Great Tech Speakers on Video, Part III

Posted by Barry Flanagan on Feb 19th, 2008
Feb 19

The next great tech speaker I would like to highlight is Steve Riley from Microsoft. Steve Riley is a regular speaker at every Microsoft Technical event around the globe, and receives consistently high ratings for his sessions.


Here is Steve’s bio from his blog -

Steve is now a senior security strategist in Microsoft’s Trustworthy Computing Group. He is a frequent and popular speaker at conferences worldwide, often appearing in Asia one week and Europe the next: speaking engagements have included multiple Microsoft TechEds and other conferences, plus SANS, RSA, Black Hat, Windows and Exchange Connections, Windows IT Pro Magazine roadshows, TechMentor conferences, the Institute for Applied Network Security, and InfoSec US. When not evangelizing the benefits of Microsoft security technology, Steve spends time with customers to better understand the security pain they face and show how some of that pain can be eliminated.

Steve Riley is certainly not your typical technology speaker, especially from a company as big as Microsoft. Steve has wild blond hair and is known to be very loose with the corporate dress code (he states in one session that "I don’t believe in pants that go all the way to the ground"). He wears earrings on occasion (see picture below), uses profanity on occasion and sometimes says things that the PR people likely wish he hadn’t ("We let you down with Windows XP"). Steve does not fit the stereotype of technical speakers, and that is part of what makes him so engaging, interesting and dynamic in front of the room.


Steve Riley


Steve has been blogged about by several people who have been in his audiences around the world. Long Zheng from Melbourne, Australia had this to say about Steve on his blog I Started Something

I had a chance to attend one of Steve Riley’s sessions today and it as one of the best presentations I’ve seen. Steve Riley is a security expert at Microsoft and has been involved in the work that has gone into BitLocker and other Vista’s under-the-hood security features. The content of Steve’s presentation was not all that out-of-this-world, but his personality and way of presentation was so captivating. He would not use the stage, instead he walks just over a metre infront of the first row of the audience. He would walk back and forth and often stopping infront of people, looking at them right in the eye and kept talking. Sometimes he’d even walk up half way the sidewalks to get closer to the people at the back. It sounds weird, but it felt like he wasn’t presenting to the audience, but more having a chat with the audience.


Aidan Finn in Ireland had this to say about Steve on his blog -


Steve Riley has posted links to video recordings of a bunch of his presentations at TechEd conferences. Steve is a serious security expert. Don’t let his employment by Microsoft prejudice your opinions. He’s pretty open, honest and has well thought out reasoning for all of his points. Steve is also one of the best speakers I’ve seen. He can make a very entertaining presentation out of what is normally a very stuffy subject.


To confirm the first two comments, I found this comment about Steve from a blog in Virginia.


While Steve’s appearance is the antithesis of the stuffy Redmond culture, (hey, do you think the MS guys will be wearing blue shirts and black pants/shoes AGAIN at this year’s TechED?) he is quite possibly their best presenter. His fun loving and irreverent seminars, complete with opening trance music, are informative and inspiring. I highly recommend that you visit some of his sessions this year.


Steve’s session videos are all hosted on at the TechNet SpotLight. Since these videos are in Microsoft SilverLight, I am not able to embed them into the blog (though I am looking for a working SilverLight plugin for WordPress). One of Steve’s recent sessions was called The Fortified Data Center . In this session you see Steve down in the audience, moving throughout the room, using alot of audience appropriate humor (I love his "unhandled coffee exception"). Steve uses personal and customer stories very effectively. He does a great job of continually changing his volume, pitch, rhythm and vocal pace to keep the audience engaged. He uses many visuals quite effectively and for the most part the slides provide support for his remarks. He uses a presentation remote to keep him from being tied to the laptop to advance the slides, which allows him to get down in the audience and physically connect with the crowd.


