Video, Powerpoint and the Back of a Napkin

Posted by Barry Flanagan on Jun 12th, 2008
Jun 12

A screencast is " a digital recording of computer screen output, also known as a video screen capture, often containing audio narration."  I completed a screencast recently, and would like to share the final results and the process to create it with the readers of this blog.


In my last post here, I wrote about the video coverage project I put together for my company’s annual user conference. This video project went extremely well (despite a few hiccups, especially with wi-fi and cell coverage). In the week after the event, I had to put together a report to share the results with internal employees and with the audience for the Citrix blog


On the flight home, I was thinking about the format I wanted to use for the report. I felt that a video about the video coverage was the best way to communicate the results. I dabbeld with the idea of using the Nokia N95 cell phone to do a Qik video, but quickly discarded that notion. The view of my big head adds nothing to a report.


I had just finished reading an excellent book called "The Back of the Napkin" by Dan Roam. This was a very eye opening book about the process of using visual thinking to solve problems and communicate ideas. While Dan’s focus in totally on white boarding, it occurred to me that his process applies to any type of visual communication, including powerpoint presentations and screencasts. I resolved to create a screencast of the Synergy Underground results that follows Dan’s model for the types of questions to ask and answer in a visual manner. 


In addition to using the visual thinking frame work from "The Back of the Napkin" I used several other techniques that I have discovered during my journey down the road to more effective speaking. As I have written about before, I used a mind map for the outline and included it as the agenda slide. In several slides, I followed the Lessig Method for text. The great majority of the sides were simple visuals which I narrated, consistent with the principles of Garr Reynolds book (and blog) Presentation Zen and the research of Richard Mayer.







I am very pleased with the overall results. This screencast is certainly not perfect and has given me the opportunity to learn some valuable lessons as I reflect on the experience.



Voice over – The mic I used was not very high quality. I spent a lot of time trying to clean up noise. Camtasia is great for editing video, but I found the audio editing capabilities of my version to be lacking (or at least my knowledge of how to use them). These lessons have been useful in my preparation for the new podcast series I am putting together for Citrix. I have upgraded to a studio quality condenser microphone (an AKG Perception 200 from ebay), an Alesis Multimix USB mixer and a home made "Porta-Booth" to minimize noise. I have also started using Adobe Audition specifically for audio editing.


Overall, I am not thrilled with my voice over. My voice was very flat in the beginning. In several places I stumbled as I narrated then slide. Two main factors contributed to my lackluster voice over- insufficient practice and the very late hour when I did the final cut. 


Preparation – I spent the lion’s share time trying to get all the other pieces right (the outlines, slides, Camtasia screen recording, etc…). I set a deadline when to finish this, and spent most of the time changing the outline and redoing the slides to fit with the new structure I learned from Dan Roam’s book. Recording the voice over at 2 am was probably not the best choice to maximize the tone and rhythm of my voice. Since I have not done a screencast in some time AND I was using a new framework for the overall structure of the presentation, I should have given myself more time to complete this project.


Visuals- I am very pleased with the content of the screencast overall. One issue does stand out however. It is very obvious now that the video is too long. While I did get many questions about how I did the live video streaming from the Nokia N95 cell phone, I can see now that I should have made that into a separate video. That one changed would have cut the length by about 4 minutes.


My goal for the over all structure was to follow the "Visual Thinking Codex" from "The Back of the Napkin"  (pg. 141). I chose the relevant  frame work questions and selected one of the recommended visual methods  to answer each question. Mind mapping  this new frame work helped a great deal, but took much more time than expected due to numerous revisions.


Using the simple visuals, minimal text and the basic bar charts recommend by Dan Roam for "How many?" questions did help save a great deal of time. Unfortunately, when Camtasia converted the video to wmv or avi format on the first few attempts, there were significant issues rendering the rapid text changes. That issue took an inordinate amount of time to solve.




Despite these issues, I am very happy I went through this process. I learned a lot of important lessons that will help me in the futre. I hope that my writing about this process will help some of you as well.



My ultimate goal here is to create a repeatable process that allows me to communicate even more effectively.This combination of visual thinking from "The Back of the Napkin", powerpoint and video along with other lessons I have learned in the past are moving me closer to that goal.  I appreciate any feedback you have on the progress to date.







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The Inner Game of Public Speaking

Posted by Barry Flanagan on Apr 4th, 2008
Apr 4


Public Speaking is all in your head, literally. You can come to this blog or 10,000 other blogs, web sites, books, videos and seminars to get a step by step formula to becoming a great speaker. Ultimately, you have to execute on what you learn.


