For more than 12 years I have been in the consulting world. It is a fascinating environment. It gives you a chance to prove and apply your knowledge and skills to the benefit of your client. At the same time you challenge your peers and in reverse you are being challenged to improve your own skills. In this perspective the consulting world offers unique and wonderful learning opportunities. Not all of them are pleasant. Most of them are helpful.
Let me tell you about one of my latest aha-experience.
I admit that I have become prone to a bad habit. Saying things with a presentation. What I am talking about is that we consultants share the belief that we have to wrap our ideas and messages in flashy Powerpoint presentations. For some people this is really creative. And they are right because I have seen a lot of creative and very inspiring Powerpoint presentations. You may even say it can be an art. Unfortunately, most presentations don’t even come close to this level. But that’s another story.
Recently this bad habit of relying on a presentation or even showing something on your computer hunted me. I was explaining the rationale behind a workshop. Everyone was with me. Then I made a fatal mistake. I asked the audience if it wanted me to show them something I prepared on my computer. People nodded with their heads. So, after a short break I started showing them a fairly detailed schedule of the proposed 3-week workshop. It was not the schedule itself which caused me to lose the attention and rapport of the audience. It was the overflow of information. And it was the lack of interaction. The presentation literally sucked out the air necessary to follow me. I bombarded the audience with something preplanned rather than developing the schedule with them. Say, on a white board or flip chart. The presentation mode did not allow them to take part in developing the schedule. As a consequence I lost the audience. The rapport I had built prior to the presentation crepitated in seconds. Fortunately, my colleagues and I managed to regain the confidence of the audience later during the discussion of the presentation. Still, it would have been much simpler if I had not turned on the computer in the first place.
What’s the message? First, whenever you give a presentation and use a computer – may it be a Powerpoint presentation or Excel sheet, you name it – don’t lose contact with your audience. Second and even more important, think twice if you really need your computer to bring the message across. You may be better of not using it.
How do you talk with your friends? Do you need a computer? Or are you trying to express your thoughts in simple, plain language? You involve them in your thoughts. This way you connect with them.
Don’t get me wrong: you can use your computer and still connect with your audience. And I claim that most of the time I manage to do so myself. At least this is the feedback I have received after my presentations at clients’ sites, at conferences, etc. On the other hand, this may have caused me to develop a tunnel vision.
Not relying on your computer to explain things is straightforward advice. Sometimes this may not work. However, I am claiming that in most cases it is best to leave the computer at home. If you need to explain something in pictures, draw it on a white board, flip chart or overhead projector. You’re saying that you are not creative or artistic enough? This is a lame excuse. I believe that everyone of us can draw a simple graph or picture. We don’t have to be Leonardo da Vinci or Picasso. Keep it simple. The most important thing is that you bring your message across.
If you are interested in learning to express your thoughts with simple, straightforward and meaningful pictures I can recommend Dan Roam’s 2008 book “The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures”.