Saturday, 27 April 2013

Weekend Reflections on CIPD HRD13

I had the pleasure of being a Speaker at the CIPD HRD Conference on Wednesday.  I had also been invited to be an official Conference Blogger (two passes!).  Unfortunately, I could only attend on the first day, due to pre-booked work priorities in Southampton.  But no matter, I thought, I'll make it work.

I kinda did.  I  managed to get a blog out soon after I arrived, on a topic which had been bubbling with me for a while and which was empahsised in the twitterstream during my journey up from Brighton that morning - the use of humour in the face-to-face and the online worlds.  I was pleased to meet up with several of my twitter buddies who were also blogging the conference, particularly Mike Morrison (@rapidBI), Doug Shaw (@dougshaw1), Sukhvinder Pabial (@sukhpabial), Martin Couzins (@martincouzins) and Megan Pippin (OD_optimist). The Conference Press Room, hosted very ably by Katy Askew (@katyaskew) and Natalia Thomson (@N_Thomson) was also a great hub and bolt hole - and I knew how to operate the coffee machine!

With a limited amount of time before I had to start preparing for my own session, I had a quick scamper through the show guide and decided to drop by the "Technology for Learning" theatre in the Exhibition Hall to catch Pauline Willis (@paulinewillis) from Lauriate Ltd, speaking on and demonstrating the use of Sociomapping tools as an enabler for working successfully with remote and virtual teams. I greatly enjoyed her session and I tweeted out my key learning points throughout.
Then I had to run to the Speakers Lounge to meet my co-speaker, Tom Bryant from Colt Technologies, and our CIPD chair and host, to prepare for our shared session on "Simplifying L&D with Efficient Use of Technology".

It went well (despite being the 'graveyard shift' over and after lunch).  I managed to drag some responses out of the large, yet quiet, crowd and got some great feedback from attendees and fellow bloggers afterwards.  Thanks particularly to Doug and Sukh for very kind reviews.

I had arranged to meet Laura Overton (@lauraoverton) from Towards Maturity, to catch up on where my organisation has got to with following up our recent discoveries and suggested actions from completing their Benchmark Report late last year (answer: not a lot - much still to do!), and again, the Press Room was a gift to get us away from the hubble-bubble and have a good, focussed and enjoyable exchange - even if we were being spied upon by Martin Couzins... Deep In Conversation

I managed to walk the Exhibition Floor for a while before heading off to the Cumberland Arms pub in North End Road for the CIPD Tweetup, hosted again by Martin Couzins (that man gets everywhere!), which was a great, interactive and relaxing way to end what had been a full but inspiring day.

Like I said, I didn't attend Day 2, but I tried to follow the twitter backstream as much as possible within the working day.

So now, it's Friday evening and I've been following the backchannel again today - even tho' the conference finished on Thursday evening.  And that's the thing - the Conference might be over, but the debate, the discussions and the sharing is still going on.  New professional and personal contacts have been made, reflective blogs have been written, shared and commented on and links to supporting materials distributed.  The event lives on, even 'though everyone has gone home or back to work - social media and collaboration tools ensure it.

So what have I taken away from the event, from my participation as a speaker and as a blogger, and from monitoring the backchannel on Thursday and Friday?
  1. I wish I had managed to attend for the whole two days - for my own development and to have been able to blog and tweet more fully. 
  2. It's OK to have a script, but it's way much better to deliver a session 'off the page'. I felt comfortable with the flow - and just went with it on the day.
  3. I should learn to blog more quickly, more succinctly and more often.  Doug Shaw and Sukh Pabial are really good role models here, pushing blogs out very quickly - punchy and pithy - after the sessions they attended each day.  Their - and others' - tweets and blogs were fantastic for keeping me in touch when I was working on Day 2 and following up on Friday.
  4. Suit and tie = Delegate. No tie plus/minus suit = Speaker. This is a very good thing. Prick the pomposity!
  5. It ain't necessarily over when it's over!
  6. Reflect, reflect and did I mention, reflect?  And then go do!  That's next.
So that was CIPD HRD 13. For me, a great, but mixed, experience, cramming much into the one day I had available. Thanks to the organisers, the administrators,  the contributors, the attendees and the 'Press Pack'.  Thanks for having me.  

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Having a Laugh

I'm at the CIPD HRD Conference at Olympia today (Wednesday 24th April), and having been very busy at work in the last few weeks, I have been neglecting my social and professional networks.  Come the weekends, I've found my brain so full of work-related 'stuff' that I've either not logged into Twitter and LinkedIn or have done so - and facebook - but just engaged in some personal comments and light banter. This has thrown up  some interesting perspectives for me, particularly in relation to my 'professional' profile and my 'personal' profile and interactions, and where humour sits between or across those domains. Combined with seeing some 'humorous' tweets about some of the Conference topics already today, it has raised questions for me of authenticity, appropriateness and self-censorship.

I am someone who is passionate about wit and wordplay.  The essence of a 'joke' is the element of surprise - that's what makes us laugh; and I love it when someone does precisely that - ambushes me with the unexpected - and I find myself helpless with laughter as a result.  

My long-standing 'Hero of Comedy' is the genius who was Eric Morecombe.  I find myself almost incapable of articulating the exquisite agony of watching him and Ernie Wise in the endless re-runs of their television programmes (but I'll have a go).  I am in a conflicted state of joy and sadness when I watch them, torn between total love and enjoyment of their wit and humour and the still palpable sense of loss that they are no longer with us.   I literally watch Eric and Ernie with tears in my eyes - of both laughter and sadness - and I know this is inextricably tied to the passing of my Father - on which I have previously blogged - "Age Appropriate", December 2011 - 30 years ago. I can still hear Dad roaring with laughter at M&W on Sunday evenings when I was growing up, and I spent much of my formative years developing my own sense of humour, comedy and timing by learning from people like Eric Morecombe and Tommy Cooper, and then trying to make my Father laugh. If Eric Morecombe was my Hero of Comedy, Dad was my arbiter of what worked and what didn't work.

When I was an actor, I loved doing comedy and have fond memories of performing in Alan Aykbourn plays at Dundee Rep and with John Inman in Eastbourne.  I always got work at Christmas time, in Panto, usually playing some kind of comedy foil - Broker's Man in "Cinderella", Mate to the bossy Captain in "Jack and the Beanstalk" (#1), "Simple Simon' in "Jack and the Beanstalk" (#2) and Pong the Chinese Policeman in "Alladin" (the panto where I met my future wife, Mandy, back in 1982).

It's a fine line tho', between being funny (in my view, authentic) and being a clown (artifice).  On that basis, I rarely enjoy slapstick or comedy based around stupidity (Sorry, Miranda), but I do admit to getting the occasional giggle out of "You've Been Framed" (something to do with schadenfreude I reckon).

So, back to social media, professional networking, the difference between humour and sarcasm and the effectiveness /appropriateness of both in those arenas.

What works well as a throw-away remark or light-hearted comment in a face to face environment relies on everyone being 'in on the joke' by being present and being able to pick up on all the cues - verbal and non-verbal - which make up the context.  That applies as much in the theatre as it does in the boardroom or the classroom.  It also explains why stand-up comedy works, because the audience can both see and hear the comedian, and can appreciate their physicality as well as the story or joke itself.  Similarly, good radio humour is 'good' because it is unambiguous in its intent, its delivery and its clarity - written to ensure that the lack of visual cues does not detract from its impact.

And then we come to humour in the online world.  This, I would suggest, is an altogether more difficult and treacherous beast, more likely to bite the unwary and careless.  Even more so, if attempted within the constraints of the Twitter 140-character limit.  From my observations, some people don't quite get that.  

Some of the people I follow on Twitter are professional comedians or commentators, and they post humorous tweets which are great examples of the art of the online joke - I'm thinking here of people like David Schneider (@davidschneider) and Dara O'Briain (@daraobriain) - and I enjoy a bit of banter with my Personal Learning Network (PLN) as much as the next person.

However, my own self-preservatory instincts mean that I frequently self-censor online what I would normally risk' in the room' or f2f precisely because I don't think it would translate or it would be misconstrued, misunderstood or misinterpreted.  The immediacy and ease with which one can dash off a witty response to someone else's tweet or comment has tripped up many people, and - particularly where the professional and the personal learning networks meet or indeed overlap - could mean the end of some beautiful friendships. 

Sarcasm, "the last resort of the imaginatively bankrupt" (Cassandra Clare - @cassieclare), in an attempt to be funny or to make a point, does not play well in this space either, coming across - in my opinion - as judgemental and smug, whether delivered 'dead pan' or with an implied wink (and, by the way, don't you just hate people who wink?).  Something to be avoided, I'd suggest.

By all means, tell us a funny story, but let there be either a good punchline (surprise me) or have a good learning point to make that we can benefit from (connect).  I thank you.

So there you go; bit of a rant today - and probably making myself a hostage to fortune before my own session "Simplifying L&D with Efficient Use of  Technology" - but I hope it's stimulated some thoughts and I'd love to hear what you think about the use of humour in our connected world.  What's been your experience as contributor and as recipient?  Easy to find and do? Difficult to judge and share? Am I being over-careful, over-sensitive, over-critical?  What works for you?  What doesn't work for you?  Tell all...

Go on, give us a laugh!