Beauty and the beast

This week I read two articles about robots. One was about Jia Jia, a hyper-realistic young female-looking android, dressed in traditional Chinese style, which is capable of having a conversation with humans. She (or, should I rather say “it”?) can understand what people say, though she mostly just reacts to compliments on her appearance, like “You are beautiful” and “You look like an 18-year-old…”

The other piece covered a more functional species, named SpotMini. Boston Dynamics’ latest creation could be characterized as a ‘helpful giraffe-dog’.  It can grab all sorts of things, including fragile objects such as wine glasses or dirty dishes. Although less a pleasure for the human eye than robot goddess Jia-Jia, robodog SpotMini is probably more what the average person would expect a robot to be and to look like.

robots

Watching the pictures of both cyborg creatures made me think about the trade-offs between beauty and functionality. Even in this era of gender equality, most people don’t associate a sturdy machine with the looks a beautiful young woman, or vice versa.

Unfortunately, similar prejudices also often apply to the (PowerPoint) presentations we create. Working in a high-tech environment, in the heart of a community of engineers, I experience on a daily basis that most of my colleagues prefer creating long and (often) ugly slide decks with lots of complicated diagrams, detailed tables, and technical jargon. They seem to consider any visually appealing presentation a marketing gimmick — a kind of Jia-Jia, who’s only good for accepting “you are beautiful” compliments — that is not to be used for explaining complex ideas, designs, and creations. They put functionality before simplicity and aesthetics.

And still Beauty and the Beast can live together in perfect harmony. The Apple II personal computer was launched in 1977 with the slogan “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” and although Steven Jobs is sometimes quoted for saying that “design is how it works, not how it looks,” many people still buy an iPhone because of its premium look and feel. A thing of beauty is a joy forever. And so should be your business presentations!

You can watch some videos of the robot creations I mentioned above:

And, by the way, beautiful robots can be smart, ambitious, and wicked too. Have a look at another humanlike robot, Sophia, who “in the future, hopes to do things such as go to school, study, make art, start a business, even have her own home and family…”, and — oh my — “destroy humans” too.

Thought leader or entertainer?

“You know that I’m a thought leader, because I’m wearing a blazer, I have glasses, and I’ve just done this with my hands…”

Maybe you’ve already seen the recording of a This is That TED-like talk by self-proclaimed thought leader Pat Kelly. And if you haven’t, take a look at the video below.

Unless you’re an alien without any sense of humor, you must have realized that this is not a real keynote. And observed that Kelly’s character is an empty shell with nothing to say, though with an impressive ability to deliver his message (and entertain his audience.)

Then, you also know that it takes more to being a thought leader than wearing the right clothes, putting on a pair of smart looking glasses, and making some gorgeous gestures with your hands. But, if you still believe you are one – or have an unstoppable ambition to become one – here are a few tips…

  • Stay ahead of the curve. Keeping Malcolm Forbes’ wisdom that “the best vision is insight” in mind, always base your opinion – and accompanying narrative – on trustable and traceable facts and figures.
  • When acting as a thought leader, NEVER deliver a sales pitch. Take the stance of a neutral observer,  and a dependable domain expert. Of course, when you’re explicitly speaking on behalf of your (or another) company there’s no problem to recommend or acknowledge the ‘sponsor.’
  • Never stop earning your audience’s respect. Show them that you are an authority on the topic, and prove them that you have the right to speak. But even when world considers you a champion, always stay your humble self!
  • Talk as often as you can with customers, end-users, and opinion makers. Listen to them and benefit from their insights and experience to further develop your expertise and evolve your narrative. Be careful with dropping names or citing facts or figures on behalf of any 3rdparty to make yourself look more important.
  • Create an elevator pitch, define your mantra and don’t be shy of repeating yourself – repetition is one of the tools to make your message stick. In the mean time, keep evolving your story and updating your content as technology and markets evolve.
  • Craft and deliver compelling content for a broad audience. Keep it simple and sweet, but don’t be fluffy. Be aware of audiences’ needs and expectations and remember, people are always looking for the WIIFM.
  • Build a personal brand, establish your social media presence (also as a follower!) and develop a multi channel content strategy. Try to create and share quotable quotes, tweetable data points, and impactful visuals.
  • And finally, invest in developing your storytelling and public speaking skills. Being able to create and deliver a compelling presentation is certainly one of the basic competences an opinion maker (or any business leader) needs.

