Saturday, September 27, 2014

Share or Steal

The monthly retention game doesn't always get the attention it deserves, but let's take a look at one variation a fellow Sabhaologist will be trying out Sunday with his bal-2 audience:
  • Moderator selects two people.
  • Each receives a white board. 
  • When the question is asked, they have to write the answer down along "share" or "steal."
  • If both say "share," then only one person needs to get the answer right for both to split the award equally (one Hershey kiss each).
  • If both say "steal," neither get anything for a correct answer.
  • If both say different answers, the player who "steals" must get the answer right to collect four Hershey kisses while the other who "shares" gets nothing.
  • If a player gets an answer wrong, they sit down.
As always, please let us know how this idea pans out this Sunday, especially if adapted for another sabha. We're all ears when it comes to revisiting the retention game!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Rethinking Visuals

Recently, Prezi blogged about the importance of images and noted Steve Jobs's example in 2008 with the unveiling of the original MacBook Air (see 52:10).

Here's a few sites they suggested in finding images worthy of use:

The Noun Project
With over 500,000 artist-designed icons, The Noun Project has something for you, no matter what your presentation topic is. Because they are all vector images, you can use the icons at any scale—make them small to accentuate your different points, or make them big to illustrate your big idea.

Death to the Stock Photo
Death to the Stock Photo aims to eliminate the boring, inauthentic images available from most stock photo websites and databases. Sign up to receive a monthly batch of free, high-resolution photos covering a wide range of subject matter—so you can find the right visual metaphor to represent your message.

Little Visuals
Like Death to the Stock Photo, Little Visuals delivers high-quality photos straight to your inbox for free. When you sign up, you’ll start to receive seven images every week. Little Visuals’ images are always high-resolution, so you can zoom into the details to your heart’s content.

New Old Stock
Want to give your presentation a vintage feel? The high-resolution historic images from New Old Stock are perfect for spicing up your presentation with the atmosphere of another era, whether you choose to use a sepia-toned photo from the turn of the 20th century or a breezy black-and-white snapshot from the 1960s. Plus, they’re entirely free to use.

Free Pik
Looking for vector images that you can zoom into for your next prezi? Look no further than Free Pik, a collection of 1.4 million graphic files. As the name suggests, all of these files are available for free—so you can make as many beautiful prezis as you want without bothering the finance guy.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Carpe Diem

Krishna was once asked what was the most miraculous thing in all creation, and he replied, "That a man should wake each morning and believe deep in his heart that he will live forever, even though he knows that he is doomed." - Christopher Pike, Phantom
Moksha is a concept most of us are familiar with. We have heard in Bal/Balika Mandal that our goal is to attain moksha. In fact we probably already know that moksha is the same as attaining Akshardham, which is the same as overcoming the cycle of birth and death, which is also the same as becoming Brahmroop, which is the same as becoming exactly like Swamishri. This message we have heard over and over that we can recite it anytime we need to (especially in a presentation about Moksha).

The interesting thing then is really that after realizing this truth how much have we done to achieve Moksha? Have we seized the day? A good unexpected way to start a presentation on Moksha could be to show this video (which is especially apt since Robin Williams passing several days ago)

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Chalk Talk: Revisiting Ghosti

About a month ago, a fellow Sabhaologist shared with us an extensive list of strategies to mix up sabha, ghosti, or even meetings.

We decided to take him up on one of his recommendations, Chalk Talk, and apply it to kishore karyakar ghosti. Often times, we struggle with getting people to open up in ghosti, especially with larger groups, so this activity took advantage of silence by having participants respond on paper (as seen below).

Define how you think each aspect of Ekantik Dharma applies to your karyakar seva.

Which of the four pillars of Ekantik Dharma do you find easy? Hard? Explain.

To avoid repetition, tallies were noted next to comments that others also shared.

Overall, it was an interesting way to collect everyone's opinion and helped the moderator see the varying levels of understanding. As there were about 5-6 people present, a bigger writing space would have helped reduce wait time.

