Alex and I saw Robin Williams perform in Vancouver several years ago.
A lot of touring comics start with a few thinly localized jokes to win the crowd over, and then launch into their main routine. I expected he’d do the same — and sure enough, he did a Vancouver joke.
And then another. And then an extended riff. And another one.
There must have been twenty minutes of genuine Vancouver material: not boilerplate insert-name-of-city here stuff, but joke after joke that felt organically, authentically of this place. And his material was savvy and current, not just land-of-pot-and-Birkenstocks stuff.
I once read an article about his USO work: how he would usually eschew VIP treatment and official tours in favour of just sitting down and talking to soldiers for hours. When he finally did perform, he’d draw extensively on those conversations.
That’s a precious gift to give to an audience: using your talent as a prism for their own lives and experiences. It requires some real courage — far safer to rely on tested material that reliably delivers the laughs. But in the hands of someone as talented as Mr. Williams, it was powerful.
I’m sorry I won’t have the chance to see it again, and sorrier still for the pain that led him to end his life. There will be plenty of chances to reflect on his work in the weeks to come, but for now, I’m remembering a performer who did far, far more than just meet expectations.
Below, some very sound advice on how to keep your next speech from being derailed by a tech trainwreck.
My take? People want to hear your message. Not the piddly in-the-moment travails and frustrations that won’t amount to anything in half an hour, but your message.
You can do everything right: rehearse the presentation with the setup, have a local backup ready to run if the Internet connection didn’t work, and so on. But for whatever reason, sometimes the AV system will have none of it.
The real solution to technical glitches like this, which still happen all too often, isn’t technical. It’s much more fundamental: being prepared to abandon the technological side of the presentation, and fall back to the thing that really matters — your story, told clearly and well.
Originally posted on Key Messenger:
Recently I attended a luncheon speech by a senior executive from one of the world’s leading technology firms. I even sat next to be guest speaker. During lunch, his colleague indicated that the presentation had technological issues: the file wouldn’t speak to the laptop, which was angry at the projector from a different generation (my paraphrasing).
“Oh well”, said the speaker. Someone had to figure this out.
Being a communications trainer, I mentioned that slides and video, while wonderful, were not essential for a great talk. I joked that Martin Luther King never used PowerPoint; I had seen Margaret Thatcher in Parliament and she hadn’t relied on slides…
By the middle of the main course, the guest speaker turned to me:
“Wouldn’t it be funny if the guy from a major tech company couldn’t get the audio-visual to work?”
I said don’t worry you’ll be fine. Tell us a good…
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Filed under: Uncategorized
Alex and I got to work with William Azaroff eight years ago (good lord! eight?!) on Vancity‘s ChangeEverything. We became friends, and I became a fan of William’s impressive online smarts. So when he announces an online project for Vancity, my ears prick up so fast it makes my chin hurt:
Recently, a project I’ve been working on for the past few months with some brilliant and capable colleagues launched as a test and learn pilot in Victoria, BC. The project is called Localty, because what else are you gonna name a loyalty program focused on local purchasing?
Localty is a mobile web platform connecting our members and the public to discover Vancity business members, and encourage them to promote these local businesses via social media and to shop locally. We want to encourage more people to steer some of their purchases away from multi-national chains and big box stores to small, local businesses.
If we tell them the truth, tell them that truth with a story, and tell that story with pictures, our presentations will be extraordinary.
‘Show and Tell’ Author Dan Roam Talks to Marketing Smarts
I’m a fan of Dan Roam’s. He delivered a fantastic presentation to the Nonprofit Technology Conference a few years ago (you can see my sketchnotes here). And his books The Back of the Napkin, Unfolding the Napkin and Blah Blah Blah are terrific guides to using simple pictures to do a dramatically better job of thinking and communicating.
Now his latest, Show and Tell, focuses specifically on presentations. For folks who are sick of stock-photo-laden PowerPoint decks and dense, meandering gabfests, this could be a life-saver. I can’t wait to read it.
Filed under: Presentation Design
I’ve been watching The Amazing Race reruns with the kids. I’m proud of the way they’re able to spot the often-patronizing (and that’s being charitable) attitude the show takes to the countries and cultures it encounters. It’s the ultimate whirlwind, see-the-sites, reduce-a-nation-to-a-simple-caricature vacation.
But I also enjoy the shit out of it, partly as I imagine myself conquering the challenges that trigger my own phobias (heights heights heights heights heights oh god the heights) and partly because of the chance to see people react to heavy pressure.
It isn’t the casual, tossed-off cruelty of, say, American Idol judges sneering at some poor shmuck with a dream that exceeds her or his talents. It’s character revealed under pressure, Robert McKee-style… and often revealed not just to the viewers, but to the players themselves. Moments of self-revelation are surprisingly rare in American TV, and I’ve been surprised at how many I’ve seen in TAR.
My NOW Communications coworker Kristen Keighley-Wight has a terrific post today about why you need to talk less about yourself, and more about your audience: their values, their concerns, the way your issues affect them.
It’s a welcome antidote to a disease that can strike any of us. We can work so hard for so long on issues that we start to mistake inside baseball for real-world outcomes.
But sometimes it gets much worse than that. Some people get so swept up in scoring points that they forget the human side of an issue altogether.
That’s the most generous construction you can put on Conservative MP Robert Goguen’s appalling questions yesterday to Timea Nagy, who was testifying before a parliamentary committee on a federal bill tightening laws on prostitution. She’s a sexual assault survivor and the founder of an organization helping victims of human trafficking like herself.
I’m not going to include Goguen’s questions here. To see the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice try to use Ms. Nagy’s experience of rape as fodder for an intellectually dishonest argument, watch the exchange here or read about it here. (Trigger warning.)
While it’s hard to imagine anyone I work with getting so detached from their own humanity that they could do anything quite this bad, it can serve as a crucial reminder. No matter how contentious an issue becomes, compassion must never be far from communication — and personal suffering must never become a political punchline.
The invaluable Ian Griffin reports on a fantastic discovery by a Portland State University archivist:
a box of reel-to-reel recordings of campus speeches by figures such as LSD advocate Timothy Leary, Robert F. Kennedy speaking a few short weeks before his assassination, Nobel prize-winner Linus Pauling speaking on the effects of radioactive fallout a few months before the Cuban Missile crisis, and poet Allan Ginsberg.
And PSU has obligingly digitized them and posted them online. (I resent this just a little bit, because it costs me an excuse to go to Portland. Breakfast at Tasty n Sons, a day of listening to great speeches and an evening at Powell’s, anyone..?)
As exciting as it can be to read a great speech, they’re intended to be heard — making this find a thrilling one for speechwriters.
Filed under: Speeches Tagged: archives, ian griffin, library, portland state university
Why don’t I drive a vehicle with a little picture of pigeon jail on the side?