From design to meaning: a whole new way of presenting?

Pink My favorite book of the summer is Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind.  A simple book in many ways, and a most profound and well-researched one as well. At 267 pages (in paperback), it's a quick read. In fact, I read it twice, the second time underlining, highlighting, and taking notes as I went along. "The future belongs to a different kind of person," Pink says. "Designers, inventors, teachers, storytellers — creative and empathetic right-brain thinkers whose abilities mark the fault line between who gets ahead and who doesn't." Pink claims we're living in a different era, a different age. An age in which those who "Think different" may be valued even more than ever.

"...an age animated by a different form of thinking and a new approach to life — one that prizes aptitudes that I call 'high concept' and 'high touch.' High concept involves the capacity to detect patterns and opportunities, to create artistic and emotional beauty, to craft a satisfying narrative....High touch involves the ability to empathize with others, to understand the subtleties of human interaction..."

                                              — Dan Pink, A Whole New Mind

Brain The whole left-brain (L-directed thinking) and right-brain (R-directed thinking) exploration put forth logically enough in the first part of the book is highlighter-worthy, even if it's nothing really new for many of us who keep up on this stuff (my mother survived  a very serious stroke on the left side of her brain ten years ago; I have read a good deal and learned a lot about this subject since then). What I found particularly valuable in Dan Pink's book were the "six senses" or the "six R-directed aptitudes" which Pink says are necessary for successful professionals to posses in the more interdependent world we live in, a world of increased automation and out-sourcing. You can quibble over parts of his book if you like, but I think there is no denying that these six aptitudes are indeed more important now than they ever have been. Mastering them is not sufficient, of course, but leveraging these aptitudes may very well be necessary for professional success and personal fulfillment in today's world.

Now, Pink is not saying that logic and analysis, so important in "the information age," are not important in "the conceptual age" of today. Indeed, logical thinking is as important as it ever has been. "R-directed reasoning" alone is not going to keep the space shuttle up or cure disease, etc. Logical reasoning is a necessary condition. However, it's increasingly clear that logic alone is not a sufficient condition for success for individuals and for organizations. "Right-brain reasoning," then, is every bit as important now  — in some cases more important — than so-called "left-brain thinking." (The whole right-brain/left-brain thing, of course, is a metaphor based on real differences between the two hemispheres; a healthy person uses both hemispheres for even simple tasks).

A whole new way of of presenting?
The six fundamental aptitudes outlined by Pink can be applied to many aspects of our personal and professional lives. Below, I list the six key abilities as they relate to the art of presentation. The six aptitudes are: Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play, and Meaning. My discussion is with presentations (enhanced by multimedia) in mind, but you could take the six aptitudes and apply them to the art of game design, programming, product design, project management, health care, teaching, retail, PR, and so on. (I purchased the Japanese translation of A Whole New Mind yesterday. The Japanese translation of the six aptitudes (left) are as they appear in the book, though I added the English word below the Japanese.)

Design_1 (1) Design. To many business people, design is something you spread on the surface, it's like icing on a cake. It's nice, but not mission-critical. But this is not design to me, this is more akin to "decoration." Decoration, for better or worse, is noticeable, for example — sometimes enjoyable, sometimes irritating — but it is unmistakably *there.* However, sometimes the best designs are so well done that "the design" of it is never even noticed consciously by the observer/user, such as the design of a book or signage in an airport (i.e., we take conscious note of the messages which the design helped make utterly clear, but not the color palette, typography, concept, etc.). One thing is for sure, design is not something that's merely on the surface, superficial and lacking depth. Rather it is something which goes "soul deep."


"It is easy to dismiss design — to relegate it to mere ornament, the prettifying of places and objects to disguise their banality," Says Pink. "But that is a serious misunderstanding of what design is and why it matters." Pink is absolutely right. Design is fundamentally a whole-minded aptitude, or as he says, "utility enhanced by significance."

Design starts at the beginning not at the end; it
's not an afterthought. If you use slideware in your presentation, the design of those visuals begins in the preparation stage before you have even turned on your computer (if you're like me), let alone fired up the ol' slideware application. It's during the preparation stage that you slow down and "stop your busy mind" so that you may consider your topic and your objectives, your key messages, and your audience. Only then will you begin to sketch out ideas — on paper or just in your head — that will soon find themselves in some digital visual form later. Too much "PowerPoint design," as you know very well, is nothing more than a collection of recycled bullets, corporate templates, clip art, and seemingly random charts and graphs which are often too detailed or cluttered to make effective on-screen visuals and too vague to stand alone as quality documentation.

Story_3 (2) Story.
Facts, information, data. Most of it is available on-line or can be sent to people in an email, a PDF attachment, or a hard copy through snail mail. Data and "the facts" have never been more widely available. In this context, says Pink, "What begins to matter more [than mere data] is the ability to place these facts in context and to deliver them with emotional impact." Cognitive scientist Mark Turner calls storytelling "Narrative imagining," something that is a key instrument of thought. We are wired to tell and to receive stories. "Most of our experiences, our knowledge and our thinking is organized as stories," Turner says.

Story_1 "Story" is not just about storytelling but about listening to stories and being a part of stories. We were all born storytellers (and story listeners). As kids we looked forward to "show and tell" and we gathered with our friends at recess and at lunchtime and told stories about real things and real events that mattered, at least they mattered to us. But somewhere along the line, "Story" became synonymous with "fiction" or even "lie." "Oh, he's just telling you a big fat story," they'd say. So "Story" and storytelling have been marginalized in business and academia as something serious people do not engage in. But gathering from what college students tell me, the best and most effective professors, for example, are the ones who tell true stories. My students tell me that the best professors (from their point of view) don't just go through the material in a book but put their own personality, character, and experience into the material in the form of a narrative which is illuminating, engaging, and memorable. My hardest course in graduate school was an advanced research methods class. Sounds dry — and the textbook was dry — yet the professor told stories, gave example after example, and engaged the class in conversations which covered a great amount of important material.

In the end, we can all benefit from increasing our appreciation for Story and becoming both better listeners and storytellers. Story can be used for good: for teaching, for sharing, for illuminating, and of course, for honest persuasion.

Symph (3) Symphony. Focus, specialization, and analysis have been important in the "information age," but in the "conceptual age" synthesis and the ability to take seemingly unrelated pieces and form and articulate the big picture before us is crucial, even a differentiator. Pink calls this aptitude Symphony:

"Symphony...is the ability to put together the pieces. It is the capacity to synthesize rather than to analyze; to see relationships between seemingly unrelated fields; to detect broad patterns rather than to deliver specific answers; and to invent something new by combining elements nobody else thought to pair."

                                         — Dan Pink, A Whole New Mind

The best presenters can illuminate the relationships that we may not have seen before. They can "see the relationships between relationships." Symphony requires that we become better at seeing, truly seeing in a new way. "The most creative among us see relationships the rest of us never notice," Pink says. Anyone can delivery chunks of information and repeat findings represented visually in bullet points on a screen, what's needed are those who can recognize the patterns, who are skilled at seeing nuance and the simplicity that may exist in a complex problem. Symphony in the world of presentation does not mean dumbing down information into soundbites and talking points so popular in the mass media, for example. To me, Symphony is about utilizing our whole mind — logic, analysis, synthesis, intuition — to make sense of our world (i.e., our topic), finding the big picture and determining what is important and what is not before the day of our talk. It's also about deciding what matters and letting go of the rest. Audiences are full of busy, stressed out professionals with less and less time on their hands. A symphonic approach to our material and our ability to bring it all together for our audience will be greatly appreciated.

Empathy (4) Empathy. Empathy is emotional. It's about putting yourself in the position of others. It involves an understanding of the importance of the nonverbal cues of others and being aware of your own. Good designers, for example, have the ability to put themselves in the position of the user, the customer, or the audience member. This is a talent, perhaps, more than it's a skill that can be taught, but everyone can get better at this. Everyone surely knows of a brilliant engineer or programmer, for example, who seems incapable of understanding how anyone could possibly be confused by his (or her) explanation of the data — in fact he's quite annoyed by the suggestion that anyone could "be so thick" as to not understand what is so "obvious" to him.

We can certainly see how empathy helps a presenter in the course of a live talk. Empathy allows a presenter, even without thinking about it, to notice when the audience is "getting it" and when they are not. The empathetic presenter can make adjustments based on his reading of this particular audience. You may have had the experience of "changing gears" during your talk with great success. You may have also suffered along with others in the audience when a presenter seemed not to empathize with his audience at all, even droning on past his allotted time, oblivious to the suffering he was causing. The presenter with empathy — who empathizes with his audience — will never go over time, and in fact may finish a bit before his time is up.

Play (5) Play. In the conceptual age, says Pink, work is not just about seriousness but about play as well. Pink quotes University of Pennsylvania professor, Brain Sutton-Smith who says, "The opposite of play isn't work. It's depression. To play is to act out and be willful, exultant and committed as if one is assured of one's prospects." Each presentation situation is different, but in many (most?) public speaking situations playfulness and humor can go along way. I do not mean "jokiness" or clown-like informality. But many of the best business presentations or seminars that I've attended over the years have had elements of humor. As Pink points out, "Laughter is a form of nonverbal communication that conveys empathy and that is even more contagious than the yawn..."

Surf_play Indian physician Madan Kataria points out in Pink's book that many people think that serious people are the best suited for business, that serious people are more responsible. "[But] that's not true," says Kataria. "That's yesterday's news. Laughing people are more creative people. They are more productive people." Somewhere along the line we were sold the idea that a real business presentation must necessarily be dull, devoid of humor and something to be endured not enjoyed. And if you use slides — and God help you if you don't — the more complex, detailed, and ugly the better. After all this is serious business, not a day at the beach. This approach is still alive and well today, but I hope in future that this too will become "yesterday's news." It's possible. Remember, for example, that twenty years ago or so business — especially big business — rejected the idea of a graphical user interface for "serious computing" because business should be "difficult" and "serious," ideas that seemed incongruent with a mouse (how cute!) icons, pictures, and color, etc. Today, of course, almost every serious business person users a computer with a GUI.

Meaning (6) Meaning. I don't want to put too fine a point on this, but making a presentation is an opportunity to make a small difference in the world (or your community, or your company, or school, church, etc.). A presentation gone badly can have devastating impact on your spirit and on your career. But a presentation which goes insanely well can be extremely fulfilling for both you and the audience, and it might even help your career. Some say that we "are born for meaning" and live for self-expression and an opportunity to share that which we feel is important. If you are lucky, you're in a job that you feel passionate about. If so, then it's with excitement that you look forward to the possibility of sharing your expertise — your story — with others. Few things can be more rewarding than connecting with someone, with teaching something new, or sharing that which you feel is very important with others.

Frankly, the bar is often rather low. Audiences are so used to death-by-PowerPoint that they've seemingly learned to see it as "normal" even if not ideal. However, if you are different, if you exceed expectation and show them that you've thought about them, done your homework and know your material, and demonstrated through your actions how much you appreciate being there and that you are there for them, chances are you'll make an impact and a difference, even if it's just in the smallest of ways. There can be great meaning in even these small connections. Take the time before the presentation to meet people, linger afterwards to speak with as many as you can. This is where the relationships are really formed and where a difference can be made.

