Article Category: Speech Critiques, Visual Aids

Critique: Lessig Method Presentation Style (Dick Hardt, Identity 2.0, OSCON 2005)


Dick Hardt - Identity 2.0I first viewed Dick Hardt‘s Identity 2.0 presentation from OSCON 2005 over two years ago. It was unlike any presentation I had ever seen at the time. I noted that I had just been injected with information.

I recently returned to the presentation with a more critical view.

  • Was the presentation really that good?
  • Was it the style, the substance, or both?
  • More importantly, what can we, as presenters, learn from it?

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Style, Substance, or Both?

Hardt’s talk uses the Lessig Method or Lessig Presentation style. (Hardt credits Lawrence Lessig on his last slide.) In fact, this talk has often been cited (example1, example2) as one of the more noteworthy examples of the Lessig Method of presentation. Lessig himself comments on the presentation:

Dick Hardt is brilliant. Watch (and copy) the style.

The Lessig style is certainly the first thing one notices about this presentation. Martin Davidsson writes:

It’s hard to not pay attention to this style of presentation.

I would go one step further and suggest that it is hard to pay attention to anything other than the style of presentation.

Does the style of presentation overwhelm the message, or is the message effectively conveyed? Tony MacDonell argues the latter:

I … was totally impressed by the clarity of his presentation in comparison to most web 2.0 discussions that are generally vague.

I agree with Tony on this point. I doubt that Hardt’s goal is to do a spectacular job of illustrating the “Lessig Method”. His chief motivation is to deliver his pitch, and he has done this very well.

Aside from the Lessig Presentation Method which frames this talk, Hardt has employed numerous techniques which contribute to a strong presentation.

Speech Opening

Opening “Who am I?” segment. Rather than seeming like a “let me quickly introduce myself so that I can get on with my real talk”, the introductory “Who am I?” segment is core to the presentation (after all, this is a talk about identity) and is consistent with the presentation style used throughout.

SlideSlideSlideSlide

“if you don’t know Dick” (00:56) – This is a reference to Hardt’s past successes. ActiveState, a company he founded, used a catchy marketing slogan – “If you don’t know Perl, you don’t know Dick” This is a subtle reference, perhaps too subtle. However, the live audience for this talk was likely quite familiar with the reference, so he gets a pass. He makes another reference to this phrase at 14:54.

Lots of Humour

He gets plenty of laughs at 1:18, 1:52, 2:22, 2:50, 3:20, 6:14, 6:26, 8:00, 11:00, and 12:32, and there are other funny bits as well. There is even some “hidden” humour, such as the pictures of Mona Lisa and Lady Diana in the photo ID at 3:00.

Keeping the Big Picture In Mind

Know (and identify with) your audience. Hardt cycles through books, magazines, and movies which he enjoys (at 2:24). This is not filler. Since it is likely his audience shares these likes with him, the implicit message is: “Hey, I’m just like one of you.” This message is made even more powerful when he follows up with the Porsche logo. “Join my Identity 2.0 crusade… we will all drive cars like this together.” Later in the presentation, the words “Simple and open wins” are used; again, this ties in with his the majority view of his audience.

SlideSlideSlideSlide

Know the context of your presentation. The lightweight identity reference (13:08) was essentially a negative one (translation: “It’s lightweight. My solution is better”), but Hardt was aware that this concept was being presented later in the day at the same conference. He mentions this, and I think he threw in the conciliatory “it solves part of the problem” on-the-fly to avoid appearing like he is stomping on a fellow presenter. This is a savvy move!

Know your marketing needs.Sxip is pronounced as in ‘skip.'” (14:09) Hardt is a pro at marketing and branding. He doesn’t need me to tell him how important it is for people to know the correct pronunciation of your (or your company’s) name. Further, Hardt understands that this presentation needs to be audience- and message-focused, so he keeps references to his own company minimal.

Repetition

“Trust”. This word appears over and over again in the presentation slides, at 2:45, 2:54, 3:20, 3:40, 4:27, 5:11, 6:06, 6:31, and 10:14. Does this imply that Hardt is trustworthy? That his digital identity solution can be trusted? Either way, it’s a win for him.

More repetition. Several words/phrases/slides are repeated in this talk. For example, “I was Canadian, I live here, I went to UBC, and I’m over 21.” (3:05) The words and slides are a repeat of those used previously. They are repeated again at 6:39 and 14:38. The British Columbia flag is repeated numerous times as well. Mental strain is a risk when you thrust hundreds of slides on an audience in fifteen minutes. By repeating images/words previously used, Hardt lessens this strain.

Lessig Techniques

Honor by Association. In the sequence where Hardt mentions Sxip (and its pronunciation), the previous three slides are industry heavyweights: Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft. Although his words are not saying “We are great just like them”, this sequence of slides creates this impression in the mind of the audience. “Honor by association” can be suggested with the rapid-fire Lessig method.

GoogleYahoo!MicrosoftSxip

Simplify. Simplify. Simplify. One of the chief benefits of the Lessig Method is that each slide contains just a single word/phrase/picture idea. Even within this format, Hardt further simplifies his images by using highlighting to point to the parts of the image which are important (4:21 and 4:34). Later (at 8:25), he simplifies a very simple image by introducing it in three stages.

Use of contrast. Most of the words in the presentation are presented in black text on a white background. Starting with “directory entry, Identity 1.0, …” (6:26), several phrases are presented as white text on a black background. This formatting is used again at 7:05, 7:13, 7:18, 7:20, 7:42, 8:07, 14:48, and 14:51. The bad, different, or old ideas are clearly distinguished from the others in the talk.

SlideSlideSlideSlide

Summary of presentation chunks

At 5:20, a summary of the talk so far is given before moving on to the next topic. This divides the talk between “what you already know” and “what new things I’m going to tell you”.

Analogies Abound

The primary analogy between “real world identity” (photo ID) and digital identity is key. The talk hinges on this. But other analogies are used as well (e.g. DOS/Windows vs Identity 1/2) to enhance the understandability of the message.

Room for Improvement

The presentation wasn’t perfect. For example:

  • I found the logic lacking around 9:30-10:00, and in a few other places.
  • The use of XML to itemize points at 10:51 is odd. I know that his live audience will all recognize this as XML, but why use it? It seems gratuitous.
  • Contrary to the very effective use of white text on black (as noted above), I am confused by the use of white text on blue for “Kim Cameron’s Identity Weblog” (12:47). This is the only white-on-blue usage in the slides.
  • “But” is presented at various times with italics or bolding or red color. Why the mixed bag of formats? I found it a bit distracting, so I think it would be better to stick with consistent formatting of “but.”

Comments from Reviewers

Nonetheless, the strengths of this presentation far outweigh the weaknesses. There’s no wonder that it has received such high praise from many reviewers.

Alex Barnett:

First class

The You Blog:

It’s a tour-de-force.

Noah Campbell:

a great example of an engaging presentation style that keeps your attention for 15 minutes. …any longer and I would have been exhausted.

Elizabeth Lane Lawley:

Wow.

Now that’s a good presentation. Visually effective, great style, good enough to survive transformation into a low-bitrate streaming presentation.

Knowhr.com lists the Identity 2.0 talk as one of the the Top 10 Best Presentations Ever (alongside Dr. Martin Luther King) :

Hardt’s preparation and energy sets the standard for presentation quality. He uses hundreds of slides in this 20-minute, high buzz work. Heck, I didn’t even care about virtual identity and still watched this one five or six times. It has a chance of becoming my presentation Dirty Dancing (which I’ve seen 100 times), where “nobody puts baby in the corner.”

Finally, several user comments from del.icio.us:

One of the nicest presentations I’ve ever seen. A must-see for anyone who ever does any presentations (that is – for pretty much everyone). — taw

I bookmarked this as a great example of the “Lessig” presentation style. Dick has made this quite an art. — Rolias

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Comments icon17 Comments

  1. Wow, what a thorough analysis! Good job.
    And welcome to the blogosphere.
    Regards,
    John

  2. Benjamin says:

    Insightful points. I like Lessig’s presentation style (as you’ll see from posts on my blog), so it is nice to see some other examples – the screenshots make it very clear.

  3. Fantastic and very detailed review. As a technical speaker, I found Dick’s Hardt’s OSCON session to be unlike any technical presentation I have ever seen. I have seen many sessions on identity management, and this was the best by a long shot.

    I have to disagree with one point you make.
    “The use of XML to itemize points at 10:51 is odd. I know that his live audience will all recognize this as XML, but why use it? It seems gratuitous.”

    The use of markup language in the slides was a way of building rapport and credibility to the technical audience, and extremely effective. The subtle message is, “I am not just a marketing guy, I understand the technology and geek speak”.

    While it may not have resonated with you. it certainly does resonate with a technical audience. I plan to start using this technique myself on occasion.

    Thanks for the great critique.

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      “The use of markup language in the slides was a way of building rapport and credibility to the technical audience.”

      Good point, Barry. When stated like this, it does seem quite similar to the Perl-Matrix-Porsche sequence highlighted in the article.

      “While it may not have resonated with you. it certainly does resonate with a technical audience.”

      I assure you that the “technical” label applies to me as well.

  4. Diana says:

    Great review! It is the first time I hear about the Lessig method and I have mix feelings. I agree that it is a fresh and engaging presentation, but I am not so sure you can use it for all audiences. It requires a lot of energy not only from the presenter. After watching the video I am exhausted! I don’t think I would use this style of presentation on a baby boomers generation!

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      Diana:
      I agree that this style of presentation will not work with all audiences. Your comment underlines the importance of always analyzing one’s audience early in the preparation process.

  5. He does get his point across very well. No loose ends. You don’t get bored and you get the message. Simple!

  6. Jon Thomas says:

    Andrew, just wanted to let you know I linked to this post in my blog post, “PowerPoint Design Methods.” You can read it here: http://blog.presentationadvisors.com/presentationadvisors/2009/06/powerpoint-design-methods.html

  7. Allyncia says:

    I agree. Its great how the author broke this down.

  8. As entertaining as this style of presentation is, it makes me think of a university friend of mine who used to highlight every single line in his textbooks. He just loved the yellow highlighter color. But by highlighting everything, he ended up highlighting nothing. This style of presentation highlights everything, so in the end, it doesn’t really reinforce anything the speaker is saying.

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      There is merit in what you say. I would definitely not recommend using this as your “normal” presentation style. However, for certain topics and with certain audiences, I would consider it for impact.

  9. NaTasha says:

    I was captivated at the very beginning of the presentation. The flow was great. We learned about the presenter, the purpose, and the humor used was subtle but nice. I liked the use of words throughout, again subtle.

  10. Jaymi says:

    I really appreciated his technique. It was very attention grabbing and humorous. He captivates your attention whether or not you are interested in the subject that he is talking about.

  11. Drea says:

    This is definitely an interesting technique. For those watching this presentation, the written words, I think, anchor the spoken words, which is great in more ways than one : it clarifies any words that may otherwise be too fast/ muffled/ unknown etc (for example, “sxip” – if unfamiliar with the company, one could easily think it’s actually “skip” and /or skip that particular point, since it’s hard to just google it up in the middle of the live presentation, for fear of missing more. Seeing it written down, confirms that it is actually “sxip”, what the logo looks like – a double-anchor, and what to google for at a later point).

    So, from the comfort of my chair /computer screen, this is great, I heard and saw the concepts, know that they looks like, and can pause whenever I need to, in this long presentation, chockful of concepts, logos, etc.

    What I am unclear about is, what about the in-person experience : did he actually just stand by his computer cycling through slides the whole time or did he move a bit and use a remote, perhaps ? This way, the in-person experience would be enhanced with the spoken word, the written word, and a good use of the speaking area. Because that is the whole idea behind an “in-person” presentation, to use one’s person. Otherwise he could have just e-mailed this presentation in, the visual cues + the audio track and voilà : no need to be there in person.

    In conclusion, from my computer, this was effective : highly informative and helpful, with the visual cues supporting the audio track. However, were I in the audience of this presentation, it would be an entirely different thing : it’s taxing to go through so much so fast and it would make me afraid to even blink for fear of missing the visual cues. He’s definitely not easy on his audience, that’s for sure ! It’s all about the context and the delivery method, I’d say.

    Thanks for this insightful blog and the many, many wonderful lessons throughout !

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      Drea:
      Although I wasn’t in attendance, my understanding is that he was stationary the whole time (i.e. his feet didn’t move while he tapped away advancing slides), but he communicated much with his facial expressions, arm movements, vocal variety, etc.

  12. Jim says:

    This is a fabulous but clearly very heavily rehearsed presentation. This method appeals in part because it is so smooth. His verbals match the slides perfectly. This would be a great model for someone who has a basic presentation that they have to give ovw and over and want to perfect, but not for a weekly sales meeting or one-off informational presentation.

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      Jim:
      I completely agree with what you say about the suitability. This is a technique to pull out for a big conference presentation, not a routine internal briefing.

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