communication tips

How to make your powerpoints less boring

  1. Don’t use Powerpoint.
  2. If you must use Powerpoint don’t use dot points.
  3. If you must use dot points don’t put them all on one slide.
  4. If you must put them all on one slide – don’t read them verbatim.

Seriously though. Powerpoint slides have been scientifically proven to be better with less information rather than more…

Here’s the test they ran…

Students were randomly assigned to two groups. One group attended a presentation with traditional bullet-point slides (with the occasional diagram) and the second group attended a presentation with what Chris calls “sparse slides”, which contained the same diagrams, but minimized the amount of text, and broke up the information over several different slides. Both presentations were accompanied by the same spoken narrative.

They were tested using multiple choice questions and then short essays – the multiple choice tests showed no major differences between the groups. The essays on the other hand…

“Before marking the short essay answers, Chris worked with two independent people to identify the themes of information in the presentation. They identified around 30 themes by consensus. The short essay answers were then marked by counting how many of those themes the students wrote about.”

Now that you’re convinced on the science here are the tips from the study.

  1. Limit what you cover in a presentation. Your audience has limited capacity to take it in.
  2. Design your slides so that they can be processed quickly by the visual cortex, allowing the language areas to focus on what you’re saying. This means using more pictures and as few words as you think you can get away with.
  3. Only put on your slides things you want the audience to focus on.
  4. Split information between slides rather than having it all on one slide.
  5. Show a picture that the audience has difficulty relating to what you’re saying. Either ask them to guess the relationship, or explain the relationship to them.

Style guide

Kurt Vonnegut was a writer of some repute. His guide to stylish writing is worth familiarising yourself with.

  1. Find a subject you care about
  2. Do not ramble
  3. Keep it simple
  4. Have guts to cut
  5. Sound like yourself
  6. Say what you mean
  7. Pity the readers

Good tips for blogging I reckon.

Tip 6 came with this little gem… for more detail about the other points read the article.

My teachers wished me to write accurately, always selecting the most effective words, and relating the words to one another unambiguously, rigidly, like parts of a machine. The teachers did not want to turn me into an Englishman after all. They hoped that I would become understandable — and therefore understood. And there went my dream of doing with words what Pablo Picasso did with paint or what any number of jazz idols did with music. If I broke all the rules of punctuation, had words mean whatever I wanted them to mean, and strung them together higgledy-piggledy, I would simply not be understood. So you, too, had better avoid Picasso-style or jazz-style writing, if you have something worth saying and wish to be understood.

He’s also written eight tips for writing short stories:

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Orwell on Writing

A while back I quoted George Orwell on writing clearly. The link to that article is now broken – but the ABC’s Mark Colvin has taken a stab at some problems with modern English – and included Orwell’s tips in a handy list form… it’s worth repeating.

1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Timeless.

And thanks to Angela for the link.

A place for everything

Lifehack.org had this great chart for communicating with people – and the best way to do it.

Sadly, it didn’t deal with social networks and what the appropriate vehicle is for meeting your communications goals.

One of the common themes pursued by parents in this whole debate is that they feel the need to vent, the need to celebrate their experiences and a forum for support.

Someone needs to do up a similar flow chart for how, when, and where, you should communicate this sort of stuff and meet these important needs.

So, in order to extracate myself from a sticky situation where I offended mothers and questioned their self worth, I will give you my following solutions to this problem that will hopefully offer a middle ground…

Here are my professional (possibly not expert) opinions of the appropriate contexts for discussions – and I’ll use parenting as an example because it’s timely. And if I don’t you’ll suspect I’m talking about it anyway.

Twitter

Twitter is a microblogging service and has evolved as a source of "as it happens" information about major events. You may have heard of it. The mainstream media is flogging it hoping it’ll become a dead horse – because they’re worried about its potential to take the place of newspapers.

It’s strength is that it’s real time – and you can follow just about anybody. It’s much less private than Facebook. It’s also designed to be updated much more frequently than Facebook statuses appear to be. I suggest that parents wanting quick feedback on decisions, or wanting to brag about their offspring’s achievements should do so via Twitter.

Flickr/Picasa

If you want to share photos – and you want to control exactly who gets to them – the best way to do that is using a dedicated photography site. You’ve got more control and better default privacy settings. You can then invite specific people to have a look at your family photos rather than sharing them with your colleagues, school friends and the rest of the world who you might have "friended" elsewhere.

A lot of parents I know are protective of their childrens privacy – and I think this is a good thing. Heaven forbid your child grow up having some parental musing as their top search result on google.

YouTube

YouTube has the same benefits as the photo sharing services – you can share your videos with close friends or the world – and spare acquaintences from the pain and suffering that comes from curious voyeurism. That’s what most people use Facebook for. To spy. I’ll watch your videos and look at your photos just because I want to know more than I should about you, advertisers will do it so they can figure out what best to sell you, other people will do it for more nefarious purposes.

Bookmarks

There are heaps of bookmarking sites out there that let you share bookmarks with relevant keywords – you can also look up what other people have tagged using those words. And save interesting articles to share with your friends.

I’m sure there are plenty of great parenting resources out there and if you want to share tips and tricks, and expert opinions this is a good way to do it. That way I (a non parent) don’t have to be notified by you every time you find an article you’d like to share with half of your friends.

Blogging

Communication works best when it’s "opt in" or permission driven. If you want people to listen to what you have to say, don’t do it to a captive audience, build an audience by being useful and informative.

I may be your friend on Facebook because I want to occasionally invite you to social functions – and lets face it, parents complain about being out of the social loop, I may be your friend because we are part of the same organisation… generally your Facebook friends aren’t only your closest friends. So don’t treat them like they are.

I might be biased – but I think the best forum for sharing your opinion in an opt in manner is on a blog. People have to make a decision to visit it, to come back, or to subscribe. It’s easier not to go back to an annoying blog than it is to unfriend someone you know but don’t want to hear from. And much less socially perilous.

Forums and user groups

If you’re looking for support with specific problems related to parenting why not join a forum. Forums are great. They’re the best way to get assistance from the "hive mind". They’re completely opt in. They’re a community. And there are forums for just about everything – and if you can’t find one they’re pretty easy to start.

You can also share all your milestones with people who will share your joy.

Email

Most of the reasons people give for sharing stuff on Facebook (relatively public) could be done via a targeted group email (relatively private). If you’re friends with someone on Facebook you have their email address. Be polite. Email the people you want to share your information with.

Facebook

I’ve left Facebook to last (and MySpace off the list entirely) because I think it dabbles too much in the areas better covered by tools specifically designed for specific purposes. Unless you want to set up privacy settings and sharing settings you’re broadcasting everything to either your entire friends list (or the world) and relying on them to filter it.

Facebook is widely abused. Some people should have lisences revoked for anti-social behaviour.

Having said that, Every one of these previously mentioned tools can be achieved using Facebook – it’s powerful. It’s a great platform for sharing photos, video, bookmarks, and opinions, and for conducting forums, advertising events and soliciting feedback and advice. It’s also a pretty functional email platform.

But with great power comes great responsibility. If you’re going to use it for all of these purposes – Be a good citizen of the online world. Use it appropriately.

  1. Protect your photos.
  2. Set up groups for discussions about parenting where you can overshare to your heart’s content.
  3. Set up events and invite only the people you’d like to attend.
  4. Don’t spam people with needless applications.
  5. Don’t have private conversations on people’s walls.
  6. Use the "email" capacity of Facebook to keep things private.
  7. Don’t send unsolicited promotional stuff to people about your courses and stuff.
  8. By all means use your status to invite people to peruse your blog, your business website, your business Facebook page, etc, but do so sparingly. Once every ten minutes is too much.

If you’re aiming to be a functional participant in the web 2.0 world you need to remember the golden rule of opt in. Don’t make everybody suffer through every piece of information you feel like sharing – if they like you enough they’ll do that. Give them the option – don’t force feed them. It’s just basic manners.

According to google

It occurs to me that introducing any piece of communication with “if you google…” or “according to google…” – it’s as big a no-no as introducing anything by saying “the Oxford English Dictionary defines… as…”.

If you don’t know why this is a problematic way to enter dialogue (or indeed a monologue) – then please, begin your comment with either a dictionary definition or a reference to google search results on the matter.

Dear blogger

Please don’t include a big block of ads between your title and your content in your RSS feed. I won’t read it. I won’t scroll down. If you’re lucky I’ll hit the “j” key (in google reader) and skip you. If you do it all the time I’ll just unsubscribe.

I expect better from you – particularly if your blog is all about how to have a better blog.

That is all.

Dear emailer

Please don’t feel compelled to open your missive to me with a joke. Particularly a joke that is not funny. Just get to the point.

That is all.

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