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January 2006

Funk and the art of Presentation

OK, I lied, I'll get to the follow-up on Steve's keynote tomorrow...

Ewf2Tonight we're off to witness another kind of presentation at Osaka's Festival Hall, a concert by the legendary group Earth Wind & Fire. We saw them in Osaka 18 months ago at the larger Osaka Hall arena. They were amazing as usual. Tonight we get to experience them in a more intimate setting.

I have always been a jazz guy, but Earth Wind & Fire have been my favorite group overall since I was a kid and have influenced my personal drumming style and appreciation for percussion (even as a jazz drummer). EWF are a funk and RB group but you can hear the influences of Jazz in their music as well. EWF's music combines beautiful melodies with very spiritual lyrics. Some of their ballads are quite powerful. The Spirit album is especially good and inspiring.

60 really is the new 30
Many of the EWF members are in their mid 50s. Founder (and genius), Maurice White, is about ten years older than that (and is battling Parkinson's). Yet when I saw them live in late 2004 their energy seemed as strong as their gigs of the 1970s. They look great. They sound great. And the women in their 20s behind us were clearly digging it. Who says 60 is old? I know plenty of boring "old," uninspiring men in their 20s. Age matters not (to me at least). It's so refreshing to see artist like this still going strong. Sure, they took their time off in the past (got to keep it fresh) and had some flops, but these guys are no "oldies" novelty act. I love their new album, including their song with Kenny G (who played in Osaka last night).

Are you 58? 68? Let EWF be a lesson to you. If you have a compelling message and something worth while to offer, just let it all hang out (baby). If you've got the energy, passion, and commitment to "the cause" (whatever it may be) you are never too old to make a big impact and change things. EWF is proof too that though you can't go back to the past, your can still take your message forward and reach out to new people, new audiences (new markets, etc.). You failed in the past? So what? It's a big world.

Presentation and the art of funk
The Earth Wind & Fire sound is a beautiful, positive blending of Soul, RB, Funk, and even Jazz. They are musicians. They are artists. But they are also story tellers, and in a way, presenters while they are on stage. And like any good presentation, their performance will be a powerful mix of great content, powerful visuals, and an emotional human touch that makes a lasting connection with the audience. I'm always looking for inspiration and ideas that I can pull over to world of business presentations/public speaking. I'm sure I'll learn a thing or two tonight (as well as have a great time, which is what it's all about).

The official Earth Wind & Fire website.

Kawasaki on Steve Jobs' keynote

GuySteve Jobs is one of the best executive-level presenters in the world and my personal favorite. I've commented many, many (many) times on his presentations here because we can learn a lot about effective presentations by observing Steve. Leaving the content of his keynote aside, Steve's presentation Tuesday was good, but not "insanely great" when compared to some of his past presentations. Although, to be fair, I probably hold Steve to an unrealistic standard, but that is only because he has set the executive presentation bar so high. He's the master.

There is one important thing that I did not like about Tuesday's presentation (concerning visuals), but I'll get to that tomorrow (can you guess what it is?). For today, however, I'd like to focus on what was good about the keynote. Thankfully though, Guy Kawasaki, who was in the audience for the presentation, has already written a good piece on the matter. Guy wrote his "Top 10" things he liked about Steve's presentation style on his blog, "Let the good times roll." I agree with Guy's list of positives. So, below I give you an edited version of the first seven of Guy's comments. To see the complete, unedited list of Guy's commentary, go to his post "Lessons from Steve's Keynote." Below, Guy's comments are in bold. My comments follow.

Seven (of ten) things Guy liked about Steve's presentation:

1. "Minimal text. Many slides had only one or two words."

2. "Extremely large font. If you were the 3,000th person at the back of the room, you could still read the slides."

Minimal text appearing in large sizes on screen is vintage Steve and is a technique you can use (at least in part) in your presentations. It's a little bit Takahashi, a little bit Lessig, and a little bit Godin, and Kawasaki. If you have some very technical detail you want your audience to absorb, that is probably best represented in the form of a distributed handout (the higher resolution of paper allows for greater visual detail). But for text, which should be used sparingly on screen, make it big!

Visual minimalism. Many of Steve's slides are similar to this one above.

3. "A handful of bullet items, and he “built” the bullets. They weren't all on screen to start with."

There were probably five-six slides which had bullet builds. But that is out of about 150 slides. When Steve did use bulleted lists, he actually built them so that they supported his words. Bulleted lists are OK if used very sparingly, but do not show the whole list at once (for obvious reasons). And keep animation simple. Use "appear" or a simple "fade in" not crazy fly-ins, pushes, etc.

In the slide above highlighting the new features in Keynote, the bullets fade in only when Steve gets to that point.

4. "Many, many beautiful screen shots..."

5. "Many, many beautiful images."

High-quality photos make a huge difference so long as they are not just decorative. Low-quality images, or images that merely decorate a slide, may detract. But appropriate, quality images? They can really help you tell your story or make your point. Apple uses screen shots because an OS and software apps are their products. How can you show your product or research?

The legendary communications expert, Dale Carnegie, talked about the importance of using pictures back in the 1920s (i.e., painting pictures with words), and multimedia learning research shows that people learn better with narration and pictures rather than narration alone. Humans make sense of the world though images, whether seen or described and imagined. One reason why many CEO presentations are so boring is because they stand behind a podium and rattle off phrases like "mission-critical paradigm shift" which is something no one can picture in their mind.

I use for many of my image searches. Great price.

Above: Steve reviews his points on iLife.

6. "Demos of software by the man himself — not calling upon some dweeb because the CEO isn't capable of using his own products."

Steve lets Apple product experts demo the pro applications, but it was refreshing to see him (again) have so much fun with the "i-apps." iLife and iWork, after all, are suppose to be apps "for the rest of us," for non experts. Having the CEO effortlessly glide through the apps adds a lot of credibility to the claim "this stuff is great and easy." Demoing, by the way, is very hard to do well. Steve makes it look easy, but it's harder than presenting for most people.

Above: Steve demos new features in iPhoto.

7. "Powerful use of guests: for example, the CEO of Intel (who was a very good sport and came on stage wearing a clean-room suit)...."

There are not too many executives who would do something as goofy as coming on stage (through a fog of dry ice and lights) in a "bunny suit" in front of thousands. He's a very good sport indeed. Frankly, however, the bit was just a little flat on video (perhaps it played better live). See the June WWDC keynote to watch a better talk by Intel CEO,Paul Otellini.

In the clean-room suit, the CEO of Intel. Right on, Paul!

Again, as far as Steve's keynotes go, this one was not as compelling somehow as others in 2005. For better examples, I suggest you look at the WWDC keynote and this special event presentation (and this one too).

Practice, Practice, Practice
If there is a secret to presentation excellence, it is this: practice (and practice some more). Whether you're a new young employee, a middle manager, or a seasoned executive, natural charisma will take you only so far (and it's no guarantee for presentation success anyway). You've got to practice. This is true today, and it was true eighty years ago when Dale Carnegie wrote this in How to Develop Self-Confidence & Influence People by Public Speaking:

"Study the careers of famous speakers and you will find one fact that is true of them all: they practiced. THEY PRACTICED. And the men [and women] who make the most rapid progress in this course are the ones who practice the most."

                                                                              — Dale Carnegie

Steve makes it look easy. But it's not. The keynote presentations are the result of a lot of hard work and preparation. Mike Evangelist, who left Apple about the time I did, has written a wonderful article for the Guardian entitled "Behind the Magic Curtain" describing his personal account of what it takes to pull off these Apple keynote presentations.

Don't forget to see the rest of Guy's list on his website.

Japanese cuisine and the art of presentation

SushiThis year we were in California for the New Year holidays. But last year, we celebrated the new year in Nara, Japan. New Year's is called Oshogatsu and is an important holiday in Japan and a time to be with family. A centerpiece of Oshogatsu in Japan is food, particularly Osechi Ryori. Checkout the photos of the Osechi Ryori bentos on the Bento Blog. The items of the bento taste great, but what is amazing to me is the thought given to how the items in the bento should look. Whether it's an expensive New Year's bento or a simple "ekiben" bento purchased at the train station, presentation matters.

Sushi is good for you.
The best sushi I have had in the US has been in New York, San Francisco, LA, and Honolulu. But even the best "American sushi" — and some of it is very good — just does not stack up to the experience of sushi in Japan. In general, food in Japan is incredibly good, incredibly fresh, and always well presented. At least once in your life, you owe it to yourself to travel to Japan and have a true "sushi experience."

Geoffroy, a Presentation Zen reader, sent me a link over the Christmas break of a video which takes a tongue-in-cheek look at dining in a Japanese sushiya. (Try here if the link does not work — thanks, Barry.) I share this with you because I think it's a good example of how narration and images can work well together to tell a story. In this case, the images are in the form of video, but the same thing could be done with many still images along with the narration from a live speaker. With the help of images in a PowerPoint/Keynote deck, you can imagine a presenter — an intercultural trainer, perhaps — teaching and discussing the "how" and the "why" of dining out with business colleagues in Japan. (Below are two samples of what slides might look like if you put this content into a standup presentation.)

Pouringbeer1  Pouringbeer2

Now, this particular video is in fact quite weird because it aims at being ironic — even sardonic — by mixing a blend of truth and accuracy with parody, exaggeration, and intentional falsehoods. What is true and what is false in this video presentation is obvious to Japanese and to others familiar with the culture, but perhaps not to others. The Japanese are concerned with doing things "the right way." Japan is a "high uncertainty avoidance" culture where much care is often given to ritual, manners, and procedure. The creators of this video, then, are poking a little fun at themselves. But please do not take the contents of the video seriously. I reference this video (with tongue in cheek) only to show how images/video can be used effectively to present a point, to teach, or to demo. (Note: video appears to no longer be available...)

Learn more about sushi at the Sushi-Master and from the Sushi FAQ.

Japanese ryori: the visual matters
And speaking of food, let me say again that one can learn a lot about visual presentation by dining out in Japan. The Japanese are very concerned with the outer, with how things appear, with how they look. You can see this in everything from fashion, to architecture, to the Zen arts, such as the art of tea ceremony (Sado). Food is no exception. The way food looks and how it is presented is as important as how it tastes.

Over the weekend we went for a long walk amid light snow flurries along Tetsugaku no Michi (Philosophy Road) in Kyoto. While on our walk, we stopped for a coffee/tea along the path of Tetsugaku no Michi. Even in this small café serving simple cakes, presentation mattered. You can find attention to visual details in Japan even in a small out-of-the-way cafe.

   Tetsugakunomichi Walking


Later, we took the opportunity to have Kyo-ryori for dinner in downtown Kyoto. The Kyoto restaurant where we dined was nothing special. Just a typical Japanese restaurant really, except that they specialized in Kyo-ryori. Even in this humble restaurant, however, you can see (below) how wonderfully the dishes are prepared and displayed. The presentation of the dishes adds tremendously to the taste of the cuisine and enjoyment of the overall experience. Nothing is superfluous or mere decoration.


You can see even better pictures of Kyo-ryori here.

Happy New Year!

Icard Happy New Year, everyone! I want to say a big Thank You! to all of you who have been reading Presentation Zen in 2005, and especially to those of you who have written to me personally with your comments and insights. It's been wonderful hearing from so many people from all over the world. I'll do my best to keep "giving it away" and share whatever I can on presentation design in 2006. My goal is to kick it up another notch (or two) this year.

Coolest new blogger for 2006
January 1, 2006 marked the day Silicon Valley legend and start-up guy, Guy Kawasaki, started his first blog, Let the Good Times Roll. When I was with Apple, I was with Guy at a few user group events such as User Group University and You Don't Know Mac, etc. After each presentation Guy made, someone in the audience always asked "when's your next book coming out?" Well, now you don't have to wait: Bookmark Guy's blog for a steady diet of wisdom and sage advice from the frontlines of Silicon Valley.

Bert Decker's Top Ten Best (and Worst) of 2005
For a look back at 2005, checkout Bert Decker's Top Ten Best (and Worst) Communicators of 2005. Steve Jobs is first on the "Best" list — see, I'm not the only one who says SJ is a great role model for presenters.

(Note: The iCard above says Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu (Happy New year). Kotoshimo Yoroshiku Onegaishimasu (impossible to translate well: "Kotoshimo" means "also this year" and "Yoroshiku Onegaishimasu" means something like the feeling of "hope we have a good relationship from now too" or "let's keep in touch" or "let's continue helping each other..." Yoroshiku is one of those things that is understood in Japanese but impossible to explain — you just feel it. So, Yoroshiku in 2006, everyone!)