Thursday, 26 July 2012

Reader's Question: Why does my boss keep asking me to redo my presentation?

I would like to thank all of you for sending in you questions. Of course I won't be able to answer every single one but since many of the questions are similar, I hope the questions that I do address will answer many of your questions.

Andrew from Kota Damansara sent in the above question, " Why does my boss keep asking me to redo my presentation?" and sent me a copy of one of his PowerPoint files. After reviewing the file he sent, I hope the following tips will help him and others faced with the same issue :

People have trouble paying attention for more than
20 minutes so keep your presentation short

1. Keep it short and to the point- Always try to put yourself in the shoes of your boss. He or she will always be very busy with many things at the same time, so if you can put your point across quickly and clearly without them having to think too much they will greatly appreciate it. The PowerPoint file you sent was very big and had 23 slides in it for a simple proposal to purchase a new version of software that your department uses. Try to keep your slides to a minimum but still getting the message across. Bear in mind most people do not have an attention span of more than 20 minutes. Your boss probably realises this and wants you to keep it short for the benefit of the audience who you will need to present to and convince.

Images in a slide must help to convey a clear message,
too many images creates clutter!

2. Keep it simple - Your slides have too many things going on at the same time. Not only is this distracting but it makes it difficult for people to follow what you are trying to say. A single image to convey a specific point should be sufficient, too many pictures make the whole slide look very cluttered and leaves a bad impression. Also too much text on the slide and reading the text is a sure way of putting your audience to sleep as they can read much faster than you can while you are presenting. Too often people create what some people call, 'sliduments' which are a hybrid of slide and document. The slides are just a tool for you to help present you case, the details should be in separate document, i.e. the formal proposal memo.

3. Tell the good with the bad-  It is not enough to just highlight the strength and benefits of your proposal. Your presentation needs to be balanced. What this means is that you also need to be able to pre-empt possible concerns that the audience may have. You need to put in a section that also highlights the possible risks that your proposal will create and also how you will mitigate those risk with specific actions and interventions. This was missing from the file you sent and I would consider this a major omission.

4. Keep your boss in the loop- As you develop the slides pack it would be a good idea to consult with your boss at appropriate intervals to make sure you are meeting his or her expectations. To start off, develop a skeleton framework of just the heading of each slide so that your boss agrees with the flow and direction of your presentation. Next check point could be fill in the key points of each slide present again for comments and feedback. Finally show your final draft for comments and approval. Involving your boss in the development and creation process will generate a feeling of joint ownership and also show your initiative to get things done right. A common mistake of many young executives is to only show the boss the final product without any communication or validation in between. Most important of all listen to the comments that you boss makes and do not repeat the same mistakes. After a few rounds you should be able to have a good model in your mind of what your boss considers a good presentation and try to stick to it.

For those of you who have sent in questions but I have not had the opportunity to answer, thank you for sending them in but please bear with me. I will try to answer as many as possible in the coming weeks. If you have an interesting question about presentations or general business communications do send it in.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Talent Management White Paper

If talent selection and retention are topics that interest you, a colleague and I just completed a white paper on the topic titled, " Selecting and retaining talent: How you do it now could be damaging your organisation PART I". If you would like a copy please send me an email at with the subject 'White paper'.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Sloppy writing: Don't let it hold you back PART IV

Keep your message short and simple

In most successful organisations, people will be struggling to balance the many tasks that they need to attend to daily. We live in a very competitive world where almost everyone is trying to standout and outshine other people to get ahead. Therefore time is a very valuable commodity.

Crystal clarity in your writing should be your goal, always!

This makes it even more important to be able to convey your message as clearly as possible in the shortest period possible. Although short and brief is preferred, it should never be at the expense of high quality content and good writing.

If you can say what you need to say in two short paragraphs, use two short paragraphs. Do not feel that you have to fill up an entire page of a letter purely for aesthetic reasons. Would you not rather read two paragraphs instead of two long chapters if the two paragraphs can tell you what you need to know?

One technique which I find extremely useful is the use of headers before a paragraph which will act as a guide posts to the reader. Instead of paragraph after paragraph of text, try to break it up into logical chunks. This creates the illusion that your piece is actually shorter. Which would you rather read, the mass of text on the left or the more structured piece on the right?
Even short notes or emails can benefit from good formatting and the use of headers and bullet points

Another technique is the use of short idea/concept summary at the start of your paragraphs/key points that will help to lead the thoughts of the reader. Take a look at the examples below:


Company ABC offer the following advantages in their proposal:

1. Their proposal is the lowest among the 5 bidders and they provide many value added services not offered by the others.
2. They are committed to completing the project within 7 weeks.This 1 week earlier than their closest competitor and within the estimates of given by our internal technical team.
3. All their staff who will be attached to this project have a minimum of 7 years experience in managing similar projects of equal complexity. The other bidders offer much higher variation in experience among their team, with some having only 2 years of experience.


This is the alternative:


Company ABC offer the following advantages in their proposal:

1. Lowest Cost -Their proposal is the lowest among the 5 bidders and they provide many value added services not offered by the others.

2. Fastest completion - They are committed to completing the project within 7 weeks.This 1 week earlier than their closest competitor and within the estimates of given by our internal technical team.

3. Most experienced project team -All their staff who will be attached to this project have a minimum of 7 years experience in managing similar projects of equal complexity. The other bidders offer much higher variation in experience among their team, with some having only 2 years of experience.


Notice how we introduce the key idea at the start and then provide details rather than make the reader have to think. Guide your reader's thinking and you will get your message across better and clearer. This also increases the probability they will agree with you and approve what you propose!

Less is MORE!

Unfortunately it is much harder to write less than it is to write more. Far more effort is required to edit and rewrite material until it becomes short, concise and clear. Always review what you have written and see if you can summarise what you have written so that it can be more shorter and easier to understand.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Sloppy writing: Don't let it hold you back PART III

Put yourself in the place of the reader


Take a random sampling of everyday business communications that you receive such as e-mail, reports, memos or faxes. Divide them into 4 categories bad, good, better and best.
Try to find at least 3-4 samples for each category.

Now examine the pile of poorly written material and take note of what the badly written material  have in common with each other. Here may be some common traits that you would probably find as well:

• Too wordy
• Long winded
• Takes forever to get to the point,
• Poor grammar
• Key message is not clear,
• Boring

Now do the same for the written materials that you consider the best. List down what you find they share in common. Listed below are some of the things you should be able to identify:

• Concise
• Simple to understand
• Grammatically correct
• No spelling errors
• Neat structure
• Easy to understand
• Interesting

We all have a preference for well written material, therefore we should write in the same way. Unfortunately, in reality most of us do not give much thought to whatever it is that we are writing in the course of our daily work.

To set yourself apart from the rest of your co-workers you will have to show the ability to write well. Even if you are still far away from becoming an talented writer, there are many simple tips that will help you to significantly improve the appearance of your writing skills.

The word processor you are using now ( most likely Microsoft Word ) has many useful functions that can enhance the quality of your writing. Firstly is the spell check function. Never send out any written material that has not been checked for spelling errors. Although it might be OK for most people to make a few spelling mistakes in their work, if you aspire to become a 'Star', this is unacceptable behaviour.

The appearance of even a few spelling errors will send the signal that you are
careless, lazy and do not pay attention to details.

Often we find we are using the same word over and over again. This creates the impression to your reader that your vocabulary is poor. An easy way to address this is to use the thesaurus function in Microsoft Word. Highlight the word you would like to change and go to the Tools menu and look under language and you should find ‘Thesaurus’. The thesaurus will provide you with a list of alternative words you could use to replace the word you highlighted earlier. If you do not have Microsoft Word , you will need to use alternative methods such as manually checking the spelling of uncommon words. Indirectly too, this will improve your vocabulary.

Ask a co-worker you trust to  read through of your written material before it goes out to the intended recipient. Often we fail to realise that a fresh pair of eyes will be able to spot weaknesses and shortcomings in our own work that we would not notice. Asking someone to review your written communication even if it is a subordinate should not be regarded as a sign of weakness.

Of course good writing is a rare commodity, hence it would be unrealistic to expect to become an excellent writer overnight. Study and make a mental note of the written materials that you found to be of outstanding quality.

Write in the manner you would enjoy reading yourself and always use language that is suitable for your audience.Most of all keep on practising your writing skills.


Monday, 25 June 2012

Sloppy writing: Don't let it hold you back -PART II

Know your audience and tailor your message to the audience

The best written report packed with the right data will not be worth very much if it fails to meet the expectations of the intended audience. Good writers will craft their message to their targeted audience or better yet, a specific person. They way you would write for the company chairman would be very different to the way you would write on the same subject matter to a group of junior executives.

Unfortunately this does not apply to style of writing!

Unfortunately most young executives fail to realise this very important rule and know of only one way of writing to everyone! Of course its easier to do but this is not what people who want to be come Stars should be practicing. There are no shortcuts to creating excellence, effort needs to be put into it.

Make sure you are aware of the prefered formats for the different people that you will be writing to. The format for a Board of Directors paper will be radically different from the format for a memo to your Boss. Utilise your network within the company to find out the individual preference of the various people who you will need to prepare written materials. Some people need to know the details whereas some people are more interested in the ‘Big Picture’ issues.

