Results Every Time You Talk

Archive for the ‘Results’ Category

How PowerPoint Ruined the US Economy

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

The truth is, most business presentations don’t work. Yes, deals get done, and, yes, sometimes they even get done in close proximity to PowerPoint presentations. But, the vast majority of those deals happen in spite of the presentation, not because of it.

Back in the good old days of the “dot-com bubble,” a prominent IPO-churning investment bank asked me to assess the presentation materials they used to pursue private companies for M&A and IPO underwriting. The “right pitch” (or so they reasoned) could bring in millions for the firm with a single win, but competition was fierce with numerous banks offering virtually identical opportunities.

Their PowerPoint pitch droned for nearly 80 pages about the company’s great history and achievements — and then the real meeting started! But this isn’t a history lesson. The addiction to PowerPoint-driven, self-absorbed presentations remains alive and well today.

What’s the real cost?
So, how has PowerPoint cost the US economy billions of dollars? Well, take the investment bank as an example. How much did the investment bankers pay the smart young analyst trainees to stay awake until sun-up consolidating reams of data and plugging it into PowerPoint? What was the executive presenter’s time worth? What if he could have closed more deals in less time? What was the opportunity cost of a wasted “branding opportunity?” What is their “opportunity cost” for failing to differentiate themselves from the competition? Boy, this can really add up!

In fact, the real cost may be in the formulaic thinking these presentations tend to reinforce. If we‘ve learned anything from the cyclical collapse of various “bubbles,” it’s that you have to have a great business before you can tell a great story. PowerPoint has little to do with either one.

What’s the objective?
As business communicators, leaders must move other people to action. It is not enough for people to simply hear or even to understand you. Yet most standard business communication tends to look and feel like a “data dump.” Guess what? By itself, data doesn’t connect – people do.

Learn to connect first

If PowerPoint “data dumps” don’t work, what does? In a word…connection. Relax, no group hugs necessary. As a business communicator, connection means that everything you say and everything you do is driven by the result you want in relationship to the reality of the people you are talking to. The way you use your body and voice, as well as the ideas you choose, must meet the needs of your audience if you want them to change in some predictable way. And that means that you must be driven by the result you want but presented in a way that is completely focused on them. That way, you’ll communicate with them in a way that deepens the relationship, creates value and differentiates you from your competition.

Establish a core message
Let’s say you need to talk to higher-ups in your company to get approval for the budget for your next client event – a budget they’ve been trying to squeeze as much as possible. You don’t begin by planning with PowerPoint — PowerPoint may help you clarify or reinforce your message, but not plan it strategically. Instead, first identify the specific result you want from the meeting and the needs of the people you will talk to, and let that combination drive your core message: what’s in it for them to do what you want them to do.

Graphics as friend, not foe
Only when your ideas are listener-focused and results-oriented is it logical to ask whether some of these ideas should be made visual. If the answer is yes, then it’s time to go have a pint at a local pub….or at least imagine it. In a pub, sometimes a complex concept can be made simple with a quick sketch on a cocktail napkin. If you are willing to work hard enough to evaluate your ideas from the standpoint of the people you are talking to, the effective use of visuals is pretty straightforward.

But, you don’t doodle everything you say in a bar. And by the same token, you shouldn’t try to reinforce everything you say at a meeting with PowerPoint. That’s not reinforcement…it’s visual noise.

Make an impact
As a business person, you don’t talk in public forums to entertain, to look smart, to inform, or even to educate. Your job is to communicate with empathy, power and influence. That’s how you drive results when you talk, and that’s strategic communication!

Old Habits

Monday, February 1st, 2010

My band, Closeenough, does a passable version of John Hiatt’s moody, funky blues tune, “Old Habits,” from the album, Perfectly Good Guitar. The song is about a woman (I assume) who stays with the wrong men for the wrong reason: “That ain’t the facts of life, it’s just bad fiction, and honey that sure ain’t love, naw it’s just an addiction.” Funny thing is he doesn’t talk about “bad habits.” He just talks about “old habits.” Old habits are hard to break. Try tying your shoes left over right instead of right over left. Hard, uncomfortable, takes longer, inefficient, etc.

So much of the way we are in the world is the result of sheer repetition that it’s a bit scary. That’s where habits come from. You do something often enough and the same way each time, and it becomes a habit. You know why you slice the ball so consistently in golf? Because somehow or another, you taught yourself a swing that makes the ball spin from the inside out. Then, you did it so often it started feeling “natural.” Now you have to aim 45 degrees to the left to get the ball to land anywhere near the fairway. The real bummer is that even after lessons and hours on the practice tee, hitting long high-draw after long high-draw, under pressure in the club championship, you push it off into the trees. Because, under pressure, we all retreat to what is comfortable. As children, when threatened, we run screaming for our mothers. On the golf course, under pressure, we revert to an over-the-top swing with an open club face and say good-bye to another Pro V 1. And, in critical, $100 million dollar meetings, we resort to text-heavy PowerPoint presentations, in dark rooms, “Ummhing”, and “Ahhing” our way through a massive core dump of data.

Hey, it’s a habit. We’re comfortable with it, and our clients don’t really expect us to be great “presenters.” Right?

Well, it may be true that the bar is pretty low for what is acceptable in business communications. No one will give you demerits for following the standard company script. And, if you ask someone, “How did I do?” they will probably say, “You did great, boss. You didn’t leave anything out, and you stayed perfectly in sync with your PowerPoint!” So, you got a good grade on your pitch! Atta boy!

Unfortunately, finishing your presentation on time, and having said everything you planned to say in a business communication, doesn’t help you any more than a predictable slice helps you in golf. In fact, both put you into very large, socially acceptable fraternity. But, neither helps you get the results you are after when the stakes are high.

The good news is that choosing to connect as a communicator is much easier than consistently hitting a draw. All it takes is turning off the projector, turning up the lights, and choosing to really talk to the other people in the room. It might be scary at first and it may feel “unnatural” for a while, but that is a small price to pay for the only real differentiation you have: who you are. Will connection always get you the deal? Of course not. But, if data is what your clients ask for, e-mail it to them. However, if they invite you to fly across the country to talk to them, then take the risk, get out of your comfort zone, and convince them that what you have and who you are is what they need. Because “data dumps” are as helpful as staying in bad relationships and pulling expensive golf balls out patches of poison oak.

Talking About Talking

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

Interview with Dan by Brad Collins, Brand Strategist from Group C Inc. in New Haven, CT

Brad: Let’s re-visit a discussion we had about changing the nomenclature of business communication, thinking about what that nomenclature will become. Actually, the word you used was “re-create,” which is a stronger word.

Dan: What I’m trying in my business is to recreate a “paradigm,” to use a horribly overused word; to recreate the nomenclature would kind of follow that. The industry standard has gotten so distanced from any real purpose or ability to predictably create value that it’s ridiculous. It’s become absurd. We’ve completely lost touch with what we are trying to do when we communicate. So, when I talk about “recreating the nomenclature,” it really has to do with getting back to “why are we doing this?” Why do we reach out to people? Why do we exchange ideas, especially in business? It’s not just to hear ourselves talk, and clearly it’s not just to exchange of information. We have Excel spreadsheets and e-mail for that. Without getting too fanciful about it, one of the things we need to do is change how we talk about talking in business, because business language is so laden with current meaning and ritual that it has become valueless. The current understanding of a “presentation” suggests that someone with a projector and some type of software program is projecting a combination of graphics and text onto a screen and narrating what’s on those projections. It’s not uncommon at all for a new client to say to me, “I’m going to send you my presentation.” But, I don’t get a Word document with an outline. I get a PowerPoint file. And, it just doesn’t work. It doesn’t work in terms of accomplishing an objective. Ironically, I think it is often the unstated rather than the stated objective of these communications to get something to happen that matters. To develop a relationship, to move something forward in the organization, to change someone’s behavior or beliefs, or whatever it might be—this is why we talk to each other in business to begin with. Also, re: the word “presentation”—let’s get rid of it. And “speech” is pretty much the same thing. I mean, you go to hear somebody “speak,” but they don’t really talk to you. They give a speech. You see it in politics and you see it in business all the time. People stand up and deliver an assiduously worded set of prepared remarks that, in the end, except in very rare circumstances, feels like, “OK, we got through that, but what was the point?” I’m trying to get folks to think about why we are communicating before we think about what we are communicating. If you start there, if you really ask yourself the question why first, then everything about the experience you create as a business communicator is going to be different: more connected, more valuable, and much better received.

Habits

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

So much of the way we are in the world is the result of sheer repetition that it is just plain scary. That’s where habits come from. You do something often enough—the same way—and it becomes a habit. You know why you slice a golf ball so consistently? Because somehow or another, you taught yourself a swing that makes the ball spin from the inside out. Then, you did it so often it started feeling “natural.” Now, you have to aim 45 degrees left to get the ball to land anywhere near the fairway. The real bummer is that even after lessons, when under pressure in the club championship, you push it off into the trees. Because under pressure, we all retreat to what is comfortable. As children, when threatened, we run screaming for our mothers. On the golf course, under pressure, we revert to an over-the-top swing and say good-bye to another Pro V 1. And, in critical, $100 million dollar meetings, we resort to text-heavy PowerPoint presentations in dark rooms, “umhing” and “ahhing” our way through a massive data dump.

Hey, it’s a habit. We’re comfortable with it, and our clients don’t really expect anything else. Right?

Well, it may be true that, especially now, the bar is pretty low for what is acceptable in how we talk to each other in business. No one will give you demerits for following the standard company script. And, if you ask someone how you did after giving a “presentation,” they will probably say, “you did great, Boss. You didn’t leave anything out, and you stayed perfectly in synch with the PowerPoint!” So, you got a good grade on your “presentation.” Atta boy!

Unfortunately, finishing your presentation on time, and having said everything you planned to say in a business meeting, doesn’t help you any more than a predictable slice does in golf. In fact, both put you into a very large, socially acceptable fraternity. But, neither helps you get the results you want when the stakes are high.

The good news is that choosing to connect when you talk is actually physically easier than consistently hitting a draw. All it takes is turning off the projector, turning up the lights, and choosing to really talk to the other people in the room. It might be scary at first, and it may feel “unnatural” for a while, but that is a small price to pay for the only real differentiator you have: who you are. Will connection always get you the deal? Of course not. But, if data are what your clients really need for the relationship to go forward, and you are comfortable with them drawing their own conclusions, then just e-mail them the spreadsheet or presentation. But, if they invite you to fly across the country to talk to them, then take the risk, get out of your comfort zone, and convince them that what you have and who you are is what they need. After all, it sure beats pulling expensive golf balls out of patches of poison oak.

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