No excuse for boring an audience: Advice on giving technical presentations

Conference_prezo_1Long before "death-by-powerpoint" or vertigo-by-prezi, there were bad presentations. Really bad presentations. So don't blame the software. The genesis of painfully dull or muddled presentations predates the computer. No one knows this better than scientists, researchers, and academics, who have long been required to attend numerous conferences each year, conferences which typically feature a keynote speaker and scores of shorter presentations by others in their field.

Over the years I've heard from many people with technical backgrounds about what is a good presentation and what is not. I've heard from many of you — doctors, researchers, scientists, programmers, etc. — and your comments have been very helpful. I've read several presentation books over the years specifically designed for scientists and others who need to give more technical presentations. Here are five:

The Craft of Scientific Presentations
Trees, Maps, and Theorems
Scientific Papers and Presentations, Second Edition
Communicating in Science : Writing a Scientific Paper and Speaking at Scientific Meetings
Designing Science Presentations: A Visual Guide to Figures, Papers, Slides, Posters, and More (New)

The book  Designing Science Presentations on the list above was published this year. The author Matt Carter is a young scientist who has teaching awards from his years at Stanford. Matt sent me a copy of his book a few weeks ago and said that he had been following my work for years. His book is very visual and very detailed. I recommend it for any one in a scientific field, although it is on the expensive side.

Scientist offers his presentation advice

Scientific_papersA few years ago, while on the train to the office, I found a wonderful essay in the appendix section of "Scientific Papers and Presentations." This editorial essay was written by Dr. Jay H. Lehr, an engineer and scientist with a Ph.D. in Ground Water Hydrology who has attended scientific presentations since the '50s. The title of the essay, which appeared in Ground Water in 1985, is "Let there Be Stoning!" This should be required reading for all academics and business people, especially those who are to present at a future conference. And perhaps proof that there is a God, this 28-year old essay is available for download (here) from the Western Washington University website. So spread the word.

As you read the editorial, please keep in mind that it was written by a professional with an engineering and scientific background, not by a "right-brain creative type"  who knows more about design and communication than about scientific investigation and processes for evaluating empirical knowledge. Here are just a few highlights from Dr. Lehr's editorial:

On dull conference speakers:

"They are not sophisticated, erudite scientists speaking above our intellectual capability; they are arrogant, thoughtless individuals who insult our very presence by the lack of concern for our desire to benefit from a meeting which we choose to attend."

On the importance of presenting well at technical conferences:

"Failure to spend the [presentation] time wisely and well, failure to educate, entertain, elucidate, enlighten, and most important of all, failure to maintain attention and interest should be punishable by stoning. There is no excuse for tedium."

On reading a conference paper:

"There is never an excuse to read a paper.... Better to lower the level of verbal excellence and raise the level of extemporaneous energy."

On using slides:

"They must be brightly lit and convey a simple thought. If you need a pointer to indicate an important concept or location on a slide, it is probably too crowded or difficult to comprehend."

On showing enthusiasm

            "Be enthusiastic! I studied astronomy under a dullard and thought it
             was a dead science. Carl Sagan taught me differently.
Please read the whole editorial when you get a chance. And if you have any success stories or details of great presentations you've seen at technical conferences, please feel free to share your wisdom
here. I'd love to hear your stories.

Related posts
How to run a useless conference by Seth Godin.
How to kick butt on a panel by Guy Kawasaki.
• "Slideuments" and the catch-22 for conference speakers, Presentation Zen.
How to lecture and keep 'em engaged, Presentation Zen.
Really Bad Powerpoint, Seth Godin

Benjamin Zander: Who are we being?

Australia-sydney-opera-house While in Sydney last week, we were honored to be invited by one of the Sydney Opera House staff for a private behind-the-scenes tour of the Sydney Opera House including climbing stairs and ladders high above the theatre and having dinner in the green room, etc. before being wowed by the opening performance of Don Giovanni. Though I'm pretty green when it comes to the opera, I was blown away by the talent of the performers on stage. No microphones are used by the performers on stage, of course, and yet their voices — accompanied by the live orchestra — filled the large theatre with a big, natural sound. Amazing projection and stage presence, a kind of presence that never seemed forced, yet it maintained its power. The night at the Sydney Opera reminded me how important the art of performance is. We often talk about presentations being conversations, which is what I believe they are. But they almost always have an element of performance to them as well. The next day our friend at the Sydney Opera House (see photos on their site) reminded me of this talk below by the presentation maestro and Boston Philharmonic Orchestra conductor Benjamin Zander (I've talked about Benjamin and Rosamund Zander before; they're in the Presentation Zen book as well). Whether you like classical music or not, you will enjoy this TED talk by Benjamin Zander.*

Awakening the possibilities in yourself and others
Zander starts off by brilliantly and simply illustrating, in his own unique way, the power of getting yourself and others to "do it on one buttock." If you watched the presentation you get the point, but ask yourself this: How can you turn your presentations into one-buttock presentations? How can you turn your organization (company,school, church, etc.) into a one-buttock organization? Doing it "on one buttock" is not only for musicians, it's for athletes, teachers, artists, business people, and on and on. Leaders of all types must understand the need for doing it on one buttock.

What is your role?
Benjamin Zander is a master at awakening the possibilities in others (the name of his book is The Art of  Possibility which he wrote with his partner Rosamund, the philosopher behind the core ideas). So, what's the role of a good leader then? Is it not to awaken the possibility of an organization (or a nation)? What is the role of a good teacher? Is it not to inspire and awaken the potential of each student? Is not the role of a good parent, among other things, to awaken the possibilities within each of their children?

How do you know if your connecting?
How do you know if you are "awaking the possibility" in each student, or each audience member, Zander asks. The answer?  "Look at their eyes. If their eyes are shining, you know you're doing it." Zander goes on to say "...if the eyes are not shining you have to ask yourself a question: who am I being that my player's eyes are not shining?" This goes for our children, students, audience members, and so on. For me that's the greatest takeaway question: who am I being when I am not seeing a connection in the eyes of others? Zander's lessons go far beyond the world of music and the art of presentation, and although the ideas may seem simple, they are not easy. Some of the best ideas out there are the simple-but-not-easy ones. These are the kind of ideas that change things.

* The best part was what happened *after* the first 20 minutes — perhaps TED will put that up someday as well. In the mean time, checkout this 4-min video by Tom Guarriello, Ph.D from True Talk giving his impression of Zander's presentation (or watch the end of Zander's Davos 2008 talk). The final 15 minutes of Zander's presentation featured the audience singing Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" in phonetic German, and thanks to Zander's magic, kicking-ass while doing it. Zander also introduced the idea of BTFI (Beyond The Fuck It), an idea from The Art of Possibility. This is a simple idea: What would happen if you stopped worrying, stopped holding back, and stopped avoiding the possibility of mistakes and just said "Fuck it!" and then just did it.No thought of technique or of victory or defeat...just the moment.

Benjamin Zander presentation at Davos 2008.

Al Gore's latest TED talk

Al_slide It's been two years since Al Gore presented at TED about climate change. This presentation is not as tight or as smooth as his 2006 talk since he was doing this particular short version for the first time, but I enjoyed the talk even more as it seemed more natural and authentic in spite of its lack of polish. Indeed, it may have seemed more authentic, more human, because of its lack of polish. The great designers at Duarte Design did the updated visuals, of course, but I think Al changed the structure and flow of the talk all on his own (there was one text slide that went by pretty fast for example). I liked his story about the elder lady he told to illustrate how long he'd been in the public eye (that was a good laugh), and I thought his level of passion and urgency was higher and more "real" than in other talks I have seen by Al, including those in the documentary. Watch the talk below or on the TED site here (you can also post comments concerning the contents of his talk there).

All-n-all, I thought it was a very good presentation, but there are just a couple of things to point out that may help us improve our presentations.

Do not apologize or imply (or admit) that you have not prepared enough for your specific audience. It may be true, and your apology may be coming from a very sincere, honest place (rather than just making an excuse), but it never comes across well to an audience. When Al said he'd "gobbled this [presentation] together" to stay within the time constraints, and quipped that he was trying to bring the bar of expectation down a bit before his talk, it reminded me that this is a mistake I have made several times before. I even did it recently (it just comes out sometimes). Our audience does not know that we did not prepare as much as we would have liked, so why mention it and get it in their head? "Man, he's right—he didn't prepare enough," they may say to themselves. The same goes for telling people you're nervous. "You didn't look nervous, but now that you mention it..." Instead, start your talk with a simple thank you and begin the conversation. It was not a big deal in Al's case, but you and I are not a well-known and popular public figure.

