Friday, January 29, 2016

How not to use Powerpoint

I rarely find Powerpoint slides to be engaging. I prefer to use a bare minimum of slides. What slides I include tend to be visual aids: a photograph or chart, with very little text. Presentations should avoid distractions.

We should all be familiar with the phrase "Death by Powerpoint." It's when you are bored to tears by a presenter droning on, aided by an endless supply of Powerpoint slides. The only thing that makes Powerpoint even worse is overuse of those awful stock images. My Powerpoint "pet peeve" is using any of the little cartoon people, especially the "3D" rendered ones like in this example from EDUCAUSE, a few years ago:

The BBC writes about this problem, and provides a few hints to improve your presentations. How to avoid 'death by PowerPoint' lists the top ten stock images that turn off audiences. If you use these in your presentations, you've lost it. Things to avoid:

  1. cogs
  2. images of people holding hands around a globe
  3. stacked pebbles
  4. thumbs up
  5. archery targets (with optional arrow)
  6. jigsaw piece being fitted into puzzle
  7. businessperson poised to run a race
  8. handshakes
  9. rosettes
  10. groups of businesspeople staring intently at a monitor

Instead, the article provides these recommendations if you must use Powerpoint:

  • Think about your slides last
  • Create a consistent look and feel
  • Avoid slides with lots of text
  • Use simple photos that enhance meaning
  • Use storytelling
  • Have a focused message that you want your audience to retain

In other words, find ways to engage conversation with the audience. This makes the audience think, makes the audience part of the experience, and leaves the audience feeling more energized.
photo: mine (Nov 2008)

Friday, January 22, 2016

More advice for new managers

When I later became a manager, I wished someone had shared similar wisdom with me about how to act as a new manager. Last week, I shared a few brief observations that may help first-time managers. That post was very popular, so I wanted to follow up with just one more brief list of advice for new managers, part two:
Learn to take notes in meetings using a pen and paper, rather than typing on a laptop. Many people perceive laptops as distracting.

Look at people when you talk to them. Stand with your body facing the other person. Don't cross your arms.

Work on your handwriting. You never know when you'll need to give someone a handwritten note; they should be able to read it

Accept invitations to serve on campus committees, especially those that also include faculty.

Write an article every year for a national magazine or journal.

Attend at least one conference every year. Better if you submit a conference presentation proposal, too.

Remember to thank people if they do something for you, even if it's their job.

Say "Hi" to people in the hallway, even if you don't know their name.

If you don't have any topics for a meeting, maybe you should cancel it.

Before you call someone, think about what voicemail message you would leave if the other person isn't there.

Voicemail should be less than a minute long, and should say who you are, what you're calling about, and why (and when) they should call you back.

At the beginning of every month, go into the finance system and track how much money your department is spending. Compare that to your spending plan.

Always have an update to share about how your department helps the campus. This is especially important for faculty meetings.

When you meet with your boss, always bring something on paper to talk about. You may not use it in your meeting, but you'll be glad to have it.

Don't bring problems to your boss, unless you really need them raised to the next level. You are the manager; you're expected to bring solutions.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Advice for new managers

When I started work all those years ago, a colleague gave me a little book filled with aphorisms about life in the office. At first I thought it was a humor book, with comments like "When the office secretaries say they are cleaning out the fridge of anything older than one month, it is time to grab your bottle of salad dressing and put it on your desk." But in the first month of my first job, I quickly realized the truth behind these pithy observations.

When I later became a manager, I wished someone had shared similar wisdom with me about how to act as a new manager. So I would like to share a few brief observations that may help first-time managers.
Be genuine. For example, if you don't normally wear ties, don't start wearing them around the office just because you became a manager.

However, do wear a tie if you are going to meet your boss's boss.

Buy a blazer or suit jacket, and wear it to meetings with your boss. You don't have to wear a tie for the boss meeting, but the blazer will dress things up a little, even over a t-shirt.

Some advice on ties: If you're meeting with a team, wear a blue tie. If you're meeting with faculty, wear a brown tie. Avoid green, purple, black, or yellow ties.

Hang a mirror in your office, and check your appearance before you go to meetings.

Go to lunch with someone else at least once a week. Always look for someone new to have lunch with.

Slow down before you walk into meetings. You need to appear composed as you walk in the door.

If you had a long walk to get to a meeting, stop at the restroom on your way into the building and wash your face.

Speak up in meetings, so the people in the back can hear you clearly. Don't speak too quickly.

Your meetings will have as much energy as you bring to them.

If you're on stage in a Q&A, repeat every question that comes to you, then answer it.

Arrange a three-day weekend once per month. Take a week vacation every few months.

When you go on vacation, leave your laptop and phone at home. If you do a "stay-cation," store your laptop and phone in a closet.

Process for writing emails: 1. Write email. 2. Delete most of it. 3. Send.

Avoid acronyms. Even if you think everyone in the room knows what the acronym stands for.
Apologies if the list seems male-centric (references to ties in the first few items). In full disclosure, this post derives from an email I sent to a colleague who was stepping up into his first management position.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Top ten 2015, part 2

Continuing my reflection of 2015, a few of my favorite topics:
Many CIOs arrive at their role after having spent years in an IT organization. So it is perhaps not uncommon for CIOs to have difficulty in communicating technology concepts to those outside of IT. But arguably, we need to be more effective in this area, because those outside of IT are our customers. To support our clients, we need to be better communicators.
Feedback is a gift, and we should seek out feedback frequently. Every year at Morris, I hosted the Big Block of Cheese Day event where I solicited comments from students, faculty, and staff about how we can improve campus technology.
You may be familiar with the SWOT "tool." It's a methodology to compare options and make decisions based on an idea's Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. You can also use SWOT to plan for the future, and I often use SWOT in this way. I find SWOT to be an efficient tool in my manager's toolkit to do strategic planning.
I like to find leadership lessons in unusual places. If you are willing to look for them, you'll see leadership lessons all around you. This year, I found leadership lessons from another unusual place. The 2014 action movie John Wick provides several themes in leadership.
In Fall semester, I was fortunate to teach an online class, CSCI 4609 Processes, Programming, and Languages: Usability of Open Source Software. I have long wanted to do some teaching, and this was my first opportunity. I learned a lot from this experience, and I wanted to share a few thoughts on how teaching this class helped me become a better IT leader.
And that's my reflection of 2015. Looking forward in 2016, I will shift my focus. I am no longer in higher ed; I am now in government. I will keep the "Coaching Buttons" title for my blog, but the tag line will change from "Leadership and Vision in IT and Higher Education."

Friday, January 8, 2016

Top ten 2015, part 1

As I start the new year, it's a good opportunity to reflect on the previous year. A few of my favorite topics from 2015:
In higher education, we need to constantly remain aware of the changing landscape. How can technology be applied to the teaching and learning mission of the university? This year, I also discussed other aspects of classroom computing, including Active learning classrooms and Media collaboration tables.
Over the last few years, a colleague and I worked with a new software package that assists in rhetorical analysis of texts. We also presented at the 2015 Minnesota e-Learning Summit. I've described the DICTION software several times, including Analyzing rhetorical texts made easy.
There's no doubt that open source software, smartphones, and streaming media have changed how we interact with the world.
At Morris, we shared a commitment to green energy, so it was a no-brainer for us to commit to low-carbon IT.
As a leader, you can influence the culture of your work environment. How you engage with those around you can be positive or negative. This is closely related to Leadership presence.
I'll share a few other favorite topics next week.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Audiobook recommendations, part 2

Part two of my very long list of audiobook recommendations. My drive to/from Morris was about three hours. I filled the time by listening to audiobooks. As I reflect on my time at Morris, I wanted to share these excellent audiobook recommendations with you.

