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Published on 2023-12-08 15:30:00 | words: 5692
Yesterday morning announced this article, but actually it has been ongoing since after I released a new video presentation on my channel youtube.com/@changerulebook.
The idea was, now that I started again to publish video presentations (always without my face and voice: would be just a distraction, and I am no public person), to share also my "method".
It is actually something that developed following my readings as a kid (my father is a theatre actor who worked also in radio, TV, etc- and I started early on to read books about communication, politics, philosophy- remember reading Plato's Republic excerpts as a kid from a book that I picked up within the family library, before re-reading it in full many times over few decades).
One of the first things that I found fascinating was reading Eisez. writings about light and scene, from which I derived (as a kid would extract and build) a concept: when I see people, in presentations, activities, or even also artist or political performances (as I see both a bit of both), I look at the distribution of light and space between them.
And I applied the same within all my presentation activities, first in political activities in Italy and abroad as a teenager, then in business (including in sales and project kick-offs or training delivered to managers or others).
When worked on decision support systems in the late 1980s for my employer and their Anglo-American partner, I was also sent in London to train on how to tune the message and "listen" in a pre-sales situation whose target was senior management.
I will skip discussing how I got there, and how across the 1970s and 1980s reached that point, or what I studied etc: the hints above are enough.
As for the late 1980s activities- basically, a joint effort Andersen + Comshare in Italy, from which derived frankly all the projects and missions that you can see on my CV across Europe and industries- 1990 to 2021!
So, my CV used to be a pro-forma, and it is still just an outline- the "been there, done that" elements is still unfortunately an unmistakable element that cannot hide.
Actually, the only two times I tried to hide it were both in Brussels.
The first one was for a first job interview with a local head hunter, after I had at last phased-out all my previous activities around Europe, and was ready to settle in Brussels.
The CV I sent for what was supposed to be a 30mins interview? As I shared with a local friend, sounded a bit like a quote from an Italian movie, where somebody asked to somebody else: "what do you do?", and the answer was: "I meet people and do things" ("faccio cose, vedo gente")- a stellar example of what in Rome call "cazzaro" (look online the definition).
Anyway, as what was really hidden on that first "open market" CV was names, locations, and other "mission-related" information, I was at the end not of 30mins, but almost three times the allotted budget by the head hunter that he wanted to meet me because he had a hunch that there was something, and he added that nobody can forbid me to describe my experience.
He also added what was his idea to use in Belgium my cross-industry and multinational experience (as I had worked with senior management in business since my early 20s, and the was in my mid-40s)- but I shared only face-to-face, as it would seem again a "cazzaro statement" (notably to Italians, who either "parachute" into Cxx roles those with a manifest destiny but no experience, or ask anybody else to start from scratch, but then do not understand that in a complex world careers can be also diagonal, not just vertical from the bottom or from the top).
A clear element in politics, then in the Army, then in business (but also well before- will share when I started really early to develop a concept of "being out-of-tune with the audience" and the need to "tune in" with people as if they were radios in another publication)?
If you delivered training within the context of cultural and organizational change, or sale but to build a long-term business relationship, you know that just winning over here and now (the "Pied piper" or "Mario und der Zauberer" approach) is not enough.
Why? Because you need your audience to leave and then "spread the message", but after becoming the message.
Otherwise, you are just shaking the tree, but not planting new seeds to generate sustainable change.
Therefore, "tuning" is something that depends on the channel used, the purposes, the context, etc: I shared over a decade ago a book in Italian (you can read it here for free), but it was actually to share it with my local contacts, repeating what I had been "spreading around" in all my activities since the 1980s, when training or coaching others- including managers and project managers who then had to do likewise.
As a customer said to me half-jokingly once, I had converted his managers into a sect of "lofariti", as in meetings he heard "as Lofaro would say" or its equivalents (what would say, etc).
Frankly one of my most difficult choices was to register my own domain name and, from 2008, to start publishing under my own name: if you look online, you will see that my first domain was registered in 1997- but used the same name that I had used for a "concept" that used in a company that I created in 1993, i.e. change is the only constant, and change is communication- hence, prconsulting.com (will develop it again once I will have understood where I will settle and to do what, probably only after I will have set aside all the Italian ballast that my foreign connections in Brussels saw over a decade ago).
As I said in Brussels when asked how did I suddenly appear out of nowhere: I am a ghost- working through word-of-mouth enabled to be invisible and present, and obtain missions that otherwise would not have been feasible, as would have implied "entering" a tribal power structure (which, as my readers know, is what I dislike the most in Italy, notably in Turin- everything is tribal, and "common good" is always converted into a set of self-defeating choices is your own tribe does not extract immediately the most value).
Anyway, also a ghost belonging to a castle had to "rattle his chains" according to the expectations of the audience.
I saw few days ago a funny UK movie about a fictional election, Left Right and Centre (1959) where Lord Wilcot dresses up as a ghost going around his castle with a severed head in his hands, and answers to the complaints about the noise from guests in his castle stating that... it is the ghost of so and so.
Why dressing up as a ghost carrying around a severed head: by Jove, you have to meet the expectation of a bourgeois audience that wants to get into a blue-blood castle they would not have been invited to otherwise in the past, and a ghost is "de riguer".
Unfortunately, in my "tuning to the audiences" since the 1980s I never had the chance to do anything so funny.
Still, I think that few "communication items" I cherish from former customers are for me better than any medal or cup:
_ being told that we won a major negotiation in France (in French, of course) not because we were the largest or had the best product, but because we were those who better understood their business
_ being told after delivering a presentation in Rome in a Ministry for a first release of a new portal (that, unfortunately, never went live) that I had been able to explain in understandable terms for a non-technical audience without using any of the "traditional" techie jargon that most consultants are so fond of
_ and countless times being mistaken by people in Italy and abroad as somebody trying to "get into the tribe" just because, friend or foe, if I found that somebody had made a mistake but either that person could be a resource for the "system" at large, or could eventually deliver (not just here and now) value, I actually in "camera caritatis" (which sometimes implied sending private emails politely asking if they could rephrase something) suggested the next step, instead of doing the usual (for me disgusting) "naming and shaming".
The latter deserves an explanation: whenever I see somebody in a position of relative or assumed power that shames somebody, my mind goes to the Middle Age depiction in movies of skeletons hang in cages outside castles: and I do not see what value did they bring, not even as a deterrent (read the book from Kostler and Camus against the death penalty that purchased and read as a teenager, and you will see plenty of reasons why "deterrent" works only if not used).
When you publish online, as discussed this morning, I see different potential audiences, e.g.:
_ you might focus on "the larger, the better"
_ you might focus on "preaching to the choir"
_ you might focus on a "message in a bottle".
As you probably understand, my approach is the latter: I do not really care about numbers (and not do attract "the larger, the better" to sell widgets or advertisement),and I do not see myself as focused on converting (hence, "preaching to the choir" is not an attractive choice).
I rather have few dozen readers that spread positives or negatives on my scribblings, but recognize that at least have no qualms in stating what I mean, and then amending if and when needed, and then over longer times attract further readers.
So, most of my articles (and also mini-books since 2012, as except one all of them have also a "free" version) start with at most few dozens readers when published, but sometimes already reached over 10,000 readers (for articles) and 40,000 (for a book, on a version that I then shifted on another platform not under my control, hence resetting the counter- what matters was the "seeding the message").
If you look at the latest video, you see also something else: the source.
Or: converted over 40,000 words into a video lasting few minutes, and you can guess the audience by watching it (you can even download it, if you want- just use a plugin within Firefox or Chrome).
Let's now shift to the next element of the title: presentations, with two elements: mechanics and narrative.
My approach to videos, considering what I shared above about the concept of audience, is the same that I used while delivering in-person, same-room, no-remote, etc presentations.
