My design agency is called none

Following a conference talk, one of my fellow keynote speakers once asked me which agency created my slides, because he “liked my visuals more than his”. My answer was straightforward and simple: I always create my own materials.

For sure, crafting a nice looking PowerPoint takes a good chunk of your time, but IMHO it’s always worth the effort. Of course there are graphic design agencies, who are more than happy doing the work for you. There are many good such agencies, but also mediocre ones. No offence to the good ones, but I had a not-so-positive experience working with a graphic (re)designer in the past. That’s an understatement, as he totally ruined the concept behind my presentation when he neglected and overrode some (implicit) color coding I had built in.

At another occasion, another graphics guy introduced an overload of visual effects and animations to my slideshow. I had to tell them that such animations distract the audience from my key messages, and force me to concentrate on ‎timing and control instead of on my narrative. Furthermore, animated slides are often hard to edit and/or update, because of duplication and non-accessibility of grouped and hidden objects.

For a colleague’s presentation, another designer (?) created a single slide with 133 (!) words, written in 10 point (!) font size. I’m aware that not everyone is a follower of Guy Kawasaki’s 10-20-30 rule, but this specific visual was unreadable, unpresentable, and thus unacceptable.

Here’s another piece of advice: always double-check your original messages after bullets or handout texts have been rewritten. Particularly in the case when you’re using technical language or subject specific jargon I once discovered that my Linux kernel was faulty replaced by a nucleus. If content needs to be translated to a foreign language (even if it’s one you’re more or less familiar with) it may be a good idea to have the presentation reviewed by a native-speaking colleague.

Finally, like every father who thinks his kids are the most beautiful children on earth, I often prefer my original slides over the revamped ones. They contain my visual signature and they’re part of my personal brand. That’s why my graphic design agency is called None. And when I asked the other speaker about how much he had paid the design company for authoring his presentation, I was flabbergasted by the amount of money he spent per slide. Well, if I ever lose my voice, I know a lucrative alternative to public speaking: creating or remaking other people’s slides…

If you’re looking for slide design tips and some do’s and don’ts for using fonts, color, images, bulleted lists, multimedia, and templates in your slides, you may read my article “Why look and feel matter in business presentations“.

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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”.)

Ethos

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.”

Pathos

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.

Logos

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 4th P

Although the title of this post would make a great title for a crime novel, it’s actually a follow-up on the most visited article that I have published on this blog to date. In “The 3 p’s of a professional public presenter” I argued that in this era of content, communication, conversation, and customer experience, 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 Jerome McCarthy’s 4 P’s: price, promotion, product and place.

And then I introduced an alternative “3P” model that summoned business presenters to take control of their pitch, their preparation, and their presentation. Well, I was wrong or, rather, incomplete. The desirable speaker’s mix consists of four P’s – not just three. I realized this when reading a biographical article about Beethoven, in which I found this quote attributed to the German composer:

“To play a wrong note is insignificant; to play without passion is inexcusable.” ― Ludwig van Beethoven

You may now have guessed that the 4th P stands for passion. And though it’s less tangible than the 3 other ones – a skill that can’t be acquired by training and a genuineness that can’t be rehearsed – it’s probably the P with the biggest impact on the outcome of your presentation. Passion is the x-factor that sets you apart from the average speaker, that leaves your audience with an authentic impression, and that creates an incentive for them to engage with you.

(photo: John Belushi as Beethoven)

Just like enthusiasm, passion is contagious. Combined with an appropriate pitch, a thorough preparation, and a well-rehearsed presentation, it provides you with a unique set of chords to compose, conduct, and perform your next master piece.

“From the glow of enthusiasm I let the melody escape. I pursue it. Breathless I catch up with it. It flies again, it disappears, it plunges into a chaos of diverse emotions. I catch it again, I seize it, I embrace it with delight… I multiply it by modulations, and at last I triumph in the first theme. There is the whole symphony.” – Ludwig van Beethoven

 

Not every picture tells the story

Just before the weekend there was a @WEF tweet that pointed to a post on the World Economic Forum blog. The article, which is quite interesting (at least for a tech guy like me,) explores how the internet looked like in 1973. In these early days, the entire net consisted of just 45 computers and could be mapped out on the back of a napkin.

But what struck me most when I saw this tweet passing by, was the contradicting information in the twitter message and the image attached to it. The picture shows a Macintosh, a Macintosh Plus, and a Macintosh SE. As I was working with Apple Computer during the second half of the eighties, I know for sure that the latter was only launched in 1987, and so there’s a fourteen year lag between the hardware shown and the 1973 internet of the WEF post…

Whether used in a tweet, an article, or a PowerPoint presentation, such a discrepancy between the text and the image creates a conflicting situation in the reader’s or listener’s brain. This doesn’t mean that one should systematically duplicate the content in the visual and textual or auditory messages he’s delivering. As I wrote in one of my older posts, “What you say and what you show,” an image can help you present your message simple and sweet, and make what you show complementary to what you say.

And, while writing the above, I started thinking of what alternative image I would have used instead of the Macs. Mmmmm, forty-five years ago, the internet was probably not that very visually exciting. Therefore, I was thinking of showing a more compelling picture (or even a piece of video.) And, well, a quick Google search taught me that the UK singles top-50 of 8 December 1973 was topped by Slade with “Merry Xmas Everybody.”

If that isn’t a nostalgic piece of seventies eye – and even ear – candy! And it gives a good message for this time of year too. Happy holiday season, dear readers.

All stories deserve embellishment

“Well, all good stories deserve embellishment. You’ll have a tale or two to tell of your own when you come back.” – Gandalf the Grey (in a conversation with Bilbo Baggins)

 

Merriam-Webster defines to embellish as “to heighten the attractiveness of by adding decorative or fanciful details.” Gandalf was right. Every story – and to an extent, every presentation – will benefit from embellishments.

Here are a few tools you may use:

  • Bring in (one or more of) the typical elements of a story: character, setting, plot, theme, and style. Many (if not all) novelists and movie directors rely upon these to ensure a consistent narrative, allow the action to develop, and let the audience emotionally engage (learn more about them in my post about the “five elements of a story, and how to use them in a business presentation“)
  • Give it a personal touch: when telling a personal story, you share an authentic part of yourself that may inspire, connect, and engage people. You could e.g. start your talk by “On the way to this event, I …” or “Lately, my X year old son/daughter asked me …” Or tell an anecdote about a real-life moment, encounter, or incident.
  • Enrich your story with facts, figures, and trivia: crafting your presentation for creating an emotional connection with the people in the room doesn’t exclude using hard, soft, or fun facts. They help you to make your point and persuade your audience. Just make sure to embed your data into a convincing narrative, and visualize them appropriately and creatively.
  • Use metaphors: as they speak directly to our imagination, metaphors bypass humans’ left-brain hemisphere and will help you explain and explore ideas that lie behind rational thought – or that are too dry, too boring, or too complex for your listeners (more about the functioning of your audience’s brains can be found in my posts “Yin, yang and your brain” and “Use your brain, you’ve got three of them.”)
  • Quote people, books, or movies: quotes may serve as a second voice in your presentation. Use them to strengthen your arguments, to confirm your claims, or (most likely) to infuse your story with a memorable or inspiring statement.
  • Add a touch of humor: humor is subjective, but the principles underlying humor are not. If you use the comic toolbox intelligently, moderately, and appropriately – without hurting anyone’s feelings – you have access to a set of non-threatening tools to make your point, challenge incorrect assumptions, or help people remember your key messages.
  • Provide case studies: document your presentation with real-life examples to make your story more credible and show that you’ve “been there, done that.” Embellishing case studies with a protagonist or antagonist character makes them even pleasant to listen to. The hero could be you, your company, or your product, while the adversary may e.g. be a competitor, a demanding customer, or an unfavorable market condition.
  • Enhance the look and feel of your slides: in one of my older posts, I compared a good presentation with a tasteful dish. Great food is enjoyed through many senses. Taste, smell, and colors do matter. And so do the look and feel of your presentations. Your slideshows will derive great benefit from creative layouts with images, video, and multimedia.

One more thing: exotic fonts, in-slide object animations, and click and whoosh sounds aren’t embellishments. They are annoyances. You’re not Gandalf, you don’t need a magic wand, and as a business presenter you’re not competing for the special effects Oscar.

Also note that the quote on top of this article only appears in in Peter Jackson’s movie; you won’t find it back in J. R. R. Tolkien’s original publication of The Hobbit. The photo above is showing Ian McKellen as Gandalf in the Warner Bros. picture.

When speaking in front of a crowd leaves your hands clammy and your body shaking in your boots

Some time ago, I wrote an article “Public speaking stress, sweat and adrenaline”, in which I gave a number of tips for helping public speakers to deal with stage fright, prepare for a public performance, and survive the first minutes of their speech.

During the past summer holidays, I also created a series of 4 infographics that summarized some of my old posts on this blog. As an infographic is worth a thousand words, I was already planning to craft and publish more creative visualizations like these. And the one dealing with fear of public speaking was certainly on my shortlist. Well, someone has made my life easy, because recently I stumbled upon an article that contains relevant statistics, excellent advice, and a set of really nice infographics that all deal with your fear of public speaking.

Have a look at the article and the embedded images. They’re worth reading and seeing!

Here’s how to get over your fear of public speakingHere’s how to get over your fear of public speakingInfographic by Quill

About white shirt, black shirt, and tee-shirt gigs

“Clothes and manners do not make the man; but when he is made, they greatly improve his appearance.” – Arthur Ashe, American tennis player and winner of 3 Grand Slam titles

I may remember that I used the above quote in an older post, “Dress to impress,” in which I wrote about how your attire can change your image or enforce your message as a public speaker.

Just like people use the metaphor of white vs. blue collars to classify jobs, segment workers, or even describe different social classes, I started thinking of public speaking engagements in terms of white shirts, black shirts, and tee-shirts.

Different audiences require different vestments, and very often a different presentation style.

  • White shirt. I (almost) always wear a white shirt when representing my company in front of a business audience or when speaking to government officials. As I’m a marketing guy, I don’t consider wearing a tie a must. Only when the event is so official or when my audience is really executive or exclusive, I’d take the challenge and the effort of knotting my tie property.
  • Black shirt. A black shirt is certainly less formal and (IMHO) looks trendier on stage than a white one. I reserve my all-black garb for when I’m giving thought-leader-style keynotes or when I’m delivering a corporate innovation pitch. Note that a black turtleneck might be a good alternative for a collared shirt. But keep in mind that this outfit (combined with blue jeans and a pair of grey sneakers) has been worn before by – and was part of the personal brand of – a person called Steve Jobs. A technology and business icon with great charisma and an unprecedented speaking talent. Well, personally, I don’t have the ambition to and won’t take the risk of being compared with the late Apple CEO.
  • Tee-shirt. The people who know me personally will tell you that I don’t have the physics for wearing a tee-shirt in front of a large audience. Or more simply said: my belly is in the way. Still, a plain-colored or printed tee-shirt (mind the images and/or texts that you’re displaying!) can be an ideal outfit when addressing technology innovators, business disrupters, and other lean & mean startups. Wearing a tee makes you look like an “equal among equals” and may facilitate informal conversations with your audience.

Related articles that are worth (re)reading:

Shhh, this is confidential information — or not

This is going to be one of my shorter posts on this blog. Or, maybe I should call it rather a rant than a post. I’m writing this on a Friday night, while still on a business trip abroad. I was inspired for it earlier today, while I was listening to a public keynote presentation at technology conference.

The content of the talk was actually quite interesting. Even so interesting that the speaker had put “CONFIDENTIAL” on each of his 20+ slides. OMG, this guy was showing company confidential content to 250 people, with probably a few tens of competitors in the room! Or was he not? Either the presenter must have been well aware of the importance and secrecy of his content, or he was making a notorious layout blunder. Considering the material on the slides, I can only assume that the latter is true.

How can a professional B2B presenter, who takes himself seriously, do such a thing? Either he didn’t create his own visuals, and just copy’n’pasted existing corporate material, or used a wrong presentation template. Or he neglected reviewing and rehearsing his presentation, and as such overlooked the security classification at the bottom of the slides. Or (probably most unlikely) he was really violating his company’s information security rules by showing classified information to a non-trusted audience.

Putting a “COPYRIGHT” notice on your slides is a good practice, however, because (if you’re lucky) it may protect your intellectual and creative property from unauthorized reuse. But, personally, I would have made a bit of an effort in removing the confidentiality classification from my company’s presentation template. Writing “CONFIDENTIAL” on a public presentation is just useless and it makes the speaker look silly.

Marketing, promises, and real products

How creative can (or may) a company get with making marketing promises?

You may have read this article about how a small Chinese smartphone vendor failed in delivering on its marketing promises. The world’s smallest 4G Android smartphone was announced to have a battery life of three days, and to weigh as little as 60 grams. Unfortunately, some of the promising specs turned out to be no more than marketing talk. In a BBC interview, the company’s CEO admitted that the handset’s performance might “fall short of expectations in certain circumstances” and that “heavy use” could reduce the 950mAh (!) battery’s life to three or four hours instead of days. To be noted that the exec’s definition of heavy use includes keeping Wi-Fi and Bluetooth switched on all the time. Say no more. Who of us still bothers about turning off these functions when not in use? The phone’s declared weight was about right – the only detail that the marketing department forgot to mention is that that’s without the battery…

Of course, as I wrote in one of my older poststhere’s no single truth. When it comes to product specifications and performance numbers, however, the variation and interpretation margins are extremely small. The primary aim of any marketing professional is to make a product look attractive and useful, and persuade potential buyers. But persuasion is never about telling lies, cheating or fooling your customers!

Read the original article and the BBC interview:

Related posts:

An empirical evidence of Fubini’s law

Last week I wrote about the mysterious Mr Fubini, who created a law that describes the adoption of new technology. A faithful reader of my blog, however, remarked that it’s easy to formulate a theorem without any further proof. As a scientist by education (and a blogger only by vocation) I couldn’t ignore such a righteous remark. So, here comes an empirical evidence of Fubini’s law.

Maybe some of you remember my 2013 posting, “inspiration and perspiration”, in which I described the way my blog was getting shape at that time. How the topics to write about usually came while commuting to work on the tramway. And that, when an idea for an article popped up, it took me less than 10 minutes to create an outline on my Blackberry.

Well, in the meantime, technology has evolved and my good old keyboard-operated device has been replaced by a full-fledged smartphone. Yet, I still take the tram to work. My cell phone may have improved, but the traffic to and in Antwerp certainly got worse in the past years. If the weather allows (I’m not a big fan of turning up soaked at the office) I even get off the trolley car 2 or 3 stops too early, and walk the last mile – my fitness tracker corrects me that it’s about 3,000 steps – to work. That’s good for my physical condition, helps me think more clearly, and lets my creative juices flow.

There’s one big difference compared to 2013 (apart from me carrying a step counter): instead of typing down my thoughts, I simply record them now with the voice-recorder app on my phone, and write out the transcript when I arrive at the office…

Fubini’s law. Quod erat demonstrandum!

Please, note that I self-dictated a rough version of the above text on my phone while commuting this morning, then polished the transcript, and published it on WordPress. The whole process, including a healthy walk, took me a little less than two hours.