Remember die Raute

Next week’s German federal elections will mark the end of the Angela Merkel era. Regarded by many as the most powerful woman in the world, the German chancellor guided her country through many crises and has dominated European politics for the last sixteen years.

But, Mutti has also become famous for her signature hand gesture, known as the Merkel Raute (a German word that translates as rhombus or diamond).

Photo by Armin Linnartz (CC BY-SA 3.0)

While communication specialists have explained the famous gesture as “a sign of stability and reliability”, “an intermediate sensation between proximity and distance”, or even as “a protective roof for defusing and avoiding emotional signals”, the German leader herself says the position of her hands simply shows “a certain love of symmetry”.

Nonverbal communication is more important than most people think. Only a small portion of our (public speaking) message is conveyed through words. It is complemented by vocal elements like volume and pitch. All the rest is communicated through your facial expressions, eye movements, hand gestures, body posture, etc. Even through your makeup or the clothes you wear.

By the way, Angela Merkel isn’t the only politician in history that became (in)famous through an iconic attribute or gesture. Think, for example, of Margaret Thatcher’s handbag, Winston Churchill’s cigar, Mobutu Sese Seko’s leopard skin hat, Napoleon Bonaparte’s hand-in-coat, or even Donald Trump’s L-shaped finger pinch.

Other articles I’ve written about communication skills of political leaders and their spokespeople:

Knowledge, wisdom and trust

Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad.

The above quote is either attributed to Miles Kington, a British writer, or to Brian O’Driscoll, an Irish rugby player. I’m not sure who of the two was first, but it raises an interesting question: how would your company interpret this statement?

Image source: Wikimedia Commons (CC0 1.0)

Some companies would certainly issue a standard operating procedure, create a work instruction template, or publish a corporate policy document on what to put into and not to put into a fruit cocktail. Never put tomatoes in a fruit salad. Full stop! Period!

While other organizations trust on the wisdom, common sense and competence of their people and assume that they will be perfectly capable of making a decent fruit salad. Creative staff members might even engage in product innovation by adding some exotic berries or nuts to the mix.

This observation leads me to another quote, by Simon Sinek:

When leaders are willing to prioritize trust over performance, performance almost always follows.

How about the company that you work for and the leaders that you work with?

Never regret saying ‘no’

On August 15, 2021 the world woke up with the news about the fall of Kabul.

Reading the headlines about the chaotic evacuation of Western citizens and their local allies from Afghanistan and watching the horrifying images of the suicide bombing at Kabul airport, it came to my mind that, about six months ago, I received a LinkedIn job proposal for a marketing position with a telecom company. The most surprising part of this lucrative offer definitely came at the end of the recruiter’s message: “Job location: Kabul, Afghanistan”.

While I’m, generally speaking, open to discussing a once in a lifetime opportunity, I decidedly said ‘no’ to this one. Adding tongue in cheek that Kabul is not the most inviting place to work. Today ― excuse my understatement ― I still don’t regret my decision. You may guess why.

Image: Kabul International Airport in 2008 by Carl Montgomery (CC BY 2.0)

One of my favorite columns by Seth Godin is titled Saying ‘no’. In this only 120 words long post, the American thought leader and author discusses the choice of making the people with the loudest requests temporarily happy vs. changing the world by saying ‘no’ often.

Every decision gives you an opportunity to take control of your own life. If being capable of saying ‘no’ is paramount, then not regretting your decision is possibly even more important. QED.

No such thing as writer’s block

I wrote my last blog on this page about a year ago. My key messages were that I had run out of inspiration and that I was starting a non-writing sabbatical.

Earlier today, I was a watching a LinkedIn course about creativity at work by Seth Godin. One of Seth’s statements was that there’s no such thing as writer’s block. There’s only a fear of bad writing. Most people are afraid of being wrong. But everyone has some good ideas. It’s easy to get your audience to be negative, but hard to get people to speak up. And sometimes, something good comes out. So, do more bad writing and have more bad ideas!

