Friday, March 21, 2014

Giving powerpoint presentations, or not

Man, if I have to sit through one more presentation where someone is reading the entire presentation right off the slides, I'm just gonna lose it. Whether in a large group setting or just in a meeting with a few folks, this type of thing shows a complete lack of understanding for how to effectively communicate, and how to connect with the audience.

First off, unless you are presenting on a stage (or similar conceptual location), don't use powerpoint or keynote if you can possibly avoid it. You will spend way too much time trying to figure out how to format what you have to say, rather than thinking about WHAT YOU SHOULD BE SAYING. As one who knows, I will tell you that taking some concepts and putting them into a formatted presentation is incredibly tedious. If you're just going to be talking with a few folks, find some other way of presenting the info. Hand out a diagram. Walk up to the whiteboard. Speak off the cuff. Something. Anything. Just avoid wasting time on powerpoint.

Another great benefit of not having a structured presentation is that it gets your audience in an immediate dialog mode, rather than what they will assume is supposed to be an extended monolog on your part. Again, per the title of my book, the more you can personally SHUT UP and let others participate, the more valuable the meeting will be.

Actually, this concept has been gaining great popularity recently, with many companies (including Amazon) banning powerpoints entirely. You can, and should, become one of them.

But, when you are giving a presentation to a significant number of folks, it's almost impossible to do without a real powerpoint or keynote slide deck. You can still pull this off, but PLEASE have mercy on your audience and follow some rules:
  • Use short bullets and not full sentences. If anyone could deliver your talk by simply reading the slides out loud, you have bad slides. And you don't want your audience being completely transfixed on reading your slides and missing anything good you have to say. Keep it way short and simple.
  • People get confused very easily. Don't try to convey more than one basic point with each slide.
  • Rehearse your talk, fully, in a standing position, EXACTLY as you would do it to your audience. No matter how many times you pseduo-rehearse it, you will never get the timing right. Even then, you will probably underestimate it. Talks always take longer when they're for real, and everyone hates it when you go over your allotted time.
  • Pick your jokes carefully. They will never go over quite as well as you think they will. You will go down in a nuclear pile of slag if you tell a joke and get no response.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Apocalypse never

So, unfortunately, a situation with one of your customers has "gone south." They are unhappy over the quality of your products, the speed of delivery, the handling of some support issue, the overall value they're receiving, whatever... Maybe you should have seen it coming sooner (see some earlier blog entries), but you didn't. Or it got out of control quickly.

Now is the time to bear down and get things positive again. In situations that continue to go sour, do whatever you can to salvage them. It costs so much more to attract a new customer than it does to retain one, it makes sense to go the extra mile. When you factor in the pyramid affect of your departing customers notifying all their friends, coworkers, neighbors, and relatives as well, the damage can be immense.

So, you apply some of your best people to the problem. You set up regular communications (since it's likely that your customer is not located near to you). You may even setup some kind of "war room" to track all the issues. You're going to be thinking that you're doing everything within reason to deal with the issue. And, at some point you’re going to ask “What else can we really do here that will help?”

That’s a good question, but don’t limit yourself to things that are "within reason". Sometimes you need to go a little further – to things that don’t seem logical on the surface. I've mentioned before about how TV news channels throw helicopters at news stories that don't really demand them. Yes, here's one car that has rear-ended another car. You know that dozens happen in your city every single day. But, when we here at TV 7 decide to hover a copter over the top, now that's really exciting! Yeah, everyone's fine... no injuries, and the damage isn't even that great. But we've got this copter and we're sure as heck gonna use it to show you what's important (or ratings-generating) to us!

Well, you can do the same. Go hover a copter. Send one of your best guys, or send yourself, out to the customer’s site. Talk to them in person. See their problems. Feel their pain. They will really appreciate it. It may not do any more to really solve the issues, but the increased personalization will buy you credibility and time to get things right.  Past workmates of mine know that I call this, “putting the helicopter on scene.”

And here’s something I’ve experienced repeatedly upon helicoptering. More often than not, while you are visiting, you will see something new – something the customer hadn’t reported, or an additional clue to whatever was making their lives unpleasant. You’ll be able to funnel information back to your team that will help get this customer up and running quicker than you otherwise would have. You’ll also have a chance to let them, in person, tell you everything that’s on their mind. That will further improve your relationship and probably help the product out in the long run, as well.