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Presenters: Prepare for AV to fail

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I did a talk to a student group last night and the AV didn’t work. It was in the main classroom building on campus where I’ve never had any AV problems before.* I had just created a new version of this presentation earlier in the day and hadn’t taken the time to rehearse, so when I didn’t have the slides to guide me I was a bit lost. But I winged it and jumped in with enthusiasm. I knew my stories and points well. I wasn’t solid on the new structure and flow, though. It was an audience eager to engage and smile, so they were very forgiving of my somewhat disorganized delivery.

A presentation is not about the slides, of course. It’s about the interaction, the connection between the presenter and the audience. And seeing an audience like last night’s was so encouraging. It makes me want to make the effort to be the kind of audience member who gives presenters engaged attention and smiling eyes.

About halfway through last night, one of my brilliant friends in attendance (Thanks, Sheryar!) got a version of my slides to work, so I shuffled through the deck and made them fit where I was in my talk.

This experience reminded me to walk into every presentation with the assumption the AV won’t work and to be prepared to go without any visuals at all. I let this audience down by not being ready to give my best no matter what happened with the AV.

Here is a PDF of the slides that I didn’t get to fully use. Next time, I’ll be ready to roll with or without them.


*I present using Keynote on an iPad mini connected by a VGA adapter to the projector. My remote control to advance the slides is Keynote on an iPhone. Usually, connecting the iPad to a VGA input works perfectly. Not this time.

Showing my work: FAB 4

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Showing my work helps remind me what a rewardingly messy process creation is. An audience typically only sees the well honed final creation, but it’s worthwhile to share openly the process that creates the product. I take heart when I see an artist show the rough drafts and discarded wrong steps.

I’m remixing a presentation for tonight. I’m speaking to a group of college freshmen and sharing wisdom I’ve learned from a career working with campus superstars. I’ve got a handful of ideas and stories I rely on for these kinds of talks, but this morning I decided to scrap a version of the talk I’ve used recently and rethink the structure and design.

I turned my chair around, away from the computer, and took some markers to the jumbo scratch pad on my desk. I mapped out the most important ideas and rearranged the flow before turning back around and designing the slides in Keynote.

It helps to change tools and switch from digital to analog to jump start a fresh approach. And it’s worthwhile to take something you’ve got down pat and jumble it up and start over. New possibilities appear that otherwise would have been hidden behind old, safe patterns.




Dig deep

Meditations 7.59:
Digging is hard. It’s easy to just stay on the surface. But the good stuff often is buried down deep and will require some effort to get to. But the good stuff is worth the effort.

That hard conversation? That creative project? The vision you have for the kind of person you truly want to be? Dig deep and conquer the resistance keeping you from the goodness buried below.

John Gruber tells the Daring Fireball story

Daring Fireball is a daily must-read for me. And John Gruber has one of the most consistently distinctive and quote-worthy takes on Apple and all things tech. I’m a fan and have a couple of Daring Fireball t-shirts I wear proudly. (I’m normally a plain-t kind of guy, so it’s a big deal for me to sport someone’s logo.)

Gruber has a great story about how he made his blog into his full-time career, and he told it on the XOXO Festival stage recently:

If you think you’ve missed the boat, that it’s too late for you to get in on the possibilities created by the internet, you are wrong. It’s still early. We are just at the edge of the frontier. But don’t wait around thinking about it. Claim your stake online now. Buy that domain name. Get started on WordPress or Squarespace or Tumblr. Make something you’re proud to share with the world. And keep doing it. And keep getting better.

Be the CEO of your life

You may not be anyone’s boss. You might have a whole corporate ladder of bosses above you. But you are your own boss whether you’re self-employed or not.

You might just have only a puny little cubicle from which to stake your claim on great work. But make the most of where you are. Fully inhabit that cubicle like it’s the corner executive suite. Be awesome right there.

Own your job. Master your roles. Work like a boss. Be the CEO of your life.

