R.I.P. Hans Rosling (1948 – 2017)

I was saddened to learn of the death of Hans Rosling early this morning. Rosling was a Swedish doctor, statistician, public speaker and Professor of International Health at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. He was also one of the best known presenters at TED.


Rosling had a passion and a gift for making complicated data interesting and understandable for his audiences. He used that passion and his keen intelligence to help millions understand global public health issues better. As Rosling said, “Having the data is not enough; I have to show it in ways people both enjoy and understand.” He succeeded.

Throughout his career, Rosling gave hundreds of talks, including an impressive 10 TED Talks. His first TED Talk, in 2006, is still my favourite.

TED rightly praised Rosling for his ability to make complex statistics understandable for everyone:

In Hans Rosling’s hands, data sings. Global trends in health and economics come to vivid life. And the big picture of global development—with some surprisingly good news—snaps into sharp focus.

I had the good fortune to meet, and speak with, Rosling in 2013 when he visited the World Health Organization in Geneva. I wrote a three-part series of posts on his visit which you can read here: Part 1Part 2Part 3.

And here are a few obituaries from The GuardianThe Telegraph and Quartz.

Photo courtesy of TED.com
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Lessons in Simplicity from Apple’s Former Ad Agency Creative Director

Recently I have been catching up on some reading material that sits in a stack on a side desk. (The stack grows and shrinks, but I suspect that the stack will always be there.)

appleOne of the articles that caught my attention was from the July/August 2016 issue of the British Airways inflight magazine Business Life. It was written by Ken Segall and is entitled “Keep it simple”. Segall served as Apple’s ad agency creative director for more than 12 years.

The article contains a number of insights about the power of simplicity, something about which I have written extensively in this blog; for example, here and here and here and here. Although Segall focuses on product design, marketing and running a company, the principles apply with equal force to presentations.

Below are my key takeaways from the article. Segall’s words are in bold and quotes. My thoughts follow each. 

“[T]he one thing that struck me throughout my association with Steve was his unwavering love of simplicity. Many stories have been written about how and why Apple succeeded … We can all agree that it was a combination of many factors, including vision, innovation, design and marketing. My observation was that Steve’s love of simplicity was the foundation for all of these.”

If you are going to become good at simplicity, you have to appreciate it. You have to love it. You have to commit to it.

“Yes, you can see [simplicity] in Apple’s hardware and software, but you can also see it in its advertising, packaging, stores, even in the way the company organises internally.”

Having a mindset that is geared toward simplicity involves thinking about every aspect of your presentation. It is much more than just designing slides. The thing is, when you embrace simplicity, it will yield benefits as you plan, design and deliver your presentation.

“Simplicity was the lens through which Steve Jobs observed everything. If an idea or design didn’t register quickly or clearly enough, he would send the team back to the drawing board to get it right.”

Rigorously review your presentation to ensure that is as simple as possible. If it is confusing to you, it will be confusing to your audience. And even if it is clear to you, it still might be confusing to your audience. So challenge yourself; get feedback from others to see if they understand your message. Never forget that we all suffer from the curse of knowledge.

“In the pursuit of simplicity, compromise was never tolerated. … [A]lthough every businessperson acknowledges the power of simplicity, few make it a core focus of their company. Way too many are quick to compromise, opening the door for complexity to creep in. Complexity is what frustrates employees and confuses customers.”

As the great jazz musician, Charles Mingus said, “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple—that’s creativity.” Most presentations that I see are complicated and could be made much simpler. If you choose the path of simplicity, you will stand out and you will be appreciated.

“Now, I wouldn’t be a very good proponent of simplicity if I couldn’t condense my advice into a single word. So here it is: Minimise. Business leaders who succeed through simplicity are very good at taking many things and turning them into fewer things. … Indeed, Steve Jobs explained that Apple’s success was born of its ability to ‘remove the extraneous’.”

As French author and aviator, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said, “Perfection is not when there is no more to add, but no more to take away.” The old advice that “less is more” is true. Reduce the number of points that you will cover as much as possible. Reduce the number of slides as much as possible. Reduce the amount of information on each slide as much as possible.

“You can minimise the messages you send out in marketing. You can minimise the choices you offer in products and serviceschoices that often freeze customers into inaction instead of inspiring them to buy.”

People can only remember so much in a presentation. If you hit them with too much information, the result will be counterproductive.

“I talked to more than 40 business leaders around the world, in a variety of industries, about how their companies leverage the power of simplicity. Each has a unique point of view, but there were also a number of common threads. One of those was the ability to see their company through customers’ eyes. In other words, the customer experience is all-important.”

Every speech, every presentation is about the audience. You have to think about your audience as you create your presentation. Why should they care about your message? Will they be able to understand your message? Are you going to make their time with you worthwhile?

“Simplicity is one of the most important factors in [the customer] experience. … I doubt that there is a single human being alive who doesn’t prefer a simpler experience. It’s in our DNA. So we gravitate toward the company that delivers it, and we develop an emotional attachment to those who deliver it repeatedly. In other words, simplicity plants the seeds of loyalty – which is at the core of every business’s growth.”

Often, we believe that the audience will think we are stupid if we do not provide exhaustive details about every possible aspect of our topic. But the opposite is true. People appreciate simple, clear presentations. If the topic is complex, they are most likely going to have to do additional work after your presentation anyway. You can always provide a detailed handout or direct them to other material. In the presentation, just focus on the essentials.

“How convenient it would be if there was a sure-fire formula for bringing simplicity into your business. But no such luck. Every business is different, and most leaders agree: being simple is not simple.”

Simplicity is hard work. That’s why it is so valuable.

“[Y]our company needs to commit to simplification, and the workforce needs to feel that commitment.”

Commit to simplicity in your presentations. Of course, as Albert Einstein said, “Make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler.”

“When a company has a culture of simplicity, new employees learn by example ‘the way we work here’, and they in turn train those who follow. It’s a virtuous circle of simplicity.”

By incorporating simplicity into your presentations, not only do you have the opportunity to get your message across, you can also inspire those in the audience to incorporate simplicity into their presentations.

“Simplicity streamlines an operation, making a company faster. It focuses a company on doing the highest quality work. And, by cutting out unnecessary processes and committees, it reduces costs.”

Simplicity will help you prepare and deliver a quality presentation. Your audience will understand your message faster and remember it longer. That will result in saved time and time is money.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that simplicity is the most powerful force in business – and also the most efficient.”

Ken Segall is the author of Think Simple: How Smart Leaders Defeat Complexity. I have not read the book and so cannot comment on it. If you are interested, you can learn more here.

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Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 249) – Teddy Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt (1858 - 1919) 26th President of the United States

Theodore Roosevelt (1858 – 1919) 26th President of the United States

“To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.”

— Theodore Roosevelt

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Analysis of Donald Trump’s Inaugural Address

On 20 January 2017, Donald John Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. He takes office at the end of the most acrimonious campaigns in recent history, and with Americans deeply divided, as witnessed by the protests that erupted across the country (and the world) the next day.


An inaugural address is an opportunity to bring the country together, to heal the wounds that were opened during the election campaign. For Donald Trump, it was a missed opportunity.

Trump’s address was dark and aggressive. He talked about healing and coming together, but his tone and the content of his speech were more confrontational than conciliatory. Given the bitterness of the campaign, this did not come as a complete surprise. Yet, Trump’s speech stands in stark contrast to the inaugural addresses delivered by his predecessors.

When Abraham Lincoln gave his second inaugural address in 1865, just months before the end of the American Civil War, he said:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

For too much of his speech it sounded like Trump was speaking with malice toward many and charity toward too few.

During his inaugural address, delivered while World War II raged, Franklin Roosevelt said:

We have learned that we cannot live alone, at peace; that our own well-being is dependent on the well-being of other nations far away.  We have learned that we must live as men, not as ostriches, nor as dogs in the manger.

By contrast, Trump spoke of America first, strengthening borders and protectionism.

In 1977, Jimmy Carter said:

Let our recent mistakes bring a resurgent commitment to the basic principles of our Nation, for we know that if we despise our own government we have no future.

Throughout his address, Donald Trump raged against the very politicians who were all around him. He even took another thinly disguised shot at Congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis when he mentioned “politicians who are all talk and no action”.

In his first inaugural address, George W. Bush spoke frequently of civility and compassion. He also thanked Al Gore “for a contest conducted with spirit and ended with grace.” Trump had the perfect opportunity to reach out to supporters of Clinton with a simple statement but he ignored it. And there was little evidence of civility or compassion in his words or tone.

Furthermore, and worryingly, some of the things that Trump has said in public in the days following his inauguration stand in stark contrast to his words on Capitol Hill.

The video of Trump’s speech is immediately below. Like I did with Barack Obama’s final speech, I have set out the entire text of Trump’s speech after the video. At various places, I have added my thoughts in [red]. They refer to the text that comes immediately before.

Continue reading

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Some “very” good advice

Mark Twain once gave the following advice to writers:

Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.

American novelist and columnist Florence King was of the same opinion:

‘Very’ is the most useless word in the English language and can always come out. More than useless, it is treacherous because it invariably weakens what it is intended to strengthen.

Whether in writing or speaking, “very” is a good word to avoid. Yes, it has its place when used sparingly. The problem is that many people overuse “very”. It becomes a crutch. Even worse is the use of “really”, which is just a weak way of saying “very”. When you use weak modifiers all the time, your writing or speaking becomes weak.

How can you drop “very” but still emphasize an adjective? Simple; use a better adjective. Jennifer Frost has created an excellent infographic for Grammar Check that lists 147 words that you can use instead of “very”. She has invited me to share it with you. Continue reading

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