Archive for the ‘Consultancy’ Category

Story Season – The Tightrope of Authenticity

Friday, February 27th, 2015 by Simon<

Those who have been following Eyeful’s Story Season over the last few weeks will have spotted a theme.

Yep, we truly love the power of story in presentations. We love the heightened levels of engagement they bring, the spark they create in audiences and the unforgettable images they create. In the right hands, they are a very powerful tool.

Yet we’re also consistently cynical about those that claim that ‘story’ is a presentation panacea. Stories fall flat on their faces when used inappropriately, out of context or as a short cut to a properly thought out proposition. They are also bound to fail if they are inauthentic.

AuthenticityOutside of all the science, the scenarios and hype, there is one simple truth – powerful stories rely on authenticity. They work because they connect, forming a bridge between the storyteller and the audience, sharing emotions, experience and ideas. In short, you have to ‘feel it’ to effectively share it.

Inauthentic = Ineffective (To The Point of Being Pointless)

We see inauthenticity everywhere, from the singer who mimes their way through an old standard to the stand-up who ‘phones in’ a performance. It just doesn’t work – the connection is lost.

It’s this authenticity issue that is one of the flaws that those with blind faith in ‘business storytelling’ seem to conveniently overlook. Marketing folk beware – foisting a pre-canned, generic and inauthentic story upon a business presenter is bound to fail for the simple reason that they don’t ‘feel it’.

Too Authentic?

The power of authenticity can, of course, go the other way – some stories are simply too emotional, too heartfelt to work effectively in a business presentation.

By way of example, allow me to share a personal presentation flaw. Shortly after the publication of The Presentation Lab, I shared a story to illustrate the power of visuals. I talked about how I felt as a spotty teenager seeing the extraordinary and shocking pictures of the Ethiopian famine for the first time. I recalled the emotional rollercoaster of Band Aid, from singing along to Spandau Ballet one minute and then sobbing with millions of other viewers as we watched the harrowing CBC news report of a skeletal child, near death, struggling but determined to stand (to a devastating soundtrack of ‘Drive’ by The Cars). And then, 20 years later, that incredible moment when she was introduced, fit and healthy, to the audience at the Live 8 concert.

The story was powerful and helped audiences understand the point I was making…but was frankly too personal and emotional for me to deliver. I choked up each and every time I shared it – the story simply proved too raw for me to tell without going to pieces so in the end I dropped it. It was too authentic.

So where to draw the line? In the world of business presentations, the power of stories come from the connection they make with an audience. Authenticity is a key element in ensuring that connection is made so treat it with respect.

Oh, and as ever, put yourself in the shoes of your audience – what would help you engage better? When traversing the tightrope of authenticity, I’d take a heartfelt but shoddily told story over a slick but inauthentic one every time. Or, like Don Draper, you can strive to get the mix just right:

Story Season – Science and Stories

Friday, February 20th, 2015 by Matt<

We continue our journey through Story Season now by taking a dip in the mysterious pool of Science and Stories. You’ll come out refreshed, thinking differently and in more detail about your presentations in the future.

Which in turn will lead to you becoming a better presenter, who has a higher chance of getting the end results that those other ‘death by PowerPoint’ presenters can only dream of.

In short, to avoid these horrible gut-wrenchingly awkward situations, we respectfully suggest you use parts of ‘story science’ to help you construct more engaging and compelling presentations.  Here’s how…

THE SCIENCE OF SUBTEXT

Subtext is the story within the story. It doesn’t matter if you’re reading a book, watching a movie, or receiving a presentation – subtext is right there.

Think of it as levels.

Level 1 is the story being told out loud. The words we actually hear and the visuals we actually see.

Level 2 is the subtext. The story underneath this that the audience creates based on what they experience.

In regards to the subtext in presentations specifically, our very own Simon Morton’s book, The Presentation Lab, has a chapter dedicated to ‘The Super Powers of Visual Subtext’.

In this he focuses on how slide visuals, such as a photograph or graphic, can illicit different emotional undertones with the audience. The choice of visual though really depends on your audience – more on this in a moment.

In regards the context in stories, in story development consultant, David Baboulene’s blog, he discusses subtext using (allegedly) the shortest story ever written by Earnest Hemmingway.

“For Sale. Baby’s Shoes. Never Worn.”

Ok, so ‘War and Peace’ it isn’t, but for such a short, nay minute story it certainly evokes a strong response from the reader.

There’s the melancholy interpretation, where you think that a baby has sadly passed away – or there’s the more positive humorous assessment, where you might think the baby was born with huge feet and grandma and granddads first gift was just way too small!

It all depends on how youthe audienceinterpret the story and create the subtext.

AUDIENCE CENTRIC STORIESheatmap 3

And this is where when it comes to presentations you need to be so careful and really consider your audience (and when we say ‘consider’, we mean more than just a passing thought – truly ponder what makes them tick, the dynamics within the group and why they are listening to you in the first place).

Again the ‘The Presentation Lab’ book recommends that you need to consider the type of personality the key members of your audience are and which group of Visionary, Factual or Emotional they sit in – in the book Simon uses something called Audience Heat Maps which can help build this picture for you easily.

Once you know what makes your audience tick it’s time to start thinking about what you are going to say and what you are going to show in order to create the right message and subtext.

THE SCIENCE OF STORIES

And this is where the science of story really comes into play…

Your audience, for the most part, will be living, breathing, heart pumping, brain controlled human beings. And it’s in the grey matter department that your presentation needs to be the equivalent of a Red Bull overload.

There is a part of our brain called Broca’s area. This gets switched on when we either hear someone speak or read some text, as it interprets and makes sense of the words.

Now that’s nothing to get too excited about. More interesting things start to happen when we get past this area to the Primary Olfactory Cortex (linked to smell) and the Motor Cortex (which is for planning, control, and execution of voluntary movements), with more and more areas of our brain working we start to really listen, understand, engage and get excited about whatever it is we are experiencing.

To get these areas started though, you need to really think about what’s coming out of your mouth and what’s written on your visuals.

Boring, flat, uninspiring words won’t get much past the Broca…

But start thinking a little bigger and adding more meaningful content and using words that really mean something then this is when things start to happen.

Talking about things with odours such as describing the smell of fresh coffee, or the smell of a new-born baby’s head – these will get the Olfactory Cortex activated, whereas the Motor Cortex is stimulated by words relating to movement, so perhaps relating to sport, or as specific as kicking or running.

Now it’s merely a case of marrying up the right words to get the audience’s brains going and turning it into presentation content that’s relevant…get the mix right and you’re onto a winner.

And if you package this up in a story, the audience will find it easier to digest and the scientific content of your presentation will see them constructing the information and subtext you want and heading towards the target outcome of your presentation.

Net result?

Improved engagement. Increased message retention. Presentation success.

You are now a million miles ahead of those presenters currently sitting in front of the TV creating tomorrow’s death by PowerPoint.

If you need a hand in putting this all together, just give us a call, we’re ready to help keep your presentations ahead of the competition.

Story Season – Talk About Who Did What To Whom

Sunday, February 15th, 2015 by Simon<

65% of the time we are speaking informally, we’re talking about who did what to whom…

Dunbar, R (1996), Grooming, Gossip & The Evolution of Language, Harvard 

Businesses thrive on successful communication. A simple concept but incredibly difficult to pull off. For it to work, it has to be clear, engaging and have a purpose but, a cursory review of the e-mails, presentations and meetings that swallowed up your diary last week will demonstrate that the ideal is a long way off the reality.

In my opinion, much of the problem lies with the way we’re conditioned to behave at work. Armed with impressive sounding TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms), an unquestioning adherence to business etiquette and ready access to technology like PowerPoint, Keynote and Excel, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of speaking as business robots whenever addressing an audience. The net result is that we gum up the cogs of business communication and ultimately grind to an unsatisfying halt. 

Story Season 1So how to ‘un-gum’ communication to your audiences, be they internal or external? Well, one of the options is the use of story. Used carefully and selectively, story can break down the barriers built up through corporate waffle and engage your audiences in a refreshing and effective way.

