“Now is an opportunity we have not had in decades.”

“Now is an opportunity we have not had in decades”
These are the words of Robert Reich, Obama economic advisor and former U.S. Secretary of Labor, who I heard speak today at the Commonwealth Club of California.  He was a very effective communicator.  He warmed the crowd with humor, previewed his key points, used language that could be understood by non-finance people, and had a strong conclusion.  In addition to me watching his speaking techniques, I found the content compelling.  I will share a few of his key points and then return to the blog title quote, which was his conclusion.

The U.S. lost $7 trillion in assets in 2008.  Ouch.  The dominant theory is that this recession was caused by the housing bubble crash, but actually it has been coming for a long time as U.S. median (not average) household income has stayed steady or declined since the 1970s.  To compensate, U.S. households have 1.  made both parents work 2. worked longer hours 3. gone deeper in dept, primarily by using houses as collateral.  The irresponsible lending of American financial institutions allowed Americans to go too deep in to debt.  Then the housing market crashed. People could no longer consume at the level of production, leading to recession.

How do we get out?  Three areas of aid: Federal Reserve, TARP, and Stimulus.  The Federal Reserve is helping by lowering interest rates and by buying distressed assets.  TARP is supposed to be helping by stabilizing the financial institutions such that consumers can get loans.  But, the first half of the $700 billion seems to have gone to executive pay and shareholder dividends and is not trickling down to the average consumer or “main street.”  Hopefully the second half will have more requirements such that “main street” actually benefits.  The stimulus needs to be $900 billion over two years and help rebuild American infrastructure.

This is the good news getting back to the quote – we have the opportunity now to regain American excellence by investing in areas that benefit the entire public, but don’t benefit any one company enough to be financially feasible.  These areas include differed maintenance of physical infrastructure; building of broadband networks; improvement of medical information technology; creating renewable energy alternatives; and improving education and healthcare.  The U.S. can borrow relatively cheaply (via TBills) and then spend the money to improve the country while putting people back to work.  This is the opportunity we’ve not had in decades, and the good news according to Robert Reich.

Creating PowerPoint Based on Research

My wish for PowerPoint in 2009 is we apply what we’ve learned from research.   Everyone has an opinion on what makes PowerPoint the best, but opinions vary widely.  Research confirms what actually works for most people.  There is not much, but there is some research that we can rely upon as we create PowerPoint.  My recently completed thesis research showed that audiences learn more when presented with multimedia PowerPoint that follows Dr. Mayer’s multimedia learning principles than when presented with bullet point PowerPoint.  Here is a quick summary of other research specific to PowerPoint slide design:
Alley (et. al.) found that students were better able to recall the main assertion of slides when presented with a full-sentence headline written as an assertion compared to a word or phrase headline.
Alley, M., Schreiber, M., Ramsdell, K., & Muffo, J. (2006). How the Design of Headlines in
Presentation Slides Affects Audience Retention. Technical Communication, 53, 225-234.
Bartsch and Cobern discerned that PowerPoint with irrelevant pictures can be detrimental to learning.
Bartsch, R.A. & Cobern, K.M. (2003). Effectiveness of PowerPoint presentations in lectures.
Computers & Education, 41, 77-86.
Bradshaw found that test scores were lower when participants viewed slides that had interference (pink background, ornate font, transition sounds) compared to when they viewed interference-free slides (high-contrast color, easy-to-read text and graphics).
Bradshaw, A. C. (2003). Effects of Presentation Interference in Learning with Visuals. Journal of
Visual Literacy, 23, 41-68.
Mackiewicz found that audiences perceived 2D graphs more clearly than 3D graphs and that cool colors with high contrast were more attractive.
Mackiewicz, J. (2007-1). Perceptions of Clarity and Attractiveness in PowerPoint Graph Slides.
Technical Communication, 54, 145-156.
In a study comparing five serif and five sans-serif fonts in PowerPoint, Mackiewicz found two rose above the rest, Gill Sans and Souvenir Lt, in terms of professional, comfortable-to-read, and interesting variables.
Mackiewicz, J. (2007-2). Audience Perceptions of Fonts in Projected PowerPoint Text Slides.
Technical Communication, 54, 295-306.
So what we learn from the research is:
1.    Follow multimedia learning principles (for summary of principles see http://www.jenniferkammeyer.com/research.htm )
2.    Use full-sentence declarative headlines
3.    Don’t add irrelevant pictures (or anything irrelevant for that matter)
4.    Keep the design interference-free with high-contrast, easy-to-read text & graphs
5.    Use 2D graphs with cool colors and high contrast
6.    Use Gill Sans or Souvenir Lt font
These recommendations are not opinions, but rather facts based on research done by academics following rigorous protocols.  So, my wish for 2009 is that we start listening to what the research says and developing PowerPoint presentations that will increase audience learning and satisfaction.

