Category Archives: Professional Development

Sharpening the Saw: Organizing My Social Media House

Ducks in a rowAt the beginning of the year, I’d made a commitment to learn 10 new tools and blog my findings. A quick review of this blog shows that I didn’t meet that goal.

To this, I’ll swiftly blame a busy schedule. There’s the family (of course), and work (don’t get me started), and the internet with all its shiny baubles.

But there’s also this: it’s challenging to learn a new tool well. Take, for example, my Google Hangouts post. It indicates that I’ve learned how to use the tool. But have I adopted it as a tool in my personal learning network?  Have I used it to support any of my training sessions? No.
And as I checked Jane Hart’s list of tools, I realized that there are quite a few on that list that I use poorly.  I have a Twitter account(#1 tool for learning, according to Jane Hart). I subscribed to blog feeds via Outlook once upon a time, and switched to Google Reader when I realized I could access the feeds on my more convenient mobile devices, then switched over to Feedly(#19) out of necessity. And I’m on Facebook(#9), and Google+(#10), and Tumblr(#65), and*… I think I once had a Diigo(#21) account, or a, or both. I was basically subscribing to information overload, and thus ensuring I paid little attention to any of my feeds.

So the latter half of the year I’ve focused on consolidation and organization.

I once believed that I needed multiple accounts for most of my information services: one for “business,” one for “personal” pursuits. With the advanced search algorithms available in email, and the prevalent use of hashtags, and other advances in the tools we use, no more. So I’ve consolidated:

  • I’m directing all correspondence to one email account;
  • I’ve transferred all those folks I follow into one Twitter account (I once managed (poorly) three of them);
  • I’ve given up on the news aggregator accounts altogether.
  • I’ve mothballed my personal blog; my whimsical posts on Facebook fulfill that need to boast about my kids to family and friends.
  • I have done away with about 7/8 of my e-newsletter subscriptions. Goes a long way to reducing my Inbox clutter.

I’m not doing away with my information feed.  Rather, I’m working to refine my personal learning network so I can get to this information readily.  All that talk about mobile learning? The way I see it, it’s really key for informal learning.

For most of those e-newsletters I’d unsubscribed from, I’ve been able to add them to a blog feed. Of the rest, many of these topics get repeated in my Twitter feed, or Google +. And if not, well, I’ve learned that I don’t need to read everything that crosses my path. I’ve done fine. I’ll do fine.

My primary source for articles to read will be Feedly, which I’ve sorted into lists: Training, Work Related, Corporate News, etc.  My other feeds, such as Google +, will probably fall into dis-use (although that’s a tough call as I’ve found some fairly intelligent discussions there), and I’ll sign into Twitter rarely — to join one of the Twitchats I appreciate, for example.

Future Considerations:
Most of these decisions are about time and mental bandwidth.  I have so little of each.  But again, it comes down to learning the tools. Each social media account I’ve opened, I’d done so because I’d gotten caught up in the press. But I’d never tapped into their potential.

One of the tools whose potential I should harness is LinkedIn.  These posts feed there automatically, but LinkedIn is about managing your professional presence, and a wayward post or two a quarter doesn’t do it. It’s likely that I’ll be more participative in some LinkedIn groups in the coming year.

For the other tools, I’ll need to ensure they align with what I’m trying to accomplish. Twitter is a perfect example. Most of the people I follow primarily post links to articles that they believe are interesting. Well, I’ve already subscribed to feeds of articles I believe should interest me. Which do I spend my time on? I may benefit from honing the people I follow in Twitter. I may benefit from better application of lists. I may do just as well to chuck Twitter altogether, and focus on the lengthier discussions available in Google +.

At the end of the year, I find that I appreciate Jane Hart’s challenge. It showed where my personal learning gaps were — not with new tools, but with the resources I’d already signed up for.


* and there was Plaxo, and Ning, and Posterous, SlideShare, ScoopIt, Yammer, Klout…

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Management: support learning!

I was asked to share my thoughts on the following question from ASTD-OC’s 2012 Total Trainer class.

What suggestions do you have for ensuring that skills learned in training are reinforced after a training event by managers?

Managers need to encourage their employees to apply the skills they’ve just learned.

At my work, team members who attend conferences, especially ones that the company has paid for, are asked to present their key “Ah-hah!” moments during a department meeting for others to learn from. It’s a classic teach back technique, and helps the learner identify what resonated with him/her and convince others of it’s importance.

But this holds more value for those who are currently trainers, not those interested in moving into a training position. Additionally, a teachback by itself limits the learner’s participation with the material.

