Eric Liu: Why ordinary people need to understand power


Eric Liu is a former speechwriter for then-president Bill Clinton and founder of ‘Citizen University’ which brings together leaders, activists and practitioners to teach the art of effective and creative citizenship.


We are currently confronted with an apathy for power – people are afraid to acknowledge the word and see it as evil. But power is simply the capacity to have others do what you want them to. People have delegated to a professional political class – lobbyists and media managers who hold the power to themselves and happily keep the rest of us ignorant. When a politician retires, they join a business and continue to use their political contacts to wield power. Those on the extreme left think only corporations wield power, and those on the far right think the government itself has too much power, while others with too little power will just think they deserve their political weakness. Eric wants us all to learn about power in civics class, to counter the ignorance or apathy most of us feel.

Think of your city, and something you want to achieve with it – what to do with a piece of abandoned land for example. The types of power at play could be financial, people, informational, misinformation, the threat of force. How could you use or neutralise these to get what you want? Cities are also one of the most interesting forms of power remaining. Federal politics has become so partisan and gridlocked that it is difficult to change anything. In contrast cities are becoming more dynamic, and good ideas spreading faster from one city to the next. For example, local governments are implementing programs to reduce greenhouse emissions, and bypassing the difficulties of federal government.

Eric’s organisation “Citizen University” is building a curriculum of power – to educate lay people in power. He wants us to help build the curriculum, by imagining the future of our city if we could implement our pet project. By looking from that future point back at how it got there we can think about how to achieve it. If we can make civics sexy again we can make it safe for amateurs and allow us to self-govern.

My Thoughts

He had a good start about a general apathy and fear of power that created a political class. His talk had plenty of examples of power, however none of them seemed to go anywhere (hence they were omitted in the summary). The ending of the talk was also disappointing – this talk contained very little discussion of power and how to use / achieve it. It was more a call to arms for people to get interested in power.

Julian Treasure: How to speak so that people want to listen


Julian Treasure is the chair of the Sound Agency, a firm that advises worldwide businesses – offices, retailers, hotels on how to use sound.


Sometimes you talk and get the feeling that noone is listening. Julian starts by listing the ‘7 deadly sins’ of conversation – basically people don’t want to listen if you are doing this

  1. Gossip (speaking about people who aren’t present, and probably saying nasty things about the listener later)
  2. Judging (judging the person you are speaking to, and finding them wanting)
  3. Negativity (negative outlook)
  4. Complaining (achieves nothing)
  5. Excuses (passing problems of the world on to everyone else)
  6. Lying
  7. Dogmatism (mixing up facts and opinion)

However there are 4 positive, powerful ways to improve your conversation style – summarised as HAIL.

  • Honesty – be true and clear with what you mean
  • Authenticity – be yourself, stand in your own truth
  • Integrity – do what you say, be trustworthy
  • Love – wish people well

You can also look at how you say it – tools in your speech patterns to enhance your speech.

  • Register – a deeper voice from the chest speaks with more power and authority.
  • Timbre – how the voice feels or sounds – distinct from tone or loudness.
  • prosody – the sing-song or up and down of the movement – opposite of montonous. Some problems are an upward inflection at the end of every sentence to make everything a question?
  • Pace- a rapid pace, then slowing down for emphasis. Or just pausing occasionally can be very powerful.
  • Pitch – a higher pitch can make you sound more excited
  • Volume – quiet to make people lean in and pay attention, louder can also show excitement. Don’t broadcast loudly all the time.

Finally he discusses 6 vocal warmup exercises – to get you ready before you need to talk. This includes breathing, making noises with lips, ‘rapberries’, lalala on tongue, practising a rolled ‘r’, and moving through the whole range of pitch.


The Paradoxes of Power in Australia – Geoff Aigner

Speaker: Geoff Aigner

Length: 20:30

Rating 3 / 5


Geoff discusses power – coming from authority / title, but also that from general experience / skills / knowledge. The paradoxes prevent people from feeling like they should use this power, and are:

  • We are authority dependent, but also anti-authoritarian
  • Australians are generally egalitarian (feel we are equal), but increasingly hierarchical
  • want relationships, but also competitive
  • carry a background of adversity, but are currently extremely prosperous.

He makes the points that people should not be afraid of using their power, or intervening when they see bullying or abuse of others. We cannot neglect or ignore others, or wait for others (government, CEOs) to act for us.


I think Geoff is getting at some good points, but it is difficult to pick the ‘takeaway message’. The main focus is that all people have some form of power, and should be willing to use this to protect others.