Look above your head

My wife and I just returned from a refreshing and relaxing city trip to Prague, the marvelous Czech capital. After having visited many beautiful cities and gorgeous historic places, I learnt that you should never keep your eyes glued to the sidewalk. Whether you’re visiting the streets of Prague, London, Venice, or Barcelona there’s always a good reason to look above your head: richly ornamented Art Nouveau house fronts, intriguing baroque facade statues, hidden roof gardens, … Even a frugally flowered window sill, with or without a cat staring at you from behind the glass can turn a modest city sight into a memorable and inspiring picture.

Here’s the link to the subject of this blog: don’t restrict a business presentation to ‘sidewalk’ matters like current products and past achievements. A big part of your audience probably expects to learn more about your vision on and your plans for the future. If your (or your company’s) ambition is to be a technology innovator, a business champion, or a thought leader, then you’d better start acting as one.  Give your visitors something to look up (or look forward) to. Provide them with surprising content that lifts their view higher than today’s ceiling.

Note that this doesn’t mean that you can’t look down (or back). Facts and figures from the past, as well as customer case studies may help to prove your point or increase your credibility. As I wrote in an older post, in many companies there’s a role to play for folklorists, evangelists and futurists, and for this one rare bird that can connect the past, the present and the future and deliver the best of all times as a single story.

And if you want to reach even further, beyond the facades, the roofs, and the treetops, then simply follow Stephen Hawking’s advice:

“Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious.”

Want to read more posts about (some of) our other city trips?

What are words worth?

Recently, I ran into the mission statement below. Do you have any idea what firm might have formulated this ambitious vision?  Which company would write (or as will become clear in the next paragraph, rather wrote) such big words?

mission_statement

It may come to you as a complete surprise, but – ironically enough – the mission statement above was owned by… Lehman Brothers. The financial services firm that collapsed in September 2008 and triggered a superior, unprecedented, global financial crisis. Their bold mission statement remains, the rest is history…

Actually, you may try any mission statement generator on the web (such as the one here) and I can assure you that its output may be as good as the text created by Lehman’s communication agency – for which they probably paid thousands of dollars.

Here’s a simple lesson. Stay away from buzz words, hollow phrases and meaningless statements. Tell the people what you really stand for. What you do. The value you deliver. Let your customers speak for you. Talk your walk. Walk your talk. And walk your walk.

More reading:

Back to the future

“For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see;
Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be.”
–from ‘Locksley Hall’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1842.

Can we really predict the future? Unfortunately not. There is no crystal ball. Neither to look into the near nor the far distant future. This weekend we had local elections in Belgium, and guess what…? As usual, most of the polls –even the ones conducted a few days before election day– weren’t very accurate.

Still, for a sales or marketing person it may be a good thing to talk about the future and give your audience a perspective of the “things to come”. Personally, I believe that providing an 18-24 month vision statement is one of the best methods for selling the products and services that you have available today.

When preparing a more visionary talk or keynote, there’s also a bunch of good material to start from. Over the past centuries, famous futurologists like Jules Verne or George Orwell have tried to predict the future in all its glory or its misery.

One of my favorite sources is Villemard, a French artist that created a series of postcards to depict his visions of the year 2000… in the year 1910. Even though many predictions are a bit farfetched, some of them have really nailed today’s technology reality – transportation, urbanization, aviation, education, communications, multimedia, etc.

Recently I gave a presentation about Alcatel-Lucent’s ng Connect program, a global initiative that brings together device, application, network and content companies to orchestrate and expedite the availability of the next generation of innovative services. I mixed some of Villemard’s visual material with a few strong quotes about predicting the future, and video-taped demonstrations of applications that were developed in the context of the program (view the presentation on SlideShare).

And guess what? (At least I think that) people left the room with a strong persuasion that the future is here today, and that my company provided a strong contribution to it. Presenter’s mission accomplished!