Mt. Holyoke lecture hall - photo by Sven Aas

Time to Share

I’ve been sharing my process of preparing the keynote talk I’m presenting at the 2016 HighEdWeb New England regional conference on March 18—that’s today! This is the eighth post in the series; you can find an index of all previous posts in this series on my #ShareHuman page.

So this is it – the big day has finally arrived. No more tweaking of my slides, no more digging for photos online to perfectly express an esoteric idea. I’m about to be introduced, and it’s up to me to make a hundred people in a lecture hall care about something that has been churning and growing and evolving in my head for almost six months.

No pressure.

I wish I could say that I wasn’t re-writing and re-thinking just about every slide in my presentation during the 5 hours of solo driving I had to get here. I wish I could say that I wasn’t up past midnight last night finalizing all the details and last minute changes I could think of, and that I didn’t spill coffee on the keyboard of my laptop halfway through that, inducing a brief high-level anxiety attack.

I wish I could say that I didn’t have cartoonish and surreal anxiety dreams last night, that instead I slept for eight hours like an exhausted old man and awoke bright and fresh like a spring flower greeting the sun. I wish I could say that. But I can’t.

Because ultimately I’ve come to accept that this is just how I work, finishing even the longest marathons with a sprint to the finish. Try as I might, I can’t seem to change the way my brain works when creating something new. It seems to have to be forced into a corner or squeezed until it has no choice but to give up the ideas and solutions it held onto.

And the worst part of that is some of those last holdouts in my mind won’t reveal themselves until I actually start talking in front of this crowd of a hundred people whose time and talent and general awesomeness is very important to me. Of course, throwing in a healthy dose of pop culture references doesn’t hurt either. Mine include Harry Houdini, The Monkees, Doctor Who, Julia Child, Daft Punk, David Foster Wallace, David Byrne, Cher, George Burns, Douglas Adams, and Kurt Vonnegut, among others.

I will probably surprise myself just as much as I surprise my audience, and I may lose my train of thought along the way, but all I can hope for is that everyone leaves understanding something a little better than before, and takes away at least one little nugget in their tote bag of ideas that they can start to use in their work and in their lives beyond this conference.

I set the bar really high for myself as a keynote speaker because I know what I’ve wanted from keynote speakers in the past: knowledge, inspiration, and a touch of entertainment. I don’t just want to share my ideas—I want to make you feel something along the way. If you don’t feel differently at the end of my talk than you did at the beginning I’ll be disappointed.

But at this point there’s nothing I can do. The slide deck is locked and loaded, the introductory remarks have been rehearsed, and the butterflies are loose in my belly. There’s only one more thing to do and that’s start talking.

Let’s see what happens…

 

The People I Trust

I’m sharing my process as I prepare the keynote talk I’ll be presenting at the 2016 HighEdWeb New England regional conference on March 18. This is Part Seven; you can find an index of all previous posts in this series on my #ShareHuman page.

I work with a great bunch of people at Ithaca College, and I think I probably owe a lot of them apologies.

I’ve been more than a little cranky and irritable this week because so much of my attention and creative bandwidth has been taken up by the work we’re doing together in our teams—really big, exciting work, but in overwhelming quantities—and that makes the part of me that feels like I should be working more on my conference keynote really anxious that I won’t be able to pull it off.

I think I may have let that frustration slip through the cracks of my attitude in a meeting or two over the past few days. I’m sorry about that.

But it happens to everyone of us eventually. We are all humans with lives outside of work, with personal stuff we have to deal with. We’re adults and we figure out a way to get through it, and as our work lives become more closely knit, we also grow to understand how and when we can support each other through stressful times as well as joyous ones.

The people I work with are really good at this, and make me feel lucky to be a part of their team. They make me feel valuable, and at the same time I am in awe of all the special and effortless talents each of them possesses. That is exactly why my office colleagues are the first people I am turning to for feedback on my presentation.

Within a couple hours of this post being published, I will be presenting a dry-run of my keynote just for them in our conference room, and it will be the first time I have walked through my entire talk out loud in real time. In fact it will be my first time actually putting words to the slides, and trying to string together ideas and themes that have up until that point have really only lived in my head.

Honestly, I’m pretty nervous about this moment. I’m not even sure if the presentation I’ll have to share with them is complete enough to be coherent, let alone cohesive or valuable. But I’m also eager for this moment to happen, because I already know that my colleagues are there to help.

And I planned it all this way on purpose, knowing it would force me to get a full talk completed a week early so I could get the feedback I need from people I trust most. An audience who will be forgiving when I stumble, laugh when I need it, and give me notes that I can really use. People who know me and what I’m trying to achieve, and who want to see me succeed and represent them as best as I can.

Getting this presentation on its feet for the first time for people I trust might be the most important final step in this entire process, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I did this same thing the last time I was creating a new talk and it was a huge benefit for me and that presentation, because my colleagues helped me see clearly what needed to be cut, what needed to grow, and what was missing from the presentation I had, and cleared the path for me to make it into a presentation that succeeded beyond my greatest hope.

