One of the few topics I really wanted to tackle when I started this blog was living life with attention deficit / hyperactivity disorder (more commonly known as ADHD). If you don’t know what ADHD is, Wikipedia is your friend. In a nutshell, ADHD is a neuropsychological disorder that leaves you with three basic symptoms: hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention. These three symptom groups manifest differently in different people, but I’ll give a quick rundown of what my symptoms are like on a bad day.
Well, the end of April is tomorrow, and you’re probably noticing that Between Your Ears has not been reborn as the proverbial Phoenix that I had hoped.
I AM still planning on producing a web series that makes brain and behavioural science understandable, approachable, and interesting. However, I am still working out the details on the best way to do that. I am beginning to realize that the Between Your Ears Podcast in its current form is not designed to reach the largest possible audience, nor is it the best medium for an educational audience.
While listening to TED talks a week or so ago, I found an awesome talk by Tyler DeWitt that encouraged scientists to make their research exciting for younger audiences. If there is one thing that I hope to accomplish with my new series, its making neuroscience more exciting. (Take a second and watch the video below. Seriously, its awesome.)
That is why I have come to the conclusion that I am not going to rush this new web series. I am fairly confident, however, that it will most likely be a series of 3-5 minutes YouTube videos, and that they will take more of a curriculum approach to neuroscience. Bit by bit, I could address different areas of the brain, different processes that the brain undertakes, different disorders that occur when things go wrong, etc. By doing this, my videos could TEACH about the brain in a simple way instead of just throwing random topics at people. I want to make it interesting and fun, and I really feel like this is the best way to do it.
So for those of you who were eagerly awaiting the next chapter of Between Your Ears, I’m sorry, but you’ll have to wait a little bit longer. My hope is that when this launches, it will be the very best content I can muster. When will it be released? All I can say for now is…
As someone with a mental illness of my own (ADHD), I can really sympathize when people say “People don’t know what its like to have depression.” If your brain is healthy and working the way nature intended, it can be difficult to relate with a loved one who is acting irrationally. The stigma surrounding mental illness is pretty hard to deal with. We can’t see how the brain is wired differently, even though it is fairly similar to being born with webbed toes.
Enter Depression Quest: a new free-to-play interactive fiction that allows you to live the life of someone with depression. In the game, you essentially read a choose-your-own-adventure story, but depending on the severity of your depression, certain choices will be blocked off. Through the course of the game, you are given the opportunity to seek therapy and medication. There is no winning moment, but it will leave you with a greater understanding of depression. While its technically a game, don’t go in expecting to have fun. However, I really enjoyed it on a deep emotional level. Admittedly, I choked up during some of the few moments in the game the character was being loved and supported by his family.
I sincerely hope that everybody goes out and plays Depression Quest, because the world needs more understanding and compassion towards people suffering from mental illness. I am lucky enough to have an awesome support system to help me with my ADHD, but not everyone does.
Last week, I gave three presentations in three days. Two of them were an hour long as part of Brain Awareness Week, and one was 15 minutes at the University of Lethbridge Graduate Student Meeting of the Minds. I won second place out of over 40 presenters at the latter. In fact, just about any time I give a presentation I have people come up to me and tell me how much they enjoyed my presentation.
I’m not writing about this because I want everybody to know how awesome I am. In fact, I really don’t think I’m all that good. There are several things that I could absolutely do better, and I suck at them right now. For example, I pace back and forth all the time (unsurprising for someone with ADHD), and after watching a recent presentation of mine on video, its something I’m going to work on. However, there are a few things that a lot of people don’t think about when giving a presentation, lecture, or talk. This is by no means intended to be a perfect list, so if you have additional comments let me know in the comments!
1. Speak in Everyday English (No Jargon!)
This week, I taught a group of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities about the brain. The very next day, I did the same thing to a room full of graduate students. One of the most important things you can do to improve your presentation style is to get rid of jargon and talk like a real person. The number of times you will ever speak to a group of people who have the same level of knowledge as you on a given subject is next to none. Every discipline has jargon, but you don’t need to sound like a text book while explaining concepts either. If a specific word is going to be important for the duration of your presentation, the very first time it arises in your presentation you must define it in plain English immediately. If you’re having a hard time doing that, find the nearest little kid and explain what the word means to a child. If you can’t do that, you need to either remove that concept for your outline, or find another way of expressing that idea.
All too often, experts in a certain area speak like they’re reading an article from scientific journal. The Plenary address speaker at the conference I went to last weekend spoke about the “anthropocene” for 20 minutes before bothering to tell us what the word meant. Within two minutes, I had shut her out and was looking the word up on Wikipedia. I couldn’t understand a word she said until I did that. It wouldn’t have been hard for her to have a slide that said “Anthropocene: a term to express that we are in a new age where humans are a driving geological force.” Boom. Done. Don’t assume people know what you’re talking about. You don’t have to dumb concepts down, you just have to speak to them like a human being.
2. Simplify Your Slides
This is huge, and it is one of the most common mistakes around. If I wanted to read pages of text, I would have stayed home and read a book. So many presenters make terrible slides. Seriously, they suck. Some of the most brilliant professors I have ever spoken to have had the worse slides known to man.
The number one crime that most people commit is making their slide too crowded. My rule is 30 or fewer words per slide, and only one picture. If you need more than that, use more than one slide. Every-so-often you need to include more than one picture, but make sure that it is essential that you need to have both visible (eg. before and after pictures). Also, if you’re using more than a few words, use bullets to separate ideas. If you insist of having a ton of text on your slide, for goodness sakes, use the animations to hide text until you want to talk about it. If you put an entire slide full of text up, your audience is going to be reading your slide instead of listening to you.
3. Practice Using a Conversational Tone
In my mind, nothing takes me out of a talk more than someone who is clearly reading or reciting from a script. If I catch a podcaster doing it for the majority of their content, I usually am so turned off by it that I unsubscribe. In contrast, your audience will have a stronger connection with you while you’re speaking in a natural, conversational tone. By the time you get up to give a presentation, you should have a pretty good idea of what you want to say, so just make yourself a list of bullet points to cover and have a conversation with your audience. There have been countless times that I have spoken in public where a small example or annecdote has come into my hea on the spot that has enriched the topic.
In cases where you really need to give a scripted talk, work your hardest to use a conversational tone. You know the tone I’m talking about. Go and watch an Steve Jobs Keynote. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect some form of a script was made before Steve used to head on stage, but he always felt like he was up on stage just shooting the breeze with the audience. He got excited. He got mad. He was a little off-the-cuff. Those were the kinds of things that made Steve a great showman. If you can get excited about your topic, the audience will become excited and be pulled in.
QUESTION: What do you think makes a great presentation and a great presenter? Did I miss anything? Do you disagree with things I’ve said?
The big difference between amateur and professional bloggers seems to be pretty clear: amateurs fade out and are not consistent. Professional bloggers consistently put out great content for people to enjoy. Professional bloggers have a following and they are authorities in their field. Amateurs write for themselves, while the pros seem to write for the benefit of others. Most importantly, I think the word professional indicates that you are making money off of your blog too, right?
So, let’s get down to business then. Why am I writing a blog? I’m really here to establish my own personal brand. I want to have a place online where I can just talk about stuff that is exciting and interesting to me. I want this blog to be a place where people can engage in interesting conversations. The question is: what contributes to a flourishing online platform?
I’ve been listening a lot to the podcast This is Your Life by Michael Hyatt, and he talks a lot about being intentional in your business. I’ve started to think about my blog and my personal identity as a business that needs to be properly represented, and I’m realizing that I really need to be intentional. What I mean by intentional is that I need to have a specific goal in mind, plan specific things to reach those goals, and then CRUSH IT! Its all about having a plan though, it seems. Flying by the seat of you pants can only get you so far.
Another thing I’ve been thinking a lot about is how building your online platform isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon. You’ve got to work on it consistently and not give up. You can’t expect to be at the finish line of a marathon after only a few steps. Similarly, you can’t post a few things on your blog and expect to be the next Joe Q Blogenstein. I’m going to set a schedule for myself in the very near future and stick to it on a consistent basis.
So here’s today’s question: What do you think makes a good online platform for you personal brand? Let me know in the comments, and let’s get some discussion going!
Between Your Ears was initially an undergraduate independent study project in which I explored the usefulness and details of how to use podcasting to dispell myths surrounding psychology and neuroscience. Unforuntately, once the project was finished I fell off the horse, so to speak, and BYE has been in the shadows. That was then, this is now.
Welcome to the new and soon-to-be-improved ZacErickson.com! Don’t mind the dust, it will be up and running in all it’s glory very soon. I found out a few days ago that the current platform that I’m running my blog on is closing shop on April 30 of this year. Instead of stomping my feet or lazily transferring my posts to a different service, I am taking the opportunity to start fresh. If you really want to see what my old blog was like, head over to ZacErickson.posterous.com, but it will be gone as of April 30. In the mean time, I am going to be working on making this blog be more professional and aesthetically appealing, but that’s going to take a little time.
So who am I? I…
- …am Zac Erickson (duh).
- …am a graduate student studying at the Canadian Center for Behavioural Neuroscience at the University of Lethbridge.
- …received my Bachelor of Science in April 2012 studying Psychology
- …have Adult Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, and am passionate about breaking down walls and helping people understand the disorder in its many forms.
- …love geek culture, video games, movies, comics, podcasting, memes, and the like.
- …am a father of the two cutest kids in the world, and a husband to the best wife in the world (there is no room for debate, it’s fact).
Wondering what I will be blogging about? Here’s a few areas that I hope to cover:
- University-level education (both at the undergraduate and graduate level), based on personal experience
- Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (I have that!), including strategies and personal experiences
- Various other psychology and neuroscience topics that I think may interest you
- Personal productivity and self-improvement
- Geek culture and its place in a productive & professional life
- Podcasting!!! I love sitting behind the mic and talking about my passion. It’s time to dust that thing off and get started again.
I will be posting at least once a week, so do me a huge favor and subscribe to the blog. Also, if you’re on Twitter you can find me under @ZacErickson. I also want to leave every post with a question for the comments, so here we go.
QUESTION: What is one topic you would like to see me cover on my blog?
Main Topic: Today we talk all about addiction: what is addiction, what is the underlying brain mechanism of addiction, and what can you do if you ARE addicted?
E-Mail: None!! E-mail me and your feedback will be featured on an upcoming episode!
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Links Mentioned In The Show
Main Topic: Baby Einstein DVDs are purchased by thousands of parents around the world under the pretense that they will give their babies a developmental advantage. In this episode, I share some research that finds that Baby DVDs do not give babies any boost in development what-so-ever. In fact, the earlier you start your kids on baby DVDs, the more they seem to lag behind when compared to their peers. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests to not let your children watch TV within the first two years of life. However, I don’t think its going to cause any serious harm to let them watch TV now and then while you take a break. Just remember that it doesn’t matter what they’re watching; they’re not going to become a genius from watching it (not any more than they already are at least ).
Over the weekend I discovered your BYE podcasts. I really look forward to catching up on them. I listened to the ADHD podcast from February. I would like to say a BIG THANK YOU for talking about adult ADHD. I have a very hard time finding good information about adult ADHD. It’s mainly directed at kids. I also was not diagnosed until three years ago, at age 32. I sometimes wonder how much easier school would have been if I was diagnosed earlier. One thing that I think you brushed over was that ADHD can be a blessing. I can see the big picture of a situation better than my peers. I love being able to hyperfocus on tasks, although that can come across as ignoring people. I was pissed when I was first diagnosed, but now, with the help of 10mg of adderall, I see it as a strength. Look forward to future podcasts, again, thank you for discussing adult ADHD. (Name withheld)
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