The New Etiquette of Webinars (insert post-Covid statement here)

Hands up if you have been to an in-person conference or summit since the middle of March this year. Yeah, me neither.

And so we saw the rapid build-up of the online webinar, starting from the first tentative steps made by the BBC’s Have I Got News For You, through to LinkedIn Live, Zoom based cabinet briefings being “hacked”, and the advent of the vanity backdrop. And there was much celebration amongst members of ISACA and (isc)2 as we could now still get CPE’s for sitting around drinking coffee and chatting with our infosec mates.

Some fo the first ones were, frankly, a little bit crap. Poor sound and video, and events organisers more used to managing people in person rather than at the end of a dodgy video link. But these were pioneering days, and let’s face it, we needed those CPEs. It didn’t take long for features to start pouring into platforms like Zoom, Teams, Discord, even Webex (used only by employees of Cisco and people trapped in a Cisco building), and other platforms like BrighTalk. Events people got better at putting them on and using the tools, and the quality went up. New tools (or tools that found a new audience) such as StreamYard and Livestoem have truly democratised the ability to produce slick online conferences with a big budget feel at pocket-friendly pricing.

But.

The rot is starting to seep in, and quickly too. It’s only been a few months as well.

For context since the beginning of this month (October) to the end of next month, I will have hosted over 30 hours of online events, mostly as a full-on Host but also as a panel moderator, and some poor behaviours are starting to seep in already.

So I present to you my Top Ten Webinar Peeves, from both sides of the screen

  • Start on time. Even if some of your speakers are suffering from technical difficulties, start on time. You should always have a plan B anyway, or a host that can think on their feet quickly enough to engage the audience for the few extra minutes needed. Unlike a physical conference, you don’t have a captive audience. They will leave to do something else or assume it was cancelled last minute. Be on screen straight away and engage immediately.
  • Finish on time. Or slightly earlier. Never overrun. Your attendees are busy people and have meetings and places to be. Again, they are not a captive audience with the promise of a free drink or six at the end of the show and will leave the session at the published time. This means any closing remarks, thanks to sponsors or calls to action will be lost, and the benefit of the session in the first place significantly reduced.
  • Test the platform upfront. There are so many different platforms out there now, all with their own quirks and foibles. Each one has a different workflow to share your screen to give a presentation or require an upload prior to the session. Others require a certain browser to work properly, and they all seem to handle audio devices in different ways. Get it sorted upfront.
  • Position your camera properly. Everybody’s home setup is different, but there are basics that need to be observed. Don’t sit with a window or other light source right behind you as it will darken your image such that you can’t be seen. Can’t move? Then close the curtains. Try out different lights in different locations to get the best picture of you (you want to be recognised at a real conference, later on, don’t you?), and get the camera at the same hight as your eyes. Nobody wants to look into your nostrils. This might mean putting your laptop on a stack of books or similar, but the change is very noticeable.
  • Use a wired microphone and headphones. Having audio coming out of your speakers is suboptimal and can result in feedback. Wired is best because of latency and sound quality. There are some Bluetooth headsets and buds available that do a good job here, but they are the exception, not the rule.
The steps you go to ensuring you look good on screen. I need all the help I can get.
  • Present to the schedule. As a speaker, if you have been given a 15-minute slot, speak for 15 minutes (give or take a couple of minutes I am not a heartless monster). the organisers will have some buffer built-in and can work on the fly for genuine accidental overruns, but if your 15-minute slot goes on for 40 minutes, that is rude and disrespectful to the organisers, the speakers following you, and the audience who may not have even joined to watch you but rather subsequent speakers.
  • Have a timer. Conversely, more organisers should have a visible countdown clock on-screen that will allow everyone to see how much time they have remaining. Additionally, confirming on a regular basis that the speaker knows they will be interrupted and shut down if they exceed their slot by too much is a good way of reinforcing the message to the speaker.
  • Have a discussion area available. Not all questions are going to be answered in the session, so having a Slack, Discord or other platforms available will help immensely and ensure your speakers have an opportunity to connect to the audience after the session if need be.
  • Let everyone speak. A good host will ensure that everyone on a panel or discussion gets the opportunity to put their point across. Most of the time everyone is happy for this to happen, but sometimes people like the sound of their own voice over everyone else’s. Short of removing that person from the session, it is very difficult to manage that without causing embarrassment. Don’t be that person. Let the moderator/host guide you through the whole session as they have a much better idea of what is supposed to happen and when.
  • For goodness’ sake, have fun! As if this year hasn’t been tough enough already, having an opportunity to get together and listen to good talks should be embraced and be enjoyable.

So, speakers, presenters and organisers alike, some tips to make these new (obligatory post-COVID statement here) webinars and sessions more effective for everyone. There are plenty of other tips (don’t use a virtual background if you don’t have a green screen for instance), but these will certainly improve any even you are involved in, and in whatever capacity.

The best thing about virtual events though is that I can get my tea and snacks whenever I want, and not when the venue staff decide. Win-win.


The Runners and Riders of Lockdown

After over six weeks of some kind of lockdown here in the UK, and similar amounts of time elsewhere in the world, it has become very obvious to me that many companies out there are simply ill-equipped to deal with the change in lifestyle the lockdown demands.

By ill-equipped, I don’t just mean from a technology perspective, although we see some of that as companies reduce security requirements to get users online from home. What I mean is that culturally they are not equipped to deal not only with a workforce that needs to work remotely but also a market that is doing the same. Put simply; companies are struggling to re-gear their sales and marketing departments to this brave new world we find ourselves.

I say this because as an industry we are used to a plethora of in-person events happening where vendors can either have stalls displaying their latest products, or stages where carefully polished presentations and panels are put on for us to watch, learn and hopefully decide to buy their product from. Webinars and online events were there but were the distant, impoverished, uglier cousin of something live, in-person and your face. Indeed, just a few weeks before the lockdown I was at RSA Conference in San Francisco, where the very epitome of what I describe was played out for the world to see.*

Then suddenly, it all stopped. Conferences and shows were cancelled, events postponed indefinitely, and in many cases, the security product landscape just stopped. I understand why, in many cases, cash flow needed to be conserved in these unprecedented times. However, it very quickly became apparent that this was the new normal, and that the companies that didn’t embrace it would quickly become irrelevant. after all, if you can’t adapt to a few weeks of disruption, what kind of company are you, delivering products to an industry that needs to plan for disruption?

I watched “Have I Got News For you” in those first few weeks on the BBC, a topical panel show comprised of 5 people, and they did it by having the guests record from their homes.

Have I Got News For You, March 2020

It was different, the dynamic was… a little off… but the show went ahead, the jokes landed, and each subsequent show got better. In other words, the BBC just got on with it, embraced the change, and made it work.

The same needs to happen to many of the security vendors, as unfortunately, it is a case of remaining relevant throughout the lockdown, in the front of people’s minds, and showing that they can overcome adversity by delivering knowledge and information. Those that don’t do it, retract into their proverbial shells and wait for “normality” to return will suffer.

Also, let us assume that normality does return, whatever form that might take. Those that have embraced these alternative Zoom/Skype/Teams/Hangouts/whatever approaches may find they are just as valuable as in-person events and can operate both, side by side, now unconstrained by the lockdown and able to use film and audio in even more creative ways. Which company would you choose to work with in the future, the one who sat tight, and did little market outreach during the lockdown, or the company that continued to communicate with their clients and potential clients through different mediums, sometimes getting it wrong but continually innovating and improving. Which company has the better culture?

It isn’t even a matter of cost. The LinkedIn Live, Zoom, Webinar etc. technologies already existed and were invested in, just woefully underutilised.

The same argument also applies to work from home, as many organisations now realise that productivity isn’t hours sat at the office desk, but rather results.  Which organisation/manager would you want to work for? The one that never changes or the culturally adaptive one that is based on results and trust?

These are challenging times, but these are the times that are going to show many companies in their true light, and you can use this time to differentiate between them.

 

*I do love a good conference, and the benefits they bring to my peers and me are fabulous, in case you think I am biased against them.


RSA 2019, and women finally had to queue for the toilets…

If the streets of San Francisco are becoming more cluttered as the homeless problem gets worse year after year, the conference itself seemed to take a clear shift towards a more friendly and inclusive event.

The redesign of the conference wasn’t just limited to the Moscone Centre itself. To be sure , the revised layout meant even more vendors could be squeezed in (where do they all come from?!) and we could find ourselves utterly lost on the expo floor as it was no longer clear if we were in the North or South hall, and what direction we had to walk in for the West hall when we finally emerged, blinking into the weak Californian sun.

This redesign, if it can be called that, came across to me in two distinct ways, both of which are areas that are close to me. Sure, the talks were good, the Keynotes interesting (if occasionally sponsored), and the overall organisation was excellent. But the two areas I thought that stood out were diversity and wellness.

