Today, I gave my first in-person presentation since the pandemic. It was awesome! I was talking about the study I performed with Nabeel Sulieman about data visualization in environments that use right-to-left writing systems.
I wrote about this study in the past [one, two]. Today, you may find the results of our study at http://direction-matters.com/. I hope to be able to publish the video recording of this presentation really soon.
TL;DR Good motivation to improve communication. Inadequate source of information on how to achieve that
The central premise of Five Stars Communication Secrets to Get from Good to Great by Carmine Gallo is that professionals who don’t invest in communication skills are at high risk of being replaced by computers and robots. One of the book’s sections bares the title that summarises this premise very well “Storytelling isn’t a soft skill; it’s the equivalent of hard cash.” I firmly believe in these premises. That is why I invest so much time in learning and teaching data visualization, in public speaking, and blogging.
When I started reading this book, I got excited. I kept marking one passage after another. Gallo packed the first part of the book with numerous citations and explanations on how a lack of communication skills is the most severe risk factor in the career of a modern professional, team, or company. One example leads to another one, and one smart conclusion followed another one.
Then, I started noticing that the book tries to convince me more and more, but I didn’t need that convincing in the first place. More than half of the book is evangelism. The author tells you how essential communication skills are, then he gives you some examples of people who did it right, and then again talks on importance. Again, and again, and again. Where are all those “secrets to get from good to great”???
When, finally, we get to the practical parts, the reader is left mostly with shallow, almost trivial bits of advice.
Some of the most important points I took from this book
Adopt the three-act storytelling approach to presentations. The three-act storytelling approach worked for Homerus, Shakespear, Tarantino, and there is no reason it should fail you in your technical presentations. Fair enough. On the other hand, this 2012 article by Nancy Duarte, provides more depth and more actionable information on this approach (follow Duarte’s blog if presentation skills are something you are interested in).
“In the first two to three minutes of a presentation, I want people to lean forward in their chairs.” I like this citation by Avinash Kaushik, Google’s digital marketing evangelist. I will undoubtedly try this approach in my next presentations.
Should you read this book?
If you read these lines, your job depends on your communication and presentation skills. If you believe this premise, you can skip the first 60% of the book. If you want to improve your communication skills, I suggest reading Jean-luc Doumont’s “Trees, Maps, and Theorems,” which is much shorter, but also much denser in methods and practical advice.
In this post, I will try to convince you that speaking at a conference is an essential tool for professional development.
Many people are afraid of public speaking, they avoid the need to speak in front of an audience and only do that when someone forces them to. This fear has deep evolutional origins (thousands of years ago, if dozens of people were staring at you that would probably mean that you were about to become their meal). However, if you work in a knowledge-based industry, your professional career can gain a lot if you force yourself to speak.
Two days ago, I spoke at NDR, a machine learning/AI conference in Iași, Romania. That was a very interesting conference, with a diverse panel of speakers from different branches of the data-related industry. However, the talk that I enjoyed the most was mine. Not because I’m a narcist self-loving egoist. What I enjoyed the most were the questions that the attendees asked me during the talk, and in the coffee breaks after it. First of all, these questions were a clear signal that my message resonated with the audience, and they cared about what I had to say. This is a nice touch to one’s ego. But more importantly, these questions pointed out that there are several topics that I need to learn to become more professional in what I’m doing. Since most of the time, we don’t know what we don’t know, such an insight is almost priceless.
That is why even (and especially) if you are afraid of public speaking, you should jump into the cold water and do it. Find a call for presentations and submit a proposal TODAY.
If you ever gave or attended a presentation, you are familiar with this situation: the presenter asks whether there are any questions and … nobody asks anything. This is an awkward situation. Why aren’t there any questions? Is it because everything is clear? Not likely. Everything is never clear. Is it because nobody cares? Well, maybe. There are certainly many people that don’t care. It’s a fact of life. Study your audience, work hard to make the presentation relevant and exciting but still, some people won’t care. Deal with it.
However, the bigger reasons for lack of the questions are human laziness and the fear of being stupid. Nobody likes asking a question that someone will perceive as a stupid one. Sometimes, some people don’t mind asking a question but are embarrassed and prefer not being the first one to break the silence.
What can you do? Usually, I prepare one or two questions by myself. In this case, if nobody asks anything, I say something like “Some people, when they see these results ask me whether it is possible to scale this method to larger sets.”. Then, depending on how confident you are, you may provide the answer or ask “What do you think?”.
You can even prepare a slide that answers your question. In the screenshot below, you may see the slide deck of the presentation I gave in Trento. The blue slide at the end of the deck is the final slide, where I thank the audience for the attention and ask whether there are any questions.
My plan was that if nobody asks me anything, I would say “Thank you again. If you want to learn more practical advises about data visualization, watch the recording of my tutorial, where I present this method <SLIDE TRANSFER, show the mockup of the “book”>. Also, many people ask me about reading suggestions, this is what I suggest you read: <SLIDE TRANSFER, show the reading pointers>
Luckily for me, there were questions after my talk. Luckily, one of these questions was about practical advice so I had a perfect excuse to show the next, pre-prepared, slide. Watch this moment on YouTube here.