Presenting Ideas

For the rest of this month I’ll be putting together a series of posts that focus on presenting thoughts and ideas in a way that people will understand and gravitate towards. If you’re a seasoned presenter then nothing here will be new. Much of the posts will be based on Garr Reyolds books Presentation Zen and Presentation Zen Design. Additional ideas come from How to Prepare, Stage, & Deliver Winning Presentations by Thomas Leech. Each of these resources help you identify your audience, your subject, your message and your desired outcome. They also help you focus on adding content and context that supports your idea rather than detracting from it. Hopefully by the end of all this we’ll all be invited to present at a local Pecha Kucha event. That’s my goal anyway, your intentions my vary widely. As always, feel free to contribute in the comments section.

A Common Innovation Language

One major challenge to any innovation effort, especially one where people from different parts of the organization are involved, is that of conveying ideas clearly and consistently. Although communication skill sets may vary widely across an organization the results can be reached more effectively with some straightforward  strategies. One of my favorite books in this area is The Back of the Napkin by Dan Roam. He describes how conveying complex thoughts and abstract ideas can be accomplished by just about anyone, artist or otherwise, through the systematic use of pictures. I’m a huge fan of white boards, the bigger the better. Multiple people can contribute – erase, change, rename, or start over completely with very little effort.  White boarding is of course nothing new, but the way in which Dan Roam approaches it is. He presents new ways of looking at problems and new ways of describing ideas. However, I also think that he’s tapped into a more efficient way of cross-functional teams to hit the ground running and quickly get their arms around a problem. It makes things much easier if everyone understands what the others are trying to represent and becomes a major advantage the more people you have collaborating. With just two people on a team the communication is easy to control, if something isn’t clear then it’s simple to ask a couple of questions and get some clarity. Becoming more and more common (I hope) is the situation where you have larger innovation teams working together – some of which may never have met each other. The problem of communicating ideas through pictures becomes ever more important then.

So here’s what I propose… The book focuses primarily on problem solving with others based on the concept of “visual thinking” or solving problems with pictures, so pick up four or five copies and hand them out to people you routinely ‘ideate‘ with. Then find a nice big wall and paint it with IdeaPaint or RustOleum’s Dry Erase paint. I’ve used RustOleum on a 13’x9′ textured wall, with a minimum of sanding and 2-3 coats [and] it worked pretty well. Next, have everyone read the book, pick a previous problem that some or all of you had worked on and go through it again after learning the concepts from Back of the Napkin. The first couple of passes through will be rough as you get your feed feet under you but it will start to make more sense as you go. You may even find a couple of different solutions that you hadn’t thought of along the way. Whatever. Once you and your team is comfortable, start teaching it to others. Slowly. Pick one or two people to try it out on. See what happens. Obviously you really can’t test it until your heads down trying to solve a problem or generating new ideas.

If you try this, tell me what happens. I’m interested to see how others deal with cross team communications through abstract mediums.

ideate – I despise this word. It sounds like something we just made up along the way to make it sound like we were working. But since it’s been around since 1610 I guess I just need to accept it. I promise to use it as infrequently as possible.

How to Solve Your Most Difficult Problems

I learned this trick a few years ago and I believe it was a tip that Brian Tracy suggested, however I can’t find it and over time I’ve refined it a little bit. The first step is to clearly define the “problem” and I find most people don’t take the time to do this. A well defined problem creates a focus that helps ensure that you’re fixing the right problem. I hear many people say “this doesn’t work” but they don’t take the time to really understand what “this” is and can’t really describe what “doesn’t work” means. There’s a big difference between “People just don’t buy from us online.” and “People are finding the online purchasing process convoluted and has too many steps, therefore they’re not buying from us.”

Now here’s where things get interesting. Restate the problem along with some assumptions like “we only have $5,000 to commit to this effort” or “we need to be launched in four weeks.”  I tend to keep people resources out of the equation as you can usually figure out how to get people to pitch in on a really interesting problem. I also tend to keep most process oriented assumptions out of the restatement of the problem. I’ve experienced that existing processes were sometimes the root cause of the problem anyway and assuming that you can’t change the process is like chewing tinfoil. It hurts and in the end you can’t digest it anyway. Now, with the problem restated, set aside about 2-3 hours that you will not be disturbed. Go off-site, disappear, turn the phone off and book your calendar because you’re going to need this time to focus. If you know yourself well enough then you should know at what time of the day you’re most creative and imaginative. For me it’s usually around 10-11AM and from 2-4PM. With your time blocked out and your phone off come up with 20 answers to the problem. If it’s truly a difficult problem you’ll start to stumble after about five answers, struggle at ten, and come to a complete stop at fifteen answers. Your true breakthroughs are going to occur in the last five answers so keep pushing. This should cause true brain-pain and if you’ve got any connection with the outside world you’ll be tempted to stop and just go with answers 1-15. If you do that then you’re truly going to miss an original thought – a true innovation that begins to solve your most difficult problem. Once you’ve got 20 you should know what to do by now. Pick the ones that seem most likely to succeed and run with them.

If you try this then let me know what your results were. If there’s any suggestions you can add to this then by all means leave a comment.

Driving Local Business Through BarCamp

Last year I attended my second BarCamp and was introduced to Sean Carey from HD Interactive. He was working on building augmented reality applications using FLEX and his demonstration consisted of the GE Smart Grid as well as a couple of things his company was working on. I was attracted to the demonstration because it lined up perfectly with what I was working on at the time for print based products. All I needed to do was figure out if we could shrink it down it a 1″x1″ image and see if GE’s app could still render. Sure enough, after a number of reductions through the copier a 1×1 image successfully showed GE’s Smart Grid. Although the render was significantly smaller it still had the detail and the interactivity necessary to push forward. After a couple of presentations with the 1×1 image taped to an existing product I started to get a lot of interest. With the ball rolling I invited Sean Carey in to present what they could do. Their presentation was pretty good and eventually led to a nationwide campaign that launched in March of 2010. If it wasn’t for the connection we made at BarCamp neither Sean nor I would have been able to bring this opportunity forward. He wasn’t pitching a product back then and in so doing was able to land a contract with national exposure.

So, even though “pitching” a product or service is banned, it is still possible to establish business connections in the local community. I think that’s one of the great benefits of BarCamps, local talent making serendipitous connections with local companies. Both benefit greatly and both become stronger because of it. If you have similar experiences, let me know or add it in the comments section.

Kindle Proliferation

I have a number of books on my Kindle for iPad and while I was writing on the Mac I thought I’d refer to them for research. It was a bit clumsy to have to go back and forth to the iPad, there should be an easier way to do this. Sure enough I searched for Kindle for Mac on Amazon and found this…

It’s a little poor on features you’d expect from an application but it does have a tab for Notes & Marks. I thought this would show other readers markups as well, just as the Kindle. Not quite, apparently it’s only for my own notes and bookmarks. Still, it’s not bad and makes things much easier than using the iPad and the Mac at the same time. Through a quick sign in with Amazon I was able to sync all my books without an issue.

The presentation is a bit awkward for everyday use but works well for what I need to do. It’s still in beta and they have pc versions as well. Hopefully this will save somebody else some time.

Speaking at BarCamp

If you’re planning on attending this year and you’re deep in the tech side of things – please take a moment and consider presenting. This might be a stretch for a lot of people but consider this… You’ll get more people to talk to you after your topic then ever. And people may be coming to you for advice if they don’t already.

Speaking at BarCamp isn’t really public speaking. It’s talking. Put it this way, what subjects are you most passionate about in technology or new media? What subjects do you know so well that you can discuss them at length with others? It can be as straightforward as using UIAlertView or you can discuss API changes to Android 2.2 and how they’re affecting your app. Wherever your expertise takes you.

Here’s a quick process to get started…

  1. What are you passionate about?
  2. What do you know pretty well and can carry on a conversation about?
  3. Find a starting point – in the first 10 seconds tell people exactly why they should be listening.
  4. Craft an ending – summarize what you covered and why it’s important.
  5. Now fill in the middle.

The middle can get a little tricky. If you’re on an advanced subject you’ll have to assume that your audience has a good background in the overall area. If it’s introductory you’ll need to assume that people have ‘heard’ about what you’re discussing and work up from there. You’re going to need to pick which audience you want to attend. Once you’ve got the middle do a test walk through and time yourself. Shoot for thirty minutes – if you’ve got a subject you’re passionate about you’ll probably end up sixty minutes worth of material. Also keep in mind that if this is your first time talking in front of a group then you’ll speak twice as fast as usual. That’s normal, don’t worry about keeping yourself composed as you’ve got enough to focus on. Make your modifications and then walk through it again.

I’d recommend that you take brief notes for your talk, just a sequential list of topics you want to cover, nothing too detailed. Don’t try to memorize your talk, just put the topics on a piece of paper. If you want to use 3″ x 5″ cards to make notes on, make sure you number them, because if you ever drop them…

Do NOT say you’re nervous or a bad presenter, or that this is your first time speaking publicly. Just don’t do it. If any of these things are actually true the BarCamp audience will ignore it as long as you’ve stuck to bullet #1. As long as you’ve met that one requirement then the audience will be on YOUR side. And definitely don’t wait until the last two or three days to do this, you’ll know you’re not prepared and you’ll bail out.

If you want, you can reach me at @sean_davis, I’m more than willing to help you get started. The more presenters we’ve got with great information (not necessarily great presentations) the better the BarCamp experience is.

BarCamp Tampa Bay 2010 – Updates

Great organizer’s meeting last night at The Grape to get BarCamp Tampa Bay up and running. A lot of great folks are working to bring this together this year. @gavinstark has now got the sponsor’s page up so if you’re in the Tampa area and looking to get in front of 300 -400 local developers and small businesses then take a look. One of the biggest questions we had walking away from this was how can we make people more comfortable with speaking in front of a group. Even though it’s mainly an audience of peers at BarCamp it’s still a major fear for people. Any suggestions in this area are more than welcome!

Also, don’t forget that the Front End Developer’s Conference is next Friday. I met the founder last night and I really like what they’re doing with this.

SMC Tampa Bay

Social Media Club Tampa Bay will be restarting soon. It’s been some time (way too long!) since the last chapter meeting, even though there’s been a lot of local http://socailmediaclub.orginterest. See the Facebook page for latest updates. We are currently re-forming and booking venues. Please feel free to post recommendations for discussion topics on the FB page as well. For those of you that are new to Social Media Club and looking to contribute, all you need to do is show up. Anyone is welcome to contribute, you don’t need to be in the Social Media industry, and you don’t need to be an expert. In fact, very few people are experts, although many will try and sound like they are or try to convince you that they are by other means. I am not a social media expert but you’ll find a lot of people who are and are more than willing to help.

BarCamp Tampa Bay 2010

This year BarCamp Tampa Bay will be at KForce Tampa, dates are September 25th and 26th.  Last years event was a tremendous success and we’re looking to improve on it again this year. The 25th will be Media Day which explains blogging, Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms to local businesses. We may even have someone explain how to measure ROI when using social media to market your company or yourself. On a personal note, I met Sean Carey from HD Interactive on Media Day in 2009. After watching a one hour presentation on what his company was working on, I saw an opportunity for both HD Interactive and Cox Target Media. This resulted in a national promotion in March of this year. So yes, you can make contacts and close business – you just can’t pitch a product or service. But if you’re passionate about what your company is working on then by all means, please show the rest of us what you’re doing. Who knows, you may even get some business out of it.

The 26th will be Developer Day with presentations on PHP, Java, mobile and who knows what else. This year we’re also strongly pushing for the Microsoft developers to come out and participate. So if you have MS technologies that you’re using or experimenting with then please come down and sign up. Everyone’s welcome!

