Change in Perspective is the Gateway to Understanding

April 14, 2017.
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Roger Antonsen:
How a Change in Your Perspective is the Gateway to Understanding

Roger Antonsen. Logician, mathematician, lecturer and public speaker.  Rated as one of Norway’s best lecturers and science communicators.

This TEDx talk by Roger Antonsen is one of the most fascinating and engaging TED talks that I have come across in recent times.  Antonsen is a brilliant communicator and in this talk he demonstrates in a unique and compelling way how changing your perspective is the key to understanding and often results in unexpected insights.

In his talk he also makes excellent use of visuals with some fabulous illustrations to bring across key points of his message.

TEDxOslo 2015

Antonsen teaches Logical Methods as an Associate Professor at the University of Oslo, and has also published an award winning book on the same topic (2014). He writes and lectures extensively on topics related to mathematics, informatics and logical methods and is a much sought-after speaker.

Here is his own website where you can find many of his articles and videos of some of his talks:

Trond Varlid

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This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.

Speaking to a Diverse Audience

April 7, 2017.

Guidelines for Speaking to a Diverse Audience
From World Class Speaking in Action, Chapter 40 by Danish Qasim

Most, if not all, large companies, as well as many middle-sized companies, have staff in several different countries, with different cultural and linguistic backgrounds.  When people come together for regional and global meetings, these differences need to be taken into account by presenters in order to get their message across and avoid misunderstandings.

The author provides eight guidelines for speaking to a diverse audience:

Choose Your Words Thoughtfully:
Speak intelligently and intelligibly, “Never use a long word where a short one will do” said George Orwell.  Research shows that readers lose attention when they encounter an unfamiliar word—but at least they can refer to a dictionary.

Since speech is moving, however, if your listeners hear an unfamiliar word they might lose the thread of your talk whilst thinking about the word—then they’re off course and you might have lost them.

When talking to non-native speakers, for example if you’re speaking in English to an audience for whom English is their second (or third) language, avoid idioms and colloquialisms and, if possible, try to find out beforehand the level of the audience’s English—the same applies to any language.

Be Universal in Examples:
When you make allusions (indirect or passing references) ensure they are mainstream—use familiar points of reference.  Avoid stereotypes and try to be as universal as possible, but also with examples tailored to your particular audience, as appropriate.

At the same time, as a speaker you should be transparent about the cultural assumptions you are making—make it clear to the audience where you are from.

Learn to Empathise:
Empathy with you audience is vital, so make sure to find out what you can about your audience beforehand—do research, for example by interviewing potential members.  Without understanding the audience well, a speech could end up being too distant from those you are speaking to, or too theoretical, or even irrelevant.

When you show appreciation, you will be appreciated:
As Craig Valentine says, “You never want to break from tradition”.  So whomever you are talking too, why not open your speech with a greeting in the language of your audience—this will generate a positive response right from the start.  So too will using other words and expressions in the local language during your speech.

Learn the Norms:
If you are giving a speech in another country, you would not be expected to know all the local customs, and audiences will usually be accommodating in this respect.  Nevertheless, you should do research beforehand, for example, to find out if there are certain hand gestures that are insulting or obscene in the local culture—if you use them it will create a bad atmosphere and distract the audience from what you are saying, even if they understand that your mistake was unintentional.

Don’t be Ethnocentric:
Respect your audience, especially if you are speaking in a religious setting, and welcome new experiences.

Master the Art of Code Switching:
Code switching means changing your speaking style to fit your audience.  Know when to switch for rhetorical effect. For example, if you are using dialogue, that might be a time to use colloquial terms—to give authenticity, since everyone knows dialogue isn’t spoken in standard language and it also gives a conversational feel to your speech, bringing in the audience.  Successful code switching is getting the balance right between being too formal and too informal.

Know Your Audience’s Value System:
In order to effectively convey the message of your talk you need to understand your audience’s value system and what they think is important.  For example, using first names is acceptable in some countries, but not in others where it could be taken as a mark of disrespect.

Some audiences respond very actively and interact with the speaker, almost like they are having a conversation—other audiences don’t.  Humans are essentially the same the world over and good speakers learn to use both universal and specific elements to get their message across effectively.

World Class Speaking in Action, Craig Valentine & Mitch Meyerson, Morgan James Publishing, 2014.

This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.

Opening a School to Close a Prison

March 31, 2017.
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Nadia Lopez:
Opening a School to Close a Prison

Nadia Lopez is a school principal in Brownsville, New York City, where in 2010 she founded a middle school—for children in 6th to 8th grade—the Mott Hall Bridge Academy. Brownsville is one of the most violent and poorest neighbourhoods in all of New York, according to Lopez, where many of the residents live below the poverty line.

