How To Disappoint An Audience – by Apple

October 5, 2011

Every battle is won before it is fought.

So said Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese warlord-philosopher and strategist, and Apple proved him right again yesterday.

In Tim Cook’s first public outing as CEO, Apple’s fans were led to expect the much-trumpeted iPhone 5, and they were disappointed. Instead, Apple announced a new iPhone 4S, which has many cool features and is much more powerful than the original iPhone 4, but it looks the same and it’s not a 5.

The immediate reaction was one of disappointment among fans and commentators. A poll showed 81% of respondents were disappointed. The AAPL share price dropped, at one point by up to 5%, although it later recovered, but the market was hit, and a Business Insider article was entitled “Apple’s Disappointing iPhone Kills The Entire Market Comeback”. Jay Yarow said “People were right to feel let down! They didn’t get what they expected.”

Steve Jobs is a hard act to follow by any measure, and all eyes were on Tim Cook’s performance on stage to see if he could match the master. But if his performance was competent enough, the event still disappointed, because expectations had been raised and the event had been hyped, and the substance of the message failed to match the expectation. The BBC reported that “you could sense a great wave of disappointment rolling through the Apple community”.

Now I can hear you saying that Apple never announced that they would release anything called an iPhone 5, not yesterday, not ever. True. But the media speculation was so high in recent weeks that it was almost a fait accompli, and everyone was talking about the event as “the iPhone 5 launch”. TechCrunch announced a very certain “We know the iPhone 5 is being debuted soon.” LoopInsight announced the event as “the iPhone 5 event”. And there had already been plenty of leaks about the new teardrop design of the iPhone 5 which had originally been expected in June, and so they couldn’t possibly delay it any later than October, could they?

So were the media completely wrong to lead people to believe this was going to be the big day? Perhaps. But Apple were wrong to allow it.

I’ve already blogged about how it’s important to raise expectations to a level that’s high enough to make people interested, but not so high that you can’t then meet or exceed them. Apple just got this the wrong way round. To put it crudely, people were expecting a cool new iPhone 5. They got Cards.

That news sites and influential blogs gave people false expectations is certainly Apple’s problem, because what could have been a great event with some cool announcements turned into an event which disappointed people because of what it didn’t say, so it does affect Apple’s image – even if they will still sell shedloads of phones.

It was like going to see Jurassic Park 8 and leaving the cinema disappointed because there was only one small and docile dinosaur. If that’s what you’re expecting, it doesn’t matter how great the cinematography or acting are.

So since the resulting disappointment was Apple’s problem, it should have been Apple’s responsibility to influence expectations beforehand. That’s what PR is there for.

What, then, could Apple have done before the event to set expectations to a level that was high but achievable? Plenty. Here are some ideas.

  1. The event name and invitation. Having detected that people were expecting something unrealistic, they could have set clear expectations in the invitation or even the event name. If the invitation had mentioned something like “You remember the leap forward between the iPhone 3G and the iPhone 3GS? That’s nothing compared to what we’ll be announcing on October 4th” then people would still have expected a lot, but they’d have probably expected an updated 4 series and not a 5. And if a few journalists had received that, they’d have picked up on it and relayed it, and started speculating along the right lines. Instead, on receiving the press release, sites like LoopInsight immediately called it “the iPhone 5 launch”.
  2. A strategic leak. Apple should have realised that the battle was going to be lost unless they reset expectations, so a strategic leak to an influential blog or journalist might have been enough to achieve that. “We’re not calling it an iPhone 5, but it’s still a big step-change from the iPhone 4″ might have been enough. Or “The outside is the same as the iPhone 4, but what’s inside is completely new.” Would that steal some of Cook’s thunder (or Schiller’s, as it happens)? Perhaps. But it raises the question “so what’s new inside, in terms of hardware and software, and what will it do for me?” – and that’s the right kind of question for people to speculate about before the event.
  3. A teaser. Imagine a video on the Apple web site, building up to the brand-new phone, and then unveiling what looks like the iPhone 4. Then someone saying “Hold on, that’s just an iPhone 4!” And the answer could come: “It only looks like an iPhone 4. Find out what’s inside on Oct 4.” And then perhaps the new phone’s screen could open one eye invitingly. The slogan “It only looks like an iPhone 4″ takes something that people will say anyway, and adds the important word “only” which then raises expectations about what’s inside.

Frankly, there are all sorts of things Apple could have done. Yes, it is in a ‘quiet period’, but if it can make such a major product announcement during a quiet period, it can also set expectations properly. Its failure to do so has rebounded on it, and has caused the first perceived failure of Tim Cook’s tenure.

It just goes to show that it’s not always the delivery that lets a presentation down: it’s often mis-setting or misunderstanding the audience’s expectations. And with all it could have done to set expectations right, Apple can’t go blaming the media. Worse, when you willingly allow so many journalists to bark up the wrong tree, they end up getting angry at being made to look like fools, and they could decide to turn on Apple, which is no longer the cool underdog that inspired cult status, and which could end up portrayed as the next big corporate villain surprisingly quickly if they are not careful.

It’s a pity, because the iPhone 4S seems pretty cool, and deserves to be judged on what it is, not criticised for what it is not. And giving away the iPhone 3GS is a market-shaking announcement. If only they’d ensured expectations were set right, perhaps people would be talking about a successful debut for Cook, not a disappointment.

Every battle is won before it is fought. Tim Cook didn’t lose this one through his performance on the stage. Basically his PR people led him into an ambush even Jobs wouldn’t have escaped unhurt.

One more thing…

Apple’s product launches are quite long. This one had a lot of padding. The more stuff you announce at the same time, the lower the overall impact. If Jobs got one thing wrong in his most recent launches, this was it. One hour is enough, half an hour is better. Apple has absolutely no business giving air-time at an iPhone launch to an underwhelming app like Cards, or a few new skins for an iPod Nano. They can launch those with one of their regular emails.

BBC News Online’s Rory Cellan-Jones called it “an extremely long and ponderous event“. And many of Jobs’ events fell into that same trap.

When he launched the iPad2, he had three key messages. It’s lighter, it’s thinner, and it’s faster. That was all it needed – but it went on a long time. If Apple’s agenda yesterday had been to get three key messages across, it would have been these:

  • Here’s a fantastic new iPhone 4S with Siri and iOS5
  • We’re giving the iPhone 3GS away for free
  • iCloud is launching next week (I was wondering when it would finally launch, so it’s good to mention it)

And quite frankly, they should not have felt the need to add any more subjects to the agenda. I’d allow them a brief intro (a brief one) talking about some of their recent successes. But that’s all.

Lessons for presenters

  1. Delivery isn’t everything. Yes, it’s important, but your message is just as important as the way you deliver it.
  2. Understand your audience and their expectations.
  3. Set (or reset) expectations to a level where you can meet or exceed them. If you can’t or won’t do that, it will become your problem, so make it your responsibility.
  4. Choose 1-3 key messages and work to communicate them memorably. Cut out anything that doesn’t help deliver those key messages.
  5. Be brief, as FDR would have said.

Presentation 2.0: Resonate Naked

June 29, 2011

As I prepare to launch a new Ideas on Stage training course entitled Presentation 2.0, I feel compelled to write about two recent books which have captured the spirit of what we mean with Presentation 2.0, and which I would advise any presenter to read more than once.

Presentation 2.0 – the new art of presenting – is about engaging with your audience, telling authentic stories, and sharing passion and motivation with more concern for your audience than for yourself. In a Presentation 2.0, you are presenting not because you are important, but because your audience is important, so your focus is on them.

In a Presentation 2.0, you might choose to use visual aids to get your message across more memorably, but you will keep your slides simple and clear, and you will ensure that they are there only to help your audience to understand and remember your messages, not to help you to remember what you need to say.

In a Presentation 2.0, you will care more about what your audience will do with your message afterwards than what they think about you as a presenter.

For all these reasons, Presentation 2.0 is a far more effective and enjoyable way to communicate than the 1.0 style of reading bullet-ridden slideuments to bored audiences, or even the more advanced 1.1 style, promoted by slide-oriented sites like SlideShare, where you use pretty slides but still divert too much of the audience’s attention onto the slides and away from the two-way communication you should be having between presenter and audience. Death By Pretty Powerpoint is just sharpening the axe – it still falls and it still kills.

Nancy Duarte and Garr Reynolds ponder each other's first book

Now, before I talk about these two books, let me first provide a disclaimer. I didn’t pay for either of these – I received copies directly from the authors. The presentation business is still a fairly small world, people quote each other and write forewords for each other’s books, and that’s remarkably refreshing since we’re all working together with a common aim. While I’ve not yet met Nancy Duarte (an omission I’ll soon be correcting), I’ve shared a stage with Garr Reynolds and organize seminars with him, and – further disclaimer – he even did me the honour of including one of my articles in The Naked Presenter.

So I’m not exactly impartial here. But I’m not being paid to write a review, and if either author was hoping for one, I’ve likely disappointed them by delaying it for eight months.

Nancy Duarte wrote resonate as a prequel to her best-seller slide:ology. This fact alone is telling.

After many years as a leading presentation specialist, Nancy realised that before you can spend time making attractive and effective slides, you first have to structure your presentation properly, with clear objectives, simple messages, and a powerful scenario which draws on millennia of storytelling experience from Aristotle to Hollywood. And before you can do that, you have to focus on your audience.

Only when you know your audience and you have a story to match can you expect your ideas to resonate with them – and if your ideas resonate, then the audience will take them away and make them resonate far and wide.

resonate is therefore the book to read before slide:ology, and indeed, if it is the only presentation book you ever read, it will be a good choice because it tells you so much about storytelling, with many examples from Martin Luther King Jr to Star Wars, and if you can get your storytelling right and tailor it to your audience’s needs, you have the makings of a fine presentation.

The Naked Presenter follows on from Garr Reynolds’ previous two best-sellers, Presentation Zen and Presentation Zen Design. Where the first was about realising the received wisdom about presenting was all wrong, and offering a fresh, simple approach, and the second was about designing simple and attractive slides, The Naked Presenter focuses on how to deliver your presentation authentically and memorably.

Naked, in this sense, is figurative: it is about being yourself, being authentic, and making a connection with your audience. It is about presenting for them, not for you. It is about communicating, not putting on a show.

The “Naked Book”, as Garr calls it, is in fact a fantastic one-stop-shop for presentation skills, because it also covers how to structure your presentation, and how to approach your slides. So again, if this is the only presentation book you ever read, it’s a good choice.

Both books are beautifully designed and easy to read, in bite-size chunks. Personally, I would recommend reading The Naked Presenter first, then reading it again, and then getting into resonate. This is because Garr’s book will give you a strong foundation in all aspects of the Presentation 2.0 approach (storytelling, effective visuals and delivery), and Nancy’s book will then give you expert knowledge about how to choose your objectives and craft an effective story.

You can then of course go into detail on slide design with slide:ology or Presentation Zen Design, both of which I refer back to regularly. But don’t put the cart before the horse: learn what makes a presentation work, and then learn how to illustrate it. There are few if any skills you can learn which you will have as many opportunities to use as presenting effectively, and even fewer which will better help you to advance your career.

The evolution of Presentation 2.0 is clear if you contrast Nancy’s and Garr’s latest books with their previous ones. Previously, it seemed that the main battle to be fought was against bad slides, and both authors created powerful ammunition to beat the legions of slideuments and their endless flow of bullets. That battle is not yet won, but the tide is turning.

Yet now it is clear that fixing your slides isn’t good enough. Films don’t win awards only with brilliant supporting roles: they need to have top-class lead actors, and very strong storylines which truly engage the target audience. Slides are just a support, no more. You need to make your ideas resonate, and you need to engage properly with your audience. Only then can your finely manicured slides be effective.

That’s why resonate and The Naked Presenter mark the beginning of a new era in presenting, an era where the audience is paramount; where presentations put ideas on stage, not mere information; where those ideas are crafted and delivered so they resonate with audiences; and where presenters engage their audiences in a naked, authentic way.

This is the Presentation 2.0 era. This is where we can all resonate naked. And our audiences will most definitely thank us for it.


TEDx Paris 2011 – An inside (re)view

January 19, 2011

Over a month ago, while we were preparing the speakers for last weekend’s fantastic TEDx Paris 2011, Prof Francine Leca asked us:

But why do you all do this, and for free?

As the conference drew to a close, and Prof Leca brought the audience to its 2000 feet, I wrote her a short message explaining simply:

You are the answer to your own question.

It was simply an amazing experience to be involved with so many remarkable people, speakers and organisers, who were all full of the TED spirit which is a thirst for knowledge, discovery, meaning and above all sharing. Francine Leca is an astounding lady whose charity has saved the lives of 1600 children whose hearts would not have let them live without an operation their families could not afford. She gives and keeps on giving. What could be more TED than that?

I also had the opportunity of working with many of the other speakers, some more than others, but even the little oratory tips clearly helped. One speaker stopped crossing his arms and another stopped clutching his head and umming, just in time for the big event. Judging by the many tweets, nobody found the presentations amateurish, and some even claimed that they were so polished as to be not very French. This shows how much the speakers worked at their delivery as well as their content, and some did make a huge effort.

Some did not want or need coaching. Etienne Klein speaks in public all the time, and passionately hates rehearsing, so there was no point forcing rehearsals on him – but he showed that he didn’t need any help. Catherine Vidal needed no help either, although she did take the time to rehearse with us to be sure she was hitting the right notes. Francine Leca improvised well around a defined framework, but a rehearsal would have eliminated one slight mix-up on the slides.

On the other hand, rehearsals and preparation certainly helped a number of talks. The first time I heard Etienne Parizot, I understood precisely nothing, but I gave him the idea of opening with 3D TV – something people can relate to – and suggested using a prop to explain his concept. He ended up using a different prop (a large cardboard box) which worked excellently, and while his talk was still quite hard to grasp because of the subject matter, the structure was clear and his enthusiasm transported the audience with him into his four-dimensional virtual reality.

Judging by all the comments and tweets, Etienne’s was among the more popular talks of the day, and that’s simply down to strong preparation using powerful storytelling techniques, and a very visible passion for his subject. If only more speakers showed that much passion.

Likewise, the bestselling novelist Bernard Werber was very interested in any ideas and tips to improve his talk, and it ended up being almost unrecognisable from the first draft. Most of the ideas were his, but he benefited from bouncing them off the team members and integrating our suggestions in some cases, and while like most people he didn’t enjoy rehearsing, he realised how much it was helping him to improve his talk. Again, a little more rehearsing might have helped, but overall he did a fine job especially considering he’s not a regular public speaker.

Bernard was another person I felt honoured to work with, and we ended up talking about writing and communicating. It turns out that his method for constructing novels is very similar to the Ideas on Stage method for creating presentations, and he gave me all sorts of writing advice. It is often said that you get out of something what you put into it. I put plenty into TEDx Paris this year, but boy did I get a lot out of it.

In terms of the slides I created for the speakers, my greatest satisfaction was with those for the renowned journalist and editor Jean-Louis Servan-Schreiber. They were clear, simple and attractive, with relevant images, and it was easy for Jean-Louis to handle them and talk to them. We had worked them carefully to have only a small amount of text on each slide, just the key messages, and it was wonderful to see that all those key messages were tweeted and retweeted verbatim.

My overall impression of this edition of TEDx Paris was strongly positive. Of a huge number of tweets, very few were in any way negative, and while different people seemed to appreciate different talks, that’s fine – there was something for everyone, and a whole bunch of fantastic ideas and approaches to take away and share.

The music (from Irma and Djazia, as well as Jacques Dupriez) was excellent, the line-up of speakers was remarkable, and the organisation was top-class (note: I coached speakers and helped with slides, that’s all, so I’m crediting Michel, Sylvain, Xavier and their team and not myself). All in all, an extremely memorable event. TEDx Paris is now an event to be reckoned with, and I can’t wait for the 2012 edition.

We all left the theatre buzzing with ideas, full of energy and motivation, and determined to do something, anything, to share that energy and make the world a better place. That is what TED is all about. As Bernard Werber said at the end of his talk, “Everything good that will happen to our children will be conceived by somebody who’s alive today. Maybe one of you.” Now there’s a call to action…

Photo credits to Olivier Ezratty – his excellent gallery is here.


Review: Presentation Zen European Seminar 2010

December 13, 2010

From all the comments I’ve received, the Presentation Zen European Seminar 2010 was a fantastic event, highly appreciated by the participants, and throughly enjoyed by everyone.

It was a lot of work to get everything organised, but it was well worth it. Garr Reynolds was superb as always, and led the participants through an entertaining, instructive and memorable afternoon.

The show began, of course, the evening before, when we congregated at Un Dimanche A Paris, the new chocolate-themed concept store opened by Pierre Cluizel just off Boulevard Saint-Germain. Garr was able to meet many fans including some who weren’t able to make it to the seminar itself, and it was also an opportunity for some seminar participants to get to know each other beforehand.

The location was beautiful, the wine delicious and the food (we stayed to eat in the restaurant) was simply sublime. I will be taking my wife there soon. Garr enjoyed the guided tour – and the chocolates!

