Talk Good: Giving Effective Presentations

Note: See related post from October 2008

Since I started doing Toastmasters about two years ago I’ve been Furling every good piece of information I could find on how to be a better speaker and presenter. I mentioned this recently to some of my fellow Toasties and they asked me to share my links.

The pieces speak for themselves (no pun intended), so without extensive annotations, here are my top 10:

  1. Garr Reynolds (see also: his great blog, Presentation Zen):
  2. 10 Tips for a Killer Presentation, Neil Patel 
  3. Get Your Message Across by Creating Powerful Stories, Kevin Eikenberry 
  4. How to Change the World: World’s Best Presentation Contest Winners There are some great examples of how to effectively use powerpoint. 
  5. Bert Decker (Also see his blog, Create Your Communications Experience)
  6. How to Get a Standing Ovation, Guy Kawasaki 
  7. Kathy Sierra (See also: her blog Creating Passionate Users which, sadly, is no longer being updated; but there’s great archived content!)
  8. Effective Presentations: More than one way to impress an audience Dave Pollard 
  9. All Presenting is Persuasive Guila Muir (see also: Guila’s other training/presenting resources) 
  10. A Periodic Table of Visualization Methods From Visual-Literacy.org. Great ideas for how to use visually represent your ideas. 
  11. BONUS LINK: The 5 Immutable Laws of Persuasive Blogging, Brian Clark.
    Ostensibly written for bloggers, I’m finding that the “5 Laws” (provide value, have a hook, etc.) are also helpful in organizing talks and presentations.

I’d love to get feedback on your favorite resources and tips. What’s helped you be a kick ass speaker or presenter?

Ten Questions to Ask Every New Employee

Originally Published at Library Garden

Kate Sheehan had a wonderful post a week or so ago, Customer Service Mind, Beginner Mind, in which she writes about the value of looking at things with a fresh eye. It reminded me that every time I ever started a new job, I was hyper-aware of all the wacky things about my new organization; the signs that had been taped to the door since 1973: the restrictive (or just plain arbitrary and weird) policies that seemed to have no rhyme nor reason; the lack of basic equipment available for staff (no sliderules or abaci, but close.)

These awarenesses weren’t always negative. Sometimes I was aware of the amazing benefit package that everyone else seemed to take for granted (or even grumble about) ; or an incredibly efficient work flow or communication mechanism — like a wall in the staff room with everyone’s picture (Facebook 1.0), or a Director that was actually available to speak with employees.

But no matter how strong or strange these awarenesses were, they always faded away within the first few weeks on the job. It didn’t take long before my new environment would simply register as “normal.” Seriously, there could have been a chimpanzee in a tuxedo singing the star-spangled banner in the lobby; but if he was there on day 1 and day 2, by day 3, I’d be nodding and saying, “morning George, you sound good today. Nice job on the bowtie…” In other words, I can’t underestimate the power of our brains to adapt and reset the benchmark for normal experience.

I always thought that those first few weeks as a new employee, when everyone told me everything and more, but no one asked me for MY thoughts or impressions, were a wasted opportunity. So when I became a department manager I made it part of the orientation process to squeeze these observations out of all new employees. I would literally take new employees to lunch and tell them that for the next few weeks, their perceptions were extremely valuable and encourage them to share with me if there was ANYTHING that we did that seemed odd, inefficient, wasteful, or stupid. Or amazing, creative, and blazingly brilliant.

If you can manage to get this data — heck, even one tiny piece of datum — from your new employees (give them a break now and then from reading the 250 page employee manual), you’ll have gotten some very useful information. So. Submitted for your approval, here are my Top Ten Questions To Ask Every New Employee. [drumroll please…]

  1. What was your first impression when you walked into the library?
  2. What are your impressions of the aesthetic environment inside the building? What could we do to improve it?
  3. What are your impressions of the aesthetic environment outside the building? What could we do to improve it?
  4. What are we doing that strikes you as wasteful — of time or money?
  5. What services are you surprised to learn that we are offering, for better or worse?
  6. What services are you surprised to learn that we are NOT offering, for better or worse?
  7. Are there any policies that you don’t understand the rationale for? Are there any policies that strike you as just plain nuts?
  8. What are your impressions of our website?
  9. What was your experience like when you called the library? What are your impressions of our phone system?
  10. What are your impressions of our customer service orientation? Are we customer-focused? What could we do to be more so?

