Tag Archives: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Anderson Misses the Boat Today on TED Talks

I wish I were as optimistic as Chris Anderson, who wrote today, “Anyone Can Give a Memorable TED Talk,” in the Wall Street Journal (April 30-May 1, C3).

Chris Anderson TED Talk Picture

You can read the entire article by clicking HERE.

Anderson, who is the President of TED, has a new book that hits the market next week Chris Anderson TED Book Coverentitled TED Talks:  The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016).

He gives these tips:

  1.  ask yourself if you have something worth saying
  2. slash the scope of your talk so that you unpack the idea properly
  3. give people a reason to care
  4. build your case piece by piece, using familiar words and concepts
  5. tell stories
  6. practice

His premise is that anyone, with the right approach, and enough practice, can be a greater presenter.  In the article, he tells the improbable story of Richard Turere, a 12-year old Maasai boy, who gave a talk at a TED conference, in front of an audience of 1,400 seasoned professionals.

I don’t think so.  I have provided instruction and critiqued thousands of speakers in Business Communication courses over the past 39 years, and have coached individuals one-on-one countless times.  In fact, even today, I am meeting a speaker for individual coaching who gives a talk next week.  I can start naming people right now who you would never see on the TED Talks site, no matter how much time I would spend coaching them, and I would still be listing names hours from now.  And, I don’t think it’s because I’m a lousy coach.  Sorry – everyone can’t do it.

His assumption is that there is something within an individual, that if unlocked properly, will propel a person to greatness.  He would say that if you stay with it long enough, and apply the correct instruction and techniques, success is simply a matter of time.

I will admit that for many people, presenting is more a matter of “will” than “skill.”  There are people who simply don’t want to get any better, and therefore, even intense training and coaching will not get them there.  They could be great, but they don’t want to be.  Fortunately, there are enough people who do respond to training and coaching, and who do become great speakers, that keeps me going as a professional resource.

But, what about people who can’t?  What if fantastic presenting is not a will or skill issue?  There are plenty of people who fall short of any or all of the six behaviors listed as tips above.  They just can’t do it.  It’s not their strength.  It never will be.  Do we beat them up and put them through the misery of intense scrutiny toward an end that will never happen?  I would far rather build on something else that they are good at – one of their strengths – to work around their presentation weakness, than to consistently badger them to speak well.

I also think that the title of Anderson’s article today insults the great TED speakers.  I am well aware that writers rarely get to construct titles to their articles.  They usually see the title the same time all the readers do, so I am not bashing Anderson.  But the title is there for all to see.  TED Talks are premium presentations.  Great content with great delivery.  And, it is a very competitive product.  These are not like “uploads to YouTube” from your web cam.  Even many really great speakers are not to the level of TED presenters that you watch on that site.

To suggest that everyone can be like TED, is about the same as saying everyone can be like Mike.  No way.



Rosemary is a Horrific Kennedy Tale

If you already don’t like the history of the wealthy Kennedy family, this book will likely take you over the top.

Kate Clifford Lawson published a book entitled Rosemary:  The Hidden Kennedy Daughter Kate Clifford Lawson Picture(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015), which exposes information that is not well known to casual followers of the clan.  (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015), which exposes information that is not well known to casual followers of the clan.

Lawson received her doctorate in History from the University of New Hampshire.  Her first book was a biography of Harriet Tubman, Bound for the Promised Land , published in 2003.  Next was The Assassin’s Accomplice, about Mary Surratt and her role in the assassination of President Lincoln, published in 2008.

RosemaryFuneralPictureProblems for Rose Marie “Rosemary” Kennedy began when her mother was forced to delay her birth, as a nurse, waiting on a doctor to arrive, forced her to remain in the birth canal for two hours, resulting in a loss of oxygen.  She was born on September 13, 1918, and was the first daughter born to Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., and Rose Fitzgerald.  Rosemary was the eldest sister of the three Kennedy brothers, John, Robert, and Ted.  This is her last-known picture, before her death on January 7, 2005.

You get the feeling throughout the book that she was an embarrassment to the Kennedy family.  While she was RosemaryBookCoverbeautiful, she was not nearly as talented in school and sports as her siblings.  The cause was a mental disability, for which her father authorized a prefrontal lobotomy for her at age 23.  The procedure was a failure, and she was permanently incapacitated. She spent the rest of her life in an institution in Jefferson, Wisconsin, with minimal contact from her family. Her condition is believed to have inspired her sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, to start the Special Olympics.

As an example of the likely embarrassment she represented, the book discusses the way that Rosemary’s existence was hardly acknowledged during JFK’s 1960 campaign to the White House, even though he stated that conditions such as hers should be brought out into the open.

The book is  not the only work that has addressed Rosemary.  Yet, it is well-researched and documented, and perhaps it will inspire other writers to research even more about her.