Career Lunch & Learn: Communicating by the Numbers

Career Lunch & Learn: Communicating by the Numbers


>>Hi, I’m Whitney Espich, the CEO
of the MIT Alumni Association. and I hope you enjoy this digital production created for alumni and friends like you. Dr. Chien: Good afternoon.
Hello and welcome to today’s Career Lunch and Learn program,
Communicating by the Numbers brought to you by the MIT Alumni
Association. Today’ broadcast is sponsored in
part by MIT professional education and MIT Sloan
executive education.
I am the program director of MIT school of engineering
communication Lab. The communication is an
organization dedicated to teaching scientists and
engineers how to communicate their own work more effectively.
In particular, we embrace and
improved that empowers engineers to help their peers within their
own communities to promote impactful communication.
Our core service is training MIT
students and postdocs to help their trinities with
communication. I started as one of the original
pure coaches when the organization launched in 2013
and was a PhD in the MIT microbiology program.
It was my experience with seeing how transformative thinking
deeply about good communication can be that convinced me to
continue as a leader of the communication Lab since I
completed my PhD. I believe that communication is
the key skill that allows scientists to perform better as
communicators, wherever their
current path may take them. I will explain some logistics
for the event. Our webinars being broadcast
live. Throughout the program you may submit questions using the Q and
day feature that you will — Q and a feature in the toolbar. If you don’t see the toolbar
drag your mouse across the edges of the screen and it will pop up
again. For our listeners joining by
YouTube, you may add questions to the comment field.
All questions will be held until the end of the presentation.
I am delighted to introduce today’s speaker, Jean-luc
Doumont. He hails from Belgium, is a
trained engineer, and holds a PhD in applied physics from
Stanford University. He would like you to know that
he is a nerd just like you. He has dedicated his career to
training engineers, scientists, businesspeople, and others in
different fields skills in effective communication,
pedagogy, and related themes. He delivers lectures and
workshops in four languages all over the world.
In academia he has been invited to speak at 180 five
universities and research centers in 30 countries.
At MIT his lectures are a favorite among students.
MIT is where he has delivered the most lectures so far.
Already two, which is a cool number that he notes — that he notes, because in binary
notation it is 10 to the — a one with five zeros after it.
He has run for such diverse companies as Apple, Price
Waterhouse Cooper, Shell, and Warner Bros..
Overall, he takes an approach to communication that is really
deeply tailored to stem mindsets and applications.
This resonates deeply with us in the communication Lab because it
mirrors our own tight line of by engineers for engineers.
I would like to recommend his very beautiful and practical
book “trees, maps, and theorems” as the textbook the
communication lab recommends is our favorite.
We call it the communication lab Bible.
I am excited to hear his talk today and help field your
questions. I will turn things over to Jean-
Luc to talk about communicating by the numbers.
Dr. Doumont: Thank you. It is a pleasure to talk to MIT
alumni. You would like to improve your
communication? I don’t suppose you have been
waiting until today to do that. I’m sure you have been trying to
locate useful resources for doing that.
Maybe people around you have recommended to you this little
booklet — the slide is not coming on. This is a booklet by William
Strunk Jr and EB White, the elements of style.
Every time someone would recommend the booklet I would
ask, do you think it is a good book? What does it say?
Every time people would say, well, em, you have to read it yourself.
They were unable to name any of the 18 elements of style that
the book lists, as you can see from the table of contents. Why?
18 is too many. Too many for what?
Too many for a human brain to assimilate.
It’s not too many for human brain to understand.
It’s not even too many for human brain you remember.
You can remember things if you set your mind to it.
You can do whatever you want in terms of learning.
It is taking that with you, making it your own, and making
sure that any of these pop up in your mind at the right time as
you are writing in a document. The question we could ask
ourselves is, if 18 is too many come up to how many can you go?
How many items presented together are too many items to
be presented together to be useful and inapplicable
memorable way? I have been running training
programs on posters, graphs, and other topics for full time for
more than 25 years. That is a question that we often
have to discuss in those training programs, because that
would be key to structuring the content in an efficient way.
You might be thinking, right, come on, give us the answer.
Give us the number. Why do you need 40 minutes less
questions and answers to answer a simple question?
As usual, the answer is not that simple.
I could give you a number. The consequence is that it would
become a dogma for you. Every time that you are constructing your communication
you would say, let me seem to remember, when I attended, the
speaker said the maximum number to put together is so much, you
would apply it without understanding what you are
doing. In some cases, you may not
realize it is no longer applicable.
It is a little more subtle. The answer may you little
different in different situations.
We need to discuss that a little more.
I will give you a hint, however. It has to do with the first
three prime numbers. How can we get to that conclusion?
