How to work a conference, even before it starts

You know the feeling. You sign up for a conference, scan the list of panels and keynotes trying to find out which you’ll go to, which you’ll snooze through, and when you’ll escape for some alone time or a workout.

But how often do you have a strategy for meeting the few people you are really hoping to meet? You know, the ones who have a crowd of people surrounding them and then zip off for a pre-arranged coffee date with some other person who looks important.

Basically, how do you become the kind of person who has those pre-arranged coffee dates (or at least a good shot at some spontaneous ones) with the interesting people at conferences.

Here’s a few ideas:

Spend some time online.  Visit the conference’s website and start studying the speaker list. If the conference is using a social networking tool like Crowdvine to encourage people to meet one another, take the time to fill out your profile and see who else is attending. Find out the conference’s Twitter hashtag and start checking Twitter to see if anyone is talking about it. If you’re active on LinkedIn or Facebook, mention that you’re going to the conference in your status update. {Read the rest at Yahoo!}

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Does thinking about happiness make you happier?

Happiness is having its moment in the sun. And the darkened economy doesn’t seem to have cast much of a shadow over it.

A few weeks ago, my husband and I joined a packed auditorium at the Hilton New York for a lecture on positive psychology by Shawn Achor, a popular professor at Harvard. (This was part of One-Day University, a cool program that assembles a group of lecturers from top universities for a day of public lectures in major cities.)  Achor took the audience through the greatest hits of the science of happiness, covering a wide swath of material in his alotted 70 minutes. He explained how positive psychology developed as a field of study. Instead of focusing exclusively on mental troubles like depression, psychologists like Martin Selgiman started focusing on people who are happy to figure out what we could learn from them.

Achor took us through a host of nifty experiments, like this one: Pair off into a group of two people, preferably people who don’t know one another. Call one person A and the other B. A and B should spend seven seconds looking at each other with A smiling the whole time and B keeping a totally neutral expression. Person B is virtually guaranteed to have a difficult time, as all of us in the audience realized as we tried out our A and B roles. Voila: smiling is contagious. And the theory goes that happiness is too. At the end of the session, Achor left us with a few simple activities we could use to boost our own happiness levels (journaling for twenty minutes a day, exercising for as little as ten minutes a day, practicing random acts of kindness, and my favorite — sending out one kind, positive email to a friend before looking at any other messages.) {Read the rest at Yahoo!}

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White collar/blue collar: My chat with Jessica DuLong

In a black silk blouse with skinny jeans and stylish black boots, Jessica DuLong doesn’t look like she spends her days in the bowels of a 78-year old fireboat. That’s because I met her on a day when she was inhabiting her other job, that of the author of a newly released book.  A former dotcom executive and freelance journalist, DuLong had an accidental career change after spending some time volunteering on The the John J. Harvey, a retired 1931 New York City fireboat that has become a living museum. Now one of few female fireboat engineers in the world, DuLong’s newly published book, “My River Chronicles,” is both a tale of career transformation and a compelling narrative about a time when working boats and industry played a large role in America’s economic and civic life.

DuLong never left the world of words. And she is using her new book as a vehicle to get white- collar and blue- collar folks to talk to one another.  DuLong isn’t the only one thinking about this subject. Another book praising the virtues of making and fixing things, “Shop Class as Soulcraft,”  has been getting a lot of buzz lately.

I had tea with DuLong to talk about class divisions surrounding work, why she left her dot com job to work in the engine room of an old boat, and why she thinks the perfect career is one that mixes brains and brawn. Here is a condensed version of our chat: {Read the rest at Yahoo!}

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Upsides of the downturn: My chat with Kurt Andersen

We’ve heard the cliches: “That which doesn’t kill us makes us strong;” “Something good will come of this;” “A blessing in disguise;” “Find the silver lining.” And when it comes to the impact of the current recession, they are the kind of empty words that don’t usually make us feel much better. But after reading Kurt Andersen’s book, Reset, I started to believe that once we come out what he calls this “economic emergency,” we may be living in a culture that is a lot more sane and healthy than the one that brought us down.

Andersen traces the crisis of the past few years to the excesses that began in the late 1980s — the increasing size of the average American house, the rise in consumer debt, the ubiquity of state-sanctioned and state-run gambling, even the expanded girth of the average American. He uses the vocabulary of addiction to explain how America needs to get back on track — “to teach ourselves to buy and sell and borrow in healthier, more moderate ways.”

I had a chat with Kurt Andersen, an acclaimed journalist (New York Magazine, Spy magazine, Vanity Fair, Time), novelist, and radio host (and a lot more), about what this all means for the future of work. Below is a condensation of our conversation: {Read the rest at Yahoo!}

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When a work fix-up works

I just finished a marathon week answering questions about small business with Kevin Salwen over at the Yahoo! Small Business Center.

We got a slew of interesting questions ranging from how to use social networking to grow a small business, to how to prevent people from stealing your idea, and how a small business can become more socially responsible. You can read all the questions and answers here, under the “See Expert Answers,” tab.

I always enjoy answering reader questions, but this time I also got a cool work experience out of the deal. Though I’d been aware of Salwen from his days at the Wall Street Journal, I’d only met him briefly before Yahoo! asked us to work together on this project.

If that match hadn’t gone so smoothly this week would have been a disaster.  Instead it was one of the smoothest collaborations I’ve ever had. {Read the rest at Yahoo!}

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When your man (or woman) gets laid off

Since January I’ve been gobbling up the Love in the Time of Layoffs column by Deborah Siegel on Recessionwire. Siegel is an academic-turned-author/consultant (as well as a friend of mine) and the column was born when her newly wedded husband Marco lost his job as a graphic designer (full disclosure: Marco designed the logo on my personal website.)

