Archive | Tips List

How To Work With The British

british weather
Image: British Weather by Hakan Dahlstrom via Flickr

I’ve lived in the UK for 14 years and now hold dual American and British citizenship. While I’ve not yet braved the wilds of the famously challenging UK driving test, I’ve gotten to the point where England’s 4 pm winter nightfall no longer fazes me.

But while it’s one thing to adjust to life in the UK, it’s another thing altogether to adjust to the work environment here. If you’re a newly minted American working over here, here are five things you need to know about working with the British:

Read the rest of this post over on the Clearwater Advisers website

Tips for Adulthood: Create an Image File

leather jacket

Photo by Yehor Milohrodskyi on Unsplash

On occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

I’m a great fan of decluttering. On a therapeutic level – and especially if you’re in the midst of a life transition – it feels cleansing to shed something. On a practical level, when you declutter, you also discover things wonderful things you’d forgotten about entirely.

When I was clearing out my own stuff recently I happened upon a folder that I didn’t recognize at first. It was entitled “Image Folder,” and it took me a minute or two to clock what it was.

Back when I took some time off to re-think my life a few years back (Chapter 326c), I assiduously tackled Julia Cameron’s The Artists’s Way as a tool for getting in touch with my creative self. Among the many techniques Cameron advocates for igniting your creativity, one that I’d completely forgotten about was her suggestion to create an image file:

“Start an Image File: If I had either faith or money I would try…List five desires. When you spot them, clip them, buy them, photograph them, draw them, collect them somehow. With these images, begin a file of dreams that speak to you. Add to it continually for the duration of the course.”

Here are five dreams that jumped out of my own image file:

a. Write and perform. Not surprisingly, my file contained several images of pens and microphones. This was clearly a nod to my desire to write and perform more. But there’s also a photo in there of someone jumping really high on a trampoline. At first, I wasn’t quite sure what that symbolized. And then I realized that it was an exhortation to have fun and take more risks. Or at least that’s how I interpret it now. That’s exactly what I’ve started doing with my new memoir writing project, which is all about family.

b. Travel and explore. Also unsurprisingly, the file contained several photos of assorted travel destinations. Some were of your proverbial sandy beach, but others showed a dense wood and an English stately home. When we first moved to England 14 years ago, I dragged my young kids to countless stately homes (think Downton Abbey) for tours of the houses and grounds. I believe that this image, in particular, was a reminder to “Be British” – a New Year’s resolution I set years ago to get to know my second home country better.

c. Be more fashionable. Don’t get me wrong. Most days I still amble about looking like a graduate student who is 5 minutes shy of eating her next Stouffer’s frozen pizza. Interestingly, however, my image file also contained a surprisingly high number of photos of lithe women wearing long, flowing blouses and – in one instance – a super-cool black leather jacket. Interestingly, there was also a picture of jewelry in there that looked exactly like the necklaces I’ve subsequently inherited from my mother.

d. Invest more time in cooking. One of the more surprising photos in the file – for anyone who knows me well – was picture of a bunch of spices. During that sabbatical year I took off to kick-start my career, I started investing more time in cooking. Among other things, cooking sated my inner project manager. Because I wasn’t working, I needed an outlet for that side of my personality. Once I settled into my new career as a communications consultant, however, the cooking goal fell somewhat to the wayside. But I’ve returned to it during lockdown. The new rule is that I make only three meals a week, and the other three members of my family each have to contribute one of their own. (The seventh night we do takeout, per the Lord’s Commandment that you have one day of rest.) We mainly draw on the New York Times Five Weeknight Dishes for inspiration. Not surprisingly, we are eating a lot better now.

e. Drink better beer. I was far from shocked to discover a photograph of a large glass of beer. In the immortal words of Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh, “I like beer.” In the years since I’ve become a lightweight in the drinking department, I’ve become a real connoisseur of low-alcohol beers (which I define as beer with an APV under 4%, but most people classify as under 3%.) That may sound wimpy, but I live within spitting (stumbling?) distance of a veritable beer emporium which houses some 400 plus types of beer. (I choose my neighborhoods well.) And in recent years, there’s been an explosion of high-end, low-alcohol beers from which to choose.

What made me so happy about discovering this file was that I feel that in the three years since I made it, I’ve moved forward on all five of the dreams captured in those images. It’s still a work in progress, but I see all of this as part and parcel of moving towards my future self.

So this week’s challenge is to go out and collect images that inspire you to be your future self. Tell me what you find in the comments section…

Five Reasons Overseas Ballots Matter

vote

vote
Lisa Gilardi Help Tip the Vote

On occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

2020 is an election year like no other. A global pandemic, domestic unrest and an economic downturn have motivated many voters — and not just those in swing states — to go to the polls.

Experts are predicting record turnout. But what about those Americans living abroad? If you’re an American living overseas, here are five reasons your vote matters:

Read the rest of this post over on the Vote from Abroad blog

Tips for Adulthood: Five Tips for Coping with Sadness

loss and grief

loss and griefOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

In the wake of my mother’s death, I’ve been feeling sad lately. For many years of my life, I pushed sad feelings away whenever they arose. I felt that if I just kept moving fast enough, I could out-run them. Often times, I did.

But one of the things that happens as you age is that you begin to confront your fears. And, hopefully, you develop new coping strategies to deal with your demons.

So this week, here are some strategies for how to deal with sadness when it comes:

a.  Meditation. I’ve written before about the power of mindfulness. One of the things mindfulness encourages you to do is to treat your thoughts and emotions as fleeting. The idea is that just as the breath comes and goes, so, too, do thoughts and emotions. So when anger, or sadness, or regret pop up, you don’t push them away. You see them, acknowledge them, and move on. “Oh, that’s anger,” you say to yourself. Or: “Oh, I’m feeling sad now.” Over time,  instead of  saying, “I’m an angry person,” or “I’m depressed,” you begin to say: “I’m sad right now.” But tomorrow my happiness will return. Because it’s in there too. (NB: Highly recommend Headspace’s grief meditation.)

b.  Reframing. Over on Maria Popova’s brilliant website, Brain Pickings, she writes about the famous Austrian poet and novelist, Maria Rainer Rilke, and how he conceptualised sadness. While we may feel paralyzed by it in the moment, the ability to sit silently with one’s sadness is also central to personal growth. As he so eloquently puts it, “…this is why it is so important to be lonely and attentive when one is sad: because the apparently uneventful and stark moment at which our future sets foot in us is so much closer to life than that other noisy and fortuitous point of time at which it happens to us as if from outside.” Sadness is painful; yes. But it is also transformative. And it reminds us that we are alive.

c.  Poetry. I don’t read a lot of poetry. But when I’m sad, I find that poetry is the very best way to commune with my sadness and embrace it, as Rilke advocates. Lately, I’ve been reading the Irish poet, James Claren Mangen, because, let’s face it, no one quite does sadness like the Irish. I’m quite taken with his poem, The Nameless One.

d.  Music.  As with poetry, I don’t actually listen to music all that much. My love for show tunes notwithstanding, I don’t tend to have a CD playing or Spotify playing in the background as I go about my life. When I’m sad, however, my go-to music is the music of my young adulthood, when I lived in Central America for a year. During that year, I spent an enormous amount of time listening to the likes of Silvio Rodríguez and Pablo Milanés, two giants of the Nueva Trova movement. So lately, instead of podcasts, I’ve been listening to that music as I walk around my neighbourhood or do the laundry. Much like watching a sad film, or reading a sad novel, this music speaks on some deeper level to my feelings right now. If you speak Spanish – and even if you don’t – go have a listen to Mi Unicornio Azúl.

e.  Writing.  And, of course, I write. For me, nothing helps quite so much in confronting sadness as putting thoughts like these down on paper.

How do you cope when you feel sad?

Image: Loss and Grief by Patrick Emersen via Flickr

Tips for Adulthood: Five Reasons to Listen to Billy Joel

Billy Joel

Billy JoelI’ve been listening to Billy Joel again. Yes, I say that loudly, proudly and unabashedly. If you grew up in the 1970s, it’s pretty impossible *not* to be in love with Billy Joel. When “The Stranger” was released in 1977, it was all anyone listened to for several years.

My husband gets this. He’s the one who got me started on my new Billy Joel kick. He recently came across a series of videos of Billy performing his songs before a live audience. As Billy performs each song, he explains its origin and meaning. (Side note to Billy Joel fans – in case anyone who is *not* a Billy Joel fan has gotten this far into this blog post – he doesn’t like Piano Man all that much. Sniff.)

Particularly as I get older, I find that Billy Joel’s music speaks to me even more than it did back in junior high. To wit, five Billy Joel songs with particular resonance for middle age:

1. James – This song comes from one of Billy’s earlier albums, Turnstiles. It’s mostly a song about those early, intense friendships we have in childhood and adolescence that often dissipate as we grow up and choose different paths in life: “I went on the road. And you pursued an education…” I always feel incredibly sad when I hear the lyrics to this song, because it reminds me of the bittersweet, awkward feelings such relationships inspire, especially if you ever find yourself reunited with said friend and realize that you have very little in common anymore. But it’s also a song about regret, which is, for me anyway, one of the central emotions that we navigate in midlife. As Billy asks his erstwhile friend: “Do you like your life? Can you find release? Did you ever write your masterpiece?” Ouch. Most of us didn’t end up writing our masterpieces. But the song ends with some sage adulthood advice, encouraging James – and all of us – to follow our own dreams, not those set by others: “Do what’s good for you, or you’re not good for anybody.”

2. New York State of Mind – Closely linked to regret is nostalgia, another inescapable feature of adulthood. I grew up in the tri-state New York area and while I’ve subsequently lived in many cities across many continents, there are a handful of Billy Joel songs that bring me right back to the place which, for me, will always be home: “I don’t care if it’s Chinatown or on Riverside…” For me, this song readily calls up a sea of memories:  the summer in college I spent living on Riverside Drive in an impossibly posh apartment I got through a family friend and trying out every bar in town…the numerous times my mother hauled me and my siblings into the city to see previews of the original cast performances of shows like Evita, Annie and Sweeney Todd…the smell of pretzels mixed in with the city’s gritty streets. (Note to the Super Fans: if you want to see a truly miraculous Billy Joel moment, watch this video where he allows a very talented piano player from Vanderbilt University to spontaneously accompany him while he sings New York State of Mind.)

3. ViennaSlow Down, you crazy child…you’re so ambitious for a juvenile...” Dear Lord, do I feel that this song was written for me. As someone who has lived much of her life at a gallop, I’ve had a very hard time learning that life is not a crew race, it’s more of a marathon. As Billy enjoins us: “Take the phone off the hook, and disappear for a while.” When I hear Billy sing this song, it feels like a sort of musical version of mindfulness.

4. I’ve Loved These Days Another gem. This is ostensibly a song about people who’ve been overdoing it – living it to the hilt with drugs, sex and God knows what else. They know that very soon, they’re going to need to put an end to their outrageous lifestyles and get real. But for me, it’s always been a song about break ups. About those terribly clear moments when you suddenly know that a relationship is over, but you still want to squeeze whatever joy that you can out of the final hours/days/weeks together: “So, before we end, and then begin, we’ll drink a toast to how it’s been. A few more hours to be complete, a few more nights on satin sheets…” It’s a song about the inevitability of loss and recognizing that all good things must come to an end – another bittersweet reality of growing up. (n.b.: This was my high school’s senior prom theme. Ahem.)

5. Allentown – An ode to all those middle-aged folks who once had a job and a company and a place in society where it all made sense. Now, their entire lives have been upended (by globalization/modernity/the internet/time/fill in the blank…). They don’t know how to be anymore: “Well we’re waiting here in Allentown for the Pennsylvania we never found. For the promise our teachers gave, if we worked hard, if we behaved…” This song could be ripped straight outta 2020.

How about you? Do you dare to own your secret passion for Billy Joel? If so, which are your favourite tunes?

Two bonus gems for the Super Fans:

  1. Billy’s hour-long interview with Alec Baldwin on the podcast Here’s the Thing
  2. Billy’s *own* five favourite Billy Joel songs, with Stephen Colbert

Image: Billy Joel by David Shankbone via Wikimedia Commons

Tips for Adulthood: Five Tips for Editing Your Writing

editing

editingOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

One of the main strands in my portfolio career is my work as writing coach. Which means that in addition to thinking a lot about the craft of writing, I’m also constantly proffering advice on how to edit.

Most people hate editing. Unlike writing, where you can and should let your ideas flow without judgment, editing is all about discipline. I think Ernest Hemingway summed up the distinction between these two phases of the writing process best when he counselled: “Write drunk. Edit sober.”

Accordingly, this week’s tips list goes out to all of you fellow travelers who have something you need to edit – a poem…a short story…heck, even an office memo – and need to find your mojo.

