less is more

ni hao! one aspect of my job i enjoy most is talking with customers. whilst i relish the chance to get on the road and visit our clients in their own environment, it’s not practical to do this every month. and teleconferencing has its limitations, especially when you’ve not already met face-to-face already at a trade show. fortunately we have the luxury of an executive briefing centre in hursley, one of many in IBM labs across the world (the most recent to open being in Krakow, Poland). this means a steady flow of clients come and visit us, and the relaxed atmosphere is really conducive to digging into what our clients’ needs really are, as well as being able to tap into the expertise of the whole lab at a moment’s notice.

i quickly began to realise how much more effective these sessions could be – both for me and for my clients – when i gave the powerpoint a rest, and stopped doing all the talking, started asking questions instead and got my ears really working. to start with, the folks that organize these sessions looked at me oddly, as though i’d forgotten to prepare a slick pitch whose success was gauged by how few questions it evoked at the end. but i’ve found you can’t start presenting what you have effectively, until you know who your client is, where they are now, and where they want to go. over the past few years, i think we’ve all come to appreciate that two-way discussion beats one-way instruction.

today, i had a new experience in terms of presenting to clients. and it’s helped me do something very important when explaining the value of messaging and connectivity software – presenting via a translator. i came away convinced that anyone in product management, marketing and sales should seek opportunities to present to people who do not speak their own language. it’s all too easy to rely on 45-50 slides to convey the value, benefits and features of your offerings. why? important decisions in life can be made without so many words. and most communication is non-verbal anyway. with a bit of effort, and with a bit of distance between you and the medium of powerpoint, you can create “big animal pictures” that convey more thoughts than 20 densely bullet-pointed lists. Case in point here, is that most interest and questions in this case were generated by my “big animal pictures” about the new high availability features of WebSphere MQ V7.0.1 and another on the role messaging can play in enabling a Smarter Planet.

but most importantly, presenting with translation forces you to say less and to say it slower. rambling is out. asides are out. to be effective you have to condense your entire value proposition into two or three sentances. cutting out of the fluff like this is refreshing. and not just for the clients who don’t speak your language. presenting in this more thoughtful, concise manner means your message is no longer implied. it’s not in the slide somewhere. your message has to be lucid, direct and explicit.

if you present at all, i seriously recommend setting yourself the challenge of finding an opportunity to present through a translator to a team who don’t speak your language at all. you’ll learn a lot from just preparing with the translator anyway about how to simplify your messages and get to the point. (don’t present without  preparing with your translator!) i promise you’ll learn a lot about streamlining, condensing, communicating your messages. and if you come away from the experience as i did, you’ll be thinking seriously about honing the presentation you give to your English-speaking clients too. meanwhile i look forward to my next opportunity to present via a translator again, as i start trimming my presentations down to the raw, core message – here at my desk in hursley.

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