About Me

When not at work with students, I spend my time in my room either reading, calculating something using pen and paper, or using a computer. I read almost anything: from the pornographic to the profound, although my main interests are mathematics and physics. "When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes." -Erasmus

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Steve Jobs, Talks, and the Reality Distortion Field

I've recently been on a Steve Jobsfest. I've read Young and Simon's iCon: Steve Jobs: The Greatest Second Act in the History of Business, and Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs, and watched some of his talks on youtube.  It all began when I serendipitously read Carmine Gallo's book, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs; I got interested because I wanted to learn how Apple convinced people that they actually needed an Ipod, Iphone, Ipad and a Mac. The book was a lot of fun, and thanks to youtube, Steve Jobs's  talks are available online.

Although I've heard the term "Reality Distortion Field" when my thesis adviser was describing his thesis adviser, I didn't know that it was first used to describe Steve Jobs. The videos were the first time I saw Steve's RDF in action. I've met people who had such RDF's, and I've always maintained an interest in how they maintain such fields, both as a means of protecting myself and to use during my own teaching and talks. I supposes some reality distortion can be good if it makes people do insanely great stuff. And one of the sources of RDF's is good communication skills.

Of his talks, the two I liked best were his Iphone keynote, and the Ipod introduction. I've had mixed results with my own talks, and I watch all sorts of talks, from TED talks to Steve Jobs to help me learn fantastic ways of doing presentations. Gallo's book provides a peek at what makes a Steve Jobs talk work. As usual, when I find something interesting, I usually walk around and drag my kohai to the source of my entertainment, so I had undergrads and PhD students sit with me as I watched the talks repeatedly.

I like the way Steve Jobs makes the talk look effortless and informal. The secret--- which is really no secret --- is preparation. Because it looks so effortless and informal, people think it means no preparation and just speaking your thoughts aloud. (I've seen examples of TEDx talks where the speaker tries to do things that way, and I've scratched my head and said, hey, I can do better than that!) I've read that Jobs spends days on each keynote, and he pays attention to such things as lighting and timing.

I think that what makes his talks effective is clarity-- people think that putting more features makes the talk better, when it's the other way around. The talk should make people zoom in on the speaker (and his message!), not on the slides.

Steve Jobs avoids death by powerpoint by having minimal content on slideshows. Anyone who attends seminars and conferences has experienced powerpoint horror shows: put too much information into the slide and you put people to sleep.. The best talks, I've found, use the least amount of material on the slide. In a way, it's like writing a crib sheet. If the crib sheet contains too much, you're in trouble.

It doesn't mean having no crib sheet. Powerpoint and keynote has a presenter view so that the slides you see contain marginal notes that you can use to prompt yourself. It's silly how underutilized presenter view is. You can tell by looking at the desktop onscreen. If the computer that's hooked up to the projector shows a clone of desktop, instead of an extended view, you'll know that presenter view is not being used.

Even Steve Jobs has notes, but cleverly hidden from view. Since your computer screen usually points away from the audience, you can use presenter view so that you won't have to look at the projection screen. Instead, you can maintain eye contact with your audience. You should always look at your audience.

Speaking of talks, even a poster presentation can be structured as a talk. Instead of letting the visitor just read the poster, one should instead have a prepared conversation so that you can motivate the viewer of the poster to read the paper itself. Most poster presentations are ruined because the poster has not made the effort to prepare himself to  engage the viewer. I've sadly seen some posters during the recent National Physics Conference that were under-appreciated because the necessary preparation was not done.

I could go on--- I do have a lot of rants that I could make about powerpoint horrors and posters-- but won't go into them here. Maybe on another post?

No comments: