Start Goal Setting Today!

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The idea that adaptability and goal setting are good for your career isn’t rocket science. In fact, the University of Toronto’s Towards 2030 report highlights adaptability and self-management as two of the top 15 core competencies that positively impact your career. But while many people only begin seriously mapping out their goals in the early to mid-years of their professional life (or after a real or imagined career crisis), some students at David Thompson Secondary School in southeast Vancouver are getting a head start thanks to a new innovative career conference.

Launched by their principal Iona Whishaw with the help of career counsellor Jacky Mulder, this year’s David Thompson Career Conference was inspired by evidence that Whishaw saw presented at an education conference in San Antonio, Texas. At the conference, Whishaw was inspired by a workshop led by a principal from a poor neighbourhood in Los Angeles, who explained how simple goal setting at the age of Grade 9 had led to a significant increase in his class’ eventual graduation rate. The act of focussing on a goal/career and mapping out what’s needed to achieve it worked wonders for many of the school’s urban students.

David Thompson is a long way from an inner city school, but Whishaw discerned that the principles could be just as valuable to her students as the poorer kids described in the San Antonio workshop. Forget what The Harvard Business Review tells you about goal setting, because the Center for Education Policy at The George Washington University Graduate School of Education of and Human Development released a report in 2012 that says it does matter. A lot.

This year’s Career Conference drew roughly 300 Grade 8 students, 55 mentors (or “panellists”) and a handful of Grade 12 students to facilitate the conference’s workshops. During the daylong session at David Thompson, students had the opportunity to explore a variety of different sectors by asking candid question of local professionals from a wide range of fields of work including Trades, Film, Arts and Design, Air Traffic, Business/Commerce, Journalism, Health Sector, Enforcement, Hospitality (to name just a few). You can read more about the conference from a panellist’s point of view in the Vancouver Sun.

After talking to panellists in at least two sectors, students were then tasked with developing their own personalized career plan. While there’s discussion about the value of building a career plan for a job that may (or may not) exist yet, it is clear that the practice of thinking about what fields of work you want to work in and how you’re going to get there is a transferable skill that can used long into the future. With this in mind, students were tasked with researching the required courses and post-secondary education requirements they’d need to enter the profession they were most curious about and tasked with outlining the type of skills they’d need to hone in order to help their future employment prospects.

It was clear to Whishaw that what a student thought was interesting in Grade 8 might drastically change by the time they got to Grade 12. With this in mind, everyone was encouraged to modify/update their plan yearly. While the goals will evolve, Whishaw says she felt the practice of consciously mapping it out in an organized and thoughtful manner will yield significant dividends for her students in the future.

We weren’t all lucky enough to have someone force us to think of our goals (and more importantly the skills and time we’d get there) at such an early age. But we all have the opportunity to consciously consider our goals and what the best way to accomplish them. There are a number of resources out there connected to goal setting, particularly in a career context.

Once you’ve arrived at your goal – or your idea – career development research finds that the next logical, and exciting, step is to explore your options. Sure there’s always the internet, but an equally effective way to judge whether a career path or position is suitable for you is to discuss it with someone in an industry that interests you. That’s where information interviews can be so helpful.

Ultimately, there’s a reason why New Year’s Resolutions are so popular. Goal setting can be valuable to the evolution of your career. Research and information gathering from someone doing what you might be interested in doing in the future is a great way to begin transforming your ideas into reality. So what are you waiting for?

Photo courtesy of jean-louis zimmermann

Unleashing your Creative Beast: Three Tools for Cultivating a Creative Mindset

Picture 5

Alfred Hitchcock said, “Ideas come from everywhere.” So why is it that when we are most in need of a great idea, they are suddenly nowhere to be found?

I have heard a few times the lamenting of people who share a love for art and design, but just don’t think it is for them because they don’t fancy themselves as the creative type. Whether or not you want to be an artist, we all could use a little more creativity. Who wouldn’t like to pull out a creative idea on demand during an important meeting or avoid procrastinating on a project right up to the 11th hour?

creative beast in berlinThere is one generally acknowledged truth about creativity: that it cannot be rushed. It is a widely prescribed notion that ideas come to us, and that somehow implies that we can just sit around and wait for them. But nothing is really that easy. If you want ideas to come to you, then you must do some of the legwork.  Here are three things that you can do to become an idea magnet.

These three things are the ideas behind the three basic tools of creative practice introduced by Julia Cameron in her series, The Complete Artist’s Way: Creativity as a Spiritual Practice (1992).

1. Make space

Tool #1: Morning Pages

Cameron advises that you spend about a half hour every morning writing three pages stream-of consciousness in order to clear your mind of clutter and let go of stresses in order to allow yourself to focus on the important things through out the day. I find a suitable alternative to this tool is the humble to-do list. I sometimes write several of these a day as circumstances and priorities change. By getting everything down on paper, I no longer need to concentrate on retaining all of those little details or things for later, so I am better able to concentrate on the task at hand and I am less distracted.

2.  Explore

Tool #2: The Artist’s Date

Cameron says, “the artist who forgets how to play soon enough forgets how tocreative beast in berlin work”. She is referring to the play of imagination that is essential for creative thought to take place. In order to nurture this state of play, she suggests setting a weekly solo date with yourself to “explore something festive or interesting in your imagination”. She gives the example of visiting a toy store and treating yourself to some of the fun trinkets, like playing with Lego.  I believe the same benefits can be had by trying anything new and out of the ordinary, either solo or with a small group. This could be something as simple as playing a new game or something bold like visiting a new city. Continued exploration forces your mind to make new connections and sets the stage for new ideas.

3. Walk it off

Tool #3: Weekly Walks

“Walk on it” is Cameron’s advice for any problem that troubles the mind. Often when we have a problem we turn to brainstorming, with the belief that, “the head is the source of all wisdom.” We overlook the fact that clearing the mind is often just as effective a problem solving technique as brainstorming.  As part of her teaching, she assigns a minimum of one 20 minute walk per week, citing, “Native Americans pursue vision quests, Aborigines do walkabout. Both of these cultures know that walking clears the head…You will find that these walks focus your thinking and instigate your breakthroughs.”

The next time you need to unleash your creative beast, try these techniques. Or better yet, start now and be prepared for the ideas to start coming to you.

Three Ways to Bring Historical Analysis to Your Community

OPENING | The Value of History

“History does not repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” – Mark Twain

A thorough analysis of the past might just be the best thing for your community’s future. Because great community-builders think like historians.

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review by John T. Seaman, Jr. and George David Smith (both historians) entitled “Your Company’s History as a Leadership Tool” argues that “[g]reat leaders…[d]on’t ignore history until the time comes to plan their organization’s next anniversary. And though they may not view themselves as historians, they find it useful to think and talk about the past – in the present and in living color.”

Seaman Jr. and Smith cite the simple and profound question with which Alfred D. Chandler prodded his Harvard Business School classes: “How can you know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been?”

Truth!

And this is why you should incorporate history into the decisions that you make when striving to build positive communities at work, at school, and in your neighbourhood.

One of my favourite blogs, Active History, makes a business (don’t tell them I called their operation a business) from putting the present in context by thoroughly, interestingly and, from time to time, entertainingly analyzing the past. A recent article by Mark Sholdice even explores the history of history programs (specifically PhD programs) in the US and Canada. Further exploration of professional and academic networks (Sholdice’s work examines small groups of people working towards common ends and he is “fascinated by elites”) will allow Sholdice to provide important context into how “elite departments” groom leaders in the field.

As you bring historical analysis to your community (and you totally should), here are three things to consider:

1. The Place

Think of the last neighbourhood that you moved to. How did you come to understand its people, buildings, spaces, and culture? I imagine that you were more captivated by stories of the past (even if they were negative and, possibly, scary) than predictive planning for the future; moreover, the future possibilities are almost always defined by building off-of, or transforming, the history of a place. “To lead with a sense of history is not to be a slave to the past but, rather, to acknowledge its power,” argue Seaman Jr. and Smith. For example, whatever happens to Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside in the next 10 years will certainly incorporate the structure of the past. Yes, even the rotten and crumbling bits.

Jane’s Walk, a globally renowned pedestrian exploration of thousands of communities, is a fantastic example of how people can understand the history of their community in order to build – or transform – its strengths and weaknesses into a positive and productive place of the future.

2. The Values and Culture

It doesn’t matter if it’s a company, a school, a government, or a neighbourhood – when it comes to attracting top talent, people want to know that they’re part of something bigger than themselves. Folks want to have a clear idea of how to align their talents and interests with the work that needs to be done and the way to do it. As Seaman Jr. and Smith argue, “knowing the history of a group to which we belong…can help us see events, and ourselves, as part of a still unfolding story and of something larger than ourselves.”

Vancity Credit Union reached back through its history to build its current slogan, Make Good Money, as well as to create an important statement that I recently heard the company’s CEO, Tamara Vrooman, state during a panel discussion about banking on values (I’m paraphrasing): where and how we spend our money reflects our values as a community. From onboarding new employees to financing new enterprises, the idea that everyone involved in the Vancity community should Make Good Money offers a lot of clarity for members, employees and the co-operative’s leadership.

3. the Present (and Future) OF YOUR HISTORY

Any story based on historical analysis, however, has to match the present needs, interests and goals of a community. For example, highlighting the War of 1812 might not have been something that a critical mass of Canadians supported, especially when the federal government decided to pour millions of dollars into coins, commercials and displays while cutting funding for the National Archives. Remember, history needn’t be used just for anniversaries and needs to get to the deep, unifying truth of the past in order to inspire a future that resonates with a majority of people.

Apple’s recent move to bring elements of its manufacturing process back to North America offers a better example of how an organization can reach back into its compelling history to align future goals with current reality.

CLOSING | Tell Authentic Stories

When it comes to storytelling, I’m pretty good. And I believe that one of the key factors that makes me a craftsman in the field of yarn-spinning is my authenticity. Even when I exaggerate points that best fit my narrative, dismiss the stuff that doesn’t fit well, stretch data, and/or delve into the realm of selective revisionism, I am consistently genuine and ensure that the history I present gets to the deep truth of the community in question.

Note: by no means do I recommend my method as good academic historical practice; such efforts will not make you popular in peer reviewed journals!

According to Seaman Jr. and Smith, audiences are notoriously skeptical and can “sniff out the inauthentic” when presented an idea by a charismatic, yet irresponsible, leader. The historians discuss the idea of “truthful mythology”, and such a thing must be at the core of the thoughtful and interesting historical analysis that you present to your community in order to inspire positive change for the future.

Thinking about – and learning from – the past might just be your most powerful leadership tool. Employees that ‘get’ the past will likely understand a future build off the history of a place and its people. And, hey, if you are interested in analyzing the history of your community, well, two-thirds of this blogs Editorial staff have a background in history.

Your move, Internet.

Masthead photo courtesy of josef.stuefer’s photostream / Flickr creative commons

What to Say When You Just Don’t Know

Every once in a while we’ll be asked questions that we don’t know the answer to. It could be a complex question in front of a large group of people or a brief query from your mentor. Failing to have the answer at your fingertips can be upsetting. No one likes to look stupid in front of their boss, co-workers or friends. To cope with this feeling, many people make things worse by making up an answer, theorizing at length or dodging the question. This can be damaging to your reputation and is a waste of everyone’s time.

The first thing you can do to avoid this embarrassing situation is be prepared. This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised by the number of people who show up to a meeting without reading the agenda, minutes or considering the possible topics of discussion.

If you’ve done your homework in preparation for a meeting and still get hit with a doozy of a question, take a second or two to assess what they’re asking and why they’re asking it. Too often, people jump into a conversation and bombard the discussion with a range of anecdotes and interesting (but sometimes irrelevant) segues. Worse, sometimes you can provide an answer that’s not only false but also harms your objective in that meeting. If you aren’t entirely clear about what the questioner is asking you, take a moment to consider it.

Remember this helpful acronym: WAIT – it stands for Why Am I Talking?

