In December 2014 I delivered a keynote at FailingForward.
This one was special for me, as my 12 year old son joined me on stage.
Here are the slides:
Partly because it was about failing. Dealing with failure and seeing failure as something positive has been one of my favourite topics since I burned down my parents house in 1991.
Yet that was not the main reason why this presentation was special.
I had a co-presentor. Now for those who follow me, know I make a lot of publicity for PairCoaching, so having a PairPresentor is also nothing new. What made it special, was it was my 12 year old son who joined me on stage.
And we did the presentation in English. A language he did not learn at school yet. So his English is mainly “television & music” English. Ah, it’s wonderful to live in a country where most television has subtitles and is not dubbed.
During the day and the weeks before I received a lot of questions from friends about this presentation, I wanted to group some of the answers here.
How were you invited to this conference?
As Greet De Keyser said in her presentation, people should ask what they want.
When I saw the program of the Failing.FWD conference, I tweeted something like: Damned this is a conference I would have wanted to talk. And then Karen one of the organizers replied: oh you were on our list and we still have an open spot.
Getting what you want, is that simple!
Did they agree on bringing your son?
This is a nice example of “asking for forgiveness instead of begging for permission“. I’m a professional speaker. It’s my responsibility to make a great talk. I don’t need to ask people if the content or style of my talk is ok.
yes, I did tell Karen I wanted to bring my son and I told her it was possible that he would be on stage with me. I guess, she trusted me. A BIG THANK YOU to Karen, Ann and the full Failing.FWD team for trusting me.
How did you prepare?
The million dollar question.
After I got accepted and before I started to prepare my talk, I received an e-mail from Joppe’s school that the school would be on strike. So I asked Joppe if he wanted to join me in going to a conference -that was in English-. I assumed his English would have been good enough to follow a few sessions. He said yes. And he said yes with an enthusiasm, that triggered me in asking him if he wanted to join me on stage. Without blinking he said yes. I replied, you realise we will talk in English, he looked at me and said yes with a big smile on his face. Ah, the youth and it’s innocents enthusiasm.
I prepared this talk like I prepared all my talks.
– I created the draft of the presentation on index cards. (alone)
– Then I rehearsed the presentation using cards (alone) a first time. (And adjusted the cards.)
I did these steps alone, not because I did not trust him.
In 2011 he helped a lot in creating our joined presentation about our life in Bordeaux, I knew having helping me to create the presentation would be a great asset. I did it alone because he still had some large tests at school and my partner did not want that I distracted him. (WorkLife balance is also challenge for him…)
Then I created slides from my cards. I had +40 slides for a 20 minute presentation. Although that scared a few presenters around me, it’s part of my presentation style, which uses a mix of presentation Zen, Pecha Kucha and training from the back of the room.
I tried it a few times alone and then talked with Joppe about it. Just like last time, he had some great idea’s and the presentation grew. And then last Friday we rehearsed a few times & some more on Saturday. The first time saturday morning, was one of the first times the rest of the family joined in watching and he froze. he stopped after 5 minutes and refused to continue.
We talked a little bit about what to do when this would happen at the conference.
I still don’t know exactly what happened, yet I don’t want to pressure him in sharing something that scared him. I did tell him to not worry, if it would happen on stage, I would take over.
Next time we rehearsed the whole family was out. Although they came home while we were halfway, this time he continued and everything was fine.
In the meanwhile I was a more worried about the nr of slides (we had already 50 by now.) I got worried because a lama listening to the name Sofie (or is it a Sofie listen to the name Lama?) asked me about the speed of the presentation.
Sofie is the kind of women that with just a few words turns my world up side down (no, not that kind of upside down.)
I’m the kind of man that has a big EGO, yet I also know that I need to listen to women smarter then me. (I live with two of these)
In the dry-runs with Joppe, I realised that Sofie was right. In some places the speed was wrong.
So on Sunday, me and Joppe we worked on the pace and the order of one part of the presentation. Joppe’s help was crucial here, although at first I thought he did not well remember some of his lines, he made me realise that I got some parts mixed up.
So I went back to my walking desk and started to type out that part of the presentation. It was hard, now Joppe & Sofie were independently of each other partnering up “against me”, yet more importantly in favour of a great presentation.
It was already 15:00 and we needed to leave. I had agreed with the people from Failing.FWd we could do a try out on the real stage.
And then everything fell together, yet when we tried it out, I noticed again it was hard to remember the correct order (remember we had already been practising this talk a dozen times.)
And then I did the probably the opposite of what Sofie would have done, I added 3 more slides. And boom, it felt right. No time to rehearse the full presentation. I uploaded the slides to Slideshare, loaded the luggage in the car while dropbox synced and of we left for Genk. We were half an hour late, yet the lovely Ann Dries from Failing.FWD came out to let us practise on the real stage.
I wanted to do this, so Joppe could feel the stage and I hoped that feeling this he would talk louder. Joppe is rather introvert and when he talks to me, while other adults are in the room, I can hardly understand him. Ok, this is probably partly due to hearing loss as a DJ and some other ear damage, yet he talks rather quite. We practised a full Dry Run, without microphones and with my computer in front of us. I asked him to talk louder then he did and probably wanted.
We agreed with An that we would practise another time Monday morning , now with microphones etc etc..
Although lots of things went wrong (I’ll blog about these in the next days), we had a blast on stage.
Joppe spoke loud enough and it felt to me that the audience loved his style, right from the start.
So it was no surprise to me he got a standing ovation of the full audience.
Thank you Filip Bunker from Pitslamp for the great pictures
For me it seemed that at #ALE14, failing was one of the themes.
When I noticed that many people said: yes talking about failing is easy when it’s only a small failure, but what about a real big failure?
That’s the moment I decided to have a lightning talk about the moment I burned down my parents house in 1991.
The people that know me, know, I have been talking very openly about this event for years. I even did a talk at a few agile conferences called: what I learned from burning down my parents house.
Yet at #ALE14 talking about it (almost unprepared) on stage and feeling the reactions, made me very emotional.
Thank you. I’m still get tears in my eyes when I think about the support I felt from the audience .
As a thank you, I want to talk some more about failures.
About some of my failures during #ALE14. I learned from the fire that failing is OK. And although I learned that from a big event, I want to use the small failures I made at ALE14 to talk about how I deal with failures now.
It started with my proposal for ALE14.
I made 3 proposals for ALE14. They all needed more work. Work I did not do: FAILURE I
I don’t know exactly why it happened, yet I also did not follow up on these proposals: FAILURE II
I also got feedback on one of them, feedback I did not understand. I asked a question. And did not follow up on that either. > FAILURE III
As a result my sessions got rejected. (One session got resurrected during my holiday, I guess I was lucky)
Last year I did sponsor ALE13 to promote the idea of PairCoaching. This year I forgot to contact the organizers FAILURE IV
On top they decided not to contact the old sponsors, and when I found out, I left it like that (FAILURE V)
I knew already for a very long time I wanted to go to ALE in 2014, yet I only booked my plane like in the last week FAILURE VI
At the first edition of ALE, I shared a room with Chris Matts and that was a wonderful experience. So ever since I decided to do this again when I can, only know I completely forgot with who I would share a room this year FAILURE VII
After a day or so and a few embarrassing tweets where I had to acknowledge this, I finally realised I found the person thanks to a message on linkedin and I found back I did that with Sergey (For me FAILURE VIII as I should have realised this earlier)
I thought I had the address of our apartment noted in my agenda, turns out that was of the venue FAILURE IX
The address I did found back while being outside the hotel, was not complete and did not work with google maps FAILURE X
In the end I never paid Sergey (FAILURE XI)
And while writing this blogpost, I realised I still did not mail Sergey to fix this FAILURE XII
Also with Sergey we hardly talked when we came at the apartment so my apartment sharing did not get the results as before . that is because we did not really exchange expectations FAILURE XIII
When I arrived in Krakow I was extremely tired and most of the first day, I felt I was in zombie mode FAILURE XIV
At the last day, when I did my 30 second pitch for my talk, I asked people to think about a bad habit, and then I asked them to share it with a neighbour. That was bad. I should have said: if you feel comfortable, it would be nice if you can share it with someone else in the room, that you trust. Asking people to share a bad habit with a random stranger, is good for some people, yet others prefer it do it with someone they know. Thank you Paul Klipp for calling me out on this. > Failure XV
I have not posted the blog post about the ALE14 books yet as I promised. >> FAILURE XVI
And the biggest of it all: I did not call my children on the first 2 days while I was at ALE14. >> FAILURE XVII
I can continue for a while like this, and I already know what the default reaction of a lot of people will be: Yves these are not all your fault. Some of them could be blamed on -FILL IN THE PERSON YOU WANT TO BLAME-
I don’t play that game. I prefer to blame myself. Not because I’m on the SHAME stage of the responsibility model.