Godin also drew a parallel with the board game Pictionary: when one guesses for the word that’s being drawn, there is no cost of being wrong. There are no points deducted for bad guesses. No one blames you for drawing bad pictures either. And as people start guessing, the drawer hears them talk and responds to what they’re saying by improving his drawing or creating new ones.

So, that’s why as from today I’m picking up my pen – or typing my keyboard – again to start writing fresh blog posts. Some of them will be long, some of them may be short. Some of them may be good, some of them could be trash. Some of them could be on topic, some of them will be just a diversion. Some of them will teach you something, while others won’t tell you anything new at all.

As Seth Godin says, we need to start doing the urgent, important, and thrilling work of being more creative – even if many of our ideas will be bad. Stay tuned for my next article on this page…

Zipf’s law

In some older posts on this blog, I have written about Moore’s law, Metcalfe’s law, Fubini’s law, Occam’s law and Murphy’s law. Maybe you still remember what they are all about.

Today, I want to introduce you to yet another law, which is called Zipf’s law, a.k.a. the Brevity law.

The American linguist, George Kingsley Zipf, formulated this law in 1945. It states that the more frequently a word is used, the shorter that word tends to be, and vice versa. Such negative correlation between the frequency of words and their size can be found in almost any natural languages. Zipf also called it a ‘principle of least effort.’ As humans tend to be inherently lazy (or more positively said, they try to be energy efficient) they prefer to take the path of least effort or resistance. Whatever (English) text you analyse, you will always get the same top-5 of short words and their associated frequencies: the (about 6.5%), of (2.8%), to (2.6%), a (2.4%) and and (2.3%).

Some of the shortest words that public speakers often use, however, won’t show up in these statistics: the innumerable uh’s, um’s and er’s. I recently had a video recorded of one of my presentations, and when I replayed it afterwards, I was embarrassed to hear myself saying these nasty filler words. I really thought I had eliminated them from my professional vocabulary…

In another blog post, I wrote about hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia, or fear of long words. Well, this time I felt more like a micrologophobia patient. But there’s some good news: like most phobias there are some cures for the latter one too…

  • Listen to yourself: this is something I hate doing, but it’s an important first step in acknowledging your bad habits and ridding yourself of those ugly words;
  • Slow down: if your mouth moves faster than your brain, you’re going to stumble a lot;
  • Punctuate: imagine periods and commas in your speech while you’re talking;
  • Pause: some speakers use fillers to avoid silent gaps, though silence may be much more powerful (read also my “P+R” post)
  • Transition: try using transition statements like “let’s now talk about…”, “on the next slide you’ll see…” or even “and now for something completely different…”;
  • Make eye contact: when you’re making eye contact with one or more persons in your audience, it will become much more awkward to say um or uh to them;
  • Be self-confident: when you spend too much time worrying about your words, you’re going to lose the focus of your presentation and… become even more muddled;
  • Practice: practice your presentation as often as possible before you give it. The better you know your narrative, the more confident you’ll be and the less you’ll stumble.

And if you still let an um or an er slip out from time to time, just think of them as a natural part of speaking. Most of the time, your audience won’t even notice. Maybe these short words should have been included in Zipf’s law after all.

Presenting behind closed doors

During the summer of 2017, I started creating infographics for some of my blogs.

Working from home because of the COVID-19 lockdown, hopping from one web meeting to another, I remembered an old post I have written, “Your audience may be virtual”.

And, then I spent a few hours creating a new visual with tips for presenting at a webcast or a webinar. Here’s the result. I hope it will help you deliver your message more effective from behind closed doors.

Virtual audience infographic L2

You may download the file through the download tab on top of this page.

When a virus goes viral

While the COVID-19 virus is spreading around the world, a video clip conquered the internet even faster.

At a press conference, a Santa Clara County health officer offered a simple advice on how people can stop the novel coronavirus from spreading: “Today, start working on not touching your face because one main way viruses spread is when you touch your own mouth, nose, or eyes.” And then… she brought her hand to her mouth and licked her finger to turn a page in her notes.