Of course, the more cynical of us will say that it was just a move that RSA made to keep the haters quiet and the ticket sales up, but it really did feel like a corner had been turned here. That is not to say they did it first, as there are thousands of events around the world that are supporting diversity and wellness, but to see it done at this scale is what made it stand out. RSA is undeniably a commercial conference, and many parts of the infused echo chamber deride it for being so, but it is also a litmus test of how the industry as a whole is performing.

 

Group_Male_Executives1

Therefore, seeing the demise of the all male panel (or “manel” as I heard it described) and seeing broadly balance panels, and a larger number of talks fronted by women is the direction that the community has been pushing for years. It takes effort to redress a balance like this, but when it reflects is a high profile show like this the benefits are greatly increased. As a direct result of this, my unscientific method of just using my eyes showed me there was a greater number of women attending as well. (I think I even saw a queue for the ladies toilets at one point as well – now if that isn’t scientific proof i don’t know what is). This greater balance is better for all of us in this industry, however you look at it.

As for wellness, I counted at least three sessions on the impact of infosec on mental health, including one keynote. I was informed just today that a straw poll found that 14% of CISOs found the stress of the job “unbearable and unsustainable”, and the associated decline in mental health a very real cause for concern. Our toxic mixture of being measured on failure and the requirements for us to 24×7 “keep secrets” means none of this reported or addressed, and people are suffering. Seeing this addressed by senior and well known people in the field in an open forum can only mean good things and result in better health overall.

Let’s be clear, diversity and wellness are still in the early stages of being addressed, but being addressed they are, and if more shows and conferences like RSA can continue to push the agenda, then the information security industry will become a friendlier place.

Let’s not forget (Will) Wheaton’s Law that applies to all of us here, and a mantra to live your personal as well as your professional life by:

“Don’t be a Dick”.

I was also involved in some media coverage, mainly because of the very fine folks at ITSP Magazine. I helped with a daily wrap up report and an end of show report as well. You will not I hope, dear reader, have missed the quite excellent T-shirts I happen to be sporting…

Thursday’s update was so good, we even did it twice ; if you ever get to meet Sean you can ask him why…

Selena, Marco and Sean did a fantastic job summarising every day, as well as carrying out a slew of other interviews and update. Please do check out their magazine and subscribe, i promise you won’t be disappointed.

I also did an interview with Matthew Schwartz of ISMG, under thier Bank Info Security brand. It focussed on wellness and mental health, and has yet to be published (if at all). This was an interesting choice for me as I do not wish to become the poster boy for this topic, but given the wholly positive response I have recieved from people who not only are affected by the issues I raised, now feel “safe” to talk about them, it is hard to not talk more about it. I have no doubt I will be talking more on this, so I guess i will have to hone the message more to not just get the point across but also avoid being placed in this niche itself.

Hopefully that interview will surface as Matthew is a wonderful interviewer and friend, and he helped tell the story in a very compelling and sensitive way.

Finally, i had the opportunity to knock around RSA with my old mucker Javvad. We absolutely did not plan any filming, and I absolutey did not help him script his film, or even hang around hoping to be filmed. But as luck would have it I happened to be in the right place at the right time to be interviewed.

In it I opine about the huge amounts of negativity aimed at vemndors during RSA, even hearing some commentators refer to it as a “vendor wank-fest” which is both disingenuous and frankly a somewhat disturbing image to conjur up. I will leave you to watch Javvad’s thoughtful film on the topic of vendors, suffice to say that without them we wouldn’t have half of the community we have now.

And then the week was over in a flash. Diversity, wellness, toilets, faulty microphones, vendors and filming, all wrapped up in a blog post, films and a bunch of fun memories.

<edit> Typos


What, No Expense Account? My RSA 2019 Itinerary

Yes, you read it here first, I will not be jetting into San Francisco on my private jet and staying at a hotel I wouldn”t tell you plebs about anyway.

RSA 2019 will be a first for me in that I am representing myself and not expensing my trip on the company dime. I am attending in part, to the generosity of ITSP Magazine, (cheers, Sean and Marco!) and all I have to do in return is type a few words out for them. They may already be regretting that decision after seeing me insulting you, dear reader, in my first sentence of this blog.

I often attend RSA without a solid itinerary, getting a lot of value of the “hallway track” and the multitude of events that are thrown in and around the city during the conference proper. However, since I now have some of my personal cash invested in this trip (I am staying in an AirBnB with a shared bathroom for goodness sake), it is probably wise to get at least some kind of structure together. To wit:

dirty-bathroom

Oh, the inhumanity…

The Sessions

  • HUM-T06: Humans Are Awesome at Risk Management
  • DevOps Wine0ing (Not Whining) Cocktail Party
  • ID-T07: Studies of 2FA, Why Johnny Can’t Use 2FA and How We Can Change That
  • CXO-T09: How to Manage and Understand Your Human Risk
  • InfoSecurity Magazine Breakfast Briefing
  • Threat Modelling Brunch with IriusRisk
  • Security Blogger Awards (is it still on this year?)
  • KEY-R02S: Burnout and You: Fireside Chat with Dr. Christina Maslach
  • CXO-R11: The Fine Art of Creating a Transformational Cybersecurity Strategy
  • PROF-F01: Five Secrets to Attract and Retain Top Tech Talent in Your Future Workplace
  • PROF-F02: Why the Role of the CISO Sucks and What We Should Do to Fix It!

In summary then, risk, stress, strategy and human beings; all the key ingredients of any information security function.

This is my first cut of the agenda, and I reserve the right to not attend these and attend others, especially if some of my friends, colleagues, old drinking buddies and interesting random strangers turn up. Because that is what RSA is really about; meeting, networking and swapping ideas and opinions in real time.

The educational element is excellent of cours,, but it is rare that they will address exactly the problems you are facing day to day. You will learn something, you will expand your knowledge and you will take fantastic advice away with you, but it is rare you will get an hour face to face with he speaker. Taking the opportunity to really network and chew the fat with your old chums, as well as new o9nes is an invaluable way of really focusing your efforts.

Of course I have some specific goals (remember my reason for staying in the AirBnB?); I will be networking to find potential consulting work in the future, looking for NED or advisory positions, and seeing what is coming on the horizon from the many vendors. I am also interested to see if Artificial Intelligence code has actually been written in anything other than PowerPoint, although I suspect I will be disappointed again on that front.. Meeting my old boss and mentor, my old Deputy,  a multitude of other pals, even the guy who reckons he is the sole founder of Host Unknown (when everyone knows that is me), is just icing on the cake. I am definitely looking forward to catching up with the person who said I could use their hotel room bathroom too.

There will also be a Host Unknown party, bought to you by the kind sponsorship of anyone who turns up, just like last year in Las Vegas during Black Hat and DefCon. I have heard at least two of the sole founders will be there to welcome the dollar bills of sponsorship from the attendees.

It’s going to be a long, endless week, but I do know that I will come back with more knowledge, more passion, more energy and more excitement for our industry than ever before.

And a whole lot less cash in the bank, so if you see me, don’t forget to offer food and drink.


The Art of the Presentation (Part 3 of 3)

It has been a while since part 2, we have had BSides and InfoSec Europe, and it has been a busy time in the day job. Nonetheless, here is the last part of three of “Art of the Presentation” (abridged version) for your edification and delight.

Part 3 is about the actual delivery of your presentation. This is where your deck and your practising come together in perfect harmony to deliver something that is memorable, engaging and above all educational. I believe there are seven key areas that need to be taken into account and addressed, either on the day or mentally before you deliver your presentation.

Presentation Aids

The simplest presentation aid you need is a is a ‘clicker’ remote. You can spend anything from £10 to over £100 on one of these. For your time, I would suggest something in between that, by Logitech or Targus who produce good solid devices. Cheaper devices are not always reliable and will often chew through batteries, the last thing you want live on stage. Personally, I use the Logi Spotlight presentation remote, which has a few bells and whistles such as a built in timer. Moving backwards and forwards from your presentation laptop looks amateurish and breaks the flow of your performance.

You may think you need notes or crib cards as well, my one word of advice is “Don’t”. As I have mentioned before they are a crutch that you will rely on far too much and they remove the natural flow of your presentation. If your nerves (see below) are getting the better of you  and you absolutely must have something just in case, have your notes typed up in a large font and very clear markings as to what slide relates to what notes fold them up and keep then on the lectern out of reach (again see below). Once more, avoid this if you can.

Technical Setup

Things to ascertain up front are if you are using your own laptop or the organisers. Using their laptop and sending your Powerpoint or Keynote in advance doesn’t guarantee that your deck will display correctly. Missing fonts, different versions of the software etc.. Making sure you check that your beautifully crafted deck still looks beautiful when up on the screen on stage means you won’t be surprised when you get on stage. Any decent organisers will work with you to find time to not only check if your deck looks good, but also to test your own laptop if need be. If using theirs, they should also provide presentation remotes for their own laptops as well.

If you are using your own laptop, make sure to bring every type of a/v adapter you need, but it boils down to three types:

  • VGA
  • DVI
  • HDMI

These are in increasing order of preference; VGA is an old standard now, but most commonly used. HDMI is the easiest to use and requires the least amount of setup as it operates around a strict standard. More often than I care to recall has the use of VGA and a misconfigured projector or LCD screen resulted in my slides looking stretched and distorted: Heartbroken!

Staging

This may not seem very obvious, but you also try and stand on the stage for a few minutes and walk around it while testing your slides. Set up your laptop if possible so you can see the screen for the next slide etc. and then walk the stage so you know where you can see your screen and where you can’t. The larger conferences will often have a comfort screen at the front that shows your on screen slide, and on rare occasions (when using their own equipment) even have it as a secondary screen.

Walking the stage also ensures your presentation remote will still work at the furthest distance from your laptop; the last thing you want is to lose connection while you are in the middle of your flow. Finally you can also ensure you are at least aware of any trip hazards on there such as loose carpeting or cable runs.

Nerves

man-looking-distressed-without-a-shirt

There is no getting away from it, but except in very rare cases you will be varying levels of nervous prior to your moment in the spotlight. Nerves are good as they will sharpen your performance, but too much and your performance will rapidly tail off. I recall early in my speaking career physically shaking and attempting to come up with an excuse to not present; it took all the energy I could muster to go on and deliver that day!

One exercise I do can be done very easily, either standing or sitting. Start by slowly clenching your fists until you are squeezing them as hard as you can. Hold this for as long as possible or up to 30 seconds, then very slowly start unclenching your hands. As your figures open, feel the tension release in your forearms and slowly breathe out. Do this 2 or three times and you should find the tension in your body ease a little, as well as feeling somewhat calmer. It isn’t a panacea, and you may well have your own trick for this, but I find it can help you prepare your body for the upcoming performance.

Movement and Oral Delivery

Depending on who you talk to, there is conflicting advice on how you should present from the stage. I was involved in some formal public speaking training a few years back, and their guidance was to stand still, and avoid any kind of arm movement. Not my style at all!

With that said, an movement around the stage should be paced and deliberate, as if you are consciously trying to address a different corner of the audience. Pacing backwards and forwards makes you look nervous, as does rocking on your heels, stepping backwards and forwards as if rocking, etc.. Identify a spot on the stage that is your “base” and plant your feet squarely in it. When you walk around, do so, especially when emphasising certain point, and especially when involving the audience. The return to your spot. The trick of course is to try and make sure you don’t look like a wind up toy, but rather a natural sequence of movements.

Using your hands is perfectly acceptable, as you can use them to emphasis you points, and even put across your emotions and feelings about certain areas. Be aware however, that sometimes you will need to use a handheld microphone, and if you haven’t practised not moving your arms it can very easily distract you, especially as your other hand will have a presentation remote in it.

Q&A

There are three things to remember here; firstly don’t expect to know the answer to every question, and say so when you get a question you can’t answer. Promise to follow up with the individual, and if you have social media accounts or other means of sharing further information with your audience then use it to publicly do so.

Secondly, always repeat the question. Not everyone will have heard it and your repeating of it through the microphone will help. This also has the added bonus of giving you more time to consider your answer.

Finally, always do your best to call out “more of a comment than a question” type of questions. depending on your style either call it out as not a question, or say it is too complex to answer easily now so you will catch up with them afterwards. These types of questions will almost always derail any Q&A session.

When it all Goes Wrong

What if you freeze, or your slides stop working, or you get lost in the presentation, or your trousers fall down or something awful happens?, well, always make sure you have a plan. It may be as simple as always going back to the previous slide to pick up where you last knew what you were talking about, or even having your slides on an iPad (with he correct A/V adapters if possible, or having a routine to check your clothing before you walk on stage.

Remember, there will be very few people in the audience willing you to fail. Virtually everyone is on your side, and hoping you will educate and entertain them. They will be very accommodating and accepting of mistakes. This accommodation does not last forever however. If you constantly fail to deliver in subsequent talks because you haven’t learnt anything g or failed to seek help, your reputation will precede you.

Take every mistake as  a learning experience, and over time, you will find yourself learning less and even teaching more.

The Golden Rule

This is part eight of my seven part list. Bear with me.

Never, ever, run over time. Anything more than 30 seconds is going to affect the timings of the rest of the day. Unless an organiser explicitly asks you to continue past your time you need to get off stage so the next speaker can get on.

You can however finish early; a good conference will find ways of filling the gap, either stepping up to ask questions when no one else will, or even filling the space themselves.

So there it is, three parts to help you in your public speaking career. I hope some of you found it useful, and as always you can reach out to argue with me or come up with other tips. Thanks for listening!