Category Archives: connecting

Sometimes you don’t know what you know until someone asks; why I like preparing talking points for podcasts and chats

Update 2013-07-31: You can find a table of contents and associated links at Here’s the video!

Quick link to talking points as a map

From time to time, I say interesting-enough things that make people want to pick my brain further. When people do, this is excellent! Sometimes I don’t know what people will find useful or interesting until they ask. When the opportunity comes up, I try to wring out as much as I can. In the podcast interviews I’ve done so far, I’ve always been delighted by what we learn from the conversation.

An interview is entirely different from a presentation, and it would be a waste to treat it as one. I love where other people’s questions, interests, and experiences can lead me. So I don’t want to structure it too much – but I also want to give people the benefit of clear thoughts and useful replies. Having struggled with making good conversation myself, I also want to help people find things that they or other people will like instead of wandering until they bump into something good.

It’s a little like the media training I got when I was at IBM. One of the tips I remember is to think about your story before you talk to people. You don’t have to stick to the script, but you should know the key points you want to get across, and try some ways of expressing it so that you can be clear and concise.

So here’s what I e-mailed to Timothy Kenny in preparation for our chat about accelerated learning (which will be this afternoon):

I thought about what I do the most differently and what your subscribers will probably benefit from. Here are some topic ideas. How about picking whichever one you think will resonate the most? =) I’m sure there’ll be future conversations, so we don’t have to get everything covered in one chat.

  • Sketchnotes
    • Ideal outcome: People are inspired to take visual notes for their own use
    • Learning and reviewing presentations and books; Connecting with people; Understanding your thoughts; Sharing what you know
  • Making the most of your blog through the years
    • Ideal outcome: People are encouraged to blog for the long term; people who have been blogging a while are inspired to organize their work
    • Weekly, monthly, yearly reviews; Indexes; Other people as part of your memory; Collections; Backups
  • Tracking and experiments
    • Ideal outcome: People are inspired to make better decisions by tracking
    • Time; Money and an opportunity fund; Clothes, decisions, etc.; 5-year experiment with retirement
  • How it all fits together
    • Ideal outcome: People see how the different techniques can support each other, and they are motivated to take the next step
    • The flow of learning; How different techniques work together; Getting started; Getting better; Going from strength to strength
  • Continuous improvement in everyday life
    • Ideal outcome: People examine their processes
    • Understanding your processes; Handling weaknesses; Building on strengths; Learning from experiments

He wrote back to say that he was curious about sketchnotes, blogging, connecting, learning flow, and what I considered my strengths and weaknesses in terms of learning.

I spent some time on Saturday night thinking about what I’ve learned and what I want to help other people learn. A podcast isn’t the place for technical instruction; blog posts are better for that because I can include step-by-step tips, links, and other resources. A podcast or videocast is great at communicating enthusiasm, helping other people see that they can get started. It’s also great for the back-and-forth, bringing two people’s ideas together.

So my goals for the chat are:

  • Inspire people to learn more about some learning techniques that they might find useful
  • Encourage people to get in touch with me
  • Explore follow-up questions that I may want to write about or draw
  • Learn interesting things about Timothy Kenny or share other tidbits that can lead to further conversations

In preparation, I drew this on Saturday. (Click on the image for a larger version!)20130727 Accelerated Learning

(Not only do I sketchnote events, but I can sketchnote the future!  Winking smile)

The idea is that these talking points can let Timothy pick whatever he wants to focus on, while giving him a peripheral awareness of related topics or other things we can talk about. They also give me visual aids that I can refer to (or draw on top of!) during the chat, which is probably more interesting than watching a bunch of talking heads. And if we run out of time or focus on some things instead of others, no worries – the blog post and the sketchnote will be there as a way to follow up. =)

I’ve done this before, like the digital sketchnoting workflow that I sketched in preparation for my podcast with Mike Rohde (episode, transcript). Our target time for that was 12 minutes, so it was great to be able to zoom in and talk about key parts knowing that other things could be left for the blog post or sketchnote.

