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SWOT Team: Give Us Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Huddled Masses (and Your Bored)

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When doing the same job for a long time, an employee can become less motivated and may lose enthusiasm.

Sometimes a vacation or job change takes care of the problem, but not always. Instead, we have to find ways to reinvigorate ourselves and our employees when we get stuck in a rut.

It's not shameful to be in a rut, as long as you keep performing as expected and dig your way out of it before too long. Good managers help employees get through this phase of their careers.

The Gallup Management Journal's Employee Engagement Index results for first quarter 2004 indicate that 29% of employees are truly engaged, 54% of them are not engaged, and 17% are actively disengaged.

“Not engaged” means “putting time, but not energy or passion into a job. Essentially, the employee is sleepwalking.”


“Actively disengaged” employees are not only unhappy, but they show it, and it affects their coworkers.

Only one in three of you are passionate about your jobs and companies. What advice do you have for helping the other two-thirds of employees wake up and get their groove back?

Those of you sleepwalking through other problems, stop what you're doing and let us revive your energy by sharing your story with 100,000 MarketingProfs readers who might offer a fresh perspective. You will receive a complimentary copy of our book, A Marketer's Guide to e-Newsletter Publishing.

This Week's Dilemma

Getting our sales groove back

Our sales force is old and not motivated. They're responsible for visiting our distribution places and agents. We've tried high commissions, better prices, etc., and nothing has worked out! How do I improve my sales distribution channel? How do I engage and motive my salespeople so they actually enjoy their jobs?

—Product Manager

Previous Dilemma

‘Can't please everyone' syndrome affects our presentations

How do I manage the creation of a master corporate capabilities slide presentation when there are multiple executive VPs playing the role of reviewer/approver? These kinds of presentations are subjective in so many ways—graphic elements, story structure, level of detail, content flow, font style, EVERYTHING! I want to avoid the political land mines that I've encountered in the past. How do we create a slide deck for everyone to approve? How can we assure the project is done on time with fewer approval rounds?

—Senior Product Marketing Manager

Summary of Advice Received

This “can't please everyone” situation, at first, sounds trivial. In reality, it happens to many people, especially when there is no process or template to help control the changes to presentations or other marketing materials.

Adrian Woodliffe, a managing director at GENESIS, brings the issue to the forefront:

I have a sneaking feeling that this may well be symptomatic of deeper issues. I could be wrong. If these sorts of issues surround something as basic as a PowerPoint presentation, then I can only shake my head in disbelief. I know it happens, but this smacks of something a lot more deep-seated within the culture, dynamics, and discipline of the company.

Experience indicates that the problem may not lie in the creative process and could be deeper in the organization. In any case, it is not an easily solvable problem.

Readers provided solutions for putting controls around a presentation to avoid the dizzying around-and-around annoyance:

1. Create a standard template.

2. Build a repeatable process.

3. Define the buy-in team and improve communication with it.

4. Remember to focus on your target audience.

1. Create a standard template

Most of the feedback suggests creating a template or two to use. This overcomes the formatting issues.

Jonty Monopoli, marketing and distribution manager at GE Healthcare, proposes setting a department- or company-wide template with a standard title, header, body text and footer font, a standard background, a standard color for graphs and a standard location for pictures. Jonty says:

If everybody agrees on it, or it comes as an edict from above, there can't be any whining. Not only that, but it improves your branding and recognition to your internal and external customers. Everybody easily identifies with how your company pitches look and feel.

Though Mike Mohan, a group executive with Gravity-Marketing, can't take credit for the advice, we give him credit for telling us about it:

Those who went before taught it to me. My work as a marketing communications consultant included the development/production of many presentations for the leading office furniture manufacturer and its dealer network. The most effective way to focus on the goal and not an executive's color of the month was to offer presentations in two graphic styles—a contemporary look and a more traditional feel. Doing this gave any presenter a choice, while not turning over the art direction to someone other than the art director. This, along with a strong corporate standards (style) guide, has saved me from the abyss of presentation edits and re-reviews over and over again.

Jason Dojc's team has a common PowerPoint template for all presentations because of past inconsistent looking presentations. Jason says:

The template was designed so it was flexible enough to adapt to changing messages, but the overall color scheme and fonts were consistent. Once you get upper management to approve the template, your subsequent PowerPoints should get rubber-stamped quickly.

You must also consider the culture challenges in an organization while defining the template. Adrian provides tips for working through issues:

Remove the subjectivity. On the basis of having a brand visual identity system that ensures consistency of “voice,” create a series of templates that accommodate different scenarios. The management team needs to “clump” or group those different scenarios tightly, and agree on the needs/content/resource. And get a specialist (the graphic design house/agency) to help define those templates and provide hard and fast specifications, i.e., font, hierarchies, styling such as text and placement of images/tables/graphs etc, color, so on and so forth.

Those templates become masters that everyone who constructs PowerPoint slides can utilize. The process is organic, however. Any new situations not previously thought of must be accommodated. Going back to the “syndrome.” It sounds as if the organization hasn't got its story right. Employ a copywriter to do this. Again this removes the subjectivity. And the brief should accommodate audience profiles/types/needs, because the story may need to alter a little for different situations. These templates/masters become part of the brand bible. BUT, and this is a big but, this assumes that the organization has actually invested in a brand visual identity system or guidelines.

From what I have read here, I doubt that has happened. If there isn't one—get one! Quickly, because these sorts of dramas won't go away.

2. Build a repeatable process

The template is an excellent solution to reducing the presentation problem, but the approvals issue could still occur if management can't agree on the presentation topic itself. This is where a process comes in handy. Readers share a few processes, so pick and choose what works for you, as one size does not fit all.

Cliff Atkinson, president of Sociable Media, reminds us that the only “approvals” that matter are the company's customers:

A one-to-one presentation is not an ad campaign for the masses. Instead, you need to start from scratch and develop “modular customer problem sets” that align your company's solutions with the range of problems your specific audiences face. Then train your presenters to develop their speaking skills and to tailor the modules to their specific audiences in the best way that will achieve your business objectives.

Anything less than linking your PowerPoint to business results wastes everyone's time, and likely will produce the opposite of what you intend—your customers feeling bored, belittled, overwhelmed, and with the sense that you wasted their time. But if that's too big of a bite for your corporation to chew, you can approach your task at hand by breaking it up into three stages.

Gather everyone in the room for round one to agree on business objectives for the presentation. Round two is to approve the headlines and story structure, with no graphics. Round three is to approve the graphics that support the story. As any creative agency knows, if you show a client graphical treatments before you agree on your business objectives and the message, you're entering a minefield without a flak jacket.

Cathrine Levan, creative director at KickStart Communications, Inc., says to lock in the basics first, the color schemes, font sizing from headlines on down, and slide numbers:

Once the formatting is a lock, the information is grouped for each slide. Then signed off. When all the information is in, it will go to layout. At that point, it is just a creative arrangement. Any objections are dealt with on a creative level. Content is then locked. This helps a lot and eases the pressure of multiple changes. Once you change one page, the domino effect can kill you and waste a pile of time.

Nathan Roberts, a freelance business improver, likens the presentation approval process to Web design as he has experience a similar situation. He suggests the following process:

    1. Get agreement from the CEO or all the VPs on the simple things first. If there's any way possible, get everybody together at once, even if you only have a five-minute slot during a monthly VP meeting.

      a) Get the go-ahead for the method you'll use to produce a workable design. I suggest that one VP is designated to work closely with you, and then bring everybody together at the end to ratify it. Set and agree on this date at the outset, explaining that it will not be possible to make significant changes after that time. When you've highlighted the costs, delays and frustrations that can be caused by so many approvers, they should agree to follow your lead.

      b) State your own design objectives for the presentation—what kind of impression you want to leave and the types of template pages you are going to produce.

    2. Set standards up-front. Spend the time creating a blank master template before the kick-off meeting. This can be as simple as a front page with two or three master slides. Once the purpose of a page is clear, this makes filling up the space easier. Include everything you think is non-contentious. If you have a good Web site, copy design and navigation elements from it. Note: the base template should also be used for future corporate presentations, saving others from pain in the future.

    3. Get outside expert help. If you have time and want to succeed, a design agency with the right brief, armed with comments from external stakeholders such as key customers and advertising channels, can give an authoritative voice which can override the less-informed, personal view of dissenting VPs. A lighter option is to quickly review your ideas with the agency to steer you as the work progresses.

    4. Create a workshop. Work up your design; then review it at a sign-off meeting, again with all VPs present. If you believe your solution meets your objectives, stick to your guns on all but the most minor of changes, but seek consensus on any suggested changes during the meeting.

      Follow this advice and you'll end up with a relatively pain-free presentation. Two positive spin-offs: a generic corporate template that the VPs and their teams can use, knowing it meets agreed standards, and you may even find that your own authority and profile has been strengthened.

Karen Davis, president of Empiricor, Inc., uses the MARCOM process because it helps cut the endless changes, rounds of approvals, and missed deadlines:

    1. Start with a creative brief. Define the target audience and presentation use (consider short, medium and long versions for different circumstances), and map out the key messages and takeaways. Call a meeting and ask all the players to review, debate and agree to this before any content is created.

    2. Establish a review process and schedule so everyone knows what is expected and when. Set up review meetings, each with a specific agenda, to gather collective rather than serial input (i.e., let the players argue their points with each other instead of individually with you). Try to put off-agenda items in the parking lot, i.e., don't let a meeting to agree on the storyline get sidetracked on graphics or colors.

