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.

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: