Saturday, April 30, 2011
Presentations into Conversations
I recently went to Seattle’s Town Hall to hear Paul Allen being interviewed by Todd Bishop from Geekwire. Mr. Allen, who is usually a very private person, has been traversing the country, appearing on Sixty Minutes, etc. to promote his memoir, Idea Man.
In the ladies restroom before the program, a young woman commented, “I don’t know what I’m doing here. Allen is always so awkward and uncomfortable.” I expect a lot of people who paid their $5.00 were thinking the same thing.
Bishop and a healthy-looking Allen walked on stage and seated themselves in comfortable living room chairs. Bishop began by saying, “I want to start by asking the question that is on everyone’s minds. I know you’ve had your ups and downs with this individual. Will Matt Hasselback sign on with the Seahawks?” The crowd erupted in laughter and it set the tone for the entire entertaining evening. Allen was charming and answered every question and those from the audience with candor, humor, and thoughtfulness.
When Allen was questioned about why he was putting Gates and Balmer in a bad light, he said it was necessary to do justice to his own story and neither has said the events mentioned in the book didn’t happen. (I read the reason these two were discussing limiting Allen’s ownership of Microsoft was not because they wanted to cheat him but as a legitimate concern they might lose control of the company to relatives, should Allen die from his cancer.) In any case, Allen, who implies in his book that he was under-appreciated, says everyone remains friends.
Bishop asked him about his yachts and his submarine. Allen spoke about descending 1000 feet down to the ocean floor. He said it was dark and there were really strange animals but when you put on some Pink Floyd, it was fantastic.
One can’t help be impressed with Allen’s consistent curiosity and creativity from the Experience Music Project to rocket ships and sport teams, despite his many failures. He said, “Maybe readers will learn from all the mistakes I’ve made.” Allen spoke about how his two bouts with cancer had changed his outlook and his actions. He got applause when he spoke about how his Brain Institute makes all their research available to anyone in the world for free and how important it was for him to leave a worthwhile legacy. And he introduced the first love of his life, Rita, who was sitting in the front row with her husband.
It's becoming commonplace to have these “keynote conversations” with authors and celebrities. These are done in a relaxed manner and the expert doesn’t have to stress over preparing a formal presentation. You might suggest this approach instead of just a monologue for your next speech.
This doesn’t mean you don’t prepare for these “conversations.” The speaker still needs to thoroughly analyze and engage his audience. Allen called for a show of hands of programmers in the audience and then waxed poetic about solving code problems at 3 a.m. and asking them, “Isn’t that a great feeling?”
It’s critical to have a knowledgeable interviewer and to go over what issues need to be brought forth. At Town Hall, questions from the audience were solicited beforehand on cards. Bishop quickly chose ones that provided a lively discussion with Allen. It was a thoroughly enjoyable “conversation.” And thank heavens, not one Power Point slide!
Resourses: Nerve: Poise Under Pressure, Serenity Under Stress, and the Brave New Science of Fear and Cool by Taylor Clark. Anxiety is now ahead of depression as the most prevalent mental health issue in U.S. This book gives any examples of why and how some people thrive under pressure and some falter. Clark gives ideas on how to work through fears, whether for public speaking or just about anything else in life.