Find us on Google+

Friday, December 30, 2011

New Book Available

My wife and I collaborated on a book entitled The Marriage Challenge: 52 Conversations for a Better Marriage. It's not in the presentation subject area, but it's close to my heart.

From the description:
Marriage is hard work, but worth it.
The challenge is to stop trying to avoid the frustration, pain and discouragement of marriage. Too often we focus on how to not be a bad spouse, how to not hurt feelings, how to not get in trouble. But then our focus is entirely on what NOT to do.
Instead, shift your focus. Look at what you want to do, embrace the joy, encouragement and challenge of marriage. This book offers one conversation a week, for an entire year, to help you move toward a better marriage. You can’t change everything about your marriage overnight, but, working a bit at a time, you can improve your marriage.
One hour a week for a conversation with your spouse can change your marriage from what not to do, into what you’ve always wanted. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. 

You can get your Kindle copy now and physical copies will be ready as soon as I can review the proof. Take a year to improve your marriage, it's one of the best resolutions you can make.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

How to Set and Keep New Year's Resolutions

Some three hundred sixty-two days ago, you, along with most people, were contemplating a new year. This beast known as 2011 was yet to emerge, all unknown and full of mystery. In you annual attempt to prognosticate and self-motivate, you declared resolutions, items on a list that would define your coming annum.

Now, at the end of that solar-circuit, how did you do? How successful were you at keeping the resolutions you made in the hoary days long past? Do you even remember what they were?

Spend some time thinking about the goals that you failed to achieve. What kept you from them? How did you fail? Was it forgetfulness or through trying and faltering?

Think about the resolutions you kept. What made you successful? Was it through your effort? Did you have any help?

As you consider your next year, think about what can make you successful. Your failures and your successes from the past can both inform your future. You can also practice SMART goals to help make things realistic and achievable, or you can set some DUMB goals if you want to do something huge and audacious.

Revisit your resolutions throughout the year. If you set your goal in January and don't do anything with it, you'll forget about it within a month. If you've ever belonged to a gym, you've seen this phenomenon. The first week in January is packed, the second week is, if anything, even busier. But by mid February, the place is clearing out again. If you don't remind yourself of your resolution, you won't keep with it any longer than a month or so.

Break the larger goal into smaller goals. If you resolve to lose weight, set a monthly goal for how much you want to lose. If you want to improve at your job, gain a certification every three weeks. Do things in discreet steps so that you can look back and see the accomplishment.

Refine your goals throughout the year. The brilliant idea you have at the beginning of a year may have no bearing on your life in June. Things change and so should your resolutions. Let them be fluid enough to incorporate your changing life. You might move during the year or find out you won the lottery or lose your job or all of the above. A good resolution will bend with the circumstances of your life.

What resolutions did you keep from last year? Which did you abandon? How will 2012 be different?

Monday, December 26, 2011

What Drives You?

There is something that draws you onward. Some force or desire pushes you to get up every morning and keeps you working each day. What is it?

If it's just money, then you'll do anything that will get you money and the quality of a job will be determined by the amount of money it pays. But it's not just money, otherwise you'd do some illegal stuff and make a lot of cash.

If it's just power, then  you'll do anything that will get you more power. Stepping on anyone who gets in your way will be a part of the job. But, it's not just power, otherwise you'd sacrifice all your relationships in the pursuit of more power.

It's not just success, otherwise you'll drop anything that prevents you from being successful. The quality of your work will be determined on how often you win or get promoted. But it's not just success, otherwise you'd avoid all risks that might cause failure.

So, what drives you? Sure, money, power and success are all a part of the business world, but they are not an end in themselves. There's more out there, more to do and more to be than just one who follows the carrots that are dangled.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas! Please enjoy a song that my community choir performed for our Winter concert series.
Susani e Tanti Anni Prima from Rebecca Ronshaugen on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

30 Seconds Worth of Advice on PowerPoint

This blog about presenting has gotten away from presenting, specifically. That has a lot to do with where I'm at now, professionally. I'm writing technology articles and working on getting some books published (you can buy my book that's already out if you want). So I'm not spending as much time creating and giving presentations. But I did have occasion to share with a friend recently some of what I've learned in my journey toward becoming a better presenter. I was a bit surprised by how things compressed into just the most important elements.

So, here's my 30 seconds worth of advice on PowerPoint:
Use PowerPoint as a visual channel of communication to back up what you are saying. Don't use bullet points, don't read from your slide and don't turn your back to your audience. If you have more than one sentence on a slide, it's too much. You can give your audience a handout after you present, but while you're speaking, they should focus on you. Sum up your main points, express that with a full-screen picture and type a simple caption. 

That's about all I can say in 30 seconds. What advice would you give in a half-minute? For PowerPoint? For your area of expertise?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Seek Failure, Eschew Mistakes

There's a difference between mistakes and failure. Failure is trying something and not succeeding. Mistakes are errors in judgement, execution or practice. You can fail without making any mistakes, but mistakes will compound failure.

If we fail and learn from it, then we have grown and the work was worth  it. But if we persist in our mistakes we develop habits that lock us into more mistakes.

Seth Godin says:
We need a lot more failures, I think. Failures that don't kill us make us bolder, and teach us one more way that won't work, while opening the door to things that might.
School confuses us, so do bosses and families. Go ahead, fail. Try to avoid mistakes, though.

How can you fail today?

Friday, December 16, 2011

How Would You Reshape Your World?

It seems like most people feel stuck; as if we're not able to affect the world around us or our place within it. I think one of the main draws of the democratic form of government is that it provides the illusion of control without any of the responsibilities of power. But that's not really the point I'm going for here.

Your world is the way it is because of a lot of things that happened to you. You didn't choose your parents or the country in which you were born or where you went to school as a child. You were affected by the choices of others for most of the first 10 or 15 years of your life.

But it seems like we've let that become our conditioned response. We learned that our lives are determined by the choices of others and so we continue in that path, similar to the way we learned how to eat with a knife and fork and we continue that habit. But that's not our only path. We can reshape our own worlds, if we choose to.

But choice is risky. Choice involves pain, effort and an ineffable quality of courage. When you choose, you are standing out from the world that is affected by choice. Certain things are supposedly set in stone, you don't have a choice. You are supposed to go to school as a child and then on to college, after that you get a job, get married, buy a house, have kids, get old, retire and then die. Only two of the things in that list are beyond your ability to choose. Do you want them all?

Every so often I'll just rearrange all the furniture in a room. Not because the old way was bad, but because I need something new. But when I rearrange the furniture, every option is open. I might move the bed into the living room or the dining room table by the front door. I love stripping things down nothing and then rebuilding them in a better way. It's a simple thing to do with a room or a document, but a life is much more difficult.

Over the last two-and-a-half years my life has been chaos. We've been homeless, unemployed, underemployed and overemployed. We sold everything we owned and left everything we knew to head out into the world. We gained amazing friends and were deeply hurt by people we cared about. Today  there isn't much less chaos, we still don't know what the future holds for us. I have two degrees that I'm not using professionally and Andrea has a degree she's not using. We're both certified to teach English, and we're not doing that.

I imagine the first sailor who lost sight of shore relying on a lodestone to guide him. The odd rock is pointing unwaveringly to the north, but with no land in sight, the rock is pointing at nothing. It's a terrifying experience to step out into the unknown, to make a choice when you don't know the consequences, but within that choice is life. And death.

What choices would you make to change your world?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

How to Make Everything You Do Worth More, Instantly

Appreciating things like art has as much to do with our expectations about the object as it has to do with the actual qualities of that thing. Using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging to detect neural activity, researchers have found that the stated details about something have a greater impact on how we appreciate something than the actual thing itself.

In one experiment they showed subjects both authentic paintings and copies, before the image was displayed, an announcement was made indicating whether it was real or fake. But, half the time they switched the labels so subjects were looking at a real painting, but told it was fake. The difference was all in the label and not in the real thing. Again wine connoisseur were given sips of wine while in an fMRI and told the price of the vintage. They weren't told, however, that the same wine was reported to have different prices so they stated a preference for the more expensive wine, even when it was exactly the same.

The consistent factor here is the orbitofrontal cortex, it lit up when the expensive wine was tasted and the authentic paintings were viewed. This region of the brain is most often associated with reward and monetary gain. People perceived the label in the same way that they would perceive any other reward, so they assigned greater value to the thing. Value that wasn't inherent merely attributed, yet the brain filled in the gaps and acted as if the object were just as valuable.

So, say good things. Charge more money. Act like what you do is valuable. If you deprecate your time, effort and output verbally, then others will do the same mentally. But, if you assign labels of value to what you do, others will perceive it as valuable.

What ways do you devalue yourself and your work? How could you change that?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Why Printed Books are here to Stay

The ebook will kill the printed book. Right? That's the way that this is all going to work. Video killed the radio star and the circle of life continues. Soon, libraries will be nothing more than electronic repositories of information and books will be antiques and decorative accents. Right?

The problem is that video didn't kill radio, email didn't kill paper and the internet didn't kill, well, anything that it was supposed to (I guess the internet is a big failure). Rather, the addition of electronic versions of the physical media transformed the system. Clive Thompson over at Wired says "In a precise parallel to the office-printing boom, print-on-demand is creating an odd new phenomenon . . . social publishing." So the electronic metamorphosis of books is making more books possible, not fewer. Books can be printed in tiny batches and tailored to small audiences. Special introductions or chapters can be custom written for each audience and unique titles can be printed that would never capture the interest of large publishers.

What do you think the future holds for books and ebooks?

Friday, December 09, 2011

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

Waiting is the point where your decisions are tested.

When I wanted to propose to, who is now, my wife, I called her dad. We talked on the phone for a few minutes and I stumbled and fumbled through my request (I was nervous). At the end of the conversation he said, "I'm going to need to talk it over with my wife and pray about it. Can I call you tomorrow?"

I didn't sleep much that Saturday night and the next day church was a blur. After church, Andrea decided that we should go Christmas shopping (it was, coincidentally, December 9, 2001) and so when her dad called me back I had to put him off for a while until I could get home and have the conversation without Andrea overhearing.

Finally, almost 24 hours after I asked, her parents granted me permission to propose. I waited all of three days after I had the green light.

It's in the moments after we've decided on a course of action, but before the results are known to us that our will is tested. After you've applied for a job, after you've submitted the query letter, after you uploaded your artwork, only after you've stepped out and then begun the interminable process of waiting, do you realize the true import of your decision. Your mind is wracked with all the ways that things could go wrong, you imagine every failure, in excruciating detail. The reality will never be as bad as your imagination.

Waiting is a discipline. Tom Petty was right, the waiting is the hardest part.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Does Anyone Care about Your Work?

A drop of water, over time, can change the face of the earth. If the water drops, consistently, in the same spot, nothing can withstand it. Stone will melt away in the face of the onslaught. But it will take time. If the water stops or moves, the progress is lost. It's the consistent action, doing the same thing in the same place, that has the aggregate affect.

Your work is like water. You may want to come in like a torrent and push everything around in a rush. You may see the end that you want, the stones worn down to nubs by your effort, but it won't happen quickly. Even a torrent takes time to build and grow into a raging storm before breaking forth in a flood, and torrents are rare. But drops of water are common. They are everywhere, all the time.

As you create, stay consistent. Keep your message the same, keep your work flowing, maintain your pace. Just keep doing what you're doing. At this moment it might feel as if you're shattering against the rock. Everything you do is broken by the act of sharing it, or worse, it's ignored altogether. But keep doing what you're doing. Your consistency will build an audience. Your work will carve a path. Your time will yield results. Eventually.

How do you stay consistent when you can't see the results of your hard work?

Friday, December 02, 2011

6 Ways to Save Time Every Day

As a writer and a "computer guy" there are some tools that I use on a constant basis because they make me faster and more efficient. As with most things that are familiar, it's difficult for me to imagine what it's like to not know about these tools or be able to use them. Recently I was helping someone with a computer issue and I suggested using "Ctrl+F" and received a blank stare in return. I can't count the number of times I use "Ctrl+F" on a daily basis, so I was shocked. So, here are the productivity tips and tricks that I use all the time.

Ctrl+F - This is the universal keyboard shortcut to open the "Find" menu, whether it's in Word, Adobe Reader or your favorite internet browser. Press this key combination and then type the word or phrase that you want to find in the document. You can quickly get to the relevant part of the text without having to scroll through the rest of it. Just hit "Enter" to move to the next successive match in the document.

Aero-Snap - This feature of Windows 7 (also available in Windows XP and Vista with an additional program) lets you drag a window to one side of the screen and it will snap to cover half of the screen. Drag another window to the other side and you have two windows that fill the screen area perfectly. Especially when I'm writing articles from a detailed source, this is very helpful.

Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V and Ctrl+Shift+V - The first two are the universal keyboard shortcuts for copy and paste. I'm constantly copying links and titles for references and then pasting them into my articles. The last shortcut is to paste without any formatting. So if you want to quote something from a site or document that has formatting that will conflict with your current document, use Ctrl+Shift+V to paste in just the text by itself without any formatting.

Phrase Express - This is a small program known as a text expander. If you've ever written documents in a program like Microsoft Word, you've used a text expansion tool. Word will automatically replace commonly misspelled words for you, and it allows you to set up rules for expanding abbreviations, if you want it to. Tools like Phrase Express take that show on the road. You can have the same text replacement features in any program on your computer. Since most of my writing is happening in a web browser, this is hugely important to me. It also has the ability to show me the last twenty items on my clipboard so I can go through and copy a bunch of information and then paste it all into my document at one time rather than having to switch back and forth for each copy and paste actions.

Google-fu - There are lots of power search tools that let me get right to the resources I need. Google allows you to tailor your search using text modifiers. So, if I want to search for an exact phrase, I enclose it in quotation marks. If I want search within a site, I type "" after the search string. If I want to search for only PDF files, then I type "filetype:pdf" after the search string. This is a useful way to find the manual for a product that may not be listed prominently on a website.

Drag-and-Drop Search - Google Chrome has a feature that I use constantly. You can highlight text on any site and then click and drag that text up to the tab bar at the top of the window. A little arrow will appear to let you know what's happening. If the arrow points directly to a tab, then releasing the mouse button will start a new search for that text on that tab. If the arrow is pointing between tabs, a new tab will be created at that spot for the search. 

Thursday, December 01, 2011

NaNoWriMo Wrap Up

At 8:30pm last night I clicked over 50,000 words for the month of November. I've been working on a novel for National Novel Writing Month and it has been a rewarding experience. I've grown to like my characters, and I'm surprised when they take the plot in a direction I didn't imagine. I'm caught up in the story and I want to know what happens next. I suppose that's a good sign.

As of this morning I'm at 53,292 words as the story continues. I expect that I'll finish up somewhere between 70,000 and 100,000 words when it's all done. Then comes to process of editing. For some reason editing is never as much fun as the writing, but without editing the writing is nearly worthless. Think of it like a sculpture. The artist sees the shape in the roughly cut block of stone, but it's not until all of the details have been carved that everyone else can perceive what the sculptor saw all along. Editing makes it possible for the world to see what you see in your writing. Creative processes are not just about making something new, but making something new that is also refined. Ideas can't stand alone, they must be supported by diligent revision and editing.

What have you been creating? How will you refine it into something great?