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.

Five stories of art


This is a compilation post that brings together my views on closely related topics, collating articles that I published earlier on this blog. It doesn’t contain new content, although part of it may have been slightly reworked. Knowing that the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts, I hope this update provides you with a bigger picture, a more complete list of good practices, or a better grounded opinion.


The attentive reader of this blog may have noticed that I love travelling. At frequent times, my wife and I take off on a city trip. These short holidays often provide a great occasion to visit the world’s most renowned museums and discover some of the stunning art collections they hold. A number of our excursions inspired me to write blog posts about the masterpieces themselves, the emotions they evoked, or an adjacent topic. Here’s a selection of 5 (plus 1 bonus) articles I published on this blog about a famous (or infamous) work of art.

1. Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa

When my spouse and I spent a long weekend in Paris, we explored the Louvre museum, the City of Light’s gargantuan temple of arts.

It is said that all roads lead to Rome, but inside the Louvre all signs seem to direct you to Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. And what’s more, a significant part of the visitors inside the museum look as if they have come in (only) to follow these signposts and troop together in front of the famous portrait.

monalisa

As there are about 35,000 other art treasures exhibited in other (and less frequented) parts of the 60,000 square meters large museum, I have often wondered why exactly this Mona Lisa painting is the most attracting object for so many tourists. Have they been inspired by perception or by suggestion?

My guess is that it is the story that is guiding them. The secret behind Lisa Gherardini’s mysterious smile. The lady’s eyes that seem to follow your around. The quest for the model’s real identity. The fascination for Leonardo’s intriguing personality.

In business it’s often the same. People just love stories. They like to be guided towards products and services that are interesting, compelling, intriguing… But as in the Louvre, there may also be lots of other hidden treasures to be discovered by the audience (and promoted by you). Each of them with its own story that’s waiting to be told…

2. Rembrandt van Rijn’s Night Watch

Another day we went visiting Amsterdam, the Rijksmuseum, and the Night Watch.

For the unhappy few who are not familiar with the world’s art heritage: the Night Watch (or de Nachtwacht in Dutch) is a group portrait of a local shooting company, painted by Rembrandt in 1642.

nachtwacht

Our youngest son, who had been on a school excursion to the Dutch capital a few months ago, complained afterwards that the time they could spend at the Rijksmuseum was “barely enough for a meet and greet with Rembrandt’s famous painting”. So, he absolutely wanted to get back to the museum and spend more quality time with the works of Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn and his Golden Age fellows. A good reason to return to the city of Amsterdam, isn’t it?

It may come as a surprise to you, but Rembrandt’s world renowned painting is competing for the spot of the number one tourist attraction in Amsterdam with… a modest terraced house. The Anne Frank House is frequented by more than one million people each year. When we got there (following our visit to the Rijksmuseum), the waiting queue at the front door had already grown to over 100 meters long.

Now, ask me what makes all these visitors come to visit the Anne Frank House and wait in line for more than one hour, and I will tell you that it’s her story. A story that appeals to people’s emotion. A true story told by a 15-year-old girl. A story about war, suffering and human courage. A story that is still relevant today, 70 years after the end of World War II. And – although the young girl’s history did not have a happy ending – possibly also a story of hope for millions of refugees all over the world. Each of them may be looking for a 21st century Achterhuis (aka Secret Annexe) where they can find a safe shelter from all sorts of persecution, terrorist aggression, separatist unrest, missile attacks, air strikes and ground offensives…

3. Hendrick van Anthonissen’s View of Scheveningen Sands

The online conversation following my “Moore’s law… and beyond” blog post revealed a fundamental discussion about data visualization: when we create and deliver a presentation, should we stick to the hard facts and figures, or is a presenter allowed to “filter”, “frame” or “massage” certain data?

Here’s my opinion. First of all, you should never, never lie to your audience or present them with facts and figures when you definitely know they are incorrect. There is nothing wrong, however, with omitting unnecessary details, or framing the content to better align with the message you’re trying to convey.

A good example of this is the use of (financial or industry) analyst data in your slides. Although most of these analyst guys are to be considered trustworthy sources, in my blog post about “the incredible lightness of numbers” I illustrated that the figures they give may sometimes vary by a large factor. Of course, as a presenter, you’re allowed to quote only the sources that ― depending on what you want to show or prove ― mention the smallest of the largest numbers.

As a presenter you can also influence the audience’s perception of objective data. The case (by Garr Reynolds) I have outlined in my post “the duck and the rabbit” shows how a table may be (mis)used as an alternative to a bar chart to display hard numbers in a less dramatic or emotional way.

And, finally, sometimes you may assume that a theory or statement is true, until somebody proves you it’s not. Take the anecdote of the 17th-century Dutch painting “View of Scheveningen Sands,” created by Hendrick van Anthonissen (hanging in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, UK.)

Until recently, the whole world assumed that the people on the painting were actually staring at a deserted seascape… and then the restoration of the artwork revealed a beached whale on the beach!

scheveningensands

4. Pablo Picasso’s Guernica

Last November we visited the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid, renowned as the home of Picasso’s Guernica. The famous mural-sized, black-and-white painting was created in 1937 after the devastating bombing on the Basque town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War, and is considered one of the most powerful visual political statements ever made by an artists.

guernica

The painting was impressive indeed. Its visual message overwhelming. Undoubtedly the work of a genius.

After intensively and extensively admiring the masterpiece, a series of small black-and-white photographs caught my attention. Posted on the wall opposite the canvas, they depict the making of Guernica. The snapshots were taken by Dora Maar, Picasso’s muse in those days, and show the consecutive development stages of the artwork.

Thanks to these historical pictures I could witness how some key components of the composition, like the bull, the horse, and the (light bulb) sun, were created, destructed and recreated by the Spanish painter.

While observing the metamorphosis of Guernica, I had to think of Dale Carnegie’s quote about delivering a presentation:

“There are always three speeches, for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.”

Just like Picasso’s masterpiece evolved during its inception, conception and creation, your presentation’s messaging, storytelling, and visualization may change over time – although an act of destruction is seldom required.

5. Giacomo  Puccini’s Tosca

Of course, there are other forms of art besides painting, such as theater and opera.

In my past posts I have written many times about ethos, pathos and logos. The three persuasive appeals, as described by ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. If you think about it, ethos, pathos and logos are present in almost every area of our daily lives. And more than we realize, they determine how we experience situations, interact with people and make decisions.

I witnessed this recently myself on a trip to Budapest, where my wife and I spent a night at the opera, watching and listening to Puccini’s Tosca. I am not that frequent opera visitor nor a lifelong opera lover, but this performance really hit my sweet spot, thanks to ― what I interpreted afterwards as a ― perfect mix of ethos, pathos and logos.

tosca

  • Ethos: a more than a century old institution that opened in 1884, the Hungarian State Opera House has a very good reputation. The operaház’ acoustics are considered to be among the best in the world. From the moment we entered the venue, we were impressed by its gold-decorated interior and its red velvet seats.
  • Pathos: written by the late 19th century romantic Italian composer Giacomo Puccini, the opera Tosca is filled with emotion. With love, lust and jealousy. A review review by a Washington City Paper describes Tosca’s antagonist Scarpia as “the 19th century’s Darth Vader.” Almost two months after our night at the opera, Scarpia’s words “Beware: this is a place of tears!” (in Italian, “Questo è luogo di lagrime! Badate!”) still echo in my mind.
  • Logos: apart from the wonderful setting and the touching story, my wife and I enjoyed an outstanding interpretation of Tosca. The orchestra and the lead singers delivered a rousing performance. This music would have sounded great on my iPod too!

Lesson learned: as for so many other things in life, the whole of Aristotle’s rhetoric is greater than the sum of its three parts. It’s neither about ethos OR pathos OR logos, but all about ethos AND pathos AND logos

Bonus. Cecilia Giménez’ Potato Jesus

And finally, there was the story of the elderly Spanish lady who made the news by restoring a fresco in her own unique way? She did such a remarkable job that the mural painting by Elías García Martínez, originally known as Ecce Homo (“Here’s the Man”), got nicknamed Ecce Mono (“Here’s the Monkey”) and Potato Jesus.

But in the meantime her infamous artwork in a church near Zaragoza has turned out to be quite lucrative…

eccemono

After one year, the bespoke restoration had attracted 40,000 visitors and raised more than 50,000 euro for charity. Cecilia Giménez, the 81-year-old artist, has even had her own art exhibition and signed a deal with a local council to share profits from merchandising the image.

A somewhat unexpected conclusion from this fait divers: even questionable graphic material may (sometimes) generate good business — or yield good presentations. Take for example Tom Peters, a bestselling author who is known as a great business person and an inspiring public speaker. Even though the PowerPoint slides he creates are often overcrowded, with an eye-hurting mix of exotic fonts and striking primary colors (see e.g. one of his “Excellence Now” presentations on SlideShare) most of his presentations are simply excellent…

About rhetoric, storytelling and persuasion


This is a compilation post that brings together my views on closely related topics, collating articles that I published earlier on this blog. It doesn’t contain new content, although part of it may have been slightly reworked. Knowing that the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts, I hope this update provides you with a bigger picture, a more complete list of good practices, or a better grounded opinion.


Persuasion is defined as “human communication that is designed to influence or change a person’s (or a group’s) beliefs, attitudes, intentions, motivations, or behaviors.” In a public presentation, persuasion often boils down to the ability of the speaker to appeal to his audience.

Aristotle’s ethos, pathos and logos

One of the oldest (and most important) theories about persuasion was formulated by the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, who lived and worked from 384 to 322 BC.

Aristotle listed four reasons why one should learn the art of persuasion:

  • Truth and justice are perfect; thus if a case loses, it is the fault of the speaker.
  • It is an excellent tool for teaching.
  • A good rhetorician needs to know how to argue both sides to understand the whole problem and all the options.
  • There is no better way to defend one’s self.

In his Art of Rhetoric, Aristotle introduced the persuasive appeals ethos, pathos and logos. Since the 4th century BC, Aristotle’s rhetoric has become one of the foundations of public speaking and, and any public speaker should be (or become) familiar with these three appeals.

  • Ethos means ethical appeal. We tend to believe people whom we respect. We trust in products with a good reputation. We go to places that were recommended on Tripadvisor… So, Ethos is all about the credibility of the speaker. About his or her trustworthiness and reputation. As such, you should never talk about a topic you’re not familiar with, and always adapt your content, presentation style and outfit to the context and the audience.
  • Pathos translates to emotion. We all like stories about the good vs. the bad. We (too) often make decisions motivated by love, admiration, fear or disgust. We prefer presenters that speak passionate about their topic. Telling stories is a way to create a tension with the audience, get them engaged beyond the rational and make them connect
  • Logos stands for reasoning and argumentation. We believe in what we can see and what we can touch. We want statements supported by facts and figures. If not, we keep asking for the Why, the What and the How. This is why one should add real life examples, case studies, and customer testimonials to his or her story.

If you think about it, ethos, pathos and logos are present in almost every area of our daily lives. And more than we realize, they determine how we (and our audience) experience situations, interact with people and make decisions. And, as for so many other things in life, the whole of Aristotle’s rhetoric is greater than the sum of its three parts: it’s neither about ethos OR pathos OR logos, but all about ethos AND pathos AND logos.

Robert Cialdini’s principles of persuasion

Robert Cialdini is an American professor of marketing, business and psychology, who published a bestselling book about the “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.”

Cialdini’s theory of influence is based on the following 6 principles of persuasion, which – like Aristotle’s appeals – should be part of the toolbox of every B2B storyteller:

  • Reciprocity: humans tend to return favors to somebody who has done something good to them. Cater your audience with good content, an inspiring presentation and a positive experience. Probably they will want to give you something back.
  • Liking: we take a more positive stance towards people that we know or that we like. Introduce yourself, break the ice, and explain to your listeners why you’re here. Some of them will start looking at you as a good acquaintance and open up.
  • Authority: men and women have come in to listen to and learn from an expert. Explain them why you have ‘the right to speak’ and why they should listen to you. Your reputation, job title and a quick résumé may certainly help, but also your body language, clothing, and even the use of accessories such as a laser pointer may be instrumental to the perception of your authority.
  • Social proof: listeners often look to their neighbors in the room to guide (and approve) their decisions and (re)actions. So, always look for friends and allies in the audience that can contribute to a positive and constructive atmosphere.
  • Commitment: if people commit, orally or in writing, to an idea or goal, they are likely to stay consistent with that commitment. Start a dialog with your public and try to get their buy-in for your ideas. Poll their opinion, let them share their views or ask questions, and take their comments seriously.
  • Scarcity: the less there is of something, the more it is worth. Announce that you’re going to bring content that is exclusive, exceptional or contains things that you’ve never presented before. They will certainly pay more attention to your words.

In 2016, Cialdini published another book: “Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade,” in which the author introduces a 7th principle…

  • Unity is about shared identities such as race, ethnicity, nationality, and family, as well as political and religious affiliations. These are categories in which the conduct of one member influences the self-esteem of the other members. Put simple, we is the shared me.”

I am not sure if the above principles of persuasion are to be considered science (as Dr. Cialdini positions them) or just common sense. Knowing, understanding and empathizing with your audience (and the people around you) is always key to connecting with them. Use these rules wisely and complement them by tools such as power, influencer and personality quadrants.

But also don’t forget always to be honest, respectful and authentic. Persuasion is not about telling lies, cheating or fooling on people. The best way to charm your audience is by being truthful, while staying your friendly self!

Steven Denning’s narrative patterns

In a blog post about storytelling and persuasion, Steven Denning (a former Program Director of Knowledge Management at the World Bank, and an international authority on leadership, innovation and  management,) introduced the homo narrans as “a person who combines story-telling and analysis in a discourse that is rational, lively, imaginative, open to dialogue, entertaining and persuasive. The kind of person we would like to have at our dinner tables, and with whom we would be willing to discuss even the most difficult and controversial of topics. It is the sort of the person we might like to have as a friend and companion. It is the sort of person we would listen to, since conversing with homo narrans might well lead to the mutual discovery of truth.”

You might also take a look at Denning’s 2005 article “mastering the discipline of business narrative” in which he provides a list of “narrative patterns” from which you may pick a story format for your presentations:

  • Springboard stories refer to concrete situations or problems your audience is facing, to spring them into action. This is an ideal opportunity to bring in your personal experience and talk about a similar situation you were confronted with in the past. It is important that the examples you give have a positive tone and a (sort of) happy ending – which the people in the room can get inspired by, learn from and reuse in their own context.
  • Stories with a moral often take the form of a parable or even of a fairy tale. The stories are usually set in a kind of generic past, and have an explicit moral at the end. The context-setting of these tales may be vague and the facts may be hypothetical, but there must be a clear, believable, and –most important of all– an inspiring take-away at the end.
  • Stories about you are based on an event in your personal life event. They help you emotionally connect with your listeners and put a human face (namely, yours) on a problem or solution. Tapping into personal stories often also means sharing details about your private or professional life. Many people may not feel very comfortable with this idea, and it’s a good practice to think before you act, and never share anything you may later regret.
  • Visionary stories take your audience on a trip to the future, give them a perspective on the “things to come”, and inspire them to take action to make this vision become reality. Some of my favorite visuals to start such a presentation with are the postcards created by French artist Villemard, that depict his visions of the year 2000… in the year 1910.
  • Stories about your brand capitalize on the good reputation of your company, its products or services. These are narratives about happy people who have enjoyed a first class experience with your brand. Turn your audience in advocates too, and enrich your presentation by a few catchy anecdotes or –why not—a video testimonial of a happy customer or a model employee.
  • Knowledge-sharing narratives overall contain few storytelling elements. They concentrate on a (often very specific) problem, a description of the solution and its positive effect(s). This is the pattern most often used in technical presentations. As such, it’s extremely important that you have a good understanding of who is your audience to tailor your presentation to their specific knowledge, needs and expectations.
  • You may also use stories for fostering collaboration between the members of your audience. Make sure you are addressing a concern or goal that is shared by a number of people in the room. You may start your presentation e.g. by a poll, enrich the conversation with your personal experience, and fuel the discussion with provocative statements.
  • Some people may come to your talk with certain prejudices about you or about your presentation content. First thing you’ll have to do in this case is try to debunk the speculations, mock the gossip and tame the grapevine. Apply rational elements, gentle satire, or even reductio ad absurdum techniques, but avoid shocking or ridiculing your audience. Also beware when the prejudice is right, because, as Steven Denning is saying: “If that’s the case, there is little that can be done except to admit the rumor, put it in perspective, and move on.”

A story is an extremely powerful format for delivering your message. By putting things in (a sometimes surprising) context, and wrapping facts in emotion, it helps people ingest, digest and retain the information you present them. A good business narrative taps into your personal strengths or experience, appeals to the specific audience in the room and calls them for action. As such, it should be clear that there is no one-size-fits-all template for a good story, or an exhaustive list of “stories that can be told.”

Elements of classical storytelling

Most novelists and movie directors rely upon 5 key elements to ensure a consistent story, allow the action to develop and let the audience emotionally engage: character, setting, plot, theme, and style.

And, though “telling a story” is often associated with delivering fictive content, the same components can be explored by business presenters too.

  • The character is the individual (or several of them) that the story is about. The answer to the “who?” question. Many narratives introduce protagonists and antagonists — respectively the main characters of the story and their opposites. Note that a protagonist does not necessarily represents the “good guy”, though it’s always the one with whom the reader can identify himself or herself.
  • The setting is the “where? and when?” of a story. It is the time and place during which a  story takes place. This can be in the past, the present or the future, and in an imaginary or a real-life location. Introducing a setting with which your audience is familiar can help them to better visualize the story and feel connected to the plot.
  • The plot defines the structure of a book, movie or talk. The sequence of events and (inter)actions that make up your storyline. Many good plots are centered around a conflict or a problem (the “what?”), the ways in which the characters attempt to resolve the problem (the “how?”), the actual implementation of the solution (a.k.a. the climax), and what happens with them when the conflict is no longer existing (“they all lived happily ever after”.)
  • The theme is the main idea, the central message,  the answer to the “why?” question(s). It’s what the writer, the director, or the presenter wants his audience to learn from the story. It’s the umbrella statement of the message house you’ve prepared, that will translate into the conclusion and/or the call for action at the end of your discourse.
  • And finally, there’s a style element in each presentation you deliver. “How?” do you want to get your message through? How will you tap your audience’s imagination? What will be the tone of your words? What mood or atmosphere do you want to create with them? Is the evidence you provide factual or anecdotal?

Gene Amdahl’s fear, uncertainty and doubt

Most humans tend to be afraid of the unknown. As such, some marketers and sales people (and politicians – but this is out of the context of this post) try to implant fear, uncertainty and doubt (also known as FUD, a term introduced by computer architect and high-tech entrepreneur Gene Amdahl.) In people’s minds to make them buy their products or services, or to prevent them from trying competitors’ ones.

In the previous section I iterated a number of narrative patterns to be (re)used in presentations. Now, I’m adding a few FUD related items to this list:

  • Create a sense of urgency by confronting people with a (familiar) situation, and making them aware of the threats they are facing if they don’t react timely or properly. You may appeal to their emotion and/or ratio by telling anecdotes, referring to case studies or citing from media clippings. A call for action at the end is always a no-brainer: “Act now!” or “Buy now!”
  • Telling a story with open ending can also be a good way to instill doubt. People may start making (sometimes irrational) assumptions and come to (sometimes wrong) conclusions. Feed their imagination and steer their judgment by introducing an antagonist (your competitor), bringing in some gossip, or posing some insinuating questions.
  • By listing the perceived risks of doing (or notdoing) certain things, using (or not using) certain products, or working (or not working) with a certain partner, you may create a feeling of uncertainty. Then relieve your audience’s minds by showing them that you have the best and most safe solution, and that you are the most trustworthy party to deal with.

Although FUD may be an effective competitive weapon, my advice is not to use fear as a tactic (and if you do, apply it scarcely and with caution.) Don’t sling mud to your competitors, but rather give a positive message and to tell a story with a happy ending.

persuasers

Here are the links to the articles I compiled in this post:

The 3 p’s of a professional public presenter (extended version)


This is a compilation post that brings together my views on closely related topics, collating articles that I published earlier on this blog. It doesn’t contain new content, although part of it may have been slightly reworked. Knowing that the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts, I hope this update provides you with a bigger picture, a more complete list of good practices, or a better grounded opinion.


During the first weeks of their education, masses of freshman marketing students still get confronted with Jerome McCarthy’s 4P model. A tool created more than 50 years ago, in an age where customers were labeled “buyer” or “consumer”. And though the 4 P’s still may provide a fair means for defining a traditional marketing mix, I dispute that “putting the right product in the right place, at the right price, at the right time” is the most important course that 21st century students should get on the menu.

In the era of content, communication, conversation and customer experience (coincidently all starting with a C,) 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 the 4 P’s.

So it was no surprise to me that the French ManpowerGroup identified the storyteller as one of the emerging job profiles for the future:

“a craftsman of engagement, the storyteller gives meaning to the company’s engagement and communicates with internal and external stakeholders through dialog and social media.”

Being able to create and deliver a compelling business presentation is certainly one of the basic competencies a storyteller needs. As Richard Branson once said in an Entrepreneur magazine Q&A:

“Good speakers aren’t just talented or lucky – they work hard.”

This is why I am dedicating this post to mastering the 3 P’s of presenting: PitchPreparation and Presentation.

3ps2

The setting is simple: when you want to deliver specific content to a specific audience via a specific medium, you will need to connect the corner points of the triangle in the picture above.

  1. First of all you will need to define your Pitch. The message(s) you want your audience to remember. How you will grab their attention and capture their interest. The story you want to tell them. This is where techniques like power mapping, message house building, and storyboarding will come in.
  2. Take ample time for your Preparation. Choose the most effective medium (e.g. a PowerPoint show, Prezi, naked speech, video testimonials, …) for getting your story across and adapt your content to it. This is where your right brain hemisphere comes to the fore. When creativity, design and empathy turn out to be your most valuable attributes.
  3. And finally, the moment will come when you are scheduled to face your audience and deliver your Presentation. Be prepared. Use all possible means of visual, verbal and non-verbal communication to persuade your listeners with your value proposition and to call them to action.

The attentive reader may have noticed that there’s something more in the center of the picture: YOU. Because, as KPCB’s Bing Gordon rightly observes,

“The first and most important element of your presentation is not a slide: it’s you.”

In the next 3 chapters, I will further elaborate on the 3 P’s and give some tips, tricks and tools for better pitching, preparing and presenting your content.

The first P: your Pitch

“Great stories succeed because they are able to capture the imagination of large or important audiences.” ― Seth Godin

Some readers may know pitching as what advertising agencies do to promote their ideas to a potential customer. And that’s indeed what it’s all about: defining your value proposition, translating it into a few clear messages, and deciding on how you’re going to communicate them to your customers (or any other audience.)

  • Finding the right pitch often boils down to pinpointing a sticky story to tell. With the right mix of ethos, pathos and logos you can appeal to the hearts and the minds of those listening to you.
  • Do you remember the 7 C’s of a good story? Compelling, credible, concrete, clear, consistent, customized and conversational. If you remember these seven adjectives, you’re already one step closer to a great pitch.
  • When defining your value proposition, never forget that value is in the perception
    of the beholder. Adapt your pitch to address the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) concern(s) of your audience. And give them something in return for listening to you.
  • As mentioned in the previous bullet, it’s extremely important that you have a good understanding of who will be in the room. Doing some upfront research and power mapping will help you to tailor your pitch and (later) customize your presentation to their specific knowledge, needs and expectations.
  • Building a message house is a great and simple means for defining, simplifying and structuring your messages, and to make sure your audience will remember them.
  • You could also consider creating a mind map and/or drawing a story board. These tools will help you to sort out your thoughts and put your ideas in a sequence that easily translates into a presentation.
  • A good way to validate your pitch is putting it to the elevator test. Can you ‘sell’ your message(s) in 30 seconds? Can you summarize your story on the back of a napkin? Can it be understood by your mother in law?

Once your pitch is completed, you’re all set to start preparing your presentation. Don’t forget that HOW you tell things may be as important as (or sometimes even more important than) WHAT you actually tell.

The second P: your Preparation

“World class presentations require time and focus” ― Nancy Duarte

Rome wasn’t built in one day. Neither will you be able to create a good presentation in a few hours. Crafting a presentation ― yes, even a business or technical one ― is a creative process. A process that takes more than a PC with PowerPoint (or Keynote, or Prezi, or …) installed on it.

As I wrote in my previous post, it all starts with finding your pitch: thinking about the story you want to tell, the messages you want to convey, and the results you want to obtain. So, don’t start creating a single slide before you have figured out WHAT you want to tell to WHOM, and HOW you’re are actually going to deliver it. Only then comes the ‘packaging’ of your content.

  • Always start with the end in mind. Take a blank sheet of paper and write down (no more than) three results you want to obtain from your presentation. What impressions do you want the people in the room to take home? What do you want them to remember about your product or service? What action do you want them to take after the meeting?
  • Then inventorize your assets: what facts and figures, anecdotes, trivia, case studies, experience, demos or prototypes, etc. do you have on hand that may help you achieve these objectives?
  • Based upon the outcome of the questions above, you may select the most suitable medium for delivering your content, e.g. a traditional slide presentation, a naked speech, maybe supported by video testimonials or — why not — a live demonstration. Note that your choice may also be influenced by the size and composition of your audience, the layout of the room, or the technical facilities you have on hand.
  • Make sure your talk has a begin, a middle and an end. Structure it the AIDA way. As the first seconds of your performance are crucial for grabbing your audience’s attention, choose a catchy title and a powerful opening slide.
  • Think visual. Use images to communicate, not decorate. Translate concepts to visual metaphors. Look for compelling ways to conceptualize facts, processes and data. You won’t need artistic drawing skills; a bit of analytical sense and a good portion of creativity will certainly do.
  • Analyze. Surprise. Focus. Simplify. Cut the crap and don’t feed the chameleons. Keep your presentation short and sweet. And when you prepare slides, keep them clear, clean and consistent.
  • Practice makes perfect. Rehearse your presentation as often as needed. In front of your mirror, your family or your colleagues. Or use a video recorder to tape your performance.
  • But most of all, reserve ample time for your preparation. The time you invest in realizing, refining and rehearsing your presentation should be proportional to the importance of your talk, and reverse proportional to the time you will be given to present.

The third P: your Presentation

“There are always three speeches, for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.” ― Dale Carnegie

I am aware that many of you may suffer from glossophobia, or fear of public speaking. But honestly, if you have invested enough time in defining your pitch and preparing your presentation there’s really not that much left to worry about.

  • Make sure to avoid unpleasant surprises. Arrive at the venue well in time, get familiar with the room in which you will present, and check the A/V equipment before your start. And when you’re planning a demo, dry-run it a few minutes ― not a few hours! ― in advance.
  • Go on stage with a positive attitude. Don’t get paralyzed by stage fright. You know that you can do it! Take a deep breath before you start and give the audience what they came for.
  • Start with a short silence. Then grab your audience’s attention from the first second onward. Surprise, intrigue or provoke them with an opening statement or poll.
  • As I have explained in many of my older blog posts, when you give a presentation, you need to get your audience engaged. Appeal to their emotions, by telling a personal story. A good practice is to try to make eye contact with a few individuals in the audience and monitor their body language.
  • But, watch your own body language and nonverbal communication too. Your tone of voice, volume of speech, as well as your facial expression, stance and gestures should add to or complement your verbal message.
  • Speak in short sentences and pause often. Pause right before a key point to create a sense of anticipation. Pause right after a key point to allow it to sink in. And, most importantly, don’t forget to breathe.
  • Take care of your speaking time. Ask a time keeper in the audience to give you a five or ten minute warning. If you feel you’re going to run over time, adapt your story and/or your pace, or consider skipping details and less meaningful slides.
  • Concentrate on the message — not the medium. Only present your own pitch and show the slides you prepared yourself. Don’t let the visuals dominate your talk. Never read your slides aloud: most people in the room already know how to read!
  • Be aware where you stand, don’t obscure the screen, and don’t turn your back to the audience. When you like to move around on stage, make sure you use a remote control device (that’s why I always carry a clicker on me, along with a spare battery ― prevention is better than cure.)
  • End your presentation in a powerful way. Your closing is your chance to leave a final impression on the audience. Don’t lose energy. Don’t change style. Don’t stop cold. Summarize your main ideas and key points. And call the people in the room to action.

The 3 P’s. Do you still know what they stand for? If you want to be a professional public presenter, then take control of your pitch, your preparation and your presentation.

(this compilation post has been published earlier on Business2Community and on LinkedIn)

I have also created an infographic that summarizes this post. You may download the file by clicking on the image below (or hitting the download tab on top of this page).

The 3 p's infographic L2

Know your audience (before you start talking)


This is a compilation post that brings together my views on closely related topics, collating articles that I published earlier on this blog. It doesn’t contain new content, although part of it may have been slightly reworked. Knowing that the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts, I hope this update provides you with a bigger picture, a more complete list of good practices, or a better grounded opinion.


“Designing a presentation without an audience in mind is like writing a love letter and addressing it ‘to whom it may concern.’” – Ken Haemer, former AT&T presentation research manager

Did you ever wonder why the people in the auditorium or meeting room came in to listen to your presentation?

In fact, you should ask yourself that simple question each time again. Because each audience –or even each single member of that audience– may have different and personal reasons for attending:

  • “Learn something.”  As you, the guy in the front, are assumed to be an expert in your domain.
  • “Get the necessary foundation for making a business decision.”
  • “Obtain confirmation or recognition from managers or peers in the same room.”
  • “Meet with other people in the industry.”  At public conferences and seminars.
  • “Be entertained – and enjoy a networking cocktail at the end of the day.”  Also often the case at public events.
  • None of the above. Some people may just “feel obliged to attend.”

As such, it’s extremely important that you have a good knowledge of who is your audience to tailor your presentation to their specific knowledge, needs and expectations.

In the following sections, I will introduce 3 tools, the Power Quadrant, the Influencer Quadrant and the Personality Quadrant, to help you better understand – and thus better address the people you’re dealing with.

The Power Quadrant

In many cases the persons that demand most of your attention or ask many questions are not the ones that are taking the (business) decisions at the end of the day. Power mapping techniques, like drawing a power quadrantoften lead you to a better identification and understanding of the key players in the room.

power_quadrant

A power quadrant assesses the (e.g. technical or financial) authority or expertise of your listeners vs. the effective decision or execution power they have. A well prepared presenter knows to which category the people in front of him/her belong, and how to deal with the different roles they play.

  • Influencers are experts in an advisory role, but don’t have clear decision power. Provide them with the arguments to convince their managers. Go through the details and help them score.
  • In many cases, controllers have a final word. As they often don’t have the expertise to grasp all the details of your presentation, just make sure that you win their confidence, trust and support.
  • Deciders are the ones who have both the knowledge and the power to close the meeting with a clear “go” or “no go”.  Give them all necessary elements for making a decision –here and now!
  • And finally, there are also non-contributing spectators. There is no need to pay special attention to them. Just help them make it through the day.

The Influencer Quadrant

Unfortunately, getting decisions made is not only about bringing the people with authority and power on the same page. Some of the members of your audience may have (often unspoken) reasons to support or to thwart you, or may even have the intention to hijack your presentation.

This is where crafting an influencer quadrant often turns out useful.

influencer_quadrant

It allows you to proactively identify potential advocates and opponents in the audience, and adapt your attitude, behavior and content accordingly.

  • Friends: in an ideal world (which unfortunately does not exist) the room in front of you is filled only with men and women that like or respect you, your products or your company. Give them the opportunity to express their opinion and contribute to a constructive conversation.
  • There may be adversaries present too. People who had a bad experience with your company or your products or have been charmed by a competitor. Always be respectful and try to convince them with arguments –hoping they will change their mind.
  • Having allies in the audience is even better than having friends. As they combine a positive stance with influencing or decision power, get them involved into the discussion and let them help to prevail upon the others.
  • Unfortunately, sometimes there is also this one annoyer in the room whose intention is to spoil the meeting or hijack your presentation. Even if he is nothing but a pain in the… (fill in your favorite three or four-letter word): stay polite. Block him off when you can, but make sure that you don’t lose the support of the other people.

As a conclusion, it’s always good to think about which and why people in the room may be prejudiced, either in a positive or negative way. So make sure you know how to deal with friends and foes, and deal with them appropriately.

The Personality Quadrant

There are many typologies and taxonomies that may help us understand why certain people respond to specific situations the way they do. The dichotomy between introversion and extraversion is one of them. If you to want build a good rapport with your audience and get your message across, you need to understand your speaking/listening partners’ personality, anticipate that they may react differently to what you say, show and do, and adapt your interaction style to their needs.

In the previous sections, I introduced a power quadrant and an influencer quadrant as tools to characterize your audience, and to adapt your content and presentation style to their anticipated behavior. Recently a came across a document that introduces a 3rd –complementary– matrix that takes your listeners’ introversion and extraversion into account.

personality_quadrant

Introverts care more about information than about interaction. They value exact data, facts and figures to learn, apply and reuse. As they need some time to think before formulating a response, don’t be surprised if they appreciate the handouts of your presentation more than your narrative. You may even consider to provide them upfront with a copy of your slides, so they have ample opportunity to prepare, annotate and digest.

  • Listeners: When what’s being presented is either uninteresting or irrelevant for them, introverts may just limit their participation to passive listening. So, make sure you supply them with ample (oral or written) information to take home and share with their management and colleagues.
  • Participators: Even when the content is relevant, don’t expect introverted people to be enthusiastic about what you say or to explicitly show their appreciation. Be ready to answer many questions about details – if not during the public presentation itself, probably in a tête-a-tête afterward.

Extraverts tend to think while they speak; they appreciate a good story (which they can retell) and are in for a good conversation. Surprise them, challenge them and acknowledge their thinking with your words and images.  Expect them to interrupt your speech from time to time, and prepare for an inspiring discussion after your presentation.

  • Discussers: As extroverts tap their energy from interaction with other people, they may (intentionally or unintentionally) hijack your presentation by starting a discussion – with the rest of your audience – about their own vision, project or experience.  It’s good to have them in the room, but make sure you stay in control of your speaking slot.
  • Conversators: A problem with many extroverted people is that they like to talk about (almost) everything, just for sociability. Don’t allow them to deviate you from your topic – and end up in a “rest room conversation”.

Of course, Introversion vs. Extraversion is not the only dimension of human personality. There are other models, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or MBTI, that introduce (and combine) other typologies, e.g.:

  • How does someone take in information (Sensing vs. iNtuition)
  • How does someone make decisions (Thinking vs. Feeling)
  • How does someone orient himself/herself to the external world (Judging vs. Perceiving)

By the way, my MBTI personality is E-N-T-P.  I invite the readers of this blog to figure out what this means, and how you’d get me warm for your presentation.

(this compilation post has been published earlier on Business2Community and on LinkedIn)

I have also created an infographic that summarizes this post. You may download the file by clicking on the image below (or hitting the download tab on top of this page).

Know your audience infographic L1

Why look and feel matter in business presentations


This is a compilation post that brings together my views on closely related topics, collating articles that I published earlier on this blog. It doesn’t contain new content, although part of it may have been slightly reworked. Knowing that the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts, I hope this update provides you with a bigger picture, a more complete list of good practices, or a better grounded opinion.


De gustibus et coloribus non est disputandum” is a Latin expression that translates as “it’s no use debating taste and colors.” A good presentation is like a tasty dish and it requires the right skills —as well as a cook with ample personality and passion— to prepare. I  know that not everybody is a three-star chef, but this doesn’t mean that you have to serve mediocre junk food to your audience. Anyone can acquire, adopt and apply some basic kitchen techniques. Read my words. Taste and colors DO matter. And so do the look and feel of your presentations.

Check out the visual below. Doesn’t it look a bit tedious, ugly and tasteless?

cheese_cake_bad

  • Fonts: do you really want to mix that many typefaces on one single slide?
  • Colors: are you sure that people in the back of the room can read the pink emphasized words?
  • Bullets: will you be able to present the slide without reading out the entire text?
  • Background: this looks like a stock PowerPoint template. Boring, isn’t it?
  • Images: are these the best or most original pictures you could get?
  • Multimedia: not visible on the static image above, but imagine the clip art animated and the bullets flying in from left and right… (ugh!)

For an entertaining hands-on on how not to use PowerPoint, you may watch the video “Life After Death by PowerPoint” by stand-up comedian Don McMillan.

So, you’d better fetch your pots and pans, light your oven, and sharpen your kitchen knives! Because, in the next 6  sections, I am going to dig into the art of creating compelling visuals and give you some easy-to-follow do’s and don’ts for making your slides look more professional and yummy

cheese_cake_good

Fonts

One of the “blessings” of the first WYSIWYG computers and laser printers that hit the market in the second half of the 1980’s, was the rich collection of bitmap and vector fonts that came with them.

In those days, I was working as a free-lance trainer at Apple Computer, and as such I have been exposed to extravagant compositions of some of my Desktop Publishing students — with dozens of newly-discovered-exotic-typefaces literary dancing before my eyes.

Times have changed and people have got smarter, or haven’t they? When I look at certain Powerpoint (or Keynote or Prezi or …) presentations today, I still experience the same cacophony of fonts projected in front of me.

Here are a few basic rules to respect:

  • Slides must be readable, also by the people sitting in the back of the room. Use font sizes 28–36 for your titles, and don’t go below 20 points for the body text.
  • LARGE BLOCKS OF CAPITALIZED TEXT MAY BE HARD TO READ. You may capitalize some titles or the first characters of each line, but don’t over uppercase.
  • Sans-serif fonts are best for titles and bullets, while serif may be better for small sizes and large texts.
  • Don’t mix too many fonts into the same slide show, avoid too exotic typefaces, and never use script types. Also try not to deviate from the format prescribed by the presentation template.
  • Beware of fonts, such as the infamous comic sans, that may impact the credibility of your presentation.
  • Use boldfaceitalic and (contrast-rich) color instead of underline.
  • In case you want to be creative with fonts, then don’t overdo, rely on your good taste or (when you’re not sure of yourself) ask an expert.

Believe me, if you follow these simple tips, your will come over more professional as a presenter and your audience will go home without a font-ache.

Color

Color is a powerful means for presenting information. The tints you choose and the way you use them can have a strong impact on your audience. They may have special meanings in certain cultures (read e.g. the example in an earlier post about the use of red and green on the Japan stock exchange), and even have an emotional appeal (as indexed by Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions.)

Emotion and perception. That’s the reason why marketers carefully pick ‘appropriate’ color schemes for their collateral and websites. Did you know that Google apparently tested 41 shades of blue to maximize the click-through rate on hyperlinks?

  • Red is a strong color, with both positive and negative meaning: loveenergydanger, … You can use it to emphasize your messages, but sometimes you better avoid it because of its negative connotation. Also note that red text is often poorly readable, both on a light and a dark background.
  • Blue expresses trustconfidence and loyalty. So it’s a perfect background or foreground for business presentations. At least if you don’t mind coming over as conservative  ̶ which is unfortunately also a synonym for boring.
  • Green represents healthnature and novelty. An ideal tint when you want to talk about the eco-friendliness of your products or the sustainability of your business.
  • Yellow stands for logic and intelligence, but also for caution and cowardice. Unless you put it on a dark background, don’t use yellow fonts.
  • Purple means creativity and innovation. That’s why e.g. Alcatel-Lucent, the company I work with, has chosen it in their logo.
  • Black is most commonly associated with power and elegance. It’s a good and neutral color for your presentations. One caution about using a black (or any other dark) background: it may cost you a lot of ink when printing out handouts of your slides.
  • White, although the opposite of black, is also a neutral shade. Personally, I prefer to work on a white background as it gives my slides a clean look, creates a feeling of open space, and combines perfectly with any other color.

Don’t feed the chameleons! Use colors vividly but wisely. Don’t mix too many of them on one single slide, and avoid improper combinations like red/green (can’t be distinguished by certain color blind people) or orange/blue (seem to vibrate against one another).

Earlier in this post, I mentioned Plutchik’s wheel. A color wheel also helps you to understand the relationships between colors. When using colors it’s always good know the theory of primary (red, blue, and yellow), secondary (green, violet, and orange) and tertiary colors (made from combinations of then former six) and know which combinations work and which don’t. If you need some advice, there are a few great tools on the web like ColorBlender or Color Scheme Designer.

As a final note, many of the statements I made above about the use of colors in presentations are also valid for a presenter’s attire. Colors don’t make the man (or the woman), but poor choices can spoil your appearance, take away attention from your message, or even give another meaning to the things you tell.

Images

There’s this old wisdom that says “a picture tells more than a thousand words”, but incidentally some images in PowerPoint presentations tell nothing at all. They’re just there because they’re pictures. They don’t add anything to the content, and they also don’t add anything to the aesthetics of the visual — sometimes they even do the opposite, and just make the slide look ugly.

In the previous posts of this “look ‘n’ feel matter” series I have touched upon fonts and color. Today I am giving a few practical tips to get more out of the clip art and photos you add to your presentation:

  • First of all, it’s a mistake thinking that all images have to be functional elements, such as data charts, product pictures or organograms. There’s nothing wrong with adding some eye candy to your slides, and appeal to your audience’s emotion.
  • Of course, you’d better pick some images that are related to the topic you’re presenting about and that enhance or clarify the content. It’s a bit awkward to show a beautiful photo of a sunset on a tropical island, when you’re presenting your company’s air suspension compressors portfolio.
  • In any case, avoid using standard clip art that comes with your presentation software. Most of the people in the room will get a déjà vu feeling when you show them a man climbing a bar chart, a colorful dollar sign, or yet another one of Microsoft’s stale screen beans. There are ample places on the internet where you can buy or borrow high quality and original images.
  • When your picture is too big, scale it down or crop it to fit (and compress it afterwards – if you don’t want the size of your file to grow explosively.) But when it’s too small, don’t try to enlarge it! You will blow up the pixels and end up with something blurry and unprofessional (tip: you may always try to use a reverse image search tool like TinEye or src-img to find a similar bitmap with a better resolution.) If you don’t want to change an object’s dimensions, keep the shift key down while resizing it. Otherwise, you may end up with some unwanted results. Just have a look at the picture below, and guess who’s the real Elvis duck…

elvis_duck

  • And, finally: don’t feed the chameleons! Try to be consistent in style and colors. Avoid mixing photos and line art (of course you may insert charts and diagrams whenever they’re needed.) Though black-and-white photographs and color highlights make a great combination.

A few words about copyrighted material: always make sure that you have permission to use the images. Looking for media made available under a Creative Commons license is probably the most safe and legal way to go. When searching on Google, you may set a filter on usage rights in the Image Advanced Search function.

Bulleted lists

I have only one important thing to tell about bullets: they are dangerous! So, use them scarcely and with caution. If you eventually shoot one into your own foot, you will be the only one to blame.

Although bulleted lists are probably the #1 layout component that people associate with PowerPoint presentations, they can make your sheets dull, boring and ineffective. As your brain interprets every letter as a picture, wordy lists literally choke it. As a consequence, people tend to forget what you have spelled out. Your visuals should only contain your key message(s). Keep the full text details for the handout. Make people listen to the words you say instead of read the characters on your slides.

If you want to use bullets anyway, make sure that each slide contains only 1 message (read my “Master of the house” post on how build a message house). Explain it in maximally 5 lines of no more than 7 words each. Highlight a few key words to help your audience focus. Avoid complex, multi-level lists and nested bullets. Each statement should start with a capital letter. Never use fly-in and fly-out animation effects.

As an alternative, try to convert your bullet list into a series of visuals – one slide per bullet point. Although this approach will make your PowerPoint look longer, you actually won’t spend more time presenting it. After you have iterated all key messages, you may still consider showing the (original or shortened) bulleted list on a summary slide.

Multimedia

I still remember delivering my first public presentation using a stack of hand-drawn plastic foils and a 10 kilo heavy overhead projector I carried with me. Times have changed, and in the age of the digital, presenters can now apply, mix and match many different media, platforms and formats to enrich their presentations and bring their stories to life. Delivering a narrative across multiple media and multiple platforms is often called “transmedia storytelling”.

Here are a few practical tips on when and how to incorporate animation, video and live demos into your presentation:

  • First of all, use animation scarcely and wisely. Don’t over-animate slide transitions and object builds. There’s nothing more annoying and distracting for your audience than seeing titles, bullet lists and images tumble and fly across the big screen in the front. For the same reason also don’t use PowerPoint sound effects – I have seldom heard any stock sound that added value to the content of a presentation.
  • Switching between different media, not excluding the (often overlooked) analog ones such as white board or flip-chart drawing, are a common means to extend or reset your audience’s attention span.
  • Video clips and audio bites are ideal tools for enriching examples, use cases and testimonials. Always make sure that all files are timely uploaded on the presentation PC and properly linked into the slide show. As an alternative (or a back-up if you like) you can also post the movies on YouTube.
  • Corporate videos are often dull and unimaginative. In case you have a budget for producing your own movies: spend your money well. Work with creative professionals, and exploit video as a complementary channel for delivering your key messages and an alternative medium for telling your story.
  • When including live demonstrations, always keep them short and simple. Prepare a detailed demo script well upfront and freeze it. Show only the “sexy” features that really matter to the audience (and match with the rest of your talk). And never, never show an untested function.
  • As both Murphy and the Demo Devil may be just around the corner, don’t forget to make arrangements with the conference organizers (or the people hosting your speech) to have all A/V equipment installed and tested –with your presentation material and demo scripts running on it– before you start talking.

Templates

Companies that care for their brand provide their employees with presentation templates. This is certainly a good practice, because it enforces a common brand identity, and ensures a uniform background and consistent layout for all company visuals.

Here are a few tips for designing a good template, and applying it effectively to your slides:

  • First of all, never use the templates that come standard with your presentation software. Most of them belong to the world’s PowerPoint heritage and will provoke a déjà vu feeling. Create your own backgrounds (or them built by a professional designer), but don’t overdo and leave ample space for content.
  • Use contrasting colors (dark text on a light background or light text on a dark background) and stay consistent with fonts, colors and bullets (as explained in my preceding post in this “look’n’feel matter” series).
  • Keep logos and other design elements discrete – when you introduce yourself properly and deliver a first-class presentation the audience will remember you and the name of your company. On the other hand, it may be good to add a (rather large) page number to each of the slides, especially when they can be presented to remote audiences (e.g. in conference calls or webinars) that may not get speech and visuals delivered in a synchronized way.
  • When creating presentations, be careful with moving slides from one layout to another, as this operation –when the tools are not used as directed– may ruin your whole slide show. An often-made mistake is copying and pasting content between standard-screen (with a 4:3 aspect ratio) and wide-screen (16:9 ratio) formats, resulting in squeezed images and distorted company logos. Also make sure you don’t mix up fonts and color themes originating from different templates.

(this compilation post has been published earlier on Business2Community and on LinkedIn)

Public speaking stress, sweat and adrenaline


This is a compilation post that brings together my views on closely related topics, collating articles that I published earlier on this blog. It doesn’t contain new content, although part of it may have been slightly reworked. Knowing that the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts, I hope this update provides you with a bigger picture, a more complete list of good practices, or a better grounded opinion.


Take your parachute and jump, you can’t stay here forever
When everyone else is gone, being all alone won’t seem that clever
Take your parachute and go, there’s gonna have to be some danger
Take your parachute and jump, you’re gonna have to take flight

― from “Parachute” by Something Happens, EMI Records

Let me tell you about my first parachute (tandem) jump and what I learned from it. No need to say that it was a unique experience. Jumping out of a very small plane from an altitude of over 3000 meter. Half a minute (that seemed like only a few seconds) of free fall at 200 km/h. A stunning view from somewhere between heaven and earth. And, finally, the feeling to be safely back with both feet back on the ground.

Here are eight lessons I took from this breathtaking experience…

  1. Always make sure your parachute is properly folded before the plane takes off.
  2. Timing is key: when to jump and when to open the parachute.
  3. Motivation is also important. I can assure you that it takes some guts to step out the door of a plane into open space.
  4. Keep in mind that the laws of gravity are equal for each one of us, and will never be greater than 9.81 m/s2 – regardless of your size, shape or mass.
  5. Don’t forget to take a deep breath just before you dive and let the adrenaline flow.
  6. The free fall starts a bit scary but once you get through the first seconds, it feels really great.
  7. Once the canopy has unfolded, there’s not much left to worry about (except for point 8) – and you have ample time for savoring the scenery below.
  8. Start preparing in time for a soft landing.

I have to admit that the dive took me some guts, and produced a lot of stress, sweat and adrenaline.  But it felt… WOW! Almost as thrilling and exciting as speaking publicly in front of a large audience.

No more fear of speaking

Don’t think that stress only comes to you. According to the People’s Almanac, “speaking in front of a group” tops the list of worst fears in the US – beating heights, insects and bugs, financial problems and fear of flying (and probably jumping to).

keep_calm_jump

You may blame it on your reptile brain, the oldest one of your three brains, that is responsible for all the ‘automatic’ functions of your body, like controlling your heartbeat, your breathing, and your body temperature. It’s full of fear, and it will put you in “survival mode” under life-threatening conditions. But, unfortunately, this part of your brain can’t make the difference between a real physical threat and an imaginary threat, like fear of public speaking. This is why some presenters get jittery or freeze up when they get in front of an audience.

Here are a few tips that may help you deal with stage fright, prepare for a public performance and survive the first minutes of your speech  ―  once you have made a good start, you stress level will go down and your will feel more comfortable.

  • Arrive at the venue well in time. Get familiar with the room and check the A/V equipment before you start. This will keep Murphy out, save you from unpleasant surprises and give you less things to worry about.
  • Think of the audience as your friend. The people in the room have come to listen to the interesting talk you prepared for them. As most of them are scared of public speaking, just like you, they want you to succeed. Look for a few allies in the audience and make eye contact with them during your talk. After your presentation, try to get some feedback from individuals – they will certainly tell you that you did a good job!
  • Believe in yourself. Think positive. You can do it! Transform your stress into energy. Enthusiasm is contagious; if you show passion for the topic you present, your listeners will get excited too.
  • Control your breath. Nervous people have a tendency to take shorter breaths, which means less oxygen is getting to their brain. Breathing a few times deeply and thinking about something pleasant before you start will help you to control your nervous system’s response to stress.
  • Don’t present with an empty stomach. Have some food before you start, maybe even accompanied by a glass of wine – ONE, not more ;-)
  • Prepare for a strong start and a good story. Plan and memorize what you will be saying during the first minutes of your presentation. Make sure you will grab your audience’s attention from the first second onward.
  • Rehearse your presentation a few days in advance with a friendly audience, such as colleagues, friends or family members. Make sure you feel comfortable with your story, your visuals and with the words you want to use. Prepare a cheat sheet with a few keywords or bulleted speaker notes. You don’t have to use it, take it ‘ just for in case of …’
  • And finally, remember Dale Carnegie’s words (but don’t worry, the audience doesn’t know…): “There are always three speeches for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.”

Now, re-read the 8 lessons from my parachute jump I listed above, and think of the skydive as your next public speech, and of the parachute as the story of your presentation. You would never consider jumping without one, would you?

(this compilation post has been published earlier on Business2Community and LinkedIn)

7 sins of the speaker (extended version)


This is a compilation post that brings together my views on closely related topics, collating articles that I published earlier on this blog. It doesn’t contain new content, although part of it may have been slightly reworked. Knowing that the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts, I hope this update provides you with a bigger picture, a more complete list of good practices, or a better grounded opinion.


“Don’ go burdenin’ other people with your sins. That ain’t decent.” – John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath

One of my favorite publications about presentation skills is Scott Berkun’s “Confessions of a Public Speaker.”  In his book, Scott tells about his life as a professional presenter and testifies about embarrassments and triumphs he has experienced when speaking to crowds of all sizes.

Over the past two decades I have crafted and delivered many public and private presentations. In this article, I’d like to share some best and worst practices with you. Below is my list of the seven cardinal sins that every presenter should try to avoid. I confess that I have repeatedly committed all of them. But no speaker is perfect. Let him or her who is without sin cast the first stone…

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 1st sin: Too long

The former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who is famous for delivering long-winded speeches, addressed the 1986 communist party congress in Havana for 7 hours and 10 minutes.

And still, El Comandante’s listenership may have called itself lucky, because PowerPoint was only launched officially in May 1990. By extrapolating the slideware generating habits of some of my colleagues at work, I estimate that El Caballo’s oration might have been good for, say, 750 slides. As some sources claim that you need at least one hour of preparation time for each minute of presentation (which IMHO sounds a bit overdone,) this would have taken El Jefe Maximo a mere 430 hours (or almost 54 working days) of crafting. Maybe in Cuba, time isn’t (or wasn’t) money at all?

Your audience may be spending valuable time and money to attend a presentation too. Don’t waste it. No single speech should take longer than necessary.

So, how long should the ideal slideshow take?

  • There’s actually a very simple prescription for that, formulated by author and Canva evangelist Guy Kawasaki who called it the “The 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint”, which says that a PowerPoint presentation should have ten slides, last no more than twenty minutes, and contain no font smaller than thirty

And if the time slot that has been reserved for you happens to be longer or shorter than these mere 20 minutes, here’s another easy-to-use formula for calculating the number of visuals you can afford to put on:

  • Always begin by deducting 1/5th from your speaking time, and reserve it for interruptions, questions and answers. Then — assuming that the average presenter spends between 2 and 3 minutes per slide — divide the remaining minutes by 2 and by 3. The results of this simple calculation will give you an upper and lower limit for the number of visuals you can comfortably run through.

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2nd sin: Too much detail

Some time ago, I went shopping for a new wristwatch. Although I am working in the digital industry, for this kind of stuff I’m still pretty much into analog, and I don’t have the intention to buy a smartwatch anytime soon – at least not as long as the device’s battery life is comparable to my smartphone’s.

Trying to convince me about the superiority of his merchandise, the jeweler tried to explain me that the oscillator in a quartz clock functions as a small tuning fork, and is laser-trimmed to vibrate at 32,768 Hz. Huh?  Didn’t I enter his boutique for simply buying a new timepiece? Why did I need to know about all the internal mechanism of a watch? And was this guy really that smart that he knew all these nitty-gritty detail, or did he just try to impress, persuade or mislead me by dropping numbers and citing trivia?

Here’s some advice for the jeweler. As well as for every sales person, or anyone delivering a product presentation:

  • Not every person is interested in the nitty-gritty of your product. Keep your presentation short, sweet and to the point. Limit your content to the essential.
  • Even if you are the expert in the room, you don’t have to overload your audience with all your explicit knowledge. Don’t spread the jam by giving superfluous details!
  • Try to stay within your comfort zone. Don’t introduce topics that you hardly know anything about. If your public has a bad day, they might start asking you more difficult questions – for which you may not have a good answer ready.
  • Don’t present eeeverything you know about a single topic. As a rule of thumb, make sure that for every minute you talk, you have about three minutes of ‘backup material’ (more information, related topics, anecdotes, …) available.
  • Always be prepared for detailed questions and discussions. And if you don’t have the right answer on hand, don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” or “let me look this up and get back to you.”
  • Know your audience. Be able to change your style, your presentation flow and your level of detail. With the right tone of voice and a good story, you will certainly convince them that you’re a person of interest, that you are an authority on the topic you present, and that you have the “right to speak” (or to sell quartz wristwatches).

3rd sin: No story

Recently, I attended a presentation given by a famous researcher. Although his research topic was very interesting and his slides were loaded with stunning facts and figures, I noticed many people in the auditorium playing with their phones and tablets. I’m also almost sure that many of them (including me) left the room with a “so what?” feeling.

As a computer scientist who started his career in R&I, I know that it’s not obvious for an engineer to present a complex research topic, and to cover the necessary technical details while keeping the undivided attention of an (often mixed) audience. This is why I have embraced (and started blogging about) the practice of storytelling.

Telling stories is a way to create a tension with the audience, get them engaged beyond the rational and make them connect emotionally and/or ethically. Stories produce mental images. They are a means to stimulate higher level thinking and let the audience come to a conclusion on their own. A good story enables individuals to make a leap in understanding complex products, services and solutions.

Already in the 4th century B.C., the Greek philosopher Aristotle formulated his theory on the three persuasive appeals: ethos, pathos and logos.

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Since then, Aristotle’s rhetoric has become one of the foundations of public speaking and, as such, an equilibrated mix of the 3 ingredients should be considered a prerequisite for any well told story.

  • Ethos means ethical appeal. We tend to believe people whom we respect. We trust in products with a good reputation. We go to places that were recommended on Yelp or Tripadvisor
  • Pathos translates to emotion. We all like stories about the good vs. the bad. We prefer presenters that speak passionate about their topic. We (too) often make decisions motivated by love, admiration, fear or disgust.
  • Logos stands for reasoning and argumentation. We believe in what we can see and what we can touch. We want statements supported by facts and figures. If not, we keep asking for the Why, the What and the How.

If you think about it, ethos, pathos and logos are present in almost every area of our daily lives. And more than we realize, they determine how we (and our audience) experience situations, interact with people and make decisions. And, as for so many other things in life, the whole of Aristotle’s rhetoric is greater than the sum of its three parts: it’s neither about ethos OR pathos OR logos, but all about ethos AND pathos AND logos.

4th sin: No call to action

In web design, a banner, button, graphic or text often prompts a user to enter a conversion funnel. By clicking on it, he/she confirms his/her interest in the content and (on an e-commerce site) may enter into a next step towards buying a product or service.

As the primary purpose of most business presentations is to move the audience to action, you should make sure that you have similar mechanisms included in your talk.

So, never end your presentation with just a “thank you for your attention” or a Looney Tunes inspired “that’s all folks!” Dismiss all these men and women with clear directions. Tell them what you want them to remember, what they need to do, and how they can get there.

