Category Archives: Listening and Spoken Language

Ernie goes to university

Ernie in his LENA gear

Ernie in his LENA gear

Wednesday evening and I’m boarding a bus carrying a child sized Ernie doll. I get surprisingly few weird looks. I did try to stuff him in my bag but he didn’t fit. I’m not sure what’s a worse look… openly carrying around an orange limpy doll or a head emerging from a bag looking like he’s close to suffocation.

I’m doing part of a university lecture tomorrow. I approached my colleague who who will be doing most of the lecture, carrying Ernie under my arm.

‘Is it ok, if I bring him?’ She of course said yes but gave me that strange look.

It’s all a bit crazy really. I’m going to lecture a bunch of Speech Pathology Masters Students with a woman who has over 35 years of experience and a PhD and I have no qualification relevant to my working life and a stuffed toy.

For the doll I must give credit to a former colleague. She gifted him to me when she left. ‘Use him for training’ she said. It’s all her fault.

Of course staring at the back of his head on the way home I realised that Ernie has an issue. He doesn’t have a hearing aid or a Cochlear Implant. Unlike some of the other ‘props’ at work, Ernie is unaided. The bus turns the corner into Marrickville and I’m silently cursing my former colleague for Ernie’s poor device compliance. Maybe I can craft one up? Someone at work made a Baha (a type of hearing aid if you like), using an egg carton and some velcro. Then again… maybe not.

Tomorrow I’m going to talk about what I know about LENA devices (the thing in Ernie’s lap). This device I once heard described as a language pedometer. They can be used with children to capture a ‘language sample’ over the period of a day or so and then, once plugged in to some whizz bang software, have that language sample analysed to give indications of how much meaningful speech the child may have heard (speech that was loud enough and without significant background noise); how much distant speech, how much noise and how much electronic sound (such as TV). It tells you how many adult words were said and how many times there were conversations between Ernie and his carer. The technology still does my head in. It’s a tool which has the capacity to show parents of children who have a hearing loss that their child how many words each day their child is hearing and saying and how they – the parents – have the capacity to grow their child’s listening, language and speech by increasing how much they speak to their child during everyday activities and how much of that is in close proximity so the child can access the sound.

It got me thinking about my childhood. The device counts ‘adult words’. I’m not sure how it does it – some mathmatical algorithm I expect. I wonder what it would have made of some of the books my mum and dad liked to read me. Books with words such as ‘scroobious pip’, ‘moppisikin floppsikin bears’, ‘pobbles’ and ‘jabberwockies’. No wonder as a grown up I do slightly offbeat presentations inclusive of ridiculous props. Let’s hope the uni students have a sense of humour. Wish me luck.


How to write engaging presentations: 7 tips for success

I recently went to the A G Bell Listening and Language Symposium in Los Angeles to present a workshop: When Paper and Excel Aren’t Enough: Tracking Every Child’s Development.

IMG_1957When I got back a member of the clinical team at work said to me: how do you write a data presentation that’s engaging? How do you come up with your ideas? How do you create something that will make them sit up and listen and not go to sleep?

This got me thinking… how do you write an engaging data presentation – or any other type of presentation for that matter. Here’s my quick guide.

1. Be Clear On Your Objective

I know, BORING but true. When I am the clearest about what I hope to convey, what I want the audience to gain from the presentation, I do the best job. 

2. Develop the Creative

Yes, data presentations can be creative. If what you have to present on is rather dry, then what a wonderful challenge to your creative side! My mantra is that data is only dull if it doesn’t tell you anything. Use your data to tell ‘stories’.

I’ll give you an example. Some time ago I was working on a presentation about donors and fundraising income. I had a limited timeframe to try to paint a detailed picture of the Organisations supporters such that people could leave the presentation understanding what the opportunities and limitations of fundraising growth may be.

I played around with various analogies before settling on ‘a rainforest’. I described how the donor database was made up of many individuals (trees) and depending on the types of trees, the overall ‘health’ of the forest changed over time. I discussed the old growth forest – those loyal supporters who over the years had increased their annual gifts.

However just like a forest, new individuals have to be added to the forest for it to be healthy and certainly if it is to grow beyond its original borders. Whenever you plant a sapling, you will invariably lose some. And a new tree is never going to be as beneficial to the forest as a mature tree. It will take years for those saplings to stretch towards the canopy.

By using an analogy, I was able to say many things I could not otherwise say. It would have been easy to say ‘yes, the database is bigger than it was as we have added  X thousand new donors but you can’t expect to generate the income at the same rate from these new donors – your growth estimates are too high’… and it would have gone in one ear and out the other. By putting the scenario into an analogy, it makes it easier to discuss. (Some may say that to describe donors as ‘trees’ is to dehumanise them. I’d argue that describing your donor database as a precious rainforest is an appropriate representation of  the many thousands and millions of people who generously support not for profit organisations. The planet can’t live without rainforest).

Finding this ‘analogy’ or creative hook is not always easy. In preparing for the A G Bell Listening and Language Symposium, I spent a fair bit of time in the toy room… thinking. Before the final presentation (which uses children’s books as a theme), I had pulled out buses, Mr Potato Head and Pop-Up Pirates among other things. In the end, if you are clear on your objectives, your creative execution will come.

3. Write your presentation, then remove half the words

Presentations I give today have far less words on the screen than I once used. I’ve noticed that after the first draft, my process is to remove words with each revision. In my last presentation, at one stage, I left a bunch of text on the screen in a font which was way too small to read to actually prove the point that it’s impossible to decipher quickly, if at all and then showed the visual graphic I had conceived in our database which replaced all that text.

There is nothing more painful, than sitting through a presentation which is drowning in words and the presenter adds so little extra that you might as well just have downloaded the slides and saved yourself a whole heap of ‘listening’ time.

I also agree with many articles which say, don’t read your presentation. It’s a guaranteed pathway to a yawning audience in my book.

4. Give of yourself

People connect with people. When I first started doing presentations, I think my content was such that someone else could have picked up my presentation and delivered something approximating what I had delivered. These days, my presentations are infused with a lot more of my personality. Prior to going to the Listening and Language Symposium, a now former colleague said to me ‘are you going to do one of your wacky presentations?’ (I prefer the term quirky to wacky for the record). I remember saying something like… I think I may need to be a little more serious that I usually am.

So I wrote a presentation that was slightly more serious. I did a trial run. The test audience found the pieces of the presentation which I had infiltrated with ‘seriousness’ to be the least effective. (Thank goodness I did a trial run!)

If it comes natural to you – go with it. It will invariably be better.

5. Consider your audience

I’m a data monkey who is lucky enough to work with an amazing clinical team of Audiologists, Auditory-Verbal Therapists and Counsellors. I also get to work with some very talented and capable fundraisers.

The point is there is not another data monkey among them. While a presentation of defined fields, absent of all ‘free text’ based information may excite me, it’s hardly going to get the Listening and Spoken Language Specialist humming with excitement.

I told Mr West some time ago – ‘if you’re going to present to Clinical, take a toy.’ He was brand new at the time. He thought I was being flippant. He has since learned that I am deadly serious.

6. Wear comfortable shoes

I’m thinking back on a presentation I saw many years ago where the presenter, had a habit of walking 2 steps to the left and 2 steps back to the right (and it wasn’t the timewarp dance). It drove me nuts.

If someone is constantly straightening their clothing, it would equally annoy me. Or tossing from one foot to another because their shoes have given them blisters.

Comfortable shoes and familiar clothes lead to confident presenters!

7. Take Risks

Discussing fundraising through the use of a rainforest metaphor could have been a complete flop. Lucky for me, it wasn’t!

I strongly believe that leaving some room for spontaneity in your presentation is a key to being engaging. An overly rehearsed and scripted presentation with little room for detour to suit the audience is safe. Yet this ‘structure’ can affect the tone of your presentation. There are very skilled presenters I am sure who can deliver the same presentation time and time again and have it almost word for word and still be engaging. I am not one of those presenters. I believe an element of spontaneity and risk is fundamental to success for me.

Sometimes it backfires.

I presented at fundraising software user forum 2 years ago. I decided that I wasn’t going to do a formal presentation. I would ask the audience to all get up and make them part of my presentation.

They looked terrified. It wasn’t my finest performance.

Relying on an audience to ‘give you back’ what you need to drive your presentation is risky. It’s also – I believe – one of the most engaging things you can do. People are far more likely to feel ‘connected’ to your presentation, if you give them avenues to be a part of it.  Just have an escape plan if it starts to look like a turkey!

And there, are my 7 steps to ensuring your presentations are engaging.


Conference Frogs and Princes

frog prince Does this sound at all familiar? You go to work conference: fundraising, Listening and Spoken Language, Disability, Microbiology… (doesn’t matter what field!) and you come home with copious notes and ideas – FROGS. You arrive home – probably exhausted – but also full of enthusiasm. And then you have to go back to work.

In my case I’ve just spent a few days in Los Angeles at the A G Bell Listening and Language Symposium with some incredible inspiring and knowledge Auditory Verbal Therapists. However, I remember returning from fundraising conferences with a similar amount of head buzzing ideas and notes – usually paper; but in more recent times now electronic.

And here are all these little frogs which could be destined to become princes, and what happens to them? NOTHING.

No one kisses them.

Sometimes it may be months before I even read them again – if ever. My frog kissing ability is scuttled by the long list of emails in my inbox; the queue of people wanting something from you who have been waiting a week because you’ve been away; and by fighting my way back to my desk through the toys my colleague has re-arranged while I was away. (Actually, what I’m fighting my way through is the ever increasing chaos of my desk – I just prefer to blame my colleague for stretching out all the lego blocks because it’s so much nicer if it’s not about my messiness… and if you are wondering why a data monkey has toys on her desk then that’s a question for another day!)

Well, I’m not leaving without a prince this time. I’m determined to pucker up and kiss some frogs and get me some princes! In the spirit of Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog, I am going to achieve something. (If nothing else I will achieve callouses on my fingertips from writing out my mantra – kiss a frog!) But where do I start?

Well, I’m going to start by lowering my expectations. There are only so many times I can kiss frogs before I’m going to have sore lips, too many princes than I can truly handle and perhaps a reputation for being the office tramp.

So here’s my lowered expectations:

  1. All those people from the conference I said I would keep in touch with – focus on 1 or 2. I could try writing to all of them but chances are they are juggling piles of emails as well. If I come out of this conference having made 1 great connection rather than 5 weak ones, then I’m happy. (Not that I’m trying to cast aspersions on the muscle power of any of the people I met). (And by the way, I’ve already done this – I’ve written to 2, and 1 has written back already!)
  2. Write a list of ‘sound bytes’ from the papers I saw and send them to my colleagues. They aren’t going to read lengthy notes I’ve written out to share with them. If I send them small bite size pieces, then something may stick. For example this paraphrased one from Betsy Moog Brooks: ‘Even if what you are doing has been effective with 100 clients before, if it’s not effective for this family, then you need to change what you are doing.’
  3. Pick 3 things I’m going to make happen / change as a result.

I thought about the last one long and hard. What 3 frogs would I pick to turn into princes – there are so many. Then I realised that while I so want to turn the embedded coaching frog into a prince, this isn’t my frog to kiss. I’m a data monkey. I can pass on that frog and the clinical guys can kiss him if they want.

So instead of 3, I’m picking 1. The data one. A big one. LENA. We have such a rich data resource at our fingertips and we haven’t kissed him. We haven’t even got past the first date!

So I warn you. Look out LENA. It’s time you became a prince. I can start now. It may take me ’til Christmas to give you a crown, but I’m going to do it.

What frog will you kiss?

Listening and Spoken Language Symposium: Impressions from an ‘outsider’

This data monkey is finally back home in Australia following the A G Bell Listening and Spoken Language Symposium 2013. What a week – inspiring, exhausting, uplifting, eye-opening, mind-boggling and exciting.

I’m not sure how many data monkeys over the years have been to a Listening and Language Symposium – I get the impression very few. It’s probably not what naturally leaps to mind. Listening and Spoken Language Symposium? Oh, yes, we’ll send the data monkey. I almost didn’t make it as at first our abstract wasn’t selected – maybe someone had told them that I did things like bring purple bunny rabbits and possums to presentations. Thankfully (for me), someone pulled out and we were offered a place on the agenda.

I am sure that there are many people either enjoying a few extra days in the states right now, or heading home with a wealth of information, excitement and jetlag. What I’ve taken home is probably different to most because, quite frankly, what I brought was different to most. I don’t have the clinician’s lens, I just have my very visual but data driven brain.

I learnt many, many things. For instance:

Embedded Coaching is not just a buzz word for guiding parents. To a data person, words like ’embedded coaching’ can spark off that extremely cynical part of their brain which says – ALERT, MARKETING AT PLAY! Thankfully, my cynical radar remained packed away as I learnt from Betsy Moog Brooks, that there are clear, definable steps and actions and – I believe – measurable skills and outcomes. Betsy outlined the Moog Center’s approach to embedded coaching so clearly and with great passion. She said she was nervous people paid $85 extra to see her presentation – it was well worth the $85. It’s sometimes a little hard for a data person to promote clinical change, but since it was the data person they sent – and specifically one who can be like a dog with a bone – I’m thinking that embedding coaching will be well and truly on our radar. To be honest, I’m actually looking forward to some of the data challenges that may come with that! (Sick, I know).

I’ve also heard the best explanation yet of what ANSD actually is and why it’s so complicated thanks to Karen McIverLux. Over the past 2 years, I’ve often asked questions about ANSD and received very few concrete answers. There’s a look I get which roughly translates as in the too hard basket to explain to a data monkey. Karen gave me great insight into why it’s hard to be concrete and has set off in my brain a host of ideas and questions. (I hadn’t divided any of the data I brought to the Symposium by sensorineural hearing loss vs ANSD but now that’s definitely on my radar.)

I had a delectable experience finding out how I could go beyond the pre-loaded LENA reports and look at the raw data, export and link back to my database. Translated, that’s like – have your cake and eat it too!

It’s been such a big week that this blog post doesn’t seem to do it justice, but this is all I have… along with a bit of jetlag and a possum who has returned home safely and will be reunited with his loving Listening and Spoken Language Specialist before the week is out!

Why I gave back some of my pay

My text message conversation went something like this:

Me: “I refused some of my pay today.”

Andrew: “What??? Have you gone soft in the head?”

Me: “No. I’ve just seen the end of year forecast for work. We are facing a massive shortfall. We have over 300 deaf kids to help and I’ve just seen a letter from the state government saying we are only funded for 45.”

Andrew: “Oh. Got it now. Not soft in the head at all. As you were.”

This news comes around the same time that Andrew and I finally get to drop off the car to have the wheelchair lifter fitted. 6 months ago, I rang charities asking for help to fundraise for this vital equipment. One charity said if we could prove Andrew had his neuro-muscular condition before he was 18 then they could help… but there was a 2 year waiting list. Another told me how hard it was to get funding and then sent me information about a government scheme. The scheme was only for  families and even if we had been eligible, it was a drop in the ocean compared to the real cost. I rang another charity – yes, we help with making vehicles accessible for wheelchairs – but only for children!

Despairing that our need didn’t seem to fit into anyone’s criteria, I didn’t know where to turn. I told my boss and my colleagues what was happening. They didn’t blink.

‘We’ll help.’

In the coming weeks, friends, colleagues and people who were brand new to the Organisation, and didn’t know me from a bar of soap rallied around. People gave up time after work and on the weekend. Some donated goods for the garage sale; others came to the fundraising dinner; a group of ‘cake bakers’ sprung into action; a sausage sizzle was organised along with a cheese stand. Many gave private donations. I was absolutely blown away.

Today, someone asked me how the Shepherd Centre was different to other services. It’s hard to answer – not being an employee, a recipient, or an observer of those other services. But I felt I could say one thing with confidence: it’s not in the Shepherd Centre spirit to turn people away. If help is desperately needed, help is given. The things people did for Andrew and I – on their own time – was consistent with what they do for our families. I admire their passion and dedication and think myself lucky to work with such a fantastic group of people.

My friends and colleagues at The Shepherd Centre supported Andrew and I in ways for which I can never thank them enough. Giving up a little of my pay was the least I could do right now.

If you are thinking about giving a donation to a charity this Christmas, please consider The Shepherd Centre. For more information see the following article:

Government funding cut despite record number of children at The Shepherd Centre

Disclaimer: the above is my own personal opinion. I would also like to stress that all assistance provided to Andrew and myself was on people’s own time and independent of the Organisation.