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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WHAT? Not on the Internet?

Susan Ellsworth

Susan Ellsworth

Recently a rather new acquaintance posted a cartoon on FaceBook. The cartoon featured an old-fashioned professor seated at an outdoor desk in front of a class consisting of a bird, a monkey, a penguin, an elephant, a goldfish in a bowl, a seal and a dog. Behind them was a tree. The professor spoke to them and said “For a fair selection, everybody has to take the same exam. Please climb that tree.”

I was immediately reminded of Albert Einstein, who is credited with saying “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

And then I thought about how a lot of my friends and I spend a lot of our time completely ignoring family and friends who are not “in the Cloud.” Ignoring family and friends who are not even computer users. Some of those family and friends are not computer users completely by choice. Some of those family and friends are, instead, avid book readers. Books—not tablets. Books, as in sheets of paper bound together and words printed on the paper.

Recently, I have begun to realize how easy it is for an uneasy relationship to develop between those of us who do use computers and those of us who choose not to do so. It’s far too easy. And those of us who ARE part of the Internet can, to those who are not,  appear to be arrogant.

Then I read and listened to Carl Sagan’s Episode 11 of The Cosmos, The Persistence of Memory. In it, he says
What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic. 

Carl Sagan

Carl Sagan

Indeed.

I have several acquaintances who never come near a computer. Are they stupid? No. In many cases, they have simply made a lifestyle choice. One of them is an avid reader who has been known to haunt second-hand bookstores, and walk out with an armload of books and a happy grin. Another chooses to connect in real time with members of her community in a way that many of us in the Internet world may never experience.

Let us not look down on a goldfish because it does not climb a tree.

Susan Ellsworth

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“Thought Leaders” versus Action in Canada

Susan Ellsworth

Susan Ellsworth

Recently, I looked at a lengthy LinkedIn list of “Thought Leaders.” Presumably, these are people whom unspecified others recognize as an authority in a specialized field and whose expertise is sought and often rewarded. The extensive LinkedIn list included such notables as Richard Branson (2,272,487 followers), Tony Robbins (588,125 followers), Guy Kawasaki (262,572 followers) and so many others that the bottom of the LinkedIn page of 90 notables said “show more” at the bottom.

I was definitely underwhelmed.

For the past four days, I have been trying to figure out what have these thought leaders actually done for me or my family and friends lately? Nothing came to my mind.  

Then DOVE CANADA came to my attention.

According to the August 5 Canadian issue of Huffpost Style,

Dove Canada says it has created a Photoshop Action that reverts edited images back to their original, un-airbrushed state.

The local division of the skincare company went black ops recently for its latest “Campaign for Real Beauty” stunt, going so far as to create and post the downloadable Action file to social media sites like Reddit (the post has since been removed by its user).

While the file promises to beautify images with a single click, in reality it reverts the edits that had been made to the photo, while adding a banner that says, “Don’t manipulate our perceptions of Real Beauty.” 

As a woman in a profession which only relatively recently has included more women, I deeply appreciate the Dove Canada Real Beauty (inner beauty) campaign. Frankly, for a long time, women in my profession who appeared to be physically attractive were often not taken seriously by men in technical training classes and in professional meetings. We often got the message that our questions were less than worth paying attention to, and answers were often short, and not necessarily sufficient. The man next to us was likely to be called on very quickly.

The Dove campaign for girls and women to appreciate ourselves and nourish our self-esteem has resonated with me for many years. I have used Dove products since I was in college. Detractors aside, I find it refreshing to see a large, well-known company take bold and creative action which backs up a campaign of words.

It’s one thing to be a “thought leader” with a list of tens or hundreds of thousands of LinkedIn followers. It’s another thing altogether to lead not only with thought, but also with action to match. Now that’s leadership!

Susan Ellsworth

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Avatars, Gravatars, Blavatars and Babes

Susan Ellsworth

Susan Ellsworth

I am a huge fan of computing avatars.  An avatar—an image that represents you online—can be charming, educational, political or even slightly shocking. Traditionally, avatars on Internet forums are square and placed next to the user’s post. Some of the most creative avatars I’ve seen have appeared right on FaceBook. One of my friends uses a picture of a building in his home country as his avatar. The Charles M. Schulz Museum uses the delightful picture below of world-famous Snoopy and his friend Woodstock.

Snoopy_WoodstockThen there are gravatars. A gravatar is a Globally Recognized avatar. Upload it to your profile, and whenever you participate in a Gravatar-enabled site, your gravatar image automatically follows you there. Enter blavatars. WordPress, the platform this blog is created on, invented the word to refer to a graphic uploaded to a WordPress blog. The blavatar may serve as a favicon (a tiny favorite icon), and can show up in various ways. They may show up in a browser’s address bar or on browser tabs. All interesting. All attention-getters. All fun.