Meetings from my iPhone

GigaOm reports that WebEx is now accessible from the iPhone.  http://gigaom.com/2009/01/06/webex-on-your-iphone-finally/
Appreciating all the information I can access and ways I can communicate with my iPhone just increased with this announcement.  This news supports the ‘communicate-on-the-go’ trend.  Our geographical locations are becoming less and less relevant to our ability to communicate with others.  I like that.

Technology for Blind Users

This Sunday NY Times had an inspirational article about a blind engineer creating technology for blind users. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/04/business/04blind.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=Going%20Where%20No%20Guide%20Dog%20Can&st=cse
T.V. Raman works for Google and specializes in developing technology for when people are not looking at the screen.  This is great for blind people, and for people multitasking — say driving and making a call.
Of course, I think of it from a communication perspective.  Making technology more accessible to blind people opens up an entire new dimension of communication.  Raman uses screen reader technology to access computer technology and listens at a pace of three times a human voice so that he can process at approximately the same speed as someone who is reading the screen.  Right now, he is working on a touch-screen phone that would open the mobile computer world, especially GPS, to the blind.  My hat is off to Mr. Raman and all those working on accessibility.  May the channels of communication be opened.

Burning Body Fat — In Your Fuel Tank

This story about a doctor in LA who used his patient’s body fat to fuel his SUV has so many interesting communication angles, I don’t know where to begin.  http://www.forbes.com/technology/2008/12/21/fat-fuel-biodiesel-tech-sciences-cz_pcb_1222fatfuel.html?partner=technology_newsletter

Lets start with why Forbes is covering such a sensationalized story in the technology section.  Could they not find any other example of bio fuel?  Then lets move on to the ethics of using patients’ fat.  Can you imaging how that is communicated?  I can just imagine the nurse explaining to a patient, ‘Please sign here if you would like to donate your post-liposuction fat to the doctor so he can use it in his gas tank.’  The patient responds, ‘Wow, I get to look thinner and help save the earth!’

Sometimes the weird stuff makes the most interesting communication scenarios.  Anyway,  I am keeping my fat and sticking to my Prius!

Better Ideas with Group Brainstorming

Not surprizingly a new study shows that groups brainstorming come up with better ideas than individuals.
The individuals are more efficient and create more ideas because they don’t spend the time communicating with others.  But, the groups come up with better ideas because as they communicate, they get to play off each others’ ideas.  http://sloanreview.mit.edu/the-magazine/articles/2008/summer/49408/where-the-best-and-worst-ideas-come-from/

7 Keys to Influential Presentations

Carmine Gallo, author of “Fire Them Up!” offers a 7-letter acronym for creating presentations.  The seven letters spell the word INSPIRE.  You can find the article at
http://learn.gotomeeting.com/forms/G2MC-WP-INSPIRE-TY
I    Ignite Your Enthusiasm
N    Navigate the Way
S    Spell the Benefit
P    Paint a Picture
I    Invite Participation
R    Reinforce Optimism
E    Encourage Potential
It is always good to have another way to remember the basics of delivering a compelling presentation!

Using Twitter

Guy Kawasaki gives us a lesson on how to use Twitter as a tool http://alwayson.goingon.com/permalink/post/30340  I’ll tell you, I need that lesson.  As much as a want to communicate on Twitter because I think it is a cool 21st century communication technology, I have a hard time.  I have trouble thinking of something short enough that people will care about.  Guy gives us the full run down on how he uses it to his advantage.  I learned quite a bit from the article, you might too.  I particularly like the part about reaching the many instead of the ‘influencers’ since most of my communication career has been focused in influencing the influencers.

Web Video: New Mode of Communication

Beet.tv (http://www.beet.tv/2008/12/video-search-mo.html) shows a video of the CEO of Blinkx (http://www.blinkx.com/executive-team), a video search engine company, talking about how companies can monetize video on the web.  I would like to point out that this whole conversation could not have happened 5 or even 3 years ago.  The prevalance of video on the web in the last couple of years is an indicator of a new mode of communication.  According to a 2007 PEW survey, video on the Internet has been used by 76% of young adults (18-29) in the US. And, 18% have recorded a video and 10% have watched a video on a mobile device according to a PEW 2008 study (http://www.pewinternet.org).  As we become comfortable with watching, creating, and posting video on the web, that becomes a more popular mode of communication.  Of course, when enough people make it a habit, then companies will learn how to monetize it, as Blinkx is beginning to do.