Nevertheless, we thank the Sabhaologist who shared with us a treasure trove of techniques. Want to try another one out? Check it out, and let us know what you think.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Balika 1 - It Worked! Burn you fears away

An intrepid Balika Mandal sabhaologist came up with a clever idea to add meaning to a presentation and make it stick. A few weeks ago the presentation - Ghosts in a Well - was about becoming fearless in the same way Ghanshyam Maharaj was fearless in dealing with the aforementioned ghosts. For Balika/Bal 1 this can become an abstract exercise. To make it concrete the Sanchalika came up with a great idea. She asked all the balikas to write down their fears. They then went to an open area outside and in a small pit the karyakars took the piece of paper and burned it while emphasizing that Maharaj and Swami will always help us if we are fearless. Unexpected and concrete rolled into one and simple emphasized through stories. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

What makes a great TED Talk?

The Harvard Business Review has an interesting post trying to answer this question. They speak with Chris Anderson, the curator of TED, and get his opinion on this question. His answer will not surprise many of our regular readers since they echo the Made to Stick SUCCES paradigm. However Anderson leads with emotion (the E in SUCCES). It is interesting since when we try to learn these techniques we usually lead with unexpected (that Anderson calls surprise), stories (related to what Anderson calls visual), and simple. We focus initially just on these three since they get us out of doing something boring. However to really engage an audience's attention and calls them to action we really do need to engage their emotion. It takes practice and forethought. When reviewing a talk we naturally ask ourselves or others - "what is the SUS?" To get to the next level we need to augment that to - "what is the SUSE?" Here is what Anderson has to say about this.

What makes for a great presentation — the kind that compels people’s attention and calls them to action?  TED talks have certainly set a benchmark in recent years: HBR even asked Chris Anderson, the group’s founder, to offer lessons drawn from the three decades he’s run TED’s signature events in an article published last summer. 
But experience and intuition are one thing; data and analysis are another. What could one learn by watching the most successful TED talks in recent years (150 hours’ worth), talking to many of the speakers, then running the findings by neuroscientists who study persuasion?  I did just that, and here’s what I learned: 
Use emotion. Bryan Stevenson’s TED talk, “We need to talk about an injustice”, received the longest standing ovation in the event’s history. A civil rights attorney who successfully argued and won the Supreme Court case Miller v. Alabama, which prohibits mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles convicted of murder, this is a man who knows how to persuade people. 
I divided the content of his talk into Aristotle’s three areas of persuasion. Only 10 percent fell under “ethos” (establishing credibility for the speaker); 25 percent fell into the “logos” category (data, statistics) and a full 65 percent was categorized as “pathos” (emotion, storytelling). In his 18-minute talk, Stevenson told three stories to support his argument. The first was about his grandmother, and when I asked him why he started with it, his answer was simple: “Because everyone has a grandmother.” The story was his way of making an immediate connection with the audience. 
Stories that trigger emotion are the ones that best inform, illuminate, inspire, and move people to action. Most everyday workplace conversations are heavy on data and light on stories, yet you need the latter to reinforce your argument. So start incorporating more anecdotes – from your own experience or those about other people, stories and brands (both successes and failures) – into your pitches and presentations. 
Be novel. We all like to see and hear something new. One guideline that TED gives its speakers is to avoid “trotting out the usual shtick.” In other words, deliver information that is unique, surprising, or unexpected—novel. 
In his 2009 TED presentation on the impact of malaria in African countries, Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates shocked his audience when he opened a jar of mosquitoes in the middle of his talk. “Malaria, of course, is transmitted by mosquitoes,” he said. “I brought some here so you can experience this. I’ll let these roam around the auditorium. There’s no reason why only poor people should have the experience.” He reassured his audience that the mosquitoes were not infected – but not until the stunt had grabbed their attention and drawn them into the conversation. 
As neuroscientist Dr. A.K. Pradeep confirms, our brains can’t ignore novelty. “They are trained to look for something brilliant and new, something that stands out.” Pradeep should know. He’s a pioneer in the area of neuromarketing, studying advertisements, packaging, and design for major brands launching new products. 
In the workplace your listener (boss, colleague, sales prospect) is asking him or herself one question: “Is this person teaching me something I don’t know?” So introduce material that’s unexpected, surprising or offers a new and novel solution to an old problem. 
Emphasize the visual. Robert Ballard’s 2008 TED talk on his discovery of the Titanic, two and a half miles beneath the surface of the Atlantic, contained 57 slides with no words. He showed pictures, images, and animation of life beneath the sea, without one word of text, and the audience loved it. Why did you deliver an entire presentation in pictures? “Because I’m storytelling; not lecturing,” Ballard told me. 
Research shows that most of us learn better when information is presented in pictures and text instead of text alone. When ideas are delivered verbally—without pictures—the listener retains about 10% of the content. Add a picture and retention soars to 65%. 
For your next PowerPoint presentation, abandon the text blocks and bullet points in favor of more visually intriguing design elements. Show pictures, animations, and images that reinforce your theme. Help people remember your message.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Secret to go from Worst to Best: Deliberate Practice

Would you like to know the secret that can propel you from being one of the worst speakers to being one of the best? Andrew Ng, a professor at Stanford University and a founding member of Coursera shares his insight on how he accomplished this exact feat. After understanding the mechanics of how to create and deliver a great talk, what we really have to do is the hard work of practice. The Pareto principle (80/20 rule) tells us that we can get an 80% improvement in our speaking skills, but we need to put in the 20% of work in the form of practice. Focused practice with very good feedback is how we can improve much faster. This is why we have a preview and review cycle in our sabha and our syllabus is focused on this cycle and the concept of SUS. This in a nutshell is what deliberate practice is all about. Here is what Prof. Ng has to say about it.
How can you rapidly improve your presentation skills? When I began teaching at Stanford University in 2002, I was one of the weakest teachers--bottom 13% according to my student reviews. Eleven years later, in 2013, students named me one of the top 10 professors across all of Stanford University. During that journey, there was one short period when my teaching and public speaking rapidly improved, through a process called deliberate practice.

We all know that to get better at a musical instrument or a sport, you have to practice. Practice does not simply mean “doing the activity over and over.” Instead, you learn fastest when you engage in a focused process called deliberate practice, in which you repeatedly attempt an especially challenging part of the task.
When the best musicians are working to improve, they don’t just play their favorite tunes for hours. Instead, they pick a short but challenging passage in a larger musical piece, and repeatedly play that passage until they get it right. Athletes use a similar process to hone their skills. This is hard work---you focus in every attempt, try to figure out what you’re doing wrong, and tweak your performance to make it better. If you do it right, you might be mentally drained after 30 minutes.
Deliberate practice is common in music and in sports, but is rarely used in the context of speaking or teaching. In fact, knowledge workers in most disciplines rarely engage in deliberate practice. This limits how rapidly we get better at our jobs; it also means that deliberate practice might help you progress faster than your peers.
Key elements of deliberate practice include:

  • Rapid iteration.
  • Immediate feedback.
  • Focus on a small part of the task that can be done in a short time.
Here’s a 30 minute deliberate practice exercise for improving your presentations:
  1. Select a ~60 second portion of a presentation that you made recently, or that you plan to make.
  2. Record yourself making that 60 second presentation. Use a webcam, camcorder, or your cellphone video camera to capture video and audio.
  3. Watch your presentation. If you haven’t seen yourself on video much, you’ll be appalled at how you look or sound. This is a good sign; it means that your speaking ability is about to improve dramatically.
  4. Decide what you’d like to adjust about your presentation. Then go back to Step 2, try again, making any changes you think will improve your speaking.
  5. Repeat the cycle of recording, watching, and adjusting 8 - 10 times.
You want to select only a ~60 second portion of your presentation to practice. By using only 60 second segments, you can go through the steps above maybe 8-10 times in half an hour (i.e., you can perform many iterations in a short time). The first time I did this, I recorded myself talking for 30 minutes. But you don’t really want to watch a 30 minute video of yourself talking—it gets boring—and in a 30 minute video, you’ll also find far too many things to change that you won’t be able to keep them straight in your mind.
This was the process I used to improved my teaching. For about a year, I had a camcorder set up in my living room, and I went through the record-watch-adjust cycle whenever I had a few moments to spare. Although I still have much to learn, a series of many practice sessions helped me to improve my teaching more quickly than anything else I’ve done, and ultimately allowed me to develop and launch my first MOOC in 2011. In the later parts of my teaching career, when I was learning how to create MOOC-style online lecture videos, the process of deliberate practice helped me get much better at that too.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Oil and Water Don't Mix but Food Coloring Does.

A fellow sabha.ologist going by the moniker Mirangi wanted to share some unexpected methods she successfully implemented in Balika 1

The presentation was on the concept of Akshar and Purushottam. Now this is a concept that is quite difficult for someone who is in group 1 to understand. At most, they know that Akshar is Swamibapa and Purushottam is Maharaj. But [that is the] the extent of their knowledge. During this presentation, I created a prezi in order to aid the flow of the presentation. I find that my balikas love prezis because [the animations flow better than PowerPoint and thus engages the balikas] - they like having something to focus their attention on while I am speaking. Along with the prezi, I had two analogy's that made the whole concept rather sticky. The first one was food coloring mixed into water. When you place food coloring into water, you get a juice and everything is evenly mixed. This is what the Akshar Purushottam upasana is mostly like. Maharaj resides within Swami who is Akshar, who resides within us. Akshar and Purushottam are inseparable. They are always one.Oil however when mixed with water, sits at the top for those who are science students. This demonstrated that Maharaj always lives within one who is Akshar and that they are always a pair and cannot be separated. The next analogy was that of Akshar. Gunatitanand Swami was first known as Akshar, however since then, all of our gurus in the guru parampara have been known as "Akshar" at one point in time. Currently, Swamibapa is Akshar. This is because although Akshar is one entity, it can change clothes. The entity of Akshar does not change, only the outer appearance of Akshar changes. Hope this helps! 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Avoiding Rookie Mistakes

Prezi has walked into the spotlight as a snazzy alternative to PowerPoint. They featured a guest post a month ago highlighting some common presentation mistakes that we've excerpted below though the accompanying Prezi is only viewable on their site.

In this guest post, Terry Gault, Managing Partner and Vice President of The Henderson Group, provides insight into how to become a better presenter by avoiding a few common mistakes. Terry oversees all curriculum and services at The Henderson Group. In addition he is responsible for the selection, training and development of all trainers and facilitators for The Henderson Group, and has been an instructor with the Henderson Group for over 15 years. 
Having coached clients on presentation skills since 1997, I’ve noticed some clear patterns in the behavior of inexperienced presenters.
The list follows with detailed explanations below. I’ve included suggestions on how to be more effective.
1. Using small scale movements and gestures.
Most rookie presenters are afraid to take up too much space. This hesitance comes across like an apology to the audience. For more on this topic, check out our post titled “What the heck do I do with my hands?!?"
2. Speaking with low energy.
Actually, this problem is not restricted solely to rookie presenters. 80 – 90% of the presenters that I observe do not expend enough energy. Hence, they come across as uninvolved, uninteresting, and unenthusiastic. Crank up the energy level! You will command more attention and project more confidence and charisma. I cannot stress this strongly enough. For more, check out our video on Speaking With Passion.
3. Not preparing enough
Granted, many rookie presenters don’t know how to prepare effectively other than preparing their media. Experienced speakers do plenty of research so that they feel confident in their material and their ability to respond to any question the audience might throw at them. They daydream about their topic even during ‘down time’ and often find the most creative ideas when doing other activities. I often come up with great ideas while driving, shopping, or running. It’s important to go through multiple drafts or iterations of your material, revising and editing, to arrive at the most finished form of your talk.
4. Not practicing enough
Not practicing your talks and presentations on your feet is one of the single biggest mistakes you can make. Experienced speakers will often do a dry run of their material with a trusted audience of friends, family, or colleagues. They will simulate the environment of their presentation using a projector and slide remote. They’ll choreograph their movements and gestures which will dramatically increase your ability to remember your material. They recognize areas of challenge (weak segues, awkward media transitions, etc.) and come up with tricks and tactics to help them flow seamlessly through their material.
5. Data centric presentations.
If your talk is focused on data rather than the vivid human story the data tells, you are in trouble. In the June 2013 issue of Fast Company magazine, Leslie Bradshaw, the COO of Guide is speaking about Big Data. She states: “The art is in preparing the content for optimal human consumption. The data doesn't just talk back to you. You collect, you analyze, you tell stories. Think of an iceberg. Underneath the waterline are data storage and analysis. Those are your engineers and scientists. Up above is the interface. It's both literal and narrative. It starts with the hard sciences–the math, the analytics–but it ends up with the softest: how to tell the story.”
6. Playing it safe.
Many presenters, rookies included, avoid taking risks. As my mentor and co-founder of our company often said, “Not taking a risk is also a risk.” When your presentation content is too safe, it usually comes across as boring. When the most important ability as a speaker is the ability to garner attention, can you afford to avoid taking risks?
7. Avoiding vulnerability.
This will seem very counter-intuitive to many young presenters but you must find ways to show vulnerability if you want to be seen as credible. If you are obviously trying to hard to seem perfect, savvy audiences will see through your act and become even more suspicious. Tells stories about times when you made dumb mistakes and then reveal what you learned. In Brene Brown’s talk on Vulnerabilty at TED, she states, “The original definition of courage, when it first came into the English language—it's from the Latin word cor, meaning heart—and the original definition was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart… very simply, the courage to be imperfect.” For more on vulnerability, here are some related posts on our blog.
8. Taking oneself way too seriously.
Many speakers tend to be very serious and formal. If they could bring more of their natural, informal style into their presentations, they would be more authentic and engaging and authentic. The stiff formality and rigid “professionalism” many tend to slip into when presenting may garner respect but respect only has value if people actually want to spend time with you. If you defer too much to your audience, you are projecting that you are not of an equal stature. Respect the audience’s professionalism but relate to their humanity informally. By speaking to them more informally, you project that you are equal. They will read that as confidence. As I often say to clients, “If you are not having fun, you are not doing it right.”
9. Presenting too much material
Though it’s always better to have more material than you need, you also need to know what you will cut if you run out of time. Rookie presenters feel compelled to get through all their material even if it means going past their allotted time. I’ve heard of speakers who have gone as much as 45 minutes over their time commitment. This is inexcusable. If you want to estimate how much time your talk will actually take in front of an audience, practice on your feet and time yourself. Expect your actual talk will take at least 25% longer and maybe even 50%. Speakers often expand even further on their topic when they see audience’s reactions.
10. Rushing
Rushing further exacerbates any existing delivery or content problem you may already have. Phrases will lose impact because you are rushing. Slowing down will make you seem far more poised and confident and experienced. Using more pauses will also:
a) Increase audience perception as well as your feeling of confidence and ease.
b) Give your audience time to digest your key points and give those points greater impact.
c) Give you time to formulate your thoughts into more succinct and cogent sentences.
S-l-o-w d-o-w-n!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Brussel Sprouts and PowerPoint

Brussel Sprouts have a bad reputation. Many people don't like them, because the primary way of cooking them in the past was to boil them, and when you boil brussel sprouts it is not very pretty. There has been a renaissance in sprouts as of late as people starting roasting them with a bit of olive oil and salt. They taste (and smell) infinitely better this way. The problem was not the sprouts - it was how we used the spouts.

Powerpoint is in the same boat as brussel sprouts. Most of us have sat through egregious powerpoint presentations. Edward Tufte has railed against them and Saba.ology has touched on this subject. However powerpoint is a tool. It is not powerpoint that makes bad presentation, it is people that make bad presentations. John Foreman, on his blog, gives an excellent analysis of this, as well as the biases that informs Tufte's stand.

Having been a consultant to the federal government for a number of years, it was hard to not hear about Edward Tufte. The style of communication used by government consultants and their clients (particularly the military) are anathema to the longtime information design,data viz luminary. So when I was at Booz Allen, my team used to think about his perspective as a counterpoint to how we built data visualization products.
Today, I had the privilege of attending one of Tufte’s training sessions in person. I along with a few hundred other folks gathered in a hotel ballroom for a 6 hour tour of his many books and theories. 
He’s got awesome points. Let me summarize some that will be pertinent to this blog post:
1) Humans have a good vision system. So we shouldn’t hide data (especially related data) behind hierarchical layers. Rather, data should all be displayed on a single canvas where readers can delve into it and digest it with speed. If data points are related, then that relationship can be called out by allowing the data to share space. To emphasize these points he contrasted the National Weather Service’s  local forecast website with most corporate websites (using an XKCD comic to underline his point). 
The NWS uses simple, intuitive dumps of data, and they plop it all on one page, whereas many websites would hide this amount of info behind layers and layers that “disrupt the signal.” As Tufte puts it in one of his books:  
“Visual reasoning usually works more effectively when the relevant evidence is shown adjacent in space within our eyespan.” 
In order words, it’s the author’s job to serve up the data on a broad platter, and it’s the reader’s job to chop it up and make sense of it. Data should not be served precut in bitesize chunks a la Chinese food.  For what it's worth, I think the NWS website is ugly as balls, but that’s neither here nor there for this post.
2) The audience of a presentation should be given data and reading upfront (Tufte loves paper) and allowed to digest data at their speed.  As he puts it in his book Beautiful Evidence:
“It is helpful to provide audience members with at least one mode of information that allows them to control the order and pace of learning – unlike slides and unlike talk.” 
3) Visual adornment for the sake of visual adornment in data presentations should be avoided. He calls this “chart junk.” Amen! Here’s a great animation that drives this point home
Those were the three well-reasoned takeaways for me. But he had a forth point he kept hitting over and over...
PowerPoint is Evil
When I say that Tufte thinks PowerPoint is evil, I’m not making a joke. Tufte  argues that visual communication is a “moral and ethical” undertaking for the presenter. To chop up information between slides, force readers to drill down, hide relationships by separating them on disparate slides,  slow down information transfer by minimizing words on a slide (low information density and throughput) is to communicate dishonestly. 
The use of PowerPoint to split apart data and ideas and deliver them piecemeal to an audience is an amoral power play. I disagree. 
Brussel Sprouts & Why Slides Don't Kill People, People Kill People
Brussel sprouts have had for a very long time a bad reputation. On after school cartoons (Rugrats comes to mind), they always ranked up there with liver as dreaded food items. Why? Because if you boil them, they’re foul. And for years and years, that’s how they were prepared in the U.S. But these days, brussel sprouts are making a comeback. Every new restaurant I go to from hipster speakeasies to lawyerly steakhouses is putting them back on the menu. What changed? The preparation. They’re not boiled any more. They’re often split and roasted with olive oil  and served with salt, lemon, goat cheese, pine nuts, parmesan, etc. It's delicious. Brussel sprouts were never the problem. People were the problem. They were preparing them wrong. 
PowerPoint is the same.  
About halfway through Tufte’s presentation, I noticed that much of his time was spent flipping through slides. He showed a slide of this beautiful graphic beautiful graphic from the New York Times and then he flipped to a slide of Tim Berners-Lee’s proposalfor creating the internet and so on. His slides were single, information-dense graphics. Nothing that couldn’t go on a PowerPoint slide.  So really his problem isn’t with PowerPoint then is it? It’s with how the enterprise uses PowerPoint. What he’s really criticizing is not PowerPoint as a tool, but rather the default use of PowerPoint by an old guard. When I create a new PowerPoint deck, the first thing I do is delete the title and text box of the default sheet and start with a blank slate. Then I build up slides not much different from those I saw Tufte present.  
