This article appears as an appendix in The Storyteller’s Spellbook available on Amazon (link at the end of the article). Updated and amplified because current pandemic work conditions require it.

Presentation skills are my thing. I study them. I practice them. I teach them to others. The most challenging place to practice any of them is over audio or video conference calls. This article is about how to deliver such a presentation with memorable skill.

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It’s ‘what you say,’ ‘how you say it’ and ‘what you do while you are saying it.’

Understand that remote audience is different than a live one and it makes it much harder to engage with them. I’ve been part of remote audiences and I’ve never enjoyed it. Generally, I will listen for a while, giving the speaker a chance, and then pull out my laptop and get some work done. Since the speaker can’t see me, I am even more inclined to ignore him. Moreover, I think there is psychology affecting speakers that compounds this divide, one that holds us back. The inability to see an audience and gauge their reaction and response to what you are saying makes it especially hard to connect with them. …


Former Microsoft engineer James Whittaker talks about how CEO Satya Nadella can fix the deeply flawed company

An image of the Microsoft logo.
An image of the Microsoft logo.
Photo: SOPA Image/Getty Images

The only easy answer to the question “what was it like working at Microsoft?” is “Which one?” My on-again, off-again Microsoft career spanned three different versions of the company, each deeply inspirational and tragically flawed in its own unique way. As it once again struggles to reinvent itself, the Microsoft of the future is being weighed down by the ghosts of its past.

The Microsoft of the ’90s, with Bill Gates calling the shots, was a technology-forward company, fast-paced, ambitious, and unapologetically capitalistic. It was a beast, number one in nearly every genre that mattered, dreaded by its partners, feared by its competitors, and alternately loved and hated by its users. Raw ambition and single-minded drive for dominance pervaded the company, from senior leaders on down to individual contributors. Working for Microsoft during the ’90s was an intellectual rush, wrapped in the opulence of runaway personal wealth. …


The world is full of frauds. From conspiracy theories to alternative facts, it is important to teach young people how to detect bullshit. Enter Santa Claus: the first fraud any child is likely to fall for and thus the logical place for bullshit detection education to commence.

When my children were born in the mid-90s, it was popular to teach kids not to believe in Santa Claus. Eventually, the argument went, they would grow up and discover the ruse. They might become heartbroken at the shattering of a childhood fantasy, some parents argued. They might cease to trust their parents, others opined. …


How do you capture a life’s essence in a few short minutes? How do you eulogize a man you loved and admired in front of his family and friends? Through tears, that’s how. RIP: James Whittaker 1930–2017.

The hardest part of writing this eulogy was the memories.

Memories, you see, had a way of following my family around. We collected them like souvenirs. From crazy times with our many relatives (that’s right Uncle Roy, I am talking about you and that wonderfully, completely indescribable family of yours) to private moments alone, my dad formed the center of our family.

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We chose a picture from a defining moment of his life rather than a current one.

I’m going to be honest, my dad wasn’t a doting father. He let us live. He let us make mistakes. He knew how to console and he knew how to punish. He let us learn the hard way or the easy way, it was always our choice. But whatever path we chose, we knew he had our back. …


How to confront performance anxiety and gain control over your stage fright.

The stage is a monster. The lights are bright. The eyes are many. The fear is palpable. Escape? Possible. But only through abject humiliation.

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Go on. Try not to puke. I dare you.

And being onstage is only the culmination of your anxiety. For days, it builds. Self-doubt takes over your world. Your family is forced to deal with a person they do not know. All other work and responsibilities suffer. Anxiety has ‘jacked your ability to interact with the world.

On presentation eve, sleep is elusive. The rising terror thrives in the dark and the rising sun brings little cause for hope. The commute to the venue, whether across town, country or world, is a blur of nerves and dread. Of course, not a single personal problem or work distraction has taken time off in deference to your big presentation. And, as if any one of these demons were not singularly enough, you finally reach the podium only to be greeted by the mother of all panic attacks. …


You should have woken to the nation’s first female president. You should have woken to hope, for your gender and for your generation.

Instead, you woke up in a world where hate and racism have re-emerged and gained traction in every branch of our elected government.

But I need you to understand that she didn’t lose because she was a woman. This was not a referendum on the fitness of a female for the highest office in our land. We still live in a country where anyone can win. If nothing else, Trump’s victory proves that. …


Google is worse than I thought four years ago. And its sickness may well be fatal.

I left Google. I then exercised my freedom of speech and blogged about it. The post went viral. Now 4 years later it still resurfaces as a topic of conversation. I’m no less surprised now as I was then but I am also no less inclined to join the conversation since, after all, I started it.

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As many astute readers note, mine wasn’t a rant about a big company because I joined a bigger one in Microsoft. It also wasn’t about any grievance I had with my employment. Google treated me well and I reciprocated by fulfilling my role on a number of important products and being an effective proponent of Google’s developer story. We were a thing. James and Google. Jamoogle? Goojames? …


Wanted: A generation of technologically gifted, open-minded idealists willing to step up and change a world that is in desperate need of changing. That’s right, Millennials, I am talking to you. Your forebears were only smart enough to fuck up this world. You must be smart enough to un-fuck it.

The quality of a generation is demonstrated by its collective response to the seminal problem of its time. The Greatest Generation, for example, shall forever be remembered for freeing the world from the grip of fascism. The generations that followed, Baby Boomers and Gen X, did little more than stumble through the problems of our day. …


Our schools aren’t merely broken. They’re doomed. The educational system that has been re-gifted from generation to generation since frontier days is finally at its end of life. After surviving political mismanagement and chronic under-funding for decades, it is technology that will deal the death blow. The same technology industry that turned retail, photography, music, publishing and entertainment on their heads and transformed society at large has the business of education firmly in its grasp. For the first time ever, our schools are not the only (or best) way to learn. With the monopoly breached, the question isn’t how to fix schools. …


How technology unseated an angry dynasty

2015 was the worst in a string of very bad years for old white guys. The evidence is mounting: legal weed, gay marriage, brain injuries in sports, black lives that really do matter, green energy, LGBT civil rights and atheism running amok among the young. Clearly old-white-guy power is waning when this perfect storm of everything they hate, and old white guys do know how to hate, has grown strong enough to reach the tipping point. It’s time to circle the wagons and wait out the final assault.

That assault is coming. Whatever old white guys hated about 2015 they’re going to get much more of in the coming years. With a black guy on the US throne, a kid on the Canadian one and the most powerful European leader a woman, the places where old white guys can gather to quietly plot the future are becoming harder to find. Even the Pope — a perfect trifecta of old, white and male — is turning against them. …

About

James Whittaker

xFBI, xGOOG, xMSFT, speaker, writer, career guru. Chaotic good.

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