MD's provocative presentation at health symposium

Andreas_Eenfeldt Last November Ideas on Stage sponsored my Presentation Zen European Seminar (see info for my 2011 seminar in Paris). Attendees to the seminar, which was held in the cool facilities at the Microsoft head office in Paris, came from all over Europe, and even a few who flew all the way over from the USA. I had a fantastic time and met a lot of very interesting and creative people at the seminar. One such interesting person was a 6'8" Swedish medical doctor named Andreas Eenfeldt. Dr. Eenfeldt is a good example of someone who is doing important work, making an impact, and doing his part to change the world. He's using his knowledge and experience to challenge conventional wisdom and create a dramatic change. To do that, he realized early on that engaging presentation skills were necessary to spread the kind of change he had in mind.
Above: Inside the seminar held last year at Microsoft in Paris. Dr. Eenfeldt was one of the participants in the soldout workshop which included professionals from myriad fields, including medicine. The next seminar will be held November 14 in Paris.(More photos from the Paris seminar last year.)

Dr. Eenfeldt specializes in family medicine and has a special interest in "finding out how to get as healthy as possible using natural methods such as diet, exercise and perhaps a supplement (vitamin D) or two." And he has what to some people is still a provocative thesis: "The idea to eat less fat and less saturated fat was certainly a mistake. Inadvertently that advice may be the biggest reason behind the epidemics of obesity and diabetes. More and more people realize this. It’s time for a health revolution." Dr. Eenfeldt gave a presentation recently at the Ancestral Health Symposium 2011 which is getting a lot of attention. Watch it on Youtube or below. Well worth a look.

If your idea is worth spreading, then presentation matters
I like Dr. Eenfeldt's presentation for many reasons (in spite of the poor audio recording). The presentation had a good flow and structure that provided enough evidence to support his statements. He provided personal stories of his friends balanced with data and some quotations from credible people in the field that supported his idea. He also told his own personal stories. A lot of people were impressed with Dr. Eenfeldt's talk. Here is an example comment on his blog; Youtube has similar comments:

"Having watched more than half of the lectures presented at the Ancestral Health Symposium, I have to say that your lecture was, by far, the most engaging, entertaining, and most clearly articulated lecture. I have watched numerous presentations on the efficacy of low carb diets over the years, and your presentation is the best of the best. You also had the most illustrative slide show, and I am glad that when you uploaded your video, that you took the time to edit your video to include your slides. You have really impressed me."

Making it visual
Here are just a few sample visuals from his talk which used more than 100 keynote slides.

Swedish_MD.010   Swedish_MD.012

Usa1   Usa2
ABOVE: The doctor introduces the problem: the obesity epidemic is a very recent phenomenon. Then he uses the example of CDC statistics on the USA to note its dramatic increase in less than 30 years.

Lchf3  Lchf2

Lchf5  Lchf1
ABOVE: Dr. Eenfeldt shares his personal example. After a home-cooked LCHF meal his blood glucose was stable. Then he compares that to a high carb lunch with loads of sugars too which he got (ironcially enough) at the obesity conferense in Stockholm. While it is just his personal experience, it very much resonated with the audience. A very simple, clear, and visual explanation.

Ancestral Health Symposium
Info on Presentation Zen seminar in Paris Nov 14

Make your presentations stickier: these 3 books can help

Sticky If you want to be a better presenter — or help others to be — here are the three books you should get (two I have recommended repeatedly). Notice that these are not books about presentation. Most of the great books that will help you make better presentations are not specifically about presentations at all, and certainly not about how to use slideware. The first book gives the context. The second one gives the basics of design. And the final one which I am introducing to you today  — Made to Stick — gives you the ammunition for crafting messages that are simple, effective, and “sticky.”

Pink(1) Dan Pink’s A Whole New Mind gives us the context of the new world we’re living in and why “high touch” talents — and that includes exceptional presentation skills — are more important than ever before. Professionals today around the globe need to understand how and why the so-called right-brain aptitudes of Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play, and Meaning matter like never before. The best presentations of our generation will be created by people who have strong “whole mind” aptitudes and talents. (Dan Pink's blog).

Principles(2) Universal Principles of Design. You will not learn how to crop an image in PowerPoint, or any other tips on using slideware from this book, but you will get a very good and intelligent introduction to fundamental design principles and practical applications of those concepts. A good complement to this book is The Elements of Graphic Design which provides more depth specifically in the area of graphic design. First comes understanding, then comes technique.

Stick_book (3) Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath is my favorite book of the summer. I can’t believe I didn't read it sooner. (My pal Nancy Duarte gave me a copy; she said she knew I would love it. She was right!) In this book the Heath brothers are interested in the question of what makes some ideas effective and memorable and other ideas utterly forgettable? Some ideas stick and others fade away. Why? What the authors found — and explain simply and brilliantly in their book — is that “sticky ideas” share just a few principles in common. Sticky ideas have elements of these six key attributes: Simplicity, Unexpectedness, Concreteness, Credibility, Emotions, and Stories. And yes, these six compress nicely into the acronym SUCCESs. (Made to Stick website.)

Think in terms of SUCCESs
The six principles are relatively easy to incorporate into messages — including presentations and keynote addresses — but most people fail to use them. Why? The authors say that the biggest reason why most people fail to craft effective or “sticky” messages is because of what they call the “Curse of Knowledge.” The Curse of Knowledge is essentially the condition whereby the deliverer of the message can not imagine what it’s like not to posses his level of background knowledge on the topic. When he speaks in abstractions to the audience, it makes perfect sense him, but often to him alone. In his mind it seems simple and obvious. The six principles — SUCCESs — are your weapons, then, to fight your own Curse of Knowledge (we all have it)  so that you can make messages that stick.

Here’s an example that the authors used early in the book to explain the difference between a good and “sticky” message and a weak (yet all too common) message. Look at these two messages that address the same idea. One of them should seem very familiar to you.

(a) “Our mission is to become the international leader in the space industry through maximum team-centered innovation and strategically targeted aerospace initiatives.”


(b) “…put a man on the moon and return him safely by the end of the decade.”

Jfk_moon_speech The first message sounds similar to CEO-speak of today and is barely comprehensible, let alone memorable. The second message — which is actually from a 1961 speech by JFK — has every element of SUCCESs and it motivated a nation toward a specific goal that changed the world. JFK, or at least his speech writers, knew that abstractions are not memorable, nor do they motivate. Yet how many speeches today by CEOs and other leaders contain phrases like “maximize shareholder value…yada, yada, yada”? Here’s a quick summary of the six principles you should keep in mind when crystallizing your ideas and crafting your messages for speeches, presentations, or any other form of communication. (I’ve included large thumbs of the slides I’ll use in future when I talk about these ideas from Made to Stick).

Stick001Simple. If everything is important then nothing is important. If everything is priority then nothing is priority. You must be ruthless in your efforts to simplify — not dumb down — your message to its absolute core. We’re not talking about shallow sound bites here. Every idea — if you work hard enough — can be reduced to its bare essential meaning. For your presentation, what’s the key point? What’s the core? Why does (should) it matter? For your visuals the mantra is: Maximum effect, minimum means.

 UnexpectUnexpectedness. You can get people’s interest by violating their expectations. Surprise people. Surprise will get their interest. But to sustain their interest you have to stimulate their curiosity. The best way to do that is to pose questions or open up holes in people’s knowledge and then fill those holes, say the authors. Make the audience aware that they have a gap in their knowledge and then fill that gap with the answers to the puzzle (or guide them to the answers). Take people on a journey of discovery. (The Discovery Channel’s MythBusters is about the only thing I can watch on the virtually unwatchable boob-tube these days as the TV program does a wonderful job of posing questions and then answering them, often in quite unexpected ways.)

Stick003Concrete. Use natural speech and give real examples with real things, not abstractions. Speak of concrete images not of vague notions. Proverbs are good, say the authors, at reducing abstract concepts to concrete, simple, but powerful (and memorable) language. For example, here in Japan we say “ii seki ni cho” or “kill two birds with one stone.” Easier than saying something like “…let’s work toward maximizing our productivity by increasing efficiency across departments,” etc. And the phrase “…go to the moon and back” by JFK (and Ralph Kramden before him)? That’s concrete. You can visualize that.

Stick004Credible. If you are famous in your field you may have built-in credibility (but even that doesn’t go as far as it used to). Most of us, however, do not have that kind of credibility so we reach for numbers and cold hard data to support our claims as market leaders and so on. Statistics, say the Heath brothers, are not inherently helpful. What’s important is the context and the meaning of those statistics. Put it in terms people can visualize. “66 grams of fat” or “the equivalent of three Big Macs”? And if you showed a photo of the burgers, wouldn’t that stick? There are many ways to establish credibility, a quote from a client or the press may help, for example. But a long-winded account of your company’s history won’t help. In Japan especially, having a well-known trusted business partner or some big-name customers help establish credibility. The Heath brothers outline many good examples of credibility in their book..

EmotionEmotional. People are emotional beings. It is not enough to take people through a laundry list of talking points and information on your slides, you must make them feel something. There are a million ways to help people feel something about your content. Images, of course, are one way to have audiences not only understand your point better but also to feel and to have a more visceral and emotional connection to your idea. Explaining the devastation of the Katrina hurricane and flood in the US, for example, could be done with bullet points, data, and talking points, but  images of the aftermath and the pictures of the human suffering that occurred told the story in ways words alone never could. Just the words “Hurricane Katrina” conjure up vivid images in your mind today no doubt. We make emotional connections with people not abstractions. When possible put your ideas in human terms. “90 grams of fat” may seem concrete to you, but for others it's an abstraction. A picture (or verbal description) of an enormous plate of greasy French fries stacked high, a double cheese burger (extra cheese), and a large chocolate shake (extra whip cream) is visceral and sticky.

Stick006Stories. We tell stories all day long. It’s how humans have always communicated. We tell stories with our words and even with our art. We express ourselves through the stories we share. We teach, we learn, and we grow through stories. Why is it that when the majority of smart, talented people have the chance to present we usually get streams of information rather than story from them? Great ideas and great presentations have an element of story to them. But you see storytelling everywhere in the workplace. In Japan, for example, it’s a custom for a senior worker (sempai) to mentor a younger worker (kohai) on various issues concerning the company history and culture, and of course on how to do the job. The sempai does much of his informal teaching trough storytelling, though nobody calls it that. But that’s what it is. Once a younger worker hears the story of what happened to the poor guy who didn’t wear his hardhat on the factory floor one day he never forgets the lesson (and he never forgets to wear his hardhat). Stories get our attention and are easier to remember than lists of rules.

