George Saunders Speech to Graduates

Rarely does a speech come along, graduation or not, that has had as much impact as this has had on our staff, friends and clients. ENJOY THIS READ.

George Saunders
George SaundersCredit Damon Winter/The New York Times

Down through the ages, a traditional form has evolved for this type of speech, which is: Some old fart, his best years behind him, who, over the course of his life, has made a series of dreadful mistakes (that would be me), gives heartfelt advice to a group of shining, energetic young people, with all of their best years ahead of them (that would be you).

And I intend to respect that tradition.

Now, one useful thing you can do with an old person, in addition to borrowing money from them, or asking them to do one of their old-time “dances,” so you can watch, while laughing, is ask: “Looking back, what do you regret?” And they’ll tell you. Sometimes, as you know, they’ll tell you even if you haven’t asked. Sometimes, even when you’ve specifically requested they not tell you, they’ll tell you.

So: What do I regret? Being poor from time to time? Not really. Working terrible jobs, like “knuckle-puller in a slaughterhouse?” (And don’t even ASK what that entails.) No. I don’t regret that. Skinny-dipping in a river in Sumatra, a little buzzed, and looking up and seeing like 300 monkeys sitting on a pipeline, pooping down into the river, the river in which I was swimming, with my mouth open, naked? And getting deathly ill afterwards, and staying sick for the next seven months? Not so much. Do I regret the occasional humiliation? Like once, playing hockey in front of a big crowd, including this girl I really liked, I somehow managed, while falling and emitting this weird whooping noise, to score on my own goalie, while also sending my stick flying into the crowd, nearly hitting that girl? No. I don’t even regret that.

But here’s something I do regret:

In seventh grade, this new kid joined our class. In the interest of confidentiality, her Convocation Speech name will be “ELLEN.” ELLEN was small, shy. She wore these blue cat’s-eye glasses that, at the time, only old ladies wore. When nervous, which was pretty much always, she had a habit of taking a strand of hair into her mouth and chewing on it.

So she came to our school and our neighborhood, and was mostly ignored, occasionally teased (“Your hair taste good?” — that sort of thing). I could see this hurt her. I still remember the way she’d look after such an insult: eyes cast down, a little gut-kicked, as if, having just been reminded of her place in things, she was trying, as much as possible, to disappear. After awhile she’d drift away, hair-strand still in her mouth. At home, I imagined, after school, her mother would say, you know: “How was your day, sweetie?” and she’d say, “Oh, fine.” And her mother would say, “Making any friends?” and she’d go, “Sure, lots.”

Sometimes I’d see her hanging around alone in her front yard, as if afraid to leave it.

And then — they moved. That was it. No tragedy, no big final hazing.

One day she was there, next day she wasn’t.

End of story.

Now, why do I regret that? Why, forty-two years later, am I still thinking about it? Relative to most of the other kids, I was actually pretty nice to her. I never said an unkind word to her. In fact, I sometimes even (mildly) defended her.

But still. It bothers me.

So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it:

What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.

Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded . . . sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.

Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope: Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth?

Those who were kindest to you, I bet.

It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.

Now, the million-dollar question: What’s our problem? Why aren’t we kinder?

Here’s what I think:

Each of us is born with a series of built-in confusions that are probably somehow Darwinian. These are: (1) we’re central to the universe (that is, our personal story is the main and most interesting story, the only story, really); (2) we’re separate from the universe (there’s US and then, out there, all that other junk – dogs and swing-sets, and the State of Nebraska and low-hanging clouds and, you know, other people), and (3) we’re permanent (death is real, o.k., sure – for you, but not for me).

Now, we don’t really believe these things – intellectually we know better – but we believe them viscerally, and live by them, and they cause us to prioritize our own needs over the needs of others, even though what we really want, in our hearts, is to be less selfish, more aware of what’s actually happening in the present moment, more open, and more loving.

So, the second million-dollar question: How might we DO this? How might we become more loving, more open, less selfish, more present, less delusional, etc., etc?

Well, yes, good question.

Unfortunately, I only have three minutes left.

So let me just say this. There are ways. You already know that because, in your life, there have been High Kindness periods and Low Kindness periods, and you know what inclined you toward the former and away from the latter. Education is good; immersing ourselves in a work of art: good; prayer is good; meditation’s good; a frank talk with a dear friend; establishing ourselves in some kind of spiritual tradition — recognizing that there have been countless really smart people before us who have asked these same questions and left behind answers for us.

Because kindness, it turns out, is hard — it starts out all rainbows and puppy dogs, and expands to include . . . well, everything.

One thing in our favor: some of this “becoming kinder” happens naturally, with age. It might be a simple matter of attrition: as we get older, we come to see how useless it is to be selfish — how illogical, really. We come to love other people and are thereby counter-instructed in our own centrality. We get our butts kicked by real life, and people come to our defense, and help us, and we learn that we’re not separate, and don’t want to be. We see people near and dear to us dropping away, and are gradually convinced that maybe we too will drop away (someday, a long time from now). Most people, as they age, become less selfish and more loving. I think this is true. The great Syracuse poet, Hayden Carruth, said, in a poem written near the end of his life, that he was “mostly Love, now.”

And so, a prediction, and my heartfelt wish for you: as you get older, your self will diminish and you will grow in love. YOU will gradually be replaced by LOVE. If you have kids, that will be a huge moment in your process of self-diminishment. You really won’t care what happens to YOU, as long as they benefit. That’s one reason your parents are so proud and happy today. One of their fondest dreams has come true: you have accomplished something difficult and tangible that has enlarged you as a person and will make your life better, from here on in, forever.

Congratulations, by the way.

When young, we’re anxious — understandably — to find out if we’ve got what it takes. Can we succeed? Can we build a viable life for ourselves? But you — in particular you, of this generation — may have noticed a certain cyclical quality to ambition. You do well in high-school, in hopes of getting into a good college, so you can do well in the good college, in the hopes of getting a good job, so you can do well in the good job so you can . . .

And this is actually O.K. If we’re going to become kinder, that process has to include taking ourselves seriously — as doers, as accomplishers, as dreamers. We have to do that, to be our best selves.

Still, accomplishment is unreliable. “Succeeding,” whatever that might mean to you, is hard, and the need to do so constantly renews itself (success is like a mountain that keeps growing ahead of you as you hike it), and there’s the very real danger that “succeeding” will take up your whole life, while the big questions go untended.

So, quick, end-of-speech advice: Since, according to me, your life is going to be a gradual process of becoming kinder and more loving: Hurry up. Speed it along. Start right now. There’s a confusion in each of us, a sickness, really: selfishness. But there’s also a cure. So be a good and proactive and even somewhat desperate patient on your own behalf — seek out the most efficacious anti-selfishness medicines, energetically, for the rest of your life.

Do all the other things, the ambitious things — travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers (after first having it tested for monkey poop) – but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness. Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial. That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality — your soul, if you will — is as bright and shining as any that has ever been. Bright as Shakespeare’s, bright as Gandhi’s, bright as Mother Teresa’s. Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place. Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.

And someday, in 80 years, when you’re 100, and I’m 134, and we’re both so kind and loving we’re nearly unbearable, drop me a line, let me know how your life has been. I hope you will say: It has been so wonderful.

Great Presenters Find a Perfect Mix of Data & Narrative

Written by Nancy Duarte Nancy Duarte is the author of HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations, Slideology, and Resonate. She is the CEO of Duarte, Inc., which designs presentations and teaches presentation development.

Most presentations lie somewhere on the continuum between a report and a story. A report is data-rich, exhaustive, and informative–but not very engaging. Stories help a speaker connect with an audience, but listeners often want facts and information, too. Great presenters layer story and information like a cake, and understand that different types of talks require differing ingredients.

The Absolute Best Speaker Advice

We thought this was a wonderful Inc.com article and interview with Nancy Duarte of Duarte.com and we especially loved this:

When asked what mistakes with presentations she has seen over and over, her reply was:

“The biggest thing is that people don’t have enough empathy. When you have an opportunity to present, you tend to start processing information from your own perspective. Usually, it’s all about the information you want to give, instead of being about the information the audience wants to receive. You need to spend an enormous amount of time thinking about what the audience wants to receive. You need to really think through who you are talking to, and how to make a deep connection with them. Then you need to create content that supports that. Think: How do I want the audience to change? If they spend an hour with me, how do I want them transformed? Then everything you create needs to support that transformation in them.”

No matter how frustrated you are with your presentation–no matter how bad your slides currently seem–chances are that Duarte Design has seen worse. The 90-person company has worked on hundreds of thousands of presentations, for clients including Twitter, ESPN, and the Food Network.

Duarte is probably best-known for its work with Al Gore and the environmental documentary An Inconvenient Truth, transforming Gore’s passion and mounds of research into Oscar-winning storytelling. Inc. editor-at-large Kimberly Weisul spoke with author and Duarte Design CEO Nancy Duarte about presentation mistakes, investor pitches, and why speakers should think of themselves as Yoda.

Your company, Duarte Design, has worked on literally hundreds of thousands of presentations. What mistakes do you see over and over?

The biggest thing is that people don’t have enough empathy.

When you have an opportunity to present, you tend to start to processing information from your own perspective. Usually, it’s all about the information you want to give, instead of being about the information the audience wants to receive. You need to spend an enormous amount of time thinking about what the audience wants to receive. You need to really think through who you’re talking to, and how to make a deep connection with them. Then you need to create content that supports that.

Think: How do I want the audience to change? If they spend an hour with me, how do I want them transformed? Then everything you create needs to support that transformation in them.

How does a great presenter use slides? Most people know they shouldn’t read the slides, but what should you do with them instead?

There are two ways to use slides.

You can use slides as cinematic visual aids. The slides should be breathtaking and easy to process. They should pass what I call the glance test. It should take no more than three seconds to process a slide.

Or you can use slides to create your documents. I call these slide docs. That’s when you have your whole presentation–almost like a script–in your slides.

If your PowerPoint makes sense on its own, without anyone presenting the slides, you’ve created a slide doc.

Sometimes sending a slide doc ahead as a pre-read and then doing a glorious presentation is the way to go.

How do you handle a pitch to an investor? Is that a “real” presentation, or are you writing a slide doc?

If an investor is interested, he’s going to ask you to send five slides. In that case, you’re asking your slides to be your emissary–the emissary that opens the door. Pack as much information as you can on those slides.

Then when you get in the door and get asked in for a meeting, instead of preparing 30 minutes of content, you need to do 10 minutes or 15 minutes, tops. Then let the investor take over. To do a 10 or 15 minute talk well takes an enormous amount of time.

You can put your entire script in the “notes” view in PowerPoint. You can do a nice big layout and make it almost like a brochure. Then it can travel without you. That goes along with the slides you’ll show the VCs, but it’s not projected. Print it out. When you present to the VC, hand out the “notes” section right away. Say “Here’s a handout where we can dig into the numbers.” Then do your presentation, and use the handout for the question and answer part.

Are there times when you should just ditch the slides entirely?

Sheryl Sandberg did a great talk at TED Women, but she had no slides.

She didn’t need slides. The subject matter was very personal to her. She had plenty of stories. The words that came out of her mouth were visual. She’s beautiful, and that helps. She’s articulate. She’s riveting. It’s not like she had to display a piece of data. It made it feel like you were sitting in her living room having a conversation with her.

One of my favorite lines from your TED talk is, “You’re not Luke Skywalker, you’re Yoda.” Could you explain that a bit?

Think about movies and myths. There’s often a likeable hero who encounters obstacles and, in overcoming them, is transformed. That’s Luke Skywalker. When you’re presenting, that’s not you.

People go up on stage and set themselves up as if they’re the hero. The attitude is, “I’m going to give you this information and it’s going to help you.” Or, “I’m going to give you this information and you’re going to admire me.” That’s an arrogant stance.

In movies and myths, there’s also often the mentor, who comes alongside the hero to help them get unstuck or give them a magical tool. That’s Yoda. When you’re presenting, that’s you. If you look at it that way, suddenly you’re more humble.

The presenter’s success is completely dependent on the audience adopting the idea. The presenter is not the protagonist. You need to take that and respect that. The audience has the power to take your idea and spread it far and wide. Or it can die.

Do you get nervous when you go on stage?

I do when I’m doing new material that I only feel kind of rehearsed for. And I get nervous if the audience astounds me. I had Deepak Chopra and James Cameron in an audience at the same time. That’s kind of intimidating. They were very kind.

How do you handle your nerves?

The best tip I have comes from [speaking coach and author] Nick Morgan. When you’re about to go on stage, sometimes your fight or flight reaction kicks in. You think you’re being threatened. What you need to do is flip the chemistry back. So when you’re backstage, think about someone you love that you haven’t seen for a long, long, time, and convince yourself you’re going to see that person when you go out onstage.

Written by KIMBERLY WEISUL | Staff Writer | Inc.com Editor-at-Large

How To Give a Killer Speech

Lessons from TED, by Chris Anderson, Curator for TED

A little more than a year ago, on a trip to Nairobi, Kenya, some colleagues and I met a 12-year-old Masai boy named Richard Turere, who told us a fascinating story. His family raises livestock on the edge of a vast national park, and one of the biggest challenges is protecting the animals from lions–especially at night. Richard had noticed that placing lamps in a field didn’t deter lion attacks, but when he walked the field with a torch, the lions stayed away. From a young age, he’d been interested in electronics, teaching himself by, for example, taking apart his parents’ radio. He used that experience to devise a system of lights that would turn on and off in sequence–using solar panels, a car battery, and a motorcycle indicator box–and thereby create a sense of movement that he hoped would scare off the lions. He installed the lights, and the lions stopped attacking. Soon villages elsewhere in Kenya began installing Richard’s “lion lights.”

The story was inspiring and worthy of the broader audience that our TED conference could offer, but on the surface, Richard seemed an unlikely candidate to give a TED Talk. He was painfully shy. His English was halting. When he tried to describe his invention, the sentences tumbled out incoherently. And frankly, it was hard to imagine a pre-teenager standing on a stage in front of 1,400 people accustomed to hearing from polished speakers such as Bill Gates, Sir Ken Robinson, and Jill Bolte Taylor.

But Richard’s story was so compelling that we invited him to speak. In the months before the 2013 conference, we worked with him to frame his story–to find the right place to begin, and to develop a succinct and logical arc of events. On the back of his invention Richard had won a scholarship to one of Kenya’s best schools, and there he had the chance to practice the talk several times in front of a live audience. It was critical that he build his confidence to the point where his personality could shine through. When he finally gave his talk at TED, in Long Beach, you could tell he was nervous, but that only made him more engaging–people were hanging on his every word. The confidence was there, and every time Richard smiled, the audience melted. When he finished, the response was instantaneous: a sustained standing ovation.

Since the first TED conference, 30 years ago, speakers have run the gamut from political figures, musicians, and TV personalities who are completely at ease before a crowd to lesser-known academics, scientists, and writers–some of whom feel deeply uncomfortable giving presentations. Over the years, we’ve sought to develop a process for helping inexperienced presenters to frame, practice, and deliver talks that people enjoy watching. It typically begins six to nine months before the event, and involves cycles of devising (and revising) a script, repeated rehearsals, and plenty of fine-tuning. We’re continually tweaking our approach–because the art of public speaking is evolving in real time–but judging by public response, our basic regimen works well: Since we began putting TED Talks online, in 2006, they’ve been viewed more than one billion times.

On the basis of this experience, I’m convinced that giving a good talk is highly coachable. In a matter of hours, a speaker’s content and delivery can be transformed from muddled to mesmerizing. And while my team’s experience has focused on TED’s 18-minutes-or-shorter format, the lessons we’ve learned are surely useful to other presenters–whether it’s a CEO doing an IPO road show, a brand manager unveiling a new product, or a start-up pitching to VCs.

Frame Your Story

There’s no way you can give a good talk unless you have something worth talking about. Conceptualizing and framing what you want to say is the most vital part of preparation.

We all know that humans are wired to listen to stories, and metaphors abound for the narrative structures that work best to engage people. When I think about compelling presentations, I think about taking an audience on a journey. A successful talk is a little miracle–people see the world differently afterward.

If you frame the talk as a journey, the biggest decisions are figuring out where to start and where to end. To find the right place to start, consider what people in the audience already know about your subject–and how much they care about it. If you assume they have more knowledge or interest than they do, or if you start using jargon or get too technical, you’ll lose them. The most engaging speakers do a superb job of very quickly introducing the topic, explaining why they care so deeply about it, and convincing the audience members that they should, too.

The biggest problem I see in first drafts of presentations is that they try to cover too much ground. You can’t summarize an entire career in a single talk. If you try to cram in everything you know, you won’t have time to include key details, and your talk will disappear into abstract language that may make sense if your listeners are familiar with the subject matter but will be completely opaque if they’re new to it. You need specific examples to flesh out your ideas. So limit the scope of your talk to that which can be explained, and brought to life with examples, in the available time. Much of the early feedback we give aims to correct the impulse to sweep too broadly. Instead, go deeper. Give more detail. Don’t tell us about your entire field of study–tell us about your unique contribution.

Of course, it can be just as damaging to over-explain or painstakingly draw out the implications of a talk. And there the remedy is different: Remember that the people in the audience are intelligent. Let them figure some things out for themselves. Let them draw their own conclusions.

Many of the best talks have a narrative structure that loosely follows a detective story. The speaker starts out by presenting a problem and then describes the search for a solution. There’s an “aha” moment, and the audience’s perspective shifts in a meaningful way.

If a talk fails, it’s almost always because the speaker didn’t frame it correctly, misjudged the audience’s level of interest, or neglected to tell a story. Even if the topic is important, random pontification without narrative is always deeply unsatisfying. There’s no progression, and you don’t feel that you’re learning.

I was at an energy conference recently where two people–a city mayor and a former governor–gave back-to-back talks. The mayor’s talk was essentially a list of impressive projects his city had undertaken. It came off as boasting, like a report card or an advertisement for his reelection. It quickly got boring. When the governor spoke, she didn’t list achievements; instead, she shared an idea. Yes, she recounted anecdotes from her time in office, but the idea was central–and the stories explanatory or illustrative (and also funny). It was so much more interesting. The mayor’s underlying point seemed to be how great he was, while the governor’s message was “Here’s a compelling idea that would benefit us all.”

As a general rule, people are not very interested in talks about organizations or institutions (unless they’re members of them). Ideas and stories fascinate us; organizations bore us–they’re much harder to relate to. (Businesspeople especially take note: Don’t boast about your company; rather, tell us about the problem you’re solving.)

Plan Your Delivery

Once you’ve got the framing down, it’s time to focus on your delivery. There are three main ways to deliver a talk. You can read it directly off a script or a teleprompter. You can develop a set of bullet points that map out what you’re going to say in each section rather than scripting the whole thing word for word. Or you can memorize your talk, which entails rehearsing it to the point where you internalize every word–verbatim.

My advice: Don’t read it, and don’t use a teleprompter. It’s usually just too distancing–people will know you’re reading. And as soon as they sense it, the way they receive your talk will shift. Suddenly your intimate connection evaporates, and everything feels a lot more formal. We generally outlaw reading approaches of any kind at TED, though we made an exception a few years ago for a man who insisted on using a monitor. We set up a screen at the back of the auditorium, in the hope that the audience wouldn’t notice it. At first he spoke naturally. But soon he stiffened up, and you could see this horrible sinking feeling pass through the audience as people realized, “Oh, no, he’s reading to us!” The words were great, but the talk got poor ratings.

Many of our best and most popular TED Talks have been memorized word for word. If you’re giving an important talk and you have the time to do this, it’s the best way to go. But don’t underestimate the work involved. One of our most memorable speakers was Jill Bolte Taylor, a brain researcher who had suffered a stroke. She talked about what she learned during the eight years it took her to recover. After crafting her story and undertaking many hours of solo practice, she rehearsed her talk dozens of times in front of an audience to be sure she had it down.

Obviously, not every presentation is worth that kind of investment of time. But if you do decide to memorize your talk, be aware that there’s a predictable arc to the learning curve. Most people go through what I call the “valley of awkwardness,” where they haven’t quite memorized the talk. If they give the talk while stuck in that valley, the audience will sense it. Their words will sound recited, or there will be painful moments where they stare into the middle distance, or cast their eyes upward, as they struggle to remember their lines. This creates distance between the speaker and the audience.

Getting past this point is simple, fortunately. It’s just a matter of rehearsing enough times that the flow of words becomes second nature. Then you can focus on delivering the talk with meaning and authenticity. Don’t worry–you’ll get there.

But if you don’t have time to learn a speech thoroughly and get past that awkward valley, don’t try. Go with bullet points on note cards. As long as you know what you want to say for each one, you’ll be fine. Focus on remembering the transitions from one bullet point to the next.

Also pay attention to your tone. Some speakers may want to come across as authoritative or wise or powerful or passionate, but it’s usually much better to just sound conversational. Don’t force it. Don’t orate. Just be you.

If a successful talk is a journey, make sure you don’t start to annoy your travel companions along the way. Some speakers project too much ego. They sound condescending or full of themselves, and the audience shuts down. Don’t let that happen.

Develop Stage Presence

For inexperienced speakers, the physical act of being onstage can be the most difficult part of giving a presentation–but people tend to overestimate its importance. Getting the words, story, and substance right is a much bigger determinant of success or failure than how you stand or whether you’re visibly nervous. And when it comes to stage presence, a little coaching can go a long way.

The biggest mistake we see in early rehearsals is that people move their bodies too much. They sway from side to side, or shift their weight from one leg to the other. People do this naturally when they’re nervous, but it’s distracting and makes the speaker seem weak. Simply getting a person to keep his or her lower body motionless can dramatically improve stage presence. There are some people who are able to walk around a stage during apresentation, and that’s fine if it comes naturally. But the vast majority are better off standing still and relying on hand gestures for emphasis.

Perhaps the most important physical act onstage is making eye contact. Find five or six friendly-looking people in different parts of the audience and look them in the eye as you speak. Think of them as friends you haven’t seen in a year, whom you’re bringing up to date on your work. That eye contact is incredibly powerful, and it will do more than anything else to help your talk land. Even if you don’t have time to prepare fully and have to read from a script, looking up and making eye contact will make a huge difference.

Another big hurdle for inexperienced speakers is nervousness–both in advance of the talk and while they’re onstage. People deal with this in different ways. Many speakers stay out in the audience until the moment they go on; this can work well, because keeping your mind engaged in the earlier speakers can distract you and limit nervousness. Amy Cuddy, a Harvard Business School professor who studies how certain body poses can affect power, utilized one of the more unusual preparation techniques I’ve seen. She recommends that people spend time before a talk striding around, standing tall, and extending their bodies; these poses make you feel more powerful. It’s what she did before going onstage, and she delivered a phenomenal talk. But I think the single best advice is simply to breathe deeply before you go onstage. It works.

In general, people worry too much about nervousness. Nerves are not a disaster. The audience expects you to be nervous. It’s a natural body response that can actually improve your performance: It gives you energy to perform and keeps your mind sharp. Just keep breathing, and you’ll be fine.

Acknowledging nervousness can also create engagement. Showing your vulnerability, whether through nerves or tone of voice, is one of the most powerful ways to win over an audience, provided it is authentic. Susan Cain, who wrote a book about introverts and spoke at our 2012 conference, was terrified about giving her talk. You could feel her fragility onstage, and it created this dynamic where the audience was rooting for her–everybody wanted to hug her afterward. The fact that we knew she was fighting to keep herself up there made it beautiful, and it was the most popular talk that year.

Plan the Multimedia

With so much technology at our disposal, it may feel almost mandatory to use, at a minimum, presentation slides. By now most people have heard the advice about PowerPoint: Keep it simple; don’t use a slide deck as a substitute for notes (by, say, listing the bullet points you’ll discuss–those are best put on note cards); and don’t repeat out loud words that are on the slide. Not only is reciting slides a variation of the teleprompter problem–“Oh, no, she’s reading to us, too!”–but information is interesting only once, and hearing and seeing the same words feels repetitive. That advice may seem universal by now, but go into any company and you’ll see presenters violating it every day.

Many of the best TED speakers don’t use slides at all, and many talks don’t require them. If you have photographs or illustrations that make the topic come alive, then yes, show them. If not, consider doing without, at least for some parts of the presentation. And if you’re going to use slides, it’s worth exploring alternatives to PowerPoint. For instance, TED has invested in the company Prezi, which makes presentation software that offers a camera’s-eye view of a two-dimensional landscape. Instead of a flat sequence of images, you can move around the landscape and zoom in to it if need be. Used properly, such techniques can dramatically boost the visual punch of a talk and enhance its meaning.

Artists, architects, photographers, and designers have the best opportunity to use visuals. Slides can help frame and pace a talk and help speakers avoid getting lost in jargon or overly intellectual language. (Art can be hard to talk about–better to experience it visually.) I’ve seen greatpresentations in which the artist or designer put slides on an automatic timer so that the image changed every 15 seconds. I’ve also seen presentersgive a talk accompanied by video, speaking along to it. That can help sustain momentum. The industrial designer Ross Lovegrove’s highly visual TED Talk, for instance, used this technique to bring the audience along on a remarkable creative journey.

Another approach creative types might consider is to build silence into their talks, and just let the work speak for itself. The kinetic sculptor Reuben Margolin used that approach to powerful effect. The idea is not to think “I’m giving a talk.” Instead, think “I want to give this audience a powerful experience of my work.” The single worst thing artists and architects can do is to retreat into abstract or conceptual language.

Video has obvious uses for many speakers. In a TED Talk about the intelligence of crows, for instance, the scientist showed a clip of a crow bending a hook to fish a piece of food out of a tube–essentially creating a tool. It illustrated his point far better than anything he could have said.

Used well, video can be very effective, but there are common mistakes that should be avoided. A clip needs to be short–if it’s more than 60 seconds, you risk losing people. Don’t use videos–particularly corporate ones–that sound self-promotional or like infomercials; people are conditioned to tune those out. Anything with a soundtrack can be dangerously off-putting. And whatever you do, don’t show a clip of yourself being interviewed on, say, CNN. I’ve seen speakers do this, and it’s a really bad idea–no one wants to go along with you on your ego trip. The people in your audience are already listening to you live; why would they want to simultaneously watch your talking-head clip on a screen?

Putting It Together

We start helping speakers prepare their talks six months (or more) in advance so that they’ll have plenty of time to practice. We want people’s talks to be in final form at least a month before the event. The more practice they can do in the final weeks, the better off they’ll be. Ideally, they’ll practice the talk on their own and in front of an audience.

The tricky part about rehearsing a presentation in front of other people is that they will feel obligated to offer feedback and constructive criticism. Often the feedback from different people will vary or directly conflict. This can be confusing or even paralyzing, which is why it’s important to be choosy about the people you use as a test audience, and whom you invite to offer feedback. In general, the more experience a person has as a presenter, the better the criticism he or she can offer.

I learned many of these lessons myself in 2011. My colleague Bruno Giussani, who curates our TEDGlobal event, pointed out that although I’d worked at TED for nine years, served as the emcee at our conferences, and introduced many of the speakers, I’d never actually given a TED Talk myself. So he invited me to give one, and I accepted.

It was more stressful than I’d expected. Even though I spend time helping others frame their stories, framing my own in a way that felt compelling was difficult. I decided to memorize my presentation, which was about how web video powers global innovation, and that was really hard: Even though I was putting in a lot of hours, and getting sound advice from my colleagues, I definitely hit a point where I didn’t quite have it down and began to doubt I ever would. I really thought I might bomb. I was nervous right up until the moment I took the stage. But it ended up going fine. It’s definitely not one of the all-time great TED Talks, but it got a positive reaction–and I survived the stress of going through it.

Ultimately I learned firsthand what our speakers have been discovering for three decades: Presentations rise or fall on the quality of the idea, the narrative, and the passion of the speaker. It’s about substance, not speaking style or multimedia pyrotechnics. It’s fairly easy to “coach out” the problems in a talk, but there’s no way to “coach in” the basic story–the presenter has to have the raw material. If you have something to say, you can build a great talk. But if the central theme isn’t there, you’re better off not speaking. Decline the invitation. Go back to work, and wait until you have a compelling idea that’s really worth sharing.

The single most important thing to remember is that there is no one good way to do a talk. The most memorable talks offer something fresh, something no one has seen before. The worst ones are those that feel formulaic. So do not on any account try to emulate every piece of advice I’ve offered here. Take the bulk of it on board, sure. But make the talk your own. You know what’s distinctive about you and your idea. Play to your strengths and give a talk that is truly authentic to you.

10 Ways to Ruin a Presentation

As hard as it may be to give a great talk, it’s really easy to blow it. Here are some common mistakes that TED advises its speakers to avoid.

1. Take a really long time to explain what your talk is about.

2. Speak slowly and dramatically. Why talk when you can orate?

3. Make sure you subtly let everyone know how important you are.

4. Refer to your book repeatedly. Even better, quote yourself from it.

5. Cram your slides with numerous text bullet points and multiple fonts.

6. Use lots of unexplained technical jargon to make yourself sound smart.

7. Speak at great length about the history of your organization and its glorious achievements.

8. Don’t bother rehearsing to check how long your talk is running.

9. Sound as if you’re reciting your talk from memory.

10. Never, ever make eye contact with anyone in the audience.

Total Management Acquired by Raleigh Entrepreneur Jeff Tippett

RALEIGH, N.C. – Local entrepreneur, public speaker and owner of the public affairs firm Targeted Persuasion, Jeff Tippett, has acquired the public speaking firm, Total Management. The acquisition represents a significant opportunity to expand the firm’s reach in providing insightful, authentic guidance to businesses, communities and other organizations across the country.

The speakers that work with Total Management have been published, appeared on widely-recognized television programming and have even won awards for documentaries. Tippett, who also speaks publicly on effective and persuasive communications, is looking forward to working with Total Management’s team to touch new audiences. “While Total Management has a solid team of speakers, we’ve started adding an amazing lineup of new keynote speakers,” stated Tippett. “I think the communities we serve will be incredibly impressed with the group we represent.”

