Amplifying My Message: A Kick-Assish Presentation in Brazil

After my presentation at a conference in Brazil, students posed with me for a group photo

After my presentation at a conference in Brazil, students posed with me for a group photo

My first test of the presentation skills I’ve been exploring came after an invitation by EMBRAPA (the Brazilian equivalent of the US Department of Agriculture) to present work on the farming practices of small-scale Amazonian farmers. The invitation came because EMBRAPA’s annual conference was being held in the state I have been working in for the last 15+ years.

To move my presentation lessons into practice, I prepared earlier than I had for similar talks in the past, practiced the talk (although the last run-through was on the shuttle over to the conference site), and aimed to be of service to my audience.

My assigned presentation time was 8:00 a.m. on the second morning — a full day after I arrived. This allowed me to scope out the auditorium, get to know the audience, and understand their expectations. The stage was intimidating: an open auditorium that easily seated 750 people. And, to my surprise, upon my arrival I learned that the conference was to be held in Portuguese! (After receiving the program in English, I assumed this would be the conference language). Translators were on site providing real-time translation, but I noticed this was not as effective as speaking in Portuguese: the audience was less attentive. Noting this, I decided to add a few phrases and slides in Portuguese (I speak the language, but not well enough to change the presentation overnight), pose a question for my audience, and, using the concepts of design and storytelling outlined by Nancy Duarte, rely on slides that were visually appealing and image-driven.

Lucky for me the continental breakfast lasted a bit longer than 8:00 am.  Once the program got started, I had a pretty full auditorium.  When I got on stage I was noticeably not nervous… this was not the norm. As the stakes rose in my career and my audiences grew, I went back to having visible nerves, a cracking voice, and butterflies that could just swallow you up. But this time was different. For one, I had practiced the talk numerous times. On other occasions, time constraints had often left me making final edits only minutes before I spoke.

The curve ball this time was language. I found it so funny to be in a room where only 10 percent of the people could understand what I was saying. I couldn’t stop smiling. I decided to pose a question to capture their attention. I had framed my presentation to have 3 objectives that I spoke in Portuguese (I presented the remainder of my talk in English). One of these was to determine if my work was of interest to the audience. I wanted to know this because my team and I were planning to come back in a year and hoped to involve local students in our work.

So, was the presentation a success? The audience was attentive. I noticed that all the faces as far back as I could see were clearly focused on me and my slides as I told a story to motivate my research, I got a few laughs (when they were supposed to happen), and the feedback afterwards was positive.  But participant feedback is not always useful in determining success. As Berkun points out, saying “great job” to a presenter in most cases means little more than “I saw your talk.”  (Ten points for Leopold training: receiving constructive feedback that you can later incorporate into improvement is hard to come by).

That said, I did feel like a rock star with a line of students waiting to meet me to exchange email addresses, a list of reporters pulling me away for interviewers in between these meetings, and requests for group photos with interested students (see above). Some of this was cultural – all the presenters were asked for interviews after their talks. I was the most sought-out English speaking presenter simply because I was the only one to speak Portuguese.

What did I learn? Not using a pointer is harder than I realized. Absolutely everyone who writes on public speaking states that you should never use laser pointers. However, even though my slides were not text-heavy (and many only included images), it was impossible not to use the pointer and keep my audience on target (they were typically a half or full sentence behind me, listening to the real-time translation). An easy fix for this would be a greater usage of animation. Having individual words and ideas appear as you are talking improves flow and eliminates the need for pointers… but then timing like that requires A LOT of practice.

What have you done when you’ve gotten a curve ball in preparing for a presentation? Share your story below!

Jill Caviglia-Harris, a 2013 Leopold Leadership Fellow, is a professor of economics at Salisbury University. Follow her on Twitter (@JCavigliaHarris) and read more about her work on deforestation and poverty.

5 Steps to a Kick-Ass Presentation

Mic_crowd2

Photo: iStock Photos

In my yearlong exploration of science communication, I focused on learning more about communication in the forms of: storytelling, presenting, and design. Here I focus on what I skills required to create an impactful presentation.

Great presentations are to the point, easy to follow, and contain purposeful elements that subvert the curse of knowledge. They are engaging… make you want to listen. As Nancy Duarte points out in the HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations, “People don’t fall asleep during conversations but they do during presentations.” This is because many presentations are not conversational. Skilled presenters attend to both style and substance and are able to intertwine these aspects to motivate, surprise, and inform the audience. There’s a lot more to presenting and communicating research findings than we are taught in graduate school.

Whether your audience is a group of academics, policy makers, or the general public, it is likely that they do not know your area of research as well as you do and will need context to better understand your message. Like the whistlers of tunes that others cannot guess in the Heath brothersMade to Stick, it’s hard to not to know what we know, but with thought, experience, and planning this cognitive bias can be overcome.

Also note that nerves are unlikely to have a negative impact on your talk. As Chris Anderson explains in “How to Give a Killer Presentation,” “nerves are not a disaster.” Similarly, Scott Berkun points out in Confessions of a Public Speaker that audiences are forgiving and want the speaker to do well. Take advantage of this, expect to be nervous if the stakes are high, but use this energy to motivate and focus your efforts already put forward to develop your kick-ass presentation:

1. Frame Your Ideas. Your talk should have a narrative structure: a beginning, middle, and an end.  The “and, but, therefore” format highlighted by Randy Olson in “Science Communication: Narratively Speaking” and by Erika McPhee-Shaw on this blog creates a shape that conveys tension and resolution.

2. Know Your Audience. How do you know if you really know your audience? Berkun offers advice on how to draw this conclusion: find out why your audience is at the event, what their needs are, and what they can expect to take from your talk. Knowing your audience is humbling. It means putting their interests first and presenting material they can use one day. Not knowing your audience can make your talk memorable for reasons that have nothing to do with your message.

3. Tell Stories. Stories inspire, help you to connect with your audience, and make your message memorable. As Annette Simmons writes in The Story Factor, “You can entice, inspire, cajole, stimulate, or fascinate but you cannot make anyone listen to anything. Embracing this fact up front lets us focus on what we can do.” We can create interest and curiosity and catch and hold someone’s attention with story. As the Heath brothers note, “Stories can almost single-handedly defeat the curse of knowledge.” For more on how to do this, read my previous posts on storytelling tipspractice, and prompts.

4. Organize, Shape, and Structure Your Content. According to Duarte, when creating your slides you want to think like a designer. Your slides should be clear of clutter, include ample amounts of white space, and contain only one idea per slide. Your slides should be of uniform style, creating a visual unity that makes your message feel cohesive. Individually, they should be of a form that people can “get” in 3 seconds. When structuring your content, make sure your audience knows your plan. In your outline avoid the categories of “introduction,” “results” and others you’d see in a refereed paper. Finally, build (simple) animation into your talk. Your audience will either listen to you speak or read your slides. Animation allows you to control your pace and keeps the audience on task.

5. Practice!!! In his book How to Deliver a TED Talk Jeremey Donovan points out that none of the hundreds of great TED speakers that he interviewed were “natural speakers.” They all practiced more than anyone else, and as Garr Reynolds emphasizes in The Naked Presenter, they were persistent.  You want to practice out loud, and, as uncomfortable as this might be, in front of a mirror or on videotape. Listen for filler words like “um,” “yes,” or others you repeat often to bridge sentences and ideas.  Donvan recommends the “burst-and-pause” method to rid your speech of these words.  Here the pauses replace filler words and give the audience time to absorb your meaning.

Finally, good presentations don’t provide commentary: don’t tell the audience why you’re doing something, why you haven’t prepared or what you should have done. This distracts from your message and more importantly takes away valuable seconds or minutes that you could have used in a more valuable way.

In my next post, I’ll talk about how these skills served me when I gave a talk in Brazil — and deal with a big, last-minute surprise.

How you do prepare for presentations? Leave a comment with your best tip!

Jill Caviglia-Harris, a 2013 Leopold Leadership Fellow, is a professor of economics at Salisbury University. Follow her on Twitter (@JCavigliaHarris) and read more about her work on deforestation and poverty.

Fostering Creative Climate Communications “Inside the Greenhouse”

A visit by Andy Revkin, who shared his perspectives on climate challenges and played music from his new album “A Very Fine Line,” inspired our students to create “climate karaoke” to communicate about climate change.

A visit by New York Times journalist Andy Revkin, who shared his perspectives on climate challenges and performed music from his new album “A Very Fine Line,” inspired our students to create “climate karaoke” to communicate about climate change.

Last June, we 2013 Leopold Leadership Fellows were asked to sketch out a “destination postcard” envisioning ways we’d work to advance a project during our practice year. I decided that I really wanted to move forward on a collective project that my two co-conspirators at the University of Colorado-Boulder – Rebecca Safran (Associate Professor in the Dept. of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology), and Beth Osnes (Assistant Professor in the Dept. of Theater and Dance) – and I have called “Inside the Greenhouse.”

Recently, journalist Alex Sobel Fitts wrote in Columbia Journalism Review that “‘just the facts’ haven’t been a good enough story…facts also have to be told compellingly. There are other ways of creating a narrative surrounding the facts of climate change that doesn’t distort, but is compelling.”

Welcome “Inside the Greenhouse.” Along with many collaborators and contributors, Beth, Rebecca, and I have constructed an experimental space where students can grab hold of the means of (creative) production to engage a range of audiences on climate-related topics. We work collectively to create constructive conditions where participants can analyze climate communication research, appraise effective methods for multimodal climate communication, and assemble artifacts through interactive theatre, film, fine art, performance, and television as well as new/social/digital media programming.

During the 2013-14 academic year, we held two sets of public and community events, hosting Constance Okollet and Ngozi Onuzo from “Climate Wise Women” in fall and Andy Revkin from New York Times Dot Earth and Pace University in spring. We also taught a two-course sequence: Rebecca taught “climate and film” focusing on personal narratives in the fall, and Beth and I co-taught a multi-modal creative climate communications course in the spring.

In our spring course, as our classroom erupted in applause after a set of impromptu “climate karaoke” performances, we gained further confirmation that we were tapping into powerful and productive energy for creative climate communication. There were forty juniors and seniors majoring in Environmental Studies, Geography, International Affairs and a few other disciplines. In 20 minutes from song assignment, each group composed climate-related lyrics for popular contemporary songs and classic hits and then performed them in front of the class.

As had been transpiring throughout the semester, habitually quiet and shy personalities mixed with the more outgoing ones, science-focused students mixed with those in the humanities, and groups happily harmonized and enthusiastically sang climate-themed karaoke ranging from versions of Katy Perry’s “California Girls” to the Isley Brothers’s classic “Shout.” Everyone stepped up and committed to the creative climate communications process.

Students engaged enthusiastically with each other to create "climate karaoke" in 20 minutes during class one day.

Students engaged in improv acting, role play and other activities throughout the semester to inspire creative climate communications and storytelling.

The karaoke session was one of many gratifying experiences that we’ve had in teaching these courses. In addition to reading and discussing social science and humanities literature on climate communications (“left brain” action), students got moving through improvisational acting, role play and other activities (“right brain” action). In small groups, they contributed to multimodal climate communications, such as:

Public art:

The "climate change board" on Pearl Street in Boulder

The “Climate Change Board” on Pearl Street in Boulder

James Petrie, Patty Bruder, MacKenzie Pope, Mike Elges and Conor Meyer created the “Climate Change Board,” placed it at two locations on campus and in downtown Boulder, and created a video with their reflections about the conversations it generated.

