Introducing: Make Yourself Clear

When Reshan and I were working on the cover for our next book (in stores everywhere on May 7!), we showed it to some friends and family members. One of them looked at it and puckered her face a bit — like she had just eaten something a little sour.  

“It’s messing with my brain,” she said.  “There’s the title, about being clear, and that’s clear.  But the cover itself is a little messy.  Shouldn’t it be more . . . clear?”

“Exactly!”  We replied.  

Teachers, as part of their profession, routinely walk into situations where they have to enact understanding in others. Making themselves clear is, therefore, a top priority.

But teaching professionals, and teacher coaches, have changed their view of what that looks like. 

It used to be considered perfectly appropriate for a teacher to walk into a classroom and lecture for an extended period of time. Could that be done in a clear way? Absolutely. But, is that the best way to make one’s self clear? We don’t think so.

Lecturing, even with a good slide deck, doesn’t take into account what’s happening for the recipients of the lecture. The recipients (or audience members) could be daydreaming, could be multitasking, could be asleep, or could be writing down or recording every word that’s being said yet understanding none of the larger significances. 

There’s a paradox at play: to make one’s self clear, as a teacher, sometimes you have to lead others through a path that appears to be, or is, messy. Sometimes you have to lead people through activities that might confuse an onlooker. And yet, with these intentional activities, you are clearing out space for the co-construction of meaning. You are allowing understanding to evolve and sharpen. You are making your message clearer, making yourself clearer, in the minds of your students. 

Made clear, through messy means, your message will be implanted in the minds of your audience. More important, your message will belong to your audience.

Which brings us back to our friend’s (sour faced) reaction to our book’s cover. We loved the feedback; it told us we were right on target.

With our cover, we intentionally tried to create some cognitive dissonance. It’s an expressive artifact, celebrating the “messy to be clear” paradox. The path to understanding is not always clear. It must be made so. That takes time, intention, inventiveness; that takes teaching.

The website for our book (about how teaching can serve as a resource for businesses of all shapes and sizes) is here. It’s still pretty new, but we’d love to keep you updated and involved as we work toward our launch, so please consider signing up for our newsletter.


Steve & Reshan


Here’s a recommendation…

Spend a whole day in someone else’s office. Literally pull up a chair in someone else’s office, with his/her permission of course, and work there. If possible, make sure he/she is in it, doing his/her own work alongside you.

I guarantee:

  • You will see completely new aspects of your organization.
  • You will feel how someone else experiences time, processes inbound, and is or is not interrupted.
  • You will meet new people or at least have different conversations than are typical.
  • You will mix into new and different problems.
  • You, yourself, will be put to different use.

I did — and felt — all of this today. It was my best work day in recent memory.

Showing My TED Masterclass Work

I recently joined a TED x ISTE Masterclass, and today it launched via a really nice looking app.

Heading into the app and clicking around, I was instantly reminded of other experiences I’ve had with self directed, online-style courses. As a student of similar courses, I usually fizzle out.

Before starting this class, which I’m committed to, I tried to think about why I so rarely finish the online classes that I start. I love to write; I read a lot; I interview people when I want to dive deeply into a topic about which they seem to know a lot. So I’m not adverse to “lifelong learning.”

But “online” learning experiences haven’t worked for me, I’m now realizing, because I don’t do a good job of externalizing my learning as I move through them. I don’t “show my work” well. So, for the TED Masterclass, I’m going to aim to be a better student in that one, very specific area to see if it helps. Here goes:

The course begins with three prompts. I’m going to type them out, along with my answers . . .

What’s the best example of public speaking you’ve ever seen?

I’ve seen a lot of amazing speeches in my life. I’m lucky. Just today, I saw Kevin Breel speak, and he was fantastic. As was Rachel Simmons. And then there was a speech that my father gave at his brother’s funeral that has really stuck with me over time.

What is it about those memorable talks that have persisted in your mind for days, months or even years?

Breel was funny and honest and told great stories. As he told them, he seemed to connect with them emotionally even though I’m sure he has told them many, many times. In other words, he seemed to tell them because they still have resonance for him instead of telling them because they’re part of a routine. Simmons was honest and willing to share aspects of her process. I still haven’t forgotten that she said she became a better speaker by saying her speeches out loud in the car. And, finally, my father’s speech was probably the best one I ever saw. He was certainly not the most polished speaker I have ever seen. And he didn’t have much experience. But when he spoke at his brother’s funeral, he said the names of all the children in the family. He didn’t have notes. This was an assignment that he set up for himself in honor of his brother’s spontaneity. His brother was spontaneous, so he himself tried to be that way. Also, saying the names of the children out loud, as part of the spontaneity, served a greater purpose and message, i.e., whenever we gather as a family, we should always be sure to love the children as much as possible. I loved this last part, this purpose, because it really is the most important thing, and so it became the centerpiece of his speech. Finally, his speech was an authentic performance. I wasn’t sure that he was going to be able to remember all of the names. He had no notecard. So there was a bit of drama, and we were right there with him, hoping he would succeed, feeling the speech, flaws and all.

Consider examples of public speaking that you found ineffective. Why did they fall flat?

Based on my answer above, I’m sure this answer will be pretty predictable. I don’t love speeches that seem overly polished, canned, or that work to hide the person underneath. I’ve seen dozens of these, and I can’t really remember a single one. They blur together, and that says it all. I prefer a speech that feels a bit like an adventure rather than a preordained conclusion.

Using Calendar Discipline to Improve Meetings

When Reshan Richards and I are working with leaders on a very pragmatic level, we often find ourselves thinking about meetings. That’s where leaders spend a lot of their time, advance a lot of their projects, and solve a lot of their problems.

Some meetings are set in advance and repeat. These are sometimes called “standing meetings.”

Other meetings are called to address a specific need / solve a problem / deal with an urgency. These are often referred to as “impromptu” or “just-in-time” meetings.

If you’re calling and leading one of the latter, the meeting can be greatly enhanced by adding some simple calendar discipline to your routine.

Here’s what we suggest:

First, find a time for the meeting in a way that doesn’t clutter up people’s inboxes. So, instead of emailing the group and asking each member to share his or her availability, precipitating a blizzard of REPLY ALLs, send a Doodle Poll or build a quick table in Google Docs to allow people to give their input once. Then, you can make a decision about the best possible date and time and invite the participants.

You can invite people in one of two ways. You can send them an email with the pertinent details, or you can skip that step — recommended — and send them a calendar invite that appears on their calendar and allows them to accept it.

Let’s drill down into the calendar invite process, because that’s where many leaders can still improve. Start with a good, general title that tells people the purpose of the meeting. Then, add as much contextual information as you can, including the time and the location of the meeting. Finally, and one layer deeper, add any relevant notes.

Purpose, context, and notes embedded in the calendar invite itself: these items allow the event marker to function as a form of “glance media” for the meeting participants. They can read it when they are preparing for the meeting, or if they are too rushed to prepare, the event marker can, at the very least, help them to attain a just-in-time understanding of the meeting on their way into the meeting.

Once the meeting is shared in that manner, you can feel that you’ve taken some important steps to help meeting participants take responsibility for their part of the meeting. You might share an agenda at some point or share one at the meeting.

At any rate, your next set of steps involve your own calendar, and your own level of responsibility for a meeting that you called. Go to your own calendar and schedule the BEFORE and the AFTER work that will make the meeting a success. We like to schedule our planning sessions two or more days out and our follow-up sessions immediately after the meeting. You’ll notice in the example below that the planning session and the follow-up session are as long as the actual meeting. That’s an ideal time distribution. Both can be condensed as needed, or to create found time in your schedule if you do what you need to do in 25 minutes.

This three part discipline — creating detail rich event markers and then scheduling your Pre and Post- meeting work — allows you to take seriously what it takes to plan, execute, and carry forward an effective meeting.

Saturday Summary

This past week I wrote posts about:

Now they’re all in one place for you, easily accessible as you sip your morning coffee and make your weekend plans. Hopefully, I’ll make this pleasant distraction / invitation to serendipity a regular thing each weekend.

Last week’s summary.