Ponderances of Steve

August 5, 2012

12 Most Must-Have Free Utilities for Wrangling Text Files

Filed under: gtd,Reviews,Writing — Steve LeBlanc @ 3:14 pm

I love text files. Unlike an MS Word document, text files contain no formatting, which makes them smaller, easier to search and faster to open. They commonly have a file extension of .txt or .log. (Click here to show file extensions on your system.) I use text files all the time. For writing, for lists, links and reminders, for activity logs, and on rare occasions, for programming. I create them, search for them, manipulate them and play with them. While Windows does allow for text files, it sort of treats them like neglected step children, used mostly for batch files (small programs), log files and ReadMe files. Windows prefers to think about proprietary files, like Word and Excel documents. File search in Windows 7 will only look in approved directories. Well, I enter all my articles in a text editor (not a Word Processor). I save files in funny places and I search for them often. I needed better tools than Windows offered and I found them. Most are small, brilliant and portable, (no-install, just unzip and use, with no menu items or registry changes). Any one of these could lighten your workload. So jump right in and give one a try. You’ll find help pages on most of them. At the very least, install Win32pad and Everything file finder, both suitable for newbies. The following are listed in order of increasing geekiness.

1. Win32pad http://www.gena01.com/win32pad/download.shtml

Win32pad is a must-have replacement for the crippled Windows text editor, Notepad. Killer features include: a) full compatibility with Notepad; b) Exit on Esc; c) Auto-indent; d) highlighted, clickable links on well-formed URLs, like http:// and file:// ; and e) File Change alert (when another program modifies an open file, aka Dirty File notification).

2. Everything http://www.voidtools.com/

Everything is a file finder. Search Google for “everything” and you will find the coolest file finder in the world. Everything, by VoidTools, offers AJAX-like find capacity. (Search results populate down as you type.) But unlike the Find box in the Windows Start menu, Everything can find every single occurrence of files on your computer. There are options to include or exclude certain files, file types or whole folders. Search Results include: Name, Path, Size, Date Modified. No one who uses it can ever go back to plain old Windows Search.

3.  BareGrep http://www.baremetalsoft.com/

Baregrep lets you search inside all your files for a word or phrase found inside any of them. It then returns not only the filenames, but also shows you the word in context of each line in which it was found. Thus you see how many times that word showed up in each document. While this works best for text files, it works adequately for Word documents if you just disregard the formatting characters found at the beginning of each search result line. This makes it easy to find stuff when you don’t remember what a file is called. You can think of BareGrep as the Everything tool for looking inside of files for words and phrases.

While Windows offers something similar in its Search box, you have to open every file it offers to see how the phrase shows up in the context of the file. With BareGrep, it’s right there in the Results panel. But what makes it amazing is that it allows you to search on powerful text patterns called Regular Expressions (RegEx). With them, you can search for all lines in all files that contain, for example, a date in any format (12/02/99, 99.12.02, 2 December 1999, or 2 Dec 1999). From the Search results, you can double click on any line to open the source file. While visiting their site, be sure to click on Regex Reference, or learn about Regular Expressions online. Unbelievably useful! (For geeks, this is a GUI version of the grep command.)

BareGrep TIP: While the configuration settings are not sticky (remembered in next session), you can set some command line options in a Windows shortcut to the program, things like default directory. For you geeks, here’s the Target field of my BareGrep shortcut: “D:\Program Files\Util\baregrep.exe” -i -d D:\ ” a ” *.txt This says to launch BareGrep with Ignore Case, Default Folder of D:\, Files type of *.txt and default Text search of ” a “. As I type in new text, it automatically begins to search.

4.  xPlorer2 http://zabkat.com/x2lite.htm

xPlorer2 is a dual-pane, multi-tab file manager to replace the more confusing Windows Explorer. It’s a joy to use and feature-rich. I normally keep two panes open, with 3-5 tabs each. While the Lite version uses the Windows Search command by default, you can change that in Advanced Options or use the better Find utility that comes in the Pro version. There is extensive Help, including great screencasts. A file manager is used to view and play with your files. You can run program installers that you have downloaded or copy files from one folder to another. Or you can rename and move the file attachments from an email that were stored in your Download folder.

xPlorer2 TIP: Check the option in Help / How do I? to see tutorials, but be sure to uncheck it when done. When you click on Help / Contents, you get prompted to download the PDF Help file, xplorer² PDF manual. Unzip it and place it in the program directory of xPlorer2. Unfortunately, the download page for the xplorer2 Help file is confusing. Be sure to click on the top right Download link. Configuration TIP: Be sure to check the following: Tools / Options / Window / Tree / Keep Synchronized with folder in active view pane. For a simpler file manager, more like Windows Explorer in XP, you might prefer CubicExplorer, a nice single-pane file manager with tabs. I found some of the configurations to be confusing. But it’s real easy to use. And the tabs are great.

5.  PNotes http://pnotes.sourceforge.net/index.php

Ever need to write down a quick note while working on other things? PNotes is a sticky note utility, allowing you to create lots of notes on your screen, which can later be dismissed or saved at TXT or RTF files. You can even launch timed reminder notes. I use this program to pop up at regular intervals (15 min) to ask me, “What are you working on? Is there a higher priority?”. My answer goes into my ActivityLog.txt file. I open the file directly from the note by double clicking on the space that follows this line file://D:\dat\ActivityLog.txt. You can set this file to anything you want, as long as there are no spaces in the filepath. Clickable http:// and file:// links (like those in Win32pad) are great in timed reminder notes. Alternatively you could use Stickies which is much like Pnotes.

6.  TyperTask http://www.vtaskstudio.com/support.php

TyperTask is a portable*, tiny (53k) “text expander” utility, to replace repetitive cut and pastes. It works like AutoCorrect or AutoText in MS Word. But it works in every browser, text editor and text box in Windows. The replacement text is triggered by assignment to either configurable keywords or hotkeys. So, you would set a keyword to autoexpand into some block of plain text, such as a signature line in an email. It comes with an adequate Help file. Configuring it is a snap. Alternatively, you might like HotkeyP  HotkeyP is a tiny, portable hotkey manager. Assign a keyboard shortcut or mouse shortcut to any executable file, block of text, document, folder or web page. Harder to configure with poor help file, but worth it. I set my Right-Left mouse clicks (rocker action) to go Back in any browser. And Left-Right to go Forward.

TyperTask TIP: make sure you choose unique keywords, ones you don’t normally use while typing. TyperTask compares to much larger progams, like PhraseExpress (4 mb) and ActiveWords (22 mb) which have the added feature of saving formatting. *TyperTask TIP: As a “portable application,” you will need to unzip this file folder into some trusted place, like a newly created folder called Utils. Create Utils under the Programs folder and unzip this file into there, resulting in this: C:\program files\Utils\TyperTask

Note: A regular (non-portable) program comes with its own installer, which when run, puts the files in the correct folder and places entries into the Start menu and registry. A portable program can be installed onto a USB or external drive, which can then be used on any machine. Or it can be put into any folder of your computer. It makes no changes to the system registry.

7.  Keynote NF http://code.google.com/p/keynote-nf/

Keynote NF is the evolution of Tranglos Keynote (by Marek Jedlinski), with New Features. It’s a hierarchical note taking utility with RTF formatting, much like an editor. It’s amazing for those who think in hierarchies. Killer features include: a) Tie any note to an external txt file. b) Clipboard Capture feature that, when enabled, auto appends to the active note every single time you copy something to the clipboard with Ctrl-C, without ever having to change apps and hit Paste. It’s great for copying lots of text clips or quotes from web pages. For a bit simpler interface, try TreePad Lite  Or you might prefer a webapp for this, like EverNote.com  but it’s slower.

8.  Notepad2 http://code.google.com/p/notepad2-mod/

Notepad2 is another Notepad replacement, available in several different flavors, but geared more towards programmers. This version includes these options: Exit on Esc, File Change Notification and Bookmarks (for jumping back and forth to different locations in the file). For programmers it includes: Syntax Highlighting (color coded keywords in program files), Code-Folding, Highlight Current Line, View Line numbers and Regular Expression search. Plus it will highlight all occurrences of any selected phrase. I love that. Unfortunately, it does not support clickable URLs. That would be a deal breaker, unless I happen to need the bookmarks, which are fun. Choose the first download (.exe) for a regular Windows installer, or use the .zip file for a portable, hand install. (Drop it in your Utils directory and create a shortcut to it.) Then spend some time configuring the Settings and View menus.

9.  Notepad++ http://notepad-plus-plus.org/

Notepad++ is a great programmers editor, but you don’t need to be a programmer to benefit from it. While it does make writing computer code a joy (compared to Notepad), writers will appreciate its many features: a) MDI tabbed editor for multiple documents and session management; b) Regular Expression (RegEx) Search & Replace; c) Select any word and all occurrences of that word are highlighted; and d) Column Mode Select allows for Block Cut & Paste. Say you want to cut all the http:// off the front of each line in the file. Or paste a preface to each line, all at once. Hard to explain without seeing it. There are countless text manipulation commands, like Convert Case and Join Lines, and lots of Plugins. And the program is in constant development. Alternatively you might like PSPad, another great programmers editor.

10.  Programmer’s Notepad http://www.pnotepad.org/

Programmer’s Notepad is an adequate editor for programming. But it is great for those who want to write notes and articles in a text editor, rather than a word processor like MS Word. Features: a) MDI tabbed editor; b) grep-like feature of showing all the lines in the active file that contain a text string; and c) remembers all files that were loaded in last session.

11.  TextView http://www.flos-freeware.ch/archive.html

TextView is a great text file viewer. Nice when you just need to quickly peek inside lots of text files. You can page through a number of files with a single click at a time, one after the other. With another click, you can launch the default editor for the active file (in my case, Win32pad). It is a two-pane viewer. In the left pane is a list of files in the current directory. In the right pane, is the contents of the file you clicked on, looking much like it would in an editor. The benefit is you don’t have to open and close all those files when you are just looking for something. And there is no risk of making any changes to the file. It also allows for Exit on Esc key, one of my favorite features. Plus it’s small and portable.

12.  WinMerge 2.12.4 http://winmerge.org/

WinMerge is “Text Diff engine.” When you need to know if two files are identical, you could use the COMP command-line utility that comes with Windows. But when you actually need to see what has changed, say between two versions, you need a strong file compare utility for Text Differences. WinMerge is a two-pane file viewer, with one file in each pane. This utility allows you to compare two versions of a document, in order to see the differences. It will show line by line comparisons, with different color fonts showing the differences. Includes option Browse the file directory for each file, or Drag & Drop the filename and path from Windows Explorer. And allows for Esc to Exit the program. Alternatively you might like the Text Diff feature in PSPad, another excellent programmer’s editor.

Bonus Section: Not exactly text utilities but very useful.

*   Greenshot screen capture http://sourceforge.net/projects/greenshot/

Greenshot is a fabulous screen capture utility, allowing you to select the area of the screen you want, and add text, arrows, highlighter, obfuscater, all before you even save the file. Even the Help file is excellent. Give it a quick read. Or hit PrntScreen and Drag to select and play. The download also comes as an Installer or a portable zip version. I suspect that even the zip file install modifies the registry some, as it adds a hook to PrntScreen. Small at 1mb and well designed. All my favorite things. If I were to create a screen capture program from scratch, this is how I’d do it. Perfect for those who write tutorials. But for faster auto-save of lots of screenshots, you might prefer MWSnap.exe

*   KeePass http://keepass.info/download.html

Some folks keep their passwords in text files, some on scraps of paper, neither of which is very secure. KeePass is a popular password database that sits on your PC. Save all your passwords in a single password protected, encrypted database file. Also allows for some automated logins and auto insert of key text, like Username and Password on web forms. Easy to use (except for the automation) and allows you to “Export to text file.” Or you might prefer the webapp LastPass.com for saving your passwords “in the cloud,” meaning online.

