Alternatives to TED Talks in 2014

I’m a huge fan of TED Talks.  However, TED is not the only game in town for watching great speakers with great ideas.  Here are some other free options:

1. 99u

Comment: I attend this excellent conference every year. It is nearly identical to TED and even features many of the same speakers.  Compared to TED’s broader mandate, 99u is a bit more focused on design, creativity, entrepreneurship, and personal development.

2. Big Think

Comment: These are very short videos – typically under 5 minutes – focused on leadership and delivered by high powered executives and creative luminaries.

3. Business Innovation Factory (BIF)

Comment: Similar to TED albeit more innovation focused though you find social themes there too.

4. Capture Your Flag

Comment: Leadership interviews parsed into 2-minute segments (which can be irritating if you want to watch whole thing at once).

5. Creative Mornings

Comment: Creative Mornings is what would happen if TED loosened the reigns completely.  Very raw. Some great videos and some very rough ones.  The link above sorts by popularity to bring the best stuff to the top.

6. The Do Lectures

Comment:  Just like TED only with a hippie vibe and focused on personal development / inspiration. Talks are typically 20 to 30 minutes long.

7. Gel Conference

Comment: TED-like videos with some of the same speakers – albeit more focused on creativity, entrepreneurship, and customer experience.

8. Google Talks

Comment: Google hosts artists, authors, political candidates, chefs, … you name it.  These are longer talks, typically 45 minutes to 1 hour.

9. IdeaCity

Comment:  Just like TED in pretty much every way.

10. Ignite

Comment: 5 minute talks (20 slides, 15 seconds per slide).  Quality variation is huge so sort by most popular.

11. INK Talks

Comment: India’s version of TED (in fact, they are partnered with TED).

12. The Moth

Comment: Personal storytelling at its very best. The Moth is all about people vulnerably sharing the pivotal moments in their lives. Funny and inspiring.

13. PetchKucha

Comment: 20 slides x 20 seconds per slide (just like Ignite).  Quality variation is huge so sort by most popular.

14. PopTech

Comment: The breadth, depth, and style of the talks are identical to TED – though the organization claims to be more outcome focused than its more well known cousin.

15. The RSA

Comment: 20 minute talks focused on burning social / societal issues.  They are also the brilliant minds behind the RSAnimate videos which transform TED (and other talks) into animated storyboards.

16. Stanford eCorner

Comment: Outstanding videos on entrepreneurship – typically 45 mins to 1 hour long.

 

There are also countless free and paid MOOCs with excellent content, including: Khan Academy, EdX, Coursera, Udacity, etc.

 

Should Leaders Get Out of the Way?

While “give people an objective and get out of the way” sounds like great advice, it is not always sound advice.  As with most things in life, the degree of leadership involvement is nuanced and highly dependent on the employee and the situation.  I learned this the hard way a few years ago when I received feedback that I was treating every person on my team as low on will but high on skill.  This meant I was the polar opposite of a micro-manager – often inspiring people but leaving them to stumble in the dark. That was when I learned the invaluable lesson of situational leadership – to adapt coaching to the skill and the will of the individual on the project.

This being annual review season at my company (and many others), I have been thinking more deeply about what role a team leader should play.  Or, more specifically, when a leader should intervene and when a leader should get out of the way.  Here are the questions I ask myself:

 

1. Does the individual have a clear sense of WHAT they need to do?

Most organizations have a clear top-level business objective.  In for-profit business, the objective is quite obviously profit maximization with a healthy dose of ethics and global citizenship mixed in.  In the not-for-profit space, the objective typically relates to boosting the quality and quantity of life (human or non-human).

Some employees have reached the point where they are able to identify a potential set of granular objectives that serve the top-level corporate objective, prioritize among them, and focus.  In those cases, I get out of the way.  In the other cases, I do not simply tell people what to do; rather, I teach them the skill of identifying and prioritizing objectives so that they too can learn to lead.

 

2. Is the individual highly motivated (the WHY) to pursue their objective?

I’m a huge fan of all of Chip & Dan Heath’s work, and in particular, their book Switch. In that book, the Heath brothers use the leadership metaphor of a rider on an elephant headed down a path toward a destination.   The destination is the WHAT from the first question above.  The emotional elephant and the analytical rider are two sides of the motivation coin.  Here, I’ll use the more clinical terms – intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

If an employee has strong motivation, I get out of the way.  If they do not, I first turn to intrinsic motivation since that is easier to address in real-time and (according to research cited in Daniel Pink’s excellent book Drive) is the more effective lever for the knowledge-workers I interact with on a daily basis.  When I sense a person’s intrinsic motivation is low, I relate our team’s North Star, our vision, to the individual’s specific wants and needs.  Moreover, I try to express my love for what we are doing in the hope that my belief and my enthusiasm are infectious.