Video coverage by the Washington Post

The above video reminds me of a similar event I experienced myself long time ago. When I was attending a pedagogy course at the university, the professor in front told his students to “never wipe the chalkboard while pupils are still reading the content on it.” And then… he turned his back to the audience, took the board wiper and started erasing everything he had written during the last few minutes.”

Well, I remember quitting the aula and never returning to that pedagogy course.

For a long time, the subtitle of this blog page has been “keep your audience coming back for more”. I expect the above video will show up in many media trainings and communication courses. But when a speaker or a teacher loses credibility, his/her audience unfortunately will never come back!

Why your business presentation is a moment of truth

In 2005, A.G. Lafley, the Chairman, President & CEO of Procter & Gamble introduced a concept known as Moments of Truth:

A ‘moment of truth”'(MOT) is the moment when a customer/user interacts with a brand, product or service to form or change an impression about that particular brand, product or service. Moments of truth represent important touch points along a customer’s buying journey that affect his or her buying decision.

The number, types and application of MOTs have slightly changed over time to better fit the evolving consumer and technology environment, in which digital is now playing a more prominent role.

Today, five different types of moments of truth are often addressed by marketing people.

  • The first moment of truth (FMOT) is when a potential customer is first confronted with a brand, product or service, by reading or hearing about it, either offline or online. It occurs within the first few seconds of a consumer encountering the product and it is during this time that marketers have the capability of turning a browser into a prospect or a buyer. As one never gets a second chance to make a first impression, these few seconds will have a major impact on the remainder of the sales process.
  • The second moment of truth (SMOT) occurs when a customer experiences what a company is offering. This may happen before purchase, e.g. when experiencing a hands-on demo, or after the purchase, when the buyer experiences the product’s functionality and quality after it has been delivered. There may be multiple SMOTs, every time a product or service is used, and they can have a major impact on buyers’ satisfaction – and consequently, their continuing relationship with a brand.
  • The third moment of truth (TMOT), also known as the ultimate moment of truth (UMOT), is defined by the customers’ feedback or reaction towards a brand, product or service. It expresses a vendor’s capability to fulfill end-user needs and provide an overall positive experience. During the TMOT, users may become brand advocates that write favorable online reviews, share their experience via social media, or promote your brand through worth of mouth to family, friends and colleagues – possibly creating a Zero Moment of Truth for future buyers.

The internet has changed the way consumers are interacting with brands, products or services. Nine out of ten people conduct online research before actually buying something. Travelers read at least 6 to 12 TripAdvisor reviews before choosing a hotel. And 20% of purchasing decisions tend to be influenced by Facebook. That’s why Google introduced a new MOT in 2011…

  • The zero moment of truth (ZMOT) refers to the point in the buying cycle when the buyer researches a product prior to purchase, often before the seller even knows that they exist. While companies are not able to control online reviews (though sometimes they will try), they can positively influence their online reputation through appropriate interactions with their audience and by delivering on their marketing promises.

About 5 years ago, yet an earlier moment of truth was introduced in marketing literature:

  • The less than zero moment of truth (<ZMOT) is defined by something happening in a person’s life that causes him or her to start looking for or researching a product or service. Such events are opportunities for a company to actively reach out to a customer via social media, email marketing or target advertisements – even before the potential customer starts searching for information. Such a proactive approach will require data collection, advanced targeting and monitoring of customer activities on social media, but it may drive a candidate buyer to your website instead of your competitor’s.

I’m sure, as new business models emerge and technologies like predictive analytics and AI further evolve, there will be even more MOTs to come.

Image by Tim Reckmann (CC BY 2.0)

Let me now, in-line with the topic of the other posts on this blog, explore how your business presentation or public talk may address, support or influence one or more moments of truth for your company’s brand, products or services.

  • Each time you deliver a memorable presentation that contains lots of information, use cases and evidence, you may be anticipating to a <ZMOT. When, in the near or further future, a member of your audience enters in a specific situation, he or she will certainly remember your capability to address the problem and provide a suitable solution.
  • Connecting emotionally with your audience through storytelling will create brand awareness, as well as appetite for your company and its offering. The information you present about your company’s vision, products and customers will guide them to your website at ZMOT time.
  • The quality of your presentation, as well as the authenticity, authority and experience you show as a speaker will create a feeling of understanding, trust and confidence with your audience. Even the first few seconds of your talk may be determining for the FMOT.
  • Even if you won’t be able to provide your audience with a real SMOT, you may enrich your presentation with a live demonstration or a product video.
  • Putting customer quotes on your slides, playing user testimonial videos or having one of your buyers co-presenting with you on stage are all powerful means for sharing TMOT feedback with your audience.

If you want to learn more about engaging your audience and influencing their buying behavior, you may read my blog post about rhetoric, storytelling and persuasion.

The sound of breaking glass

Something embarrassing happened yesterday to Elon Musk, when he introduced Tesla’s long awaited electric pick-up truck, a.k.a. the Tesla Cybertruck, and demonstrated – or at least, tried to demonstrate – the futuristic vehicle’s armored windows.

I have seen quite a few don’t try this at home videos on YouTube – some of which ended well and others which were, eh, less successful. Well, the one below fits in the second category.

No doubt that the demo was well prepared and that in earlier tests the window didn’t break. “We threw wrenches, we threw everything,” Musk said. “We even literally threw a kitchen sink at the glass.” But, beware: the Demo Devil is always luring around the corner! Each time you’re doing a live product presentation, something can go wrong (a dude called Murphy even claims that it will go wrong). And every well-intended and well-prepared product demo holds a risk of backfiring on the presenter or on his/her company. That should be no excuse, however, to not invest in live demos .

When the other guy, Tesla’s head of design, threw the steel ball a little too hard, the CEO eloquently said: “Oh my f****** God,” the audience had a good laugh, and Tesla will certainly fix the issue in post. And the Demo Devil, who’s second name is Schadenfreude, hit the road for his next guest appearance…

Postscriptum: As is often the case, any publicity is good publicity. The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. Tesla Cybertruck pre-orders neared 250,000 less than a week after its chaotic launch event. QED.

Related posts:

Bring on the CX magic

“Customers want their choices to align as much with their feelings and senses as with their values and ethics. The rational approaches taught at most business schools — offer customers more value for money, add features, make service more efficient — are not enough.” – Stefan Thomke, professor at Harvard Business School

The Magic That Makes Customer Experiences Stick” is the title of a research paper that appeared in the Fall 2019 edition of MIT Sloan Management Review. Intrigued by the title and eager to find out what this magic is all about, I started reading the article. And, frankly, the answer to the question didn’t really surprise me: the missing ingredient in today’s customer experience design is… [drum roll] emotion.

In the article the author of the paper, Harvard professor Stefan Thomke, describes how he discovered the power of emotion in consumer experiences in the classroom. When he asked his students for their most memorable experiences as customers, they replied with phrases that reflected emotional impact: made me feel special, showed empathy, really cared, trusted me, surprised us — instead of using with the expected terminology functional value, efficiency and cost-value analysis.

Thomson identifies five ways for companies to infuse customer journeys with emotion:

  • Stimulate the senses, and trigger emotions such as surprise, trust, joy, and even anticipation;
  • Turn disappointment into delight. Be prepared to transform negative experiences into positive ones;
  • Plan to surprise. Thrill your customers again and again through continual innovation and unexpected solutions to problems;
  • Tell compelling stories. Companies that infuse stories into the customer’s brand experience can provoke an emotional response and create sticky memories;
  • Run controlled experiments is all about understanding your audience and making sure to trigger the right emotions during a customer’s journey.

I’m not a business school professor (not counting a few guest lectures I’ve given), but still I have written about the power of pathos or emotional appeal in almost any post I published on this blog. And about how storytelling techniques help marketing and communication professionals to get their audience engaged beyond the rational and make them connect emotionally. Not only consumers, but also business customers.

Zan-Zig

Zan Zig performing with rabbit and roses, magician poster, 1899
(source: Wikimedia Commons)

In my humble opinion, the magic that makes customer experiences stick and that keeps your audience come back for more has been perfectly articulated by American author and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou, when she said that “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel…”

Related posts:

  • Almost any of the 200 other articles I have published on this blog.