Text files, they aren’t just for geeks anymore. Or maybe you’re geekier than you think. Every one of these makes far more sense when you see a screenshot of the utility. So feel free to visit each site. Best of all, every one is FREE. What are some of your favorite text utilities?

June 9, 2011

On-Label Marketing

Filed under: Marketing,Reviews — Steve LeBlanc @ 3:56 pm

Olive can labelSome food packages are boring, telling you just enough to buy the product you need. Others are so full of colors and claims that you can barely tell what the item is. Either way, people become desensitized to packaging. We remember the brand and general color so we can grab it off a shelf in a hurry. Enticing pictures or strong adjectives might help when we are looking for something new. But outside of the Nutrition Facts, we don’t look to the packaging of a food item for an education or a feel-good message. We don’t look because marketers don’t bother much with packaging, a task they normally relegate to the art department.

Because of its rarity, a great marketing message, right there on the label, is a joy to behold. With all the competition for shelf space, desktop space and mind space, I’m amazed that more companies don’t take the opportunity to tell their special story on the label. But you’d better have a real story to tell, or people will feel lied to and they’ll make fun of you. Take for example a brand of toilet paper called “Soft ‘n Gentle,” which in my experience turned out to be neither.

Lindsay Olives is a company that does on-label marketing well. It starts with their logo, which says, “Estd 1916″ above the name and below the olive tree. That makes me smile. I don’t normally think of an olive company as having such a rich heritage that they want me to know when it was established. Think winery.

What got me thinking about all this was their “Lindsay Naturals” line of California Green Olives. I love olives and sometimes eat them by the can. Cheap or expensive doesn’t matter. Mostly I eat olives in a cucumber and tomato salad my friend makes for me. Recipe here.

The Lindsay Naturals label is unassuming enough, with simple print on white background and some interesting adjectives. Who thinks of green olives as being “Smooth & Buttery”? That got my attention. Under the words, “California Green Olives,” we read, “Olives in water and sea salt, nothing else.” Once again, I’m tickled. I like that they use plain sea salt. And I like the “nothing else”. No preservatives, no colors, no flavors, but they didn’t have to say any of that. It’s all implied in the “nothing else” on the label. Eloquent. But it’s the back of the can where we get the real story:

THINK BLACK RIPE…

THESE ARE BETTER

These natural, freckled beauties without added preservatives are harvested just once a year to capture the smooth, buttery flavor. The taste is slightly salty, subtly nutty, and melt-in-your-mouth unique. Absolutely nothing like the tart Spanish green ‘martini’ olives.

Voted “favorite olive” by Lindsay Olives employees.

Much as I like all olives, I really wanted to try these particular olives. Turns out, they really were as good as they said. Had they not been great, had they even been mediocre, I’d be writing this same article while making fun of them, as a cautionary tale that you should not lie to people in the telling of your marketing story.

This was great writing! I particularly liked “nutty flavor” and the contrast to tart, Spanish green ‘martini’ olives. I love that the employees even have a favorite olive, and that management knows what it is. I’m sure that Subway employees have a favorite sub sandwich, but I don’t expect that upper management knows what it is. I feel like I know the people at Lindsay olives better than I did before I read the label. I also believe they really care about olives.

Even a can of their regular black olives tells us a story. “MIDDLE OLIVE SYNDROME That’s a compliment to this member of the family. Just the right size to be the center of attention, everywhere it goes. Savor Olive Life!”

They actually do make a good, firm, consistent black olive. They didn’t oversell it. They just told me a story.

Bear Naked? For another great example of on-label marketing, pick up and read a bag of Bear Naked granola. Their story is a delight, and I don’t even eat granola. But I’d love to meet these people. “It’s not just a food company. It’s a lifestyle.”

Sure I’m endorsing the Lindsay Naturals line, which come in both green and black olives. But what I really want you to walk away with is this notion of on-label marketing. When done well, on-label marketing can transform your product in the mind of the consumer.

Most marketing is in-your-face repetition, brute-force hyperbole and occasionally lies. At its worst, it does the job of getting you to think about their product. But at its best, marketing can be a spiritual adventure, enriching the lives of those it touches. It can even impact design and product development.

So tell us a story about your product and put it right there on the label. Make it engaging, brief and fun. And next thing you know, someone might just be blogging about it. Take comfort in knowing that you are making people’s lives better, even before they take your product home. Thank you, Lindsay Olives. You made my day.

One last thing. On-label marketing does not only apply to food products. It can apply to all sorts of consumer and commercial products, even websites. The question is this. How can you apply on-label marketing to educate and enrich the the experience of your users? How can your packaging make your product even better? There is no such thing as a great idea for a product, only great delivery.

DISCLOSURE: At the time of this writing, I have no working or financial relationship with Lindsay Olives. And I’m staring at an empty can.

January 13, 2010

Employee Engagement Flaws

Filed under: Reviews — Steve LeBlanc @ 6:56 pm

This is my response to a blog post on fastforwardblog.com by Jon Husband: Employee Engagement – a Core Goal of Enterprise 2.0 Adoption? It may be useful to read that first.  Read it here.

Forgive me for being the only contrarian in a room full of “I agree”. This is neither a comfortable nor a common position for me. Jon’s post is beautifully written and well thought out, exploring one of the most important issues of our time, Employee Engagement. I am better for having read it and the comments that followed. But…

No one I know who was actually in a position to implement ‘democratic design principle’ actually believes that it can work. Mind you, I am not saying we shouldn’t give employees far more power than they currently have. Indeed we should. But let’s please separate out the idea from the rant. An idea leads to further productive discussion. A rant often trashes the discussion, leaving little room for anything but soundbite solutions and nodding heads.

Jon’s rant seems to be to hand over “the keys to the kingdom” to employees, which is almost sure to turn out poorly.

The “idea” is that companies have been overly controlling of employees and that has hurt their competitive position. Great. I agree. Enough studies have been done to readily demonstrate that the more engaged your people, the happier they are and the better job they do. The only question remaining is, How do we get there?