I rarely have to adjust extrinsic motivation in the type of work that I do. However, if you need to do so, remember that extrinsic motivation can come in the form of carrots or sticks.  The sweetest carrot is obvious – money; however, there are non-monetary carrots such as extra vacation time and appropriate gifts.  The big stick is job security – something that should only be threatened as a last resort in response to serious, well-documented performance issues. A more subtle stick is restating the cultural norms (or actual rules) of your team.

 

3. Does the individual have the skill (the HOW) to complete this objective?

My big mistake when I first led people more than a decade ago was assuming everybody was highly skilled.  When they are, I get out of the way.  However, when the individual does not know the methods or best practices to excel on their objective, they will appreciate learning HOW to do something.  As with coaching in other areas, your goal as a leader should be to coach people how to figure out how so that they can be independent on future projects. You can do that directly or using the Socratic method.

By way of example, I strive to coach people to become experts at bright spot analysis (another concept from Switch).  In broad brush strokes, the process is as follows:

a. Pick an objective (ex: increase sales productivity)

b. Pick a population of people that influence the objective (ex: sales managers)

c. Using an objective measure (ex: average sales per team member over a period of time), stack rank the population to identify the top 10% and the bottom 10%

d. Figure out what the top performers are doing that the bottom performers are not.  You will be able to partially figure this out using existing quantitative data.  However, you will also need to tease out qualitative insights through anthropological observation (i.e. ride-alongs, role-plays) or interviews where you are careful to ask the two populations to describe actual recent experiences rather than abstract, inspirational behaviors.  (I very rarely conduct large-scale electronic surveys unless I have no alternative. When I do conduct such surveys, I ask only the questions that inform burning, specific decisions.  This helps keep the surveys as short as possible – often just one or two questions.)

e. Conduct a pilot to verify that (i) I have synthesized the right best practices (ii) I have found the right approach to spread those best practices.  Ensure that whatever you are piloting is practical and economically attractive at scale.  Define the scope of the pilot.  Identify what constitutes success from the pilot sufficient to broaden to full-scale launch.

f. Scale-up once the pilot is successful. (And yes, if the best practices are urgent, obvious, easy to deploy, and low-risk, you can skip the pilot).

 

4. Does the individual have the materials (the WEALTH) they need to complete the objective?

Referring back to the Heath brothers’ metaphor in Switch, leaders may need to “shape the path.”  If the individual has the resources (financial, human, etc.) and tools to get the job done, I get out of the way.  If not, leaders must intervene to remove such obstacles.

Relationships are often the biggest obstacles to address since people must influence at a distance in order to move their projects forward.  Sometimes, leaders merely need to help associates identify stakeholders and partners who will be instrumental in making the project a success. However, due to ever-present politics or lack of positional authority, associates often need leaders to take more active role.

 

5. Does the individual have a feedback mechanism to assess their progress?

If an individual if proficient at establishing metrics (leading- and lagging- key performance indicators) and at defining milestones, I get out of the way.  If not, intervene by coaching them how to manage projects in this way so that they can lead independently in the future.

 

Try it out!

If you boil all this down, you only have to remember two things.  The first is that great leaders adapt their involvement to each individual in each situation.  The second is that great leaders teach their people to fish. When you do that, you empower generations of future leaders instead of simply empowering employees.

Create the Minimum Viable Presentation

In the field of entrepreneurship, and more broadly in the arena of new product development, the term minimum viable product (MVP) is very much in vogue.  Coined by Frank Robinson and popularized by Eric Ries and Steve Blank, an MVP is a prototype with just enough features for early adopters to test and provide feedback to the developers.

I’m always on the hunt for new metaphors and it struck me today that this concept translates nicely into presentation design and knowledge-work in general. Instead of minimum viable product, consider the minimum viable presentation.

Imagine a person senior to you, perhaps your boss or another executive, asks you to create a presentation or requests some data.  They have asked you for a WHAT and maybe they were even prescriptive about HOW to assemble the information.  Regardless of their positional authority, you have the right and the obligation to work with them to understand the business objective (problem or opportunity) they are trying to address.

What strategic lever are they trying to pull?  What decision are they trying to make that will lead to incremental action?  In the course of problem solving to find the “WHY,” you may find: (a) the request was spot-on, (b) the request was not necessary, (c) the request was reasonable but there is a better way to address it, (d) there is an even bigger question you agree to go after.  By analogy, start-ups must identify the core customer need their product addresses.

With the “WHY” established, turn your attention to the designing (at least in broad brushstrokes) what the optimal solution would look like.  For the executive who requested the information from you, perhaps the solution is a mobile-friendly, real-time dashboard with alerting and visualization. For start-ups, the analogy is scoping the ultimate product to build if time and money were no object.

Finally park the optimal solution in the back of your mind and build the minimum viable presentation.  This is the presentation that answers just the WHY… no more and no less. Often, you do not need a presentation at all – a conversation, Excel spreadsheet, or email may suffice.  Even if you need to create slides, just address the WHY in the most efficient way possible.  As you build the “infrastructure” to answer the question, knowledge of the optimal solution tells you where to apply brute force and where to design for reuse or expansion.

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