Presentations: Ditch the Bullets!

While I was attending business school at Santa Clara University, I did a lot of PowerPoint presentations for my classes. Those presentations taught me how to be more comfortable as I presented. Then when I was doing consulting for Accenture, I learned to put together and present solid presentations, which I now know were also boring. That last part isn’t my fault entirely, I was expected to follow the corporate style, which was detail packed and boring. Finally, in the business I ran with my wife, I learned how to make more natural, interesting presentations.

Since then, I have been constantly studying how to create better presentations by watching great presenters and learning about their styles. That’s why I was interested when I found a link to a SlideShare presentation put together by HubSpot. The presentation gives ten lessons from what they call the world’s most captivating presenters. The presentation really reinforced what areas I have been good at and pointed out some areas that I could use some work in. Here are the top two points that I took away that will triple the effectiveness of my presentations.

  1. Logic isn’t enough. Tell a story.
  2. Ditch the bullet points.

The key to the first is that just listing out statistics or specifications isn’t enough. People love and connect with stories. Telling a story will have much more of an impact than lists of facts. The second, ditching the bullet points, is one I will do with joy. I’ve always hated bullet points, but it was beat into my head over many years that they were necessary, so I often add them by default. This presentation was a good reminder that they can actually hurt more than help.

If you do presentations or are planning on doing one, you owe it to yourself to check out the full presentation. I’ve embedded it below. If you even take a few of their points to heart, you will dramatically improve your presentations. So, take a few minutes and check it out. I’ve embedded the slideshow , so you don’t even have to leave the page!

 

Don’t Enable Bad Behavior!

Hand stand looking at laptop on floorI know you think I’m talking about enabling others. I’m not. I’m talking about enabling yourself to engage in more behaviors that distract you from what you should be focusing on. I was reminded of this by an article from Lifehacker discussing the placement of a second monitor. It sounds like a harmless addition and potentially one with productivity advantages, but the article recommends something that is counterintuitive.

When most people decide to place a second monitor, they try to put it in the most easily viewed and preferably most ergonomic position possible. The article on Lifehacker, however, suggests that this isn’t necessarily the best choice. They say that if the second monitor will be used for distracting tasks that are of secondary importance, such as checking Twitter or Facebook, then it should be placed in a spot that is uncomfortable to view for prolonged periods. The spot they recommend is mounted above your current monitor.

The reasoning is this. When you have to look up to check your second monitor, the position will be uncomfortable enough that it will encourage you to look back down and get back to work. Plus, the monitor won’t be enticing you to look at it as often because the placement makes it less comfortable to view. This strategic placement provides you with the advantages of a second monitor, but with a reduced amount of distraction. Setting things up in this way might actually be less distracting than using a single monitor and constantly switching between apps.
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Another Benefit of Eye Contact

woman's eyeHere’s a quick tip that I learned today that I think might be helpful if, like me, you have trouble remembering the names of people you’ve met just once. An article on Lifehacker suggested that a good way to remember someone’s name was to pair it with their eye color. The way this works is that you need to make good eye contact in order to figure out their eye color. That act, along with trying to remember the person’s name along with their eye color, makes you think harder about the person and their name.

If you have trouble remembering names, it couldn’t hurt to give it a try. I intend to start doing it the next time I meet someone new. It can’t hurt. At the very least, the person I’m meeting should be happy with the eye contact.

Back It All Up Now!

World Backup DayToday, is World Backup Day. So, back up all your data people! Seriously. You know how people always like to divide the world in half? Well this time, the division is correct. This world is made up of two kinds of people, those that have lost data and those without computers. Whether you have had a hard drive fail or just had a few files accidentally deleted, we have all lost data at some time or another. So, if you haven’t been backing up at least your important files, get on it today.

I recommend backing up all your data to make getting back to work after a failed hard drive much faster. If you refuse to do that, at least backup your important documents, photos, videos, etc. Either way, you should at least make two backups of the data.  One backup should be a local hard drive.  That will allow you to restore your data faster and you control it. The other backup should be offsite. The offsite backup could be a backup solution like Carbonite or Crashplan or even a cloud syncing service like Box or Dropbox. The important thing is that you have a backup that won’t be lost if your house burns down or is burglarized.

If you’re not backing up your data regularly yet, you’re not alone. According to the World Backup Day website, only 10% of people backup their data everyday and 28% of people backup their data even monthly. So, 90% of people are potentially going to lose a bit of data and 72% of people are just reckless. Don’t be a part of the 72%! Be a part of the 10%!

If you enjoy infographics, check the one provided by World Backup Day out after the break.

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Killer Terms of Service

Explained TOSThere are three kinds of people in this world. People who can’t understand Terms of Service, people who don’t want to waste their time on them and, of course, lawyers. Terms of Service are usually long and hard to decipher legalese.  They’re designed to methodically detail what the relationship you are entering into when you sign up for a service entails. Basically, they’re designed to protect the company you are doing business with from a lawsuit from one or more of their customers.

It makes sense that TOS exist. We live in a very litigious society and anyway that a business can avoid lawsuits is going to be pursued by that business. Lawsuits can be expensive and business threatening, in some cases. I thought we were doomed to read TOS or skip them for all time, with no middle ground, until I came across an article on The Next Web about the Terms of Service on Heello.

Heello has an interesting take on presenting Terms of Service. Don’t worry, they still give you the long, methodical legalese version, if you’re into that. Alongside it though, they provide short summaries for real people with other things to do than read TOS for hours. I was able to read their shortened version in under a minute. They chose to get cute a couple times in there and I think I would avoid that myself, but I don’t fault them for that. It’s their business. Why shouldn’t they have a little fun?

The article pointed out that they aren’t the only ones pursuing this style of TOS display. Apparently, 500px and Pinterest were already doing it. I don’t care. This is one place where I hope everyone becomes a copycat. I know that I’ll definitely put it into practice the next time I need to create a TOS. Strangely, I’m suddenly looking forward to crafting one soon.

You’re Busy? Wasting Time Maybe…

Killing Time on ClockIt seems like I’ve been so insanely busy these days that I can never get enough done on a project that I’ve been working on. I blamed it on everything I had to do lately, until I was reminded by an article about procrastination on Lifehacker that there is a big difference between being busy and not having enough time. That’s because sometimes we’re busy working and other times we’re spending all our time procrastinating instead of actually getting things done. We’ve all been there. You know the excuses. “I have a really important project, but you know I have to respond back to some emails and check some RSS feeds.” Or “This desk should really be cleared. I can’t work in such a messy environment.” A couple classics right there.

If you catch yourself starting down that path, stop yourself and commit to working on what’s important for an hour before you plough through those other items. The benefits of that are twofold. One, you know you’ll at least get an hour worth of important work done. Two, you’ll probably gain enough momentum that you won’t be tempted to do those other less important tasks until you get enough work done on your more important task.

For me, the key is to have a schedule that I stick to. If I schedule the less important things for later in the day and the more important tasks earlier in the day, I’m usually ok. If I stray from that, I can get lost in minutiae that eat away at the time I need to get more important tasks done. Just knowing about that problem doesn’t mean that I never stray from the straight and narrow, but it does allow me to drag myself back on track more quickly than I used to.

5 Commandments of Management

Ten CommandmentsAfter yesterday’s post, I spent some time thinking about the differences between the poor and the great managers that I have worked with in the past. From those reflections, I created a list of the essential traits of a great manager. They aren’t listed in some magical order, so don’t worry about where they are in the list.

5 Commandments of Management:

1. Think of others as people, not tools designed to complete a task.
People perform best when treated well.  No matter what you think, good employees can’t be as easily or cheaply replaced as a hammer.

2. Think about how you would feel about your actions if you were on the receiving end.
Managers are often over focused on their goals. They forget about the needs and feelings of the people they manage. Just because someone can’t work overtime tomorrow doesn’t mean they’re lazy. They might have to care for a sick child. Would you think their request to leave on time that day was ridiculous if you were the one doing the asking?

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Don’t Be A Horrible Boss

iStock_000002194992XSmallI came across a great article on Inc. today by Geoffrey James. It listed 9 core beliefs of horrible bosses. I’m sharing this as a bit of a public service. Most of the core beliefs he list sound horrible to those managers who know how to manage well, but even they sometimes run afoul of a couple of these. It’s worth giving the list a read to see what areas you can focus on to strengthen yourself as a manager. Plus, hopefully it will make life a little better for a few employees out there.

The belief that I found myself to be guilty of the most, early in my career, was the fourth on the list. If something really needed to be done, I only relied on myself to do it. That problem was partly due to my perfectionism and partly due to experiences where people had dropped the ball. I got tired of trying to fix things at the last minute and preferred to take care of those issues myself. I eventually learned that I was approaching things the wrong way and started working on ensuring that the people I was working with had both the resources and time needed to get their jobs done. Low and behold, the issues dropped off and everyone, myself included, produced higher quality work.

The one belief that I think might be misinterpreted is actually the first on the list. It’s about management being about command and control. The article says that horrible bosses think they are supposed to order employees to do something and make sure that they do it. James posits that smart bosses know that management is about helping employees to be successful and making the tough decisions that they can’t make on their own.

I would say it’s a little of A and a little of B. Sometimes you do have to assign tasks. You also have to ensure that tasks are being completed. Otherwise, that can have negative implications for other team members that are relying on their work. A smart manager does go beyond that though and ensures that the employee has what is necessary to be successful. However, I disagree that bosses should make decisions that are too hard for their employees.

Employees should present a proposed solution to their boss when they don’t have the authority to make the decision. Or if the boss is the only one with the information necessary to make an informed decision, the employee should speak with the boss and work towards getting the right decision made. The boss should not be making hard decisions for the employee. That is the opposite of what a smart boss would want to do because it disempowers the employee. Besides, if the employee has been doing all the work on a task, they should be the closest to understanding any complexities surrounding the decision and, in most cases should have the best all around perspective.

Overall, I enjoyed the article and it got me thinking, which is the most important point of an article like this. If you have any thoughts on the list or any thoughts on my thoughts of the list, let me know in the comments below.

Free vs Paid Expectation Paradox

Development StrategyAfter I graduated from Santa Clara University, I spent the next 5+ years working for a Big 5 consulting company doing large scale enterprise software implementations. While the software I worked with was solid and fairly easy to use, I learned that most wasn’t. And all the options were crazy expensive. Companies paid a lot to get the software installed, to be trained in how to use it and for ongoing support. That’s a large difference from how consumer software works. People expect it to be reasonably priced (or free), easy to pick up and use without explanation and for support to be largely unnecessary, but free when needed.

You would think that those expectations would be reversed. Well they’re not and Carl Bass, the CEO of AutoDesk, confirmed that in an interview with ReadWrite.com. In that interview he said that developers can be sloppy when building enterprise applications because they figure that the users will use it a lot, so they’ll figure things out. That really rang true to me, but the quote that struck me the most was when he said, “The cheapest things have to be the easiest to use.” It’s all too true. People have no tolerance for bugs or difficult to learn apps when they’re free or a few dollars. They’ll just toss them away and move on to the next app. When companies shell out a lot of money though, they seem to put up with a lot more.

This horrible state of affairs in enterprise software has long struck me as an opportunity for an enterprise software provider. Create a killer enterprise app that is easy to setup, use and maintain and you will dominate your niche. The licensing cost or subscription doesn’t even have to be cheaper than the competition. If the total cost of ownership of your application is less and it is a pleasure to use, you win. Now if I just had 20 developers, I could really get started on disrupting an industry.

 

Bored? Good. Time to be Creative!

Bored Kids On FloorDo you remember when you were a kid sitting at home and you would tell your mom or dad that you were bored? Me, too. In my house, that would lead to me being given something tedious to clean. I quickly learned to find something to do to keep myself occupied. Often, that was reading, heading outside to play or making something. In other words, productive in some way.

Nowadays, I’m never bored. Never. I even try to multi task and listen to podcasts while I’m doing chores or commuting, so that I can even be learning when I’m doing other lower value tasks. Lately, I’ve been thinking that while I’ve benefited a lot from this practice, I might actually be hurting myself due to the extreme I’ve taken this.

I rarely have anytime where I do something without any mental focus. When I do have those times, such as when I’m taking a shower or when I forget my phone, then I notice the difference. My mind wanders and makes huge leaps from one thought to another and I’m far more creative than during the more structured time that makes up the vast majority of my day. While I am still creative when I am working on something, I find that I have less creative ideas springing to my mind from seemingly out of the aether. Those are the times when I have had my most transformative ideas and losing those is a problem.

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