Time to clear the decks and make a new start
If I hear one more person badmouth PowerPoint, I think I’ll scream. In fact, I already have, in anticipation of the next criticism coming my way, which is only a matter of time.
A poor workman blames his tools, I want to say. But I never do, because I’m far too tactful and diplomatic.
But seriously, are people saying that PowerPoint serves no useful purpose at all? That they could stand up there and do a presentation like Dave, note-free and happily rapping for an hour without corpsing?
I doubt it.
And quite apart from live presentations, what about slide decks that are just read and never used for presentations. Don’t they have a part to play in your marketing armoury?
Of course they do. And used well (I’ve seen this done on rare and pretty spectacular occasions) PowerPoint can be incredibly effective. So what is it that gives the program such a bad reputation?
Here are some of the mistakes I’ve seen in slide decks I’ve recently been working through:
- Distracting transitions and animations. Slides that dissolve and text that flies in from one side of the screen move attention away from what you’re saying and on to how you’re saying it. Most transitions and animations are gimmicky and unnecessary.
- Too much information on one slide. A slide is no different to a paragraph or a section of copy. It should be long enough to convey the essentials, but not so long it loses the audience. If it’s too long, you’re probably trying to cover too much ground, so split it into two slides – or even more.
- Not tailored to the audience. One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to slide decks or any other copy. Maybe you need a sales deck, a marketing deck, a partner deck and lots of other variations on the theme. And you know what? If you’re presenting live, you don’t need a whole slew of decks. You can simply create custom shows within the same deck.
- All or nothing. This is related to the last point, but is slightly different. When you’re doing a presentation, you often want to react in real time to the audience, based on their input. So you may not want to go sequentially through from slide 1 to 100 (and you really shouldn’t have 100 slides, by the way) but branch off at slide 10 depending on your audience. Branching is really easy, and saves your audience sitting through endless slides that aren’t relevant.
- Written for the writer, not the reader. This is a basic mistake that applies to all copywriting. If you turn the tables and ask yourself whether you’d read what you’re writing if it were somebody else’s work, you might be in for a shock. Most slide decks are too long and too heavy on detail. So flip it round, and you’ll soon see where the problem is.
- Not tailored to the medium. Some decks are used for live presentations and others are emailed as an attachment or downloaded. So which is yours? They serve two purposes and need different levels of detail: a live presenter can always fill in the gaps and add more detail, but an emailed/downloaded deck should be free-standing.
- Cobbled together and hard to change. Somebody recently asked me to edit a slide deck, and when I looked at it, I realised to my horror that they didn’t know how to use the software properly. Now I’m no saint, but in a former life, I was a bit of a PowerPoint whizz. And you know what? Slide Layout is your friend, and Slide Masters will watch your back when you need it most. You’ll be able to edit more easily, move text around quickly, and have slides that are consistent and easy to read. As with most things, you need to take the time to save time. Which means reading the manual (ouch).
Remember, your slide decks are just as much part of your marketing collateral as your website, brochures, blog or tweets. Each and every slide sends out a message: too long (we don’t respect your time), too complicated (we don’t make things easy), too gimmicky (we focus on what’s not important), too detailed (we don’t cut to the chase).
So what message are yours sending out?
If you think you have no blind spot, think again. And once again.
[Image courtesy of Karola Riegler at Flickr Creative Commons]
A friend of mine has decided to emigrate from the UK to France. And guess what? The weather is better there, and so are the supermarkets. As are the health system, the schools, housing, quality of life, roads, scenery.
You mention it, it’s better. Nothing and nobody will make him deviate from his course. He’s made up his mind, and everything now points in the same direction. Which in this case is the other side of the English Channel.
My friend is suffering from cognitive bias, which is something we all experience now and then. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve made up my mind and then made the facts fit my decision.
If you think about it, the chances of everything aligning with your choice are very slim indeed. Most things have a pretty equal distribution of positives and negatives, so alarm bells should be ringing if your choice is showing nothing but green lights.
In past lives, I’ve been part of unstoppable decisions (not mine, of course, but corporate ones – or am I in denial?) that with hindsight were a big mistake. But at the time, we all drank the Kool-Aid and went for it.
The cognitive bias trap set me thinking about others that we all fall into from time to time. They can cause you to tweet inappropriately, launch campaigns that are doomed to fail, double down on losing bets and plough on with a piece of copy that’s just plain wrong.
So what are some of the other cognitive biases that could stymie our marketing efforts?
This is one of my big failings, but admission is halfway to a cure, I suppose (at least that’s what I tell myself). I’ll often find myself thinking that if I read just another whitepaper, or scan another website, or download another Gartner report, I’ll do a better job.
But more information often simply slows you down, or confuses you, or makes you seek yet more inputs. And studies have actually shown that often, people make better decisions with less information. So stop the search, feel the pain and do it anyway.
If you quote based on your time, how much do you charge? If you’re launching a product, how do you price it? Chances are that in both cases you have a scale that guides your decision.
Maybe it’s an industry standard, or what they market will tolerate, or worked back from your sales forecasts, or driven by your competitors. And that’s all very well, but be careful that you don’t get led astray by latching on to a figure when you don’t need to.
We’ve all done it, whether we admit it or not. They’re that type of client, we think to ourselves as soon as they open their mouth or send an email. This is that type of blog post, we say as we churn out more of the same. I’ve seen this situation a million times before, we think confidently.
Now it’s difficult to see each conversation, person or situation with a fresh pair of eyes, but that doesn’t mean we should stop looking. Stereotypical thinking means unoriginal work, so stay alert and spot the difference. Then make a difference.
This works hand in hand with innovation bias and the bandwagon effect. What you’ve just seen, or just read, is the next Big Thing. Never mind the plan, or what you decided yesterday. This is new, and fresh, and everybody’s doing it.
But just think about it. If that’s the case, why bother planning at all? Why not just sit back and see what each day brings? Here’s why: because then you’re always in tactical mode, changing direction at the drop of a hat. You never take the long view, and never think strategically.
So what about my friend who’s moving to pastures new? Well I’m keeping a diplomatic silence. If it doesn’t work out, it’s no big deal.
And if it does work out, I’ll have free holidays. Vive la France!
What Scandi crime can teach us about economy of words
[Image courtesy of Daniel Larsson at Flickr Creative Commons]
I’ve just finished watching season 1 of The Bridge, a joint Swedish/Danish crime drama. It was first broadcast a few years ago, but by the time I realised it was the must-watch series, it was too late to catch up.
Now, thanks to Netflix, I’m in binge paradise. And I’ve been bingeing on Scandi whodunnits.
My Swedish isn’t up to much (though it’s coming along, thanks to Saga and Martin) so I’ve been relying on the subtitles to make sense of it all. And what’s struck me is that often, it’s an abbreviated version of the spoken word.
Of course it is. When they’re talking nineteen to the dozen in Swedish or Danish, there’s just no way you can translate every word. People simply can’t read at the speed of the spoken word in full flow.
So the translators summarise. And you know what? The series is just as enjoyable. Yes, if you’re a purist (and I am, though I’m getting better) you lose some of the subtlety, but the key messages still get across.
And that made me think of copy – what you put in, and what you leave out. Because everybody’s busy, and nobody reads everything. So how little can you get away with and still tell your story?
Here are my top tips tips (not 10, by the way – of which more later) to help you get your message across fast:
- Don’t preach to the converted. A general audience needs stepping stones and pointers, but a niche audience doesn’t. Don’t tell them what they already know – tell them something they don’t. Assume prior knowledge and move to the second step.
- Use jargon liberally – if you can get away with it. This is counter-intuitive, as it breaks one of the cardinal laws of copywriting. But if you’re writing for an audience that’s already in the know, you can use acronyms and buzzwords. What’s more, you should, as it demonstrates your expertise and knowledge.
- Cut to the chase. Don’t go for a ‘delayed drop’ when it comes to copy. If you’re going to set up a problem that you’ll later resolve, paint a picture fast and move swiftly on. Remember that they’re reading not to find out just how difficult their lives are, but how you’ll sweep away those difficulties and make their lives easier.
- Make sure it’s really fresh. You’ve just discovered something new and exciting, and you want to shout it from the rooftops. But new to to who? Remember, you’re writing for the audience, not for yourself. So step outside yourself and think about what they already know.
- Write for a single person. This will really sharpen your focus and help you tell a targeted story. If you write for the masses, you’ll be tempted to include everything. If you have one person in mind, you’ll be able to think more clearly what’s important to them.
- Abbreviate, then abbreviate again. Take a leaf out of the Nordic scriptwriters’ book. Pare your sentences down and make economy of words your goal. Is every sentence pulling its weight? Cut out a paragraph and see if it makes a difference (you’d be surprised how often it doesn’t).
- Turn the tables. Suddenly, you’re not the writer, you’re the reader. So would you read it if it was somebody else’s copy? Would you trudge all the way through to the end? If there’s even a moment’s hesitation, start cutting now.
- Don’t lose sight of the goal. What do you want people to do – call, send an email, give their details to download an e-book? Or is this a top-of-the-funnel piece that’s just educational? Don’t throw everything in, but carefully select what moves you (and them) closer to your objective.
