True colors

One of the important rules of corporate branding is always to stay loyal to your company’s visual identify. Of course – and probably on top of the list – you should keep the color palette you use consistent. I wrote a blog post about the importance of colors almost 8 years ago.

I’m currently at a public event (yesss! my first physical one after 18 months of online webinars and virtual conferences.) And one of the exhibitors is serving macarons at their booth. Mmm, yummy. My favorite trade show giveaways, only preceded by those unbeatable jelly beans and gummi bears… And, yes, the company also knows how to market its brand.

Can you guess which global telecoms player is serving the delicacies shown on the photo above?

Remember die Raute

Next week’s German federal elections will mark the end of the Angela Merkel era. Regarded by many as the most powerful woman in the world, the German chancellor guided her country through many crises and has dominated European politics for the last sixteen years.

But, Mutti has also become famous for her signature hand gesture, known as the Merkel Raute (a German word that translates as rhombus or diamond).

Photo by Armin Linnartz (CC BY-SA 3.0)

While communication specialists have explained the famous gesture as “a sign of stability and reliability”, “an intermediate sensation between proximity and distance”, or even as “a protective roof for defusing and avoiding emotional signals”, the German leader herself says the position of her hands simply shows “a certain love of symmetry”.

Nonverbal communication is more important than most people think. Only a small portion of our (public speaking) message is conveyed through words. It is complemented by vocal elements like volume and pitch. All the rest is communicated through your facial expressions, eye movements, hand gestures, body posture, etc. Even through your makeup or the clothes you wear.

By the way, Angela Merkel isn’t the only politician in history that became (in)famous through an iconic attribute or gesture. Think, for example, of Margaret Thatcher’s handbag, Winston Churchill’s cigar, Mobutu Sese Seko’s leopard skin hat, Napoleon Bonaparte’s hand-in-coat, or even Donald Trump’s L-shaped finger pinch.

Other articles I’ve written about communication skills of political leaders and their spokespeople:

After the gold rush

Would you rather read a SEO-optimized article or one with an intriguing title?

With the knowledge that I’m a (should-be digital) marketer, you’d probably expect me to defend the first option. But, if you’ve read last week’s blog, you also know that knowledge doesn’t always equal wisdom.  In my case, even seldom. As such, I’m frequently tempted to creating surprising, even nonsensical, blog headlines and presentation titles. Not the clickbait kind of stuff, but rather the ones that make my audience wonder what the rest of the content will be about.

Here are 10 more or less insane blog titles that I created during the past years. Can you imagine (or do you still remember) what these columns were talking about?

Even some of my favorite rock songs don’t have meaningful titles. Take, for example, Neil Young‘s “After the Gold Rush”. Nils Lofgren, who played piano and guitar on the same called album, once said in an interview: “Neil never told me what the song was about. I’d love to bend his ear about it.” While, when asked about the song’s meaning, Young admitted: “Hell, I don’t know. I just wrote it…”

Fragment from the original record cover by Joel Bernstein

Probably we’ve become just that tiny bit too rational when defining and communicating our message. We’re doing too much search engine thinking, ignoring Aristotle’s ars rhetorica, and abandoning the power of emotion.

If the godfather of grunge can be successful with a title that doesn’t teach you anything but with lyrics that sparkle emotion, why wouldn’t I do the same on my blog?

Knowledge, wisdom and trust

Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad.

The above quote is either attributed to Miles Kington, a British writer, or to Brian O’Driscoll, an Irish rugby player. I’m not sure who of the two was first, but it raises an interesting question: how would your company interpret this statement?

Image source: Wikimedia Commons (CC0 1.0)

Some companies would certainly issue a standard operating procedure, create a work instruction template, or publish a corporate policy document on what to put into and not to put into a fruit cocktail. Never put tomatoes in a fruit salad. Full stop! Period!

While other organizations trust on the wisdom, common sense and competence of their people and assume that they will be perfectly capable of making a decent fruit salad. Creative staff members might even engage in product innovation by adding some exotic berries or nuts to the mix.

This observation leads me to another quote, by Simon Sinek:

When leaders are willing to prioritize trust over performance, performance almost always follows.

How about the company that you work for and the leaders that you work with?

Never regret saying ‘no’

On August 15, 2021 the world woke up with the news about the fall of Kabul.

