October 2015

Death by Bullet Point: The Antidote

Picture of man snoozing/sleeping whilst standing upImagine the scene. It’s 5pm on a Friday. It’s mid-summer and the air is humming with heat – but you’re stuck in a hot, stuffy conference room with no air. You’ve been up since 5:45am, and are only surviving because you’ve downed 17 cups of coffee and 3 energy drinks throughout the day. It’s been a long day and you hope it’ll be over soon. You’re sitting in an uncomfortable chair watching a visitor give a presentation. You’re trying to stay focussed, but your attention is wandering… your eye is drawn out of the window to a colleague getting into their car and heading home for the weekend. “Lucky”, you think to yourself. You start to think about what you’re going to have for dinner. You start to think about the traffic on the drive home—“I wonder if those road-works have finished?” Your mind is wandering. You make a mental effort to focus.


Your attention is drawn back to the presentation—the presenter is speaking in a monotonic voice that can only be described as ‘dull’. They are uncovering bullet point after bullet point after bullet point—and really they are just reading their slides. They move to the next slide and an undecipherable and unreadable diagram is displayed. They look at the diagram, and turn back to the audience:


 “I know you won’t be able to read this diagram as it’s too small—but let me talk it through it”


They proceed to do so. Your eyes drift in and out of focus—you are trying to stay awake. You notice a number in the corner of the slide “25 of 118”. It’s going to be a long evening…you take a final swig of coffee.


Recognise this situation?


I bet we’ve all been in that conference room. We’ve all experienced that mind-numbing and spirit crushing pattern of death by bullet point. I suspect that many people reading this will have experienced it many times. And, if we’re truly honest, probably most of us have been on both sides of the podium. We’ve probably all given presentations that have lost the audience’s attention as well as endured them…


Communication is crucial

Do You Know What Your Customers Really Want?

Cartoon image: Confused personI recently heard a really intriguing story about how a massively successful and well-known online retailer conducts its meetings. The CEO reportedly ensures that there is an empty chair at the conference table when key meetings are being held. This empty chair is an important symbol—it is used as a visual reminder of the firm’s customers. Although they are physically absent, the empty chair reminds the meeting attendees to think about customers’ views, needs, wants, fears and aspirations. This straightforward but powerful gesture ensures the voice of the customer is injected into decision making, and presumably acts as a reminder to go out and consult with customers when needed. It ensures the customer is at the heart of the discussion.


There is no doubt that understanding our customer (and our customer’s customer) can help create a competitive advantage. Yet in the rush to deliver projects, orders, changes or innovation it can be easy to forget our end-customers and end-users, or make sweeping assumptions about what they will find valuable. This leads us to dangerous ground: if we fail to really understand our customers, there is the danger that we’ll try to deliver exceptional service but will unwittingly fail. We’ll go “all out” trying to delight the customer, and will be confused when rather than thanking us, they complain.


This may sound counterintuitive, so let me give you an example: