Notes from the Weekend of Awesomeness

What a great long weekend!

Friday: I had the day “off” because our nanny was off. Despite this I had fun and even got both kids out of the house and to the playground. Then, Auntie Tracy arrived! When she got here Maddie said “Tracy’s home!”

Saturday: Tracy and I packed the kids up and headed to the Shake Shack at Madison Square Park. We met up with Laney and Mike. We also met new Tumblr friends KV and Lacey. After a burger, fries and ice cream we headed over to the playground. Maddie went on the swings, played with chalk and generally ran around like a maniac. We dragged Laney back to Queens for some hang time followed by pizza from Nick’s.

Sunday: Tracy and I took the kiddies to the playground and then got falafel and ate in the park. Maddie and Tracy and I kicked her ball around for a bit.

Monday: Uncle Marnin and Aunt Jennifer are in town and came over for brunch and another trip to the playground.

Great friends, great weather, great fun!

If you aren’t willing to work to get the job, how can I believe you’ll work at the job?

I’ve been stunned, throughout my career, how little effort some people put into finding work.

On the bright side it means that it doesn’t take very much extra effort to make yourself stand out above the bumbling masses.

I’m a fan, when I’m looking for talent, of assigning some little task as a “test.” I picked this up in publishing. It’s basically impossible to get a job in publishing (both online and off) without taking some kind of writing or editing test.

These tests can tell you a lot about candidates, even before you read a word.  A colleague and I are currently searching for an intern for the summer. We got lots of resumes.  LOTS. Some were good, some just okay. We sent them a test and asked for some pre-written samples. The test was ridiculously easy: write a blog post about email and a Tweet to go with it.

So far we’ve gotten completed test from just three candidates. THREE.

My feeling on this is simple: If you aren’t willing to expend just a little bit of effort to get the job, how can I believe you’ll work hard when you have the job?

Of course there is a flip side, too. In my time I’ve been asked to do some crazy things. Looking back on one particularly arduous test — it had six parts, required me to write an editorial letter, come up with ideas for new quizzes and interactive tools, write part of a new quiz AND do a competitive analysis — I should have charged the company a consulting fee! I would now look at that kind of “test” as a red flag. Because the flip side of my question is this: If you are going to make me work this hard to get this job, are you going to expect me to have no life outside work when I get the job?

But the bottom line there is only so much you can learn from resumes and interviews. Some kind of reasonable “try out” just makes sense. If you want to work with me, expect it.

It’s all just media

Did you see Conan on 60 Minutes this week? It was good — go watch it.

Anyway, Steve Kroft asked him about his decision to choose TBS (a cable station) over a broadcast deal.

Conan said:

I do not look down my nose at cable.  And I think anyone who does isn’t paying attention to television these days.  ‘Cause it is– this world is changing very quickly.

He is so right about that.  Cable has been pretty widespread since the late 80s.  Meaning anyone under the age of 25 doesn’t really remember a time before cable.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  What’s the difference between an ebook, a whitepaper, a brochure? Does it matter if you blog versus doing an email newsletter?

It’s all just media, it’s all just content, and we are all publishers.

Welcome to a brave new world.

Death by PowerPoint. Literally.

Last week The New York Times had an interesting (and much-commented-upon) article about how PowerPoint is misused in the military.  This is actually a longer version of the article PowerPoint Makes You Dumb from the New York Times Magazine 2003 Year in Ideas.  The idea is that rather than illuminating, the slide program makes it easy to obfuscate. With, the article suggests, deadly consequences.  The article includes a screen shot of a particular impenetrable graphic slide. A military leader is quoted as saying, “When we understand that slide, we’ve won the war.”

The consequences in the business world are, generally, much less dire. But PowerPoint is no less problematic in terms of creating more confusion than consensus.

I came to PowerPoint relatively late in my career. I started out in book publishing where PowerPoint was (at least then) unheard of. I literally don’t think I’d ever even seen it. I moved on to web editorial work at iVillage. I’m sure people there used PowerPoint, probably people in sales or biz dev. But in the editorial department we worked in Word or Excel.

When I arrived at Return Path to work in consulting I had to learn how to use it, fast. Fortunately, the people I worked with had ideas about how to use PowerPoint that went beyond the 7 X 7 rule. But my ideas about how PowerPoint could be used changed radically when I found this presentation on SlideShare as part of their “Best Presentations” contest four years ago. At first I was blown away but also intimidated. No way could I do something like that.

But then, one day, I did.

This is the “Dolphin Deck.” I used a simple analogy to tell a complex story. It’s not perfect, but it was light years ahead of anything I’d ever created before. It was quite thrilling.

At the end of the day, the problem is not the software (it never is, is it?). The problem is the way people use it. PowerPoint can actually be helpful for telling a story. But you have to have a good story to tell. If you don’t — well that’s when you end up with dozens of slides filled with scores of bullet points yet devoid of content.

The next time you need to write a presentation, do yourself a favor. Before you even open up PowerPoint, figure out what your story is. I recommend beginning in Word and writing an outline (but I’m a writer, so that is how I think). Once you know what the story is then you’ll know how to tell it.

* Want to see another one? Here’s an example of a presentation I did last year to showcase our company’s email certification product.

*Another great resource is the aptly named “Death by PowerPoint.” Key takeaway: one point per slide. He makes the point — and it’s obvious, but aren’t the best ones always thus? — that the extra slide is free. There is zero cost for adding slides, so why are you stuffing the information onto slides like sardines in a can? Spread ’em out!

My little chatterbox

Maddie talks constantly.  From the minute she gets up until she goes to sleep.  She even talks in her sleep.

I have not idea where this comes from.

She mimics almost anything we say, but certain things stick. Here are a random assortment of recent gems.

“Sam’s a baby. He doesn’t know anything.”

“Mommy put away the letters.” (She has magnetic letters for the fridge. She has recently taken to throwing them on the floor. I’m okay with that, but she has to put them away. If mommy puts them away they go way away for some period of time.)

“We’re baaaaaaack!” (Shrieked as she comes in the door from the park.)

“Mommy’s home!” (Shrieked as I come in the door from anywhere, but usually work.)

“Like Mommy, like Daddy.” (This she says while we read Sammy Salami and get to the part where the people are on the train headed into the city to go to work.)

“Look at all the shoes!” (Said while reading Birdie’s Big Girl Shoes when we turn to the page that shows Mommy’s shoe closet.)

And then there are the true conversations that are just priceless.  Like this one …

Maddie, round about lunchtime: “I’m hungry for chocolate cake.”

Me: “That’s nice. We don’t have chocolate cake. How about broccoli?”

Maddie: “Cupcakes?”

Me: “No, we don’t have cupcakes either. How about broccoli?”

Maddie: “And ‘matoes?” (Tomatoes)

Me: “Sure. I’ll even put cheese on the broccoli.”

Maddie: “Yeah!”