Making a name for yourself: thinking out loud about my talk

From 3 PM to 5 PM on March 14 (Saturday), I’ll be giving a talk at the Toronto College of Technology to a group of approximately 80 newcomers to Canada and people re-entering the IT field. With that in mind, I proposed the following talk:


Make a Name for Yourself: Creating Opportunities in Difficult Times

If you’re new to Canada, new to the workplace, or getting back into IT, you may find it difficult to find work unless you can show people why they should hire you over everyone else. How can you distinguish yourself? How can you reach out and connect with people? How can you find–or even create–opportunities that are just right for you? In this session, you’ll learn how you can develop your passion, improve your skills, and grow your network. Packed with tips for getting started and stories from real life, this talk can help you turbocharge your job search. Come prepared to introduce yourself to others, ask questions, and figure out how you can make a difference!


I’m thinking out loud as I prepare my outline, because writing helps me think. =)

When I plan a talk, I sometimes think of it as a box. The size of the box is dictated by how much time I have to deliver it. When I know what size that box is, I can plan what goes into the box. I want to put lots of value into the box, so that people get lots of value out of it. On one hand, I’m limited by how much time I have, what resources I have, and how much I know about the audience. On the other hand, I can create lots of value with that box by sharing it with many people, or by repackaging the components into larger or smaller boxes.

In this case, my box is two hours big. It’s better to break those two hours up into two boxes than to treat it as one big box, because if I treated it as one big box, there would be lots of wasted space where people wouldn’t be able to focus well. If I plan it as two boxes, filling each with interesting things and giving people a short break in between boxes, people will get more value from the boxes.

The two natural boxes in this session are:

  1. Self: figuring out what distinguishes you, building on it, and creating opportunities
  2. Others: reaching out, networking, and giving and receiving help

Self

As much as I would like to be able to share a magic formula for figuring out what to do with life, we can’t fit that into a one-hour box. It’s the work of a lifetime, really. But what tools or ideas can I put into this box to make it easier for people to take the next step? Here are some that might work:

  • Build on your strengths and experiences, or grow some. What are you good at? What do you want to get even better at? What can you do that can create lots of value for other people? Take a small advantage or a natural inclination and build on it. This doesn’t mean overspecializing or painting yourself into a corner (note, must find either clear picture or a non-metaphorical way of explaining this). The better you get at something, the better you should also get at applying it to different areas, and developing related skills. (hmm, maybe a picture showing an obsolete skill)

    Think about your experiences outside the country or outside technology, and how people might find those experiences useful. Practice talking about your accomplishments until you’re comfortable. People from many cultures aren’t comfortable with this because they think it’s bragging, but you can think of it as helping the other person learn how you can help them. If you really don’t feel comfortable talking about any of your past accomplishments, get some new ones. Open source is a great way to start, and many employers see that as a great way to prove your skill. Developers can contribute to code, designers can make themes, and so on.

    POSSIBLE ACTIVITIES: a) Describe your favorite job or your ideal job to your partner, while he or she writes down clues about what you might be good at. b) Brainstorm things that you’re good at and that are different about you. Then brainstorm some more. Swap lists.

  • Change the game and create opportunities. If you’re new to a country or to a field and you feel that you lack experience, you’re going to have a hard time competing with more experienced and more confident people who are also looking for work. Change the game. Emphasize your passion, your work ethic, your willingness and ability to learn, your related skills, your other characteristics. You can also look for jobs in other areas or create your own opportunities by approaching people and showing them the value you can create. Examples: jobs on oDesk and Elance, jobs outside IT companies, new positions, etc.

    POSSIBLE ACTIVITY: Help each other brainstorm ways to apply those talents and skills.

  • Invest in yourself and enjoy compounding interest. A large part of work happiness is about being good enough at something to enjoy doing it. That takes a lot of effort, and that takes little effort. It takes a lot of effort because you have to consciously practice, but it takes little effort because as you keep learning and improving, it gets easier to learn and improve. Kaizen. Example: If you can work just 0.1% better each day – that’s like finding out how to save 30 seconds out of an 8-hour work day – after a year, you would be 44% more productive. What used to take you eight hours to do would take you 5.5 hours. What would you do with that extra time? You can learn even more, and you can enjoy life! (Hmm, my math here makes me feel a little funny… must look into that.)

