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Cartoon captioned “How to tell if your kid is going to be a public speaker”. It shows a child on a playground slide saying to a parent, “Can I have the next slide, please?”

Preschoolers at the podium

Preschoolers at the podium published on

Of course, the way you know you have a real budding speaker on your hands is when they arrive at the playground and head straight for the swings or climbing structure, telling you disdainfully, “I don’t really use slides.”

I’m in several groups on Facebook and LinkedIn dedicated to public speaking. One of them just had a spate of newly-minted parents, and today’s cartoon is in their honour. Mazel tov!

(speaker to speechwriter) I get that I need to end with a call to action. But why can't that call to action be "Give me a standing ovation"?

Please clap.

Please clap. published on

Speaking and speechwriting are pretty central to my professional life, so it’s maybe a little surprising I don’t have more cartoons about those subjects. There’s this PowerPoint cartoon, this one about dongles, this dig at conference presentations and this plea for respect for cool transitions. And not much else.

(That may be because I put most of my creative energy around speaking and speechwriting into—apart from actually doing them—blogging about them or doing trainings.)

This one is about the hunger speakers have for applause. That appetite shouldn’t be surprising; applause and laughter are the most ways speakers get feedback that they’ve said something that connected with the audience. And the holy grail for many speakers is the standing ovation — witness the countless Google results for “how to get a standing ovation.”

Let me tell you what I mean. When Jeb Bush spoke to a lukewarm crowd of nominal supporters, delivered what he thought was an applause line and instead got crickets, he replied with a plaintive, “Please clap.” For commentators and late-night comics, it was the epitaph for a failed campaign.

Public speakers, though, felt a certain frisson of not just sympathy, but even admiration. We’re used to yearning for applause, working for it and milking it.

Imagine having the nerve to actually ask for it.

I hope you like this cartoon. Please clap.




Renegotiation published on No Comments on Renegotiation

It happened to a friend not long ago: she showed up at the event where she had been hired to speak and met the organizer – who was wearing that patented sheepish grin that says “Now, don’t be mad, and above all please let me leave this room alive.” It turned out that my friend’s cheque wasn’t ready, that there were still a few hoops for it to jump through, but honest, it’ll be there soon! Five, six weeks, tops. Three months at the outside.

I’ve been lucky so far: I’ve been treated very well whenever I’ve spoken. Others haven’t been so lucky – and it isn’t always some last-minute hitch with money.

Sometimes it’s the empty room that you were told would be packed with cheering throngs. (“I don’t understand it – we posted about your speech on Craigslist. Once. Two months ago.”) Or an LCD projector that requires a dongle made in North Korean during the 1990s to Kim Jong-Il’s personal specifications. (“There must be even more pins!“) Or a little switch-up: “I know we asked you to talk about The Vision to Win, buuuuut… the last three speakers all spoke on that. So would you mind talking about advances in power density for molten salt batteries in electric vehicles instead?”

Well said

Well said published on 1 Comment on Well said

Between TED talks, the wild popularity of PechaKucha and the multi-million-view results for such videos as Steve Jobs’ 2005 commencement address at Stanford, there’s good reason to think we should be entering a new Golden Age of Public Speaking.

(That’s as opposed to what it would replace, the PowerPoint Age, which probably isn’t so much golden as some alloy of tin, plutonium and urinal pucks.)

Yet awful presentations still seem to be alive and well (if “well” is the word), including in the tech sphere. And there’s a beast I’ve noticed emerging: the really well-delivered godawful speech.

The speaker engages! Makes eye contact! Moves purposefully about the stage! Projects themselves throughout the room! And powerfully, magnificently presents bad, bad content: a laundry list of features or cases. Vague generalities about the obvious. Meandering anecdotes that never really lead to a point.

Maybe it’s because people have learned the wrong lessons from the best TED videos (“Ooooh! It works because she paces across the stage!“). Or they’ve spent all their time trimming the words from their slide decks and replacing them with compelling iStockPhoto images, without asking what message those slide decks are trying to get across.

Great speeches and presentations work because they’re focused on a single message, because they connect with their audience at an emotional as well as an intellectual level, and because they couple dramatic narrative with surprise. If enough of us can hit those marks — even if our delivery is just north of adequate — we’ll be well on our way to that golden age.

Captive audiences

Captive audiences published on 1 Comment on Captive audiences

Here it is 2010, and I’m still sitting through godawful, text-heavy PowerPoint presentations with cheesy transitions, pointless clip-art and (pause, Rob, and try to stop hyper-ventilating)… Comic Sans.

Speakers often focus on what it’s like to be giving a presentation, but it’s easy to forget what it’s like to sit through one. Especially the fifth or sixth presentation of the third day of a conference.

You’re sitting in an uncomfortable chair (comfortable conference seating has yet to be invented), probably wired on a combination of carbs and caffeine, quite possibly sleep-deprived from all that late-night networking, and trying to stay alert while passively listening to someone droning on at the front of the room about “paradigms”.

Fortunately, I’m not seeing as many as I did three or four years ago. Word counts are often way down; diagrams are simpler and more effective; and slides, mercifully, take a back seat to the speaker and their story.

Maybe that’s because so many people saw An Inconvenient Truth and were blown away by what Jill Martin and Duarte did… or because of books like Presentation Zen, Beyond Bullet Points and Why Bad Presentations Happen to Good Causes… or just because enough people have been to Beth Kanter‘s presentations.

Whatever the reason, I’m grateful and so, I suspect, are a whole lot of audience members.

(Of course, the state of the art is constantly in flux. And if you want to see where presentations are going, especially in an era of Twitter-enabled audiences who aren’t feeling so passive any more, you could do far worse than reading Cliff Atkinson’s The Backchannel.)


Tweulogy published on 1 Comment on Tweulogy

Probably no need to mention that this cartoon was inspired by the Web 2.0 Expo debacle involving danah boyd, a Twitter backchannel projected onto a giant screen behind her, a speech that faced an uphill battle from the get-go, and a few audience members with some impulse control (and other) issues.

There’s a fascinating renegotiation going on between audiences and speakers. Twitter and backchannels are part of it, but I suspect something deeper is afoot. There’s a revolution sweeping all forms of communication – ask anyone who works for a newspaper or a record company – and maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that even something as seemingly timeless as public speaking would be affected.

But that doesn’t mean we have to be jerks about it.

I’ve had this dream…

I’ve had this dream… published on No Comments on I’ve had this dream…

But first, our standard conference snack of carbs and diuretics

But first, our standard conference snack of carbs and diuretics published on No Comments on But first, our standard conference snack of carbs and diuretics