At the Presentation Summit, before Nancy Duarte began her keynote, Rick Altman did a Seinfeld impersonation about a head of lettuce! He then reminisced about Nancy’s involvement with the Presentation Summit back in 2003 (then called PowerPoint Live).
Nancy started her session by mentioning how happy she was to see many recognizable faces. She observed that while much has changed since 2003, presenting faces the same challenges. She acknowledged the presenting firms spearheaded by MVPs and so many other people. Nancy attended an Entrepreneurs’ Roundtable for presentation agency owners the previous night, and reconfirmed that people in the presentation industry play a role in changing the world.
Below are some remarks from her talk:
Everyone in this room can create something out of nothing. Leaders imagine and then lead others into the future.
She projected the Venture Scape from her new book, Illuminate that illustrates why change is essential.
She mentioned that innovating requires constant reinventions. Her own company, Duarte has been through eight reinventions in the last twenty-eight years; that means there has been a reinvention every four years. If there is no reinvention, small businesses, on an average, fail every four years. To avoid failure, we have to be on our toes; we must be ready for a change.
She spoke about her husband, Mark Duarte who started as a freelancer. Nancy joined him later and they evolved as a service bureau. Nancy added:
We did whatever work we could, and then intentionally decided to be a design team. We needed to transform ourselves.
Nancy then mentioned the impact Jim Collins’ book Good to Great had on her firm, which said:
If there is one thing that you can do, be best in the world at, passionate about and profitable at, do just that one thing.
So her firm decided to only do presentations.
The eight Duarte reinventions are:
- Service Bureau
- Design Firm
- Presentation Niche—this was around 2001, when the Bay area economy came down crashing. We needed to be known to others through our niche.
- Influence in the World—this was around the time Slide:ology was released.
- Storytellers—this is when Resonate came out.
- Global Ready
- Lead Through Story
Nancy spoke about her experiences visiting India ten years ago. During this trip, nothing moved her as much a trip to a school where she met hundreds of girls who were creating PowerPoint slides. In these girls, Nancy saw the future workforce. She had already read that India was poised to be the world’s second largest economy by the year 2050.
She had read in the news that 178,000 jobs in the field of graphic design were to be outsourced. This realization set her to think that she had to change her firm once again, and that’s why she began specializing in storytelling. And Nancy said:
These young students in India wanted my job; I had to be different.
India’s perception of beauty was different than the US, so I knew I had 10 years.
I had 10 years to convert my shop from only design into storytelling.
And then Nancy began speaking about her main topic for the keynote: how to use speeches, stories and ceremonies to persuade:
A story has a structure and is a container for info.
People can repeat the last story they heard, but not the last presentation they saw.
When you listen to a story, all the sensory parts of your brain light up.
The brains of the teller and the listener sync while storytelling is happening.
Stories also transport.
When stories are told, the analytical parts of the brain are suspended and open the brain to consider.
Nancy mentioned that stories typically have a 3-act structure:
- Beginning. Establish the hero as likeable.
- Middle. The hero encounters roadblocks.
- End. The hero emerges transformed.
Nancy then spoke about her own life story with a “messy” middle where she didn’t have empathy modeled for her as a child. This led her to believe that she herself may not be empathic to others, and she has created models of empathy through her books and body of work.
Patti has a natural gift; a supernatural amount of empathy.
Nancy then spoke about why for some leaders “sharing stories can be hard because they do not want people to know who we really are.” She then shared some more wisdom:
The sense of building and releasing tension is important in a story. Great speeches are structured by contrasting what is, and what could be. Then a great talk ends by articulating the new bliss (the new norm) you want to see established. Because people will remember the last thing you say more than what you say in the beginning and the middle.
Nancy then spoke about a few well-known (and some little-known) speeches that utilized this structure:
- Margaret Thatcher’s Iron Lady speech.
- Jawaharlal Nehru’s Tryst with Destiny speech.
- Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. She said this speech takes around seventeen and a half minutes to read. Was this the very first TED talk?
- Law of Gravity lecture by Richard Feynmand, Physics professor at Cal Tech.
- Steve Jobs’ iPhone launch speech. This one was long at 90 minutes, but it had a heightened sense of “what can be”.
- Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech. This one was 16 minutes long. Yet, many of the cited parts from this speech are the ones where there are fluctuations.
- Speech from Nancy’s 11-year old niece, who convinced her parents to buy her a pet mouse. This speech had the entire persuasive structure including the final bliss.
Nancy then added that “even people who feel they are not qualified can learn and talk with passion and conviction.”
From stories, Nancy then ventured to the topic of ceremonies. Ceremonies have been with us for thousands of years, in the form of rituals. Even ceremonies use the 3-act structure:
- Beginning. Separation.
- Middle. Transitions.
- End. Reincorporation.
Nancy spoke more about ceremonies:
Ceremonies demarcate endings and beginning. It helps release what was and embrace something new.
We go through corporate changes—big changes. The past will cling to your staff and clients. You need a ceremony to make it clear what to let go of.
She then shared an anecdote from Steve Jobs’ life. She spoke about how when Steve Jobs returned to Apple ended, they had no OS strategy. Ultimately, they bought Steve Jobs’ company NeXT, Inc., which became Max OS X. But there was resistance from developers wanted to create applications for this new OS. It was then that Steve Jobs used the power of a ceremony. He actually buried Mac OS 9 in a coffin, shut the coffin, and eulogized it. That was pretty dramatic, but it did convey the message. In fact, Steve himself never uttered “Mac OS 9” again. It was dead to him.
Ceremonies are about ending and beginning. Ceremonies are about ending something so that something new can begin.
From stories and ceremonies, Nancy moved to her third and final topic: transformations.
Nancy added that even transformations follow the 3-act structure:
- Beginning. This is the Dream and Leap phase. She talked about Howard Schultz, the chairman and CEO of Starbucks who spent 10 million dollars to fly his store managers into New Orleans. He flew them into the city in disrepair after Hurricane Katrina, and 10,000 managers volunteered hours to repair the city. He immersed them into recognize Starbucks’ own disrepair and their role in resolving it. Howard then asked employees to make a commitment by signing a wall that asked: “What you do differently when you get back to your store?”
- Middle. It’s in the middle where your team might get tired of fighting and climbing. Some might feel that the risk is not worth taking.
- End. This is when you finally arrive and reflect on the journey.
Nancy then spoke about the 5 stages in the Venture Scape, and how each of them is associated with a different kind of moment:
- Dream; a moment of Inspiration
- Leap; a moment of Decision
- Fight; a moment of Bravery
- Climb; a moment of Endurance
- Arrive; a moment of Reflection
Nancy spoke about the last reinvention her organization went through. Layers and layers of processes took three years, and everything was rigid and painful. It was around this time that Nancy was writing Illuminate, the book that talks about the Venture Scape, and she found that ironically, her own team was in the Fight/Climb phase, exhausted. So she stepped back in with a moment of Endurance to lead them to the next phase.
So, they hosted “ShopDay”. Everyone was handed a shop apron so they would help work on the shop. Employees shared all the things they felt the company needed to do to improve. Facilitators helped and the final feedback was synthesized. At the end of the day, six teams had to present in 2 minutes without PowerPoint slides what they think the company should focus on.
As a final ceremony, employees created a communal art piece, and this is still on the walls at Duarte.
So she listened to employees and reflected on their comments. She started surveying employees and found that their opinions were polarized. Employees had varying perceptions around what direction the company should take.
So Nancy went back into old presentations and strategies to see the firm endured hardship in the past from the dotcom era in 2001, and she found slides with words that reached out to her. Some of these words were:
To her delight, Nancy found that these words formed the acronym, BLIS.
And it was bliss again indeed when Nancy engaged with her employees a while later. Employees asked Nancy and her husband to stand in the middle of a drum circle. And then every employee who was present said part of the prayer that her husband had recited for 26 years.
Here are some closing thoughts from Nancy:
Duarte has recovered, and what changed? The hearts and minds of people.
We undid much of the process put in.
Duarte tries to be torchbearers.
We are trying to make change happen in this industry.
So much of the journey is about how far we all have brought this industry in 10 or 15 years.
We all want to continue to lead this industry into its next glorious place; it is ready for reinvention.
Nancy recollected that she spoke about the story structure in 2010. She asked other to look at their successful talks, and the talks of others such as Martin Luther King and analyze. But once you know the rules, you should break the rules a little bit!