From Running to Communicating

This week in our Research, Evaluation and Communications Skills class this week the emphasis was very much on communicating.  We we asked to think about good and bad writing and presentation styles and think about our favourites writers and presenters.  We were also asked to think about what we liked and disliked about writing and presenting.  This was an interactive session with lots of great ideas and input.  By the end of it I was thinking about how I could put together a motivational guide for myself based on the good advice discussed in class and by reflecting on my own previous practice, not just in writing and presenting, but also drawing on my training programmes from my time as a hockey player and now a runner and project work.

Just Start.
Beat prevarication by aiming low.

At the start you think it will be hard knowing what to put in: by the end you realise it is harder deciding what to leave out.  Still that blank canvas is daunting.

One thing I’ve learnt from my running is it’s sometimes best not to think about the end, just think about the next step.  The prospect of training enough to finish a race can be so nerve wracking it becomes dispiriting.  Instead in my running I initially try and concentrate on why I run not how far or how fast I am running.  I think about beautiful trails and fresh air; clearing my head and feeling energised and healthy.  I tell myself to just get out and do a little bit every day.  If I felt like stopping after 500m I could but at least I would have started. Once out I nearly always run further than I think I will but the key to running consistently for me is not to put pressure on myself by thinking a run isn’t worthwhile if it isn’t what I planned.  Anything will help.  When I join several runs together and train consistently I get fitter without even noticing and enjoy the process much more than when I focus on targets.  Like running, writing and presenting are not just skills they are habits, and forming good habits is hard.  The hardest part, however, is the first step.  Once you’ve got going you have momentum so to get going I tell myself to sit down for each study session and write not much of anything to begin with and go from there. I always write more than I think I will.

Be You. 
Find an authentic voice by using a style that suits you and your audience.

Adapt your persona to suit your audience but be sure that persona is still true to you. There is no best way if doing it that way makes you or your audience feel uncomfortable. There is no bad way unless it distracts from what you are saying. As long as you are enthusiastic about what you are trying to say your audience will likely be engaged.

The same is true for running.  Go running and you will see hundreds of people and hundreds of different styles.  Some look incredibly uncomfortable, others look as though they are flying over the ground.  You also can’t sprint a marathon or jog a sprint.  There has recently been a trend towards minimalism and more ‘natural’ running styles in the running literature.  This has come from the idea that there is a best way to run and it’s based on their way our ancient ancestors ran hundreds of years ago.  It has become the new evangelism in running.  It has led to a wealth of self-help guides encouraging people to adopt their running gait from heel strike to midfoot strike without there being much evidence that one is universally better than the other,  It has also seen running shoe fashion move towards shoes with less cushioning and a lower to the ground structure.    For many it might have brought them more strength, less injuries and better running.  For others it has brought the opposite either because such a style doesn’t suit them or their running or they have attempted to transition too fast.  You cannot go from one style to another in a single training cycle but it doesn’t stop people trying.  So the literature is filled with more research and opinions for and against with the end conclusion usually being the best style is the one that works for you, by keeping you injury free and healthy, rather than prevailing fashion.  Stay strong, be flexible, wear simple and comfortable shoes that don’t use too many gimmicks.

Prepare.
Build confidence by practicing regularly.

One of the reasons I am trying to blog more at the moment is because I know at the end of this year I will have to write a dissertation.  A dissertation is maybe like a half marathon of writing so can’t be entered into lightly. It needs preparation and practice to even finish never mind do well.  Preparation for a race will likely include following some kind of training plan that will aim to build fitness gradually over time using periodisation.  This involves varying your training over long and short cycles and organising it into phases so start with shorter easier tasks and culminate in more race specific tasks before tapering towards the end so you will feel fit and fresh.

A typical training plan will include the following phases:

  • Base (develop basic stamina and endurance)
  • Build Up (increase strength and endurance)
  • Peak (mix longer and faster sessions to develop all round intensive and extensive endurance)
  • Taper (ease down on sessions so your body stays in good condition but is able to reap the benefits of training by having more recovery)
  • Race (enjoy the results of all that preparation!)

Writing and presenting are kind of the same.  They involve a period of researching and playing with ideas and notes.  Maybe organising those thoughts into more of a structure and fleshing them out into a first or second draft.  You’ll research the point where’ll you’ll need to start taking things out rather than going longer and spend some time away from the project before going back and reading it through and polishing it.  Finally you will publish or present it.

This all becomes a lot easier if you do it regularly.  Runners have maintenance phases so writing and speaking in front of an audience whenever possible will help find or maintain your communication rhythm and style between formal projects.  This is one of the reasons I’ve started to blog more and write about the weeks: I’m hoping my communication ‘fitness’ will improve and things will be slightly easier for being familiar when more formal assignments come along.  I also know from running that the sessions I find the hardest and most dread are often the ones that leave me feeling most exhilarated and motivated to continue afterwards.  So just keep trying.

Let it Go .
Beat perfectionism by being agile

 

Simplicity – the art of maximizing the amount of work not done is essential.

Principles Behind the Agile Manifesto

One of my biggest problems is knowing what to leave out and when to stop.  I don’t like to let ideas go so I squeeze them in until they have no room to breathe.  It is difficult leaving out painstakingly excavated research and carefully crafted words by the wayside so I tinker … but less is often more.

I got better at changing my mindset so I could tame my inner perfectionist and accept good enough more often once I had worked on some agile software projects and learnt about iterations and definitions of done and thought about my work in terms of releases and continuous improvement and quality in terms of fitness for purpose.  To author agile I: allocate effort, rapidly revise work,spend more time taking things out than putting things in, leave incomplete features on the back burner for future releases then stop.  It may not be perfect but it will be fit for purpose.  Most people most of the time won’t notice the difference between good enough and great and will forget about the bad but you’ll notice, and get exhausted by, how much more effort you have put in to achieve the finality you crave.  So just ship it.  Once it is done it cannot be redone or undone so by all means reflect but move on. Next time is waiting.

Published by

Alison Pope

I spend my working life creating maps and models of invisible, intangible things such as ideas, concepts, organisation structures, systems, information, software and cultures. I do this to try and make them more explicit so they can be seen, understood, shared, discussed, contested, agreed, nurtured, exploited and safeguarded. I'm currently working for the University of Reading as a Business Analyst and am studying design thinking.

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