Wednesday, May 7, 2014

ASTD ICE - Day 2

Day 2 was a busy day for me. Not only was I all set to watch a bunch of sessions, but I was scheduled to give one of my own too. On top of that, I promised a co-worker that I would hit the Expo hall on her behalf. All and all, a good, but exhausting day.

1) Keynote: Arianna Huffington
Did you know that Arianna Huffington was funny? I sure didn't until this session. Always a nice surprise to find that out about a speaker, don't you think?

Anyway, the point of this session was how do deal with change and succeed in life in a healthy way. Huffington pointed out that society typically recognizes two measures of success: power and wealth. Trying to achieve those two, though, can come at a pretty pricy cost to ourselves though. Huffington saw this happen to her, when her drive to burn the candle at both ends actually caused her to pass out at her desk from exhaustion.

And so, she wondered if there might be a third way we could start to recognize success. One that wouldn't require us to work 24/7 until we burn out. And so, she proposed a new measure of success. One with the following four pillars:

Science falls pretty strongly on the side of "less sleep makes you more dumb," and yet so many workplaces push people to work as much as possible. Huffington compares this to encouraging people to come to work drunk. It's not safe and the work tired people make is not terribly dissimilar to the junk they'd crank out if they were hammered.

To do our very best work, we need to start by being very well rested. Make sure to get a full night's sleep, take time for naps, and for the love of god keep your smart phone away from where you sleep. Beyond catching some winks, you also need to rest your brain. Our world is full of input, and our attempts to multi-task often just leave our brains overworked. Take every opportunity to be in the moment and just concentrate on one thing at a time. You'll be surprised at how much less exhausted it makes you.

Wisdom isn't just knowing facts. It's being able to see the big picture, avoid obstacles, make intuitive jumps and create a vision for how things could be.

Step back and just connect with the mystery of the universe. I think sometimes we take for granted just how spectacularly cool our world is. It's healthy and refreshing to tap back in to that wonder at everything around us that we had as a kid.

Personally, when I'm in need of a bit of a wonder jump start, I always watch this video. It really is my happy place sometimes.

You know what's cool? Research currently shows that giving time and/or money can give you the same boost in happiness as an increase in income. So we need to remember to make giving a priority. It's good for other people, and it's good for us too.

To wrap up, Huffington insisted that we all have a place of strength, peace, wisdom, and joy and it's time we live life connected to that place... time to choose to live life not with stress and burnout, but with compassion, creativity, and rest.

2) Telling Your Story With Infographics
Speaker: Bianca Woods
I had an awesome time facilitating this session, in large part due to a fantastic audience who was willing to participate (and ignore the occasional odd flickering of the room overhead lights). If you weren't able to make the session, you can still check out the in-depth session reference website I created. It's got links to the tools and sites I talked about in my session (plus a few more I thought people would like), my PowerPoint deck, and all my speaking notes. Enjoy!

3) Train Like a Rockstar: Speaking Tips From a Stand-Up Comedian
Speaker: Jeff Birk
When you think about it, it's not surprising that presenting to a group and doing stand up have more than a bit in common. Sure, the content is different, but the set up is the same. In both cases you have an audience (in some cases, a hostile one) that is counting on you to keep their attention and tell them something they didn't already know. And so Birk, a professional comedian, decided to share his tips for leveraging the skills one needs in stand up to make you a successful presenter.

I should start by pointing out that Birk mentioned early on that this didn't mean that in order to learn from stand up you had to make your content funny. Some content just doesn't hit right if you make it into jokes. Make light of something like diversity or sexual harassment and you're likely to make your audience ticked off, not engaged. But there are other techniques comedians use that you can try out in even the most serious of classes (and you can always pull out the jokes and light heartedness in the right occasions). Here are some of the key tips he mentioned:

  • Find a good balance between not being dull, but not being over the top either.
  • Don't make the session about you (the facilitator). Make it about the audience and the content.
  • Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse... especially your first 3 minutes of the presentation so you can be sure to start out solid.
  • Rehearse enough where your presentation is so second nature that you can actually riff and improv off it based on the room.
  • What can often work better than just straight humour? Mentioning something poignant that's strongly related to your topic.
  • Have trouble memorizing things? Use visualizing to connect images with what you need to say. Then recall that imaging when you need to present.
  • Use self-deprecating humour to connect to your audience.
  • Don't let intimidation get to you. Always remember that you are the expert! 
  • There's a lot of power in memorizing at least a few audience member names and using them throughout the session. Repeat people's names to commit them to memory.
  • You've got to have a little ego as a presenter.
  • Nobody cares about your product or service: they care about what it means to THEM.
  • Use light banter, both before your session and at the beginning, to get people comfortable and friendly.
  • Be aware that if people are tuned out, it's not always because of you. You don't know what else is going on in their life that could make them not feel engaged at the moment.
  • Audience is unattentive? 1) Stop talking. 2) Light-heartedly call them on it. 
  • Every great speaker still has quirks/tics. Have someone watch you speak and let you know about yours.
  • Know your audience so you can connect with them. Also remember that knowing your audience requires emotional and cultural intelligence. Not everyone reacts/converses/interprets everything the same way.

Finally, Birk made a strong point that I think he did a great job of following in his own talk: use humour to make impact, but be careful not have it override what you're trying to teach.

4) Even a Duck Can Drown: The 6 Keys to Building Career Resilience
Speaker: Maureen Orey
Did you know that ducklings aren't born able to float? It takes a bit of time for them to develop the skills they need to stay buoyant. In a similar vein, none of use are born magically able to be resilient. That's a skill that takes time to build too. And, from the stories I heard in the room about layoffs and job cuts, it's a skill that you'll want to hone fast.

So how do you go from an easy-to-drown newbie to a seasoned veteran whose career can stay afloat no matter what challenges they face? These 6 steps!

Build a supportive network
Staying connected to others, both in our industry and outside of it, will help you stay inspired... and also help you out when you have a problem. There were a lot of people in this session who mentioned how the power of a great network can help you find a new job rapidly, but it can also help you in smaller ways too, like fixing an issue on a project or hearing about a new tool or technique to try out. I adore my network so, no surprise, I just maybe have written about the value of a strong personal learning network in the past.

Develop new skills and resources
You can't just do things the way you've always done them and expect to continue to succeed. Things change, and you need to change with them. Learn to adapt by developing new skills, being open to new ideas, identifying new resources, being flexible, and changing your mindset.

Apply and practice your new skills daily
It's not just enough to learn new skills, you also need to use them on a regular basis or they'll atrophy. How can you do this? Make it a priority to practice your new skills, be proactive, take risks, believe in yourself, then REPEAT!

Take care of your health
This seemed to be a bit of the the theme of the day, now didn't it?! No surprise, though, because personal health is so vital to keeping us sharp and energized. Of course, this isn't just our physical health that we need to take care of, but our emotional health too. So take care of yourself (physically, emotionally, and financially), eat right, exercise, avoid toxic people, get rest, and stop any negative self-talk.

Follow your instincts
This is the one that, personally, I think a "your mileage may vary" warning needs to be applied. I agree that you need to push yourself outside your comfort zone and be brave enough to trust your instincts once and awhile. But don't do it to the point that you don't take logic and/or research into account too. 

As well, this ability to take a risk on a gut feeling requires having a certain amount of privilege, don't you think? For instance, someone with no nest egg and dependants has a lot less wiggle room to take big chances than a single person with a decent savings account.

And, as always, don't let the mantra of "follow your instincts" feel like it gives you permission to violate Wheaton's Law.

Work hard and use grit
Be tenacious and scrappy. Sometimes, let's be honest, life is kinda crummy. When things get hard, work even harder to keep them from getting you down.

But was that the end of Day 2 for me? Not a bit. I did what was one of my favourite things from the entire conference: I went out for dinner with a few other attendees and just chatted for the rest of the night over tasty food. Really, is there anything better than great company and nerding out about learning? I think not!

Plus, I got some great tips for how I can start learning to play that ukulele I've been neglecting. Who would have guessed?!