Thursday, August 30, 2018

Tips for Effective Public Speaking

For many employees, especially leaders in highly visible positions, effective public speaking is just another part of the job. Whether it’s addressing the media, motivating employees, making an innovative pitch or speaking to the community, watching a talented orator deliver an effective presentation can be both inspiring and intimidating – especially to those of us who have to really work at being charismatic.

The ability to enchant an audience isn’t necessarily an inherited trait, though, and there is hope for the reluctant raconteur. Like many professional skills, confidence can be practiced and perfected with time.

If you’re an ambivert like I am, a person whose personality displays both extroverted and introverted features, the idea of public speaking isn’t totally terrifying, but when you actually find yourself open to the scrutiny of spectators, your nerves take over and your ego deflates.

No matter your personality type, with patience and preparation, even the most timid talker can overcome a fear of public speaking.

When you’re getting ready to give a speech or presentation, it’s hard enough to focus on the material you’re discussing, so trying to remember a bunch of public speaking tips can be distracting. We’ve all been told over and over to make eye contact, speak slowly and avoid reading slides verbatim, etc. But I’ve narrowed it down to three rules you absolutely have to follow, and once you’ve rehearsed enough times, they should become muscle memory:

Be Prepared

Preparation for public speaking is the linchpin of a successfully delivered presentation. I think a lot of the jitters we feel before making any speech can be contributed to the anxiety associated with feeling unprepared. Some people thrive on improvisation, but for those of us who need a game plan, preparing for a speech or presentation is a necessity. Whether you’re using a slide deck, videos, photos or other visual aids, practice your presentation as many times as you can. Understand the timing and pacing of your delivery so the flow of ideas makes sense and your messages are easily identified. Cut as much fat from your script as you can to make it easier to recite conversationally. You should never make a speech for the first time to your audience.

There are some other things to consider beforehand, like presentation location and tech capabilities. If the computer suddenly breaks and your accompanying slides and visuals are lost, can you make your presentation a cappella?

Don’t Say Too Much

How many times have you been told to keep it simple? We’ve all endured meetings, presentations and speeches that felt endless, like being drawn into a PowerPoint black hole. When you’re the one on the podium, do you want people to be checking their watches? During the preparation phase, you should have identified your key messages. If you bury those in extra information, you’re relying on your audience to decipher which material matters most. Do the leg work for them. Keep your presentation short and make your key messages obvious and memorable.

Know Your Audience

You should know in advance who you’re actually going to be speaking to. How old are they? Are they subject matter experts? Members of the general public? High school students? Senior leaders? All of this information will dictate how you make your presentation, what kind of visual aids you use and how you shape your language. If you use industry jargon, will they understand it? How much background information do you need to provide? Is it a formal presentation? Does your audience have a sense of humor? Understanding your audience’s limits and expectations beforehand (this is why preparation is key) will ensure your presentation or speech is appropriate and well-received.

Even experienced public speakers still combat nervousness and stage fright, so don’t set the bar too high for yourself. You can find some additional effective public speaking tips here.

And if all else fails, just picture the audience naked.

This article originally appeared on GovLoop.
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Thursday, August 23, 2018

3 Easy Ways to Improve Office Productivity

Office productivity sometimes feels elusive, especially when we lose our focus, let our priorities get muddied or allow petty drama to consume our thoughts. We humans love our shiny objects, but luckily there are ways to overcome those silly distractions and boost office productivity.

In the weeks leading up to my wedding, I received a lot of guidance from well-meaning friends and family. The most common phrase I heard was, “Never go to bed angry.” It’s great advice given the right context. But I do think sometimes an overnight cool down session can go a long way in making an argument seem less important.

Anyway, that’s not what this post is about, but stick with me here. Out of all the good, bad and insane words of wisdom I received before my wedding day, my favorite to share throughout the years has always been this: “It’s not about the wedding, it’s about the marriage.” This is the advice I share with my friends who are planning their big days, when I’m writing a card or even trying to warm up cold feet. And oddly enough, it’s the mantra I recite to myself from time to time when I’m having a hard day at work.

It’s not about the wedding, it’s about the marriage. You probably won’t remember the tiny floral details on the table cloths, or which of your aunts didn’t want to sit next to each other, but if you’ve built a strong foundation, you will likely enjoy a happy and successful partnership for many years.

So how in the world does this translate to office productivity? The wedding is the trivial thing upsetting or frustrating you at the office, and the marriage is your career. It’s not about what’s happening in this moment that’s temporarily troubling you. That’s not important. When you feel slighted by a coworker or if you find yourself fixating on something annoying, it’s just a distraction. When you expend so much of your mental energy on negativity, you’re draining yourself of productivity and starving yourself of growth.

