June 10, 2009

Stage fright, visualization and improvization

June 10, 2009 - Categories: presentation, speaking

“Maybe I should take a break from presenting,” I said, “and focus instead on writing blog posts and articles so that I can build up more material.”

W- nodded. “You have to pace yourself,” he said.

It was Monday morning, and I had a talk scheduled for 3:35 that day: “The A, B, Cs of Boomers, X, Ys, Zs: Reaching Different Generations Through Social Media”. I sent in my slides a week ago, so I didn’t have to worry about that. I knew which stories I wanted to tell, so I didn’t have to worry about that. But I still felt the nagging doubts of stage fright.

I mentally ticked off the remaining talks I’d promised to do: “Awesomest Job Search Ever” at the Social Recruiting Summit, “Making Presentations that Rock” at IBM, and “I.B.Millennials: Working with and Learning from Generation Y” at the IBM Technical Leadership Exchange. If I juggled everything well, I’d be able to do all those talks while keeping my project manager and my manager happy. I’d be doing a talk a week. After conference season, I could take a break, study more, write more, draw more, and experiment more.

First things first. Gotta get through the 3:35 to 5:00 talk. A tough timeslot even in the best of cases–who has energy at the end of the day? But a friend had recommended me to this, and the organizers had said that the nonprofits really needed tips on getting across to generations. I’d given talks like this before, starting with I.B.Millennials at last year’s IBM Technical Leadership Exchange, and ending up with keynote segments on the demographic revolution and the multigenerational workplace. I’d never talked about it in the nonprofit context before, but I’d read a bit about nonprofit marketing, and I hoped that many of the things I learned doing Web 2.0 consulting in the workplace would transfer to the nonprofit sector.

I packed my presentation kit (laptop, power cord, presenter remote, mouse, voice recorder, webcam (just in case), courage) into my rolling case (gotta watch those ergonomics!) and headed out. From previous talks, I had learned that planning nothing else (no project work, no deadlines, nothing) during the day of a presentation really helped me relax because I had enough buffer time to take care of things. Besides, I was curious about the other sessions, and I wanted to pick up whatever I could.

I arrived at the conference centre and snuck into a few sessions. The more I listened, the more I itched to give my own presentation. Part of me listened to the speakers and actively participated in the discussion, while part of me was listening to myself–to snippets and sound bites that might make it into my talk. I took notes on the current session and on how I was rearranging my own.

Do other speakers have this experience? I’m having a hard time describing it because it seems so odd. I hear my own speeches, in my own voice. I can tell that I’m not actually hearing them in person–I don’t hallucinate, if that’s what you’re wondering ;)–but it’s definitely me. I don’t hear the full speech, just little bursts, but that’s enough to convince me that I can do it. Then I roll the words around on my tongue to find out what they feel like, and I know the performance will be fine. By the time the organizer introduces me, I’m ready to discover just how I’m going to get from point A to point B – how we’ll fill in the gaps between those bursts, where the topic and the audience will take me.

That’s one of the reasons why I don’t script my talks as much as other people do, and I don’t include as many slides or talking points as other speakers do. The less text I have on slides, the more flexibility I have. The fewer slides I present, the more flexibility I have. I prepare the bones of a performance: the key message I want to communicate, the key actions I want people to take, the stories that will help people understand what I have to say and then act. The rest comes during those pre-talk visualizations (… audiolizations?), and in the interaction between me and the audience, strengthened by echoes of blog posts I’d written or things I’d said or heard.

This is what it’s like to be up on that stage, and it’s exhilarating. It’s an improvised dance of discovery, where the reactions and questions and comments of the audience help me unlock more stories and ideas, and where we all learn more.

How can I teach other people this? Is this a good start: “Imagine listening to a confident version of yourself give the talk. What does it sound like? What does that feel like?” Can I help people become more comfortable with speaking if I tell them that it’s okay to not know all the details going up, and that discovering the way can be lots of fun? =)

Weekly review: Week ending June 7, 2009

June 10, 2009 - Categories: weekly

From last week’s plans:

Also:

Next week (this week, really):

Relationships

Wealth/career

Skills/personal growth

Health/fitness

Thoughts on Toodledo versus Emacs Org

June 10, 2009 - Categories: emacs, productivity

It’s been a couple of months since I switched to using the Toodledo instead of Emacs Org to manage my tasks. I decided to use Toodledo because I wanted a to-do list that I could access on any computer and on my iPod Touch, so that I could capture tasks from anywhere. I liked Toodledo more than I liked Remember the Milk because Toodledo’s tagging and time-tracking features fit the way I work. I also liked how I could ask my virtual assistant to fill in templates–for example, preparation tasks for upcoming presentations–based on certain dates.

I still like Toodledo, but I feel an unsatisfied itch. Toodle-do is a great Getting Things Done system for capturing and tracking tasks, but even though it has some support for defining short-, medium-, and long-term goals, I wasn’t using them because they were split up on multiple screens. I missed the outlines of Org where I could define my higher-level goals, easily add new ones, and create tasks and subtasks. I missed the close integration with my schedule and the ability to easily see my historical task information. I missed the distinction between scheduled dates and deadlines, and the calculation of days until something is due.

So I think it’s time to switch back, at least temporarily. Maybe I can find a way to seamlessly synchronize my Org files so that changes are reflected on the different computers I’m on, and maybe I can find a way to easily capture or review tasks while I’m on the go. Perhaps I’ll continue working on org-toodledo so that I can export tasks from Org to the web-based interface. That way, I can quickly review today’s tasks while I’m out and about.

Hmm…