Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Google only knows!

I didn’t grow up with television.  In fact, I was at varsity already before they became available.  The first four-function Remington calculators came out in 1974 –when I was in matric. At R74, that was a great deal of money at the time.  What I am trying to tell you is that I really am a bit of a digital dinosaur.
Because of my handicap, I used to ask my sons to assist me whenever it came to matters technical or scientific. They would help; but with mounting bad grace.  Until the day Gareth, my elder son, responded to yet another question of mine with: “Google only knows, mom!”

That was a defining moment for me – and the point of my speech:  I’d like to give you some ideas on how to do the research for your next speech.

Why do research?
  • It enhances your credibility. You sound more informed on the topic and your audience is more likely to trust you.
  • It provides useful information for you to share on your given topic.
  • It speaks to those people in your audience who are facts oriented; who need information to remain involved

Research begins with a topic.

Obviously, the objectives that have been outlined for your speech, will have guided you to explore in a certain direction. The usual rules of speaking on a subject that interests you, will apply, but you might want to fine-tune your knowledge on the subject or to explore in a different direction.  

Arthur Conan Doyle (as Sherlock Holmes) It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data.

A way to determine where you want to go with your topic is to brainstorm it.
If you want to tell your audience about reflexology, explore a range of sub-categories in this field, for example: its history; the principles on which it is based and how it compares with more “acceptable” forms of therapy like physiotherapy.

There are a number of options for you to explore:
  • You could interview a registered reflexologist 
  • Check your library for books or other resources on the subject
  • Obtain a wall chart indicating visually how the feet and hands are linked to specific parts or organs of the body
  • Do a YouTube search for videos on reflexology in action.  
  • Use a search engine like Google, each time defining your search to encompass a different aspect of your subject matter
Your librarian is a veritable mine of information. Many of them have research degrees and would welcome being able to assist you in finding what you need.
Some points about interviews
  •  You can’t just arrive at someone’s doorstep and expect them to be happy to grant you an interview. Make an appointment. Tell the person exactly what it is that you will be asking and why. Also, how long you expect the interview to take. 
  •  Come prepared for the interview. Don’t expect the person to ‘entertain’ you. 
  • Specific, open-ended questions mean you won’t waste anyone’s time.
  •  Interviews mean you find out information first hand – and you get to meet new people.

.     Most of us want to use the Internet as our only source because it is so easily accessible. It should rather be one of your sources. Also, please note the following: 
  • Do you know who has published the site?  Can the material be trusted?
  • The accuracy of an article can usually be determined by the cross-references that they provide.
  • If you want to refine your search because you can’t find the material you are looking for, make use of the advanced search function of your search engine
  • Watch out for sites like Wikipedia.  Don’t avoid them.  They make excellent initial research tools. However, once you are looking for more specialised information, refine your search.
  • Make note of the sources where you obtained your information and remember to acknowledge any quotes, statistics or other information that you include directly in your speech.
Statistics – Most people feel the need to use statistics to lend credence to their speech. This may well be so, but do make sure that you have checked out the reliability of your source.
Don't be a novelist --- be a statistician. Much more scope for the imagination --- Darrell Huff (How to Lie with Statistics)

Once you have gathered all your information, you will find that you have far more than you need.  Now it is important that you sift and sort the information, until you have organised it into a logical order.

Begin with a catchy introduction.  Here you could use a quotation or statistics to grab the attention of your audience.
Then the body of your speech: three or four points only; each one well-substantiated by means of your research examples.
Finally, your conclusion.  Leave your audience with something to think about. Make them want more.

So, no matter how well you already speak, doing the spade work in terms of your research can only improve the content of your speech.  You might find yourself amazing the computer generation with your own research skills - and the fact that Google isn't the only one who knows!

Until next time

Ricky Woods

Saturday, January 18, 2014

In 2014, I resolve . . .

Happy New Year! Again?

 It’s nearly three weeks into a new year and I wonder how many of our resolutions are still intact? Or have you, like so many others, actually given up on making resolutions?

Over the years, I must say I have become quite cynical about the idea of 1 January being different from any other day of the year, with regard to its being able to re-make me. Still, I am too much of an idealist not to reflect on what has past or to think about what I would like to change in the future.

 I was at an ACT Club meeting this week when, in the middle of the Table Topics, I was suddenly inspired. The Topic master had given us a selection of pictures to stimulate our thoughts. They included objects of clothing – mine was a pair of red Hunter boots – as well as other hopefully thought-provoking items. The session had gone well, with everybody managing to speak, including the visitors. Then the final speaker held up a picture of a heart and a stethoscope.

 She spoke about keeping your heart healthy, but not only about the obvious aspects like water and air and exercise and healthy eating. What really impressed me was what she said about spiritual and emotional heart health. Keeping a positive attitude; giving back to your community; meditating, praying; being kind to others and to yourself, will all contribute towards the health of your heart.

 Not only did Aimee win the Best Table Topic award, but she gave me – and I am sure others too – a lot of food for thought. So, in 2014, I aim to practise heart health!

It’s been a while since my last blog and much has happened. End of year exams; going off to mark matric exam papers; the business of Christmas and the rest of the silly season, and now I am back at work and ready to pick up the reigns again.

 To that end, I thought I would spend some time offering tips for those of you who do presentations, either professionally or just as part of your work. I am basing this largely on a link sent to me by Toastmaster Joy Brittan. If you would like to read it, you can find it – and some other useful tips at http://www.inc.com/jeff-haden/10-things-speakers-should-never-say-th.html 

 As we all know, it is not an easy task to win over an audience, especially one that is unfamiliar to you. What follows then is some advice to ensure that you don’t make things worse.

 1. Never apologize.

 There is nothing worse than telling your audience that you are feeling sick, or you are tired from traveling, or you haven’t had enough time to prepare. If you want to be perceived as a professional, then “get up, and show up”. That’s what you and they are there for.

 2. Don’t fiddle with the electronics

Preparation is vital. This includes having a proper sound check before you start. Make sure that you are familiar with the equipment and on good terms with the sound crew. If there is a problem, don’t fuss or draw attention to it.

 3. That goes for the lights too

If you need to see the audience, ask the technicians to turn up the house lights. Better yet, warn them beforehand that you might be doing so. If this is not possible, just smile broadly and carry on speaking

 4. Make sure your slides are easy to read.

An interesting tip I learnt is that the font size should be twice the size of the average age of your audience. So, for 20 year-olds it should be 40. You can do the maths!

A second tip is: no more than 7 rows; no more than 7 words per row. Even that can be too much.

If you want the audience to read a quotation, tell them and then leave ten seconds for them to do so.

 5. You are in competition with the electronic media.

All you can do is ask for phones to be on silent. These days you will be competing with laptops, tablets, Facebook or online gaming. It is up to you to be so good that your audience will not be distracted.

 6. Repeat questions from the audience.

So often, questions from the audience are not heard by other members, so before you go ahead and answer them, repeat or paraphrase so that everyone understands. Otherwise it is just a waste of time.

 7. Be conscious of your time allocation.

This is extremely important. Stick to your allocated time, and don’t let on if you have run short without saying all you wanted to say. When you run out of time, condense it, wrap it up and end well. Then go home and plan better for the next time.

So, in 2014 what do you resolve to do?

Until next time

Ricky Woods