I discovered the power of sharing my notes (showing my work!) when I was giving a lot of presentations. Knowing that my talking points were on the Net somewhere (ex: my Shy Connector presentation for Women in Technology International, or my talk on How to use Evernote to improve your visual thinking) meant that I didn’t have to worry about forgetting anything important, because people can always look up my notes. It gave me more freedom to ad-lib or go off-script, too, following whatever people were interested in.

So really, the main reason to come to one of my presentations or to interview me is to ask questions and figure out answers together, which is exactly the way I want it. If I can do the braindump outside the time we have, then we can use the time for interaction. In presentations and conversations, I want to give people just enough to get good questions. Questions are my pay-off for the preparation. Questions spark my curiosity and turn into follow-up conversations and blog posts and presentations.

Unrelated observation: making my own URL shortening thing was totally worth it, even if the domains are expensive. Much better than squeezing long domain names into my sketchnotes. Although I’m still flipflopping between and in sketchnotes because I think my nickname is hard to spell… Any opinions?

I’ll post the recording when it’s up, and I’ll probably work on transcribing it too. Fun!

Here’s the e-mail announcement that Timothy sent:

Hundreds of years ago during the Renaissance, creative geniuses like DaVinci revolutionized science by visualizing information for the first time. Huge leaps were made in engineering, math, architecture and physics because of this new focus on visualizing information.

A new visual Renaissance is coming…

Today at 1PM EDT (New York Time) I’m interviewing Sacha Chua on her accelerated learning techniques and especially how she visualizes information to learn faster and understand new concepts better.

Click Here to Join the Hangout:

Sacha is also a programmer. Programmers have the ability to see and create systems because coding requires that you build a system to process information.

All businesses are systems. And the more you can systematize your business the more stress free it will be for you. The starting point for understanding systems is learning how to get them down on paper as visual diagrams (much the same way programmers sketch out their program on a white board before building it) and that is a big piece of what we will be discussing today.

We’re doing it live so you can chime in with questions or observations during the interview.

Why You Should Come

Many people know about learning and productivity hacks but I have never met someone who actually put so many of them together into such a coherant system.

Sacha is also a visual genius. She created both of the images below. You will learn how she does it and why it is so important to get comfortable drawing and visualizing for your business and your learning.

What We Will Talk About

20130727 Accelerated Learning


Example of Sacha’s 1 page visual book reviews

20130705 Visual Book Review - The First 20 Hours - How to Learn Anything... Fast - Josh Kaufman


See you at 1,



Sign up for the Hangout here, then check out the learning profile I did on Sacha here:

Thinking about business cards

imageI’m nearly out of business cards, which means it’s time to evaluate my business card experiment and plan my next one. Past performance is a good indicator of future results, so let me think about how I’ve been using my business cards and how I want to use them in the future. For comparison, here’s last year’s business card plan.

People usually ask me for cards:

  • after seeing me sketchnote an event, because they’re curious about having me sketchnote one of theirs
  • after chatting with me at events because they want to check out my blog
  • as a reminder to follow up with me about something

I haven’t gotten any business leads from cards yet, but I’ve had a lot of good conversations. I think they’re worth carrying. I try to not rely on them, though. Whenever possible, I get the other person’s contact information, because I’m often good at following up.

Mostly, I want my cards to make people to think, “Oh, I’m also interested in that! Let me go check out her site and get in touch.”

I designed the current set of cards in November, a month before I came up with the “Experivis” name and logo. For fun, I drew the front of the card. I took advantage of Moo’s ability to print individual designs on the backs of the cards, using scaled-down images of my sketchnotes.

Lessons learned

20121109 Business Card

So far, people tend to react to:

  • the “geek” keyword on my card (“You’re a geek too!”),
  • the sketchnoter keyword/diagram (which could be bigger), and
  • the “pick a card, any card” process because of the individual drawings on the back, even though they can’t be read (I should draw new ones that are sized to fit)
  • the picture, which they find helpful

No one complained about rounded corners or the inability to write on the back (I guess I didn’t run into corner-folders). I liked how the rounded corners felt, but could do with a matte background so that I can write (or draw!) memory hooks for people.

I’m definitely changing fonts to something where the “a”s don’t look so much like “o”s – maybe to the Open Sans that I use on my blog.

Brainstorming approaches

When coming up with design ideas, it’s good to try several very different approaches. Here are some I might consider:

  • Making it more you-focused with a question
  • Using Experivis as a graphic element and making this more of a company card
  • Focusing on my 5-year experiment, making it more of a social card
  • Listing various interests like the way I have them on the welcome page; maybe even bringing a highlighter?
  • Adding tips to the back (ex: emotions, stick figures, banners, hair styles, facial hair, clothes, how to draw ____, complete this picture, draw yourself) to inspire people to draw/doodle while still providing some note space (print this in gray?). Maybe I can even encourage people to show me their “filled-in” cards by e-mailing me a picture…

Ooh. I like that last approach.

Cost-benefit analysis

The Moo cards are USD 0.54 per card (per pack of 50, after shipping). Small runs are more expensive, but I can learn more from them. The Vistaprint cards (per pack of 250, plain back, after shipping and promos) are CAD 0.09 a card. With a colour back, it would be about CAD 0.13.

Other ways to achieve similar effects:

  • Print the tips on card stock, print my details as stickers, and stick them manually. Involves work and positioning.
  • Use some kind of custom stamp – that can be a hassle to set up, so pre-printed cards would be a good way to test the approach.

I think printing a small run of business cards will be the best way to test this idea of sharing mini-drawing tips.

I’d still like to know whether it actually engages people, though. What would be my threshold of awesomeness to make it worth the premium over an ordinary card? Possible benefits:

  • I learn in the process of drawing all of those card backs
  • I have more fun giving cards out, and we have built-in conversation hooks
  • I might get slightly better follow-up from people who are interested in learning more about drawing, which will work out well if I create pay-what-you-can resources to help people feel more comfortable with drawing

Next steps

I’m going to work on making business-card-sized drawing exercises/tips and some pay-what-you-can resources, and then I’m going to make Moo business cards that take advantage of them, probably with the front of the card mentioning a variety of interests instead of focusing on Experivis’ branding.

In the meantime, I’ll experiment with a month or two of not giving business cards to test how uncomfortable that might make me and whether I’ll remember to follow up. We’ll see!

Setting e-mail expectations: Roughly once a week

hamster-wheelI’ve seen the e-mail hamster-wheel that other people are stuck on, and I don’t want to go there. As for me, e-mail doesn’t make me feel important or needed or valued. E-mail is… well… it’s conversations that are hidden from the world, thoughts that I’m going to forget because no one else is going to come across them in a search engine and post comments. As lots of people have observed (including Luis Suarez, whom I knew at IBM): “E-mail is where knowledge goes to die.”

Still, e-mail is useful. I keep e-mail for following up with clients, coordinating with W- or with meetup organizers, introducing people, handling quick tech support for my mom, and answering the occasional private question that usually doesn’t have to be private anyway. I like getting quick questions, especially if I can send people links (although getting those questions as public comments works even better!). I like getting in-depth questions too, which I try to answer in blog posts whenever possible, add a note to my outline with the name of the person requesting it.

I reply to e-mail roughly once a week, although I check it more often to see if there’s anything that needs attention. Here’s how I work. Maybe you’ll pick up some ideas or tips! =)

I use my phone to quickly check e-mail while I’m walking or waiting. I get a lot of e-mail that I don’t particularly care about, even though I periodically unsubscribe from lists. The phone’s limited interface means that I generally don’t use it to reply to e-mail (unless I can say what I need in one or two sentences with no links), but I can delete unneeded messages and add stars to messages that need action.

Friday is my “catch up” day. I balance my company books, follow up on tasks I’m waiting for, and go through my e-mail, writing blog posts (like this one!) and e-mailing replies. The Share a Draft plugin for WordPress helps here because I can keep my ~1-post-a-day schedule while still giving people a sneak preview of any upcoming blog posts related to their question.

If there are important conversations I need to follow up on, I use Boomerang for Gmail. This archives the message for now, returning it to my inbox in case I haven’t received a reply within the specified timeframe. I also use Boomerang for Gmail’s “Send Later” feature to schedule e-mails so that I don’t have to set a reminder.

There are lots of other ways that people handle e-mail. There’s the idea of “Touch it once” – check mail only when you’re ready to handle it, and move important information to your to-do list. That would probably mean checking it more frequently, though, and I don’t want to commit time every day to do that. There’s being strict about checking only at specified times (such as once a day, or even once a week) and always having an Out of Office message turned on or putting that in your signature, but that felt odd too.  So here we are – I check mail frequently, respond occasionally, and try to move things into blog posts as much as possible.

There are trade-offs for my approach, of course. I could probably drum up more business and build more connections if I had a reputation for being instantly responsive… but I wouldn’t want to be shackled to my e-mail and I wouldn’t want my task list to be rearranged with every incoming message, so I’m fine with what I have.

Also, if it takes you a few weeks to reply too, no need to apologize. Almost all of my mail isn’t time-sensitive, and if it’s important to me, I’ll indicate the date I need a response by and I’ll follow up if time has passed.

E-mail doesn’t have to be a slave-driver. =)

Virtual hang-out experiments: Notes on AnyMeeting

We did the first virtual hang-out experiment with Google Hangout, since… well, virtual hangout, right, so it makes sense. Google Hangout limited interaction to the first 10 people. Since more than 10 people wanted to join that, the rest ended up just watching the video stream, which is less fun, and they didn’t have a way to participate in the embedded text chat either. (If you’re paying for Google Apps for business, government, or school, you can have up to 15 people interacting.)

AnyMeeting has the advantage of letting more than 15 people join and interact (up to 200, actually, which is not a huge deal because I’m not that popular anyway). I don’t like turning people away at the (virtual) door, so it was worth a try. Besides, the ad-supported version is free.

Video worked okay, but audio conferencing was a little laggy for us, and some people’s microphones didn’t work (maybe Linux is not fully supported?). We switched to text chat instead, making do with the small chat box in the lower right corner. The chat box couldn’t be resized or undocked, but it was enough for interesting conversations. People swapped tips, I picked up a couple of good ideas, and all of that worked out.

I wasn’t sure if I could get the chat transcript afterwards and the chat box wouldn’t let me select all the text, so I copied everything one by one just in case. It turns out that you can get a copy of the chat log from the Past Meetings tab, so that’s convenient. It does say that the chat log is only available if the meeting was recorded, so that might go away if I’m actually on a limited trial and my account reverts to the regular free account after a week or a month or so.

I tried GotoWebinar with someone else and that didn’t work for what I had in mind either, since people couldn’t chat with each other unless you made everyone panelists. Maybe GotoMeeting someday? It’s pricey, though.

Here’s what I want for the hangouts:

  • At minimum, a text chat where people can freely talk to other people, so that we don’t worry about interrupting each other.
  • Video and audio conferencing would be nice. I like the way Google Hangout shows the video of whoever’s talking.

So, probably Google Hangout for general hangouts (first come first served!), streamed and recorded, with AnyMeeting for structured webinars with one or two presenters that more people might be interested in.

  • IF we regularly hit the limit of Google Hangout with active participants
  • AND I build the habit of having these regularly
  • AND we do something with these conversations (blog posts? questions? tips? lessons learned? webinars? workshops?),
  • THEN it might make sense to spring for a premium solution, and I’ll mentally account for it as equivalent to the cost of taking a few people out for lunch each month. (The connection fund!)

Wild success would look like:

  • We’ve got several of these scheduled, so people can sign up for whenever they want.
  • The hangouts alternate timezones so that it’s easier for people to get to them.
  • I don’t feel awkward or nervous whether I’m chatting with just one person or chatting with nine other people; I accept what is in the moment.
  • People feel like they know me better (not just words on a page or an RSS feed), and I feel like I know them better too. I think video and audio are very useful for this, which is why I want to keep those options open.
  • We have more ongoing conversations through blogs, comments, social networks, or e-mail.
  • For the unstructured hangouts, people feel comfortable dropping by with something they want to teach me or ask me (or ask other people, too).
  • For the structured presentations, I regularly present something that can help people save time or do awesome things, and people’s questions help me refine it further. We harvest the recordings as screencasts and blog posts.
  • People don’t think it’s a waste of time. =) Maybe they’re learning cool things, maybe they’re glad about being able to share something that will turn into a blog post even if they don’t do the writing, maybe they’re experimenting with social interaction too.
  • We have a smooth and nonconfusing flow – people know how to join the hangout and what to do if it’s full.
  • There’s a way for people to find out about upcoming chats – Google Calendar? a mailing list? Google Plus? ?

Here’s the chat transcript from the July 3 chat, if you’re curious or want to follow up:

Next steps: I’ll set up a Google Hangout on Air for the upcoming hangout, and I’ll also work on setting up an “editorial calendar” for more structured webinars.

Thinking about small talk at networking events

There’s always something happening in Toronto, and I go to one or two events each week. Most events have a social portion where people network. I’ve found this part difficult in the past. I tend to treat events as mainly opportunities to catch up with people I already know from the Internet or previous interactions, with the occasional introduction to someone new or a serendipitously overheard conversation that leads to more thoughts.

When it comes to meeting new people, I find it easier to focus on what people are interested in or what people need, and to promise to send them my notes from the event. That’s what I wanted to share in the The Shy Connector. Now that I’m moving even further away from the standard model of people who go to these events, it would be great to figure out how to structure the conversation in order to give the most value. If I let the conversation take the path of least resistance to the “So, what do you do?” question, it seems to end up going nowhere particularly useful.

Basic thoughts I can focus on:

  • People are interesting and have fascinatingly quirky details. (Ex: JJ’s story about shipping his car to Europe.) Learning about these things lets me understand more about life, and possibly discover people I want to keep in touch with along the way.
  • I might be able to help people, such as by researching a topic of common interest and blogging about it.
  • People can be difficult to keep in touch with, so it helps to find a good excuse to take the conversation forward. Sharing my notes is one way to do that. If people blog, that’s usually a great way to learn more about what they think. Not that many people blog, though.

What do I really want out of these small-talk conversations? I’ve enjoyed it the most when people recognize me from previous events’ sketchnotes or my blog, and we can launch into a conversation with a clear, common interest. I can’t always have that, and I should take the initiative to make other people feel more comfortable. What do I want?

  • I want to learn from other people’s perspectives.
  • I want to find particularly fascinating people (for example, people who love learning and continuous improvement) and learn from them.
  • I want to help people save time by sharing what I’ve learned.
  • I want to learn along with people by exploring topics of common interest.

For the next few events I’m going to, I’ll try these conversational approaches:

  • “What are you looking forward to learning?” There must be some reason why people are picking this event over other things they could do with their time.
  • “What do you plan to do with it after the talk?” This might be a little harder, but it will be interesting to find people who plan to translate ideas into actions.
  • “Have you been to other events like this?” Comparisons can be enlightening, too.
  • “What else would you like to see presented?” Might turn into blog post or presentation ideas…

Getting to know people who read this blog–hooray for hangout experiment #1!

Quick link to details of upcoming hangouts:

*squee!* It turns out that virtually hanging out with people–no pre-planned presentation, not even a fully-tested understanding of the platform, and only the roughest idea of an agenda–can be totally awesome. Not at all as scary as I’d imagined, and more fun than I thought it could be!

It felt amazing, like having a bunch of friends over for tea, except without the temptation to keep cooking. People were freely chatting with each other, and I didn’t have to worry about filling in the silences. In fact, the combination of a voice/video/text chat worked out wonderfully – I could listen to people share their insights, and I could chime in without interrupting. I picked up lots of ideas for things I want to learn more about or share, and I learned all sorts of interesting things about people who participated.

