What's the big deal about giving a TED(x) talk, anyway? It's just another talk, right?
Well, kind of. But the premise of TED and TEDx (independently organized TED events) are to spread ideas worth sharing. That imposes two big burdens on you as a presenter: 1. You need an idea. 2. It needs to be worth spreading.
Extra pressure if you have ever watched any TED.com video and noticed the 3,000,000 views and the incredibly talented presenters who earn that kind of following. When you first agree to give the presentation, (in my case there was wine involved) you kind of get swept up in the moment. And then, once you have been accepted to speak it hits you. There is no way in the world you can do it. It's impossible. Because :
A. You don't have any ideas. B. Who in the world is going to want to spread your idea, if you can in fact actually come up with one? C. You have to stand on an actual stage and memorize your entire presentation. D. You haven't done anything that changed the world: you don't have a PhD, you haven't cured halitosis, and you haven't built an MRI machine out of tin foil and an orange can in the middle of the desert.
But that is precisely why you will be good at your talk. You are a normal person with ideas that CAN change the world. They needn't be grand ideas. They just need to touch one person at a time. Don't you relate best to someone like you who has overcome ordinary limitations? I don't know about the world you live in, but the one I currently inhabit is filled with people just like me. My friends aren't CEOs or brain surgeons, inventors, or even the United States Poet Laureate. They are people facing the ups and downs of life and doing the best they can. So get crafting that killer talk of yours:
And it doesn't have to be perfect! Mine certainly wasn't.
- Tell a story that matters to you.
- Practice until you bore yourself to death with your subject matter.
- Record yourself giving your speech. (Try not to gag at the sound of your own voice. Ignore that speech impediment that you have developed overnight.)
- Find impactful visuals for the live audience.
- Practice some more with sound and visuals together.
- Give your speech to one or more honest friends.
- Refine 1,000 times, being sure to eliminate any words that don't roll off your tongue easily.
- Relax and enjoy the moment.
- Drink some wine (preferably from the Napa Valley). It may or may not improve your talk but hey, we need to make a living out here.
- Visualize the end of your talk and the feeling of mastery that you will have.
- Go forth and conquer the world.
Did you notice the moments when I forgot my next words? When I spoke, I was looking at just the images you saw behind me with no notes or prompts. Occasionally the exact words left me. I just kept going until they reappeared, which thankfully they did. That's where the practice comes in.
I had the pleasure of attending the CPA Practice Advisor's Thought Leader's Symposium in Dallas last weekend. 25 members of the accounting and tax profession were invited for a weekend of discussion, learning, and vendor presentations. I found myself in the midst of every single one of my mentors.
At the awards dinner presentation, we heard each recipient's brief biography. It was mind boggling to think of the impact made on the profession by the people in that room. My companion at dinner Donny Shimamoto said, "Wow, all of these people have a personal brand. "
"Wow, all of these people have a personal brand."
Donny's words were like a bolt of lightening. The reason any of us were in that room was absolutely due to that personal brand. It's how I found myself there. We had all invested a great deal of time and energy in building our brand, sharing our perspectives and trying to move the accounting profession forward. This was a room full of speakers, writers, bloggers and Tweeters.
We had each spent countless hours (often at no pay) just to share our thoughts with the world.
We all shared a passion that moved us forward:
From applied technology, to practice management, to planning for the future, to marketing, messaging, trashing time sheets, to firm automation, to providing value-added services, to mastering accounting software, to QuickBooks expertise, to leading firms of the future, to cloud infrastructure, to gadgets, devices, and techniques, to leadership coaching, to mentoring, we all had a unique view of the accounting profession.
And none of us were afraid to share it. (You can pity the poor presenter who tried to keep us quiet.)
While we didn't always agree on the approach, we are all united in our passion for the accounting profession and the opportunities that lie ahead.
Imagine where you could go if you invested time and energy in building your personal brand. Today's unknown blogger is tomorrow's thought leader.
Last year, LinkedIn asked me to be one of 150 "influencers" who post content on their site. I have no idea how they found me or what their criteria is, but they said they needed more content related to accounting. I don't think they knew what they were getting themselves into as few of my posts have had anything to do with accounting and when they do, no one reads them. Needless to say, it is quite an honor to have been asked and also quite intimidating to write content that might actually get read. (They promote content to their audience and elsewhere.) Near the end of 2012, they asked me to write a post as part of a topic shared by all influencers namely, my "BIG Ideas for 2013."
I didn't have any Big Ideas to share.
You see, I don't think in big ideas.
Rather I have a million little ideas. I think (hope) that is okay. From Kaizen and all of my years in accounting, I have learned that there is plenty of value to be had when you think small. Before you can achieve your revenue goals, you have to sell something. Each sale moves you closer to your goal.
You don't always need a BHAG or "big hairy audacious goal". Sometimes you just need to do something, or fix one thing and see what happens. If it doesn't work, you change something else. Before you know it, you end up with results. When it comes to teams, you need to show tiny successes on the road to bigger ones.
I love innovation and helping execute on other people's grand vision. Sure, I have big dreams and aspirations. I want to make a difference.
But I just don't see myself as the big ideas type.
Are you a big ideas person?
And don't get me started on "Big Data". I'm still trying to help people get a handle on "little data". BTW, I waited until the LinkedIn editors came up with this idea for a team post. This month's topic is where do you work? I was all over that one.
I just listened to Poet Billy Collins talking about creativity in the TED hour on NPR radio. His talk at TED 2012 was one of my favorites. During the NPR interview, he talked about the importance of knowing when to stop when he is writing one of his poems.
That idea hit me right between the eyes. It just so happens that today is the day before a group of very talented folks will be speaking at TEDxNapaValley on December 2. I have been fortunate enough to be a volunteer on this year-long project and have had the pleasure of working, along with Jeff Prather and the rest of the committee, with speakers during this whole process - from selection to their appearance on stage tomorrow. Having been a speaker at this same event last year, I know exactly how it feels to try to cram your important, wonderful, funny, heart-breaking, humble but inspiring, educated but approachable, powerful, local with global implications, energy-efficient, exciting, peaceful, actionable, sustainable, vulnerable, authentic message into a tiny, less than 18 minute hole. The pressure to deliver in a format like this is immense. Not only is there a live audience, but you are being recorded for a video that could potentially find its way to TED.com. Your first inclination, in designing your talk, is to keep adding more stuff. You want to provide more and more proof of your message and theme. Maybe I should add another photo here, a few more thoughts there, an extra word or maybe even a couple of new ideas over there. Do I have enough slides? Maybe I should add a video or some music?As the final hours approach, these speakers will likely question their slides, doubt their abilities, and wonder why in the world they volunteered (for no pay) to subject themselves to the pressure of speaking on a stage in front of 400 people. (Or maybe that was just me. These guys are pros!)But I am here to tell you, and tomorrow's event will prove, that what they have created so far is absolutely perfect. It is time to stop. Is it time for you to stop working on your creative pursuit and let it go?
Photo via Peter Kaminski
And not just because of the pratfalls. There is nothing better than a good joke. And who doesn't love the ole slip-on-a-banana-peel gag every once in a while?The trouble with humor is that it can be divisive. Humor forces you to choose a side. You are either on the side of the guy falling on the banana peel (in which case you feel concern) or you are against him (in which case you laugh). In the moment you are observing that person slipping, humor will be a relative thing. If it is your child who has made the unfortunate contact with said banana peel and you are worried about his safety, his painful descent to the floor might not be the least bit funny. To a casual observer with no concern for the feelings of the banana peel, that slip is probably going to be funny.
When I took stand-up comedy training, one of the rules shared by the amazing instructor, Jeff Justice, was that you can't make fun of people who are in a position below yours. The president of a company, for example, shouldn't poke fun at the mail room clerk. It might be seen as offensive. If that same company president makes fun of the Chairman of the Board, however, everyone is likely to enjoy the joke. It's easier than you think to offend someone.
When I use humor, I try to aim the jokes at myself, so no one can be offended. I also have some self-imposed style restrictions: I avoid off-color jokes and four letter words. There are still cases when the thing that makes me laugh hurts someone else's feelings.
That is a risk you have to be willing to take if you want to use humor. You have to go for the moment and be willing to face the consequences. You have to take a stand (and grab the mike) or go home. You have to draw a line in the sand. Some of the best humor comes from people like Don Rickles, Lewis Black, and Chris Rock who provide a no- holds-barred kind of humor. They are funny precisely because they alienate some people. I wish I could be that brave. I can't stop guffawing when I read Greg Kyte's writing precisely because he is willing to go for broke. In my opinion, his stuff is not only smart, but absolutely hilarious.
I bet it's a conscious decision. Greg knows when he writes for Going Concern not everyone is going to like his choice of words or his imagery. But here's the payoff - the people who end up listening to him are precisely the kind of people he wants to reach. The readers of Going Concern magazine know exactly what they are in for when he writes and they can't get enough. I bet Greg isn't staying up late at night worrying about who likes him.
That would be me with the nightlight still on obsessing over that one negative evaluation I got. And I am also worrying about one of my children slipping on that darn banana peel.
Photo via Roland
Back in the olden days, when young entry-level accountants at Big 8 firms (YES, there used to be 8 and we had actual pencils and paper too) were still called "grunts", I was a staff accountant at Deloitte. (Yes I used to be young, y'all 40 under 40 peeps.) One day, I decided to join one of my co-workers for a game of tennis. I wasn't great at that or any other sport, but I could hold my own on the court. Until the moment said co-worker told me I had "Big Mo" on my side. That's when I lost it. I thought he was making a reference to certain physical characteristics that were better left unnoticed. As it turned out, he was actually talking about Momentum. He was commenting that I was in good scoring position to win. Once the blushing (did I mention I'm from the South) subsided and the laughter began, I could barely hit the ball over the net. That's when "Big Mo" took up residence on the other side of the court. Lately I've been thinking about Big Mo. I was starting to wonder where he'd gone. I seemed to have lost contact with him after all of these years. I started to wonder if I still had what it takes to create interesting stuff. I wasn't accessing the creative juice that I needed to write, to present, to even have a decent conversation. I started to feel old, out of touch, a relic of a time when there were still 8 big CPA firms. I felt alone and irrelevant. I was scared and unable to move.
And then Big Mo came a callin'. Actually I think he sent one of his less important relatives, Sasha Mo, to my doorstep. That day, I got a FaceBook message from a casting director who is making a TV show about transplanted rednecks and he thought I might be a fit. (And you think I'm kidding.) He found me via my www.redneckincalifornia.com website. The real story is that he was "doing a new show that focuses on people who originate in "redneck" communities and have relocated themselves to more metropolitan areas. " I had hit pay dirt, people. I could just see the piles of cash and endorsement opportunities that were going to start rolling in. I could learn to use chewin tobacco if necessary. I would become "Geni", the redneck version of "Nini", that famous real housewife from Atlanta. Of course, my darn family let me down. It seems they just aren't redneck enough to make an interesting family reunion story and so I didn't make the cut for the show. But here's where Sasha and Big Mo entered my life. Someone had read my blog! Can you believe it? They read my blog, y'all. This casting dude actually reached out to me on Facebook because of the story I told on my (redneck) website.
I might be a redneck, but at least I was being heard. And then things started happening. It's been a great week. Thank you Big Mo. Welcome home. Don't ever give up y'all. And if you happen to have a redneck family you want to rent me for just one short season of TV, give me a call. I'll trade you my bunch of smart, fully toothed relatives, who don't own a single pair of overalls.
What makes a great speech great? For that matter, what makes a great speaker a great speaker?
You can watch thousands of videos on TED.com. Many of them fall into the great category. Some of them, however, don't. If it can happen with a TED talk it can happen anywhere.
So what is it about those killer talks. The ones that get 4 million views? It's the connection thing. It happens in those first few minutes. We either connect with the speaker or we don't.
The videos that make us want more involve speakers who touch our hearts. Simon Sinek
does it with that simple, hand-drawn series of concentric circles. He does it by telling stories and by conveying his passion. Brené Brown, Ph.D
does it by being herself. She's not slick or polished and you want her to succeed. Everyone sees a little bit of him or herself in the stories she shares. Chip Kidd
totally disarms with his over the top attitude. A killer jacket helps too. Billy Collins
does it with self-deprecating humor.
I have seen great and powerful keynote speakers fail. They have great stories but something is off. They appear too rehearsed or too polished and you just can't relate. There is something unapproachable about them that puts you off. I have watched videos with professionals who even shared a touching story but even that fell flat. What could have happened?
This is the confusing part for me as a speaker. What is the secret to success and is it something you can learn?
I don't think too much rehearsal is the problem. (Imagine how long Ellen Degeneres rehearses to sound that un-rehearsed in her delivery.) I think it might be that professional speakers who talk about the same thing over and over eventually get bored by their own subject. I think they lose their passion. And it shows on stage. It is impossible to fake your way through something like that. Or maybe once you get paid the big bucks it turns your passion into a job.
I would love to know what others think on this subject. What accounts for the difference between a great keynote and an okay one?
No matter how much you study, practice, read, and focus there will always be times when, for one reason or another, you just miss the mark. One day, you are going to fail at something. It happens in sports, it happens in business, it happens in life, and it will happen in public speaking. What should you do when you have a bad day as a presenter?
Unfortunately, I don't have a magic potion that removes the pain of a failed presentation. I can tell you that failure is always painful and it doesn't get any easier. It doesn't matter if you fail in a small room with four people in the audience or in a room full of people. Failure hurts. Every single time. Period. If you let it, failure can be debilitating.