  • Leave ample time for questions. As a rule of thumb you should reserve around 20% of your time budget for Q&A and discussion. Make sure you are prepared for provocative or even weird questions from the room, and remember that a poor Q&A at the end may ruin the whole of your performance.
  • Summarize your main ideas and key points. Make sure you end in agreement with (the majority of) the audience and that they are ready for taking a next step with you.
  • Invite your listeners to engage in a next step. Always end your speech with a call to action or a call to application. Give them a bit of homework (like visiting your webpage, or reading a handout), make them agree on having a follow-up meeting (don’t forget to supply them with your contact details), or simply encourage them to use the products or apply the material you presented (such as the tips I am sharing in this post.)
  • Finish your presentation in a memorable way. Take the occasion to leave a final impression on your audience. Don’t stop cold, but try to surprise them one last time before you quit the stage.

5th sin: Unclear message

Even worse than a bad closing is when you let your audience go home with a “what has this guy been talking about for more than an hour” feeling.

The way you present may either help or hurt to make your point. Make your message(s) strong and memorable, and deliver it (them) in a catchy and captivating way.

In his MacWorld 2008 keynote, the late Steve Jobs presented the world’s thinnest notebook, the MacBook Air.  The Apple CEO introduced the new product with a photo of an envelope, told the audience that the new device was “so thin that it even fits inside one of those envelopes you see floating around the office,” and then pulled up and opened a real envelope that contained the new, ultra-thin laptop computer (watch the video on YouTube.) Sometimes there’s a thin line between a good and a great presenter. Steve Jobs has always been on the right side of it.

Finding the right pitch for your presentation often boils down to pinpointing a sticky story to tell. With the right mix of ethos, pathos and logos you can appeal to the hearts and the minds of those listening to you.

  • A good story has to be compelling, credible, concrete, clear, consistent, customized and conversational. If you remember these seven C-words, you’re already one step closer to a great pitch.
  • When defining your value proposition, never forget that value is in the perception of the beholder. Adapt your pitch to address the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) concern(s) of your audience. And give them something in return for listening to you.
  • Building a message house is a great and simple means for defining, simplifying and structuring your messages, and to make sure your audience will remember them. When properly constructed, it is almost straightforward to transform this message house into a skeleton for your presentation.

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  • A good way to validate your pitch is putting it to the elevator test. Can you ‘sell’ your message(s) in 30 seconds? Can you summarize your story on the back of a napkin? Can it be understood by your mother in law?
  • Finally, as shown in the MacBook Air example above, a strong opening can make a real difference. Most people decide within the first few seconds of a presentation whether a speaker is worth listening to. So make sure to grab the audience’s attention by surprising, intriguing, or provoking them.

6th sin: Boring slides

It’s tempting to rely upon material that others have created before you. Nothing as easy as making a slide deck by cutting and pasting slides from existing PowerPoint into yours. But there’s a consequence: 99% of these cut‘n’paste slideshows look like chameleons, that change colors, fonts and layout with every slide transition.

Look and feel do matter! If you want your audience to perceive you as a professional, then never compromise on the layout of your slides!

  • Real estate: Don’t overdo. Beware of creating slideuments. Apply the same template to all slides. Use plenty of white space. Limit the amount of bulleted slides as well as bullets per page.
  • Colors should contrast with the background. Don’t put together too many colors on one screen. Avoid using red text on a white or black background.
  • Fonts must be readable from the back of the room. Be consistent in style throughout the whole deck. Don’t mix too many typefaces. Avoid script fonts. Bold and italic are good to emphasize text, underline isn’t.
  • Images: use visuals that complement or accentuate your message instead of standard clipart or crapart, that adds no extra value (we all hate screen beans or know the man climbing a bar chart, don’t we?) Avoid mixing line art and photos.
  • Vocabulary: Consequently use the same terminology everywhere. Beware of acronyms and abbreviations. Don’t use jargon or slang.

So next time you need to build a business presentation, don’t feed the chameleons! 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.

7th sin: Wrong pitch

Even the most beautiful slides may be irrelevant to your listeners. It’s extremely important that you have a good understanding of who will be in the room. Doing some upfront research will certainly help you to tailor your pitch and (later) customize your presentation to your audience’s specific knowledge, beliefs, feelings, needs and expectations – and establish an emotional connection with them.

  • Make yourself familiar with Robert Cialdini’s principles of persuasion: reciprocity, liking, authority, social proof, commitment, and scarcity. These will help you to appear convincing, credible and trusty in front of your listeners.
  • Creating personas and asking questions about them like: “What is their role in the organization?”, “What does an average day in their job/life look like?”, “What do they value most?”, “How do they get motivated?”, and “What could be their most common objections to your product or service?” may be good means for tuning your content

(this compilation post has been published earlier on Business2CommunityLinkedIn and Ragan.com, and a video recording of me presenting the 7 Sins is available on Campus in the Cloud)

I have also created an infographic that summarizes this post. You may download the file by clicking on the image below (or hitting the download tab on top of this page).

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Why storytelling is the new black


This is a compilation post that brings together my views on closely related topics, collating articles that I published earlier on this blog. It doesn’t contain new content, although part of it may have been slightly reworked. Knowing that the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts, I hope this update provides you with a bigger picture, a more complete list of good practices, or a better grounded opinion.


“Stories are the most powerful delivery tool for information, more powerful and enduring than any other art form.” – Nancy Duarte

2013 study carried out by the French ManpowerGroup identified three emerging job profiles for the future: the Protector, the Optimizer and the Storyteller.

They describe the latter one, the Storyteller, as a “craftsman of engagement”. He or she gives meaning to (or renews) the company’s engagement in times of crisis and communicates with all stakeholders through dialog and social media. In today’s organizations we often find these creative people in marketing and communications functions such as “Content Marketer”, “Digital Brand Manager” or “Community Manager” and in business supporting roles, including “Innovation Valorization Managers”, “Business Evangelists” and “Cultural Engineering Consultants”.

Although I have met only very few people with “Corporate Storyteller” on their business card, storytelling has become a new gospel for business presenters. And those creatives who can create compelling stories, get their message across, and inspire audiences’ passion will stand out in our new era of content and meaning.

It’s the story, stupid

Not so long ago, I had a discussion with a friend who’s active in business consulting. He’s used to creating and delivering long, dry and factual presentations and doesn’t feel very comfortable with the concept of storytelling.

Though not all content is equally suitable for storification, I am convinced that storytelling techniques have a real value. Even (or should I say particularly?) for management level presentations.

  • We’re all human beings, and –let’s admit it– most of us love stories. As Robin Dunbar states in Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language, 65% of the time we are speaking informally, we’re talking about “who did what to whom”.
  • Listening to a story is cooperative (and most of the time interactive) learning. A story can put your whole brain to workIt helps make the complex simple and make the message more memorable. We tend to forget figures, lists and bullet points. Stories help to persuade where facts can’t.
  • Storytelling is a way to create a tension with the audience, get them engaged beyond the rational and make them connect emotionally and/or ethically. Stories produce mental images. They are a means to stimulate higher level thinking and let the audience come to a conclusion on their own.

Of course there are different kinds of audiences that may need different styles of presentations in different situations. And some content and/or circumstance can make you decide not to tell a story, e.g. for financial reporting or in cases of crisis communication. As a professional presenter it’s your call to go for a storytelling approach or not.

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From storytellers to storydoers and storymakers

Lately, I also came across a few articles about the need to complement storytelling by storydoing. The idea is simple and straight forward: great companies and great leaders don’t just tell stories, but they also take action on them.

  • Storytellers are companies or individuals, that convey the story of their brand, business or product by telling that story. As I stated above, storytelling is a powerful tool to engage audiences and create worth-of-mouth buzz.
  • Storydoers consciously work to convey their story through direct action. Storydoing companies put the narrative in action and use stories to drive product development and enhance their customers’ experience.

Storydoing should however not be considered as a black-or-white alternative to storytelling. In fact, both practices go hand in hand. Storytelling is mainly driven by marketers, while every company employee can contribute to the doing. Research by storydoing.com suggests that storydoing companies are better performers, as they tend to spend less money on advertising and paid media, but rather invest in customer engagement and execution.

As a marketer in a fast-moving technology sector, I would tend to add a 3rd category:

  • Storymakers are the real market innovators, entrepreneurs and changemakers. They build a whole new story for their product or their company, or even a completely new brand.

Only great personalities are able to combine the three roles above. The Mark Zuckerbergs, Elon Musks and Richard Bransons of this world. 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.

(this compilation post has been published earlier on Business2Community and on LinkedIn)