Tag: tips

Here’s the thing.

Business communication is like a pop song. Trust me about this.

In any given lifetime, your audience will grant you two minutes and  thirty seven seconds in which to acheive two (2) things:

First – sing your song

Second – get everyone else singing your song, too.

For this to happen, your song has to be individual enough to be worth remebering. But it also has to fit within a style that is easy to recognise and accept.

Unfortunately, singing takes a lot of talent and a lot more guts. Not everyone can do it. Which is why most business communication comes over as a terrible dirge of confused ideas and lame cliches.

Applying the principles of pop to your business communications is not easy, but it works.

To start off with, you need a hook – a neat little riff or idea that is easy to grasp and even easier to repeat. Then you need to back this up with three other elements – a verse, a chorus and a middle-eight. Verses should be short and sweet but provide background, depth and colour to your hook. Maybe a handful of web-pages, maybe some of your staff tweeting around a theme, perhaps a revamped set of business cards with individual designs. The verse should lead into the chorus – this is where you can let rip. Your chorus should get you, your staff, customers, partners, the press and everyone else in the world screaming your virtues at the top of their voices. A simple statement that sums up the true value of you and your company. I’m going to repeat three words from that last sentence: simple, true, value. Simple. True. Value. That’s your chorus.

The middle-eight links your verses with your chorus. This may be the look-and-feel, or the tone of voice. The style of delivery, or the medium for delivery. A key point here is that nobody every listens to a song because it has a great middle-eight, but plenty of songs are left mediocre and forgotten because they had a weak middle-eight.

Of course, pop music has been constantly evolving, from Muddy Waters picking up an electric guitar to the Beatles harmonising with a string quartet, from Brian Eno’s synthesised noodlings to acid fuelled raves and warehouse parties, from Iggy Pop’s flailing nudity to Jay-Z’s tailored suits. So once you have your song down pat, you have to drop it and come up with something new. That’s why we’re here and why we keep coming back.

All together now, after 4…

PowerPoint is like a BMW – a great piece of kit that is usually driven by idiots.

I’ve driven a few BMW’s in my life and I’ve always been struck by how appallingly badly other drivers react on simply seeing the badge. The same is true of PowerPoint users. As soon as the projector is fired up, audiences are used to settling in for an hour or two of complete boredom.

PowerPoint suffers so much from over-familiarity. And, while it is packed with features, standing in front of even the most beautifully crafted slide-deck is a limiting experience. Explaining ideas usually works best when is framed around a loose kind of story telling. PowerPoint, though, demands a strict narrative structure with beginning, middle and end tightly connected to each other. Moving between different story elements is extremely clunky and far too many presentations end up stifled. Presenters will often flick back and forth between slides as they clamour for clarity.

Those of us who present for a living are therefore looking for alternatives, a vehicle for our ideas that won’t be maligned for simply existing, and one that allows a more natural flow for explaining ideas. And thankfully there are plenty of alternatives available.

Prezi is a tool that has the design conscious drooling. The swirling visuals and deep dive zooming are enough to pep up even the most jaded 3 day conference crowd. It also gives the speaker the chance to engage in ‘non-linear’ discourse. In other words, while there may be a pre-planned route through a story, Prezi lets you take detours and fly off at tangents before coming back to your main thrust.

Prezi is very easy to use. Spend an hour playing with the tool and even the modestly techno-phobic will be comfortable with the main features. There is also plenty of scope for collaboration with some nice synchronisation between the desktop client and the online hosting service.

That said, while it is visually stunning, there is very little scope for self-expression with colours and fonts. Undoubtedly this will improve over time. As will the need to use highly visible borders around graphics and text to make the animations work. Output comes in the form of a flash file, so don’t expect Prezi on an iPad anytime soon.

Another intriguing PowerPoint alternative is the Visual Understanding Environment or VUE. This is a project from Tufts University and it wears its academic heritage on its sleeve. And there has clearly been a lot of beard-tugging going on in its design. The idea that makes VUE unique is the way it builds layers of information – a ‘mind mapping’ layer to help organise thoughts, a pathways layer to link thoughts together, and finally a presentation layer that pretties everything up in a PowerPoint kind of way.

What VUE lacks in visual immediacy is more than made up for by the flexibility afforded by these layers. Where PowerPoint may require a separate mind mapping tool to organise thoughts and then a labourious process of transcribing ideas into slides, VUE takes care of all of this. And what’s more, the ‘Add Most Relevant Flickr Image’ function takes care of the time consuming picture-editing process that is the heart and soul of a good presentation.