Pierre’s charming wife Sylvie also provided us with some chocolate mignonnettes (small squares) which were the perfect accompaniment to the coffee break during the Presentation Zen seminar. This was one of three surprises we sprung on the participants. The others were a Presentation Zen Way bento box, and – just at the end – an advance copy of Garr’s new book, The Naked Presenter, which Garr was only too pleased to sign and dedicate.

Between these surprises, Garr’s typically strong performance and the great support provided by Microsoft and Pearson, it was a successful event and although tickets weren’t cheap, it was generally considered great value for money.

But don’t just believe me – there are plenty of participants who have blogged about the seminar, and I’ll put links to their posts and photos in the comments below. (You can find many of our photos here.)

So, time for thankyous.

Thanks to Microsoft (Saïd Sbihi, Blaise Vignon and Christophe Lauer) for hosting the event in such a great room and supporting us so professionally.

Thanks to Pearson (Cécile Legros, Victoria Watkins and Florence Young) for making the bento boxes affordable and for giving away Garr’s new book.

Thanks to Pierre Morsa, my partner at Ideas on Stage, for his tireless enthusiasm and great organisation with tickets, invoices, etc.

Thanks to all the many participants for making it such a special day – I hope we will meet again.

And of course, thanks to Garr for bringing his Presentation Zen Way to Europe and for trusting us with this event, not for the first time, and hopefully not the last.


The Magical Missing Ingredient

October 28, 2010

I saw a talk recently which ticked many of the important boxes for a good talk. It was well-constructed, the speaker knew her talk exceptionally well without needing notes or slides, there were persuasive points, she spoke clearly and with good use of pauses, and there was a clear message.

Why, then, did I feel it wasn’t a great talk? It’s because there was a missing ingredient, and without it, the talk felt like an eclair without chocolate, or a balloon with no air.

So what was this magical missing ingredient? Herself. There was nothing personal at all in her talk. Why was she talking about this topic? Why did she care? The listener had no idea. Her theory and second-hand examples were not nearly powerful enough.

People don’t want you to spout facts or talk about things that happened to other people. If you’re not the best person to talk about your subject, choose another subject – or another speaker.

Let me illustrate the alternative. This morning I watched a fantastic TEDx talk which had a massive personal element. Scott Stratten (of Unmarketing fame) talked at TEDx Oakville about himself, his family, and things which happened to them. He talked about this story with passion and real emotion, and truly invested himself in his talk.

Watch and enjoy – and try not to cry.

Right, now you know what I’m talking about. Could you imagine that talk being anywhere near as powerful if Scott had talked about these same things happening to someone else? Of course not. Scott had a message for us, and he got that message across by engaging our emotions.

He laid himself bare. This was extremely naked presenting. Scott talked about things he did and felt which he’s not so proud of now – his human failings. He spoke with genuine emotion about his son, his ex-wife and his girlfriend. He didn’t just relate facts – he brought us into his story and made us feel what he was feeling. That’s the magical ingredient which all too often is missing. Scott was the absolute best person to talk about his subject, because it was HIS subject.

He also used some very good techniques, which I’ll mention in passing:

  • An amusing opening, about him and Justin Bieber – which also served to introduce him as a well-known social media influencer for those who weren’t aware
  • Frequent repetition of key themes (“being a big deal isn’t a big deal”, “you just keep going”)
  • No distracting slides – this story didn’t need any
  • A clear conclusion which speaks directly to TED audiences (“I think that’s an idea worth spreading”)

CONCLUSION

The magical ingredient for your talk is yourself. Think of your talk as a balloon, and yourself as the air to pump it up. Make sure you put enough of yourself into it, your own experience, your passion, your emotions, your convictions and even your failings, and the balloon will fly.

However, don’t pump it up too much with “look what I did, look how great I am” – otherwise the balloon will burst. Nobody wants to hear someone talk about how fantastic they are. If you give a great talk full of passion, experience and personal emotion, and have the strength to show your human failings, they’ll realise for themselves how fantastic you are.


Do Americans present better than Brits?

October 26, 2010

I should declare right at the start: I’m British, so of course I’d love to say the Brits are the best presenters. Contrary to what much of the non-Anglo-Saxon world thinks, Brits and Yanks love little more than showing off their superiority over their transatlantic cousins. We’re very competitive. And in this unequal friendly combat, it’s rather lucky that Brits are good losers.

(Americans would say it’s because we have so much practice. Although they’d spell it ‘practise’.)

I am often struck in France about how people talk about “the Anglo-Saxon world” assuming that we’re all the same, particularly between America and Britain – and there are significant minorities in both America and Britain who would dispute whether either country could fairly be described nowadays as Anglo-Saxon at all.

For example, I was recently asked in an interview on French national TV: “Do you think presentations are better in the Anglo-Saxon world?” Yet we’re not the same at all. As Shaw pointed out, we are “separated by a common language”, but there are far more differences between Britain and America than between Britain and France in my view.

Perhaps at one point I will go into that on another blog, but this one is focused on presentation skills, and I’d like to talk about a recent speech by fellow speaking coach Phillip Khan-Panni at the UK Speechwriters’ Guild conference, about how Brits and Americans present differently. Here it is.

I found his speech was well-constructed and contained a number of very good points, which I’ll summarise below. Phillip has a delightfully clear and crisp voice. It is a pity the lighting was so poor and the unused screens were not switched off for the duration of his talk. The speaker was the dark shadow between the two distracting sources of light. That’s not the speaker’s fault, but if I were him, I would have been rather angry (although, as a Brit, it would have been a very polite and reserved form of anger).

So what are the differences? Here are some that Phillip found:

Body language

Americans perceive that British speakers often have their hands behind their backs. This isn’t a very good way of speaking, but indeed it is common. Many young Brits learn as Scouts to stand with their hands behind their backs, and it is a natural choice for a formal pose – because speaking in public is considered a formal activity. You would rarely see an American speaking with their hands behind their backs. How can you convey passion like that?

