Building a Tower, Building a Team

January 8, 2016.
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Tom Wujec: Building a tower, building a team
The surprising results of the Marshmallow Challenge

Tom Wujec, Designer, author, business visualization pioneer. Professor at Singularity University, Toronto. Fellow at Autodesk, a leading 2D & 3D design software company.

This is a TED presentation on the important topic of team building and team behaviour, and well worth watching for its dynamic and engaging delivery.

TED2010 2.6M views on

If you are not familiar with the Marshmallow Challenge, this is a team exercise originally designed by Peter Skillman, VP of Design at Palm—which produced some rather surprising results and provided interesting insights for team building, project management and creativity.

Using 20 sticks of dry spaghetti, one meter of string, one meter of tape and a marshmallow, teams of 4 people are given 18 minutes to compete to build the tallest standing structure.  This exercise has been repeated with various groups of people numerous times over the years—business students, CEOs, architects and engineers, kindergarten children and others.

So how did the different groups perform? One surprising result was that business school graduates consistently perform poorly, closely followed by CEO groups. Interestingly, when CEOs were joined by their administrative assistants in their groups, they performed much better.

Among the consistently best performers, however, are teams of recent kindergarten ‘graduates’! Not only do they produce the tallest—but also the most interesting structures.

Why is that? According to Tom Wujec, the reason is that business school graduates and executives are taught to seek out the one correct solution to problem. They also tend to spend more time discussing and planning, and sometimes getting caught up in who should lead. Kindergartners on the other hand will just start building, and keep trying and testing multiple iterations until they find a structure that works.

As we might expect, architects and engineer groups built the very tallest structures (thankfully!).

Many companies have now used the Marshmallow Challenge with their teams. Says Tom Wujec: “I believe the marshmallow challenge is among the fastest and most powerful techniques for improving a team’s capacity to generate fresh ideas, build rapport and incorporate prototyping—all of which lie at the heart of effective innovation.”

Some of the insights gained from conducting this experiment with large numbers of people:

You learn by doing; discovering problems you can’t predict in advance.
Work in parallel.
• Being first to market isn’t always the best – learn from others’ mistakes first.
Multiple iterations usually beat commitment to making your first idea work.
Fail fast, fail often.
• All projects have resource constraints; but you don’t get more unless you ask.

Tom Wujec has written several books, the most recent being Imagine Design Create (2011).

160108 T Wujec Imagine Design Create

Trond Varlid

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This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.

Are You Making Any of These Five Common Delivery Mistakes?

December 18, 2015. Are You Making Any of These 5 Common Delivery Mistakes?

Mastering public speaking is a challenge for most people. One way to improve is to first focus on the ‘low-hanging fruit’—common delivery mistakes which can fairly easily be corrected if you are aware of them and focus on not repeating these mistakes.

Here are 5 common presentation delivery mistakes which you may have made yourself and/or watched other presenters making:

1. Preaching or Giving a Monologue
A common problem you see with some speakers is that they preach to their audience.  This will happen if the speaker only focuses on his or her own point of view, giving little or no thought to the situation of the audience—and verbally trying to impose such a view on the audience, just like a preacher would.  Doing so is a sure way to, at best, lose the interest of your audience at an early stage, and at worst, turn them against you.  A similar mistake is giving a monologue—forgetting that good speaking is a dialogue with the audience.

2. Moving without a Purpose
Some speakers move frequently and without a purpose. This will not only distract people—your audience will also not know what movements are important and meaningful. In some cases movements without purpose reflect nervousness on the part of the speaker, but must nevertheless be consciously resisted. Move with a purpose. When there is no reason to move—don’t!

3. Stepping on Thoughts and Laughter
There are times during your presentations or speeches where you will use humor to illustrate a point, engage the audience, and provide a break from more serious content. Hopefully the audience will laugh. When they laugh, do you stop and let them finish? Or do you rush ahead, stepping on their laughter? Let them laugh, let them laugh fully—then move on to your next thought.

Likewise, you should avoid stepping on the thoughts of your audience. If you say something important, make a powerful statement or express something intended to make your audience think—you need to stop and let them digest it. Too many speakers make the mistake of not allowing sufficient time for the audience to think and reflect in these situations.

So let your audience laugh, let them think.

4. Not Being Attuned to Your Audience
A common reason why speakers lose the attention of their audience is that they fail to attune their own energy level to that of the audience.  If you address a low-key, somewhat quiet audience, with a high-energy, high-powered introduction, you are off to a bad start—and may lose them entirely from the outset. However, if the audience is energetic, come out with more energy.  The key is to attune yourself to the audience.

