A lesson from the 2018 World Cup

A month of terrific football (soccer) came to an end yesterday in Moscow with the World Cup Final. France lived up to expectations and claimed the title of World Champion by defeating Croatia 4 – 2 in an entertaining game. Félicitations les Bleus!

Throughout the tournament, France showed the depth of its talent, going undefeated in seven games (6 wins, 1 tie). With a host of young, dynamic players on its team, France has the potential to be a football powerhouse for years to come.

But today, I’d like to focus on Croatia. Although undeniably a talented team, they entered the tournament ranked much lower than France. Few picked them to reach the Final. Still, they finished with an impressive record of 6 wins and 1 loss, losing only to France in the last game.

Croatia set a World Cup record by becoming the first team to win three overtime games in a row. They beat Denmark on penalties in the Round of 16; they beat Russia on penalties in the Quarter-finals; they beat England in extra time in the Semi-finals.

In each of those three games, the opposition scored first and Croatia had to rally from behind. They played their Semi-final against England the day after France’s Semi-final which meant they had one less day to recover for the Final. Furthermore, because all three of their games following the Group Round went into extra time, Croatia, in effect, played one full game more than France heading into the Final.

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And yet Croatia showed remarkable resilience, energy and spirit to make the Final a thrilling one. They outplayed France for much of the game and finished with possession 62% of the time versus France’s 38%. Even when behind, even when France scored on a free kick and a penalty, neither of which, in my view, should have been awarded, Croatia never, ever gave up.

Some thoughts on what we can learn from Croatia:

Croatia came to the Final having played more than France and having less time to recover. But they gave 100% for their country and their fans.

  • Sometimes you have to give a presentation in the middle of a busy schedule and you are tired. You still have to deliver for your audience.

Croatia fell behind after 18 minutes as a result of an own goal off a French free kick. Ten minutes later, they tied the game.

  • Sometimes you make a mistake when you are presenting. You have to put it behind you and keep going.
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Around the 35-minute mark, France had a corner kick that deflected off an French player and hit the hand of a Croatian player. After a lengthy review, the referee awarded a penalty kick to France notwithstanding Croatia’s protests. Many analysts felt that the penalty should not have been awarded. France scored on the penalty and it had a profound effect on the tempo of the game. But Croatia continued to play hard.

  • Sometimes things happen that are beyond your control. For example, the organizers might cut your speaking time, or your computer might break meaning you can’t show your slides. You still have to put forward your best effort.
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Although they lost and were clearly disappointed, the Croatians and their President, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, were magnanimous in defeat. 

  • There will be days when things do not go your way. You still have to be professional. Learn what you can from what happened and move forward.
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Rhetorical Devices: Symploce

This post is part of a series on rhetoric and rhetorical devices. For other posts in the series, please click this link.

Device: Symploce (pronounced sim-plo-see or sim-plo-kee)

Origin: From the Greek συμπλοκήν (simplokeen), meaning “interweaving”.

In plain English: Repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive sentences or clauses and repetition of another word or phrase at the end of those same sentences or clauses.


  • Symploce highlights the contrast between different options or possibilities.
  • It adds a sense of balance that neither anaphora nor epistrophe can do alone.
  • The speaker’s words have rhythm and cadence.


  • Symploce is the combination of anaphora and epistrophe.
  • As is the case with anaphora and epistrophe, speakers should be careful not to overuse symploce.


There are many people in the world who really don’t understand, or say they don’t, what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world. Let them come to Berlin. There are some who say that communism is the wave of the future. Let them come to Berlin. And there are some who say, in Europe and elsewhere, we can work with the Communists. Let them come to Berlin. And there are even a few who say that it is true that communism is an evil system, but it permits us to make economic progress. Lass’ sie nach Berlin kommen. Let them come to Berlin.”

— John Kennedy, 26 June 1963


Much of what I say might sound bitter, but it’s the truth. Much of what I say might sound like it’s stirring up trouble, but it’s the truth. Much of what I say might sound like it is hate, but it’s the truth.”

— Malcolm X, Date unknown


“My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.”

— Ted Kennedy, Eulogy for Robert Kennedy, 8 June 1968


When there is talk of hatred, let us stand up and talk against it. When there is talk of violence, let us stand up and talk against it.”

— Bill Clinton, 23 April 1995


In 1984, we introduced the Macintosh. It didn’t just change Apple, it changed the whole computer industry. In 2001, we introduced the first iPod, and it didn’t just change the way we all listened to music, it changed the entire music industry.”

— Steve Jobs, 9 January 2007


“Together, we will make America strong again. We will make America wealthy again. We will make America proud again. We will make America safe again. And yes, together we will make America great again.”

— Donald Trump, 20 January 2017


First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”

— Popular version of the poem First They Came by Martin Niemöller

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Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 287) – Rosalynn Carter

Rosalynn Carter – American Former First Lady and Advocate for Several Causes

“A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.”

— Rosalynn Carter

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Sawubona: See your audience

I recently wrote a post for Presentation Guru on the importance of “seeing” your audience.  It was based on the Zulu word sawubona. Zulu, or isiZulu, is one of South Africa’s official languages and is spoken by approximately 10 million people.

Sawubona means, “I see you.” Not in the sense of, “I see you here in front of me, and I see that you are wearing blue jeans and sweater, and I see that your skin is brown and your eyes are hazel.” Sawubona means much more.

At its heart, sawubona means, “I see you. I see that you have ancestors and a culture and a history. I see that you have hopes and fears, wants and needs, dreams and ambitions. I see you for who you are. I see you and I respect you.”

Sawubona has been described by worker and community leader Orland Bishop as an invitation to participate in each other’s life. Sawubona, he says, obligates people to give to each other what is needed for that moment of life to be enhanced.

When you speak to an audience, the members of that audience are giving you their most precious commodity; they are giving you their time. If you speak to 100 people for one hour, you are being given 100 hours of time that those people will never get back. That is an incredible responsibility and you owe it to your audience to make that time worth their while. You have to give them something in return. You have to be there for them.

To read my post on Presentation Guru and learn some simple ways in which you can apply the principle of sawubona when you speak, just click this link.

Shortly after that post was published, I went to Barcelona for my annual teaching week at IESE Business School. While there, my good friend Conor Neill had his trusty video camera and we shot a number of short videos, including the one below. In it, I talk about sawubona.

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Grammar: “Less” is more except when it’s “fewer”

This post is part of a series on grammar and vocabulary. From time to time, I will post short articles highlighting some of the common mistakes that people say during their presentation or write on their slides, and how to avoid them.

Comparisons often appear in presentations. We compare the company’s performance this year to its performance last year; we compare the prices of raw materials from different suppliers; we compare weights and distances and power and speed and a whole host of other things.

When the first thing in a comparison is greater than the second, we use the word more:

  • More coffee
  • More customers
  • More sand
  • More money
  • More vehicles

However, when the first thing in a comparison is less than the second, there are two words at our disposal: less and fewer. And on this point, many people run into trouble, mainly because they use less when they should be using fewer.

While there are some exceptions—this is English after all—the general rule is as follows:

Use “fewer” when the thing can be counted.

Use “less” when the thing cannot be counted.

So, there is less pie but fewer pieces of pie; less distance but fewer kilometres; less snow but fewer snowflakes (because, in theory, you could count the snowflakes).

Looking at our list above, we would have the following:

  • Less coffee
  • Fewer customers
  • Less sand
  • Less money (because money is a collective noun; of course, you could have fewer Dollars, Pounds, Euros, etc. but you can’t have “fewer money”)
  • Fewer vehicles

As mentioned above, there are exceptions and subtleties to the rule. If you are interested, you can read more here and here.

Fowler’s Modern English Usage (a must for anyone who does a lot of writing in English) laments:

Regrettable, but prevalent among some standard as well as many non-standard speakers, is the use of “less” with an unprotected plural noun. … The incorrect use is very widespread and seems likely to be ineradicable, however regrettable that may be. As a character in Maurice Gee’s Prowlers (1987) sadly remarks: “Like”, it seems, has taken the place of “as if”. “Less” tips “fewer” out. Less pedestrians, less immigrants.

So the next time you go grocery shopping and you see a cashier beneath a sign that reads, “10 items or less”, you will have the small satisfaction of knowing that it should read “10 items or fewer”.

I confess that after all these years, “10 items or fewer” would sound strange to me and I will stick with “less”. But even corporate giants such as Tesco have bowed to pressure on this point.

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