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August 2013

TED Talk: A story of survival, resilience, and hope (redux)

Storytelling takes listeners on a journey of transformation. The journey is a progression that reveals a change and the unexpected. Story has logic and structure, but more than anything else story is the transfer of emotion. Story makes us feel something. It changes our state. The TED Talk below by Joseph Kim tells the evocative story of his life in North Korea. It's a moving story and a presentation well worth watching.

Painting images with your words
Storytelling is visual, but the visuals can be created with one's words. Projecting a powerful image for people to see—with their eyes and their hearts—does not necessarily require a projector. Joseph Kim's presentation is a good example of that. The beginning of his talk has necessary bits of exposition, but his narrative wastes no time in bringing us in and making us feel something:

"Hunger is humiliation. Hunger is hopelessness. For a hungry child, politics and freedom are not even thought of. On my ninth birthday, my parents couldn't give me any food to eat. But even as a child, I could feel the heaviness in their hearts."

In the beginning we hear of Joseph's father dying of starvation, where it is implied that though starving himself, the father gave up what little food he had to his children. Later in Joseph's narrative this deeply painful event is linked with the incident at the dinner table in America years later. An incident that would be an epiphany and an awakening for him, an awakening that leads to yet another new direction:

"But one day, I came home and my foster mother had made chicken wings for dinner. And during dinner, I wanted to have one more wing, but I realized there were not enough for everyone, so I decided against it. When I looked down at my plate, I saw the last chicken wing, that my foster father had given me his. I was so happy. I looked at him sitting next to me. He just looked back at me very warmly, but said no words. Suddenly I remembered my biological father. My foster father's small act of love reminded me of my father, who would love to share his food with me when he was hungry, even if he was starving. I felt so suffocated that I had so much food in America, yet my father died of starvation."

The message
Most people are unable to watch this talk without tearing up. It's hard. Loss and separation—especially from one's own mother or father— are the most painful elements of life, a type of pain to which most people can relate. This is Joseph's story, and it's one that in some ways is just beginning. In the end, he leaves us with a clear message: the smallest action of compassion can make an enormous difference.

"My foster father didn't intend to change my life. In the same way, you may also change someone's life with even the smallest act of love. A piece of bread can satisfy your hunger, and having the hope will bring you bread to keep you alive. ...your act of love and caring can also save another Joseph's life and change thousands of other Josephs who are still having hope to survive."

Joseph is an inspiration. We all pray that he will one day be reunited with his mother and sister.

Hyeonseo Lee's incredible TED Talk.

Interview with Tokyo-based interpreter & author Yayoi Oguma

Yayoi_Oguma_Bust_Below is a 40-minute conversation I had today with Tokyo based interpreter and communications specialist Yayoi Oguma. Yayoi is a best-selling author and she has a new book on the way, which we talk about in the interview. She is a sought-after language interpreter in Japan for various IT institutions, medical, and retail companies. She regularly interprets on Fuji Television and on the radio as well. Yayoi was chosen to present at TED's Worldwide Talent Search in Tokyo last year, and she presented on the TEDxTokyo stage as well. Yayoi is heading off to Australia next week to interpret for Tony Robbins's Date with Destiny, the second time working with Tony's event. Our discussion touched on English language learning in Japan, the field of interpretation, issues related to presenting in Japan, and so on. We also spoke about her work very briefly interpreting for Tony Robbins.


Yayoi Oguma's website
Yayoi's TEDxTokyo 2012 talk

Can (and should) scientists become great presenters?

It's not simply a question of whether or not scientists and other specialists can be effective communicators. For that answer is simple. Yes, of course they can. The real question is should they work on becoming effective communicators with other scientists and non-scientitsts alike. Does it matter? The answer to both of these questions is also an emphatic yes. The best presentation book ever written specifically for scientists is Jean-luc Doumont's Trees, maps, and theorems. It is a fantastic book with many good examples of what to do and what not to do. Jean-luc Doumont is an engineer from Belgium who holds a PhD in applied physics from Stanford University in the USA and he is the most rational voice out there today providing training and guidance for a whole generation of scientists, science educators, and students from around the world.

I recommned you take the time to watch this entire presentation by Dr. Doumont, which was delivered at Stanford University's Clark Center on April 12, 2012. In this talk he explains why scientists are often perceived as being poor communicators, and he discusses the challenges of communicating with lay audiences. In November, 2011 I was keynoting at the Creativity World Forum conference in Belgium, so Dr. Doumont gracioulsy volunteered to drive all the way over to Hasselt to spend some time chatting with me about everything presentation. We were like kindred spirits. It's one of the most enjoyable 90-minute conversations I've ever had. Absolutely inspiring. I remember that Dr. Doumont said then that scientists and PhD students attending international conferences reported to him that they actually did not understand much of the content being presented and they reported remembering even less of the actual content once they returned home. He says something similar in the Stanford talk as well. If you ever have a chance to hear Dr. Doumont speak or attend one of his seminars, don't hesitate to sign up.

At a glance
I realize that an hour is a long time to devote to watching a presentation online, so below I put a few of my favorite lines from Dr. Doumont's talk above. There is much more great content in the talk so please bookmark it and watch the entire talk when you have a chance. Some of the quotes may seem quite provocative, but you need to watch the talk to get the context

"People can only learn something new if they can relate it to something they already know. That's the only way."

"When people like you [scientists & PhD students] talk about their research, half of the time even your peers don't understand what the hell you are talking about, and when they do understand they find it boring. That's the sad truth."

"Scientists cannot communicate very well with non-scientists, but in fact they cannot communicate well with other scientists either."

"If you are a PhD student, a post-Doc, or even a professor, where have you been all your life? In School! And school is the worst place where you could possibly learn communication."

"You see the problem here. We are learning to communicate by explaining things to people [professors] who all ready know [the material]. What kind of learning experience is that? It's the wrong approach…..on top of that the purpose is being graded, which means we have to prove to those people grading us how clever we are."

"Find a simple way to explain something complex."

As I mentioned, the book is excellent and well worth the money, but if you can not afford that at the moment, you certainly will find this 16-page and free pdf document called Traditions, templates, and group leaders: Barriers to effective communication quite useful indeed.


Other great resources from Jean-luc Doumont
• Jean-luc on Facebook
Another great talk at Stanford in 2013. Creating effective slides: Design, Construction, and Use in Science

Talking about presentations with Nancy Duarte

Last month we took the long flight across the Pacific to spend a day with our friend Nancy Duarte at the new and very cool head office of Duarte, Inc. in Silicon Valley. About eight years ago Nancy contacted me out of the blue—and it will be eight years exactly this December that I first met Nancy and Mark Duarte at their offices in Mountain View California (post from 2005). Since then they have upgraded twice to bigger offices in the Valley as their business has grown. Duarte has an amazing team of storytellers, designers, and a whole lot more.

At the new office of Duarte, Inc. in the heart of Silicon Valley, USA.

Q&A with Nancy & me
On July 10th, about 100 people came for a lunch and a Q&A session held at the new offices of Duarte, Inc. It was fantastic to meet so many people passionate about the many forms of presentation including photography, filmmaking, visual storytelling, etc. Thanks very much to everyone who attended. Below you can watch the Q&A session of the event on YouTube. There is also a slideshare deck featuring highlights from our discussion.

Michio Kaku on The Power of Video

"The Power of video," says famed theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, "is the power of the mind itself. A huge chunk of the brain power we have sitting on our shoulders is devoted to processing visual images. It's how we communicate. It's how we share information. It defines who we are." Dr. Kaku suggests that even the most complicated theories can be expressed simply through visualizations of some kind, including video. "All the great theories of the world are not equations," Says Dr. Kaku, "[rather] they are based on simple principles which can be manifested as pictures, as video images." Watch the entire short clip below.

Also see Lucas, Scorsese: On the need for visual literacy.

Good science makes for good story

Youngscientist"Good science is a good story," says the two-time Pulitzer Prize winning biologist Edward O. Wilson in a recent interview on Science Friday with Ira Flatow. "We're all storytellers—all of us. From the novelist to the artist who is trying to say something new and take us in a new direction on canvas, to scientists who have discovered something, and when they discover something they want to tell a story, they want to...explain to others [the] why and where it came from, what kind of process is going on and where is it going to lead?" Dr. Wilson says that he trained himself to be able to explain things simply and clearly in order to keep his students engaged in his lectures at Harvard. I highly recommend his book Letters to a Young Scientist, a book that should prove inspiring and motivating for future young scientists and others interested in science and science education.

In the interview Dr. Wilson touches on many different points concerning what it takes to be a good scientist today, besides being a clear communicator and good storyteller. Two others that speak to me personally are alonetime and self-talk:

"You need a lot of time," says Dr. Wilson. "It's a good idea to be alone a lot and talk to yourself. I don't know if—how many other scientists talk to themselves. I do so all the time silently. And I guess I risk my reputation for complete sanity by admitting that. And I've now wondered how many creative scientists, people who are constantly in search of new ideas, new ways of looking at things, new enterprises, talk to themselves in a way as though they were speaking to another person, and trying to open up new subjects, new ways to get into old subjects. And this is a very good mental process for doing original science." 

Listen to the interview here.

Desktop Diaries: E. O. Wilson
After you listen to the Science Friday interview, take a look at this 6-minute video with Dr. Wilson. Science is an active and creative endeavor, and at 83 Dr. Wilson is still going strong. Inspiring.


Above. Dr. Wilson's office. Click image to go to the video.