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Remote training that rocks

Some IBMers convinced me to share presentation tips with Lotus instructors. Here’s what I’m thinking about:

You know what’s really difficult in training? Staying interesting – and /interested/ – session after session after session. I used to teach university, and I’ve also given lots of presentations as an IBMer. It can be tough to be energetic and engaged when giving a presentation that you’ve given many times before. Even if you’re giving a new presentation, if it’s your umpteenth lunch-and-learn this year, you might feel tired just thinking about it.

I want to share some tips that help me when I’m giving presentations, and I want to hear from you what works for you and what you want to do even better.

First (and probably the most important for people who give presentations a lot): If you’re bored by your own presentations – and admit it, this can happen – it’s very hard to avoid boring others. How can you stay interested?

Let’s take the worst-case scenario: Your job is to present XYZ every week. Same presentation. Same slides. You could do it in your sleep.

Instead of just going through the presentation, look for small ways you can improve each time. Experiment with your timing. Try different examples. Ask questions. Try different questions. See if standing up makes a difference in your voice. Experiment with the capabilities of your web conference. This is a great time to experiment, actually – when you’ve practically memorized the material and can recover confidently from anything Murphy’s Law throws at you.

Would that help you stay interested? Yes. And other people will be interested because you’re interested. And you’ll be a better presenter at the end, too.

So that’s a good start. Let’s say your work is better than that. Let’s say you can improve your training as you learn – make new slides, add more resources, and so on.

Save time and create more value. Record your presentation. Share your slides and your speaker notes. Now you can give yourself a better challenge: How can you improve your training so that it’s really worth attending? What extra value will people get from you that they can’t get from recordings, slides, or speaker notes?

It’s a good idea to build plenty of room for interaction into your presentations. That’s because people can get everything else from the extra resources, but this is where they can really ask and learn. It’s also a great way for you to learn from people: what’s important to them, what else they want to learn, how to make your training better. Teach less, listen more.

Attend other people’s training sessions. See what you like – and what drives you crazy. Take notes.

It’s also a good idea to work on the next actions for your presentation. You should have a clear idea of what you want people to do after your presentation. What changes do you want them to make to the way they work? What resources do you want them to check out or bookmark? As you learn more by teaching people, build up those resources and refine those next steps. This is one of the areas where you can make a real difference as a trainer – you can help people get ready for and commit to change.

You can do lots of things to make your next steps even better. Can you make a checklist that people can save and follow? Can you share recordings and other resources? Can you tell people about other training they’ll find useful? For example, after this presentation, I want you to pick one small, specific way you can improve your next training session, and practise using it until you get the hang of it.

Let’s talk about some of those specifics. Here are three quick presentation tips that might help you make even better use of your web conference (and if you’re not using a web conference for remote training yet, switch to one!).

First: You can use the text chat for Q&A throughout your talk. Why? It’s important to see when people have questions. It’s hard for most people to interrupt speakers on the phone. You can pause for questions, but you’re probably not going to pause for questions often enough, and it breaks the momentum. Some people might use the hand-raising feature in web or phone conferences, which is good, but it’s even better to ask people to type their question into the text chat if possible. Why? You can prioritize questions, you can adjust your presentation on the fly, and you might even find that people are answering each other’s questions. If you find the text chat distracting, have a moderator or buddy keep an eye out for questions, or take a look at it every so often.

Second: Make your summary your Q&A slide. I can’t tell you how many presentations I’ve seen that end on “Thank you!”, “Q&A”, or some other mostly-blank slide. This is probably the slide that will be shown the longest – make it count! Show a one-slide summary that helps people remember what they want to ask questions about and reiterates the next steps you want them to take. Don’t let your session trail off into Q&A, either. 5-10 minutes before the end of your session, summarize the key points and review the next actions so that people can remember them.

Third: Consider adding video. Webcams are inexpensive and you can make your presentation more engaging. If you do use video, make sure your background isn’t distracting, and warn other people who might walk in!

So that’s what I’ve got to share, and I hope you’ve found one or two ideas you can use to improve your presentations. Let’s talk about it! What’s working well for you right now? What do you want to improve?

2011-04-27 Wed 17:56

The Busy Person’s Guide to Learning from the Network (a guide for IBMers)

I promised to put together a talk on learning for an IBM virtual conference for new hires. Here’s a rough draft, just to get it out of my head and into a form I can work with. I’ll add URLs internally. The next steps I want people to take are:

  • Find a mentor, or even several mentors.
  • Bookmark Lotus Connections so that they can easily search it in the future.
  • Learn to find people based on documents and other shared information.

One of my mentors told me that at IBM, it’s okay if you don’t know something. If you don’t ask for help and things get messed up, though, that’s when you get into trouble. So I want to share with you some tips I’ve picked up on how to learn as quickly as you can, from as many people as you can.

I’ve been with IBM for almost four years. I know what it’s like to feel overwhelmed by all the different things there are to learn: working with Lotus Notes and other applications, dealing with technologies, working with team members and clients… It can be really intimidating. Fortunately, at IBM, there are plenty of people who can help – but sometimes you need to step up and ask.

  • Mentors

    If you don’t have a mentor yet, find one. Even better, find several mentors. Mentors can help you figure things out: the specific technology you’re learning, the tools you need to work with, the processes in your team or business unit, even your career plans.

    How can you find a mentor? Share your questions with your manager and ask your manager to refer you to some people who might be good mentors for you. Look for people on Bluepages or Lotus Connections. Take advantage of the speed mentoring events that IBM Learning sometimes organizes and see if you can connect with anyone. Attend presentations and connect with speakers or other participants. Once you have a mentor, ask him or her for introductions to other people who might be able to help.

    Maybe you’re feeling shy. Maybe you think, “Well, I’m new to IBM. Why would anyone mentor me?” I found it hard to ask people to mentor me, too, but I was amazed by how generous people were when it came to helping new people. Many mentors help others because other people mentored them. Others mentor people because they learn a lot in the process. Mentors have lots of reasons for helping, so don’t be afraid to ask.

    Social networking tip: Look for mentors and role models who blog or post updates in Lotus Connections or on the Internet. That way, you can easily learn from people in between your meetings. You can even learn from people around the world, and people whom you might be too shy to reach to right now. For example, if you’re curious about what IBM Fellows do (they have the highest technical rank in IBM), or what vice presidents are like, or so on, you can learn from their blogs, tweets, and other posts. Maybe you’ll find something you can comment on or ask about!

    How to work with mentors: Talk to your mentors about your goals and figure out how they can help you. Take the lead in setting up meetings and asking questions. Show your appreciation through thank-you notes – and even better, show your appreciation through the results that come from taking your mentors’ advice.

    Okay. You’ve got mentors. But you can’t go to your mentors for every little thing you need to learn, so you still need to figure out things on your own.

  • Documentation, assets, and other sources of information

    You’re probably already used to searching the Internet for information when you’re trying to learn something new. It can be harder to find just the right document within IBM. If you’re new to a topic, it can be difficult to find beginner-level resources, or even to know what and where to search.

    If you’re stuck, ask your coworkers or your manager for help in getting started. Take notes! Make a list of the resources you find useful as a beginner, and you’ll be able to share that list with other people who join the project. It’s a quick way to create value – and people are more likely to invest time into helping you if they know that your notes will help them and other people save time in the future.

    Don’t stop with the documents you find, too. One of the best things you can learn from a document or an asset is where you can go to find more information. Are there related communities? Can you look up other things the author has written? When you come across a useful document, look for any author information or lists of related experts. If you need help finding the right resources or you have a question that’s not answered by the document, you might be able to ask those people for help. (Look for communities or forums first, though – this helps avoid e-mail overload, and you can ask more people for help. We’ll talk more about communities later.)

    Okay. Formal documentation is great, but there’s often very little of it, especially for new tools and technologies. What do you do when you need to learn about something that doesn’t have a lot of articles or manuals yet?

  • Files, bookmarks, wikis, and blog posts

    When I need to find out about something new, informal, or obscure, I often check people’s files, bookmarks, wikis, or blog posts. This is where Lotus Connections really shines. You can search people’s public files and presentations for new information, search bookmarks for information other people have found useful, check out wikis to see what people have collaborated on, and read blog posts for people’s notes and articles.

    What if you still can’t find what you need, and the people you ask don’t know of any resources, either? This is where you might need to ask more people.

  • More questions and answers

    Have a short question? Try posting it on IBM Answers. You’ll get an e-mail notification if anyone replies. While you’re there, see if you can answer any of the pending questions.

    Tip: Don’t just post your question on IBM Answers and walk away. Reach out to specific people to see if they can share anything. If you use Profile status updates, post your question with a link to the answer page.

    Regarding experts: If you have a question that needs deep expertise, you might want to give Expertise Locator a try. You don’t want to waste experts’ time, though, so if your request is non-urgent, it’s probably better to start at a lower level. People can escalate your request if needed.

    Sometimes it helps to ask many people instead of focusing on just a few. This is where Lotus Connections Communities and IBM forums come in.

  • Lotus Connections Communities

    Whatever you’re looking for, there’s probably a community or forum related to it. Search Lotus Connections Communities to find groups related to the topic. IBM Forums has older groups, too.

    Many communities have discussion forums. You’ll need to join the community in order to ask a question. Look at other posts to see how people ask for help. Provide as much information as you can in your message, but don’t post any confidential information. Show that you’ve “done your homework” – describe how you’ve tried to solve the problem or where you’ve looked for information. That way, people might be more encouraged to help you.

    Important: Ask the community owners (see the Members tab) Some communities use the “Mail community” feature to handle questions, before mailing the community. Many communities have thousands of members, and too much community e-mail can make the community useless.

  • Building your network

    What about all those questions that people haven’t answered before, and for which there are no active communities? This is where your personal network becomes important. When you’re faced with questions that need much broader or deeper experience than you have, or you have no idea where to even start learning, your network is essential.

    If you can’t think of anyone who would know the answers you need, try thinking of people who might know people who would know the answer. Ask them for referrals. You can also look for people in Lotus Connections Profiles or Bluepages and try reaching out to them.

    Social networking tip: Lotus Connections Profiles is a great way to ask questions and get quick responses from whoever’s available in your network at the time. You need to build your network before you can use this effectively, though. Look at the main Profiles page to see who’s been participating, and invite them to your network. If they agree, you’ll be able to see their updates in your timeline, and they can see yours. That means that if you post questions in Lotus Connections, people might see it and answer it.

    Why would people spend time checking out Lotus Connections and possibly answering questions? For many people, it’s like a quick break by the virtual office watercooler, a way to catch up with lots of people and to help out people if they can. Try it – spend a little time each day or each week building your relationships by reading people’s profile updates, answering other people’s questions, sharing useful resources, and posting notes of thanks or encouragement.

  • Wrapping up

    You’ll need to learn a lot at IBM, and you’ll need to learn it quickly. Not everything will be written down, and you might not find everything you need using w3 or an Internet search engine. You’ll need to learn from the network.

    • Learn from managers, coworkers, mentors, and role models about things you might not even know to ask about
    • Follow the clues from people’s files and assets to find related communities and experts.
    • Search people’s files, bookmarks, blog posts, and profile updates to see the latest.
    • Check out Q&A sites for additional resources.
    • Reach out to communities and forums if you need help from more people.
    • Gradually build your network so that you can easily ask for people’s help when you have new questions.

    Good luck!

    2011-04-02 Sat 21:42

Quick notes from Emacs Org-mode talk at GTALUG

My Emacs Org-mode talk at GTALUG was a lot of fun. I had made a quick outline of things I wanted to cover, and the discussion took us to all sorts of places – really more like a romp through the world of Emacs. I kept my talk plan small and tightly-focused – not even Org-mode, just note-taking in Org-mode – but I ended up talking about all sorts of things because they were cool and that’s where the discussion took us. This means that my outline isn’t much use for reconstructing the talk, but maybe whoever recorded it can share the audio and the video. =)

Unexpected wow moments of the day, completely not in my outline:

  • Someone’s question about my tablet PC led to showing off M-x artist-mode, drawing using my tablet, and the line and spraycan tools. (I’d never tried it before. It works!)
  • A conversation on the way to the talk led to my showing M-x snake.
  • Someone’s joking query about whether you can run vi in Emacs (following up on someone who mentioned the vi emulation mode, perhaps) led to my demonstrating vim in M-x term, which naturally led to running console Emacs within my Emacs.
  • Someone mentioned mail, so I showed Gnus, and another person mentioned adaptive scoring, and we talked about news-inspired techniques for dealing with e-mail.
  • People asked me how big my config file had gotten. The word count tool says 226k characters – ah, the process of accretion. You can learn Emacs and customize it a little bit at a time, though!

I’ve given two Emacs talks so far, and both of them had delightful audience interaction – among the best of any of the talks I’ve given. I think it’s because with Emacs, even people’s jokes give me a starting point to mention something I’ve learned about or come across or built. The energy of the session is really something different. It’s almost like an infomercial-ish “But wait, there’s more!”, but everyone’s in on the joke, they’re part of what’s happening. It’s an adventure.

