Wednesday, April 20, 2011

On introductions and vocal delivery

Keeping the promise of elaborating on delivery I give two examples  of scientific talks. If speaker have awareness on their vocal delivery, their talks would immediately improve. 

Continuing the theme  better shown than tell, I look at Columbia University  physicists Janna Levin's 2011 TED Talk The sound of the universe makes (click here to go there). In particular, I look at her introduction  which takes roughly one minute.  In these  74 seconds there are 188 words, here is the transcript (I added the times with an offset of -15 s):
I want to ask you all to consider for a second the very simple fact that, by far, most of what we know about the universe comes to us from light. We can stand on the Earth and look up at the night sky and see stars with our bare eyes. The Sun burns our peripheral vision, we see light reflected off the Moon, and in the time since Galileo pointed that rudimentary telescope at the celestial bodies, the known universe (0:30) has come to us through light, across vast eras in cosmic history. And with all of our modern telescopes, we've been able to collect this stunning silent movie of the universe -- these series of snapshots that go all the way back to the Big Bang (0:50).
And yet, the universe is not a silent movie, because the universe isn't silent. I'd like to convince you that the universe has a soundtrack, and that soundtrack is played on space itself. Because space can wobble like a drum (1:06). It can ring out a kind of recording throughout the universe of some of the most dramatic events as they unfold (1:15).
Visualizing this portion of the transcript with a word cloud we see she is on track. The 5 most frequent words are:


Wonder  why light makes it to the top 5? Note the contrast. She introduces the topic of sound by comparing it with movies, i.e., light. She appeals to the audience's experience of looking at the sky at night. She paints an image with her words: "The Sun burns our peripheral vision", "The universe is not a silent movie", "Space can wobble like a drum".  There is crescendo: Our eyes, Galileo's telescope, today's telescopes; and then it cracks : It is a silent movie, but the universe isn't silent.   

She expresses her purpose brief and clear: "I'd like to convince you that the universe has a soundtrack," -- and then goes on-- and that soundtrack is played on space itself. Because space can wobble like a drum." And before we can ask so what? she tells us why it is important: "It can ring out a kind of recording throughout the universe of some of the most dramatic events as they unfold."

Here is are another example. This is a chemistry lecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from professor Donald R. Sadoway. The lecture is called "Phase diagrams" and the overall course "Introduction to Solid State Chemistry" (click here to watch). Again, I'm focusing on the first minute of the introduction.
We are going to do  the first of three lectures on the last topic. We are going to talk about phase diagrams, starting today, Monday, and wrapping it up on Thursday. 
Phase diagrams are related to the question of stability and sustaining the solid state. And we've talked about the behavior of solids, and used solids to teach the rule of rudiments of chemistry. But today I want to talk about  conditions under which solids are stable.(0:30) And under what conditions do solids remain stable, when do they become unstable.
This is important in industry, for example. If you are running a cast shop (?), you are breaking auto parts if you want to know what the solidification temperature of a particular alloy is. It is important in failure analysis, something like the fall of the word trade center, looking at the metal specimens  to determine what was the motive failure. The temperature excursions leave a signature, a thermal signature indicative of the history of  what happened to that object. And by determining whether that  above the phase transformation temperature  we can retrace, reconstruct the incident.(1:03)
This is a great introduction. In the first 30 seconds he already stated clearly what the topic of the lecture  is and how it relates to the previous lectures. In the next minute he already explaining why this is important. Note how he increases the speed at the beginning of the last paragraph. That's call pace increment. He also changes the increases the pace between sentences: rule of rudiments of chemistry. But today...  That stresses the contrast between the past and the present. 

The examples are vivid because of the topic and narration: Temperature excursions leave a signature, a thermal signature indicative of what happened to that object. This is not science/engineering, this is storytelling.

Journalist and presentation consultant Carmine Gallo gives 4 tips to improve the vocal delivery in his book 10 simple secrets of the world's greatest business communicators:
  • Tone it up. Your voice should be like a stunning landscape portrait with peaks and valleys, variations in pitch, volume, and inflections.
  • Pick up the pace. Even research shows that listeners prefer a rate of speech that's a bit faster than average. 
  • Pause... for impact. Your job as a speaker is to "unlock" the potential of your presentation by respecting its words enough to take a breath every once in a while so your audience can soak in the message.
  • Punch key words. Stress the key words in each sentence.

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