Dress to impress

During the current period of carnival, people over the world dress up extravagantly. They wear masks and costumes to change their everyday appearance, make a statement or tell a story. The ultimate example of such dress-up story telling is probably shown in the image below: amid the great 1930s depression, attendees of the Beaux Art Ball in New York were asked to celebrate the innovative spirit that was sweeping the architectural world. Which resulted in this frivolous lineup of architects dressed up as the renowned buildings they designed.

beaux-arts-ball

As a public speaker, your attire can change your image or enforce your message too. Varying from casual over smart to formal, your dress code may help you to impress, to convince, or to express. Of course, the outside always counts and you’ll only get one chance to make a first impression. A smart business suit exudes confidence and success, but this doesn’t mean that you must overdress or – even worse – wear clothes that don’t fit your personality. Dress like an engineer if you are one, instead of trying to look like a corporate executive (although I can name some casually – or even sloppily – dressed men and women in this category too, including a famous CEO that was wearing blue jeans, a black turtleneck, and grey sneakers as his signature look). Particularly if you suffer from speaking stress, you may prefer comfortable clothing over a stiff three-piece business suit. Which doesn’t mean that you have to wear baggy trousers either.

And, most important, don’t forget that it’s your on-stage performance that counts. Dedicate your time and creativity to building your story, crafting your content, and rehearsing your presentation rather than to dressing up for the audience.

I’d like to close this post with a quote from Arthur Ashe, the only black tennis player ever to win the Wimbledon championships: “Clothes and manners do not make the man; but when he is made, they greatly improve his appearance.” And so it is…

Wow! here came the iPhone

Today, exactly 10 years ago, Apple introduced the iPhone. During his keynote presentation at Macworld Expo in San Francisco, the late Steve Jobs told the audience that:

Today, we’re introducing three revolutionary products.
The first one is a widescreen iPod with touch controls.
The second is a revolutionary mobile phone.
And the third is a breakthrough Internet communications device.
So, three things: a widescreen iPod with touch controls, a revolutionary mobile phone, and a breakthrough Internet communications device.
An iPod, a phone, and an Internet communicator.
An iPod, a phone… are you getting it?
These are not three separate devices. This is one device.
And we are calling it iPhone.
Today, Apple is going to reinvent the phone.

For the thousands of people in the auditorium, as well as for the crowd of technology enthusiasts like me that followed the event via a live blog, this was certainly a wow! moment.

iphone_jobs

This was one of these points in time when you recognize that a product or service is a must have that might change your life. Something powerful enough to make one say: “Wow! I’ve never seen (or heard) something like this in my whole life.” Or, like Jobs had perfectly described this moment a few seconds earlier in his speech:

Every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything. And Apple has been – well, first of all, one’s very fortunate if you get to work on just one of these in your career.
Apple’s been very fortunate. It’s been able to introduce a few of these into the world.
In 1984, we introduced the Macintosh. It didn’t just change Apple, it changed the whole computer industry.
In 2001, we introduced the first iPod, and… it didn’t just – it didn’t just change the way we all listen to music, it changed the entire music industry.

So, as a product marketer and a public speaker, what can you learn from the January 9th, 2007 iPhone announcement? besides that the iPhone was – and still is – a great disruptive product. Here are a few tips on how to turn a new product introduction into a memorable wow! moment:

Sometimes a wow! moment just comes spontaneously (or even unexpectedly.) But if you want to make sure you don’t miss the opportunity to wow! your audience, then you’d better plan, script and rehearse your presentation well in advance.

Bambi does the toothbrush test

Did you ever hear about the toothbrush test? The term is attributed to Alphabet’s CEO, Larry Page. And, as you may guess, it has nothing to do at all with a shiny white smile. The Google co-founder uses the test for determining whether a company is worth buying – which is always a complex and risky assessment to make.

As an alternative to diving into the nitty-gritty of revenue projections, cash flow forecasts, and profitability analyses, the test consists of this simple question:

“Is the company’s product or service something people will use once or twice a day, and does it solve a problem or make their life better?”

