sign is high enough to be seen above cars and trucks, and that it is not blocked by tree branches, etc.

Well lit
Even if your business is shut at night, you want people passing by after dark to see your business. Make sure your sign is well lit. Check frequently to make sure that all the light bulbs are working.

Lettering of sufficient size
To be visible from 500 feet, especially in a fast-moving vehicle, letters need to be 12 inches high, for people with normal vision. As the average age of the population increases, more and more of your customers will have impaired vision, so your sign needs to at least meet these standards, if not exceed them.

High contrast lettering
Use black lettering, or a dark color, against a white or light-colored background. Do not use reverse type, that is, white against a black or dark-colored background. Our eyes have evolved to focus on an object (foreground) against a background. Work with this natural tendency, not against it.

Use plain lettering
Use relatively plain lettering, not fancy lettering such as cursive.

Use all upper case
Upper case letters are learned first, and people can read upper case more easily than lower-case or mixed-case lettering.

Distinguish your business from the competition
You are competing for the attention of customers who have limited time, attention, and money. Fewer shoppers will stop at a store with a sign that says “POTTERY” than at a store with a sign that says “LOCAL HANDMADE POTTERY”.

Be brief
Shorter is better.

Grab attention with something a little unexpected
Do something creative with your signage to capture your customers’ attention and to make it memorable. Nobody remembers the logo for Kaybee Toys, now out of business, but everyone remembers that the “R” in Toys-R-Us is backwards.

Promote your website on your sign
Of the hundreds or thousands of people driving and walking past your sign every day, only a small percentage will stop at your business. Make sure your sign communicates effectively to everyone who passes by. Your website name, the dot-com, is your de facto business name. Promote it.

For more profitable business communication advice, see DanShaw.com.


Capturing Oral History on Video

Tips for Storytellers and for behind the Camera
By Dan Shaw

What does it take to capture compelling video of personal stories? With just a basic grasp of the technology, and these tips and techniques, you will feel confident to tell your own stories on camera, and to gather others’ stories. Whether you are in front of the camera or behind it, you’ll find it useful to be familiar with some of the situations that often occur in capturing oral history on video, and how to prepare and respond with ease and professionalism. It’s common for people to film themselves as well, so we’ll begin from the perspective of you, the storyteller, proceed to some notes for you, the camera operator, and conclude with tips for people filming themselves. For simplicity, I use the terms film and video interchangeably, and make no distinction between stories and oral history.

You’ve got stories to tell
Stories are personal, and may be emotional. Keep some water handy for the speaker, and tissues. Choose a camera operator with whom you feel comfortable.

Plan Ahead
A well-planned video will go more smoothly, be easier to edit, and cost less.
Will you be sharing this video with family and friends? Putting it on DVD, or on the web, or both? Keeping the answers to these questions in mind will help you get the best results.

Makeup and Wardrobe
Be sure to bring a comb, and to look in the mirror before you go on camera. Get a haircut, perhaps, but avoid making drastic changes to your appearance just before your video shoot. Avoid wearing white clothes, they may be too bright especially under studio lights. Do not wear a color that is similar to the background color. Do not wear patterns such as narrow stripes that may create an unusual optical effect (moiré) on video.

Plan an introduction. Plan a strong close. Make notes of the points you want to be sure to include, but don’t read from a script.

Set a time and place where you will feel comfortable. Your home may be a good choice, or you may choose another location. An outdoor location may be nice, but avoid direct sunlight as it can be unflattering. Avoid the sound of water in the background. Use a mic screen to quiet a light wind but don’t film in a strong wind.

Do what you can to reduce background noise, although some background noises may be inevitable and acceptable, such as sirens, other noises are avoidable and can ruin a video, such as a fridge, air conditioner, squeaky chair, or a lawnmower. A professional will be able to put a microphone on you to get the best sound; consumer grade cameras do not have an input for an external microphone, so the camera should be as close to you as practical. Be sure to get a sound check. Record about 60 seconds of video, then rewind and listen to it to be sure the quality is satisfactory.

Good quality cameras work remarkably well in low light, but most homes are dimly lit, and you will get better results by bringing in a lamp or two from another room, and perhaps removing a lampshade. Avoid hats which may shade the eyes.

Camera Angle, etc.
It’s most likely that your camera is mounted on a tripod. In other words, the camera position does not change. In that case, you can still add some visual interest with zooming. Start with a ‘wide’ shot, taking in more of the setting and background. You might even start with a shot of the setting, then slowly pan (turn) the camera to face your storyteller. Listen for a natural break, such as the end of a sentence, then begin a slow zoom in closer. It may be appropriate to zoom in to a close-up as the story reaches an intense moment. Then return to the ‘regular’ shot. As the story comes to close, you can slowly zoom out again.

Choose a visually interesting background. Choose a chair that will help you sit up straight, or sit on the edge of your seat.

Monologue or interview format?
Often, people will make a few ‘false starts’ when they are talking in front of a camera. But, after a few minutes, they are on a roll. Some people may feel more comfortable answering questions than monologing. Be sure that the question can be clearly heard. If there is only one mic, make sure the storyteller answers in complete sentences. Also be sure that the questioner is not nearer to the microphone (or camera mic) than the storyteller, or the questions will be louder than the answers.