Against all the odds, and after much struggle and effort, she and her team of teachers have managed to create a successful school in Brownsville with a 98% graduation rate. Not only has the school provided more than 200 children, so far, with basic knowledge and skills, but also made them aware of what opportunities are out there if they have an education—and given them hope and a vision to aspire to for the future.

This is an outstanding TED talk which received a standing ovation—not surprising given its gripping content and powerful delivery. It is a great example of the power of posture in getting the attention of the audience and putting your message across—among other delivery techniques that she is using.

TED New York November 2015

With the help of the Humans of New York blog, last year the school raised money to take all 200 students—or ‘scholars’ as Lopez likes to call them—to Harvard to show them what possibilities there are if they are ambitious, diligent and study well.

Nadia Lopez was a 2016 Global Teacher Prize finalist and won the Change Agent Award in 2015 for her achievements in Brownsville.

Lopez has also published a book which tells the story of the Mott Hall Bridge Academy—The Bridge to Brilliance. She is a great example of inspiring leadership in the face of the most difficult of circumstances.

Trond Varlid

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This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.

The Puzzle of Motivation

March 24, 2017.
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Dan Pink:
The Puzzle of Motivation
(Among Top 10 Most Watched TED Talks)

Dan Pink is the best selling author of five books, which have sold over two million copies worldwide and been translated into 35 languages.  Before that, in 1991, he got a Juris Doctor degree from Yale Law School and from 1995-97 was chief speech writer for then U.S. Vice President, Al Gore.

In 2007 he was a Japan Society Media Fellow in Tokyo studying Japan’s comic book industry. Pink’s fourth book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, was published in 2009, the same year as this featured TED Talk, which is on the same theme.

TEDGlobal  2009      17.2M views on

Pink opens his talk with a humorous story about going to Yale Law School but never actually practicing law, and this leads neatly into his main theme of using his legal skills to make a ‘case’ about rethinking how businesses motivate people.  This opening is very effective not only in grabbing the attention of the audience, but also in getting them on his side and in a positive frame of mind towards what he has to say.

The theme of Pink’s talk is that the methods used by most companies to motivate their staff are out of date and of limited effectiveness in getting results.  Pink starts by referring to the Candle Problem experiment, created in the 1930s by German psychologist Karl Duncker, where people are given a candle, book of matches and box of thumb-tacks and asked to attach the candle to the wall.

The solution is not what most people initially expect, it takes some lateral thinking to work out.  This experiment was used by Duncker to illustrate what he called Functional Fixedness, where the people in the test have to adjust their perception of the functions of the objects they are given—Pink gives the solution in his talk.  Many companies suffer from this same Functional Fixedness when it comes to what are effective motivators these days.

Pink follows this up by referring to experiments carried out over the last 40 years by several highly respected scientists, economists and psychologists showing that often money incentives are not an effective way to motivate people.

For tasks that are mechanical, financial rewards can work because they narrow people’s focus on the repetitive mechanical task in hand, but when a task calls for more complex thinking, the larger the financial reward the poorer the performance.  Yet businesses continue to use financial incentives because that is how things have been done for many years—there is a mismatch between what science knows and what businesses keep on doing.

Pink proposes a new approach to motivation, based on three key intrinsic factors:

Autonomy. people have an urge to direct their own lives – some companies, like Google and Atlassian in Australia, let their employees use some of their company time to work on whatever projects they like, which has resulted in the creation of new products for the companies.

Mastery. people have a desire to get better at something that matters to them.

Purpose. people have a yearning to do something for the benefit of something larger than themselves.

Are these ideas utopian?  Not if the many scientific experiments Pink mentions are right, and he gives a further example of how new, intrinsic incentives can work.  In the 1990s Microsoft developed an encyclopedia, Encarta, and its development was supported through traditional extrinsic incentives.  In 2001 Wikipedia started up, based on the intrinsic incentives that Pink has highlighted, where people contribute for free because they like doing it, or because they have an interest in a particular topic and want to share their interest with others.  Microsoft discontinued Encarta in 2009, whilst Wikipedia is still growing.

Pink ends with a call to action: in order to thrive in the 21st century, businesses need to repair this incentive mismatch and get beyond the traditional carrot and stick motivation, by encouraging intrinsic self-driven creativity and giving people a purpose in doing things.

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This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.

