How to Make Stress Your Friend

January 20, 2017.
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Kelly McGonigal:
How to Make Stress Your Friend
(Among Top 20 Most Watched TED Talks)

Kelly McGonigal, PhD, Stanford psychologist and award-winning lecturer, and author of several books, is a leader in the field of using cutting-edge research from psychology, neuroscience, behavioural economics and medicine, to devise practical strategies for health, happiness and personal success.

Experiencing stress in your daily job and life?  While most of us believe or have been led to believe that stress is universally bad for your health—new research suggests that stress may only be bad for you if you believe so.

“The old understanding of stress as an unhelpful relic of our animal instincts is being replaced by the understanding that stress actually makes us socially smart—it’s what allows us to be fully human”, says Kelly McGonigal.

Her TED talk featured here is among the Top 20 most watched TED talks of all time (since 2006 when TED talks started to become available on video online). Not only is the content highly interesting—it is also delivered in a fun and engaging manner.  So if you sometimes feel stressed out—do take a look at McGonigal’s TED talk!

TEDGlobal 2013 12.7 million views on

Her latest book, The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It, published in May 2016, draws on the latest groundbreaking research on this topic and addresses some of the myths that have persisted about stress. Feel too stressed to take the time to read it ? You may want to think again. The book is a practical guide on how to not only handle stress—but thrive on it.

McGonigal’s acclaimed book The Willpower Instinct (2013), based on her highly popular Stanford course “The Science of Willpower”, explains what exactly ‘willpower’ is, how it works and why it matters. Topics covered in the book include dieting and weight loss, health, addiction, quitting smoking, temptation, procrastination, mindfulness, stress, sleep, cravings, exercise, self-control, self-compassion, and greater productivity at work.

Kelly McGonigal has also written the book Yoga for Pain Relief, and produced The Science of Compassion, an audio learning course.

You can find more information on her Web site:

Trond Varlid

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This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.

How Great Leaders Inspire Action

January 13, 2017.
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Simon Sinek:
How Great Leaders Inspire Action
(Among Top 3 Most Watched TED Talks)

Simon Sinek. Author, speaker, consultant—who writes and consults on leadership and management. Adjunct staff member of RAND Corporation where he advises on military innovation and planning.

Simon Sinek has come up with a simple but powerful model for inspirational leadership—The Golden Circle.  The core question is “Why?” His examples include Apple, Martin Luther King, and the Wright brothers.

TEDxPugetSound 2009   30 million views on

His TED talk featured here is the third most watched TED talk of all time with 30 million views to date. He is also the author of Start with Why and Leaders Eat Last, his most recent book.

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This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.

Mastering Q&A

January 6, 2017.

Mastering Q&A
From World Class Speaking in Action, Chapter 30 by Dell Self

Although the speaking part of making presentations is rightly emphasised, it’s not always realised how important it is to master Q&A to make the right impression.  So, we will take a look at how to get the most out of your Q&A.

There are five key points to consider in order to ensure an effective Q&A:

LOCATION. Avoid putting the Q&A at the wrong point (or ‘location’) in your presentation.  Often Q&A is left to the end, but this is usually a mistake.  If not properly managed, a Q&A can degenerate into a mixture of questions, some relevant, some partly relevant and some irrelevant.

At the same time people are starting to switch off, talking amongst themselves, checking mails, getting ready to leave and so on.  People tend to remember the first thing about your presentation – first impressions matter – and the last thing.

So if your Q&A is at the end, then people tend to remember the Q&A and the message of your presentation gets devalued, or even lost—you don’t want people remembering the ‘wrong thing’.

TIMING. If you put the Q&A session after the main part of your presentation and before your closing speech, that will increase the value of the Q&A.  Your audience’s attention will not start to wander and they will remember your carefully crafted closing speech, which will reinforce your message.

PREPARATION. When preparing your speech think about how you want to handle the Q&A.  If you let people ask questions throughout your presentation, that risks slowing it down and diluting the message.

It is probably better to tell the audience up front that there will be a Q&A later and they should write down any questions that crop up and you will answer them in the Q&A.  This will help your audience focus on relevant questions and also help avoid your presentation being broken up by people cutting in with questions.

PARAMETERS. At the start of the Q&A tell your audience how many questions you will take and for how long – e.g. five questions, for ten minutes – and also inform your audience that you will give your closing wrap-up after the Q&A.  That way, your audience will be motivated both to stick to relevant questions and stay focused, rather than start to pack up and leave.

HANDLING. If the audience are quiet, then be proactive and tell them you will “take questions now”.  When taking questions, don’t focus on only one section of the audience, but look around the whole audience.

Encourage questioners by using positive body language, that shows your interest, like smiling, maintaining eye contact for the duration of the question and thanking them for the question.  Keep your answers relevant and then ask the questioner if they are satisfied with your answer.