I like science fiction and strong drama. I prefer full-cast performances over traditional readings, although I listen to both. A year or so before moving to Morris, I discovered Big Finish, which had the license to make new audio stories based on the classic Doctor Who television program. They do other stories too, but all all of these recommendations are Doctor Who and closely related spin-off series.
Doctor Who
The well-known, long-running BBC science fiction program, featuring the original cast. I've arranged these stories according to Doctor.
Stories with multiple Doctors at once. The Light at the End is the 50th Anniversary story that focused on Doctors 4-8, with cameos by Doctors 1-3.
5th Doctor
Peter Davison as the 5th Doctor. Key 2 Time is an interesting three-part story featuring a second search for the Key to Time.
6th Doctor
Colin Baker as the 6th Doctor, featuring companions old and new.
22. Bloodtide
65. The Juggernauts
193. Masters of Earth
7th Doctor
Sylvester McCoy as the 7th Doctor, with Ace and new companion Hex.
8th Doctor
Paul McGann as the 8th Doctor. A few stories featuring new companion Charlotte (Charley) Pollard.
A selection of stories with new companion Lucie Miller. These also aired on BBC Radio 4 Extra.
The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield
An interesting spin-off from Doctor Who, centered on an archaeologist in the future who discovers the Egyptian god Sutekh wasn't a myth after all. Also features the 7th Doctor and Ace from Doctor Who.
Dalek Empire
Another spin-off from Doctor Who, this tells the story of the Daleks as they conquer the human race, and our struggle for freedom. Series 1-2 are good, but I think series 3-4 are quite dull; series 3-4 take place well after series 2 anyway, so 2 is a good stopping point.
I, Davros
About the creator of the Daleks, this tells the story of Davros as a young man during the Thousand Year War. Skip The Davros Mission, which was a one-off story that missed its mark.
One more spin-off from Doctor Who, about Earth at war with their own android creations in Orion, and leveraging captured Cyberman technology in a bid for victory. Series 2 is less good, so I'm not recommending it.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Audiobook recommendations, part 1

It's the end of the year, and I normally take a moment "out of the blog" to reflect on the year, perhaps recap my favorite "top ten" posts. As I reach the end of 2015, my major milestone is leaving the University of Minnesota Morris for a new CIO role in St Paul, Minnesota.

One interesting thing about the move is that my commute is now much shorter: twenty minutes instead of three hours! When asked about my drive to/from Morris, I often comment that I listen to a lot of audiobooks, and I could share recommendations with any who asked. In that light, I thought I'd wrap up the year with a few audiobook recommendations.

First, a comment on my audiobook preferences. I like science fiction and strong drama. I prefer full-cast performances over traditional readings, although I listen to both. A year or so before moving to Morris, I discovered Big Finish, which had the license to make new audio stories based on the classic Doctor Who television program. They do other stories too, so it's no surprise almost all of my recommendations are Big Finish programs.

This is a very long list, so I'll split my audiobook recommendations into two posts. Here is part one:
Traditional Audiobooks
I listened to Griffin's Story thinking it was the book version of Jumper, which was made into a movie. I'd heard the book was better. But this is a stand-alone story about one of the characters only introduced in the movie, so is a sort of bridge between book and movie.
A reading of the book that launched the modern vampire and zombie genre. It's a bit dated, but quite good.
An interesting performed audio drama from the Star Trek series, about a young Klingon and his coming to age.
A spin-off from Doctor Who, but you don't need to have seen the show to enjoy this. More closely related to X-Files, this is about a military unit that investigates unexplained encounters.
Jago and Litefoot
Perhaps best described as a sometimes-steampunk Sherlock Holmes series. Start with The Mahogany Murderers, then enjoy series 1-2. I haven't listened to series 3 yet, but it's on my list.
Sherlock Holmes
Classic adaptations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's popular stories. I've only listened to The Speckled Band, and it was very good.
About a fictional group in the 1960s set to examine unexplained events. Series 1-2 are quite good, but I recommend you stop there as series 3-4 require you to listen to a story from the Doctor Who range, and that one isn't very good.
The Confessions of Dorian Gray
Using the Dorian Gray character created by Oscar Wilde, this series goes pretty dark. I haven't listened to series 2 yet, but I plan to.
Blake's 7
A continuation of the classic British sci-fi show, about a small group of renegades fighting against an oppressive galactic government. Series 1 is set in season B of the original show, and Warship provides the "bridge" between seasons B and C from the show.
A compelling audio series about survival after a devastating plague wipes out almost all life on earth. Not for the casual listener, Survivors features adult content and situations. I'm waiting impatiently for series 4.
Next week, I'll share the rest of my audiobook recommendations.