Posted by: Nancy | March 11, 2011

A brilliant communicator

Brian Greene, the physicist and best-selling author, spoke in Kansas City last week to a maxxed-out crowd at Unity Temple on the Plaza. He took the crowd on a journey of remarkable complexity, right up to the very brink of what theoretical physicists know. And then he challenged us to peer into the void and try to figure out what we might learn next.


I was blown away by the content of the presentation (I might come back to this later) but I was even more impressed with his communications ability.

His presentation was breathtaking, a model of effective communications. Here’s why:

  • He told stories that tied directly to major theoretical concepts. Here’s one of his personal stories, about his son’s experience at the shoe store: The little boy was three or four, was carefully measured for his shoe size, then watched as the salesman went away and came back with a nice pair that fit exactly right. The shoes were purchased, and on the way home, the delighted little boy remarked, “Weren’t we lucky that he had my size!” The boy was expressing a sense of awe that this particular shoe man had the exact shoe made to fit his foot. It was a charming illustration of the difference between imagining that you/we are utterly unique vs. imagining one attribute in a near-enless list of attributes. Enormously effective in illustrating how we tend to think of ourselves as somehow “special” in terms of the rules of physics.
  • He used powerpoint sparingly and only to startle. One slide showed only a single number: 0.00000000000000000000001. Talk about impact! What does that even mean? Seeing it in all its crazy incomprehensibility helped him explain it.
  • He used repetition — especially effective in video. He showed only one video, but layered it over and over with an extension. It helped us all feel grounded to see images again and again, and it forced us to watch closely for the new elements.

His communications style was light-hearted and sincere. He really appeared to be enjoying himself and his actions on stage were almost theatrical, but appeared perfectly natural.

He could use large hand gestures or very tiny motions to convey his concepts; he walked the body of the stage and when things went wrong (his computer battery ran low and could no longer display) he laughed about it and called for help.

This was the first time I’ve seen him in person, and he was much better than the clipped interviews I’d seen on television. His lessons were worth remembering for effective communications:

  • Tell a story.
  • Don’t get caught up in the powerpoint trap.
  • Deliver your top message many times.
  • Be personal.

The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos

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