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Learning from the speeches of grade seven students

Posted: - Modified: | learning, speaking

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

Posted: - Modified: | drawing, sketches, speaking

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

| speaking

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

Posted: - Modified: | mentoring, presentation, speaking

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

| kaizen, presentation, sketches, speaking


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!

Remote training that rocks

Posted: - Modified: | ibm, presentation, speaking

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

Continuing experiments with Slideshare’s Zipcast web conferences

Posted: - Modified: | speaking

I did a quick presentation of Six Steps to Sharing on Slideshare’s Zipcast this Saturday.

I haven’t done enough audience/list development to invite lots of people to sign up, as most of my internal and external talks are organized and promoted by other people. As an experiment, I decided to think of this more like informal office hours and the bonus of being able to review and think about some of the presentations I’ve shared. That worked out well.

I’ve been using this to test video setups around the house, too. This time, I tried the kitchen, sitting on the floor near the back door. I got good light, a clean background, and the right height for the webcam – things that are more difficult to arrange when my laptop’s on the table. However, sitting on the floor made breathing slightly more difficult, and it changed the way I spoke. Downstairs is still my favourite setup, but it requires a bit of work – foldable background, three lights. The kitchen is the easiest to get up and running.

I couldn’t get my hair to stay still, so I wore a hat. They’re handy for that. =)

If I want to get better at this, here are the key areas for growth:

  • Connecting with more people who might find these presentations interesting
    • Mailing list?
    • Event registration system?
  • Figuring out a way to record the presentations: I’ve been having problems getting audio+video through Camtasia on the same computer, but I could record video and system audio if I can log in on a separate computer.
  • Developing material, of course
  • Doing this during the week

Is it worth investing time into this? Considerations:

  • PRO: Reviewing and presenting previous material is useful for confidence, flow, and constant improvement.
  • PRO: It would be good practice in building an audience and creating more value.
  • CON: Slideshare Zipcast pricing could change soon. Shift to advertising-supported Freebinar? (No webcam, but has screensharing and recording.) Webinars aren’t useful for me in terms of lead generation or revenue, so I won’t be going for the for-fee options. =) Really doing this more for fun and learning. Hmm, maybe if I think of it like
  • CON: I could spend the time and effort writing, recording videos, and helping people learn, and I would probably get better ROI from that.

I think I’m going to keep tinkering around with this, but I might not spend the time right now to make the most of Zipcasts or other webconferencing tools. It’s good learning, though, and I’ll be around every Saturday in case people have questions or ideas.