Stone Cold Phil Davison

September 17, 2010

Astounding. There are many words to describe this speech, but astounding sums it up for me.

Astounding that a candidate from a serious political party would think this is a suitable way to run for a nomination.

Astounding that anybody could communicate quite this badly, making very basic errors.

And astounding in particular that Phil Davison (no relation, honest) claims to have a Masters degree in Communication!

Now this video has run up over a million hits in a week, and I’m not going to repeat what many other presentation coaches have already said so expertly – notably John Zimmer – but I’ll just say a few words about passion.

It’s not about how passionate you are, but how passionate you appear to be, and in what way. A speech without any enthusiasm or passion is as dry and featureless as a desert. However, there’s a difference between showing genuine passion in an acceptable way, and speaking like a wrestler who’s shouting into the mike about how he’s about to beat his opponent to a pulp. Despite the electoral success of Jesse Ventura, politicians are expected to show passion in a more, erm, civilised way.

Compare Phil Davison’s speech with this one by wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin from some years back. They go rather well together.

The tone is very similar, but Austin had obviously prepared a little better, not needing to resort to notes, and his conclusion was very well scripted, using good rhetorical techniques. Perhaps they went to the same communications college?

Phil Davison didn’t get the nomination. And I’m not sure if any communications coaches would even consider trying to turn him into a respectable political speaker. But his style has its place, and perhaps if he learns to do without the notes (and hits the gym) he has a future in the wrestling ring… you heard it here first!


What the iPad teaches us about presenting

May 10, 2010

Apple’s new iPad is the latest tech sensation, and while many expected it to bomb, its initial sales and reviews are extremely positive. So, you ask yourself, what has this got to do with a blog about presenting?

One of the greatest skills of a presenter is storytelling, part of which is the art of using analogies and metaphors to bring meaning to your message and create some emotional reaction in the audience which aids understanding and retention.

Therefore I am taking this opportunity to use the iPad to bring home four important lessons about presenting.

Firstly, people like the iPad because it is simple and easy to use. How many presentations are simple to understand and easy to remember? Not so many. Aim to make your presentations clear. If you try to catch too many rabbits, you won’t catch any – likewise, if you try to communicate too many messages or too much detail, you might not communicate anything for very long. Concentrate on the key 2-3 messages, or one if you can manage it; communicate them simply and clearly; and find ways to make them easy to remember.

Secondly, people like the iPad because it looks and feels cool. How many presentations look cool nowadays? Would Al Gore have had such success with An Inconvenient Truth if he’d used a typical corporate presentation rather than the cool and clear one created by Duarte Design (perhaps the best decision Gore ever made)? Don’t settle for a boring presentation – if it looks and sounds boring, your audience will be bored, and they won’t remember much except being bored.

Thirdly, people like the iPad because they don’t have to work too hard. They don’t have to worry about viruses, worms, malware, spyware, regular OS updates and patches, etc… it just works. Is it a good idea for a presenter to make the audience work hard to understand his or her intellectual language, or read that small text, or make sense of a complex graph? No – audiences don’t like to work hard, and they resent being expected to work hard. Make it easy for them – speak clearly, use everyday language and simple charts – and they will pay more attention, have more brainpower available to think about what you’re saying, and respect you more.

Fourthly, people like the iPad because it’s fairly small and light. Likewise, keep your presentations light. If it can be said in 10 minutes, don’t take half an hour. Often the shortest presentations are the best – as exemplified by Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, or TED where no talk is longer than 18 minutes. If you have to speak for longer, break it up with videos, exercises, Q&A sessions, or any other trick you can find to maintain the audience’s attention and avoid a 2-hour monologue.

    The iPad is cool, simple, light and user-friendly. Test your next presentation against these criteria, and you’ll be doing yourself – and your audience – a huge favour.


    [APRIL FOOL] Ro-bama Revolutionizes Presentations!

    April 1, 2010

    Ever wonder how Barack Obama manages to look so much more professional and convincing on stage than off it?  Or did you wonder how the British Tories managed to find a great speechmaker in David Cameron having not had one for a generation?

    The answer has finally been revealed: they use presentation robots.

    Developed at Osaka University in Japan, humanoid robots have been around for a few years, getting more and more realistic all the time.  The extent of their use in the public sphere, however, will shock and astound you.

    The first test use of a robot to make a public presentation was at Obama’s now-legendary Democratic Convention speech in July 2004.  The results were beyond even the creators’ wildest dreams: a man coming from nowhere had imposed himself as a leading Presidential candidate in the space of a single speech.

    Realising the power of a great speaker and the brilliance of this Ro-Bama, the Democratic Party had to have it, and they signed an exclusivity agreement which would block the Kansai boffins from creating any robots for the Republicans.  We all know the results: Ro-bama wiped the floor with the all-too-human John McCain.

    On the other side of the Atlantic, the Tories went one step further, and actually bought a robot to lead the party.  Want to know what David Cameron did before leading the Tories?  Of course the spin doctors fabricated a nice life story, but really his only history was as bits of metal in a Japanese lab.  Ever see him with a bad hair day? Now you know why.

    Naturally this opens up major ethical and social questions.  Is it appropriate for us to be led by robots?  Will this lead to a Matrix-like society where humans are merely used for our productive ability, in complete subservience and ignorant of what’s really happening in the corridors of power?  Or won’t it actually make any difference?

    There are many advantages of using robots to make speeches, at least.  You can program them not to um and ah. You can ensure they don’t read your slides. You can also set them to use an appropriate level of eye contact with your audience. If every presenter could master those items, the world would be a less boring place.

    So perhaps we will see more and more robots being used to replace boring and amateur presenters. Next time you see your CEO making a presentation, check whether it all looks just too polished. Maybe you have a robo-CEO too.

    But remember: the technology still has its limitations.  When French President Nicolas Sarkozy asked the Japanese for a robot to make his speeches, they had to decline.  Even the masters of miniaturization couldn’t make a speaking robot that small…

    [EDIT: Just in case anyone didn’t realise the date of this post, it was on April 1st 2010… Any truth in this post is entirely accidental!]


    Poem: The lessons on the cavern wall

    March 23, 2010

    Sometimes I like putting thoughts and stories into verse. It’s a way of making things stick, and presenters need to find plenty of ways to make their messages stick in their audience’s minds.

    Today I’ve posted on how human evolution led us up to slideware, which has sadly seen us forget everything we ever learnt about how to communicate. To finish the day, I’ve put this into verse. It’s not literature but if it helps anyone to understand and remember the importance of using pictures, then it’s worthwhile. I hope you raise a smile while reading it.

    It all began long long ago
    When man first felt the need to show
    Ideas or things to other folk
    And thus our first ancestor spoke.

    We soon found words were not enough
    And passing messages was tough,
    But gestures helped, and facial signs,
    Yet still the words were hard to find.

    But then some upstart changed it all
    And drew some horses on the wall.
    Communication changed that day:
    This revolutionary way
    Of telling stories worked so well
    That soon we all would show and tell.

    In later times, we’d stand and talk
    And illustrate with board and chalk,
    Then later flipcharts took their place
    And speakers drew and flipped apace.

    Then overhead projectors came
    And changed the presentation game,
    Yet making slides took time and thought
    So no-one made more than they ought.

    But then, behold, technology
    Would change things fundamentally:
    Projectors, PowerPoint, PCs
    Made making slides an act of ease.

    Too easy, though, for soon we saw
    More bullets than the First World War,
    With walls of words for all to read
    And since we can’t both read and heed
    The speaker, no-one comprehends
    And all are happy when it ends.

    How sad that with such power tools
    Presenters pass for utter fools!
    If only they could well recall
    The lessons on the cavern wall:
    While hails of bullets look absurd
    A picture tells a thousand words.

    It all began long long ago

    When man first felt the need to show

    Ideas or things to other folk

    And thus our first ancestor spoke.

    We soon found words were not enough

    And passing messages was tough,

    But gestures helped, and facial signs,

    Yet still the words were hard to find.

    But then some upstart changed it all

    And drew some horses on the wall.

    Communication changed that day:

    This revolutionary way

    Of telling stories worked so well

    That soon we all would show and tell.

    In later times, we’d stand and talk

    And illustrate with board and chalk,

    Then later flipcharts took their place

    And speakers drew and flipped apace.