Or: I consider the presentation as a really high-level roadmap, that has to be filled through interaction with the audience, or at least knowledge of the elements within this "pyramid":
I want to keep this article short, so again will postpone a full discussion to another venue- you can anyway have a better understanding within the "strumenti" book that I referenced above.
The key concept is: start, as usual, with "why".
For example: I had planned to release this article yesterday evening, but then decided to use the evening to follow a conference whose title was "Women in ML", from Google, and sounded almost as a riposte to a recent "top list" about AI that did not include any woman.
Actually, as both AI and ML (Machine Learning) are "trendy", you can find both men and women, and both those actually doing research and applied research to develop the field, and those "evangelizing", or even, as with anything "trendy", just carving a "niche" role as guru- sometimes after working in the field and understanding that there was a need to move communication one level up to avoid another "AI Winter", sometimes just recycling.
What is an "AI Winter"? Since the 1950s, as with other technologies, it happened that somebody got carried away with hype, and oversold potential, so that budgets could attracted.
Then, repeatedly failed to deliver, or delivered well below expectations and at a higher price tag: sorry, but in business return on investment still matter.
So, right now a blend of all the above is needed- and "presenting" means different things for different people.
As I added in my post scriptum to yesterday's Linkedin post this morning:
" PS despite the title of the event, the presentations were mainly about the latest developments about Google products and services, presented by women leaders at Google and elsewhere
it contained also some career advice, but it was mainly an overview of status and trends
bonus: you can find on YouTube all the videos "
Why did I attend when I received the invitation? Because recently Google made a string of announces- and, while being short and over-packed with content "solved" in few minutes for each "stream" that might have required a half a day, I had indeed key highlights on recent announces- ranging from the scalability of Tensor Processing Units, to the new multi-level Gemini (from servers to mobile devices), to an overview of new features of Kaggle (where I routinely post datasets that create to support my activities).
The point was to share the potential, and give hints to venues of further development- and, also, motivate those who do not understand their potential.
Many presentations I attended since the 1980s frankly were more a showcase of the presenter, than of the event / product / service.
There might be a case for self-celebration: but when self-celebration becomes a routine, then I wonder why should bother to attend a presentation.
As I shared repeatedly in past articles: since I had to return in 2012 to work in Turin (my birthplace, where anyway was scarcely present since mid-1980s), I never saw so many events where there is a mutual celebration and bestowing of honors- sometimes, going as far as having A celebrating B in an event organized by A, then having B celebrating C in an event organized by B, and finally having C celebrating A in an event organized by C.
Closing the circle of celebrations ensures that nobody (and their tribes) is left disappointed but... what is the systemic value added?
Shifting to "knowledge transfer" presentations, there too since the 1980s I observed too many with the dreaded "hundreds of slides" that obviously are all to be religiously listened at while being read line-by-line by the presenter.
And if you ask questions... the more disciplined simply repeat what they said, other improvise, and few (those happy few, to misquote St Crispin's speech from Shakespeare) instead confirm that they had to deliver that format as it was expected, but actually can answer questions as their knowledge goes beyond the lines already presented, and already worked out how to convey complexity in a way tuned to the audience.
Or: they can deliver interpretation of the material in a way that is understandable to those attending, not just "preaching to the choir of the converted".
Whenever I was in charge of preparing a presentatioon and could have a say on the content, be it for sales, training, audit, proposal, negotiation, or whatever reason, I always strived to follow few principles:
_ few slides that are a high-level roadmap
_ always prepare more "depth", so that you can talk on those few slides and few points in each slide in a way consistent with the intended audience
_ if you deliver to an audience different from the planned one, or with a different mix, see if tuning "live" makes sense
_ if it makes sense, skip slides and shift to a whiteboard, or combine both, and maybe add verbal examples that can be visualized by the audience
_ decide early on, but again adapt if needed, if you need a "flow" (hence, all questions at the end), or you can hijack questions as a tool to "tune"
_ etc etc
On the second to last point, a funny case occurred to me while working in Paris for an American company, formally hired as a consultant to help improve sales and negotiation activities, but eventually, due to my past experience, involved also in an array of pre-sales activities ranging from presenting in a fair, to presenting to prospects, to actually working as negotiator, project manager and business analyst on proof-of-concept and pilot projects, and recovery of existing projects and negotiations.
