August 2009

On sewing and improv

August 3, 2009 - Categories: sewing

By golly, I think I’m getting the hang of it.

Today I started working on McCall 8107, a simple sleeveless princess-seamed dress. I decided to take lots of time doing so, applying one of the lessons I learned from improv class. I cut out pieces, drew the seamlines and snipped the notches, and made lining pieces so that I could turn it into a fully-lined dress. I find that I don’t like using neck or back facing, as they always flip up. As I worked, I tried to apy attention to how I moved and where things were located.

Working slowly–almost meditatively–changed the character of the activity. I would normally rush through transferring the markings. This time, I marked everything. This time, I did it while watching some of my favourite movies. I also took the time to pin-fit on my duct-tape dress form, which led to a few minor alterations. I normally feel frustrated when I get to assembly because things don’t quite line up. This time, I felt at ease, and I was happy with the way the dress turned out once I’d pressed the seams.

One of the things I noticed was that when I took my time to work on the dress, I started thinking of it as something I might be able to wear for a while. Perhaps that’s because I reflexively justified the time I was investing in making the outfit. Thinking of it that way made it even easier to slow down and try to get the details right.

Tomorrow, I’ll work on the lining and the zipper. I’m looking forward to the completed dress, and to using my new-found powers of slowing down and taking my time doing things not just for good, but for awesome!

Weekly review: Week ending August 2, 2009

August 5, 2009 - Categories: weekly

From last week’s plans:

  • Do some Facebook strategy consulting
  • Find ways to recognize the contributions people had made to the idea lab Wrote a LotusScript mail merge program!
  • Learn enough about Lotus Notes programming to create that sign-up button with referral tracking
  • Take the medical exam for my permanent residency application
  • Take another improv class (whee!)
  • Prepare another week’s meals
  • Chat with someone who’s interested in Gen Y and careers
  • Think about what I’d like to do for my 26th birthday =D Still thinking…

I also:

  • Tidied up my sewing materials, yay!
  • Started on a princess-seamed pullover dress
  • Read a lot

Plans for next week:

  • Organize home even more
  • Finish new dress
  • Tag people
  • Finish Facebook strategy document
  • Map out what I want to do and how to make it happen

In-jokes and shared experiences

August 5, 2009 - Categories: life, love

W- helped me put together some wire shelves for plants. One of the rods was deformed, so he brought out a mallet and started reshaping it. While he pounded away, he hummed something familiar, and I joined in.

“Isn’t that the Anvil Chorus?” I asked.

He grinned.

It’s great to be able to make little jokes like that, based on shared cultural experiences. It’s like the time that I was up at 4 because of jet lag. I couldn’t go back to sleep, so he decided to wake up to keep me company. As we were going through our morning routines, he suddenly broke into song: “Nessun Dorma“. I laughed so hard.

Don’t worry, it’s not all high-brow entertainment. We make horribly bad puns, too. We laugh every day because we have all these moments to build on.

The influence of trees, webs, and clouds

August 6, 2009 - Categories: web2.0

There’s the influence described in formal organizational charts. Executives influence middle managers, who influence managers, who influence front-line employees. It’s like the way a tree‘s roots affect the trunk, which affect the branches, which affect other branches, which affect the leaves. People rise in organizations depending on their political savvy and the way they handle situations. The influencer’s relationship to the status quo is clear: managers might be good at keeping everything running smoothly (preserving the status quo), while leaders are good at inspiring people to change (seeking a new status quo). People have a mix of both traits, of course, but favour one or the other. The relationships are clear, and you can work with them.

This isn’t the only way influence works. Social network analysis may show you that the most influential person isn’t Bob, the manager, but Sally, the receptionist, who knows everyone and who can nudge people to support new initiatives. This is the influence of webs, where pulling on one strand affects the other. Change management initiatives take this kind of influence into account when they use social network analysis to find the key influencers and early adopters by asking people to identify who influences them in particular situations. Then they can work with those people to encourage change. These relationships may not be immediately obvious, but they can be determined from communication patterns or surveys. People can intentionally influence their social network, working to either support or resist change.

But there’s another kind of influence that I don’t quite understand, although I’ve had many experiences of it. People do things that influence strangers in ways they don’t expect. I think of it as the influence of clouds . You could write a blog post that someone in Australia reads, enjoys, and thinks about, but you don’t know about that potential relationship and you don’t do it because you want to change other people’s lives or help them stay the same. You do it just because it helps you think, and yet things happen. How do you plan for or measure that kind of influence?

Improv 101, class 3: It’s not about stuff, it’s about relationships

August 6, 2009 - Categories: Uncategorized

What would it feel like to be able to go with the flow of improvisation, to be able to find the game and go with it?

It’s hard to think that I’ll get to that point. Today, I felt like a trembling 11-year-old rushing through my first speaking parts, thinking too much about the scene and the situation for me to fully enjoy. I found it hard to keep eye contact, to build the relationship, even to listen and recognize the games that we could play with each other.

Maybe after five more weeks, my classmates and I will have figured more of this out! Wouldn’t that be fun? =)

One of my challenges is finding the game, then letting go. A scene doesn’t have to be about conflict or about problem-solving. It can be just a day in the life. I don’t have to consciously amp it up. What would this look like if we did this really well? We might stumble across something interesting, then recognize it and play off it throughout the scene. It’s like the little jokes that W- and I have! We play word-games all the time, and we occasionally make up situations too. If I can figure out how to take that feeling and bring it to my classes, I think that would be pretty cool.

How can I grow in this? There are a few things I can do:

  • I can expose myself to more role models. Watching improv shows can give me ideas of what it looks like when things go really well. I can also take notes when people on the stage miss the game or don’t let go.
  • I can look for opportunities to practice in real life. Maybe small talk can give me more opportunities to listen and react, and of course there are the games W- and I play.
  • I can practice on my own. It might be time to dust off my flash fiction writing, do morning pages, and play with free association or stream-of-consciousness writing. The thing is to hush my inner editor and just follow my curiosity, knowing that wherever I end up is the right place to be.
  • I can set up opportunities to practice. W-‘s okay with having people over, so maybe I’ll host a get-together one of these weekends. August 29 and September 5, maybe?
  • I can warm up. How? Hmm… More free association on the way there?

Another of my challenges is to not get distracted by the environment, activity, objects, or imaginary people outside the scene, but rather to focus on developing the relationship between the on-screen characters. What would doing that really well look like? I’d be able to listen hard, accept whatever reality my partner creates, figure out our game, and move the scene forward.

I’m still getting used to making up reality. Normal conversation doesn’t usually include establishing other people’s realities based on made-up assumptions.

It’s useful to practice both strong initiations and great agreement. I can practice initiation and relationship development is by writing flash fiction. Agreement and finding the game, that’s harder to practice on my own. It is, after all, a game. But maybe I can pick some of that up by watching other people, or even video.

<grin> This’ll be fun!

Also, another interesting insight from today: playing a high-status person doesn’t automatically mean putting other people down. It was obvious once our teacher pointed that out, but I think we’d all gone for the snobbish stereotype! <laugh> I’ll be keeping an eye out for status (both high and low) in real life…

Gardening and cats

August 7, 2009 - Categories: cat

I trimmed back the tomatoes as they had been threatening to take over the entire vegetable plot. Judging from the number of flowers on the plants, we have a lot of pasta in our future.

It reminds me of the time that we brought home kilos of hothouse tomatoes because they were on sale. We’d intended to can the pasta sauce we made until we found out that canning tomatoes involved complicated equipment and the risk of poisoning ourselves. We froze the pasta sauce instead, thick sheets in Ziploc bags that saved us from cooking for a good long while. The kitchen was a mess during the cooking process, but it was worth it.

And now we’ll have our own basil, our own rosemary, our own oregano. One of the things I love the most about keeping a garden is wandering out there and exploring the different scents and tastes. I love watching plants grow: they creep along ever so slowly, but when I remember how small they were when I started, I can’t help but be amazed by the progress.

The cats love the garden, especially Leia. Leia’s always trying to sneak out. She ignores the catnip and heads straight for the grass, which she thinks is the best treat ever. They also enjoy watching the squirrels and birds look for food in the garden, and we sometimes hear the cats chattering away, little jaws snapping the bones of imaginary prey.

As I write this, there are two robins picking through the grass for worms, which are plentiful in our garden. The tree close to the deck conceals a bird’s nest in low-hanging branches. Whenever I go outside to shoo the animals away from the plants they also like to snack on (“Gerroff the lawn!”), I need to make sure I quickly close the door behind me. Leia is invariably right there, nose pressed up against the glass, wishing she was the one chasing squirrels around instead. She meows, but I can’t hear her through the glass–a silent film star with whiskers.

When we do let her out, it’s on a harness and leash. I’ve learned to put my shoes on before I open the door, because there’s no holding her back once the great outdoors beckons. She runs down the stairs and into the grass which is too short to hide her, but she pretends anyway. She nibbles on a few blades of grass, then scampers into the vegetation and crouches. The squirrels chatter angrily. She hides behind the tree, but they know she’s there.

When we first saw Leia at the animal shelter, we had no idea that her long soft fur and princess-like demeanor concealed such a hunter. She seemed the quintessential indoor cat, more given to lounging on cushions than to padding through the grass. Then again, she’d been a stray for a while before the animal shelter picked her up, and she must have had some way of fending for herself. Luke, our other cat (previously named Burch, but renamed)–he was owner-surrendered, although it’s hard to think of anyone being able to give up such an affectionate cat. I’m glad we have two cats. They play with each other, and that often gives us a lot to laugh about. They play hide and seek. They play chase. They play let’s-gang-up-on-the-tall-ones-and-ask-for-food-in-synchronized-meows, which is always fun.

Now it’s time to work. I love working facing the garden, with a cat or two in the area. The cats always seem to know when I should take a typing break and cuddle them instead, and the garden is refreshing even through the sliding glass door.

Observational humour and solo improv play

August 7, 2009 - Categories: Uncategorized

Check out this humour specialist’s observational humor monologues based on real-life events at his Toastmasters Club.

It sounds like the kind of thing you could do to practice improv comedy on your own, although I’m sure it takes a lot of practice to come up with things as quickly as he does!

The sweetness of life

August 8, 2009 - Categories: cooking

W- and I made apricot syrup.

It’s amazing.

I’m tempted to go and make pancakes right now. I’m sure they’re fine for a midnight snack.

Life is just plain awesome!

1.625kg apricots  $7.13
6 cups of sugar ~$1
2 lemons $0.79
7 bottles and lids, ~$5.24

20.4L canner   $19.93
Jar lifter $3.97
Canning funnel $1.93
7 250ml jars of home-made apricot syrup awesomeness

Improv: Catch 23’s Next Act, people-watching

August 8, 2009 - Categories: Uncategorized

Hat-tip to Taylor for telling me about Catch 23‘s improv event at the Comedy Bar last night. It was a lot of fun, and I learned a lot!

Here’s what I picked up:

  • The singular of words often pluralized (“Timbit” versus “Timbits”) is funny because it’s unexpected. In the context of the improvised scene, it was also endearingly pathetic.
  • Group reactions make scenes come alive. In one of the scenes, a character was (Chuck Norris-ly?) weight-lifting the whole floor. We could see that because everyone else raised a leg in sync with the character’s motion.
  • Creative analogies win crowds. There was a rather vivid analogy involving taxes and accountants, which made lots of people laugh.
  • Twitter can be a source of inspiration, particularly with quotes taken out of context and with the translation of written conventions (ex: “Wowwww”) to spoken language.
  • Breaking the illusion can work quite effectively. “I want to see a montage of how you captured those monkeys!” We’d never say that in real life, but it made sense as a humorous edit / prompt.
  • Mess up math? No problem, just call back to it and make it a running joke.
  • One of the presenters (Kayla Lorette) was great at conveying subtle emotions through very quick, quirky facial expressions and silences. I was also impressed by the way she used aggression, an accent, and smooth delivery all together.

I wonder what studying people’s expressions will reveal… =) Our homework was to study people. People-watching!

On the subway ride back, I noticed a couple clearly having a tiff. They seemed to be in their twenties. The woman had curly hair with a pouf secured by butterfly clips. She wore a brown floral blouse, white slacks, and ruffled black three-inch heels. The man had short hair, a slight beard, and eyebrows that seemed to always be slanted in a sad look. He wore cargo shorts and canvas shoes. They stood waiting for the train, bodies angled away from each other, yet still standing close enough to be identified as a couple. As the train lit up the tunnel, the woman quickly walked forward until she was near the yellow line marking the edge of the platform. After a short pause, the man slowly walked forward as well.

I boarded the same car and continued watching them from under the brim of my hat. They sat together. She crossed her legs at the knees, angling away from him. Her hands were clasped on the side away from him as well, and she kept her eyes in that direction. His arms were casually crossed, and his legs were crossed at the ankles. He looked away, too. His knee extended into her space, but they didn’t touch. Still, no words.

They didn’t speak throughout my part of the trip, but over time, the woman started glancing over at the man’s side. Not directly at him, but in that general direction. Her arms also loosened slightly, although she still leaned away. Interesting, indeed…

(I studied other people as well, but they were the most interesting folks for that trip.)

More as I learn about people and improv!

Food and shelter, health, love, skill, meaning

August 9, 2009 - Categories: life

W- and I are on our very first staycation. J- will be with us for two weeks, so he figured he’d take some time off to spend with her, and I figured I’d take some time off to spend with them. Besides, vacation–unstructured time–is great for building memories and investing in yourself.

This brings me to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and how I hope to spend my staycation: working on food and shelter, health, love, skill, and meaning. I’m already happy, so it’s not about escaping from work (which I enjoy). I want to explore how I can make life even more wonderful. There are lots of ways to deepen our experiences, and they don’t involve a lot of money. They do need an investment of time.

Food: Learning new recipes! Yesterday, we made a summer chickpea salad (mint, basil, red onion, lemon, chickpeas) from the Jamie’s Dinners book.
Shelter: Getting more organized. Added shelves for plants, bags.
Health: Exercising more, biking more.
Love: Sharing experiences.
Skill: Working on presentations, sewing, and photography.
Meaning: Reflecting on life, figuring out how I want to contribute.

This’ll be fun!

