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Loved SXSW content. The presentations? Not so much.

God, can you imagine if George Bush was as good a speaker as Clinton? No, wait. Don't imagine that.

The ideas that were actually selling here at SxSW were the ones that were actually sold – by a fantastic speaker.

Now I agree, some ideas are so great they don’t need to be sold. For example, they day they discover a cure for cancer? They won’t need an ad agency. They can take out a classified ad in the Tulsa Weekly-Bugle and the world will know about it within a week. But for those of us with ideas less world-shaking, we will need to sell them.

Fact is, most of the presentations I saw this week kinda blew. The content was great, no question. Pretty much every presenter had something cool to say. (With one exception; one speaker was so 1998 she was puttin’ up slides about how “Consumers can now scan bar codes with their phones!” Dude. Please.)

The big difference in the transmission of ideas comes down to this: Passion. Power. Clarity. Energy.

I don’t care if you’re just on a stinkin’ panel about banner ads, when you have the mike you’ve been given the gift of the attention of 200 people and you’re failing if you do not knock it out with passion, power, clarity and energy. Of the sessions I attended, every single speaker failed. I know, I know, they weren’t all that way. In fact, at last night’s party at GSDM, most people were talking about Gary Vaynerchuk‘s speech. People were blown away by it. Blown away. Damn, I wish I’d seen it. I didn’t, but I heard about it. And you know what? Even if it turns out his speech was content I’m not really interested in, I woulda ended up interested in it because he made me interested.

President Bill Clinton came to speak here at the agency a couple a times (he’s best friends with Roy Spence, himself a legendary speaker). I remember watching Clinton that day and just soakin’ it in, trying to learn everything I could; his intensity; his command of the material; his pacing; his eye contact; his comfort in front of people; his accessibility. It was the full package and, man, it was mesmerizing.

So, if you agree we’re in the business of spreading ideas, of selling ideas, make it your business to learn how to speak publicly. To learn how to put on a kick-ass presentation.


My friend here at GSDM, Jenn Totten, she told me to CTFD. (Calm The Fuck Down, a hip abbreviation I predict will soon to be in the national lexicon.): “You are cranky, but you’re right. The panels were the worst. They all winged it. But I found the solo speakers to be pretty good across the board.” Another agency friend, Lauren Walker, agreed with Jenn. “The solo presenters were great. The panels were ‘eh’ and the discussions just tanked. There were certainly a lot of interesting topics to discuss but moderating a discussion is a fine art. It requires tact and a large knowledge base. Most of the discussions I attended were steered in one direction early on and stayed there. Next time, no discussions for me.”

Dang, I wished I’d been in those cool solo presentations. (BTW, folks. SXSW is very good about listening to feedback, so fill out those survey thingies.)

Final note: I really liked these “Ogilvy Notes” things I saw here and there. I wonder if my own agency oughta do something like this? Maybe have our own artists make big-ass drawings this cool, for those presentations we have to make more than once – like, say, agency themes, case histories, stuff like that. These boards are more interesting, more playful and informal than stupid Powerpoint slides.

Lessons from Day 2 @ SXSW. How To Listen. How To Speak.

I want you to read something my old friend, Jelly Helm, posted in his blog back in June of ‘09. He’d attended a conference and had this observation:

“Also interesting to me about the conference is the role technology and Attention Deficit Disorder play. Everyone tweeting and multitasking and blogging. Does it add more value to the conference? Does it spread learning out into the world? Is the world even listening? How does it change our individual experience of the conference? How does it affect our collective experience? … I tried un-plugging for a while and actually find myself more engaged when there are several streams competing for my attention. Also find myself listening harder for nuggets that may make for good things to share, which seems to be focusing me in a way that passive note-taking doesn’t.”

I’m not sure where I land on this topic, this idea of trying to pay attention to competing streams of information. Check out this guy.

I snapped this picture of him during one of Saturday’s sessions. He’s checkin’ his iPhone for either email, phone messages, text messages or his Twitter feed. He’s got his laptop open and from its screen I can tell he’s not taking notes and has open what appear to be two social streams. Meanwhile, the thing he paid $700 to see is happening 50 yards away and just out of his line of sight.

Trust me, I am not making fun of this guy. I do this too. I do it partly because it’s fun; it’s the digital version of passing notes in class. I do it partly because I don’t want to miss anything (even though I end up missing part of the very session I’m attending). But in the end, I think this kind of wide-open filterless information inhaling is good — during the learning phase. Sucking in vast amounts of information, early in the process, I think is beneficial to  problem-solving. But left unchecked, being plugged into competing streams of information softens — then kills — the problem-solving and creative process. At some point, true intelligence and true creativity require red-laser-beam focus.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe much of corporate America ever remembers to employ the laser-beam-focus part of the process. Workers today suffer from what Lynda Stone has dubbed “continuous partial attention.” In trying to pay attention to everything, we pay attention to nothing.

“Employees in info-intensive companies waste 28% of their time on unnecessary emails and other interruptions.” –Basex, reported in New York Times

“People who frequently check their email test less intelligent than people high on marijuana.” –Sam Anderson.

Of these, I prefer this more classic observation: “The hunter who chases two rabbits catches neither.”

But for today, I’m with this guy. I’ll be down there on the Hilton’s carpeting chasing all the rabbits. That’s okay. Me and my friend here, we’re in the learning phase at South By and we’re just tryin’ to take it all in.

Well, that’s a little bit about listening. As for speaking? I’m sure there are many excellent speakers at this conference but because of my schedule or just dumb luck, I haven’t seen them yet. Folks, if you take nothing away from this conference, know this: powerful and persuasive public speaking is crucial to anyone wishing to spread their ideas. I don’t care how cool your content is, if you suck as a speaker, it’s over. People will walk out because there is too much cool stuff out there competing for their attention.

When next you speak, get up there and belt it out: with passion, with clarity, and a burning desire to get the idea that’s boiling inside your head into the heads of your audience. I’ll close with this marvelous observation from Mark Fenske, a monstrously good ad professor at VCU Brandcenter.

Skinny Nerds @ #SXSW: They Are Our Bradbury’s, Our Gibson’s.

A prized possession: the issue with Bradbury's first draft of Fahrenheit 451, called The Fireman.

On the first day of SXSW Interactive I heard a speech by Ray Kurzweil from Mind Grub. Mr. Kurzweil proposed that in the year 2049 the world’s computer network will become so stinking smart it’ll turn into a “Singularity.” Though the word’s borrowed from astronomy, here it refers to the day when the raw power of the planet’s network surpasses human intelligence, takes over its own development, builds itself faster, feels emotion, makes ethical decisions, and becomes self-aware.

If that sounds like he rolled too many fat ones before going into see Judgement Day, consider that in a recent cover story, even the conservative Time magazine went on record to say:

“The difficult thing to keep sight of when you’re talking about the Singularity is that even though it sounds like science fiction, it isn’t, no more than a weather forecast is science fiction. It’s not a fringe idea; it’s a serious hypothesis about the future of life on Earth.”

Damn  … I love how often it’s the comic-book genre of science fiction that’s the first to part the curtains and show us the “future life on Earth.” And damn if these skinny geeks – these Ray Bradbury’s, these William Gibson’s – damn if they aren’t nailin’ it every time.

Remember Tom Cruise’s cool computer in Minority Report in 2002? That was five full years before Microsoft unveiled its “Surface” technology. And close to a decade before their Kinect’s 3D sensor.

Or check this one out. Back in 1951, in geeky lookin’ rags like the Galaxy you see above, nerds like Ray Bradbury were imagining Netflix, Skype, and augmented reality all rolled into one:

“The nursery was silent. It was empty as a jungle glade at hot high noon. The walls were blank and two-dimensional. Now, as George and Lydia Hadley stood in the center of the room, the walls began to purr and recede into crystalline distance, it seemed, and presently an African veldt appeared, in three dimensions, on all sides, in color reproduced to the final pebble and bit of straw. The ceiling above them became a deep sky with a hot yellow sun.” (from “The Veldt”)

And tonight the sci-fi nerds continue to imagine new things.

In fact, they’re linin’ up just down the road to see Jake Gyllenhaal pull in to promote the movie, Source Code, which premiers at the Paramount Theatre. And up here, high in Austin’s Hilton Hotel just outside Salon H, I find myself surrounded by the grandgeeks and great-grandgeeks of H.G.Wells and Bradbury.

They’re all here tonight, either behind the podiums or out in the audience diddling with their iPhones, and they’re all still imagining things into reality for us. Call ’em nerds. That’s okay, they’re used to it. They know the bumper sticker joke, the one about how the geeks shall inherit the earth. Thing is though? I’m pretty sure it’s true.

Seeking Advice, Counsel, Info on e-publishing.

I have two new manuscripts I’m looking forward to putting out there this summer. One is for a client (can’t say, but it’ll be cool and very useful). And the other is a personal work, for which this is the cover. I’ve been working on it since 1992 and am finally ready to market it.

I’m hoping to e-publish both sometime this summer and I’ve been doing tons of research on how format, how to launch, and how to market ebooks. But I still feel like I know close to nuthin’.

Anyway, a great place to start will be  SXSW Interactive here in Austin next week. I’ll be there soaking up as much as I can, beginning my trek at a gathering — “Books & Bytes” — hosted by Cave Henricks Communications and Shelton Interactive.

I’m reading as much as I can. Particularly enjoyed a book titled Plug Your Book by Steve Weber. But I am looking for more. Not just more, but the best, most concise, most helpful information out there. That’s why I’m turning to the crowd in the cloud.

What are the best 3 books to read to learn about launching/marketing a non-fiction ebook?

What are the best three blogs?

Who are the smartest people in this area for me to Friend or Follow?

Look forward to hearing from you. Thanks.