My Worst Presentation Experience

There was a recent Twitter thread, which I can no longer find, asking presenters for their worst experiences on stage. I have one that is pretty awful, but too long for Twitter, even with 280 characters per post.

Several years ago, my company put on two events back-to-back. The first two and a half days were about business intelligence (BI), while the second day and a half covered enterprise information management (EIM) and master data management (MDM). Personally, I never understood why the two events were separate. The topics are linked too tightly. Luckily, we’ve since restructured the event into one cohesive offering.

One side effect of having two events is that sometimes you gave the same presentation twice. That’s what happened to me on the transition day: I gave one pitch in the morning to a business intelligence audience, then had to give it 90 minutes later to the EIM crowd. Only it wasn’t a crowd. See, once people registered for the EIM portion, they were free to attend BI sessions. As a consequence, I only had about seven people in my second session.

The small audience wasn’t a problem. The problem is how the audience shrank from seven to six.

Apparently an attendee from the previous session was having a health scare and she couldn’t be moved out of the room, and the EMTs took some time to arrive. Fortunately, they arrived about 10 minutes into my presentation, when they proceeded to take her vitals, give her oxygen and strap her onto a gurney. With about 5 minutes to go in my pitch, they wheeled her out to a waiting ambulance.

The entire time, my rapidly shrinking audience was trying to listen to me babble on about data lakes when everyone was distracted by the medical emergency in the back of the room. Needless to say, my scores for that session weren’t great.

How I Work (Travel)

A popular cliché is that you should enjoy the journey as much as the destination. When it comes to business travel, that’s not my policy. My policy is to make the journey as painless and ignorable as possible. That’s shaped how I travel. Here’s how I get from point A to B and back.

About My Travel

I travel just over 100,000 miles a year, mostly for events that my company puts on. I need to pack a couple suits, dress shirts and training gear. I may also need to take weather gear like coats, gloves, etc. I also travel with a lot of electronics: Kindle, iPad, laptop and noise canceling headphones.

Luggage

I have an unhealthy obsession with the idea of one-bag travel. There are dozens of structured backpacks that apparently work well for tourists and casual travelers, but I always travel with at least one suit and several shirts. Add in workout gear, casual clothes, another pair of shoes, dopp kit and electronics, and you’re talking about looking like a wrinkled mess when you get where you’re going. A structured suitcase is essential.

My go-to carry-on is the overpriced Tumi Alpha International. I fell into the Tumi because I got a Tumi gift card from my employer when I finished my MBA. (This was probably their way of telling me to take a hike.)

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The Tumi lets me easily pack enough for a 3-day work trip and the bag has been flawless over five-plus years and hundreds of thousands of miles of air travel. The bag still looks new, but that’s not because of some special Tumi magic. It looks new because I never check it. The Tumi warranty is only 5 years and it’s fairly limited. Because of the paltry warranty Tumi chooses to put on its overpriced luggage, I check a different bag for longer trips. This is where the Briggs & Riley comes in.

My second bag is the Briggs & Riley Baseline.

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I’m a fan of Briggs & Riley because of their lifetime warranty and innovative internal expansion system. The bags wear well and have quality construction. In addition to the Baseline, I have another large rolling suiter that’s been through hell and back. Once, I used a hotel sewing kit to make emergency repairs while in Sydney. I’ve also sent it in for warranty service multiple times. Wirecutter also has nice things to say about the brand.

For longer trips when I can’t do laundry, like a week-long, multi-city trip, I’ll divide clothing between the two carry-ons. Then I check one and keep the other so I’m covered if the airline loses a piece of luggage. As I travel, I move the dirty clothes into the checked bag. The B&R bag takes most of the abuse since it’s always the one I check.

Another essential piece of luggage is a lightweight daypack. I prefer the REI Flash 22. It’s easily packable, but still has great capacity at 22 liters.

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If that’s too much, there’s also the Flash 18, as well as several great options from North Face, Osprey and others. These are great for tourist activities, or for carrying your gear to the nearest gym.

Packing

Packing comes down to what I take and how I organize it in my luggage. I heavily rely on Eagle Creek packing cubes. I have multiple sizes, but always get the lightest weight version. Packing cubes simplify everything about packing, unpacking and general organization. And if customs wants to rifle through your stuff, cubes make it easier to repack and get on your way.

On the Plane

This is where I try to zone out as much as possible. I’ve found two things to help make that possible:

Contoured sleep mask

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This mask is countered so it stays off your eyes and the elastic band doesn’t bite into the tops of your ears.

Ear plugs

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I use these ear plugs with my noise canceling headphones to block as much noise as possible.

I’m always interested in approaches, products or techniques others use to master their air travel. If you’ve got a tip, please leave it in the comments.

 

Improving Your Sleep When Flying

Travel and Leisure ran an article on improving how you sleep on planes. It has some good tips, but this is a topic I’m unfortunately familiar with. Here’s what I’ve learned after several years flying over 100,000 miles.

Dress in layers

Every plane starts off with the temperature set to arctic, only to slowly creep up to an uncomfortable level exactly halfway through the flight. Another factor is your own body heat – you’re heating up the seat, blanket, pillow, etc. I start most flights in lightweight travel trousers, t-shirt, sweater, shoes and socks. Over the course of a long-haul flight, I end up in gym shorts and a t-shirt. Managing clothing layers helps me regulate body temperature, ensuring better sleep.

Earplugs and noise canceling headphones

The T&L article covers noise canceling headphones, but I like to double-up with earplugs. Don’t bother with the mushy plugs that come in the amenity kit. I like the Mack’s Ultra Soft foam earplugs. They’re low cost and greatly improve the travel experience, especially when the the infant in 16B is melting down.

Melatonin

I use melatonin daily for better sleep and take larger doses when changing time zones. It also works well when flying for more restful sleep. It doesn’t work for everyone; if it works for you, it may be worth considering. I buy large bottles of melatonin at Costco and take three pills when the food is delivered. Ninety minutes later, I’m ready for some sleep.

What are your go-to tips for better sleep while flying?

Mastering Presentation Rehearsal

When I started my gig as an industry analyst, I was comfortable with the writing and client interaction parts of the job. The last part, getting on stage and talking for 30-45 minutes, was completely foreign to me. I had to learn how to create and deliver compelling stories to international audiences, often with different expectations. Making things worse, sometimes I’m required give presentations that I didn’t create.

Books on developing presentation skills and creating content often talk about the importance of practicing and rehearsing your presentations. But they rarely talk about how and what to practice. After a few years of experience presenting to diverse audiences, here’s what I’ve learned about presentation rehearsal.

Rehearse your content in sections

When I first started, I would rehearse my presentations from start to finish – or at least that was the intent. I’d start with my intro and move quickly into the first few slides. Then I’d get distracted by something, usually minor, on an early slide. Or I’d stumble over a story and keep working on it. The end result was that I didn’t spend as much, if any, time practicing the content in the middle and end.

Divide your rehearsal sessions into blocks to rehearse specific content. You might have an three core topics you want to discuss in your pitch. Schedule time rehearse each section independent of the other sections. This gives you a chance to work on isolated parts and refine them, without being distracted by the whole.

Nail the open and close

The opening was never much of a problem for me. I’d rehearse my opening probably 80-100 times (see above about rehearsing in sections). Then I’d bleed out during the close. Put additional emphasis on your opening and closing sections and schedule that rehearsal time separately.

Practice content transitions

Another trap I fell into was practicing just the talk track for the slide content, not how I would get to the next element or slide. How you arrive at a slide, whether it’s a data-centric transition or story-led transition, practice the transitions from one slide to another. Once I started rehearsing transitions, my delivery was much more fluid and my scores went up. My on-stage anxiety also dropped.

Rehearse on your feet and seated

You must rehearse your content while standing since that’s how you’ll deliver it – out loud and walking around a stage. You can’t just walk through the content in your head. That doesn’t create the necessary muscle memory for a successful delivery. You can also rehearse in front of people, but that’s often not an option for me.

This last tip will seem counterintuitive, but rehearsing my content out loud while seated allows me to focus on just the content. When I rehearse while seated, I focus on keeping my hands and body still and solely on delivering the content. For me, this translates into less random movement on stage. Instead, movements are more planned and (hopefully) more impactful to the audience.

Suggested reading

  • Richard Butterfield’s Power of Persuasion – I’ve had an opportunity to work with Mr. Butterfield on my presentation style and effectiveness. If you can take one of his workshops, I highly recommend it. If you can’t, his book is one of the best I’ve read on communication and presentation skills.
  • Confessions of a Public Speaker – Scott Berkun’s book was one of the first I read when I realized a significant portion of my job would be delivering presentations. Scott offers practical advice on both the mechanics of public speaking and storytelling.

How I Work (Productivity)

This is the second in a series of posts about how I do my day job. You can find the first post here: How I Work (Tools)

At this point, I feel like I’ve tried every available productivity tool and method. I still experiment when I see something new, but I’ve finally refined my process for getting stuff done on a day-to-day basis. There are several pieces, but each is generally simple on its own. Actually, the whole process is simple. Otherwise I wouldn’t follow it.

Project-Based Planning

Today, my go-to for planning projects is the iOS/macOS Reminders app. It doesn’t have a lot of features, but it syncs across my devices and prompts me with annoying notifications when I’m behind on deadlines. I’ve tried things like Todoist, and spent weeks trying to get OmniFocus integrated into my workflow, but I didn’t have the patience to either adjust how I worked to meet the limitations of the software or spend weeks customizing it. Ad hoc projects also land on my plate on a regular basis. I needed something easy and fluid to adapt to that. Lastly, I’m not going to pay for complexity when simplicity is free.

In Reminders, each project I’m working on gets its own list of deliverables, and each deliverable has a priority and due date. If it’s a publishing or presentation project, I also create a notebook in Evernote to store web clippings, notes, PDFs, etc. When a project is completed, the Reminders list is deleted and the Evernote notebook goes into an archived notebook stack. Why don’t I use Evernote’s reminders instead? Because they’re impossible to find across devices. (For such critical component in the way I work, Evernote is a disappointing piece of software.)

The Reminders app is really a staging area for everything that I have to get done, but it can be overwhelming to see everything at once. That’s when I use a simplified bullet journal.

Bullet Journal for Daily Processing

Each morning follows roughly the same pattern. I look through the list projects and see what’s languishing and add the next project-specific deliverable in the list to a notebook  – with actual paper and pen. I might add 3-4 work-related things and 1-2 things around the house I need to get done (clean the litter boxes? yay!). I don’t add more because 1) I know I likely won’t get that far and 2) something else is always waiting in my inbox.

While there are certainly examples of elaborate bullet journals, mine is a simple list of the day’s tasks with boxes to the left. Completed tasks get an ‘x.’ Things that I didn’t complete get an arrow indicating a carry-over to the next day. Sometimes things don’t go my way and I end up carrying things over for days at a time.

Aggressive Time-Boxing for Individual Tasks

This last part is the most recent addition to my productivity process. I received an Esington pomodoro timer as a gift, which forced me to learn about the Pomodoro Technique. Pomodoro is a simplified time management method in which you work for 25 minutes at a time, then take a short break. That’s it. With the 25-minute timer in front of me, it’s easier to avoid distractions and focus on the task at hand. Add some noise canceling headphones, and I’m set.

Why This Works for Me

With hundreds of productivity methods and best practices out there, I find this simple method works for me because:

It’s not overly digital. Notifications flashing on my phone and other screens don’t create a sense of urgency for me. The digital parts are just there to store tasks  until I add them to the treeware notebook. Writing things down and crossing them off gives a sense of satisfaction that checking off a digital box doesn’t. And the physical act of flipping over a 25-minute timer helps me focus in a way that a timer on my phone doesn’t.

It’s simple. Many productivity methods, like GTD IMO, focus on the method instead of the result. Often, they’re so intricate and rigid that they fail to reflect the messy reality of most peoples’ work lives. My cobbled together method may not look pretty or win any awards, but it doesn’t have to. It only has to help me get stuff done.

Does this sound like your productivity method? Did you get OmniFocus to work for you? (If you did, I’d like to know how.) Let me know in the comments.

How I Work (Tools)

I’ve always been a fan of the “How I work” posts on curated sites like Lifehacker. And since Lifehacker isn’t likely to knock on my inbox anytime soon, I figured I’d roll my own. Reading about how people in various professions structure their days and design for productivity or creativity has helped me construct my own strategy. My intent is to keep the conversation going on new tools or methods I might try, and to see if my processes may work for you. This will be a short series, starting with tools.

Hardware

Most of my research and writing happens in my home office, on a 13″ MacBook Pro (late 2015) and 27″ Apple Cinema Display. The display has been showing its age lately, with USB and audio problems. Although I suspect the audio problems are mostly due to some awful Plantronics software. A good chunk of my day is spent on the phone, which is where the Plantronics Savi 700 comes in. My desktop is rounded out with a Logitech Performance MX mouse and Apple keyboard.

Even though the MBP is on the lighter side, I still need the power adapter and mouse when traveling. I’m actively looking to reduce the amount of stuff I travel with. To that end, I recently got the new iPad Pro 10.5″ with Smart Keyboard and pencil. The iPad Pro with iOS 10 is already excellent, but iOS 11 should greatly improve productivity. After a few months with the new iPad, the battery life is excellent and I’m much happier with the Smart Keyboard than I thought I’d be. The Pencil is basically useless for the kinds of tasks I do, but I haven’t fully integrated it into my processes.

I’m still using an iPhone 6s with no plans to upgrade unless something happens to it. I also wear a series 1 Apple Watch, which is mostly just a fitness tracker and timer for whatever’s cooking.

Software

My software toolchain is a bit of a mixed bag. Evernote is an essential component. I’m always clipping web pages or saving PDFs. But Evernote’s PDF annotation capabilities are abysmal (and frequently broken), so I supplement it with PDF Expert.

I rely on the Microsoft Office suite for content creation. I’ve tried G Suite and found it lacking when it comes to niche Office features I’ve come to count on.

Of course, I also use WordPress.

For todos and reminders, I use the iCloud Reminders app. (Hey, I don’t judge you.) I’ve run the gauntlet of OmniFocus, Todoist and a dozen others, but Reminders gives me just enough detail without becoming a distraction. It also syncs across all of my devices – and it’s free.

The Rest

Admittedly, digital reminders don’t motivate me to do things. For that, I go analog. A simple notebook and pen for a trivial bullet journal helps me get things done.

What am I missing? How does your tooling differ? Let me know in the comments.