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July 26, 2006

As Good As Steve Jobs


When I posted my entry about the speakers at TED, I did not highlight any of them. Now I’d like to specifically suggest that you watch the video of Majora Carter because there’s a lot we can all learn from this magnificent performance. You can watch it online here or download it here. Again, kudos to TED for making this content available online.

She is every bit as good as Steve Jobs. (Maybe better when you consider she doesn’t have a dozen minions supporting her.) Heck, she’s even a MacArthur Fellow (aka, “genius award”)! On the one hand, I would hate to speak right after she does; on the other, it would be a wonderful challenge. She is the rare speaker who makes meaning and exemplifies the spirit of the 10/20/30 rule of PowerPoint. Here’s what I learned from her speech.

  1. She wastes no time and immediately sucks you into her speech by arousing your curiosity with a story about her dog. (:59) One wonders, “What’s a dog got to do with urban renewal?”

  2. She immediately provides a clear problem statement. (1:00-2:00)

  3. She personalizes her story all the way through the speech. Sure, there’s all the heart-wrenching stuff, but I loved how she discussed her engagement (2:45) and caps off this story with a great use of humor and double entendre: “pressing my buttons...” (2:47)

  4. Her pictures and graphics are highly effective and emotive. For example, she uses a stunning picture of a kid when she discusses obesity in her neighborhood. (3:49) She uses very little text.

  5. She uses vanity in a charming way: “incredibly good looking.” (4:44) She does this in a way that no rich white man could ever hope to.

  6. She shows raw emotions and unveils a piece of her soul when she breaks into tears when talking about her brother being gunned down. (5:10)

  7. She capitalizes on alliteration: “pimps and pushers and prostitutes” (6:50) and repetition: “economic degradation begets environmental degradation which begets social degradation” (7:24) in Martin Luther King-like fashion.

  8. She flaunts a conference rule against pitching for money and then immediately begs for forgiveness. How can you not like a person who has the ovaries to do this? (10:39)

  9. She exhibits excellent coordination with the person who is advancing her slides. I assume this is her fiance doing this. If I find out that they didn’t rehearse this at least twenty five times, I’ll switch to Windows.

  10. She is brilliant and buff. Her presence exudes power and confidence without a trace of arrogance, fear, or condescension (You’d be amazed at how often this ironical combination exhibits itself in most speakers.) She has great teeth (public speakers should get their teeth whitened—I did a few years ago) and shows them by smiling a lot. She animates and emphasizes her points with powerful hand movements while walking around the stage.

  11. She used a Countryman E6i wireless mike (the world's best mike, in my opinion). The conference folks probably provided these mikes to all the speakers, but you can’t do her level of animation with a handheld mike or standing behind a podium. Here’s a subtle piece of irony: she’s using a “white” flesh tone Countryman. It is available in black too. When I bought my Countryman I was asked if I wanted a “yellow” one. :-)

  12. She speaks rapidly—bordering on too rapidly, but she is articulate at all times. And she slows her cadence for her most important points. You can tell that she’s trying to observe her time limit—communicating that she respects the audience’s time.

  13. She uses notes and reads from them in places. Generally, you shouldn’t do this, but all that counts are the end results, so this is a non-issue in her case.

  14. This is an inconvenient truth, but she dissects Al Gore in a wonderful, non-threatening way. It is a priceless juxtaposition of an old, rich, and powerful white man and a black woman from the Bronx. It reminds me of the scenes in samurai movies where a master swordsman decapitates his opponent, but it takes a few seconds for the victim to realize what’s happened. (16:45)

  15. She ends with an insanely great call-to-action: “Please don’t waste me.” How can you top this? (17:57)

I would love it if my daughter would grow up to be a warrior like Majora. Heck, I would love if my sons grew up to be a warrior like Majora. At the very least, anyone with a daughter should watch this video.


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» As Good As Steve Jobs from Blog
Guy Kawasaki wrote to tell me about his post on this fantastic speech given at Ted Talks. This woman is dynamite. When you go over to read the full post, be sure to look at the comments. The comments only support her point that so many people (even Al ... [Read More]

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I want to thank Guy Kawasaki for his July 26th blog post. It was the inspiration for synthesizing some thoughts that I've had in my head for some time. === From The Mailbag Oops. We received a piece of your... [Read More]

» Guy, The Mailbag, and Why Authenticity Rules Radio Advertising, Too from Radio Sage Blog
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I just watched the speech that Majora Carter from Sustainable South Bronx gave at this years TED conference. She talks about her commitment to environmental justice and her vision for a renewed South Bronx1 and it is everything tha... [Read More]

» As Good As Steve Jobs? from A Bob's Life
Guy Kawasaki posted about a speech at TED by Majora Carter (which you can watch here).  He writes that her speech is as good as one done by Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple Computer and Pixar.  Her speech is good; more importantly she is discussing a vit... [Read More]

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I'm loving Guy Kawasaki's blog lately. It's just full of insightful, smart & funny musings on business and other stuff. Recently he has been blogging quite a bit about public speaking, and a few days ago he posted a piece on Majora Carter, the Executiv... [Read More]

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"Me, too." with respect to those other commenters who are baffled by the comparison to Steve Jobs. I just don't see it, for all the reasons already enumerated and more. Sure, she's passionate, and she has the makings of a great speaker, but she's not there yet.

And to be honest, I'm not sure that Steve Jobs is a great presenter against whom others should be compared. He's been pitching things for 30+ years. He's good at the sale. Add to it the fact that he's captivating, charming and charismatic. But I've never been particularly convinced that he actually fully knows the product that he's demonstrating. He just comes off as too polished. When something doesn't work, he skips it and moves on.

Which is why Majora might far exceed his abilities. She knows her material inside and out. She's actually passionate, not just commercially driven, about her topic. When she fumbled, she paused to "fix" the problem, and covered the ground fully. Once she becomes polished, she'll shine brighter than most, if not all. But she's not there yet.

Wow. It felt like drinking a 18' tequila shot. She is so vibrating; she break into tears on stage, but you know her eyes were dry during rehearsal.

And call me chauvinist: Steve is charismatic, but Majora is charismatic and gorgeous.

Compare them and you will fall definitely in the same order of magnitude.

I agree she does go too fast, but I think besides that, her presentation was very good. Steve Jobs never seems rushed and a bit calmer, but maybe it's just that he has more experience or is more confident in himself? She did a good job and I think, gave a good presentation.

Guy, thanks for bringing this lady to our attention. I'm impressed by the style, but much more by the substance of her presentation. She, and her cause, deserve the widest possible coverage. Strong and memorable stuff. And yes, I agree with a previous post, with more experience she can rival the great Steve J.

+1 to Splashman


You are so right. She is a good as Steve Jobs. For those that disagree consider the following:

1) Steve has at least 20 years on this lady. With a little coaching she could be even more amazing.

2) She has true passion for the subject matter. It's her life. She is living this stuff. Do you think that Steve lives every new product? Every new processor, every software update to GarageBand? Come on. The reason it take Steve days to prepare for his presentations is that he has to get into character; he has to practice his lines so that he does not have to "Read" notes.

3) The flip side of point 2 is that Steve has context. He has $100 million dollar ad campaigns and teams of PR hype masters to prep the world for his speech. Majora's only props/support were her boyfriend and a T-Shirt that read, "Green the Hood"! I dare Steve to wear a shirt that says, "Zune Sucks!"

4) You are comparing one speech with dozens of Steve's. And in this single speech she calls out the former Vice President, talks about the murder of her brother and brings the crowd to a standing ovation. Nice! If you are still not convinced, give the sister some time to prove Guy and I right.


The point is, at the end of the talk you cared about what she cared about and therein lies her success. Who will forget that Green is the New Black.

Great content and story, but she is simply not even close to being in the same league as Steve Jobs in terms of presentation skills and message delivery. Just like Steve Jobs isn't in the same league as her when it comes to compassion and sense of justice. They are each great in their own way.

Mike Johnston - you miss the point. Guy held her up as a speaker "as good as Steve Jobs". Now you are not honestly trying to suggest that just because she may be better than the commenters that means she is as good as Steve Jobs? Maybe some of the commenters are poor. Maybe some are OK. Maybe some are truely excellent. Steve Jobs is *one of* (one of) the best presenters around at the moment. She was a poor presenter in the clip shown. Period.

I must agree with some of the other comments.

Majora Carter sounds like a person with a limited amount of talent and experience reading a brilliant speech - written by someone else.

So it seems your judgment is indeed very subjective: it's OK to praise your fifth grader for playing that Mozart piano sonata, but that doesn't make it the perfect performance.

BTW: Has Steve Jobs expressed his opinion on the comparison?

This was a very interesting presentation. She certainly gets her point across- reading or not.

I'm surprised at all the negative comments here about the presentation actually. Guy, perhaps you should ask these individuals to post links to the presentations that they have delivered in front of Al Gore? It sounds as if they are a thousand times better perhaps (sarcasm)? Those who live in glass houses should not cast stones.

What it proved to me is that she is as good as Steve Jobs at getting a point across. She may not be slick (Jobs), aggressively intense (Tony Robbins) or very 'media' (too many to mention). Whether she is reading from a script, or stumbling, or trying to cram too much in; a couple of hours later, I can still explain what the presentation is about to another person. I agree, that makes her a good speaker.

"How can you not like a person who has the ovaries to do this?"


Excellent visual presentation - very poor presenter. An excellent presentation is always ruined by a crap presenter. I found key points lost in her monotonous reading tone which was too rushed and garbled at times. If Jobs read from a script, too fast and in monotone as she does, he'd never be held in such high esteme. If she had said less this would have been so much more powerful. Very odd that you would big this up so much Guy, very odd. Jobs and her are not even in the same sport - never mind ball-park!

I watched her presentation, and while I thought she took a while to warm up and could have benefitted from not reading a script, her heartfelt passion blew me away.

You get a sense of authencity and humanity from her that is so immediate and real that you not just feel for her, but makes you want to be on her side.

I'd say that at the end of the day, the technical bits of a presentation aren't as important as the feeling you leave your audience with.

Hello Guy,
I watched this speech and am not very impressed with it. Some reasons,
1. She is clearly reading.
2. She speaks too fast.

I do see that puts a lot of spirit into her speech but it is mediocre at best. It really is not as hyped up as it projected by you. I am surprised that you have given this such a high rating.

I too don't think Majora deserves quite so many praises. While I appreciated the subject of the talk, and what she has achieved, the delivery was mediocre at best. On the other hand, I thought Sir Ken Robinson's TED speech was fantastic: http://www.ted.com/tedtalks/tedtalksplayer.cfm?key=ken_robinson


I agree with SplashMan : the fact is, she is reading, and it shows. There was a post about her on presentationzen.blogs.com (http://presentationzen.blogs.com/presentationzen/2006/06/if_your_ideas_w.html), where Garr Reynolds explains why her presentation could have been better. I don't deny she does not have her moments, but they were too few to be compared to what Steve can do.

I don't think she's a sensationally good speaker (I had considered that this might be a deliberate ploy but even I am not quite that cynical). However, she has a great story to tell and that passion beats out any presentation trickery any time.

That's why I linked to this talk as my definition of remarkable some months ago.

I totaly agree with Stephen Fowler. The magic in her presentation lies in her naturalistic look and handling the event. She behaves like a human, she looks like a human, and she impresses everyone thats a human. And all this contributes to and amplifies the presentation. That is not fake, but its real. And therefore forgiving, emotional and extremely passionate.

Hi Guy I thought that I would let you know that I watched the video of Majora Carter and yes I thought it was excellent too.

For me although I liked your points, I couldn’t help but feel her presentation was too fast and as such was a shame, because of the fantastic content. Saying that this speed is obviously due to her nervousness and trying to get through all the points in a set time, I assume.

What she does do for me is with this nervousness and not so perfect presentation, for me makes her more endearing, genuine and shows her passion and belief in her product and for that reason I loved it.

Guy, I'm trying to understand why you give Majora a pass on the two most obvious characteristics of her presentation: She speaks too fast, and she's reading a script. These are not trivial; they are fundamental. Yet your description of her is almost worshipful. I can't help but wonder why.

"Bordering on too rapidly"? And the ocean borders on too damp. Look, I'm not trying to slam her. I appreciated her presentation, and if you hadn't compared her favorably with His Steveness, I might have appreciated her even more. As it was, Majora's presentation brought memories of 10th grade speech class to mind. It is impossible, I submit, for a person not already in love with Majora to give her a pass on the speed of her delivery. "Respects the audience's time"? By cramming three times as many words into her presentation as would normally be considered effective? Sorry, I don't buy it.

"She reads from notes and uses them in places." Um . . . She's reading 95%+, and even if there were no video, it would still be obvious she was reading it, because of her monotonous delivery. Yes, she slows a bit at times, and a few lines are delivered well, but the overwhelming majority is read as if she's reciting financials. "All that counts are the end results." I agree. The end result of this presentation, for me, is shaking my head at what might have been, had she trimmed her content by two-thirds, memorized it, and spent ten minutes with a speech coach.

There is much to admire about her presentation, but these two fundamentals are sorely (and obviously) lacking. Believe me, I'm not trying to butter you up when I say that your own presentations are much more effective than this one.

Thanks for this, I learned a lot from her talk. Out of curiousity, will you be responding to her call for investment?

"As good as Steve Jobs"? Sorry, not even close. The first few minutes of the speech were as excruciating as watching a high-school student read a paper aloud. The dog story was a bust for me. It did seem to get better once she took a breath and lightened up a bit, but then it went right back to a monotonous too-fast rendering. Sorry, didn't work for me at all, especially after watching some of the other talks in the series. (OK, the slides were good).

My point is that I can make you lots of money - call it a triple bottom line if you will. I think Majora agrees we should embrace our inner capitalist, and I think that's a great segway for what I've been working on.

A way to save trees, make loads of money, and teach people new things. Please e-mail me if you have time to chat about it.

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