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Category Archives: Conference commentary

11 learning tips from 11 terrific teachers at the 2014 IATEFL Hungary conference

Last week I had the honor of attending and presenting at the 24th annual IATEFL Hungary conference in Veszprém. One of the many excellent talks I attended was Mark Andrews’ “The Danube, the Bridges of Budapest, and Making the Familiar Strange.” Mark made some great points about getting students out of the classroom and into the real world to cultivate their curiosity and develop their English. In other words, to create bridges between the world around them and their own inner growth.

With this idea of building bridges in mind, some of my kind colleague-friends offered to share their own advice for learning English with my trainees in the video below.

Although my trainees all live in France and mainly only see me for their English training, I thought this would be a neat opportunity to create a virtual bridge between some wonderful teachers from different countries and my trainees in France.

Feel free to share these tips with your own students and to continue building bridges. And why not share the link back to this blog with your own colleagues, wherever they may be.

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IATEFL 2014: Linguistic landscapes, lexical sets, and recording students

The next series of sketchnotes from the 2014 IATEFL conference in Harrogate is in fact a set of 3 different talks: “Linguistic landscapes” by Stephen Greene, “Lexical sets, texts, and vocabulary choice” by Andrew Walkley, and “Recording students to raise awareness of pronunciation strengths and weaknesses” by Lesley Curnick. All of the talks provided practical ideas: ways to get students noticing and questioning language around them in the real world, ways to help them manage and acquire vocabulary in texts, and techniques to help learners become aware of their own issues in pronunciation.

Linguistic landscapes by Stephen Greene

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Lexical sets, texts, and vocabulary choice by Andrew Walkley

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Recording students to raise awareness of pronunciation strengths and weaknesses by Lesley Curnick

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If you’re interested in materials writing, you may find the notes from the IATEFL Materials Writing SIG pre-conference event useful:

And if you want to try your hand at sketchnoting (and who doesn’t??), the post “For those of you wondering about sketchnotes at IATEFL 2014…” may help you get started! Have fun!

 
 

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IATEFL Harrogate and MaWSIG PCE: Laurie Harrison’s “Writers in the digital age”

This is the third and final set of notes from the MaWSIG PCE event at IATEFL 2014. Laurie Harrison, in his talk “Writers in the digital age”,  shared lots of practical tips and things to keep in mind when being (or becoming) a writer in the digital age. The three main aspects he focused on were digital trends that writers need to be aware of, the skills sets that we as digital writers need to develop, and the sticky question of fees vs. royalties. Laurie gave us a talk chock full of practical information and insights–have a look for yourself!

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And if you’re interested in some of the other talks at the MaWSIG PCE 2014, you may also enjoy:

If you want to try out sketchnoting for yourself (and yes, you can draw!), you may want to check out “For those of you wondering about sketchnotes at IATEFL 2014…” It got a few tips and resources on how you too can start creating your own sketchnotes, if you want 😉

 

 
 

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IATEFL Harrogate and MaWSIG PCE: Jeremy Day’s “Experiments in self-publishing”

Here’s the second in the series of IATEFL 2014 sketchnotes. This set comes from Jeremy Day’s high informative talk on self-publishing. I especially like the idea of creating your own materials that can be sold directly to the students 😉

Again, do let me know if some text explanations are desired!

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IATEFL Harrogate and MaWSIG PCE: Katherine Bilsborough’s “Becoming a digital author”

This year, I decided to abandon my usual BESIG crowd and sit in on the MaWSIG PCE (that’s the Materials Writing Pre-conference event for those of you who don’t speak TEFLese). The first talk of the day was by Katherine Bilsborough, who took us on a path to becoming a digital writer, with lots of concrete tips, resources, and insights as to what it means to be a digital author.

Here are my sketchnotes from the talk. I’ll leave you to look at them then connect and process the ideas on your own, rather than me describing the notes. However, I’ll be posting all of my notes from IATEFL 2014 as sketchnotes, so if you feel you’d also prefer a bit of text, do let me know. And if you see any mistakes, also please let me know! This is sort of an experiment in conference note-taking and sharing, so do let me know what you think!

