This month's issue: Effective Presentations.  
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Simple. Powerful. Elegant.

A Newsletter from Creative Ventures

Issue #122

Big News

It seems like the idea from Rudyard Kipling’s epic poem “If” is appropriate for what’s going on at Creative Ventures:

 “If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run…”
Here Kipling is saying take advantage of every moment, squeeze time for all it’s worth.  Well, we are certainly squeezing.  We squeezed two keynote addresses, one on Elegant Simplicity and one on Repeatable Successful Acts, that took me from Phoenix to Minneapolis and back to Austin in just a couple of days.
We do a lot of work in the financial services industry and those folks have just had a huge new challenge dumped in their laps by new Department of Labor requirements.  We are working with a number of our clients on attacking this new test through the one tool that will dictate how anyone understands the issue, the power of STORY.  Our Once Upon A Time story platform is perfectly suited to provide separation and differentiation in this new reality.
I'm writing a book. I've got the page numbers done.
 --Steven Wright

I’m actually a little farther along.  I just sent Chapter 10 of 21 of the Repeatable Successful Acts (not the working title) book to my brilliant editor in the hopes she can make me sound like I know what I’m doing!
Colin has been leading the work with a former client who is back with a new project.  As project lead he is coordinating interviews, designing project teasers, and creating the templates that will carry the project forward.  This is the first time we have been asked to adapt the study process that yielded our RSA data to enable a client to capture their own internal repeatable successful acts!
Here is the latest OVER COFFEE VIDEO highlighting a strategy from our Elegant Simplicity platform. In this episode, we focus on how to create an environment that is  conducive to success.


The Idea


"Whenever I read statistical reports, I try to imagine my unfortunate contemporary, the Average Person, who, according to these reports, has 0.66 children, 0.032 cars, and 0.046 TV's." 

- Kato Lomb

We live in a society and a business culture where we are bombarded by statistics, surveys, and unimaginable numbers that cause us to take pause, trying to figure out what they mean, but still our eyes glaze over and we check out.
Time and time again I sit through horrible presentations whose effect would rival the Hindenburg’s impact on blimp travel.  I see speakers start talking about numbers.  I see them try to make them relatable to the audience through the use of visuals in the form of charts and graphs. This happens all the time, graphs that are supposed to depict something important but when shown on a big screen could be anything from the Richter Scale reading of an earthquake to someone’s latest cardiogram.  The charts and graphs appear in presentations as support of a connection point the speaker is trying to make, but invariably they are wedged in among text.  Their supportive description is in 9-point font.  The speaker almost always apologizes for the image with something like, “I’m sorry. I know you can’t see this slide.”  STOP!  This might make a good handout, but it should have NEVER been in a visual presentation.  Good rule of thumb: if you have to apologize for a slide, get rid of it!  There is a good reason.
We are visual creators.  A huge hunk of our brain is devoted to understanding and interpreting visual cues.  The moment light hits our retina, the process of sight and visual recording begins. By the time a picture gets to our brain it has gone through multiple layers of circuitry. Images make their way to the primary visual cortex where they get stored and analyzed.  It takes place in the blink of an eye, recently timed at 13 milliseconds. We are very quick to see and understand.  Even when we are reading a book, our brain goes into visual mode and starts making little brain movies. 
We have evolved into a picture world.  500 million images are shared and uploaded into social media every day.  10% of all the photos taken by mankind have been produced in the past 12 months. 
Numbers have their place in what’s going on; however, using only numbers to engage people in an idea is foolishly near crazy. 
When Apple introduced the Macbook Air, it didn’t give us the dimensions of this new piece of technology; instead, it showed an image of the iPad being slipped into a regular manila mailing envelope.  If you want the actual dimensions, look it up.  All we needed to see to understand how thin it is was a simple image.  We see an image, we get it. 

The recent heavy rains in Texas dumped over four trillion gallons of rain on the State.  HUH? Four trillion?  Fortunately, the article announcing the deluge said that amount of precipitation would fill almost 1,000 Rose Bowls.  Now I know that Rose Bowls are not necessarily a normal measurement metric-- How much Coke did McDonalds sell last month?  Oh, about 2 ½ Rose Bowl.--but it did give us a “feel” for the vast amount of rain. 

At the horse racing track, we know things in “horse metrics.”  A close race is won by a neck, head, or a nose.  Someone might ask how far away something is and have the answer given in football fields: “about five football fields.” Images that make numbers real.
For us, understanding numbers is all about giving us something we think we can relate to and giving it to us in an image.  Let’s take the big numbers we hear all the time, million, billion, and trillion.  These numbers are tossed around by business and government like frisbees (or fertilizer!).  They are almost devoid of meaning, but if I relate them to something common, like time, they become really interesting:
  • A million seconds ago was 12 days in the past.
  • A billion seconds ago a new car was $9,000, the Chernobyl reactor had its meltdown, and Mike Tyson became the youngest heavyweight champion in the world…30 years in the past, 1986.
  • A trillion seconds ago, well, there were no pyramids in Egypt and the idea of written history had not even been thunk.  It was 31,000 years ago.

