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.

rajeev-suri

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.

monstertruck-demo

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 a 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.)

trump_cnn

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:

No words needed

Body language can be a powerful communication tool. Sometimes a (mysterious, naïve, smart, candid, …) smile may tell you more than a hundred words.

Only a few days ago I saw this news video on TV. Confronted with US president-elect Donald Trump calling Brexit “a great thing,” and suggesting that more European countries would leave the EU, the European Commission’s chief spokesperson gave this simple statement: “We have read this interview with interest,” and complemented his answer by an (IMHO) priceless, all-saying smile.

Pressed by a journalist if this was all the Commission had to say about the issues Trump had raised, the speaker confirmed his earlier reply by a short and dry “yes.”

I think I clearly understood the message. And probably many Europeans with me…

Wow! here came the iPhone

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

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

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

iphone_jobs

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

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

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

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

Bambi does the toothbrush test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bambi

(image from Bambi by Walt Disney Studios)

Background reading:

Elon Musk and the stored sunlight experience

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

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

ElonMuskPowerWall-640x320

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

wombat

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.

bird_guide

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…

The young ones

Yesterday, I attended one of the preliminary heats of the Telenet – BBC Public Speaking Awards, a competition in which 16 to 20-year old non-native English-speaking students speech about technology, society, philosophy and culture. About challenging topics such as “Education kills creativity”, “Culture is not a luxury, but a necessity” and “Ignorance is bliss.”

Belgium is a small country, and English is taught as a second or third language at school. But still, the richness of idiom and vocabulary of these adolescents on stage was beyond impressive. I heard some excellent and some not quite so good speeches. But overall I was surprised and delighted to see how most of these young people (among which one of our sons) presented more-than-worth-to-listen-to content and showed a remarkable mix of character, creativity and confidence.

Still, let me share some points for approval I jotted down:

  • Practice makes perfect. And without doubt all the competitors practiced a lot. But if a speaker over-rehearses his or her discourse, it may start to sound inauthentic or even theatrical.
  • Speaking in public without slides or without cheat sheet is certainly not easy. When you pencil the key points of your talk in the palm of your hand, however (which is not necessarily a no do,) don’t spend the whole presentation with your hand palm-up.
  • Less than 10% of a message is conveyed by actual words or content. The rest is delivered through non-verbal means. Most presenters controlled their body language well and kept good eye contact with the audience, but some of them neglected the expressive power of their voice pitch, intonation and volume of speech.
  • The end of some monologues could have been more inspiring. A sincere “Thank you for listening” or a dry “This concludes my speech” is hardly ever enough to engage your audience or call them to action (or help you to the second round of the competition.)
  • A poor response during the Q&A at the end may ruin the whole of your performance. Make sure you know your topic extremely well, and be ready for some provocative or even weird questions from the jury.

But most importantly, I heard a lot of good stories. Filled with ethos, pathos and logos. And seasoned with personal examples, anecdotes and metaphors. Each of those 18-year olds managed to deliver a great performance on stage. My Saturday morning in the audience was well-spent. So, let me close by paraphrasing the title of one of the speeches: “Storytelling can teach as well as entertain.” Yes, it can.

And our son Robin, he made it to the quarter finals! Congrats from his old dad for an outstanding performance.

BBC_winnersPhoto: courtesy Telenet – BBC Awards

Four storytellers about storytelling

I have been blogging about storytelling in business for the past two years and written more than 80 posts about the topic. If you still wonder what storytelling is all about, and why it’s so important in today’s business environment, then listen (or read) what these respected entrepreneurs, businessmen and storytellers are saying about it.

richard_branson

Richard Branson (@richardbranson), founder of the Virgin Group, is certainly one of today’s most influential thought leaders. With more than 4 million followers, he is the most-followed public figure on LinkedIn. His blog posts, opinion pieces and interviews are putting him in the spotlight as a great communicator, and an inspiring storyteller.

“Whatever you are trying to sell, storytelling is the most powerful thing you can do. Most of the best business ideas come from personal experiences.”  (from Jack Preston’s blog post about Virgin Media Pioneers’ Pitch to Rich competition)

“If you want to stand out from the crowd, give people a reason not to forget you.” (from Richard Branson’s blog post on virgin.com)

“What I soon learned was that practice made all the difference. The more prepared I was, the less I stammered and stumbled. Good speakers aren’t just talented or lucky ̶ they work hard.” (from an interview with Richard Branson in Entrepreneur magazine)

gary_vaynerchuk

With “only” 218,326 Linked followers, Gary Vaynerchuk (@garyvee) is a little less known –which doen’t mean less talented– storyteller. A Belarus-born author, investor, and founder of VaynerMedia – and a famous wine connoisseur.

“No matter what you do, no matter what your profession is, our job is always and forever to tell our story. And that is never going to change. The way you make real money, the way you make real impact, the way things get changed is by great storytelling. It’s always been that way, and it always will be that way. Because we’re f***ing human beings, and that’s what we like.” (from a 99U presentation by Gary Vee)

“My ability to tell a better story than my competitors became the reason we had a successful company.” (from an Entrepreneur video in which Vaynerchuk tells about his wine business)

guy_kawasaki

Also Guy Kawasaki (@guykawasaki), author, entrepreneur and former chief evangelist at Apple, stresses the importance of storytelling in his talks and writing. I am a big fan of Guy’s book “Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions”, about influencing people and delivering a powerful brand experience.

“You need to tell a story. Most people, particularly ad technology, are horrible at telling stories. You need to tell a story. Why did you start eBay? Why did you start Google? Why did you start Apple?” (Guy Kawasaki in a presentation at Stanford University)

“The art of branding requires creating something contagious that infects people with enthusiasm, making it easy for them to try it, asking them for help in spreading the word, and building the community around it.” (from “The Art of the Start” by Guy Kawasaki)

“Enchantment transforms situations and relationships. It converts hostility into civility. It changes skeptics and cynics into believers… When you enchant people, your goal is not to make money from them or to get them to do what you want, but to fill them with great delight.” (from an interview with Guy Kawasaki in Forbes magazine)

steve_jobs

And finally, there’s the obligatory Steve Jobs, founder and CEO of Apple Computer (and Guy Kawasaki’s ex-boss,) who I still consider the archetype of a born storyteller, storymaker and storydoer.

“We may have the best product, the highest quality, the most useful software etc.; if we present them in a slipshod manner, they will be perceived as slipshod; if we present them in a creative, professional manner, we will impute the desired qualities.” (from Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs)

“People would confront a problem by creating a presentation. I wanted them to engage, to hash things out at the table, rather than show a bunch of slides. People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint.” (from Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs)

So this was my last blog post before summer holidays.Thank you for your readership, for following my blog, and for your comments and reactions. Let me close in beauty with a memorable video clip of the MacWorld 2008 keynote by the late Steve Jobs, in which he introduces a MacBook so thin that it even fitted inside a brown envelope…