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The Disaster Speech and How I Handled It

The Disaster Speech and How I Handled It

    I’ve been told that whatever can go wrong when doing a speech will go wrong at some point in your career. Of course, I like to think I’m different, or perhaps that I’ll be the lucky one and escape some of those challenges. If I just prepare well enough, everything will be OK.

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    Well, this week I had an experience that humbled me. It was as if the Universe was letting me get a real taste of what can go wrong on the day of a speech. First, I showed up at the wrong location. I thought I knew where I was going. I went to the Commonwealth Club instead of the Colony Club! Who knew that there were two clubs in Richmond, Virginia whose names begin with a C! Fortunately the woman who had arranged for me to speak was available by cell phone. And, lucky for me, the Colony Club was only three blocks up on the same street! Whew! I was able to correct that mistake pretty quickly!

    Once I got to the Colony Club and parked, I was unsure if I was in the right parking area. If I was wrong, my car would be towed. I decided to be safe rather than sorry. When I went to back up, there was a van parked behind me, preventing me from moving my car. The owner of the car was nowhere to be seen! Ahhhhh!!!! I decided to take my chances and left my car where it was.

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    When I got into the building I was dismayed to find I would be speaking in a ballroom in the basement. It is very difficult to make basements feel comfortable because they are under ground, usually have insufficient natural light and have the lowest energy in a building. The room proved to be as dismal as I could have imagined. Wall paper and carpeting, no matter how luxurious, just cannot make up for a lack of windows! And, the ceiling may have been a bit lower than normal because it felt like it was pressing down on me. Add to that several enormous columns that blocked my view of some of the participants. And, of course those participants couldn’t see me either! Not an ideal environment for making a speech.

    “Oh, well,” I thought, “At least the people are very nice,” and I began setting up for my speech. First I discovered that the extension cord that had been provided for me would not accommodate my three prong plug. I had accidentally left my extension cord home with supplies I’d organized for a workshop I’m doing this weekend. That problem was quickly solved when I realized that I actually had a cord in my bag that would work. Great!

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    Then I couldn’t get my computer to talk to my projector. I’d set up my equipment many times with no trouble, but this particular day I had difficulty figuring out how to connect all the parts. It may have been that the light in the space was just dim enough to shut down the part of my brain that I need for technology challenges, especially since I am no technology whiz! Finally the woman in charge suggested that I shut down my computer and start over. Good idea! When I began to shut it down it magically began projecting my slides! Yeah! However, I still couldn’t get the remote to connect. The nice woman offered to advance my slides for me. I agreed to that and then remembered that I did have another remote that came with the projector. It worked! I was good to go!

    When it came time to speak I stood up and took the microphone. To my surprise and dismay its cord was too short to reach all the way to where I needed to stand close to my computer. Wonderful! No problem, I’d just speak from the spot where the cord ended. Unfortunately the remote only worked when it was very close to the computer. So, there I was speaking into the microphone and then stretching my body to make the remote advance my slides. Because I was unfamiliar with that remote it took me some time to understand that it was slow to advance the slides. Over and over again I thought it hadn’t gotten the signal to advance and pushed the button again. Then it advanced two slides. Back and forth I went with the slides. What a fiasco!

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    I’m sure it looked like a comedy routine to the participants! What was I doing while all these challenges were occurring? I was thinking, “They told me that whatever can go wrong when speaking will go wrong. I guess this is what they meant!” And, I kept solving the problems right in front of me and kept on speaking. I kept acting professionally, making light of the challenges and moving forward despite the string of obstacles even though I just wanted to scream or pack my bags and call it a day. Fortunately I know my material well enough that I was able to do a good job delivering the content when the correct slide was on the screen. And, fortunately I was speaking to an audience of incredibly kind, patient and understanding people.

    I was so glad when I finished that speech. I felt like I’d run a marathon! And, I’d pulled it off without losing my cool or throwing in the towel. It was like finishing a final exam. I had no hopes for an A on that exam. A passing grade would do. Much to my surprise a number of people came up to ask me questions and bought my book. I thought to myself, “I must have gotten my information across despite the comedy routine and delays!” And, the evaluation forms were all positive. Not one person commented on the comedy of errors they’d witnessed. What a miracle! What a learning experience for me!

    So, the next time you run into obstacles on your path, I recommend that you remember that you just have to solve the next problem in front of you. Had I begun judging myself for my mistakes or allowed myself to ruminate about what the participants must be thinking of me, I could not have kept moving forward. Those thoughts would have shut down my creative energy and stopped me in my tracks. Instead, I kept problem solving. And, I kept thinking, “I can do this. I just have to finish this speech. What I’m doing is important and must be done.”

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    The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

    The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

    It’s a depressing adage we’ve all heard time and time again: An increase in technology does not necessarily translate to an increase in productivity.

