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Treating your talk as a gift

In a few weeks, Chris Anderson's much awaited book on TED Talks comes out. I've just finished reading it, and it's well worth a pre-order. When Chris took the leap 11 years ago and published the first online TED talks, he fundamentally changed the way we consume (and thus give) presentations. Today, it might seem obvious, but sharing these talks online the way he did was a very big leap, and a brilliant idea.

The bullet point, long endangered, was now dead. Even if you're not planning to give a TED talk any time soon, his book will give you a structure for how we present to groups today. It masterfully weaves and connects lessons from hundreds of talks, including speakers from every walk of life and just about everywhere in the world.

For the last 13 years, TED talks have punctuated my career. It's a privilege and a challenge to be given that platform, and I'm grateful (and a little awed) by the opportunity. The biggest concept in Chris's book is essential: Every talk is a gift.

Here's a quick look back at the five I've given…

My newest (and shortest) TED talk is still in the vaults. I had three minutes on-stage, and discovered that the 45-slide (one every three seconds) bangbang approach that I had practiced was going to be impossible. With two days to go, I called an audible, and spent 48 hours brainstorming and developing a new talk just before I gave it. I turned it into this blog post.

When you haven't grooved the mental pathways by giving a talk a hundred times, the experience of giving a talk to an esteemed audience is, at least for me, enervating and energizing at precisely the same time. I feel like I'm using my sinews and ligaments, not just my muscles, digging deep to remember what comes next, while simultaneously watching the clock and my audience.

This is a high risk/high reward approach. The best talks work when they open doors and turn on lights for the audience… it's about them, not the speaker's experience. A gift you took the time to create.

My favorite TED talk has never been featured on the TED site. It has no slides, and I gave it exactly one time. This is my version of flying without a net, of being totally present onstage, because it's fresh for me and for the audience. (The first riff is totally improvised, it occurred to me as I walked on stage). The rest of the talk represents more than a few hundred hours of research and practice.

I hope that every teacher and every parent has a chance to argue about this one, that's why I wrote Stop Stealing Dreams. The book is free and so is the talk, below:

My funniest TED talk wasn't even given at TED. I did it for Mark Hurst's fantastic GEL conference, and like the Stop Stealing Dreams talk, I have only given it once. It's hard to describe the mix of fear and thrill that happens when they're recording a practiced talk that's brand new to the world… sometimes it doesn't work, but in this case, the audience really came through for me–and yes, the audience matters. I'm not crazy about my haberdashery choices here, but that's what happens when you're busy focusing on something else.

My most popular TED talk is the first one I gave, in Monterey, before TED videos were a thing, when the audience was much smaller and I had no idea I'd be on camera (In Chris's book, Barry Schwartz remembers doing his talk in a t-shirt and shorts. Yes, it turns out that revolution is being televised). This is a marketing talk for an audience that actively resisted the idea of marketing, and it was very early in my career as a speaker. I think many of the ideas hold up well here, and I won't make any apologies about it being my first TED…

The best TED attendees are doing work that's worth sharing, that's worth talking about. My mission in this one (and the next) was to talk directly to the people in the room and say, "look, if it's worth devoting your life to, and it's worth changing the world for, perhaps it's also worth stepping up and saying, 'here, I made this' in a way that spreads." 

And my most polished TED talk almost didn't work. Walking onstage, I discovered that Herbie Hancock's piano was sitting right where I was intending to stand. I'm a bit of a wanderer, but hey, it's Herbie Hancock. Meanwhile, the big clock is ticking, and there's not a lot of free time to consider options. A few minutes into the talk, you'll see that I pull out a light bulb. That bulb was actually a custom made magic trick, a 200 watt bulb that was supposed to light up when I touched it. There was no reason at all for this to happen, it was totally irrelevant to my talk, but I thought it would be fun, so I found a guy to build it for me. Alas, when I touched it, it didn't light up. Live theatre! 

One thing I'm proud of is that many of these talks, particularly this one, make people uncomfortable. I'm trying to create tension between what's there and what could be, between what we do and what we could do. Thanks for watching. Even better, thanks for leading.

Time for you to give your talk. The stage doesn't matter, the gift does.

All the events you weren’t there to control…

Yesterday, thousands of people got married. Just about every one of these weddings went beautifully. Amazingly, you weren't there, on-site, making sure everything was perfect.

Last week, a letter to investors went out from the CFO of a hot public company. It was well received. Yes, it's true, you didn't review it first, but it still worked.

And just the other day, someone was talking about the product you created, but she didn't ask you about it first. That's okay, because the conversation went fine.

When we're in the room, it's really difficult to sit back and let other people do their work, because we know we can make it better, we know the stakes are incredibly high, we know that we care more than anyone else. More often than not, we give in to temptation and wrest away control. And often, we make things better. In the short run.

Caring matters. Your contribution makes things better. But when the need for control starts to get in the way of your people doing their best work, caring about their craft and scaling their efforts, and when the need for control starts to make you crazy, it might be worth thinking about that wedding in Baton Rouge that went just fine without you.

The choke points

You might not be reading this. Or the blog I sent out early today. And you might not be getting those other newsletters you subscribed to.

Google also automatically moves many Mailchimp newsletters to your promo folder in gmail. As well as airline alerts, school newsletters and more. Without asking you first. Plenty of babies in that bathwater. This error violates the do-not-harm principle… If people trust you to deliver their email, then deliver it.

And now they've chosen to go further, and put some of the blog posts you were waiting for in your spam folder, which is the deepest of black holes. No joke.

I hope you'll agree that my blog isn't spam.

The irony is not lost on me.

If this was just about my blog, it would be a petty rant by a long-time blogger. But of course, the land grab is a persistent erosion. Do we need spam filters? No doubt about it. Selfish marketers keep pushing the envelope. 

Google's spam filter is a revelation, it's free and it works, most of the time. The challenge they face, though, is when they start to ratchet up what they filter. The number of things you are counting on getting by email keeps going up, and we need to be able to count on this medium to keep us informed.

There have always been gatekeepers. Martha Stewart decides who gets into the magazine. Steve Case got to decide who got on the front page of AOL. Apple controls the app marketplace by controlling what gets featured in the app store. This is one way gatekeepers create value–the editorial and focus decisions complement the advertising and increase subscriptions. But it also makes it harder for new voices to be heard.

Modern organizations, like Facebook and Google, have set themselves apart as post-gatekeeper platforms, but of course, they're not, particularly Google. Google profits by putting its own pages higher than those of companies that aren't paying to be there. Google benefits when organizations need to buy ads in order to get through to people who might not see their message, even if they have permission.

If you're not paying, you and your attention are the product.

People who create content are spending more and more time figuring out how to alter their messages to get past the filters that are being erected between their readers and their creations. Which is a shame.

Yes, this is a rant. I'm also hoping you'll take a minute to groom your promo and spam filters for all the other stuff that's hidden there. And that you'll subscribe to your favorite blogs by RSS, because it's mostly uninterrupted by people who'd rather you didn't get what you were hoping for. Just you and the blogs you want to get.

My feed is here, and Feedly is easy and free.

/rant.

Actually, the truth isn’t up to them

There it is, in black and white, on page 782, between gullet and Gulliver. Actually, it's not there, which is cause for worry. In the brand new fifth edition of the classic American Heritage Dictionary, the word 'gullible' is missing.

A significant defect.

Clearly, they need to recall all of the books they've already printed.

Sandy Williams, head of the division at Houghton Mifflin that publishes the book, was clearly working hard to avoid the cost of a recall. "It turns out," he was quoted as saying, "that our lexicographers found some significant evidence that cast doubt on whether or not it's even a word. We decided, in an abundance of caution, to leave it out of this edition."

That's the warning sign… when the rationale/logic/story happens after you've decided what you want to do, not before.

This relentless reframing of the truth into something else causes us to not ask the right questions, it prevents us from understanding our options, and from making smart choices. As soon as we say the truth is relative, and shiftable, and a matter of opinion, we lose the power that comes from knowing.

Just because a leader can gain power or influence by denying a truth isn't sufficient reason for you to follow him.

The irony runs deep. People claiming that they care about health have held vaccines back from their kids, re-introducing dangerous diseases to their childhood.

People insisting that they care about education run to join school boards and then work to introduce mythology to children instead.

The world is not flat. Gullible actually is a word. The ice is melting. The world is not 5,000 years old. Stevie Wonder, is, unfortunately, blind.

In a culture where con men, hucksters and others desperately seeking power and influence have decided that they can profit by making truth seem relative, we're in danger of every day becoming the first of April.

Gravity's not just a good idea, it's the law. 

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