Performances: Gracie Nichols, Dylan Podel, Eddie Marovich and Alexis Levin created a radio program called “Dear Grandpa” (modeled after “This American Life”) where they read hypothetical letters written to their grandparents about climate change, focusing on intergenerational dimensions of the issue.

Board games:

Planet to Planet

Planet to Planet

 

Summer Hazlewood, Maxwell Fleming and Taylor Gifford created a climate-themed board game “Planet to Planet” (modeled after the popular game “Apples to Apples”) and built a website to support it.

Breakthrough

Breakthrough

Braeden Miguel, Chris Greenwood, Kyle Hockstad, Daniel Higgins, and Cameron Nelson created a board game called “Breakthrough” to provide an engaging new avenue for environmental thinking.

And videos:

eat_more_pine_still

“Eat More Pine” performers

Dylan Podel, Eddie Marovich, Gracie Nichols, Alexis Levin, & David Ushakow produced a heavy metal music video called “Eat More Pine,” performed by singing and tree-destroying pine beetles.

You’ll find nearly three dozen examples of our students’ work from the past few years here,  including additional examples from our spring 2014 course.

Reflections:  Through ITG, we’ve sought to capture, value, interrogate and creatively communicate complex, multi-scale 21st century climate challenges. We’ve seen journeys in the classroom spill out into the “real world,” and the notion of “meeting requirements for the class” give way to students making the most of the classroom opportunities. We hope this work inspires and fosters sustained, productive, interdisciplinary creative climate communication collaborations and engages students and the public alike to make climate change meaningful. Our project illustrates ways in which many people are confronting the challenges of meeting others “where they are” while encouraging them to consider climate issues in new ways.

In getting to know 2013 Leopold Leadership Fellows, as well as others in the Leopold network and beyond, I’ve learned about many fantastic projects underway around the country and the world. Do you have a project on creative climate communications that you’re involved in, or that you know about that you’d like to share? Please share a story about your work in these areas, and/or a link to a project you have found inspiring and useful.

Max Boykoff, a 2013 Leopold Leadership Fellow, is an associate professor in the Center for Science and Technology Policy, which is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado-Boulder. For more about “Inside the Greenhouse” check here and follow @ITG_Boulder on Twitter. See Andy Revkin perform “Liberated Carbon” (from his new album “A Very Fine Line”) with the Shadow Puppet Theater during his visit to the University of Colorado-Boulder this spring.

9 Prompts for the Storytelling Challenged

"Story prompts" are a great way to generate story ideas

“Story prompts” are a great way to generate story ideas

In my yearlong exploration of science communication, I came across some great advice for ways to generate stories when you’re stuck. One of the best tips was to use a “storytelling prompt.” I found this useful as I prepared for a keynote to honors students at a local high school. Below are tips from three of my favorite experts that might help you to identify a long-forgotten story that might help connect you with your audience.

From Nancy Duarte:

Prompt #1: Think about items you own. Think about why these items are valuable to you and identify what underlies their meaning.

Duarte found one example in a teacup. “This seemingly valueless trinket would be worthless at a yard sale, yet it was precious. Not because of the craftsmanship or design but because of how and when it was used. I could visit Gram for hours, sipping from that cup as she told stories…..”

Prompt #2: Reflect on a timeline of your life. You can go year by year or cluster the years into phases like early childhood, middle/high school, college, career, parenting….

Prompt #3: Break the chronological pattern. According to Duarte, this “can help recall a deeper—and possibly dormant—set of stories.” As you explore, draw sketches of what you see to better classify and recall stories from the right side (or imaginative part of) the brain. Instead of thinking about a series of events, think about:

People: Create a list of people you’ve known. Think about things you did together and places you’ve been.

Places: Think about spaces where you’ve spent time such as homes, schools, offices, neighborhoods, sporting facilities, vacation spots, etc. Use your memories to sketch these locations out and move from point to point, drawing as many details as you can remember. You’re likely to “see” things you’d forgotten as you trigger scenes and even long-disregarded scents and sounds.

