Early Career

Like any other phase, it’s a learning experience. Let’s do it.

~See Lemons Suit Up


Public Speaking is a Marathon, not a Sprint

seelemonsonline : January 29, 2015 8:59 am : Early Career, Toastmasters

Random Observation/Comment #497: Get better at being a communicator. It’ll help with almost everything.

worn in

Everyone wants a shortcut solution to everything, but real mastery and improvement takes time.  I always suggest taking the smaller steps towards becoming a better communicator and gaining confidence in public speaking by following these key ideas:

  1. Know your material. Speak about things you know and that’ll take away half your qualms
  2. Organize your speech. Make sure what you’re saying is easy to digest by breaking it up into chunks with key takeaway phrases. Summarize for them and spend time on this preparation.
  3. Notice good (and bad) techniques. When you see toastmaster speakers or watch TED talks, look for the common techniques public speakers use to seem more confident or reach out to people. Notice pauses in their speech and ways they’re speaking about things to connect with people. Hand gestures, posture, eye contact, voice inflections, etc – these are all just bits and pieces that come together to remove the distractions around communicating those key ideas. The better organized the speech, the more you will get drawn into the story and the message.
  4. Practice. Giving the speech is not the big practice – it’s prepping correctly for it. A speech seen is only 10% of the work. The 90% doing the prepping seriously is much more valuable. You’ll see your own weaknesses and practicing in front of your mirror, family/friends, or pets will make you notice those little things about your natural performance.
  5. Take on a Role. I feel contributing to the meetings by being a toastmaster, speech evaluator, or general evaluator in some ways combines impromptu speaking with practiced explanations. This leadership section helps others build the meeting and gives you a main role in actively supporting your peers.  If you’re just attending the meeting and shyly going up to speak for 1-2 minutes, then you’re not fully using the potential and advantages of Toastmasters.

Reach out to your mentor. Reach out to officers. Reach out to me. We can guide you, but you’re the one that has to hold yourself accountable.

~See Lemons Keep Pace

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[A Big List] Online Learning

seelemonsonline : January 23, 2015 11:30 am : Early Career, Studies

Random Observation/Comment #496: Sometimes you just need to learn to ask the right questions. The internet is already our tree of knowledge.

online learning

Free online learning is an increasingly growing realm. I’ve thought about how free knowledge is now, and it’s kind of awesome you can pursue a life of continuous education and just take courses on stuff you’re interested in. The future of education will really be something…

The Big List

  1. CourseSites MOOC Catalog
  2. Mytestbuddy: http://mytestbuddy.com
  3. Berkeley Webcasts: http://webcast.berkeley.edu/
  4. Carnegie Mellon: http://oli.cmu.edu/
  5. Class Central : http://www.class-central.com/
  6. Codecademy: http://www.codecademy.com
  7. EveryClass : https://everyclass.com/
  8. Harvard/MIT/Cal: edX  https://www.edx.org/
  9. IIT Open courses: http://nptel.iitm.ac.in/
  10. Khan Academy: http://www.khanacademy.org/
  11. MIT OpenCourseWare: http://ocw.mit.edu/index.htm
  12. My Open Courses: http://myopencourses.com
  13. My Open Campus: http://myopencampus.in
  14. NovoEd (previously Venture Lab) http://venture-lab.stanford.edu
  15. Open Yale Courses: http://oyc.yale.edu/courses
  16. P2PU: https://p2pu.org/
  17. Skillshare: http://www.skillshare.com/
  18. Stanford: Coursera https://www.coursera.org/
  19. Stanford Open Classroom: http://openclassroom.stanford.edu
  20. Stanford Engineering:  http://see.stanford.edu/
  21. TED: http://ed.ted.com/
  22. Udacity: http://www.udacity.com/
  23. Udemy: http://www.udemy.com/
  24. Learning from Data: http://work.caltech.edu/telecour…
  25. If you have iTunes in your system, then iTunesU (iTunes University)
  26. CK-12 http://www.ck12.org/
  27. Saylor http://saylor.org
  28. Nalandau http://www.nalandau.com/index.php
  29. AcademicEarth http://www.academicearth.org/
  30. Youtube Education http://www.youtube.com/education
  31. Learn to Be http://www.learntobe.org/
  32. Floqq http://www.floqq.com
  33. Videolectures.NET http://videolectures.net/
  34. Portal to all free courses: http://www.knollop.com/
  35. OpenSesame – http://OpenSesame.com –
  36. Eduarrow – http://eduarrow.com
  37. http://Aprendamos.co.co:-microelearning site in Spanish
  38. CodeSchool http://www.codeschool.com/
  39. Veduca – collection in portuguese
  40. Course Hero Courses | Course Hero
  41. Open2Study www.open2study.com
  42. OpenLearn Open Learning – OpenLearn – Open University
  43. Peer to Peer Univeristy https://p2pu.org/en/

I used to just use my safaribooks subscription, but nowadays you can find 10 different professors explain the same concept in 10 different ways. If you don’t understand something, but want to learn it, you’ll find someone who can relate it to your learning methodology.

~See Lemons Online

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[Career Advice] Figure Out Why

seelemonsonline : January 8, 2015 9:00 am : Early Career

Random Observation/Comment #494: Inspired leaders think, act, and communicate from “why”.


  • What is your purpose, cause, and belief?
  • Why do you wake up?
  • Why should anyone care?

These questions aren’t meant to make you depressed (even though they often do), but instead to make you evaluate your speciality, skills, and objectives. This is your life long mission statement that you hope to uphold and share with those closest to you, so make sure it means something to you.  For me, I do it all to feel alive (all those emotions bottled up), stay connected (with those who care), and be useful (contributing my opinion and knowledge).

  • How do you advance forward?
  • What’s the strategy behind achieving your objectives?
  • What resources do you need to achieve your goals?

These foundational “How” questions lead you to building the right strategy and breaking down your bigger mission statement into life workstreams. As a writer or artist, maybe you want to share your stories and experiences, so you’d do so within a specific medium for 1) making your content and (more importantly) 2) connecting your content to your audience.

  • What actionable items do you do to get this done?
  • What can you breakdown into smaller tasks?
  • What do you do that doesn’t satisfy the Why and How?

Once you know the WHY and HOW behind everything, all you need to do is do it. The Direction is already set, so you know the work you do has meaning to you.  Now:

  1. Break down those objectives into actionable items
  2. Project manage your life by splitting these tasks up and setting milestones for yourself
  3. Re-evaluate your progress to make sure you’re on track to realistically reaching your goals

Everyone should be responsible for the vision and it’s important to start from the core outwards. Once you believe in the mission, the motivation and optimism behind it will always be there.

~See Lemons Because…

Leave a comment about what you want to do and I’ll do my best to help you do it.

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[Lessons Learned] Networking Strategically with Hobbies

seelemonsonline : January 5, 2015 11:18 am : Early Career, Just Life, Photography

Random Observation/Comment #493: It’s not about who you know, it’s about who knows you. When networking, make sure you’re clear to the value you can add professionally, and people will keep you in mind with your goals.

social nerd

The idea of a work-life balance always made me think that you need to trade off one for the other. This didn’t make sense to me so I started to combine work and life together into a more dynamic and enjoyable environment.

I try my best not to live a dual life. If I’m not getting paid for doing my hobby on the side anyway, I may as well find some other benefit, right? For those who are just beginning their early career in any industry, I highly suggest investing in horizontal groups that provide you with exposure across the board to people who can give you some insight on the winding roads of careers. Here are some examples of some hobbies that I’ve used strategically to help me in my early career:

  • Event photography. I’ve attended over 200 events in the past 5 years where I: leisurely took photos (~200, submitting maybe 35), drank some free happy hour wine/cocktails/beer, spoke with some regulars, and met a new person I’ve never seen before. This has not only helped me become a better photographer, but also a better networker (and social alcoholic). I’m always surprised at how many people ask me how I became the regular photographer, and I literally just said “I like photography, so I volunteered.”  It’s been that way ever since. The perks of non-stressful volunteer event photography is outstanding and it’s always easy to start a conversation or get away from one when you have a camera. Since then, I’ve built a community around photography and urged hobby photographers to teach their skills and share their business acumen.
  • Toastmasters/Public Speaking. I’ve written about Toastmasters many times and emphasized its value when you spend the time taking communication as a skill that can be improved.  Even if I didn’t gain horizontal access to managers at all levels and areas, I would still be involved with Toastmasters in order to keep those butterflies and sweaty palms away for speeches.
  • Prep for Prep Mock Interviews. Whenever I get the opportunity, I participate in interviews. This is not only to practice being on the other side, but also to truly give the valuable advice I never got when I was in high school. Of course, back then it wasn’t as easy to look up all these tips and tricks for acing interviews, but I still feel practicing making first impressions is a key to success.
  • Mentorship programs. Whether it’s in Photography, public speaking, career programs, or internship programs, I firmly believe in being a mentor and a mentee. You’d be surprised at how many senior/tenure managers love passing on advice. I’ve heard it all, but I think everyone comes to the main conclusions from different stories. I’ve found that my advice as a mentor also comes from a set of different ideas.
  • Philanthropy. Volunteering is not only giving back to the community, but a fairly easy way to get exposure to senior management. At the very least, they will recognize you as someone that helps the community. In these cases, I always have questions in my back pocket to start a random conversation. Keep it light and practice your pitch.
  • Human Capital programs. Every firm has a set of interest groups and diversity/inclusion programs to build the overall connectivity within the company.  Be a part of it. You’ll meet a lot of passionate people who love organizing events and may even network as much as you do. Sharing networks is a big part of growing presence.
  • Meet-up groups. There are meet-ups about every interest. I personally loved going to the New York Asian Professionals Meet-up (a little bit for the female ratio) or nextNY (much more for the geek dosage).  Befriend the organizers and help them wherever possible. These socialites are well connected and extremely friendly.
  • Organizing Events. If you don’t see an event you can participate it, then organize your own. We started a TEDxCreditSuisse and built our own volleyball teams with interest of a few peers. Some of them catch on better than others, but it’s all about being proactive with creating an environment to support common interests.
  • Friends of Friends. Yes, you love the routine of hanging out with your best friends all the time, but unless your friends organize events and keeps you connected, you’re pretty much doing the same things over and over again. This also means that your sphere of friends shrinks because it’s difficult to maintain even 20 people in a close community.  I try to keep a healthy level of friend exploration with a healthy level of reaching out to old connections.

