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June 2006

If your idea is worth spreading, then presentation matters

Stage Hats off to TED (Technology, Education, & Design) for making videos from their February 2006 sold-out event in Monterey available — for free — in various formats for "the rest of us." If you don't have time to watch online, download these videos on to your iPod (etc.) and watch later. Remember that none of the  presentations are perfect here. I like to point to "real people" with interesting, relevant content doing their best at delivering their message in front of an audience. Some are more polished than others. But there's something in there to learn from all of them.

All presenters were limited to about 18 minutes or less. That may have caused speakers to rush a bit, but it also forced speakers to plan, to articulate, and to get their story down tight. The time limit surely contributed to each speaker's sense of urgency. Usually, that is a very good sense to have on stage. You could feel it, and that was not a bad thing at all.

Tedtalks You may think that a time limitation is too constraining, too confining, anathema to creativity. But actually absolute freedom of time — "take all the time you need" — can be a great bondage. Working within limitations, including time limitations, can be liberating in a sense. It narrows your options, pushes you to focus...and leads to more creative approaches. Any professional in their field can ramble on for an hour or two. But 20 minutes to tell your story, to give it your best shot? That takes creativity.

If you're going to have ideas worth talking about — and your ideas are, right? — then you've got to be able to stand, deliver and make your case. All six videos below are excellent; I list the videos in order of the ones I enjoyed most.

Sir Ken Robinson
This is my favorite. Great delivery, pace, and a natural, authentic use of humor. Sir Ken Robinsons seems to be saying that it is not so much that we need to learn how to be creative, rather we need to remember how to be creative.

Some good lines from Robinson's talk:

"Professors look at their bodies as a form of transport for their heads."

"We are educating people out of their creative capacities."

"We don't grow in to creativity, we grow out of it...we get educated out of it."

                                                                   — Sir Ken Robinson

Majora Carter
Ms. Carter
did a fantastic job. Sure, she would have been even better, at least from a "professional speaker" point of view, if she had not read from a script. She was at her best in those moments when she did not read. But though she used a script, it was nonetheless coming straight from the heart. That was obvious. She let it hang out there. She wore her heart on her sleeve. She connected. Majora delivered the goods. Powerful stuff. She got a huge standing ovation...she deserved it. Oh, and her visuals seem to be quite good as well.

Hans Rosling
Hans Rosling, an expert in public health from Sweden, does an amazing job in this presentation bringing the data to life. If you want to know how he did all those graphics, go to It's all there. Hans is saying the problem is not the data, the data is there. But it's not accessible to most people for three reasons: (1) For researchers and journalists, teachers, etc. it is too expensive. (2) For the media it is too difficult to access. (3) For the public, students, and policy makers, it is presented in a boring way. His solution is to make the data free, let it evoke and provoke an "aha" experience," or a "wow!" experience for the public. I loved the way he got involved with the data, virtually throwing himself into the screen. He got his point across, no question about it.(More download options here.)

David Pogue
David is a smart, funny guy. A few years ago I called David up and asked if he would keynote one of the Apple user group events New York. It was a non-paying gig. He very graciously agreed; his performance was a smash as usual. A very charismatic, engaging character who is popular with the "groupies" (user groups). Much of what David is talking about are the very same things we've been talking about here. As David says: simplicity is hard, but it's worth it. Make it great. Keep it simple.

Tony Robbins
"If we can get the right emotion, we can get our self to do anything." Robbins believes that emotion is the force of life. I believe he's right about that, though this is hardly a revelation for most people. Emotion is clearly also part of his presentation style, and that is a good thing. His slides, however, were surprisingly something from circa 1994, ugly, wordy PowerPoint. Very odd. He was speaking at such a clip, for the audience in the room, perhaps the slides were better than nothing. But honestly, he was the visual for this short talk. Not sure the slides helped much.

I've never been totally sold on Tony Robbins' content by any means, but if his plethora of books, CDs, etc. work for you, that's great. Tony Robbins does not like to be referred to as a "motivational speaker" but he does indeed have a powerful motivational affect on people, on a crowd. The man can certainly work a room. Is it me, or did you feel Tony was pushing just a bit too much? And I am personally not offended by swearing and I am all for informality, but referring to Al Gore as "that Son-of-a-bitch"? Curious. Maybe I've been in Japan too long...

Al Gore

Mr. Gore was engaging as usual in his role as "the new Al Gore." This presentation is a bit different from the "Inconvenient Truth" talks. Funny, self-deprecating stories at the beginning, followed by a more serious look at steps individuals can take to help in the "climate crisis." He, or someone other than his design team, probably made his text slides, though at least the text was big. There's no way a professional chose those transitions. Not too subtle. I like Al Gore and his presentation style, but It would be even better if he did not turn his back to the audience or look up at the screen so much. A monitor or PowerBook at the front of the stage should make that unnecessary.

About TED 
TED blog recommends Presentation Zen

Design and the World Cup: what can we learn?