 

BONUS QUESTIONS (for the brave ones out there)

  1. How friendly (or unfriendly) did the staff seem when you first walked in the door?
  2. What are we doing that strikes you as straight-up bat sh*t crazy?

 

If you consistently ask these questions of your new employees, you’ll have a wonderful opportunity to recapture the newness of seeing, if only briefly, through borrowed, “beginner mind” eyes.

Five Questions that will improve your effectiveness

I recently stumbled across a wonderful little book called Leadership Simple: Leading People to Lead Themselves, by Steve and Jill Morris. It’s based on Dr. William Glasser’s “Choice Theory” (which suggests, among other things, that the only person whose behavior we control is our own) and Glasser’s “Reality Therapy” (which suggests that we choose our actions and we are responsible for our choices.)

The authors use a fictional case study written in narrative format to illustrate the process of “Lead Management”, or “self-evaluating, and leading other to do the same.” The principles are also presented in bullet-point format in an appendix, which makes it very easy to quickly review the main points.

The Lead Management process involves walking oneself (and later others) through five basic questions:

  1. What do you want?
  2. What are you doing to get it?
  3. Is it working?
  4. What else can you do?
    (I like to throw in an extra one here: “What am I willing to do”)
  5. What WILL you do?

The authors suggest that when using the process, we spend the majority of our time on steps 1-4, thinking, talking, analyzing, generating options and generating more options. Finally, we decide what we WILL do and commit to an action.

I’ve realized that in the past I’ve sometimes rushed through steps 1-4, failing to think deeply enough and generate enough options. But more often I’ve spent too much time on steps 1-4, enjoying the process of exploration and never getting to a commitment to action.

What appeals to me about this process, and the underlying philosophy, is that it is deeply grounded in personal responsibility. Consider this quote from the book:

“You are accountable for the meaning you place on the information you receive, for what you want, and the behaviors you choose to get what you want.”

And this one:

“People are going to do things. Events will occur. In essence, whatever happens outside your mind is information. You get to choose what that information means, what importance you place on your perceptions of that information, and how it fits with what you already know.”

One value in adopting this perspective is that it takes us out of victimhood. We can’t simultaneously take responsibility for the meaning we ascribe to events and to the behavior of others AND feel like a victim. This is highly empowering. Victimhood, whether experienced individually or as an organizational or professional culture or belief system, gets us nowhere. When we perceive ourselves as victims we are less likely to invest our energy in trying to change or influence events. However, when we take responsibility for our perceptions and the meanings we ascribe to them, we become grounded in a place of power, and we are more likely to make conscious choices regarding our behavior. We are more likely to take concrete steps and try to exert our influence on outcomes.

The commitment to action (the “what we WILL do”) is the final step in the Lead Management model. The process, however, is circular. This means we can choose to go back to earlier steps and re-evaluate what’s working, what’s not, and generate more options. We may even decide to re-evaluate at step 1, and look at whether or not we still want what we originally wanted. We may discover that our original goals have shifted over time in the light of new experience and knowledge.

The Lead Management process is designed to be used for self-coaching and the coaching of others. But I think the process of working through the five questions could also be effectively used to guide decision-making for departments and organizations by re-phrasing the questions:

  1. What do we want to achieve? (What is our mission? What is our goal?)
  2. What are we doing to get achieve our mission/goals?
  3. Is it working?
  4. What else can we do to achieve our mission/goals?
    (“What are we willing to do”)
  5. What WILL we do?

Over the past year I’ve been acting as a personal coach to a friend/colleague (and as I move into 2008 I will be doing more, and will begin receiving formal training from a professional coach.) Coaching, as opposed to mentoring, is about asking questions, not giving advice. So far my experience with coaching (both as a coach and coachee) has been very positive, and I can see how the five questions of the Lead Management process could be integrated into an effective coaching session.

Now maybe it’s a bit early to be making New Year’s resolutions (although tech support people are already wishing me a “Merry Christmas”) but maybe I can set a New Year’s Intention:

  1. What do I intend?  I intend to learn to effectively coach myself and others.
  2. What am I doing to get it? Setting up agreement to be coached by (and trained by) an experienced professional coach; Setting up agreement to coach a colleague.
  3. Is it working? TBD…
  4. What else can I do? Read books listed on coaching bibliography provided to me by an experienced coach.
  5. What WILL I do? TBD… Share my coaching experiences on Library Garden!

Convenience

In my last post on The Human Touch I discussed how a warm, caring human being trumped a crappy, highly inconvenient system. And now for something completely different…

A few weeks ago I went into Philly to meet an old friend for dinner. Mindy had just moved back to the Philly area after too long an absence. She was happy to be returning to the city life, and particularly happy to find that there was an organic food co-op a block from her new place. Over dinner she related the following story.

After getting moved in, Mindy grabbed her environmentally friendly canvas bag and headed down the block to the co-op to do some shopping. The co-op’s a fair-sized place, spread over two floors. Lots of veggies, fruits, meats, dairy, knickknacks, and a very active community bulletin board. There’s lot’s to see, so Mindy takes her time, browsing through the store, taking it all in, while slowly adding items to her canvas bag.

Little by little Mindy starts to feel a little weird. People are watching her. Giving her strange looks. Dirty looks? What’s going on? Maybe she’s been out in the sticks too long and is just not use to the unfriendly ways of east coast city life? No, people are definitely watching her. And following her. Like maybe she’s a thief…

After this goes on for about 1/2 an hour, the manager approaches her and says, “Is there some reason you’re putting items in that canvas bag?” Mindy replies, “Um, yes. Because I’m shopping.” The manager informs her in a none-too-friendly tone that all customers must use the little plastic baskets for shopping. Mindy says, “Oh, well, I didn’t know that.” So she grabs a plastic basket and transfers all of her items into it, wondering why no one told her sooner.

She finishes up her shopping, goes to the cashier, pays for her items and goes to the door. At the door she transfers her items from the basket to her canvas bag and walks out.

She’s about 1/2 way down the block when the manager comes running out of the store calling, “Miss!! Miss!!”. He chases her down, stops her, and says, “I’m sorry but I have to see what’s in your bag.” Mindy replies, “I’m sorry, are you accusing me of stealing? Here’s my receipt.” The manager insists he has to see what’s in the bag. Mindy says, “Fine” and dumps the contents onto the sidewalk. The manager inventories the purchase against the receipt, and then leaves.

There was no apology.

OK, so here’s the punchline. When Mindy told me this story I said, “So I guess you’re never going back.” Sheepishly she tells me she’s already been back. And she’s signed up to become a member. WHAAA??? Mindy says, “It’s just so convenient!”

The thing is, I understand. Convenience is something we all value. In Mindy’s case, she valued convenience so much it outweighed the crappy treatment she received. Of course, the co-op is not only convenient, it offers a niche service. You can’t go to the Acme and get the same goods, so the co-op can get away with lousy customer service. They’re not only the closest game in town, they’re the only game in town. Literally.

In my last post, I related how a human touch — truly exemplary service — helped make up for a decided lack of convenience. However Mindy’s story revealed how convenience can also trump bad service, especially if the service fills a specific need that is otherwise difficult to fill.

Ideally, of course, we want our libraries to be both convenient and customer-service oriented. We want well-designed systems AND the warmth of caring human contact. Unlike the organic food co-op, however, libraries no longer have the luxury of providing niche market services.

In the good old days (prior to 1994) many of our customers had to come to us. We were the only game in town. But I’m afraid that our prior near-monopoly on information services made some of us a bit too comfortable. We were able to get away with clunky systems, restrictive policies, and unfriendly staff. Customers didn’t have much of a choice. Well, those days are gone, and they’re not coming back. That doesn’t mean libraries don’t have a lot to offer, but it does mean we have to be much more aware of the value that our customers place on convenience and friendly service if we expect to remain relevant.

