Vacation Is a Welcome Break

Memorial Day traditionally marks the start of vacation season. And why not? Summertime is upon us.

But the United States ranks among the worst countries for paid time off. Australia, Greece, Germany, Japan and Finland all have plenty of holidays and paid holidays. A few countries rank lower than the United States, including Vietnam and Thailand.

What’s a gal to do? I’ve learned that for my mental health, I need a vacation every quarter. I tally up my days off and divide them equally among the four quarters. Even when I only had two weeks vacation, I would schedule one week off and use the other week to sprinkle “treat days” throughout the year. Those days came in handy in months when there were no paid holidays.

I’ve learned that for me having a day on the calendar already scheduled helps keep me sane and provides a welcome break just when I’m desperate for it.

My next trip? I’m off to Chicago for the NFPW conference. The conference I can count as work, which is nice, but I’m also going to take the pre-tour architectural river cruise and I’m taking three days of vacation for the “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” post-tour.

If you’re ready for a break, check out the NFPW conference and tours. I guarantee it will be a vacation worth planning.

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Using PowerPoint to Converse

I’ve been a great reader since I was quite small. So if you are going to read your PowerPoint presentation slides to me, let’s skip the presentation and, instead, you can just send it to me. Sorry for the sarcasm, but it’s one of my pet peeves with PowerPoint.

I also don’t need hundreds of slides. And I don’t need you to mix fonts and shout at me in all capital letters. And please don’t misspell words. Once I find a misspelled word or bad grammar you’ve lost me for good.

So now you know what not to do with PowerPoint. It’s what I keep in mind when I’m putting a presentation together – and I’ve been presenting frequently of late.

Before I even begin to create a PowerPoint, I think about the main message I want to convey and what points will support it. It’s almost like an outline. I always operate on the premise that technology won’t work, and could I present without my slides. The answer is yes.

My slides are intended to reinforce my messages or add a visual element to support my points. I do not read from my slides. Most of the time, I’m not even positioned where I can see the slides without craning my neck.

The words on my slides are phrases. There are no sentences because I’m not going to read them. The phrases are intended to capture the main thought or message and to help the audience stay focused. I use large fonts and try to keep the backgrounds on the slides simple. I want the person in the back of the room to be able to see the slide and the messages as easily as the person in the front of the room.

When I create my presentation I give my audience a brief overview of the topic and what they should expect to get from it. I like to think of it as my contract with my audience. I then provide the facts and supporting details before providing a wrap-up and strong finish.

If I did well, audience members will ask questions and will want to converse after the presentation. The next time you have to present, take an extra look at your slides. Are you conversing?

Engage, Converse, Build Loyalty

Frequently I am asked how I find time to “do” social media. My answer is simple, “How do you find time to answer the telephone?”

For me, social media is a part of communications. Personally I use it to write this blog and share ideas and thoughts with NFPW members, peers and colleagues.  It’s a platform by which I can engage with many across miles while we converse (I hope). Over time, I hope to build some loyalty to this blog and to NFPW. I use it for the same reasons at work.

If you aren’t working on engaging, conversing and building loyalty, no matter what platform you use, you are going to have a difficult time communicating, growing your customer base or sharing ideas.

Conversation by nadydesign

Social media is about the art of conversation. It’s about relationships. You need to ask questions, engage and share information through links. Most importantly, it’s about trust.

As with any communications tool, you need to have the necessary resources. Obviously I need a computer and Internet. But I also need access to images. More importantly, I need time. I build my social media time into my day — or should I say evening?

I’ve created a schedule of posts and ideas. It’s not easy committing to twice weekly posts but it’s my self-imposed goal, and after doing this for more than six months now, I’m beginning to develop a small following. Thanks to each of you for tuning in; more importantly, thank you for sharing your suggestions, which I try to incorporate into future posts.

Reading other posts and commenting also is important. It’s not all about me. It’s about engaging. I learn so much from others. I presented on this topic last month at the Richmond PRSA meeting. This week Jon Newman, a colleague, is tackling the subject from a different angle, and I’ll be attending the session because I know I will get a fresh perspective.

Metrics are important, too. For me, it’s not about the number of followers. I’m interested in the number of comments I receive – either online, via email or face to face. After all, I want to engage and converse with my fellow NFPW members and colleagues.

Don’t Overschedule Yourself

I read an article the other week in “Inc.” magazine about “8 Tips on How to be a More Successful CEO” and one of the tips really resonated with me.

Jason Fried, co-founder of 37 Signals, a collaboration-software company in Chicago, says he rarely has meetings.

I looked at my calendar for this week and it’s about the only thing I have, leaving me with little “free” time. That’s free time to think, to strategize, to plan.

I’m basically running from back-to-back meetings. Granted, this week is a bit of an exception because we’re interviewing to fill a vacancy, but still.

The small chunks of time I do have won’t allow me to “get in the zone” to create a presentation I’m giving next week. The time slots won’t let me begin planning for the next fiscal year and, yet, I’ll be submitting my budget next week. About the only thing those chunks of time are good for is checking emails, which is not a productive use of my day.

As I said, this week is the exception with all the meetings, but I do have to remind myself to not let this happen again anytime soon. As one colleague said to me recently, “Who owns your calendar?”

Plain and simple – it’s me. So how can I own my calendar?

1)      I don’t accept all meeting requests. Many of them I delegate to another member of my team.

2)      I propose an alternate meeting time that suits my schedule better.

3)      I build in time after each meeting so that I can write up notes or follow-up on action items, rather than allowing everything to fall onto a “To Do” list.

What are you doing to own your calendar?

Social Media Much Like a Triathalon

Jonah Holland won a Shorty Award, which honors the best people and organizations on Twitter. She won for her work with Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens in Richmond.

She’s passionate about gardening, but she’s also passionate about triathalons, which is initially how she became active in social media.

“I think people are best at social media when it’s completely based on their own passion,” she said during an interview at a coffee shop. “That’s how I came at it.”

She started blogging about triathalons and then expanded, including her gig with Lewis Ginter.

She first learned of the Shorty Awards last year, and this year she thought “it seemed like something that could be in reach.”

Voting for the awards is public by the Twitter community, and Jonah noted that the Richmond community was key in her and Lewis Ginter’s win.

Jonah likens social media to a triathalon. “You set a goal and you don’t know if you can attain it but you’re going to see it through,” she said.

For those new to social media, she recommends not starting with Twitter, but rather with a blog. “Twitter is just microblogging,” she said. “Blogging gets you in the right mind set to tweet. At first it can be confusing and nonsensical.”

But after some time blogging and posting to Facebook, Twitter allows a person to complete the social media piece.

Whichever platform you choose to begin with, Johan says, “Start with you passion because without passion you really don’t have very much. You have to feel strongly to have a clear voice.”

At Lewis Ginter, Jonah’s blog posts often start out as emails to friends. She uses Twitter to help promote the blog and connect other people who would be interested in the blog – and the gardens.

She enjoys writing about Lewis Ginter because she finds that plants “are a connection to your past,” she said. “I find meaning in plants. They remind you of certain times and people in your life.”

Snapdragons, for example, remind her of her Nana Ruby.

As she continues to pave the way in social media, Jonah said she’ll incorporate more video. She also will continue to partner with people. “You have to find like minded people and band together,” she said. “It’s important to work together.”

Ultimately, Jonah said it’s about “adding value to the community and reinforcing the connections.

Stress and Meeting Challenges

Stress is a feeling that’s created when we react to particular events. It’s the body’s way of rising to a challenge and preparing to meet a tough situation. Given that, I’m ready for just about anything!

Like many of you, I’m feeling pulled in too many directions. Some of the pulling I can control; some I can’t.

But in my so-called wiser years, I have learned to observe the signs that I’m stressed so that I can take appropriate actions to minimize the impact of stress on my body – physically, mentally, emotionally and intellectually.

In her book Life Makeovers life coach Cheryl Richardson challenges readers to list their “early warning signals.”

Mine are forgetting to pay a bill, not putting on my seatbelt (yes, I know it’s the law, but when I am over-the-top stressed, I often don’t put it on) and visiting Starbucks daily and sometimes twice-daily.

Now that I know my triggers, I know it’s time to slow down and practice some “extreme self-care,” according to Richardson. That means saying “no” even to fun activities for a bit. I also de-stress by –

  • Sipping hot tea that I brew at home, waiting patiently for the tea kettle to whistle, letting the tea steep and then sipping my hot beverage slowly.
  • Going for evening walks because fresh air clears the cobwebs and exercise is always good.
  • Turning off the TV. I don’t need any more distractions.

So when your world is spinning too fast, take a moment to identify your stressors and, more importantly, identify what you can do to make yourself feel sane again. You’ll be ready for anything!

Blue Ridge Parkway Celebrates 75 Years

More people visit the Blue Ridge Parkway than visit the Great Smokey Mountains, Grand Canyon and Yellowstone combined.

Phil Francis, superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway, shared insights into the Parkway during Virginia Press Women’s spring conference in Roanoke, April 23. The Parkway, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary, is a half-day’s drive for almost half of the U.S. population.

The Parkway, Francis told VPW, is more than its scenic overlooks. “It’s the places to sleep, eat and the adjacent communities.”

With that in mind, he wanted to involve everyone and “have a big party” for the 75th. The Blue Ridge Parkway Travel Association is leading the effort. As part of the celebration, symposiums are being held to honor the past but also contemplate the future.

As with any good PR event, the Parkway set three goals.

1)      Connect with communities

2)      Stewardship: protecting the Parkway and preserving it for future generations

3)      Financial sustainability.

Francis noted that the visitor experience is the Parkway and their visits to the communities along the Parkway.

But he is concerned that only 11 percent of park visitors are young people.  Also troubling is that 80 percent of visibility has been lost in his lifetime.

Yet the Parkway has much to offer. It has more species of trees than all of Europe. Its biodiversity is great. It has 250 pull-ins to enjoy the Parkway. It’s a designated landscape in that every single mile of it was designed, Francis said.

VPW members had many suggestions to enhance the Parkway as a destination, but Francis noted that the Parkway has two limitations – capacity and process.  Fortunately, it also has Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Blue Ridge Foundation and an anniversary website.