Putting the work in

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“When writing, I adhere to the old adage that if you want to get hit by a train you better go stand on the track. There’s no substitute for just putting the work in and writing with a very concerted, focused effort. At the end of the day it all comes down to synthesizing a whole host of ideas, so you better have a lot of ideas at the ready when it comes time to put the little Frankenstein monster together.” –St. Vincent’s Annie Clark

An Austin Kleon tweet pointed to this excellent interview with the musician Annie Clark, a.k.a. St. Vincent, about her creative process.

This jibes with everything I’m finding lately about creative people. Inspiration is for amateurs. Pros just do work. They show up and get busy whether they feel like it or not.

Our star-filled neighborhood


This photo of the Milky Way by astrophotographer Robert Gendler is stunning:GSC_6273_289

Click on this photo to enlarge it for full awesomeness and existential stupefaction.

Phil Plait wrote about it on his site yesterday. Look into what seems like a cloud and realize you’re looking at countless individual stars and their glow. How tightly packed these stars seem to be. Each one a massive wonder in its own right, a peer to our sun, maybe with Earth-like planets orbiting. So much mystery and possibility in this fabulous photo.

There are probably more than 200 billion stars in just our galaxy. And there are probably at least one hundred billion galaxies in the universe.

We are so, so small. A speck in a vast sea of wonders. But knowing how small we are makes us grander than we have ever been as a species. Embracing our place in the universe is the first step on the path to understanding and expressing the epic magnificence of reality.

Having a bad day? A little star gazing is good for the soul and will recalibrate your perspective while crushing your puny so-called problems. Just look up.

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Life ought to be about living

More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, throw water, and be known as someone who wants to live with them. It is a privilege to have the time to practice this simple ministry of presence. Still, it is not as simple as it seems. My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings and conferences, study groups and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets. It is difficult not to have plans, not to organize people around an urgent cause, and not to feel that you are working directly for social progress. But I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn’t be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but you truly love them.  –Henri Nouwen

I feel weighed down by undone tasks and projects looming behind distractions and delay. Being productive, being busy, is made out to be the virtue that validates your worth. But life ought to be about just living, not accomplishing. And I need to just be with people – my wife and daughters, my coworkers and students, my friends.

I do delight in just wandering through the office and making small talk and checking in on those I work with. It’s management by walking around. I don’t aim to disrupt, but I’m eager to enjoy a conversation when the opportunity is there and acknowledge that we are in this together.

Some of my most joyful moments are spent not in getting anything done, but in just enjoying connecting with a fellow human. Pull up a chair next to a friend. Cuddle with your love. Play with your kid. Share a meal and a laugh. No agenda. Nothing to prove or accomplish. Just spread some love and some kindness and revel in being alive in this moment.

Aim to peak at 60

IMG_1247.PNGI was telling a group of college students last night they should aim to peak at age 60. They stared blankly at me. I’m not sure if they were processing the thought or erasing it as ludicrous. When you’re 19, 25 seems old. And 30+ is even hard to imagine.

“But hear me out”, I said. If the decisions you make today are guided by the long game, by the intent to improve consistently over a long period of time, imagine the perspective that will offer you. Instead of attempting to rule the world by age 30, you can slow down and focus on being the best you can be in this moment. No pressure. No need to compare yourself to others and measure your worth by the fleeting and fickle whims of our culture and what “success” means superficially.

Put some blinders on and just focus on getting a little better each week. Use your 20’s to just start figuring out what it means to be an adult, to start mastering something valuable in your work life and in your quest to be fully human in your intellectual and emotional growth.

Build a solid base in your 20’s and you’ll be in a good place for the opportunities bound to come in your 30’s and 40’s and 50’s. Imagine the kind of person you hope to be when you’re 60. Live your way into that vision slowly and surely.



Hero Quest

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I’m tweaking the slides for a presentation I’m giving tonight to a group of business students. This is my “HeroQuest” talk.

If I had to tweet the purpose of this talk, it would be this:

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I want these college students to walk away tonight with new possibilities for the future and knowing it is in their power to craft a remarkable and meaningful life, a life worth talking about.

I welcome these speaking invitations. Preparing a talk for a group compels me to think in ways I wouldn’t otherwise have to. And the best way to understand truth or beauty or what it means to live a good life is to try to express it. Even if my talk tonight connects with no one in the audience, it’s been worthwhile to think through these ideas and try to understand them myself.


You will live more curiously if you write

A great post from a couple of years ago from James Somers that Chris Guillebeau pointed to recently – More people should write – with a challenge to all to take up a creative habit:

That’s the promise: you will live more curiously if you write. You will become a scientist, if not of the natural world then of whatever world you care about. More of that world will pop alive. You will see more when you look at it.

Somers conveys so well what I’ve experienced. When you are intentional about regularly expressing yourself it raises your antennae to life. I’ve challenged myself to post something on this site every day, so I wake up each day knowing I must come up with something worth sharing. And I see the world just a little differently than I did when I wasn’t writing every day. I’m on the hunt for ideas and insight and experiences that I can wrap these keys around.  I’m more curious and primed for searching, for inquiring, for consumption that sparks creation.

It’s how a photographer sees beauty the rest of us miss. His intention to capture images opens his eyes to marvels all around, marvels those not armed with a camera and a desire to tell a story most likely never notice.

(I’m curious, now that most of us have these terrific cameras in our pockets and ways to easily share photos, if this is turning around, if more people are intentionally searching for beautiful moments to capture and share. The Instagramification of our culture could have some unexpected merit if it means more people are opening their eyes to the world around in ways they never did before.)

The intent to express yourself sparks imagination and stokes curiosity. Don’t wait for inspiration to strike before putting the words down. It works the other way around. Just commit to expressing yourself regularly, even if you don’t know where the ideas will come from. Write, draw, speak, make music… whatever delights you, and summon the muse with your action. Start each day with the intent to express yourself, and you will end up inhabiting more mindfully aware and interesting days.


The infinity of past and future gapes before us

Meditations 5.23-24:

23. Keep in mind how fast things pass by and are gone—those that are now, and those to come. Existence flows past us like a river: the “what” is in constant flux, the “why” has a thousand variations. Nothing is stable, not even what’s right here. The infinity of past and future gapes before us—a chasm whose depths we cannot see.
So it would take an idiot to feel self-importance or distress. Or any indignation, either. As if the things that irritate us lasted.
24. Remember:
Matter. How tiny your share of it.
Time. How brief and fleeting your allotment of it.
Fate. How small a role you play in it.

Get back up

Meditations 5.9:

Not to feel exasperated, or defeated, or despondent because your days aren’t packed with wise and moral actions. But to get back up when you fail, to celebrate behaving like a human—however imperfectly—and fully embrace the pursuit that you’ve embarked on.

No need to be down on yourself for failing to be perfect. Accept that you are imperfect. Embrace it, even. But get up and keep aiming for the ideal you have for yourself. Be a human and stand up and try again. This could be the best day of your life.

Maddux and heartbreak and writing with movement

This long feature on SB Nation by Jeremy Collins – Thirteen Ways of Looking at Greg Maddux – is beautifully written and heartbreaking.

Yes, it’s about Greg Maddux, my favorite baseball player and one of the most enigmatic, masterful athletes of our generation. But it’s mostly about the author coming to terms with the tragic loss of his childhood friend, a friend who was obsessed with and inspired by Greg Maddux.

Maddux was not some physical freak who overpowered batters with strength. He just out-thought and out-executed those he faced. He was a mere mortal who through his own will and savvy and plodding discipline became the best in the game. And he approached the game with an apparent detachment that belied the ferocity with which he performed so fully in the present. When he misfired, a loud profanity punctuated the moment. And then an immediate reset. Back to the moment at hand, calm, calculating. His approach was a Stoic one, dealing with only what he could control and shaking off anything out of his hands.

The story Jeremy Collins tells ties this ideal that Maddux represented, control and mastery, to the tragedy of his friend who reached for that ideal as he grasped for hope in reorienting his young, ill-fated life.

Collins’s piece is well worth the time to read it. You know when you’ve read something that was written with both heart and mastery. This bit of writing is Maddux-like in its artistry. It’s a fitting tribute to a lost friend and to an iconic, inspiring hero. Like a pitch from Maddux, it knicks the edges and moves unpredictably and so effectively.

The elevator pitch, the tweet, and clarity of purpose

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Can you pitch your idea or make your point in the length of an elevator ride? That’s been a long-standing and effective thought experiment to help determine if you’ve thought clearly enough about your plan and can articulate it simply and quickly.

