March 2010

The Shy Presenter: Why conventional advice on learning public speaking sucks, and how to really get started

March 1, 2010 - Categories: presentation, speaking

Want to get started in public speaking?

There are thousands of books and blogs and classes with advice. To save you time, I’ve summarized them all for you:

Figure out your key message. Come up with a catchy acronym. Be clear.

Find a surprising fact. Tell a story. Ditch the bullet points. Use a clever title. Make your slides prettier. Use full-screen images. Use no images. Draw your diagrams.

Go to Toastmasters. Practice in front of a mirror. Practice with a friend. Practice with a small group. Videotape yourself.

Make eye contact. Don’t stare. Imagine your audience naked. Don’t read the slides. Watch others for inspiration. Practise. Practise. Practise.

Did you get all that? Are you ready?

Right. So let’s talk about what you need to know in order to get started. You can figure out the who and when and where. You can learn the how. But there’s a huge gap here because of two questions no one can answer for you:

Why would you get up there in the first place?

And what do you have to say?

Why speak? Why spend hours putting together a talk? Why risk stage fright, stutters, stammers, technical difficulties, hecklers, off-topic questions, incorrect information,  embarrassment, rejection?

There are lots of surprisingly good reasons. It doesn’t have to be about promoting yourself or working on your career.

Me, there are two reasons why I give presentations. First: I love learning. And short of making something a life-and-death matter, there’s nothing that makes you learn something more than teaching it to someone.

Second: I’m an introvert. It’s so hard for me to walk up to one person and say hello. You know what’s easier than that? Talking to 200 people. Particularly if I can rehearse first. Then people have an excuse to talk to me if they want to. So if you’re an introvert, give it a try. And if you’re an extrovert, give it a try too.

That’s why I speak. Learning is fun. I want to teach what I know. I want to learn from others, but I hate starting conversations.

What’s your reason? Why are you going to get up and speak?

For you, that question could be the worst question to ask. Here’s a surprise. That’s because you might not be able to find out your why until you figure out your what.

Don’t wait for some grand passion to sweep you away. Don’t wait for  the aha! moment. You’re not going to suddenly “get it”. Don’t let that stop you.

You won’t know why until you begin. It’s not going to become fun until you’re doing it. (And sometimes not even then). Just treat it as an experiment. A way to improve your communication skills.

How do you start?

You need to figure out what you have to say. This is very useful.

Now someone said, “I need you to do a presentation on X,” problem solved. But you’re probably starting from scratch. Try this simple question instead:

What do you know that someone else doesn’t? Write it down or go tell that someone about it.

What do you know that you didn’t know yesterday? What else do you know? What do you keep saying? What are you curious about? Share.

You don’t have to be an expert. You just have to help.

True story. The only reason I got started in public speaking was because some friends of mine were organizing a conference. By the third call for speakers, they sounded pretty desperate. I said, hey, I’m just a student, but I can talk about this if you really can’t find anyone, and I’m playing with that as a hobby. They booked me for two talks. I learned that even as a beginner, you can help other people learn.

Now you’ve got the raw material for a presentation. You’ve got the what. Share it and see how it makes people’s lives better. You’ve got the why. The when and where and who and how – that’s easy, once you get over that gap.

So think about this: What did you learn? How can you share it? Why does that matter?

Figure out your what and your why, and everything else will follow.

What can I help you learn?

Draft of upcoming talk for Ignite Toronto based on previous braindump. Short enough to fit into five minutes, I hope. If you like this, you might also like The Shy Connector. Have fun!

Weekly review: Week ending February 28, 2010

March 1, 2010 - Categories: weekly

Plans from last week:




Plans for next week:




Monthly review: February 2010

March 1, 2010 - Categories: monthly

My first full month back in Canada this year was packed with goodness. I dove into interesting challenges at work, presented The Shy Connector to an international audience, and wrote a lot about writing and presenting. One of my mentors gave me a fantastic opportunity to learn not only about interviewing skills but also about Smarter Cities by taking me along on his interviews. I learned a lot about life, too, and got back into the swing of preparing lots of stuff ahead so that life runs smoothly.

What’s up for next month? Lots of work involving documenting and organizing assets, connecting the dots, and sparking people’s imaginations. I’ve also got three presentations scheduled: The Shy Presenter (IgniteTO), a presentation on collaboration for a client workshop in the UK, and an internal IBM re-run of Remote Presentations That Rock. I tried to keep it to one presentation a month, but sometimes opportunities are hard to pass up.

Blog posts:

Sharing what you know


Reflections on presentations

Wedding planning


Weekly reviews

Misc: Winter, Fixing SIOCSIFFLAGS: Unknown error 132 for Karmic wireless on Asus Eee 1008HA, ACM Hypertext conference in Toronto this June; paper deadline Feb 14, Bug-hunting spreadsheets, Teapot, Always look on the bright side of life

Last month’s highlights: January 2010

Thoughts on preparing an Ignite-style presentation

March 2, 2010 - Categories: braindump, presentation, speaking

Creativity loves constraints, and the Ignite style of presentations has lots of constraints. Your speech has to fit into five minutes. You have room to make one point and perhaps tell one story. You have twenty slides that automatically advance every 15 seconds, although you can slow down by duplicating slides or speed up by using timed animation. You’re giving your presentation to a live audience, so you need to be part actor and part stand-up comedian. Oh, and you’re just one in a long line-up of five-minute speeches, so you need to stand out if you want people to remember your point.

My first Ignite-style presentation will be The Shy Presenter, which I’ll share at IgniteTO this Wednesday. It’ll be a fun experiment that builds on a lot of things I already do for my regular talks.

Full notes

So let me take apart my process to see how I can improve it, or if I’ve picked up any tips that other people might find useful.

I write about a topic before preparing a talk for it so that I can find out what I know, whether it’s useful, and whether I care enough to invest a few hours into preparing a presentation. (Yes, it’s that old skills-needs-passion sweet spot. Handy!)

Ideally, I’ll have blogged about a topic often enough to figure out the key points I want to communicate, and then it’s just a matter of reviewing the previous posts, summarizing them, and editing the points. Not having lots of blog posts about a topic is often a danger sign, as I learned two years ago:


But sometimes an interesting presentation opportunity comes up, and I’ll flesh out new material after people have okayed my title/abstract.

I’ll mindmap what people come in with, what I want them to leave with, and what I can put together to help them along the way.  I also find it useful to braindump a quick list of points I might want to make.

I like making my talks short. I usually try to fit my talks into 7-15 minutes, which is good practice in finding the core of a message and putting together a few supporting points. A good way to estimate this is to take your target words per minute and multiply it by your time, adjusting for pauses. I usually aim for 150wpm (in the middle of the 140-160wpm often suggested by books on public speaking), although I often end up speaking at 180-200wpm. Then I read things through and tweak the text until it fits.

Keeping it short and simple also makes it easy for me to remember. The shorter it is, the more I can improvise to fit the needs of time.

I post my speaker notes online. It lessens the surprise, but it makes the notes easy to share, search, and get feedback on.

Then I split my notes/script into segments. For Ignite, that’s about 37 words per segment. Editing smoothens things out.

At this point, I can usually think of a few simple ways to illustrate each segment. Sometimes I write out the visual sequence and then storyboard it. Other times, I go straight to the storyboard. Sometimes images or segments pop into my imagination, and I rework my writing to include it.

Then I draw the pictures and make slides. I usually use Inkscape because that makes it easy to edit my drawings to reasonably resemble my imagination. I’ve been experimenting with MyPaint lately, though. It takes more work, but it’s interesting.

I post the slides on Slideshare and add it to my blog post, again trading surprise for sharing, search, and feedback.

Once I’ve boiled the idea down to slides, I can work on remembering the key points for each slide. If the key points flow together and people get interested in a topic, they can always look up the full notes on my blog. That means I don’t have to worry about following the script word for word. So if it turns out I have less time than expected, or more time than expected, or I forget something or people want to learn more about something, I can adapt.