I once needed a story for a talk on presentation skills. I wanted to draw from a personal experience that led me to the point I was in my career. Instead of creating a timeline of my youth, I outlined my experiences in school. While other memories evade me, I have a vivid recollection of my childhood teachers, classrooms and the subject matter taught.  I identified a pattern of positive encouragement that began with the recital of a poem in third grade… which over time led me to be overconfident. In the tenth grade this “natural” gave a disastrous presentation on the Ottoman Empire (I got up in front of the class, froze, and said absolutely nothing). I drew from this experience to explain how “natural” ability can be taught with practice but thwarted by overconfidence.

From Annette Simmons:

Go on a daily scavenger hunt for stories. You can find stories anywhere…..

Prompt #4: Look for Lessons. Remember a setback or failure in your life and articulate the lesson you learned; recall the biggest mistake you ever made; a time you were glad you listened to your parents (or didn’t); look back and consider the things you might have done differently.

Prompt #5: Look for Vulnerability. Tell about the last time you cried; the last time you were so happy you wanted to dance a little jig of joy; an embarrassing moment; a time when you wanted to crawl under the table and hide; or touching family stories.

Prompt #6: Look for Story Recollections. Find a story that stuck with you and mine it for meaning, structure, and content. Recall your favorite movie or book and identify why it is your favorite.

From Jeremey Donovan:

Prompt 7: One Lesson. If you could go back in time and give yourself one lesson, what would it be? What lesson would you give to your professional self?

Prompt 8: Defining Moment. What was a defining moment that most dramatically changed the course of your life?

Prompt 9: Overcoming Weakness. What early weakness led you to find your passion?

Try these out with friends and family members. You’ll be surprised at how much they can add to your stories and how many dormant memories they can recall… Or try them in a workshop with your students, labs, or faculty. Leave a comment about how they worked for you.

Jill Caviglia-Harris, a 2013 Leopold Leadership Fellow, is a professor of economics at Salisbury University. Follow her on Twitter (@JCavigliaHarris) and read more about her work on deforestation and poverty.

Academics are from Mars, NGOs are from Venus – Looking at Conservation from Two Sides of the Solar System

In his new role directing the Luc Hoffman Institute, Josh Tewksbury works with a wide range of policy makers, including the European Parliament.

In his new role directing the Luc Hoffmann Institute, Josh Tewksbury works with a wide range of policy makers, including the European Parliament.

I was an academic. PhD, Post-doc, 10 years as a professor in a big research university, all in the general area of ecology, conservation biology, evolution. But now, and for the last couple of years, I am clearly not an academic (or at least not in the way that anyone in an academic job would recognize). Two years ago, I started a new job as the Director of the Luc Hoffmann Institute, and I have been building this institute as a boundary organization within WWF International, the secretariat office of WWF.

I used to teach conservation biology; now I am trying to create better conservation outcomes by bringing research more closely into the process. The learning curve has been steep. Most days it is a little bit like drinking from a firehose, but I think I have now been in my current role long enough to appreciate some of the differences in the culture and practice within academic organizations and within large conservation organizations. At the same time, I have not been out of academia long enough to forget what it was like to be an academic.

While the memories of being an academic are both bitter and sweet, I think I would like to remain in this place, perched between the two cultures, because I am more and more convinced that a big part of the difficulties we have connecting science to conservation action and policy comes from the mystery of how the other half works. For more on why we need to strengthen the links between these cultures, see my argument, with Gernot Wagner, here). Here are a few observations on the cultural differences, and the challenges these present:

1. Language and goals. In academia, everyone speaks the same language (science), but nobody shares the same goal (unless you count the “pursuit of knowledge” as a common goal). In an NGO, nobody speaks the same language (as people come from a huge array of backgrounds — business, policy, journalism, advocacy, policy, science, management etc.), but everybody shares the same goal. And that goal is explicit and measurable (and generally quite difficult to attain).

