Presentation “Heroes” – My Mentors

I’m making a presentation at a big international behavioral health conference this week, so my thoughts have turned to those who I’ve learned the most from relating to making a good presentation. I thought I might republish this article from almost fours years ago – it’s still quite relevant!

Now, you may never give a Ted© Talk (I haven’t), or be the keynote speaker at a national convention (I have!), but chances are you will need to make some formal presentation or another over the next few days or weeks. It may be a business proposal to your executive team, a training project for your staff, or even a chat you have with your kids about why they should consider putting some of their allowance into a savings account! How will you do? Will you be persuasive, memorable, effective?

Developing good presentation skills is a worthwhile pursuit, and although there are a lot of elements involved in becoming an outstanding presenter (including tone of voice, body language, clothing selection, etc.), the selection of visual presentation aids is one of the most important. It’s common now to use PowerPoint – the standard (if not the gold standard) tool to provides slides to accompany your words, but there are other tools worth looking at, including SlideShareSlideRocket, and my favorite, Prezi!

Maybe equally important to the selection of your tool, is learning to use it well.
As seems to be true with everything, it’s always good to have a coach or mentor – or maybe two or three. When it comes to presentation skill, I have some recommendations for you. These are all people who have had an impact on my presentation skills over the years, and for different reasons. Taken as a group, they really fit my definition of a “Dream Team”. If you are looking for some good ideas that will help you become a better, more effective presenter, they may be of help to you as well.

I have to start off the list with Edward Tufte, who is a Yale professor emeritus of political science, statistics and computer science, and in generally acknowledged as the biggest names in the area of visualizing data. His first book on the topic, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information was published several years before the development of PowerPoint (a platform whose misuse or poor use Tufte has often criticized) and is both a classic treatment of interesting and compelling ways data has been presented over the centuries, as well as a visual delight to read through. Reading Tufte’s works will add a lot to your awareness of, and appreciation for the pictorial display of complex concepts.

Speaking of pictures, the person who has influenced my presentations the most would have to be Garr Reynolds. Since I first picked up a copy of his visually and mentally stimulating book Presentation Zen I have never made another boring, text filled slide presentation. He really has the handle on how to tell a story using great visuals (to show on the screen) and your well-chosen words (which you say out loud, not read to your audience!). His recommended reading list is beyond compare for anyone who is really serious about becoming a top-notch presenter. One of my favorite takeaways from Garr is his habit of asking “dakara nani?” which translates to “So What?” or “…and your point is?”. He reminds us that every visual you show or every point you make should have value or relevance or it can just be eliminated. Believe me, if you make more than one or two presentations a year, Garr will change your life!

If you are a fan of, or otherwise committed to PowerPoint as your main presentation tool, you need to know Ellen Finkelstein, a trainer, coach, writer, and PowerPoint Superstar! If you are a PPt user, you owe it to yourself to follow her excellent blog. Ellen also offers regular online workshops and webinars on the effective use of PowerPoint, and provides dozens of useful tips for free. Ellen is truly the antidote to Death by PowerPoint! (ref1) (ref2)

One of the latest additions to my mentor list is Nancy Duarte. Through her trainings, her blog, and a variety of recorded interviews, Nancy can turn you into an expert communicator, whether your audience is investors, employees, or customers. Her clear communication styles and tools perfectly exemplify what she is teaching. You really need to check out Slidedocs, Nancy Duarte’s solution to one of the most common problems we face – when people want copies of our presentations and we can’t be there to make the presentation itself. (If you’re a Garr Reynolds disciple and your work is 90% visual, this is truly a must!) A good Slidedocs presentation can be emailed, mailed, or printed and hand delivered, and you will be truly close the loop on effective communication!

These are my four superhero mentors, the people who have had the most impact on my communication skills and style. Feel free to borrow them for yourself. And, if you want to fill me in on someone I have missed along the way, please drop me a note and suggest them, much obliged!

For True Coffee Lovers!

Coffee is the common man’s gold. And like gold, it brings to every person the feeling of luxury and nobility. Where coffee is served, there is grace and splendor and friendship and happiness. All cares vanish as the coffee cup is raised to the lips.

