Steve Jobs on marketing & identifying your core values

Steve_1997 Steve Jobs had a talent for identifying what was important and what was not, and having the courage to toss what he felt was the nonessential. We see this reflected in the Apple line of products and in the Apple retail stores, and we also see it in Apple's branding and all aspects of their marketing communications. But there was a time when Apple had gotten away from its roots and away from simplicity and clarity, not only in terms of its marketing but in terms of its products too. It took Steve Jobs coming back in 1997 to get the Apple brand back on track after years of neglect. This seven-minute clip below is from an internal presentation that Steve gave in Cupertino to his employees not long after he returned to Apple in 1997. If you are even remotely interested in business or in marketing an organization or cause of any kind in which you truly believe, you need to see this short talk.

In this presentation made on the Apple campus, Steve says that marketing is not about touting features and speeds and megabytes or comparing yourself to the other guys, it's about identifying your own story, your own core, and being very, very clear about what you are all about and what you stand for...and then being able to communicate that clearly, simply, and consistently. As Steve says, people want to know who you are and what you stand for. In the case of Apple, the brand's core value, as Jobs says in the presentation, is not about technology or "making boxes for people to get their jobs done." Apple's core value, said Jobs, is this: "We believe people with passion can change the world for the better....and that those people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who actually do." In the end Jobs introduces the now famous Think different TV ad that was about two months in the making. This campaign was an attempt, said Jobs, to get Apple back to its core values. It was only one of many first steps, but it worked.

"To me, marketing is about values. This is a very complicated world, it's a very noisy world. And we're not going to get the chance to get people to remember much about us. No company is. So we have to be really clear on what we want them to know about us."

                         — Steve Jobs
                              to Apple employees, 1997

What's your core message?

Core_slide.001 The lessons in this talk obviously can be applied directly to the art of presentation, something Steve did very well in all his presentations, big or small. Good presentation is about story, just as good branding is about story. Clarity and simplicity are key, and the way to achieve these is by being relentless in abandoning the superfluous and identifying the absolute core of your message. Clarity and simplicity are not easy—they are hard, very hard. If it were easy to be simple and clear then everyone would do it, but few actually do. It is indeed a very noisy world, and it's getting noisier seemingly by the day. It is those people—and those organizations—who do the hard work to clarify and simplify that will be the ones who are able to rise above the noise, get their messages heard, and hopefully make a difference in this world in their own way.

Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

Steve_jobs Steve Jobs passed away today. He was just 56. Steve often talked about changing the world, and he did change the world in a huge way. His incredible dedication to detail and to simplicity and aesthetics raised the bar for technology, business, and design, and beyond. He even raised the bar for presentations. He was a true master. He was a true sensei. All his presentations were great, but my favorite one of Steve's is not his usual Apple presentation, but rather a short 15-minute speech delivered from behind a lectern at Stanford University in the spring of 2005. There is nothing I can say that has not been said before about this legendary man. I have no words. I hope you'll have a chance to listen to Steve's Stanford speech once again. (日本語 version.)

Steve's words are inspiring. Steve Jobs was—and will long remain—an inspiration for so many. Good bye, Sensei. We miss you.

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."
                                                         — Steve Jobs

MD's provocative presentation at health symposium

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

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

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

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

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

Swedish_MD.010   Swedish_MD.012

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

Lchf3  Lchf2

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

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

Eye gaze and the power of faces

Face_mars We have evolved to be amazingly good at seeing faces. From the point of view of evolution, success would certainly have favored those who were good at spotting the faces of a predator in the brush, for example. We see faces everywhere. We are so good at spotting faces that we even see them where they do not exist. In fact, said Carl Sagan, "As an inadvertent side effect, the pattern-recognition machinery in our brains is so efficient in extracting a face from a clutter of other detail that we sometimes see faces where there are none." This would explain why people see an image of Mother Teresa in a cheese sandwich or a face on Mars. (More fantastic examples of "faces.") Faces—and things approximating images of faces — get our attention. Graphic designers and marketers know this very well, which is why you so often see faces in various forms of marketing communication.

Garr_3   TED_Garr
Above: We are wired to see faces. Even babies take note of faces and eye gaze and pay special notice to those faces that are familiar. During my live TEDxTokyo talk streamed back home in our kitchen my daughter notices a relatively small, low resolution 2-D video of her father. At only 13-months she knew who that was on screen and was glued to the imagery, often pointing and shouting "dada!"

In a sea of clutter, a face can stick out. Notice how the image of Bob Marley gets your attention even though it is relatively tiny. In this case it is the only face; in a se
a of faces it may receive less attention.

Eye gaze
When I was a small boy, my mischievous friends and I would sometimes stand in front of our house and look up high in the sky as if we saw something interesting just to see how many passer-bys would also look up in the sky. Most people who saw us did of course look up trying to figure out what we were looking at. We are naturally drawn to look in the directions which other people are looking. I noticed that even my baby daughter looks in the direction I am looking; this tendency started at an early age.

Using images of faces — even non-human faces — can be effective for getting a viewer's attention. This is especially true for mediums such as posters, magazines, and billboards, but can be applied to multimedia and large screen displays as well. Because images of faces are so effective at getting the eye's attention, they must be used with discretion. One important consideration is the issue of eye gaze and leading the eye of the viewer. For example, the two images below are from a study by James Breeze at which used eye tracking software to determine if the direction the baby looked on screen influenced the eye gaze of the website readers. Not surprisingly the text on the right got more attention from the eyes when the baby's eye gaze was in that direction.

Baby_1  Baby_2
Above: One small eye tracking study shows the influence of eye gaze in guiding the viewer's eye on the page. (Click for larger size. Source.)

Should you use images of faces in presentations? That's up to you. My point is not to say that you should use images of people (or animals, etc) in your visuals; each context and topic is different. My point is only to say that if you do, be mindful of the power that images of faces have for getting attention and try to use eye gaze to help guide the viewer's eye. Below are some examples. I'll first look at samples from posters and billboards near my home in Nara, Japan, then I'll show some samples slides.

Samples from the world around us
I have said it a millions times, but if you take note of the graphic design around you, you'll find there are many lessons. Here are just a few below.
Above: Speeding down the freeway in Osaka. The billboard gets your attention and must be understood in a flash. Face looks in direction of the text and product (and the road ahead).

Poster_1  Poster_2
The women in these posters are placed on the outer third and look or orientate themselves in the general direction of the ad copy or smaller product image

Beer ad  Beer2
Above: Left: The image of the celebrity is huge and gets your attention. Her gaze is not in the direction of the product or the ad copy, but to counter this everything except the beer is in black & white which makes the beer glass pop out at you. You notice the face first, but the bright color of the beer draws your eye. Right: Faces get your attention, but your eye is quickly drawn to the text and colorful beer cans.

Sample slides
I use images of people sparingly, but I often use the image of the individual who I am quoting in a slide. This makes the message more real somewhow and can add a bit of context. Also, many audience members know the face but not the name of the person quoted.

Jazz_drum.004  Jfk.106
Above: Both famous men in these slides are looking in the general direction of the quote. You notice the face first, but your eye natually moves to the text.

Faces_3.006  Faces_3.005
Above: Here I am quoting Isabel Allende (see her TED talk). The slide on the right makes better use of eye gaze. The image is more natural as well since it is not cut but naturally bleeds off the right side.

Faces_3.008  Faces_3.007
Above: The slide on the left is acceptable, but notice how much more natural the slide on the right feels when the face of O-Sensei is orientated inward toward the bulk of the slide and in the general direction of the text.

Interview_dalai  Dalai_lama.001
This is an image of Judit Kawaguchi (who writes for the Japan Times, among other things) interviewing The Dalai Lama on the Shinkansen in Japan. The quote which appears in the slide is something he said during that actual interview on the train. The first slide shows the context, then the second slide fades in which results in Judit Kawaguchi fading out and being replaced by the text; the right third of the slide (The Dalai Lama) never appears to change.

Not only human faces
We notice faces of all kinds. Even the orientation of animals in a frame can help guide the viewer's eye. Here are a couple more examples of quotes in slides, this time with birds.

The context in this case was the oil spill last year in a presentation on general environmental issues.


Bird2   Bird4.013
Above: The broader theme the speaker was touching on related to personal freedom and fulfillment, so the image of a bird soaring high — an image I took myself while visiting the Oregon Coast — seemed fitting. The bird gets your attention and its orientation, shape, and impression of movement upward (not actual animation of course) lead your eye toward the text. The image of the bird almost acts as a big arrow saying "look here."

Related Links
Faces, Faces Everywhere, New York Times
Pictures of faces that are not really faces
You look where they look
TED Talk: Michael Shermer on strange beliefs (including why we see faces everywhere).

Presentation lessons from Citizen Kane

Kane3.A Citizen Kane (1941) is considered by most film critics to be among the best American films ever produced. The fact that the film's lead actor, writer, and director — the legendary Orson Welles — was only 25-years old, and it was his first movie, makes the film even that much more remarkable. It's a wonderful film that is fresh even today, but are there lessons in the making of the film that we can apply more broadly to other creative arts including presentations? I believe there are. The film was innovative and used techniques in storytelling and production that were not common for the time. There are many things that made the film remarkable, such as the good use of makeup to age the actors, the physicality which Welles brought to the screen, the natural feel of the dialog achieved by allowing actors to cross-talk, the smooth transitions and continuity achieved via J-cuts, unusual camera angles, long scenes without a cut, use of subjective camera, and on and on — but here are a few below from which we can extrapolate lessons for our own presentations or speeches in all their myriad forms.

Story Structure.
Rosebud Although the unconventional (for the time) nonlinear narrative approach is a tad confusing at times, Citizen Kane made clear use of the basics of storytelling structure: Exposition (beginning), Conflict (middle), and Resolution (end). Beginning: the exposition is furnished early in the form of a newsreel (popular in the '40s) to give a history and overview of the protagonist's life. This infomation was crucial as the rest of the movie goes through Kane's life via flashbacks. MIddle: There is the reporter's conflict to find the meaning of "Rosebud" (Kane's last words), and there were the many internal conflicts which existed within Kane himself and his relationships with his friends, enemies and wives, etc. End: Although it looks like the end will be unresolved, at the last moment the meaning of Rosebud all makes sense in the final few seconds (though questions remain).

The non-linear structure of the narrative.
Script Citizen Kane unfolds in a nonlinear and in a sense circular way. The movie loops through time, recollections of Kane's life told through the memories of witnesses to Kane's life. The newsreel obituary footage at the beginning was important for the nonlinear approach to work. Says movie critic Roger Ebert on this device, "[the newsreal scene] keeps us oriented as the screenplay skips around in time, piecing together the memories of those who knew him." Most good presentations and keynote addresses follow a linear progression that is clear and engaging, but there is no reason that you could not craft your presentation in a non-linear style so long as you build in structure so that people know what you are doing and know where you are in the progression. For example, you could build a story about the ultimate success of your research (and why it matters), but you could at times go back to an earlier stage even before your research started to tell a short anecdote that was a precursor to your current research questions, even though you did not know that at the time. Nonlinear is more challenging, but if the flow is well planned and efforts are made to make things clear for the audience, it can be very engaging. Whether your presentation narrative unfolds in a linear or more of a nonlinear fashion depends on how you craft and develop the structure of your talk, not on what type of software you use, or whether you use software at all. (In the photo above Welles is visiting co-writer Herman Mankiewicz (center) in the California desert while writing Citizen Kane. John Houseman (right) is holding a copy of the screenplay.)

Variety in pace and visual treatments
In Citizen Kane there is great variety in the pace and setting of scenes, even though it was not a big-budget picture. Some scenes move very slowly and are quickly juxtaposed with fast-paced montoges. Many scenes are quite visually subdued while others are visually dynamic and full of myriad elements and movement. This variety of what Bruce Block in The Visual Story calls "Rythmic patterns" is another example of contrast, and contrasts remember are interesting to our brains. While there is good visual variety, including unusual camera angles and set designs, there is also good affinity among the visual treatment throughout the film which contributes to a consistent overall look of the movie. This is a reminder for us too in the design of multimedia presentations that while great visual variety can be an effective technique to get attention and illuminate messages, there must also be a clear visual theme. Often this theme may be subtle but it helps establish cohesion among the different elements and helps communication generally.

Low_shot  Party
ABOVE: The flashbacks unfold in a variety of scenes. Left is a still from a slower paced scene with an unusually low camera angle featuring dialog between only two characters in the newsroom/campaign headquarters. Right is a still from the rambunctious party scene that has the feel of a fast paced musical. (Note too that they are filmed on the same set.)

Deep Focus
One of the most remarkable things about the film visually is Welles's use of deep focus. Deep focus is achieved when everything in a shot is in focus. Often in cinema the foreground will be in focus and the background out of focus, or vice versa. This tells the audience where to look in a scene. When everything is in focus on screen, however, you need to use other techniques such as composition and movement to lead the audience's eye, suggesting where to look first, second, and so on. Welles used lighting to emphasize focal points. He also used eye gaze and staging to lead the viewer's eyes, yet with everything in focus the viewer is free to roam around and becomes more involved with the visual.

ABOVE: This scene actually starts outside with the boy and the camera moves all the way back and through the table (the table splits in two to let the camera pass, though we do not see this trick of course). In this still you can see how everything is in focus and there is a clear foreground, middle, and background. Though young Kane playing in the snow is a small visual element, its light and movement get attention. Young Kane's fate is the subject of the conversation and his enclosure in the frame of the window is symbolic of the imprisonment Kane will feel at the thought of being sent away from home to be raised by his mother's banker, Mr. Thatcher.

This deep-focus technique was effective in creating deep space. Deep space is generally speaking more interesting to the eye as it involves the viewer and asks the viewer to participate more. By keeping everything in focus you allow the audience to be more involved in scanning the image. You can create depth by using contrasts such as big/small, dark/light, texture/textureless, bright colors/muted colors, warm/cool colors, sharp focus/blurred focus, and so on. ) "An audience watching a film or video does not notice more than three vanishing points. You only really need no more than three levels of illusionary depth," says Bruce Block in The Visual Story. You can see a clear illustration of these three levels in the stills above and below.

