25 Jan 2010

TED India Talk: Devdutt Pattanaik - Why is India different from the West?

Devdutt Pattanaik is the Chief Belief Officer with the Future Group (Big Bazaar), India. His talk at TED India which took place in Mysore last year is fascinating and exciting. It also answers what the words 'Chief Belief Officer' mean. You must watch his talk (18 mins) here:


Devdutt's presentation is on an uncommon topic; linking mythology to business. How is India different from the West? How is Indian business style connected to its mythology? Why the clash of civilisations is imminent and what we can do about it?

There is a lot to learn about presentation making from Devdutt's presentation. Here are a few of my observations:

1. Start with a story: Devdutt is well aware that his topic is kind of esoteric. If not made interesting, he will loose his audience half-way. To make the content interesting and understandable he chose to tell us the story of Lord Ganesh and his brother Kartikeya.

You need to appreciate that this story helps Devdutt firmly establish his model of 'The World and My World'. If Devdutt was an average presenter, he would have started with a table like this:

This is the very first point which Devdutt talks about and the entire presentation is based upon the understanding of 'My World and The World'. Using a story to establish this framework has worked well for Devdutt.

Stories also make the message easy to remember. Days after you would have forgotten about what Devdutt exactly said, you'll remember Ganesh & Kartikeya and Alexander & the Gymnosophist. And once you remember them, you'll remember the core message as well. That's the power of stories in action.

2. Passion: You can see his passion for the subject. It is infectious and it is charming. We listen to people who are passionate about their stuff. Devdutt surely is.

3. Minimal Use of Slides: This is perhaps the biggest lesson that we should take from Devdutt. People have come to listen to what Devdutt has to 'say'. He has used slides as an aid, as a support to help him explain his point better. That's it. When he talks about Alexander, he shows you an image. When he talks of Ganesha, he shows you an image.

He does let his slides overtake his presentation. The focus of the talk is Devdutt and he ensures that people look at him and listen to him and ignore the slides. And that's exactly what we do. If there are too many slides and too much text on it or too much happening on the slides then our focus will move from the presenter to the slides. Remember, you are the focal point of the presentation and not your slides. The less they interfere, the better.

Overall, I consider Devdutt as an actor who has given a passionate performance of what he believes in.

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