Is Your Smartphone Making Life Worse

I love my iPhone and my iPad. I use them to listen to music, play games, text with my friends and family – in fact, I can freely admit that I will choose to text someone rather than make a phone call. It's quick, it’s easy, and it doesn't distract me from something else. Recently, I realized that I checked my phone before I walked out to go down to my car and once I got into the drivers' seat, I checked it again.

Why? Did I really think I was going to miss something that was that important in a time span of three minutes? No, I didn't, but I’m addicted to checking my phone.

Recent studies suggest that the average smartphone user checks their phone 150 times a day.

We use these kinds of devices for everything. We keep our lives organized in the calendar applications, read all of our books on screens, and we share messages and videos with friends and family right from the palms of our hands. It's great to live in an age where being able to talk to my brother while he was deployed was as simple as an internet connection, but our reliance on technology is not all fun and games.

Smartphones have recently been proven to cause insomnia. Harvard researchers published results on how our dependency on technology has crept to the bedroom and is now throwing off our body's "light-dark cycle", which is spurning an increase in insomnia. Head researcher, Charles A. Czeisler, reports that as we expose ourselves to more artificial lights we "dramatically changed the timing of our endogenous circadian rhythms."

Overexposure to devices that think for us have caused an interesting phenomenon dubbed by Psychology Today as "The Google Effect". Research from a 2011 study found that people are encouraged to think less as we have more access to search engines right in our hands. Have you ever watched a movie and thought "hey I know that guy" and then turned to Google to type in a long and vague question to see what pops up, rather than trying to recall his face in your memory bank? That is the Google Effect.

Your brain at rest can actually be one of your most creative and productive times. Research in the early 1990s showed that your brain never really stops, even when your body is at rest. A resting state allows your brain to entertain ideas that seem random in nature. In contrast, when you are focused on a detailed activity, your brain devotes most of its energy to the task at hand. I think that being constantly tired to a device limits the ability of our brains (at least my brain) to allow those random thoughts and ideas to flow.

It’s not just your brain and creativity that can suffer from overuse of your smartphone. An Auckland chiropractor reports a rise in cases of cervical kyphosis. The curvature of your spine at the neck is developed as baby during "tummy time" when you practice holding your head up. Cervical kyphosis is the straitening of the vertebrae at the base of your neck, and many medical professionals are cautioning cell phone users to the dangers of looking down all of the time.

That's not to say that smartphones don't do a lot of good for us and social networks. Studies have been conducted after disasters (like tornadoes) that give credit to social networks and text messages for helping to get messages to those in the paths of dangerous weather to seek shelter.

The development of applications for your phone range from games to technology that allows you to save money – like with the Nest learning thermostat or can even keep your medical information on hand in the event of something happening to you. Applications allow you to store your current medications, dosages, and even if you have an allergies. In the event of an emergency, EMTs or doctors can have quick access to your medical history so that they can best attend to you when you arrive at the emergency room.

Smartphones can enrich our lives but I think it's always important to remember that too much of a "good" thing can be bad. Change your habits by putting away your phone for thirty minutes to an hour when you get home and letting your brain "idle" or delete applications that you’re constantly checking.

Are you up to the challenge? (I don’t know if I am but I'm going to try.)

The 10 Minute Presentation Rule for Brains

We say a lot of things to ourselves to pump ourselves up for giving a presentation.

Don't trip. Don't stutter. Don't fall. Your slides look amazing. This is a great looking suit. Don't be boring.

Huh? What does don't be boring even mean? To many of us, it means that we are going to speak in a friendly tone - keeping our voices from getting monotone. It means that we have lively slides and we don't plan to read off them. Don't be boring means that we are going to make an excellent presentation and we are going to make sure that we provide information to our audience that they want and need. It should be as simple as that.

John Medina, the author of the book Brain Rules took a moment to remind us that simply reminding ourselves to not be boring isn't all it takes to be a great presenter. In his eBook, he discusses some rules to the brain and Rule #4 stood out to me. Rule #4 (paraphrasing here) states that our brains respond to emotion and in order to keep an audience engaged, we must provide them with something that will reinvest them emotionally into the presentation every ten minutes.

Not only is the 10 minute rule important psychologically, it's also important when you're dealing with an audience surrounded by smartphones, iPads, Facebook, Angry Birds, and the wonders of the Internet. You have to be prepared to make sure that you can draw them back when their distractions become too much. When your audience is in front of you it is a little easier to keep these kinds of distractions in check. Most members of an audience will do what they can to give a speaker the respect and attention they deserve - since the person is practically staring them in the face. When you're dealing with a conference call or web conference, it becomes even more difficult. Now you can't see what your audience is doing - and they can be easily distracted while "listening".

Here are some of the things that I think work well to reconnect with your audience through emotion in that 10 minute span.

  1. Tell a Story This is a best practice used by so many speakers. If you pay attention the next time you're listening to a presentation, you'll find that this is a common occurrence. A lot of speakers tell the story at the beginning and then launch into their information. I suggest you use a story every time you are shifting the focus from one idea to the next. This makes them invest emotionally into your presentation again. This gives them yet another reason why they can relate to the information presented.
  2. Raise Your Voice No, I am not advocating that you scream at your participants. What I'm suggesting is that you use emphasis to your advantage and put special notice on the words that might make a difference in the presentation. Instead of saying "I just really don't like..." put the emphasis on the "really" and wake your participants up. A change in pitch can make a world of difference to your participants. It's kind of like clapping your hands in a room full of children.
  3. Ask Questions. If you're running short on stories you can draw your audience back in by asking them questions every ten minutes. When you're running on a specific time limit, it's not always feasible to let everyone participate in an open Q&A session. What a question can do for participants is poke their brain with a stick and remind them that oh, hey, I need to be paying attention .

Reminding yourself to be entertaining and not boring is a great idea when you set out to make your presentation, but if you fail to operate within the psychology of our attention spans, you might lose your audience after the first ten minutes. How do you pull your audience back into the conversation and get their brains to engage with the subject being discussed?

5 Keys to Gaining a New Perspective

The The Prop Comics Guide to Public Speaking

This post kicks off a series on what a prop comic can teach us about how to present to an audience. We hope you enjoy!

I’m assuming that most of you would recognize the name Carrot Top. No? Okay, I’m wrong. How about the name Gallagher? (Come on, even I know that one) Both are comedians, but not the typical kind of get up and spew jokes into a microphone type – these two are prop comics.

Prop comedians use everyday objects to create humor. Carrot Top and Gallagher are two of the better known names. For example, a prop comic will use a breakaway chair or a street sign as a visual representation of their joke. Sitting down in a chair and falling to the floor can be a little bit funnier than saying “he sat in the chair and he fell”.

Prop comics are (sometimes) funny because of the way they see the world. They have a completely different perspective on life than we do. This changes the way a joke is delivered and makes the old seem new again. Speaking on the same subject over and over again can start to feel the same way but if you take the prop comic’s stance and look at things from a new perspective.

Look at things from a new perspective is simply a fancy way of saying use your imagination. If you don’t feel like you’re very good at that – don’t fret, there are some things that you can do to rekindle that old spark in your brain.

  1. Talk to a child. Children see things in an incredible way. Talk to a child about different objects and watch their imaginations run wild.
  2. Drive a different way to work in the morning. This one was my boss’s suggestion and I loved it. A different perspective isn’t always a different way of thinking of things. Sometimes, it’s simply seeing the physical world from a change of direction.
  3. Take an art / writing / other creative class. There is very little that can open your mind like simply being educated. Classes like this help to teach you how to harness the imagination you had when you were a child and put it into practice.
  4. Go to the city / country. People in the country do things differently than people in the city. Everyone knows it but taking a little trip one way or the other will remind you that you are not alone. Visit the grocery store and observe how the local family owned grocery operates differently than the chain store you attend.
  5. Go people watch at the mall. Make up stories about the different couples and people you see. If you haven’t seen our post on how to spin a story from a moment, I urge you to go over there and follow these steps at the mall. Making up a simple “who, what, when, where, why” for people you don’t know will put your imagination into overdrive.

The reason a prop comic can be really popular is because they are looking at items that we see every single day in a new and exciting way. By doing this with your presentation topic you can breathe new life into an old discussion and get your audience moving in a different direction.

How to Spin a Story from a Moment

If you’ve been keeping up with me lately, you’ll know that I recently purchased my first house and have been getting settled for about a month. One of the things that I enjoy the most about my new home is that we are in the flight path of DFW International airport. Whenever I’m outside, I love to watch the planes fly overhead. I know it sounds silly, but I really enjoy watching the jets climb over the tree tops and then make the slow turn that brings them directly over my house.

Since I’m a creative person, and a writer, I find myself thinking of who is on the plane, where is the plane going, and why. The plane flying overhead only lasts a moment and there is a lot of compelling story that could be told. Stories are essential for driving your point home, especially when presenting. Stories give you context, they show the audience a way to see a different perspective, and they also set up the punch line to any jokes you might be trying to tell. But even the best writer can get writers block and creating stories can be that much harder if you don’t do it on a regular basis. In order to create stories you have to see the world in a different way. Here’s an exercise you can do to start to open your eyes to seeing those stories.

Ask one question about everything that makes you take pause. Seeing something that makes you look again is a great way to start to see the stories. Whenever you see something like that ask yourself one question about what you saw. Write down your question and a brief description of the scene so you don’t forget.

Example: The other day, there were men in the building wearing sombreros and when asked about them; the response was “That’s top secret”. I asked myself why they were wearing the sombreros.

Answer the question with one sentence. When you get home or back to the office, answer the question in one sentence. Take my sombrero question – “Why were these men wearing sombreros?” and answer it very simply. My answer to the question as “Because it was someone’s birthday”.

In three paragraphs describe the events leading up to the moment that made you take pause. Why would someone want everyone to wear sombreros on their birthday? Did the boss rent a margarita machine? Does someone really like salsa dancing? The reason to this is because if you can “make up” a story you should have an easier time seeing the stories that are always around you.

Doing this isn’t going to turn you into an author, but what it will do is get your mind open to what could be going on around you, and give you more of the ability to see the world through open eyes. You never know where the inspiration for your next blog post might come from.