I would encourage managers to give the learner a little more leeway in the department. Challenge them to find opportunities to design training materials. Give them time to perform needs analyses within their organization. If both manager and employee agree that gaps exist that can be addressed by training, have the learner work with an experienced training in the department to create program outlines or course storyboards.

In other words, manager, you’ve sent your employee to the class. Now, let’s see what they can do?

Organizational Communication Resources

Stories of Organizational Communication, Final Post

Geri’s question: Do you have any good resources you can share?

On Writing WellA book that I absolutely recommend is “On Writing Well,” by William Zinsser. It’s a clear, fantastic book that is directed at writers of non-fiction, but is just as easily applicable to email, memo, and report writers.

Of course, there are numerous blogs that you can follow:

  • Communispond is one that I added to my RSS feed a while ago, and have never gotten rid of. They focus on making sales and on presentations. Each of those topics can be applied to Organizational Communication.
  • And I get some business writing pointers from Jonathan Clarke’s Business Writing Solutions – he sends out another eNewsletter.

And finally, every single piece of information that is handed to you is a great resource. How are other people writing? Not just the good writing, the bad writing is GREAT stuff.

An example:
The servicing rights to my home loan were recently transferred. During this process, I received several pieces of communication, one of which provided instructions on how to set up my automatic payments.

This document, sent out to customers, contained errors in the process outline and left out key information.

The errors involved the clicks the customer would make to access the auto payment form. A key piece of information that was left out, in my mind, was the fact that the auto payments were not being processed by the new services, but by Western Union.


  • Challenge your assumptions.
    The creator of the job aid may have assumed that all ACH payments go through a third party services like Western Union. However, my loan had originated with an institution that made it look as though we were making my payments directly to them.I needed to know not only that I would be taken to a third party site, but that there would be no fee for processing these ACH payments. (Western Union can charge between $8 and $15 for processing same-day transactions-we were concerned a similar payment would be assessed for the ACH).
  • Read your message aloud.
    In this instance, the creator of the job aid needed to go a step further. if you’re communicating a process, it’s not enough to read the document aloud. You have to step through the process while you”re reading it.

A final thought about resources:
Outlook is a great resource, but in a different way. Let’s say you take all this to heart, there’s still a possibility that you’ll remember something important you should have included in your message after you’ve sent it out. For email, there may be a way to help in the form of a rule – Outlook allows you to delay the sending of your email message after you hit send. For example, I’ve set up a rule that delays the sending of all outgoing email messages by 2 minutes. This has saved me many times from trying to recall a message (which really hasn’t worked for me), or sending follow-up emails explaining myself.

This is the last of a series of posts inspired by question prompts from Geri Girardin, the instructor of DHTV’s Organizational Communication course. Other posts in the series were:

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Can There Be Unbiased Messaging?

Stories of Organizational Communication, Part 4

Geri’s question:  In the 3P’s section of the text, focus is directed towards unbiased messaging. Can we really get away from this in today’s world where there are so many differing points of view?

I’ll start off with a confession: I didn’t read that portion of the text, so I’m not really sure what the “three P’s” are.   But my short answer is:  why not? If my purpose is to inform, then why does my message need to have a bias because I know someone else has a differing viewpoint?

If my purpose is to convince, then sure: bias will exist.

For example, I have this professional blog that focuses on the T&D field. Typically, my posts are meant to provide information in a way that convinces designers to create material in a certain way – try this, your learners will like it, sort of thing.

BUT sometimes my posts are simply meant to inform. I recently posted on our Chapter Blog a summary of the keynote speeches at last week’s ASTD TechKnowledge along a specific theme. I had no intention to convince anyone of anything – the content was more geared towards Organizational Development than Training, that’s not my expertise – but I thought it was an interesting topic, and I wanted to share.

So my response would be, it depends upon the purpose of your content. But yes, we can communicate in an unbiased way.

Hopefully, “purpose” is one of the three P’s.  If it isn’t, it should be.

This is one of a series of posts inspired by question prompts from Geri Girardin, the instructor of DHTV’s Organizational Communication course. Other posts in the series were:

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Positive Impressions

Stories of Organizational Communication, Part 3

Geri’s question:  In your writing, do you grapple with ensuring that you incorporate “positive impressions”. What does that look like?

Early in my career, no.  People used to comment that they liked my conversational style.  I took that to heart, and said whatever came to mind. And I was rewarded for this. My eNewsletters for ASTD-Orange County were applauded for their informality and friendliness. They weren’t stiff; the language encouraged people to read them.

But you can become too conversational, and if you’re not watching out, you can find yourself choosing words that are regrettable.  You can find yourself venting about something that frustrated you.  You can get in trouble for the very informality that you embrace.

