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TLE 2008: I.B.Millennials: The Net Generation and Those Who Recruit, Hire, Work With, Manage, and Sell to Us

| conference, kaizen, presentation

Last Tuesday, April 8, I gave a presentation on “I.B.Millennials: The Net Generation and Those Who Recruit, Hire, Work With, Manage, and Sell to Us” to around 60 people at the IBM Technical Leadership Exchange in Orlando, Florida.

What did I do well?

  • Revision: I stayed up until 4:00 that morning, revising my presentation to improve the flow and include some of the ideas I got from conversations with people from all over IBM.
  • Energy: Because I stayed up so late, I was tired on Tuesday. I didn’t want to do a lackluster performance, so I napped during the session slot immediately before mine, and I had some tea afterwards. I reasoned that I could always listen to the playback of the session I had wanted to attend, but I wouldn’t have another opportunity to redo my session.
  • Presentation structure: After much thinking, I managed to find a good structure that made the presentation flow well. I used the power of three and alliteration throughout the presentation in order to make the presentation more coherent and memorable. I structured the characteristics as “changing childhoods, changing technologies, and changing workplaces”. I listed the challenges as “recruiting and hiring Millennials”, “working with and managing Millennials”, and “selling to Millennials”. Each challenge had three parts: “reach”, “ramp up”, and “retain”. Because of that structure, I hardly needed to glance at my slides to remember where I was, and I didn’t feel the urge to overload my slides with detail.
  • 30-second summary: I put in a 30-second summary at the beginning and end as a courtesy to people who wanted to attend several presentations or review the slides afterwards. This proved to be handy when some people dropped by to say hi and offer encouragement before my session, as I could give them the gist of my talk before they went to a different session. I think it’s a good practice.
  • Presenter remote: I used Jonathan Young’s Kensington presenter remote during my blogging talk at the Best Practices. I liked being able to step away from the podium, and I didn’t need to refer to my speaker’s notes. I also liked how the Kensington presenter fit my hand neatly. I found the same model at the Airport Wireless store in Newark, along with several other presenter remotes. I chose the Logitech presenter remote because it had a built-in timer with vibration alerts at 5 and 2 minutes, which is great in rooms without clocks. I bought it for $75 or so. If you want to buy it now, has it for $37.24 thanks to a mail-in rebate that ends on Monday, April 14. It looks like there are frequent rebate offers, so you should be able to find it on sale somewhere.
  • Stock images: Several people asked me where I got my illustrations. I got some free ones from Stock Exchange, and I got the rest of the images from The images typically cost $1 for a presentation-sized image.
  • Discussion: I knew that I didn’t have the historical perspective or the global perspective to give people the complete picture of Millennials, so I invited people to join the discussion by asking and answering questions. I had chatted with a number of people before the session started, so I knew that people had a lot to contribute. They freely shared their concerns, experiences, and insights. This resulted in a session that was not only more interactive than the jam sessions I attended, but also a lot more educational for all of us–myself included. I think this is a terrific way to do a session, as the speaker gets to learn a lot as well. There, Jim de Piante – I asked for help and I got it! =)

What can I do better?

  • More microphones: It seems my presentation style is highly interactive. Next time, I should request additional microphones so that people can be easily heard and recorded.
  • Better summaries: I need to get better at listening to what people say and quickly summarizing the key points for these recorded presentations.
  • Video recording: I want to save up for a high-definition video camera and a tripod so that I can share the material and improve my presentation skills. Jonathan Young’s setup was pretty good. He aimed the video camera’s LCD forward so that he could make sure he was in frame. Alternatively, I could ask a friend to take care of video recording.
  • Picture: I really should take pictures of my audience so that I can get a better count and so that I can recognize and thank people. Maybe I can ask someone to help me with that next time, so that I’m free to prepare other things I need for my presentation.
  • Audio and screen recording: I have Camtasia on my system, and there’s no reason why I can’t use it to record my non-TLE presentations. Next time!

That was a terrific experience. I’m looking forward to the next presentation!

TLE2008: Networking: A Workshop in Getting the Most from the TLE, Jim De Piante, part 1 of 2

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I attended Networking: a Workshop in Getting the Most from the TLE, by Jim De Piante. The session was about becoming more comfortable with networking and learning how to network more effectively.  The key takeaways that more people need to hear are: everyone is a born networker; focusing on helping other people is a great way to get into the mood to network; and the best way to be interesting is to be interested.

It made me wonder how more people can feel the thrill of making a connection between two other people.  Maybe a conference or workshop could have a speed networking event and challenge people to make connections between the people they’d talked to. How would something like that work? Hmm…

His model of building relationships has three steps: create a relationship, cultivate a relationship, and help.  What I found interesting about that is that Web 2.0 tends to invert this process.  You’d start by helping people, directly or indirectly, and other people can then choose to cultivate that relationship with you. Funny, innit?

An audience member asked if networking wasn’t something that needed to be self-serving.  I think Jim handled that question well, pointing out that there’s a little bit of self-interest, but it’s altruism that really builds strong relationships. For people who feel negatively about networking because they’ve run into self-centered networkers or they think they need to be self-centered, I recommend two books: “Love is the Killer App” and “Make Your Contacts Count.” Both talk about the importance and benefits of reaching out and looking for opportunities to help people.

Jim also mentioned Stephen Covey’s point about emphatic listening.  He was careful to add that he was not advising people to fake interest, or to exaggerate signs of interest.  The trick to emphatic listening to actually be interested. When you meet someone, you’re looking for common ground.  On that ground, you can build common experiences, and on those common experiences, you can build a shared understanding–hence the value of small talk. 

I found the idea of looking for common interests to be interesting. I know it’s accepted wisdom, and I encourage people to make it easier to find common interests by sharing more about themselves. What I find interesting is that people’s interests still provide me with many opportunities to connect. First, I enjoy the exercise of applying ideas from one area to another. Second, I enjoy matching people within my network and carrying ideas back and forth, so if someone’s interests aren’t a match for me, they’re bound to be a match for someone in my network (or my future network). It all goes into my head (or my database, if I’ve been diligent), waiting for some future connection.

I have more to write, but I also like sleep, so – tomorrow, then!

TLE2008: Essential Problem-Solving Skills That Will Shorten A Project, Dick Orth

Posted: - Modified: | conference

My day began with S011-LED: Essential Problem-Solving Skills That Will Shorten a Project, by Dick Orth. One of the key things I took away from that session is that being a facilitative leader is hard but worth it. When you make decisions as a group, you get a lot more buy-in and you can get better answers. Consensus-building increases exposure and risk, and a leader’s role is to facilitate the discussion and mitigate the risk.

Another interesting technique I picked up was the Fist of Five, when people hold up five fingers to indicate full agreement, four fingers to indicate that they mostly agree with something, three fingers to indicate that they can live with something, two fingers to indicate that they have minor issues, one finger to indicate that they have major issues, and zero (a fist) for a flat no.  This technique works best in an established team where people feel comfortable about sharing their opinions, and not quite so well in a new team where people might not feel at ease with disagreement. 

It was interesting to hear the international perspectives from the audience. One of the audience members pointed out that in China, this technique might work with employees from multinational companies, but not with state employees because of their sensitivity to hierarchy.  The audience member also noted that this technique can be used with small companies, but not with the founder present.

Another audience member mentioned that building consensus, especially in Asia, is easier when you focus on the positive. Asking for suggestions for improvement can be less confrontational than asking if anyone has any objections. Asking people to e-mail their private comments also gives other people opportunities to share what they think.

Dick Orth walked through two models for problem-solving: a process-oriented model and a change-oriented model. The process-oriented model focused on generating lots of possibilities with many people, and then developing and narrowing them down with a handful of people. He noted that large groups take a long time to narrow a list of items down, so this should be handled by a smaller group. The change-oriented model focuses on the future state, the current state, and the gap between the two. Both models can be used together, with brainstorming used to identify the future state and the prioritized possibilities, the current strengths and issues, and the actions for moving forward. Dick noted that brainstorming the strengths is a great way to get everyone involved and energized, and that no narrowing down is needed for the strengths.

I took advantage of the break to go to a different session. Dick Orth was interesting and I was looking forward to the case study, but there was another workshop that I wanted to learn from. I explained it to Dick before his presentation, so I didn’t feel so bad disappearing. Still, those were pretty interesting two hours, and I learned a lot. =)

Weekly review: March 31 to April 6

| conference, weekly

Good morning! I’m writing this from the Rosen Centre in Orlando, Florida. I’m here for the IBM Technical Leadership Exchange, which is a fantastic invitation-only conference of IBM’s best and brightest (and the occasional newbie like me who manages to sneak in). ;) I figured I’d do my weekly review before heading over to the convention center, as my evening’s probably going to be too full to write properly. Besides, morning pages are fun.

The last week had been a blast. I attended the IBM Best Practices conference in Palisades, NY, and I presented on “How to Blog Your Way Out of a Job… and Into a Career.” I really enjoyed sharing my experiences with blogging with the thirty or so people who showed up. Everyone was so open and friendly! And I’m glad that people enjoyed my presentation, too. I ended up winning Best Paper at the conference, and the organizers said I’d received over twice as many first-place votes as the next in line did! So I’m really happy that I managed to pass on so much value at my first proper conference as an IBMer.

Even more awesome than winning Best Paper, though, was having the opportunity to learn from more than a hundred people who were passionate about their work and about improving the way they work. One of the terrific things about conferences like this is that you can get so much energy and enthusiasm and encouragement from all these extraordinary people.

