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.



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!

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.