No Logo!

28 September, 2007

The Rowan Report is an EXCELLENT blog offering advice on communication for non-profit organisations. The latest entry is a particularly good list of presentation tips – I particularly like no.8.

I recently wrote a piece on getting away from bulletpoints and rethinking your whole approach to slide design, and being forced to include a corporate logo/colour scheme on every slide is the exact anthithesis of such an approach.

If every one of your slides looks the same, people will quickly get bored and/or lost. If every slide is different, they’ll sit up & pay attention in order to see what’s coming next.

As a great journalist once wrote – NO LOGO!


Impact is NOT a Verb!

28 September, 2007

A few weeks ago I read an article with the following title: 

How will Web 2.0 Impact the Travel Industry?

It seems that, like the aforementioned ‘leverage’, corporate-speak enthusiasts have also co-opted poor old ‘impact’ into their repertoire of sorely-abused nouns. 

The above title might just as easily be written as follows: 

How will Web 2.0 Affect the Travel Industry?

Or, if the writer was dead set on using the word ‘impact’:

What Impact will Web 2.0 Have on the Travel Industry?

You can ‘have an impact’ or ‘make an impact’ on something or someone, but you can’t ‘impact’ something or someone. OK, in the interests of brevity or saving printer ink it might seem easier just to abandon the ‘have an’ or ‘make an’ and just go with ‘impact’, but the simple fact is it’s WRONG!

How to #!@$ up a Presentation!

27 September, 2007

You understand your audience, you’ve put together a great slideshow, and you know your subject inside out – but this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to give a great presentation and communicate your message in a coherent, persuasive and memorable way! Here are 10 things presenters do that can undo the best laid plans…

1.    Stand behind the podium

When I see someone standing behind a podium I’m taken back to boring classes/lectures at school or university. Podiums are a barrier between you and the audience and can even make you look arrogant and superior. Speakers use podiums because they’re nervous and need to feel ‘above’ their audience.

Get away from the podium and amongst your audience to quickly create a rapport. If there’s a podium in the room when you arrive, ask the organiser to take it away. You don’t need it.

2.    Wear a jacket

I don’t care how smartly dressed your audience are – when you wear a jacket, you look as if you’re not stopping! Taking your jacket off makes you look and feel more relaxed, helps you move about more, and signals to the audience that you’re not about to rush off somewhere more important.

3.    Drink too much coffee

You’re nervous about your talk – it’s normal – so you didn’t sleep too well last night. You get to the venue. They offer you coffee. You drink it, & you feel more awake. They offer you more. You drink it. They…you get the point.

You might feel more alert, but all that caffeine will make you feel even more nervous and jumpy. Coffee dehydrates you so after you’ve been speaking for a few minutes you’ll get a very dry mouth & you’ll need to drink water. And even the strongest of bladders will give in eventually! Stick to one cup and then drink lots of water.

4.    Hold a microphone

Nervous speakers like to have something to hold onto, and what better (and less obvious) than a nice big microphone! However, unless you’re a rock star, the chances are that mike will make you look very awkward indeed, and you’ll either hold it too close to your mouth or too far away. Also, holding a mike inhibits the hand gestures that good presenters use to emphasise certain points and provide some visual stimuli.

Most venues these days can supply clip-on mikes so always ask for one. Or even better, if you’re speaking in a fairly small room, check the acoustics and you’ll probably find you don’t need a mike at all.

5.    Make inappropriate comments

I attended a large seminar in Ho Chi Minh City a couple of months ago, organised by a well-known US organisation. They’d flown in a guest speaker for the event and, like many speakers, he began his talk by praising the local city and country – a good way to get a rapport going, after all. However, instead of focusing on the food, the hospitality or the architecture, he homed in on the attractiveness of the local females, and even pointed out a few choice examples in the seminar room. Thus he revealed himself from the off as a bit of a sleazeball and this first impression coloured everyone’s reaction to the rest of his talk.

So if you’re giving a talk in another country, do a bit of basic research into cultural dos & don’ts before you go, and if you’re in any doubt, leave it out!

6.    Apologise

Sometimes, things go wrong. The laptop which worked perfectly well in your office the night before has suddenly decided to crash. The hotel’s projector can’t display your carefully-chosen images clearly. The aircon isn’t working. Sometimes it’ll be your fault, sometimes it won’t. But don’t apologise. Apologies make you look incompetent and not in control of the event.

Technical glitches are a good opportunity to ad-lib and have a bit of banter with the audience, to show that you’re not just a public speaking robot. I recently did an event with Microsoft Vietnam, and their speaker had prepared a video to show the audience, but Windows Media refused to play ball. “Just because I work for Microsoft doesn’t mean it always works for me” he said, getting a big laugh from the attendees.

Sure, apologise if you’re late, or if you spill water over someone in the audience. But don’t apologise on behalf of your technology – sometimes it just has a mind of its own, and everyone in the room will have experienced similar problems themselves.

7.    Touch the laptop

If you’re hitting the spacebar to advance your slides, you’re tied to the same spot. Invest a few quid in a remote clicker. Using a small clicker which the audience barely notice makes you look like a real pro.

8.    Keep looking at the screen

The constant glance behind at the screen is the sign of a speaker who doesn’t know their material. And you’re not reading off your slides anyway, are you?

I always try and make sure that my laptop is positioned somewhere within my line of vision, usually front-left or front-right, so I can make the occasional glance just to check I’m where I think I am! Position the laptop in front of the audience and most of them won’t notice what you’re doing.

9.    Finish with a Q&A

“Any more questions? No? OK, thanks for listening…” Not the most memorable way to end a presentation, but it’s how most presentations end – or rather, fizzle out.

Make sure you end with a bang by having a good story, anecdote or fact to hit your audience with AFTER the Q&A has finished. It makes you look professional and ends your talk on a memorable note.

10.    Rush off

The 10-15 minutes at the end of your talk are often the time when meetings are arranged, business gets done, and attendees praise your talk and even invite you to speak again for them. Yet it’s surprising how many speakers don’t hang around to chat to their audience individually, field private questions, or exchange contact details.

If you’ve followed steps 1-9 you will have come across as being very approachable, and your audience will want to approach you – stick around and give them the chance!

Speaking can be a stressful business and you’ll doubtless commit at least one of the above sins during your next talk, maybe without even realising it! But avoiding these common mistakes goes a long way towards helping you communicate your message as effectively as possible, makes your presentation enjoyable for the audience, and gives you a professional and approachable image in the eyes of your audience – some of whom will be future customers, partners or even employers!

A few days ago I received a message via Facebook from someone asking if they could “network with me over a coffee”. And I realised that the awful word ‘networking’ (which isn’t strictly a verb, by the way) had reached the ‘tipping point’, where an expression escapes its original user base and starts being picked up by everyone.

Anyway I didn’t reply. Had the person suggested meeting for a coffee, or chatting over a coffee, I would’ve done. But anyone whose motivation for meeting me is so transparently ‘business-only’ isn’t going to get a very warm response. It got me thinking about how what used to be called ‘social’ evenings are now known as ‘networking’ evenings, reversing the normal process by which you got to know people first and then moved onto business if you established some common ground. If you didn’t establish any common ground, no problem, at least you’d met someone you could go for a beer with some time. Now it’s “Can we do business? No? OK, I don’t want to know you.”

It happened to me just last week, when someone approached me and, before even finding out who I was or what I did, pressed his business card on me and began talking about wholesale kitchen equipment. Whoa there!

We all have to ‘network’ at some point during our working week/month, so here are a few tips to make the process more enjoyable and fruitful for us all…

  • Change your mindset – you’re not networking, you’re socialising!
  • We all know you’ve got a product or service to sell, but most of us like to be ‘chatted up’ first!
  • Get to know someone first before handing over a business card – you may run out of cards later and then meet someone you can really do business with.
  • Remember it’s easier to talk business with someone you’ve got to know personally than it is to talk business straight away.
  • Vary your approach – the standard hello who are you what do you do routine quickly gets boring. Scott Ginsberg, “The Guy with the Nametag”, has a website with lots of useful articles about how to make yourself more interesting and approachable at
  • Find out what the other person does before launching into an epic monologue about your business. If you sell cigarettes and your new ‘friend’ is an oncologist, you just blew that relationship!
  • If people want to know more about your company, they’ll ask. If they don’t ask, don’t tell them.
  • Focus on the conversation in hand, even if it seems uninteresting. Don’t look around the room for someone more interesting while someone is talking to you!
  • Spending 10 minutes each with 3 interesting people is probably more worthwhile than 30 minutes running around getting 30 business cards.

In short, don’t be like the guy who buttonholed me in a hotel bar in Johannesburg a few years ago with the following introduction:

“Hi, I’m Bill from Chicago, it’s great to meet you and I hope we can do business together. Here’s my card – I export grain from the US to Africa.”

Well Bill, it’s great to meet you too but if you’d bothered to observe the usual social niceties first you’d have discovered I work for a travel software company in the UK and thus have no interest in grain exporting between the US & Africa. Or anywhere else for that matter!

In a nice example of serendipity, the day after I posted my piece about image-heavy Powerpoint presentations, I watched Al Gore’s documentary on global warming, An Inconvenient Truth.

The film is basically Gore giving a presentation (using Apple Keynote rather than PPT, but the same principles apply) in front of an audience, occasionally fleshed out with personal reminiscences designed to show what a great guy Al is.

What’s striking about the film (apart from its eye-opening, often shocking content) is what a good communicator Gore is, and how well he uses his slides. Gone is the rather stilted, self-conscious performer of the 2000 presidential campaign; instead, Gore is relaxed, self-deprecating (his opening is “Hi, I’m Al Gore. I used to be the next president of the United States” – instant rapport!) and funny, as well as angry and passionate when required.

And following on from my last post, his visuals are superb. Very little text, lots of images and embedded video, and plenty of well-designed graphs & charts. And NO BULLETPOINTS!

Basically the film is a great example of how to deliver an enjoyable, informative and persuasive presentation, and essential viewing for anyone required to communicate information in this way. Lots of images, no jargon, plenty of personal anecdotes, and a relaxed, friendly delivery.

