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.