Where the streets have no name

For years, the phrase “where the streets have no name” has always brought to mind one of my favourite songs by the rock band U2. After today, however, it will remind me of something else as well.

Japan Address
This sign in Tokyo shows the town address (Kamimeguro 2 chōme), block (21) and building (9). The top plate is the district name (町名板, chōmei ban) and the bottom plate is the residential number (住居番号板, jūkyo bangō ban).

While listening to a discussion on Tim Ferriss’ podcast, guest Derek Sivers mentioned something  about the streets in Japan that grabbed my attention: most of them don’t have names! Apparently, for the Japanese, most streets are nameless spaces between the blocks of houses, buildings, etc. Instead, the Japanese give numbers to the blocks. Each building within a block has its own building number. (See an example in the photo on the right from Wikipedia.)

At first, this convention struck me as utterly confusing. But as I thought about it, I became intrigued and did some digging. Sivers has written this post (with maps examples) that explains the phenomenon simply and clearly. Here’s another post on the same subject.

If you would rather hear Sivers explain it himself, just watch the first minute or so of this two-minute talk that he gave at TED India in 2009.

I have not yet been to Japan—it is on my list of countries to visit—but I can well imagine how confusing this classification system must be for anyone who, like me, has lived in locations where streets have names. And now, I can also imagine the confusion that some Japanese experience when traveling abroad for the first time.

This issue got me thinking about presentations and I believe that a useful parallel can be drawn. Just as Canadians and Japanese do not necessarily look at street addresses the same way, so too an audience (or different members within an audience) will not necessarily look at a presentation the same way the speaker does.

For example, suppose a CEO announces that the company is going to invest millions of dollars to automate a process that will increase production once completed. Potential suppliers will be delighted at the prospect of a lucrative contract; employees might be fearful for their jobs; shareholders might be enthusiastic about the prospect of greater profitability or nervous about the company spending so much money in an uncertain economy. The list could go on, but the point is that not everyone is going to regard the initiative in the same way as the CEO.

Remember this the next time you have a presentation. Perhaps your audience will be familiar with the topic and will also be on the same page as you. But perhaps not. It might be a new subject for them; they might be confused or doubtful or opposed to your ideas. Knowing that your audience might not see things the same way you do is one of the best incentives that you have to prepare thoroughly. Think long and hard about your message, how to get it across and why the audience should care.

Remember, it’s always about the audience. Speakers need to adapt their presentation for the audience just as visitors to Japan must adapt the way in which they navigate around Japanese towns and cities.

To close this post, a flashback. We return to 27 March 1987 at the corner of 7th and Main Streets in Los Angeles. It was then and there that U2 surprised a lot of people by performing Where the Streets Have No Name on the top of the Republic Liquor store. I do love this song!

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John delivered a keynote address about the importance of public speaking to 80 senior members of Gore’s Medical Device Europe team at an important sales event. He was informative, engaging and inspirational. Everyone was motivated to improve their public speaking skills. Following his keynote, John has led public speaking workshops for Gore in Barcelona and Munich. He is an outstanding speaker who thinks carefully about the needs of his audience well before he steps on stage.

Karsta Goetze

TA Leader, Gore and Associates

I first got in touch with John while preparing to speak at TED Global about my work on ProtonMail. John helped me to sharpen the presentation and get on point faster, making the talk more focused and impactful. My speech was very well received, has since reached almost 1.8 million people and was successful in explaining a complex subject (email encryption) to a general audience.

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CEO, Proton Technologies

John gave the opening keynote on the second day of our unit’s recent offsite in Geneva, addressing an audience of 100+ attendees with a wealth of tips and techniques to deliver powerful, memorable presentations. I applied some of these techniques the very next week in an internal presentation, and I’ve been asked to give that presentation again to senior management, which has NEVER happened before. John is one of the greatest speakers I know and I can recommend his services without reservation.

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Senior Data Scientist, Expedia Group

After a morning of team building activities using improvisation as the conduit, John came on stage to close the staff event which was organised in Chamonix, France. His energy and presence were immediately felt by all the members of staff. The work put into the preparation of his speech was evident and by sharing some his own stories, he was able to conduct a closing inspirational speech which was relevant, powerful and impactful for all at IRU. The whole team left feeling engaged and motivated to tackle the 2019 objectives ahead. Thank you, John.

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Secretary General, World Road Transport Organization

I was expecting a few speaking tips and tricks and a few fun exercises, but you went above and beyond – and sideways. You taught me to stand tall. You taught me to anchor myself. You taught me to breathe. You taught me to open up. You taught me to look people in the eye. You taught me to tell the truth. You taught me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I got more than I bargained for in the best possible way.

Thuy Khoc-Bilon

World Cancer Day Campaign Manager, Union for International Cancer Control

John gave a brilliant presentation on public speaking during the UN EMERGE programme in Geneva (a two days workshop on leadership development for a group of female staff members working in the UN organizations in Geneva). His talk was inspirational and practical, thanks to the many techniques and tips he shared with the audience. His teaching can dramatically change our public speaking performance and enable us as presenters to have a real and powerful impact. Thank you, John, for your great contribution!

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HR Specialist, World Health Organization

John is a genuine communication innovator. His seminars on gamification of public speaking learning and his interactive Rhetoric game at our conference set the tone for change and improvement in our organisation. The quality of his input, the impact he made with his audience and his effortlessly engaging style made it easy to get on board with his core messages and won over some delegates who were extremely skeptical as to the efficacy of games for learning. I simply cannot recommend him highly enough.

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National Education Director, Association of Speakers Clubs UK

John joined our Global Sales Meeting in Segovia, Spain and we all participated in his "Improv(e) your Work!" session. I say “all” because it really was all interactive, participatory, learning and enjoyable. The session surprised everybody and was a fresh-air activity that brought a lot of self-reflection and insights to improve trust and confidence in each other inside our team. It´s all about communication and a good manner of speaking!"

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Thank you very much for the excellent presentation skills session. The feedback I received was very positive. Everyone enjoyed the good mix of listening to your speech, co-developing a concrete take-away and the personal learning experience. We all feel more devoted to the task ahead, more able to succeed and an elevated team spirit. Delivering this in a short time, both in session and in preparation, is outstanding!

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CFO European Dairy Supply Chain & Operations, Danone

Thanks to John’s excellent workshop, I have learned many important tips and techniques to become an effective public speaker. John is a fantastic speaker and teacher, with extensive knowledge of the field. His workshop was a great experience and has proven extremely useful for me in my professional and personal life.

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Senior Sales Manager, Sunrise Communications

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Director of the Jura Region, BKW Energie AG

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Senior Director and Talent Partner, ADP International