Friday, October 28, 2011

Communicate Creative: The Bird Bird Effect

You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can't get them across, your ideas won't get you anywhere.  — Lee Iacocca

In school I was very scatter-shot in learning and getting good grades.  If I liked the class, I did well.  If I liked the class and the teacher, I would perform even better.  If the class or teacher could not keep my attention I struggled.

Mr. Adeleman was my computer teacher with straggly long hair, mustache, and a bow-tie; he looked like an extra on the set of a Shakespeare play.  He had my attention. Throughout the year I would have his attention as well.

I would act up intentionally in the class and when he would come over to my computer to verbally discipline me, I would record his voice, unbeknownst to him.

When he would discipline other students I would wait until the class grew quiet and play back Mr. Adelemen's austere voice thru my computer speakers

The class would erupt in laughter.

And that is when this nerdy high school student learned that technology could capture an audience.

Although the illustration may sound a little childish, there is a children's program that knows the power of technology to capture a child's attention; Sesame Street.  I have broken down a number of key principles of how Sesame Street uses technology that can be transferred to when you communicate (with or without puppet training).
Five Key Principles How Sesame Street Can Improve Your Communication.

1. Ernie's Elbows (Great Execution)

My son likes Ernie a lot, he calls him "E."  After watching Ernie, I became fascinated with how "E" would operate.  He seemed so real.  One person alone could not operate him.  After doing some research, I learned that it took two people to make Ernie come to life.   Whatever illustration medium you use make it look seamless, never show the "elbows." I have enjoyed using Powerpoint, and now Keynote to teach or preach.  It is a great visual aid but I needed someone to run the laptop when I was on stage.  The two person job did not always flow well.  Connecting the iPad to the Macbook thru a keynote remote app it can create a pretty cool teaching experience by allowing one person to control two objects.  You do not always need the latest techie device but whatever tool or illustration you use remember to hide "Ernie's elbows."

Jim Henson + Puppetier = Ernie's Elbows 

2. True Mud, Mad Men, I'm Yours (Culturally Relevant)

Sesame Street has always been able to get major celebrity appearances from Paul Simon and Billy Joel back in the day to more current artists like Usher and Jason Mraz.  TV shows have also gone under a muppet-makeover, like True Blood and Mad Men.  Although most young children may not recognize the pop references, their parents do.  It is a way to draw in the casual viewer.  Being culturally relevant allows the person on the fringe to connect and be drawn into the lesson. "Unlike a certain purple dinosaur we could name, Sesame Street is something even grown-ups like to watch. It's the show's prolific use of satire that keeps big people glued to the set."  Sesame Street has been on the air for more than 40 years, Barney and Friends has been on hiatus since 2009.  Being culturally relevant is not everything, but it does help to engage your audience and keep things fresh.

3. ABC is Key (Content is King)

Sesame Street would not have the reputation of a great children's program if it didn't actually teach the children to learn.  Content is the foundation for the illustrations to built on, not the other way around. Lisa Guernsey of Newsweek had this to say about Sesame Street, "Sesame Street is no ordinary nonprofit. It is, arguably, the most important children's program in the history of television. No show has affected the way we think about education, parenting, childhood development and cultural diversity, both in the United States and abroad, more than Big Bird and friends." My son has learned to recognize the letters of the alphabet and Sesame Street is big reason for that.  Especially from watching catchy and educational videos like this one, "Here we go..."

4. The Big Bird Effect (Visually Sticky)

Sesame Street has been on the air for over 4 decades but it almost did not make it past the first 4 episodes.  In the beginning stages of the program, the fantasy moments were separated from the real life street segments, (think Mr. Rogers Neighborhood). When the show transitioned to only the adults, the children watching would instantly tune out.  The production team had to find a way to make the message stick and keep the kids engaged for the full hour or Sesame Street would never be aired.  Enter Jim Henson and say hello to Big Bird. "What we now think of as the essence of Sesame Street--the artful blend of fluffy monsters and earnest adults--grew out of a desperate desire to be sticky," says Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Tipping Point.  Whether it be thru a creative stage design, engaging keynote presentation, or even a physical illustration, do not just talk about story, show the story.  "The medium is the message," is a phrase coined by Marshall McLuhan.  The medium creates a symbolic connection with the audience.  Big Bird is Sesame Street and Sesame Street is Big Bird.

Big Bird says H is for...?

5. Elmo Loves You (Heart)

My son likes Ernie, but he love Elmo.  I believe one of the reasons he loves Elmo is because Elmo represents love.  Elmo has heart.  Elmo is always expressing his love whether it be to a toddler visiting Elmo's World or an object like his tricycle.  In the midst of all media and technical elements you can add to a lesson it is ultimately you that your audience will connect with. If you genuinely love your topic and genuinely love your audience that will be far more effective than latest trend or crafty illustration.  When I was going thru my training to become a substitute teacher, I asked a teacher at a local school, what is the main thing you look for in a great substitute?  He responded, "I just want my sub to love the students."  How you love is the filter thru how you communicate.

About that computer class...

If you were wondering about my high school exploits in computer class.  Mr. Adeleman did take a special interest in me.  Although I would get sent to the principle office at times, he collaborated with me on my final presentation. This time he gave me permission to record his voice on the computer, and I got an A for the class.  I am thankful for teachers like Mr. Adeleman who saw thru my quirks to help me realize my potential, and there is no App for that.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Communicate Creative: How Watching the Food Network Can Improve You're Speaking

Are You Ready For a Throwdown?
The next series of blogs will be a departure from my hopeful observations of everyday life.  It has been on my heart and mind to share some of the tools and tips I've learned along way from speaking as a pastor and also a teacher.  Let me start off by saying I do not have the best voice, I sound kind of like Kermit the Frog I also do not have the rockstar good-looks of a Pete Wilson, I look more like that kid from Boy Meets World with the curly hair.

However, my hope is that these ideas can be used in any setting whether your audience is a class of 3rd graders or a congregation of 300 or more.

The TV I used to watch when I was single guy and the TV I watch as married man is very different.  One channel I find myself watching a lot more of than I did before is the Food Network.  It has come a long way from those early years of how to cook a turkey right for Thanksgiving.

The Food Network has developed wide palette of shows and also cultivated it's chefs to be as recognizable as their food.

I believe there are a number of key principles expressed in each of the signature shows from the Food Network that have a common thread from Home Cooking with Paula Dean to Good Eats with Alton Brown that can be used to help one become a better communicator.

Five Key Principles to Improve Your Speaking From the Food Network

1. Personal Connection

It seems almost every chef ties in their food to a personal story from their past.  The story doesn't outshine their medium but it does enhance it and draws you in.  When Bobby Flay talks about his hard working days as a sous chef, any person trying to break into a certain field can be inspired and connect with those stories.  I remember when I was in second grade, my teacher Mrs. Noel, shared a illustration in her lesson about how her husband liked to play video games.  I was hooked, and still remember that two decades later.  The personal illustration creates a personal connection.

2. The Cookbook Trap

When watching the Next Food Network Star I saw a number of aspiring chefs fall into the cookbook trap as they try to get noticed by seasoned chefs.  It's a trap I can fall into at times as well, especially when I am speaking in a setting that makes me nervous.  The cookbook trap is this, using other successful rescipes from other successful chefs, (i.e. the cookbook) and passing them off as your own.  It is one thing to be inspired by something you read or hear but to copy the exact way a person communicates or writes in a book and pass it off as your own is a crime.  People can notice a fake.  It robs your own development and robs your audience of something new, fresh, and inspiring.

3. Know the Clock

A show that is known for this concept and also has had amazing success for seven seasons is Rachel Ray's 30 Minute Meals.  Yes it is a show based on convenience, but there is another principle conveyed; trust.  People know that within 30 minutes Rachel will deliver on her promise.  As a communicator we need to stick to our promise of the time given.  Long does not always equal great.  Going over the expected time can cause the listener to tune you out.  Closing concisely and on time respects the audience and the individuals who gave you the authority to speak.  Honoring the time given shows that you can be disciplined and that your message is not just about you; it is and always should be about your audience.

4.  Share the Ingredients 

People want to know how to make the meals they see on TV and people want to know how to apply the lesson to their lives.  Claire Robinson's Five Ingredient Fix is a show based all around a meal that has just five ingredients. It's simple, popular and my wife has made many meals from watching this show, and they were great meals.  Sharing the ingredients is all about giving the practical takeaway.  This can be expressed clearly as you transition your points along the way or can be summed up clearly at the end of your lesson.  Never assume your audience will just "get it." Be intentional and take a little extra time to be clear and practical.

5. Signature Style

You are designed a certain way and have a uniqueness that only you can bring to your field.  Your personality, background, and experience will shape what you share.  Be confident in expressing those tools that you already have and stick to them; be you.  This is the X Factor that the Food Network is always looking for in the next signature chef because each chef on the Food Network is known for a signature style.  Bobby Flay is known for Southwest flavors, Alton Brown is known for food science, and Paula Dean is known for Southern style home cooking.  What will you be known for?

I hope you will find these ideas to be encouraging and practical for you to lend to your own speaking style.  These are not the only tools to developing a great speaking style, but I believe they can be very useful.

The next blog will discuss the tech-side of communicating visually.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

September A Month to Forget & Remember

As we were coming off the heals of a great August having our first event with Valley Community Church, closing on our house, and enjoying a vacation on the lovely beaches of Hilton Head Island, life was beautiful.

Life is also unpredictable. 

Our house slipped through the cracks because of an appraisal that the seller would not agree to, after a three month roller-coaster ride with three different closing dates. 

Trying to plant a church when you live a 100 miles away is a challenge.  Much like any long distance relationship, you may have a connection but its presence that's matters more than warm fuzzies.

The beginning of Autumn also brought the tension of life and death.

My wife's Grandmother, Nana as we like to call her, had a four year battle of lung complications and Alzheimer's come to end as she is now at peace with her Lord.  She was an amazing woman who was feisty as she was fashionable, kinda reminds me of someone else I know.  

Nana loved her God, her husband, and family with a tenderness and tenacity that made me instantly fall in love with her as I was falling in love with her granddaughter.

I'll never forget those nervous moments when Marisa and I first started dating as I would meet the family, Nana would remind me over and over again that it was God's providence that brought us together.  She always had a way of knowing what God was up to. 

The day of her funeral was bittersweet but it was a touching tribute.

It's hard to lose the ones you love, it's even harder to see them suffer.

My father came up that day from Philly to pay his respects, and little did I know, that soon after death  would brush by his door.

He had a ruptured Aorta and my mother told me that he would be going into surgery for seven hours.  I prayed with her over the phone and rushed to UPenn Hospital with my family but I didn't really know what to pray or how to pray I didn't even know what a ruptured Aorta was.

Later I came to learn that it was same heart condition that took the life of the great actor and comedian John Ritter.

I wasn't ready to lose my dad.
Thirty years is not long enough to say goodbye.

More than wanting my Dad to see the Philadelphia Eagles win a Superbowl, 
I wanted my son to remember this man who is my role-model and friend.
I wanted my son to know his grandfather the way my wife knew her grandmother.

My father has recovered well despite the epic collapse of the much hyped Phillies and Eagles.
My wife and I close on our first house at the end of the month (which is bigger and less money).
My church plant adventures are picking up momentum after an encouraging VCC Vision Day.

September was a month to forget but one I will always remember.

Visiting my Dad in ICU with the family.

A video celebrating the life and love of Nana.