Matthew Burton

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Who Is This Biden Character?

Now that Joe Biden is finally getting some attention, a lot of people are thinking, “Who? A senator? For 35 years? Was running for president this year? Never heard of ‘em.”

Below are two interviews from last August–one video, one audio–during the middle of the Democratic nomination race. I think they provide a great primer on who this guy is.

I followed Biden really closely this year. I don’t agree with him on everything, but what I found great about him was his critical mind and his willingness to tell us things we don’t want to hear (especially regarding Iraq and health care). Because of this, he was the only candidate I contributed money to.

BUT…these are critical interviews that ask pointed questions about Biden’s experience and views. That is, I’m not simply peddling pro-Biden propaganda. If you want to be an informed voter, give these a look/listen:

On Point with Tom Ashbrook: Joe Biden (will open a page with a dedicated audio player)

Update on the Open Source for Government initiative

A few updates to report on the Open Source Developer-Government Co-op project (but nothing new to report regarding a better name for this thing).

1. Early on, I said my big concern was avoiding the legal landmines that forbid the federal government from accepting free work. Tom Bruce at Cornell’s Legal Information Institute felt my pain and connected me with some former government IT acquisition executives. They have been incredibly helpful, making light of technicalities that would have taken me months to discover on my own. The gist of what they’ve told me:

  • The federal government is loathe to accept products for free, unless they are also offered to everyone else for free.
  • Charging the government $1 for a service or product is better than giving it away; that means the buyer and seller have agreed on a price, a point that may not be disputed in the future.
  • You cannot attach for-profit maintenance/service agreements to a low-cost sale or giveaway. That’s rightly seen as non-competitive.
  • Educational institutions are great vehicles for ideas like this one. They are funded outside the government and have the public interest at heart. When working with such an organization, government buyers can be confident that the sellers do not have any plans to make a mint off of taxpayer dollars.

Finally, and most importantly:

  • Almost all federal acquisitions have to be competitive. In *most* cases, it would be illegal for an agency to go directly to an organization, non-profit or otherwise, and retain their volunteer software development services. Instead, that agency must go the usual route of requesting bids from the rest of the industry; if the volunteer organization’s bid wins, only then could they proceed.

Ah, but I said *most* cases. The exception is the infamous sole source, aka no-bid, contract. (Disclosure: I was awarded a sole source contract in 2006. It wasn’t dirty, though. Promise. In fact, any sole source contract that awards little or no money should not draw suspicion. Sole source contracts appear to be the only means for achieving the Open Source for Government goal. Is this means an honorable one? I think so, as we would be working for free. But I’m open to dissenting opinions.)

So, when is a sole source contract justifiable? There are seven circumstances, all outlined here under section (c). Of particular interest to me were 1 (“the property or services needed by the agency are available from only one responsible source”), 2b (“to establish or maintain an essential engineering, research, or development capability to be provided by an educational or other nonprofit institution”) and 7a (“the head of the agency determines that it is necessary in the public interest to use procedures other than competitive procedures in the particular procurement concerned”).

Our charge is clear: to identify government buyers who think our model can achieve things the current model cannot, who like our price (not hard), and who think our organization will benefit the public good.

Keep in mind that this applies only at the federal level; states’ policies could be identical or the complete opposite. Because of that, I am keen to identify states with looser acquisition policies, as they’d be ideal early adopters.

2. A few weeks ago, I attended the inaugural BarCampMil in DC, a sort of one-day expo for tech tools with defense and humanitarian applications. While there, I found this juicy nugget buried in the House Armed Services Committee’s report on the 2009 defense bill:

The committee is concerned by the rising costs and decreasing security associated with software development for information technology (IT) systems. These rising costs are linked to the increasing complexity of software, which has also resulted in increasing numbers of system vulnerabilities that might be exploited by malicious hackers and potential adversaries…

Open source software (OSS)…provides greater rigor in the software development process by making it available to a diverse community of programmers for review, testing, and improvement. The Linux operation system and Internet Protocol internet addressing system are examples of high quality products developed within the business sector using the OSS standard.