    POSSIBLE ACTIVITY: Identify the top 1-3 things you’d like to get better at. Help each other brainstorm how to improve.

Oooh, I like 20-minute boxes.

Others

Many people find it difficult to network, especially if they’re new to a field and they don’t know anyone. I find it hard sometimes, too. =) Here’s what might help you too:

  • Focus on helping others. How can you make other people more comfortable or more successful? How can you help them create value? Can you introduce people to other people, tell them about books or resources, etc.? This is useful at networking events, at work, in life, wherever. =)

    ACTIVITY: Talk to a couple of people around you and brainstorm ways you can help them.

  • Make it easy for others to help you. This includes making it easy for people to get to know you (good introduction, conversation skills), remember you (business cards, conversation hooks, assignment), learn more about you (website, profile), and get in touch with you (e-mail, phone, etc.).

    ACTIVITY: Checklist? Suggestions? Practice your 30-second specific introduction (best, test).

  • Ask for help. People generally like helping. If you ask for help, you give them an opportunity to “pay back” people who have helped them in the past. Good ways to ask for help: show what you’ve already done and what difference the person can make, help others also, and help others first.

    ACTIVITY: Identify 5 – 10 people you might ask for help with the top three things you’ve outlined in the previous section, and figure out how you can approach them. Set a goal date for reaching out.

WRAP UP: Fill out evaluation forms, follow up on blog post / slides, e-mail me, start a blog ;)…

Hmm, that’s starting to look like an interesting session I’d love to attend myself… =)

NEXT STEPS:
- Refine the points and examples in each box, then hunt down illustrations
- Plan worksheets

  • http://coevolving.com David Ing

    The advice that I’ve gotten from university professors is that students can remember about one thing in each hour of a lecture. If you can get to two things … you’re doing really well.

    One trick that I’ve taken for non-native-English speakers — I do this frequently in Finland — is to NOT use slides, but instead use a whiteboard/blackboard to write down the most important words or ideas during the talk. This serves two functions.

    Firstly, turning to write on the board provides pauses between ideas, so that people can catch up to the words rolling around in their minds, before the next set of ideas comes up.

    Secondly, the writing of one or two words at a time reinforces learning, and clarifies some of the bigger words that an audience member may have not heard of before.

    I was on IM with Minna yesterday, and we were discussing some meeting when I first got to know her (circa 2001). She was fluent in English, but I remember that I thought she was an introvert because she didn’t say much. In reality, she’s an extrovert, but colloquial English in meetings running 6 to 8 hours in conversation was taking up a lot of her brainpower. She says that she was struggling with terms like “silver bullets” and “red herrings” … which should be well-understood by native speakers of English working in business … but, in reflection, it’s obvious how a non-native speaker would be mystified.

  • http://www.countablyinfinite.ca Quinn

    In addition to David’s excellent points (obviously informed by some excellent and personal experience), I’d also be curious just for myself how aware your audience is of open source – whether they’ve heard of it, participated in projects.

    My one, single experience on this was meeting a fellow who was volunteering at Free Geek here in Vancouver, who expressed some frustration at a) not being hired for having no Canadian experience, writing b) Lisp. He would have benefited a great deal from your post here (alas, I’m unlikely to find him). I sensed a great deal of indignation from him, and depending on the experiences of those you are talking to, you may encounter this as well (though I’m sure you’ve thought of this already :D).

    People from many cultures aren’t comfortable with this because they think it’s bragging, but you can think of it as helping the other person learn how you can help them.

    This is great advice – \helping to make the cognitive leap\ between yourself and someone else’s goals is how I think of this.

    Did Jane Zhang set you up with this gig? If not, I know she has a boatload of experience in this topic. ;)