Unfortunately, there is no college class or MOOC that will teach you how to become a respected thought leader. It takes a lot of insight, expertise, and communication skills. And, even if you (think) you have all of these, the next time you’re on stage and walk over to your laptop, your audience may still look at you as an entertainer…

thought-leader

As a final note, by writing this blog post and giving you the above tips, I am not pretending to be a thought leader at anything at all. Think of me as a singer-songwriter, who’s passion is to perform a good song, while trying to entertain his audience.

More reading:

B.Y.O.C.

In an earlier entry on this blog, I listed the character as one of the 5 key elements upon which novelists, movie directors, as well as professional presenters rely to let their audience emotionally engage.

The character is the individual (or several of them) that the story is about. The answer to the “who?” question. Many narratives introduce protagonists and antagonists – respectively the main characters of the story and their opposites.

Introducing one or more characters is often a great way to personalize your message and add “what’s at stake?” tension to your story. Depending on the topic of your presentation, the protagonist may be you, your company or even your product, while the antagonist could be a competitor, a demanding customer or even an unfavorable market condition.

As such, I have enriched many of my business talks and blog posts by telling about what happened to “a friend”, “a colleague” or “a customer of mine”. Characters may be fictive, but you’ll feel more confident and earn more credibility when talking about real persons. Of course, you don’t have to mention their names – particularly when the protagonist or the antagonist appears in a not-very-flattering situation or gets involved in an embarrassing incident.

If you’re a frequent visitor of this site, you may remember the posts below, in which I used the exploits of my colleagues for introducing notorious do’s and don’ts of giving a business presentation. Though names and characters have been anonymized, all these stories report on real-life events that I witnessed personally:

This weekend I walked into a French LEGO store. For more than 80 years, LEGO toys have engaged kids in creative play, encouraging them to imagine, invent and explore (see for example the 1970’s letter from Lego to parents below.) That’s why their flagship store always is a good place to breathe the air of creativity – and in this case, get inspiration for a new blog post.

lego_letter

(click to enlarge)

Incidentally, I stumbled upon the Build-A-Minifigure bar. By combining a broad variety of heads, torsos, legs, hair, hats and accessories, everyone can design and purchase his/her own LEGO character(s).

Lego_store_BAM

It made me think about another article I wrote about “creating personas for audience-centric story design,” in which I explained how defining personas may help you to tell a better story. Putting yourself into the shoes of (some in) your audience will help you better understand what they think, believe, do, feel and need.

Suddenly, while having an Aha! moment at the Minifigure bar of the LEGO store, I figured out why I had intuitively borrowed a LEGO image to illustrate this old blog post.

And, then I realized that I might have run into the perfect tool for fleshing-out personas of my audience, and for synthesizing the protagonists and antagonists of my story.

B.Y.O.C. = Bring (or Build, or Buy) Your Own Character…

Lego_store_minis

Start with a book

When delivering a talk, it’s utterly important to grab your audience’s attention from the first moment on. In an earlier post on this blog, “Begin the beginning,” I gave a few examples on how you may surprise, intrigue or provoke them with an opening statement or poll. And in another article, “Titles, ” I elaborated on using original presentation titles.

Here’s yet another great jump-start for the beginning of your speech: tell the people in the room about a book you read that’s relevant to the subject of your presentation. You may even consider bringing a hard copy with you: a tangible artifact that your audience can see, touch and browse through.

In my day job as a high-tech marketer and communicator, I’m involved in conversations with customers and opinion makers about how broadband internet, connected devices, and Internet of Things (IoT) applications are changing the way we live, work, and do business. So, after reading the summaries below, it should be no surprise that I picked these three  – fiction, non-fiction, and science fiction – books for introducing some of my speaking topics.

Blackout – tomorrow will be too late” by Austrian author Marc Elsberg, is a techno-thriller about a large-scale power outage in Europe, caused by a cyber attack. While the digitization of the energy sector, and the move towards distributed power generation, smart meters, and internet-connected appliances are creating a number of opportunities, new technologies can also open the door to cyber threats.

