Do you use fidget toys?

I heard the term “fidget toys” for the first time this week. Listen, I’m old school. I’m accustomed to calling these things “toys”.

But as it turns out, I use what we now call “fidget toys” all the time. And I use them without realizing they are a popular trend right now.

But how do I use my fidget toys? Not necessarily for fidgeting:

Improv tools. Meeting starters. Creativity enhancers.

You won’t believe all the toys I found hanging around my desk and in my briefcase. But I use them as legitimate business tools.

My fidget toys aren’t the fancy, trendy ones. Mine are old school toys. You could have found some of them in classrooms over 100 years ago.

But I really do appreciate the creativity that fidget toys inspire. I remember a toy from my childhood. It was discontinued. As a 8 year old, I coveted one of these items (see below). But I knew better than to ask my parents for one. They wouldn’t allow it.

Instead, my parents gave me a pony. A pony is the ultimate fidget toy. Grooming and shoveling gives you plenty of opportunities to fidget.

Now, I read a little bit about the modern fidget toy phenomenon. It turns out that fidget toys may have a legitimate therapeutic purpose. This means your teacher may not punish you for playing with a toy in class. Instead, some teachers are OK with pricey devices like cubes and spinners. (Go ahead and Google “fidget cubes” and “fidget spinners” to see what I’m talking about.)

The idea behind these new fangled toys is to fidget discretely in public, so as not to disturb others. A teacher might have to confiscate your toy if you are fidgeting too enthusiastically. (Go ahead. Search for YouTube videos featuring people who take fidgeting to spectacular excess.)

And now that I’ve read a bit about the fidget toy phenomenon: I’m seeing them everywhere! A colleague had a cube on his desk. He said he uses it to calm his anxiety. It’s an expensive little thing — around $50, if you can believe it.

This inspired me to cut yet another video. Here, I outline 10+ classic fidget toys that I had laying around my house. These are old school toys. Some I’ve had for decades – and I still use them today.

The big benefit to many of my classic fidget toys is that they are practical. They put your fidgeting to a useful purpose. That way, you have something to show for your efforts at the end of your bout of fidgeting.

Sure, I fidget. Who doesn’t? But I fidget with a purpose.

What about you? Do you use fidget toys? What’s their purpose in your life?

Coaching Presentation

Public Speaking Tip: Re-frame “Fear” as “Excitement”

I’m going to lay a head trip on you. Check this out.

If you’re feeling nervous or scared before your next presentation, think about this:

“…why not re-frame that term ‘I’m nervous and scared of public speaking’ into ‘I am excited about presenting to my audience’?”

It’s a small change, but it’s effective. Try it out and feel motivated before your next big speech or presentation.

Education Presentation

I don’t attend conferences where speakers don’t get paid

I give up. Starting today, on #EqualPayDay — I won’t pay to go to business conferences where speakers don’t get paid.

The conference organizers will pay for the room and the food. But they won’t pay speakers for crafting and delivering content? The conference venue makes money — but the speakers don’t?

It makes no sense to me. But, still, I’ll hear unpaid speakers say,

“No, wait. I get paid. I get paid with exposure, experience, and connections.”

Goody for them. These privileged people don’t need actual money. They don’t value their content. So they’re leveraging their privilege to gain even more privilege. In so doing, they’re blocking  a more valuable perspective from ever reaching the audience.

I don’t want a privileged person to take a job from someone who needs money. And who could use those valuable connections. And who actually has something rare to tell me.

Why would I support a privileged person taking a job from someone who cannot afford to speak for free?  By taking an unpaid engagement, the privileged person silences the voices of people I want to hear from the most.

People with something valuable to say are worth more than the crudites or coffee. If conferences won’t give speakers that respect, I will.

Starting today, I’ll ask if speakers are getting paid. If they aren’t, I’ll ask if the venue or organizers are getting paid. If the venue is donating the space — I’ll consider going.

But if the venue is getting paid and the speakers aren’t? Pass. I won’t support it.

Follow the money. Who’s making bank on unpaid labor?

PowerPoint Presentation Sway video

Microsoft Sway: give it a try, avoid the hype

Microsoft Sway is now freely available online. If you’re a story teller, check it out. Take a few minutes to watch the Microsoft tutorial video.  It will give you a broad overview of what Sway is and how you might use it. Then, go monkey around with it a little. It’s at

Whatever you do, don’t read too much about Sway right now. Avoid tech and business journals in particular. I’ve read too many online posts about Sway that I’ll politely call “myths mixed in with enough facts to be confusing”.

Three Microsoft Sway Myths Widely Perpetuated in Media Hype

Myth 1: Sway is a PowerPoint killer! Nope. It’s not. In fact, one of the first activities the Sway interface challenges you to do is to upload a PowerPoint presentation. Hmm. Unless Sway kills PowerPoint by telling you to use PowerPoint, how is it a PowerPoint killer? At its core, Sway is an online storytelling tool. PowerPoint is presentation slideware. The two coexist peacefully.

Myth 2: You need to download an app to use Sway! Uh-uh.  You can go directly to and create a online story, right now. All you need is a computer with internet access and a Microsoft user name + password. No download is necessary, although if you like that kind of thing, go for it. You can go app happy at the Microsoft store.

Myth 3:  You can’t create original content in Sway! Sigh. I lost track of how many times that I read that you MUST upload a Word document, PowerPoint presentation, or PDF — otherwise Microsoft Sway is useless.  Those writers must have missed the giant “Create New” button. Fact: you can start a story from scratch. (I did that for my very first Sway story.)

Sway is not a PowerPoint Killer
These are the first two activities you’ll see in Sway. And yet, it’s a Powerpoint killer? And you can’t create new content? Phooey.

Go ahead and give Sway a try. Avoid reading about it and have a little fun actually playing with it. Bring along a Word document, PowerPoint presentation, and a PDF file to see what Sway will do with them when you upload them. You might like it, hate it, or feel indifferent: but if you play with it for a half hour, you’ll probably have 29 more minutes of experience with Sway than many of the reporters who wrote about it.

Have some fun. Play with Sway. You can form your own cursory opinions, free from confusing media hype and spin.

Education fun PowerPoint Presentation

Do you want me to bore you?

Tiger Yawning

“I can bore you to death with a couple hundred PowerPoint slides for the next hour, or we can have a discussion and make this fun and interactive,” said the speaker.

Seriously. Those were the first words out of his mouth. The audience of around 50 just sat there, including me.

After about 5 silent and stunned seconds, I was the first to speak.

“Let’s make it fun and interactive,” I said.

“Oh, good,” said the speaker. “I was hoping someone would say that.”

He flipped off the projection unit that showed the title page of his slide deck. He began interacting with the audience. He held our attention for over an hour. I walked away learning quite a bit and enjoyed the give-and-take between speaker and audience members.

But it left me wondering. Why would he give us a choice? And why would anyone choose the boring option?


Blogging Education Presentation social media

Why sign the photo release?

Stock photos pretty much suck. Perhaps they had their time and place, but their moment has passed.

After a few years of looking at your friend’s photos on Instagram and Facebook, your eyes have been accustomed to seeing real people doing real activities. In contrast, stock photos of people faking their emotions doesn’t quite resonate with you anymore.

We know cheese when we see it, and we don’t like it.

Over at WebInkNow, the wonderful writer David Meerman Scott blogged about browsing the web to research senior living centers for his father. The facilities that used stock photos of elderly people on their websites didn’t speak to Mr. Scott. He preferred sites that featured the images of real people.

Naturally. I seriously prefer real people to stock photos, too. No question.

However I also decline to routinely sign photo releases. I recommend that others decline, as well. Nursing homes and day care facilities will often try to slip in a photo release in the stacks of papers you must sign for a parent or child to enter their programs or receive needed services. If you don’t sign, they will often try to pressure you to do so.

Don’t do it.

The stock photo models make money for their work. Why don’t your parents and grandparents? Why don’t your children?

Many facilities are learning that stock photos aren’t cutting it anymore. They want to use your child’s image. They want an image of elderly parents and grandparents.

And they want to use them for free.

Is exploitation of free labor really the way to go? How is exploiting the image of your loved ones demonstrating client care? And if it’s all so innocent, why slip in a photo release in the middle of umpteen other forms that need to be signed strictly for the care of the client?

I suspect nursing homes and other facilities rely on our naivety about paid creative work. This is becoming an all-too common abusive practice, worthy of education and discussion.


Our hearts and thoughts are not with you at this time…

Enough with organizations offering generic sentiments and abstractions.

Be specific. Give me something concrete, or don’t say anything at all.

Let’s say I’m on a company’s email list. It sends me an email telling me to enjoy a happy and safe holiday weekend. It generously tells my family to have one, too.

And then 100 other brands send me something similar. And post it on their Facebook wall. And send it out as a tweet.

What’s the net effect? How am I supposed to feel about brands bombarding me with generic messages of good cheer?

  1. heartwarmed that a brand went out of its way to tell me of its fond wishes for me and my family?
  2. irked that I have to wade through hundreds of pointlessly bland well-wishing to get any work done?
  3. weary to realize that latching onto any holiday (or tragedy!) with a benign message reveals desperation?
  4. depressed to be reminded by a faceless corporate entity that my family is dead?
  5. all of the above? None of the above?

If a company has nothing specific to offer but hopes, hearts, prayers, wishes, and dreams — it’s really not offering anything I value from our corporate relationship. An organization isn’t a person: it doesn’t have feelings. It can’t hope I have a happy day. It can’t send its thoughts and prayers to those who are affected by tragedy. It can’t be “pleased to announce” or “proud to accept”.

However, it can make special offers that meet the theme of a holiday. It can send relief funds to help victims of a tragedy.

Enough with organizations offering generic sentiments and abstractions.

Be specific. Give me something concrete, or don’t say anything at all.


fun Presentation

How well do you welcome?

Your “Welcome” mat may be a visual cliché. You may think it’s de rigueur — but is it really making your audience feel welcomed?

We’ve reached a point where merely saying or writing “welcome” doesn’t even mean anything. It’s too generic to be useful or inviting.

That’s why you don’t see many websites with a welcome page anymore. A welcome page gets in the way of the content.

Why not skip the “Welcome” session at the beginning of your event, too? After all, they don’t mean much.

Think about it for a sec. If people have assembled for an event, your signage tells them the name of the show. Your brochures let them know what’s going on, where. Your event app keeps them aware of any late breaking changes in the schedule or speaker line-up.

Why welcome?

Might it be more welcoming to jump right in? How many “Welcome” sessions have you already skipped this year because you know that nothing important ever gets communicated in the opening session titled “Welcome”?

What else might you say or do other than a traditional welcome? What might be more welcoming than a welcome?

fun Presentation

How do you dress for success during a cold snap?

“We’re enduring a subzero cold snap, so pack warm clothing. Bring a coat, hat, gloves, and boots,” I advised a southern client over the phone.

She was planning to fly up to deliver a series of training presentations for her northern clients. I was to make introductions and serve as her co-presenter in my home state of Michigan.

“Laura, that’s unprofessional,” she replied. “You don’t want to walk into our client’s offices dressed like an 19th century fur trapper. It doesn’t reflect our brand.”

She gave me a short phone lecture on how to dress appropriately for business presentations. No matter how hot or cold it is, you simply don’t let it bother you, she said.

Rise above the forces of nature to project confidence, she said. You don’t need a coat, gloves, or a scarf — you can wear that stuff in the car  — but you need to take it off before striding confidently into an office building to meet with clients.

I advised otherwise. I encouraged her to wear warm clothing.

But when I picked her up at the airport, she was wearing a skirt, blouse, and high heels. Bare legs! No hose. No coat. No jacket.

I suspected my highly confident colleague might feel a twinge of regret as we walked through the snow to my car. Instead, she clutched at me like a frightened child and howled about wanting to die.

“Did you bring ANYTHING warm to wear?” I asked.

“No,” she cried. “Who knew anything could ever be this cold?”

“I’ll have to take you to a department store. You really need a coat,” I said. “And either pants or hose. And real shoes.”

