It's been two years since Al Gore presented at TED about climate change. This presentation is not as tight or as smooth as his 2006 talk since he was doing this particular short version for the first time, but I enjoyed the talk even more as it seemed more natural and authentic in spite of its lack of polish. Indeed, it may have seemed more authentic, more human, because of its lack of polish. The great designers at Duarte Design did the updated visuals, of course, but I think Al changed the structure and flow of the talk all on his own (there was one text slide that went by pretty fast for example). I liked his story about the elder lady he told to illustrate how long he'd been in the public eye (that was a good laugh), and I thought his level of passion and urgency was higher and more "real" than in other talks I have seen by Al, including those in the documentary. Watch the talk below or on the TED site here (you can also post comments concerning the contents of his talk there).
All-n-all, I thought it was a very good presentation, but there are just a couple of things to point out that may help us improve our presentations.
• Do not apologize or imply (or admit) that you have not prepared enough for your specific audience. It may be true, and your apology may be coming from a very sincere, honest place (rather than just making an excuse), but it never comes across well to an audience. When Al said he'd "gobbled this [presentation] together" to stay within the time constraints, and quipped that he was trying to bring the bar of expectation down a bit before his talk, it reminded me that this is a mistake I have made several times before. I even did it recently (it just comes out sometimes). Our audience does not know that we did not prepare as much as we would have liked, so why mention it and get it in their head? "Man, he's right—he didn't prepare enough," they may say to themselves. The same goes for telling people you're nervous. "You didn't look nervous, but now that you mention it..." Instead, start your talk with a simple thank you and begin the conversation. It was not a big deal in Al's case, but you and I are not a well-known and popular public figure.
• Do not turn your back on the audience. With monitors in front there is no need to turn your back except for the briefest of moments. I thought Al was at his best when he was not speaking in the direction of the slide. I would have liked to see him come out a little closer to the audience the way Dr. Taylor did in her talk. The monitor there makes it easy to do this and still know at all times what image is behind you. (I see that I made this same comment about Al almost two years ago.)
With the monitor in front mirroring the screen, it's possible to keep your attention in the direction of the audience to make stronger connections.
Your notebook can be your monitor if you have space in front, low and out of the way. Above is a pic from a talk I did two weeks ago in Tokyo. The MacBook was on a theatre chair in the first row. The VGA and audio cable were long enough to reach the podium inputs. (Larger photo on Flickr.)
Al Gore is a very experienced presenter by now; he certainly does not need my advice. But we can all get a little better a little bit at a time. Try getting away from the podium and refrain from turning your back in your next big talk and see if it doesn't make a difference. I bet you'll find a much higher degree of engagement with your audience and a more effective, powerful talk.
• Sample Al Gore slides from the Duarte Design Web site.