Jazz and the art of connecting

NoteMost students of jazz will not go on to be professional players. And few students turned on by the creative arts in school will go on to be professional artists. And that's OK. Knowledge and understanding of the arts and the experience of pursuing excellence with, say, an instrument or a brush, etc. can teach students a lot about life and the value of focused effort, patience, teamwork, perspective, creativity, problem solving, and a million other things. All things that will serve the student well no matter what profession(s) she ends up dedicating herself to.

I made barely enough money with music to pay for my college years. Though music is not my profession today, jazz still inspires me in my professional life as well as in my personal/spiritual life. Jazz, of course, is about dialog and a kind of conversation with other musicians and a connection with the audience. Jazz is inspiring to me; it's lessons can be applied to other aspects of life, even the art of presentation. Below, then, are eleven quotes by jazz greats of yesterday and today which I find particularly inspiring and applicable. Following the list is a short video clip of a gig I did in Osaka last year with some very accomplished musicians.

(1) “The most important thing I look for in a musician is whether he knows how to listen.” (Duke-Ellington) 
The best communicators in the world are almost always the best listeners. Talking is easy; any dope can do that. But listening is hard. The lessons learned in life come more from when we open our ears not our mouths.

(2) “Writing is like jazz. It can be learned, but it can’t be taught.”

I'm not sure I've ever been taught anything about making presentations, but I have learned a ton from observing great presenters, from people like Steve Jobs to scores of people far less famous, such as college professors, etc.

(3) “Don’t bullshit… just play.” (Wynton-Marsalis)
Audiences today are busier than ever and have developed built-in "crap detectors" to filter out anything remotely insincere or shallow. They may not interrupt you or walk out of the room, but that doesn't mean they have not stopped listening. Guy Kawasaki has some good tips for those presenting to venture capitalists. If you're asking an audience for money, it is a safe bet that they will have zero tolerance for any overly optimistic views of future results unless you have strong evidence.

(4) “If they act too hip, you know they can’t play shit!” (Louis-Armstrong)
With practice we can become more polished. But too much polish turns a presentation into a TV-like infomercial unworthy of an audience's trust. Presentation is a very human thing. Practice, rehearse and make it great. But keep it real. Keep it human. And remember that it is about them (the audience), not us.

(5) “Master your instrument. Master the music. And then forget all that bullshit and just play.” (Charlie-Parker)
Studying design and presentation, communication, etc. is crucial. But when we present, all that matters is that moment and that audience. Get to the point. Tell us something memorable. Quit worrying and just inspire us or teach us (or better yet, both).

(6) “It’s taken me all my life to learn what not to play.” (Dizzy-Gillespie)

Most presentations are too long or filled with information that was unnecessary and included for the wrong reasons (such as fear). Knowing what to leave out takes work. Again, anyone can include everything and say everything, it is the master presenters (or writers, etc.) who know what to cut and have the courage to cut it.

(7) “You can play a shoestring if you’re sincere.” (John-Coltrane)

In most situations, you don't need the latest technology or the best equipment in the world. Showing that you are well prepared and ready to present naked is far more important. A poor presentation is not any better simply because expensive equipment is used to project images. Sincerity and respect for the audience matter far more.

(8) "When people believe in boundaries, they become part of them."
(Don Cherry)

Many books give prescriptions for the "best way" to present. There is no "best way" or "the correct way" to make a presentation. There are only two kinds really: good ones and bad ones. You know the difference because you've seen them both. Don't be afraid to be unconventional if you think "unconventional" will work best for your situation. Conventional wisdom is often the unwisest choice of all. "Conventional wisdom" about presentations is at best a prescription for mediocrity.

(9) “Anyone can make the simple complicated. Creativity is making the complicated simple.” (Charles Mingus)
This is my favorite quote of all. Many presenters -- very smart people -- either take something essentially simple and confuse an audience or simply fail to make their more complicated material meaningful to their audience. Simplicity ain't easy. In fact it's hard.

(10) “I can’t stand to sing the same song the same way two nights in succession. If you can, then it ain’t music..." (Billie-Holiday)
Even if you have the same set of slides or the same key points from one night to the next, every presentation is different because every audience is different. We must avoid the "canned presentation" or the "canned pitch" at all cost. If we focus on the audience and place priority on their needs, we're on the right path.

(11) “A great teacher is one who realizes that he himself is also a student and whose goal is not to dictate the answers, but to stimulate his students creativity enough so that they go out and find the answers themselves.”

My best teachers as a child and my favorite presenters of today have this in common: they inspire, stimulate, motivate, provoke, and lead...but they do not dictate.

Live in Japan
Below is a piece recorded in a club in Japan off a simple SLR camera featuring my buddies Dr. Hanagan (p) and Taku (b) and me on the (d). I am really looking forward to playing with Dr. Hanagan again on his next trip to Japan soon.

Here's something slower from the same gig.

Talking at them vs. talking with them

Last week, Harold Pinter's Nobel Lecture was shown in Stockholm. You can see the video of his speech as well as the transcripts (English, Swedish, French, German). Depending on your political leanings, your appreciation for the content of his speech may vary greatly indeed. But I think it is quite provocative, important, and worth a look.

Pinter on political theatre
I found Pinter's thoughts on writing political theatre interesting. With regards to political theatre, Pinter says,

"Sermonising has to be avoided at all cost. Objectivity is essential. The characters must be allowed to breathe their own air. The author cannot confine and constrict them to satisfy his own taste or disposition or prejudice. He must be prepared to approach them from a variety of angles,  from a full and uninhibited range of perspectives, take them by surprise, perhaps, occasionally, but nevertheless give them the freedom to go which way they will."

Again, Pinter is talking about writing good political theatre, of course. Still, he is talking about communication of ideas and I think we can apply a bit of his thinking to our own presentation approach. For example, is this (below) not good advice for many of us when presenting?

  • Avoid sermonizing
  • Be as objective as possible
  • Do not constrict or confine your audience, but engage them
  • Approach your topic and your engagement with the audience from a variety of angles. Surprise them. Allow them the opportunity to challenge, clarify, and offer up other opinions.

In part because of the "cognitive-style" of PowerPoint, many business and academic presentations inhibit engagement, interaction, and an "open-minded exploration of the truth." The "death-by-PowerPoint" approach treats the audience as if they were drones. And if not drones already, at least the presenter can hope with this approach that with enough didactic pitching of data, and ambiguous and superfluous visual material, the audience will become drone-like. In this presentation approach, you subdue the audience, beat them to death. Then in the end when there are few objections, you say that you are successful. You say that your audience got it. Understood it. And agree with it. Look, no objections!

An important question to ask
We should ask this question: Are we speaking at our audience or with them? If a speaker assumes he already knows all there is to know about the topic — or is simply not interested in hearing another side — he will tend to speak at an audience. This could be true regardless of whether slideware is used or not, though slideware may emphasize his dominance. Slideware itself, if one is not careful, could indeed make the presenter's whole approach seem pushy, overbearing, and one uninterested in debate or discussion. Says Edward Tufte, "PowerPoint's pushy style seeks to set up a speaker’s dominance over the audience. The speaker, after all, is making power points with bullets to followers...." Tufte goes on to say in this Wired article from 2003, "Could any metaphor be worse? Voicemail menu systems? Billboards? Television? Stalin?"

I don't know about Stalin, put the PowerPoint-aided presentation approach of many business people and academics today — and the rhetorical approach of many politicians today behind the podium or in front of the camera — reminds me of the scene from the Nineteen Eighty-Four
inspired TV commercial (called "1984") created to launch the first Macintosh computer. This commercial was created long before people used slideware (1983), but it is interesting to see how the "big brother" figure, energized with belief, conviction, and sound bites, dominates and talks at his dazed audience.

      1984_head   1984_ppt
Both screen shots above are from the actual commercial. Left: The "big brother" figure gives his "presentation" complete with text (running below his chin) and other on-screen "data." Right: A passive audience absorbs the speakers wisdom (as the heroine enters to save the day). Notice the slideware-like text of the speech projected on the back of the auditorium. It seems the creators thought this would be the kind of multimedia communication experience you would see in a nightmarish, didactic, presentation in a future dystopian society. It is quite interesting — some would say disturbing — that many presentation situations today are not too dissimilar to the fictitious, far-fetched scene in this 60-second TV commercial created in 1983 for a computer company.

Above: A screen shot edited in Photoshop with the text of the speaker's content appearing in bullet point slideware style.
"We shall prevail." I assume this is an intentionally ironic choice of words since this kind of communication approach is not interested in "we" except in the sense that "we" (that is, "us") must capitulate. And in real life, too, often audiences do capitulate, or at least appear to do so either out of boredom, resignation, or simple relief (joy?) that the speaker is finally finished.

See the original 1984 TV commercial here. The Curt's Media site also has a good discussion on the making of the video. This is still regarded as the "best commercial ever" in many circles.   

(In this post I did not elaborate at all on the real meat of Pinter's speech for it is far outside the scope of this site. Two quick comments, however: (1) Seeing the speech on video, after having read the transcripts, made it very clear to me how much Aristotle was right — the pathos and the ethos are extremely powerful proofs. Reading the contents was one thing, but listening to the man and seeing his face and getting the content was quite another. Actually, I am quite interested to hear your thoughts on the "presentation" of his ideas in Sweeden as well. For example, how different might it have played in front of a live audience? (2) I feel a bit uneasy even referencing Pinter's speech at all because the importance of his content — whether you agree with him or not — is infinitely more important than the simple contents of this website, presentation design. In the whole scheme of things, of course, the items we talk about on this website don't amount to much at all really.) 

More on getting naked

Piano"Presenting naked" involves being lost in the moment. I do not mean lost as in losing your place. I mean being so "in the moment" — without worry of the past or future — that you are as demonstrably interested (or moved, impassioned, excited, etc.) as your audience has (or will) become. This is a true connection.

A fantastic book on creativity, Brenda Ueland's If you Want to Write, speaks of the importance of being "in the moment" to maximize our creativity and impact on an audience. The harnessing of this creative energy and being fully present is more of an intuitive activity, not an intellectual one. Ueland compares this kind of creativity and connection to a wonderful musical performance.

