New vs. Different

When do we decide to try something new? And how do we know if it really is new, and not just different?

It seems like everything’s been done already. But not everything that has been done was done well. Often things are done just good enough to be declared done. Good enough to meet the requirements by the deadline. Good enough to break even. Good enough to fill a gap until we think of something better.

Or, Sure, that’s been done before, but not by me. If it’s new to me, I’m going to do it differently, and the result will be different.

Why bother with the new, if different is enough?

Or maybe, let’s keep making what’s different different again. Let’s iterate our way to what matters. Let’s figure it out by trying something different.

Let’s keep working on something because we’re compelled to, because we can’t stop thinking about that idea, that detail, the way this interaction makes me feel, the way people get excited when they hear about it.

Sometimes we can set out to make something that is just different, only to see it become something brand new. A different kind of video camera spawns a whole new first-person video genre. A different actor plays Hamlet, or Batman, and somehow it changes our understanding of Hamlet or Batman because it is so different.

The key is to be sure that the reason to be different reflects an honesty at the core. It comes from a choice to express something genuine, not just what people want to hear or what they expect.

Let’s make what we’re making because we want to, because this is something we need in the world and we see no other way to have it unless we make it ourselves. Maybe others will like it too, maybe not. We’ll find out.

Or maybe we were lucky enough to have people come to us and ask us to be the ones who make this for them, and we agreed it was something the world needed. But we’re still making it for us, because we want the challenge. Because we have an honest need.

Maybe it’s a result of boredom, and we crave the stimulation of change. Perhaps it’s frustration with the current way of doing things. We’re not getting the results we hoped for, or the process is too slow.

Be honest about the goal. Start with different. Let the new happen on its own.

The Feedback You Want

I’ve been holding on to this for a while, but I wanted to share a bit of feedback from my talk at HighEdWeb NE this past March. I received a lot of very kind and positive notes, which was flattering, but there was only one note among all of this anonymous feedback that truly resonated with me:

I’m not sure it really came together to form a coherent whole. Also, I’m not sure it quite managed to be as inspirational as it appears like it was meant to be. Sorry.

I have no way of knowing who shared that, but that might be the best piece of feedback  received all year. Why? Because it was honest.

Honest, thoughtful feedback is the best kind of feedback to give, and the best kind to receive. But sharing that level of feedback effectively sometimes feels like more effort, and that may be why we don’t see enough of it.

Take a look at that quote above again. Within the context of all the other notes of praise and thanks I recieved, one may be tempted to label this particular note as “negative” feedback but actually there’s nothing negative about it—it doesn’t say “that was bad” or “you’re not a good speaker” or “I didn’t like this.”  Instead, this person took just a few sentences to share two specific areas where they felt the talk was weak, and they kept the feedback focused on the content and substance of what I was sharing. It wasn’t about me, it was about my talk.

And that was exactly the kind of feedback I wanted. As soon as I read that, my thought was “Yes! Finally, someone who felt the same way I did about this!” This one person confirmed my inner discomfort with what I had presented, confirmed my own lingering feeling there were still a lot of ideas and connections within my keynote that were not fully formed; that it was a cake that needed more time to bake but I rushed it and cleverly disguised the flaws with extra frosting in the hopes that nobody would notice.

Well, at least one person did notice. This person was paying attention, and very directly and succinctly offered two notes on where I might be able to improve. Both of which I needed to hear, and both of which I agree with.

The only part I don’t agree with is the “Sorry” at the end. Whoever wrote this has no need to apologize for not enjoying something the way others seemed to enjoy it. And nobody should ever apologize for honest feedback. If I had been given this feedback directly at the time, I probably would have offered to buy this person a beer. But there is a natural tendency to feel like a downer if you don’t enjoy something the way others do, and we become reluctant to share and be “that person” in the crowd.

Don’t let fear of being unkind stand in the way of helping others improve. Honest feedback that comes from a place of genuine support is a greater kindness than simply saying something was nice or okay.

Most anyone who has worked hard on creating something and then sharing it with an audience will crave thoughtful notes that are specific about something the audience liked as well as what they didn’t. As far as I’m concerned, honest feedback is that supports improvement is the feedback I most want to hear, and that’s the only kind of feedback I intend to give in return.


Thank You, HighEdWeb NE

This is the final post in my 10 week narrative about the creation of my keynote talk for the 2016 HighEdWeb New England regional conference,  held at Mount Holyoke College on March 18. You can find an index of all the posts in this series on my #ShareHuman page.

So that went well, all things considered. Not bad for a first time keynote speaker, and I am so glad that it was for a room full of peers and mentors and friends that made me feel very welcome and comfortable right from the moment I arrived at Mount Holyoke College last week.

(Of course, you’ll never go wrong surprising me with a basket full of custom playing cards, fresh coffee, beer, books, and a gift card for my favorite purveyor of local meats—this HEWebNE planning committee did their homework and knew just how to make someone who’s naturally bashful about receiving gifts feel really special.)

And as much as being with all these people at this conference made me want to give my best, especially with so many great presentations before and after my talk, I could also tell that even if I had problems they would be there to support me. I could have failed spectacularly in front of this group, and it would have been hard to deal with, but I know they would have boosted me through it.

But it never came to that. As soon as I was able to start talking (and get a boost of good ol’ Moxie in me to help make up for only four hours of sleep) it all started to flow, and I entered The Presenter Zone… Continue reading →

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 Panic

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 Five; you can now find an index of all previous posts in this series on my new #ShareHuman page.

And now is the part of the process when The Panic starts to settle in.

The more I start bringing all the pieces of my presentation together, the more I feel my mind trying to pull it all apart, seeding doubt into every choice I make.

Is that really what I’m trying to say?
Is this too much? Is it not enough? Is it too obscure?
Will anybody even notice? Is it too obvious?
Do I need to support this idea more?
Is this even an idea worth discussing?

The Panic wants me to question everything.

For every little note I’ve made, every scrap of an idea I think I can use, there are four others I don’t get to. There seem to be so many paths I can follow but I’m building the map as I go, and it’s unclear if all those paths intersect or lead to the destination I’m hoping for, or if anyone will even notice the details that stick out to me.

I think this is what I mean, but is that the right way to say it?
Why doesn’t that look right?
Is this font better?
Maybe this font? Or maybe this font?
What am I even doing this for? I’m no expert – who am I kidding?
They’re all going to see right through me…

So I stop.

Take a breath and walk away for a moment.

Deep down, I know that as long as I take my own advice and focus on being Honest, Unafraid, Mindful, Active and Nice with my work, then the work will reflect that and turn out right. And yet The Panic lurks, waiting for me to let my guard down, waiting until I am most vulnerable and doubtful that anything I’m working on makes sense.

Continue reading →


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 →

A Tote Bag of Ideas

As I wrote last week, I will be giving a keynote presentation at the upcoming HighEdWeb New England regional conference. I’m really looking forward to the opportunity because I know I’ll be able to use the time I’m being given to talk about something that has become very important to me over the past couple of years: sharing.

The working title for my talk right now is “Share Like a Human” and in the spirit of sharing (along with some inspiration from Austin Kleon), I thought I’d share some behind-the-scenes thoughts and processes as I put my talk together.

Starting this week, and over the next seven weeks or so leading up to #hewebNE I’ll be chronicling my progress as much as I can without giving away the actual content of my talk.

Why bother doing this? Well, in a lot of ways I’m doing this for myself as a way to organize my thoughts with purpose, and writing about a process or idea often helps me figure out the details of what that will be. But I also think it may be helpful to others working on presentations or talks of their own to see how another person prepares for it.

I don’t claim to be an expert at giving presentations, and the way I do things may not work for everyone. I build presentations in the way that works for my own needs and habits, using a structure and elements that draw on my past experience and training as a writer and performer. But whether you’re working on a keynote, a conference presentation, a classroom lecture, or just leading a discussion, I think there are elements everyone should consider and plan for.

Continue reading →