March 2017 TMD: Own it Like Oprah

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For March’s TMD, many teammates and I congregated in the Garage to learn how to Own It Like Oprah, courtesy of our VP of People, Dawn Burke. This TMD, promising tips to be an outstanding presenter, certainly did not disappoint, as I left the session with ideas to ponder and practices to perfect (at best; at worst, I had to break some old habits).

Dawn got right to the heart of things by asking the group how, on a day to day basis, we present materials. Her point, of course, was that everyone presents all the time, be it in Sales or onsite training a customer, or anything in between. This light conversation got the crowd engaged and feeling comfortable, which she later pointed out is a good technique to presenting well.

She then asked if there was anyone who had not heard of Oprah, to which the room was unsurprisingly silent. Be it for her magazine, her talk show, her book club, or her philanthropy, I would wager there are not many people who do not know Oprah. Her interviewing skills were the things we spoke about the most, how she has a way of making the interviewee feel as if they are the only person in the room as she asks questions, listens well and then asks follow-up questions. Her charisma and body language paint her as authentic, which makes her engaging.

This authenticity aspect was my big takeaway from the discussion: because Oprah is authentic, when she praises something, her viewers will see it as an honest and earnest recommendation and try it. Good examples include her Book Club and how those books rose to become best-sellers after Oprah’s recommendations. This authenticity led to a connection, and as Dawn put it, ‘the more you connect, the more you’re heard.’

Another excellent quote from Dawn, the one which she described as the biggest focal point of her presentation: ‘the reason you present is so people hear your message.’ Combined with the ‘authenticity’ piece above, it makes sense then that to successfully communicate your message to an audience, it is best to engage them well. Which leads us to Dawn’s 13 Tips on Talking (a name I just made up, but you’re welcome to it for a small fee, Dawn):

  1. It’s all about engagement. Dawn suggests immediately engaging the audience by captivating them with a story or some other form of ‘hook’ to immediately grab their attention. Anything that makes the audience want more will do, be it ‘Call me Ishmael’ or the opening riff on the guitar in the Rolling Stones’ song ‘Satisfaction.’
  1. Start strong. Similar to the above, generally speaking the first and last five minutes of any presentation are the ones that will stick with the audience. Hit the ground running and finish strong! A big point (for me, at least) that Dawn made here is that starting with an apology is seldom the best move.
  1. Slow down. Remember to breathe. Another important idea is to view the presentation as a conversation, which will make it feel more natural and, importantly, ease the feeling of wanting to sprint through the prepared material.
  1. Be aware of verbal garbage. The ‘empty calories of conversation,’ filler words should be avoided. Uh, um, like, y’know, ah…these are verbal ticks best avoided though, as Dawn points out, filling silence in this way is not as big a deal as many often make it out to be. Avoid using these when possible, but do not lose sleep over an errant ‘um.’
  1. Make eye contact. Making eye contact builds trust, though maintaining eye contact too long or in a manner that might be seen as inauthentic does more harm than good. Singling out one person and holding eye contact for too long makes all parties uncomfortable and scanning from side to side looks robotic. Move from person to person, do not linger too long.
  1. Know your audience. Without knowing your audience, you will have trouble connecting with them; without a connection, your communication will be hindered. Dawn revealed her questions in the earlier parts of the TMD were building rapport and a connection with the audience.
  1. Make Shakespeare proud. More for in person, but presentations, like Shakespearian plays, are better seen and not read, better as plays and not novels. Body language is crucial. Stand like an actor. Body language, though subconsciously, is more telling than speech.
  1. Hand-le with care. Continuing on that, your hands are the biggest tells your body has as to how you’re feeling. Are your hands in your pocket? That might come across as boredom. Are they across your chest? You now seem standoffish. Dawn recommends keeping them at your side or, if that induces too much discomfort, lightly linking your fingers together in front of your stomach.
  1. Don’t turn your back on the audience. Instead, use what she called the ‘actors’ cheat,’ which is when two actors are having a conversation and somewhat ‘open up’ to the audience, so that they’re included in the conversation. Turning your back to the audience is insulting at worst and, at best, it makes the presentation significantly harder to hear.
  1. Work the tools. Don’t let the tools work you. Have your technology together, have your files together, and know how everything works with one another.
  1. Have a Plan B. That being said, technology can and will fail, so it’s best to be prepared. There is no shame in taking a small break to resolve any issues that have sprung up before a presentation.
  1. Practice. A quote Dawn used here that I enjoyed: ‘make talking to yourself an art form.’ However, over practicing can lead to a rehearsed feeling, which is something we want to avoid entirely. Practice to the level of your own comfort and be comfortable in your material.
  1. Be yourself. You knew it was coming, but the last tip is to be authentic. Again, without a connection between the presenter and the audience, communication will be hampered. Be yourself, be authentic. Enough said.