The Habits of Highly Boring People

March 17, 2017.
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Chris Sauve:
The Habits of Highly Boring People

At the time of this TED talk, in May 2013, Chris Sauve was a business student at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada, majoring in accounting, with computer science.  He graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce degree in 2014 and has since been working for Shopify, a major Canadian e-commerce company.

The theme of this talk is the interesting proposition that being ‘boring’ can actually be a catalyst for living a more focused and ultimately creative life.

TEDxCarletonU March 2013

Sauve opens his talk with a quote from the French novelist, Gustave Flaubert: “Be boring and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work”.  At first sight this appears to be a contradiction, as Sauve himself acknowledges—pointing out that ‘boring’, by definition, means unoriginal.

However, the quote is more about doing things in a way that might seem boring, but is actually structured—in order to free up our energy to focus on what we enjoy.  Having structure in our life can be an enabler of creativity, not an inhibitor, and Sauve identifies three ‘boring’ traits that can help us:

1. Write Everything Down
Most of us have so many activities on the go at any one time, that it is difficult to keep track of them all. Sauve refers to research done by the cognitive psychologist George A. Miller (of Princeton University) showing that, on average, people can only remember between 5 and 9 things at one time, or 7+/-2, the ‘Magical Number’ (the title of a paper by Miller in 1956).

Sauve points to the example of Microsoft’s main website where they list only 6 of their products, even though they have many more, because they understand that long lists can be easily forgotten.

However, failure to remember and keep track of all the things we are doing can lead to missed meetings, missed project deadlines, and so on, which can have negative consequences – unless we write down what we are doing, and reduce the stress and mental effort.

2. Reduce to The Essentials
These days we have an almost unlimited range of choices about how to live our lives: what to wear, what to eat, where to visit, etc.  The range of choices is so wide however, that, as Sauve points out, we often find ourselves facing the ‘Paradox of Choice’ – the title of a book (2004) by the psychologist Barry Schwartz, which looks at the anxiety and stress caused by so much choice.

Faced with so many choices, many people become afraid of making a choice for fear of missing out on other choices, and so risk ending up making no choice, but sticking with what they are used to.

The effort required to sift so many choices diverts our mental energy away when we need it for the big decisions. Sauve mentions the example of Steve Jobs, who often wore the same kind of clothes again and again in his public appearances, which might appear boring, but it cut out the stress of choosing what to wear each time and freed up his mental energy for creative thinking.

Sauve produces a small grid and recommends that reducing to the essentials can be done by cutting out things we don’t need and don’t like, and also by automating those things we do need but don’t necessarily like—thereby freeing up our mental energy to do what we do like doing.

3. Stop and Question
Sauve sees this as the most important of the three traits—pointing out that if we only follow the first two traits mentioned above, the vast flow of information and data that is being created around us each day will swamp us—and he gives a couple of interesting statistics about the volume of this data flow.

So, we have to stop and question the world around us, and not be satisfied with just our first question, because that will often have been asked before—but go on to ask more questions and re-evaluate what is important and valuable to us and what value we can add back.

Sauve concludes with a call to action: Be boring.  Do amazing things.

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This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.

Be an Opportunity Maker

March 10, 2017.
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Kare Anderson:
Be an Opportunity Maker

Kare Anderson is an Emmy award-winning reporter, formerly of NBC and the Wall Street Journal, and now a columnist for Forbes and Huffington Post.  She writes on behavioural research-based ways to become more deeply connected and her clients include Salesforce and Novartis.  She also sits on several advisory boards.

Anderson is also the author of a number of books on the theme of working with others, including, most recently, From Me to We: Succeed and Savor Life with Others, published on Kindle in 2012, and a two part series on Mutuality, Mutuality Matters: How You Can Create More Opportunity, Adventure and Friendship with Others (Part 1) and Mutuality Matters More: Living a Happy, Meaningful and Satisfying Life with Others (Part 2), both published on Kindle in 2014.

In the TED Talk featured here, Kare Anderson talks about the need to connect with other people in order to create the opportunity for us to use the best of the talents we all have to offer.

TEDxIBM San Fransisco 2014 2.1M views on

Anderson starts her talk with a story about her own struggles with shyness and stuttering, a personal touch which gets the audience’s attention and is a technique which many of the best speakers use to open their talks. Interestingly, Anderson remains seated throughout her talk, only standing up during the applause at the end.  No mention is made of why Anderson sits during her talk, and it is unusual to see an entire talk given sitting down, but it doesn’t affect the delivery, and the theme and the stories in the talk sustain the momentum.

