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