Here are three things I do to refocus my attention on the “marriage” when the “wedding” has overwhelmed me:

Take deep breaths.

This seems too simple, doesn’t it? If I can’t leave my desk to get some fresh air, all I need to do is take a few deep breaths. While I’m breathing deeply, I recite my mantra. I just let it go. Then, I move on with purpose and refocus my energy on the mission at hand.

Make a list. 

The problem with focusing on the little things that bother us is how easily those little things can become big things that consume our thoughts and change our mindset from optimism to pessimism. So when I feel scattered, I get out my paper and my favorite pen and I make a list. I usually write my priorities for the rest of the day. Be sure to include at least one task you know you can get done before quitting time so you’ll have something to put in your daily win column.

Take a walk. 

This one is my favorites. It’s generally agreed upon that eating lunch away from your desk boosts your creativity and problem solving, but even getting up to take a brisk, two-minute walk around your building can give you the necessary distance to clear your head, forget about the menial diversions building up in your brain, and get your mind right to sit back down at your desk and attack the rest of the day. When the weather’s nice, I like to go outside, close my eyes, and take some deep breaths. I’m fortunate I can actually do this, but if you can’t make it outside, or if it’s raining, even just a quick jaunt to the lobby gives you a few quiet minutes to yourself to refocus on what matters.

It sounds too easy, and it is, but “easy and effective” doesn’t have to be an oxymoron.

Remind yourself of the big picture priorities, know what motivates you and don’t let those aggravating details get you down.

This article originally appeared on GovLoop.
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Monday, August 06, 2018

Visiting California: Lake Tahoe in January

Mike and I love snowboarding.  We love snow in general.  I probably get a little bit more excited about snow than he does, but the point is we both love it.  Which is why it was a bit disappointing our trip to Lake Tahoe was scheduled during an unusually warm January.

Most of the snow was melting, and it was in the 50s almost the entire time we were there.  That made for some pretty warm days on the slopes, plus slushy/icy conditions as the snow would melt and then refreeze overnight.

We made the best out of it, but after a few days at Heavenly, ultimately decided we much preferred our trip to Breckenridge, CO in 2015.

From our trip to Tahoe, two things stand out: my impromptu sunset drive to Emerald Bay and the fishing charter we booked for our last day.

Mike and I drove out to Emerald Bay one morning, but the fog was still so thick, all of the views were obscured and we couldn't see much beyond the trees 10 feet in front of us.  We did find a cool view of the lake from a park on the shoreline, but still...fog.



So after we enjoyed the switch back mountain road, we turned around and headed back to the hotel. That evening when the sky cleared, I went back out on my own to see what I could see.  Mike was tired, plus he didn't pack waterproof shoes. I knew I wanted to get to Emerald Bay, one of the most famous photo spots in South Lake Tahoe.  I parked along the side of the highway and followed a trail up the hill to a waterfall, but the view of Emerald Bay was obscured by trees.  There was still a lot of snow on the trails, and even in my snow boots I had to go slowly.  I knew sunset was coming quickly, so I hiked back down to the highway where I could hear water flowing, and climbed down a snowy bank to a hidden stream and cascading pools to be greeted by an unobstructed view of Emerald Bay, just in time to catch the bright purple sunset. It was truly amazing.


On our last day in Tahoe, we finally got to see the lakeshore without fog. We enjoyed an early lunch by the beach and then boarded a fishing boat for a four-hour excursion on the lake.  The views from the boat were amazing, and the weather was absolutely perfect.  Mike caught two...trout? bass? I don't know what they were. But he took one of them back to the hotel and cooked it for dinner.






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Monday, July 30, 2018

Visiting New York: A Quick Trip to Syracuse


Last October I spent a long weekend in Syracuse, NY as part of my graduate program at Syracuse University.  My dad lives nearby in Pennsylvania, so we also used it as an opportunity to meet up and do some exploring.




On our first day, we did a quick tour of a few local waterfalls.  The most remarkable was 167-foot Chittenango Falls at Chittenango Falls State Park.  The trail to the falls was quick and easy, albeit a bit muddy.  Some of the river bank is habitat to a few protected species, so you’re really not allowed to wander around, but the designated path and adorable footbridge still afford some great views from above and below the waterfall and along the gorge. 

At the top of the waterfall, a paved trail lets you explore further upstream, and my dad and I couldn’t resist building a few cairns like we always do on our trips together.



After that we drove to 137-foot Pratt’s Falls at Pratt’s Falls Park.  This park offered a lot more as far as outdoor recreation is concerned, and the path to the waterfall was a bit more strenuous.  At least when we went, the view of the waterfall wasn’t quite worth the trek to get there.  It’s quite far away from the vantage point, and unless there’s been a lot of rain, the flow of water isn’t very dramatic.

On our last afternoon, after a quick tour of campus, we decided to take advantage of the warm weather and drove out to Fort Ontario on a whim. Fort Ontario, in the City of Oswego, is situated on the southeast bank of Lake Ontario.  Not only did we get to see a really unique historic site, I got to visit the one of the Great Lakes I hadn’t seen yet. The Fort was built in the early 1800s and used by the U.S. Army through World War II.  At one point it also served as the only refugee camp in the country for Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust.



We did venture into town on the hunt for ice cream, but most places were closed for the season.

One evening, we were fortunate to get tickets to the Russian Grand Ballet’s performance of Swan Lake at the downtown Crouse Hinds theater.  Before the show, we ate dinner at Jim’s Fish Fry, a real local treasure my dad couldn’t resist trying.

The next couple of days I spent on campus fulfilling my requirements as a student before flying back to Virginia. 

Syracuse in the fall is hard to beat, but I returned again in May for my graduation ceremony. It was a bit warmer and wetter, but still a wonderful weekend of celebration.  The next time I’m in that neck of the woods I’ll be enjoying it as a proud alum.




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Sunday, January 21, 2018

A Storybook Baby Shower

One of my best friends from college is having a baby. Her sister graciously asked me to help host a baby shower this month in honor of the new arrival and I was delighted to be a part of it.  The shower was all about storybooks, and the food was even inspired by tales like Chicken Little and Green Eggs and Ham.

I offered to make the diaper cake, which I designed around a "bedtime story" concept, complete with cozy dream blanket and teddy bear.  I was so proud of the diaper cake I told my boss I was going to quit my job and design diaper cakes full time.


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Monday, January 15, 2018

Visiting Colorado: Grand Lake Wedding

This is really less about visiting Colorado and more about our rental car fiasco.

Mike and I flew to Denver in July to celebrate a friend’s wedding (and yes, I'm just now blogging about it).  Our flights out west were uneventful and our baggage made it unscathed.  Not so fortunate was our friend Tammy, whose suitcase was unzipped at some point in transit and was overflowing when it appeared on the baggage claim.  Her bathing suit bottoms and razor were mysteriously missing.

The real drama began after we left the airport and boarded our shuttle to the rental car place, which of course is conveniently situated about 100 miles (give or take) from the airport.

I booked our rental car on CarRentals.com and the cheapest option was through Fox Rent a Car.  Let me tell you now in no uncertain terms: if you’re flying to Denver, do not use Fox Rent a Car.

When we entered the building at 11:30 a.m., the check-in line snaked through the lobby.  Children were running rampant, bouncing off chairs and couches, screeching like wildlings.  Other wary travelers stood in line, eyes down, defeated.  I joined them.

I waited in that line for at least an hour before I finally made it to the desk where a cheerful but sloth-like cashier was waiting to "help" me.

She asked the typical questions about insurance and offered to upgrade our vehicle for a nominal fee.  I hate sedans, and I figured a small SUV might be better equipped to handle the mountain roads, so I agreed.

The small SUVs pictured on their pamphlet are Jeep Grand Cherokees and Ford Explorers, but please do not make the mistake of assuming that is what you will receive.

We drove off the lot in a red Dodge Journey and let me tell you, that candy apple finish pretty closely matched the color of the blood I was ready to spill after driving from Denver to Grand Lake in what is LITERALLY the worst vehicle EVER.

The stupid thing maxed out at 55 mph on flat interstate.  It accelerated about as fast as hamster in molasses.  Going up any incline greater than 1% felt like the engine might shudder and explode at any second.  At one point, not long after we began our ascent up the mountain (still on the interstate, mind you), the oil overheated and, according to the dashboard display, our speed was compromised (as if it hadn’t been from the start).

Even going downhill, the engine was revved and the transmission wouldn’t shift properly.

It was truly a nightmare.  I mean I am still having nightmares about it.

Somehow we made it the more than two hours it took to get to Grand Lake, where the festivities were held.  We rented an adorably tiny cabin just blocks away from the water via Air BnB.

The weather didn't quite cooperate, and we battled rain each day of the trip.

But we love Colorado, so we made the best of it and enjoyed the company of Mike's friends.  The wedding (which I didn't take any photos of) was beautiful.

I really don't have anything else to say about it, so I'll end on this note:

NEVER rent (or buy) a Dodge Journey.
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