Elsberg-cover

As no-one wants to experience the scenario that’s described in this book, I mentioned it at the start a lecture about smart energy grids and cyber security. Unfortunately, I’m not aware of an English translation of the book.

In “The Zero Marginal Cost Society,” American social-economic theorist and activist Jeremy Rifkin describes how new technologies, such as 3D printing, green energy, and the Internet of Things, are speeding us to an era of nearly free goods and services (and, according to the author, the eclipse of capitalism.)

Rifkin-cover

Billions of sensors are being attached to natural resources, production lines, energy grids, logistics networks, recycling flows, and implanted in homes, offices, stores, vehicles, and even human beings, feeding Big Data into an IoT global neural network. Prosumers will be able connect to the network and use Big Data to accelerate efficiency, increase productivity, and lower the marginal cost of producing and sharing a wide range of products and services to near zero…

In another post on this blog, “Back to the future,” I wrote about why it may be a good thing for a sales or marketing person to make speculations about the long-term future. Some of the best forward-looking statements –of which a number really materialized– about technology and the evolution of society were written many years ago. Take for example George Orwell’s “1984,” or Isaac Asimov’s “I, Robot.”

The book I sometimes refer to when touching the topic of smart cities and a technology-powered society, however, is a less known work by French science-fiction author Jules Verne. Marketed on the cover as the lost novel, “Paris in the Twentieth Century” was originally written in 1863, but it took more than one hundred years before his great-grandson discover the handwritten manuscript.

Verne-cover

The work gives a staggering prediction of Paris of the nineteen-sixties. The author depicts a city in which industry and commerce have triumphed, and creativity and art have become obsolete. Just like Villemard did in his 1910 postcards, Verne predicts automobiles, the subway, fax machines, and more things to come.

For those interested in new technology and its impact on our (future) society, here are a few links to presentations I have given over the past years about the subjects mentioned above:

Size matters!

Here’s another true story, possibly even an Oscar candidate in the “wrong answer to a good question” category.

One of my colleagues – let’s call him John – was recently presenting at an industry seminar. With more than 200 experts and potential customers in the audience, the speaker had a great stage for promoting our company’s vision and portfolio. The event turned out to be a big success and John’s message was well received.

Actually, the content of his talk was outstanding. But, during the after-event debrief, there was this one comment about “too much text on the slides and too small font sizes.” As I was sitting in the back of the room, I can acknowledge that a pair of binoculars would indeed have been a good thing to bring along.

eyetest

When confronted with the poor readability of his visuals, John’s reaction was unexpected and wrong:

“Well, when we come back next year, we should probably ask the organizers to install a larger projection screen…”

In my humble opinion, a more straightforward – and easier solution – might have been to put fewer words on the slides, and to increase the font size of the remaining text. A to follow Guy Kawasaki’s advice:

“The reason people use a small font is twofold: first, that they don’t know their material well enough; second, they think that more text is more convincing. Total bozosity. Force yourself to use no font smaller than thirty points. I guarantee it will make your presentations better because it requires you to find the most salient points and to know how to explain them well.”

Size matters, John, also for your presentation fonts!

Elon Musk and the stored sunlight experience

Over the past weeks, there has been a lot of excitement about the unveiling of the Tesla Model 3. But almost exactly one year ago, the car maker’s CEO made another game-changing announcement.

On April 30, 2015 Elon Musk introduced the Powerwall, a home battery system that charges using electricity generated from solar panels (or when utility rates are low) and powers your home in the evening.

ElonMuskPowerWall-640x320

Although there was nothing really revolutionary about the lithium-ion battery technology that Tesla showed off, Musk delivered a memorable pitch. His presentation changed the public’s perception of batteries — similar to when Steve Jobs talked about a new laptop, or introduced the iPhone. And he thoughtfully applied Simon Sinek’s golden circle principle.

As I described in an earlier post on this blog, Sinek’s message is as simple as it is powerful: People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. That’s why great leaders always start with the WHY, before they talk about the HOW, and the WHAT.

Let’s have a look at the video and do a bit of analysis on the Tesla Energy keynote…

  • Musk starts his presentation with reminding the audience about how today’s power is generated. Showing an image of burning fossil fuels, he tells the people in the room that: “This is how it is today. It is pretty bad. Actually it sucks…” and supports his statement by facts and figures about C02 concentration in the atmosphere. Isn’t this a direct — and memorable — way of saying what’s wrong and WHY things needs to change urgently?
  • Then, before disclosing anything about his company’s actual product, he explains why today’s electricity grid is not properly working, and evangelizes the HOW — a vision of a world powered by “this handy fusion reactor in the sky, called the sun” and “that one red pixel, that is the size of the batteries needed to bring the United States to have no fossil fuel generated electricity.” Two high-impact metaphors that describe how simple and compact a solution to being solar with batteries could be.

Of course there’s still one small matter that needs to be solved: “The issue with existing batteries is that they suck. They’re really horrible. They look like that. They’re expensive. They’re unreliable. They’re sort of stinky, ugly, bad in every way, very expensive – you have to combine multiple systems – there’s no integrated place you can go and buy a battery that just works…”

  • And finally, only after more than 6 minutes, the keynote speaker comes up with WHAT people will be able to buy: “That’s the mission piece. That’s the thing that’s needed to have a proper transition to a sustainable energy world… This is a product we call the Tesla Powerwall.”

Particularly for this kind of groundbreaking technology innovation, it may be important to give evidence that you’re not just showing slideware.

  • Musk does that by zooming in on a camera feed of the event venue’s power meter. And by observing that “the grid it’s actually zero. This entire night has been powered by batteries. Not only that, the batteries were charged by the solar panels on the roof of this building. So, this entire night, everything you’re experiencing is stored sunlight.”

In yet another post on this blog about storytellers, storydoers and storymakers, I wrote that only great personalities are able to combine these three roles. They not only have great ideas, but they also have the capabilities to execute them and engage their audience — and as such create or change an industry. If you ask me, Elon Musk is certainly one of them.

Nants ingonyama bagithi baba

Some stories are so strong that they survive for centuries, and so universal that they appear in many forms and in different contexts. Recently, while I was watching Disney’s classic masterpiece The Lion King on TV, it came to my mind that the plot holds many similarities to Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

the_lion_king

Although my children consider themselves too grown up for watching animated features, their old dad enjoys them more than ever. William Shakespeare and Walt Disney are two of the most influential storytellers in human history. In my article about five elements of a story (and how to use them in a business presentation) I identified 5 key ingredients to ensure a consistent story, allow the action to develop and let the audience emotionally engage. Let’s have a look at how Hamlet and The Lion King compare…

1. Plot

The plot of both Hamlet and The Lion King is about a (young) prince whose father is killed by his uncle. The prince is exiled from his home and returns to revenge his father’s death and take the throne that rightfully belongs to him.

2. Characters

The protagonist role of prince Hamlet Jr. of Denmark is played by the lion cub Simba, while Shakespeare’s antagonist, the king’s brother Claudius, has inspired Disney’s animators to create the villain lion Scar. And did you  ever look at the hyenas Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed as Rosencratz and Guildenstern?

3. Theme

Death, revenge, and justice are major themes in both stories. Both princes delay action, they overcome a moral struggle, and their faith only changes when their dead fathers reappear as a ghost. It has to be noted however, that most of the characters in Hamlet die, while Simba lives happily ever after with his youth friend Nala.

4. Setting

At first sight, the settings of both productions are completely different. One can hardly compare the African savanna with the medieval Denmark. But what if you start looking at Pride Rock as the King’s castle, and match the devastated Pride Lands that Simba discovers when he comes home to Shakespeare’s churchyard in act 5?

5. Style

As they were addressing a different audience, the style of Shakespeare’s play vs. Disney’s movie is notably different. Playing around 1600 A.D., London theater visitors were the very rich, and the upper and lower middle class, while Disney’s movies are primarily addressing 20th century children and their parents.

But, as with many Disney films, The Lion King works on different levels and both children and adults will enjoy this animated classic for different reasons. You even don’t have to be a Shakespeare fan.

P.S. For those who wonder about the title of this post: “Nants ingonyama bagithi baba” is Zulu for “Here comes a lion, father.” They are the first words of the opening sequence of the movie… and, yes, I have seen the musical too.

