Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Images and PowerPoint

Finding images for PowerPoint slide shows is a time consuming process.

That said, it can be time well spent ... if you are using PowerPoint correctly, making images and graphics the focus rather than text.

PowerPoint is misused by the VAST majority of corporate users. Edward Tufte (described by The New York Times as "the Leonardo da Vinci of Data") believes that PowerPoint is responsible for degrading the effectiveness of corporate presentations. In his words:
"Rigid slide-by-slide heirarchies, indifferent to context, slice and dice the evidence into arbitrary compartments; producing and anti-narrative with choppy continuity."

In a sense, we are using a linear, hierarchical, left-brained format to communicate a layered right-brained narrative.

It's clear to me now that learning to utilize the right-brained big picture tools of story and metaphor is a requisite to excellent communication.

Finding the right image to capture a visual metaphor or to tell a story can be a tricky business. That's why I was very interested in an article in the April issue of Business 2.0, titled, "You Ought To Be In Pictures." The article focuses on the business of licensing images and lists several image sources.

There are "The Goliaths":
And "The Davids":
I would add to that list:
Of course, Google's image search is a great resource for images but one has to be careful about violating copyright laws, especially for corporate presentations. Also, Google can be far more time consuming as the images are usually not labeled or tagged with the searcher in mind.

In other words, if you are looking for the image of a female archer, you are likely to use "female archer" or "woman archer" as your search string. However, Jill, an avid archer might post dozens of high-quality images of herself practicing archery on her personal web site and never use those words to label her photo files.

The sites that license the use of their images are incented to tag them so that they can be found easily. Hence, searches using the paid sites can often be less time-consuming.

When I work with intact teams, I coach clients to create a pool of images that each team-member can draw from. This can help to cut down the amount of time spent on searching for images. In addition, it encourages conversations about how various images, stories and metaphors are being employed. "Good artists copy. Great artists steal." said Pablo Picasso. You SHOULD be stealing ideas from colleagues, if you want to truly master the art of communication.

I've made much personal effort to make sure I had access to all the images that we at The Henderson Group have compiled over the years. Having a good recall of these images has often saved me from time-consuming image searches.

This is an important personal practice that can benefit your team-members as well. Some final tips:
  1. Thinks in terms of story and metaphor
  2. Use images to tell your story or illustrate your metaphor
  3. Use image resources and services to help you find the right image
  4. Make the image the focus on the slide, taking up more real estate
  5. Minimize the use of language
  6. Keep bullets to a minimum
  7. Think of your bullets as very succinct "hooks" (more on this is a future post)

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Spin vs. Authenticity and Credibility

Will future generations look back and see this as The Age of Spin?

If they do, I hope they look back from an age when being authentic and credible is the norm, rather than the exception.

On Fri, May. 25, 2007, Leonard Pitts of the Miami Herald, posted a column titled, "Dishonesty is sanitized in a world of spin." The column opens with these paragraphs:

"One hopes there's a little something extra in the pay envelopes this week for whatever flacks represent Jimmy Carter and Clinton Portis. Surely, the spin doctors have earned it.

Take Portis, a Washington Redskins running back, for example. In an interview Saturday, he defended Michael Vick, the Atlanta Falcons quarterback under investigation for dog fights at a home he owns. Portis, 26, said he didn't see what the fuss was. 'I don't know if he was fighting dogs or not. But it's his property; it's his dogs. If that's what he wants to do, do it.'

Just hours later, Portis issued a statement saying in part he wished to make it clear he does not 'condone dog fighting in any manner.'

Former President Carter, meantime, was asked in an interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette to rate the administrations of Richard M. Nixon and George W. Bush. He said, 'I think as far as the adverse impact on the nation around the world, this administration has been the worst in history.'

Carter would hardly be the only person to hold that view, but apparently he had second thoughts about violating the unwritten rule that says one president never speaks ill of another. Days later, he claimed on the Today show that his remarks were 'maybe careless or misinterpreted.' "

It seems that daily, I am reading retracted comments like this in the newspaper. I wonder if these folks (Porter and Carter) really thinks that anyone believes their retractions.

Though I certainly have not lived under the kind of scrutiny these guys have, I wonder how I might deal with such a situation. I like to think that I would stick by my statements, if they truly matched my beliefs or opinions.

These questions come up for me:

  • What is driving this dynamic?
  • Is it the press, shoving microphones into people's faces - shouting, "President Carter, do you stand by your statement that the Bush administration "has been the worst in history"?
  • Can't they see that their credibility takes a hit every time they retract their opinion?
  • How far will Political Correctness go?

Perhaps the deepest question of all are:

  • How does one remain true to one's self and opinions while remaining open to other viewpoints?
  • How does one be willing to admit honest mistakes while remaining credible in the public eye?

All tough questions to wrestle with. More thoughts to follow ...

Monday, May 14, 2007

Radical Transparency and Authenticity

The cover story "The See-Through CEO" for the April 2007 issue of Wired Magazine addresses a new philosophy in business driven largely by blogs and the internet. They call it "Radical Transparency."

The article argues that it is impossible to control the image of your business anymore.

" 'You can't hide anything anymore,' Don Tapscott says. Coauthor of The Naked Corporation, a book about corporate transparency, and Wikinomics, Tapscott is explaining a core truth of the see-through age: If you engage in corporate flimflam, people will find out. He ticks off example after example of corporations that have recently been humiliated after being caught trying to conceal stupid blunders. There's Sony, which put a rootkit - a piece of spyware - on music CDs as a secret copy-protection technique, only to wind up in court when bloggers revealed that the code left their computers vulnerable to hacker intrusions. There's Microsoft, this time on the wrong side of the transparent shower curtain, offering to pay people to buff up the company's Wikipedia entry. And Diebold, which insisted its voting machines were unhackable - until a professor posted a video of himself rigging a mock election on them. The video went viral and racked up some 300,000 YouTube views."

The example they provide that drove this point home very powerfully was this:
"When Shel Israel and blogger Jeff Jarvis wrote about wretched treatment by Dell's customer service, their posts were so gleefully linked to that for a while they appeared as the number one and two search results for 'Dell.' "

I found this article extremely intriguing. This made me think of transparency not only from a corporate standpoint (a company being transparent to build trust with customers, employees and investors) but also on a personal level.

Authenticity is an important element in the work that I do with The Henderson Group - leading workshops and coaching clients on their communication and presentation skills. This idea of transparency is strongly connected in my view. If you have developed superb communication technique but are not being fully authentic, your co-workers and audiences will sense that there is something amiss.

Transparency on a personal level translates to being vulnerable and up-front. It means revealing personal details and quirks. Trying to hide them suggests that you are concerned that people will discover your true self. That invariably comes across as lacking in confidence.

In our workshops we address the dynamic of "explaining" when receiving feedback. When we try to show that our intentions are perfect and there were understandable reasons for the reason that our performance was not perfect, we come across as defensive and lacking confidence.

Truly confident people (who know themselves and are willing to be seen as vulnerable and imperfect) project a rock-solid belief in themselves: "Yes, I made a mistake in this case but I still believe in myself."

It also means being proactive in pointing out our mistakes. I remember vividly early in my management career the lesson I learned about fessing up when I'd made a mistake.

If I did not report that mistake to my boss, ESPECIALLY if I tried to cover it up, he would be on me like white on rice. (Does the phrase "reamed" have special meaning for any of you, too?) If I went to him and said, "I've screwed up" and explained the problem, invariably he was very understanding and compassionate.

David Henderson, my dearly-departed former mentor and co-founder of THG, used to tell me, "Tell your first truth first." By that David meant that in moments of fear and confusion to turn inward and examine deeply what is most truthful for one's self.

A client recently asked me about giving feedback to her teenage children. She confided that they were often resistant to feedback. (Really?!?! Teenagers resistant to feedback from parents?!?! Alert the media!) I spoke about the idea of authenticity and framing her feedback as a positive statement. I asked her, "What is your core message? What is most important to you?" She thought for a moment and her voice dropped into a deeper register with her eyes welling up. She replied, "I want them to understand that I am setting limits because I care about them." I suggested that she make certain she said that when she speaks to her kids. "If they see that deep sincerity, they will get it. They may still resist but they'll understand and be more likely to comply."

Finally, the willingness to laugh at one's own foibles is a liberating way to demonstrate transparency. When I was younger (and much stupider) I used to spend inordinate amounts of energy focused on being "right." It was more important to me to be respected than liked, I have since learned (largely due to this work) is that vulnerability, transparency, warmth, good-humor and empathy are FAR more important.

One of my favorite writers, Frank Herbert (author of Dune, the world's best-selling science fiction novel) said something like, "A person who has the ability to laugh at one's self has taken a step toward the highest level of civilization."

The willingness to be up-front, vulnerable, show one's warts can go a long way in being authentic and building trust.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Low tech presentation

On Saturday, April 28 our local paper, The Press Democrat (A NY Times paper), published a front-page article titled, "Pen and paper trump tech: In a world of impersonal gadgets, techies are turning to tactile pleasures" by Meg McConahey.

For example:
"Moleskine notebooks, classic bound journals into which Matisse poured his sketches and Hemingway his prose, have become almost "a fetish" among techies, said Rich Gibson, Internet mapper and database programmer from Sebastopol."

This parallels the experience that I often have when a participant in a presentation skills workshop or coaching session turns to the flip chart or white board.

The use of the hand-written media often draws more attention than PowerPoint. In addition, the human touch of a crudely drawn figure or flow chart has more charm than a carefully crafted, slick presentation slide.

The additional advantage is that such a graphic can be quickly drawn on the fly with minimal preparation whereas an intricate flow model can take hours to construct in PPT.

This reminds me of Polish director Jerzy Grotowski's arguments for a low-tech theater in "Towards a Poor Theater." Grotowski argued that theater should be stripped down to it's essence: "a theatre in which the fundamental concern was the work of the actor with the audience, not the sets, costumes, lighting or special effects ... 'Poor' meant the stripping away of all that was unnecessary" according to the WikiPedia entry on Grotowski.

Often, presenters become so enamored by (or addicted to) their technology that they lose the human connection with their audience.

As my mentor David Henderson used to say, "They won't form a relationship with your slides."