Nothing Like Mama’s Hugs

I read about a website in a San Jose Mercury News story today.  Started by an ex-tech-marketing pro, Mamabread gives online visitors an ear and support.  From a communication perspective I find this website interesting on two levels.  The first is at the emotional level — how many people feel they have nobody to listen to their problems?  The second is at the technology level — can people feel fulfilled by a response from a stranger on a website?

As indicated by 10,000 page views in its first month of existence, it appears the answer to the above questions may be ‘Plenty’ and ‘Yes’ for many people.  The founder, Michelle Lee, makes a point in the Merc article that people can’t really use social networking sites, like Facebook, to vent.  I,too, find the tendency to post only the ‘good stuff’ on networking sites.  Who really wants to hear about the bad stuff anyway.  Well, of course, Mama does.  I will have to give Mamabread a try and see if I feel better.

All for Direct Manipulation

In this Forbes article, Dan Woods talks about his difficulties of moving from a touch-screen device to a point-and-click device and back again.  I am in complete agreement with Dan’s statement, “The confusion, however, has made one thing clear: multi-touch is clearly better than point-and-click. My brain wants direct manipulation. I want the virtual world I am looking at on my screen to act more like the physical world I live in most of the time.”

Direct manipulation — love it.  When you want to file a physical piece of paper, you directly manipulate it into a drawer.  On a point-and-click device, you may have the same drawer concept, but on a multi-touch device you have a much closer replication of reality.  Through time, our electronic devices have come closer and closer to mimicking the way we act in our physical worlds.  The multi-touch device is a big step forward.  Now I just have to be patient while the rest of my gadgets catch up to my iPhone.

More Control, More Privacy – I like it

I have chosen to use Facebook for my personal sharing and Twitter, this blog, and LinkedIn for professional sharing.  Not everyone makes the choice to divide their social networking venues in such a manner, that is why I think Facebook’s new privacy options discuss in this Forbes article are good news.  I especially like the idea of controlling what content you post can be seen by what audience.  Who knows, it might mean I can change my ways and use Facebook for both personal and professional networking.

Holiday Shopping; a Physical Experience
I know today is Cyber Monday and there are plenty of good shopping deals floating in the cybersphere, but I just can’t seem to engage. To me, holiday shopping is still a physical experience. Standing in front of Target at 5 am on Friday has a feeling to it. A feeling of being with others. A feeling of being part of a larger American cultural experience. The tense feeling the the air. The push from a fellow shopper anxious to get to the ‘door buster’ deal before you do. That is a physical experience. Somehow the click of the keyboard just isn’t doing it for me. Maybe next year.

It All Comes Down To Communication.
This article in the New York Times about bankers and their verbal faux pas, is just another example of how so much of business comes down to communication. Those who communicate well, are rewarded, those who don’t are scrutinized. Sometimes it helps to listen to the experts tell you how to communicate better. But sometimes just doing the obvious, such as apologizing honestly, is all it takes.

Impossible to Ignore

In a New York Times article reporting on Forrester Research stats, the reporter writes, “Time waster or not, social media are a phenomemon that is now nearly impossible to ignore.”

I agree, but would drop the ‘nearly’ from the comment.  The Forrester stats show 50% of adults visiting social network sites at least monthly.  In my world, the number is even higher.  In a show-of-hands survey in my communication course that just started at SFSU, that number was 100%.  The social sites are a mode of communication so popular that they seem to be replacing much of the phone communication I used when I was in college.

The other Forrester stats are also interesting. Percent of adults who read blogs is 39%, contribute to forums and discussion groups is 23%, review products or services 19%, listen to podcasts 16%, publish, maintain or update a blog 12%, use RSS feeds 9%, and contribute to article in a WIKI 5%.

The contributing content side of these stats are telling of a cultural communication shift.  In my SFSU classroom, other than social networking, the number of students who contribute online is relatively low (10%).  But it is the increase in contributing to this ‘impossible to ignore’ phenomenon that will have the greatest effect on change.

Sharing my traffic data

I happen to love it when I am stuck in traffic and I can see just how long I will be stuck by looking at Google Maps on my iPhone.  Therefore I am more that willing to share my data back with the rest of you who may also be stuck.  Google is now offering arterial traffic data.
The trick is, the data is coming from you and I and all the others who are using the mobile Google maps service.  As we travel, we are sending our speed and location back to Google and that is being used in aggregate to map traffic patterns.

Now some people may not like this data capturing device, and they can opt out of the feature.  But Google has privacy features that make me, and many others, feel safe in sharing our data.  For example, vehicles are anonymous and start and end points are deleted so even anonymous vehicles can’t be tracked.  I hope Google’s privacy efforts make enough of us feel secure so that there is sufficient data to make the service effective.  Then we all will be sitting in traffic less often.

Fed Bank “Barnstorming” Communication

Bernanke is taking a different approach to communication as chair of the Federal Reserve.  According to a NY Times article today, Bernake is “Barnstorming”.  He is actively communicating with the public about the purpose and the strategies of the central bank.  He has appeared on 60 Minutes and hosted a town hall forum on Kansas, MO.

I welcome this new ‘open’ communication and think it is beneficial to the American people.  Transpancy is a must for regain trust and educating people on the process will also help.  True, he may be politically motivated since his term is up in January, but regardless of the motive, the benefit of open communication is still there.

An Answer for Everyone

Forbes covered news from the TED conference
on a project called QuestionBox supported by the Grameen Foundation and OpenMind.

QuestionBox is Google for developing nations. It is accessed by mobile phone and allows people in remote ares to ask questions “about weather, history, science, whatever they want.”

What a fabulous way to open up communication and increase knowledge across the globe.  We get so spoiled jumping on the Internet and getting our most random questions answered.  It is wonderful that this privilege is being extended to people all over the world who don’t yet have access to laptops and high-speed Internet connections.

Spinning Statistics & Patience Please

The Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that Obama’s approval ratings on key issues are slipping.

My response, is  two fold

1. The media gets to spin the statistics however they want
2. We need to be patient because it was our need for instant gratification that got us in to this mess.

“Barely more than half approve of the way he is handling unemployment . . ”  could have been written, more that half of America supports the way Obama is handling unemployment.  And the comment “On health care, the poll, conducted by telephone Wednesday through Saturday, found that a majority of Americans (54 percent) approve of the outlines of the legislation now heading toward floor action.” could have changed the headline to a positive support headline.  But these particular reporters decided on a negative spin — which probably will attract more attention.

Speak of attention.  We all need to work on expanding our attention spans and practicing patience.  It is America’s need for instant gratification — wanting the house we couldn’t quite afford, banks using leverage to make more money now while pushing the risk to later — that is part of the problem.  It can’t be fixed overnight.  And, as Obama is constantly communicating, we all need to be part of the solution. Part of that is having patience.  I know it is hard when you are out of a job or making a lot less money than before.  But, if we give up hope 6 months into the presidential term, it is only going to get worse.

Sotomayer: Two Sides of the Same (Good) Coin

During the confirmation hearings of Judge Sonia Sotomayer those opposed to her nomination are claiming that she will judge cases based on gender and ethnicity.  She keeps defending that she will rule by law.

First, good for her for staying so consistent in her messages.  Second, the sides are arguing about either/or, when it is really both.  It is not either she rules by gender and ethnicity or she rules by law. She will rule by both because it impossible to separate. Every human comes as a package — a cultural and experiential bundle — that influences all of their decisions and their communication.

Sotomayer’s background will influence her decisions, just like every other judge is influenced by their own background.  At the same time, she will follow the law in her rulings, just like other capable judges.  That is not a bad thing.  It is actually just two sides to the same coin.

In the communication class I teach at San Francisco state we discuss the fact that a human cannot disconnect from their cultural background and life experiences as the interact with the world.  We also discuss that being mindful of what you bring into your interactions, greatly improves your ability to assimilate others’ points of view and expand your experiences.

One coin, two sides — I think Sotomayer will make good choices that will positively influence the world.  Of course, that statement is influenced by my own culture, gender, and background . . . .

Pitching VCs Reminder Tips

The WSJ published an article on perfecting the pitch to venture capitalists this morning.  It is all stuff we’ve heard before and I’ve been coaching for years, but it is a good reminder.

Since the WSJ seems to be the one paper that refuses to join the rest and offer their content for free, I will summarize the article for those who don’t have a subscription.  The article offers 4 areas of tips:

“Modesty Doesn’t Pay”
“Tell it to Mom”
“Don’t Play with the Numbers”
“Stay on the Radar”

Modesty doesn’t pay is a reminder that what you are selling to the VC is yourself and your team.  Sure the business idea has to be good, but the team has to be able to execute on the idea for the VC to invest.  Tell it to mom is about keeping your pitch simple enough that your mom can understand.  Of course, you need to be prepared to dive deep if the VCs ask questions, but the first communication of the concept and your business plan needs to be simple. Don’t play with the numbers is about establishing credibility by accurately depicting your market opportunity.  Stay on the radar is about following up and working to build a relationship with the VC, even if the answer is no to the investment.

My favorite quote from the article comes from Mr. Brotman of Greenhil SAVP in New York.  “A pitch is like going on a date,” he says.  A lot of entrepreneurs don’t introduce themselves.  They might give you a name and a business card; other times they’ll go straight to the pitch.  That’s like going on a date and saying, ‘Let’s get it on.'”

Of course, the best piece of advice is to practice the pitch before the VC meetings.  I have heard from many VCs that they can tell the coherency of the team based on the first presentation — and that coherency comes from practicing the presentation as a team.

Needle in a Haystack

An article in today’s NY Times reports that intelligence wire tapping of Americans did not aid in the thwarting of terrorist activity (
Quotes from the article:

“Most intelligence officials interviewed “had difficulty citing specific instances” when the National Security Agency’s wiretapping program contributed to successes against terrorists, the report said.”

“. . . intelligence leads that came from the wiretapping operation were often “vague or without context,” the report said.”

But, of course.  What did we expect? I don’t have a full understanding of the speech recognition and data mining technology markets, but I know enough to believe that randomly wire tapping Americans in search of terrorist-related communication is like searching for a needle in a haystack.  Too much data and not efficient enough technology to handle the job of broad search-and-seek.

The-get-a-warrant-then-wire-tap is a better process because it applies human judgment at the front end and then uses technology to assist.  Not to mention it provides a level of rights and protection to citizens.

Now that we’ve spent tax dollars interviewing “about 200 government and private-sector personnel” to determine the program was not efficient, we can go back to respecting rights and following law.

“While former Bush administration officials continue to argue that their policies made the country safer,” said Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, “I believe this report shows that their obsession with secrecy and their refusal to accept oversight was actually harmful to U.S. national security, not to mention the privacy rights of law-abiding Americans.”

Mind Maps for Visual Communication

“I suspect that the reason mind maps works so well is that they engage your visual intelligence and provide a way to navigate a much larger space of ideas in a smaller visual field.”
In his article relaying the benefits of mind maps, Forbes guest reporter Dan Woodsis, uses examples from Evolved Technologist to show how complex projects and ideas can be managed over time.
An open source version of mind mapping software can be downloaded at
Mind mapping allows for two-dimensional views of information that traditional outlining prohibits.  When working with clients on creating presentations, I work to get people away from the traditional linear way of thinking through information.  In our visual age, the linear approach does little to help us think and communicate in an effective way.  Mind maps are another way to help us move away from the linear and improve communication.

On and Off — Both are Good

Good Morning Silicon Valley debates whether or not we can ‘turn off’ the electronic connectivity that is pervasive in our lives.

Personally, I am glad to have the option to be connected and “on” and I feel I have the power to disconnect and be “off” when I want.

I discuss this social issue in my communication course at SFSU.  Just because we have access to the technology doesn’t mean that we need to use it all the time.  And just because we use the technology doesn’t mean we are bad or inconsiderate.  We need to use our social judgment and decide for ourselves what is the right balance of “on” and “off”.  That balance is not going to be the same for each individual and it will take some time before our society will set norms to guide behavior.

Remember when cell phones were new and before each meeting the leader would have to remind everyone to turn them off.  Then the social norm was formed that it is rude to use a cell phone in a meeting and most people automatically turn them off.  But then texting came along and people are still working out that social norm.  It is the give and take between individuals that determine what the social rules become.  And it starts with individuals making their own judgements about when and where and how they want to use the connecting technology.

Whenever a technology is being adopted, it tends to be used in ways and places that eventually are determined to be socially inappropriate.  And at this time in history, many people are so enthralled with technology that they are reluctant to be “off” and disconnected.  But, I believe that will change with time.  Eventually we will all be able to benefit from the features of the technology and be able to balance the “on” and “off” equation.

“Fleeting Expletive” Ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the ruling that stations can be fined for ‘fleeting expletives’ aired prior to 10 pm.  The justices indicated their decision was based on their belief that the FCC did not violate policy when changing the rule on expletives back in 2004.  They state that the First Amendment is not the issue at hand.  The Wall Street Journal covered the story

I say, not only is the First Amendment the issue at hand, but several cultural communication issues are also at hand.  Of course, I am not speaking from the technical perspective of the court, but from a broader perspective.  The First Amendment is only the tip of the iceberg.  But, that tip is important when the government is fining stations for unintentional outburst of swear words in live broadcasts.  Never mind that the individual who makes the outburst has any responsibility or, for that matter, rights about what they say in public.

Culturally, American television is way more constricting than in other countries where breast are bared and expletives made without the fear of being fined.  As the world becomes closer through communication, I hope America can adopt a more open point of view.

Another cultural difference is the expectation that the government has any role in controlling the television viewing of children. Why parents would ever want to abdicate that role to the government is beyond me.  I like the FCC chairperson nominee’s perspective much better.

“Mr. Genachowski and other advisers spoke far less about policing the airwaves than extolling the virtues of how technology can help parents monitor their children’s viewing habits.”

Fair Facebook

Facebook took a vote.  Of course, only 640,000 users cast their vote, but at least the opportunity was there.  In an example of the new social media effecting society, Facebook opened up to its users a business decision on how to handle user information.
“The new governing principles state that users own the content they post on Facebook, but they do not provide a clause for permanent deletion from the site. The amended document also lays out how site changes will be handled in the future, saying that if 7,000 users comment on a proposed change, Facebook will provide alternatives and hold a public vote. As before, the vote is stated as binding only if more than 30% of Facebook’s active users vote. ”
Maybe just a first step, but an important first step at social order in the world of social media.

Why People Use Twitter

That is a question I have been pondering as I try and adopt the communication tool, but find myself with little to say to the general public, or that portion who has decided to follow my tweets.  Twitter founder, Biz Stone, puts it succinctly in a San Jose Mercury News interview by reporter Elise Ackerman.  (

Q Why are people using Twitter?
A I think it is because we are realizing that there is a lot of value that comes from open communication. There is kind of an alchemy that takes place when you decide that you are going to move some of your communication to a public arena. You make connections. Things happen that wouldn’t otherwise have happened.

Open communication and alchemy — sounds like music to the ears of this communication scholar.  Makes me motivated to put in more effort and see what connections happen.

I’m All for More Openness

The Federal Reserve floated the idea of holding press conferences, reported today in the Wall Street Journal.

“The Fed’s policy makers already make and disclose economic forecasts four times a year. The Fed chairman gives detailed reports on the economy and monetary policy to congressional committees twice a year. And Fed officials speak regularly on the outlook and give frequent testimony to Congress. Press conferences would be a significant further step toward more openness.”

I am all for more openness.  So much of the current financial conundrum stems from lack of financial transparency.  Having the Federal Reserve take the lead towards openness, just might encourage others to follow suit.  Well, actually the European Central Bank is really the leader here because they already hold press conferences.  At any rate, I encourage the move — just in case they care what I think.

Office Design & Communication

Ever stop to think about how the design of an office effect communication? April’s issue of Wired had a story on the history of office design starting back in 1904 with Frederick Taylor, the father of efficiency, who first recommended the open bull pen with the overseeing boss.  This would seem to allow for open communication between employees because they are all right next to each other, but really hindered communication because the boss was always watching.  It did make people work efficiently.
In the 1960s Burolandschaft and Herman Miller started to mix it up with varied designs based on function of work — some stations side-by-side and some circular.  This was also the decade the cubicle was created.  The varied design did increase communication, when and where is what needed for work.
By the 1980s the cubicle had been taken to the extreme and farms were built with everyone having their own ‘space.’  I remember that illusion of privacy — you could hear everyone’s phone calls, but you couldn’t see what they were wearing unless you walked around.  Cubicles inhibited communication between employees because you had to walk around or go into a conference room to collaborate.
As of late, designers are getting more creative and creating compromises that facilitate communication with some privacy.  The new designs may give the illusion of privacy, but everyone can still hear each others’ calls.  Not that that is a bad thing — it keeps people focused on work when they are at work.  Circling back to Taylor efficiency.
Next time you walk in to an office, you may ponder — just  how is this design effecting communication?

Give It Back

At the risk of sounding left of left, I say to the financial industry executives who made millions last year as the economy tanked — “GIVE IT BACK.”

Wall Street Journal reports,
“As Merrill Lynch staggered last year, 11 top executives were paid more than $10 million each in cash and stock, and 149 more received $3 million or more.”

It just gets my goat that I, as a tax payer not delinquent on any bill, am paying for a rescue when executives took home millions as their companies failed and brought the world economy down with them.

Now what does their action communicate?


Thanks to Greg Wise of Arizona State University for my new favorite word to describe communication technologies: assemblages.  Greg shared his concept during a panel on the convergence of television and the computer at Western States Communication Association annual conference this morning.  He defined an assemblage as technology that has physical pieces, plus functions, plus a human element that is pulled together with a social investment.  In this way, the computer and the television are overlapping assemblages as they have many of the same qualities and share several functions.

My mind went straight to my iPhone when I heard the word assemblage.  The physical piece of technology — a phone — fails to describe the device, while the word assemblage does it justice.  Microsoft Word Dictionary defines assemblage as “Artistic arrangement of miscellaneous items.”  Artistic is right.
To me this circles back to Dr. Wise’s idea that an assemblage is pulled together with a social investment.

In an assemblage, the sum is greater than the technological parts because of the artistic element and the social investment.  That is a good reminder of the role we play in technologies of our time.  Be it the computer or the television or the iPhone.  We make the social investment that brings forth the assemblage and then morphs our social fabric.

Mass Communication: Change is afoot

Just being an average consumer in the year 2009, we are all aware that mass communication is changing.  Most of us are just as likely to find news on the Internet as we are to find it on the television.

AlwaysOn and KPMG have some numbers to back up the trend.  KPMG surveyed 200 media folks in conjunction with the OnMedia Conference in NYC.
Full article here

The survey found the most disruptive force in media today to be the pullback of ad dollars do to the recession and mobile devices becoming personal computers.  When asked what is the greatest opportunity in mobile and how will it be monetized, 48% of respondents said location-based advertise was the best opportunity and 45% said mobile applications will monetize through advertising.

Of course, media spend is moving away from traditional channels to new media — survey respondents indicated that 26-50% will be shifted in the next five years.

None of these trends are new to anyone following mass communication, but the survey results are a nice barometer of just how fast this change is occurring.

“Sunlight is the Best Disinfectant”

“Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis succinctly captured the power of openness and transparency when he wrote that Sunlight is the Best Disinfectant.”  This quote is from a story on AlwaysOn from Irving Wladawsky-Berger.  Irving is a member of the TIGR (Technology, Innovation & Government Reform) transition policy group focusing on innovation and government.  Today he lauds President Obama’s memo on government transparency.

“The TIGR group that I was part of was charged with developing “a range of proposals to create a 21st century government that is more open and effective; leverages technology to grow the economy, create jobs, and solve our country’s most pressing problems; respects the integrity of and renews our commitment to science; and catalyzes active citizenship and partnerships in shared governance with civil society institutions.” ” commented Wladawsky-Berger in the article.

Sounds fantastic to me.  Leveraging the technology at hand and making a commitment to open communication is pretty much nirvana for this communication coach.

Brittany Spears and Guy Kawasaki

Brittany Spears and Guy Kawasaki — now there is a pair for you.  What do they have in common?  They both top the list of Twitter users.  Brittany is the Top Celebrity user of Twitter and Guy is the Most Influential Twitterer — sending over 30 tweets a day.  This news comes from a Forbes article by Andy Greenberg (  Other Celebrities on the list include Lance Armstrong, Barrack Obama, Stephen Colbert, and Shaquille O’Neal.  All of these star are frequently posting the less-than-140-character microblogs on Twitter.  Others Influentials include Robert Scoble (, Jason Clalacanis (Weblogs), Michael Arrington (TechCrunch), and Kevin Rose (

Why are they using this leading-edge form of online communication?  Well the celebrities are busy becoming more famous, letting more people know what they are doing when.  The influencers, on the other hand, are using it to support thier business — online business.  Stated in the Forbes article, according to traffic counting firm ComScore, Twitter attracts about 1.9 million unique visitors a month.

Many technology companies build success based on web-eye-balls.  The more people looking at their sites, the more they succeed.  Guy Kawasaki is quoted the artcle, “Around 99.9% of Twitter users see it as something fun to do in your spare time, as some kind of nicety,” Kawasaki adds.  “I see it as a weapon.”

That weapon drives traffic to his website and increases his credibility as a technology guru.  Twitter communication is instantaneous and simultaneous — definitely pushing limits.

Imagining $819 Billion

The new administration is communicating to the country that $819 billion is the answer to the recession.

I want the economy to turn around, really I do.  I am just having a hard time imagining $819 billion dollars.  I am generally a fan of low government spend, free markets and all. But I know that we, as a country and a world, can’t get out of this mess without help.  I appreciate that the new administration is doing something quickly.  I just still have a hard time imagining $819 billion of our tax dollars being spent.  I am fast forwarding in my mind to twenty years from now and think about the effect this current spend will have on long-term debt.  I hope the economists are correct and this spending will bail the country out of recession and that the subsequent economic boom will neutralize the debt.

Wait and see, wait and see.

Hurling Insults

From the Washington Post this morning
“Soon after the November election, al-Qaeda’s No. 2 leader took stock of America’s new president-elect and dismissed him with an insulting epithet. “A house Negro,” Ayman al-Zawahiri said.”

I laughed when I read it.  Maybe not the best response, but it sounded so pathetic to me.  Could al-Qaeda not come up with anything better?  It reminded me of a bully calling another kid a ‘sissy’ on the playground in elementary school.  Only if the other kid is weak does it have any effect, and Obama is far from weak.

From a communication perspective I think it is a foolish move on behalf of al-Qaeda — only making them look immature and petty.  Of course, from a global peace perspective, that is a good thing.  I guess, come to think about it, it is good they made such an insult.  Obama will not be harmed and the rest of the world (hopefull) will see right through the insult to the pathetic nature of the communicator.

Next time, perhaps al-Qaeda should think more about their communication strategy before the ‘hurl insults.”

“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 )
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.
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.
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.