Networking sometimes gets a bad connotation for climbing up the corporate ladder or using other people’s connections, but I rather see it as building a community. Many people use religion as a medium for getting a variety of professions involved, but you can just as easily create your own spheres.  The big kicker, which I have yet to figure out, is how to combine all these communities to build a web of friendship. Together, we can change the world.

~See Lemons Network Efficiently

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[Career Advice] Big Companies vs Small Companies

seelemonsonline : October 21, 2014 9:01 am : Early Career

Random Observation/Comment #450: All companies (no matter how big) are made up of teams of around 5-9 people. Why?  Because they’re effective at that size. You build camaraderie with peers and your ideas can be heard. For software, any larger is just too hard to PM.


At a mock interview night, someone asked me “Do you think I should work for a big name company or a small start-up?”  Clearly, there are benefits to both, but which ones should you do first? Should you even switch? Which one preps me for a better career path?

  • Strategy 1: Start at a big name company first and then move to a start-up afterwards.
  • Strategy 2: Work at a start-up first because taking risks should be done earlier in life than later
  • Strategy 3: Start your own company and be your own boss.

Here are the main things to consider:

  • Training.
    • Big companies usually have more cookie cut training courses and groups devoted to weaning you into the corporate world.  These build a great base and help you learn with fellow peers that will work for other areas of the firm.
    • Start-up companies throw you in the deep end and expect you to take on the “well if you don’t know it, learn it and teach us about it too” mentality. The whole team is probably young and filled with that energy to take charge and push forward.
    • With the education revolution at hand, I think there are enough free online courses that can put the onus of training in the hands of the employee. Proactive learning is key to keeping yourself relevant and marketable in an ever-expanding career cut by a very rapidly growing work force.
  • Camaraderie.
    • Big companies provide 1-2 year programs specifically for graduates that creates an amazing community. This is not only great for networking, but also conducive for learning. These training courses give a simple syllabus of the general knowledge you should know as you grow in your team.
    • Small companies have less of these structured programs because if you’re not geek enough to take the long way learning it through trial and error, you’re probably not hard working enough to be in a start-up.  There’s an air of competition, but I don’t think most places are meant to steal recognition from each other.
    • Competition is healthy in most cases, so I don’t see how this is any different from High School or College. Everyone gets graded by management by some bell curve and people are still rewarded for popularity/recognition/distinctions.
  • Opportunities.
    • Big companies usually have a larger hierarchy of middle management and also a larger number of groups you can move laterally into. There are hundreds of different roles that can be taken on with unique experiences based on team build and process.  If you get an opportunity to step back and look at the company as a whole, you’ll find its own ecosystem of dependencies and you can see where you fit in best.
    • Smaller companies usually reproduce a similar, but smaller ecosystem depending on the specific product. They take the lean approach to deal with usually the same sized problems.  If you compare Google as a small company to Google today, you can see there’s definitely more time spent on research/dev and side projects.  Smaller companies may provide a form of this, but don’t have the same bandwidth of overhead to do so.
    • From a bigger picture, “opportunity” may also refer to staying connected with a larger network, but I believe these are not limited to the level 1 degree of separation. The importance of network/camraderie is in branching out further and getting your brand out there.
  • Resume Builder.
    • Big companies with big names will often get your foot in the door for the next interview. When recruiters sift through resumes, they really do look for familiar name drop companies because they have contacts in those areas and can easily fact-check those roles.
    • Smaller companies that may be lesser known by most people in the world are fine if you’re entering the same industry and it’s a noted competitor for the new company you’re applying to.
    • That company’s reputation, no matter the size, will reflect your overall worth and value added. For example, financial institutions often look at the top performing sectors/products  within companies (instead of just overall company ranking). Either way, it’s all about getting through the screening. After that, I think one can easily give pros to their teams and experiences.
  • Experience.
    • Big companies are known to have bureaucracy and fairly complex processes implemented. While this is a negative thing for most people, it’s a fact of life about all large companies. A big red flag for hiring people from a smaller company is their disdain for these impediments and following the process.  Your new company will probably have some processes and you’ll need to know how to handle conflict resolution.
    • Smaller companies have their own drama, but be sure to tactifully address this concept as it usually becomes a concern in the later sections of the interview.
    • This is a two way street. Moving from big companies to small companies means easing off the process focus (which is usually easier), and from small companies to big means being flexible to following certain rules.

At the end of the day, I chose Strategy 1 because I was unsure where I wanted to go. I thought finance was a jumping point to another career path so I chose names that are easily recognizable. If you choose Strategy 2, however, you’ll probably jump from small company to small company building your technical experience quickly and then big companies will evaluate you based on your skill rather than the company name. It may be harder to get through the resume screening, but most opportunities that happen after 5 years of experience are through your networks.  In both cases, learn as much as you can and build a solid community of professionals.

Let me address Strategy 3: Start your own company since it doesn’t really fit into the categories above.  Entrepreneurship is tough, but completely worth while if you can take the risk. Realize that putting everything into a company means sacrificing a lot of free time and money with very high risk of failure.  That being said, if you have the idea and the right resources on your side, go do it.

Make sure you put a plan around your product and vet it before dumping $20k+ on it.  Having a start-up of your own and failing is a huge plus for all the areas mentioned between big and small companies for getting that next position. You’ll build grit and learn a tremendous amount along the way.

