Pitching is like Tabasco sauce…

Not long ago I had occasion to give a talk at a Founder Institute meeting for current and future startup founders. Pitching, as a sub-genre of communication, is of course a key skill in a startup founder’s set of tools, while at the same time being one of the more difficult (or it would seem) to master. Ideas just come flooding in, territory is familiar so jargon creeps in, assumptions lead to misunderstandings, and the pitch which was meant o be as enthralling as informative, ends up a crumpled mess of a thing, best quickly forgotten by all who have witnessed it.

This does not need to happen. Pitching, like any type of public-facing communication, is subject to simple guidelines of consistency, structure, focus and creativity. With practice it can become second nature. What it cannot become is automatic, or rote – and therein lies the trick. Constant polishing, rewriting, unpicking and reassembly helps to build up a pitch that is current and focused, and helps the pitcher stay on-form and able to deliver with a high scoring average, if I may be allowed a sporting metaphor.

Thing is, I believe that pitching is just one of the communication skills that are essential for any aspiring business leader to master. Indeed, intelligent, well crafted, communication is the single most important success factor that I can think of. Everything else in a startup – product, team, financials, a good coffee machine – these HAVE to be great as a baseline. What really separates great startups from the rest is their leaders ability to communicate, aligning the team’s objectives, outlining the vision to investors, firing up the enthusiasm of early adopters. I’m a communications professional so I guess I would have to say this :) but do you not think this is the case?

Tai Chi 2

Seven principles of effective presenting

We are more scared of public speaking than we are, apparently, of many other things – real or imagined. This fear is a natural result of our biological history and cultural conditioning, but it does not need to be the defining factor in our presentations. The dread of being judged, of stepping in front of your peers, can be conquered. With practice, it is entirely possible to overcome it by remembering that every presentation is less about you than it is about the people you are talking to. And there is no magic involved!

The fundamental point to remember is that public speaking is not simply speaking in public. A presentation is a particular kind of communication and is governed by its own rules. It is not an opportunity to dump all available information in the audience’s lap. It is a very different discipline from written reports or other kinds of communication and it is not a chance to prove how mind-numbingly clever you are, unless you actually want to numb a few minds and turn them off the content of your talk.

An effective presentation is of course about the right content but it is also, in large part, about skillful treatment of the audience (psychology), beautiful, impactful and informative slides (design) and also a bit of showmanship. A good presentation balances all of those elements and the result you want is that the audience walks away remembering the main points – the essence of what you were talking about. (If they want more information, you should make it easy for them to get it but it is not your job to cram ALL the information into your presentation.)

Concentrate on the key message, repeat it a few times in different forms and remember the old adage : Less is More.

So here are the seven principles of effective presenting :

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1. Start strong. You need to set the mood, grab the attention, maybe even wake them up if the previous speaker excelled at the skill of putting people to sleep with a boring talk. (And the chances of that are, as we know, unfortunately high.)


Presentation training.039

2. Keep it simple. Of course, if you are presenting detailed data or offering complex insights to people who are familiar with the subject then do not dumb it down but generally it is more effective to prune the amount of information so as to keep to the main points which they can remember and use. Overload leads to only one thing – the audience forgetting everything you told them as soon as they leave the room.


Presentation training.040

3. Pace yourself. Figure out the best speed at which you need to talk, within the time you are given. Do not rush madly through one half of the talk only to realise that you have no material left for the second half. This can be only achieved with proper preparation and several run-throughs so you are familiar with the talk enough to know when to speed up, when to slow down for effect, when to pause to make a point.


Presentation training.041

4. Use Emotions. People may forget the details but they will remember the feeling. If you are giving a motivational talk, you want them to walk away, well, motivated! If you are giving a sales presentation, you want them to recall the gist of why they would want to buy the product, and not necessarily all of its features.


Presentation training.042

5. Trust design. Principles of good design can – and should – be learned with practice. Use the tools at your disposal : colours, type, graphics, balance and so on. Learn the basics of the craft and you will be able to lean on it, as you would on a good friend!


Presentation training.043

6. Tell a story. Nothing captivates the audience like a good narrative. This does not mean necessarily : “Once upon a time…” It means getting personal with your information. If it’s a business presentation this is just as important – people want to know WHY they should care about the thing you are selling. Take them by the hand and tell them a good story.


Presentation training.044

7. Practice. Practice. Practice. A famous musician was once asked by a traveller lost in Manhattan, “excuse me, how do I get to Carnegie Hall?” The answer was: “practice young man, practice, practice, practice.”

Here’s to a year of effective public speaking!

A note about the photos:

All photographs in this post have been sourced from Wikimedia Commons. A great resource for making of presentations, using photographs which generous people around the World have made available for the community. Don’t just fire up Google Images and take whatever pictures you find. They’re not yours to use.


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TEDxWarsaw 2

Community building, TEDxWarsaw, and the importance of soft power.

This article appeared originally in the October 2012 issue of the “Nowe Media” quarterly (in Polish.) I had been asked to write about the history of our conference, our reasons and methods for bringing it to life and the general context of TEDx events as a thriving social phenomenon. With the kind permission of Eryk Mistewicz, the editor of Nowe Media, I’m able to publish the piece concurrently here.

A community is not something that needs to be built since it already exists in granular form of its potential constituent members – individual people bound together by ideas. Rather, it simply needs to be defined and given a chance to congeal. In all of history it has never been easier to do this at scale, nor has there been a time when communities were more ready and eager to form. Let me provide supporting evidence, based on my experience with building Poland’s first, and still largest, TEDx event. TEDx events are “independently organised TED events”, multi-disciplinary conferences designed to bring together leaders, doers, and passionates from literally every field of human endeavour, to share their stories and take part in whatever conversations emerge. Based around the concept of TED conferences (which have been around for over a quarter century), over 5000 of these events have been created in every country in the World since 2009.

The TEDx phenomenon would not have been as much of a, well, phenomenon as it has were it not for the fact that a huge community of “the intelligent masses” had already existed in pockets spread around the globe, hungry for contact with brothers-(and sisters!)-in-mind. TEDx has merely provided an opportunity for those little pockets to run together like beads of quicksilver. Opening up the TEDx license three years ago has given this community a definition and a hub around which to congeal. As a result, what had been a series of elite conferences has morphed into a global juggernaut, with quality of TEDx events uniformly high.

At TEDxWarsaw we began as a small team, gathered at one of the capital’s new coffee houses, excited at the possibility of creating a local version of something which we all held in high esteem. The coming together of the team is itself an interesting aside, combining forces as we did, since three separate people had applied for the TEDx license at the same time.

By the end of 2009 we had put together a core team of six, found a venue, set a theme and started to select speakers. The Word had also got out very quickly, without so much as a single column inch in what is now termed “traditional media.” Here, of course, we come to the point of this story, that is the ability of a few determined individuals to leverage appropriate technologies in the process of defining and congealing their communities. Twitter was by then only three years old, and just starting to gain popularity in Poland, but Facebook had already become one of the default modes of communication for a large percentage of the population. We anticipated that the level of recognition of TED within a narrow circle of aficionados would help us fill the Old Library auditorium on Warsaw University’s campus. We underestimated the scale of the response, however, and ever since that first event we have been consistently over-subscribed by a factor of 2x or 3x. And all, primarily, due to reliance on electronic community-building tools. The first event catered to 386 people. I remember that number since it was the capacity of the auditorium after we had subtracted some seats for the audio and video technicians. Our most recent event, this last March, filled the largest cinema hall in the country with nearly eight hundred intelligent, curious, participating individuals from Warsaw, the surrounds, and the general neighbourhood as far as Berlin and Vilnius. To put this in perspective, this is about the same size as TEDGlobal, the international TED conference which takes place in Edinburgh. By then we had had newspaper, radio and some television coverage but our main means of keeping in front of the members of our community have been digital.

TEDxWarsaw is closing in on 5000 “likes” on Facebook and we have over 20,000 followers on Twitter. This has grown in proportion to the international spread of the TEDx idea, and a large percentage of those people are members of their local TEDx communities. WWe do also have a substantial international audience. Our first event generated three quarters of a million server hits on the live stream, from over fifty countries including Kazakhstan and Bangladesh. Only a third were from Poland. Granted, live streaming a TEDx event was fairly new at the time and the event was run 100% in English, but according to the stats provided by StreamOnLine, our technology partners, only the Prime Minister had got more hits not long prior to our event.

We have since changed the formula somewhat, with half the event run in Polish, and the international audience has declined substantially, but we believe that while we are members of an international community, our first responsibility is to this country – and the reasons for this are many. The main thrust of the conference is to put interesting people in front of an interested audience for the purpose of sharing. It would be perhaps glib to say that we are in the business of “connecting the mavens” (with apologies to Malcolm Gladwell) were it not for the fact that it is actually true. We are fairly unusual among TEDx events in that we screen and select the audience, rather than simply opening the doors, “first come, first served.” The selection is done on the basis of what the applicants provide as “good reasons” they want to attend, and mirrors precisely, though not as stringently, the original process employed by TED itself. The result is a hall full of really varied people who actually really want to be there, for whatever personal reason.

In addition to being a forum for presentation of ideas and achievements, we are, just as importantly, a forum for conversation – fulfilling a basic human need in an age of increasing atomisation as well as tackling head-on one of the most fundamental issues facing Polish society today – it seems to me that many Poles display a deep lack of trust towards people outside of their immediate circle. While there may be good historical reasons for this, the need to change it is pressing and urgent. Much has been written about the deal-breaking, progress-inhibiting power which lack of trust holds over business and society. In some small way, we – at TEDxWarsaw – hope that gathering a wide cross-section of society, representing people from all walks of life, may help close, or at least bridge some of the chasms which exist in our society. Speakers and audience at our events have included (among others, of course) explorers and scientists, actors and musicians, politicians, monks, historians, students, designers, business leaders, storytellers, artists, venture capitalists, hippies, inventors, lefties, conservatives, a Rabbi, Catholics, Atheists, Buddhists and, I think, an Animist or two. We are interested in demonstrating that a diverse society is a healthy society.

We are also very interested in breaking some of the public speaking habits which have persisted in Poland for too long. Who has not heard politicians droning on for hours, only to say nothing of substance? Or other smart people, often leaders in their fields, managing to bore their audiences senseless and forever turn them off their topic? Poland has no tradition of public speaking. Again the need to change this is urgent if we are to communicate effectively to the World who we are and what we are doing. In march 2013 we will be staging our eighth event (four large ones, four little ones) and I am glad to say that of the eighty-some speakers and artists who have presented at TEDxWarsaw events, all but one or two have shown the audience the right way to share their passions and inspire people into action. The very lively concurrent debate on Twitter, Facebook and other social media has reflected this, and mercilessly pointed out any straying from a path of quality.

In a larger context, Poland is probably never going to become a global industrial power and we will likely never regain the military status we held five hundred years ago. What we can do is find our own place and build on the depth of culture, richness of wisdom and wealth of professional know-how to make the country count on the World stage in terms of what the American political scientist Joseph Nye calls “soft power.” Not important? Not true. Take a look at what countries of a similar size and wealth are achieving with soft power and you will see how important it really is. To get on that road we need a new “national myth”, to lean on one of my heroes, Joseph Campbell. We need to move from continual recounting of pain, sacrifice and loss as the central narrative, to celebrating what can be built on those lessons from history with intelligent, creative work in the present. Our little conference attempts to champion achievement and celebrate striving for quality, in whatever field.

Success of a country, in the near future, will be counted  not just in terms of wealth, capital and power but also wise governance, freedom of expression, levels of satisfaction and health (mental and physical) of its people – that elusive “quality of life” about which we often talk but have only a sketchy idea of how to reach. A successful country will be one which provides conditions in which its citizens can thrive. Not only that, a successful country – in an open, connected World – will be seen as a place worth living in, and will thus increase its drawing power for capital and talent. Conversations are key to achieving this. And communities, defined and congealed around ideas worth spreading (the governing motto of TED and TEDx) are the right place to start those conversations.

More about the TEDx project here.




Illustration for Nowe Media by Fabien Clairefond / Le Figaro


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A – very quick – typographic walk in London

This doesn’t even begin to do justice to the awesome richness that is the world of found typography in the fine city of London. But then this blog doesn’t claim either complete coverage or in-depth exploration of the subject. (There, I feel better now.) So here’s a handful of very different pieces of hand-made type, found on a very short walk between appointments. No doubt, there is more to come.

4-pint Pitchers available.

Sign on a gallery window

I would wager that these were hand-cast so they count as hand-made typography.
Entrance sign on an apartment building.

These are always amusing as it is difficult to imagine some prominent personage actually “laying” the stone…

Tile-work, or mosaic typography if you will, is harder than it looks. I’ve tried it. Or maybe I just don’t have the talent…

Peace, love and the global economy

Finnish duo Phantom performing at MLOVE

Conferences are “stuff” which serves many purposes for the World’s creative business elite. The best ones combine a high-octane dose of inspiration with a chance to gaze into crystal balls deftly handled by the high priests of this large amorphous circle, the designers and consultants who shape consumer dreams of tomorrow (or maybe ten or twenty years hence) and the technologists who, by stretching the horizons of technology with their vision write the software and invent the materials which will make it possible for those dreams to be turned into commercial reality.

A vital ingredient of this “stuff” is the building and care of personal connections which bind startup founders with performance artists, software developers with strategy consultants, eccentric investors with advertising gurus and sound designers with automotive engineers (and many more, besides.) This creative elite represents the advance guard of today’s business world and multi-disciplinary gatherings are its playground, research field, cross-pollination lab, parade ground, mating festival and ritual gathering of the tribe. Without those personal connections the strength of this group would be much diminished, its members reduced to a status of “content providers” or “graphic artists”, and the business world would be turning them into increasingly slavish completers of tasks – forgetting at its own peril that it is these very people who ensure its long term survival. (This endless struggle is one of the large ironies of the business world, but that is for another post.) With the personal connections in place, however, the group becomes the power train of tomorrow’s commercial world, and its members in turn hitch their own career wagons to it.

Having just had a chance to learn, horse-trade, story-swap, spark ideas, show off and party at the invitation of the organisers of MLOVE, I must confess a growing fondness, nay, weakness for small, highly focused but broad-ranging, well-run and intensely personal conferences. Kind of like our own TEDxWarsaw, really, and not coincidentally since these gatherings, much as TEDx conferences, tend to become a natural hub for the communities of like-minded individuals who come together in the gravitational pull of a promise of creative excellence, serendipity and commercial opportunity. I’m a junkie for high-grade conversation. There, I said it.

MLOVE is a mobile-centric conference but don’t let that fool you into thinking that it’s an event for Vodafone executives and handset manufacturers. Yes, they were there of course but “Mobile” is now the topic on the lips of power brokers, ad men and branding directors everywhere, and it has more to do with life than with technology, Not surprisingly, so did the conference.

The gathering takes place annually in a tastefully dilapidated castle a couple of hours South of Berlin. The fact that the location is removed from city bustle and participants are therefore kettled in the cozy but intense atmosphere, serves to concentrate the mind and infuse the air with a fragrance of purposeful conversations. I have been to a multitude of events and I have to say, the relatively small size and the personal lean of MLOVE make it stand out by a country (ahem) mile.

Selection of speakers is always a major issue for any serious event. Here, the consistently high quality and wide range of presentations were impressive. Design visionaries, global educators and high-flying strategy gurus tend to naturally have a whiff of the stratospheric about them of course, but what was more impressive was the ease with which all of these accomplished individuals were happy to discuss their failures as well as their successes once the presentations were over. By far the most valuable aspects were the conversations which ensued with everyone happy to take off their suits of armour and engage in an atmosphere of potential vulnerability which, I’m sure, led to many exchanges on levels not usually encountered at professional conferences.

And then there were the, dare I use the word, workshops… Two formats were offered – both “structured but loose” – Open Spaces (themed discussions about topics at the intersection of technology, sociology, commerce and creativity) and Future Cubes – in essence brainstorming sessions trying to envision possible scenarios for the lives of individuals in the 2020’s. I won’t delve into the details of these since this falls into the “you needed to be there” category – otherwise it may all end up sounding somewhat incoherent at best. I have to say, however, that I was fascinated by how all teams (nine or ten of them) naturally chose the same format to present their Future Cubes ideas – that of a narrator and a troupe of actors. Organic, ancient storytelling is the natural go-to solution when we are free to select any solution. Truly an eye-opener. One team was complete with a Greek Chorus, though singing soul. (And this will be the one and only time I will have been seen in public wearing a crown on my head. Enough said. Don’t ask.)

Ultimately, gatherings such as this serve many purposes but one clearly stands out from others, for me at least – the opportunity to swap ideas and discuss opportunities with people who, though coming from as far as Japan, New Zealand and Texas, are essentially much the same as me and face much the same challenges in their professional lives. An encouraging thought.


Other bloggerz sez:

Mobile changes everything (in German)

Three days at the heart of mobile passion and innovation

#MLOVE was not about mobile

Classroom of the Future


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Marketing, product and customer service lessons from a Gypsy fortune teller

Some months ago Mrs T and I spent a most pleasant weekend at a country town far enough from the capital to be worth the drive. (This post has been in a notebook for a while – I’ve not had a chance to finish it till now.) My friend Janusz Kobylinski’s exhibition of photographs was the immediate reason (this time in a proper gallery, not a field,) accommodations were most agreeable, company splendid, food terrific, and the weather held out, thankfully, given the scenes of flooding and damnation the very area had endured not two weeks prior. As a tourist trap of sorts, the town of Kazimierz Dolny has been, for many seasons, a favourite working spot for a number of Gypsy “musicians” and fortune tellers. I put the musicians in inverted commas since these guys, alas, are not quite the Django Reinhardts they would like us to believe they were. But I digress. Fortune tellers have been of some interest to me, given the inherent entertainment value of being told something that is plainly nonsense but yet vaguely related to reality. This time the lack of added value in the performance was an apt lesson in what marketing promises and what the product, ultimately, fails to deliver.

This particular lady spotted us while crossing the square. All skirts and gold rings, she muscled her way through the surrounding air rather than merely making a beeline for this couple of townies. The size of her bosom probably had something to do with the impression she made – of a purpose-driven icebreaker at speed.

“My good lady, for a small coin I will tell you the name of this fine gentleman” she addressed Mrs T with the broadest grin this side of the Vistula.

Mrs T, bless ‘er, countered that she was indeed perfectly familiar with the intricacies of my various and sundry monickers and she required no assistance in the matter. The suggestion that my wife of some years would need to pay someone to tell her my name was just sufficiently hilarious however, so all smiles, we stopped and waited for unfolding of Mysteries of the Roma.

The Fortune Teller was not to be deterred by the statement of facts. My wife apparently knew my name with no external assistance. So be it. Change of tac”How about a couple of zlotys for a cuppa tea, then, dear?”

That, of course, was an eminently reasonable request and couple of zlotys were quickly offered, perhaps in the (as it rapidly transpired vain) hope that this would be the end of the conversation. Not so.

“May I please have a moment of your time to tell you the fortune that you seek. Pick a card, and I will tell you what shall transpire in the near and not so near future…” and more such delicious to the ear but ultimately devoid of information floweriness. Given the lush expanse of the language before us, we winked at each other and decided to Go With It. The three of us moved from the centre of the square to under the ample eaves of one of its buildings.

“Cross my palm with a coin (I kid you not, that was the phrase she used, in translation of course) and I will tell you your fortune.” How could we refuse? She took the coin and, lo, crossed her palm with it. How’s that for cross-cultural, I thought.

Several minutes of “fortune” delivered at speed followed. If, gentle reader, you are waiting with baited breath to learn what good or ill is waiting to descend upon this writer, you will be as disappointed as we were, however. There was little beyond many stock phrases mentioning much travel, a likely gigantic fortune and, just as likely, a devastating bankruptcy – followed by more travel (or perhaps preceded by such, it was difficult to estimate the precise chronological order there.) After a few minutes we decided that the entertainment value was somewhat less than we expected and started to make meaningful noises which, as you can probably guess, meant “now would be a really good time to go and find that ice cream parlour we noticed way across the other side of town, wouldn’t you say?”

Well, given that we were visibly unimpressed by the certainly incomplete and quite possibly entirely erroneous nature of the fortune being told, the Fortune Teller changed her tactics.

“You see, for the few miserable coins you’ve given me (quote, unquote) you cannot possibly expect me to tell you your entire fortune. You must give me a paper note and then all that may be revealed, will be.”

Right. A paper note. Of course. Hell, why not.

A crumpled blue tenner was fished out of my jean pocket and pressed into the already stretched out hand. Alas this increased the volume of the flow but not the quality of data being delivered therein… Though, really, should we really have been disappointed by promises of more travel? I don’t know.

At this point I need to segway into the world of consulting, about which I know a little more than the world of Telling of Fortune. There is a popular belief in those who buy consulting services. Some would give a more complicated explanation but “ya gets what ya pays for” seems to resonate. This must be true since the fortune we were being told was evidently not of a standard one would describe as satisfactory and we could be given to thinking that payment of additional consulting fees might have effected some improvement of those services. Or maybe use of Expensive Proprietary Technology would have helped. We’ll never know, however, as our willingness to try (or, indeed, curiosity) was by then insufficient to shell out more dough, to put it plainly. And we made Meaningful Noises.

Convinced that we were about to scarper, with or without having our fortune fully told, the Fortune Teller pulled out the Big One.

“It is against my religion to start a fortune and not finish it.”

Ah. I see. So?

“So I will need additional compensation (quote, unquote) because otherwise the fortune I have already told you will not come true.”

Unimpressed. Getting to leave. Turning away.

“Worse, there will be curses upon you and the fruit of your loins if we interrupt now (” , “) without completing the fortune or at least paying some more.”

(This reminded me of an elderly Sikh gentleman plying the same trade whom I once encountered in Delhi – he used much the same tactic. There must be an International Fortune Telling University, or at least a continuing professional education course or an exchange programme where these skills are passed on…)

Not planning to have children, we felt quite safe there and left, followed by quite an outpouring of baroque curses which included, among other things, love practices involving small animals – which are evidently considered unsavoury enough in Kazimierz Dolny to be included in a serving of Curse but are, I understand, rather commonplace in certain quarters of San Francisco or Sydney.

So what’s the point if this vaguely ethnographically amusing story?

1. Overselling does nothing for the service provider long-term. It’s a short-term strategy. Sometimes very short-term.

2. A little entertainment can go a long way in making the client happy. Clients expect consultants to be human. Treating them as human, too, might not be a bad idea.

3. Asking for more may seem like a logical practice but it is not convincing.

4. Never bluff unless you can afford to have the bluff called.

Musing over the psychological aspects of a life spent asking strangers for a few coins, we continued on our way while in the square skirts and rings were closing in on another pair of townies. Maybe they would be prepared to pay a higher fee and negotiate a better level of service from the start. Somehow I would have preferred a conversation and that cup of tea. Perhaps I should have suggested that.

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Stories surround us

This is a new one… I haven’t re-posted other bloggers in the past but this one from Designing Change makes so many good points, it needs to be spread. 

Written by on June 29, 2011

“The world we see today is the legacy of people noticing the world and commenting on it in forms that have been preserved.” Art & Fear

Story is how we make sense of the world. Each piece of art we create tells a story. Each story we share contributes to the meaning that shapes our world.

Story was the theme of Podcasters Across Borders 2011, a gathering of artists who spent the weekend exploring storytelling across all forms of new media.

After struggling to summarize my experience, I decided adding a constraint would be the perfect way to push through my writer’s block. I’ve captured my reflections in 4 sets of 5.


Five takeaways from PAB:


Stories surround you. Listen for them. Capture them. Share them. Risks if we don’t? Voices lost from history. Explosions from people whose stories aren’t heard (great JOLT @RobinBrowne!).

Be naked. Reveal yourself. Take risks. @scarboroughdude was the most naked presenter, lounging in an armchair sharing his stories in the spirit of the original PAB as if participating in a fireside chat. Although @JohnMeadows vied for the title in a different way, pushing his limits with his photography.

Just hit publish. It’s hard to hit publish if you’re forever worrying about whether you have anything interesting to say or whether it’s good enough. If you don’t hit publish, you’ll never know what your audience finds interesting or valuable. I admire the mindset of my son who created and published his first 3 tutorial videos in 3 hours, sharing his learnings with each video published.

See the moments. Why use a film or view camera for photography when digital is available? Because it forces you to focus in on the moment. On the story you want to capture. This resonated with me as I’d just finished the book Zen of Seeing by Frederick Franck, who describes seeing this way: “Open your eyes and focus on whatever you observed before – that plant or leaf or dandelion. Look it in the eye, until you feel it looking back at you. Feel that you are alone with it on Earth! That it is the most important thing in the universe, that it contains all the riddle of life and death. It does! You are no longer looking, you are SEEING…” By learning to see the moments, you’ll discover stories everywhere.

Treat a conference as a conversation. Intimate. Safe to be naked. Open space for conversation and forming new friendships. @markblevis and @bobgoyetche did a phenomenal job curating and facilitating PAB. It was forged seven years ago with a campfire in mind and they’ve stuck with that format, the current fireside being Stage 4 of the National Arts Centre. There was far more conversation than at other conferences I’ve attended, and it was during those conversations that meaning was shared and new relationships were begun.


Five things I learned by presenting at PAB:
We learn by creating, sharing our creations, and then listening to the feedback shared by our audience. Here are a few things I learned about how I can improve future presentations, thanks to the opportunity to present at PAB.

Cut. Cut. Then cut even more. Even though stories resonate more powerfully than facts, I still have a tendency to sprinkle too many supporting facts (references to studies) into a presentation. Too many facts distract the audience and dilute your core message.

Ground yourself to reassure your lizard brain. Presenting triggers the flight, fright, flee response of the lizard brain for most of us. Someone shared with me a centering technique from yoga I’ll use in the future to reassure my lizard brain that it’s safe. Stand with your legs shoulder width apart. Lift your toes, spread them out, then anchor them to the floor. Imagine yourself as a tree, sending roots deep into the soil. Take a deep, yogic breath (inflating your belly). Exhale forcefully through an open mouth (making sure your mike is off).

Slow down. Give people time to absorb each slide. Each visual, each slide, is part of the story you’re telling. Hurrying through slides leaves people wondering what they’ve missed.

Invite your audience in. This was one of the tips @acedtect shared in his top 5 ways to engage the audience. How could I have done this better at PAB? Kept my presentation shorter. Then I could have facilitated an autobiography exercise, asking a few people to stand up and share. Then if there was time, followed that with an Inciting Incident exercise, again asking people to stand up and share. Story brings the audience in. Leaving space gives more opportunities for their stories to emerge.

Reveal the meaning. It’s not what something is about (the facts). It’s about what it means to you (the story). This is related to presenting naked. Someone mentioned their surprise at how interested people seemed in some of the books I mentioned. He reflected that maybe this was because I referred to what the books meant to me, how they changed my thinking, rather than simply saying what they were about (his usual approach). In his wrap @markblevis said the creators aren’t the people who decide what the benefit is of their creation to others. Rather, it’s about what it means to your audience. I was surprised by the variety of conversations I had with people about what my presentation meant to them. The meaning and what resonated varied widely (from finding personal meaning to organizational applications). That’s the power of story. It provides space for conversation. It provides space for meaning to emerge.

I’ll be uploading my presentation, It’s All Invented, to slideshare next week.


Five things I’m going to do as result of attending PAB:
The best conferences spark ideas and inspire action. As a result of my experience at PAB 2011, I’m going to do the following five things:

Capture stories with video and audio. I confess my lizard brain has hindered me from reaching out to people and asking them whether I can record conversations. And yet unless I get over this fear I can’t share their stories. I’m going to bring my video camera and audio recorder to Content World 2011 and ask people to share their stories, featuring them in the Adoption Community.

Write a book on life lessons I’ve learned through gardening.  During my talk, I teased the audience with a few slides featuring my garden. Gardening has taught me so much about design, experimentation, persistence, emergence, serendipity… the list could go on. The number of stories it holds is huge. I started Ktown Gardener in January to capture thoughts and images of my garden, but didn’t stick with it. Thanks to PAB I’m reviving Ktown Gardener. I’ll post several times a week, using the blog as a garden journal to capture stories and images that resonate with me along with mistakes, successes, and learnings. I’ll also use it as a vehicle to help me develop my skills in drawing, photography, and video. And Ktown Gardener will become the  shitty first draft of the book.

Seek out Kingston creatives. Artists (creators, designers) need other artists for inspiration and support. PAB has a wonderfully supportive atmosphere. While it’s awesome to travel to an event like PAB (and I plan on attending again next year) I’d like to connect with artists in the Kingston area. If you’re interested, send me an email or a tweet.

Capture family stories. @zedcaster shared the story of Ada, his great grandmother, mother of 15 and lifelong swimmer. A cassette of her stories was almost lost. Someone discovered it at a garage sale, recognized its value, and tracked down her family so they could return it. Much to my regret, I have no stories of my great grandmother. But I still have the opportunity to capture the stories of my parents for future generations.

Haul one or both of my kids off on an adventure. One of our family highlights is the month we spent exploring China when the kids were 12 and 14. We took Mandarin lessons together, then set off on our adventure. Since then I’ve assumed the kids are too old to head out with us again (they’re 17 and 19 now). But inspired by @scarboroughdude’s story of his cross Canada bonding trips with each of his sons and Christopher Griffin‘s tale of his family’s trip to India and his experience casting bronze elephants, I’ll be seeking out an adventure to share with my kids.


Five phrases from PAB that captured my imagination


  • Fruitful incompletion
  • Story showers
  • Dead time between mistakes gives space for better ideas to emerge
  • We’re not channels, we’re tubes
  • Shiver moment

What images do these phrases evoke for you?


Re-posted unedited from here.

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People die. Stories live on.

Some fourteen years ago I started to work on a book of Maori tribal myths and legends. Some eleven years ago the book was finally published by the New Zealand publishing house of Reed. (The book sold out within three years but the publisher refused to reprint. That’s a good subject for another discussion about giving customers what they obviously want – or not – and the state of the publishing industry but that’s for another time…)

By the time the book’s stock was exhausted, I had learned that Tauhia Hill, one of the ten people I had talked to, had died. A wonderful bloke who took me for a long walk, told me rich stories of the Kaipara Harbour (the largest and least known of Auckland’s harbours) and paused just long enough for me to take a roll’s worth of portraits under a cabbage tree. (On a twin-lens Rolleiflex 2.8F, I’ll have you know.) Another, Tauranga carver Tuti Tukaokao, had promised to carve a wooden casket for the ashes of my father who had died while I was working on the book. Alas, he did not live to fulfill that promise.

Several years later, the truly wonderful Bubbles Mihinui from Roturoa, joined her ancestors after a long and distinguished life, as did Te Hau Tutua, a staunch man of great dignity and wide-ranging creativity who told me stories of White Island, the active volcano some two hours’ boat ride off the coast. Harold Ashwell from Rakiura has also gone, as has Jacob Hakaraia from the other end of the country, Waitangi.

Most of the storytellers have gone to sit by the great bonfire in the sky. Their stories, which are not really their stories but belong to the tribe, the tangata whenua, live on.

They live on for me, too. I received a pounamu (greenstone) pebble from Kath Hemi, one of the kuia (elderwomen) whom I visited at hear house near Nelson. (Recently I heard that she, too, had gone away to tell her stories in the spirit world.) The pebble travelled with me for a month till I finally arrived in Hokitika which, you may not be aware of this vital fact, is the greenstone carving capital of the World. There I met Stan McCallum, one of the master carvers, to whom I would entrust the task of making something out of the piece of stone. After several cups of tea and two hours’ discussion of important matters such as World travel and the year’s whitebaiting season, he finally set to and produced a suitable work – which, too, is another story except to say that when I visited him seven years later with my then brand new wife he remembered the story, and the stone, and the cups of tea. And picked out a special piece for my wife, of course.

What’s the point of all this? As Sir Paul Reeves wrote in the introduction to the book “Oral history is what one generation wants to share with another. It is the way the truth is enriched and brought into our living experience” and  “History lies in the telling. Mythology or interpretation, and the account of what might have happened, can be gloriously mixed up.” Paul, I call him by his first name as he would insist, has also recently departed, having lived a big life, full of important stories.

The book, as all books, is enjoying its own life Out There, including delightful, if surprising, encounters with its author.

Which leaves one question. What stories next?

Here are some of the portraits.

Bubbles Mihinui

Jacob Hakaraia

Rose Thompson

Te Hau Tutua

Kath Hemi

Tuti Tukaokao


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iPhone photography, a sense of place and a “new old” aesthetic

Promenade des Anglais, Nice, France

Bless its silicon heart, the iPhone would be loved even by my old chiropractor who for years told me to quit lugging a camera bag the size of a small Victorian travel trunk on my shoulder… I did finally quit the year my damaged back convinced me I should listen, but that is a different story.

Seriously, though – it is not surprising that a quarter of the World’s photos are now taken on smartphones. The best camera is one that is with you all the time and while I still love my heavy DSLRs with their battery of lenses for every imaginable situation, for all situations that are not so much imaginable as real, right there, and ready to be shot, there is the iPhone.

The bridge at Avignon, France

A photograph as an object should of course only be judged on its own, certainly removed from its technological origins. Whether a photo is successful in its purpose is a result of the photographer’s skill, sensitivity, timing, and so on. What kind of camera it’s taken on is irrelevant. And a good thing, too. The best camera, I have maintained for a long time, would be no camera at all, but that too is a subject for another discussion. The iPhone, tiny and unobtrusive, with the huge variety of photo apps, and a growing collection of small but useful accessories is almost as good as having no camera. Almost fully Zen, you might say.

Berliner Dom, Berlin, Germany

What is actually really interesting to consider is not just the way the iPhone, and devices like it, are redefining how or when we take photographs but also the fact that they are actually cutting a new aesthetic swathe through the visual undergrowth. I may have not considered shooting and post-producing ANY of the photos illustrating this article on a “normal” camera. While with an iPhone, all of them are entirely, well, normal.

Bakery in La Ciotat, France

But back to the subject at hand. In travel photography the single most important point of any image is to convey a sense of place. What does it feel like? What does it taste like? A viewer will likely forget most of the information conveyed by an image as soon as the page is turned or the screen flipped, but the feeling should stay in her imagination long after the image itself has faded from her retina.

Old Town, Warsaw, Poland

This is where it gets interesting, from two perspectives – one of  balance, and one of a two-way mutual inspiration between technology and the visual. We have hundreds of apps which allow post-production treatment of the image. From grunging them up to making them look as if shot with a Diana camera, there is a myriad possible filters, treatments and tricks available to those wanting to try them out. As with any technique, if done judiciously they can be used to enhance an already good photo, or propel a mediocre one into another level of meaning and appeal. Then again, they can be easily overused as a “wonderfully creative” tool, confining the photo to the ever-widening pool of visual cliches and fads. The aim – to use the tools to enhance the “feel” of the image, communicating the sense of place better than might be done otherwise.

A village in the Rhone Valley, France

I’m just starting to play with the iPhone as a serious tool for making photos – down new visual paths, using a vocabulary that has been redefined by the introduction of the photo manipulation apps. I’ve been using PhotoShop for something like seventeen years and have been, of course, well used to seeing heavily manipulated images but have not looked at making these kinds of photos for myself. This is the other perspective – technology pushing visual exploration, as much as it is itself defined by the established visual trends. Lomo and Diana had been around for a long time by the time Instagram and Hipstamatic came to be but relatively few people knew what photos Lomo and Diana took looked like until those applications popularised the post-production looks inspired by those cameras. What goes around…

(Incidentally, if you’re interested in this subject matter, check out the Scoop.it magazine we are starting to curate over at Pixengo : Best Mobile Photography. And please send us suggestions @pixengo if you find great examples of this “new old” aesthetic.)

As an aside – the photos above are from the first batch I submitted to my photo agency Aurora Photos for their nascent myPhone Collection. It’s an experiment but we think it’s worth the effort, as this somewhat loose, bright, funky, slightly melancholic, nostalgic and wildly unpredictable aesthetic is likely to stay with us for some time. Art Directors are not likely to ignore it for long, and when they start looking for pictures, we’ll be there!





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Presentations are not just about presenting

A little while ago I had the good fortune to speak at the second Startup Weekend Warsaw, organised again by the team at Hard Gamma Ventures, and led by Startup Weekend’s own Jennifer Cabala. I had been asked to give a talk which would help the teams build presentations for the ultimate pitching session at the end of Sunday. The title of the talk was “Presentations are not just for presenting, or how to re-purpose your time.

This is an edited text, to fit the blog format. As is usually the case, what works on stage doesn’t necessarily work on the screen. I have included only about a quarter of the slides, too – a page of text is not the same medium as a spoken presentation and they would be superfluous here.

We’re all scared of public speaking, it’s just the degree that varies. We are more afraid of that than we are of spiders, vampires – the sexy kind and the ordinary nasty kind. (Scary slides.) We’re more afraid of public speaking than we are of clowns and of asteroids, though we really should rather be afraid of those as the statistical likelihood of us being offed by one that doesn’t quite miss the Earth is apparently fairly significant and your odds in dying in a cosmic crash are about the same as those for death in an aeroplane crash.


The thing we are most afraid of, apparently, is death by fire. (Witch burning slide.) Given our troubled history that is not entirely illogical. Public speaking takes the second spot, which IS entirely illogical unless we should find ourselves talking in front of a group of those gentlemen (cannibals slide) with the subject of the presentation being whether or not we’re going to become today’s lunch. We’re afraid of public speaking because we don’t like being judged by others (judges slide) and because we fear that we will not have enough time to explains ourselves fully (No Stopping signs slide.) We’re afraid of public speaking because we think it’s some kind of a magical skill, mysteriously acquired by a fortunate chosen few. I’m here to tell you it is not. (Crossed out magician slide.)



Remembering two key things about public speaking will make it easier to start and not as scary to continue. One, it’s a good thing to start with a strong point, preferably several. (Explosions slide.) Two, if you think it’s all about you, you’re wrong. It’s only about you to the extent that of how you are able to make the point that is of most interest to investors. (Money slide.) And there you can only do that if you show them that your product saves them time, earns them money, offers them something wickedly fun to do, or indeed earns them money.

And there’s one thing that investors hate more than pretty much anything and that is bullshit. (“No bullshit” slide.) So I would not suggest that you talk about that “fifty billion dollar market of which you only need two percent to make a killing” because nobody will believe you. Concentrate instead on the thing most of interest to investors and that is demonstrating the existence of a Large Addressable Market (Big Crowd slide.) Because one of those, given enough brain power and effort on your part, will translate into nice big returns for all concerned.


So this is your opportunity to grab the bull by the horns. Here’s a dictionary definition of this term for those not familiar with it. Doesn’t it actually define the pirate spirit that needs to exist in a startup? I think it does. (Definition slide : taking advantage of an opportunity.)

So, you need to grab the bull by the horns and you don’t have a lot of time to do it. That’s OK because you’re actually participating in a very exciting activity, and that is the creation of new life. (Swimming sperm slide.) I had a far more interesting photo on this slide but I was told this was a family show so… Incidentally, if you think that the Biology of Business is purely a fanciful term, check out some things that have been written about it. And if you don’t know who Esther Dyson is, you should. (Biology of Business slide.)

So, you’re creating new life but of course you want to end up here. (Facebook network slide) As an aside, this is not exactly a new idea. The value of networks has been known for a very long time, as illustrated by this telephone cable company map from over a hundred years ago (map slide.) So, you’re busy creating new life, and are aiming at World Domination.


I would suggest you certainly mention the ultimate aim of the exercise, after all how will you know when you get there if you don’t know where you’re going, but for the purpose of this weekend, it would be a lot more useful to concentrate on the next couple of the many steps which you will need to take between now and then. (Steps between now and then slide.)

Given you’re standing there essentially naked in front of the jury (anybody remember the film Full Monty?) what can you do? Well, you do have two super weapons at your disposal: your charming personality (cute dog slide) and your awesome idea. (Light bulb slide.)

So here’s where the work on presentations really starts. It is worth mentioning that a presentation consists of two elements – the presenter, we’ll be working on that part tomorrow, and the presentation itself. Which, we have already established, should lead to some blindingly obvious conclusions about the money in the context of the Large Addressable Market. (Presenter and presentation slide.)

I’d like to suggest that creating the presentation is actually your opportunity to what? Focus! (Ford Focus slide.) You have three minutes, as we know. You may think this is a tiny amount of time but it is actually plenty. And what you need to think of as the spine of your presentation is the picture you paint in their minds, the story you tell them to illustrate what you’re all about.

Anybody remember the 80’s TV series The A Team? Now there’s a bunch of stories! I can’t use an original team shot here because of copyright reasons but you will recall there was Hannibal who liked cigars and loved it when the plan came together. (A Team mock up slide.) There was Face Man, the smooth talking suit-wearing sell-sand-to-the-Bedouins guy. There was Murdock, the geek. He built things. And then there was B.A who was very useful for a variety of jobs requiring effective focus, immediate attention and direct community engagement. Well, I’ve always thought that they constituted pretty much the ideal startup team. Hannibal was the strategy guy but he left the smooth talking to Face the marketing guy. Murdock built stuff that actually worked, against all odds, and Mr T, that is BA, there to move heavy things and generally scare off the competition. Every one of their missions was indeed a new startup.


You too have created teams and are now working on your projects and there might be a natural tendency to focus much of the presentation on the team and only some on the great idea. (Winning team and idea slide.) I would suggest that it should be the other way around. While the team is obviously important and you may have some really strong domain expertise which you should mention, it is the project itself that should be the centre of attention. Especially in the context of that Large Addressable Market.

This is how we normally work with ideas : idea – discuss – refine – use or discard (circular process slide.) I’d like to suggest that building in the discipline of thinking about how you might ultimately present those ideas really helps in evaluating of those ideas in the first place.


So, am I suggesting that you turn on PowerPoint and create a presentation about every idea, or that you start by going to the laptop and whacking out slides to present on Sunday night? Of course not. (Crossed out laptop slide.) This is your tool of choice. (Pencil slide.) I’d like to suggest you start with pencil and paper and create storyboards. If you’re even moderately familiar with the movie business you will have heard of storyboards. Film makers don’t begin making a movie by loading up and heading out on location, unless they’re Wim Wenders… (Storyboards slide.) The process begins a lot earlier, with discussion over storyboards. These are the details you would need if you drew one up. The information is remarkably similar to what you need when planning a presentation – what’s on the screen, how long for and what is said while the slide is up. Incidentally, it is really a useful idea to think of your presentation as a movie, with a beginning, a middle and a conclusion.


So, using pencil and paper, start putting down the main points of the project. Features, marketing ideas, business propositions and so on. As you go along you will add iterations of those and shift the points around. (Progressive rough storyboard slides.) Here are the tools you will need. (Scissors and tape slide.) In case you’re not familiar with those, they perform the commands Cmd-X and Cmd-V. They are your friends. Oh, and if you think this is some outmoded technology and it’s not worth considering, check out these useful features. You’ll be familiar with all of those:
asynchronous / concurrent
zero boot up time
always on
flexible inputs
version control
automatic backup.

At the end of this process you will end up with what looks like this (sheet of notes.) Perhaps like this (a lot of sheets of notes.) And if you follow the process to its logical conclusion, you will end up with the presentation basically planned out. (Sheet of notes with the final set of points highlighted slide.) And importantly this process will help you find the kernel of what the project is really about. (Peach slide.)


So, to the presentation itself. The first thing you must show is a demo. I can’t help you with this, of course, but it should address the problem you’re solving or desire you’re satisfying, and how, and have some kind of a prototype, click-through or a mockup of the working app.

The presentation should also present in simple terms the market, and convince the viewers that it is a large market. It is of course tempting to say that the market is “everybody” but that is of course neither very precise nor actually true, unless you’re selling air. Instead why not state that your market are, say, all male slobs over thirty in major urban conglomerations around the World. (Slob on deckchair against World map slide.)

Next point, market entry. How many people can you feasibly sell to at the beginning of the project. I would suggest you stay within what is possible and, say, target all the slobs in urban conglomerations closer to home. Here, by the way, is a really useful definition of what a ‘market’ actually is. (“A market is a group of people with common needs or wants who can reference each other when making their buying decisions.”) I think the quote comes from Steve Blank, or at least his book is where I think I’ve seen it.


Next talk about user scenarios. Who are the people who will use your product? When? How? (User scenarios slide.)

Remembering that you have three minutes, I would suggest you aim for two and a half and here are some ABCs of a good presentation:

Accuracy. Obviously you have to have your facts straight.

Brevity. If you can’t say it in three minutes, you will certainly not be able to say it in thirty.

Clarity. The purpose of the presentation is to communicate precisely what you are doing.

Design. I’m sure I don’t need to stress the importance of good design to his crowd, do I?

Excitement. If you’re not excited, neither will be your audience. And just in case that needs stressing, F’ken eh!

Gregariousness. There’s no need to be afraid of people.

Finally, honesty. Remember that no bullshit slide?

Here’s the secret sauce. Preparation. Mark Twain knew a thing or two about public speaking. He made most of his income from speaking not from books. Apparently. Preparation is crucial. You don’t have a lot of time for preparation here which is another reason I’m suggesting you start working on the presentation right now and not on Sunday afternoon. (Mark Twain quote: “It takes me about three weeks to come up with a good spontaneous speech.”)

The key points to remember when preparing for the presentation are who’s listening, what do they know already (i.e. what do you not need to tell them); what it is that you do want to tell them and what the purpose of it is; what the basic message of the presentation will be, how you are going to go about structuring this message, and what you want them to take away from it all. And remember, it’s not what you say, it’s… what they hear. So the three pillars of Clarity, Brevity and Enthusiasm need to be foremost in your mind.

A couple more points of detail. Have you discussed the question of who is the best person to present or just kind of gone along with a gut feel? The team leader may be the best person but not necessarily. Choose carefully. And branding, it’s never too early to start thinking about that, so choose typefaces and colours that make sense, and be wise in the selection of images you use.


OK. Here’s what NOT to do. Let me start with bullets. Bullets are for killing things. (Crossed out bullet slide.) This is what bullets look like when they’re boring. And this is what bullets look like when someone tries to make them “creative”. (Plain bullet points and coloured bullet points slides.) Now I really can’t read a thing. If the purpose of the presentation is not to communicate anything of use to anybody, then by all means, go ahead and use bullets.

Next, complex diagrams. (Complex diagram slide.) You may understand what that says but you’re the only one. And if you put it on this pretty green background it doesn’t actually make it any clearer or better looking. Technical renderings. (Joystick with complex legend of symbols slide.) Lovely but what do all those symbols mean? Remember, you have three minutes. Do you want to spend half of that explaining this? Or technical drawings. Even a professional would need a few seconds to understand this. (Electrical diagram slide.)

If you absolutely have to use a diagram, make it really, really simple. This is about communication, not showing off how clever you are. And rather than using that lovely rendering how about showing off what it can do? (Moving horizon sequence instead of a joystick slide.) Relate it to how people will use it. The Thing itself is not even remotely interesting to this audience. The Users are, and what they will do with the Thing.

One last practical thing. Create a new account on your laptop which you use only for your presentations so when you plug it in, the audience doesn’t have to be confronted with all your emails and sundry other work but instead go immediately tot he presentation itself.


Here are a few resources for you. Some months ago I did a semi-scientific survey of what people thought were the things presenters should avoid. The post is here and it contains a list of Presentation Sins which is not at all surprising. We all hate them. We would be well advised then not to commit them.

Second, you could do a lot worse than start with the Zen Master of presentations, Garr Reynolds. You will find his hints on how to present here.

Last, don’t nick photos. Firstly because they’re not yours to use, secondly because it can come back to bite you on the arse and thirdly because Google Images is not the right way to find the right picture at the right time. Use illustrations which their owners have offered for people to use. Here are a few sites which offer copyright-free illustrations. This presentation was put together using illustrations from the MorgueFile and Wikimedia Commons.

So, start with your awesome idea, use paper and pencil to focus your thoughts and create storyboards of the presentation, then build the presentation itself. This is the right order of doing it. Now go do it, and keep the pirate spirit alive.


It was awesome to see the team at TicketAware take the idea and run with it. Here is a storyboard-in-progress:

And this is what the workshop looked like :)


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