Snap. Timing is everything.

“Timing has always been a key element in my life. I have been blessed to have been in the right place at the right time” – Buzz Aldrin, American astronaut and the second human to walk on the moon

If you want to surprise or impress your audience, then do it right. Have a look at this video clip from the 1978 BBC documentary Connections.

This is  probably the best-timed shot in television history. And it’s 100% real. Forty years ago, fake news was still an unknown phenomenon. No video manipulation or chroma keying. Presenter James Burke had only one chance to record this scene and to snap the rocket launch…


It takes more than a template

Recently, a colleague sent me a template file for a presentation we’re working on together. Meh, it was merely one single slide, with our company logo on it, a title placeholder, and five pre-defined text fields (12-point font each. But, well, I’ve already given my opinion about too small presentation fonts in an older post).

To make things clear, I have no intention to format the visuals I’m creating for this joint presentation with a – or particularly this – single slide layout. A presentation template should provide a common look and feel, NOT a uniform one. It’s a guidance for the author, rather than a prescription. A key purpose (maybe even the most important one) of a template is to create and enforce corporate brand identity. Making sure the audience knows that’s your company’s representative who’s speaking (even without being presented with a logo on each slide).

Another motivation for distributing templates is to keep up visual consistency by giving you and your colleagues a common structure, style, and layout for creating slides. So, when you distribute a template, make sure it offers several alternative layouts: one for the title page, for bulleted text, for tables, for charts, etc.

Finally, there are use cases for spartan templates like the one I mentioned above: e.g. data sheets, financial reports, or project plans. Though I would hardly call these presentations, as their authors are only (mis)using presentation creation software to quickly and easily craft beautifully formatted documents – a.k.a. slideumentation.

But never forget that it takes more than a (even sexy) template for creating compelling presentations…

Here are some of my other posts about using templates and formatting your slides:

This boy got a new toy

As part of my day job at Nokia, I act as a casual advisor to my business division’s intrapreneurship program. Last week, the postman delivered a nice gift as a thank you for my humble contribution. The parcel contained a framed certificate of appreciation, accompanied by a scale replica of a Lamborghini Miura sports car.

I can already hear you asking: “what’s this toy got to do with innovation and intrapreneurship?” and “why is Marc putting such a banal fact on his storytelling blog?” Well, if you read below what the text on the diploma is saying about the history of this specific Lamborghini model, I’m sure you’ll understand why I — both as an employee and as a storyteller — am so charmed by this shiny red new toy on my desk…

Lamborghini’s first production car was the 350GT, a big grand touring coupe with a V12 engine up front.
Stylish and powerful, the 350GT was enough of a hit to ensure that Lamborghini could keep making more than just tractors.
But, while the 350GT was an impressive car, it wasn’t revolutionary. Lamborghini’s next car, the Miura, would be the one to change things forever!
During 1965, Lamborghini’s three top engineers put their own time into developing a prototype car known as the Miura P400. The engineers envisioned a road car with racing pedigree. One that could win on the track and be driven on the road by enthusiasts. The three men worked on its design at night, hoping to convince Ferruccio Lamborghini that such a vehicle would neither be too expensive nor distract from the company’s focus.
The Miura debuted at the 1966 Geneva Motor Show before a stunned audience, and easily bested it’s Ferrari competition, to become the fastest car in the world.

The last rose of summer

“I write to discover what I know.” ‒ Mary Flannery O’Connor, American writer (1925 – 1964)

It has become a yearly practice to publish the articles that appeared on this blog in an e-book at the end of my summer holidays. So, here’s the 2018 edition! It bundles all 195 posts that I wrote between September 2012 and June 2018 into one single 510-page (!) document.

You may download the PDF version by right-clicking on the image above, and saving the linked file. Happy reading!

PS: I’m also looking at converting the material to EPUB and/or MOBI format, so stay tuned and check the “download my stuff” section on top of this page regularly.

Spoiler alert!

I just finished the first draft of a sales PowerPoint for a new solution that my company is developing. Following my own blog’s advice (see links to a few relevant posts below) I crafted a compelling storyline, and structured the presentation following AIDA and Golden Circle principles.

Then a colleague sent me this comment: “Maybe you should start with an executive summary slide to set the scene…”

If you go to a movie theater, you don’t want the film to begin with a spoiler, do you? You don’t want to be told during the very first minutes who dunit, or which main characters will die in the next one and a half hour. Unless, in the exceptional case, when the screenplay’s structured as a flash back. As a marketer, however, I seriously doubt if it makes any sense to tell the story of an exciting new product in the past tense…

Image from Scared to Death, directed by Christy Cabanne (1947)

That’s why you’ll never see me start a presentation with an executive summary. No sir, not even with a table of contents or an agenda slide!

More reading:

Everyone’s a winner, baby

The photo below, taken at last week’s G7 summit in Charlevoix (Canada) and published on Instagram by German chancellor Angela Merkel, will probably go into history as one of the most viral pictures of 2018, as well as a good candidate for this year’s World Press Photo awards.

The picture (either in its original or in one of the many photoshopped versions that are circulating on the web) got annotations ranging from “renaissance art” to “a scene from the Apprentice.” I’m sure it will be used as a scholarly example for discussing facial expression and body language. Or for illustrating the problematic trade relationship between the EU and the US. Or for promoting the German chancellor’s prominent role at the G7 meeting.

But… as I wrote in an earlier post on this blog, “The right of being wrong,” there is no such thing as a single truth. All depends on the observer’s or the reporter’s perspective. Look at the other pictures, taken at the same moment, and tweeted by the French, the Italian, and the American players respectively…

It suddenly becomes less obvious telling which of the world leaders – Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron, Giuseppe Conte, or maybe even Donald Trump – really was the boss in Charlevoix.

Everyone’s a winner, baby. At least, that’s what their PR people will try to tell us…

The swan lake (re)visited

(photo: Pixabay)

A lot has been said and written about millennials, the way they think, and the way they communicate.  For marketers and recruiters there seems to be one simple rule: “if you want to attract millennials, speak their language.” A 2015 survey conducted by Fraclt and BuzzStream concluded that many Generation Y’ers are looking for short and concise content that is presented in a way that makes it easy for them to find the main takeaways and messages, and that they prefer entertainment over any other genre.

Well, I have never believed in categorizing people based upon their age, race, or gender. But today, I stumbled upon an amazing proof point of millennial storytelling skills when UK-based millennial Thomas Ryalls announced that he was going to watch a ballet performance for the first time in his life: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s famous Swan Lake.

And here’s the amazing report of the guy’s first ballet experience, that tells the story of the Black Swan in a personal, funny, and authentic way. With less than 1,000 followers on Twitter this young adult is neither an influencer or a celebrity – but IMHO he may become one soon!

(please, read the whole thread below if you want to know why the audience applauded at the beginning…)



Whistles and bells and spoke cards

I remember that, when I was a kid, we used to place playing cards in the spokes of our bicycle wheels. As the cards made quite some noise when they flapped against the spokes, they created a false perception of speed (just like some motor bikers or car freaks believe the more racket their engine produces, the faster the vehicle will go.)

Well, from experience I can tell you that these spoke cards where nothing more than whistles and bells. My bike didn’t run any faster. But, the idea that an object that makes a lot of noise or reflects a lot of light must be very impressive, very powerful, or very expensive still exists. Take, for example, the average boom box kid who thinks he’ll rock everyone who passes by. Or the gold-colored smart phone owner who wants to make his/her cheap phone look kind of premium. Or even worse, those people who buy a bling bling case to pimp up their mobile device to a pocketful of glitter and glamour.

A similar syndrome also exists with certain speakers at public events. I still remember the guy dressed up in a three-piece black suit talking to… a geeky audience at a software developer conference (you may revisit my “Dress to impress” and “About white shirt, black shirt, and tee-shirt gigs” posts to read more about speaker dress codes.) Or with those business presenters that create fancy slide decks, ornamented with comic sans text, kitschy colors, or meaningless clip art (slide design topics also covered by my “Don’t feed the chameleons” and “Why look and feel matter in business presentations” posts.)

But, always keep in mind that whistles and bells are not half as bad as smoke and mirrors – showing off with a gold-colored iPhone never compares to wearing a fake Rolex. Or to delivering a presentation that you didn’t prepare yourself about a topic you hardly know anything about. Or to telling lies to, cheating on, or fooling your customers… (as reported on in my “Marketing, promises, and real products” post.)


In this week’s post I am simply translating a column that appeared two days ago in Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant (thank you, Hilda Boerma, for letting me discover the article on Twitter). Because it’s one of the best explanations I’ve ever read why people like stories about success and – even more – failure.

The column, written by Philippe Remarque (all credit goes to the author) is titled “Dreaming away with the successes and failures of Elon Musk”.

Why do the media keep telling about the gigantic losses and faltering production of Tesla? It’s wonderful to dream away with Elon Musk, a man who invents online payments, single-handed makes rockets that beat Nasa’s, runs a plan to colonize Mars and en-passant transforms the car industry with his sexy electric models. 450 thousand paying customers for his middle class car, the Tesla 3, even before he has produced a single one of it! But it’s just even more exciting when he subsequently doesn’t succeed in building a properly working assembly line. Too many robots, people need to join to make it work. Pride that comes before the fall, as we know since Icarus, is the most beautiful story for ordinary mortals.

You may read the original Stekel column (in Dutch) here.

(image: The fall of Icarus by Pieter Paul Rubens, 1636)

The bird watcher

This weekend, while I was walking in the park with my dog, I ran into a guy taking pictures with a huge 600mm lens. Based upon the professional look of the equipment he was holding — and even more upon the fact that he was pointing his telescope at an apparently well-chosen spot in a tree top — I concluded that I was facing a full or semi-professional ornithologist who had spotted some rare species. When I posed him the possibly most obvious question that one can ask at such moment, “What are you targeting?,” the man’s reply was straightforward but also unexpected: “… Birds …

As I implicitly assumed that the bird watcher in the park was a seasoned expert, his word(s) sounded poor and disappointing. To be honest, I had anticipated to hear him disclose that an exotic bird had visited my home town, complemented by a myriad of details about the species, and why this was really such a special encounter. Would you get excited when a software designer reveals you that he’s writing “programs”, a Ferrari dealer tries to sell you “a car”, or a tech company exec announces a “machine that does ping”?

(photo courtesy of Mavani-Photography)

The guy in the park was either an over-equipped amateur, or a badly communicating subject matter expert. In my personal logic, none of these combinations makes good sense.

Post scriptum: about two minutes before I bumped into the (would-be?) ornithologist, I heard a very nearby rattle in the woods. And now I’m still wondering if I’ve missed a black, a green, or a spotted woodpecker…

If you’re rather a people watcher than a bird watcher, you may also read this unrelated post: