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February 2008

Sir Ken Robinson on public speaking

Sir_ken_robinson About two years ago I discovered Sir Ken Robinson; I have talked about him many times here before. His ideas on creativity and education—and his own personal presentation style—are truly an inspiration for me. This week I found several podcasts featuring Sir Ken Robinson and I ate them up. He has such great content and an engaging style. On one of the podcasts (this one with IMNO) I found that he actually spoke briefly on the issue of public speaking and presentation. The podcast audio quality for this one is extremely poor, so I do not suggest you listen to it (there are others I link to at the bottom of this post). However, below I summarize some of the key points he made while spending 3-4 minutes talking about the importance of public speaking. Here's my summary of his tips with my own comments added:

(1) Remember you are speaking to individuals not an abstract group. The size of the audience does not matter, says Robinson; remember that you are always speaking to individuals. So speak as naturally to a large audience as you would to a small group.

(2) Be as relaxed as possible. People will feel relaxed if you are relaxed, so be as relaxed as possible right from the start to put the audience at ease. Seems like a small thing, but actually it is huge.

Sir_ken_stage (3) Be conversational and make a connection with the room. But also keep the energy high. Being relaxed and natural and conversational does not mean that your energy as a presenter is the same as when you are chatting with friends in a cafe. Robinson says that he gets a lot of energy from the audience so the connection is very important. If you have the connection and the energy (which is cyclical) then your impact, your message is more effective.

(4) Know your material. OK, this may seem a wee bit obvious, but why then do so many people use detailed notes? Partly it's due to nervousness or convention and habit, but often it's because people are really not fully prepared to be talking on the topic yet. If you really know your material well then you should not need much more than a few bullet points on paper to remind you of the structure. Robinson says he thinks long and hard about his talk and writes down a few key bullet points on paper (not on screen). (I think a mind-map on a piece of paper can also be a useful reminder and a road map for you; I sometimes use these). Robinson never has extensive notes, just bullet points. If you know your material then you will be relaxed. If you don't, you'll seem nervous and this makes the audience nervous or uncomfortable.

Sir_ken (5) Prepare, but don't rehearse (think and plan ahead instead). There is nothing wrong with rehearsal, of course. Different people have different methods for preparing. But the danger in rehearsal is that it is possible to seem too rehearsed when you present. That is, we may seem too perfect, too inflexible, too unnatural, and though technically perfect, we may lose the ever important natural connection with the audience. And I say if there is no connection, there is no communication.

Jazz_slide_ken_2 (6) Leave room for improvisation. "I always think of public speaking as being a bit like jazz or the blues," says Sir Ken. He says that he does not always necessarily know exactly what he is going to say, but he believes in stories and his presentation—like a jazz musician—is telling a story and he is taking people someplace. Yes, he has ideas in mind before he takes to the stage, but like a musician he feels free to improvise. This is actually more natural and more flexible and enables him to engage more with each unique audience. (Click slide for larger size.)

Sir Ken Robinson also believes in humor. Humor is important for stimulating creativity he often says. And humor is good for getting people engaged with you and your message."If they're laughing then they're listening," he says.

Can't get enough of Sir Ken Robinson?
Watch this classic TED presentation from 2006 (or watch here) and checkout the podcast interviews with Sir Ken Robinson below. Really good stuff.

Interview with Sir Ken Robinson by Susan Bratton on Personal Life Media
Sir Ken Robinson interview on innovation on Phorecast
Interview with Sir Ken Robinson focussing on social media on Media Snackers
Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative (book by Sir Ken Robinson)

Inspiration matters

Inspiration_matter If your presentations, speeches, and your words in general are inspiring to others—or if you yourself are deeply inspired by the words of another—it's just a matter of time before someone emerges to dismiss the importance of such inspiration. It's just a matter of time before someone will try to bring you down. They will demean your enthusiasm, optimism, and hopefulness as symptoms of shallowness. Inspiration is OK, but "too much" inspiration is inconsistent, they will say, with the idea of serious content and a serious message. This, of course, is complete horseshitake.

