In the air tonight

I’m a fan of authentic communication and storytelling that builds upon the history, culture or identity of a company. Four years ago, I wrote on this blog about Air Malta’s inflight safety movie. The post, titled “the knight on the plane”, described how the airline operator’s video capitalized on the Maltese Islands’ rich history and their famous Knights.

Today, I am writing this new post on a plane flying from Singapore to Perth. I’m not a frequent traveler anymore in that part of the sky (though my CO2 footprint is already big enough to become a non-honorary member of the flygskam movement) but Singapore Airlines is still one of my favorite carriers. Because of its impeccable service – even in economy class – and, I admit, its elegant female cabin crew.

Photo courtesy of Singapore Airlines

Earlier tonight, I was really charmed by the airline’s safety briefing video. The movie, produced in partnership with Singapore’s tourism board, iterates the various passenger safety instructions and projects them onto scenes of daily life in the city-state. The beautiful images, of which not a single one has been taken inside an airplane cabin, manage to achieve one of the hardest communication challenges: making your audience listen to a set of boring instructions (which some passengers may have heard a gazillion times before) and keeping their undivided attention.

Now, take your seat, enjoy the safety video and have a wonderful flight with me…


The shapes of stories

Already in 2015, I wrote a blog post about the five elements of a story. Almost all novelists and movie directors rely upon character, setting, plot, theme, and style to ensure a consistent story, allow the action to develop and let the audience emotionally engage.

A few days ago, a tweet by Dutch mathematician and science communication professor Ionica Smeets brought a video under my attention with a lecture about the shape of stories.

The presentation is given by the American writer Kurt Vonnegut (1922-1977), probably best known for his controversial – the book was banned in various US libraries and schools – anti-war novel Slaughterhouse-Five. A graduate student in anthropology at the University of Chicago from 1945 to 1947, Vonnegut’s master thesis about “The Fluctuations Between Good and Evil in Simple Tasks” was rejected because it was so simple and looked like too much fun (as he wrote in his autobiography “Palm Sunday”).

In this brilliantly funny talk, the writer draws a graph on which any story can be plotted. The vertical axis represents the good and ill fortune the characters experience, while the horizontal axis represents the timeline from the beginning to the end of a story.

Have a look at the video and enjoy the lecture…

For those interested (or provoked, surprised or intrigued), there’s also a recording or a longer version of the lecture on YouTube.

Between customer intimacy and digital marketing

Many sales people (and few marketers) only have a handful of intimate customers. But they’re able to build out a long-lasting and rewarding relationship with them. Customer intimacy goes beyond frequently talking to buyer groups. It’s all about creating, nurturing and cherishing a two-way connection and conversation with individuals.

Image by Tobias Wolter (CC BY-SA 3.0)

On the other side of the marketing spectrum, there’s a tendency in marketing to create as many as possible digital touch points to generate as large as possible numbers of qualified sales leads (although a majority of them may remain unqualified forever). Today’s technologies like data analytics and cognitive computing allow to identify the most lucrative opportunities and maximize their conversion rate but the personal touch is often still missing.

Note that I don’t have much experience with the latter, but some digital marketing campaigns feel like having online sex. Being a target of internet marketers and teleprospectors myself, I’m almost always missing (yes, you may take this literally) the personal touch, the two-way interaction and the genuine intimacy. Resulting in superficial, impersonal and fleeting B2B contacts – or most frequently just in an opt-out request (I just love GDPR!)

Of course, one can start nurturing his or her digital leads, but there’s always a risk of becoming annoying for rather than intimate with your audience. There’s only thin line between being informative and getting intrusive. Few people appreciate spam emails or unsolicited calls. And, if your content or message isn’t appropriately personalized, marketing investments may result in a negative experience for the customer and in a WOMBAT for you. Read, for example, the enterprise edition of my “cut the crap” post.

So, where’s the golden ratio between one-to-too-few intimate customer contacts and one-to-too-many digital interactions? Between trying to understand the needs and desires of (prospective as well as existing) customers and making them feel assaulted?

Neither loyal followers or casual readers of my blog should be surprised that speaking and demoing at customer and industry events is one of my favorite marketing outreach alternatives. These events can take different forms and be public or private. But their overall goal is to bring current and potential customers together to network and learn from each other – and of course from you. The fact that people are attending a specific event is already a proof of their interest in the topic and/or your solution. Obviously, you shouldn’t deliver a pushy product presentation. As listed in my five do’s and don’ts for speakers at B2B events, the audience is not travelling lots of kilometers, and probably paying lots of money to get a hard sales talk, a product pitch or a promotional speech for your company.

Events will also give you an opportunity to connect face-to-face with (future) customers, as a first step towards creating intimacy. Even a digital pioneer like considers bringing current and potential customers together a powerful tool: in his book “Behind the Cloud,” Marc Benioff’s reported how Salesforce’s City Tours enabled the company to close deals with 80 percent of new prospects.

And, last but not least, existing customers will have the opportunity to network with peers while they may recommend your products or services the newcomers. There’s no better coffee break than fika, there’s nothing wrong with talking to real people, and there’s no better (and cheaper) marketing tactic than word of mouth…

Older posts referenced in this blog:

The sense and nonsense of dry runs

Just as I have done for the past 10 years, I spent the last week of February at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Four long days in a row representing my company, talking to customers, demonstrating exciting new technologies, and telling the same story ad infinitum. To my feeling, at least a few hundred times.

The team started with the preparation of this monster event (see the list of earlier blog posts that I have written about MWC at the bottom of this page) months ago. We invested hours and hours in creating our pitch, elaborating our story, and preparing our demo. We built message houses, crafted storyboards and wrote scenarios. And we went through many dry run sessions.

After having returned from Barcelona, I can only observe and conclude that what I told the booth visitors on day 4 was completely different from the story we prepared for day 1, and from what we had rehearsed so many times. Actually, each time I gave our demo, my narrative sounded more balanced and seemed to be much more appreciated by the audience. So, why didn’t we think of this particular detail or include that specific use case already months ago? Well, because repeating your story in front of a real-life audience is so much different from rehearsing it in front of your direct colleagues or giving a virtual sales briefing via a conference call. Each time I presented the demo – live! – to yet another customer group the messaging became more stable, more fluent and more sophisticated. Yes, I’m the guy on the picture below with the blue Nokia shirt and the (high-tech, though silly looking) brainwave-sensing headband. While delivering my pitch, I discovered what worked and what didn’t. Being able to experience the body language and getting feedback signals from your listeners at a meter’s distance is what really made – and makes – the difference. It’s really not about what you prepared or rehearsed, but about how you deliver your story. And about how your customers react to it. And about the face-to-face Q&A and discussions you have with them afterwards.

So, what’s the use of going through a long preparation and rehearsal process and what’s the sense of doing dry-runs, if after only one day at the Fira you’re delivering a completely different and better demo than the one you arranged for? And is all this preparation effort then really a waste of time?

Certainly not. Any good public speech starts with knowing your audience, defining your pitch, building your storyboard, and creating your presentation. I’ve explained this in my post about the 3 p’s of a professional public presenter. All this upfront activity is useful, needed and necessary. But, at the end of the day the proof of the pudding is in the eating – by the people who came to your booth. And their reactions on our latest Barcelona demo have been great!

Here are the links to other posts I have published during, after or about the Mobile World Congress:

The cheesy details

Yesterday night, my wife and I had dinner at a fancy restaurant. Near the end of the meal we ordered a selection of cheese. The young waitress pointed at the plate and gave us the following details: “These are grapes, figues, nuts, raisin bread and quince jelly. And this is er… er… (silence…) the cheese.”

(picture courtesy

Fortunately the girl could also tell us that one of the pieces was Italian, blue, and that we had to pay 5 euros extra because we had the cheese platter instead of the dessert. The cheeses tasted fine (actually the blue variety turned out to be dolomitico), and although I hadn’t expected the full Monty Python’s cheese shop sketch, I felt like I had missed some essential information and paid for some undefined items.

