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).
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 entitled TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016).
He gives these tips:
- ask yourself if you have something worth saying
- slash the scope of your talk so that you unpack the idea properly
- give people a reason to care
- build your case piece by piece, using familiar words and concepts
- tell stories
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.
Do you know or know of anyone who is “fully developed”? I don’t.
Bob Morris, in a comment he left on this blog post: A Training Session is Just the Beginning
Bob Morris is witty. And knows how to get to the point quickly. In my blog post, I had written this line:
The problem is simple. Too many employees are not fully developed.
And Bob left his comment:
The problem is simple. Too many employees are not fully developed.
I thought about a snarky response: Yes, I know of one fully developed person. Jerry Jones is certainly fully developed as a General Manager in the NFL.
Then I thought about a serious response. Is there anyone that I know of that we could say ever fully developed? I thought of Michael Jordan’s dominance, and that last shot he perfected as his physical skills began to fade (if only a little. I wrote about this in this blog post: But We Can’t All Be Michael Jordan – The Challenge: Building Success with Average Folks.
I thought of Meryl Streep, surely as close to “fully developed” as any person in any field in history. (Or, Daniel Day Lewis). To read about their preparation, to read about their immersion in their roles…. Well, that sounds pretty fully developed to me.
But, of course, Bob’s point is clear, and one I agree with, and have tried to write about often.
We are, none of us, fully developed, and we know it. In fact, I would propose that the very existence of this blog is testimony to the fact that people in all aspects of their work lives, (and their personal lives), know that there is always another new thing to learn, another new skill to work on, or another long-neglected improvement that maybe it really is time to tackle.
We live in a world where the best keep trying to make the best better, and that means constant development of every resource that an organization has – including the most importannt resource, the person at work. And it is each person’s responsibility to work on constant improvement – constant “development” of his or her skills, capabilities, abilities. Aiming at getting better, perpetually. Tweaking, improving, discovering…
Peter Senge wrote: “People with a high level of personal mastery are acutely aware of their ignorance, their incompetence, and their growth areas.” And within that short sentence we find a lifelong agenda. Be aware of your own ignorance; be aware of your own incompetence; be aware of your own growth areas. And, after progress is made, even great progress, there will always be more to tackle in these three challenging areas.
So I have a little challenge for you (and for me). Think hard about this one. You have discovered in yourself, or someone has pointed out to you, one of your deficiencies – one of your “growth areas.” If your reaction is, “I don’t want to change that,” or, “I probably never will change that about myself,” then you have just identified the right starting point.
So, get to work.
I am bothered.
I am a big fan of making people and companies better. I have written many times about the need for constant innovation, perpetual improvement, pushing folks to get better (pushing myself to get better).
Just yesterday, I re-read the classic essay by David Halberstam about the end of Michael Jordan’s playing career: Jordan’s Moment (from December, 1998). It is a really terrific read (Halberstam at his best – and Halberstam was the best!), and it showed how Michael Jordan understood what new skill(s) he had to develop in his last years of play, and, how he practiced/learned/mastered these new skill(s). Consider this paragraph, from near the end of his playing career:
In 1995, after Jordan returned to basketball from his year-and-a-half-long baseball sabbatical, he spent the summer in Hollywood making the movie “Space Jam,” but he demanded that the producers build a basketball court where he could work out every day. Old friends dropping by the Warner lot noticed that he was working particularly hard on a shot that was already a minor part of his repertoire but which he was now making a signature shot––a jumper where he held the ball, faked a move to the basket, and then, at the last minute, when he finally jumped, fell back slightly, giving himself almost perfect separation from the defensive player. Because of his jumping ability and his threat to drive, that shot was virtually unguardable. More, it was a very smart player’s concession to the changes in his body wrought by time, and it signified that he was entering a new stage in his career. What professional basketball men were now seeing was something that had been partly masked earlier in his career by his singular physical ability and the artistry of what he did, and that something was a consuming passion not just to excel but to dominate. “He wants to cut your heart out and then show it to you,” his former coach Doug Collins said. “He’s Hannibal Lecter,” Bob Ryan, the Boston Globe’s expert basketball writer, said. When a television reporter asked the Bulls’ center, Luc Longley, for a one-word description of Jordan, Longley’s response was “Predator.”
But…but… we are not all, we are not any of us, Michael Jordan. And this is why I am bothered. The rest of us are mere mortals, and we cannot match the gifts, or the brilliant insights, or the work ethic, or the resources of such a a one-of-a-kind master craftsman.
In other words, a lot of the world really is average. In fact, the average person really is… average. Really.
I have even written a blog post or two in which I praised the “average,” the “mediocre.” I have said that we have to have companies and organizations that learn to do as well as they possibly can with “average” workers.
Some say that we can’t abide mediocrity. I get that. I want exceptional service, exceptional products, exceptional work done. And if I were having surgery, I would not put out a call for service that says: “Wanted: mediocre surgeon to perform surgery on me in my moment of need.”
But the fact remains that there are many, many surgeons, and only a small percentage (5% to be exact) are in the top 5% of surgeons. The rest are farther down the pack. And people put their lives in their hands every day.
So, this article from Leadership Freak grabbed my attention: Organizations Where Average Leaders Excel. From the article:
By definition most of us are average. Even though:
68% of the faculty at the University of Nebraska rate themselves in the top 25% of teaching ability.
90% students see themselves as more intelligent than the average student.
93% of U.S. drivers put themselves in the top 50% of driving ability.
92% of teachers say they are less biased than average. That one is uniquely hilarious.
96% of leaders today believe they have above average people skills. Stanford University School of Business.
On average, most of us think we are above average. Leaders, like everyone else, suffer from illusory superiority.
In the article, Gary Hamel is quoted as saying: “We need to create organizations where average leaders can enjoy extraordinary success.”
So, the idea may be that with proper and exceptional management systems and processes, with more attention to helping “average” workers be more productive, then we can up the results.
But here is what I know – there really are only 5% in the top 5% of any arena. “Grade inflation” does not produce smarter people. And vocabulary (calling “average workers” by loftier superlatives) does not wipe out the fact that there are lots and lots of people who are average. In fact, most people are average – average workers, average leaders, average anything.
Our challenge, it seems to me, is to build the best success we can with our average workers.
“Well, maybe I’ll just hang up here in the air for a while…”
(Michael Jordan; “Rare Air”– the phrase was used as the title of a short volume by Michael Jordan, with photographs by Walter Iooss)
I miss Daniel Shorr. A newsman for over 60 years, he was active on NPR practically right up to the week of his death. (He died in the summer of 2010 at the age of 93). For example, I would love to hear one of his well-written, comprehensive, decades-honed-insights commentaries on this year’s Republican Presidential race. His commentaries would speak to the current situation of the hour with a remembrance of something “similar,” or at least something complementary, from some crisis or hot spot or tense situation going back through the decades, at times all the way back to well before I was even born.
There is no way for someone who “reads” the history to have quite the perspective of someone who “lived” the history. (I miss Andy Rooney for the same reasons).
Yes, Daniel Shorr was the rarest of the rarest of the rare find in the talent department.
I thought of Mr. Shorr as I worked on my synopsis of The Rare Find, my book selection for next week’s First Friday Book Synopsis. (Register for our event here). In The Rare Find: Spotting Exceptional Talent Before Everyone Else, George Anders observes that after all the years we’ve spent trying to find the secrets of spotting, hiring, and developing genuine talent at work, we haven’t gotten all that much better at it. Here’s a taste from his book:
“Over the past few decades, we as a society have made talent spotting vastly more sophisticated than it ever was before.”
“In fact, it’s arguable now that our ability to identify great people has deteriorated. We have created so much data that we’re drowning in it… Trying to forecast what people might achieve is a bigger mystery than ever.
You want an example: consider this profile. Here’s a guy who needs to shower more often. His eating habits; his personal interaction habits; his seemingly endless lack of tact negatively impacts practically everyone in his path. He was, at times, unbelievably rude to practically everyone around him. So – would you hire Mr. Steve Jobs? You’d be a fool not to. But, how in the world do you “spot” this talent?
(The opposite is also often quite true. There are countless “sure things,” examples of “this man/woman is going to be great in this job” failures who crash and burn. How do we get it so wrong?)
I think genuine talent has to be some mix of the following:
Competence/raw ability; plus “soft skills,” (“getting along” skills); plus work ethic; plus the ability to focus; plus a wide array of experiences (many so very far from the “scope” of “this particular job”); plus character/credibility (old-fashioned “ethos”); plus…
Let’s go back to Daniel Shorr as a model. (Some of this is consistent with the observations in Anders book). He had the work ethic; he had the wide array of experience, and far-afield experiences; he was beloved by his colleagues at NPR (so he had some of those soft skills); you could trust him to speak truthfully, and substantively… A rare find!
There may be no job close to as important as this job: who do I choose to hire? And, that question is much wider than just “who do I hire at work?’ It is also, “who do I hire as my surgeon?”; and, “who do I hire as my financial advisor?”; and, “who do I hire as my coach, my mentor?”; and, how about, “who do I hire as the cruise ship Captain for the cruise that I take for my vacation?”; and “who do I hire as my next President of these United States?”
Finding that rare find. It’s worth pursuing with diligence and focus. And, we really do need to get better at it, don’t we?
I remember the cover from Sports Illustrated a few weeks into NBA superstar Michael Jordan’s attempt in training camp to play major league baseball. The title was “Bag it Michael.” It infuriated him so much that he never gave the magazine another interview.
The stimulus for my recollection was an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “The Tedium is the Message” by Michael Moynihan (December 10-11, 2011, p. C6). In the aricle, he talks about some pooliticians who have penned novels. He includes examples from William Cohen, Jimmy Carter, Gary Hart, and Newt Gingrich.
Perhaps more than others, Cohen and Gingrich have done so with “a desire to use the novel to write ideological history.” Cohen’s newest novel (Blink of an Eye, Forge, 2011) teaches a lesson that illustrates his own moral opposition to the war in Iraq. Gingrich’s 2008 novel, Days of Infamy (co-authored with William Forstchen; Thomas Dunne Books), touts isolationism in the context of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Surprisingly omitted from the article, or perhaps simply forgotten, was a novel by former and disgraced vice-president Spiro T. Agnew. In 1976, he wrote The Canfield Decision (Berkley Medallion Books) about a wealthy, handsome, and liberal vice-president who decided to provide Isreal with nuclear arms. How many of those counts described himself?
Moynihan’s conclusion is that “politicians turn to writing novels to create braver, smarter, more powerful versions of themselves. Insisting that you’ve figured how the world works is somehow less pompous – and more easily disavowed – when done by a fictional doppelganger.”
I am unimpressed with these enterprises. Writing novels as purposeful scapegoating activity that replaces solid, visionary thinking and planning seems as if it would fool no one. In the Republican presidential candidate debates, maybe someone will remind Gingrich that he seeks to govern a non-fiction world, and that he cannot craft world affairs in the same way that he can words from the English language.
And, if they are just having fun, maybe to make a little money – that’s fine. But, is that the best use of an aspiring politician’s time and energy? Do we really want to learn what a candidate thinks and how he might govern by reading fictional accounts? Does anyone get insight into future behavior this way?
What do you think? Let’s talk about it really soon!