Do not turn your back on the audience. With monitors in front there is no need to turn your back except for the briefest of moments. I thought Al was at his best when he was not speaking in the direction of the slide. I would have liked to see him come out a little closer to the audience the way Dr. Taylor did in her talk. The monitor there makes it easy to do this and still know at all times what image is behind you. (I see that I made this same comment about Al almost two years ago.)

With the monitor in front mirroring the screen, it's possible to keep your attention in the direction of the audience to make stronger connections.


Your notebook can be your monitor if you have space in front, low and out of the way. Above is a pic from a talk I did two weeks ago in Tokyo. The MacBook was on a theatre chair in the first row. The VGA and audio cable were long enough to reach the podium inputs. (Larger photo on Flickr.)

Al Gore is a very experienced presenter by now; he certainly does not need my advice. But we can all get a little better a little bit at a time. Try getting away from the podium and refrain from turning your back in your next big talk and see if it doesn't make a difference. I bet you'll find a much higher degree of engagement with your audience and a more effective, powerful talk.

Sample Al Gore slides from the Duarte Design Web site.

Dr. King's last speech

Mlk Forty years ago yesterday, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. An unspeakably terrible loss for the United States, but his vision, wisdom, and influence live on today. King was remarkable for his ideas and vision but his ideas would never have had such an impact if he was not also an amazing and powerful public speaker. Indeed, he is surely one of the best speakers the United States has ever known. Just about everyone in the world is aware of King's "I Have a Dream" speech delivered in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963. But you may not have ever heard the last speech King ever made. On April 3, 1968, Dr. King delivered an impassioned speech to striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee. The next day he was murdered as he stood on the balcony of his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.

Here below are just the last few moments of the last speech Dr. King ever made (here you can see the entire transcript.)

If you have the time, I urge you to listen to the entire speech. You can find part one here, and part two here. It starts slowly and builds and finally finishes big. Part two is especially moving. A very inspiring leader and speaker who knew the power of story and how to capture an audience and take them someplace, all the while painting pictures with his words in a way...well, in a way that we are still talking about forty years later.

Dr. King would be 79.

The art of the teleprompter

Clinton I don't give many formal speeches, but when I do, I don't prepare a script to be read word for word. Instead, I think clearly beforehand about what I want to say and write down a few ideas with key words or an illustration that reminds me of my points as the short talk unfolds (and this card is not seen by the audience). It's possible to memorize a speech, but memorized speeches almost always sound artificial and somehow disconnected unless you are an extremely skilled speaker (and have loads of time for memorizing pages of text). Since memorization is so arduous and risky, many executives and politicians elect to read their speech in some fashion. Who can blame them?

It's not impossible to read a speech and make a powerful connection with an audience, but it's extremely difficult to do so (which is why groups like Toastmasters are so valuable). It takes a lot of work and coaching and experience, but it is possible to read a prepared speech that is remarkable. Unfortunately, such speeches are rare. Remember, it's not just the words of the speech — whether read or memorized — it is the meaning of the words. To convey meaning (the "so what?" not just the "what"), you're going to have to deliver the message as naturally as possible. I don't think you have to be super polished — and certainly you don't have to be perfect — but you do have to capture the audience's attention and take them someplace. You do have to speak in a human voice.


Senator John McCain with two teleprompters. The words are visible only to him.

And one more teleprompter in the middle.

The trick? Don't make it seem so obvious
The problem with reading from paper is that eye contact can suffer. To get around this many executives and politicians use teleprompters. While the teleprompter gets the head up, its use is no guarantee that the delivery will be any better. Sometimes, for example, it's very obvious that the speaker is reading and there is no real eye contact with the audience — there is just a gaze in the general direction of the audience as the speaker is clearly focused on the teleprompter in front (or to the left or the right). Reading a speech from a teleprompter that engages an audience is not easy. It's hard. But some political figures are batter at it than others. CNN last week did a short segment on some of the pitfalls of using a teleprompter, highlighting Senator John McCain's adventures with reading at the lectern as an example. Watch it below.