There are no slides or props, which is not so usual either.  The overall effect of the speaker sitting down without slides or props, is to give the feeling less of a talk, and more of a chat between friends.  This fits in neatly with the theme of Anderson’s talk, which is to listen to others and create ‘mutuality’, that is, to make the opportunity for people to work together to get the best out of each other – everyone is ‘the best’ at something.

Anderson tells stories about introducing people from different backgrounds to each other and the unexpected opportunities that resulted from these connections – such as public art in Los Angeles.  She believes it is important for people to seek out other people, and situations, that are different from those they are familiar with – although many people don’t do this.  She also refers directly to the audience, which presumably has lots of IBM employees since it’s a TED@IBM talk, and points out that as key players in technology they have experienced the benefits of working together to create opportunities and advances in technology.

The talk ends with Anderson listing what she thinks are the three traits of opportunity makers: they keep honing what they are best at, they look for opportunities outside what they are familiar with, and they create connections and build trust around shared interests.

Finally, Anderson gives her call to action: to work together to make the most of people’s talents.

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This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.

The Future of Lying

March 3, 2017.
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Jeff Hancock: 
The Future of Lying

Jeff Hancock, originally from Canada, has a PhD in Psychology and is now a Professor in the Department of Communication at Stanford University.  Prior to joining Stanford in 2015, he was Professor of Information Science and Communication at Cornell.

He is known for his research on how people use deception when communicating by email, mobile phones and online platforms—and how we form impressions of others online.  And this was the focus of his TED talk featured here.

TEDxWinnipeg  2012    1.2M views on

Recently, at Stanford, Hancock and his team have been focusing particularly on psychological and interpersonal processes in social media—using computational linguistics and experiment to analyze how the words we use may convey social attitudes and dynamics.

His research has been published in over 80 professional journals, as well as in popular media such as the New York Times, BBC, CBS, and CNN.

Trond Varlid

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This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.

Transitions – The Most Neglected Part of a Speech

February 24, 2017.

Transitions – the Most Neglected Part of a Speech
From World Class Speaking in Action, Chapter 6 by Kathryn MacKenzie

Starting your presentations with a bang and ending them memorably is important, but you’ve still got to keep your audience with you in the space between start and finish—and that means making sure they follow your speech through all its transitions, from one theme to another.

When making a presentation, even if it has only one basic theme running through it, there will be moments when the subject or focus changes—and those are moments when you might lose your audience’s attention, if the transition isn’t done effectively.

Transitions are opportunities to fill your audience with anticipation and curiosity about what will come next, to keep them on the edge of their seats.  The transitions need to be clear enough to be identifiable, so the audience is alerted to what’s coming next, but not too abrupt, otherwise you might not take the audience with you.

Effective transitions should incorporate three factors:

Remind your audience where they have already been—by calling up a past event or message you’ve already covered in your presentation up to that point.

Show the audience where they are going next—by following up your reminder with a teaser about the next step.

Tell your audience why it’s important for them to stay with you through to the next section, by emphasising the benefits to them.

When making the transition, you can use various techniques, such as telling a story to illustrate the benefits of what is to follow, or using the opportunity to introduce a humorous vignette.  You can also physically highlight the transition by changing your location on the stage at the same time—unless you are standing at a fixed podium, in which case you could briefly pause, by drinking from a glass of water, for example.

There are two techniques that can be used to help in transitions:

The ‘Verbal Knife’, where the speaker discusses negative issues that the audience would rather avoid, like frustration, stress, loss, not achieving goals, and so on.

The ‘Silver Spoon’, where the speaker tells the audience the positive things the audience want to hear or attain—it’s enticing the audience by using the Build on Benefits (BOB) formula.

These two techniques work best in combination.  Use the verbal knife first, then the silver spoon.  That way your audience, having heard the negative consequences of not listening to your message, will be positively motivated to listen to your message and the benefits that will bring them.

World Class Speaking in Action, Craig Valentine & Mitch Meyerson, Morgan James Publishing, 2014.

This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.

The Difference that Makes the Difference

February 17, 2017.
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Kjell Enhager:
The Difference that Makes the Difference

Kjell Enhager is one of Sweden’s leading sports and executive coaches, and renowned internationally. His specialities include mental training, leadership development and motivation in sports and business.  He has coached top golf players such as Nick Faldo and Annika Sörenstam—and other leading athletes within golf, tennis, skiing, ice hockey and horse riding.

In the corporate world Enhager has coached executives at large global companies—and has even coached actors and symphony orchestras. His corporate clients include Walt Disney Corporation, McKinsey, McDonalds, Spotify, H&M, Alfa Laval, Atlas Copco, Carlsberg, Ericsson, SAS, Sandvik, Tetra Pak, Volvo Penta, and many others.  He is Co-Founder of Coach2Coach, one of Scandinavia’s leading professional development and coaching firms.

Early in his career Enhager was a professional golfer before going into coaching, around which time he wrote his first book—Quantum Golf: The Path to Golf Mastery.  More recently, in 2015 he published the book Tänk Låsningar och Lösningar (‘Think Blocks and Solutions’) (‘blocks’ as in ‘mental blocks’). Having worked with many different people in different environments and professions, Enhager has gained valuable insights about how we can influence, change and improve our own behaviour and lives—and perhaps even our own luck.

Enhager believes it is important to have what he calls a good perspective on life, contribute to society and share knowledge and experience with others. To that end he has engaged himself in various social causes—among others as an ambassador for the Swedish Brain Foundation, which raises money for research and spreads information about the brain, brain diseases, injuries and disabilities.   He also works with other non-profit organisations, including BRIS, which helps children and young adults.

Enhager is not only in strong demand as a coach—but a much sought-after speaker as well.  His TED talk featured here is highly recommended, not just because of its interesting content—but also for his excellent delivery.

TEDxSSE Stockholm April 2016

Among other points, note his posture, movement on stage, use of hand movements, eye contact, humour, and (rhetorical) questions to engage and keep the attention of his audience.

It is also worth studying his highly effective use of flip charts—which is a welcome break from many speakers’ over reliance on slides for their visual aids. Flip charts are also a great tool to engage the audience, as Enhager demonstrates—by writing on the flip charts while he speaks, throughout his talk.

‘The Difference that Makes the Difference’ talk centers on how to break your negative thinking patterns—and focus on your strengths and what enriches you rather than on what you are doing wrong.

You can learn more about Enhager and his coaching approach on his Web site (which is also available in English):

Trond Varlid

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This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.

My Stroke of Insight

February 10, 2017.
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Jill Bolte Taylor:
My Stroke of Insight
(Among Top 20 Most Watched TED Talks)

Taylor is a neuro-anatomist, specialising in the effects of schizophrenia and mental illness on the human brain—an interest that developed due to her brother having been diagnosed with schizophrenia.  A graduate of Indiana State University, Taylor went on to do post-doctoral studies at Harvard Medical School and teach at Harvard School of Dental Medicine.  Taylor was on the Board of Directors of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) 1994-1997 and is still involved with this organisation and she is also a National Spokesperson for the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center (Harvard Brain Bank).

This is one of the 20 most watched TED Talks of all time, and it’s easy to see why.  Taylor tells a very personal and highly inspiring story that has a wider message and leaves the audience uplifted.  During her TED presentation Taylor stays more or less in one spot, marked out by a mat.  At the beginning her style is more scientific, but towards the end of her presentation, Taylor becomes more emotional. She relives her struggle to recover in the years after her stroke—as well as  expressing the impact of her stroke on her perception of the world, and how making more use of the right side of the brain can bring people inner peace and help towards creating a more peaceful world.

TED2008  19.9 million views on

It was while she was at Harvard that Taylor herself had a stroke, in December 1996.  Using a real brain, on stage—a prop that immediately grabs the audience’s attention—Taylor explains how the brain is divided into two parts, the right and the left hemispheres, which communicate with each other, but are also distinct from each other.

The right side is concerned with what is going on in the present, it thinks in pictures and learns about the world through kinesthetic senses (sight, hearing, and so on)—Taylor compares it to a Parallel Processor in computing—and it connects people with each other.

The left side is more linear, it processes data and, by combining that with its knowledge of the past, projects the possibilities open to it in the future – Taylor compares it to a Serial Processor in computing – it works through language rather than pictures, and is more focused on itself.

When Taylor awoke with her stroke in December 1996 she was not at first aware that she had had a stroke, in the left side of her brain. However, as the minutes went by it began to dawn on her and she then thought what a rare opportunity it was for a brain specialist to be able to monitor a stroke ‘from the inside’, as it were, and she monitored it for four hours before slipping into unconsciousness in the ambulance.

During her stroke, Taylor found that with the left side of her brain impaired she had no memory and no feelings of stress, but felt peaceful and a part of the world around her more intensely than she had ever done before.  Later that same month Taylor had an operation to remove a blood clot the size of a golf ball from her brain. It subsequently took her eight years to fully recover the faculties that she had lost.

In 2008 she published a book about her stroke and the effects it had on her life: My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey, which became a New York Times best seller and has been translated into 30 languages.  In the same year TIME named her one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World.

An inspirational story.

Jill Bolte Taylor’s Website:

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This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.