Monday, January 28, 2008

Excellent blog post on presentation from Jake McKee

Jake McKee is the Principal at Ant's Eye View, a Dallas-based customer collaborations strategy practice.

Clearly, this post on his blog belies the comment, “I’m just a n00b at all of this public speaking stuff.” He offers up some sophisticated tips which are very useful to the average business presenter.

His brainstorming and content creation process is quite ingenious:

Typically my presentations, whether client research findings or conference keynote, start on the white board. I start free forming a running list of ideas, thoughts, points, and issues that may be relevant. This includes everything from major points to minor factoids.

Once I come across a point that I see as “significant”, I write it down on an index card and lay it on the floor. (I may also thumb through an old stack of cards from an previous session) Pretty soon there’s a bunch of cards laid out on the floor. I take a first pass at culling them down a bit, putting them in some sort of order, and identifying anything that might be missing. I’m a very visual person, so seeing this all laid out in front of me really helps.
This idea of whiteboarding, then culling the broader points to index cards is outstanding. Too often, speakers think of their presentation as text and words. This method is a more visual, right-brained, big picture method that is likely to lead to a better organized and well-thought-out structure. It's a very effective and creative way to get started.

Jake goes on to add a great suggestion about time:
No audience likes watching the presenter hurry through the last 15 slides in 2 minutes because they ran out of time. I tend to plan content for no more than 75% of the time allotted, although typically I plan for more like 50% of the time allotted.

Throughout the planning process, I’ll develop for that 50% target (i.e. 30 minutes of content for a 1 hour time slot). This helps me to ensure that I’m focusing on the truly important issues, but it also makes it easy to deal with the “oh yeah!” content that pops in during the rest of the development.

He is SO right about ideas coming up later in the process and adding that extra 25%.

I concur completely with Jake's point about clothing: “one step above the audience.” I want to be the best-dressed person in the room but only by a little bit.

He says:

I always try to ensure I’m presenting wearing my wildly comfortable Nike AirMax 360 sneakers.

If you can get away with sneakers, more power to you. I wear either Ecco, Rockport, Cole Haan Air Nike brand dress shoes because they are as comfortable as running shoes but very stylish and acceptable in ANY environment, right up to the boardroom.

He also has some great tips on visual media - images, PowerPoint / Keynote, etc.

Terrific post, Jake!

Clinton's Strategy Backfires

A colleague emailed me a link in reply to my blog post on Barack Obama's concession speech from New Hampshire.

The link led me to Peggy Noonan's piece "Declarations" in the Wall Street Journal online.

I once thought highly of Bill Clinton. I think he made a huge mistake in lying to the American people about having sex with Monica Lewinski. His appeal has waned even further in the last couple of weeks. I found the following excerpt rang true for me.

In Dillon, S.C., according to the Associated Press, on Thursday Mr. Clinton "predicted that many voters will be guided mainly by gender and race loyalties" and suggested his wife may lose Saturday's primary because black voters will side with Mr. Obama. Who is raising race as an issue? Bill Clinton knows. It's the press, and Mr. Obama. "Shame on you," Mr. Clinton said to a CNN reporter. The same day the Web site believed to be the backdoor of the Clinton war room unveiled a new name for the senator from Illinois: "Sticky Fingers Obama."

Bill Clinton, with his trembly, red-faced rage, makes John McCain look young. His divisive and destructive daily comportment—this is a former president of the United States—is a civic embarrassment. It is also an education, and there is something heartening in this.

There are many serious and thoughtful liberals and Democrats who support Mr. Obama and John Edwards, and who are seeing Mr. Clinton in a new way and saying so. Here is William Greider in The Nation, the venerable left-liberal magazine. The Clintons are "high minded" on the surface but "smarmily duplicitous underneath, meanwhile jabbing hard at the groin area. They are a slippery pair and come as a package. The nation is at fair risk of getting them back in the White House for four years."

That, again, is from one of the premier liberal journals in the United States. It is exactly what conservatives have been saying for a decade. This may mark a certain coming together of the thoughtful on both sides. The Clintons, uniters at last.

I am reminded of a comment made by David Geffen of Dreamworks SKG (G = Geffen) who is currently supporting Barack Obama for President and raised $1.3 million for his campaign. On February 21, 2007, in an interview with Maureen Dowd of the New York Times, Geffen described Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton in unflattering terms: "Everybody in politics lies, but they do it with such ease, it's troubling." He said that Hillary Clinton was "incredibly polarizing" and described Bill Clinton as "reckless" and cast doubt on those who say he has become a different person since leaving office.

When I heard this story, I found it a disturbing reminder that Bill Clinton has a thorny relationship with the truth.

Bill's credibility has become an issue in Hillary's Campaign. I suspect her campaign sees this as a NIGHTMARE - it is the last thing they want people talking about. This speaks once again to the importance of authenticity and credibility in communication.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Bush Legacy: 935 Lies About Iraq

The Bush administration lied to the American people 935 times in the build-up to the Iraq war, according to a report released by The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan, non-advocacy, independent journalism organization based in Washington, D.C.
"President George W. Bush and seven of his administration's top officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, made at least 935 false statements in the two years following September 11, 2001, about the national security threat posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Nearly five years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, an exhaustive examination of the record shows that the statements were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses ...

President Bush, for example, made 232 false statements about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and another 28 false statements about Iraq's links to Al Qaeda. Secretary of State Powell had the second-highest total in the two-year period, with 244 false statements about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and 10 about Iraq's links to Al Qaeda. Rumsfeld and Fleischer each made 109 false statements, followed by Wolfowitz (with 85), Rice (with 56), Cheney (with 48), and McClellan (with 14)."
Ultimately, this will prove to be a big part of the Bush legacy along with a faltering economy, the home mortgage collapse, the disgraceful response to Katrina, a massive $250 billion deficit largely driven by astronomical costs of the Iraq war, election fraud, the scandal surrounding the firing of federal judges and the resignation of another lier Alberto Gonzales (# 1 on Bert Decker's list of Worst Communicators of 2007), and the Valerie Plame / Scooter Libby scandal.

These have all led to some of the lowest approval numbers in US history. Bush and Co. have a lot to learn about authenticity and credibility.

Man, I cannot wait until late January, 2009 when this administration is GONE! Good riddance, Dubya!

Strong communication from Shell's CEO Hofmeister

As I was driving to San Francisco Monday evening, I was listening to "It's Your World" broadcast by the World Affairs Council of Northern California on our local PBS station, KQED in San Francisco (which I recently heard has the third most popular dot-org website behind Craig's List and Wikipedia).

The speaker was John Hofmeister, CEO & President of Shell Oil Company and the event was titled, "How the US Can Ensure Energy Supply for the Future." This appearance was part of a 50 city tour that Hofmeister and other Shell executives have been conducting to start a "dialogue" with the American people.

I was impressed by Hofmeister's candor and willingness to acknowledge the poor reputation that the oil industry is suffering in the media. They are experiencing record profits while gas prices are at their highest levels in history. The public's perception of his company and industry are so poor that he reports receiving a death threat in the mail - a drawing of his body hanging from a tree.

As the event was held in San Francisco, you can imagine that Hofmeister responded to questions about the companies record profits, offshore drilling, conservation, and alternative energies. Hofmeister candid and measured responses sounded both well-informed and balanced - acknowledging the US need for new sources of energy with the long-standing 100 + year dependence on oil and a highly-developed oil-based infrastructure.

I came away thinking that Hofmeister was a very effective communicator and leader. As he speaks about in the interview, Hofmeister earned a bachelor's and master's degrees in political science from Kansas State University. He comes across as erudite. and seems to fully grasp the "big picture" of his industry and is able to articulate it's dynamics extremely well.

His candor typified the qualities of transparency and authenticity that I've written about in many posts here.

You can listen to the recording, see the video or download an MP3 file of that speech at the WAF audio and video archive here.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Obama's Concession Speech is Brilliant

Hearing Barack Obama's concession speech after the New Hampshire primary, I was deeply impressed. He is clearly echoing Martin Luther King Jr's great "I Have A Dream" speech by treating adversity as a challenge, inspiring his campaign and supporters to redouble their efforts.

His repetition of a simple phrase "Yes, we can" is a use of a recurring theme that makes his presentation memorable, 'sticky' and very effective. Note the audience picking up the chant ... in spite of the fact that he "lost" the primary, this audience doesn't seem deterred. They seem even more committed to their candidate.

Partial transcript:

For when we have faced down impossible odds, when we've been told we're not ready or that we shouldn't try or that we can't, generations of Americans have responded with a simple creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can. Yes, we can. Yes, we can.

It was a creed written into the founding documents that declared the destiny of a nation: Yes, we can.

It was whispered by slaves and abolitionists as they blazed a trail towards freedom through the darkest of nights: Yes, we can.

It was sung by immigrants as they struck out from distant shores and pioneers who pushed westward against an unforgiving wilderness: Yes, we can.

It was the call of workers who organized, women who reached for the ballot, a president who chose the moon as our new frontier, and a king who took us to the mountaintop and pointed the way to the promised land: Yes, we can, to justice and equality.

Yes, we can, to opportunity and prosperity. Yes, we can heal this nation. Yes, we can repair this world. Yes, we can.

This is superb communication and leadership. He uses language that makes the audience feel that they are part of something bigger than themselves, something meaningful, something important and exciting. They are cast as heroes on par with Jefferson, Washington, Louis and Clark, Lincoln, and King. It's heady company and intoxicating to think of one's self as part of a movement.

On the macro level, his themes of hope and change have given him a competitive advantage against Hillary Clinton, who many saw as the front runner in this election -- as though it was hers to lose. But I don't hear any consistent message coming from her candidacy other than experience and wonkiness. When Obama speaks about hope and change, it comes across as authentic.

When the Clinton campaign (and all the other campaigns) suddenly picked up on the theme of change after Iowa, it seemed like a lame and inauthentic attempt to hitch themselves to Obama's message, as though it was their own.

Consistently, I find myself deeply moved by his speeches. Though I would think that any of the Democratic or Republican candidates will provide an improvement over the TERRIBLE communication and leadership we suffer from the current administration, no one else inspires like Barack Obama.

Considering the deep hole we are in terms of our economy, our world leadership in science and education, the weakening of the dollar, our current lack of sophisticated understanding of the world's political dynamics, I feel that what we as a nation need right now is a leader who inspires us and who can form relationships with enemies, on the other side of the political aisle and on the other side of the globe. In my view, Barack Obama is that candidate.

It's important to acknowledge Garr Reynolds again for this post from his terrific blog, Presentation Zen. I recommend it highly to all my readers and clients and I encourage you to subscribe.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Happiness Hypothesis

Reading The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth In Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt has been a revelation and a joy. Haidt is a teacher at the Univ. of Virginia and a social psychologist. He says his "corner is morality and the human emotions."

In the book, he lays out a path to happiness buttressed by psychological study and generous references to spirituality and philosophy. Here are a few nuggets that I'd gleaned so far (I am on page 101 of 243):
  • Emotion is critical in decision making.

  • Learning to understand, distract and coax the beast of our unconscious mind is critical to happiness.

    "An emotionally intelligent person has a skilled rider [conscious mind /reason] who knows how to distract and coax the elephant [our unconscious mind] without having to engage in a direct contest of wills" because the elephant will win such a contest every time.

  • We make decisions based on unconscious emotion and justify them based on reason.

    "It is the elephant that decides what is good or bad, beautiful or ugly. Gut feelings, intuitions, and snap judgments happen constantly (as Malcolm Gladwell described in Blink), but only the rider can string sentences together and create arguments to give to other people."

  • Negative emotions leave stronger impressions that positive ones.

    For example, "If you were designing the mind of a fish would you have it respond as strongly to opportunities as to threats? No way. The cost of missing a cue that signals food is low; odds are there are other fish [meals] in the sea ... The cost of missing the sign of a nearby predator, however can be catastrophic. Game over ..."

    This reminded me of the post that I made about reputation and transparency in June of 2007. One mistake can outweigh hundreds of successes when it comes to people's perceptions of you.

  • Happier people have greater activity in the left side of the frontal cortex in the brain.
    Less happy people have greater activity in the right side of the frontal cortex in the brain.

  • To change your level of happiness ("your affect"), you need to change your thoughts.

  • The 3 best methods for changing your affect are:
    1) Meditation,
    2) Cognitive therapy,
    3) Prozac.

  • The "happiness formula" is: H=S+C+V
    H = Happiness
    S = biological Set point (happiness determined by genetics)
    C = Conditions of your life
    V = Voluntary activities you do.

  • Happiness is determined by strength and number of relationships.

  • Activities that induced happiness are described as the "flow" state, a phrase coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

  • There are 3 key qualities to "flow" experiences:
    1) "There's a clear challenge that fully engages your attention"
    2) "You have the skills to meet the challenge"
    3) "You get immediate feedback about how you are doing at every step."

    (Qualities that are present when delivering a well-crafted, successful presentation, by the way.)

  • If you spend money, spend it on experiences, not on stuff - assuming you want to increase your happiness level.

  • You can chart your own happiness and find out what activities are likely to make you happy online at the University of Pennsylvania's Positive Psychology Center site here. (My chart is below.)

I am happy I found the book ... or the book found me.