Thursday, April 29, 2010

Annual Reports with Zing

We view annual reports as an obligation, and we stuff them full of facts and figures. Are they interesting to read? Do they generate interest and support for your organization? Not usually. But they can.

Let me show you two annual reports that are fun to read and provide greater understanding of the organizations’ purpose and culture. Although these are online reports, you could use the same storytelling techniques in written reports.

Victoria Police Department
The Victoria Police Department in British Columbia set out to create a positive public image with an online, interactive annual report.

Real staff tell real stories. Sergeant Alan Cochrane explains how the seizure of a drug vehicle uncovered a case of identity theft; Karen Wallis tells us about one of their most active crime prevention volunteers; and the section on the Call Centre includes actual examples of receiving and responding to 911 calls.

There are a few technical glitches, but those don’t seem very important once you learn that the photography, writing and programming was all done in house.

British Library
The British Library’s online annual report is interactive and fun. You move your mouse over the various images and pop-up dialogues tell you more about the object and direct you to further information.

For example, I learned that the Dering Roll is the oldest English roll of arms in existence. Related images tell me how it was nearly sold at Sothebys but was stopped by an export ban and that the roll includes a fake entry for a fictional ancestor.

Note: Corporate Storytelling provides additional examples of why and how to incorporate stories in your organizational materials.

Coming up next week: Annual General Meetings with Zing

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Public Speaking Tip #1

Capture the audience’s attention with the title of your presentation.

Take a stand, starting with the presentation title, recommends Scott Berkun in Confessions of a Public Speaker. Don’t try and address a broad, abstract topic. Argue a specific point of view, one that you are passionate about. If you’re bored, your audience will be too.

Ensure that your title is concrete and focussed so that the audience immediately grasps what you will be covering and why it will be valuable to them.

And include a hook that grabs people’s attention and helps you define your topic. For example, “Green Eggs and Brainstorming: How to Learn Creativity from Reading Dr. Seuss” is far more interesting, for you and the audience, than “Creativity for Beginners.”

Note: This is the first of a series of public speaking tips based on my research in this area.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Resume + Portfolio = Success

When applying for a job, it’s essential to stand out from the crowd and to demonstrate that you are the best person for the job. The most effective way to do this is by providing concrete examples of your achievements. Don’t just state that you are a great chef or a great salesperson – show us.

And turn it into a story. Tell us about the time that your client’s computer crashed and you stayed up half the night to identify and fix the problem. Tell us about the time there was a power cut half an hour before you were supposed to serve dinner to 500 people. Describe the wine tasting and culinary day trip you developed and marketed to international tour operators.

It’s a story with a hero – YOU – and action – the problem you solved – and a happy ending – satisfied customers.

Seeing is Believing
Now take your storytelling one step further by not only telling us what you can do but by showing us. It’s standard practice for artists and designers to maintain a portfolio of their work. You can too.

Think of it as a scrapbook providing a visual presentation of your accomplishments. And there is no limit to the types of material that you can include – from a physical object to a project description.
     Chef – include a recipe, a menu or a photograph of an award-winning dish.
     Software programmer – provide links to an open source project, an online forum or a wiki that you set up or participated in.
     Hotel salesperson – include an advertisement for a successful sales campaign or the itinerary for a travel agent familiarization tour.

Be sure to demonstrate your leadership, teamwork and problem-solving abilities.
     Chef – provide examples of how you mentor new members of your kitchen staff.
     Software programmer – explain how you customized the software to meet a customer request.
     Hotel salesperson – describe how you doubled your hotel’s share of the tour market in under four years.

Include examples of your extracurricular accomplishments as well: the agenda for a church conference you helped organize or a newspaper article about your fundraising efforts for a children’s playground.

Include information about awards you have received as well as letters of recommendation.

Your portfolio can assume various different formats. It may be a binder or a website. I include short descriptions of several key projects in a sidebar on my two-page resume.

Whatever format you choose, it should be attractive and well organized. Provide a cover page and possibly a table of contents. Make sure the formatting is consistent. Introduce each example with a short summary paragraph outlining its relevance. Keep it short and easy to understand.

Depending on the circumstances, you can attach your portfolio to your job application or bring it to the interview.

It’s Worth the Effort
Yes, it will take time to assemble and maintain your portfolio. But it’s worth the effort:
     You will have demonstrated that you are sincerely interested in this career opportunity and have taken the time to prepare for it.
     You will be well prepared with concrete examples to use when responding to interview questions.
     You will have demonstrated the full depth and range of your abilities, which may put you in place for unexpected career opportunities beyond the specific job you originally applied for.

For more information on writing your resume and applying for work, see my earlier posts:
     Writing a Killer Resume
     Want a Job? What do you have to Offer?
And stayed tune for upcoming posts:
     Identifying and Describing your Strengths and Accomplishments
     Cover Letters that Really Work

In the meantime, send me your questions about resumes and portfolios. I’ll be happy to answer them – either privately or in the comments section.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Asking the Right Questions

Ask the right question, and it’s the start of a great discussion. Ask the wrong question, and you bring the conversation to an abrupt end.

In an interesting article on How to Ask Better Questions, Judith Ross says that questions can empower the other person by conveying respect and encouraging the development of their problem-solving skills. Or they can disempower the other person and undercut their self confidence by focusing on failure or on promoting the questioner’s personal agenda.

Ross states that, "the most effective and empowering questions create value in one or more of the following ways:

1. They create clarity: "Can you explain more about this situation?"

2. They construct better working relations: Instead of "Did you make your sales goal?" ask, "How have sales been going?"

3. They help people think analytically and critically: "What are the consequences of going this route?"

4. They inspire people to reflect and see things in fresh, unpredictable ways: "Why did this work?"

5. They encourage breakthrough thinking: "Can that be done in any other way?"

6. They challenge assumptions: "What do you think you will lose if you start sharing responsibility for the implementation process?"

7. They create ownership of solutions: "Based on your experience, what do you suggest we do here?" "

It’s well worth reading the full article.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

An Urban Revolution

In past decades, North Americans turned their back on downtown areas and moved to the suburbs. Jennifer Keesmaat, an urban planner who specializes in mid-size Canadian cities, speaking at last night’s Great Places lecture in Saskatoon, says that this trend has been reversed.

Young people are choosing to live in an urban environment that offers vibrant culture and commerce, human interaction and a sense of authenticity. Suburbs, regardless of the city or the province, all look the same. But the downtown core of each city is unique.

Keesmaat says the time has come to reinvest in the downtown core of mid-sized Canadian cities. But how do you do it?

1.  Be intentional. You need to develop a policy framework that will ensure predictable outcomes. You need a vision that is large enough to inspire and mobilize with leaders who are prepared to go beyond consensus so as to expand the possibilities. You need to nurture champions, political and community leaders who will advocate for urban living and establish partnerships among all sectors.

You need to recognize that downtown planning is multi-facetted so you should have several eggs in several baskets and be operating from several different directions.

2.  Build on existing strengths. The majority of Regina residents work downtown so the theme for their downtown renewal project is Walk to Work. They’re going to focus on developing residential neighbourhoods that surround the downtown core and encourage a pedestrian and cycling culture. They’re going to build on the downtown parks and provide facilities for grassroots arts and culture festivals. They hope that restaurants, cultural activities and unique shops will be drawn to the downtown core once it’s a more people-friendly space.

Keesmaat emphasized that one of the biggest risks for a small city is to be too spread out. It’s better to have a small downtown with amazing activity rather than spread it out and lose your critical mass.

3.  Integrate the downtown with the surrounding areas. Halifax is focussing its attention on transforming the gateways to downtown. Rather than freeway ramps that leave the buildings isolated and deter pedestrian traffic, there are plans for street-front development and tree-lined boulevards.

4.  Halifax is also building on the great streets that are already in place and making them more pedestrian friendly. This will be done by introducing:
     • Wider sidewalks
     • Crosswalks with increased visibility
     • Pedestrian lighting and furnishings
     • Fa├žade remediation with step backs to minimize shadowing and lots of openings to make it more interesting to walk along the street
     • Weather protection through awnings and building design to protect against cold winds

For another take on the evening, see Sean Shaw’s blog posting: Saskatoon, I have a crush on you . . . .

Photo: downtown Cordoba, Spain

Monday, April 19, 2010

Want a job? What do you have to offer?

When we’re applying for a job, we focus on the potential benefits to ourselves – more money, more interesting position, convenient location.

But that won’t help us land the job. The focus in a resume and cover letter must be on, “What do I have to offer the potential employer?”

Unique Skills
Each of us offers a unique combination of skills and experience. Stand out from the crowd by identifying in your cover letter what you have to offer that nobody else can offer and that makes you a perfect fit for the job. If you are a great cook and you enjoy teaching, you’re the perfect person to teach a cooking class. If you are an accountant who has worked in several different countries, you are well equipped to help international businesses.

Concrete Examples
Resumes and cover letters are a form of show and tell. Don’t just say that you are good at sales, demonstrate it by providing concrete examples of how many sales you made in the last quarter and how much new business you have generated in the last year.

Problem-Solving Skills
Don’t just focus on the final product. Outline the steps you took to resolve a messy problem and to reach a satisfactory solution. By showing the process you followed, you demonstrate your analytical and problem-solving skills.

See Also: Writing a Killer Resume

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Why Should I Use Social Media?

We are barraged by experts telling us we must use social media to market our products or ourselves. Far too often the focus is on which social media tools are available rather than how they can help us meet our goals.

Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies by Charlene Li & Josh Bernoff is well worth reading as it focuses on how the different social media tools can be used.

Create: My blog satisfies a desire for self expression.

Listen: If you’re an information junkie like me, you thrive on finding new sources of information and ideas online.

React: Many of us rely on TripAdvisor and Amazon for their hotel or book reviews.

Connect: Socially-minded people flock to Facebook because it provides an alternate way to chat with friends and family.

Organize: Google Reader, Delicious and Picasa are invaluable. They help me organize my online files and make it easy for me to share pertinent information with other people.

Collaborate: I firmly believe online management tools can increase productivity. SurveyMonkey and Picatic have already proven their worth. Wikis and project management programs have tremendous potential.

Social media is always surprising because it’s viral. You can’t force people to view your content. You have to create something that will be so compelling that the viewers themselves will take on the task of telling other people about your product.

YouTube is popular; Google Reader isn’t. (Why? I love it.)

I would never willingly watch an ad for Volkswagen, but I love watching The Fun Theory, a series of YouTube videos sponsored by Volkswagen demonstrating that fun is the easiest way to change people’s behaviour.

And it’s easy to see why the ASPCA has 316,349 fans on Facebook because they are using social media to provide useful information – recognizing the symptoms of heartworm or registering for pet therapy classes or posting videos of adoptable animals on YouTube.

What’s next? Even though it’s hard work staying on top of new advances, I can’t wait to find out.

Image: courtesy of

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Unleashing Public Life & Beauty through Downtown Planning

Monday, April 19, 7 pm, Broadway Theatre, Saskatoon

Jennifer Keesmaat, a founding partner of Office for Urbanism, a Toronto planning and design firm, will give a free public presentation on how we might direct our efforts to unleash the full potential for civic life and quality development in Saskatoon's downtown through ambitious planning and urban design. Ms. Keesmaat is an award-winning city planner. She is leading the production of the City of Mississauga's new Official Plan and has completed streetscape, transportation, culture planning, community engagement, urban design and place-making projects across Canada and internationally. She recently completed downtown plans for the City of Regina and the Regional Municipality of Halifax.

Following Ms. Keesmaat’s presentation and open discussion there will be a reception hosted by the University of Saskatchewan’s Regional & Urban Planning Program and the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada.

The talk is sponsored by Great Places, a discussion forum that focuses on current issues related to the built environment in Saskatoon as shaped by architecture, urban planning, public art and landscape design. Previous presentations included Adaptive Reuse and two lectures by Jan Gehl on Cities for People Not Cars and You Can Do It.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Who Needs Help?

I have been struggling to write the Help for a software application that has two separate groups of users and two separate interfaces. What a nightmare!

And yet, it’s been really positive because it forced me to focus on the users and their needs. Who are they? What are they trying to do? What do they see when they look at the screen?

Software users don’t care how a program works. They want to know how to use it. So I don’t simply explain all the different fields and functions. I also provide step-by-step instructions on how to do specific tasks – How do I set up a satellite interface, How do I import fuel downloads.

The focus of every writing project must be its audience, and it must address the question the reader will be asking, “What’s in it for me?” It can be great prose, but if it’s not relevant to the reader, they won’t bother to read it.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Driven by Passion

I used to take a lot of pride in my job title. It was effective shorthand for demonstrating to myself and other people what I had accomplished. Going out on my own and establishing a freelance business involved taking a risk. Expanding my business is even more frightening. But it always revolves around the same question: How brave am I? Am I prepared to risk failure? And, perhaps even more important, what will other people think?

I am filled with admiration for people who are so driven by passion that they stop at nothing to achieve results.

Charlie Hamilton James has been photographing kingfishers for over 20 years. He skipped school to photograph them. He’s prepared to spend motionless days in a hide or a pit in the ground in order to try and obtain the perfect shot. And his obsession has paid off. The photographs in his book, Kingfisher – Tales from the Halcyon River, are absolutely fantastic.

Wildlife photographer Greg du Toit was determined to capture the perfect photograph of lions drinking. And he was successful. But in order to achieve his goal, he had to submerge himself for 3 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 3 months in a watering hole teaming with mosquitoes and parasites. He contracted malaria, bilharzia and several other parasites and had to be hospitalized. Doctors were shocked by his test results, which were the worst they had ever recorded. He is now fully recovered, and his photographs will appear in the March 2010 issue of the BBC Wildlife Magazine. “It was worth it 100 per cent and I would do it all again, worms and all,” says Du Toit.

What drives you, and how far are you prepared to go to follow your passion?