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Scott McKay is a Toronto strategist, writer, creative director, patient manager, half-baked photographer and forcibly retired playwright.

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    "They had their cynical code worked out. The public are swine; advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill-bucket."

          – George Orwell






    "Advertising – a judicious mix of flattery and threats."

          – Northrop Frye






    "Chess is as an elaborate a waste of time as has ever been devised outside an advertising agency."

          – Raymond Chandler


    Entries in presentations (5)


    we have nothing to fear but part 2 of the post about fear

    Continuing my last post about the wonderful subject of fear...

    I said that you can't just suffer through it, you actually have to use it to your advantage. Let me explain with a personal example.

    Follow me back to the late 80s, to some theatres around the University of Toronto, for some student productions in which I did not play leading roles. We're talking the Marshal in the Crucible, and the Provost in the Measure for Measure – you know, boring, law-abiding and law-enforcing characters with not a lot of complexity, nuance or words to say.

    Yet I couldn't eat for hours before going on stage. Although I knew my lines, I was obsessed with the idea that I would get out in front of the audience and blank on the first word I was supposed to say. I would walk around in a trance backstage, brain and nerves totally seized up, before jumping into the abyss when it was my cue. That was fear. And it wasn't good.

    My next experience in theatre happened to be in advertising, in my first couple of presentations at my first agency. They were nowhere near as bad as my undergrad thespianism, but not dissimilar. I'd obsess for hours; it wasn't healthy. But at least I'd figured out the key, which is that presentation is theatre.

    And with every presentation, I naturally got more relaxed. I calmed down, and began to lose the obsession, and be able to eat before meetings. Once I even lost the fear entirely.

    And that presentation without fear sucked bigtime.

    Although we're conditioned to think about fear as a negative, whenever I haven't felt fear going into a presentation, that presentation has sucked. And belated I have learned from this.

    Fear is what gives you energy. Fear is what makes you aware. Fear is what makes you listen, and makes you think about what your first line is going to be.

    Cultivate your fear. If Laurence fucking Olivier could be scared shitless every time he stepped on stage, you owe it to your work and your client and yourself to be conscious of the fact that you're performing in every presentation, and that your performance better be good.


    we have nothing to fear but... hmm

    I first read Dune in high school, near the end of my science fiction phase, and while I didn't love it, there was something about it that interested me. Yes, it was maybe the first time that a popular novel dealt with the idea of ecological process, that one change in an environment could affect so much else around it, and that was cool. And the long view of history that the novel laid out was also appealing to someone who loved the Foundation trilogy and the stories from Heinlein's Future History.

    But not a lot really stuck with me, in spite of the fact that I've re-read it a couple of times since. It's ponderous and overblown and the characters are as two-dimensional as Flatland. (It doesn't help that the film version is awful; I think David Lynch intentionally tanked it simply to get Blue Velvet made.) With hundreds of untouched books in my house, Dune isn't on my list to reread again.

    But goofily, one flat and unremarkable sentence from the thing has actually stayed in my mind over the years. It occurs when Paul Atreides is duelling or fighting or something (it's just not worth my time to look up) and he starts to panic, only to remember the Bene Gesserit language his mother has taught him:

    "Fear is the mind killer."

    I know it's not a compelling thought; and as a sentence it just lays there. But, when you're starting to panic, about to, say, go into a client meeting that could easily go very badly, it's been for me a very handy thing to remember. Retaining your ability to think when you're presenting (or being chastised or negotiating) is absolutely vital, especially when you're someone like me who has from day one had to fight an innate desire to simply push the work across the table, say "like it?" then run like hell.

    The fear never goes away; not for me, not when I'm about to present. But you have to be able to function in spite of it, maybe even with it, and maybe even use the fear to your advantage.

    More on this next time maybe...


    "Beware of thinkers whose minds function only when they are fueled by a quotation."*

    "The greatest glory is won from the greatest dangers."

    Now, this is just ancient Athenian for "When the going gets tough, the tough get going." But I think Pericles said it better than Knute Rockne (or whomever deserves attribution for that nugget), and as it turns out I'm reading "Lords of the Sea", John Hale's history of the Athenian navy and its role in Athenian democracy. Pericles led Athens through its golden age and fought off Sparta for the first years of the Peloponnesian War. His predecessor Themistocles (pictured) created the Athenian navy, won the battle of Salamis and helped defeat one of the largest empires in history.

    Based on their noble examples, when the concept that was oh so close to getting approved gets killed, as it did today, I know there's only one thing to do – come back with a better concept. And win one for the Gipper

    Maybe after a big glass of wine I'll have recollected other clichés which will inspire me in the week ahead.

    *A quotation from Romanian writer Emil Cioran.


    the shock of the shock of the new

    As a follow-up to my last post, I admit to being, well, shocked by the fact that our clients have been even more forward thinking than us. They've chosen a concept and quickly gotten us feedback, slight revisions which made the creative even more standout. During the call there were a couple of moments where I literally didn't know what to say; I realized that, out of habit, I was getting ready to counter feedback that in this case I actually agreed with – and which liberated us – and I had to stifle myself. It was a great moment for the team, and for the client.

    All of which goes to show that you should never lower your expectations of the client. It may be challenging to be shot down over and over again; it may feel like banging your head against a wall sometimes. But you never know when your real, high expectations will be met, and when you can together achieve something impressive.


    concentrated evil

    One of those late nights wrestling with PowerPoint for a presentation tomorrow, so I'm less than fully coherent. (Or let's say, normally coherent.) Now, I'm not the first one to point out that it's not very useful for thinking, or that's it's just not made for Macs, or for actually convincing people of anything if they're not engineers, but all of those things are so manifestly true to me at the moment that I must bore you by reminding you of the fact.

    I know people who default to Excel when creating any document; they think in those key commands, even for lists and other "natural" word processing needs. And as I writer, I've come to a South Korea/North Korea kind of understanding with Word. (I really miss MacWrite II, which was 20 times smaller, faster and 99% of the time just as useful.)

    I don't know anyone who thinks in PowerPoint. I'm not sure I'd want to.

    It makes everything dull and uninspired. It takes really good ideas and turns them into bullet points with different kinds of bullets and indents. It turns people into robots at the very moment when they need to be inspired and passionate and creative. It's a straightjacket. A vise. A trap.