Many people find a great deal of meaning by volunteering their time and "giving it away." Think about volunteering to present for free to non-profit groups, schools, etc. When it comes to "meaning" these have been some of the most rewarding speaking opportunities. It's an opportunity for you to share your knowledge and wisdom, broaden your own network, and it serves as good practice for you. What could be better?

    Aptitudes
The slide builds in six stages beginning with Design. The vector images are from iStockphoto with some extra editing on my part.The content is adapted from pages 65-66, "Introducing the six senses."

Design. Story. Symphony. Empathy. Play. Meaning. These are not the last word on the aptitudes needed by the modern presenter, but mastering these along with other important aptitudes such as strong analytical skills will take you far as a communicator in the "conceptual age."

Links
Daniel Pink's blog
Revenge of the right Brain by Dan Pink (Wired)
Dan Pink interview with TomPeters.com
Changing world is leaving the SAT behind by Dan Pink (USA Today)

Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working for Yourself (2002) by Dan Pink.
The World is Flat. A good companion book to A Whole New Mind.
Love is the Killer App. I kept thinking of this great little book while reading A whole New Mind. Good advice for the "Conceptual Age" man or woman.


Is it broken?

Seth_godin_4 Seth Godin made a nice little presentation at GEL 2006. I like it. I think you will too. In case you are wondering, the name of the font Seth used in his slides is called "Shatterboxx." This font is perfect for his topic (Get it? Shatterboxx? Broken?). You'd never use this for text in a document, but for Seth's presentation it worked well. The font is for very large type, display type. His visuals were just that, visual.

Listen near the end to what Seth says about Edward Tufte's favorite statistical graphic, Napoleon's March. Is it broken?

Some Tuf(te) Love
And speaking of Edward Tufte, what a treat it is to be able to hear an NPR interview about Tufte's new book. (The name of the book is Beautiful Evidence.) There is a short video clip of Tufte presenting at Cal Tech available there as well.

Tufte_2 I think Tufte is brilliant and I love his books. They are important books and I've learned a ton from them over the years. It's too bad, though, that he is known by many as the "guru who hates PowerPoint," because frankly, the Cognitive Style of PowerPoint essay does not meet his own high standards. Famous designer Don Norman has talked about Tufte on PowerPoint. "Pure nonsense," says Norman.  "...accompanied by poor understanding of speech making and of the difference between the requirements for a speech-giver, the speech-listener (the audience), and for the reader of a printed document."
Engineer Jean-luc Doumont also takes issue with Tufte on PowerPoint — Doumont published an essay called The cognitive style of PowerPoint: slides are not all evil.(APPLIED THEORY). You can download the essay from Amazon. Among other things, Doumont — an engineer with a Ph.D in Physics from Stanford — says that slides should be visual with clear messages and with "...as little text as possible."

Be Still, I am a huge fan of Tufte's work. And I think that there is indeed something to the idea that PowerPoint — judging from what we have seen over the last several years — does seem to take people down the wrong road. But there are also many examples of people making wonderful presentation visuals with PowerPoint. Are these just the 10% of presenters who Tufte says are able to rise above the cognitive style of the PPT software? He implies that about 80-90% of presentations given with the aid of PowerPoint are pretty awful. On this we can certainly agree. The causes and the solutions, however, are a very different matter. Nonetheless, if you want good advice about the visual display of data for documents — books, handouts, technical papers, etc. — Tufte is the grand master.

Is good PowerPoint design an oxymoron?
Stick2Good design is possible with PowerPoint, so long as one knows a little something about design and how to best display information appropriate for their own unique situation. Basically, I think, as Tufte thinks, that PowerPoint is really no more than a tool for displaying slides. The only reason I use Keynote, for example, is because it does less, not more (though it does it more elegantly, smoothly, etc.). In the end it's not about slideware or about tools at all. In fact, your average student or business person would be better off buying some basic design books (like this one) rather than a how-to-use-PowerPoint book. Hell, taking Betty Edwards' 5-day drawing seminar will make people better "presentation designers" in the long run than a book on PowerPoint. What a wonderful year it would be if you could attend an Edward Tufte seminar and a Betty Edwards seminar in the same year. Now *that* would be an education. I'd love to hear from folks who have attended either of these seminars.

If I were CEO of a large Silicon Valley company, I'd send my people to Tufte and Edwards, (Toastmasters, Bert Decker, etc.) and send my big presentation projects to Duarte Design. Tools matter, but better design education matters more. When the electricity goes off, who will remain the most effective communicators? As Alan Kay says, "Most ideas you can do pretty darn well with a stick in the sand."


Links
In defense of PowerPoint by Don Norman

Clear visuals without lots of text (PZ)
The cognitive style of PowerPoint: slides are not all evil.(APPLIED THEORY).
Review of Beautiful Evidence (Penmachine.com)
Betty Edwards' popular book
The Elements of Graphic Design


Steve Jobs and the summer keynote

Jobs_wwdc As you know, Steve Jobs gave his WWDC '06 keynote presentation Monday at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. Many people have written about it, so I won't go in to any depth here as I have talked about Steve's authentic approach many, many, many times before. He's the best. Interestingly, many in the media were disappointed in the keynote, both the content and the delivery of the presentation. I find this odd, but I guess I should not be surprised. Sure, the WWDC '06 keynote may have paled a bit when compared to other Jobs keynotes, but that's just because they (and he) are always so friggin' good. All 'n all, I'd say it was still another great example of how to run short demos and present material to a very large room. Compared to the majority of corporate keynote addresses, which are dreadful, Jobs and his staff did a good job Monday. Here's the most intelligent piece on Jobs' keynote Monday by Macworld's Chris Breen. (Also interesting comments by Les Posen).

  Jobs_execs_1

Above, Jobs introduces his assistants in the order of their appearance from left to right.

Back to the future
Jobs_97 Instead of talking about this summer's keynote, I'd like to point you to a Steve Jobs Macworld keynote you probably have never seen, though you may have heard about it (you know, the one where a certain blond showed up via satellite, and I'm not talking about Madonna -- wait, is she still blond?). In the summer of 1997, Steve Jobs was back in the saddle again at the "beleaguered" Apple, though not yet as CEO. In fact, no CEO or Chair had been named yet since Gil Amelio was asked to step down (guess who would eventually take these titles). At the time of Macworld Boston in 1997, Apple's future was not at all certain. The press thought they were dead, and even Mac loyalist who knew the technology and what the brand meant were beginning to worry. Perhaps this Wired magazine cover sums it up best. In this context, then, Steve Jobs delivered a 35-minute Macworld keynote address. No sexy product launches, but one of the best talks by Steve Jobs at a Macworld ever.

I remember listening to this live on an old 6100 at 2:00am in my Osaka apartment. I was captivated by Jobs' words; there was certainly no video then. I was an evangelist and I wanted to believe. (I had no idea I would be leaving Japan to work in Cupertino just a few years later.) This presentation is historic, for more reasons than one, as you will see. But I like it most because it's short, logical and reasonable (satisfying my left brain), and yet filled with hope, empathy, and optimism (satisfying my whole mind). The use of a well-made video in the middle of the keynote was well placed and added strength and credibility to his message. I wish other presenters would make better use of strategically placed relevant videos within their presentations.


  Jobs_assets_97
Above: Jobs reviews what matters most: The Mac and the Apple brand.

Colin Crawford (see his blog), the President of Mac Publishing at the time, gave a short overview of where the Mac stood at that time and did his best to introduce Steve Jobs. I say "did his best" because if there was ever a man who needed no introduction at a Macworld, it is Steve Jobs. Today, I like the fact that Jobs starts his presentations with a simple "good morning," rather than the usual "Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome...." over the PA and the "It's an honor to be here..." from the presenter. I am not suggesting there is anything wrong with this, but I like the simple and humble beginnings of the Jobs keynote; he just walks on stage (often to thunderous applause) and gets started. Contrast this to the more unzen-like introductions of some other famous CEOs.

  Jobs_walking

The crowd reacts instantly with a knowing laugh. Said Jobs, "...we've been walking all over it!"

Mt favorite part of the 1997 keynote is at the end. Go to the 36:00 min mark to hear Jobs conclude his talk. The essence of what he says here will play out over the next year in the award-winning Think Different campaign. (Read Behind "Think Different" — excellent stuff for those interested in branding or marcom). Here's an excerpt from Jobs' closing comments:

"...You still have to think differently to buy an Apple computer. The people who do buy them do think differently...they are the creative spirits of this world. They're the people who are not just out to get a job done, they are out to change the world...A lot of times people think they're crazy. But in that craziness, we see genius. And those are the people we're making tools for."
                                           — Steve Jobs, Macworld 1997

If you think this sounds like hubris or just plain old marketing crappola, then you don't really understand Apple and its loyal base. Perhaps Jobs planned these words out, but he was in no way reading them or repeating a memorized script, at least it did not appear that way (which is the point). It came across as coming straight from his gut, from his heart. He spoke on that stage in Boston at a time when Apple was at one of its lowest points. And yet Jobs' presentation gave the loyal base exactly what they needed then: a hard dose of reality coupled with a plan, and an injection of inspiration and confidence that said the loyal users' commitment to "the cause" was not in vain. Nine years later, I'd say Apple has done even better than anyone had dreamed or predicted, except, of course, for Jobs and the Mac faithful. They knew it all along (right?).

Related links (videos)
Old documentary on Steve Jobs, Next, and entrepreneurism
Part II of documentary
Steve Jobs at the podium introducing "1984" commercial (1983)
Flash back to 1981
Macworld 1997 keynote by Steve Jobs (in case you missed it).


Podiums, drum kits, and removing barriers to communication

I'm not a fan of the podium. Yes, it has its place, and sometimes its use is unavoidable. But in almost every speaking situation, standing behind a podium is like standing behind a wall.

Genesis81 While we were flying back on United Airlines from Honolulu to Osaka a few weeks ago, I caught an interview with Phil Collins on EM's Performance Theater on one of the in-flight audio channels. Phil was discussing his career and life in the musical trenches in between songs performed in front of a small, intimate audience. You may know Phil Collins as a singer, of course, but he originally started out playing the drums. As his musical career progressed he eventually would sing from behind the drums, and in time he would have to come out from behind the drums completely and take center stage. Phil is a fantastic drummer, so the interviewer asked Phil about the idea of singing lead vocal and playing drums at the same time:

"Most songs are vocally driven. Yes, it is physically possible to sing from behind the drums... But they [audience] want to see you. When you're behind a drum kit, it is very difficult to connect to people. That is why I am out in front."    

                                                      
— Phil Collins

Collins said that while with Genesis early on, singing from behind the drums was his "security blanket." Sitting behind the drums is indeed a pretty secure place to be. Karen Carpenter (remember The Carpenters?) was very hesitant to come out from behind the drums back in the '70s. It's scary to stand front and center, naked.

Presenting from a podium is like singing lead vocal behind the drums
Physically, it's possible to sing lead from behind the drums and you can sound just as great, but what of the connection with the audience? Likewise, if you present from behind a podium, you may, more or less, sound the same and the media may look the same, but it's not ideal. Far from it. The connection is lost. Imagine if your favorite singer performed from behind a podium. Ridiculous, of course. Imagine, too, if Steve Jobs gave keynotes with the same slides and same video clips, same jeans and black turtleneck, but did all the talking from behind a podium/lectern. He may sound the same. The visuals may look the same. But the connection is not there. A connection with the audience is not a sufficient condition, but in the "Presentation Zen" approach, it is a necessary one. A podium is fine for a fifteen-minute speech at a university graduation ceremony, but it's a barrier in almost every other setting. (Of course, there are exceptions.)

  Podium_steve
What if Steve did his world-famous keynotes behind the podium? Would they be just as good? (Podium is a vector image from iStockphoto.com, $1.00 US)

  Steve_podium2

If we make the podium a little more Apple-like, does it fit the Steve Jobs keynote style now?

Podiums, however, can make a speaker look authoritative and in command. This is why politicians love speaking from behind a podium in most cases. If you are aiming to look "large and in charge" then perhaps a podium is appropriate for you. But for most of us — conference presenters, lecturers, sales reps, etc. — the last place we want to be is behind a wall.

Also, podiums are often placed to the side and back from the edge of the stage. In this case, then, you are not only behind a barrier, your slides (if you use any) are the main focus, your physical presence is now very much playing second fiddle. It's possible for both you and the screen to be front and center, which is where people are naturally going to focus their attention. Next time you have a choice and decide to speak from behind the podium, ask yourself if you are doing so for your benefit (security blanket, etc.) or because it is indeed the most appropriate way to deliver your particular message to the particular audience in front of you.

Recently I attended a Toastmasters' speech contest in Japan (I was the keynoter the day before). Toastmasters is rather traditional, you may be thinking. However, I found it very interesting that not one of the contestants spoke from the podium, not a single person. All speakers placed themselves front and center (inches from the edge of the stage) and gave excellent talks, many of them moving slowly to different sides of the stage as they spoke, connecting with the whole audience.

Removing the podium: Going from good to great?
Crichton_podium If you have the time, take a look at this presentation by Michael Crichton entitled "Fear, Complexity, & Environmental Management in the 21st Century." I am biased because I am keenly interested in the content of his talk, so I enjoyed the talk very much in spite of the imperfections. However, I am not pointing out this presentation because
Michael Crichton makes good use of visuals (he does a better-than-most job of it) or because it is a superbly delivered talk; I think the delivery is merely adequate under the circumstances. I point to this presentation because it's a good example of a very good presentation that could have been insanely great if the speaker moved away from the podium and stood in front. Even sitting on a stool up front would be preferable. Michael Crichton instead sat at the podium. Now, Michael Crichton can get away with it because he is, well...Michael Crichton. The audience seemed very pleased indeed and the content was provocative and a bit (some would say a lot) controversial. However, for the rest of us without the fame and celebrity of Michael Crichton, burying ourselves behind a podium and reading notes, is usually not going to fly with our audience, even if the content is more or less solid. (Note: Michael Crichton is an extremely tall man, he may indeed have a physical need for sitting for such a long presentation. Again, my point is not to critique Michael Crichton's talk here so much as to give you a very visual example of "podium-as-a-barrier." Thanks to Stephanie Allen for the tip.)

And the walls came tumbling down
Generally the podium, if I may put it in the vernacular, "is so last millennium." Yet, there are times when the use of a podium is perfectly acceptable, such as when you are one of many speakers taking their turn at the center stage at a formal ceremony. But in cases where the people have walked in that room specifically to hear you, to learn from you, to be convinced or inspired by you, then you've got to do whatever you can to remove all walls —literally and figuratively — between you and the audience. It's scary. It takes practice. But it's worth it.

Below are some visuals I'm preparing for a talk which touches on similar themes. As usual, all photos are from iStockphoto (the image of the man climbing the podium is a composite of three photos).

  Wallsover

Less walls, more connections. Nature provides us with plenty of walls...we need not build more.

  Seeyou

Let people see you. All of you. Let them see you naked.

  Good_badwall

Walls are for climbing, not for speaking behind.

Links
Top five singing drummers
Present naked


Ted Stevens and the art of the ramble

Donotspeak We can't be an expert on everything. All of us are supremely ignorant about some things. One thing that makes an individual wise, though, is the knowledge that we all know actually very little in the whole scheme of things. Of course, advertising our own ignorance is still something we'd like to avoid doing, especially when speaking publicly. Yet still worse than not knowing is thinking (or posing) that we know or understand something but demonstrate, through our explanation or presentation, that we do not. Is it not unforgivable to pretend to know what we are talking about when we do not? Is it not professional suicide to try to fake it, digging a hole so deep and filling it with so much redundant, contradictory nonsense that we lose all credibility to speak on the issue again?

DonottalkmuchWe always talk about how to become a better speaker, but the first step to becoming a better speaker is becoming a better listener. And to do that requires us to slow down and to remain silent so that we may hear. Remaining silent is quite hard for many of us, yet we learn very little while speaking; we learn when we listen. By listening more and speaking less we can be better performers when it is our chance to openly articulate our message.

Do not speak unless it improves on silence
No matter how good of a speaker we may think we are, there are times — many times in fact — when it's wise to keep quiet. Perhaps you've heard this line before:

"Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt."

Many people have uttered this phrase, Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, Albert Einstein, ...my high school football coach. It's an ideal that is good for us to remember, verbose Americans in particular. Lao Tsu said, "He who knows does not speak. He who speaks, does not know." I want to thank US senator, Ted Stevens, for reminding me of this passage, one that I first read as a Philosophy student so many years ago. We all appreciate the well-spoken man or woman, yet we also remain politely skeptical of those who appear too smooth, too slick, or who, on the other hand, ramble on and on (and on...) with a kind of faux confidence. In today's insanely busy world, the "rambling man" is the most intolerable of all.

Hewhoknows

Worst attempt ever at extemporaneity?
Tedstevens US Senator, Ted Stevens (Alaska), has generated a lot of buzz this month due to his "interesting" remarks in opposition to net neutrality made at a committee meeting at the end of last month. The senator was speaking in opposition to the amendment that would have inserted strong network neutrality mandates into a bill. Many people feel that Stevens' "rant" indicates that the man has formed a very strong opinion about a topic he seems to know very little about. Quite worrisome for most people when you consider the senior position of the senator. The rambling 11-minute "speech" looks like it will be part of the senator's legacy. You can now get t-shirts with his "tubes" quote and the "series of tubes" riff has now become a kind of meme. Again, sometimes our parents really did have good advice for us: "Remain silent and be thought a fool, or speak up and remove all doubt."

Hear Ted speak

DailyshowListen to the 11-minute speech by Ted Stevens. After you listen, you may want to listen again if you are still confused about the net neutrality issue. But if you really want to get to the essence of the matter — the heart of the net neutrality debate — then you really need to ask a ninja. Stevens needed 11 minutes, a ninja can sum up the issue in far less time (and then disappear into the night).

Listen here on Publicknowledge.com to Ted Stevens' "lecture." You can download the mp3 file here as well.

Listen to the same 11-minute talk unedited but with laidback music and soothing visuals added (kind of eases the pain if you know what I mean).
Hear the entire talk in context along with rebuttal the Committee website
Hear John Stewart breakdown the senator's talk.
John Hodgman (comedian), appearing as an expert with Jon Stewart also summaries the issue pretty well.
Still confused? Then let a ninja cut right to the heart of the matter in a little over a minute.
DJ Ted Stevens Techno Remix: "A Series of Tubes"
Original Ted's Techno Tubes (audio only)
Another remix, this time with voices from Looney Tunes (Bugs, Elmer, etc.)
Here's a short excerpt (just over two minutes) from the middle of talk with photo.
Proof that this "tubes" thing has hit a nerve with "the kids." (Watch this at your own risk; I do not recommend viewing while eating or drinking...or at any other time).
Jon Stewart gives you a little background on the senator in a bit called "Who the F**k is Ted Stevens."

It's not easy
Speaking extemporaneously is hard, much harder than delivering a well thought out, rehearsed presentation with slideware or a speech at the podium. But the ability to give solid impromptu talks or engage thoughtfully in debate is a skill that will carry you far in this world. We would hope law-makers too would be skilled at this. Stevens has passion and energy, but as he demonstrated so well for us, you've got to really know what you're talking about as well. And if we truly do not know the issue well enough to debate it without making ourselves look foolish, it is a far better thing to remain silent. In Japan for example, it is usually the younger staff who deliver presentations at an important meeting with clients. Middle managers (the 40-somethings) will do most of the talking. The older, senior staff sit mostly in silence. The senior staff have the power, however, and they make the final decisions. But they have learned long ago not to speak unless doing so improves on their silence.

Related links
"A Series of Tubes" on Wikipedia
Boing Boing on Ted's tubes
New York Times piece on the Stevens buzz
This Week in Tech discusses a bit on this issue
Get your Ted Stevens Net Neutrality t-shirts
John Dvorak - PC Magazine
Your own personal internet (Wired)
Jello Biafra breaks it down
Save the Internet dot com

Thanks to my buddy, Nathan Bryan, who turned me on to Ask A Ninja (weird stuff). Nathan sits perched ninja-like high above Kobe at the tope of Mount Rokko. Checkout his Rokko House site and say hello.


If your idea is worth spreading, then presentation matters

Stage Hats off to TED (Technology, Education, & Design) for making videos from their February 2006 sold-out event in Monterey available — for free — in various formats for "the rest of us." If you don't have time to watch online, download these videos on to your iPod (etc.) and watch later. Remember that none of the  presentations are perfect here. I like to point to "real people" with interesting, relevant content doing their best at delivering their message in front of an audience. Some are more polished than others. But there's something in there to learn from all of them.

All presenters were limited to about 18 minutes or less. That may have caused speakers to rush a bit, but it also forced speakers to plan, to articulate, and to get their story down tight. The time limit surely contributed to each speaker's sense of urgency. Usually, that is a very good sense to have on stage. You could feel it, and that was not a bad thing at all.

Tedtalks You may think that a time limitation is too constraining, too confining, anathema to creativity. But actually absolute freedom of time — "take all the time you need" — can be a great bondage. Working within limitations, including time limitations, can be liberating in a sense. It narrows your options, pushes you to focus...and leads to more creative approaches. Any professional in their field can ramble on for an hour or two. But 20 minutes to tell your story, to give it your best shot? That takes creativity.

If you're going to have ideas worth talking about — and your ideas are, right? — then you've got to be able to stand, deliver and make your case. All six videos below are excellent; I list the videos in order of the ones I enjoyed most.

Sir Ken Robinson
This is my favorite. Great delivery, pace, and a natural, authentic use of humor. Sir Ken Robinsons seems to be saying that it is not so much that we need to learn how to be creative, rather we need to remember how to be creative.



Some good lines from Robinson's talk:

"Professors look at their bodies as a form of transport for their heads."

"We are educating people out of their creative capacities."

"We don't grow in to creativity, we grow out of it...we get educated out of it."

                             
                                                                   — Sir Ken Robinson

Majora Carter
Ms. Carter
did a fantastic job. Sure, she would have been even better, at least from a "professional speaker" point of view, if she had not read from a script. She was at her best in those moments when she did not read. But though she used a script, it was nonetheless coming straight from the heart. That was obvious. She let it hang out there. She wore her heart on her sleeve. She connected. Majora delivered the goods. Powerful stuff. She got a huge standing ovation...she deserved it. Oh, and her visuals seem to be quite good as well.


Hans Rosling
Hans Rosling, an expert in public health from Sweden, does an amazing job in this presentation bringing the data to life. If you want to know how he did all those graphics, go to gapminder.org. It's all there. Hans is saying the problem is not the data, the data is there. But it's not accessible to most people for three reasons: (1) For researchers and journalists, teachers, etc. it is too expensive. (2) For the media it is too difficult to access. (3) For the public, students, and policy makers, it is presented in a boring way. His solution is to make the data free, let it evoke and provoke an "aha" experience," or a "wow!" experience for the public. I loved the way he got involved with the data, virtually throwing himself into the screen. He got his point across, no question about it.(More download options here.)



David Pogue
David is a smart, funny guy. A few years ago I called David up and asked if he would keynote one of the Apple user group events New York. It was a non-paying gig. He very graciously agreed; his performance was a smash as usual. A very charismatic, engaging character who is popular with the "groupies" (user groups). Much of what David is talking about are the very same things we've been talking about here. As David says: simplicity is hard, but it's worth it. Make it great. Keep it simple.


 
Tony Robbins
"If we can get the right emotion, we can get our self to do anything." Robbins believes that emotion is the force of life. I believe he's right about that, though this is hardly a revelation for most people. Emotion is clearly also part of his presentation style, and that is a good thing. His slides, however, were surprisingly something from circa 1994, ugly, wordy PowerPoint. Very odd. He was speaking at such a clip, for the audience in the room, perhaps the slides were better than nothing. But honestly, he was the visual for this short talk. Not sure the slides helped much.

I've never been totally sold on Tony Robbins' content by any means, but if his plethora of books, CDs, etc. work for you, that's great. Tony Robbins does not like to be referred to as a "motivational speaker" but he does indeed have a powerful motivational affect on people, on a crowd. The man can certainly work a room. Is it me, or did you feel Tony was pushing just a bit too much? And I am personally not offended by swearing and I am all for informality, but referring to Al Gore as "that Son-of-a-bitch"? Curious. Maybe I've been in Japan too long...



Al Gore

Mr. Gore was engaging as usual in his role as "the new Al Gore." This presentation is a bit different from the "Inconvenient Truth" talks. Funny, self-deprecating stories at the beginning, followed by a more serious look at steps individuals can take to help in the "climate crisis." He, or someone other than his design team, probably made his text slides, though at least the text was big. There's no way a professional chose those transitions. Not too subtle. I like Al Gore and his presentation style, but It would be even better if he did not turn his back to the audience or look up at the screen so much. A monitor or PowerBook at the front of the stage should make that unnecessary.


Links
About TED 
TED blog recommends Presentation Zen

More Gore. More Guy.

A couple of videos for your weekend viewing pleasure. As I have noted many time before, Al Gore and Guy Kawasaki both get the presentation thing, so here are two new videos of these two presenters in action.

Gore making his pitch under fire
Al_gore_1Here is Al Gore making a pitch for An Inconvenient Truth. Gore positions himself near his visual and gestures to it appropriately. Nice form. And he has an unexpected way of dealing with an interruption and handling himself in the line of fire in this clip. So what do you do if you get a drunk, wise-cracking robot heckling your speech? Watch and see. (Bet you never thought "stiff Al Gore" could be so "animated.")

Guy's "inconvenient truth" for entrepreneurs and startups
Guy_kawasaki Here is Guy giving a little "inconvenient truth" of his own in a 39-minute "Art of the Start" presentation
recorded just a few weeks ago.(See the video also on Google's site;you can download it there as well). You may have seen him before and read the book, Art of the Start, but Guy is just "on" in this speech. Excellent stuff. Below I list a few of Guy's key "truths" as I jotted them down. Watch the video to get the whole story.

Guy's "inconvenient truths" for startups
My notes from Guy's May 13th "Art of the Start" speech.

(1) Be in it to make meaning not money (if you do the former, the money will come). Be in the game to change the world just a little bit by, for example, increasing the quality of life, righting a wrong, or preventing the end of something good.

(2) Forget mission statements. Formulate a 3-5 word mantra for employees. Mission statements, says, Guy are too long, not unique, and not memorable. Come to think of it, this describes most business and conference presentations too.

(3) Just get going. Get after it. Just do it. Think different. Don't be afraid to polarize people. If it's good, it will surely be hated by some. Jump to the next curve. The goal is not to make it 10-20% better, but 10-20 times better.

(4) Define a business model. Be specific. Keep it simple. Ask women (see the video). I suggest The One Page Business Plan by Jim Horan (forward by Tom Peters). You may actually write a 10-20 pager in the end (lord knows most are longer even than that), but the one-pager is an excellent exercise. And if you can not get your plan on one page, then you may be in trouble.

(5) Weave a MAT. Think in terms of milestones, write them down. Shoot for the milestones. Write down your assumptions. Make it your task to reach those milestones and test your assumptions.

(6) Niche thyself. Create something unique that only you can do. You must be unique and be of great value.

(7) 10/20/30 (10 slides/20 minutes/30pt font). Get your story down before you make the pitch. Guy says 10 slides if you are pitching to VC. Keep it to 20 minutes. If you have an hour meeting, why present for only 20 minutes? Guy quips:

"...you're using a Windows laptop, it's going to take you 40 minutes just to make it work with the projector!"
                                                      — Guy Kawasaki

Never ever read your slides. Say's Guy, "if you start reading your material because you do not know your material, the audience is very quickly going to figure out that you are a bozo."

(8) Hire infected people, people who *love* your product. Hire not just on education and experience, but look too for those who love what you do. Hire people better than yourself. "A" employees hire "A+" employees. "B" employees hire "C"...this leads ultimately to a "Bozo explosion."

(9) Lower the barriers to adoption.  Make it easy for people find you, use your products. Embrace your evangelist community.

(10) Seed the clouds. "Let a 1000 flowers bloom." You never know where great people are coming from or who your customers might be. Let people test drive; find the influencers.

(11) Don't let the bozos get you down. People will tell you that you can't do it. You will be tempted to believe them. But even the brightest have been wrong many times. Be careful not to let bozo advice keep you from implementing a dream.


Related (more or less) links
Dilbert Mission Statement Generator
More on Guy Kawasaki's presentation style (PZ)
Can't get enough futurama
Speaking of Al Gore and global warming, you may enjoy this post by Adam Richardson, "fixing global warming is an information design problem."


Presentation and the on-stage interview

Guy_interview Here's a little bonus as a follow-up to the last post. This is another example of Guy Kawasaki, but not of the "stand and deliver" variety of presentation. This example is very different. Here Guy is having a one-on-one interview on stage with eBay founder, Pierre Omidyar, in a sort of "fireside chat with a friend" (watch the video). This video was shot five years ago at a Garage event in London. While the camera work and audio are not the best, I think Guy does a great job. And while Guy can talk on stage for hours all by himself, in this setting he is hardly talking at all. Appropriately, it is the guest who does most of the talking. Wonderful content and an excellent job of interviewing. Frankly, it is better than most of the stuff you see on the cable news networks these days in the U.S. I'd like to see Guy have a show where he interviews a different entrepreneur every week — kind of a "Charlie Rose of Silicon Valley" kind of thing. If not CNN, how about a podcast?

In the interview you'll learn Omidyar's responses to a host of different items. For example:

On rules to build your business buy
How to staff the right way
Finding the source for growth/buzz
On having a core set of values
On acquiring the right venture capital partners
On making mistakes
On staying motivated after the IPO
On attracting and retaining talent
The downsides of going public
Managing growth
How to stay motivated during maturity
On giving back to the community

Thanks to Craig Montgomery at Digressions for creating a wonderful summary of the key points in Guy's interview. Go read the rest of the summary on Craig's site. Excellent. You could print this out and give to your management students after you've watched the video in class.


Biz gurus present

While poking around the web today I found previously unseen videos (unseen by me, that is) of three business presenters I've talked about here many times: Seth Godin, Guy Kawasaki, and Tom Peters. All three have extensive business experience in Silicon Valley (and a Stanford connection) and all three have great stories to tell and useful content to share. All three — no surprise — "get" the presentation thing and have worked to hone their style and improve their message and delivery over the years.

If you watch the clips from the links below you'll notice that there is nothing traditional or conventional in their approaches to public speaking. Their respective styles are not exactly the kind of public speaking you'd see at your local Toastmasters meeting (an organization I highly respect and recommend, by the way). Still, it works for them. All three use slides in their talks; Guy no more than ten, Tom more than one hundred, Seth somewhere in between. The number of slides doesn't matter. What matters is that the visuals have an important role, but a supportive role. A complementary role.

Seth_godin_2 (1) Seth Godin.
(See video clip.) Seth is a hot ticket, and an expensive one at that. I've read his books and get his story. But what a difference it is to see someone like Seth speak "his story" in a 40-minute presentation. It'd be much better live in person, but via video is not bad either. Books are great, but nothing beats seeing the person speak from his heart; the non-verbal communication adds so much. This 45-minute clip is of Seth speaking at Google earlier this year.

Guy_kawasaki_1 (2) Guy Kawasaki. (See video clip.) Guy here takes "Silicon Valley casual" to another level. I've seen Guy speak many times. He even did a few talks for me when I was at Apple. Audiences love him and appreciate his casual, frank style. In this short clip, Guy's so relaxed he's sitting on a desk. Depending where you are in the world, you may find his style "too casual." But for Guy, in his industry, it is appropriate.

Both Guy and Seth have a relaxed, casual, "California style." Seth is a little more "professional" in appearance in his clip, but you'll notice he's still wearing  jeans. The suit and tie may be appropriate in New York or London, but in Silicon Valley, wearing a suit and a tie is a good way to look like an outsider.

Tom_peters_2 (3) Tom Peters. (See three clips here on the Washington Speakers Bureau site; right column.) Tom is famous for his books and his rants. I saw Tom present once when I worked in the Valley and loved his talk. I remember that he was very passionate, mobile (talk about working the room!), and slightly ticked off. In fact, he used the term "pissed off" on more that one occasion. "Pissed off" as in "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore." Tom's style is not for everyone, but I like it, and I like him. His slides? I'll get to those later. (I know I keep promising, but I really will do a Tom Peters PPT Makeover in future.)

Let me know what you think of these presenters (the good, bad, etc.) and please feel free to point me to some outstanding presenters we can see on-line.


Links
Guy's demo video from his website.

Guy's "Art of the Start" presentation video at UCLA earlier this year.
Tom Peters on Presentations (Presentation Zen).
34-second pitch by Seth Godin on the Big Moo