The column is so readable because it talks stuff few people are talking about. Like what happens to a heterosexual relationship when a woman suddenly becomes the sole breadwinner, what happens when someone who’s used to office culture suddenly gets used to the rhythms of home life, how two people (one of whom is pregnant with twins) can avoid driving each other batty when suddenly confined to a 650 square foot apartment.

Like any good serial narrative, Love in the Time of Layoffs had a major plot twist this month: Marco is back to work, albeit in a freelance gig. Questions abound for interested readers. Will he keep the job? Will the couple inch back into their former patterns again? What will happen once the babies arrive in a few months?

Stepping away from Deborah and Marco and the column, their experience leads to the more general question of how to best support an out-of-work partner. For answers, I spoke to veteran career coach, Belinda Plutz, who speaks not only as a coach but from personal experience since her husband just went through almost year-long period of unemployment himself.

Below are Plutz’s tips (many of which mirror the themes from Deborah’s column): {Read the rest at Yahoo!}

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5 simple ways to share articles online

One of the best ways to stay connected to people or to stay on their radar is to send clippings. If you just want to send something to one person, nothing beats old-fashioned snail mail. But if you want to share articles with a wide group of people, there are some fantastic and easy ways to do that online. Each of these lets you easily share articles widely with just a few clicks.

Delicious: Delicious is a service that lets you bookmark articles you’ve read, add a description or editorial observation, and tag them by subject matter. That makes it a useful way to keep track of articles and blog posts you don’t want to lose, in a addition to a way to share what you’re reading with anyone who sees your Delicious tags. Ben Casnocha, one of my favorite bloggers, posts his Delicious Bookmarks and tags on the home page of his blog, creating a public record of what he’s recently read and what he’s thinking about what he’s read. Handy both for him and for anyone who wants to know what’s in his head. Facebook also has an application for Delicious so that every time you bookmark new articles on Delicious,  those links can show up on your Facebook profile.

Twitter: Though people think of Twitter as a place where people answer the prompt “What are you doing,” much of the action on Twitter answers the question, “What are you reading?” If you read something you like anywhere on the Web, posting it on Twitter is a two-step process. First, you’ll need to shorten the URL because if you leave it long, it will use up the 140-characters Twitter allows for a message. (See URL shorteners below). Then you can add some observation about the piece: “Brilliant post from Yahoo! Shine on how to share articles online.” Then you plop in the shrunken URL and hit send. Anyone who follows you will see your articles and because Twitter is public, your posts will also appear in the public timeline. Which means you might even get into conversations with people you don’t know because they are interested in an article you posted. Like Delicious, you can share your recent Tweets on a website or blog (Check out the right-hand column of Jennette Fulda’s blog, PastaQueen, to see how Twitter updates look on a blog. You can also have your Twitter updates show up on Facebook. (Caveat: some people find this annoying.) {Read the rest at Yahoo!}

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5 reasons women should focus on finances

At first, I didn’t get it. Shouldn’t women and men be seeking parity in everything?  If so, why do financial advisors like Suze Orman write books called “Women & Money,” and why are women opening brokerage houses catering to women? I spoke to financial expert Manisha Thakor, one of the rising voices in the financial-advice-geared-towards-women set to get some answers.

As Manisha put it to me: In the new economy, where many financial decisions formally made by employers (particularly with regards to pensions and healthcare) are now squarely in our hands, a solid knowledge of personal finance is important for both men and women.  That said, financial knowledge is extra important for women – because the place that women are ending up right now is a financially ugly one. {Read the rest at Yahoo!}

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Does unemployment insurance keep people from working?

One of the best ways to find work is to work part-time in the hopes of it turning into full-time employment. Another strategy is to try to work for yourself as a freelancer, consultant or entrepreneur. But either of these have one giant downside — if you collect unemployment insurance and you earn more than a certain amount a week from work, you’ll jeopardize your unemployment earnings.

Here’s how it works in NY, where I live (it varies state by state, but most states have a similar system):

If you work less than four days in a week and earn $405 or less, you may receive partial benefits. Each day or part of a day of work will result in your weekly benefit rate being reduced by one-quarter. For example, if your weekly benefit rate is $100 and you work three days and earn less than $405, you could potentially receive $25 in benefits. If you work two days, you could potentially receive $50 in benefits. If you work one day, you could potentially receive $75 in benefits.

As I talk to people, I’ve noticed a pattern. Though almost no one could support themselves on the paltry sum they receive from unemployment insurance, many folks (especially at the lower end of the income spectrum) use unemployment benefits as a cushion that supplement with some other income until they find a full-time job. But in order to preserve their unemployment benefits, they look for off-the-books work.  Sometimes they do consulting or freelance work, again only if they can find clients willing to pay them on the sly. By doing this, they might be taking steps towards finding full-time work. But they are probably living in fear of being discovered (and facing severe penalties, including jail time in some states). {Read the rest at Yahoo!}

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Marriage makes for safe conversations at work. But not for everyone.

I’m back in business after taking pretty much the whole month of September off for my wedding and honeymoon. And since we returned on the night before Yom Kippur, back-to-work was further delayed by another day.

I’ve had quite a few work/life interruptions over the years — times in which I’ve said no to almost everything that comes up on both the personal and work front because life is just too busy. Some of them have been for awful reasons like when people have been ill or passed away. In those cases, people usually understand that you’re going to be out of commission for an indefinite period of time. And they usually leave it to you to tell them when you’re ready to re-engage.  When you’re lucky, they offer the right kinds of support.

But few reasons for dropping out of work and life feel as good as taking time off to get married. {Read the rest at Yahoo!}

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