~See Lemons Speak for Itself


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[Lessons Learned] Organizing a Corporate TEDx

seelemonsonline : October 10, 2014 3:39 pm : Early Career, Geeky

Random Observation/Comment #449: Find activities that encompass multiple hobbies and aim towards a true mission… like TEDx. Organize a TEDx or more events appreciated by your community if you want to be happy.


TEDx licenses are granted to those who demonstrate a well-rounded theme that can provide multidisciplinary speeches, demonstrations, and general talks. It’s not meant to be a marketing ploy for your company to sell a product or anything based on doing more than expressing your passion and sharing your ideas.  Just like any other event we organize, there’s a big room, some guerrilla marketing, and then a few inspirational speakers. Simple, right? Nope. Here’s what went into the organization:

  • Speakers.  We had 8 speakers and 2 separate moderators for each session. Due to the importance of the event, we gave them around 5 weeks to prepare. There was a timeline in place with milestones. None of them were followed. People procrastinated. What else is new?
  • Speech Coaches. Our internal toastmasters club volunteered some advanced speakers to review content, listen, provide guidance, and tweak the speaker’s speeches. Every speaker actually had 2 or 3 coaches work with them.
  • Logistics. This includes room setup, video recording, photographers, slides, playing videos, transitioning between speakers, sign-up sheets, volunteer sheets, moderators, post communications, etc. This was no easy feat.
  • Marketing. What’s a bunch of speakers without an audience? We spent a lot of time spreading the word in different creative ways:
    • Our version of social media. We posted to different groups and utilized synergies between groups
    • Independent bios. All speakers provided their own photos, backgrounds, and list of random facts to get their teams pumped
    • Our internal newsletters. Our corporation has great newsletter coverage from different groups and it was excellent at reaching a diverse audience.
    • Sign-up tables. We hosted lunch sign-up tables with the speakers telling more people about the event.
    • Toastmasters support. Toastmasters members were also informed of the upcoming TEDx and helped with evaluations and speech prep/supportive environment for the speakers.
    • “Recommended” attendance by more senior speakers. Speakers who were also managers were able to rally their team for the hour event. Speakers would also tell their friends to join.
    • Training our volunteers to pitch the event. With a large number of volunteers within the firm, each volunteer just needed to convince 2 or 3 people to join and we could easily reach our 100 mark.
  • Artifacts/Docs/Presentations
    • About Our TEDx. For those who asked us what TEDx is, we had a well thought-out answer. This gave the background of “what is TEDx”, “What is our theme this year?”, and “How do I get involved?”
    • Speaker Kit. Specifically for the speakers, our kit contained some extremely useful information:
      • What is TEDx? – a message to the speakers about the TED vision and our own.
      • What is our theme this year? – we used “proactive learning”
      • What are some examples of TED talks? – we were narrowing down which TED talks to show that were related to proactive learning and wound up sharing all of them.
      • What is some advice for speakers? – I’d suggest including the TED Commandments
      • What are the guidelines to the speeches? – we recommend personal stories
      • What are some key milestones for the speakers? – the main 3 steps are:
        • Content/Flow. Write out the speech and outline the speeches into chunks/widgets that can be moved around. Find a solid introduction that draws the interest of the audience and a conclusion that gives a call to action and inspiring view.
        • Audio/Voice. Record yourself speaking while only focusing on voice inflections, intonations, and pauses. Read through it, remove your filler words, and start to memorize.
        • Video/Body Language. Record yourself going through the whole speech and add any visual cues with slides or props. Walk the stage, use eye contact, smile, and stand tall comfortably.
      • What is the speaker order, format, and agenda? – we put together a general agenda for the day-of the event.
      • What resources are available to me? – we mentioned the speaker coaches
    • Full Script. This was much more for the moderators and room setup team. Moderators need to be enthusiastic, include their own story, and know how to introduce their speakers.  Here, we also wrote difficult to pronounce names and asked the moderator to reflect on the speech to make the transitions less awkward.  We also recommended how the projectors/video would show on the main screen when the TED videos were being played.
    • Speaker photos and bios. This was important for marketing. We also included some rapid fire questions that give the speakers more opportunity to talk about their background with fun facts.
    • Consolidated speaker slides with Thank You slide.  We put all the slides together on one consistent powerpoint and added a huge Thank you slide at the end of it.  We worked out logistics on how/when to change slides.
    • Wiki page for organizing logistics and assigning volunteers.  Wikis were great for sharing any of the information above.  It was also easier for people to volunteer themselves for any outstanding tasks.

Lessons Learned/What we Did Right:

