Sunday, April 30, 2006

Good speech. Good speech!

Coaching is such a big part of the educational experience that on my current self-improvement kick I had to know more about it. Naturally, my dog provided the answer.

Shadow and I are taking agility training -- he gets the agility and I get the training. The idea is to have your dog run an obstacle course. It turns out to be an obstacle course for the human as well. What seems to work so well in practice at home seems to fall apart completely in class. I lead my dog to the hurdle. I say "Jump!" He shimmies underneath the bar. I motion toward the tunnel. He stares at the treats in my hand.

Under these circumstances it's hard to work on proper training technique. But this must be a common problem. Last week our trainer presented us with evaluation forms. Since my dog can't read, this must be for my benefit. The befuddled masters pair off and as I run Shadow through his paces, my partner takes notes: a plan of action for next time, and what went well.

"There's always something that goes well," the trainer said. "If you can't think of anything, but the dog didn't pee in the chute, write down that the dog didn't pee in the chute." And, from the perspective of someone who would have to pack up the obstacle course at the end of the night, that does seem like a good outcome.

Practice always seems to go so well for a speech, too. Then at the lecturn you stare at the crowd, your mind goes blank, your mouth isn't moving as instructed, it's time to wrap up before you're halfway through. There's too much going on to properly judge how you're coming across.

That's what makes speech evaluations so effective: A supportive observer -- not a neutral observer but one who identifies with the anguish of performance -- can give you an objective look at what's working and what isn't.

Coaches across business disciplines give similar advice to evaluators:

  1. Show that you care. Empathy makes a client more receptive to your observations.
  2. Consider the speaker's objectives. Discuss goals beforehand.
  3. Personalize your language. Make suggestions, not laws.
  4. Evaluate the delivery. Not the person or the conclusions.
  5. Promote self-esteem. Reinforce and inspire improvements.
  6. Listen actively. Pay attention to non-verbal cues as well as speech organization.
  7. "Tell and sell." Demonstrate techniques for improvement.

Speech coach Dilip Abayasekara, current president of Toastmasters International, makes similar points in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Evaluators. Gloria Auth, an Oklahoma City coach in business protocol, gives specific pointers in How to give and receive effective feedback.

I'd write more, but the dog is angling for another walk.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

It's Earth Day. Let's drive!

I dropped off two old computers for recycling at the 42nd Ward Streets and Sanitation office. The man shook my hand.

He had recognized the CPUs immediately as Macs. "They never fail," I said.

Still, I was glad to dispose of the toxic doorstops. They're no good even to the Salvation Army, a glut on the Thrift Store market at $5 each. An old GE clock radio sells for $10, likely above acquisition cost.

The city Department of Environment plans to continue electronics collections this summer — perhaps once a month, though the two people at the dropoff site couldn't agree on how often or when.

Of course, Streets and San continues to pick up any old Trinitron left in the alley and ship it to a landfill.

What if they gave an election ...

No, really, there was an election Wednesday. I found a flier on the sidewalk across from Andersen School saying "Vote por nosotras cinco!!!"

The biennial Local School Council election marked the public schools' absence from public consciousness. The only advance coverage I saw was in the Gazette; the Tribune waited till election day. But then, most candidates were unopposed.

East Village is booming. Looking for a yard sale? This weekend 942 N. Winchester has a "moving, garage, demolition sale." Yet Andersen enrollment is down 18 percent since 1998. Once children reach school age, new families appear to be searching for magnet schools, or searching the Oak Park real estate ads.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

A bit shy of a load

NYC freelancer Shiela Spencer, a student of the personality tests beloved by career counselors, tells a public-speaking audience that there are not only introverts and extroverts but also "shy extroverts," outwardly-directed yet self-aware folks who would be willing group participants were they more at ease.

But why stop there? This article does not square the Myers-Briggs circle by looking for the shy extrovert's opposite. A biography of Herbert Hoover describes him as an "aggressive introvert" -- sure in his beliefs but blind to their effect. Certainly we know the loquacious sort performing for his or her own amusement, or the curmudgeon heedless of social cues. A few Toastmasters evaluations would test at least some of their closely held notions.

The fact is, none of us is a pure introvert or extrovert, and success often involves coaching to move us somewhere else on the continuum.

Monday, April 10, 2006

A safer home than Des Plaines

Freedom MuseumA new museum on North Michigan Avenue is a big story, but the Chicago Tribune faces challenges in assessing the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum, the replacement for upscale gadget emporium Hammacher Schlemmer at Tribune Tower.

Tribune Co. stock dividends fund the museum at 435 N. Michigan, which makes it a trickier for the Tribune to cover than last year's launch of the Hershey's Chicago "retail experience." Spring is rife with opportunities for media self-promotion, though, from the Associated Press Managing Editors meeting in Chicago to ABC 7's remodeled street-facing studio to Cubs opening day. So Bill Mullen's Tribune story was a model of restraint.

On my visit a striking feature was the museum's multistory sculpture "12 15 1791." Quotes on First Amendment freedoms are drilled into steel plates suspended along cables to represent 5-year intervals since the Bill of Rights' 1791 ratification. The words reflect against nearby plates in a metaphorical conversation. A staffer said a last-minute reinstallation was forced by electrical problems, which I can only imagine.

Free speech has its price on Michigan Avenue; museum admission is $5, which shouldn't deter families looking for the kind of education not found elsewhere on a Boul Mich tour. School groups get in free, though, with bus subsidies available. A school in Pilsen might make a fine free-speech field trip of a march from Tribune Tower to American Girl Place.