Book Review: Screenwriting – The Sequence Approach (Paul Joseph Gulino)

The premise of this book is that big films are made up of little films called sequences, each lasting 8 to 15 minutes. Each sequence consists of three parts: setup/beginning/situation, development/rising action/complication, and partial resolution.  Each partial resolution creates anticipation as it “opens up new issues, which in turn become the subject of subsequent sequences.”

The book explores the following four tools used to build anticipation and or tension:

  1.  Telegraphing/Pointing/Advertising: Common examples are appointments and deadlines as well as preparations (ex: packing a suitcase). This also serves the important function of helping orient the audience as to where they are in the journey.
  2. Dangling cause: Expressions of intent in which the effect is not felt until later. Common examples include warnings, treats, statements of hopes or fears, and predictions.
  3. Dramatic irony: Occurs when the audience knows more than one (or more) of the characters and is waiting to see what happens when the truth is revealed.  Can create suspense or comedy.
  4. Dramatic tension:  Occurs when neither the audience nor the characters know how a problem will be resolved.

A typical film has 8 sequences (2 in Act I, 4 in Act II, and 2 in Act III) serving the following function:

  1. Act I
    1. Sequence A
      • Open with an exterior long shot or interior close up to orient the audience.
      • Hook the audience immediately by rousing curiosity with a puzzle
      • Give a sense of what the protagonist’s life would be like if the events that led to the story had not interfered. This includes the “rules of the world” so that the audience knows what is possible, what to hope for, and what to be afraid of.
      • End with an instability that forces the protagonist to respond to an inciting incident
    2. Sequence B
      • Whatever solution the protagonist tries to solve the inciting incident from Sequence A should lead to an even bigger problem that frames the dramatic question that shapes the rest of the film
  2. Act II
    1. Sequence C
      • First attempt to solve the problem that arose at the end of Sequence B
      • Note that you can either (a) solve the problem but in the process create a new, bigger problem, or (b) make the old problem even worse
      • Here, the protagonist often switches from reluctant hero to driven hero (or vice-versa)
    2. Sequence D
      • Offer a glimpse of the actual resolution of the dramatic question or its mirror opposite. The protagonist may be able to choose freedom, but does not do so for an important reason.
    3. Sequence E
      • Opportunity to introduce new characters and/or subplots
    4. Sequence F
      • Often a low point, but could also be a significant reframing of the main tension
  3. Act III
    1. Sequence G
      • Increasingly high stakes, often at a frenzied pace leading to an all hope is lost moment
    2. Sequence H
      • Final resolution often triggered by a major twist
      • All instability must be conclusively settled and all subplots must be closed. This is the “and they lived happily ever after” part. (Or, unhappily ever after).

Other useful tips:

-          “Coincidences that hurt a protagonist tend to work in drama, and are viewed suspiciously if they help.”

-          “… it must seem as though what the movie is what happens despite what the characters want or expect.”

-          “Human nature being what it is, chances are the man will do the easiest thing first, and only if that fails will he try a more difficult course of action.” Often characters have no other choice, or a choice between the lesser of two evils.

-          Try to “smuggle” exposition (background information the audience needs to know) as a subtext of underlying action (arguments where people attack and defend, persuasion, seduction, reassurance) and NOT as an explanation

-          Create believability through foreshadowing (which the author refers to as the use of motifs that are later paid-off)

-          Audiences occasionally need “recapitulation scenes” to review important information they may have missed that sets up future action

-          Character arc = In the face of major challenge, the protagonist must give up her (known) want to obtain her (unknown) true need. Only then will she realize the fundamental truth that is the theme of the story.

-          Subplots have three main functions: (a) plot function – to help or hinder the protagonist, (b) thematic function – to show variations on the theme by presenting alternative ways of solving problems, and (c) structural function – to retard/delay the main plot and thereby intensify it

McKinsey Presentation Tips – Gene Zelazny at Wharton

In the Spring of 2001, McKinsey presentation guru Gene Zelazny shared public speaking insights gleaned over his forty-plus year career (video at bottom of post).  Here, I have summarized his very well structured tips:



1. The only thing that matters at the end of your presentation is the answer to the question: Did I accomplish my objective.

2. Nervousness is natural and should be viewed as a sign of respect for your audience.  Accept that you will make mistakes.


I. Define the situation

A. Objective: Why are you presenting? What do you reasonably hope to accomplish? What do you expect from your audience?

  B. Audience: Who are the key decision makers with authority to say yes or no? How interested do you expect them to be in your recommendation? How knowledgeable are they about your topic? Why would they say no?

  C. Facts/Message

  D. Scope: Your material should be no more comprehensive than the minimum needed to accomplish your objective or the time your have with your audience.

  E. Media/Facilities: Use the simplest, most-appropriate tools for the task.

II. Design the presentation

A. Structure the story

1. Body: Do not chronologically recreate the months long discovery process you endured to find the recommendation. Start with the overall context (see II.A.2) and use the body for support.  The exception is when you have an audience that will be hostile to your recommendation and they need to be taken there more slowly.

2. Introduction: You want to light a fire in the first minute.  Use the PIP (purpose + importance + preview) approach.

3. Ending: Repeat your recommendations. Give your action program to turn your overall recommendation into reality. This includes: people responsible, time required, costs, etc.  Last, finish with Next Steps.  Note that the next steps should not be premeditated; instead, document the next steps that emerge from the discussion.

B. Sketch the storyboard

1. Visuals (based on Zelazny’s book: Say it With Charts)

a. Select the chart form

b. Write titles that ARE the message/point you want your audience to know

c. Use graphical treatment (ex: contrast) to draw attention to your message

(“Take responsibility for your point of view.”)

2. So-what

3. Transitions

C. Produce visual aids & handouts

III. Deliver the presentation

A. Rehearse: Once alone in a room out loud. Once in front of three or four constructive colleagues.

B. Set up the facilities: including physical setup, room layout, lighting, etc.

C. Set the tone

1. Competence

2. Conviction: You must believe in what you are recommending or someone else should present.

3. Enthusiasm/energy

D. Apply delivery skills

1. Verbal: natural, conversational word choice

2. Vocal: expand your range

3. Visual: open body language, natural gestures, and effective eye-contact (FYI: It is OK to occasionally refer to notes, but put them down when you are not referring to them.)

E. Work with visual aids: If your slide is complex, you will likely want to get close to it and point out the elements you are describing.

F. Handle questions: It is appropriate to say “I don’t know.”

1. Try to anticipate the three most difficult questions you will get from the most difficult people in the audience.

2. Listen the the question completely

3. If the question has multiple parts, it is OK to write down the parts

4. Pause to think

5. Repeat the question only if people were not likely to have heard it. Do not rephrase the question unless you must and, if so, you need to ask for permission to do so.

6. Assume everyone is interested in the answer so balance the eye-contact with the entire audience. (Tip: If you want to move on from the questioner, finish your eye contact with someone else.)

7. If you get a very difficult question, try to avoid saying, “I’ll get back to you later.”  Instead, it is OK to say, “I don’t know.”  Or, even better, consider reaching out to the rest of the audience to see if someone else has the answer!


Presentation SuperSummit: How to Deliver a TED Talk (Interview)

Here is a link to my session at  Marco Montemagno’s Presentation Super Summit.  I believe you will need to complete a registration form, but it is worth it for free access to all past talks as well as 19 public speaking experts including: Nick Morgan, Oren Klaff, and Scott Schwertly.


How to Pitch An Idea

While TED Talks offer excellent examples of extended pitches, I’m always on the lookout for compelling examples of pitches that are more relevant to business, especially entrepreneurship.  I found a great example in the Stanford eCorner ‘Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders‘ series.

The pitch is by Heratio Harts, a graduate of The Last Mile which is a controversial organization that teaches entrepreneurial skills to inmates so that they can make a successful transition from prison to living productively in society.  Heratio’s one-minute pitch begins at 52:30 of the video embedded below.  Mr. Hart’s words are in italics and I have added descriptive labels and commentary.

Step 1: Frame the problem you are solving in a way that is personally relevant to your audience

By show of hands, how many of you have witnessed either a parent, a child, a friend or maybe your spouse struggle with obesity? You don’t have to raise your hand for this, but think about it. Did you ever feel helpless in their struggle?

[Commentary: While I'm not a big fan of the "By show of hands..." technique, I appreciate that Mr. Harts not only got right to the issue his organization addresses (obesity), but also used a question - "Did you ever feel helpless..." to connect his cause to a powerful, personal emotion.]

Step 2: Scale the problem up from the personal (micro) to the societal (macro) level so that decision makers perceive the size of the opportunity

If you have, you’re not alone. Many people who have lived in a low income community like I have where the obesity rate is above 50% have experienced the same feeling of helplessness. That’s why today I am doing something about it.

[Commentary:  Mr. Harts' phrase "lived in a low income community like I have" establishes his credibility as the right person to tackle this problem without boasting. His reference to the 50% obesity rate clearly demonstrates this is a large opportunity.]

Step 3: Introduce who you are and what you do

Good evening. My name is Heracio Harts and I am the founder of Healthy Hearts Institute, the co-op that will bring health and fitness back into our neighborhoods.

Step 4: Drill deeper into how you will solve the problem

HHI will turn empty lots into gardens and transform neighborhoods of food deserts into green nutritional oases. We will turn abandoned buildings into LEED certified fitness centers and provide our members safe places to exercise.

[Commentary:  Notice that Mr. Harts' descriptions of how his organization combats obesity are highly sensory.]

Step 5: Show what (believable) success looks like

Our goal is to get us back to the good old days when the community was ripe with nutritional foods, kids were outside and running and playing, and the obesity rate was below 17%.

[Commentary: Mr. Harts sets a benchmark for what success looks like - an obesity rate below 17%.  This benchmark is believable since it was achieved in the recent past.]

Step 6: Share your call to action

So join the Healthy Hearts Institute and let us empower the beat of your heart. Thank you.

[Commentary:  Mr. Harts ended with a reasonable call to action given that he was giving this pitch to a practice audience who were not expected to take any action.  A real pitch should have a call to action that is concrete, immediate, and easy.  For instance, Mr. Harts could have asked audience members to make a contribution or to share a fundraising link supporting HHI with their social networks.]


10 Most Popular The Moth Stories Of All Time

Though not nearly as well known as TED, The Moth is gaining momentum as a platform for great storytelling.  The range of TED Talks is broadly inclusive of personal storytelling as well as high minded ideas grounded in social and scientific research. The Moth is more narrowly focused on emotional epiphanies drawn from life experiences – particularly those rooted in failure, frustration, futility, and fear. Note that many speakers have shared both stages including: Malcolm Gladwell, Janna Levin, and Ed Gavagan.

The ones with an (*) at the end of the title are featured in The Moth’s new book.  Without further delay, here is the list of the 10 most viewed Moth stories as of December 20, 2013.


#1 Anthony Griffith: The Best of Times, The Worst of Times


#2 Steve Burns: Fameishness


#3 Mike DeStefano: Franny’s Last Ride (*)


#4 Moran Cerf: On Human (and) Nature


#5 Dan Savage: Not That Kind of Gay


#6 George Lombardi: Mission to India (*)


#7 Andy Borowitz: An Unexpected Twist


#8 Neil Gaiman: Liverpool Street


#9 Edgar Oliver: Apron Strings of Savannah


#10 Ed Gavagan: Drowning on Sullivan Street (*)


How Janna Levin Told Her Moth Story

In case you are not familiar with The Moth, it is a not-for-profit devoted to ‘true stories told live.’  The stories are short, intimate, and funny.  Most Moth storytellers, including Janna Levin, draw from one (or several) moments of profound personal transformation; more often than not, these moments were catalyzed by foolishness, futility, character flaws, or failure. While polished in plot, setting, and character development, the best Moth stories retain raw, honest sincerity and offer an uplifting moral.

In this post, I’ll deconstruct Janna Levin’s Life on a Mobius Strip, the lead-off story in The Moth’s new book.  I recommend you enjoy the video below and then read my analysis.


Tip #1: Develop a richly plotted story

Plot, setting, and dialog-rich character are the key elements that add texture to a story.  Let’s examine how Janna developed the first element, plot.  As shown in the table below, notice that Janna impressively wove dual-plots that converged in the end.

Boiled down, the essence of plot is the topsy-turvy journey characters must undergo is search of the answer to a profound question.  The types of questions that work best do not have an obvious or even a single answer; in fact, depending on the path taken, diametrically opposed answers may be equally viable.  Despite that challenge, storytellers (usually) share their answer to the question at the end in the form of a revelation that allows the protagonist to achieve her goals and live happily ever after.

Sometimes characters know the question the storyteller is exploring, and sometimes they do not.  In Plot A, Janna as protagonist knows the question and frames it early on as, “The hazard for a scientist working on something so esoteric is the possibility that it just might not be true or it might not be answerable.”  She is asking: Is it worth dedicating your professional life to fundamental scientific research when it is unlikely that your effort will amount to anything? In Plot B, in contrast, Janna as protagonist does not know the question: Do we get to choose who we love?

Quite cleverly, these two plots share a common theme summarized by the overarching question: Are our lives determined by fate or free will? At the end of her story, Janna discovers the answer in the symbolism of her anatomically unusual son - Love, like the universe, is unpredictable, improbable, circular, and worthwhile.

Plot A Plot B
Once upon a time and every day… (1) I was working at Berkeley as an astrophysicist obsessed with an esoteric, probably unanswerable topic (2) I met Warren, an uneducated obsessive compulsive musician, in a coffee shop in San Francisco
Until one day… (4) My fellowship ended and I accepted a job in Cambridge, England (3) Warren moved in with me
And because of that… (5) I shifted to the exciting topic of Black Holes and got to hang out with Nobel laureates (6) Warren worked as a dishwasher and focused on his music
Until finally… (8) I wrote a book about the universe and the unraveling of an obsessive compulsive mind (7) Our relationship ended explosively
And after that… (9) I returned to San Francisco… (10a) … and saw Warren working in the coffee shop
(10b) We married a year later
(10c) We had a son whose internal organs (harmlessly) are reversed
And the moral of the story is… (11) Love, like the universe, is unpredictable, improbable, circular, and worthwhile


Tip #2: Get laughs early and often

Compelling personal stories, including if not especially traumatic ones, need generous helpings of humor.  I find that humor can typically be classified in three buckets: superiority (ex: laughing at people with bad judgement, particularly those in positions of authority); surprise (ex: absurd overstatement or understatement); and emotional release as a salve to embarrassment, discomfort, or fear (ex: gallows and scatological humor).

Janna used all three types early and often.  She got her first laugh with superiority humor a mere nine seconds into her story with the following: “Einstein famously said, ‘Only two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity.’ Then he added, ‘And I’m not so sure about the universe.” Though it may be painfully obvious, this is superiority humor because implies that people are infinitely stupid.  Since Einstein’s and Janna’s audiences were in on the joke, they get to feel superior to the rest of the world.

(Note: I advise speakers to avoid quoting famous people, especially at the opening or closing of a speech.  Of course, there are exceptions to every rule.  The main exception is when the speaker either knows the famous person or heard the quote first-hand.  Janna reveals another exception which is when the quote perfectly sets up the fundamental theme of the story and ties to a major story element – in this case, Janna is an astrophysicist studying whether or not the universe is infinite.)

Janna’s second laugh relied on surprise humor in the form of understatement as follows: “Warren came charging past me the first day I saw him and pinned me with his blue eyes and said, ‘You’re the astrophysicist.’  (pause) Which I knew.

She employed release humor a bit later on when she recounted living in low-cost accommodations upon arriving in England, “… we spend a few weeks in a coin-operated bed-sit in Brighton. If you ran out of pound coins, your electricity went off and the lights went out. We often ran out of pound coins, and towards the end we were so despondent we would just sit in the dark.”

