Book Review: Illuminate, by Nancy Duarte and Patti Sanchez

Casting Light on the Dark Arts of Communications

Any book on communications that starts out quoting 19th century French sociologist Émile Durkheim has my attention. The authors embrace his idea of ‘collective effervescence’ to describe the magic of a group sharing a common purpose.

Illuminate_CoverFor Duarte and Sanchez, the common purpose they champion in the recently published Illuminate is driven by leaders, whom they term ‘Torchbearers’, envisioning new possibilities. They ‘light the path’ as they set out to change the world and bring ’Travelers’ on the journey along with them. If this sounds like the plot to Lord of the Rings, well, in addition to Durkheim, they quote Frodo Baggins, Aragorn and the others as they motivate the hobbits to set out on the quest for the Ring.

However, this book is anything but a fairy tale.

Duarte, Inc is one of the premier communications agencies in Silicon Valley. Since it was founded in 1990, Nancy Duarte has built a stellar reputation as a PowerPoint guru (with her first book, slide:ology) and general communications consultant (cemented by Resonate, her second book). With ‘Illuminate’ she has broadened her scope to include not only presentations and speeches, but stories, ceremonies and symbols. These are all weapons in the ‘torchbearer’s toolkit’ that can be employed to affect what people think, feel and do as they move through what she calls the ‘five stages of a venture’: Dream, Leap, Fight, Climb, and Arrive. If this sounds like the content of a classic 4×5 matrix, well, you’ll find it summarized in a handy-dandy fold-out between pages 58 and 59.

A speech for all seasons

Using this taxonomy allows you to choose the right tool for the job depending which stage an audience is on the journey. While not a ‘paint by numbers’ approach to communications, after reading Illuminate you will know what to deploy if, say, you need to rally the troops. The advice is to deliver a ‘battle speech’ or tell an ‘overcome the enemy story’ or hold a ‘rally the spirits’ ceremony. What I really liked about the classification is that we’re not left with the usual Pollyanna advice that assumes everything is wonderful. Each stage addressees the negative as well as the positive. So if people in an organization are resistant to change we are told what we might hear them say (“I just don’t see how this could work”) and advised on how to craft and deliver a ‘revolution’ speech or ‘neglect the call’ story. By dealing with the dark side of communications Duarte & Sanchez have given leaders a robust set of guidelines well suited to the real world.

Peoplesoft DemiseSome of the most powerful parts of the book deal with how different organizations dealt with total failure: when PeopleSoft was bought by Oracle and the employees made the company sign into a makeshift memorial; how Coke reversed their disastrous decision to abandon Classic Coke; how Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, addressed her employees when they needed to recall faulty ignition switches that had caused deaths.

Rich Case Studies

I was struck by the degree of first-hand knowledge and insight in the case studies that conclude the main chapters. Each one includes an extensive narrative and quotes that make the study come alive. There’s a bonus a multi-point summary of highlights. Showing their Silicon Valley roots, Duarte & Sanchez’s case studies include the usual suspects— tech titans like IBM and Apple. But there’s also a floor-covering company, a non-profit, and a fast-food company. Most appropriately, the concluding study is of Duarte, Inc itself, detailing the transformation the company underwent as it pivoted to overhaul systems and improve operations.

Like her previous books, Illuminate is a beautifully designed, eminently readable, detailed account of the scenarios those of us in corporate communications face on a daily basis. Read it if your job is to enable the Torchbearer’s to ignite change, Frodo would certainly make sure it’s on his bookshelf back in the Shire.

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Silicon Valley Speechwriters Roundtable to host Matt Teper

Matt TeperThe Silicon Valley Speechwriters Roundtable will host a conversation with Matt Teper on Wednesday, February 24 at 11:45am Pacific. All are welcome to join this free conference call by registering here.

Matt is the Head of Editorial at Google, where he is the leader and founder of the Google Ink team, keeping participles undangled and corporate jargon untangled, in all of Google’s communications.

The team is responsible for defining the voice of Google in major speeches, executive presentations, op-ed’s, blog posts, social media, press statements, internal news, and all manner of creative and editorial work.

Matt is Eric Schmidt’s speechwriter.

Matt came to Google in 2012, from the White House, where he served as Vice President Joe Biden’s chief speechwriter.

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The Delights of the Weekend FT

FT LogoI’ve written before of the unlikely content carried by the Weekend Financial Times as well as the vivid prose that is found in the pink pages.

This weekend’s newspaper was a fascinating read. It contains a delightfully random mix of information you’ll find nowhere else:

  • A series of articles in the House & Home section nestled between ads for $23 million New York apartments. These give details of remodeling projects undertaken by members of the newspaper’s staff including the story of a 13-year-long tussle with bureaucrats in Spain to obtain permission to convert a farmhouse into a holiday home. This is followed by a correspondent’s humble upgrade to a garden greenhouse with broken glass panes. Other reports cover remodeling projects in Jakarta, Mozambique, Egypt and South Wales.
  • A prize-winning first-person report from a Bolivian navel base — 2,000km from the ocean — maintained by that landlocked nation (one of nine countries with no coastline that maintain navies).
  • The need for certain huskies on dog-sled teams in Arctic Norway to wear special jackets if they don’t have ‘sufficiently hairy testicles’ to combat the cold.
  • The fact that the average German today owns 10,000 objects, the average British household owns around £4,000 worth of clothes and 6-8% of US adults suffer from compulsive buying disorder or ‘oniomania’.
  • In 2002 a third of all employees in Japan lived in corporate housing.
  • A new book retells the story of The Merchant of Venice in the contemporary setting of Cheshire, my home county in England.
  • An airport is set to open on remote island of St. Helena which contains ‘the world’s most isolated hospital, police station, prison, distillery, cathedral and cricket ground.’
  • The ‘hipster economy’ includes a taste for craft beers, flat whites and beard balm. But there’s no mention of kombucha — surely the hippest of hipster beverages?
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Book Review: Keynote Mastery, by Patrick Schwerdtfeger

Keynote MasteryMy recent review on Amazon of the new book, Keynote Mastery: The Personal Journey of a Professional Speaker was incomplete. I need to explain in more detail the many positive elements of Patrick’s story as well as clarify why I referred to it on Amazon ‘flawed’ and show where other emerging speakers can learn from his mistakes. But make no mistake about it: this is a book every Toastmaster, self-employed professional, freelancer and gig-economy survivor should read. It contains first-hand information you’ll find nowhere else. Go buy it, now!

What I liked about Keynote Mastery

I’ve long been a fan of Patrick’s. We met during the time in 2008/09 that he was speaking for free, and I’ve attended his Meetup groups which are great networking occasions. I’ve also been to Jeff & Kane’s meetings, Stephanie Chandler’s Sacramento Speakers Network and Edith Yeung’s BizTech Day. Heck, I even knew an NSA member who spoke at the same event in Aruba as Patrick. His 2011 guest posting on my blog How to become a Keynote Speaker was an early iteration of the ideas in this book. Back in 2009 I blogged about his Webify Yourself presentation.

So, we swim in the same waters. The major difference between us is that Patrick makes his living as a professional speaker, while I’m at the coal-face in the corporate world. I have the utmost respect Patrick and his achievements.

This book is a treasure-trove of practical tips and tricks that will help anyone who wants to become a professional speaker, or simply a more successful freelancer in any field.

I especially like his worksheets that are referenced in the book and available for free download. For example, here’s eight tips for reducing nervousness found on one worksheet:

  1. Take five deep breaths (by exhaling more than usual).
  2. Give yourself permission to be nervous. Don’t fight it.
  3. Be a compassionate observer of your own emotions.
  4. Start a meditation practice. It will help you remain calm.
  5. Focus on the objective: your message and helping people.
  6. Look good. Wear an outfit that you feel confident in.
  7. Think positive. You’re a rock star. You deserve to be here.
  8. Survey the audience ahead of time. Look at their faces. They’re just people, and they want you to succeed.

This is not just a list he’s plucked out of thin air. Read the book and you’ll see when and where Patrick has employed these practices when suffering from anxiety and panic attacks before speaking (it happens to everyone sooner or later, knowing how a pro like Patrick overcame the issue is a tremendous help).

As I said in the Amazon review, this is an uncompromisingly personal book. Some might not care for the personal information he shares. I think it’s important to read about the challenges he had to overcome in his personal life to succeed. Thanks for being so honest, Patrick.

Other gems in the book include Chapter 55 on Speaking Fees. The reason no-one in the National Speakers Association (NSA) can share this level of detail is that the Association is legally bound not to discuss fees so there isn’t a perception of marketplace collusion. Patrick is not an NSA member–you’ll find details here you’ll find nowhere else.

I also liked his tips on how to structure a speech (Ch 40). His stories about the importance of cross-cultural sensitivity when speaking outside the USA are priceless. He’s also a master of Social Media who made a transition to speaking on other topics. Reading how he stayed ahead of the curve in developing a new niche is one of the best parts of the book.

Where Patrick’s book falls short

It might sound like nit-picking, but someone should have spent a little more time proofreading this book. (Of course, who am I to talk!). In Chapter 55 he references the National Speaker Association. In Ch 56 (at least in the Kindle Edition) there’s two whole paragraphs which are duplicated, first in italics, then in plain text.

National Speakers Association LogoMore importantly, in terms of substantive advice, Ch 59 on the National Speakers Association, needs correcting. He writes that NSA events take place on Saturday mornings and he hates weekend early mornings. Fair enough. But readers should be aware that this true of the Northern California Chapter and many regions meet at other times. The NSA is comprised of a wide range of keynote speakers, platform speakers, workshop and webinar hosts and even a speechwriter or two!

As a long-time NSA member I found myself, time and again, seeing ways in which Patrick could have cut years from his learning curve if he’d have only got out bed early some weekends and attended meetings, or, better yet, enrolled in the annual Speakers Academy (aka Pro-Track). I’ve blogged extensively about mine and others experiences in this year-long speaker training program.

To take a couple of examples of the benefits of the NSA that address challenges Patrick faced. In Ch 22 (Make It Funny!) he writes that he believes he could double or triple his business if he was funnier. Our local NSA chapter has held many workshops on humor. There’s even a group within NSA who focus exclusively on humor.

GSF logoPatrick loves to speak internationally. The Global Speakers Federation (which every NSA member is automatically a member of) shares leads and information with speaking organizations in Canada, South Africa, France, Singapore, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Belgium, Holland, the UK & Ireland. I’ve spoken (for free, like Patrick!) at a PSA event in the UK.

Finally, there are many speakers who make a good living from selling informational products to their audiences. While Patrick has had some success in this area, I can’t help but think that he’s left a lot of money on the table over the years, and could have learned from NSA members who know how to make big bucks while they are sleeping.

In Summary

Unlike Patrick, I’m not a single guy whose been able to live off credit cards and eat chicken thighs and broccoli for dinner night after night while I built my career. I’ve a family to support. Indeed, I’m one of the ‘distraction-free’ people he writes about in Ch 58 who work in tall office buildings in San Francisco. But I’ve been laid off from corporate jobs more than once and survived as a freelancer. In an era when there’s no real job security, the lessons Patrick shares about his decade-long struggle to make a living as a self-employed professional speaker are invaluable.

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Toastmaster Magazine: Learning to Write for Others

I’m pleased to have an article in the current January edition of Toastmaster Magazine. With the editors kind permission, here’s the text of Learning to Write for Others for you to download and read. I discuss the ways the Toastmaster Competent Communicator program helped me become a better speechwriter.

Unfortunately the typo in the first sentence slipped by the proofreaders: it should read “are a great first step”, not “is a great first step”. But hey, it’s only in a publication sent to over 300,000 Toastmasters worldwide… :-)

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Meeting Report: Success Secrets for Small Businesses

Rick GilbertPast NSA Northern California Chapter President Rick Gilbert presented ‘Mind-Blowing Success Secrets for Small Businesses’ at the Saturday Chapter meeting.

Back in the 1980’s Rick quit his job in Silicon Valley to found Power Speaking, an organization that delivers transformational workshops and executive coaching to turn people into world-class speakers.

His 2014 guest posting in this blog outlines many of the successful techniques he shares with middle managers who want to learn avoid common pitfalls when presenting to the C-Suite.

Rick shared the lessons he learned over the past 30 years, building his company from the proverbial Rolodex in the bedroom in 1985 to a company with 35 employees and a world-wide footprint. He found that much of the standard small business advice was not helpful. Such bromides as “winners never quit,” or “work/life balance,” or “have a positive mental attitude” are, Rick claims, mostly useless nonsense.

