Trying to make a point? Tell a story

Storyteling

I’ve talked a couple times about different tools that I use including Powtoon. Last night I was pulling together a Powtoon trying to capture the story of why I think there should be a premium put on decision making, particularly within the federal space as we go into these more austere budget times. Every little decision counts. It’s important to be able to evaluate everything that you have, identify areas where you can save a little bit here so you can give a little bit back there, and make better use of your resources to support the mission.

So this is a problem I’ve briefed for years at a high level using traditional mechanisms like PowerPoint decks, but it’s really something that I think lends itself to telling a story. In general, one of the things that makes Powtoon so great is it forces you to tell a story almost by the very nature of the tool set.  The tool is centered on the idea that you’re making a cartoon.

I think one of the big failings of PowerPoint decks is they let you be very conceptual. I’ll find myself starting to put the elements together of something and so I’ll begin to talk conceptually about whatever problem I’m trying to address at the moment. It takes a lot of effort to tell that story across a PowerPoint because you have to go back later to the notes so you can remember what your thought track was supposed to be. What I like about Powtoon is that it allows you to do all of that at one time, roll it together, and have something that you can show in a repeatable fashion.

I’ve found that if I focus in on something, you can cut down a lot of the abstractions that might go into a PowerPoint deck. It enables you to focus on the story elements. You may not get in all the nitty gritty details in there the way you would have in your busy PowerPoint deck, but you get the heart of it in there. What I found is that it resonates more with people even though you get a quarter of the data that would be in a PowerPoint presentation. The fact that you pulled it into a story means that people retain it better as well. I’ve had people watch a two minute video and tell me that “You know I watched that and I finally really got what you were talking!” Now I take that as a compliment on the one hand. On the other hand, if it’s somebody that I’ve spent an hour with presenting out of a deck and I found out all I really needed to do was show them a two minute video; I’m not quite sure how to take that. I don’t know what that says about my presentation skills but I do think that there’s something to be said for that tool, specifically meaning Powtoon.

I think there’s a bigger lesson that is you really have to focus on telling stories when you give presentations. It’s what drives the response that you want to get out of your audience. It’s what drives audience engagement and it makes people remember things. It’s very hard when you’re just hammered with facts and data to pull it all together yourself and remember all the pieces that were important. If you put in a story, people will remember the same way that they remember the stories that come out of the books they read and the movies they watch. It just makes it much more digestive.  So the next time you’re trying to make a point; tell a story.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Everybody’s selling something: Perfecting your pitch

Satellites_For_Sale_-_GPN-2000-001036

I had a really interesting meeting with a marketing manager at Troux Technologies the other day and I’d like to share a bit from it. It really highlighted how much marketing and sales has evolved over even just the past few years. If you read some of the books that are out there like, To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, which I’ve talked about before, there’s a lot of crossover techniques from what would traditionally be considered sales and marketing approaches. These are now being currently applied to everyday business writing, meetings, and tactical approaches.

One of the themes of To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others is the idea that most people, in their day to day lives, are working on sales on some level. By that I mean that you’re constantly trying to convince people to take your position on something, to do certain things, or to engage on projects. To ignore that is to set yourself up for failure. If you just present people with raw information without any attempt to help them see the message, then you’re doing yourself and your project a disservice. You’re likely to fall short just on the basis of not having presented your ideas well enough.

One of the things that was brought up during our conversation was a discussion on how important it is, especially with really complex messages, to correctly identify the thought train that is going through the person’s mind. You need to be aware of what pieces of information will they need at what time so they can grasp the whole idea. I guess on some level you’re always doing that when you create an executive summary, a long paper, or you are working through a slide deck for a meeting; you’re always working through that process and I’d never heard anyone explicitly put it like that before. I thought it was a really good way to think about it, particularly when you’re trying to communicate complex things. By putting it out in bite sized chunks, you make it easier to enable people to grasp the big picture at the end of it.

He brought up another idea that I think is good practice to bring into your day to day marketing of your ideas and projects. It’s the idea that you should always be focusing on your stakeholder community’s big values. I think on some level that should be pretty obvious but it’s still worth mentioning and reinforcing. I know that I’ve found myself many times writing something and what comes through on the page are the things that are really important to me and not necessarily to my audience. So I’ll have to go back through, reorder things, and rephrase them to make sure that I’m capturing what is important to the person that I’m writing it for and not just for me.

I really believe that is a worthwhile exercise anytime you write something or pull together communications pieces. By making sure that you take a step back you can really see whether you’ve captured what’s important for your intended audience and not just what are the things that you believe are important about it. So I realize some of what I said is fairly obvious but I know, at least for me, the conversation was a great reminder of:

  • How important it is to think about what the customer or consumer of your information is going to need
  • What order do they need that information in in order to understand it
  • To constantly focus on the areas that are going to be of interest to them as you communicate your big idea.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Using local sports to expand your network

sports and netwoking

The other night I had the opportunity to go to the Inaugural Monumental Sports and Entertainment Business league event at Verizon center and I think it’s a really interesting and exciting concept.  As happens in any medium to large city, you end up over time doing business with the same network of folks that you know and for better or for worse you stay within those networks. There’s a lot of benefits to that. It’s great to do business with people that you’ve known a long time and that you trust but it can be a bit limiting. The problem is that it’s hard to meet the right kinds of folks that you’re going to want to work with going forward and I think that is the neat thing about something like the Monumental Sports and Entertainment Business League. What they’re trying to do is draw on the fact that they’ve got a ready built community of people that share a common bond or common passion for something and in this case its hometown sports whether it’s the Capitals, the Wizards, or the Mystics. It’s a shared passion for something that gives you that sort of immediate common bond with other people.

I never thought about it this way but when they were opening up the event they were talking about the fact that Verizon center was the largest gathering point for people in the area. There are so many people that are so passionate about their hometown sports it does provide a sort of unique opportunity to group people around that and expand your network.  I know that as you meet, greet, and talk to different people it’s amazing how the fact that you have that common bond eases you into making some of the normal hurdles you associate with understanding where other people are coming from as a business standpoint easier to overcome.

Now I don’t know if there are other teams around the NBA or NHL who do this but I think it’s just and absolutely incredible concept. I’m excited to get to the next event and continue to meet some of the great people that I met at this past event.  So I’m curious as to what other people’s experiences were at sort of closed community network events. What other types of shared passions have helped bond together communities around something where the purpose of that event is one part whatever that activity is and the other part is about the networking and expanding your circle of folks that you may want to do business with?

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Maintaining the health of your social and professional circles

Maintain the health of you social and professional circles

I’m going to try something new out today. I’m not going to tell you that this is a tried and true method I’ve used to maintain a healthy network or that this has led to me being a happier or more successful person because I’ve never tried this before. All I know is I was thinking about this the other day and I think I’m just going to go ahead and give it a shot. So I have talked quite a bit about how important maintaining your network is. I think sometimes when you say networking it makes it sound really commercial and I don’t necessarily mean it in that sense. Certainly some of your career success and your professional success is predicated on the folks that you know but it’s not just that those people connect you to opportunities. It’s that those people help you experience new things and learn about things you otherwise wouldn’t know. It’s the same thing in your network that is purely social.

Those are people that are going to influence what you think about and how you think about the things you think about. When you get right down to it, those are huge factors in not just how successful you’ll be but how happy you’ll be.  So I’ve decided that I’m going to try something today that I’ve never tried before. I’m going to reach out to one person that I haven’t talked to in a really long time.  The thing that got me thinking about this was one of my childhood best friends, who’s been a friend for practically forever, and I hadn’t spoken to him since our 20 year high school reunion. What prompted us to reconnect was finding out that his father was going to pass and you know that’s one of those things that just shouldn’t happen that way. So I’m going to be a little more proactive and I’m going to talk to someone that I haven’t really spoken to in a long time. I want to ensure that I maintain that connection to people that I’ve known for a long time, I’ve always enjoyed speaking with, and not take it for granted; because it shouldn’t take something terrible to bring us together.

The second thing I’m going to do is reach out to somebody that I believe can change my life.  Someone that I maybe don’t know but would like to know because I think that what they do or what they stand for is exciting or interesting or could be a changer for me.  Maybe I’ll be successful or maybe I won’t but at least I’ll have tried to make that connection.

