Friday, 31 October 2014

Learning to Write (ii)

I blogged recently about the positive effect that writing a glossary had had on my writing, and my understanding of the writing process.

This week's assignment, which I have just reviewed with my writing coach, Andrew Derrington,  was equally powerful. Andrew had introduced me to the art (or science?) of reverse outlining.

The technique is simple: take your text, number the paragraphs, and for each numbered paragraph answer a few key questions, including 'What is the topic of this paragraph?' and 'Is there a topic sentence?'

Answering those questions enables you to check that each paragraph has a purpose, and then assess how well it accomplishes that purpose. It also enables you to look at the flow of the whole body of text (in my case a chapter) and see how well that accomplishes its purpose.

It is also invaluable in writing (or in my case, re-writing) an introduction and a summary.

I found, for example, that some of my paragraphs had no real purpose; some had two topics (so needed to be split into two paragraphs); there were some gaps in the logical flow of the chapter (so new paragraphs are needed); and some were underdeveloped, and needed clarifying or expanding. I also learned (again) that although I believe I write well, there is a lot more to learn; which is both humbling and exciting.

Moreover, it prompted me to look at the overall structure of the book in the same way, with the result that I am making some significant changes to that: cutting quite a lot that is peripheral or tangential, and clarifying the flow of ideas throughout the whole text.

It is very laborious, but I think re-pays the time and effort. So I am committed to do three things before my next conversation with Andrew in a couple of weeks: re-write the chapter I have just analysed, in the light of my analysis; undertake the same process with another chapter already drafted; and revise the chapter list to get a final structure for the book.

So finalising the text is some way off, but I am increasingly confident that it will be a good text when I eventually get there.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014


I went to an excellent workshop on Laughter this weekend, run by Robin Graham of Feelgood Communities.

This is something I have long been interested in: I first took laughter seriously as a learning and development intervention, after coming across C W Metcalf and his work on Humour, Risk and Change (which I have mentioned before).

Here's a flavour of Metcalf:

Both Robin Graham and C W Metcalf make a strong - and very funny - case for the value of humour. 

The personal benefits of regular laughter are increasingly recognised by the research; and Robin gave us a summary of some of the latest research emerging. The beneficial release of endorphins, serotonin and dopamine are apparently well-documented, as is the reduction in the stress-related hormones, cortisol and adrenalin. Apparently our immune system is also boosted by regular laughter, and the researchers are now working to understand the ways in which laughter helps us bond with others.

It is fascinating to note the role of laughter in a baby's life: long before it is registering humour, the incongruous, unexpected or absurd - which are the classic triggers of laughter in adults.

Laughter, as Robin pointed out in his four word lecture, is a release.

That was it: as lectures go it was remarkably concise and clear. We then laughed a lot, and discussed laughter a lot more, including its capacity to bring people right into the present moment, and to open themselves up to each other. There is something vulnerable about genuine laughter - which is one of the reasons we learn to suppress it. Young children, of course, need no excuse to laugh, and they laugh several times a day. As we get older, we may lose both the spontaneity and the frequency.

So I am keen to involve more laughter in my work, both for its innate benefits for the individuals, but also for other reasons. Laughter helps form relationships between people (except for bullying laughter, which is quite different). Also, because of the links between laughter and the incongruous, unexpected or absurd, I think it helps people to view situations differently, opening up possibilities for creative thinking that may help solve problems in new ways.

But quite how I am going to do that, I am not yet sure. There is something about forced laughter that seems very counter-productive, and I have seen too many trainers fall into that trap. So I would be interested in others' views and experiences.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Experiments with Twitter

The other day, prompted by a comment from a colleague, I decided to experiment with live tweeting during one of my workshops.

I sent participants a note in advance explaining that, and mentioning a few ways it might be used, including questions, feedback to me, and so on, but saying I did not wish to constrain them and would be interested to see what happened. I told them the hashtag we would use.

So on the day, as well as the projector connected to my laptop for a few slides, I had a second projector and screen in the corner of the room, to which I connected my iPad, which had Twitter open, displaying tweets with the appropriate hashtag (initially, just one from me).

I mentioned the Twitter experiment again at the start of the workshop, including the hashtag on an introductory slide, and then waited to see what happened.

In the event, there were just two tweets from participants, to which I replied.

At the end of the day I asked participants for their views on the experiment, and they said:
  • It had not been a distraction
  • It was interesting to see what others had commented on (and I, too, had found that interesting to see)
  • It had not really been necessary for questions etc as the session had been so interactive and participative: perhaps it would be more valuable for a larger group (nb there were 14 people on the workshop).
I learned a number of things from the experiment. Firstly here are things I noticed and will do differently:

1  My iPad ran out of power before the end of the day (and the charger uses the same slot as the output for the projector, so I had to re-charge during sessions which meant the tweets were not visible, which was a disincentive to tweet further). So next time I think I'll alternate between my iPad and my iPhone being connected to the projector.

2  The image size was much better when the iPad was in Landscape rather than Portrait orientation.  So next time, I'll make sure it is Landscape from the start.

3  Even so the image size was a bit small: so next time I will find a better position for the projector so tweets are easily read from the back of the room.

4  I initially replied to the tweets without using the hashtag, so my replies did not show up on screen. I then retweeted the replies with the hashtag, but as tweets rather than replies, so they did not 'nest' with the tweets to which I was replying. So next time I will reply with the hashtag included.

NB One thing I got right which I must remember next time is to use a unique hashtag that is unlikely to be used by anyone else, and to check that it is not being used.

I was lucky, too, to have Janet Lavery on the workshop. Janet has some expertise in using technology to enhance learning, and gave me some valuable tips at the end of the day, for which I am very grateful:

1  It would have been better to state the purpose of using twitter in the introductory letter, not say it was an experiment (apparently, experiments demonstrate that the word experiment lowers participation rates!)

2  It would have been better still to have given them specific things to tweet about: eg when doing group activities, the observers could have tweeted observations, and these could have been reviewed together after the activity. It is important to make clear that it is not compulsory - some people don't like social media.

3  It would have been better at the start of the day, when I asked people to put their phones on silent, to have encouraged them to leave them on the table, so they were accessible for tweeting (most people put their phones away, once on silent mode, from force of habit).

4    It would have been better to set aside some time (say just before each break) at least to acknowledge, and if appropriate discuss, tweets so far.

5  It is important to do a screengrab quite promptly, if you wish to save the conversation, as things may disappear.

I'll be very interested to hear from anyone else who encourages live tweeting during workshops; or anyone who has experimented with this and decided to stop.

I'm inclined to give the experiment another outing, informed by the learning so far, and see if it does add anything of value to the workshop. What I'd like, in particular, is if it develops into a conversation that lasts beyond the workshop, which might help with the retention, and transfer, of learning.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Still trying stuff out to improve my time management...

I am not the world's best manager of time. In fact, I once had something of a crisis of conscience about running Time Management workshops, on the basis that I was preaching something I fail to practice (or at least, fail to practice very well). However, my inspirational coach, Ann Bowen-Jones, remarked, almost in passing, that we teach best what we most need to learn. So that was all right.

And I had some feedback this week from someone who had attended one of my time management workshops some 14 years ago that it had proved very valuable and was still something she remembered clearly and worked with, and, indeed, had developed.

But for myself, I still see it as work in progress.  So I continue to try new things. Today I have been working at home, and I was very conscious of the risk of the day slipping by with relatively little achieved (it being a Friday and all...)

So I set my phone alarm to go off every half hour, to prompt me to check that I was doing something worthwhile each time it went off.  That has proved very useful; though I suspect that the law of diminishing returns would cut in if I tired that every day.

Something else I have tried over the last few months is being really rigorous about making time for meditation, as I mentioned a few weeks ago (here).  That has proved very valuable.  Oddly, the busier I have been, the more I have noticed the meditation paradox: stopping for fifteen minutes of recollection really does enable you to move through a busy day with more calmness, and to achieve more important things.

A third, and related, thing has been striving to maintain a high awareness of the present moment, and the importance of that. Two people from quite separate parts of my life had recommended de Caussade's book: The Sacrament of the Present Moment. It is not an easy text, but he is onto something profound here, about detachment and, well, presence.

And finally, I am trying to maintain my habit of reviewing the week each Friday afternoon, and completing my reflective learning journal: that touches on all sorts of issues, of course, but how I have spent my time is at the heart of it.

I'm always keen to learn from others, so if you have any top tips for time management, do let me know!

But I must dash: my phone alarm is going off, and I've a reflective journal entry to write yet...