Posts filed under ‘Presentations’

How to Select a new Technology

It’s ubiquitous, (and it’s everywhere as well) and some would have you believe that if you’re not using the latest and greatest product, then you’re falling behind. This “you’re not keeping up” sales pitch is very effective at striking at the heart of our insecurities; am I falling behind? Will I lose out if I don’t buy this stuff? Don’t the ads claim that they’ll make me more productive, more efficient, and even more attractive to the opposite sex? How could I possibly live without it? Here’s my credit card.

Before attempting to answer the question, “How should we go about adopting a new technology or product?” we first have to have a clear definition of what it is we’re trying to accomplish. To decide what product we’re going to use to improve our organization, we need to embrace a strategy more reliable than submissively accepting the carefully chosen blather of the wordsmiths who wrote the glossy ads.

What problem are we trying to fix? What specifically do we want the technology to do? Better yet, since “technology” by itself doesn’t do anything, how exactly are we going to use this technology to change an existing process? To put this advice into concrete terms, how exactly will the work of department ‘X’ change because of the technology purchase we’re contemplating? And finally, in excruciating detail, what benefit do we expect to reap from our investment?

If that sounds like a lot of intensive work, it is, and it’s necessary work, unless you wish to add your organization to the long, and still growing list of embarrassing examples of how we shouldn’t implement technology.

Once you’ve done all of the above, then and only then are you ready to start looking at what’s available.

Phase 1.0: Advertisements and articles from your trade publications will provide you your first truckload of information. Read everything you can lay your hands on. Create, and maintain a research file. Keep in mind that all of the advertisements and most of the articles will paint the rosiest of pictures. According to most of what you read, everything works as intended, it’s as effective as was promised and the tooth fairy will visit you tonight while you sleep.

At this point, every product claiming to address your problem is a possible candidate.

Phase 2.0: Put on a large pot of your favorite brew and head to the internet. The websites associated with the products you’re researching will provide details beyond what they decided to put into the ads. Use this information to connect what they claim to do, with what you need them to do. From your perspective, every claim is an unproven assumption. The more you need a specific function, the more you must verify the company’s claim that they can deliver the functionality.

By now, you’ve rejected at least a few of the products you found earlier. You’ve made some progress, not much, but some.

Phase 3.0: Get another pot of that brew, and head back to the internet. This stage is incredibly informative, even entertaining. You want to track down the discussion groups where users of the products are talking about the real world functionality of the product, the actual delivered service, their pet peeves, the new, next and previous releases, the known bugs, problems, anomalies and their general experiences. You’ll find some of these discussion groups on the product sites, others you’ll have to search for, a good place to start are the discussion groups of your industry associations.

If you don’t see the answers to the question unique to your organization then post those questions and wait for the results. It’s important to remember, if you decide to purchase a particular product, then there are dozens, if not thousands of existing users all with more experience than yourself. These existing users represent a goldmine of experience, of use to you only if you ask for the information you need. Don’t be shy, most people are more than happy to answer your questions.

After reading just a few product discussions, you’ll have quickly trimmed your list down to a more manageable size.

Phase 4.0: Put a call out to your existing associates, do any of them use the products you have your eye on? If so, it’s time to get on the phone and arrange a meeting. If they have the time, spend an afternoon with them; see how they’re using the product. What problems have they encountered, what benefits have they gained? The assumption here is that you already trust their opinion.  If you have the time, attend an industry conference and buttonhole anyone who uses what you might decide to use.

Have you noticed we’ve not even spoken to the vendor yet? By now you should have only a handful of products in mind.

Phase 4.9: Buy some insurance. I don’t mean life insurance or accident insurance; I mean something a bit more peculiar. Rent yourself a technical consultant who knows far more about technology in general and perhaps this product category in particular, than you’ll ever need to know. They’re your hired gun; they’ll accompany you to vendor meetings and demos.

Their role? Just by introducing who they are and then by having them sitting quietly in the back of the room they’re going to keep the vendor honest. If necessary, they’ll ask the relevant ‘hard’ technology questions, they’ll ensure that the demos presented to you are ‘real’ and not simulations of what the product might do someday. (In the next release — honest!)

They’ll also ensure that the questions you’re receiving to your questions are accurate. They’ll do that just by being in the room, but again they’re your technical backup, ready to jump into the fray conversation if there’s something missing or unclear in the answers given to you.

This type of companion is a vendor’s worst nightmare in any demonstration, that alone justifies having them along for the ride. Life is fun; enjoy it while you’re here.

Phase 5.0: See the demos of the products on your short list. Narrow that list even further, and then make no commitment until you’ve had the chance to experiment with a pilot project, using your data, your people, and your environment. Does it work the way you expected? Are you getting the benefits you hoped for?

Phase 6.0: There is obviously a technical component to your search. Will the product you’re purchasing operate within the context of your existing infrastructure? If not, what gaps need filling? Will it handle the expected workload? What about the unexpected, but reasonably likely spikes in that workload? Will you be able to operate and maintain this product with existing skill sets? Or will you need to hire experts? How available are these experts and at what cost?

You might have gathered the answers to all of these technical details in earlier phases, or you might not. The most likely place to verify the technical details is in Phase 5.0, nothing is more effective at weeding out problems than trying to actually implement a pilot project. What is important is that they all get answered before you sign on that dotted line.

Congratulations, you’ve selected a new technology, all you have to do now is ‘implement’ it, but that’s another story.

September 2, 2008 at 12:52 pm 1 comment

Why to Write

Writing serves many purposes – here are some of the reasons why I write (even why I participate in list serves)

1) It helps you think.
If you can put an idea down on paper then you are inevitably deciding, from one word to the next, what is important and what is not.

Since writing is sequential, since you can’t say everything at once, you have to impose an order on your thoughts. As a speaker – this is useful, but it’s useful to anyone in any endeavor.

2) It’s practice.
As a speaker, I’m essentially a word smith. My primary tool is the English language, and writing allows me, and forces me, to play with words, phrases, cadence and meter. Since I’m always writing to an audience, I am in a sense, always presenting.

3) It’s advertising.
I DARE you to contact the advertising department of any publication and ask them what it would cost for you to run a full page ad describing your services. Be sitting down when you do this. Yet… a full page article is far more powerful a means to demonstrate your ‘power’ to a potential client. And sometimes, if you’re lucky, they’ll pay you for the privilege.

**Note… keep all your copyrights. It’s your work – unless it’s a ‘work for hire’ – keep your copyright – you want to be able to use your own work in perpetuity. Give them the right to use your work… but keep your copyright.

4) It’s marketing.
Marketing isn’t advertising. It’s just general exposure. Write enough and people will ‘SEE’ your articles in publications that don’t even know who you are. They’ll insist they know you… when they’ve never met you.

5) It’s your PR ambassador. And it works forever… for free.
Write ‘timeless’ articles – articles that will as useful 10 years from now as they are today. That isn’t always possible or desirable… but it’s a goal to follow when you can. You want your work to speak for you when you aren’t there. Once you’ve written what I classify as a ‘keeper’ (this posting is a self referential example of that I hope) then it gets saved… and then passed around. And literally becomes a personal employee and PR agent.

6) It’s multipurpose.
I’m the world’s laziest man. Anything I produce, must carry several loads. A good article is all of the above, and it’s a potential presentation at the drop of a hat.

7) It’s plastic.
As in… any well written article can be tweaked and twisted to generate at least one more significantly different article, if not half a dozen. Hmm… this ‘article’ was first posted to an online discussion… it’s morphed already, and will again!

8 ) It’s something you’ll learn from.
If you don’t write much – then you’ll likely not even believe this one… if you do write a lot, you might know what I mean. When you write… and then read what you’ve written later… then you’ll learn stuff you didn’t know you knew. I can’t really explain this, but I’m a smarter, more insightful person when I write. I often come up with ideas as I’m writing that I literally did not know I knew.

9) and finally? Writing is calming. Well… sort of.
If you’ve got writer’s block? Well, you’ll just have to shoot yourself – it’s the only real cure. BUT when the muse takes over, and the words begin to flow like water across the page? Then it’s the best thing going to boost your spirit and your ego.

Now… go break a pen
Peter de Jager

July 23, 2008 at 1:02 pm Leave a comment

Change Management Interview

Something different.

A few weeks ago I had the distinct pleasure of being interviewed by George Torok for his radio show Business in Motion.

It’s a one hour conversation on the topic of Change Management, you can listen to it here:

George Torok
Host of Business in Motion
www.BusinessInMotion.ca
www.Torok.biz

June 13, 2008 at 4:12 pm 1 comment

The Conference we’ll never Attend

Here’s the annual conference I’d love to attend:-

“The World Conference on Failure”
20 Business and World Leaders honestly and openly discuss
the decisions and actions which contributed to their significant
business and political disasters/failures/catastrophes.

…but which for obvious(?) reasons it will never be held.

Why would I want to attend this type of conference?

We don’t learn one tenth as much from success as we do from failure. I don’t have anything but life experience to back up that statement, yet I know for certain that at some level it could not be a truer observation about how the world works. Success drives us in a single direction, and while the positive feedback is nice, it doesn’t motivate us to grow and change.

Failure on the other hand is an itch that demands scratching and forces us to explore alternatives.

You could argue that if we study the success of others, then we can emulate them and create our own success. That’s true up to a point, but the real secret of success is not found in learning how to follow a ‘recipe’, but in learning how to respond to a changing environment. When we look at success, it’s easy (relatively) to pick out what they did ‘right’, but much more difficult to understand how they avoided doing the ‘wrong’ things.

By studying failure, it’s possible to explore the specific actions that contributed to that failure, and delve into why those responsible were unable, (unwilling?) to avoid those actions. Learning how to avoid problems, how to avoid the common and uncommon traps, is the skill which enables us to chart our course when the success ‘recipe’ falls short.

What types of failures?

One of the failures which jumps immediately to mind is Motorola’s $6B investment in the Iridium phone which they eventually sold for a mere $25M… the mind boggles at the size of this mis-adventure. The question “How could this possibly happen?” if honestly answered, might actually justify the multi-billion dollar fiasco IF we could use the answer to avoid similar disasters in the future.

Obviously, people have looked at this fiasco and made their observations public, but what would be more informative is honest commentary from the people actually involved in the event. What exactly were they thinking? What motivated them? What honest mistakes did they make?

And… what mistakes did they make, that with 20/20 hindsight they now recognize as totally avoidable – mistakes that were generated not by the facts in front of them, but by the human flaws within them.

This personal perspective on failure is the real value the “Conference on Failure” would offer, it’s also of course, why such a conference will never become a reality.

Admitting avoidable failure isn’t something we do very well, and if/when we do muster the courage to tell the real story, we are immediately the target punishment of some sort, usually in the form of lawsuits.

And courage is necessary if we’re to honestly discuss our failures. I’ve deliberately chosen ‘loaded’ words to describe ‘failure’ when I use terms such as, “disaster”, “flaws”, “fiasco” etc. etc.

Why would I frame the topic this way? Because this is the framework of perspective that we wrap around the stink of failure. Speaking of any personal “failure” is incredibly difficult. Look at “The Room that Eats Speakers” posted a few days ago in this blog. Admitting, as a professional speaker, that I have ‘messed’ up was not done lightly… chances are it will cost me future business. Being honest, usually does involve a personal cost, but the benefits are worth it if others can learn from those mistakes and learn from them.

We can come close to the “Conference on Failure”

We can, when pushed, talk honestly about failure. During the discussion around Y2K, the IT disaster we sort of avoided, (if we can consider a $300B+ expenditure ‘avoiding’ a problem) there was much discussion about how/why we self inflicted ourselves with this problem. There was general agreement that the key component wasn’t technical. It was human short sightedness – there were other good reasons to do what we did – but the real problem was that we, the entire IT industry, didn’t take the long view.

One of the more popular category of TV shows on the Discovery and History channels are those that examine, from an external viewpoint, the reasons behind various types of accidents. From crashing Planes and trains, to crumbling tunnels and towers… each catastrophe has something to teach us.

Perhaps we can’t have the individuals involved in the big events explain what they were thinking, but we can shift some of our attention away from self congratulatory stories about ‘what made us a success’ to the more difficult and telling recollections about ‘what made us fail’ and with some careful attention, some compassion for those courageous enough to talk unveil themselves in public, and a little bit of effort, apply those insights to future endeavours.

April 30, 2008 at 11:28 am 2 comments

Notes Numbering Seven to a Meeting Planner

If you’re looking for “The Room that Eats Speakers” you’ll find it just below this article.

The article I posted yesterday was warmly received by almost a thousand meeting planners, so I thought it worthwhile to continue the theme for a day or two – here’s an article specifically for past, present and potential meeting planner clients.

——————————————————

1) Content first: Decide who you want to speak for your conference based on the value of their message and their ability to enthral your audience, not on their reported ‘fee’.

Once you’ve decided who you want as your keynoters, then negotiate with them.

Negotiation Lesson 101:
Make at least one counter-offer to anything that anyone proposes.
Negotiation Lesson 102:
If what they are asking is way above your budget, then come clean…
tell them your budget. Don’t be ashamed of it, just let them know it
your budget will NOT insult them.

Remember, fees are not cast in stone (regardless of what anyone says), stealing an idea from Pirate pop culture “they aren’t ‘rules’ they’re more like ‘guidelines’”. Believe it or not, speakers value more than just money, but at the same time remember that ‘exposure’ is not always a selling point. People can die from exposure.

2) The Clock is Ticking: Stick to the schedule. You’ve paid the speaker mega-bucks to speak for you for an allotted time. If you want them to do the best possible job for you, give them the time you promised them.

Professional speakers will never make your job more difficult than it already is: They will never never never speak past their allotted time. Please, please, please do the same for them. Protect the time you gave them, to do their best for you they need that time. (Although they’ll do their best with whatever time you actually give them.)

Yes, you guessed correctly! There’s some personal history here. What do you do, when you travel to the other side of the world and the 90 minute keynote is ‘trimmed back’ to 20 minutes because of avoidable delays? You do your best – knowing that they got far less than they paid for.

3) Listen to your Audience: Hand out speaker evaluation forms, read them, and pay attention to what they have to tell you. Feedback is gold, never miss the opportunity to bend down and pick it up.

4) Hug (=Squeeze!) your Speaker: Within reason, extract everything you can from your professional speakers.

a. Are they willing to meet with your breakout session speakers the night before
and offer some speaking hints and tips from the professional?
b. Are they willing to do an executive breakfast/dinner session with key members?
Board members? Student members?
c. While they’re with you, could you get them to give an additional presentation
for the local board of trade?
d. Will they do media interviews before the conference?
e. Will they provide a follow-on article for your newsletter? Web site?
f. Will they contribute books and materials for draws?
g. Will they do a book signing in the exhibit hall? At one of the vendor booths?

Not all of the above will be possible, not all of it will be for free, but a speaker who wants to create a long term relationship with your association will be more than willing to do one or two or three of the above. It costs nothing to ask.

5) Dark Speaker Secret: Even though I speak for a living… here’s a dark secret. Speakers – regardless of their fee, content or style – do not make your meeting a success; they merely add an experience for your people to discuss. Make sure you include enough networking time in your conference. Running from speaker to speaker is not a conference, it’s a marathon.

6) Google is your friend: When anyone gives you client references, they offer you the names of clients who are certain to provide good feedback; this is not a secret, it’s obvious. So… get onto the Internet, Google the speaker. Speak to some folks they haven’t provided as references.

7) Lucky Number Seven: And finally? If a speaker has done a great job for you? Write them a knock your socks off letter of thanks/reference, and spread the word to your peers on how they helped make your meeting a success.

Speaking should be a win/win/win proposition. A win for the meeting planner, a win for the audience, and finally — a win for the speaker.

I wish you all the best on your next meeting.

April 22, 2008 at 10:29 am 2 comments

The Room that Eats Speakers

Here’s a Catch-22 that affects all of us, we learn best from failure, but the last thing we want to discuss are our failures. In the spirit of sharing, I’m going to discuss some personal professional ‘failures’.

Some background, not as any sort of self promotion, but in an effort to position the context of this article. I’m a keynote speaker. I’ve spoken for more than a quarter of a century and have a reputation sufficient to take me to 37 countries and have me invited to speak at the prestigious World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. In short, I know what I’m doing, I do it well, I’m a bona fide professional.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t failed to deliver from time to time. Not often. Three times to be exact, in more than 25 years.

The first time it happened I wrote it off as ‘the fault of the audience’ … what can I say? It was early in my career and didn’t realize that it’s never the fault of the audience.

The second time? It was a presentation I was giving for the first time… I wrote that failure off to not having the timing down, and suspected that the flow of my talk wasn’t perfect. Better than my first excuse, but as we shall see, not the real reason.

The third time? I knew it wasn’t the audience. I’d grown out of blaming others for the quality of my work. Nor was it a new talk, it was one I’d given hundreds of times, and I’d presented it as I always had, but despite my knowledge of the topic, my passion and delivery – the presentation fell flat, and I died on stage for the third time. If it wasn’t the audience, and if it wasn’t ‘me’ – then why did I fail? As a speaker – that’s an important question. The answer is an important one for any meeting planner.

Each time I failed, I had the same sense of never once connecting with the audience. With that as the only thing in common that I could easily remember – I sat down, took pen and paper and wrote down everything I could reconstruct from my memory about those painful experiences. The result is this little bit of sharing.

Cavernous rooms – Exhibit halls are not the best rooms to speak in. The 50ft ceilings swallow all but the best sound systems. They place a great distance between the speaker and the listeners.

Elevated podiums – When the podium is 3ft or more off the ground? Then you’re guaranteed to be far away from the audience, not only with respect to distance, but psychologically as well. Here’s a made up formulae to consider, the difficulty of creating rapport with your audience, increases as the square of the distance between you and the listener. I’ve nothing but my experiential data to back that up.

Open space in front of podium – A tall podium usually causes the first row of seats to be 20-30 ft from the podium… They have to be that far back or they’ll get a crick in their neck looking up to you! This adds more space between the speaker and the audience. At one of my failures, there was literally enough space for a pipe band between myself and the audience. I remember them well as they marched out and I marched up to my guillotine.

A wide centre aisle – if the room is large, the temptation is for a wide central aisle – meaning that if the speaker stands in the centre of the podium, then he/she is speaking to blank space all the way to the back of the room!

Wide rooms vs. deep rooms – some rooms are wider than they’re deep. This means that listeners to the left and right of the speaker are further away than those all the way at the back of the room. For a speaker to make eye contact with those on the left, requires that we turn our back to those to the right. AND if we’re wearing a lavalier microphone? Then you MUST turn your shoulders in the direction you’re speaking OR the mic won’t pick up your voice.

Rounds vs. Rows – If a room is filled with round tables rather than rows of seats, then 300 people or more are scattered over a few acres… being spoken to by a tiny speaker far away in the distance? Eye contact? You’re lucky if you can see the speaker… sooo… the meeting planner solves the ‘problem’ by…

Cameras and large screens – and in doing so they deliver the final death blow to the valiant speaker. In order that the audience can see the speaker, they’ll bring on the camera… which requires lighting… which ensures the speaker will never even see the auidience through the glare of the lights.

Now, I’m well aware that large audiences forces some of the above onto the meeting, but when they ALL converge at a single meeting then the risk of failure is high. As I thought back to each of my three failures? All of the above were in play, I was doomed from the start.

As I’ve grown older, and spoken more, I’ve grown wiser. This week I was presented with the room that eats speakers. But! I now recognized the beast. I was able to make some changes – both in the room layout (minor changes) and in my presentation (more minor changes)… I’m told the meeting was a roaring success. I’d beaten the monster. It didn’t eat me this time.

The key? Know that certain rooms pose more of a challenge. If possible? Change the room, if not? Then be aware of the room, know the threats, embrace them and respond to them. (But change something in the room… the room layout is not fixed in stone.)

April 21, 2008 at 10:00 am 8 comments


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