Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!

When I was boy, one of my favourite movies was The Wizard of Oz. Back in the day, there was no streaming on demand, so you had to wait until it was shown on television. With few channels available, that usually meant the the movie came to TV about once a year.

One of the pivotal scenes occurs near the end of the movie. [Spoiler alert if you still have not seen this 1939 classic!]

Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion return to Oz with the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West. They bring it to the Wizard of Oz. He had previously promised that in return for the broomstick, he would grant them a ride home for Dorothy, a brain for the scarecrow, a heart for the Tin Man and courage for the Lion. (Refreshing to see a deal without any money exchanged.)

But the Wizard tries to stall. He tells them to return the following day.

While they plead with the Wizard not to send them way, Dorothy’s dog Toto notices some activity behind a nearby curtain. Toto pulls back the curtain to reveal that the Wizard is not who Dorothy and the other thought he was.

“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” the “Wizard” yells in vain. He has been discovered and they see him for who he really is.

How many times do speakers say the same thing, at least implicitly?

“Pay no attention to the man behind the PowerPoint slides!”

“Pay no attention to the woman behind the Prezi animations!”

“Pay no attention to the speaker behind the Keynote presentation!”

Many speakers hide behind their slides so that the audience does not focus on them. But the slides are not your presentation. Slides are a tool which, when used properly, can support you. But you are the presentation. The audience wants to connect with you, not 28 slides crammed with text and graphics.

Even Bill Gates got it wrong from time to time.

We want to see you, not some PowerPoint monstrosity that forces us to read and ignore what you are saying.

And here’s the thing: When you show us the man or the woman “behind the curtain”, not only will we appreciate it, you will probably be pleasantly surprised by the person you meet.

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Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 261) – Steven Pressfield

Steven Pressfield – American Author

“The amateur believes he must first overcome his fear; then he can do his work. The professional knows that fear can never be overcome. He knows there is no such thing as a fearless warrior or a dread-free artist.”

— Steven Pressfield

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What if we put the audience first?

What if we stopped thinking of the audience as the number of seats filled?

What if we started thinking about the audience as individuals who are giving us 15 minutes, 30 minutes, one hour of their time? Time that they will never get back.

What if we stopped focusing on how we look, where we’re putting our hands, whether people will like us, whether this speaking engagement will lead to a new engagement, a new client, a new opportunity?

What if we started focusing on how we can help the audience, entertain them, inspire them, teach them something, make this time—time that they will never get back—worth their while?

What if we put the audience first?

What might happen then?

Photo courtesy of Felix Mooneeram 
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Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 260) – Madeleine Albright

Madeleine Albright – American Politician and Diplomat

“It took me quite a long time to develop a voice and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent.”

— Madeleine Albright

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A lesson from Apple’s launch of the iPhone X

The iPhone X (pronounced “iPhone 10”) was touted as the next leap forward in smartphones. It is the first smartphone from Apple to feature a full-screen display, it has “Super Retina” resolution, wireless charging and more. Apple revealed it to the world on 12 September 2017 at a special event at the Steve Jobs Theatre.

One of these new features is Apple’s face recognition technology. Gone is the digital fingerprint that has allowed iPhone users to open their phones in recent years. Now, with the iPhone X, you hold your phone up and look at it. The iPhone recognizes your face and then opens.

Except when it doesn’t.

This is what happened when Craig Federighi, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Software Engineering, tried to demonstrate the new feature.

Ouch! Another awkward presentation moment for the history books.

So, what happened? Is Apple’s face recognition technology a massive fail? I doubt it. In fact, Apple has offered an explanation.

Prior to the demonstration, different people had been handling the phone that Federighi first tried to open. What nobody realized was that phone was trying to recognize the faces of those people. Because none of those people had Federighi’s face, the phone did not open. However, it was registering several unsuccessful attempts to log in. After a certain number, the device blocked face recognition—as intended—and required a passcode to open.

I find this explanation plausible. I have an iPhone 6s that has digital fingerprint recognition. If I press the home button several times with a finger other than the one registered with my phone, it locks and requires me to enter the passcode. It’s a good safety feature.

So Federighi’s iPhone X worked the way it was supposed to. But it didn’t look like it at the time. Instead, it was an uncomfortable 15 seconds that required Federighi to switch to a backup. Fifteen seconds out of a two-hour event and yet those 15 seconds have generated a lot of discussion in the press and on social media.

Those 15 seconds have raised doubts in the minds of some people as to the robustness of the technology. Those 15 seconds even resulted in a plunge in the price of Apple stock, although the drop was short-lived and quickly reversed. Apple will now have to wait until November 2017, when the $1,000 iPhone X becomes available in stores, for the debate about its face recognition technology to be put to rest.

In an earlier post entitled Ten Tips for Using Props in a Presentation, I offered some ideas on how to make sure things run smoothly when you use props. One of the tips was as follows:

Make sure the prop works. The more complicated the prop, the greater the chance that something can go wrong. Test it, test it and then test it again beforehand. This is especially important if the prop forms a key part of the presentation; for example, if it is an invention that you are revealing to the public.

In the case of the iPhone X demonstration, Apple should have known that the phone would lock if different people had been handling it. The last person to handle the phone before the demonstration should have been Federighi himself. He should have opened it a couple of times using face recognition to make sure that it was ready to go.

To his credit, Federighi did have a backup plan—which I also discuss in my earlier post—a second iPhone X. Even so, it would have been preferable had Federighi had the presence of mind to explain Apple’s lockout feature, enter the passcode, close the phone and open it again with face recognition. To be fair, he would have had to do all these mental gymnastics quickly and in the heat of the moment and with the eyes of the world upon him.

Nonetheless, the incident was a valuable reminder of the importance of preparation and how, even then, mistakes will happen.

Even Steve Jobs had days like this.

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