5. Reading Your Slides
Of all the common delivery mistakes, this may take the prize for most often committed offense. Did you ever experience a presentation where the speaker read all the text on the slides, more or less word by word?  Was that boring?!  Did you read the slide text faster than the speaker?  We have probably all committed this mistake ourselves, on more than one occasion…..  The reason why, is that speakers often use slides as much to help themselves as to help their audience.

Adapted from Craig Valentine, World Champion of Public Speaking and Founder of the World Class Speaking Method.

Trond Varlid

This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.

Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders

December 11, 2015.
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Sheryl Sandberg:
Why we have too few women leaders

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO.  Held positions at McKinsey and Google prior to joining Facebook. Former Chief of Staff at the U.S. Treasury. First woman on the Board of Facebook. Walt Disney Corporation Board member. Harvard MBA.

No. 10 on Fortune Magazine’s 2014 List of 50 Most Powerful Women.

Why are there so few women business leaders? According to Forbes magazine only 4.8% of Fortune 500 companies are led by female CEOs—and the percentage of women executives has remained flat at around 14% since 2010.

Sheryl Sandberg’s TED talk attracted much attention across the business world and in the media, and partly prompted some ground breaking studies and other efforts focusing on women in business.

TEDWomen 2010  5.7M views on

One of these was Women in the Workplace, a research report produced by McKinsey and the Lean In organization which surveyed some 30,000 employees across a range of companies and industries.

The most recent update of the report was published in September 2015. The survey found that while 74% of companies reported that they are committed to diversity, less than 50% of their employees believe this is true.

You can find the full report here:

151211 S Sandberg Lean In 2

Source: Women in the Workplace 2015; McKinsey &

In her talk Sheryl Sandberg makes reference to various studies on women in business, and here are some of the key findings she mentions:

Women face greater barriers to advancement and a steeper path to senior leadership.

Women systematically underestimate their own ability.

Men who are successful attribute their success to themselves, while successful women attribute their success to external factors.

Success and likeability are positively correlated for men, negatively correlated for women.

151211 S Sandberg Lean In

Sandberg is the author of Lean In – Women, Work and the Will to Lead (2013)—which remains an Amazon No.1 Best Seller.

Sheryl Sandberg’s TED talk is another example of a speaker not using slides for her talk. Instead, note her extensive use of stories throughout her talk, illustrating key points, as well as humour and voice dynamics.

A talk well worth watching both for the importance of the topic in contemporary business—as well as for its presentation delivery.

Trond Varlid

To access more TED videos:

This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.

Thin Slice Judgements & Nonverbal Communication

December 4, 2015. Thin Slice Judgements & Nonverbal Communication
Long-lasting Impact of First Impressions

The importance of nonverbal behaviour and communication for presenters and people generally in terms of how you are perceived—has become increasingly recognized—not the least due to scientific research evidencing its importance.

One of the leading pioneers of research on nonverbal communication was Nalini Ambady, Stanford psychology professor and a distinguished social psychologist. She also taught at Harvard for many years before joining Stanford in 2011.

The initial landmark study on nonverbal behaviour that laid the foundation for her career-long work in this field was conducted in 1993 and published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 64, No.3). The full study can be downloaded here.

The study recorded college professors delivering a lecture—and then asked people who had never seen the professors previously to assess and rate their teaching effectiveness. They were only shown brief silent video clips (i.e. no sound) of under 30 seconds of the professors lecturing—then asked to rate their teaching effectiveness on a scale from 1 (lowest)  to 9 (highest).

The ratings were subsequently compared to the end-of-semester assessments by the actual students of the professors. Rather unexpectedly, the scores from the independent raters were aligned with the assessments of the students who had spent an entire semester with the respective professors.

In additional studies using shorter silent video clips, down to 10, 6 and even 2 seconds, the results were similar,  and were further backed up by many other studies in subsequent years both by Ambady and other researchers.

Ambady and her colleagues’ research validated the power of first impressions. It showed that people make very quick judgements the first time they meet or see someone—known as ‘thin slice judgements’—which are surprisingly accurate and which can influence people’s long-term impressions of others.

Over the years Ambady and her colleagues did a number of follow-up studies in this field, partly summarized in the book ‘First Impressions’ (2008), published by The Guilford Press.

151204 N Ambady First Impressions

The studies of first impressions have a number of implications, not only for presenters and speakers—but also for other situations, such as who you hire for a job, who you decide to sit next to on the train, and the CEO’s impact and influence on his managers and employees.

