Feb 23, 2009

Do you speak like Oscar LOSERS?

Every year I watch the Academy Awards to hear the acceptance speeches. And what amazes (and saddens me) every year, is how often the winners act like losers. Many of the winners are people who act for a living, or have been actors in past lives. Furthermore, many of them won earlier this year in other award ceremonies. You can NOT tell me that it hasn't given them the adequate preparation time to give a decent speech.

Now, I have never won a big award like this, so I can imagine that the adrenaline level is extremely high and it probably affects the delivery in unforeseen manners. Still, there are some things that just make some winners seem like LOSERS:
  • Lists and more lists: Some people come on the stage and all they do is read a list of names, without giving much more importance to one or another, adding no personal commentary. This, to me, is similar to someone delivering a presentation and reading the PowerPoint slides during the entire speech. I understand the importance of thanking as many people as possible. However, there needs to be something more than a list of credits. Just a tad of a personal touch.
  • Outpouring of nothing: this is supposed to be a joyous occasion. Some award recipients look like they have been condemned to eternal suffering. No smile, no excitement, nothing. I see many people do that when they stand in front of an audience. An otherwise entertaining and outgoing woman becomes an utter bore. A strong, confident man becomes a meek weakling. All because they may be trying too hard to control their emotions. Yes, you need to keep some emotions in check, but you need not thwart them completely.
  • Surprise, surprise: this year, I didn't hear anyone say: "I wasn't expecting this," nor did I hear "I don't know what to say." So kudos for that. Unless something is absolutely, completely unexpected (one chance out of five is not completely unexpected), there is no reason for these types of comments. You don't apologize for being unprepared.
  • Errring and Uhmming your way though: one "uhm," "ahh," or "err" doesn't kill a speech. But 20 in 45  seconds? Puh-leez! Ok, so maybe I'm exaggerating a bit, yet some bad speeches are made considerably worse by the constant hesitation of the winner. It is a habit that is quite annoying, and even Barack Obama suffers from it (just watch any interview where his speech is unprepared). Getting rid of those annoyances will greatly enhance any speech.
  • Respecting time: there are rules and some people feel their moment in the limelight is more important. I say, if they give you 45 seconds, aim for 35 seconds. It helps you focus your message and, for the audience at home, it makes the show more watchable. Is 45 seconds insufficient for such an important moment? Fine, give them 60, but whatever the amount of time available, award recipients need to respect it. If the people want more time to speak, then they will need to give out fewer awards on air. Always respect the time given for your speech.
  • Saying thank you: this is one thing that everyone does. They show appreciation for the recognition they receive. My belief is that most speeches should end on the words "Thank you" or something to that effect. Of course, sometimes you don't want to end on "Thank you" because it does not fit the final bang you are looking to deliver. However, I disagree with the school of thought that says "You never thank the audience. They should thank you for sharing your wisdom." Hardly. The audience took time out of their lives to listen. Saying thank you is just good form. In no way does it diminish you, or your speech.
You may never be in a situation where thousands of eyes are fixed upon you while millions are watching on television. Yet, you may need to give a speech in front of colleagues, or toast the bride at a wedding, or maybe you will receive an "outstanding service to the company" award. If that ever happens, will you pull it off, or will you end up like a LOSERS?

Feb 18, 2009


I just finished watching an interesting TED 2009 talk by Dr. Barry Schwarz:

Barry Schwartz on our loss of wisdom

He makes an interesting point that the more regulations and incentives are put in place, the less wise we become. Why? Because these rules encourage us to act without thinking, and to put the onus on the aforementioned rules.

I have seen this often in companies:
  • An IT project that should take about one month, can take two or three because there are so many procedures to follow before doing the actual implementation. The procedures take precedence over the results.
  • Because of rigid communication protocols, employees have no access to their boss's superior unless the boss "introduces them".
  • Customer service is anything but, because management will not let their staff make decisions on their own. Should the client require anything special, employees must refuse ("It's our policy") or have to wait until their supervisor is available so he/she can make any decision.
Alan Weiss says that an effective consultant focuses on outputs rather than inputs. In other words, you must focus on the expected results rather than methodology. If your methodolody or procedures don't help get to the result faster, then you should replace it by something else. That's the right thing to do.

However, too often there may be an excessive amount of time, effort, and resources invested in the wrong things. Cutting funding, changing focus, or eliminating cherished procedures is tantamount to admitting that it was a mistake; this is not something that is palatable, for many reasons.

Wisdom is the ability to make these choices and decisions, not because they are easy or scripted, but rather because they are the right thing to do, at this time. Sometimes, one decision can be wise in one situation and foolish in the next.
  • A sports team fires a coach because the team is not producing results as expected. It's a wise decision if the departure of the coach boosts morale and productivity. It is a foolish decision if the decision was made because "that's what we do when the team isn't working out" or if no noticeable changes occur after the firing.
  • A company lays off employees to save money. It's a wise decision if indeed, it is the best option to assure long-term survival instead of short term profit. It is an unwise decision if it only helps the bottom line for one or two quarters, but doesn't help the company thrive or survive the tough times.
  • Airlines typically will not reimburse or change ticket reservations once they have been made, unless clients pay a premium or a service charge. This can be seen as a wise decision since it helps manage cashflow and helps with staff planning. In an unusual move, JetBlue Airways has decided to reimburse passengers who bought tickets early but have lost their jobs in the interim.
As Dr. Schwarz explains, you aren't born wise, you become wise. And you can only become wise by making decisions that are not taken from a cookie-cutter approach.

I come from an IT background, and I remember the problems I had in certain small firms when we were bidding against larger firms. We often lost the bids, simply because we were the "little guy" and our approach was different. As they said, "You can't be fired for picking IBM or Microsoft."

Sure you can't be fired. But is it the wise thing to do?

Feb 8, 2009

Comics and visual design

I have been reading a lot about visual design, lately, and its impact on communication. While listening to a some TED talks, the following comic strip was mentioned. It is a very(!) large strip. To read it, follow the light blue line:

Pup Ponders the Heat Death of the Universe

Feb 2, 2009

The definition of security

I called to cancel a service I have been using for a couple of years. This is the conversation we had:

Me: Hello, I am calling to cancel my service.

Him: Yes sir, may I have your name please?

Me: Laurent Duperval.

Him: Thank you. Now, to validate that I am speaking to the correct person, can you please give me your email address?

Me: Sure. (I give him my business address)

Him: Thank you, sir. By any chance did you ever have an email which was (he spells out my personal email address).

Me: Yes, and I still use it.

Him: Excellent. Now, let's see what we can do for you...