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!

Presentation Pitfalls #8 – Reading instead of connecting

September 6, 2010

The speech was fantastic, one of the best I have heard. It must have taken a long time to craft. It was a masterpiece of motivational and inspirational rhetoric.

The speaker’s voice was deep and powerful, well suited to the stage, and carried well in the large marquee thanks to the excellent sound system. He spoke slowly, carefully and clearly.

There were no visuals, but the speech didn’t need any. At least there were no sub-standard visuals to distract us from the speaker and his message.

Sound good so far? Of course. So what made this one of the most painful speeches I have sat through in recent years? Read the rest of this entry »

Three Easy Ways To Improve Your Next Presentation

August 24, 2010

There are many books you should read if you want to become a truly great presenter, and you may want to follow some courses with a presentation specialist so you can practise in a friendly environment with honest impartial feedback from peers and professionals.

However, if you have an important presentation coming up, you might not have time to do all these important things between now and then. Fear not, for all is not lost. Here are three simple ways you can improve your next presentation. Read the rest of this entry »

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.


  • 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” – 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.

    The World’s Best Slide

    June 1, 2010

    Yes, dear readers, you read it right: today I am going to reveal the world’s best slide – the one you can and should use in almost any presentation you ever give. It’s so powerful that you can even use it more than once in a single deck.

    You may have read about how to produce fantastic, attractive yet simple slides in highly recommended books like Presentation Zen or slide:ology (if not, please do), but this is the best of all. Even better, you don’t need to be an ace with PowerPoint or Keynote to create this yourself. I even give this to you free of copyright.

    Are you ready? Then read on…

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Style or Content?

    May 27, 2010

    This morning, I tweeted the question:

    “Which is better: professional content delivered poorly, or poor content delivered professionally?”

    Of course, in an ideal world, every presentation would be full of great material and would be delivered expertly. This is not an ideal world.

    Therefore I asked this provocative question because very often people talk about focusing on content versus style, or vice-versa.

    One answer was very clear: “Both suck”. I can identify with that. Thinking back to my last TEDx event, I know that there was a presentation which was full of important content, but I can’t remember any of it – all I remember was the awful delivery and the frankly sinful combination of Times New Roman and Comic Sans. Equally, there was another talk which was expertly given but didn’t actually say very much.

    Neither of these talks was effective in that they didn’t deliver a lasting message. I’ll come back to them in a moment.

    I also got some answers saying that good content delivered poorly would be preferable to poor content delivered well, if a choice had to be made. Interestingly, nobody suggested that it’s better to have poor content delivered professionally.

    Therefore after my provocative question, here’s a provocative answer. I’d prefer the poor content delivered professionally. Why?

    Let’s go back to those two TEDx talks. I cannot even remember the name of the lady who gave the good content poorly. If she were to speak again, I wouldn’t sign up to see her, still less pay to see her, even (or especially)  if I recalled her talk upon seeing her name again.

    As for the guy who spoke very professionally about not very much, I can remember his name, and I probably would sign up to see him again, because at least he was entertaining and I enjoyed listening to him. I also learned a few speaking tips.

    Ultimately it’s about how well you achieve the four aims of presentation. If you deliver poorly, then you might not be properly heard or understood, you may not be very well respected, and very likely your great messages won’t be remembered. Communication failed.

    However,  if you deliver professionally, if your voice is heard and your audience is listening, if you are clearly understood, and if you are respected at least for your speaking ability, then you stand a better chance of being remembered, and getting your sub-standard message across – and furthermore, you are more likely to have future opportunities to deliver messages, which could be better crafted.

    So for me, it’s either a great message which doesn’t get remembered, or a poor message which might get remembered and a speaker who might be respected to some degree. This is why style is at least as important as content, and perhaps more so, although you need at least some of each. Presentation skills do not only cover style – and this is why when I am training presenters with Ideas on Stage, I spend a whole day on the message before getting onto oratory and visuals.

    Of course it would be better if everyone had great things to say and learned to deliver them like Steve Jobs. Like I said, this isn’t an ideal world. But a focus on true presentation skills, honing the message as well as its delivery, can give everyone a better chance of communicating effectively.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject.

    Go out with a clap

    May 22, 2010

    I’ve been enjoying the new Blu-Ray release of Dire Straits’ 1983 Alchemy concert – which I heartily recommend by the way – and while watching it, I thought of a few useful lessons a presenter could learn from this top-class stage performance.

    The first of these is about the endings. While many of Dire Straits’ longer songs (Sultans of Swing, Telegraph Road, Tunnel of Love…) tend to fade out on the album versions, this doesn’t work live at all, so the band came up with different arrangements for their concerts which gave definitive endings to each song – in fact, with Knopfler’s great gestures and Terry Williams’ powerful drumming, each ending was a showpiece in itself.

    This has two great effects. Firstly, it ensures the song ends impressively, leaving a strong last impression. Secondly, the obvious ending tells the audience it’s time to start clapping.

    Your presentation should do the same. Prepare a great conclusion, make it impressive and memorable, and then give it a clear ending.  Here’s an example of what NOT to do:

    “OK, that’s about all we’ve got time for today, so does anyone have any questions?”

    This makes some key mistakes. Firstly, it sounds as if the speaker has run out of time and not managed the available time very well. Secondly, it is neither impressive nor memorable. Thirdly, it invites questions and not applause.

    What happens when the audience doesn’t get a chance to applaud? They don’t remember the presentation nearly as positively as they may have. Applause is the ultimate example of crowd mentality – we clap because other people clap, nobody wants to be the last one left clapping but nobody really wants to stop clapping well before everyone else, and if other people appear to be clapping exuberantly to show their appreciation, you will tend to believe there must have been something worth appreciating, and therefore clap more positively AND remember the presentation more positively.

    Therefore it is vital that you give the audience a chance to applaud you, and make it obvious to them when they are supposed to clap (because few people really want to be the first to clap either, unless they are almost certain that others are just about to start clapping too). There are few things more demoralising for a speaker than an uncertain beginning to applause, or one or two people clapping and then stopping because nobody else joined them. It’s quite embarrassing for the audience too. I remember a comedy tape from my younger days where a lone audience member clapped at the wrong time, and the comic ad-libbed: “Ah, there’s a seal in the audience!”

    If you aim to have a question & answer session after your presentation (which I thoroughly recommend), do not fall into the trap of the example above. Instead, conclude your presentation, give them the chance to clap, and when the applause is dying down, then thank them for their kind applause and offer to take some questions.

    I still vividly remember my one and only Dire Straits concert in 1992 – or at least, I vividly remember one thing: at the end of Sultans of Swing, there was a 5-minute standing ovation which seemed to last forever. It must have been a great performance because I remember so much applause. Of course I don’t remember anything specific about the performance itself – but the applause made my memory positive and lasting. Give your audience a chance to show their appreciation – and it will increase their appreciation.

    (PS: I wouldn’t always recommend you copy Knopfler’s reaction to this interminable ovation.  At last after 5 minutes (yes, I was counting), he detected the applause beginning to die down, approached the microphone, waited, waited a little longer, and simply said: “Thanks.” It was as if a politician had been asked an extremely long question, and just responded: “No.” It was a very comic moment and had everyone laughing. In other circumstances, you may need to show a little more appreciation unless you are as adulated as Knopfler was back then!)

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