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.

How India defeated Polio

A blog on the New York Times has an interesting article on how India eradicated polio which makes for interesting reading.

The method in which India went about getting 95% coverage for the polio vaccine is impressive, and can serve as a blueprint for other campaigns and other countries.

Multiple agencies – governmental and non-governmental – worked together, with well defined distinct roles to make this happen:

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative began in 1988 as a huge partnership among Unicef, the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Rotary International. Each organization took on a different job and this continues today as the focus broadens from just polio to all routine immunizations. Unicef handles communications, makes posters and banners, and ensures that the “word” spreads about the campaign, even if it’s through old-school techniques like hauling loudspeakers on a rickshaw through the city center.

The W.H.O. is the data machine, responsible for tracking the virus, collecting stool samples of possible cases and studying the data for any gaps. Rotary International has a Delhi-based team, the National PolioPlus Office, with regional and city-level tentacles to execute polio vaccinations four times a year during National Immunization Days (more days for high-risk areas). Globally, Rotary has been the cheerleader of the campaign, raising funds and keeping the issue in the spotlight.

And it needed a lot of very low level, very localized effort to ensure that nobody got missed:

Health workers, usually women, stand at the booths for eight hours to ensure that every child in the neighborhood is vaccinated. The vaccinated children are marked on the nail of their pinky with black ink. The following day, the health workers search for missed children by going door-to-door, carrying the vaccine in an icebox.

Just having people going around running the vaccination booths is not good enough. The system does not work unless there is measurement that completes the feedback loop, identifies gaps, and fixes them.

The government had elaborate machinery to do this:

Dr. Vishwakarma’s job is tiring, illustrating the depth and breadth of the polio surveillance effort. Based in Agra, he travels daily across Western Uttar Pradesh; he monitors 12 districts of the state, which cover a distance of about 125 miles from Delhi to Agra. His days begin at 5 a.m. and he retires at 10 p.m., after endless cups of tea with local officials, shadowing health workers, combing through stacks of data and overseeing surveillance efforts at regional offices.

“I cannot miss any details,” he says. “That’s where the solution lies. That’s why I’m constantly on the move.”

Overall, missing a single person would result in the whole campaign being set back by years:

The philosophy for the polio campaign was, Dr. Bahl says, “Who have we missed? Why have we missed them? Why did they not take the vaccine? And we constantly looked at the data to help us.”

In a country the size of India, just getting the message across to everybody, without it getting twisted in the process, was a big job with unique challenges. Here is one example:

Communication — Unicef’s job — is the last key pillar of the polio campaign. It goes beyond just fliers, banners and announcements. Previously, when Muslim communities refused the vaccine — on the grounds that the vaccine was designed to make their children sterile — communication became critical. “At the local level, we had to work with the ulema [Muslim clerics], to correct this message,” said Dr. Bahl. By collaborating with local leaders, Unicef found a new venue to preach the message of good health: the mosque. And it was the health workers who took that message further, by carrying letters, written and signed by local Muslim clerics, urging families to have their children inoculated.

Where do we go from here? India is getting ready to use this success and go after the next big challenge – routine child immunizations.

India’s routine immunization rates — for measles, rubella hepatitis B, TB and the like — were last recorded in 2009 at 61 percent nationally. India accounts for a third of the world’s measles deaths. Public health is dismal, and India’s per-capita spending on health care is among the lowest in the world. Yet with polio, India achieved 95 percent coverage.
The success of India’s polio effort has turned it into a blueprint for large-scale health campaigns. Now India is using what it did with polio to boost rates of routine vaccinations.

Read the full article

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))