For Your Consideration

February 10, 2010 - Leave a Response

RT @TEDNews: 9 million children under age 5 die every year — the devastation of Haiti’s quake every 8 days. Esther Duflo at #TED

Authentic Voices Episode #1

February 10, 2010 - Leave a Response

It’s hard to tell who is being real these days, especially in a world where identities are picked/built/positioned. So I thought it might be good, if examples present themselves, to showcase people I think are walking that line of popularity and authenticity. I say popularity because it becomes more challenging to stay true to your self as commercial and social expectations grow. So here we go with our first installment…

1. Nick Cave – I came across this letter written by Nick Cave (1996) to MTV in response to being nominated for Best Male Artist. I am a big Nick Cave fan, but that aside, when I read this letter it seemed totally in-line with what I know about him through his music, movies, books interviews and history. I also think the part about the muse harkens back to Homeric times of calling forth the muse before telling the now famous epics. Just seems to inspire creativity. So have a read and enjoy. 

2. Lady Gaga – At this point I am actually reserving judgment. I will simply say that I don’t personally care for her music (although Poker Face IS catchy), but I think she is a great performer, certainly “out there” and her vibe seems to come from a genuine inner voice, not just for shock and awe. I do enjoy watching her perform and am intruiged.  However, the suits are excellent at their jobs so I’ll wait and see and gather more evidence of authenticity, but so far so good.Also, I am not working off a scientific protocol for these evaluations.  I am just using what the everyday person uses when they decide to tune in or tune out a person’s message, gut reaction.

An Authentic Approach to Living Longer

February 10, 2010 - Leave a Response

Great post by Garr Reynolds, 9 Ways to live longer, happier, healthier…I’ll let it speak for it self. Check out the TED talk if you have time, but he recaps the main points for you.

Embrace Limits for a Longer Lasting Message

April 21, 2009 - Leave a Response

My BB only allows me to text 160 characters including spaces. Embrace limits, use them to make your message stronger. Edit, edit, edit. Sent from my Blackberry.

Is It In You?

April 16, 2009 - Leave a Response

I have been studying, or I should say using, Practical Philosophy for about 13 years. I take these classes at the School of Practical Philosophy and Meditation in NYC and for a few years now I have had the honor of teaching one of the nightly introductory classes aptly named Philosophy Works. Last night was the first class of the term, and one of the questions on the table was: where is Wisdom? The purpose of the class is to find out in experience, via our daily lives, if the words of the wise throughout the ages are true and can be of use to us. So, Plato says in Laws, that there are four primary human virtues: Wisdom, Courage, Temperance and Justice and, of these, only Wisdom is innate. The others have to be learned. Now in my experience I believe Wisdom is innate. I believe finding Wisdom is much more a question of removing the barriers to it within our selves then starting with the premise that it is something we lack. When we eliminate things like judgment, expectations, criticisms, worry, self-doubt or fear then we find that we are brighter, happier, more efficient, smarter, tolerant and peaceful; and those seem to be qualities of Wisdom. Stripping away all these barriers leaves us with a more natural us, real us, true us, authentic us. The whole point of this blog is to encourage and possibly show some ways that we can discover and speak with our authentic voice.

The question of where is Wisdom got me wondering whether the same is true for communication? Is there an innate ability to communicate and communicate well? Could one of the benefits of discovering a more authentic us be more natural communication?

As I thought about it more, those who present for a living or have ever had to develop a presentation go through a kind of internal search. From the abundance of brainstorming to the conscious precision of words spoken, ideas communicated and images displayed the presenter removes the unnecessary. Whatever gets in the way of the message is removed. That IS the same process as discovering ones authentic voice.

This is not to discount learning techniques and tools for better communication and presentation design. However,  I encourage all speakers to learn and use technique as a means to uncovering your authentic voice, recogninzing it and feeling comfortbale with it. So, like Practical Philosophy I say we test this out and see for ourselves. Let’s work toward being our selves in front of an audience and discover if good communication is also innate.

Moment of Zen Tip (props to the Daily Show):

The less YOU are on the stage the better.

(Think about it)

Don’t Be That Guy

April 9, 2009 - Leave a Response

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What makes someone a good speaker? For anyone who presents for a living that question is THE question. It’s a huge topic with endless advice, answers and examples (of what to and not to do). There is, however, a good place to start.

I was day dreaming the other day about watching someone on trial and all that you can learn from seeing someone else in action. I was also, at the time, thinking about how I am convinced nobody in positions of great authority and power in this country are in those positions because they know more than anybody else. I don’t know how they got there, but there they are. For a rookie presenter, no matter what field they are in, they are encouraged to watch others and learn. Usually, that means watch and learn what TO do, but rarely are they also told to look out for what NOT to do. But does the rookie know this? So the daydream continued and in the dream I saw someone deliver a great summation. It was entertaining, moving, well thought out and simple. In the dream I thought wow how can I do that? How can I be THAT GUY? And that is when I woke up.

All too often rookie presenters mistake the persona of the person they are watching for the skill or technique. So they embark on becoming a certain persona instead of understanding the skill set and making it their own.

For me the first barrier that goes up when I am talking to someone, especially in a presentation scenario, is the feeling that the speakers are not being themselves. Like Holden Caufield says, “that guy is such a phony”. The presenter becomes the focus, not the idea. It is a pet peeve of mine when I am out and some one says, “I am so drunk” It annoys me to no end because instead of just enjoying how you feel at the moment, you call attention to it.  Presenters who are pretending to be someone are like bad actors that make the audience more aware of being in a theater watching, then creating the illusion of eaves dropping in on someone’s conversation or being in the living room itself.

It happens in writing as well. I happen to think my wife is a great writer, and she knows I would tell her if I did not like something. When I first read something she wrote, other than her telling me she wrote it, the women I know was nowhere to be found. She disappeared, but all her writing has a similar voice; HER voice.  As part of some classes she takes she needs to read and critique other peoples work so I hear them sometimes. Many of them are hard to get through because immediately they sound like someone trying to be a writer. It is a little embarrassing to listen to, like reading an old journal entry or poem you wrote when you were 13. Once the person becomes the focus then for me it’s over and that only happens when you try and be someone else.

My first piece of advice to a rookie would be, don’t be THAT GUY. You need to find your voice. I volunteer teach Practical Philosophy classes and I remember seeing another teacher who got more students and was quieter than me and moved slower and did everything softer. One term I tried to be him and my class numbers dropped to 1. I had 1 student. I don’t do that anymore. I talk loud, fast and get pretty energized.  You should watch others, seek advice and learn but all of that has to be made your own. I also think it takes the pressure off ofcomparing yourself to others. There is no comparison, you can both do the right thing and it should be totally different because you both are different.

Beautiful Presentations

February 5, 2009 - One Response

chessWhen we think about design in the broadest sense it encourages us to look for inspiration all around us. Architecture is no exception. I recently read Paul Goldberg’s article in the New Yorker, Center Stage, about the redesign of Lincoln Center and Alice Tully Hall. A quick aside, the New Yorker contributors are excellent at using story to make any subject more captivating.  There was one line that got me thinking,

“Architects sometimes talk of design elements as “moves,” as if they were playing a game of chess…”

First, we should be thinking about our presentations in terms of design. As far as I am concerned our presentations are works of art. Architects design a space thinking about how people will walk around in it, how they will feel, how they will interact with different elements, and as presenters we should be taking the same view. Our words are creating a structure which the audience will live in for the duration of the talk. We want them to feel welcomed and comfortable, not unsettled and dying to get out of there. We need to see the whole of process of developing a presentation through the lens of design. There is beauty in reducing an idea to its core. The search for perfect simplicity, as we keep taking away the unnecessary is also an aesthetic. Then with the essence of our message we begin to build, move by move, word by word, image by image, a cathedral where the audience will come and pay homage to our idea. All the while keeping in mind how will audiences like being in this space we have created. It is not my intention to be over the top with the cathedral image, but as presenters we are there to give the audience something they will remember, act on and believe. We want the audience hanging on our every word like it is gospel.

Design is not about putting a nice shell on our idea and attracting people with the glitter. Real design starts with the idea and protects it, throughout the process, from distractions so the audience can receive it in as pure a form as possible.

Everything Has A Meaning

February 3, 2009 - Leave a Response

I once heard the phrase, “words mean what they do” and I really like that idea. For presenters it is a great principle, because the mental and emotional state the audience leaves in is what our presentation meant. We can have the grandest of intentions and the genius insight, but it does not count for anything if the audience was not with us. This also applies in one-on-one situations. What are the effects of our words? If our intention was to comfort did they? If it was to clarify did they? If it was to be honest in order to help was the person better off upon hearing our words?

I recently came across this i-phone application called Midomi. I don’t have an i-phone, I have a LG Chocolate (which I would like to write about another time), but my friend showed me this app. It allows someone to humm, whistle or sing a song and it will recognize it for you. It went 1 for 3 with me; recognized La Cucaracha but not the theme song to MASH (2 attempts). As we were playing with it, it occurred to me what a brilliant little app. It is so  frustrating to have a song playing in our head, we don’t know how it got there and we can’t remember the name of it. When we finally do figure it out it is such a relief, and now this app can help us with that. It means what it does, and what it does is make you feel good, takes this trivial yet visceral feeling and makes it go away. It is so insignificant except when you can turn to it in your time of need. What I loved was how this app is the feeling it gives the user and is thus meaningful and memorable. So I don’t know if the programmers were thinking about this or not when the app was developed, but regardless of what they intended Midomi mean what it does.

A big part of what we should be doing as presenters is giving something meaningful to our audience. In order to do that, we need to figure out the meaning of the presentation , the data, the product etc. We can begin by asking what does it all do?

It’s About What it MEANS.

January 25, 2009 - Leave a Response

superstock_261-218Finding statistics to add to your presentation is always good. Statistics are credible and sound smart. They are also boring and for the most part meaningless. Obviously, statistics mean something, but not for the majority of people who look at them. Given time to sit down with numbers and a chart we could certainly extract the significance of the data. But in a presentation there isn’t the time and your point usually is not the data alone but the meaning of the data.

You are responsible for the meaning, for seeing through all the charts and numbers and presenting to the audince what it means to them. There are all sorts of techniques for this. However, the technique is there to help deliver your meaning. Techniques are not a substitute for your own work of making statistics meaningful.

Nothing is more concrete that seeing someone put this into practice. BMW is introducing two new diesel powered cars to North America. While diesel fuel has come along way in the past 25 years it has only gained traction in Europe with the help of tax incentives. In North America though the image of dirty, noisy, smelly diesel trucks are emblazoned into our brains. So BMW has a teaching job in front of them. You can imagine the marketing department sitting down with all this data about diesel vs. gasoline and trying to figure out what to do with it.

Message: diesel is more efficient and better for the environment than gasoline. True or not, that is their message. Fortunately, their new spots are an excellent example of extracting meaning from statistics/science.

BMW Commerical #1 (Scales)

BMW Commerical #2 (Flick)

BMW Commerical #3 (Baloons)

Simple Equation

January 24, 2009 - Leave a Response

I have been inspired by Sanjaya Malakar. Yes, of American Idol fame, but before you conclude that I have lost all credibility let me explain.

Below is a link to an interview Sanjaya gave on Good Day New York. In writing this post I had so much I wanted to say about the interview because there was so much to say. I just kept writing and writing, and we all know if you say three things you say nothing. So I stopped. I was looking for the transcript because it would have been fun to see the actual words he used or lack thereof. Then I found the clip and thought, it speaks for it self.

No Core + No Concrete (examples) + No Story = NOBODY CARES.

Sanjaya Malakar, Good Day New York, 1.22.09