Thursday, October 27, 2016

Effective Presentation Skills Workshop

I attended a workshop on Effective Presentation Skills by Bob Dolan. The workshop was held by MIT Global Education & Career Development (GECD). Bob is the Assistant Director for Postdoctoral Scholars. When I arrived, I saw nice photos on the screen from Barcelona (later I realised it has been from the last trip of Bob and taken by himself). These photos were coupled with a jazz music that was played before the start of the workshop. Bob started the workshop by indicating that this technique can release the pressure and stress from a diverse audience who were participating. I had heard from Charles that it is a useful technique and some professor(s) apply it in their classes.

‌Bob was dressed formally, and it was one of the messages in the talk. Although, I confirmed with him that this does not apply in all situations (specially in the field of Computer Science).  Some of the useful techniques that I learned from this workshop are the followings:

  • A study shows 55% of the messages received by a typical audience are not conveyed verbally. People make a lot of judgements from how you dress, how you move when talking, how you use facial expressions, how the slides are arranged, how confident you 'look', where you come from, etc. In fact, people make around 15 judgements in the first few seconds they see a speaker!
  • Control your body movements. There are a lot of undesired moves which are not even captured by the speaker himself. I have seen this in my first videos that Dana captured: my hands were moving without any harmony and control. I can still see trends of this problem in my body movement. Bob mentioned some people have their heads leaning toward one side for a long time without realising it. Monitoring yourself can greatly help.
  • When you have slides, or when you are working on board, never turn your back to the audience for more than 10 seconds. This is interesting and very important for making a bridge to the audience.
  •  TTT rule: when writing on board or slides, first Touch the board/slides (at most 10 seconds), Turn back to audience and point to the slides (with left hand so that you do not block what you pointed to), and Talk. Do not talk when your back is to the audience.
  •  Make sure to have eye-contact to all people or at least all parts of the class/audience.
I asked about opening a lecture with a joke, and as I had seen in another workshop, Bob recommended to start the talk in a serious manner and, as people start knowing you better, apply your sense of humour. A joke is suitable for closing a talk!
The workshop was fun and useful. Bob is definitely a professional in this field.

Day 6 - Natural Energy

I watched my previous talk about cemeteries in Paris. It is here.
I was happy about my body movements compared to previous videos. However, I felt I was 'boring' and lacked energy. Dana advised me that it should come 'naturally' and cannot be faked.  Exercises Dana taught me in the first class (such as taking deep breaths) can be helpful in that regard.  I feel
that I have different personalities that show up depending on the situation and the mood that I have (e.g., speaking in English about Computer Architecture in a rainy day would be different than speaking in Persian about Algorithms in a sunny day). By practice, one can minimize the effects of situation in a positive way. For that, Dana suggested me to brows 'speeches' in movies, songs (specially hip-hop), comedy shows (Dana introduced George Carlin to me), and political speeches. The important thing is that the energy, the jokes, the body movements, all should come 'naturally'.

At the end, I went through the 'you start dying slowly' poem one last time. I was happier about my energy. I tried to be funny. As for the body movements, I think they were not bad, but they can be improved. Dana is happy with the way I have improved. He asked me to go through all videos and see the improvements in my speeches.

The video of my talk is here.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Day 5 - More passion

Before attending this session, Dana asked me to list a couple of things that I am really passionate about. I chose history and travelling as my top passions. Today's class was mainly deduced to observe how passion affects the quality of my speech.

I have almost memorised the poem 'you start dying slowly'. It is incorrectly attributed to Pablo Neruda while it is actually a rough translation of a poem by Brazilian Martha Medeiros. Regardless, I relate well with it. The plan is that I memorise it and present to a real audience in a few weeks. Today, I presented it for Dana; I could not recall all parts but I could feel progress as the first step.

I talked with Dana about aspects of history that fascinates me. He wanted me to talk about things that I love to observe my talk quality and I felt into his trap. Apparently, the passion that comes out has a positive affect. I also casually talked about my trips to Japan and India and travelling in general, which is the second passion I had listed. Dana recorded a video of me talking about Paris cemeteries. An interesting observation was that, when I talk about these fascinating experiences, I talk well, my body movements are solid, and adapt myself to situations (e.g., rising my voice when a helicopter passes), without even paying  attention to techniques I have learned for giving talks.

I should find ways to direct my passion into my research talks and lectures. A part of the issue is that Dana as an audience member gives a lot of positive energy when I talk in front of him. This is not necessarily the case for a typical undergraduate class or a lecture talk in Computer Science.

The video of my talk is here.  

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Improve Workshop

I attended the Kaufman Teaching Certificate Program (KTCP) offered by MIT Teaching & Learning Laboratory in Summer 2016. As an alumni of KTCP, I was invited to attend an Improve Workshop offered by the same centre. The link to this workshop can be found in this link.

A group of around 20 PhD students and postdocs attended the workshop. First, we formed a circle and started to count loudly from 5 to 1, then from 4 to 1, etc. We repeated this four times, and each time we moved one limb as we counted numbers. This was a preliminary 'exercise' to feel comfortable and   confident (similar to alphabet exercise Dana taught me in the first class).

We moved on with a game where the instructor, Jake Livengood, started with a random word (e.g., 'camel') and participants had to continue adding more words to that (until one uses the word 'period').
Apparently, this improvisation game can be helpful to handle real-world situations in classes or inter-personal communications. The workshop continued with a similar game where participants 'throw' words at each-other; you receive a word from a random person in the circle (e.g., 'banana'), improvise the first related word that comes to your mind (e.g., 'monkey'), and throw it to another random person in the circle. In another game we were asked to ask a random person to list 5 random things (e.g., five cities they want to visit) and they answer immediately. This last game was repeated twice with the second time we were asked to think and reflect on our body movements, reflecting our 'confidence'.

The last part of the workshop was about solutions for handling unexpected situations in a classroom. For example, when no student answers a question you ask in a lecture, you can grab students' attention by rephrasing the question, playing devils' advocate. When a student asks an offensive question, depending on the situation, you might rephrase it in a positive way (e.g., by saying 'I assume you mean... right?').

In summary, the workshop was fun. Other related workshops/talks were advertised that I might attend in the short future.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Day 4 - Passion

One of the hardest tongue twisters that I have found is the following: 

"The sixth shack's sixth sick sheik's sixth sheep 's sick" 

We tried it a bit with Dana; he believes it might be the hardest tongue twister in English. Tongue twisters are helpful for improving the intonation; hence I am putting some time on them.

Yesterday,  I was reading a poem which I used to love when I was younger and can still relate to. To fin it, you can google 'you start dying slowly'. Since I am very passionate about it, I thought it helps if I practice body movements with it. When I read this poem, I can move my hands better and even walk in more harmony. I talked about it with Dana, and he suggested that I memorise the poem and sometime read it in a micro night. Also, I red it again for Dana and could apply his techniques (pauses, hand moves, thinking when talking, etc.) and the outcome was good.

Today's class was partly about passion and its effect on speech. Conveying your passion when reading a technical script is much harder than a poem. To see that, besides the poem, I red a technical paragraph from a paper about 'semi-online' algorithms. Dana also red the same poem and paragraph. It was much easier for me to convey my passion in the poem compared to the paragraph (although the paragraph was about a research topic that I am very interested in). In contrast, Dana could show the passion for the paragraph (although he called it 'a very boring text'). As the first step to fix this, I am going to read some technical paragraphs and in doing so 'pretend' that I am reading a poem. As I said, I found it hard in the first attempt. Besides the passion, I had little issues like pausing between an adjective and its noun (as in 'robust algorithms), partly because I put too much stress on the word 'robust'.

For the body movements, Dana asked my to give two talks: one seating and one standing. Although the topic of the first talk (favourite food) was easier than the second one (traditions in Fall), the second talk went much better (both talks were improvised). Seating makes me feel restricted, I cannot approach audience or (pretend to) look at them. Apparently, this is a good sign that I am improving my body language -hence I need to stand and walk-. 

For the next week, I am going to find a dialogue from a novel that I just finished and talked with Dana (named 'The winner stands alone' by Paulo Coelho) and we will try to act it. Apparently, there is only a fine line between acting and giving a public speech. 

The video of my talks are here and here.