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November 2013

Alex Kerr's illuminating presentation on sustainable tourism

One of my favorite talks from TEDKyoto 2013 was the one presented by Japanologist and award-winning author Alex Kerr. If you have any interest at all in Japanese culture, design, and lessons in sustainability then I think you will find this talk fascinating indeed. Alex structured his presentation very simply, first illuminating the problem and then taking us on a journey exploring some solutions to that problem. Visually, I liked what Alex did by keeping text to an absolute minimum and using stunning images that were, for the most part, beautiful full-screen images that filled the 16:9 frame and helped take the audience along on his journey. Alex Kerr's low-key, thoughtful, and visual presentation is a good example of the modern short-form presentation zen style. And the content of his talk provides many valuable lessons in sustainable tourism and beyond.

The power of visual comparison: Before/After & Now/Then, etc.
A common mistake people make with visuals is that they include photos that are too small. One thing I liked about Alex's talk was that his visuals included high-quality photos of his work that filled the entire screen (there were some exceptions). Alex also used a simple technique of showing Before/After photos in a way that made things instantly clear, showing a great transformation. The examples below were not shown side by side, but rather a "Before" photo is shown and then the "After" photo fades in to illustrate the dramatic change.

Kerr1 ArrowKerr2
Kerr_3 ArrowKerr_4
The "after" photos on the right faded in (cross dissolve) which had a dramatic effect in this presentation.

Alex Kerr presenting on stage at TEDxKyoto 2013.

Kurt Vonnegut on why art matters for everyone.

Kurt_vKurt Vonnegut (1922–2007) was one of the truly great American writers of our time. In 2006, when Vonnegut was 84, a few students at Xavier High School in New York sent letters to the the legendary author asking him to visit their class. The fact that Vonnegut actually replied shows what a thoughtful and kind man he was. Vonnegut politely declined the invitation with humor and with grace: "I don't make public appearances any more because I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana," wrote Vonnegut. However, his letter offered beautiful wisdom and advice for these young students. You can see the entire letter on the Letters of Note website. Below is the bit that spoke to me (emphasis is Vonnegut's):
"Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what's inside you, to make your soul grow."

                                                                — Kurt Vonnegut
You'll never get a job doing that!
Around the world, mass school systems still do not understand the role of art in developing a child's mind. Yes, they sometimes pay lip service to the importance of art education, and then art is the first thing to go when money is tight. Participating in the arts—learning to play an instrument or to express yourself through painting, writing, acting, etc.—are valuable not because they allow you to tick a box on a job application ten years in the future, the arts are valuable in and of themselves. What is a life without art in it? What is a school worth without a deep commitment to the whole mind (and body) of the student, which includes art. "You'll never get a job doing that" is something I actually heard in high school when I spent so much energy on music. Later I heard the same thing from business or engineering students when I was getting a degree in Philosophy from OSU. Looking back, I do not regret spending so much energy on music, my only regret is that I did not spend *more* energy exploring other disciplines in the arts. I think I would be a much better public speaker today, for example, if I would have studied drama and put myself up on a stage acting in front of a large audience, one of the scariest things one can do. 
"You were probably steered benignly away from things at school when you were a kid, things you liked, on the grounds that you would never get a job doing that. Is that right? Don't do music, you're not going to be a musician; don't do art, you won't be an artist. Benign advice—now, profoundly mistaken." 

                                                                   — Sir Ken Robinson

The role of art & music in education
Quincy The advice from Kurt Vonnegut ties in nicely with a piece that came out a couple of years ago by Quincy Jones called Arts Education in America. Quincy asks "...can we really run the risk of becoming a culturally bankrupt nation because we have not inserted a curriculum into our educational institutions that will teach and nurture creativity in our children?" The most interesting part of Quincy's article were the words taken from the 1943 War Department Education Manual EM 603 that got its recommendations on jazz completely wrong. (Read it — you'll be amazed.) Kind of makes you wonder what else — in spite of good intentions — our educational institutions and leaders are getting completely wrong today? If our recommendations are based on the assumptions that science is not a place for creative thinking or that the arts/humanities have no room for analysis and logic or that students need to make a choice about what kind of person they are — logical or intuitive — then something tells me we're getting it wrong. We need both science and the arts...and we need to do better teaching both.

"It has been proven time and time again in countless studies that students who actively participate in arts education are twice as likely to read for pleasure, have strengthened problem-solving and critical thinking skills, are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement, four times more likely to participate in a math and science fair...."
                                                         — Quincy Jones

Above: Slide with famous Picasso quote featuring a photo of my son banging on the drums before he was old enough to walk.


Bill Strickland makes change with a slide show
Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity
H/T Letters of Note website.

On sharing your own personal story to make a difference

Different_edit_final.008Here are two wonderful examples of telling your own personal story on stage. These two examples below are from the recent TEDxKyoto 2013 event which I attended. In storytelling, the key is to make sure your message is about the audience, not about yourself. This may seem counter intuitive when you are telling your own story, when you are talking about your own life, but it's actually not so hard. However, when I say "about your audience," I really mean *for* your audience. Even when you are sharing aspects of your own life, it's in the spirit of contribution. The best presentations are always about contribution. The important thing is to choose a theme from your own life that is clearly relevant for the audience. Whether your aim is to inform, inspire, or to persuade—or a mix of all of these—your theme should be something which people can relate to, something they can take away with them and ponder. In both cases below, the presenters tell you what happened in their past to bring them to where they are today, but those details, however interesting they may be, are not the key theme. The particulars of the events are not the main point to takeway. For example, Patrick Linehan's point really has nothing to do with being a gay man. Similarly, Megumi Nishikura's message is not only for those in biracial/bicultural families. The themes of both presenters are really for anyone who has struggled with feeling "different" or feeling alienated and alone (which would include just about everyone at some point). The theme of embracing one's own difference—and the resilience needed to do so—is a message for almost everyone. These talks clearly resonated with the largely Japanese audience in Kyoto, I hope they resonate with you as well.

Embracing Different: Patrick Linehan at TEDxKyoto 2013
TEDxKyoto curator Prof. Jay Klaphake and I worked with Patrick a few times on his story and his delivery. Jay worked with Patrick more than I did. I created the slides to have a vintage photo album or scrapbook feel since Patrick simply wanted to show some old photos and project a few key words. So the visuals were kept minimal, large, and very simple. The screen was massive so all 1500 in attendance could easily see the old snapshots on the canvas behind Patrick. Although the video does not show it, the audience all stood and gave Patrick a very long ovation, one of the loudest and longest of the day. (YouTube link.)

Different1   Different_1
Patrick Linehan on stage at TEDxKyoto 2013.

Explorations into being Hafu: Megumi Nishikura at TEDxKyoto 2013
Megumi is a young filmmaker who grew up in Japan and the USA. She was born in Japan to a Japanese father and an Irish-American mother. Perhaps it's because I'm a member of a bicultural/biracial/bilingual family myself, but Megumi's talk very much resonated with me. I loved her delivery and her mix of snapshots of her past growing up in Japan and the USA. She was so inspired by her experience she created a feature film called "Hafu." Although Megumi's and Patrick's talks are very different in content, they share a similar and power theme that is relevant for everyone. (YouTube link.)

Hafu   Hafu2
Megumi Nishikura's talk visually contained a mix of short bilingual messages and photographs (and her movie trailer).

See more TEDxKyoto talks.
TEDxKyoto on Flickr.


Talking about Presentation Zen with my publisher

Publisher_familyIn August, the family and I flew across the Pacific to California to see friends and family up and down the West Coast of the USA and Canada. On one of those beautiful sunny days, we were invited to drop by the new and very awesome studios of Peachpit Press, which moved from its longtime home in Berkeley to its new offices right on the bay in San Francisco. It's a gorgeous location. While my wife and kids were checking out the Americas Cup down the street, my publisher Nancy Ruenzel and I sat down for a chat in the Peachpit Press studio. We talked about presentations, TED talks, Japan, etc. It's hard to believe that it has been six years since Peachpit Published my first book, Presentation Zen. The 2nd edition of Presentation Zen Design is the 6th project I have now done with them. Really great people. (The photo above is at the front door of Peachpit Press. We were surprised to see the welcome message "いらっしゃいませ!").


Watch the interview (clicking above will take you to the interview on the Peachpit website).