Tag Archives: public-speaking

Conversational Mannerisms of Geeks

I always put up a mental barrier when reading articles such as this as I am of the opinion that it is difficult to successfully produce generalities about a subset of people unless you are quite intimate with their idiosyncrasies.

Philip Guo overcame this barrier in his article looking at the conversational behaviours of “geeks, nerds, and other highly-smart technical people”. These behaviours:

  • Struggling with turn-taking.
  • Obsessing over correctness and completeness.
  • Preferring exact numerical responses.
  • Using technical terms without checking for understanding.
  • Focusing on the how rather than the what or the why.
  • Favoring complexity and detail over simplicity in descriptions.
  • Rapidly enumerating long lists of items.
  • Showing a lack of interest in outward appearances.
  • Evangelizing their favorite technologies.

The Hacker News thread discussing this article is also worthy of a casual look.

TED Speaking Guide

Now that TEDGlobal 2009 has drawn to a close and the videos are slowly making their way online, the latest Nature has an editorial on the TED phenomenon, suggesting that “those wishing to reveal scientific ideas should learn from the engaging style of TED conference talks”.

TED succeeds in part because participants are encouraged to talk about the unexpected. […] But perhaps the most critical key to success is the style of the talks. […]

The talks have a strict time limit of 18 minutes — no interaction with the audience, and no questions except the informal ones asked in the extended conversation breaks. […] For a general audience, 18 minutes is plenty for getting across context and key issues, while still forcing each speaker to focus on a message — whether it be advocacy or the celebration of new knowledge.

There is also a welcome absence of PowerPoint presentations. Instead there are plenty of images — but precious few professional scientific diagrams, which can quickly lose the audience’s attention. This forces speakers to craft talks that can engage sophisticated but scientifically untutored listeners at their level. And it also encourages speakers to try for a freely flowing, relaxed presentation style, without notes. […]

Scientists wishing to inspire non-scientists should look at a few of these talks online and learn a thing or two.

I would go one further: non-scientists wishing to inspire others should look to TED to learn a thing or two.

Making Graphs That Work

Seth Godin offers some advice on creating quality, legible, graphs.  Short and sweet.

  • Don’t let popular spreadsheets be in charge of the way you look.
  • Tell a story. The only 4 stories permissible:
    • Things are going great, look!
    • Things are a disaster, help!
    • Nothing much is happening.
    • We need to work together to figure out what the data means.
  • Follow some simple rules:
    • Time on the bottom, from left to right
    • Good results go up on the Y axis.
    • Don’t connect unrelated events.
    • Pie charts are spectacularly overrated.
  • Break some other rules (but not too many)

Seth’s written previously on this topic, specifically to proclaim the three laws of great graphs (one story, no bar charts, movement) and then later to defend his position on bar graphs and pie charts.

As Dan says, “It’s not exactly Tufte, but it covers the basics”.

Story Types for Speeches (and TV)

Each and every time I begin to structure a speech or presentation I consider which ‘story type’ to use (if it is suitable at all).

Not being particularly well-versed in these, I recently came across a couple of useful resources.

First, Nick Morgan’s description of the five “basic stories that Western culture has to make your speeches stronger, ‘stickier’ and more instantly graspable”:

  • The Quest (A cut-down version of everyone’s favourite; The Monomyth/Hero’s Journey?)
  • Stranger in a Strange Land
  • The Love Story
  • Rags to Riches
  • Revenge

Next, a large collection of TV tropes (via xkcd, of all places). A trope? As the site says,

A catalog of the tricks of the trade for writing fiction […] devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members’ minds and expectations.

Update: This handbook of rhetorical devices will also come in handy, surely. Carl has also produced a nice seven-stage guide to the mythic adventure.

Body Language and Our Egocentric Blind Spot

BPS Research Digest reports on a study illustrating our apparent inability to read insights into our personalities from watching a video of our own body language. We are, however, quite adept at making revealing insights on others from similar videos, suggesting we have a sort of “egocentric blind spot”.

Why can’t we use a video of ourselves to improve the accuracy of our self-perception? One answer could lie in cognitive dissonance – the need for us to hold consistent beliefs about ourselves. People may well be extremely reluctant to revise their self-perceptions, even in the face of powerful objective evidence.

In my mind I am linking this with an article from The Naked Speaker persuading you to video your speeches so that you don’t miss out on valuable feedback; something I haven’t done for the few speeches I have given and a piece of advice I definitely plan on implementing.