14 June 2006

A few thoughts on Improv after the Life Hack podcast

Matt Cornell commented on my earlier post on by telling me that he is finishing the book now and that it is neat.

I must say that after listening to the new Life Hack podcast for Lifehack.org, I really feel like trying and getting hold of the book, if it is available in Britain. What I have heard about the book in this podcast has inspired a number of comments I would like to make. Here they are.

I must say that the thought which came to my mind, whilst listening to the podcast, is that what I perceived as having been some of the best lectures I ever gave at the university were those when I had forgotten my lecture notes at home, or the time when the university network was down a few years ago and when I could not use the powerpoint presentation I had prepared, and had to speak from the top of my head, after spending a couple of minutes drawing a very basic mind map.

I also sometimes, when I have difficulties writting a paper and I feel really stuck resort to using a digital dictation system, and improvising a 15 minutes lecture. Transcribing what I said may take time but it is a very good way to get un-stucked

When it comes to actually delivering papers at academic conferences, I have in the last 4 years increasingly resorted to separate the text of the actual paper, which is destined to be published, and the actual "talk" I give. I have usually used either powerpoint presentations or a series of OmniGraffle showed as pdf files. My key idea, is to improvise on the spot, summarizing the argument of the paper which would be much longer, and which most of the participants would either have read before or will read after the conference anyway. This form of improv can be scary at times, but it does get the adrenaline pumping and on the whole seems to be a much more effective form of delivery. This is especially so when the visuals used in the slide presentation do play a reinforcing role.

Thinking of it, there is nothing more sad and depressing, than someone reading a paper, never lifting one's head from one's notes. Very few university teachers would get away with it in the lecture hall. It is however not so uncommon to hear colleagues doing just that at academic conferences. I have done it in the past but I have since realised that it was not a good way to go about things. The less so when you try and read a paper which is not written in your mother tongue.

My advice to younger colleagues I meet at academic conferences is always to tell them: be yourself! Ignore the fact that you will be addressing colleagues who are a lot more senior than you are! Try and speak in the same way you would normally speak to you students in the lecture hall! Most paradoxically, easy does it!


At 7/01/2006 05:54:00 pm, Blogger Matthew Cornell said...

Hey Pascal, great article! I really like your academic perspective, and your idea of working from a mind map. If I have the courage I might give it a shot in my next six-hour personal productivity seminar.


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