And then there’s the blog post on the day of the presentation, and the blog post following up on what I learned from the presentation, and the blog post following up on people’s questions, and the blog post about any revisions, and the blog post about process or content tips (like this one!), and the tweets and Slideshare embeds and all of those other things that mean that the four hours or so invested into preparing a presentation pay off several times over…

Here’s a totally numbers-from-a-hat estimate:

So that’s how I generally prepare my talks. =)

Not just a word

March 3, 2010 - Categories: learning, life, mentoring, reflection

During the Art of Marketing lunch break, Alan Lepofsky wanted to know how I got to know his team when he was at IBM. I explained that Matthew Starr had invited me to the IBM Web 2.0 Summit even though I was just a graduate student doing research, and that was when I got to meet Carol Jones and Alan’s other colleagues. When he heard that, Alan told me this story about the word “just”, from when he was twenty-five years old.

One of his mentors had taken him to a very exclusive restaurant, the kind that looks like a home. It was a scene right out of the movies. The waiter greeted his mentor by name and offered his mentor’s usual table. His mentor ordered a drink. When the waiter asked Alan what he would like, Alan said: “I’ll just have a Diet Coke, please.”

After the waiter left, Alan’s mentor told him to never use the word “just” to make himself or his decisions smaller. Instead of saying “I’ll just have a Diet Coke”, Alan could say, “I’ll have a Diet Coke.” There’s a subtle difference, but an important one.

Reflecting on this in the afternoon, I couldn’t help but be struck by how many of the presenters apologized for themselves. It was casual — self-deprecating humour, apologies for slides or technique, apologies for nervousness — and almost unconscious, like something that people say to cover up gaps. Perhaps they thought of themselves as “just” themselves, too.

How many times have I asked for just water at a restaurant? Perhaps it’s to forestall the questions: Perrier? Carbonated water? Bottled water? But it seems even more awkward to clarify with “regular water” or “house water” or “tap water”. (What do people ask for?)

How many times have I described myself as just a lucky newbie? I often feel that I am. I feel like that child in the IBM Linux commercial, receiving insights from all sorts of amazing people. But to call it luck would be to frame this experience as difficult to reproduce, and
to call myself just a newbie dismisses the beginner’s mind that I deliberately develop and maintain – the one that lets me focus on learning and sharing as much as possible instead of staying within my comfort zone.

So who am I, if not just a newbie?

I am excited and amazed by the opportunities that I have. I am doing something incredibly right. I want to figure out not only how to do even better, but how I can share that with as many people as possible and help them do their best.

And yes, I am going to change the world. =) Why not? It’s possible. How wonderful can it be?

Presentation lessons from Ignite; deliberate practice

March 4, 2010 - Categories: kaizen, presentation, speaking, tips

Did my first Ignite talk last night, at Ignite Toronto 3. It was fun! Scary, yes. But fun, and I hope I convinced at least one person to share more of what he or she knows. Here are some things I learned along the way:

Five minutes will fly by. Don’t worry. All you need to do is do a commercial and point people to where they can find out more. You have plenty of time to make an impression. TV spots are typically 30 seconds long. You have the equivalent of 10 TV commercials to make an impression in. You can do it.

Instead of starting with a bigger presentation and trying to squeeze it into five minutes, start with your key message and expand that to fit five minutes. It’s easier that way.

Write your script, plan your slides, plan a key point for each slide, and then let go of your script. Focus on getting your key point for each slide across, and improvise whatever you need to make it shorter or longer. This means you don’t have to stand around waiting for a slide to change (you can always just add more detail!) or stress out if your slides seem to be going at lightning speed (just say your key point).

Don’t put a lot of text on your slides. If you can, don’t put any text on slides shown when you’re speaking. Text makes people read. Reading makes people stop listening. You’re going to be too nervous to give them time to read. Make it easy for people to focus on you.

You can either apologize for mistakes or focus on getting your message across. Focusing on communicating your message is more useful and fun. People don’t expect you to be perfect.

Put your notes or script online so that people can read the things you forgot to say. You can post it after the session if you don’t want to spoil your punchlines.

An easy way to remember your slides: Figure out your key point for each slide and the transitions between them. It’s easier to remember when it all flows. Tweak it until it feels natural. Then review your slides. For each slide, practice remembering your key message and the transition to the next slide. That way, you always know what the next slide is.

Practice the timing so that you can get a sense of how much can fit into 15 seconds. More important: practice the timing so that you can get used to recovering from timing errors. This is really helpful. People don’t mind if your speech isn’t perfectly synchronized with your slides. If you can keep it reasonably on track, that’s great.

Use a short description and bio, to keep the flow smooth.

Make a placeholder entry on your blog and use that link in the bio so that organizers can link to your speaker notes / presentation without having to make last-minute web updates.

Watch other presentations for inspiration. Plenty of great examples out there.

How to deliberately practice timing (very handy!): Print out your script, notes, or slides. Set up a 15-second looping countdown presentation. While this is counting down from 15 to 1, practice “scenes” from your presentation. You don’t have to do them in order, and you don’t have to do them all the way through, although that helps. I find it useful to repeat one scene until it feels okay, and then move on to the next one. It’s also helpful to run through the entire thing at least once.

You can reuse the timing presentation to help you keep track of time during your talk. But five minutes goes by really quickly, and if you’re making eye contact, you’re not going to look at your timing laptop. Don’t worry about getting everything perfectly timed. Focus on getting your message across and to adjusting as needed.

You can practice outside an Ignite event by recording presentations. You can also practice by doing your talk for a friend. Tag a fellow presenter and work out those butterflies by practicing with each other.

Another long reflection on my process: Thoughts on preparing an Ignite-style presentation

More specific notes for myself:

Things to remember for future versions of my talk: introverts aren’t likely to be out at a bar with 199 other people. They’re going to be at home, waiting for the Youtube replay. ;) Like, duh. Maybe a different way to frame these presentation tips?

Also, raise-hands polling is hard with a harsh spotlight. I couldn’t see anyone until I shaded my eyes and adjusted to the darkness.

Next for me: Remote Presentations That Rock (March 8, rerun), branding (March 8 PM), client workshop (March 18-19), then PresentationCamp on March 23.

Video to be posted in the next three weeks, I think.


Great stuff from other people: How to give a great Ignite talk

What I learned from The Art of Marketing

March 5, 2010 - Categories: conference, marketing, work

I learned a lot from the Art of Marketing conference even before it started. To take advantage of someone else’s affiliate link discount and the group ticket purchase, I coordinated a group purchase with two friends, saving ourselves $100 each. It was easier than I expected, thanks to the joys of broadcasting on Twitter and receiving money through Interac.


Mitch Joel: New media isn’t like old media. Why are we still using old-media paradigms of broadcasting? Reboot your marketing. Interesting stories/points: Burning the ships, SnapTell, more grandparents than high school students (comments point out logical flaws in the headline, though), 40% sleeping while watching TV, negative review converts more readily to a sale, semantics: negative review can be great, 20% completely new searches on Google every day, Journey and Arnel Pineda

Seth Godin: Be an artist instead of a cog. Solve interesting problems. Risk getting booed off the stage. Invent the next step. Work around your lizard brain. Characteristics of indispensable people: connected, creative, able to handle complexity, good at leading tribes, inspiring, have deep domain knowledge, passionate. Ship. Thrash at the beginning, not the end. People say: we need you to lead us. Work can be a platform to create art.

Sally Hogshead: Factors of fascination: Mystique, power, lust, prestige, alarm, vice, trust. People will spend a lot on things that are fascinating or things that help them become fascinating.

James Othmer: Not about campaigns, it’s about commitments. Persuasion – voice – engagement – immersion. Create a story that invites people in. Learn from movies and entertainment. Pay attention to continuity. Create a story that hangs together.

Max Lenderman: Be compelling, contextual, visceral. Story about skits in rural India, virtual ary, branded spaces, Camp Jeep, Flame (Whopper perfume), Kwik-E mart (7-11), Tide free laundry

Dan Heath: Change: Find the bright spots. Not recipe, but process. Skip true but useless knowledge. Focus on the signs of hope. What’s working right now and how can we do more of it? Direct the rider, motivate the elephant, shape the path. We change behavior by working with the elephant. See – feel – change. Find the feeling. Shape the path: Tweak the environment. Amsterdam urinal spillage story (fly). Most people try to change 5-7 times before they succeed. What makes you think you’ll get it on the first try?


Video can be a shortcut for sharing emotional stories.

Slick ad-like animations (soundtrack only, no voice) detract, though. The shift in attention is a jarring.

Some professional speakers read slides, apologize for themselves, turn their backs on the audience, have low-contrast slides, use ineffective fonts, use jargon, get lost without notes… Plenty of opportunities here.

Big difference between people who give lots of presentations (ex: Seth Godin, Dan Heath, Mitch Joel) and people who haven’t given as many.

Vivid language, metaphors, stories, funny pictures = awesome.

Key message and simple framework essential for helping people follow what you’re saying.

Good talks are focused on you, not the speaker.

Well-chosen transitions/animations make a presentation look extra-polished. (Dan Heath – good example.)


1600 people filled the auditorium. Lots of need for insight.

Choice of topics shows that audience is still mostly struggling with shift to digital.

Advantages of attending conference over reading business books: see what speakers focus on, watch videos illustrating stories, pick up presentation tips.

Got so tempted to dig into some presentations and experiment with their structures. May want to turn that into presentation coaching someday.

I liked Dan Heath’s content the most. I like Dan’s presentation style and Seth’s presentation style about evenly.

Next actions for me: Track down stories they shared; collect interesting stories, videos, and pictures; continue learning and sharing material.

A little less wise, a little more awesome

March 5, 2010 - Categories: life, love

I had all four of my wisdom teeth taken out this morning to avoid complications later on. The anaesthetist (a woman named Sandra) wired me up with a blood pressure monitor, two heart rate monitors around my forearms, and an oxygen-level monitor on the tip of my finger. She numbed me with nitrous oxide (laughing gas), which brought on a stronger version of the light-headedness I feel when I hyperventilate. She then stuck an IV into me and gave a powerful sedative. As promised, I was completely out, and I woke up in the recovery room with W- holding my hand. (Win!)

I’m sure I’ll find out what the oral surgeon was like over the next few days. I hope he was great. Although it’s hard to imagine anyone being as great as W-. If you need to be stuck on a liquid/creamy diet, I recommend finding someone like him, because he’s going to make it awesome.

Lunch was congee made with the chicken/turkey stock, soft glutinous rice disintegrating on a still-numb tongue. I ate it very carefully because I didn’t want any rice getting stuck in places  that would be hard to clean, cooling my congee to avoid burning myself. For dessert, there was leftover filling from a lemon meringue pie.

Two acetaminophen-codeine phosphate painkiller pills and a nap later, it was dinner time. (Just like Timecat!)

When I woke up and headed downstairs, I found egg custard and egg tarts cooling under cookie sheets (to protect them from curious cats), lemon filling in the making (to use up extra tart shells), Jello in the fridge, and rice pudding in the planning. W- had been busy.

There are all sorts of soups in the pantry, too. I’m looking forward to raiding our stash of cream of mushroom soup.

Dinner will be congee (pureed this time), and there are all sorts of things for dessert.

It would be such a hassle to go and find restaurants that could accommodate my eating restrictions, taking the painkillers, and making it back to the car and to the house despite the drowsiness.

This would have been even less fun on my own. Or worse: battling for fridge space with housemates.

It still hurts to swallow. I’m still looking forward to my next dose of painkillers. I still hope don’t end up with dry socket, which appears to be the major complication. It’s reassuring to know that dry socket only happens in about 5% of cases and I don’t have any of the aggravating factors that typically bring it on.

All of my work is taken care of, I’m being taken care of, and life is good.

Now to explore the food options

On circumstances and somebodies

March 6, 2010 - Categories: life, passion, reflection

How much of a role does luck play in success? A lot. Malcolm Gladwell goes into this in great detail in his book Outliers, which explored the systemic, situational factors that contribute to people becoming wildly successful.

To call it just luck is to ignore the hard work that people put into recognizing and taking those opportunities. To shrug it off as a life lottery shuts one to the possibilities that stretch before them. We have many, many stories of people who have changed the world from unconventional starting points.

Stop worrying about luck. You’re always luckier than someone and not as lucky as someone else.

When I was growing up, I used to feel pretty darn lucky. I stumbled across computer programming at an early age. I had an aptitude for it, which developed into a passion.

Then I heard about people my age—or younger!—in other countries doing even incredible things, and I felt insecure. Maybe I’d missed out. Maybe I’d never be able to catch up.

It wasn’t even the bright stars like Marcelo Tosatti, who became the Linux 2.4 stable kernel maintainer in 2001. We were both 18 then, and he had attained my then-pinnacle of geek coolness. It was the fact that in other places, ordinary students were hacking on incredible things. I remember feeling despondent about the fact that our operating systems course in computer science had a reputation for being more theoretical than deep-in-the-guts-of-an-operating-system practical, and I felt envious of universities like Georgia Tech, where undergraduates experimented with Linux on the Compaq iPAQ PDA. The Internet could get me curricula and whatever resources people shared, and it could let me participate in open source development, but it couldn’t give me those hallway conversations and interesting project experiences people no doubt enjoyed there. There were the coop opportunities that I would never get to explore, because I wasn’t in Silicon Valley or Waterloo. People I wouldn’t bump into. Mentors who might never find me.

Then I decided I wasn’t going to let being in a third-world country stop me. And I learned, and I hacked, and I ended up committing code to the Compaq iPAQ bootloader, which was actually my first public commit with my name on it and which made me feel that hey, I could stand up there with everyone else. (Story: I had sent in patches almost every day for a week. This was either final exam week or the week before that, so coding was a great way to procrastinate studying. ;) It got people’s attention, and Jamey Hicks of the Compaq Research Labs actually called me up, long-distance, to find out who I was and how they could help me keep hacking. That felt awesome.)

And then I decided to stop stressing out about prodigies and possibilities and uneven distributions, and instead work on helping people surpass me by sharing as much of what I learned as I could.

After I finished my degree, I taught computer science in university to students who grew up with even better tools and better resources than I did. The things I helped them learn how to build in first year were better than what I built in first year. Awesome!

Do I feel a twinge of envy when I see a 12-year-old girl publishing books and speaking at TED? Yes, a little bit. But it’s drowned out by a feeling of inspiration for doing it, pride that the world makes it possible, and excitement about what can come next.

You know what’s even more inspiring? The people who discover their passions late in life, and make a difference anyway. The people who develop and deepen their understanding into something that changes the world. Life is not a sprint. It’s a marathon, and we’re all in it together.

There will always be someone luckier than you are, and someone less lucky. There will always be someone who knows more and someone who knows less. It’s what you do with what you have that makes you who you are. It’s okay if you didn’t start ten years ago. Start now. Find and develop your passion.

Thanks to Mylene Sereno for the nudge to write about this. Hang in there! Everyone starts somewhere.

An abundance of opportunities

March 7, 2010 - Categories: presentation, speaking

In 2008 and 2009, I gave an average of one talk every two weeks. It was really more bunched-together than that. Sometimes I’d do back-to-back presentations, like the four presentations I gave in March 2008 (conference season!). Other times, I’d have a bit of a breather before starting things up again.

With the general move away from face-to-face conferences and my decision to cut down on face-to-face speaking, I thought that would lead to a lighter year. My goal was to do one presentation a month, which was really just half of what I did last year. I successfully held it to one major presentation each for January and February, postponing things as needed.

Then March came (Why is it always March?), and I got lots of invitations to speak at things that sounded really interesting.

  1. There’s a client workshop in the UK at which I’ll do a short presentation on collaboration and culture change. That’s work, so there’s no rescheduling or referring that.
  2. There’s another internal teleconference that wants to re-run my “Remote Presentations That Rock”. There are actually two of these, but the other one’s fine with the recording.
  3. I’ve been invited to speak to IBM social media and marketing folks in Australia (teleconference) about people and the IBM brand.
  4. I volunteered to give a presentation about presentation tips at IgniteTO, which was on Wednesday. I wanted to try the Ignite format and listen to the other presenters.
  5. I’ve been invited to do something at PresentationCamp, and I’ll probably build on the talk I’m giving at IgniteTO.

And that’s after I’ve tried referring as much as possible to other people, such as a social media speaking thing that would be a great fit for one of my friends.

Greedy learner that I am, it’s really hard for me to resist the temptation to learn not only from the process of preparing the presentation, but also from the participation of interesting people during the delivery and post-presentation conversations.

Also, the talks all fit into what I want to talk about in 2010. Amazing how that works out.

What am I learning from this?

So now I can deliberately practice clarifying my key messages, illustrating my slides, and reusing things from my blog and my past presentations. I also want to get better at collecting stories and videos.

Maybe I can get better at asking:

Next talks I want to develop about presentations:

Weekly review: Week ending March 7, 2010

March 8, 2010 - Categories: weekly

From last week’s plans:



Plans for next week




Experiments as a presenter

March 9, 2010 - Categories: speaking

After I shared The Shy Presenter with 200 people at last Wednesday’s Ignite Toronto, Rohan Jayasekera told me that he was happy to see how I’d grown so much as a presenter. He’s known me for almost four years now, I think, and has seen many of my talks. He told me that I sounded a lot more relaxed now. I had more of a flow and a rhythm, and was starting to resemble professional speakers. In fact, he joked that I might be getting too good to inspire people to take that first step towards public speaking,

It’s been almost ten years since I gave my first public technical talk on August 25, 2001. I’ve experimented with:

I’m looking forward to experimenting with metaphors (both visual and verbal), humour, stories, more content, and animation. =)

Someday, when I save up for it and decide that it’s a good thing to spend on, I’d like to get a tablet PC and figure out how to use that for presentations. (Wouldn’t that be awesome?) I remember seeing Tom Wujec show us this totally awesome drawing / storyboarding tool, which I unfortunately forgot to get the name of, but if anyone’s familiar with the Autodesk suite of tools and remembers some kind of index card thing…

It’s been eight and a half years of deliberate practice. I’ve come a long way from the nervous speaker who stuttered her way through her first talk and panicked when she saw only one person attending her second. (The rest had been late from lunch, and had politely stayed outside the room when they saw me sitting down and chatting with the lone audience member.) I’m going to keep working on this because it’s fun to learn something well enough to explain it to someone else, and this kind of sharing helps me scale up and help hundreds and thousands of people at a time.

I probably take a lot of things for granted now, so it’s a good thing I’ve been sharing some of my notes along the way. This is why it pays to share what you’re learning, because after a while, it gets hard to explain how you got from point A to point B.

I want to help lots of people learn how to present well. Eventually I may become a polished, well-practiced presenter like Seth Godin or Dan Heath, and then it will be harder for people who are just starting out to think, ”Hey, maybe I can learn to speak too.” But then I can help figure out what “awesome” looks like, and that will help other people build on it and figure out what “more awesome” looks like. So it’s all good.

How are you growing? Share your notes in the comments! =)

Thanks to Rohan Jayasekera for the conversation!

Thinking about what I want to do with IBM

March 10, 2010 - Categories: career, ibm, passion, planning, plans

It’s almost time to make my personal business commitments. It’s a great time to think about what I want to do with IBM.

There are the existing goals and commitments that come down through the management chain. I want to work with IBM on making those happen because I believe in what we’re doing, and I believe that the work will help me grow. Saying yes to those is easy.

And then there’s the really important question of what I want to do with IBM, if IBM can be this platform that lets me make a bigger difference. What I want to do with IBM is to build a world where work really does flow like water, where people can do and be their best wherever they are.

If we can figure out how to work with the system—if we can figure out how to align and support even a fraction of the energy and talent in this 400,000-strong organization and our extended ecosystem—imagine how much we can help change the world and how much better we’ll work. Look at how much the world has already changed in the past few decades. Wouldn’t it be amazing to find out what we could do if we could help people fully use their talents?

So what does that look like, long-term?

How can I help make this real?

It’s interesting to look at this list. Although I enjoy building systems and developing my technical skills, I think I’ll get closer to what I want to do by focusing on the business side. My technical aspect helps me because I can automate tasks, crunch numbers, analyze information, and build tools for remembering things. For the kinds of challenges I’m really curious in exploring, though, technology isn’t the limiting factor. Technology-wise, things change really quickly, and I’m confident that people can build what we need. What we’re limited by is our ability to change and learn.

What does that look like in the short- and medium-term? What can I work towards for my career?

One of the quirks about planning my career is that I don’t need to work towards a specific position in order to make the kind of difference I want to make. I can already work on this from where I am. My current role already involves all of those capabilities to some extent, and I also contribute outside my official job role. My work with Innovation Discovery helps me learn about all sorts of interesting people and interesting projects. My mentors teach me about consulting skills and facilitation techniques. My tasks provide me with plenty of opportunities for relentless improvement. Learning and sharing, connecting people across the organization, helping people see the big picture and the next steps—these are things I do for work and fun.

So, how can I make the future even better than today?

There are many paths that I can take. Here are a few paths that people have recommended I think about:

Staff positions are interesting and I know a lot of people who do incredible work. I love the variety of my internal and external network and the things I learn from constant interaction with clients, though. So it looks like I’ll focus on growing as a consultant and figuring out how to be the bridge. Following an individual contribution path will give me more flexibility, I think, than growing into people management.

I’m fascinated by small businesses and entrepreneurship, but an organization of IBM’s scale and influence can do so many amazing things. I want to figure out how to work with an enterprise like this to make things happen. So I’m going to figure out what I can do with IBM, because I want to make a bigger difference than I can make alone. =)

What does that mean for the next year and the next few years?

What are some next actions that I can take?

If I can build lots of understanding and insight around collaboration both within and outside IBM, then I can help people learn and experiment within the company, and I can inspire clients to learn and experiment as well, and I can (I hope!) convince clients to invest in partnering with IBM so that we can help them create value much faster.

So that’s what I’m thinking, and now that it’s outside my head and in a form I can share, I can work with other people on making it clearer.

Now the hard work begins: clarifying, creating, collaboratig, learning, sharing… =)

Leadership going virtual: how we can help managers

March 11, 2010 - Categories: ibm, leadership, management

…It is important to note that by simply participating, managers transfer their status into the new paradigm; while not participating creates a real discrepancy.

Cecille Demailly, Toward Enterprise 2.0: Making the Change in the Corporation, as cited in Bill Ives’ blog post

Sarah Siegel’s reflections on virtual leadership made me think about the changes that IBM is going through. We’re moving further apart from each other (more remote/mobile workers, more geographically-spread management functions), and at the same time, moving closer to each other through social networking tools. Front-line managers might still see many of their team members face to face, but dotted-line relationships across countries are becoming more and more widespread, and middle managers work in an increasingly virtual world.

Many people struggle to translate management and leadership skills to the virtual world. They feel the loss of contact as we move away from offices and co-located teams, but they don’t have a lot of guidance on what excellent leadership looks like in this new globally-integrated world. There are no recipes or clear best practices in standard management and communication books, in the MBA courses they might have taken, and in the business magazines. Their own managers might also be dealing with the growing pains of the organization.

So some managers participate, and many don’t. The ones who participate are figuring out what works, and they may make mistakes along the way. The ones who don’t participate (out of fear? lack of time? lack of confidence?) might end up finding it even harder to get started, and then people feel confused and isolated because they aren’t getting leadership and direction from the people who are supposed to lead them.

I think managers really do want to help people work more effectively. It’s hard with all the external pressures and the pace of change, tools that are constantly evolving and practices that need to be adapted for the times, and greater challenges from both inside and outside IBM. Communities like the one Sarah Siegel organizes for IBM managers are vital, because managers need to be able to connect with other managers and learn from each other.

There are no clear answers yet. Organizations around the world are still figuring things out. Many of the principles remain the same, but translating them online when you can’t see body language and you can’t make eye contact is difficult for many people.

People need to learn how to not only work around the challenges of a virtual world, but also take advantage of its strengths. And there are strengths. Virtual teams are not just shadows of what we can do face-to-face. Going online brings new capabilities that we can explore.

We need to help managers figure this out. Along the way, we’ll end up helping ourselves and other people, so it’s worth the effort.

I remember growing up and realizing that even though I’m the youngest of three children, my parents were learning all sorts of new things about parenting while raising me. That helped make it easier for me to understand them instead of getting frustrated or upset. It’s like that with managers, too. Managers are learning about working with us just as we’re learning to work with them and with IBM.

So, how can we help? Here are some ways:

There are a lot of individual contributors within IBM. If we see leadership as something everyone in the organization does instead of being limited to those who have the “manager” bit in their Bluepages record, if we remember that leadership competencies are something we can express no matter where we are in the organizational chart and we take responsibility for helping make IBM and the world better, and if we help as many people as we can, we’ll not only get through these growing pains, but we’ll make a company worth working with even more.

Thanks to Rawn Shah for sharing a link to Bill’s blog post through Lotus Connections Profiles, and to Sarah for prompting me to write more about this!

What do I want to learn? Making a map

March 12, 2010 - Categories: ibm, learning, life, planning, plans, work

It’s a good idea to plan what you want to learn. One of the good things we do at IBM each year is to put together an individual development plan, which combines formal learning, informal learning, and on-the-job experience.

I’ve written about some of the things I want to learn at work, such as facilitation skills. I’ve also written about some of the things I wanted to learn in life: getting better at storytelling, helping new hires connect, sharing what I’m learning, helping people change, nurturing relationships over a distance, and being more practical. What I hadn’t really done before was to make a map. (Or if I did, I forgot about it, and what use is that? ;) )

So here is what I want to learn, and now I can take that and translate the work parts into an individual development plan, and add next actions for work and life learning to my to-do list. =D I definitely recommend going through the process of thinking about what you want to learn and sharing that with other people. I’m sure that I’ll add or remove things from this, but it’s a good start!

Thanks to TerriAnne Novak for the nudge to think about this.

Kitchen kaizen

March 13, 2010 - Categories: cooking, kaizen, life

Wednesday turns out to be the perfect day for catching up and practicing relentless improvement. It breaks up the work week into manageable chunks. You have the experience from the first two days, and you have the energy to improve the next two days. I think I’ll make Wednesdays my catch-up-and-kaizen day.

Last Wednesday, I decided to invest time in figuring out how I can get closer to saving time and money through cooking once a month. We’ve comfortably settled into a routine of cooking once a week, which saves us a lot of time and lets us focus during weekdays. What would it take to cook for two weeks, freeing up a weekend? What would it take to prepare for longer?

I emptied our chest freezer and the freezer drawers of our fridge. Then I inventoried the contents, discovering useful things along the way. (It turns out we have three packages of frozen okra, and three and a half packages of frozen shrimp.) I measured the internal dimensions of the different spaces and drew diagrams.

After I put the frozen items back, I reorganized them on paper, and then moved things around to match our new organizational scheme. Packed lunches and large containers go into the chest freezer to take advantage of its regular shape. Breakfasts, desserts (lots of frozen home-made tarts!), bones for stock, and small packages of ingredients go into the freezer drawers because that freezer is easier to search.

I picked up 16 Rubbermaid Take-away containers (in addition to the eight we already had). Standardizing on one storage system is important because it means not having to look for the correct lid. We still have a lot of different storage systems, but I plan to simplify that soon. I also picked up Ziploc zipper freezer bags, which I can use to freeze large portions of soups, sauces, and other things.

I estimate that I can fill the chest freezer to capacity with up to 52 of the Take-away containers, which can be used for individual lunch portions. If I want to further conserve space, I can also freeze larger portions (without rice, for example), cook fresh rice as needed, and assemble the lunches or dinners during the week.

I’m also planning to make cheesecake tarts, lemon tarts, and other varieties, so that I can throw them into our new frozen-desserts drawer and we can enjoy them any time. I may also pick up a bunch of different kinds of apples and make this Saturday an apple-tart-tasting party, as many people have not likely thought about the differences between the apple varieties. It’s hard to compare when you eat them on separate occasions, but I can give people the opportunity to sample many different kinds of apples. <laugh>

Next steps:

I think about relentless improvement, even for the little things in life. Figuring out the little things in life frees me up to work on the big things.

Steeped in collaboration

March 14, 2010 - Categories: career, reflection

Real World Strategy wrote of me:

Here is somebody in their mid twenties who has already spent a decade immersed in a world of collaboration and web based networking. As William Gibson said, “The future is already here – it is just unevenly distributed”.

This is interesting, because I’m both leading and following, learning from what’s new and what’s old.

The new: I represent a whole bunch of new ideas we’re still trying to figure out. Many of the things I do helps people imagine the future. Researchers who explore how power users work using our new collaborative tools often interview me (which is great, because I get to find out what they’re working on!). People figuring out virtual leadership look at how I and other people can influence without authority.  My value is not only in the ideas and effort I contribute, but in the questions I ask and the assumptions I help explore.

The old: All that is so small, though, compared to the awesomeness of being in a company where people have been thinking about and working on collaboration for decades. The infrastructure we can build on, the critical mass of talent we have, the way we challenge ourselves to figure out how we can work better and the world can work better—I love that. 

What I identify with the most is this ad:

… except I smile more. ;)

People are teaching me so much. I work on sharing as much of it as possible, and on figuring out how IBM and the world can make the most of the person they are helping me become. I don’t know enough of the organization to make that overall choice yet, but there must be something amazing we can do with the gifts people have given me.

It’ll be a great adventure!

Weekly review: Week ending March 14, 2010

March 15, 2010 - Categories: weekly

Plans from last week:




Plans for next week




Experiment: Shopping for groceries online

March 16, 2010 - Categories: cooking

It was Friday, and I was preparing for a tea party. I didn’t have some of the ingredients I needed to make apple pie. The forecast for the weekend was rain, rain, rain. W- was in crunch mode and would probably be too busy to take the car to the supermarket, I needed more than I could comfortably fit on my bicycle, and I had far too many things scheduled for Friday to walk to the supermarket and back.

So I decided to give a spin, encouraged by the positive tweets I’d seen. It probably took me fifteen minutes to review all the categories I was interested in and select the items. I ordered lots of groceries and set my delivery window to 7:00 – 8:30 AM the next day. I paid for my groceries online as well, although there’s an option to pay by debit card on delivery.

The deliveryman arrived with my two boxes of groceries at 7:30 AM. We completed the transaction and verification in less than five minutes.

Produce is a great way to test quality. The bagged Macintosh apples were slightly bruised, but otherwise in good shape. The Pink Lady apples were in perfect shape. The lemons were bright and shiny, but he asparagus spears were a little dry, with small indentations from a too-tight elastic.

To my relief, the eggs arrived intact.

The rest of the groceries were the same as the ones I regularly buy from the neighborhood No Frills. I was delighted to find steel-cut oats in stock online, as I rarely see them in stores.

The groceries were priced higher than the ones we buy at No Frills. GroceryGateway is run by Longo’s, which positions itself more as a premium supermarket. For example, the GroceryGateway 3 lbs bag of Macintosh apples cost $2.99, but I can get 4 lbs for only $2.49 at No Frills. My groceries cost about $110, which is probably about 10% more than I would have paid at No Frills. Add to that a $9.95 delivery charge (softened by a $5 credit for the first order), and the price of convenience turned out to be around $15, and probably $10 + 15% for future orders. We usually save even more on our groceries by shopping the sales, so the gap would be even bigger.

In terms of time and convenience, it was a good experiment. It took me about 20 minutes for the entire thing, compared to maybe two person-hours if W- and I went shopping, or 1 person-hour if I went on my bicycle. I’d save a bit more time if I bought more groceries in the batch.

I probably won’t use GroceryGateway regularly. I like shopping for groceries with W-, figuring out what to do with what’s on sale. No Frills occasionally doesn’t stock things we like (such as steel-cut oats!), but we’re pretty good with working with what’s available. It’s good to know that a service like GroceryGateway exists, though, just in case we get really busy someday.

Good to experiment!


Book recommendations for new grads

March 17, 2010 - Categories: career, kaizen, learning, reading

Kim Liu wanted to know which books I’d recommend for people who are starting out in the business world. Here are a few books that continue to help me think:

Love is the Killer App: If you look beyond the occasionally cutesy language, this book has great tips on working with knowledge, network, and compassion. My favourite tips: Read a ton of books, actively think about how to connect other people with ideas, other people, and resources, and exercise your network.

Front Cover The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need. Also unconventional, but interesting. Key points: There is no plan. Think strengths, not weaknesses. It’s not about you. Persistence trumps talent. Make excellent mistakes. Leave an imprint.
Front Cover Work Like You’re Showing Off: The Joy, Jazz, and Kick of Being Better Tomorrow than You Were Today. Because it’s fun, and you can do amazing things.
Front Cover First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently. Even if you’re at the bottom of your organizational chart, think like a manager and look for ways to adapt your environment so that you can do your best. Manage yourself by building on your strengths, motivating yourself, developing yourself and people around you, and so on.
Front Cover Work Life Balancing: How to Be Wildly Successful in Both… Really!, because it’s important to know it’s possible, and to structure your life so that you grow happily.
Front Cover Your money or your life, because financial savvy will help you make the rest of your life better and less stressful.

You might also find Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? interesting.

There are lots of other networking, presentation, technology adoption, storytelling, business, entrepreneurship, and productivity books (among others!) that I often recommend to people.

Hmm. I expected to be able to recommend more (or fewer but clearer ones!), but there haven’t been that many things that jump out at me as books that anyone starting out in a career must read. Even the list above isn’t a must-read list.

What do I think other new hires really, really need to know?

What would you recommend people read or learn?

Welcome to IBM! Advice for other newcomers like me

March 18, 2010 - Categories: career

One of my mentees wanted to know what books I’d recommend for someone new to the business world. I thought about my favourite books and realized that nothing quite covers the insights that people shared with me when I was starting out. So here are some things I’d like to share with her and with other newcomers:

What else would you advise new graduates joining IBM?

Thanks to Kim Liu for the nudge to write about this!

Braindump: Presentation kaizen

March 19, 2010 - Categories: braindump, speaking

Kaizen: relentless improvement

When I think of becoming a better presenter, I think of four key areas:

All four areas can be separately and deliberately practised to help you build your skill.

CONTENT: Writing journal entries, blog posts, and articles is an excellent way to deliberately practice building content. Here are some ideas for finding content worth sharing:

ORGANIZATION: A good talk hangs together well. It’s of one piece. It flows. It’s memorable.

PRESENTATION: There are so many ways to express ideas.


See also: <a href=””>Another seven tips for making better presentations</a>

Coaching people on how to give better remote presentations – Thinking out loud

March 20, 2010 - Categories: business, mentoring, presentation, speaking

We need better web presentations. There are so many opportunities out there. I think I can help more people learn how to speak, and I can help people learn how to speak better.

If I were to coach someone on how to give a better remote presentation, what could I help them with?

In addition, I can help give feedback on their presentation content and delivery. Personally, I prefer focusing on content and organization rather than just ums and ahs, so you’ll get more substantive editing from me than surface editing.

Hmm. I think that might be interesting to explore. I’d learn a lot, other people would learn a lot, and I’d write up and share that with even more people. It might be some time away, or it might be an extracurricular thing if I can clear it with IBM, or plans might change. =) I’ll probably start with just one student first.

Would you like to hear from me if I do set up something like that? What would you like to see in it? Leave a comment or contact me and tell me what you think!

Learning from interviews

March 21, 2010 - Categories: mentoring

David Ing (one of my mentors) thought it would be a good idea to help me learn not only facilitation techniques, but also Smarter Cities domain knowledge. He was working on an Industry Business Value Assessment study. In the interviews I observed, David set up the discussion, then focused on taking notes while another IBMer asked questions. Pairing up meant that one person could ask follow-up questions while the other concentrated on capturing knowledge.

Some interviews were scheduled for a week when none of David’s colleagues were available, so David asked me to lead the interviews instead. I was nervous, but I knew that he could always step in and ask questions to bring the conversation back on track if needed.

David handled the overview and the discussion guide. My role was to actively listen to the interviewee and occasionally ask follow-up questions.

What worked well:

Listening to people and guiding the flow of conversation through questions was surprisingly like hosting the tea parties I have at home. All I had to do was be interested—and with how passionate our interview subjects were about their different areas of responsibility, that was easy.

What I’m looking forward to doing even better:

I still need to work on asking more open-ended questions, but I’m sure that will come through practice and domain knowledge. Keeping a discussion guide in front of me will help, too!

It’s amazing how experienced people can put different insights together and make sense of a complex system. David and the two people helping us saw a lot of things I didn’t see until they pointed it out to me. =) This is great! I’m looking forward to building that kind of knowledge.

So now I know a little more about interviewing, and I know a little more about what people in city government think about. I’m glad I moved things around so that I could join the interviews!

Weekly review: Week ending March 21, 2010

March 22, 2010 - Categories: weekly

From last week’s plans:




Plans for next week:




More to follow as I catch my breath.

How to brain-dump what you know

March 23, 2010 - Categories: blogging, braindump, ibm, writing



Other notes

Many people use these excuses to avoid sharing:

If you’re new to a topic, awesome. Sharing will help you learn better. Also, as a beginner, you’re in a good position to document the things that other people take for granted.

If you’re an expert, sharing lets you free up time and enable other people to build on your work. You can make a bigger difference. You’re probably an expert because you care about something deeply. Wouldn’t it be awesome if other people could help you make things happen?

Don’t worry about people not reading what you’ve shared. You’ll get the immediate personal benefit of learning while you teach, and you might find it handy later on. You can refer other people to it, too. People can find your work on their own months or even years later, if it’s searchable.

Share what you’re learning!

Thanks to Luis Suarez, John Handy-Bosma, and John Cohn for the nudge to write about this!

Presentation kaizen: Seven everyday ways to become a better presenter

March 23, 2010 - Categories: kaizen, presentation, sketches, speaking

Talk given at PresentationCamp.

Presentation Kaizen
View more presentations from Sacha Chua

You need to have something worth presenting. Shortest way to do that is to (1) learn from others. Read books, read blogs, listen to conversations, attend talks, etc. But you’ve got to bring something unique to it, so (2) experiment, experience, and live. That gives you something to (3) share. Share what you’re learning in conversations, in blog posts, etc. This helps you figure out what you want to say and how you want to say it.

I used to tell people, “Sure, it’s okay if you don’t write, blogging might not be for everyone,” but as I help more and more people, I realize that writing things down gives you a tremendous advantage because memory is short, and a semi-permanent record will help you accumulate and organize so much more raw material. Audio and video recordings are handy for quick notes, but they’re not as searchable. So write or draw, and figure out how to build your own knowledgebase, even if that consists of notebooks and notebooks. You don’t have to capture everything, but you’ll benefit from capturing even some of the things you learn. And this can be private, although you’ll benefit much more from sharing your notes with other people because you’ll learn a lot more in the process.

Anyway, now you have a lot of material, and you’ve got to figure out how to share it. So (4) watch. Watch good presenters for inspiration (TED is great for this), but don’t stop at watching presentations. Watch movies to learn about storytelling. Watch commercials to find out about grabbing and keeping people’s attention, addressing the “What’s in it for me”. Read literature and news to see how people phrase things. Watch conversations. Everything teaches you something.

Watch horrible presentations, too. You’ll find plenty of these around. Next time a teleconference bores you, take notes. This is great for three reasons:

Another good thing to do while watching bad presentations: (5) revise. If you’ve ever told yourself that you could do a better job than the person standing on the stage, prove it. Figure out their key message and restructure their presentation. Doodle new slides for them. It’s great practice because you’re working on making things better. Do this for yourself, too. Review your presentations and figure out how you can do things better.

Now you’ve got good content and ideas on how to present it, so (6) prepare. Figure out your key message and supporting points, draft a script, turn it into an article. Storyboard ideas for slides and make a presentation. You don’t have to deliver it. You just have to practise packaging it. Post it on Slideshare or your blog if you want – great way to get feedback.

Invest a little bit more time in getting tons more value out of those six activities by (7) promoting what you know. If no one knows that you know, no one’s going to know what you know. So make it easy for people to find out how you can help them. Write about it. Listen for opportunities in conversation, and by that I don’t mean shameless irrelevant plugging like, “As I was saying on my blog, …” – I mean listen for ways to help people, and then offer to send them a link if you’ve got something relevant to their needs. Volunteer for speaking opportunities. Webinar and conference organizers are always looking for material. Business associations and other groups are always looking for speakers. If you can’t find a venue, make your own. There are a number of webinar services that offer small conferences for free. Explore.

If you (1) learn, (2) live, and (3) share as much as you can, you’ll build up lots of raw material. (4) Watching others and (5) revising presentations will help you improve your presentation skills. Then it’s just a matter of (6) preparing presentation ideas and (7) promoting how you can help others. You can turn every moment into presentation practice – and that’s the secret of relentless improvement, or presentation kaizen.

For more ideas, check out this braindump.

How to get people to read your blog post

March 24, 2010 - Categories: blogging, tips, writing
This entry is part 19 of 19 in the series A No-Excuses Guide to Blogging

… is a useful question, but it’s the wrong one. Catchy titles and controversial topics are good at drawing eyes, but you don’t want to be just one sensational gimmick after another. Your goal isn’t just to get read. Your goals are to share what you know, save people time, and make people think.

The first question then is: How do you write blog posts worth reading? That takes lots and lots of practice. Braindump everything you can, and the important stuff will float to the top of your brain.

The second question is: How can you find your own posts again? At least in the beginning, the primary user of your blog will be you. When people e-mail you a question you’ve already thought about before, find the blog post you shared the answer in, and send a link. When people bring up something in conversation, follow up by sending them a link to the relevant blog post. When you find yourself solving a problem you solved six months ago, look up the answer in your blog. This is why you need to record as much as you can.

The third question is: How can searchers find your posts? Don’t worry about search engine optimization. You don’t need to be the first hit for popular searches. All you need to do is make sure that people can find the obscure bits of knowledge you’ve shared in your blog when they need it, even if they don’t know you in the first place. If you get the second question sorted out (finding your own posts), this often comes for free.

The fourth question is: How can people learn from your archives? Okay, you’ve got searchers coming in and reading random pages of your blog. Can they easily find relevant posts they might be interested in? Use categories for simple organization, and use plugins to offer more choices.

The fifth question is: How can people subscribe to your blog? So people come in becomes of searches or links. They like what they see. They read your archives and they think you’ve got good things to say. Make subscription easy. Point it out. Offer an e-mail subscription. Services like FeedBurner let you add all sorts of options to your feed. If you write about a broad range of topics, offer people choices so that they can subscribe to just the kinds of posts they like.

When you’ve figured out the first five questions, you’ve gotten the hang of creating useful posts and making them findable long after you’ve forgotten them.

Then you’ll probably feel comfortable cross-pollinating your social networks: mention you have a blog on Twitter, and point to your Twitter account from your blog, put your blog URL in your e-mail signature and your card. Make it easy for people who value what you share in one area to find more from you in others.

Don’t worry if, in the beginning, no one reads your blog. Start by writing for yourself. Build an archive. Learn from what people value. Make it easy for yourself and others. And have fun!

Reflections on PresentationCampToronto

March 25, 2010 - Categories: kaizen, speaking

At Tuesday’s PresentationCampToronto organized by Chris Gurney, I gave an eight-minute talk on relentlessly improving your presentation skills. This was followed by a Q&A session, then four other talks+Q&A, and then an informal panel discussion.

What worked well, and how can I do things even better?


Key tip I’d give other presenters:

Things to think about and blog about:

Feedback: Someone asked a question about whether feedback forms were useful. I think they’re awesome, if the questions are phrased properly and if people have the emotional connection needed to invest time in giving great feedback. I find webinars and online surveys give me much better feedback than paper feedback forms, because people usually don’t have the time to scribble more than a few words in person when they’re rushing off to another session, while people who care enough about leaving feedback online end up writing paragraphs. Very very useful.

One of the speakers said that he seeks out someone who can be a no-holds-barred critic, and that helps him strengthen his position. While that’s helpful when you want to argue a point, I think you also need people who can help you become a better presenter through coaching and inspiration. The challenge is that critics can often tell you what you shouldn’t do, but they might not be as good at telling you what you should do and what strengths you can build on. Example: Toastmasters is great for making you conscious of your ums and ahs, your lack of vocal variety, your need to slow down… but unless you’re in a club with great speakers, your feedback might be limited to those surface details, because no one can point the way forward. You need to know what “great” looks like.

So in terms of personal growth, I accept and understand critics, but I get much more inspiration and value from mentors and role models. Anyone can tell you that you have many flaws, but it takes real depth to tell you, specifically, where you can shine and which specific flaws you need to address so that you aren’t held back by them. This is different from people simply supporting you and telling you, “Your talk was nice.” Nice is not specific. Even “Your energy is inspiring” may not be specific enough, depending on what you need. You’re looking for someone who can tell you what you’re doing well and a few concrete steps you can take to do things even better.

Control: Many people think about controlling the message, controlling the audience, controlling the backchannel. I love turning the power structure upside down. I’m not the all-powerful, all-knowing speaker. I’m there to serve. I’m there so that I can help people learn about something or be inspired to do something. I don’t have to lie if I can’t answer a question. =) I’m perfectly happy coming in with something I’d like to talk about and then talking about something completely different if that’s what people want. I don’t know if I’d let all of us be bullied by an individual who wants to take things off track, because that’s never happened. I’ve never had an adversarial relationship with participants. If I face that situation in the future, though, I think I’d check with what the rest of the people want, and we can figure thing out together.

Try that people-centered approach sometime. Ditch the concept of an “audience” and connect with people. See it as a great opportunity to learn from them while they’re learning from you. Focus on service. It’s fun, and you’ll learn tons along the way.

Appearances: Someone asked a question about appearances. It was interesting to see how much this became part of the discussion, even though none of us had specifically addressed it in our talks.

Me, I’ll dress to minimize how much we all think about it, unless I want to make a point about the way I dress. This typically means a blouse, pants (skirts can be tricky on stage, particularly with panels), a blazer (maybe; usually no), and a scarf; or jeans and a T-shirt if I’m addressing a particular audience; or something memorable if I’m expecting a crowd. A hat is nice for picking me out later, although I won’t wear it on stage because it interferes with lighting. A white suit (or a blazer of an unusual colour) is also good for helping people find me in a crowd.

There’s only been one exception to this when it came to presentations. When I mis-planned things and didn’t have my presentation clothes available, I ended up in a full fuschia skirt and ruffled blouse speaking at an Enterprise 2.0 event in Toronto. Fortunately, it was a casual crowd. I didn’t let my outfit bother me, and neither did people, although one person came up to me afterwards and asked me what that bright red LED had been. (I’d tucked a voice recorder in there somewhere, too.) Anyway, if you do find yourself under- or over-dressed, keep calm and carry on.

So I think about the basics, and then I don’t worry about it. If my hair sticks out a little, if I have pimples, if my shoes managed to pick up another scuff, I’m not going to let that throw me off balance.

Balance. That’s probably it. Part of it is being comfortable in your own skin and your own clothes. Part of it is thinking about people and whether they’d be thrown off track by your appearance so much that they can’t listen to what you’re saying. You can still be you in that situation, but you have to make sure that your bio or your reputation sets people up so that they get over the shock early. Steve Jobs shocks no one when he shows up in a mock turtleneck. “Unconventional” is a handy word to put into your bio. “Creative” also tends to adjust people’s expectations. ;) You also have to make sure that you deliver the value promised, and you’re focused on being of service. It’s not about how cool you are, it’s about how well you can help people achieve their goals. (Yes, even the people who were required to be there.)

Kaizen: There, I’ve posted my notes for that talk. =) Check them out!

Missing something I love about presentations

March 26, 2010 - Categories: sketches, speaking

While preparing for PresentationCampToronto, I found myself thinking about how I turn what I learn into presentations, the different kinds of presentations I’ve given, and what was missing from Ignite and other short presentation forms that have grown in popularity.

My presentations come from life: book and blog insights filtered through the lens of my experience, experiments summarized and shared. I share these thoughts on my blog as a way of exploring the topic and getting things out there. I’ve tried recording podcasts based on that, but never persisted. I find it hard enough to listen to other people’s lectures.

If I find myself writing about a topic again and again, it’s usually a good sign that there’s a presentation lurking in there. Sometimes I get swayed by invitations or calls for papers, and I’ll write something specifically for them, too.

When I have an audience and a venue in mind, I’ll make storyboards – quick, simple illustrations of the key points. These turn into slides with minimal text. If I feel particularly diligent, I may prepare more detailed stand-alone slides for viewing on Slideshare, but I usually don’t do that if I’m planning a live presentation.

The next step is usually dictated by the venue. Sometimes I’ll invest the time in recording a stand-alone video, like the afternoon I spent recording Remote Presentations That Rock in my kitchen. Most of the time, I prefer to deliver the presentation as a webinar, getting my key points across in 7-20 minutes, leaving plenty of time for Q&A, and building in lots of interaction opportunities. Sometimes I need to give the presentation in person. Ignite-style presentations use strict time constraints. Camp-style presentations are short and followed by a brief Q&A period. Keynotes need to be more showy and they tend to not have interaction , although this depends on the size of the audience. I can sometimes play with this. Conference-style presentations have plenty of time for Q&A. Oh, and there are panels, too, which are an interesting case of conference-style – presentations need to be short conversation-starters, and the flow of conversation can be very interesting.

I was thinking about this because I realized that although Ignite-style presentations are becoming more popular (more ideas squeezed into a shorter timeslot; more focused talks; more variety), I felt like I was missing something important, something I love about presentations, something that makes the hassle of preparing a presentation all worthwhile.

My favourite way of delivering a presentation is to give it over the Web. My second favourite—if I must travel, which I don’t enjoy as much as other people do—is to give it as a conference-style presentation with as much Q&A as I can manage. And I’m perfectly happy to skip the presentation entirely, sharing what I know in a blog post or stand-alone set of slides instead.

I think it’s because the other forms feel one-way and presenter-centric. It feels a little like, “Look at me! I’m an expert! I’m clever!” And I don’t want to be like that at all. I don’t want audiences, I want participants. I love learning from the other people participating in the session. I love the questions that make me think and teach me about what people want to learn. I love the answers that surprise me as I give them, and the insights we draw from people in the room. I love the chaos of a lively backchannel during a webinar, when dozens of conversations might begin. I love the worldwide reach of blogs and webinars.

I love the intimacy of a web conference or a blog post. In person, the bright lights on a stage hide people’s faces anyway, and people forget to follow up on ideas or URLs. At least online, people can see my facial expressions, immediately check out resources, and send me e-mail or a note. It’s nice to shake people’s hands and see them, true, but details blur in the din of crowds. Online—oddly!—I feel more connected with people.

What does this mean for me? Fewer in-person appearances, more web-based ones; fewer presentations, more blog posts; fewer words, more questions and answers. And it would be nice to spread the presentations a little further apart again.

There’s been something missing in the in-person presentations I’ve been giving – that sense of interaction and connection. I wonder if it’s worth pushing the in-person presentation formats to give me that sense back, or if I should focus on deepening the presentation formats I love.


March 27, 2010 - Categories: emacs

A repetitive task is an excuse to learn more about automation tools. My text automation tool of choice is Emacs, a ridiculously programmable text editor. When it comes to numbers, I can do a lot with equations, pivot tables / data pilot, and judicious use of macros. For general automation on Windows, there’s AutoHotkey.

My threshold for automation is lower than most people’s. When faced with a repetitive task that will take me an afternoon to do, I’ll spend maybe half an hour understanding the task, an hour figuring out how to do it using the tools, and another half hour to an hour completing it with automation’s help. I spend the extra time learning more about the automation tools or sharing what I’ve done.

Even if the time savings are probably not going to be significant, if the task is sufficiently repetitive, I’ll go for the intellectual thrill of automating it. Bonus: if I have to do the task again (which occasionally happens), I have my process all ready to go.

What would it take for people to learn how to automate more things? How do I do it? How did I pick up this habit?

Part of it is knowing the capabilities of a tool. I know that I can simulate mouse clicks and keypresses, so when I catch myself repeating certain motions, I think about how I can automate that.

Part of it is being able to abstract the steps in a procedure. I can figure out what can be easily automated and what needs manual intervention. If I can automate 80% of something, that’s usually enough.

Part of it is being able to program and not being afraid of geeky interfaces.

Part of it is asking if the time-intensive parts of the procedure are really necessary. (Sometimes they’re not.)

I like automation. I wish more people were comfortable doing it.

Want to get started? The best way is probably to pick a tool depending on what you spend most of your time doing, learning lots about your tool, and doing little experiments. For Emacs, it might be learning how to use keyboard macros, then using Lisp. For Excel, learn different functions (I use CONCATENATE and IF a lot). For AutoHotkey, try using it for abbreviations, then expand.

Have fun and save time!

From delegation to automation

March 28, 2010 - Categories: delegation

It had to happen. I’ve replaced my Timesvr assistants with a collection of Perl scripts. Delegation had been a good experiment, but I’d gotten frustrated by the number of duplicate calendar entries and the occasional library fine when people didn’t follow my instructions correctly, even with all the notes and clarifications I’d added. Also, my wake-up calls were no longer being done by happy, enthusiastic assistants, but by uncertain-sounding assistants who paused for approval all the time.

Being a resourceful programmer, I cancelled my monthly subscription and wrote code that did many of the routine tasks I’d asked them to do.

What worked well, and what can I improve?

Delegation was a good experiment, but automation is even more fun. I find myself thinking in Perl rather than Ruby because Perl’s archive of modules (CPAN) is much, much bigger than Ruby’s, so practically everything I want to do can take advantage of an existing library. =)

Weekly review: Week ending March 28, 2010

March 29, 2010 - Categories: weekly

Plans from last week:




Plans for next week:




Monthly review: March 2010

March 30, 2010 - Categories: monthly

For the third year in a row, March was a flurry of presentations. I started with “The Shy Presenter” at Ignite Toronto, did a recorded replay of “Remote Presentations That Rock” for IBM Canada’s International Women’s Day celebrations, gave a 5-minute presentation on collaboration for a client in the UK, gave a short talk on personal brand to the IBM A/NZ social media marketing team, gave a talk on “Presentation Kaizen” at PresentationCamp, and did another replay of Remote Presentations That Rock. I also gave a brief overview of Sametime Unyte and Lotus Connections Communities to my second-line manager. I even gave a short presentation on microblogging, too. Eight talks – new record for frequency! I’m looking forward to a quieter April, although the next few months already have talks scheduled.

March was also a month for career planning. I drafted my personal business commitments and individual development plans after many conversations with my manager, dotted-line manager, and various mentors (including one who is about to retire from IBM). I mapped out what I wanted to learn, and people have been helping me find opportunities to do so. I realized that travel wasn’t as scary as I thought it was, so I applied for IBM’s Corporate Service Corps and indicated my availability for occasional overseas work. I learned a lot about facilitation, too. I helped one of my mentors facilitate a large-group discussion around Smarter Cities. Hooray!

March was a month of transition from winter to spring. I’ve been biking – yay! The tulips and lilies-of-the-valley are starting to poke through the soil, and I’ve planted a few seeds in the garden. Can’t wait to get plants going again! We’ve been very busy baking and filling our freezer with all sorts of goodness, so that’s working out just fine.

April promises to be quieter. I’d like to get back into Emacs tweaking and sewing, and maybe free up every other weekend instead of cooking all the time. =)

For some reason, people really liked On circumstances and somebodies. Here are other blog posts you might’ve missed from this month:

Presentations and public speaking:

Other communication skills:

Work and career:

Automation and lifehacking:

Weekly reviews:

Previous monthly review: Monthly review: February 2010

Dusting off my Emacs config files

March 31, 2010 - Categories: emacs

In June 2009, I switched hats and started facilitating workshops instead of developing Drupal code. Organizing resources and learning more about consulting kept me in a mostly-Windows environment with little reason to delve into the mysteries of the Emacs text editor, although I occasionally used Emacs to automate repetitive editing tasks.

Even though I haven’t played around with Emacs for a while, the text editor—and the community around it—hasn’t let go of me yet. My Emacs-related posts remain among the most popular on my blog, and people often write to me to ask questions or thank me for inspiration. I still keep Planet Emacsen in my feed reader, and I occasionally drop by the Emacs Wiki.

I miss working on Wicked Cool Emacs. I’ve turned it over to Ian Eure, whom I assume is persistently plugging away at it (although he might also have gotten distracted by real life as well–totally understandable). Now that I’m no longer distracted by the fun of tweaking Drupal (almost as flexible as Emacs, thanks to its hook system), Emacs calls.

I miss geeking out in #emacs on, helping people with questions on mailing lists, and playing with ideas that can be translated into code.

So I’m dusting off my configuration files and my notes, writing an org-toodledo module that pulls in my tasks from the web-based Toodledo task management system I’ve been using, and developing a rudimentary synchronization system that will help me make the transition.

(message “Hello, world!”)