His uncommon strategies to help build a successful small business include:

  • There’s no such thing as ‘work/life balance’ and women who want to be successful business owners will need a supportive partner and plenty of help.
  • Avoid the wrath of the IRS and State Tax authorities and make everyone you hire a part-time employee rather than a contractor.
  • Think more like a a jazz musician than a classical musician and be willing to improvise.
  • Understand your strengths and weaknesses and build partnerships to compensate. Rick developed an idea that in the speaking business people are either a ‘Greek’ or a ‘Roman’. Those who are Greeks care about passion and poetry while the Romans are all about power and money. Greeks need to partner with a solid Roman to succeed.
  • Kill PowerPoint. Rick recommended Whiteboard Selling: Empowering Sales Through Visuals, by Corey Sommers as a more effective approach.
  • Being a quitter and a pessimist is good for business. Rick substuties ‘Insanity’ for ‘Success’ in Winston Churchill’s statement that “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” Know when to quit.
  • Every small business owner should be slow to hire additional staff and quick to fire those who don’t work out.
  • It’s essential to take calculated risks to succeed. He quotes Orville Wright who, in 1910, took his 82-year-old father on his first and only flight. As Orville gained elevation, his excited father cried out, “Higher, Orville, higher!” Taking no risk is the biggest risk of all.

If you’d like to read more of Rick’s wit & wisdom I highly recommend checking out the social commentary and writing on his blog. After all, it’s not often an NSA member happened to be in Golden Gate Park one day in 1966 to take an incredible series of black & white pictures of the legendary Janis Joplin:

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Meeting Report: Systems for Professional Speakers

Ruby Newell-Legner Colorado-based customer satisfaction expert Ruby Newell-Legner, CSP — the current President of the National Speakers Association — was the featured presenter at Saturday’s NSA Northern California Chapter meeting.

Ruby shared many of the tips and tricks she has learned while building her speaking business in the sports, leisure and entertainment industries.

As an award-winning, customer satisfaction expert who speaks professionally, Ruby is well known for being a “Fan Experience Evangelist.” Whether focusing on internal or external customer service, she works with organizations to build better relationships: from front-line employees to customers, between co-workers and their peers, and from managers to the employees they supervise. Her blue-ribbon client list include 28 professional sports teams. She trained the staff for Super Bowl 41, the 2008 US Open and the 2010 Olympics.

Niche Marketing

Ruby became a celebrity in her niche market and built a thriving business through referrals. The importance of owning a niche is well-known in the speaking business. Ruby highlighted how presenting at industry association meetings enabled her to get in front of the people who could hire her. She expressly believes in ‘paying it forward’ and making sure the meeting planner looks good, no matter what it takes.

In her market, the football teams and stadiums that like her work are happy to refer her to baseball and hockey organizations who in no way compete with them. She adds value to each group by sharing best practices between industries.

Efficient Systems

Ruby has developed systems to improve her efficiency. Working with her virtual assistant she uses a 37-step checklist to coordinate each and every booking. This ranges from checking all the logistics are handled to customizing presentation material and printing two copies of the specific introduction she wants the person introducing her onstage to read: in large font with key points in red.

She has systematized referral gathering by the creative use of evaluation forms. These evaluations go far beyond the standard ‘smile sheets’. The feedback she collects from the audience includes a list of what each person learned from her presentation. She asks audience members to check-mark programs they would like her to present in the future. She asks for testimonial quotes. She adds value by sharing this data from the audience with the meeting planner — showing what parts of the program resonated and what the audience wants her to do at their next meeting. Assumptive marketing at its best! The audience members who check the box to learn more get a follow-up call.

By being herself, developing niche market expertise and delivering value to her clients Ruby has built a great speaking business.

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Avoiding Misquotations

Quote YouNothing spices up a speech better than an apt quotation. Someone else’s words help to reinforce your ideas, boost your credibility and demonstrate your learning. However, delivering a misquotation quickly undermines your credibility and can make you appear foolish. We live in a time when the audiences can instantly fact-check a speech on their always-on, internet-enabled mobile devices. So it pays to double-check each quotation. And it’s very easy to misquote famous people. In many cases, well-known quotes were never uttered.

Writing in today’s Financial Times, John Kay lists a series of misquotes that, while common currency, are not accurate. For example:

  • “Play it again, Sam” — was never spoken by Humphrey Bogart’s character, Rick, in Casablanca.
  • “My only regret in life is that I did not drink more champagne” — were not British economist John Maynard Keynes’ dying words (he said this at a Cambridge University event while in rude health).
  • There is no evidence that Oscar Wilde ever said “Youth is wasted on the young.”
  • Winston Churchill never said “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Nor did he say “Success is going from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.”