So, once there was a couple of presentations to be delivered in Madrid, and the French CEO was asked to send somebody who could deliver a presentation in English but not with a French accent.
Hence, was asked if I would be willing, and there I went, for a presentation for a telco and another one for a bank.
In one of the two presentations, I understood that somebody was actually translating in Spanish for colleagues who did not speak English, but I caught (via Latin, Italian, and my reading of El Pais also if I never studied Spanish- close languages) a misunderstanding.
So, I negotiated a deal: I would deliver the presentation in English, they could ask questions in Spanish and I would answer in English or Spanish.
Then, the presentation kept going on, with many questions fielded in Spanish and I answering using what had been told in Spanish but explained in English (unless the Spanish provided was about to fill in the gaps).
At the end, the CEO told me that I had not told that I was able to speak Spanish- and I replied that, until that day, I did not know myself.
Then, when going back home in London that week... went and purchased for 50 GBP a Michel Thomas audiocourse of Spanish (around 8 hours) that listened just in case (and actually later one had some uses, along with other courses).
Why I shared this cameo? To show that:
_ you have to adapt and walk the extra mile to make your audience confortable enough but without sidelining your presentation- embed change
_ any presentation, notably its Q&A session, be it within or at the end, should be part of an ex-post assessment to improve future instances
_ any presentation is therefore something to "thesaurize"- including tracking down its impacts on future activities (in sales, you had your "funnel" that tells you if your presentation helped to "sell your business case", in other types of presentation you will need to design a different approach).
The video online shows that approach: if you count only the slides that are full (between 5 and 7 lines before moving to the next item), you can see that the real number of slides is small.
Anyway, I know that many in presentations have the obsession with the "agenda" and numbering slides and showing how many slides the deck contains, but my experience is that, unless both are really needed, are just a distraction and a straitjacket to the basic principle of conveying a message that is then embedded by the audience as a point of reference.
Yes, there are cases where actually both those two elements are needed, expected, and functional:
_ if you deliver a progress report and need to discuss status and have choices before moving forward
_ if there is a "standard format" or linking e.g. to a contract and associated milestones
_ if what you are delivering seems a presentation but actually is a "carved stone presenting points".
Obviously, so far this discussion was only on the presentation mechanics, but the flip side of the coin is the presentation narrative.
If you search online for Google returns 571.000.000+ results.
So, it can be defined as "trendy".
Frankly, already in the 1980s, as I wrote above, it was actually common that a presentation and a narrative won over technicalities in moving forward a negotiation for a project or a business software?
At the time, personally assigned this to two elements that were confirmed across decades by customers:
_ most software solutions or service offers present as advantages something that has no direct business relevance for the customer
_ most presentations presented a story from the perspective of the seller, as if the potential customer had to be "converted".
When that type of narrative won, often what resulted were:
_ "shelfware", i.e. software purchased but never really used past the "pilot" phase, as the corporate culture had been ignored
_ wonderful paper reports that, for the same reason, never impacted on reality.
On the latter is easier: just claim that the context changed, and propose a new "strategic initiative" while sidelining the original one that costed so much time and money to produce paper.
My concept of narrative is different, but, again, would require a book to be discussed- just look at the practice through the articles and minibooks.
If you really need a book reference, there are thousands, notably over the last decade embedding data, big data, AI, with "storyrtelling".
Decades ago, for few cultural and organizational change freelance missions, both involving creating courses, one lasting half a year, the other few years, and both requiring a training curriculum, and involving other vendors, in both cases did cross-check my knowledge stock.
Once defined the outline of the roadmap, I started adding milestones within each key element across the "map", and identified additional material that would be needed, including by creating three levels of bibliography / reference material:
_ for those attending
_ for those that would be acting as "guardians" of the material (e.g. do further sessions)
_ for the creators of the material (in this case, myself), should the customer require evolutions.
Now you could remark that this is still "mechanics"- I disagree.
Once you negotiate a charter (why) and a roadmap (rough target horizon and key "signposts"), the narrative requires having an understanding of the context (in my case, in some cases already had had prior activities with the customers, in others "invested time" to do a quick assessement of the culture and environment) and audience(s).
And tuning to both requires also identifying which material could reinforce the narrative.
If you want a movie example, have a look at Crichton books- usually the research part was a significant influencer to the concepts within the narrative, while the intended audience influenced its delivery.
In my case, since the 1990s I simply went through books that talked about structuring narrative, starting from what I had seen since I was a kid (theatre, scripts, etc), and therefore e.g. purchased the Italian translation of a book written by Syd Field on "screenwriting", that started from Aristotle's Poetics and then described, through movie examples, his approach.
Personally, whenever I had to create a new "narrative" (e.g. presentation, course), I generally identified the "why" as the end and its intended consequences- not just the end, and then continued adding the beginning, i.e. the "leading discourse" that should acclimatize the audience.
I did not necessarily add all the other subdivisions proposed by Syd Field (but you can find his templates online), but there is a point I would like to stress.
My first presentations were done by writing with markers on transparencies, then projects with an overhead projector, before shifting to Paintbrush (yes, late 1980s, what do you expect?), then in 1990 first PC-based text and graphic, followed by the tools provided with a Mac Classic (as was used by the secretarial pool in my company in Milan, but as I was always around Italy I purchased out of my own pocket a Powerbook 100- which is basically a Mac Classic converted by Sony into a notebook- even added a fax modem).
Then, of course, added also Powerpoint- but always seen as a presentation tool, not a tool to build the narrative.
Hence, whenever I had to prepare an article, book, or even a video presentation, usually I start with a digital tablet to scribble my "roadmap", if needed prepare then what could be called a "treatment" (few pages describing storyline, "characters", etc), and then move forward.
Incidentally: while in Brussels, for some proposed projects and short stories I had to prepare narrative proposals for ("concepts"), actually to cover my intellectual property (mainly to avoid that in the future somebody could steal it and then even trying to forbid me from developing), I registered each "concept paper a.k.a. treatment" on the website of the Writers' Guild of America (at the time, it was I think 20 USD to have a protection of a couple of years).
Why a couple of years? In each case, what I was offering as a narrative depended on a specific timeframe- did not expect a "shelf life" longer than that (albeit in some cases was wrong, from something I saw recently).
Back to the "move forward".
The next step, generally is defining the format- and this is were Powerpoint or other tools could help in "framing" the narrative within tools- still, no narrative development.
For greater freedom, usually my first draft of the narrative is either through notes were I outline it, small drawings showing the flow, or even (mainly for videos and presentations or books) a "storyboard".
Over a decade ago tried few tools, but eventually settled with two: XMind for mindmaps, and CeltX (offline, the old one- I even purchased software add-ons) for proper storyboards- either with images/scribblings I prepared on a tablet, or micro-dialogues/narrative segments.
Actually, those who attended in late 2000s workshops organized by European institutions in Brussels, maybe remember that I was used to take "live" notes by using XMind to jot down notes and connect them with my remarks.
You can find a list of my old mindmaps online (and also download/use them).
The interesting part of XMind was that it allowed to also export and do presentations- including converting (if you paid the registration, as I did in the past) into e.g. a Word document structured as your presentation, or use one of the many visual representation tools (e.g. fishbone).
Ditto for the old version of CeltX, able also to create scripts, cartoons, etc- and export them.
Nowadays both are mainly online-based with a software component, and the new community features are useful- but not for what was my case.
Whenever delivering a presentation in person, I used also to prepare separatedly some material that was not structured as Powerpoint printed slides, but as mini-books, position papers, etc (hence the structure of mini-books that published since 2012).
Except, of course, when it was expected or agreed to provide exactly what had been presented.
In the latter case, if what was expected was also written commentary similar to that delivered in voice while presenting, obviously the presentation was more a performance than an interactive session, and questions were something that might or not be summarized and then delivered after the session.
And Powerpoint? Well, once you have a storyboard or mindmap structuring the narrative, it depends on how you will deliver the presentation.
In some cases, already since the 1990s, I actually produced CDs to be delivered to those attending, and therefore Powerpoint presentations (or screencams) where converted into videos with a menu to allow access and convert them almost in mini-CBTs (Computer Based Training).
E.g. for a customer in Switzerland in 2000 that had a high turnover in marketing, training everybody was not feasible- so, beside the initial training sessions that were used to "tune" material, delivered both task-oriented mini-videos and an associated 1-page "cue card" to allow carrying out self-refreshing whenever doing those tasks, plus more structure self-training introductory material.
And also for other customers around Europe delivered similar material- even when, as project manager part-time, partners asked me to produce a whole set of documentation, videos, etc for quality control / ISO9000 purposes: again, CD with videos, documents, menu and navigation.
Yes, shifted already from presentation narrative to publishing.
But, as in the previous case, this transition was needed, as what I wrote above belongs to both.
As I wrote above, I consider Powerpoint a presentation tool- but also a publishing tool (e.g. all the videos that posted on youtube.com/@changerulebook have been exported as MP4 from Powerpoint).
When publishing, again is important to get back to the "intended audience" concept.
Here too could add a whole chapter on why I selected specific publishing channels across time, and how I used them (as e.g. I used then abandoned then used again but in a different way various channels).
I will just let you explore your own potential uses of the online (generally free) publishing channels I used:
_ wordpress.com, to create the digital version of project-based sites, permanent and accessible by anybody (but potentially also restricted in areas); you can see some examples of my uses (in this case to share language learning etc) within the section "cultures" on this website- I have many more but, being project-based, I prefer to avoid listing unless needed
_ slideshare.net, to share infographics and presentations (but currently removed most of the material as there were too many trolls)
_ issuu.com, to publish easily browsable booklets (but removed after converted many free features into paid, while still will use it for brochures and position papers in the future)
_ createspace.com, now kdp.amazon.com, to publish Kindle and paperback, which delivers also an ISBN- I used kindle only for one book, but the key advantage is that you can have the system do all the grunt work to set marging according to paper, format, color or b&w, etc, and currently gives you back around 30% of the cover price, but really little if you go to the academic distribution channels; the key point is: in my contact with actual publishers, often offered around 15% of the cover price, or 20% at most
_ leanpub.com, where I posted the digital version of most of my mini-books, and plan to use the feature allowing to add material online, as well as to build a community element along the "progress" of your book writing on a new title, and the possibility to serialize or sell courses; personally, beside the potential of getting 80% of the selling price for digital editions (but I allow also to get them for free), a nice touch is that, if somebody buys the digital edition of your book, they can get also future versions of the same book- something that I expected from Kindle, but then tested with others that was not the case.
I used also other sites, communities, etc (e.g. see all that released on Kaggle since 2019), but those above are my main channels.
A key element: all of them do not charge you to publish (except issuu if you go beyond the 50 pages, at this time of writing), and all have additional features that you can subscribe to (i.e. paid).
Obviously: if you are planning to publish not just to share and position (as it is my case), but to earn income, then you are better off by getting specialists.
In my case, the idea was to have some material permanently available online, to both reference it when needed in activities in my own or partners'/customers' projects, and to allow others to integrate/embed it in their own activities.
Not the best option to protect or extract value to your own investment, but consistent with my publishing approach.
I hope that the few lines within this short article on "how" and "why" might be useful to others.
As I wrote above, when I will have time will probably release a new volume within the "strumenti" mini-book series, but first will have to release few more mini-books and datasets.