Here are five tips for editing your writing:

1.  Take time off after the first draft. This crucial piece of advice comes from Stephen King in his fabulous, incredibly useful, not-to-be-missed book, On Writing. (Did I tell you how much I liked it?) King recommends that novelists take four to six weeks off after finishing a manuscript so that they can come back to it fresh. But I’d say that, if you can manage it, you should take even longer. The reason for waiting is that you want to be able to open your manuscript up and read it like anyone else would. You don’t want to be able to recite it line by line. That’s the only way to figure out what works, what needs fixing and what should be tossed in the bin. You may even surprise yourself. As a screenwriter friend once told me, “There will be things that will be better than you thought they were and things that will be worse.”

2.  Find ways to make the material new. When you’re in re-write mode, it’s really important to make the old draft feel new. If you’re writing fiction, you might decide to write a biography of all of your characters to make them come alive…again. I particularly liked this piece of advice from American novelist Christina Baker Kline. Kline recommends that if you wish to jumpstart a revision for fiction, you write three new openings. In each opening, you start from a different moment in the story – maybe even at the very end. What a great idea!

3.  Trim excess words. We all know that editing requires cutting excess verbiage. But how to wield that axe is another story entirely. One of the best writing assignments I ever got was in a high school English class. We were told to write an essay of 1,000 words on a given topic. The next week, we came in and the teacher told us to write the same essay, this time in 500 words. Boy, does that exercise help you to discover what you love most about your writing. Another good tip if you’re looking to be more concise comes from the Write to Done blog: Start with the first sentence. Take out the first word and read the sentence. Does it still make sense and carry the same idea across? Yes? Then leave it out. Repeat. Skeptical? Try it. I just went through the intro of this blog and cut out loads of words that didn’t need to be there.

4.  Read your writing out loud. On the topic of reading your work aloud, David Sedaris says: “When I hear myself reading out loud, I hear things I don’t hear when I read (silently) to myself. When I read aloud, I always have a pencil in hand. If I feel I’m trying too hard, or I’m being repetitive, I make a mark.” Another reason to read your writing aloud is that it also helps with voice. You not only hear the repetition, you can also hear whether you sound too stilted, too casual, too funny or too sharp. I think this is why I like Sandra Tsing Loh so much as a writer. (Not incidentally, both she and Sedaris frequently perform their work on radio.) They are writers who have really honed their voice. I’m sure it took a lot of re-writing to get there.

5.  Don’t send it off too soon. Stephen King has a great metaphor for the writing process. He talks about writing “with the door open” vs. writing “with the door closed.” What he means is that the first draft is really for you, the writer, to get your thoughts down on the page. But at a certain point, you need to bring in other people to offer feedback. One of the biggest mistakes writers make is to spend endless amounts of time on the “closed door” phase of writing, and give short shrift to the “open door” phase. Here’s Victoria A. Mixon, with a cautionary tale on what happens when you send your draft out too soon:

You know what my first agent said about the draft I sent her of my first novel?

“I love this paragraph.”

Months later, after the manuscript had cooled off, I re-read the whole thing and was absolutely horrified.

I called her to apologize, and she responded (rather callously, I must say), “See what I had to wade through?”

Yikes. What works for you when you’re editing?

Image: Mistakes editing school via Needpix

Tips for Adulthood: How to Generate Ideas

creativity ideas

creativity ideasOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood. But as Friday is the new Wednesday under lockdown, I’m posting some tips today.

It’s been awhile since I posted on creativity. But it’s one of those things that I think about all the time. I’m fascinated by how creative people relate to their work, how they structure their days, and how they access their creative “space.”

Because I offer workshops on creativity and writing, I’ve been trying to pay more attention to how and when I come up with ideas, whether for blog posts, short stories, or reported pieces. Like many people, a lot of my best ideas emerge when I’m doing something *other than* sitting at the computer typing.

