Archive | May, 2012

Shortcutting… Presentations

31 May

Today, to round off the whole teamwork cooperation thing that I’ve been doing this week, I had to do a presentation in front of thirty or so people. It may not sound like much, but a sea of faces is a sea of faces, regardless of the wave density. So yeah, I found it kinda scary. While my brilliance and biting humour obviously come across very strongly in my writing, speaking is a whole different kettle of fish (yep, sticking with the aquatic metaphors). I was torn between being boring and serious but getting the job done, or trying to crack a few jokes and potentially making a massive fool of myself, but in the end I decided to risk it and go with the humour, and while I didn’t hear any laughter per se, no one walked out. So anyway, here’s what I think is the best way to do a presentation:

PowerPoint: A snazzy PowerPoint presentation distracts the attention from you, so depending on your attention tolerance, you can decide whether or not this is a good thing. In most cases though, I would recommend it, as it’s less likely you’ll lose your place/ forget what you were meant to say. Unless of course you don’t have much time/ can’t be bothered. This is a blog about saving time after all, so if you’re quite a confident presenter then I guess it’s not essential. As for the content of the presentation, I’d go for a high picture to writing ratio if you want people to be enthralled. If you couldn’t care less, feel free to just write the whole damn thing on your slides. You won’t be remembered, but sometimes that ain’t such a bad thing. I should also add that I’ve recently learnt about this thing called Prezi, which makes presentations a bit like PowerPoint but awesomer. Try it out.

Videos: If you have time, a video will multiply the awesomeness of your presentation exponentially. Your viewers are likely to be lazy, and a visual guide to what you’re talking about is much easier for them to take in than an aural one. Also, if you choose a soundtrack to reflect the mood of your subject matter, then the actual content of the video isn’t that important. Happy music with pictures = yay, look at the fun we had; sad music with pictures = this is a very serious topic, please give generously. Piece of cake.

Humour: As I said in my introduction, humour is a definite risk. You must consider a) your audience, b) your subject matter, and c) your own comedic ability. Only use humour if you have a game audience, are talking about something light-hearted, and have been told at least twice before, in a non-ironic way, that you’re funny. Otherwise, you are setting yourself up for some tumbleweed moments. Also, if your first few jokes don’t get much of a reaction, you should probably just stop before people start walking out.

Nerves: I am highly susceptible to stage fright, and I’ve tried a few different ways of overcoming it. That whole ‘picture them naked’ thing doesn’t really appeal to me, as I’m pretty sure I’d find talking to a room full of naked people more off-putting than talking to a room full of clothed ones. If there’s someone I know well in the audience, I often look at them as I talk, especially if I’ve told them in advance to laugh at my jokes. That way I won’t be put off by a bad reaction to what I was saying. Otherwise, I’d suggest not really looking at anyone in particular. I often find that staring at my feet is the most comfortable way to do a presentation, but apparently the audience don’t find this very comfortable to watch.

 So good luck, and don’t forget your words!

Keep shortcutting,


Shortcutting… Formatting

30 May

A lot of the time in life, it’s not the quality of writing that counts: it’s how you format it. Even if you have written a delicate and beautiful description of the song of sparrows in the springtime, or an achingly sad tale of two lovers torn apart by the enmity between their families (for which I congratulate you on your incredibly original plot), no-one will bother reading it if you’ve chosen an ugly font. Ditto ugly bullet points, wrongly aligned text, etc. etc. etc. The list goes on. Now, there is a slight problem with regards to formatting in that tastes vary, but here is what I look for in a piece of writing.

Font: Garamond. You may think Calibri is enough of an improvement on Times New Roman but you’d be wrong. Garamond is the only way to go.

Size: 11 or 12 for body of text, one size bigger for the title.

Titles and subtitles: In bold not underlined (this is really just a personal preference; I know a lot of great people who underline their titles).

Alignment: Justified. There is no bigger turn-off than an essay with a jagged edge. Although I will give you some free rein with regards to titles (anything but Align Right). (N.B. I know some of my posts aren’t justified but I am able to justify this: they were done on my phone, where, as far as I can tell, you can’t justify. I don’t blame you if you can’t bring yourself to read them.)

Bullet points: For me there is no better bullet than that diamond made up of diamonds one. It’s suave and sophisticated, unlike the layman’s black dot or the child’s not-filled-in circle.

Emphasizing wordsItalex. I’ve already mentioned my aversion to underlining, and you can’t use bold within the body of the text if you’re using it for titles and subtitles! Do you want them to think you’re an uneducated slob?

Quotation marks: The ‘single quotation mark’ beats the “double quotation mark” any day of the week. Unless of course you’re trying to distinguish between speech and quotes or someone quoting within speech or something confusing like that, in which case I’ll allow it.

