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:

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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.

(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.

My design agency is called none

Following a conference talk, one of my fellow keynote speakers once asked me which agency created my slides, because he “liked my visuals more than his”. My answer was straightforward and simple: I always create my own materials.

For sure, crafting a nice looking PowerPoint takes a good chunk of your time, but IMHO it’s always worth the effort. Of course there are graphic design agencies, who are more than happy doing the work for you. There are many good such agencies, but also mediocre ones. No offence to the good ones, but I had a not-so-positive experience working with a graphic (re)designer in the past. That’s an understatement, as he totally ruined the concept behind my presentation when he neglected and overrode some (implicit) color coding I had built in.

At another occasion, another graphics guy introduced an overload of visual effects and animations to my slideshow. I had to tell them that such animations distract the audience from my key messages, and force me to concentrate on ‎timing and control instead of on my narrative. Furthermore, animated slides are often hard to edit and/or update, because of duplication and non-accessibility of grouped and hidden objects.

For a colleague’s presentation, another designer (?) created a single slide with 133 (!) words, written in 10 point (!) font size. I’m aware that not everyone is a follower of Guy Kawasaki’s 10-20-30 rule, but this specific visual was unreadable, unpresentable, and thus unacceptable.

Here’s another piece of advice: always double-check your original messages after bullets or handout texts have been rewritten. Particularly in the case when you’re using technical language or subject specific jargon I once discovered that my Linux kernel was faulty replaced by a nucleus. If content needs to be translated to a foreign language (even if it’s one you’re more or less familiar with) it may be a good idea to have the presentation reviewed by a native-speaking colleague.

Finally, like every father who thinks his kids are the most beautiful children on earth, I often prefer my original slides over the revamped ones. They contain my visual signature and they’re part of my personal brand. That’s why my graphic design agency is called None. And when I asked the other speaker about how much he had paid the design company for authoring his presentation, I was flabbergasted by the amount of money he spent per slide. Well, if I ever lose my voice, I know a lucrative alternative to public speaking: creating or remaking other people’s slides…

If you’re looking for slide design tips and some do’s and don’ts for using fonts, color, images, bulleted lists, multimedia, and templates in your slides, you may read my article “Why look and feel matter in business presentations“.

The ethos, pathos and logos in Oprah’s #metoo speech

On Monday, I woke up with a sound bite from Oprah Winfrey on my clock radio. An excerpt of her acceptance address for the Cecil B. DeMille Award for outstanding contributions to entertainment at the 2018 Golden Globes awards ceremony, which will most likely be known in history as her #MeToo speech. I must admit I wasn’t at full consciousness that early in the day yet, but WOW! what an amazing storyteller Oprah is, and what a memorable performance she delivered. Some commentators even called her discourse presidential. Just watch the video at the bottom of this page.

75th Annual Golden Globe Awards - Show

In the past, I have published posts about Barack Obama’s second term acceptance speech (“Obama and the rule of three”) and about Donald Trump’s communication capabilities (“Trump and the rule of one”,) so why not write a few words about this presentation of a still-very-maybe next president of the USA.

As you may have observed, Oprah’s speech is loaded with ethos, pathos and logos. Using a good mix of Aristotle’s persuasive appeals, the media diva succeeded in winning the hearts and the minds of millions of women and men sitting in the auditorium or in front of their TV screens (for more background on ethos, pathos and logos, you may read my article “About rhetoric, storytelling, and persuasion”.)

Ethos

Of course, the current scandals in the entertainment industry, misogynist power relations, and sexual misbehavior are a more than ethically loaded topic. Dressed in all-black – emphasizing her support for the #metoo movement – Winfrey took on the predators and paid honor to their victims.

“Tonight, I want to express gratitude to all the women who have endured years of abuse and assault because they, like my mother, had children to feed and bills to pay and dreams to pursue. They’re the women whose names we’ll never know. They are domestic workers and farm workers. They are working in factories and they work in restaurants and they’re in academia and engineering and medicine and science. They’re part of the world of tech and politics and business. They’re our athletes in the Olympics and they’re our soldiers in the military.”

“[Recy Taylor] lived, as we all have lived, too many years in a culture broken by brutally powerful men. For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dared to speak their truth to the power of those men.”

But she also bravely expressed her support for the free press, that is currently under attack by alternative facts and fake news allegations.

“I want to thank the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, because we all know the press is under siege these days. But we also know it’s the insatiable dedication to uncovering the absolute truth that keeps us from turning a blind eye to corruption and to injustice, to tyrants and victims, and secrets and lies. I want to say that I value the press more than ever before as we try to navigate these complicated times, which brings me to this: what I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.”

Pathos

Oprah’s presentation was loaded with stories, inspired by the entertainment industry and by the lives of fellow African-Americans.

“Each of us in this room are celebrated because of the stories that we tell, and this year, we became the story .”

During a no longer than 9-minute performance on stage, she brought three personal, emotional, and engaging stories. The opening about herself, the little girl on the linoleum floor who’s watching Sidney Poitier becoming the first black Oscar winner. Her testimonial about Recy Taylor, who was abducted, gang-raped, and left blindfolded by the side of the road coming home from church. And the story of Rosa Parks, the lead investigator on the Taylor case, who refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger.

Logos

Although you won’t find many hard facts and figures in the transcript of Winfrey’s speech, be sure that every single man or woman in the audience was linking her words to the scandals that recently unfolded in Hollywood. So, logos was all around. In stories about gender, racial, and income inequality. And, not at least in the character of the narrator: women, colored, and of poor origin.

“And I have tried many, many, many times to explain what a moment like that means to a little girl, a kid watching from the cheap seats as my mom came through the door bone tired from cleaning other people’s houses.”

“In 1982, Sidney received the Cecil B. DeMille award right here at the Golden Globes and it is not lost on me that at this moment, there are some little girls watching as I become the first black woman to be given this same award.”

“… the incredible men and women who’ve inspired me, who’ve challenged me, who’ve sustained me and made my journey to this stage possible. Dennis Swanson who took a chance on me for A.M. Chicago. Quincy Jones who saw me on that show and said to Steven Spielberg, ‘Yes, she is Sophia in The Color Purple.’ Gayle, who’s been the definition of what a friend is and Stedman, who’s been my rock.”

Finally, the epic “their time is up” theme – probably as memorable as Obama’s yes we can,” – combined with a strong ending gives a message of hope to the abuse victims, and to all magnificent women and some pretty phenomenal men in the world.

“So, I want all the girls watching here and now to know that a new day is on the horizon! And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say ‘me too’ again.”

 

The 4th P

Although the title of this post would make a great title for a crime novel, it’s actually a follow-up on the most visited article that I have published on this blog to date. In “The 3 p’s of a professional public presenter” I argued that in this era of content, communication, conversation, and customer experience, a marketer’s capability to create a decent message house, translate it into a captivating story, and use it to engage with a specific audience is probably more essential than mastering Jerome McCarthy’s 4 P’s: price, promotion, product and place.

And then I introduced an alternative “3P” model that summoned business presenters to take control of their pitch, their preparation, and their presentation. Well, I was wrong or, rather, incomplete. The desirable speaker’s mix consists of four P’s – not just three. I realized this when reading a biographical article about Beethoven, in which I found this quote attributed to the German composer:

“To play a wrong note is insignificant; to play without passion is inexcusable.” ― Ludwig van Beethoven

You may now have guessed that the 4th P stands for passion. And though it’s less tangible than the 3 other ones – a skill that can’t be acquired by training and a genuineness that can’t be rehearsed – it’s probably the P with the biggest impact on the outcome of your presentation. Passion is the x-factor that sets you apart from the average speaker, that leaves your audience with an authentic impression, and that creates an incentive for them to engage with you.

(photo: John Belushi as Beethoven)

Just like enthusiasm, passion is contagious. Combined with an appropriate pitch, a thorough preparation, and a well-rehearsed presentation, it provides you with a unique set of chords to compose, conduct, and perform your next master piece.

“From the glow of enthusiasm I let the melody escape. I pursue it. Breathless I catch up with it. It flies again, it disappears, it plunges into a chaos of diverse emotions. I catch it again, I seize it, I embrace it with delight… I multiply it by modulations, and at last I triumph in the first theme. There is the whole symphony.” – Ludwig van Beethoven

 

Not every picture tells the story

Just before the weekend there was a @WEF tweet that pointed to a post on the World Economic Forum blog. The article, which is quite interesting (at least for a tech guy like me,) explores how the internet looked like in 1973. In these early days, the entire net consisted of just 45 computers and could be mapped out on the back of a napkin.

But what struck me most when I saw this tweet passing by, was the contradicting information in the twitter message and the image attached to it. The picture shows a Macintosh, a Macintosh Plus, and a Macintosh SE. As I was working with Apple Computer during the second half of the eighties, I know for sure that the latter was only launched in 1987, and so there’s a fourteen year lag between the hardware shown and the 1973 internet of the WEF post…

Whether used in a tweet, an article, or a PowerPoint presentation, such a discrepancy between the text and the image creates a conflicting situation in the reader’s or listener’s brain. This doesn’t mean that one should systematically duplicate the content in the visual and textual or auditory messages he’s delivering. As I wrote in one of my older posts, “What you say and what you show,” an image can help you present your message simple and sweet, and make what you show complementary to what you say.

And, while writing the above, I started thinking of what alternative image I would have used instead of the Macs. Mmmmm, forty-five years ago, the internet was probably not that very visually exciting. Therefore, I was thinking of showing a more compelling picture (or even a piece of video.) And, well, a quick Google search taught me that the UK singles top-50 of 8 December 1973 was topped by Slade with “Merry Xmas Everybody.”

If that isn’t a nostalgic piece of seventies eye – and even ear – candy! And it gives a good message for this time of year too. Happy holiday season, dear readers.

All stories deserve embellishment

“Well, all good stories deserve embellishment. You’ll have a tale or two to tell of your own when you come back.” – Gandalf the Grey (in a conversation with Bilbo Baggins)

 

Merriam-Webster defines to embellish as “to heighten the attractiveness of by adding decorative or fanciful details.” Gandalf was right. Every story – and to an extent, every presentation – will benefit from embellishments.

Here are a few tools you may use:

  • Bring in (one or more of) the typical elements of a story: character, setting, plot, theme, and style. Many (if not all) novelists and movie directors rely upon these to ensure a consistent narrative, allow the action to develop, and let the audience emotionally engage (learn more about them in my post about the “five elements of a story, and how to use them in a business presentation“)
  • Give it a personal touch: when telling a personal story, you share an authentic part of yourself that may inspire, connect, and engage people. You could e.g. start your talk by “On the way to this event, I …” or “Lately, my X year old son/daughter asked me …” Or tell an anecdote about a real-life moment, encounter, or incident.
  • Enrich your story with facts, figures, and trivia: crafting your presentation for creating an emotional connection with the people in the room doesn’t exclude using hard, soft, or fun facts. They help you to make your point and persuade your audience. Just make sure to embed your data into a convincing narrative, and visualize them appropriately and creatively.
  • Use metaphors: as they speak directly to our imagination, metaphors bypass humans’ left-brain hemisphere and will help you explain and explore ideas that lie behind rational thought – or that are too dry, too boring, or too complex for your listeners (more about the functioning of your audience’s brains can be found in my posts “Yin, yang and your brain” and “Use your brain, you’ve got three of them.”)
  • Quote people, books, or movies: quotes may serve as a second voice in your presentation. Use them to strengthen your arguments, to confirm your claims, or (most likely) to infuse your story with a memorable or inspiring statement.
  • Add a touch of humor: humor is subjective, but the principles underlying humor are not. If you use the comic toolbox intelligently, moderately, and appropriately – without hurting anyone’s feelings – you have access to a set of non-threatening tools to make your point, challenge incorrect assumptions, or help people remember your key messages.
  • Provide case studies: document your presentation with real-life examples to make your story more credible and show that you’ve “been there, done that.” Embellishing case studies with a protagonist or antagonist character makes them even pleasant to listen to. The hero could be you, your company, or your product, while the adversary may e.g. be a competitor, a demanding customer, or an unfavorable market condition.
  • Enhance the look and feel of your slides: in one of my older posts, I compared a good presentation with a tasteful dish. Great food is enjoyed through many senses. Taste, smell, and colors do matter. And so do the look and feel of your presentations. Your slideshows will derive great benefit from creative layouts with images, video, and multimedia.

One more thing: exotic fonts, in-slide object animations, and click and whoosh sounds aren’t embellishments. They are annoyances. You’re not Gandalf, you don’t need a magic wand, and as a business presenter you’re not competing for the special effects Oscar.

Also note that the quote on top of this article only appears in in Peter Jackson’s movie; you won’t find it back in J. R. R. Tolkien’s original publication of The Hobbit. The photo above is showing Ian McKellen as Gandalf in the Warner Bros. picture.