Friday, June 25, 2010

Lazy Widom Series - Cram it all into Powerpoint

This is the first article in my Lazy Wisdom series, devoted to getting people out of their tired, boring, ineffective habits when it comes to learning.

We have a meeting, I must finish my PowerPoint.
I know, its a tired sentiment in most circles.  Everybody bashes PowerPoint.  it's like hating serial killers, there's really no down side.  Except for a couple of tiny problems.

Everybody uses PowerPoint.  It's like clothing.  Show up at a meeting without a slide deck on a thumb drive or your laptop.  Sometimes mouths actually drop open.  It has become de rigueur.  An absolute requirement.  Which is sad because most of the time people have something interesting to say and it's simply diluted by the medium.

Here's a slide I got for review in am email today.  I was stunned, because as small as it looks in the thumbnail it was almost completely unreadable on my screen, let alone projected. And the really horrible part is that the message is very positive and powerful.

But I already know what's going to happen.  This thing is going to flash up in all of it's glory and people's brains will just hit the reset button.  Neurons and synapses will try desperately to fit this into some sort of meaningful paradigm, when they should really be trying to absorb and consider the conclusion that should be drawn by the result of studying the data. 

People in business seem to have this ingrained drive to prove that they've actually put a lot of work into their conclusions.  They feel the need to show table after table, chart after chart, and fine print ad nauseum when we all get it - you did the work.  Tell me what's important, I can study the data later.

Take a page from Edward Tufte, give me the meaning and the data in a properly documented handout that I can peruse later.  I've done this - trust me it works.

Now does that mean not to use PowerPoint?  No!

Anyone who tells you to only use one tool in the toolbox either doesn't understand the tool or is afraid to be successful because it means being different.

PowerPoint is just one tool in an arsenal of business applications.  It is unmatched for presenting graphics with meaning that support what a speaker is saying.  But supporting does not mean repeating.  Here are some tips:

  • Don't use the slide deck as your lecture notes.  It's lazy and people will tune you out very quickly.
  • Do use slides to display a graphic that supports what you're saying.  Think of a map, how much more clear is that then someone trying to describe how to get somewhere?
  • Don't just print out your slides as handouts.  It's lazy.  Put a proper document together.
  • Do try to present information yourself. Try a meeting once without a slide deck.  After all, the people are there to hear what you have to say, not read.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

First Impressions

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

It's cheesy, you've heard it a million times, and it's mostly true.  Sure, there are people you have met who you thought you just would not get along with or like, and ended up being friends.  But that is the exception and not the rule.  In most cases, your gut instinct is correct and you stick with it.  And that is why the opening moments of any class or session has to start out right.

Lazy wisdom (one of those nuggets of behavior we all do because "everyone else does it") tells us to ask the participants, "What do you want to learn today/this week?" I have always hated this question and I never really knew why.  Now I think I know.   It is just too vague, too politically correct, too, well, lazy.

Typical answers in my own brain include: Where is a good place around here for lunch, How do I win the lottery and retire early,  and How do I find a better job?  Now I know these are just silly but that is the sort of question that everyone just tunes out.

A friend and colleague suggested an alternative to me last week that I thought was subtly different yet brilliant.  He asks, "What problem do you need to solve with our software?"  This expresses a number of very key points: 
  • We acknowledge they have business problems to solve and they are not just here because they had extra money in the training budget.
  • We show an interest in their personal issue, as opposed to just what we want to teach.
  • We involve the rest of the participants in their problem, in as much as they may have or had the same issues.
Training isn't about presentation, it's about customers learning.  You want to make sure everyone knows this class is about them and not you.  Give your customers that impression right out of the gate.

Saturday, June 12, 2010


This is a blog about learning.

So the first question to ask is, what is learning? There are so many definitions, but I prefer a simple one. Learning is acquiring a new skill, hopefully something useful. That's why this blog is titled Tasting Funny. I am sure as you read the title the old joke comes to mind:

Q: Why don't cannibals eat clowns?
A: Because they taste funny.

It's a truly awful joke. But the fact of the matter is that don't know of one person that I have ever asked that question who doesn't know the answer. It's the perfect example of learning. No one can trace back to when they learned it, and yet it comes to mind almost immediately. Even if you haven't thought about it in decades it's right there front and center, almost without effort.

And that's why we are here. To "learn" to design and facilitate these experiences.