Subscript and superscript: Don’t be lazy. I don’t think I can demonstrate these little above- and under-the-line hoverers here, but cm2 is not the same as cm squared. See also O2 vs. oxygen, and 450 vs. 45 degrees.

So no jagged-edged paragraphs or bullets for bullet points: all that violent formatting will only lead to trouble.

Keep shortcutting,


Shortcutting… Teamwork

29 May

I was doing a project today that involved a whole lot of that working together, cooperation business. And in the process, I discovered not so much what makes a good teammate, as what makes a bad teammate. The truth is, there are different roles in a team, and in different situations, we all take up different ones. I tend to be the messing around, unhelpful but (I like to think) kinda fun to have around teammate, but today I found myself slotting into the role of boring bossy killjoy who tries to keep things moving forward and is the arch enemy of the messing around, unhelpful, ‘fun’ type. Having spent most of my life on the other side of the glass, I could almost hear the thoughts of my teammates as I made an unhappy face at every suggestion I didn’t think would result in the utmost productivity, or as I nagged everyone to stop looking up pretty dresses online and finish the task at hand. In short, I had become the person I detested. But on the bright side, I have been able to use this experience to direct me on how to deal with teamwork a bit.

Firstly, you have to make a choice. Would you rather win or be popular? This is a very difficult decision for me, as I am both incredibly competitive and have a constant need to feel liked by those around me. I normally base my decision then on two factors. Firstly, how important is it to succeed as a team? What is at stake? If it’s a simple bonding exercise, then I go for the loveable rogue type role. If however, there is potentially some kind of prize at the end if things go well, or some kind of severe embarrassment to be suffered in front of lots of people if they don’t, then I decide that winning is more important. The second factor is: Is there anyone else who will take charge if you don’t? If there is someone you know will naturally be the boring bossy killjoy, and will do a good job of it, then let them take the wheel. There’s no need to sacrifice your popularity if you’ll be able to do well anyway. If on the other hand you can see that your entire team consists of ‘loveable’ rogues, then it’s probably best to take charge. Hopefully they’ll all forget about how annoying you were in a week or two. Also, as a side note, if you are planning to take charge, it’s a good idea to pick a side-kick to whom you can bitch about the slackers of the team. Because they’ll be bitching about you.

If you have reluctantly resumed bossypants position, then there are some steps you can take to keep the friction to a minimum. The best piece of advice I can give you is this: pick your battles. I know this is a cliched phrase, but trust me, it’s better not to argue about every single suggestion anyone else has. Even if you think something’s a waste of time, it might well be less of a waste of time than the next suggestion, so it is often best to agree to it so as to placate the mob. If you keep on ignoring what everyone else is saying, they’ll probably start ignoring you too. On this note, I should also add that it’s always a good idea to listen to what people have to say. Then you can try and twist their ideas into what you want to do, and make them think they thought of it. Mwahahaha. Finally, try and punctuate your bossy commands with some humour. If you can make people laugh, they are putty in your hands…

Remember, there’s no ‘I’ in team!

Keep shortcutting,


Don’t be a Darth…

Shortcutting… Train Travel

28 May

I have discovered on my travels that the long-journey, overland train is a very different beast from the underground. It must therefore be tamed in a different way. There are a few things in particular to look out for:

The quiet coach: If you’re flying solo, then the quiet coach is definitely the place for you. No one should be talking loudly on phones (and if they do, you’re perfectly within your rights to give them a dirty look), ditto loud music, loud games, and basically anything fun. If on the other hand you’ve got company, I would definitely suggest avoiding the quiet coach (unless you don’t want to talk to them), or you’ll definitely find yourself on the receiving end of the aforementioned dirty looks.

The buffet car: Never underestimate the length of the train, or your own hunger. You may think: ‘Oh, the buffet car isn’t that far away.’ It is. You may think: ‘Oh, it doesn’t matter, I won’t get hungry.’ You will. In fact, I’d bet my buffet-bought lunch that there’s a positive correlation between distance of buffet car and size of hunger. So don’t risk it. Either make sure you’re near the buffet car, or bring your own food. I can say from experience that trying to squeeze down the aisles of ten carriages of a train that keeps juddering around and throwing you onto fellow passengers is not a barrel of laughs.

Toilets: Make sure to locate your two nearest toilets before you set off, and preferably take a pre-emptive trip. Because when the urge strikes and you either can’t find them or they’re engaged, squeezing down juddering aisles suddenly doesn’t seem like the most uncomfortable situation one can encounter on a train.

Tables: There is nothing better than having a table to put your stuff on, to put your bags under, to play cards on, to rest your weary head on. With a table, life just seems worth living. The humble tray-table does not compare.

Finally, on the topic of trains, I’d just like to mention the band Train, whose song Drive By has been stuck in my head for the past week. It’s the perfect tune to get you through your journey (although sing it too many times in a row and I’ve found that even if you’re not in the quiet coach, you won’t be too popular).

Keep shortcutting,

Shortcutting… Packing

27 May

It’s my last day in the country (mixed feelings) and I’m having to pack frantically for leaving early tomorrow morning. I kind of touched on this in my post Shortcutting… The Summer, but I can see now that packing deserves its own whole post.

Some people seem to manage to fold everything incredibly neatly, slotting all their belongings into the suitcase so that every atom of space is filled. I’m one of the stuff-it-in, sit-on-top kinds of packer, with no real game plan, a panic-packer if you will. Rather than approaching packing in a cool, calm, collected manner, I dash around the house picking up random bits and pieces that could potentially come in useful if I take a wrong turning and get stranded on the Great Wall of China, and then keep finding bigger and bigger suitcases if it doesn’t seem to fit. For this reason, I feel slightly hypocritical giving advice on the subject, but I have heard that making a list beforehand speeds the whole thing up somewhat. There’s also that really annoying thing of not being able to pack pyjamas and toothbrush until the next morning, so I quite like making a list of things to pack the next day.

Okay, fastforward a few days. Now we’ve had our holiday, and are sitting cross-legged on the bed wondering how all the debris around the room ever fit into that little black box on the floor. At this point, find your original list, the one you made before you packed. Then you’ll make sure you don’t forget anything. If you left it at home then too bad. Game over. Go back to the start. Also, be sure to check under the bed. There’s always something under the bed. Finally, it’s helpful to have some sort of travel bag as well as your suitcase, into which you can decant some of your excess stuff.

Okay, I better get back to my own packing now…

Keep shortcutting,

Shortcutting… Games

26 May

Whether you’ve got ice to break, time to fill, or just general fun to be had, games are the answer. They bring people together (and only very rarely tear them apart) and there are never any awkward silences. So without further ado, let me announce my favourite games.

Board Games: I know Monopoly’s a popular one but I find it takes too long and you never finish. Also, I’m not that good. So let’s move on. Articulate is definitely my favourite game: you basically have to describe words within a time limit, but it’s a lot more fun than it sounds! It does work best if you know your team mates well but if not it’s more funny. Taboo is similar except there are words you can’t say, just to add extra difficulties. It’s another good one for ice-breaking.

Pen and Paper Games: A sort of pen and paper equivalent of Articulate is the Hat Game, where everyone writes down names on pieces of paper and then takes turns trying to describe them. After all the names have been described, the second round is to describe the same ones in two words, and then round three is acting. Another game I love is Categories, where each player chooses a category, e.g. parts of the body, films, things that are blue, and then a letter is chosen at random and everyone has to find something beginning with that letter for each category. I’m aware that these all sound a bit boring, but in the words of the Lipton ice tea ads, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!

Apps: Given our technological age etc. etc., I thought I should just briefly mention that the majority of these games are available in app form, great for Apple fanatics and environmentalists alike (you save on paper, see?).

So yeah, get playing and you’ll be able to steer clear of tumbleweed moments for a looong time.

Keep shortcutting,

Shortcutting… The Countryside

25 May

I am currently in the countryside, where the air is pure and clear etc. etc. Being a city girl through and through, my lungs can hardly cope with the lack of dust mites and pollution. It’s tough. But to get through it, I’ve compiled a short list of ways to make the pureness and clean-ness just that little bit more bearable.

Firstly, I find that if you inhale just that little bit deeper, you’ll get a hint of ‘eau de cow pat’, which is slightly reminiscent of the ‘eau de pollution’ from back home.

Secondly, dress for walking. I know it’s hard to put away the stilettos but proper walking boots make it easier to forget the mud, and if you close your eyes you can almost persuade yourself it’s concrete.

Thirdly, learn to identify the stinging nettle. It will become your worst enemy throughout your stay, a substitute for the broken glass and other perils of the city. But one pro is that you can almost always find the antidote nearby, in the form of big, dark green, leafy plants called doc leaves. Who said plasters don’t grow on trees?

And one final piece of advice: don’t stray too far from civilisation. This could lead to you losing signal, which would mean no contact with the outside world for up to half an hour! Oh and if you do go hiking (in the search for a Starbucks no doubt), bring a map, just in case. And learn to read it.

I’ll try my best to stay connected for the duration of my stay here…

Keep shortcutting,