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Virtual and Project Management Expert: Writer, Speaker, Educator. Author of Managing Without Walls and Fundamentals of Technology Management. President of Garton Consulting Group.

Friday, August 19, 2011

To Speak Or To Type? That Is The Question

A few weeks ago I developed an injury in my right hand. It was painful and typing was very uncomfortable. The pain increasingly got worse until I could hardly use my right hand at all. This is not a good state of affairs for a right-handed writer who needs to type for a few hours per day! With deadlines looming and one-handed typing going pretty slowly, I decided I had to find a way to be more productive until I could get the problem solved. I spent half a day doing some research on two things. The first was to find the best speech to text software, and the second was to find a specialist hand doctor to tell me what was wrong with my hand and fix it. I concluded that Dragon Naturally Speaking software would be the best choice to help speed up my writing. I also found a hand specialist who could see me in a couple of weeks. 

I ordered my software, with expedited shipping, and waited eagerly for it to arrive. I knew I'd have to spend some time “training” the software and expected that it might take some time for it to understand my accented pronunciation. Training my Dragon took a lot less time than I had anticipated so I was up and running (talking) very quickly.  I decided to have a little practice before writing anything new. I reread some content I had written a couple of days before to get me into the swing of speaking my words out loud. It is weird to hear your own voice instead of the tap, tap, tap of the keyboard. I found it a bit distracting.  The software was more accurate than I had expected but my British accent did confuse it a little bit. It took some effort to get it to understand my pronunciation of the word “schedule”, which I pronounce “shejual”. This slowed me down a bit as I kept giggling every time I saw the word “schedule” spelt “shedual”. I was seeing my own accent in writing! When I got bored with saying lots of British words to see if I could confuse the Dragon, I returned to trying to get some real work done.  After all, that is why I bought the software. To help me work, not to entertain me!

I was ready to get down to business and start creating some new content. All I had to do was open a new document, start speaking, and the program would do the typing for me. What could be easier than that? Well, as it turned out quite a lot of things could be easier than that! I started speaking to the computer and as I watched it type I realized that my writing bore no resemblance whatsoever to my writing when I'm doing the typing - using my hands. What I was writing didn’t look like my writing style at all. I had to keep going back and re-typing sections (using my left hand) because that seemed to be the only way I could write something that I was happy with.  How could it be that I'm able to type/write rather well but speak/write not so well?  I do a lot of public speaking. I must be capable of speaking what I think.  I know that when I'm in front of a room full of people I have no problem expressing myself.  I spent some time thinking about how I feel when I'm up on stage speaking. I realized that I feel completely differently than when I am speaking to my computer. I feel nervous, excited and full of adrenaline when presenting. I feel relaxed and calm when I am speaking to my Dragon software. It seems that, for me, typing requires calmness and speaking requires adrenaline. I think I should be much more flexible and adaptable than that. I should be able to speak my thoughts as well as I can type them.

I concluded that if I can teach myself to speak what I wish to write, it will make me a much better speaker. I started using the speech to text program as much as I could and, while doing so, I noticed something really interesting.  When I'm speaking to my computer and I need to think, I pause to gather my thoughts, when I am ready I continue. When I'm speaking to real people I tend to use filler words such as "umm", "aahh",  "so", and "you know" to fill the gaps when I need a moment to think. Not once have I used a filler word when I have been speaking to my computer. So, if I can master speak/typing, not only will I become better at “on the spot” expression of my thoughts, I should also become a more fluent and relaxed speaker.  I can teach myself to lose the discomfort with silences that results in me using superfluous filler words during conversations or presentations.

Incidentally, I saw the hand specialist, he gave me a cortisone injection, and my hand got better after a few days – thank goodness! I can now type using both hands again. If I didn’t fully appreciate my ability to type before, I most certainly do now! I will never take that skill for granted. Though I am back to typing mostly using my hands, I am continuing to use the Dragon software for some of my writing.

Despite having a bit of a scare initially and wondering if my hand would have be chopped off or something equally nasty, this experience has turned out to be a very positive one. I am not longer using a new tool to fix a problem. I'm using it to enhance my existing skills to become a better speaker and writer. Even the worst problems you can imagine can turn out to have a positive result as long as you spend some time focusing on what you can gain from the situation.  

The same is true for most less-than-optimal situations. For example, if a major issue is delaying your project, or a key team member has had to take an unexpected leave of absence. Think about what can you do to turn the situation into something positive. Perhaps the project delay will force you to rethink your project processes or schedule, and help you identify some efficiencies that you otherwise would never have looked for. Perhaps losing a key team member will mean that a more junior team member has to step up to learn new skills and take more responsibility. That junior team member may turn out to be a shining star on your team.  Not all bad situations have positive outcomes but if you never look, you’ll never find any!

I am thrilled to be learning new skills and enhancing old ones. Why is it then, that when I am speaking to the computer rather than typing, I feel like I am cheating?