Let me share a very personal story to demonstrate my point…

A couple of years ago, my business went through an unprecedented and, frankly, unplanned growth spurt. On paper it looked like great news – the numbers were growing at a truly remarkable rate and we were winning new customers left, right and centre. The reality within the business was somewhat different – the stresses of demanding customers, changing goalposts and ever tighter deadlines made working at Eyeful less than fun for a while.

The first casualty was communication – and in retrospect, the signs were there for all to see. People began resorting to email more and more. This inevitably led to people misconstruing one another’s emails more frequently, which resulted in some tense conversations. The consequence was that, in a frighteningly short period of time, key people were not really communicating or engaging with each other at all. It was horrible.

I knew I had to address the issue. So I did it with storytelling.

With so many people now dotted across the world, we had no alternative but to schedule a conference call. Not my preferred method of communication, but necessity compelled us to do so.

We had no formal agenda. No slides. No spreadsheets. No visuals whatsoever.

I also set a limit of ten minutes for the entire call.

I started by thanking people for joining the call and then recalled the vision I had for the business when I started it back in 2004: to build a company that would deliver the best possible presentation services to it’s customers through a mix of great people, smart thinking and the need to ensure that each and every member of the team feels valued, respected and engaged with the business. 

I told a few short stories of how we convinced longstanding team members to join us in the first place – Sally over a cheap pizza in London, Liz through a series of increasingly bizarre interviews and the embarrassment of having my dog pee on poor Vicki when she first visited the office. I spoke of the excitement we all felt when moving to our company headquarters, “Eyeful Towers”, the peculiar novelty of our own dedicated server and the buzz we all felt when winning each new customer.  

I underlined that these everyday things defined “Eyefulocity” and made our company a special place to work. Our customers frequently commented that they felt this in the way we supported them and each other on projects. We were living the dream.

I then shared more recent and slightly less uplifting stories – when a team member was reduced to tears as a result of receiving an angry e-mail from a colleague; when a team felt demotivated by unrealistic deadlines; and the awful feeling of fear I had one morning when arriving at the office and sensing that we were slowly morphing another “normal” company.

Ultimately the presentation was little more than a series of heartfelt but authentic stories – stories that, frankly, I’d chosen to pull at the team’s heartstrings and ensure they felt the same pain and disappointment I was feeling.

IMAG0148_1It’s all too easy to overlook the importance of authenticity in the stories I chose to share – they were stories that everyone could relate to immediately. The raw sense of disappointment expressed through the stories allowed the audience to reflect on how the changing behaviours described had impacted the business’s culture, and their colleagues and friends’ happiness. With authenticity and emotion comes real power.

Without a solitary PowerPoint slide, the presentation touched everyone on that call and set the more positive agenda going forward, something we still feel today across the business. People still refer to the “Eyefulocity presentation” today as a crucial point in our business’s development —one that, appropriately, relied totally on authentic storytelling.

So ask yourself one simple question – how can you incorporate story into the next communication you share with your audience?

For more insight into the use of story, structure and visuals as part of improved communications, check out The Presentation Lab: Learn The Formula Behind Powerful Presentations

A Personal View on Eyeful Europe

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014 by Simon<

The launch day excitement regarding Eyeful Germany has slowly subsided here at Eyeful Towers. The pre-launch fine-tuning, spell-checking and frantic conversations about foreign language Search Engine Optimisation has given way to a post-launch zen-like state.

This short breather has allowed me some time to ponder Eyeful’s growth overseas. Frankly, an international presence was never part of the plan – a quick glance at what could be loosely described as a business plan from 10 years ago makes no mention of expansion overseas whatsoever.

So why, after 10 years, have we ended up with presence in North America, Russia, Ireland, Holland and now Germany? Some of it was grabbing hold of the opportunity when it arose (Russia and Ireland), some of it was planned (Holland) and some because our customers demanded support over there (North America).

Some of these international experiments have been a great success, some less so. The difference? An appetite to challenge the status quo and push presentations forward – some parts of the world have it, some don’t (yet).

Which brings me to the excitement I personally feel for our expansion in Europe. Despite differences in language, cultures and (for the foreseeable future!) currency, the UK feels more aligned to the countries of Europe than anywhere else in the World. In much the same way as when I started working with Sander in Holland to build out a team of presentation experts back in 2011, expansion of our offering into Germany doesn’t feel like a ‘land grab’. It’s deeper than that – it’s more akin to building the team than breaking new ground.clogs

In my opinion, much of this comes down to culture. We’ve been lucky enough to work with some huge European based brands over the years and have spotted a pattern around a shared culture.

Irrespective of language (the majority of our Presentation Optimisation engagements are carried out in English but many aren’t) there was a common understanding that the work we were doing was important, valid and relevant. European customers truly recognise the value of great presentations and are hungry to look beyond our undoubted design skills to something more involved and ultimately satisfying*. It’s no coincidence that the concept of The Presentation Landscape came from a tour of businesses in Holland.

Hence the excitement as we open up new opportunities in Europe – the shared enthusiasm for great presentations is infectious. It’s driving us to raise our game, throwing more time, energy and resources at innovating on behalf of our customers. Europe is awash with businesses that want to push audience engagements past the trite ‘storytelling’ and ‘lipstick on a pig’ techniques of old and grasp new approaches such as Blended Presenting. Their hunger combined with our insight and experience can only benefit audiences across the Continent.

Our experience shows that Europe is ready for the challenge…and so are we.

* It’s interesting to note that sales of The Presentation Lab in Europe dwarf those across the rest of the World. Some of this could be attributed to local marketing (our own and the publishers) but I wager a general appetite to think beyond PowerPoint slide design also has a part to play.

Last Year’s Halloween – An Apology

Friday, October 31st, 2014 by Simon<

12 months ago, we reported on the downright petrifying monster that is Presentationstein.  Frankly, we were rather pleased with ourselves in what we saw as a public service, bringing the abuse of previously loved presentations into focus.  More importantly, we hoped that our spotlight on this important issue might help alleviate some of the suffering felt by business presentation audiences across the world.

We thought we were doing the right thing…but we were wrong.  And we apologise.

12 months on, we recognise that this simple, well meaning blog caused undue anxiety to companies large and small. Marketing departments descended into chaos as they scrambled to identify the cause of Presentationstein within their own business.  Sales leaders woke up in a cold sweat, recognising that their hotch-potch approach to presentation collateral had caused the untimely death of prospects and the shrinking of pipelines.  The list of business people impacted by our thoughtless exposé seems endless.

Again, please accept our sincere apologies if you were one of the business professionals affected by this video.

With time comes clarity and so this year, we’ve taken the bold editorial decision to run the same video report but with the following important warning:

The following video contains information, scenes and images that are likely to disturb business professionals.  If you are of a sensitive disposition or having a nagging doubt that your presentation isn’t quite up to scratch, you may wish to find a friend or colleague to grab hold of before watching.

The good news is that after reference to an acclaimed book on the subject and a series of counselling sessions conducted by trained professionals, many businesses are now delivering their messages with renewed clarity, heightened levels of audience engagement and powerful messages.

Presentationstein is no more…and audiences have never been more grateful.

Stop Posting and Start Doing…

Friday, October 3rd, 2014 by Justine<

There’s quite a commotion online at the moment about the launch of the new Post-It App.

It’s obviously a clever piece of kit. It allows you to take photographs of up to 50 physical Post-It notes and then digitally manipulate them.

These virtual Post-Its can be pinned to your start screen, shared with collaborators and even exported to a PowerPoint, Excel of PDF format.

After reading a few excited posts about how useful it’s going to be I found myself asking a simple question ‘Why would I need to do that?’

Here at Eyeful we spend quite a lot of time encouraging our customers to step away from the tech.

Our tried and tested Presentation Optimisation methodology follows a path that begins with a pen and paper and there’s a good reason for that – it encourages you to think about stories rather than slides.

To me, the ability to write on a bunch of Post-It Notes then digitise and manipulate then seems like it might add unnecessary time and effort into what should be a simple process and is therefore an excellent way to procrastinate – and potentially not much else.

Bringing ideas to life and sharing them effectively is about identifying clear aims and objectives, adding a decent smattering of creativity and then pushing towards your desired outcome with some good old fashioned hard work.

If something will work better on paper, use paper – if it will work better on a computer, get typing. But maybe that’s where the genius of this app lies, in helping identify which creative path will work best for you.

It also seems to gel nicely with how we use tech today. When a teacher writes a homework assignment on the board some children write it down and some simply take a photo with their phone. I’m going to hazard a guess that most of us have taken photos of written information we need to remember or want to share (I personally confess to delighting in capturing weird signs and humorously worded instructions at every opportunity).

We store information in this way because it helps us ensure that the information is completely accurate and can’t fall fowl to bad hand writing or poor spelling (with the obvious exception of the aforementioned signs). It’s factual, unambiguous and easily accessed.

I can see great potential for collaboration too, although I might be a little nervous if I knew my hastily written and individually cryptic notes were going to be shared. I might even want to run a couple of them through a spellchecker before committing them to paper thus creating a process that would go something like this – computer – paper – photo – computer – before anyone else even got to see it.

Whatever you think about the app it does raise some interesting questions about how and why we communicate.

When it comes to presentations those are seemingly easy questions to answer – we use PowerPoint and we want them to buy our product. However the journey to achieving this effectively involves forgetting what you want to achieve and going back to basics to understand what your audience wants to achieve and if the Post-It app can help you achieve that, then I’m all for it.

post it blog

Is Short and Sweet Here To Stay?

Friday, September 26th, 2014 by Justine<

It’s no secret that we’re big fans of getting to the point here at Eyeful (although last weeks Ig Nobel 24/7 challenge was a bit much even for us).

Verbose business communications are fortunately becoming a thing of the past and while the odd 200+ slide, text heavy presentation still exists, you can be sure that we’re doing everything we can to consign them to history.

Keeping an audience engaged with relevant, understandable, information is the key to great business communication and nothing encapsulates this better than the ubiquitous elevator pitch.

While I’m personally a little sceptical as to whether an elevator pitch has ever been successfully delivered in and actual elevator, the concept of compressing your whole business into a few minutes clear communication can be powerful.

Our specialist presentation consultants work with our customers to achieve a similar level of clarity and purpose in their presentations and with all the opportunities that wearable technology could bring, we might not be far away from the elevator presentation.

But for those of you who still think that it’s not possible to cram everything into an easily digestible, audience friendly format it seems that a Japanese construction firm might just have the answer.

They predict that by 2050 they will have built a space elevator. Each elevator car will carry 30 people and its 59,652 mile journey into space is predicted to take seven days.

So in 36 years from now a 168 hour elevator pitch will be a perfectly acceptable option – until then our advice is to stick with a much more concise and audience focused approach!

space lift

Improbable Research and an (Almost) Impossible Brief

Thursday, September 18th, 2014 by Justine<

Later today the winners of the 2014 Ig Nobel prizes will be announced, for those of you not familiar with the Ig Nobel awards they are given every year in recognition of scientific endeavour that makes you laugh and then makes you think.

To give you an idea of the scope some previous winners include:

2013 – Biology and Astronomy – Dung Beetles Use The Milky Way For Orientation

2012 – Anatomy – Walking With Coffee: Why Does It Spill?

2011 – Literature – How To Procrastinate And Still Get Things Done

2010 – Peace – Swearing As A Response To Pain

All thought provoking (and often completely bamboozling) stuff, but that’s not what got me thinking.

Tonight’s award ceremony will be a food themed extravaganza that includes a mini opera entitled ‘What’s Eating You?’, not one, but two ‘Grand Paper Airplane Deluges’ and a selection of key note speakers delivering 24/7 lectures.

A little odd maybe but not too far removed from a thousand other award ceremonies, until you look a little deeper and find out exactly what a 24/7 lecture involves.

Fortunately for all involved, it’s not a lecture that lasts a whole week, in fact it’s quite the opposite.

Every speaker has to cover their subject in two parts – a complete technical description in twenty-four seconds and a clear summary that anyone can understand in seven words.

You might want to take more time than that to simply ponder how this can even be possible…

We’ve talked before about the KISS principle and we’re all in favour of clear, concise messaging. There have been more than a few occasions where we’ve helped people compress over 100 slides to less than 20 and created presentations that were all the better for it. But this (in keeping with the whole Ig Nobel vibe) is something quite different.

Before we dismiss the 24/7 notion as something almost as improbable as the research these awards promote, I think it’s worth digging a little deeper.

After all modern communication is becoming more and more sound bite orientated. When so much information is readily available at the tap of a keyboard, we’re keener than ever to get down to the important bits quickly.

A few years ago nobody had ever heard of an elevator pitch and it was standard practice to produce lengthy and detailed proposals, brochures and presentations. Times have changed and business communication has become all the better for it, but I’m pleased to report that I can’t see 24/7 coming to a boardroom near you anytime soon.

But the next time you settle down to consider a presentation it might be worth giving it a go, just to see whether you can, you might find the results quite surprising.

If it all seems a little too intimidating for you, our specialist presentation consultants are always on hand to help our customers define and refine their messaging to create presentations that get straight to the heart of their audiences thought and concerns.

IgnobleFor those of you panicking that your presentation might be a little too verbose it’s also worth remembering that you’re never going to have to present in the face of the Ig Nobles very own Miss Sweetie Poo, who, as can be seen above, takes to the stage when acceptance speeches run over their allotted one minute and repeats the phrase “please stop, I’m bored’ until they do.

Nice People Saying Nice Things – O’Brien Contractors

Friday, September 5th, 2014 by Justine<

O’Brien Contractors are a well-established business providing civil engineering and ground working services. Their ethos is centred on the marriage of cutting edge technology and traditional family business values.

With a history of providing great, specialist services they understand that if you want the best, you need to consult an expert.

Here, O’Brien Director Phil Griffiths talks about his experience of working with Eyeful…

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Reviewing the Reviews

Thursday, September 4th, 2014 by Justine<

Its six months since The Presentation Lab book hit the shelves and our initial nervousness about how it would be received has (almost) passed. Quite a few of our friends and customers have commented on how useful a resource it is but we’re realists here at Eyeful and we know that the real test is what people we don’t know think about it.

Many of us read reviews as part of the decision making process and we know that people who write reviews have two distinct areas of motivation. Reviewers generally share their thoughts because they are either delighted or incensed, reviews of a ‘not bad at all’ nature are fairly hard to find and part of the fun of reading reviews is the search for the hidden subtext and skewed perspective that may have spawned them. We know it’s practically impossible for the same hotel to be both disgusting and delightful; reviews are by definition subjective and occasionally tell us much more about the reviewer than the subject.

Reading reviews about something that you’re invested in is an odd experience. Yes, the book was written by our MD Simon Morton, but what it contains is important to us all. It’s the methodology that sets us apart from our competitors, enables us to produce engaging presentations time after time and keeps us enthusiastic about the task at hand. This is the stuff that keeps us all in gainful (and generally enjoyable) employment.

We know that our customers love what we do and that it gives them a real advantage, but our customers know us too, they’ve experienced our passion and expertise first hand. Putting all that into a book is like sending it out into the world completely unsupervised with no responsible adult to shepherd and support its journey. Finding out whether it can stand alone and succeed is nerve racking to say the least.

So, how is it fairing out there all alone in a big, bad world?

Well, despite the obvious temptation to bust the first rule of reviewing and say ‘not bad at all’ we’re going to have to shed some of our traditional British reserve and say ‘pretty damn good’. The fact that people seem to like the book is lovely, but the fact that people are putting the ideas and methodologies into practice for themselves is even better; in fact it’s bloody brilliant!

We love that one reviewer read the book and decided not to do a traditional presentation at all, we’re thrilled that people found a presentation message that works for all types of communication and we feel a small burst of pride every time the words ‘useful’, ‘accessible’ and ‘practical’ appear. It’s also worth noting that Simon felt it a personal triumph when a reviewer cited his ‘sense of humour’ as a selling point.

All in all it seems that The Presentation Lab is doing us proud just by being itself, which makes it a bona fide member of the Eyeful team!

Presentation lab soft copy