Public Speaking Tips from Brett

Brett Tabke is the excellent owner and “last stop” moderator of WebmasterWorld, the largest forum in the world dealing with Search Strategies and SEO. “PubCon” is the WMW conference and is held annually in Las Vegas and at other cities during the year.

The PubCon blog has Brett’s excellent article that is suggesting detailed tips on Public Speaking and preparing a good presentation.

Unfortunately for all of us even good advice goes largely unheeded by speakers for reasons I’ve never understood. Part of the problem is that self-confident, smart folks often are poorly prepared, thinking they can “wing it” because they’ve seen other self-confident smart folks *look like* they wing presentations when in fact really good talks are usually canned and focused more on entertainment than education. I often want to gag when I hear people rave about an entertaining talk as if they learned something, only to 1) note that the talk probably was not really about anything of much substance and 2) watch the raver’s future behaviors change NOT A WIT.

I’ve given several travel technology presentations and I’ve sat through *a lot* of conference presentations over the past ten years or so and it’s pretty clear to me that speakers are more born than made, and they are entertainers not educators. Real learning can be fun but it takes brain work most conference folks simply don’t want to do. This is why the unconference is so effective.  I noted that my “popular” talks tended to deal very simply with complex topics and not go very deep, which just confused people.  Also I’d throw in fun or intriguing items to keep people interested.  Unfortunately this made it tough to really “dig in” and talk about the intricacies of the topic.

For every Guy Kawasaki there are a hundred regular folks and another hundred lousy speakers. Guy is a superb speaker with – I think – a lot of canned presentations that “feel” spontaneous. He injects some anecdotes to shake it up a little, but the one time I heard him talk it was just too polished to be “real”, and I was told after that somebody had seen the same talk before – I think more than once!

The Mind of the Machine … is you?

I think I like Kurzweil’s optimistic AI scenarios more than this version of reality
that posits we are all computer simulations run by a more advanced intellect which itself may be a computer simulation.

This sounds fanciful, but I’d suggest that this type of philosophical speculation is a lot more pragmatic and reasonable than the Jean Paul Sartre silliness I studied in Philosophy classes back in the 1980’s.

Kurzweil’s very reasonable suggestion is that we’ll soon have conscious, very intelligent computers. He also suggests that these machines will quickly lead to a sort of cosmic explosion of intellect that would easily be capable of massive “simulations” of intelligent life. What if this already has happened? One thing that bugs me about Kurzweil’s ideas is that it seems totally unreasonable to suggest that our feeble earth / human technologies will be the first to make this jump to massive cosmic intelligence. The idea that we’d be the first to do this seems very unreasonable to me given the age of the universe. Our universe has been around for about 15 billion years and we are not all that amazing. I’d think many intelligent creatures would have come around by now. If Kurzweil is right it seems at least a few of these would have made the leap to the singularity-style intellects.

How to reconcile these things? My gut feeling is that we really are physical, evolutionarily designed, meat and potato biological beings who have a capacity to think and reflect that is a product of the massive processing power of the bunches of neocortical columns and synaptic firing that goes on in our brains. Kurzweil is right about the rise of intelligent machines – coming soon to a virtual theater near all of us – but he’s wrong about the exploding cosmic intellect. There will be limitations – probably based on physical laws of our universe relating to speed of light and other constraints – that will prevent us from becoming “too big”. This explains why we’ve (probably) had no contact with other intelligent beings – we are just too far away and unfortunately we live at the edge of our galaxy where presumably a lot fewer intelligences exist than nearer the center.

Pligg for sale, Searchmob, and Arabian Horse Breeding

TechCrunch reports that Pligg is up for sale.   The clone of the Digg project was a great way to easily and effectively set up a user community where people could submit, review, and rank articles.    John Battelle used it nicely over at SearchMob  in an attempt to enhance his excellent search news coverage at Search Blog.

Unfortunately at SearchMob it seemed to me that the reviews became more of a breeding ground for SEO tactics than a clearinghouse for quality search news.    Several participants would primarily list stories at their own sites that were referencing *other* source stories.   This is not necessarily bad but I found at SearchMob that only a fraction of the stories were “high quality”.    That said I’m not a big fan of Digg either because my interests still don’t seem to match the normal onliner demographic very well.

Pligg may not be the best example of how to make money on Web 2.0 because it was an open project and an advanced concept used by tech-savvy folks more than mainstream people.   Mainstream is where the numbers are and therefore, usually, where the money is.   Still, Pligg had buzz, traffic, and a community.   This should be enough to do well enough to keep building the project.   It’s possible the owners really *could* keep running the site and quit their jobs but want to try for a big payoff now while VC money is still flowing briskly into startups.   In fact this makes a lot of sense and if true it means my analysis here is probably flawed – ie they are selling at opportune time rather than for the stated reasons of “too busy to run it”.

Pligg’s founders suggest that they are selling because they have real jobs and don’t have time to manage the growing and thriving Pligg community.    I find this very interesting because they clearly have done Web 2.0 “right” – they created a useful service, got lots of people actively involved and developing for it, and have a powerful community of users.   So why can’t they quit their jobs and just work on Pligg and rake in lots of money?    Don Dodge’s mini-analysis of some time ago has part of the answer.   Even most VC funded startups don’t appear to return enough for the average VC to break even on the investment.    If true this is a really provocative notion – rich people are funding companies and losing money.   Like Arabian Horse breeding or Casino gambling it may be that playing the startup game is so enjoyable – and the potential deceptive enough for many wealthy folks that they continue to fund companies that, on average, will only return a portion of their investment over time.   Are Startups , on average, a bad investment?