Stories, not technology

Forget the technology, good stories are about people and the emotions they feel.
In this beautiful new commercial, Apple imagines what the inner workings of an iPhone might look like were they handled by an old-school film archivist rather than an algorithm.

Read more on storytelling in commercials.

Data storytelling represents an exciting, new field of expertise where art and science truly converge. It is a structured approach for communicating data insights, and it involves a combination of three key elements: data, visuals, and narrative.

Those who know how to combine the right visuals and narrative with the right data create stories that can influence and drive change.

You can read the original Forbes article here.

More inspiration on business storytelling.

Whether we like it or not, the PowerPoint slide has become the expected channel of business communication. Projected, printed and emailed, millions of slides are created every day to illustrate and discuss all aspects of business, including strategy.

We don’t really know how effective this slide-centric approach is, but study after study has shown that employees at all of levels of the organisation have trouble recalling the company strategy (1, 2). This includes also the middle managers who are supposed to cascade down and execute (3). Unsurprisingly, even the most brilliant strategies appear to fail at implementation (4).

Can we improve the impact of our strategy presentations? A recent publication studied the effectivity of different ways to present strategy on slide in a realistic and controlled business setting. Rather than relying on anecdotical evidence, the researchers applied rigorous statistical analysis to interpret the results. You’ll love what they found.

The experiment
Three groups of mid-senior managers were exposed to a business strategy presentation, the only variable being the type of slides. The researchers focused on three common approaches to present strategy on sides, namely bullet-point lists, roadmaps and visual metaphors.

Bullet points are often the visualisation of choice in corporate strategy presentations. They are easy to make and allow for information to be organised in smaller chunks. Probably the biggest limitation of bullet points is that they are not suitable to convey even the most simple connection within the information, beyond a hierarchical one. Additionally, it’s very tempting to decrease the font size to fit large amounts of text.

Strategy roadmaps, also called temporal diagrams, are another business presentation favourite. In its simplest form, think of a number of milestones placed on a timeline. A temporal diagram has the advantage of simplifying the information and delivering it in chronological order. This instantly reveals causal and temporal relationships, which would otherwise require a lengthy end easily forgotten explanation.

Visual metaphors are an even more sophisticated way of conveying complex information. By associating an unfamiliar idea with one that is commonplace, we can spark better understanding of complex ideas. The image of a brick wall can represent a very difficult challenge the organisation has to overcome. A rowing team on a boat the need for internal alignment and cooperation. The most effective metaphors are those that instantly ring true with your audience, without sounding cliche.

The results
The analysis of the data collected revealed that bullet points are by far the worst visualisation in terms of attention of the audience, information retention and agreement with the strategy. Participants exposed to bullet points reported losing focus during the presentation, failed to recall parts of the strategy, and found the strategy less consistent and aligned.

Importantly, the different visuals affected how the presenter was perceived by the audience. The presenter armed with bullet points was rated less prepared, less committed, and less credible than the presenters who used either the road map or a visual metaphor. This indicates that perception of the visuals is a very good and strong predictor of the perception of the presenter.

These results confirm what we probably all know deep inside, but somehow forget to implement the moment we open PowerPoint: time to ditch the bullets for good.

Kaplan, R and Norton, D (2005). The Office of strategy management. Harvard Business Review, 83(10), 72-80.

Collis, JD and Rukstad, MG (2008). Can You Say What Your Strategy Is? Harvard Business Review, 82(9), 83-90. 5.

Schaap, JI (2006). Toward Strategy Implementation Success: An Empirical Study of the Role of Senior-Level Leaders in the Nevada Gaming Industry. UNLV Gaming Research & Review Journal, 10(2).

Kaplan, R and Norton, D (2008). The Execution Premium: Linking Strategy to Operations for Competitive Advantage. Harvard Business Press.






Storytelling is not all fireworks, meaningful anecdotes and pulling on heartstrings. It’s concrete and analytical, and it’s the simplest way to connect with your customers.

Read on Forbes these six great tips by Propoint.
My favourite? Number 2. Ask why it matters.

“My name is Jurgen Schmidt and I am 91 years old. I am a master swimmer.”

This is the start of one of 17 short, inspiring stories of aquatic lovers that are showcased on Fueled By Water, Speedo’s amazing new website. If you love all things aquatic and are in for a good story, you are going to love this.

Stories – Not Branding

Fuelled By Water is not a commercial stunt about Speedo, but an ode to water and a tribute to people’s deep love for the liquid world. On the site you will find a varied collection of people, ranging from a swimmer in his nineties who is still breaking world records, to a body surfer gliding down walls of water, to a group of friends who challenge the open ocean every day. Their stories are universal tales of friendship and hardship, of long hours spent together training or watching the shore preparing to make a critical rescue.