Passion

Passion is perhaps the key difference between the nations. American audiences expect their speakers to care, to be passionate about their subject. In Britain, a speaker can be criticised for appearing to care too much. Brits tend to be more reserved, certainly more modest, and audiences tend to expect that. It is hardly surprising that passionate American speakers make a better connection with their audiences, yet an animated, passionate American speaker might fail to make a connection with a British audience which may consider him brash, self-important and conceited.

Objectives

Typically, Brits see presentations and speeches as an opportunity to communicate information, whereas Americans aim to change people, to inspire them, to motivate them. This works much better, since presentations are usually very poor forums for communicating information: most of it is forgotten within days if not hours. A feeling can persist, however; an emotion can help you to recall what was said; and a change of mindset could be permanent.

Interaction

American presenters tend to interact with their audiences far more than British presenters. Perhaps again it is part of the British reserve. I always ensure my audience participates somehow, even with a very large group, but I know that I am the exception and not the rule. Connection is key to the success of your presentation, and if you can get your audience to participate, they are far more likely to listen, learn and care about you and your message.

Storytelling

This is an area where Americans are years ahead of the rest of the world in presentation terms. Great American presenters use personal stories to drive home their messages. These work far better than theory, and also better than the second-person or generic stories occasionally told by Brits.

Language

Here is a major difference: while British speakers and audiences appear to care about the beauty of the language, Americans want a simple message in everyday language. Are you aiming to impress or to communicate? Brits in America therefore need to tone down their long words and obscure idioms, and use clear and simple language. American audiences aren’t dumb – they are just more interested in your message than your vocabulary. Equally, Americans in Britain may want to engage a British speechwriter to ‘tone up’ their speeches a little, otherwise British audiences may feel they are being talked to as if they are children.

Variation of tone

I found this point particularly interesting. British speakers vary their tone of voice very little, usually using only three notes of the musical scale. A passionate and energetic American presenter, in contrast, will use far more. Variation of tone, volume and speed are key tools to convey emotion and keep the audience interested. It is no coincidence that ‘monotonous’ has come to be synonymous with ‘boring’.

Conclusion

All these points are of course generalisations, and naturally there will be many exceptions. Phillip is one, and I like to consider myself another, just as there are many boring passionless American presenters out there. There are, however, enough differences between British and American audiences and speakers to demonstrate that when it comes to presenting, there is no single uniform “Anglo-Saxon world”.

I wouldn’t say that Americans present better than Brits because it’s all about adapting to your audience. However, it would be no bad thing if the rest of the world learnt more about passion and storytelling, and found ways to adapt those techniques to their audiences. What do you think?


Review of TEDx Paris Universités 2010

October 19, 2010

Not all of France’s students were demonstrating against the planned raising of the retirement age this Saturday. While thousands were in the streets of Paris fighting like Canute against a tide which is going to come in sooner or later, others were in the nearby Cité des Sciences at the first (and likely not the last) TEDx Paris Universités event.

A small reminder for those who haven’t yet been bitten by the TED bug: TED is the world’s leading conference featuring great presentations by leading stars, scientists and thinkers about practically anything interesting – any ‘idea worth spreading’. No speaker, no matter how important, has more than 18 minutes. The format is so successful that there are now many independently organised events called TEDx events, run under the TED umbrella and following the same format.

This one was organised by a group of students from various Paris universities (hence the name), but it was the first TEDx event anywhere to feature a mix of student speakers and ‘professional’ presenters.

I was there not only as a spectator, but also as a sponsor, since Ideas on Stage lent its support to the event to help prepare the presenters and fine-tune some of the slides. It was a wonderful experience to see such enthusiasm from the organisers, the volunteer helpers and the six student presenters.

There are some great photos of the event on Flickr.

toto.jpg

There were a number of very interesting talks, but the most interesting thing to come out of the day from a presentation perspective was this very simple fact on which my business partner Pierre Morsa and I agreed wholeheartedly:

There are two categories of presenters: those who prepare, and those who suck.

Luckily, most of the presenters prepared very well, and none better than the six students who took the stage, each for 9 minutes. Their stories and visuals were well-prepared and they knew them perfectly, and they worked hard at their delivery. They had also worked hard to make the talks interesting and in some cases amusing.

One of the ‘professional’ presenters, Romain Lacombe, worked very hard at his talk and rewrote it at least twice (to my knowledge) after trying it out and receiving feedback. The end result was a great improvement, and showed the value of hard work and careful preparation.

Some other ‘pro’ presenters were also very good. I think in particular of Dominique Sciamma, who prepared well and asked for feedback, and who had created a very interesting talk. Michel Puech also gave a good talk at the end, although it was just as well Pierre Morsa had a chance to rework his slides, which in the end looked as good as text-based slides can. And a special word for Charles Mollet, the ringmaster, who spoke engagingly and convincingly, and is clearly at home on the stage.

Most of the other talks were good without being amazing, but there was one which almost sent me to sleep. This was the presenter who refused to rehearse, who refused to share his slides in advance, and who refused even to share the content of his talk beyond the title. It was hard to watch someone so brilliant deliver such a mind-numbing talk which might have worked in a lab but not at TED. Worse still, he set the bar very high with a title which was all about making science sexy. Yeah, right. I’ve seen sexier snails.

This amazingly talented scientist demonstrated how not to speak engagingly, how not to adapt to your audience, how not to use visual aids, and how not to construct a storyline. It’s quite remarkable that he managed to fit so many lessons into only 16 minutes. Pity they weren’t the ones he wanted to give. Yet he wasn’t a below-average speaker. Most talks are this boring and badly-constructed, and often with even worse slides. But not at TED.

So here’s my advice to event organisers everywhere: if a speaker refuses to rehearse with you, kick him or her out. Quickly. Nobody is too good to rehearse. Steve Jobs rehearses for weeks before one of his big events. TED is a big event. People expect fantastic presentations. And very often, even at the main TED conference, the best talks don’t come from the biggest names.

This event was no exception. The student speakers did the best job – all six of them. We had good PowerPoint slides, better Keynote slides, and two excellent Prezi visuals, all supporting well-constructed talks. In some cases, they could still have benefited from speaking more slowly, but that will come with age and experience.

The best thing though was that they had such passion, and none more so than Halim Madi who deservedly won the contest as best student presenter. His prize: a trip to Palm Springs for the 2011 TED Active event, and a chance to bring his talk to California – and personal coaching from Ideas on Stage to help him translate his talk into English and (of course) rehearse.

As the news coverage of the ongoing pension protests shows, French youth is not short of passion. It was extremely encouraging to see these students put so much of theirs into making this event such a great success. Congratulations and well done to them all: Alexandre Koenig, Elise Melon, Bruno de Saint Ange, Pénélope Liot, Sophie Charlotte Chenard, Victor de Noailly, Edouard Jacquet, Anatole Douaud, Quentin Blanchard, Nicolas Vergnet and all the many many others who were involved, plus the student speakers Alexis Bergès, Arthur Bodolec, Cécilia Durieu, Clément Cazalot, Victor de Noailly and of course the winner Halim Madi. You should all be proud of yourselves.

Now roll on TEDx Paris in January 2011… the bar is set high.


Steve Jobs launches iPhone 4

June 8, 2010

By his own high standards, Steve Jobs had something of a tough time yesterday at WWDC where he launched the iPhone 4. His demonstrations went embarrassingly wrong when the WiFi connection wasn’t fast enough and his brand new iPhone 4 was unable to load the New York Times home page.

You can view the video here.

Failure isn’t falling down, however – failure is staying down. Despite the best rehearsals, Murphy will often attack you on stage, and Jobs has been frankly quite lucky up to now. Even his meticulous preparation could not get over the 500+ WiFi base stations in the room, with half the audience taking notes on laptops or smartphones and the other half tweeting furiously.

So it’s all about how you handle it. To his credit, Jobs handled it very well (although I wouldn’t like to be the technician having to answer to him after the show – Jobs is well-known to have a remarkable temper and a low tolerance of failure). He smiled, he improvised a request for everyone to switch off their devices so he could do another demo, he joked (“Please police each other”, “I’ve got time!”), and he did not get flustered or annoyed.

If everything is going wrong, you can either laugh or cry. Laugh, and the audience will laugh with you, and probably sympathize. Cry, and the audience will disengage completely. Jobs got this right. But he could only be comfortable improvising because he knew his presentation so well and had prepared thoroughly.

Many people seem to think that presenting is either improvisation or learning-by-heart, or somewhere in-between. That is too simplistic. In fact it’s so much easier to improvise – or look spontaneous – if you have prepared everything meticulously, as Jobs does.

I’ve taken a good long critical look at his whole presentation yesterday, and here are my thoughts as a presentation designer and coach about what went well, and what didn’t go so well – the WiFi issues aside. I’d love to hear your comments too.

WHAT WENT WELL:

  • Great slides. Jobs always uses simple, clear and beautiful slides, with one idea per slide.
  • Very positive language. Jobs is a master at using extremely positive language to convey his enthusiasm and convince people his products are incredible. (Of course, if they weren’t as good as the hype, he’d be guilty of raising expectations falsely, so if your products aren’t as amazing as Apple’s, you might not want to be quite so positive – but you have to admire his use of positive language.) Here are some examples:

“Without a doubt one of the most beautiful things we’ve ever made”
“Beyond any consumer product you have ever seen”
“Unheard of”
“Just gorgeous”
“The thinnest smartphone on the planet”
“Never been done before”
“People haven’t even dreamed of a display like this on a smartphone”
“Really cool engineering”
“When you hold this in your hands, it’s unbelievable”
“Once you use a Retina display, you can’t go back”
“The best window on the planet”

    • Use of humour. (Or ‘humor’ for the US audience. More on that later.) Jobs used humour on a few occasions to get the audience laughing. When showing the iPhone 4 for the first time, he joked: “Stop me if  you’ve already seen this” – a reference to the stolen prototype widely broadcast recently, and the audience roared with laughter. This was a great way of getting over a perceived weakness of his keynote – that people had already seen what he was unveiling. Later on, after the initial WiFi issues, he joked: “Since this demo does not require the network, we should be OK” to similar laughter.
    • Excellent structure. There were three key parts to Jobs’ presentation – the iPad, the App Store, and the iPhone 4. Three is a good number. The iPhone 4 part was split into 8 points, announced at the start. What makes it work, though, is the way Jobs has a clear beginning and end to each section. For example, “So that’s my update on the iPad” closed the first section, and not only was this a simple and clear way to close it, it was also a cue for applause, and audiences love nothing more than knowing clearly when it’s time to applaud (cf my recent post on applause).
    • Clear use of figures. No useless graphs or tables here. The slide showed “2 million”. Jobs said “We’ve already sold 2 million iPads. That’s one every three seconds.” Nobody can really visualize 2 million of anything, but if you put a number in terms anyone can relate to, then the number suddenly means something. Furthermore, when talking about the App Store, Jobs had three figures to give: 15000 apps received every week by Apple; in 30 languages; and 95% are approved within a week. He used three slides, with one figure per slide. Couldn’t be clearer or simpler. How many of us would have been tempted to use a pie chart?
    • Use of real-life examples. People love stories, they love real-life examples and not just theory or sales guff, and Jobs knows it. To show how cool the iPad is, he simply reproduced this quote from an email he had received:
    • “I was sitting in a café with my iPad, and it got a girl interested in me. Now that’s what I call a magical device!”
    • What a simple and great story! It uses pathos very neatly, made the audience laugh, but also makes a serious point in that the iPad is a very cool, even seductive piece of equipment.
    • Playing to the audience. Although Jobs knew clearly that his worldwide audience would be many times larger than the 5000+ people in the WWDC conference, he also knew that getting the live audience on his side, applauding and laughing, would positively affect the viewing experience of the many virtual viewers around the world. So on multiple occasions, he talked to developers and made points which were particularly positive for them. He used another great story for this which says things far more positively and authentically than Jobs ever could:
    • “I earned more on sales of The Elements for iPad in the first day than from the past 5 years of Google ads on periodictable.com” – Theo Gray, Wolfram Associates
    • Repetition. When launching FaceTime, the new video calling app, Jobs recapped the main selling points, then showed a video about FaceTime, and then showed the same slide again with the same selling points. This didn’t seem false or wrong in any way – it was simply a very effective way of getting the message across. A point you don’t repeat or recall in any way is a point destined to be forgotten very quickly.
    • Rhythm. If Jobs had simply been speaking for 80 minutes, even he wouldn’t have managed to keep the audience very interested. It is important to break things up at various points to maintain the audience’s attention. Jobs did this with videos, demos and guest speakers so there was never a long monologue and despite such a long presentation, nobody had time to get bored.
    • Conclusion. Jobs concluded his speech with these words: “This is our new baby. We hope you love it as much as we do. Thankyou very much.” Again, this was a clear cue for applause, and a very simple and succinct way of finishing his presentation. You can bet he rehearsed that carefully.

    Now, not everything went so well. There were some things that even Jobs could do better, and some of his guest speakers weren’t up to the same standard. Here are a few points to take away and improve for next time:

    • Lack of enthusiasm. Jobs has been more enthusiastic in the past, not with his language, but with his delivery. Although at most times he appeared positive enough, at one point he said “We’re very excited” but he sounded as if he couldn’t care less, and it detracted from that message. If you are a newsreader and you have a wide smile while announcing a major catastrophe, that just doesn’t look right. Likewise, if you say you’re excited but sound glum, it also doesn’t work and sounds false.
    • US focus. Jobs announced the US prices for the iPhone line-up, and a special offer from AT&T. That’s fine, but this was the “Worldwide” Developers’ Conference, and Jobs’ audience was a worldwide one. He could at least have used words around this such as “for the Americans in the audience” or “here’s an example of the prices we’ll be offering, and we’ll announce prices for other countries soon”, but he missed that opportunity, and to a non-American like me, came across as just yet another American who doesn’t realise that the US is one of many countries in the world, and far from the biggest. He also used US figures for smartphone usage – why is US data so important when the US is one of the least developed countries when it comes to mobile telecoms? Maybe many people will disagree, but I felt Jobs missed a trick with such a strong focus on the US which represented far from the majority of his total audience.
    • Language blooper. This most likely isn’t Jobs’ fault but he was the messenger, and there’s nobody else there to shoot… Jobs presented a new component in the iPhone 4 called the “backside illuminated sensor”. This sounds fine until you realise that for the rest of the English-speaking world, ‘backside’ is what an American would call ‘butt’ or ‘ass’. Frankly, I’m not too sure I want my backside illuminated any time soon. Whoever named this needs an urgent lesson in intercultural communication (and Ideas on Stage will be happy to volunteer).
    • Swaying around. This wasn’t Jobs but one of his guests, Activision SVP Karthik Bala. There was little wrong with what he said or how he said it (and he did have a very strong conclusion), but he had a real problem with swaying from left to right, which was accentuated because directly behind him (as viewed by the video camera) there was a border between the curtains and screen, and this accentuated his apparent nervousness. When presenting, either walk deliberately and for a reason, or stand still and move only your head and your arms (or some combination of both). Never sway!
    • Hands in pockets. This was Marc Pincus, CEO of Zynga, presenting FarmVille for iPhone. (Am I alone in wishing that app had never been invented?) He looked nervous and unnatural on stage, tried hard but was seen to be trying hard, but his worst sin was to put his hands in his pockets. Jobs is a fine example of how to use your hands and arms in a presentation. Pincus would do well to learn from him.

    Those are my conclusions from what was overall a very well-prepared and successful keynote. I’d love to hear your comments about the keynote and your reactions to my thoughts.


    Ideas on Stage

    May 25, 2010

    Logo (c) Ideas on Stage

    For the last few months I have been working with Pierre Morsa to set up Ideas on Stage, a new company which aims to promote excellent communication by providing services to presenters, from presentation design through training courses to one-on-one coaching.

    Pierre is one of the foremost presentation specialists in France, and his blog is probably the most respected French blog on the art of presenting. I am very fortunate to be working with him, and together we aim to make Ideas on Stage the leading presentation specialist in France, both in English and French.

    We have already given a highly successful seminar at HEC Paris (the #1 business school in Europe according to the Financial Times rankings), with more to follow, and we’re putting together a range of great courses for managers, leaders and entrepreneurs. Furthermore, on our web site, you can see some examples of the great presentations Pierre has designed for customers such as the famous photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand.

    We’re therefore ready to go and ramping up – and open to new customers who are eager to leave behind the boring world of Powerpoint abuse and bullet-point blues, and discover how to deliver presentations that people remember for all the right reasons. So spread the word and help us in our mission to improve communication and bring out the best in people.

    For more information: info@ideasonstage.com and http://ideasonstage.com


    Review of TEDx Paris

    February 15, 2010

    It’s now been two weeks since I attended TEDx Paris, and it’s a good time to write a review.  Why two weeks later?  Because the fourth key of communication is to be remembered, and it’s an instructive test to see what (if anything) I remember after a certain period of time.

    First, a short introduction to TEDx for those of you who have never heard of it.  TED is an increasingly famous conference which brings together famous and/or brilliant people to speak for up to 18 minutes about an ‘idea worth spreading’.  TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design which was the original remit of the conference, but over the years it has expanded its scope to cover a wide range of topics.  Essentially it’s a collection of remarkable presentations from remarkable speakers, and all the ‘talks’ are later made available for free viewing on the web site http://www.ted.com.

    So what is TEDx?  The ‘x’ appears to mean ‘external’ and this denotes a conference organized by a third party but which has the same aims and which conforms to the same philanthropic ideals.  The recent TEDx conference in Paris (in French) was one such event.

    So what do I remember two weeks on (without cheating and reviewing the talks on the TEDx Paris web site, naturally!), and what are the key learnings from the event regarding communication skills?  I will structure this with a series of awards, not all of which are particularly desirable, but I’ll start with the ones worth winning…

    Most Memorable Talk

    There were a few excellent talks which stay in the memory.  The best was from a raconteur and radio broadcaster, Soro Solo, who demonstrated the potency of a powerful deep voice combined with a well-constructed story and a healthy dose of humour.  The overall message was one of mutual understanding, with the key takeaway preaching tolerance and mutual understanding: “Your truth and my truth help us both get closer to the truth”.  I can remember practically every detail of his story, and how much I enjoyed listening to it.

    Why was it so memorable?  It wasn’t the slides – because he didn’t use any.  He didn’t need any.  It was largely because it was a story, and moreover a personal story, and because he was so entertaining in the way he told it.  Stories are so important because humans are storytelling animals, and stories are like hooks on which we hang our memories.  It’s so much easier for us to remember stories than simple theory.

    Best Show Moment

    Another talk which was memorable for its personal story was Sarah Kaminsky, who told us about her father’s life as an ethical forger, using his talents to help those deserving and in need of false papers.  This talk also benefited from the revelation at the end that her father Adolfo was in fact in the front row, and joined her on stage to a standing ovation.  Steve Jobs always tries to incorporate a memorable moment – I call these “show moments” – in his presentations, and this was a great example.  Furthermore, Sarah was a very comfortable and talented communicator, and the story was well told and worth hearing.

    Best Visuals

    A presentation remarkable for its visuals was an explanation of black holes which used good clear slides with videos to illustrate the science.  This went down very well.  Sadly it was the only set of stunning visuals on show.  More on that later.

    Most Uplifting Endings

    I appreciated Gildas Bonnel’s talk about ethical communication and advertising.  This was well delivered and enjoyable, and ended with a message of hope and motivation which was uplifting and inspiring.  I also very much enjoyed the closing speech by “Vinvin” (Cyrille de Lasteyrie) which was amusing and well-crafted, and a well-chosen way to end the conference.

    Most Awakening Moment

    A real highlight was an American performer called Sly Johnson who woke us up after the break with a breathtaking song using a special repeater mixing box which allowed him to record bars of music and then play them back while he sang and recorded something new.  I first saw a performer do this as the warm-up act at a Cure concert some years back, and it’s still just as entertaining.  Sly was exceptional.  And very well done to the organizers for choosing to put him on just after the break.

    What Was The Point? Awards

    These awards go to presenters I remembered (which is already a start), but either I can’t remember what they said, or I haven’t worked out why they were there.

    There was an architect who told us about her quest to adopt a Brazilian child and help the favela-dwellers, which was certainly personal but not really an ‘idea worth spreading’.  There was an entrepreneur who told us about his different businesses, which was not especially memorable and I can’t remember the point of his talk.  François Taddeï had ideas about education, which were probably quite good, although I really can’t remember what they were.  And there was an Argentinian who spoke for quite some time, in an extremely entertaining and enjoyable way, but I have no recollection at all of what he was saying or why.

    Worst Audio Blunders

    On the negative side, there were a few could-do-better moments.  For example, if you’re going to use a lot of microphones, make sure the ones backstage are switched off during the talks.  Equally, make sure they are properly installed: one presenter had his mike too close to his cheek, and it kept scraping against it which made an awful noise. (Oddly that talk isn’t yet online – I wonder if it will make it…)

    Most Painful Slides

    In terms of visuals, there were some pretty awful examples.  There should be a UN resolution banning the use of Comic Sans in any serious event, and it was particularly galling for a slide guru like me to see both the dreaded Comic Sans and the avoidable Times New Roman on the same slide… two cardinal sins, and the mixture made three.  It hurt.  I won’t name and shame online, especially since the lady in question is apparently doing fantastic things in medicine and deserves credit for that, but sadly I was so distracted by the ugly slides that I had trouble listening and don’t quite know what fantastic things she’s doing.  Simple lesson: it doesn’t matter how good a speaker you are or how good your speech is – if you put some awful-looking slides on the wall behind you, you lose respect, credibility and attention.

    Conclusion

    Overall, there were a few great presentations, some OK ones, and some less good ones.  If I use the analogy of a music album, TED is the equivalent of a compilation of chart-toppers, whereas TEDx Paris was more of a studio album – some potential singles, and a lot of filler tracks.  It was also a complete mixture of genres, without any noticeable theme, which was probably the intention but which still seemed odd to me.

    If I were to give some advice to the organisers for next time, it would be as follows:

    • pay more attention to switching off backstage microphones
    • be more selective regarding the choice of presenters and subjects
    • get an expert to prepare all the visuals and ideally to assist the presenters to make their talks memorable
    • allow some more time for networking

    Equally, particularly considering that this was organized by volunteers, it would be unfair to be too harsh: they got most things right, handled the logistics impeccably, and it was a worthwhile event, so thanks and well done to Michel and the team.

    If you speak French, you can view many of the talks at the TEDx Paris web site.  If you were there, or you’ve seen the videos, what was your impression?  Your comments are very welcome.  Thanks for reading.


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