After a while, poor messaging impacted the perception of others who had a say in hiring me.  I got reprimanded in performance reviews, and the words I chose cost me real dollars in the form of raises, and promotions.

I learned. As I gained more responsibilities at work, the messages I sent became a measure of who I am.

Now, I seek a few things in my writing:
• Clarity.
• Conciseness
• Clear conscience – I never want to have to wonder if I should have said something.

My successor in the Communications post at ASTD-Orange County has a similar tendency for informal communication, and he took that casual, friendly tone in our eNewsletters to a new level — they were very popular. But, I contend that his willingness to publicly air what he thought could have damaged our organization’s reputation if I hadn’t, for one episode, stepped in.

My successor had sent an eNewsletter advertising a popular event and indicating that a limited number of seats were available. He urged our members to reserve their seats soon. Shortly afterward, my successor received an email complaining that the author of the email had attempted to take his advice, but found the event to be sold out. In her angry response, she accused my friend of creating a sense of scarcity in the Chapter.

My friend took umbrage to that email; he felt it placed him in the ranks of door-to-door snake oil salesmen.  I don’t necessarily blame him there. He composed a lengthy, angry response that admonished the complaining email’s author for scolding him without knowing the facts.  And then he posted the email he had received, and his response, on our Chapter Blog.

That’s where I chose to step in.  There were two things to consider:

  1. The initial communication that had drawn my friend’s ire had been sent only to my friend, not to everyone in the Chapter. His response didn’t need to be public; it should have been in kind — a reply email. As it was, my successor was inviting a flame war on a professional blog. I suggest that a professional blog is not a place for such venom.
  2. Rather than respond in anger, my friend could have put on a customer service hat and calmly explained the procedure that he had followed. That at the time the eNewsletter had been sent, he had believed that seats were still available.   The general content would have remained the same — our volunteers work very hard to provide valuable services for our members — and any other members of the public could have been informed about why they were inconvenienced.

My friend and I had a lengthy discussion about his right to respond to the email openly, and although we agreed to disagree, he removed the post and uploaded an edited version that extolled the virtues of the hard-working volunteers of the Chapter.

Although I infer in my previous points that an email from one person to another enjoys a certain level of privacy, I would like to quickly assure you that email is not a private method of communication. Very often it is a public method of communication, even if it’s only to one person. And that’s because once I receive an email, it’s mine to do with as I please.

A case in point would be Ocean Marketing’s self-destructive emails to a customer wanting to know where his product was. This is a case study both in poor communication, and later in damaging communication. But it shows how quickly anything someone writes can go viral. So whatever you write, write something that leaves a positive impression.

This is one of a series of posts inspired by question prompts from Geri Girardin, the instructor of DHTV’s Organizational Communication course. Other posts in the series were:

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The “You” Attitude

Stories of Organizational Communication, Part 2

Geri’s question: Our text stresses the “you” attitude. What is your perspective on this? Any illuminating stories to illustrate your point?

candy fundraising

"$6? I only spend that on sustainable chocolate bars. Got any Endangered Species Chocolate?"

So there I am, working from home on a project, when the doorbell rings and breaks my train of thought. I open the door to find a kid who should be in school trying to sell me something, usually candy. Most of these kids, according to their mumbled pitch, are selling their overpriced candy to keep them off the streets and off drugs. The most audacious pitch, I thought, came from one kid who was trying to raise funds so she could go on a field trip to Sea World.
And I’m thinking: “you want me to pay $6 for a candy bar so you can go to Sea World?”

I know this isn’t a class about selling candy. That’s not what I want to focus on here. What I want to address is: the demand for my time and attention.

I was busy.
I was interrupted.
I was then asked to do something for someone else with no benefit for me.

Consider that when you send out an email. Your email will compete with tens to hundreds of other emails and phone calls and memos and meetings and visits from co-workers and projects for the recipient’s attention.

Go ahead. Make that email all about you. I dare you.

We trainers don’t call this concept the “you” attitude. We use the acronym “WIIFM,” which is to say: the people who attend our course need to know: “What’s in it for me?” As trainers, we are constantly cognizant that the other person isn’t attending our class to hear about us and what we know. They want to hear about how they can improve their performance. But if we don’t take the time to draw the link between the information we have to share and how it could benefit the participants, we could be shouting golden nuggets and they wouldn’t pay attention.

I’ll share an example: sexual harassment training.
If you ever have to take this class, you’ll probably get an email that says something like: “CA law something or other mandates that you attend one 3-hour course on sexual harassment within the first 90 days of hire, and an hour refresher training each subsequent year.” At which point you, a very busy manager, say: “CA law can kiss my…” well, that sort of thing is covered in the training.

