‘Why business people speak like idiots’

Another book recommended bythe presentationzen.com. There are a lot of good tips about how to get your message across effectively. On top of presentation, the book is actually more about business communication in general – more specifically about how ineffective business communication has become. Though mistakes mentioned in the book (e.g. use of complicated rather than simple words) are more often committed by native English speakers, the book still issues some relevant warning to non-native speakers. Beyond the book, the authors do continue their effort to ‘fight the bull’ via their website – fightthebull.com!!

Back to the topic of presentation- I am most impressed by an example mentioned in the book about the consequence of mis-use of Powerpoint – causing the failure of space shuttle Columbia.!! Judging from the Powerpoint slide itself (see the slide on the side) which was shown in a meeting the week before the disaster, the slide writer seemed to consider that the SOFI issue can cause serious damage. Yet, this message was unfortunately ‘buried’ somehow in the ‘word slide’. (You can find the full report here.)

In the organisation which I am working in, ‘word slide’ is just so common, to the extent that the Powerpoint slide is supposed to contain bullet points. There are a lot of reasons why this is the case. One reason is that ‘word slide’ is easy to prepare – just type, or even cut and paste. It requires no imagination or creativity. And you can readily use the ‘word slide’ as the handout.

In short, slide is not properly used a visual aid….. and in fact, it is not the aid. It is the opposite – making communication less effective. It is sad. I personally have sit through countless presentations / product briefings, progress meetings…. where key messages failed to reach a reasonable proportion of the audience. It is a waste of time – enormous amount of time e.g. a simple briefing can easily have some 20 people for an hour. A wastage of half of the duration can be translated into 600 minutes or 10 hours equivalent. Just think of how much work can be accomplished in 10 hours!!! Not only quantity, but also quality – think of the deadly consequence in the Columbia shuttle case because of ineffective communication.

Well, I believe it all depends on whether you want to simply get the job (presentation) done, or really get the message across!!

Another lesson for ….preparation

I delivered today a 30-min session of a 2-day course.   The session was designed by me and was about Business Etiquette.   It is consisted of mostly activities rather than lectures, which is quite unconventional as compared to other sessions delivered by other speakers in this same course.   I knew that I need to re-arrange the room in order to make space for the activities, and I thus arrive 30 mins earlier.

Always always… unexpected things happened – there are fewer flipcharts than I asked.   And when the hotel waiters helped me to move the table, a few glasses broke into pieces!!    The room setting was just in place right before the participants came back from lunch.  Overall, the session was OK (in fact, I believe my session is one of those leaving them stickest memory)

The learning for me is AGAIN…. Always leave more time for preparation if you want to appear

Learning in Mumbai

I am attending a Trainer training in Mumbai these few. I am extremely glad that I can attend this. (I would hate myself to death if I could not go because of the visa issue which arised at last minute.) The training offers me learning which I long want to have, and which I find hardly to get. These include in-depth discussion of basic tools in facilitation e.g. ice-breakers, ground rule. I not only can learn from the others’ experience and thought, but also allow myself to reflect on what I have been doing – good or bad. Most importantly, the 2 master facilitators – Mark and Sarah – are great!! They live what they deliver!! My role model!!

There are so many about my learning from this event which I want to share. And I will do it in the coming few posts. A quick pre-view – No surprise!! one of my major learning is preparation. And in particular, an good analogy of preparation. Like the iceberg, what the participants observe about you is just the tip of the iceberg, and there are a lot of preparation which they do not see i.e. underneath the water. As what the master facilitators shared, you will need over 2 days to prepare for 1-day program!!

More (learning) to come!!

How rigid should the course design be?

Since start, I have facilitated over 10 different courses. Most of the course design were developed by the others. Some course are relatively more rigidly designed e.g. SPIN – all activities are written in details in the facilitation guide, which can specify which slide to show when you go through a certain point. In addition, the TTT process is very thorough. It takes a few days and goes through almost each activity. On the other hand, there are course designs which are very flexible. TTT process is brief and the instructor guide is rather rough indeed e.g. only 1 day for a 3-day program. Time is just enough to walk through the activities, but not available at all to go through the content.

I like the former better. I believe that it is important for the participants to receive consistent messages for one single course despite using different trainers. Of course, it takes more time to develop such a course. In particular, it takes time to write a good instructor guide. It not only has to be easy to understand, but also easy to follow. It would be a challenge for the trainer to refer to the guide, slides and may be his-own note on spot in the class!! And more importantly, such courses have to stay long enough e.g. 3 years in order to be fine-tuned (and there should be course design resources to fine-tune courses). I would say this is probably the reason why SPIN is so thoroughly designed.

From the ‘Energy Level’ perspective

One of your jobs in a presentation or training environment is to energize your participants. Or I should say it is necessary to have a group of energized participants in order to put your message across in a presentation or class. You can always imagine that there is a devise in the room which can detect and show the ‘energy level’ in the room, like what the thermometer does to the room temperature. If the ‘energy level ‘ is low, the learning is slow (or even does not exist). Remember all the boring wordy product briefing!!