I do that because if I look at a situation from a point of view that I failed, I can also see what action I can take to avoid this in the future.
And that is the game I’m playing.
This is why I like to say: “blame it on me”, some people think it’s a joke. It’s not. I like to be blamed. Especially when the critic is concrete. That means I can look at the situation, see my part in it and turn it around.
So, where did you fail lately?
A few days ago, my twitter friend (How do we call this, a Twiend?) Lamazone, asked the question:
Vraagje aan de ondernemers: hoe netwerken jullie het vaakst en het liefst? RT= Q2*2! #dtv
— Sofie Verhalle (@lamazone) July 7, 2014
“Dear entrepreneurs , young and experienced, how do you network?”
She received some great answers, yet I noticed that I network in a different way. When I look at networking, I never see this as a way to find new customers. For me, networking is about connecting with people. Getting to know new people and learn from them. And in that sense, like Rosemie Callewaert wrote, you can’t do “no networking”.
On top, I think that networking happens differently for introverts and extroverts.
For clarity, the definition between introvert and extrovert that I use, is where do we get our energy from.
An extrovert, gets her energy from connecting with people. An introvert, gets her energy from being alone. It’s not that an introvert can’t connect with people. it’s that this costs her a lots of energy.
When I was in school I was 100% introvert, I spend most of my personal time alone reading books. Today, I have changed a bit in a sense that how I behave really depends on the context.
In some context, I will go back to my old behaviour and I need alone time to charge energy.
In another context, f ex an agile conference, with a lot of friends, I will spend hours talking, discussing etc… In contrast to a full introvert, at agile conferences, I will actually get energy from these discussions. Which is why I can hang around in a bar till 3 am, and get up at 7 am, full of energy. (the fact I don’t drink any alcohol helps too 😉 )
Another aspect that has a huge impact on how I network, is my personal situation:
As a father I want to spend a part of my time with my three children (2002,2004,2007). On top of that, my partner works with people who have autism and is doing that also at evenings and weekends. Since 1998, I have my own company, which means that next to networking, I also need to work for clients and run my own business.
Some of my friends say that work-life balance does not exist. And yes, I do believe that all aspects of my life are mingled. (Or fused as Jurgen Appelo calls it so nicely.)
And yet, I have to prioritise where I spend my time on. When my partner has an evening shift, I can’t put my kids in bed and be at evening event the same evening.
This means that integrating work-life has some limits for me (this might be different from you)
And thus I started looking for other ways to network. Either take my family with me, or find ways how I can do some of the networking at other moments, or from home.
This is the list I gave to Sofie. (I added some more since publishing this post)
A: At the clients I work, I have lunch with people. One on one conversations to build relations.
I go very far in that, I have lunch with people from my teams, yet also outside these teams. Most of the time I pay for these lunches. I learn something in most of the lunches.
B: lunch with a not so stranger: at least once a month, I have lunch with people I used to meet professionally. Having lunch during the day, is now working better than going to evening events. (I used to prefer these on the nights my partner was working late, now I take care of my kids these evenings.)
C: I follow a lot of courses, both in as outside my expertise. Partly to learn, partly to meet people with who I share an interest. (As Ine Matuvu Dehandschutter said)
D: I give a lot of presentations myself. After them people come to me. And they ask me things, makes it easier when I am in an introverted mood.
E: I give Free Life Time support on everything I do. That way I help people and my network grows.
F: When people ask me a question, I first wonder, who would be a better person to answer this question. When I find someone, I link these people. Even if I don’t know the person who I think could have a better answer. This way I make my network stronger and I delegate work. (Which is how I keep my own time under control) When the other person does not want to answer, I will still give an answer. yet that happens les then 20% of the time.
G: I’m active on mailing lists and other online groups, to answer questions from people.
H: Because of conferences and mailing lists, most of my network is outside Belgium. I stay connected with them using twitter. It’s not as good as having a coffee or lunch, yet it keeps a high trust relation with many people. (Even +10 years after having physically seen them)
I: When I read a book I like, I keep a log of things I don’t understand while reading. When thing are not answered at the end (which usually is, as I ‘m not the smartest person there is.) then I contact the author and ask her my questions. Using the author as an extended part of my brain.
J: When people do something I like: I thank them for that. When I can’t do that myself, because of time or place difficulties, I buy a book on amazon that I think they will like. I never tell them it’s coming, I just send it to their office. (If they like it, I ‘m asking them now to pay it forward and send a book to someone they think does something nice/great. ) And yes I even do that with people I have never met. (I’m much more careful with that lately as I don’t want to give people the impression I’m stalking them, so I prefer to send it to their office if I can)
K: After I had a conversation with someone, I connect with them on linkedin. (yet, I never connect with people I never met.)
M: When someone I know, went to an event or training I could no go to, I ask what she learned there and we have a conversation about that. (Thank you Chris Matts for this powerful trick.)
N: When I meet someone new or see someone back, I try to ask them: what did you recently learn that you think I should learn.
O: I launch a lot of community events, where I actively look who can help me. Learning and connecting while doing still works best for me. In other words, I grow community builders.
P: I look what my problem is and then I ask for help to anyone I think that can help me. Even if that means contacting some famous (agile) person that I never met before on or offline. 80% of the people help me and a lot became friends. People sometimes tell me, for you it’s easy as you know all these people. No, I usually don’t know them before and NO it’s not easy. I have to overcome my own shininess all the time. (Thank god for e-mail & twitter which makes it easier…)
Q: when I read a book and I love the content and want to learn it better, I make a presentation about it. Explaining something from someone else, makes me understand it better. And it helps me connecting with new people. A huge thank you to Pascal Van Cauwenberghe for that.
R: I don’t look to create my own content, I prefer to work as a ThoughtJockey and promote idea’s of others.
S: when I go to a conference, when my family can’t join, I share a room with anyone. There is something magic about sharing a room (and if needed a bed..) (Yes I only do this with male people, to avoid some kind of stories)
T: I try to listen more then talking, which I don’t always succeed, as this post is a nice example of 😉
U: I also share my mistakes. Nothing creates more connection as being open about the failures in my life.
V: I create event types like CoachRetreat : where I look for other facilitators who take it around the world.
W: I created a serie of books about interesting people: who is agile
X: I also create a book called Tips from the agile trenches, this one gives 89 people a voice. yes some are rather famous in our small community, yet I on purpose look for a very diverse crowd, which enlarges everyones network. (51% of the tips came from women, tips came from people living in 28 countries. )
Y: I’m a regular guest on podcasts, that makes me connect to people outside my network.
Z: When international friends come to Belgium for a professional reason, I invite them to our house. That way we connect and my family gets to know some of my friends.
>> Yes that is a lot of ideas: where do I keep time? Simple, most of these things I can do either on a train or in the evening at home, when my family sleeps. It’s not that nice for my partner I don’t go to bed when she does, yet I do sleep at home most of the nights. That’s a lot more then some of my peer agile friends…. Oh I and I do all of this while walking on my walking desk, which gives me the energy to do this