5 Tips for Unique Corporate Presentations

The problem with using the best technology, the best techniques, is that soon enough you'll look like every other go-getter. This doesn't mean these things are bad. It just means that you have to use them intelligently to go from mediocre to unique.

Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing sees a lot of presentations. Unfortunately, these presentations aren't all good. No, most are just downright bad. In his blog, From Where I Sit, he gives us five rules for better presentations.

The first rule is obvious, so obvious that it's understandable that we've strayed from it. The rule is to remember that the main focus of a presentation is not PowerPoint, graphics, or gimmicks, it's you the speaker. Those other things are there to augment you and your message.

Which sounds more appealing: a lecture or a story? Why can't a lecture be a story? A presentation should have a natural flow going from point to point. It will provide structure and help your audience follow you better. Plus, it's much more interesting to listen to the struggle, downfall, and ascension to triumph of your company's last quarter than pointing to a graph and rattling off some numbers.

The next two rules concern your video presentation support materials, otherwise known as your PowerPoint presentation. These are great to instantly send a message to your audience. However, there is danger in deciding which messages, and how much of each to display. Always remember "Less is more." Constrict text to a few lines per slide, and make it large so everyone can see without squinting.

Hyatt agrees that handouts are a good thing, but with a caveat. Instead of handing them out before your presentation (basically giving your presentation away), or during your presentation (distracting from and derailing your flow), pass around handouts at the end. It reinforces your message, and helps in case your audience missed something. But don't confuse an agenda with presentation notes. An agenda tells the audience the purpose of the presentation, and provides signposts to guide them. Your handouts will point out scenic views and important landmarks, filling in the back story after you have passed by.

Of course with web conferencing, you have to adjust to the fact that your audience members are spread throughout the world. This doesn't mean you can't distribute handouts, in fact because everyone is already at their computer it's as simple as emailing a Word document as you are ending your presentation, or putting a link in the chat window.

Posted by George Page, Communication Specialist

How To Write an Excellent Memo

Are memos outdated? Aren't they from the businesses of yesteryear? Don't people just write emails? Isn't the future of business on the Internet now? Sure, but even emails need to communicate effectively. Writing an email is very similar to writing memos and a skill that is required in today's business.

A few tips on writing memos (via emails or otherwise) follow:

Organize and simplify. What's the purpose of the memo (or email)? And who is it for? You should know what the memo needs to accomplish and who you want to accomplish it. For instance, if you're instructing employees to not use next-day shipping services, but asking them to use two-day shipping services instead, make that clear. And make sure every employee knows the memo is applicable to them.

What's the next step? Many memos state obvious facts (e.g., the above memo about shipping; we are using too much next-day shipping services), but forget to tell the next step (e.g., please use two-day shipping services from now on). Make sure you are clear with your memo and instruct the readers of the memo what to do after they read it.

Ask for feedback. For sensitive memos, enlist the help of others. Ask coworkers or your supervisor to read the memo (or email) to make sure your instructions are clear and that readers will know what to do without any confusion. If you have problems with spelling or grammar, you might have a few people read for proofreading purposes. You'll be glad you did.

Let it cool off. Before you send the memo (email or otherwise), let it cool off a bit. Move on to another task and let it sit. When you've accomplished a few other tasks, come back to the email (or memo) and then reread it for sense, clarity, and purpose.

Another question: Should you use paper memos or email? Many companies use email only, citing the savings of paper and ink supplies. They also cite the ability for employees to archive all corporate emails long term. However, other companies cite the email overload problem and have returned to important memos on paper.

Many companies strive to lessen the amount of memos handed out or emailed around just because of the problems their employees experience comprehending it all. If you follow the above steps, you'll enjoy clearer memos and better-informed employees.

One Mans Fact Can Also Be His Opinion

Some names have been changed to protect the guilty innocent.

The other day Jim, Rob, David, and I were discussing an issue Jim was having with a local company and it wasn't the first issue he'd had. When discussing this with the company president "Bob", he was informed that it was "fact" that they knew what they were doing.

But do they really? This business owner was adamant about the "fact" that he knew what he was doing because he had been in business so long, but Jim disagreed because of the problems he was having.

Fact or Opinion

A fact is something that can be tested and proven, whereas an opinion is something that someone thinks about the subject. Bob's been in business for a long time and believes that speaks to the quality of his service. All Jim knows is that Bob doesn't know his head from a hole in the ground. More importantly, Jim's telling everyone he runs into not to do business with this company. Yes, Bob has 20 years experience, but now he has a client who's not happy with him and is going to tell other potential clients not to deal with him.

Reputations are not generally based on fact. They are based on the opinions, or perception, of your clientele. Even if your company has been in business forever, does it really matter if you run your business poorly and write off clients needs? Look at companies like Dell. Once upon a time they were a powerhouse in the computer industry. But, somewhere along the line their product and customer service began to suffer. They began to lose business purely because their product and service was slipping away fast. Thanks to people like Richard at Dell, the company has been able to rebound.

It's an interesting tug of war when it comes to fact v. opinion with business. When looking for a new service to deal with, I'm sure that it matters to you how long the company has been in business. What ultimately makes your decision though? Is it the company lifespan or company reviews and word of mouth?

eBay uses a buyer/seller rating system to provide feedback for potential sales so that each party knows who they are dealing with. When you see a lot of bad marks, do you consider that to be a fact or just one person's opinion? Why are you even looking at someone's opinion to decide on a product or service? Is there a line that you draw when looking at customer reviews?

What do you think? Are the reputations of companies built on facts or opinion? Is it the pen or the dollar that's more powerful?

As a new segment of our blog, we'll periodically bring you a thought provoking post from Jim Black (CEO), Rob Anderson (VP of Marketing), David Byrd (VP of Operations), and Maranda Gibson (Account Consultant and official blogger).  We hope you enjoy, and above all, that we hope can drum up some interesting conversation.

Posted by Maranda Gibson, Account Specialist

Five Tips For a More Productive Team

Productive Team

According to Harvard Management Update, "high functioning teams are what makes high-performing companies click." If it seems like the team work you're trying to implement in your company isn't sticking, here are five tips that you can use to improve team productivity.

1.) Make time for the team to come together:
When you first have a team put together, hold an ‘ice-breaker', whether it is taking everyone out for lunch or making a Starbucks run in the middle of the day. Find a quiet place to talk, be open about personal lives and business experiences. It's important to establish a rapport with everyone. Teams have to trust each other otherwise there will be anarchy and you can't trust someone if you don't know them.

2.) Diversify your team:
There's nothing better in a team environment than the feeling of learning something new. That is, after all, part of the reason why teams should be encouraged. Working together requires you to put aside any old feelings between co-workers and to open your eyes to a new perspective. No two people have the same thought process, and if two heads are better than one then there's a pretty good chance that four heads are better than three.

3.) Establish duties:
Within diversity everyone has their own strengths. Encourage openness so that there can be an exchange of ideas and each person's strengths can be used to the fullest. Communication and ideas will flow because you have specific people in charge of specific parts of a functioning team. Use Dr. Meredith Belbin's team roles as a model for what kind of responsibilities need to be assigned.

4.) Share Past Successes
Ever thrown some stuff into a pot, heated it up, and waited for what came out? Teamwork is a lot like that, throwing these different styles and kinds of people into a group and telling them that they have to make something happen. Open up with each other and share any experiences or success that you think could be a positive contribution to the team. Even if you have a member who was recently hired or fresh out of college, they surely have something to contribute to your group. Take some time at the beginning of your first meeting together and share what you're good at.

5.) Be a Great Mentor
If you're a team leader this should be your cardinal rule. Think of that old cliché, "There is no poor question than the one that is not asked." As a mentor and developer you need to remember that. You should have a wide variety of age groups and experience levels on your team and remember that there was a time when you had to ask all the questions too. Be patient and understanding; remember that every question leads to a better answer and possibly a breakthrough.

Posted by Maranda Gibson, Account Specialist

Encouraging Initiative in the Workplace

Initiative is a character trait highly prized by employers.  It's a good trait to have on your resume.  It's what separates the leaders from the doers.  If someone is lacking in initiative, that doesn't mean they are a bad employee, just a mediocre one.  Sometimes though, employees are too fearful or comfortable to show initiative or make big decisions.

An employee that won't speak up or follow their instincts can be detrimental to your business.  However, in a lot of cases you can encourage these employees to show initiative.  Managing "comfeartable" employees doesn't have to be an ordeal.  It can be a matter of shifting office culture, or simply encouraging one person.

A big step is to let your employees know that it's okay to show initiative, to make big decisions.  Some people hold back because they are afraid of consequences for mistakes.  We all know there are good and bad mistakes – "strong effort, weak results" -- but employees need to know that they won't be punished for the good mistakes.

Everyone has varying degrees of stage fright, and it's possible that someone doesn't speak up in meetings because of an audience.  If you tend to get great ideas from someone, but only in private, maybe their stage fright is getting in the way.  Make the next meeting they are in a conference call.  They won't have all those people looking at them and may feel freer to contribute.

Initiative takes courage.  Some people have courage, and some need encouragement for their courage to come out.  Speak to them in specifics and go into details on how they can step-up to a challenge, how best to meet it head on, and how they will be rewarded if they do.

Posted by George Page, Communication Specialist

How Not to Do Customer Service

Bad Customer Service

In the midst of post holiday shopping, I've run into a few sourpuss customer service folks. It's kind of humorous to me that they are so disdainful of customers, especially when customers are scarce in this economy. If I was in retail, I'd be doing what a local retailer did at the mall this afternoon: they sent one of their employees outside with a coat and a tray of free samples of their candy to greet people in the parking lot. Sure, it seems a bit desperate, but it's also the time for Christmas gift returns, great bargains, and free treats. Vast amounts of people go to stores to enjoy these things, even if they don't plan to buy. However, one taste of those chocolates and I bought.

See, it worked!

But back to the sour puss folks who could barely contain their lack of energy when dealing with customers this year.

Above all, don't:

1. Treat your customers as if they are trying to cheat you. If a customer is returning items multiple times because the product continually breaks on first use, it's not because the person is trying to steal or cheat your company. And if an order showed up with all the wrong items in the box, that is your company's problem, not the customer's.

2. Act like it's a huge hassle that they are calling and communicating with you. Isn't that what customer service is for? To let your company know they didn't fulfill the conditions of the sale? Customers aren't really calling to shoot the breeze or find out that your customer service team is having a really terrible holiday season. It's not their fault your company can't complete a simple sales transaction without something going haywire. Perhaps that's why your sales are going down the drain.

3. Not offer them some sort of freebie or promo for their trouble. So, you ask the customer to wait thirty minutes on hold while you figure out what your company did wrong and don't even say "thank you, I'm sorry for the long wait" or "here's a 20% coupon toward your next purchase"? Why would they ever want to do business with you again?

4. Second-guess their request and continue to ask them the same questions several times. Just because a customer is asking you for help because they are confused about your return policy is no excuse to treat them like an idiot. And if they give you clear instructions about what they originally ordered, why are your customer service reps still asking "why," "what," and "when"?

5. Ignore their upset feelings and just act like an automaton with no feelings or empathy. If your customer is upset because your company messed up on their order, it is on your customer service rep to make that customer feel listened to, cared for, and supported. If you are callous and unfeeling, it is perfectly acceptable for your customers to leave and never do business with you again.

There are many outstanding customer service folks out there this holiday season. We've met them, spoken with them, and been helped by them. It's a shame that businesses let this behavior continue, especially when a little bit of customer service will go a very long way. Perhaps even gain you customers in a dire economy. Think about it. Why let one bad apple spoil your barrel?