As some of you may know, I’m involved in the management of New Jersey’s 24/7 VR service, QandANJ.org. We celebrated our 6th anniversary in October, and in those six years we’ve collected thousands of customer comments. Two of the most frequent comments we receive are variations on, “Wow, it was great to have a live person helping me.” and “Wow, this was just so convenient.” I’m proud to be associated with QandANJ because we’re translating (or “operationalizing”) one of librarianship’s core values: removing the barriers between people and information. It’s personal service with anytime/anywhere convenience that our customers value.

I’m not suggesting that every library needs to be doing virtual reference (although I do think every library should at least be available through IM.) I am suggesting that if libraries are to thrive, it’s imperative that we audit our staff and services with a critical eye toward ramping up convenience and bringing a human touch to all of our services and all primary points of contact with our customers (our front doors, our phone systems, and our websites.)

The Human Touch

The Human Touch (in which a crazy-bad “system” is made less bad by a live, caring human being)


In November I’m going to be staffing a booth at New Jersey’s annual teacher’s convention to help promote our statewide virtual reference service QandANJ. A few months ago I filled out the necessary forms to reserve booth space on the exhibit floor in the Atlantic City Convention Center. Soon after, I was sent the “exhibitor’s manual” which included another myriad of forms to fill out. So many options! Do we want a table? How many? What size? A table drape? What color? Carpet? Plush? Regular? Color? Chairs? How many? Wastebasket? Do you want the booth vacuumed? How often? Do you want electricity? What kind? (yup, there’s different kinds.) Internet Access? Telephone? Help setting up the booth? Taking it down? Will you be sending boxes of stuff? To the warehouse? To the booth? Etc. Etc.

I suppose choice is good, but the quality of the forms that would (hopefully) reflect my choices were not so good. Small type. Poor design. Lot’s of repetition. Yesterday I spent the better part of the morning attempting to fill out these many poorly-designed forms, all written in 6 pt type. There were eleven different forms. Eleven. And they had to be faxed to three different places! Each form asked for the same information: Name, phone, email, fax, credit card. Name, phone, email, fax, credit card. Name, phone, email, fax, credit card. Wouldn’t it have been great if I could have gone to a single website, entered this information ONCE, then made my selections electronically? Hey, a boy can dream, can’t he?

As it was, my morning was eaten up, my eyes were crossing, but there was a single saving grace: The exhibitor hotline. I had called the exhibitor hotline months ago when I first ordered the booth. In fact, I called it five times in one day (the initial forms I used to order the booth were no less confusing.) Each time I called, the phone was answered on the first ring by Kris. Kris was pleasant. Kris was helpful. Kris was friendly. When I called, I was feeling equal parts stressed, frustrated, and stupid. Kris talked to me like I wasn’t stupid. She comforted me and made it clear that I could call as often as I needed to. So I did.

Yesterday morning I renewed my contact with Kris. She was still there, picking up the phone after one ring with a friendly greeting, helping me figure out the forms and understand the ramifications of my choices. She even made a few phone calls to assure that I’d get the early-bird rate even though I was a few days past the deadline (“Oh, since this is your first time exhibiting…”)

So yes, the “system” sucked, and yes my eyes hurt, but in the end, to be honest, I felt fairly positive about the whole thing. Sure, I would have preferred a system that didn’t require me to interact with another human being (and I’m an extrovert). And I certainly would have preferred a system that didn’t take 3 hours of my time to communicate some relatively simple choices. But having a live person–a warm, caring, informed live person–available to help me gave a HUGE boost to my overall level of satisfaction.

So I ask: What happens when our customers need help? Whether it’s a reference question, a query about branch hours, or someone trying to find out what time storytime starts. Do they get a live person? Do they get an informed, warm, caring live person? Is the phone answered after one ring? Two rings? Five rings?

Kris was my escape valve. Ultimately it’s better to design our systems so we don’t need an escape valve. After all, what happens when Kris retires, or takes another job? Without her on the other end of the exhibitor hotline I would have been in hell. But even the best systems can only benefit from having an escape valve. A Kris who picks up after one ring. A human touch.

If asked to evaluate my experience as a prospective exhibitor at NJEA I’d give failing grades for convenience, but an A plus for the customer service I received from Kris. Overall, a solid B.

In my next post (on convenience) I’m going to describe a very different experience…