Monday 22 December 2014

Merry Christmas to all Clients, Colleagues and Friends

I wish all my clients, colleagues and friends a very blessed Christmas and a happy and successful New Year.

2014 has been a very good year for us;

  • I have had lots of interesting work with interesting people, ranging from academics to sailing instructors;
  • I have made significant progress on the long-promised book, and it is nearly finished;
  • Annie married and started work, Clare graduated and has exciting travel planned in the New Year, Mike finished school, changed direction and is studying Graphic Design very successfully, and Lizzie continues to excel at school and sports.

I always think Christmas a good time for poetry, so here is a contribution to the festive spirit:


The bells of waiting Advent ring,

The Tortoise stove is lit again
And lamp-oil light across the night
Has caught the streaks of winter rain
In many a stained-glass window sheen
From Crimson Lake to Hookers Green.

The holly in the windy hedge
And round the Manor House the yew
Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge,
The altar, font and arch and pew,
So that the villagers can say
'The church looks nice' on Christmas Day.

Provincial Public Houses blaze,
Corporation tramcars clang,
On lighted tenements I gaze,
Where paper decorations hang,
And bunting in the red Town Hall
Says 'Merry Christmas to you all'.

And London shops on Christmas Eve
Are strung with silver bells and flowers
As hurrying clerks the City leave
To pigeon-haunted classic towers,
And marbled clouds go scudding by
The many-steepled London sky.

And girls in slacks remember Dad,
And oafish louts remember Mum,
And sleepless children's hearts are glad.
And Christmas-morning bells say 'Come!'
Even to shining ones who dwell
Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.

And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window's hue,
A Baby in an ox's stall ?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me ?

And is it true ? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,

No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare -
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.

John Betjeman

Friday 12 December 2014

Coaching Supervision Group

I was invited to a coaching supervision group today, with a view to joining it. I already have a coaching supervisor, of course, but this is something rather different: an opportunity to work with other very experienced coaches to share experiences, practice and learning.

The process we used today was very rich. One member presented a coaching problem she was currently experiencing. Another coached her about it, while the rest of us watched.

We then discussed, with a metaphorical glass screen in place, her issue and her approach to it, talking about her in the third person, while she listened and took notes.

We then discussed the coaching process we had observed, and what we thought had worked well, as well as what we might have done differently.

A very simple process, but because of the skills, knowledge and insights of all involved, a very rich one.

I will certainly be going again...

Friday 5 December 2014

On making a Video

A week or so back I made a video (see here), as a reminder for people who have attended my Time Management Workshop of some of the key points. My intention is to do this reasonably frequently, so that eventually people who attend any of my regular workshops will have some brief reminders of key points.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that the urgency that made this one actually happen was a requirement in a tender I was completing at the time.  However, I do hope that it is a useful addition to my portfolio of support for clients, and intend, as I say, to continue to make them, as and when time and inspiration permit.

In the meantime, I thought that it would be helpful for me, and possibly of interest to some of my readers, to reflect on the process of making it, and the lessons learned.

The first thing to say is that this is not my first attempt.  Some time ago, I made one about Force Field Analysis. From that, I learned a few things.

  • Whilst I like flip charts, they don't look very clear, let alone professional, on film, unless done more neatly that I generally have time to do...
  • Stop-motion filming (the technique I used to make letters and words appear on the flip without seeing them being written up) is fun, but again, quite time-intensive.
  • I can look and sound rather wooden on film, if I am not careful.
  • Cutting between shots of my talking head and a visual aid needs to be done with care: sudden cuts are disorienting, and very short shots of visual aids are frustrating.
  • Shirt colour matters: a pale shirt can look very washed out, and make me look more purple than I want to.
  • The background matters: even a light switch can be a distraction!
With all that in mind, I set about the most recent film.

The first take was not great. The good points were using a screen as a neutral background, and having my daughter behind the camera to zoom in and out a bit, providing some variety of shot.

However, there were several things I wanted to change. The main one was that I had my laptop on a low desk in front of me, and glanced down at it frequently. That was very disconcerting. Another was that I looked static and sounded wooden.

So we rigged up a step ladder to hold the laptop at head height, and I deliberately chose to deliver as I would to a group of people: actively scanning the room with my eyes, and using my voice and facial expressions very deliberately.

Having filmed a take I was happier with, I then added in the visual aids. Some of these were deliberately the ones I use on the Workshop, so that people would remember them, strengthening the visual cues to help them retain the ideas.

However, on the workshop, I build up the Urgency and Important grid on a flipchart, and animate it by drawing on arrows etc. I decided to replace that by a Keynote version, as I thought it more likely to be clearer on video.

I was pleased with how that worked; and also pleased at the effect of re-visiting the same visual aid more than once, when relevant. I hope that gives the effect of attending a workshop - when one looks from the speaker to the screen and back again a few times during the discussion of a particular point.

I was also careful to fade the visual aids in and out, to avoid abrupt transitions, and to make sure they were on screen for long enough, so that any text could be read, and images assimilated.

So overall I am more pleased with this attempt, but I think that there is still room for improvement:

  • A few people have said they find my eyes scanning the room to be a distraction, so next time I will try to maintain the same level of animation, but looking straight to camera;
  • Closing my eyes is particularly distracting!
  • Some of my examples ('most administration') are too generic: specific examples would be more helpful
  • I will include a brief musical intro at the start and some more music at the finish.

However, I am particularly interested in feedback from others on this (and thanks to those who have already volunteered it). So if you have any views or ideas, do let me know.

For those interested in such things, the video was made using iMovie, and the visual aids using Keynote.