Ponderances of Steve

December 6, 2011

New Manager Advice

Filed under: Coaching — Steve LeBlanc @ 5:57 pm

Woman to ManMy friend decided to give up her chiropractic practice and take a management job for a tennis association. She was an outstanding chiropractor and a very successful volunteer organizer, which is harder than it looks. She’s good at getting all of her Do List done and loves people. But she’s never managed anyone besides her family and a few assistants for her practice. Basic talents, but no insights. I gave her a quick course in what I thought she needed to know starting in a new management position.

  1. Discouragement. The absolute worst that she could do on that new job was to do okay. She could not fail. Turns out she knew this. But she wanted to be more than just okay. So I told her she would have times in the first few months where she was sure they’d made a mistake in hiring her (out of dozens of applicants). She’d be sure that she wouldn’t be able to get it. It’s just standard in most any job, but especially in a management job where you don’t know your staff.
  2. Fresh Eyes. Your first two weeks are the most important time of your employment there. Not so much for the impact you’ll make. They expect you to bumble a bunch of things when you’re new. The first two weeks are important because it is the only time you will have a fresh view of the organization. You will want to dismiss lots of what you see, figuring that you are just too new to understand. And by the second month, you will have forgotten most of what you noticed when you were new. Take the time to note all the things that look out of balance, workflows that don’t work and any questions you have. Make sure it all gets documented. What are the things you figured out on your own that you wish someone would have told you?
  3. Reading. If you could only read one business book, given your existing skills and personality, read this one:  What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.  It is for advanced managers, but it is in no way a difficult read. It’s dirt simple. For example when you are working your way up the ladder, it makes sense to offer suggestions on a project that someone shows you. It makes you look contributory and collaborative. But when you are the boss, you don’t get to do that. Your “suggestions” are often taken as orders because you have too much power in that exchange. So you need to trust your people to do it their own way, unless there is a real problem you need to head off at the pass.
  4. Productivity. The larger your ambition (like improving the association) the more likely it is that you will no longer be able to complete your Do List. You will always have more things to do than you have time for. The art of getting things done will boil down to which things you choose to do and when. Ultimately it comes down to knowing what not to do. Get in the habit of looking for things that don’t need to be done, even if they’ve always been done. Look for things you can delegate or drop all together.
  5. Debriefing. It is a poorly understood concept. Basically, it’s active learning from an event that is already over. We tend to learn passively, wrongly believing that we can remember all that went wrong from the event and passively vowing to not do those things next time. By building a formal process, one with specific questions and invited guests, we make our learning active. We learn more and better. What have we learned? What can we do better next time? Who else should we include in the event or the debrief? You can even debrief alone, by documenting what you learned in the form of a white paper or blog post, for others to learn from. We write better, and therefor learn better, when we write for an audience or a coach.

What made this advice work for her was that it was tailored to her current understanding and skill set. If she’d never managed anyone before, the ideas might have been more basic. Have someone who understands business debrief your early days and it will make the whole experience more rewarding and productive.

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August 5, 2011

Teachers Need Mentors, Tutorials and Aggregators

Filed under: Coaching,MOOC — Steve LeBlanc @ 9:03 pm

LeadershipDay11 LogoI was inspired when I read this post  CALLING ALL BLOGGERS! – LEADERSHIP DAY 2011, (Twitter hashtag #LeadershipDay11). It said on Friday, August 5, 2011, bloggers should “Blog about whatever you like related to effective school technology leadership.” Unfortunately, I did not have time to write a good tutorial or deep think piece. What I could post is what I believe are the three most important resources that a teacher of computer technology could have: Mentors, Tutorials and Aggregators.

But first some background. When I use the word “tech”, I mean all introductory computer technologies that might be used or taught in schools. This includes things like social media, programming, hardware repair, smart phones, web search and online teaching.

This is a challenging time to be a teacher. Added regulations, economic cuts, troubled kids. We need our kids to be better prepared for a technical future we are racing toward. But how do we ask our teachers to do that? How do we ask them to teach better use of technologies to students who sometimes have more experience than the teacher? How do we even begin to hold schools accountable for teaching certain skills when our administrators are unsure of what to measure?

The problem is not that we lack quality information and resources to teach such tech skills. It is readily available online. The problem is that the good information we need is often buried under a pile of mediocre or faulty information. As more and more bloggers come online to “create useful content” and “generate revenues,” we find the quality of their posts faltering. They get rewarded for dramatic stories and page hits, rather than information quality.

Take, for example, something as simple as a web search for buying a computer hard drive. If you know the brand, you can easily find it online and buy it. But what if you don’t even know what brand you want? Does it even matter? Do some hard drives last longer and get better reviews than others? Do some come with better warranties? Which online vendors have the best prices, service and reputation? More importantly, which vendors should you avoid at all costs? Recently I needed a hard drive. I could buy a 500 GB drive locally for about $60 including tax. But I got a Seagate with great reviews in only three days for under $40 delivered from a world class online vendor called http://newEgg.com. I could just as easily have ordered it from a company known for hidden charges and terrible service, if I were shopping on price alone.

Doing a simple websearch looks so simple that you can explain it in about a minute. Once you’ve done a search yourself, you feel confident you have no need to learn any more. But what about doing a powerful websearch? That takes some training. You have to learn how to use what are called “operators” and “Advanced Search” in order to do highly specific searches. You have to read the Help files of search engines and the Tips articles on blogs. You have to care enough to get good at the basics of real web searches.

But why? When search engines are so good at guessing what I want, why do I even have to learn how to use operators for more refined searches? Because sometimes, you just can’t find what you want with a simple search. You get too many results. Or worse, you think you’ve found it, but it is not a quality source. Just because it was on a web page does not make it true.

One of the computer literacy skills students need is advanced websearch. These skills are so important that I feel schools need to have monthly drills for all students. Why monthly? Because you tend to forget what you don’t use regularly. And even if you don’t use advanced search skills now, you will absolutely need them in the future.

So at one level I really am telling teachers to train students in Advanced Search skills and to test on it regularly. That would be great. But you won’t find that in most tech curriculums. Why? Because it looks too simple and no one on the tech team saw the importance of it. They had no reference for its place of value.

Unless you’ve been in the industry (blogging, business, web development, computer repair, whatever), you have no way to know what is most important. If you are lucky, you are told what to teach and what sites to use. If not, then you do your own search and hope for the best. The teaching of Advanced Web Search is only one example of the many areas in which teachers need a mentor.

Learning tech is necessarily a social event. You can’t learn it alone, except in very small slices. You can’t possibly have learned in college all you need to teach your students now. By the time teachers graduate, much of what they learned was outdated. Those teachers who learned tech skills did so with the aid of others. They had people available to answer questions. Ideally they had a mentor as well.

 Teachers Need Mentors

Teachers need the guidance of seasoned tech mentors. It’s not simply to teach them all they want to know, but rather to point them in the right directions. That mentor need not be a consultant, but it can be. Teachers need mentors to help them distill which skills are most important and enduring for students. If a mentor can also teach, that’s great, but it is not the best use of their time. It is their wisdom and experience you want, more than their knowledge. The more time mentors spend teaching you the basics (which you can learn online), the less time they have to review your plans and answer your big questions. The greatest gift you can give to your mentor is to make effective use of their time, take reasonable risks and accomplish greatness. A mentor should point you to local business resources, tutorials, forums, social networks and online events, such as Twitter Chats for educators. They should even assign homework. They might even be a tech education evangelist. You need people who can share that vision. Mentor homework might look like this: Use TwitterFall and TweetGrid to follow #LrnChat and #edChat and #blogChat on Twitter. How will you find the time they meet?

 Teachers Need Tutorials

Teachers need great tutorials that walk them through what they need to do in order to launch a new program, step by step. Take student blogging, for example. Today it is almost as easy to set up a blog as it is to create an online email account. The problem is learning which ones are easiest to set up and use, and which sites allow for the best kinds of privacy your students deserve. Which features do I need to enable? How can I minimize my administration time and setup a sort of dashboard of all the student blogs in my class? None of these things are particularly hard, but figuring it out on your own takes a long time. One could argue that it’s not even possible to do it well on your own, not without a good social media network to point you to great tutorials.

 Teachers Need Aggregators

Finally, teachers need great aggregators. The term aggregator, as used in social networks, refers to people who review and collect the best resources in an area of expertise. Ideally they also publish them for others to view.  Jane Hart at Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies is a world class aggregator. No matter how great your mentor is, no matter how extensive your tutorials are, great aggregators are a joy to behold. These people love reviewing things. They love to distill the good stuff from the pile. They love being helpful and sharing what they’ve learned. What sounds like a burdensome request to you may be a great challenge to them. Students often make great aggregators, especially if you will coach them in the skills required to get there. Dictionary.com also defines the word aggregator as: a web application that draws together syndicated content from various online sources and displays it in a single location for the user’s convenience.

Questions you might ask an aggregator:

  1. “Find me the best, easiest, and safest sites to create student blogs for our 4th grade class.” That might be very different than creating a blog for a high school class.
  2. “What’s the fastest way for our team to create online documentation on this project?” Notice I said fastest, and not the most secure. Such nuances matter. They are where great aggregators excel.
  3. “What are the top 10 sites and articles on teaching students to do their own crud detecting online?”

There are many things a teacher needs in order to succeed in presenting technology to kids: money, training, books and political support. But to excel at tech training for our kids, teachers need a solid foundation. That foundation includes mentors, tutorials and aggregators. All the rest can be worked out later.

Some Resources for Tech in Education

October 25, 2010

PLN Competencies

Filed under: Coaching,MOOC — Steve LeBlanc @ 1:28 am

Kids studying

You don’t have a strong PLN (Personal Learning Network) the moment you show up at the right group, even if it is the perfect fit for your particular interest. Admittedly, finding a group of folks who share your passions can offer support, guidance and quick tips for simple challenges. For example, finding the right quilting group for a lone quilter can be a dream come true.

But what if your passions are not so neatly contained? What if your interests are broad and interdisciplinary? Specifically, what if you just can’t find a group that shares your varied interests? You could join different groups for your different interests or even create a new one. That works fine for discrete fields, that is, until you start to ask cross-cultural questions no one else in that group is interested in.

A strong PLN is not just a group of people, any more than a strong college education is the particular college you went to. A friend of mine had this to say of his Harvard degree: “The classes I took were not what made my education so valuable. It was more about the friendships I made and the radically different world view I acquired while there. Things I used to think impossible became matter-of-fact, almost mundane.”