It was a great shared learning experience, too. People talked me through dealing with the platform’s technical limitations – changing the Hangout to a Hangout on Air, remembering to start the broadcast… We played around with some of the features of Google Hangout. Hangout Toolbox’s “Lower Third” adds a newscast-like attribution to your video, which makes it easier to see who’s speaking. Google Drive’s shared documents and sketchpad real-time editing sparked ideas about collaboration.


So this was fun, and we should definitely do an experiment #2. =) I’m so glad people joined me in this experiment, and I’m looking forward to the next one! Which will be… hmm… I’ve promised to organize ones in other timezones as well, so July 3 9 PM PHT / 1 PM GMT / 9 AM EDT, and another one on July 17  at 8:30 PM EDT.  =) I think a fun way to make this work is to sort out the scheduling details with at least one other person who can be there. That way, even if no one else shows up and it’s a short conversation, I won’t feel like I’m talking to myself. Winking smile 

For the next virtual hangout, I want to try using AnyMeeting so that people don’t get turned away at the (virtual) door. Google Hangouts are limited to ten people, although more people can watch the video stream. (They don’t have access to the text chat, though!) I can imagine that audio/video gets chaotic past a certain number of people, but if people can toggle their audio/video on as needed and we use the text chat to let any number of people ask and answer… I think that would be a great possibility to explore.

In the meantime, people can discuss topics or connect with each other through Google+ or other channels. Once the recording is up there, it’ll be easier for people to remember what we talked about. Since it’s difficult to take notes and listen and talk and type all at the same time, my memory’s all fuzzy until I get a chance to review the recording, too! I look forward to digging into some of the ideas (see “Next steps in terms of blogging” below for the ones I remember), and maybe people can connect with other people to follow up on things that sparked their interest.

Maybe I’ll inch my way up towards regularly doing this every month, every two weeks (or even every week!) in various timezones. I like the idea of hanging out, getting to know people, hearing what’s on people’s minds and what’s going on in people’s lives, and watching people connect with others. I’ve learned so much from people through blog comments and e-mail through the years. Maybe it’s like an open house, like the way I structure my get-togethers so that people can come any time they want and leave any time they need to. I can just sit down with a cup of tea and hear from whoever wants to share what’s going on in their life – maybe anchored with one conversation that I know I’m going to have, but opened up to anyone who wants to drop by. I don’t know whether public recording or unknown participation will get in the way of sharing, but maybe it’s worth a try.

Another way to look at it—probably an even better way—maybe this is about creating more opportunities to learn from people, and by learning from people, I can help those people learn even more. Most people don’t blog, or they feel self-conscious about writing when they don’t know who’s reading. One of my favourite ads is this IBM Linux one from 2003, where lots of people teach this young boy about life. I often feel that my life is like that, except maybe with more facial expressions and sound effects. ;) If you help me (or the other people who come to these hangouts), you help lots of other people, and maybe those tips get turned into blog posts or visual notes too. So maybe we pick things we want to learn about together, and people volunteer to share what they’ve learned, and we all move forward while also telling stories and swapping tips… =)


More collaboration: It might be interesting to put my to-blog list out there in a form that other people can add to—maybe a Google Doc? And maybe if I develop closer connections with people reading this blog, then people will feel comfortable pushing back when I don’t explain something clearly or I take something for granted so that I can learn how to write better. =) Maybe I can collaborate with people on outlines and questions for things that I should write or make: that Emacs book that I ended up passing to someone else (who also procrastinated it)? a guide to sketchnoting? tips on how to live an awesome life?

I’d love to learn more about speech recognition. I’ve been thinking about it as a way to make my posts sound more conversational. (I read much more than I talk, so I tend to sound bookish.) Because I need to train the speech recognition model, I’ll probably be slower in the beginning. If I can get it to be reasonably accurate, it might be a good way to get thoughts out quickly someday.

Helping people get better at blogging: While I don’t have the One Right Answer, I can share what’s working for me, and I might be able to help people—especially if they can figure out what kind of help they need, like a little bit of social accountability or a friendly person they can ask when they have questions. =)

Onward and upward! I’ve created a new page at that will include details for upcoming hangouts. Looking forward to more experiments!