As we were leaving, though, Dawn had one more piece of wisdom that seems to be the case regardless of any of the rules above: content trumps everything. Of course, the tips above are the stars for which we all shoot, but if your presentation is on a topic that is of immense interest to the audience, all the ‘ahs’ and ‘ums’ of the world will not be able to detract from your presentation.

A Designer’s Perspective: Top Tools & Resources

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When I think about cool tech and design resources, so many options pop into my head. As a user experience designer always looking to learn something new, I have to say that there is an ocean of books, blogs, design tools, and inspirational sites out there that can help you grow personally and professionally. If you are curious, passionate about design, and eager to learn, we have already something in common.

Productivity, design thinking, behavioral change, and innovation, are a few areas of focus that have shaped the person and designer I am today. Below is a selection of tools and resources to help people like you and me:

Books:

  • Change by Design – An introduction to design thinking and how to drive innovation in organizations.

A little bit of everything:

  • Einstein window – Identify which is your most productive time in the day and get the most out of it.
  • Bullet Journal – A straightforward and productive way to design your to-do list.
  • Toastmasters – Improve public speaking and leadership skills while meeting new people.
  • Leadercast – Leadership event to get inspired and learn from top leaders in the world.
  • Pomodoro technique – The best productivity tool that helps you prioritize and time yourself.

Community:

  • AIGA (The American Institute of Graphic Arts) – Excellent professional organization for design, especially around graphic design.
  • IXDA – Interaction Design Association
  • Code for America – If you are interested in civic projects, open data and, helping your community, I highly recommend finding the Brigade chapter in your state.

Trend, news and, inspiration:

  • Website Awards – Recognized web designers and agencies in the world.

Webinars, blogs, and podcasts:

  • Mural.com blog – Mural is an awesome tool for remote collaboration and documentation. They also have really good webinars.
  • UserTesting.com – Test your designs and sites with this tool. They also provide webinars with top leaders.

Prototyping tools:

  • Balsamiq – Create quick mock ups, and wireframes
  • Invision – Build web and mobile prototypes to share and to gather user feedback.
  • Axure – Create highly interactive prototypes.

Design resources:

  • Codepen – Front-end inspiration
  • Usability Hub – Use this free service to get quick user feedback

I hope you find these tools useful, regardless of whether or not you are growing a design career or a career in another field. Do you have other exciting tools and resources? I am always looking for new things to try.


Erika B. is a multidisciplinary designer, thinker, researcher and strategist from Caracas, Venezuela. She is an alumni of Savannah College of Art and Design where she studied Industrial Design and Service Design. She works at Daxko as an Interaction Designer and during her free time, works as a community organizer at Code for Birmingham.

Haters Gonna Hate

By | Culture, Employment Brand, Free Career Advice, Healthy Stuff, Life at Daxko | 3 Comments

Last week I received an email notification about a review of Daxko on Glassdoor. After reading the review, which turned out to be a negative one from someone who identified themselves as a former team member, I actually felt somewhat personally offended. It’s a feeling I have yet to shake, and it has made me want to put another perspective out there. I don’t think what I am going to say will sway anyone’s already-formed opinions (as the title suggests – haters gonna hate), but I would like to put my voice out there as a positive reinforcement for a company that I believe in and devote my time & energy to each day.

The line the reviewer wrote that struck me the most was, “Everyone is happy ALL the time despite them working until 11 at night…” Wow! What is possibly wrong with everyone being happy all the time? This part of their statement baffles me so much that I don’t really have much else to say about it except that I think it is a testament to the people we work with and for. Was that supposed to be an insult? I like happy people. I like working with happy people, too!

