The lazy designer

So, I’m not a designer. But I design all my visuals myself. I’ve adapted a posture that I call “the posture of the lazy designer” and I thought you might be interested in it.

I think that good designers are – in a way – lazy designers. For three reasons:

1. They will not start a design until they have clarity about what to design. Who is it for? What’s the change? Why do we need that visual? Once you’re clear about what to design the how becomes much easier (and much more efficient).

2. They will let the content make as many decisions as possible. If your piece makes any sense, there will be tons of correlations among the contents. Make use of them. Things that belong together are placed close together, things that don’t are spatially separated. Things that are the same look the same. Things that are different look different (not just a bit but no-doubt-different).

3. They will make effective use of constraints. One color is enough to design almost anything. Two might be useful in many situations. Three? Depends. The same is true for almost anything: fonts, shapes, you name it. A good rule of thumb is this: Stick with the smallest selection unless you have a strong reason not to, i.e. unless you have a strong reason to add to the selection of fonts, colors, shapes etc., avoid it.

A mismatch?

A few things people care about:

  • feeling seen and heard
  • appreciation for their effort
  • their family
  • their employees
  • a day off with their children
  • improving their life
  • no hassle
  • not getting into trouble
  • getting a raise
  • being a rock star in their field

The things most presenters care about (judging from their presentation contents):

  • the company history
  • the leadership team
  • bragging about their achievements
  • the tiniest details of their product
  • making the deal

Well, there seems to be a mismatch …

Behind the facts

Most questions that are worth investing the time to prepare a presentation for don’t have an easy yes-or-no answer.

If they had, we could just send over the facts and call it a day. But often, it’s not that easy because facts are just facts. Much more important is what’s behind those facts and how they relate to ourselves.

Is 2 billion a lot? Is 3% worth the risk? Is the prospect to get the deal worth the compromises that we will have to make?

Rarely is the answer to these kinds of questions 100% rational. It’s much rather informed by our values and experiences. Influenced by our opinions and gut feelings. Driven by our personality and background.

The same is true for our audiences. So, when we strive to make change happen with our communication it just doesn’t suffice to stick with the facts.

It’s – in fact – required to understand the aspects that impact our audience’s decision making process: Why do they decide for something? Why against? How do they arrive at these conclusions? What influences them? How do they rationalize them?

Facts matter in the light of values. Arguments resonate in relation to values.

The good news is that this is where you can shine. Because you share the values. And you are willing to put in the effort.

The polite audience

Have you ever sat in a totally boring presentation but ended up clapping your hands anyway? Clearly, the applause wasn’t well deserved but you clapped anyway. But why? Out of peer pressure? Pure relief that finally it’s over? Politeness?

It may be polite, but the problem with undeserved applause is that the speaker doesn’t get a chance to grow. She doesn’t get to feel the consequences of a bad performance. She gave her speech. Everyone clapped. Case closed. Everything’s fine.

But what if her real goal wasn’t to get a good round of applause but to change her audience’s minds? To anchor her message in the minds of her audience? She won’t be able to verify that it worked – at least not easily. Was the customer’s decision for or against the project based on the presentation? Was it her speech that led to more employees adopting the new work culture or was it something else? When direct feedback is missing, it’s just hard to tell.

For leaders, this is an even bigger problem. Who wants to be the person to tell the leader how bad her presentation was? On the other hand, everyone likes to praise a great presentation. If it’s a bad one, we’d rather politely remain silent.

But it’s really not a helpful attitude. As a leader you should encourage your team to provide honest feedback. As a group you should agree to give honest feedback. As an audience member, be polite but also help the speaker grow – if that’s what she’s looking for.

And that’s the crucial point. As a speaker, you should be the driving force yourself. If you’re looking to make change happen, then do not wait for others. Do not rest on the status quo. Question yourself and encourage your audience to be honest. Find out who honestly tells you whether your talk is actually great.

And then go make a leap and deliver a talk that changes the world!

(PS: If you’re looking for professional grade feedback, do drop me a note!)

It’s never been easier to learn speaking skills than today.

Open up YouTube, go to TED or Greator and watch the top viewed talks. Observe what the speaker does. Take what works for you and try it in one of your next talks. Repeat.

Seriously, even if you’re not giving keynote-style inspirational talks, there’s a lot to learn. How do the speakers enter the stage? What’s their first sentence? How do they structure their talk? What kind of stories do they tell? How do they end their talk? How do they activate their audience? What do they do to raise awareness? The list goes on …

Sure, not everything that you observe will work for you. But: So what? Just move to the next talk. Really, your next step to improving your speaking skills is just a click away.

Are you strong enough for PowerPoint?

… because you need to be strong to use PowerPoint in a meaningful way.

PowerPoint can turn a great story into a great presentation. But more often than not it does just the opposite. It’s a tool to turn great content into confusing presentations.

PowerPoint invites us to skip clarity and fill slides instead. When we fire up the app, the screen basically says: let’s go and start to write everything that comes to your mind onto a slide. Making bad things worse, we recall having done just that quite recently, so we go hunting for slides that we’ve already got from previous presentations.

PowerPoint doesn’t care the least bit whether, at this point, we already have an understanding of who will be sitting in front of us, why she will be sitting there and what matters to her. PowerPoint favours quantity over quality.

PowerPoint also invites us to set the wrong priorities. When the slides start to fill up, there are all sorts of buttons waiting for us to go looking for fonts, choosing colors, drawing diagrams, designing animations, moving slides etc.

PowerPoint doesn’t care the least bit whether, at this point, we’ve already nailed our storyline, which slides we actually need to make our point and what these slides need to convey in order to make the point. PowerPoint favours “that looks good” over “that’s interesting, relevant and exciting”.

In fact, PowerPoint is happy to eat up all of our preparation time with filling slides and tinkering with the design. After all, a lot of carefully crafted slides look like you’ve worked a lot and achieved a lot – while clarity in your thinking isn’t visible at all from the outside.

Yet, audiences prefer a clear story over confusing slides every single time. PowerPoint will not help you find that clarity. It wants you to make slides. And more of them. And more. You’ll need clarity before you fire up PowerPoint. Without clarity, it’s quite likely that a lot of the time you spend in PowerPoint is just wasted. I’m even willing to take a bet that the earlier you start using PowerPoint in the process of creating a presentation, the greater the risk of wasting time.

But if you are strong enough to resist. If you answer the important questions before firing up PowerPoint. Then it’s a great tool to turn your story into a great presentation.

Be strong! Resist PowerPoint! Start with clarity!

The difference between what people buy and what they want

Many people tend to think about marketing as the art of making people want something.

I find it much more useful to think about marketing as the art of making people see something.

It turns out that to change what people want is quite difficult most of the time. But we often confuse the things that people buy with the things that people want. They are often not the same thing.

People buy a piece of software but what they want might be peace of mind (e.g. because these people are not in the “figuring out software” business but in logistics). So, if your piece of software really does spare your customer the hassle, then all you need to do is to make them see how.

When the thing you make attaches to what people want and when your communication makes them see how, then marketing becomes a lot easier than to start on a mission to change what your customer wants.

Marketing in one sentence

Marketing in one sentence: You see things that I don’t see but want me to.

And why wouldn’t I. Your thing is amazing, isn’t it?

Yet, today alone already 100 other people wanted me to see something, too. And guess what: Their things are amazing, too. At least, that’s what they were trying to tell me.

Here’s the thing: They were telling me – one louder than the other so I would be more likely to listen.

The thing is: Even if I’m listening I still need to see what you see. So, that’s your job as a communicator. Make me see the things that you see. Even better: make me feel how these things make you feel. Light me the path!

Then, I might come along. Then, I might appreciate how amazing your thing is.

The place to start: What is it specifically that you see and I don’t? Can you name it? Describe it? Paint me a picture of it? Even better: Paint me a picture inside my head?

“Would I want to listen to myself?”

That’s a powerful question.

Because your audience might feel the same way as you do. So, act accordingly. If it’s too boring, make it more exciting. If it’s irrelevant, make it relevant. And if it’s dry, bring it to life.

PS: Happy to help.

Preaching to your tribe

… only works for as long as the tribe is willing to listen to your messages.

Times change. Preachers not so often.

The problem is that preaching is about making others believe what you believe. So, ultimately it’s about what you believe.

Which might be wrong. Or outdated. Or irrelevant.

If the tribe decides to move along – e.g. because a new preacher comes along whose message resonates stronger in the new times – you preaching the same messages over and over again won’t bring them back.

That’s why great leaders aren’t preachers. Great leadership requires understanding what others believe. And then building paths from there to here. And illuminating these paths so the tribe may decide to take the first step. And then the next.

Be a leader rather than a preacher!

Spread the Word

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Dr. Michael Gerharz

Dr. Michael Gerharz