Presenters and Presentations

May 27, 2014

A while ago, Bloomberg BusinessWeek ran a piece title “Why Bezos Bought The Post”[1]. It contains a lesson for presenting your competitive intelligence findings. Brad Stone, the author, observed that

“[a] decade ago, frustrated with the pace of meetings at his company [Amazon], Bezos banished PowerPoint and proclaimed that all future Amazon meetings would begin with the presenter passing out a narrative document that outlined the topic being discussed. The first papers were endless, spanning dozens of pages, so Bezos decreed a six-page limit. Many of his colleagues still thought this managing-by-writing approach would fade. It didn’t.“

So?

The lessons here are several:

First, PowerPoint is not the only way to convey information at a business meeting. In fact, there are those that argue, in my words not theirs, PowerPoint serves less to communicate than to conceal[2]. So, master other ways. Or at least practice what you want to say, relying on PowerPoint only as a reminder – to you of what you want to say and to the attendees of what you have said.

Second, present your case the way that senior management wants, simply because they may pay less attention to your message if they are not comfortable with the way it is delivered. If that means PowerPoint, it means PowerPoint.

Third, whatever means you employ, master the subject before your presentation. At the actual meeting, you may not be able to present what you want, when you want, and/or in the order you want. The form of your presentation is a tool; the content is the key. A corollary to this is that you should avoid presenting where the presentation and the work behind it were largely (or exclusively) done by someone else.

Fourth, shorter is almost always better than longer. Longer presentations may be more detailed, but that risks losing attention – as well as actual attendees.

[1] By Brad Stone, August 8, 2013, http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-08-08/why-jeff-bezos-bought-the-em-washington-post-em.

[2] For more on that, see Edward R. Tufte, Beautiful Evidence, Graphics Press, LLC, 2006, p. 181: “Our comparison of various presentation tools in action indicate that PowerPoint is intellectually outperformed by alternative tools.”


A Name Worthy of a James Bond film?

October 15, 2013

 In the most recent issue of Bloomberg BusinessWeek, there is a fascinating article about Amazon.com, “The Secrets of Bezos”. It includes in it a particularly strange statement:

     “Amazon has a clandestine group with the name worthy have a James Bond film: Competitive Intelligence.”

The name “Competitive Intelligence” is worthy of James Bond film? Are you kidding me?

James Bond films have much better names than something as mundane as “Competitive Intelligence”. How about an organization such as SMERSH, from the Russian for death to spies? Or SPECTRE (SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion)? How can “Competitive Intelligence” compare with Auric Goldfinger, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Le Chiffre, or Dr. No? Not at all well (unfortunately).

Perhaps the author meant that the concept of “competitive intelligence” is worthy of a James Bond film. No, I doubt that. Tracking how fast and well competitors fill online orders is too plain for a series starring a character with a “license to kill”, working for a character known only as “M”.

How about the fact that one company is checking out its competitors on a regular basis? If the author really means that “competitive intelligence” is such an unusual term for that reason, then we have a major problem – as a character in the movie “Hud” once noted “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”

You see, competitive intelligence has been around as a business and academic subject since the 1980s. Since the organization of SCIP, Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals, formerly the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals, in the 1980s, many, many books have been written on the subject in several languages,. And, thousands of workshops and seminars on competitive intelligence have been held  around the globe by organizations ranging from those covering pricing to strategic planning, and libraries to industrial security.

If anything, a lack of familiarity with “competitive intelligence” may reflect the failure by those of us involved with competitive intelligence to advance its visibility on institutional basis. There is much hard work that is being done by businesses, and based on the article, very effective work, by those involved full time with competitive intelligence and those using competitive intelligence as an effective tool. We just need to do more.