The shapes of stories

Already in 2015, I wrote a blog post about the five elements of a story. Almost all novelists and movie directors rely upon character, setting, plot, theme, and style to ensure a consistent story, allow the action to develop and let the audience emotionally engage.

A few days ago, a tweet by Dutch mathematician and science communication professor Ionica Smeets brought a video under my attention with a lecture about the shape of stories.

The presentation is given by the American writer Kurt Vonnegut (1922-1977), probably best known for his controversial – the book was banned in various US libraries and schools – anti-war novel Slaughterhouse-Five. A graduate student in anthropology at the University of Chicago from 1945 to 1947, Vonnegut’s master thesis about “The Fluctuations Between Good and Evil in Simple Tasks” was rejected because it was so simple and looked like too much fun (as he wrote in his autobiography “Palm Sunday”).

In this brilliantly funny talk, the writer draws a graph on which any story can be plotted. The vertical axis represents the good and ill fortune the characters experience, while the horizontal axis represents the timeline from the beginning to the end of a story.

Have a look at the video and enjoy the lecture…

For those interested (or provoked, surprised or intrigued), there’s also a recording or a longer version of the lecture on YouTube.


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.

Every Rolex tells a story

While on my evening stroll during a recent business trip in London, I came across a small specialty shop in Burlington Arcade. Located in the posh part of town, about 200 meters away from the iconic Ritz hotel (note to my financial controller: I was staying in a somewhat cheaper place a few blocks away,) the boutique is called “the Vintage Watch Company.” As you can see on the photo I took, the shop window is decorated with an impressive collection of antique Rolex watches.

I must admit that the closest encounter I had with the Rolex label to date came via unsolicited emails, and through colorful street hawkers in a Far East country trying to sell me a genuine “Lolex”. But what I saw lying behind the glass certainly triggered another experience. This window display was all about emotion and brand love!

Even by just reading the texts below the many watches on display, I learned that there are rare Rolex species with an all red date, a thunderbird bezel, or a semi bubble back (whatever these may mean). And that I probably didn’t have enough cash on me to take one these vintage bling-bling chronometers home with me.

Fascinated by the subject, I went doing more online research from my hotel room. So I found on the shop’s website (with not very common, but probably very lucrative language options English, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, and Russian) that the Vintage Watch Company owns a collection of over 1000 vintage timepieces (with some of them eve, dating back to the 1910s), has a team of 6 full-time Rolex trained watchmakers, and delivers workshops to support the collection. Wow!

Rolex is often referred to as the Rolls-Royce of watches. I don’t consider myself a connoisseur of either brands, but looking at the sales prices listed on the Vintage Watch Company’s web pages, Rolex must have a special place in the hearts (and the wallets) of many watch lovers. The  appreciations from fans around the world, like the ones I found on, don’t lie:  “Rolex it is not only about telling the time, it is a label of luxury you carry on your wrist,” or “this brand is my dream and inspiration,” or “I wouldn’t trade it for any other kind of watch.

Some of their advertising campaigns were iconic too. Already in the early 1900s Rolex ran newspaper advertisements claiming that the wristwatches were for both men and women. In the 1920s they published a photograph of Mercedes Gleitze, the first British woman to swim across the Channel, to promote their first waterproof watch. But my favorite ad is the one with Sir Edmund Hillary and Reinhold Messner, the first men to summit Mount Everest – respectively with and without oxygen, but both of them with a Rolex on their wrist.

And what timekeeper do you think that James Bond was wearing in movies like Dr. No, From Russia With Love, and Goldfinger? – until Omega started supplying 007’s watches in 1995 (the first one worn by Pierce Brosnan in GoldenEye.) No surprise that there’s an Omega Vintage Boutique in the shopping arcade too, almost next door to the Rolex one.

So, here’s the lesson I took from my close encounter with Rolex in London. Every business has a unique value proposition and a compelling story to tell. So, find your niche, create your brand, tell your story, and seduce your (in this case, wealthy) customers!

Some complementary reading about Rolex and brand love:

Five elements of a story (and how to use them in a business presentation)

Storytelling is the interactive art of using words and actions to reveal the elements and images of a story while encouraging the listener’s imagination. — Definition by the National Storytelling Network

Most novelists and movie directors rely upon 5 key elements to ensure a consistent story, allow the action to develop and let the audience emotionally engage: character, setting, plot, theme, and style.


And, though “telling a story” is often associated with delivering fictive content, the same components can be explored by business presenters too.

  1. 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 opposites. Note that a protagonist does not necessarily represents the “good guy”, though it’s always the one with whom the reader can identify himself or herself.
    Depending on the topic of your business presentation, the protagonist may be you, your company or even your product, while the antagonist may e.g. be a competitor, a demanding customer or even an unfavorable market condition.
  2. The setting is the “where? and when?” of a story. It is the time and place during which a  story takes place. This can be in the past, the present or the future, and in an imaginary or a real-life location.
    Introducing a setting with which your business partners or customers are familiar, e.g. a specific technology configuration or a market segment, can help them to better visualize the story and feel connected to the plot. As such, customer testimonials and case studies may be good means for setting the scene for your presentation.
  3. The plot defines the structure of a book, movie or talk. The sequence of events and (inter)actions that make up your storyline. Many good plots are centered around a conflict or a problem (the “what?”), the ways in which the characters attempt to resolve the problem (the “how?”), the actual implementation of the solution (a.k.a. the climax), and what happens with them when the conflict is no longer existing (“they all lived happily ever after”.)
    As mentioned above, characters do not necessarily have to be human. So, explaining how your products or services have been applied to solve a specific customer problem may prove an excellent plot for a business presentation.
  4. The theme is the main idea, the central message,  the answer to the “why?” question(s). It’s what the writer, the director, or the presenter wants his audience to learn from the story.
    It’s the umbrella statement of the message house you’ve prepared, that will translate into the conclusion and/or the call for action at the end of your discourse.
  5. And finally, there’s a style element in each presentation you deliver. “How?” do you want to get your message through? How will you tap your audience’s imagination? What will be the tone of your words? What mood or atmosphere do you want to create with them? Is the evidence you provide factual or anecdotal?

A few related articles (though most posts on this blog touch upon this topic):

I have also created an infographic that summarizes this post. You may download the file by clicking on the image below (or hitting the download tab on top of this page).

Elements of a story infographic L1

What if?

Following yesterday’s horrific events in Paris, I dedicate this blog post to all cartoonists in the world.


How does one present a high-technical product portfolio to a non-technical audience?

The company I work for, Alcatel-Lucent,  recently organized an open day and I was asked to present my employer, our activities and our products. These were a few of the challenges I was confronted with:

  • We are an IP networking, cloud and ultrabroadband access specialist. Most of the solutions we develop and sell are complex and high-tech in nature;
  • We deliver communications technology to service providers, industries and public institutions. As such, our products (and consequently our brand) are not really visible to end-users and consumers;
  • The presentation was to be given to a broad, local audience of all ages. Most of these people are not familiar with any network gear, related jargon and acronyms;
  • With a guided tour of the venue scheduled each 10 minutes, the time budget to present our rather extensive portfolio was very limited;
  • I had given a similar talk during a past edition of the same event. As part of the audience might have attended that one, I had to craft a brand new pitch.

As reported in an old blog post of mine, “Highway 61 revisited”, this previous presentation was built upon the theme of a jamless (information) highway. At that time, I got lots of positive feedback from the management as well as from the audience: “an original and compelling corporate narrative”, “my parents understood your presentation” and “my kids thought you told a cool story.”

So, how could I be successful (again) with without retelling the same story or reusing the same highway metaphor?

What if?” is a bestselling science book by former NASA employee Randall Munroe (who is also the creator of the popular xkcd web-comic) in which serious answers are given to absurd hypothetical questions such as: “What if you tried to hit a baseball that was moving at 90% of the speed of light?, “What if I took a swim in a nuclear fuel pool?” or “What if a Richter magnitude earthquake were to hit New York City?”

There’s also a popular Emmy-awarded comedy show broadcasted on Belgian television, in which every sketch begins with a “what if?” question. What if Jesus was a politician? What if taxi drivers didn’t like driving? What if life was an R&B clip? …

This is why I proposed to build a company pitch around the theme of “What if there was no communication technology?” and illustrate the possible consequences of this unlikely assumption with a series of cartoons (created by the cartoonist about whom I already wrote in my “Mr. Watson, come here!” post).

Here are the visuals we presented (with a transcript of what was said ― sorry for the promotional tone, but it was a company presentation after all…)

What if you wouldn’t have fast internet access at work or in your home? No digital TV to watch your favorite movies? No wireless network to make calls and surf on your smartphone? No access anymore to email, FaceBook, YouTube, NetFlix, Dropbox, Skype or WhatsApp?


As a worldwide leader in communication technology, Alcatel-Lucent provides products and innovations in IP and cloud networking, as well as ultra-broadband fixed and wireless access to service providers and their customers, that allow and enable all these applications ― and many more ― to function properly. Our people contribute to the telecom solutions for today and tomorrow.

Did you know that our company has been recognized by Thomson Reuters as a “Top 100 Global Innovator” and MIT Technology Review put us in the “Top 50 Most Innovative Companies in the World”?


We can’t imagine a world without broadband internet any more. To search for information, to communicate, to shop … or just to watch a movie on digital TV, Netflix or YouTube.

Alcatel-Lucent enables service providers to offer fast internet and to bring digital video at the highest quality in your living rooms. You can browse the web or watch movies on every screen: TV, tablet or smartphone.

Did you know that ADSL (or fast Internet over telephone wire) was invented by Alcatel-Lucent in Belgium? And that we, as a technology company, received an Emmy Award for our contribution to the development of digital TV?


Internet is everywhere. So we think it’s only normal that we can call anywhere mobile and can surf at high speed in the park, in the station, in the car …

Alcatel- Lucent’s 4G wireless networks and Small Cells offer ultra-broadband access to the mobile internet whenever and wherever you want. To find your way around town, to watch YouTube on the bus, or simply to communicate with your family and friends.


Most of you probably own a Facebook or a Twitter account. Or maybe you are an occasional or frequent Skype, YouTube or WhatsApp user. Did you ever wonder how it’s possible that all these apps (most of the time) run smoothly on your PC, smartphone or tablet?

Obviously there is an important role for the Apples, Samsungs, Microsofts and Googles of this world to play, as well as for their respective application developers. But it’s too often forgotten that the network also plays an important role.

Without Alcatel-Lucent ‘s communication technology, your smartphone suddenly wouldn’t be that smart anymore and all these popular apps would sit idle on your devices, not able to talk with their servers or with each other.


Increasingly often you hear colleagues and friends say that they are “in the cloud”. Do they mean that they are living with their heads in the clouds? Certainly not! Cloud simply means that your emails, music, movies, business documents or applications are stored on a server that’s attached to the network. As such, they are always accessible. You can throw away your hard disk drives and servers, because a fast Internet connection is all you need!

At Alcatel-Lucent, we know that cloud computing is an opportunity for service providers and enterprises, and that a secure and high-speed access is important for end-users. That’s why we are investing in research and development of new technologies and products ― such as Software Defined Networks, Network Function Virtualization and CloudBand ― for faster, more robust and more flexible cloud solutions.


So, the Internet has become an integral part of our daily lives. What would you do without? At school, at work and in your spare time. Imagine a day without the world wide web, no email, no Facebook, no YouTube, NetFlix, Skype, Snapchat or WhatsApp …

Did you know that 90% of the information that we use today was collected in the past 2 years? And that the traffic in that period increased by one-third?  With a PC in our living room, a tablet on your lap and/or a cell phone in your pocket, we are all travelers on the information highway.

To make your trip as comfortable as possible, Alcatel-Lucent keeps investing in the evolution  of broadband and IP networks. In transporting data over fiber, in routing and switching, in wireline and wireless internet, and in cloud platforms to offer voice, video and multimedia communications services. At high speed and with the best quality of service.

All our employees are giving the best of ourselves to invent new products, and to develop and commercialize communications solutions to make your internet faster, safer and more comfortable. Day after day.

Days after I created the presentation, I found out that Nissan is also running a “What if” advertising campaign.

Note: the cartoons above were created for and paid by my employer. If you want to reuse some of them for non-commercial purposes, you must acknowledge Alcatel-Lucent as the source and copyright owner of the image(s) ― which I am also doing by writing this sentence.