I don’t want to give the impression that Emacs is just about fun. ;) Of all the software I’ve ever used, I think Emacs has contributed the most to my productivity and my learning. Not only do I find the direct benefits useful, I also really appreciate the inspiration I get from all these other people who use and improve Emacs.

So the key question I want to address with more thought is: where does one find the time to learn these things? I think you answer this the same way you make the time for things that matter – strategic optimization. Like in code, premature optimization doesn’t work. You need to figure out what actions are important and where improvements would have the most effect – where your moments of truth are. For example, it really pays to improve my abilities in programming, writing, and note-taking, because I do that a lot and it creates a lot of value at work and in life. On the other hand, I don’t stress out about typing even faster, because that’s not my bottleneck. And I also make sure to invest time into all sorts of other aspects of life, because those are important to me too.

Back to Emacs and the presentation. My goal for the talk wasn’t to convert anyone or show people specifically how to set up their environment. I wanted to give people an idea of what my workflow looks like, expose them to some of the things Emacs can do, and perhaps inspire people to learn more about their tools. (I made sure to mention lots of cool things about vi, too!) We started at 7:30 and had a great discussion for two hours (two hours!) that flew by until the organizers suggested it was time to wrap up. Quite a few people came up to me afterwards and told me that they were inspired to learn more about Emacs. Whee!

That was tons of fun. I’d do it again. It has to be an interactive group, somewhat casual (so that people feel free to interject questions) and technical (helps to have a few other Emacs users in the audience, and a general interest in tools). Voice is probably a huge component of it – both being able to communicate enthusiasm and for the conversational aspect of the discussion. Screen-sharing or projection is vital; this kind of talk wouldn’t have worked with slides. So it’s probably a talk I’d need to give in person, considering webconference interaction patterns and screen-sharing delays. Hmm…

(Maureen: there is a screenplay mode for Emacs. Isn’t that amazing? Might be worth learning Emacs. More writing resources on the EmacsWiki. If you’re intrigued by it, check out the Emacs Newbie resources.)

2011-03-08 Tue 23:40

Presentation experiment: Shy Connector, Six Steps to Sharing, and other presentations in March!

Slideshare’s new Zipcast feature nudged me to experiment with giving more online presentations externally. I regularly give presentations inside IBM using our Lotus Live Meetings service. Because of the usage charges, though, I haven’t gotten around to offering many externally-available presentations. I accept invitations to speak, but I tend not to organize things myself.

I think that’s worth experimenting with. Not only are web conferences a good way to get ideas out to more people, they’re also a great way for me to learn from the questions and answers people have. I’m going to organize weekly presentations, taking advantage of Zipcast’s beta and seeing whether this is something worth investing in going forward.

Why come when you can get the content from my blog or posted presentations?

  • Get extra energy from hearing and seeing me talk about things I’m excited about
  • Ask questions and share your thoughts in the text chat
  • Connect and help me and others learn

Here are the presentations I’m thinking of doing. They’ll be every Saturday in March, 12 noon – 1 PM Eastern Time, and I’ll see if I can hack a way to record and sharing the presentations. Feel free to share these events with others!

The Shy Connector, March 5, 2011, 12pm-1pm EST,
Are you an introvert? I am too! Use these seven tips to help you make the most of your introvert strengths and connect with people.
Add to

Six Steps to Sharing, March 12, 2011, 12pm-1pm EST,
Want to get started in blogging, but don’t think you know anything worth sharing? Here’s how small steps can help you build the habit of sharing and learning online.
Add to

Remote Presentations That Rock, March 19, 2011, 12pm-1pm EST
Want to get better at reaching, teaching, and inspiring people through online presentations? Find it challenging to connect with people or continue the conversation? Use these seven tips to create and deliver remote presentations that rock.
Add to

Get More Value from Blogging, March 26, 2011, 12pm-1pm,
How can you make blogging pay off for you better, personally and professionally? Pick up tips and ask questions in this session!
Add to

Can you think of other people who might find these presentations useful?

What else would you like to learn more about?

Trying out Slideshare’s new Zipcast feature


I gave Slideshare’s new Zipcast feature a try today in order to learn more about it and rehearse for my upcoming presentation of "Remote Presentations That Rock". I announced it on Twitter a few minutes before I wanted to present. Around 12 people turned up to say hi, learn, and share. I was a little nervous with excitement (and lack of water nearby), but I relaxed as I got into the swing of it.

