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Improve conference sessions and workshops with Color/Advance

October 5th, 2015 by Adrian Segar

Color Advance Luncheon of the Boating Party 11005726293_f7bdd2ae6c_z

Last week in Montreal, during a pre-workshop at the fabulous Applied Improvisational Network 2015 World Conference, I realized how an improv game could be used to improve group process.

At the workshop, run by the talented Patrick Short and Alan Montague, I was reintroduced to an improv game called Color/Advance. It’s a simple game for two players, a storyteller and a listener.

At any time while the storyteller tells a story, the listener can give either of two commands: “Color” or “Advance”. Color instructs the storyteller to describe whatever she is talking about in more detail, while Advance tells her to continue with the story. The game is typically used to improve storytelling skills, using the listener’s requests as feedback for determining when more detail will spice up the story and when it’s time to continue with the plot.

It struck me that Color/Advance could be used in a different way, as a group process tool, in a conference session or workshop. Often, when I lead a meeting, I have limited information on what the participants want to get out of it. With up to about fifty participants I normally use the Post It! technique to uncover the wants and needs of the group and then tailor the session to fit as well as possible, covering a judiciously selected set of the topics mentioned.
This approach works very well, but there’s no standard way for attendees to indicate during the session that they would like more or less information to be shared on the current topic. While it’s not unusual for people to occasionally ask for more detail, few will spontaneously volunteer that they’ve heard quite enough about a topic and they’d like to move on to the next one.
So I propose that Color/Advance can be given as a tool to session participants to give them control over what is covered during a session, as follows.
After you’ve used Post It! to create an impromptu outline of the topics to be included, explain that at any point anyone can say “Color!” meaning that they want more detail of what is being said. Or, they can say “Advance!” which means “I’ve heard enough about this, please move on to the next topic.” Also explain that people can respectfully (and succinctly) disagree, so that the wishes of one person are not imposed on the entire group.
I plan to experiment with this approach over the next few months, and will report back in the comments or another blog post on how well this works. If you have thoughts about this technique or have used it in this way, please let us know in the comments!
I love discovering how to harness human process in new ways. Body voting makes preferences and opinions public. A fishbowl allows a group to have a useful discussion. And, thanks to my experience at the AIN 2015 World Conference, we have a new tool Color/Advance for conference session or workshop participants to fine tune the information shared to match their wants and needs.

Photo attribution: Flickr user ncindc

How to make your workshop/meeting/conference middle-aged friendly

October 1st, 2015 by Adrian Segar

not Doug 4419898058_07da3f4587_b
At the wonderous Applied Improvisational Network 2015 World Conference (more posts coming soon!) I bumped into Doug Shaw, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Northern Iowa [not shown above; he is far better-looking] and he told me of an unpublished article he’d written on how to make conferences better for middle-aged people like him and me. Doug sent me a copy, I liked it, and he has given me permission to guest post it here…

Hello, my name is Doug. I went to my first conference in 1989. I was young then, and I believed in accessibility — everyone should be able to benefit from a conference. I never thought that one day I would be the one who was having problems benefiting. But yes, I became middle aged, and, well, I’m writing this article…

1) Memory

a. If there is a smallish group, quickly go around and say names. I’ve forgotten yours and I’m embarrassed.

b. Name tags are a boon. Actually I’ve forgotten lots of names.

2) Vision

a. Think about your font size on handouts. Less than 12 pt is cruel. 16 point? You are a mensch. My eyes are in constant flux — I’m not used to wearing reading glasses, sometimes I don’t have them, sometimes the prescription is out of date.

b. Dark text, light background. Blue on blue means you are a rotten human being.

c. I see better if there is strong light.

3) Hearing

a. If you aren’t able to speak so I can hear you, get a microphone. I hear better if there is no background noise, it is hard if there is. Hearing aids help if I can’t hear — but the problem is as you get old you still can hear, but you can’t filter out background noise as well.

4) Physicality

a. If part of your group participation involves standing up and sitting down… I can do that, but it hurts a bit. If you make me do it multiple times, I’m no longer going to be focusing on your points, I’m going to be anticipating/dreading having to stand up again.

b. I am fighting to change my diet, having lived 40 years eating badly. Go ahead and put out the cookies, but give me something else I can shove in my mouth, too.

5) Content

a. I’m not asking you to change a word of what you were going to say — but you should know that I’ve been to hundreds of these things, and I am a lot more cynical than I used to be. Clichés make me turn off to you. I know that people’s number one fear is not death, but public speaking. I know that the “jobs of tomorrow” are going to be different than the jobs of today. I know we need to go beyond our comfort zones, think out of the box, adapt to an increasingly global society, etc. Did you know that the phrase “comfort zone” is lazy and comfortable, the phrase “think out of the box” is totally in the box, and that the 21st century is 1/7 over?

b. Motivational speeches don’t motivate me. Not because I’m a curmudgeon, but because I’m already motivated. I come to these things because I want to, not because I feel I have to. It takes more effort now — it means leaving people behind. So I’m motivated. If you spend a half hour with speakers trying to motivate me, that’s a half hour I’m getting impatient waiting for what I actually came for to start. Oh — and I’ve probably seen better motivational speakers than you are supplying. My favorite motivation is, “Hi. Welcome. Now here is content you came to receive.”

6) Memory

a. If there is a smallish group, quickly go around and say names. I’ve forgotten yours and I’m embarrassed.

b. Name tags are a boon. Wait…did I cover this point already? Let me look at what I’ve written so far…where the hell did I put my glasses?

Photo attribution: Flickr user philippeleroyer

Dear Adrian—A Consultant’s Dilemma and The Thirty Minute Rule

September 21st, 2015 by Adrian Segar

30 minutes free
Another issue of an occasional series—Dear Adrian—in which I answer questions about event design, elementary particle physics, solar hot water systems, and anything else I might conceivably know something about. If you have a question you’d like me to answer, please write to me (don’t worry, I won’t publish anything without your permission).

Last week I met Tony P. Burgess, the recently retired Director of West Point’s Center for the Advancement of Leader Development and Organizational Learning, who, amongst other achievements, helped develop the U.S. Army’s premier community of practice, CompanyCommand. During an enjoyable, wide-ranging conversation at 1369 Coffee House Tony asked my opinion on a Consultant’s Dilemma:

How much “free” consulting should a consultant offer during initial discussions with a client before requesting pay for services?

When consultant and client meet for the first time there’s naturally a certain amount of sizing-up going on.

A potential client is looking for a solution to a problem, and is wondering if the consultant can help him, whether he can trust what she says, how much she will cost, how soon she will be available—and all these considerations and more will be taken into account before a decision is made whether to engage her services.

A client is hoping to find the help he needs as quickly as possible, but wants to feel confident that the chosen consultant can help effectively for an acceptable price. He may believe that his problem can be fixed easily by someone with the right expertise, and be hoping (or expecting) to get his problem solved quickly, perhaps at no charge.

consultant is wondering what she needs to learn about the client, what the client thinks the problem is, what the problem might actually be, whether she’s capable of helping the client, whether she can get paid what she’d like to get paid, whether she’s going to have the time, resources, and inclination to work with the client in a timely fashion, and so on.

From a consultant’s point of view, time spent working to get an initial sense of a client’s needs, determine that he is a fit for her expertise and abilities, and convey enough of her capabilities to reassure the client that she is the right person for the work is non-billable. Too much non-billable time, and a consultant starts to have problems paying her own bills.

Naturally, these client and consultant concerns take time to resolve, leading to the above-mentioned Dilemma.

I have been consulting for over thirty years and have participated in hundreds of initial client-consultant dances. (I like to think of them as dances: mysterious, exciting, full of the possibility of creating something great together, sometimes disappointing.) In my experience, a contracting minuet can take as little as ten minutes or…well, let’s just say far too long. Client or consultant can trip over any of the obstacles I’ve already listed and decide to walk away.

So, what’s a consultant to do?

David Allen, of Getting Things Done fame, coined the Two Minute Rule to determine whether a task that interrupts current activity should be handled on the spot—answer: yes, but only, if it can be completed in less than two minutes—or captured to be performed later. I doubt he chose 120 seconds based on some deep scientific analysis, it’s his rule of thumb (which I’ve found to be useful), presumably based on years of experience.

In a similar vein I offer my Thirty Minute Rule for resolving the Consultant’s Dilemma.

I told Tony that I’ll talk to any potential paying client for up to thirty minutes for free. At that point, if the client is still looking for free advice I’ll gently explore options for transitioning to a paid consultation. Sometimes, of course, it’s clear that we’re not going to move forward. No blame need be assigned, it just happens. Otherwise I’ll generally have enough information to propose next steps. And if my client doesn’t have sufficient trust in me after thirty minutes, then I’ve found it’s unlikely I’m going to change his mind by staying on the call.

The Thirty Minute Rule doesn’t include the time required for creating a contracting agreement or proposal. If I judge that we’ve a good chance of creating a win-win consulting arrangement I’ll create a short document and send it to the client for approval. This rarely takes more than an additional thirty minutes. If the document requires significant client-specific research I’ll ask for appropriate compensation to create it.

The Thirty Minute Rule is my reasonable compromise between the competing needs of consultant and client. If you’re a consultant reading this, what do you think? Do you have your own “free consulting time” rule? Feel free to share yours in the comments!

Image courtesy of Atom Smasher

Mission Impossible

September 14th, 2015 by Adrian Segar

Mission Impossible 8477081649_e951df1931_oIf you know your mission — you do have a mission, right? — then your long-term strategy becomes much clearer. You know where you want to go; now, all that remains is how to get there.

Of course, life is rarely that simple.

There’s always that must-do-now stuff that gets in the way. As Seth Godin puts it:

“This interim strategy, the notion that ideals and principles are for later, but right now, all the focus and resources have to be put into the emergency of getting successful—it doesn’t work.
It doesn’t work because it’s always the interim. It never seems like the right time to stop doing what worked and start doing what we said was important.”
—Seth Godin, The interim strategy

How can we stay focused on our mission when there’s always something demanding our attention right now? There are four core steps:

  1. Notice what’s going on. (“A week has gone by, and I’ve spent fifteen minutes, tops, working on my mission.”) Sometimes this is the hardest step. We can’t change when we are unaware or avoiding the changes we really need/want to make.
  2. Make a plan. End/delegate/deprioritize the short term stuff that’s getting in the way. Set goals for your mission-related work.
  3. Carry out your plan. Sometimes this is the hardest step.
  4. Steps 1-3 aren’t a one-time process. Loop ’em. Keep noticing, making new plans, and acting on them. That’s how you’ll grow and, potentially, succeed in your mission.

As Seth concludes his aforementioned post: “The interim is forever, so perhaps it makes sense to make act in the interim as we expect to act in the long haul.”

And remember this.

If you remain continually immersed in interim work, executing your Mission becomes Impossible.

Photo attribution: Flickr user taylor-mcbride

Eight pieces of information needed for event design

September 8th, 2015 by Adrian Segar

meetingEvery week I receive requests for advice on improving existing meetings. (Design consultations on new meetings are less frequent, which is unfortunate since it’s much easier to begin with a good design than successfully redesign meetings that attendees have already experienced.)

All event designs require certain basic information. Typically, clients start with an initial consultation where we explore desires, needs, and circumstances, winkling out the basics in the process.

Quite often, however, I’ll receive emails asking for design advice that omit significant information. Here’s an example I received last week, quoted in full:

Dear Adrian,

I am a researcher working on a side-event to [an upcoming international meeting]. I work for [a European foundation] and am looking for innovative ways to engage an audience of up to 300 people in the subject of [my foundation’s mission].

We want to get away from the lecture-style format but we do not have the ability to split the group up (for translation reasons, amongst other things).

If you could offer any advice or links I would be most grateful.


Meeting designers need answers to eight questions before design can commence. The following list includes some commentary on how Dominique’s request complies.

Who is the meeting owner?
Every meeting has an owner. There is invariably a single person who has ultimate authority over the meeting objectives, budget, format, and content. A common problem for meeting designers is that they are approached for assistance by someone other than the meeting owner (who may not even be aware that a meeting designer exists or is needed.) That’s certainly the case here, and when the meeting owner cannot be worked with directly, any design work performed will be wasted if the meeting owner is not convinced of its value by the intermediary with whom you’re working.

Who is the meeting designer working for?
The meeting owner? The meeting participants? One or more intermediaries? Some combination?

Who is attending?
What are the profiles of desired/expected attendees? Is the event invitation-only or is it marketed to specific groups? For Dominique’s event, are the audience members supporters of the foundation’s mission? Skeptics who need to be convinced? What are the translation issues she mentions?

What are the desired objectives/goals/outcomes?
Many clients find it hard to define their goals and outcomes for their event. Dominique wants the audience to be “engaged”. What does this mean? Engaged about what? What is the desired outcome of this engagement?

How many people?
The only meeting designs that scale are those that omit inter-attendee interaction; i.e. broadcast-style events. If you want or need interactive or participative events, the number of attendees is essential information for creating an effective design. (2/8/15/25/60/100/200/450/1000 people? Each level will generally require a somewhat different approach.) Dominique’s “up to 300 people” includes the possibility that some other breakout will be taking place that siphons off all but 30 attendees. We need either tighter bounds on this number or several alternative designs that cover a range of attendee counts.

How much time?
Are people together for an hour? A day? Two days? A week? Most of us have an idea of how much content we can be exposed to via lecture in a given amount of time. An understanding of the time needed for people to productively peer learn, make significant connections, and become a member of a valued community is far less common. The amount of time that people are together puts limits on what can be done and informs design decisions on the most appropriate processes to use during the meeting.

What venue?
Venues often constrain what’s possible at an event. Desired objectives like engagement may be difficult or impossible if attendees are stuck in fixed-seating in an auditorium. Working in small groups can be thwarted if the venue is noisy, or undersized, or adequate breakout space is unavailable.

What resources are available to support work on the event design?
Is the meeting owner willing to work on the event design, or pass full responsibility and authority to a trusted alternative? Can you afford a day of my time to assist with your design? Are you looking for free advice? (Dominique was.)

We need answers to all these questions—and often others—before workable and effective meeting design is even conceivable. (I thought about adding the event budget to the above list, but, though it’s obviously ultimately important, it’s less relevant in my experience than you might think.) I don’t expect clients to spontaneously volunteer all this information before we first talk or meet. But it certainly doesn’t hurt if they do (and I get some reassurance that the client has made an effort to really think through what they want and the steps they might take to get it.)

I’ve probably missed some other pieces of information that are important. What do you think should be added to this list?

Playing with myself

September 6th, 2015 by Adrian Segar


“Yesterday I took the Trailways bus home from New York City. My seat had a small video screen above it. (The screen was blank.) We had a stop at Kingston, and as I stood up, I hit my head on the screen — then laughed at my blunder. My life is a slapstick comedy for an audience of one.”
—Sparrow, The Sun, July 2015

My life is a slapstick comedy for an audience of one.

At moments like these, my life feels perfect.

Photo attribution: Flickr user jliba

Paperback versus ebook popularity over time

August 31st, 2015 by Adrian Segar

Paperback versus ebook popularity over timeMy book Conferences That Work: Creating Events That People Love has now been available for over five years in both paperback and ebook versions and is still selling well. I thought it might be of interest to share how the proportion of paperback versus ebook sales has changed over time. The following figures include both indirect (mainly Amazon) and direct (my web store) sales.

As you can see from the above graph, paperbacks were, on average, 82%, of sales when the book was published in 2009. Although there’s significant variation from month to month, due mainly to bulk sales of one format or the other, the five year trendline shows that by March 2015, the most recent month for which I have full indirect sales figures, paperback book sales dropped to just over 60% of all sales.

The paperback is priced at $27.95 (Amazon) or $26.00 (from me directly), and the ebook format costs $11.00 (only from me). I haven’t changed any prices over the years, though Amazon plays tricks with the paperback pricing from time to time. These pricing levels provide me approximately the same income per copy for direct sales, regardless of the format.

One factor that affects the quantity of new paperback sales is that, these days, there are usually a few used copies of the paperback available on Amazon for a few dollars under the new price. Sales of used copies reduces new copy sales. On the other hand, I expect some copies of the ebook get shared too.

An additional trend I am noting for my website sales is that combination sales (both ebook and paperback versions of the same book) have been increasing over the last year. I offer a discount when both formats are purchased simultaneously, and this is worth considering if you are selling your books yourself.


  • People still like paperbacks! Even though the ebook is 40% of the price of the paperback, I’m still selling more paperbacks than ebooks.
  • The ebook format is becoming more popular over time. If, and that’s a big if, the trend continues, both formats will become equally popular some time in 2017. Interestingly, my new book The Power of Participation: Creating Conferences That Deliver Learning, Connection, Engagement, and Action which has only been available for three months has sold about equal numbers of each format to date.
  • Don’t read too much into my experience. Conferences That Work is non-fiction, priced higher than most ebooks, and is only available as an ebook directly from me, so there’s no comparable Amazon sales channel. Your mileage may vary.

Are you an author with book format sales history of your own? Feel free to share your experience in the comments below!

Body voting 101 delightfully illustrated

August 27th, 2015 by Adrian Segar

The creative folks at Kinetech Arts in San Francisco published this delightful illustration of body voting, inspired by a short presentation I gave at their weekly media lab on August 4, 2015.

Kinetech Arts Physical Poll #1 (graphic) Kinetech Arts Physical Poll #1 (comments)

One-dimensional human spectrograms like these are just the tip of the iceberg. There are many great variants—including two-dimensional and state-change versions—that can be used to quickly and enjoyably explore all kinds of useful information about a group. Read Chapter 33 of my book The Power of Participation for the complete what, why, when, and how of this powerful public voting participative technique.

14 great iPhone/iPad apps for event planners—2015 update

August 24th, 2015 by Adrian Segar


Two years have passed since I last updated my list of favorite iPad/iPhone apps for event planners. While I’m still a big fan of five of the original apps I chose just two weeks after receiving my original iPad back in 2010 (Simplenote, DropBox, Square, Evernote, and GoodReader), apps continue to be born, evolve, and, sometimes, die—so it’s time for an event planners’ great apps update!

I’m still using the iPhone 5S, iPad 3, and the Tumi Alpha “everything bag” I gushed over in my 2013 app update, though I’m coveting an iPhone 6S, a newer iPad, and, maybe, an Apple Watch.

Rather than listing additions and removals from my two previous posts, I’m presenting a complete alphabetized current list, including updated descriptions that incorporate any notable new features I use. An [!] next to an app indicates it’s stood the test of time, while an [N] means it’s a new addition since my 2013 update.

BirdbrainBirdbrain, [!] $2.99
If you are active on Twitter (and I’d argue that most event planners should be) Birdbrain is a fantastic way to manage your Twitter network. The app provides an excellent overview and management of your followers and those you follow. Birdbrain handles multiple accounts, makes it easy to investigate anyone on Twitter, allows you to track unfollows as they occur, list people you’re following who don’t follow you, display mentions and retweets, and provides informative statistics showing changes in your Twitter stats over time. The only feature I’d like to see added is the ability to show inactive accounts you’re following. Recommended!

Dropbox_IconDropbox, [!] free for 2 GB, Dropbox Pro $9.99/month or $99/year
I’ve been using Dropbox for years on my office Macs, iPad and iPhone.

Dropbox keeps your files safe, synced, and easy to share between multiple computers and devices. All contents of the Dropbox folder on all linked devices (Macintosh, Linux, Windows, IOS, Android; even Blackberry and Kindle Fire!) running Dropbox are automatically synced when new files or changes are detected. You don’t have to be continually online; all changes sync once your computer has an Internet connection again. You can create shared folders, allowing several people to collaborate on a set of files.

The free service gives you 2GB of space on Dropbox’s servers, which was plenty for me for many years (and Dropbox offers ways to increase the free limit) but last year I took the plunge and upgraded to Dropbox Pro (see below). A nice feature is that the server stores the last 30 days of versions of your files, so you can revert to an older version if needed. If you want more storage, you can upgrade to Dropbox Pro for $9.99/month or $99/year. This paid upgrade includes 1TB of storage plus unlimited older versions of your files, remote wipe, read-only shared folders, and password protected shared links. It’s worth every penny to me.

The Dropbox app allows you to access your Dropbox files on your iPhone or iPad. Image, music, movie, Word, PowerPoint, Excel, PDF, Keynote, Pages, Numbers, HTML, and text file formats can be displayed by the app. Unlike the desktop versions of Dropbox, files are not stored automatically on a mobile device but are uploaded on request by marking them as Favorites.

Dropbox also includes a web interface to your files, so you can access them (and older versions) from any Internet connected computer.

While I was writing my books, I stored all my important files on Dropbox. It gave me great peace of mind to know that up-to-date versions of my book’s many files were being automatically saved remotely and on all my office computers.

evernote_logoEvernote, [!] free, Plus $24.99/year, Premium $49.99/year
Evernote is my go-to application for capturing information I want to be able to find in the future. I use it mainly for web pages, but it will file text notes, pdfs, spreadsheets, photos, voice memos, and screenshots too. Evernote clients are available for most mobile and desktop operating systems. Everything captured is made searchable—you can add your own tags if you like—and can be stored in specific categories (“notebooks”) if desired. The iPad version takes full advantage of the large screen. Your notes are stored on Evernote’s servers and locally and are synced to your mobile device and to Mac OS X and Windows computers running an Evernote client.

Evernote supplies web clipping functionality for all major desktop and mobile browsers, so, with a few clicks, it’s easy to safely capture that article you think could be really useful one day.

You can upload up to 60MB per month (with a maximum single note size of 25MB) using the free Evernote service, and this has always been adequate for me. The Plus version raises the upload maximum to 1GB/month with a maximum single note size of 50MB, the Premium service to 10GB/month with a maximum single note size of 200MB. Plus and Premium include some additional benefits, none of which have tempted me to pay for them. Yet.

GateGurugateguru, [!] free
GateGuru is an airport information app that was purchased by TripAdvisor in June 2013. While it attempts to replicate some of Tripit‘s functionality, I use it to scope out the places to eat (aka amenities) at airports. The traveler’s reviews, while sometimes spotty, usually allow you to pick out the best place to satisfy your current gustatory desires, and I’ve occasionally found a real gem tucked away on Concourse C that I’d otherwise have missed.

goodreader-logoGoodReader, [!] $4.99
GoodReader is an inexpensive app that allows you to transfer files to your mobile device, by Wifi or from an Internet cloud server, and reliably view them. Like the Dropbox viewer, it supports a huge range of file formats. Unlike other mobile file readers, GoodReader has no problem rapidly opening, displaying, and responsively scrolling through the 350-page ebook version of Conferences That Work and other large files I’ve thrown at it.

GoodReader syncs beautifully with Dropbox, allowing me to work on files on any computing device and then upload them to a GoodReader folder for convenient viewing. When I’m facilitating or presenting at an event, I’ll typically use GoodReader to display all relevant files in a multi-tabbed app window, allowing me to quickly refer to them when needed.

googlevoiceGoogle Voice, [!] free app, most but not all services are free
Google Voice has been around for years and has a bazillion options, many of which I don’t really understand. But that’s OK, because I find it very useful for three things: a) transferring calls made to my cell to my office phone when I’m at home where my cell phone doesn’t work (ah, the joys of living in rural Vermont),  b) replacing my cell phone provider’s voice mail and sending me an email and a noble attempt at transcription when I don’t answer my mobile, and c) texting. Now let’s be clear: I hate texting and refuse to pay the inflated rates that carriers charge for it on my cell phone, but sometimes it’s the only way to communicate with some people. Google Voice to the rescue! I can text for free from my free Google Voice number, which works with strangers as long as I let them know in the message that it’s me, Adrian Segar, texting them.

Incidentally, though I haven’t yet used this feature, calls made using Google Voice from outside the U.S. to U.S. numbers cost just 1¢/minute; a pretty good rate!

imessageMessages, [N] free
This is a no-brainer, especially if you’re a cheapskate like me that won’t pay more for texting. If someone has an iDevice, I can message them without paying for texts. Unlike texting, you get to discover whether your message/photo/movie was actually delivered or not. (If Messages could tell me the recipient saw my message, that would be even better, but I guess we’ll have to wait until brain monitor functionality is built into IOS 42.) Works well for me. I’ve heard there can be glitches if you abandon your iDevice and go over to The Dark Android Side, but you’d never do that would you? Would you?

opentableOpenTable, [!] free
OpenTable allows you to make free reservations at ~32,000 restaurants in the United States, Canada, Germany, Japan, Mexico, and the UK. No more phone calls to a restaurant only to get an answering machine, having to leave a message, and wondering whether you’ll get the reservation you wanted or not. The app works quickly and many reservations give you OpenTable points which can eventually (you’d have to use it a lot) be redeemed for a discount off your meal.

Post-It PlusPost-it® Plus, [N] free
I’ve written in detail about this little gem here. Suffice it to say that if you do any kind of group work with sticky notes, this is a great tool for capturing, organizing, and sharing multitudes of these colorful little rectangles. Since I wrote the linked review, 3M has continued to add new features: you can now edit notes and add additional digital notes to existing boards.


Register, [!, formerly Square] app free, card transaction fees extra
Square’s Register app provides a neat inexpensive way to easily accept card payments. You can create lists of the items or services you sell. It took me just a few minutes to set up Register for selling my first book three ways—paperback, ebook, or combo—at a presentation or trade show. When you sign up for the service, Square sends you a free swipe card reader that plugs into your iPad or iPhone. They have a free contactless (NFC) and chip card reader shipping soon, in time for the new EMV chip credit card merchant obligations that will be in force in the U.S. later this year. You can also process cash sales and send receipts to a buyer’s email address. Square provides a complete downloadable record of all your sales.

Square charges reasonable card fees: 2.75% for a swiped card and 3.5% + $0.15 for a keyed-in card. These are the only charges for the service; there’s no monthly fee or minimum and no contract or merchant account required. This is a great app for selling promotional items at events.

simplenoteSimplenote, [!] free
I rarely need elaborately formatted documents. What I do need is a simple text editor that imports ASCII, RTF or HTML files, backs up my writing safely, and synchronizes it across my mobile and office computers.

That’s exactly what Simplenote, combined with copies of Notational Velocity (free, open source) on my office computers do. Anything I write in Simplenote on my iPad (I rarely use it on my iPhone, though it works there) gets saved and backed up to the Internet cloud (on a free account at Simplenote). When I open Notational Velocity on an office computer, my notes there are synchronized. Similarly, any notes updated on my office machines are synchronized to the iPad when I open Simplenote. All communications are encrypted.

Both Simplenote and Notational Velocity offer blazing fast search and support thousands of notes.

While Simplenote now sports a Mac desktop version, I prefer to stick with Notational Velocity there because the former doesn’t support styled text (bold, italic, etc.)

For just pure writing, safely backed up and synchronized, you can’t beat the combination of these two free apps!

Swarmfoursquare [formerly Foursquare], [! & N] free
Foursquare, started as a game (be the mayor of places, win badges, and have more points than your friends) and a way to see where your friends are and what they’re doing. I live mostly in a rural area and, while I have occasionally discovered and met up with friends I didn’t know were near me, my main use of this service is to store a searchable history of where I’ve been. When did I drop off that luggage to be repaired? What was the name of that great place I ate dinner with Susie in Atlanta? When exactly was I in Anguilla in 2009? Foursquare’s history of my check-ins is often useful in unexpected ways.

In 2014, Foursquare tried to reposition their app by splitting it into two: Foursquare, a Yelp look-alike competitor, and Swarm, which would remain the “check-in” app. The move did not go well, especially after Foursquare removed the mayor feature in Swarm which took out some of the fun of checking-in. The company’s missteps cost it popularity—a lot less people seem to be checking in recently. Recently, they added back mayorships. Yes, I admit it, it’s fun to triumphantly win back the mayorship of my favorite local restaurant once in a while, but the history feature is the main reason I use Swarm these days.

WazeWaze, [!] free
Waze is my favorite traffic and navigation app of the many that I’ve tried (though some Uber drivers have told me that Google Maps now has more helpful junction navigation in big cities). Unlike traditional GPS units with traffic updates that are often found to be woefully out of date, Waze uses information from its own users to detect traffic snarls and reroutes you on the fly when necessary to avoid that accident that happened up ahead five minutes ago or the rush hour traffic jam building up on the interstate you normally drive on to get home. Its estimates of arrival time, even on long trips, are astonishingly accurate. Owned by Google, my only concern is that the company will start using my location in nefarious ways. If I start seeing too many annoying ads promoting the tattoo parlor I’m passing by I’ll reconsider. Until then, this is an amazing app that has saved me hours of driving and frustration, and shown me countless new neighborhoods as I bypass traffic where other drivers sit fuming.

wundergroundWunderground, [N] free
Goodbye Weatherbug Elite, Yahoo Weather (still think of you fondly, loved your simplicity), and all the other weather apps I’ve dated the last few years. I’m going steady with Wunderground now. Darling W (yes, we’re on first initial terms), your gorgeous graph interface makes it easy to get a quick big picture of the next ten days, your hour by hour forecasts are so handy for deciding whether to move the social indoors, and your weather map predictions load so fast. I’d be a fool to look at anyone else. Sure, W, I admit to a fickle past with weather apps, but now I’m seriously thinking about settling down for good. With you, always by my side…So, what’s it going to be like in Maine next week?

So event professionals, what have I missed? Do you have a favorite app I haven’t mentioned here? Let the world know in the comments!

My father’s death—should we force the terminally ill to accept sustenance?

August 22nd, 2015 by Adrian Segar

In 2007 my father was slowly and painfully dying from side-effects of Parkinson’s disease. I am sharing here an astonishing newspaper article—written by columnist and registered nurse Richard Davis—on my dad’s and family’s experience. The article was widely distributed around the world and I still occasionally receive requests for a copy, so I am reposting it here.

April 27, 2008


Richard Davis, © 2008
Brattleboro Reformer: May 23

BRATTLEBORO- Newspaper obituaries provide a few glimpses into the lives of people. They serve to provide friends and relatives with news of a death and the details of plans for funerals and memorial services. Rarely, if ever, do obituaries describe the way a person died. Perhaps it is too morbid for most people to contemplate, but how we die is just as important as how we live.

“Joshua Mark Segar, 84, died peacefully at his home on Tuesday, December 11, 2007. Mr. Segar (a.k.a. Josh, Joshie, Jeff, Joe or Mark) was born in London, England on Dec. 21, 1922. At the age of 13, in order to help support his family, he was forced to leave school and was apprenticed as a barber.

During World War II he served in the Rifle Brigade for five years without a break, fighting in North Africa, Italy and Germany. On his return to London, he was able to open his first barber shop. On weekends he played drums in a dance band and as a session musician for Stephane Grappelli, among others.

In 1948 he married Lilly Solley, the love of his life. Segar became a successful small business man, eventually owning a chain of hairdressing salons and a flourishing electric shaver supply and repair business.

He was the president of the British National Hairdressing Federation and the Hairdressing Council for many years. He loved opera, traveled extensively and was a lifelong learner of art and art history. He was kind, thoughtful, humorous, hard working, loving and generous, a devoted husband and loving father, grandfather and great-grandfather.

In 2004 he moved from England to Brattleboro in order to be closer to his children. During three years of declining health, he showed great fortitude along with his ever-present wit.”

Reading Segar’s obituary, we can get a sense of what kind of life he led. But in order to understand this complex man it is just as important to understand how he died. That part of his life began with the onset of symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease.

Parkinson’s Disease is a progressive degenerative neurological condition that results in a wide variety of symptoms which can vary in severity among individuals. It is not considered a life-threatening disease in the strictest sense. Segar coped with the disease for a few years, but in 2007 the symptoms became severe and the quality of his life was deteriorating.

His wife of 55 years had been dead for two years and he told his family that he always thought he would die before his wife. Segar enjoyed a loving relationship with his family in the U.S. His 56 year old son Adrian and his family in the Brattleboro area and his 47 year old daughter Alison and her family in Burlington stayed close to their father.

His greatest pleasure came from his family and perhaps that is why Thanksgiving marked a turning point for him. According to Adrian, “We spent this Thanksgiving at our home—my wife, my dad, my older daughter and her family. Thanksgiving is our favorite family holiday, but this Thanksgiving was different. Now dad could barely swallow, he was in serious pain much of the time, and was worried about his incontinence. His fear of choking was too much for him to enjoy eating his food, cut up as it was into tiny, almost indistinguishable bits, and his other Parkinson’s symptoms overwhelmed his ability to delight in his two adorable great-granddaughters. After five hours, miserable, he asked me to drive him back to his apartment.”

“The next morning he called me. In a trembling voice, he told me that ‘he didn’t want to continue like this’, and that he wanted to stop eating and drinking.”

This was not a quick decision on the part of Joshua Segar. He was losing the pleasure of being alive and he wanted to be able to have control over the manner and time of his death. He did some research and found a method to end his suffering that he believed would cause the least amount of pain for his family while allowing him to end his suffering in a perfectly legal way.

It’s called terminal dehydration or “patient refusal of nutrition and hydration” (PRNH) and is believed to be a commonly used method for a person to end their life. Statistics are nearly impossible to find, but there is a great deal of anecdotal evidence from health care professionals that terminal dehydration is relatively common.

This writer, a registered nurse, has cared for a number of people over the past 30 years who have chosen this way to end their lives. The public perception of withdrawing food and water is one of great suffering. The reality is quite different. Most people who stop eating and drinking in an effort to end their lives die peacefully and are given the time to say goodbye to friends and family.

According to Ira Byock, M.D., one of the most respected experts in hospice and palliative care, writing in a 1995 article in the “American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care”, “The general impression among hospice clinicians that starvation and dehydration do not contribute to suffering among the dying and might actually contribute to a comfortable passage from life. In contrast the general impression among the public and non-hospice medical professionals is that starvation and dehydration are terrible ways to die.”

Byock goes on to explain, “A more extensive review of the scientific literature relevant to starvation and dehydration appears in an article by Sullivan entitled, ‘Accepting Death without Artificial Nutrition or Hydration’. Published studies of healthy volunteers report that total fasting causes hunger for less than 24 hours. Ketonemia (the burning of the body’s fat stores) occurs and is associated with relief of hunger and an accompanying mild euphoria. When ketonemia is prevented by small feedings hunger persists, explaining the obsession with food commonly observed during semi-starvation occurring in times of famine or war. Animal studies also suggest that ketonemia may have a mild systemic analgesic effect. Experimentally induced dehydration in normal volunteers may report thirst, yet this sensation is consistently relieved by ad lib sips of fluid in cumulative volumes insufficient to restore physiologic fluid balance. One study of healthy subjects suggests there is a decrease in the severity of experienced thirst associated with older age.”

Another critically important aspect of terminal dehydration is that it does not require professional help and it does not trigger any legal issues. As Byock explains, “Unlike physician-assisted suicide, refusing to eat or drink is a purely personal act. While it may require information, the decision obviates the need for physicians, nurses or other agents of society to participate. After adequate discussion, and in the context of continued caring, at some point the patient’s choice becomes ‘none of our business’.”

Adrian collected his thoughts after hearing his father’s desire to end his life and wrote, “When dad told me of his desire to die by stopping eating and drinking I was shocked, but I knew I had to take him seriously and I knew right away that he must have been thinking about this for a long time. Although his Parkinson’s had caused several short-term memory issues, his ‘big picture’ thinking had always been and was still in superb shape. I told him that I took his desire very seriously, but we needed time to understand the implications, and we wanted to support him to the best of our ability, and we needed to learn what that support might entail. I asked him to wait while we did this research, and he agreed. He asked me to work as quickly as possible.”

“For the next two weeks my wife and I worked hard. We discovered that dad’s desire is called Voluntary Terminal Dehydration (VTD), that it is legal throughout the U.S., and, provided that the requestor is competent to freely make the decision and is not clinically depressed, VTD is medically ethical and should be supported with appropriate palliative care. We also learned that VTD, when supported with palliative care, seems to involve minimal discomfort.”

“After discussion, including a session with dad alone, Dad’s GP, neurologist, and cardiologist all supported his decision, and his GP
authorized hospice care through the Visiting Nurse Association and Hospice of Vermont and New Hampshire.”

Adrian’s sister Alison reacted differently to her father’s decision. She is a social worker and said that her father’s decision was ethically problematic for her as a daughter and a social worker.

Alison also believed that there was a high probability that her father may have been depressed and she felt he should have been treated for depression before carrying out his plan. She wrote a letter to her father asking him to try anti-depressants and to see Parkinson Disease experts before going through with his plans for death.

She may have never fully come to terms with the plan for terminal dehydration but she respected her father’s courage saying, “I think my dad was incredibly brave to do what he did, whether he was depressed or not.”

In response to her letter to her father he wrote back,

“Dear Alison,
   Thank you for your nice letter.
   I do not want to take anti depressants.
   I want to carry on with my plan to end my life soon.
   I love you deeply with all my heart.
Love, Dad”

Joshua Segar’s last meal was his favorite, calves liver. His own personal last supper was the last time he ate or drank and he died one week later. His family was comforted by the care they all received from the local hospice, visiting nurses and private caregivers.
Alison noted that when her father made his final decision, “… he became animated, as if he was going on a trip. He called friends and relatives of his decision.” Joshua received necessary comfort care with low doses of morphine and ice chips to soothe his dry lips and mouth.

Byock has had many years of experience with death and dying and his perspective is particularly relevant in the Segar family’s situation. “Clinically, for a number of people at the very end of life, the decision to refuse food and fluid may not arise from depression or emotional denial as much as from a felt sense of ‘being done’. Most such persons I have encountered one way or another expressed a sense that eating or drinking were no longer relevant to their situation. They were far along in a process of withdrawal, having turned their attention inward or ‘beyond’. Even here the option of PRNH has important advantages over complying with a patient’s request to be killed, for it allows the clinician’s attention to remain focused on relief of suffering — physical, psychosocial and spiritual. It requires — or frees — the clinician to remain vigilant for treatable depression and to remain, in humility, open to the possibility of unexpected opportunities for the person to again discover value in the life that is waning.”

The Segar family said they never noticed that their father experienced discomfort as he died. He became weaker and after three days he drifted into his final sleep. Alison was with him when he died and she said, “It was peaceful and it was beautiful.”

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