Plan and deliver ― your pitch

“Great stories succeed because they are able to capture the imagination of large or important audiences.” ― Seth Godin

In my previous post, I introduced the 3 P’s: Pitch, Preparation and Presentation. Over the next three weeks, I will go into further detail on each one of them and give tips, tricks and tools to ease your life as a professional (or non-professional) presenter.


The first P stands for Pitch. Some readers may know pitching as what advertising agencies do to promote their ideas to a potential customer. And that’s indeed what it’s all about: defining your value proposition, translating it into a few clear messages, and deciding on how you’re going to communicate them to your customers (or any other audience.)

  • Finding the right pitch often boils down to pinpointing a sticky story to tell. With the right mix of ethos, pathos and logos you can appeal to the hearts and the minds of those listening to you.
  • In my blog post of January 10, 2013 I talked about the 7 C’s of a good story: compelling, credible, concrete, clear, consistent, customized and conversational. If you remember these seven adjectives, you’re already one step closer to a great pitch.
  • When defining your value proposition, never forget that value is in the perception
    of the beholder. Adapt your pitch to address the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) concern(s) of your audience. And give them something in return for listening to you.
  • As mentioned in the previous bullet, it’s extremely important that you have a good understanding of who will be in the room. Doing some upfront research and power mapping will help you to tailor your pitch and (later) customize your presentation to their specific knowledge, needs and expectations.
  • Building a message house is a great and simple means for defining, simplifying and structuring your messages, and to make sure your audience will remember them.
  • You could also consider creating a mind map and/or drawing a storyboard. These tools will help you to sort out your thoughts and put your ideas in a sequence that easily translates into a presentation.
  • A good way to validate your pitch is putting it to the elevator test. Can you ‘sell’ your message(s) in 30 seconds? Can you summarize your story on the back of a napkin? Can it be understood by your mother in law?

Once your pitch is completed, you’re all set to start preparing your presentation. Don’t forget that HOW you tell things may be as important as (or sometimes even more important than) WHAT you actually tell. So stay tuned for next week’s post, in which I am going to write about the P of Preparation.

More reading about pitching, messaging and story building:

Your story is your brand (and vice versa)

The relationship between brands and customers often draws upon love and respect. A mix of ethospathos and logos. Isn’t that exactly what storytelling is about? As such, storytelling is probably one of the most powerful tools for brands and companies to communicate their core values, win more customers, and differentiate from competition.

Below are a few examples of how companies have used stories to take their customers on a journey, connect with them emotionally, or position their products and services beyond functionality and price.

Let me start with a quite recent one. When Amazon introduced their first smartphone last June, the invitation for the launch event they sent out was accompanied by CEO Jeff Bezos’ favorite children’s book “Mr. Pine’s Purple House.” As the book tells a story of being special, standing out from the rest and inspiring others, it was a perfect teaser for the Fire Phone – which, after launch, turned out not to be a big success.

My favorite brand story, however, is without any doubt the video that Apple created for launching the Macintosh in 1984. In exactly one minute, the company managed to articulate its mission, introduce its new product, and tell an unforgettable story – that contained all thinkable elements of good storytelling: suspense, emotion, metaphors, antagonist and protagonist, …

Another famous Apple branding example is the “Think Different” blitz, about which Steve Jobs said afterwards that “it took maybe 60 seconds to re-establish Apple’s counter-culture image that it had lost during the 90s.”

Similar ‒ but more controversial ‒ to Apple’s Think Different advertising is Johnnie Walker’s “Walk with Giants” campaign that shows videos featuring running legends Haile Gebrselassie and Paul Tergat.

In an older post on this blog, I have written about a series of Hollywood-style movie trailers we created in Alcatel (today, Alcatel-Lucent) to pitch our portfolio of broadband solutions. “The Convergence Factor” was probably the most impactful, but certainly the most fun business presentation I created and delivered in my whole career.

Two other of my favorite brand stories come from FMCG giant Unilever. Ask any woman what Dove stands for, and she will tell you about the “Real Beauty” campaign, showing non-stereotype women, in different ages, shapes and colors, with real curves, wrinkles and spots.


A memorable video published in the Real Beauty campaign reports on an experiment in which a forensics artist draws sketches of different women. A first one based on each woman’s personal description of herself, and a second one based on the description given by a stranger. Experience the movie and understand what makes it so powerful….

The “Lifebuoy” campaign, also by Unilever, hits the storytelling spot too. It addresses the necessity to change the hand washing behavior of one billion people in developing countries – and as such help reduce respiratory infections and diarrhea, the world’s two biggest causes of child mortality.

As can be learned from the Unilever examples, sustainability stories are often good recipes for success. A growing number of eco-, local– and fairtrade-labeled products succeed in seducing consumers with the promise of contributing to a greener, healthier and fairer world. Read also my post about “the good life”, which tells about a farm in Denmark that manages to sell eggs at three times the market price thanks to a “happy chickens must lay delicious eggs” message.

Another example of a sustainability message comes from my own employer’s “Campus in the Cloud” project that aims to bridge the knowledge gap for those who have no or little access to education by leveraging our in-house skills, talent and communications technology. Alcatel-Lucent employees share their knowledge by creating short (10-15 min) educational videos, which are made available to children and young adults.

Here’s one more. “Nike Better World” tells us how sports contribute to developing the next generation of youth with skills such as teamwork, determination, self-confidence, creativity, resilience, and physical and emotional health.

But not only big multinationals are good in story marketing. Belgian communication agency Mosquito introduces itself on LinkedIn with: “We believe that, whoever claims that his behavior cannot be changed by a small thing, has never slept in a room with a single Mosquito…”. You’ll never have to guess again about where the company’s name came from – or what it stands for.

More reading on stories and brands:

Watching the night watch

Some followers of this blog may remember the “Da Vinci code” post I wrote more than a year ago about a trip to Paris, the Louvre museum and the Mona Lisa. This past weekend we went visiting Amsterdam, the Rijksmuseum, and the Night Watch.

For the unhappy few who are not familiar with the world’s art heritage: the Night Watch (or de Nachtwacht in Dutch) is a group portrait of a local shooting company, painted by Rembrandt in 1642.


Our youngest son, who had been on a school excursion to the Dutch capital a few months ago, complained afterwards that the time they could spend at the Rijksmuseum was “barely enough for a meet and greet with Rembrandt’s famous painting”. So, he absolutely wanted to get back to the museum and spend more quality time with the works of Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn and his Golden Age fellows. A good reason to return to the city of Amsterdam, isn’t it?

It may come as a surprise to you, but Rembrandt’s world renowned painting is competing for the spot of the number one tourist attraction in Amsterdam with… a modest terraced house. The Anne Frank House is frequented by more than one million people each year. When we got there (following our visit to the Rijksmuseum), the waiting queue at the front door had already grown to over 100 meters long.

Now, ask me what makes all these visitors come to visit the Anne Frank House and wait in line for more than one hour, and I will tell you that it’s her story. A story that appeals to people’s emotion. A true story told by a 15-year-old girl. A story about war, suffering and human courage. A story that is still relevant today, 70 years after the end of World War II. And – although the young girl’s history did not have a happy ending – possibly also a story of hope for millions of refugees all over the world. Each of them may be looking for a 21st century Achterhuis (aka Secret Annexe) where they can find a safe shelter from all sorts of persecution, terrorist aggression, separatist unrest, missile attacks, air strikes and ground offensives…

Related stories on this blog:

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.)


  • 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:

Take a parachute and jump

A few weeks ago, I made my first parachute (tandem) jump ever. From an altitude of over 3000 meter, half a minute free fall at 200 km/h. And it felt… WOW! Almost as exciting as speaking publicly in front of a large audience.


So, it’s really me on the picture above. And here are eight lessons I took from this breathtaking experience…

  1. Always make sure your parachute is properly folded before the plane takes off.
  2. Timing is key: when to jump and when to open the parachute.
  3. Motivation is also important. I can assure you that it takes some guts to step out the door of a plane into open space.
  4. Keep in mind that the laws of gravity are equal for each one of us, and g will never be greater than 9.81 m/s– regardless of your size, shape or mass.
  5. Don’t forget to take a deep breath just before you dive and let the adrenaline flow.
  6. The free fall starts a bit scary but once you get through the first seconds it feels really great.
  7. Once the canopy has unfolded, there’s not much left to worry about (except for point 8) – and you have ample time for savoring the scenery below.
  8. Start preparing in time for a soft landing.

Now, re-read the above list and think of the skydive as your next public speech, and of the parachute as the story of your presentation. You would never consider jumping without one, would you?