    3. Gather feedback—ask your presenters and customers what works, what doesn't and use this information to develop and improve the presentation.

Distribute a draft of the presentation for commenting about three to four weeks before the deadline, indicating that comments will be collected until one to two weeks before deadline, suggests Boonhom Sinakhot, an account planner with Astsu.

Boonhom says, “Then work to fix the presentation using their comments. The higher-ups get ultimate priority in this culture where I live and work.”

3. Define the buy-in team and improve communication with it

Between having templates and a process in place, the “can't please everyone” syndrome should be drastically reduced. However, a couple of readers remind us of two more important things: buy-in and communication

Vicki Wright, owner of Vicki Wright Creative Consultant, advises determining who gets to vote and who doesn't:

Start by deciding who will actually be making the presentation, because, like a speech, it must flow naturally from that person's lips in order to be effective. That person, whoever it is, must always have the final say in what is included in the presentation. Others may have an opinion that you listen to politely, but if everyone's idea has equal weight, the result will be chaos and you'll have a very poor presentation.

Typically, the biggest problem is that too many cooks in the kitchen will want to add too many words (or too many glitzy effects) and they'll spoil the soup. In presentations, less is always more. When too many people put in their two cents, they are trying to fill in the blanks—to make sure everything is in the slides.

To avoid too many changes during the process, gather everyone's opinions and input in advance, so that they feel heard, distill the best ideas, make a plan that you share with them for their approval and ONLY THEN start creating the presentation, with the speaker as final decision-maker. That way, the VPs are involved, but are not making conflicting changes during the creation process.

A reader writes that the product manager shouldn't spend time on font size, but how to sell strategy to senior leadership. It's up to the manager to manage upper leadership during the approval process. Direct the leadership team to focus on things that will significantly impact content direction and limit approvals to the immediate boss and one above. It is unproductive to focus purely on aesthetics.

4. Remember to focus on your target audience

Brian Steeves, founder of bsteeves.com, notices the problem asks about everything except the audience:

To whom do you want to make the presentation? What do THEY want to see? If you don't know, then ask them, or ask your current clients what they want to see (i.e., believe) about your company and product. Bring these details back to your managers/approvers and ask them to define who they think their audience is.

Once you REALLY know who your audience is, you can write the message at the language level that suits them. You can also use the font and graphics style that best suits that particular group/segment/audience. This is called the mechanics of communication. You must also choose the correct colors to suit that audience and write the message in English that suits their culture. This is called cultural English.

Finally (or not), you need to pay attention to the language of the message. I don't mean English, but the intent of the words that form the message. Read a few collective agreements written by the various unions and you will understand what intent means. Always write the message for the intended audience. You may have to create several presentations and use them wisely. The same words mean different things to different people or groups because they read your message based on their own agendas.

Keep the jargon out of your writing and always, always, always have a real editor review your work. Poor English always creates a poor image of you, your company, your product and your customer. Care enough about your client to show them your best face.

Vicki Wright provides an important reminder that when reaching a particular audience there is more to the presentation than slides:

I teach advertising account executives and creative people techniques for making presentations, and the most important component is keeping the audience's attention on the speaker, not on the slides. It is the conviction, enthusiasm and personality of the speaker that make a presentation a success. Therefore, it should never seem that the speaker is just reading every word on the screen, as if the audience members were illiterate. Instead, the slides are visual aids to the presentation—at most, snippets of the words the speaker will be saying, never the whole speech.

If you are showing samples of your work, follow this tried-and-true rule: KISS—keep it simple, stupid. The slide graphics, effects, sound effects, etc., should NEVER compete with the content. Unless you are presenting to elementary school students, entertainment is probably not an essential component. If the speaker is so dull or uninspiring that people feel you must beef up the PowerPoint with bells and whistles, I suggest you get a better speaker to do the presentation—someone with the experience and enthusiasm equal to the topic.

Presentations are forever a part of the corporate world. It's how the speaker and the material are presented to the target audience that is most important. Remember the slides are there to support the presentation, not BE the presentation. Put it this way, if the projector or computer housing the presentation didn't work, will the presentation survive? If not, then maybe it means the speaker is relying on the slides too much.

If your organization struggles with presentation syndrome, print this article and share it with coworkers.

If the column isn't good enough, suggest brainstorming a solution. Work to solve the problem separately instead of waiting until the next time you are creating a presentation.

Those who are pros at presentations may struggle with marketing mechanics or some other area. Share your challenge, and we'll put the crew on the job.


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Hank Stroll (Hank@InternetVIZ.com) is publisher at InternetVIZ, a custom publisher of 24 B2B e-newsletters reaching 490,000 business executives.

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