A Peridoic Table of Visualization Methods

Swiss researchers Ralph Lengler & Martin J. Eppler from the Institute of Corporate Communication (how cool is that!) at the University of Lugano have created a “periodic table” of 100 visualization methods. They describe their table in their 2007 research paper Towards A Periodic Table of Visualization Methods for Management

Data Visualization Periodic Table

(Click to enlarge)

The periodic table is broken down into data visualization, information visualization, concept visualization, strategy visualization, metaphor visualization, and compound visualization.

Their Visual Literacy website contains an interactive version of the table. Simply by hovering over each box in the table, an example appears in a pop-up window with an illustration of each of the elements.

Try it here.

Supply Demand CurveThe examples range from the simple supply demand curve (Su) with a X/Y axis to the complex sankey diagram (Sa) — a specific type of flow diagram in which the width of the arrows is shown proportionally to the flow quantity.Sankey Diagram

While their classification tool might offend the purists, this is a fun source of ideas for your next PowerPoint presentation. However, in terms of a tool that helps classify and solve problems while selling ideas with pictures, nothing beats Dan Roam’s excellent Visual thinking Codex from his book The Back of the Napkin:

Data Visualization Periodic Table

(Click to enlarge)

Thanks to George for letting me know about the visualization table.

Book Review: Hack Attack, by Nick Davies

Hack AttackHack Attack, Nick Davies’s exhaustively researched exposé – subtitled “How the truth caught up with Rupert Murdoch” – details how the press baron and key members of his staff pulled the levers of power in British politics and business during the six years from 2008 to 2014. While denying and lying, they slipped in and out the side-door of Number 10 for drinks with the prime minister, rubbing shoulders with the power elite who lived in fear of the ability of mass circulation newspapers to influence elections and destroy lives.

A sprawling cast of characters fill the pages of Hack Attack: the bullying editors and hapless reporters of the Fleet Street tabloid newspapers; members of the Queen’s household in Buckingham Palace; prime ministers and members of the government in Whitehall and Downing Street; petty criminals and senior policemen; wide boys and blagging operatives; movers and shakers, celebrities and philanderers; and behind it all the spectral presence of one of the world’s most powerful men – media tycoon Rupert Murdoch.

Davies is the reporter on the left-of-center Guardian newspaper who ran the first stories about the practice of phone hacking. His well-written report reads like a thriller. It is a compulsive page-turner. His bravery in pursuit of the truth is quite startling. One suspects that in any other country than Britain he would have been “disappeared” for dishing the dirt as he has. The scope of the cover-up he exposes makes Woodward and Bernstein, in an earlier era, seem bush league. They had Deep Throat. He has anonymous sources he code-names “Sapphire”, “Ovid” and “Jingle”. They had a cover-up about one crime, the Watergate break-in. He has a decade of systematic illegal activity by reporters and editors who illegally “hacked” the mobile phone voicemails of anyone and everyone who could provide source material for their stories. They hacked the Royal Family, they hacked members of the British Cabinet, sports stars and everyday citizens. Most notoriously, they hacked the cell phone of a murdered teenage schoolgirl. The private messages they listened to were material for news reports, most often in the now defunct News of The World, a Murdoch paper closed as a direct result of Davies’s investigative journalism. Davies uncovers the secrets and lies and reveals how the police in Scotland Yard kept a lid on it for years.

Hack Attack is a must-read for anyone who lives in the UK and wants to hear how they were lied to by the establishment, or, as in my own case, resides in the USA and wonders about the corporate morality of Murdoch’s henchmen on the Wall Street Journal and those who deliver “fair and balanced” reporting on Fox News.

Guest Posting: Communicating at Virgin Atlantic, by Adam Schair

Adam SchairAdam Schair is Vice President, Human Resources Communications at Thomson Reuters in New York and a member of the Thomson Reuters Internal Communication & Engagement Council. He manages a team of human resources communications specialists. This post appears with his express permission.

