My PowerPoint New Year’s Resolutions

January 1, 2014

In reviewing the past year, I realize I’ve frittered away too much time looking at boring, useless PowerPoint presentations. I’ll never get those hours back.

Fewer PowerPoints would make this a better world.

A presenter and an audience should have real, authentic conversations. Such conversations almost never involve a PowerPoint presentation.

PowerPoint presentations might be helpful when someone is sharing graphs, pictures or other visual content. Too often, though, PowerPoint slides are overcrowded with text that stifle communications, especially when the presenter reads aloud—word-for-word—the endless prose projected onto the screen.

I believe fewer PowerPoints would make this world a better place in which to live, to learn and to work. Do you agree?

Towards that end, I hereby resolve that during the coming New Year I will become a better communicator by minimizing or even eliminating the boring PowerPoints that threaten to clutter my life. Are you with me? Will you join me in this important revolution? Here’s what I commit to do.

When I’m presenting, I resolve to:

  1. Use PowerPoint only when it is the best option for communicating. Contrary to popular opinion, not every workshop or training session requires a PowerPoint. When I’m in front of an audience, I’d much rather talk with people rather than at them. I want to create an atmosphere where we have an authentic conversation. Yet I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had a real conversation that included a PowerPoint presentation.
  2. Never create a PowerPoint using bullet points. Okay, there’s a slight chance I’ll break this resolution if I’m trying to explain a hierarchy of ideas. Wouldn’t it be better, though, to create a separate slide for each bullet point? That would make things cleaner and would also keep the slides moving faster.
  3. Never use complete sentences on a PowerPoint slide. If the audience needs the exact wording of something for future reference, I can provide that in a handout. Otherwise, a couple of keywords or images on the screen will be enough to focus our attention and prompt me to say—in my own words—whatever idea I’m trying convey. Read the rest of this entry »

10 Things Networkers Did that Impressed Me

December 19, 2013

During the past five years I’ve been fortunate enough to meet with hundreds of job seekers and others interested in networking. I value these interactions, and will almost always accept a networking request.

As I think back on those interactions, though, some individuals I met with were more memorable. I best remember those who did the following things:

  1. They had a purpose for meeting. Knowing why provided purpose and focus for our conversations. Of course, I never expected anyone to develop a detailed, comprehensive agenda before they requested an appointment. Just hearing them say, “I’m in a job search and want to brainstorm ideas” was a great starting point.
  2. They did not do all the talking. Occasionally, I’ve done all the listening, never having the opportunity to add any value to the conversation. In those rare cases, I just assumed the other person needed moral support as they unloaded their burdens in a stream of consciousness.
  3. They did not expect me to do all the talking. I never do well when the onus is left entirely upon me to do all the talking. I’ll do what I can to make a conversation lively, but let’s not forget that one hand clapping makes no sound. Read the rest of this entry »

How to Edit Your Own Writing

November 25, 2013

Every good writer needs a good editor. The skills required for each are usually contradictory, though. Writing requires creativity whereas editing demands critiquing what has already been created.

Sometimes it works well for a writer to also serve as his or her own editor, though it’s nearly impossible to do both simultaneously.

My daughter is a strong communicator and often edits my blog posts. Recently she suggested this topic, and she even emailed me the following tips on how to edit your own writing:

  1. Give yourself time to write and then revisit it later. With fresh eyes and a new perspective, it’s usually easier to reword or rewrite the rough draft of your earlier writing.
  2. Read and then reread. Skim the draft to get your overall reaction to the coherence and flow of the writing. Once it reads the way you want, then go back and edit for spelling and grammar.
  3. Read your writing aloud. Words sound different when read out loud. Make sure your writing has a certain rhythm and melody.
  4. Read your writing from the reader’s perspective. When read through the lens of your target audience, does your idea make sense? Is it relevant? In a world full of distractions, is it even interesting?
  5. Have someone else edit your work. Two minds can collaborate and create something that neither can do as effectively on his or her own.

That’s what my daughter and I did on this post. We both wrote and we both edited. Thanks, Jennifer.


What’s My New Role? A Team Leader? A Volunteer Manager? A Boss?

November 6, 2013

I‘m at a new place in my career, somewhere I haven’t been since my first years out of college.

My new reality is that I no longer supervise paid staff. My entire team—except for me—is made up of volunteers.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. Actually, I’m humbled to be surrounded by such an incredible team of people. I even feel a new surge of energy as I look towards the future.

Working with volunteers, though, is different than working with paid staff. For one thing, volunteers are typically motivated differently than employees. Volunteer work schedules require greater flexibility. Creating synergy among a virtual team of volunteers also requires greater creativity and demands that we use innovative ways of communicating with each other.

Things are different now and I need to rethink my entire approach. Read the rest of this entry »

Seven Lessons I’ve Learned from Corporate Reorganizations

October 16, 2013

During the seven years I’ve been with the American Red Cross, my co-workers and I have weathered many reorganizations. These changes have directly affected each of us. Next week as yet another wave of change crashes ashore, another handful of associates will be washed away.

Change is never easy, yet there are valuable lessons to be learned during a transition. As I have observed organizational changes, I have realized that:

  1. An employer is not a parent. No one—especially an employer— is going to take care of us unconditionally and look out for our best interests. Perhaps our fathers or grandfathers had that kind of relationship with their employers, but those days are long gone. (On a political side note, I never want to get comfortable with the naive notion that my elected officials will take care of me.)
  2. Wise people dig their wells before they are thirsty. Networking and personal branding are things that too many people begin doing once they find themselves between jobs. Granted, everyone has to begin sometime, but it’s best to expand your network and build your professional reputation when you are not in a free fall after a job loss.
  3. Protectors of the status quo are most at risk. Those who are deeply vested in the status quo are most likely to resist change. Change is inevitable and even necessary. As the great basketball coach John Wooden once said, “There is no progress without change,” Of course, he also went on to say, “Not all change is progress.” Granted, not all reorganizations move an organization forward, but any true progress ultimately requires that things be done differently. Read the rest of this entry »

Is Communications a Drain of Resources?

