Presenting the Complicated in a Simplified Way

Talk Nerdy to Me

I have had the privilege of working with some of the smartest people on the planet; software developers, aerospace engineers, and robotics specialists. Whether you are selling software, combat avionics systems, or wearable technology, one of your challenges is breaking down the complex into terms that an audience with a range of technical capabilities will understand.

Scientists ask why. Engineers ask how. Customers, however, ask how much it costs and what value the product will bring. When I teach scientists and engineers about understanding their audiences in order to attract investors and close deals, I stress these points:

Speak in User Friendly Terms

Modify the way you present your product to account for varied levels of technical expertise. I don’t mean to imply you should “dumb it down”, but make sure you’re articulating the facts clearly and succinctly. You are looking for the perfect intersection of product information and matching value need your potential joint venture partner has.

Start with three main points in your presentation, research shows that people can only remember three ideas at a time. You can always take more in-depth questions later. It also doesn’t hurt to draw pictures to explain concepts, do a demo or give your audience something to touch and feel.

Calibrate Your Presentation Style

You are not just selling your product. You are selling yourself. People will remember you as much or more than the product itself.

The importance the customer places on you in relation to the attributes of the product varies depending on cultural background and country location.

-In the Middle East or Latin America, potential customers will place more value on knowing and trusting you than on the product itself (at least that will be their FIRST concern). Share more of your personal background and get to them as individuals first.

-In Central and Eastern Europe, the product will be the primary focus but people still want you to come across as credible and interesting. Share your credentials and training to establish trust.

-In the US, you want to amp up your selling persona; American customers are accustomed to more extreme sales tactics. US audiences like showiness, hyperbole, and attention-grabbing strategies.

As this post notes, you have to customize your presentations and your demos. Do the background research to understand the priorities of your audience. You can learn a lot from something as simple as following a potential investor’s LinkedIn profile or Twitter feed.

Network Before and After the Presentation

Be purposeful in planning not just the content of your presentation, but the ways your audience will be able to remain in touch with you. Make sure you leave time after your presentation to talk 1:1 with potential investors.

Package your contact information in such a way that the audience member can easily look you up afterwards. Design a unique QR code, incorporate your social media information on a creative card, do an activity that gives you THEIR information so you can be proactive about follow-up.

High tech products are proliferating the marketplace. If it’s your job to invent one of these products, it may be tempting to stay back at the lab. Applying these simple strategies, along with intelligence and tenacity, will help you get out and share the exciting new developments you’re working on – and get credit for them.

Before an important event, contact Melissa to refine your presentation and presentation style.

Don’t Go Global

Global Business

If your business is considering going global, it is easy to have “stars in your eyes” about what that expansion can mean: lucrative profits, a more prominent image, the prestige of being “multinational.” I am here to tell you, those positive outcomes won’t happen without thorough, deliberate planning.

Don’t go global if…

IF Your Management Team Hasn’t Traveled

If your management team has not traveled to the locations where you have market opportunities, your decision to “go global” is premature. It is critical that executive and management teams are briefed not only on the market potential but also on the reality of life in the country where you plan to expand. They need to see it, touch it, feel it to internalize a deeper level of knowledge. They need to explore a dimension beyond “number crunching” and the analysis that brought this country onto the radar screen to begin with. They need to hear what the people in the country think about your product. You need to know if you have allies, foes, or neutral parties.

Don’t go global if…

If People Aren’t Connected

One of the more daunting challenges of a global expansion is the creation of an “us” out of an “us” and a “them.” When you speak different languages, have different customs, and span multiple time zones, what can bring you together? When I recommended “decorating with geographical themes,” I wasn’t intending to imply that a map on the wall would make everyone globally savvy immediately. However, I travel frequently and continue to be mystified that global organizations don’t even have different clocks on the wall to represent what time it is in their various offices.