By the end of her 16 minute 20 second story, Janna garnered 31 laughs – a rate of 1.9 laughs per minute. While shy of the stand-up comedy standard of four to six laughs-per-minute, the rate is both impressive and typical of entertaining personal stories. If the laughter density is too low, below 1 laugh-per minute, a story becomes heavy and dull; if the laughter density is too high, above 4 laughs per minute, a story loses meaning and becomes just a pleasant, in-the-moment experience.

 Tip #3: Be vulnerable

Over the course of the story, the audience learns that Janna holds a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from MIT, did post-doctoral work at Berkeley, hobnobbed with Stephen Hawking and Nobel laureates at Cambridge, wrote and published a book that “came out of me fully formed,” and has a healthy, happy family.  If Janna had led with all of this, or even any of this, the audience would have immediately disconnected from her.  However, she paired vulnerabilities with each of her bona fides – foolishness, frustration, futility, and failure always preceded good fortune:

  • The futile pursuit of fundamental science precedes Janna’s disclosure of being an MIT-trained astrophysicist.
  • The frustration of living in squalor precedes Janna’s opportunity to work at Cambridge with Stephen Hawking.
  • The failure of her relationship precedes Janna’s book deal.
  • The foolishness of falling in love with the wrong kind of man precedes Janna’s happy family life.


The Bottom Line

While I have touched on the most powerful insights that I drew from Janna’s story, there is much more richness to explore in character and setting development as well as in Janna’s engagingly raw verbal and non-verbal delivery.  Please listen to her story and share what struck you as valuable in the comments section below.

Actionable Tips From Dave Paradi’s 2013 Annoying PowerPoint Survey

With so many opinions expressed about public speaking (something I too am guilty of),  I was excited to see Dave Paradi’s fact-based survey exploring the most annoying behaviors of presenters.

With Dave’s permission, I have taken the annoyances he found and transformed them into actionable tips:


I. Content

- Have a clear, primary purpose (to inform, persuade, inspire, or entertain)

- Have a single message framed from the audience’s perspective as: To (what) so that (why/outcome/benefit). This will help eliminate information overload and ‘data dump.’

- Apply a narrative flow that supports your purpose & message

- Customize your content (at least to a degree) for your specific audience


II. Delivery

- Instead of reading text from slides, use them as a launching and landing point

- Limit the amount of time you spend facing the screen

- Rehearse to figure out what slides belong in your presentation. Delete or Appendix the rest.  Never skip slides.

- “Mute” your slide by going to black (hit the “b” key) when you want to focus your audience’s attention on you

- Use pauses to eliminate filler words

- Plan where you will stand and where you will move to (avoid standing projector’s line-of-sight)


III. Design

- Make sure text is large enough to be read easily by people seated in the back of the room

- Proofread your slides to eliminate typos

- Use short bursts of text (or bullets), not full sentences

- Use the simplest diagram possible to support/prove the message of a slide. (Tables are rarely the best choice.)

- Use a harmonious color palette and apply intentional use of contrast

- Avoid clip-art and random images that just dress-up a slide

- Use video sparingly and only when contextually relevant (and well tested in the environment/room you present in)

- Builds are fine but avoid decorative animation


IV. Odds & Ends

- Ask yourself if the topic warrants a presentation or could be handled more efficiently with an email or a conversation

- Recognize that design software can be used to create presentations or documents.  Create one or the other depending on where and how you will use it.


Try it Out!

Dave Paradi also has a couple great, free self-assessments.  Check them out at:

Best Practices for Effective PowerPoint Presentations Assessment

PowerPoint Skills Inventory

How Dan Pallotta Delivered His TED Talk

Dan Pallotta is a humanitarian, author, speaker, social entrepreneur, and activist involved with countless charities.  His focus is primarily on heath and human services causes.  His TED2013 talk already has nearly 3 million views.  In this post, I deconstruct the factors that make his talk so popular.


Tip 1: Share an idea worth spreading

The most powerful TED Talks generally have a single idea worth spreading.  Having more than one tends to water down the message. However, Dan’s talk proves the exception to the rule by combining two intrinsically linked ideas where one is at the macro/societal level and the other is at the personal level.

a. (Macro/Societal) To scale charitable giving from 2% of GDP to 3% of GDP, focusing the resulting $150 billion increase on health & human services charities so that we can have real change

b. (Personal): To judge charities on the scale of their dreams, their progress, and their resources so that the not-for-profit sector can play a massive role on behalf of people in most desperate need


Tip 2: Build the narrative by raising and answering a series of questions

In How to Deliver a TED Talk, I outlined three structures for highly-effective presentations. One is the classical hero’s journey structure. The second is the inductive logic group which consists of an introduction, a series of supporting points that could be re-ordered without much loss of clarity, and a conclusion.  Dan went with the third approach which I call a logic chain.  A good way to spot a logic chain is that the speaker builds his or her narrative by raising and answering a series of questions that grow progressively more nuanced and profound.


Element Premise Proof
Ice Breaker (1) I’m here to talk about social innovation and social entrepreneurship.  (2) I have triplets and am gay which is the most socially innovative thing I have done.
Introduction (3) What we have been taught about the NFP sector is undermining the causes we love.  (none)
Part 1 (4) Does the NFP sector have a role to play in changing the world with the emergence of FP social business? (5) FP sector is having a positive impact. But, NFP establishes a markets for laughter, compassion, and love (ex. Center for the Developmentally Disabled) that creates a world that works for everyone.
Part 2 (6) But why is the NFP sector struggling to affect change in cancer, homelessness, poverty? (7) The NFP rulebook is broken in 5 ways:
a.Incentive compensation viewed as parasitic, so top MBAs stay away
b.Paid advertising viewed as wasteful overhead
c.Risk-taking is punished by reputation destruction
d.NFPs face expectation of instant (time) return-on-investment.
e. NFPs have no access to capital markets so few NFPs have achieved scale
Part 3 (8) Why do we impose these restrictions on NFP sector? (9) Charity was way for Puritans to do penance at 5 cents on the dollar for their profit-seeking behavior. In 400 years, nothing has intervened to change this.
Part 4 (10) How does this ideology get policed today? (11) “This ideology gets policed by the question, ‘What percentage of my donation goes to the cause versus overhead?’” We confuse morality with frugality.
Conclusion (12a) To scale charitable giving from 2% of GDP to 3% of GDP, focusing the  resulting $150 billion increase on health & human services charities so that  we can drive real change
(12b)  To assess charities on the scale of their dreams, their progress, and their resources so that the NFP sector can play a massive role on behalf of those most desperately in need

(Note: NFP = Not-For-Profit; FP=For-Profit)


Tip 3:  Expose your passion and your emotion

Every speaker has a persona. The more their on-stage persona matches their off-stage persona, the more powerful the talk.  For the majority of his talk, Dan’s (genuine) tone is a thoughtful and concerned humanitarian.  At 14:45, his tone intensifies (genuinely) to outraged activist when he says, “On one day, all 350 of our great employees lost their jobs (pause to compose himself) because they were labeled as overhead.”

At 17:20, he makes one more (genuine) tone shift to hopeful visionary when he says, “The next time you are looking at a charity, don’t ask about the rate of their overhead. Ask about the scale of their dreams, their Apple, Google, Amazon scale dreams, how they measure their progress toward those dreams, and what resources they need to make them come true regardless of what the overhead is…”


Tip 4: Stay contextually relevant at all time

Dan’s talk is extremely powerful, but I have one tiny nit to pick.  Everything inside a talk should be contextually relevant to the idea worth spreading.  I am not a big fan of Ice-breakers at the beginning of talks.  They can work when they bridge the content of previous speakers to a new theme as Ken Robinson did in the beginning of his TED Talk.

At the beginning of his talk, Dan built rapport with his audience by introducing the audience to a photo of his children; but, in hindsight, his personal life did not have strong contextual relevance to the rest of his material.  Additionally, at the end of his talk, Dan used a video to ‘call-back’ his lovely children who said,  “That would be a real social innovation.”  To me, this ending felt formulaic and took away from the momentum he built.  While his kids are cute and touching, I did not feel they belonged in this talk – they might have been an effective addition if he were talking mainly about children’s charities.