The “rant” is if the people don’t currently have the power to run the place, you just give it to them. If that idea seems appealing, then just let your kids run the house for a month and see how that turns out. If on the off chance your kids handle it beautifully, please have the wisdom to take some credit for the marvelous job you did in raising them. And have some compassion for all those regular folk who would fail miserably in this ill-conceived experiment. Even if it works in some rare circumstances, it is still a bad idea, a flawed rant.

I know nothing of Participative Design as developed in 1971 by Fred and Merrelyn Emery (or of Greg Vaughan, one of only a few consultants in the country to be trained by the Fred Emery Institute on Open Systems theory and Participative Design methods.) Let’s assume their method has a whole list of steps that allow for a graceful transition to the new utopia. They don’t just give the kids the keys and leave. They actually help them adapt. Great.

But let’s look at some assumptions made by Jon Husband.

  1. In responding to Atle Iversen’s comment with, “You put your finger on the key issues,” you agree with the meme that micro-managing is just plain bad. The debate between micro managing your people and empowering them is over. In The One Minute Manager, Blanchard points out that the best managers know when to micro manage (for new employees) and when to empower (as they demonstrate competence). Just because some managers don’t know when to mirco-manage does not mean that it’s a bad thing.
  2. I flinched when he referred to, “what people have always done well”. His list included: ask questions, and seek to understand, suggest alternatives, clarify needs or desires and decide together why and how to do something. Sure our best people can do these things, but to state it’s “what people have always done well” is comical. Have you ever attended a town hall meeting? A civil rights movement? How about a family gathering? These are in no way innate skills. And while I might even agree that they have been further suppressed by some weak management styles, I don’t recall a time in history when we (people) were all good at them. I am really good at asking questions and seeking to understand. And I suck at it half the time. I know some people who can’t create a good question even if you ask them for it. They just don’t have it in them.
  3. Not all employees are trustworthy, at least not today. We want to pretend that managing has nothing to do with parenting, but with the current state of parenting, we have a lot of unresolved childhood issues being brought to the workplace. To pretend that we can all act like adults, all the time, is preposterous. Sure we can bring some of our people up to speed, but only with training and guidance and trust building (not just by trusting them). No one should be trusted with large decisions until they have demonstrated their trust-worthiness. Raising healthy employees is much like raising healthy kids, both of which are much harder to do than it would first appear.
  4. The 38% mentioned in the Towers Perrin study who are mostly or entirely disengaged, only sounds impressive until we look at research done on creativity. Zorana Ivcevic, a post doctoral fellow at Tufts University found in her study of college students, “About 30% were not creative by any standard, which marked them as conventionals.” This makes them more resistant to change, less open minded and even less curious. Are these the people to whom we would hand over the keys to the kingdom? (Dec 2009 Psychology Today, Vol 42 No.6 in the article Everyday Creativity by Carlin Flora.)
  5. The first ‘democratic design principle’ we are told is, “Those who have to do the work are in the best position to design the way in which it is structured”. As seductive as that sounds, it rarely pans out. Only sometimes does an employee know enough about the system to make wise decisions about it. Certainly they should have a great deal of input on that. But even the greatest feedback given to a poor collector results in bad decisions. Yes, give your people a lot of say, but don’t give them full power just because they are supposed to know what is best.
  6. Point two is, “effectiveness is greatly improved when teams take responsibility for ___ ” (fill in the blank). Sure we want our people to own their projects and care. But how do we do that? How do we make people take that responsibility? If we make them do it, are they really taking it? And if they don’t feel like taking it, then what? The notion of others “taking responsibility” is a feel-good way to blame others for what went wrong.

I have done corporate trainings in both management styles and alignment of vision. And when it works, it is spectacular. I have spoken to some great leaders, trainers and teachers and they all agree. The great variety of contributing factors always makes easy fixes unlikely.

There is certainly an important topic being discussed here, but it scares me when people just blame management for the way things are. A cursory understanding of systems theory will lead one to realize that when you are blaming, you are getting further and further from a real and productive understanding of the system you are studying. The contributors are not the cause of the problem. They are simply entry points into the system.

There is a reason why ‘democratic design principle’ gets only 40 hits in google. It is a flawed idea. There is a reason that Participative Design has not caught on better in its 40-50 years. It was tried and failed to deliver. It’s not that it can’t work, but rather that it did not address enough of the barriers to entry that are in place to prevent such random change.

The argument that all we need to do is to give people more choice does not take into account the complex impact of things like unions, education levels, learning disabilities, drug use, crime, parenting, bank foreclosures and plain old petty jealousies. All of these have a profound impact on the workplace, one not easily corrected by simply giving people choice.

Again I am not saying we shouldn’t give people more say in how they do their jobs. What I am saying is that it is dangerously reductionistic to say that democracy cures all organizational problems. You still need people with a corporate vision, with social and diplomatic skills, with insight into the unique needs of their employees. We can’t go anywhere until someone decides what direction we are headed. We still need leaders.

Your thoughts?

Misc Refs

~~ http://www.fastforwardblog.com/2010/01/04/employee-engagement-a-core-goal-of-enterprise-2-0-adoption/

~~ http://www.michaelherman.com/cgi/wiki.cgi?SearchConference Search Conference Participative Planning Method by Michael Herman includes “Democratic Design Principle”

~~ http://www.amazon.com/Self-Managing-Organization-Leading-Companies-Transforming/dp/068483734X The Self-Managing Organization 1998 “Democratic Design Principle” Nice discussion.

~~ http://www.vaughanconsulting.com/pdw.html Participative Design consulting and overview.