    Then overhead projectors came

    And changed the presentation game,

    Yet making slides took time and thought

    So no-one made more than they ought.

    But then, behold, technology

    Would change things fundamentally:

    Projectors, PowerPoint, PCs

    Made making slides an act of ease.

    Too easy, though, for soon we saw

    More bullets than the First World War,

    With walls of words for all to read

    And since we can’t both read and heed

    The speaker, no-one comprehends

    And all are happy when it ends.

    How sad that with such power tools

    Presenters pass for utter fools!

    If only they could well recall

    The lessons on the cavern wall:

    While hails of bullets look absurd

    A picture tells a thousand words.

    P.S. Kudos to whoever comes up for the best title for the poem 🙂


    Slide Abuse, and other dependencies

    March 22, 2010

    Mankind has come a long way since our tribal villages and hunting parties.  Back then we had great skills in hunting, making tools, navigating and avoiding being eaten.

    Nowadays we’re  a bunch of useless lunks who can’t do any of that.  Sure, our forefathers would have had no idea how to tweet with an iPhone or use a  Dual Shock controller, but back then there were more important things to worry about.  Come to think of it, there are now.

    Sadly as a species we are becoming victims of our own technological advances.  While the collective knowledge of mankind is continually making amazing strides – biotech, nanotechnology, astrophysics etc – the individual knowledge of each human is growing in the wrong direction.

    How many of us can actually catch, kill, prepare and cook an animal?  I know I couldn’t, and frankly I wouldn’t want to.  My children might have great trouble navigating since they’re growing up with GPS as the norm, and they might be lost without it.  And as for avoiding being eaten, which is one of those important skills, most of us live in such well-protected places without predators that we’d be in real trouble if we found ourselves lost in the jungle.  Our smartphones wouldn’t be much use then.

    The more we use technology, the more we depend on it.  I now type far more quickly than I write, and could not imagine having to handwrite an essay or dissertation, whereas when I was at university in the early 90s, they were only just beginning to accept anything typewritten.

    Many youngsters have real trouble with basic maths unless they have a calculator or Excel to do it for them.  Yet more tech dependency.

    What’s this doing on a blog about presentations?  It’s a follow-up to my post earlier today about how slideware apps have killed presentations.  It’s simply another case of humans becoming so dependent on technology – in this case, PowerPoint or Keynote – that they are unable to do without it.

    It’s therefore not an isolated issue. It’s not a trivial one either.  A whole generation is growing up thinking that a corporate presentation involves at least one slide every three minutes, with plenty of detail in the bullet-points so that people can understand even if they are not listening or if they are receiving the file later. They think the file IS the presentation. This is the received wisdom, and the slideware makes it very easy to prepare slides like that.

    I recently saw an example of this dependency, when a sales manager was due to make a presentation. The message didn’t really need slides.  However, the sales manager did. With the various tech problems, he used 10 of his 15 minutes in trying to get the slides up. He could have finished what he had to say in that time, but he stubbornly refused to start without his slides. Which turned out to be useless. He made a complete fool of himself and didn’t get his message across at all. If only he had felt confident and prepared enough to speak without his PowerPoint crutch.

    It’s urgent that we do something about this. Sadly they don’t teach presentation skills at school or college, although they should. It’s one of those vital professional competencies which every knowledge worker needs (and especially a sales manager!). What are we going to do about this?

    Make a resolution today. If you haven’t followed a training course on presentation skills recently, sign up for one. If you are a manager, get your people to follow a good course. They will thank you for it, and they’ll be far more productive. Buy yourself and your team some inspiring books like Presentation Zen or Slide:Ology.  It’s a small investment for a big return.

    And lastly, set yourself and your team a challenge: make your next presentation without any slides. You might get a little ‘cold turkey’ the first time. That’s normal. But it’s worth it. Soon you’ll realise that most of your slides don’t support your message – they are a barrier between you and your audience. Break down that barrier, and communicate – really and truly.

    Later when you get your PowerPoint back, you’ll be far less tempted to create slides for the sake of slides. There’s nothing wrong with a graph here or a meaningful statistic there, just as there’s nothing wrong with using GPS as long as you still know how to use a compass and read a map.  Master the technology – don’t depend on it.


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