#YearInSpace

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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!

The Keynote

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Here’s a guy who could command a stage.

Last night I watched Danny Boyle’s film about Steve Jobs and was so gravely disappointed that the bio did not take us as far as the 2007 keynote speech that launched the iPhone into my life.

Yes, I’m convinced that the iPhone was invented just for me — so that I can more effectively ignore phone calls while I listen to music. The “Ignore Call” option is like a lifeline that gets thrown out to me every time my phone rings. (How badly does Rogers really want to talk to me, anyway?)

But that’s just the introvert in me. The presenter in me goes apples over this Steve Jobs speech, this keynote address. It almost has as much lasting power as the phone itself. I’ve been at several conferences where it’s been touted as one of the greatest pieces of corporate storytelling ever, and it continues to resonate.

You can watch the entire speech here, but my favourite moment (everyone has one) is when he uses the phone, turns it sideways and scrolls through album covers. When I first saw that, it was, to me, a science-fiction dream came true. And his presentation of it was spellbinding.

This is a perfect example of showing, not telling, and bringing a product to life. When you’re delivering a keynote, it’s pretty easy to fall into the onerous practice of description. When you have the opportunity to demonstrate an innovative product, to show us how it works and how it will change our lives… well, it’s like magic. Suddenly a new world comes to life before our very eyes.

And to take you through the magic of the speech, its “secret structure”, I’m happy to share with you a TEDx talk by another presenting hero of mine, Nancy Duarte.

Just ignore your phone while you watch it…

What Would Elmore Do?

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What would Elmore Do?

I have learned to ask myself this question whenever I write myself into a corner, or run into a writer’s block, or simply can’t think of something darkly clever to say. I just try to figure out what Elmore Leonard would do, and it all seems to go down like a shot of Bourbon on a warm, sunny day.

I understand that writers for the TV show Justified were made to wear bracelets with the letters WWED – to remind them of the show’s great inspiration, and the creator of the character Raylan Givens. This was a very good idea, because Elmore Leonard made it very easy for you to know exactly what he would do. His 10 Rules on Good Writing should be in reaching distance of anyone writing anything… ever. What’s more, the principles apply to the art of presenting — especially given that storytelling is so important.

Two rules I feel are especially applicable:

  • Never open a book with the weather
  • Leave out the part that readers tend to skip

Applied to presentations — avoid clunky, cliched openings. They’re boring and we all know what it’s like outside. And, cut out the parts you wouldn’t sit through yourself. That’s when people tend to fall asleep.

And, if in doubt, listen to the master himself:

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Wipe the slide clean and start again. Otherwise you’ll just be forcing an unwilling audience to sit through your weather-laden, bullet-ridden monologue. And in the words of Raylan Givens… “I think I’d rather stick my dick in a blender.”

Here are a few more tips from Elmore Leonard I found on SlideShare.

7 Sexy Slides You Must See!

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I know you’ve done it. I’ll grant you, probably with a little trepidation and maybe a touch of guilt. You’ve landed on a website and clicked the link that promises “7 photos of naked celebrities you don’t want to miss!” The lists abound these days and they always seem to have an arbitrary number that suggests they are exclusive — like there really are only 7 naked celebrities you want to see. The 8th was most likely going to be Harvey Keitel, and we’ve all seen that one quite enough, thank you. Of course 6 would not have been enough, because they’d have had to cut Jennifer Aniston, and really isn’t that the reason we clicked it in the first place?

So, you see, these numbers are absolute. There really are 24 overweight celebrities who need’t take another bite, and there are 15 celebrities that look exactly like another celebrity!

Actually… there are 30 of those.

Anyway, when you’re done googling the two lists I just referred to, I’ve decided to capitalize on this age of list sharing and bring to you something special. It’s special, because it’s not about the rich, famous and fat. It’s about you.

I know you have what it takes to be a great presenter, and I’ve put together some slides to demonstrate this fact. Now, I did have the help of one particular celebrity — a little girl that is well known around Riverside in Toronto. She’s my Boston Terrier. She’s Luna, the Tuna. Luna would like to demonstrate to you 7 reasons why you are a strong presenter.

Simply Beautiful

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It’s not easy being beautiful.

With all the clutter, the noise, and the chaos it’s difficult to find beauty or to truly ingest it. And yet, when we do, when we really find ourselves appreciating something artful, it’s usually in moments of peace and mental solitude.

Paintings in an art gallery are hung separate from each other, often isolated on their own wall, with nothing but white behind them. White space allows us that freedom and clarity… it gives us a visual break from an oversaturated muddle of data.

When preparing for a presentation, whether you’re designing slides or writing speaking notes, this is a good principle to keep in mind. Think of how many presentations you’ve sat through, staring blankly at a screen crammed with information — as if jamming it all onto one slide will make it easier for you to understand.  The truth is, you’ll likely consume none of it, and leave the room wanting to vomit.

NOTE: I’m not suggesting you do this, but… when necessary… vomiting in the room at least, if nothing else, sends a strong signal to the presenter. 

Nancy Duarte, in her book Slideology, suggests that whitespace gives us “visual breathing room”, that it is as much an element of a slide as titles, bullets and diagrams. “In large part, the use or misuse of whitespace determines a slide’s effectiveness… it’s okay to have clear space — clutter is a failure of design.”

I also like Garr Reynolds‘ comparison to a Zen Garden – a space designed to clear your mind and give you focus and clarity. If you have a striking image that conveys a message, having it surrounded by empty space will give it prominence and lead the eye.

My advice is to pay attention to the things that strike you, that you find beautiful, that elicit an emotional response and bring you pleasure. Think about why you love them, how you see them, and what made you notice them in the first place.

If you visually ingest beautiful design, you will be able to output beauty. But it takes study and contemplation of what makes those things beautiful.

I want to avoid saying that I’m beautiful because I’m simple… because… I’m very, very complex…

But, I will say this…

Simply beautiful is beautifully simple.

Show Me You Love Me

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It really doesn’t matter how many times you tell me — you can say it over and over again — it won’t make any difference. You need to show me you love me. You need to prove it.

Valentines Day is the perfect time, not just to treat your lover to a fresh bunch of flowers that will just wither and die, but to practice the old adage… show, don’t tell.

This is something I learned in theatre school. Exposition is boring and it doesn’t tell the real story. For example, shouting “I love you” as you walk out the door and head on down to the pub for a beer will not exactly resonate as a show of affection. Whereas, perhaps, tying your girlfriend down with silk ribbons and lathering her with liquid chocolate and then…

Okay just forget I said that. You get the picture.

Or do you? If you do, it’s only because I used an example that appeals to your senses. It’s visual, and tactile. It shows, doesn’t tell. Whether expressing your deep burning love for your partner, or trying to convince a client that you really do care, this is a very important principle. It matters, both in the bedroom and in the boardroom. Just be careful not to mix them up…

And by the way, if you’re trying to win my affection, nothing quite says “I love you” like a vodka martini.

The King and Queen of Symbols

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The second you see this photo, I know exactly what runs through your head. You can hear the words as if they’re being spoken directly in your ears. “I have a dream.” Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words echo throughout one of,  if not the best example of a speech that resonates in the history of public speaking. Add to that its persuasive impact — a world wide movement that literally, significantly and powerfully changed the world — and it’s worth all of the attention and analysis it continues to receive.

And… it’s received a lot! It’s worth even more. Watch the speech, then check out some of the great breakdowns on how it was structured, why it resonates and what gives it its persuasive power. Andrew Dlugan from Six Minutes gives a great breakdown of the speech with 5 lessons learned, and Nancy Duarte provides a “sparkline” that you can follow while listening.

What I love most about the speech is the consistent weaving of evocative imagery throughout. Besides the obvious — the repetition of his dream that the world can be a better place, that what is does not have to be — there are other incantations of palpable metaphors. “Drinking from the cup of bitterness and hate” is a biblical reference that instantly connects the audience to a deeper meaning, and my personal favourite is a spin on Shakespeare’s Richard III:

This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality.”

Symbols work. They connect, they transform, they resonate. A recent, very powerful example is Beyonce (whom I’ve been told is now referred to as Queen Bey… the Queen to Martin’s King) and her performance at that football game. The berets, the big “X”, the Black Panther salute — all subtly couched in a wildly entertaining dance routine — continue to incite reaction. Even the negative response from some of the world’s smaller minds serves to prove that symbols can be more powerful than words. Interpret them as you will, you cannot deny that they evoke passion and force people to ponder upon their meaning.

Obviously, not every presentation is going to have the scope or the lasting world impact as Martin Luther King, Jr., but we can still look to him for guidance. The man who convinced the world that we can build a better future, who gave us hope that the world could be a better place, also gives us a shining example of how to engage people and inspire them to achieve impossible dreams.

Winning Made Easy

My favourite moment in yesterday’s otherwise “dullfest” of a Super Bowl, was the broadcaster’s quote:

I know it’s only the first quarter, but take a look at this pie chart!

Because, who doesn’t want to look at a pie chart in the middle of a football game? Still, the chart did have a purpose — it was to show you that one team was clearly getting a larger slice of the plays, and the other was bound for an empty-crust defeat.

It occurred to me, that coaches of sports teams must become great presenters if they have any hope of success. The ability to convince a group of overpaid (and vastly overfed) NFL stars that your way is the best way — the team’s best chance of winning — is not easily come by. The locker room, like the boardroom, is a battleground of persuasion. For example, here we see that the O’s have the clear advantage over the X’s, as they understand their roles and what they are supposed to do. The X’s are just standing there… wondering why they don’t get any pie.

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My advice when talking strategy — keep it simple. Overcomplicating a plan will lead to fumbles, incomplete passes, and a lot of people tripping over each other. If you’re using slides to demonstrate your strategy, sometimes a minimalist approach will help clear away the confusion and keep people focused on the task at hand.

And with that, I give you my personal strategy to win at football, one we will no doubt see deployed at Super Bowl LI.

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Hallo Spaceboy

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There’s an astronaut saying: In space, “there is no problem so bad that you can’t make it worse.” 

These words launch Chris Hadfield’s excellent TED Talk about facing your fears and overcoming challenges to personal exploration. His description of finding himself completely blind during a spacewalk reminds us that our meagre earthling troubles aren’t so colossal after all, and maybe achievement is more within our grasp than we thought. He actually makes me think, hey, far out, I can go to space too!

This is the power of persuasion, because let’s face it, I get dizzy on a treadmill. I’m not going to space any time soon.

So, what makes this presentation, this moon-aged daydream, so powerful? Sure, he’s got a fabulous tale to tell, he’s one of the smartest people in the world, and he’s clearly an accomplished speaker — but what it comes down to is simple craftsmanship. The art of a well-structured presentation is all it takes to convince us that anything is possible.

When you watch the video below, take note of a few things:

  • Visual imagery: the use of photographs shot from the space station are awesome, they tell a story in themselves and entice an emotional response from the presenter. The reaction becomes a shared experience that the audience takes part in.
  • Connection to real experience: He knows that nobody in the audience has been to outer space, so he relates his fears to something we will understand. Yup, spiders. Not spiders from Mars, but spiders that crawl into our beds or spin webs on our doorways. This, we relate to and it makes his argument easier to follow.
  • Personal story: he not only describes the scientific facts of his journey, but all the emotions that go with it — what he thought and what he felt, and how he was able to overcome his fears in extremely trying circumstances.

These are all elements of a great presentation, and you do not have to walk among the stars to pull it off.

Granted, anytime you can wrap up your talk by singing a little David Bowie… you’re doing just fine.

Change the World

Imagine walking into an empty boardroom, and it looks like this…

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You’re the first person to arrive at a meeting, and a projector is set up, so you know there is going to be a presentation. You can sit wherever you want, but you’ll have to wait for the others to arrive.

At this moment… how do you feel?

I posed this question to a group of public servants in one of my recent presentations. The responses I got were not at all surprising:

Dread

Annoyed

Bored (and the presentation hadn’t even begun!)

And of course, “Why am I here?”

I was quick to say that I feel the same way, almost every time. I’ve sat through countless presentations wishing someone would stab me in the throat, and that’s time I’ll never get back. And that’s sad.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

The presentation I was giving that day was a call to action, a dramatically expressed idea that we can change the world we live in, one presentation at a time. Each and every presentation is an opportunity to inspire and to incite change — to convince a willing audience that things do not have to remain the way they are, they can get better. All we need do is invest a little time… and a little passion.

I now see a blank screen as an empty stage where, with a touch of imagination, wondrous things can happen. And, yes, some people are gifted public speakers while others practically faint when in front of three people. But the great thing is, when presenting your own material, it doesn’t matter because the best presentations are suited to our own personal styles. Taking the time to create visually persuasive slides, and rehearsing the delivery of your presentation, can make the difference between an inspired audience and a group of conspirators plotting your murder.

One of the world’s greatest presenters and teachers, Nancy Duarte, says:

Passion for your idea should drive you to invest in its communication.

This is the main reason I’ve started this blog, so that I can share my passion for presentations that pop, that resonate, that inspire, and to do what I can to help others think beyond the bullets and the text-ridden slides and create presentations that change the world.

Bring those blank screens and those empty boardrooms to life — and make your space — any space — pop.