Audience_clap What got me thinking about this was the tight political contest across the pond in the USA between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton that I read about on the daily train ride to the office. Over the last couple of weeks Obama's highly praised speech-making skills and even some aspects of his message of hope and change have come under attack it seems. Attacks on his record and experience are fair game, but it's ironic that Obama's amazing oratory skills are belittled by some as unimportant—and worse that they are just a symptom of a man without ideas or a plan. You know, a man who is all hat and no cattle, as they say. Logically this does not follow. A man can be articulate, engaging, inspiring and have important content. But my point is not to discuss politics here, of course, but simply to address this issue of emotion, inspiration, and communication in a way that relates to our own lives as business people, academics, researchers, and leaders of all kinds.

That's life
Hope_child Many will say a man (or woman) who speaks well, who is articulate and full of hope, enthusiasm and positivity, is an empty suit. They will say emotions do not matter. All that matters they say is content, period. All the matters is evidence, period. Ironically, the very people who demand that content and evidence are everything and that emotion—and certainly inspiration—do not matter in "serious presentations" rail against the importance of emotion and engaging delivery in a manner that is completely emotional and heated. I know this because I have confronted such people many times. They say it is simply the quality and structure of the information and that delivery and personal qualities—as well as simplicity and beauty in visual design—are just not that important or necessary. The point that such people miss is this: no one ever said delivery and emotion and connection were everything or that they were sufficient. We've only ever said that they were necessary (and all too often lacking). Emotion and great delivery are not sufficient for presentation success, but they are necessary in almost every case. Solid content is a necessary condition, of course, but it's almost never sufficient, not when we are talking about leadership and communication. And if you are talking about trying to lead a movement, trying to change the world, then you sure as hell better be an inspiring figure. You don't have to be slick or polished, you do not have to be tall or good looking, but you do necessarily have to connect, inspire, and motivate. That's what leaders do.

Don't let the bozos get you down
Indexed_book I am not suggesting blind allegiance to an idea, a stubbornness which prevents you from seeing the issue from all sides. But when it comes to this issue—of people dismissing your hopefulness, positivity and most of all your ability to inspire those around you (your team, your coworkers, your students, whomever)—the motivation behind such dismissiveness comes from insecurity or just plain ignorance. Guy Kawasaki might call such people bozos, and remember Guy's mantra: Don't let the bozos grind you down. Now, honest critique of your ability is important. If you can find a coach who can be objective and straight with you, not just praising you all the time, then you are very lucky indeed (sometimes this mentor is a teacher or a manager). Mentors and coaches are great; we need them. But as you become better and better at anything—especially if you become great at it—people will try to dismiss your talents and accomplishments. And if you are inspiring and articulate, they may go after that too. A similar idea is captured beautifully and simply below by Jessica Hagy in this chart from Indexed (Jessica's book Indexed is out in a few days).


Search for inspiration, do not wait for it
Cannonbeach Motivation is essential, but somehow different from inspiration. Fear, for example, can be a powerful motivator. Fear of failure can even motivate you out of your chair to go outside (or for a run, etc.) in search of an idea, in search perhaps of inspiration. Some people dismiss inspiration because they say you just have to work hard through the tough times, inspired or not. I hear that. Motivation is sometimes hard, but inspiration is far more illusive. Everyone is searching for inspiration whether you are a medical doctor or engineer or artist or teacher. We need the inspiration and hope to keep us moving forward and improving even in the hard times. It is easy to misinterpret inspiration as something you wait around for to happen to you. This is not the best way and it rarely works out. Inspiration is something you have to search for. Don't wait for it, search for it. And when you find it, embrace it, and don't let anyone take it from you. It's yours. Don't underestimate the value of inspiration and do not apologize for becoming profoundly inspired or in inspiring others. Inspiration is what makes life worth living. Inspiration is not everything—you need great ideas, and action, and hard work too—but genuine learning and growth and real change come to those who are inspired.

In Sum
(1) Never apologize for your enthusiasm, passion, or vision.
(2) Never apologize for being inspired by another human being.
(3) Seek out inspiration (don't wait for it).
(4) Inspire others by sharing your talents and time.
(5) And no matter what: Don't let the bozos grind you down, ever.

The world needs more inspiration, not less. Speaking is not the only way to inspire—actions inspire too, often more—but leaders know how to inspire with both words and action.

Management Craft: 10 Ways to Inspire Others
Top Ten Ways to Inspire Others to Be Their Best
Impress and Inspire Others Without Saying a Word
5 Inspiration Hacks for Creative People
Obama's "Yes We Can" speech on YouTube
"Yes We Can" video by
The Black Eyed Peas

Scott Kelby brings clarity to photography

Scott_1 Wouldn't it be great if more people became better amateur photographers? And wouldn't it be great if we too could greatly improve our own skill-level and knowledge about photography to produce photos that we could be proud of? There are no shortcuts to excellence in any field, including photography, but wouldn't it be cool if one of the world's bestselling authors of photography books wrote a book full of tips that made you feel like you were hanging out with him one afternoon on a shoot getting tip after practical tip that you could actually use immediately without the jargon and theory (but with plenty of jokes to go with the killer advice)? That's exactly what Scott Kelby did in his bestselling book The Digital Photography Book: The step-by-step secrets for how to make your photos look like the pros. Except Scott did not just produce one such book, he produced two. And I have them both. (The Digital Photography Book Vol 2 was published last month.) Even if you are a pro you may enjoy these books, but if you are a complete newbie or an amateur photographer with ambition to become a remarkable photographer, then these two books are two you will want to checkout.

Scott_2 These two books are not the last word by any means, but they will make a huge difference for anyone who wants to get better. The lessons I learned in these two books not only helped me take better photographs, they also made me better able to assess good images from the not-so-good ones when selecting photos for purchase (from stock, microstock, etc.). There's some technical stuff in there, but mostly you learn how to take better images like the pros. You don't need to have an SLR camera to learn from these books, but these books are especially good for people who currently have — or hope someday soon to have — a professional grade camera. I do not have a digital SLR yet but am planning now to invest in the equipment after reading Scott's books. It will be worth it.

SK: For maximum impact, look for simplicity
I had a sense about this drawn from intuition and based on my own design experience, but it was reassuring to read Scott's ideas about photography and simplicity. Concerning city shots, for example, Scott says that clutter and distraction are the things that most often kill properly exposed shots. Here's a clip from page 171 of The Digital Photography Book.

" of the big secrets to creating powerful and dramatic urban and travel shots is to strive for simplicity. Look for simplicity in your backgrounds, in your people shots, in your architectural elements, in every aspect—the simpler the surroundings, the more powerful the impact...Look for the absence of of distraction. Look for the absence of clutter and noise, watch for distracting elements that sneak into the top and sides of your frame, and create some photos that have great impact—not because of what they have, but because of what they don't have—lots of junk."

                                                —Scott Kelby

Scott Thinks it's Hot
Hot_scott Besides writing over 30 books on photography and Photoshop, Scott appears regularly on Photoshop User TV. Scott also keeps a really cool blog, the Adobe Photoshop Insider. And since I am a fan of Scott's work (I've learned almost all my Photoshop skills over the years from Scott), I was very happy when Presentation Zen was selected for the first "Scott Thinks it's Hot Award." I have never met Scott but I can tell he's a great guy and he's certainly helped a lot of people over the years tell their stories through photography and other visuals. Take some time to checkout his blog, videos, and books. A lot of great stuff in there. 

Here's another one
Clicks The Moment It Clicks: Photography secrets from one of the world's top shooters is also outstanding. This book too makes you feel like you're just hanging out with one of world's best photographers (Joe McNally) and he's dropping one great insightful tip after another. This book is a real pleasure to read and scan. This book is a great complement to Scott Kelby's work.

Scott's gear
Scott Kelby's portfolio
Joe McNally's portfolio

Deep or wide? You decide.

Letting_go The problem with many presentations is that people simply try to say too much in a short amount of time. Most people struggle with practicing restraint in the preparation stage—including myself—and have a hard time making the tough choices about inclusion and exclusion before the presentation. Often no time is given to the idea of exclusion and paring down. As a result, audiences all too often get more than they want, need, or can comprehend. We know this is true of many executive presentations, sales presentations, and conference presentations, etc. In The Craft of Scientific Presentations Michael Alley touches on a similar idea. In this book he suggests that you can go deep (depth) or you can go wide (scope) but it is very difficult to do both in, say, an hour lecture or conference presentation. The key, then, is to set realistic goals, and if you decide that you need to go deep then you have to seriously consider reducing the scope. Sometimes, in life as in presentations, you just have to make a choice about what's important, and let go of the rest (at least for the time being).

Scope_depth  Scope_depth2

Slides adapted from The Craft of Scientific Presentations.

And in the classroom?
Lecture_2 I have often wondered if this idea of including a very large breadth of material in a short amount of time is a problem for teachers and students as well in traditional classroom settings. Now, teaching daily lessons is a different animal from the kind of presentations I generally focus on here, to be sure, but I have wondered for the longest time if teachers — especially college professors — attempt to cover too much ground (and not enough depth) per semester. That is, do too many classes sacrifice depth and understanding for scope? Yes, it depends on the subject I suppose, but is it better to learn, say, only six core ideas deeply and repeatedly or is it better to cover as much ground as possible and go for the greatest breadth in the time alloted? Great scope certainly makes for an impressive syllabus and perhaps even a feeling of accomplishment for those who pushed hard and got the highest marks. But how many of the students who got a 'C' or better will actually remember what they studied a year later?

What got me thinking about this again was this presentation by economist Robert Frank speaking at Google.You already know about the talks available at TED, but you may not be aware of the hundreds of presentations and speeches available for free that are part of the @Google Talks including Authors@Google, Women@Google, Candidates @Google, etc. (I have been ask to present for Google as well and will be there hopefully later in the year). Except for the all too familiar PowerPoint style, Dr. Frank gives an interesting talk. But what I found compelling in the talk were his comments concerning depth/scope and narrative learning theory. I invite you to watch his presentation, but you can see the gist of the points I'm referring to below in his slides (click for larger view).

Economics1  How_much

Narrative1  Narrative2

Watch Robert Frank's @Google talk below.

The Economic Naturalist: In Search of Explanations for Everyday Enigmas by Robert Frank

David S. Rose: The Pitch Coach

David_s_rose I gave a presentation last week in Tokyo (pics) for the Entrepreneurs' Association of Tokyo. This was an amazing group of smart, creative people. For this talk I highlighted a few well-known entrepreneurs who understand the importance of presentation. You may know people like Guy Kawasaki, Seth Godin, and Tom Peters, etc. but there is another very successful business man who has done a lot to help professionals make better presentations. That man is David S. Rose, one of the most influential technology executives in New York City. A man BusinessWeek called a "world conquering entrepreneur" and dubbed "The Pitch Coach" for his ability to help entrepreneurial executives perfect their presentation skills and tell their stories. (See the online version of the BusinessWeek article. Also see It's All in the Sequence.)

Presenting in Tokyo for a creative group of entrepreneurs.

One of the slides I used while talking about why presentations matter.

Some advice from David S. Rose
David, a graduate of Yale (Urban Planning) and Columbia (MBA) contacted me over a year ago to say he was a long-time reader of this blog, and he has been an amazing evangelist for the Presentation Zen book (David wrote a review on Amazon that was very kind). I even had a 2-page callout section featuring David S. Rose in the Presentation Zen book, but in the final hours (literally) I had to cut those pages along with callout pages and sample slides for Al Gore and Guy Kawasaki. In future I hope to release these pages in a free downloadable appendix. Below is a section from David S. Rose that did not make it into the Presentation Zen book. David makes a very interesting point here:

"The primary hallmark of an entrepreneurial fundraising pitch as opposed to other types of presentations is that the most important factor by far is you. Investors are going to spend the entire session attempting to determine if you are the person behind whom they should invest their money, and how you come across personally is often more important than everything else combined, including your business plan, and industry and financial projections. This means that fundraising pitches must be given by the CEO and no one else. The top ten characteristics that investors will be looking to find in you during your presentation are:

  • Integrity
  • Passion
  • Experience (in starting a business)
  • Knowledge
  • Skill (in functional operating areas)
  • Leadership
  • Commitment
  • Vision
  • Realism
  • Coachability

"Concerning the flow of your presentation, the single most important thing in sequencing a presentation is that everything must flow logically from beginning to end, and require no prior knowledge on the part of the audience. You do not want the audience to have to "think" at all, which means you need to answer every potential question at exactly the right place, just before the audience would think to ask it. It sounds easy, but 99% of presentations don't do it."
                                                        —David. S. Rose

New York Angels
David S. Rose's profile page
Rose Tech Ventures

Words, music, images, & the power of inspiration

Yeswecan I do not highlight political speeches very often on this site. But a few weeks ago, I was impressed by a simple, short concession speech by US presidential candidate Barack Obama as you know. It was a well-written speech delivered in a way that inspired a great many people it seemed at the time. From my sofa here in Osaka that night, a very long way from any office water cooler or diner in the US, I too was unexpectedly impressed and inspired. Because I mentioned that speech a few weeks ago, I have received several emails from around the world over the past few days—including here in Japan where Obama is hugely popular—urging me to watch this interesting piece of creative work by, frontman for the Black Eyed Peas. It did not sound like something I'd like; the speech was fine the way it was I thought. Then I finally watched it...and I was moved. This unsolicited song and video was finished in two days they say and it is not perfect. But for me, this is a wonderful and powerful mixing of elements. The fact that it is a bit rough and not too slick or polished actually makes it better, makes it more real. Watch it below.

To me the video is a reminder about the importance of inspiration. Leaders—and you are now, or will someday be, a leader—have a great many roles to play and responsibilities to fulfill. But great leaders inspire, pure and simple. There are many ways to inspire people (your group, your company, your country). Great communication skills are not the only way. Nonetheless, the ability to paint pictures with your words—moving people and inspiring them with your ideas and your vision—can take you far in this world. If you fail to inspire, they will fail to listen. Never underestimate the power you have to inspire.

Watch it here at a higher quality.

Also checkout this new Lawrence Lessig presentation—in typical Lessig Method style—on Barack Obama. (This is good, but given the size of the screen, a sans serif type face at a larger size would be more effective. Looks like this was recorded directly in Keynote.)

Presentation in Tokyo

I'll be in Tokyo this Tuesday speaking for the Entrepreneur Association of Tokyo. Rather than the usual longer talk I do, this presentation will have much more give and take discussion specifically about presentation and communication as they relate to "the pitch" and one's brand as an entrepreneur. I have also been asked to talk about the issue of writing and designing the PZ book, getting a publisher, word of mouth marketing, etc. (Click on the slide below for more information.)


I'll be sharing some presentation advice from some well known entrepreneurs such as Seth Godin, David S. Rose ("The Pitch Coach"), and Guy Kawasaki. Speaking of Guy, checkout his "10 Questions with Garr Reynolds" if you haven't seen it yet (actually ended up being13 questions).

Here are three more talks in Japan that are open to the public (ACCJ and BCCJ require registration, DM is free).

February 19, Design Matters Japan (Apple Store, Osaka)
Here I am going to talk about the writing and design process for the PZ book, from conception to finished product.

February 20, American Chamber of Commerce Japan (P&G, Kobe)
One-hour presentation in the auditorium at P&G in Kobe (older pic). Following this talk there will be a small party across the street at the Kobe Bay Sheraton Hotel where there will be a book signing and a drawing for several of the PZ books.

March 4, British Chamber of Commerce Japan (Westin Hotel, Tokyo)
This is also about a one-hour presentation over lunch. I have presented at the Westin a few times before. It's a very nice venue.

Future events
Looks like I'll be in Silicon Valley and Honolulu the third week in March for a couple of presentations as well. I'll keep you posted. Also, a summer tour of speaking engagements for corporations and conferences/events around the world is being put together now. (For example, I'll be speaking at the Voices That Matter Web Design Conference in Nashville, TN June 10-13.) As I learn of secured dates for corporate engagements around the world, I'll let you know. My hope is that I'll be able to do some free public speaking engagements around the world (user groups, etc.). For example, if I got a firm gig with a company in Paris for, say, July 10, then I'd be happy to speak for another group in the area on July 11 and so on. I'll also try to speak at the larger Apple Stores. We'll see how (and where) it goes.