  • Allow for at least 6 weeks of planning.  Most of this time is for the speakers to prepare, but it was all a lot more work than expected.
  • Have speaker try-outs and choose a diverse group. Everything worked out great, but I think we could have did some auditions.  For the audition, while the speech does not need to be completed, we want a well thought-out topic.
  • Keep speakers on their toes. People will procrastinate, so write weekly words of encouragement and suggestions to give them milestones of where they should be for a checkpoint.
  • Hold a dress rehearsal at least a week in advance. This will let those who did not prepare to get a kick in the butt and prepare a lot more. Without that extra time pressure, it wouldn’t seem real.  You’ll also need to work out the slide changes and moderator transitions.
  • Have the speakers talk to each other. Since all the speakers worked in the same firm, it was easier for them to meet and share ideas. The result was an interesting correlation between speeches. Key words were shared and topics weren’t overlapped.
  • Assign multiple speaker coaches to speakers.  Not all speaker coaches have the same strengths. It’s important to have at least 2 per speaker so there’s a second opinion for speech content.
  • Give moderators a full script.  This was extremely important to run through by the dress rehearsal. It even included where people would shake hands on the stage and how the stage could be used.
  • Have hands-free microphones. Whatever the venue may be, it’s essential to have clip-on mics so speakers can use their hands to emote.  Holding microphones tends to restrict body motions in many ways (even though comedians do a great job with it).
  • Delegate your work. Add volunteers and have them help out. There’s plenty of work to do.
  • Market the event creatively. Other than having a website, make sure you have ways of confirming registrations (something like eventbrite) and sending updates when the dates get closer. We also bought red and white TEDx wristbands to give to volunteers and speakers to wear.
  • Use technology for communication/organization.  If we were doing this outside of the corporate world, i’d probably have a lot more shared google docs and calendar reminders for different milestones.
  • Send post communications.  It’s important to let attendants of the event additional information about those topics after the event.  This is especially helpful if you plan on holding another TEDx.
  • Have fun! It’s a lot of work, but it’s important to finish strong.

~See Lemons Organize a TEDx



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[Toastmasters] Mentoring your Mentors

seelemonsonline : October 8, 2014 9:45 am : Early Career, Toastmasters

Random Observation/Comment #448: Delegation, Trust, and Growth is key to building a successful program. One person truly can’t do it all and it would be foolish to hold all your knowledge as a security blanket on your leadership role.

see lemons mentor

Within Toastmasters, we’ve found that the mentorship program is the most customized and personable solution.  The agenda and reoccurring meetings provide a place to practice and lead meetings (and the people really love the supportive environment), but it’s the mentor that answers those specific questions and helps with individual needs.

I’ve mentored quite a few people who have learned the tricks of the trade. What did I teach them?

Questions to ask your mentor: (because you need to listen before you can advise)

  • What aspect of communication do you want to improve?
    • This is to hone perhaps specific issues they’ve reflected on with their overall communications. This could be filler words, confidence, eye contact, freezing up, memorizing facts, keeping things interesting, memorizing speeches, etc.
  • When do you have opportunities to speak in public or one-on-one with senior management?
    • If they haven’t thought about communication too much, try to help them with different day-to-day activities where any form of communication can be involved. What about social gatherings, networking, or seeing management in an elevator?
  • How do you feel when speaking in groups?
    • Everyone is nervous, but at different levels. Most people are able to maintain a one-on-one or 3-person conversation comfortably. Try to give them advice about how that’s essentially public speaking. If you want to make the speech more personal, just address smaller groups at a time with your eye contact. Zone out the rest and speak to smaller chunks at a time.
  • How are you with interviews?
    • Most people are much better answering questions when they’re given questions and less comfortable with stepping through an entire speech. Sometimes it’s just the opposite. If you’re good at interviews, but bad at public speaking, you may need to incorporate more rhetorical questions into your speech. If you’re bad at interviews, try to prepare a little bit more for certain questions by answering them honestly to different people in different ways.

FAQ with general responses and tips: (because advice is all the same until you put it into practice and try to continuously improve)