ABOVE: This is a good example of deep space. Note the three men and the three levels of space. The close up on Kane left is bold and dramatic. More light is cast on Jedediah in the middle ground. This effect was done with an optical printer, layering the shot on the left with the shot on the right as it was too difficult to produce the deep focus using only the camera and light manipulation.

Leading the eye
An audience member can focus only on one relatively small area of a composition at a time. You can influence where the viewers will look on a screen by manipulating contrasting elements, but movement on a screen is the most powerful way to get someone's attention, which is why it must be used with discretion.  A larger and brighter element will slip from focal point once even a tiny element moves on a screen. In multimedia presentations animation must be used sparingly and always with a purpose. A little bit of animation can get attention or emphasize an element, but lots of animation will just become background noise.

ABOVE: Another example of deep space and a clear foreground, middle ground, and background. In the background Kane's size is diminished further by the size the widows, symbolic of the humiliating mood he was in at the time due to financial difficulties. Although the background element is small, our eye keeps track of it as it (Kane) moves to the back and then toward the front. Movement — even when the element is small — will alway get the eye's attention, even when competing with larger and brighter elements, so long as those other elements are relatively static.

Fireplace  Outside_snow
Above Left: In the large photo above the fireplace Kane is looking down in the direction of Mr. Bernstein. The reporter who is slightly taller looks downward to Mr. Bernstein. This has the subtle influence to point your eyes in the direction of Mr. Berstein, even though everything is in focus in the scene. Right: Note how your eye naturally is drawn to the little boy (Kane as a child) even though everything is in focus, including all four actors—all eyes are in the direction of the boy and the placement of the actors draws lines to the boy.

Techniques integral not superlative to the storytelling.
Light While the film introduced many innovative technical elements that did indeed get noticed by the audience, these techniques were not superfluous but were rather used to support the narrative in a unique way, in a sense becoming part of the narrative. "Orson Welles took a visual style and flaunted it — he made the style an overt part of the story. The technique was inseparable from the narrative, not just its humble servant," says Chris Dashiell in an article entitled Kane Reaction on In the world of presentations there is nothing wrong, for example, with using bold software or design techniques to aid your narrative, but these techniques must be used to make the messages stronger or impact your audience in a different way, not merely to show off or impress with dazzle. Techniques — impressive or not, new or not — must never be merely cosmetic or a decorative veneer. Ideally, they become "inseparable from the narrative."

                                  “Create your own visual style...

             let it be unique for yourself and yet identifiable for others.”
                                           — Orson Welles

A few takeaways

Lead the viewer's eye by establishing clear focal points in your visuals.
Use size contrast (and other contrasts) to create depth.
Use movement (animation) with discretion and clear intent.
Create good variety visually (and in terms of pace), but have a clear visual theme as well.
If you use multimedia, be bold and make it part of the narrative rather than a sideshow.
Have a clear and simple structure. Whether your narrative is linear or nonlinear depends on your approach and planning, not on which software you use.
Experiment, take a risk, try something new. There is no one best way (or best app) when it comes to creating & delivery powerful presentations.

I purchased the DVD of Citizen Kane about a year ago and finally got to see it earlier this week. Then I watched the film again five-six times over the week, a few times with voice-over commentary by Peter Bogdanovich and another one by Roger Ebert. The boxed set of two DVDs also comes with the documentary "The Battle Over Citizen Kane" which was very interesting indeed. Highly recommend the DVDs (Amazon).

Storytelling lessons from Bill Cosby

Bill Following up on the last post below concerning good graduation speeches, here's one more from the great Bill Cosby. Now 73, Dr. Cosby may not be on the radar screens of a much younger generation, but ask any successful comedian working today — young or old — and they will tell you that Bill Cosby is the Obi-Wan Kenobi of comedy. What makes Bill Cosby one of the most compelling entertains of our time is his ability to connect with people and deliver his messages naturally in the form of story. He's the master storyteller. He does so well what most leaders and presenters of all kinds should do: tell real stories from your own life in a way that is relevant and engaging to your audience. If more people could just remember that great speeches or presentations leverage the power of the speaker's own stories, we could rid the world of a good deal of boring speeches overnight. Watch Bill Cosby's keynote address at Carnegie Mellon University's 2007 commencement ceremony below.

"Don't talk yourself into not being you."
Cosby's main story began about five minutes in and is one anyone can relate to. All of us have talked ourselves into thinking we don't belong or battle with self-confidence, etc. His point — which his true story brought out — is that we must not talk ourselves out of being who we really are. Cosby touched on the idea that being nervous ("but I was nervous") or other such excuses that we often use get in the way of us bringing our true self to the job (or school, etc.). People do not care about your excuses, they care only about seeing your authentic self. As Cosby said "people came to see you" not some version of what you think they want or need. "I don't care what you do," said Cosby, "when you are good, then you bring you out." "It's not for you to stand around and measure yourself according to diplomas and degrees. You are you — and you are not to put yourself beneath anybody!"