Beware the Oxford comma

Have you ever heard about the Oxford comma, also known as the Harvard comma, or the serial comma. No? Neither did I (although I just used one in the previous sentence) until I was confronted with this Sky News alert about the Nelson Mandela memorial service on December 10th, 2013:

“Top stories: World leaders at Mandela tribute, Obama-Castro handshake and same-sex marriage date set…”

I would never have imagined that there was something more behind that warm handshake between US president Obama and the Cuban leader Raul Castro, but that’s what I (thought I) was actually reading…

obama-castro-handshake

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a serial comma is “a comma used after the penultimate item in a list of three or more items, before ‘and’ or ‘or’ (e.g. an Italian painter, sculptor, and architect).”

Here are a few other sentences in which a small comma can make a big difference (the two first quotes are told to have appeared in The Times):

“Among these interviewed were Merle Haggard’s two ex-wives, Kris Kristofferson and Robert Duvall.”

“Highlights of Peter Ustinov’s global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector.”

“During the sales team meeting they discussed the quarterly results, their key customers and their upcoming trip to Disneyland.”

Not all writers and publishers use it, and style experts disagree on whether it is required or not, but if you look at the examples above you’ll concur with me that the Oxford comma may actually be the most important punctuation mark in English (or any other tongue.)

Although commas only appear in written language, oral presenters may also benefit from punctuations. Silence sometimes says more than words, and the effective use of pauses turns an average speech into a dynamite speech. As such, it’s a good practice to insert a short moment of silence (while taking a breath) when a comma, a semicolon, or a period would be used in a printed text.

A colleagues of mine has even adopted the habit of (occasionally) speaking punctuations out loud. The first time you hear him talk like this … comma … it may sound a little bit weird … period … But when you think about it  … comma … it’s actually a good way to pace your speech … comma … to emphasize your message … Oxford comma … and to avoid confusing word constructions … full stop.

And if you follow the news you won’t have missed that the odd couple, Obama and Castro, recently had another date (their fourth one already)  in Havana, to further deepen their relationship.

The legacy of Steve Jobs

I just finished watching Apple’s “Let us loop you in” live stream.  A near-anticlimactic event without any spectacular new product announcements – but rather new features on, and different colors and sizes of the Cupertino company’s smartphones, tablets and watches (and wristbands.)

There were also no surprises in terms of the CEO’s presentation style. Tim Cook has never been able to reach the speaking heights of Steve Jobs, even though he keeps delivering a consistently good speaking job.

Tim_Cook

As Carmine Gallo observes in one of his Forbes articles, Cook has skillfully taken over the techniques of his famous predecessor to introduce new products. His presentations are also rich on photographs and images. And, even when Cook talks more statistics, his slides only have one number on it —the number he wants his audience to remember.

What is probably more remarkable than Tim Cook giving a Steve Jobs-like talk, is that nowadays almost any device manufacturer or software developer is trying to mimic Jobs’ presentation style and templates.

In some of my presentation skills workshops, I’m showing Bill Gates’ infamous slide that he used for  introducing Microsoft Silverlight. It’s a self-explanatory example on how overcrowded visuals may blur the message and overshadow the speaker.

gates

But, in preparation of writing this blog post, I watched some recent product announcements by some of Apple’s direct competitors: Samsung, LG and Huawei. Look at the video captures below. Sometimes it’s even hard to identify their visuals as not being created by an Apple designer. All of them have rigorously adopted Steve Jobs’ principles: focus, design and simplicity.

Samsung

LG

Huawei

The only advice they all might have missed is Jobs’ “Think different” – and in this case, probably, “Use different visuals” too…

More reading:

Five stories of art


This is a compilation post that brings together my views on closely related topics, collating articles that I published earlier on this blog. It doesn’t contain new content, although part of it may have been slightly reworked. Knowing that the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts, I hope this update provides you with a bigger picture, a more complete list of good practices, or a better grounded opinion.


The attentive reader of this blog may have noticed that I love travelling. At frequent times, my wife and I take off on a city trip. These short holidays often provide a great occasion to visit the world’s most renowned museums and discover some of the stunning art collections they hold. A number of our excursions inspired me to write blog posts about the masterpieces themselves, the emotions they evoked, or an adjacent topic. Here’s a selection of 5 (plus 1 bonus) articles I published on this blog about a famous (or infamous) work of art.

1. Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa

When my spouse and I spent a long weekend in Paris, we explored the Louvre museum, the City of Light’s gargantuan temple of arts.

It is said that all roads lead to Rome, but inside the Louvre all signs seem to direct you to Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. And what’s more, a significant part of the visitors inside the museum look as if they have come in (only) to follow these signposts and troop together in front of the famous portrait.

monalisa

As there are about 35,000 other art treasures exhibited in other (and less frequented) parts of the 60,000 square meters large museum, I have often wondered why exactly this Mona Lisa painting is the most attracting object for so many tourists. Have they been inspired by perception or by suggestion?

My guess is that it is the story that is guiding them. The secret behind Lisa Gherardini’s mysterious smile. The lady’s eyes that seem to follow your around. The quest for the model’s real identity. The fascination for Leonardo’s intriguing personality.

In business it’s often the same. People just love stories. They like to be guided towards products and services that are interesting, compelling, intriguing… But as in the Louvre, there may also be lots of other hidden treasures to be discovered by the audience (and promoted by you). Each of them with its own story that’s waiting to be told…

2. Rembrandt van Rijn’s Night Watch

Another day we went visiting Amsterdam, the Rijksmuseum, and the Night Watch.

For the unhappy few who are not familiar with the world’s art heritage: the Night Watch (or de Nachtwacht in Dutch) is a group portrait of a local shooting company, painted by Rembrandt in 1642.

nachtwacht

Our youngest son, who had been on a school excursion to the Dutch capital a few months ago, complained afterwards that the time they could spend at the Rijksmuseum was “barely enough for a meet and greet with Rembrandt’s famous painting”. So, he absolutely wanted to get back to the museum and spend more quality time with the works of Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn and his Golden Age fellows. A good reason to return to the city of Amsterdam, isn’t it?

It may come as a surprise to you, but Rembrandt’s world renowned painting is competing for the spot of the number one tourist attraction in Amsterdam with… a modest terraced house. The Anne Frank House is frequented by more than one million people each year. When we got there (following our visit to the Rijksmuseum), the waiting queue at the front door had already grown to over 100 meters long.

Now, ask me what makes all these visitors come to visit the Anne Frank House and wait in line for more than one hour, and I will tell you that it’s her story. A story that appeals to people’s emotion. A true story told by a 15-year-old girl. A story about war, suffering and human courage. A story that is still relevant today, 70 years after the end of World War II. And – although the young girl’s history did not have a happy ending – possibly also a story of hope for millions of refugees all over the world. Each of them may be looking for a 21st century Achterhuis (aka Secret Annexe) where they can find a safe shelter from all sorts of persecution, terrorist aggression, separatist unrest, missile attacks, air strikes and ground offensives…

3. Hendrick van Anthonissen’s View of Scheveningen Sands

The online conversation following my “Moore’s law… and beyond” blog post revealed a fundamental discussion about data visualization: when we create and deliver a presentation, should we stick to the hard facts and figures, or is a presenter allowed to “filter”, “frame” or “massage” certain data?

Here’s my opinion. First of all, you should never, never lie to your audience or present them with facts and figures when you definitely know they are incorrect. There is nothing wrong, however, with omitting unnecessary details, or framing the content to better align with the message you’re trying to convey.

A good example of this is the use of (financial or industry) analyst data in your slides. Although most of these analyst guys are to be considered trustworthy sources, in my blog post about “the incredible lightness of numbers” I illustrated that the figures they give may sometimes vary by a large factor. Of course, as a presenter, you’re allowed to quote only the sources that ― depending on what you want to show or prove ― mention the smallest of the largest numbers.

As a presenter you can also influence the audience’s perception of objective data. The case (by Garr Reynolds) I have outlined in my post “the duck and the rabbit” shows how a table may be (mis)used as an alternative to a bar chart to display hard numbers in a less dramatic or emotional way.

And, finally, sometimes you may assume that a theory or statement is true, until somebody proves you it’s not. Take the anecdote of the 17th-century Dutch painting “View of Scheveningen Sands,” created by Hendrick van Anthonissen (hanging in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, UK.)

Until recently, the whole world assumed that the people on the painting were actually staring at a deserted seascape… and then the restoration of the artwork revealed a beached whale on the beach!

scheveningensands

4. Pablo Picasso’s Guernica

Last November we visited the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid, renowned as the home of Picasso’s Guernica. The famous mural-sized, black-and-white painting was created in 1937 after the devastating bombing on the Basque town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War, and is considered one of the most powerful visual political statements ever made by an artists.

guernica

The painting was impressive indeed. Its visual message overwhelming. Undoubtedly the work of a genius.

After intensively and extensively admiring the masterpiece, a series of small black-and-white photographs caught my attention. Posted on the wall opposite the canvas, they depict the making of Guernica. The snapshots were taken by Dora Maar, Picasso’s muse in those days, and show the consecutive development stages of the artwork.

Thanks to these historical pictures I could witness how some key components of the composition, like the bull, the horse, and the (light bulb) sun, were created, destructed and recreated by the Spanish painter.

While observing the metamorphosis of Guernica, I had to think of Dale Carnegie’s quote about delivering a presentation:

“There are always three speeches, for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.”

Just like Picasso’s masterpiece evolved during its inception, conception and creation, your presentation’s messaging, storytelling, and visualization may change over time – although an act of destruction is seldom required.

5. Giacomo  Puccini’s Tosca

Of course, there are other forms of art besides painting, such as theater and opera.

In my past posts I have written many times about ethos, pathos and logos. The three persuasive appeals, as described by ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. If you think about it, ethos, pathos and logos are present in almost every area of our daily lives. And more than we realize, they determine how we experience situations, interact with people and make decisions.

I witnessed this recently myself on a trip to Budapest, where my wife and I spent a night at the opera, watching and listening to Puccini’s Tosca. I am not that frequent opera visitor nor a lifelong opera lover, but this performance really hit my sweet spot, thanks to ― what I interpreted afterwards as a ― perfect mix of ethos, pathos and logos.

tosca

  • Ethos: a more than a century old institution that opened in 1884, the Hungarian State Opera House has a very good reputation. The operaház’ acoustics are considered to be among the best in the world. From the moment we entered the venue, we were impressed by its gold-decorated interior and its red velvet seats.
  • Pathos: written by the late 19th century romantic Italian composer Giacomo Puccini, the opera Tosca is filled with emotion. With love, lust and jealousy. A review review by a Washington City Paper describes Tosca’s antagonist Scarpia as “the 19th century’s Darth Vader.” Almost two months after our night at the opera, Scarpia’s words “Beware: this is a place of tears!” (in Italian, “Questo è luogo di lagrime! Badate!”) still echo in my mind.
  • Logos: apart from the wonderful setting and the touching story, my wife and I enjoyed an outstanding interpretation of Tosca. The orchestra and the lead singers delivered a rousing performance. This music would have sounded great on my iPod too!

Lesson learned: as for so many other things in life, the whole of Aristotle’s rhetoric is greater than the sum of its three parts. It’s neither about ethos OR pathos OR logos, but all about ethos AND pathos AND logos

Bonus. Cecilia Giménez’ Potato Jesus

And finally, there was the story of the elderly Spanish lady who made the news by restoring a fresco in her own unique way? She did such a remarkable job that the mural painting by Elías García Martínez, originally known as Ecce Homo (“Here’s the Man”), got nicknamed Ecce Mono (“Here’s the Monkey”) and Potato Jesus.

But in the meantime her infamous artwork in a church near Zaragoza has turned out to be quite lucrative…

eccemono

After one year, the bespoke restoration had attracted 40,000 visitors and raised more than 50,000 euro for charity. Cecilia Giménez, the 81-year-old artist, has even had her own art exhibition and signed a deal with a local council to share profits from merchandising the image.

A somewhat unexpected conclusion from this fait divers: even questionable graphic material may (sometimes) generate good business — or yield good presentations. Take for example Tom Peters, a bestselling author who is known as a great business person and an inspiring public speaker. Even though the PowerPoint slides he creates are often overcrowded, with an eye-hurting mix of exotic fonts and striking primary colors (see e.g. one of his “Excellence Now” presentations on SlideShare) most of his presentations are simply excellent…