So there I was in the Osaka Hilton having lunch with my wife and author Dan Pink when I realize (again) that the world is indeed small, and blogging is making it even smaller. Dan Pink’s last “real job” was as chief speech writer to Vice President Al Gore in the ’90s. I have not met Al Gore but I’m buddies with Duarte Design and of course Al Gore is good pals with the folks at Duarte, the design firm that creates his famous Keynote slide presentations. I got to know both Nancy Duarte and Dan Pink initially through my blog. Talk about six degrees of separation, today it often feels more like two or three. Blogging shrinks the globe. Anyway, I had the pleasure last week of spending about eight hours with Dan Pink, author of two best-selling books: Free Agent Nation and A Whole New Mind. A Whole New Mind is my favorite book of 2006. It’s brilliant and absolutely spot on. Dan is over here in Japan on a Japan Society fellowship studying Manga (among other things) for a couple of months. I learned a few things about Dan Pink during his visit with me. I already knew he was a great writer, but what I learned is that he is a fantastic speaker. And…he’s a mensch.
A mensch is a Yiddish word roughly meaning “good person with admirable characteristics, etc.” A mensch to me is the kind of person who returns to the department store when he discovers he was given too much change, or the kind of person who calls a foul on himself in a pickup game of basketball. You get the idea. Dan Pink is a very busy man, and due to his impressive background and success he certainly commands high speaking fees, yet he took the time to join me in schlepping out to Kansai Gaidai University, located between Kyoto and Osaka, to speak for free to about 150 college students from around the world who are studying in Japan. Not a glamorous gig perhaps, but Dan accepted the speaking engagement with grace and enthusiasm, demonstrating to me that he’s a total mensch and that he also gets the whole “pooping like an elephant” thing (if that last part makes no sense to you then read this PZ post on “giving it away”). Also see this post by Guy Kawasaki (another mensch who has helped me in the past) called How to Be a Mensch.
Not all good speakers are good writers, nor are all talented writers necessarily good public speakers, but Dan Pink has both of these skills down cold. Dan is a fantastic writer, of course, contributing to the New York Times, Fast Company, Harvard Business Review, Wired, and many others in addition to his best-selling books. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that he is an amazing speaker. He’s exceptionally good. In fact I was blown away. He’s dynamic, enthusiastic, and totally engaged with his audience, but he’s not too polished or slick. He was perfectly imperfect. He was human. He may have a good background in politics, but unlike most politicians, he gives you depth and breadth without the veneer of “a slick talker.” He is charismatic and funny, but he brings serious content and the spirit of a concerned teacher to the stage.
Dan Pink in Japan: Casual, conversational, and always in front of the podium.
Kansai Gaidai students line up to get a picture with Dan Pink.
The transfer of emotion
Seth Godin is absolutely right when he says presentations are about the transfer of emotion not just facts. Facts are a necessary condition, but they are rarely sufficient. If it were only about facts, we could just send an email and cancel most presentations. If it were only about information, we could read it in a book. But ideas — especially ideas that change things, that move things forward — usually have more impact when the originator of that idea conveys the message via the spoken word even though the same ideas may be widely published in a journal or in the author’s book, etc. The reason, in part, is emotion.
Live is best, but even recorded presentations can add emotion and a new dynamic to content you may already be familiar with. Dan Pink’s DVD, also called A Whole New Mind, is a good example. The content of what he says in this presentation recorded in front of a live studio audience is essentially the same as what is in the book, except that he can not go into nearly as much depth in a 50-minute talk as he can in a 250-page book. Yet hearing the author repeat his message in a recorded presentation (and then again live in Japan) made his ideas somehow more memorable, more real, and very importantly, I felt a greater sense of inspiration and urgency to take action.
Above, watch a sample from the A Whole New Mind DVD. The DVD starts with a short interview with Dan followed by a live presentation and a Q&A session with the audience. The clip above gives you a feel for the content. Well worth the money.
At Kansai Gaidai University Dan did one of the best jobs with an informal Q&A session that I’d ever seen. He gave away one of his books to every student who asked a question. The demand for free books quickly exceeded supply as the international audience of students and professors was eager to ask questions after his provocative talk. This kind of student involvement is not easy to garner in Japan, even among international students. Dan would make a great teacher. He scores very high for the six important aptitudes in the conceptual age — design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning — aptitudes that make for great teachers and great communicators in virtually any field.
• See more sample Dan Pink presentation clips