Using a webcam to learn to speak or teach better in 30 minutes

Prof Andrew Ng of Stanford University, and a co-founder of Coursera, has an interesting article on how you can Learn to Speak or Teach Better in 30 Minutes with the help of a video camera or a webcam.

He points out that athletes and musicians improve by picking challenging/difficult tasks and practicing those until they improve. Why don’t we do that with teaching / public speaking?

Deliberate practice is common in music and in sports, but is rarely used in the context of speaking or teaching. In fact, knowledge workers in most disciplines rarely engage in deliberate practice. This limits how rapidly we get better at our jobs; it also means that deliberate practice might help you progress faster than your peers.Key elements of deliberate practice include:

  • Rapid iteration.
  • Immediate feedback.
  • Focus on a small part of the task that can be done in a short time.

Here’s a 30 minute deliberate practice exercise for improving your presentations:

  • Select a ~60 second portion of a presentation that you made recently, or that you plan to make.
  • Record yourself making that 60 second presentation. Use a webcam, camcorder, or your cellphone video camera to capture video and audio.
  • Watch your presentation. If you haven’t seen yourself on video much, you’ll be appalled at how you look or sound. This is a good sign; it means that your speaking ability is about to improve dramatically.
  • Decide what you’d like to adjust about your presentation. Then go back to Step 2, try again, making any changes you think will improve your speaking.
  • Repeat the cycle of recording, watching, and adjusting 8 – 10 times.

Read the full article for more details, including a FAQ at the end.

Wiio’s Law: Communication usually fails, except by accident

Just found this interesting set of laws, called Wiio’s laws:

  1. Communication usually fails, except by accident.
    • If communication can fail, it will.
    • If communication cannot fail, it still most usually fails.
    • If communication seems to succeed in the intended way, there’s a misunderstanding.
    • If you are content with your message, communication certainly fails.
  2. If a message can be interpreted in several ways, it will be interpreted in a manner that maximizes the damage.
  3. There is always someone who knows better than you what you meant with your message.
  4. The more we communicate, the worse communication succeeds.
    • The more we communicate, the faster misunderstandings propagate.
  5. In mass communication, the important thing is not how things are but how they seem to be.
  6. The importance of a news item is inversely proportional to the square of the distance.
  7. The more important the situation is, the more probably you forget an essential thing that you remembered a moment ago.

And there are three corollaries by Korpela:

  1. If nobody barks at you, your message did not get through
  2. Search for information fails, except by accident
  3. Give the student a chance to realize he misunderstood it all

These are all taken from this blog post.

At this time, I don’t have any thing else to add to these laws. But I’m sure that in the years to come, I am going to quote Wiio’s laws #1 and #2, and Korpela’s corollary #1 repeatedly to people. (Just like I love to quote the Three Chinese Curses:

  • Third Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times
  • Second Chinese curse: May you come to the attention of important people
  • First (and most dangerous) Chinese curse: May you get what you wish for

And this concludes my first ever parenthetical remark which has a bullet list embedded in it (And also concludes this blog post))

Ambient Presence

Venkat at RibbonFarm talks about ambient presence a concept that was new to me:

Let’s say you and your spouse work in different cities. You both sign up for a VoIP service like Skype, but instead of dutifully talking every evening, you just turn up the speakers on your respective computers, and leave the Skype connection on. You occasionally say something to each other; you can hear each other’s TVs and kitchen noises. That’s ambient presence. Communication technology becoming so cheap that you can afford to leave it on to create a passive background connection. It is a pretty darn cool concept, so let’s take a serious look at it.

See full article.

This seems to me like a rather powerful idea. Some people are already using this in the IM/chat context. Keeping an IM window open and randomly throwing out a few lines every once in a while is something people have started doing more and more. But if we could extend this to other media (like phones) that could change how we communicate with certain people.