October 11, 2006
Last week, Ross Mayfield from SocialText came by the online persuasion class I’m taking this quarter (more on that class soon) and, as a parting comment, told us about SlideShare, a new web service that embeds slideshows in web sites a la YouTube. While slideshows are, as a rule, less exciting than 15-year-old emo kids with video responses to acquisition
rumors announcements, I still think there’s a lot of potential here.
First, we have the academic side – every quarter I see great presentations created for the classes that I tutor (often I’ve seen the PowerPoint deck evolve from “I don’t know what my topic really is…” to the finishing touches right before the students’ final presentations) and these presentations are often shown once or twice, then never again. While many students don’t have the time or inclination to turn these presentations into videos or flash files, getting them to upload these files to a server so they could ‘live on’ after the class (perhaps all the presentations from a class could be tagged with the class name and quarter) would make sure that they would be seen outside the relatively limited scope of their class.
Also, for very basic presentations, SlideShare is a nice alternative to a PowerPoint viewer, with the added bonus that it can be embedded in a web page – presenting can be as simple as opening a browser. Of course, for multimedia presentations the software is far from ideal, but if text and bullets are your thing, it might fit the bill.
Finally, I’m excited to see how SlideShare evolves in the coming months to incorporate audio into their software – this would be one step closer to allowing presentations to live on after conferences, or provide a recap to conference attendees who were interested in the topic but might have missed some slides. Similar software – such as Microsoft Producer – exists, but SlideShare has a far lower barrier of entry, cost, and easy redistribution.
Please let me know if you’re interested in checking out SlideShare – I have a couple of invites for the beta and would love to hear more about other uses that you might think of for it.
August 24, 2006
Part of what I like to write about is public speaking; when college is in session, I work as an Oral Comm tutor, and even when I’m not working in that capacity, my ‘oral comm ears’ are always on. Starting today, I’ll try and write a new public speaking post every Wednesday.
Can you hear me in the back?
The topic I’d like to start with is volume – Human 1.0 unfortunately comes unequipped with an automatic volume control, and judging the correct volume (whether using a microphone or not) can make or break a presentation. Today I’ll cover approaches to being heard without a microphone (I’ll hopefully enlist the help of some podcasters when writing the future article about working with microphones).
Microphones can be a great boost to your voice – they can help project it in huge auditoriums, or record it for posterity. Two catches, however: there are situations where the microphone is completely inappropriate (smaller rooms, informal presentations), and microphones cannot make your voice stronger - just louder. Thus, I think any speaker benefits from learning how to handle a microphone-less situation – so when the microphone comes on, it’s a boost rather than a crutch.
Presenting without a microphone, the burden of volume falls entirely on the speaker and the space. I’ve found the best way to approach the situation is to imagine your voice as actual sound waves coming from your body outwards (as many people can attest, I often use somewhat cheesy but, in my humble opinion, effective physical metaphors). Now, find the back of the room – and when you talk, make sure your voice projects not just to the wall, but all the way back too. This is a quick way of adjusting to different room sizes which scales pretty well for medium-sized speaking venues, and I find the visual element of imagining the bouncing waves is helpful.
Now, most speakers I’ve worked with speak too quietly rather than too loudly – only to be told by someone (someone critiquing their rehearsal, or even a rude audience member) to speak louder! which of course works for about two sentences, before they fall back into their not-loud-enough previous tone. When working with this, I’ve found it’s far easier to scale down than it is to scale up, and trying to work upwards will lead to endless frustration. Instead, find a space to make some noise, and go all out – without screaming or shouting, see how strong you can make the sound waves. Now, take it down a notch – and then another. Going from 110% to 100% isn’t so hard; it’s the 70 to 100% jump that really strains. Try arriving a bit early at your venue and seeing if you find the sweet spot by starting a little louder than you’d think, and toning it down until it feels right.
Since we usually don’t spend our time talking at such a loud volume, many times the exercise above runs into a blocking problem – the muscles we use to project are out of practice, and need a day at the gym. If you can, find a friend that sings, and watch how they use their diaphragm as an impulse to their voice. Even if the actual technique is not something that can be captured in a day, if you can internalize the section of the body that the sound is beginning from, you can try to replicate that in volume exercises.
Great, so we’re speaking at the right volume – but staying there ’till the end of the sentence is as important as getting there at the beginning. How many speakers have you heard Start Off Strong only to fade out by the end of the sentence? (apologies for overcute font sizing)
We’re usually dealing with a mountain of cognitive processes while speaking in public – am I standing in the right place? Am I making eye contact? What’s coming up next? How much time do I have left? We tend to trail off for two main reasons: we’re out of breath, and we’re thinking about what’s already coming next. Breathing and pace warrant their own article (to be written, soon) but they have an impact on volume, too. Make sure you’re getting the air you need to start off each sentence, and if you need to recharge halfway through, take that half a second to do so. And while it’s great to have the next phrase in mind as you wrap up the current one, don’t drop the current sentence just because the next one is waiting. You can combine both of these tips into one – if you take a breath right before the crucial sentence-closing turn of phrase, you’ll help drive your point, and do it at a clear volume.
Finally, there are speakers whose volume problems don’t come from projecting incorrectly or using their head voice – instead, it comes from shyness or fear of public speaking (we’ve all heard the “People are more afraid of public speaking than death” line) – I’ll make sure upcoming articles tackle this issue of shyness for the glossophobes out there.
In the meantime, thanks for reading, and please let me know if you find the tips helpful – or if you’ve found they don’t work at all! ‘Till next Wednesday – in the meantime, also make sure to check out the public speaking tips at lifehack.org for some more general tips.
August 23, 2006
Proceedings are out and it looks like the Stanford HCI lab’s going to have a nice showing at Ubicomp:
- Interactive Gigapixel Prints: Large, Paper-Based Interfaces for Visual Context and Collaboration by Ron B. Yeh, Joel Brandt, Jonas Boli and Scott Klemmer
- Wizard of Oz Sketch Animation for Experience Prototyping by Bjorn Hartmann, Scott Doorley, Sohyeong Kim, Parul Vora
- PALette: Connecting Kids Through Tangible Color-Mixing Nan Gao, Ben Ilegbodu, Nundu JanakiRam
- LightCast: A Tangible User Interface Creativity Support Tool for Visual Design June Zhang
- Reducing Clutter on Tabletop Groupware Systems with Tangible Drawers Björn Hartmann, Meredith Morris Ringel, Anthony Cassanego
- Diamond’s Edge: From Notebook to Table and Back Again Michael Bernstein, Avi Robinson-Mosher, Ron Yeh, Scott Klemmer
- FlutterbyNet: Distributed Logbook Collaboration Isabelle Kim, Lora Oehlberg, Ashley Rayner
Awesome work coming out of the CS294H class last quarter – that’s four posters from one class! Maybe we should have submitted our real-time calendar system. Congrats to all. Check out the work going on at the HCI lab for more.
August 23, 2006
First day with Flock has been terrific – I loaded it on my machine at work as well, so I’ve done all my browsing today on it. Impressions:
- The Flickr pane at the top is great – I was researching photos and it was a handy way of viewing them without leaving the page I was on. Perhaps in the future they could integrate some sort of related-words browsing a la FlickrStorm.
- Manage Your Favorites looks really cool – I wasn’t that impressed with the Places bar when I tried it out in the FFx 3.0 builds, and while this is missing the search and sort functionality that places offered, it’s a far more pleasant UI
- Building on FFx means compatibility is actually better than when I surf with Opera – it’s great to use Backpack, GCal, GMail with chat, etc and not have to worry about whether I should be “Masking as Mozilla”
- Search as you type results in the search bar are way more useful than I ever thought they’d be. Since most of the time I click on the first 4 links anyway, this cuts out the middle search page entirely.
- Blogging with the built-in tool couldn’t be easier, but the default font on its interface is hideous. I think this is a problem on my system.
That said, there are a lot of ‘little things’ I’ve grown accustomed to in Opera. Extensions have been filling some needs pretty well:
- Open page next to current, undo close tab – I installed superT (found on Flock extensions site) and it did the trick
- Mouse Gestures – Also found on Flock site. Not quite as smooth as the Opera ones, and I miss the popup menu when I use the mouse scroll + right click to get a list of tabs, but it’s good enough
What I miss, and haven’t found extensions for:
- The Fast Forward feature – being able to log-in by doing a leftclick-rightclick rocker gesture, or navigate quickly through a folder of images in the same way
- The image preview of tabs on hover of their names in the title
All in all, Flock looks like a serious contender for at least a permanent place on my hard drive, and might even end up as default.