Two incidents these 2 days which make me think:

I sat in some of ex-participant’s presentation and class these 2 days. Having been a trainer for a while, I can feel very strongly the ‘low energy’ at the start – the silence, the dull face, the lack of response to the speakers’ questions. People (at least I do) felt odd, and the speakers are not sure whether the participants are getting the points. The question is to raise the ‘energy level’. Well, in short, this is the reason why ice-breakers exist. However, what should we do if the session is very brief e.g. 1 hour like the system briefing today? A thought we had in the post-briefing discussion is that we should have some easy-to-participate activities in the beginning. Asking question is one. Even better, we can ask some yes-and-no questions so that people can just respond by raising their hands, or even better by standing up (‘energy level’ always up when people stand up!!!). In addition, some visual aids will help e.g. circulating the fake bank-note if the topic is about bank fraud.

The another occasion is a conference call today. It was like the one I mentioned last time – global one, largely one-way, lot of people. However, the call facilitator was great. His voice is of ‘high energy’ (the golden rule – the participants will NEVER have a higher energy level than the presenter / facilitator / speaker!!!). More importantly, I believe he designed the call from the ‘energy level’ perspective!! Before each speakers started, he introduced each by telling what the speaker’s Chinese Zodiac animal symbols are!! It is quick, it is about the coming Chinese New Year. And people get excited – how old he / she is, whether he / she has the same symbols as mine….. Great stuff!!

What are the learning points? Think from the ‘energy level’ perspective when you plan, and prepare accordingly!! (yes…. It all relates back to preparation!!! Surprise!!?)

How prepared are you in using stories in presentation? And do you have the gut?

I attended a big conference call this week. Well, you know how boring conference call can be, especially those with over 10 people and wide spectrum of topics (Why is big conference call boring? I think it goes back to the essence of a good communication i.e. you need interaction. You simply do not have enough air time for all to speak, which is the only interaction medium in a conference call.)

Having said that, there was a UK lady in the call who gave an impressive briefing (almost a speech since it was so polished). She started with a story about her son, and then related it to her topics, and at last summarized with the same story. More importantly, she impressed me by finishing her entire briefing in 20 minutes, exactly the duration indicated in the agenda.

Let’s not think about what (whether too much) preparation she made, but focus on the effect. Her performance impressed me a lot, and I believe it also impressed to most (for those who was listening) in the call. In the future, I will associate her name with ‘preparedness’, ‘articulate’, ‘good communication’. A very effective way to perform and gain reputation in a community, which help gather collaboration and help our work)!!

I then think of her preparation (always the key in any form of presentation). She probably has scripted her speech, well, at least in bullet points. And she must have rehearsed as well in order to have such a good control in time. In addition, she really has spent time selected her stories and practiced telling it. Adding altogether, I guess it may take at least 30 minutes. Well, it may not worth the while for everyonel. But it is definitely worth us to keep it as an option – when you have to build reputation, or when the audience is very important.

And a question to me (or to you as well) – why haven’t I done it at all before?

Another thought out of this call is the gut in telling a story in such a high level conference call. Hey, everyone is so serious talking about business, with all those high-sounding jargons e.g. strength-based, retention, value-added, matrix…. Do you dare to tell a story relating to your son? I guess this all goes back to how much you believe the power of story, and how much you are willing to take risk. I think for me the latter question relates to me more. I do believe story help to draw attention and retain memory. And if I take some risk, give it a try though others may think otherwise, get used to it, it will be fine. Yes, it is the risk-averse attitude which is the obstacle.

As I shared with the others in the class, one can only acquire a skill if he / she takes the risk to use it. Open your mind, and do what you believe. Also, as Steve Job said, ‘Stay foolish, stay hungry!!’

Using the Speaking Note

The offsite went alright. The mat activity fitted well with the objective of the offsite, and the timing was good. More importantly, I do learnt something new (or I should say, I learnt an ‘area of improvement’ for myself!!) – about the use of speaking note.

I prepared speaking notes of palm-size, big font, bullet-points speaking notes. Well, very much the ‘correct’ design of speaking notes as what most will believe. However, the notes did not help much at the end. Why? Because I did not read it at all on the spot!!!

So many things were happening during that 45 mins, and thus I did not read the notes at all. What was the consequence? I missed to mention that there will be prize for the game, ask those who have played the game to come up, and more importantly invite the bosses for observation comment!! Yeah, not detrimental… but I wished I did not miss and could do it better….

My learning is that:

· I got to prepare more. More time to rehearse so that I can memorize the key points naturally, despite the chaos in the ‘real’ environment;

· I got to practice to use note. I got to conquer the “odd feeling” in taking time to read the notes. I should try to make note for the next class, and use it (even though I may not actually need it)

(The mountain on the picture is the 玉龙雪山. It was taken from a window in the hotel. Sadly, the offsite was so packed that I spent 98% of my time in the hotel.

Rehearsing for the LiJiang 丽江 off-site meeting

The offsite meeting next Mon and Tue will be the first occasion when I facilitate large scale team building activities. I have been asking around to gather thoughts and suggestions on which activities would be more applicable for the occasion – not easy. To prepare better, I had my colleagues done a trial run in the office today.

Whilst I thought I already had a pretty good idea of how to run the activities, I was quite surprised to realize all the ‘holes’ when I trial-ran today. My learning is:

· Always rehearse (always true) – especially the important occasion;

· During the de-brief, everyone will have the tendency to go too fast. I should leave longer “pause” to push for thinking, summarize the points raised by the others and asking more prompting questions. (These sound natural but when you have to do it on the foot…..you are just so wary of dead air.)

· Help them to imagine ‘back’ the real work. Give them a specific situation e.g. “imagine what will happen in the office on Wed – the 300 red emails on your laptop, the outstanding BCAs for you to read and support, the ……”

Good luck to me in Li-Jiang!!