If you only use FaceBook to stay in touch with your far-flung family and not to conduct business, it’s quite acceptable to use a picture of a baby as your avatar, or as a part of your social media profile. However,  beware of using such a graphic if you are a representative of a major corporation not in the business of marketing products for babies. Recently someone with a picture of a baby in her profile invited me to connect in LinkedIn. I ignored the invitation to connect. Not only am I not in the market for products for babies. I have a hard time taking seriously anyone in a professionally-oriented site who then not only does not include a professional-looking headshot but who also hides behind a picture of a baby. Or was that person simply a babe in the woods? Was it a fake profile? I don’t know. I’m simply moving on. I suspect I am not alone. 

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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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LinkedIn Customer Service: You could learn from a Toastmaster I Knew

Several years ago when I was new to the Toastmasters International organization, I complained to a fellow member about an Area Governor who seemed to be completely out of touch with the half dozen clubs he was supposed to be serving. My friend, a wise and experienced member, said “Well, you can always learn from a bad example what NOT to do.”

Over the past three months, LinkedIn has provided a great example of what not to do. LinkedIn appears to have abandoned providing technical support for those who use it. Its announcement that “As of January 31, 2013, the LinkedIn Answers feature will be retired from LinkedIn. We’ll be focusing our efforts on the development of new and more engaging ways to share and discuss professional topics across LinkedIn. In the meantime, you can still pose questions and facilitate professional discussions through other popular LinkedIn channels including LinkedIn Polls, Groups, or status updates.” has not exactly won friends and favorably influenced people.

The LinkedIn data export utility has not worked as illustrated for over two months. In what used to be a help forum, there are comments such as “this screw-your-customer policy needs to be changed.” and “I did try to call the corporate office, but you no longer get a human. Such arrogance. I did manage to send an email to a supposed support contact, but, not surprisingly, have received no reply. We’re all just left hanging.”  The cockles of my heart were not warmed one bit when, after sending a message asking for help, I received an automated message with a trouble ticket number.

I am reminded of the late Charles M. Schulz character Lucy, who just won’t listen to anyone other than herself. His March 2, 1985 strip says it all.

"What?"

“What?”

For a social media platform in which users have posted blog after blog and post after post talking about listening to one’s customers, it’s pretty sad to see a major player in the social media world turning a deaf ear even to its paying customers. LinkedIn has provided a great example of what NOT to do.

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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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Relax It’s Only the FBI

RIOT—Relax, It’s Only Toastmasters—is a friendly tagline that Aref Dajani, a good friend of mine chose as a theme when he was a Toastmasters District 27 Governor. The theme went viral in the global Toastmasters community, and today there are members of Toastmasters International who quote that theme without knowing where it came from.

Today’s RIOT is a creature of a completely different kind. It represents a potential threat to levels of privacy that some of us have come to expect in social media. In short, Raytheon’s Riot (short for Rapid Information Overlay Technology) appears to have been an outcome of a Request For Information from the FBI. The RFI for a Social Media Application specifically stated an interest in an automated search and scrape capability of both social networking sites and open source news sites for breaking events, crisis, and threats that meet the search parameters/keywords defined by FBI/SIOC. [Strategic Information and Operations Center]. It also indicated an interest in “Ability for user to create, define, and select parameters/key word requirements. Automated search of national news, local news, and social media networks. Examples include but are not limited to Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, Twitter, Facebook, etc. ” In a word, the FBI was looking for an application to spy on whoever posted in social media and on whatever broadcast the FBI considers to be of interest.

The last update to the RFI was a March 5, 2012 AMENDMENT #5 RESPONSE TO QUESTIONS. Question 12 was disturbing, to say the least. The question was The sheer volume of Twitter posts alone will be roughly 73B annually, which will become a significantly large number for archival and search in a short period of time.  How many years will the government want to store prior social media inputs before they begin to purge data (or will they purge data)? The FBI’s response? The FBI is unable to answer this question at this time.  More research is needed on the FBI’s side to determine the space needed.  Please submit your capabilities and any suggested capabilities you believe meet the FBI’s needs. In other words, Tweet away…we’re keeping yours for an indeterminate period—especially if we regard your Tweet as a threat. Somewhere along the line a simple request for information turned into a contract, and Raytheon produced its proof of concept (and product) for the FBI.  The video demonstation of the ease with which RIOT can scoop up, package and draw conclusions from discrete pieces of data you and I have posted left me wondering who the next customer will be. Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas any more.
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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