Playing with Fear

The interesting thing about the Halloween is that it takes a light view of the human fear of death with people dressing up as ghosts and goblins. The origination of the Day of the Dead also takes a lighter view on the subject with the concept that death is actually a part of life and can be celebrated. Theses holidays let us look at fear in a different light; to take it as a natural part of being human.

The fear of public speaking is one of the top fears for people. There is something about communicating under the spotlight that raises the adrenaline in everyone. But, this fear doesn’t have to be a heavy burden either. By shifting perspective, everyone who faces the task of speaking in front of others can lighten their fear.

The first thing to remember is that the body’s physiological reaction to fear and excitement is one and the same. If you are excited to see a friend or your favorite band, your heart rate quickens, you get butterflies in your stomach, and you start to sweat more. These are all the same things that happen when you fear speaking in public. Physiologically, the sympathetic nervous system kicks in and your brain releases hormones that amp up your body in preparation to react quickly to what is about to happen. That can be a good thing; a natural part of being human.

That human reaction is what allows us to raise our voice and become animated in a way that engages the audience while we speak.

Just like we play with fear around Halloween by decorating with images of death and dressing up in monster costumes, we can also play with the fear of public speaking with make believe and pretending. Pretending that the fear is excitement shifts the mind to a more positive place. Visualization during preparation time and right before speaking is make believe that can really help.

To use visualization during preparation, make believe that all goes perfectly during your speech or presentation and then visualize every detail of that success. Imagine walking into the setting and getting a positive response from the audience. Imagine your voice projecting strongly and confidently and seeing head nods and smiles from the audience. Imagine people clapping or saying good job at the end of your presentation. During this make believe incorporate all of your senses – hear, see, and even smell as many details in your imagination as possible. After you have done this several times during preparation, then just prior to your speech quickly bring this image of success back into your brain. This make-believe practice really does boost your success.

As we celebrate Halloween and Day of the Dead at this time of year, we can also celebrate our human fear of speaking. We can use our natural physiological reaction to our advantage by speaking confidently, just as we imagined.

Time Period Matters

It is human nature to assume that our current perceptions are real and right. But ‘real and right’ is a matter of being situated in a particular time period in a particular part of the world.

Two recent occurrences brought the idea of ‘time period matters’ to the top of my mind. The first was the Medium post by Karen X. Cheng and Jerry Gabra showing how magazine covers have changed over time, and the second was a discussion in my Leadership Communication class about how leadership theories morph over time.

Things we as a culture hold true today are not things other humans held true in the past nor will necessarily hold true in the future. Intellectually, that is an easy concept to grasp. The problem is that we don’t hold this concept top of mind when we are communicating with others. The ‘real and right’ perspective is problematic because is narrows our listening of others, limiting our ability to find commonality and get along peacefully. Our perspective can be vastly broadened when we realize that real and right is conditional.

The Evolution of Magazine Covers was a recent Medium post that exemplifies that time period matters. The display of magazine covers for publications ranging from Cosmopolitan and GQ to the New Yorker and National Geographic showed just how drastically our ‘real and right’ has changed over time.


NatGeo Change over Time


The percentage of female body parts exposed increases significantly, and the hairstyles change. The amount of text on the cover of National Geographic decreases, and the language becomes much less scientific and more colloquial. The headlines on the magazines reveal what was top of mind in that given time period. The article dubs it, “survival of the fittest, capitalist edition,” but it is also a reflection of what our society deems important and appropriate. ‘Right and real’ changes over time, just like the magazine covers.

Teaching Leadership Communication at San Francisco State is awesome because every class has students from every walk of life, bring together many varying perspectives. We recently discussed how leadership theories, and I could hear the judgment in students’ voices as they commented on older theories centered on a person’s inherent physical traits. The indignant sentiment expressed was, “Of course it is not true that a large person with a deep voice is naturally a better leader than a small person with a high-pitched voice.” Not true? Not true when? Not true where? In our time, in our place, we think that judging leaders on their physical traits is sexist and racist. But in past time, this was ‘real and right’ for a group of people. This brings up questions like, what changed? At what point did that cultural moral compass shift, and why? By asking these types of questions, we can gain a deeper understanding for the transience of real and right.

Seeing how others thought differently in the past helps us to realize that how we think and act now may seem totally absurd to another people in another time. Springboarding from change over time, we can apply the same realization to spatial, cultural, and social differences. Even our own perceptions, which we often perceive as a fixed component of our character, are really quite malleable. By acknowledging that our ‘real and right’ is not permanent, not pervasive, we can have a more open mind. With a more open mind, we have a broader listening of others. When someone says something outside of our ‘real and right’ zone, we won’t immediately dismiss it as wrong. We might consider their opinion and listen respectfully, even if we disagree in that spatial and temporal moment.


Storytelling Rationale

Once upon a time, a young teenager received an orange in her stocking at Christmas and was elated beyond belief.  That teenager who showed gratitude for a sweet ripe piece of fruit on a cherished day of the year was my grandmother, a first generation immigrant who had lost both her parents and was barely scraping by under the care of her older sister.  In times when I feel irritated by little things like that the store is out of my favorite flavor of Noosa yogurt, I pause and think about the appreciation my grandmother felt for an orange and it helps me put things in perspective.

That is a simple story, but it contains a number of elements that makes stories appealing to humans including a hero, a struggle, and a moral.  In the last number of years the story has come into vogue as research points to the genre as an effective means of sharing information in business.

“. . .our stories carry emotion that connects us with people and drives a point deeper and deeper into our psyche.”  This quote comes from Dianna Booher in an article titled, 7 Tips For Great Storytelling As A Leader.

The structure of a story is familiar to humans and depicted in the Freytag Diagram created by the 19th Century German scholar.


These identifiable pieces of a story move in a sequence from beginning to end.

1. Exposition or Introduction presents the setting (time and place), characters (protagonist – hero/heroine, antagonist – villain), and the basic conflict.

2. Rising Action is where the basic conflict is brewing and there is tension associated with this conflict.

3. Climax is the turning point with a change either for the better or for the worse in the protagonist’s situation.

4. Falling Action is a reversal where the conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist begins to resolve. Then the protagonist either wins or loses to the antagonist.

5. Conclusion is the end of the story, which is sometimes called dénouement, where there is a resolution one way or another and the characters move on.


Another way to look at stories is through the perspective of the hero’s journey.  In Winning the Story Wars by Jonah Sachs, the author uses the hero’s journey as a basis for how organizations can generate truthful interesting stories.

Using this framework, Sachs places the story listener as the hero and the organization in the mentor and storyteller role.  The hero is not a helpless consumer, but rather an activist pursuing higher-level values.  The mentor is to help the hero in pursuing those values.  The journey is about the hero, not the storyteller.

Unskillful storytelling – that we see and hear all the time – is about the storyteller as the hero. This model upends that, puts story consumer as hero.

This has significant implications for organizations telling their stories – shifting from the ‘excellent product/service’ view to the ‘here’s how we help you’ perspective.

Another book, Storytelling Animal by Jonathan Gottschall, focuses on why storytelling is a fundamental human animal instinct.  Our ancestors listened to stories around a campfire, because if they didn’t they got eaten by lions.  In an evolutionary sense, humans are designed to assimilate information in stories – it is part of survival.  Stories help us deal with the human condition on every level and are, therefore, integral parts of being human. Gottschall wrote a recent article, Why Storytelling is the Ultimate Weapon in which he outlined the work of psychologists Melanie Green and Tim Brock that showed that people absorbed in story drop their intellectual guard and process information emotionally such that they are unable to detect false notes or inaccuracies.

Research highlighted in the New York Times article, Your Brain on Fiction, has shown the brain is affected by story telling in ways that make it ‘experience’ and remember information.  When just receiving facts, only the languages processing part of the brain is activated (Broca’s area & Wernick’s area), but with story telling more areas get activated. A 2006 Neuroimaging study in Spain showed when users read words with strong odor associations, the olfactory cortex lit up. In 2012, Brain & Language published study from Emory University when people read metaphors involving texture, the sensory cortex responsible for touch lit up.  Laboratory of Language Dynamics showed the same when people read sentences about movement – the exact part of the motor cortex responsible for the limb movement lit up. Research out of Princeton published in 2010, showed Neural coupling between the storyteller and receiver such that the receiver’s brain appeared that it turns story into perceived own experience.

“The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated . . .. the brain responds to depictions of smells and textures and movements as if they were the real thing  . . .”  Your Brain on Fiction

2015 Bits of Wisdom

How do you take the intention to be mindful and integrate it into work in the technology industry?  What does it mean to be mindful in business?  Leaders of organizations in the S.F. Bay Area met at the 5th annual Wisdom 2.0 conference to share, well, their wisdom.

I have intentionally practiced mindfulness since 1999 and have a particular interest in exploring how awareness changes communication.  Here are paraphrased quotes from those who inspired me at the conference. I hope they inspire you to pause and pay attention.

Where neurons fire, they wire.  Practicing good communication reinforces a positive brain pattern.  – Dan Siegel, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, UCLA School of Medicine; Co-Director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center; Author, Mindsight

Mind science shows that anxiety increases when we are around people of difference.  Mindfulness helps people be with that anxiety and that allows people of difference to interact.  – john a. powell, Executive Director, Haas Institute for a Fair & Inclusive Society; Professor of Law and Professor of African American Studies and Ethnic Studies at University of California Berkeley

Weapons of mass distraction are everywhere all the time  . . .  we must go offline in order to process. – Pico Iyer, Author, including TED Book – The Art of Stillness

Compassion is putting yourself in the shoes of those you don’t like.  It is not easy.  And it is certainly not soft.  – Jeff Weiner, CEO, LinkedIn

There us a vicious circle of the flight from conversation.  People are afraid to be with self, and, therefore, can’t truly be with others. Rule of three – we found that college students maintain a group conversation so long as three people in a group are looking up from their device.  There is permission in the conversation to look down and then back up.  This leads to very surface conversations – ones that can be maintained even when attention is fading in and out. – Sherry Turkle, Founder and Director, MIT Initiative on Technology and Self; Author, Alone Together

Diversity is about brining together people of different background and characteristics to perpetuate innovation.  Inclusion is about creating an environment where people feel they can bring their whole self to work.  – Nancy Lee, Director of Diversity & Inclusion, Google

The reason you are here on earth deserves time, so make physical and psychological space for MUST.  – Ella Luna, Artist; Author, The Crossroads of Should and Must

Instead of building identity by having, millennials are building identity by doing – using experiences to build social capital. – Julia Hartz, Co-Founder & President, Eventbrite

We bring mindfulness to BlackRock by connecting it to performance.  People understand being in the past and being in the future: they pull experience from the past to make good decisions about the future.  We position mindfulness as adding to that with the Present.  Having skills to move between past, present, and future increases performance.  Our Meditation Program offers training and resources to more than 1300 employees.  – Golbie Kamarei, Global Program Manager, Global Client and Sales Excellence, BlackRock

Impact Hub Oakland is a perfect petri dish for addressing how we create a more equitable, compassionate society combining business and social justice. – Konda Mason, Co-Founder & CEO, Impact Hub Oakland

Political leaders need to talk about the science of Mindfulness and the hits if people are not ready to hear about it yet. – Tim Ryan, U.S. Congressman, Ohio; Author, A Mindful Nation

There needs to be a shift to full system optimization within an organization.  That happens through awareness – it is not about anyone person it is about the mission.  Evaluations need to be based on meeting the mission, not individual goals.  – Fred Kofman, Vice President for Leadership and Organizational Development, LinkedIn

Leadership is about inspiring others to meet common objective through vision, conviction, and communication.  –  Jeff Weiner, CEO, LinkedIn

Effortless power is a place where you feel both the greatest ease and the greatest strength.  – Christine Carter, Sociologist, UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center; Author, The Sweet Spot & Raising Happiness


Follow me @jennkammeyer to read more perspectives on communication

Focus on Strengths through Positive Observation Forum

The theme for the Western States Communication Association (WSCA) Conference 2015 was Accentuate the Positive.  I shared my use of the Positive Observation Forum in the Communication Classroom in tandem with Dr. Jensen Chung on a panel with other communication scholars.  Although our use of the Positive Observation Forum (POF) is specifically designed for the university classroom, the rationale behind it and its success factors can be applied to business.

Strengths-based psychology and research on the benefits of focusing on strengths has gone mainstream in the last decade.  Work by Gallup StrengthsFinder, Values in Action Institute on Character, and Center for Applied Positive Psychology has shown that discovering and fostering strengths is more effective than focusing on weaknesses or areas of needed improvement.  Teams are better off playing to each contributor’s strength rather than fixing the perceived weaknesses.

To this end, having people aware of and improving their strengths is a good idea in the communication classroom and in business.  In the communication classroom, the Positive Observation Forum is a tool used to this end.   Students observe others’ strengths in communication and leadership during class activities and then share their observations through an online forum.  The same technique can be used in business.  Most companies have a shared communication forum for various business functions from scheduling to sharing documents to meeting remotely.  Incorporating a place on this forum to commend others’ work is a great addition.  It shifts the culture to a focus on strengths and jobs well done.  It reminds those who are doing a good job that they are appreciated and it encourages others to emulate the good work based on their own strengths.

The pitfalls of implementing a successful POF are lack of participation and poor quality contributions.  The way around both of these pitfalls is communication and motivation.  In terms of communication, potential POF participants need to be told the benefits of being involved and what is expected of them.  The leaders of the organization can communicate benefits of a positive-focused work environment and learning from colleagues on the actual forum, through emails, and in face-to-face meetings. Motivation can be as simple as acknowledging participation during company meetings and as creative as giving rewards or tying participation to employee evaluations and bonuses.

Of course, having leaders participate with high quality contributions on the POF will set an example for others to follow.   To boost quality, I suggest requiring not only the listing of the strength observed, but also illustrative examples of the strength.  For example, instead of just “Sue is a good presenter,” the POF entry would be “Sue is a good presenter because her PowerPoint during Tuesday’s meeting had only 10 slides with interesting graphics and no bullet points and she stayed within the time limit so the meeting was productive.”

In summary, a POF is one way to implement a strengths-based focused that research has shown to be effective. Active POF participation with high quality within an organization will most definitely ‘Accentuate the Positive.’

Give Constructive Feedback

Adam Bryant’s Corner Office interviews with leaders often reveal how communication is such a critical component of excellent leadership.  In Q&A with Alastair Mitchell, CEO of Huddle, Adam asks: What were some early management lessons for you?  Alastair includes lessons around communication.  He mentions learning about “being too vague or not strong enough or clear enough when you’re giving feedback.”  I hear this often from leaders who want to be kind in giving feedback, but then later learn that they didn’t give the follower enough information to make the needed change.

In Peter Northouse’s textbook on Leadership that I use for teaching Leadership Communication at San Francisco State, he sites research, “When done correctly, constructive feedback allows group members to look at themselves honestly and know what they need to maintain or improve (LaFasto & Larson 2001).”

There are 5 steps for giving effective constructive feedback:

  1. Address behaviors, not personal traits.
  2. Describe specifics of what you observed, not interpretations or analysis.
  3. Use “I” language, not “You” language.
  4. Give feedback in calm, unemotional tones and language.
  5. Check to ensure effective communication has occurred by asking very specific questions.

A bad example of feedback is, “You are always late with projects and you make clients mad! For goodness sake, just get your stuff done on time!  Got it?”

A good example of constructive feedback is,  “I see that the project came in behind schedule. It was due Monday and was completed Friday.  I find clients don’t come back to us when projects are late.  Now that we have implemented time-tracking software, I am confident you will manage your time more effectively, ask for more resources if you need them, and complete projects on time.  Can you please go over the steps you need to take to complete projects on time in the future?”

Being clear, specific, and kind in giving feedback results in followers knowing what they need to change and feeling motivated to make that change.

In the Q&A, Alastair goes on to comment, “. . .you have to give people a sense of mission and a clear scope of what we do and don’t do and then allow people to be as entrepreneurial as they like within those guidelines.” Fostering a sense of autonomy within organizational structure creates motivated followers willing to take risks.  Think of progress as a virtuous circle, where people understand the higher goal, take risks and sometimes fail, then receive constructive feedback and continue to work towards the goal in a motivated manner.   That is effective leadership made possible through excellence in communication.

Connect with Your Audience

My Sunday morning ritual includes reading the New York Times and the article, Introvert on the Podium caught my attention. The wisdom in this article is that connecting with the audience leads to greater ease in speaking, even for an introvert.  Laura Vanderkam, author of “168 Hours” explains how she has gone from paranoid to practiced on the podium.  Being an introvert who loves 1:1 interactions, she shares how connecting with individual members of her audience in advance makes her more comfortable on the podium.  It also makes her audience more engaged.  Introvert of not, this is a wise strategy.

Many speakers are so concentrated on themselves and their material that they forget the whole reason they are speaking is for the audience.  Putting yourself in your audience’s shoes improves their experience and your experience.  Laura’s way of doing that was to have the conference organizer make audience introductions far in advance, which is an excellent idea if you have that luxury.  Another way to learn about your audience in advance is getting the list of companies attending the conference or workshop and then scanning their websites for recent news and case studies.  This gives you a good sense of what might be on their minds.  You can then add relevant examples to your speech that will foster a connection.

Asking audience questions at the beginning of your speech – either through electronic survey that is now common or through old fashion hand raising – is a smart way to gauge their awareness or interest in a particular subject.  Just remember to pause and acknowledge the results of your survey aloud so the audience hears what you see.  For example if you are speaking to fellow entrepreneurs on raising capital, you might ask, “How many people here raised money in the past 12 months?”  Then say, “I see it is about 25% of you, which likely means that most of you will be looking to raise in the next year when capital is flush and you can be selective about your investors.  Let me share with you a few best practices about raising funds in this environment.”  Now if 75% of the audience had raised their hand, you would adjust your speech and possibly say, “I see most of us have raised in the past year, so I will start with a few of my best practices and then open the conversation to hear some of your experiences of what worked and what you would change next time.”

In her article, Laura ends with the advice of giving audience members time to talk to one another to improve audience connection and satisfaction.  Some people think this only works with small audiences, but I have seen it be very effective even in a very large audience.  The key to success if giving very specific instructions and setting (and keeping) a specific time limit.  In the above example, after you’ve shared your experience, you could state, “Let’s now pair up and share with your neighbor one thing you would do differently in raising capital next time.  Take 2 minutes each in explaining your one lesson learned, and then we will discuss just a few of these with the whole group.  I will tell you when 2 minutes are up so that you can switch people.”  Notice that in this example the instructions were simple and the time limit clear.

Techniques for connecting with your audience can be implemented without too much effort and they really pay off for you and your audience. Success in speaking is not only you feeling good when you step away from the podium, but also your audience walking away loving the experience.

Connect with Your Audience

My Sunday morning ritual includes reading the New York Times and the article, Introvert on the Podium caught my attention. The wisdom in this article is that connecting with the audience leads to greater ease in speaking, even for an introvert. Laura Vanderkam, author of “168 Hours” explains how she has gone from paranoid to practiced on the podium. Being an introvert who loves 1:1 interactions, she shares how connecting with individual members of her audience in advance makes her more comfortable on the podium. It also makes her audience more engaged. Introvert of not, this is a wise strategy.

Many speakers are so concentrated on themselves and their material that they forget the whole reason they are speaking is for the audience. Putting yourself in your audience’s shoes improves their experience and your experience. Laura’s way of doing that was to have the conference organizer make audience introductions far in advance, which is an excellent idea if you have that luxury. Another way to learn about your audience in advance is getting the list of companies attending the conference or workshop and then scanning their websites for recent news and case studies. This gives you a good sense of what might be on their minds. You can then add relevant examples to your speech that will foster a connection.

Asking audience questions at the beginning of your speech – either through electronic survey that is now common or through old fashion hand raising – is a smart way to gauge their awareness or interest in a particular subject. Just remember to pause and acknowledge the results of your survey aloud so the audience hears what you see. For example if you are speaking to fellow entrepreneurs on raising capital, you might ask, “How many people here raised money in the past 12 months?” Then say, “I see it is about 25% of you, which likely means that most of you will be looking to raise in the next year when capital is flush and you can be selective about your investors. Let me share with you a few best practices about raising funds in this environment.” Now if 75% of the audience had raised their hand, you would adjust your speech and possibly say, “I see most of us have raised in the past year, so I will start with a few of my best practices and then open the conversation to hear some of your experiences of what worked and what you would change next time.”

In her article, Laura ends with the advice of giving audience members time to talk to one another to improve audience connection and satisfaction. Some people think this only works with small audiences, but I have seen it be very effective even in a very large audience. The key to success if giving very specific instructions and setting (and keeping) a specific time limit. In the above example, after you’ve shared your experience, you could state, “Let’s now pair up and share with your neighbor one thing you would do differently in raising capital next time. Take 2 minutes each in explaining your one lesson learned, and then we will discuss just a few of these with the whole group. I will tell you when 2 minutes are up so that you can switch people.” Notice that in this example the instructions were simple and the time limit clear.

Techniques for connecting with your audience can be implemented without too much effort and they really pay off for you and your audience. Success in speaking is not only you feeling good when you step away from the podium, but also your audience walking away loving the experience.

Boost Team Meetings

We sit in meetings all the time and complain most of the time.  According to research, an average team meeting includes 69 counteractive statements and only 17 proactive statements. That is a 4:1 ratio of bad to good in meetings! We know we can make it better, but we are not exactly sure how.  Newly published research reveals that procedural communication is the key.

The Journal of Applied Communication Research recently published, “A Sequential Analysis of Procedural Meeting Communication: How Teams Facilitate Their Meetings” by researchers Lehmann-Willenbrock, Allen, and Kauffeld. Unless you are a communication scholar, you probably don’t want to wade through the hypothesis and methods of the research, so I will pull out the gems for you. First, let me share their definition of procedural communication.

Procedural behaviors in team meetings are statements that point out or lead back to the topic, clarify to ensure contributions are to the point, pose questions or suggestions on procedure, reference time, delegate tasks, visualize process, and summarize results. Another way to look at it is that procedural communication is the meta communication that controls the meeting.

This research study of 59 teams found that procedural communication promotes supportive statements and proactive communication, reduces dysfunctional meeting behaviors, and increases meeting satisfaction (if many people in the meeting are contributing to the procedural communication).  Simply put, if everyone in the meeting helps move the meeting along towards it’s stated goal, then that goal is more likely to be reached and participants will be happy. Here are the details:

More Supportive Statements

The study found that procedural statements are often followed by supporting statements from others in the meeting.  For example, if one meeting participant makes a clarifying statement, such as “So essentially you are saying that . . .”, then others in the meeting respond in a positive manner.

More Proactive Communication – who will do what and when

Procedural communication also promotes proactive communication, or talk about who will do what and when.  For example, if a participant makes a time reference such as, “And we should come to a decision, we only have five minutes left.” then other participants respond with what should be done and who should do it.

Less Complaining, Criticizing, and Losing Track

Those are two examples on the positive side, but procedural communication also reduces dysfunctional meeting behaviors, such as complaining, criticizing, and losing train of thought.  For example, after a goal orientation statement, such as “All right, back to the topic.” it is unlikely that the group will lose train of thought in the meeting.  If a participant makes a procedural suggestion, such as “Let’s talk about  . . . first.” it is unlikely another group member will complain or criticize.  In this study, all types of procedural communication had an influence in reducing bad behaviors.

Happier Participants

People report being more satisfied with meetings when procedural communication is shared by meeting participants.  This is important.  It doesn’t work to have one bossy person who is telling everyone what to do and keeping track of time. The responsibility of the meta communication needs to be shared across the group.  “ . . .the distribution of procedural behaviors across members of a meeting is an important factor for promoting meeting satisfaction.”


Make a change.  If you are a manager, encourage all meeting participants to help guide the process of the meeting in addition to contributing content.  If you are a participant, speak up.  Make a goal-oriented, clarifying, prioritizing, time management, or task distribution comment. Not only are others in the meeting likely to respond in a positive manner and complain less, but they will leave the meeting feeling more satisfied.

Lehmann-Willenbrock, N., Allen, J.A. & Kauffeld, S. (2013). A Sequential Analysis of Procedural Meeting Communication: How Teams Facilitate Their Meetings. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 41, 365-388

The Power of The Pause

Coaching CEOs on giving compelling presentations, I am reminded of the Power of the Pause.  Using the pause when speaking is incredibly powerful.  Think of it as the same as white space in graphic design; what you leave blank is as important as what you fill in on a page.  In public speaking pauses are important because they indicate to your audience the significance of what you are saying.  Pauses also give your audience time to assimilate information you just shared.  I recommend pausing for five seconds when a new slide is shown so that the audience gets a chance to read the headline and glance at the visual on the slide prior to hearing words.  I also recommend a two-second pause after a key point is made.  For example, when a start-up CEO says, “Revenues have doubled every year for the past three years,” an immediate pause lets the audience grasp the importance of that information. Great speakers use pauses intentionally.

Pause is not only powerful for speaking, but it is also powerful for listening.  In the American culture, we tend to talk right after one another.  We could debate the reason (I believe it has to do with how we value individual over collective), but just understanding the norm is what is important.  Pausing while speaking in a one-to-one interaction lets the other person speak.  Pausing when the other person has finished speaking lets them know you were truly listening and also that you are carefully considering your words of reply.  I am not talking minutes of silence here, just 2-3 seconds of quiet. Breaking the cultural norm, in this case, is a powerful communication technique.

Gregory Kramer wrote Insight Dialogue about interacting mindfully.  While practicing his technique is intricate, he has six basic instructions I think everyone could use for communication.

  1. Pause
  2. Relax
  3. Open
  4. Trust Emergence
  5. Listen Deeply
  6. Speak the Truth

Of course, it starts with The Pause.  As soon as we pause in speaking with others, the possibility of a different type of interaction arises.  When we relax and open to the experience, we learn to trust what emerges.  Listening deeply and speaking the truth (subjective truth of experience) creates a dialogue that respectful and facilitates mutual understanding.

Whether speaking or listening, the pause is a powerful communication tool.

Use The Power of the Pause.

Presentation Skill Reminders from Around the Web

Periodically seeking advice from other experts on the web constantly expands my perspective on creating excellent presentations.  Here is a sampling of worthwhile advice.

Take Tips from Comedians

John Greathouse, Rincon Ventures

  1. Got for the strong start
  2. Get physical
  3. Manage the hecklers
  4. Develop a repartee
  5. Rehearse spontaneity
  6. Stop for a breath
  7. Don’t fear humor
  8. Bring it home


Emulate Top TED Presentations

Margaret Heffernan, entrepreneur and author

  1. Stories always work
  2. Images are meaningless—with one exception
  3. Enthusiasm isn’t everything


Know Your Audience

Laura Stack, productivity expert and author

  1. Know their national, professional, and organizational culture
  2. Know their level of knowledge
  3. Know their needs and why they are listening to you
  4. Know their time expectations


Facilitate Seeing with Excellent Data Visuals

Edward Tufte, data scientist and author

“It’s all about the relationship between the viewer and the information on the screen, and the viewer’s cognitive tasks in looking at that information,” Edward Tufte

Feynman diagrams and Nate Silver’s data tables are good examples.

It starts with being able to see clearly Edward Tuft explained in a recent NPR Science Friday interview.

Use Humor

Using Humor

Watching video of the recent Obama White House Correspondents’ Dinner, I was reminded how humor can be used in communication.  The president uses self-deprecating humor to remind us that he is human and jokes to lighten the perspective of heavy political issues.  His joke, “I’m not the strapping young Muslim Socialist that I used to be,” does both.

I often have clients and students ask if they should open a speech with a joke to grab the audience’s attention.  My usual response is to do so only if the audience will laugh and then listen.  Humor can be very effective in public speaking, but it can also fall flat and be detrimental to the speaker’s credibility if the audience doesn’t find it funny.

Humor should be used primarily in a speech to entertain, though it can be an effective inflection point in a speech to inform or persuade.  If you do use humor in a speech, never make it racist or sexist or any other  ‘ist’.  Not offending the audience is more important than amusing the audience.  Flipping through one of my many textbooks on public speaking, I found a few sound pieces of speech humor advice.

  • Play to the Audience – humor is in the ear of the listener, so know your audience
  • Keep it Simple – complicated stories or jokes rarely work
  • Know it Well – there is nothing worse than poor timing or a forgotten punch line
  • Use Verbal Humor – play on words, hyperboles, wit, and irony all work well
  • Use Funny Gestures – exaggerated facial and body expressions draw attention

It is not only in public speaking that humor is an effective tool in communication.  Humor can lighten a tense situation in interpersonal communication and shift attitudes within group communication.  The use of humor can facilitate transfer of information that is sensitive or difficult.  For example, it is often easier to hear criticism when it is phrased as sarcasm. Humor can also relieve frustration of the group members and encourage participation. If a group has been working long and hard on a task and the leaders yells, “Only 55 more hours and we’re done,”  the group will likely laugh and get that the leader appreciates how hard they are working.

Humor also has a role in changing societal perspectives, often by drawing attention to stereotypes.  Television shows like Family Guy poke fun at so many stereotypes that the humor becomes eye opening.  The New York Times Preoccupations column this week was on Henry Holden, who uses crutches and humor.  He has used crutches since the polio epidemic of 1952 and helped form the Performers with Disabilities Committee of the Screen Actors Guild.  Holden has fought to change people’s perspectives in every job he has held, including as a stand up comic.  In the article he is quoted as saying, “There is nothing like humor to relieve people’s awkwardness about seeming disabilities or disadvantages.”

Whether giving a speech, interacting one-on-one or in a group, or working to change the world, humor can help.  So, spread some laughter with a funny story or a witty pun.

Centered on Communication

Watching and reading about the current negotiations on the fiscal cliff is reinforcing my belief that everything in life, including politics, centers on communication.

The Washington Post ran an article this week, “Moral values and the fiscal cliff” in which the authors delineated how “Sharing moral commitments helps teams to function cohesively, but it also blinds them to reality.”  When each team gets focused on what is sacred, there is less chance for compromise.  They authors, Haidt and Movius, recommend the Democrats and Republicans negotiate and describe their progress, in which both sides can tout some moral victories, and then jointly call for shared sacrifice. My favorite quote from the article is, “President Obama and Speaker Boehner should develop shared language to convey to the American people the severity of our problems and the need for all Americans to make some sacrifice.”  Shared language.  That is at the core.  Communication.

Those of us watching our political leaders know that we need to make sacrifices.  We would like to see our leaders act like mature adults and communicate effectively, almost as much as we want to avoid this fiscal cliff.

Obama acknowledged this in his November 28th press address, “Lyn Lyon, who’s here, from Newport News — where’s Lyn?  There she is.  She just wants to see some cooperation in Washington.  She wrote, “Let’s show the rest of the world that we’re adults and, living in a democracy, we can solve our problems by working together.””

NewsNation’s Tamron Hall discussed President Obama’s ‘outside-in’ strategy on fiscal cliff negotiations where he is speaking directly to the American people and asking them to make their opinions known directly to the Republicans. “I am asking congress to listen to the people who sent us here to serve,” said Obama.  What is at the core of this strategy?  Communication.

Communication scholars Roger Fisher and William Ury define a method of Principled Negotiation with four principles: 1) separate the people from the problem 2) focus on interests, not positions 3) invent options for mutual gain 4) insist on using objective criteria.  Four steps for effective communication.  To achieve these steps both the Democrats and the Republicans need to switch focus from party politics to economic reality.

ABC News, “Major Setbacks in Fiscal Cliff Negotiations” indicates that has yet to happen.  An agreement is not close to being reached and the article details how each side is blaming the other.

We have another month before we reach the cliff and I am sure we will be reading and watching much more on this subject.  One thing we can be sure of, it will all center on communication.

Interactive Presentations: creation to social networking

PowerPoint alone doesn’t cut it anymore.  We are too social and interconnected now.  Sure, we still see projected presentations at conferences and in lecture halls, but audiences are demanding more interactivity, and Twitter feeds aren’t cutting it.

Webinar tools were a start to interactive presentations.  WebEx, GoToMeeting, and such, allow people to see presentations anywhere and to interact in basic ways such as asking questions and taking polls.  But, they cater to businesses and require people to be at their computers.

Consumer tools, like SlideShare, have made inroads by allowing more people to share presentations in many different settings including mobile devices, but the interactivity is missing.  I personally use SlideShark because it allows projection from the iPad, but, again, there is no interactivity.

I just read an article in VentureBeat about a new company launched at DEMO Fall 2012 called Prezentarium.  Prezentarium claims to be a social presentation and online education tool.  The product is not yet available to the general public, but the website indicates it allows presenters to share with the audience on any device and to socially interact with the audience.  It allows the audience to socially interact with the speaker (comment, ask questions) and share the presentation content with their own social networks.

This recent news brings to the forefront of my mind how much presentation technology has changed.  Poking around the web, I found this old article from Mashable “ONLINE PRESENTATIONS: 30+ Presentation & Slideshow Services.”  I honestly wasn’t aware there were so many options back in 2007.  Many of the companies have died or been acquired, but some are still going strong.

The options today seem to each have a benefit, but none have all that is needed.

Teaching at San Francisco State University, the most popular tool among my students is Prezi. “Mastering Prezi for Business Presentations” by Russell Anderson-Williams, was just published and, of course, there is a PreziBook for you to view. Prezi has the benefit of allowing co-creation and the unique zoom picture that has the potential of changing the linear structure of presentations.  Though, honestly most Prezi presentations I have seen are still a string of data hung together, just like PowerPoint.

Also focused on the creation side is SlideRocket.  SlideRocket has the benefit of co-creation and storage of pieces of presentations that can be used by many within an organization.  Some clients of mine have found that feature very helpful, especially for outward facing marketing and sales teams who need to adjust a presentation often to fit different audiences.

Is the newcomer Prezentarium the answer?

Prezentarium compares itself to SlideShare, Prezi, and IdeaFlight in its presentation at DEMO, highlighting the addition of audience interaction and viral distribution.


I can imagine the benefit of socially interacting with the audience within the same tool as the presentation.  It would be much more streamlined than PowerPoint with a Twitter feed.  I can also imagine the benefit of taping into existing social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, to distribute content – instead of through a presentation-only network.  What it lacks is tools to collaboratively create and manage the presentation.  So, Prezentarium still falls short of having it all.

We don’t yet have our answer.  But, we probably won’t have to wait long.  One of the larger companies could acquire a couple of these smaller players and we could have a solution that allows you to co-create, manage, project, interact, and socially distribute presentations.

Then, in this age of sharing, we could use one tool to share in creation, share in viewing, share in feedback, and share through social networks.

Share Mindfully

Building rapport is important for communication.  Starting a conversation with small talk surfaces commonalities that exist.   Finding commonalities gives people a better ground upon which to communicate.  But, as of late the trend has gone to the extreme.  There is an epidemic of oversharing.

Bloomberg BusinessWeek article “Enough with the Enemas: Why People Overshare at Work” lists many examples, from enemas, to third nipples, to men’s sizes.  Two reasons for oversharing are suggested.  The first is lack of privacy filters, when people share too much with everyone; the second is a false sense of intimacy, when people feel they are closer to co-workers than they actually are.

“Thank You for Sharing. But Why at the Office?” in the New York Times blames the trend on the continuation of online behavior.  People share so much on social sites that they get in the habit of sharing personal information that others may not want to hear.

Since younger generations have grown up sharing on social media, it may be harder to learn the skill of office small talk without TMI (too much information).  In a blog for Community College Transfer Students, career management specialist Carol Sand acknowledges that “Knowing where to draw the line is a learned skill that sometimes has to be learned the hard way.”

The New York Times article gives practical advice worth passing along, suggesting questions you should ask yourself before you share in the workplace.  I am passing along three key questions:

Who’s listening to me (a boss, a client, a colleague or a friend)?

Why am I sharing this?  What is the point?

Does what I am sharing benefit my career or the quality of my relationships?

As soon as you ask these questions, you become aware of your communication intentions and can adjust your behavior.  Being mindful of your communication is the basis for a good interchange.  If you know your audience and your purpose and adjust your message accordingly, you are communicating effectively.

So share, but share mindfully.

Ask (Good) Questions

I hear from many leaders that a key to good leadership is asking questions.  I find this advice worthwhile in and of itself, since many want-to-be-leaders tend to talk more than listen.  I also desire more. I want advice that is more to be actionable.  So I have set about gathering advice on just what questions to ask.

