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May 2010

We are the stories we tell ourselves

Roz_savage I wanted to point you to this short TED talk below for two reasons: (1) It's a pretty good example of delivery while displaying visuals on a monitor, and more importantly, (2) the content will be inspiring to many of you, and especially to those who may be stuck or looking to make a change in their life (but are a bit scared). In many ways, this presentation by Roz Savage is a good follow-up to the last post. Jake Shimabukuro (see below) excels by far surpassing other people's expectations for his instrument. And Roz Savage speaks to the idea (among other things) of pushing through our fears to far surpass our (old) expectations for ourselves.

Presenting with a flat panel display
Roz_preso The monitor behind Roz Savage was not very large, but big enough for smaller venues. It's been common for quite some time for some schools and corporations to install large flat panel displays in presentation/meeting rooms. Even 7-8 years ago I was using monitors like this mounted on walls to project images and video in Japan. The advantage is you can keep the lights on in the room as the ambient light does not washout the screen as much as when using a projector. Also, you can (and should) stand very close to the screen without having to worry about blocking the light from a projector. I would have liked Roz to use more visuals when she was covering her FAQ section as actual photos of the food she ate on board, her bed and how she slept, etc. would have been informative. On the other hand, her point in this talk was more about the meaning of the journey rather than the nitty-gritty of the daily routine of of her rowing. What I especially liked was how she kept her shoulders facing the audience and hardly ever took her eyes off the crowd seated around her.

Roz does an excellent job of keeping her eyes on the audience while also displaying images at times in sync with her talk.
This image clearly shows how big the Pacific actually is.

You can change your story
In many ways, we are what we believe ourselves to be. There is a lot of truth in the notion that "we are the stories we tell ourselves." Sometimes the story — that inner dialog — is not always a positive one. For many of us, the story is in fact a limiting one, a story of "playing it safe" or of accepting "mediocrity" out of fear of something even worse: unemployment for example. For others the story is even less inspiring, a story of self-doubt, insecurity, and low expectations. But we need not be married to our stories. Our past need not dictate our present or our future. Now, the point is not that we all should drop what we're doing and row across the oceans of the world. I look at Roz's example as more of a metaphor for the rest of us. Some people you know — maybe even you — are having thoughts similar to this: "I feel like there is a purpose in this life — I do not know what it is, but I'm pretty sure it's not ________ (current job, school, etc.)! If so, maybe Roz's story can inspire you to make a change, to create a new life rather than waiting for it to come to you.

A lesson from the Samurai
As I mentioned before, last week I was at TEDxTokyo. One talk I really enjoyed was this 8-minute talk by actor, comedian and host of "I survived a Japanese Game Show" Rome Kanda. This clip below comes at the end after his joking around where he makes a very serious point about taking a lesson from the code of the samurai. Again, here the point is not to take the way of the samuri literally. What Rome is talking about is finding a purpose that is greater than yourself, one that you can dedicate your life to. Of course, our families and especially our children give us some sense of purpose, but going beyond that, it is a lucky man or woman indeed who can work at something that is not just a job but a cause. Not just a paycheck but a calling.

Presenting the humble ukulele: Jake Shimabukuro wows TEDxTokyo

Jake On Saturday I attended the 2nd annual TEDxTokyo conference. Last year was great; this year was even better. The event was extremely well run and the mix of presentations and performances was outstanding. My head is still spinning. What a day! One of the most memorable performances was by Jake Shimabukuro. Please set aside 20 minutes out of your day to watch this whole presentation/performance. Jake plays a few songs and shares a couple of good stories as well. Crank up your speakers and stick with this performance; it just gets better all the way to the end. Remarkable. (Also with Japanese translation.)

Beating people's expectations
In life, often people just don't think too much of you (or of what you do), even before they know much about you. They prejudge you. But rather than letting this get you down, you can use this as an opportunity to surpass their expectations and blow them away. Low expectations can sometimes be a blessing to be leveraged. I love Jake's money quote on this idea: "One of the things I love about being a ukulele player is that no matter where I go in the world to play, the audience has such low expectations. [This is] a huge plus for sure."  

There are many takeaways from this performance from the Zen Master of the the ukulele beyond mere entertainment. The ukulele itself, and those like Jake who play it so insanely well, represent both the struggle and the inspiration and delight that comes from blowing away other people's low expectations of you through your own hard work, unbridled passion, and dedication to excellence. As with the ukulele, others may misunderstand you or not take you or your cause seriously. Others may not give you a chance or think you are too small, too young, too old, too unusual to take a chance on. Few people take the ukulele for a serious musical instrument, and yet Jake shows us how misguided that kind of conventional wisdom is. Jake and his ukulele are an inspiration.

Playing naked
is best
All Jake had with him on stage yesterday in Tokyo was his ukulele and his talent. As he explains in this older performance below (it's an amazing performance from circa 2007), he used to have all sorts of equipment to play loads of special effects. People loved this. But he decided to go back to basics — to go naked in a sense — and strip everything away and to be what he really is: the best ukulele player you'll ever see. He is an amazing talent with a great personality that really shows through his art.

Photo in the slide above is by Ryota Mori

The importance of starting from Why

Simon_book Here is a good recent TEDx Talk that was delivered simply and effectively with nothing but a flip chart and a pen for visuals. The idea that the presenter Simon Sinek was talking about is very simple and not really new perhaps. But it's always good to get a reminder of what is important. I could quibble over some things in the talk — Apple's success (now) is of course more complex than he implies — but the essence of what Simon expresses concerning the importance of Why is quite true. I'm certain if you watch this talk it will get you thinking. Simon goes in depth with the idea of starting with why in his book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. Watch his TEDx Talk below.

Starting presentations from Why
Simon's simple but very important idea can be applied to many challenges we have, even the construction of a good presentation. In Presentation Zen I said that most ineffective presentations could have been prevented if the presenter had just asked two important questions before he began to prepare: (1) What's my point? And (2) why does it matter? Most presenters focus only on the what (information, data, more information...more data just in case) and then spend some time on the how (often resulting in the creation of typical bulletpoint driven ppt slides), but almost no time is spent really thinking about the Why. The Why is were we should start almost all projects, including presentations.

Why_chart If you think about it, we don't ask Why enough. "Why am I spending loads of money and time on a college education?" Or "Why do I really want to pursue that job or why am I sticking with this one?" Thinking deeply about the Why is not an abstraction; it's fundamental. In life, and in business, we spend all our energy thinking and talking about the what and the how, complaining about what we don't have and what we'd do if we did. We rarely spend time thinking deeply about the why. Why are we doing this? Why does it matter? Why is it important (or not)? What is the meaning in the whole scheme of things? Part of the reason we suffer in our professional, academic, and even personal lives is we do not spend enough time first with the Why. How could your work (including presentations) and your life in general be improved if you spent more time first thinking deeply about Why?
NOTE: Follow TEDxTokyo LIve this Saturday (May 15)

Tedxtokyo You can watch TEDxTokyo 2010 Hit Reset live through their web-cast in both Japanese and English at  from 9 AM to 6 PM on Saturday, May 15th. See the awesome list of presenters here. I'll be continuing to work with some of the presenters onsite the day before the event. Please tune in. Last year was remarkable. Follow the TEDxTokyo blog. Follow TEDxTokyo on Twitter. I will also be tweeting live from the event in Tokyo (mostly photos), you can follow me here at @presentationzen.