Recognize the value of people meeting one another face to face. As Alex “Sandy” Pentland stated in this post, “35% of the variation in a team’s performance can be accounted for simply by the number of face-to-face exchanges among team members.” I also recommend taking a note from Dr. Atul Gawande’s Checklist Manifesto: find a way to create an “activation phenomenon” in your new global organization. (The “activation phenomenon” means a team feels more interdependent and connected, and therefore more jointly responsible for outcomes.) Dr. Gawande includes in his checklist for successful surgery making sure every member of the surgical team introduces themselves in order to know each other by name. He notes, “When introductions were made before a surgery, the average number of complications dipped by 35 percent.”

Don’t go global if…

If You Aren’t Willing to Invest

Once the decision has been made, your organization must strategize. John M Hamalian, speaking of effective strategies, said, “A good strategy will both zoom out to the big picture and zoom in to the specifics needed to achieve it. A strategy skewed too far to either side will be unbalanced.” Appoint a team to be responsible for balancing the ambitious goals of your global expansion with the fact that someone (or many “someones”) in the process has to be fastidious about the details.

It is tempting to say “we need to commit our funding to expenses like buildings, land, and equipment.” Don’t leave training out of your budget. An investment in training now can reap big benefits later. Consider the power of a relatively small investment in components like materials, trainer fees, and training facilities to exponentially increase profits through improved communication leading to optimal productivity and efficiency.

IF you go global without taking these steps, you may find yourself and your organization on a “return trip.” Many organizations have abandoned the effort after spending valuable organizational resources. (This article profiles some notable failures of American businesses overseas.)

Don’t be one of those failures. Get past “Don’t go global if” and work toward “Go global when.”

I make it possible for organizations to prepare for successful global expansion. An important part of this program is the creation of a “Global Expansion Toolkit” that your organization can use during the planning, implementation, and evaluation phases of your expansion. Visit my website at for details.

Creating a Culture of Feedback

Giving Effective Feedback

Feedback is a necessary component to doing business successfully, particularly when working globally. Studies have shown that employee engagement soars when a culture of feedback exists in their company. It has also been proven that employees are more satisfied at work when they receive regular feedback. It is one of the number one issues that come up in employee surveys (in an of itself a feedback tool), and when asked about their opinions, individuals regularly ask the question whether their feedback will be integrated into actions taken by the organization.

Companies have unique, and not so unique, methods of responding, delivering accolades and offering criticism.

Accolades are also relatively unproblematic, everyone appreciates them if they are sincere and well-meant. However there are cultures that feel too much praise is a nuisance, they assume there must be an exaggeration, or wonder if the source trustworthy if real content or action cannot is not referenced. But for the most part, people can live with praise in its various forms.

Where most organizations could use assistance in delivering feedback is in the area of criticism, or as it is sometimes more diplomatically called, “constructive feedback”. Thus, this article provides five steps your global, cross cultural, and diverse organization can use to create a culture of feedback – a culture in which you learn to give and receive constructive criticism and translate it into success, efficiency and productivity.

3 Steps to Creating a Culture of Feedback

1. Define Team Culture

More often than not, teams rely on inexplicit cues to orient members to the desired behavior. Additionally, the team lead or project manager usually sets the standard for such cues. It is critical to become conscious of expectations and then to define the team culture. Once the existing culture of your organization, team or group is defined, it is only then possible to develop a plan of action for creating a culture of feedback.

In order to define your organization’s culture, ask the following questions of team members:

What are the keywords that best describe your team?
How do people express pleasure or displeasure?
What is the meeting culture?
What are the preferred communication tools (email, IM, etc)?
How are individuals oriented towards time, space, or relationship to co-workers?

2. Agree on a Style

From a young age, people learn a culturally “appropriate” way to express their opinions, agreement or disagreement, as well as a willingness to respond to a request or required deliverable.

Direct cultures will use the word “No” when they disagree or haven’t been convinced yet. By contrast, indirect cultures will use the phrase, “Yes, and…” to share another opinion or idea if they don’t agree or are not yet convinced. For example, “That’s a good idea, however, we might want to look at other options, too.”

Direct cultures find the perceived vagueness of indirect cultures frustrating, and by contrast, indirect cultures can become easily offended by a direct approach. It is nearly impossible for emotions not to rise. However, it is possible for your team to agree on a style of message delivery that suits everyone.

3. Optimize Communication Tools

Communication tools and the way they are used are taken for granted. Everyone knows how to write emails, host a video conference, or send an instant message (IM). Most teams use all forms of communication. However, there is quite a bit of virtual miscommunication and misunderstanding in global teamwork, particularly when negative topics are discussed or critical feedback is delivered.

Take time in your organization or group to talk about and decide explicitly how and when the team will use all available communication tools. Set guidelines, rules, best practices, or standards for email, IM, phone, and video conference usage and stick to them. To do this, refer to the team culture, what your standards are in communication generally, and particularly how feedback is given and received.

To create a culture of feedback, discuss and set standards, hold people accountable, and review results. In time, your organization will operate seamlessly and team members will exhibit a strong sense of trust in the team lead and members.

Contact Melissa to host a workshop on how to deliver effective feedback to peers, customers, and other business partners.

Performance Reviews, Ugh

Does the task “prepare performance reviews” keep falling to the bottom of your “to-do” list? The responsibility of providing feedback to direct reports often finds itself relegated to the “have to’s” of our work lives instead of the “want to’s.” I firmly believe that performance reviews can be beneficial to you as a manager, to your direct reports, and to your organization, when done right.

Doing performance reviews right, though, takes deliberate effort and planning.

Some organizations, such as Adobe, have transitioned to year-round coaching-based approaches, 360 degree evaluation processes, or real-time status communication software like 15Five.

If your organization still requires traditional performance reviews, make them assets by:

Incorporating Clear Objectives

As much as companies try to create systems and scales to quantify performance and therefore be able to give a rating, both parties often walk away from the evaluation process feeling vague at best and demoralized at worst.

Your direct report should be well versed on the content of their objectives long before your performance review meeting. If the objectives are not SMART, it may be time to go back to the drawing board in order to collaborate on objectives that your employee is enthusiastic about (and that help your business be profitable).

Preparing Your Delivery

The work of a performance review happens long before you are sitting across from one another. In addition to designing the objectives and tracking the progress, you need to be prepared to deliver the review in a way that encourages. This can be a challenge since many people associate performance reviews with negative possibilities and go into the meeting on the defensive.

Preventing Surprises

Have you been having conversations along the way? Touching base for check-ins frequently? There should not be any huge “surprise” moments in a performance review.

Shifting the Focus from Numbers to the Reasons Behind Those Numbers

While a specific set of objectives is part of an effective performance review system, your ability to extend the conversation to the reasons for progress (or lack thereof) is going to make an impact on the usefulness of the session.

Seeing the Big Picture

The performance review can be integral to helping your employee design their career plan. Who is in a better position to help them understand the strength they have to bring to a new position, the weaknesses they need to work on, and the additional networking they need to do than someone who has intimate knowledge of their work product (i.e., YOU). If your organization is truly forward-thinking, they will make career goal-setting a part of every performance review.

Recognizing the Legality of the Performance Review Document

Although many organizations have loosened their performance review procedures, the performance review document is still a legal document. Although many performance reviews end up filed away and do not see the light of day again, keep in mind that they are a permanent record. Mark Grove, Human Resources Consultant, emphasizes the potential role of performance reviews in legal proceedings. They can be called up on to document goals achieved or not achieved, promises of training kept or not kept, and other employee feedback relevant to an individual’s record.

Despite the current break some organizations are making away from “traditional” performance reviews, the bulk of organizations still require some form of a traditional process. I choose to frame them as a positive part of organizational life. When done well, they can encourage, develop, and inform.

In her article, Banish ‘Annual’ From Your Performance Review Vocabulary, Beth Miller writes, “Your organization’s approach to performance reviews should not be a carbon copy of any other company’s.”

How can you create a performance review system that is unique to your organization yet consistent with these reliable principles?

I work directly with organizations to improve their performance review processes. Visit my website at Lamson Consulting for more information.