World_cup_6 Germany is know for great design. Some of the best designed automobiles in the world, for example, are from Germany. BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Porsche are not only wonderfully designed cars, their very names today represent some of the strongest brands on the planet (see Interbrand's 2005 rankings). Along with the world class engineering enjoyed by these firms, of course, are intelligently designed brand identity and communication visuals. Their respective simple yet powerful logos, for example, are identifiable everywhere in the world and serve as a kind of "crown jewel" and an instantly identifiable evocative symbol for each brand. Beyond precision in engineering and industrial design, Germany also has a rich tradition of graphic design, and typography...and, of course, let us not forget where Johann Gutenberg comes from. Germany gets graphic design. According to Jeremy Anynsley, author of "Graphic Design in Germany (1890-1945)":

"German graphic and typographic design in the first half of the 20th century represents an extraordinarily rich and diverse aspect of the history of visual culture."   
                                                 — Jeremy Anynsley

Germany's Erik Spiekermann "embarrassed" by World Cup design
Given Germany's history and love of great design, including graphic design, you would think the design for the 2006 World Cup would be remarkable. But is it? At least one German design expert, Erik Spiekermann, thinks otherwise. Spiekermann is one of Germany's most famous designers and typographers and is the founder of MetaDesign, a firm whose clients include such notable brands as Apple, Audi, VW, and Nike. In this interview with Deutche World, Spiekerman says that the whole design concept for the 06 World Cup — including the Mascot and the logo — look to be the result of too many cooks in the design kitchen, a mediocrity resulting from "design by committee."

Design is functional *and* emotional
"Design has a functional role, but it also creates a mood" says Spiekermann.   "It has both important functional and psychological roles." Spiekermann thinks that that the overall design of the World Cup suffers from several problems: (1) Too many committees trying to get their ideas in. (2) Design teams aiming to please everyone and offend no one. And (3) too many messages resulting in having no real clear message at all. When all involved try to play nice and no one takes responsibility, says, Spiekerman, you get this sort of bland result as people are afraid to take a risk.

Afraid to polarize? Afraid to take a risk?
There is a saying by many designers that if something is truly remarkable, it is going to be hated by some. Truly mediocre designs rarely evoke such visceral response. This fear of polarizing people often leads to designs that are "safe" and unobjectionable, hated by no one...and loved by no one either. No one has a visceral reaction either way. Sometimes this is desirable and intended. But usually it is an accidental consequence of "playing it safe" or seeking approval of this committee or that focus group, etc.

Good advice: Present naked (but wear pants)
No_pants_1 Commenting on Goleo, the official lion-like mascot of the World Cup in Germany (who curiously wears a shirt but enjoys parading around sans trousers) Spiekerman says, "This artificial lion is neither cute nor ugly nor relevant; it's just embarrassing." Now, I'm all for presenting naked, and for the naked truth and all that. But in public presentations, wearing pants is still highly recommended. Goleo appears to be a flop; no body loves him and the company which licensed the European rights to the pantsless mascot filed for
insolvency. Read more about "Mr. No-Pants" here on the DW-World site.

Next, I'd like to look briefly at logo design and see if we can relate principles there to presentation-visual design.
What's in a logo?
Wc_logo What do you think of the World Cup 06 logo? Spiekerman hates it. "Too many messages...You can look at this and count the elements and it just flies in the face of effective communication" he says. Logos are a funny thing. In and of themselves we can not really say they necessarily succeed or fail, even if we do not care for the design. It is over time, depending on the performance of the organization/product that the logo represents that associations, good or bad, will be formed. No logo, no matter how elegantly simple or beautiful, for example, will come to signify "The Ultimate Driving Machine" if the product is indeed mediocre. Nonetheless, from a messaging and aesthetic point of view, there are some good guidelines to keep in mind when designing or critiquing a logo. According to Paul Rand (1914-1996), the effectiveness of a logo depends on several elements including;

   • Distinctiveness
   • Visibility
   • Usability
   • Memorability
   • Universality
   • Durability
   • Timelessness

A logo must also be attractive and reducible to very small sizes and to one color. How would you rate the World Cup 06 logo with these items in mind? Look at the examples of the Apple logo below. The first logo (left), which did not last long at all, is far more complex and intricate that the simple familiar "forbidden fruit" Apple of today. The first Apple logo concept could pass hardly any items on the checklist above. The best logos are simple. (Go here to see past World Cup logos; see the more Apple logos and history here.)

                   Apple_first_logo_1          Appe_logo
From logo design to presentation visuals
The principles and ingredients that contribute to great logo design can, more or less, be applied to other forms of visual communication as well. Paul Rand said as much in this 1991 article:

"Bad design is frequently the consequence of mindless dabbling, and the difficulty is not confined merely to the design of logos. This lack of understanding pervades all visual design."

                                                               — Paul Rand

Abc To most working professional — the "non-creatives" — logo design and other visual communication such as slide design for business presentations, etc. may seem superfluous. However, as Paul Rand suggests, graphic design is a vehicle of memory. It matters if you want people to understand you and remember you. "Good design adds value of some kind and, incidentally, could be sheer pleasure; it respects the viewer — his sensibilities — and rewards the entrepreneur. It is easier to remember a well designed image than one that is muddled." This is true for logos and it is true for presentation visuals.

Regardless of what you may think, your visuals go beyond serving as mere ephemeral "visual aids" just as a logo goes beyond a mere marker or identifier. Said Rand, "A well designed logo, in the end, is a reflection of the business it symbolizes. It connotes a thoughtful and purposeful enterprise, and mirrors the quality of its products and services. It is good public relations — a harbinger of good will. It says 'We care.'" Substitute "logo" with "presentation" and the sentence rings just as true.

Good presentation visuals support your message, they are functional and emotional...and they are a reflection of you — and on you — and your organization.

Related links
Design observer on the power of context
Logo dissections
Worst logo ever
5 Cardinal Rules of Logo Design
Brand names that do not travel well

More Gore. More Guy.

A couple of videos for your weekend viewing pleasure. As I have noted many time before, Al Gore and Guy Kawasaki both get the presentation thing, so here are two new videos of these two presenters in action.

Gore making his pitch under fire
Al_gore_1Here is Al Gore making a pitch for An Inconvenient Truth. Gore positions himself near his visual and gestures to it appropriately. Nice form. And he has an unexpected way of dealing with an interruption and handling himself in the line of fire in this clip. So what do you do if you get a drunk, wise-cracking robot heckling your speech? Watch and see. (Bet you never thought "stiff Al Gore" could be so "animated.")

Guy's "inconvenient truth" for entrepreneurs and startups
Guy_kawasaki Here is Guy giving a little "inconvenient truth" of his own in a 39-minute "Art of the Start" presentation
recorded just a few weeks ago.(See the video also on Google's site;you can download it there as well). You may have seen him before and read the book, Art of the Start, but Guy is just "on" in this speech. Excellent stuff. Below I list a few of Guy's key "truths" as I jotted them down. Watch the video to get the whole story.

Guy's "inconvenient truths" for startups
My notes from Guy's May 13th "Art of the Start" speech.

(1) Be in it to make meaning not money (if you do the former, the money will come). Be in the game to change the world just a little bit by, for example, increasing the quality of life, righting a wrong, or preventing the end of something good.

(2) Forget mission statements. Formulate a 3-5 word mantra for employees. Mission statements, says, Guy are too long, not unique, and not memorable. Come to think of it, this describes most business and conference presentations too.

(3) Just get going. Get after it. Just do it. Think different. Don't be afraid to polarize people. If it's good, it will surely be hated by some. Jump to the next curve. The goal is not to make it 10-20% better, but 10-20 times better.

(4) Define a business model. Be specific. Keep it simple. Ask women (see the video). I suggest The One Page Business Plan by Jim Horan (forward by Tom Peters). You may actually write a 10-20 pager in the end (lord knows most are longer even than that), but the one-pager is an excellent exercise. And if you can not get your plan on one page, then you may be in trouble.

(5) Weave a MAT. Think in terms of milestones, write them down. Shoot for the milestones. Write down your assumptions. Make it your task to reach those milestones and test your assumptions.

(6) Niche thyself. Create something unique that only you can do. You must be unique and be of great value.

(7) 10/20/30 (10 slides/20 minutes/30pt font). Get your story down before you make the pitch. Guy says 10 slides if you are pitching to VC. Keep it to 20 minutes. If you have an hour meeting, why present for only 20 minutes? Guy quips:

"'re using a Windows laptop, it's going to take you 40 minutes just to make it work with the projector!"
                                                      — Guy Kawasaki

Never ever read your slides. Say's Guy, "if you start reading your material because you do not know your material, the audience is very quickly going to figure out that you are a bozo."

(8) Hire infected people, people who *love* your product. Hire not just on education and experience, but look too for those who love what you do. Hire people better than yourself. "A" employees hire "A+" employees. "B" employees hire "C"...this leads ultimately to a "Bozo explosion."

(9) Lower the barriers to adoption.  Make it easy for people find you, use your products. Embrace your evangelist community.

(10) Seed the clouds. "Let a 1000 flowers bloom." You never know where great people are coming from or who your customers might be. Let people test drive; find the influencers.

(11) Don't let the bozos get you down. People will tell you that you can't do it. You will be tempted to believe them. But even the brightest have been wrong many times. Be careful not to let bozo advice keep you from implementing a dream.

Related (more or less) links
Dilbert Mission Statement Generator
More on Guy Kawasaki's presentation style (PZ)
Can't get enough futurama
Speaking of Al Gore and global warming, you may enjoy this post by Adam Richardson, "fixing global warming is an information design problem."

The power of the visual: Learning from Down Under promotion videos

Aus_poster1 People are always asking me how they can learn about graphic design and photography or make better visuals, etc. The first step, I answer, is just to look around you and really see what there is to see. You can learn a lot, I tell them, by really taking the time to see and examine the visuals around you. Design is everywhere. Even non-designers can learn a lot by simply opening their eyes and observing the works of professionals. You just never know where inspiration or good examples will turn up. Sometimes, even a TV commercial or two can demonstrate just what it is that makes visuals effective and powerful.

Some bloody excellent promotional videos
The New Zealand and Australian tourism TV commercials are fantastic examples of the power of visuals. They've been airing on Japan's cable networks for quite some time, especially the spot from New Zealand. Both the New Zealand Travel and Australia Tourism website are great places to catch these videos too. Both sites are well done.

  Seevideo_au     See_nz

Visceral and memorable
Visuals that surprise people, touch them, delight them, and support your story are best because they affect people in an emotional way. People are more likely to remember your content in the form of  stories and examples, and they are also more likely to remember your content if your visuals are unique, powerful and of the highest quality. Yes, a 60-second TV spot promoting tourism is quite different from a 30-minute live conference presentation. I am not suggesting they are the same. But the 60-second TV commercial is a presentation, and most of them are utterly unremarkable and forgettable. The lesson I get from watching these two promotional video "presentations" from Down Under is simply this: If you are going to use visuals, then for crying out loud, make them insanely great visuals.

Watch these videos a couple of times and ask yourself which one is more memorable. Which one is more effective in telling a story and making a pitch? For TV spots to be effective they need to run a lot. We need to be exposed over and over. In that context, then, which one works better? Both videos are very well done and will prove to be effective. But I particularly like the New Zealand commercial simply because no words are spoken at all. There are a couple of advantages to this. For example, the NZ video is ready as is for most markets with no translation needed. In Japan, the Australia video has translation on screen adding noise to the screen visually. Nonetheless, the "Where the bloody hell are you?" spot does capture the brand perfectly, and perhaps the spoken word was necessary to pull that off. Both make great use of the visual element.

What makes some images so powerful and others unremarkable?
Nz_poster1 One of the first lessons visual artists and designers learn early is the basics of composition, including the rule of thirds and the Golden mean, etc. I'll focus on the rule of thirds as it is the easiest to apply (I introduced this in a previous post as well). The "rule of thirds" says that images (video scenes, etc.) may appear more interesting, engaging, dynamic, compelling, etc. if the subject is not placed in the center. Of course dead center is where beginning photographers or novice videographers tend to put their subject. If you try moving your subject away from the center, however, perhaps nearer to one of what are called "power points" (where the grid lines intersect), you can create a more powerful or interesting visual by creating a bit of tension or even drama. Try experimenting with this.

In the case of the tourism commercials, notice when you watch how many scenes are shot with the subject outside the middle of the frame (at least at the beginning of the scene). If you were to freeze many of the frames you would notice that the subject is often near one of the "power points" or placed far from center. To show this I've placed a grid over a few screenshots from both commercials below. This is a simple thing, but it is one of those very basic things that the pros do so well. We too can design better visuals — take better snaps, shoot better video, etc. -— by keeping the principles such as the rule of thirds in mind. The "rule" is not a rule at all but a simple guideline. And while it's important to understand, the rule of thirds is by no means a panacea for poor design, but is simply one more principle for you to be aware of as you strive to improve your own design mindfulness.

Screenshots from "Where the Bloody Hell are You?

Aus_beach1   Aus_camel

Aus_pool   Aus_woman

Aus_pilot  Aus_waiter_4
Above: Notice how many of the subjects are aligned vertically along a "power point" or in the outer or lower third. In the shot featuring the boy (top left), you can see that two walls in the background follow the horizontal lines of the upper and lower thirds. In the shots with the pilot and the waiter you'll notice how the horizon follows along one of the horizontal lines.

Screenshots from "100% Pure New Zealand"

Nz_horse  Nz_rest

Nz_massage_1  Nz_woman_closeup
Stills from the 100% Pure New Zealand commercial. Placing the subject in the outer third can give a visual more tension and drama and attract you into the scene.

For the next few days try to pay attention to posters, billboards, etc. Or watch a film and notice how scenes are shot to create mood and tension.

Quick slide example
Grid_surfer Learntosurf_1

Above:The example slide above I made in PowerPoint quickly using an iStockphoto image. I created a "Rule of Thirds" grid by manipulating the Guides in the Master slide. The text rests directly on the upper third horizontal line; the line extends through the surfers midsection. A viewer would notice the surfer first and be carried immediately with the implied motion toward the text along the horizontal line near the upper left "power point," typically a strong focal point in a slide.

Several articles on photography and the Golden Mean.

Golden mean to rule of thirds (Presentation Zen).

Rule of Thirds (

Presentation and the on-stage interview

Guy_interview Here's a little bonus as a follow-up to the last post. This is another example of Guy Kawasaki, but not of the "stand and deliver" variety of presentation. This example is very different. Here Guy is having a one-on-one interview on stage with eBay founder, Pierre Omidyar, in a sort of "fireside chat with a friend" (watch the video). This video was shot five years ago at a Garage event in London. While the camera work and audio are not the best, I think Guy does a great job. And while Guy can talk on stage for hours all by himself, in this setting he is hardly talking at all. Appropriately, it is the guest who does most of the talking. Wonderful content and an excellent job of interviewing. Frankly, it is better than most of the stuff you see on the cable news networks these days in the U.S. I'd like to see Guy have a show where he interviews a different entrepreneur every week — kind of a "Charlie Rose of Silicon Valley" kind of thing. If not CNN, how about a podcast?

In the interview you'll learn Omidyar's responses to a host of different items. For example:

On rules to build your business buy
How to staff the right way
Finding the source for growth/buzz
On having a core set of values
On acquiring the right venture capital partners
On making mistakes
On staying motivated after the IPO
On attracting and retaining talent
The downsides of going public
Managing growth
How to stay motivated during maturity
On giving back to the community

Thanks to Craig Montgomery at Digressions for creating a wonderful summary of the key points in Guy's interview. Go read the rest of the summary on Craig's site. Excellent. You could print this out and give to your management students after you've watched the video in class.

Biz gurus present

While poking around the web today I found previously unseen videos (unseen by me, that is) of three business presenters I've talked about here many times: Seth Godin, Guy Kawasaki, and Tom Peters. All three have extensive business experience in Silicon Valley (and a Stanford connection) and all three have great stories to tell and useful content to share. All three — no surprise — "get" the presentation thing and have worked to hone their style and improve their message and delivery over the years.

If you watch the clips from the links below you'll notice that there is nothing traditional or conventional in their approaches to public speaking. Their respective styles are not exactly the kind of public speaking you'd see at your local Toastmasters meeting (an organization I highly respect and recommend, by the way). Still, it works for them. All three use slides in their talks; Guy no more than ten, Tom more than one hundred, Seth somewhere in between. The number of slides doesn't matter. What matters is that the visuals have an important role, but a supportive role. A complementary role.

Seth_godin_2 (1) Seth Godin.
(See video clip.) Seth is a hot ticket, and an expensive one at that. I've read his books and get his story. But what a difference it is to see someone like Seth speak "his story" in a 40-minute presentation. It'd be much better live in person, but via video is not bad either. Books are great, but nothing beats seeing the person speak from his heart; the non-verbal communication adds so much. This 45-minute clip is of Seth speaking at Google earlier this year.

Guy_kawasaki_1 (2) Guy Kawasaki. (See video clip.) Guy here takes "Silicon Valley casual" to another level. I've seen Guy speak many times. He even did a few talks for me when I was at Apple. Audiences love him and appreciate his casual, frank style. In this short clip, Guy's so relaxed he's sitting on a desk. Depending where you are in the world, you may find his style "too casual." But for Guy, in his industry, it is appropriate.

Both Guy and Seth have a relaxed, casual, "California style." Seth is a little more "professional" in appearance in his clip, but you'll notice he's still wearing  jeans. The suit and tie may be appropriate in New York or London, but in Silicon Valley, wearing a suit and a tie is a good way to look like an outsider.

Tom_peters_2 (3) Tom Peters. (See three clips here on the Washington Speakers Bureau site; right column.) Tom is famous for his books and his rants. I saw Tom present once when I worked in the Valley and loved his talk. I remember that he was very passionate, mobile (talk about working the room!), and slightly ticked off. In fact, he used the term "pissed off" on more that one occasion. "Pissed off" as in "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore." Tom's style is not for everyone, but I like it, and I like him. His slides? I'll get to those later. (I know I keep promising, but I really will do a Tom Peters PPT Makeover in future.)

Let me know what you think of these presenters (the good, bad, etc.) and please feel free to point me to some outstanding presenters we can see on-line.

Guy's demo video from his website.

Guy's "Art of the Start" presentation video at UCLA earlier this year.
Tom Peters on Presentations (Presentation Zen).
34-second pitch by Seth Godin on the Big Moo

You are creative (part 2)

As a follow up to yesterday's post on creativity, here are eight more quotes from Brenda Ueland's wonderful book, "If You want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit." Excerpts from her book are presented in bold.


(1) "Imagination comes, works, when you are not trying, when you have a peculiar passive clarity."

From my experience with jazz I have learned that I am at my worst musically when I am consciously trying to be creative, when I am forcing an idea or trying actively to "sound great" or to impress the crowd or other musicians. The best, most creative musicians I have played with "don't think nothin' 'bout nothin'" they just play (man). For many people, the best ideas occur when they are miles away from the office, figuratively and literally. You've got to "sharpen the saw." You've got to get out, to the sea, to the mountains, to the corner café, where ever it is that you can feel free.

"The tragedy is that either they stifle their fire [creative spirit] by not believing in it and using it; or they try to prove to the world and themselves that they have it, not inwardly and greatly, but externally and egotistically, by some second-rate thing like money or power or more publicity."

(3) "You must discover what there is in you, this bottomless fountain of imagination and knowledge."

Do you you really know what's inside you? Do any of us? Even the geniuses of the world comment that they hardly scratch the surface of what they believe they are capable of. Sadly, many (most?) people go through life without ever discovering their hidden talents. Says Ueland, "If you have a million dollars in the bank and don't know it, it doesn't do you any good."

(4) "To have things alive and interesting, it must be personal, it must come from the 'I': what *I* know and feel."

It must be authentic. On the importance of telling a story, not just selecting words from memory, Ueland says, "Think of telling a story, not writing it. When you tell a story you have the instinctive sense of timing in it, of going into detail where it is important, of moving fast over the surface of the story when necessary."

It is not about thinking of words or memorizing a script, it is about the story. We do not tell a story from memory; we do not need to memorize a story that has meaning to us. It is in us. We tell it from our gut. Internalize your story, but do not memorize it.

(5) "When the sentence was not felt by the writer, it was dead. No infection ...there is no sense in writing anything I don't feel."

You can't fake it. You can't try to believe in your words. You believe in your story, or you do not. And if you do not, no amount of hyped-up, superficial "enthusiasm" or "conviction" will ever make your time with an audience (or reader, etc.) meaningful. If you do not believe it, do not know it to be true, how can you connect and convince others with your words? Your words will be...just words.

(6) On being in the moment, not over "thinking it": "Only when you are playing in a thing do people listen and hear you and are moved."

When you are totally in the moment, in the present and not over thinking it, then, says Ueland, "self-consciousness, anxiety, 'intellectualizing (i.e., primly frowning through your pince-nez and trying to do things according to prescribed rule as laid down by others will be untied to you, will be cast off."

It's important to know what the rules are. We must study the "proven ways" from our teachers and books...and then have the freedom and belief in ourselves to cast all that aside and be in the here and now, in this unique moment in time. "It is when you are really living in the present that you are living spiritually, with the imagination" Ueland says.


(7) "Enthusiasm! this is the sign that the creative fountain is in you." Responding to those who warn against mere enthusiasm, she quotes Blake: "Mere enthusiasm is the All in All."

Put your love, passion, imagination, and spirit behind it. I remember once a guy commenting on a successful long-term project I did. He said to me, "well, you have enthusiasm, I'll give you that..." It was a backhanded compliment. These are the people who get us down. Life is short. Don't hang out with people who dismiss enthusiasm, or worse still, with those who try to kill yours.

(8) "Do not try to make somebody believe you are smarter than you are. What's the use? You can never be smarter than you are."

Almost Zen-like in its simplicity and truth. Remember, we are talking about tapping into our creative energies. Trying to impress others or worrying about what others may think should be the last thing on our mind.


You are human, you are creative
Who told you that you are not creative? (It wasn't me.) Was it your parents? A teacher from the past? Your ex-? The "Auto-Content wizard? (Auto content -- are your kidding me?!!). Yes, some people are far more talented than others. But I'm not talking about a competition. I'm talking about getting the most out of ourselves. How you tap into your creative energy and your creative potential is up to you. But it won't come from worry about how great others are and how much we suck by comparison.

Forget about the others. For the moment at least, let's forget about the competition and the fear of failure. Think of the fun, the exploration, and the possible discoveries if we didn't have fear. A little fear is necessary (self preservation and all that). But fear is one of the greatest barriers to our ability to see deeply what is within us and what kind of imaginative thinking and inspired creativity we are cable of. This weekend take some time alone and sort of passively ponder this: What might you do if you could remove all the fear?


You are creative (part 1)

Notes: (1) Thank you to Hugh Macleod at Gapingvoid for allowing folks to use his wonderful cartoons. (2) The two color slides above are made with iStockphoto images in Keynote with Gill Sans Light. They are from an actual presentation.

Related links

Creative tips for artists
 Creative tips for teachers
 Tips Designed to Get Those Creative Juices Flowing!
 How to be more creative (from
 Ten creative tips (from
 Creative writing idea boosters
 Seven tips to keep your company's creativity sizzling
 Five tips for generating fresh ideas

You are creative (who the %$#@! says you're not?)

"Creative power" or "creative imagination" is not only for "The artists of the world," the painters, the sculptors, and so on. Teachers need the power of creativity too. So do programmers, engineers, scientists, etc. You can see the application of creative genius in many professional fields. Remember, for example, that it was a group of brilliant and geeky-to-the-core NASA engineers on the ground who in 1970 were able jury rig a solution to the life-threatening build up of carbon dioxide in the damaged Apollo 13 space craft. Their heroic fix, literally involving duct tape and spare parts, was ingenious improvisation, imaginative...and it was creative.

Back down here on earth, the seemingly mundane business or conference presentation, designed and delivered with the help of slideware, can be a very creative thing. A presentation is an opportunity to differentiate yourself, or your organization, or your cause. It's your chance to tell the story of why your content is important, why it matters. It can be an opportunity to make a difference. So why look, talk (bore?) like everyone else? Why strive to meet expectations? Why not surpass expectations and surprise people? Besides, audiences' expectations are quite low as far as presentations are concerned anyway (unless you're the "Steve Jobs" of your field).
You are original, unique, and creative
Even if you are not "A Creative" (artist, designer, musician etc.), you are a creative person. Probably -- assuredly in fact -- far more creative than you think. All people should work toward tapping into their creative abilities and unleashing their imaginations. Why? I think Brenda Ueland (1891-1985) puts it best:

"First because it is impossible that you have *no* creative gift. Second: the only way to make it live and increase is to use it. Third: you cannot be sure that it is not a *great* gift."
                                                    — Brenda Ueland

Write"If you want to Write" by Brenda Ueland is one of the most inspiring and useful books I have ever read. The book was first published in 1938 and probably should have been titled "If You Want to Be Creative." The simple (yet sage-like) advice will be of interest not only to writers but to anyone who yearns to be more creative in their work or to help others get in touch with their creative souls. While reading the book (for the third time) I couldn't help but think of parents and teachers who have such a huge impact on their kids in terms of creativity (for better or worse). This book should be required reading for all knowledge workers or anyone aspiring to teach anyone about anything.

12 things to remember about being creative from Brenda Ueland (Part 1)
I could barely read the book the third time through due to all the underlining and scribblings I did in my copy of the book the first two times I read it last summer. There is so much in Ueland's little book (only 179 pages) I'd like to share. Below I list six quotes from Brenda Ueland. The quotation is in bold. I comment briefly after each quotation. Here are the other six tips from Ueland.

(1) "...the creative power is in all of you if you give it a little time, if you do not always keep it out by hurrying and feeling guilty in times when you should be lazy and happy. Or if you do not keep the creative power away by telling yourself the worst of lies -- that you haven't any."

Reflecting_cafeAh, the big lie we tell ourselves: "I am not creative." Sure, you might not be the next Picasso in your field (then again, who knows?). But it does not really matter. What matters is to not close yourself down too early in the process of exploration. Failing is fine, necessary in fact. But avoiding experimentation or risk -- especially out of fear of what others may think -- is something that will gnaw at your gut more than any ephemeral failure. A failure is in the past. It's done, over. But worrying about "what might be if..." or "what might have been if I had..." are pieces of baggage we carry around daily. They're heavy and they'll kill our creative spirit. Take chances and stretch yourself. We're only here on this planet once, and for a very short time at that. Why not just see how gifted you are. You may surprise someone. Most importantly, you may surprise yourself.

(2) On why the creative power inside of us should be kept alive. "Why? Because it is life itself. It is the spirit. In fact, it is the only important thing about us. The rest of us is legs and stomach, materialistic cravings and fears."

Childs_playChildren are naturally creative, playful, and experimental. If you ask me, we were the "most human" when we were young kids. We didn't force it, but we loved it. We "worked" at it, sometimes for hours at a time without a break, because it was in us, though we didn't intellectualize it. As we got older the fear crept in, the doubts, the self-censoring, the over-thinking. The creative spirit is in us now; it's who we are. We just need to look at the kids around us to be reminded of that. And if you are 58 or 88 today? It's never too late, the child is still in you.

(3) "The imagination needs moodling -- long inefficient, happy idling, dawdling, and puttering. People who are always briskly doing something and as busy as waltzing mice, they have little, sharp, staccato ideas...But they have no slow, big ideas."

Idling or "doing nothingness" is important. Most of us, myself included, are obsessed with "getting things done." We're afraid to be "unproductive." And yet, the big ideas often come to us during our periods of "laziness," during those episodes of "wasting time." We need more time away from the direct challenges of work. Long walks on the beach, a jog through the forest, a bike ride, spending 4-5 hours in a coffee shop with the Sunday paper. It is during these times that your creative spirit is energized.

(4) "What you write today is the result of some span of idling yesterday, some fairly long period of protection from talking and busyness."

By "writing" Ueland means any creative endeavor. Busyness kills creativity.  Busyness, for example, leads to the creation and display of a lot of "PowerPoint decks" that substitute for engaging, informative or provocative meetings or seminars where actual conversations could and should be taking place. But people are busy, rushed, even frantic. So they slap together some slides from past presentations and head to their meeting. Communication suffers...the audience suffers. Yes, we're all insanely busy, but this is just all the more reason why we owe it to ourselves and to our audience not to waste their time with perfunctory "slide-shows from hell." To do something better takes time, time away from "busyness."

(5) "...daily life, so much of which is nervous cacophonous, where one's attention is unhappily jerked from this to that, so that the imagination inside cannot accumulate its strength and light."

Creative power, says Ueland, is not something "nervous or effortful; in fact it can be scared away by nervous straining." But we need time, much of it alone. Sometimes we need solitude and a break for slowing down so that we may see. Managers who understand this and give their staff the time they need (which they can only do by genuinely trusting them) are the secure managers, the best managers.


(6) "Do not forget to keep recharging yourself as children do, with a new thinking called 'inspiration.'"

Inspiration. Where can you find it? A million places and in a million ways, but probably not by doing the same old routine, or by gossiping with staff in the break room about things that don't really matter. Sometimes we can find inspiration in teaching. When we teach someone something important to us, we are reminded why it matters, and the enthusiasm of the student -- child or adult -- is infectious and can energize us. On helping others see their creative spirit Ueland says "I helped them by trying to make them feel freer, bolder. Let her go! Be careless, reckless! Be a lion. Be a pirate!" We know it's important to be free, free like children are. We just need reminding occasionally.

Part II here.

How to be creative by Hugh Macleod, Gaping void.
Thirty wonderful bits of advice for tapping into your creative side.

Duarte Design helps Al Gore "go visual"

Goreduarte1Duarte Design absolutely kicks butt when it comes to presentation design. Duarte helps their clients clarify their content, differentiate their core message, and create the most compelling presentations on the planet. Duarte gets visual storytelling. And just who are Duarte's clients? You've probably heard of a few of them: Apple, Adobe, Kodak, Google, Cisco, Symantec, Sun,...Al Gore. Al Gore?

When I posted about Al Gore's one-man traveling slideshow last week, I had totally forgotten (misremembered?) that it was Duarte Design that helped Al Gore create those compelling slides that are so crucial to his live presentations. Then I received this comment from Ted Boda, a Duarte designer who worked with Al Gore on the project

"Al Gore's presentation was in fact using Apple's Keynote presentation software (the same software Steve Jobs presents from) and did so for a number of reasons. As a designer for the presentation Keynote was the first choice to help create such an engaging presentation."

Apple's Keynote anti-aliases its fonts and graphics, scales vector objects and supports QuickTime videos easily and without any plug-ins. Duarte used a combination of Keynote's graphics and graph tools, Illustrator, Photoshop, AfterEffects (for more complex animations) and dropped in numerous videos from different sources to complete his presentation. Some of the videos dropped were up to 1920x1080 (HD), they played and scaled extremely well and was something our team could not even begin to think about doing in PowerPoint."
                                                -- Ted Boda

Of course! Now I remember...and it figures. One look at Al Gore's live show and you can see he got help from the best. And Duarte's the best I've seen. Last December I had the pleasure of spending a few of hours at Duarte Design, located in the heart of Silicon Valley. Nancy and Mark had invited me in to their office to share my experiences in Japan and to look at some of the Duarte Design "special sauce" that makes their process and design work so good (and their clients so happy). The Al Gore project came up in conversation, but (with my jetlag at the time) I completely forgot about it until I heard from Ted.

Duarte helped take Al's visuals up several notches
Yesterday I asked Nancy Duarte a few questions about working with Al Gore. Here's what she said.

Q: How did Al Gore find you guys?

A: "We were referred to Mr. Gore from Apple's graphic design group because of our mastery of Apple's Keynote application. Keynote really was the only option since it handles image, video and animation so well. He had just joined the board so our office location was very convenient."

Q: What was the process like?

Algoreted1A: "We had been working closely with him on his presentation for a while before the concept of a movie was proposed. He would call us with ideas and take us in a direction. Once we'd identified stories or images and had them animated, he would come in for a review. He was brilliant, charming and affirming. Our Account Manager and Designers put their own sweat into the piece because he (and the cause) were very contagious. He would call their cell and say "I heard about these bees in South America, check it out for me" or "I came up with a way to make this section more powerful, why don't you think about this or that." He was refining the file each time he presented it and calling us with feedback and we'd go for another round. As we researched facts and resourced images, people were very helpful when we told them who wanted the images and what it was for."

Q: It's not every day that a global leader stops by the office, what was Al really like?

A:"We always try to pretend that folks like him come by every day. We'd have a cold Diet Coke ready for him and then he'd get right to work. Even though he is one of the most powerful men in the world, he was consistently kind and thoughtful. Each time he delivered the presentation locally he acknowledged our firm which was astounding to us. He would make sure we had seats and invitations to the swanky presos too. It's funny, because he's actually one of the most thoughtful and gracious clients that we have."

Churn, baby, churn

Gore_audienceOne good piece of advice found in Guy Kawasaki's Rules for Revolutionaries is the idea of constantly striving for improvement, or churning. In Japanese we might refer to this idea as "kaizen" or an attitude of continually looking for ways to improve, even the smallest of details. It is interesting to see that Al Gore was constantly learning from each presentation and refining his message and his visuals along the way. This is a good lesson for all of us. If we present often, we should always be looking for ways to tweak our content or our supporting visuals to make it better. This does not always mean adding more; often it may mean subtracting or simplifying. Experience can be a great editor for us, helping us to churn our message over the weeks, months, or years.

Unseen Al Gore Campaign Video
A lot of people have been commenting on the "new Al Gore" in 2006. Although he won the popular vote in 2000, one of the knocks against him was his "wooden" communication style. Some said he was boring, stiff. As far as his "wooden" presentation style of the past, part of it may have been his fault. Perhaps he played it too conservative, held it back too much. But the media played a part in creating and perpetuating the dull, stiff, Gore-as-a-robot persona, a great distraction from the substantive issues of the day.

Al_gore3_1 In this unseen footage filmed by Spike Jonze during the 2000 campaign (also see part II), we see an Al Gore that is funny, relaxed, and engaging. This piece was never widely seen in 2000. Some say that if it had aired, the election may have turned out differently. Who knows. But it is a wonderful little documentary-like piece with the vice-president. This is the man the media mocked as wooden and stiff? In part I and part II Gore addresses his reputation for being stiff on several occasions. The same guy we see hanging out with his family in this video is the same guy we see giving Keynote presentations about global warming to packed houses across the US. In both cases he seems different from the Al I saw on TV six years ago. Maybe he's just learned to take "the real Al" public. Maybe he's just learned to be himself in front of the public. Whatever the reasons for his transformation, he is today quite the speaker. And thanks to Duarte, Al Gore is a pretty savvy visual communicator as well.

Note: Duarte Design has spent a lot of time helping Al Gore with his live Keynote presentations. Additional firms played a role, of course, with graphics in the film and with the trailer for the film

• Duarte: The purple cow of presentation design firms.
• Checkout Duarte's cool examples of presentations and implementations of motion graphics (as well as web, etc.).
Contact info for Duarte Design


"Unseen Al Gore Campaign Video" Part I
"Unseen Al Gore Campaign Video" Part II
• "Al Revere" (Interview with David Roberts). "For the most part, I think Gore gets the science right."
• Gore on climate skeptics (with video)
• The resurrection of Al Gore (wired magazine)