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June 2007

One secret to a healthy life (and a great presentation)

Sushi The Japanese have a great expression concerning healthy eating habits: Hara hachi bu. Hara hachi bu means “Eat until 80% full” (literally, stomach 80%). This is excellent advice and it’s pretty easy to follow this principle in Japan as proportions are generally much smaller than in places like the US. Using chopsticks also makes it easier to avoid shoveling food in and encourages a bit of a slower pace. This principle does not encourage wastefulness; it does not mean to leave 20% of your meal on the plate. In fact, it is bad form to leave food on your plate. In Japan, and in Asia in general, we usually order as a group and then take only what we need from the shared bounty in front of us. I have found — ironically perhaps — that if I stop eating before getting full I am more satisfied with the meal, I’m not sleepy after lunch or dinner, and I just generally feel much better. (Hara hachi bu is mentioned in this Honolulu Advertiser article and is discussed in this popular book called The Okinawa Diet Plan: Get Leaner, Live Longer, and Never Feel Hungry).

Applying the principle to other aspects of life?
Hara hachi bu is one simple principle that can help you have a much healthier life. It’s also a principle that can be applied to the length of speeches, presentations, and even meetings, etc. My advice is this: no matter how much time you are given, never ever go over time, and in fact finish a bit before your allotted time is up. How long you go will depend on your own unique situation at the time but try to shoot for 80-90% of your allotted time. No one will complain if you finish with a few minutes to spare. The problem with most presentation is that they are too long, not too short. Performers, for example, know that the trick is to leave the stage while the audience still loves you and don’t want you to go, not after they have had enough and are "full" of you.

(By the way, the Hara hachi bu principle is not at all applied to presentations, speeches, or meetings in Japan. In this country these events are almost always too long, sometimes painfully so.)

Below are a few slides I’m using to talk about this principle in a future presentation. (Photos from



(Below) Alternative treatment of the same slides.



Related posts from Presentation Zen
Japanese cuisine and the art of presentation
Obento, Zen gardens, and Presentations

Two decades of PowerPoint: Is the world a better place?

Ppt This week a Wall Street Journal article entitled PowerPoint Turns 20, As Its Creators Ponder A Dark Side to Success is getting a bit of attention. The article has a few good comments from the two creators of PowerPoint, Robert Gaskins and Dennis Austin, who produced PowerPoint 1.0 in 1987 and then sold it later that year to Microsoft (and oy vey! the world hasn’t been the same since).

Don’t blame Microsoft
Teacher We all agree that the majority of presentations given with PowerPoint “suck rotten eggs” as Seth Godin says in his e-book. But this is largely so because people do not know (or don’t care about) the difference between a well-written document and well-designed supporting visuals. PowerPoint users usually shoot for the middle and create a slideument, a “document” that would make your third-grade English teacher apoplectic with disgust and shame that you ever attended her class, and draw scowls of disapproval from anyone who makes a living as a designer or visual communicator.

PowerPoint is not the cause of bad business presentations, but laziness and poor writing skills may be. The point is not to place more text within tiny slides intended for images and visual displays of data. The point is to first (usually) create a well-written, detailed document. Do business people still know how to write?

“A lot of people in business have given up writing the documents. They just write the presentations, which are summaries without the detail, without the backup. A lot of people don't like the intellectual rigor of actually doing the work." 

    — Robert Gaskins in an interview with the Wall Street Journal

Visual literacy and design literacy have never been more important, and these subjects should be taught in schools. However, this does not mean that the ability to write well is any less important than it used to be, in fact good writing skills are also more important than ever. The future may belong to the designers, but it will also belong to those who can write insanely well. Sadly, I’m afraid that solid writing skills will become increasingly rare.

Can reading and writing make you a better speaker?
Books I became a better speaker and presenter after college in part because I majored in Philosophy, a degree that required loads and loads of reading, writing, and arguing…daily. All this reading and writing, oddly enough, made me a more articulate speaker as I learned better how to think critically, listen to opposing views, and spell out my ideas or position clearly and succinctly. I’m not against young children using PowerPoint in schools, but I hope the presentations they are making are verbal reports which are coming at the end of rigorous research and well-reasoned, detailed written reports. I fear that the “PowerPoint presentations” are often a replacement for written papers rather than an extension or augmentation of the research and written work.

“Now grade-school children turn in book reports via PowerPoint. [The PowerPoint inventors]  call that an abomination. Children, they emphatically agree, need to think and write in complete paragraphs.”
     — Lee Gomes, Wall Street Journal article on PowerPoint

Adults do silly things with PowerPoint too
Bad_slide We can’t blame the kids for making really bad PowerPoint. They learn bad habits from us. It’s all around them, and they don’t have to look far. Even (especially?) prominent U.S. politicians can produce some really bad PowerPoint. Leave it to a U.S. politician, then, to this week proudly display a PowerPoint deck that exemplifies everything that’s wrong with the way PowerPoint is used today. It's odd that anyone can look at these slides by
Mitt Romney and then label the creator of such obfuscation and bad design as “Multimedia Mitt”.  (Is the PowerPoint bar really set that low?) No words are necessary from me. Enjoy the slide show with the world’s longest title.


Click slide above to see the entire PowerPoint deck (if you must).

Kickin’ it with iStockphoto in Japan

Istock_web Thursday I was in Tokyo (again) to meet with the execs from iStockphoto who were in town for the launch of iStockphoto Japan. If you remember from this post entitled Where can you get good images? — and this one called quality photos for the rest of us — I'm a raging, inexorable thunderlizard evangelist (what?) for iStockphoto. iStock is run by some seriously cool people, and over the years they’ve cultivated a loyal community of photographers, artists, and customers across the globe. Many of them, like Guy and me, have become big fans. iStockphoto in fact took a page right out of Kawasaki’s Art of the Start and have been kicking butt ever since (read their interview with Guy). Over a year ago Getty Images acquired iStockphoto for $50 million. This seems like an excellent fit since Getty Images is the leader in rights-managed stock (and high-end royalty free, etc.) and iStock is the leader in microstock with a vast community.

Meeting the iStockphoto execs in Tokyo at their local digs. (L-to-R) Me; Bruce, President & CEO; Garth, VP Business Development; Kelly, VP Marketing

I began using iStockphoto back when they didn’t have such a large catalog of images, but I was attracted to the easy of use of the site and the concept behind the microstock agency. Now they are up to over 1.8 million images (and growing). I was at the office of Getty Images Japan to meet the iStock executives from Calgary and discuss some ways we can help each other (more on that later). They are a great group of guys. They treated me to lunch in Harajuku at the funkiest Okonomiyaki place I have even seen and I was their guest at a blowout party on the top floor of the Mori Tower in Roppongi Hills with Getty Images and 500 creatives to kickoff the launch of iStock in Japan. The folks at iStock and Getty are extremely cool…and they know what they are doing. I was quite impressed.


Bruce and the guys show me their Canadian method for making Okonomiyaki.

See more photos from my time with Getty and iStock in Tokyo.
There are many places to get photos these days, but I urge you to go over to iStockphoto and give them a try.

Quick example
Below are three slides I'm using in a new presentation I just put together today; the two images are from iStockphoto.

(1) I'm often asked by young entrepreneurs in Japan how they can get customers. I'm also asked constantly by foreign students how they can get internships in Japan.

(2) My answers always start the same: You gotta get out! The idea of getting out there, taking a risk, and selling yourself (and your vision, etc.) is not something that comes naturally to most Japanese. The quote from the Kawasaki interview with the iStockphoto crew underscores my point: nothing comes to you — you have to go get it.

(3) Having a diverse, quality network has always been important for entrepreneurs, but in today's world it's absolutely critical. So get out there and "press the flesh." Go to parties, attend conferences, chat up the person preparing your coffee at the local Starbucks in the morning, whatever. We're only here on this planet once, and you just never know who you'll meet if you get out.

Exclusive Photographer
I met Juergen Sack, a German photographer living in Tokyo who contributes to iStock in his role as “Exclusive Photographer” for iStockphoto. I’ve used many of his images before so it was fun meeting the man behind the camera. Checkout some of his images here. You just never know who you'll run into...

Interview with iStockphoto Founder and CEO Bruce Livingstone
Interview: Bruce Livingstone, CEO,
• iStockphoto CEO on Getty Images acquisition: Exclusive interview on one year anniversary

When there is no quiet, there can be no loud

We are hard-wired to notice differences in what we perceive, and the range of our perception in terms of what we see and hear, for example, is indeed quite remarkable. Difference is interesting. Perhaps this is why there are few things more boring to us than listening to someone read a speech void of emotion and from behind a lectern. Part of the reason for our boredom is that the dynamic range found in passionate, thoughtful, engaging presentation (or conversation), or the imperfectness but realness of someone speaking extemporaneously with enthusiasm and heart is lost...and our interest wanes.

What got me thinking about this was this great little video below which explains why you may be unhappy with some of the music coming out of your iPod or CD player. This video, by the way, is a good example of simple visuals adding great support to the narration.

As the author says in the video above, the original version of the song with its great dynamic range makes you turn up your volume, and when you do it sounds great. A wimpy dynamic range will result in the loss of all feel in the music as it will lack punch and clarity. Great presentations too make us “turn up the volume” in the sense that we feel engaged, interested, and want to see and hear what comes next. The magic is in knowing what to leave out. There is immense power in the quiet bits and the silent spaces in music and in speech, just as the empty spaces (negative space/white space) in visual forms of expression can make or break the effectiveness of the design.

When there is no quiet, there can be no loud. And where there is no nothing, there can be no something. In what ways, then, can we apply the spirit of “dynamic range” to all aspects of our live presentations?

More on why your CDs may not sound so hot

Presentation & the singer-songwriter

Chinese These days I tend to think that musical performance has as much in common with presentation as the advice found in literature from the field of speech and communications. That is, we can learn a lot about storytelling and conveying meaning through engagement and emotional connections from studying what makes the great musical performers so special (beyond just their ability to play their instruments exceptionally well). And there is a lot we can learn from new-media artists as well as they continue to work closely with musicians and other performers to help them tell their stories visually.

You will love this song (and its message)
Thanks to Digg I discovered today a wonderful artist and an amazing, simple song. This song is called Chinese Translation and is performed by M. Ward. The animated video below is a great example of how simple illustrations can fit harmoniously with the music and enhance the song and the singer’s message. Not all of you will like it, and for some it will take a few takes before you come around. Others will instantly fall in love with the simple song and simple animation. (Link to higher-rez version on Joel Trussell's blog).

Afraid to do the things we know we have to do
I don’t mean to analyze the song — and clearly it will have different meanings for different people — but I love the three simple questions posed in the song:

“What do you do with the pieces of a broken heart?”
“How can a man like me remain in the light?”
“If life is really as short as they say, then why is the night so long?”

We ask ourselves variations of these three fundamental questions almost daily, do we not? We often go to great lengths to find the answers, even though the answers may already be right there in front of us, if only we could see. Seeing is indeed the hardest part, and for that we may need a helpful reminder of what we already know but have forgotten from someone wiser than us.

If you have ever loved (and lost), then I don’t know how you can hear those lyrics — What do you do with the pieces of a broken heart? — and not be moved, at least a bit. They say that it’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. If this is so, we all ask, then why does loss hurt so much and cut so deep? The animation of the pieces of a broken heart in combination with the smooth lyrics and haunting melody convey a powerful message indeed.

Below is another video of an M. Ward song called Requiem. This video too is a good example of the visual enhancing the story being told by the singer and storyteller.

If you're in Tokyo for a presentation

Ritz_tokyo While in Tokyo last week, I had the unusual honour (for me at least) of staying at three of the city’s finest five-star hotels. All three were incredible, just as I had expected, but it was The Ritz-Carlton Tokyo that stood out among the others. Most hotels in Tokyo — especially the four- and five-star variety — are going to give you amazing service, but the Ritz-Carlton takes it up another notch. In terms of “design” and “presentation” of the brand, and the generation of delight for the guests at all touch points, The Ritz-Carlton Tokyo hits the sweet spot.

What business are you really in?
Room_ritz If you were to ask The Ritz-Carlton Tokyo management what business they are in (and I did) they would say they were not in the hotel business but in the service business. However, I would say that the other hotels also try to be in the service business, and do a pretty good job of it. The Ritz-Carlton Tokyo, however, is not just in the service business, they are in the experience business. Tom Peters loves to use this quote from The Experience Economy (recommended): “Experiences are as distinct from services as services are from goods.” The Ritz-Carlton Tokyo, then, is in the experiences business and in the emotions business. You’ve got to have the operations right, but it’s really about emotions, delight, and warm memories. Operations alone can be copied, but “high touch” differentiation is nearly impossible to copy.

If you’re travelling to Tokyo for a presentation
Note_choco The Ritz-Carlton Tokyo clearly gets the concept of “high touch,” but I was surprised that they got the technology part right as well. If you’re travelling to Tokyo for an important presentation, I suggest you stay in the Ritz-Carlton. The rooms and the stunning lobby area on the 45th floor are all wireless and the ability to connect your laptop from the desk in your room to the huge flat panel display is a great convenience for international business travellers. Below I made a low-rez video (with a cheap camera I bought just down the street from the hotel) to show you the connectivity panel on the desk. I also recorded a short presentation in the room to give an idea of how you could use the space to rehearse your presentation.

Download File

If I had had more time I would have made the video shorter, cleaner, etc. I also would have positioned the camera closer to the screen. In the video the screen is hard to see, but from anywhere in the room, even small text could be read easily. Perhaps I’ll use my HD camera and proper microphone someday to make something much better for the blog.