July 5, 2009

14 Mistakes Women Make in Speeches

Filed under: Coaching,Reviews — Steve LeBlanc @ 6:37 pm

by Steve LeBlanc 2009
If you are a woman speaking to large groups of people, you may be doing things that weaken your presentation.  This particularly applies to a call for action and inspirational talks.  Women are different from men.  They speak to their friends differently than men do, and those differences can show up in their speeches.  Certainly not all women make these mistakes.  And a few men make some of them.  But in general, men make different mistakes in their speeches than women do.  You can’t learn from the mistakes you don’t know you’re making.  So what mistakes do women make?
~~  Women’s voices sometimes go up in tone at the end of their statements, instead of going down.  This gets head-nodding agreement long before they have said anything of merit.  It comes across as insecure, insincere and approval seeking.  Your tone should only go up at the end of a sentence when you really mean to ask a question.  If you are making a statement, you go down.  For example, “You understand? (up)  Great, you understand. (down)”
~~  They ask for agreement on inconsequential points.  For example, “Don’t you think everyone should just get along?”  “Women are different from men, aren’t they?”  This speaks of insecurity and the need for lots of approval before you have proven yourself.  Prematurely asking for agreement is a sales technique and makes people nervous.
~~  They sometimes speak too softly.  Making your audience work too hard to hear you costs you in credibility and irritates your listeners.  Practice in a large empty room with someone in the back and get their feedback.  If you are not speaking to the back of the room, you are not speaking to the room at all.
~~  They over talk and get redundant.  Such people are talking primarily to allay their nervousness rather than to inform.  They talk until they “feel” they have said enough, rather than talking until their audience gets the point.  The problem is that their focus is on their own feelings, instead of on their audience.  The rule is this.  The more words you use to express something, the less likely you are to be understood.  The only way to know if they got your point is to ask your audience.  While strategic redundancies can sometimes work, over talking leaves your audience tired.
~~  They don’t pause.  Nervous talkers fear silence.  Give people the chance to take in what you just said.  Give them some space in between sections.  Take a drink.  Look longingly to the back of the room.  Catch your breath.  Then begin anew and wow them once again.
~~  They apologize.  If you are more than ten minutes late, you might give a brief explanation.  Then thank them for their indulgence and get on with it.  But never, ever, ever apologize for something as trivial as losing your place.  They don’t want your apology.  They just want you to get on with the talk.  Your nervousness is none of their business.  They came for the content.  Simply pause and say, “Ah yes, here we are.”  That way they never know if you were lost or just searching.  [[ BOLD PULLQUOTE: Your nervousness is none of their business.  They came for the content.  ]]  Never apologize when you can thank someone.
~~  They use filler words such as:  Just really, like, ya know, just kidding, but anyway, whatever, Um, Uh.  Start counting your filler words, for surely someone in your audience is doing that.  If a word  or phrase does not add to your presentation, it distracts from it.  I am not saying your talk should sound scripted.  You might use some free-form stories to break up the formality.  But then those quirky words are serving your talk.
~~  They neglect a “call to action” in their talk.  Afraid of being thought of as pushy or masculine, they don’t actually say what they want their audience to do.  Go ahead and tell them.  They want to know where you stand.  They can make up their own mind.
~~  Some women offer defensive explanations and reasons.  They explain why on questions of little consequence.  This comes across as whining.  Your reasons will rarely be as interesting to others as they are to you.  The exception is when it actually adds flavor or humor to the story.  We want to know how you came to your final conclusion and why it should matter to us, but we don’t want to know why you chose that color paper.
~~  They hide their real feelings.  With the exception of insecurities and hostilities, showing emotions can often serve to make your talk more powerful.  Got tears?  Let the tears flow.  Unless you are sobbing or competing in a field dominated by men, it will strengthen your talk.  Excited about something?  Bubble away.  Touched by someone’s heroism?  Show us how deeply it touched you.  Were you hurt by someone in your story?  Tell us how it broke your heart.  Even anger is okay, if you can keep out the righteous indignation, which is only insecurity.  Fear, however, can be most powerfully expressed with no emotion at all.  Watch “The Contender” (2000) starring Joan Allen. She plays a presidential running mate, and gives some wonderful speeches.  If your message is strong, a healthy display of emotion will strengthen it.
~~  They speak in a single tone or volume.  Or they whine or “sing song” their whole speech.  Whether it is all hushed or all yelling, it gets tedious.  Remember Billy Mays, the TV pitchman?  Expand your dynamic range.  Raise and lower your voice throughout your talk to captivate your audience.  You can even whisper to make something more dramatic.  Even if your speech is a rant, you need some quiet spots.  It makes it easier to absorb your material.  And your audience will thank you for it.
~~  They would rather look cool than be effective.  Speaking is theater.  Make it dramatic enough for others to hear your point.  You might only feel a little excited about your message.  But for your audience to get it, you will need to double the expression of that excitement.  If you authentically express your little enthusiasm, it will appear as if you don’t care at all.  Why?  Your audience will only perceive 50% of the emotion and enthusiasm you put into the talk.  Sometimes you have to feel inauthentic in order to authentically deliver your message.  Such is theater.
~~  They confuse put downs of self with self-effacing humor.  Humor is hard.  Self-effacing humor is even harder.  Don’t ever put yourself down, especially to an audience.  But poking fun at your frailties in a playful way can add to your talk.  The audience should always know that you believe in yourself, in spite of your shortcomings.  You want them to relate to your humanity, not feel sorry for you.  Everyone can be funny, but it usually take coaching to get there consistently.
~~  Finally, they thank the audience for listening.  Don’t do that.  It is not professional.  It makes you look desperate for approval, rather than confident you had something of value to contribute.  Never thank the audience, even if you had to beg to get in to see them.  You came bearing gifts.  You gave your speech.  It is they who need to thank you.  And they will if you have delivered.  Your close should be so powerful that there is simply no room for thanking them.
~~  CLOSE:  Women bring a warmth and richness to their talks that men rarely approach.  They offer a more holistic and inclusive view of things.  They add textures and colors and meaning that make their stories come alive.  Don’t let the mistakes we covered get in the way of the wonderful stories you hold for the world.  File down those rough spots so that only the message shines.  We need your stories now more than ever.
Possible Resources
~~  http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6054183834057243507 Apple WWDC 2006 Keynote by Steve Jobs – Aug 10, 2006.  Lots of Uh’s.
~~  http://www.computerworld.com.au/article/303841/5_ways_ruin_your_next_presentation?fp=2 @twailgum
~~  http://www.businessweek.com/technology/ByteOfTheApple/blog/archives/2008/12/whats_the_most.html  Steve Jobs’ Most Important Macworld Keynote?
~~  http://blog.guykawasaki.com/2006/06/the_art_of_the_.html Guy Kawasaki’s The Art of the Start Video.  Some Uh’s in the beginning.  Soft start, great development, smashing ending.

by Steve LeBlanc 2009

If you are a woman speaking to large groups of people, you may be doing things that weaken your presentation.  This particularly applies to a call for action and inspirational talks.  Women are different from men.  They speak to their friends differently than men do, and those differences can show up in their speeches.  Certainly not all women make these mistakes.  And a few men make some of them.  But in general, men make different mistakes in their speeches than women do.  You can’t learn from the mistakes you don’t know you’re making.  So what mistakes do women make?

  1. Women’s voices sometimes go up in tone at the end of their statements, instead of going down.  This gets head-nodding agreement long before they have said anything of merit.  It comes across as insecure, insincere and approval seeking.  Your tone should only go up at the end of a sentence when you really mean to ask a question.  If you are making a statement, you go down.  For example, “You understand? (up)  Great, you understand. (down)”
  2. They ask for agreement on inconsequential points.  For example, “Don’t you think everyone should just get along?”  “Women are different from men, aren’t they?”  This speaks of insecurity and the need for lots of approval before you have proven yourself.  Prematurely asking for agreement is a sales technique and makes people nervous.
  3. They sometimes speak too softly.  Making your audience work too hard to hear you costs you in credibility and irritates your listeners.  Practice in a large empty room with someone in the back and get their feedback.  If you are not speaking to the back of the room, you are not speaking to the room at all.
  4. They over talk and get redundant.  Such people are talking primarily to allay their nervousness rather than to inform.  They talk until they “feel” they have said enough, rather than talking until their audience gets the point.  The problem is that their focus is on their own feelings, instead of on their audience.  The rule is this.  The more words you use to express something, the less likely you are to be understood.  The only way to know if they got your point is to ask your audience.  While strategic redundancies can sometimes work, over talking leaves your audience tired.
  5. They don’t pause.  Nervous talkers fear silence.  Give people the chance to take in what you just said.  Give them some space in between sections.  Take a drink.  Look longingly to the back of the room.  Catch your breath.  Then begin anew and wow them once again.
  6. They apologize.  If you are more than ten minutes late, you might give a brief explanation.  Then thank them for their indulgence and get on with it.  But never, ever, ever apologize for something as trivial as losing your place.  They don’t want your apology.  They just want you to get on with the talk.  Your nervousness is none of their business.  They came for the content.  Simply pause and say, “Ah yes, here we are.”  That way they never know if you were lost or just searching.
  7. They use filler words such as:  Just really, like, ya know, just kidding, but anyway, whatever, Um, Uh.  Start counting your filler words, for surely someone in your audience is doing that.  If a word  or phrase does not add to your presentation, it distracts from it.  I am not saying your talk should sound scripted.  You might use some free-form stories to break up the formality.  But then those quirky words are serving your talk.
  8. They neglect a “call to action” in their talk.  Afraid of being thought of as pushy or masculine, they don’t actually say what they want their audience to do.  Go ahead and tell them.  They want to know where you stand.  They can make up their own mind.
  9. Some women offer defensive explanations and reasons.  They explain why on questions of little consequence.  This comes across as whining.  Your reasons will rarely be as interesting to others as they are to you.  The exception is when it actually adds flavor or humor to the story.  We want to know how you came to your final conclusion and why it should matter to us, but we don’t want to know why you chose that color paper.
  10. They hide their real feelings.  With the exception of insecurities and hostilities, showing emotions can often serve to make your talk more powerful.  Got tears?  Let the tears flow.  Unless you are sobbing or competing in a field dominated by men, it will strengthen your talk.  Excited about something?  Bubble away.  Touched by someone’s heroism?  Show us how deeply it touched you.  Were you hurt by someone in your story?  Tell us how it broke your heart.  Even anger is okay, if you can keep out the righteous indignation, which is only insecurity.  Fear, however, can be most powerfully expressed with no emotion at all.  Watch “The Contender” (2000) starring Joan Allen. She plays a presidential running mate, and gives some wonderful speeches.  If your message is strong, a healthy display of emotion will strengthen it.
  11. They speak in a single tone or volume.  Or they whine or “sing song” their whole speech.  Whether it is all hushed or all yelling, it gets tedious.  Remember Billy Mays, the TV pitchman?  Expand your dynamic range.  Raise and lower your voice throughout your talk to captivate your audience.  You can even whisper to make something more dramatic.  Even if your speech is a rant, you need some quiet spots.  It makes it easier to absorb your material.  And your audience will thank you for it.
  12. They would rather look cool than be effective.  Speaking is theater.  Make it dramatic enough for others to hear your point.  You might only feel a little excited about your message.  But for your audience to get it, you will need to double the expression of that excitement.  If you authentically express your little enthusiasm, it will appear as if you don’t care at all.  Why?  Your audience will only perceive 50% of the emotion and enthusiasm you put into the talk.  Sometimes you have to feel inauthentic in order to authentically deliver your message.  Such is theater.
  13. They confuse put downs of self with self-effacing humor.  Humor is hard.  Self-effacing humor is even harder.  Don’t ever put yourself down, especially to an audience.  But poking fun at your frailties in a playful way can add to your talk.  The audience should always know that you believe in yourself, in spite of your shortcomings.  You want them to relate to your humanity, not feel sorry for you.  Everyone can be funny, but it usually take coaching to get there consistently.
  14. Finally, they thank the audience for listening.  Don’t do that.  It is not professional.  It makes you look desperate for approval, rather than confident you had something of value to contribute.  Never thank the audience, even if you had to beg to get in to see them.  You came bearing gifts.  You gave your speech.  It is they who need to thank you.  And they will if you have delivered.  Your close should be so powerful that there is simply no room for thanking them.

CLOSE:  Women bring a warmth and richness to their talks that men rarely approach.  They offer a more holistic and inclusive view of things.  They add textures and colors and meaning that make their stories come alive.  Don’t let the mistakes we covered get in the way of the wonderful stories you hold for the world.  File down those rough spots so that only the message shines.  We need your stories now more than ever.

Resources

~~  http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6054183834057243507 Apple WWDC 2006 Keynote by Steve Jobs – Aug 10, 2006.  Lots of Uh’s.

~~  http://www.computerworld.com.au/article/303841/5_ways_ruin_your_next_presentation?fp=2 @twailgum

~~  http://www.businessweek.com/technology/ByteOfTheApple/blog/archives/2008/12/whats_the_most.html Steve Jobs’ Most Important Macworld Keynote?

~~  http://blog.guykawasaki.com/2006/06/the_art_of_the_.html Guy Kawasaki’s The Art of the Start Video.  Some Uh’s in the beginning.  Soft start, great development, smashing ending.

October 4, 2008

Mental Health Through Will Training (MHTWT)

Filed under: Reviews — Steve LeBlanc @ 12:16 am
Tags:

Book Review by Steve LeBlanc 2008 rev:2008.10.04-2010.01.02

Hardcover: 448 pages $25 shipped from Recovery, Inc.
Publisher: Willett Pub.; 3rd edition (June 1997)
In continuous publication since 1950
ISBN-10: 0915005069 or ISBN-13: 978-0915005062
Dimensions: 8.8 x 5.9 x 1.6 inches

In short:  Buy the book.  It may be the most important book in the field of mental wellness (not illness) ever written.  It is certainly the best kept secret in the field, due in part to a goofy title.  While a great read in its own right, it is also the foundation for a free self-help mental health support group.  The information in this book and program are designed for untangling common, everyday neurosis, the kind almost all people have.  But the real importance of this work is that some people involved in this program are apparently being at least partially corrected of their chronic depression and anxiety disorders.  And yet, never are you told to stop medications or defy your doctor.  The book offers a way to train your brain to think more clearly and make healthier choices.

How could this have happened?  I had never even heard of Abraham Low.  I had been reading psychology books since 1967 when I was eleven.  I had read about, studied or experienced most forms of healing and mental health available in the United States.  I am rather obsessive about it.  So when I found a style that had escaped me, I was … well, a bit miffed.  When I realized it was the foundation for one of the most important movements in the field, I was confused.  This book, “MENTAL HEALTH THROUGH WILL TRAINING” (MHTWT), was written in 1950, based on Abraham Low’s group work that started in 1937.  It seems to be the unacknowledged predecessor to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), currently the most influential branch of psychology.  Ellis and Beck  are usually credited with the development of CBT in the late fifties.  (Interestingly, Alcoholic Anonymous started in 1935.) 

Before Martin Seligman (Authentic Happiness), there was David Burns (Feeling Good).  Before Burns, was Albert Ellis (Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy or REBT and “A Guide to Rational Living”).  But years before them all was Abraham Low.

While CBT is currently the most influential branch of psychology, you don’t have to be a psychologist to have been touched by it.  The principles of these works have filtered into our common language.  Phrases like “black and white thinking”, “over generalizations”, “negative self talk”. “perfectionism” and “mental filters” come to mind.  And my own personal favorite from Ellis’ list of irrational beliefs, “I must have everything that I want.”  If you ever read self-help psychology books, you know of these authors and their work.  Except for Low.  I wanted to know why.

When a child comes home from school and says, “Nobody likes me and I’ll never fit in,” we smile and assure him things will get better.  When an adult says the same thing, we worry and call it immature or neurotic.  And yet, we all practice this form of thinking from time to time.  Such sloppy thinking compounds our problems and creates suffering.  Ellis claimed, “Although the activating experiences may be quite real and have caused real pain, it is our irrational beliefs that create long-term, disabling problems!”  CBT in general and MHTWT specifically, are about training your brain to think more clearly, or what might be called “mental hygiene”. 

So why is Ellis so famous while Low is forgotten?  Ego largely explains it.  Ellis had a massive ego and was even referred to as Therapy’s Lenny Bruce.  Ellis loved to talk about how screwed up society was, in hopes that his people would finally accept what is.  His audience was largely therapists and workshop attendees.  Ellis believed it was the therapist’s job to “dispute the irrational beliefs, in order for the client to ultimately enjoy the positive psychological effects of rational beliefs.”

Low on the other hand, was more modest, content to work with his own patients to teach them self care.  On page 144 of MHTWT, Low says, “I am not a reformer and have no intention to crusade against the modern mania for undisciplined, ‘self-expression’ in a life of senseless speed and meaningless change.  My duty is to treat patients, not to cure the ills of the age.  But my patients are unfortunately exposed to the detrimental influence of the spirit of the age.”

It is easy to righteously agree with Ellis, Burn, Seligman and CBT without ever having to apply their work to your life.  On the other hand, it is difficult to agree with Low and not take concrete action related to the point.  Ellis had a great idea.  “Stop saying stupid stuff to yourself.”  Low had great tools.  “Anticipate joyfull or don’t anticipate at all.”  Neither CBT nor Low were interested in the unconscious and hidden parts of self.  Low defined sabotage as doing things you knew were not good for you.  The book was largely about clarifying which thoughts are good for you.  So while Ellis had an ambitious agenda, Low wanted to help his people.  CBT is easy to agree with, and reimbursable by insurance companies.  MHTWT is a grass roots movement with “no professionals” in charge by definition.  In essence, there was no one to champion the cause.  And yet it has survived and grown.  But there is another reason Low’s work is forgotten.

To be fair, this is not an easy book.  It was written with the heavy-handed arrogance of a doctor who actually deserved the respect.  That is off putting for some.  He was writing way ahead of his time.  And while the book is written for a general audience, it makes use of long sentences and dated phrases, like, “presaging”, “evince”, “warp” and “woof”.  That said, it is one of the most clear writing styles I have ever come across, and a welcome reprieve in an ever growing field of self-help psychobabble.  It rings with elegance, relevance and truth.  But how did I come to this conclusion?

