If your idea is worth spreading, then presentation matters
June 30, 2006
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.
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
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, 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 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.
"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...
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.
• About TED
• TED blog recommends Presentation Zen
You may also be interested in recordings from the recent Webstock conference - www.webstock.org.nz
Featured speakers include Kathy Sierra and Doug Bowman
Posted by: Mike Brown | June 30, 2006 at 11:45 AM
Another fantastic resource--so inspirational.
Makes me want to go out and do something big so I get invited to play...
Posted by: Colleen Wainwright | July 01, 2006 at 12:39 AM
Garr: Thanks for letting us know about TED. You're right, I listened to Sir Ken Robinson. What a natural!
Posted by: Steve Nguyen | July 01, 2006 at 01:32 AM