“Can’t I just wear something of yours?” she asked. “I don’t want to spend money on clothes I’ll never wear again, because I am never coming back to this frozen wasteland in my life.”

This was after only a few minutes. I was concerned about how she was going to handle the next 3 days.

“I’m over 6 feet tall,” I said. “You’re what — 5 foot nothing? Other than a scarf, you’re going to look insane in everything I own.”

She wailed that we didn’t have time to shop. Just throw some of your winter wear on me, she begged.

We stopped by my house and went through my wardrobe. Everything she tried on made her look like a little girl playing dress up in her mommy’s clothing.

“This will have to do,” she said. My hat and mittens didn’t look too bad on her. Too big, but not too bad. Everything else was just amazingly too big for her, but she was too cold to care.

For the next three days, she looked like a bedraggled ragamuffin. She actually wore one of my cardigan sweaters over her own clothing. It engulfed her tiny body. Still, she would shiver and shake through our presentations like a brave chihuahua.

Our meetings, however, went surprisingly well. Her clients were too polite to say anything about her weird appearance to her face.

A month or so after she went home, I was still working with my client’s clients. Every single one mentioned her woeful wardrobe and obvious misery.

And we all laughed at the memory…a curious blend of empathy, sympathy, and schadenfreude. If our southern colleague ever returns to Michigan, she is going to face some good-natured ribbing from her northern colleagues.

(Post-script: she never returned.)

At this point, I’d like to present you with two completely contrary takeaways from this story:

  1. Dress appropriately. “Dressing appropriately” depends on circumstances. Even if you feel absolutely positive about what’s appropriate and what’s not — ask a trusted local, anyway. Taking a minute or two to have this conversation can steer you in the right direction. Plus, it also creates a moment to bond and connect with your local host or event coordinator.

  2. People love a fish out of water. In a perverse way, our presentations went well BECAUSE of my client’s inappropriate attire, not in spite of it! Although her clients were too kind to say anything to her face, we all recognize and love a “fish out of water” story. Her appearance gave us a reason to feel kinder, more sympathetic — and let’s face it — a little more superior than usual!

Personally? I have definitely dressed inappropriately more times than I’d like to admit! I’d rather not be a fish out of water — but it happens.

If you ever find yourself acting or dressing inappropriately, how can you use the ‘fish out of water’ theory to your advantage?

Presentation video

Telecommuting: are you ready for your close up?

Owing to global weirding, those who can are making plans to telecommute today. If you’re a writer, teacher, or communicator: you might have access to tools that allow you to do your jobs remotely. In a pinch, remote tools can often allow ‘the show to go on’.

I remember speaking at an out-of-state conference a few years ago: one of the conference organizers approached me and asked if I would mind switching my allotted speaking time to another time slot. It seemed that there was a travel glitch: another out-of-state speaker couldn’t arrive to speak on time.

Of course I agreed to switch time slots. One look at the anxiety on the organizer’s face told me I needed to do whatever I could to make her life easier. I watched as she and her team scrambled with the hotel staff to set up a Skype connection to a large screen data display.

The scheduled speaker ended up speaking remotely via Skype. It was a smart and successful adaptation to a trying situation.

Similarly, a number of weather-related and travel-related emergencies have cropped up in my life over the past year. While I agree that face-to-face client meetings are necessary — it’s also time to learn to smoothly integrate telecommuting into your work schedule if it’s possible.

Before scheduling a face-to-face meeting, I often find myself asking, “Is this something we can do over phone? Or Skype? Or Google Hangouts?”

Clients are usually pretty delighted to at least give it a try. In a pinch, remote meetings and classes can work very well — especially when you have practice using them in non-crisis situations!

Why not try scheduling a few meetings remotely when you don’t absolutely have to? Make them more matter-of-fact? Personally, I find remote meetings to be huge time-savers: the tendency to linger or sidetrack seems to diminish online. And the costs associated with travelling (time and energy) also disappear.

How can we more smoothly integrate telecommuting policies into our day-to-day business life? And could it be that we’ve arrived at a time and place in our evolution where learning how to effectively communicate on-camera is a key business skill?

“I’m ready for my close up, Mr. DeMille.”