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Al Gore's latest TED talk

Al_slide It's been two years since Al Gore presented at TED about climate change. This presentation is not as tight or as smooth as his 2006 talk since he was doing this particular short version for the first time, but I enjoyed the talk even more as it seemed more natural and authentic in spite of its lack of polish. Indeed, it may have seemed more authentic, more human, because of its lack of polish. The great designers at Duarte Design did the updated visuals, of course, but I think Al changed the structure and flow of the talk all on his own (there was one text slide that went by pretty fast for example). I liked his story about the elder lady he told to illustrate how long he'd been in the public eye (that was a good laugh), and I thought his level of passion and urgency was higher and more "real" than in other talks I have seen by Al, including those in the documentary. Watch the talk below or on the TED site here (you can also post comments concerning the contents of his talk there).

All-n-all, I thought it was a very good presentation, but there are just a couple of things to point out that may help us improve our presentations.

Do not apologize or imply (or admit) that you have not prepared enough for your specific audience. It may be true, and your apology may be coming from a very sincere, honest place (rather than just making an excuse), but it never comes across well to an audience. When Al said he'd "gobbled this [presentation] together" to stay within the time constraints, and quipped that he was trying to bring the bar of expectation down a bit before his talk, it reminded me that this is a mistake I have made several times before. I even did it recently (it just comes out sometimes). Our audience does not know that we did not prepare as much as we would have liked, so why mention it and get it in their head? "Man, he's right—he didn't prepare enough," they may say to themselves. The same goes for telling people you're nervous. "You didn't look nervous, but now that you mention it..." Instead, start your talk with a simple thank you and begin the conversation. It was not a big deal in Al's case, but you and I are not a well-known and popular public figure.

Do not turn your back on the audience. With monitors in front there is no need to turn your back except for the briefest of moments. I thought Al was at his best when he was not speaking in the direction of the slide. I would have liked to see him come out a little closer to the audience the way Dr. Taylor did in her talk. The monitor there makes it easy to do this and still know at all times what image is behind you. (I see that I made this same comment about Al almost two years ago.)

With the monitor in front mirroring the screen, it's possible to keep your attention in the direction of the audience to make stronger connections.


Your notebook can be your monitor if you have space in front, low and out of the way. Above is a pic from a talk I did two weeks ago in Tokyo. The MacBook was on a theatre chair in the first row. The VGA and audio cable were long enough to reach the podium inputs. (Larger photo on Flickr.)

Al Gore is a very experienced presenter by now; he certainly does not need my advice. But we can all get a little better a little bit at a time. Try getting away from the podium and refrain from turning your back in your next big talk and see if it doesn't make a difference. I bet you'll find a much higher degree of engagement with your audience and a more effective, powerful talk.

Sample Al Gore slides from the Duarte Design Web site.


Art Gonzalez

I've always enjoyed Al Gore's presentation style and public speaking skills. Thanks for those two tips, will add to my arsenal.

Many blessings to all,

Art Gonzalez
Check my Lens at: QuantumKnights


but if stating you are nervous helps the speaker to relax and deliver a great presentation, isn't that better than not saying anything and then be nervous throughout the presentation?

Robert Smelser

I also really enjoyed this talk. However, I think one distraction during the talk was his use of a laser pointer. Those red dots streaking around the screen make me think of some insect I want to brush away.

Other than that, I agree that this talk was even more sincere and impassioned, and he handles himself well in front of an audience.

Steven Hoober

I've done a fair number of presentations where we get into such nitty-gritty during the Q&A it works best to walk over to the screen and gesture at things (and sometimes it just feels right to interact with the graphics directly like this).

I found it worked nicely to keep something engaged with the audience; keep a hand on the podium, or generally pointed at the audience, then turn 2/3rd of the way around. Like no one can tell if you are nervous, they also can't tell if you are twisted uncomfortably, so tough it out.

Regarding monitoring with your laptop, one thing that has killed me, for impromptu presentations more than real set-up ones, is the monitor sleeping (and then I look stupid walking over and tapping it, or have to ask someone else to keep it awake). For OSX, get thee "Caffeine." Lives in the top bar (like by your clock) and you can just click it to prevent sleep, dim, etc. Invaluable for these situations.


I could not agree more about never apologizing to your audience. This is a classic blunder in academic presentations where folks apologize for some element of their presentation, e.g. "...I know you can't make out this figure, but what it shows is.." or "I apologize that the text is so small on this slide..." I always tell my students never ever apologize for any element of your talk. If you know something is wrong with it ahead of time, then you should fix it ahead of time.

Bill Harris

I sometimes coach presenters, and I always give people the same advice about apologizing: if you know enough to apologize for something, fix it before you present instead.

Yet I must say the apology didn't bother me here at all. I do remember hearing it, but, for some reason, it came across to me as a friendly attempt to connect as another human being and not as an apology. Did anyone else have such a reaction that differed from their normal reaction to apologies? If so, is there an exception to this standard rule?

Ellis Pratt

Re: Do not turn your back

How about this for a low tech solution: place a mirror at the front of the stage, so you can see the reflection of the slides behind you.

You could use one of those slightly parabolic mirrors that you can stick on a car windscreen. They are mirrors designed to remove blind spots and for driving instructors to see what's happening behind. Some come attached to a bendable arm.


Posted by: Mark | April 12, 2008 at 02:45 AM

Did anyone else have such a reaction that differed from their normal reaction to apologies?


Me. I think it's one of those rare instances where he gets away with it. Probably because of his pace ... he gets right on with business.

Garr, I also cannot believe no comment from you on the laser pointer which is as a 'how-not-to' is as bad as gets. Look at 8:50 - 9:30. Appalling.

I think this reflects a design 'flaw' In that, if you need to highlight you do it with design. I suspect the fact that he 'cobbled it together' reflects that Nancy did not get time to see what he was doing with it and if she did, the Duarte guys would have used design to highlight and clarify the process of heat trapping described at the above time, instead of Al facing the screen waving the pointer all over the areas he is discussing.

If that is true, then it reinforces just how critical it is to prepare. And brings home the actual cost in less effective communication when you have to 'run and gun'. Even if you are the only guy in the world to ever get a Nobel Prize for a slideshow ;-)

- D

Thomas J

Great presentation, although I couldn’t stand Gore’s comparison between Venus and Earth.


Very compelling presentation. Garr, I agree with your points. Also with the above comments about the laser pen.

BTW, the "Grammarman" in me points out that the thing you stand behind is a lecturn. The podium is what you stand on. Check your Latin.


Posted by: Ricky | April 16, 2008 at 06:46 AM

BTW, the "Grammarman" in me points out that the thing you stand behind is a lecturn. The podium is what you stand on. Check your Latin.


Never mind the Latin Rick, check your OED first.

There's no such word as "Grammarman". It's "grammarian"


- D

Green Laser

I enjoyed this talk. However, I think during the talk was that use green laser better than red.

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