There is, however, a valuable resource at Quote Investigator which examines the validity of famous quotes.

Unfortunately it groups quotes by speaker, not by topic. This means it’s not as useful as sites like Brainyquote and Wikiquote for finding a quote on a specific topic. But it’s well worth checking into the origins of any quotation you do plan to use on Quote Investigator, or just browsing for inspiration.

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Speechwriting in Ancient Rome (II)

CiceroRe-reading the wonderful historical novel on the life of Cicero by author Robert Harris – Imperium: A Novel of Ancient Rome that I last enjoyed back in 2010 I was struck by this quote on the effort Cicero expended when he was preparing a speech (p. 83):

No one can really claim to know politics properly until he has stayed up all night writing a speech for delivery the following day. While the world sleeps, the orator paces by lamplight, wondering what madness ever brought him to this occupation in the first place. Arguments are prepared and discarded. The exhausted mind ceases to have any coherent grip upon the purpose of the enterprise, so that often — usually an hour or two after midnight — there comes a point where failing to turn up, feigning illness, and hiding at home seems the only realistic options. And then, somehow, just as panic and humiliation beckon, the parts cohere, and there it is: a speech. A second-rate orator now retires gratefully to bed. A Cicero stays up and commits it to memory.

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Slow Train Coming

Writing in the Weekend FT, Matthew Engel highlights the benefits of modern railway systems and notes that the UK and US both have their unique limitations.

The British invented the railways and spread them across the world. I grew up in the rail town of Crewe, which was always considered something of a joke, as depicted in the 19th Century music hall song Oh! Mr. Porter

Oh! Mr Porter, what shall I do?
I want to go to Birmingham
And they’re taking me on to Crewe,
Send me back to London, as quickly as you can,
Oh! Mr Porter, what a silly girl I am.

Many in Britain have had the experience of changing trains on Crewe Station. A select few call the town of 60,000 their home. It’s been in decline since the locomotive works closed and Rolls-Royce motors moved (although luxury Bentley’s are still manufactured there).

High Speed Network planned

However, plans are afoot to change the whole basis of a Victorian rail network trying to compete with French TGV’s and Japanese and Chinese bullet trains.

Engel notes it is facing an uphill struggle:

HS2, the planned multibillion pound, 170mph high-speed line from London to the north that is the government’s pet project, is almost universally derided. The concept is indeed flawed — it offers too few useful connections with existing lines — but on all current projections it is essential, not for its extra speed but for the extra capacity to deal with record numbers of passengers.

The local Crewe newspaper recently announced that a £5bn HS2 “super hub” station will be built in Crewe. It’s slated to open in 2027 and will help deliver more than 120,000 new jobs and see over 100,000 new homes built across the region. Anyone wanting to enjoy the bucolic Cheshire countryside would be advised to do so while it remains.

Crewe HS2 Station

Good Morning, America, How Are You?

The rail network in the US is quite different. As generations of hobos and Matthew Engel have noted:

..the 140,000 miles of railroad are synonymous with freight trains, which still play a major part in the US economy. Indeed, outside the Amtrak-owned Boswash corridor, the freight companies own the tracks: if there is a question of priority, it’s the passengers who are likely to get shunted into a siding. (This is almost exactly the opposite to the UK, where freight traffic has always been marginal and is now in decline yet again, because of the closure of coal-fired power stations, the withdrawal of biomass subsidies, and the collapse of the domestic steel industry.)

Plans to launch high-speed trains between LA and San Francisco and cities a similar distance apart in Texas and the North East, are, like Britain’s HS2 plans, being measured in decades, not years.

All of this is in stark contrast to the rail network in China where over 10,000 miles of track serves over 2.5 million riders.The 800+ mile journey from Beijing to Shanghai takes just 5 hours.

Engel concludes:

A successful public transport system is a national benefit. William Gladstone understood this in Victorian times; Japan, China and most of western Europe accept it explicitly. For much of the world, the past 40 years have indeed been the second age of the train. British politicians get the point implicitly but execute policy furtively and cack-handedly; only American Republicans are visceral and obstructive deniers.

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