  • I want to reduce my filler words.
    • (Probably the most frequent). The best thing to do is realize that you’re using filler words. It’s actually not that big of a deal because everyone does it, but reusing the same fillers as a crutch can be distracting. I would first introduce the PAUSE. If you’re pausing for too long, try to introduce a different word instead of the filler word (like ‘giraffe’). If this doesn’t work, then try to make a game out of it with your family and friends (e.g. you get poked if you use a filler word). If that doesn’t work then try to alternate between all the filler words you know (e.g. y’know, um, ah, oo, la, li, and so, but, just, I’m thinking…, bah). Not using the same filler word twice doesn’t really make it an obvious distraction even though you’re still using the time to think.
  • I want to make my meetings more interesting.
    • Relating this to Toastmasters, for a meeting to be effective, it should always follow an agenda. Let people know how much time they should talk about a certain part and give people that summary of what they should take away from the meeting. Also always give action item summaries at the end. This applies much more when talking to other groups with gathering requirements
    • For reoccurring meetings, something like a scrum or a catch-up of BOW items, try to put a theme around it. Maybe call your meeting a combination of your team member names mashed up with movies?  It’s the PM job to not only keep things on schedule, but also keep the team motivated. Sometimes these little fun things can help keep things interesting.
  • I want to be more confident in front of the crowd.
    • Even the most experienced speakers are nervous, but they know themselves well enough to be able to think of something to say. When in doubt, go back to phrases and topics that you’re comfortable with talking about. Recall stories you’ve told to friends or advice that was given to you.
    • Know that when you’re speaking in front of people, you are already the Subject Matter Expert and your words will be weighted unless proven otherwise.
    • Also know that people don’t know what you’ve prepared so don’t get flustered if you forget to mention something or mess up saying a part of the speech different from how it was memorized.
    • Your perceived confidence comes from body language and vocal tone. Stand tall and project your voice.
    • Practice!  Take on a role of running the meeting as toastmaster and be sure to utilize your voice projection and body language. A strong stance and commanding voice goes a long way.
  • I want to think faster on my feet.
    • Not everyone is going to be good at this and those that are have a secret: they know how to maneuver a conversation to something they’re familiar with. If you look at really good Q&A, you’ll find that they’re either been prepped with all the possible questions, or they don’t answer the question fully and skew it to a similar point. It’s a deflection to the familiar.
    • Table topics is the best way to practice this because we want people to not just think about the specific question or topic, but bring up any random questions that may be related to it. This is the reason why table topics are usually not one-word answers (or if they are, it should be simple enough to follow through).
    • For example, if the table topic was about your favorite place of travel, it should be pretty simple: where is that place? Why do you like it? Why do you recommend it? What story do you have there?  Try to organize it so it’s easy to follow and summarize at the end with points.
  • I want to speak clearer/reduce my accent.
    • Articulation is important in all languages. Sometimes tonal changes mean completely different things. We pay attention to these differently with different languages. Make sure that when you speak, you speak at an easy-to-listen pace and slow down if you have a tendency to slur words.
    • I’ve heard that the vowels are the main reason why people have accents. Listen to more audiobooks and try to repeat words similarly. Maybe record yourself speaking and work on matching vowels closer to the way it’s spoken.  Reading along while listening to audiobooks also helps with pacing and understanding grammar pauses better with commas.
  • I want to make better visual presentations.
    • The corporate way of presenting uses a lot of screen real estate for jamming in as much information as possible. That’s a typical corporate deck. These are printed and read because management wants all the words there when people don’t want to listen or forgot to listen during the meetings.
    • I believe real presentations should be about the speaker/presenter. The other material should be on the side in the form of a document. However, this is not always the case because real presentations aren’t always provided as an opportunity. Very rarely do you get to exercise your public speaking, so if you’re given that privilege, I would suggest using it fully.
    • More modern technology styles of presentations include more graphs and simpler slides that compliment the presenter’s words. Use high quality photos and try to make them represent the idea clearly.
  • I want to tell jokes better.
    • Practice! Tell a joke every day to a few friends and sooner or later you’ll memorize quite a few that could be used in your everyday life. To tell a good joke, the key is to be able to execute it correctly. It’s not the words in the joke that make it funny, but the pauses and even the facial expression. The execution is certainly the best part of a good joke.
    • Start by practicing a well told joke that you can mimic for the timing and exaggeration. After that, try to practice one that’s written down. Lastly try to practice one that you’ve written.
  • I want to tell better stories.
    • Everything is a story. Telling a good story is similar to telling a good joke except a story doesn’t always have to be funny. Listening to stories helps a person tell them because a good story teller (like the ones from a long time ago before they had any visual aids) would exaggerate, emote, and act everything out.  They’d do this to capture the attention of their audience.  If you want to see where good stories are told, I suggest paying attention to talks made by great presenters. I love watching TED talks for this reason.
    • Listen to the way people utilize pauses and change of speed and tones during their story telling. They add so much more drama to it when they imitate voices, slow down during important parts, whisper and build up for scary parts, and speak faster if the story permits.  Pretend you’re telling the story to a child and you’ll find out what works better.

These are usually just the normal problems and some sample solutions. Obviously, knowing these goals are important, but it’s the practice and execution that makes the difference.  As a growing mentor group, we plan to have regular meetings to brainstorm other questions and group solutions that help conquer those areas so we can all benefit from being better mentors and overall communicators.

~See Lemons Teach Mentors

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[Lessons Learned] Applying Agile Principles to Life

seelemonsonline : October 4, 2014 1:20 pm : Early Career

Random Observation/Comment #447: Don’t try to find a one-size fits all solution. It doesn’t exist.


After taking a full week of training courses and becoming SCRUM certified, I learned quite a few remarkable characteristics about agile that I could apply to my own life.

For those who don’t know, agile is a methodology around iterative development, continuous improvement, and complete transparency. In my opinion, agile solves many of the problems faced in heavy waterfall companies by holding the resources and time constant while varying the scope – thereby giving the deliverable prioritization and decision making back to the customer. This keeps the customer engaged and produces a very lean and motivated team.

These main principles of agile have been appropriately ported over to my own life:


  • Continuous Learning. Kaizen philosophy revolves around continuously improving oneself. If you improve 1% every 2 weeks, you will be 25% better after a year. This is more than about being smarter every day – it’s about pacing your improvement. Realize that it’s impossible to do a 180 and expect it to stick – it’s much more manageable to adjust your habits one smaller segment at a time (30 day challenges!).
  • Invest in your team. In agile, the team is most important because it’s the one that delivers. Make sure you grow this team by broadening their knowledge base where needed and addressing their needs. In your personal life, know which friends are helping you and help them back. Give back to the community and look to improve other people. Once you invest in that bigger community, you’ll find you’ll improve with it as well. When you invest in the team long term, you will grow a group that trusts each other and delivers efficiently.
  • Remove single points of failure. For an individual, this means working on your weaknesses, but as a team I think this means sharing your knowledge and growing the team’s capability. Any silos of knowledge and silos of skills will bite you in the butt later on. Trust one another to learn and grow.
  • Adding a resource will hinder team development. Remember that changing aspects of the team will almost definitely reduce productivity. This is sometimes unavoidable when there’s unexpected turnover, but be sure not to manage in a way that thinks throwing more resources at a problem could reduce the amount of time it will take.  In life, make sure your personal board of executives that help you with life decisions stays constant. Build that trust with them and rely on them.
  • Hold Retrospectives. These are lessons learned meetings that aim specifically for actionable changes that can be applied to the next sprint (work session). I personally always set up end of month retrospectives just to update my list of triumph moments of the month as well as regular progress towards my 30 under 30 goals.

