Archive for the 'Business Communication' Category


What the TV series “The Office” can teach Instructional Designers

I have been spending almost a year now designing a biblical Hebrew course.  Why would I do this?  Because being a language teacher, I didn’t like most of the courses that were offered.  Just like they say that doctors make the worst patients; teachers make for difficult students.  I employed various innovative methods from people like William Griffin.

I did my own graphics, used our photos from our trip in Israel, added cultural sections about the Dead Sea Scrolls, and even had words to popular Hebrew songs.  But it still did say “snap, crackle, pop!”  This course isn’t for the pedantic Hebrew scholars but for the “yuf” as we say here in East Anglia.

I strayed over to Powtoon and saw that they had fun avatars that I could easily use.  I did a video for my introduction that I really liked, BUT I could not save it.  It was lost.  But no use crying over spilled milk in the cyber world. I tried the Articulate learning software, but the avatars were too faded and old.  I went back to my original PowerPoint presentation and played with the shapes and made my own avatars.  It is not really hard to tailor the avatar to illustrate the text on the slide.  As I continued to work with them, they were no longer avatars but dare I say, characters, people. I uploaded my work on iSpring and here it is:

While I was working on this video, I was also watching the TV series finale of “The Office.” (Am I the only one who works from home that does this?) Why do millions of people love this show so much? It took place in a boring, dead-end office where none of us would ever want to work.  The office was character-driven.  Even when the plots were lost, the writing bad, the audience could forgive.

We spend more time with the people with whom we work than we do with our families and friends.  In fact, in this day of dysfunctional families, some may see their workmates as family.  But as more people work from home, this changes.  We work in cyberspace where we still need that human touch. Many employees no longer get their training with their colleagues.  They are left alone with a light box.  Instructional designers can make it less lonely by animating the avatars.  They also need good story lines. We never really grew out of that need for a story, “Once upon a time…”


Spring is Here in the UK!

We have had a dreary winter so far.  After Christmas I felt like I was living in Finland but without the snow plows.  The rain makes life damp here and you feel it in your mattress when you go to bed at night.  But, somehow, Spring is here!  Well, virtually anyway. I am a lonely instructional designer who is holed up in my bedroom-office.  I am trying to get our business going since that is about the only way you can get work now in the UK–you got to do you own thing.  But of course, I’m in a Catch-22–no work–no money–no money–no business.  But then came iSpring to give me the leg up that I need.

You see, I am developing a new type of language learning concept — for Hebrew.  Since I am still learning Hebrew myself, and I’m doing the graphics, and I’m doing the IT, my mind is juggling quite a lot.

Once I got some prototype modules done for beta-testing, I needed a platform.  Who would host a powerpoint presentation and keep all my little animations and click when you’re done pages, and my sounds, and still give me quality.  And, who could keep it private for me?  For free.  Like I said, Spring came.  iSpring.

Not only that, when I had some technical difficulties, some one actually wrote right back THE VERY SAME DAY!  Yes, I said some one, meaning a real person like Helen.  A real personality.  No automatic email.

This is all for free.  Thank you, iSpring, for shedding a little bit of sunshine on the rainy UK.


What they don’t tell you that could help you learn a language

When you wonder why you have difficulty learning a foreign language, before you beat up on yourself, consider this: a lot of language learning programs are not just stuck in the 20th century, but they might even be in the Middle Ages.  Try some of these techniques and let me know how you get on:

1.  Listen.  Before you try to talk, listen–a lot.  The first thing you want to do is to learn how to hear the music of the language.  Just sit back, relax, listen, and let it roll into your ears.  Have fun with it.  Notice the funny sounds.  Listen for about ten minutes every day for a week.  See if you can pick out your target language from other languages.  Listen to a two minute recording over and over again.  See what works for you.

2.  Get movies in your target language with English subtitles.  Maybe some of the foreign films from the Academy Award nominations will help you. Enjoy the movie.  Get to know the culture of your target language.   If you can get a dubbed version of your favorite TV show like Grey’s Anatomy, CSI, or The Office,  that helps too.

3.  If you want a tutor to help you, plan your own lessons.  What do you want to know how to say?  Do you want to know how to order at Starbucks? Write it down.  Give the list to your tutor.  Sometimes the best tutor is someone who knows your target language and will be willing to follow what you want.  Sometimes, the best tutors are the ones who had to painfully learn the language like you did. Their accent will be easier for you to understand.  A native speaker is good as you get further along.

4.  Don’t repeat what you hear.  Just learn to listen.  There is no rush to repeat.  Ask your tutor to teach you different commands to which you can respond–like the game “Simon Says.”  You only obey the commands without speaking.  It gets your body involved.  The language is real to you.  And you don’t have to say anything.  You just want to know how to start learning how to recognize words:  Close the window.  Open the door.  Can I have a glass of water please?  You don’t have to understand every word.  You succeed if you do what your tutor asked you to do.

5.  After you have listened to the language for a few weeks, have been able to fulfill requests, now you may want to talk.  But again, make sure that you have listened to what you want to say enough times.  Sometimes, you may need to slow it down.  Sometimes you may need to hear it many, many times–especially in the beginning.

6.  Do not repeat it aloud.  First, repeat your responses in your mind.  Don’t repeat them aloud until you are happy with what you hear in your head.  Each time you listen for it in your head, you are creating synapses which will help you be more successful when you say it aloud.  For instance, take a phrase that you want to learn how to say.  Listen to it three times at least.  Then listen and repeat it in your mind.  Do this three times.  Now you are ready to repeat it aloud–even if it is only to your golden retriever.  He’s very non-judgmental.

7.  Make sure that your tutor only corrects you if you cannot be understood–not if your articulation is not perfect.  You are just beginning.  Remember pronunciation is caught not taught.  It comes over a long period of time.  Be patient with yourself.


Microsoft Goes Macrohard–the New IBM

There was a time when IBM was the latest and greatest–the cutting edge before there was the term cutting edge. You could recognize a man from IBM from a mile away–they all wore black ties and white shirts. It was their proud uniform. But eventually, IBM was the household word for stodgy business–autocratic, no room for growth. It was something that Microsoft could make fun of. Then Microsoft got the middle-aged blubber. The innovative ideas faded away with the pizza and coke diet. Microsoft was no longer pliable and humble. It became Macrohard–hardened in its management style, big-headed in the industry.

This month in Forbes magazine, Fredrick E. Allen describes one of these antiquated management styles: stack-ranking–something that Rankinfiles would never use. Stack-ranking is ranking the staff within a team. As one employee said, “ walked in the first day knowing that, no matter how good everyone was, 2 people were going to get a great review, 7 were going to get mediocre reviews, and 1 was going to get a terrible review,” Not surprisingly he said, “It leads to employees focusing on competing with each other rather than competing with other companies.” Microsoft used to be the fun place to work–where employees had the freedom to bounce ideas off of one another as easily as they played basketball during work hours. Now that would be an anathema. Employees are back in the 1950’s timeclock. We are not back to the future, but back to the past. But somewhere, in some windowless back bedroom, there is another scrawny man-kid whose creativity isn’t thwarted by threats of profitability, and he will be our next hero. Have you looked upstairs in your son’s bedroom lately? And yes, it could be your daughter.

It’s the 4th of July.  It’s a day when the blue and red Americans come together and make the flag.  Let’s remember our fore-fathers who were crazy enough to go against one of the leading world powers and made it work.  Their accountants would have told them that they didn’t have enough hardware to win.  But they had team spirit, innovation, and had enough of the stodgy ways of the Old World.  The revolutionaries all weren’t young and without responsibility.  They were mature family men who took risks.  They valued freedom.  And we need to keep our freedom of creativity in the workplace and not be cowering.


The Tin Rule: Barclays Bank and Louie need a Course on Ethics

Ironically, it was in India where I got the assignment to write a set of courses on Business Ethics for a company in the USA.  For many in India, lying is not a sin.  You say what the person wants to hear.  In the Hindu religious literature, it says that a man can cheat his customers if it puts food on the table for his hungry family.  You can’t eat Ethics.  When a government fails to feed its people, the moral fabric frays quickly.

Many people told me to watch the new program called Louie. So yesterday I downloaded the pilot episode, he makes jokes about how if he sold his car, he could feed many starving people.  People laughed.  People who have never starved laughed.  Fat people laughed.  Starvation is a joke to middle America?  There is a worse sin here. Come, Louie, to India, and let me introduce you to some children who will have a low IQ because their mothers never got enough to eat. Try not to eat just one meal, Louie, now try two meals Louie.  How are you doing?  Any jokes?  Did you feed your kids? Not half-eaten rotten fruit from the garbage can like this little girl?

This morning, I listened to BBC4 news and learned that Barclays Bank and the NHS don’t know what the word “ethics” means either.  Are they starving?  Yes, they are starving from morals.  Great Britain used to be the moral compass for the rest of the world.  A man was as good as his word.  This was the most civilized country.  What has made the moral fabric fray here?  Selfishness?  Lack of accountability?  Ethics can be defined in the Golden Rule:  do unto others as you would want them to do unto you.  Instead, they have the Tin Rule:  Do it to them before they do it to you.  And you all wonder why the economy is bad?  It’s not the economy, stupid, as Bill Clinton thought, it’s the integrity of the people.  Barclays, you don’t have to be a tin bank.

So, if you work in the HR Department of Barclays Bank, I can offer you a management course on Business Ethics.  Oh, and Louie, I can do personal coaching. You don’t have to be the tin man.


Who do you think you are?

Who do you think you are?

How did  Som Sabadell Flashmob find you?  It found me this morning on my Facebook page.  If you haven’t seen and heard and felt it, click on and listen, and I’ll wait for you to come back.  If you happen to be in a rather sensitive mood, you might want to have some tissues handy.

Yes, we all know.  We live in a time of “austerity.”  Politicians who want to make our lives miserable, who want to squash our hope, kill our creativity, and make sure we are making bricks without straw invariably use the stark, cold word.  The result?  Not only can’t people pay their bills, have the little extra that the middle class has just been able to enjoy in the last 50 years, but now they don’t stand as straight; they walk looking at the ground, no longer wearing such bright colours.  Smiles are a rare accessory that even the Maire Claire magazine can’t tell you how to obtain.  Don’t expect a good job.  Don’t you know?  These are hard times; and thus our society aborts its own dreams.  Who do you think you are to have such desires?  Those days  are over.  Neighbours and friends aren’t so availed to talk and listen as everyone has their own stories of financial woe.

Yes, they are over.  But it has put a new hunger in people.  They need to be comforted.   It comes where they least expect it–while doing their daily mundane errands that we all do.  In Spain, where the economy has leveled everyone’ s job a mother pushes a stroller to the ATM machine to get money to buy food for dinner tonight.  A young man in a suit rushes by so as not to be late for a sales appointment.  A grandmother and her grandson walk toward the candy shop.  And then.  And then they hear a wonderful thing: melodic music.  First it is soft, and then it gains momentum as Beethoven ministers to the crowd. One little girl boldly goes close to the musicians and joins them, totally captivated as children are.  It takes a long time before others join her, but they do.  One child climbs the lamp pole to get a better view.

It’s not a sunny day in more ways than one.  But the music is intoxicating.  People slow down.  They stop.  They gather together.  Cameramen are able to capture these moments.  The people know they are being filmed, but then, iphones and smartphones pop up and anyone is a cameramen.  It’s a reality show.  How much was staged?  Oh, who cares.  It captured me and took me to a place where it was real.  It comforted me.  Burdens went off my shoulders and I  could stand tall.


Marcel Marceau at the Anganwadi Daycare Center

I went to the anganwadi alone on Thursday. That meant my communication with the teachers would be limited to my elementary Tamil. It is a double anganwadi which means there are two teachers. These teachers are incredible. I couldn’t do what they do. They are my heroes.

As I approached the door, I heard unusual disruption. There was an inordinate amount of crying and screaming. It made me think of the song, “Mama Said There’d be Days Like This, My Mama Said.” So I knew I needed to pull a rabbit out of the hat. I entered singing the time-honoured song, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”  I wish I could sing it as well as this Indian lady. We kept singing it until most of the angry feelings had left.

Then I did what I haven’t done for many years: mime. When my husband and I were living in Paris, we got to see Marcel Marceau perform. He did David and Goliath, the Mask–which I modified for training exercises, and Adam and Eve. He was so incredibly inspiring. My husband and I actually dating while doing street theatre and mime. We used Marceau’s mime, “Adam and Eve.” (I wish I was as talented as this lady.) I can still do a pretty good snake with my arm. But one mime really struck me that he did–the box mime–it’s a mime where the victim finds himself caught in an invisible box. He bangs his fists furiously, trying to get out.

My husband and I did mime in various countries in Europe. In fact, I got my job working for Air France as a Concorde ground agent doing mime during the interview. In France, when we would put the white face on and start performing, hauty-looking people would suddenly change into impressionable children. You don’t know the French until you perform mime on the streets of Paris in front of the Sacre-Coeur. On the other hand, when we did mime at Colchester Castle Park, it went over like a lead balloon, and we became very self-conscious.  I think it may have had something to do with our next-door neighbour recognizing us and just saying, “Oh, hello.” and kept on walking.

In Italy, everyone already does mime when they talk, so it is one of the best places to do mime. One of the most rewarding places was in Helsinki, Finland. Finnish people the opposite of Italians–they aren’t what you’d call demonstrative. But when we did mime, crowds would come and we felt they were totally withus. In India, we don’t need make-up. We have white faces.

So years and continents later, here I was in a government pre-school with 40 unhappy kids and two tired teachers. So I started doing the mime. It is safe to say that these kids probably have never seen mime. It is sort of an abstract art. You have to concentrate to get it. I was taking a chance. The Twinkle warm-up was good, but would I lose my audience by trying something too high-brow.

These kids got it! They laughted at all the right places. Finally I motioned to one bright little girl to turn the “knob” on the other side of my “door.” She set me free!

Yes, these kids are always setting me free from the banalities of adulthood.  With them, you fly faster and higher than with the Concorde.

P.S.  I got to meet Marcel Marceau.  He was a passenger on the Concorde.  I must admit, I had fun giving him his boarding pass in a Marcel Marceau fashion.  He was very kind about my performance but did not insist I quit my day job.