Highway 61 revisited

Last week, I had to prepare and deliver an Alcatel-Lucent company presentation to a broad, local, and non-technical public of all ages. That’s quite a challenge indeed. How do you explain high-tech concepts, products and solutions such as optical transmission, IP routers, ADSL, 3G and 4G mobile networks, customer experience management, etc. to the mother of your colleague or to a 10-year-old child? After some reflection, I decided to use the metaphor of a highway as the lead theme of my story.

Metaphors are great tools for storytellers. As they create an implied comparison between seemingly unrelated objects and/or concepts, they offer us a creative means to convey much more content compared to only talking about the naked topic of your presentation. Furthermore, well-chosen analogies are understood cross-culturally and cross-functionally and so they appeal to all audiences.

So, here’s how I educated, entertained and engaged the crowd on how Alcatel-Lucent ensures that there are no traffic jams on the digital highway… (view the full presentation on SlideShare)

I started with an introduction, unwinding the fact that the global population will create, consume and communicate about 2 zettabytes of digital information in 2012. A quick poll among the people in the room (“Who of you owns a smartphone? A tablet? Has an internet connection? Watches digital TV? …) identified each single one of them as an active contributor to the imminent data storm.

Two zettabytes – two sextillion bytes, or a 2 followed by 21 zeroes–  is the amount of binary data that can be stored on 137.5 billion iPads. If you stack all these devices into containers and transport them by road, you’ll get a 9000 kilometers long colonne of trucks. Reaching from Antwerp to Shanghai. And still there are no traffic jams on the digital highway!

As such, I had laid the foundation for the rest of my talk. Building upon the figure of speech of a jamless highway, I could comprehensively introduce my company’s communication technologies, product portfolio and R&D activities in a way (that turned out to be) well understood by most.

  • Assuming a digital highway section is about 10 Gigabits per second wide, an optical fiber –which is thinner than a human hair– can contain almost 900 of these high-speed tracks;
  • IP routers are like super cloverleaf junctions, interconnecting up to 1600 incoming and outgoing freeways. All (data) traffic can merge onto intersecting roads without having to slow down or stop;
  • Wireline and wireless broadband access technologies, such as xDSL and 4G LTE mobile networks, provide the entrance and exit ramps. Over the past decades, access speed has increased by a factor of 2000;
  • Driving a vehicle is about the comfort, safety and convenience of drivers and passengers. Customer experience solutions help service providers closing the gap between customers’ expectations and experience;
  • Highway infrastructure needs to be planned, constructed, maintained and serviced. This is why professional services are needed to make the (road) network work;
  • Research on new technologies and applications is necessary to anticipate with a changing market demand for eco-sustainable and connected cars. In the near future, drivers and passengers will no longer have to carry any content but get it streamed to their vehicle while driving.

People liked the story and grasped the message. I got lots of positive feedback: “my parents understood your presentation” and “my kids thought you told a cool story.”  Are there any greater compliments a technology speaker can get?

Some guidelines for finding the right metaphors to spark your presentations and using them effectively can be found in these Way Beyond Ordinary and SOAP Presentations blog posts.

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2 thoughts on “Highway 61 revisited

  1. Pingback: The big bang metaphor | B2B STORYTELLING

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