Sure, choosing a good fitting network can be invaluable. But the quality of your learning journey rests largely upon the quality of your relationships. The skills required to build strong connections do not come naturally to most people. They must be learned, refined and practiced in order to build a strong PLN. The strength of your PLN rests more on your skills than on the people you surround yourself with.

So, what abilities would we want to develop in order to grow a strong PLN, one which feeds our need for learning and embraces our unique contributions?

Some people define competencies as merely skills, something which the person has practiced to reasonable proficiency. I prefer the larger, more encompassing definition which includes attitudes, habits and perspective. Competencies are not just what a person can do, but rather includes what they are inclined to do and even to notice.

For example, I have the smarts, skills and experience to become a good computer programmer. However, after learning the basics of over ten computer languages, it is clear to me that I’ll never be an outstanding programmer. Why? Because I don’t have the discipline to maintain my focus for that long, nor do I have the memory required. In short, while I’m moderately proficient at my hobby, I lack the competencies to do well professionally in the field. The question is, can competencies be developed to at least proficiency levels? I believe they can … through training, coaching and rehearsal.

The following list is more descriptive than prescriptive. The actual development of such skills and habits is the focus of a course I am designing.

  1. Contribution: We need to learn which online behaviors actually contribute to another’s journey, as well as which are neutral and what is in fact a request. Sometimes our “gifts” may be asking a lot of the other. It is not always obvious. Critical feedback, for example, is abhorred by some, tolerated by others and warmly welcome by a few. Having learned what makes for great contributions, we then need to build habits and reliably add value to the discussions we follow. This includes comments, coaching, creating content and connecting people.
  2. Great Questions: They don’t come easily. For simple requests, it hardly matters. “What’s a good site for online security for kids and parents?” But even simple questions can be worded in a such a way as to make them difficult to answer. “What’s the best web host?” That’s a weak question. Best for what? Without a context and clear criteria, such questions are easily dismissed. The more people have to ask clarifying questions, the harder you made it for them to answer.
  3. Feedback: The ability to offer, collect and make effective use of feedback is critical to any success. Why? Because practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent. It actually takes good feedback to make the effective course corrections for consistent improvements.
  4. Evaluation: In an ever-expanding sea of social media sites and web apps, the ability to quickly evaluate new products is crucial. We need to determine how well it might serve our intended usage and user population. A great product which is too complex or buggy for the experience level of our users is a waste of time. We need to know when to say, “Next!”
  5. Humble Boldness: Newbies to social media are usually so concerned about looking bad that they do far more “lurking” than participating. While you should listen to the tone of a discussion before you comment, at some point you just have to jump in. We need to learn how to step in with humility, to offer our help, perspective and support, knowing full well we will bumble some of it. That’s the price of entry. And we need to be quick to ask the questions that will support our quest, without worrying about burdening people or looking dumb. Hiding does not play well in social media.
  6. Basic Computer Skills: You need to know how to do things like copy and paste, how to download and install programs, and how to create text files. Without these kinds of skills, life is just harder online.
  7. Celebrating Aloud: I think of gratefulness as an internal feeling and thankfulness as the external expression of that feeling. How you feel inside does not matter to your online network unless you tell them. They don’t see the unspoken cues they might get in person. In addition to thanking individuals, there is also thanking your lucky stars. Tell the world when you feel fortunate, blessed, lucky. Celebrate the achievements, contributions and milestones of others. People want to feel that what they do matters, especially online, where feedback may be so sparse for newbies.
  8. Remixing: Reworking the things you’re exploring improves learning. Remix, repurpose, reuse, curate. The real challenge is to take what exists and make it better. Make it easier for others to use and understand.
  9. Leaving the Virtual: Sometimes you just have to get offline. You have to know when and how to leave the virtual world of online connections and pick up the phone (or Skype). You need balance or your learning will get scrambled. This might include play, time with friends and family and even walking the dog.

These are what I consider to be some of the basic competencies of social media for building a strong PLN. I chose them because they are doable, measurable and coachable. It’s easy to build meaningful tasks around them and they draw in other skills. What have I left out? How might we construct exercises that would help refine these skills?

Extra Notes on Competencies and Literacies

Competencies and literacies are fairly new constructs in learning theory, and not yet well agreed upon, not even on Wikipedia. The Washington State Department of Personnel defines competencies as, “the measurable or observable knowledge, skills, abilities, and behaviors (KSABs) critical to successful job performance.” I like acronyms.  And Microsoft offers a dizzying array of competencies here, with rubrics for measuring Basic, Intermediate, Advanced and Expert Proficiency Level on each.  It seems that competencies have more to do with actions, and literacies have more to do with thinking and understanding. Rita Kop cites research that people might not necessarily have the critical literacies (thinking skills) required to learn and search independently, suggesting the need for some level of training or coaching. Here are Howard Rheingold‘s 5 Literacies: Attention, participation, evaluating credibility or critical consumption or “crap detection”, cooperation or collaboration and network awareness. He defines literacies as skills plus community (social media). He says,  “An RSS reader is not a queue; it’s a flow. You need to learn to sample the flow.”  In a SlideShare called Digital Tribes and the Social Web, Steve Wheeler identifies what he calls the Digital Literacies: Social Networking, Transliteracy, Privacy Maintenance, Identity Management, Creating content, Organizing content, Reusing/Repurposing content, Filtering and selecting, Self presenting. Others include taxonomies, social tagging, and collaboration.

All learning begins when our comfortable ideas turn out to be inadequate.” – John Dewey

References

MOOC: Massive Open Online Course
PLENK2010: A MOOC to study PLE’s PLN’s and PKN. For more information, see my earlier post.

This post is part of my participation in the #PLENK2010 MOOC .

September 27, 2010

Why MOOC Engagement is So Hard

Filed under: Coaching — Steve LeBlanc @ 12:45 am

MOOC?

A MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course. It offers a social media framework to support open, informal, social learning on a topic. The MOOC I joined was called #PLENK2010 (Personal Learning Environment, Network, Knowledge). #PLENK2010 started in September 2010 and runs for 10 weeks. It was created to support several research projects on the subjects of PLE and emergent learning. Topics included learning theory, social learning, LMS (Learning Management Systems), PLE’s, PLN’s and Connectivism & Constructivism. I registered late, with no bad consequences.

Within the forums and Elluminate sessions, there was some discussion about why a MOOC is so frustrating. One reason is the way in which we think about classes. A traditional class has requirements, goals, tests and clear limits to what will be covered. The teacher’s job is to walk you through the material and insure that you learn it in the prescribed way. We are comforted by the milestones and limits of the class. We celebrate our completion. And our grades tell us how we did. When it’s over, it’s over. A traditional class is a good example of formal learning.

So it’s no surprise that when we drop these students into a MOOC, they are going to get frazzled. Such frustrations, we are told, is the norm and to be expected. I had to wonder if that was just a cop out for poor design. Even the navigation was challenging. But maybe the design was not so bad after all.

A MOOC has almost none of the safety features of a traditional class. Sure, it has a time, a topic and a location online. By that I mean a place to discuss the material under the loosest supervision of some moderators. It has no objective to achieve, no goals beyond that which you bring to it. It has no tests to tell you how you’re doing. There are no milestones beyond the abstractions of statistics. There is not even a glossary, unless of course, you decide to work on one for the group, which we did. There are no assignments or attendance requirements. There are suggested readings sent out in the Daily newsletter to offer a starting point. But you are not expected to read them all. Indeed, you are told it would be impossible to read all the suggested readings and forum posts. I concur.

In a MOOC, you are encouraged to take a whole new approach to learning. You are asked to step up and create your own flight path, your own adventure. To where you ask? Well, that’s part of the challenge. You are invited (dare I say begged) to make the class into what you want, to change the system at will. If you need a feature not currently available, such as a private chat room to discuss sensitive things, one can be set up for you. If you want to open up a new discussion in the forum, just do it. If there are parts of the system that could work better, tell someone who can fix it.

You are asked to bring order to this massive pile of information. To all of it? No. Remember that in this ever growing field of data, you can never wrap your head around all of it. Be selective. Skim the headlines in the Daily newsletter. Don’t feel like you have to read them all. Just pick the ones that interest you. If you don’t like the writing style or the discussion, then move on. There is too much good stuff to get stuck in parts you don’t like.

In this new approach to learning in a MOOC no real thoroughness is possible. So you need to release the fantasy of doing it all right. That fantasy is at the root of suffering on a MOOC.

Be the explorer. Chart out a plan to learn all you can about some small slice of the puzzle. Find the best articles and resources in this area and curate them. By that I mean arrange them in an order that makes more sense and is easier to digest. Be like a museum curator and decide what is important and how it should be displayed. Produce a field guide to the area and make it freely available to others. That’s the “Open” aspect of a MOOC. Summarize key points of long threads to save others the arduous work of having to plod through 90 comments.

Blog to Engage & Learn

One of the best ways to engage in a MOOC is to create posts on your own blog to report what you are learning. Don’t have a blog? Get one. They’re free and easy. You might be wondering, what if no one sees my post? What if no one comments on my blog or finds it useful in any way? Then what? Am I just wasting my time?

As it turns out, every new blogger shares this concern. Just know this. It always takes longer to develop followers and comments than you think it should. Do it anyway. Keep posting. And when you comment on blogs and forums, go ahead and make appropriate references back to your blog posts. Eventually, if you stay with it, you will find your audience and develop your network, a circle of people who care very much about what you have to say and what questions you have.

Beyond the service you provide others in your blog, there is another compelling reason for writing posts about what you are learning. Your blog can serve as a public repository for notes to yourself. Those notes will document the insights and conclusions of all your travels through the field, and perhaps even your frustrations. A year from now you might want to review your notes, for surely you will have forgotten much of what made your learnings so powerful at the time.

Blog because you learn better with it. By reporting your struggles to learn the material, you learn better. By summarizing, reviewing and debating the ideas of the course, you learn better. By writing for an audience, you write better and thereby learn better. By making your journey open through the use of blogs and forum comments, you not only serve others, but you also do the extra work of sense making that leads to deeper integration of the materials.

As you give the material away in a form that works for others, you make it more your own. We teach best what we most need to learn. — Fritz Perls. And we we learn best that which we teach others.

So why is a MOOC so hard? Because it breaks all of our expectations about what is supposed to happen in a class. We are asked to transform from the passive role of student to the more active role of self-directed learner. Our new role makes us ever more responsible for our own learning, in a way that might just expose us and make us appear silly. That is a daunting undertaking, even for the most web-savvy students. The good news is that you can’t really fail, unless you apply the old rules to the new situation. Survive a MOOC and you’ll come out of it a better person. Thrive in it and you’ll come out a better leader.

NOTE: Much of this was culled from forum posts and Elluminate sessions of #PLENK.

References

http://ple.elg.ca/plenk2010/ PLENK 2010 Blog
http://connect.downes.ca/ Welcome to the Course PLENK2010
http://ple.elg.ca/course/moodle/mod/wiki/view.php?id=60&page=Recordings PLENK2010 Recordings on Elluminate
http://wthashtag.com/Plenk2010 Transcript of #PLENK2010 Tweets

September 22, 2010

Blame the System

Filed under: Coaching — Steve LeBlanc @ 5:44 pm

pointing boy

We live in a culture of blame. That’s not always a bad thing. Blame does point us to questions of who broke something and who should fix it. Managers, teachers and parents all try to instill values of personal responsibility in their charges. Much of that instilled value involves feeling bad. We want those people to feel bad when they mess up. Especially something for which they have agreed to be responsible. We want them to blame themselves when things go wrong. We feel better when others feel “bad enough” for what they did. We may even want them to grovel.

Now it takes a lot of time and effort to discern who was responsible for an outcome, and to what degree. One approach – if everyone just takes 100% responsibility for whatever went wrong, then we can all get back to work. “If only I had done my part, this would never have happened.”

Of course, it rarely works out that way. Some people consistently take far less blame than we’d like them to, while others take too much. Indeed, we often define our best people as those who pick up the slack where others have dropped it. And as long as the job is getting done, management rarely feels the need to confront those dropping the ball, letting standards slide and having things fall between the cracks. As a result, those who frequently pick up after others often feel resentful, but may be afraid to complain. And those who regularly get picked up after have a false sense of how good or successful they are at their jobs. No news is good news, particularly in organizations who don’t actively encourage feedback.

When taking responsibility requires that we feel bad, we have moved into blame. Where we have lots of blame, we have lots of fear, guilt and shame, thus creating a fear-based organization. Problem is, we don’t learn well in the presence of guilt and fear. The fear that comes out of blame will even inhibit problem solving abilities. A systems theory view of productivity can show us how to blame the system itself, instead of each other, thereby reducing fear. A simple definition of a system might include the values, procedures, rewards and communications of an organization. When you blame a person, you may feel better, but you forget to look at how the system has contributed to their actions.

So while there is a certain workaholic satisfaction that comes from hoping everyone will take 100% responsibility, it never really works out as well as we hope. Those who take too much responsibility burn themselves out, resulting in what we call work anorexia or work avoidance. Taking too much responsibility for events over which we have little control or power always leads to depression. People regularly try to take too much responsibility in a fear based organization. Unfortunately, the best you can ever get out of such a system is basic compliance. If you want more than compliance, if you want excellence, you will have to eliminate fear from the organization. (See point #8 in Deming’s 14 points, Drive fear out.)

Given how much guilt and personal shame are woven into the fabric of religion, parenting, management and law, it is hard to imagine an effective way of getting things done without them. It’s hard to imagine how anything lasting and good can come out of an organization that proclaims, “We never want our people to feel bad about tasks where they have underperformed.”

But that’s exactly what we are called to do in a systems theory view of productivity. Rather than focus on who did what wrong and how bad they should feel, we focus on the whole system. We ask, how has the system failed us? Starting with the assumption that everyone wants to do a good job, we ask the question, “How has the system made it difficult or even impossible for them to do good? How has the system failed to support the individual success of the players?” In all fairness, not everyone will be a good fit for your new non-blaming organization. However, addressing that does not require blaming anyone.

Once we are free to look at and address where the system has failed us, we can let go of our blame and resentment for our co-workers. I propose that we need blame. We are meaning-seeking creatures and as such, we need to blame someone or something for what went wrong. Blame people and you demoralize them and make them afraid. When you blame the system, no one gets hurt and things gently improve. Blame yourself too much and you get depressed. Blame the system and you stimulate the problem solving abilities of the group. Let’s put the blame back where it belongs. It’s no ones fault how the system currently works. It just sort of turned out that way. Our job is to improve the system while honoring those who work in and around it. Let’s all just blame the system.

This has been a gentle introduction to systems theory, with brief reference to W. Edwards Deming, father of Total Quality Management (TQM). #PLENK2010

September 9, 2010

Stupid User Syndrome

Filed under: Coaching — Steve LeBlanc @ 6:23 pm

Kid on computer
If you do technical support for a user community, you have probably had to contend with stupid users. I use that phrase in the most affectionate way. These are users you have to explain things to over and over again. Others don’t want to listen to the end of your explanation. Some even assure you they know exactly what to do and then do something different. And some ask questions that you can’t believe. Mostly they just waste your time.

While you occasionally question your own abilities, you quickly reassure yourself that you are a strong support tech. And, as much as you’d like to take it out on the users, you slowly come to terms with the sage advice to, “Suck it up and bear the discomfort.” But even such sage advice does little to alleviate the fatigue you regularly bring home.

So where do stupid users come from? Is it a simple bell curve distribution? Or is there a school they attend to develop their particular brand of not learning? Is it an issue of different learning styles, which means I will have to learn to do educational back flips to give these people a clue? Maybe it’s my karma. But I’m really such a nice guy in this life. Isn’t that worth something?

As it turns out, there’s a formula for calculating where stupid users come from. It has 3 variables, so it’s kind of complex. But if you work in tech support, you certainly have the ability to do the math. Here it is. Preponderance + Propensity + Jokes = your score. Preponderance is the number of stupid users you have in your organization, measured by percentage. So if you have 50 users and 10 of them are stupid, you have a Preponderance score of 20%. Propensity is a measure of how likely you are on average to return home still upset or wearied by your users. This is a percentage too. So if you come home one day out of five still upset about stupid users, that would be a score of 20%. Jokes are the number of jokes you tell or overhear in a week at the expense of your users, whether in their presence or not. This is a raw number per week.

Add these two percentages and your Jokes per week and you arrive at your score. If your total score is less than 5%, then your stupid users come from the luck of the draw. Count your blessings and do your best. If your total score ranges from 10%-45%, then your users come almost entirely from your imagination and your own sense of victimhood. If your number is over 45%, I have good news for you. It’s not your fault at all. You’re in the wrong profession. Find a career that makes use of your intellect, but one that makes no demands for compassionate customer service and you’ll do just fine. If, however, you are sure that you can’t possibly change careers, then see category two(10-45%). You really are making it up. Now I know what you’re thinking. What if your score is between 5% and 10%? As it turns out, we have no data on that. No one has ever registered a score in that range.

Stupid user syndrome is what happens when your tech support people think it’s the user’s job to make their job easy. The syndrome shows up in companies where support techs love the technology and easily learn the ins and outs of the system. Because of this, they have very little understanding of, or compassion for, the varying needs of typical users. They make the assumption that others are just like them, and that this task the user is working on should be simple and quick. They also assume that like themselves, if you give users the barest outline of a fix, they can connect the dots for themselves and run with it. There is also a managerial component of wanting your techs to fix problems quickly and often.

Let’s get serious here. What is missing in this short-sighted approach is three things:

  1. an awareness of the Pygmalion Effect.
  2. an understanding of Instructional Design and
  3. a familiarity with Systems Theory. If we are not viewing the organization as a system, then all we are left with is blaming the users.

The Pygmalion effect is when students either rise or fall to the expectations of a teacher. When you treat users with contempt, even veiled contempt, they become self conscious. That produces bumbling, slows down the fix and interferes with learning, which seems to justify the label of stupid user. When next you meet, you are both primed with the label. They expect you to be short and irritated. And you expect them to be bumbling. Self-fulfilling prophecy. Having contempt for any user who is having trouble understanding something can turn him into what we might later call a stupid user.

Good instructional design starts with a goal of competency-based training that is easy, fast and fun. If we design our training appropriately, users will learn and do the task. If users don’t learn, then the design has failed. And while that certainly happens sometimes, starting with this assumption results in far better trainings. To those who object and say that we are in tech support, not training, think again. A great deal of your job in tech support is (or should be) training, even if only in short bursts. Your job is not simply to fix the problem, but also to reduce the chances of that problem showing up again.

Systems theory would suggest that if some percentage of your users are doing things you don’t want them to do, then the system itself is broken. Drawing from the works of C. Edward Deming’s TQM (Total Quality Management) and Peter Senge’s Learning Organization, we can stop blaming users almost completely and spend our time creating a healthy system that actually works.

While tech support people are rarely expected to have expertise in instructional design, having them understand this perspective can lead them to a fruitful search for simple ways to make learning easier. And rare is the tech support person who has any understanding of systems theory, especially as it relates to the organization. But starting with the simple goal of reducing the chances for error leads to a whole array of easy guidelines that can improve the system. Examples of reducing user error include: FAQ’s, a Buddy system, mentoring, checklists, videos, easy-search help docs and restructuring the work flow of a task. These supports are not hard to deliver if you start with a healthy goal and there are lots of blogs that offer tips to support you.

There are no stupid users, only unenlightened tech support people, who may or may not be in the right job. As tech support staff, it is our job to be of service. The better we get at that, the more our users will shine, making us look good. And the sooner it becomes their job to make our life easier.

Resources

http://www.hci.com.au/hcisite2/articles/deming.htm Deming’s 14 points
http://www.infed.org/thinkers/senge.htm Peter Senge and the Learning Organization
http://managementhelp.org/systems/systems.htm Systems Thinking (plus a nice collection of management articles)

December 2, 2009

25 Best Practices for Nonprofits

Filed under: Coaching,gtd — Steve LeBlanc @ 4:41 pm

A best practice is a process thought to be more productive, efficient and sustainable than other methods, as tested over time. Generally there are different best practices in different industries, but there may be similar ones used in certain disciplines, such as accounting or customer service. This paper is neither exhaustive nor a simple outline of quick tips. It falls somewhere in between, offering enough detail to learn something, while offering enough points to make it a useful reference document. It is something to be reviewed and studied. You might even use it as a worksheet and review a point or section each week, asking others in your group to evaluate how your organization is doing in that area. As always, you will want to ask regularly, “What can we do to improve?”

The Why

The purpose of using industry best practices is to avoid the need to reinvent the wheel. Without best practices, you are destined to bumble through all the usual mistakes and acquire numerous procedures based upon nothing more than, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” In fact, once any system is set up, we begin to defend that system, even to the point of rewriting the history of why we do it that way. When looking to improve a system, remember that most procedures developed over time, through a series of random events and choices. The following story illustrates how policies typically get made.

The Story

For three generations, the Anderson women have cut off the end of the Christmas ham before putting it in the pot to cook. Until recently, no one thought to ask why. But this year Mary’s husband, Jim, did ask. Mary answered, “Well, I don’t know. We’ve just always done it that way. Let me call my mother.”

Mary’s mother also said, “Well, I don’t know. We’ve just always done it that way. Why don’t you call your grandmother.”

Grandma was tickled by the question and just laughed. She said, “When I married your grandfather, we couldn’t afford a pot big enough to fit a holiday ham. So we had to cut it off in order for it to fit. We used to save the part we cut off, but your mother couldn’t be bothered with such a small piece and just tossed it out.” In her effort to honor and maintain important family traditions, Mary had kept up a practice which had long since outlived its purpose and usefulness.

While these best practices may be useful for any company, they are even more important in a nonprofit organization, where pay scales are lower and volunteers are utilized. When you can’t afford to throw money at a problem, you have to start using social currency. The better you treat your people, the better they will perform. And by better, I don’t just mean nice. I mean with respect and competence.

Use Social Currency

  • Demonstrate value. Use Social Currency. To demonstrate value for something, you need to pay for it. If you don’t pay for good ideas, they dry up. You don’t necessarily have to pay with money. But it does mean that some exchange much occur. Some ways to pay for a good idea include the following: celebrate it, tell a third party who will tell the originator, implement it, ask for clarification, report back on the progress of the project, offer the opportunity to speak on or develop the topic with a group or have them post an article.
  • Pay well. Common courtesy is fine and useful in its place. But it is only a minimal form of social currency. It is not adequate payment for a good idea. You don’t go to a classy restaurant and tip like you’re at a pizza place. That would be the right form, but the wrong amount. If you don’t pay enough, your people will assume they have little to offer the organization.

Get Feedback

  • Get feedback regularly. Some define organizational success by an absence of complaints. However, if no one has complained lately then maybe you’re asking the wrong questions. It is unlikely that you are doing everything right. More likely is the prospect that you have silenced your audience. They may not know you allow, much less want, continuous feedback. The way you receive feedback is how you are known and sets the tone for the organization. The worse you do at receiving feedback, the harder it is for your people to contribute to and feel a part of your organization. Graciously court all feedback, taking only what you can use and leaving the rest. People mostly want to know that you heard them and have considered their idea.
  • Embrace feedback. The sharper and more educated your users are, the less likely they are to give feedback where it is not warmly embraced. It is not only inefficient, but self destructive to try to give feedback to an organization who doesn’t make good use of it. Sharp people know this and give up the battle early, usually without resentment or fanfare. They are sharp because they know how to make effective use of their time and attention. After they get quiet, all you will hear are those who feel the compulsion to share and they don’t even notice when their ideas are not warmly welcome.
  • Request Inspection. Ask someone to track your compliance on some task or policy. At first, this may seem overly critical, if you are not used to continuous quality improvements. But over time, it will become matter-of-fact and make your improvements easy. Requesting inspections will ramp up the volume and quality of the feedback you get, making it easier for all concerned. You may however, have to first earn their trust to demonstrate that you won’t kill the messenger.
  • Measure selectively. What you measure is what you get. What you measure tends to improve. A friend of mine was tired of yelling at his teenage son over his school grades. He decided to stop nagging and simply post the grades on the wall each week. The boy understood the goal and without any nagging, began to improve. Measuring performance is one way to establish a goal. But be careful what you measure, or you could distract your people from what is really important in their jobs. For example, if the only thing being measured in your service department is how many calls you take per hour, you will be rushing though the calls that actually require more attention.

Make Policy Count

  • Serve your subordinates. It is reasonable to think that employees serve the manager, given how much power managers have over employees. But in companies where managers serve the employees, productivity, morale and customer service all abound. It is common for managers to be in charge and boss people around. However, it is exceptional, and a best practice, for managers to keep asking their people, “What can I do to make your job easier?”
  • Minimize the number of policies. Don’t make corporate policy when what is really needed is a discussion with the one person abusing a tradition. For example, Casual Friday could mean business casual, not torn jeans. Don’t define the policy to include, “No torn jeans”. It offends those who already understood it. And it shirks the discussion you need to have with the offending employee. The more rules you have, the less you trust your people, and they know it. Trusted employees perform better. Trained employees are easier to trust.

Train Well

  • Micro-manage when needed. In recent years many people have come to believe that micromanaging is just wrong. There is nothing wrong with micromanaging, in the proper context. You need to give more direction, support and inspection when someone is just learning the job. But you want to train them so well, they need progressively less of it. But if you have never bothered to train the long-timers, then while your micromanaging may still be necessary, it reflects your failure to manage. Give direction when needed and train them not to need it.
  • Give new employees time and support. Managing by “throwing them to the dogs” means dumping someone into a position without adequate training. While it looks seductively efficient, it almost always costs you more in the long run, if only for the customers you have offended in the process. It also increases turnover of both employees and customers. Take the time to actually train, monitor and support your people.
  • Make learning easy. The more trivial things you require your people to remember, the less attention they can give to what you really hired them to do. Remembering the protocol comes from experience. But understanding it comes only from training and modeling. Make cheat sheets for the information that needs to be accessed repeatedly. Make FAQ’s, How To’s and Glossaries. Document your processes. Undocumented processes put your organization at risk.
  • Train for inheritance. The longer it takes to train your people to deliver competent performance, the worse your training. You should evolve your training program to the point where new people can come up to speed in a hurry. They should always know where to find the documented processes of the organization. Train your people as if you were preparing to leave the company. A friend of mine prided himself in training his 30 people so well that he could return from a two week vacation and get fully caught up on his work in only a few hours. In making himself the most replaceable person in the office, he became the most valuable.
  • Mentor both up and down. Reverse mentoring is when the newer people in the company, particularly the young ones, mentor the older ones, as in Social Media, Internet searches and blogging. Using your new people to mentor others not only empowers your more senior people to perform better, but also gives the new ones a great sense of contribution to the group.

Be Powerful

  • Never apologize when you can thank someone instead. People would rather feel like they helped you and made the organization better than to think they caused you distress. They would rather contribute than criticize, regardless of how clumsy they were about it. It may be your job to translate their criticism into a usable contribution. Then after you thank them, you might suggest ways that would make it easier to hear next time. Tell them the form in which you would like to receive such great contributions. On the other hand, if you really messed someone up, then apologize fully.
  • Never answer an important question with, “I don’t know.” Always add, “I’ll find out and get back to you.” If you don’t know if it’s an important question, just ask, “Is this an important question to you?” Don’t ask why it’s important. Answering such questions is tedious and demeaning. The more people say they don’t know, the more it looks like they just don’t care. Care enough to find out.
  • Rush to take blame. In most organizations, the hot potato of blame gets pushed around endlessly, causing work to stop. The better leaders always rush to take on the blame for what goes wrong. Why? Once the blame game stops, everyone can get back to work. When in doubt, take the fall. That said, it is not healthy or helpful to take on all the blame, all the time. Sometimes, you need to allow for others to take some blame, or even assign it to them.
  • Empower your people. It’s either money or power. The less money there is to go around, the more your people will hoard power and information and create fiefdoms. The more that people protect their turf, the more dangerous and difficult it becomes to communicate across the organization. The more you empower all your people to change the organization, the less they will be grabbing for power. This line establishes both freedom and boundaries. “Do whatever it takes to handle customer complaints, up to $20. Above that, come get me.”
  • Change gracefully. Resistance to change usually has survival value to the organization, but it comes at a price of healthy growth. At some point, developments in the workforce and marketplace will require change or threaten extinction. The very actions which allowed you to survive early on could later choke the organization. Embrace good ideas and allow your people to experiment, which includes the possibility of failure.
  • Spread the Power. The more important one personality is to the health of the organization, the more at risk you are, should that one person change their involvement. When Steve Jobs left Apple Computer, it almost sunk the company. Years later his return saved them. His capacity for vision and leadership is legendary and a cautionary tale. In most organizations, the presence of such a personality simply reflects poor planning and inadequate training more than it does super human powers.

Communicate Well

  • Avoid spam. Never put more than one name in the TO: field or CC: field, unless you have already cleared it with every single person on the list. Why? Because if just one person forwards the email full of addresses to a forum or spammer, then all the names can be collected for spam. Google the quoted phrase, “bcc for privacy” for more on this.
  • Use a Descriptive Subject. What if 8 people all emailed you about a meeting, but each one put only, “Hey” in the subject line? It makes it more difficult to manage the emails in your inbox. Better to put the real subject or question in the Subject line.
  • Pick up the phone. After 3 bounces of an email, pick up the phone. You save time. The more important the issue, the more it should be discussed live. The exception is when an audit trail of the conversation is needed. Sometimes a summary email of a live discussion will serve this purpose, assuring that everyone is on the same page.
  • Never use CAPS in an email, unless you mean to scream. And never scream in an email. Conversely, never use all lower case in email. It makes you look like a kid who does not respect his audience. Email is bad at expressing the emotional nuances of live discussions. Express emotions in person.
  • Set ultra-clear appointments. Rather than sending email that says, “We will connect Fri at 4,” say, “I’ll call you on Friday, 11/09/2009 at 4 PM EST. We should have at least an hour to discuss the Jones project.” Included: Date, day of week, time, am/pm, time zone, duration and agenda. Most of the time you won’t actually need all that detail. But the times you do, the redundancy will be your saving grace. One benefit of all that detail is that you can easily copy and paste it onto your electronic calendar.
  • Be polite. Ask before sending attachments. Or just send a link to the document online. Don’t use texting abbreviations. Proof read, spell check, make it easier to read. Outline complex emails. Ask, “What can I do to make this email as clear and easy to respond to as possible?” Go the extra mile so your audience doesn’t have to.

RESOURCES

  1. http://www.emailreplies.com/ Email etiquette
  2. http://email.about.com/od/emailnetiquette/tp/core_netiquette.htm Top 26 Rules of Email Etiquette
  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Micromanagement shows the conflicting ideas on the subject of Micromanagement
  4. http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Kenneth+Blanchard:+the+One-Minute+Manager-a0151189054 Kenneth Blanchard: the One-Minute Manager overview
  5. http://www.hci.com.au/hcisite2/articles/deming.htm Deming’s 14 points of Total Quality Management (TQM). Note points 5, 8 and 9.

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.

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