There are a few occasions where the slides are overloaded with bullets or text (one slide on SharePoint had over 100 words). Another slide that depicts all the components of Steve’s "Fortified Data Center"vision is overloaded with graphics and texts. On those occasions, I get the sense that Steve is committing one of the commons sins of technical speakers, using the slides as a handout. If you use the slide merely to provide visual context to your remarks and create a separate handout, it is much easier to avoid these issues. Admittedly, this is extremely common in the tech industry and I have done it myself many times, unfortunately.


Despite those few slide issues, overall Steve is a very good technical speaker. There is much to be learned from his use of stories, metaphors, examples, and audience interaction. In my opinion, if Steve implemented more of the concepts in books on powerpoint design like "Visual Selling" or "Presentation Zen" he would be even more effective. A very interesting combination would be Steve’s engaging speaking style with Dick Hardt’s powerpoint design (inspired by Lessig).


I have more in this series planned, and several posts on bad speakers. I am still crafting the first in the deep dive series on the Six Rs to beat the curse.



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Great Tech Speakers on Video, Part II

Posted by Barry Flanagan on Feb 15th, 2008
Feb 15

While searching for additional info on Lawrence Lessig for my earlier post Great Tech Speakers on Video, I came across a a snippet on Dick Hardt as another presenter who has successfully learned and implemented the so called Lessig Method of presenting.


Garr Reynolds comments briefly on Dick Hardt’s style in his post on Lessig -


There are more videos of Lessig lecturing and presenting here. But there is even a better example available. Scott, a Presentation Zen reader, sent me a note on Monday pointing out the unique presentation style of Dick Hardt. Hardt gives credit to Lessig for inspiring the unique method he used in his presentation on Identity 2.0.
Hardt speaks for 15 minutes and synchronizes his talk quite smoothly to what must be several hundred slides. Most slides are no more than a word or two, a short quote, or a photo. Most slides are visible no more than a few seconds.
Hardt’s presentation style is not applicable to every case, of course. Often we need to go much more slowly. But for this short kind of presentation, content, and audience, it worked well. For longer presentations it would be more appropriate to change pace — sometimes moving quickly, slowing way down at other times to explain a confusing point, for example. His introduction is excellent though and is a style many people may want to experiment with to grab the attention of the audience and make an impression, and then later slowing down a bit when needed as the presentation progresses. Also, I would like to see Hardt use a remote and move away from his PowerBook.


I watched Hardt’s short presentation at OSCON 2005 and came away very impressed. In my years in the technology industry, I have seen dozens of presentations on identity management. I have never seen one that did a better job of explaining what identity is and is not, or a more clear explanation of the relevant technologies. I am certain I have never seen any presentation on identity management that caused me to laugh out loud several times as did this video. Watch this short presentation for yourself to understand what I mean.


- [googlevideo:]


- The opening relates identity management to his real life, mixes in a bit of humor, and smoothly transitions into the crux of the problem – digital identity and authentication. The line "you are a directory entry" was very memorable for me. I also like his use of repetition, such as the riff "I am Canadian, over 21, I live here, I went to UBC and I am at sxip. I am the CEO there and I am Star Alliance Gold". He uses a visual for each part of that sentence, and does it several times to highlight the problem. He uses this to highlight the point that there is no "verified" digital identity online, and what digital identity exist is not shareable between sites today. This is a fantastic job of stepping the audience through the problem and using visuals and very spare text per slide to support the argument.


The KNOWHr blog picked this presentation as one of the "Top 10 Presentations Ever" (along with one by Lessig and Guy Kawasaki, whose blog pointed me to Garr Reynolds originally.


Dick Hardt’s Identity 2.0 presentation at OSCON 2005. Hardt’s preparation and energy sets the standard for presentation quality. He uses hundreds of slides in this 20-minute, high buzz work. Heck, I didn’t even care about virtual identity and still watched this one five or six times. It has a chance of becoming my presentation Dirty Dancing (which I’ve seen 100 times), where “nobody puts baby in the corner.”

Andrew Dlugan of "Six Minutes" wrote a very detailed review of Dick Hardt’s OSCON presentation.


It was unlike any presentation I had ever seen at the time. I noted that I had just been injected with information.


Andrew breaks down the segments of the presentation.


Opening “Who am I?” segment. Rather than seeming like a “let me quickly introduce myself so that I can get on with my real talk”, the introductory “Who am I?” segment is core to the presentation (after all, this is a talk about identity) and is consistent with the presentation style used throughout.

The "Who Am I?" story is a reference to the book The Story Factor by Annette Simmons. Andrew goes on to dig down into Dick’s use of humor, contrast, repetition, and analogy. The is a great review and gives a very revealing look inside this presentation.



I found a later (and longer) version of the same talk that Dick gave at Next Web 2007. In this version, Dick uses visuals even more effectively than the OSCON version.


- [googlevideo:]



As I watch these two videos, I am reminded of the Pecha Kucha method that Garr Reynolds mentions in his book, Presentation Zen. Garr blogged about Pecha Kucha as well.

The Pecha Kucha method of presentation design and delivery is very simple. You must use 20 slides, each shown for 20 seconds, as you tell your story. That’s 6 minutes and 40 seconds. Slides advance automatically and when you’re done you’re done. That’s it. Sit down. The objective of these simple but tight restraints is to keep the presentations brief and focused and to give more people a chance to present in a single night. I attended my first Pecha Kucha Night in Tokyo last May and the place was packed so tight with such a buzz in the crowd that it was difficult to hear some of the presenters.
If nothing else, I think Pecha Kucha is good training and good practice. Everyone should try Pecha Kucha; it’s a good exercise for getting your story down even if you do not use the method exactly for your live talk in your work. It does not matter whether or not you can implement the Pecha Kucha "20×20 6:40" method exactly in your own company or school, but the spirit behind it and the concept of "restrictions as liberators" can be applied to most any presentation situation.

I agree completely with this point. If you can force yourself to limit yourself to six minutes and 40 seconds and use 20 slides to focus on one to two points, you will deliver a much more engaging and interesting presentation. WHile he obviously goes beyond the 20 slide limit, Hardt presentation style reminds me a great deal of pecha kucha. Both Lessig and Hardt are exceptionally engaging and interesting speakers. Their content supports their points and they combine their remarks and visuals into an interesting story.


The Daniel Pink video that Garr embeds in his post gives you a fantastic example of the style. I highly recommend watching. I plan on doing several posts devoted to pecha kucha in the future.


I have more great tech speakers lined up, and will be posting the videos and commentary soon.





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Great Tech Speakers on Video

Posted by Barry Flanagan on Feb 14th, 2008
Feb 14

While I work on crafting my post on the first of the Six R’s (Results), I thought I would post some video of speakers with technical or science based topics who stand out from the crowd. This post is the first one of a group.

The speaker I would like to highlight is Lawrence Lessig. Here is a bit of Lessig’s Bio from his web site -


Lawrence Lessig is a Professor of Law at Stanford Law School and founder of the school’s Center for Internet and Society. Prior to joining the Stanford faculty, he was the Berkman Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, and a Professor at the University of Chicago. He clerked for Judge Richard Posner on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and Justice Antonin Scalia on the United States Supreme Court.

Lawyers are not generally thought of as technical speakers. Lessig is different. He is one of the creators of the "Creative Commons" license and is a big open source and "free culture" advocate. I first learned of Lessig while reading the "Lessig Method" post on Garr Reynolds site "Presentation Zen". Here is a snippet from Garr -


The "Lessig Method" of presentation is not an official method per se, but many people who know about the work of Stanford law professor, Lawrence Lessig, have been inspired by his presentation style and informally refer to his approach as something unique indeed. Those who have seen Lessig present have been talking about his approach for a while. David Hornik at VentureBlog wrote a post entitled Putting the "Power" in Powerpoint over two years ago. In this post he heaps praise on the presentation style of Lessig. Hornik says Lessig’s presentations "are a fantastic combination of content, art and brand…."