As a regular presenter I’m forever looking for new ways to make my slides more memorable and find new ways to communicate my message more clearly.

Over the last few months I’ve read a lot of articles about PowerPoint slide design (Presentation Zen is particularly good), and they seem to be unanimous on one thing – images = good, text = bad. The traditional method of presentation – identical corporate slides filled with bullet points and loads of text – is apparently passe, mainly because most people’s cognitive powers do not stretch to listening and reading at the same time.

So why is it that EVERY SINGLE BLOODY PRESENTATION I ATTEND still persists with this format? Even Philip Kotler, the ‘father of marketing’, whose recent conference in Ho Chi Minh City I attended, did it this way – plain white slides crammed with text which he simply read off the slides, adding very little extra. If he can’t get it right, how can anyone else? Are people like Garr Reynolds and Guy Kawasaki just pissing in the wind?

People’s brains work like this. If you stand up & start speaking, they’ll listen to you. But if you show them a lot of text on a screen at the same time, they’ll try and read it. But they can’t do both. So either they’ll ignore you, or they’ll ignore your slides. Either way, your message is diluted. Give them handouts to read as well, and you might as well just give it up and go home.

So today I tried something new. I was giving a talk to the European Chamber of Commerce here in HCMC about customer retention/loyalty, a talk focusing on concepts rather than lots of graphs and technical data. I wanted people to listen to me, not spend the whole half hour reading stuff off the screen.

So I kept it simple. Each slide had one relevant, high-quality image, and just a few words. No-one got handouts. Once the audience looked at the slide and grasped what the concept was, they wanted to know more and so listened to what I was saying. And because each slide was attractive and different to the previous one, and they had no handouts to tell them what was coming next, they paid attention.

Here are some examples. This slide is to illustrate the ‘leaky bucket’ analogy I mentioned in my recent entry about Richard Dawkins – the audience read the question and saw the picture, and their interest was piqued. This meant they listened to what I said:

Leaky Bucket

This one illustrates the ‘customer loyalty ladder’. Sure, I could’ve done this with bullet points, but then so would everyone else. Why not use a nice image of a ladder, and have the text appearing vertically from the bottom?


Finally, I moved onto customer loyalty, and who better to illustrate the concept of loyalty and faithfulness than a cuddly labrador:


I’ve never had such an attentive audience. Some of them looked a bit baffled at first, but once they grasped the format & realised there was nothing for them to read, they concentrated on my talk. Several of them approached me afterwards and said how much they’d enjoyed it and how different it was, which was great.

But it wasn’t just good for the audience, it was good for me too. Getting rid of the text from your slides helps you focus your mind on what you’re saying, and gives your talk a conversational quality that audiences appreciate. I found that, as I’d rehearsed and knew what image was coming next, I didn’t need to look back at the screen at all and was able to give the audience my undivided attention.

This approach may not work if you’re delivering a highly technical presentation, or one involving a lot of facts & figures, but for communicating ideas and concepts, particularly in a training scenario for example, it is highly effective. It requires a bit more work than the traditional approach (you need to source good pics – try – and you really need to know your talk as there are no bullet points for you to cling onto) – but it’s more fun to deliver and more enjoyable, and coherent, to your audience. Give it a try, and let me know how you get on!

In my earlier posting Leverage is NOT a verb, I mentioned the metaphorical use of the word ‘vanilla’ (as in ‘vanilla report’, ‘vanilla implementation’, ‘vanilla model’ etc.)

On the face of it, vanilla isn’t a bad metaphor for a basic, no-frills version of a product. After all, vanilla is the basic, no-frills ice cream flavour the world over. Isn’t it?

Well, this brings us to the issue of cross-cultural communication here. In Europe and the US, vanilla is indeed the default ice cream flavour. But not everywhere else.

Here in Vietnam for example, you’re just as likely to be given ice cream made from taro, a type of sweet potato, or durian, the foul-smelling fruit banned by most hotels and airlines, and which the novelist Anthony Burgess accurately described as ‘like eating custard in the lavatory’. Vanilla is a more exotic, ‘foreign’ flavour.

In rural Vietnam, as in other huge swathes of the developing world, the scarcity of refrigeration means that ice cream, regardless of flavour, is a rare, exotic delicacy – describe a car model as ‘vanilla’ to someone from a village in Cambodia and in the unlikely event of them understanding you, they’d probably assume you were talking top-of-the-range.

The French have a similar expression to describe pointless exercises or dry runs (mock exams and the like) – ‘c’est pour du beurre’, meaning ‘it’s just for butter’. Butter in France, as in most parts of the developed world, being a basic foodstuff – a vanilla product, if you will. But again, in countries with scarce refrigeration, or in which dairy animals are not reared, butter is an expensive delicacy, so tell someone that what they’re doing is ‘for butter’ and they’ll doubtless be very happy and work harder!

The point being that it can be fun to come up with these seemingly handy business metaphors, but that caution should be exercised when using them inter-culturally – you may well be misunderstood or simply not understood at all.