Best-selling author Daniel H. Pink is one of the most interesting people I've ever met. His second book -- A Whole New Mind -- is so spot on for our times, I dedicated 5-6 pages of my book outlining how the key ideas in his book can be applied to the world of presentations. I am a huge Dan Pink fan. So I was very happy to receive Dan Pink's latest book -- The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You'll Ever Need -- last month. I read it just an hour after I received it (during lunch; 160 pages of manga so it reads fast, and I eat slowly). When I met Dan last year in Japan, he was in Tokyo for a few months on a Japan Society Media Fellowship studying the manga industry. I didn't know he was going to write a business book in manga exactly, but we did indeed discuss many of the same issue that are in his brilliant new book. We're the same age and share a similar perspective on work, careers, education, etc. There are more than six lessons that a young person needs to know in order to be successful, of course, but the six that Dan touches on in his book are fundamental. This book is simple, memorable, and presented in a creative and evocative way. I loved it! I'm purchasing several to give as the perfect graduation present this year.
Watch the trailer of Dan Pink's latest book below (link)
A presentation about the book I highly recommend this wonderful book. I have given one informal presentation on some of the principles in the book as part of a presentation on personal branding. Below, you can see the slides I used in that presentation (though I have added some text and some slides to make them a bit more meaningful sans narration). The illustration of myself was whimsically made by my wife (a designer and artist) several years ago on a piece of scratch paper in a Kyoto Starbucks. I scanned it and altered it a bit to give it different looks for this presentation. Yes, it's crude and very, very simple, but that's the idea. All slides either have only text or photographs from istockphoto.com. Very simple slides to create. These slides are very beta at this point, but perhaps they can be of use to you.
Earlier this month, BusinessWeek ran a short article called Rethinking the Presentation by columnist and famous communications coach Carmine Gallo. In this article, Carmine features some tips from Presentation Zen as well as tips from Cliff Atkinson and Nancy Duarte. You already know that presentations with slideware today are largely ineffective. But it can be hard to convince your boss, for example, that speaking to slideuments (or docupoints) is a practice that should be tossed. Bad habits and conventional wisdom are hard to overcome. Well, this is a very short article (which means your boss may actually read it), but it comes from a very credible source: BusinessWeek. So print this out (it's one page), highlight the keypoints, and give it to your boss or other key people in your organization than can actually have an impact on the "PowerPoint culture" within your firm (or school, etc.). It's not much ammo, but it's a start (and it's free and easy).
OK, this example is mostly just entertainment, yet there are some simple life observations in this material as well that are evocative if nothing else. In terms of presentation style, however, Levni (Lev) Yilmaz -- the creator of Tales of Mere Existence -- has found a unique way of creating visuals that are supremely simple and support the narrative in a way that adds both clarity and emotion. Apparently, his technique is to film himself drawing the simple cartoons from underneath a pane of glass. This means he has to draw the letters backwards. It's an interesting effect. There are many good ones on his YouTube site. Below are a few of my favorites (the first one reminds me of my own dating experience in college -- totally been there).
My aim in pointing you to this is not so much the creative content (not everyone will find these amusing), but simply to show you some other examples of people using creative and simple visual techniques to enhance narratives. Perhaps I have been preoccupied recently with simple hand-drawn images since I have just read the excellent The Back of the Napkin by Dan Roam and Dan Pink's new book in manga (more on both of these great books later -- both are highly recommended.)
Following up on the very simple visual style from The Story of Stuff presentation below, I'm going to point you to some other creative, smart people in the next few posts who are using simple drawings and other elements to enhance their presentations. Today, I'd like to point you to a very cool company called Common Craft. Here's what they do in their own words:
"We use video and paper to make complex ideas easy to understand. We present subjects 'in plain English' using short, unique and understandable videos in a format we call Paperworks."
I love the way they merge visuals from the analog world to tell stories digitally. They are fantastic storytellers. I'm sure you can apply a trick or two from their creative style to one of your future presentations in slideware, etc. The video below is their latest one which explains what Twitter is. It's very timely for me as I have just begun to use Twitter myself (I know, I'm slow. But I didn't really see the need personally. Now I am beginning to get it. Here's my Twitter page. You're welcome to follow me. I'll also post more links on Twitter from time to time that don't make it into the Presentation Zen website.) Below are a couple of samples from Common Craft.
Here is a good example of a passionate presenter giving a fast-paced overview of an important topic that is greatly enhanced with the integration of simple visuals in harmony with the narration. The visuals are a wonderful example of "amplification through simplification." This 20-minute talk by Annie Leonard, an expert in international sustainability and environmental health issues, is informative and provocative. Her style is informal and casual, but also passionate, and with just a touch of urgency in her voice. The aim of the presentation (from the website) is to "...expose the connections between a huge number of environmental and social issues and call for all of us to create a more sustainable and just world. It'll teach you something. It'll make you laugh, and it just may change the way you look at all the stuff in your life forever." The presentation is illuminating, and it raises as many questions as it answers. Therefore, this is also a good example of a tight, well-structured presentation that would greatly benefit in a live setting from a lengthy discussion session after the 20-minute opening so that both the presenter and audience can go deeper.
The Story of Stuff website is very well done. The presentation does
raise questions so they have made it possible to explore and go a
little deeper. For example, if you mouse over the images above Annie's
head, you'll see that there are links to more info in each of the five
categories she touches upon: Extraction, Production, Distribution,
Consumption, and Disposal.
You may have issues concerning some of the specifics of the content, but I think she does a great job of telling the story of the problem as she sees it. The visuals in this case are not something "over there" off to the side. Here the presenter and the simple visuals work in harmony and are integrated to form a compelling and engaging narrative. Something similar can indeed be done in a live talk with PowerPoint or Keynote.
If this story came out of Hollywood, it would be criticized for being too incredible to be true. No one would believe it. Who needs Hollywood? This true story — which is still being lived out — has given me all the inspiration and motivation to last me at least through the week. The father here, Dick Hoyt, is remarkable for so many reasons, but I'm also just amazed at his physical strength (which he says comes from his son Rick). And I thought running a marathon was hard (42K); I am humbled by this man. What strength and endurance...and love. I am inspired, motivated, and moved by this wonderful true-life story. I think you will be too.
The best stories are the true ones. And what a sticky and memorable story! It has it all: it's simple and concrete, it's emotional and very credible, and it features the unexpected and the amazing, all of which leave a powerful image in the mind. Incredible story.
You may have already heard about the remarkable Dr. Randy Pausch and his "Last Lecture" presentation. Randy, a professor at the prestigious Carnegie Mellon University in the USA, was diagnosed with terminal cancer of the pancreas in the summer of 2006. In August of 2007, Randy was told by the doctors that he had 3-6 months of healthy living left. A month after Randy was given just 3-6 months to live, he delivered an inspiring presentation at his university, a presentation that has touched millions of people around the world. His presentation is a remarkable contribution.To get some background on Randy's story and lecture watch this short video promo below from an ABC special on the "Last Lecture."
If you would like to see a shorter version of his September 2007 presentation, watch this 10-min slide presentation below that Randy did on the Oprah Winfrey show.
Below is the original presentation that Randy did called "The Last Lecture." It's 76 minutes long, but try and set some time aside to watch it this weekend. (Randy wrote a book as well called The Last Lecture along with Jeffrey Zaslow).
How do we inspire others? Inspiration matters. A lot. Both our own inspiration and the inspiration we instill in others. Randy Pausch's presentations are great, and his words inspiring. But inspiration does not come from mere words, it comes from actions and behaviors. Words matter and words and speeches inspire and stories can change the world. However, it's not only the stories we tell, it's really about the stories we live. It's not about platitudes and wishful thinking, it's about this moment and about you and me taking the chance to reveal who and what we are and why it matters. Our daily life is our story, the actions and the behaviors of our everyday life is the story that can truly inspire others far beyond the ephemeral influence of a single presentation. Randy is a wonderful example of a man whose life is the story, whose life is the message.
Keeping the channel open We are our stories — though thanks in large part to our education and habits — we have learned to doubt our stories and edit them; we have learned to doubt ourselves. This is the greatest shame of all. Randy reminds us that we can choose to live the life —and tell the story — that is truly within us. Randy's life story is perhaps a reminder to you: What's holding you back? We may each just be a blip on the continuum, but we matter while we're here, so why not make a difference? Why not make a big difference? This is my takeaway from Randy's amazing presentations. And this reminds me of a wonderful Martha Graham quote that was featured in The Art of Possibility:Transforming Professional and Personal Life by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander. I made the Keynote slide below with the quote and use it occasionally; in hangs on my wall next to my desk as a reminder to "keep the channel open." (Click for the full size.)
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”
— Martha Graham
Your approach to today About four years ago I read Zen Guitar by Philip Toshio Sudo. I loved it and quoted Philip a few times in my presentations. Then about a year later I found his website and started reading every word about his battle with cancer. I was at that time shocked and sadden to read that Philip had already passed on June 9, 2002 at age 42. Philip too was an inspiration to me, though we never met. Throughout his ordeal his message was clear: this is the moment, this is the day—we must live every moment as we live our life.The slide below features a quote from Philip's website. This quote is a take on the Japanese expression of ichi-nichi issho (within each day is a lifetime) that fits well with Randy's message as well.
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.
One of the things I like about visiting the States is going to some of the enormous book stores with the huge magazine racks. I love "perusing." (In Japan I do this too—it's called tachiyomi or "standing reading.") Well, there is a website that gives me a similar sort of experience of a large, well-stocked magazine rack: Alltop.com. Alltop (along with popurls) has been the first thing I check every morning since Guy Kawasaki asked me to preview it a couple of months ago. Yes, I have my blog feeder and a million other ways to keep up to date, but I like the way a lot of my favorite sites are displayed on Alltop. It's a very simple idea; maybe that's why I like it. I spend a lot of time on the Design page and the Photography page. Presentation Zen is one of the sites featured on Alltop (under design). Read the FAQ on Alltop. Better yet, listen to Guy talk about it.