Reading the headlines about the chaotic evacuation of Western citizens and their local allies from Afghanistan and watching the horrifying images of the suicide bombing at Kabul airport, it came to my mind that, about six months ago, I received a LinkedIn job proposal for a marketing position with a telecom company. The most surprising part of this lucrative offer definitely came at the end of the recruiter’s message: “Job location: Kabul, Afghanistan”.

While I’m, generally speaking, open to discussing a once in a lifetime opportunity, I decidedly said ‘no’ to this one. Adding tongue in cheek that Kabul is not the most inviting place to work. Today ― excuse my understatement ― I still don’t regret my decision. You may guess why.

Image: Kabul International Airport in 2008 by Carl Montgomery (CC BY 2.0)

One of my favorite columns by Seth Godin is titled Saying ‘no’. In this only 120 words long post, the American thought leader and author discusses the choice of making the people with the loudest requests temporarily happy vs. changing the world by saying ‘no’ often.

Every decision gives you an opportunity to take control of your own life. If being capable of saying ‘no’ is paramount, then not regretting your decision is possibly even more important. QED.

Is digital killing creativity?

Yesterday, I was writing copy for a paid search and social media campaign and, considering myself a creative content creator, the job made me feel really unhappy. As a guest blogger I’ve gotten used to writing articles with a 800-100 word count and since the start of the COVID crisis I’ve been video-recording keynote presentations with a duration of 10-15 minutes, but the guys from Google, Twitter, and LinkedIn were actually instructing me to start counting c-h-a-r-a-c-t-e-r-s. Even worse, each of the respective media platforms impose their own length limits. For some fields you can use up to 150 characters, but other ones only allow 30 for conveying a similar message. As a result, I had to trim all content separately, manually, and repeatedly.

Of course, I will get a bit of creative compensation when crafting the infographic, video clip or white paper to be linked to the social media post or to be hidden behind a lead generation form. Though a click-through rate of a few percent is not always a huge motivation.

Video killed the radio star and – in my humble opinion – digital is killing (part of) human creativity. I know we’re living in the internet age and that paid social media is a good lead generation tool, but I would be happy to leave this ‘copywriting’ to the AI robots. They don’t have a heart or a soul, but these aren’t necessary qualifications for this kind of tasks.

Expectations and promises

During today’s lunch walk, I passed two pedestrian crossings. The traffic lights had a push button that makes the cars stop and the pedestrian light turn to walk. As this was the button’s behavior I expected, the label that said “Want to cross? Push for green.” (“Oversteken? Druk voor groen.”) appeared no less than obsolete to me. There were no cars or police officers in sight, so I actually crossed the street ignoring the magic knob.

The second light pole was a lot more interesting. Someone had placed a sticker below the button that read: “PUSH TO RESET THE WORLD.” Now, that was a surprising, an intriguing, and even a thought-provoking instruction. While the first label was just confirming my expectations, the second one held the promise of spectacular —even though impossible— things to happen. Thinking of the disastrous floods, fires and heat waves our planet was confronted with over the past weeks, the sticker made me wish for such for a reset.

After a bit of desktop research, I found out that the sticker was designed by Space Utopian, a street art lover and sticker addict who applies the slogan “Changing the world, one sticker at a time.” Let’s go for it!

No such thing as writer’s block

I wrote my last blog on this page about a year ago. My key messages were that I had run out of inspiration and that I was starting a non-writing sabbatical.

Earlier today, I was a watching a LinkedIn course about creativity at work by Seth Godin. One of Seth’s statements was that there’s no such thing as writer’s block. There’s only a fear of bad writing. Most people are afraid of being wrong. But everyone has some good ideas. It’s easy to get your audience to be negative, but hard to get people to speak up. And sometimes, something good comes out. So, do more bad writing and have more bad ideas!

Godin also drew a parallel with the board game Pictionary: when one guesses for the word that’s being drawn, there is no cost of being wrong. There are no points deducted for bad guesses. No one blames you for drawing bad pictures either. And as people start guessing, the drawer hears them talk and responds to what they’re saying by improving his drawing or creating new ones.

So, that’s why as from today I’m picking up my pen – or typing my keyboard – again to start writing fresh blog posts. Some of them will be long, some of them may be short. Some of them may be good, some of them could be trash. Some of them could be on topic, some of them will be just a diversion. Some of them will teach you something, while others won’t tell you anything new at all.

As Seth Godin says, we need to start doing the urgent, important, and thrilling work of being more creative – even if many of our ideas will be bad. Stay tuned for my next article on this page…

When an absurd little bird is popping out

There’s a sad sort of clanging from the clock in the hall
And the bells in the steeple too
And up in the nursery an absurd little bird
Is popping out to say coo-coo

Coo-coo, coo-coo

Regretfully they tell us coo-coo, coo-coo
But firmly they compel us coo-coo, coo-coo
To say goodbye
To you

– from the Sound of Music, Rodgers and Hammerstein

I’m aware that I haven’t been very active on this blog during the past 12 months. I could easily use the excuse that I’ve been too busy at work. But no, but yeah, but no… The creative beast in me hasn’t died either. I have simply run out of inspiration.

During 8 consecutive years of blog writing, I have published 228 articles that amassed a stunning 95k views by 67k visitors from 191 countries. All articles sort of explored the rich universe of corporate storytelling, while diving into best practices for creating, preparing and delivering business presentations. While I’m proud of these numbers and thankful to my audience, my B2B Storytelling story has been told and I’m announcing the start of a non-writing sabbatical.

Just like previous years, I am moving into summer sleep mode now. But this time, I have no idea how long my inactivity is going to last. Possibly a few months, maybe a full year, unlikely for ever. And when I return, I will maybe extend the scope of my posts or simply start writing about something completely different. Food for reflection and introspection.

Still, I made some time to create a yearly update of my ebook. More than 500 pages of best practices, tips and tricks, lessons learned and personal stories. Let me tentatively call it my swan song edition.

As always, you may download the PDF version for free via the download tab on top of this page.

Happy reading. And so long, farewell, tot ziens. This is no goodbye…

download_ebook_2020

Zipf’s law

In some older posts on this blog, I have written about Moore’s law, Metcalfe’s law, Fubini’s law, Occam’s law and Murphy’s law. Maybe you still remember what they are all about.

Today, I want to introduce you to yet another law, which is called Zipf’s law, a.k.a. the Brevity law.

The American linguist, George Kingsley Zipf, formulated this law in 1945. It states that the more frequently a word is used, the shorter that word tends to be, and vice versa. Such negative correlation between the frequency of words and their size can be found in almost any natural languages. Zipf also called it a ‘principle of least effort.’ As humans tend to be inherently lazy (or more positively said, they try to be energy efficient) they prefer to take the path of least effort or resistance. Whatever (English) text you analyse, you will always get the same top-5 of short words and their associated frequencies: the (about 6.5%), of (2.8%), to (2.6%), a (2.4%) and and (2.3%).

Some of the shortest words that public speakers often use, however, won’t show up in these statistics: the innumerable uh’s, um’s and er’s. I recently had a video recorded of one of my presentations, and when I replayed it afterwards, I was embarrassed to hear myself saying these nasty filler words. I really thought I had eliminated them from my professional vocabulary…

In another blog post, I wrote about hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia, or fear of long words. Well, this time I felt more like a micrologophobia patient. But there’s some good news: like most phobias there are some cures for the latter one too…

  • Listen to yourself: this is something I hate doing, but it’s an important first step in acknowledging your bad habits and ridding yourself of those ugly words;
  • Slow down: if your mouth moves faster than your brain, you’re going to stumble a lot;
  • Punctuate: imagine periods and commas in your speech while you’re talking;
  • Pause: some speakers use fillers to avoid silent gaps, though silence may be much more powerful (read also my “P+R” post)
  • Transition: try using transition statements like “let’s now talk about…”, “on the next slide you’ll see…” or even “and now for something completely different…”;
  • Make eye contact: when you’re making eye contact with one or more persons in your audience, it will become much more awkward to say um or uh to them;
  • Be self-confident: when you spend too much time worrying about your words, you’re going to lose the focus of your presentation and… become even more muddled;
  • Practice: practice your presentation as often as possible before you give it. The better you know your narrative, the more confident you’ll be and the less you’ll stumble.

And if you still let an um or an er slip out from time to time, just think of them as a natural part of speaking. Most of the time, your audience won’t even notice. Maybe these short words should have been included in Zipf’s law after all.