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Mental hacks for slower speech

| communication, kaizen, speaking

When I'm excited, I say about 200 words per minute. The recommended rate for persuasive speech is in the range of 140-160wpm, although studies differ on whether faster speech is more persuasive or if slower speech is. (Apparently, it depends on the context and whether people are inclined to agree with you…) It's good to be flexible, though. I'm getting used to speaking slower. In the videos I've been making, I experiment with a lower voice, a slower pace, a more relaxed approach. When I record, I imagine the people I know who speak at the rate I want to use. I “hear” them say things, and then I mimic that.

I've been talking to a lot of people because of Google Helpouts and other online conversations. I help them with topics that they're not familiar. Sometimes there are network or technical issues. I've been learning to slow down and to check often for understanding.

I think the biggest difference came from software feedback, though. I did the voiceovers for a series of videos. My natural rate was too fast, even when I tried reading at a slower rate. I adjusted the tempo in Audacity and found that I still sounded comfortable at 90% of my usual speed. The sound quality wasn't amazing, but it was interesting to listen to myself at a slower rate and still recognize that as me.

It's funny how there are all sorts of mental hacks that can help me play with this. I find it fascinating when a person's normal pace is faster than the average pace I've been nudging myself towards. I'm not used to being the slower conversationalist, but it's kinda cool.

I still like speed. I do some bandwidth-negotiation in conversations. I ramp up if other people look like they can take it. But it's nice to know that I don't have to rule out podcasting or things like that. I can slow down when it counts, so that what I'm saying sounds easier to try, seems less intimidating. It's the auditory version of sketchnoting, I guess. Sketchnotes help me make complex topics, so it makes sense to do the same when speaking.

Hmm, maybe I can transcribe my recent videos and recalculate my words per minute…

Dealing with presentation block

Posted: - Modified: | presentation, speaking

Every so often, I have to come up with a presentation topic. This is what happens when you know people who organize events and people know that you don’t mind speaking in public. Sometimes I even volunteer for this, and then I wonder why I do.

I rarely have a specific topic in mind when I say yes. I trust that something interesting will come up, and I’m curious about what it will be. Then I end up in situations where I’ve promised to give a talk and I’m trying to figure out what it is.

There are a few ways I approach this challenge when I have to come up with a talk quickly:

  • A. Pin down the one key thing I want people to remember or act on, and then build a talk around that.
  • B. Brainstorm a catchy title and talk description. Trust that my brain’s going to figure out a good way to justify it.
  • C. Ask people what they want to learn from me.
  • D. Flip through my blog posts and look for something worth fleshing out further.
  • E. Think about the kinds of follow-up conversations I want to have. Work backwards to determine what I need to present in order to spark people’s curiosity.
  • F. Ask the organizers.
  • G. Peek at other people’s talk descriptions. Plan something that complements what’s out there.
  • H. Write and write and write until something comes loose.

Other helpful thoughts:

  • I’m not expected to change anyone’s life or worldview in five minutes or sixty minutes. If I spark curiosity in five people, that’s already a win.
  • Constraints help with creativity.
  • It should be something I want to learn more about, so that I grow in the process of creating the presentation whether or not anyone actually attends. In-person and online participation becomes icing on the cake.

Next week, I’ll be talking to a mostly-designer crowd. Sketchnotes are an obvious choice, but I don’t want to do just a basic “You should draw your notes and here’s how” presentation — there’s plenty of that on the Net. I’m curious about the deliberate study of sketchnotes that I’ve been doing by building the . I’d love to see if I can convince sketchnoters to share their notes with me and everyone else to build indexes like these for their own interests.

There might be a talk there somewhere.

Understanding how I’m changing as a speaker

| kaizen, speaking

As I was reading the transcript of my recent presentation on social media for hardware dealers and home improvement stores, I noticed a few things I don’t think I used to do before – or at least, not with this frequency. One of the great things about blogging and sharing my presentations through the years is that I can hop in a time machine, remember much of what it was like back then, and see these little changes.

Here are three ways I’m not the same speaker I was ten years ago:

I now start by acknowledging the “Yeah, but”s. You can see how I experimented with this pattern through the years. I started with very technical talks in 2001. I think my 2009 presentation A Teacher’s Guide to Web 2.0 at School was the first time I explicitly called out the “Yeah, but”s on a slide. There, it was near the end of the presentation. In 2010’s Six Steps to Sharing, I moved the “Yeah, but”s near the beginning of the presentation, where it has stayed ever since. (Yes, it took me that long to figure out that you want to get as many people as possible on the same page as early as possible…)

I then spend a lot more time on helping people imagine what they could experience in the future, dipping briefly into what they can do right now to move towards that. It’s like a small-scale version of the pattern that Nancy Duarte describes in Resonate (Amazon affiliate link, key points) – that alternation, the thrum of going back and forth between present and future. I’ve realized that my key contribution as a speaker isn’t usually to give people technical or how-to information – they can get that through the Internet – but to help them see the possibilities and get excited about what they can do, so that they can then learn more. So, I help people imagine point B, and then sketch the many lines from A to B. I didn’t emphasize this in my early talks.

I also find myself illustrating those futures through what it looks like, what it sounds like, what it feels like. What people might say. What their customers might say. How their customers might find and interact with them. I think this comes from all the viewpoint-switching and success-imagining I’ve been doing for both professional and personal planning. In my slides, I illustrate ideas with screenshots of what people are already doing. In my speech (I like planning for the “audio track” of my presentations!), I drop in imaginary quotes to help make the possibilities real. I didn’t notice myself doing that a lot before. I’m getting better at figuring out what something would sound like if it was successful, and it’s useful for explaining things to other people as well. (I’m trying to find the book that stressed this point – imagining the complete experience of your customer – but I’m having a hard time pinning it down. One of the E-Myth books? Hmm. I need to revisit and sketchnote more books.) I used to be a lot more abstract about this. Now I try to make things much more concrete, much more real. It’s like when people think, “I want my customers to say that to me, so maybe this is worth a try.” (Precisely!)

I know, I know, a decade to realize that I’m learning these things. I can’t wait to find out what I’ll be writing about in another ten years!

Getting ready for my Hardlines Dealer Conference talk: So You Don’t Have an Army of Online Marketers

| speaking

In a few hours, I’ll be talking about social media with hardware and home improvement dealers at the Hardlines Dealer Conference.

Hardlines 2012: So You Don’t Have an Army of Online Marketers from Sacha Chua

I’m excited! I’ve been looking forward to this presentation conversation for months. It’s a different crowd. Most of my presentations and consulting engagements so far have been with people who are in front of computers all day, and it’s hard enough to address people’s concerns. What about people who are in stores or on the road all the time, particularly small businesses who might not have dedicated online marketers? I expect that some people in the audience will be very savvy when it comes to social media, and lots of people will be more hesitant. Instead of bombarding people with lots of tips or making mainstream people feel left out, I want to use that valuable face-to-face time to address concerns, show people that they’re not alone, and help them find small, concrete steps they can take that fit in well with their business goals. The Internet is changing so much that it makes no sense to give bleeding-edge one-size-fits-all tips; it’s better to make sure people have the confidence to take the next step and an idea of how everything might fit together.

We’re also going to test this idea of an enriched speaking engagement: not just a talk, but also slides, transcript, additional resources, answered questions, and maybe even sketchnotes of the two talks before me. Because I don’t like boring people with bullet points, my slides have very little text on them. I want people to be able to remember and share the key points afterwards, though. I’m going to record the talk, turn it into a mini e-book, and share it with people as a follow-up.

I’ll post the mini-e-book on my site within two weeks. If you want to be notified once I’ve posted it, please leave a comment there or e-mail me at with the subject HARDLINES.

Here we go!

Quantified Awesome: Tracking clothes, groceries, and other everyday things

Posted: - Modified: | geek, meetup, presentation, quantified, sketchnotes, speaking

Girl Geeks Toronto: Quantified Self. =)




Hashtag: #girlgeeksto

Thinking about outsourcing transcription or doing it myself

| analysis, decision, kaizen, speaking

I like reading much more than I like listening to someone talk, and much, much more than listening to myself talk. Text can be quickly read and shared. Audio isn’t very searchable. Besides, I still need to work on breathing between sentences and avoiding the temptation to let a sentence run on and on because another cool idea has occurred to me. Perhaps that’s what I’d focus on next, if I ever resume Toastmasters; my prepared speeches can be nice and tight, but my ad-libbed ones wander. More pausing needed.

So. Transcription. I could do it myself. I type quickly. Unfortunately, I speak quite a bit faster than I type, so I usually need to slow it down to 50% and rewind occasionally. ExpressScribe keyboard shortcuts are handy. I’ve remapped rewind to Ctrl-H so that I don’t need to take my fingers off the home row. But there’s still the there’s the argh factor of listening to myself. This is useful for reminding me to breathe, yes, but it only takes five minutes for me to get that point. ;) The other night, it took me an hour to get through fifteen minutes, which is slower than I expected. An hour-long podcast interview should take about four hours of work, then.

I could use transcription as an excuse to train Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11, the dictation software I’d bought but for this very purpose but haven’t used as much as I thought I would. It recognizes many words, but I have a lot of training to do before I get it up to speed, and I still need to edit. This would be a time investment for uncertain rewards. I still need to time how long it takes me to dictate and edit a segment.

Foot pedals would be neat, particularly if I could reprogram them for other convenient shortcuts. Three-button pedals cost from $50-$130, not including shipping. In addition to using it to stop, play, and rewind recordings, I’d love to use it for scrolling webpages or pressing modifier keys. I often work with two laptops, so it’s tempting. (And then there’s the idea of learning how to build my own human interface device using the Arduino… ) – UPDATE: I’ve built one using the Arduino! I can’t wait to try it out.

In terms of trading money for time, I’ve been thinking about trying Casting Words, which is an Amazon Mechanical Turk-based business that slices up submitted files into short chunks. Freelancers work on transcribing these chunks, which are then reassembled and edited. The budget option costs USD 0.75 per audio minute, which means an hour-long interview will cost about USD 45 to transcribe. That option doesn’t have a guaranteed turnaround, though, so I could be waiting for weeks. In addition, I tend to talk quickly, so that might trigger a “Difficult Audio” surcharge of another USD 0.75 per minute, or about USD 90 per audio hour.

For better quality at a higher price, I could work with other transcription companies. For example, Transcript Divas will transcribe audio for CAD 1.39/minute, and they guarantee a 3-day turnaround (total for 1 hour: CAD 83.40). Production Transcripts charges USD 2.05/minute for phone interviews.

I could hire a contractor through oDesk or similar services. One of the benefits of hiring someone is that he or she can become familiar with my voice and way of speaking. Pricing is based on effort instead of a flat rate per audio minute, and it can vary quite a bit. One of my virtual assistants took 14 hours to transcribe three recordings that came to 162 minutes total. At $5.56 per work hour, that came to $0.48 per audio minute, or $28 per audio hour. oDesk contractors are usually okay with an as-needed basis, which is good because I’ve scaled down my talks a lot. (I enjoy writing more!)

So here are the options:

  • Type it myself: 4 hours of discretionary time
  • Dictation: Unknown hours of discretionary time, possible training improvements for Dragon NaturallySpeaking
  • Foot pedals: Probably down to 3.5 hours / audio hour, but requires a little money; hackability
  • Casting Words: USD 90 per audio hour, unknown timeframe
  • Transcript Divas: CAD 84 per audio hour, 3-day turnaround
  • Contractor: Can be around USD 30 per audio hour, depending on contractor

I’m going to go with dictating into Dragon NaturallySpeaking because I need to train it before I can get a sense of how good it is. It takes advantage of something I already own and am underusing. Who knows, if I can get the hang of this, I might use it to control more functionality. We’ll see!

Session follow-up #1: Discovering Yourself through Blogging

Posted: - Modified: | blogging, presentation, speaking

I enjoyed chatting with Holly Tse about blogging and how it can help you learn more about life, connect with people, save time, and do awesome. For the next day or so (Aug 17), you can listen to a free recording of my interview with Holly at . I’m working on putting together a transcript and some follow-up notes, but here are some quick thoughts.

Blogging doesn’t have to be about building a personal brand or improving your search engine ranking. You can write as a way to learn, understand, remember, share, and save time.

Trying to figure out how to write about something possibly sensitive or offensive? Take a step back and try to take a really, really positive approach. Don’t focus on past hurts, focus on how to move forward. Don’t focus on what other people are doing wrong, focus on what you can do and what you can change about yourself. Write through things in your private notes if you need to, then see what insights and ideas you can share with others.

Where can you find the time to write? Holly Tse mentioned spending most of her time focused on her husband and their toddler, organizing this telesummit, and taking care of other essentials. I mentioned that mommy blogging (and parent blogging in general – let’s not forget the blogs!) was popular for lots of reasons: grown-up connections, memories, ideas, sanity checks, and so on. I also shared some time-saving tips, like cooking in larger batches. =)

You might be boring. In fact, you almost certainly will bore yourself from time to time. Writing will feel awkward if you haven’t been doing it a lot, and even if you have, it can still be frustrating. Keep writing. Don’t worry about being interesting. Don’t worry if no one reads your notes. Write in order to think clearly, write in order to remember, and write in order to share. You can grow into a good writer, but only if you write. You don’t need to win the Pulitzer Prize to write notes that can help you and other people.

How frequently should you write? As frequently as you can or would like to. =) Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t post every day or you blog sporadically. That said, try using writing as a tool for thinking. Try asking yourself questions like: What do I want to remember? What did I learn today? What do I want to do better tomorrow? What do I want to work on learning? If you do that, you’ll probably find that there’s a ton of stuff worth writing about.

More thoughts to follow. Feel free to ask more questions! Leave a comment so that other people can also share their thoughts with you, or use the contact form to get in touch with me. Have fun!