Fortune Favors the Bold: Communicating at Virgin Atlantic, by Adam Schair

Virgin AdI recently went to a highly entertaining and informative IABC Westfair talk given by Jenna Lloyd, Virgin Atlantic Marketing Director, about communications at a company borne from Richard Branson’s innovative mind, created with the sole purpose of shaking up an industry. Although Jenna focused on external communications, she made it clear that Virgin’s internal and external communications are treated with the same tone and goal of challenging the status quo and creating the unexpected.

In fact, Jenna’s talk was called “Flying in the Face of Ordinary to create a communication culture.” Flying in the Face of Ordinary was not just the name of her talk, but Virgin Atlantic’s mantra; it’s north star. They call it FITFOO, and she recounted that in their many brainstorming meetings, when a person suggests an idea that is on the more mundane side, someone will inevitably say, “That idea is not FITFOO enough.”

The following is a summary of the five points of her talk, which were categorized by paraphrased quotes from Richard Branson himself. This all may make you slightly jealous of the Virgin Atlantic communications culture, but I saw it also as presenting an exciting challenge as we try to create an innovative culture (of course, I doubt we will be offering rides to outer space any time soon).

1. Being Brave is Part of our DNA

Jenna started with a quote from Simon Sinek, who some of you may know wrote the book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action and is a frequent TED talker, “People don’t buy what you do, but why you do it.”

She said that this quote really captured the essence of how they approach communications at Virgin Atlantic. To prove it, she then read from their principles, for lack of a better term, which contains phrases as:

  • We zig while others zag
  • We’re the antidote to dull
  • We do red where other’s do beige
  • And Richard Branson’s employment philosophy: Don’t just play the game; change it for good.

She took us through some their campaigns to illustrate how they not only use the unexpected to prove a point, but, going back to Simon Sinek’s quote, demonstrated the “why” as well as the “what.” Here are links to a few, if you want to read more:

2. Don’t think what’s the cheapest way to do it or what’s the fastest way to do it; think what’s the most amazing way to do it

When they make decisions at Virgin Atlantic, they do with the mission to make people feel good. It is simple in concept, difficult in practice. But many of their campaigns live up to this idea. Here are a few:

  • Twitter rewards campaign: the team scoured twitter and found people who made statements indicating they were having a “grey day.” They would then send a team to cheer the person up.
  • Anti-Mundane Squad: The team would identify mundane experiences (e.g., the local DMV) and brighten it up by bringing red velvet cupcakes.
  • No Ordinary Park Bench: The replaced a park bench with an experience similar to sitting in first class on the airline.

Of course, all of this was picked up in social media and went viral. An interesting (and I guess consistent) point about Virgin Atlantic and social media is that when they measure success, they measure sentiment first and reach second. Usually, it is the other way around.

Jenna summed it up in a quote from Maya Angelou, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

3. Screw it, just do it

That is a direct Richard Branson quote, and he says it a lot. It speaks to creating a culture where there is no fear of failure when you try new things. It also speaks to the tongue-in-cheek tone that pervades their communications.

London EyeThe great example of this was when British Airways landed what seemed to be a marketing coup of being the primary sponsor of the London Eye. The story goes that at first, they had difficulty in raising the giant Ferris wheel into place. When Richard Branson heard this news, without hesitation, he hired a blimp to fly over the scene of the construction. I’ll let the picture (left) tell the rest of the story.

In this case, as Jenna quoted, “Fortune favors the brave.”

4. The way you treat your employees is the way they’ll treat your customers

I cannot imagine any of my communications colleagues would argue with this statement. Richard Branson is a strong believer in this, and that is why they try to treat their employees like rock stars. They make the work environment fun, and encourage a healthy work/life balance.

One example Jenna gave of creating a bit of glamour and fun was how they transformed their employee newsletter for their crew into a glossy magazine called Runway that provides glamour tips.

5. Bring it to the customer

Many of you have seen pictures of Richard Branson serving drinks on his airline. That iconic picture speaks to Virgin Atlantic’s Philosophy. They are always thinking of ways to proactively make their customers feel good. Examples Jenna gave included giving their customers that had to fly from home on Valentine’s Day a little gift to cheer them up, and sending cocktail shakers on Admin’s Day to executive administrators who book travel for their executives. The cocktail shakers came with a note that said, “thanks for keeping things together, now shake things up!” I am sure a lot of executives began finding themselves booked on a lot more Virgin Atlantic flights after that.

Parting advice

Jenna concluded by summarizing her learnings at Virgin Atlantic in the following seven points:

  1. Know your story; know your why
  2. Challenge convention
  3. Make people feel amazing
  4. Opportunity favors the bold
  5. Treat employees like customers
  6. Surprise & delight people
  7. Have fun

Every one of those points applies just as much to internal as external communications. Let’s shake things up!

Same Same … But Different

SameA recent discussion in the National Speaker’s Association Facebook Group addresses the problem of the lack of originality in many speeches. The discussion was prompted by a LinkedIn article by Richard A. Moran which highlights the repetitive use of the same case studies by speakers at business events. The author requests:

Let’s broaden the conversation and stop talking about the same companies – usually Apple, Zappos and Southwest Airlines.

Instead of the same old stuff he wants:

…to be motivated, not sorry I don’t work somewhere else. I want to know how I can improve, not how a brilliant leader did it a few years ago somewhere else. And, I want genuine advice that might include some practical tips about how to be better and what pitfalls to avoid.

Professional speakers and speechwriters are in total agreement. Their comments show they understand the importance of delivering content that is unique, different, and ensures their message will be heard above the noise. (Since the NSA Group is a closed one, the names of the contributors have been removed.)

  1. The problem is a global one – same old stories, same old case studies, same old messages. We need to use our own stories, our own research, and if we must talk about companies, use current news stories.
  2. It’s best to tell stories from our own experience. It’s what I do in my own talks and it’s what I encourage executives to do when I’m helping them with their speeches. Not only are those stories going to be original, the speaker is going to be more connected to them.
  3. Speakers must bring us a very different idea or way of doing something we’ve not heard before. I can honestly say few exist per my life’s experience. The same ingredients in a food processor still yield pretty much the same outcome–no matter what order you add them. Real Thought Leaders make us think long after the book, podcast or event. I believe great speeches have a beginning, a middle and a definitive end. I also know there are three presentations happening simultaneously: the one you planned, the one you executed and (most importantly) the one they take away. Our own stories and the lessons we share keep our content fresh and unique, as long as we continue to study how to connect the dots in a way the audience most relates to.
  4. As a speech writer for others, I want to take their experiences and create a speech based on them, not on what can be found in college business textbooks. Not all case studies are as they seem.
  5. We live in an age where everything changes quickly — we have so many examples to share.

Guest Posting: How Not to Introduce a Speaker, by Adam Grant

Adam GrantAdam Grant is Wharton’s youngest full professor and single highest-rated teacher. He has been recognized as one of BusinessWeek’s favorite professors, one of the world’s 40 best business professors under 40, and one of Malcolm Gladwell’s favorite social science writers. Previously, he was a record-setting advertising director at Let’s Go Publications, an All-American springboard diver, and a professional magician. Adam is the author of Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success. This post was first published on his LinkedIn Influencer page and appears here with his express permission.

How Not to Introduce a Speaker

by Adam Grant

When I attend a presentation, the first thing that captures my attention isn’t the speaker or the material. It’s the person who introduces the speaker.

After giving a few hundred speeches in the past year, I’ve been struck by the variety of ways that different people introduce the same speaker. Some introductions energize me and seem to leave the audience excited to hear from me. Other introductions inadvertently make it more difficult to deliver a successful speech.

