Archive | Tips List

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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Tips for Adulthood: Five Things I Learned From Keeping Track of My Time

keeping track of time

keeping track of timeOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

Like many of us, I wake up most days feeling like there’s more to do in the day/week/month than I can possibly accomplish. So I pile my To Do list high with a list of impossible goals, accomplish a few, and then – instead of feeling great about what I *did* get done  – feel lousy about what I failed to achieve. Sound familiar?

I resolved to do better this year. But there’s knowing and then there’s doing. How to actually execute this goal?

In her book, Entrepreneurial You, marketing and career development expert Dorie Clark suggests that when you find yourself overwhelmed by an impossibly long list of goals, try taking an inventory of your time. The idea is simple:  keep a log of everything you do in a workday that takes more than 15 minutes. Do this for two weeks, and then step back and examine the results.

I’ve been doing this for the past month, and it’s been highly illuminating.  The best thing about this method is that you don’t judge yourself. Instead, you go into data-collection mode and observe. That’s hard for a “do-er” like myself, but boy, is it useful.

Here’s what I learned when I studied my use of my time:

a. My writing is suffering. A while back, I committed to spending an hour every morning writing before I do anything else. I may not always be able to hit an hour, but most mornings, I am able to achieve this goal. That’s the good news. The bad news is that there is a trade-off in what I write. While I’m able to produce my target of one blog a week, my other writing – my book, my fiction, and any opinion pieces or personal essays I may wish to write – fall largely by the wayside. Which means that I’m really only achieving about half of my writing goals right now, possibly a third. And that’s not good enough. Of all the things I do in a day, writing is the one I enjoy most. It’s where I feel most authentic and most relaxed. Don’t get me wrong. I love blogging and I wouldn’t give it up for anything in the world. But this experiment has shown me that I need to find a way to create more writing time in the day.

b. I need to clear time for “Admin time.”  Another thing that gets short shrift in my current life is “admin time.” On the personal end of things, admin time encompasses everything from scheduling my daughter’s 10,000 activities, to planning social events with friends, to collecting  interesting items for my monthly newsletter. On the work end, it involves things like answering emails, booking travel and keeping track of my finances. The latter is particularly vital for we self-employed types, because we’re always in a constant cycle of invoicing clients, chasing them for payments and keeping track of expenses. And yet, “admin time” is usually the first thing to drop when you hit a busy week. After a few weeks of ignoring all those niggling “to do’s,” you can easily find yourself doing nothing but answering emails for a day. My big revelation from doing this exercise was that I need to set aside two separate blocks of time for both types of admin:  the stuff that keeps my personal life going, as well as the stuff that keeps my business going.

c.  The time/money trade-off. In light of the above, it was also really useful to examine how I spend time with clients. Because my business has been in a growth mode over the past two years, I’ve never really stopped  to think about whether or not certain clients/activities were worth spending time on. I just kept saying “yes” to work. Now that I’m tracking my time carefully, however, I can clearly see that I need to be choosier in terms of how I spend time with clients. For instance, while I love writing coaching, I’ve come to the conclusion that most of that work needs to happen virtually, rather than face-to-face. Otherwise, I can easily spend half a day reading  a client’s work, coaching them in person, and commuting back and forth to that meeting. That simply isn’t an efficient use of my time from a cost-benefit standpoint. In other cases, if I really want to prioritise writing *and* make ends meet, I’m going to need to let go of certain clients unless they can pay more.

d. Prepare less. When I told my husband that I’m still struggling to work a normal, five- day work week, he immediately commented: “You need to prepare less.” I do tend to prepare a lot before I deliver a workshop. That’s partly so that I’ll go in knowing the material so well that I can relax and be myself. But it’s also driven by a crippling fear that I won’t wow the audience/be letter perfect/and or – egads! – only deliver a B+. So much like reducing the time I spend commuting to see coaching clients, I need also to reduce the time I prepare. For me, that’s like asking myself to deliver a workshop blindfolded. But I need to get more comfortable with it.

e. Make a change. It’s been extraordinarily useful to keep this log for the past month. I could happily study my schedule for the rest of my life. But I don’t want to get trapped in the paralysis of analysis. I need now to do the hard part, which is to make the changes in my schedule that will enable me to write a bit more and work a bit less, all while maintaining my target income. That’s going to be difficult for  me. Among other things, it will threaten my addiction to being busy. But it’s time to act.

How about you? Have you ever kept a log of your time? What did you learn?

Image:  212-365 (Year 7) by George Redgrave via Flickr

Tips for Adulthood: Five Reasons to Celebrate Paying Your Taxes

self assessment tax return

self assessment tax returnOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

The UK tax year ends on the 31st of January each year. So last Friday night, at approximately 8:04 pm, I hit “send” on my electronic tax return for my business.

I felt ridiculously happy. Despite being four hours short of fulfilling my commitment to Dry January, I nonetheless cracked open a beer and basked in the glow of a job well done. That glow carried well into Saturday.

Yeah,  I know what you’re thinking:  Taxes? Seriously? Get a life, sister.

But here are five reasons paying your taxes can make you feel great:

a. It’s an enactment of citizenship. I’m not all that patriotic in either of the two countries where I hold passports. I don’t have antipathy towards either nation; I simply don’t feel some overwhelming affection or bond. But somehow, paying taxes does make me feel like I am fulfilling the duty of being a citizen. Unlike voting, which is a privilege, taxes are an obligation. Perhaps this makes me a Socialist. I don’t think so. (Nor do I mind).  But when I pay taxes, I do feel that I am holding up my half of a bargain with my government, for which I get so much in return.

b. It’s an expression of pride in your work. I always feel good about paying taxes. But I think that this year felt particularly momentous because it was the first time that I paid them as a sole trader (British for small business). In painstakingly reviewing my past year of invoices, expenses and business travel, I was reminded of how far I’ve come since I set out my shingle on my communications consultancy less than two years ago. And that was a really great feeling.

c. It feeds your inner project manager. On the advice of a friend, I began using an electronic accounting software called Free Agent last year to map my business expenses electronically. It’s a fantastically user-friendly program with exceptional customer support. Don’t get me wrong; it took me a while to learn the ropes (see below). But now that I’ve got the hang of it (which occurred at approximately 7:57 pm on January 31st…cough), I know exactly what I need to do and can’t wait to carry on coding my bank account every week going forward.  For the “managers” amongst us, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

d. It’s a useful reminder to ‘read the instructions.’ This is one of Gretchen Rubin’s mantras. And boy, is she right. Despite the myriad webinars and online topic guides that Free Agent offers, I blithely blundered into using it without really knowing what I was doing.  On January 2nd, I’d smugly allocated one afternoon in my calendar to file my taxes electronically this year. Needless to say, the week before they were due I was up at all hours of the day and night, googling things like: “What is a credit note?” Never again.

e. You learn a new skill. Sure, there are these individuals called accountants. As my business grows, I’m sure I’ll be availing myself of one of them shortly. But in this ever more automated day and age in which we live, there’s a heckuva lot of things you can now do on your own if you put your mind to it. I’m a big believer in life-long learning. Especially when it’s DIY.

Years ago, I posted a blog entitled “5 Signs You’re a Grown Up.” It included things like “no longer draping tapestries on your sofa” and “serving something other than beer at parties.” I would now like to add “paying taxes” to that list. At least as long as you learn to master the software…

Image:  Self Assessment Tax Return 2019 via Flickr

Tips for Adulthood: Five Unconventional Gift Ideas

gifts

giftsOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

As we enter the holiday season, a lot of us experience gift fatigue. Particularly for those people we buy presents for year in and year out, we are utterly stymied and in want of fresh ideas. More to the point, many of us are broke and/or beginning to sour on the idea of gifts altogether.

So this holiday season, I’ve come up with five unconventional gift ideas:

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50

Image: Christmas-Xmas-Gifts-Presents via Flickr

Tips for Adulthood: Five ‘Free Range’ Tips for Growing Your Business

free range chickens

free range chickensOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

I’ve been meaning to read Marianne Cantwell’s Be a Free Range Human ever since a colleague recommended it to me right before I left my last job. There’s something undeniably seductive about the subtitle of this book – Escape the 9-5, Create a Life You Love, and Still Pay the Bills. And given that at the time, I was still working for the BBC – which, for all its many delights – is still a ginormous corporation, the title really spoke to me.

Fast forward two years and I’m in a very different place. As I sped through the first 3/4 of Cantwell’s book, I realized I’d already put into place most of her excellent advice for how to figure out what you really want to do with your life. So I focused mainly on the last part of her book, which is all about launching your own business and making a decent living from it.

I’m so glad that I did. Although I’ve learned a lot from my own foray into entrepreneurship over the past year and a half, there is always more to learn. Continuing to educate yourself, as Cantwell reminds us towards the end of the book, is the single best investment you can make in your career. So here are five takeaways for those who’d like to deepen your “free range” career:

a. Ditch the Business Plan. Once you’ve figured out what you’d like to do with your life, you may be tempted to spend loads of time crafting a business plan. Don’t. One of Cantwell’s counter-intuitive pieces of advice is that you will benefit far more from just getting out there and doing whatever it is you want to try, rather than endlessly fine-tuning your idea. I learned this the hard way. Once I’d decided to launch my communications consultancy, I went and took a one-day course on “How to Craft a Business Plan” at a local university. I then spent at least a month editing it feverishly and shopping it around to various friends. It’s not that there wasn’t any value in doing that, but the best advice I got during that period was from a friend who read my concept note and suggested I put it down and go deliver a few workshops. He was right. Less than a year later, I’d considerably broadened my repertoire of workshops and had a much clearer sense of what I could – and could not – offer. Moral of this story: don’t get trapped in paralysis of analysis.

b. Ditch the fancy website. Another early mistake I made was thinking I needed to have a fancy website *before* I went public with my business idea. How would I ever demonstrate my value as a communicator if my website wasn’t pitch perfect? Thank goodness I didn’t have enough money to do that a year ago, because it turns out I didn’t need it. As Cantwell notes, a lot of people get so caught up in having the big, shiny things that they forget to just get out there and invest in getting clients. Right now, most of my work comes from repeat business and referrals from people I’ve worked with who liked what they saw and tell their friends and colleagues. Turns out, they don’t seem to care what my website looks like. They care if I’m actually any good at what I do. The website can wait. Building my reputation – and income stream – can’t. Ditto branding. Right now, my consulting business doesn’t have a name. Nor did Cantwell’s when she started. Free Range Humans came later. Someday I would like to have a kick-ass website, one that unites my blog with my professional website, all under the RealDelia brand. But that’s not my priority right now.

c. Figure out your free-range style. Another piece of advice that really hit home was Cantwell’s suggestion to figure out your “free range” style before designing your business development strategy. Given the number of personality tests I’ve taken over the years, I didn’t think I needed another typology. Again, I was wrong. Cantwell lays out three different free-range styles: the attractor, the connector and the trusted person. Attractors bring in clients and income through their brand or name. They are all about making their story, products or ideas visible. I’m a connector. This means that I typically win business through personal connections. I tap into those relationships to go out and create new ones. Trusted advisors, in contrast, tend to be more introverted in their style and win clients through expertise, qualifications and quiet interactions. All three styles work. The trick is to figure out which is the most natural fit for you.

d. Figure out what makes you stand out. Cantwell calls this your 1% difference. The best way to differentiate yourself from competitors isn’t by scanning the field and figuring out how you can tweak their offer. Instead, you need to start with yourself and determine what makes you distinct. For Cantwell, it’s her smile. Time and again, clients tell her that they are drawn to her smile. For me, it’s my energy.  I also have a PhD, which gives me a huge advantage over others competing for work in the higher education sector. So figure out what makes you special and how you can capitalize on it to win over clients.

e. Change your mindset for sales. Sales is a vital part of any business. Most of us hate doing it because it makes us feel sleazy. Cantwell has great advice for those of us who think of “sales” as a four-letter word. Her advice is that instead of “selling your soul,” that you “sell from your soul.” If you love what you do (which is a pre-requisite for a free range career) and can’t wait to get started, try selling that enthusiasm, rather  than trying to convince someone to buy something. She encourages you to consider how you’d describe your product or service if it were someone else’s product and you knew a friend would really benefit from it. When you believe in and love what you do, it doesn’t feel like selling. It begins to feel more authentic.

Image: [Semi] Free Range Chickens by woodleywonderworks via Flickr

Tips for Adulthood: Five Ideas for a Fast-Changing World

running long distance

running long distanceLast Thursday, I had the privilege of attending the second annual meeting of The Longevity Forum, a relatively new player on the UK’s ageing scene.

As I noted last year when I attended the inaugural event, The Longevity Forum takes a two-pronged approach to the demographic realities of a globally ageing population. It is, on the one hand, interested in the potential for current scientific research to extend the lifespan. But the organisation is also focused on the social and economic implications of this so-called longevity dividend.

As the conference was invitation-only, this blog shares five ideas I took away:

Read the rest of this blog over at the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing blog

Image: Runner running long distance via Pixabay

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Tips For Adulthood: How to Lower Your Expectations

Danish pastry

Danish pastryOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

I was talking to my son on the phone yesterday. He’s at college in the U.S. – ( we live in the UK) – and he was telling me about a recent mid-term he’d taken in Economics.

“Yeah, I don’t think I did very well on it,” he said. “I’m hoping I got a B.”

Hmmmm. As someone who regularly sets the bar too high in just about everything I do, I had trouble swallowing this at first. When I was in college, getting a “B” in anything felt like a massive failure. But I suppressed that thought and instead asked him how he felt about the experience.

“I was bummed for a few minutes,” he said. “Because I did study for the test. But then I just went back to reading Antigone for my literature class and realized that mattered so much more to me.”

In other words, rather than castigate himself for not performing to his highest standard, he moved on.

Wow.  Not for the first time, I realized I was taking life lessons from my 18 year-old.

In that spirit –  and because I’m all about adopting a growth mindset – here are five tips for lowering your expectations.

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50

Image: Cherry Chocolate Danish Pastry via Pixabay

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Tips for Adulthood: Five Myths about Public Speaking

public speaking

public speakingOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

Public speaking is a critical skill in the 21st century workplace. And yet many people list public speaking as their top fear, second only to death. That fear can be particularly damaging for women, who often suffer from “Fear of Public Speaking” (FOPS) syndrome.

But a lot of that fear is misplaced. And that’s because most people misunderstand the most effective way to make a presentation, whether it’s to an interview panel, their boss, or a large crowd.

Here are five myths about public speaking that you need to let go of if you wish to come across as relaxed and confident when you speak:

Read the rest of this post over on The Return Hub

Image: Actor-People-Women-Speech via Pixabay

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Tips for Adulthood: Five Recurrent Dreams

dreams

dreamsWell, as long as sleep is now the new sex, I thought I’d tap into what actually happens when most of us sleep: we dream.

Not all of us, I suppose. An old boyfriend of mine used to maintain that he dreamt mostly in images:  he’d be standing out in the middle of a field or perched atop a mountain.

Huh?” I thought. “You mean you don’t dream that someone’s chasing you around your kitchen table with a knife?”

Not only are my dreams hopelessly plot-driven and transparent, they are also recurrent. There are four or five dreams that I must have at least once a month. Every time, I wake up bathed in sweat. But once I began to reflect upon these dreams and analyze them more closely, I realized that they are all – in one way or another – telltale dreams of adulthood.

On the off-chance that you’ve had them – or similar recurrent dreams – I present them here so that we can all get a better handle on our collective demons:

Read the rest of this post over at Better After 50

Image: Realm of Dreams via PublicDomainPictures.net

 

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways to Rethink Vacations

vacation

vacationOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

The summer is nearly over. Here in London, where I live, it’s been well over 90 degrees Farenheit for the last few days, and my daughter and I still have one day outing left before she returns to school next week. So I’m not quite ready to get out the iron and attach name tags to her school uniform (which is my own official marker for the end of summer).

Still, despite all the research telling us how good vacations are for both us and for our employers, Americans, in particular, struggle to use up their vacation days.  I myself am guilty as charged. And bad habits start young. Fearing “vacation shaming” from bosses and co-workers, millennials are now the least likely cohort of workers to use up their vacation time, despite becoming the largest generation in the workforce.

In my newfound embrace of balance, however, I had a better summer this year in terms of rest.  So I thought I’d share what I’ve learned:

a. Take shorter, more frequent vacations. Apparently, holiday memories tend to depend not on how long the holiday was, but on the intensity of the experience. So even going away for only two or three days can be enough to re-charge your batteries.  Moreover, research shows that vacations from work seem to have positive, though short-lived effects on wellbeing.  This is perhaps why a study in the Journal of Happiness Studies recommended spacing your holidays out evenly throughout the year, rather than bunching them all at once.

b. Go alone. Our family had a very different vacation experience this summer than our normal fare – which is either to go on one, short family holiday or to stay home. This year, each of the four of us took short trips on our own, in addition to the short family holiday. I myself went to Argentina for 10 days at the beginning of July to see an old friend. It was blissful. I’d had a very busy and difficult Spring on both the professional and personal fronts. So going away without the strain of having to coordinate my time with the other three members of my family was a huge relief. Some days, I strolled the streets of Buenos Aires. Other days, I stayed home and read while sipping beer and listening to Cuban music. I came back ready and able to spend time with my family.

c. Split up and do your own thing. Which brings me to my truly revolutionary vacation suggestion: if you’re going on holiday with your family or friends, don’t try to do everything together. My family tends to take breaks to European cities when we go on vacation. We all love experiencing foreign foods, cultures and languages. But our ideal time spent in a museum varies enormously. I can last about one and a half hours, two max. My husband can do at least three; my daughter, five; and my son, eight. So this year, we instituted a new rule:  everyone gets to do their own thing during the day and we meet up for meals. It worked beautifully. Our family holiday was in Vienna. Both of my kids speak German and they are both very comfortable using public transport. It’s also a very safe city. So I got to visit the obscure clock museum in Old Vienna, my daughter got to go to the imperial palace, Schönbrunn, my husband was able to take a massive detour to find the best coffee ever and my son, well, let’s just say Egon Schiele got a lot of face time.

d. Take a micro trip. I first learned about these from my neighbor, a guy in his 30’s who was setting off one Thursday afternoon around 4 pm to cycle down to the British Coast, camp out on a beach, and wake up early to cycle back up to work. That’s not my personal idea of fun, but he said he’d been sprinkling lots of these little mini-vacations throughout the summer and had found them quite energizing. Apparently, micro trips are all the rage in 2019. (Note: you can also take a train or a plane; you don’t have to cycle!)

e. Staycations really are fun. I’m a huge fan of the staycation. We probably do one once every other year, and I’ve never been disappointed. The trick is not to try and sneak in work, even though you’re at home. Sure, you may wish to tackle something on your dreaded To Do list, and that’s fine. But mainly staycations should be about discovering the extraordinary in the ordinary and being more mindful about where you live. And if all else fails and you either can’t – or simply won’t – take a proper holiday, at least do yourself the favour of adopting a vacation mindset on your weekend.

How about you? What tips have you discovered for maximizing happiness on vacations?

Image: Summer Sun Beach Greece by KRiemer via Pixabay

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