Must see movie: An Inconvenient Truth

Yes, I know this isn’t a book, but it felt like a good place to post this entry… so here I go: Over the holidays, I watched the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” on Al Gore’s campaign to promote the issue of global warming as a recognized problem worldwide. To make it short, go an get a copy, watch it and start taking action!

There is so much that could be said about the content of that DVD and why we all need to take action today, that I could write multiple blog entries about this… I am going to simply recommend you go to the Inconvenient Truth web site and find out more for yourself. Instead of looking at the message, I wanted to share my thoughts from a content delivery perspective.

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And what a delivery! Years of politics combined with the passion of the subject and in-depth preparation make the way Al Gore presents an amazing experience. This is really an impressive way to make the point. So once you watched the DVD once and started taking action, go through it a second time and think about how to improve your presentation skills (if you have to do presentations from time to time that is). Here are some of my notes from the delivery of the message.

First and foremost, know your subject and the data behind your content inside out. You have to believe in what you say, you have to be passionate about what you say. Throughout the delivery, Al Gore relies on very strong data to support the the information presented, to provide proof for the message delivered. In addition to that, if you can relate to information that the audience already knows and add information that they don’t know (but have a trusted source), it amplifies the message and credibility of the delivery.

Second, get the pace and intonation of your voice right. Years of training in the political arena have enabled Al Gore to know know how to speak in public, how to stop just at the right moment and how to do all that with no visible notes and no reading. In his book “In the Line of Fire”, Jerry Weissman introduces the concept of Roman Columns. The former Vice-President of the USA knows his columns amazingly well, using the visuals on the screen.

Visual communication – if it had to be proven, you don’t need a lot of text to communicate and transmit a message. Slides and other media are there to support your message and speech, not to be the sole source of information with your voice in the background. In addition to using a presentation software with charts, photos and almost not text as a great support (did you notice that there are no bullet-points and very little “title, sub-title, content” sections), Al Gore uses a vast diversity of media: animations, video, comic strips, charts and even a small crane! And when it comes to using charts, they are being built-up in front of the eyes of the viewer. To summarize, the slide support the presentation, not the other way around.

One more thing about the slides: When the message is about something as serious as global warming, it is critical to not only show the bad side, but you also need to show the good things that are happening, the things the audience can do…. give hope and not only a good excuse for suicide! And please, look at how the transition and text effects are used. It’s not because you have he capability of flying text or crazy transitions between your slide that you need to use the animation in your presentation!

Almost never looks at the projected screen… OK, the stage that Al Gore used is rather unique and you won’t always have special smaller screens that show the same information so that you can show and point at information without having to turn his back on the audience. But you should normally be able to have the laptop in front of you, facing the audience, while the projector shows the same information in your back.

The usage of humor as well as the tone of the voice and the speed and timing of the message delivery where perfect during this presentation, briefly pausing in the middle of a sentence, give the time to the audience to understand and digest the message delivered. Humor doesn’t require telling jokes. One example is the little animation about the frog and the boiling water (I won’t say more, go and get the DVD!) Throughout the presentation, Al Gore engages his audience, gives them time to think about the message and build expectations on what is coming next… when he shows a timeline, he makes it appear slowly and progressively, leaving enough time for the audience to build an expectation of the trend. To summarize: Project yourself and the audience into the future and give them time to reflect / think about the information delivered.

Non-verbal communication is also a very important aspect of presentations. The dress-code that was chosen by the Vice President, a suite but no tie with the upper button of the shirt open, gives and informal, yet serious look, providing him the trust and brings him closer to his audience, yet doesn’t build a barrier with the public. In addition, Al Gore engages his audience, he is open, certain, confident, calm yet passionate. He also connects with the audience, shares past experience, even if painful, so that the public is able to better understand his motives and is able to better relate to what he is telling.

There is so much more I could write about: Get the DVD today, watch it at least twice… the first time for the message and the second time for the delivery. And if you want to look at other great presentations, the MacWorld 2007 Keynote from Steve Jobs is available as a podcast from iTunes.