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Saturday, 26 September 2009 at

Men in Bathrooms, Men in Sheds

I was at the London Minibar and I talked to some interesting people, including Sarbjit Singh Bakhshi from UK Trade and Investment who was pushing their LinkedIn group http://bit.ly12MzOb.

While watching the presentations, this song kept drifting through my mind. This was a very bad collection of presentations. I heard an episode of Desert Island Disks once where Sue Lawley interviewed a polar explorer.  This guy went on an expedition, I think walking to the North pole and when he got back, he found - I don't know why he was surprised by this - that walking to the North pole isn't a particularly lucrative activity. Rather he was in debt, in danger of losing his house and still owing the bank thousands and thousands of pounds.  His slightly eccentric way of dealing with his financial problems was to write to Sir John Mills the great actor saying "it's your fault I'm in this mess."  How could his overdraft possibly be John Mills' fault? It was Sir John Mills who had starred in the film "Scott of the Antarctic" that had been this explorer's inspiration when he'd seen the film as a child.

Rather than ignoring the letter, which would have seemed to be an extremely sensible approach, John Mills sent him a reply: "Come round for tea." So the explorer found himself explaining his appalling financial situation while sipping tea and sitting on Sir John Mill's sofa. He explained that he was ruined financially.

"There's only one way out of this mess my boy! You're going to have to talk your way out of it," said Sir John.

Johnny Darling

"But I can't talk my way out it, the banks don't want to talk to me, they just want to take my house," said the explorer.

"You're not going to be talking to bankers, you're going to be talking to an audience."

So John Mills and the explorer spent the rest of the afternoon in John Mills' bathroom (the acoustics in there made it a good place to practice).  Working up the material and presentational skills he needed to put together an inspirational public speaking business.  And so, finally, I arrive it my point. 

Every presenter I've ever seen at the London Minibar - and at many other events where technology startups present their stuff -

could do with a couple of hours in John Mills' bathroom.

If the UK Government is serious about improving UK Technology's image abroad, one thing they might try is to bring together two fantastic British traditions lone eccentric inventors (men in sheds) and the stage (men who talk for a business and practice in the bathroom).

Three points for possible consideration:


1) Sound.  YOU HAVE TO BE HEARD.  And, nowadays, really, you have to be heard well enough to be heard on the internet. I understand that the devil will always get the best music, but why should a bunch of nerds have the worst sound system?  Dudes you're nerds!  Microphones, amplifiers, mixing desks!  This is techy stuff. Isn't any of this exciting you?  Nobody wants to hear anybody say anything over a circa 1975 village fete tannoy system.  Some options:

  • Get a decent sound system, including radio microphones, amplifiers, mixing desks and some training on how to use all these things.  I don't know much about this myself, but I would love to learn, I would love to know how mic myself up so that every talk I ever gave from now on was of sufficient quality that I could put it up on the net for people to download.  How do you do that? 
  • Teach people how to speak to a crowd rather than shout over it - actually, for the London mini bar this is a much better option because, unless it was very slick and very unobtrusive, I think the professional sounds system would get in the way of the "informal" atmosphere at the London Minibar, although, truth be told, Minibar is now actually just a bit too big.  One thing that really might work is to go promenade theatre style where speakers don't stand on the stage, they either create a circle in the audience and speak in that, or they stand on something, like a soap box.
  • And idea to radically improve the London Minibar.  Each presenter gets to spend a day before the London minibar with a top-class presentation coach, somebody like David Gillespie of The Speechworks at the end of that day, they can deliver a speech about their product and be heard without the need of a PA and without recourse to some of the worst powerpoint presentations in the world.

2) Preparation - OK, whatever product, innovation or business you're pitching, sit down and think about how many hours of work went into developing this product or business.  Now estimate how much time has gone into this presentation that you're about to deliver?  What is that second number as a percentage of the first?  If it's not in double figures you need to do some more work.  I've spent most of my working life around creative scientists and engineers and I know that they have a deep profound distrust of marketing and presentation - that they are somehow dishonest professions.  As a result of this I have seen many supposed marketing presentations in which tens if not hundreds of person years of work is explained using a presentation in which has not had ten hours of thought.  It's a crying shame, it's, literally, a waste of human lives, it needs to be stopped.

3) Dump that disgusting powerpoint crutch.  Do you really want the way the world sees your product to be something like an instruction manual for a 1950's dialysis machine? Right.  So why is there 1000 words of 10 point text on your powerpoint slides?

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