One of the hidden gems in David Gillespie’s Digital Strangelove: or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Internet is a hat-tip to Compfight, a Flickr search engine. I like the search interface more than Flickr’s built-in Advanced Search, because you can continuously scroll through the thumbnails instead of paging through the results.
More Creative Commons search options would be nice. =)
What I really want is an advanced search engine that lets me specify subject position and dominant color, like Stockxpert’s. Someday!
Thanks to Suzanne for the link!
Yesterday, I gave my Remote Presentations That Rock session at the IBM Technical Leadership Exchange virtual conference. 98 people attended and shared their insights with me through a lively text discussion, lots of whiteboard interaction, and the occasional phone question. It was a high-energy presentation – I poured lots into it, and people gave me lots of energy back. We finished exactly on time thanks to tip #3 (Make time for learning) and tip #6 (Start strong and end strong). One of the organizers said it was one of the best presentations she’d seen.
What worked well
For my next presentation, I’d love to find a way to incorporate more real-time feedback throughout the session. Maybe if I left the whiteboard on and asked them to indicate something (state of understanding?) while listening… Elluminate has tools for indicating some feedback, but it’s displayed in the participant list and therefore mostly out of sight. Visually indicating feedback on the slides themselves would be more engaging, I think.
Because of my parents (my dad’s an advertising photographer) and my amateur interest in photography, I knew that good lighting could make a big difference. Although the room’s top-lighting evenly lit the background, it lit my face with high contrast – bad for detail and a feeling of connection! I was thinking of using one of the desk lamps to improve my lighting, but they were clamped to the desks and the power cords were routed within the cubicle dividers, so I couldn’t borrow any of them. Fortunately, I had a hat. (Oh, the many uses of a hat…) The hat brim blocked the light from the top, the room diffused light on my face so that I wasn’t in shadow, the webcam compensated for the brightness levels (and here the teal background helped again; white would have probably been too bright), and we were good to go. The only thing that was missing was a reflector or a secondary light source to provide shaping. ;) I could’ve brought the clamp-lights we have at home, but I didn’t make space for them in my bag. (And I might’ve been tempted to color-gel them too, as they’re daylight-balanced instead of tungsten-balanced… Ah, pickiness! ;) )
Webcams make a huge difference in terms of communicating energy. People tell me I’m great at sharing my enthusiasm on the phone, but seeing someone be passionate about a topic is even more effective.
Lesson: Webcams are great. You should definitely have one if you do lots of remote presentations. Also, hats are good for dealing with top lighting. ;) Better yet, plan your remote presentation setup in advance, and bring extra light if you can.
(Yes, I think about these things.)
I think the key thing I’d like to do even better next time is to collect real-time feedback throughout the session. That would be cool, particularly if I end up with interesting data after that.
One of the best things about doing presentations with plenty of time for Q&A is that the resulting discussion helps me think about fascinating topics. For example, one of the participants asked about the advice I gave on encouraging interaction and planning plenty of time for questions. He pointed out that this involved different group mechanics.
As I thought about that change in group mechanics, I realized that I really do flip the “expert-audience” dynamic on its head. When I present, I’m not an all-knowing, all-powerful expert, and I’m not just talking to silent listeners in a darkened auditorium. My mental model of a presentation is that of a well-lit circle of participants. I might be there to share what I’ve learned, but other people also bring a lot of questions, experiences and insights. My work as a speaker is to set the stage for a conversation and get people to think and talk. Sometimes, in quieter cultures, that reflection and conversation happens outside my session, and that’s okay. More and more, though, people really step up to that challenge. They share terrific thoughts during the Q&A, and I learn so much more than what I would have if I had come in “knowing everything”.
I can see how this flip might be difficult or unexpected. In many cultures, the idea of active speaker and passive listener is strong. Traditional education is structured that way. Hierarchical organizations work that way. So it might not always work as perfectly as it did yesterday, but it’s worth it. It might need a little more introduction to encourage people to participate. It might require several attempts before people see it’s okay. It might also be that people may not have the conversation right there with you, but they’ll think about it and talk about it afterwards, and that’s great too.
Adapting is challenging, but the benefits of the approach are so compelling that I don’t want to give presentations any other way. Even in a real-life keynote where I can’t have that two-way communication going on in the background, I try to expand the conversation both before and after the presentation.
Now that I think about it, I can see how the same theme of experimenting with the power dynamic runs through other aspects of my life. I’m relatively new to IBM, having joined it right after grad school. I read books and talk to people about great management and leadership (and many other things). I influence the way people feel about the organization, and how they see their connection to the big picture. I haven’t waited for someone to give me a job position or title that reflects that, because the opportunities to make a difference are all around me, and I want to help others see those opportunities for themselves too.
Even when I was growing up, I thought about dynamics. I read parenting books, getting a better understanding of what my parents were thinking about. I realized that they’re not all-knowing and that they’re also figuring some things out for the first time (despite raising two other kids).
I’d like to keep playing with dynamics as I grow older. If I manage people, I’d like to be the kind of manager focused on serving people and making sure they have what they need to excel. If I follow the executive career path, I’d like to be the kind of executive who values listening to people from all over the organization and outside it. If I build a business, I’d like it to be the kind of business that looks for a problem and solves it instead of making a solution in search of a problem.
I’m sure I’ll revisit this topic and the other ideas shared in that session. I suspect it’ll be well worth the time I spent preparing and delivering the session, and reflecting on the results. This, too, is work: gaining a little more understanding, changing the way we work just a little bit more, and sharing my experiences with others.