MaWSIG PCD - p. 1 K Bilsborough MaWSIG PCE - p. 2 K BilsboroughMaWSIG PCE - p. 3 K Bilsborough MaWSIG PCE - p. 4 K Bilsborough

And if you’re curious to learn more about sketchnoting and how you can get started, read this post: “For those of you wondering about sketchnotes at IATEFL 2014…”

 

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For those of you wondering about sketchnotes at IATEFL 2014…

During the 2014 IATEFL conference last week, a few people noticed me doodling away in a notebook (with real pen and paper!) during talks. Several people were even so kind as to ask to take photos of my notes, compliment them, and share them with our friends on Facebook. I’ll be sharing my notes on this blog as I finish coloring them (yes, like a 5-year old!), but since so many people seemed interested in the process of visual note-taking, here are a few resources and tips if you too want to start doodling rather than typing or writing your notes. It’s done as a sort of FAQs, based on questions I got during the conference.

What are sketchnotes?

Basically a visual form of note-taking that combines drawings, lettering styles, colors, icons, dividers, arrows, and whatever else you want to put into them to make your notes pretty and relevant to the content you want to capture.

Do you have to be a good artist to sketchnote?

Nope. I’m certainly not, unless you count stick figures, cubes, and the cat I learned to draw when I was 8 (and have been drawing that way ever since). That’s not modesty, it’s honesty. When I did do lots of artsy stuff in high school, I did collages. Why? Because you don’t have to draw, you just have to cut and paste. You don’t have to be an artist to create sketchnotes. In fact, the fact that the drawings are just sketches adds a certain graphic appeal. The whole minimalist design thing seems pretty trendy at the moment, so maybe that’s why. But you certainly don’t need to be an artist or even a good drawer to do sketchnotes! Just start doodling and keep at it!

How long does it take to learn how to sketchnote?

That’s like asking “How long does it take to learn English?” The answer depends on what proficiency level you’re aiming for. Before the IATEFL conference, I had done sketchnotes for 2 talks and 3 webinars. Not exactly years of experience then. Which means that it doesn’t take tons of training. You just have to start and keep at it. Of course, the notes you create will probably become more fluid, better organized, and more concentrated in key info as you get more experience, but there’s not better way to get experience than to just practice, practice, practice! (Hint: try sketchnoting the videos of all those IATEFL talks you missed but that are now available online. And there’s no stress of someone watching you create your notes!)

How do you draw and write and listen at the same time?

This does take a bit of practice, and I’m certainly still working on it! In my notebook there are several spots that are just blank and that will be filled after I get the speaker’s slides, read other people’s blog posts about the talk, etc. Presentations often contain some spots of intense info and some spots of down time (or “talk to your neighbor” time). You can use these to complete your notes, add little embellishes, or sketch a quick figure that can be fleshed out in more detail later. This has the added advantage of encouraging you to go back to your notes after the talk because you really want to fill them in, so you make that extra bit of effort. Again, storing things in your short-term memory while writing, drawing, and listening is a skill that improves with practice, but we’re all teachers, so don’t we enjoy a bit of mental work?

Why bother?

Sketchnotes are just prettier than scrawls of text that never get looked at again! But on a deeper level, there seem to be some cognitive benefits:

  • Trying to find images to illustrate the message helps you connect with and process the words.
  • Non-linear note-taking means you can arrange concepts on the page in a way that makes sense to you. You can also easily draw connectors to show relationships between similar or contrasting ideas.
  • You may be more artsy-fartsy than you think. Most people stop drawing because they think they’re not “good at it”. You don’t have to be good at drawing to sketchnote, but it does help to master a few basic shapes and ways of combining them to make simple images.
  • People (especially yourself) will want to read and re-read your notes. This means you review them more often and the stuff sticks better than if it just rotted away in a notebook (or computer file) somewhere.
  • The mind-body connection, or embodied cognition comes into play, since you are physically creating representations of the ideas you are processing. Scott Thornbury wrote a great article on this, published in the TESOL France Teaching Times in 2013.

How can I learn more about sketchnotes and how to do them?

There are lots of resources out there!

