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:

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B.Y.O.C.

In an earlier entry on this blog, I listed the character as one of the 5 key elements upon which novelists, movie directors, as well as professional presenters rely to let their audience emotionally engage.

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 opponents.

Introducing one or more characters is often a great way to personalize your message and add “what’s at stake?” tension to your story. Depending on the topic of your presentation, the protagonist may be you, your company or even your product, while the antagonist could be a competitor, a demanding customer or even an unfavorable market condition.

As such, I have enriched many of my business talks and blog posts by telling about what happened to “a friend”, “a colleague”, or “a customer of mine”. Characters may be fictive, but you’ll feel more confident and earn more credibility when talking about real persons. Of course, you don’t have to mention their names – particularly when the protagonist or the antagonist appears in a not-very-flattering situation or gets involved in an embarrassing incident.

If you’re a frequent visitor of this site, you may remember the posts below, in which I used the exploits of my colleagues for introducing notorious do’s and don’ts of giving a business presentation. Though names and characters have been anonymized, all these stories report on real-life events that I witnessed personally:

This weekend I walked into a French LEGO store. For more than 80 years, LEGO toys have engaged kids in creative play, encouraging them to imagine, invent and explore (see for example the 1970’s letter from Lego to parents below.) That’s why their flagship store always is a good place to breathe the air of creativity – and in this case, get inspiration for a new blog post.

lego_letter

(click to enlarge)

Incidentally, I stumbled upon the Build-A-Minifigure bar. By combining a broad variety of heads, torsos, legs, hair, hats and accessories, everyone can design and purchase his/her own LEGO character(s).

Lego_store_BAM

It made me think about another article I wrote about “creating personas for audience-centric story design,” in which I explained how defining personas may help you to tell a better story. Putting yourself into the shoes of (some in) your audience will help you better understand what they think, believe, do, feel and need.

Suddenly, while having an Aha! moment at the Minifigure bar of the LEGO store, I figured out why I had intuitively borrowed a LEGO image to illustrate this old blog post.

And, then I realized that I might have run into the perfect tool for fleshing-out personas of my audience, and for synthesizing the protagonists and antagonists of my story.

B.Y.O.C. = Bring (or Build, or Buy) Your Own Character…

Lego_store_minis

The back of a roll of wallpaper

“As a trafficker in climaxes and thrills and characterization and wonderful dialogue and suspense and confrontations, I had outlined the Dresden story many times.

The best outline I ever made, or anyway the prettiest one, was on the back of a roll of wallpaper.

I used my daughter’s crayons, a different color for each main character. One end of the wallpaper was the beginning of the story, and the other end was the end, and then there was all that middle part, which was the middle.” ― Slaughterhouse Five,  Kurt Vonnegut

Although, most of the time I don’t have a roll of wallpaper at hand, it’s certainly a good practice — if not an absolute must — to start building your presentation with another tool than PowerPoint, Keynote or Prezi. All of these great programs are to be categorized as visualization software. They are perfectly suited for creating, animating and flipping through your slides, but they offer (too) limited functions for problem analysis, mindmapping, and storyboarding.

Wikipedia defines a storyboard as “a graphic organizer in the form of illustrations or images displayed in sequence for the purpose of pre-visualizing a motion picture, animation, motion graphic or interactive media sequence,” and — take this from me — you don’t have to be a professional graphic artist to transform your ideas into a storyboard for your speech of presentation.

There are some great (free) software tools available for building mindmaps and storyboards (e.g. the ones mentioned in the lists below). And if you don’t want your creativity hampered by the capabilities of your laptop or tablet: a whiteboard, a flip chart or a large piece of paper, a set of index cards or post-it notes, and a few crayons or colored markers will also do the job. Or just start drawing on a roll of wallpaper or the back of a napkin

storyboard

More reading:

The 3 p’s of presenting

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 (as already mentioned in an earlier article on this blog) 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 week’s post (as well as the three next ones) to mastering the 3 P’s of presenting: your Pitch, your Preparation and your Presentation.

3Ps

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. 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.”

Now, mark your agenda! In my next 3 posts, I will further elaborate on the 3 P’s and give some tips, tricks and tools for better pitching (December 4), preparing (December 11) and presenting (December 18) your content.

Please don’t be long, please don’t you be very long

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

fidel_castro Photo (CC) BY-SA 2.0 by Marcelo Montecino

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 presentation 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 (about whom I have already written in my “Four storytellers about storytelling” post,) who called it the “The 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint”:

A PowerPoint presentation should have ten slides, last no more than twenty minutes, and contain no font smaller than thirty points.

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

nbr_slides_calculator

Always begin by deducting 1/5th from your speaking time, and reserve it for 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.

More reading:

Dealing with introverts and extraverts

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 two older blog posts, 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 – ands 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 post to figure out what this means, and how you’d get me warm for your presentation.

Other articles about characterizing and dealing with your audience that may be worth reading:

Denning’s patterns

“A story is a fact, wrapped in an emotion that compels us to take an action that transforms our world.” – Richard Maxwell and Robert Dickman in “The Elements of Persuasion

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.” Still, there may be some tips on what to tell (or not to tell) in certain situations.

If you’re looking for such a list of best practices, or a taxonomy of story formats, you may have a look at the work of Steven Denning (a former Program Director of Knowledge Management at the World Bank, and a international authority on leadership, innovation and  management.), who has described a number of “narrative patterns” from which you may pick 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 (see e.g. the examples in my “Tell them fairy tales” post). 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. As I already mentioned in my post about “A trip down memory lane”, 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 (see a sample of his predictions below, I have included more of his cards in my “Back to the future” post.)

villemard4

  • 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 (as explained in my “To whom it should concern” post.)
  • 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 (cfr. my “Begin the beginning” post.)
  • 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.”

More reading by Steven Denning and about narrative patterns:

Principles of persuasion

The three elements of Aristotle’s ancient art of rhetoric, ethos, pathos and logos, are also known as the persuasive appeals, and any public speaker should be (or become) familiar with them.

In this post, I will dig a bit deeper into the principles of persuasion, and explore what it takes for business presenters to appear convincing, credible and trusty in front of their listeners. The six points below are based upon Robert Cialdini’s work, published in his 1984 book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.”

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

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 and influencer quadrants.

friendly_persuasion

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!

Other articles and presentations about this topic that are worth reading:

Inspiration and perspiration

“Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.” – Chuck Close

Ain’t it funny how time flies. This is already my last blog post before the summer holidays. Though I am neither a native English speaker (my mother tongue is Dutch) or a professional writer, blogging has been a good exercise, a positive experience and a great way to share my experience with an international audience – over the past 43 weeks I have counted 78 different nationalities among my readers!

It is often said that writing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. This may be true in time, but (at least in my humble opinion) it’s this mere 10% of upfront creativity that’s shaping success.

  • Inspiration: in my case, new topics to write about usually come (don’t ask me why…) while commuting to work on the tramway. When an idea for a blog post pops up, it usually takes me less than 10 minutes to create an outline on my smartphone and have a raw version of the text ready before I reach the office.
  • Perspiration: as almost none of my content exceeds the 500 words count, it usually takes between 2 and 3 hours to craft the final article, to author the blog and post it (or schedule publication) onto WordPress –  a great tool, by the way.

And there’s also a third parameter in the equation that is often overlooked:

  • Self-discipline: I keep a posts-in-progress file, with about ten (tentative) titles and working drafts on hand, of which I try to have at least two in an “(almost) ready for publication” state. This allows me to sustain a pace of releasing another piece of content each week.

For more advice on how to keep your blog content fresh, have a look at Mike Brown’s post on the Brainzooming blog.

What started 10 months ago as a casual writing exercise has become a new passion for me. So, to all visitors and readers of this blog: a big thank you for acknowledging my inspiration and transpiration by visiting the B2B Storytelling pages or the Belgian Network blog.

pen_and_paper

It’s time now to put my laptop asleep and refuel my inspiration. But stay tuned: the best is yet to come! I’ll be back in September with more stories, more best practices and more presentation tips.

To Prezi or not to Prezi

Lately I have seen a few talks that were authored and presented with Prezi. Though the software has a nice set of features and the guys who created and delivered the presentations did a great job, I am not a big fan of it and I largely share what Scott Berkun’s writes in his ”why I hate Prezi” blog post.

presi_menu

Prezi may be good as a mind mapping tool, but most presentations tend to be overdone as they are trying to maximize the application’s complex structuring, navigation and visualization capabilities. Since I need to focus on delivering my message rather than maneuvering through my visuals –while keeping a mental map of where I am in the 2D or 3D space– I only want to deal with the next slide button on my remote clicker (of course I could create a “linear” storyline using the built-in path tool, but then I might revert as well to Powerpoint.) Furthermore, and as a consequence of these complex zooming and panning actions, a well brought Prezi presentation needs even more rehearsal than the average speaking engagement.

This is why I am not using Prezi and why, until further notice, I’m gonna stick to (good and bad) old Powerpoint. I acknowledge this is a personal opinion and that there are many enthusiastic (and more experienced) Prezi users around. So, if you consider yourself one of them, feel free to comment on this post and tell me why I should start loving Prezi.

Other articles to fuel the discussion about the pros and cons of using Prezi: