Friday, April 26, 2013

Exercises in PowerPoint Style

PowerPoint gets trashed in conversations all over the globe, and with good reason. As Edward Tufte has explained in The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint and Peter Norvig masterfully illustrated in The Gettysburg PowerPoint Presentation, PowerPoint has led to innumerable disastrous presentations.

But not all PowerPoint presentations are disastrous. The best PowerPoint decks incorporate fundamental principles of communication and visual design. The best PowerPoint decks actually enhance communication, and they do so through a wide variety of communication styles.

It's this wide variety of communication styles that led me to make a connection between PowerPoint and Raymond Queneaus' classic work, Exercises in Style, first published in  French in 1947. In Exercises in Style, Queneau tells a very simple, almost inane story. And then he retells the same story 99 times in 99 different styles with labels like metaphorically, hesitation, precision, animism, official letter, blurb, noble, speaking personally, and of course polyptotes.

I've embarked on a parallel project, using PowerPoint. This morning I uploaded 4 PowerPoint decks to SlideShare. Each uses a different style to communicate about the same fictitious project. I plan to add new styles on more or less a weekly basis, starting with styles that can be effective when matched with the right circumstances. The four I created and uploaded this morning are:

  • Bare Outline. This is the simple, boring shell that the rest of the styles are based on.
  • SBAR. This one uses a format created in the patient safety world to succinctly communicate about patients. In this case, I use the SBAR format to describe a software development project.
  • Butterfield Powerbite. This is based on the scheme I use most frequently to organize everything from presentations to short emails to announcements at staff meetings. Dick Butterfield taught me the scheme.
  • Inspirational. This one addresses the same fictional project from the point of view of a senior leader inspiring her workforce to rise to a challenge.
I'm having fun with this so far. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Managing Through Influence

I can accomplish very little on my own. So I put a lot of time into influencing other people. This can be especially difficult in a large company, where I need to influence people above me in the hierarchy, people in other departments, and often people I've never even met. Here are some ways I manage through influence, with special thanks to Creative Good Council 1 for their help expanding and fleshing out the list. 

Think of this as 20 tips for developing the art of influence.

As I walk through the list, I'm assuming you have a "target"--a specific individual whose behavior you want to change. I'll group the tips into 3 principles:
  1. Work the relationships
  2. Motivate and inspire
  3. Be practical

Work the Relationships

I can sometimes influence someone with whom I do not have a strong relationship, but it's a steep hill to climb. I always start by understanding, building, and leveraging relationships.

  • Align around something shared. Find something in common with your target. It could be anything from shared values (e.g., we both care deeply about the future of our organization), shared goals (e.g., we both want to meet the June 1stdeadline), or even something completely unrelated to work (e.g., we both love Louis Armstrong's early recordings). The more specific you can get, the better.
  • Understand the web of relationships. Everyone is influenced by someone else. Find out who your target trusts, obeys, follows, or listens to. If you can't directly influence your partner, find the path between you and your target. If your target is Alice, and Alice reports to Bernice, you need to influence Bernice. Maybe you have no influence over Bernice, but Bernice trusts Carlos, and Carlos has great respect for you. Once you've figured out this path of influence, you can get Carlos to talk to Bernice to give Alice an assignment.
  • Identify the saboteurs; defuse the bombs. Take some time to think through who may oppose your work and how they might wreak havoc. Is there someone who will tell your target not to listen to you? Is there someone in a position to make your target's efforts ineffectual? If you don't know, ask someone who does know. Then make an explicit plan for how to neutralize the negative impact. By far the most powerful way to do this is to convert your detractor into your champion. Another tried and true method is to keep the detractor busy with something else--find a way to get them focused on some work that keeps them out of your way. This doesn't have to be cynical or Machiavellian--many people can serve their customers and company better by staying focused on things they can actually accomplish rather than sabotaging the work you're trying to accomplish.