Category Archives: speaking

Session follow-up #1: Discovering Yourself through Blogging

This entry is part 16 of 16 in the series Discovering Yourself Through Blogging

I enjoyed chatting with Holly Tse about blogging and how it can help you learn more about life, connect with people, save time, and do awesome. For the next day or so (Aug 17), you can listen to a free recording of my interview with Holly at . I’m working on putting together a transcript and some follow-up notes, but here are some quick thoughts.

Blogging doesn’t have to be about building a personal brand or improving your search engine ranking. You can write as a way to learn, understand, remember, share, and save time.

Trying to figure out how to write about something possibly sensitive or offensive? Take a step back and try to take a really, really positive approach. Don’t focus on past hurts, focus on how to move forward. Don’t focus on what other people are doing wrong, focus on what you can do and what you can change about yourself. Write through things in your private notes if you need to, then see what insights and ideas you can share with others.

Where can you find the time to write? Holly Tse mentioned spending most of her time focused on her husband and their toddler, organizing this telesummit, and taking care of other essentials. I mentioned that mommy blogging (and parent blogging in general – let’s not forget the blogs!) was popular for lots of reasons: grown-up connections, memories, ideas, sanity checks, and so on. I also shared some time-saving tips, like cooking in larger batches. =)

You might be boring. In fact, you almost certainly will bore yourself from time to time. Writing will feel awkward if you haven’t been doing it a lot, and even if you have, it can still be frustrating. Keep writing. Don’t worry about being interesting. Don’t worry if no one reads your notes. Write in order to think clearly, write in order to remember, and write in order to share. You can grow into a good writer, but only if you write. You don’t need to win the Pulitzer Prize to write notes that can help you and other people.

How frequently should you write? As frequently as you can or would like to. =) Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t post every day or you blog sporadically. That said, try using writing as a tool for thinking. Try asking yourself questions like: What do I want to remember? What did I learn today? What do I want to do better tomorrow? What do I want to work on learning? If you do that, you’ll probably find that there’s a ton of stuff worth writing about.

More thoughts to follow. Feel free to ask more questions! Leave a comment so that other people can also share their thoughts with you, or use the contact form to get in touch with me. Have fun!

Learning from the speeches of grade seven students

As part of the grade 8 graduation ceremony, J- and the other grade 7 students spoke about the students who were going on to high school.

J- was initially unsure about her speech. She didn’t know much about her honoree beyond a few short facts and a couple of stories from her interview. Her speech reflected it: generalities like “nice” and “funny”, and two pieces from the interview that were strung together with little transition.

We helped her edit her speech. She found ways to connect the pieces, trim unneeded words, and become more specific. Larger fonts and more space between lines simplified reading. Slashes helped her find places to breathe and remember to make eye contact. It wasn’t perfect, but it had fewer filler phrases, and it flowed more smoothly than her first draft.

She rehearsed with the cat-tree as an ad-hoc podium. She didn’t drill it endlessly, but she practised it enough to get a sense of how the words felt.

When she delivered the speech, she got laughs – and high-fives, fistbumps, and compliments afterwards.

There’s a beginning, perhaps – that feeling of competence, that “hey I can do this”, the way that the music notes of her favourite songs are beginning to melt into melodies and her writing is becoming more about thought instead of mechanics.

One of the key things in helping people learn, I think, is to nudge people over that hump and into that “I rock” experience, so that they get to the point of being able to enjoy it.

I wonder how more people can get over that hump and enjoy exploring and sharing ideas.

Also, it turns out that you can learn a lot about speaking from watching students. A few of the other speeches drew on clear, personal experiences. Others were delivered confidently and capably. Many echoed a common outline – perhaps the suggested questions from the interview: How long has the student attended the school? What are some characteristics you would use to describe the student? What’s a memory you can share about the student? Students were described with generic adjectives: “nice,” “funny,” “athletic.” Stories were left in the air, with little connection to the beginning or end of the speech. But that’s okay, they’re still learning. (Aren’t we all?)

Worth the time.

2011-06-27 Mon 21:36

Developing a workflow with Autodesk Sketchbook Pro

J- is digitally inking her writing assignment using Autodesk Sketchbook Pro on the Cintiq 12WX drawing tablet downstairs. I’d become a big fan of Autodesk Sketchbook Pro while working on it on my laptop, so I thought she might prefer it over GIMP. The pen-based controls are intuitive, and the feel of digital drawing is better than the frustration of redoing and reinking on paper. Now she’s off zooming in and out, adjusting her brush sizes, and working with a large and zoomable canvas. =)


I’ve been using Autodesk Sketchbook Pro to do more and more of my presentation planning, too. The workflow is slightly different from Microsoft OneNote. With OneNote, I can draw storyboards, then scale up the storyboards without any loss of information and without jaggy lines. (The joys of vector drawing!) Autodesk Sketchbook Pro lets me scale up rough sketches, but the interpolation isn’t always smooth. Instead, I storyboard everything. Then I hide any layers I’m not working with, lower the opacity of my storyboard layer, add new layers on top, and draw each slide as a full-size layer. I do any colouring on a second layer below the ink, so that the black lines stay crisp. The finished layers are easy to copy to a separate presentation program.

So how does my Autodesk Sketchbook Pro workflow compare to Inkscape? When I use Inkscape (a proper vector drawing program) for presentations, I usually set up an infinite canvas, and clone a series of rectangles for my storyboard. Inkscape makes it easy to sketch elements here and there, rearranging them on my storyboard, rotating and scaling them to fit. After I do a little masking and line adjusting, I import the finished slides into a presentation program. Simple shapes are easy to colour. If I need to shade things more, I can import the images into GIMP.

I can still do text presentations, but they’re a little less fun. ;) Drawing takes time, but I like the practice. How do you do your presentations or drawings?

2011-05-27 Fri 18:52

Taking a break while working on presentations

I’m taking a break from working on presentations. Not a long break – there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done – but I need to get myself back into the swing of preparing presentations after spending so many weeks doing development. This means stopping when I can tell my mind is resisting, figuring out why, and tweaking how I work until it works again.

Many people would rather watch presentations or flip through slides than read blog posts or books or search results. for presentations. I really should just become okay with slurping in tons of information, digesting it, and regurgitating a summary.

The core of the resistence: I’d much rather build cool websites than talk about trends. Development is clear. You know what you know. You know when you’re making progress. You know when you’re correct. At the end of the day, things are better.

Presentations are a whole lot fuzzier. There’s this entire Jacobian struggle with a topic, trying to get your arms around it, struggling to understand and be understandable. You’re never quite sure if people will actually change their lives (even a little bit?) after listening to you. I always try to influence people’s lives through presentations. Why spend time preparing or speaking for anything less? But then there’s more risk of rejection – or worse, apathy.

I try to use presentations to change my own life, too. At least I learn something, try something, do something. Besides, all the ideas become part of me, raw material for unexpected combinations in the alchemy of learning.

It’s a struggle to hold down the imposter syndrome that threatens to choke me. I remind myself that these rough presentations can be drafts for people to improve on, perhaps the spark that triggers something else. It’s okay.

Maybe I should stop accepting presentation invitations for now, and focus instead on creating new presentations as a way of deadline-less deliberate practice. I can commit to giving them in person only if I’ve created and revised them already. Maybe I should do what Jonathan Coulton does: set the challenge of making a Thing a week. He’s brilliant and he writes funny songs. Maybe I’ll have more fun making presentations when I get better at making presentations through practice.

Ways I can get better at making presentations:

  • Research: Find sources, collect statistics and quotes, read extensively, keep notes.
  • Organization: Experiment with structures, revise presentations, organize thoughts.
  • Design: Experiment with graphic design. Try text again. Play with images. Don’t get boxed in.
  • Delivery: Practise. Watch other people’s presentations for inspiration. Experiment. Find the fun in this again.

Presentation draft: Mentoring on the Network

Gail LeCocq asked me if I wanted to give a presentation for the Other-Than-Traditional-Office (OTTO) group in Toronto. At the time, I was preparing The Busy Person’s Guide to Learning from the Network, so I suggested that. When she got back in touch a ew weeks later to confirm, though, I realized that I wanted to talk about a different topic instead. I suggested a topic on mentoring, which several people had asked me about. Here’s a rough draft.

Mentoring on the Network

View more presentations from Sacha Chua


Mentoring. We all know mentoring is good for your career, but sometimes it’s hard to make time to find and meet with mentors. Here’s how mentoring can make a big difference in the way you work:

  • Information: Mentors can help you learn complex tools or processes, review your work, and avoid or resolve problems.
  • Advice: Mentors can share insights you didn’t even know you needed. Mentors can also help you understand your hidden strengths and weaknesses.
  • Accountability: Mentors can help you commit to your goals and stay motivated.
  • Stretching: Mentors can challenge you to grow and call you out if you’re slacking off.
  • Connection: Mentors can help you navigate a large organization and find just the right people who can help you.
  • Sponsorship: Mentors can help you find opportunities you may not hear about yourself, or convince people to take a chance on you. Mentors can also speak up for you when people are making decisions.
  • Social interaction: Regular mentoring conversations can bring some of that social interaction back into remote work.

    Challenges and advantages

So mentoring is good, but how can you convince someone to invest the time and energy into mentoring you, particularly if you can’t make that face-to-face connection with them or develop familiarity by working together in a colocated office?

Mentoring can be difficult if you’re a remote employee. In an office, you might bump into someone you admire and ask them questions, your manager might walk over and introduce you to someone, or you might buy someone coffee or lunch while picking their brain. When you’re remote, you need to be more creative about connecting with people.

On the plus side, you can connect with possible mentors around the world. This means you can learn from very different perspectives. You can get a sense of what life and work is like in different business units and geographies.

Finding mentors

In IBM, you can use the Bluepages company directory system to find people who have volunteered to mentor other people. IBM Learning organizes speed-mentoring events where you can connect with many possible mentors, ask quick questions, and follow up for additional help or introductions. IBMers are also usually open to e-mail requests or questions.

Mentors can be older than you or younger than you, in the same business unit or in a different one, next door or around the world. Keep your mind open, and reach out. It doesn’t hurt to ask.

You can build a mentoring relationship over time. Start by connecting with your potential mentor and asking for a small piece of advice. Act on that advice if it’s good. Send a thank-you note with the results. Ask for more advice, and share more updates. Share what you’ve been learning from other people, too. If it turns out to be a good fit for both you and the other person, you might ask if you can set up a regular monthly chat to learn more.

If your potential mentor posts blog entries or profile updates, you can use that to build a relationship as well. Read what they post, comment, and share any updates on insights you’ve picked up from them and applied in your work or life. Send thanks – or better yet, post your thanks online too.

Making the most of mentoring

  • Have a clear idea of what you want to learn, how your potential mentor can make a difference, and why he or she may want to help you.
  • Set up a regular time to connect with your mentor – once a month, for example. Meet in person if possible, or connect using a video-conferencing program like Skype.
  • Talk about communication preferences with your mentor. Some people like having very focused meetings. Send them prepared questions before your conversation. Other people prefer e-mail or blog conversations over phone conversations. Try that out.
  • Take notes. Mentors invest time into helping you, and you can save them time and increase the ROI by writing down what you’ve learned in a form that they can easily share with other people.
  • Thank people!

    Helping others

Helping others is fulfilling, and you’ll learn a lot along the way. Even if you don’t consider yourself an expert, you’ve probably learned a lot of things you take for granted. You can help people get started, save time, and learn more. Give mentoring a try!

Some ways to connect with mentees:

  • Talk to your manager and other people about the things you can help people with. They can refer people to you.
  • Give presentations and share your slides. There are many groups in IBM who organize regular conference calls, and they’re always looking for speakers.
  • Attend virtual and real-life networking events. Ask people what they want to learn or what could help them be more successful.
  • Post profile updates or write blog posts. This helps people learn what you’re good at and get a sense of who you are.

Don’t forget to mention your mentoring during the Personal Business Commitments (PBCs) review. It’s a way of giving back to the community and investing in others!

Next steps

Now we get to the networking part of this presentation, where you might find a mentor or connect with a mentee. You’ll probably want pen and paper for this one, so you can write down people’s names. Let’s go around and introduce ourselves. Say your first and last name, then answer these questions: What do you need help with? What can you help people with? Then say your first and last name again, in case people missed your name the first time around. (Spell your name if you need to.) If you’re listening to someone’s introduction and something interests you, feel free to connect on this call or through Sametime!

What do you think? What would you like to share with other people looking for mentors or mentees?

2011-05-20 Fri 14:55

Giving a presentation using Autodesk Sketchbook Pro and a web conference


I gave a presentation using Autodesk Sketchbook Pro and desktop-sharing in Lotus Live, and it worked out really well. I think I’ll do this for as many presentations as I can get away with. =) I’ll post a link to the recording when it’s up. It was much more fun and much more flexible than annotating in Microsoft Powerpoint. Here’s how I did it.

I pre-drew my one-slide talking points on a single layer so that I wouldn’t have to count on thinking, talking, and drawing all at the same time. I used an idea from children’s activity books: instead of drawing, you can use the eraser to make content appear, like the way you would scratch off black paint to reveal colours. I created a layer on top of my "slide", and I flood-filled this layer with white. I set the opacity of this layer to 90% so that I could see the traces of the images on the layer underneath. That way, I could use an eraser to reveal the sketches below. I selected a large eraser to make it even easier.

I also wanted to be able to draw new sketches or highlight items, so I selected a red ballpoint pen as my primary brush. Red goes well with black and white. Because my Lenovo X61 tablet pen has a pen tip and an eraser tip, I could easily flip between revealing pre-drawn sketches and adding new sketches. I drew on the the white layer that I gradually erased to reveal the underlying sketches. This meant that I could quickly remove accents or new sketches without disturbing my pre-drawn sketches.

Just in case I needed to go into more detail, I added another layer on top, filled it with white, and hid the layer. That way, I could always unhide it (thus blanking out everything else I’d drawn), add a new transparent layer on top, and sketch away.

I hid all the tools I didn’t need, and kept the layers window open on the side so that I could easily switch to another layer. Then it was time to share my screen, turn on the webcam, and give my presentation!

Here’s how you should set up your layers, from top to bottom:

  1. White layer, so that you can easily add layers on top of this for new drawings
  2. Translucent white layer with parts erased
  3. Pre-drawn sketches
  4. White background

The technique should work just as well with any drawing program that supports layers, a web conference that supports screen-sharing, and a tablet or tablet PC that lets you draw or erase easily.

Try it out and share your tips!