David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Cloud Of My Tongue*

October 5, 2019

Earlier this week I interviewed for the president position at SMC.  Candidates had to do a 45 minute presentation on our vision for the future of the college, then had the formal interview part.

As usual, minutes after I walked away from the interview I remembered the lines I left out of the presentation. You know, really good planned stuff, like, "You don't have to cut employees to cut the heart out of employees."

I think that is the easiest thing for a speaker to do, walk away lamenting about the ones that got away, the salient points, the connecting tissue, the humorous aside, the drop mic moments that we just forget as we get caught in the moment.

I am not sure we think enough about what we did do, not the obvious, like spilling coffee while we talked, or going a little too far with a joke in the moment (don't worry, neither of those happened to me . . . in this instance). I mean, exactly what did we say?  Most of us write out to some level our speeches so we know the words we want to say, but what were the words we actually said.

With all of the candidates' presentations and interviews videotaped, I watched mine again, trying to evaluate what I did say, especially in the presentation (as an aside, I absolutely love good interviews, the exchange of questions and answers that is really an exchange of ideas and philosophy and experience. However, that part of my day is not the point of this blog).  In watching some of the videos of my colleagues (because all candidates were internal and people I like and value very much), I was struck by how one of the candidates referenced a word cloud she had created based upon the public input done in advance of the interviews.

That's when it struck this former speech instructor that the possibility of creating word clouds from taped presentations makes the teaching and assessment of presentations all that much easier.  Speech instructors for years have taped student speeches, then asked them to watch themselves and evaluate their final presentation: it's a useful enough exercise but like any audience, the impact of the words is often lost to the impact of the visual and the aural. A word cloud can strip us down to our core language.

So, with a little help from a Youtube How To video (and people want me to talk about the future of higher education when the future is often right there on our computers), I downloaded a transcript of my talk. I eventually created two word clouds, one that included "stop words," which tend to be fillers or articles ("a", "the", etc.) and conjunctions ("and," "but"). That first word cloud was not overly interesting, as the 10 most frequently used words in order of frequency were: "the," "to," "that," "of," "and," "a," "I," "we," "is," "you." (Have to admit, I love the "We is you," but fret that I used "I" four more times than "we.")

So, this initial word cloud was moderately useful (I was ecstatic to confirm that I don't have a ready verbal filler, used as my brain struggles to move from point to point) but once I used the "don't include stop words" function, I got a much more realistic image of the talk. Here is that word cloud.

I love how "students" "know" "think" "need" and "look" are the most frequently used words. I tried to approach the presentation in a no-nonsense, because-the-future-is-uncertain-we-should-focus-on-what-we-can-do, manner. As a result I am pretty darn happy with that cloud.  In fact, as I look at the word list overall, 7 of my 10 most frequently used words were verbs.  Talk is cheap, action matters more. 

And ultimately that is the real drawback to interviews: it's all talk; the hard part is finding out if the actions will match.

* With tons of apologies to Tori Amos.