I'm a big fan of Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft and well-regarded philanthropist. No person in recent memory has tackled world problems with such gusto.

Yet, there's something weird about a series of videos he posted about several humanitarian issues facing the world. I know he's trying to come up with innovative ways to explain the problems, but all I could think about was a massive whiteboard light table.

Here are both videos:

First, I want one of those in my office. I want one at a college where I work with students on marketing projects. Maybe every startup should have one sitting around.

It's like a huge glowing white iPad, the size of a billiard table.

You can write down notes and explain concepts--assuming they can be erased like any whiteboard, although it's a little odd because something like the Samsung Flip uses a special stylus and he is using dry erase markers. Anyway, in the video he places objects on the lightboard (that's what I've decided to call it). That reminds me of the Pictionaire table I tested out once at the Microsoft headquarters way back in 2008.

It must have taken forever to build that table, to light it a certain way, to draw out the facts and figures. Most of us don't have access (or the resources) to make a huge table like that. Maybe it already exists, maybe not. It just looks cool.

Before you call me shallow, hang on for a moment.

The "weirdness" of the table is what makes the videos more interesting, and it also sticks in your head a little longer. It's an initial curiosity, and perhaps a little over the top.

They amplify the issues he's discussing (that would be the average age in Africa and climate change), and tap into a basic human understanding about what makes us interested in something. If Gates had chosen to just sit down in a chair and talk, the viewership on his videos would likely not be pushing a half million each at present.

Presentation is everything. Think about that before you speak at a conference, give a talk to your board, or stand up in front of your employees. Strategize about how you will make a video and if there is something "extra" about it that will make people sit up and notice. Avoid just making a talking head video and relying on what you say and how you say it.

I just watched a video that posted a few years ago. It's by the filmmaker Spike Jonze and, strangely, it's an ad for Absolut (even though you barely realize it's an ad). It's inspiring because the video was very costly to make, but has a homegrown feel.

The director is making several points about relationships, but he chose to do that by using robots. It's one of my favorite short films of all time, but the reason it's so compelling is that it presents ideas in a new and novel way. So many videos, articles, and other content meant to promote a brand or a concept just throw out some slides and text, or feature a talking head. It's not enough.

In the age of digital distraction, you have to find a new way to impress people all over again. It's more than just guerilla marketing (a phrase that implies a surprise attack). It's not talking about doing weird just to be weird. In the Gates video, it caught my eye because it was different but also matched up with the creative insights Gates has. It's a good match for him. It made me look into the issues even more. 

My advise to you? Find that special something when you need to spread a message, instill action in others, inspire your staff, or just create a springboard for creativity.

What's your lightboard moment?   

Published on: Feb 18, 2019
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