Friday, December 30, 2011

Inside great presentations

Last night I was reading Before & After Magazine issue number 3. Their column "The thinking designer" was about what to look for (what to strive for) in good advertisement, but it could as well be applied to great (scientific) presentations:
  • Their message is a surprise.

  • They don't lose clarity.

  • They involve the audience.

  • They challenge curiosity.
  • They command answers.

  • They let the audience think.

  • They're always well executed.
The "curiosity challenge" is also expressed in this quote from filmmaker Sheila Curran Bernard about documentaries
At its best, documentaries [in our case scientific presentations] should do more than help viewers pass the time [or information]; they should demand their active engagement, challenging them to think about what they know, how they how it, and want more they want to learn.

—Sheila Bernard
Author of "Documentary Storytelling"

    Thursday, December 29, 2011

    Design and Science

    My read these days is "Surely you are joking Mr. Feynman!", by physicist and Nobel-price winner Richard P. Feynman.  It is a good book, that among other things touches on the subject of scientific presentations. But that's not why I mention it, but rather for a shocking revelation. Feynman admits having little regard for philosophy, poetry and other activities where digressing is a common practice. I was shocked because my idea of people like him is of "universal geniuses" that acknowledge, respect, and admire multiple disciplines for what they are.

    I can't stop wondering what would Feynman think about design, a discipline guided by principles, guidelines, and subjectivity rather than by theorems and laws.

    If Feynman was a scientific genius, Charles and Ray Eames were design geniuses. The Eames office made a superb video on the sizes in the universe call "Power of Ten". Enjoy!

    Thursday, December 15, 2011

    Please stop!!

    Yesterday morning my wife told me there would been a talk about my home country and encouraged me to go. It was part of the "Public Colloquium — Area Studies and Political Order" at the local university. So yesterday afternoon I headed to the venue and arrived 15 minutes early thinking it would be good to get a seat on the back. I was surprised I was the first attendee and that the speaker hadn't arrived. That was the first signal of what was about to come.

    Earlier that day I had been having trouble with my phone, so tried to fix it while waiting for the lecture to start.  People started coming in and two minutes before five o'clock the speaker arrived, another bad signal. I guess it was naive from me to think the lecture would start at the announced time, it is Germany after all. When he arrived he looked more like a boxer going into a fight than like a lecturer, he barely smiled or greeted the audience. He got the LCD projector running and fired up his visuals. His only interaction with the audience was asking a couple why they didn't speak Spanish. It sounded more like an objection than like a question. I imagined the lecturer was nervous, and that's why he acted like that.

    The next bad signal was a misspelled word on the title. Instead of the word "production" he wrote "producción". He quickly reviewed his visuals, which surprisingly were few for a two hour lecture, and they weren't that bad.  As he reviewed, he kept looking at his notes —a thick stack of A4 sheets of paper— and I finally picked up that he was been introduced. It was 5:15 pm.

    The moderator did an average job, which looked fitting and proper, for the occasion was informal. After my 30 minute wait the lecture started. His English was poor. After thanking the university officials for the invitation he started by reading what I thought was a quote, so I didn't think about it that much. The "quote" was his first visual so the audience was able to read along. But when the last words of the text were something like "...and this is what my talk is going to be about." I knew the lecture would suck rotten eggs. It wasn't a quote, it was a fragment of his lecture. Oh, and did I mention he stayed on his seat?

    I realized his plan was to read the whole two hours. The problem was I didn't understand the words he uttered, and much less their meaning. He was a poor reader and had clearly not even rehearsed reading his lecture. After having reading his introduction and pointing out his talk would be divided in three part, he turned to the next slide, a shown a diagram that he told us was important. By then, I was already heading to the door. I was sorry for the other people who had to stay.

    This is where I think he failed:
    • If the announced time was 5 pm, the talk such have started at 5 pm.
    • He missed the opportunity to connect with the audience before the lecture by greetings them at the entrance and showing enthusiasm. He could have asked people how they got to know about the talk, what their expectations were,  and what their background of the subject was.  He could have "warmed up the crow."
    • He should have spell-checked his visuals.
    • He should have thought more thoroughly about his language skills and whether reading the lecture would have been the best way to pass the information.
    • He should have stood up and shown presence.
    • He should have prepared and rehearsed.
    I did learn that valuable lesson, when attending a talk try to find a seat that was easy access to the exit, because every now and then you might also want to leave earlier than planned.

    Thursday, December 8, 2011

    Presentation sin: Filler words

    Filler words are a credibility killer. In this post, I link to the Six Minute blog for some answer to this problem.

    No matter the language of the presentation, filler words like "um", "uh", "ah", "am", "eh"are a pain to the audience. Thankfully, Andrew Dlugan's Six Minute blog on public speaking is again active and full of great advice. In one of his latest post "How to Stop Um, Uh, and other Filler Words" he  addresses the issue. I recommend you read it.