Tell stories from your own life
People crave authenticity just about more than anything else, and one way to be your authentic self and connect with an audience is by using examples and stories from your own life that illuminate your message in an engaging, memorable way. Below are three more examples of Bill Cosby telling stories during stand-up or while being interviewed. Watch and learn (and try not to laugh...if you can).

Above: This clip is from the early 1980s. No multimedia at all, and yet his presentation is very visual — he is the visual.

This clip is also from the early 1980s. Notice how he does not rush things — timing is paramount.

Above: This time the situation is a bit different as he is being interviewed on The Dick Cavet Show in the early 1970s. Musicians (especially drummers) will particularly relate well with his story.

The point is not that you need to be as funny as Bill Cosby —or even that you need to be funny at all. The point is that you have a great deal of life experience from which to build your stories on. In fact, as you get older and your experience grows, your stories should in theory get even better and more diverse. Bill Cosby was great at 25 but he was even better on stage at 50 (and he's still great at 73). You do not have to be as polished and as smooth as a professional entertainer, but your audience will appreciate it very much if you take a lesson from entertainers like Dr. Cosby and bring your true authentic self to the stage and engage, teach, and illuminate through your own stories and examples.

H/T Al Pittampalli

Three must-see college graduation speeches

It's graduation time in many parts of the world, and that means long ceremonies and a lot of speeches. The graduation speech is a tough gig; most speeches are soon forgotten, assuming they made any impact at all. The 2005 graduation speech by Steve Jobs garnered a lot of attention at the time, and is still talked about today, having been downloaded millions of times. If you have never seen Jobs's Stanford speech, check it out below. Last week the famous comedian and TV talkshow host Conan O'brien, who was sharing the stage with luminaries such as former US President George H. W. Bush,  gave a commencement speech for the ages. Although the speeches are different in style, they are both great examples of entertaining speeches which connect and engage and ultimately leave the audience with something memorable and valuable.

Conan O'Brien's 2011 Dartmouth College Commencement Address
Humor is a matter of taste, of course, but I found this speech to be hilarious. And judging from the laughter from the audience, and the luminaries on stage (and even the snickering secret service guys in the back), his tone was right the mark. Conan is a comedian so we expect laughs, but he also had a personal and heartfelt message in his talk. His advice was based on his experience with a very public "failure." Conan's key takeaway message was this: "It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique. It’s not easy, but if you accept your misfortune and handle it right, your perceived failure can be a catalyst for profound re-invention." Watch on YouTube.

Steve Jobs's 2005 Stanford University Commencement Address
Although Jobs is a self-made billionaire and cultural icon, right from the start Jobs displayed his humility and made a connection with the audience by saying "I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I've ever gotten to a college graduation."  After that he wastes no time with formalities and gets right on with laying out the structure of his talk: "Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That's it. No big deal. Just three stories." His first story was about "connecting the dots." His second story was about "love and loss." And his third story concerned the issue of death. His stories were deeply personal. All three engaging, personal stories supported his overall key message of "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish." Watch on YouTube.

Advice for graduates from a comic book (redux)
A book called The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You'll Ever Need by my buddy Dan Pink was published in 2008. That spring I put together this Slideshare-style deck below that people could click through in about five minutes. The advice is simple and echoes some of the points touched on in Conan and Steve's college graduation speeches above. The advice is just as good in 2011. If you are graduating this year, all the best to you!

Stephen Colbert's 2011 Commencement Speech at Northwestern University
And here's one more that was just given a few days ago from another well known TV talkshow host. Here are a few of his takeaway lines:

"Thankfully, dreams can change. If we’d all stuck with our first dream, the world would be overrun with cowboys and princesses. So whatever your dream is right now, if you don’t achieve it, you haven’t failed, and you’re not some loser...."

"Life is an improvisation. You have no idea what’s going to happen next and you are mostly just yanking ideas out of your ass as you go along. And like improv, you cannot win your life.....In my experience, you will truly serve only what you love. Because service is love made visible. If you love friends, you will serve your friends. If you love community, you will serve your community. If you love money, you will serve your money. And if you love only yourself, you will serve only yourself, and you will have only yourself....Instead, try to love others, and serve others and hopefully find those who will love and serve you in return." Watch below.


Transcripts of Steve Jobs's speech
Transcripts of Conan Obrian's speech

Be Like Bamboo: Lessons for work & Life

Bamboo The forests that surround our village here in Nara, Japan are filled with beautiful bamboo. The symbolism of the bamboo plant runs deep and offers practical lessons for life and for work. I shared some of the lessons learned from the bamboo in this 12-minute TEDxTokyo talk below which was recorded (and streamed) live from Tokyo on May 21, 2011. You can see the slides I used in this talk below on These slides were made in Photoshop and Keynote and exported as a PDF file for Slideshare. Following the video and slides below, I give a very short summary of the "bamboo lessons" from the presentation.

Lessons from the Bamboo (TEDxTokyo)

Be Like Bamboo (TEDxTokyo slides)
View more from Garr on

(1) Remember: Size is not the most important element
What may look weak may actually be strong. The body of even the largest type of bamboo—which is actually a type of grass—is not large compared to the other much larger trees in the forest. But the plants endure cold winters and extremely hot summers and are often the only trees left standing in the aftermath of a huge storm. Remember the words of a great Jedi Master: "Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size do you?" We must be careful not to underestimate others or ourselves based only on old notions of what is weak and what is strong. You do not have to be big and imposing to be strong. You may not be from the biggest company or the product of the most famous school, but like the bamboo, stand tall, believe in your own strengths, and know that you are—or you can be—as strong as you need to be. Remember too that there is strength in the light, in openness and transparency. There is strength in kindness, compassion, and cooperation.
(2) Bend but don't break

One of the most impressive things about bamboo is how it sways with the breeze. This gentle swaying movement is a symbol of humility. The foundation of the bamboo is solid, yet it moves and sways harmoniously with the wind, never fighting against it. In time, even the strongest wind tires itself out, but the bamboo remains standing tall and still. A bend-but-don't-break or go-with-the-natural-flow attitude is one of the secrets for success whether we're talking about bamboo, answering tough questions in a Q&A session, or just dealing with the everyday vagaries of life.

(3) Be firmly rooted yet flexible
Bamboo is remarkable for its incredible flexibility. This flexibility is made possible in part due to the bamboo's complex root structure which is said to make the ground around a bamboo forest very stable. Roots are important, yet in an increasingly mobile world many individuals and families do not take the time or effort to establish roots in their own communities. The challenge, then, for many of us is to remain the mobile, flexible, international travelers and busy professionals that we are while at the same time making the effort and taking the time to become involved and firmly rooted in the local community right outside our door.

(4) Slow down your busy mind
We have far more information available than ever before and most of us live at a fast pace. Even if most of our work life is on-line, life itself can seem quite hectic, and at times chaotic. Often it is difficult to see the signal through all the noise. In this kind of environment, it is all the more important to take the time to slow down, to calm your busy mind so that you may see things more clearly. There is an old Taoist saying that speaks to this idea of clarity and slowing down: "We cannot see our reflection in running water. It is only in still water that we can see."

(5) Be always ready
As the Aikido master Kensho Furuya said in Kodo: Ancient Ways, "The warrior, like bamboo, is ever ready for action." In presentation or other professional activities, too, through training and practice we can develop in our own way a state of being ever ready. Through study and practice we can at least do our best to be ready for any situation. No matter how good we think we are today, the training and the spirit to improve remains with us always.

(6) Find wisdom in emptiness
It is said that in order to learn, the first step is to empty ourselves of our preconceived notions. One can not fill a cup which is already full. The hollow insides of the bamboo reminds us that we are often too full of ourselves and our own conclusions; we have no space for anything else. In order to receive knowledge and wisdom from both nature and people, we have to be open to that which is new and different. When you empty your mind of your prejudices and pride and fear, you become open to the possibilities. Bruce Lee used to remind people that "The usefulness of the cup is its emptiness."

(7) Commit yourself to growth & renewal
Bamboo are among the fastest-growing plants in the world. It does not matter who you are — or where you are — today, you have remarkable potential for growth. We usually speak of Kaizen or continuous improvement that is more steady and incremental, where big leaps and bounds are not necessary. Yet even with a commitment to continuous learning and improvement, our growth — like the growth of the bamboo — can be quite remarkable when we look back at what or where we used to be. You may at times become discouraged and feel that you are not improving at all. Do not be discouraged by what you perceive as your lack of growth or improvement. If you have not given up, then you are growing, you just may not see it until much later. How fast or how slow is not our main concern, only that we're moving forward.

(8) Express usefulness through simplicity
Aikido master Kensho Furuya said that "The bamboo in its simplicity expresses its usefulness. Man should do the same." Indeed, we spend a lot of our time trying to show how smart we are, perhaps to convince others — and ourselves — that we are worthy of their attention and praise. Often we complicate the simple to impress and we fail to simplify the complex out of fear that others may know what we know. Life and work are complicated enough without our interjecting the superfluous. If we could lose our fear, perhaps we could be more creative and find simpler solutions to even complex problems that ultimately provide the greatest usefulness for our audiences, customers, patients, or students.

(9) Unleash your power to spring back
Bamboo is a symbol of good luck and one of the symbols of the New Year celebrations in Japan. The important image of snow-covered bamboo represents the ability to spring back after experiencing adversity. In winter the heavy snow bends the bamboo back and back until one day the snow becomes too heavy, begins to fall, and the bamboo snaps back up tall again, brushing aside all the snow. The bamboo endured the heavy burden of the snow, but in the end it had to power to spring back as if to say "I will not be defeated."

(10) Smile, laugh, play
The Kanji (Chinese character) for smile or laugh is 笑う. At the top of this character are two small symbols for bamboo (竹 or take). It is said that bamboo has a strong association with laughter, perhaps because of the sound that the bamboo leaves make on a windy day. If you use your imagination I guess it does sound a bit like the forest laughing; it is a soothing sound. Bamboo itself also has a connection with playfulness as it has been used for generations in traditional Japanese kite making and in arts and crafts such as traditional doll making. We have known intuitively for generations of the importance of smiling, laughing, and playing, now modern science shows evidence that these elements play a real and important role in one's mental and physical health as well.

These are just ten lessons from the bamboo; one could easily come up with dozens more. These are not things that we do not all ready know. Yet, like many a good sensei, the bamboo simply reminds us of what we already know but may have forgotten. Then it is up to us to put these lessons (or reminders) of resilience into daily use through persistence and practice. You do not need to be perfect. You need only to be resilient. This is the greatest lesson from the bamboo.

The eternal power of relationships

Mom_garr.002 One year ago today, my mother passed away. The next day I wrote this post on my personal blog about my feelings at the time and how that sunny morning on the Oregon Coast back in the USA unfolded. Being alone with my mother and by her side when she took her last breath was the single most moving, soul-stirring experience of my life. (Two months earlier I experienced an equally soul-stirring moment when I first met my daughter after she was born in hospital in Osaka, though the circumstances were quite different.) The day after my mother's passing I said that I felt a sense of closure, but I have come to realize that that was probably not the correct term. For I am not sure if anyone ever really has what we call "closure" after they lose someone dear to them. I certainly feel some empty spot now in my life — after all, I had never known a life without a mother or even gone more than a week without calling home to see how she was doing, no matter where I was in the world. And yet, somehow I still feel her presence today. Perhaps that presence consists of nothing more than my memories stored in my brain. Perhaps. But even so, my memories are real and her presence feels real to me. The quote by Robert Benchley still rings true to me one year later: "Death ends a life, not a relationship."

My mother was also a grandmother and even a great grandmother. So in memory of my mother, please allow me to repost below an excerpt from something I wrote on my personal blog at the beginning of this year. I know this is not about presentation or design or creativity, etc. Although, below is a link to a very creative visual presentation about my mother from my nephew Kirk.

The importance of grandmothers
What is on decline in many so-called advanced nations around the world is Community -- not networks of convenience but real old fashion, analog communities -- and at the heart of community is family. Strong families. Extended families. Three of my grandparents were already dead before I was even born, and I never became close to the only grandmother I knew before she too died when I was still a Child. I never did shed a tear for her passing; I hardly knew her. That is a great shame and something I regret. The relationship between grandmothers (and grandfathers too) and their grandchildren is something remarkably special. It is so much a part of a child's education -- in many ways the lessons learned from a childhood filled with loads of time spent with caring grandparents (and other seniors) is far more important than any lessons obtained from years in school. Not too many generations ago, even in the USA, grandparents played a key role in the education of children. In Japan, and in Asia in general, the importance of the extended family is still very strong, but even here in Japan, that is slipping away a bit as people become too busy with work and school, and economics necessitate moving far from home, etc.

I was thinking about this because of this song below by a relatively new folk artist in Japan named Kana Uemura (植村 花菜). Uemura is still in her 20s and broke on to the pop scene big just exactly a year ago here in Kansai (her song has some Kansai dialect in it too) when her song played for the first time on FM802. At 10 minutes it is an outrageously long song in today's world, but apparently she insisted that there was no way to make the song shorter and tell the story, and a lovely story it is. In this song she sings about her memories with her now deceased grandmother. Even if you do not understand Japanese, you will enjoy the evocative music which she wrote and you'll be able to follow much of the story through the visuals in this video. After that, you can go here to see the lyrics in English and in Japanese (romaji). Uemura has won many awards with this song and has become very famous now in Japan this year with her album which has gone gold.

The song is called トイレの神様 ("Toilet God" though the term kamisama is not used for god and instead "megami" or goddess is used). Uemura lived with her grandma as a child and spent much time playing with her and learning from her. Uemura was not good at cleaning the toilet room so her grandma told her that a beautiful goddess lives in the toilet and if she cleaned it every day the goddess would make her into a beautiful woman. This memory forms the basis of the song. This song is so popular in Japan because many people can relate to her story. This story of happy memories and bitter loss is something we can all relate to. For me, the sentiment expressed in Uemura's story and simple chords really hits home this year (2010) as it was a year of great loss for me and my family, though through memories our mother ("grandma") lives on. (You can read about the meaning of the song here with some background.)

What's your Grandma story?
Shortly after my mother's passing, her grandson Kirk, who is now a young attorney with his own small children, created a short visual story of his memories with his grandma. Kirk lived just a few houses away from his grandma. His story is a great one, and one I was not aware of as I had already left home for college and then for work. His story will be of great interest too for his own children and my child when she is old enough to read.


Read my nephew Kirk's whole short story of his memories with his "Grandma Ruth" on his posterous blog.


Above. My mother passed away on June 5, 2010. We rushed to be with her in the USA on her final days so that our 2-month old daughter could at least meet her grandma one time and make a connection. The saddest thing for me is that our daughter will not be able to spend time with her American grandma, but at least we have photos of them actually meeting. My mother was so happy! She had to wear a mask, but she was all smiles when our little girl met her grandma - her eyes lit up! My mother did not smile for the entire time I was with her until she passed away by my side a few days after this photo was taken, but she was all smiles when she saw her beautiful grand daughter. Our daughter will have no memory of this day, but the pictures are important for her too and she will learn all about her American grandma and grandpa as she grows up -- and we'll tell her about her first trip to the USA to meet her "Grandma Ruth." In tribute to my mother, my daughter has the same middle name as her grandma.

Above. In the Fall of 2010 I finished up my latest book. I dedicated this book to the memory of my mother and I used this picture above in the dedication. This picture was taken in Aomori in the 90s on one of her trips to see me in Japan. I wish she was coming back to Japan many more times, but perhaps in a way she will be.

Above. At Christmas 2007 in Oregon I showed my mother the presentation zen book for the first time -- the dedication features a picture of her and my father when they were in their 20s. I did not care if the book sold at all at that point -- nothing could be better than seeing my mother's reaction to her and my dad's photo in my book. That was the best feeling ever.

A genuine smile is your contribution in the moment

Smile_kyoto Smiles are infectious. But the smile cannot be faked or forced. You can try to fake a smile, but people can tell when you don’t mean it. In fact, some studies show that if you give an insincere smile, audiences may perceive you as untrustworthy or hypocritical. Martin Seligman, author of Authentic Happiness says there are essentially two types of smiles: the “Duchenne smile” and the “Pan American.”

A genuine smile
The Duchenne smile is the genuine smile, characterized by movement of the muscles around the mouth and also the eyes. You can tell a real smile by how the skin around the eyes wrinkles up a bit. The Pan American smile is the “fake” smile and involves voluntary movement around the mouth only. This is the polite smile you may see from someone in the service industry who is doing their best but not having a great day.  (Note: take this very interesting test on the BBC website. Can you spot the fake smiles?)

"I love smiles. That is a fact. How to develop smiles? There are a variety of smiles. Some smiles are sarcastic. Some smiles are artificial-diplomatic smiles. These smiles do not produce satisfaction, but rather fear or suspicion. But a genuine smile gives us hope, freshness. If we want a genuine smile, then first we must produce the basis for a smile to come."     — Dalai Lama

We all can recognize an insincere smile. But a presenter or entertainer who actually looks like she is happy to be there—because she really is—is well on her way to engaging her audience naturally. A genuine smile shows that we are happy to be there. And since people in our audience can feel what we feel, why wouldn’t we want them to feel at ease?

The hidden power of smiling
I really enjoyed this short TED talk below from
Ron Gutman on the hidden power of smiling. The content is interesting and it's a pretty good example of using Prezi for a live talk.

        "A smile results from a part of ourselves enjoying a gift of nature."
                                                     — Philip Toshio Sudo, Guitar Zen

The slide above was featured in my latest Japanese book and video called シンプルプレゼン. The photo is of Miwa Yoshida and Masa Nakamura from the legendary Japanese pop group Dreams Come True. I use them because I have never seen anyone display more infectious and genuine smiles on stage than these two.

TEDx_11_POSTER-220x310Tune in Saturday (May 21) for live coverage of TEDxTokyo, 2011
The third annual TEDxTokyo event will be held this Saturday and the whole thing will be streamed live on the internet. Go here on Saturday AM (Japan time) to get the links for watching in English or Japanese. If you would like to see my talk, I will begin my 12-minute presentation around 9:25AM or so. I'll put my slides up on Slideshare later; if you want to get a sneak peek of the look and feel of the slides, I put a pic of the deck here. Information on the speakers and a schedule is located here in English and 日本語.

You can watch my 12-minute bamboo presentation on YouTube by going here for options to listen in English or with Japanese translation. If you want to see a PDF of the slides used in the talk, that is available here on To see a list of all the TEDxTokyo 2011 talks go here (Eng) and here (日本語).

Above. Speaking at TEDxTokyo last Saturday at 9:20 in the morning. Click image to go directly to the English version on Youtube.