Speech manager blends art and technology to share Microsoft?s future computing vision

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Microsoft MicrospottingYou might know that Craig Mundie is Microsoft’s Chief Research and Strategy Officer. But you might not know that he sits on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, participates in roundtables at the World Economic Forum and travels frequently for speaking engagements worldwide.

And you might never guess that Janet Galore is the speech manager responsible for creating the presentations Mundie uses to inform and inspire. We tracked her down after TechFest to find out how she helps bring these tech talks to life. Microsoft employee, Janet Galore

The ‘Softie in question: Janet Galore
The job title: Senior Program Manager for Craig Mundie in the Advanced Strategies and Research division

First things first: What does a speech manager for Microsoft’s Chief Research and Strategy Officer do?
Primarily, my job is supporting Craig for all of his speaking engagements, especially the ones that require visual support. Helping him tell stories about the future of computing is the best way to describe it.

Some people think ‘speechwriter’ and think you are writing what he says, but that is not true at all with Craig. He speaks extemporaneously; we provide an outline and the tools he needs to give that presentation. Then he very much makes it his.

Walk us through your typical preparation for a speech.
We usually start off meeting with Craig to understand where he is headed and to get his take on what is important. We also work with the team who is requesting the engagement—which might be within Microsoft, or might be a university, business organization or a government agency. Then we’ll take that away and refine it, coordinating with other thought leaders within the company and with corporate PR. 

I’ll work on an overall flow for the talk as well as thinking about the points we want to cover, the best way to tell that story and the visual assets—pictures, photos, videos, diagrams, live stage demonstrations—we need to line up to make it really great. Then I’m responsible for working with my colleagues to put that together.

Hanging outside Microsoft Research's Redmond officeWhat is it like to travel with him and see a big speech through execution?
It definitely helps to be an adrenaline junkie for this job—it’s very intense. The deadlines don’t move and you do whatever it takes to get ready. When you are on the ground, it’s just focused on making sure everything comes off well.

We rehearse a lot, fix all the bugs, work though it with Craig and make any changes he wants. On the ground there is a lot of prep and then it’s watching him deliver something really compelling and inspiring to people. Afterwards it’s just this elation, if it goes well.

What was the most interesting speech you’ve worked on in the past year?
Craig’s most recent speech at the Cleveland Clinic was a new speech platform. Every year we update the big themes that he is talking about and then we’ll evolve that and customize it for different audiences. This one was a refresh of all of his materials, and it seemed to resonate. It was the biggest audience they’ve ever had for this speaker series—Craig beat out previous speakers like Oprah, Tom Brokaw and Michael Dell.

We used a very visual presentation. I based it more on film titles and telling a story through visuals. In general, we want to give him the raw materials to use to tell his own stories. It was great to see him do that in Cleveland and be very engaging.

It must be pretty cool to get such an inside view into where Microsoft’s technology is moving.
That is what I live for. But, because we are thinking so far ahead, sometimes it feels like things take forever. Things that are happening today we’ve been talking about for a long time. So sometimes it’s frustrating but we also understand it takes a few cycles for technology to catch—the market, the infrastructure and the audience all need to be ready for change to be adopted.

On the flip side, there is also this feeling that things are really happening quickly now—especially in the areas of mobile and new types of interfaces.

How have the presentations changed to reflect the changes in technology?
It’s interesting. Events like TED put exemplary talks online for everyone to see, and it is raising the bar. Sharing great presentations and stories online does elevate the expectations of audiences—when they come to see a talk, they don’t want a bunch of bullet points.

We use PowerPoint as a framework, but now a lot of different media are very well supported. We’ll push the boundaries, but the software doesn’t necessarily dictate how the content comes across.

The prevalence of video and media everywhere has changed the way we communicate, as a company, to large audiences. The bar is high and that is part of what makes the job fun. Otherwise, why bother?

Janet, presenting with Steve Ballmer at CESAnd you have even had the chance to present yourself?
In my core job my role is behind the scenes, but sometimes we are asked to present. So, in 2009 at the Consumer Electronics Show, I presented with Steve Ballmer.

Wow, that must have been really intense. 
Yeah, it was an out-of-body experience. It was really fun and he was great to work with, but all the media were taking pictures, and every word you say gets tweeted out, so it was a bit intimidating. I taught in grad school, I’ve done some theatre, and in my previous role I led tours of the Microsoft Home, so I’m not uncomfortable being in front of people.

Does it ever get boring?
Nope. It can’t.   

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