Death by PowerPoint

I’ve always had sympathy for marketers at workshops, you know the ones I mean – off-site, lots of flip charts and post-it notes, inspiring case studies, break-out groups, big bold ideas and no such thing as a bad idea. They are great fun, especially if run by a classy facilitator, who earns more in a day than you do in a week or even a month if said facilitator has written lots of books. They remind me of the great speeches made before the battle – everyone gets really fired up and then rushes out mostly to meet some grisly death in the mud and the gore.

The contrast between the workshop and the reality of day-to-day business in a marketing department could not be starker. In the workshop you get to say what you think backed up by just a few words on a post-it note and a lot of conviction. Back at work you spend your life writing PowerPoint presentations in which what you really think is buried beneath a mountain of charts and summary charts that also includes what everyone else thinks. I once described this corporate environment as like trying to score a goal in football but first having to get the ball past 10 of your own players. Corporate life has an immune system designed to attack change and minimize risk. You have to have your ducks in a row and your act together. In essence this means you have to get past your bosses, divisional heads and regional/global team – so really you have to get your dicks in a row and put on a PowerPoint act to do so.

So for today’s lesson from the digital pulpit I want to focus on some simple tools that help marketing teams cut through this lethal morass of PPT slides.

I have 5 points to make.

  1. Always have 5 points to make – no more and no less. People can just about remember 5 points and it forces you to make choices and be concise. Dare I say it – you can put them all on one slide.
  2. Limit all presentations to 5 slides – and don’t cheat by using a font size so small only owls in the front row can read them. If you can’t say what you want and back it up in 5 legible slides you don’t know what you want to say.
  3. Organize any meeting agenda under 5 headings a) “Information Giving” for when you need to tell people about what is happening b) “Information Receiving” for when you want to hear back from people about some topic c) “Problem Solving” for when you want to put an issue on the table for which you want ideas and suggestions d) “Decision Making” for an item that requires a decision e) “Celebrations” where you take time to celebrate some milestone or success. Allocate time for each item and have someone run the meeting to this timetable. Just try this, you will be amazed at the results. No more than 5 slides for each agenda item – see point above.
  4. Make everyone’s role in a project utterly explicit – there are only 5 roles. One person is responsible & accountable; other people (as few as possible) are required to support the project; a few more need to be consulted; one person – a small working group if you insist – signs the project off; somebody keeps everyone informed and organized.
  5. Spend one fifth of your time determining and monitoring the, maximum 5, KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators). Any sporting team or coach will tell you that performance only changes when you change what you measure. Mark Twain told us many years ago,  “If you measure what you always measure you get what you always got” or words to that effect. One the biggest causes of interminable PPT presentations is that the KPI’s are not highly selective, laser sharp and targeted to an outcome.

I only allowed myself 5 points but hey, everyone cheats, so here is my bonus item. Apply some of the workshop protocols to the way you run meetings back at the ranch. Here are just a few of the golden rules of workshops:-

One person has prepared for the workshop and runs it to a pre-determined timetable and desired outcome.

People are disciplined to say what they think and then explain why – not the other way around.

There is a warm up where people can get things off their chest and issues out in the open (these can be any issues not just topic related). Having done so they are better able to listen and participate.

Post-it notes are actually of great use – forces you to capture the thought concisely, acts as a record, can be moved around and grouped with related ideas or issues etc etc.

PowerPoint is kept to a minimum and other stimulus and visual aids are used. Background material is pre-circulated (see point about preparation above).

A decent facilitator never allows a session to run for more than 90 minutes without a break or change of attack. There is a reason for this. They also ensure everyone gets a chance to contribute using a variety of techniques the most simple of which is just to break the people down in twos or threes and get them to share what they think and feed it back.

I could go on so just try this for yourself. In the next workshop, one that you really enjoy, just think about how much of the process could be used in real life.

Marketing is hard enough – make running it simpler. High 5!

Big Bang Marketing

Grabber of a headline but probably not what you think. I was running a strategy session in New York last week and I came up with a new opener that worked well in terms of raising the energy level and shaking up the thinking. I got the idea from listening to a programme on Radio 4 the night before while I was fighting to try to get back to sleep. It featured a panel of scientists, including the rockstar physicist Brian Cox, talking about what came before the Big Bang.

This is a subject I had looked at before when I was researching a book I was writing called “God’s Marketing Brief” (it’s on Amazon but I really don’t recommend it unless you too are struggling to sleep at night). Despite the fact that I flunked out of Physics aged 15 years I am actually quite fascinated by the Big Bang. The two sides of physics, the General Theory of Relativity (gravity, light, time etc, the big stuff) and Quantum Physics (atoms, protons, quarks etc, the really small stuff) can explain everything from just after the Big Bang, which was roughly 13.7 billion years ago. When I say just after the Big Bang I mean 0.00000000000000000000000000000000000001 of second after, or 10 to the power of -37 of a second. Now that is not long is it?

Science can also explain quite a lot about where the universe is now and where it is going. The most important thing it supports is that the universe continues to expand, and going back to the Big Bang it was not actually a very loud noise, it was in fact the moment when the universe started to expand. It did so very rapidly at first, explosively fast, so I suppose that is kind of like a ‘bang’.

Bear with me here – I am going to talk about marketing soon. One thing about which scientists speculate but cannot prove is that there may very well have been a series of “Big Bangs” in those very first milliseconds, which could mean, theoretically, that the ‘Big Bangs’ gave rise to an infinite number of parallel universes.

Hang on in there – one last point to make. For reasons that would take too long to explain (alright, I admit it, for reasons I don’t entirely understand) the scientists cannot reconcile the General Theory of Relativity (big stuff) and Quantum Physics (small stuff). They explain the big stuff and the small stuff but they don’t explain each other. That is where String Theory comes in, or as it is sometimes called ‘The Theory of Everything’ (I am not making this up – check it out on Wiki). String Theory poses that little tiny atoms, the really, really small stuff, are not little dots but are long stringy things. But even more curiously, String Theory suggests that there must be at least 10 dimensions – another 6 plus dimensions beyond the 4 we know about (3D plus time).

Relax, we are done with the physics. In fact to lighten the air you might recall that Sheldon in “The Big Bang Theory” is studying String Theory – quite brilliant and quite mad.

So, I explain all this to my folk in the strategy session and invite them to see if it gives them any insights on what we are about to do – which is to develop a new strategy for a recently acquired business.

Well, let me help you, as I helped them.

1. It is worth looking back in time if it helps explain the future but beyond a certain point, the Big Bang, who cares?
2. If scientists can figure all this out surely we can come up with a solution to our little challenge.
3. There probably are a series of parallel universes and there is definitely more than one strategy – so let’s develop a few and choose the best, the one that creates our universe the way we want it.
4. We live in a universe that is always expanding – change is not our enemy it is our friend.
5. We are dealing with two theories of business that cannot be reconciled – finance and marketing. Or rather they can be reconciled but only if you bring in some new dimensions.

I must say it went on to be a very successful workshop although a lot of the credit for that must go to the caliber of people in it and not the facilitator. We did come up with new dimensions and several new strategic options.
If you are interested in knowing the new dimension to our thinking that made the most impact it was the concept of Triple Bottom Line. I’ll leave you to look into that.

But I think I’m on to something with Big Bang Marketing.

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