PowerPoint or prose…?

PowerPoint or prose…?

I didn't expect the results from my ‘quick and dirty' prose v PowerPoint survey to land where they did. 

Let me share the findings and observations with you and draw my conclusion.

The findings In asking people what communication form their organisations use for discussing important decisions, prose wins hands-down. Here are the results:

  1. Mainly prose – 292 clicks
  2. A mix of prose and PowerPoint – 165
  3. Mainly PowerPoint – 155

My observations I was surprised at the degree of the skew toward prose given I am often asked to help people with their PowerPoint presentations. Two things stood out:

  1. The consistency of the trend: The ratio of responses in favour of prose held steady from the start, with the balance between ‘a mix' and ‘mainly PPT' holding steady also
  2. How few used both prose and PowerPoint: Far fewer readers said they used a mix than I expected (I had assumed this would be where 80+ landed)

My conclusion – I guess I am not as alone as I thought in my growing concern about the challenges and potential ineffectiveness of PowerPoint.

I do think it's a useful tool, but increasingly agree with Jeff Bezos that it can get in the way of powerful messaging.

Kind regards,
Davina

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.

 2 ways to spend less time prepping your comms

 2 ways to spend less time prepping your comms

Love or hate Jeff Bezos, he has had some very very good ideas when it comes to decision making communication.

I was talking about one of these with a client earlier this week. Given she liked the ideas and planned to implement them, I thought I'd share them with you also.

The most prominent idea relates to avoiding PowerPoint in favour of tightly crafted prose narratives to maximise quality decision making. Let me explain the two key ideas my client found so useful.

Avoid PowerPoint presentations. In relying on Edward Tufte's work on visualising information, ‘Jeff' decided to ban PowerPoint for reasons that seem sound to me.

  • Preparing decks is hard to do it well, and he questioned the value of spending lots of time fussing over lining up boxes and making ‘pretty slides' versus thinking hard about the ideas to convey.
  • Presenting is a slow way to convey ideas. According to Tufte, we can absorb information three times faster by reading than by listening to a presentation.
  • Great presenters can ‘wallpaper over' cracks in their logic with their energy and charisma, leading to poor decisions.

Here's what they do instead.

Rely on short, tightly crafted prose narratives instead. They don't insist on any particular way of writing these, just that they be short and effective in setting up a great discussion. Their use in meetings is, however, prescribed as follows. The papers are

  • Read during the meeting. This has at least two few benefits: everyone actually reads the papers and the quality of the thinking is better because of the extra focus paid to them.
  • Designed to be a ‘goldilocks length' that takes about a third of the meeting to read. They suggest 3 pages for a 30 minute meeting and 6 for a one-hour meeting on the assumption that the typical exec takes about 3 minutes to read a page. Interestingly, apparently Jeff Bezos is always the last to finish reading as he critiques every single sentence by asking: what if that were false?
  • Reviewed in advance to ensure they deserve their place in the meeting.

I hope that provides some useful food for thought.

Kind regards,
Davina

PS – I am curious to see what tools your organisations use.

If you click the relevant link below, I'll see the tally and can factor this into my program design for you.

In my organisation, decision making papers are …

When you click the link it will take you to a post on my website that offers some ideas on different ways to think about communication.

I'll let you know the results next week.

Registrations Open:

Thinking Skills Workshop

May 27th

Moving away from PowerPoint shines a light on the need to craft a really crisp narrative.

We can no longer hide or ad lib: we must think hard to connect the dots between our ideas no matter how complex the material.

Learn the foundational skills for untangling complex ideas so you can move from delivering ‘information' to conveying insightful, high-quality messages that are easily understood.

Clarity of communication = clarity of skin

Clarity of communication = clarity of skin

This is an unusual post but one I hope will help.

I just responded to a post by an old friend, Dr James Muecke who happened to be Australian of the year in 2020 for his work fighting sugar.

Look at how well he simplified and shared the message ….

Great (cheeky?) use of humour – Zits away …?

Demonstrates credibility – This recent systematic review concludes that “high glycemic index, increased glycemic load, and carbohydrate intake have a modest yet significant proacnegenic effect.”

Simple and visual summary – In other words, sugar => pimples

Clear takeaway that had me thinking about the young people in my own family – This might just motivate your kids to reduce their sugar intake …

Although I would have reordered these points for greater impact, I was thoroughly impressed by the simplicity and the timing (given many of us are about to binge on chocolate during Easter!).

I hope that helps.

Kind regards,
Davina

PS – I am hosting five MasterClasses during May: one introductory level one, and four others for people with more experience using the Pyramid Principle or our framework, The So What Strategy.

>> Click here to learn about my May MasterClasses

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.

How to get people to read AND reply quickly to your emails?

How to get people to read AND reply quickly to your emails?

I realise in some ways emails seem a bit basic, or even hum drum. We receive tens if not hundreds daily.

And, if we are honest, we read them quite selectively. How many unopened emails are lurking in the bottom of your inbox?

So, if we are selective … so are the people who receive emails from us.

Tricky!

How do we make sure our audiences read and reply with what we need from them quickly? Here are three ideas to help:

#1 – Say something useful. Basic, I know, but often not so.
#2 – Use simple visual formatting so your message is easy to find
#2 – Insert tables, screenshots and other images with care.

Let me unpack each of those for you.

Say something useful. How many emails are never opened and not missed?

To be useful, think super carefully about your purpose and make sure you are adding value to your recipients before you hit send. In particular,

  • Think twice if your purpose is ‘so they know what is going on'. Ask yourself WHY they need to know what is going on? What will they do with that information? Do they really need to know?
  • Minimise the number of people you CC. If your recipients receive loads of emails from you, important ones won't stand out.

Use simple visual formatting so your message is easy to find. I am shocked at how often I brace myself to read emails that appear in my inbox. Here are three tips to reduce this shock for your recipients:

  • Include plenty of white space. You will note that in this and other emails from me, I allow white space before and after sections and in particular around my (usually bolded) main message.
  • Avoid underline. It clutters the page and makes the words hard to read, even though it does draw your eye to the line itself (but not to the word).
  • Only highlight the key message unless your email is long. If long, highlight the top line supporting points as I have done here.

Insert tables, screenshots and other images with care. A great example of this came across my desk this week, which in part stimulated this post.

My client offered about six screenshots along with five lines of text to explain her problem. However, she inserted the text in between the screenshots, which rendered them invisible.

To avoid that happening to you, I suggest keeping tables, screenshots and other images to the end of your email.

The only exception is where there is just one visual followed by a big block of text. If you add just a few words after an image they will be lost.

I hope that helps and look forward to providing more ideas next week.

Kind regards,
Davina

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.

An idea to help you visualise complex ideas

Steve Jobs famously said no to PowerPoint.

“It's not you, it's us”, he said.

“PowerPoint presentations somehow give permission to gloss over ideas, flatten out any sense of relative importance, and ignore the interconnectedness of ideas,” he is quoted as saying in Working Backwards by Colin Bryar and Bill Carr.

While I agree that PowerPoint is notoriously difficult to get right, you know that I agree wholeheartedly about the sense of relative importance and interconnectedness of ideas.

I've built a career out of helping people with these two things.

I am also a realist and note one other significant challenge in the PowerPoints I see every week: making the visuals simple and clean, particularly when communicating complex ideas.

So, I am offering a 25-page library of ‘cut and paste' images that might help you.

My colleague Neil Young has put them together and invites us to share them.

I personally find them useful and hope you will also. Download here.

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.

Shop Co Case Study

During these times of uncertainty clarity in your thinking and communication is vital.

This case study of a communication sent to customers during the COVID-19 pandemic offered an excellent way to illustrate the need for top down and bottom up thinking, a topic we have be discussing regularly of late here at Clarity First.

This rich case study encourages you to:

  1. Take more time to think about your strategy before you start
  2. Work top-down to build your story, testing bottom-up
  3. Anchor everything around a storyline

Click the play button below to learn more and here to download the handout and here for more program information and here for information for your manager

Introduction to synthesis bonus expires 29 July

Kick start your learning with the two-part Bonus Workshop Program

> Get going immediately so you can see results straight away

> Learn the basics so you have a strong foundation to build on

> Complete challenges so you do more than ‘know the stuff' … you can start to ‘DO the stuff'

The Introduction to Synthesis Part 1 Workshop will be held on 30 July at 8am and 6pm Sydney time.

This will be followed by Part 2 on 1 September.

Recordings will be available for those who cannot be present live, or who want to revisit the material.

This bonus offer expires at 9pm AEST on 29 July.

This was the best course I have done. I was always confident in my reasoning but not as confident with presenting it, particularly to audiences that were not on my wavelength.

Davina has shown me how to organise my high level messages which gets me a better response from my audiences.

In fact, when I used the approach to present to the sales team last week half of them came up to me individually afterwards to compliment me on my presentation. That has never happened before!

Bojana

Customer Experience Advisor, Sydney, Australia

 

Clarity First was incredibly useful for me as it has provided a framework through which I am able to structure my initial thoughts quickly and easily.

I have always been OK at delivering communications, but the tools Davina has taught me will not only make the communications clearer and more concise but the time taken to get to the end point has reduced greatly.

I recommend the course to anyone who wants to make existing skills even better or for those that want to create the foundations for great communication.

Michaela Flanagan

GM Performance and Strategy, Insurance Industry

Keywords: ShopCo Case Study, workshop, free

Is killing PowerPoint really the solution?

Is killing PowerPoint really the solution?

Many have called for the Death of PowerPoint as they are understandably under-whelmed by so many presentations.

But given the many complex elements that make up a powerful presentation, it is too simplistic to blame the presentation tool. 

It is, after all, hugely powerful when managed well and so widely used it is hard to kill off.

So, the question remains: how do we create consistently powerful presentations with or without PowerPoint? 

Two words: stop rambling.

If the presenter gets to their point quickly they will engage their audience far better than dragging everyone through all the background detail and a seemingly endless list of irrelevant charts and diagrams first.

Here are four ideas to help you stop rambling your presentations (using whichever tool you prefer):

Firstly, the hard part: Identify the main point you need to make for this particular audience – your ‘so what' – and write it in a sentence.

Yes, just one. Write it in 25 words or less, in words that are simple and clear enough for someone removed from the situation, such as your grandmother, to understand.

Secondly, chunk your supporting points in a way that will work for your audience

Work out if you need to persuade your audience that this is the right big idea, or whether they will want to know how to implement it.

  • To persuade, you will need to choose to engage them through their minds with analysis, or to engage them personally through narrative story.
  • To provide an implementation plan, step out the actions one by one in logical order.
  • To do both, use deductive logic to prepare an argument story, incorporating what you judge to be the right balance of analysis and story.

Thirdly, create your PowerPoint (or Keynote, or Slides presentation) and get someone to help you with the visuals if they are critical to your presentation.

Neil Young of www.ogcommunicationdesign.com is both fast and fabulous. With or without Neil, make sure you have one message on each page and a diagram to match, avoiding too many bullet points and using font that is large enough for your audience to read. Wherever possible, use more pages rather than less.

As you have already worked out, there is quite an art to this.

Gene Zelazny of McKinsey & Company fame provides outstanding counsel on this subject in his two excellent books: Say it with Presentations and Say it with Charts. Both are available from his website: www.zelazny.com.

I take no fees from either Neil or Gene.

Lastly, make like Winston Churchill.

Wear a hole in the carpet as you walk back and forward in front of the mirror practicing until you get it right.

There really are no shortcuts, either with making a good presentation or with getting rid of PowerPoint.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Davina StanleyDavina Stanley is founder of the Clarity First Program, which helps mid-career experts communicate so their good ideas get the traction they deserve – fast.

Davina is a fan of PowerPoint (when used well) and of Neil Young who is a master information designer.

Neil can be contacted at [email protected]

Are poor emails harming your career?

Are poor emails harming your career?

 A ridiculous thought, isn't it?

Emails are a mundane and routine part of corporate life.

Most are short and many of us send and receive hundreds of them daily.

Business today cannot progress without them.

But what if your emails routinely elicit a groan from their recipients, so much so that they flag them for ‘later', and then often don't even open them?

Does this mean that you miss out on important responses, and also get a reputation for being frustrating to work with, sloppy in your thinking and someone who takes a long time to get things done?

Where does this leave your career?

This was the experience of a client this week who was stunned at the difference that changing her emailing style could create.

She found that by starting with just a  short introduction (perhaps just one sentence for a short email) and then getting to her key point straight away the response time rocketed and she

  • No longer had to chase people to get the information that she needed to do her job
  • Completed her work more quickly
  • Enjoyed doing her work so much – much – more, and
  • Loved the unaccustomed positive feedback she received from her colleagues and superiors

Now, imagine if this small change could be replicated across your whole organisation. Imagine if your whole team – from secretaries upward – were able to consistently make some small changes to the way they prepare their emails: business would move so much more smoothly for you.

Decisions would be made more quickly, there would be less frustration and more people would feel good about themselves at work.

And then extrapolate that further to think that the same techniques could be applied to other documents: board papers, steering committee papers and other presentations.

Imagine – an email-based productivity revolution.

Ridiculous!

In Clarity First we help people cut the amount of time it takes to both their communication – in any format, including email.

Clients tell me they cut the amount of time it takes to prepare important communication in half. Sometimes more.

They are also more likely to be promoted as their good ideas get the traction they deserve.

Why not check us out?

Clarity First is the most affordable top-tier program you will find.

 

 

Transitioning Board Papers onto tablets is trickier than it seems

Transitioning Board Papers onto tablets is trickier than it seems

Many companies are moving away from physical paper for board papers in favour of tablets.

Directors seem generally grateful not to take phone-book sized packs away for their weekend reading and all would agree that less paper is usually better. However, transitioning to tablets is more complex than it seems.

Today's ‘Tips & techniques for board writing on iPads & tablets' session presented by Mary Morel of Write to Govern and hosted by the Governance Institute of Australia highlighted that point.

In coming away from that session, I realised that coming to grips with the technology is not as easy as it seems, macro structure matters most of all, visual presentation matters more than in the past and micro issues matter more than you might think. Here is some more on each of these points:

Coming to grips with the technology is not as easy as it seems

  • Directors often use different devices for different boards to accommodate each company's policy and platform, which adds unexpected complexity as they come to terms with each different technology as well as the content of the papers.
  • Page flipping is harder on a tablet than with actual paper. Consider inserting your charts and graphs within the body of your text rather than asking Directors to scroll to the back of the document to find the chart and scroll back to the place where they were mentioned in the text.

Macro structure matters most of all

  • Conveying the essence of your message crisply and near the front of the paper is the most critical ingredient of a good paper, otherwise Directors may misconstrue your purpose and meaning from the outset
  • Adopt a consistent structure across all of your board papers, and avoid having different templates for recommendations, noting papers, etc. This makes it easier for Directors to work their way through all of the papers for your organisation and easier for the writers also.

Visual presentation of information matters even more than in the past

  • Using photocopiers to scan the papers into PDF form can lead to ugly documents that are difficult to read. Instead, use a PDF writer to create your papers and then open your papers on the right sort of tablet to check their readability.
  • Many Directors find that rotating tablets mid-way to read diagrams is disruptive, and ask for a consistent orientation (either portrait or landscape) throughout the paper and appendices.

Micro matters more than you might think

  • Small things like grammatical correctness can be distracting for those reading the papers and present a poor image of the writer. Mary has written some excellent material on this point .
  • Active language (‘She wrote the letter' versus ‘the letter was written by her') is generally better to read. However some companies still require people to write in the third person, e.g., Management wrote the letter, which makes active voice harder to use.

Keywords – #board papers #deliver your communication #board communication

 

Communicate your main message early

Communicate your main message early

 

Is it a bit bold to put your ‘main message' up front?

 

Some people tell me they think that putting their main message early in their communication feels a bit like ‘shouting'. Although I understand the concern, I would encourage you to look at this from a different perspective.

Possibly one that seems quite upside down.

All of our audiences – including ourselves – are very busy. Usually we think we are TOO busy. 

Outlining our message early in our communication is confident, but also incredibly helpful for our busy audiences.

Click the video below to learn more about the Clarity First approach, and here to get more ideas on how to master this approach in your own career.

 

 

 

 

 

 
Are poor emails harming your career?

Are poor emails harming your career?

 A ridiculous thought, isn't it?

Emails are a mundane and routine part of corporate life.

Most are short and many of us send and receive hundreds of them daily.

Business today cannot progress without them.

But what if your emails routinely elicit a groan from their recipients, so much so that they flag them for ‘later', and then often don't even open them?

Does this mean that you miss out on important responses, and also get a reputation for being frustrating to work with, sloppy in your thinking and someone who takes a long time to get things done?

Where does this leave your career?

This was the experience of a client this week who was stunned at the difference that changing her emailing style could create.

She found that by starting with just a  short introduction (perhaps just one sentence for a short email) and then getting to her key point straight away the response time rocketed and she

  • No longer had to chase people to get the information that she needed to do her job
  • Completed her work more quickly
  • Enjoyed doing her work so much – much – more, and
  • Loved the unaccustomed positive feedback she received from her colleagues and superiors

Now, imagine if this small change could be replicated across your whole organisation. Imagine if your whole team – from secretaries upward – were able to consistently make some small changes to the way they prepare their emails: business would move so much more smoothly for you.

Decisions would be made more quickly, there would be less frustration and more people would feel good about themselves at work.

And then extrapolate that further to think that the same techniques could be applied to other documents: board papers, steering committee papers and other presentations.

Imagine – an email-based productivity revolution.

Ridiculous!

In Clarity First we help people cut the amount of time it takes to both their communication – in any format, including email.

Clients tell me they cut the amount of time it takes to prepare important communication in half. Sometimes more.

They are also more likely to be promoted as their good ideas get the traction they deserve.

Why not check us out?

Clarity First is the most affordable top-tier program you will find.

 

 

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.

One-page board papers: The Impossible Dream

“Impossible”.

That was management's view when the Chair of a major Corporation said they wanted board papers to be one page long with a maximum of 10 supporting “PowerPoint charts”.

But it has happened.

This Chair is not alone – other Boards that are sick of being inundated with massive, inconsistent and poorly thought out board papers are also moving toward one-pagers. They see this as a way of reducing the time and risks involved in untangling poorly prepared papers while supporting better discussion and decision making.

Here are the steps that this Chair took to achieve this “impossible” dream:

Got buy in

The Board needed to want to drive clarity and streamline board papers while ensuring all the corporate governance checks were met.

Built capability

We ran workshops for all the senior team and their direct reports who authored board papers about simple approaches to structuring problem solving (to avoid the rubbish in rubbish out syndrome), synthesising ideas into a clear and compelling argument and creating a clear board paper and supporting exhibits. One of our clients has had the board members come and talk to the board paper authors about what they are looking for in a board paper and what their hot buttons are.

Got the Board aligned

We also explained our approach and thinking to the Board so they would know how to “read” the new board papers.

Agreed ground rules

These vary by board, but the basics are the same:

  • Every board paper author must produce a “storyline” for their board paper.
  • Every board paper must conform to the agreed format and length. Some Boards include these in the board paper itself as an executive summary
  • The storyline needs to be signed off with the senior level sponsor

Shared the love

It's important to share the learning across all board paper authors and also to share examples of great board papers that others can use as a model.

The result – clearer board papers and more time spent of discussing the right issues!

Here is what a one-page board paper might look like:

Audit Story Storyline

 

 

Note. Since this was written a number of large organisations we work with have been whittling down the length of their papers. BHP Billiton, for example, is now working down from four pages to two. 

To learn how to build storyline one-pagers like this – and to cut to the chase in your own communication – explore the Clarity First Program.

This post was originally drafted by Gerard Castles, co-author of The So What Strategy and also a director with me at Clarity Thought Partners.

Gerard has helped clients prepare high-stakes communication for around 25 years in Australia, Asia Pacific, the US and the UK. His advice is highly sought after by senior managers large Australian corporates in particular, who appreciate his intense focus on logic, structure and clarity. He learned his craft as a communication specialist at McKinsey & Company.