Monday, December 24, 2012

Wi yew kant spel gud

I have a spelling checker,
It came with my PC.
It plane lee marks four my revue
Miss steaks aye can knot sea.

We iz tryin hart.
Why, for centuries, have people struggled to spell? Because English spelling is horribly hard, Michael Skapinker writes in The Financial Times.
It is not just that we have “for” and “four”, “stake”, “steak” and “mistake”. We also have “peak”, “peek” and “pique”. “Horrid” has a double consonant in the middle, “timid” a single one. “Prefer” has one “f”, “proffer” two.
Misspelling is not a modern malady, Skapinker writes.
In Spell it Out, David Crystal reproduces a 1910 cartoon from Punch magazine in which a boss berates his secretary for typing “income” as “incum”. “Good Heavens!” exclaims the secretary. “How did I come to leave out the ‘b’?” And in 1750 Lord Chesterfield, the statesman, advising his son to brush up on his spelling, warned: “I know a man of quality, who never recovered the ridicule of having spelled ‘wholesome’ without the ‘w’.”
Why is English spelling such a tangle?
It all started when Latin-speaking missionaries arrived in Britain in the 6th century without enough letters in their alphabet. They had 23. (They didn’t have “j”, “u” or “w”.) Yet the Germanic Anglo-Saxon languages had at least 37 phonemes, or distinctive sounds. The Romans didn’t have a letter, for example, for the Anglo-Saxon sound we spell “th”. The problem continues. Most English-speakers today have, depending on their accents, 40 phonemes, which we have to render using 26 letters. So, we use stratagems such as doubling vowels to elongate them, as in “feet” and “fool”. 
With the Norman invasion in 1066, spelling became more complicated still; French and Latin words rushed into the language. As the centuries went by, scribes found ways of reflecting the sounds people used with the letters that they had. They lengthened vowels by adding a final “e”, so that we could tell “hope” from “hop”.
Read more of this sad, sad history here.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

How not to bore people to death

How many speeches do you remember? Why do you remember them?

You pretty much know the ones you won't remember, even as they're happening, and that's most of them.

Nancy Duarte, who advises executives in making presentations and has written about the subject extensively, explains why some presentations might as well never be given:

1. Failing to engage emotionally. You risk losing your audience when you just "state the facts," even in a business setting. No presentation should be devoid of emotion, no matter how cerebral the topic or the audience. Speak to people's hearts as well as their minds. Look for ways to add emotional texture to your exhibits, data, proofs, logical arguments, and other analytical content. Try opening with a story your audience can relate to, for example, or including analogies that make your data more meaningful.
To unearth the emotional appeal of your ideas, ask yourself a series of "why" questions. If you're requesting funding to pay for cloud storage, for instance, start by asking, "Why do we need cloud storage?" Your answer may be something like "to facilitate data sharing with colleagues in remote locations." Then ask why you need to accomplish that — and you'll eventually get to the human beings who will be affected by your ideas. Suppose your answer is "to help remote colleagues coordinate disaster relief efforts and save lives." That's your emotional hook. Once you've found it, it's easier to choose words and images that elicit empathy and support.
2. Asking too much of your slides. PowerPoint can be a great tool. But know what you're trying to accomplish with it. Do only that, nothing more. Problems crop up when you place too many elements in a slide deck. If you cram in all the points you're going to cover so you won't forget anything, you'll end up projecting entire documents when you speak.
No one wants to attend a plodding read-along. It's boring, and people can read more efficiently on their own, anyway. So don't try to spell everything out bullet by exhausting bullet. Keep your teleprompter text hidden from the audience's view, in the "notes" field, and project only visuals that reinforce your ideas. And if you need to circulate documents afterward? Create handouts from all that text you've pulled off your slides and moved into "notes."
I would add that nearly everyone in the audience will be reading your clever slide and not listening to you. Some will be ahead of you, some behind. They certainly won't be looking at you, so you're free to pick your nose.

3. Trotting out tired visuals. Nothing gets eyes a-glazing like a visual cliché. Want your presentation to stand out (in a good way) from the others your audience has seen? Brainstorm lots of visual concepts — and throw away the first ones that came to mind. They're the ones that occur to everyone else, too. That's why you've seen them a million times in other people's presentations. Generate several ideas for each concept you want to illustrate, and you'll work your way toward originality.

More here.

When I worked at IBM I was once in the audience when speaker after speaker got up. Many of them used IBM's version of Power Point, and the graphics in their slides were identical -- so much so that people began to laugh.

How effective were the speakers? I don't remember what that day was about. I don't remember any of the presentations, except the repeating graphics. All I remember was the music they played during the breaks. It was similar to Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, which is what the DJ told me to buy. I've been a fan ever since. So it was a successful day for me.

I've given a lot of presentations in my time. Mostly they were stand up comedy that gradually morphed into a serious message. If I'm ever called on again, I'm going to invite Big Bad Voodoo Daddy along. I'll be remembered forever.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Six principles of persuasion

Is there a science to persuasion? Dr. Robert Cialdini, a professor emeritus of psychology and marketing at Arizona State University, believes so. His research is revealing.

Here are six principles based on his research:
Reciprocity - People tend to return a favor, thus the pervasiveness of free samples in marketing. The good cop/bad cop strategy is also based on this principle. 
Commitment and Consistency - If people commit, orally or in writing, to an idea or goal, they are more likely to honor that commitment because of establishing that idea or goal as being congruent with their self image. Even if the original incentive or motivation is removed after they have already agreed, they will continue to honor the agreement. 
Social Proof - People will do things that they see other people are doing. For example, in one experiment, one or more confederates would look up into the sky; bystanders would then look up into the sky to see what they were seeing.  
Authority - People will tend to obey authority figures, even if they are asked to perform objectionable acts.  
Liking - People are easily persuaded by other people they like. Cialdini cites the marketing of Tupperware in what might now be called viral marketing. People were more likely to buy if they liked the person selling it to them.  
Scarcity - Perceived scarcity will generate demand. For example, saying offers are available for a "limited time only" encourages sales.
These principles are explained in a video.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Oversimplify your message

"The best way to really enter minds that hate complexity and confusion is to oversimplify your message. The lesson here is not to try to tell your entire story. Just focus on one powerful differentiating idea and drive it into the mind. That sudden hunch, that creative leap of the mind that "sees" in a flash how to solve a problem in a simple way, is something quite different from general intelligence. If there's any trick to finding that simple set of words, it's one of being ruthless about how you edit the story you want to tell. Anything that others could claim just as well as you can, eliminate. Anything that requires a complex analysis to prove, forget. Anything that doesn't fit with your customers' perceptions, avoid." 

Friday, December 7, 2012

How to get anyone to do anything you want

Bruce Kasanoff, author and consultant, and a long-time friend and colleague of mine, has some rules for getting people to do what you want.

He learned these from Dr. Charles Dwyer, his professor at the Wharton School. Here they are:
1) Make sure the other person has the ability to do what you want.
Skip this step, and you will waste a lot of time. The only true obstacle to persuading someone to do something is if they lack the ability to do it. You can’t persuade an out of shape person to run a five-minute mile. If they lack the ability or self-confidence to do what you want, forget it. 
2) Offer a reward.
“If you can finish that project by Tuesday night,” you might tell your intern, “I’ll let you sit in on my meeting with the CEO.” Or, if she doesn’t want to be in high pressure meetings, you might say, “I’ll give you my tickets to the game.” 
3) Guarantee the reward. The greatest prize in the world isn’t worth much if there is little chance you will win it. To persuade someone, you not only have to offer a carrot, but also prove they will get the carrot if they do what you ask. So if you are trying to close a sale, you might say, “If our software doesn’t reduce your costs by at least 10%, we’ll refund your money.”
4) Reduce their costs.
People have a much greater ability to change their reality than most realize… if they are willing to pay the cost. Such costs can include longer hours, harder work or more inconvenience. By reducing the perception – or better yet, the reality – of these costs, you make it easier for others to do what you want. You could tell your high school son, “If you agree to go to practice five days a week, I’ll let you drive to school instead of taking the bus.” 
5) Reduce their risks.
Most people hate to fail. They hate to be embarrassed, or to lose ground. Even if all four conditions listed above are satisfied, people can still resist your request because they perceive it to be too risky – personally – for them. To secure their cooperation, you must reduce their perceived risk. Dr. Dwyer suggests that the best way to get your boss to let you do something is to communicate that if it works they will get all the credit, but if it doesn't, you will take all the blame. That's what will happen anyway, he says, but if you use this tactic at least you will get to do what you want. 
Finally, Dr. Dwyer says that the most effective way to get someone to do something is toask for their help. It works far better than telling someone what to do.
I encourage to watch Dr. Dwyer in this lecture. He's funny and full of insight.