Sponsors! Although you can’t actually ‘pitch’ a product at BarCamp, you can help sponsor the event. If you want to get in front of several hundred local developers, business owners or social media pros, BarCamp Tampa Bay is a great way to do it. Room sponsorships are available as are smaller packages. You can reach me on Twitter @Sean_Davis or contact Gavin through email. His contact information is on the BarCamp Tampa Bay site.

Innovators and Operators

The July-August 2010 edition of Harvard Business Review has an article called “How to Stop the Innovation Wars” which discusses a common misunderstanding that the ‘innovation’ side of the house must be separate from the ‘operations’ side largely because innovation is something done by a few people and without accountability or a solid process. In my opinion, if you’re a part of an on-going business then you simply cannot innovate in a vacuum, you must involve the people responsible for the day-to-day operations of the company, involve them early on and solicit their feedback. If you want to make progress with your concepts then you’ll need to come up with a rough, repeatable process that shows how things move through your innovation pipeline. For example, how do you know where and when to innovate? A simple response of “We field suggestions from the rest of the organization through a standardized process…” is fine. So is “When we sit in meetings we listen for unspoken problems, that’s where we start to look.” You might get some funny looks, be prepared to explain what you’re listening for. Specific phrases like “We spend a lot of time/money…” are excellent ways to see bottlenecks in the organization and begin to innovate new business processes or product improvements.

Once you’ve dealt with the “Where to look” question, you must next deal with the “What’s the impact…” question. “When we heard it took a lot of time and people to accomplish X, we looked into the process and found it could be streamlined without impact to other areas of the organization. There are many questions still open but based on a very simple cost/benefit analysis we’ve discovered that we could potentially save $50,000 per year for three years.” Now, if you’re on the creative side of the thought process, PLEASE get someone from the accounting side to help you with the cost/benefit. This is where cross functional teams really come into play, you probably don’t want to get near the financials and accounting probably doesn’t want to sit and listen to other people’s problems. That’s fine as both groups have their strengths. Make full use of them.

You’re going to have to deal with the “How do you come up with new ideas to solve for…” at some point. I’ve worked with IDEO Method Cards but frankly, that’s overkill for a lot of what I’m doing. An appropriate answer might be “We followed the team around all week and found…” or “We conducted interviews with the entire staff, confirmed our original assumptions and are coming up with a detailed plan to address it. We also found two more potential time savers but we will address those after this project is completed.” Either response should work but be prepared for someone else to ask the same people what you did. Their answers and yours had better not differ by much. By the way, we all know that once you find someone who says “That’s how we’ve always done it” you’ve found a gold mine.

If you’ve done your homework and were convincing you’ll probably be asked to proceed. From here on you need a plan. If you can prevent it, don’t give up ownership – you saw the problem, you potentially see the solution, so you run with it. This might be a great time to enlist a project manager. Try to find one that leans toward the creative side if you can. Good luck, I’ve met just one in twenty years. You will need someone on your team that can lay out all the steps and put a general time line together. If you keep ownership then YOU need to report on where you are in terms of that schedule. Be prepared to explain what progress you’ve made, what your next steps are and what is still left to be resolved. Be prepared for the infinitely inept question of “When will you figure out how to…”  If you knew the answer to that you’d already have the answer and you wouldn’t be reporting that it was still a problem, right? A tactful response to this might be “It’s a complex problem, we’ve made headway, we’re confident we’ll figure it out.” If you’re really stuck on a problem, now’s a great time to ask to borrow someone for a few days. Do not get bogged down trying to fix one serious problem – get as many people across the organization involved trying to fix it as possible. Do not make it look like you put the project at risk because you didn’t ask for help early enough. Also, if it looks like you can’t fix it, then friggin’ say so.

If you generally follow these suggestions then you should be making some progress easing people’s tension with innovation teams. And that’s all you’re really trying to do at this point, especially if you’re just getting things off the ground. In my opinion an innovation team that is just starting shouldn’t have a complete methodology. You can develop that as you grow. But what you need to avoid is the perception that you work without accountability and structure. Hopefully this gets you started, if there’s things I’ve missed (definitely) or you can add something you’ve learned, by all means please leave  a comment.