Gary Cohen wrote the book, “Just Ask Leadership” that explains how to execute question-based leadership.  In an Ivey Business Journal article, Cohen gives the rationale for leading by asking questions, “In the 21st century, it’s not possible for leaders to be know-it-alls, nor is it in their or the organization’s best interest to try. Leaders need to ask questions that move others to action and answers. The employees that work for you today either know more than you do about their job or at least they should know more than you. As you move up the ranks of an organization or migrate up the ranks by job transfer, you will end up leading people that do things you cannot possibly understand. Rather than using a conventional way of getting up to speed, say reading extensively, leaders should use questions to increase others’ alignment, engagement, and accountability.”

Cohen outlines four styles for asking questions including the value of the style and when to use it.  He also gives sample questions for each style.  This table gives partial descriptions of styles and sample questions.

Professor Judge Innovator Director
Focus on knowledge, gaining perspective, current time Focus on knowledge, evaluating, current time Focus on action, gaining perspective, in the future Focus on action, evaluating, in the future
What is the goal?

What are your options?

What are the alternative choices?

What is the current reality?

Whose decision is it?

What is the most important consideration?

What are the consequences of the choices?

What would you do if time and funds were limited?

How could I support moving forward?

What is holding you back from the decision?

When is the decision due?

Do you understand the key drivers of the outcome for the situation?

What needs to happen for that to succeed?


My favorites are:  What would you do if time and funds were limited?  How could I support moving forward?

My preference here shows my Silicon Valley bias of innovation leadership.

Six Questions Every Leader Should be Asking from Evan Owens of Centresource, an interactive marketing agency:

Which gauges should we be watching?

Where are we manufacturing energy?

Who needs to be sitting at the table?

Who is not keeping up?

Where do I make the greatest contribution?

What should I stop doing?

My favorite is: Who needs to be sitting at the table?

I have been in meetings where, after an hour of discussion, it becomes apparent that the decision maker or responsible person in not even in the room.  Asking this question up front saves valuable time.

For a long list of leadership questions, see Kimberly Gleason’s recent executive and leadership blog 35 Empowering Questions Leaders Ask.

My favorite is:  What should be the measures of success for this plan/project/idea?

If success is not defined, you don’t know if or when it has been reached. Asking this question as a leader makes success possible for others.

I discovered a presentation from Margie Hagene, posted on University of Michigan Health Systems Leadership Reference wiki, How to Lead by Asking Effective Questions given on June 8, 2012.  Sourcing Edgar Schein, Helping, Margie compares helpful vs. unhelpful questions.  Helpful questions keep the ownership of the problem with the person and don’t give the ownership to the leader.

My favorite is: How would you describe what’s happening vs. what should be happening?

What I like about this question is the comparison. It prompts people to compare the status quo with the ideal and, therefore, highlights the difference.

Speaking of Edgar Schein, watch this Helping video to hear his ideas on why and how leaders need to be changing their competencies and helping others.  He defines help as giving someone the ability to do something they cannot do for themselves.  That means you can’t tell someone how to do something they already know how to do.  Of course, that requires asking the right questions.

Finally, Michael Hyatt’s Intentional Leadership blog “7 Suggestions for Asking More Powerful Questions” gives advice on how to ask good questions.  He suggests the questions need to be open-ended, get behind the assumptions, and get both sides of the story.  He suggests the leader asks follow-up questions, gets comfortable with ‘dead air’, helps people discover their own insights, and understands the difference between facts and speculation.

My favorite is: Get comfortable with ‘dead air’

It is always amazing to me how people feel compelled to fill dead air with talking. There is power in silence.  Silence shows respect for others.  It gives others the chance to think and articulate their answers.

In summary, not only do leaders need to ask questions, they need to ask the right questions for the situation in the right manner.  Not an easy communication task.  Not something you can learn how to do on the Internet.  But, you can gather information as I have done here and then put it to practice in your own leadership situation.  Personally, I will start with the following questions.

Who needs to be sitting at the table?

How would you describe what’s happening vs. what should be happening?

What should be the measures of success for this plan/project/idea?

What would you do if time and funds were limited?

How could I support moving forward?


And of course, I will pause and wait patiently in the ‘dead air’ for answers.



P.S.  Dilbert is always good for a counter example.


Consumer Dialogue

This summer’s special supplement to the Atlantic reads, “The Dialogue Economy, Social Media and the Marketplace” and contains multiple stories on how the power has shifted to the consumer and how companies are learning to engage with customers in dialogue.   The magazine has many examples of how the Internet has changed the relationship between those traditionally with power (corporations, government) and those without.  For example, Molly Katchpole took on Bank of America’s debit card fee and Verizon’s debit card convenience charge using social media, including, and had an incredible amount of influence.

Allstate insurance company has been conducting surveys they call Heartland Monitor designed to keep a pulse on middle-class America.  This special issue included the results of the most recent Heartland Monitor XIII: Networked Nation.  The poll focused on “how technology and social media are transforming the relationship between individuals and institutions” and found significant influence.  According to this poll 64% of Americans are active on social media and those people are more likely to be involved in political and community activity.  Fifty-five percent of polled social media users indicated that online access to information made it easier for them to research and compare candidates, and 54% indicated it has given them more influence with institutions.

The Deloitte 2011 Shift Index, Impact Index included the Consumer Power Metric, measuring the relationship and relative power between consumers and vendors.  Consumer Power is increasing in almost every category of the past few years.


As this shift of power to the consumer happens, institutions are changing their ways.  Listening more.  Using unidirectional communication less.  The Dialogue Economy issue shared how Fortune 500 companies are using social media to engage in dialogue with consumers.  Coca-Cola has the most Facebook friends with 42.1 million likes, followed by Starbucks at 30.2 million and McDonalds at 19.8 million. Google has the most Twitter followers with 4.7 million, followed by Whole Foods at 2.6 million and Starbucks at 2.5 million.  These Fortune 500 companies are using social media channels to say ‘thanks’ and ‘sorry’, in addition to promoting themselves, according to an analysis of 24,000 recent tweets.  So, there is definitely dialogue between consumer and institutions.  But, it is really changing the power equation?

Ralph Nader, king of consumer protests, doesn’t believe the power is actually shifting.  He does agree that it is much easier for consumers to get comparative information and that gives them power with their pocket books to make informed choices about their purchases.  Yet, corporations have all the power in over the government and, therefore, real change cannot happen.  Although consumers get temporarily riled over an issue and create a small change, such as the Bank of America debit fee, Nader doesn’t see consumers sticking with a significant issue long enough to make lasting change.

I see his point.  I agree that much of the dialogue on social media seems trivial.  But, I also believe that many little changes can add up.  Consumers do have a voice in a way not previously possible.  We as consumers need to use this voice in order to effect long-term change.

Fantasies of Always-On Connections

I confess to texting someone in the same room.  It can be more efficient and feel less intrusive than interrupting the activity in the room.  But, according to Sherry Turkle, a psychologist and professor at MIT and author, these bits of technology use to replace conversation are adding up to trouble.  In the New York Time’s SundayReview article, “The Flight From Conversation” Turkle chronicles the move to more technology connections and less conversations in the past 15 years.

My favorite quote from the article is “Always-on/always-on-you devices provide three powerful fantasies: that we will always be heard; that we can put our attention wherever we want it to be; and that we never have to be alone.  Indeed our new devices have turned being alone into a problem that can be solved.”

My late mother would tell me that no matter how unhealthy the coping device, e.g. eating a pound of See’s candy, it has some element that seems to work in the short-term or we wouldn’t use it to cope.  Despite the crash and the weight gain, the sugar from See’s definitely makes me feel happier and more energetic for some time.  In the same way, constantly connecting via our technology devices seems to work in the short-term to make us feel less lonely.  But, Turkle points out that just the opposite is true.

It is important to note that she is not anti-technology, but rather pro conversation.  Her 15 years of research has shown that technology plays a role in staying connected, but used exclusively only makes us lonelier.  Conversations, on the other hand, tighten our human bond.  Conversations improve our patience and our ability to take another’s point of view by requiring/allowing us to pay attention to many aspects of another.

Soren Gordhamer, author of Wisdom 2.0, makes the contrast of being constantly connected vs. consciously connected.  He touts that we can actively use technology and keep the human connection, but that requires mindfulness.  We must pay attention and make conscious choices.

Going back to the three fantasies, we can compare the effects of technology connection and human connection.  The first is ‘that we will always be heard’.  If you post to hundreds of Facebook friends, you feel heard in the short term, especially when those friends write a few-word comment or Like your post.  In contrast, if you are in the presence of someone who is truly listening, the feeling is very fulfilling and the effect long lasting.  The risk is that we will be in the presence of someone who doesn’t listen and that rejection is harder to accept than no response to a Facebook post.

I interpret the fantasy ‘that we can put our attention wherever we want it to be’ as always wanting control.  As fear-based beings, there is a tendency to manipulate what is happening to feel more in control.  If we can’t control a long store line, we can feel immediate satisfaction from putting our attention to a game on our always-on-you device.  But that only masks the feelings and it separates us from the shared human experience of those around us in the store.  We can make the conscious choice to connect with others around us in conversation.

The ‘never have to be alone’ fantasy is perpetuated by having lots of digital connections.  But being alone is actually a critical part of being connected.  We know ourselves through solitude and connect better with others when we know ourselves.  And the digital connections are ironically making us alone while we are in the physical presence of others.  Just as I text others in the same room, public spaces are becoming clusters of private bubbles as people connect through their devices instead of through live conversations. Again, we can choose the conversation.

Turkle gives specific suggestions for increasing conversations.  Create zones for conversations without devices, such as the kitchen table and the car.  Encourage conversations at work with ‘conversational Thursdays’ right before casual Fridays. And my favorite, “look up, look at on another, and let’s start the conversation.”


Taking Space

Seems to be a trend that companies are realizing people need space – both mental and physical – in order to put forth the creative work required for the 21st century American innovation economy.  The business section of the New York Times explored this concept in two articles on Sunday.  The first “When Technology Overwhelms, It’s Time to Get Organized” explored the effectives of productivity gains on today’s worker, who is expected to use technology to complete in one day what took three people to do the last century.  The article suggests that the sense of overwhelm felt by most can be combatted by gaining more space in a day through organization skills.  Four steps were recommended:

  1. Capture everything that has your attention in writing
  2. Clarify the importance and action needed of each item (aka prioritize)
  3. Use technology to set up reminders for these required actions
  4. Deploy you attention and resources appropriately (aka focus)

The worst-case scenario, which is all too common, is to let recency guide your attention.  “I have found that most professionals take action based on whatever is the latest and loudest in their universe, as opposed to making a conscious, intelligent choice,” commented David Allen, author of “Getting Things Done” and this article.  Instead, David recommends saying ‘not now’ to that which is not important.  The idea is that if you get organized and prioritize, you will have more space in your day to deal with the important things.

On the Mayo Clinic website, tips for coping with stress at work include identifying triggers, managing your time, and curbing burnout.  The first part, identifying triggers, is similar to David’s recommendation to capture everything that has your attention, only this time you capture everything that is perceived to cause stress.  Then you get organized and prioritize and find solutions to your stress-creating dilemmas. The stress management article goes on to recommend that you protect your time, “For an especially important or difficult project, block time on your schedule when you can work on it without interruptions.”  And, take breaks because “Even 10 minutes of personal time can be refreshing.” In other words, take space.

Taking space can be literal as well.  The second article in the NY Times on Sunday, “In New Office Designs, Room to Roam, and to Think” discussed physical space.  While the trend is open offices and shared space, companies are having offices designed with inspiring spots for employees to spend time alone or in small groups.  Taking physical space seems to help with creativity and achieving what David Allen recommended for combatting overwhelm.

Along side these two articles on taking space were examples of innovative companies, like Google and Dream Works, where employees are pushed to take risks and push boundaries.  And for that, they need space.

The 79th Organ Creating Collective Consciousness

Gopi Kallayil, Product Marketing Manager at Google, called the smart phone the 79th organ of the body.  At the Wisdom 2.0 Conference he depicted the smart phone as humanesque, with ears, eyes, voice, and brain, and claimed it is being used as a tool for collective consciousness.  Gopi gave examples of people all over the world connecting and sharing and ‘leveling the playing field’ through technology.  Lee Rainie, Director Pew Research Center’s American Life Project, said that on our planet of 7 billion people there are 6 billion mobile phones, more than half of them smart phones.  Imagine, Gopi commented, “We are each only 15 digits away from 6 billion people.”

As technology infiltrates our society and culture at a phenomenal pace, our ability to keep the human connection and each stay grounded becomes paramount. Thupten Jinpa, a Buddhist scholar and translator for the Dalai Lama, pointed out that technology development is in the hands of a few, but effects the entire world, making it critical that those few be conscious of their own humanity and the global implications as they create.  Pierre Omidyar, Founder of eBay and a philanthropist, added that now that we have completed the connectivity revolution, technology must help with the next revolution of encouraging humans to be consciously connected.  Dustin Moskovitz, Co-Founder of Facebook and recent start-up Asana, labeled this ‘conscious cocreation’ and believes the world’s problems can be solved as technology brings us all together.  That requires a cultural shift from the focus on me to the focus on we, which arises from the practice of mindfulness.

Throughout the conference I heard example after example of how people are merging the worlds of mindfulness and technology and creating wisdom.

Learning and development leaders from Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Zynga are helping their employees be more productive and happy through a wide variety of courses and programs designed to help people sprint and pause, sprint and pause.  It is the ability to pause that is a new skill for many in the technology industry.  As Padmasree Warrior, CTO of Cisco, stated, it is her daily meditation practice that allows her to be calm and listen well in the job of overseeing 22,000 engineers.  She acknowledges that everyone has a different way to pause to tap his or her creativity.  What is critical is that everyone is actually taping that creative source.  Over and over I heard the acknowledgement that in order to be creative and move at the technology industry pace, the ability to pause and reflect is essential.

The data is there to support that claim.  Daniel Siegel, Mindsight Institute, shared how brain research is showing the effects of a mindful practice.  It is not just that people feel calmer, but the chemicals and the structures of the brain actually shift when people pause on a regular basis.  The hard data may be what sways Google engineers from to take Meng Tan’s “Search Inside Yourself” course at Google University’s School of Personal Growth.  Stuart Crabb, Head of Learning at Facebook, stated that engineers want to understand how the mind works and appreciate the neuroscience and FMRI data that support the concepts of mindfulness.

Congressman Tim Ryan has written, A Mindful Nation that imagines the future of society where mindfulness has infiltrated education, healthcare, and the military.  Speaking at the conference he said, “If we want to fundamentally shift the country, this is the way to do it.”

As Eckhart Tolle, Author of A New Earth and The Power of Now, shared at the conference, when we take the time to pause and turn inward, we see the space inside that makes up the majority of us humans.  This spaciousness allows for the human connection.  Add the technology to physically connect billions of people and you have the ingredients for collective consciousness.  The key is the combination of the two.

Thanks to the myriad of leaders who took the time to share their perspective and for Soren Gordhamer for seeing the need for this combination and facilitating the conversation through the Wisdom 2.0 Conference.

Revisiting Presentation Design

SlideRocket recently sent me this e-book on The Secrets of Compelling Presentation Design.  It was worth the read and a good reminder of some of my favorite tips.

  1. Keep it Simple – your background, fonts, content should all be straightforward so your audience can easily assimilate information
  2. Use Images – a picture is really worth 1,000 words and can convey a concept much more succinctly than bullet points
  3. Keep it Relevant – only use design elements (color, transitions) and multimedia (video, sound) that add meaning to your presentation
  4. Be Repetitive – you know your material well, but the audience doesn’t and they will only remember your message if you repeat it frequently
  5. Close Strong – your presentation doesn’t end after your last point, but rather after you’ve summarized all your points and given the audience clear instruction on what to do with the information they just learned

The underlying factor in every presentation tip is the audience.  Keep your audience in the forefront of your mind through the entire process and you will be more likely to satisfy them and, therefore, reach your presentation goal.

Thankful to Those Who Share

Thanks to EF and NetApp for the invitation to the Silicon Valley Philanthropy Day awards luncheon.  It was inspirational to hear from so many organizations and people who are making significant changes in our community through their philanthropic efforts.  Leah Toeniskoetter was awarded Outstanding Volunteer Fundraiser for her work with Valley Medical Center Foundation.  An avid bike rider who has completed 5 Death Rides, Leah raised funds for Turning Wheels for Kids, providing bikes for children who cannot afford them.  In her acceptance speech, Leah highlighted three critical elements for success:

  1. Fundamental belief in the mission
  2. Dynamic leadership – leaders who motivate others
  3. Support of others – people and also employers who create a culture of giving

Of course, all of those critical elements require excellent communication skills.  And, speaking of excellent communication, Hannah Nguyen and her cohort from Pacific Autism Center for Education’s Youth Leadership Committee, were the audience-favorite speakers.  They won the award for Outstanding Philanthropic Youth Organization and gave an acceptance speech that was articulate and elegant.  The youngest of the award recipients, they were the most well spoken.

Robert Grimm won the top award for Silicon Valley Community Foundation Outstanding Philanthropist.  Bob’s approach, described as  ‘philanteer’ combines philanthropy and volunteerism.  Where he puts his money, he also puts his time; most notably “The Garage” that morphed into The Tech Museum.  His talk of all the organizations in which he is involved was motivational.

Thanks to Association of Fundraising Professional Silicon Valley Chapter for honoring these Philanthropic Leaders.  In the month of Thanksgiving, I have gratitude to all those in our community who share with others.

State of Start-Up Presentations

I watched the Vator Splash SF presentations through two lenses.  The first was that of a technology enthusiast, always wanting to learn what bright people are inventing.  The second was that of a communication expert, curious about how entrepreneurs are presenting.

Through the first lens, I saw some interesting technology. The People’s Choice Winner was Building Layer, which maps the inside of buildings.  The Vator Splash Winner was Front Door Software, which protects portable computers using the smarts of traditional security systems.

As the communication expert, I gathered data on the multimedia learning principles of using visuals, signaling, and full sentence headlines.  What I found is that pictures are pervasive, but signaling and full sentences are rare.

Pictures – photos, graphs, and screenshots – were used heavily in 9 of 10 presentations.  That is the good news.  Showing visuals while telling a story is the best way for people to learn the information being presented.  My catch phrase is “Show the glory, tell the story.”  The presenters at Vator Splash did a good job showing the glory.