When our job is to communicate an idea in our process of designing a presentation for our own platforms or when we are hired to consult on a client’s presentation we use a concept we call the “architecture” of the communication task.  Architects show sketches and produce models to get the idea of a design across to their clients, and that’s the same goal as any presentation, be it a sale, ongoing education, or just an update.
The goal?  Make the idea understandable and relatable to the audience.


Do This!


Think perspective!  If I were sitting in the audience would I understand the idea I’m trying to communicate? There are only two parts in this equation; sender and receiver.  If I can understand the impact of both roles, I can see opportunity.   It makes no difference if the audience is a single person where the idea is pitched over an intimate dinner or an audience of a thousand crowding a convention center space.  Broaden your perspective.  If you pause at any part of your analysis and think, “I’m not sure on this part,” that’s a sure sign you need to give that section more critical and creative thinking. 

THIS IS A JOURNEY AND YOU ARE THE GUIDE: From start to finish any engagement in an idea is a journey.  A dentist explains to a patient that twice a year teeth cleaning is a good idea for the health of your chompers.  The dentist is probably fighting a small (or large) amount of fear in patients, and even that simple explanation is a journey.  A dentist will often use images to explain a procedure.  In any idea or sales presentation (and teeth cleaning is a sales pitch!) I want a damn good guide, one that won’t get me lost a few moments into the journey.  Put on your pith helmet and be my guide.  Make the journey simple, powerful, and elegant.  Don’t get me lost.  Give me a clear image, a visual map to my destination.  Without a guide, I won’t get it.  I will not make if from point A to Point B, much less to the destination.  Thinking about your role as a guide will help you create the connection.

NOT JUST PICTURES: I’m not talking about abandoning all text when communicating an idea, or cutting the cord on numbers and graphs.  I’m saying think about the impact you are trying to create.  Recently I saw an update presentation.  The purpose was simply to let everyone know how things are going.  It was delivered in a PowerPoint deck that had a light blue background, and the presenter chose to use white colored text. No one could see what any of the slides said.  Not thinking.  If you need a graph, think about a pie chart; everyone gets a pie chart.  If you need an XY axis graph, make it big.  Let us know what the axes mean.  If there are multiple lines, use different colors.  Make it BIG on the slide.  Our brain loves a combination of an image and simple text, but simplify the number of words and make them big.  You are only delivering an idea.  If the audience needs more, provide that in a handout!



In 2015 Google decided to reorganize their mammoth undertakings by putting them all in one global conglomerate they named Alphabet, Inc.  This new holding company includes not only the search giant Google, but all of their companies working in technology, life sciences, space travel, investment capital, and research.  All are now found in one cozy “place,” but also added to this family is a new very interesting company, Area 120.  This is their venture designed to support entrepreneurial start up ideas from their employees.  It seems Google’s leaders have grown tired of employees leaving the company to start new ventures like Twitter and Instagram.  Here’s how it works:  Submit a business plan for your new idea to the team at Area 120.  If they determine the idea has real merit, you will be invited to work on the idea full time, and Alphabet will invest in your idea.  Keep your eyes on this approach. It could result in one of the best processes for discovering new ideas in American business.

Isadore Sharp is the “father” of the 4 Seasons hotel and resort brand.  That’s an unusually grand title for a guy that just kind of jumped into building small hotels in 1961.  Over the years he learned that providing a great hotel experience was simple if you know what to focus on.  If you want quiet rooms (and everyone surveyed in the history of hotel surveys wants them) then don’t allow your plumbing to touch the concrete in the walls.  That simple touch makes things quieter.  Want great levels of service?  Spend lots of time on training and then let your employees do what they have been trained to do.  Everyone on staff is authorized to act instantly to help a guest.  To take care of his 96 hotels and resorts in 41 countries and to maintain about $4 billion in annual revenue Sharp spends a lot of time on his teams.  When they update a hotel, they always start with the employee facilities.  Workers have an open and responsive suggestion process.  Teach your teams to treat your guests like they are staying in your home.  It’s that simple.

We are big supporters of crowdsourcing and love the idea of lots of eyes looking at a problem or opportunity.  We also understand when and where to leverage the crowd.  If you don’t have a real strategy, however, you might end up saying, “Well, it sounded like a good idea at the time.”  The British government asked the public to name their newest research vessel.  Did they get names like The Endeavor, or The Chamberlain, or even The Mallory?  Nope.  The number one, overwhelming vote-getter was Boaty McBoatface!  New Zealand was thinking about a new flag design and asked for public designs. Yep, you might want to re-think this crowdsourcing idea. Yikes!


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