Monday, February 28, 2011

What you DON'T say matters too

Last week I had the perverse pleasure of working in Scranton, PA. Sure, it's the home to the fiction Dunder Miflin Paper Company and the sometimes we wish-to-be fictional character "Lunch Bucket Joe" Joe Biden, but if you're stuck there like I was, it becomes all too real.

Please consider these facts; it was 11 degrees, they have something like 4 feet of snow on the ground, it's actually quite close to Appalachia (scary), two of our bags never arrived. Safe to safe, I'm not a big fan of Scranton.

But Brian, your blog post title teased me into thinking you were going to say something important...what gives? Well, while in Scranton, I witnessed a classic example of body language and it's power in presentations.

The dining options in Scranton featured all of the usual suspects...c'mon, you know which ones. We deduced the least painful option to be of a scarlet-colored variety, especially between Monday and Wednesday. WORK WITH ME PEOPLE!!! I can hear the Stones song in my head right now, got it??? Very good. Let's continue.

Okay, we walk in and we are NOT greeted by a friendly, happy face. Instead it's our waitress, they had obviously let the hostess leave, as the place was empty. So now waistress-turned-hostess-yet-still-waitress is large and in charge. She's in no mood for another table, but the place is scheduled to be open for another TWO hours!!!!

We did not feel special, cared about or even welcomed. We didn't get a simple smile and we certainly didn't feel like our soon to be delivered dinner would be good, no matter how tasty it actually turned out to be.

The point of all this is, when you say things in a presentation like "It's great to be here" you better damn well mean it!!!!!! Be truthful with your emotions because your audience can pick up the truth, even if you try to hide it.

Remember, emotions are the key to connecting with people during a presentation. Sure, you all like to think it's great information. WRONG ANSWER...try again. It's EMOTION. Do you really think people remember bullet points or data-dumps? NO!!!! They remember how you made them FEEL.

So, the next time you're looking for dinner in Scranton, be sure to remember the Rolling Stones, hum a few bars of that tune, and you'll know where NOT to go.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Teaching as an art form

Something I have wanted to do since I was a Senior in college was to teach design at the highest level of public or private education. Essentially, to be able to teach people who were solely in front of me to learn from my experience. It started for me when I was a design lab administrator in college, and I found I was easily and comfortably able to teach other students things I knew. Even if it was in small doses, it was tremendously gratifying to me.

A couple of years later, I found myself in my day-to-day job as a Junior Designer at a prestigious Chicago-area design firm (pounding out 65+ hour work weeks with 2.5 hours of total commute), and I realized two things—one, I really hadn't learned nearly what I needed to survive in my industry while I was fighting through the Northern Illinois University Visual Communications program, and even more frustratingly, two, is that what I had learned, I didn't really feel as though I knew why I had learned it. So, the top design school in the Midwest didn't teach me enough, and what they did teach was vague and oblique to the point where I had no idea what the real practical application was. Great.

At that point, I realized that I wanted to go back someday for a Masters in Fine Art, to allow myself to teach college-level design, with real-world applications.

Fast forward 20-odd years, and I still have not returned to acquire my Masters degree, and as time goes one, lifestyle congeals, family is built and a career plods forward, and making the drastic move to return to school for another degree fades further from my reach.

When we started talking about the ideas and philosophies behind SquarePlanet, one of the keystones of the business plan was to be able to develop workshops around teaching what our careers had given us both in experience, and changing the way people think, work and behave with presentations. When we realized how important presentations are to anyone—business, educational or social, we started to focus on the fact that NONE of us are truly taught how to create or develop a presentation, let alone design slides or stand in front of your peers with in idea to promote.

Wait a minute—everyone knows (or thinks they do) how to use PowerPoint, craft messages, and stand up in front of people to talk, but no one was EVER really shown the right way to do this? Really? I think we might be on to something here. This is not intuitive stuff here, yet how many times have you seen people take this task feebly into their own hands, and throw away a massive opportunity?

This past Thursday was the very first SqP Presentation Boot Camp workshop. Boot Camp. Really? Well, yeah. The idea is that we ALL need to have what we know to be the presentation status quo needs to be stripped down to nothing, erased from our collective memories, and started again from scratch. A clean wipe board, if you will.

Our first 1-day school was not without hiccups and rough spots, but for the two of us to be able to get in front of a group of people who really wanted to be there to learn, it was not only an awakening for our class, but it was honestly one of the most rewarding things I have done in my career, and I can't wait to do it again.

With very few nerves or jitters, I was very comfortable in freely giving my experience and knowledge—even in such a small dose—to an eager audience. It was immeasurable joy for me, and it really was something that I enjoy doing. I know Brian enjoyed the day, too, and I really believe that our first students got something valuable from the day.

I'm looking forward to the March 17th school already, and I can't wait to get up in front of our workshop again.

Friday, February 4, 2011

All the right reasons

No matter what you do well, someone will hate it. No matter what you do poorly, someone will love it. Please yourself and reach your own personal goals and you will be a success at whatever you do.


It doesn't always work that way, but it should.

I have spent the last 18 years of my career trying to please clients, and for the most part, I have accomplished that task. The problem is, most clients aren't really comparing my work to anything other than the previous garbage they had before. Unfortunately, in most cases, the bar is set really low. My goal has always been to raise the level of professionalism for any client, and make them look and feel as polished as they can possibly be—even to their own ham-fisted undoing.

It's a frustrating high wire act of balancing what the client thinks they want and what the creative team knows to be the best solution. The old adage, "the client is always right," is almost always getting in the way, though. The problem with that is that if the client was right all the time, they wouldn't have needed my professional experience and they could have done their own work themselves. The reason they hired me in the first place is for my experience and ability to do something they could not. Thus, the client might know what they want, but the almost certainly do not know how to execute to a successful completion.

So you run the risk of clashing with a client over details that will make or break the project, or not even have any effect on the resultant product. And in the end, you must determine which battles to wage war over, to suit your own goals for any given project.

In the end, your goals should always be in the best interests of the client—to represent them in the best possible light, all while doing the best work you can given the time, budget and other constraints.

If you manage to make yourself proud of your own work in the process of making the client shine, then all the better.