This same multimedia learning principle indicates that bullet points flood the verbal channel of the brain with too much information, since the same channel processes words heard and read.  More good news on this front.  Seventy percent of presentations contained NO BULLET POINTS.   Only one presentation was heavy on bullet points and one on text in paragraphs.

The bad news is that not a single presenter gave an overview or summary.  There was essentially no signaling.  Signaling helps the human brain assimilate information by setting a map of where you are going, where you are, and where you have been.  My catch phrase is “Use a cue, they’ll follow you.” Now these presentations were short and many presenters may think that eliminates the need for a visual agenda and summary, but not so.

Even if you are giving an ‘elevator pitch’ you still want to give a cue or preview.  Stating your three key points in the beginning and the end will help your audience remember what you had to say, which, after all, is the whole point of your presentation.

The other pointer to remember is to put your headlines in full sentences.  Research has shown that a full sentence headline and a relevant picture is the best slide combination for learning. Building Layer was the only presentation that used any full sentence headlines – hey maybe that is why they got the People’s Choice Award.

In addition to enjoying the slew of new innovations, Vator Splash was a good opportunity for me to take a pulse of the state of start-up presentations.  Net, net – the trend is going in the right direction.  More pictures, less bullets.  Now all we need are previews, summaries, and full sentence headlines.


It is All in A Name

Billionaire Vinod Khosla doesn’t want to be called a venture capitalist.  And that is news.  Both the Wall Street Journal and Forbes ran a blurb on this fact.  Now that is good PR.

“Call him a visionary for his role co-founding Sun Microsystems Inc. Call him a rainmaker for his prescient investments in companies like Juniper Networks while at Kleiner Perkins. Call him a pioneer for his early commitment to clean technology at his firm Khosla Ventures.You can call billionaire Vinod Khosla many things. Just don’t call him a venture capitalist,” quotes the Lizette Chapman, Venture Capital Dispatch, The Wall Street Journal.

” “I call myself a venture assistant,” Khosla said. “It’s about assisting entrepreneurs.”,” quotes Tomio Geron,

I guess when you’ve had as much success as Vinod, that you can asked to be called whatever you like.  After all, it is all in a name.

But, I beg to differ on his negative take of the definition of Venture Capitalist.  Working with the breed for over a decade, I say that those who do it well, do it by assisting entrepreneurs.  VCs who get into the trenches alongside management teams are those who foster success.  They call themselves Venture Capitalist and they do so with pride.  After all, it is all in a name.

58,000 Students

As a university teacher, a lover of technological advances, and a communication scholar, the notion of 58,000 students participating in a free online course enthrals me.  Today’s NY Times article, “Virtual and Artificial, but 58,000 Want Course” describes how Peter Norvig and SebastianThrun are offering a course on artificial intelligence this fall through Stanford. Anybody, not just enrolled Stanford students, can sign up for the course.  Non-Stanford students won’t get credit, but they will get access to the same course.

According to the article, “The two scientists said they had been inspired by the recent work of Salman Khan, an M.I.T.-educated electrical engineer who in 2006 established a nonprofit organization to provide video tutorials to students around the world on a variety of subjects via YouTube.“The vision is: change the world by bringing education to places that can’t be reached today,” said Dr. Thrun.”

From a communication scholar’s perspective, opening up a course to 58,000 students is most certainly changing the world through education.  So how can technology make it happen?

Apparently is starts with the basics of streaming Internet and interactive technology for quizzes and grading.  But, to avoid systems crashing, Stanford will use Amazon Cloud. Google Moderator services will help manage the barrage of student questions by polling and ranking questions that are most prominent.  Top-ranked questions will be answered in online discussion with the professors. In order to foster student-to-student interaction, a study group on reddit has been formed.

An interesting experiment in using technology to communicate and educate world wide, I look forward to watching it unfold. More information on the course can be found at

Visual Presentations

Here is a quick presentation on how you can create more visual presenations.


Download TipsVisualPresentationsJuly2011

Communication Critical in Medical Care

We all know intuitively that communication is an important aspect of medical care.  Each of us can recall experiences where a doctor did a good or bad job communicating with us.  For me, the bad job was in the ER just before my mom was diagnosised with colon cancer when I was literally arguing with a doctor who wanted to send her home with antacids without doing any tests.  My ‘perseverence’ with that doctor resulted in a CT scan that showed the cancer. Boy was that an example of a doctor being unwilling to listen.  The good experience for me was the level of details received from my orthopaedic (Dr. Diefendorf) before, during, and after my rotator cuff repair surgery.  He told me what he was going to do every step of the way and then afterward showed me in pictures exactly what he had done.

Seems the medical community has gone from acknowledging the importance of communication in the abstract to practical implementation.   New applicants to medical schools are being asked to go through the Multiple Mini Interview (MMI) process, according to a recent New York Times article, “New for Aspiring Doctors, the People Skills Test.”  The applicants have two minutes to review a scenario of an ethical conundrum and then eight minutes to share how they would handle it. They then repeat the same process with more interviewers.   According to the article, “”We are trying to weed out the students who look great on paper but haven’t developed the people or communication skills we think are important”, said Dr. Stephen Workman, associate dean for admissions and administration at Virginia Tech Carillion.”

In an Atlantic Magazine article, “The Triumph of New Age Medicine” the medical community’s research and attitudes about alternative medicine is explored.  It is a long article with many interesting angles, but I narrowed in on the effects of communication in the equation.  The article outlines the commonality of many alternative medicine treatments; “These include a long initial meeting covering many details of the patient’s history; a calming atmosphere; an extensive discussion of how to improve diet and exercise; a strong focus on reducing everyday stress; an explanation of how the treatment will unleash the body’s ability to heal itself; assurance that over time the treatment will help both the problem that prompted the visit and also general health; gentle physical contact; and the establishment of frequent follow-up visits.”  Two aspects of this typical treatment scenario seem to make a difference 1) good provider/doctor-patient relationships  and 2) improvement of an overall healthy lifestyle.

Looking at the first aspect in more depth, communication is the core to the development of a good relationship.  According to the article, “A 2008 study on physician-patient relationships found that physicians deemed “exemplars” based on their reputation and awards received were likely to create an emotional bond with patients; to convey to patients that their commitment to caring for them will endure over time; and to imbue patients with “trust, hope, and a sense of being known.”

Good to know that what we all intuit is now being taken seriously by the medical community.  Yet, we still have a ways to go.  As the Atlantic article concluded,  “Every single physician I spoke with agreed: the current system makes it nearly impossible for most doctors to have the sort of relationship with patients that would best promote health. The biggest culprit, they say, is the way doctors are reimbursed. “Doctors are paid for providing treatments, not for spending time talking to patients,” says Victor Montori, an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic. A medical system that successfully guided patients toward healthier lifestyles would almost certainly see its cash flow diminish dramatically. “Last year, 75 percent of the $2.6 trillion the U.S. spent on health care was for treating chronic diseases that, to a large degree, can be prevented or reversed through lifestyle change,” says Dean Ornish of UCSF. Who (besides patients) has an incentive to make changes that would remove that money from the system?”

Of course, as patients we can influence change by demanding better communication from all our medical providers, and, when we have the option, voting with our pocket books for better provider relationships.

Couch it in a Narrative

Harvard Business Review did a short blurb on reserach by Emily Moyer-Guse of Ohio State and Robin Nabi of UC Santa Barbara showing that a narrative is an effective form of persuasion.

The research study had 367 undergraduates view either a narrative or a non-narrative, news-style program about teenage pregnancy.  Those who saw the narrative self-reported that they would be more likely to use birth control, more so that those who saw the news-style program.  According to the research abstract, “Results suggest that entertainment education programming may overcome various types of resistance to persuasion for some viewers by masking persuasive intent and fostering parasocial interaction and identification with characters.”

As I have said many times before, humans prefer stories.  It is easier to assimilate information, and, as this research show, be persuaded if communication is in the form of a narrative.

Persuade with 5 Canons of Rhetoric

When you want to get somebody to change an attitude, belief, value, or behavior — happens just about every day — you need to employ the art of persuasion.  A quote from a student of mine:

“Thus, to change a person’s view, their belief or their actions is to slide through their ears and into their skull and embed yourself into their brain.”

How does one do so?  Rhetoric, of course.  Since it has probably been some time since you studied the 5 canons of rhetoric, here is a short reminder.

1. Invention (inventio) is finding the means to argue your point.

2. Arrangement (dispositio) is the organization of your argument, such as the most common organization of problem/solution or lesser-used refutation.

3. Style (elocutio) is your choice of words and phrasing or how you put together your specific arguments.

4. Memory (memoria) is what you employ to help your audience remember what you tell them, such as repetition, catch phrases, and visuals.

5. Delivery (pronuntiato) is the non-verbal aspect of communication including voice volume and articulation along with facial expressions and gestures.

What I commonly see is that people will put significant effort into the first canon of invention, but very little effort in the remaining four.  It is easy to just come up with the reasons of why somebody should do as you suggest, but that is not enough.  If you employ all five principles, you will be much more effective at persuading others.  Why?  Because people on not just influenced by logic (logos), but also by pathos (emotion or passion) and ethos (credibility).

So the next time you want to persuade, remember there are 5 canons of rhetoric, and use them all.

Your Look Commands

Speech recognition technology has come a long way.  I now use Dragon Dictation on my iPhone to send texts to others.  It is as least as accurate as my touch typing.  It is refreshing to have a different way to interface with technology.

The future holds yet another way to interface — with our eyes.  It sounds straight out of an action flick to me, but there are prototype computers with eye-tracking technology that move the cursor based on eye movement.  “Pointing with Your Eyes, to Give the Mouse a Break” in the NY Times gave details on this technology.

The computer prototypes are a joint effort between Tobii Technology and Lenovo. Real versions won’t hit the shelves for about two more years.  According to the article, eye tracking technology has been around for awhile and used for people with special needs.  The innovation it to make it practical and cheap enough for mass consumption.

I look forward to trying  it out (pun intended).

Social Network Research from WSCA

At the recent Western States Communication Association (WSCA) Conference two panels “Social Networking and Beyond: Computer Mediated Communication and Community” and “Relational Communication and Social Networks” contained interesting research on how people are using social networking.  The overarching theme is that people are using social networking as a means of simultaneously forming and communicating their personal identity and relationships.   I have briefly summarized some of the research and provided links for you to dig further if you are interested.

Valerie Barker from San Diego State University discussed research comparing Mixi Diary vs. Facebook.  She looked at Japanese vs. American young women’s uses of these social sites.  Mixi is popular in Japan like Facebook is in America.  She notes that there are differences:  Mixi is used primarily through mobile devices.  On Mixi the network of friends is smaller with more of a sense of privacy and a closer experience than Facebook use among American young women. Motives for using the social sites include social identity gratification (bolstering a sense of belonging) and social compensation (making up for offline unhappiness).

Ahlam Muhtaseb from CSU San Bernardino shared research entitled “Mobilizing Online: The Internet, Political Involvement and Community Participation of Arab Americans”  Ahlam found that from a convenience sample of 185 Arab Americans, 75% were users online users and 25% were non-users.  Users showed a greater propensity for community participation, in particular political involvement with a statistically valid correlation between users and voting.

Makenzie Phillips from Boise State University researched social networking sites for surveillance in romantic relationships and found that 83% of respondents are engaging is some type of surveillance behavior.  Jealousy and entitlement were predictors of surveillance behavior.

Karen Lollar from Metropolitan State College of Denver has been tracking Denver neighborhood’s use of social sites, such as Neighborhood Link for the past 10 years and shared how neighbors are interacting differently online. She has discovered that most online topics match what neighbors discuss face-to-face, such as pets and local civic issues.

Erin Koppel from University of Arizona looked at 2008 Pew Internet data on social networking use to determine if relationship initiation and relationship maintenance was related to age and found only a negative correlation between age and relationship management online. She noted that this counter-intuitive result could be because of the nature of relationships that exist on the site.

Lynne Webb (and others) from University of Arkansas researched how ethnicity was enacted on Facebook and found that of the 488 open profiles they studied, 29% showed some ethnicity, primarily through quotations or applications.  Webb noted that Facebook does not give space in the profile set up for people to share anything about their ethnicity.

There is such a wealth of information to be studied as social network sites become a pervasive form of communication around the world.  Delving into how communication remains the same and changes as the medium changes will be of great research interest in the coming years.

Speech Recognition, Getting Closer to Mainstream

As an individual who prefers the spoken word over the written word, I have been longing for the day when I could have my eloquent phrases automatically turned into flowing text.  When working on my master’s thesis a few years back, I purchased iListen for Mac in hopes of typing less.  After 5 or 6 attempts, I gave up.  Too much trouble.  But, in the technology industry, a few years makes a lot of difference.

In the WSJ article “Get Ready to Speak to Your Phone — and Be Understood” Ben Rooney gives us an update on the technology. The company that has been behind the technology all along, Nuance, is still the one making technological advances.  (Nuance – NASDAQ: NUAN closed at 20.32 today, near the 52-week high of 20.97).  The Nuance technology is behind Dragon Naturally Speaking, GM’s OnStar, and many mobile phone’s predictive text.

I did just a bit of research and discovered that the first speech recognition technology came from IBM in 1961 — the IBM Shoebox.  It was literally the size of a shoe box and had nine lights.  As you spoke a digit 0-9, the corresponding light would shine. Now we are accustomed to basic speech recognition for voice dialing, call routing, and simple data entry, such as credit card numbers.  Windows Vista added Windows Speech Recognition, though it is positioned as “Accessibility Technology.”  Let me know if you have used this technology on a daily basis, and if so, what you think of it.

I am ready for speech recognition to be mainstream.  I imagine telling instead of typing this blog.  I imagine explaining an entire problem to an automated tech support line and getting a relevant answer.  What do you imagine?  How long will we have to wait?

Technology Can Be Turned Off

Technology can be turned off. That is a reminder from Sherry Turkle director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self from a USA Today article, “2010: The year technology replaced talking“.  According to the article “Americans are connected at unprecedented levels — 93% now use cellphones or wireless devices; one-third of those are “smartphones” that allow users to browse the Web and check e-mail, among other things. The benefits are obvious: checking messages on the road, staying in touch with friends and family, efficiently using time once spent waiting around. The downside: Often, we’re effectively disconnecting from those in the same room.”

Just like any other tool, these technology devices that help us communicate and share information with anyone, anywhere, anytime, are only as effective as the tool user.  Sometimes we forget that we are in control.  Yes, we can turn off the devices.  Yes, we can use them to be more efficient and fun when we want or need them.  But, they do not need to degrade the quality of our communication with other humans.  Used well, they can increase the quality of our communication with others.  It is only when we forget that they can be turned off or ignored that it becomes a problem.  And, that is a human problem not a technology problem.

Data on Learning to Speak

80,000 hours of video and 120,000 hours of audio recording.  That is the massive amount of data collected by MIT Media Lab‘s Human Speechome Project to analyze how one child learns to speak.  You can see a visual of the data on to get a feel for how words are gained over time.  Just clicking through the words and seeing the relationship between caregiver use and child use impresses me with the power of being able to collect such data.

“The Speechome team believes that this unique dataset may shed light on basic questions of language acquisition, at least as they pertain to one child. Why did he learn words in the order that he did? Why did he start putting certain words together into proto-sentences before others? In what contexts did he effectively use words? How long after he comprehends a word does he first use that word? How did the structure of everyday life at home influence language development? The research team at MIT is in the process of analyzing the audio and video recordings with the ultimate goal of addressing these questions.” according to the Forbes article Speech in the Home.

Immersive Communications

Alcatel-Lucent’s Bell Labs has announced an application called immersive communications that combines physical, virtual, and augmented reality into one.  Forbes covered the story in Bell Labs’ Super Virtual Conferencing.  The idea is that geographically dispersed people on a variety of mobile devices can have a virtual conference in which they all appear and sound to be in the same room.  Think video conference plus virtual reality and make it mobile.

The concept is enticing, though it may take a few years before we see it in use.  One-to-one communication has become mobile as has mass communication, so it is easy to see that small group communication would follow that trend.  In terms of video, again we see that throughout mass communication and we are beginning to see it with one-to-one communication as smart phones get video capabilities. We also see extensive use of land-line video conferencing in large organization, so it is not hard to imagine those systems folding in a mobile element.

What is harder to imagine is the virtual reality component.  The element of all participants appearing and sounding to be in the same room.  As a communication scholar, this is the most exciting element because it uses technology to replace the look and feel of human contact.

In an article Anywhere, Anytime Immersive Communications, authors T. Van Landegem and H. Viswanathan outline just why and how this new form of communication will occur.

I look forward to seeing you immersively some time in the next decade.

Whisper to the Brain

Neurology is now being applied to persuading others through communication.  The NYT article, “Ads that Whisper to the Brain” reveals techniques used to discover what activates the human brain when somebody watches a commercial.

Researches use electroencephalographs (EEGs) to measure brain waves that become more active when people have heightened attention to determine if they are engaged by the commercial.

According to the article, “Neuromarketing’s raison d’être derives from the fact that the brain expends only 2 percent of its energy on conscious activity, with the rest devoted largely to unconscious processing. Thus, neuromarketers believe, traditional market research methods — like consumer surveys and focus groups — are inherently inaccurate because the participants can never articulate the unconscious impressions that whet their appetites for certain products.

If pitches are to succeed, they need to reach the subconscious level of the brain, the place where consumers develop initial interest in products, inclinations to buy them and brand loyalty, says A. K. Pradeep, the founder and chief executive of NeuroFocus, a neuromarketing firm based in Berkeley, Calif.”

What does this mean for consumers?  Well, first off researchers haven’t made the connection between brain wave activation and the purchasing  of products, so it may be a mute point.  But, the effort to influence consumers through communication is as old as time.

What is helpful is to be aware of the power of communication, both as a broadcaster and a consumer.  What you say and how you say it influences others.  And what you see and hear influences you.  Being aware is the key.  Being aware, you can acknowledge the sudden hunger that arises after watching an Oreo ad, or the desire to become involved after hearing a compelling political message. Being aware, you can acknowledge the influence of persuasive communication on yourself.  As for the subconscious thoughts, well, you still have the power to choose your actions.