July 8, 2008

Three Lessons From My Third Year In The Field

Most modern calendars mar the sweet simplicity of our lives by reminding us that each day that passes is the anniversary of some perfectly uninteresting event. --- Oscar Wilde

On June 30, 2008, I finished my third year in the field. My years as a head office marketing actuary seem so long ago.

The past year taught three valuable lessons
  1. Simpler in Alberta
  2. Office 2007 matters
  3. Make concepts legible
Simpler In Alberta
I spent weeks in Alberta over different trips. The visits started last August with a presentation in Banff just before the Advocis Banff School (which I attended for the first time and described here) and ended in Calgary in late May.

While feedback confirms that my presentations (verbal and written) are effective, I knew they could be improved dramatically. But how? I reached what strategic coach Dan Sullivan calls a Ceiling of Complexity. Alberta showed how to crash through. There I learned that despite ongoing tweaking, I still provided too much education. With guidance, I chopped a 48 minute presentation on "10-8" leveraging down to 29 minutes and then 16 minutes. The audiences? A mix of investment advisors, accountants, clients and prospects. The shorter the presentation, the more questions and the more engaged the audience. Sales improved and lead to repeat trips.

Cutting away gets to the white hot centre which is more compelling, easier to understand and easier to spread. I didn't have the nerve to try a new presentation style close to home. Luckily, I had the chance to experiment in Alberta with no colleagues around. I now use this style in Ontario, except with very technical audiences.
I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead. --- Mark Twain
Paradoxically, simplifying takes more skill and more time. What can you leave out without misleading or distorting? A solution is to provide details separately via handouts (e.g., FAQ or Appendix) or links to online resources.

Even if you have a compelling message, you need tools to communicate it. That is where Office 2007 helps.

Office 2007 Matters
Office 2007 can be daunting the first time you use it. I spent 20 minutes just finding the Print button. Now I much appreciate the capabilities and ease of use that this major upgrade offers. In particular
  • eye-catching visuals (SmartArt, 3D effects, nicer shading)
  • harmonious colours and fonts (new, well-integrated Themes)
  • greater consistency between different applications
With PowerPoint 2007, you can create much more interesting presentations with professional-looking visuals (called SmartArt) and better animations. Excel 2007 is easier to use for features you don't know well and creates outputs that look look consistent with PowerPoint.

Make Concepts Legible
The relentless quest for simple and the power of Office 2007 has lead to new rules to refresh classic concepts
  • use legible fonts (large enough to see), which means less information on a page, which means more thought in deciding what to show, which means more white space, which means a more compelling messages
  • landscape layout for consistency among concepts and a "widescreen" look
  • reuse content in different applications (e.g., Excel and PowerPoint)
The Year Ahead
Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. --- Albert Einstein
In the year ahead, my passion for simple will continue. As always, I welcome your suggestions. I will continue to share ideas with you. As always, you are free to use use whatever you wish --- my anniversary gift to you.


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