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Archive for December, 2011

How to Keep the Creativity Train Running on Time

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Some days you feel like absolutely nothing can go wrong.  You’re on fire, unstoppable.  Ideas are flowing, confidence is high, and you’re walking around with your chin up and your back straight.  There’s no better feeling than knowing you’re at the top of your game.  The world is your oyster.  Everything you touch seems to turn to gold and you wonder how you were ever stagnant before.

Until the past few years, I had really only been able to identify these times when looking back.  Now I’m acutely aware of them when I’m in them and I grab onto them and try not to let go when that train is rolling.

But these feelings never last long. Maybe a day or two, maybe a little more. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a full week of this superhuman ability to create things out of nothing without obstruction.  Sooner or later things will return to normal and there’s no explanation why this happens.  You just can’t self-motivate like you were able to the day before.  Ideas are at a distance, just out of reach.  You aren’t feeling flow and a day’s worth of work is taking two full days instead of just three hours.

It’s crazy frustrating when this happens. You try and recreate the environment, the feeling you had, and you just can’t. Your mind has moved on, your thoughts are elsewhere, and your current experience has been altered in some inexplicable way. And you don’t like it at all.

What happened?  Well, nothing at all.  It’s perfectly normal for creativity to ebb and flow like this.  It happens to every single creative person dozens – even hundreds – of times throughout a year. It’s just not possible to keep anything running at its highest capacity all the time.

But are there ways to keep it running for as long as you can?  Maybe.  There are things you can do that will help but only in the sense that they may be able to prolong that window.  There’s no guarantee that these things will work every time, but if they buy you an extra few days or a shorter period in the downswing, it could be worth it.

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7 Ways to Improve Your Presentations and Speak With Presence

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As long-time readers know, each year I write down goals for the next twelve months, something I’ve been doing for about twelve years now. This year one of my goals was to “dramatically improve” my presentation skills. In truth, this is a goal every single year but this year I made sure to put it to paper and then I proceeded to read a bunch of books and blogs on the subject. I’ve also spent a lot of time analyzing the presentation styles of those around me, since I have ample opportunities to do that at work.

Why the push? See, about halfway through last year I found myself presenting to medium-sized groups of people (from fifty to a few hundred people) bi-weekly instead of, at best, quarterly. That was clear motivation to get better. No one likes to completely suck at something you have to do all the time. Plus, if you’re not a halfway decent communicator, you’re probably not a halfway decent leader either.

Of course, I’m still far from good at it. This stuff, like most anything else, takes a ton of dedicated practice and attention to really nail it. The difference between star performers and everyone else is that the people who care to get better use deliberate and corrective practice. They set specific goals, respond to feedback, and look at the process of improvement as a long-term thing. Others don’t, they just go through the motions. This isn’t just me speaking, by the way, it’s been exhibited in research by Psychology professor Dr. K. Anders Ericsson.

Now, before getting into the tips & tricks, remember that there’s always room for improvement, but it’s unlikely you’ll ever be perfect. Perfection is a pipe dream. But you can absolutely make your presentations better, in some cases much better, and you can always become better at public speaking. So make sure to have the right expectations going in and then just commit to the process fully.

Look, presenting is hard. Putting together presentations is hard too. It’s all quite scary, especially if it’s not something you do often. I remember a few years ago when I wasn’t doing this regularly, the nerves prior to presenting were so intense that I could barely sleep the night before. If this describes you, then maybe one of these tips will help you get over the proverbial hump. Look at this as just the beginning of a lifelong journey. Here we go.

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