So, if you’re working on a speech or a business idea or a movie script or trying to start a movement to change the world, consider the elevator test.

Imagine you’re giving a talk at a conference. A fellow attendee gets on the elevator with you and sees the “Presenter” ribbon on your name badge. He lets you know he’s tempted to escape the conference during your session and go play golf or take a nap and asks what he would miss from your talk. What would be your response? What will your talk accomplish that would be of value to this wayward golfer? What will offer him enough value to make him delay his escape and stay for your presentation?

If you can’t come up with a short simple statement of your intended purpose and one that offers something of value to the prospective audience member, you need to go back to the beginning and rethink just why it is you’re doing this presentation. Or starting a business. Or writing a screenplay. Or starting a movement.

Or, instead of an elevator pitch, my 21st-century, connected friends, consider the challenge of tweeting, in 140 characters or less, your purpose, your mission, your goal. Can you say in just a few words, within the constraints of a tweet, what you hope to accomplish? If not, get busy asking “Why?” and hone and sharpen your thinking to come up with as clear and simple a statement as you can.

Here, for example, in tweet form (and exactly 140 characters thanks to the added hashtag and a stray space, because I’m just OCD enough), is my aim for a talk I’m giving this week to a couple of college classes:
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So many companies and organizations have some committee created mission statement that is either unknown and ignored or is so unwieldy as to be meaningless. What if your mission statement was tweetable and so direct and clear that everyone in the organization knew it and connected with it?

Imagine tweeting your own life’s purpose or the values and goals of your family. Not that you need to actually get on Twitter and post these things, but the effort to zero in on a crystal clear statement on the key “Why’s” in your life potentially can lead you to unparalleled clarity and action.

Talk with, not at

Even when standing before an audience, no matter the size, make it feel like a conversation. Talk with people, not at them. Ask questions. Even rhetorical questions feel conversational without actually needing a response. Make eye contact. Connect and respond to the vibe of the room.

And in interpersonal communication, master the nuance of listening with the intent to understand. Probe and question and clarify. See if you can articulate the other’s perspective effectively. When they get that you get them, they will then be open to getting you.

The best conversationalists I know don’t actually impress with what they say. It’s what they ask and how they listen that makes them shine and makes me value their presence.

Conversations aren’t contests. They are about connection and understanding and shared meaning. Talk with others, not at them.

SpeechCraft: Showing my work

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I’m speaking in a couple of college classes this week about presentation excellence. It’s a favorite topic, but it’s also especially challenging when the audience is expecting excellence by virtue of the topic alone. If you’re giving a talk about how to give talks, you better be good.

I’ve tweaked my slides on this over time. The screenshot above is of my final “light table” view when I shipped off the presentation to the grad student who will load my slides tomorrow.

I was asked to send a Powerpoint version for use in the class. I haven’t used Powerpoint actively in years. When I converted my Keynote to Powerpoint today, I had to go back and clean up format and animation errors due to the conversion. And I was reminded how poor an app Powerpoint is compared to Keynote. Powerpoint just seems like a mess. The design looks amateurish and cluttered. It certainly made me appreciate just how much I enjoy working in Keynote which is simple and clean yet filled with thoughtful, smart touches like its grid system and gorgeous animations.

I rarely say “No” to an invitation to speak. Having a speaking gig out there forces me to engage my creative mind on the search for what to say and how to say it. Few things lead me to regular flow states like getting immersed in preparation to stand in front of an audience. Even if the audience gets nothing from me, I certainly have grown a little from my attempt to engage with them.

All life is an experiment

​​Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make, the better. What if they are a little coarse, and you may get your coat soiled or torn? What if you do fail, and get fairly rolled in the dirt once or twice. Up again, you shall never be so afraid of a tumble. –Ralph Waldo Emerson

ht Farnam Street

Give it a go. Try something. Try anything other than the usual, boring and safe path you always take. Experiment a little and see what happens. So what if you make a bit of a mess. At least that would be interesting and a chance to learn. It beats sleepwalking in the rut you know too well.

“The more experiments you make, the better.”

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