The committee encourages the Department to rely more broadly on OSS and establish it as a standard for intra-Department software development…The committee believes…the wide-spread implementation of an OSS standard will not only lead to more secure software, but will also foster broader competition by minimizing traditional constraints imposed by an over-reliance on proprietary software systems.

This made me beam. This is as close as we could get to a government body saying, “Open source software developers deserve sole source contracts, because they can do things the current model cannot.” Within the government, the notion persists that openly visible code is inherently more vulnerable. Having a House committee on our side will do wonders to help us dispel this myth and win those sole source contracts.

3. In case you missed it, Dave Witzel hosted an online interview with me a few weeks ago. Most of it focused on the open source project.

4. I came across an editorial in the Times on Sunday, blasting the government’s effort to fix the terrorist watch list. Railhead, as the reform project is called, has cost the government $500 million. And yet the resulting product cannot perform basic searches. (There’s more information, including a link to the House reports, here.)

Downright shameful. It’s time for a better model.

Rebooting American essay selected for book

The essay I submitted to the Rebooting America essay contest was chosen as one of the three winners. Hooray!

This means it was published in the resulting book (Amazon) along with essays from Clay, Doug, Aaron, Susan, Esther, Yochai…quite a group.

If I had it to do over again, I would have summed up my chapter like this:

Despite being one of the top physics minds of his generation, Richard Feynman once admitted in a lecture that “nobody really ‘understands’ quantum physics.” The world has had the Web for 16 years, and I think I can safely say that nobody really understands it, either. Even when we think we do, we wake up the next morning and it surprises us with something new. But we’re ready to propose Constitutional changes based on our elementary knowledge of it? Such changes would become obsolescent as quickly as the Web churns out new surprises. So let’s not get too eager to cure our net anxieties. Instead, let’s prepare our government to face all tech revolutions, not just the current one.

Online interview with Dave Witzel, July 23

I’ll be doing an online interview with Dave Witzel on July 23. I’m expecting it to center around the Man essay and the “Govzilla” project (I should come up with a better name), but you can submit a question about anything you like.

Announcing Speechology.org

Yesterday, Dan Phiffer and I launched Speechology.org. Think of it as an online fact checker for political ads and debates. Here’s the backstory:

A few months ago, I was watching the New Hampshire Republican debate. Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee got into an argument when Huckabee accused Romney of not supporting the surge:

MR. ROMNEY: Number two — number two, I did support the surge. On the same day the president announced the surge, I also…laid out my plan that I thought made sense — actually, even before the president’s speech — calling for additional troops; I called for a different number. So I also supported the surge from the very beginning.

But look, I — you know, Governor

MR. HUCKABEE: I’m way over.

MR. ROMNEY: Don’t try and characterize my position. Of course, this war has

MR. HUCKABEE: Which one? (Scattered laughter.)

MR. ROMNEY: You know — you know, we’re wise to talk about policies and not to make personal attacks.

MR. HUCKABEE: Well, it’s not a personal attack, Mitt, because you also supported a timed withdrawal. And Senator Pryor, from my state

MR. ROMNEY: No, that’s

MR. HUCKABEE: — was praising you for that, and

MR. ROMNEY: I do not — I do not support and have never support a timed withdrawal. So that’s wrong, Governor.

When the dust settled, Charlie Gibson just went on to the next topic, leaving every viewer wondering, “Well, what’s the truth?” The two candidates had made completely opposite claims about a historical event, and the journalist moderator made no effort to explain the contradiction or call out either candidate for being untruthful.

What good are these debates, I thought, if all they do is confuse voters while giving each candidate free air time for their own rhetoric?

On TV, it’s easy for a speaker to slip something past you if you’re not paying close attention. There needs to be a way for people to watch these debates through a filter that gives context to politicians’ words. This is what inspired Speechology. This need for context is even more important for campaign advertisements, which, along with liberal use of sound bites, add dramatic music and voiceovers to boot, making it easy to convince people without even saying anything factual.

I brought Dan on because I had no hope of doing it by myself. He’s even busier than I am, so it’s astonishing that he was able to bust out both the code and the design so quickly, and for free.

Well, almost free. Thanks to Micah Sifry, we got a mini-grant from the Sunlight Foundation. Without that validation of our idea, we never would have had the energy to carry it forward. So thanks, Sunlight!

Speechology.org. Check it out.

Lessig, selfless candidates, Feynman, etc…

The first draft of my most recent essay had a big chunk on politicians: running for office was the final of three suggestions I made to people who want to reform our government. I removed that chunk, but with PDF 12 hours away, I figured I’d post it anyway, as its own little musing. So here it is:

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“Suppose two politicians are running for president, and one goes through the farm section and is asked, `What are you going to do about the farm question?’ And he knows right away – bang, bang, bang. Now he goes to the next campaigner who comes through. `What are you going to do about the farm problem?’ `Well, I don’t know. I used to be a general, and I don’t know anything about farming. But it seems to me to be a very difficult problem, because for twelve, fifteen, twenty years people have been struggling with it, and people say they know how to solve the farm problem. And it must be a hard problem. So the way I intend to solve the farm problem is to gather around me a lot of people who know something about it, to look at all the experience that we have had with this problem before, to take a certain amount of time at it and then to come to some conclusion in a reasonable way about it. Now, I can’t tell you ahead of time what conclusion, but I can give you some of the principles I’ll try to use…’

“Now such a man would never get anywhere in this country, I think. It’s never been tried, anyway. This is in the attitude of mind of the populace, that they have to have an answer and that a man who gives an answer is better than a man who gives no answer, when the real fact of the matter is, in most cases, it is the other way around.”

This is how Richard Feynman explained modern politicking in a 1969 lecture. I often quote this passage, because I think it describes our ideal candidate: someone who puts time into making decisions, who gathers facts before doing so, who doesn’t make false promises in exchange for votes.

That’s why I was excited to see Larry Lessig consider a Congressional bid. But my first reaction wasn’t positive: Is that really the best place for him? He wouldn’t really fit in, and his ideas would fall on deaf ears. Eventually, I got it: not fitting in is exactly the point. The most fundamental way to change Congress is to populate it with a new breed. While Lessig would have been very lonely during his first term, his run would have inspired others among us to do the same, and slowly, the tide would turn.

Lessig decided not to run; thankfully, it was not because he felt Congress was the wrong place for him. I believe that it is, and that his decision not to run makes him an even better fit for the job. Congress needs more people who think about running and decide against it. Such a person is ambitious and passionate, but also humble. Such a person thinks things through and makes prudent decisions, without regard for celebrity or public perception.

If I were to suggest a more long-term goal for Lessig’s new Change Congress campaign, it would be to transform the public’s idea of what constitutes a good public leader: I would replace charisma with gravitas, expedience with prudence, celebrity with humility. I’ve noticed the latter qualities in many of the people I work around—many of them have scientific backgrounds and cannot avoid making wise decisions in spite of themselves. I know it would be hard for them to leave their research-grounded jobs in hard science for the daily life of a politician, and even harder for the average voter to become acquainted with their style. So I’m not expecting this to happen soon. But if we’ve quintupled the number of scientists in Congress by 2016 (there are currently four), I think we’ll be on our way.

Why I Help “The Man”, and Why You Should Too

Three years ago, when I told a mentor from the tech sector that I was soon leaving my job as an intelligence analyst to start a technology Masters program, she replied, “It’s good that you’re getting out of that field.”

She didn’t like the Intelligence Community’s work, and in her eyes, the longer I stayed, the more it would corrupt me. I’ve always thought of it in reverse: the longer I stayed involved, the more opportunities I would have to change it. Afterall, if you want something to get better, should you entrust the job to those who caused the problem in the first place? Or should you take care of the problem yourself? To me, it’s a pretty simple question. (That’s why I still work with the Intelligence Community as an outside consultant.)

Unfortunately, among my colleagues—fellow politicos and geeks who are trying to reform the U.S. Government—my mentor’s philosophy seems to be more popular than mine. It’s a philosophy that won’t get us very far. By not engaging our government directly, and instead choosing to merely blog about it from afar, we are surrendering the most important, most influential roles to the very people we want to get rid of.

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Upgrading Congress For the Future

Personal Democracy Forum and TechPresident recently sponsored an essay contest:

When the Framers met in Philadelphia in 1787, they bravely conjured a new form of self-government. But they couldn’t have imagined a mass society with instantaneous, many-to-many communications or many of the other innovations of modernity. So, replacing that quill pen with a mouse, imagine that you have to power to redesign American democracy for the Internet Age. What would you do?

Below is my blue sky response, which was selected for publication. You can order the whole book from Amazon.

NOTE: The first three paragraphs below were inserted post-publication and do not appear in the printed version.

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Richard Feyman—possibly the most brilliant physicist of his generation—once said that “nobody really understands quantum physics.”

We’ve had the Web for 16 years, and I think I can safely say that nobody really understands it, either. Sometimes we think we do, but then it surprises us with something new. We know a lot about what it’s done so far, but none of us know what lies ahead.

In spite of this, here we are, proposing Constitutional changes based on our elementary knowledge of the Web. Such changes would become obsolescent as quickly as the Web churns out new surprises. So let’s not get too eager to cure our net anxieties. Instead, let’s prepare our government to face all tech revolutions, not just the current one.

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“Obama is all talk” is all talk

Scroll down for an update to this post, February 20

The Clinton campaign’s new strategy is to cast Obama as an orator, and nothing else. From today’s Times:

“Speeches don’t put food on the table,” Mrs. Clinton said at a General Motors plant in Warren, Ohio, on Thursday morning. “Speeches don’t fill up your tank, or fill your prescription, or do anything about that stack of bills that keeps you up at night.”

“My opponent gives speeches. I offer solutions.”

“It’s about whether you choose the power of solutions over the power of speeches.”

(That last quote is from Bill.)

Hogwash. I’ve been hearing this more and more lately: Obama is all talk, everything he says is vague, he never talks details, we don’t know what he offers…and on and on. Not only is it crap. The opposite is true: there is much more meat to Obama’s platform than Clinton’s, and I’ll prove it.

Now, before I begin, I want to say that I’m neither a Clinton fan nor an Obama fan (nor McCain, for that matter). My candidate dropped out long ago. Like that candidate, I worship facts and I despise catchy slogans that belie the truth. Vote for whomever you want. Just make sure your vote isn’t influenced by a lie.

That said, let’s begin.

Go to barackobama.com and look at the Issues page. Read each issue’s dedicated page.

Now go to hillaryclinton.com and look the issues page. Read each issue’s dedicated page.

You Obama fans already know what I’m getting at. You can stop reading this article.

For the unconvinced, keep reading. Here’s a breakdown of their Web sites’ content in the context of the above statements by the Clintons. I’ve roughly calculated how many pages of details each candidate offers on each issue:

Issue Obama Clinton Who’s got more?
Civil rights 6 page PDF 0 4.5p press release, corrected by Syphos in comments Obama
Disabilities 9 pages. 8-page PDF on disabilities (probably some overlap with civil rights document), and a dedicated 1-page PDF on autism. 0 Obama
Economy 5p PDF, with some overlap in content with other topics Hard to quantify. The site has a “blueprint”, a “stimulus plan”, and several other plans and press releases about the economy. Many of them probably have lots of overlapping information. Can’t say
Education ~16 pages in PDF files. 14 on K-12, 2 on college affordability. 10 at most. Hard to quantify. Site has several different pages, each on a different aspect of education at various typefaces, sizes, etc. Obama
Energy / Environment ~15 pages in PDF. Two separate plans for energy and environment, with some overlap ~11, PDF Obama
Ethics/government reform 5 in PDF ~1 Obama
Fiscal policy <1 <1; no dedicated page Can’t say
Foreign policy ~2p PDF file Hard to say, but more than Obama. Site links to article in Foreign Affairs on her foreign policy. Site also has agendas on global AIDS, development, and Latin American cooperation. Clinton
Health care ~10 ~8 Obama
Homeland security 2.5 0?? Obama
Immigration 1.5 1 Obama
Iraq ~2p PDF. Disappointingly small, but still more than Clinton. ~1 Obama
Poverty 7 page PDF report No dedicated page or agenda, but details on poverty are mentioned in several other agendas. Hard to estimate page count. Obama (probably)
Rural 14p PDF report 6.5p PDF report Obama
Service National Service Plan. 5page PDF report. 0 Obama
Seniors and social security ~1.5 Web-based pages on social security. No dedicated page. Probably some info in health care agenda. Can’t say
Technology ~5. HTML-based. Some overlapping content with Energy agenda, but mostly new stuff on net neutrality, telecom infrastructure, science funding, etc. ~2.5. Also HTML-based. Also some overlap with Energy agenda. Details on science funding and telecom infrastructure, but nothing on net neutrality. Obama
Veterans <1. 10-point plan. ~1.5. 8-point plan, but more details about each point. Clinton
Women 0. Brief mentions of women in other sections (civil rights, health care), but nothing much. ~1 Clinton
“Other” The Obama site has lumped a few other issues onto one page. Each issue on that page has a dedicated PDF file fully explaining a more detailed plan: Arts education, child advocacy, Katrina, Science (in addition to his technology section, possibly some overlapping content), “Sportsmen” (probably a 2nd Amendment thing conservation stuff), and Transportation infrastructure. The Clinton site has no agenda details on these issues, except for science, which I’ve put into the Tech section above. Obama

(Methodology: These are estimates. In both cases, I did not count portions of pages or reports that mentioned past histories or experience, as I didn’t think this was pertinent to the question: “What is your plan for Topic X?” I also disregarded introductions to agendas that explain the problem being addressed (each Obama agenda contained such an intro). I mention the media format in the interest of transparency, so you know what I’m basing this on. Page counts are an estimate. Because of the different media formats, I had to estimate how many pages the content would fill up in a standard Word document. Notes regarding the inability to quantify should not be taken to mean that candidate is weak on that subject. It’s just a matter of Web site organization.)

Why use the candidates’ Web sites as the determining factor? Because it should be the definitive archive of everything substantive they have to say about any issue. And it’s all text, so there’s little room for rhetoric. Details, please.

If you disregard page counts and just skim through each site, you’ll notice something else: much of Clinton’s issue pages are devoted to sections called “Ready to Lead,” which list bullet points about her past experience. On some pages, these lists make up the bulk of the content, while real policy ideas get little attention.

Looking at this, it’s clear who is offering more details on their plans. Whether those plans are good, I’m not evaluating. I’m simply trying to debunk this myth that Obama is not offering details, and is instead simply a great orator. Why is this myth being propagated? Probably because he is a great orator.

“I’ve not observed every speech he’s given, obviously, but they are singularly lacking in specifics.”–McCain

“Obama’s message is ‘I am something extraordinary – gaze upon me and everyone will be great. By the mere fact of electing me, we will have transformed the stale politics of the United States.’”–Mark Salter, McCain’s speechwriter

Maybe, in their struggle to find his weakness, they begin these statements with the one thing that everyone knows to be true–”He’s great at giving speeches”–in order to open up the listener’s mind to the words that follow: “but is there anything more to him?” (See Chart 1 for answer).

If the recent trend continues, I’ll come back and do a similar evaluation of McCain’s site. Should be easy. He’s got five total paragraphs on the environment, each of them vacuous.


Update and reactions

I thought this post deserved a wrap-up. So here it is.

  • The day after this post, Obama started injecting more details into his speeches. Meanwhile, Clinton continues to use the “Talk vs Solutions” approach (which I think makes her sound like a management consultant).
  • In comments, Syphos corrected me on Clinton’s civil rights content. Then we had an interesting back-and-forth regarding my selection of the issues in the table. The issues in this table, he pointed out, are not necessarily representative of people’s concerns, and, if I were inclined, I could have targeted issues that I knew Obama was thick on, while not dedicating rows to some of Clinton’s less visible causes. True. However, the issues I chose were those that the candidates themselves identified as their priorities on their respective Issues pages. If they didn’t give an issue a special spot, neither did I. Some would say, “But anyone can just post reams of policy details on their Web site. That doesn’t mean anything.” Well, when you’re saying that candidate isn’t providing policy details, it certainly does.
  • In thinking more about why I wrote this, I became able to verbalize it better: Clinton is saying that “words mean nothing,” trying to suggest that Obama has no details. But what she’s really doing is exploiting the fact that many Obamanians (can we use that word now?) are ignorant of his finer policy agenda and are simply enraptured by his speeches. While this is probably true, she is attacking Obama for something that’s out of his control. And that is what bothers me. He is providing details, and if his fans don’t know what they are, it’s not his fault. Afterall, he’s doing a better job at making them available than anyone else, which takes me to my next point…
  • weighing_in argued below that “Platform statements that cover EVERYTHING are notoriously suspect to most politic watchers. Obama is trying to be everything to everyone…” I agree with the first sentence, but not the second. If you read the site, you’ll see that Obama isn’t hedging (“Guns/immigration/privacy/abortion/giving you lots of money and a hot wife is an important issue that I care about and promise to sort of think about while I’m president.”) but is instead putting his cards on the table. While he does cover lots of issues, the language regarding those issues is very clear. The pages tell you exactly where he stands. That’s very ballsy. He said very unequivocally in a recent debate that he is going to raise taxes on the rich to pay for his health care plan. There: he is no longer everything to everyone.
  • The best counterargument I’ve heard was over on Metafilter: “I didn’t see the part on Obama’s site where it says “This site created and maintained by Barack Obama.” He ain’t writin’ this stuff. Methinks he wouldn’t pass the quiz on it either.” I agree, he ain’t, and he wouldn’t. But if he read it, would he agree with it? Absolutely. There is no way they would put anything on here that wasn’t closely vetted. But again, it’s off-point: Did Clinton write her site? No. Obama’s site is a representation of him, and it provides more details than Clinton’s. Regardless, I would prefer a candidate who does not claim to know everything about everything, but instead asks opinions of true experts and then uses his/her judgment to create a prudent policy based on their input. (Credit this to my personal hero.)
  • Did I just imply that I prefer Obama? A radio show interviewed me about this article today. She asked me straight-out if I’m an “Obama supporter,” which I interpret differently from “Obama fan” (something I disavow above). I take this stuff seriously enough to write a screed on it, so I usually support someone, even if I’m not a fan of them. I have doubts about whether Obama can realize a lot of his goals, but I like that he’s going to try. I think he’s the best of the ones we’ve got left. So, yes. I’m an Obama supporter.I realize that some of you (especially the Clinton fans) will regard me as a weasel, as disingenuous, what have you, for not saying this at the outset. I hoped to stay away from any mention of my preference, given my work for the government, but there it is. (Thanks, XM Radio!) For some time, I was an ardent fan of another candidate, and now that he’s gone, I’m still bitter about having to choose among the remainders. I am honestly torn about who would eventually do a better job as president. Clinton has some things going for her that Obama does not. But, forced to choose, I will do so (indeed, I have). Most of you couldn’t care less about this paragraph, but I thought complete transparency was warranted.

Everything I Know About Giving Presentations I Learned from the Government

I love presenting, and I love critiquing other people’s presentations. I’m not Kawasaki or Conway, but I think I’m decent at it. Most of what I know is thanks to a two-week training course early in my government career, about four years ago. For 13 straight days, I watched a series of presenters stand up and make God-awful briefings. I kept myself awake by taking notes on their presentation styles. (Eventually, I ran out of criticisms, so I wrote down lyrics to Springsteen, The Who, Cream…) Therefore, most of the notes are on how NOT to give presentations. I’ve kept the notes in my desk since then. Here they are:

  1. Only use PowerPoint if absolutely necessary. Never use slides as cue cards. People don’t want to see your own notes. It distracts the audience and draws attention from what you’re saying. If you talk and show me word-filled slides at the same time, I try to read the slides and listen to you simultaneously. I end up doing neither.
  2. A slide deck full of bullet points is the hallmark of poor preparation and ignorance of the subject. If you really had a command of your subject, you wouldn’t need to read directly from your notes/slides.
  3. PowerPoint should be used in SUPPORT of a good talk, not instead of it. Use slides to clarify what you’re saying: show videos, animations (especially helpful when speaking on technical subjects).
  4. Don’t print out your slides and hand them to me. No matter what your slides are like, they are meaningless when they aren’t accompanied by your spoken words. If you want to give handouts, give me something written in standard prose. No bullet points. Remember, cue cards are called cue cards because they cue a thought in the mind of the presenter, who then fully explains the thought to the audience. I can’t extrapolate that thought from your brain simply by reading the cue.
  5. If you have any annoying habits (like saying “i.e.” every sentence like this guy does), find them and stop them.
  6. Don’t introduce your audience to a slew of new terminology and acronyms at the beginning of the presentation, and then use those terms continuously throughout the rest of the talk. You’ll leave your audience in the dust.
  7. Flowcharts: Never.
  8. Actually, flowcharts are okay if they actually show something flowing. But I don’t want to see where your office or component or directorate lies within a 26-node chain of bureaucratic nonsense. (It REALLY IS nonsense. The next time you see an organization chart in a presentation, see if you remember what it said afterward.)
  9. If someone asks a question you can’t answer, that’s fine. Tell the person you’ll find out the answer and then let them know later: “Here’s my email address. Remind me and I’ll find out for you.” You’ll instantly connect with your audience if you do that.
  10. Using people’s names does amazing things for the audience’s attention span and interest in your topic.
  11. If you’re unsure whether people will find your talk interesting, ask yourself: if this were on TV, would I watch it? (When I wrote this, it seemed odd–who would ever watch a presentation on TV?–but now, I do: 1 2 3.)
  12. Easy one: don’t condescend. The moment you do that, your audience is gone.
  13. Retractable pointers: No.
  14. Same goes for podiums.
  15. Here’s a good technique: tell your audience that at the end of your talk, you’re going to go around the room and demand a question from everyone. It keeps them engaged and lets them know they’re more important than you are. Not everyone can pull this off gracefully, though. Do it wrong, and you look like a jackass.
  16. Don’t give me a bunch of numbers unless they’re abnormal. The audience won’t remember the precise numbers anyway. I can handle a couple of numbers if you explain their significance. But don’t bother telling me how many tanks, helicopters, cargo planes, parachutes and cooks you have.
  17. It’s okay to speak from a script. But do NOT read it. Be natural. Do it in a way that keeps the audience from knowing it’s a script.

Some of the bad habits became repeated, hence the brevity of the list considering the time span. One last note: I was very frustrated when I wrote these, so that probably shines through…

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