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January 2009

Who inspires you?

Who inspires you? Who do you inspire? Do you ever think about that? Inspiration is not a small deal, in fact it's quite important. I've talked about it often (see Inspiration Matters from last year). Most good presenters inspire the audience. Good leaders and good teachers certainly inspire others and are also inspired by those around them. I've found a lot of inspiration from TED over the years, and Sir Ken Robinson is without a doubt my favorite TED presenter of all time. Below Sir Ken gives an amazing 2-minute talk on his source of inspiration.

Make a list
Who (or what, etc.) inspires you? You probably do not think about it so much. I hadn't. So I made this list. What's your list look like? Here's mine:

Who: My beautiful mother, my departed father, my lovely wife.
What: Jazz, the Zen arts, nature, the sun, the ocean.
Where: Japanese mountains and villages, the Oregon coast, Hawaii.
When: Always when I don't expect it.
Why: No inspiration, no life. Simple.
How: Keep eyes & ears open always; listen more than speak.

Above slide: Lone runner, Cannon Beach. Oregon (USA).

So, who inspires you?

Sir Ken Robinson's new book
I highly recommend The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, Ken Robinson's brand new book. Inspiring indeed.

Lessons from the art of storyboarding

Storyroom Here is a good short video reviewing the art of the storyboard as it's used in story development and production in the motion picture industry. Storyboarding as we know it may have been pioneered by film makers and animators, but we can use many of the same concepts in the development of other forms of storytelling including keynote presentations or short-form presentations such as those made popular at TED. The storyboard process allows you to flesh out themes and look for patterns as you apply your creativity toward presenting your content. Watch below or here on Google.

Below I highlight directly some of the key ideas as I heard them from the video above. I hope this helps.

Walt_disney Storyboarding is a great way to begin to visualize the story of your content. (In animation) storyboards are used to develop the story. A great storyboard artist is a great communicator (not necessarily a great illustrator/animator). Walt Disney developed the use of storyboards in the 1920s. Storyboards allow film makers to see a blueprint of the movie before going into production. You tack them (your sketches/ideas in visual form) up on the wall so you can see the entire sequence, flow, continuity, etc. Storyboards are an effective, inexpensive way to develop the story. You can "board it up" on the wall and see if it works. Because ideas can be changed easily and quickly, storyboarding works. The key is to put down in your storyboards the minimum amount of information that gives a dynamic and quick read of the content (and the emotions) of the sequence.

A good storyboard artist is a good storyteller. The drawings do not have to be pretty, but they must have the meaning and the feelings behind the idea. A good storyboard artist is a good pitchman. Walt Disney, they say, was an amazing pitchman/storyboard artist. Walt's great ability was his passion and vision behind the pitch. The storyboard pitch is one of the great performance arts developed in the 20th century at Disney (yet no one ever gets to see it). The use of storyboards is one of the reasons Walt Disney's early films were so remarkable; the practice was soon copied.

Walt Disney: "At our studio we don't write our stories, we draw them."

With storyboarding you tell the story in the simple form (storyboard reels) before entering the more complex form. The storyboard lets the whole team in on what's going on with the production. The storyboard is "an expensive writing tool, but an inexpensive production tool." The storyboard can cut out a lot of unnecessary work. Storyboards allow you to see what is not working (and toss the bits out that don't work).

Kevin Costner: "If I can make things work on paper, then I can make them work on the set."

Applying the concepts
How can you visualize your presentation like a comic? No, not literally perhaps — but something like the sequential flow of a comic or rough sketches in storyboard form. You can do this on a whiteboard, but one of the best analog ways is with sticky notes (Post its) on a wall on in a notebook (a technique Bert Decker, Nancy Duarte, and others have talked about before as well).

Suggested reading
From Word to Image: Storyboarding and the Filmmaking Process
by Marcie Begleiter
Directing the Story: Professional Storytelling and Storyboarding Techniques for Live Action and Animation by Francis Glebas
Cinematic Storytelling: The 100 Most Powerful Film Conventions Every Filmmaker Must Know by Jennifer Van Sijll

More on serious play, creativity, & design from TED

Ted_application One of my favorite iPhone apps is TED, an app that allows you to search the TED site for videos new and old and watch them on your iPhone/Touch. The application is free on iTunes. I watched these three TED talks below on design this week on my iPhone; they are worth a look. I do not point to them because they are great examples of presentation (all three have varying degrees of weaknesses and strengths in that regard), I point to them because each short talk should give you something to think about. (News about the TED app from Apple Insider.)

Paula Scher: Great design is serious (not solemn)
This presentation is a good follow-up to our discussion on the seriousness of play last year in this post: Play is good for you (and it's good for business). Paula uses her notes and reads sometimes as well, but I think she makes some interesting points about the need for play or "serious play" which is called just seriousness here. I loved that she brought up Paul Newman and the scene from The Verdict ("This is the case. There are no other cases") as an example of what can happen (focus, creativity, clarity, passion, etc.) when you say "screw it" and take a chance, take a risk and throw yourself into the work. (I talked about Paul Newman and this very scene last September in this post.) The talk starts off a bit slowly, but stick with it.


David Carson: Design, discovery and humor
In this talk David Carson reminds us through a kind of show-and-tell that there are graphic design lessons all around us. There are some interesting issues here to think about in his talk and a few laughs. (Sidenote: I agree with him that there is a certain charm to 35mm slide projectors; I loved the clarity of the old slide images. But he starts off his talk by taking a shot at PowerPoint seemingly suggesting that the tool must always be used in a distracting fashion. Then he goes on to use PowerPoint exactly like an old slide projector, something even old slideware does very well. This was shot in 2003, however, when bad PowerPoint was just about the only kind you saw.)

Philippe Starck on the question of "why design?"
This talk by Philippe Starck may seem to some to go all over the place — it's not conventional. But I rather like it and found it provocative (and sometimes confusing). The money quote from his talk:

         "No one is obliged to be a genius, but everyone is obliged to participate." 

I love the idea of contribution rather than perfection as a pursuit. Yes, he paces around too much, and violates many of the "rules" for good presentation, etc. but his messages and examples during his 18 minutes on stage at least makes you think. It's not boring (but listen carefully).

Apple's Keynote Remote: first impressions

Keynote A remote control device is required equipment for the serious presenter — my favorite remote (and I have many) is the Keyspan Presenter. So I was rather skeptical about Apple's Keynote Remote, an iPhone (or iPod Touch) app that turns your iPhone/Touch into a basic remote if you're using Keynote '09. It's ridiculously easy to set up (the devices communicate over Wi-Fi), just works. It won't replace my Keyspan (the Keynote Remote app does not have a black-out-screen function and the iPhone is a bit bulky in the hand compared to a tiny, plastic remote), but if I ever forget my remote control, my iPhone will do the trick just fine. Below is a rough cut of my impressions with the Keynote app today.

Here's a good review of the application on

Presentation Reboot (Silicon Valley): March 17, 18, or 19

Reboot_photo_top If you are committed to becoming a better presenter and visual thinker, then come join Nancy Duarte and me for a full-day seminar in the middle of March (March 17, 18, or 19) in Santa Clara, California (the heart of Silicon Valley). Nancy Duarte is author of the best-selling book Slide:ology (which I praised in this video from the summer) and is CEO of Duarte Design, the firm behind the creation of the best presentations you've ever seen including the presentation for Al Gore's Oscar-winning film, An Inconvenient Truth. Nancy brings a wealth of experience from years of working with the top firms in Silicon Valley and beyond. In addition to Nancy and myself, a few of the talented Duarte designers will also be on hand to answer questions and provide assistance. You have heard me go on and on about Duarte Design in the past, but they are simply the best. If you can not attend Presentation Reboot, then checkout one of the seminars offered at the head office of Duarte Design in Mountain View.


Ending the scourge of really bad slide presentations
If you would like to help rid the world of bad slide presentations, then please tell everyone you know about this one-day seminar (offered three times). Economic times are tough and budgets are tight; it may not seem like the best time for communication training. But in this climate, it's more important than ever that you (or your employees) be able to differentiate yourself and effectively tell your story. One of the best ways of telling your story and making a difference in your field is through presentations that are sincere, engaging, and memorable. This seminar will help. If even only one or two from your organization can attend, they will be able to return to your company and help many others transform their presentations. The day will be educational, fast-paced, interactive, and fun (if you need permission from your boss, then change that "fun" part to "really hard work").


Just the facts
WHAT: Full-day seminar (includes PZ and Slide:ology books, lunch)
WHEN: March 17,18, or 19 (choose a day)
Santa Clara Techmart (Silicon Valley, USA)
COST: $675 (volume and student discounts available)

For questions, volume discounts, or student discounts contact [email protected]. We look forward to seeing you there in March!

(A few pics from our prep meeting last week while I was in the States.)

Zen, jazz, & creativity: Lessons from the art of jazz (part III)


Jazz_album When I was a small child, our house on the Oregon coast had a small Japanese garden in the front yard, complete with stone pagodas and a koi pond. Looking back, I wonder if a kind of traditional Japanese aesthetic — at least an Oregonian's version of it — influenced me even then? At the same time, our house was filled with boxes of jazz records including albums from Miles, Coltrane, Bassie, Ellington, etc. and pop records from vocalists such as Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. My older brothers spun records by The Beatles, The Stones, and The Dave Clark Five, etc. I dug those records too, but something drew me to the jazz recordings. My father, who would later pass suddenly when he was only 48, was a good amateur jazz vocalist with a wonderful voice; he occasionally performed live even after he became a company worker. I credit my father with introducing me to jazz. No one gave me formal lessons in jazz appreciation or in the Zen aesthetics as a kid, but the influence of those elements were surely there, even though I would not really appreciate those things until much later in life. 

Zen_garden To those unfamilair with it, jazz can seem like an abstraction. Zen can seem quite abstract and removed from our daily lives as well. But in fact both are far more concrete than that, both are much more concerned with direct experience and direct connections, connections to reality. By mere coincidence, I have built a deep appreciation year by year for both Zen and for jazz. Though my intention was never to compare, looking back I now see that the similar elements, tenets, and complementary components of jazz and Zen are quite profound. Here a list of a few lessons that both jazz and Zen practice have taught me over the years. These lessons, all seemingly commonsensical, can be applied to presentation or to any creative endeavor.

Twenty-one things I've learned from jazz and Zen
  1. In structure there is freedom and spontaneity.
  2. Restraints and limitations can be great liberators.
  3. Don't ever force it; be ever natural.
  4. Good intentions are key. Sincerity is king, and yet...
  5. It's not about you.
  6. Listen more than speak.
  7. Speak only when you have something to say, and then in the most economic way possible. 
  8. Your approach can be direct and subtle at the same time.
  9. Fear is natural (and human), but work through it and past it. Don't let fear hold you back.
  10. Mistakes are part of it (do not worry about them).
  11. Embrace the power of now, this moment.
  12. Technique matters, but it's not the most important element.
  13. Make no pretenses; put up no facades. 
  14. Laugh, smile if you feel like it — why not?
  15. Share yourself with others; make a contribution.
  16. Simplicity is supremely beautiful, yet difficult to obtain.
  17. Emptiness and silence are powerful elements of expression.
  18. Remove the clutter, strive for absolute clarity.
  19. If you think you have mastered it, you've have already begun your descent.
  20. Always be learning. Always be learning. Always be learning.
  21. Curiosity is your greatest gift, nurture it (in yourself and in others)
Related Links (from PZ)


Bert Decker's Top-10 Best (& Worst) Communicators of 2008

Bert Bert Decker, communications expert and author of several presentation-related books (including this updated version of You've Got to Be Believed to Be Heard), has published his annual Top Ten Best (and Worst) Communicators for the year 2008. This is a very interesting read. Bert's list focuses primarily on famous speakers or news makers in the US; I think you could add many to the list — famous and not so famous — from around the world as well. Feel free to share your favorite (or "best/worst") from other parts of the globe below.

More great communicators (off the top of my head)
Marco I've highlighted some of my favorites over the years such as TED presenter Hans Rosling from Sweden, and fellow TED presenter Sir Ken Robinson from England. Canadian Mitch Joel is an awesome presenter too, as is Toastmasters veteran Bob Harvey from UK (author of Tork and Grunt's Guide to Great Presentations). My buddy and Keynote magician Les Posen in Australia is fantastic as well (see Les's seminars at Macworld this week). I think one of my favorite presenters who belongs in the "the new communicators" category is Marco Montemagno from Italy. I really like the way Marco uses his natural energy and connects with his audience while using slides and other multimedia to enhance his talks. I've talked about Marco before here where you'll find a clip with English subtitles. Here's a clip of Marco in October 08 in Milano doing his "The Internet Show" presentation (in Italian). There are many more clips on Marco's blog.

I'm sure you have your favorite presentations/presenters (or "Best Communicators") from 2008. We'd love to hear your thoughts below.

Mildly-related link
PZ makes "best business books of 2008" list (Miami Herald)