This point applies to a wide variety of physical and mental skills, of course. Singing, playing a musical instrument, memory, learning, golf, pool, bowling,  coding, video games, basketball, server administration, and tennis all have a wide variety of instructional videos, classes, blogs, web site, forums, and gurus. Some people are a "natural" and learn these skills on their own, while others may be seminar "junkies" and hunt and eat every single morsel of knowledge they can find. For all these skills and many more, utimately your ability to do well is determined in very large measure by what is going on in your own head.


Several years back, I played a great deal of tennis. I found that I could do extremely well in practice, and just as poorly in a real match. I was desperate to understand why, and read many books and watched many videos on how to perform each stroke. While I did learn several new ways to hit a forehand or a serve, my results actually got worse. I was cursed with too much knowledge.


Long before I came across "Made to Stick" and the concept of the "Curse of Knowledge", I read a fantastic book that has lessons that apply both to tennis and public speaking. That book is "The Inner Game of Tennis" by W. Timothy Gallwey.


I too admit to overreaching as a new pro, but one day when I was in a relaxed mood I began saying less and noticing more. To my surprise, errors that I saw but didn’t mention were correcting themselves without the student ever knowing he had made them. How were the changes happening? Though I found this interesting,  it was little hard on my ego, which didn’t quite  see how it was going  to get its due credit for the improvements  being made. It was an even greater blow when I realized that sometimes my verbal instructions seemed to decrease the probability of the desired correction occurring.

All teaching pro’s know what I am talking about. They all have students like one of mine named Dorothy.  I would give Dorothy a gentle, low-pressured instruction like, "Why don’t you try lifting  the follow through up from your waist to the level of your shoulder? The topspin will keep the ball in the court."? Sure enough,  Dorothy  would try hard to follow my instructions.The muscles would tense around her mouth; her eyebrows would set in a determined frown;the muscles in her forearm would tighten, making fluidity impossible; and the follow through would end only a few inches higher.At this point, the stock response of the patient pro is, "That’s better, Dorothy, but relax, don’t try so hard!" The advice is good far as it goes, but Dorothy does not understand how to "relax" while also trying hard to hit the ball correctly. (from page 6)


The lessons from "The Inner Game of Tennis" for speaking apply both to learning about public speaking AND to the whatever technical topic you are speaking about when in front of the room. I recall when I first began speaking that I was told by a co-worker to never put my hands in my pockets. When I asked "What do I do with my hands?" The answer came back "Just gesture."


At the time, I had no idea how to "just gesture".  In my post "But This is a Technical Presentation!" you can see an example where a technical speaker assumes that more text and information is better in a technical presentation. As Gallwey illustrates in this next excerpt, often more instruction leads to worst results.



Why should Dorothy – or you or I – experience an awkward tightening when performing a desired action which is not physically difficult? What happens inside the head between the time the instruction is given  and the swing is complete?  The first glimmer of an answer to this key question came to me at a moment of rare insight after a lesson with Dorothy: "Whatever’s going on in her head, it’s too damn much! She’s try so hard to swing the racket  the way I told her that she can’t focus on the ball" Then and there, I promised myself I would cut down on the quantity of verbal instructions.

My next lesson that day was with a beginner named Paul who had never held a racket. I was determined to show him how to play using as few instructions as possible.; I’d try to keep his mind uncluttered and see if it made a difference. So I started by telling Paul I was trying something new: I was going to skip entirely my usual explanations  to beginnings players about the proper grip, stroke, and footwork for the basic forehand. Instead, I was going to hit ten forehands myself, and I wanted him to watch carefully, not thinking about what I was doing, but simply trying to grasp a visual image of the forehand. He was to repeat the image in his mind, several times then just let his body imitate. After I had hit  ten forehands, Paul  imagined himself doing the same. Then, as I put the racket into his hand, sliding it into the correct grip, he said to me, "I noticed that the first thing you did was move your feet." I replied with a noncommital grunt and asked him to let his body imitate the forehand as well as it could. He dropped the ball, , took a perfect backswing, swung forward, racket level, and with natural fluidity ended the swing at shoulder height , perfect for his first attempt! But wait, his feet;they hadn’t moved an inch from the perfect ready position he had assumed before taking his racket back. They were nailed to the court! I pointed to them and Paul said, " Oh yeah, I forgot about them !" The one element of the stroke Paul had tried to remember was the one thing he didn’t do! Everything else had been absorbed and reproduced without a word being uttered or an instruction being given!

I was beginning to learn what all the good pros and students of tennis must learn; that images are better than words, showing is better than telling, too much instruction worse than none, and that trying often produces negative results.One question perplexed me: What’s wrong with trying? What does it mean to try to hard? (from pages 6-7)


There are some fantastic nuggets of knowledge in this except that led to much of the things I have learned about speaking. "Images are better than words" (for example) is consistent with the research of Richard Mayer. In Chapter Six (Changing Habits) Gallwey gives the Steps to "The Inner Game Way of Learning".


  1. Observe Existing behavior Non-Judgementally.
  2. Picture Desired Outcome.
  3. Let it happen!
  4. Nonjudgemental, Calm Observation of the Results Leading to Continuing Observation and Learning


You can see much of this advise in the Six Rs of Communication.

  1. Result – this is very similar to Picture the Desired Outcome.
  2. Rapport
  3. ResponseObserve Existing Behavior
  4. Reflect - Gallwey emphasizes "non-judgemental" observation that isn’t emotional or critical.
  5. Range -
  6. Repeatable - Throughout his book, Gallwey stress the concept that "Inner Game" is more about your overall mental process than it is about drilling on specific skills.



"The Inner Game of Tennis" is a fantastic book for tennis and for any other skill. Gallwey has other books on Golf, Skiing, Music, and work. I highly recommend his approach.



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Why I Blog

Posted by Barry Flanagan on Feb 20th, 2008
Feb 20


A few friends have asked me why I would add to my workload (which includes a corporate blog) by posting my own personal blog about public speaking. One obvious reason for me is that forcing myself to review my own process and method for speaking in the front of the room helps me continue to improve. While I have learned a great deal about speaking over the last eight years, I still learn something new every day. Each time I get up in front of the room I get valuable feedback that will help me the next time.


I also learn a great deal in the research for each post. As the Roman Philosopher Seneca once wrote "we learn by teaching". I likely would have never have seen Dick Hardt’s Identity presentation or the videos of Steve Riley if I wasn’t writing blog posts about great tech speakers. I may not have seen those amazing Lessig videos either. Each of those speakers and their videos hold new ideas and new techniques that I likely would have never learned if not for blogging about public speaking.



But that is not my only motivation. Back in May of 2000, I was sitting in a hotel lounge in Marietta, Georgia at about 7 pm after long day that included three separate presentations to customers and resellers in the Atlanta area. I was frustrated that I still did not feel comfortable with speaking in front of the room, and wondering if I ever would. My manager George V called me on my cell to try to keep my spirits up, but it was very difficult to see a future where I was comfortable speaking in front of a group of people. I sat at a small table drinking a beer and wondered to myself how I was going to solve this problem. As I was sitting there staring off into space, someone tapped me on the shoulder. Startled, I looked up to see a older man in his late forties with  salt and pepper hair, a gray goatee, and a white shirt with a dark blue tie.

"Pardon me." he said. "Have you seen a tall older gentleman in a white suit walk by here? I am supposed to meet him here and I am a bit early."


"No, I haven’t seen him." I replied.


"Well, at least I have a few minutes to relax." he responded.


I nodded and smiled as he turned and head to the bar. I heard him order two Miller Lites, then turn and head directly for my table.


"Do you mind if I join you?" he asked.


I was surprised he was so forward, but I said yes.


"You look like you could use some company, and I have a few minutes to wait." He asked me about my work, and I told him I was a newly hired System Engineer for a software company. He told me his name was Ed.  We exchanged some small talk, and he told me he was an SE himself back in the early eighties. He told me that hardest part for him was learning to become a better speaker.

"I am having a bit of trouble myself." I admitted.


"My manager back then gave me two pieces advice that I have never forgotten. First, the audience decides the meaning. Second, keep doing what works, change what doesn’t. If the meaning the audience gets is not what you intended, try something else.That’s it. I was constantly frustrated because I often felt like I was speaking in tongues. No one seemed to understand what our software did our why they would want it. I felt like I couldn’t get through to anyone. "


"Wow." I said. "I feel that same way almost every time. It is so frustrating." I replied.


"Once I stopped taking my failure to communicate personally and stopped trying the same old methods that didn’t work, I slowly began to get better and better results. Let the audience decide the meaning, pay attention to the response, and try something different if it isn’t the response you want. It is as simple as that." Ed replied.


"I never thought of it that way, but it makes perfect sense." We spent a few minutes talking over some specific examples, then the tall older man in the white suit walked up and tapped him on the shoulder.


"Well, it looks like our time is up. Thanks for letting me join you."


"Thank you Ed. I appreciate the advice."


Ed turned and looked me directly at me. "My grandfather always told me the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea are both fed from the River Jordan. The Sea of Galilee is full of life and surrounded by villages while the Dead Sea is literally dead and stagnant. The Sea of Galilee is full of life because it has an outflow, while the Dead Sea doesn’t.  The key to being vibrant and full of life is having an outflow. Remember that."


"I will." I said. Ed shook my hand and walked away.



I never saw Ed again, but I never forgot the lessons he taught me that day. That day was the beginning of my journey to becoming a more effective speaker. My idea for the post on "The Six Rs to Beat the Curse" is based on Ed’s advice. "The audience decides the meaning" is the basis for "Response", and "keep what works, change what doesn’t" became "Reflect" . All the rest of the Six Rs ultimately flowed from the lessons Ed shared with me that day. I share them now on this blog as my outflow, my key to "being vibrant and full of life" like Ed.





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Drilling Down into the Six Rs – Results

Posted by Barry Flanagan on Feb 20th, 2008
Feb 20

First, have a definite, clear practical idea; a goal, an objective. Second, have the necessary means to achieve your ends; wisdom, money, materials, and methods. Third, adjust all your means to that end.



If you want your audience to follow you, you must have a clear vision of where you want to go and the path you want to follow. You have to answer one question for yourself and your audience – What’s In It for Me? What is the one most important goal for you, what action do you want to take? What problem is your audience looking to solve, or what goal are they striving to reach?


You must have a firm grasp on the reasons your audience will be motivated to follow you down the path you map out to your ultimate goal. Many technical speakers do not have a clearly defined goal, and never consider the goal of the audience. This story from " The Story Factor by Annette Simmons is a fantastic example of a speaker who understands where he wants to go with the audience and what it will take to get them to follow -

 Skip looked into the sea of suspicious stockholders and wondered what might convince them to follow his leadership. He was 35, looked 13 and was third generation rich. He could tell they assumed he would be an unholy disaster as a leader. He decided to tell them a story. "My first job was drawing the electrical engineering plans for a boat building company. The drawings had to be perfect because if the wires were not accurately placed before the fiberglass form was poured, a mistake might cost a million dollars, easy. At 25, I already had two masters’ degrees. I had been on boats all my life and frankly, I found drawing these plans a bit …mindless. One morning I got a call at home from a $6/hour worker asking me "are you sure this is right?" I was incensed. Of course I was sure — "just pour the damn thing." When his supervisor called me an hour later and woke me up again and asked "are you sure this is right?" I had even less patience. "I said I was sure an hour ago and I’m still sure."

"It was the phone call from the president of the company that finally got me out of bed and down to the site. If I had to hold these guys by the hand, so be it. I sought out the worker who had called me first. He sat looking at my plans with his head cocked to one side. With exaggerated patience I began to explain the drawing. But after a few words my voice got weaker and my head started to cock to the side as well. It seems that I had (being left-handed) transposed starboard and port so that the drawing was an exact mirror image of what it should have been. Thank God this $6/hour worker had caught my mistake before it was too late. The next day I found this box on my desk. The crew bought me a remedial pair of tennis shoes for future reference. Just in case I got mixed up again – a red left shoe for port, and a green right one for starboard. These shoes don’t just help me remember port and starboard. They help me remember to listen even when I think I know what’s going on." As he held up the shoebox with one red and one green shoe, there were smiles and smirks. The stockholders relaxed a bit. If this young upstart had already learned this lesson about arrogance, then he might have learned a few things about running companies, too.


Communication can be defined as “the exchange of thoughts, messages, or information”. Exchange is the most important word in that definition. If the audience does not understand your point, you have not successfully communicated. Have you ever heard a speaker who seemed to wander aimlessly through a topic with no clear path or destination? A speaker with no obvious goal in mind confuses himself and the audience. As the Roman Orator Cato once said "Grasp the subject, words will follow."



The most important step to becoming an effective speaker is to ALWAYS have a clearly defined RESULT in mind.  After you have created crystal clear RESULT for your presentation, it is much easier to create your opening and closing, choose your main points, and build your content. Your RESULT is what you want your audience to conclude (and act upon) when you are done. When you start at the conclusion, it is a much simpler task to create your opening, main points, and then tie everything back into that conclusion.


A well defined RESULT needs to be specific, attainable, and focused on the audience. “Describe our new product features” is not a specific RESULT for your audience. “Grasp the problems that are driving our new product features, and see how these new features solve those problems while providing a fast return on the upfront investment” is a specific, attainable RESULT for your audience, as opposed to the generalized and speaker focused first example. The second statement articulates exactly what the speaker wants to achieve, and lays out a roadmap for how to achieve that RESULT so the audience gets it. Answer the question "What’s In It For Me?" for yourself and your audience, and you will be on the right path to creating a clear result for everyone.




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The Six R’s to Beat the Curse

Posted by Barry Flanagan on Feb 13th, 2008
Feb 13


Communication skills are the key to success in my opinion. In technical and scientific fields, mis-communication is often more likely than effective communication. This is a story I enjoy that highlights the difficulty.


A Dispute in Sign Language A Zen master and his one-eyed student lived together in a monastery. One day a wandering monk came to the Zen master and said, “If you will accept me, I wish to study with you.” The old monk replied, “Decide first if you belong here. Go into the garden and speak to my student. Converse with him in any way you wish. After that, come and tell me your decision.”



The visiting monk nervously went out into the garden and saw the one-eyed monk meditating. “I will show him how profound I can be, “ thought the visitor. “I will converse with him in sign language.” Approaching quietly, the visiting monk tapped the one-eyed monk on the shoulder and held up one finger. The one-eyed monk held up two fingers. In response the visiting monk held up three fingers. The one-eyed monk held up his fist. When the visiting monk saw this, he dashed out of the garden to tell the old monk his decision.



He came upon the old monk at his shores and gasped, “I do not deserve to stay here! I am unworthy of being a fellow student with the enlightened young monk I met in the garden!” The old monk paused in his work and asked incredulously, “Are you speaking of the young one-eyed monk in the garden?” “Yes!” exclaimed the visitor. “His knowledge is far superior to mine. I will humbly leave.” “Please tell me what happened in the garden,” said the old monk, wide-eyed with amazement.” The visitor explained, “I approached the venerable monk and decided to converse in sign language. I held up one finger to indicate the Buddha. Whereupon he held up two fingers to indicate the Buddha and his teaching, the Dharma. I persevered in the discussion, however, and held up three fingers to show the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha the community. Then he revealed the limitations of my understanding. He held up his fist to show me that they are all one. I immediately ran here to tell you I must leave.” With a sigh, he turned and left the temple.



A moment later the young one-eyed monk stumbled into the temple. He grumbled and shouted, “Where is that scoundrel? How dare he insult me!” “Calm your temper,” said the old monk. “Please tell me what happened in the garden.” The young monk explained, “I was peacefully meditating when that rude visitor interrupted my concentration. When I looked up at him, he held up one finger, indicating that I have only one eye. I held up two fingers, politely congratulating him that he has two eyes. Then he insulted me further! He held up three fingers, pointing out that there were only three eyes among us. I could bear it no longer. I raised my fist punch him in the nose and he ran away!”


(from Pg. 42 "Wisdom Tales from Around the World", edited by Heather Forest, August House Publishers)



In my experience, I have found that following the Six R’s of Communication will allow you to greatly improve your ability to communicate -

  1. Result: Clearly define the result you want to achieve and what your audience wants to gain before any other decision on what you will say or show.
  2. Rapport: The foundation of effective communication is rapport with the audience. If you cannot connect with the audience, your message will be shut out.
  3. Response: The meaning of anything you communicate is the response of your audience, even if that response was not intended.
  4. Reflect: Reflect on the response you receive. View all feedback, positive and negative, as an opportunity to learn what does and doesn’t work. Keep what works, change what doesn’t.
  5. Range: A great communicator has a broad range and flexibility in tools in the communication toolbox.
  6. Repeatable: Consistent communicators use a process that is repeatable.


These Six Principles are to the key to building a solid foundation for effective communication. Once you have that solid foundation in place, you will found that you can build much more effective and successful skills into all your presentations and speaking opportunities.

Below is a thumbnail of a mind map I made of the Six Rs of communication with MindJet Mind Manager. Click on the thumbnail for a full size view.



Six Rs of Communication

(Click on image for full size view)



In my opinion, these six simple rules are the key to being a great communicator and to overcoming the curse of knowledge. I will dive down deeper into each one in future posts.



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