Let’s imagine what it is like to be Guy Kawasaki for a moment. He’s the captain of the ‘I once walked with Jesus’ team of global presentation and pitching gurus. His post Steve Jobs sidekicks are Garr Reynolds, Nancy Duarte and that other bloke whose name I can never remember. I’ve never seen any of them speak, though I do like Ms Duarte’s books, and Garr’s way with a metaphor. I booked to go to this conference partly because Mr K was speaking, and I intended to shine a harsh light on his skills; and I was hoping that he would be very good, I’m not one of those people who thinks that a great way to build their profile is to deliberately disagree with a God.
Guy Kawasaki is, of course an ex-Apple guy, best known for his writing on pitching for start ups, innovation and other tech type stuff. In fact, he referred to himself as a ‘publishing platform’ in response to a ‘how can you be tweeting while you’re talking to us…’ question. ‘I have staff to do that for me..’, was the honest answer he gave, though I reflected that if he is to call himself any kind of platform, he probably needs to be a little bit taller.
Anyway, the petite Mr Kawasaki is now, according to his bio, the ‘official evangelist’ for online graphic design darling Canva, (the clever and stylish Australian startup superstar of the past 2 years), so maybe the metaphor at the start of the first paragraph is apt. He was at this gathering of presentation geeks to preach to us all about Canva, and also – so the title of his speech told us, to enlighten us about how to get a standing ovation every time we speak.
I’m not going to be negative. I loved his hour of chat to this little conference in a gaudy room, in a tired hotel in the flood-shamed city of New Orleans. He brought a bit of human warmth to the conference, and outdid my expectations of him. He wasn’t perfect though. And I want to explore what was good and not so good about his performance, to see what we lesser spotted versions of himself can learn for our own times on stage.
There’s a famous story about Winston Churchill, a sweat-stained drunkard for most of his later life, but a hugely revered speaker and leader earlier and in certain parts of the world, at least. Churchill had just heard his political opponent, Clement Attlee make a reasonable speech in the UK’s parliament. Attlee, the competent and dogged leader of the socialist Labour Party after World War 2, had no such rep as a speaker. He was at best competent, and at worst comically dull. Churchill rose to respond to this better than usual effort, as the rules required, and he said this
‘Mr Attlee has given us a speech that was both interesting and original. Unfortunately the original bits weren’t interesting and the interesting bits weren’t original’
Well, I feel a little bit like that about Guy Kawasaki’s effort in NOLA. Just change ‘interesting’ for well-rehearsed and ‘original’ for engaging.
The first lesson for us to learn from Guy is that his speech was confused. There was the ’10 points to remember to help you get a ‘standing o’, and even he sounded bored with that. Then there was a sparky audience Q&A about anything we wanted to talk about, and that was really good. Then there was a weird demonstration of Canva that didn’t really ignite anything much in the audience, and he had a great chance to start a fire. A lot of us were already users and fans of Canva so he could really have found that out and made us evangelists too. *
The fact that he tried to do 3 things with his hour, meant that the whole message was too broken up to be coherent, and it could, with a lesser presence, have pissed off the crowd, and left us feeling short-changed.
But he was good, overall, and that leads us to the second lesson. Because the thing that made him good for me, weren’t the prepared parts of his talk which – thanks of course to the frequency and sheer volume of his platform’s outpouring, I’d read, seen tweeted, and heard before, in full, quite a few times. It was what happened after he ran out of the overtired prepared stuff and started really engaging with the audience in the QnA.
Here, Mr Kawasaki came across as a charming, respectful and modest man. He was also opinionated, controversial (political prejudices expressed, mild bad language used, tales told out of school etc), and that is hard to get away with unless you’re super smooth. He is. That degree of charm is so rare in such a well-paid platform speaker, on such a well-trodden route. Such warmth and charisma is definitely his biggest asset as a high-end speaker, and that is what will stick with me as I try to remember his ’10 things that will get you a standing ovation.’
I can’t actually remember any of the 10 things, but I do remember the courtesy of his answers to some pretty inane questions (mine may well have been one of them), and his eyebrow-raising answers to the better ones – though I’ve forgotten the questions and the answers too. Sorry. I’ll remember the courtesy, and the quality of the connection that he built with the 300 or so people that were in that poorly lit room with the weak coffee, eye-wateringly awful carpet and appalling curtains. So despite the fact that I’ve forgotten nearly everything he said, the chances are that I will look them up for myself, and I will buy his books (and I can’t remember the names of any of them either). But because I liked him, I will take action.
Research says that an audience only remembers about 5 % of what they hear in an hour-long presentation, 72 hours after the speaker has climbed into his chauffeur driven car and been whisked away to his next fully-funded engagement. That’s about right in my experience. So in Guy’s case I probably remember much less than 5%, but I will never forget that he seemed a very nice man. And I think that the point for most of us who dare to stand up in front of other people to speak is pretty powerful.
Do what you can with your story, your slides and your schtick before you get into the room, but as soon as you’re in, work even harder to be a decent, thoughtful and respectful human being, and that will get your much further than you think.
Charisma, for that is what GK has by any other name, is a combination of status, confidence and social skill. So many people of high status and confidence forget the last piece of the jigsaw. So for all of my sarcasm and criticism, I loved seeing him work, and would pay to see him again.
*My friend and much admired presentation expert Kirsty Hollis from the fab team at Sydney Australia based Presentation Studio – ‘We breathe life into your presentations’, did a much better job of evangelizing Canva the day before in her presentation break-out session. I rather cruelly tweeted this opinion after mr K’s presentation, and he, charming as ever, answered thus…
**Winston Churchill was mostly horrible about all of his peers, and that lack of generosity is reflected in the caveats that people put on what should be a golden reputation.