Five points of public speaking — What managers can learn from magicians

Five points of public speaking — What managers can learn from magiciansPublic speaking fills many people with fear. Jerry Seinfeld once joked that:

“… people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. This strong statement means to the average person that if you have to go to a funeral, you are better off in the casket than doing the eulogy”.

For professionals, public speaking is an essential skill which unfortunately not many of them excel at. We all have sat through death by Powerpoint; bombarded with slides and poorly presented disjointed information.

In my opinion, presentation skills are essential to succeed in any organisation—business presentations are a form of theatre. In this post, I will explain how a book popular among magicians—The Five Points of Magic Spanish performer Juan Tamariz—can be used to teach professionals about presentation skills.1 Below are some tips from the book that apply to both magicians and public speaking.

The Five Points of Public Speaking

1. The Eyes

Eye contact is the most important tool to connect with the audience. Don’t only look at the first row. Sweep your gaze like a fan across the spectators, giving everybody some personal attention.

Public speaking - eye contact

2. The Hands

The hands are the most important tool of the magician, and in business presentations, they usually perceived get in the way. But the hands can communicate almost anything. We should use our hands to point out things, present objects and emphasise the communication. Think about how you use your hands other than a means to hold your laser pointer.

3. The Voice

Imagine an elderly lady, who is hard of hearing, sitting at the back of the room. Dedicate the performance to her and project your voice to the last row.

Public speaking - project your voice

4. The Feet

The best place to stand is centre stage, facing the audience. Don’t hide behind the lectern or turn your back to the audience. This positioning is essential to be able to make good eye contact.

5. The Body

Body language is our subconscious means of communication. In theatre, and thus also in public speaking, we need to be aware of this type of communication.

In Conclusion

This post is only a glimpse into the wide array of literature on theatrical performances that can be applied to public speaking. Business people that perform magic have been found to be better public speakers.2 Next time you need to do a presentation, view it as a theatrical performance and follow the five points of public speaking.

One last tip: whatever you do, never imagine your audience naked, at best it will get you distracted.

If you like to know more about magic tricks, read my book Perspectives on Magic.


  1. Russian magician Manual Llaser uses the Five Points principle in corporate training. 

  2. Davids, Meryl. “Tricks of the Trade.” The Journal of Business Strategy 15, no. 3 (1994): 67. 

Customer complaints are a gift: Collect as many as you can

Customer complaints are a gift: Collect as many as you canOne Monday morning Jeff came to work, preparing for a new week on the phone and helping customers. His day way rudely interrupted when his manager summoned him and scolded Jeff about a customer complaint that had come to his attention. Jeff went back to his workstation, angry and disenchanted: “bloody customers!”

The ultimate aim of any organisation is to create gains for shareholders by providing value to customers. To be able to achieve this purpose it is imperative that a business understands customers. It is impossible always to keep every single customer satisfied, and complaints are an inevitable outcome of trying to help people.

The customer is always right about their own perception of the value they receive

On the bright side, complaints are a source of information that is not always fully appreciated by managers. The customer is always right about their perception of the value they receive and a complaint provides a great insight into how customers perceive what you do. In many organisations, the number of complaints is seen as a negative indicator. When a customer lodges a formal expression of dissatisfaction, managers run around in blind panic and try to found out who is to blame for this negative experience.

McDonald’s seemed to have grasped this concept of complaints and created this beautiful pieces of advertising. They are not the only fast food company performing a mea culpa on television.

Also pizza purveyor Dominoes recently admitted having changed its recipe after customer feedback. Patrick Doyle, president of Dominoes, summarised their journey succinctly: “You can either use negative comments to get you down, or you can use them to excite and energise you”.

The moral of this story is to embrace customer complaints. A lucid manager leaves emotions out of the equation and rationally analyses every complaint and seeks ways to improve the organisation without finger pointing and enabling your staff to help their customers.

The Management World Cup: Are Americans world champion managers?

The Management World Cup: Are Americans world champion managers?Management has become a global game, and an intrinsic part of human nature is to compare countries with one another. A group of European researchers have determined that through, as they describe it themselves, “painstaking research”, that the United States of America are the World Champions on management.

The research is based on the World Management Survey, a questionnaire to benchmark companies on an international scale. This bench- marking is, however, based on American management practices, so it is no wonder that the country from which these practices originate applies them best.

Among the practices considered world class, such as Lean Manufacturing, sound intuitively sound, but have caused much pain for managers around the world. The number of companies implementing these systems and getting no return on investment would most likely outweigh the ones where these types of formalised improvement drives have provided benefits.

In our research in Hanoi, we found that there exist distinct practices in Vietnam, a country that is running a hugely successful economy. We also found a keen interest in Vietnamese translations of American textbooks into Vietnamese. We concluded that a recognition of Vietnamese Human Resource Management is needed to alleviate the need to introduce models from the USA, which have shown to be not always successful.

In my management experience, the existence of cultural conflict indicates that foreign practices can not be imported without risk. Management is an inherently human activity, and management practices have to fit the cultural background in which they are conducted. This condition makes the whole concept of a World Cup of management an empty concept as the comparison between countries will always be ideologically rooted.

The Answer Question: The Eleven Rules of Management

The Answer Question: The Eleven Rules of ManagementManagers are plagued by many ultimate questions, of which some of the most popular are: What is leadership? How do I motivate people? And why do we spend so much time looking for teaspoons?1

Many seek answers from a multitude of self-proclaimed management Gurus. They imitate the seven habits of highly annoying people and read how some companies are able to grow from good to greed in four easy stages.

Then one day, a group of computer über-nerds, known collectively as the Googleplex, got so fed up with the constant bickering about what good management actually is and where the teaspoons go—which used to interrupt their favourite pastime of whirling down the slide in their office—they decided to sit down and solve the ultimate question of management once and for all.

And to this end, they built themselves a stupendous super computer which was so amazingly intelligent that it knew more about people’s private life than they did themselves. They called it Project Oxygen.

The computer gathered thousands of observations about managers across many variables, from various performance reviews, feedback surveys and other reports. Then they spent time coding the comments in order to look for patterns an provide an Ultimate Answer to the Ultimate Question of Management.

At the great unveiling of the ultimate answer, an ecstatic crowd gathered. Wild cheers broke out amongst the crowd. Flags, streamers and wolf whistles sailed through the air. “Never again”, cried a manager, “never again will we wake up in the morning and think How can I improve productivity? Does it really matter if I go to work? Where are the teaspoons?”.

The engineers that programmed the computer walked to the terminal to pick up a piece of paper out of the printer tray. They read the answer provided by Project Oxygen, looked at each other in surprise and read it again.

“You are not going to like it”, they said to the crowd. “Doesn’t matter!” said one of the managers in the crowd. “We must know it! Now!”.

“Now?” inquired the engineer.

“Yes! Now …”

“Alright,” said the engineer and settled into silence again. The two men fidgeted. The tension was unbearable.

“You’re really not going to like it,” observed the engineer.

“Tell us!”

“Alright,” he said . “The Answer to the Great Question …”

“Yes …!”

“The Ultimate Question of Management …” said the engineer.

“Yes …!”

“Is …” he said, and paused.

“Yes …!”

“Is …”

“Yes …!!!…?”

“Eleven Rules of Management” he said with infinite majesty and calm.

“Why eleven rules?”, asked the engineer dumbfounded.

“Well, any good management theory always has prime numbers. So here they are: “

  1. Be a good coach.
  2. Empower your team and don’t micromanage.
  3. Express interest in team members’ success and personal well-being.
  4. Don’t be a sissy: be productive and results-oriented.
  5. Be a good communicator and listen to your team.
  6. Help your employees with career development.
  7. Have a clear vision and strategy for the team.
  8. Have the technical skills so you can help advise the team.
  9. Transition new people into the team.
  10. Be consistent in performance and career management.
  11. Spend a lot of time managing and communicating.

  1. This post is dedicated to Douglas Adams and the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy. 

The Incompleteness Theorem of Service Quality Measurement

The incompleteness theorem of service quality measurementService quality measurement is a complicated subject—almost as complex as advanced maths.

In 1931 Austrian logician Kurt Gödel formulated his famous ‘incompleteness theorem’, almost paradoxically proving that any system of mathematics can never be sufficiently established. The mathematical intricacies of this theorem are beyond contemplation for mere mortals, so I will leave them be.

The incompleteness theorem does, however, not only hold for complex mathematical constructs and can also be applied to service quality measurement. The thus derived incompleteness theorem for service quality measurement states that:1

Any effectively generated system capable of measuring service quality cannot be both consistent and complete.

Businesses often focus on their reporting on measurable performance indicators to report on service quality. The incompleteness theorem of performance management implies that in the delivery of a service, quality can never be measured thoroughly. Services are provided by and for people and every moment of the provision of services, every moment of truth, the situation is different due to the complexity of human behaviour which can not be captured in quantitative measures. In particular, for any consistent, effectively generated a formal system of service quality measurement, some activities contribute to service quality but are not measured.

The immediate reaction from supporters of the KPI movement is that one must simply identify the right measures and enough of them to ensure the whole service is covered. However, the theorem holds that an enormous amount of KPIs are required to measure all aspects of a service. And if a service is measured completely, some KPIs will contradict each other as a system can not be complete and consistent at the same time. Thus, in line with Gödel’s original work, a second theorem can be formulated:

The more aspects of a service are measured, the less efficient a service will be delivered.

This condition will arise when customers are bombarded with feedback mechanisms. Staff spend a great deal of their time entering data and managers spend their days analysing numbers.

Don’t get me wrong. Measurement is essential in business management. But we should not have the illusion that any data set can ever replace the intricate complexity of reality. Managers should never relinquish their critical thinking skills and move beyond the confounds of rational data analysis. Service quality has an internal human dimension that goes beyond electronic dashboards and graphs.

Embracing the qualitative nature of the provision of services and cultivate an understanding of interaction with customers is an essential ingredient to managing performance. This information might not be easily summarised and reported to boards, but the incompleteness theorem prevents us from doing much more.


  1. An enhanced version of this idea will be presented at the World Business Capability Conference in Auckland (December 2012).