Azhar  was a young executive who was asked to prepare a discussion paper for a Board of Directors meeting by the Chairman. After seeking the advice of his office mates who had worked with the Chairman before he found out that the Chairman was formerly an academic and was used to a very academic writing style.

Good targeted communications gets good results!

Taking this que, Azhar produced the paper with extensive references listed in the bibliography and included footnotes as further reference in his paper. The Chairman who had not seen such high quality work since he left the academic field was very impressed. Whereas most people would not have taken the trouble that Azhar did, his extra effort differentiated him from the other young executives in the company.

Even a single badly written piece can be potentially very damaging, be careful.

On the other hand , it is an unfortunate fact of life that it is the single, badly written proposal that the important people in your career will tend to remember more, rather than the dozens of good assignments you have delivered in the past. You are only as good as your last piece of work.

Finally the language that you use must be suitable for the audience that you are trying to reach to. A memo to the CEO outlining the key strategies of your latest advertising and promotions campaign will not be written in the same style that you would be writing a memo on the same subject to the corporate communications manager. Whereas it would be acceptable to use advertising jargon with the communications manager, it would not be the case for the CEO unless you have information which suggests otherwise.

Remember, be clear in your mind who you need to communicate to and tailor your message to them and what matters to them. If you like this and the previous article, do come back for parts III and IV or subscribe via e-mail so that you do not miss it. I would also be grateful if you could like and share these articles with you friend who you think may benefit. If you have a point of view, do leave a comment. I would love to hear from you.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Sloppy writing: Don't let it hold you back


“Take advantage of every opportunity to practice your communication skills so that when important occasions arise, you will have the gift, the style, the sharpness, the clarity, and the emotions to affect other people.”

 Jim Rohn  American Businessman, Author, Speaker, Philosopher 

Often the very first impression you make on other people you come into contact with at work is through what you write. Think about the way you secured your first job, the covering letter that you sent with your resume and your job application was the first thing the organisation you now work for saw of you. If the HR department was not impressed by what they read, you probably would be where you are today.

Time and again the first thing that senior managers will see of a new young executive is a memo or a report that they prepared. That memo could send the message that this person is a potential 'Star', who would be an asset to the company or it could send the opposite message that this person is merely 'Deadwood' who will not have much of a future with the company.

Many senior managers agree that one of the things that they look for in employees, especially at  mangerial levels is excellent written communications skills. Good business writing is high on the list of key competencies for top quality job candidates. As more and more business communications is conducted via e-mail ( which demonstrates how well you can write concisely) your writing skills will become a differentiator.

None of us are born as gifted writers; good writing is a learnable skill which requrires frequent practice and knowledge of the right techniques to use.

Learning to write well and effectively at work need not be a painstaking and mysterious goal. Even if you have tried and failed before or have never given it much thought in the past, if you conciously make an effort you too can become an good business writer. There are many good books that have been written on this subject by countless authors however you may wish to use these 4 key rules that I have used successfully to this day. For todays blog post I will touch on the importance of a clear objective.

Be clear on what it is you want to say

A common mistake I see very often is that people do not stop to think about what it is that they really want to say, but instead go straight to the Microsoft Word icon and start typing the first thing that that comes to their mind.

Often poor writing is a reflection of poor, underdeveloped thinking. It is important to be clear on the key messages that you want to convey. For example you are writing an e-mail to a potential customer, pause and think about why you are sending the e-mail. Are you trying to start on cement a relationship? Are you sending off a covering letter to accompany a set of catalogues that the potential customer requested? Are you trying to clarify a point raised by the customer during an earlier meeting?

The 1st Rule of Good business writing is that you must have a clear objective. One tool that I have found very effective when I am starting to write anything from a one page memo to a 20 page discussion paper is a Mind Map.

Take a clean sheet of paper and write the central theme of what you will be writing. From that central theme, write down your key points as the main branches on your map. You then proceed to further develop your key points into the details of what you will be writing, these will be the smaller branches coming from the main branches of your mind map.

The mind map you produce will be the outline of what you will eventualy write. Each branch of the Mind map could be a paragraph or it could represent an entire chapter. Find out more about mind maps here.

It is also good to make sure that you have done the required research to ensure that what you write contains solid substance  (references, quotations, facts and figures,etc) and not merely generalisations. You must be confident of what you are writing and having credible material will help you to show that confidence.

Planning what you want to write before actually doing the writing will significantly improve the quality of your written communications.

Comeback for my 3 other rules of good business writing or subscribe via email to ensure you do not miss them. If you like this or other articles please share via Facebook or Twitter.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Annoying, Pretentious and Useless Business Jargon

If you enjoyed my previous posting on using simple language you may want to give this Forbes article a read as well. Some of the terms may be very North American centric but overall quite an entertaining read. Enjoy!