Category Archives: tips

Presentation lessons from Ignite; deliberate practice

Did my first Ignite talk last night, at Ignite Toronto 3. It was fun! Scary, yes. But fun, and I hope I convinced at least one person to share more of what he or she knows. Here are some things I learned along the way:

Five minutes will fly by. Don’t worry. All you need to do is do a commercial and point people to where they can find out more. You have plenty of time to make an impression. TV spots are typically 30 seconds long. You have the equivalent of 10 TV commercials to make an impression in. You can do it.

Instead of starting with a bigger presentation and trying to squeeze it into five minutes, start with your key message and expand that to fit five minutes. It’s easier that way.

Write your script, plan your slides, plan a key point for each slide, and then let go of your script. Focus on getting your key point for each slide across, and improvise whatever you need to make it shorter or longer. This means you don’t have to stand around waiting for a slide to change (you can always just add more detail!) or stress out if your slides seem to be going at lightning speed (just say your key point).

Don’t put a lot of text on your slides. If you can, don’t put any text on slides shown when you’re speaking. Text makes people read. Reading makes people stop listening. You’re going to be too nervous to give them time to read. Make it easy for people to focus on you.

You can either apologize for mistakes or focus on getting your message across. Focusing on communicating your message is more useful and fun. People don’t expect you to be perfect.

Put your notes or script online so that people can read the things you forgot to say. You can post it after the session if you don’t want to spoil your punchlines.

An easy way to remember your slides: Figure out your key point for each slide and the transitions between them. It’s easier to remember when it all flows. Tweak it until it feels natural. Then review your slides. For each slide, practice remembering your key message and the transition to the next slide. That way, you always know what the next slide is.

Practice the timing so that you can get a sense of how much can fit into 15 seconds. More important: practice the timing so that you can get used to recovering from timing errors. This is really helpful. People don’t mind if your speech isn’t perfectly synchronized with your slides. If you can keep it reasonably on track, that’s great.

Use a short description and bio, to keep the flow smooth.

Make a placeholder entry on your blog and use that link in the bio so that organizers can link to your speaker notes / presentation without having to make last-minute web updates.

Watch other presentations for inspiration. Plenty of great examples out there.

How to deliberately practice timing (very handy!): Print out your script, notes, or slides. Set up a 15-second looping countdown presentation. While this is counting down from 15 to 1, practice “scenes” from your presentation. You don’t have to do them in order, and you don’t have to do them all the way through, although that helps. I find it useful to repeat one scene until it feels okay, and then move on to the next one. It’s also helpful to run through the entire thing at least once.

You can reuse the timing presentation to help you keep track of time during your talk. But five minutes goes by really quickly, and if you’re making eye contact, you’re not going to look at your timing laptop. Don’t worry about getting everything perfectly timed. Focus on getting your message across and to adjusting as needed.

You can practice outside an Ignite event by recording presentations. You can also practice by doing your talk for a friend. Tag a fellow presenter and work out those butterflies by practicing with each other.

Another long reflection on my process: Thoughts on preparing an Ignite-style presentation

More specific notes for myself:

Things to remember for future versions of my talk: introverts aren’t likely to be out at a bar with 199 other people. They’re going to be at home, waiting for the Youtube replay. ;) Like, duh. Maybe a different way to frame these presentation tips?

Also, raise-hands polling is hard with a harsh spotlight. I couldn’t see anyone until I shaded my eyes and adjusted to the darkness.

Next for me: Remote Presentations That Rock (March 8, rerun), branding (March 8 PM), client workshop (March 18-19), then PresentationCamp on March 23.

Video to be posted in the next three weeks, I think.


Great stuff from other people: How to give a great Ignite talk

How to get people to read your blog post

This entry is part 19 of 19 in the series A No-Excuses Guide to Blogging

… is a useful question, but it’s the wrong one. Catchy titles and controversial topics are good at drawing eyes, but you don’t want to be just one sensational gimmick after another. Your goal isn’t just to get read. Your goals are to share what you know, save people time, and make people think.

The first question then is: How do you write blog posts worth reading? That takes lots and lots of practice. Braindump everything you can, and the important stuff will float to the top of your brain.

The second question is: How can you find your own posts again? At least in the beginning, the primary user of your blog will be you. When people e-mail you a question you’ve already thought about before, find the blog post you shared the answer in, and send a link. When people bring up something in conversation, follow up by sending them a link to the relevant blog post. When you find yourself solving a problem you solved six months ago, look up the answer in your blog. This is why you need to record as much as you can.

The third question is: How can searchers find your posts? Don’t worry about search engine optimization. You don’t need to be the first hit for popular searches. All you need to do is make sure that people can find the obscure bits of knowledge you’ve shared in your blog when they need it, even if they don’t know you in the first place. If you get the second question sorted out (finding your own posts), this often comes for free.

The fourth question is: How can people learn from your archives? Okay, you’ve got searchers coming in and reading random pages of your blog. Can they easily find relevant posts they might be interested in? Use categories for simple organization, and use plugins to offer more choices.

The fifth question is: How can people subscribe to your blog? So people come in becomes of searches or links. They like what they see. They read your archives and they think you’ve got good things to say. Make subscription easy. Point it out. Offer an e-mail subscription. Services like FeedBurner let you add all sorts of options to your feed. If you write about a broad range of topics, offer people choices so that they can subscribe to just the kinds of posts they like.

When you’ve figured out the first five questions, you’ve gotten the hang of creating useful posts and making them findable long after you’ve forgotten them.

Then you’ll probably feel comfortable cross-pollinating your social networks: mention you have a blog on Twitter, and point to your Twitter account from your blog, put your blog URL in your e-mail signature and your card. Make it easy for people who value what you share in one area to find more from you in others.

Don’t worry if, in the beginning, no one reads your blog. Start by writing for yourself. Build an archive. Learn from what people value. Make it easy for yourself and others. And have fun!



Text: Speed-reading

People ask me how I can read so quickly. Here are some things that might help you read and learn faster.

1. Don’t slow yourself down. Do you read aloud? Do you imagine yourself reading aloud? Speech is so much slower than sight. See. In fact, don’t trace the words with your eyes. Jump around. Look at the important words. Skim. Take advantage of peripheral vision.

2. Take advantage of structure. Read tables of content, conclusions. A book is a nonlinear device. How to Read a Book (Adler and van Doren): this book is awesome.

3. Read. A lot. You’ll get lots of practice. You’ll be surprised by how much books repeat themselves or other books. And you’ll find yourself reading for those rare gems, the aha! moments that make reading all the rest worth it. Then people will ask you: How can you read so quickly?

Tips from remote workers

I attended a networking event for IBM Other Than Traditional Office employees (OTTO, for short) – people who work from home, client sites, mobility centers, and other places. It was held in Second Life Enterprise to take advantage of the Center for Advanced Learning’s speed-networking tools: a system for assigning conversational groups, sound-isolated tables so that you could talk without interfering with other tables, and a screen for information.

Here’s what I learned from the eight people I got to talk to:

  • It’s not even the new normal, it’s the old normal. Many people have been telecommuting for a long time (like 15 years!). I was talking to someone who’d worked on the Selectric typewriter. He said that when he first went remote, people were initially hesitant about whether he’d be available enough. Now it’s generally accepted, and his manager has even told him that he’s easier to contact than people who work in the office. Another person I talked to told me that she’d been encouraged to work from home after she was getting too many interruptions at work. I told them how people compare virtual conversations with watercooler chats and how my norm isn’t the watercooler, it’s online. We live in a pocket of the future – isn’t that amazing?
  • We’re mobile almost by default. Most people I talked to worked from home because they were working with a global team, although some started as the only remote person for an otherwise co-located team. When your team is all over the world, there’s no need to go in to a particular office.
  • Invest in tools. People told me how their wireless keyboards and mice helped them minimize the tangle of cables on their desk. They told me about having a separate business line, with phones that had good features. I shared how much I liked having a headset for my phone – I use a wired headset with a wireless phone (Panasonic KX TGA740). We talked about having second monitors and big monitors, and I shared how useful I find a second laptop.
  • Invest in practices. Lots of people told me about the need for discipline because working at home makes it easier for work to take over other parts of your life. One person suggested blocking off time for exercise on your calendar, a tip he picked up while shadowing an executive. Another told me about the schedule he keeps: an early start at 7 or 8 to get his main work in before the rest of his team interrupted him through instant messaging, with an early end to the day as well. Other people told me about early and late teleconference calls to accommodate different timezones, and how they made sure to set aside time during the day to take care of personal tasks.
  • Diversity is awesome. One of the people I talked to casually mentioned that this was her second career, which she entered after her kids grew up. I was talking to another person about tools and practices for remote workers (headsets!), and he mentioned he’d gotten a wireless one that works really well, which helps because he’s in a wheelchair. I talked to people who really appreciated the ability to flexibly manage their schedule around taking kids to school. IBM rocks.
  • Thinking about the platform: A minor hack to make it easier to limit chats to an area: use channels to message a bot that repeats the message only to people within the same group? Also, I really like the system they’ve built for assigning people into groups that maximize the number of new people you meet. A straightforward improvement would be to build a teleporting tool that uses that information to send you directly to the table for your group, although it might take a little finagling to figure out which chairs haven’t yet been occupied. You could then embed that script into a “kiosk”-type object in the main area as well as the individual timers in the discussion pods. When moving to a new group, then, people could click on the timer to be moved to the right position. (What if the previous round of people are still sitting in the pods?) Perhaps people can be teleported near the pod. The current system of standing up and walking to the right pod works fine, though, so this is really only if you’ve got a lot of avatars – which is unlikely given the load on each grid segment. So it would be cool to have these tweaks, but it’s not necessary at this scale.

All the questions in the post-networking group chat were about the platform. I’ve been to a number of IBM events in SecondLife, and I think it can be a great way to connect. Looking forward to seeing other groups take advantage of this!

How to be dispensable, and why you should document and automate yourself out of a job

My out-of-office message links to wikis where people can get self-service information, and backup contacts in case people have other questions. I’ve helped the three teams I’m working with learn more about using the Idea Lab tools I built. I can take my two-week vacation without worrying that projects will be delayed. Heck, I can get hit by a bus and things will still be okay at work. (Although I’ll try not to be hit by a bus.)

Making myself dispensable is paying off.

It’s good to make yourself dispensable. It’s even better when you don’t have to do the mad scramble for documents and tools the week before you leave. I’ve been documenting and automating my work from the beginning.

In a recent presentation to a defense client, I talked about how to develop the habit of sharing. During the discussion, one of the participants asked how that related to job security.

I mentioned a good book on how to be indispensable: Linchpin, by Seth Godin.

But it’s much better to be dispensable and invaluable. Indispensable people are a big risk. Whether they’re indispensable for good reasons (always knows the right thing to do) or bad reasons (hoards knowledge so that no one else can solve that problem), they can derail your project or your organization. People become dependent on them. And then when something happens—vacation, lottery, promotion, sickness, death—the team stumbles. Something always happens.

On the other hand, invaluable people help their teams grow along with them. They make themselves obsolete by coaching successors, delegating tasks to help people learn. They eliminate waste and automate processes to save time. They share what they know. They teach themselves out of a job. The interesting thing that happens to invaluable people is that in the process of spreading their capabilities to the team, they create new opportunities. They get rid of part of their job so that they can take on new challenges. Indispensable people can’t be promoted without disruption. Invaluable people can be promoted, and everyone grows underneath them.

You might be harder to fire if you’re the only one who knows the secret recipe, but wouldn’t you rather be the person people want to work with because you can solve new challenges? The first might save you during a round of layoffs, but the second will help you grow no matter where you are.

So, how can you be dispensable and invaluable?

Document with your successor in mind. Write instructions. Organize resources. Make it easy to turn your projects over so that you can take an even better opportunity if it comes along. Document, document, document. Push the knowledge out so that you’re not the only expert. This will help you and your team work more effectively, and it will reduce the work too.

Automate, automate, automate. If you can automate the repetitive or error-prone parts of your work, you’ll rock, and you’ll help your team rock too. If you don’t know how to program, you might consider learning how to – whether it’s Microsoft Excel wizardry or Perl geekery. Save time. Cut out the boring parts. Make your work easier.

If you do this well, you will work yourself out of at least the bottom 10% of your job each year… and you’ll open up at least 20% in productivity and new opportunities–not to mention the multiplying effect that you’ll have on your team and your organization.

Be dispensable. Be invaluable. Make stuff happen.

Cate Huston has a great post about this, too. Check hers out!

Cleaning up HTML from Microsoft Word

I often see HTML pasted in from Microsoft Word. It has a lot of non-standard and irrelevant code in it, so sometimes it breaks our systems. It’s also hard to edit afterwards.

An easy way to clean that up is to paste it into Windows Live Writer using Edit > Paste Special > Thinned HTML, which removes most of the Microsoft Word extras while leaving the basic formatting in place. You can then copy-and-paste it into the blog/wiki editor. You can also use View > Source to get the HTML source code, which you can paste into the HTML mode of the blog/wiki editor.

Hope that helps!