The effects of global warming go to the highest levels of power. As things heat up, conditions become more jungle-like. And where there’s jungle, there’s monkey colony behavior, particularly among leaders of countries and companies.
Like displays of physical prowess from alpha warrior monkeys to warn off up-and-coming males.
Or making a very public display of mating with the most desirable females.
And then there’s this.
Steve Ballmer and his crazy on-stage monkey dances have attracted a lot of media attention and on-line ridicule.
But when you consider Ballmer’s situation, his approach makes a lot of sense.
Following Up Bill
Taking over from Bill Gates is a difficult follow-up act. There has been a lot of presentation analysis of Gates, usually as a direct comparison to Steve Jobs, focusing on his crowded slides and his Kermit-y vocal tones. I think this criticism missed the point of what Gates was: the king of the developers.
I worked on some of his roadshows in the 90’s, where he’d fly into town and do six or seven hour-long presentations in a day, to wildly differing audiences – clients, staff, government, hard-core coders. Everyone would try to catch him out with some obscure question about code compatibility, and he’d answer all of them with a level of detail that suggested he’d been working on nothing but thatissue for the last month, rather than driving a global corporation.
His whole persona underlined the fact that, whatever his motivations, he was brainier than anyone else and that’s a quality you want in a software guy.
Stepping Into the Buzz Aldrin Role
Then in comes Ballmer. He could so easily become a Similar-But-Not-As-Good Guy, like the one that took over from Steve Jobs on the Apple speeches. Whatever his name is.
Rather than going for Gates-Lite, Ballmer has carved out a distinctive entity for himself, by working to his own strengths.
He’s enthusiastic, energetic and outspoken. Rather than try to tone it down like a regular CEO with conservative speech advisors, he’s turned it up to 11.
And he’s a big, dominant-looking guy. If he had a Gates physique, the monkey dance and the teeth-baring would look weird and creepy, like Tom Cruise on the Oprah couch. But the antics really suit Ballmer’s size and shape. His stage moves remind you of a scene from Jungle Book.
Sometimes Mad Is Good
Sometimes the possibility of mild insanity is a good thing in a leader, though Ballmer is clearly less mad than his stage persona. I bet the Microsoft staff appreciate having a fundamentalist warrior at the helm, confiscating audience iPhones and howling threats at the competitors. These are the leaders you follow, because they’re on a mission, and if that involves building a pyramid of competitors’ skulls in the lobby, all the better.
The unpredictability factor also helps keep the audience interest up. Most audiences can tell you what the average CEO will say before they say it. “These are challenging times. We must all work smarter, not harder. We shall be rolling out some exciting new initiatives. We are all one team. Etc.”
Not Steve. Just as decades of audiences went to see Ozzy Osbourne just to see if he’d bite the head off a bat again, Ballmer audiences know they could be just a moment away from an outburst that will melt Youtube’s servers. That’s a big incentive to make people turn up, and pay attention.
And it’s worked. The fact that we even know his name via mainstream media is a major endorsement of his communication strategy.
You go, Ballmer! Ignore the critics and keep it simian!
There must be a PhD thesis in the anti-productivity effect of long holidays. Two weeks back and I’m still struggling to become a useful part of the business world.
I’ve got all the tools laid out before me: laptop, phone, notepad, the specific brand of pen that I trust to generate ideas. But it’s like a chimpanzee tea party, and I’m still sticking teacups into the middle of my forehead and thinking in nonsensical grunts.
Which is pretty much the right frame of mind for photo editing – sorting through hundreds of fairly identical shots, trying to work out which CEO portrait has that magical king-of-beasts eye glint and shoulder tilt.
Photos are the best way to set your presentation apart and help people remember what you said: shots of your product, your people, your stores, or anything else to break up the wall of words.
Get a better background
The best way to make anything look better in a picture is to put it against a better background. When most people take shots, they’re concentrating so hard on the subject that the setting doesn’t get noticed.
Here’s an executive, photographed with a flash against a standard wall of photo paper.
This can look pretty flat, particularly when you have lots of execs in the same setting.
Now let’s take some similar-looking executives and take them outside, where there are interesting shapes and colours that can lift the background mood, and sympathetic natural light.
Shots taken in and around offices tend to be quite depressing. You don’t notice the clutter of old fax machines, memos pinned to boards, and Garfield coffee mugs when you’re taking the snap, but it makes for a pretty ordinary image. Particularly with the added harshness of fluoro lighting.
Here’s a perfectly pleasant-looking IT guy, in his natural habitat.
Now let’s take 3 other IT guys, and put them on a better background, and in this case, a reflective foreground. And lower the camera for a bit of drama. Now they look like cool crime fighters defusing a bomb.
Background is just as important for product images. Here’s the attractively-designed Breville Citrus Press in its naked form.
Here’s the same item, after we made a better background for it. Now it’s something to aspire to.
Yes, we used a stylist and rented a nice kitchen for the juicer shot. But there’s a lot you can do even when you’re shooting by yourself with a cheap camera.
Borrow a friend’s nice house to shoot your product in. Think how people actually use it, and put it in that context, rather than up against the nearest wall.
Shoot staff photos in the lobby of someone else’s good-looking new office block, which are always full of Barcelona chairs and nice diffused white light. Or use a stylish cafe as a setting.
For more tips on creating images that jump out, read this excellent article by Andrew Gibson. It’s about travel photography, but the same rules apply to taking interesting shots for presentations, particularly the bits about later afternoon light and finding blocks of colour.
Next post, we’ll look at a different kind of background – what’s actually behind you, the presenter, and how it can transform the effectiveness of your message.
That’s it for the re-runs folks, the five week expedition is over and I’m back reporting live at the blog desk. Dammit!
Apart from the obvious delights of wandering around Europe in summer, it was bliss to be totally free of media as (so I’m told) week after week of Michael Jackson news analysis unfolded.
It’s always instructive to see how communication works when you can hardly do it at all. I know enough Italian and German to order food and understand childrens’ books on which farm animal is which.
With French I’m on shakier ground, with a high probability of ordering the horse. With lots of goofy miming.
And then there’s the French themselves. Oh, how people like to warn you about their national character. Haughty. Arrogant. Dismissive. Disdainful. All qualities that every French person we met showed absolutely none of. They were all perfectly pleasant and hospitable.
Why so? It takes about 10 minutes in the country to learn that the French have a rigid system of manners that requires you to say a cheery ‘Bonjour, madame!’-style greeting when you enter a shop. And learn how to say, in enthusiastic French, “I am a confused Australian and my French is non-existent, do you speak English?” and they’re just fine. That’s all it takes.
But if you walk in and don’t say ‘hello’, you’ve got yourself a one-way ticket to the conversational leper colony, my friend.
No matter who you’re talking to, manners are important. We’ve spoken many times here about the importance of learning your audience’s language as the first step to winning them over.
Next time you have to talk to a tough audience, ask yourself if the perceived threat is a little overblown, like all the warnings about French people from people who’ve tried speaking to them in English, then tried SHOUTING AT THEM IN ENGLISH. With a little research into how your audience sees things, you’ll probably get on perfectly fine.
By the way, another French stereotype that proved to be untrue: I did seen a Parisian organ grinder, but where there should have been a mischievous monkey, there was a ginger cat attached with string. That must really kill the cash flow.
French stereotypes that are totally true: small dogs where small dogs shouldn’t be, people sitting on trains reading existentialist novels with titles like ‘The Man Without A Head’, and pretty much everyone smoking like they’re at an audition for Mad Men.
Our Paris correspondent, John, writes in with an ancestor of Pete’s Law, the replacement of all PowerPoint with a Word document no more than 2 pages long.
Apparently Winston Churchill required all reports to be submitted on one sheet of paper so as not to slow down the war effort. He was a man who understood that clear communication can sometimes be a matter of life or death.
Presentation equipment rarely makes the evening news. You seldom see a segment called “Bank robbed with radio microphone” or “New study: Clip art linked to long term brain damage.”
But since China developed weapons-grade laser pointers with anti-aircraft capability, toting a laser pointer practically makes you a terrorist.
In Australia, for example, it is now illegal to import a laser pointer stronger than 1 milliwatt. Bad news for presenters who want to make a point REALLY STRONGLY.
Do You Need a Laser Pointer?
The term Laser Pointer implies incredible accuracy in making your point. But in reality, you may be better off without one.
Why? They can be quite distracting. Unless you have the steady hands of a sniper, they buzz around the screen like a firefly, exerting a kind of hypnotic effect on audiences who look at the dot rather than the image underneath.
Simplify Your Graphics Instead
If you need a laser pointer to show them where to look, it may be a sign that your graphics need simplifying. If you keep it down to one idea per slide, you shouldn’t have to navigate them through each image.
There are exceptions. If you’re presenting complex graphs, for example, or satellite shots of enemy missile installations, where a laser pointer adds a cool ‘space death ray’ effect.
Switch Off Before You Move It
Use them in short bursts. When you’ve made your point, switch it off before you move it away, to ensure minimum wiggle.
Here’s a short ad with laser pointers in it, mainly because we’re currently low on material under the ‘Monkeys’ tag.
Our friend Nigel, who used to be with Scene Change, has just taken charge of his own kingdom. He’s the General Manager of a luxury resort on Malaysia’s Langkawi Island.
Nigel is an incredibly spick’n’span kind of guy, and very fussy about everything being perfect for his guests.
Only one factor stands in his way – the local monkey population, which regard his resort as a kind of all-you-can-eat buffet.
“They’ve learned to break into the hotel mini-bars, open up the Coke bottles and drink them – see attached pic. At the resort on the other side of the island some of them have learned how to use plastic shopping bags and can literally walk out of your room with a bag full of booty - to be discarded later when it is discovered that it can’t be eaten. Try explaining that to guests…”
We can picture Nigel flourishing his monkey stick, thrusting and parrying Errol Flynn-style as he defends the honour of his hotel against the hairy caffeine-crazed invaders.
And the relevance of this to presentations?
Interesting Pictures Work
That monkey at the top made you look, didn’t it? A Coke-drinking monkey has that ‘what’s going on here?’ appeal that makes people want to read or hear more.
Interesting pictures - as distinct from the usual stock shots of businessmen shaking hands - will transform the effectiveness of your presentation, because they appeal to people on an emotional level that bullet points will never reach.
Particularly animals. They don’t have to be directly relevant to your topic, but they’re pretty easy to use metaphorically. We advertising people have been putting innocent animals to work on the page and screen since the dawn of time. People love monkeys. Dogs and elephants too.
If you can’t work animals into it, fame and glamour also get their attention fast.
So here’s a shot of Nigel in Shanghai accepting an award for ‘Best Malaysian Resort Hotel’ from Miss World Zhang Zi Lin. Actually, she’s quite glamorous too.
Ian Whitworth believes passionately in the power of live communication, without the buzzwords and bullet points. He works as a creative director and principal of agency A Lizard Drinking. He is also one of the founders of audiovisual company Scene Change. Ian is an ex-professional presenter and long ago, ex-audiovisual technician. For non-presentation stuff, try @ianwhitworth.