Other Worlds

book-otherworlds-splshMargaret Atwood, that reluctant Canadian icon whose pen has been been known to build and destroy entire worlds in a stroke, has had a lifelong relationship with Science Fiction. She claims it came to be due to a childhood difficulty relating to the rudimentary elements of the here-and-now. She says:

I wasn’t much interested in Dick and Jane: the creepily ultra-normal characters did not convince me. Saturn was more my speed, and other realms even more outlandish. Several-headed man-eating marine life seemed more likely to me, somehow, than Spot and Puff.

Last week, I had the opportunity to hear Ms. Atwood speak at this year’s SpecFic Colloquium, where she, along with other authors including Andrew Pyper, Michael Rowe and A.M. Dellamonica, spoke about the power of unearthly imaginings and their impacts on our social order.

Generally, authors such as these are not known for their public speaking abilities, but I must say I was quite impressed. Atwood, for me, was the most engaging — her slow, methodical speech is powered by a quick wit and her enchanting ability to bring stories to life. This is encouraging to me, knowing that introverted, deep-thinking book-worms are just as capable of delivering a persuasive talk as a boisterous arm-waver in a power suit. (Especially if said speaker is a multi-headed man-eater with tentacles).

IMG_3834What works about Atwood’s talks is probably the same thing that works in her fiction, an ability to transport an audience to another world where the impossible exists — where the rules of our world are broken, and the things we believe to be untrue land in front of us with a thud, wrap their tentacles around us, and fly us to the moon.

It’s a very good lesson for public speakers, both reluctant and seasoned, to consider other worlds when giving a talk. The other world is where you want to take your audience, the place where we can achieve the impossible, where what could be suddenly is — real and awesome and… dare to dream… possible! This is an important step toward innovation, the seed of belief, and the power of an unleashed imagination.

In other worlds… we can believe.



I work in an organization that loves… LOVES… to prey upon innocent minds with a relentless assault of Slide-uments.  Slide-uments are what presentation professionals like Garr Reynolds and Nancy Duarte call a cross between a slide-show and a document — text laden, information saturated splashes of stuff. They’re like abstract art with words and the occasional clip-art cliche just to fool you into thinking the presenter actually put some thought into the visuals.

Now, calm down Policy Analysts, I know there are times when a slide-ument is absolutely suitable, if not entirely necessary, and you may have no choice. I would suggest that in such times you simply create a Word document to circulate and discuss details rather than have a bunch of innocent spectators sit around a table, stare at a screen and try desperately to look like they’re paying attention. It’s a form of torture and it’s just cruel.

Remember, a solid presentation has three legs holding it up — content, delivery, and visual presentation. Your visuals should never BE the content. They provide clarity, and enhance the delivery, helping ensure that your message resonates in the minds of your audience. If I have to read every word you have to say, I’ll order a transcript. And I might punch you.

There is help. An excellent resource is Nancy Duarte’s book Slide:ology – The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations.  It may seem intimidating at first (it really goes deep into the graphic art of slide design), but I assure you, you do not need to be a graphic designer to pull it off. The book provides detailed, step-by-step instruction on how to create individual slides that will project what you really need – VISUAL IMPACT. I encourage anyone who’s been tasked with putting together a persuasive presentation to read this book. If you don’t want to take my word for it, Alex Rister gives it a solid defense on her blog, Creating Communications.

I will share with you, however, three general slide rules that I picked up:

  1. Only 1 idea per slide: don’t fall into the trap of trying to condense multiple thoughts by using smaller fonts. You’re getting into slide-ument territory.
  2. Three second rule: Your audience should get that 1 idea in 3 seconds, tops.
  3. Enhance, don’t detract: Your idea should enhance your message with visual impact, not distract the audience from what you are saying.

Visual impact is not a myth. It’s out there for you to harness.

Your audience thanks you.





The starmen have returned.

Astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko returned from their One-Year Mission earlier this week, and imagine the stories they have to tell! Just like Commander Chris Hadfield’s trip before them, their post holiday slide-shows will be the envy of the neighbourhood. Face it Ted, your recent trip to Cancun just does not compare. Get over it Ted.

I like to think that I’ve achieved a thing or two over the past year, but just for fun, let’s compare:

  • Commander Kelly, in the past year, has travelled 143,826,545 miles. I, if I add my running kilometres, have travelled only 142,000,000 miles, give or take 150 million.
  • The Commander has orbited around the Earth 5,440 times. I have orbited at least that many times around various martini bars, but have come short of Earth. To be fair… I don’t get much orbit time.
  • The astronaut has been visited by nine different space vehicles. I’ve only had contact from the one… which was more of an abduction than a visit, and nobody believes me about that anyway.
  • 10,880 sunrises and sunsets! Come on! Seriously… like I’m ever up that early.

And the list goes on.

Anyway, it’s probably clear to you that I’m a bit of a space-geek, but I would challenge anyone to take a look at the photographs and video footage of the #YearInSpace and not be amazed. It’s a fascinating adventure, and a great scientific achievement. But, what do I love most about NASA?

They are great storytellers. And, what a perfect age we live in, when the stories they have to tell can come to life before our very eyes in so many spectacular ways. Their Tumblr account alone is like peering through a magical kaleidoscope, or riding in the Tardis. Using spellbinding imagery with minimal explanatory text, they are able to convey, very simply and very powerfully, the wonders of the Galaxy.

Next stop, Mars!