In teaching communication skills, I’ve decided to experiment with Prezi as my presentation tool. I normally use Powerpoint to present Cialdini’s six principles of persuasion, but find that Prezi, which lets you zoom in and out, lets me put the task and reference material into one big picture. The template is one of the many very nice designs available. Prezi is free of charge if you don’t mind sharing your materials on line.
Sound expert Julian Treasure says, “We are losing our listening… We don’t want oratory anymore, we now want sound bites. And the art of conversation is being replaced – dangerously, I think – by personal broadcasting”. Here he suggests five ways to re-tune our ears, and adjust the way we listen.
- silence – don’t distance yourself from noise, actively seek out silence
- the mixer – count how many channels of sound you can hear – practice pattern distinction
- savouring – enjoy mundane sounds
- move your listening position to the one that is most appropriate to the situation – alternate between filters (active / passive; reductive / expansive; critical / empathetic)
- practice RASA (Sanskrit for juice or essence).
The acronym RASA stands for
Receive – ‘pay attention to the person’
Appreciate – ‘make little noises like “hmm,” “oh,” “okay”‘
Summarize – ‘the word “so” is very important in communication’
Ask – ‘ask questions afterward’
Listening is on my agenda for many reasons this week:
- Had an interesting personal encounter with someone who was too involved in his own situation to tune in to others. That reminded me that there are many things that may inhibit listening skills.
- Took part in a professional development workshop at ELTABB on the teacher’s physical presence (including Amy Cuddy’s body language life hacks), which focused on the broadcasting side of the ‘teaching body’, and how the class will respond to it. That was quite interesting, but necessarily reduced what actually goes on in teacher-student interaction, and made me more aware of the subtle give and take we use across all channels of communication.
- Preparing another presentation workshop for Friday, and will be incorporating receptive skills training.
These are some of the various ‘filters’ that I connect to a listening task:
- listen for content as if you had to learn and remember for an exam
- listen for material as if you had to write an article for the general public
- listen for scientific value – would you fund this speaker’s research?
- listen for engagement / entertainment value – would you choose to listen to this speaker if you were free to choose between reading and listening to the live presentation? Is the speaker telling the story well?
- listen as a coach (empathic) or critic (critical) – what makes for appropriate and constructive criticism from each of these positions of listening?
This has proven to be a productive exercise, as learners take it in turns to listen to each presenter through these filters, giving different kinds of feedback as a result. This more holistic, content- and person-focused approach makes the presenters and listeners work harder than if they focused ‘only’ on, say, body language But I also give them more standard tasks, such as listen/watch for specific aspects of presentation techniques:
- voice pitch and volume / projection
- body language open/closed
- movements eloquent / congruent
- eye contact
- count use of fillers like and, so, then, uhm
I’m thinking through how useful I find using small manipulable toys like cuisinaire rods and Lego to visualize information, to explain and teach things in a small classroom, for example in one-to-one training. Recently I’ve joined a group exploring the terrain of using Lego, and so I’m thinking back to how I have used these tools with various clients over the years. Now I’ve stumbled upon a video of Hans Rosling using Lego, an opportunity to ponder quietly what the effect is on the learner.
Hans Rosling is unquestionably one of the best international presenters in the world, having captured the visual essence of development in his moving bubble charts (Gapmminder).But he’s also given a mind-blowing presentation of progress using a washing machine. He has presented using Ikea boxes, and now, in a new video, he uses Lego. First, here are the three presentations with realia, boxes and Lego:
I frankly really appreciate the use of real life realia, they evoke emotion the way a multifunctional building toy simply can’t. I use things or at least pictures of things quite a lot. Saying that one abstract box represents one thing and placing it next to an identical other box representing a different thing places additional cognitive load on the viewer. That can be good or bad, depending on whether the load is rewarded in some way. It helps if you add visual distinction to the box, the way Hans Rosling does with the realia he pulls out of his Ikea boxes, like some magician. That adds a lovely element of play and surprize.
Bare Lego on the other hand without playing clown or dress-up will divide the public. It can be charming to those with happy memories of the building toy, or with lots of practice building with their kids. That charm can be harnessed to focus attention. I think, however, that the blocks need to be very well connected visually to stories as they are told. I once saw Mark Powell use cuisinaire rods that way, and it got me down the road of storytelling with little blocks and rods. I’ve found that once those stories start to materialize and are understood, there is a creative spark that you can kindle and develop as you hand things over, step by step, to the students. And then I think the additional cognitive load is actually exactly what you need, because the learners are more engaged and working harder at the same time.
Beyond that, however, what these presentations show me at least is that it’s easy to visualize the big picture with simple tools, or to tell a simple story, but to see and remember the details, e.g. ratios between groups or development over time, and in fact figures of any kind, you really need graphics. Nothing replaces complex graphics for communicating complex data, and in turn relating that, when it is well done, to a big idea.
I found Michelle Obama’s speech very interesting to watch. She’s an icon to professional women, and a fine speaker, obviously, and so beautiful. Her messages are reassuring, reasserting values and good, decent, community-building citizenship, telling stories to remind everyone how what Obama has achieved is based on his “down-home-and-real” deep-seated beliefs. All good.
But seeing her performance (and it is classic prime-time TV) brings home what it means to have to “do rhetoric” to be elected, because it includes applying a thick veneer of perfect public protective polish on top of stories engineered and strung together to pull heartstrings. That will in fact make you go ah! or ugh!, depending on whether you are actually ready to have your heartstrings pulled and to surf in on party patriotism, or not. Me, I sit here dourly scratching my head and think: Do they really have to pile all that on? Do they really have to play the “conventional” card?
But then again, maybe no.
After all, there’s Bill Clinton. Unconventional, passionate, wild, real Bill. Rules of rhetoric? of course. Populist? always. Clichés? no. Going through Republican arguments point by point, and defusing them. And then zooming in to focus on Obama’s continued commitment to bipartisan politics (a key element in his politics from the start):
“He also tried to work with Congressional Republicans on Health Care, debt reduction, and jobs, but that didn’t work out so well. Probably because, as the Senate Republican leader, in a remarkable moment of candor, said two years before the election, their number one priority was not to put America back to work, but to put President Obama out of work.
Senator, I hate to break it to you, but we’re going to keep President Obama on the job!”
And the best part is how he builds on his own work to say that we need cooperation:
Through my foundation, in America and around the world, I work with Democrats, Republicans and Independents who are focused on solving problems and seizing opportunities, not fighting each other.
When times are tough, constant conflict may be good politics, but in the real world, cooperation works better.
What works in the real world, is cooperation!
Not only does Bill Clinton still love politics, he still makes politics fun, because he’s got real, muscular, scrappy values. Yeah! Whoop! Come on, damn the veneer, let’s get down and be political!
In her great analysis of famous speeches, presentation guru Nancy Duarte (www.duarte.com) says that the most effective talks, the ones that make people change the way they think, move back and forth between what is and what could be. She analyzes Steve Job’s introduction of the iPhone speech and shows that the way he marvels at his own products is what compells the audience to feel the same way. She also shows how Martin Luther King built emotion by evoking song and scripture.
Every genre of speech has its own way of moving between what is and what could be, and engaging the listeners, and what’s right in one genre can not be transfered to another. In science, I’d say it’s the enticement of unexpected results, a good challenge to accepted thinking, and the outlook onto new horizons worth exploring that make an academic audience not only sit up and listen, but want to engage in science.
Since there is unfortunately no transcript on the TED site for Duarte’s talk, unlike for many other talks, you might as well watch it here.
The PhD students looked at ways of incorporating rhetorical styles into their poster presentations. They were best at using the rule of three for repetition, but clearly need lots of practice in creating shorter, more powerful parallel phrases.
I demonstratrated the power of cutting out needless repetition through this correction (which is still not ideal):
- To apply learning methods on our data sets we are looking for methods to group continuous data into discrete data. Such discretization methods are optimal if as little information as possible is lost and the discretized data still reflect the dependency structure.
- Grouping continuous data into discrete data ideally requires methods that retain as much information as possible while still reflecting the dependency structure.
These were the phrases they came up with, which they practiced saying/ reading aloud:
rule of three
- When I look for paleo-earthquakes in a certain area, I want to learn: Did big events happen, how big were they and how often did they occur?
- Because there is such a deadlock in international climate negotiations, it is important to look at the levels below, namely the regional, the national and the local levels. (Use hands to scope from large to small, to express that region is larger than nation.)
- Bayesian networks are a great tool since they help to discover dependency structures, to understand complex processes, and to communicate them to experts and non-experts.
- Health depends on the fulfillment of physiological needs, the provision of adequate infrastructure, and the protection from disease exposure. (This nominal style needs rephrasing using verbs for spoken English: People can be considered healthy when their physiological needs are met, they are provided with an adequate infrastructure, and they are protected from exposure to disease.)
- Finding alternatives to standard interpolation-based approaches allows us to stick with the original data, to retain the variance of the processes, and to adjust easily to different data qualities.
- Interception cannot be measured; So we collect throughfall, we measure rainfall, and we subtract throughfall from rainfall.
- Health is not simply the absence of disease, but in fact results from the presence of beneficial conditions. (This is contrast rather than parallel structure; a good example of how difficult it is to boil complex ideas down to simple phrases.)
- There are two ways of looking at climate politics: One is the program, or policy; the other is its administration, or organization.
Next time I teach giving presentations, I’ll add logical shift: a change or movement in a piece resulting from an insight gained by the speaker. I’m just starting out, and so don’t have models and phrases from the students’ writing to work with yet. Work in progress.
Today the PhD students and I did this exercise, among others, to prepare elevator speeches that will work with a wider audience.
Step 1: Watch the presentation by Steven Johnson on his book, Where Good Ideas Come From. Then answer:
- How long have I been exploring this?
- Why is it relevant?
- What’s my approach/ perspective?
- What are my specific questions?
- What are my findings in general?
- What is one example?
- How do I explain this?
- What story do I have for you?
Step 2: Make a speech of your own using phrases similar to his:
- For the past…. months/years I’ve been investigating….
- It’s the kind of/ a problem/question/issue I think….
- I’ve looked at this problem from a/an… perspective/ the perspective of….
- So what I’m exploring is: What are/is the …?
- And what I’ve found, in all of these systems/ the research, there are recurring patterns;…
- One pattern I call/ is…
- And this is partially because/ may be due to…
- This is particularly relevant because….
- So you see…
- There’s a great story about…