When presenting technical or even non-technical matters to your audience, they often like to hear the tasty details. Well, sometimes even the cheesy ones.

Champagne corks and factfulness

We just welcomed another new year. And while opening a bottle of champagne at midnight, I had to think about this JFK quote:

“We celebrate the past to awaken the future.” – John F. Kennedy (1960)

Because, that’s exactly what we do each New Year’s Eve. At our home, we even keep the champagne cork as a souvenir for the future. As such, my family has already gathered a few dozens of corks, cherishing memories of past New Years, anniversaries and life events. Precious keepsakes of our wedding day, my wife’s first positive pregnancy test, or the birth of our children – just to name a few.

Predicting, awakening, or even shaping the future is never easy. I don’t want to make any statement about whether the past was better than the present. Or whether the future looks gloomier than, say, 10, 20, or 60 years ago. We’re living in a different era today, with a different zeitgeist, and with different challenges. Though I must admit that I’m not too excited about some of today’s (geo)political, economic and social evolutions, the world may be in a much better state than we often assume.

At least, that’s the message I retained after reading “Factfulness” by Hans Rosling. The book, subtitled “Ten reasons we’re wrong about the world, and why things are better than you think,” is the perfect antidote to negativism. Diving into statistical data of over 80 global trends, like population growth, poverty, girls’ education and child mortality, it shows us the positive changes that have taken place over the past years. If you haven’t read the book in 2018 yet, it’s recommended reading for 2019!

So, I keep looking at the bright side of life. As the late Leonard Cohen sang: “There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.” Let’s be positive about the future. Let’s think opportunities and not challenges. And while valuing the corks of the empty bottles, always make sure there’s a full bottle of bubbles in the fridge!

Happy holidays! here’s your pocket presentation planner

Here’s a small new year’s gift: a checklist that will help you deal with your next presentation challenge. A booklet that addresses the 3 P’s of a public presenter: your pitch, your preparation and your presentation. It summarizes the tips and tricks I wrote about on this blog, and it gives you templates for building a message house, mapping your audience, calculating the number of slides you need, anticipating Q&A, and much more.

Download the PDF version of your Pocket Presentation Planner now. Right-click the image above, save the linked file and send it to your printer.

Happy holidays, happy reading, and happy presenting!

Stop Capitalizing Every Single Word In Your Titles

First, note that the statement in this blog’s title reflects my personal opinion. Capitalization rules for (slide) titles do exist (see e.g. I simply prefer not to use them. Here’s why…

To me, projecting an over-capitalized slide is similar to using pluralis majestatis, a.k.a. the royal we. It’s like speaking formal language rather than prose. It may (or may not) make a presenter look more important, but it will never camouflage bad content or a lack of presentation skills.

The situation becomes even worse when people start capitalizing all words in bullet points or isolated words in the middle of a plain text (unless you’re writing in German, of course). And I even don’t want to think of people who use ALL CAPS on their slides (or in their tweets) If Capitalizing Words Is Like Using The Royal We, then WRITING IN ALL CAPS IS LIKE SHOUTING AT YOUR AUDIENCE.

So please use the shift key sparsely and thoughtfully. Always be consistent in your style: don’t feed the chameleons. Vary your slide templates and avoid wordy texts or long bullet lists. As I mentioned in an earlier post on this blog, full-sentence assertions are often better than short catchy or meaningless headlines. And, remember that it’s sometimes also good to use a plain graphics slide with no header text at all.

Related posts:

Three inspirational quotes from along the roads

Try searching Google for ‘inspirational quotes’, and you’ll get a gazillion returns with meaningless celebrity quotes, cheesy images, and prosaic memes. As you may remember from my ‘Cut the crap’ post, I’m not a big fan of banal graphic material taken from the internet. But then I started browsing my personal photo archive…

If you’re a frequent reader of my blog, you also know that I like travelling – city tripping as well as nature hiking. While making this photo trip down memory lane, I rediscovered the roads I walked along and the places I visited before. And, I identified creative opportunities to combine the power of an authentic picture with a sharp message into an inspirational visual.

Below are my three favorite creations (click on the pictures to enlarge).

I shot this first picture almost 10 years ago along the landwash of the French Île de Ré. At first sight, it’s a gloomy image. But when you put the right words on it, the fish corpse suddenly gets (well, kind of) lively and inspirational. In this case I added a quote by the English writer Malcolm Muggeridge, “Only dead fish swim with the stream.” The text teaches us that life is about taking risks, not about playing safe all the time. In a business context, it expresses a similar message to Steve Jobs’ “Why join the navy if you can be a pirate?” I just haven’t run into a buccaneer that agreed to be photographed by me yet…

My second photo features a popular (though anonymous) Wall Street expression: “Trees don’t grow straight to heaven.” It articulates that stock markets are volatile. Or, more general, that there are no wins without losses. No gains without pain. The picture dates from 2016, when my wife and I were on a city trip in Copenhagen.

No need to explain the origin of this third quote. Everybody knows the Lennon & McCartney song I borrowed it from. There’s no need to explain the meaning of the words either. Or to tell you why they are inspirational. “All you need is love, love, love is all you need.” We ran into this couple of kissing trees in the woods of the beautiful Belgian Eifel region, near the town of Sankt Vith. And my humble camera phone did the rest.

Feel free to reuse my artwork in your presentations. Or stick the posters on your office or bedroom wall.


A widely quoted Microsoft study from 2015 tried to tell the world that the time an average person is able to concentrate on a particular subject has fallen to 8 (eight!) seconds. Which is less than the average attention span of a goldfish.

Image by Pogrebnoj-Alexandroff (CC-BY-SA-3.0)

Although the goldfish comparison has been recited by many media and has been (mis)used by marketers to reduce their outreach to twitter-style messaging, it makes little sense – IMHO even no sense at all. Because the world of a goldfish ends at the rim of the glass bowl it’s floating in. Your audience aren’t carp. They are real people with unmet needs and innate curiosity. I know no single business person that would be satisfied with only 140-character content or an eight-second presentation. My personal experience as a public speaker actually tells me that you’ve got at least 15 to 20 minutes before you start losing (some) people’s interest. A number that resonates with the ’20’ figure in Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 rule of PowerPoint.

On the other hand, as observed by Nobel prize and Turing award winner Herbert Simon: “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” It’s not the number of slides or the detail of the content that determines their attentiveness to your audience. Human interest and attention span are determined by their daily problems, their current mood, and the persuasive power of the presenter. Nearly 9 respondents out of 10 to a Prezi survey acknowledged that a strong narrative and the story behind what’s being presented are critical in maintaining engagement.

Here are a few practical tips to keep, refresh or prolong the attention of your audience:

  • Keep your talk short and crisp, and make sure that the first minutes include any material that you want people to remember;
  • Intrigue, surprise or provoke: ask questions, do a quiz or launch a poll;
  • Pause a few seconds before showing a slide or presenting a key message, to create a sense of anticipation. Pause right after a key point to allow it to sink in.
  • Repeat the point for those who may have wandered, and summarize your key messages at regular times (and certainly at the end of your presentation);
  • Do something emotionally relevant, e.g. tell a joke or bring an anecdote;
  • Switch the medium: draw on a whiteboard, show a video, run a short demo;
  • Change the speaker. If you really have so many important things to tell, just consider bringing a colleague to offload part of your speech to.

tl;dr is internet slang for too long; didn’t read. It’s often used on online discussion forums or in the comments section of an article to say that some text was ignored because of its length. A less diplomatic definition on suggests that the acronym is frequently used by lazy, ignorant people, when something exceeds their ability to read or when they lack the semantic capacity to comprehend or respond to a post.

The title of this blog post, tl;dl, is a variant to the above letterword, and stands for too long; didn’t listen. If you don’t want your listeners to be goldfish, you’d better make sure that your presentations are not tl;dl. Make sure that your presentation is to the point, that your words are worth listening to, and that you present with passion and persuasion.