Giving Presentations

I finally turned myself on to watching videos from TED, or the Technology, Entertainment, and Design conference held every year in Monterey, CA (where I used to live for Arabic classes). The conference is known for pulling together a bunch of great minds who give great PowerPoint presentations on great ideas. Ironically, the first video I watched was by this programmer who engineered the Nintendo Wii remote sensors into an incredibly cheap touch screen using a computer, a Wiimote, and a projector.

But I then watched a lot of presentations about international development and how people were tackling issues of poverty. And then I watched some other ones about the future of the web and the expansion of collaborative knowledge networks.

One part that appealed to me was that these people had come up with a theme or story, and then used it to make their presentations seem free-flowing and energetic. Just think about how effective Al Gore’s been with his slides on climate change.

As I’ve had to come up with a video pitch and presentation myself this semester, I appreciated their skill at giving their (albeit obviously rehearsed) excellent slideshows. I even passed one of the development scatterplot slideshows to the people in my class and it ended up getting distributed among our stats class as well (although without accrediting me with it). I had to watch my first video pitch in front of my classmates and it was excruciating hearing every little filler word, every extraneous phrase, all the meandering and bad body posture and lack of smiling. Creating a convincing pitch (and being on film in general) is pretty difficult.

From there I watched some videos from the recent Web2.0 conference in San Francisco, which looked like it was amazing. A guy from Microsoft gave the big companies’ take on things, envisioning something called “the mesh” that lets you keep all of your different (Microsoft-only) devices sync’d by connecting to a common folder on the Internet; the extension of which lets you add friends to your mesh and instantly have your photos that you upload show up in their mesh — it creates this sort of patched-together, growing network of knowledge.

Another presenter talked about an interesting little metric that I noticed some other people talk about. Clay Shirky was waxing about the “cognitive surplus”, the idea that for the first time, the younger generations are “looking for the mouse”, or in other words they no longer settle for a passive entertainment experience, and seek ways to share and contribute. So there’s millions of people joining the Internet out there and they’re all contributing little bits of knowledge to sharing projects like Wikipedia. That Wikipedia provides articles far more in-depth than epistemic encyclopedias can is just an amazing development.

But now people are talking about what a Wikipedia unit means. I am not sure of the calculation, but it’s an approximation of the thinking-hours spent to create Wikipedia. If we can only capture a small sliver of the cognitive surplus of all those minds out there, Shirky says, then we’ll be unlocking large amounts of processing power. An Israeli economist gave a talk on how we’ll create projects that are many times the size of a Wikipedia unit, reversing centralized power structures. Others talk about broadband speeds increasing so fast that we’ll be able to transfer multiple Wikipedias per second. It’s become a unit of measure, both in size and in time.

Shirky’s talk also helped to convince me that my personal business idea is more of a Wikipedia than a Facebook. That has helped me organize my thoughts much better — and I’m just so fucking excited about where the Internet is going.

Other good talks I listened to: Marc Andreessen, who helped invent Mosaic and Netscape, the first mainstream browsers, talking about his new business Ning, which is a platform for creating communities. I’m not too hot on the idea but it was interesting to hear him talk. Also Tim O’Reilly, whose business sponsored the Web2.0 conference, talking about all the big ideas about the future of the web. Great talk!