Sadly, Professor Ambady passed away prematurely in 2013, at the age of 54, due to leukemia—and after a year-long, but unsuccessful effort to find a matching bone marrow donor.

Trond Varlid

This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.

Presenting Without Slides

November 27, 2015.
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Study the best TED Speakers!

Presenting without Slides:
Pico Iyer – Where is Home?

Pico Iyer is an acclaimed British-born travel writer and novelist of Indian origin, who previously taught writing and literature at Harvard. Born and educated at Oxford, he also spent many years in the U.S and now lives in Japan.

He has travelled extensively across the globe and written numerous articles on travel, literature and other topics for Time, The New York Times, The Financial Times and National Geographic, among other publications. Here is his Web site:

Do you always use slides when you present? These days, when everyone has easy access to computers and slide presentation software, using slides when you present has become the norm rather than the exception.

There are, of course, many occasions—especially for business and science presentations—when using slides is both useful and even necessary, particularly when you have a lot of numerical data or technical information to present.

However, the merits of presenting without slides—in terms of impact and audience engagement—may not be fully appreciated by many presenters. And many speakers become totally reliant on their slides, to the extent that if technical problems prevent slides from being used—they are ‘stuck’.

Even for presentations where slides are useful and necessary, presenting some parts without slides—using the ‘B’ key in PowerPoint or Keynote presentation mode—can be very effective, for impact and to get the full attention of the audience, and also to provide variety in the presentation delivery.

Pico Iyer’s TED talk is a powerful example of, and excellent benchmark for, presenting without slides—showing how engaging this can be. Also, assuming your topic lends itself to it, he makes full use of the delivery ‘tools’ that we all possess: voice dynamics, eye contact and body language—combined with a clear and easy-to-follow structure for his talk.

TEDxGlobal 2013 Edinburgh, Scotland
2.4M views on

Pico Iyer has written 10 books, 8 non-fiction and 2 novels—including:

The Lady and the Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto
Falling Off The Map
The Open Road: The Global Journey of the 14th Dalai Lama

His most recent book is The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere (2014), on TED Books.

151127 P Iyer Art of Stillness

Trond Varlid

To access more TED videos:

This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.

The Ten Laws of Simplicity

November 20, 2015. John Maeda: The 10 Laws of Simplicity
Guidelines for needing less and getting more

A fun and great way to improve your presentations—both in terms of content and delivery—is to seek out, learn and get inspiration from a wide range of people and professions. One such source of potential inspiration and ideas is John Maeda.

John Maeda is a world-renowned Japanese-American designer, computer scientist and author—and currently Design Partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a leading Silicon Valley venture capital firm. He has had a diverse career, past positions including Professor at MIT Media Lab for 12 years and researcher at a Tokyo media think thank.  He is currently a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on New Growth Models.

His best selling book is: The Laws of Simplicity (2006).

151120 J Maeda Laws of Simplicity

‘Complexity is overrated’, says Maeda half jokingly—in his book offering 10 laws to balance simplicity and complexity in business, technology and design—and prescribing how ‘less is more’.

However, his laws of simplicity also provide good ideas for how to improve your presentations.  For now I will leave it up to you to ponder how—and revert to this topic in a later newsletter.

John Maeda: The 10 Laws of Simplicity

Law 1: Reduce
The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction.

Law 2: Organize
Organization makes a system of many appear fewer.

Law 3: Time
Savings in time feels like simplicity.

Law 4: Learn
Knowledge makes everything simpler.

Law 5: Differences
Simplicity and complexity need each other.
151120 J Maeda Laws of Simplicity 2

Law 6: Context
What lies in the periphery of simplicity is definitely not peripheral.

Law 7: Emotion
More emotions are better than less.

Law 8: Trust
In simplicity we trust.

Law 9: Failure
Some things can never be made simple.

Law 10: The One
Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful.

Trond Varlid

This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.

The Art of Innovation

November 13, 2015.
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Study the best TED Speakers!

Guy Kawasaki:
The Art of Innovation

Guy Kawasaki, Silicon Valley marketing executive, author, and former Chief Evangelist of Apple, is on the Board of and advisor to a number of companies, and currently also Chief Evangelist for Canva, an online graphic design tool provider.

One of the most engaging presenters on TED and among presenters generally, Guy Kawasaki was an early member of the Silicon Valley start-up community, and delivering and listening to numerous sales pitches for new ventures, he developed his ‘Top 10’ presentation format.

This uses a maximum of 10 main points and usually the same number of slides as its framework and he uses it for most of his presentations—including the TED presentation featured here. As he says, “the low number of slides forces you to concentrate on the essentials“.