Again, this was a small nit and other viewers could easily argue that his icebreaker and video clip ending were clever and emotionally effective.  Either way, his powerful talk earned him a standing ovation and, more importantly, will drive critical change in charitable giving.

How Jason Fried Delivered His TED Talk

Jason Fried, founder of 37signals (known for its BaseCamp project management solution), has a reputation for provocatively challenging the norms of the knowledge workplace. In this post, I deconstruct the factors that make his talk so popular.


Tip 1: Share an idea worth spreading

Jason’s idea worth spreading is to encourage managers to stop interrupting knowledge workers so that creative employees have long stretches of time to do great work.


Tip 2: Use the problem-solution narrative structure

In How to Deliver a TED Talk, I explore three equally effective ways to organize a persuasive presentation:

  1. Tell a story
  2. Make an argument with premise-proof logic groups (inductive reasoning)
  3. Make an argument with premise-proof logic chains (deductive reasoning)

Jason’s problem-solution narrative, summarized in the table below, uses the logic chain approach.  In a logic chain, each premise triggers a question that must be answered by the next premise in the chain.  Jason began with a direct statement of the problem – people cannot seem to get work done at work.  A skeptical listener might ask, “Is that problem really true?” Jason replied, yes, just notice how you and your colleagues shift creative work to different places or times of day. His reply triggers the question, “Why are people shifting when and where they work?” Jason’s responded that employees shift work in order to carve out long stretches of interruption-free time.  The next logical question is, “Is there a way to make the workplace productive again?” Jason replied, yes, with three specific solutions.


Element Premise Proof
Introduction (1) People cannot seem to get great work done in centralized offices filled with stuff (2) (none)
Part 1 (3) People go somewhere or sometime else to get work done (4a) Places
(4b) Vehicles
(4c) Early morning/late night/weekends
Part 2 (5a) People don’t have  a work day, they have work moments
(5b) People (esp. creatives) need long stretches of time without involuntary interruptions
(6a) Work, like sleep, is ineffective when interrupted
(6b) Voluntary distractions, like Facebook, are just modern ‘smoke-breaks’
(6c) Managers are the source of involuntary distractions via check-ins and meetings
Part 3 (7) 3 remedies can make office work productive again (8a) No talk Thursday PM
(8b) Switch from active to passive communication (ex: email)
(8c) Cancel your next meeting and notice that nothing bad happens
Conclusion (9) I hope these ideas inspire managers to leave employees alone to do great work (10) (none)


Tip 3: Be authentic

Jason is a person who cares about unleashing creativity at work.  He started a company and wrote several books to express his passion for productivity.  He was clearly in that zone as well when he delivered his TED Talk.  When speakers present on topics they deeply care about, they do not need to think about the mechanics of verbal and non-verbal delivery.  Jason’s passion appeared naturally in his facial expressions and his vocal variety.  Though his movement on stage was at times a little distracting, it matched the power of his conviction and expressed raw authenticity.


Tip 4: Speak without slides

Jason was wise to avoid slides in his TED Talk. Contrary to the conventional wisdom that TED Talks are partly defined by great slide design, many of the most popular TED speakers used no slides during their talks.  Slides always create an attention barrier between speaker and audience.  Conceptual talks like Jason’s are far more persuasive without slides.

So, when should a speaker use slides?  Slides are effective when they document an experience first-hand (see Bunker Roy’s TED Talk) or reveal data (see Hans Rosling’s TED Talk) in a way that would take too many words to explain. In those instances, the benefit outweighs the cost.


Final Thoughts

To discover more of Jason’s unconventional advice for succeeding at work, check out his best-selling book, ReWork.

NY Brand Lab Radio Interview on “How to Deliver a TED Talk”

Thanks to the amazing Mary van de Wiel for hosting me on her NY Brand Lab Radio podcast.

Listen to internet radio with NY Brand Lab Radio on BlogTalkRadio
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