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January 2008

Bill Gates "rocks" CES

OK, this is getting weird. Two days in a row that I am praising a Bill Gates presentation. Yesterday his June Harvard speech, and now today his annual keynote presentation at CES. Bill Gates's various presentations over the years (those supported by a multimedia background or PowerPoint at least) have usually been pretty dull affairs, often including bouts of "death-by-PowerPoint" visuals. But today I thought I'd give Bill another shot, and I am happy to say that Bill did a very good job *and* his visuals augmented his spoken word well and were used quite smoothly. I also loved the way he used self-deprecating humor throughout the keynote. I won't long remember much of the content of his CES 08 keynote, but I will remember this important lesson by Bill Gates on leadership and communication: Take your message, your job, and your cause very seriously, but do not take yourself so seriously. I respect a leader tremendously who can laugh at himself (or herself).

One example of Bill poking fun at himself was this video below which was part of the keynote. It takes a confident leader to put himself in such ridiculous situations. My favorite part was Bill in the gym—hysterical!

Is it finally the end of "really bad PowerPoint"?
From what I could see, Bill Gates's final big CES keynote address did not have a single bullet point (gasp!) and he did a pretty good job of it. This was not Bill's final presentation to be sure, but let's hope in future that he continues to either present with no slides at all or with a screen that is more visual like the one he used at CES. No more excuses for us now: If Bill Gates says it's OK to present to an audience backed by an attractive display sans bullets, clutter, and bad clip art, then what is our excuse (except habit)? Even the demos by Bill's supporting cast were pretty good. The only real weak part was the ending; I thought Bill should have been the one to thank everyone and wrap it up on a high note. But all-n-all I'd say this was the best I have seen Bill perform with a remote control in his hand on stage. Watch the entire webcast on Microsoft's site.

Who are you and what have you done with Bill Gates?
Yes, they are different occasions, but Bill's presentation in 2005 introducing Live was a real bullet-point filled snooze fest. Quite a contrast in visuals too as this small sampling below illustrates. I like the 2008 version of "Bill Gates the presenter" a lot better.

2005 ("Live" unveiling)
Live1    Live2
2008 (CES keynote)
Ces1    Ces2

Below are a few more shots to give you a feel for the visuals backing Bill's talk.





Bill Gates: Never surrender to complexity

Bill_harvard On this website, and even a wee bit in the book, I have compared Bill Gates's PowerPoint presentations with Steve Jobs's presentations to underscore the relative ineffectiveness of Bill Gate's presentations with slides. But make no mistake: Bill Gates is a remarkable man and a great philanthropist. And when he is not presenting to a deck of slides filled with bullet points, he is a pretty darn good communicator as well. While looking for some recent video of Bill Gates today I ran across this June, 2007 speech by Bill Gates. Technically, this is not the best speech ever by any means, but considering who Bill Gates is and his incredible accomplishments, wealth, and position, I think this is a great speech. Bill did a wonderful job and his message is an important one. (Why wasn't more made of this speech when it occurred last summer? Was the message lost on the audience that day at Harvard? Did the important content touch too few there? I have no idea, but thank God for YouTube.) I hope more people—especially young people—will hear this important message by Bill Gates. Below is part 3 to give you a feel for the speech.

You can see the entire speech and read the transcripts on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation website. You can also see the video in five parts on YouTube. I like the content. Bill reminds us that seeing—really seeing—is the first step. First step: see the problem. Second step: Cut through the complexity to find a solution. Below are a few of my favorite lines from Bill's Harvard speech:

"The barrier to change is not too little caring; it is too much complexity."

"To turn caring into action, we need to see a problem, see a solution, and see the impact. But complexity blocks all three steps."

"If you want to inspire people to participate, you have to show more than numbers; you have to convey the human impact of the work—so people can feel what saving a life means to the families affected."

Yes, Bill is not the most charismatic figure in the world, and judging from the crowd—and the woman behind him who kept yawning—maybe the speech could have been a bit shorter. But I think he did a pretty good job as far as speeches go. And for a university commencement speech, I'd say this was outstanding. I hope his message resonates with a new generation of entrepreneurs.

Another good speech
Here's my favorite college commencement speech. A different but complementary message to Bill's.

The best and the worst of 2007

Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu (Happy New Year!). Back in Japan at last. No New Year's video greeting card this year, but checkout last year's if you have not seen it.

Top_10 If you were asked, could you come up with a top-10 best/worst communicators list for 2007? I have not compiled such a list, but legendary communications expert Bert Decker—based in San Francisco, California—published his annual top-10 best/worst list again a few days ago. Very interesting list indeed (I was especially interested in #9 in the "best" category...). Bert's list features those in the US. Can you recommend some other best/worst communicators from in or outside the US? I have many favorites, of course, such as Seth, Steve, Guy, and many more. But here are some non-Americans that are exceptional presenters: Markuz Wernli Saito (Switzerland), Daniel Rodriguez (Mexico), Hans Rosling (Sweden), and Marco Montemagno (Italy). And my favorite speech of 2007 is this 1992 speech from a 12-year old Canadian, Severn Cullis-Suzuki. Any others?

This just in: US presidential candidate Barack Obama was not on Bert's list this year because he was number one last year. There are many kinds of presentations, including speeches by politicians. Most political speeches are real yawners (for me at least) and I do not point to them too often. Obama is different. The man can flat-out communicate and connect with a crowd (video). Watch the 14-min speech below.