The overarching message here is: don’t overwrite. If you haven’t got 10 tips (and who said there had to be?) then don’t scramble around to make up the numbers. Say what you have to say and move on. Keep the story flowing, and always leave them wanting more.
Just like those Scandi crime dramas. Arne Dahl, anyone?
Elephants, cities and companies. And what they have in common…
Think of one of your favourite suppliers. I don’t mean big brands, but small ones. The boutique PR agency or the web-hosting company you use. Or anybody who’s ‘small enough to care, but big enough to cope’ (in that time-worn marketing phrase). So they’re in that happy space between being a mom-and-pop shop and a big, faceless supplier.
How would you feel if they got bigger? How do you think they’d cope? How do you think you’d cope if you were the supplier?
As a company scales up, the dynamics change. I thought about this as I watched a TED talk recently.
Theoretical physicist Geoffrey West of Santa Fe University has some fascinating insights on scalability. The really striking thing is that it’s governed by a universal law: plot size against resources required and it’s entirely predictable.
The same is true of animals, cities and organizations. So the graph looks the same for an elephant, New York and a Fortune 500 company. The interesting thing is that the relationship is ‘sublinear’. So when organizations double in size, resources only need to increase by 75%. And at the same time, revenue increases by 15%.
In other words, you get economies of scale.
So does that mean that continuous, scalable growth is a given? Not quite. Because sooner or later, West says, companies (and he and his colleagues studied 23,000 across the US) face ‘systematic collapse’. What saves them from that collapse, and takes them onto the next growth curve can be summed up in one word.
It’s a thought-provoking presentation. Check it out and maybe it’ll help you think too (as it did me) how to avoid systematic collapse. I’m innovating even as we speak.
[If you’re reading this in an email, click here to see the talk on TED.com]
Omnichannel or omnishambles? Time to join up the dots.
[Image courtesy of Dave Gray at Flickr Creative Commons]
Life used to be so simple. You wanted something, so you went to a shop. Either they had what you wanted, or they ordered it in. Maybe you phoned ahead, or maybe you just took a chance.
And then came the internet.
You could have anything you wanted, whenever you wanted it. Or almost. Because if you had to have it right now, you still had to go to a store. But the good thing was that most had an online presence, so you could check what they had in stock and save yourself a wasted trip.
Well so goes the theory. The practice is quite another matter, as I found out last week. Not once, but twice.
I checked the website of Boots the chemist to see if they had a box of strips for glucose testing kits at my local store. They had not only one, but lots. So off I went.
When I got there, I scoured the shelves but couldn’t find what I was looking for. No problem, I thought – it’ll be behind the counter. So I asked the assistant, and she went to check with the pharmacist. The confab lasted longer than it should have, and she came back with that look on her face. You know the one.
No, they didn’t have what I was looking for. They had bigger boxes of the strips, but only on prescription. So I’d have to go to a doctor – for something that in theory was available over the counter.
Just not that counter.
Or I could order on Boots.com, said the assistant. But she said it as if it was a separate company to the one she worked for. When I pointed out that I’d specifically checked that store’s stock online, she gave me a look of blank incomprehension and said, “I don’t know anything about that”.
So much for joined-up service.
Computer says no
The second experience didn’t happen to me, but to a friend of mine.
Here’s the quick version: PC World, a monitor, stock levels that looked fine, a reservation number and confirmation email, and a wasted trip to the store, when they told him that the monitor he’d reserved was actually on display, and so obviously not for sale.
Add in an assistant who was new and didn’t know what he was doing, a call to his manager that wasn’t returned while my friend waited in store and much confusion, and you get the picture. My friend couldn’t wait any longer, so he asked the assistant to call him once he’d heard from his manager.
He got the call – six hours later. By which time, he’d bought the monitor on the PC World website and paid £10 for next-day delivery.
Customer care everywhere
You couldn’t make this stuff up, could you? It shows how complicated it is in practice to link the online and offline world. And how it should work in theory: integrated systems, trained staff and a consistent message.
Not to mention a consistent customer experience.
As part of the humungous project on customer care I’ve been working on recently (nearly there) I’ve found out lots about how companies are trying to pull together the disparate strands of their service into something coherent and consistent.
It’s not easy, but it is possible.
Automation and artificial intelligence have made great strides in recent years, and systems have been simplified to deliver a similar experience whether you’re on a website, social media, chat or a voice call. But somewhere, somehow, that all needs to be linked to the offline experience.
And that’s not just systems but training too. Put a monitor on display, tick it off the system. Customer complains about glucose strip shortage? Report it to the online team.
None of this requires artificial intelligence. Just a little bit of old fashioned human intelligence, basic initiative and common sense. Because that’s what will make the omnichannel truly omni.
And keep blood sugar levels down.