During this graduation season, I thought I would share some communication advice as you embark on your new path in life. They say that good advice stands the test of time, so I decided to find previous blogs that shared strategies that might come in handy as you enter college, graduate school, or find your way in the big world out there. This first blog is from last May, and the advice is still solid!!
As I worked yesterday to accomplish the very important item on my to-do list of sending cards and checks to the graduates in my life, I smiled as I thought of the excitement and celebration associated with graduation. I love seeing and hearing the inspiring graduation speeches, so I thought this week’s blog should be my advice to the graduates (and of course you realize that this advice is really for everyone -- I’m just trying to be seasonal!!). My advice is … (drumroll, please)... write it down! That’s it! I truly believe that if we would just write things down, our lives could be so much easier! Listen - we all have so much going on in our brains. From appointments to chores to work to play to family to … you get the idea. So help your brain. Write things down. I know that I’ve preached this in previous blogs, but I needed to write it down again for you and for me (did you see that fun connection?!). In high school, Hayden participated in band and sports (soccer, swimming, golf, tennis, cross-country running), so I in turn participated in the booster clubs. To raise money, both the band and sports booster clubs manned concession stands during sporting events, and I worked many football and soccer games as well as a track meet or two. But to be honest, I wasn’t the best concession stand worker. No, I didn’t sit around or lurk outside the door to avoid working; I was terrible at remembering orders. I could look out of that window, straight into that customer’s eyes, and listen intently to the order. “I need a nachos with no peppers, a Sprite, a Dr. Pepper, some cheese sticks, and a Snickers.” As I would then turn to complete the order, my mind would go completely blank. Seriously, I could not remember one thing that was ordered. So, I would turn back to the customer and try again. And I would forget again. I was a concession stand worker failure! My brain could not listen to an order and comprehend what was being said. Most customers were pretty understanding about repeating an order over and over as they knew that I was a volunteer working to support extracurricular activities. But I could tell that many became a bit annoyed, and as the line grew longer and longer, even some of my co-volunteers became impatient. Finally, a very experienced concession stand worker handed me an order pad and a pen. “Write it down,” she said. Brilliant!! From that moment on, I wrote down the orders and efficiently served the nachos with no peppers, Sprite, Dr. Pepper, cheese sticks, and Snickers. I’m not sure why I didn’t come up with that solution as I write down most things in my life in my calendar, on a notepad, and even on sticky notes strategically placed throughout the house. But my concession stand failure taught me to first try the strategy of writing things down. It works in almost all situations!
Instead of trying to remember what your co-worker shared with you in the hallway, take a moment to write it down. Instead of trying to remember what you should bring to that meeting or appointment, write it down. Instead of trying to remember to send that birthday card, write it down (on your calendar a week before). etc Strategies believes that you should write it down. Give your brain some extra room to fill with memories instead of memos or appointments or tasks. And graduates -- congrats! Go out and conquer the world! Go on adventures! Make wonderful memories! And then -- write it down!
After putting the final touches on the presentation itself, cutting paper squares for the origami project, packing the big yellow ball, and making copies of the line dance, Karen and I headed to Lake Charles last week for the VCC, Various Chemical Companies, HR Conference at the Golden Nugget. With such a fun place and such fun people, we knew that we would enjoy this opportunity -- and we really did!! I created a customized presentation called “Show Your Work!” designed to help HR professionals use observational learning strategies to model effective communication skills. These professionals already utilize strong communication skills every single day on the job, so I shared concrete strategies to help model these skills for others to copy and use. But as I planned and researched and prepared (all things I LOVE to do) for the presentation, I needed an activity to demonstrate the importance of modeling, of “showing” how to do something instead of just “telling” what to do! Because I can’t cook, knit, or throw a curveball (all better “show, not tell” activities), I can dance (not all that well but I can hold a beat!).
So for the presentation, I decided to teach the Cut a Rug Line Dance. To learn the dance from “telling” only, here are some of the directions: step right foot to right side, step together with left foot; repeat; step left foot to left side, step together with the right foot; repeat; step right foot to right front diagonal; touch left foot beside right; step left foot to left back diagonal, touch right foot beside left … See what I mean? Learning to do a line dance by only reading or hearing the words is almost impossible! The very best way to learn the dance is to have someone “show” you the steps and use words to explain each one. So after a few minutes of squirming and confused faces while reading the steps on the handout we provided, I stepped up to the front of the room to model the steps and teach the dance. Now here is where I should write “and we all joyfully learned the dance and had a great time line dancing to Alan Jackson!” But - due to overwhelming conference attendance (a few participants didn’t RSVP) and a very small conference room (again probably because of the missing RSVPs), we had very little space to dance. As I looked out at the crowded conditions, I thought that the activity would fail miserably and began frantically thinking of a Plan B, but those participants jumped (well more of stepped lightly) in and worked to master the dance steps even with little room to move. Instead of “stepping” to the right, they all shuffled just a bit. Instead of moving “diagonally,” they just moved a bit forward. And at times, we all just stood in one spot and bounced to the music! Through all the laughter and the apologies for stepping on toes, we just made it work and had a great time line dancing!
Although I know that these HR professionals totally understood the point of the activity and connected to my point that “showing” is so much more effective than “telling,” we all learned some other important lessons from the experience. Sometimes even the best planned activity or experience can face unexpected problems or obstacles, but we need to just work through it the best we can. Maybe that very important meeting you planned and prepared for is canceled and there is no time to reschedule. Find the best way to share the needed information using email or even sharing an infographic (visual representations of information, data or knowledge intended to present information quickly and clearly). Maybe your technical equipment (projector, speakers, even the wifi) will not work correctly for that training or presentation. As a trainer/presenter, always be prepared for this situation -- I promise it WILL happen to you. Always have the presentation saved multiple ways without the need for wifi; bring your own projector if possible; and use your phone and a microphone instead speakers (that’s how we danced to Alan Jackson!).
etc Strategies believes that having a make it work attitude will always help when things go wrong. Thinking through alternative options, preparing for problems, and keeping a positive outlook will help you figure out the best way to meet your communication goal. And a BIG thanks to all of the participants of the VCC Conference who enthusiastically made it work and danced, danced, danced!