Perhaps the three biggest complaints I have heard from organisations as we start strategy creation process is that
1 – Our organisation does not have a strategy – but the competitors do
2 – We don’t have a strategy now – but we did in the past
3 – We’ve done all this before – but nothing happened
From these comments I have drawn the conclusion that it is perhaps easier to ‘observe’ a strategy in another organisation or on the past than it is to ‘create, realise and live’ it in your own organisation. Strategy takes time to implement and to permeate through the whole organisation. It arrives and is implemented in small chunks. It ebbs and flows and pops up in different areas on different days and gradually takes hold. As we look back the journey we took looks clearer and it is easier to take the next steps. In short it is often easier to see where we and others have been rather than where we are going.
When we look at supermarkets, airlines, social media and IT companies we can often see their ‘observed’ strategies very clearly. We know where they are in the market, where they want to be and how they appear to be achieving their vision through the articulation and implementation of their strategy. These ‘observed’ strategies are sometimes an illusion as they more clearly show where the organisation has come from rather than where it is going……
Many times in my career I have heard complicated descriptions of what strategy is and how to form or create a strategy. In many cases the suggestion for the processes are very complicated and as a consequence the strategy is not realised.
However, like so many things in this world, the strategy creation can be described in just three parts….
1 – Where we are now, our business environment, competition and performance – The ‘As Is’
2 – Where we want to go, our business, the possible environments and future performance objectives – The ‘To Be’
3 – How we get there from today to tomorrow. The ‘Journey’ from the ‘As Is’ to the ‘To Be’
Of course there is a lot of work to do but the concept is simple. How do we get from where we are now to where we want to be? So what’s the clever part? What makes strategy difficult? I would suggest that there are three things that make strategy difficult
1 – Making the decisions on more than just a gut feeling – the analysis
2 – Getting consensus from the Leadership Team – the buy-in
3 – Articulating the strategy through the organisation in a way that is clear and concise but isn’t dumbed down to the extent that no one believes it – talking the walk
The structure of your bullet points should be consistent. Here are a few rules I like to adopt.
First, decide whether you will be using capitals or not. Having bullet points starting with a mixture of uppercase or lowercase words creates an impression that the slide is not finished and only in draft.
Second, try and get the first words to be consistent with respect to whether it is a verb or noun. If you start your first bullet with ‘Development of a solution…’ then use ‘Creation of a process…’ and avoid ‘Creating…’ for example.
Third, as a rule I would strongly suggest that you do not add fullstops at the end of any bullet points – or indeed a paragraph. Save you full stops for the end of a sentence within a passage of writing. The same rule should apply for colons and semi-colons too.
Whilst of course grammatically correct, the punctuation will clutter the slides and make them more difficult to read. It is worth checking the whole presentation to ensure that they have not crept in as you have assembled your work. In particular look out for them when you are copying snippets in from other documents.
If, for a style reason, you do want to include them make sure that they are used consistently throughout the presentation. Having an inconsistent approach will suggest a presentation that has been assembled by more than one person or perhaps a ‘cut and paste job’.
When adding bullets or numbering I like to create a space between the bullet/number and the first word. It makes the line easier to read and it will look better on the page. Do not just add spaces with the space bar. It’s best to learn how to use tabs and indents. There are plenty of guides on the internet just search for ‘powerpoint adding indents and tabs’ or visit the following links.
A simple technique I learnt early on in my career to help a presentation flow and create a conversation with your audience is name each presentation slide. You will have three things to remember an say about each slide as you present it – the strap line, the content and the link to the next slide.
When you start to describe the content of the slide you can begin by naming it. Don’t make in too complicated and try to use a name that is associated with the context, theme or perhaps the shapes on the slide. Here are a few examples so that you get the hang of what I mean – ‘bubble slide’, ‘three squares’, ‘wheel of fortune’, ‘process spaghetti’, ‘inputs, outputs and outcomes’, etc.
Keep using the slide name making reference when to it as you build your story with words, diagrams and text. If you are asked questions at the end of the presentations try to bring the name into the answer. The more you use it the more people will remember the slide and of course your presentation.
If you are really bold you can invite your audience to join in with the appreciations of your lovely ‘clouds and arrows’ slide!
How much you practice your presentation before the big day is a matter of personal preference. We have probably all heard of the phrase ‘over practiced’ but this depends on you as a person. Here are a few thoughts on how to get the most from preparation and practice.
1 Create a style for the presentation and agree with yourself what the underlying theme is that you want to deliver both in terms of the presentation and you as a person. For example, the presentation may convey some deep analysis and facts and your personal style may be one of ‘trust me I understand what this means and what it doesn’t mean’. The presentation may show targets and objectives and your personal style may be upbeat and motivational. They don’t have to be different or conflicting and your slides and personal style maybe be ‘chatty and engaging’ or ‘serious and telling’. Knowing your audience and how they may receive these styles is essential.
2 Avoid making too many changes to your slides as you practice. It is very easy to start to make major structural changes or tinkering with words and phrases rather than practicing. Avoid making any changes unless they help with communicating the messages and you really think it will make a difference on the day. Practicing is more about delivering the material you have than creating new material.
3 Most of the audience has not heard the material before so some of the definitions, three letter acronyms and concepts will be new. You may have to explain them as you go and this takes time so think about whether you want to do this a little up front or use the words on slide to inform the audience rather than adding the explanation into your main narrative.
4 When you practice try to get as close as you can to the environment that you are likely to be in on the day. If you are presenting hard copies around a table then sit down to practice. If you will be in business or casual clothes wear these during the practice so that you know what you will feel like. If you will be standing at a lectern in a large hall then practice behind a chair in the largest room you can find. Better still is to practice at the venue itself. If you are using supporting communication tools such as a flip chart or a video make sure you are familiar with how this will work on the day.
5 Time yourself, but don’t cheat and tell yourself it will be ok on the day. We have all said that, but trying to be a bit slower or faster is very hard to achieve. I have found that you need to take into account three differences between the time it takes to deliver the practice run and the time that you will take on the day.
First, the time available for your presentation may be different (usually less) than the time that you believe you have allotted to you. This can be because the last speaker overran, someone needs a break before you need to start, the slide/packs need to be made ready, microphones changed or you receive a lengthy introduction. In each case this time is usually subtracted from the time that you have available so make some allowance.
Second, you will deliver it differently on the day and it’s best to know what your weaknesses are. Do you speak faster as the adrenaline starts to circulate? Hesitate and lose your flow requiring you to re-check your notes and pause a little? Go off on a tangent adding in new facts and anecdotes that were never part of your narrative? Or, miss out huge chunks of the storyline, your opening remarks or your thank you at the end? Which ever of the above tends to be your weakness, acknowledge it, try to use your practice sessions to improve your performance and make allowances with the time you have available.
Third, questions. It is always difficult to know what will happen on the day. Will you be interrupted as you start your first sentence or will you be able to leave time at the end for questions. Try and find out before how questions will be handled and if no one knows see if you can steer the format before or on the day. Once again telling people how you will handle questions takes time so include your instructions to your audience in your practice runs.
You must use your practice time to ensure you have enough time to make your presentation. There is nothing worse for confidence than to know that you have too much material and not enough time. Finishing early is not a weakness it will often be appreciated by the organisers, your audience and you. If there is meant to be time at the end for questions make sure there is and if you make your presentation compelling and thought provoking questions will come (or plant a couple!). What’s more if the audience feel that they want to hear more they will contact you afterwards and ask for more – no one contacts you afterwards to ask for less, they just walk off a bit annoyed and frustrated at being a prisoner.
6 Tell your practice partners what feedback you want. To start with it is likely that your practice partners will not be reflective of your audience. Ask yourself before you practice with them what you want from them.
Are you looking for just a confidence boost? – Be honest with yourself. ‘Oh yes Richard your slides are brilliant and the audience can’t fail to love your orange tie’ maybe enough for you but your practice partners may not be so eager to give you the feedback you are looking for.
Do you want a critique or review of your storyline and narrative? Your practice partners may know more or less about the subject than your audience. Ask them to put themselves in the shoes of your audience rather than enter a competition about who knows more more about the subject matter.
Feedback on your delivery and presentation style? They will have their own style and may not know the context of your presentation, explain this first. Common feedback includes things like – there is too much on the slides. Ask whether the partners understood the slide and supporting narrative and whether everything was communicated successfully.
Before you start your practice with your partners, tell them what you want from them . How do I come across? – happy, serious, upbeat, etc. Have you noticed any contradictions in the slides and what I say? Are there any errors in the slides such as capitals in the wrong place, spelling mistakes, punctuation errors, etc. It will be very difficult for one person to look at all these things so ask each partner to focus on one aspect of your presentation. You can swap them round if you do more than one practice run.
Last, it is usually best to do any practice with partners well before your final presentation. Receiving last minute critical feedback is rarely helpful.
7 Use the practice time to learn more about your presentation subject and ensure you are up to date with the latest news. Read around the subject and see who is also talking about the same material. Collect a few snippets that bring your presentation up to date from your work environment, TV, radio newspapers, LinkedIn, etc. Leave room to add a few snippets in at the last moment to add a freshness to your presentation.
8 Create examples and analogies that help communicate your materials. These are great for the back-pocket as well as forming part of your communication tools and materials for question time. Test the examples and analogies for robustness and be honest with yourself if they don’t work. Understanding the boundaries of your materials and arguments is a strength not a weakness. (Try to avoid common analogies such as football and riding a bicycle unless you can put a different spin on things. But do focus on analogies that you personally know something about).
Overall make sure you use your practice time to improve your presentation and build confidence by following the tips above. You are looking to gain ‘Third Phase Possession’ of your presentation materials, arguments and communication tools.
‘First Phase Possession’ – I know what to say, can pronounce and communicate the subject matter and I know what it means. I can deliver it on time and with confidence. I can answer any questions about the materials I have presented. (Newscaster)
‘Second Phase Possession’ – I understand the subject matter in depth and can talk around the subject. I also know the strengths and weaknesses of my argument and the supporting materials that are not part of my presentation. I have tailored my presentation to the particular needs of my audience and I know what areas to emphasise during the delivery and question time. I can answer any questions about the materials I have presented as well as supporting materials not in my presentation. (Journalist)
‘Third Phase Possession’ – I know this stuff inside out. I can break down the arguments and build them up into different models. I am aware of the ‘exceptions that prove the rule’ with the strengths and weaknesses of the underlying assumptions. I can evolve and build on my presentation materials to take them to new levels of insight as well as summarise the materials into just a few statements. I can subtly change my delivery, messages and materials, if necessary, by observing the audience feedback and mood within the room. I am able to answer any question in the field of my presentation and easily take it to a new level of refinement brining in new assumptions and arguments. On the day I can build and draw on new arguments, deliver and direct new examples and create analogies to explain and communicate my presentation materials. (Guru Status)
The Art of the Long View: Planning for the Future in an Uncertain World
By Peter Schwartz, First published in 1992 and second edition in 1997.
“Artful scenario spinning is a form of convergent thinking about divergent futures. It ensures that you are not always right about the future but–better–that you are almost never wrong about the future. The technology is powerful, simple, and enjoyable, and so is Schwartz′s book.” –Stewart Brand What increasingly affects all of us, whether professional planners or individuals preparing for a better future, is not the tangibles of life–bottom–line numbers, for instance–but the intangibles: our hopes and fears, our beliefs and dreams. Only stories–scenarios–and our ability to visualize different kinds of futures adequately capture these intangibles. In The Art of the Long View, now for the first time in paperback and with the addition of an all–new User′s Guide, Peter Schwartz outlines the “scenaric” approach, giving you the tools for developing a strategic vision within your business. Schwartz describes the new techniques, originally developed within Royal/Dutch Shell, based on many of his firsthand scenario exercises with the world′s leading institutions and companies, including the White House, EPA, BellSouth, PG&E, and the International Stock Exchange.
I used this book to help develop a process for scenario planning used in workshops with large corporate clients. It proved invaluable as a proven technique and I often gave the book out at the end of the workshop.
In short the process seeks to identify a number of possible future events that are plausible but not and extrapolation of today’s events. I can still remember some of the possible future events that we discussed some fifteen years ago. Perhaps I have a selective memory but here are a few of the disruptive events that we discussed in our workshops – usually with energy clients.
1. Mobile phones and calls cheaper than landlines and therefore landlines would no longer be required
2. Vast quantities of gas available within the national boundaries
3. Plastic cars – lightweight and ultra fuel efficient
4. Very cheap solar power
5. Extreme price regulation
In thinking about these possible events we soon realised how little we all knew about certain technologies and political events. But the book is about more than just thinking about events. This is only the first step. The key is to take these events and bring them together into a number of internally consistent scenarios that can be used to test strategic options for robustness.
Yes, The Art of the Long View opens people’s eyes and moreover it provides a framework to help companies (and individuals) create strategies that are robust into the future. Buy this book from Amazon>>
After practising, writing out your script, bullets, etc., you get to your big day and sit waiting to be called. I never know what is most nerve racking when waiting to present, sitting in a meeting, waiting outside an office or listening to the last speaker finish and get rapturous applause at the main conference. But which ever one it is, here are a few thoughts to help calm those nerves.
• It is quite natural to think that you have forgotten what you are going to say as the minutes tick away – you will remember it, and your slides are there for your support not just for the audience. Usually the audience will not have seen the presentation before. If you miss something out don’t worry – they won’t know.
• Focus on your first few lines – “Thank you for inviting me to present here today.
My presentation is focused around the contention that….” Getting things off to a good start is half the battle.
• The audience, in nearly all cases, will want you to do well. This is most often the case at more formal events. No one wants to see you fail. They will be wiling you on, and most will place themselves in your shoes.