I’m also really glad that I had to attend sessions I ordinarily wouldn’t have chosen and joined conversations I never would have started over e-mail. For example, the keynote speeches from the Rational folks got me thinking about measuring value and measuring adoption. I think that’s one of the key benefits of face-to-face conferences. With a virtual conference, it’s just too easy to let “real work” take you away from sessions you’re not sure about. With a virtual conference, you don’t have an excuse to chat over food with people you might not otherwise have met, and you don’t have as many opportunities to form new friendships and renew the ones you had.

Good stuff. That was my last week – jam-packed with conversations and lessons learned from both the formal sessions and the informal chats. Very good stuff.

This week promises to be even better. The Technical Leadership Exchange is an even bigger conference, and I have a full schedule of sessions I would love to learn from. Although I need to revise my presentation extensively because I learned so much last week, I’m looking forward to starting conversations, too. Whee!

Best Practices Conference – April 1, Day 2

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I feel much less intimidated now.  That Best Practices conference is small, almost cozy. Thanks to social networking–and the blog, in particular–I already know a few people here.  It makes the conference so much easier to deal with. Instead of getting first-day jitters, I can fall right into conversations I’ve been wanting to have for a long time.

It’s a small conference, and maybe that’s why most people don’t have their laptops open during sessions. So, no liveblogging for me today. I’ll try braindumping to a voice recorder after the sessions. If I think of it as blogging for other people who couldn’t make it to the conference, then I think there’ll be plenty to write.  I don’t know if there’ll be transcripts, or even recordings of each presentation, but at least I can get the interesting points.

IBM Palisades is a beautiful conference center.  I don’t think I’ve been to another conference center with such a large koi pond, and I love all the old IBM machines and da Vinci replicas scattered throughout the guest wing. The facilities are well-appointed, too.  I exercised in my room a little bit today, but I plan to take advantage of the exercise room tomorrow. The queen-sized bed and bed frame are about 3 feet thick combined, which made me feel a little like the Princess and the pea, sans pea. The only downside is that I forgot my toothpaste, and this is one of those hotels where they don’t provide you with those little toothbrush kit. They do however provide you with soap, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, a shower cap, mouthwash and shoe polish, and you can buy toothpaste from the front desk for two dollars. Must remember to bring my own next time.

Looking forward to today’s sessions!

Headless chicken impression

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Today is not my day.

As it turns out, my presentation on “Blogging Your Way Out of a Job… and Into a Career” for the Concordia University Alumni Association is tomorrow evening, not Friday evening as I thought. (Next time, I should create a calendar entry while reading e-mail, instead of relying on my memory!) Apparently it’s been quite a hit, with over 60 people registered and people pleading to get in. If I do this right, it might even result in more business for my team at IBM. (Must remember to put in a slide about who I am, and add something like that to the closing.)

I wanted to print my handouts on business cards. Bringing home something physical from an event is a good way to remember to act on what you’ve learned. But the printer at home stubbornly refused to feed the Avery business card forms I picked up, and didn’t seem to let me make totally custom business cards. Taking off on Jonathan Coulton’s “Big Bad World One”, I couldn’t help but sing, “I quit, I’m done, I don’t think it’s going to turn out okay. It’s no fair and it’s no fun if every time it’s gonna print the same way: Me zero, big bad printer one.”

So I threw up my hands and considered my backup plans. I could just point the audience to one URL and have them look up the resources from there, but there’s something about taking a visible reminder home. What else could I do?

Fortunately, I had plenty of blank index cards lying around, thanks to my experimentations with paper-based productivity planning. After much tweaking, I got the printer to print on index cards. The margins are off because the printer won’t let me print less than an inch from the edge, but I limited the number of lines and the result looks deliberately balanced.

Now all I have to do is actually build the page, update the presentation, rehearse it, and get everything sorted out. Oh, and do the rest of my day job, too. But something I’ve noticed–and I don’t know how I learned to do this–is that even while part of me can flail wildly about in a headless chicken impression, part of me is always looking for the humor in the entire thing, part of me is always planning ahead and thinking of backup plans, and part of me just focuses on getting the work done.

Be like a duck. Calm on the surface, but always paddling like the dickens underneath.

Michael Caine, actor


Tips for conference bloggers

Posted: - Modified: | blogging, conference, tips

Conference reports are a great way to help share knowledge and justify
the expense of conference travel, but attendees are often so busy
learning and networking that they don’t have the time to send detailed
conference reports from the road. Postponing the report-writing to the
plane trip back could mean many lost insights and lost momentum.

Liveblogging can help. With a little preparation, conference
reports can be posted and shared with coworkers and the rest of the
world within ten minutes of the presentation. Ethan Zuckerman and Bruno
Giussani have put together a collection of terrific tips for conference bloggers, which you should read before you head out to your next conference.

(crossposted: personal blog, external team blog, and internal personal blog)