The Secret of Good IT Communications

tldrBrevity is king.

IT is full of details. They’re all important. We achieve success by dotting I’s and crossing T’s. We’re careful about the details because technology can be pretty fragile and it’s our job to make it appear to be magical.

And that’s where things get tricky in communications. When we need to show someone what’s behind the curtain – how the trick works – we’re tempted to walk them through all of the glorious details. It’s amazing, after all. And the details are important. And seeing all the pieces and how they are hooked together is awe-inspiring.

To us.

To everyone else, it’s overwhelming (and honestly, boring).

So how do we convey what people need to know without bogging it down with so many details? How do you write a powerful email, prepare a compelling presentation, or lead a productive discussion when the subject matter is deep and wide? When you need to make a point that is clear, memorable, and influential? How do you get that message to resonate with your audience?

Brevity. Focused Brevity.

The temptation is to condense everything. To organize the details in such a way that you can convey them all efficiently.

Items can be summarized into bullet points. Bullet points can be grouped together logically. And diagrams can display concepts and architecture to help show what the bullet points mean.

But condensation is not the way to achieve brevity. Selection is.

To be brief is to be selective. Choosing only the most important details is crucial. There should be just a few. Arranged carefully in your email, presentation, or pitch, they should support the story you’re trying to tell. Because you’re always telling a story, that’s how we communicate most naturally and most effectively.

Think of the classic fables. They are short and punchy and carry a strong and clear message. And each detail that is included is important to the story. Everything non-essential is left out.

And that is the key. Selection. Not compression.

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A TED Talk in the Making

320px-David_Meerman_Scott-David Meerman Scott was my special guest last night at an eMarketing course I teach at Bentley University. We use his book The New Rules of Marketing and PR in the course, so it was great to talk marketing with him. It was a delightful, insightful, and revealing discussion with the students.

And we got another real treat while he was there – a chance to watch a craftsman at work.

David is working on a TED Talk and he demoed an early version with the class. You’ll have to wait until it’s done to learn about the content, but let’s talk about the process.

Prepare and Practice

Good talks come from preparation. And preparation takes time. David put a lot of time (many, many hours, and counting) into preparing the ideas, organizing the message, and working on delivery. And don’t just practice alone, use a live audience – that’s a much better test.

Seek Feedback, Early and Often

David delivered his talk to us, complete with slides and props.  Then he asked for feedback – and he meant it. He ran a great discussion about the talk and each suggestion or comment that was raised. The dialog was great, with lots of good ideas exchanged that will no doubt help David to improve the talk. Don’t just ask for feedback, embrace it.

Hone Your Craft

Even though David is an A-List speaker on the marketing circuit, he works with a speaking coach (Nick Morgan, whose book on speaking is one of my favorites). As he explains, professional athletes use coaches, why not professional speakers? A great sentiment.

But even if you don’t want to go quite that far, you can do this – record a video of your talk. David came prepared with a tripod and video recorder. He even recorded the feedback discussion to make sure he captured everything.

Do Like David

Presentations are key to success. The ability to give a good talk is important in any leadership role. So, learn from David and:

  • Prepare (think, ponder, sketch, research)
  • Practice (really practice, like David – in front of a live audience when the stakes are high)
  • Embrace feedback  (ask for it and then listen and engage in dialog)
  • Hone your skills (even if you’re a good speaker, you can always get better)

Oh, and definitely check out his talk when it’s released. It’ll be a good one.

Thanks for sharing your wisdom, insights, and process with us, David!

Photo credit: wikimedia commons

Will your presentation pass the smartphone test?

smartphoneEver since the Blackberry invaded corporate meeting rooms, they and their successors have been an annoying distraction. Setting policies around use of devices, collecting them at the door, and other measures have tried to curb the effects of these devices. We’ve tried to stop attention from waning over the course of a discussion, from dissipating away from the matter at hand. But perhaps we’re treating the symptom instead of the problem.

When you’re in the presence of a good speaker doing a great talk, you’ll notice that nobody is checking smartphones. Heads are up and facing forward, focused on what’s happening right here, right now, in this room, in this moment. That’s the unique ability a live meeting offers – a chance to connect, to captivate, to gather and unleash energy.

Figuring out how to engage minds and focus energy and attention in this way isn’t easy, but it’s a worthwhile endeavor.

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Framing the conversation

The way you introduce an idea impacts everything else you say. A good setup establishes a framework that influences the way the person listening to you processes everything else you say.

It’s a helpful guide to them, and so it’s readily accepted. And it’s a great opportunity to get the discussion off on the right foot. To get the message heard the way you want it to be heard.

Establish a framework, and then fill it in.

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Leave room for interpretation

If you’re trying to convey an idea, or an approach, or some wisdom to a group – leave some things out. In fact, you can probably tell us more by leaving a lot of things out.

We don’t need to know all the details. We know that your problem was nuanced and complex. We know the solution wasn’t easy. We know it required attention to many detail and the work of many  over a long period of time.

We want the gist of it. The lesson. The learning. And we want to hear it in a way that’s abstracted a bit.

It’s helpful to know that this advice you’re going to give us is based on concrete, real-world experience gained the hard way. But we need to know the lessons in such a way that we can interpret it for our own situation, which is likely quite different than yours.

The story is interesting, but we really want the lesson. Without all the details that can distract from it.

Photo credit: Maggie Not Margaret

Confessions of a Public Speaker

Scott Berkun tells an interesting, well-paced and honest (sometimes raw) account of what it’s like to be a public speaker. He covers a variety of issues from a variety of perspectives to give a complete sense of how and why certain things work – and what to do when they don’t.

Though the focus is on large public speaking engagements, many of the lessons are applicable to any sort of speaking. The world would be a better place if more adhered to his advice: Be interesting. Be clear. Practice (for confidence, not memorization). Be in control (be the leader). Be prepared (for when things go wrong). And more.

The book is filled with many practical lessons – Everybody’s nervous before/when speaking: just accept that and move your attention to something else. Set the pace: the easiest way to manage expectations of the audience. Be interesting: take a strong position in the title; think carefully about your audience; make your specific points as concise as possible; know the likely counter-arguments. And many more.

Berkun also runs through several interesting first-person stories, shares behind the scenes information that is interesting and useful, and provides compelling insight into the field of professional speaking. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is a speaker of any sort – particularly if I might be in the audience some day.

Presentations – Going Wireless

Here’s a two-minute video about my recent experience “going wireless” with my new handy-dandy wireless presentation remote laser pointer gizmo.

If you can’t see the video, click here to watch it on YouTube.

Books: 3 good choices, 1 great combination

Someone borrowed three books from a pile of mine, stacked in the corner of the room. It’s fun to share things you’re passionate about and interested in, and I love sharing ideas. Three of my favorites were selected, but more striking was the powerful combination of ideas represented by these particular three books together.

Confessions of a Public Speaker, by Scott Berkun. This book is an interesting, well-paced and honest (sometimes raw) account of what it’s like to be a public speaker. Important lessons: Be interesting. Be clear. Practice (for confidence, not memorization). Be in control (be the leader). Be prepared (for when things go wrong). Be engaging – take a position, explore and consider the counter-arguments, know your audience, set the pace/manage expectations, and use lots of Q&A.

Improve Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up, by Patricia Ryan Madson. An engaging presentation of lessons from a 30-year career teaching improvisation from a Stanford University professor, this book presents thirteen maxims of improv. Important lesson: You can leverage these maxims from a seemingly unrelated source in your approach to life and work to bring about real results. Be more present, more in focus with the “here and now.”

Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us, by Seth Godin. Humans have always formed tribes. People just need a leader and a way to connect. The internet has removed geography as a constraint and provided a whole bunch of tools for you to connect with others easily. Important lesson: there is a huge opportunity for you to lead. You can do it and you should do it, so do it. Be a leader.

Photo credit: kwerfeldein