In my experience, the best introductions avoid three mistakes:

1. Don’t read the speaker’s biography. Much of the time, introducers walk up to the stage with a written biography, and proceed to read it verbatim. This is a mistake for several reasons. First, it’s boring. Bios are usually written to inform, not fascinate. Second, a typical bio is far too long to hold the audience’s attention. The goal is to pique the audience’s curiosity, not cover the speaker’s entire life history.

Third, even if introducers are armed with a short, punchy bio, they usually trip up when trying to read the words. This often happens to me when I’ve tried to read introductory remarks, leaving me mystified: why can I give a 45-minute speech from memory without missing a beat, but stumble through reading a few words that are right in front of me? (One explanation comes from classic research by psychologist Robert Zajonc: the presence of an audience enhances performance for well-learned tasks, but hinders performance when we’re novices. We’re used to reading silently, not out loud in front of large groups, and the arousal interferes with fluent processing.)

Instead of reading a bio, I like it when introducers highlight a grand total of three or four interesting tidbits about the speaker. Here’s one of the best intros I’ve ever received: “Adam Grant is a Wharton professor who has advised leaders ranging from Google to Goldman Sachs to the U.S. Air Force. He’s the author of Give and Take, and he used to perform as a magician.”

2. Don’t give away the speaker’s content. On numerous occasions, during the introduction, I’ve watched presenters turn white as a sheet. The introducer steals the thunder of the speech by giving away a punch line, a surprise, or a memorable quote. This has happened to me several times recently. One of my most requested speeches introduces three styles of interaction: givers (helpful), takers (selfish), and matchers (fair). I poll the audience: which group is least successful, and which is most successful?

Then, I reveal an unexpected conclusion from a decade of research across multiple industries. Givers are more likely to finish last… but they’re also more likely to finish first. It was a bummer when the CEO of a Fortune 500 company introduced me by announcing that I would be speaking about how good guys finish first.

Goodbye, element of surprise! Goodnight, audience interaction. Hello, pivot!

My rule here is clear: introducers should avoid the content altogether. It’s fine to explain the relevance of the talk to the audience. Just tell us the purpose of the presentation, or the topic of the speech, without divulging the message or the conclusion. You can also create a curiosity gap, as described by Chip and Dan Heath inMade to Stick. Pose a question that the speaker might answer, and the audience will be intrigued to find out more. For my speech, it works well when introducers simply say, “Today’s speaker will challenge our assumptions about what drives success” or “Adam will ask, ‘Is giving the secret to getting ahead?’”

3. Don’t make the speaker sound superhuman. I’m thrilled to share this idea with you, because the next paragraph is going to be the most profound argument you’ll read this week.

Many introducers wax poetic in superlatives about the speaker. This is a good idea in principle: extensive evidence shows that whether the speaker is a teacher or a leader, high expectations can fuel self-fulfilling prophecies. When the introducer emphasizes what’s impressive about the speaker, audience members are more likely to be smiling at the edge of their seats. This can enhance the speaker’s confidence and reduce self-doubt, and then a virtuous cycle ensues. The audience is more likely to engage with her insights and laugh at her jokes, further enhancing the speaker’s confidence and ability to command attention. If something goes wrong, the audience will be more forgiving.

Yet an over-the-top setup can lead to what social scientists call a self-negating or self-disconfirming prophecy. In a nutshell, if the audience’s expectations are too high, there’s a greater risk of a gap between anticipation and reality. If the introduction is too glowing—like my tongue-in-cheek opening sentence above—the speaker will have a hard time living up to it. To paraphrase one of my mentors, Jane Dutton:

It’s better if the introducer under-promises, and the speaker over-delivers, than vice-versa.

Guest Posting: Speaking Up – Surviving Executive Presentations, by Rick Gilbert

Rick Gilbert is the founder of PowerSpeaking, Inc. and the primary developer of PowerSpeaking (the workshop), HighTechSpeaking, and Speaking Up: Presenting to Executives. He is the author of Speaking Up: Surviving Executive Presentations and has authored articles in over 100 national publications on communication. Before starting PowerSpeaking, Rick held management positions at Hewlett-Packard and Amdahl. Before that he was a psychologist and a university instructor. His PhD is in Humanistic Psychology. This article is reprinted with his express permission.

Speaking Up: Surviving Executive Presentations

by Rick Gilbert

Speaking Up CoverYou are a smart, high-potential middle manager rocketing up the corporate ladder. Your team is working on a project that could catapult your company ahead of the competition. All that remains is to convince senior leadership to give you the funding to make it happen.

You walk into the C-level presentation room with your 30 PowerPoint slides. Almost immediately, a full-blown executive food fight starts. You look to your sponsor for help, but she isn’t paying attention. The executives drift off agenda as you fumble with your slides. You wonder, “What the hell just happened,” as you are politely dismissed from the room. Leaving the building, your dream of corporate stardom fades quickly.

If you are in middle management, you live with daily ambiguity, lack of control, and even chaos. To get anything done, you must present your ideas to people up the chain, and those presentations can be brutal. Careers and projects can come unwound in a matter of minutes if a presenter at the top level doesn’t know the rules.

Like an anthropologist in some mysterious far-away land, for the past ten years I’ve been working to discover the secret rules that govern the C-suite. Doing interviews with over 50 C-level executives, I’ve pieced together this puzzle. What we’ve learned in this research could save your career, your project, and even your company. So, what are the rules?

The good news: the rules are simple and easy to learn:

  • You have 30 seconds to get to the point;
  • You must present with confident (not slick) style, lately called “executive presence;”
  • Present like a jazz musician: improvise;
  • Dump the slides and have a discussion.

Unfortunately a staggeringly high number of mid-level people (67%, actually) march right into top-level meetings and shoot themselves in the foot by:

  • Not saying what they want at the beginning;
  • Being too aggressive or too passive in their delivery;
  • Rigidly sticking to their scripts;
  • Having too many PowerPoint slides.

The cost of a 67% failure rate is staggering. If you are presenting to the top five people in a mid-sized company ($6 – $8 billion in revenue), the executives around that table are costing the share holders about $30,000/hour. Do the math. Two or three meetings a week at a failure rate of roughly $20,000/meeting, can cost hundreds of thousands, even millions, of dollars/year in lost productivity. These stats come from the executives we’ve interviewed.

As you walk to the front of the room and take your place at the head of the oval mahogany table, you better know the dynamics and history of that C-level group. It is not your meeting. You are a guest at their meeting. They can treat you with respect, or callous disregard. In surveying middle managers, we’ve learned there are “Seven Deadly Challenges” you need to be prepared for:

  • They cut your time
  • They get distracted with their devices
  • They have an executive food fight
  • They change the topic without warning
  • The key decision maker walks out
  • They engage in side-talk
  • They have a fast-moving energetic discussion

Executive Presentation Survival Tips

Know the culture. Check it out with your sponsor. Talk to others who’ve presented to this team. Keep in mind the reality of the stressful world top-level people live in. They are very bright, time pressured executives with little job security. Their average job tenure is 23 months. They are under huge financial performance pressures. At the end of the first year on the job, if the stock price goes down, there is a 73 percent chance the new CEO will be fired, according to a report in the Harvard Business Review. However you are treated in the brief moments of that critically important presentation, whether with appreciation for your contribution, or with disrespect, it is not about YOU. They have bigger issues to deal with.

As one HR executive put it:

I’m a tool of management. My job is to give senior executives information, lay out a set of options, or maybe ask for a decision . . and then leave. I’m not there to be their buddy or to get pats on the back. A presentation isn’t a personal development opportunity or a chance for increased visibility. I’m there to do a job. And that job is to help prepare the executives to make the best possible decisions for the company.

