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What Have You Learned Lately?
by Chris King

The other day I attended a half day program where seven presenters — all with high level positions in the IT (Information Technology) field — gave us their “take” on career opportunities. Even though each focused on their own area of expertise and how they had reached their positions, each of the seven stressed that the two most important qualities considered when hiring and promoting were interpersonal skills and continual learning. Of course, you say, with technology moving and changing so quickly, keeping up with learning is a given. But I say to you, that to succeed in any endeavor and/or career, we must be learning constantly. And there are so many ways to learn on a daily basis. Let me count the ways!

Read, read, and read some more! It is amazing to me the number of people who haven’t read a book since they earned a degree and graduated from college. They read the paper and an occasional magazine, but who has time to read? Not only should we keep ahead in our own area of telling and stories — are you up-to-date in your type or genre of storytelling? If not, I can guarantee that one of the members of your audience will be — we should also read other types of stories, even if we don’t plan to tell them, and choose completely different kinds of books.

For example,
one of my favorite speakers, Lou Heckler, was recently extolling the virtues of Stephen King’s book On Writing:A Memoir of the Craft and suggesting that if we substitute the word “speaker” for “writer” and “speaking” for “writing” we would learn a plethora of ways to become a more effective speaker. I suggest we substitute the word “storyteller” and “storytelling.” You’ll be amazed how what King writes fits for us. Besides books, there are so many enlightening articles on the Internet. I know that I use a lot of paper, but when I find an article loaded with excellent information, I will print it out and slip it into my briefcase. Then when I’m waiting in line at the bank or post office or for appointment, I pull out one of those articles and learn something rather than fuming about waiting so long. I suggest that you set aside at least an hour a day just for reading and a goal to read at least one book a week. Before you know it, you will be reading two or three a week.

Attend informational meetings, programs, concerts, seminars, and workshops. Again, you may explain that you don’t have the time and/or the money to spend. I say you can’t afford not to. Oftentimes, when I attend a seminar or workshop, I hear a lot of information that I’m already familiar with, but I still attend with the belief that I will gain something — some new idea for a story or possibly an old idea with a new twist, a new perspective. And, I can honestly say, I always come away with something learned. It may even be some interactive technique to embrace or avoid when I am telling. I have read that when the senior Bill Marriott of Marriott Hotel fame attended programs he would have a pen in each hand. With his right hand he would take notes. And with his left hand he would write the ideas that were popping into his head because of some point that was being made by the speaker. He was always in the learning mode. I also suggest broadening your base by attending programs outside of your primary field of interest.

Become an audio tape fanatic. If I had to pick the single most compelling influence on my career path and learning, I would have to thank the hundreds and hundreds of tapes I have listened to — in the car, while doing chores, and in preparation for a speaking engagement or other important activity. Yes, I have spent quite a bit of money on tapes, because I like to hear them over and over again, but libraries usually have a great selection on just about any self-improvement topic, how tos in practically every area imaginable, and informational on trends, politics, finances — you name it. Just like the articles fill the time when I am waiting, the tapes fill driving time, especially if the traffic is heavy, or I have a long trip to take. And I do suggest listening to a tape more than once, because you will be amazed at the amount of information that you will miss during the first, second, and even third listening. Listen to other tellers on tapes, but don’t try to mimic them. Focus on what you can learn from them.

Sign up to take a class. Every community and school system offer some sort of continuing education in the evenings and/or on weekends. These can be well worth the small amount they usually cost, both from a stimulating and networking aspect. I had a wonderful time taking a class in drumming, and now use what I learned while I am telling. I have also discovered on-line classes in just about any topic you can imagine. I have been taking many technology classes for the past two years, and especially enjoy the interaction with students from all over the world who are at different skill levels. I recently took a fiction writing course, which was a welcome change from the intensity of computer classes, and finished a story that I had been playing around with for ages. At you will find a directory of on-line courses in almost any subject you can think of.

Write down daily what you have learned. I remember hearing the late Leo Buscaglia say that every night at dinner his father would ask all of the children in the family to tell about what they had learned that day. If we know we are planning to write down something we’ve learned, we will make sure that we are learning daily. What have you learned today?

Remember that learning is not only good for you, it is also FUN! And it will definitely enhance and enrich your life and your storytelling.

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