When is a speech a story? When simply great rhethoric? When just utterly boring?

I had the privilege to be a participating part of the acclaimed DLD (Digital Life Design) Conference in Munich this week. “A global network on innovation, digitization, science and culture which connects business, creative and social leaders, opinion-formers and influencers for crossover conversation and inspiration”, the website says. And that it is.

First time ever for me. Its legendary reputation had traveled eons and light-years to my doorstep as the IT place (as in IT girl, not I-Tee) to be, if you’re even only remotely connected to the Internet and interested in the way digital life continues to change our analogue lifestyles. Worth every minute.

In many ways …

One of these ways I would like to spend a couple of lines on here. Not the networking, not the illustrious guests, the see-and-be-seen aspect or the really inspiring insights I gathered from almost each and every panel or presentation, not even the red-carpet, see-and-be-seen-even-more late-night party, although I quite enjoyed that one, too.

No, it’s the way speeches were held at this conference (as at most I’ve ever been to) and the very rare examples of good storytelling applied in these speeches that I will ponder over a little. I’m not talking about the contents, I’m talking about their structures or non-structures that are mainly based on power point hooks, not narratives. I mean, it’s really amazing: You have so many bright minds, freaks and geeks, young talents and old stagers summoned in one place for three days. They speak about their latest apps, business models, technology, their visions of the future … and all too often you can hardly avoid noticing that most of them do indeed have a story to tell. BUT: They don’t! They don’t apply any storytelling techniques to making their visions, facts and insights less bullet-pointy, less complete, but more compelling, more memorable, more narrative. There was even a panel on “Digital Storytelling”, a very promising title, but in the end merely a discussion over video formats, technologies, platforms and, again, business models. OK, maybe the latter is a very understandable and legitimate topic in a world where traditional businesses are eroding and everyone is desperately looking for straws to clutch at, but it’s not always entertaining for the audience.

So what did many of those speakers do wrong? Easy: They were mainly speaking facts, figures and features. And data and dollars. All in the name of the user’s experience (will always hate that defamation of a word for humans!), but it was mostly the experience of an arbitrary abstract being using technology they were speaking about. Not about concrete human beings, heroes or anti-heroes, their emotions, their dramas that led to the creation of this app or that service (even though maybe the rhetoric of many speeches was dramatic and good and suggested a narrative, where, however, there was none). And I’m not saying that they were not interesting or inspiring regarding facts and ideas transported – after all, you had preachers preaching to Catholics anyway, so ears and brains wide open. I’m just stating the lack of story narrative in the way they were presenting.

Although there were some remarkable exceptions to this rule – or maybe in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king?

Mahbod Moghadam, Co-Founder of www.rapgenius.com, a website that only at first sight is something for rap fans, actually unveils the curtain to probably every art’s and even every brand’s future. It allows fans and enthusiasts to make their own annotations to any kind of rap lyric, enriching it with their own stories that connect them personally, to a song and its content. “Annotate My Brand” was the title of the panel Mahbod was on, and he not only used his 45 minutes on stage and his youngster charms well to exchange business cards with Hublot’s Jean-Claude Biver and Missioni’s Angela Missioni. He most of all ignited the audience with his enthusiasm and the great stories he had to tell of the platform’s early days and collaborations with notable rap performance such as Jay-Z or Kayne West. name-dropping was maybe a cheap trick that helped, but his stories stuck. Left me hoping for the extension of his ingenious annotation site to my musical preferences as well as with the notion that: Not only as an artist, you’re work becomes a public good, open to recipients’ annotations; the same holds true for brands. Control is over. Your story isn’t your story anymore, it’s everyone’s. And everyone can and will use this opportunity, and that’s not a threat, it’s a great opportunity to crowd-source your own brand and your company’s reputation. Intriguing thought.

Then there was Ankur Jain, Founder and CEO of HUMIN, “a technology company working to make technology more human”, as his website says. And he started his speech perfectly in this sense: With a human story. With a hero (himself) and a “do you remember when” introduction, pulling the audience (at least those over 25) into their own past, enabling identification with a situation everybody knows: Once upon a time, it took you ages to find out the telephone number of a girl you were interested in, once you had it, you had to take a walk to the nearest telephone box to try to call her with your last coins (as you’re parents were kind of anal on the phone bill issue in the pre-flat-rate era), then dialing the number you had researched, waiting for the ring, hoping her dad wouldn’t pick up the phone, then he did, you hung up, money gone, off back home. Just an anecdote, maybe, but a good, personal intro into explaining what his app was supposed to do: seamlessly connect you with all your contacts on all your various social platforms and address books. Left me entertained and willing to download his app and try it. Which I did.

Or Whatsapp’s Co-Founder and CEO Jan Koum. His visions for his very successful messaging service as well as the sympathy level for him as a person and his work stayed on a low-level for me, even though I love his app, UNTIL: He told the very touching and comprehensible story of this young man emigrating from Ukraine to the USA who missed his parents and family so much, but couldn’t afford regular calls, let alone trips home – so he invented Whatsapp to stay in touch with the people important to his life, instantly, whenever, and economically. I bought into the idea and rationale, and understood even better why I make such frequent use of this little green tile on my iPhone.

What I’m getting at, and what is my personal take-away from three days of insights into digital trends for life and business and business life, is best summed up with one of the many great quotes of one of the great lost storytellers and story-understanders, Steve Jobs: “No matter how good the technology, it will not turn a bad story into a good story.” [http://goo.gl/H1ZCuy] Or a bad speech into a good speech, I might add.

So I’d like to end this stream of thoughts with two videos that are better tutorials for a good speech than anything I could write here:

Steve Jobs’ legendary 2005 Stanford Commencement Address, which is any prime example of perfectly structured story-in-speech, not filmed, not written, but spoken aka told (even if not off by heart, but from the heart). Three little stories turning into one big story at the end, leaving a clear message without needing to name it. Please enjoy this one from beginning to end:


And this more tutorial-like video by Nancy Duarte, an American writer and graphic designer, well-known for her two best-selling books “Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences” and “slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations”. A very nice summary of how you can mix pure facts with story in a power point, as you mostly need to do in business presentations or speeches, nevertheless not bore to death with report style, but also not get lost in anecdotia or storyland.


So, what do you think? Agree? Disagree? Why?

In any case: I’m happy to see you again soon, here, where the story goes on … soon.

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