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.