Arresting visuals

What makes these stories unique is the breathtakingly beautiful shots that accompany them. Everything on the site is driven by videos of the liquid world, even the navigation menu. Hardly any text, just water everywhere. My favourite part? The “Share Your Story” section, a curated collection of micro-stories around the theme ‘love for water’, shared by fans on Twitter and Instagram using the #fueledbywater hashtag.

“There is another world, where we can break world records in our nineties. We’ll meet you there.”

Disclaimer: I am a swimmer, water-polo player, deep-diver, professional SCUBA diver and water addict. How could I possibly not love this?

Scientific findings remain mostly confined to the realm of specialistic publications, without spreading to the general public. That is unless the data are used to create compelling stories that find their way to our hearts and spread virally.

Domestic abuse
Take this recently published study from Lancaster University. The authors demonstrated for the first time that the risk of domestic abuse rose by 38 percent in the UK when the English national team lost.

One to watch and share
Tender, a British charity that strives to raise awareness of domestic abuse, created a short and very touching video based on this finding. I don’t know how many of you have read the original paper, but several hundred thousands of us have been moved by this incredible video:


Color can dramatically affect our feelings and emotions, and consequently influence how our story and brand are perceived. This beautiful infographic developed by The Logo Company looks at the color chosen by different companies to understand how they are used to reinforce the brand message.  

Yellows stands for optimism (Ikea), orange is friendly (Fanta), red excites (Coca cola), pink/violet speaks of creativity (T-mobile), blue can be trusted (American express), green is about peacefulness and health (Starbucks). Gray & white is the most neutral combination: it stands for balance, inspires calm and is used by the likes of Mercedes Benz and Apple. On the other side of the spectrum, using several colors, like Google and eBay do, conveys excitement and suggests diversity.

For the Apple fans among us: in the early 2000s Apple started removing the rainbow-colored stripes from the bitten apple that had been its signature since the 1970s. Apple’s current logo is part of a greater initiative that transformed Apple’s public image from scrappy populist company to world-class technologist.

Read more on ads and visual stories.


Become a star presenter: lessons from 5 great film directors

Part 3. Darren Aronofsky: "The biggest crime is to bore an audience.“

From time to time we all experience it: the illusion we have a license to bore. That is when we feel that this time, just this time, we are allowed to be uninteresting, unexceptional, unremarkable.

"I am going to talk about financial results, for God’s sake.”
“Scientists expect data, not entertainment.”
“That’s just an internal meeting, all close colleagues you know.”
“That’s what my boss/client/company expects of me.”
“I didn’t have the time to prepare.”

All presentations have only one purpose and that is to move us, your audience, so that we will remember you and do something with what you just told us. You never ‘have to give a presentation’, you are given an opportunity to connect with us. So be interesting, be exceptional, be remarkable and change our world, no matter how small this change may be.

Read more on film directors.

Photo credit Geirix © 2013 


Become a star presenter: lessons from 5 great film directors

Part 2. Akira Kurosawa: “If it is not interesting, it simply isn’t interesting.”

Preparing to pitch a Venture Capital? An interview for your dream job? Or simply trying to select the best pics for the holiday photo album? Removing all unnecessary elements may well be the most important step to creating a memorable story. Read what legendary filmmaker Akira Kurosawa has to say about it. 

“No matter how much work the director, the assistant director, the cameraman or the lightning technicians put into a film, the audience never knows. What is necessary is to show them something that is complete and has no excess. When you are shooting, of course, you film only what you believe is necessary. But very often you realize only after having shot it that you didn’t need it after all. You don’t need what you don’t need.

Yet human nature wants to place value on things in direct proportion to the amount of labor that went into making them. In film editing, this natural inclination is the most dangerous of all attitudes.

The most important requirement for editing is objectivity. No matter how much difficulty you had in obtaining a particular shot, the audience will never know. If it is not interesting, it simply isn’t interesting. You may have been full of enthusiasm during the filming of a particular shot, but if that enthusiasm doesn’t show on the screen, you must be objective enough to cut it.”

Read more on great film directors. 

Quotes taken from Kurosawa, Akira. Something Like an Autobiography. Translated by Audie E. Bock, 1983.

Be authentic, not just polished. 

The power of images lies in their ability to tell stories and evoke emotions. We want emotions because without them there cannot be an action or change in behavior. Therefore, the kind of image we choose for our story is critical to the success of our presentation. 

When it comes to visuals, authenticity is one of the most important aspects to take into consideration. Gone are the days of classic corporate imagery, the smiling businessman in jacket and tie, the perfect-looking model, the rosy baby. It is not just about how polished an image is, it needs to feel real, credible, authentic, something our audiences can relate to.

A clear example of this is the recent trend towards more realistic women in advertising. Brands are increasingly moving away from polished idealizations of the feminine in favor of more authentic images of real women. 

Getty Images’ Pam Grossman has some very interesting and beautiful insights to share on authenticity.

Read more on images.