Juveniles

November is National Blog Post Month (NaBloPoMo). This post is part of my post-a-day challenge. I have picked a theme for the challenge: song titles. These songs have been featured on live albums from KEXP (an awesome alternative radio station in Seattle), so at a minimum you will hear some great music.

There are two juveniles that are particularly close to me. I just tucked them into bed, but they went to sleep unaware that they took part in my personal and professional development. And it wasn’t just tonight, they help me grow every day.

Tonight we did something that they love. We played a game that is called “emcee.” I grab something that looks like a mic (tonight it was a half used tube of diaper cream) and then emcee the rest of the night. The girls sit on their beds and I start:

I want to thank everyone for joining us tonight. It has really been a special time. This is a really unique setting and makes me feel very close to you. I just want to run down the rest of the evening for you.

Next we will be brushing teeth. That will occur in the bathroom. It’s just down the hall to the left. After that we will floss – as you know it’s super important that we floss. One of the most important things we will do tonight.

After flossing, we will brush hair. We certainly don’t want any tangles in the morning. No one wants to start their day with tangled hair.

That about covers it. Let’s meet back in here in fifteen minutes for a special presentation. Thanks again for joining us. It’s been a real treat to be with you tonight.

They absolutely love this sort of treatment. They continually laugh and instruct me on what to say. All the while, I am getting better as a public speaker. I’m not sure why I had the idea to MC my kids bed time, but I am glad that I did.

Think about all the time you spend with your kids (or nieces/nephews). They are a great audience. They tend to laugh at your jokes. Why not try out fun stuff on them that could potentially improve you professionally?

Share what you’ve done. I’d love to have more ideas and opportunities to practice with my kids.

TEDx Director’s Commentary

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Typically the director’s commentary doesn’t come out until the DVD is released. It is for the true movie buffs who love to hear what the director and/or producer were thinking. They go through every painstaking detail. If you don’t like film, then it would be the most boring two hours of your life. If you love film and how it is made, you can’t get enough, hearing directly from the people who made the movie. You get some insight into their heads and how they think.

Since I am fresh off my first TEDx talk, I wanted to share some “director’s commentary” with you – before the DVD is released (i.e. video is uploaded to the web). If you are interested in TEDx, you might enjoy this – otherwise, it could be a boring ten minutes!

The director’s commentary around my TEDx experience involves two parts: how I ended up being asked to speak at this TEDx event, and what it was like to prepare and deliver the talk.

Getting to King Street East
The official name of the TEDx event at which I spoke was TEDx King Street East. King Street is a major street running through the heart of downtown Toronto. I met the event organizer, Chris Murumets, at an actuarial conference in Toronto this past May. Chris volunteered to be a part of a presentation that I was organizing on Design Thinking. Chris told me that he was impressed with my presentation this past May and asked me if I would like to come back to be a part of a TEDx event he was organizing. I gave him an emphatic yes, and I’m so glad that I decided to speak.

Prepping for the big day
I decided to start working on my talk in mid August. Here’s how I approached it.
August 12: Think about needing to work on TEDx talk, procrastinate and do other stuff
August 19: Think about needing to work on TEDx talk, procrastinate and do other stuff
August 26: Think about needing to work on TEDx talk, procrastinate and do other stuff
September 2: Labor day, forget to think about TEDx talk
Skip to September 30: stay up until 2 am finishing draft of TEDx talk

I settled on “Empathy” as a topic early on. Becoming more empathetic has had a big impact with my outlook on my work, and I wanted to share that story. I have a technical background (i.e. I am a geek), and I notice that many other people with technical backgrounds also seemed to have empathy problems.

But, I thought this has to be bigger than me to be enjoyable for the audience. I wondered, “do empathetic organizations outperform companies that lack empathy?” Thankfully, a fellow TEDx speaker recommended a book (Wired to Care). In this book, the author places a few companies in three categories (high empathy, low empathy, and somewhere in between). It turns out that the stock performance of highly empathetic companies is substantially better than that of low empathy companies. Bazinga! Something bigger than my personal story.

More prep
I’d love to tell you that preparing for this talk was easy. Delivering fifteen minutes of original live content that you know will live forever on the internet sounds scary to me. Scary enough for me to want to practice!

Once I had a draft of the presentation, I must have practiced a million times. Once in front of a few co-workers and my wife. Once with a fellow TEDx speaker. I even created a recording of my talk and sent it out to a few friends for review.

Each reviewer gave me great feedback and helped shape my talk. All that was left was to continue to practice. I recorded my best version yet four days before the talk and then I listened to it almost non-stop.

You heard that correct, I listened to myself speak over and over and over again. I listened to my talk on the drive into work. I listened to my talk on the flight to Toronto. I listened to my talk on the subway. And lastly, I listened to my talk about an hour before I was on stage.

I have used this technique before for big presentations. Develop the talk, practice several times, record a “good” version, listen to the “good” version until you can give the talk in your sleep.

You did all of that for that?
Devoting so much time to one presentation does add some pressure. It’s tempting to not put in this kind of prep and then write off a poor performance by saying, “no big deal…I didn’t really put that much time into it.” Hopefully, some of you will watch my 14 minute talk once it is up on the TED website. And you might think, “wow…you did all of that for that?” And that’s ok. I would rather work hard knowing that my performance might be a colossal failure, with no excuses. I don’t like thinking, “what if I had actually tried?”

The talk
It was the definition of fun for me to stand up and share a part of my journey. I was fortunate to only have a few verbal missteps, and I don’t think they took too much away from my talk. The attendees at the event were gracious and gave me some positive feedback. Some of my favorite quotes were, “my son is a 25 year old computer programmer and he has got to hear your talk!” and “you have advanced the image of an actuary by a light year!”

I am looking forward to sharing my talk once it’s up on the TED website. Now, I need to get busy creating content for future talks. (i.e. taking risks, caring for others, and trying new things)

Always improving

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As I was reading to my daughters last night, I thought about two things I do while reading to them that relate to this idea of improving:

  1. When I read I try to work on voice inflection – not being monotone, using different voices – in general, I try to get into the story as much as possible
  2. I try to read long passages at a time without looking at the page. Read a sentence quickly to myself, look up, and then say the sentence out loud. I’m not sure when this will come in handy (apart from having to deliver a pre-written speech in front of a large audience) but it’s something I practice anyway

So after typing these out, I realize this may sound very strange, but my kids love #1 and they don’t even realize that I am playing a memory game (I had typed out “they don’t even realize that I am doing #2” but I decided that sounded ridiculous!). I read to my kids every night, so every night is an opportunity to use the time I have to also work on my ability to speak in public.

What is something you do every day that could also help you improve on a skill you need for your job? Do you have an opportunity to take on a leadership role at a non-profit that you are involved in? I had a co-worker who viewed volunteering to read scripture in church as a way to improve her confidence to speak in public. Is “always improving” a reason on it’s own to volunteer? Of course not. I read to my kids because I love spending the time with them…it’s one of the highlights of my day. That said, I’m always looking for ways to improve.