Volunteer to Apprentice to “Real Work?”

Susan Ellsworth

Susan Ellsworth

What is a good definition of “real work?” Evidently it’s not quite as easy to define as some would think—especially in a large international organization whose very existence depends upon the coordinated efforts of the hundreds of thousands of members who pay to belong to it and deliver leadership and communications skills training. Some members even contribute time and skills learned elsewhere to expand upon and deliver improved technical services provided by the organization’s paid employees. That organization is Toastmasters International, and the issue was brought up by a Past International Director’s FaceBook post which said, “Fellow Toastmasters: PLEASE do not list your volunteer work at Toastmasters under “employment”. You’re not an employee, you’re a volunteer. And there’s no need to helpfully suggest that I should also list myself as an employee — even as a (past) International Director, one is still not an employee. That’s for just the people who get paid at WHQ.” That post was quickly followed by “And yet, what are we to make of the new district leader titles that are coming out next year? District Director, Division Director, Area Director, Finance Manager, etc. I believe they are intended to make Toastmasters experience, when it appears on a resume, more directly translatable into equivalent business or nonprofit titles. I might quibble with whether an Area Director is in any way equivalent to a corporate Director position. But, it seems clear that Toastmasters wants to be on our resumes in the professional experience section.” Then there was this insight: ” Many of us forget that directing a district, overseeing a budget, and supervising volunteer staff is like running a Department for an organization. We need to think of our service as a learning opportunity. When I was District Governor, I said it prepared me for my current position as Executive Director for a small Chamber of Commerce.” Several years ago, I myself ported technical skills I learned in a Toastmasters setting to paid professional work. Along the way, however, I also took formal technical skills training, passed exams and obtained a widely-recognized professional certification. I am not the only member to have  ported skills learned in “real jobs” into our volunteer organization. And I am not the only member to have ported skills learned in a volunteer organization into a paid position. Potential employer or potential employee…learning experiences are learning experiences. Skills are skills. They are completely independent of how much one earned—or did not earn—for applying them in a setting where those skills are valued. It’s all about how the knowledge, skills and abilities are talked about when they are ported from one environment to the other.     Susan Ellsworth         https://www.facebook.com/pages/Pequod-Systems/46475331027

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Your Profession: Does your Volunteer Experience Really Matter?

Susan Ellsworth

Susan Ellsworth

Recently Dan Rex, the CEO of Toastmasters International, announced that the TI Board of Directors had decided to institute new District officer titles that, among other reasons, would “Create a parallel between district leadership and leadership in the corporate and volunteer sectors.” Basically, the idea is to help volunteers easily explain to current and potential employers what knowledge, skills and abilities they were likely to have acquired by participating in these roles.

All very nice and mostly window-dressing, insofar as many members have thought.

The real question is, does your volunteer experience actually prepare you for paid work? Does your volunteer experience really matter?

Recently, I sat down with George Marshall, whose online Toastmaster Tools are used by members around the globe. I asked him that very question, and here is what he said.

During my year as Toastmasters Area Governor, I became very interested in the big differences in club quality, and as I gathered data about each of my clubs to try to help them, I realized that the information I wanted was sometimes hard to gather in useful form. I learned a lot that year about downloading the reports and doing my own analysis in spreadsheets.

After a while, I decided to automate the more time-consuming tasks. I started working on what eventually became the Tools for Toastmasters website, summarizing some of the reports in real-time. After a year or so, I realized that the data would be more useful if it were in a database, which I knew nothing about. But I sat out to learn how, and with the help of mentors, within a year or so, the core of today’s site was in place, with built-in summaries and analysis of several types of Toastmaster data.

I have learned a lot about databases with this project, some of which I have been able to apply to our business. [Freemont Web Solutions].

Susan Ellsworth

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Talking about Technology

Susan Ellsworth

Susan Ellsworth

As the 2013 year winds down, I find myself musing about the language we use to talk about technology. As a friend of mine observed a while back, every time the online technology comes up with a new feature/experience, the technologists and their marketers struggle to find the right words to describe that experience and its unique selling proposition.

Many of a certain age will remember when “hanging out” was a bad thing tinged with the suggestion of juvenile delinquency. Not since Google brought out Google + Hangouts.  I participate with a group that recently struggled with whether to call itself online  or virtual. Gone are the days when a cloud was simply a fluffy vision in the sky. Now it’s a fluffy way to tell end users that the computer they are using to communicate with others is not in the same facility they are.  Just as there are hybrid cars, there are hybrid clouds, which the Webopedia says is a ” combined form of private clouds and public clouds in which some critical data resides in the enterprise’s private cloud while other data is stored in and accessible from a public cloud. Hybrid clouds seek to deliver the advantages of scalability, reliability, rapid deployment and potential cost savings of public clouds with the security and increased control and management of private clouds.Really old-timers still think of a tweet as a sound made by a bird. Avatar spawned the word Gravitar for WordPress users. Bitcoin has been around for a while, and now has been entered into the Webopedia.  My picture in this blog is a selfie—a picture I took of myself. Then there is BYOD —Bring Your Own Device, a concept that used to scare corporate systems managers into hiding. The phrase Software As A Service is a yawner from yesterday. Now we have Anything As a Service and Everything as a Service, both of which are abbreviated as XaaS. Now that’s just plain weird. I think I’ll go have an eggnog and wish all of you a happy holiday and a great new MMXIV.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


Susan Ellsworth

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A Tempting Technology from a Wine Taster and Connoisseur

Susan Ellsworth

Susan Ellsworth

You never know where the next great idea might come from. I sometimes get ideas for this blog from comments by friends in various social media. But who would have ever thought that the idea for today’s blog about a new idea for technology would come from my alltime favorite wine connoisseur and longtime friend Heidi McLain? Heidi is the CEO and founder of the To Your Taste!®Wine Party Kit, an educational kit of tools to help those who may not feel confident about buying wine, ordering it in a restaurant, or just talking about it.

So I was surprised to see a video post from Heidi about Phonebloks.com, a company pointing out an obvious aspect of cell phones. Not built to last, thousands of cell phones are being thrown away daily simply because one component of the phone does not work. Or that it is out of date. The idea behind Phonebloks is that phones should be modular, and enable users to easily upgrade or modify a phone built on an open platform. Basically, the idea is for companies working together to build the best phone in the world. Personally, I had never once thought about what happened to the components of my previous cell phones. That’s a little strange for me, because I have thought of myself as a great believer in a greener earth and as someone who likes to put things together to make them work.

Recognizing that getting phone manufacturers to work together will not be an easy task, Phonebloks takes full advantage of social media. The plan is that on October 29 at 10:00 AM Eastern Daylight Time, all who like that idea send out eMail blasts through Thunderclap.  Messages will go to our FaceBook friends and Twitter followers saying that this modular type phone is a phone worth keeping. (and developing, since the phone has not yet been developed!) Presumably these messages will reach manufacturers such as Apple and Samsung. As of the date of this blog, Thunderclap lists some 856,800 supporters of a goal of 900,000 supporters and a social reach of 331,641,218.

For a team of perhaps three people, this is a ginormous goal. On his help-out FAQ page Developer Dave Hakkens says

>How can you help out and make Phonebloks become something more than just a concept? Do not send money! At least not yet. Dave writes on his facebook page

>“Just to be sure #Phonebloks doesn’t ask for any donation or money. Every site that does is a scam. Please forward this! “ I’m inclined to sign up to participate in his adventure. https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/2931-phonebloks

So if this whole thing actually comes to pass, I think I’ll wander over to Heidi’s place for a nice glass of wine.

To your health!

Susan Ellsworth

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Once again, Please help me welcome Dan!

Dan Antion

Dan Antion

Normally, you see my smiling face in the upper left corner of this blog. However, my friend Dan Antion recently wrote the delightful blog below, which I believe you will enjoy! —- Susan Ellsworth

If we Can’t kill eMail, can we Please Fix It
by Dan Antion

During the last year or so, I listened to several speakers at content management and social media conferences suggest that business email will soon be a technology of the past. danantion_graphic

Judging by my inbox, and recognizing that people are still sending faxes, I think it’s safe to say that I will be getting email throughout what remains of my career. If that’s the case, I would appreciate it if the people who send me business email would take it upon themselves to improve the quality of the email that they send. If I thought everyone would give this topic the thought it deserves, and change their behavior accordingly, I’d stop writing after making the following statement:

Consider that regular business email, the stuff that I will read simply because you sent it, comes with an implied contract based on mutual respect. Then remember that once my respect for you has been earned, that you have to prevent me from losing it.

Since I get so much email, from so many sources, let me offer a few general guidelines to make those emails better:

Size matters.  I had a chemistry professor who required written lab reports but thought they should be factual. In warning against long explanations in lieu of facts – he used to say “remember, the longer the wronger!” It’s the same with email. A single paragraph business communication will be appreciated. A couple of paragraphs will be tolerated and a multi-page monologue will probably be ignored.

Don’t be a jerk.  This sounds like so much common sense, but it’s easy to look like a jerk in email. Unless you want to look like a jerk, reread your message before you click send. Think about whether what you wrote will be understood in the absence of facial expressions, tone of voice and that precious act of reaching out to touch my shoulder. By the way, if you don’t want to reread it because it’s so long, refer to the previous paragraph.

I have an inbox. After you send your email, continue not being a jerk by not calling me, texting me or visiting me to ask me: “Did you get the email I just sent?

Some subjects are better left out of the inbox. If you are dancing around a sensitive issue, delete the email, walk down to hall, or pick up the phone and make personal contact.

Stop crying wolf. Remember that I can sort my email by sender, so I can see if there are patterns in the email that you send. If 2/3’s of your subject lines include “Important” or “Must read” maybe you need to think about the way you organize, schedule and prioritize your work/day/life.

If you find yourself saying “this is good advice for most people, but it doesn’t work in my situation,” maybe you need to think a little harder about your situation and about the nature of email.

One subject – one thought. I know it’s not a text message, but email shouldn’t be a sermon and it absolutely shouldn’t be a lecture. If you have three complex points to make about a subject, schedule a meeting to discuss your thoughts.  This works better because I can communicate my boredom with my facial expression and I can point out when your first assumption is wrong and therefore you should stop blathering.

Email is not a presentation.  Forget the “tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them” mantra that is supposed to set you up to make a great speech.  Just tell me what you want me to know in short, grammatically correct sentences – preferably less than 5. If you are thinking about including graphics, drop the “s” – limit yourself to one graphic.

Note: I added this next rule in response to Microsoft’s addition of the Screen Clipping tool into Outlook.

Remain in media. If you are reading my document, reviewing my presentation or testing my spreadsheet, use the features built into Office on the Review Ribbon instead of artfully crafting a treasure map of arrows and text boxes for me to follow. This should also help you comply with the ‘one graphic’ rule.

Oh, one last thought, particularly if you are still clinging to the notion that you or your emails are somehow special and should be exempt from these rules: If I wouldn’t need to be in the room when you told somebody this critical information in person, please leave me off the CC line.

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Patted any Birds on the head Lately?

Patted any birds on the head lately? I’m not talking about the parrot or parakeet you live with. I’m talking about the wild variety that just land within view.

Today the Charles M. Schulz Museum posted on FaceBook one of my favorite Peanuts cartoons from May 30, 1967 showing Linus patting birds on the head. And suddenly I realized that sometimes providing technical support can be like patting birds on the head.

Consider the end user who, at the age of 50 and with no training whatsoever, is suddenly placed in front of a modern computer for the first time. (Yes, there still are people like that…) Employees around them ignore them, grudgingly put up with them or offer help only when push really comes to shove.

Pat_Birds

Then the computer novice discovers you. You are their friend, pal and buddy. Just when they think something they did is going to bring the entire Internet down on their shoulders (and they will be blamed for it all), you are the friendly, helpful tech who gets them back into business and assures them that the sky is not going to fall. They are grateful to you.

Enter Lucy and her friends. They are other users who, never having asked for help, may have felt neglected because they did not get their heads patted/egos stroked for the day. (But would never admit to it.) Behind the scenes, they pity, criticize or belittle the novices in the group who asked for help. There may be other users who are expected by their peers to know how to solve all manner of technical issues. They are actually a bit less sophisticated than the word about them suggests. So they put off asking for help until sometime very late in the day when everyone else in the place has left the workplace….and you, the bird-patting expert, are exhausted from all the bird-patting you did during the day.

This is when you, expected to be the tireless tech support, muster all your ego-stroking and bird-patting skills. And you quietly pat yet another bird on the head.

bird_footprint

Footnote: There are those of us in tech services who like to receive an occasional word of appreciation, too.

Susan Ellsworth

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Learning off the Grid

Success in life usually includes learning off the grid. A Ph.D. friend of mine learned his “people skills” off the grid, not through his formal graduate coursework in statistics and mathematics. He learned off the grid through real life experiences. He learned off the grid by dealing with members of his religious community. Some were extreme traditionalists who would be content to live in the seventh century, and some were modernists far more comfortable with making major changes.
My friend chairs a 16-member Toastmasters committee in which I have a consulting role. In a recent meeting, one member proposed an idea completely outside the previously-established values the group had established. My friend, rather than shutting down the suggestion, asked this member questions which, while respecting the idea still opened the door for the member to return gracefully to the fold as it were. The member, his position having been validated, returned to supporting a plan that was within the values set up by the group.

My friend had used negotiation skills he had learned off the grid. And, by simple observation, I got a new skill second-hand and off the grid. Or perhaps I had built my own private off-the-grid environment. Youngsters learn how to tie their shoes off the grid. I had learned how to build a computer off the grid. Perhaps it’s a matter of finding a friend with a different grid than yours and helping yourself to a few amps.

Have a great week!

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How Embarrassing!

Do you — or a friend—have a name that others just seem unwilling or unable to pronounce or spell correctly? We do.
There was a time when we thought that of course everyone would be able to say PEQUOD Systems. But no, cold-caller after cold-caller mangles our name, and it comes out as “Prequad.” Advertiser after adveretiser mis-spells our name as PRQUOD or PREQUAD or PREQUOD.

Over this past weekend, while I was observing the New Bedford Whaling Museum’s 17th Annual Marathon reading of Herman Melville’s MOBY DICK, I decided it was time to take action. This will be my first annual blog about how we pronounce our name.

It’s about time I did so. Last year, I participated as a team member of my Toastmasters Club in a high performance leadership project whose objective was to get all our multi-cultural members learning to say each other’s names as we all wanted those names to be said. Our group leader chose to implement a version of the International Phonetic Alphabet as a tool with which to educate the 25+ members of the club. He also recorded individual members saying their own names, so that we could later on download and listen to those recordings.

Our club is not alone. There are multi-cultural Toastmasters International clubs around the globe where one can find members who come from a wide diversity of backgrounds all sitting in the same meeting. And we said so in a letter to the President of Toastmasters International at the time.

Having said all that, and often having said that the real value of being a Toastmaster is when one is outside meeting walls, I must stand up here and say: PEQUOD rhymes with PEA QUAD. Can you please say PEQUOD?

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Which comes first: the Word or the Attitude?

Recently I saw Michael Hyatt’s blog about how our words impact others. How true that is. When I was a young adolescent, my mother told me in a rather condescending tone that I would have a very hard time in school with math and sciences. Dutifully, I had a hard time with math and sciences. Except for geometry—-which, thankfully,neither my mother nor my father had mentioned. Fortunately, I married someone who had and still has different words that also impact me. With his words, I learned how to build and manage a computer. With his words, I studied for and passed systems management exams that would have blown my parents away. With the words of friends, I plunged into technical platforms I had never visited before. It was all because they believed in me…and said so.

Continuing along, I read another Hyatt blog. That one had everything to do with how a shift in one’s vocabulary could change one’s attitude.

Wait a minute! I thought. Isn’t that a bit backwards? Change in attitude is what changes one’s vocabulary, right? Not exactly. Consider the number of social media posts that simply copy what someone else has already said. Consider the number of posts that make you say “Hmm..when is the last time I heard that person use that word before?”

I’m inclined to think that associating with positive-thinking people who are open to ideas not necessarily their own and spending just a few minutes a day checking an online dictionary or thesaurus can grow the language we need to express a change in attitude. The two things—-attitude shift and change in vocabulary—work together. And that taken together, these two elements can make a huge difference in all aspects of our lives.

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Beating the Social Media Bafflegab

Susan EllsworthI receive newsletters from a wide variety of organizations touting themselves as experts in social media. The ones I generally delete without reading include a title phrase like must read.  Recently, I received one that included in its preview text a suggestion that the organization producing the article completely understood a social media concept that I had never seen before (and have not seen anywhere since.) Furthermore, the teaser text suggested that what they were publishing was part of “best practices.”

Intrigued, I clicked to download the article. There was nothing new I had not seen before. Furthermore, it had been published back in 2009.  Really? Yes, really.

It’s time to look at criteria for credibility in social media.

Does the source cite actual statistical studies of its claims conducted by a completely independent source? Where is the online “Consumer Reports” aggregator of statistical studies reports in social media? A recent Google search for such a service came up pretty dry in that regard. If there actually are statistical studies included, who is the audience for whom the study was written? To put it differently, can you understand what is being said? Or are you looking at a lot of bafflegab intersperced with code words recently invented by (and defined by) the source?

While checking research is a daunting task, you can beat at least some of the bafflegab. There actually are some dictionaries and glossaries of social media terms. Here are some.

A-Z of social media. http://socialmedia.wikispaces.com/A-Z+of+social+media

Hubspot. http://blog.hubspot.com/blog/tabid/6307/bid/6126/The-Ultimate-Glossary-120-Social-Media-Marketing-Terms-Explained.aspx

Pam Dyer. “Social Media from A to Z: A Glossary”

Socialbrite. Social media glossary 

…and there are others that Google will serve up for you every day of the week. You can beat at least some of the bafflegab. Go for it!

Susan Ellsworth

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