So thank you in advance to all my colleagues who will be there to help me this morning, listening and taking notes, being picky and being honest. Despite all the work we all have to do, you are taking time from your day to help me be better, and I can’t thank you enough. I only hope I make it worth your time.

And I’m sorry again if I’ve been cranky or anxious. I know you understand.

The Slide Deck Tango

I’m sharing my process for preparing the keynote talk I’ll be presenting at the 2016 HighEdWeb New England regional conference on March 18. This is Part Six; you can now find an index of all previous posts in this series on my new #ShareHuman page.

Giving a talk in the modern era means 99% of the time also preparing a visual presentation to go along with it. So it should be no surprise that, with only a couple weeks left before this conference, my focus has turned to getting my ideas out into a slide deck to support my thoughts. And this, for me, is really where I get the most stressed and the most intensely absorbed in the process, because these slides are really the final container for everything I’ve worked on. They are the structure and storyboard for the ideas and examples I want to share in my talk, and for anyone who isn’t able to attend my presentation, they may be the only way they get to experience this.

There is a lot I could say about putting together a slide deck, probably enough for another entire blog. I was originally titling this post as “How to Build a Deck” but the small part of me that pays attention to SEO thought that might end up disappointing people looking for details on how to build some kind of wooden platform off the back of their home.

The one thing I will share here that could apply to building slide decks or backyard decks is this: don’t take shortcuts. If you take shortcuts to save time—like say, taking something somebody else made and slapping your stuff on top of it—you may get a deck that meets your needs but it will also be obvious to everyone that you were lazy.

If you think of nothing else when creating a slide deck, remember that the software is just a tool you are using to convey an idea. They should not contain or repeat the idea itself, only reinforce it, enhance it, and make it stick. Seth Godin already wrote about this pretty wonderfully and I recommend reading that (you can also get a PDF version here). Continue reading →

Archaeology

I’m sharing my process for preparing the keynote talk I’ll be presenting at the 2016 HighEdWeb New England regional conference on March 18. This is Part Four; you can now find an index of all previous posts in this series on my new #ShareHuman page.

For a few years, when I was about six through nine years old, I was really interested in being an archaeologist. At the time it probably came from a fascination with dinosaurs I shared with many kids at that age, as well as my general ongoing interest in Science! as a thing I enjoyed learning about. I was also excited by discovery, digging and unearthing pieces of a puzzle, figuring out how the pieces connect and learning the story they tell.

My interest in dinosaurs faded by the time I was ten, replaced by science fiction and space exploration (Lego!) and something in our new “computer lab” called an Apple II (Logo!). But my love for discovery and unearthing the bones of a story have never really gone away.

Which is a good thing, because now I find myself at the stage of putting together my presentation where I have unearthed a whole mess of bones, but I have no idea which ones actually belong to the skeleton I’m trying to assemble and which ones are part of a different beast altogether.  Continue reading →

Inspiration Takes Perspiration

I’m sharing my process for preparing the keynote talk I’ll be presenting at the 2016 HighEdWeb New England regional conference on March 18. This is Part Three; if you prefer chronological order, start with Part One and Part Two.

If you ever find yourself in need of a social conversation starter, here’s one of my favorite questions to ask:

Where do ideas come from?

That question has been on my mind this week as I thought about the developing my talk for HighEdWeb NE, because it gets to what I struggle with most when creating a presentation: how to focus in on exactly what it is I want to share that I feel is unique to me.

The way I see it, whenever I’m given the opportunity to speak to an audience—and even more so if I’m being invited specifically to inspire others—I need figure out exactly what key insight or point of view it is I think I have to share about a topic. I can’t just coast in and deliver the repackaged ideas of others; I want to make sure that when I leave people at the end with a tote bag of ideas, I know that those ideas and perspectives are my own.

So where do those ideas come from? I think they come from scraps and slivers of the ideas and voices of others that we absorb everyday, often without us even being conscious of it. In fact, I doubt real insight or direction can ever be traced completely to a single source or experience.

Continue reading →

Making Room for Ideas

I’m sharing my process for preparing the keynote talk I’ll be presenting at the 2016 HighEdWeb New England regional conference on March 18. This is my second entry in the series. You can find Part One here.

There’s something about the first of the month I’ve always found hopeful, so when I get the first day of the month and the first day of the week on the same day, like I did on Monday of this week, it always feels extra special to me. A Double First Day feels like the planets are in alignment (oh, wait – they actually are!) and the universe is telling me that this is a perfect day for starting something.

I chose this Double First Day to start focusing on a new goal: reduce my cognitive load as much as possible and give my mind more room for creative thinking. Because if I’m going to deliver the keynote talk I want to next month, I’m going to need all the creative energy I can get, not to mention all the time I can get to actually put it together.

Continue reading →