Use a Prop to Make an Abstract Idea Concrete

deliveryIf you've ever presented an abstract idea or a new concept, you've probably grappled with how to make it tangible for your audience. That was the challenge Jerry Kaplan faced when he pitched his new idea to a group of venture capitalists.

Jerry, a former researcher at Stanford who had worked at Lotus in its early days, had a vision for a smaller, more portable generation of personal computers. He started his presentation by describing this new type of computer, one more like a notebook than a typewriter. It would operate by a pen rather than a keyboard and people would use it when they were away from their desks to take notes, send and receive messages, look up addresses, phone numbers, and do spreadsheet calculations.

He covered the required technology and highlighted the challenges. Then he stopped and did something unexpected. He told his audience that they would certainly know if he had come in with a portable PC. But what they didn't realize, he told them, was that he was holding a model of the next step in the computer revolution in his hands at that very moment. He held up his maroon leather portfolio and tossed it into the center of the table.

For a moment the audience sat silent, staring at the plain leather folder. Then one of the partners in the firm touched it and asked "Just how much information could you store in something like this?" Before Jerry could respond, someone else answered, "It doesn't matter. Memory chips are getting smaller and cheaper each year."

From that point on, everyone in the room traded questions and insights that fleshed out Jerry's idea. Every so often someone would reach out and touch the portfolio. In Jerry's words, "It had been magically transformed from a stationary-store accessory into a symbol of the future of technology."

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