Research Reflections

Two weeks ago, I gave my practice presentation on the research I had done for the RBA below. The day after that, I went into San Francisco with my sister to a Ben Folds concert. I happen to be a big Ben Folds fan, but until then, I had never seen him live. Which is apparently the big deal about him. I’ve listened to a lot of his live stuff, and an important part is the now standardized audience participation where the audience fills in for other instruments, expletives, and general sound effects.
I thought my first presentation went okay until I watched it again and thought about how I felt about it. I don’t think I was having any fun. I don’t think I was excited, and I imagine it’s a lot harder to get other people excited about a topic when I myself am not giving a particularly exciting presentation. So taking a hint from Ben Folds, I decided to go risky with my presentation and push for audience presentation. The first time I explained the Turing Test with a graphic, I realized how difficult the details were to bring out and show the importance of various aspects for a relatively simple test. I might as well actually run a Turing Test, then.
So that was one slide down. And when I thought through the rest of my presentation, there wasn’t anything I needed the slides to do for me. When I decided to switch my Chinese Room explanation into a better contextualized isomorphism I could talk through, I didn’t need that either. So in a flash of insanity, I decided the night before to completely rewrite my presentation without slides and with tangible examples, including a high stake ploy with Jonathan’s MacBook.
I probably wouldn’t recommend rewriting a presentation the night before, as you end up in a world of hurt if the examples fail, and at the very least, have to read my presentation with transcript in hand because I didn’t threw away all of my practice runs for a single lucky go. Regardless, I feel a lot better about how that went as even when I make crazy changes, I trust my instincts to know what problems I’ve had. My first presentation was basically my RBA wrapped up into oral format. After getting feedback from that, I realized some of the mistakes I made in translations, but even further, I realized some of the gaps I had left in my RBA and places where that didn’t quite get my intent across. Even though I feel like my writing style is largely just me talking through my fingers, there’s still another gap between actually having to talk to real people and discover what’s happening there.
So with a second chance, I probably would’ve done things a lot differently in writing and presentation, but that’s purely by value of having iterated over those drafts and hindsight. I think I’m okay with that, though, because I love editing.

Here are the videos for my presentations to watch, if you want:

Practice presentation part 1:

Practice presentation part 2:

Final presentation part 1:

Final presentation part 2:

2 replies on “Research Reflections”

I didn’t watch the full videos, but about 2 minutes of each, so I got an impression of what you were doing. I have some suggestions.

It’s helpful to think about induction versus deduction. A good mystery novel is deductive. The story is designed to be read linearly, from front to back. Most people don’t read the last chapter first, because the act of working through the content is part of the spirit. (I would describe Ben Folds performance this way, because there’s surprise in the performance. You would otherwise stay home and listen to the record).

In sales training, we’re told to (a) tell them what you’re going to tell them, (b) tell them, and (c) tell them what you told them. This is really an inductive approach. It’s really how business documents are supposed to written, and is the way to make things most understandable. It’s typically not the way that a person learns things, but it is a common way of helping others to understand.

In your presentation (actually both with and without visual slides), I didn’t know where you were going. An agenda slide would have solved that problem. Actually, a one-slide presentation can be a good thing, where the one slide is an agenda. Most people do this linearly to keep things straight, but I’ve also seen more complicated agendas done as mindmaps (e.g. in Freemind).

During the presentation, I was also getting lost. This is where — in a truly anachronistic style — a blackboard or whiteboard helps. When I teach a class where English is not the first language of the audience (e.g. in Finland), I tend to fill the whiteboard/blackboard with the most important words, as I say them. This has two effects. (1) It slows down my presentation, so that the audience has an opportunity for their minds to catch up to the audio. (2) Visualization of the word reinforces the spoken language, so that people who may have misheard something get an instant correction feedback.

These are techniques that experienced presenters learn over time, and you’ll recognize them next time you see them.

I was most conscious of my presentation style when I was presenting in San Fran (in English), where there were three simultaneous translators in the back of the room. It’s strange, because in the quiet of presentation, I could hear the murmurs as a half-second echo behind my talk. When I started speaking, a murmur would start. When I stopped, the murmur would stop a half second later. I have … learned to speak … with pauses … between phrases … because … I so often deal … with foreign speakers.

I’m proud that for that San Fran conference, the organizers came to me afterwards, and said that I was ranked “the most understandable speaker of the conference”.

Presentation techniques are practicised until they become natural. As a reminder, when you post your videos on YouTube, they’re being viewed by someone who isn’t from your class, and doesn’t know the context about what you’re presenting.

So, I watched Part 1 of the first one, and all of the second (I obviously liked it better). Very interesting. Your mannerisms have not changed. 😛

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