The first resource I’d recommend is the book The Sketchnote Handbook by Mike Rohde. There’s a Kindle version, but I personally prefer the paper version. It’s just nice flipping through the pages!

Sketchnoting has also carved out some cyberspace for itself. Here are a few resources you’ll likely find useful:

Not sure what’s with all violent metaphors, but it makes me think of this endless Soviet-style army marching forth wielding a pen in one hand and a notebook in the other!

Hope that answers some of the questions that you may have had about sketchnoting as a way to record your conference experience! If not, feel free to add other questions in the comments below! And keep your eyes out for the posts of the sketchnotes that I made–they’ll be posted here as I finish them!

 

 

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2013 IATEFL conference in Liverpool: Blog post round-up

To make it easy to find all of the posts from the 2013 IATEFL conference in Liverpool, here’s the linked list of posts published on this blog :

Steven Bukin’s The Flipped Classroom – From Theory to Practice

Nicky Hockly’s Mobile Literacy & ELT 

Mike Hogan’s Becoming More Successful Workplace Communicators While on the Move

Cecilia Lemos’ Reflections from a Recovering Recaster

Colin MacKenzie’s 59 Seconds to Professional and Personal Development

Pete Sharma and Louis Roger’s Dealing with Differentiation 

Barry Tomalin’s “Make Meetings Work”

Adrian Underhill and Alan Maley’s “From Preparation to Preparedness”

Catherine Walter’s How to Give a Presentation at an International Conference

Lindsay Warwick’s Flipping the Classroom and Student Attitudes

See you next year, for the 2014 IATEFL conference in Harrogate!

 

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IATEFL Liverpool: Cecilia Lemos’ Reflections from a recovering recaster

Cecilia–who came all the way from Recife, Brazil to help us other recasters–enticed us to sit up front by placing little Brazilian sweets on the front-row chairs–an idea she borrowed from a conference in Turkey! What a sweet way to start! Now the nitty-gritty…

This talk was packed, as we all know we are guilty of recasting and we all know there’s a better way to correct. Ceci began by asking herself “How did I become a recaster?” and remarked that her teacher training had taught that blatantly correcting students in the communicative approach  was almost a deadly sin of ELT. It would cut communication, bring up affective filters, and frighten them into shyness. Recasting was much better!

She admitted that recasting had become an automatism—she was even doing it with friends and family! She has since become a recovering recaster and wanted to share some oral correction techniques from an experiment in correction she did with her class.

Before setting up the experiment, she began to question the effectiveness of recasting when she herself became a student. In the role of student, she realized that she didn’t always catch the recasted correction her teacher was providing. And Ceci’s a teacher herself! She figured probably less than 5 percent of her English language learners picked up on recasted corrections.

That’s when the shift set in.

She began openly correcting students in class and reassured us that she hasn’t gone to ELT hell!

However, recovering from recasting is a process. It is not automatic. Her two biggest challenges were to first stop recasting and then to revolutionize her oral correction techniques. Participants volunteered their ideas for non-recasting correction:

  • Using gestures
  • Asking students to correct each other
  • Pointing out which rule that has been broken
  • Asking for clarification
  • Echoing
  • Eliciting a correction

Ceci shared a common feeling that many teachers have about their practice: we feel like we need some validation of what we do, even when we see that it works. We need the research to support the practice. Cecilia went looking for this and set up an experiment.

Recovering from recasting: the experiment

Cecilia chose to experiment with 2 groups of A2-level adult learners because it can be more challenging to do new things with adults. One group got recasted corrections, the other group got other, more direct corrections.

She pointed out that she was careful to get permission from management to try this out, backing up her proposition with research and justifications.

When she asked one group if they had even noticed recasting in previous lessons, none of them had. They simply thought the teacher was acknowledging what the students were saying.  She then explained that she was going to stop recasting and try different techniques.

At the end of the experiment, the group that had received non-recast corrections actually performed better on evaluations. Food for thought…

Ceci was happy to say that she has since stopped recasting with all her groups. When teachers came to observe her classes, she reported that they felt like they had really learned a lot from seeing other styles of correction. Students also expressed their appreciation because Ceci helped them to clearly identify and correct their mistakes.