In this presentation, first we need to understand how the brain
works if we want to understand how the brain can and cannot
assimilate a number of items presented together.
We want to keep things global instead of sequential.
We want to go away from making long chains of information and
do something more hierarchical. We want to build a tree with the
information we present. We are going to mention numbers,
limits here and there. That may not be the most
memorable way to get there. The point will be to go
systematically through the digits from zero to let’s stop at seven to see if we can
remember something about each one of them.
First thing, brain processes, basically we process information
into different ways. Globally or sequentially . The sequential one is the one
that you might know best, because that is text.
If I give you a paragraph, like a sentence, in English she would
have to read from left to right and top to bottom, one word at a
time. That would take a while. As I was finalizing this
presentation, notice that you have one turn of the sentence
and you have no idea whatsoever it is that I’m trying to say to
you. You have some context, you don’t
have the subject or the verb. I decided, the subject and the
verb. Do you see what I’m trying to
tell you? I doubt it. Let’s go to another verb to add
a slide. I have half the sentence, but
it’s not like you have half of the meaning.
You have some information, but you don’t know what I’m trying
to tell you. The difference between
sequential and global processes. See how slow that is?
How sequential it is one at a time, however the end you may
have understood the idea, but you never had an overall idea
when you started? That is totally different then
global processes, an example of which would be looking at a
graph. Do you see this graph? You could look at it for half a
second and you would know. I could make that test and show
it to you for half a second, take it away, and ask you to
take a piece of paper and pencil and draw the graph, and I bet
all of you could do that in half a second. That is global.
Global information, perception, brain process is fundamental for
structure. You know that if you are a
little bit aware of how you process information.
Suppose I give you a research paper to read.
You are probably going to do a lot of global perception before
you absorb the values details sequentially.
You will probably flip through the pages of that paper just to
see what it looks like, how long it is, how intimidating it
looks. Is it full of complicated tables
or graphs? And then you would read the
abstract, maybe, which is also global.
What does that have to do with how many numbers we can process
together? That is the fun part in training
programs. The fact that when people create
a presentation, they have an opening at the beginning and a
closing at the end, but in between they make a
chronological story, usually, which if you think about it is a
sequence. How many points? How many points maximum would
you put in the body of the presentation?
It never fails, there will be a participant looking at me
confused and say, well, doesn’t that depend on the length of the
talk? If the talk is short you would
have a few points. If the talk is longer, you would
have many more points will stop they are all surprised when I
say, that is not the way that you would structure a
presentation effectively. The number of points that we
include will make a difference in terms of whether people
perceive locally or sequentially. A simple reference point would
be to see how many items you can have so that people know how
many items there are without having to count.
It is not an objective within itself, but is an indication of
global processing. If I take my short presentation
that I discussed seconds ago, you would not need to count.
You take one look and you say, that is just three items.
That means, it is global processing by large.
The other example with a longer presentation, this time you
would have to count to determine that we have seven items as
opposed to three items. The question is, where is the
limit between the two when you stop being able to know how many
there are without being able to count.
Let’s make a test and you can almost tell me yourself.
Three come you can see without counting.
Four I suspect you can also see without having to count.
Five would be a little bit more difficult, but I suspect you
can. There is a central one, two between the center and the
extremes. I don’t think that would be the
case anymore with six items. You would probably have to start
counting if you had six. Because we are talking about the
human brain. We have to take viability.
Some human brains are capable of incredible things.
You may remember the movie “Rainman,” where Dustin often plays an artistic savant.
He can tell you what is left in a deck of cards and he would be
able to do that with more than five, but that is the exception.
The rule is more based on 25 years of discussing this with
groups. The limit would be five. 1,2,3,4,5 you see how many
without having to count. Six and beyond you would have to
count. If any of you have children,
especially young children come you can see this very strongly
in a developing child. I remember when my son was two
months and four months. That is the day that he took me
to the zoo for my birthday. How nice of him. We saw camels.
I pointed to him and I said, look, over there, camels.
He said yes, three. I was telling this story to my
mother, you know how grandmothers are.
She rants, this is amazing. He can count to three already.
I thought about that and I went, no, he can’t.
He can see three, but he can’t count.
Counting would be going 1,2 ,3.
He wasn’t able to do that until he was almost four years old.
Being able to see how many there are is an indication of your
global processing will step in every training program they will
be one participant who says you want to present several items,
just number them so people know at a glance how many there are.
That isn’t the point. Would you want is to be able to
handle all of the items in any sequence.
That would be true global processing as to predetermined.
