September 2017 | VOLUME 15, ISSUE 9
A Milestone Year
September is the month we celebrate Knowledge Street's birthday, and it was 15 years ago this week that we first put marker to white board and sketched a plan for our own consulting business. We were coming out of a corporate Knowledge Management job and were true believers in the inherent value of KM. And we'd spent the previous four years feeling frustrated that an idea which was so powerful to us was such a tough sell in a large corporate environment. We came to believe that too many KM initiatives suffered from the same sort of disconnect: KM practitioners felt the value was self-evident, and expected everyone else to feel the same way. They didn't work hard enough to explain them, let alone sell them to the users. So from day one, Knowledge Street LLC saw itself as a KM and Communications company. Without the "C," the "KM" would go nowhere.
It's been an interesting ride, perhaps longer than we expected. We learned that KM was an even tougher sell to small- and mid-sized companies. In the early years, we did some management consulting work with a KM flavor. Some business process design. But our customers generally needed more help with communications, and putting together the right words and pictures has been the backbone of our business. So we built websites, developed sales presentations, designed marketing collateral, wrote white papers and developed web content. Today, we wanted to take a brief moment to pause, smell the coffee, acknowledge the anniversary, and say thanks. Thanks to our customers, and thanks to all the friends and colleagues who've supported us.
Finger on the Pulse
If you use the web at all, you've probably taken at least one on-line survey. Today's survey tools are friendly, powerful and reasonably priced. If you have a community of users, and want to know more about them, consider adding a survey component to your communications program. It can help establish what your audience wants or needs and also tell you whether people are listening. A few guidelines, based on our experience:
- Keep them short. The more information you try to collect in one sitting, the less likely you are to get quality data. If you annoy people, they may actually feed you bad information. The same principle applies to frequency -- don't use surveys too often.
- Keep them simple. Ask questions that lead to clear answers. If you ask "Was the presentation the right length?" and someone answers "No," what have you learned? Was it too long, or too short?
- Keep them light. You're asking people to give you their time, as well as their ideas. Appreciate that they're doing you a favor and try to make the experience as entertaining and effortless as possible.
- Keep them honest. Most survey tools let you share the results with the participants, and unless there's something confidential going on, that's a good idea. It's not much, but it's a small kind of thank you.
We've worked with a number of different tools, and are probably most familiar with SurveyMonkey. Functionally, they're very similar and the differences often come down to the user experience. That means the right tool for you is more a matter of taste than functionality. You can assume that pretty much any of the leading tools will be able to do anything you want it to do, but some may be easier to manage than others. (For example, if you're asking for a date, will users need to enter it or is there a calendar widget?) PC Magazine reviewed ten such tools just last month, if you want to compare and contrast you can start there. And if you'd like help picking a survey tool, or designing a survey, drop us a note. We're always open!
Street Smarts 168: Nail your presentation.
Unless you're some kind of reclusive billionaire, you need to work with other people. You need to exchange ideas, persuade folks to see things in a certain way and sell them on your approach. And that means sooner or later, you'll need to make a presentation. It's something that frightens a lot of people; the percentage of the population that suffers from speech anxiety is reportedly as high as 74%. The single best way to deal with glossophobia is careful preparation. That may seem like a no-brainer, but the more prepared you are, the more confident you'll be when you take center stage.
This article gives some tips on the preparation process. It recommends writing out what you want to say, editing and refining that message and then practicing the presentation itself. Give particular attention to your opening and your closing. Don't try to cram in too much information, and resist the temptation to build a new story by rearranging the slides from an existing deck. It sounds like a time saver, but every story is different. Slides that worked well in one context, are not going to flow as smoothly if you re-purpose them for something else. Start with an outline, see where concepts connect, and only then move into presentation development. Once you get there, remember Guy Kawaski's 10-20-30 Rule: no more than ten slides, no more than twenty minutes and no font smaller than 30 points.
Too Many Cooks
A core principle of Knowledge Management is the assumption that in their hearts, people want to work together. They may worry that by sharing too much, they'll lose influence. If they tell you everything they know, will you still need them? Most companies understand that collaboration is a good way to leverage the strengths of everyone involved, but they also know their efforts to encourage collaborative problem-solving haven't been wildly successful. Peter Drucker once said that knowledge sharing is a struggle because it reverses 25,000 years of human history. "Human beings in the wild are completely defenseless, so it’s natural that we want to put our backs to the wall."
This article suggests one problem may be work teams that are simply too large. In larger groups, some people will speak up even if they have nothing relevant to say, just so they can be part of the game. Others may hold back, fearful of saying the wrong thing. So the more people in the room, the longer and more inconclusive will be the meeting. Smaller work teams are better able to focus on who needs to be involved and what needs to be accomplished. Mini-teams, as small as three people, are more agile and much more likely to come to a consensus. They can roll their ideas up into larger discussions without getting bogged down. If collaboration isn't working in your organization, maybe you have too many cooks.
The New Normal
It wasn't the first smartphone, but ten years ago the first iPhone hit the market. This article in The New York Times gives it most of the credit for creating the always-on lifestyle that's become the new normal. It was like magic, putting the whole internet right in your pocket. Ten years ago there was no App Store ecosystem, and wireless networks were very slow. You could see the potential, though. The iPhone and the devices that followed it would become the Swiss Army knives of modern life. You'd never get lost, never be alone, and be imbued with a kind of superpower. You could pick the best restaurants, name any tune and get expert help with do-it-yourself projects. Once the iPhone 4 added a rear-facing camera, you could demonstrate your worth with your own collection of selfies. "Selfie" was the OED's word of the year in 2013.
So the iPhone changed many things, and changed us, too. Perhaps not always for the better. In 2015, WNYC ran a series of blog posts in its "Bored and Brilliant Challenge," asking listeners to consider their phone-related behavior. They're still worth a look today. Among the challenges was a Photo Free Day. Try to see the world through your eyes, and not on your screen. Another good one was to take a "fauxcation:" post an away message even if you're not, and revel in the joy of being unreachable.