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Archive for September, 2010

Did you know a distraction can help you speak better in public?

September 28th, 2010 Kevin No comments

A distraction, like chewing bubble gum and talking at the same time?

Well not exactly chewing gum, which can be an off-putting visual! Distractions work though, so next time you speak in public think up a distraction and watch your speaking ability soar.

Example?

Recently I watched a speaker tell a story about his favorite teacher two times: once, he used his performance voice, with a stiff body and overdone gestures; a second time, he spoke while cutting out a paper snowflake with a pair of scissors. What a difference! The second time he was much more calm, used natural gestures, and freed up his normal tone, pitch, and volume.

Seems weird to have to cut a snowflake while we talk; got another example?

Another example happened recently to me, under some sad circumstances. My sisters, brother and I were formally saying good bye to our mom who recently passed away. We prepared statements about her to share with close friends and family at her memorial.

Where was the memorial held, at a cemetery or in a church?

No. Her last wishes were to leave her ashes out at sea. None of us had done anything like this before and we predicted that because of our emotional states, it might become hard to finish what we had to say without choking up first.

So what happened?

No one lost control, mostly because we all had a distraction. It turns out the sea was choppy that day and the waves created a challenging condition to stay balanced. Although the words we said were very emotional, because we focused so much on maintaining our balance, we were able to speak those words clearly and without incident.

What was the reason?

Distraction! We were able to finish our talks, which were well-received, because we were desperately trying to balance our bodies to prevent from falling on the floor.

Explain what happened next?

As we balanced ourselves each of us was able to present our memorial statements without losing our composure. We all spoke naturally and even the sister who might have had the most difficulty was able to leave her script and make her stories come alive as she spoke.

So what’s the point of this post?

The point of this post is that if you want to speak better in public, use a distraction. The distraction will let you become less self-conscious about what you are doing. The distraction can be a glass of water you sip from, or some prearranged steps you take near the podium, or even a recitation in your head of a favorite poem when the opportunity presents. In fact, pricking yourself with a pin in your hand can also work, although it might smart a bit!

In summary, you recommend a distraction to help improve my public speaking?

Exactly. Try it next time and let me know how it goes!

Categories: People, Thoughts Tags:

The ego is like shrink wrap

September 15th, 2010 Kevin No comments

What is shrink wrap?

Shrink wrap is the clear plastic material that surrounds and protects products that we buy. We usually remove it when we get home because it can get in the way of the product’s use.

Example please?

The best example is a CD of songs or software that comes in a case and has “shrink wrap” around it. The shrink wrap protects the product until purchase. Once we buy it, we take the shrink wrap off because it’s no longer needed.

What do you mean by ego?

“Ego,” as used here, is our notion of self, as contrasted with others. It includes the idea of personality, that is, the type of person we think we are when we consciously consider it.

Explain what you mean by the ego being like shrink wrap?

It turns out that the ego provides little protection in our modern lives. Worse, people can see right through it, like shrink wrap. Often, they think it hinders other people. For instance, we have all heard before: “He’s got a big ego!”, said in a not so happy tone. Or, “She is so egotistical it is hard to talk with her about anything that does not involve her.”

So what can we do with this “human shrink wrap,” this thing we call the ego?

We all have the right to remove our egos (or at least calm them down). Mostly our egos have served their purpose; if we are not careful, they can get in the way of our best performances.

I thought I needed to have my ego to do my best work?

You are not alone in your thinking. Commonly, people think the ego is necessary to perform well. That is simply not what the research suggests.

Oh really, what does the research on best work, or best performances, say?

The research suggests that our best performances, or peak performances, happen without self-awareness. In other words, they happen without the ego being present at all.

So why do we think we need our ego to get through challenging performances?

Beats me. All I know is what the research shows: if you have your ego present as you perform there is a high chance you will not peak perform.

My ego gets in the way of my peak performance?

You got that right.

So it’s like shrink wrap?

Exactly.

And I can remove it and be better off?

That’s right.

Are we done?

Yes, that’s the point of this post. Getting over your ego is the first step in getting outstanding, over the top performances from here on out.

Good luck!

Categories: People, Thoughts Tags:

Why are good and bad moods so contagious? Mirror neurons.

September 14th, 2010 Kevin No comments

Ever notice that good moods and bad moods seem to be contagious? Well: they are. It turns out that we have cells in our brain that encourage us to mimic the experience of others.

Huh?

The cells in question are called mirror neurons. We humans stumbled onto their existence by accident. It happened when a few scientists noticed that one monkey in the lab “mirrored” the experience of another monkey merely by watching the first do something. The cells that helped them do that we called mirror neurons.

So?

So, when someone presents with seriously strong non-verbal language, like big smiles, excited breath, and flailing arms, or instead, with furrowed brow, slumped shoulders and twitchy fingers, there is a strong chance you will “mirror” the message you pick up on.

So what?

So, if you do not want to mirror the mood of the other take conscious control of your non-verbal message system. If you don’t, your mirror neurons are liable to take over. Interestingly, if someone is in a real bad mood and you send out good vibes and positive non-verbal cues, there is a chance you can turn on their own mirror neurons and change their mood. Go figure!

Mirror neurons, who knew?

The gist of this post is that you are hard wired to pick up on non-verbal cues, whichever state they might be in. So mind yourself next time someone presents in a way that is not the direction you wanted to head. It will take some conscious redirecting to avoid the natural tendency to mirror their mood and actions.

Categories: Brain power Tags:

Word crunching

September 13th, 2010 Kevin No comments

Number crunching has been possible for a long time. It predates the invention of zero (at one time folks struggled with how something can also be nothing; go figure). Word crunching is relatively new so we are still working out the kinks. SEO, for example, shows the practical application of word crunching on line.

What’s this post about?

This post is about “word crunching.” Its purpose is to raise awareness of the concept.

You got me. What is word crunching?

It’s just like number crunching, with words instead of numbers.

Wow that helps. Please, say some more?

Word crunching is what happens when you take a pile of words, like the ones you are reading right now, and use computer programs to generate more information based on those same words, like how many times the word “post” is used. It is also what happens when a program creates a visual graph (called a “tag cloud”) that shows words in different ways, like size differences, to show which words are more or less used in a certain circumstance.

Who cares?

We all should. Until recently we had to rely on our own heads to word crunch, or the heads of friends and colleagues who helped generate word crunching opportunities for us. From now on, we can look forward to having computers help us word crunch instead.

What problem does “word crunching” solve?

That depends on your information needs. Generally, word crunching helps us understand things better, helps lead us to the right decisions, and can help us spot the important stuff from the not so important stuff. It can also make trends more clear, and predict things that will happen into the future. There are more things word crunching can do too, that’s a starter list.

Do you have a real world example?

Yes. Google a few years back relied on search requests of people living in a variety of American cities to predict where flu outbreaks were happening at that time. Words like “flu” and “chills” became important to Google’s word crunching effort. Other words like “car” and “juniper” were avoided. Google then shared the word crunching results with the CDC, and the information helped the CDC understand the rates of flu outbreaks at the time around the country. Valuable information for vaccines and other reasons, like which cities to go travel in.

OK. So what else about word crunching?

That’s about it. Just getting the idea out there. The “semantic web” speaks to word crunching, as does “AI,” or artificial intelligence. Even Ray Kurzweil’s “singularity” concept, coming to the nearest computer to you circa 2050, predicts the word crunching ways of our near future.

Are you saying words are better to crunch than numbers?

Yes, pretty much. Words are how we navigate most of what we do; they give us an awareness of how we express how we think and feel verbally to ourselves and others. Words are complex symbols that stand for lots of things. Crunching them helps us make sense of them, and therefore, the worlds we live in.

What can we look forward as word crunching increases?

As computers get better at word crunching, we can expect lots of unexpected benefits and perhaps a few down sides (science fiction writers and Hollywood movie thrillers have been ahead of the downsides of word crunching for some time now). Time will tell.

Any last thoughts?

Sure. Welcome to the word crunching era… ready or not, here it comes.

Categories: Technology Tags:

People don’t fib feelings

September 3rd, 2010 Kevin No comments

Situation: you call a meeting. You know review of something had to happen prior to the meeting. Did they do it? Did they review the book, financial statement, or report?

How can you truly know if folks did their work?

Often people ask, “Did you do the work?” This can conjure up a fib, a half truth that is not intended to deceive (much). Frequently, to avoid the truth, people will hedge their efforts and fib about what they did or did not do, or what they do or do not think.

Example?

Sure. The next book club meeting arrives and someone is asked if they did the reading. They say, “I read a bit of it.” Not very helpful, nor specific, and lets them escape careful scrutiny.

What do you suggest?

I suggest you ask this instead, “What is your feeling about the book?” This is a fundamental game changer. Go straight for their feelings, not their thoughts.

For what reasons?

One reason: people don’t fib feelings.

Next time you need to know whether something got done conjure up feelings first!

Categories: Thoughts Tags: