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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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#614: How Well You Write Depends on How Well You Read

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, July 21, 2011
Updated: Thursday, July 21, 2011
The communication skills of our consultants differ widely and I think it is largely due to the types of interests, activities and reading each has outside of the office. Would it help (and is it appropriate) to encourage staff to spend more professional development and outside reading time on topics other than consulting?

Diversity matters, not just in gender, ethnicity and age, but also in language, mental models and communication styles. How your staff enriches and educates themselves has an effect on their communication abilities and value as consultants.

Every professional gravitates toward reading and listening to subject matter in their own discipline. Lawyers read about the law, plumbers focus on mechanics and fluids, and pilots immerse themselves in safety and aeronautics. Consultants, left to our own devices, naturally lean toward reading, watching and talking about business, management, employees, customers, processes, etc. Because this dominates what we take in, it dominates how and what we write and speak about. We are what we eat. Garbage in, garbage out. And so forth.

If we only had to communicate with each other, this might be OK. However, the purpose of our intervention with clients is to improve the nature and amount of how they interact within and without their organizations. This requires us to engage many different people, cultures, experiences, styles, perspectives and vocabularies. Directly or indirectly, many people will be influenced by what we say and write. If we can speak to clearly to others, we increase our value as consultants.

When you think about the books you will read over the next year (assuming you maintain a reading list), consider how much of that time you will devote to fiction, biographies, history, science, politics, law, humor, speeches, science fiction, mythology, journal and other types (yes, you can include training, speaking, analysis, marketing finance and other consulting-related topics). Style, vocabulary, literary constructs and metaphors vary widely among these genres and together give you a powerful set of tools with which to write and speak to your client and stakeholder audiences.

Tip: It is widely recognized that hobbies provide an intellectual counterpoint to our main profession and give us a richer perspective and ability to communicate. If you don't have one, I recommend you find a range of reading sources that will force you to think in new ways, develop new ideas and grow your language and vocabulary skills. Your ability to understand your clients and communicate will continue to grow.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  customer understanding  diversity  interpretation  knowledge assets  learning  presentations  professional development  speaking  writing 

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#610: Simplifying Your Writing to Better Communicate

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, July 15, 2011
Updated: Friday, July 15, 2011
It is sometimes a little tricky deciding how complex to make my client briefings and analysis reports. Clients generally want precise and explicit language but reports that may be made public or for various audiences are best simpler. Are there any rules or advice about what level of reading difficulty is best?

First, take Albert Einstein's advice to "Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler." It is hard to go wrong writing as simply as possible, as if you were trying to explain your findings and recommendations to a 10th grader. Some consultants will bristle at this suggestion, claiming that their sophisticated analysis must mirror the complexity of the client's situation or market or strategy and all their communication demands complex language. This defies both logic and experience. Any consultant leaning on complex language probably lacks sufficient understanding of the basic principles and processes about which he or she is speaking.

Second, drifting into consultant-speak is a sure way to lose touch with your audience. You may have a vigorous discussion with your technical counterpart or the CEO using technical language, but it is the customers, staff, and other stakeholders who must eventually accept and act on your recommendations, If you want your findings and recommendations to live past the first reading of you report, put them in plain English.

You can use any of several automated tools to train you to streamline your words. These tools analyze your text for length and complexity of sentences and number of syllables per word. One document readability tool I like lets you enter text and gives Flesh Kincaid and other readability indices. This tool is really useful by telling you which sentences most violate simple language rules. Readability is stated as a grade level (i.e., number of years of education needed to understand the text). For example, Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address is at grade 13.4 (one year of college) while Dr. Seuss' "Green Eggs and Ham" is at grade 2.9.

Tip: Analyze your website, client reports, engagement letters, press releases and client communication. You will likely be shocked at how many of these communications are at college level. Use these analyses to simplify your writing. I suspect you will lose nothing of the meaning by streamlining the language.

P.S. This tip has a readability score of 11.2. A rewrite could simplify and clarify sentences without reduucing quality.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  consulting terminology  information management  interpretation  presentations  publishing  recommendations  speaking  website 

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#600: Make Your Presentations Soar

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, July 1, 2011
Updated: Friday, July 1, 2011
How can I keep my presentations focused and full of content without resorting to "Death By PowerPoint?"

Because most consultant presentations are more informing than persuading, we are inclined to reveal all we know about the subject by lots of slides with lots of content (diagrams, bullets, build slides). However, if we consider how adults learn and remember, we should resist this temptation and stick to minimal, clean content with a visual appeal. Apple's Steve Jobs has, over 20 years, evolved as a presenter into what a good consultant should emulate.

There is a simple (in theory, hard in practice) formula Jobs uses for his presentations to make them remarkably effective, and you don't need groundbreaking technology to make your presentations memorable:
  1. Plan in the Old-fashioned Way of Black-and-White - create a storyboard - on paper - with concepts before you even start dumping your favorite images, graphs or demonstrations into a PowerPoint deck.
  2. A Twitter Friendly USP - create a memorable and short theme statement for the subject of the talk that you are sure everyone will remember.
  3. Introduce the Common Enemy - central to remembering a story is a contrast between protagonist and antagonist (for Apple is was IBM), so find something notable that the subject of your talk is intended to "defeat."
  4. Focus on Benefits - instead of trying to wow your audience with all the features, which they will forget within seconds of the words coming out of your mouth, make sure they understand how they will personally benefit - they'll come back to learn about features if they are interested.
  5. Use Simple Words - without paying attention, consultants can slip into their jargon, so use the simplest words you can, which will help you boil down your message to one that resonates.
  6. Make Numbers Meaningful - especially for consultants or anyone presenting technical findings or recommendations, cast large numbers in terms that make sense (e.g., the number of widgets sold this year would fill up 30 football stadiums).
  7. Practice a lot - Jobs spends days working and reworking his talks so they are seamless and easygoing when he delivers them, often recognizing many little ways to refine the content, pace or emphasis each run through.
Tip: One final hint is the overwhelming use of graphic images instead of words. Watch some Jobs presentations and you will see how a lot of content is conveyed with only a few word slides. There are books on this topic but a good slideshare presentation gives the basics on how to make your presentations soar.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  consulting skills  presentations  recommendations  speaking 

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