Since the acquisition took place in May 2017, Tippett and Total Management have been striving to provide a flawless experience to organizations hoping to authentically inspire their audiences. Looking towards the future, Tippett hopes to prove that Total Management can become a cornerstone for a multitude of audiences looking for guidance, inspiration and a deeper connection to their communities.

About Jeff Tippett

Jeff Tippett is a Raleigh, N.C.-based public speaker, and owner of the public affairs firm, Targeted Persuasion. He has worked on numerous political campaigns, served on local boards and committees, and has been inspiring and connecting with audiences for over a decade. To learn more about Jeff, visit his website at www.jefftippett.com.

About Total Management

Total Management is a boutique speakers’ bureau located in Raleigh, N.C. It has featured many speakers across the globe for a variety of occasions. To learn more about Total Management and its speakers, visit its website at www.engageyourstage.com.

 

 

 

Josh Stehno Hired as New Director of Talent Management

 

June 22, 2017 RALEIGH, N.C. – Total Management, a boutique speakers’ bureau in Raleigh, N.C., has hired Josh Stehno as its new Director of Talent Management. Stenho will be working with Total Management to acquire new speakers for the organization and develop their speaking platforms so they can more effectively inspire audiences nationwide.

Since studying operations management and entrepreneurship at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Josh has worked with over a dozen startup businesses to ensure success and sustainability. Furthermore, Stehno’s work overseas in the Peace Corps has given him the opportunity to challenge and empower new business owners. “I’ve worked in industries ranging from bartending to beekeeping,” says Stehno. “Connecting businesses with professional speakers has so much potential, and I’m looking forward to seeing it through with Total Management.”

Stehno will be working closely with public speaker and owner of Total Management, Jeff Tippett, to ensure that the organization continues to effectively collaborate with new industries and inspire new audiences. “What makes Josh such a great fit for Total Management is his perpetual, sincere positivity,” stated Tippett. “He has the inspired energy that Total Management wants to see in its speakers, and I know that he’ll help bring the organization to reach its full potential.”

About Jeff Tippett

Jeff Tippett is a Raleigh, N.C.-based public speaker, and owner of the public affairs firm, Targeted Persuasion. He has worked on numerous political campaigns, served on local boards and committees, and has been inspiring and connecting with audiences for over a decade. To learn more about Jeff, visit his website at www.jefftippett.com.

About Total Management

Total Management is a boutique speakers’ bureau located in Raleigh, N.C. It has featured many speakers across the globe for a variety of occasions. To learn more about Total Management and its speakers, visit its website at www.engageyourstage.com.

Jared Callahan featured in the New York Times

We are proud to highlight Jared Callahan’s featured new film debuting in the New York Times today! Check it out here.

Image

Jared serves as a Filmmaker in Residence for the Atlanta Film Society. He worked as First Assistant Director on “Short Term 12” (2009), which won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize for Short Filmmaking, and the feature “I Am Not A Hipster” (2012). Jared’s feature directorial debut, “Janey Makes a Play,” was released theatrically and on VOD in June 2016. His previous short film, “American Moderate,” which engaged an undecided voter during the 2016 presidential election, was released in July 2017 through the PBS Reel South program. In 2016, Jared founded People People Media, a boutique media production company.

Image

Having spoken at countless conferences, universities, and retreats, Jared has a solid track record motivating audiences through topics like: how smart companies navigate intergenerational relationships to bolster workplace productivity; the secrets millennial workers are trying to tell managers that can help attract and retain a top, creative workforce; and how to listen in these divided political times and create a peaceful workplace. Jared has had his writing published in the likes of Darling Magazine, Moviemaker, and The Viewpoint. Book him before he blows up!

Paul Meshanko in the Huffington Post: 12 Rules of Respect

We’re excited to announce that Paul Meshanko has a new article, Revving Up Your Influence Using the 12 Rules of Respect, published on Huffington Post. Read his full article in the Huffington Post here.

Here is a summary of the 12:

1. Be aware of your nonverbal and extra verbal cues.

2. Show curiosity for the views of others.

3. Treat other people like they’re smart.

4. Listen better by shaking your “but”.

5. Look for opportunities to connect with and support others.

6. When you disagree, explain why. 

7. Seek ways to grow, stretch and change.

8. Allow yourself to be wrong on occasion.

9. Never hesitate to say you are sorry.

10. Engage others in ways that build their self-esteem.

11. Share your ideas proportionally.

12. Smile!

Paul speaks on leveraging concepts like respect, bias, and managing change in the workplace. His clients include Toyota, Dupont, and the US Department of Justice to name a few.