Seeing your presentation in the cold hard light of day will help you be successful. It is not about a promotion. It is not about being friends with the executives. It is about helping them be more effective.

If you follow these tips, the chances of getting what you want and being someone they trust go way up. You will be seen as having “executive presence.” Since you will get the funding, you will become a hero to your team. Your career prospects will brighten. Good luck.

For a peek inside the book and to hear from some of the people who have been through Rick’s workshop and senior executives he has interviewed, take a look at the video below.

Speaking Up Book Release Party from Rick Gilbert on Vimeo.

Why corporate storytelling sucks

Andrew HillA provocative article by Andrew Hill in Tuesday’s FT skewers the current focus on storytelling in executive communications blogs (like mine!).

Hill notes that companies like Microsoft and SAP have people on staff with the title “chief storyteller”. He dismisses the interview that Steve Clayton conducted as a walkabout with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella as “anodyne”.

Moving on, he highlights the danger that corporations will construct unrealistic myths with a “a coherent plot…no implausible twists, or awkward gaps” to tell the story of their success which leaders then become trapped in. The risk is, he claims, that corporate storytellers start to believe their own stories.

I’d argue that while there’s some truth in Hill’s admonitions, he over-eggs the omelet in criticizing the desire of communications professionals to tell stories. To achieve even a modicum of success in this endeavor is something to applaud. As welcome relief from the endless march of PowerPoint slides displayed in meeting rooms worldwide, a real story is a rare treat.

The Heart of Storytelling

In fact, I’ve noted that a previous Microsoft storyteller, Justina Chen, has described in detail the messy, complex and conflictual nature of telling the story of the Xbox team who had to deal with games consoles catching fire and other challenges on the road to success. Chen, a successful author who knows what captures the imagination, recognizes the power of overcoming adversity in telling a good yarn:

Don’t be afraid of discussing failures, the crucible moments in the company history is where we see character emerge. Speechwriters can research the times the company has failed and show the lessons, the backbone, and the spine of the organization…

Of course, no company is going to write the corporate equivalent of a Bleak House, or a Gormenghast. When our daily bread is at risk we prefer tales of success to dystopian failure.

Propaganda

WWI PosterIndeed, I believe Hill’s critique is more appropriate if broadened to encompass the similarities between modern corporations and authoritarian regimes or even Fascist states. There’s the common themes of veneration of the organization over the individual, devotion to a strong leader, perpetual competitive engagement as a key motivator of “the troops”, and a fevered dedication to territorial (or market-share) expansion. Propaganda is employed as a tool of conformism and control.

Hill’s critique of “happy ending” storytelling is a really critique of corporate propaganda. Many specific propaganda techniques are deployed by corporate PR and communications professionals: the tireless repetition of an idea, appeal to fear uncertainty and doubt, jumping on the bandwagon, inevitable victory, black and white choices, the cult of personality, demonizing the competition…and so on.

Transmedia

Hill acknowledges the positive origins of corporate storytelling in the work of Stephen Denning. He also references John Hagel of Deloitte’s Center for the Edge (where U2′s guitarist hangs out?) who has suggested:

…it may be healthier to think of business stories as open-ended narratives in which everyone participates, rather than finite tales told by a single raconteur to a passive audience. But he points out that “narratives cannot be crafted by PR departments [and] existing institutional leaders are generally poorly equipped to take on this opportunity”.

When highlighting the importance of context and narrative, Hagel points to the democratization of the means of production of stories:

Digital technology provides all of us the ability to define and communicate narratives in rich and textured ways. Video and audio tools and platforms supplement conventional text-based forms of communication, and put them in the hands of everyone. Of course, the democratization of communication poses its own challenges. While it helps us to frame and communicate our own personal and institutional narratives, it makes it more challenging to frame social narratives that can unite rather than fragment us as we seek to learn faster by working together.

This is supported by my own experience at companies like Cisco where an internal YouTube-like service allows all employees to tell stories. This “show and share” initiative opens the floodgates to immersive storytelling and transmedia where not only the Führer, or CEO, is the focus of the story.

Authenticity

At the end of the day, Hill admits, it is a question of the authenticity of business leaders’ communications, which face innumerable barriers. With Dilbert filling George Orwell’s role in satirizing authoritarian empty suits, the time for “writing with courage and character and grit” is now. But that’s the focus of the column to the right of Andrew Hill’s on p.8 of the March 18 FT.

Presentation Skills for New Leaders

Last Sunday I had the pleasure of running a workshop on presentation skills to a group of 17 Fellows of the New Leaders Council of Silicon Valley.

New Leaders Council logoThe New Leaders Council works to recruit, train and promote the progressive political entrepreneurs of tomorrow — trendsetters, elected officials and civically-engaged leaders in business and industry who will shape the future landscape. NLC recruits Fellows from outside traditional power structures and equips them with the skills necessary to be civic leaders in their communities and workplaces. Their mission is realized through the NLC Institute; the nation’s premiere political entrepreneurship training program.

Workshop DiscussionAs part of a weekend of training on communications, I held a workshop on presentation skills. My talk listed the mistakes to avoid, proven ways to create an outline, how to gather content that supports an argument, and presentation tips.

It was refreshing to hear how the young people who are Fellows in the program plan to use communications in their future leadership positions in corporate social responsibility, labor councils, immigration defense, nonprofits and politics.

We worked on the idea of using the “power of three” to quickly outline a speech with three main points. We also reviewed the importance of stories in presentations and the ways in which social media can be used to take the pulse of an audience on a topic before, during and after a presentation.

Guest Posting: How to Pitch, by Alan Stevens

Nine
NINE TIPS FOR PERFECT PITCHING

Do you need to pitch for business, funding or sponsorship? Here’s a guide about how to succeed.

  1. Solve a Problem: Explain how your unique solution fills a “must have” need. If you aren’t solving a problem or filling a need, you’re in for a tough time.
  2. Tell Them What They Want to Hear: Describe your product or service and its benefits succinctly. You may also have to define and size the market, explain how you’re going to make money and show how your offering beats the competition.
  3. Speak in Plain English: Talk in tangibles, not abstractions, throughout your pitch.. Even if your product is complex, you’ll lose your audience if you use MBA-speak.
  4. Grab the Listener’s Attention: Develop a tagline – something enticing that captures the imagination. Make an analogy between you and a well-known company. “We’re the Twitter for teens” is a good short way to say that you’re trying to create a social messaging system for teenagers.
  5. Ask Qualifier Questions: To ensure that you’re targeting the right person with the right message, ask a couple of questions about their decision-making powers.
  6. Tailor Your Pitch to Your Audience: To investors, the pitch focuses on your team and how you plan to make money. To customers, your focus should be on the problem you can solve for them. Potential partners want to know what you’re building, why it’s important, and why you’re going to be a success.
  7. Show Your Passion: A good pitch makes your heart race. Show the fire in the belly and your passion to succeed.
  8. Tell a Consistent Story: Make sure that your managers and other key individuals, such as investors and board members, can also give your company’s elevator pitch fluently. Nothing sounds worse than fumbling, inaccurate or contradictory company descriptions.
  9. Conclude With a Call to Action: Always end your pitch with a call to action, but recognize that different audiences prompt different requests.

Alan Stevens is a professional speaker and media coach based in the UK. This information was written by Alan Stevens, and originally appeared in “The MediaCoach”, his free weekly ezine, available at www.mediacoach.co.uk.

Book Review: 11 Deadly Presentation Sins by Rob Biesenbach

Rob Biesenbach is an independent corporate communications pro, actor, author and speaker. He is a former VP at Ogilvy PR Worldwide and press secretary to the Ohio Attorney General. His first book, Act Like You Mean Business: Essential Communication Lessons From Stage and Screen was published in 2011.

11 Deadly Presentation Sins Today marks the publication of his new book, 11 Deadly Presentation Sins.

This handy guide is a great resource for, as the subtitle says “anyone who has to get up and talk in front of an audience.” There’s just 100 short pages (I’m guessing no more than 20,000 words) of distilled wisdom based on the author’s direct experience as an actor who has appeared in 150 stage, commercial and film productions and has written hundreds of executive speeches. Biesenbach walks the walk.

He acknowledges that the speechifying bar is set low:

…it won’t take much to dazzle people who are accustomed to the usual Bataan Death March that is the average business presentation today. By adopting just a few of the tips that I give you here, you’ll quickly stand out from the crowd of bad presenters.

The sins of the bad speaker are listed chronologically, from a failure to understand audience needs in the planning stages, to delivering a flat opening, a lack of focus, low-energy delivery, inadequate rehearsal time, through to a weak finish.

How to avoid deadly presentation sins

Each chapter provides the “sinner” with redeeming advice to save their soul the next time they worship the Church of PowerPoint, or kneel at the altar … I mean lectern. There’s great stuff on ways to avoid missing the mark by taking onboard his tips on speech structure, the use of quotes, how to be humorous, tell a story, and much more.

In addition to solid advice on content and structure, Biesenbach’s experience as an actor informs much of the book. He rightly claims there are strong parallels between performance and business presentations: make an emotional connection with the audience, express yourself creatively, share the stage, and be aware of what you do with your body.

He quotes many of the “good and great” in the world of professional speaking: Carmine Gallo, Patricia Fripp, and Nancy Duarte.

It’s from Duarte that he shares one of the most challenging of the suggestions: how to avoid The Sin of Inadequate Rehearsal. Time and again, busy executives will short-change themselves on rehearsal time. Understandable, but sad. Investing in preparation shows–not in a scripted, memorized, delivery, but in the spontaneity and comfort that comes from real planning and adequate rehearsal time.

Rehearsal time

How much time is adequate? Nancy Duarte states that she spent 30 hours rehearsing her 18 minute TED talk! It’s been seen by hundreds of thousands, and will delight new viewers long into the future. Carmine Gallo details the hours Steve Jobs put into each of his product intros. So, how much time do you spend doing email in a week? Sitting in meetings? Consider setting aside time to rehearse your next talk to the point you internalize it and the pay-off will be a better performance.

Seven Deadly Sins?

I do have a couple of quibbles with the book.

First, it’s mystifying why the chosen title is “11 Deadly Sins” since there are an additional eight bonus ones in the last chapter. So we actually get 19. However, it’s well known there are Seven deadly sins. Indeed, the numbers we all remember with ease are 3, 5, 7, 9 and 10 (for reasons that have to do with Freud, zip codes, phone numbers and, finally, phone numbers + area codes). Never 11 or 19. But, I digress.

He advises keeping notes on index cards, not floppy pieces of paper. I agree, and in my experience these should always be blue 5×7 index cards with text in 20-point font – proven to avoid glare in the lights, look good on video and easy to carry with you while onstage.

He concludes by saying that comparing yourself to a world-class TED talk is not fair. “Nobody who watches Tiger Woods on TV expects to get off the couch and join the PGA Tour.”

Perhaps so. It could be argued, however, that today’s audiences are schooled by TED talks to expect that level of performance. They now know what a good business presentation looks like. They have higher expectations than in the pre-YouTube era. Commit any of the sins the book lists and you’ll risk your audience turning to their smart phones for amusement, while you bomb.

In sum, however, this is an excellent book that is a quick read for anyone with an hour or so to spare. It will motivate you to take the necessary steps to avoid committing the deadly presentation sins that are on display every day in conference rooms worldwide. Recommended.