A good Q&A can enhance your presentation and leave your audience fired up by your message.

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

This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

December 16, 2016.
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Sebastian Wernicke:
Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

Sebastian Wernicke. Head of the Data Science Department at Solon Strategy, in Germany, which provides consultation to support companies and investors in the media, entertainment, telecoms and technology industries. He was previously at Seven Bridges Genomics, in the U.S. and the U.K.  His educational background is in bioinformation and theoretical computer science, from the universities of Jena and Tubingen, in Germany.

TED Talks have become a standard against which successful speaking can be measured.  With so many TED Talks now available, though, how do they compare with each other ?  Is there some analysis of what differentiates one from another?  The answer is: Yes.  In the TED Talk featured here, Sebastian Wernicke takes a humorous look at what makes for a successful TED Talk.

TED2010 2.1 million views on

Wernicke starts by looking at TED Talk statistics over a 4-year period:

over one week’s worth of videos
over 1.3 million words
over 2 million ratings

Which is a lot of information to analyse, and although Wernicke’s talk was given almost seven years ago, in February 2010, and many more TED Talks have been given and rated since then, the basics are unlikely to have changed.  Wernicke goes on to highlight three key ways in which TED Talks can be rated—by:


TOPIC. Wernicke lists up the 20 best words, used in the most popular talks.  Number one on the list is the word ‘You’.  This word creates a connection with the audience, bringing them into the world of the speaker.  Audiences also connect best with speakers and topics that they can easily associate with and which cover basic issues that affect all of us, like emotions, food, and our own body.  In contrast, topics that are more technical, such as architecture, materials and transportation, tend to be less popular.

DELIVERY. One of TED’s key rules is for speakers to keep within their allotted time, and not over run.  This might lead to the assumption that shorter TED Talks are more frequent and perhaps popular, but Wernicke’s analysis is that the longer the talk, the more popular it is likely to be—unless its theme is beauty, ingenuity or humour, in which case shorter talks are more popular and, as it happens, Wernicke’s own talk is quite short.  Furthermore, talks that appear to be offering something to the audience, like saying ‘I’ll give you …’, tend to be more popular, while talks that are more strident are less popular.

VISUALS. Using slides and props helps make talks more interesting and appealing.  Wernicke also produces a colour chart, picking out the ‘right’ colour for each topic.


Finally, Wernicke wraps up his talk by referring to his creation, the ‘Tedpad’, a handy matrix which you can use to make your own successful TED Talk, and which can be found here:

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This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.

A 50-Cent Microscope That Folds Like Origami

December 9, 2016.
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Manu Prakash:
A 50-cent Microscope that Folds Like Origami

Manu Prakash. Assistant Professor of Bioengineering and founder of the Prakash Lab at Stanford University.  Born in India, he has degrees in engineering and computer science from the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur and applied physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  He has won several honours and awards, and he came up with the Foldscope, which is the theme of this TED Talk.

TED2012 1.6 million views on

Prakash opens his talk with a story, of the invention of the first microscopes—accompanied by a humorous old illustration highlighting what a ‘monster soup’ of life there is at the microscopic level.  In many tropical parts of the world a number of diseases are still prevalent. For example, malaria causes a million deaths a year and more than a billion people need to be tested because they are at risk.

The problem is that microscopes are heavy, bulky, expensive and hard to maintain and are not designed for fieldwork or diagnostics.  Furthermore, in some places that do have microscopes they are not being used effectively, or at all.

So the concept of the Foldscope came about.  It represents what has been referred to as ‘Frugal Science’—that is a way of bringing scientific tools to areas of the world with lower levels of high tech equipment, at affordable prices, and enabling local people to check their own resources, for example drinking water.


Each Foldscope is made from a single sheet of card, that can be put together by being folded like origami—and the origami format allows considerable precision with X and Y axis.  There are no written instructions on the sheets, rather colour-coding enables them to be put together correctly – that way they can be used anywhere in the world, regardless of language.

They have all the functions of a standard microscope and work with standard slides that are used globally.  There are several different kinds of Foldscope, each one designed for a specific type of disease, for example malaria, and Prakash shows how the Foldscope can also function as a projector.


The Foldscopes have an LED light source powered by a small battery and they are very rugged and can survive being stamped on, dropped from a considerable height and being put in water—as Prakash himself shows during this talk, by dropping a Foldscope on the floor and stamping on it and putting another one in water.

This is one of the few occasions when Prakash moves about during his talk, otherwise he stays on one spot, avoiding aimless movement.  However, he continuously makes eye contact with the audience by scanning across the room and thereby imparts his enthusiasm to them.

In 2012 the Foldscope was given a grant of USD 100,000 by the Gates Foundation, and in 2015 India’s Department of Biotechnology (DBT) announced a partnership with the Prakash Lab to distribute the Foldscope to around 80 colleges and programmes endorsed by the DBT.

At a cost of as little as 50 cents, large numbers of Foldscopes can be made available at little cost and are so light-weight and easy to put together that even children can make them and carry them about.

This not only enables children to check the quality of their living environment, like drinking water, but also gives them an opportunity to get familiar with science – perhaps inspiring them to become scientists themselves.

Prakash Lab:

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This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.

Got a Wicked Problem ?

December 2, 2016.
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Tom Wujec:
Got a Wicked Problem?
First, Tell Me How to Make Toast

Tom Wujec. Designer, author, Professor at Singularity University, Toronto. Fellow at Autodesk, a cutting-edge 2D & 3D design software company.

Tom Wujec is a designer and visualization pioneer—using design and technology to understand ideas and help solve business and other problems. He has studied extensively how we share and absorb information, and is a Fellow at Autodesk—a company specializing in design software for engineers, film makers and designers. In the engaging and entertaining TED talk featured here he illustrates the power of visualization to help solve problems.

TED2013    2.3 million views on

Wujec has written several books, including Five-Star Mind: Games and Puzzles to Stimulate Your Creativity and Imagination. His most recent book is Imagine Design Create.


Trond Varlid

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This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.

Why We Do What We Do

November 25, 2016.
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Tony Robbins:
Why We Do What We Do
One of the 10 most watched TED talks of all time

Tony Robbins. Life coach, leadership psychology expert, author. Probably the world’s most famous and influential life coach—a profession in which he was one of the early pioneers —and some even credit him as the creator of coaching as we now know it.

His coaching clients range from CEOs to heads of state to Olympic athletes, and over the years he also created some hugely successful public coaching programs and seminars—the most famous of which is the ‘Unleash the Power Within’, a program for self-empowerment.


He has also written several books, including Awaken the Giant Within—his first book, that brought him early recognition and fame. Later on came Unlimited Power: The Science of Personal Achievement. Most recently he even published a book about money, financial freedom and investment which quickly became a New York Times best seller.

TED2006      18.4 million views on

His TED talk featured here is one of the 10 most watched TED talks of all time—and with Al Gore in the audience. As a presenter, Tony Robbins violates several of the recommended best practices for public speaking, such as excessive walking and movement around the stage. However, it is a good example of the impact that sheer passion and intensity can have in terms of audience attention and engagement.

Trond Varlid

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This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.

The Way We Think About Charity is Dead Wrong

November 11, 2016.
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Dan Pallotta:
The Way We Think About Charity is Dead Wrong

Dan Pallotta. Activist, fundraiser and author.  Founder of AIDS Rides, and president of Advertising for Humanity, which helps foundations and philanthropists grow their most promising grantees.  He has created multi-day charitable events, including Breast Cancer 3-Days walks and Out of the Darkness suicide prevention night walks.  Pallotta is also the founder and President of the Charity Defense Council, the mission of which is to change the way people think about changing the world.  He is also the author of three books: When Your Moment Comes (2000), Uncharitable (2008) and Charity Case (2012).

In the TED talk featured here, Pallotta looks at charities and the issues surrounding charitable giving, particularly in the USA.

Throughout his talk, Pallotta hardly moves from his starting position, avoiding unnecessary movement, other than with his hands, which he moves in an effective way.  He also continuously scans the audience, inviting them to feel part of the occasion.

He starts with a story, involving his children, which has an interesting twist to it, thereby getting the audience interested and attentive right from the start – an opening technique used by many of the best speakers.  Thereafter he goes on to lay out his view of the challenges faced by charities and the moral issues around charitable giving.

TED2013   4 million views on

Pallotta’s main point is that unless charities are judged by some of the same criteria as the ‘For Profit’ sector, the charities will not be able to tackle the many problems they have been set up to deal with as effectively as they could do.

In particular he highlights the widespread belief that charities’ main function is to keep overheads down – overheads being the costs of running the charity. “Too many nonprofits”, he says, “are rewarded for how little they spend — not for what they get done.”

He picks out five areas where he thinks judgements, that charities/NPOs should not spend money, are misplaced: incentivising staff through salaries, advertising costs, taking risks, taking time to build frameworks and creating profits to attract risk capital.

Using the examples of two of his own previous activities, the AIDs Rides and the Breast Cancer 3 Days events—which raised USD582 million—shows how relatively small initial risk capital investments can grow by hundreds or even thousands of times, over a relatively short period: by almost 2,000 times over nine years (1993-2002) in the case of the AIDs Rides and just over 550 times over five years (1998-2002) in the case of the Breast Cancer 3 Days.  In 2002 Pallotta’s company was forced to close, after its main sponsor withdrew.

Pallotta uses another story, about the first Puritans to cross the Atlantic, to speculate on why many people view charities the way they do, at least in the USA—and what he refers to as the confusion between ‘morality’ and ‘frugality’.

At the end of his talk he issues a ‘call to arms’ for a new way to look at social innovation and he brings his talk to a close by showing a video by his children, which links up with his opening story, and thereby neatly bookends his talk.

Whether or not you agree with Dan Pallotta’s opinions, this talk certainly raises issues that are highly relevant in today’s world, where there are so many charities/NPOs and so many social issues that need tackling.

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This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.

Top Ten Reasons to Tell Stories

November 4, 2016.
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Paul Smith: Top 10 Reasons to Tell Stories

Paul Smith. MBA, Wharton Business School. Speaker, author, trainer, business storytelling consultant. Former Accenture consultant and Head of Consumer Research at Procter & Gamble.

Have you ever experienced a boring presentation—with lots of slides and long lists of bullet points?—Did you ever give one? I think we all have. However, this does not need to be the case.

Paul Smith AMACOM Books 2012

A powerful tool to make your presentations and marketing talks more inspiring and memorable is storytelling. If you want to understand storytelling in the wider context of business and why it is so effective, you are recommended to read Lead with a Story, a book by Paul Smith (2012).


Paul Smith lists a number of reasons why you should use stories in your business talks and presentations. Some key ones:

•    Stories inspire. Slides don’t.
•    Stories engage your audience.
•    Stories appeal to all kinds of learners.
•    Stories make your audience remember.

In the book we learn that facts are 20 times more likely to be remembered if they are part of a story – quoting New York University psychologist Jerome Bruner.

To illustrate its key points, the book is packed with 100 real stories from the business world – companies like Xerox, General Electric, Procter & Gamble, Bristol-Myers-Squibb, Nokia, Braun, and others.

A central principle of the book is the importance of storytelling for leadership – ‘great leaders tell great stories’.

‘Stories inspire, slides don’t.’ So, next time you give a speech or presentation – ‘Lead with a Story!’

Trond Varlid

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This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.

What Makes a Good Life ?

October 28, 2016.
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Robert Waldinger:
What makes a good life ?  Lessons from the longest study on happiness

Robert Waldinger. Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, and Director of the Harvard Study on Adult Development. He is the author of two books on psychiatry.

This TED talk by Robert Waldinger, delivered and released online in November 2015, has already attracted more than 11 million views on It could well be one of the TED talks to go viral online fastest on a such a scale. Having looked at hundreds of TED talks, including all the top 20 most viewed talks, I am not aware, at least, of any that reached such high viewing numbers so quickly.

This probably reflects a combination of this being a very interesting topic for most people, as well as Waldinger’s dynamic and engaging delivery.

The Harvard Study of Adult Development may be the longest and one of the most comprehensive of its kind in history. For over 75 years the study has been following the lives of 724 men in Boston and their adult development—their work, home lives and health; and the study is still continuing.


It highlights controllable and uncontrollable factors that affect healthy aging and happiness—and the findings include some surprising results, and new findings are continuing to emerge—without pre-empting too much of Waldinger’s talk here.

TEDxBeaconStreet Nov 2015 11.3 million views on

In his talk Waldinger shares three key lessons from the study as well as other insights on how to live a long and fulfilling life.

As mentioned, Waldinger’s presentation delivery is highly engaging and well worth studying in its own right.  Here are a few highlights:

Opening.  Note how he opens with a couple of questions to engage the audience. They are rhetorical, i.e. he does not expect people to raise their hand and answer—but the questions get them thinking on the subject that is going to be covered in his talk.

Posture.  Very centered and solid posture, and his position remains unchanged for much of his talk; little movement without purpose, a common mistake by many speakers. Overall this gives a very strong and confident impression, and adds to his perceived credibility and persuasive power.

Voice.  Although soft spoken, Waldinger keeps his voice at a low pitch, which makes it more resonant and persuasive. And note how he varies his voice throughout the talk—speaking in a natural, almost conversational style—making you feel he is talking directly talking to you, as if in a one-to-one conversation. He also makes great use of pace—speeding up and slowing down at appropriate points of his talk, making the talk more dynamic and interesting to listen to.

Hand Gestures & Eye Contact. As has been highlighted before, the use of hand gestures and continuous ‘scan and stop’ eye contact is essential for a dynamic delivery and close engagement with the audience. Waldinger uses both to great effect.

Pauses. Excellent and effective use of pauses—before and after important statements—for emphasis, to get attention, and to avoid stepping on people’s thoughts and laughter.

Slides. He makes limited, but effective, use of slides—thereby keeping the audience focus on him. For the most part his visuals are photos and simple images to illustrate what he is talking about, which are easy to grasp and provide minimum distraction for the audience.

An earlier article about this study appeared in the Harvard Gazette, which you can read here

Trond Varlid

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This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.