That’s an example of an email that doesn’t take into consideration the reader. It’s all about the company being compliant and covering their…well… and we tend to resent that.

But what if that email were worded differently? What if it began: “Did you know that shouting at your computer: “CA law can kiss my …” can make the workplace environment uncomfortable, alienate your co-workers, and cause disciplinary action that could include termination? Learn what’s important to maintain a comfortable work environment for you, your employees, and your peers in our class: All about CA AB 1825.”

I think that better reflects the “you” attitude, don’t you?

There’s another facet to this “you” attitude, which is that the participant isn’t us, so doesn’t know everything that we know.

When you’re writing: challenge your assumptions. Many times we write as though we were the audience, and we assume that the reader knows about things that we’re talking about. Does the reader recognize an acronym? Are the terms you’re using commonly known, or argot that reduces comprehension? Are key pieces of information that led to the generation of the memo/email/document included?

I send a lot of emails that basically state: “I need this information.” I only send those kind of emails when I’ve already been working with the recipient on a project.  For all the other emails, I take some time to explain what the reader may need to know in a way that involves them. A person who has to guess at what you mean will not see the benefit of the information you’ve shared, or why they need to take the action you want them to take.

This is one of a series of posts inspired by question prompts from Geri Girardin, the instructor of DHTV’s Organizational Communication course. Other posts in the series were:

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Stories on Organizational Communication

A friend of mine from ASTD-Orange County, Geri Girardin, asked me to be a guest speaker for her Organizational Communication class at Cal State Dominguez Hills. It was a new experience for me, as this course is a distance learning course, so I spent my entire time in a television studio.  There’s not much of a leap from webcam to TV camera, but there’s a leap (for me) from home office to TV studio.

Geri game me several topics to choose from. The topic that appealed to me most was about rewriting your work (even though it’s something I’m better talking about doing than doing myself). Once I selected my subject matter, Geri sent me several questions in advance, for which I spent considerable time and effort crafting thought-provoking responses, weaving in real-life experiences, and rehearsing the stories I would tell. I was prepared! I was ready! I was nervous!

In the end, the session went way too fast. Geri had slotted 30 minutes for me, and I probably had an hours’ worth of rambling anecdotes and soapbox speeches. I hope her students got something out of it, if only to consider what one should put into one’s emails before sending them out.

At the end of the day, however, I can’t seem to let the work I did go. I’m falling victim to that self-analysis that comes after any presentation or performance, wondering what I could have done to ensure that the content was as valuable as possible to Geri’s students. I had some truly worthwhile (in my mind) comments about rewriting skills, comments which we never really got to.

So I figured: what better way to get them off my chest than to blog about them? Sure, this blog discusses training and instructional design, but let’s face it. A few tips on rewriting and organizational communication couldn’t hurt us, either. So the next few posts will be my planned responses to Geri’s questions. Hope you’ll find them informative.

And should someone from DHTV’s COMM300 course stumble upon these posts, I hope you get an “A.”

I’ll start with Geri’s first (prepared) question: “Tell us about your ‘adventures in writing.'”

I am primarily a storyteller. Not a professional one, strictly amateur.

I was a more prolific story writer when Geri had first met me, when I’d had a few stories published in the Orange County Register. Since then my writing became more focused on training materials, and later blog posts. I write two blogs now, a professional one about training and instructional design, and a family blog, where I wax poetic about my family. I’ve only recently gotten back into story writing, mainly because I want to be able to tell my boys stories when they’re able to understand the worlds I’m sharing with them.

It’s the story-telling that connected me with Geri and ASTD-Orange County. The ASTD-OC Communications Manager had met me at a Chapter Event, and thought: “Paul can tell a good story,” so she recruited me to be the managing editor of the chapter newsletter.

Editing a newsletter is a bit different than writing a story, but my role quickly shifted to managing most Communications and crept over to marketing Chapter Events as well. After all, I could tell a story, and for me, marketing a Chapter Event was, in effect, telling the story of what will happen, rather than what did happen.

That’s a role that I haven’t completely let go at ASTD-OC, because I believe in the power of the written word, of a compelling message. I believe those who participate in our community can do great things, but that those great things won’t bear fruit unless someone takes the time to communicate what they’ve done.
So I write.
I exhort.
I compel.
I even wheedle a bit.

But mostly, I tell stories.

This is one of a series of posts inspired by question prompts from Geri Girardin, the instructor of DHTV’s Organizational Communication course. Other posts in the series were:

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