Lessig does an amazing job of combining great stories and metaphors, simple visuals and a very judicious use of text in his power point slides. You cannot understand the power of his style until you hear and see it. Garr describes it -


I guarantee you there is no presentation book on the market that would recommend you use a few hundred slides, some visible for 1-2 seconds, for a 15-minute presentation. That’s crazy talk, right? Yet, it works in this particular case for this particular audience and for the particular allotted time, a short 15-minutes. This is why I never recommend a specific number of slides, or even that a presenter must use slideware at all. It depends.

Robert Ahdieh of Concurring Opinions recently had this to say about Lessig’s method -


Some time ago, however, a friend forwarded me this link, to a talk and PowerPoint presentation by Lessig, back in 2002. (Even if you’ve seen it, I’d encourage you to sample it again, as a truly amazing piece of work.) Basically, by the spare use of select words and phrases, Lessig successfully conveys both his broad themes and a substantial amount of information, in a way that even visual images – let alone line after line of PowerPoint text – could never have done. I’m confident that my absorption of the relevant ideas and material was exponentially greater than my normal (perhaps abnormally low) rate.

The KNOWHr blog picked Lessig’s 2002 presentation of the "Free Culture topic" presentation as one of the "Top 10 Presentations Ever".


Lawrence Lessig’s Free Culture talk at the 2002 Open Source Conference. The master of the simple slides shows us how it’s done. And since, as he says, this is his 100th time for this talk, he has this bad boy down solid. Even though this talk is from 2002, his slide presentation style is still as fresh today as Axe Body Spray.

Here is a recent presentation that Lessig gave at TED





Lessig gave a similar talk as part of the "AtGoogleTalk" series on YouTube.






If you want to see more of Lessig, here is an excellent presentation he gave a LinuxWorld.



Lessig at LinuxWorld



You can find much more Lessig videos at his site.

When I have more time, I plan to do a more in depth analysis of Lessig. These videos give you an idea of the synergy of speaking, style, visuals, and structure that is possible. Lessig’smethod of presenting is very powerful and undeniably memorable. I find myself completely enthralled as I watch him present, and his message sticks in my mind. How often can you say that about a presenter talking about open source, copyright law, and content on the internet? I am working to implement more of Lessig’s style into my own presentations, in hopes my own audiences will find my talks nearly as memorable.



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The Six R’s to Beat the Curse

Posted by Barry Flanagan on Feb 13th, 2008
Feb 13


Communication skills are the key to success in my opinion. In technical and scientific fields, mis-communication is often more likely than effective communication. This is a story I enjoy that highlights the difficulty.


A Dispute in Sign Language A Zen master and his one-eyed student lived together in a monastery. One day a wandering monk came to the Zen master and said, “If you will accept me, I wish to study with you.” The old monk replied, “Decide first if you belong here. Go into the garden and speak to my student. Converse with him in any way you wish. After that, come and tell me your decision.”



The visiting monk nervously went out into the garden and saw the one-eyed monk meditating. “I will show him how profound I can be, “ thought the visitor. “I will converse with him in sign language.” Approaching quietly, the visiting monk tapped the one-eyed monk on the shoulder and held up one finger. The one-eyed monk held up two fingers. In response the visiting monk held up three fingers. The one-eyed monk held up his fist. When the visiting monk saw this, he dashed out of the garden to tell the old monk his decision.



He came upon the old monk at his shores and gasped, “I do not deserve to stay here! I am unworthy of being a fellow student with the enlightened young monk I met in the garden!” The old monk paused in his work and asked incredulously, “Are you speaking of the young one-eyed monk in the garden?” “Yes!” exclaimed the visitor. “His knowledge is far superior to mine. I will humbly leave.” “Please tell me what happened in the garden,” said the old monk, wide-eyed with amazement.” The visitor explained, “I approached the venerable monk and decided to converse in sign language. I held up one finger to indicate the Buddha. Whereupon he held up two fingers to indicate the Buddha and his teaching, the Dharma. I persevered in the discussion, however, and held up three fingers to show the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha the community. Then he revealed the limitations of my understanding. He held up his fist to show me that they are all one. I immediately ran here to tell you I must leave.” With a sigh, he turned and left the temple.