Making use of my own “How to Read a Book by its Cover” technique, I looked at the table of contents.  Nothing compelling there.  With cryptic chapter titles like, “Temper, Sovereignty and Fellowship,” it was clear that I would get little sense of direction.  Such titles only have meaning after you read the book.  Even the title of the book was goofy; what the heck is “Will Training”?  I skimmed the book looking for pull quotes and bulleted lists, and found none.  Drat.  Bear in mind the book was written in 1950 and has not been appreciably altered since.  No dust cover on my copy, so no great endorsements.  But it did have an index, something lacking in many books these days.  Google revealed very few links to Recovery-inc.com, an indicator of low popularity.

Rather than start at the the beginning with an introductory “why”, I randomly chose a few chapters (8-12 pages each) to read from the middle.  Was there gold in there?  Yes indeed.  In the chapter “Helpless is not Hopeless,” we get such gems as this.  “A life long habit of honesty can be destroyed in short order by bad company or cajolery”  And “Prognosis (of self) is sabotage.”  “The patient can declare himself helpless, but he has no right to pronounce himself hopeless.  Description is the domain of the patient, prediction is the province of the physician.”  Now this was good stuff.

The next chapter title was also dry, “External and Internal Environments,” but contained gems as well.  In it a patient says, “Then I learned to be average and humble and get along with people.”  Low puts a premium on being average, rather than special.  “You learn in Recovery that the sense of importance is perhaps stimulating, but does not make for balance.  And to preserve your health, you need balance.  And the sense of averageness gives you balance.”  These kinds of insights lend a whole new meaning to humility and stripping back of ego.

With all due respect to Burns for his “Feeling Good” books, CBT appears to me to be a watered down version of Low’s work.  If so, many of the basics have been lost in the later derivative work.  The material in MHTWT is intended to be used in a well structured group of your peers.  You need the accountability and structure to significantly turn your thinking around.  At the very least, you need the reminder to celebrate your small steps of progress.  What Burns calls, “Discounting the positives” is great to work on if you are actively dismissing major achievements, but not useful for those who simply fail to notice any progress.  There is a qualitative difference between that and Low’s statement, “Endorse yourself for the effort, not only for the performance.”  The entire field of life coaching was based on this sort of encouraging and celebrating small steps.  Burns’ work seems to be full of STOP messages, what not to do.  While Low’s gives very clear steps on how to do things better, right now, with the current issue.

Perhaps it was because I had studied Ellis’ REBT work years before, that I found Burns’ work uninspiring.  It is not that I don’t believe in the value of such mental house cleaning, but rather that I was largely past the ones listed in the book.  Burns is a great place to begin, especially if you have messy mental hygiene.  Low’s work is a great place to refine and go to the next level of health.

For me, reading Low’s MHTWT was like coming home, back to what all this work was supposed to be about in the first place.  It is about training your brain in the small steps of success.  It is about rebuilding mental health.  The group approach is particularly important for those with more severe symptoms, like Bipolar, and those who do not learn well on their own from just reading a book.

I am a long time fan of Martin Seligman’s.  He is a world class expert on the topics of optimism and happiness and how they relate to depression.  His recent collaboration with Marcus Buckingham have put the idea of “strengths work” on the map in Now Discover Your Strengths.  And his positive psychology, while a bust in the fiercely competitive field of therapeutic psychology, has all but launched the field of Life Coaching.  But his work and most of CBT is intended for professionals who treat clients.  They are informative and brilliant at telling about conditions.  But they do little to help average people help themselves.  CBT clearly supports healthy risks.  But Low’s work focuses on the specific risks to take.  Where CBT paints a good picture, Low lays out the map and the way back home.

Like I said, buy the book.

So, does Abraham Low deserve a place in the history of psychology?  Perhaps not in the way that people like Freud, Adler and Ellis do.  Low’s model of personality is a little too simple.  To paraphrase, “What you say educates your muscles, and they in turn set the tone of either security or insecurity.  Your muscles then reflect that back to you when you consult them about whether you can do something.  In a word, you can reeducate your muscles by changing your thoughts.  When you learn how to effectively spot your own dysfunctions, you can heal yourself.” 

Abraham Low certainly belongs on the shelf next to other great works like: A Course in Miracles, Fearless Living by Rhonda Britten, The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.

Ironically, I come to this review with a bias very different from Low’s.  I assume that almost all upsets can be healed fully and quickly, a catharsis of sorts.  I trained in rapid healing styles of Applied Kinesiology, from the works of Callahan, Gallo, Dennison and Craig.  I have assisted clients in rapidly healing their traumas for more than twenty years.  What I slowly came to realize was that not all upsets and suffering are traumatic in nature.  Some are stuck in screwy thought patterns.  And while I found promise in CBT, I found answers in MHTWT.

=====
From the site: What is Recovery, Inc.?

Recovery, Inc. is a self-help mental health program based on the ground breaking work of neuropsychiatrist, the late Abraham A. Low, M.D. We are completely member managed. Recovery Inc., has been active since 1937 and we have groups meeting every week around the world.   Recovery, Inc. offers its members a free method to regain and maintain their mental health. By studying Dr. Low’s practical method of Mental Health Through Will Training, Recovery Inc. members learn techniques for handling trivial, everyday situations.

Recovery International (as it’s now called) sponsors weekly group peer-led meetings in nearly 600 communities around the world. The world’s oldest self-help mental health organization, Recovery International is a non-profit, non-sectarian, consumer-run organization.

Resources

New copies of the book are only available from Recovery, Inc. (Now called Low Self Help Systems). Used copies are available through abebooks.com and amazon.com.  The text has not been appreciably altered since 1950.  Only the introduction has changed.  However, the page numbering has changed, making reading along in a group a bit of a challenge.
http://recovery-inc.com   Headquarters of Recovery International.  Toll Free:  866-221-0302  http://LowSelfHelpSystems.com/
http://lowselfhelpsystems.com/meetings/meetings-materials.asp One liners and Tools of MHTWT
http://lowselfhelpsystems.com/about/shop-online.asp Buy the book, Mental Health Through Will Training

===
http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?sts=t&tn=mental+health+through+will+training&x=46&y=14 Used copies of MHTWT

The Rubric Theme. Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.