2. What can you do for me today? Because the goals are shared in an NGO, what matters is what your team can do to get the organization closer to the goals. Your resume, your schooling, and your past successes are not nearly as important as your ability to solve problems. This leads to a bit of advice for newly minted PhDs wanting to work at an NGO: show that you can solve problems, that you can work an issue from knowledge creation all the way to an outcome, and that you can do this with a diverse set of stakeholders.

3. Sitting at the side table. The goals are always big and action-oriented in the NGO world (“sustainable production,” “zero poaching,” “30% reduction of the human footprint,” “preservation of the rainforest,” etc. etc.). Science shows up as just another wrench in the toolkit. There are many conservation and sustainable development problems where the science, however elegant, just does not get you much closer to the solution. I call this “science at the side table.” There are also problems where science is critically important, but even in these cases, the science is almost never sufficient to get us the outcome we are looking for. This is “science at the main table,” but not at the head of the table. Finally, there are a very few issues and situations where a science process is at the center of decision-making, and these are the times when I sit at the front of the table. Effectiveness is knowing the difference between these situations, and being comfortable in your seat.

4. Fast or not at all. Policy windows are narrow, and they remain open for only a short period of time. Big NGOs are perpetually in a rush to deliver solutions. About the only times these organizations are not focused on delivering on a “Theory of Change” are the times they are re-evaluating their Theory of Change. This urgency means that science that does not arrive when it is needed simply does not count.

5. Who do you know? No matter where you work, who you know matters, but it matters more in some work cultures than others. And in the NGO community, it matters a lot. In academia, who you know can influence grant and paper reviews, and it can even influence where you get hired out of graduate school, but a great resume can break through that noise. In addition, because peer reviewed papers are a major part of the academic currency system, finding out who controls what information is relatively easy.

In the NGO community, where knowledge is a tool rather than an end in itself, knowing where the knowledge sits is more difficult, and it is generally more important. Almost anything you do in a big NGO will be a networked effort. It will almost always involve working with people spread among different locations, often in different disciplines, and typically across organizations. Keeping everybody up to speed, and staying up to speed on developments that affect a project, becomes a big part of the job.

Tip to job seekers: Your network matters. A lot. If you want to bring an idea to a big NGO, and you have not done this before, here are a few tips:

First, get to know folks within the NGO community. Building your network before you get started is critical, and you will be much more successful if you have a well-respected champion inside the NGO.

Second, interview people so you understand how they approach the issue you are working on, who they see as the most important “actors” in the system, and what their goals look like. Most folks in an NGO measure their success against clearly defined goals, and if your issue is not squarely within one of those goals, you will have a hard time getting their interest.

Finally, ask and answer, for yourself, the following questions about your idea: how does it fit into the larger political landscape? How can it be scaled to create bigger impact? Who is the audience? What are the milestones and products and when can they be ready?

If you want to work in an NGO, here are a few additional tips. Having a boss can be a good thing (really, it is quite cool), but like all relationships, it takes some work. Working with and learning to respect people with divergent views is crucial. Working from knowledge to impact requires a lot more communication than creating research, it requires respect and trust between people with very different skill sets, and the work of the team is much more important than the brilliance of the individual. Go-it-alone individuals often find themselves isolated in the NGO community, and their effectiveness is compromised.

Big NGOs have the network, the convening power, the brand, and the access to private and public sector stakeholders to incubate an idea and bring it to scale. In many cases, working with an environmental NGO is the best way to plug into the knowledge to action continuum, but if you go in knowing a few things about how the ecosystem works, you can have a lot more impact.

Josh Tewksbury, a 2013 Leopold Leadership Fellow, directs the Luc Hoffmann Institute. Follow him (@tewksjj) and the work of the institute (@LucHoffmannInst) on Twitter.