Quips from Fred Allen, Senior Editor at Forbes

Found these gems in a notebook. (I heard Fred Allen speak at a workshop of the Association of Management Consulting Firms earlier this year.)

1. It’s 2013, nobody pays for ideas, they pay for execution. (On the many freelance consultants employed by his online magazine)

2. CEO’s are generally curious people. (On his main type of interviewee)

3. Headlines should be crystal-clear, accurate, and provocative. (We humble marketers don’t have the platform that journalists do, but nonetheless, we can use this advice.)

3 Assignments for a New Leader

1. What inspires you about the brand or firm you have inherited? Write a short visionary statement.
2. What aspect of the business most troubles you? Draft a chapter on this topic for a new and improved version of your firm’s personnel handbook.
3. Say you work 50 hours a week. How might you reassign 10 of those hours to better align with your vision for change in the firm? This change in how you spend your time will model new behaviors throughout the organization.

Charm, or You Had Me at Hello

I received a few questions after a talk last week. Any excuse to work charm into an answer is very welcome.

Q: So many times I have been in interviews where my teammates seem to feel that they need to present their level of related knowledge, rather than make the effort to connect the dots. 

A: A facilitator – such as a marketing expert or the CEO/President – is in the best position to gently move people away from displaying knowledge and toward the promised land of making three compelling points that are properly supported. This in turn comes from our understanding of the client, the project, and the competition, which requires research beforehand.

Q: How to get around this expectation of the interviewers to see “THE” solution in 30 minutes from people they’ve never spoken to before. What is wrong with these people and how can we get around that barrier in the first three minutes?

A: This is where charm comes in. Often a way to ease your way into their hearts is to make sure you understand the problem correctly. Literally: “We would like to start by reframing the problem you’re having here at XYZ campus. It’s entirely possible that things have changed or that we don’t have the complete picture, so with your permission [this is key, you want to get them nodding along], let’s review the acute facilities situation at XYZ campus.”

A Simple Guide to Interview Confidence

The prospect of giving a client presentation can give anyone a case of the willies, and in the case of an interview, the stakes are very high. The team wants to win the job, but can they make a persuasive 30-minute case to the decision-makers? Here is the perspective of one marketer who enjoys helping teams identify their own best advantage in the face of tough competition.

Repeat Thrice
Humans do pretty well remembering three things. For this reason, I break our unique selling proposition (USP) into three simple ideas whenever possible. When getting ready for an interview, we forge three main points to offer up to the decision-making body. What three things do we want them to remember about us so they select us as the winning team?
Another way to look at this is to remember the five-paragraph essay format you may have learned in middle school or junior high:

  • Introduction
  • Body paragraph 1
  • Body paragraph 2
  • Body paragraph 3
  • Conclusion

Great orators reiterate the structure when giving an oral presentation, because recalling it helps the listener stay oriented. Try this formula next time you are called upon to give a pitch or persuasive speech:

  • Tell ‘em what you’re going to tell ‘em; then
  • Tell ‘em; then
  • Tell ‘em what you told ‘em.

Team & Strategy
Due to our work on proposals, marketing professionals know how essential it is to pin down the team and the strategy. Likewise, interview preparation goes very smoothly when two things are clear: (1) what are the speakers’ roles and responsibilities and (2) what is the strategy to win?

Getting clear on the team is a process of understanding why exactly each person is in the room. Normally to an interview we can only bring a handful of people, and at first the choice might seem simple, for example, we are bringing the principal-in-charge, the project manager, and a key specialist. However, during discussion it often turns out that the people were chosen to participate for more unique reasons, and these reasons can be real differentiators against the competition. For example, the interior designer might have deep experience in senior living, which could be highly relevant to the project and a weak line of business for the competition.

Very often I see interview preparation bog down when people are drafting the slide deck. The natural instinct for designers to collect a million visual aids is not necessarily a bad thing, but we have to recognize it for what it is: the research phase. In sixth grade, when I wrote my first big paper –on Martin Luther King, Jr. –I was taught to put each fact or idea on a separate notecard and then lay them all around the room to organize my thinking about his life and speeches. I have a dream …

I have worked with many frustrated graphic designers who turn to me and say at this moment, “This deck has two hundred slides in it! How am I going to format and clean these up in time?” When I hear that, I know it’s time to talk to the top person on the team about their strategy, because they may not have whittled it down far enough. What effect do they want to have on the decision-makers, what are the three most important points, and then, which slides best support the three important points, and in which order?

Where Is the Love?
If the top person on the team is bucking like a bronco and not getting very far with strategy, we look for the love. Some call it passion, others call it a nexus of energy. Whatever the term, it is difficult for a project team immersed in preparation to recognize, yet easy for a facilitator. When the group is struggling to identify their best angles or most relevant work and then suddenly pivot, all pointing to something while speaking excitedly, they have found the love. It happens a few more times, typically during discussion, and these moments are what the facilitator must jot down. Very likely, these points can be arranged into a winning outline.

In Conclusion
With true love found, team and strategy identified, and a promise of working to a simple three-part outline, it’s time to return to that terribly long deck of slides and cull, cull, cull. When all the waste is removed, elegance remains. The visual aids now support the presentation, not the reverse.

BONUS video: Here is Nancy Duarte via the Harvard Business Review on very simple slides: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OeV2fHEM4RI