TedTalks: Great speakers, bad Powerpoint

I’ve been enjoying the TedTalks series of video podcasts. (You can view them online or subscribe to them via iTunes). Covering a myriad of topics, each session is fascinating in its message and its use of media (or not).

  • Wade Davis uses brilliant photographs in Cultures at the far edge of the world. His photos are gorgeous and strongly support his message, that the world is filled with wonderful diversity.
  • Jeff Han unveils the genius of a multi-touch interface design. His demonstration perhaps illustrates why typical demos aren’t very interesting… because compared to this, they just aren’t very interesting.
  • Blaise Aguera y Arcas offers a jaw-dropping Photosynth demo hampered by techno-babble that detracts from his message. I guess some people really do talk like that!
  • Hans Rosling conveys dense population data in a remarkably clear way, debunking third-world myths with the best stats you've ever seen. He demonstrates how rich data should be conveyed and reveals the promise of data-mining.
  • Thomas Barnett offers the Pentagon's new map for war and peace from his book, The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-First Century. It’s a fascinating, amusing talk that is marred only by his truly terrible PowerPoint slides. He uses awful graphics, too many fonts, and silly sound effects.
  • Al Gore’s presentation on 15 ways to avert a climate crisis is somewhat better although his slides are a little clumsy.
  • My favorite speakers use no slides at all. Check out Sir Ken Robinson's Do schools kill creativity? His amusing speech is filled with stories with no slides.

There are hundreds of TedTalks which in the aggregate illustrate good and bad techniques for presenting information. Watch a few and see which ones resonate with you, and why. When preparing a 15-20 minute persuasive speech, having a simple message conveyed with stories and supported with images seems to work best.

Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson was a founding instructor at Pragmatic Institute, a role he held for more than 15 years before he left to start Under10 Playbook. In his return to Pragmatic Institute, Steve supports the complete learning path for product teams, ensuring they are fully armed for success. 

Over the course of his career, Steve has helped thousands of companies and tens of thousands of product professionals implement product management processes. He has worked in the high-tech arena since 1981, rising through the ranks from product manager to chief marketing officer. Steve has experience in technical, sales and marketing management positions at companies that specialize in both hardware and software. In addition, he is an author, speaker and advisor on product strategy and product management.


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