TEDxBerkeley 2014

Guy Kawasaki also has an interesting blog column on his LinkedIn page, which I recommend checking out—and one of the most recent posts is ‘The Minimalist Guide to Pitching’, which you can access here.  It provides advice to anyone who needs to pitch their company or ideas to someone else, his 6 tips are great tips for almost any presentation.

He has written over 10 books, the most popular of which include:

The Macintosh Way (1990)
The Art of the Start (2004)
Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds and Actions (2011)

151113 G Kawasaki Enchantment

His most recent book is The Art of Social Media: Power Tips for Power Users (2015).

Trond Varlid

To access more TEDx videos:

This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.

Five Ways to Quickly Improve as a Presenter

November 6, 2015. Five Ways to Quickly Improve as a Presenter.

Improving presentation skills takes time and practice, but below are five ways to quite quickly improve how you present.

Make your narrative lead your slides.
Are you like most speakers, when you present with slides you will first show a slide—then talk about it?

What happens then?  Inevitably, your audience will immediately start reading and looking at your slide—you lose their attention and they may not catch what you say at that moment.

A better way is to first briefly explain what your next slide will show—then show it.  That way the audience will first listen to your explanation, anticipate what is coming—and more quickly grasp the slide content when it comes up.

And you should briefly pause when they first look at the slide, to give them time to understand it. For this purpose you may want to use the ‘B’ key on your computer keyboard, which will make the screen black while you explain—then press the B key again and click to the next slide that you have just explained.

Of course, some of your slides may be intentionally designed to surprise your audience—in which case this recommendation does not apply.

What is your level as a presenter?

151106 What is your level as a presenter

© 2015 EMC Quest K.K.

Avoid reading your slides.
Do you ever read your slides when presenting?

If so, you are not the only one—as this is probably the most common mistake made by speakers. This is ‘Level 1’ in our informal ranking of presenter skills—see illustration above. Why is this so common?

One reason is that for many speakers their slides are their presentation script.  They put most of what they plan to say into their slides.  And because presenters often do not schedule or take time to practice their presentation in advance—they have not internalized (remembered) their presentation content well enough, and have no choice but to read their slides.  They may also read their slides because they are nervous.

Unfortunately, your audience can read the slides much faster than you can read them aloud—and your presentation quickly becomes boring…. And what is the purpose of having you there as a presenter since people can read by themselves?

One way to avoid reading the slide is to use small hand-size index cards.  On these cards you put the key words for each part of the presentation, to prompt your memory about what you are going to say.

You can then easily face the audience most of the time and avoid relying on the slides as your written script.

Keep an upright and balanced posture.
How do you stand when you speak?

Surprisingly often the speaker’s posture can be a distraction for the audience—a common mistake being leaning on one leg (the ‘broken leg syndrome’). By making sure that you keep an upright and balanced posture when you present you will not only avoid distracting the audience with your posture—you will also project confidence and authority as a speaker.

Yves Morieux, TED Speaker with Great Posture.

Make eye contact with entire audience.
Do you struggle to keep the attention of your audience?

Do they look bored or keep looking at their smartphones? Two of the most effective ways to get people’s attention when presenting are making continuous eye contact with the entire audience—and using voice dynamics (see next point).  For eye contact, use the ‘scan and stop’ technique.

Keep eye contact with one audience member for about 4 seconds at a time, then continue scanning around the audience and make eye contact with another person. By continuously scanning across the room people will feel that you are talking to each of them and you can more easily keep their attention.

In a very large room with a large number of people present, it may not be possible to make direct eye contact with each individual.  However, even in such a setting, by continuously scanning across the audience, from left to right, and front to back—people will still feel that you are paying attention to them, and you will thereby keep their attention.

Use the 4 Ps of Voice Dynamics
Do you speak with a flat, monotone voice when presenting?

The voice is probably the presenter’s most under-utilized ‘tool’.  If you use the ‘4 Ps’ of voice dynamics—Pitch, Pace, Pause & Passion—it can make a huge difference to making you a far more engaging and dynamic speaker to listen to.

Using the 4 Ps of voice dynamics is effectively the same as speaking as you would normally speak when you talk to someone one-to-one about a topic you feel passionately about.

When we stand up in front of a group of people to present, however, our voices tend to go into a flat, monotonous speaking mode—partly because we may feel nervous, partly because we are thinking about what we are going to say next.

Here is how you can use the 4Ps of Voice Dynamics:  Vary your voice pitch and pace; speak slowly at times, then speed up, slow down again—pause from time to time, to give people time to reflect on what you just said, and/or for emphasis.

Ken Robinson, TED Speaker with Excellent Voice Dynamics

[most watched TED video of all time – 35.3 million views]

If you can be more conscious of your voice when you speak, it can make a great difference in commanding the attention and interest of your audience.

And speak with passion! Show that you care about your topic. This does not mean screaming or shouting; but showing your passion and interest through your voice.  If you sound monotonous and boring, why should the audience feel any different?

Trond Varlid

This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.

Personal Efficiency: Desirable and Achievable!

October 30, 2015.
Improve Your Presentations.
Study the best TED Speakers!

Jean-luc Doumont: 
Personal Efficiency: Desirable and Achievable!

We continue our series featuring selected TED speakers—who you can study to improve your own speaking and presentation skills.

This time we feature a very recent talk delivered at TEDxGhent, Belgium, in August 2015, by Jean-luc Doumont, Engineer, Stanford University PhD in Applied Physics, Speaker and Author of ‘Trees, Maps and Theorems, Effective Communication for Rational Minds Principiae’ (2009).

How is your personal efficiency? If you are like most of us, you struggle to find enough time to do all the things you have to do, should do and would like to do.

So much to do, so little time to do it in, as Jean-luc Doumont says in the opening of his TED talk. This dilemma is the focus of his talk and he offers a solution for how to approach and resolve it—and the talk is well worth watching just for his useful advice.

However, his talk is also an excellent example of a well-structured presentation delivered with impact and persuasion—and illustrates some key points to pay attention to if you want to improve as a speaker.

Opening.  Watch how Doumont opens his talk—going straight into it, from the very first sentence—without any of the conventional ‘pleasant unpleasantries’, as World Class Speaking founder Craig Valentine calls it.  The kind of conventional openings you often hear from speakers—such as ‘Good morning, I am very happy to be here and thank you for coming to listen today despite the bad weather’, etc.

That’s the kind of opening which makes people immediately start checking their E-mails or Facebook page on their smartphones, while they wait for the speaker to get into his or her topic.

Posture.  Note Doumont’s balanced and upright posture, not leaning on one leg as many speakers tend to do (the ‘broken leg syndrome’). He also stays in one position much of the time, projecting a very confident and commanding presence to the audience. He moves occasionally, but only on purpose—avoiding another common mistake by speakers: purposeless movement.

Body Language. Despite staying mostly in one position, and making use of slides sparingly—Doumont keeps our interest and attention using a number of effective delivery ‘tools’: voice dynamics, gestures and eye contact. We all have these tools but very often do not use them—or do not use them properly and effectively when speaking in front of a group.

Trond Varlid

To access more TEDx videos:

This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.

Have a Fish Story – Inspire Change!

October 23, 2015. ‘Have a Fish Story – Inspire Change!’

Jim Donald, former CEO of Starbucks, Haggen Foods & Pharmacy, and other companies, says every leader needs a ‘fish story’ to communicate his vision and inspire change.

Jim Donald is not your average executive. He made his reputation from successfully turning around several major, struggling companies—and was also featured in one of our recent newsletters as a great speaker and storyteller.

One of the more memorable moments from his executive career, was as CEO of Haggen Foods & Pharmacy—which he was hired to turn around.  After several months of struggling to make employees understand the need for change, he called a major town hall meeting of 1,800 employees.

He had a surprising and dramatic opening of his speech to the meeting group using a ‘fish story’ (yes, literally!…), making an unforgettable impact on all those present.

Although he took a number of actions to turn around the company, apart from his town hall meeting—his speech to employees at a critical time is a good example of how presenting with impact can play a major role in inspiring people to change.

You can watch Jim Donald tell and demonstrate his fish story in the video clip below, from his presentation at a leadership seminar to the U.S Naval Academy in 2010 (skip to 3’52” where his presentation starts):

Based on his executive turnaround experiences Jim Donald developed his own 6 Steps for Leadership and Success:

1. Have a ‘Fish Story’—leaders must have a compelling story to bring across his message and make change happen.

2. Never be Bigger than Your Frontline Staff—put your employees first and recognize them for what they do.

3. Go Where You’ve Never Been Before—think new, and even do completely different things from the past.

4. Communicate to Everyone—Jim Donald made it a trademark to send out a short message to all employees every day.

5. Encourage Risk Taking with the Freedom to Fail—let people know they are permitted to fail to encourage risk taking and new thinking.

6. Celebrate the Success of Others—do make a point of celebrating the success of others across the organization.

Trond Varlid

This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.