If you need to, repeat back what you think your interrogator is looking for by framing your opening like:

“I just want to clarify what you are saying. From where I’m sitting you are looking to…..” or “Hmmm. This is an interesting question – I gather you are asking this because you want to understand …”

Framing up the issue and repeating the question can be very helpful particularly in conflict issues (as discussed in the great negotiation book Getting to Yes) or when you’re trying to understand where another party is coming from. This can be helpful in particularly in emotional and conflict-escalating situations as discussed by my former supervisor Deputy Superintendent Jordan Tinney, who recently wrote about on his blog.

You may be surprised that repeating this question can help re-frame what the issue is and help you understand what information your interrogator is looking for. It’s also great for helping your interrogator understand how you intend to answer their question.

If all this fails and you still don’t have a clue about how to answer their question, it’s ok to say, “I don’t know the answer to that question, but I will find the answer as soon as I can.” But with a few caveats:

  • Make sure to provide them with your thoughts on the situation and how you intend to solve the problem. Explain (as efficiently as possible) why the question is complex and how you plan on answering it
  • Provide a timeline – explain what steps you will take and when you plan on responding to them with an answer.

By clarifying, considering, re-framing (if necessary) and if all else fails, explaining that you don’t know but will get the answer, your response will be valued by your peers and superiors.

Four Reasons Volunteering Builds Career Success

In a world where many of us are already struggling to maintain some semblance of work/school-life balance, it is certainly challenging to spend your spare time working for free. While many people pursue volunteer opportunities purely for altruistic reasons, volunteering can also be a pragmatic and practical step for career development, which should appeal to even the most selfish of us. Here are four reasons volunteerism is an important part of your career.

Develops Your Skills

In university and college you’re paying to learn. Think of volunteering as a free program that has the potential to become a full time (paid!) gig. A volunteer opportunity, such as an unpaid internship or weekend service at your local community garden, will expose you to the hands-on requirements and the day-to-day environment of a job. It will force you to learn new skills, such as how to speak and write professionally or work on a team to achieve a strategic purpose and help you sharpen existing skills, such as researching, building websites or giving presentations, all without any necessary long-term commitment or stressful expectations.

Volunteering is the solution to the Catch 22 that so many young professionals face: they don’t have the skill to climb to the next level of their career, but can’t learn the skill unless they get the new job. Volunteering can offer a way out of this frustrating cycle. You can learn the skills on your own time and still help your organization.

Build Your Network

Most volunteer positions are connected to organizations with multiple employees or with other volunteers who may share some of your common interests and/or career aspirations. A volunteer position can be great for connecting you with the powers-that-be, who may one day be looking hire, know someone who’s hiring are willing to provide a helpful letter of reference. Your volunteering also gives you a platform to connect with people who share your interest in the organization and could one day support your career aspirations. Finally, once you’ve established your network, treat it like a puppy in need of lots of attention. Don’t ignore your new contacts once you finish your volunteer term. Stay in touch through social media (LinkedIn is better than Facebook), email or coffee meetings. Cultivate and nurture your network and it will positively influence your career direction in the future.

Volunteer Like a Pro

Volunteerism provides you with a wonderful way to demonstrate your work ethic. From an employer’s perspective this allows them to test out a potential employee without having to formally hire them. That’s why it’s important to treat your volunteer position like you’d treat a job. Do what you say you will do. Arrive promptly (or early) and try to add value wherever possible. Be proactive rather than reactive in your role. Finally, make sure you keep a smile on your face throughout your volunteer tenure. At the end of the day, your ability to get along with co-workers and your leaders will be a defining way you’ll be remembered.

Be Humble and Know Your Role

Many people are graduating from high school, colleges and universities with great education, but with few skills. Being able to think is important – especially the higher you climb –but when you are starting out, what is most important is being able to do stuff. When I worked in politics we frequently had volunteers approach us interested in writing policy. When I worked for a public relations firm, occasionally we’d have interns who were disheartened about being assigned the tedious task of media monitoring. They wanted to conduct strategic communications planning or crisis management. In each scenario the volunteers had unrealistic expectations about the value of their skills. Generally, organizations won’t put great responsibility on the shoulders of untested workers (let alone volunteers). That being said, by maintaining a positive attitude and treating your volunteer work as a learning opportunity to sharpen skills you can gain a huge amount of experience.

By treating your volunteer work for what it is, serious business that will inform your career, and mapping out what you want to learn (and who at your organization you’ll learn it from) you will develop more professional competencies than you ever could by pulling an all-nighter.

How to Stay on Your Sustainability Diet During the Holidays

artbanidto’s photostream / Flickr Creative Commons

Many of us use the holidays or vacations as an excuse to disregard what we would normally do in everyday life. We eat and drink too much, indulge in the excesses of the season and then spend our New Year’s resolutions trying to make up for it. We give ourselves permission to let go of the rules that we live by most of the year.

But does the same apply to our values? Do the things we believe in and fight for all year get put to the side during the holidays, using the holiday excuse to dismiss any guilt we might feel?

Cheating on your Eco-Diet

For many, environmental consciousness is like a diet, something that we work hard at most of the year – avoiding plastics, reducing fossil fuel consumption, trimming our environmental waistline. But this culture of indulging at the holidays can have a long-term impact on the environment, increasing our waste and carbon footprint in ways that can’t be negated by a New Year’s eco-diet. The locavore’s diet might give way to the temptations of imported mandarin oranges and wines, the vegetarian to the factory-farmed turkey and stuffing, the minimalist to the gift-giving expectations, and the eco-warrior knuckles under the pressure not to “talk about that stuff during the holidays.” In the same way of the dieter, we try to ignore our own guilt, saying it’s the holidays, and we’ll get back to our normal routine in the new year.

But our values shape the way that we see the world, and the guilt is sometimes much more difficult to shake off.

macwagen’s photostream / Flickr Creative Commons

Leading Change

Solutions may take many years to implement, because it is often not just about changing yourself, but also changing those around you, and as any eco-warrior will tell you, hounding your family members during the holidays about their bad eco-habits will get you nowhere. Holidays often have a family focus, and without any change from others, it can be difficult to maintain change for yourself. But there are some simple things that you can do to start towards a more eco-friendly, and less guilty, holiday season:

  • Request no wrapping paper. Simple, and usually relatively easy for everyone to get on board. Instead, wrap items in recycled materials like newspaper or home-decorated recycled paper, or in usable items like tea towels and shopping bags. Consider having a set of gift bags that are used each year.
  • Suggest that family gifts be consumable or experience-based, because most people will appreciate good wine, cheese, homemade goods, or tickets to a local concert, game or event.
  • Buy the kind of food you want to eat, don’t rely on what others provide. If you want a free-range, organic turkey on the table (even if you’re not going to eat it!), buy it yourself. Offer to make locally sourced desserts like apple or pumpkin (from an actual pumpkin) pie. Bring fair trade, organic chocolates and coffee. Support local businesses with local wines and beers.
  • Plan Boxing Day activities, to encourage alternatives to excessive consumerism. A day full of food and fun will often be more tempting that battling the crowds at the mall.
  • Offer to wash dishes so the host does not need to use paper plates and plastic forks, and as the host, don’t feel pressured to clean up too quickly – a disappeared glass just means someone will use another one, which then needs to be washed.
  • Give back. Many charities depend on donations received during the holidays, so consider donating to a favourite charity on someone’s behalf (choose their favourite charity, not yours). This works  as a stocking stuffer, host/ess gift, office secret santa, or any other kind of gift.

Taking a much needed break during the holidays doesn’t mean you need to take a break from your values. Find ways to infuse them into your traditions, and by making changes manageable over time, you may find others changing too.

Five Attributes of Awesome Risk-Takers

Being comfortable with risk is pretty rare these days. Whether we’re transitioning from school to work, trying to move from one job to the next, pitching a new idea to the boss, or making a romantic move on a long-time friend, risk puts our confidence, money, reputation, and even our community on the line.

Risky business is known as scary business. But it shouldn’t be.

John in a beautiful arbutus tree (both human and tree are recovered and doing just fine)

Last weekend I was on Salt Spring Island celebrating my mom’s 60th birthday. During one of our hikes I decided to climb a tree. And then I came up with the idea to jump from the tree, swing on a branch, and land safely on the ground. The conversation with my dad went like this:

JOHN [in tree, gesturing confidently]: “So, I’m going to jump from the tree, swing on that branch and then land on the ground over there.”

DAD: “Don’t do it. The branch is dead and it won’t hold you. You will impale yourself on the rocks. Don’t do it.”

JOHN [jumps]

Lying on my back – impaled on the rocks, just like my dad said – looking up at the sky and my concerned/incredulous wife and parents, I smiled and reflected on my failure, knowing that the next time I attempted such a maneuver success would be achieved because I learned from my mistake. But don’t just take my word for it. Other thinkers, like Historian Engineer Henry Petroski, have opinions about the relationship between failure and success, too. According to an article in the Huffington Post by Ben Michaelis, Petroski argues that “limited failure early in your working life can be immensely helpful to your career trajectory. The takeaway message is that if you are not failing you are not trying.”

The world needs more risk takers, which is nicely evidenced by this Fast Company article that features the travel company Kayak – their Chief Technology Officer, Paul English, has this to say about their culture of innovation: “Everything we do encourages fast decision-making and risk-taking. We don’t do design by committee, and we disable large meetings here. We reward risk-taking and speed, even when it fails!”

Sure, my falling out of a tree is a silly example of risk when compared to some of the other things I’ve done (moving across the country for university, being friends with men from Halifax, studying History at graduate school, going to East Africa when I’m allergic to the Sun, pitching a service learning program to a business school, telling people I love them without certainty of reciprocity), but it is nonetheless an illustrative example of what I’m talking about.

With this in mind, here are five things that you need to know about being a professional risk-taker.

1. Be authentic. Following a risk I took and a failure I experienced, my past boss and current mentor said this to me: “When you make a mistake and fail you will always be okay because you are genuine and authentic. People know that you are doing things for the right reasons and have the best of intentions, never selfish ones.” When you genuinely have your community’s goals at heart then risk – and the failure that often comes with it – becomes more acceptable.

2. Jump in with both feet. A former student and current friend, David Singh, just left a great job in Deloitte’s Consulting group to join Kira Talent. This guy doesn’t know how to not go all-in, as he’s already wearing the value proposition of this awesome interviewing start-up on his sleeve.

Kym Banguis (shop.herrohachi.com) jumped in with both feet. The only problem was that she jumped off of a moving scooter. #risktaking

3. Take responsibility for your success (and failure). Managing risk can also involve simple experiences, as demonstrated by my former colleague and current friend, Holly Langland, who inspires teams with pop-fresh dance moves: “I was first on the dance floor at the xmas party on Friday. What this says about me is that I don’t hesitate to lead the way when needed…or I just don’t mind looking bad!” Regardless of how she looks, Holly owns it.

4. Have an eraser. Risk-takers need to have a long memory, for those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. That being said, it’s important to reflect on risks-gone-wrong and then erase them. As her tone-setting speech to ring-in the New Year (“September” is what people outside of Higher Education call this time of the year), my boss read us this awesome letter from everyone’s favourite holiday cop storyteller, John McClane Stuart McLean. The letter ends with this gem: “Don’t mind mistakes. The mistakes are how you learn. You have an eraser. Go ahead make the messes. Then … clean them up. Try again.”

5. Be playful and have fun with it! My Frientor (friend + mentor = Frientor), Rodney Payne, eloquently summarized how approaching life with playfulness is an important part of approaching risk: “Teaching myself to kiteboarding when it was really unsafe has taught me everything I know about calculated risk. You need to be comfortable with risk in order to innovate.”

Failure is a part of life. You know this. Being comfortable with and open to failure, which will happen, is the kind of common sense that is not common practice. So, by starting small (talking on the phone to a prospective romantic partner or professional employer instead of texting them) or going big (jumping out of a tree twice the size of the one I swung from and/or starting your own business), think about how you will bring positive and calculated risk to your community today.

Masthead photo courtesy of Frank Wuestefeld’s photostream on Flickr

Three Tips for Overcoming Mediocre Presenting

John public speaking

Everybody fails. Sometimes we do so spectacularly and sometimes we simply don’t reach our potential; I experienced the latter sort of failure on Saturday when I gave what can only be described as a mediocre presentation – the audience probably thought “it was fine”.

For me, though, giving a presentation that is “fine” just isn’t good enough.

Talking in front of people is totally my thing. I am absolutely in my element when building and delivering awesome presentations, workshops, keynote speeches, and wedding toasts. So, when my five minute talk about career options for UBC engineers fell short, I deconstructed the experience and reminded myself of three simple steps that I will absolutely take to make sure it never happens again.

1. Be prepared and keep it simple. For this particular presentation, I strived to do too much. My preparation was more of a copy-and-paste from an existing workshop than a truly unique creation– this being said, I did add some relevant data. This backfired and things got complicated -what should have been a clear and concise message got lost in too many ideas in too little time.

2. Know your teammates, your audience, and your surroundings. It is not uncommon for me to present as part of a group, which was the case on Saturday. When you’re part of a team, it’s important to know who is saying what and how much time each person has to speak. By packing so much information into my presentation I had to speed through my slides to finish on time. I also didn’t focus enough on what the audience (parents of future UBC students) wanted from the presentation: career outcomes for engineering graduates. My presentation had some great stuff, but in the context of what was a really, really jam-packed day for parents and kids, it was just too much; and the great data got lost in my attempt to be inspiring. Finally, the room was a big, hollow place, and I chose to speak without a microphone and was later told that my voice sounded “tinny” in the space. Had I better known my surroundings and tested the facilities beforehand (which every great presenter knows is essential) this would not have been a problem.

3. Perfect practice makes perfect. A wise and very talented speaker once told me that it’s not enough to prepare by reading your slides; you need to practice the same way that you want to present, which should be awesomely and within the allotted time.

So there it is. When preparing to give a presentation remember that fewer slides will help you stay organized (plan to spend two minutes on each slide), that you need to know the look, feel and sound of the room, and that practicing your presentation exactly how you want to see it delivered will do much for realizing your potential in front of audiences that you want to influence, engage and inspire. This is common sense, but wasn’t common practice for me last Saturday.

And sure, these tips apply specifically to presentations. And they can absolutely be applied to anything in which you want to realize your version of success.

Masthead photo courtesy of timtom.ch’s photostream on Flickr

Awesome photo of me emceeing a wedding courtesy of my main man Jamie Reid

Pitching a News Story: The Phone is Your Best Friend

Photo courtesy of NS Newsflash

In this email saturated world, it’s difficult to penetrate the din and connect with a journalist about your story idea. Granted, you probably have a great idea that includes many news elements or is a perfect fit for the media you’re pitching, but if you aren’t able to communicate it effectively to your targeted audience, your idea will sit by itself on your blog and/or be discussed amongst your colleagues around the water cooler.

When I worked at a public relations agency one of the primary reasons our clients came our way was because of our ability to convince journalists that our stories were worthwhile. We didn’t usually accomplish this through well placed emails. We accomplished it on the phone.

Emails are easily ignored.
Photo courtesy of Sean MacEntee

There’s little magic to this method, but when compared to simply emailing journalists, the results are staggering. When making a call, make sure to call early in the day (ideally before 8:30 AM). Keep your call short, polite and “news-packed”, unless you sense the journalist is interested in chatting. Always ask if they have a moment for a quick pitch before giving them the details. They may not, and if they say so, respect that and call back another time. Never leave a message on an answering machine unless you have an incredibly hot topic or happen to work for President Obama.

For many junior communications people, picking up the phone can be intimidating. Cold calling is never easy and getting barked at by an impatient assignment editor can be particularly off-putting. Despite these reservations, it’s important to recognize that there’s a reason people do business over the telephone. Part of the reason for a phone call is that it allows the communicator more time to present the value of the story. Most emails (particularly those sent by PR people) will be lucky to get a scan by a busy journalist. Many emails are deleted before being read. A well placed call, on the other hand, gives you 15-30 seconds to sell your story to an (somewhat) attentive audience. If injected with enough news hooks, colour and enthusiasm, 30 seconds can mean the difference between a bite and another missed opportunity. As with email, you can still be ignored, but at least on the phone you’ll know you are being blown off or your idea isn’t getting traction.

In addition to giving you a better chance to convince a journalist to cover your story, the phone call also gives you the ability to begin the development of a relationship. This is key in sales, development and, most importantly, securing informational interviews. While email is passive and allows for little dialogue (unless the journalist is interested), a phone call, particularly during slower news times like very early in the morning or after deadline in the evening, gives you a chance to connect with your audience. What area is the reporter particularly interested in? Is there a longer-term story they are working on that you can help them with somehow? What do they think of the day’s news events? Any way you can connect with them so that they see you as a human being, not a faceless caller, gives you extra points! The stronger the connection you can develop with the journalist, the more helpful you can be (and they may be to you) in the future.

By picking up the phone practiced communicators know they can turn a good idea into a great news story. There’s no magic to it, just a simple method that anyone can pick up and find success.

Header photo courtesy of psd

Three Reasons Why Panda Bears Are Horrible Role Models

Aka Hige – Flickr Creative Commons

Panda bears are the poster-animals for numerous conservation causes and luck-based Chinese philosophies. Yet these malnourished creatures are not adaptable to their changing surroundings. So, here is an argument to stop celebrating these overrated beasts.

Every day we hear stories and see images that our global economy/marketplace/village is changing at hyper speed. University students will wind up working in a job that didn’t exist when they started school. Fast Company is writing interesting articles about GenFlux leading teams within the chaos of our modern world. Popular media and memes change faster than Survivor “stars” and Lady Gaga’s hair colour. Organizations merge, expand and downsize. Units are eliminated or integrate with others. Change is the only certainty. Shift happens.

Adaptability is crucial for success (career, community, family). People who are flexible with how the world is changing will lead its future as opposed to forever playing catch-up because they live in the past (are you listening, Republicans?). When it comes to building community, embracing change and nimbly adapting to life’s shifts are incredibly important – even necessary.

Which is why panda bears are horrible role models for everyone everywhere. Including you.

Here’s why:

1. They hate sex. “Male pandas suffer from a chronic lack of sex drive – more than 60 per cent show no sexual desire at all in captivity, and only a tenth of them will mate naturally,” says The Independent’s Clifford Coonan. “Zookeepers have even resorted to using videos of mating pairs in the hope that “panda porn” will help the bears get frisky, although scientists say the films don’t have much effect.” Unreal. This becomes even more infuriating when you examine the animals’ eating habits and state of their youngsters.

2. They are totally useless for the first six months of their lives. Polar bear cubs leave their ice caves when they are three months old, walk for dozens/hundreds of kilometres to find food, don’t find any because of climate change and adapt by fighting walruses or armed folk from Churchill, Manitoba. Panda bear cubs are blind for the first10-20 days of their lives. They can’t walk, hunt or function before they’re three months old. Sure, they’re cute, but so are kittens, which, as it turns out, are more ferocious and adaptable than panda bears.

3. They refuse to adapt. While the Internet insists on proving me wrong (thanks for nothing, The BBC, National Geographic and ilovepandas.org), I’m pretty confident that Planet Earth’s David Attenborough told me that panda bears mostly eat bamboo (it is allegedly 99 per cent of their diet), even though their bellies are designed to digest meat, just like the stomach of any good carnivore. Their refusal to consume non-bamboo-based-foods is mostly to blame for their low sex drive and weakling children and, with the erosion of this food supply in China and beyond, it seems startling that pandas don’t incorporate other food (meat, berries, garbage, etc.) into their diet, like tigers, penguins and grizzly bears. Penguins, on the other hand, are outstanding adapters – they can live on the beaches of South Africa or the freezing ice fields of Antarctica. It’s penguins that should bee on the World Wildlife Fund’s posters and calendars, not panda bears.

So, if you’re taking professional cues from panda bears, stop. It’s both weird (seriously, they’re bears) and counterproductive (you need to be adaptable and should also enjoy the physical act of love) for building positive and thriving communities at home and at work.

Get adaptable. Get flexible. And get comfortable with change. Because so much more is coming.