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 need 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…

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 (@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

“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)


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)


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)


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…