Telling Lies: Email vs. Letters

Yesterday I heard on KCBS radio about a study that showed people tend to lie more when communicating via email then they do when writing a letter.  I discovered the studies came out of Lehigh University in Pennsylvania led by Liuba Belkin and co-authored by Terri Kurtzberg of Rutgers and Charles Maquin of DePaul.  In one of the studies, students were given $89 to divide between themselves and strangers either via email or via written letter.  Those that divided cash via email lied about the amount 92% of the time, while those who divided it via letter lied less than 64% of the time.  “It’s not just that emailers were more deceptive,” Belkin says.  “Its that the magnitude by which they lies was significantly greater.”  Of course, this has implication for everyone, since we now communicate via email so often.  Perhaps when we need to know the whole truth and nothing but the truth, we should ask for it in writing.  The old-fashioned form of writing on paper.

Bad News via Email or In Person?

In Inc. Magazine’s (http://www.inc.com) Year in Review there is a side bar on entrepreneurs crafting thoughtful emails.  All of the examples are bad news being communicated, such as company layoffs.  Reading these examples, I was less interested in the artful words and more interested in why these leaders decided to communicate bad news via email.  Is it because their company is geographically diverse?  Or has email become such the default business medium that they presume it is appropriate for every communication.   Seems to me that news prone to spark emotional responses from employees, such as company layoffs, is still best communicated in person.  In person you can read the reaction on people’s faces and express more pathos to moderate the bad news.  Don’t get me wrong, I love email for many reasons, but not for communicating bad news — better to do that in person.

Weekly Presidential Address on YouTube

The use of the Internet and, in particular, YouTube was well utilized by the Obama campaign.  Wisely, the President-elect will continue to utilize 21st-century technology while in office.  He just gave his first weekly ‘radio’ address and put it on YouTube.

Some say he is trying to woo the younger generation.  I say he is communicating in the 21st Century to all ages.  YouTube combines the visual stimulation previously only available on TV with the flexibility of consumer choice only available on the web.  People of all ages appreciate that combination.

Inspirational!

Just finished listening to Obama’s acceptance speech.  It is hard to find words to describe this historical moment.  Inspirational is the closest I can come.  My favorite part was his story about the 106 year old woman in Atlanta and all she had seen in her life.  What a wonderful way to use narrative to share all the country has endured and achieve in the last century.  Listening to his speech I felt the power of the historical moment.  I am inspired.

Be What You Want to Be

Oh, what I love so much about Halloween is the freedom to be whomever you wish.  Tonight I watched goblins and fairies come to my door and I rewarded their beauty with candy corn.  Little do these tiny humans know that when they grow up people will judge them based on how they dress and who they are.  Young and innocent, with the help of a costume, they get to be who they want to be.  I wish I could wave my magic wand and make every day a day when we could be whomever we wish.  Happy Halloween!

Always Check Your Sources

From the WSJ today:
Politico: John McCain hung his final presidential debate performance on an Ohio plumber who campaign aides never vetted. A day after making Joseph Wurzelbacher famous, referencing him in the debate almost two dozen times as someone who would pay higher taxes under Barack Obama, Mr. McCain learned the fine print on the plumber’s not-so-tidy personal story: He owes back taxes. He is not a licensed plumber. And it turns out that Mr. Wurzelbacher makes less than $250,000 a year, which means he would receive a tax cut if Mr. Obama were elected president

Oh, how very embarrassing.  Every good speaker knows to check their source of information before using it in a speech.  You would think that a presidential candidate who is behind in the polls would have been a bit more cautious on the content used in the debate.  I guess your never too old to learn.

The Art of Answering Your Own Question

Watching the 2nd Presidential debate tonight I was reminded of the art of answering your own question.  Both candidates displayed it quite well.  No matter the question, the answer always contained the key message the candidate wanted to state.  Asked about retirement, Obama suavely commented that we can’t get to retirement if we don’t deal with taxes and then promptly answered his own question about what to do about taxes. While politician used this technique all the time, it is handy for us every-day communicators as well.  I don’t condone not answering the question asked, but I do marvel at those who can answer the posed question and also incorporate their own agenda.

Required for Every Job

Picking up a prescription yesterday I was reminded that communication is required for every job.  The ability to communicate well with others is a must (or at least an asset) in almost every job I imagine.  After I had purchased the medication, the very friendly sales person told me that the pharmacist would ‘consult’ with me momentarily.  My friendly, happy-customer interaction went down the tube from there.  The pharmacist did not speak English well, he looked at the bottle and mumbled to me incomprehensibly.  I attempted to ask a question, but found it was futile.  He may be a really good pharmacist in terms of knowing medications and dispensing them properly, but he was a very poor communicator.  If part of his job is to ‘consult’ with patients, them he needs to learn to speak in an articulate manner.  Just another reminder for me that communication is so important.

Students 2 Students

Check out the recently launched website, Unigo.  http://www.unigo.com/
The site’s purpose is for college students to share the low-down on their university with other students.
Students directly communicating with other students.  According to an article in the Sunday New York Times Magazine, the Unigo editors let pretty much anything fly.  Students post thoughts, pictures, video — both good and bad.  I checked the site out — it is very buggy and you can’t use it for long without crashing.  That said, it is a great idea.  Who knows more about a college than the students actually attending the school?  I think the site also represents the shift in communication power caused by social media.  Now the power to communicate is in the hands of the students, not the college adminstrators.

Remorse Communicated

From PEHub today:
“There’s a WSJ report this morning that Bob Willumstad has rejected a $22 million severance package from AIG, where he served as CEO for the past few months. If accurate, this is an exceptional decision, in multiple senses. My hat’s off to the man, although it would be further off had he managed to execute AIG’s restructuring plan.”
Now that is a good example of communicating remorse.  There is nothing like action to speak louder than words and turning down $22 million is ACTION.
I couldn’t find the WSJ report on www.wsj.com — I think they forgot to update the search engine when they reconfigured the website because that is the third article I’ve tried to find with no avail.
Anyway, good to see Willumstad is being responsible and turning down severance.

Hey, you’re ok

Here is what we all need to hear.  Song to remind us to chill out.
http://www.zefrank.com/zesblog/archives/2008/09/childrens_songs.html
If only this could play continuously in our minds then we would all feel better and communicate more kindly to one another.

Surfaces More Content Faster

That is the claim to fame for the new website of the Wall Street Journal.  You can reach more items from the home page to get what you want faster.  That is such a reflection of our current media consumption culture.  The Internet gives it to us faster and easier and then we want it faster and easier.  Not to say that I don’t appreciate the surfacing of more content faster on the Wall Street Journal, because I do.  I tended to only use the search function when I went to the site, now I find it more appealing.  I also find the new Journal Women section appealing and the greater access to more video. Check it out yourself.  http://online.wsj.com/public/us

Talking About Going Green

Bill Green, partner at Vantage Point Venture Partners interviewed Mayor Reed about how San Jose is leading the charge to go green. S.J. Mayor Chuck Reed has created a Clean Green Roadmap
http://www.sanjoseca.gov/mayor/goals/environment/GreenVision/GreenVision.asp
See his talk at AlwaysOn Going Green conference.
http://alwayson.goingon.com/
Though his body language is still and formal, Reed speaks articulately and gives concrete examples about his ideas.  For example, changing street lights to LEDs with sensors.
Bill Green does a good job of asking some easy questions and some challenging ones.

Wearables as Nonverbal Communication

A wearable is a clothing garment that has a technology element to it — like conductive thread or an LED.  Since I love the intersection of technology and communication I think this is the ultimate in cool.  Talk about nonverbal communication through what you wear.  One of these clothing items can light up and really say something about your personality.  Forbes just covered the story of one woman who is a maverick in this space.

http://www.forbes.com/technology/2008/09/09/innovation-geek-fashion-tech-egang08-cz_cf_0909fashion.html?partner=technology_newsletter

Imitate Steve Jobs’ Presentations

The month’s MacLife magazine has an article by David Biedny on using Keynote to build killer presentations (www.maclife.com).  While the article has some interesting examples of using Keynote features, my favorite part is the side bar on imitating Steve Jobs.  The words “minimalism”, “multimedia stage”, and the phrase “clear, intelligible sequence of ideas” are what really struck me as on target.  If  presenters emulated the simplicity and multimedia artistic flare of Jobs’ presentations, we would all stay much more engaged.

Communication from the Hospital

When someone you love is sick and in the hospital you want to know how they’re doing every single minute.  But that’s impossible.  The immediate family by the sick person’s side is really busy and doesn’t have time to make a million calls.  I just experienced a technology that helps this entire process.  It is called Caring Bridge. http://www.caringbridge.org/?gclid=CNG1-8rHvpUCFRxNagodOGeXQQ

My N.Y. cousin was going through surgery and her husband was able to keep us all up to date using Caring Bridge.  Plus, everyone could post notes on the site and then he could read the to my cousin to boost her spirits.  Care Bridge is a wonderful example of technology helping communication.

Hillary Communicates Unification

Wow. That was one compelling speech by Hillary Clinton at the DNC. Of course, you can catch part of it on YouTube.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3pUFuzaRdNU

Not only were her words just what Democrats needed to be assured the party was unity, but look at her body language. She is very confident and self-assured. There is no hidden signs of resentment about losing the primary. She sounds and looks like she is really behind Obama. A good lesson for us lesser speakers to be aware how our body language contributes to our message.

Commenting on Communications

First blog.  The purpose of this blog is to comment on the world of communication.  In particular on trends and news in public speaking, PowerPoint creation and use, and how technology influences communication in the 21st century.