Suppose I give you three colors, red, white, and blue. I’m going to give you two out of
the three in random order and you tell me as fast as possible
which one is missing. Are you ready? Blue, red.
You have been thinking white so
fast and so loud that I can kind of hear it through the Internet.
I do this in training programs
with four things, North, south, east, and West in random order
and asked them to say as fast as possible which one is missing.
It is striking how their mouths are too slow for their brains.
They have the answer immediately and it takes a while to blurt it
out. That is red, white, and blue.
Try this with the seven colors of the rainbow.
Red, orange, yellow, blue, green, indigo, violet . You might be fast, but the
process would probably be different.
I bet some of you are starting from the start.
Red, orange, yellow is not in there. Yellow is the answer. Do you see why the cutoff is so
sharp between five and six. When we go from five to six all
we do is add one compared to five. That is plus 20%.
Multiplied by 1.2, if you want. That isn’t what matters for the
brain processing. What matters is in terms of
combinations we are going from factorial five to fact or he six
— factorial six. The factor is six, that is why
the cutoff is so sharp. Therefore no more than five
items together. No more than five points in a
presentation. It means if you have a bullet
list, no more than five items in the list.
Here’s the first case where you have to be careful not to
misinterpret what I’m saying and apply it blindly.
I’ve seen people tell me that maximum five items in a list and
maximum five words per item in the list will stop that is
nonsense. Five words are not five items
presented together. There is a hierarchy between the
different words in the sentence. Five items.
Don’t worry about the number of words.
Otherwise you might as well say no more than five letters per
word. Nonsense, obviously. You can apply the number five to
the number of lines in a graph. We said that this is the
maximum. Five is quite of few. It’s a handful.
It is the five fingers you have on your hand.
Is that related to the limit in our mind?
I don’t know, but it is already a lot. In comic strips, many from Mickey Mouse to Calvin and
Hobbes only have four fingers because five can be difficult to
draw properly. Four fingers. Which means five is the maximum.
Five is not the optimum. That is an interesting moment
when I ask the maximum number, they don’t really know.
When asked the optimum number of points, they always know.
They say the optimum is three. Why three?
It is difficult to have a simple answer, but we can address
approximations. Two is a dichotomy, and
opposition, black-and-white coming in and Yang.
It is one concept with a bit in front of it.
You have it or you don’t have it.
You can say three is better, it is richer.
Four is even better, except that it is so many already that it is
starting to invite its substructure.
You give four items to someone and often they start
grouping the items. What is the appendage of three?
Three is the simplest complexity.
Complex enough that it introduces a grade between the black-and-white.
It isn’t a dichotomy anymore. It is the simplest way to be
complex. It is simpler than four, so it
works well as an optimum. If you don’t believe me, go find
empirical evidence and see how many things work in three.
When I grew up the reference was a black-and-white movie that my
grandparents would show on their movie projector called the three
little pigs. Obviously, you have many more
than that. The three blind mice or the
three wishes in Aladdin, the three fairy godmother’s and
sleeping beauty, or the three bears in Goldilocks.
Everything in Goldilocks was in three.
The first porridge was too hot, the second was too cold, the
third one is just right. Go to philosophy. Music.
A good friend of mine who has been trained to teach me the
fundamentals of music always said, you can play a theme, you repeat that theme, then you do a
variation of the theme will stop that is again the number three.
The craziest example that I ever heard training participants in
workshop, that person said, the United States Declaration of
Independence, let’s read it. We hold these truths to be
self-evident. That all men are created equal.
Two, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain
unalienable rights. Three, that among these are
life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
We have three truths and three on inalienable rights.
She said to us, life is clear. Don’t kill people.
At least not arbitrarily. Liberty, don’t imprison people
arbitrarily. The pursuit of happiness?
What exactly is it that you are not supposed to do?
That is a very fuzzy one. It is a placeholder.
If you say life and liberty, that isn’t good enough.
You need a third one, and that is why it is the pursuit of
happiness. Right or wrong, that is what it really is.
The structure is a view of the mind. It is always possible to
structure in different ways. Structure does not preexist.
I have 18 points, that’s the way it is, no, that’s the way that
you look at it. Say ideally for memorable
stories you would have three points. It is not a dogma. If you have been thinking about
it and considering three points, and you say in my specific case
I think that too would work better, for, or five, go for 2,
4, or five. I don’t think that you should be
obsessed with the number three. However, if you say seven when
be the better number of points, I’m going to say I am really not
sure about that. I try hard never to say never,
but in this specific case I may say I really don’t think that
you want to seven points presented together.
The next question, if you have seven things that you want to
say, what do you do? You will want to build a tree.
Before we build it, let’s do something simpler than a tree.
Let’s start by grouping. As we have said before, if I
give you this many points you would have to count to know how
many there are. Unless I group them.
Now you see three groups of three items.
If you are an MIT alumni you know that three times three is
nine. So you would be able to see what
the total number is because it has been grouped.
Conditions, everything before applies.
Make sure that when you are organizing the items into
clusters you have no more than five items in every cluster, and
you have no more than five clusters.
Otherwise you would violate the rules in one, possibly TW oh,
ways. — two ways. You see this table?
I would point out that this table has a lot of useful ink,
the data, and unnecessary ink , the horizontal and vertical
lines. You can lose that because they
have to process it and they lose time.
Then people say it is difficult to make the correspondence
between the right and left column.
You almost have to take a pencil and follow with the pencil to
make the correspondence. Not if you decide to group the items in this fashion.
Now, even though we don’t put horizontal lines to connect, we
can easily make the match between an item in the first
column and in the last column. If the data in the table is
undifferentiated, basically the same variable for lots of
different situations, then you could group in equal clusters.
In this case we grouped by five because that is the maximum.You
may have seen this and train timetables.
Maybe they were even using a background color to help you
figure out the clusters in the table.
That is what you do if the data is undifferentiated.
Of course, sometimes that’s not the case.
If you say that these are actions that I want my audience
to take, there might be a more meaningful way to make clusters
than just counting to five, skipping space, and counting
another five. Try to make it as meaningful as
possible. That means that maybe we should
go away from this vertical presentation, and instead of
that we would move to a tree. Even for a small chain that is, is that five or maximum five, we
could think of that as something that is divided into three, in
the sense and random room. It is not to after three or
three after two, it is I have a main point at the top and three
different arguments almost in any order in the situation.
I have a main point, one, then I have 2, 3, four, maximum five
points to support that main message.
Then we can visit the main question, how many points in a
presentation? Imagine that you went somewhere
outside of your organization, to a conference, client, or event,
and you gave a brilliant presentation in 15 minutes.A
colleague from your organization attended and loved it.
When you’re back at the organization, would you give
that talk to my division? Instead of 15 minutes, you can
have half an hour. Would you do when you change to
half a presentation to one double as long? You don’t.
If you have a message in three main points, you keep that.
However, you will have more to say about each of these main
points, which means if you have more to say you can structure it
again in sub points. That is more than clusters, like we had before.
It is really something where you can have information at every
level. It is in written documents when
you have a section, section four before you have subsection 4.1.
There is no rush into five.
We need to balance the tree as best we can.
Let’s remind ourselves of what we already know.
I see so many people afraid of hierarchies.
Paradoxically, people who have studied communication, I am the
editor of a newsletter, they want to keep it simple as they
tell me. And they will say we don’t want
hierarchy come we just want one level, no more than that.
You don’t even have to number them.
Then you have a document with lots of headings, that is not
going to be memorable. It is not something that you can
assimilate, not something that you can derive a global view
from. You can just skip the pages and
say oh, I see. You would not see anything.
Every cluster in our tree should have a maximum of five items.
Of course, don’t get carried away the other way.
When people understand that they can put sections and
subsections, sometimes they exaggerate a little bit.
At some point they would see a heading that is numbered
3.4.1.5.2. What is the idea of decimal
notation? Why don’t we use Roman numerals,
capital letters? If you open the document and you
see B, you don’t know what it is the B of.
If you put numbers, you would know.
In your mind you can have a global view of the whole
document. You can see the whole map.
And that map we are right here. You would not be able to do that
with five letters. I asked participants, how many
letters maximum in a tree structure to keep it balanced?
Everyone says maximum three levels, except for those who had
five or six and tried to negotiate four.
By large people agree on three letters. Don’t think that this is as limiting as it seems.
People who write a PhD
thesis a this is going to be a long document.
I’m not going to go very far with that. No?
How about we do the math? In a PhD thesis you can have
five chapters. In a chapter you could have five
sections. In each section you can have
five subsections, a total of 125 subsections.
The rules are not going to cramp your style.
Still, if you have a balanced tree you will have to worry
about navigation of the tree. In a written document you have
probably put a table of contents.
This is a table of contents in a structure that respects what we
said. Maximum five in every cluster
and maximum three letters. That does not mean for
navigation it gives you the global view.
You can say oh, I see at a glance.
Maybe your PhD thesis had a table of contents on four pages.
How is that giving a global view to anyone?
What you can do for that table of contents is you can only
include the chapters and the sections.
You can still have some sections you don’t show in the table of
contents. mi You can sort of put it back, but
not here. The table of contents you put
the chapters and the sections. In the beginning of a chapter
you can put the sections and subsections of that chapter will
stop like a hierarchical menu on your computer.
You see the submenu of the item where you are.
You don’t see all at the same time, it’s the same idea.This is for documents.
If we go back to discussing presentations we have to do
minus one for each of them in the presentation.
Don’t go for three levels. You have main points and sub
points like in the diagram, that is what you can have.
If you do a preview of that, put only the top level like I am
doing now to announce the third part of this presentation, three
points and I’m only showing you the top level.
We have discussed everything we need to discuss, but now we need
to sort that out. Before we go to seven, let’s
start with zero to six taking a die as an example.
This might be where you are thinking, wait a minute, he said
maximum five and now is showing seven. You are right.
We need to group. You can’t just group by leaving
space because it is a little more complicated.
The basis of our mathematics is zero.
Then you have the first three primes.
Whatever is left would be the first two composites.
Number zero, what is that useful for?
If you have zero content, you are not going very far.
Remember my example of the unnecessary inch?
Zero is for perfection, not giving the audience anything
that they don’t need. That would mean zero serve
flurry his words on a page, zero useless gestures during a talk
on the zero unnecessary ink in a graph. One could be focus.
When I asked participants how many items maximum in a
presentation there will always be a person to say one maximum.
That is besides the point. Focus suggests one theme per
document or presentation, but besides the point because I
wasn’t talking about the presentation as a whole.
I was talking one level down. You can carry that over to lots
of different situations. One message per slide, per paragraph, or one idea per
sentence. One is also consistency.
Imagine having a list that you think is optimal because it has
three items. You are giving the qualities of
a system, and you say as the first bullet, the fastest system
we tested. As the second, flexible?
As the third, this is a system we can rely on.
You have the three qualities of the system, but they are not
expressed consistently. The first is a non-phrase, the second is objective, and the
third is a sentence. The items are comparable with
the same type. The system is fast, flexible, reliable.
Objective, objective, objective. You can do the same thing
visual. This time we go from one arrow
to a double arrow. One is the headings in the same
way. All of the headings of level two
of your document will be in the same way. That is consistency.
If you want to be helpful to the audience you want to make sure
that the level one and level two headings are typeset in
different ways. One function one format, one
format one function. It goes both ways.
You can do that for synonyms.
Synonyms is the way to lose less specialized readers.
If you talk about organic solar cells, then polymer solar cells,
even specialists would wonder if they were the same, almost the
same, or in fact not the same. One word, one concept, one
concept, one word. No homonyms, ideally.
That would help in translation, but I know it is not entirely
under your control. That is the basis of
arithmetic’s in the sense that if you have the zero and the one
you can do anything else with scaling it.
Let’s go further with their number theory to the first three
prime numbers. Let’s discuss number two a
little bit more. Two is a duality.
With all of its power and limitation. I talk, for example, about
audiences that are experts and audiences that are nonexperts.
You can say that is really useful and also that it is that
sometimes I want to talk about audiences in between.
Like the boss of your boss. That is not quite an expert or a
nonexpert either. I’m just summing it up. We also said that too is a
useful limit. We said it’s the maximum levels
in a presentation, maximum levels in a table of contents in
a written document. We didn’t say is that it is also
the maximum number of lines of text that an audience will
process in visual major. You may have noticed that the
messages that I put on many of my slides in the top left are
always on maximum two lines. Sometimes you feel with three
lines I can be more accurate. I am worried that you wouldn’t
be able to process those lines and move on to whatever else is
on the slide without reading the text.
One thing we didn’t discuss is that two is also redundancy.
For example we are worried about eliminating distractions with
roll number zero, perfection. There may be lots of
distractions on your end. Maybe a colleague is entering
the room, your phone is ringing, there might be losses.
I said something and you missed it.
What I can do is compensate for the losses by saying it twice.
But not verbally. I will say it in different
channels, with my voice, and I write it on the slide if it is
important enough. Which means up to a point you
could understand even if the sound on your computer isn’t
working. You can understand even if you
are just listening without looking at my slides.
That should still work. Two is redundancy.
Three is the simplest complexity. It is the optimum in terms of numbers.
Three is the optimum. Three reasons to do something as
memorable. If you are thinking levels in a
document, you think of the numbers, the Xfone as a factor,
and three would be the maximum. And five we said is a handful.
It is really useful as an upper limit of the number of items
that you can present together. If you want to remember
something, 2,3,5 would be my choice.
To as redundancy, three as an optimum, five as a maximum.
Four and six are composite numbers.
You could say four is after three and six is after five.
If it works in three maybe it works in four for some people.
Is it for a bit and to have four levels of headings?
I’m not going to say that. I wouldn’t do it myself, I don’t
want to take the risk, but it might work.
The same way that six items might work.
I wouldn’t do it, but it might. We can use the composite
properties, for is a square, two times two.
Four is my recommendation for the number of choices if you let
an audience choose, like on a survey. In the trainings that we
run we ask surveys online.
We have four choices, excellent, good, fair, poor.
When people have four choices
they make a cascade of two binary choices.
They decide if it is really good or really bad most of the next
question is a little good or very good.
It boggles my mind and the social sciences many would use a
seven point scale. When I am a reviewer of their
papers, I noticed that even though they give seven options,
very good, good, somewhat good, neutral, somewhat bad, dad, very
bad, when they report on that they make clusters.
43% indicated either good or very good.
We group in the way that they record their results, they may
as well group on the scale. You can use five if you are in
the neutral in the middle, but I want people to make a choice, I
will go for four. Number six it is just a composite.
You can have six graphs when you’re doing something related
to the weight of people and life sciences.
You can have normal, acceptable, body mass index, underweight,
overweight. The others is the difference
between the males and females. You would have a display like
six dots on the face of the die. Six is not interesting in
itself. What is interesting is the
substructure of the prime numbers that we discussed
before. Now, remember when we looked at four claw to realize that we were the ideal number.
When I asked what goes in three in fairytales, they say three
wishes, the three godmothers, the very godmothers in
sleeping beauty. Someone would say, what about
this one, the seven dwarfs? Seven is an interesting number, but in a negative way.
Do you remember the names of the seven dwarfs?
Maybe you know some of them, the colorful ones, but it isn’t
easy, and you remember them in a specific sequence.
We would say that seven is the smallest numerous ness.
They wanted to say that there was a lot of doors but in the
most economic way possible — of dwarfs but in the most economic
way possible. It is not useful in general for
communication you would do professionally.
We discussed it, keep it Global, a tree, a hierarchy not a chain,
and recognize from zero to six in E number could be useful
guide. Don’t go dogma, remember one
number. Structuring, to finish, is a powerful device for
communication. Let me end with a specific
example. A number of years ago I was
asked to give a presentation. They said we would like time
management. It’s not a topic that I had in
my repertoire. I thought about it and I said
I’m not an expert about it, plus we are in the information age.
What do they need me for? They want help on personal
effectiveness, they can put that into their favorite search
engine. What’s the problem with that?
The information age is the age of the information overflow.
Right? The last time that I looked I
had 30 million hits. When I had one that I thought
was interesting is this page. 33 recommendations for personal
efficiency. 33 in volume one. If you look at the bottom of the
list it goes on with 33 in volume two and three, that is 99
tips. All of them are useful. That’s when I thought I can see
what my value could be. The value added would be
selecting and structuring most of the way that I did that, this
is the last talk that I gave at MIT in January, I structured it
with something you probably recognize.
Expected gain is the return you might get on a outcome divided
by the probability over all of the possible outcomes.
I decided that my outline for that presentation was going to
be what is desirable, the return, what is achievable, the
probability, and how do you combine the two and actually
make it happen? Right. That means not only was I going
to structure everything that I was going to say that
presentation, the goal was also that this could help the
audience structure everything that they would ever read or
hear for the rest of their lives for personal efficiency. I know that you probably have a
lot of content expertise. That is something that you
obviously bring to communication . The other thing that you might
bring is the communicative value that you might add I selecting
among everything that you could be saying, organizing what you
would have selected. The point that we did not
discuss would be expressing it. The structure means select and organize.
Just by doing that on top of all of the expertise that you have
you bring so much to the audience.
Let me leave you with that thought and close this
presentation the way that I know is not very original, but
believe me is very sincere. Let me wish each and everyone of you every success with your
communication in the future. Perhaps I might add one
practical thing and then go back to Diana. Did I mention my book?
Just because you listened to me today you can get
that at a discount. Make a note or you can make a
screen cap. Until the end of October you can
get 25% off. That is just a practical thing.
Dr. Chien: Thank you for that generous offer.
And thank you for your presentation.
I like the cognitive emphasis that you have on what the
audience can process or understand in one glance.
I think that it reminds us that communication really does not
work unless it is processed in the mind of the people listening
to us. It is not just a passive act of
handing something off. There has to be processing on
the other end happening. Now I will turn to our listener
questions and remind you that if you were not aware before there
is a Q&A feature at the bottom of the screen.
I will be paying attention to the questions that Popeye and a
and fielding them for Jean-Luc . The first question is how long
can a sensible presentation be, where sensible means that the
message has been given and the audience is still interested.
Dr. Doumont: That is a question that I have a lot indeed.
I keep hearing people say, after 10 minutes it is hopeless.
The audience will no longer be interested will stop the
audience will disconnect. I disagree with that very
strongly. For simple reason was that you
and I go to the movies. Movies are typically at least 90
minutes. If it’s any shorter than 90
minutes you feel cheated. A good movie can keep your
attention for 90 minutes without any problem.
I can answer that with my personal experience, including
talks that I give at MIT. I regularly give lectures about
two hours. For two hours I maintain that I
can keep the attention of the audience, nonstop from beginning
to end. More done by structuring the
content into well-balanced trees, delivery, eye contact, language.
I wouldn’t venture longer than two hours myself, if only
because then the audience would need a restroom break or
something. We start hitting the physiological limitations of the
audience. It doesn’t mean that two hours
will work for you, but it means that you shouldn’t give up from
the start and listen to that nonsense.
You can give long presentations and keep the audience
interested. Dr. Chien: Thank you. Another question that I see
popping up a lot is that there are many instances where the
number 10 feels very appealing. Lists of 10 things were a net
promoter score based on a scale of zero to 10.
Can you comment on why the number 10 feels so appealing and
whether you would recommend for or against using that number.
Dr. Doumont: Right. The number 10 is so appealing
because it is the base that we are using for writing numbers.
I suspect that the base comes from the fact that we have 10
fingers. You also have the number 12 base
to use in some British and American units, which would then
be based on 12 pieces of fingers that you have on one hand if
your accounting with your fingers like this.
I think it is about the base. A friend of mine studying these
things says given the base, like 10, we use that to round things
off. We would be sensitive to the
base , twice it, half of it, and
possibly half of half. You see this empirically in
currency systems. In Europe it is twice and half.
If we have 10 we have five and 20.
That means you can multiply by 10 or divide by 10 most that we
would have two or we would have $.20, not $.25 like in the U.S..
The U.S. you take half and you take half of half and you have a
quarter. Maybe we didn’t do such good
work when we chose the base tend to do everything.
Maybe we should stick to something simpler than 10.
I suspect that the appeal for 10 is the round off appeal based on
the base that we have chosen. To take a religious example,
many points can be illustrated by religious examples.
The Christian religion, the three Kings, the three denials
of Peter and so on. Sometimes the 10 Commandments. Look at every illustration we
have ever seen of the 10 Commandments.
It is two tablets of five. In a sense there has been a
grouping in five and five, which brings us back to the point I
was making in this presentation. Dr. Chien: Excellent. Thank you.
Several people would like for you to expand on the use of
trees in a presentation. For example, should the tree be
made visual and apparent during the presentation?
Should it stay implicit in how the presentation is structured?
What do you recommend? Dr. Doumont: The answer to
almost any question is it depends.
It depends on your content. We may have noticed in this
presentation I only previewed the three main points on the
slide that kept coming back with the different highlights where
we are on the map. Could you do a presentation that
I suggested you might do for a document, preview the sub
points? You could. You could preview the sub points
at the beginning of each. Let’s see if I can make a hand
gesture. You have three main points on
your slide. When you start from two you have
a line from the side and the three sub points.
When you come to .3 you will have the sub points of .3.
Why would you or why would you not doing that — not do that?
You have to consider what the value is if you present for the
audience. If the sub points are really
different things to me really want to say I have three very
different things that I want you to remember, and previewing them
is likely to be very useful. In the current limit that I have
been giving, that wasn’t very useful.
Under .1 it was kind of fuzzier. I could have previewed it, but
the impact would have been minimal.
If you believe that they should remember the sub letter in terms
of structure and carry with them and assimilate it, you probably
want to preview the sub level as well.
The new question, can we do that graphically? Yes, in a sense.
At least if you’re going to give slides.
You can give great presentations without slides, but if you are
using the slides use the slide to make the tree structure as
visual as you can. It is going to help the
audience. They can see where they are in
the tree structure without reading.
They don’t even need to read on the slide, they can see we are
at the third point out of three. It’s almost done.
Dr. Chien: Excellent. We also have several questions
about the application of these concepts to creating visuals.
For example, would you say that these rules or recommendations
apply to the number of sub plots within a given figure?
Dr. Doumont: When it is visual
you have to be a little more careful.
An approximation the answer is yes.
Remember when you have more you can show a structure.
Remember when I had six graphs? I had males and females
horizontally, normal body weight, underweight, and
overweight defined by maybe the body mass index. ‘s is six OK?
Yes, because it is not six it is three times three.
Some of you would consider that to be different graphs.
Would we say graph if graph if you had
subsets or clusters? You would probably want to do
something similar. Probably because it will depend
on your data set, but depend on your data set, but again if
the goal is for the audience to take that away from the
presentation, you will have to be careful with how much you
give at a given time visually as well. Dr. Chien: Great.
And one question that we often hear a lot in the communication
lab is how do you navigate the balance between making a
presentation suitable for in person presentation where you
have a lot of figures, but at the same time you might also
want for it to be able to stand alone for later reading, perhaps
reading, perhaps reference as a handout, for
example? Dr. Doumont: I do not like the
question. I’m not going to write the —
like the answer. It is hopeless. I see almost every corporation
doing it. I’m not going to writeThey make
slides that double as the written report will stop I
see it work nowhere. If you want something where
people can look at while they are listening to you, you need
to limit the amount of information, particularly the
amount of text on the slide. There are a lot of visual things
possibly, but not too much text. If you want to document to stand
on its own you would need more text on the slide.
How do we go around that? There are two ways.
First, make sure that you focus on the messages, the thing that
you want the audience to remember from each slide.
The point is that you don’t need to say everything on the slide.
You just need to make sure that whatever you say, however
limited it is, does not need additional information to be
understood. I say what I show that I say
more that I show on the slides, however if you take the slide
and you don’t listen to what I say come with the exception of a
few points like snow white, you can get everything that I say.
The slide stands on its own, no matter how little it says, you
can use it easily as a handout. Secondly, you can think outside
of the box. You can recognize that one
feature is called speaker notes. Let’s use that, and offer
speaker notes, for audience notes.
I will take my sheet and speaker notes, the slide will become
very small in the top left corner.
How about I use the rest of the space as notes for the audience
so that when I give a presentation I only show the
slides with information that stands alone.
When I give a handout to the audience afterwards, I give the
slide and the additional information that they might
need, possibly including XL spreadsheets and what have you.
That would be in the notes.I’m not saying it would be the best
document for notes afterwards, but it could establish some sort
of photographic recognition of the slides.
They recognize them as something they have seen before.
Dr. Chien: I think that gets back to the concept of effective
redundancy, presenting people with multiple channels for
accessing this same information. Ideally all of the channels are
in alignment so you aren’t resenting people with new things that are in conflict.
To give people the remaining time, I think I will present
with one more question and we will wrap up with a few more
logistics of how you can see the video later and such questions. The final question is about
potentially structuring the recommendations you presented
today. Are there times when a long
sequence might be more appropriate, such as if you have
to communicate and journey or a type of process that is very
long? Dr. Doumont: You can certainly
argue that if the essence of what you are trying to
communicate is sequential, there’s nothing wrong with the
sequence. However, I have my doubts.
Maybe not in terms of how much the audience will remember,
because maybe they don’t need to remember, they have a document,
but how well the audience is prepared.
One example is what I see a lot in the pharmaceutical industry.
What they call standard operating procedures.
It is said recipe — it is a recipe.
You have a procedure with 21 steps. Even though they argue you just
have to follow with your finger top down, I feel I am never well
prepared. One step may take five seconds.
One may take two hours. I would like to know things like
that in advance. If you look at cooking recipes
online, you see that there is usually some sort of grouping.
You may have a group for the ingredients, and then a group
for preparation, and then a group for the cooking itself.
When you buy a new piece of equipment and there is some
assembly required, you may have groups as well.
The first category that is unpacking and checking the
contents. You may have a second category
that is putting the components together.
You may have the third category of testing the electronic to
make sure it’s working. Even something sequential like a
procedure, I think that there is a benefit in grouping.
Do you need to limit every group in the procedure to five?
We may want to be a little more flexible, although if you ask me
I am a purist and I will try really hard not to have more
than five in every cluster. Dr. Chien: Thank you, so much.
That was wonderful. Overall, the MIT Alumni
Association with like you for taking the time to be with us
today and sharing your work with the MIT alumni who have joined
us from around the globe. Dr. Doumont: My pleasure.
Dr. Chien: I hope everyone found this mix of conceptual brain
candy for us nerds out there with practical applications a
really engaging mix today. Thank you as well to our
audience for tuning in. As a reminder, the presentation
will be available on the Alumni Association YouTube section
under the Career Lunch and Learn playlist in about a week.
We had a question if you would be willing to make your slides
available to attendees? Dr. Doumont: That would be
difficult for copyright reasons. The webinar will be online, but
giving the sites separately I would be in difficulty.
I want to respect the copyright of some of the images I used,
for example. Dr. Chien: If you have any
further questions about today’s event please email alumnicareers
@mit.edu. Thank you for tuning in and have
a good afternoon.>>Thanks for joining us. And for more information on how
to connect with the MIT Alumni Association, please
visit our website.

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