“But wait!” you might say, “The fact that the default slide in PowerPoint has a bulleted list PROVES that it’s intended for evil!” The default preparation instructions on the side of my bag of store-prepped and washed brussel sprouts are to boil them. Does that make sprouts inherently evil? Nah. Just ignore it and use the tool/vegetable how you wish. 
What’s wrong with POWER?
In Beautiful Evidence, Tufte calls PowerPoint “pushy” and “tends to set up a dominance relationship between speaker and audience, as the speaker makes power points with hierarchical bullets to passive followers.”  I heard a lot of language like this today. PowerPoint in its default use was equated to no less than the figurehead of hegemony himself – Dick Cheney.  
Hey, I get it. I’m all for active listening, especially in film and television. That’s why I’m such a huge fan of reference-based rapid-fire dramadies like Gilmore Girls and Veronica Mars. They make the reader work and pay attention in ways that inane laugh track garbage can't. 
But let's follow some other bits of Tufte's logic and see where we end up. One thing that Tufte kept saying was “if you want to play with the big boys,” you’ll get rid of PowerPoint. And his biggest boy of all was Apple. Tufte loves him some Apple products. He feels that the iPad in using a touch screen (doing away with interface elements such as pointers and scroll bars) has freed up more visual space for data. Good point. That’s awesome. Tufte pointed out that, naturally, Apple does not use PowerPoint in their meetings. Indeed, Steve Jobs dropped the f-bomb four times in one sentence when discussing PowerPoint with him. Go Steve! 
But wait.  
How can Tufte align himself with Steve Jobs? Jobs is the antithesis of open-canvas, all-on-one-slide, read-ahead data communication. While Tufte criticizes PowerPoint presentations as “aggressive” and “over-managed,” there is no more over-managed presentation than a Jobs presentation. Don't believe me? Read here. 
There’s even a word for Jobs' highly controlled, authoritarian presentation style: the  Stevenote.
And the hallmark of the Stevenote was one more thing.” 
The act of declaring “one more thing” at the end of a presentation is inherently opposed to Tufte. It’s all about keeping information back, not laying it on a canvas, not putting it in front of the audience. The relationship is not one of "respectful teacher and student" but one of king and awestruck subject. But if Jobs’ method of presenting is so reprehensible, as I'd hope Tufte would admit, then why is he lauded as one of the most effective presenters of all time?
We Present to Convince
For Tufte, the objective of a presentation is maximum data throughput. The speedy, digestible transmission of data to the audience. Hierarchy and layers just get in the way of a data buffet.
But for Jobs and indeed for many presenters, this is a secondary concern.  The primary concern is to make an argument. (A sales pitch is an argument). Tufte is an academic. He said over and over again that the best examples of his philosophy can be seen in scientific and mathematical literature. In these contexts, data speaks for itself. 
But in Jobs’ context, an argument is made not by vomiting data before the audience but by teasing it out in just the right way. Save the best for last. This is no different than a comedian timing punch lines perfectly. A comedian would never give you the jokes on a “high density paper read-ahead.” That’d spoil the presentation! 
Wrapping This Up
So those are my two main reasons for why Tufte is wrong about PowerPoint:
  • He uses the enterprise's typical use of PowerPoint as a straw man for PowerPoint itself
  • Not all presentations are given for the sole purpose of transmitting raw data. And when this is not the case, the style of information delivery can affect the outcome of the meeting.
That said, Tufte seemed to like Excel. Which we all know I freaking love. So I’m still a fan. Now on to make some PowerPoint slides for my talk in Arkansas next week.

Monday, January 27, 2014


One of the most powerful techniques in making our talks flow and removing hesitation is chunking. Many of might do this instinctively. However if we focus on this and make a concerted effort to do even more of this, it can make a quantum improvement in our speaking. Here is the explanation from SciBlogs.

Listen to past and present world leaders like Barack Obama, Tony Blair and even George W. Bush and you’ll hear a particular speech-making tool in action – chunking.
I was introduced to chunking today at a presentation at the Foo Camp “unconference” held at Mahurangi College just out of Warkworth by Olivia Mitchell, a speech expert with Effective Speaking.
She had a room full of scientists and technologists who had similar hang-ups when it came to getting across often highly-technical concepts in speeches to laypeople.
Many in the room talked of getting tongue-tied, using fillers like “um” and “ah” to fill awkward silences and talking too fast due to nerves. For myself, I’m definitely familiar with the latter, particularly in front of large crowds, when the presentation can feel like a hurtling train ride to the final slide. The only time things seem to slow down is when there’s a glitch with the presentation or your computer crashes – in which case a few seconds can feel like a minute.
Enter the method of chunking, which is designed to slow down your speech, give you time to think and your audience time to absorb what you are saying.
The key to chunking is to think about how you want to break up your sentences to deliver aspects of the concept you are explaining. Talking for a few seconds followed by a pause of a second, then another burst of speech and so on, is an effective way to deliver an impactful speech without becoming flustered and adding in those clunky and noticeable fillers.
It takes a bit of getting used to, but after a few tries in the session today, I was talking fairly smoothly in chunks about a fairly complex science-related topic. The regular pausing means you can collect your thoughts to find the right words to start your next sentence and means you are lest likely to ramble on just to fill dead air, which the public speaker naturally dreads.
Chunking teaches you to make good use of regular pauses, which also allows you to pause for impact as you let your audience absorb your words.
Tony Blair is apparently the master of chunking, as numerous Youtube clips illustrate. Blair earns in the region of $600,000 per public speaking engagement, such is the effectiveness and impact of his speeches. He had extensive training in the art of chunking early in his political career.
Mitchell touched on an aspect of speech delivery that is particularly distracting and unfortunately, fairly common among public speakers in New Zealand – the high rising change in tone at the end of a sentence. It’s particularly common among females apparently. Here’s Mitchell’s tip to avoid doing it – think about the end of the sentence – where you want to end up with this particular chunk of speech. If you know the final words you are going to deliver in the sentence, you will have more confidence in the style in which you delivering, eliminating the uncertain, questioning tone that the rise in tone suggests.
We only had a short workshop with Mitchell, but I’ll be working on my chunking ahead of my next presentation!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Made to Stick in Bal Mandal - an Example

A young bal sanchalak wrote up how he used the SUS principles to give a talk on yoga (from several months ago) in Bal 2. Notice the creative use of unexpected and using activities along with stories to drive the point home. This sounds like a great Bal 2 sabha. 

I started with displaying a quick video of Austin Rivers’s buzzer beater and then  another small video of the Top Ten Dunks in the NBA. After these clips we had a discussion on which video was more enjoyable and thrilling. The answer of most of the balaks was what I expected: The Austin Rivers’s video. That was my unexpected. I had them discussing things with me and they were not really sure what the main topic was going to be. 
The tough part came next when through the discussion I introduced the SIMPLE of my presentation. First was to understand why the buzzer beater video clip was more enjoyable. One of the older balaks had a very straightforward response, it is harder to do and thrilling to watch. He also mentioned that it was harder to do because in the NBA many people can dunk the ball, but not many people can perfectly time their shot to make it a buzzer beater and beat their rival team. After this answer I asked them as to why Austin Rivers is able to do such incredible feats. Most of the answers were very common such as practice and hard work.
However the simple was introduced through another video clip of Austin Rivers giving an interview in which he mentions  that he listens to concentration music to enhance his abilities to focus and to keep his mind calm and collected during pressure situations.
The next section was stories and exercises to enhance this main point of concentration and focus. I asked all the Balaks to list some things people do to keep calm. The foremost answers were concentration music and exercises, leading into my next assignment. I put on some concentration music, and gave them a yogic exercise to complete, the Bee Posture. After the completion of this, I invited a few kids up to the front of the room to attempt to complete some yogic postures. These yogic postures are now also completed monthly during our BST sessions. Lastly, I concluded my presentation by informing the balaks that when you want to do anything, be it play sports or concentrate for studying, it is always best to calm your mind before you start. I also mentioned that the procedures learned were not the only procedures for calming the mind, and that there are many other things one can attempt to do so. 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Presenter Pointers #6: SMS in Sabha

Every Sunday (or Saturday), Sabhaologists are on the field monitoring, observng, and analyzing presentations. This series brings to light their observations and points of improvement in a bite-sized blog post.

This week in kishore/kishori sabha, we looked at the concept of upasana. One presenter wanted to see how much his message would be perceived by the audience, so he started off his sabha with a common scenario:

One of your classmates asks you, "What do Hindus believe?" Answer this question in one sentence, and text me your number (or e-mail if you don't have data).

Most of the audience had smartphones and happily obliged at an unexpected chance to interact with their phone. It also made the presentation personal when the presenter read off some of the responses he received.

At the end, he repeated the same question to see how individuals changed their responses, and of course, he included Swamishri's response in Cleveland when asked the exact same question by a local newspaper reporter in 1984,

"To live a pure life of good character, believe oneself as atma (the soul), and then worship God. (Paramatma)."