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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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#721: Use Cognitive Biases to Your Advantage

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, December 19, 2011
Updated: Monday, December 19, 2011
I would expect that all advisors want their recommendations to be judged fairly by the client and not be unduly influenced by either extraneous information or bad logic. How do we make sure that the information we present gets a "fair hearing"?

None of us is immune to cognitive bias, regardless of how much we'd like to believe we could impartially decide on the facts alone. Even where we take an oath of impartiality, there is an expectation that some biases are still present and the best we can do is to recognize them, disclose where possible, and compensate or recuse ourselves as appropriate. As a consultant, you have to sometimes work hard to avoid such biases.

When it comes expecting clients to judge your work impartially, it is up to you to understand the different kinds of biases and deliberately structure our presentations to use techniques to level the playing field. Note that deliberately introducing bias in client decision making to favor your position starts you down the path to unethical behavior.

We can't go over all the dozens of biases here but here are a few of the most important for consultants to be aware of:
  • Recency Bias - giving greater importance to the most recent event (e.g., the person who presents last before a decision is to be made has a slight advantage).
  • Anchoring - the tendency to overweigh in importance a dominant statement presented or experience already known (e.g., describing the problem in terms that discount alternative explanations or focusing on only one aspect of a complex problem before offering a solution that resolves only that aspect of the problem).
  • Normalcy Bias - discounting outcomes that rarely or have never occurred before (e.g., discounting a looming disaster even though the precursors to that disaster that have already occurred also are rare).
  • Confirmation Bias - The tendency to favor an approach or piece of information that is familiar or consistent with one's world view or history (e.g., a proposal to do "more of the current approach" has higher intuitive appeal than one based on a novel approach).
  • Halo effect - the tendency to attribute greater value to suggestions from a well-known entity rather than the merits of the item (e.g., giving greater credibility due to position or perceived market brand)
  • Loss Aversion - the tendency to place greater emphasis on avoiding the loss of something than the potential gain of the same amount of that thing (e.g., using fear to promote saving something in danger of being lost rather than using desire to promote the potential acquisition of something).
Tip: As you can see, each of these biases can be at work in how you approach your own work as a consultant but also are present in your clients when they are deciding on the merits of your recommendations. For a pretty good review of these biases and some practices to manage them, consider (among many other sources) Smart Choices: A Practical Guide to Making Better Decisions. Many of the best decision making work was done in the early 1990s and the best resources are from that era, one of those instances where newer is not necessarily better.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  assumptions  attribution  decision making  interpretation  learning  methodology  presentations  professional development 

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#712: Mind Mapping is a Powerful Consultant's Tool

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Laying out a plan of action for a new client engagement can be pretty complicated, especially if I then have to relate my thought processes to colleagues or client staff. What are some good ways to streamline the process?

If by streamlining the process you mean thinking through the elements of your engagement strategy more fully and articulating your approach more clearly, then you might try mind mapping. The process of mind mapping has been used for many years by educators, psychologists and story tellers to convey visually a series of thoughts, ideas, processes, and concepts. Rather than trying to represent these highly interconnected ideas through linear prose, a mind map visually represents ideas in a loosely radial, tree like structure (or other visual constructs).

With recent technological advances, mind maps can be much more than just graphics. White boards have replaced chalk boards as a major technological advance in drawing mind maps (that was a joke). The real advance is in software that can categorize concepts and redraw the overall mind map for more clarity, spatial organization and analysis.

The simplest mind map software tools are simply sophisticated drawing tools (sort of like Visio on steroids). These are most helpful if you are already very well organized and have the map in your head. Other tools will let you insert concepts hierarchically and reorganize, selectively display and even visualize in 3 dimensions. The most powerful tools have a strong operations and cognitive research base.

Tip: The best way to get started in mind mapping is to try out some the free (or at least free trial) mapping tools. Click here for a list of candidate mind map tools. (prepare for information overload on mind mapping books, comments and software). Start with a simple version (most companies have basic, corporate and enterprise versions) until you get the hang of the concept and a tool. Although not an explicit endorsement, I have found iMindMap a pretty robust solution for consultants and the company site's tutorials helpful to understand mapping concepts. Forward this Tip to colleagues who might find it valuable.
Let them know you want to help them in their business.


© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting process  consulting skills  consulting tools  presentations 

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#693: What is Your Consulting "Killer App?"

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, November 9, 2011
If many of the services a consultant provides (e.g., assessments, process reengineering, market research) are increasingly commoditized, and the pace of change in most industries renders "long experience" less valuable, what is left to the professional consultant to differentiate their services from any other consultant?

Every discipline, business and individual has something that differentiates it from its competitors. It could be the unique value proposition, the proprietary technology or the brand. Given the nature of the profession and the implied value of creative, customized service, the equivalent for a management consultant might be called the "killer app."

The definition of a killer app (applied to computer programs) is a program or element of a program that makes it indispensible to the operation of a larger program or a "must have" product that compels purchase of the platform on which it resides. Bill Gates described Internet Explorer as a killer app in that it was so useful that it would induce people to buy Microsoft products. In the same sense, consider consultants who have a similar service, database or capability that is so powerful that it compels clients to seek them out - despite the fact that most of their services are indistinguishable from those of other consultants. The platform is your suite of consulting services, among which is your killer app.

This is a similar to a strategic competitive advantage but does not have to be as grand in its scope. Since clients are selecting from your suite of (largely intangible) services, they are looking for some (marginally tangible) service they can relate to and appreciate as unique and valuable. In this sense, your whole practice does not have to be superior, just one or two compelling items.

Tip: Find (at least) one service, asset, capability, set of data or infrastructure that you have created, that few others could duplicate, and that you know is an easy sale to clients. This establishes your services as high value, making offering additional (non killer app) services easier and giving you a position of relative strength to negotiate their value.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  competition  consulting skills  consulting tools  innovation  intellectual property  knowledge assets  presentations  product development  prospect 

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