Perfect Moments

IMG_0045This was a perfect moment. A closed sidewalk, a dog-friendly police officer, and the beginning of a wonderful friendship. All captured in a photo.

I’m not sure when or how but I will use this image in a presentation. Not because it’s cute and it’s full of joy and you can’t help but smile (even the condom in the background is smiling) but because it tells a story.

You get a good idea of who the police officer might be.  Someone engaging, pleasant, who loves dogs and is willing to take the time to connect with people and their pets. She’s one of Toronto Police Service’s finest. The dog – Luna The Tuna – is in her glory. She’s people friendly, cuddly and full of life.

By using this shot in a presentation, it gives my audience some insight into who I am as a person.  My life, my character, my values – including the fact that I’ll exploit a cute puppy so I don’t have to cross the street and use the other sidewalk. By using this image in a presentation, I’m connecting with the audience on a personal level — something many presenters fail to do.

Sure, it’s easier to sift through stock images or to resort to clip art. And it’s often difficult to find that perfect graphic – the one that will enhance what you’re saying and not distract or disengage your audience. But there is a resource that is almost always overlooked – you’re personal photo library.

Some of the most impressive presentations I’ve seen include photos of the presenter’s family, friends and pets. Images of real life, experienced directly, can connect you in ways that a stock photo cannot. They convey value, passion, and humanity. An audience can relate to a thoughtful person with feelings more than an impersonal corporate voice. They will listen closer and be more engaged.

In an age where everyone is walking around with a camera, looking for those moments to capture and share with the world on Instagram and Facebook, it’s surprising that more of those images don’t make their way to boardroom projectors.

The next time you find yourself taking the easy route and slapping a stick figure in your presentation, don’t.  Take a minute to determine what you want to convey and find a personal image that helps you tell your story.  And if you don’t have one, create one.   Because convincing people of your ideas takes time and effort and a little piece of  yourself. The power of persuasion lies in the personal.

Look Into My Eyes


Feed me.  This is what every dog is saying when you look into their eyes. You know they’re playing you in the hope of getting that extra treat. But that moment when your eyes meet feels so heartwarming that it renders their manipulation superfluous (OR that it makes their manipulation feel incidental) and has you reaching into the doggie cupboard for the dried liver.

It comes to dogs instinctively and necessarily.   Since we don’t speak each other’s language, their methods of communication are limited to their eyes (and maybe their tails and teeth, if you get too energetic).   And as humans, it’s also one of the most powerful forms of non-verbal engagement. It connects and conveys sentiment – desire, happiness, surprise, anger, sadness, aggression. And love.  Our eyes say, “You’re important to me, and I care about you.”

So it baffles me that so many presenters do not use this tool in their arsenal when speaking with their audience.   I’ve noticed that many focused on anything BUT the audience, the people they’re there to engage. Instead they’re looking at inanimate objects – their speaking notes on a podium or a desk, the slides on their computer or in what I consider a worst case scenario, their PowerPoint presentation on a screen, while their backs are turned to their audience.

When this happens and I’m in the audience, I feel like I don’t matter.  They matter.   Their insecurity, or overwhelming stage fright or lack of time to rehearse and commit at least some major points to memory are what matter.   Or – less generously – they simply didn’t care enough to put in the effort.

They’re not getting one of the basic tenets of presentations.   And life.   Practice makes perfect.   And getting the content of your presentation down cold leaves you with the confidence to actually engage with your audience.  To speak to them, not at them.  To look like you’re there with them.    And you  may not look adorable enough to get that liver treat but you will convey knowledge and confidence and engender trust.   People will want to listen to you instead of checking their Facebook account on their mobile phone or wondering what they’re feeding the kids tonight.

I know, it’s scary and daunting. Fear is a prime motivator of almost every shitty presentation that’s been read off a screen.   Like most people, unless you happen to be a sociopath, you’re afraid you’ll stumble over your words, forget what you’re supposed to say, skip essential information that makes your case.  And that’s why you practice.  Alone for the first few times in whatever way is comfortable.   Lying down and memorizing.  Standing up and pacing.   And then you practice again but this time in front of someone supportive who will give you props first and then some constructive criticism.  (Remind them you need the props first, even if it’s just ‘yah, that shirt suits you’).  And when you feel confident enough to take to the stage, practice one more time. And remember, once you’ve engaged your audience, there is nothing you can do that’s so wrong – minus illegal shit – that you can’t fix it because they’re rooting for you to succeed.   You’ve got them.  They’re engaged.

Liberate yourself from the podium.  Create a personal connection with each and every audience member.  LOOK at them. You’ll feel the love.

Just look into the puppy’s eyes and tell me I’m wrong.

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 Keynote


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?


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!


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.

Show Me You Love Me


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.

Hallo Spaceboy


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…


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:



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.