In playing a musical instrument such as the piano, for example, sometimes you play at it and sometimes you play in it. The goal is not to repeat the notes on a page but to play beautiful music. To be in it, not separate from it. Great musicians play in it (even if not always technically perfect). The same thing holds for presentations. The aim should be to be in it completely at that moment in time. Perfection of technique is not obtainable perhaps (or even desirable), but a kind of "perfect" connection can exist between the audience and artist (or presenter) when she "plays in it."

"Only when you play in a thing, do people listen and hear you and are moved."

                                                             — Brenda Ueland

"Only when you play in a thing," Ueland says, "do people listen and hear you and are moved." Your music is believable and authentic because you are "lost in it" not intellectualizing it or following a set of prescribe rules (notes, instructions). We are moved because the artist is clearly and authentically moved as well. Can this not hold true for presentations? With presentations, you are believable because you too are moved. You have to believe in your message completely or no one else will. You must believe in yourself fully and be "lost in the moment" of engaging your audience.

BathMore on the "naked truth" in Japan
Since we were talking about "presenting naked" and Hadaka no Tsukiai in the previous post, I thought I'd point you to some photos from my friend Markuz Wernli Saito. Markuz, a fantastic presenter by the way, is a designer and photographer from Switzerland who divides his time between San Francisco and Kyoto. He is the photographer and designer for the new book Mirei Shigemori: Modernizing the Japanese Garden.

Onsens (hot springs) are not the only place to get nude and speak the "naked truth" in Japan. The sento (public bath) is a common feature in Japanese cities and towns as well, although their numbers are decreasing. Markuz does a wonderful job of capturing the spirit of this slice of traditional Japan in a way that is fresh and, well...naked.

See a photographic essay on the Japanese sento by Markuz Wernli Saito. The sento is "an unpretentious communal space for cleaning one’s body and soul," says Markuz.

Make your next presentation naked

Onsens (hot springs) are ubiquitous in Japan and an important part of culture. The act of getting naked and soaking in the bath with others is a means of communication. In Japanese it's called Hadaka no tsukiai (Communication in the nude). With Hadaka no tsukiai, to soak with others in your in-group is to freely expose everything and communicate the "naked truth." Naked, we are all the same regardless of rank. In theory at least, this kind of exposure leads to better, more honest communication.


This got me thinking: What if we thought of designing and delivering business presentations in a way that was more naked as well? A way that was simpler, fresher — perhaps even a bit cheeky — and far more satisfying to both presenter and audience. That is, in a way that was freer. Free from worry. Free from anxiety over what other people will think. Free from self-doubt. Free from tricks and gimmicks and the pressure to pull those off. Free from hiding behind anything (including slides) and the fear of possible exposure that accompanies such hiding. Remove all encumbrances, be in the moment, naked...and connect.

Being naked
Being naked involves stripping away all that is unnecessary to get at the essence of your message. The naked presenter approaches the presentation task embracing the ideas of simplicity, clarity, honesty, integrity, and passion. She presents with a certain freshness. The ideas may or may not be radical, earth shattering, or new. But there is a "newness" and freshness to her approach and to her content. And if she uses slideware, her slides fit well with her talk and are harmonious with her message. The slides are in synch, and are simple and beautifully designed, yet never steal the show or rise above serving a strong but simple supportive role.

Why are we afraid to be naked?
Presenting naked is hard to do. But it wasn't always this way. When we were younger and we performed "show and tell" at the front of the class in elementary school, we were honest and engaged — sometimes our candor even made the children laugh and the teacher blush. But it was real. We told great stories...and we were only six. Now we are experienced and mature, we have advanced degrees and deep knowledge in important fields...and we are boring.

One reason we are so dull as adult presenters is because we are overly cautious. We are afraid. We want it all to be so safe and perfect, so we over think it and put up a great many barriers. Or we retreat, however unconsciously, and play it safe by hiding behind a stack of bulleted lists in a darken room in a style void of emotion. After all, no one ever got fired for just stating the facts, right?

Next time, to be different — to separate yourself from the crowd — try presenting naked.

How to present naked
This is not an exhaustive list (so please send me your naked ideas), but here are a few things to keep in mind when trying to present naked.

Be present in the moment. Right here right now. Do not be occupied with thoughts of the future, of thoughts concerning what the results of your presentation might lead to. Do not ask about origins and ends leaving the moment forgotten. When you are with your audience, all that matters is that moment.

Don't try to impress. Instead try to, share, help, inspire, teach, inform, guide, persuade, motivate... or make the world a little bit better.

Keep the lights on. Find a compromise between a bright screen and enough room light for you to be seen. Do not hide in the dark — the audience came to see you as well as hear you.

Forget the podium. Move away from obstacles that are between you and the audience.

If (big if!) you use multimedia, use a small remote allowing you to have the freedom to move around the room/stage as you like.

Don't attempt to hide. What's the point? Do not be evasive intellectually or physically. 

Do not become attached to your software — if your computer crashes, screw it...the show must go on immediately, not after you have rebooted. Stuff happens, move on. Your message is far greater than the technology helping you.

Keep it simple. All of it. Simple goals, clear messages, and moderation in length.

Are you just a bit cheeky? Then that should show in your presentations too. Let your personality shine through. Why hide one of your biggest differentiators?

Do not use corporate-speak — speak like a human being. You can not be naked if you say something like "best practices" or "empowering a new paradigm."

Think of your audience as being active participants not passive listeners. Engage you audience. Often, we should listen more than speak.

Be comfortable with yourself being naked. It takes practice and it takes confidence. The confidence comes with practice. Audiences hate arrogance and cockiness, but they love confidence...if it is genuine.

Never decorate your messages or your supporting visuals. Decoration is veneer. Think design, but never decoration. Design is soul deep, decoration is "Happy Birthday" placed atop a sponge cake.

Allow yourself to be vulnerable. Take a chance. This is a key component of authenticity.

Think in terms of what makes a good meal and good design. Think balance, harmony, variety...and content that leaves them satisfied and delighted, yet wanting more.

This is not an exhaustive list by any means. Therefore, I hope you will share your ideas here on other ways to "present naked." I'd love to hear from you.

Presenting 100% naked may not be appropriate for every case, but stripping down as much as we can often will make a huge, refreshing difference. The result will be a presentation that is different and somehow more real, "real" like a frank conversation among friends. In my experience, the higher up the management chain you go, the less real the talk. People at the highest level of management do not often present naked, but I wish they would.


Presentation, blues, and tapping into your creative soul

Blues_osakaI worked my way through college playing drums in different jazz groups. I have not played music fulltime for many years, but it is important I think for working professionals — no matter their field — to stay in touch with their "creative soul" and to nurture it. What a waste it would be to ignore one of your passions or talents. Frankly, you just never know where inspiration will come from. Inspiration, clarity, or a new perspective may materialize unforced as you climb that mountain in Nepal, paint that portrait, photograph that sunset, write that novel...or find that "pocket" while swinging with fellow musicians in a downtown nightclub.

I am a jazz guy, but over the weekend I played live with the GMS Blues Band, comprising of myself on drums and a fantastic blues guitarist/singer from the U.S. and a great studio bassist visiting Japan from Switzerland. It's so good for the creative soul to play live and connect with other musicians and an audience. Blues especially is about connecting and telling a story through the words and music. It's about feelings.

Playing the blues well is similar to making great presentations: it's not about technique. Once you begin to focus on technique and tricks and flash and making an impression...all is lost.

I like to play with people who can play simple and are not threatened by other musicians thinking they can't play. And that eliminates 99 percent of all musicians.
                         — Neil Young

Garr_jazztrioB.B. King is a legend. No one does it like he does. He's not flashy and he doesn't try to impress with speed or technique. That's not what it's about. That's not what the blues is about. It's about telling a story and making a connection in a way that can not be duplicated by anyone else. If you are being true to yourself and the audience, if you are authentic, how could it possibly be duplicated?

Many people can play good technique. With study, technique is not too difficult for many people. Computers, for example, can play "perfect technique." But even with perfect technique, computer-generated blues would lack substance and would seem empty. It would seem empty because there is no "feel" to it. To me "feel" is that kind of perfectly imperfect human quality that conveys emotion and the spontaneity of the time. That one moment in time that can not be repeated the same way again. And that's beautiful.

Blues is easy to play, but hard to feel.

                         — Jimi Hendrix

Do you have enough confidence to ignore 90% of PowerPoint?
PowerPoint is easy to use, especially if you ignore 90% of its functions. The technique required to make the slides accompanying many of the presentations highlighted on this website (e.g., Kawasaki, Jobs, Lessig, etc.) and all my presentations visually are very simple: simple/few transitions, few or no animations, a few words and high quality graphics, and maybe a video or two inserted. Even if you never used PowerPoint in your life, you could master the 10% of it you actually need in an hour or two with a tutor. Most of my coaching involves getting clients to unlearn and forget what they already know. When it comes to slideware functions, I don't think the challenge is to learn more, but rather to ignore more and forget more.

It is not about technique alone. Never. Yes, the basics of software are important to know. Delivery techniques and "dos & don'ts" are useful to understand. But the truly great presenters approach the whole process as an art. The "art of presentation" transcends technique and enables an individual to remove walls and connect with an audience to inform or persuade in a very meaningful, unique moment in time. Sometimes, at least in a small way,...a good presenter can even change the world.

Characterizing master swordsman Odagiri Ichiun's ideas on technique, Zen scholar Daisetzu Suzuki says, "...the first principle of the art is not to rely  on tricks of technique. Most swordsmen make too much of technique, sometimes making it their chief concern ..." And most presenters make the slideware their chief concern in the preparation process and in the delivery. This often ends up in a wasted opportunity to connect and "find that pocket" with an audience.

Guy Kawasaki: Presenter extraordinaire

Guykawasaki3_3You have heard me praise the presentation skills of Steve Jobs many times before. He's the high priest of presentations. But there is another master communicator with a strong Apple history known for his engaging and charismatic presentations: Guy Kawasaki. Guy is a Silicon Valley legend of sorts. He first gained fame over twenty years ago as a tech evangelist for Apple, "leading the charge against world-wide domination by IBM." Currently Guy is Managing Director of Garage Technology Ventures and the author of many popular business books including his latest, The Art of the Start. He is a sought-after speaker because he brings the rare combination of experience, great content, and a wonderful engaging style.

Presentation advice from the frontlines
I recommend you buy Art of the Start for two reasons: (1) because it is a relevant, useful book for any business person, especially entrepreneurs or future entrepreneurs, and (2) because Guy devotes an entire chapter to the "Art of the Pitch" which contains solid tips and advice for making effective presentations to people who can help or invest in your ideas. And when you think about it, most presentations are pitches, are they not? Most presentations are (or should be) about selling your idea to get buy in, agreement, financial support, research funding, and so on. Great content is necessary, but it is not going to sell itself. Not usually. We've got to pitch or sell our data and ideas to be effective. So Guy's tips on "pitching" are applicable to most business or technical presentations.

Allow me here to highlight just one idea (among many) from Guy's chapter on pitching. "Pitch constantly," Guy says. Forget about the idea of "rising to the occasion" on the presentation day. If you shuffle badly through practice and give it a half-hearted effort in preparation, you will surely be lousy on the day of the presentation. The best musicians and athletes, for example, perform in practice just like they do during the actual concert or event. There are no shortcuts. Says Guy:

"Familiarity breeds content. It's when you are actually familiar and comfortable with your pitch that you'll be able to give it most effectively. There are no shortcuts to achieving familiarity — you simply have to pitch a lot of times.

"Twenty-five times is what it takes for most people to reach this point. All these pitches don't have to be to your intended audiences — your co-founders, employees, relatives, friends, and even your dog are fine auditors."

Slide simplicity
Sample_slideGuy takes a very "zen approach" to his presentations and the supporting PowerPoint. His talks usually evolve around ten key points, no matter the topic. His visuals, then, will consist of ten slides each with one key message spelled out. That's it. Simple. The visuals keep Guy on track and help him tell his story and give a strong feeling of organization to the tone of the talk. Guy kindly agreed to do a couple of presentations for me while I was at Apple. His 10-points/10-slides approach was very effective and allowed the audience to focus on his words, his face, and his personality...this made his content far more accessible. You can download slides from Guy's keynote presentation for the WOMMA 2005. In this presentation his visuals follow the 10-point/10-slides guide (though he includes an eleventh, "be a mensch" for good measure).

Brendon Wilson has posted transcripts of "The Art of Positioning & Presentation" talk from the Art of the Start Conference. Scroll to the middle to find the section on presenting.You can download the audio files from Guy's presentations (and others too) from the 2005 Art Of the Start Conference.

Business Training Direct has a good article featuring Guy's ideas on presentation simplicity. Cliff Atkinson also has a good, short interview with Guy worth reading. And here in an interview with Technation, Guy talks about "The Art of the Start" and many other things as well.

Mensch extraordinaire
Garrguy_2Guy talks often about being a Mensch — and from what I've seen he backs it up. When I first met Guy in his office at Garage in 2001, before I ever had a chance to ask if he'd like to present at one of our future Macworld events, he volunteered. He then accepted several other opportunities to give of his time to user groups. Guy can make a lot of money by public speaking, no doubt. But he also "gives it away" quite often. Now that's a Mensch.

Jazz and simplifying complication

Starbucks_1Last week, a great Osaka-based bass player and I backed a couple of cool jazz guitarists in one of the biggest Starbucks cafes in Kansai. We all had a blast. I deeply enjoy playing music for people. I love it because I'm energized by communicating and connecting in creative ways with new people. It's a feeling that is hard to put into words. Sometimes a great seminar or presentation will leave me feeling exhilarated too because I feel that, in my own little way, I made a difference in someone's life. Maybe I inspired them, or helped them in some small measure.

Playing music is a performance and also very much a presentation. Good presentations are after all about conversing, sharing, and connecting at an emotional level in an honest and sincere way. It doesn't get much more honest than jazz. It is even easier to connect when playing music since everything is really laid right out there in front for everyone to see and hear. There are no politics, no walls. The music may touch them or it may not, but there is never even the hint of insincerity, questionable motives, or of being anything other than what people see before them at that moment. The smiles, the heads nodding in agreement, and the feet tapping under the tables tell me that we are connecting. It's a fantastic feeling.

Usually when I play a jazz or a blues gig in the city, I have a larger kit of drums. But moving drums is quite problematic in such an urban jungle like Osaka. So for the Starbucks sessions I followed a Zen-like principle of using only what is absolutely necessary to get the job done. I employed a kind of drumming minimalism, if you will.

I knew that to support the guitar and bass, I would only need the essentials. So, a month ago I purchased another drum kit to go along with my regular set. The new set is designed for portability and is called the Pearl Rhythm Traveler. I only used the 14" bass drum from this kit and added my vintage 1966 Ludwig snare, and Paiste high-hats and ride cymbal. This was all I needed for this particular situation.

Having fewer drums is easier to move, of course, but it also was very liberating musically. The fewer drums and cymbals I use, the more I get out of what I have. It is more challenging and creative. And most importantly, a minimal kit was the most appropriate choice for the moment.

MingusThe great jazz bassist, Charles Mingus, once said that "Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that's creativity." I like that quote so much that I have used it in some presentations. I am not only looking to simplify messages, but simplify logistics as well

Just as a minimal, yet high-quality, drum kit was the most appropriate equipment choice for the Starbucks venue, there are also times when I decide that I will use a whiteboard for a particular presentation and leave the projector at home. Or I may bring some high-quality lap visuals to pass around the table, or a combination of whiteboard and paper. It all depends on the context and circumstance. There are certainly occasions when using a projector in a boardroom is like bringing in an 18-piece drum kit to a small jazz club. It will work, but it's unnecessary...and it can serve as a wall. You will be surprised how free and creative you can become sometimes without the use slides and the hum of a projector. And since the competition is likely using a standard deck of bulletpoint-filled slides, your analog, minimalist approach may just differentiate you and demonstrate that you have thought more about your client's needs.

Learning about presentation from Cirque du Soleil

Alegria_3Earlier this summer I read Peak Performance Presentations by Richard Olivier & Nicholas Janni. There are two fundamental beliefs behind this book. The first is that all presentations are performance. The second is that most of us are not operating anywhere near our peak presentation performance. I agree with this, of course, and I too am always looking for ways to be inspired and kick my own presentation skills up a level or two. Over the weekend I attended Cirque du Soleil in Osaka and came away amazed and inspired.

Frankly, had I not been invited, I probably would have never seen Cirque du Soleil in Japan. But since I always encourage people to stretch themselves and try new things outside the office — you just never know where inspiration will come from — I welcomed the chance to experience something new myself. We were the guests of marketing manager, Montse Moré, who has been with "Cirque" for several years and has been instrumental in making the Japan tour a big hit. Montse was a most gracious host.

The show touring Japan is called "Alegria 2." By definition the show is a circus, but honestly, I did not feel like I was at a circus at any point. Instead, I felt I was at the theatre. From costume and make-up, to stage design and special effects and lighting, the entire production was a testament to the creative human spirit.

The music is what really brought it all together for me. Rather than have the band in a pit, for example, the band was a part of the show, dressed in costume and placed at the rear of the elevated stage in full view of the audience. The two female vocalists had stunning and powerful voices, yet somehow their singing had a soothingly mystical quality that fit perfectly with the fantasy world we entered. The vocalists, too, moved all around the stage and throughout the audience.

After the show, Montse took us back stage and gave us a tour of the whole traveling show. Go to the Fuji TV site to view some behind the scenes photos and a feel for what it is like on the road in Japan.

Even if you think you are not a fan of the circus, your will love Cirque du Soleil's Alegria. If I had a team of creatives — or a team of sales people — I'd take them all out to Cirque du Soleil. Entertaining and fun, yes. But also inspiring.

So what does any of this have to do with business presentations? Here are the lessons I learned (or rather had reinforced) from the Alegria 2 performance:

TumbleDon't let technology or props take away from the experience. In Alegria 2, there are many scene changes requiring different equipment and prop set-ups. Usually in live entertainment, such as during concerts, we see men dressed in black t-shirts lurking near the stage and darting in and out to set-up equipment changes. But at Alegria 2, from the the moment we entered the circus tent we never once were aware of the technical support, though it was certainly there in the dark. And on stage, all prop and equipment changes were done by the cast members themselves in full character so that the illusion of the fantasy was never broken.

Too often in presentations given with PowerPoint, we are all too aware of the software and computer, but the technology should be as invisible as possible. While setting up, for example, don't have the screen on until your first slide is already in play mode. Many presenters actually allow the audience to see the computer screen boot up and then watch them mouse around for their PPT file. We also have a chance to glimpse the desktop picture of the presenter's new baby before the first slide appears. How wonderful...and how irrelevant. All of this subtlety takes away from the moment and from the purpose of the presentation, which is about the message and the story, not what software you are using.

Connect with the audience. Mingle among them. Bring them "on stage" from time to time. At Alegria 2, I felt the cast was not apart from us, instead they were a part of us. We were not just watching a show, we were a member of a live event. There are many things we can do to engage with our audiences too, big or small. From eye contact to smiles, to asking questions and asking for volunteers to help with a demo. Each case is different, but one thing is clear: An audience that feels they are a part of it and shown the respect of engagement from the presenter (or artists) are more likely to pay attention, to listen, and in the end, to "get it."

Pace. At no time did the show drag. The two-hour show went by in a flash. Every act ended with you wanting to see just a bit more, yet the show never felt rushed. In the business world, many presentations drag on and on with superfluous or gratuitous points. Better to have the audience wanting a little more, rather than filling them up to the satiated point.

Little mistakes can happen, so what? Move on immediately to what is important. I noticed one slip and gracious fall on to the net during the Super Aerial High Bar. The point was not the one slip, the point is amazing the audience with the 1000 other things that are going right. The audience does not even notice small mistake as they are often engrossed in the big picture. In a presentation context, the audience does not know (or care) if you forgot to insert a slide or if the color is not as perfect as it was on your PC. Why dwell on the small imperfections? Sure, if there is a mistake or change in the data, that can not be over looked. But when small technical errors occur, remember the "show must go on."

Next time you see a professional performance of some kind, ask yourself how you can incorporate some of their technique and skill in your next presentation. To some degree, every presentation is a performance. In the mean time, try to see a live performance of Alegria if you can.