September 25, 2013

A co-worker recently referred to the communications budget as “overhead.”

While I understood the accounting term, I took exception because she used the word to imply that communications is a drain of organizational resources.

She then described the fundraising department as “revenue generating.”

That got me to thinking.

How would she classify the agricultural tasks performed by two farmers? Would the one who planted seeds and nurtured the crop be considered overhead? And would the one who helped to nurture the crop and then reaped the harvest be considered revenue-generating?


The Sticky Note Organizational Chart

September 17, 2013

The best organizational chart I ever created was made on a white wall using a black Sharpie pen and yellow sticky notes.

The setting was an office in Midtown Manhattan shortly after the devastating landfall of Superstorm Sandy.

Working for the American Red Cross, I had been assigned to serve as the Public Affairs Chief on the disaster relief operation. When I arrived in New York, more than a dozen members of my team were already there, and during the two weeks I served in that role, more than 50 individuals were assigned to the public affairs group, though not all were there at the same time.

In the midst of the disaster’s chaos, my first task was to organize the sprawling staff, most of whom I had never met. Although our disaster headquarters was in New York City, our job was more difficult because we had crews spread out in each of the five NYC boroughs and on Long Island. Their varied assignments included handling media inquiries, writing stories, taking pictures, creating social media content and performing other communications tasks.

At a quick staff meeting in the hallway, we introduced ourselves and each person briefly described his or her experience and areas of expertise. I reviewed the paperwork on each team member and then huddled up with one of my key managers to draw a table of organization. Read the rest of this entry »

Topics You Could Blog About

September 4, 2013

I don’t know what to write about.”

That’s often the first excuse I hear when I encourage someone to begin blogging.

There may be valid reasons you choose not to blog, but never let a lack of potential topics hinder you. We live in an abundant, colorful world. To begin writing, just start talking about what you see. Or what you’ve experienced. Or what you’ve learned. Or what you think. Or what you do, and how you do it.

Never forget that you have a special place in the universe. Your journey has been unlike anyone else’s. That gives you a unique vantage point from which you can write things that can best be said only by you.

I would love to read your blog, and here are some topics you could write about that I would find quite interesting.

If you are a student, your blog posts could be titled:

  1. Seven things I hope to find in my first job.
  2. Why I am pursuing a career in _______________. Insert the profession you’d like to work in after graduation. Trust me, writing this blog post will later help you ace that all-important job interview.
  3. 10 things I learned on my internship that my first employer won’t have to teach me.
  4. Things I know as a college senior that I wish I’d known as a high school senior.
  5. Memorable quotations that inspire me.
  6. Career advice from my interview with _______________. Insert a mentor, parent, professor, intern supervisor or professional you admire.
  7. Words I’ll always remember from my favorite professor.
  8. What I learned about life from my _______________. Insert an adventure such as a service project, a mission trip or a volunteer job.
  9. How playing on a softball team (or whatever you like) will make me a better _______________. Insert a job title—writer, accountant, PR professional, sales person or whatever career path you are pursuing
  10. Twelve commitments I can make to the person who hires me.

If you are a young professional, your blog posts could be titled:

  1. What they didn’t teach me in college (that I needed to know).
  2. 10 things I’d change if I was in charge.
  3. What I learned from my first 90 days on the job.
  4. Things my mentor has taught me.
  5. How to find and keep a good mentor. Read the rest of this entry »

Wisdom for Bloggers – Quotes on Blogging

September 1, 2013
  1. Blogging is best learned by blogging…and by reading other bloggers. George Siemens
  2. Blogging is like work, but without coworkers thwarting you at every turn. Scott Adams
  3. It doesn’t matter if anyone reads (your blog). What matters is the humility that comes from writing it. What matters is the metacognition of thinking about what you’re going to say. How do you explain yourself to the few employees, or your cat, or whoever is going to look at it? How do you force yourself to describe in three paragraphs why you did something? How do your respond out loud? If you’re good at it, some people are going to read it. If you’re not good at it and you stick with it, you’ll get good at it. Basically, you’re doing it for yourself to force yourself to become part of the conversation. Seth Godin Read the rest of this entry »

Four Reasons You Should Blog

August 27, 2013

Have you considered becoming a blogger? If so, I’d like to encourage you to jump in. The water’s fine!

If you need a little encouragement, here are four reasons I think you should blog:

  1. Blog for yourself. The discipline of organizing your ideas into a blog post will result in your having better ideas. Trust me, you will be more creative, more articulate and more organized when you blog. I can’t explain it. It just happens. I’ve found that the more ideas I share, the more they are magically replaced with better, more creative ones. Try it!
  2. Blog to enhance your career. Blogging has a way of boosting your professional credibility. You ideas, your insights and your experiences somehow carry more weight when you publish them online in a blog post. Other will appreciate your sharing things you’ve learned, obstacles you’ve overcome and experiences you’ve had. Write blog posts that you’d like your next employer to read. As television personality Lauren Conrad said, “Blogging is a great way to show your talents and interests to prospective employers, while adding an edge to your resume. If you blog consistently it shows your dedication, passions and creativity – all of which are key attributes employers look for in job candidates.” Read the rest of this entry »

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