Sam Kaplan has his own consulting company, Sam Kaplan Computing. Sam's a huge Steve Jobs fan and has worked hard to refine his own presentation style, incorporating many of the techniques used by Jobs. Sam is apparently a fantastic, engaging presenter. But he didn't get that way without a lot of hard work. Sam recently gave a presentation in the Apple Store theatre in Chicago on the topic of Pages, a part of Apple's software package called iWork. This was a great opportunity for him to share his knowledge and demonstrate his solid communication skills. In preparation for the presentation, though, Sam rehearsed a lot. Sam's parents, too, worked closely with him, offering many tips and helpful guidance. Sam Kaplan...is nine years old.
I learned about Sam's presentation in the Apple Store from Lucy Gray. Ms. Gray is a middle school computer science teacher and an Apple Distinguished Educator. Ms. Gray is one of Sam's teachers in the after school program, Generation Yes, a program that promotes student empowerment by teaching kids technology and leadership skills. "Sam did a fabulous job," she said. "I was impressed with his poise and expressive manner."
Opportunities and experience are key
I asked Ms. Gray how Sam became a good presenter at such a young age. Parent support, practice, and opportunities "to shine" are clearly important:
"I ran into his mom this morning and I asked her about the role of rehearsal in all of this, and she said that they spent a lot of time on the presentation and that Sam learned a lot from the actual experience. The keyword in our conversation was experience and it's also the very cornerstone of our school's philosophy. As our founder, John Dewey, believed a hundred plus years ago, the families and teachers at Lab feel that the most meaningful learning experiences come from students' natural interests and interactions within a learning environment."
— Lucy Gray
Teacher and Apple Distinguished Educator
The beginner's mind
Seeing the wonderful picture of young Sam Kaplan looking confident and happy — almost Steve-Jobs like — in front of his audience, reminds me of the importance for all of us to keep a "beginner's mind" as we strive to improve our presentations (or any other aspect of our lives). Zen teachings often speak to the idea of the "beginner's mind." Like a child, one who approaches life with a "beginner's mind" is fresh, enthusiastic in approach and open to the vast possibilities before them. One who possess a "beginner's mind" is not burdened by old habits or obsessed about "the way things are done around here" or with the way things could have or should have been. When we approach new challenges as true "beginners" (even if we are seasoned adults) we need not be saddled with fear of failure or of making mistakes. As children, people like Yo Yo Ma (and many others less known) made thousands of mistakes along their path to greatness. With an open mind and childlike optimism about what we can become, learning and improvement can be quite remarkable.
Children like Sam remind us that we can learn new skills, including the art of presentation, no matter how old (or young) we may be.
A big thank you to Sam's parents and to Ms. Gray for allowing me to use the picture from the Apple Store.