What has me pondering more deeply is the part about working until 11 at night. I actually worked until nearly 11 on two nights the week before this post was made, so it made me wonder, “Did someone overhear me grumble about this, and then they added it to their negative review of our company?” Possibly. But you know what, when I work late, that’s on me. I do it because I want to catch up, I want to get ahead, or I simply want to GSD (get “stuff” done – keeping it G-rated, folks!). I don’t work late because I feel obligated to or because someone has asked me to. One of the projects I was able to complete definitely could have been put off to another time, but I knew it would be helpful to some of my team members, so I took personal time to take care of it, and that makes me feel good. I wish I could do things like that more often, actually.

However, the statement also made me realize that I need to watch my attitude about the things I choose to do, because it can easily rub off on others. As they say, it is much easier to drag someone down than it is to pull them up. I vow to try to be more positive about the opportunity I have to spend my time doing work that helps others. I vow to try to be that person that is happy ALL the time despite sometimes voluntarily working until 11 at night.

That brings me to another point. No matter what your role is at Daxko, we get to come to work daily doing tasks that directly or indirectly help others. One may argue that we are now more heavily in the for-profit member-based health & wellness industry, which doesn’t necessarily have the same mission as our non-profits – still, their customers are bettering their lives, and what we do affects their ability to serve them. How awesome & how rewarding?! Daxko prides itself on providing rewarding careers. We work hard. Sometimes we even work late. But how rewarding is anything if it isn’t hard work?


Christi B. is Daxko’s Sales Maestro who only gets going in the mornings after a generous dose of coffee & eyeliner.

Living Unoffended

By | Culture, Free Career Advice, Healthy Stuff | 2 Comments

Offended. We’ve all been there. I’ve cried my fair share of offended, frustrated tears, and stomped my feet in anger at the gall of someone to make such an offensive comment. And the offense always comes at just the wrong moment, too. Maybe you can relate to one of these sentiments:

They have no idea how many hours I put into that! 

They have no idea how much thought I put into the planning! 

They have no idea how I managed to pull that off well with 5 other balls in the air to juggle, and I still managed to feed kids dinner when I got home!

There is an ancient proverb that rightly observes that “it is harder to win an offended brother than a strong city.” Our natural response to offense is anger and frustration. It only makes sense. But this angry, frustrated state doesn’t really do anything for me or anyone else, aside from cut down on my productivity (and it does). Lately I’ve been struck by how easily and how often I find myself offended—even if just slightly. So easily I let offense ruin my day or even my week, that I’ve decided something must be done. 

THERE ARE TWO TYPES OF OFFENDERS:

1) Those who mean well.

Though their delivery is offensive, there are many people who offer their “helpful advice” because they truly believe that it is just that: helpful. Their heart in sharing this advice with us, the offended, is not to belittle us, but to add to us. In these cases, difficult as it may be, I’m learning to look past the offensiveness of the implications the offender made, say “Thank you,” and laugh it off. Most of us have been on the offending side of this— the part where the words came out of our mouths, but just as they hit the air they didn’t sound like what we we had intended. There’s really no recovery. I’ve been on both sides of this, and I’m making the decision to have some grace for the offender when I’m on the offended side. 

2) Those who are just mean.

Let’s face it: these people exist. Everywhere. These are the people who WILL say and do mean things, and likely on PURPOSE, with no regard for their negative impact on us. They may even speak offenses passive-aggressively whilst smiling. What do we do about them? Here, I think it’s important to remember that all of us operate through the filter of our past experiences (both good and bad) whether we recognize it or not. Hurt people hurt people. People who have been talked down to talk down to others. Those who have been criticized to a pulp are the nastiest of negative critics. It’s the sad reality of the world we live in. My Momma always told me, “There’s a reason everyone acts the way they do. You never know everything someone has been through.” Here is where I’m learning, once again, to implement some compassion. Is it right for these people to speak this way? No (and in the right moment, with the right attitude, I might respectfully say as much if necessary). But there is something much more important going on here than my pride or feelings being wounded. Here is a human being who has likely been treated as less than a human being at some point in their life. How will I respond? 

In both scenarios I have two choices: I can stay angry and resentful towards this person, or I can choose compassion. This is the moment where I have decided that I want to live unoffended. I know it’s not easy, but I believe wholeheartedly in the truth spoken by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. Kindness, not retaliation, is the answer. Compassion, not resentment, is the cure. I haven’t figured it out, but I want to live life unoffended. I think it’s in the best interest of my relationships, my workplace, and my own sanity. It’s going to take some practice, some encouragement, and some intentionality, but I think it’s worth it. 


Ellen D. is Daxko’s Air Traffic Controller, organization queen, master event planner, and lover of running.