The right way
President Reagan was very effective at reading speeches. President Clinton was as well. Today, Senator Barack Obama clearly stands above the rest. The "Yes We Can" speech was read from a teleprompter and was powerful and memorable. While in Silicon Valley two weeks ago I saw Senator Obama give his "A More Perfect Union" speech on television. Though I knew he was using a teleprompter, his delivery made me soon forget he was reading a prepared speech. Though formal and serious, his words seemed more natural and flowed more smoothly. If you have the time, watch this speech in its entirety below.

In many ways, reading a speech is far more difficult than giving a presentation with the aid of multimedia. Reading may seem safe and easy compared to going without a net, but standing in front of an audience and bringing words off a screen and giving them life and energy in a way that connects with the audience and moves them and persuades them is truly an art. It's hard, but it's a skill that great leaders must master. (If you're in the States, experts like Bert Decker, Jerry Weissman, and Carmine Gallo can help take you and your company to another level).

Free online teleprompter (of sorts)

Future now: Nicholas Negroponte on technology, entertainment, design

NegroponteNicholas Negroponte is a famous architect, designer, and computer scientist, and certainly one of the most amazing creative thinkers of our time. You may know him as the founder of the MIT Media Lab and the $100 laptop computer guy (he's the founder of The One Laptop per Child association). He was also the original investor in Wired. Negroponte is pretty good at imagining the future it seems as well. This week TED put up 23 minutes of a much longer talk that Negroponte did for the TED Conference back in 1984. (This, you may remember, was the year that Macintosh was born.) Years before the term "convergence" was being tossed around, Negroponte was talking about using technology in ways that today we take for granted. In this talk he makes five predictions about the future. See how many turned out so far.

Negroponte is a smart, articulate, engaging speaker and I really enjoyed this edited presentation.This was before the days of PowerPoint and bullet points, so when Negroponte used visuals on the large screen behind him they were either large photographs or videos. Today we would run these stills and video right off the laptop seamlessly in slideware, but for a guy changing his own laser disks (remember those?), he was quite smooth. Projectors were not what they are today so the room is dark, but as long as the lights are on the presenter it works well. In fact darkness, save for the large screen and the lights on the speaker, give the presentation a feeling of theatre.


Stills from the 1984 talk. Presenting well with simple multimedia and no bullet points years before PowerPoint changed everything.

Negroponte on education
My favorite part of this presentation is his comments on education. Here's my takeaway.

"Good education has got to be good entertainment."

                                                    — Nicholas Negroponte

Child_reading By "entertainment" I think what Negroponte means is "engagement" or "meaning" or "personal involvement" and so on. Education is knowledge and information, but the hunger, drive, and the curiosity in the pursuit of understanding and meaning is emotional, it's human. Entertainment has received a bad rap in popular culture. You know, if it's "entertainment" it can't be good for you. If it is "entertainment" learning must not be going on. Many presentation situations and education in general have a lot in common; there is nothing wrong with entertaining. The thing about entertainment is that it is other-focused, the way it should be. It's not about us, it's about them. Different audiences are "entertained" in different ways—it's up to us to figure out what the most effective methods are for stimulating, affecting, and informing. Entertainment is not necessarily a distraction, diversion, or escape. Entertainment in the best sense is about engagement, connection, and meaning as well.

Are good presenters like entertainers? (PZ 2005)
Learning about presentation from Cirque du Soleil (PZ 2005)

Inspiration matters

Inspiration_matter If your presentations, speeches, and your words in general are inspiring to others—or if you yourself are deeply inspired by the words of another—it's just a matter of time before someone emerges to dismiss the importance of such inspiration. It's just a matter of time before someone will try to bring you down. They will demean your enthusiasm, optimism, and hopefulness as symptoms of shallowness. Inspiration is OK, but "too much" inspiration is inconsistent, they will say, with the idea of serious content and a serious message. This, of course, is complete horseshitake.

Audience_clap What got me thinking about this was the tight political contest across the pond in the USA between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton that I read about on the daily train ride to the office. Over the last couple of weeks Obama's highly praised speech-making skills and even some aspects of his message of hope and change have come under attack it seems. Attacks on his record and experience are fair game, but it's ironic that Obama's amazing oratory skills are belittled by some as unimportant—and worse that they are just a symptom of a man without ideas or a plan. You know, a man who is all hat and no cattle, as they say. Logically this does not follow. A man can be articulate, engaging, inspiring and have important content. But my point is not to discuss politics here, of course, but simply to address this issue of emotion, inspiration, and communication in a way that relates to our own lives as business people, academics, researchers, and leaders of all kinds.

That's life
Hope_child Many will say a man (or woman) who speaks well, who is articulate and full of hope, enthusiasm and positivity, is an empty suit. They will say emotions do not matter. All that matters they say is content, period. All the matters is evidence, period. Ironically, the very people who demand that content and evidence are everything and that emotion—and certainly inspiration—do not matter in "serious presentations" rail against the importance of emotion and engaging delivery in a manner that is completely emotional and heated. I know this because I have confronted such people many times. They say it is simply the quality and structure of the information and that delivery and personal qualities—as well as simplicity and beauty in visual design—are just not that important or necessary. The point that such people miss is this: no one ever said delivery and emotion and connection were everything or that they were sufficient. We've only ever said that they were necessary (and all too often lacking). Emotion and great delivery are not sufficient for presentation success, but they are necessary in almost every case. Solid content is a necessary condition, of course, but it's almost never sufficient, not when we are talking about leadership and communication. And if you are talking about trying to lead a movement, trying to change the world, then you sure as hell better be an inspiring figure. You don't have to be slick or polished, you do not have to be tall or good looking, but you do necessarily have to connect, inspire, and motivate. That's what leaders do.

Don't let the bozos get you down
Indexed_book I am not suggesting blind allegiance to an idea, a stubbornness which prevents you from seeing the issue from all sides. But when it comes to this issue—of people dismissing your hopefulness, positivity and most of all your ability to inspire those around you (your team, your coworkers, your students, whomever)—the motivation behind such dismissiveness comes from insecurity or just plain ignorance. Guy Kawasaki might call such people bozos, and remember Guy's mantra: Don't let the bozos grind you down. Now, honest critique of your ability is important. If you can find a coach who can be objective and straight with you, not just praising you all the time, then you are very lucky indeed (sometimes this mentor is a teacher or a manager). Mentors and coaches are great; we need them. But as you become better and better at anything—especially if you become great at it—people will try to dismiss your talents and accomplishments. And if you are inspiring and articulate, they may go after that too. A similar idea is captured beautifully and simply below by Jessica Hagy in this chart from Indexed (Jessica's book Indexed is out in a few days).


Search for inspiration, do not wait for it
Cannonbeach Motivation is essential, but somehow different from inspiration. Fear, for example, can be a powerful motivator. Fear of failure can even motivate you out of your chair to go outside (or for a run, etc.) in search of an idea, in search perhaps of inspiration. Some people dismiss inspiration because they say you just have to work hard through the tough times, inspired or not. I hear that. Motivation is sometimes hard, but inspiration is far more illusive. Everyone is searching for inspiration whether you are a medical doctor or engineer or artist or teacher. We need the inspiration and hope to keep us moving forward and improving even in the hard times. It is easy to misinterpret inspiration as something you wait around for to happen to you. This is not the best way and it rarely works out. Inspiration is something you have to search for. Don't wait for it, search for it. And when you find it, embrace it, and don't let anyone take it from you. It's yours. Don't underestimate the value of inspiration and do not apologize for becoming profoundly inspired or in inspiring others. Inspiration is what makes life worth living. Inspiration is not everything—you need great ideas, and action, and hard work too—but genuine learning and growth and real change come to those who are inspired.

In Sum
(1) Never apologize for your enthusiasm, passion, or vision.
(2) Never apologize for being inspired by another human being.
(3) Seek out inspiration (don't wait for it).
(4) Inspire others by sharing your talents and time.
(5) And no matter what: Don't let the bozos grind you down, ever.

The world needs more inspiration, not less. Speaking is not the only way to inspire—actions inspire too, often more—but leaders know how to inspire with both words and action.

Management Craft: 10 Ways to Inspire Others
Top Ten Ways to Inspire Others to Be Their Best
Impress and Inspire Others Without Saying a Word
5 Inspiration Hacks for Creative People
Obama's "Yes We Can" speech on YouTube
"Yes We Can" video by
The Black Eyed Peas

The art of repetition

Obama I don't usually point to political speeches, and frankly there hasn't been too much worth talking about over the years. And then yesterday, here in Japan so many miles away from the US, I stopped and took a moment to turn on the international news. I tuned in and saw this speech below by US presidential candidate Barack Obama. It was a concession speech of all things; I didn't expect much. But this 10-min speech blew me away. This was a scripted speech, and one of the best written and delivered I have seen in some time. Cable news pundits are saying that this concession speech (didn't sound like a "concession speech") may be one for the ages. Only time well tell. But this short speech had it all: simple but eloquent and powerful language, and a strong yet upbeat, friendly delivery. Looks like the speech and communication teachers have a new one to put in their reels.

Yes, we can
Repetition is a classic technique in presentation and speech making (and in design as well). It can help you tie the theme together and it creates clarity for the listener. Every school kid in America, for example, learns about one of the greatest speeches in American history, "I Have a Dream" by Martin Luther King, Jr. In that 1963 speech, MLK used the "I have a dream" refrain through out. Actually, while watching the latter parts of Obama's speech today I almost got the sense that Obama was channeling the styles of both MLK and JFK (an idea that some in the media noticed as well). Communication isn't everything, but it's huge when you're trying to lead. Yes, brains and reason and compassion are requirements for leadership, and a leader better have a plan and the intelligence to see that plan through. But great leaders also inspire and motivate, and nothing inspires and motivates like a great speech. The video below is the last half of the speech (the best part). But you may enjoy the entire speech as well.

Partial transcript
Here's a bit of the contents from Obama's speech. Notice the refrain: Yes, we can.

For when we have faced down impossible odds, when we've been told we're not ready or that we shouldn't try or that we can't, generations of Americans have responded with a simple creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can. Yes, we can. Yes, we can.

It was a creed written into the founding documents that declared the destiny of a nation: Yes, we can.

It was whispered by slaves and abolitionists as they blazed a trail towards freedom through the darkest of nights: Yes, we can.

It was sung by immigrants as they struck out from distant shores and pioneers who pushed westward against an unforgiving wilderness: Yes, we can.

It was the call of workers who organized, women who reached for the ballot, a president who chose the moon as our new frontier, and a king who took us to the mountaintop and pointed the way to the promised land: Yes, we can, to justice and equality.

Yes, we can, to opportunity and prosperity. Yes, we can heal this nation. Yes, we can repair this world. Yes, we can.

Related links
JFK's "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech from 1963.
MLK's "I have a dream" speech from 1963.

The incomparable Carl Sagan: scientist, presenter

Carl_sagan Carl Sagan (1934-1996) was a famous and brilliant astronomer who was also a great speaker and presenter. If Carl Sagan would have lived to see TED, I am sure he would have been one of the best presenters ever at the TED conference. I was a big fan of Carl Sagan back in the 1980s and learned a lot from Cosmos. Sagan always spoke of complex issues in ways that were easy to understand and made you excited about science. He did not dumb down the issues, he simply had an engaging and unique way of putting the issue in context and illuminating and illustrating his points in a way that listeners could comprehend. He was a scientist-presenter who cared about being clear and about being understood.

When Carl Sagan spoke of statistics he usually followed the number with an illustration or comparison to make it understandable in context. In the beginning of this clip below you can watch a good example of Sagan doing this without any visuals, though his words create the visuals in your head (which is sometimes even more effective). For example, how much is 20 tons of TNT? Enough for a single bomb to destroy an entire block. All the bombs used in World War II, Sagan says, amounted to two megatons of TNT or the equivalent of a hundred thousand "blockbuster" bombs. So now we can visualize all the explosive, deadly destruction that took place in all of WWII (1939-1945). We can "see" the horrible impact of two megatons of TNT. Two megatons of TNT is now not an abstraction. Then Sagan drops a bomb of his own:

"Today, two megatons is the equivalent of a single thermonuclear bomb—one bomb with the destructive force of the second world war."


It's always hard to see the forest for the trees. Good presenters will ask us to step back and examine the problem from another perspective to better see what is true and what is not. In the clip above Sagan says:

"How would we explain all this to a dispassionate, extraterrestrial observer? What account would we give of our stewardship of the planet earth?"

By asking us to look at the problem from the point of view of an "extraterrestrial" (i.e., a dispassionate outside observer) then the problem need not be obstructed by abstractions such as nation, political party, religion, etc. Sagan says that "from the extraterrestrial perspective, our global civilization is clearly on the edge of failure and the most important task it faces is preserving the lives and well-being of its citizens and the future habitability of the planet."

Personally, Sagan's words here remind me that we as a species are the most remarkably intelligent, creative, and innovative species on the planet, yet paradoxically and incomprehensibly (at least to me), we also can be the stupidest. Nonetheless, there is hope. Sagan says there is emerging a new consciousness which sees the earth as a single organism. A consciousness that understands that an organism at war with itself is doomed. We know who speaks for the nations, Sagan says, but who speaks for the earth? The answer, of course, is we do. Though it does not appear in this clip above, you can read the final chapter of Cosmos online here and see Sagan's concluding comment:

"Our loyalties are to the species and to the planet. We speak for earth. Our obligation to survive and flourish is owed not just to ourselves but also to that cosmos ancient and vast from which we spring!"

Below is a quote from Carl Sagan's Cosmos that goes very well with this photo of Earth I pointed to earlier.

"Fanatic ethnic or religious or national identifications are a little difficult to support when we see our planet as a fragile, blue crescent fading to become an inconspicuous point of light against the bastion and citadel of the stars."
Carl Sagan

Pale Blue Dot
Below is a slideshow set to Carl Sagan's narration. The message is wonderful and the simple photographic images amplify the message well. I think this is beautiful and puts "it"—our lives, our responsibilities, worries and our dreams—in perspective. It is this distant image of our tiny world—the only one we've got—that underscores, says Sagan, "our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another" and to preserve and cherish our home, the planet Earth.


Some of the graphics will seem a bit dated in this clip below, but this clip is a good example of using a metaphor and simple graphics to help illuminate a complex issue. You can argue that it is too simple, but  remember that this kind of calendar metaphor to explain the history of the universe is not meant to be the end of the conversation, it is only meant to be the beginning. We have a choice, says Sagan, but what happens in the first second of the next cosmic year (i.e., now) depends on what we do with our intelligence and knowledge.

Here's the Cosmic Calendar from Discovery Education. Each month represents about one billion years.

December of the "Cosmic Calendar."

The International Year of Astronomy 2009 
Communicating Astronomy with the Public (CAP Journal)

Another Grande Presentazione Italiana

Marco_montemagno Marco Montemagno is an Italian blogger, web entrepreneur, and CEO of one of the largest weblog networks in Europe called Blogosfere. He's also the host for a weekly TV show about news, Internet and media on Sky News (Sky TG24). I heard that Marco was a loyal reader of Presentation Zen so I checked out this presentation by Marco last year. I got another tip this week to watch a presentation by Marco which he made recently in front of 3000 people at the Interactive Advertising Bureau Forum 2007 conference. I liked the presentation, but I thought more of the world may enjoy it too if there were English subtitles. So I contacted Marco and asked him (he's fluent in English) if he could have this video translated. He did, and I am now passing the link on to you. Marco told me that this presentation is "100% Presentation Zen compliant."

As you can tell from the content, Italy is a little behind other parts of the world in terms of total acceptance of the Web. One of Marco's jobs is chairing conferences and giving speeches around Italy to help spread "Internet culture"  throughout the country. "There is still a lot of education to do in Italy," Marco says. "People do not use Internet that much, journalists and politicians either. But I hope the situation will change soon—at least I'm pushing people in this direction...." Watch the presentation below (click on the monitor icon to expand the size to "Full Screen" so you can read the subtitles).

Marco's talk was conversational and upbeat and in sync with his visuals, a good mix of photos, video, and text. His visuals could have been arranged in Keynote or PowerPoint and advanced with a remote, but he actually used Adobe Premiere to prepare and run the whole thing. You'll notice that he has no remote control in his hand. Instead he spoke as the visuals behind him—which were actually segments from a video—appeared in sync with his narration. He said it was actually hard to pull this off, but he did it, and the feedback was excellent from the audience (sure beats a boring talk from the lectern). He even got 3000 people to stand and applaud for the Internet—a bigger reaction I think that he expected. I say bravo! Well done. I always appreciate speakers at large conferences who eschew the lectern and bullet points and get right out there front and center (naked) and make a connection.