The quote above is attributed to Sheikh Abd Al-Kadir, from a 1587 work entitled “In Praise of Coffee” (view more coffee quotes)

You can probably tell right off that this message is not directed to those of you who drink 30 cups of coffee a day (but can’t remember the last one), or those whose favorite coffee starts with F-O-L or M-A-X, or those who mainly drink coffee to “keep me awake so I can finish this paper/work project/assignment”. Nor is it meant for anyone who thinks that “pods” are a good idea – ecologically, or for making good coffee (and remember the evil forces in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” were called Pod People).

This is for the others, those whose approach to a cup of coffee is first to inhale the rich and rewarding aroma of a good cup. Those who don’t have to start the day with a coffee, but don’t mind if they do. Those who can drink one cup a day, or two, or ten, but only if it’s REALLY GOOD coffee – quality over quantity. Those whose word association with “coffee” is “ahhhh”.

You are the people who understand the rich history of coffee, dating back centuries to the (perhaps mythical) story of Kaldi and the Dancing Goats. The people who will drive miles out of your way to visit a great new coffee shop you have heard about, and whose googling history includes dozens of queries starting with “Where’s the best coffee in…”. The people who understand the health benefits of coffee, and may even be willing to go one step further and argue that coffee drinkers are more successful than other people.

You are the people who have tried many ways to brew the best coffee at home, and are happy to debate those methods (and defend your favorite) with fellow appreciators. You are the ones who include the potential demise of coffee as one of your strongest reasons for solving the climate crisis. Your “gift list” for yourself, or for many of your friends, could include anything shown here.

You may be like me, and have taken the next step towards the best coffee by roasting your own beans at home. By the way, Sweet Maria’s is one of the best sources I’ve found for buying green coffee beans for roasting, and I imagine their pre-roasted coffee is probably pretty darn good too.

If you are one of these people, you know that I could write, and you could read, pages and pages of prose in praise of this magical elixir, the favorite of commoners and kings. But I have a better idea. Go find yourself a great cup of coffee and enjoy the moment!

Take This Challenge – See Your Future!

recent HBR article provides the backdrop for a challenge I would like to suggest to anyone who feels the pressure to envision the future of their organization – and if you aren’t feeling this pressure, you should be.

John Boudreau, USC Marshall School of Business professor, Research Director for the school’s Center for Effective Organizations, and well-respected management expert, examines the future of work as it evolves along two axes, neither of which are speculative, as we are seeing transitions on both fronts in nearly every field of business and commerce.

The first measurement index is the degree of “Democratization of Work”, influenced and indicated by the extent to which a workplace sees a reconfiguration of social and organization relationships and foundations, the wide expansion of the talent market as it becomes both easier and more acceptable to employ workers without traditional geographical and even cultural constraints, and the nearly ubiquitous connectability that has come about in the past decade, leading to far more communication and collaboration, teamwork and shared leadership. The second measure is the degree of “Technological Empowerment” which builds on the connectability already mentioned and also includes the logarithmic explosion in technology development – think robots, self-driving (autonomous) vehicles, wearable devices, and the ability to connect almost any device to any other (the IoT). Add in the interface of humans and automated devices that characterizes the gains we see in the world of Artificial Intelligence and you begin to get the picture, and an amazing picture it is (for most of us)!

The quadrant graph that emerges is thus one in which the status quo represents the core block, and, as titled by Boudreau, the work that evolves through increased democratization is “Work Reimagined” and that which emerges from greater development and implementation of technology is “Work, Turbo Charged”

So here’s your challenge. Imagine first that nothing changes technologically, but that you can expand the work you do and the people you reach by accessing new, global platforms, increasing project-based work, connecting and utilizing freelancers, contract workers, part-timers and consultants and even using contest or crowd-sourced methods to define some or all of what you do. What would your new “Reimagined” workplace look like? How could you be more successful than you are today? What changes would these novel approaches bring to your compensation systems, your hiring processes, your bottom line? This will give you an idea of what “Work, Reimagined” might look like at your company.

Now, assume that nothing changes in the structure, composition, and deployment of your workforce, but you have access to supportive technology like never before and can employ cloud-based training, effective remote supervision and monitoring, local devices and smart device based apps to support your workers’ efforts and your overall ability to manage those efforts. You are beginning to get a glimpse of what a “Turbocharged Today” might look like for you.

If you really want to get excited, combine the two approaches. Technological advances, coupled with a new democratization of work structures usually go hand in hand, and have a synergistic effect on one another. Boudreau calls this collective, evolving space the “Uber Empowered” workplace in which both the type of work arrangements and the technologies employed are advancing together. Can you imagine how that would play out in your work-space?

Be assured that some of your competitors are engaging in just such efforts as I have been describing and that some of them are using the vision and insights that result from these exercises to strategically plan what the future of their company (and your industry) will look like. I hope you will too!

Does Your Strategy Consider Geography?

These days, it’s common to read advice about strategy that assumes that somehow advances in technology, communications, and influence – which have admittedly been sweeping in the approximately one-quarter of a century since the dawn of the public internet – have opened up the world to any entrepreneur or established business. Do I need to be worried about the trade laws in China? Should my website be available in a dozen languages? Am I keeping tabs on my competitors halfway around the globe?

In truth, for the vast majority of businesses, things are far more local than global. For these businesses, it is as, if not more important to tend to the local marketplace than to hope that success will come from afar. [See our August, 2014 article Can’t See the Trees for the Forest?] If your business is like this, you need to pay attention to geography, and to demographic information about your local area. Understanding the local scene, including where new residential and commercial building is happening, how income ranges are changing within zip codes you serve, where the light rail is being laid or highways are being built, can be critical to your future success and even your existence.

I’ll use an area I am very familiar with – the mental health counseling field – as an example here, but I believe that most of the observations I am making would apply to a business that is selling tires, delivering entertainment, or providing home repair just as well.

Look at population density for example. For almost any business category you can think of, the number of businesses of a particular nature tends to be tied to the number of potential customers. I remember a Geography class I audited many years ago noting that the number of churches that existed in any given geographical area would rise and fall based on the total number of citizens in almost exactly the same way that the number of liquor stores would change. Although, I do recall that there was about a 10:1 ratio between the number of liquor stores vs. churches (except in certain parts of the country)! Saturation was possible, so if the population was stable and there were already sufficient businesses of a certain type to meet the needs of the citizens, opening yet another was not a good strategy.

This is a particularly important point if you are already in an existing market, and are trying to create your strategy for the next year or two. If you are in a small marketplace, with perhaps only one or two competitors, you might be able to gain market share by differentiating yourself by quality or price. Demonstrating that your employees are more skilled or credentialed than competitors will help you gain customers from the consumer base who is most interested in quality, and likewise showing that your charges or rates are lower than the rest of the local competition will attract people who like a bargain or are on restricted incomes. Suppose though, that you are in a larger metropolitan area with a much bigger client base, and many other businesses that are offering essentially the same services as yours. Your strategy may need to be much different, as there is already stratification in your industry based on costs or quality. If this is the case you might want to consider location changes, bringing your offices or outlets closer to highly travelled thoroughfares or public transportation hubs. You should look at how the local population density has changed over the past few years, as there may be some geographical areas that were rural farmland only a couple of years ago, but today are filled with new housing, retail and office space, and tons of customers who would appreciate a local resource. If you competition has not seen this shift yet, being the first in the local market can gain you a lot of business! Being involved in a larger marketplace favors the development of niche-type products or services as well. Specialized counseling for LGBT youth for example, is a very viable (and useful) project if the local population is 1 million as there are likely many dozen youth who would take advantage of the services. In a county with 40,000 residents, the potential users of your services might only be a handful (and they might not want to get help locally, due to the potential for stigma)!

Geographical accessibility, along with technology considerations, also should be factored in. If your service area is marked by widespread, isolated residents as opposed to large population clusters, providing mobile services (we come to you) as opposed to a central fixed location, is a legitimate business strategy. This is particularly true for areas where the transportation assets, including well maintained roadways or public transit options, are limited or poor. Areas like this which also have good broadband access are ripe for the delivery of online services. Online services are also, perhaps unfortunately, legitimate in larger communities where personal safety is a concern. If I don’t like to venture outside of my house or my immediate neighborhood because of high incidence of crime, but I can access the internet from home or a nearby library or community center, I will be very interested in transacting business online.

Geography, as it relates to the relative locations of branches of your business, is also important, depending on the management style of your business. If yours is a centrally managed operation, where hands on supervision and lots of face time from the management team has contributed to your success, it may be unwise to consider expanding to locations that are more than an hour or two away from your headquarters, as the logistics of managing a far-flung business empire could be difficult or extremely costly. This is another area where technology can come into play, as online tools for project planning, reporting, communication and internal community sustainability can help bridge the miles!

As you plan for the future, don’t turn a blind eye to the possibilities that have been opened up to us all to become participants in the global marketplace. But if your business model is mainly local, think geography!

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