My life as a 25-year-old

August 9, 2009 - Categories: life

I’ll be turning 26 on Wednesday, and I thought I’d review the past year. I wrote a Ruby program to crunch the tagging statistics of my blog, and I saw some patterns I thought I’d like to share with you. Here’s a tagcloud of the 25th year of my life (showing only popular tags used from Aug 2008 to July 2009). Below it, you can see the biggest losers and biggest gainers in terms of tags, as compared to my life as a 24-year-old.

The drops in Emacs-related posts is because I stopped working on the Wicked Cool Emacs book, which Ian Eure is now working on. Instead, we’ve adopted two cats, I started doing a lot more Drupal at work, and I picked up a few new interests.

It’s pretty cool being able to see things like that. =)

Diagrams were created in Inkscape, after crunching my WordPress XML file using a Ruby REXML stream parser and some fiddling.

Life as a 25-year-old

August 10, 2009 - Categories: life, yearly

It’s great to be able to look back and really look back–to be able to review a year’s worth of blog posts, to remember, to see how much I’ve changed and how much I’m still the same.

Here were the goals I set for myself last year:

By August 2009, I’d like to be able to look back and say that I’ve:
  • completed a book on Emacs (whether published by No Starch Press or self-published)
  • increased my reach and responsibilities at and outside work
  • completed my paperwork for the permanent residency application (Canadian experience class?)
  • continued to donate 10% of my income
  • continued to save at least 50% of my income
  • developed another income source aside from salary, interest, and index growth
  • learned how to cook at least 20 new recipes

The book on Emacs fell by the wayside as I started doing more and more Drupal development at work. I turned the project over to Ian Eure, another Emacs blogger whom I greatly admire. At work, I became a Drupal guru, and I spoke at DrupalCon on the deployment processes. I submitted my paperwork for the Canadian Experience Class skilled worker permanent residency. I have a fair amount of money in circulation on and earmarked for the Toronto Public Library, although less than the 10% I’d targeted. I’ve been able to save 52% of my income, building a healthy retirement fund, an investment fund, and a dream fund.  I haven’t developed another major income source, although I’ve identified a number of opportunities that I could turn into income someday. As for recipes–I’ve had lots of fun cooking, and I’m sure I’m well past that number.

Compared to my 24th year, my life as a 25-year-old wasn’t about major changes. It’s hard to top all the shifts that happened in 2007-2008: graduating, starting at IBM, getting used to the idea of being in Canada… 2008-2009 was much calmer. I discovered my inner domestic goddess as we acquired two cats (both adopted from the shelter), a sewing machine, a garden, a canner, numerous pictures and frames, a number of camera lenses, and a love for making and photographing things. I built on existing skills such as drawing and presenting, and I branched into new hobbies such as improv and playing the piano. I’m still as much in love with both my partner and my work as I was a year ago, which is absolutely wonderful. My in-jokes with W- are deeper and richer, thanks to another year of shared experiences. At work, I became the go-to person for Drupal because of my development skills–and then I switched hats and took a consulting/networking role created for me. I’ve started experimenting with ways to make life even better: trying out delegation, exploring crafts, creating experiences… Life is amazing!

My favourite posts:

I’m looking forward to learning even more about my passions and interests, people, and life. When I turn 27, I hope to be able to look back and say that I:

  • created another year’s worth of experiences, memories, and dreams
  • helped build innovation networks and shared what I’ve learned with others
  • helped build Drupal skills within the company
  • wore something I made every day
  • enjoyed home cooking and explored new recipes
  • relaxed in improvised situations
  • saved half of my income and donated a tenth
  • got to the point of having a place for everything, and everything in its place
  • built and deepened more friendships
  • figured out what I know, what I want to learn, and how to share both of those
  • shared my happiness and enthusiasm with even more people

Thanks for sharing an amazing year with me. =) Looking forward to future adventures!

Another year of blog posts (PDF, 535 pages)

August 10, 2009 - Categories: blogging, life

If you want to flip through my 25th year of life in a PDF instead of clicking around, here it is:

My Life as a 25-Year-Old
535 pages, PDF

I was thinking of printing it using Lulu and adding it to my shelf (next to the master’s thesis that no one else will ever read), but decided that an electronic copy is fine. <grin>

The shy connector

August 11, 2009 - Categories: connecting, presentation, sketches, speaking

Questions? Thoughts? Leave a comment here or contact me privately. Want to share this blog post? Short URL: .

Looking for the WITI: Shy Connector notes? See the link for updates!

Planned talk / speaker notes:

The Shy Connector: How to get strangers to talk to you.

Hi, I’m Sacha Chua, and I’m an introvert. <clapping>

You might be, too. Do you prefer bookstores over bars? Puzzles more than parties? Close friends instead of crowds? If so, you might be an introvert.

It can be hard to connect as an introvert. LinkedIn and Facebook can feel like popularity contests. How many friends do you have? Should you say yes to invitations from strangers? Meetups can be overwhelming. So many choices to make, so many people to meet…

So what can you do if you’re shy?

There are plenty of books and blogs about social networking, because success and happiness often depend on whom you know and who knows you.

“Sell yourself!” “Brand yourself!” “Attend as many events as you can!” “Talk to people in the elevator!” they advise. Right.

Most of the networking tips I’ve read are geared toward extroverts who don’t need tips on how to talk to strangers.

Me, I hate starting conversations. I find it hard to make small talk. I’m too shy to reach out. Following up takes focused effort.
Sound familiar? Ever felt that way, too?

Here are seven things I’ve learned about connecting as an introvert. I hope these tips will help you play to your strengths.

Tip 1: It’s okay to be an introvert.

You don’t need to fake being extroverted. You don’t need to be a glad-handing, business-card-throwing networker in order to connect. Just listen and ask a few questions during conversations. Give yourself quiet time to recharge. Connect online if you feel more comfortable that way. Figure out what works for you.

For me, blogging often works out better than going to events. Now that I understand that about myself, it’s easier for me to say, “No, I’m planning to stay home” when faced with an invite. I’m much more comfortable blogging than partying, and I can share in a way I simply can’t do in person.

Tip 2: Change your perspective.

It’s not about selling yourself. It’s not about marketing your personal brand. It’s not about figuring out what other people can do for you. It’s about focusing on what you can do to help other people.

Focus on what can help other people be happier and more successful. Ask questions. Explore ideas.

Focusing the spotlight on the other person makes it easier to make conversation and get to know others.

Tip 3: Give people reasons to talk to you, both online and offline.

Most people find it hard to start a conversation, too. Do them a favour and give them an excuse to approach you.

An interesting hat makes you easy to find in a crowd. Accessories with character draw remarks. Keywords on your nametag lead to conversations.

Online? Share your interests and thoughts. People can find you through search engines and reach out to learn from you.

My favourite? Giving a presentation. Talking to a hundred people at once is easier than talking to two at a time because I can rehearse what I want to say. I reach way more people this way, and I don’t have to start any conversations!

Tip 4: Look for ways to help.

While you’re listening, think: What do I know? Who do I know? How can I help?

Have I read a book they might like? Have I talked to someone they should meet? Do I have an interesting idea that can save them time?

Even if you can’t help right away, if you make it a point to remember their need, you may be able to connect the dots later.

Tip 5: Give yourself homework.

Following up with someone is easier when you’ve promised to send them a link or introduce them to someone else who can help.

That’s why you should always carry something you can use to take notes. Why worry about forgetting when you can write things down?

Tip 6: Make it easy to get to know you.

So you’ve met someone, learned about their interests, and followed up. How do you build the connection from there?

Even if you don’t like talking about yourself, you can make it easier for other people to get to know you.

Share your interests, skills, and goals. The more people know about what you can do, the more you can find opportunities to help them.

A personal website or profile page is a good way to start. Link it in your e-mail signature and put it on your business card.

A blog is even better. If you share tips, ideas, and a bit of a personal touch, people might even subscribe and really get to know you over time. They might even help you grow! =)

Tip 7: Keep growing, and your network will grow with you.

As you develop your passions, improve your skills, and grow your network, you’ll be able to create more value — and more, and more, and more.

The more you understand your passions, the easier it is to communicate them.

The more you improve your skills, the more you can help others.

The more people you know, the more introductions and connections you can make.

If you share what you’re learning with people, your network can grow along with you.

Then you won’t have to fake being an extrovert or drain yourself of energy; people and opportunities will simply flow to you.

Which of these tips would you like to focus on, practice, and learn more about? How can I help you explore your networking potential?

Questions? Thoughts? Leave a comment here or use my contact me privately.

If you attended the WITI webinar, please help improve this session by taking the post-presentation survey!

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Previous version:

vote thumbs-up if you liked it! =)

— From pre-presentation plans (August 11) —
These tips are slightly different from the presentation, but still have the same flavour. I love the insights people have shared in the comments. Feel free to check them out and add your own tips!

I’m planning a presentation called “The Shy Connector: How to talk to strangers How to get strangers to talk to you”. I realized that most networking books focus on helping people act more extroverted, but I’ve found ways to use my introverted nature to connect with people.

Here are some of my weaknesses and how I’ve worked around them:

Weakness Strength In practice
Hate starting a conversation with strangers Comfortable with being different Some of my quirks and interests turn out to be great conversation-starters. People often start conversations by asking me about my hat, my computer, my technology interests, my speeches, or even just my obvious happiness and energy.
Hate making small talk Love learning and asking questions I never ask people what they do. I ask people what they’re interested in, what they’re passionate about, or what could help them be happier or more successful. That makes people think, and it results in conversations that can teach me something new, change the way I think, and help me remember people.
Hate going out Comfortable with hosting people I sometimes feel overwhelmed in places people like going to “hang out”, such as busy restaurants and bars. I prefer to host small get-togethers at home, where I can keep group numbers low and I’m in familiar territory.
Hate searching for common ground Love learning and sharing things online One of the things I don’t like about talking to strangers is looking for common interests we can talk about. Instead of going to general networking events, I prefer to go to conferences and talks where the presentations naturally give us topics of conversation. I’m also comfortable sharing what I’m learning online. Many of my conversations now start with someone else telling me that they’ve read my blog, and the conversation goes straight to interests we both have.
Hate blathering Love writing and reflecting Blogging helps me relax and communicate in real-life conversations. If I’ve written about something, it’s easier for me to talk about it because I’ve spent some time thinking about what I want to say and how I want to say it. The result: more confidence during conversations, and clearer communication too!

Here’s a rough list of the tips I plan to share:

1. Be yourself. You don’t have to be a fake extrovert. You don’t have to learn how to enjoy small talk or put on a new personality. You can use your characteristics as an introvert to connect with people, and you might even be able to connect with more people and at deeper levels than the popular kids in your high school would.

2. Reframe the situation. It’s not about selling yourself. It’s not about becoming popular. It’s about finding ways you can help other people, and it’s about learning more.

3. Give people reasons. If you hate talking to strangers because you’re afraid of those awkward moments when you’re both looking for reasons to talk, skip that by giving people reasons to talk to you. Me, I find it easier to present to a thousand people than to talk to a single person, because I can prepare for presentations (and it’s fun!). That gives people reasons to come up to me afterwards and start a conversation with me about something we’re both interested in. I also do quirky things: wear interesting hats, smile a lot, have an awesome business card–all of which have led to interesting conversations I didn’t start. Most people are just as scared of starting conversations as you are, so make it easy for them.

4. Help others. Treat conversations as learning opportunities. Find out what could help people become happier or more successful. What books or blog posts have you read that they might be interested in? What tools have you tried or heard of that might fit their needs? Even the act of asking questions helps people clarify their thoughts. You might not be able to help them right away, but you might meet someone else who can help, and then you can connect the dots. You’ll learn a whole lot in the process, too.

5. Look for homework. Following up is hard. I’ve come home from conferences with stacks of business cards that I didn’t know what to do with aside from sending a quick note about how nice it was to see people. It’s much easier to follow up with people and continue the conversation if you focused on helping people. If you follow up with an article someone is interested in or an introduction to another person who could help make things happen, your follow-up email or note has real value. Carry a notebook with a flap for business cards, a PDA, or some other note-taking device, and use it to keep track of your homework.

6. Build history. Extroverts have this easy. They’re out having coffee with their buddies or golfing with their bosses. If you’re anything like me, you have a hard enough time finding ways to comfortably hang out with your close friends, much less acquaintances. You need stories and shared experiences to deepen relationships, though. Build that history by making it easy for people to keep in touch with you. Me, I find it difficult to call people up or invite them to hang out, but I’m comfortable blogging. I might be too shy to reach out to people I’ve just met, but they can read my blog to learn more about who I am, and they can continue the conversation in the comments if they want to. If they blog, that gives me a way to get to know them too. Make it easy for people to keep in touch with you.

7. Practice. The more you listen, the more you think, the more you write, the more you speak, the more clearly you’ll know what you want to say and how you want to say it. It’s good for self-discovery, too. Listen to people and figure out what you resonate with and what you’re interested in. Try different ways of expressing your thoughts. Treat small talk as a game, and use it to develop your skill at asking questions and sharing what you think. Use it to try different techniques. When you’re not personally invested in it–when you’re not worrying that a conversational stumble is equal to personal rejection and failure–things become easier and almost fun.

There’s something interesting in here that I’d like to figure out and share. Is there anything that particularly resonates with you? Is there anything you’d like to learn more about?

Reflecting on relationships

August 12, 2009 - Categories: family, friends, life

For my 25th year, I focused on building a wonderfully loving relationship with W-. We developed shared hobbies (cooking, photography), built shared experiences, and made home even smoother and more comfortable. We’re the sappiest, happiest, and luckiest couple I know, and I think we’re off to a great start. Over the next year, I hope to keep making this part of my life even more wonderful. This part of life doesn’t need radical improvements. Things are amazing already! Constant, gradual improvements will keep us growing.

I haven’t neglected my other relationships. I’ve come to look forward to weekly chats with my mom, and I love it when my dad drops in too. I occasionally hear from my other friends in the Philippines and in Canada. I’m missing something, though, and I’d like to focus on that for my 26th year.

I want the closeness of my childhood, when my sisters and I would make up games with each other, when I could make my mom melt and my dad laugh. I want to bring to that the awesomeness of being grown-up, of sharing different perspectives on the wonderful thing that’s life. I’m curious about the sisterhood in greeting cards and movies. I’m curious about how other people relate to their parents.

I want the closeness of my barkada, of a richly interlinked group of friends who are friends with each other, the kind of friends you share experiences with, grow up through life with, have ridiculously impenetrable in-jokes with. The people you laugh with until your sides split and your cheeks hurt, the people you cry with until someone says something that flips the situation around and you’re all on top of the world again. I want to develop new friendships, too, and bring people together for shared experiences. I’m curious about how other people keep in touch with friends over a distance or build friendships after university, when people no longer have the luxury of lots of time spent together while going through huge changes.

So that’s what I’ll explore for my 26th year. =) For my birthday, then, I’d love to hear stories and tips. Do you have great relationships with your family or your friends, particularly over a distance? Tell me what that’s like! What does it look like? What does it sound like? What does it feel like? How did you get started? How do you keep growing?

From presentations to conversations

August 14, 2009 - Categories: presentation, speaking

I had a fantastic hour-long conversation about demographic-related challenges and opportunities with 12 directors from the Terry Fox Foundation. I’d been invited by Brett Kohli, their CFO, who had attended a similar presentation that I gave at the My Charity Connects conference (video available). I had originally referred him to other people because I was going on vacation, but as we decided to make it a staycation, I figured: why pass up the chance to learn from an interesting cause?

I gave a 15-minute, 10-slide presentation where I talked about the different demographic shapes of organizations, the challenges they face, and some ways to address those challenges. Then I asked them which groups of people in their ecosystem they were particularly interested in, and which segments they wanted to focus on. We had a great time talking about the challenge of engaging and retaining Generation Y as they grew out of the school-centered events. I learned a lot from the conversation, and other people did too!

The previous session had been interesting, but had hardly any time for questions because it had run over. I wrapped up our session at 3:00, getting the schedule back on track. One of the directors complimented me on my energy. Brett told them how he attended my talk at My Charity Connects and saw me step away from the podium and talk to a large number of people in a long, rectangular room, without using a microphone. (I had checked with people at the back before the talk started, to make sure I’d still be audible.) Hooray for the drama classes my grade school principal incorporated into our curriculum! It’s great to be able to project my voice without yelling.

On the subway back, I thought about presentations, energy, and how my sessions feel different from most sessions I’ve attended. Given an hour for a presentation, most speakers seem to plan a 65-minute presentation, with a few hurried minutes for Q&A. I tend to plan a 7-10 minute presentation, and open the rest up for questions. At the Social Recruiting Summit, for example, I simply told my story of the awesomest job search ever, and then asked people how I could help them help other people have stories like that.

Whenever possible, I have conversations instead of lectures. Sometimes the situation calls for a one-way presentation, like the keynote address my team and I gave to 700 IBM consultants and IT specialists in a ballroom. Most of the time, though, the interaction lets me learn–and communicate–so much more.

I don’t know why people don’t take more advantage of the Q&A period.
At most presentations people give, questions feel like an afterthought,
something to be rushed through, like the mint a server gives you after a meal. In the sessions I’m happiest with, Q&A’s the main course.

I learn a lot about subjects when preparing or revising a presentation. I learn a lot about delivery when I give a presentation. I learn the most when people ask questions and share their own experiences. Questions tell me about what’s important to people. Comments give me more material for future presentations. And in the process of answering questions and responding to comments, I find myself drawing on things I hadn’t realized I learned along the way, connections I hadn’t thought of making, questions and ideas that I hadn’t verbalized before. A great session can even change the way I think, the way I see things.

Good Q&A drives energy. When people show their interest by asking questions, I get even more excited, and they get more excited, and we all figure things out together. I learn a lot, others learn a lot, and I walk away with ideas for future presentations. It’s amazing!

Cultural differences play a big role, too. I find that the North American audiences I talk to are much more comfortable with asking questions than the Asian audiences I’ve talked to, but I’m looking forward to experimenting with different structures to see if I can encourage participation, and I’ve had highly participative talks in the Philippines too. I’ll write about how I stumbled across this style in another blog post. First:

How can you and other people explore the joys of this style of public speaking? =) It’s not something you’d use for all situations, but it’s something I hope you’ll add to your toolbox. Here’s what I think can help:

1. Let go.
It’s scary to open things up for 50 minutes of conversation. You don’t know if people will ask questions. You don’t know where the conversation will go. You’re worried that you might not have the answers. You’re worried that you might say the wrong thing.

Let go. Don’t worry. If no one asks a question within the first few seconds, wait some more. Silence is excruciating if you’re a speaker, but people need time to gather their thoughts and think of questions. If no one asks a question after a while, there are a number of possibilities:

  • You’ve made your point! Hooray!
  • People don’t know what kinds of questions to ask. Share typical questions.
  • People have tuned out. They could be busy, distracted, uninterested, and so on. Clarify your message and why it matters. If that still doesn’t work, wrap up and get out of the way. =) Work on your presentation so that the next time you give it, you can make that connection.

Don’t worry about not being able to answer a question. No one expects you to know the exact statistics if you do. If you don’t know something, you can say you don’t know something. You might even invite people in the crowd to share what they think. Maybe someone will have the answer, and then you’ll learn too!

2. Prepare a lot.
If you’re making Q&A the central part of your session, you need to be able to answer questions well. Collect stories (they’re easy to remember), interesting bits of trivia, results, examples, and anything else that might come in handy. Make backup slides if you need visual support for particularly important parts. This style of presentation might actually mean less preparation time than the slide- and lecture-heavy kind of session. It’s not a good fit for people who are giving a session on something they don’t know, but if you know what you’re talking about, you can make more use of your background knowledge and spend less time preparing and rehearsing a long presentation.

3. Focus on your key message. You need to be clear on what you want to say and why it matters to people in your audience. What do you want them to walk away with? How do you want them to feel? What do you want them to do? Work on that until you can get it across in the first few minutes. Pick a few well-chosen details to support your point, then wrap up the first part of your session with an invitation to ask questions. Better yet, ask them questions. Instead of ending with “Any questions?”, say something like, “I’d love to hear what you’re thinking about. Which groups of people do you want to focus on? What challenges do you face in reaching them?” Keep your presentation short, then get out of the way and let the conversation happen.

4. Enjoy!
Your first few interactive sessions may be nerve-wracking (I can tell you stories about my attempts!), but over time, you’ll probably find this kind of interaction to be effective, enjoyable, energetic, entertaining, and enlightening. You’ll rock, and you’ll have lots of fun doing so. Go for it!

What else can help you turn your next presentation into a conversation?

Weekly review: Weeks ending August 8 and 15, 2009

August 15, 2009 - Categories: weekly

From the previous week’s plans:

  • Find ways to recognize the contributions people had made to the idea lab
  • Learn enough about Lotus Notes programming to create that sign-up button with referral tracking
  • Take the medical exam for my permanent residency application
  • Take another improv class (whee!)
  • Prepare another week’s meals
  • Chat with someone who’s interested in Gen Y and careers
  • Think about what I’d like to do for my 26th birthday =D

For the week ending on August 8, I also:

  • Made apricot syrup
  • Chatted with a mentor about influence
  • Got ready for a staycation

For the week ending August 15, I:

  • Reviewed my past year of blog posts
  • Reflected on relationships
  • Had a Skype party with my friends
  • Made jalapeno jelly and blueberry jam
  • Sent a care package home
  • Finished a new dress
  • Ordered some books
  • Wrote a Ruby program to extract my blog tags
  • Attended an improv class
  • Blogged a number of reflections
  • Facilitated a session on generational challenges
  • Had a facial. Still breaking out, though.
  • Organized my drawers neatly. Yay!

Next week, I plan to:

  • attend a class on presentations
  • make a Slideshare presentation on networking for introverts
  • write some more
  • bike every day
  • host a tea party
  • plant snow peas

Five hats

August 15, 2009 - Categories: photography

We picked up some lamps from Home Depot and used them to light a sheet of plexiglass. Here are the results of my experiments:


Garden updates

August 15, 2009 - Categories: gardening

Our organic fruit, vegetable and herb garden is coming along wonderfully.


That’s about two-thirds of the garden. The other third would be the zucchinis, who have taken over the entire corner:

The most exciting news is that the tomatoes are beginning to ripen, which means that there will be plenty of salsa, bruschetta, and tomato sauce in our future. I’m particularly excited about the grape tomatoes, as the small tomatoes sell at a premium in supermarkets and are thus usually off our grocery list. The early tomatoes we planted are maturing first, and the grape tomatoes will follow in due course.


Other small fruits are starting to appear. The 5-colour peppers and the green peppers are adorable!


More exotic veggies are coming out, too. Here’s the edamame I planted in a pot:

and the okra:

We get enough basil for four good-sized servings of pesto each week:


(sage and parsley are in there too, too)

I’ve been snacking on beans, as we harvest so many of them:

Bush beans

The strawberries have made some runners, and I’ll figure out where to put them after we replace the tomatoes with a raised bed.

All the pictures:


Notes from my staycation

August 17, 2009 - Categories: life

We spent an industrious day preparing apricot syrup and jalapeño jelly, packaging fourteen jars of each. I did some calculations regarding shipping. It actually costs less to send multiple packages of 4-5 jars (< 2kg) to the Philippines than it costs to send one big one, thanks to Canada Post’s international small packet postage rates. I’m looking forward to putting together a number of care packages, although I’m still looking for a good source for boxes. We tend to get ours from No Frills as part of their recycling program, but there usually aren’t a lot of small, sturdy boxes.

I also worked on rehabilitating the front plant box. Most of it was just tangled root mass. It was hard work digging up and removing the roots. I shook the sandy soil from the roots and discarded the roots to one side, then amended the soil with some cow manure (moo poo). I transplanted the Thai basil there. They needed room to grow, and I figured that we might as well have some edible greens out front.

This is the second week of my staycation, and I’ve discovered a lot about how I actually spend unstructured time. The strongest pull is to spend that time with W- and J-, which generally means cooking, canning, or taking photographs. I also spend a little time on individual pursuits, such as sewing, blogging, and thinking about presentations. “The Shy Connector” is shaping up nicely, and I hope to spend most of tomorrow on it. I’ve gone out to more events, too, although I need to recharge at home (introvert! =) ).

Last week felt like a week of weekends. I deliberately didn’t impose a lot of structure on the time because I wanted it to be flexible. I hadn’t set particular goals for my time, and I hadn’t used it for longer projects like an e-book (although I’m slowly nurturing that Shy Connector presentation). This week, I think I’ll bring in more focus. I want to complete the Shy Connector presentation, and I want to review all of my blog posts for interesting kernels I can develop into other blog posts, articles, and presentations. That should also get me all revved up and ready to get back to work.

Teaching energy

August 17, 2009 - Categories: life, teaching

Maybe it is possible to teach energy, because I can certainly point to some teachers who influenced me–all the way down to that rocking motion I do in lieu of actually bouncing up and down.

That was what he did: rock back and forth, swinging his hands, whenever he got really excited about something: Linux, computer science, mathematics, the joys of algorithms, the search for Rachmaninoff sheet music, the trials and tribulations of his students’ love lives.

In all our classes, he always smiled. I don’t know how he managed to sound happy even while expressing exasperation over test scores or proprietary software companies’ antics, but he did. And one of the best things about being on the “computer science varsity”–the training team for the programming competitions–was training with him and the others during summers.

Advanced happy birthday, Doc Mana!

New presentation: The Shy Connector!

August 18, 2009 - Categories: presentation

I spent today making presentations and ginger snap cookies. A day well spent!

Here’s The Shy Connector, which builds on the previous blog post about shy connector tips:

vote thumbs-up if you liked it! =)

Share your tips on the original blog post! =) Feel free to pass this on to other people, too. I’d love to hear what they can add to it!

Social media changes real-life conversations

August 19, 2009 - Categories: connecting, social, web2.0

Memnon Anon sent me a link to Matt Zimmerman’s post “Social media has made me boring“, which got me thinking because I have almost the complete opposite experience.

My parents’ Facebook updates and forum posts provide fodder for weekly chats and let me keep up to date across timezones. I feel much more in touch with my friends who use social media, and we have plenty of things to talk about because I get a better picture of their interests. When we talk, we can jump past the “What did you do?” to “How did you feel about that?” I can find out when they’re having a bad day, what they care about, what they enjoy. And this works for people in the same city, too. Blogs, tweets, and other updates give me deeper insights into people than I could find out in five minutes or even an hour.

Social media lets us take conversational shortcuts. I might start telling a story that I’ve told on my blog, and the person I’m talking to says, “yeah, I’ve read that”–so then I skip past the introduction and go to the parts I hadn’t gotten around to writing down, or that I’m still figuring out. Sometimes I might tell a story in response to a question a friend asks, and then realize that was worth blogging about. There are always too many stories to write down, and conversation and interaction brings out even more.

I still organize get-togethers over tea, dinner, or Skype because I like seeing the interaction between my friends. But social media is what lets me develop good relationships with people I might not otherwise be able to keep in touch with as often, and I really like it.

So here’s what I think the trick is:

Get over that hitch. You know how you might feel disappointed/interrupted when someone says, “I’ve read that on your blog”? Practice your happy-do until your first reaction is “Awww, thanks for reading!” and then go on with asking people what they thought, or jumping to the part you really wanted to talk about. Make your conversations less about “What did you do this summer?” and more about “What did you like about it? What did you learn? How did that change you?” and other deeper questions. Even if you’ve already posted a long, thoughtful reflection on your blog, you’ll learn even more through the conversation, and through connecting it with other people’s experiences.

If you blog, there are a number of mental mind-shifts that are useful. That’s one of them. Another one is to get used to the idea that people may know more about you than you know about them, which is really weird at the beginning. People feel uncomfortable when other people have the edge in terms of knowledge. But you can flip that around, be flattered that someone’s taken the time to learn about you and keep up to date with you, and then use the conversation time to get to know about them.

Social media changes conversations, and I think that’s awesome.

Tea, a drink with jam and bread

August 23, 2009 - Categories: cooking, party

One of the things I realized during my birthday reflections was that I’d like to get better at keeping in touch with family and friends. I missed having a group of close friends who were friends with each other and the lively interactions and in-jokes that result. I periodically keep in touch with my friends in the Philippines and I have a small group of friends in Toronto who regularly come to my get-togethers, but I wondered if I hadn’t paid as much attention to this aspect of my life because I had focused on building my relationship with W- (status: awesome!).

Based on last week’s Skype party and this week’s tea party, I’m lucky to have such fantastic friends. I hardly spend time with people one-on-one, but I felt right at home with everyone. Maybe it’s because these friendships aren’t based on shared activities, but on the fact that I like who these people are. Even these brief glimpses into their lives give me warm and fuzzy feelings. Get-togethers become a way for me to get to know them better and to introduce them to other people I also like–which result in interesting conversations I get to eavesdrop on, yay!

The chest freezer we bought last Friday turned out to be incredibly useful. I rolled and cut a large batch of biscuits the night before the party and a batch of scones the morning of the party, and I put them on cookie sheets to individually freeze. Once they froze, I transferred them to bags and put the bags in the chest freezer. During the party, keeping the table stocked with baked awesomes was just a matter of taking out the right number of frozen items, putting them on the tray, and baking them at 450’F for around 12 minutes. Win!

The first hour or two was pretty busy because I wanted to make sure everyone had mugs, some kind of drink, some kind of snack, and so on, and because people brought interesting new teas I and breads I just had to share. =) Once we’d gotten lots of baked goods and teapots on the table, things settled down, and I wandered in and out of great conversations while topping up the snacks and drinks. Great stuff! Now I’m tempted to save up for and find one of those multi-tier trays so that I can make the most of our table space… <laugh>

I set seats around the kitchen table for early-comers. People pushed the chairs in and stood around when we reached about 12 people in the room, occasionally pulling out chairs if they wanted to sit. Some people also sat on the deck to enjoy the garden view and a bit of quiet. If I set some more mugs and snacks out there, we could expand the party more easily. I’m looking forward to figuring out how to make these get-togethers even better without making them overwhelming. There are so many other groups of people I’d like to bring together. =)

What I liked the most: how people connected and helped each other out. I love that! Love love love love. If I can bake and cook and host and do all of that more often so that my friends from different circles can come together and connect the dots more often, I’m all for it. I love how people are ready to talk about what they’re interested in, what they’re working on, what they need help with, how they can help other people… I love having get-togethers where people just skip past the small talk and get to what they really want to talk about. =D

Thanks to everyone who made it, and thanks also to everyone else who made last year fantastic! Let’s find out what adventures this year will bring. =)

Back from staycation

August 24, 2009 - Categories: life


I’m on the subway to work, refreshed and ready to go after a two-week vacation.

At the beginning of summer, J- announced that she didn’t want to go to summer camp. She said she could do better things with her time and have more fun on her own. W- took two weeks off to spend with her, and I decided to tag along by taking my vacation as well. My passport was still out for visa renewal, so we couldn’t travel anywhere. Time to check out this newfangled idea of a staycation…

The staycation turned out to be a great idea for us. We bought some lights from Home Depot so that we could explore photography through constant lighting. We enjoyed exploring new recipes, making souvlaki, scones, biscuits, bread, and new kinds of chili. We discovered the joys of canning and proceeded to make cases of apricot syrup, blueberry jam, and jalapeno jelly. We improved our house routine and organized our space, adding shelves near the entrance and a mini-greenhouse to the kitchen.

I also pursued a number of individual interests. I hosted and went to a number of get-togethers with friends, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I made a new presentation and started thinking about seeds for others. I reflected on my life as a 25-year-old, what it meant to turn 26, and what I’d like to do for my 26/27th year of life.

It was a great break. It felt like two weeks of weekends. Our days weren’t drastically different from normal life, but instead gave us a taste of what our weekends could feel like with more planning, and what our weeks might feel like when we reach financial independence.

I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of work!

Weekly review: Week ending August 23, 2009

August 24, 2009 - Categories: weekly

From last week’s plans:

I also:

  • Added more food to our emergency kit
  • Played Monopoly during a storm-caused blackout
  • Sent a package to a friend
  • Picked up some lace for sewing

Next week, I plan to:

  • Get back to work
  • Make a presentation to teach people how to use Lotus Connections Profiles
  • Make a presentation to teach people how to use Lotus Connections Activities
  • Start collecting examples of great IBM-ish presentations
  • Help out with various Drupal projects

Growing as a presenter

August 25, 2009 - Categories: speaking

After attending a full-day IBM course on creating effective presentations last Friday, I felt like challenging myself to figure out how to make good corporate-ish presentations. The instructor joked that I could probably give the course, and I laughed and said that the end results would look nothing like IBM presentations. But maybe I can help figure out how corporate presentations can be engaging…

Practically all of my external presentations are non-IBM-standard. I use hand-drawn stick figures, full-bleed stock photography and Creative Commons-licensed images, and very little text. They’re also almost all meant to be delivered as part of a highly interactive session, unlike the stand-alone slide decks that are popular within IBM. I have hardly any speaker notes because I have short presentations with memorable key messages. My presentations are idiosyncratic. They fit my style and my knowledge, but they’re not easily reusable by others.

There are a number of ways I’d love to grow as a presenter.

  • I’m working on learning how to make IBM-branded presentations at least for internal use, using the color combinations and slide layouts suggested in our presentation guidelines. There are plenty of opportunities to practice on the presentations I find internally, and I can fiddle with their logic along the way. I can also practice this in the process of developing some of the enablement material I’ve promised to do in my personal business commitments.
  • I’d like to collect and eventually contribute to examples of good corporate presentations: charts and slide layouts that work well, good flow, good supporting logic… There must be awesome presentations out there. If I can collect them, highlight them, and talk about why they work, then I can help other people learn more about presentation skills. Kinda like Presentation Zen, but with examples that corporate speakers can identify with.
  • Someday, I’m going to learn how to make those ballroom-type presentations that look really more like ads. You know, the quick, punchy, animated presentations like “Did You Know…” and “Smile and Move”. In order to learn how to do that, I’ll need to learn video advertising techniques and new tools. It’ll be fun!

Good presentations help people understand complex issues and move themselves to action. Good presentation skills help speakers structure thoughts, build credibility, and facilitate change. Definitely worth looking into. Who wants to learn with me? =) Send me examples of things you like and why you like them, tell me stories about what you’re learning, and share your tips! =)

IBM Drupal Drop-in Clinic

August 25, 2009 - Categories: drupal

I love this! I’m practically running an IBM Drupal drop-in clinic at 120 Bloor E, helping five developers on two projects become that much more productive. They’re all working with Drupal 6, but my experience with developing and debugging on Drupal 5 is still helpful, and I can navigate through Internet posts pretty quickly too. I get to help with the tough and interesting bits without needing to set up my environment or work on the boring bits. ;)

This is definitely worth the subway ride. I create more than CAD $4.50 of value and save people more than 60 minutes of time total. Besides, I usually get to sit down and write a blog post during the commute.

Some things from today:

  • Want to protect files from being downloaded? Set your Drupal file system handling to Private, manage your view uploaded files permission, and don’t forget to add an .htaccess in your files directory with the following:
    SetHandler Drupal_Security_Do_Not_Remove_See_SA_2006_006

    Options None

    Options +FollowSymLinks

  • Use hook_form_alter to print out the form_id if you want to change where a form redirects. After you figure out the form_id, set the appropriate form’s #redirect property.
  • var_dump may look different if you don’t have xdebug installed. Check the HTML source for your expected output.

Lots of other HTML- and Drupal-related things, too.

Good leverage on time and experience. =D I wonder how to get even better at this…

Exercising my network

August 26, 2009 - Categories: connecting

My manager is very much an extrovert. I think he’s amused by my reflections on networking as an introvert, the fact that I’m consciously working on getting better at keeping in touch with people, and the elaborate personal contact relationship management system I’ve been building for myself. He asked, “How do you stop it from becoming mechanical?”

How do you keep in touch while keeping it real?

I’ve read a lot of books about networking, and I don’t quite feel comfortable with what they suggest. Like many people, I think of successful networkers as those glad-handing salespeople and politicians who are always calling people up, having lunch with them, sending cards, or otherwise keeping in touch. The prospect of doing likewise scares the heck out of me. I hate interrupting people by calling them. I hesitate to send e-mail updates because (a) people’s inboxes overflow, and (b) I sometimes get dinged because I’m “not personal enough” (although I’ve come to realize it’s mostly a matter of perspective). I’ve been working on keeping track of birthdays, but I haven’t quite gotten to the point of making people feel all warm and fuzzy.

And yet, somehow, people have called me a connector so often that I’ve come to believe it a bit myself. I’ve had the pleasure of learning from a great many people. I enjoy being able to connect the dots. I like remembering little things about people and referring to those things after most people would have forgotten. (I think that’s driven by my love of in-jokes and play.)

There are two ideas that make it easier for me to keep in touch, and maybe they can help you too.

synchronous, asymmetric communication: By this, I mean blog posts, tweets, social network updates, and all these other tools we use to share bits of our lives with others. It’s asynchronous because you can post or read when convenient for you, and others can post or read when convenient for them. It’s asymmetric because unlike e-mail, you don’t have to decide whom to direct something to, and they don’t have to wait for you to decide to reach out to them. This works well for me because I don’t feel comfortable sending specific people updates, but I’m fine with posting things where people could read them if they wanted to. That neatly sidesteps the possibility of rejection. I don’t have to e-mail someone and worry if I’m being a burden. It’s their choice to read, and they can unsubscribe whenever they want.

So it flips around this idea of keeping in touch. I make it easy for people to keep in touch with me. Through other people’s blogs and tweets, I keep in touch with them, but from a safe distance. ;)

Asking and giving: I love learning and I love helping people figure things out. That gives me opportunities to reach out and connect with other people who can teach me more, learn from what I’ve learned, help someone I’m helping, or benefit from meeting the person I’m helping. I get great return on experience because I can share what I’ve learned with lots of people. The more I learn about people’s interests and quirks, the better I get at finding people and making those connections. For example, if I come home from a conference with a stack of business cards, I find it much easier to develop relationships with people about whom I know specific needs or interests than with people for whom I only have contact information. Then it becomes a game: can I help a person find someone who can help make something happen, or who might know people who can? Every request and every connection lets me know more about people, which makes it easier for me to make connections in the future.

Networks are like muscles. The more you exercise them, the stronger they get. (Although networks are more like neurons than they are like muscles, because muscles get stronger because you damage the fibers, while neurons strengthen synapses with use…</tangent>)

Tools do a good job of supporting my way of connecting. Blogs and other social networking tools let me share my thoughts and “scale up”. The Emacs Big Brother Database I use to keep semi-structured notes on people (and I’ve been kidded about this before ;) ) helps me remember those little things about people: what they’re interested in, what they like, and so on. I’m good at remembering details for weeks and maybe even months, but I write as much as I can down because it’s frustrating to have a possible connection on the tip of my tongue and yet not be able to remember whom to reach out to.

So that’s how it all fits together, and that’s why I do what I do. I share both professional and personal stories on my blog because that makes it a great tool for connecting with people, and I work on my personal contact database because it helps me connect the dots.

Maybe geeks can be good connectors too, even though we approach the challenge differently. =)

Improv 101, class 4: Characterizations

August 26, 2009 - Categories: Uncategorized

It occurred to me that I hadn’t written about my fourth class in Improv, which was two weeks ago. (I skipped last week’s due to a conflict, and will take a make-up class in September.)

Annie was away, so Kevin substituted for her. We got a lot of practice doing two-person scenes, which I enjoyed a lot because it gave all of us plenty of practice time and threw lots of different situations at us. Kevin was jokingly frustrated by the way my classmates occasionally asked him to define the words he used for suggestions. I know what that’s like! W- and I both use vocabularies wider than most people’s, although he actually has the discipline to look up pronunciations in the dictionary, so he’s comfortable saying things and I often fumble with a few different ways to pronounce rarer words. =)

Looking forward to improv class tomorrow! I’ve got a calendar full of meetings, and then I’ll be off to class.

Improv 101: Learning more about characterizations

August 27, 2009 - Categories: Uncategorized

Improv is so hard! <laugh> It’s a good kind of hard, though.

We warmed up with a game of Hotseat, but with a singing twist. The game is to have someone singing in the center of the circle, and for other people to tag in, replace that person, and sing something inspired by the previous song. It was fun drawing all sorts of connections. I was surprised to find that I could sing and be audible. I normally sing softly. But it was okay to be out of tune and it was okay to forget the lyrics and it was okay to just play, and all of those okays let me relax, resonate with my chest voice, and just have fun.

We also warmed up with 7 Things, and Annie encouraged us to come up with categories that demanded creative answers.

Most of the class time was spent on doing two-person scenes inspired by monologues. I had no problems coming up with a monologue based on an audience suggestion, but the scenework was hard. What I found particularly challenging about it was fleshing out my motivations and reactions as a character. I got a little bit better at listening for the game, but I haven’t quite figured out how to make up a real person. Annie encouraged us to really listen to what our partners were saying and to think, “How do I feel about that? Why is it important to me?” We need to have stronger points of views, stronger characterizations.

How can I practice this? I’d like to get together with my classmates outside class too, as we need a lot more practice, and it might be fun to hang out. Maybe reading short stories will help, too, because then I’ll be able to learn more about characters interacting with each other. Writing might be fun, too. And practice, lots of practice…

I’ve just signed up for the next course in the series. This is really good training in stepping up to opportunities, listening well, and fleshing things out, and I’m looking forward to practicing more so that things flow better.

Weekly review: week ending August 30, 2009

August 31, 2009 - Categories: weekly

From last week’s plans:

  • Get back to work
  • Make a presentation to teach people how to use Lotus Connections Profiles
  • Make a presentation to teach people how to use Lotus Connections Activities
  • Start collecting examples of great IBM-ish presentations
  • Help out with various Drupal projects

I also:

  • Attended FanExpo: saw Leonard Nimoy and Max Brooks, then watched Star Wars fan films. Missed my barkada – they would have had a lot of fun, too!
  • Attended improv class and got my mind stretched =)

Next week:

  • Work – more planning, tweaking, putting together
  • Web 2.0 and education talk
  • Cookies! =)
  • More biking