Alternative talk styles

August 13th, 2009 by jose

I went to a toastmasters meeting, and found some interesting tricks to improve presentations. For example, they count the “ahhs”, “hmm” etc. Since then I’m surprised at how many scientific talks are filled with those. A minor thing, but very effective. I didn’t keep going to meetings because it looked to me that the presentation style they use is not very compatible with the academic one (e.g., practicing improvisation). But it got me thinking… what alternative talk styles are out there? Is the ‘standard’ one the best? In a way, flying people all around the world to ‘see’ the talk is a bit of a lost cause, because body language doesn’t weight as much as in other communication styles. Of course, the networking and face-to-face time, to work on ideas on napkins, may make up for it, but still…

What follows is a walk through alternative talk styles that you may want to try in your next conference. Some require you to be the organizer, and enforce certain rules. Others, you can try just being the speaker. On with the show!

Pecha Kucha is a presentation format in which content can be easily, efficiently and informally shown, usually at a public event designed for that purpose. Under the format, a presenter shows 20 images for 20 seconds apiece, for a total time of 6 minutes, 40 seconds. They took the name Pecha Kucha from a Japanese term for the sound of conversation (“chit-chat”). It was being aimed primarily at creative industries professionals.

A Lightning Talk is a short presentation given at a conference or similar forum. Unlike other presentations, lightning talks last only a few minutes and several will usually be delivered in a single period by different speakers. This has actually being already adopted by academics (I’ve been to one!) CITE and in my experience, it’s adored by the audience and well attended.

Ignite is a style of presentation where participants are given five minutes to speak on a subject accompanied by 20 slides. Each slide is displayed for 15 seconds, and slides are automatically advanced.

Last we have the TED talk. The motto of TED is ‘Ideas worth spreading’. If you are an academic, you should ask yourself, ‘is any of my ideas worth spreading?’. So if someone invited you to give a TED talk, what would you talk about? What if you make your next invited talk a TED-like talk?

Feel free to report your experiences with alternative talk styles in the comments…

Drafting hacks: In long docs view only a section at a time

August 11th, 2009 by jose

800px-Toiletpapier_(Gobran111)I’m sure everyone here is familiar with drafting. It’s a very  demanding activity, and my feeling is that there are no proper tools out there. Word is clearly not a good drafting tool, and raw latex is not much better. I particularly use onenote, but it’s not without its problems (I work under linux too, and there the closest solution I could find is to use rightnote under wine).

Surprisingly enough, the Office team has a website to request feedback, and they seem to use it (!). This is a way to talk to the developers directly, something I missed when using microsoft products for a long time. So if you have a pet peeve, go post it there. Here’s mine:

In long docs view only a section at a time

Navigating a long doc is awful for drafting. The toilet paper metaphor doesn’t work, human working memory cannot keep track of location of ideas that way. Onenote shows a much better metaphor, where one idea/section is its own tab. This idea agrees with the programming maxim "a function should use a screen at the most. If it doesn’t fit a screen, it’s too long". writing text is not programming, but it’s close: many ideas organized in a logical way, with dependencies.

So the proposal: In long docs, view only a section at a time. This could be draft mode, or a checkbox for any mode.

Btw, outline mode is not what I mean. Apart from being ugly as hell, it shows all other sections folded. I mean a completely crear screen with just the section you are working on.

It sorta can be done now, by using a master document and making each section a subdocument… but it’s not very agile. I rearrange sections a lot. Having each subdoc as another window separately is confusing.

I’m curious to hear what your tricks are for drafting. I’m surprised that things like onenote don’t get more attention in this community. They do take quite a lot of mental effort out from writing for me.

False Epiphany: Incompletion, 15 Causes and Solutions

August 7th, 2009 by jose

Just a quick one to highlight The False Prophet. S/he presents a list of reasons why things don’t get done, together with Preventive measures and solutions.

This is quite a finding. Example:

4. Distraction (…)

Preventive measures
When you commit to a project, set a daily/weekly schedule. Consistent time-structure is what gets projects done that last longer than the excitement of inspiration. Working on the project first thing in the morning is one way to head off distraction.
Set up your own status meetings, just as with “dependency”, since, in a way, you are depending on yourself to deliver. Having a regular status meeting with a friend (say, in a phone call) can keep you on track.
See “attention overload”, below.
Solutions (to be used after you’ve gotten distracted)
The 5M method. Note the time. Think of a tiny task that you think you can complete in five minutes. Give yourself an hour to do it. You can do the task right now, and then slack off. You can wait until five minutes are left in the hour and then rush. Odds are, once you do this tiny task, you’ll feel different. You’ll have some momentum. Your brain will now be returning to the work you want to do instead of the distraction. Or perhaps not. You can still slack off the rest of the hour if you prefer. A deal’s a deal.

He also has an interesting post on ‘how to fix grad school’. I like the way he presents arguments, and then tries to shut them down.

False Epiphany» Blog Archive » Incompletion: 15 Causes and Solutions

Testing the general model of productivity

August 5th, 2009 by james

In a previous episode, I suggested that productivity is really just an efficiency measure. Since the working currency for academics is arguably prestige, productive researchers are those that can acquire the most prestige for the least effort and this can be formally written as:

productivity = sum over all t for outputs over inputs

where each task t is assigned a prestige benefit (pt per activity × n activities) and an effort cost (attention units per hour at × ht number of hours).

The comments on the original post suggested that there was a lot of enthusiasm for implementing and testing the theory and so I’ve spent the past month gathering data and preparing for a bit of an empirical assessment. The results are a work-in-progress but I hope to keep the conversation going and get your feedback. Here then is a step-by-step guide to how I’ve analysed my productivity over the last month using the general model.

Read the rest of this entry »

RWW on Elsevier’s Prototype: Is This The Scientific Article of the Future?

July 26th, 2009 by jose

Looks like Elsevier experiments on how to present scientific papers are starting to get coverage  (on RWW no less)Elsevier1.

The basic novelty here is real time search, but everything is peppered with other webby things like comments and AJAX.

The key features of the concept are here, and one can play with working prototypes. They are asking for feedback. I must say this is head and shoulders over reading a pdf on the screen. As highlights: (1) A figure that contains clickable areas so that it can be used as a navigation mechanism to directly access specific sub-sections of the results and figures, (2) references are clustered by sections of the paper they appeared in, and hot-linked.

However, it’s not clear if this kind of effort is just cosmetic or actually an important change. From the RWW article:

Some parts of the available prototypes are interesting but opinion in the scientific community seems split. Is this ground-breaking stuff or yesterday’s news repackaged by another industry threatened by the web? That depends on who you ask.

Read the rest of this entry »