Limit Works in Progress

  • Fewer and more manageable user stories. In agile and kanban, we only give the dev team a smaller number of prioritized user stories at a time. We do not over burden them with the whole list of features expected because it becomes demotivating when facing a giant wall. Instead, management only puts what can be completed in 2-3 days and continues adding to the list once most of the user stories are complete. In our personal life, we should do the same with our tasks. Prune your to-do list to more manageable short term tasks and you will be able to complete them.
  • Don’t multi-task. Along the same lines of giving too much work, try to instill finishing one thing in a stretch of time instead of switching between tasks.  It’s far easier to start a project than to finish one, so just start fewer projects. Do your top 3 first and ignore the rest until those 3 are done.  Remember: Starting a project means nothing. It just distracts you from your other existing projects. I would rather finish 2 things than start 10.
  • Groom your backlog. Half way through every sprint, there is a session to review your to-do list and reprioritize based on current progress. This exercise is extremely important because it also motivates the team to see the bigger picture. In my own life, I set up time specifically to look at to-do list items and reprioritize them.  I usually save the lessons learned for the month-end retrospectives.

Definition of Done

  • An incomplete project does not get credit. In agile, user stories represent full front-to-back integration. It’s about concept to cash and not just fluffy tasks that build layers.  It’s a workflow that business can derive value from.  In many cases, you may not finish a full user story in the given sprint time (2 weeks). If this is the case, there is no partial credit for an incomplete user story.  This concept encourages developers to complete meaningful contributions before jumping around to other ones. It creates focus and also supports measurable end points. In my life, I try not to post accomplishments until they’re actually accomplished. Talking about Works in Progress gives an elation of praise and recognition for starting a project. I think the real challenge is completing it.
  • Write thorough acceptance criteria. A project is deemed ‘complete’ by fulfilling multiple acceptance criteria set by the team and Product owner before the project starts. In life, if this is a personal goal that’s vaguely immeasurable, you are usually creating these end points by yourself. When you do this, make sure you discipline your goal to know when it’s actually completed.

Know Why

  • People are driven by why. If you’re in a team, keep the goals transparent to the business value. Set the bigger picture and work backwards from there.  In most cases, you’ll find that the team will come up with a better solution than just one person, so if you don’t share the full reason behind it, you will stiffle team creativity.  In your own life, ask yourself “why am I doing this?”  If it’s very clearly to make money to support an expensive alcoholic and consumer life style, then fine. If you’re also doing it because you love the job and the people you work with, then all the better.
  • Green statuses are bad.  Along the same levels of why, it’s important to have challenges and friction. In relationships and personal life, we shouldn’t just be making easy decisions. If all decisions were easy, then we’d have no real choice and fate would determine everything for us.  In the same light, you may not want life to always be a green status.  This doesn’t always mean to add entropy to mess up something good, but it does mean that you should always stretch yourself to complete more and continuously grow.
  • Servant leadership. In agile, management and decision makers do not make promises until the team agrees. This is because the team is the one that’s doing all the work. In the same way, I feel like management should be leaders from the bottom up. We want them to protect us from BS, but also step out of our way when we’re doing great.  We want to be inspired by them and not just do what they say because we have to.  Money should not drive the team. Team should drive the money. This is the independent self-regulation our life needs.

The biggest take away for me is to treat your life as a product. If you invest in it, then it will succeed – you will produce new ideas and contribute to your community.  Make sure your product is healthy by focusing on a handful of major projects at a time and learning from every experience.

~See Lemons Agile

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[Toastmasters] Your TED Talk Checklist

seelemonsonline : September 3, 2014 3:05 pm : Early Career, Toastmasters

Random Observation/Comment #443: Organizing a TEDx (or any event involving a community where you share your passions and ideas) is a very rewarding experience.

TEDxCSNY logo black

TED/TEDx talks are kind of a big deal. It’s not just a toastmasters speech in front of your peers or even a speech to your managers – it’s a recorded and mass-distributed video that could potentially go viral.  Embrace this opportunity! Prepare and review with all the resources you can find.

Every talk seen on TED is a product of a lot of preparation. The presentation is just the tip of the iceberg to that 90% of hard work writing, tweaking, and practicing for those 5-18 minutes of glory.

