Friday, February 26, 2010

Dead Bulbs go PIP!

The previous few posts reminded me of a time when everyone in grad school had to give presentations. This was in the day of overhead projectors (instead of DLP projectors and powerpoint slides). The talks were a mix of sticky, wacky, tacky, and sleepy. The talks however carried a great deal of weight. It was like the football combines for grad school - you impress here you get a sweet research fellowship, internship, job - basically you are not a starving grad student anymore.

The one talk that impressed many in the room was a guy who was giving an abstruse talk on gallium arsenide for better transistors. He was not totally unsticky, but he did suffer from the curse of knowledge. He assumed everyone knew everything he knew about the subject, even though he had been researching this for about four years. I was lost at slide 3, as bored grad students we took and average and found that most people (at least in the back three rows) were lost at about slide 2.7.

However the most impressive part of this talk was that in the middle of the talk the bulb in the overhead projector pops with a pretty loud BIP (that is technically the sound an overhead bulb makes when it stops working). This made the talk extremely interesting for the back three rows because:
  1. We commiserated with the guy, this was really bad luck, and it could've happen to any one of us.
  2. We could follow his talk know because it was not about gallium arsenide but about bulbs.
  3. That BIP noise really woke us up and we noticed that people were looking around - especially at the back three rows.
The guy giving the talk did not miss a beat. He never stopped talking about his topic (time limits were enforced). He opened his back pack and pulled out an extra bulb. He opened up the overhead (you could tell by the ease in which he did this it was not his first time) replaced the bulb and kept right on going - skipping two slides which he mentioned he covered while replacing the bulb. He got several sweet job offers.

Not to be outdone I have seen karyakars at shibirs, meetings, and conventions come with their own portable speakers, laptops, and even big pads to stick on wall just as a backup. If things do not work out, they simply go to plan B. They probably have sweet jobs as well.

Perfect your Presentation - Get rid of slides randomly?

[This is another guest post by a reader who as been there from the very beginning - about two months ago. You too can send a guest post hit up the comment links below.]

This fits in with the post about Gladwell writing out his entire talk and then memorizing. He basically practices a lot before speaking. The following tip came from LifeHacker and was written by Alex Croft. His overall idea is that if you know your talk well then if something goes wrong you can still make the talk stick. His intuition is to practice this by having someone remove a random slide (or note card) form your presentation - can you still get through it without going through the Uhhh ohh Umm - or giving the AV guys the Neck Crane? (Seriously if you don't now what the Neck Crane is you need to click on that previous link). We have all been there where the video will not play on the powerpoint, or that codec which you tested a hundred times before the talk will not work, or the mic go off - but if you practice it ahead of time you can make it stick.

I was at a microbiology seminar this afternoon where a researcher was giving a presentation via PowerPoint. After a few slides a crucial diagram failed to show up over the projector. I would have gotten flustered and cursed the Microsoft Office for Mac gods. This presenter didn't though. She just walked over to a nearby whiteboard and drew out the entire diagram from start to finish, explaining as she went along. This turned out to be a much more effective way to describe her system than even a perfectly constructed PowerPoint slide ever could. Even more effective? Everyone was impressed how well this presenter knew her stuff—it was a very complex diagram.

It's one thing to follow something already on a PowerPoint slide. It's another to recall it completely from memory under pressure and technical malfunction.

This got me thinking. A spectacular way to practice a PowerPoint presentation would be to have someone eliminate one of your slides, or a section of a slide. Then, run through that altered presentation and see if you can compensate for the missing material. This will make you feel more confident about your presentation, and help you avoid being flustered if everything doesn't run smoothly. You know you can never trust a PowerPoint.

We all know that practice makes perfect, but this method takes it one step further—being able to practice your presentation with slides is one thing, but knowing the material so well that you don't even need the slides really shows your stuff (and, if you do have problems, it shows that you know how to keep cool under pressure as well). Got any other tips for perfect presentations? Share them in the comments.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Just add water! DIY Recipe for Powerful Presentations.

[Guest Post from one of our long time reader. In fact if you are reading this you are also a long time reader. If you would like to post give a shout.]

As a kid, they had these tiny toys like sea monkeys and ponies - all you had to do was add water and they would grow, giving you hours on end of fun and excitement. At first, it was hard to imagine how a tiny pea-sized piece of foam (?) could transform itself into anything more than it was. But the box guaranteed that it would result to something more. It was different from a plant, plants take a long time to grow. This was just instant fun, watching a toy expand 12,000 percent just because of...water.

In the same way, we are so lucky to have a
well-written sabha syllabus to help us out with content and research, but you still need to add water to see the results.

So let's say you just got out of a great sabha and are energized. Your Sabha Sanchalak sense this and says, "Hey! Wanna do a presentation for next Sunday?!" You agree and viola the sanchalak gives you the presentation. You open it. Maybe just unfold the papers of the printout, or maybe click to open a file, but either way, within a few minutes or a few days, it sinks in - this presentation is not going to do itself. The syllabus is awesome but it still needs some water, that water is you! The presentation starts with you.

Each time we "do a presentation" we have a unique opportunity to prepare and engage with the satsang concepts presented in the topic, select meaningful prasangs, and gather appropriate research in order to draw associations, insights, and main points that can benefit everyone in the sabha. And what's more, research shows us that it's not just what we say, it's also how we say it.

And then we have a 20-minute window (more or less) on a Sunday afternoon to share our understanding with our peers, to engage in a conversation with them, and mutually come away with the inspirations in that topic.

Where's your water? How are you adding the water to your syllabus presentation notes? Let us know so we can share any tips and ideas on how you prepare for and think about a presentation to bring it to life!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Words of the Wise

We've posted quite a number of TED Talks on this site that have been phenomenal in terms of presentation and speaking quality, so I'm sure some of us are just dying to know... "What makes a TED Talk great?"

Our friends over at Wired had an article that attempts to answer the question.

  • Creativity - "We have heard a lot about the econo-cratic Davos Man, but TED Person is a human mosaic of scientist, businessperson, design consultant and movie star. The spa and the laboratory sometimes clash. One of the most extreme reactions I’ve ever heard from the TED crowd was during a video shown Thursday where a cute little mouse was nosing around a piece of cheese. We hear a big SNAP, and the screen goes black. The auditorium erupts in a huge collective gasp of shock as we see our furry friend pinned in a mousetrap, pathetically struggling to get out. (All ends well, as it turned out to be a funny commercial and the mouse did a superhero move to escape.)"
  • Construction of a personal narrative - "One contender for the best TED talk ever came a few TEDs ago when neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor’s described her near-fatal stroke — the professional part of her brain fluctuated between detached observation and panic while the rest of her mind melted into a blurry nirvana. The talk included candid revelation, medical peril, cutting-edge science, and a bit of mysticism. If she had included solar power and African child warriors, it would have been so perfect a TED talk that there would have been no need for others."
  • Avoiding overused conventions - "[Stephen] Wolfram thankfully avoids two overused conventions of TED-speak. The first is the reference to 'the people in this room,' with the word people often preceded by an adjective like 'brilliant,' 'generous' or 'innovative.' Behind the flattery is a pitch to tap the brains and bucks of TEDsters for a cause, ranging from climate change to clean needle exchanges."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Man Dhaaryu Mookvu - Mind Control and Marshmallow

When you were four years old, would you have been able to wait fifteen minutes with a marshmallow staring you in the face for the chance to get another one? This was a classic experiment conducted in late sixties by Walter Mischel a Standford psychology professor. The same experiment was recreated in the video below.

Once Mischel began analyzing the results, he noticed that low delayers, the children who rang the bell quickly, seemed more likely to have behavioral problems, both in school and at home. They got lower S.A.T. scores. They struggled in stressful situations, often had trouble paying attention, and found it difficult to maintain friendships. The child who could wait fifteen minutes had an S.A.T. score that was, on average, two hundred and ten points higher than that of the kid who could wait only thirty seconds."

Although some of his results are anecdotal the idea of controlling the panch vishay, and eleven indriya (the eleventh being the mind) is a central to the not only personal success but spiritual success. This video is a good way to introduce this concept, break it down to something simple then link it to Satsang. It can be shown in almost any sabha - kids are cute and do not need translation.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Impossible is Nothing

What can we achieve if we put our mind to it? We have heard this many times in sabha. Many people start with that exact question, which usually is meant to be rhetorical, and in many cases is not, but in general serves no purpose (we do not like those questions).

Presentations dealing with: power of the mind, what we can achieve if we have mahima and nishta in Satpurush, great heights achieved by satsangis throughout history, what our Guru Parampara was able to accomplish to please their own guru - all could benefit from an unexpected and concrete example to set the tone. Enter David Blaine.

Honestly when we read about many of his stunts in the past we thought this guy was a tool. This talked changed our minds. The talk itself is sticky - tells a story with lots of unexpected images and concrete and credible examples. He is emotional about this subject - you can see it means a great deal to him. But the real key in our minds is that he has a simple message: I wanted to accomplish something so I set my mind to it and did it.

This is universal and can be used in almost any presentation. For example when discussing niyams if we start by saying: Bapa has never given us a Chaaturmaas niyam to shove a pipe down our throats so we could stop breathing. But image if he did. Great way to start, we can then talk about how hard that would be, what would it take for us to do it, in fact who in their right minds would do such a thing. Boom - show video (or parts of it). Come back with some concrete examples that show that if we have a focus to break a record we would do it AND if we had the same focus to please Bapa we could do it. Tie in past examples wherein people in the sabha (collectively or individually) did exactly that - both for Satsang and personal goals. You are on your way to a very sticky presentation.

Looking for a sticky ending? Try this. Sing a few lines of Ame sau Swami na balak. Then move to the following. We just sang: marishu Swami ne maate. Looking around this room and the achievements we had in the past, I am sure, no I am certain that everyone here would be willing to die for Swami. But the question is are we willing to make Sabha Sticky for Swami? Are you?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Presentation Tips

We find that people get the most fired up about boring presentations when they have to sit through many of them. So we see many posts like the on below from VCs who sit through presentation, we hear the same thing from yuvaks and yuvatis who have sat through a lifetime worth of lifeless presentations. However a blog reader send us this post to say that change is on the way. Abridged and edited tips below from Both Sides of The Table Blog.

Most people [are not good] at presenting to big groups. It’s a shame because the ability to nail these presentations at key conferences can be once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to influence journalists, business partners, potential employees, customers and VCs [and fellow satsangis]. So I thought I’d write a piece on how to not suck when you give a presentation. I spoke about this yesterday on Fox Business News. I’ll put up the video when they post it on their website.

1. Show some energy! – No great presentation can be delivered like a conversation. You’re not lecturing to a college class, you’re not at a cocktail party and you’re not chatting with a small group in a board meeting. You’re on stage! People are sitting in their chairs for too long – most of them squirming. Many of them have their iPhones and laptops ready to command their attention the moment that you start sucking. You’re on stage – act like it! Get out of your comfort zone. You need to be an order of magnitude more perky than you would feel comfortable with in a normal conversation.

2. Tell a story – Every great presentation tells a story. Stories have starts, middles and ends. They are human and touch emotions. The bring your product to life. They are not buzzwords or bullet points. Why do people think that buzzwords are going to interest audiences?

I always tell people that if you’re not creative in how you tell stories the simplest way to do so is by telling “a day in the life” of your potential user. Establish the persona of the person who would be using your products. Help us to get to know him or her. Tell us what their life is like without your product – how they struggle. Tell us about the breakthrough they’ll have when they’re using your product.

3. Learn how to structure – Telling a story is one thing. But make sure that you’re structured in the way you communicate. You need to break down your message into key components. It is generally best if you have a “theme” or “thesis” which if the main point you want to get across. You then need sub-themes or “supporting evidence” to reinforce your key theme. These are weaved through your story.

If you’re not naturally talented at good, logical structures you may consider purchasing The Pyramid Principle by Barbara Minto. She wrote the book that inspired the way that people at McKinsey and Accenture do presentations. OK, hold back on your consulting humor. But seriously her book is spot on.

3. Know your audience - I always try to find out something about the audience before I present.

4. Be unique / memorable – Do SOMETHING that makes you stand out. For almost everybody – DO NOT attempt humor. If you’re not already the funniest person you know in social situations you’re not likely to be funny on stage. Nothing is worse than bombing at jokes on stage.

5. KISS – (keep it simple, stupid) The goal of the presentation is just to give the audience a basic sense of what you do and why it matters. Don’t confuse this with a tour-de-force education on the finer details of how your company operations. They simply need to know: who has a problem? how are you solving this problem? why does this matter? how big of a problem is it – really?

So I recommend that you GREATLY simplify your message. The conventional wisdom is that the audience can only remember 3 simple things about any presentation 10 minutes after they’ve seen it. I think 3 might be an exaggeration. You’re there to leave an impression – not to educate. It’s OK to throw in some facts & figures that people won’t remember because giving people numbers helps them understand the magnitude of the problem you’re solving.

6. Summarize – The old line about presenting was, “tell us what you’re going to tell us, tell us and then tell us what you told us.” If you literally do this it will be very boring. But the core idea is right. If you want the audience to remember what you covered you need to be slightly repetitive with your key take-away message. I like to have an “anchor line” which is my big take-away point and have it repeated three times throughout the presentation.

7. Make it visual – Bullet point were the worst thing ever created for group presentations. Nobody wants to read your text on a big screen. If you’re going to do that why not just print out your presentation and leave it on my seat. Far more expedient. You presentation should have almost no bullet points. The way to capture an audience’s attention is visually. Pictures set the image, your voice tells what would have been in the bullet points.

You need to memorize what you’re going to say when each image comes up. If you wants some words to support the image – fine. But make them sparse and make the B-I-G! If you really get nervous and are afraid you’ll forget your lines have one 3X5 cue card in your hands for each slide. Don’t write sentences on the – only key words to help you remember what you’re going to say.

One strategy I often employ. I often do two versions of my presentations – one that has mostly images and one with a lot of supporting text. I use the latter if I send out the deck after the presentation. Sending out a follow up deck with a lot of images is silly – no one remembers the “meat.” But writing lots of words on a slide you put up on a big screen so that later people will be able to understand what you said is also suboptimal. My dual approach solves both needs.

8. Practice! – It was clear many of the people who presented at Twiistup’s Pre-Demo Night hadn’t practiced enough. It is not sufficient to write yourself notes and read them before hand. You actually need to do a dry run in front of friends, colleagues and others. People don’t like to do this because it feels funny “pretending” to deliver a presentation. That’s not you. You’re going to read out your points like it is for real. You’re not going to stop and go out of character and say, “oh, that didn’t sound right. I’m gonna do this page over from the start.” You wouldn’t say that on stage.

There is only one way to know how your presentation will go – to do it in advance. Get real feedback from your listeners. Ask them to be harsh. Better that you know now than in front of 300 people.

9. Stick to your time – If you’ve been given 6 minutes then plan a presentation that can be done in 5. Trust me – whatever amount of time you’ve gone over in practice it will be longer when you’re on stage. And if you’re done a minute early – bravo! The audience will love you. The best way to manage to a time is: a) practice with a stop watch and b) have less slides than you think you’ll need. There is nothing worse than a presentation that runs over the end of the allotted time. Oh wait, there is. A presentation that is CUT OFF because it ran long. And you don’t get to finish your points or summarize at the end. Don’t be this person.

10. Have a “Plan B” – the show must go on – As was evidenced at the UCLA event and at many, many events I’ve been to – there are times when you have technical difficulties. The show must go on. Have a plan b that you can fall back on. Where you planning to demo? Fine, but if it isn’t working you need to call an audible. If it’s a really important show there’s an easy solution. Have a PowerPoint deck with screen shots that you can walk through. Simply say, “Obviously I preferred to do a live demo but I have a deck with screen shots just in case this happened. Whew.”

11. Have someone else drive the demo – Don’t try to be super human. Have somebody else drive the demo. There’s nothing worse than the presenter constantly stopping their speaking to concentrate on typing text, clicking on tabs or futzing with the computer. Have another person that drives the demo. There actions need to be scripted so that you know exactly what’s going to happen. They obviously need to practice just as much as you do. If they do something out of sequence don’t hesitate to politely instruct them. Tell them in advance to listen for your cues in case this happens.

Some final “no no’s”

- “how’s everybody doing today?” – lots of people start with stupid chatter like that at the start of their presentations. It adds nothing. You’re not a comedian warming up the audience. Get right down to business. I hate time wasters at the start of a presentation. You’re already trying to stick to a rigid time plan.

- how many of you “X”? – OK, I already said above that you can ask if people are entrepreneurs, investors, etc. But please don’t say things like “how many of you have ever had problems with Outlook?” or “How many of you are frustrated with Facebook?” or some similar line to prove your point. You never know how the audience will react. If you don’t get the response you expect it ruins your tempo and the audience will start to question your premise. The risks outweigh the benefits.

- don’t turn around and read the screen – ooooh. Big pet peeve. If you don’t put up bullet points this will never happen to you! But it looks really stupid PLUS your voice projects in the wrong direction. Many, many people make this mistake. Yuck.

- never say, “I know this slide is really busy and hard to read” – if it’s so busy and hard to read then why did you put it in your deck? Are you a moron? If you practiced you sure would realize that nobody could read it. People say this all the time. I cringe when I see it happen. It definitely is an IQ test thing for me.

Presentation == Performance

Malcolm Gladwell is a great speaker. He has appeared on the Moth (twice), he has a great TED talk as well as a great Pop!Cast talk. He sound effortless, relaxed and he sucks you into his stories. So how does Gladwell do it? A reader of the blog sent us this excerpt from LifeHacker.

"Afterwards, I broke through the autograph-hunters surrounding him and asked him how he managed to time his talk so beautifully - so that it ended bang on 45 minutes, without ever looking at his watch. He answered - "I know it may not look like this. But it's all scripted. I write down every word and then I learn it off by heart. I do that with all my talks and I've got lots of them."

It sounds like a most elementary sort of advice—just memorize it!—but it contrasts sharply with the "put a few bullet points down on a piece of paper" camp that most people belong to when it comes to getting ready for a presentation."

This bit of advice really takes things full circle. We always dread the presenter to who goes to the podium or the front of the room with the presentation printout (or worse a laptop) cradled in their hands. Why? There is a good possibility that they are going to read right off that paper or screen. So one rule of thumb is to go up to the podium with some note cards (or your phone) with just bullet points. This way you do not forget your points but are forced to speak not talk - forced to tell a story.

Now Gladwell does the exact opposite. He writes down every word of his talk (no bullet points). However you will notice he goes to the podium with out any paper (or laptop or phone). He speaks his story - which he must have practiced many times.

One open question we have at the blog is how often do people practice before they go up to speak in sabha? We wonder what the percentage nationwide would be in all the mandals? Thoughts?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Rules that Bind or Rules that Free - aagna

Many times we when talk about aagna we start with everyday rules such as the rules of driving a car (stop at the stop sign, stop at the red light, etc.) We then use that as an analogy to establish that the aagna of Satpurush also helps us in our spiritual journey. This is a great way to start a talk. However over time everyone has come to EXPECT that this how we are going to start the talk so we loose the unexpected element. It is now harder to get everyone's attention even though we started with something different. What if we took these same ideas and simply tweaked them to do something a bit different as seen in the following video.

The video itself shows the rules in a different light (see also the rapping airline steward for another example). Now we have many ways to tie this to aagna. For example, we can say that the rules of the road such as wearing a seat belt, are actually quite simple - it only takes a few minutes - yet we make a big deal about it. However not only does it affect you - potentially saving your life, it affects your family. Similarly following the Satpurush's aagna actually is quite simple (not eating onions and garlic or your favorite other niyam examples) yet we make a big deal about it. Also by following these aagna we slowly start to imbibe the characteristics of the Satpurush - thus becoming more tranquil and happy. This affects not only us, but our family and loved ones as well.

When faced with an aagna topic try this method to add some unexpected to your sticky talk (followed with concrete and credible examples). It can go a long way. If you can think of other ways to take this, let us know in the comments section below (click on the picture of the small white envelope. Note all comments are moderated and it may take a day or so before they show up, and can be anonymous if you prefer).

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Buckets or Bricks

The classic free throw shot play an integral and important role in the beloved game of basketball. So many movies and shows have all centered pivotal scenes around the mere shot a player takes when he's fouled, but how do we think the one to the left would pan out?

Yep, we ask because there's a clear distraction in this guys' face.

That's what a vishay does - our senses lock onto it like an aircraft missile on a bogey fighter.

Obviously with satsang, some vishays can help us build greater rapport with the Satpurush while others work quite the opposite.

We only hope Mr. Parker (and yes we know that's his wife) got that bit. At this point, it's either buckets or bricks for him.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

That's a Rap

In this week's presentation, one aspect of panchvishays that we're tasked with explaining is how powerful their influence truly is.

We feel that this point is better illustrated than explained, so show the following video of how one Southwest steward decided to switch things up.

Or this one.

We all have flown before so we know what he is going to say, but the fact that the audience (and we) won't be able to direct their attention elsewhere stands testament to the power of vishays. In this case the steward only engages two vishays: sound (he is talking/singing) and touch (he wants everyone to clap). Notice also that many people cannot even see him so no sights. When all five vishays come at us, kiss self-control goodbye. Panch vishays can be engaged in any activity - good or bad. In this case it is good that everyone reminds themselves of the emergency procedure. However it would be even better if we can engage the panch vishay on Bhagwan and the Satupurush.

With respect to the presentation, Tulsidas could not have been anymore correct. Try using this as an unexpected start to this weeks talk.

How Long is a Football Field?

With the Superbowl racing up and the fate of the mighty match-up between the Saints and Colts hanging in the air, football fever is high, which is why it may seem silly to ask,

"How long is a football field?"

Duh, 100 yards, but is it?

In fact, our perception of distance can be distorted by none other than desires for the panchvishays as evidenced by a study conducted at Cornell University.
In the new study, 90 undergraduates were made to sit at a table across from a full bottle of water. Half of the participants were randomly assigned to the "thirsty" condition, and given a serving of pretzels to eat. The rest were placed in the "quenched" condition, and told that they could drink as much of the water as they wanted. Both groups were asked to indicate how long it had been since they last had a drink, how thirsty they were and how appealing the bottle of water was. Finally, they were shown a 1-inch line as a reference, and asked to estimate the distance between their own position and the water bottle.
Here's the kicker.
The participants who had been given pretzels to eat during the experiment reported feeling thirstier than those who drank the water, as would be expected. They also rated the bottle of water as being more desirable, and estimated the distance between themselves and the bottle to be smaller than did the quenched participants. Their state of thirst had influenced their perception of distance, such that the water bottle was perceived to be closer than it actually was. 
Bottom line: Their thirst distorted their perception; the thirsty thought they were closer to the water than they actually were!

In spirituality, we see the same effect. The more we indulge in panchvishays, the farther we begin to perceive ourselves from Satsang and the Satpurush. What began as a small indulgence results in a downhill decline.

Controlling desires proves key to avoiding this disastrous outcome.

So try this example out Sunday, and see how far it goes in explaining this abstract topic.