Archive for the ‘presenting’ Category

Soldier from 1 Royal Irish Regiment Engages Taliban Following an AmbushLast night I was reading a post by Andy Leonard (blog | twitter) where his presentation slides completely fell apart. This was, of course, after sustaining a hit to the head that would have gotten him pulled from an NFL game. Now Andy is an accomplished presenter and he’s able to recover well, even if dealing with a concussion that would hold him out of the next game. But the most important thing with Andy is that he doesn’t usually panic. Andy understands an old military saying, “No plan survives first contact.”

Despite your best efforts, the unexpected will happen. Murphy will have his due. As a result, you should expect this. When I do presentations, I expect that I may be without slides and without a demo machine. This probably comes from years of doing children’s ministry in shared environments. You never know if the gear you planned to be there will actually be there. Or you never know if a sick kid is going to yack all over it, rendering it unusable. Since I have learned over the years that all my plans may be out the window, I’ve come to consider alternatives that I can do with a minimum of gear, preparation, etc. And it was nice to see on Twitter a few days ago other technical presenters talking about the same sort of thing.

For instance, one presenter’s laptop went south right before a seminar. He had everything on a thumb drive or saved off in other places and was able to recover using a borrowed machine. I just read today where another presenter’s presentation was interrupted as his computer rebooted unexpectedly. However, there really wasn’t a blip as he was able to recover in stride. These things happen, and not just in presentations. The key is to be ready before the moment is upon you.

A simple example is eating out. Let’s face it: plastic is convenient. Using credit cards is so easy that a lot of people don’t carry cash anymore. I used to be one of those people. However, one day my wife and I were taking the kids out to a local burger joint. When we walked in, they had signs at every register indicating they could take cash only, as their credit card processing was down. We were fortunate to have enough cash on us to cover the meal so we didn’t have to go somewhere else. Now my wife and I try to make sure that if we’re going out to eat, we have enough in cash to cover the meal if their systems are down. It has proven a smart move. Shortly after the burger place incident, we were at a sit-down meal chain restaurant and they had been upgrading their systems. Something wasn’t right and they weren’t able to use them. So they couldn’t run credit cards. Our waitress had managed to print out our bill during a brief period when one of the systems was responding. But if we wanted to pay by credit card, we would have to wait. That wasn’t a problem. We pulled out enough cash to cover the bill and the tip and we were on our way. Other customers weren’t so fortunate.

Don’t be the other customer. Consider what might happen. Think about how you would handle if it did. What if everything fell apart? What then? In Andy’s case, he went on, discussing the presentation and explaining what was on each picture. He knew what he was going to present. And he was ready to recover when things didn’t go his way. We can’t predict when we’re going to hit such a streak. But we can be prepared for it.


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Folks who know me know I have two positions:

  • IT pro working primarily these days in Microsoft SQL Server as a database administrator (DBA)
  • Junior high youth pastor and Awana commander

During the summer months, junior high schoolers aren’t in school, so my ministry commitments step up. Plus, lately there are some areas I feel like I’m called to get rolling, and that has added to the amount of time I’ve spent on the ministry side. Given that, something had to give, and it was some of the attention and time I put towards the IT pro side. This is part of the normal ebb and flow of priorities in my life. As I hopefully start establishing these new ministry pushes, I expect to be still kind of quiet on the IT pro side. Things will probably start to shift back over towards October, with the PASS Summit in Seattle, WA. Even that won’t be completely IT pro, though, as I’m staying with a former ministry partner who now works for Microsoft. He and his wife have offered me the spare bedroom of their house for the week I’ll be there and that saves money and allows me to be able to catch up with two wonderful people who have been blessings in my life. I’m really looking forward to that.

Notice I didn’t say I was taking time away my family. I finally understood that hard lesson a few years ago when I sat down and realized that every day with my wife and my children is precious. I was looking at my oldest son, then ten, and realizing we had less than a decade left before he would be moving out on his own with college and then beginning his own life. That immediately spurred the question, “Where did those ten years go?” I still desire for more time with my wife and children, I think we all should, and I have made the conscious decision never to steal time away from them unless it absolutely can’t be helped. These would be emergency situations only. I have learned that trying to do the trade-off doesn’t work out so well and that you never get all the time back. Yes, I put an exception for those “sometimes it can’t be helped.” But when it can be, and most of the time it can be, I’ve got to stick by what I know are the right priorities, regardless of how gleaming an opportunity might seem. If you’re wrestling with these types of questions with respect to family, think about it long and hard until you come to a decision that gives you some peace. Then stick by that decision.

So if you’re on the IT side and been wondering why I’ve not submitting to SQL Saturdays or doing user group presentations and my why article and blog writing has been down, it’s because the time has been allocated to ministry. I’ll be looking to get back involved at a higher clip in the fourth quarter of this year, slowly starting to pick up now with things accelerating even more in late August to where I’ll be back around “normal” in October.

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In the September 2010 issue of Toastmaster magazine there’s a great article by Chris Witt (blog) entitled Not All Ideas Are Created Equal. Here is the gist of what it has to say with my own take on the points Mr. Witt has made:

Focus on one idea

If you have more ideas, great! Save them for another speech (or blog post/article). Focus on the one idea you want to communicate to your audience. You want to ensure your audience gets your idea. And you want it to be as compelling as possible. If you’re writing on a technical topic, make sure what you’re trying to get across focuses on that single topic.

This is a problem I’ve struggled with in the past. I want to communicate too many things. It’s hard enough to get one idea across. So just focus on getting that one idea to your audience.

Make that idea clear

This should be obvious, but a lot of us miss this point. If you get up there and talk or if you write and there’s no clarity, then your idea doesn’t come across. That defeats the whole purpose of what you’re striving to do. So you need to make sure that you get the idea across clearly. In order to do that you must first be sure that you are clear on what that idea is. If it’s not clear to you, it’s not going to be clear to your audience.

When communicating that idea, use clear, plain language. Hiding behind jargon runs counter to your purpose. We’ve all joked about “buzzword bingo” and that’s something you want to avoid. Dr. Richard Feynman was renowned not only for his expertise in physics, but also for his ability to take complex topics and explain them in a way ordinary people could understand. This is what is to be aimed for: the clear communication of the idea. Remember your audience and choose your words careful to reach them.

Organize what you have to say

It’s easy to just sit down and start writing. Grab a dictionary and write one word. Flip a few pages and write another word. Flip a few more and another. There, you’ve sat down and you’ve started writing, right? Not at all. All you’ve done is copy a few words out of the dictionary and they probably make no sense together.

You want to make sure that as you communicate your idea, that you aren’t doing the same thing, only you are using phrases, sentences, and paragraphs. Make sure your idea is developed in an orderly way. Ensure the audience can follow along and that your building on your idea throughout. Tangents and “rabbit trails” should be avoided. One of the things I hate to see in writing is a sidebar that is only loosely related to the topic being covered. Yes, I’ve been guilty of doing this in my own writing and it makes me cringe when I see my own failings in print. Stay on topic, ensure it’s organized, and work to develop your idea logically.

Back it up

If you are working on an idea and not a topic like, “How do I change a flat tire,” then you want to make sure that as you present the idea, you give evidence supporting it. For instance, when I wrote an essay back in the 9th grade against the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force (INF) Treaty, I did so having done an extensive amount of research. The INF arsenal gave us punch even in a sudden invasion of West Germany without having to launch ICBMs from US soil. It seemed really foolish to get rid of this defensive measure. So I spent the paper discussing force distribution in Europe, ranges and numbers of the weapon systems and the situations where we would employ them, and the lack of anything similar to provide equivalent capabilities. All of this went to support my position that we should not sign the INF treaty.

You need to do the same sort of thing with your idea. As you develop it, you need to provide facts and reasons why your idea is sound. You need to give your audience reason to agree with your idea. Here you are looking for credible, verifiable sources. Now those facts and reasons don’t have to be as hard and fast as what I used in my position paper. They could be stories and anecdotes. One of the things Al Gore tried to use in his failed presidential campaign was anecdotal stories. Why was this one of his strategies? Stories people can identify with are seen as evidence for your idea. This strategy has worked in the past. And it works now. We typically love good stories. Now what you use is up to you. Make sure it fits the idea you’re trying to convey and the audience you’re trying to reach. If you’re trying to defend a graduate dissertation, stories won’t cut it. If you’re trying to talk to a bunch of children, detailed facts with pie charts and other business type notes won’t either.

Remember that these need to be verifiable. One of the things that burned Gore was that as the media started to check into his stories, they were able to find and prove that at least some of them were either stretched greatly or flat-out made up. As a result, Gore’s strategy backfired, especially as Bush found ways to convey his ideas to his audience, the American people, better than his opponent.

You better be interested in your idea

I remember my senior year at The Citadel I was given a presentation on research done by another physics major. I did the best that I could and it was a worthy topic that I understood, but I don’t feel that I did a very good job. Why not? Because it wasn’t research I was interested in. I agreed to give it because my fellow physics major had a conflict and couldn’t present the paper he had worked on.

If you are interested and passionate about your idea, it will show. One of the things that characterizes the TED talks is that the speakers are very passionate about their ideas. That’s what makes most of the presentations compelling. If you aren’t interested in your idea, folks will begin to sense it. And then they will ask, “If he doesn’t care, why should I?” Then it doesn’t matter how good an idea is, you’ve lost them. Be interested in it and find a way to convey that interest. What about the idea appeals to you? What makes it special to you? Bring that out.

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You want to have a hit for children’s ministry? Learn how to twist balloon animals and other types of balloon art. It’s not hard at all. In fact, several basic patterns can be taught in about 15 minutes. I know, because I’ve taught it to junior high level youth (12-14 years old) in that time on several occasions. In fact, when we often have a ministry event involving children, the junior high youth are asked to do balloon animals. Why? Because we do it well (even the beginners) and because kids love balloon animals. If you’re a youth pastor and you want your youth group more involved in actually ministering, this is a great activity because most youth will jump in with both feet and the first time a little kid smiles when one of your youth hands that kid a balloon animal. So here’s what you need to have to get started.

The Klutz Kit:

I got started with a kit similar to the one Klutz offers. Basic designs, a handful of balloons, and a simple pump. I just picked this up recently to see if there were any simple designs in it and there were. For instance, we picked up the flower bracelet and the angel wings from this book and they were a big hit at our most recent ministry event. We couldn’t make enough of these two items. We taught two of the youth how to make the angel wings in about 5 minutes and one of the youth parents, who had some experience with balloon twisting, came over and quickly learned the flower bracelet so that there were three of us who could make them.  So there are good, useful patterns other than just the absolute basics.

The reason I suggest starting with this book is that it gives you everything you need to determine if you want to go further and you won’t be out much money. You’ll have enough balloons to make enough designs to get a taste for what’s involved in balloon twisting and whether or not it is something you can work into your ministry.

Many Designs Come from the Dog:

The dog is usually the first design one learns. It’s a basic design that teaches the twist and the lock and it’s a repeated pattern of two bubbles and a fold twist/lock. Lon Cerel starts with this basis to show that a lot of designs such as rabbits, giraffe, mice, and cats all are variations of the dog. This is a short book to read and it will quickly expand your repertoire. There are other designs, too, towards the end, which aren’t very difficult. If you want to teach others, this book gives you a good idea of how to do so.

One thing I would advise you not follow is his guidance to learn how to blow up a balloon using your lungs. This can be dangerous and most other folks advise against doing so. Also, with the availability of inexpensive two-way air pumps, there’s no real reason to do so. The pumps do a great job and help you keep moving fast to create your designs if there’s a crowd.

A Little More Advanced:

The Balloonology book is more advanced than the previous two and it has some really nice designs. But what it has more than all that is practical advice on how to get better at doing balloon twisting and what you really need to be thinking about when working at different levels of expectations. The author also covers certain techniques that you won’t find in the other books. For instance, how to do a break away as part of the design. Other books have you using scissors and that slows things down. Obviously, if you have to pick up a pair of scissors, use it, and then put it back down to continue working on a balloon design, that takes more time.

I need to work on the more advanced techniques, but even not having mastered them, one of the things this book is inspire. It shows that balloon twisting can go beyond the basic designs into some really creative ones. We all need something to strive for and this book does it for me. If you’re looking to save money, this is probably one you can exclude, at least until you get a lot better doing balloon twisting.

The Basic Gear:

If you’re going to do balloon twisting as a ministry, you’re going to need supplies. Specifically, you’re going to need an air pump and you’re going to need balloons. The standard balloons most folks use are the latex 260 ones. The 2 means 2 inches in diameter and the 60 means about 60 inches in length. There are other sizes, and some designs require them, but the standard balloon you’ll use are the 260s. I have found a lot of folks recommend the Qualatex brand and I’ve gotten great results with them. While you can usually find packages at the big container type stores (Wal-Mart, Target, etc.), I would recommend getting Qualatex balloons, whether you order them online or find a local retailer (a lot of party supply stores carry them). Make sure you get a count that you’ll finish off in a few months. Latex balloons don’t last very long. They get brittle and they are useless for ministry and just about useless for practice because they pop too easily.

You’re also going to want a decent air pump. The big container stores usually carry good two-way air pumps that work just fine. They aren’t much, usually less than $5. I have about 5-6 in good working order since I usually have a cluster of youth doing balloon twisting at ministry events. They last a good while and when they finally do give out, they are inexpensive to replace. There are more expensive models out there, and even ones that rest on the floor, but I’ve honestly never used these. I’ve stuck with the inexpensive ones I’ve found at the local stores and they have worked just fine.

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Table Topics Masters can be brutal. Let me explain. I’m a member of  a Toastmasters chapter and try to participate as much as possible. Today I served as the Table Topics Master during the meeting. For those who aren’t familiar with a Toastmasters meeting, the Table Topics Master brings questions or scenarios fitting with the theme of the meeting. The purpose of Table Topics is to give members an opportunity to practice ad hoc speaking. So these scenarios or questions are only known ahead of time by the Table Topics Master. Our theme today was, “Back to School.” Here were the questions / scenarios I came up with. Given that we have folks who have thought about a lot of the common types of positions and issues (like standardized testing, school performance, etc.) and that’s true of nearly every topic they will build on as a theme, we tend to ask scenario questions that force folks to think outside of the box. Except for the uniforms question, you’ll see that reflected.

Scenario 1: Personal Hygiene Issue

Welcome back! You are the principal of a brand new school and you find yourself greeting students on the first day, right before homeroom. Then you come across one particularly foul-smelling individual. There’s nothing in the student handbook about bathing. And to make matters worse, you recognize him to be the son of school district superintendent. What do you say and/or do?

Scenario 2: Repeating High School

You wake up tomorrow when the alarm goes off. However, like some movie plot, you realize that you’ve been transported back to your first day of high school. Thinking back, how would you handle this “second chance” to do high school all over again?

Scenario 3: The Neighbor’s Kid

It’s the first day of school. Your neighbor has come over, knocking on your door. When you answer it, you find out her new kindergartner won’t get in the car to go to school because she is afraid. Your neighbor has tried everything and is literally in tears. She’s pleaded, bribed, yelled and threatened, and even tried to forcibly place her child in the child seat, to no avail. She’s at her wits end and doesn’t know what else to do and is begging for you to talk to her child. What do you say to the kid?

Question 1: School Uniforms

Some public schools require uniforms now for all students. There are people with opinions all over the place on this issue. Where do you stand, and why?

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In recent days I’ve seen folks jump on Facebook groups and become fans of pages which I know, from a glance, are not what they appear to be. Part of the reason I know they aren’t goes back to my experience as an IT security professional. Part of it goes back to my experience as a web developer. So when I see one of these groups that makes a claim I know cannot be met with the architecture and design of Facebook or Twitter or whatever technology you want to speak of, I know it’s false and that means the group or page has an ulterior motive. But my signals or clues are based on my experience. This is especially concerning for me since a lot of my youth are on these sites and they may not realize a threat for what it is. And that threat could lead to something far worse than a stolen password, a hijacked account, or an infected computer.

So what I want to do is figure out a way to deconstruct those cues so that a regular end user without a security or web development background can learn them and make reasonable assessments themselves. There’s too much of this nonsense going on. And that’s the reason it has made my goal list. I want to figure our how to make an easy to understand, informative presentation with realistic instruction on how to judge potential security threats for social media sites. A presentation targeted not at IT, but at the end user. I know this isn’t going to be an easy undertaking, but I think it’s gotten to the point where it’s necessary.

If you’re interested in collaborating with me, shoot me an email at kbriankelley {at} acm {dot} org

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