Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I’m generally scared of change.  I’ve been a late adopter of, among other things, email, the Internet, cell phones, and girls.  And, dubious Lincoln-era claim aside, emoticons are a recent innovation. So, it was with some trepidation that I started using emoticons.  Now that I have, the embrace has changed me.

Once I do get into a trend, though, I tend to get in deep (e.g., despite being late to the cell phone party, I got an iPhone the first day it came out and now that I’m on the technology bandwagon, I’m a Twitter evangelist with @SteveD503).  I worried that by using emoticons I was acting like a middle school student, and given my past, I’d be unable to stop.  And yet, their adoption signals something important: emoticons are useful!  They add some of the non-verbal cues that are lost in electronic communication.  

I started small with the generic smiley :-) and gradually moved to the cuter wink smiley ;-)  I still work with a limited set, more because I fear using an ambiguous emoticon that my listener won’t recognize.  However, I have added the beaming smile :-D and the squinting eye grin ^_^ 

This is where things started to get strange.  The beam wasn’t altogether new for me (it partially supplanted “*beam*” for me in emails), but using it made me think about “beaming” more often while I communicated, both by email and in speech.  Now I’m breaking out the ear-to-ear more often in real life. My brain has actually been rewired by cleverly arranged punctuation. Unexpected.


The importance of asking questions

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

I’ve been giving a lot of presentations recently at work. We’re rolling out a Six Sigma-like cost savings methodology across a large corporate client and so I’ve sat down with groups of 3-30 a couple times per day to explain what it entails. After about 30 iterations, I’ve got the information-giving down pat. But, I’ve given presentations before. What I’ve been reflecting on recently is the importance of asking questions at the end.

Questions are important to help listeners clarify the material, but they also help listeners demonstrate understanding and set themselves apart from the other members of the audience.

I hit the end of the presentation after 20 minutes, which leaves about ten minutes for questions. My audience often take this as an invitation for further information to flow from the presenter to the participants. This is partly true, but not entirely. If, at the end of a presentation, someone’s unclear on some part of what’s been explained, by all means they should ask a question (but only if they’re reasonably certain that their confusion is at least somewhat universal, to avoid wasting everyone’s time. If they can’t tell, they probably should ask later, in private). A well-asked question serves both the questioner and the audience, as they all learn something.

However, a different sort of question is also available. Asking about an implication of the presentation or a subtle detail that might have been overlooked can demonstrate to the presenter that someone has paid attention and is engaged with the material. This can accumulate into awareness if the same person asks that sort of question in several presentations over time. Of course, there’s a danger that the questioner can end up wasting time with a question just meant to score points. It’s a technique to be used sparingly.

Maybe this is all just a cry for greater engagement from my audiences.


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