Presentation tip: Don’t rely on the presentation

conference room presentationA few weeks back, Karen Martin authored a post for her blog entitled, “How to capture an audiences attention” in which she gave several good tips for remembering your audience and delivering a strong presentation.

Inspired by Karen’s post and a recent chance to address the MassBay PMI chapter (a presentation for which I give myself a B+) I’d like to add another, useful tip to all those would-be speakers out there:

Don’t rely on your presentation to capture the audience, rely on your ability to present.

By presentation, of course I mean PowerPoint decks or other visual aids.  Quite frankly, unless you have something technically complex that can only be understood with a graphical depiction, or you have something uproariously hilarious that can only project its humor when seen, then you really don’t need slides at all.

Yes, perhaps decorum necessitates that you have them, but you really shouldn’t need them.  You really ought to be so utterly devoted to your topic that you can carry the audience without relying upon the screen.  Take a look at many of the TED talks – there’s just a passionate person talking, not a smart instructor elaborating on words most of the audience can already read.

My short speaking experience is already telling me – don’t even think about opening that PowerPoint file until after you have perfected what you will say and how you will say it.  Else, the slides will guide you.  You need to develop that perfect ability to deliver your topic to the room first.  Then, if you must,  craft a few slides around it.

But only if you have to.

Give yourself a thinking day – it’s best for productivity

thinking_hard_by_misty_dawn-d535r8j

Thinking Hard by misty dawn

I’m probably not going to wow anyone with this insightful statement:  Life is busy.

That business has a tendency to feed upon itself, resulting in ever-busier times when there’s just too much to do and too little time to do it.  If you’re like me, there are times when you lose sense of priorities and get caught up in the hustle and bustle and the momentum swells until you’re in a tizzy of activity that you don’t always need to do – it just feels like it.

Personal kanban

 offers a strong remedy to this terrible habit of mine by creating a list of items to be done and allowing me to focus on getting things done.  Unfortunately, what is good for me isn’t always what’s best for me, either.

Very often, it’s when I am overloaded, but seem to be unmotivated, that my mind tends to wander or I spend much too much time investigating something that has struck my curiosity rather than doing what started off as the #1 thing I had to do thay day. Sometimes, though, when I feel as if I am day dreaming when I need to get work done I  come out of it with a new sense of priorites and a re-focused effort on just what needs to get done and what is just a nagging worry based on something that needed to get done a while ago (and is now completely overcome by events anyway).

These times feel entirely unproductive since there’s nothing tangible that comes out of it.  By letting my curiosity free, however, I tend to downplay the urgent but not important in favor of some learning that actually prevents a future problem, or that reminds me that the worries of today are just that – worries – and I need not be taking up my precious time with such things I can do nothing about anyway.

I call these days my Thinking Days.  I feel pretty guilty when someone asks what I did that day and I don’t seem to have anything to show for it, hwoever, I also hate to give them up for anything.  It’s at the end of those days when I feel the most focused and certain of the next day’s activities.

Stranded by the tide, and the return of the water

Stranded by the tide
Stranded by the tide

…stranded by the tide…by federstern

Those of you who follow this blog regularly…yes, both of you….are well aware that I haven’t done much with the blog for a while.  In fact, I haven’t done anything in over two months.  Let’s just say, life’s been busy.

  • My older son, not yet 8 years old, has had an intestinal problem that, while temporary, is difficult and a lot to deal with.  He’s also had problems with kids and teachers at school socially, and self-esteem and confidence and just plain belief in himself have all taken massive hits.  We’re working through all of that and it sure isn’t easy.
  • My P.o.S. car died, necessitating finding a newer, cheap slightly less P.o.S. to run around in for a while, straining the family budgets.
  • I was enrolled in a Project Management Professional class, which concluded in November and I had the exam date set for December 9th
  • The usual Holiday time running around that will make anyone crazy.

So, there’s been a lot going on and, truth be told, I had lost a whole lot of enthusiasm with the blog.  It wasn’t scratching the itch anymore personally, and I was at something of a crossroads professionally – which was brought to a head by the PMP prep course.  You see, for all my affinity for Lean and Operational Excellence as the foundations for improving the workplace, and life, my experience with them has primarily been intellectual.  My professional day job resists Lean thinking significantly, and gives me little opportunity to practice.  The vast majority of my professional background is in project management and, as I contemplate career moves, I simply don’t have enough resume fodder to get where I want to go by using Lean as my primary driver.  This realization, more than anything else, led to my absence from the blogosphere for a while.

Truth be told, I had no idea where I was going with this thing, and although I didn’t want to give up, it seemed I had no ability to move from where I was.  I felt like a ship, stranded at low tide.

During this time, however, there were a number of positives occurring that began to set the stage for better things.  First and foremost, I was contacted by an acquaintance with an entrepreneurial opportunity.  While it is challenging to find the time to work on that endeavor, it’s remarkably interesting and, if the idea comes to fruition, it is potentially quite lucrative.  Being a part of concept development in the early phases of a start up endeavor is incredibly satisfying.  As a part of that opportunity, I created my own LLC.  I’m not exactly certain where that is going, (it will be some sort of speaking or writing of articles kind of thing), however, contemplating what I can do with it is also a great project.  Here’s my logo and banner:

 

I’m not a wizard with the graphics just yet, so cut me some slack as I work those things out.  Nonetheless, I think it’s going somewhere.  I have a URL reserved for it and will be building out that site in the weeks/months ahead.

 

By the way, I did pass the PMP exam and I am now a certified Project Management Professional (I’ll have to update my profile).  That designation appears to be opening doors already as I’ve had a couple good conversations with people in companies I am curious about already.  What I do, and when I do it, are still up in the air – but the future is looking brighter.  Additionally, just this past weekend, I was presented with a speaking opportunity out of the blue, which should give me a much-needed opportunity to help launch the LLC.

What all this reminds me of is that we very often don’t know where we’re going, or even how we got where we are, and when we hit these low times it tends to feel as if we’re going to be stuck there forever.  What is most important to remember when things get this way, however, is that sometimes the best thing we can possible do for ourselves is to simply endure.  Stay in the game, last as long as it takes, don’t back down and don’t get ahead.  Just simply stand there against the things that attempt to pull you apart and prove out that you can last longer than the troubles that surround you.  When you give up, you start down the long spiral ofnever feeling fulfilled.  When you endure, you keep yourself prepared for better things.

Because, eventually, the water will return.

Don’t be a tool

tool of the trade
tool of the trade

tool of the trade by steamby51

If you want to understand slang, there’s no better source than The Urban dictionary.  While far from the classiest site on the internet, let’s face it – there are a lot of references out there that most of us thirtysomethings and beyond just don’t get anymore.

Which isn’t to say we haven’t learned a thing or two we can teach the younger crowed.  According to the Urban Dictionary, a tool is

“One who lacks the mental capacity to know he is being used. A fool. A cretin. Characterized by low intelligence and/or self-steem.”

A lot of the information out there on various blogs and career advice sites advises college graduates to become exactly this – tools.  Although well intended, the advice that is spewed out usually tells people how they can get a foot in the door, appease their boss, be praised by co-workers and, in general, give up on their own thoughts for quite some time while doing all that is necessary to fit in and be just who the boss and the company’s culture want them to be.

Or, in other words, to become complete and utter tools.  If you don’t think these folks who step up and do just what the boss desires in order to get promoted, grab the best assignments, and maneuver their way through the corporate minefield are tools – just ask their co-workers.  You know, those folks who are much more interested in doing a job or – heaven forbid – living a life than their handy counterparts.  There’s no doubt that the do-gooders are considered to be tools by that crowd.

My advice to those young, aspiring people who are entering the world with just about as much freedom as they will ever have in their entire lives is simple – Take advantage of it.

And don’t be a tool.

There will be plenty of time to sit in a cubicle, navigate corporate politics, curry the favor of blowhards and nincompoops, and monitor your 401K.  For a short time, however, you will have the ability to experiment with life….and your career.  Why work for someone else?  Start your own business. It can be just about anything, since the consequences of failure are so low.  Trust me, as you get older – no matter how smart you get about business – going out on your own gets more and more difficult.  Those mortgages and tuition bills are pretty limiting.

And it’s not just about the money.  You might enter into something lucrative that will have you well-positioned by the time you’re 40, or 50, or even 60, leaving you in a position to fund your own start-up or to completely switch careers.  Unfortunately, those kids have a way of wanting your time – and you’ll need to make some difficult decisions on how much of it you’re willing and able to give them once they arrive.

Before all that, however, you have the freedom to test yourself and learn much about the world of business and, even if you don’t really enjoy that, you’ll learn quite a bit about how to budget, plan, and negotiate.  All that will serve you well no matter what you do with yourself.

Looking back, I wish someone had told me this advice back when I had all the options available to me.  There’s much more to be learned by doing for yourself than by doing for someone else.  Especially when working for someone else has such gained such notoriety for turning independent, creative, bright people into nothing more than a tool to be used by someone else.

When habits go bad – walking the extra mile

Let_Your_Mind_Do_The_Walking_by_jzcj5

Let your mind do the walking by jzcj5

So, it has been nearly 2 weeks since I’ve post to the blog.  Some times, inspiration is simply hard to find.

Other times, your mother-in-law takes your wife and 2 sons off on a trip and you get a whole week to yourself.  Such has been the case around here.  As it typically goes when the family takes off on an adventure without me, the fist half of the week is grand and glorious.  Napping, eating at crazy hours, sleeping at even crazier hours and, of course, the chance to knock some long overdue projects off the list.  The second half of the week, however, gets to be downright boring and lonely.

In the midst of the boring and lonely part, I needed to pick up my car from the mechanic’s this weekend (having it serviced was one of those projects that is much more convenient when only one car is needed for the week).  The shop is a bit of a walk – about 40 minutes, but not too bad once you get going.  While I could have easily called a neighbor or a friend for help, I simply felt like getting the exercise, so I hoofed it through the neighborhood and cut through a field to get to the shop, picked up the car, and drove home.

That, of course, is not much of a story.  But it did lead to an interesting observation.

What did strike me about 2/3 of the way there, however, is the thought –  “Why in the hell didn’t I just ride my bike??”

Duh.

Seriously, I should have.  The car I was going to pick up is an SUV.  There’s plenty of room for the bike once I get there.  It would have saved about half the time, at least, and still afforded plenty of good exercise.  Especially since I made the trek early in the morning when there was little traffic to worry about, too.  Of course, I could rationalize and say the exercise was great, or the slow pace was cathartic, or whatever else we all tell ourselves when we haven’t though through all our options only to realize later that there was a better way to go about our business.

And that’s the point when it comes to trying to understand how and why we all do, what we do.  Habit tells me that to get places without my car means I have to walk.  If I rode my bike more often, the thought to get on the bike and ride down to the mechanic’s shop would have been as natural as the thought that tells me I have to put on shoes before I go out the door most mornings.  Also, I could say, if I’d developed a better habit of stopping and thinking…to weigh alternatives….before doing….then I would have realized I didn’t need to hike all the way down to the shop.  I might still have wanted to, but I would not have needed to.

So, in a way, my habits let me down.  It makes you wonder how many other things we prevent ourselves form consciously choosing because we are unconsciously eliminating possibilities.  When habits rule, the likelihood of seeing other options simply diminishes.

It might even get you left all along on the roadside.