What should the talk have? Here’s the order of importance and overall checklist of putting together a high quality TED talk:

  • Content – Milestone 1: Outline
    • Organization. Is it easy to follow?
    • Personal Story. Moving? Serves a purpose? Makes us laugh? Makes us cry? Ties in well?
    • Message. Overall inspirational? Powerful?
    • Call to action. Makes me want to do something? Inspires me to be more proactive?
    • Underlying theme (bring back to a quote?) Is it evident and matches the tone?
  • Vocals – Milestone 2: Listen to yourself audio only
    • Inflections. Speak up and down. Avoid up-speak (cheerleader speak). Make statements.
    • Pauses. Are you breathing? Use pauses effectively before presenting a point.
    • Speed. Quick and slow to keep things interesting.
    • Loudness. Speed up and get louder to emphasize certain things. Vary the volume to get people paying attention to certain parts.
    • Tones. Go up and down. Listen to audiobooks to see how this is done. Impersonate voices where it fits.
    • Filler words. It’s not written in the content, but it tends to come up. Try to reduce filler words by using pauses instead.
  • Body Language – Milestone 3: Watch yourself in a 360 review
    • Eye contact. Are you including everyone?
    • Smile/Facial expression that fits the speech. Feel free to loosen up.
    • Note nervous ticks. Find out what to naturally do with your hands. Nervous ticks can be distracting so don’t touch hair, put hand in pockets, or lean to one side.
    • Stance / Use of stage. Stand tall to show that level of confidence. Walk towards the crowd and match with eye contact to deliver a message.

Notice that for practice, the 3 major milestones are to review your content, listen to your audio, and then add the body language last. Interestingly enough, the body language is the most noticed part, BUT you still need to know what you’re talking about to present that confidence. These milestones should be reached in this order so you can just focus on each of these skills.

As for Memorization / Practice:

  • Memorize as a logical story of ideas
  • Tie together ideas with rhetorical questions (what happened next?)
  • Note ways of expressing ideas when you read the outline
  • Write the full text once, outline, write again, and re-outline
  • Note things you want to memorize exactly (definitions, poems, etc)
  • Mental note paragraphs and break information into orderly chunks
  • If visual aids are used, don’t read from them, but use them as a mental cue to connect your thoughts. Some people create slides even if they don’t use them so they can easily chunk these ideas/concepts together.

Remember: Practice! Think about it in the shower and on your commute. Tell your friends, family, bathroom mirror, and pets. Ask for advice and look for ways to tighten up the speech. Best of luck!

~See Lemons Love TED

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[Toastmasters] My Speech Preparation Process

seelemonsonline : August 25, 2014 10:30 am : Early Career, Toastmasters

Random Observation/Comment #442: One should be honored to give a speech. It’s so rare these days to stand up in front of a crowd and address them with your guidance, knowledge, or story.

clem speaking

When I completed my CC for Toastmasters, I mostly just reiterated blog posts that I wrote.  It was easy for me to speak about them because I already did the hard work of organizing the speech in an easy to digest way with a clear point and clear take-away action points through this blog’s format methodology. The only thing I’d normally have to do is add a story around it.

While working through the advanced speeches, I found myself writing more specialized speeches and honing my overall speech preparation process:

  1. Pick a topic you’re passionate about. Take this seriously because if you don’t know your topic or can’t speak about it regularly at a bar, it will be very difficult to give a full speech about it.  The speech writing process will help you hone the organization of your already deep wealth of knowledge in the space. If you don’t know it, but love the topic – that’s okay too because you can do all the research around it to prepare yourself.
  2. Write the speech as if you were writing a blog post or journal with stream of consciousness. My first draft of the speech is just a brain dump of information I want to say. It usually answers the main questions that would be asked of me:
    1. Why are you speaking? This could be your purpose or providing your credentials. In TED talks, I’ve found that the credentials/background isn’t as important as the personal story around the situation.
    2. What are some examples to sell your point? This is the meat of your presentation that can be organized within the body. Sometimes starting from the examples can help you clearly categorize points.
    3. What can the audience do after learning the information you’ve given them? This is the call to action conclusion everyone wants to hear at the end of the speech. It will get them rallying of our main point.
  3. Reverse outline your speech.  After you’ve done your brain dump and written some coherent sentences, summarize your speech points back into key words. Do this so you can easily group ideas and move them around.
  4. Reorder the speech if needed. The outline is rough, but it’s pretty solid to represent what you want to say.  As a personal technique, I write the key words on post it notes and physically reorganize them. This helps me see the bigger picture and gives me hooks to work off of when I move from one idea to the next.
  5. Say the speech again based on your outline and using some of the ways you wrote it the first time. Note any new ways you represent ideas. This gives you an opportunity to say the speech in a different way, but about the same topic. We want to focus less on the words and more on the communication. If you say it better one way, remember how you said it and make sure to say it again that same way.
  6. Wait 1 day. Revisit with a fresh mind.
  7. Say the speech again based on outline and those 2 ways of saying the speech outlines. This is further refinement of the bigger picture that comes through.
  8. Repeat steps 3 to 7 as needed. This means you will be saying your speech over and over again in different ways and possibly different orders.
  9. Scrap everything and just write the outline. I like removing everything I’ve done and rewriting the outline from scratch based on how I naturally would speak through it.  I think this will be your final test in the flow and listening to yourself say it as an audience.
  10. Practice the speech recorded. As a draft run, try recording the presentation or presenting it to your friends/significant others/family/children/pets/etc.  Reviewing the recorded speech could make you nervous, but could also help with getting through the filler words.
  11. Tell someone about the speech you will be giving (note how you summarized the speech). This is probably the most important thing of a good speech. If you’re able to summarize your speech in a short fashion, it means you know it pretty well.

Of course you don’t have to do all these steps, but if you do, I guarantee that you’ll know your speech very well. It does take a little bit of time for prepping, but this is to insure you’re comfortable with the material and you’re conveying the ideas instead of just saying the words.  If you want to do a final check, make sure the purpose of your speech fits the audience.

~See Lemons Prep Speeches

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