When I present, my goal is to make a connection. I reach out to the audience and look for positive feedback. Are they connecting with my message? Are they responding? Laughing? Snoozing? Are they bored? (That is my worst nightmare. Please, God let them be anything BUT bored.) It used to be that one person standing up and leaving the room would devastate me. I would replay the message in my head and try to figure out where I had gone wrong. I was obsessive about the negative feedback. And then, I started paying attention as an audience member. I have a hard time sitting still for long periods of time. Different people need to get up and move. People get thirsty. Nature calls. Your child calls. Occasionally, your audience members will just need to leave the room. It's not always about the speaker or the message.
In order to overcome my fear of failure, I had to overcome my own arrogant view. Do I really think I have power over every single thing that happens in a room? Am I the all powerful all knowing Geni? Can I really control people's biological needs and silence their cellphones with my message? The answer is no. I'm human and so are they.
Last week I gave three separate presentations - I taught an 8 hour training class on finance to tasting room professionals, I spent 2 hours teaching Junior Achievement classes to high school students, and then I taught concepts to winery owners for a couple of hours. Of the three, which one do you think was the most terrifying?
High school students scare me to death. As I am teaching, I am using all of my energy to try and make a connection. But some days, I fail. I can't connect. Maybe that teenager had a bad morning, or a sleepless night, or a fight with his Mom. Maybe he's hungry or worried about something. No matter what I do, I won't be able to reach that teenager that day.
I have to be okay with trusting myself to reach one person in that classroom. I have to aim for the stars every time, but I also have to be satisfied with making a connection with one person. I have to believe that in every gathering, there is at least one person who needs to hear what I have to say. That is what keeps me going. It helps me overcome the fear of failing so I can get back up on that stage the next time and once again risk making a fool of myself.
Maybe I'm missing something here.
I have my smart phone, my kindle, my netbook (which I strongly suggest you do not ever even think about buying), my laptop, my desktop... why in the world do I need a tablet?
Thanks to all of this technology :
- I can get email everywhere - it can be back-lit, sideways, big, small, or only partially visible due to screen limitations.
- I can make phone calls from any device. I can call from my desktop, my phone, my laptop... The kindle can't be used as a phone yet but I bet it will do that too.
- I can get books from Google or Amazon on my phone, netbook, desktop, kindle...
- I have built- in cameras on every device except my desktop.
- I can play Angry Birds on any of these devices - well except the kindle, but I can get Halloween Mahjong on that.
- I can easily attach almost all of these devices to a projector. Tablets require special converters for this purpose and from what I have observed with my Ipad-loving friends, they require access to a technical support person to make it all work.
Depending on how you look at it, the tablet is either a very nice replacement for a pad of paper, an electronic photo album, or a flattened double-sided camera.
If I can't use it to show my presentations, it is going to be hard to find enough value in adding another (however cool looking) device to my rolling bag of "portable tools" plus the myriad plugs, keyboards, mice, extensions cords, screen cleaners, covers, and styluses that are needed to make them all work. Sigh.
When you have a point to make, your first inclination might be to pull out your soapbox and begin pontificating. Unless you are an actual preacher with your own choir and an altar, you are likely to lose your audience. (Even these guys could use a tad more humor in their delivery.)
Try making light of your subject instead. Find a humorous angle and let your audience draw their own conclusions. Lately, I have seen humor applied perfectly in three different instances:
1. The Verasage team has been teaching accountants to fight the notion of billing by the hour for years. They have been waging intellectual battles that are right on point. Recently, they have taken a different approach with the addition of Gregory Kyte to their team. I'm willing to bet a bucket of North Carolina barbeque that this video is already having an impact. 2. Software companies always provide sample data with their product. It's how you learn concepts and get started with minimal pain. But most of the examples are BORING. Who cares about a bicycle store or a nursery? Give me an example that holds my attention and makes me chuckle. Most people completely miss this opportunity to add fun to their solution. But the folks at www.Gliffy.com (an online flowcharting solution) have used it to full advantage.
Here is the flowchart example they provide as a template.
Who hasn't needed a flowchart that tells them "What to Do When Someone Eats Your Lunch Out of the Staff Fridge."
3. Your humor doesn't have to be fancy, and it doesn't have to include pratfalls or a drumroll. How about an image that suggests you aren't taking yourself seriously? Consider the pig on this website for online mileage tracking, www.bizmile.com. He gets your attention long enough to make you want to read more. And we're talking about mileage records, folks.
Take a cue from the good people of Pelzer, SC and lighten up y'all.