So today, I’m sharing some techniques for coming up with ideas, with the hope that these may prove useful to others. While I focus on writing ideas, I’m sure these strategies are pertinent to other fields:

a. Exercise.  When I’m confused about an idea, not sure how to spin it or just wondering if there’s even a “there there,” it’s amazing how often exercise solves that problem. In the old days, I’d go for a run. Now (at least once quarantine lifts!), I go for a swim. I may not set off on my workout intending to think about a certain issue. But if there’s something kicking around the back of my mind, I often find that the combination of forward motion, exertion and fresh air allow everything to fall in place. A friend of mine who’s a novelist does the same thing with bike rides. He writes in the morning and takes long bike rides in the afternoon. By the next morning, he tells me, he’s got loads of fresh material. The trick is to rush inside right after the workout and jot down your ideas.

b. Take a Thinking Shower.  During my first few years in graduate school, we were required to take a series of exams in order to qualify in our chosen field of study. These were called “field exams” and in my department, at least, they consisted of a series of essays which you researched and wrote over the course of a weekend. Needless to say, none of us got much sleep during those weekends. But I did have one friend who always seemed to be in the shower when I’d phone up to see how she was getting on. “The shower?” I’d ask, wondering who could possibly bathe regularly when they had so little time to complete an exam. “It’s a thinking shower,” she’d explain. She found that burst of hot water on her face  enabled her to outline her essays. So I tried it. So should you. Scientists even have a name for the link between water and creativity: blue mind.

c. Figure out what’s distinctive about your perspective. This is a technique I’ve used quite a bit since moving overseas. I find that so much of what I think about various issues – whether it’s health care reform, therapy, or getting a driver’s license – has changed dramatically simply by virtue of living somewhere else. But you don’t need to change place to draw on this different viewpoint. Just this morning I was thinking about the current turmoil engulfing the United States over race relations. I realised that I was thinking about the emerging divides in and around the Republican party over using the military to quell protests through what I know as a political scientist, rather than as a citizen. And having that different perspective was informative and useful.

d. Reflect on the most striking thing someone has said to you in the last week.  When I’m trying to come up with ideas for blog posts, I sometimes think about the most unusual thing someone’s said to me in the past week. Often, that person is one of my children. “Why is God so famous?” my daughter once asked me when she was six. A friend of mine recently observed that people have begun engaging in “opposite behaviour” during lockdown – i.e., those who normally hate cooking have taken to Instagram to share their culinary triumphs, while avowed introverts are flocking to Zoom for virtual drinks. A stranger confessed that he selects which films to watch based solely on the appeal of the poster. (Whaaaa???) Whenever this happens, I grab my pen and scribble these comments down.

5. Go outside for a walk.  Here, the focus is less on exercise – though there is research supporting a link between walking and creativity – than it is about being an observant student of other people. Writer and long-time public radio host Garrison Keillor once wrote that “A long walk also brings you into contact with the world, which is basic journalism, which most writing is. It isn’t about you and your feelings, so much as about what people wear and how they talk. The superficial is never to be overlooked.” Simply put, when you go outside you notice things. I’ve been taking long walks around parts of my neighborhood I’ve never visited before. The other day, I discovered a street called “Harriet Tubman Way.” It happened to be one of the first days of the racial equality protests in America. I paused to stare at the sign for a moment. It resonated differently than it might have a month earlier. And that’s what it’s all about.

How do you generate new ideas? Share in the comments section.

Image: Idea Creativity Innovation via Pixabay

Tips for Adulthood: Five Reasons to Watch Normal People

first love

first loveOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

It’s rarely the case that I prefer a film adaptation to the actual book.  But when I recently watched the BBC/Hulu mini-series, Normal People, I found myself revising that opinion.

Don’t get me wrong. I really liked Sally Rooney’s book on which the series is based. It’s about two Irish teenagers, Connell and Marianne, who meet in High School and carry on an on-again, off-again romance throughout university. Rooney’s a young, super-talented author who is only heading upwards. But I don’t remember loving the book.

I did love the mini-series. I’m not alone. Since first airing on the BBC iplayer, the series has shattered BBC 3’s record for downloads, more than doubling its previous record (which was for the not-too-shabby Killing Eve).

I *do* recommend that you read the book first. It’s actually fairly different in tone to the series. (New York Times book critic Dwight Garner aptly likened the book’s feel to Rachel Cusk’s sparse style, whereas the TV show has a dreamier quality). But as soon as you’ve finished reading, I suggest that you drop everything else you’re doing and get thee to this TV series.

Here’s why:

a.  First love.  I can’t remember the last time I saw something that so perfectly captured the feel of first love. The tentativeness. The desire. The shifting power imbalances. The uncertainty. The delight. We never really recover from the scars of falling in love the first time, or from its exploratory feel. The first few episodes of this show will bring you straight back to that moment in your life and cause you to re-live it all over again.

b.  Melancholy.  When I was growing up, we had a pillow on our sofa with a quote from the Irish poet William Butler Yeats. It read “Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy which sustained him through occasional periods of joy.” This series is so terribly Irish. Even the happier moments are laced with an undercurrent of melancholy. And some of the plot is downright dark. I think the only time the sun shines throughout the entire 12 episodes is during a brief scene in Italy one summer.  That worked for me; I like that feel-bad feeling. It’s more realistic.

c.  Sex.  Much has been of the explicit nature of this series. And there is a lot of sex. But it is beautifully rendered and an integral part of what draws the two central characters – both misfits, in their own ways – towards one another. One critic wrote that “the series is very conscious of sex as an expression of character, so it never felt like sex for sex’ sake.” That’s exactly right. The sex scenes don’t feel exploitative. You almost feel protective of the space, because you know that it’s one of the few places these two lonely young people get to be 100% themselves.

d.  Family.  A friend once observed that when you enter into a serious relationship, “You’re basically just waiting to find out what’s hanging on a hook in a refrigerator in the other person’s basement.” That may be a tad extreme, but my friend was onto something. Connell has a loving and devoted single mother. But you can’t help but wonder about the absent father and how far that goes towards explaining Connor’s underlying insecurity and depression. And although the darkness surrounding Marianne is never fully explained, a lot of it stems from a family marked by rage, fear and unspeakable sadness. While I couldn’t relate to Marianne’s desire to experience physical pain, I could relate to the ways in which family culture shapes our approach to everything we do. In some ways, the book is about how falling in love can help heal the wounds of childhood, and that really resonated for me.

e.  Acting.  The two young lovers are played by Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal. And they are absolutely fantastic. I recently learned that a chain Connell wears around his neck in the show has its own Instagram account, replete with its own “Hashflag” on (Google it!) on Twitter. Personally, I think Marianne’s ring deserves equal love, but that hasn’t gotten much play so far.

Did you ever find yourself enjoying a film adaptation more than the book? Share in the comments.

Image: First love via torange.biz

Tips for Adulthood: Five Insights from Brene Brown

vulnerability

vulnerabilityOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

It took me a while to get around to reading Brené Brown’s best-seller, Daring Greatly. It wasn’t because I doubted the book’s key claim (captured in its subtitle): “How the courage to be vulnerable can transform the way we live, love, parent, and lead.” I’ve drawn on Brown’s work in storytelling workshops I run with Executive MBAs. Vulnerability is vital to engaging and inspiring others.

I just didn’t think I had all that much more to learn on this score.

I was wrong.

So when a friend gave me Daring Greatly as a Christmas present, I thought why not? Everyone else seems to have devoured this woman’s oeuvre. Why not me?

I’m so glad that I did. Here are five new ideas I picked up from this book:

a. Shame. One of Brown’s core concepts is shame:  we all carry it around, we avoid it like hell, and the only way to address shame in our lives is to speak about it. True dat’. I carry a lot of shame around, and often for things I have no control over. I’ve done enough therapy over the years to be able to identify that shame and know where it comes from. But I don’t talk about it all that much. Reading Brown’s book inspired me to anchor my next writing project around the place of shame in my own life, and to explore how it has shaped who I am.

b. Feedback. For Brown, vulnerability lies at the heart of how you give feedback, whether as a boss, teacher, mentor or friend. In my previous job, I quickly discovered that when offering constructive criticism to someone you manage, it really helps if you can identify with their professional challenges. It’s far more effective to say “I understand how frustrating it is when other people don’t share your deadlines” than to say, “You need to stop pressuring people to complete projects before the deadline.” Brown also advises that you sit on the same side of the table when delivering that feedback. Literally. The implicit message when you sit next to someone is that you’re not there to critique them, so much as to jointly improve the situation. In my line of work, I think of this is the difference between editing someone’s work and coaching them. Even in the current age of social distancing, it’s a useful metaphor to bear in mind.

c. Teaching. Brown –  a Professor of Social Work – writes “I realised that if education is going to be transformative, it’s going to be uncomfortable and unpredictable.” I loved this. I think one of my greatest anxieties during my early career as an academic was the erroneous belief that I needed to know all the answers. But Brown’s approach to teaching is liberating. In my work as a communications consultant, I’ve learned that it’s so much more fun for me – and worthwhile for the participants – when I approach my workshops as a process of knowledge transformation, rather than knowledge transmission. Crucial to that shift is embracing the idea that the best part of life are the suprises. You learn so much more from them, than from all your careful planning.

d. Parenting.  Brown poses the simple – but potentially lethal – question: “Are you the adult you want your child to grow up  to be?” Ouch. In my own case, the answer to that question is a mixed bag. In a lot of ways, I think I’ve modelled a strong set of values and behaviours in the way I’ve raised my kids. In other ways, I’m a terrible role model. My son, who’s just completed his freshman year of college under lockdown at home, barely came out of his room for six weeks because he was studying so hard. We were proud of him, but also a bit concerned.  I kept telling him to take a break and relax. But I often said this to him after working straight through a three-day weekend or having risen at 5 am to cram in an extra hour of work myself. Who was I kidding? As Brown says, what you do as a parent is much more important than what you say. So if you want your kids to change their behaviour, you first have to own up to your own weaknesses.

e. Family Culture.  Brown also introduces the concept of “family culture.” It’s the idea that every family, just like every organization, has a recognizable corporate culture. A divorced friend of mine has been dating a man for the past several years. They both have kids and they bring their respective families together for meals a couple of times a week. But she’s struggling with the relationship. At the end of the day, she’s concerned that she and her boyfriend don’t share the same “culture”:  the same values, traditions, and mores. And she wonders if, deep down, this means they aren’t meant to be together. Brown’s notion of “family culture” instantly resonated. It helped me to understand the myriad times I’ve felt like the odd (wo)man out when spending time with someone else’s family. I now see that I simply didn’t “get” their culture.

All of these concepts are intuitive, but I found it really helpful to name them. What place does vulnerability play in your life?

 

Image: Fear, Emotion, Anxiety, Vulnerability by John Hain via Pixabay

Tips for Adulthood: Five Tips for Speaking to Slides

PowerPoint

PowerPointFor those of us who give a lot of presentations, Powerpoint is like an extension of our body. An economist friend of mine put it best. He stood up to deliver a talk at a conference many years ago, only to find that the projector wasn’t working. Forced to speak without his slides, he quipped, “I feel like I’m standing up here with my fly down.”

I knew what he meant. PowerPoint has become synonymous with “giving a talk.” Have deck, will travel.

But while PowerPoint has revolutionized our ability to deliver an engaging talk, this tool can often do more harm than good. And that’s because when you think about your talk in terms of slides, you forget the key point about public speaking:  you are the message. So anything that gets in the way of that message by definition dilutes it.

Here are five suggestions for using slides more effectively:

a. Write the talk first, then design the slides. Yes, I know. That sounds counter-intuitive. But it’s the right way to go. If you design the slides first, your natural inclination will be to create ever more slides to narrate your message. Before you know it, you’ll start creating slides for words like “it” and “the.” In contrast, if you write the talk first, you can be much more selective about where and when you use slides. In particular, you’ll learn how to *only* use slides that add value, rather than as filler.

b. Less is More. Remember that as soon as you put a slide up, you are competing with it for the audience’s attention. So the less text, the fewer bells and whistles (read: videos, animations, sounds, etc.), the better. An employee who creates slide presentations at Microsoft for a living put it like this: “Draw eyes where you want, when you want.” Otherwise, in a battle against even an ugly slide, you will invariably lose.

c. Separate out listening and reading. The reason you need to be so spare in your use of slides is because people cannot read and listen at the same time. We all think we can  – “Sure honey, I’ll do the dishes,” we say, while scrolling through our smart phones. But we’re only half listening. (Little wonder the dishes still remain in the sink, unwashed, an hour later.) And that’s because of a concept called cognitive load. We’ve all got a limited amount of working memory. So when we have to handle information in more than one way- say through simultaneous auditory (spoken) and visual presentation of text – our load gets heavier, and progressively more challenging to manage.

d. Shift away from text to images. The upshot of the previous point is that the less reading that’s going on, the better. One way to avoid overdoing text in your slides is to shift to images. A picture paints 1,000 words and all that good stuff. If you’re addicted to bullets as a way to bring people along with your argument, try replacing your bullets with images

e. Don’t use Powerpoint at all. Whaa?? Perish the thought! If you don’t believe me, watch how Bill Gates – the inventor of PowerPoint – has come to deploy slides over time:  sparingly, or not at all. Try it. You might like it.

Image: Slideshow via Wikimedia Commons

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