A moment later the young one-eyed monk stumbled into the temple. He grumbled and shouted, “Where is that scoundrel? How dare he insult me!” “Calm your temper,” said the old monk. “Please tell me what happened in the garden.” The young monk explained, “I was peacefully meditating when that rude visitor interrupted my concentration. When I looked up at him, he held up one finger, indicating that I have only one eye. I held up two fingers, politely congratulating him that he has two eyes. Then he insulted me further! He held up three fingers, pointing out that there were only three eyes among us. I could bear it no longer. I raised my fist punch him in the nose and he ran away!”


(from Pg. 42 "Wisdom Tales from Around the World", edited by Heather Forest, August House Publishers)



In my experience, I have found that following the Six R’s of Communication will allow you to greatly improve your ability to communicate -

  1. Result: Clearly define the result you want to achieve and what your audience wants to gain before any other decision on what you will say or show.
  2. Rapport: The foundation of effective communication is rapport with the audience. If you cannot connect with the audience, your message will be shut out.
  3. Response: The meaning of anything you communicate is the response of your audience, even if that response was not intended.
  4. Reflect: Reflect on the response you receive. View all feedback, positive and negative, as an opportunity to learn what does and doesn’t work. Keep what works, change what doesn’t.
  5. Range: A great communicator has a broad range and flexibility in tools in the communication toolbox.
  6. Repeatable: Consistent communicators use a process that is repeatable.


These Six Principles are to the key to building a solid foundation for effective communication. Once you have that solid foundation in place, you will found that you can build much more effective and successful skills into all your presentations and speaking opportunities.

Below is a thumbnail of a mind map I made of the Six Rs of communication with MindJet Mind Manager. Click on the thumbnail for a full size view.



Six Rs of Communication

(Click on image for full size view)



In my opinion, these six simple rules are the key to being a great communicator and to overcoming the curse of knowledge. I will dive down deeper into each one in future posts.



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Public Speaking for Geeks

Posted by Barry Flanagan on Feb 12th, 2008
Feb 12

This blog is a place to discuss public speaking, communication and influence for those of us who work in technical or scientific fields. In the many years I have been involved in the technology industry, one recurring fact has been hammered home into my mind over and over – the best ideas do not win, the best communicated ideas win. No matter how incredible and world changing your idea, invention, product, service, or solution is, if you are unable to effectively communicate the value it will go nowhere.

Chip and Stan Heath (authors of Made to Stick) capture the special frustration I and many others in technical fields often feel when communicating about complicated subjects in this excellent interview posted by Guy Kawasaki -


And that brings us to the villain of our book: The Curse of Knowledge. Lots of research in economics and psychology shows that when we know something, it becomes hard for us to imagine not knowing it. As a result, we become lousy communicators. Think of a lawyer who can’t give you a straight, comprehensible answer to a legal question. His vast knowledge and experience renders him unable to fathom how little you know. So when he talks to you, he talks in abstractions that you can’t follow. And we’re all like the lawyer in our own domain of expertise. Here’s the great cruelty of the Curse of Knowledge: The better we get at generating great ideas—new insights and novel solutions—in our field of expertise, the more unnatural it becomes for us to communicate those ideas clearly. That’s why knowledge is a curse. But notice we said “unnatural,” not “impossible.” Experts just need to devote a little time to applying the basic principles of stickiness. JFK dodged the Curse. If he’d been a modern-day politician or CEO, he’d probably have said, “Our mission is to become the international leader in the space industry, using our capacity for technological innovation to build a bridge towards humanity’s future.” That might have set a moon walk back fifteen years.


My goal for this blog is to share with you the lessons I have learned fighting the curse of knowledge to improve my communication. I hope many of you will be willing to share what you have learned about communicating as well. I plan to post regularly and I hope that readers of this blog will feel comfortable jumping into the conversation.




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