Norberto AmaralManaging Partner at Cultiv
Norberto Amaral is managing partner at Cultiv, a consulting company in communication, creativity, innovation and events organization. He also leads and organizes TEDxPorto, the largest TEDx event in Portugal and one of the largest in the world, and is a Toastmaster, having recently achieved the degree of Distinguished Toastmaster.
His experience in information systems has been, in a first phase, as a programmer in an investment funds company and, in a second phase, as a business analyst and information systems project manager at Sonae - Retail. In these phases of his career, he developed automatic attendance systems with voice recognition and managed projects such as the automatic attendance system 'Self-Checkout' of Continente stores.
Organizer and speaker in more than 100 TEDx events, Ignite, speech competitions, creative sessions, strategic workshops, among others, Norberto Amaral is one of the special guests at Connecting Stories by PARTTEAM & OEMKIOSKS.
1. You have a very extensive professional background. Can you tell us a little about your journey and your professional experience?
My university education was in Engineering Physics, but I soon realized that my place was not locked in a laboratory for months on end to obtain uncertain results, but in projects of shorter duration and more immediate benefit.
So in the last year of my degree, when I got an Erasmus scholarship to study in Glasgow, I decided to embrace programming at Fidelity Investments, one of the world's largest investment management companies (in funds and pensions), becoming a project manager.
A few years later I returned to Portugal, starting my activity at Sonae Distribuição, managing information systems projects, including the first implementation of Self-Checkout boxes in Portugal, discounts on fuel, Gift Card, Sport Zone loyalty card, among many others. Still at Sonae Distribuição, I became innovation manager, with the aim of stimulating creativity and innovation in the company, organizing strategic and creativity workshops, the annual innovation awards and writing the annual innovation book, among many other projects.
In 2016, I left Sonae to co-found Shelf.AI, where we created an online shopping framework through the voice of the customer – it's even sexier than it sounds! – and, a year later, I decided to launch myself in Communication Consulting.
2. What led you to the area of Communication? What is your main goal?
As innovation manager, my role required contact with people in the organization on a new scale for me, including the design and organization of large events. But it was in 2010, when I joined the TEDxPorto organization team, and in 2011, when I joined Toastmasters, a non-profit institution that aims to develop the communication and leadership skills of its members, that I developed a taste and competence for the subject of Communication.
Today I organize TEDxPorto, with a magnificent team without which nothing would be possible, and together we create and give a stage to the best ideas of the community. In Toastmasters I develop Communication skills and help many others on my way.
Shortly after starting these volunteer activities, I was already saying that I would like to become a professional in this area and it still took me some time to do it, but it was certainly an excellent investment.
3. How did TED enter your life and what is its importance in your life?
TED entered my life as it entered many other people's lives: watching talks online. However, I was lucky enough to go further. I met a co-worker who was part of the TEDxPorto organization team and she invited me to join.
There were months of hard preparation, but nothing could prepare me for my first TEDxPorto: it was a very intense day, I met incredible people, between speakers and team, which gave me a new purpose in life, and it filled me up a lot.
Since then, I have been lucky enough to participate in five events organized by TED, integrating a “tribe” of people from all over the world with whom I share many values and a work of impact worldwide.
4. And how did the Cultiv project emerge?
Manuel Forjaz, founder of TEDxPorto, told us several times that we did that event so well and with such good preparation of speakers that we should become professionals, putting those skills at the service of companies and other institutions.
When the opportunity came up, me and my partner Pedro Geraldes, co-organizer of TEDxPorto, didn't hesitate and created Cultiv. Since the beginning we have trained hundreds of people from various companies, from very junior employees to CEO's of large companies, startups and higher education institutions. We have handled the presentation and organization of small events up to Communication Consulting, helping several companies to better communicate their concepts. These have been very interesting years!
5. How can Communication determine the success of a company and/or a brand?
Communication plays a fundamental role for companies in all aspects of their activity. From a more primordial perspective, the degree of complexity of the simplest object is such that no one can create practically anything alone. Instead, we work in teams, in projects, bringing together diverse skills and experience. To do this, we exchange ideas, concepts and information in general, which allows us to accomplish the goals we set for ourselves.
From a broader perspective, it is sometimes necessary to share information verbally with several/ many people simultaneously – in front of employees, colleagues, managers, partners and the merely curious.
These are opportunities to persuade our interlocutors to spread or “sell” ideas, concepts, projects or even products and services. To be able to do it well, we need to prepare ourselves: set goals, structure the message, choose the right words and, in many cases, even create PowerPoint slides.
Public speaking is a vast and difficult subject, but it is possible to improve our skills in this area by leaving some bad habits behind (just two examples: the excessive amount of “hãs” and other verbal canes and the over-sharing of information) and creating new ones. If done well, the results will be visible in the short term!
6. What is the future of Communication? Is it a growing area?
There is a growing concern about this topic. I think there was a revolution in this industry when the first online TED talks appeared 15 years ago. For the first time, millions of people were able to realize the power of the spoken word in a more formal and institutional context and began to adapt the format for themselves. On the other hand, many leaders and managers now realize – finally – that they can only be so if they are able to create a spark in their employees' heads. It's not enough to flood them with information, it is necessary to seduce them. We still have a long way to go and we always will, since nobody is born taught, much less to speak in public.
7. You are the author of the book "Impacto – Como comunicar em público". What messages do you intend to transmit with this book? Are you already preparing another one?
Above all, I wanted to create a detailed manual on how to prepare good public presentations. I feel that the books that existed in Portugal were very fragmented and none offered my vision that the structure of the message is essential, that form helps content and should not be dissociated, that we should not adopt attitudes that can be taken as manipulative, that we should be genuine and authentic, but that we can only be seen to be so if we are competent first, and that we should focus initially not on creating new habits, but on leaving bad old habits behind.
The book was released two years ago and the message remains and will certainly remain for many years to come. It was written to be consulted and used for the long term and not just as a “trendy thing”.
Since then, I have confirmed that the premises and ideas it contains make more and more sense, especially in a world full of easy rhetoric, fallacious ideas and manipulators. The world doesn't need that, it needs good ideas, well transmitted.
I already have plans for a new book, namely directed to a juvenile audience, waiting for better conditions to do it.
8. You have developed automatic attendance systems with voice recognition and managed projects with the automatic attendance system 'Self-Checkout' at Continente stores. How important is technology nowadays?
Technology is a very broad term for an entire domain of application and use of concepts on a scale never seen before, bringing sophistication to processes that have been backward-looking and untouchable for decades, and creating new opportunities for growth and efficiency. Implemented well, they will certainly have a considerable impact, and it's just as well that they do, because effectiveness and efficiency are fundamental to the development of companies. On the other hand, we can't deny the negative impact of the implementation of some technologies, namely when they don't put people at the center of change management, I would even say change leadership.
Although we have so many positive examples of technologies – today nobody has a negative word to say about ATMs or Via Verde, although when these concepts were implemented, many people only saw the negative aspects –, only a fierce technologist will be able to ignore this impact, saying that the jobs lost to modernization consist of repetitive tasks that do nothing for the human condition. They forget that another thing that doesn't favor the human condition is not having food on the table or a roof over one's head. They forget the dehumanization of unemployment.
The Self-Checkout project was implemented at a time of hemorrhaging employment in the country, with 800-900 jobs lost per week with the closure of textile and shoe factories. The country was in a phase of great uncertainty and we wanted to avoid creating even more noise, so employment and good working conditions were a strong pillar of this implementation. We promised and kept that nobody would lose their job and that this technology would be used to improve customer service by opening more cashiers, giving the customer control. The key moment was when a 92-year-old lady hugged me and thanked me profusely because she could finally make a purchase at her own pace.
I had the opportunity to implement voice recognition systems at two very different times in my career. One was in the late 1990s at Fidelity Investments, when customers could use them for relatively simple tasks such as getting account balances and mutual fund quotes, while keeping contact center staff focused on value-added tasks such as buying and selling funds. These projects, implemented in the UK, Germany and Japan were one of the great moments of my professional life and I still feel great pride today!
More recently, at Shelf.AI, we gave people the possibility to do their grocery shopping by reducing the need to interact with a screen: after opening the application, you just dictate the shopping list and, at the end, tell where and when to deliver the groceries.
Douglas Adams said that until the age of 35, technologies were all accepted, and after 35 there was a great resistance, because we no longer consider them as “natural” and advantageous. I hope that we are aware of this and that we are able to humanize technology, so that there is no backlash that would be extremely adverse to the development of our society.
9. What projects do you have in mind for the future?
As soon as it is possible to have face-to-face events again with the density possible before the pandemic, I would like to launch another type of event, based on personal stories, in intimate locations with great human contact. We certainly need this kind of interaction and opportunities for small groups to meet other people without fear of the virus or other people who might bring it.
From Cultiv's perspective, we will open up the internationalization of our services to Non-Governmental Organizations and other institutions with a great impact on society. We want to contribute to the good things that are done and to human development on a large scale.
Connecting Stories is an editorial space led by PARTTEAM & OEMKIOSKS which consists of conducting exclusive interviews, directed at influential personalities who work in different sectors of activity.
The project, conceived by PARTTEAM & OEMKIOSKS, includes the publication of success stories, through small interviews with influencers who want to share details about their projects, opinions, plans for the future, among other subjects.
The idea is to connect stories, share knowledge, develop networking and generate content that can provide new visions, opportunities and ideas.
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