The third thing I’m going to do is reach out to somebody who I maybe only connected with via email or had casual routine or business sort of exchanges with. I’m going to reach out to that person on the phone and see if the person behind the mail is somebody that I would like to talk to on a more regular basis.  So I’m going to do all those things and I’m guessing those will take me less than an hour. I’m just curious where it will lead.  I’ll report back on if those things translated into anything either that were worthwhile either personally or professionally.  I’m curious what other people think or if other people have attempted things like this. Do you regularly make an effort or schedule time to refresh or renew relationships that may be getting stale over time or that had been neglected?  What are the things that you do to maintain the health of your social and professional circles?

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Checklist for what to do at work before you leave for vacation

Vacation Checklist

Summer is vacation primetime.  People coming and going from the office can be stressful for everyone. In order to reduce the stress on yourself and those you leave behind at work, I thought I’d list some ideas for how to make sure your summer vacation goes smoothly. So before you check out this summer take a look at these 7 tips:

  1. Give people enough notice. It’s imperative to make sure you give enough lead time in order for those around you to plan accordingly.
  2. Coordinate with the rest of your team to make sure that you are all not out at the same time.
  3. Ensure that your regular duties have been transferred to other parties within your team so that they continue to get done. You don’t want to have things piling up on you while you’re gone or worse, you have to do them while you’re gone
  4. Take the time to transition the knowledge required to do those duties. You do not want the first call you get when you leave the office for your vacation to be, “Hey, how do I do that stuff you wanted me to do?”
  5. Make sure that your external stakeholders, clients, etc., have a point of contact that they can get in touch with you or information for whom they can get in touch with while you’re gone.
  6. Make sure that if there is a REAL emergency they can get in touch with you so you don’t have a complete mess when you get back.
  7. If it’s necessary that you check in while you are on vacation, make sure that you have a scheduled time and stick with it. You do not want your vacation to turn into a workcation.

As always I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts or any ideas for making the work to vacation transition easier.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Wanted: Correct Solutions delivered compellingly

Wanted Blog

I think that one of the most common mistakes made when delivering a product or deliverable is how easy it is to get so wrapped up in the correctness of the content and meeting the letter of the requirement, that we forget to make things interesting. We forget to take a little bit of time to make our content compelling. As a management consultancy organization, this is a rule that we break all the time. When you break it, you run the risk of not giving your client all the value that they could have had. Now some people will say, “Well you’re just getting paid to provide the answer.” While I think that’s a hundred percent correct, there’s more to it than that.

A lot of times you’re called in to deal with a complex question or an organization is trying to achieve a particular goal. They ask you to come in and look at things so you evaluate a lot of different factors to come up with a result. In theory, it shouldn’t have to be compelling it should just have to be right. Unfortunately, that is not how the world works. It doesn’t just have to be the right idea. In a lot of cases, particularly in very large organizations, it has to win in the marketplace of ideas because a lot of times you’re not the only group that’s working on the problem. Now you may be the only group working on the problem from any particular angle but large organizations pain points oftentimes get addressed not just by one group, but multiple groups. Multiple groups will recognize the pain points and they’re all attempting solutions to address it from their particular angle. Oftentimes with the assumption that if they’re the ones that address it, they’ll be able to avoid a certain amount of organizational pain. This by virtue of being able to have crafted the solution. So I think it’s really important to look at things and go, “I need this to not only give the right answers, but I need it to be something that people will read the entire report through.”

You need to put things into the reports that will make it interesting to people that are notonly cutting fat, cut and dry, just the facts man type of people, but also to people that need to be pulled through a document. Those people need some visual cues. Maybe they need some facts and statistics that make it more relevant to them. Things that make it personal. In order to do this you need to know enough about whose going to being reading or seeing your report or presentation to make it compelling to them. Those are questions that need to get answered just as much as whatever the evaluation, assessment or particular problem is that you’re trying to address.  One of the things we’ve done more and more is utilize things like info graphics. I’ve included an example here.

This info graphic was developed to help us with a report we’ve been working on with a bunch of schools to address school safety issues. This was meant to spur action. There’s a lot of data that gets collected through the ExAM for schools process and we want people to go through and really take a hard look at those things. So we set up this info graphic with that goal in mind. Obviously we’ve got other things that we do throughout a full report but it’s meant to drive people to work through it by setting up the idea that it’s very important that they do so.

I’m actually very interested in feedback on the info graphic itself as well as the idea that you need to cater to people that might not go through an entire report that you deliver just because it’s not interesting. I know that a lot of people come from sort of the old school belief that people should do it because they believe it’s the right thing to do, it’s their job, etc. but that isn’t the case across the board. While those people are going to do it whether I make it interesting or not, it’s also really important you make the people that might otherwise only be casually interested to make it through it as well.  So if it was important enough for someone to engage you to do something, then it’s probably worth it on your side to make it as compelling as possible.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

To forward or not to forward?

To forward or not to froward

I woke up this morning and as is often my habit I went down to my office for a quick look at my email, just to see if there was anything that needed my immediate attention. Lo and behold one of the members of my team had reached out to somebody, somebody that I had been in the middle of an ongoing discussion with directly, and copied me on it.  So this would seem fairly benign if weren’t for how this second conversation came about. As I said before I had been having an ongoing conversation with this outside party and something of interest had come up in our conversation. So I forwarded this conversation to a person on our team, ostensibly to keep them in the loop.

Looking back on things, it probably wasn’t the best idea. I could have written up a brief status with instructions on how I wanted the information handled. I could have made a phone call to make this person aware of the situation. Basically I could have done a lot of different things but I didn’t. I just forwarded them the e-mail with a little note at the top that just said FYI. Now maybe its not the end of the world but this really frustrated me for a few reasons.

By virtue of this person taking that information and reaching out directly on that specific subject it: 1) put me in a position of having to respond and acknowledge this conversation really quickly which in this case, was actually something that I hadn’t wanted to do. I wanted to keep this person informed because it was an important conversation that was going on with an outside stakeholder. My intention had really been for us to have a discussion about it so that I could shape an appropriate response. So when this person jumped directly to the responding part they didn’t have the full context of how to respond. Not everything was in the email. This is an email that was the culmination of a lot of phone calls and a bunch of other things. So their interpretation and subsequent response lacked nuance because they weren’t completely informed.

When you think about it, the responsibility for all of that circles right back around to me.  I didn’t put, “FYI lets discuss so that I can respond,” I just put “FYI” at the top. So I certainly cant be too upset with my team member for essentially having taken the initiative to contact this person because I was really unclear with how I wanted the information handled. So in looking back and figuring out how I’ll move forward, it certainly brings to the forefront the idea that sharing these types of communication outside the immediate chains can be tricky but useful. I think sometimes there’s real value when all the sudden you’re going back and forth in an email chain and you recognize that you need another set of eyes to make use of it. I think it’s completely appropriate to share that out to somebody as long as, especially if its business correspondence as it was in this case, that’s a reasonable expectation of that exchange.  I believe that the e-mail that I sent was. It was focused on a business area so I don’t have a problem with having actually shared the information.

I think that what would have made this work would have been if I had just taken the time to write a simple sentence at the top of that correspondence that said, “Let’s coordinate to develop a response,” rather than simply put “FYI” on there.  I receive a lot of these types of communications from other people as well seeing as it’s a simple kind of a way to get people up to speed on a conversation that they haven’t been a part of.  Since this is used so often within my company and I’m sure others, there may need to be some basic ground rules and guidelines on how to handle that type of situation.

  1. I think the number one thing that needs to be included when you forward an email chain to somebody else is a quick explanation of what’s the appropriate way to handle this information. Is it OK for this person to directly contact that person? Is it ok for them to forward it on as they see fit? What are the rules around sharing the conversation? I think that is the first and foremost important thing to include.
  2. What is the anticipated next step in this?
  3. This rule is lower priority than the first two but I thought I should include them. What is the desired outcome? Especially if you’ve had a lot of correspondence, what are the outcomes you’re trying to achieve and what are the relevant points in the document that you’re trying to point them to? These are very, very useful in terms of helping somebody understand what the move forward is.

I’m curious what other people’s feelings are. Do you have other tips in this regard? Do you believe that you should never share conversations and that it should always be summaries rather than forwarding something? I’m really curious what other people have to say.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.