    Put another way by Robert Solow, a Nobel laureate in economics,

    “You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

    In other words, just because our computers are getting faster, that doesn’t mean that that we will have an equivalent leap in productivity. In fact, the opposite may be true!

    New York Times writer Matt Richel wrote in an article for the paper back in 2008 that stated, “Statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused.”

    There’s a strange paradox when it comes to productivity. Rather than an exponential curve, our productivity will eventually reach a plateau, even with advances in technology.

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    So what does that mean for our personal levels of productivity? And what does this mean for our economy as a whole? Here’s what you should know about the productivity paradox, its causes, and what possible solutions we may have to combat it.

    What is the productivity paradox?

    There is a discrepancy between the investment in IT growth and the national level of productivity and productive output. The term “productivity paradox” became popularized after being used in the title of a 1993 paper by MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson, a Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business.

    In his paper, Brynjolfsson argued that while there doesn’t seem to be a direct, measurable correlation between improvements in IT and improvements in output, this might be more of a reflection on how productive output is measured and tracked.[1]

    He wrote in his conclusion:

    “Intangibles such as better responsiveness to customers and increased coordination with suppliers do not always increase the amount or even intrinsic quality of output, but they do help make sure it arrives at the right time, at the right place, with the right attributes for each customer.

    Just as managers look beyond “productivity” for some of the benefits of IT, so must researchers be prepared to look beyond conventional productivity measurement techniques.”

    How do we measure productivity anyway?

    And this brings up a good point. How exactly is productivity measured?

    In the case of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity gain is measured as the percentage change in gross domestic product per hour of labor.

    But other publications such as US Today, argue that this is not the best way to track productivity, and instead use something called Total Factor Productivity (TFP). According to US Today, TFP “examines revenue per employee after subtracting productivity improvements that result from increases in capital assets, under the assumption that an investment in modern plants, equipment and technology automatically improves productivity.”[2]

    In other words, this method weighs productivity changes by how much improvement there is since the last time productivity stats were gathered.

    But if we can’t even agree on the best way to track productivity, then how can we know for certain if we’ve entered the productivity paradox?

    Possible causes of the productivity paradox

    Brynjolfsson argued that there are four probable causes for the paradox:

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    • Mis-measurement – The gains are real but our current measures miss them.
    • Redistribution – There are private gains, but they come at the expense of other firms and individuals, leaving little net gain.
    • Time lags – The gains take a long time to show up.
    • Mismanagement – There are no gains because of the unusual difficulties in managing IT or information itself.

    There seems to be some evidence to support the mis-measurement theory as shown above. Another promising candidate is the time lag, which is supported by the work of Paul David, an economist at Oxford University.

    According to an article in The Economist, his research has shown that productivity growth did not accelerate until 40 years after the introduction of electric power in the early 1880s.[3] This was partly because it took until 1920 for at least half of American industrial machinery to be powered by electricity.”

    Therefore, he argues, we won’t see major leaps in productivity until both the US and major global powers have all reached at least a 50% penetration rate for computer use. The US only hit that mark a decade ago, and many other countries are far behind that level of growth.

    The paradox and the recession

    The productivity paradox has another effect on the recession economy. According to Neil Irwin,[4]

    “Sky-high productivity has meant that business output has barely declined, making it less necessary to hire back laid-off workers…businesses are producing only 3 percent fewer goods and services than they were at the end of 2007, yet Americans are working nearly 10 percent fewer hours because of a mix of layoffs and cutbacks in the workweek.”

    This means that more and more companies are trying to do less with more, and that means squeezing two or three people’s worth of work from a single employee in some cases.

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    According to Irwin, “workers, frightened for their job security, squeezed more productivity out of every hour [in 2010].”

    Looking forward

    A recent article on Slate puts it all into perspective with one succinct observation:

    “Perhaps the Internet is just not as revolutionary as we think it is. Sure, people might derive endless pleasure from it—its tendency to improve people’s quality of life is undeniable. And sure, it might have revolutionized how we find, buy, and sell goods and services. But that still does not necessarily mean it is as transformative of an economy as, say, railroads were.”

    Still, Brynjolfsson argues that mismeasurement of productivity can really skew the results of people studying the paradox, perhaps more than any other factor.

    “Because you and I stopped buying CDs, the music industry has shrunk, according to revenues and GDP. But we’re not listening to less music. There’s more music consumed than before.

    On paper, the way GDP is calculated, the music industry is disappearing, but in reality it’s not disappearing. It is disappearing in revenue. It is not disappearing in terms of what you should care about, which is music.”

    Perhaps the paradox isn’t a death sentence for our productivity after all. Only time (and perhaps improved measuring techniques) will tell.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

    Reference

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