A (wo)man needs a plan

Yesterday I saw the following tweet from J.K. Rowling passing by on my twitter feed:

The tweet was part of a conversation about her upcoming crime novel “Lethal White” that is to be published under the British writer’s Robert Galbraith pseudonym.

Although January is just ending, Rowling’s observation already gets my “quote of the year 2018” award. The glass is never full or empty. Each challenge holds an opportunity, and vice versa. Whether you are writing a book, preparing a business presentation, or building a house, nothing comes without effort. All these activities require reflection, planning, and preparation.

As such, I was also not surprised to read in related @jk_rowling tweets that she plans a lot.

I wrote in one of my older posts about “inspiration and perspiration” that it’s the mere 10% of upfront creativity that’s shaping success, while one needs a good dose of self-discipline to keep the following 90% of the process flowing. And, whether your blank page comes from a notebook, the back of a napkin, a roll of wall paper or a Microsoft Office file, a good storyboard, a mind map or a (color-coded) table will help you to light up your mind and fill that sheet.

Doing a bit more research, I stumbled upon this picture of Rowling’s spreadsheet plot for “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”:

(Image source: Mental Floss)

Ever since I read the first episode of her Harry Potter septology, I’m a J.K. Rowling fan – with great respect for the author as a writer, a storyteller, and an engaged human being. Yesterday’s tweet sequence is yet another confirmation of that for me.


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

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

75th Annual Golden Globe Awards - Show

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


The mysterious Mr Fubini

Several years ago, I came across a simple and compelling vision on the adoption and evolution of new technologies, known as Fubini’s law*:

1. People initially use technology to do what they do now – but faster.

2. Then they gradually begin to use technology to do new things.

3. The new things change life-styles and work-styles.

4. The new life-styles and work-styles change society …

… and eventually change technology.

Since the lines above apply to many technology domains I worked on throughout my career, I have cited Fubini’s law many times in my presentations. Just think of how technologies like broadband internet, digital TV, and mobile communications have changed the way people live, work, and play.

(Photo by Marc Mueller, CC BY 3.0 DE)

In analogy with Moore’s and Metcalfe’s laws, about which I wrote in an older post on this blog, I have always assumed that Fubini’s law was invented by a person carrying the name Fubini. But, in fact, nobody seems to know who Mr (or Mrs?) Fubini actually is (or was), for which purpose he (or she) formulated this law, or when and where it was originally published. I ran a Google search to find out more, but this only yielded a handful of blog posts (the oldest ones date from around the year 2003) and books that refer to each other.

I have always been convinced that Fubini’s observations are spot on. And even if it’s not my style to quote anonymous or unverified sources, I will keep on using his wise words in my presentations. To illustrate the transformative power of technology and to celebrate human inventivity!

(*) note: Fubinis law, as described above, shouldn’t be confused with Guido Fubini’s theorem that dates from 1907 and describes how to compute a double integral using iterated integrals.

Proudly promoting my president’s presentation pizzazz

I have never used this blog as a channel to promote my company, its activities, or its people (thought I have referred a few times to my own and my colleagues’ business presentations to illustrate some prominent public speaking do’s and don’ts) but today I’m going to make an exception for our chief executive. Not because he’s my big boss, but because he delivered such an outstanding presentation at one of the world’s most important tech industry events.

If you have about 20 minutes, take a look at the video recording of Nokia president and CEO Rajeev Suri’s keynote at the Mobile World Congress 2017. He speaks about the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is the next wave of technological evolution or the “automation of everything,” and how the world needs to create a new 5G network that will act as a global nervous system to orchestrate this revolution.


Over the past 4½ years, I have written more than 160 articles about best practices in corporate storytelling and, while preparing this new post, it came to my mind that our CEO used almost every presentation technique I have written about. His presentation is compelling, credible, concrete, clear, consistent, customized, and conversational. Taking “the 3 P’s of a professional public presenter” as a checklist, I could only come to the conclusion that the head of my company is a smart orator, a skilled speaker, and a stylish presenter.

With his opening words “It’s a pleasure to be here at such a moment of change. We have the good fortune to stand on the threshold of one of history’s greatest leaps forward,” he’s playing the prelude to a visionary pitch, in which he talks in concrete terms about the possible outcomes of the technology revolution: “making our lives better, our industries more efficient, our planet more sustainable.” Note that, throughout the whole speech, he’s generously using the rule of three and illustrating his technological vision with appealing use cases, such as 3D printing, self-driving cars, an entire factory floor of robots, or millions of drones hovering our skies. And when the Nokia CEO says that “we need technology in the service of humans,” he is reciting the company’s mantra, “expanding the human possibilities of technology.” A theme that is also repeated in a strong ending: “Ultimately however, what matters most is how we put this technology to use. … We can do both good business and do good. Because that is the promise, the possibility, what we can do together.Your story is your brand (and vice versa), isn’t it?

Rajeev also uses compelling metaphors, like “hotspots on steroids” and word symmetries like “hyper-local, hyper-mobile, and hyper-scale,” while his visuals are simple and clean, with few words on the slides, supported by proper graphics. And, within a (relatively short) twenty-two-minutes time slot, he even manages to show an animation video and – how audacious! – to include two interactive demonstrations. The video streams of the monster trucks race and the industrial robot demo, wrapped in live conversations with the exhibition floor, turned out to be great means to walk his talk, connect with his audience, and lead people to the Nokia booth.


Doing a live demo is always a risky undertaking, as the demo devil may be just around the corner, but knowing my marketing colleagues that contributed to the event I’m sure that everything was well-prepared.

Three years ago while I was attending a previous edition of the Mobile World Congress, I wrote a blog post “about storytellers, storydoers and storymakers,” in which I stated that only great personalities can combine these three roles. They not only have great ideas, but they also have the capabilities to execute them, and engage their audience – and as such create or change an industry. Listening to and analyzing his 2017 MWC keynote address have made me conclude that Rajeev Suri deserves a spot in this hall of fame.

You can replay the video recording of the presentation here:

Trump and the rule of one

Four years ago, I wrote a blog post “Obama and the rule of three“, in which I analyzed the previous American president’s re-election speech and praised his public speaking skills. Incidentally, over the past months – guess why? – this article has become one of the most frequently visited titles on my B2B Storytelling pages. Since then, an awful lot has changed, and the US as well as the rest of the world are getting used to living in the new, Trumpian reality.

I honestly admit that I’m not a fan of the 45th President of the United States. Neither of the person, nor of his political doctrine, nor of his deeds since January 20. But as Donald Trump was elected by kind of democratic process, he also deserves kind of credit.Tomorrow he will deliver his first State of the Union address. An occasion to zoom in on the newly-on-duty POTUS’ presentation skills.

Surely, Mr. Trump isn’t the eloquent orator that Barack Obama was, though in my honest opinion he is definitely not a bad communicator. Note that from the writing perspective of this blog, I’m only assessing his communication style, not his content nor his use of (alternative) facts and figures – which would put me on too thin ice. When analyzing his public talks, I think I’d rather associate him to a “rule of one” than to a rule of three: as a speaker, he systematically puts his one-self in the center; his person seems to be more prominent than his words or his audience.

There are common practices that seem to come back in every speech the president delivers. Some of them are so striking that they have become fodder for effective Trump parodies:

  • He has a clear and strong voice and uses simple, often sloganesque, language with short and declarative sentences. This is an appropriate habit, considering DJT’s target audience and key messages. His one-liners like “make America great again” and “let’s build that wall” have the same magnitude of emotional impact as Obama’s “yes, we can”.
  • The words he uses are congruent with his message, and he consistently repeats them. After analyzing 95,000 words used in campaign speeches, the New York Times concluded that “the most striking hallmark was Mr. Trump’s constant repetition of divisive phrases, harsh words and violent imagery that American presidents rarely use…”
  • The new US president (figuratively and literally) tries to take a maximum amount of space. His alpha male body language, facial expression, and hand gestures are compatible with his overall message. Take, for example, his index finger pointing in the air while putting his second finger and thumb together (accentuating he’s right and the others are totally wrong), his thumb-and-forefinger pinch (that signals precision and control), and his pneumatic drill movements (to hammer the point he’s making home.)


Donald J. Trump has only been on duty for six weeks. Probably we ain’t seen or heard nothing yet. But, whether you agree with his politics or not, you can’t argue that he isn’t a good communicator.

More opinions and analysis:

Wow! here came the iPhone

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Bambi does the toothbrush test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


(image from Bambi by Walt Disney Studios)

Background reading:

Elon Musk and the stored sunlight experience

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

X-ing wombats

I am currently visiting Australia for a public speaking engagement, combined with a series of customer meetings. And — unlike from other destinations ― I will take a small souvenir with me from Down Under.

When you add up the number of kilometers I have traveled during my career, I may have circled the globe more than 25 times. And now that the children have become too old to play with toys, and the collection of ‘exotic’ earrings, bracelets, and necklaces is filling my spouse’s entire jewel case, we decided that I should no longer feel obliged to bring home a little present from each single business trip.

But this time I made an exception, and I bought a gadget for myself. You may have seen them before: the black-on-yellow plastic road sign replicas that warn drivers for kangaroos, koalas or other wild animals crossing the road. Though I’m not an Australian wildlife expert, I plan to put up this sign on my cubicle wall to warn my colleagues (and remind myself) to beware of wombats.


Of course I will have to explain them first that the “wombat” word on my wall does not stand for an Australian marsupial, but that it is an acronym for Waste Of Money, Brains And Time. Among the activities that people (including me) perform at work, I tend to distinguish 3 major categories: the need to have ones, the nice to have ones, and the WOMBATs. Each of them has an obvious immediacy, a corresponding measure of relevance, and a decreasing order of importance.

I expect that my wombat will soon become a visual signpost at work. Next time when someone walks in and out my work spot, I’m sure that my little marsupial friend on the wall will remind him or her to focus on what’s really essential ― instead of wasting their and my scarce resources on something which may not be needed, cost-effective, or urgent at all…

What presenter species are you?

Throughout my career I have attended many public and private events, listened to many business, technology and product presentations, and seen many good and even more not-so-good storytellers in action.

In Dutch language, we have an expression that says “elke vogel zingt zoals hij gebekt is,” which translates literally to “every bird sings the way it is beaked.” The same counts without any doubt for public presenters, as each individual speaker has its particular style to get his or her message across.


Here’s a list with presenter types I have frequently spotted in the field: the Engineer, the Kindergarten Teacher, the Actor, the Philosopher, the Consultant, the Salesman and the Conversationalist. Note that, although I am describing the male specimens, all the species below have a female variant too ― but some of them, e.g. female Engineers or Consultants are quite rare birds.

  • The Engineer is great in delivering technical content and in educating people. He loves projecting huge PowerPoint files with lots of detail about architectures and product features. He is seldom a good listener and tends to care more about his own solution than about the audience’s problem. As such the Engineer’s presentations are often lacking a clear (commercial) message that goes beyond “look how good I am/we are” and “isn’t it wonderful what I/we have built.”
  • The Kindergarten Teacher is somewhat the opposite of the Engineer. He doesn’t pay attention to (or maybe doesn’t know about…) the details. His performance has all the elements that you may expect from a good storyteller, complete with protagonists/antagonists, a well-built tension and a moral lesson at the end. A kindergarten-style presentation is always nice to listen to, but usually has a bit too little meat on the bone, and at the end of the talk you still feel hungry for the real stuff.
  • The Actor’s main goal it to deliver a dazzling show. A well written story, attractive visuals, and a thoroughly rehearsed speech are key to the success of his performance. We all know that practice makes perfect, but over-rehearsal can also kill your presentation. Overall, the Actor is a great performer on stage, but he’s frequently lacking spontaneity, and will often make a poor appearance when the audience starts asking questions.
  • The Philosopher tends to introduce high-level concepts, ideas or solution schemes. His visuals contain lots of boxes, arrows and clouds. Although his content may be called abstract, holistic or even esoteric, and his talks are frequently lacking a clear structure ― the Engineer would rather call them fluffy ― a Philosopher’s presentation is often well received by corporate strategists. If you have these in your audience, they might be looking for visionary material and food for thought, rather than for the Engineer’s precooked product and solution bites.
  • The Consultant also puts up lots of slides with boxes, arrows and clouds, but that’s mainly because these graphic elements are prescribed by his employer’s PowerPoint template. And you can bet on it that he’s added lots of numbers, tables and charts too, to make his proposition (look) concrete. Don’t expect him to come up with an entertaining story, because being perceived as a storyteller is exactly what (most) Consultants try to avoid at all times.
  • The Salesman doesn’t really care about the story ― and, unfortunately, sometimes not even about the accuracy of the content. Real business is done before and after — not during — a presentation. His slides are generally “off the shelf”, his messages pushy, and his tone not adapted to the audience’s expectations and needs. As they are rather centered on offer than on demand, Salesmen tend to be bad listeners too. As an example, rewatch the video sketch that I included in my “One mouth and two ears” post on this blog.
  • The Conversationalist’s presentation thrives on interaction with the people in the room. You may recognize one when a speaker starts his talk with an open question or a personal anecdote, and has his Twitter ID or his LinkedIn URL mentioned on the title slide. The Conversationalist welcomes interruptions, but then unfortunately regularly enters into discussion with (a few members of) his audience, gets carried away from his presentation topic or story line, and will probably not manage to finish his speech on time. And of course, a Conversationalist loves to continue the conversation during the break.

The list above is neither intended to be exhaustive nor prescriptive. If you have encountered a storyteller with a presentation style that does not match one of the types (or a combination thereof) in the list, or if you are a unique-beaked species yourself, please share it with the readers of this blog through the “leave a reply” box below…