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:

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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.)

Icarus

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:

From accumulation to understatement

Figures of speech can help listeners and readers understand what we say and write. But they also help make our language more colorful and make our stories more engaging (hey, wasn’t that an anaphora?) As I use them frequently in my presentations and my blog posts, here’s a (non-exhaustive) list with 10 of my favorite rhetorical figures…

Accumulation = gathering, repeating, and recapitulating previously stated arguments. It may be used to simply summarize your key points (as I’m often doing at the end of a presentation), but also to re-emphasize your message in a forceful way. Here’s an example of how I used accumulation to conclude my old-but-gold “Don’t feed the chameleons” article: “So next time you need to build a business presentation, start well in advance and take your time to tune each slide. Don’t take existing material for granted. Be creative. Be consistent. Be professional.”

Alliteration = the repetition of an initial consonant sound. This works extremely well to make your blog/presentation/slide headlines stand out. Just think of the post on this site that I titled: “Proudly promoting my president’s presentation pizzazz.”

Anaphora = a technique where several phrases begin with the same word or words. I often use it in combination with a rule of three, like the “Be creative. Be consistent. Be professional.” in the accumulation example above.

Antithesis = the juxtaposition of contrasting ideas in balanced phrases. Take, for example, “women have not been heard or believed if they dared to speak their truth” in Oprah Winfrey’s 2018 Golden Globes speech or “for those who still can’t comprehend, because they refuse to” in Emma González’ March For Our Lives address.

Chiasmus = a verbal pattern in which the second half of an expression or a sentence is balanced against the first but with the parts reversed. John F. Kennedy’s “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate” is a famous example of a chiasmus.

Hyperbole = using an extravagant statement or exaggeration to emphasize a point or to evoke strong feelings. When I wrote that Fidel Castro’s listenership may have called itself lucky after a 7 hours and 10 minutes speech, and that it may have taken the late Cuban leader almost 54 working days to prepare his address, I might have used a couple of hyperboles.

Metaphor = an implied comparison between seemingly unrelated objects and/or concepts offers a creative means to convey much more content compared to only talking about the naked topic of your presentation. Over the past years I have written several blog posts about the metaphors that I have used in my presentations. Do you remember what a highway junction, a cherry pie, or a volcano stand for? If not, you may revisit these respective posts: “Highway 61 revisited”, “Easy as cherry pie”, and “Making the volcano”.

Paradox = a statement that sounds like it contradicts itself, but which often contains some kernel of truth or reason. A few years ago, I closed my presentation at an Internet of Things conference with a “the best things in life aren’t things” slide. Although I presented a clear contradiction in terms, no single person in the audience questioned the truth of my statement.

Personification = giving human qualities to non-living things or ideas. When, in one of my articles about the Internet of Things, I suggested that enterprises should step through the mirror – like Alice [in Wonderland] stepped through the looking glass – I was perfectly aware that a company is not a human being.

Understatement = when a writer or speaker deliberately uses words that lessen or minimize the importance of an issue or a situation. The presentation that I mentioned above in my paradox bullet, was titled “The unbearable lightness or IoT forecasting”. I chose this title to make a polite statement about the fact that industry analysts often cite widely diverging figures about the same topic.

Six minutes and twenty seconds

Does it require a trained, accomplished, and experienced speaker to move an audience?

Well, this past weekend, an-18-year old student silenced the world by delivering a chilling speech to an audience of more than a half-million people in Washington D.C. Her name is Emma González, and she’s a survivor of the February 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Emma-Gonzalez

(image courtesy CNN)

Just watch the video recording of her 6 minutes and 20 seconds March For Our Lives address below. Six minutes and twenty seconds loaded with ethos, pathos, logos (yes, gun control is about common sense), and… bloodcurdling silence. Six minutes and twenty seconds was exactly the amount of time it took a shooter to steal the lives of 17 of Emma’s classmates.

This young adult — together with her Gen-Z peers — has taken the gun control conversation to, let’s hope for my American friends, a point-of-no-return. Emma’s speech will go down in history for her emotional words, her tears, and also for her defiant silence.

We’re still closing the first quarter of 2018, but take note that I have already nominated my candidate for Time Magazine’s person of this year…

Entertain. Educate. Engage.

In an older article about “five do’s and don’ts for speakers at B2B events,” I briefly touched upon organizers and audiences’ expectations of presenters at public events. I identified them as the 3 E’s: entertain, educate, and engage.

Well, I’m once again at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, and as with previous editions I attended, I’m dedicating a blog post to my impressions, learnings, and experience from/at one of the biggest technology shows on earth.

This year I’m at the Nokia booth again, delivering a presentation about the future home entertainment experience. I’m talking about how new technologies, new business models, and evolving consumer behavior are changing the nature of, and the way we consume video content. I’m performing in a quite spectacular setup, that we nicknamed our video cave.

This brings me to the first of the 3E’s:

  • Entertain: while preparing for the event, I have intensely worked together with the creative agency that built the booth and created some exclusive video content for the demo. And IMHO the result is amazing. My narrative – a mix of trend watching, storytelling, and use case examples – is supported by spectacular 180° surround video images that occupy 3 walls and 33 display monitors.

My company is in business, and so am I. As such I, am expected to be more than just a booth entertainer. That’s why my demo also educates and calls for engagement.

  • Educate: I’m talking about our vision on how video, AR, and VR content will be produced, distributed, and consumed in 2025. What it means for service providers and their customers. I’m talking about the “why” and the “how,” and not about the “what” (do you still remember my post about the golden circle?). I’m showing a short video about our vision, and then I explain the role of technology and my company’s products, but I don’t go into the details and neither do I push a hard sales message.

  • Engage: I always try to keep my talk conversational and adapt it to each session’s audience (I’m giving 15-20 presentations each day, and MWC visitors are a mix of international telecom executives, service marketers, and technology experts.)Those are often the best moments of the day, when I just sit down and have a good conversation with people about the things I’m telling and about their daily and future business – while collecting business cards, and taking lead information.

And when I receive positive response from my audience or when our Chinese competitors nod approvingly from behind their camera phones, I feel that I’ve done a good job.

But, of course, spending a whole week at a big event like the Mobile World Congress is so much more than giving presentations and demos. It’s also reconnecting with colleagues and friends you haven’t seen for a year, and enjoying tapas and a good glass of wine with them at night.

Here are the other posts I’ve written about/at the MWC:

A (wo)man needs a plan

Yesterday I saw the following tweet from J.K. Rowling passing by on my twitter feed:

The tweet was part of a conversation about her upcoming crime novel “Lethal White” that is to be published under the British writer’s Robert Galbraith pseudonym.

Although January is just ending, Rowling’s observation already gets my “quote of the year 2018” award. The glass is never full or empty. Each challenge holds an opportunity, and vice versa. Whether you are writing a book, preparing a business presentation, or building a house, nothing comes without effort. All these activities require reflection, planning, and preparation.

As such, I was also not surprised to read in related @jk_rowling tweets that she plans a lot.

I wrote in one of my older posts about “inspiration and perspiration” that it’s the mere 10% of upfront creativity that’s shaping success, while one needs a good dose of self-discipline to keep the following 90% of the process flowing. And, whether your blank page comes from a notebook, the back of a napkin, a roll of wall paper or a Microsoft Office file, a good storyboard, a mind map or a (color-coded) table will help you to light up your mind and fill that sheet.

Doing a bit more research, I stumbled upon this picture of Rowling’s spreadsheet plot for “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”:

(Image source: Mental Floss)

Ever since I read the first episode of her Harry Potter septology, I’m a J.K. Rowling fan – with great respect for the author as a writer, a storyteller, and an engaged human being. Yesterday’s tweet sequence is yet another confirmation of that for me.