On Presenting

Lately I’ve given more thought to the issue of presenting – the art of speaking to others. Especially in front of an audience. There were several triggers. The most notable is that I got in an entrepreneur workshop, and there I had (and still will have!) an opportunity to present Plnnr – for the purpose of improving my presentation skills.  The first trigger though was this wonderful talk on TED, about spoken word poetry, by Sarah Kay. When I saw this talk, what I thought was  – “I want to know how to speak like her”.

I’ve given many talks before, on pyweb-il, during my army service, about Plnnr and so on, and I got a lot of practice. I got better at it, but I got better at it without thinking about it. What this talk triggered in me was my analytical self. I started to look at this skill as learn-able by observation – and not just practice. I noticed actual specific things Sarah Kay did that I could do as well. And once I saw it once – I saw it everywhere. Fast forward a couple of weeks – and I was noticing it at the workshop, during Donna Abraham‘s talk on how to talk.

Today I was using what I know on how to present to help my partner Mosi prepare for his presentation of Plnnr to the Tech Aviv crowd. I know we both still have a way to go before we’re presentation experts, but we’re getting there.

In the meantime, I’ve discovered that TED is more than a way to broaden my horizons during lunchtime – it’s a way of discovering more techniques of presenting – and choosing the ones I like. Of course, I’m understating a bit, TED is also an excellent way to get inspired & motivated – but I just now realized – TED is also a repository of excellent speakers, and a repository of excellent talks.

I’ve found that a good way to think about these talks, is to ask yourself, “From where does the presenter take his/her presenting strength?”

Sometimes it’s knowledge and expertise. Sometimes it’s the belief in the importance of the issue. Sometimes it’s the inner strength and conviction. Sometimes it’s practice. Sometimes the speaker can’t even speak very well – but what he/she has to say is so interesting that you can’t help but listen.

I’ll leave you with two good talks that I found really inspiring and full of strength: Caroline Casey – Looking Past Limits and Charity Tilleman-Dick – Singing After a Double Lung Transplant

Happy presenting!


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The Serpent and the Rainbow

A Datura flower

Image of a Datura flower by linsuehoo

A few months ago, I borrowed a book I found in my parents’ home. I needed something to read, and the description “A Harvard scientist’s astonishing journey into the secret societies of Haitian Voodoo, zombis and magic” seemed interesting enough to warrent taking this book. I had my expectations set pretty low though – I didn’t expect to be interested enough to finish this one.

I was pleasantly surprised. “The Serpent and the Rainbow” was for me an unexpectedly educating book, and even though it was non-fiction, it had enough of a plot to keep me reading.

The most valuable thing I got out of this book was more knowledge about the Haitian revolution. That one was so bloody that it gives a whole new meaning to the word “bloody”. The Egyptian revolution currently taking place pales in comparison. Before that maybe I vaguely knew something about the Haitian revolution (I recall a short bit from “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman), but I really didn’t know a lot. For that alone, the book is worth reading.

The book contains insights into other subjects as well. These include Voodoo itself, some Psychology, Anthropology, and even the life of “Wandering academics” such as Wade Davis – the author of this book. One strong point I remember was the trade-off that we make as city dwellers: we give up the knowledge of the nature around us and in return we get the knowledge and skills required to navigate our complicated world: “at forty paces for example, their hunters can smell animal urine and distinguish on the basis of scent alone which out of dozens of possible species left it”. We gave up that skill along with many others – when we chose the city over the village and the wilderness.

Lastly, the book was also especially interesting to me as a family relative of mine recently was part of the Israeli mission to Haiti, and it was good knowing a bit more about this place that so recently suffered yet another great turmoil.

After reading this book, I read about it in Wikipedia, where I learned about criticism of the writer. That’s actually good to know, but I’m unable to conclusively decide either way.  In any case, even if I accept the criticism I still think that the book is an excellent, educating and captivating read.

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After the Fire

Ikea burned down. Many people have lost their workplace, and much property and money was lost.

However, another result of the fire that surprised us, was the rain:

What you see in this picture are two water vessels, usually used to collect rainwater from the roof’s drainpipes. This weekend they were filled with what seems to be black soot. I think the reason it’s so concentrated is because the water containers act as filters: some of the soot stays down, while the relatively cleaner water overflows. This way these two containers collected soot from all over the roof.

These two containers made me think of air pollution, and the effect it has on us. Air pollution is usually invisible. Sometimes you can see it from afar, as a brown cloud of smog over the city, but when you get inside you don’t see it. Once you get used to it you don’t feel it either. But here before me was the result of a single fire, and it doesn’t look pretty.

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Hello world

So I set up this new blog. The old blog at algorithm.co.il is soon to be moved to the new server, and I’m going to write there as well. The algorithm blog will be about tech stuff – Python, programming, etc. This blog will be about everything else – including books I read, movies I’ve seen, and stuff I’ve been through.

So see you soon in the *real* first post!

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