If I was asked for an opinion about my own toothbrush, the outcome would definitely be “yes.”

In this case, the toothbrush is used as a metaphor for usefulness and long-term value, in contrast to short-term RoI. Of course, one must be a business genius to make such an important decision based upon such a simple question. Please, note that I’m not naïve; you don’t have to convince me that Google’s people carry out a lot of due diligence beyond the toothbrush inquiry.

In an older post I wrote that simplicity always works. Life (and business) can be made so much easier than it is today, if you enable decision-making by asking simple questions, and effective communications by telling compelling stories.

Similar to Larry Page’s toothbrush test, I started using something I call the Bambi test. When preparing a public presentation, I ask myself the question below:

“Will people remember my words (or my visuals) two days from now, and did they get emotionally involved?”

I got inspired to use the Bambi metaphor after observing my kids watching Disney’s famous movie scene with Bambi and Thumper sliding on the icy pond. And like for the toothbrush one, the answer to the question would certainly be a “yes!” (Note to my sons Yannick and Robin: if you read this text, which you probably won’t, this was of course loooooong time ago…)

bambi

(image from Bambi by Walt Disney Studios)

Background reading:

Beauty and the beast

This week I read two articles about robots. One was about Jia Jia, a hyper-realistic young female-looking android, dressed in traditional Chinese style, which is capable of having a conversation with humans. She (or, should I rather say “it”?) can understand what people say, though she mostly just reacts to compliments on her appearance, like “You are beautiful” and “You look like an 18-year-old…”

The other piece covered a more functional species, named SpotMini. Boston Dynamics’ latest creation could be characterized as a ‘helpful giraffe-dog’.  It can grab all sorts of things, including fragile objects such as wine glasses or dirty dishes. Although less a pleasure for the human eye than robot goddess Jia-Jia, robodog SpotMini is probably more what the average person would expect a robot to be and to look like.

robots

Watching the pictures of both cyborg creatures made me think about the trade-offs between beauty and functionality. Even in this era of gender equality, most people don’t associate a sturdy machine with the looks a beautiful young woman, or vice versa.

Unfortunately, similar prejudices also often apply to the (PowerPoint) presentations we create. Working in a high-tech environment, in the heart of a community of engineers, I experience on a daily basis that most of my colleagues prefer creating long and (often) ugly slide decks with lots of complicated diagrams, detailed tables, and technical jargon. They seem to consider any visually appealing presentation a marketing gimmick — a kind of Jia-Jia, who’s only good for accepting “you are beautiful” compliments — that is not to be used for explaining complex ideas, designs, and creations. They put functionality before simplicity and aesthetics.

And still Beauty and the Beast can live together in perfect harmony. The Apple II personal computer was launched in 1977 with the slogan “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” and although Steven Jobs is sometimes quoted for saying that “design is how it works, not how it looks,” many people still buy an iPhone because of its premium look and feel. A thing of beauty is a joy forever. And so should be your business presentations!

You can watch some videos of the robot creations I mentioned above:

And, by the way, beautiful robots can be smart, ambitious, and wicked too. Have a look at another humanlike robot, Sophia, who “in the future, hopes to do things such as go to school, study, make art, start a business, even have her own home and family…”, and — oh my — “destroy humans” too.

Thought leader or entertainer?

“You know that I’m a thought leader, because I’m wearing a blazer, I have glasses, and I’ve just done this with my hands…”

Maybe you’ve already seen the recording of a This is That TED-like talk by self-proclaimed thought leader Pat Kelly. And if you haven’t, take a look at the video below.

Unless you’re an alien without any sense of humor, you must have realized that this is not a real keynote. And observed that Kelly’s character is an empty shell with nothing to say, though with an impressive ability to deliver his message (and entertain his audience.)

Then, you also know that it takes more to being a thought leader than wearing the right clothes, putting on a pair of smart looking glasses, and making some gorgeous gestures with your hands. But, if you still believe you are one – or have an unstoppable ambition to become one – here are a few tips…

  • Stay ahead of the curve. Keeping Malcolm Forbes’ wisdom that “the best vision is insight” in mind, always base your opinion – and accompanying narrative – on trustable and traceable facts and figures.
  • When acting as a thought leader, NEVER deliver a sales pitch. Take the stance of a neutral observer,  and a dependable domain expert. Of course, when you’re explicitly speaking on behalf of your (or another) company there’s no problem to recommend or acknowledge the ‘sponsor.’
  • Never stop earning your audience’s respect. Show them that you are an authority on the topic, and prove them that you have the right to speak. But even when world considers you a champion, always stay your humble self!
  • Talk as often as you can with customers, end-users, and opinion makers. Listen to them and benefit from their insights and experience to further develop your expertise and evolve your narrative. Be careful with dropping names or citing facts or figures on behalf of any 3rdparty to make yourself look more important.
  • Create an elevator pitch, define your mantra and don’t be shy of repeating yourself – repetition is one of the tools to make your message stick. In the mean time, keep evolving your story and updating your content as technology and markets evolve.
  • Craft and deliver compelling content for a broad audience. Keep it simple and sweet, but don’t be fluffy. Be aware of audiences’ needs and expectations and remember, people are always looking for the WIIFM.
  • Build a personal brand, establish your social media presence (also as a follower!) and develop a multi channel content strategy. Try to create and share quotable quotes, tweetable data points, and impactful visuals.
  • And finally, invest in developing your storytelling and public speaking skills. Being able to create and deliver a compelling presentation is certainly one of the basic competences an opinion maker (or any business leader) needs.

Unfortunately, there is no college class or MOOC that will teach you how to become a respected thought leader. It takes a lot of insight, expertise, and communication skills. And, even if you (think) you have all of these, the next time you’re on stage and walk over to your laptop, your audience may still look at you as an entertainer…

thought-leader

As a final note, by writing this blog post and giving you the above tips, I am not pretending to be a thought leader at anything at all. Think of me as a singer-songwriter, who’s passion is to perform a good song, while trying to entertain his audience.

More reading:

Size matters!

Here’s another true story, possibly even an Oscar candidate in the “wrong answer to a good question” category.

One of my colleagues – let’s call him John – was recently presenting at an industry seminar. With more than 200 experts and potential customers in the audience, the speaker had a great stage for promoting our company’s vision and portfolio. The event turned out to be a big success and John’s message was well received.

Actually, the content of his talk was outstanding. But, during the after-event debrief, there was this one comment about “too much text on the slides and too small font sizes.” As I was sitting in the back of the room, I can acknowledge that a pair of binoculars would indeed have been a good thing to bring along.

eyetest

When confronted with the poor readability of his visuals, John’s reaction was unexpected and wrong:

“Well, when we come back next year, we should probably ask the organizers to install a larger projection screen…”

In my humble opinion, a more straightforward – and easier solution – might have been to put fewer words on the slides, and to increase the font size of the remaining text. A to follow Guy Kawasaki’s advice:

“The reason people use a small font is twofold: first, that they don’t know their material well enough; second, they think that more text is more convincing. Total bozosity. Force yourself to use no font smaller than thirty points. I guarantee it will make your presentations better because it requires you to find the most salient points and to know how to explain them well.”

Size matters, John, also for your presentation fonts!

Elon Musk and the stored sunlight experience

Over the past weeks, there has been a lot of excitement about the unveiling of the Tesla Model 3. But almost exactly one year ago, the car maker’s CEO made another game-changing announcement.

On April 30, 2015 Elon Musk introduced the Powerwall, a home battery system that charges using electricity generated from solar panels (or when utility rates are low) and powers your home in the evening.

ElonMuskPowerWall-640x320

Although there was nothing really revolutionary about the lithium-ion battery technology that Tesla showed off, Musk delivered a memorable pitch. His presentation changed the public’s perception of batteries — similar to when Steve Jobs talked about a new laptop, or introduced the iPhone. And he thoughtfully applied Simon Sinek’s golden circle principle.

As I described in an earlier post on this blog, Sinek’s message is as simple as it is powerful: People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. That’s why great leaders always start with the WHY, before they talk about the HOW, and the WHAT.

Let’s have a look at the video and do a bit of analysis on the Tesla Energy keynote…

  • Musk starts his presentation with reminding the audience about how today’s power is generated. Showing an image of burning fossil fuels, he tells the people in the room that: “This is how it is today. It is pretty bad. Actually it sucks…” and supports his statement by facts and figures about C02 concentration in the atmosphere. Isn’t this a direct — and memorable — way of saying what’s wrong and WHY things needs to change urgently?
  • Then, before disclosing anything about his company’s actual product, he explains why today’s electricity grid is not properly working, and evangelizes the HOW — a vision of a world powered by “this handy fusion reactor in the sky, called the sun” and “that one red pixel, that is the size of the batteries needed to bring the United States to have no fossil fuel generated electricity.” Two high-impact metaphors that describe how simple and compact a solution to being solar with batteries could be.

Of course there’s still one small matter that needs to be solved: “The issue with existing batteries is that they suck. They’re really horrible. They look like that. They’re expensive. They’re unreliable. They’re sort of stinky, ugly, bad in every way, very expensive – you have to combine multiple systems – there’s no integrated place you can go and buy a battery that just works…”

  • And finally, only after more than 6 minutes, the keynote speaker comes up with WHAT people will be able to buy: “That’s the mission piece. That’s the thing that’s needed to have a proper transition to a sustainable energy world… This is a product we call the Tesla Powerwall.”

Particularly for this kind of groundbreaking technology innovation, it may be important to give evidence that you’re not just showing slideware.

  • Musk does that by zooming in on a camera feed of the event venue’s power meter. And by observing that “the grid it’s actually zero. This entire night has been powered by batteries. Not only that, the batteries were charged by the solar panels on the roof of this building. So, this entire night, everything you’re experiencing is stored sunlight.”

In yet another post on this blog about storytellers, storydoers and storymakers, I wrote that only great personalities are able to combine these three roles. They not only have great ideas, but they also have the capabilities to execute them and engage their audience — and as such create or change an industry. If you ask me, Elon Musk is certainly one of them.

Beware the Oxford comma

Have you ever heard about the Oxford comma, also known as the Harvard comma, or the serial comma. No? Neither did I (although I just used one in the previous sentence) until I was confronted with this Sky News alert about the Nelson Mandela memorial service on December 10th, 2013:

“Top stories: World leaders at Mandela tribute, Obama-Castro handshake and same-sex marriage date set…”

I would never have imagined that there was something more behind that warm handshake between US president Obama and the Cuban leader Raul Castro, but that’s what I (thought I) was actually reading…

obama-castro-handshake

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a serial comma is “a comma used after the penultimate item in a list of three or more items, before ‘and’ or ‘or’ (e.g. an Italian painter, sculptor, and architect).”

Here are a few other sentences in which a small comma can make a big difference (the two first quotes are told to have appeared in The Times):

“Among these interviewed were Merle Haggard’s two ex-wives, Kris Kristofferson and Robert Duvall.”

“Highlights of Peter Ustinov’s global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector.”

“During the sales team meeting they discussed the quarterly results, their key customers and their upcoming trip to Disneyland.”

Not all writers and publishers use it, and style experts disagree on whether it is required or not, but if you look at the examples above you’ll concur with me that the Oxford comma may actually be the most important punctuation mark in English (or any other tongue.)

Although commas only appear in written language, oral presenters may also benefit from punctuations. Silence sometimes says more than words, and the effective use of pauses turns an average speech into a dynamite speech. As such, it’s a good practice to insert a short moment of silence (while taking a breath) when a comma, a semicolon, or a period would be used in a printed text.

A colleagues of mine has even adopted the habit of (occasionally) speaking punctuations out loud. The first time you hear him talk like this … comma … it may sound a little bit weird … period … But when you think about it  … comma … it’s actually a good way to pace your speech … comma … to emphasize your message … Oxford comma … and to avoid confusing word constructions … full stop.

And if you follow the news you won’t have missed that the odd couple, Obama and Castro, recently had another date (their fourth one already)  in Havana, to further deepen their relationship.

The golden circle

It’s Mobile World Congress time again. And although this is probably my busiest work week of the year, I’m taking some time, again, to write a post about my experiences at Barcelona’s mega(lomaniac) telecom event.

Two years ago, I reported on the many executive storytellers, storydoers and storymakers that meet here each February to evangelize and promote their companies, products and services, and last year about all the demonstrators and exhibitors at el meu circ a Barcelona that systematically use too many acronyms, show too many implementation details, and push their products instead of listening to their customers.

Here’s a probably shocking message for all those enthusiastic, booth duty doing engineers,  marketers and sales guys: most visitors don’t care about your products! (except for your Chinese competitors of course, but these aren’t exactly the people you don’t want to share too much information with, or do you?)

If you started wondering what “the golden circle” has to do with this (no, it is neither an opium-producing area or an obscure oriental sect,) watch this famous TED talk in which UK born author Simon Sinek discusses how great leaders inspire action.

I strongly believe that the golden circle is a key to successful storytelling, and as a consequence to a successful product demonstration, and hopefully also to a successful business transaction

Sinek’s message is simple: “Always build your story from the inside out, starting with the WHY.” Initiate a conversation with your audience by talking about what keeps them awake at night. Give them a reason for taking the time to listen to your exposition and watch your demonstration.

golden_circle

What I witness here on the MWC exhibition floor, however, is that most vendors communicate about the solutions they sell by starting with the “WHAT.” They elaborate in detail about the many features and implementation details of their products, and then eventually (if they haven’t run out of time, or lost their client’s attention by then) work their way back to talk about “HOW” and “WHY” their stuff does what it does.

So, here’s the – IMHO – right order for conducting a conversation with your customers in spe. Tell them consecutively:

  1. WHY they should listen to you. Start a conversation about what matters most to them, help them understand their problem, and create an urgency in decision-making.
  2. HOW your product/service/solution contributes to solving their problem. Talk about the process improvements, the cost savings, the revenue opportunities it may bring.
  3. WHAT scenario or features you will show them during the demo, and what they can actually buy from you.

Simon Sinek says: “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” For similar reasons, most trade fair visitors don’t care about your products; they are looking for a solution to their problem or for opportunities to create new business.

More reading:

The right of being wrong

In a democratic system, people are allowed to have different opinions. Quite often there is even no single truth. As both cartoons below illustrate, individuals can look at the same thing(s) or situation from different perspectives – without one being more right or wrong than the other.

boat_land_cartoon

burqa_bikini_cartoon

(courtesy Malcolm Evans cartoons)

Recently I came across an artwork by the German-French artist trio Troika. Watch this video of their hanging steel sculpture, called: “Squaring the Circle”, and compare the perspective at the beginning of the movie with wat you see at the end…

Also as a business presenter you may have people in the room with different viewpoints on the topic(s) you cover in your talk. As I explained in an earlier post about “the duck and the rabbit”, it depends on how you present things, but also on what your audience sees and/or wants to make of them.

So, be persuasive in presenting and defending your case, but keep in mind that some members of your audience will have diverging views or may come to deviating conclusions. Always be open, tolerant, and respectful for other people’s sentiment and be prepared for a good conversation (or a harsh discussion).

It’s always better to adopt a good mix of Aristotle’s rhetorical appeals:

  • Ethos: try to earn your audience’s respect and show them that you have the right to speak. Don’t be dogmatic, but don’t compromise on your principles either. Prove by all (verbal and non verbal) means that you mean what you say.
  • Logos: state your opinion consistently, clearly and crisply, and support it by reason and proof. Provide facts and figures, but beware of presenting faith, beliefs and opinions as hard evidence.
  • Pathos: remember that enthusiasm is contagious and can arouse positive emotions. If you manage to appeal to the emotions of your audience in a sincere and purposeful way, you may eventually break down their barriers to accepting your position.

And, finally, you could use the Q&A at the end of your talk to give people with a different opinion a forum to make their statement. But never allow any of them to dominate the conversation, or – even worse – override your message and hijack your presentation.

More reading: