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October 2011

Kamishibai: Lessons in Visual Storytelling and Presentation from Japan

Kamishibai_1940sKamishibai is a form of visual and participatory storytelling that combines the use of hand drawn visuals with the engaging narration of a live presenter. Kami (紙) means paper and shibai (芝居 ) means play/drama. The origins of kamishibai are not clear, but its roots can be taced back to various picture storytelling traditions in Japan such as etoki and emaki scrolls and other forms of visual storytelling which date back centuries. However, the form of Kamishibai that one thinks of today developed around 1929 and was quite popular in the 30s, and 40s, all but dying out with the introduction of television later in the 1950s. Typical kamishibai consists of a presenter who stands to the right of a small wooden box or stage that holds the 12-20 cards featuring the visuals that accompany each story. This miniature stage is attached to the storyteller’s bicycle. The presenter changes the card, varying the speed of the transition to match the flow of the story he is telling. The best Kamishibai presenters do not read the story, but instead keep eyes on the audience and occasionally on the current card in the frame. It’s difficult to appreciate kamishibai unless you see it in action. The clip below is of kamishibai performer Master Yassan. Even if you do not speak Japanese, this will help you get a sense for how the presenter uses visuals and narration to connect with the audience.

This clip on Youtube gives you a feel for kamishibai from 1959, a time when most gaito kamishibaiya (kamishibai storytellers) were decreasing in number as TV was becoming popular in the home.

Visual, simple, & clear

Although Kamishibai is a form of visual storytelling that originated more than eighty years ago, with roots that go back centuries in Japan, the lessons from this craft can be applied to modern multimedia presentations. Tara McGowan, who wrote The Kamishibai Classroom, says that Kamishibai visuals are more like the frames from a movie. “Kamishibai pictures are designed to be seen only for a few [moments], so extraneous details detract from the story and open up the possibilities of misinterpretation." It's important to design each card, she says, " focus the audiences attention on characters and scenery that are most important at any given moment." If your material includes a great deal of detail that can not be eliminated, then Kamishibai may not be a suitable method to tell your story, McGowan says. But if "clarity and economy of expression are the goals, it would be hard to find a more perfect medium." It’s easy to imagine how we can apply the same spirit of kamishibai to our modern-day presentations that include the use of multimedia and a screen.

Above: Note how the visual fills the entire card yet maintains a level of empty space. Even when text and graphics appear on the the same card, they are for the most part free of clutter. Elements often bleed off the edge which allows the element to appear larger. (Photo by Aki Saito.)

Lessons for today's online presentations from kamishibai
There are many lessons that we can apply to modern presentations given with the aid of multimedia. Here are just five things to keep in mind.

(1) Visuals should be big and bold.
Visuals in Kamishibai are big and bold and easy to see for an audience. Remember: "Design for the last row" is our mantra. This "big and bold" approach is different from picture books which have more detail since they are seen by an individual reader. In the same way, minute visual detail on screen is not appropriate for most presentation contexts as those details are too difficult to see. If you have loads of detail — and if it is crucial that people see it— a handout may be more appropriate.

(2) Visuals may bleed off the edge.
The Kamishibai visuals must not be cluttered. The entire card is used and yet much of the card may be empty which allows the positive elements on the canvas to pop out more. Elements also may bleed off the edge or appear hidden. Our brains will fill in the missing bits which fall off the edge. This makes the images appear larger and simpler than if all elements were crammed in to fit all inside the frame.

(3) Visuals may take an active role.
The visuals are not just an aid, they are a necessary part of the show. The storyteller decides when the focus will be on him and his narrative and when the focus is on the visual. It's a balance among the visual and the aural from the point of view of the audience, and a balance of telling and showing in a smooth harmonious flow of events from the point of view of the presenter.

(4) Aim to carefully trim back the details.
Kamishibai is different from picture books in the same way that a document is different from a live, visual presentation. The presentation by its very nature omits many visual details and includes only those details which are necessary to tell the story clearly. A kamishibai performance like, say, a TED-style presentation, uses visuals to amplify meaning through simplification.

(5) Make your presentation participatory.
Even though we are using visuals, human-to-human connections are still key. Kamishibai performers of old really got the kids involved in the performance. Kamishibai is not like TV, where you just sit there. A good kamishibai performer elicited responses and totally engaged his audience. Interestingly, some kamishibai masters from the 1950s noted that their young audiences became less engaged and were more passive as TV became popular. Kids became used to just sitting in front of content rather than engaging with it. Today, however, as much as possible, we must aim to make our presentations as participatory as the context allows. This is the real lesson from the Kamishibai masters. For online presentations or Zoom classes and so on, you can stop often to ask questions of the audience or give a short quiz or survey, etc. 

• Kamishibai in the classroom (in America) video.
• Other books I recommend on visual communication.


Coming to France, Belgium, & England in November

In November I return to Europe for a few different presentations and a seminar. Looking forward to seeing old friends and meeting new ones. Hope you can make one of these events.

European_tour.159Paris: Nov 14-15. Presentation Zen
& Ideas on Stage

The first stop is Paris for the 2011 version of the Presentation Zen European Seminar. This seminar is held on Monday, November 14, and includes lunch and mingling before the seminar. We may do a tweetup on the evening prior in central Paris. On November 15 I will be presenting at the first Ideas on Stage Conference in Paris. This is a conference which focuses on innovation, communication, and entrepreneurship. I'll be speaking about the concept of onkochishin and how the lessons for the future are really rooted in the past. You can get a discount if you register for both events. The seating for the seminar on the 14th is very limited but there is still room I hear. Register.

Last year people came from countries all over Europe, and two people even came all the way over from the USA. Detailed comments from people who attended last year here, here, and here. Photos here.

World_forumHasselt, Belgium: Nov 16-17
Creativity World Forum

I'll be giving a keynote presentation on November 17 open to the entire sold-out conference of 2500 people followed by a small workshop for a much smaller group right after the keynote. Other presenters include, Malcolm Gladwell, Jimmy Whales, Alex Osterwalder, Oliver Stone, and more.

European_tour.158England: London Nov 18,
d University Nov 21
I'll be heading to London on the 18th and am scheduled to present at the Apple Store, Regent Street at 5:00pm. This is a free presentation and no registration is required. On Monday November 21 I'll be presenting at 4:30pm at the Gulbenkian Theatre, Law Faculty, University of Oxford.

Schedule at a glance
Nov 14 Paris: Presentation Zen European Seminar (noon-6:00pm)
Nov 15 Paris: Ideas on Stage Conference
Nov 16-17 Belgium: Creativity World Forum: sold out
Nov 18 London: Apple Store Regent Street, 5:00pm
Nov 21 Oxford: Oxford University, 4:30pm

Steve Jobs & the art of focus

Simplicity, among other things, is a conscious choice between inclusion and exclusion. Often the magic is in what you leave out. But this means that you need to be comfortable with saying no, to yourself and to others. This is not easy to do. In the two video clips below from 1997, Steve Jobs shares his ideas on simplicity and focus while speaking to the issue of killing OpenDoc (a software framework standard), a decision that was not popular for many people at the time. Jobs's explanations about his decision sheds more light on his thinking process and how his quest for absolute focus was paramount for creating a vision and strategy which were clear. The lessons contained in these clips are generalizable to business, management, and leadership. (Clip 1.)

"Focusing is about saying no. And the result of that focus is going to be some really great products where the total is much greater than the sum of the parts."

It's not about technology, it's about the experience
There are two lessons in this clip
below. The first is about keeping your cool under fire and taking the high road during Q&A, even when things get personal. The gentleman (as Jobs called him) in the audience prefaced his question about OpenDoc with this: "It's sad and clear that on several counts you've discussed, you don't know what you're talking about." He ends his question with "and when you're finished with that, perhaps you could tell us what you personally have been doing for the last seven years?" You would not blame Jobs if he showed irritation, but instead he addresses the question—not by getting into a Java vs. Opendoc debate, that's not the point—by laying out more of his thinking and strategy in simple and clear terms. The second lesson is the actual wisdom of his thinking concerning technology, which touches on the line of thinking which says it's not the thing that's important, it's the *experience* of the thing.

"You've got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology. You can't start with the technology and try to figure out where you're going to try and sell it.....we have tried to come up with a strategy and a vision for Apple, it started with “What incredible benefits can we give to the customer? Where can we take the customer?” Not starting with “Let’s sit down with the engineers and figure out what awesome technology we have and then how are we going to market that?” And I think that’s the right path to take."  

                                            — Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs on marketing & identifying your core values

Steve_1997 Steve Jobs had a talent for identifying what was important and what was not, and having the courage to toss what he felt was the nonessential. We see this reflected in the Apple line of products and in the Apple retail stores, and we also see it in Apple's branding and all aspects of their marketing communications. But there was a time when Apple had gotten away from its roots and away from simplicity and clarity, not only in terms of its marketing but in terms of its products too. It took Steve Jobs coming back in 1997 to get the Apple brand back on track after years of neglect. This seven-minute clip below is from an internal presentation that Steve gave in Cupertino to his employees not long after he returned to Apple in 1997. If you are even remotely interested in business or in marketing an organization or cause of any kind in which you truly believe, you need to see this short talk.

In this presentation made on the Apple campus, Steve says that marketing is not about touting features and speeds and megabytes or comparing yourself to the other guys, it's about identifying your own story, your own core, and being very, very clear about what you are all about and what you stand for...and then being able to communicate that clearly, simply, and consistently. As Steve says, people want to know who you are and what you stand for. In the case of Apple, the brand's core value, as Jobs says in the presentation, is not about technology or "making boxes for people to get their jobs done." Apple's core value, said Jobs, is this: "We believe people with passion can change the world for the better....and that those people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who actually do." In the end Jobs introduces the now famous Think different TV ad that was about two months in the making. This campaign was an attempt, said Jobs, to get Apple back to its core values. It was only one of many first steps, but it worked.

"To me, marketing is about values. This is a very complicated world, it's a very noisy world. And we're not going to get the chance to get people to remember much about us. No company is. So we have to be really clear on what we want them to know about us."

                         — Steve Jobs
                              to Apple employees, 1997

What's your core message?

Core_slide.001 The lessons in this talk obviously can be applied directly to the art of presentation, something Steve did very well in all his presentations, big or small. Good presentation is about story, just as good branding is about story. Clarity and simplicity are key, and the way to achieve these is by being relentless in abandoning the superfluous and identifying the absolute core of your message. Clarity and simplicity are not easy—they are hard, very hard. If it were easy to be simple and clear then everyone would do it, but few actually do. It is indeed a very noisy world, and it's getting noisier seemingly by the day. It is those people—and those organizations—who do the hard work to clarify and simplify that will be the ones who are able to rise above the noise, get their messages heard, and hopefully make a difference in this world in their own way.

Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

Steve_jobs Steve Jobs passed away today. He was just 56. Steve often talked about changing the world, and he did change the world in a huge way. His incredible dedication to detail and to simplicity and aesthetics raised the bar for technology, business, and design, and beyond. He even raised the bar for presentations. He was a true master. He was a true sensei. All his presentations were great, but my favorite one of Steve's is not his usual Apple presentation, but rather a short 15-minute speech delivered from behind a lectern at Stanford University in the spring of 2005. There is nothing I can say that has not been said before about this legendary man. I have no words. I hope you'll have a chance to listen to Steve's Stanford speech once again. (日本語 version.)

Steve's words are inspiring. Steve Jobs was—and will long remain—an inspiration for so many. Good bye, Sensei. We miss you.

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."
                                                         — Steve Jobs