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April 2008

[email protected] presentation

Google_campus_2 As you know, I presented for Google on March 21 in Silicon Valley. I linked to the video last week as an update to an older post but I didn't really point it out to you because I didn't know if it was really of value online since it is so long, etc. But I see that people like Mitch Joel over at Six Pixels of Separation thought the video was worth watching as have some others such as David Zinger who outlined his key takeaways on his site. So here it is below. Maybe the video can help someone you know make a better presentation in the future. I hope it helps.


I'd give this talk of mine about a 7.5 out of 10. It's not great, it's not bad. In a twist on that old Mark Twain line, if I would've had more time to prepare I would have made the talk a little shorter. No presentation is perfect. All we can do is get a little better each time and offer up more value to our audience. The audio balance with the music and videos was better live though it does not come across as well in the video. All-n-all though Google did a great job with this video. Nothing was cut from the video, technical hiccups and all. You can't see the faces of the audience or hear them very well on the tape, but it was a very good crowd. Google is a totally awesome company with a lot of very smart, very cool people.

The one challenging thing about the room was that there was no monitor or any way to put the MacBook in front so that I could see it. So the only way I could know which visual was showing was to look briefly at the screen (usually peripheral vision was enough). Not ideal but each situation is different and the show must go on. It's just a presentation after all, not the Oscars. The room was great otherwise and fully packed. There were even people sitting on the floor off to my left; a very close and intimate setting. Thanks Google — You guys rock! Thanks especially to Katina and Gregory! Can't wait to return. Maybe next time I'll at least wear a blazer.

(No slides are posted from this talk, but you can see some of the slides in this sample deck used for an article I wrote for a few weeks ago.)

Dr. King's last speech

Mlk Forty years ago yesterday, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. An unspeakably terrible loss for the United States, but his vision, wisdom, and influence live on today. King was remarkable for his ideas and vision but his ideas would never have had such an impact if he was not also an amazing and powerful public speaker. Indeed, he is surely one of the best speakers the United States has ever known. Just about everyone in the world is aware of King's "I Have a Dream" speech delivered in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963. But you may not have ever heard the last speech King ever made. On April 3, 1968, Dr. King delivered an impassioned speech to striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee. The next day he was murdered as he stood on the balcony of his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.

Here below are just the last few moments of the last speech Dr. King ever made (here you can see the entire transcript.)

If you have the time, I urge you to listen to the entire speech. You can find part one here, and part two here. It starts slowly and builds and finally finishes big. Part two is especially moving. A very inspiring leader and speaker who knew the power of story and how to capture an audience and take them someplace, all the while painting pictures with his words in a way...well, in a way that we are still talking about forty years later.

Dr. King would be 79.

Dick Cavett on improving your speeches

Talkshow_days When I wrote the post below I swear I had not read this New York Times piece (Candidate, Improve Your Appearance!), but something must be in the air. A kind PZ reader tipped me off to this wonderful New York Times article by one of my favorite television presenters, Dick Cavett. Cavett's article is fantastic with some good concrete advice from someone who knows what he's talking about. I recommend the article — and if you have time — the 200 comments have some real nuggets in there as well. Good stuff. In case you are too busy, here are some bullet points (notes and quotes) I gleaned from Dick Cavett's article:

Teleprompters, says Cavett, "are supposed to create the illusion that you are not reading. And they do, when skillfully used." (If you can't use them skillfully, might reading from notes be better, more honest?).

John McCain is fine speaking off-the-cuff, but has real problems reading a speech. Obama is good at both (and Clinton is good too). But all three are better than the current US president, says Cavvett:

"...everybody does it better than the capering loon who does soft-shoe in the White House.... His speechifying has a strong odor of remedial reading about it, combined with an apparent fear that there might be some hard words ahead."

Ronald Reagan had the art of the speech down.

"Politicians, if smart, would hire not just a comedy writer but an acting coach."

Tip #1 "Change all 'I wills' and 'I shalls' to “I’ll’; Also, 'I haves' and 'I ams' to 'I’ve' and 'I’m,' etc." (That is, speak in a human voice, conversational, natural.)

Tip #2 "Pretend you are speaking to one person. One single person. Because that’s what everybody is." (Again, conversational, natural, real.)

Tip #3 "Grab a bunch of words off the prompter and, instead of staring straight ahead, glance down and to one side as you do — in real life — when thinking just what to say next. Then look back and deliver those snatched-up words to the camera." (This tip makes you seem more natural and connected to the audience.)

Go read the entire article.

Keeping it real in Q&A
While reading the comments section, I found a few people who suggested Obama was indeed good at reading speeches, but that his off-the-cuff speeches and his Q&A discussions with large audiences lack clarity and substance and are simply filled with platitudes. I have not found that to be the case. Recently another PZ reader sent me this link which shows Obama in Oregon doing a good job live when asked to explain "in a nut shell" the difference between himself and Clinton. At five minutes it is not a short answer, but it seemed clear to me. What I liked is that he did not put his opponent down and admitted on some issues there was not a big difference between them, but then he showed where the difference are. You decide for yourself how lucid his answer was (Watch it).

The art of the teleprompter

Clinton I don't give many formal speeches, but when I do, I don't prepare a script to be read word for word. Instead, I think clearly beforehand about what I want to say and write down a few ideas with key words or an illustration that reminds me of my points as the short talk unfolds (and this card is not seen by the audience). It's possible to memorize a speech, but memorized speeches almost always sound artificial and somehow disconnected unless you are an extremely skilled speaker (and have loads of time for memorizing pages of text). Since memorization is so arduous and risky, many executives and politicians elect to read their speech in some fashion. Who can blame them?

It's not impossible to read a speech and make a powerful connection with an audience, but it's extremely difficult to do so (which is why groups like Toastmasters are so valuable). It takes a lot of work and coaching and experience, but it is possible to read a prepared speech that is remarkable. Unfortunately, such speeches are rare. Remember, it's not just the words of the speech — whether read or memorized — it is the meaning of the words. To convey meaning (the "so what?" not just the "what"), you're going to have to deliver the message as naturally as possible. I don't think you have to be super polished — and certainly you don't have to be perfect — but you do have to capture the audience's attention and take them someplace. You do have to speak in a human voice.


Senator John McCain with two teleprompters. The words are visible only to him.

And one more teleprompter in the middle.

The trick? Don't make it seem so obvious
The problem with reading from paper is that eye contact can suffer. To get around this many executives and politicians use teleprompters. While the teleprompter gets the head up, its use is no guarantee that the delivery will be any better. Sometimes, for example, it's very obvious that the speaker is reading and there is no real eye contact with the audience — there is just a gaze in the general direction of the audience as the speaker is clearly focused on the teleprompter in front (or to the left or the right). Reading a speech from a teleprompter that engages an audience is not easy. It's hard. But some political figures are batter at it than others. CNN last week did a short segment on some of the pitfalls of using a teleprompter, highlighting Senator John McCain's adventures with reading at the lectern as an example. Watch it below.

The right way
President Reagan was very effective at reading speeches. President Clinton was as well. Today, Senator Barack Obama clearly stands above the rest. The "Yes We Can" speech was read from a teleprompter and was powerful and memorable. While in Silicon Valley two weeks ago I saw Senator Obama give his "A More Perfect Union" speech on television. Though I knew he was using a teleprompter, his delivery made me soon forget he was reading a prepared speech. Though formal and serious, his words seemed more natural and flowed more smoothly. If you have the time, watch this speech in its entirety below.

In many ways, reading a speech is far more difficult than giving a presentation with the aid of multimedia. Reading may seem safe and easy compared to going without a net, but standing in front of an audience and bringing words off a screen and giving them life and energy in a way that connects with the audience and moves them and persuades them is truly an art. It's hard, but it's a skill that great leaders must master. (If you're in the States, experts like Bert Decker, Jerry Weissman, and Carmine Gallo can help take you and your company to another level).

Free online teleprompter (of sorts)