While not as intuitive as PowerPoint or Prezi, VUE is a real breath of fresh air for those looking for a new way of presenting. The concept is fantastic, allowing for linear and non-linear presentations with complete control over look and feel. The layers are strong but flexible and provide a direct link between original ideas and the finished presentation. Output to pdf puts notes and images alongside each other, akin to PowerPoint’s handouts.

Here’s a graphic I’ve just put together to explain to businesses that still don’t get it just why the social web matters. The bigger the circle the bigger the potential audience.

Corporate websites are usually full of stale and out-of-date content that may be highly relevant to the company’s business areas but that is hard to find (unless you are looking for it directly). Corporate blogs have very few regular visitors and are only updated when in-house bloggers have the time.

Compare this to the huge audience waiting on the Social Web, which is powered largely by Facebook and Twitter. Here, content is fresh – in the case of Twitter, almost too fresh! – is easy to share and, importantly, can be found almost by chance. Serendipity to us means ‘finding interesting things when you weren’t really looking for them’.

This is the challenge that businesses have to adapt to. The game has changed. Embracing the social web is not a ‘nice to do’, it’s an imperative.

Fiddy demonstrates the 50% rule by standing in front of big text.

I thought everyone got this. Apparently not.

I spent Friday sitting in on an all day business review meeting with a customer. This, by the way, is a company with some global standing that is poised to revolutionise its industry and many of those around it. Great products, great people and great energy in the room. Ok – great energy in the room to start with. And great energy again just after lunch had been taken. Unfortunately the 6 point font size on everyone’s PowerPoint slides had a few thousand-yard stares forming by the middle of the afternoon.

The meeting would have been much more effective if the Fifty Per Cent rule had been rigidly applied.

The Fifty Per Cet rule is simplicity itself. When cobbling together a PowerPoint slide full of text, without a care in the world nor a thought for the audience, stop and perform a simple calculation. Work out (or estimate) the average age of your audience and divide by two. This number should be your MINIMUM font size. MINIMUM!

If you are running a meeting and have control over the template that people will be using to present their information, insist that this rule is used by all participants. If necessary, impose fines for every character below the minimum size.

There is simply no point in being in a meeting where you have to squint at a slide to work out that you can’t work out what you are looking at. Stop it. Or Fiddy’ll pop a cap in yo ass…

These are the world’s top performing CEO’s according to the Harvard Business Review (Jan 2010). A handsome bunch I’m sure you’ll agree. And doubtless, if ever you found yourself in the boardroom, meeting these guys you would be extremely eager to impress. So you’d brush up on your latest business school ideas and dust off your finest theories, polish up your buzzwords and fill your mouth with jargon.


But then you get into the meeting and you find out that…

… only 16 out of the 50 have an MBA.

They vast majority are not going to be at all impressed with your ‘tactical, logic-based scenario’ and your ‘pro-active, integrated opportunity’*. And, let’s be honest, the guys with MBA’s are probably much smarter than you anyway.

So rather than trying to impress the guys at the top with a mouthful of nonsense, pare everything back to its simplest and speak common-sense.

*MBA gibberish courtesy of the Business Jargon Generator at http://www.mwls.co.uk/jargon.htm

Starters for Ten are our gift to you. Thought provoking, moderately controversial opening slides to set your presentation off on the right foot. At least, a different foot to the other guy. And the guy before him.

What you see here is available to download as an annotated PowerPoint slide. You can subscribe to updates or send us ideas for more.

clown slide

What’s the worst that can happen? Seriously. What is the very worst thing that could happen right now? Having the desk collapse and crush your legs? Watching your computer suddenly burst into flames, taking with it all of your hard work and cherished family photos? Being attacked by a group of murderous, smelly ninja kangaroos armed with flaming nunchuckas that won’t stop beating you up until you’ve learned to speak fluent ancient Greek?

What ever situation you’re in, it’s probably not as bad as the worst possible case scenario. But, what’s the best possible case? You win a deal that turns out to be ten times bigger than you were expecting, which pays you 300% of your bonus allowing you to pay off your mortgage and retire to the Bahamas?

So while your current situation may not be the best possible case, it certainly isn’t the worst possible case. And at least you have a clear idea of where you actually want to be. Also, it’s worth remembering that if you’re going to be miserable now, there’s a really good chance you’d be miserable in the Bahamas.

So compare where you are now to the worst possible situation and laugh about it. Then think about how to get to where you want to be, and laugh about that, too. And keep laughing, because the best way to make a success of things is to realise that it’s all a game and you’ll enjoy playing it more if you have a smile on your face.

Picture courtesy of steenslag.10button

Florence Nightingale did a great many things for the world. Cleaining up hospitals was principle among them. Inventing the pie chart was another.

When she first presented the pie chart to the Royal Statistical Society it caused a sensation. Even today, pie charts cause a sensation – usually one of torpour.

Information is extremely powerful. Look at any one of a thousand powerpoint slide decks and you will see charts and graphs aplenty outlining everything you could possibly want to know. Unfortunately for the presenter, their audience will instantly forget every single piece of data.

The trick is usually to tell a story about your data to bring it to life and make it memorable. Or, even better, make your data itself tell a story. Here is a remarkable example of what we mean:

Visualizing empires decline from Pedro M Cruz on Vimeo.

Next time you contemplate putting a pie chart into your presentation, please think long and hard. It has hard a long and useful life, but would be far more usefully left to die quietly.

Starters for Ten are our gift to you. Thought provoking, moderately controversial opening slides to set your presentation off on the right foot. At least, a different foot to the other guy. And the guy before him.

What you see here is available to download as an annotated PowerPoint slide. You can subscribe to updates or send us ideas for more.

jeans slideLevi Strauss is one of the world’s most recognizable brands. After over 200 years in business, their jeans are marketed globally as ‘Originals’. But how ‘original’ are they?

The strong indigo cotton fabric from which they are made was originally produced in the southern French city of Nimes from the mid 1600’s. Denim is a contraction of ‘serge de Nimes’. The first denim trousers were made in Genoa some hundred years or so before Levi Strauss set up their business in San Francisco. The word ‘jean’ is an Anglicization of ‘Genoa’ or ‘Genovese’.

In fact, pretty much the only original things about Levi’s jeans are the rivets, for which the firm was awarded US patent number 139121 in 1873. So it seems that to be ‘Original’ you need not do all the work yourself.

To be original you need to understand how to blend ideas, how to take the Italian trouser made from French cloth and finish it with a rivet taken from manufacturing industries.

Picture courtesy of M62 Steal the slide!

Start by hearing (in your mind) a warm round of applause and the congratulations of the attendees at the conference, then figure out how to get there. Your talk is about them, not you. Boil down what you want to say to three key ideas. There will be a hundred and three things you could talk about. Only cover the three that will be important to your audience.

When you are giving your talk, assume that your mother is in the room. Talk at her level. If your content is even slightly technical, make sure you have explained the basics in a way your mother would understand before you dive into the detail. Your mother is, I’m sure, an intelligent woman who can pick things up quickly. You wouldn’t patronise your mother, so don’t patronise your audience. Of course, if you are talking to the Society of Advanced Cosmetic Dentistry, you won’t need to explain what a tooth is. But as most conferences have a fairly general appeal, so tweak your content accordingly.

A picture paints a thousand words, so use pictures rather than text. If you have Firefox, use the Creative Commons search for images to use. Don’t rely on clip art. Ever. And avoid long and laborious slide-builds and animation. A good rule of thumb is 5 words per slide.

Tell stories and anecdotes to show your experience and command of your subject.

Your default body position is shoulders back, arms slightly bent, palms facing the audience, fingers pointing downwards. Practice this. You won’t need to worry about what to do with your hands.

Allow time for questions, but make sure you are able to answer the questions. The only way to do this is to learn as much as possible about your subject. This takes time. Be prepared to deal politely with people who clearly haven’t got what you are saying. Again, pretend it’s your mother asking the inevitable left-field question.

Good luck.

A while ago we said that we give presentations to make money. Today I want to make another sweeping and controversial statement.

Each presentation we give is an exercise in leadership.

Leaders have one aim. Make other leaders. To make other leaders, you need:

  • A vision
  • The ability to share the vision
  • A definite direction to follow in order to realise the vision

Put away all the books about what makes a leader. Instead, get out in front of people, give great presentations and test your leadership muscles.

Start each presentation with a vision. By this, I mean before you have even put pen to paper or opened up your laptop, get a clear idea of what you want your presentation to acheive. A big part of this should be that you want your audience to spread the messages and stories you tell them. In other words, you want to create other leaders. Therefore, keep your vision simple, clear and concise.

When it comes to sharing the vision, be original. Take people out of their comfort/slumber zones. Give them analogies. Tell them interesting stories. For instance, Fred Perry played in his first Wimbledon final with a badly injured knee, but before he took to the court he had already decided what his victory celebration would be. As soon as his winning shot hit the turf he performed a cartwheel and jumped the net, just as he planned in the dressing room. Link that to your current situation at work – how to play through the pain barrier, how to stick to a vision against the odds, how to execute against a plan. Give a prize to anyone wearing a Fred Perry shirt. Whatever you do, give people a reason to follow your vision and share your ideas.

Every presentation you give from now on should be a workout for your leadership qualities. You have them already. Go and use them.