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Between 2005 and 2011, IMC published Daily Tips every weekday on consulting ethics, marketing, service delivery and practice management. You may search more than 800 tips on this website using keywords in "Search all posts" or clicking on a tag in the Top Tags list to return all tips with that specific tag. Comment on individual tips (members and registered guests) or use the Contact Us form above to contact Mark Haas CMC, FIMC, Daily Tips author/editor. Daily Tips are being compiled into several volumes and will be available through IMC USA and Mark Haas.

 

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#724: Use Humor Carefully in Your Presentations

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, December 22, 2011
Updated: Thursday, December 22, 2011
Including a little light humor in my presentations and speeches seems like a good way to improve how well the message is received. However, a joke that bombs can create a disaster. What should I do to make sure that humor is effective?

"An accountant, attorney and management consultant are in a lifeboat . . ." is one way to start a speech, or "Tom Feldman is the kind of HR Director that . . ." can kick off a client presentation. They can win the audience or start the paperwork to assure you are not welcomed back. Humor is something that needs to be planned carefully. If you can't pull it off well, then be cautious about giving it a key place in your opening remarks.

Also, consider why you think you need humor. Most consulting presentations are focused on informing or persuading an audience. Humor for humor's sake, especially if the audience doesn't know you reasonably well, is a risk. Save that great joke you just heard for your friends. If your presentation's purpose is to engage an audience, then these are most amenable to a lighter tone, if that is the culture of that audience.

A couple of thoughts:
  • Make sure the joke isn't offensive. You don't have to be mean to be funny and you might be surprised how easy it is (regrettably) these days to put off someone.
  • Make sure the humor is simple to understand. The audience should not have to work to understand it (a first principle of comedy). Don't require the audience to get obscure references or need information that few have.
  • Make sure the joke is blindingly relevant to the topic of your speech or presentation. Jokes are useful to introduce a topic or point of view, not distract the audience. Make sure the audience can find their way back to your intended topic.
  • Make sure humor is the best way to make the point. A serious topic should be expressed in ways other than humor.
  • Make sure the humor is timely. Most jokes have a shelf life - be careful yours hasn't expired by the time you deliver it.
  • Try it out on people like those who will be in the audience. This makes sure they get the joke and the point you are trying to get across.
Tip: Your talk doesn't have to include humor. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s, "I Have a Dream" speech did OK without an opening joke. So can yours.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  customer understanding  presentations  speaking 

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#723: Does Anyone Understand What You Are Saying?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, December 21, 2011
One of the first diagnostic tasks on an engagement is to review work of prior consultants for the client. Although I probably use more jargon than I should, some of these consultant reports are vague, unclear and some entirely almost unintelligible. Is this a problem for all consultants or just those my new clients have previously used?

Every profession has its jargon, concepts and approaches for which its practitioners are obligated to make clear to colleagues as well as users of their services. Do management consultants always do this? No, and there is one good reason for this. Our clients, in part, hire us for our experience in areas with which they are unfamiliar, for our perspective in seeing things in ways they may not, and for our insights into possibilities that they could not imagine. That sets an expectation that we interpret can only be satisfied by the new, the innovative and the complex. Adding to the mystery of this priestly concoction are terms and constructs unfamiliar to the reader. My own experience looking at reports done by some of the most highly regarded strategy firms in the world bear out that even heavily edited and professionally prepared slide decks contain stretches of imagination and presentation that clients assert don't make sense to them.

There are a few areas in which we need to improve. First is jargon, which doesn't sound like jargon anymore because we hear it all the time (e.g., "manage expectations," "boots on the ground," "results oriented"). Second is our use of concepts that sound good but make no sense in our work. These apply to both our application of the concepts we think we are using as part of our methodology and our communication of it to our clients. One good example is, "thinking outside the box." This implies both that you know specifically what the "box" is, and that you intend to frame the diagnosis or design in terms restricted to that "box," thereby precluding possible agility, innovation or disruptive concepts into your work.

Tip: A Forbes article on business jargon fairly well describes this phenomenon. Consultants, who are most susceptible to using it and are often in a unique position to influence it in a client's business conversations, are advised to closely monitor their use of jargon or tired business clichés.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  business culture  communication  consulting terminology  customer understanding  presentations  speaking  writing 

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#719: Contribute Your Perspective to Other Industries

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, December 15, 2011
Updated: Thursday, December 15, 2011
I have started reading trade journals from a variety of industries other than those in which I work, looking for opportunities to write articles related to my consulting services. Do you think readers will learn from my experiences in industries other than theirs?

Assuming your consulting skills deal with issues not specific to your own industry, there's no obvious reason why not. Perhaps more important, however, is what you can learn from industries other than on what you most often focus. There are consultants in those industries who have skills and behaviors you can learn from.

Professional associations like IMC, whose members are experienced consultants from almost every industry and technical discipline, are great sources of professional development. It is amazing what you can learn from someone who advises management in an entirely different industry. Seeking out experts outside your comfort zone is an important part of professional growth.

Tip: You asked about writing for another industry's trade press and I infer you are interested in this as an indirect way access prospects in those industries. Why not start by regular reading of one or more of those industry journals? Look at critical issues in these industries from your own perspective and see how you would apply your services to address them. Treat them like case studies by doing some evaluation, reaching conclusions, and making recommendations. Instead of just writing an article, and if you feel comfortable with your evaluations, short cut the process and contact a person or company that was the subject of the article directly and offer your conclusions and recommendations. Alternatively, strike up a conversation with the author of a journal article and get to know each other. You'll get some valuable feedback and perhaps some solid leads on providing your services to that industry.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  professional development  publicity  social media  writing 

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#716: Keep Your Consulting Agreements Up to Date

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, December 12, 2011
Updated: Monday, December 12, 2011
I have a basic consulting agreement but I wonder if I am missing something that is more specific to various industries I consult to. Where can I find sample contract language for a range of consulting situations and industries?

Even though sample agreements are available from many sources, we recommend you run past your attorney whatever agreement you come up with. Over time and across industries there are nuances of your situation that you might not be aware of, and legal advice is essential to protect your interests. Also, the law, business practices and technology do evolve, so that agreement that made sense a few years ago may not provide all the protection or clarity you need now.

One great place to quickly get the lay of the land of consulting agreements in various industries is Tech Agreements. This site has, for a fee of usually $35 each, copies of consulting agreements for various industries. Each one has a free view of part of the contract so you can get a sense of what it contains before you buy. Remember, this is just a start - you still need a business eye (you) and a legal perspective (your lawyer).

Tip: Read every agreement carefully. Over my career I have read a dozen contracts that had typographic or grammatical errors or, even worse, clauses that either made no sense or were potentially harmful to my interests. Often, the other party asserts that no one has ever objected before. Regardless, you are best off using your own terms in your own agreement. Always read carefully and stick to your principles by starting with your own agreement as a draft

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  contract  legal 

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#713: Don't Take Your Client's Assessments at Face Value

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Almost every engagement starts with the assumptions of the client about the problem, its causes and at least some suggestion of its solution. I don't want to be disrespectful but to what extent do we consider the client's assertions valid as a basis to start our work?

This is a great question, since it lies at the heart of the consultant's value or lack thereof. Presumably we are retained to provide independent and objective advice. This includes testing the assumptions of the client. As Will Rogers said," It ain't what we know that's the problem. It's what we know that just ain't so." If the client's assertions about the cause, problem and solution are right, then why are our experience and judgment needed at all? You are not insulting your client by validating his or her assertions - it is why you are there.

Another issue is whether a client's staff, or vendors or customers, should be considered the same way. Many organizations have a culture that represents that management doesn't know what is going on but staff really does. Or that the customer is always right - regardless of what an organization thinks of the services or products they provide.

Here is a good example of how perceptions vary widely within a company. According to a study of how companies work, managers see their companies as self-governing and egalitarian. Employees see nothing of the sort. How would you advise organizational change if you faced a client with perceptions internally differing as much as in this survey? DO you believe the management or the employees, or neither?

Tip: Consultants would be wise to treat information or emotions or conclusions provided to them at the start of an engagement as just that - firmly held beliefs of the source. All information needs to be verified and we, as independent and objective professionals, do well by not taking anything at face value.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  assessment  client staff  communication  consulting process  customer understanding  engagement management  learning  market research 

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