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.

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!

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.