Zipcast has the usual web conferencing system features, with more in the works. Attendees need an account with either Slideshare or Facebook. You can flip through slides, broadcast video from your webcam, and use the text chat for discussions. Where it shines is in its ease of sharing: no unusual plug-ins or software downloads, Twitter and Facebook announcements built-in, and no meeting limits.

People can flip through slides on their own, too, which could be either useful or distracting for people. You may want to avoid slide-based jokes with lots of lead-up, considering that people can flip ahead and see your punchline. Winking smile

You can’t point to specific things on the slides or record your presentations, but I hear those features are in the plan. You also can’t get the list of attendees yet, so you might want to ask someone to track that for you. Don’t look for screen-sharing in this system yet, but who knows what the future will bring?

Zipcast’s an interesting entry in a crowded web-conferencing space. The ease of presenting and attending will probably win over many users of other conferencing systems, and the price is hard to beat: free at the moment, no matter how big a web meeting you have.

Zipcast’s a promising way to reach lots of people on the Internet, and I’m going to experiment with it more. I’ll still use LotusLive for my IBM web conferences. I like the features of LotusLive, including the ability to draw on my slides in real-time and the ease of inviting people without requiring accounts. (Besides, LotusLive is IBM!) But Zipcast is a nifty (and currently free) way to reach people online, so it’s worth a try.

Tips on using Zipcast:

  • People need Slideshare/Facebook accounts to attend, so give people time to sign up if needed.
  • You can broadcast audio using your computer – no need to dial in. The audio conference information for Pro users can be confusing, though, so you may need to tell people they don’t have to log in. (Slideshare: It would be great to have a small place where speakers can post persistent messages: useful URLs, notes about communication, etc. Maybe right under the video or under the conference info?)
  • Encourage people to ask questions and share their thoughts in the text chat.
  • The drop-in nature of the presentation can be disconcerting as people filter in throughout the session. Try schedule your presentations with a bit more warning time, or build it so that you regularly recap throughout the presentation.
  • Check out for more tips for remote presentations.

Things that would make this even better for me:

  • Message box for details like communication instructions, URL for further resources
  • Participant list and stats: when joined, when left (and on which slide, if possible)…
  • Way to easily save the text chat
  • Pointer. Pen too, if possible, for annotating slides.
  • Download link for presentation?
  • Easy tweeting from within presentation
  • Raise hands / polling interactions

Here’s an interesting thought: How would you structure a presentation to take advantage of the sharing capabilities of Zipcast, including the “post to Facebook” checkbox in the text chat? Maybe you can sprinkle “Twitter/FB/Q&A” breaks throughout your talk. If you get someone (or program a macro) to paste in retweetable or repostable soundbites, that would be a way of sharing ideas with people’s networks. Hmm…

I’m thinking of doing presentations every Saturday in March, from 12 noon to 1pm EST, at My planned lineup: The Shy Connector, Remote Presentations That Rock, Get More Value from Blogging, and Six Steps to Sharing. It’ll be good to share tips and learn from others. Anything you’d particularly like to see from my past presentations or blog posts?

What’s a good way to plan these upcoming events so that you can easily save them to your calendar and receive updates? Eventbrite and other event-management systems seem a little heavyweight compared to the ease of Zipcast’s sharing. Any suggestions?

In other news, I think I’ve figured out my studio setup: bounce the daylight-balanced lamps off the ceiling (low setup) or use umbrella reflectors (fancy setup), position the folding background in front of the cabinet to hide the My Little Cthulhu doll and other distracting things, and broadcast away. Now if I can figure out where to put a small hairlight…

Posted revised “Remote Presentations That Rock” presentation

Next week, I’m giving Remote Presentations That Rock in person at IBM 3600 Steeles Avenue on Monday. I decided to hold off on the extensive revisions I’d been thinking of doing. Instead, I re-drew the slides and I changed a few points.

See for full notes / discussion.

Remote Presentations That Rock (2011) Click on Menu – View Full Screen to see this in full-screen mode.

The older version, for comparison:

and the "e-book"-type presentation:

Remote Presentations That Rock (v2)
View more presentations from Sacha Chua

Some speakers are very consistent when it comes to content and delivery. I keep working on my material, gnashing my teeth over titles I want to reuse, because I’m still learning so much. I’m consistent about a growing number of things, though. I’ll have a blog post up with the resources, I’ll probably bubble over with energy when I give the presentation, and I’ll record and share as much as I can.