Oral Tech Comm

This, too, is technical communication, and it enters perfectly into the “humanist nerd” camp. This TED talk has made a few rounds, but is worth viewing, or reviewing.

Jill Bolte Taylor is a brain researcher who got an insight into her own field through her own stroke.  While this kind of occurrence is dramatic, it is not in itself that exceptional. Many bright people who are researchers have had insights into their own research through a personal accident – the most well-known probably being Sir Isaac Newton’s famous apple.

What makes this one special is the combination of the following:

  • The clarity of the explanation – the technical content.
  • The personal point of view – she describes each of her senses shutting down, one by one, from a first-person point of view that has rarely been possible.
  • The emotion that suffuses the presentation. She manages to communicate an intense personal experience with all its sensations, and at the same time be clear about the scientific part, and for the most part (perhaps not so much at the very end), she manages to keep both clarity and a certain kind of precision in her content, and to convey the human experience.

I’ve noticed some problems using the embedded player, so in case, here’s the URL: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight.html

Lessons Learned:

We technical communicators have come from what used to be called “technical writing.”  We forget, sometimes, that the written word is just one means of communication. We also communicate orally (presentations, webinars, etc. – see my previous post about my experience delivering a webinar for the first time, for example).

The quality of the technical part of the communication – and its ability to stay in the memory of our audience – can often be a function of the human impact (humanistic impact) that it carries.

While this example is probably at the extremes of such a communication, and while some might even criticize the excess of emotion and loss of objectivity, particularly near the end of the talk, it remains a vivid illustration of just how powerful a technical communication can be.

Author: Ray

Ray Gallon is president and co-founder of The Transformation Society (www.transformationsociety.net), a research, training and consulting company focusing on building learning organisations that can manage complexity and the digital transformation. He has over 40 years as a communicator, first as an award-winning radio producer and journalist, then in the technical content industries. His management experience includes a stint as program manager of WNYC-FM, New York City’s public radio station. Ray is a self-described "humanist nerd," and has always been interested in the meeting point between technology and culture, and has used his broad experience to advantage with companies such as IBM, General Electric Health Care, Alcatel, 3M, and the OECD, as well as in smaller companies and startup enterprises. Ray recently helped co-found the Information 4.0 Consortium (www.information4zero.org) and serves as its current president. Ray is a university lecturer and a keynote speaker at events throughout the world. He has contributed articles and chapters to many books and periodicals and is the editor of the recently published “Language of Technical Communication” (XML Press).

4 thoughts on “Oral Tech Comm”

  1. We think alike: http://www.mardahl.dk/2008/04/06/fantastic-insight-into-a-collapsing-brain/ I was completely captivated by her talk. I like how you’ve highlighted the three key areas that make her talk such a success. I also agree wholeheartedly that there are countless examples of learning good technical communication that are not packaged in a clearly techcomm package. Sometimes it is more fun discovering good examples in directions that seem way outside our comfort zone or normal grazing areas.

    1. Interesting to read your post and the responses, as they are a few years old. I only discovered her recently. Have downloaded the book from Amazon, and have started it. Multi-task reading with a lot of other stuff.

      As technical communicators, our job is to render technical information lucid, vibrant and useful for people. I’d say Jill Bolte Taylor bats 1000 on all points.

  2. Hmmm. I was suspicious about those comments. They fall suspiciously close to those trawlers that comment only to drive traffic to their own sites for Google reasons. I let them stay. WP hadn’t banned them, and I feel I have strong spam filters. In other words, I’m not sure how real those comments are.
    Still, it is a powerful story. The tale is definitely a fascinating one for tech comm people. It is an example, as you point out in your very first sentence, of technical communication. For me, this proves tech comm examples are all around us and not just in a classic “user manual”. It’s the keeping our eyes and ears open that will keep up updated and prepared for the Next Big Thing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: