Well first, let me say thanks for the warm welcome Barry, and in the immortal words of one of my heroes, Dean Martin, "how’d all these people get in my room?" 

 

Well as my bio states, I spent most of the 90′s hidden away in the deepest darkest recesses of the largest mountains in the world.  My experiences over those seven years have formed how I approach business and consulting.  One of the biggest lessons I have learned, and carry with me today, is to prepare properly.  For an expedition the size of Annapurna, it took months of planning and logistics work.  Speaking in public and/or presenting to C-level executives for client corporations requires significant planning as well.

 

As with climbing any major mountain, you need to learn everything you can about the route, weather, etc.  Tha same goes for speaking.  You have to learn everything you can about your audience.  I spend hours pouring over research about a client’s industry and company.  By doing this I make sure that I speak to the issues and challenges they face everyday.

 

Now one of the things that I was taught by some of my mentors in IT early on was to make a strong opening and closing and to just memorize that part.  I can’t find a way to compare that to alpine climbing, but suffice it to say, I make sure that I have some great facts and figures memorized about my clients industry and company, maybe some IT initiatives I’ve been able to uncover in my research.  This will really blow your audience away when you can jump right in and speak intelligently about their industry and/or company.

 

As I have learned over the years climbing and life in general, if you visualize yourself doing something it makes it easier to achieve your goals.  I used to visualize myself reaching the summit of mountains.  I still had to endure many hardships (freezing temperatures, snow, ice, avalanches, etc) to reach a summit, but visualizing myself standing on top helped push me forward when it took everything I had to just put one foot in front of the other.  I take that same approach before I begin any presentation.  I visualize my success and getting a great positive response from my audience.  If you follow this little piece of advice it will go a long way in calming those nerves and mentally setting yourself up for success.

 

The last thing I want to close out my first post with is to give you two words:  Passion and Enthusiasm.  I am passionate about the technology I have made a career out of; Citrix.  I share my passion and enthusiasm for business and technology everyday I’m in meetings with clients and prospective clients.  I share this passion and enthusiasm with groups that I speak in front of.    People feed off of these two emotions.  If you exude enthusiasm for your topic your audience picks up on that and it carries the rest of the way through the presentation.  These two emotions will help you create success.

 

I am looking forward to contributing to this site and sharing my alpine climbing experiences and how they help me everyday in my career.

 

Cheers
Michael

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [del.icio.us] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]

World’s Best Presentation Contest

Posted by Barry Flanagan on Jul 10th, 2008
2008
Jul 10

Slideshare.net is running another "World’s Best Presentation Contest".

 

 

I am going through several of the entries and will post  reviews here on my blog. I was inspired to create my own entry to the contest. I love this story, so it was a natural choice for this contest. It was an interesting experiment to apply the Lessig method and use of visuals to this old zen tale. I am surprised I could not find any other visual examples of the ancient story.

 

 


 

 


 

The story is based on a Zen koan I read many years ago. It goes by many names, and there or many versions. If you like the presentation and the story, I appreciate a vote! :)

 

 

 

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [del.icio.us] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]

Great Message + Great Delivery = Powerful Impact

Posted by Barry Flanagan on Mar 9th, 2008
2008
Mar 9

 

You may have seen this already, or you may have missed this story completely as I did. My wife forwarded this video to me.  Randy Pausch is a Professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University. You can read a short summary of his story on WikiPedia.

 

This is a powerful talk. It is also a fantastic example of how to use visuals (and PowerPoint) to support your message. This is a short 10 minute version of "The Last lecture".

 

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_tIyt8oSLVs]

 

I found the full version of  "The Last Lecture" on YouTube.

 

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ji5_MqicxSo]

 

This message is not new, of course. The popularity and impact of the message to "really achieve your childhood dreams" is driven by more than the message.  The context and how Randy chose to deliver this message drives the impact deep inside the audience.

 

 

There are many lessons to learn from this talk of course.  Choose to be a Tigger instead of a Eeyore. Be humble even if you have won the Bronze Star.  Break through the brick walls in your life. People are much more important than things. Show gratitude. Don’t complain, just work harder. If you live properly, the dreams will come to you.

 

Great advice, and each had a relevant, moving story behind it supported by pictures and visuals. The stories and visuals hammer home the points in a very powerful way. There are many things to learn about life and speaking from Randy Pausch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [del.icio.us] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]

The Technical Speaker’s Crutch

Posted by Barry Flanagan on Feb 28th, 2008
2008
Feb 28

The first few years I spent as a frequent technical speaker, I desperately clung to a crutch every single time I stood up in front of the room to speak. I feared that without my crutch I would not only be crippled and unable to stand, but deaf and mute as well. I could not imagine speaking in front of a group without my crutch, and lived in fear of losing it. I have seen many other technical speakers who use the exact same crutch, and are paralyzed by that exact same fear. The marketing name for the crutch is Microsoft PowerPoint.

 

PowerPoint is not designed to be a crutch for speakers, it just happened that way. It is so easy to use PowerPoint as a way to design your talk, remember your points, and as a hand out to the audience afterwards. Fortunately, my manager at the time (George V, great guy) thought I could be saved and arranged for me to take a training class. The first time I went to a Presentation Skills class by Michelle Murphy, she opened my eyes to the possibility that it is "possible to walk and talk in front of a group of people without slides". A few people in the room audibly gasped in horror when Michelle said this. I have to admit, I cringed at the thought. I pictured myself stuttering and stammering my way through a talk, constantly looking back for my crutch and not finding it there. I imagined it would I would think my crutch was still there behind me to help me stand, the way an amputee often imagines the lost limb is still there.

 

Michelle told us we should not use Powerpoint as the last step in a preparation process, not the first. She insisted that if you do not know your topic well enough to speak without slides, you had "no business being in front of the room".  She told us you should not "pack everything you know into the side deck" (another way of saying you have fight the curse of knowledge). Finally, she said you should "NEVER use the slides as a handout!" I think a few people in the class wanted to leave at that point. A few looked ready to just quit their jobs and try to find a new career.

 

I thought I had come a long way as a technical speaker, but I knew I constantly committed all three of these cardinal sins. Any time I had a presentation to give and I had to create the content, the first thing I did was open up PowerPoint to build a slide deck. Once in front of the room, I never read the slides, but I did look to them constantly for guidance. And I always built the slide content with the idea that I had to include every point in great detail so the audience could use it for later reference. I had never considered writing a seperate handout just for the audience.

 

The conventional wisdom as I understood it at that time was that slides were always used as the handout, and any slide deck that was NOT loaded with detail was not useful. Everyone used the slides as a reference point, and pointed to them constantly. Michelle went so far at one point to say "the screen is poison". It was very difficult to imagine presenting without ever referring to the the slides. 

 

Michelle started me down a very long road that day. If I had not been in her audience that day, I would likely still be leaning on that same crutch every single time I stood up in front of the room. Thankfully, Michelle started me on the way to recovery.

 

The real problem for most technical speakers is they don’t realize they have a crutch. They cannot imagine speaking in any other way. The crutch feels like a vital limb, and they cannot imagine speaking without it. The evidence of this is every where. I found some examples that prove this point.

 

The first thing I would like to point to is a site I found after another point Michelle made in her class.  "Would Churchill been nearly as inspirational during the battle of London with slides? Can you imagine Martin Luther King, Jr. with his back turned to the crowd in front of the Lincoln Memorial reading his bullet points? Would we remember the Gettysburg address if it was slideware?"

Apparently Michelle was not the only one who asked that last question. Peter Norvig wondered about Lincoln and slideware as well. He took his musings one step further -

 

Back in my hotel room I imagined what Abe Lincoln might have done if he had used PowerPoint rather than the power of oratory at Gettysburg. (I chose the Gettysburg speech because it was shorter than, say, the Martin Luther King "I have a dream" speech, and because I had an idea for turning "four score and seven years" into a gratuitous graph.) A Google search easily found the text of the Gettysburg address, and several articles echoing my frustration, including USA Today writer Kevin Maney’s PowerPoint obsession takes off, which notes that PowerPoint was banned at Sun, and includes the Lincoln idea: "Put another way, imagine if Abe Lincoln had PowerPoint for the Gettysburg Address. ‘OK, this slide shows our nation four score and seven years ago.’" But as far as I could tell, nobody had actually written and published a Gettysburg PowerPoint presentation. (Note: a reader pointed out that John S. Rigden had an article in the March 1990 issue of Physics Today entitled "The Lost Art of Oratory: Damn the Overhead Projector" that also used the Gettysburg Address concept. David Wittenberg and Susan Hessler were nice enough to send me copies.) I started up PowerPoint and let the "Autocontent Wizard" help me create a new presentation. I selected the "Company Meeting (Online)" template, and figured from there I’d be creative in adding bad design wherever possible. I was surprised that the Autocontent Wizard had anticipated my desires so well that I had to make very few changes. Four of the slide titles were taken directly from the template; I only had to delete a few I didn’t need, and add "Not on the Agenda" after "Agenda".

 

 

Peter speculates on how Lincoln would have opened his presentation -

 

And now please welcome President Abraham Lincoln.

Good morning. Just a second while I get this connection to work. Do I press this button here? Function-F7? No, that’s not right. Hmmm. Maybe I’ll have to reboot. Hold on a minute. Um, my name is Abe Lincoln and I’m your president. While we’re waiting, I want to thank Judge David Wills, chairman of the committee supervising the dedication of the Gettysburg cemetery. It’s great to be here, Dave, and you and the committee are doing a great job. Gee, sometimes this new technology does have glitches, but we couldn’t live without it, could we? Oh – is it ready? OK, here we go:

 

This is not meant to imply you should not use Powerpoint, of course. But you shouldn’t use it as a crutch.

 

Even very successful (and extremely wealthy) technical speakers are not aware of the crutch to which they cling – including Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer.

 

Photo from Long Zheng from a Steve Ballmer presentation.

Photo by Niall Kennedy

 

"Death by PowerPoint" is a fantastic presentation on SlideShare.net that highlights the problem -

 

 

At the risk of falling victim to the "Curse of Knowledge" in this blog post, there is one more short YouTube video I would like to add. The theme of the video is a 12 Step program to recover from Bad PowerPoint (presented by Dick Carlson at Ignite Seattle) -

-

 

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rrc4I3-n-9Q]

-

Once I learned to avoid using PowerPoint as a crutch, I found myself invigorated and empowered as a speaker. That allowed the crutch to transform from a device that was essential to merely walk and talk to tool that helped me reach out and touch the audience.

 

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [del.icio.us] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]

Why I Blog

Posted by Barry Flanagan on Feb 20th, 2008
2008
Feb 20

 

A few friends have asked me why I would add to my workload (which includes a corporate blog) by posting my own personal blog about public speaking. One obvious reason for me is that forcing myself to review my own process and method for speaking in the front of the room helps me continue to improve. While I have learned a great deal about speaking over the last eight years, I still learn something new every day. Each time I get up in front of the room I get valuable feedback that will help me the next time.

 

I also learn a great deal in the research for each post. As the Roman Philosopher Seneca once wrote "we learn by teaching". I likely would have never have seen Dick Hardt’s Identity presentation or the videos of Steve Riley if I wasn’t writing blog posts about great tech speakers. I may not have seen those amazing Lessig videos either. Each of those speakers and their videos hold new ideas and new techniques that I likely would have never learned if not for blogging about public speaking.

 

 

But that is not my only motivation. Back in May of 2000, I was sitting in a hotel lounge in Marietta, Georgia at about 7 pm after long day that included three separate presentations to customers and resellers in the Atlanta area. I was frustrated that I still did not feel comfortable with speaking in front of the room, and wondering if I ever would. My manager George V called me on my cell to try to keep my spirits up, but it was very difficult to see a future where I was comfortable speaking in front of a group of people. I sat at a small table drinking a beer and wondered to myself how I was going to solve this problem. As I was sitting there staring off into space, someone tapped me on the shoulder. Startled, I looked up to see a older man in his late forties with  salt and pepper hair, a gray goatee, and a white shirt with a dark blue tie.

"Pardon me." he said. "Have you seen a tall older gentleman in a white suit walk by here? I am supposed to meet him here and I am a bit early."

 

"No, I haven’t seen him." I replied.

 

"Well, at least I have a few minutes to relax." he responded.

 

I nodded and smiled as he turned and head to the bar. I heard him order two Miller Lites, then turn and head directly for my table.

 

"Do you mind if I join you?" he asked.

 

I was surprised he was so forward, but I said yes.

 

"You look like you could use some company, and I have a few minutes to wait." He asked me about my work, and I told him I was a newly hired System Engineer for a software company. He told me his name was Ed.  We exchanged some small talk, and he told me he was an SE himself back in the early eighties. He told me that hardest part for him was learning to become a better speaker.

"I am having a bit of trouble myself." I admitted.

 

"My manager back then gave me two pieces advice that I have never forgotten. First, the audience decides the meaning. Second, keep doing what works, change what doesn’t. If the meaning the audience gets is not what you intended, try something else.That’s it. I was constantly frustrated because I often felt like I was speaking in tongues. No one seemed to understand what our software did our why they would want it. I felt like I couldn’t get through to anyone. "

 

"Wow." I said. "I feel that same way almost every time. It is so frustrating." I replied.

 

"Once I stopped taking my failure to communicate personally and stopped trying the same old methods that didn’t work, I slowly began to get better and better results. Let the audience decide the meaning, pay attention to the response, and try something different if it isn’t the response you want. It is as simple as that." Ed replied.

 

"I never thought of it that way, but it makes perfect sense." We spent a few minutes talking over some specific examples, then the tall older man in the white suit walked up and tapped him on the shoulder.

 

"Well, it looks like our time is up. Thanks for letting me join you."

 

"Thank you Ed. I appreciate the advice."

 

Ed turned and looked me directly at me. "My grandfather always told me the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea are both fed from the River Jordan. The Sea of Galilee is full of life and surrounded by villages while the Dead Sea is literally dead and stagnant. The Sea of Galilee is full of life because it has an outflow, while the Dead Sea doesn’t.  The key to being vibrant and full of life is having an outflow. Remember that."

 

"I will." I said. Ed shook my hand and walked away.

 

 

I never saw Ed again, but I never forgot the lessons he taught me that day. That day was the beginning of my journey to becoming a more effective speaker. My idea for the post on "The Six Rs to Beat the Curse" is based on Ed’s advice. "The audience decides the meaning" is the basis for "Response", and "keep what works, change what doesn’t" became "Reflect" . All the rest of the Six Rs ultimately flowed from the lessons Ed shared with me that day. I share them now on this blog as my outflow, my key to "being vibrant and full of life" like Ed.

 

 

 

 

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [del.icio.us] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]

Next »