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February 17, 2010 / marden928

An UNconference and a TED founder

In the past week, I’ve been fortunate enough to have attend 2 great events:  Designthinkers UNConference and the Humantific Sensemakers event featuring Richard Wurman (founder of TED) and Garry Van Patter (co-founder of Humantific).  Lots was learned at both events, but I especially wanted to extract some lessons I learned for both meeting facilitation and for presentation.  And of course some fantastic quotes from Richard Wurman (who’s a total nut – I highly suggest seeing him speak).

  • Speakers should acknowledge what is going on in the room. In my extensive experience with meetings, I’ve found that meeting planners try to pretend that bad things aren’t happening (like bad sound, etc) and speakers frequently try to just speak through the issues.  Richard Wurman, on the other hand, just acknowledges it “Hey, that feedback sound is awful.  How do we fix it?”  What did he accomplish at that point?  That it’s ok to acknowledge that a presentation is a shared experience between a speaker and the audience where the speaker really is in the same room.  And in turn, he endeared himself to the audience a little bit (who doesn’t like a positive emotional connection with their audience?)
  • Own your personal style.  Richard Wurman doesn’t follow a storyline.  He kinda rambles.  He also isn’t the kindest speaker (“I won’t take any questions!”).  But, he’s really darn interesting.  He knows what’s interesting and he’s not afraid to talk about it (like how he learned to hold his breath for almost 5 minutes from David Blaine or that the Pope has magical energy).  He knows he rambles and he’s cool with it – it’s just who he is.  And oddly enough people like it and he knows that.  Learn what’s interesting about you and own it.  Some of it may be counter to conventional wisdom but really work for you.  Experiment (and um, practice with friends when you can!)
  • Less is more.  One of the speakers at the Sensemaking event had about 120 slides – fantastic for the original time alloted for the talk (many of them were quick shot examples, not detailed pages).  The other 2 speakers had about 10 slides each.  Though everything was interesting (which is unique and amazing in and of itself – thanks presenters!), the amount of detail in the 120 slide presentation felt overwhelming to some participants.  Especially since it was an audience that is more inclined to pour over data pages with unusual glee.   The shorter presentations were more remembered (and frankly better understood).  Which brings me to another lesson:
  • Have a backup presentation in case timing changes. In the defense of the 120 page presentation, the speakers time got cut much much shorter than had been planned.  It’s an unpleasant thing that can happen to any speaker.  So, why not have a shortened storyline jotted out so you don’t get thrown off?  Always wise to be adaptable so you keep your audience’s interest.  You don’t want to be remembered for having had your time cut, you want to be remembered for having brilliant content.
  • Plan out a meeting structure and communicate it to your audience. If you’re hosting a meeting, even one that should be a loose exchange of ideas, have a planned format.  Even if all you state out is a basic goal for the meeting and that someone will take notes.  And enforce it!  Pointless if you have a plan and don’t follow it.  Not having a structure (and not following that structure) can make some participants anxious and you can loose credibility with your participants.
  • Be a good participant. Richard Wurman says to stop taking notes and really listen (claiming that once we put something to paper, we tell our brain that we don’t have to remember).  Follow any meeting structure that has been given to you (if you’re supposed to be giving popcorn type brainstorming ideas, talk fast, don’t go into long details, you may derail your meeting).

Pretty simple stuff when you think about it, but a good reminder all the same 🙂  Simple is so easy to forget when we’re nervous.

Before I end this post, though, I’d like to share some witty and funny Richard Wurman quotes:

“I don’t take questions during presentations because they’re either bad questions or speeches.”

“I like fucking over people, I like doing something that is noticeably better in the same vernacular.”  9referencing his desire to create a travel guide better than Zagat, who he is friends with)

“How can I be terrified?”  and how being forced to learn something from the beginning and out of your comfort zone can result in greatness

“Innovation:  is this idea of finding something”  (honestly one of the best definitions I’ve heard)

And some freaking awesome websites I found out about that you should really check out, if you too have a serious interest in the intersection between design thinking and visual thinking:    Find out your design preference profile, under construction right now  Go to a Sensemaking Dialog – they’re fantastic!   Check out some pretty rad data visualizations   Check out Richard Wurman rambling for yourself Want to go to a UNConference in your own city?  Maybe just link in with some pretty amazing design thinkers?  Sign up!

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