Maybe we have taken recasting to the extreme, especially in the communicative approach and in wanting to provide a more humanistic approach to language teaching. We’ve sometimes been told that students are not supposed to feel the effort of learning, they’re just supposed to learn. But are we doing them a disservice by “protecting” them?

Correction doesn’t have to hurt and it doesn’t have to be embarrassing. Ceci quoted a student who said “I feel like I’m learning because I know what I should do and what I shouldn’t do.” Open correction makes them feel like they are progressing, that they are getting better and that they can really see how they are getting better.

 Going back to the idea of feeling justified in our teaching practice, she showed a video of a colleague who observed Ceci not recasting and how she felt so much better about her own practice. You can find the video of Ceci’s entire talk on the IATEFL Liverpool online website

She warned us that avoiding recasting doesn’t mean constantly correcting. She used a good metaphor—you go to the doctor for him to tell you what’s wrong. You don’t want your doctor to elicit a diagnosis from you. You want their expertise. Our students want our expertise as teachers and we shouldn’t hold it from them. 

If & how:

Ceci gave us a quick test for us to see if we had recovered from recasting:

Scenario: The beginning of class with A2 learners and you ask how their weekend was. One student says “I going to the beach. It was very good.” What would you do?

Many teachers wouldn’t do anything because it’s a warmer. One teacher suggested to make a quick note of the mistake and come back to it later in class if appropriate. Another idea was to do delayed correction at the end of the lesson and also go through recurrent mistakes made throughout the lesson. And a few teachers still said they’d recast it J

This is a big source of controversy though as many teachers prefer more immediate correction for oral errors. Ceci ended by reminding us that there are many different correction techniques available to teachers and it is important to know our students what works with them so as to help them correct their errors effectively.

So what would you do? To correct or not to correct in ice breakers, that is the question!

 
 

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IATEFL Liverpool: Barry Tomalin’s “Make Meetings Work”

If you work with executive managers who do a lot of meetings through conference calls, this was the talk to attend; not only was it lively, it was spot on in terms of how to help our business learners participate in meetings more effectively.

Barry invited us to brainstorm some problems our business learners have in conf calls. One particularly interesting cultural issue came up in the discussion—how to do small talk before a virtual meeting, how long should it last, and how to stop it. Rapport building is thus a problem for conf call meetings, as well as “native speaker insensitivity” or rather “unawareness” as Barry preferred. By this, we meant native speakers making little or no effort to make their language more understandable and also not taking cultural issues into consideration. Imagine Canadian workers trying to socialize about last weekend’s hockey match with a group of south Indian workers and you see what he meant.

Barry pointed out that of course, there are issues of confidence, hierarchy, and accent that get in the way of communication. In terms of comprehension, learners can often feel they lose 30-50% of the conversation and feel too intimidated to speak as much as they should or would like to. We as language trainers can help them with these problems.

Barry suggested building up systematic organization, showing learners how not to lose control, and how to intervene or interrupt. These problems are particularly present in the French context, but are in no way limited to French business people .

Barry’s plan for building confidence in conf calls includes:

A framework for conf calls and meetings

  • Agree who will take the minutes
  • Go through each item
  • Summarize at the end
  • Main conclusions
  • AOB (this is a problem because foreign participants don’t know what acronyms mean or even what we mean by “business” in this context)
  • Date of next meeting

 Stock phrases to help learners manage turns

  • Introductions: Have them say their name and what they do so people can start to get used to the accent.
  • Thanks: Thank you all for connecting.
  • Welcome: I’d like to welcome everybody here today
  • Apologies: …won’t be here because…
  • Minutes of the last meeting: “Did everyone get the minutes from the last meeting?

Another important cultural issue came up in the discussion. Americans tend to dominate meetings and many non-native speakers feel they can’t get a word in! But, by using the techniques above, learners can better keep control when with dealing with Americans. Not only will this lead to more balanced exchanges, but more confidence and higher self-esteem.

Remember, a trainee may have difficulties in L2 but in L1 they are used to making decisions, wielding power, and being the leader of the pack. Having to bow to a linguistically superior other can feel humiliating. Barry’s strategies for establishing and keeping control will help our business trainees match their L1 and L2 selves.

Barry suggested trainees take 4 steps to intervening in a meeting

  1. Get the agenda in advance to identify points of interest
  2. Tell the convenor in advance that they want to contribute on a certain point
  3. Make sure the convenor can see/identify you in the conf call
  4. Make your point firmly. Keep it clear, light, tight, polite. If they can express one idea per sentence in short sentences, they’ll be much more effective. Trainees must also make sure they’re not too serious, especially in meetings with Brits and Americans. Of course, politeness is something to be aware of as well.

This led to something that we should remind learners of when working on conf call etiquette: How to be concise. This means being:

  • Short: One idea per sentence, no sentences over 25 words
  • Sharp: To the point, no waffling
  • Sweet: Say it nicely and say it politely

As teachers, we can elicit or teach one stock phrase per stage of the meeting then practice the meeting and the phrases. This way the participants have a library of simple stock phrases for each stage. They’ll come away with a framework and phrases for each part.

Barry reported that his learners take more than just English away from these lessons. Citing feedback from his learners, he mentioned increased confidence, savings of time, and ‘we should use this structure in our own country’-type remarks. You’re then teaching them not only language but meeting management techniques. This is a powerful motivator indeed.

To put this all together into a lesson, Barry suggested having trainees select the content of a meeting, decide on a framework then run the meeting while the trainer takes notes on the language to look at after the activity.

Again learner feedback suggested that this tactic gave them more confidence and a feeling of being much more effective in meetings. Learners came away feeling more confident and more effective. Some even reported that these were “effective tips I can use in French as well.”

To finish, we came back to the difficulty of building rapport in meetings where you can’t see the other participants. One must also be aware of the role of hierarchy in certain cultures. For example, light questions would be met with silence at the beginning of a conf call to India or China. It would be a good idea to find out who is the leader, address questions to the leader, and the leader designates someone on his team to answer. This notion would seem completely foreign to Western business culture.

An interesting suggestion was to save 10 minutes for participants to ask any questions they want—about family, weather, sports, whatever once the meeting is over. This does take some time to establish as a habit. At first, the meetings may just end very quickly, but after a few sessions, this often becomes a highly anticipated part of the meetings.

Also, we should not underestimate the importance of seeing participants in meetings. This means that all kickoff meetings should be done through video conferencing. We should suggest this to our clients. If a company does not have the means to do so, suggest that the participants exchange photos of each other. Simply being able to see the person you’re talking to, even in a photo, greatly changes the amount of rapport.

To finish, Barry also suggested that we can help deal with native speaker unawareness. In a very practical activity, he has native speakers read their business card, pausing after key information. This helps them to slow down and remember that their listeners may need that extra bit of processing time. If you can’t understand a person’s name, generally you avoid talking to them. So to build rapport, it pays to pronounce your name clearly, pausing afterwards.

You can follow Barry Tomalin at www.culture-training.com where you can also download the presentation slides. His book Key Business Skills is available from Collins. 

 

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IATEFL Liverpool: Colin MacKenzie’s 59 Seconds to Professional and Personal Development

I ducked into Colin’s session after another I wanted to attend was already filled to capacity. A lucky chance, because this was an inspiring talk about how to effectively develop in small ways, part of IATEFL’s Teacher Development Special Interest Group (TDSIG) Day. Plus, Colin has a really fun and refreshing presentation style—he’s one to watch for in future conferences!

First, he invited us to think of a professional problem we had. I chose irregular attendance in in-company groups.  Then we thought about professional goals. I want to diversify more in my career—blending writing, teaching, speaking at conferences, and teacher training.

Colin also asked for two volunteers before he really got into the thick of the talk: one to give him only positive feedback and one to give him only negative feedback after the talk. Why not do a bit of one’s own professional development while helping others develop? I liked this little technique and found it fitting for this talk.

Colin based his talk on a book by Prof. Richard Wiseman called  59 seconds: think a little, change a lot. Technically it’s a self-help book, but Colin said that it did help him in his teaching.

He asked us to  note three things to be grateful for in our professional life. I chose:

  1. Knowing great colleagues around the world
  2. Having had the courage to go freelance
  3. Having access to opportunities for professional development

Working in a group with Duncan Foord and Anthony Gaughan, we all came up with similar ideas. Having the freedom to do what we want in our classrooms was also something to be really grateful for.

Colin pointed out that we develop when we’re happy. Happiness and motivation are keys for developing as teachers. We also need the necessary tools and finally, creativity to develop. We can get ideas at conferences and from other teachers, but when we make these ideas our own, that’s when we develop.

In the book 59 seconds, the author recommends spending some time (ideally 59 seconds, but Colin admitted that it often really takes longer) keeping a “Perfect Diary.” You write about something positive in your life, for example, one theme for each day of the week. Here’s a suggestion for a working week Perfect Diary:

  • Monday: Thanksgiving—things you are thankful for
  • Tuesday: Terrific times—things that are going well in your present life
  • Wednesday: Future fantastic—something in the future that you are optimistic about
  • Thursday: Dear…–a letter to someone who means a lot to you or that you respect. You don’t actually send the letter though.
  • Friday: 3 things—these are things that went well over the past week

In studies done on people who actually followed this advice, there was a real difference in levels of happiness, so why not try it out and come back to tell us if it helped you?

Another way to cultivate happiness is by simply smiling. Colin challenged us to all smile for 30 seconds. It certainly got us giggling! It may sound a bit quirky, but Colin said he actually creates little reminders to smile, like smiling when he stops at a traffic light. However, he recommended not overly grinning on public transport—it tends to scare people!

Colin cautioned us about thinking too positively about the future, because studies show that imagining a too-fantastic future actually led to unhappiness. Don’t create an unrealistic future, for risk of never reaching your goals. Think of it as carefully dosed future fantasy.

Showing a photo of George Orwell, Colin brought up the notion of doublethink goals in which we define a goal, but also the benefits and barriers. These are supposed to be in one word, but it’s ok to add a few!

Here’s what I came up with:

  • Goal: do more  writing in ELT
  • Biggest benefit: professional development
  • Barrier: Lack of time or novel ideas
  • 2nd benefit: become more known as a contributor to our field
  • 2nd barrier: finding publication outlets
  • Elaboration: this was a small-group discussion of the above points

Ebenezer Scrooge from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol provided the perfect metaphor. He was most affected by the ghost of Christmas future—it sparked him to change. The future he saw and the way he would be remembered horrified him.  So Colin challenged us to do a very interesting, perhaps somewhat shocking, exercise:

Write your own eulogy.

Imagine you’ve died. What would you like a friend to say about you at your funeral? Avoid modesty, but be realistic. Include personality, achievements, personal strengths, professional success, etc.

The exercise felt a bit funny, but once you start, you begin to realize what’s important to you and where you want to go. It’s like you’re plotting the destination for the journey of your life. After that, it’s up to you to find the path to get there.

59 seconds isn’t really enough to do this exercise (it is your own eulogy, after all!) but it is an interesting one worth trying out.           

Colin also reminded us that the loudest part of our inner self is not always the most creative part—think silent, creative type.  We thought of a problem then kept our mind busy with a word search projected on the screen. Meanwhile, the silent part of our inner selves subconsciously mulled over the problem.

Exercise:

Think of a problem you’re trying to solve – do a word search or other mind-occupying idea – jot ideas to solve our problem.

In the final couple of exercises, Colin invited half of the group to think of typical behavior and characteristics of an engineer. The other half of the group had to imagine the behavior and characteristics of a punk.  Then in a standard test of creativity, we had to think of as many uses as possible for a hefty 200-page tome–the IATEFL conference program.

By imagining a creative, non-conformist type of person like an artist, a punk, etc. just before doing a creative-thinking activity, you will think more creatively. Don’t think about the perfect creative person—no Leonardo da Vinci! That’s setting the bar a bit too high, but you get the idea. 

Colin admitted that while these activities may not have allowed him to measure their effectiveness in his own life, they have helped him to feel more positive and creative.

I may just try out the Perfect Diary this week and then try out some of the creative thinking techniques while mulling over proposals to submit to future conferences.

And which ones will you experiment with? Let us know what you try and if/how they affect your creativity!

 
 

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