If two people are on camera, to place the camera is as close as possible, so that faces are as large as possible, seat people almost knee to knee.

Film a short segment, and review your storytelling and video quality. This kind of ‘bio-feedback’ is invaluable in improving your skills in front of the camera and behind it. If you are also editing the video, use this first, short segment as a practice run. If you have some problem with your video, it’s best to know sooner and to work it out on a five minute video instead of a longer segment.

Filming: Take as much time as you need
If you feel that you could have said something better, simply pause, back up a little, and start again from any point.

If you have limited time, you may want to have someone (the “stage manager”) at intervals hold up fingers or cards showing how many minutes you have remaining.

Filming things, photos and documents
If you have objects to film, this may be a good opportunity to add some movement. Slowly rotate the object to show both sides. Zoom in and zoom out slowly. Take still photos, too, as these may be useful in editing together the finished video. It is preferable to digitize (scan) photos and documents to add in post-production rather than filming them. If you are filming photos, be sure to the photos are steady, not hand-held, and beware of glare.

Review the unedited footage before you pay for editing
For any number of reasons you may decide that you do not want your video released, for example, “I didn’t realize there was that rude graffiti in the background!” Don’t pay for editing until you’re sure the raw footage is satisfactory. You can save money and time by taking notes of the editing that needs to be done. These notes showing “in times” and “out times” are called an “Edit Decision List” (EDL). You can download a blank EDL from DanShaw.com.

Filming Yourself
If you are filming yourself, do a test run.

You may to need your video edited before it is ready to share. Having video professionally edited may be expensive. You can minimize this expense with good planning. Most computers come with software that allows even a novice to do a passable job.

After editing, the video is ‘rendered’ into whatever format you need, and you may need DVD format and web format. You can burn DVDs yourself on your computer; you will need a program such as Nero. The duplication process is time-consuming. You can find duplicating services in most urban areas; check with your copy shop or camera shop.

If you intend to save your video for the future, then you will want to save it digitally, such as on a computer hard drive, and also on a ‘hard copy’ such as a DVD. As of this writing (2013), DVD remains the format of choice, despite the advent of Blu Ray disks. DVD’s and Blu Rays disks may seem durable, but they are not archival quality, and may not last for 10 years. The data is written on a thin film affixed to the top of the disk, so the serious archivist will not label disks at all, not with an adhesive label, and not with ink. Obviously unlabeled disks are difficult to manage. Fortunately there is a compromise. Since the data is written on the disks from the center to the edge, often there is blank space on the edge of the disk, so you can safely write on an arc around the edge without risk to the data.

Taking your next steps
Fortunately, capturing compelling stories on video does not require perfection. Yet storytelling and filmmaking are fine arts. Expert filmmaking actually requires a team of experts, but anyone can make a decent video with just a little practice. You will encounter new situations and you will learn every time you do a video.

Storytelling and filmmaking are intimately woven together and woven into the human experience. Both storytelling and filmmaking preserve historical and cultural knowledge and values. Storytelling and filmmaking thus play a vital role in transmitting knowledge and values now, and in bequeathing these gifts to future generations. You’ll find that capturing oral histories on video is also immensely rewarding personally.

Dan Shaw is the author of Business Website Boot Camp Workbook and he is available for video work within and outside the Rogue Valley. Related articles on Hiring a Filmmaker, Filming Conferences, Preparing for Video, What to do now that your video has been edited, are available at DanShaw.com.


How to have meetings people won’t hate

By Dan Shaw

What does it take to hold effective meetings, meetings that people will enjoy rather than dread? Let’s look first at the reasons people say they hate meetings, then we can easily identify how to avoid those pitfalls.

Reasons People Hate Meetings

The number one reason (according to GiveMore.com's 2012 survey):
·       Meeting leaders allow attendees to ramble and repeat comments and thoughts.
Other complaints about meetings that were listed as the most frustrating were:
  • Starts late, goes off agenda, finishes late
  • No specific action items or takeaway points
  • No clear purpose or objective
  • Not inspiring or motivating
  • Not organized and there is no agenda
  • Too long
  • Repeating information for late arrivals
  • Weak presenter who is unprepared, monotone, or overly redundant
  • Boring and provides no new or interesting information

These seem perfectly reasonable objections to bad meetings.

Here’s how to avoid these pitfalls:
  • Identify a clear purpose
  • Identify specific action items or takeaway points
  • Distribute an agenda in advance of the meeting to give people time to prepare
  • Do not attend (or require attendance at) meetings unless new info will be conveyed
  • Limit duration of meetings to 90 minutes. If a meeting must run two hours, allow a 10 minute break
  • Start on time, appoint a timekeeper
  • Appoint a recorder
  • Do not repeat info for late arrivals
  • Stay on agenda; appoint a monitor
  • Choose skilled presenters
  • Finish on time
Agenda sets time limits.
The agenda should specify time allotted to each topic. Because if not times are specified, it gives the mis-impression that everything is equally important.

Create a visual record.
If everyone in the room can see the minutes being recorded, this solves several problems at once. It minimizes repetition…

For more info on Running effective meetings, agendas, and visual records see:

© 2013 DanShaw.com