Posted by: LYF | January 30, 2012

Presenting to executives or talking to people who are busy

It’s frustrating because I’ve had a lot of good ideas for posts, but by the time I get around to writing them, I can’t summon up the energy I originally had that made me think of them in the first place.  Especially from this last project.  Trying to tease apart anything valuable from the entire experience is really difficult.  And a lot of the concepts overlap.  Meh, I’ll just riff for a bit and hope for the best.

I’m a consultant, which means I do a lot of number crunching or power point work that’s been directed by someone above my level.  These responsibilities fade the higher up you go and get replaced by more “higher level” duties.  Those could be developing the overall approach, presenting final deliverables etc etc.  Being at the bottom shapes the way you look at problems.  Everything becomes bottom up.  You’ll think of details, how they combine to form parts and how those parts fit into an approach that’s been designed by a partner.

We will get back to the above in a second.  Keep this thought in mind while running parallel to the above paragraph and the one below.  There are no right answers in consulting.  Just because you have an approach doesn’t mean whoever designed it knows it’s the correct one.  Everyone is still figuring out what right or correct looks like as they go.  Also keep in mind that that’s ok.

That perspective of specific to general is the complete opposite of how the client will receive your work and how the partner will understand your message.  Anything that has to be explained is automatically wrong.  It should be self-explanatory.  If you’ve made an excel table where the point of the table isn’t readily apparent – you fail.  I’ve been in meetings where this has happened.  It’s awful and crushing.  Doing a huge amount of work just to have someone throw it back in your face, not because it was wrong, but because you couldn’t explain it succinctly is very frustrating.

You eventually learn how to talk to executives/partners/some-high-up-person after fucking it up a few times.  For instance, always use a picture instead of words.  If your work is a culmination of an approach or decision tree – draw the tree, do not try to explain it.  Make sure you can answer any question that could possible be asked.  Don’t let anyone ask you another question if you haven’t answered the first one.  That’s important.  If someone asks you something, you pause, and then they ask you a follow up question – you’re fucked.  You’ll be trying to answer the first, while the person will already be down a rabbit whole thinking out loud about potential answers to the second.  Now your credibility is blow because you don’t have an answer and as an extension of that they’ll assume you don’t know anything.  This will be followed by whoever you’re speaking with to promptly say “go back and figure it out.”  Now you have to go back, re-work how you’re going to present your view and hopefully book a meeting later in the today.  Congratulations, you’ve fucked up a question that now cost you an entire day.

This stuff is hard to figure out.  Even if you know that these problems exist and you’ll have to plan for them, it doesn’t mean you will succeed in planning correctly for them.  But being aware is definitely a big first step.  It also elevates your thinking from bottom up to top down.

Back to the concept that there are no “right” answers in consulting.  Getting to the point where you haven’t screwed up your summary is a major milestone.  Now it’s possible to have an actual discussion about the direction of the work.  Did whatever it was that you just spent a week doing have any value?  That’s slightly scary.  In consulting there is always the chance – because there is no correct answer – that you will have wasted your time doing something that has absolutely no value to anyone.

Let’s assume that it did.  Now you get to battle, which is fucking awesome and really intense.  You’ll be in a meeting room with 2-4 other people discussing how to finish this project and how all the pieces you’ve been working on fit together to make a finished deliverable.  This is very difficult to do.

The only way to “win” here is to think faster than anyone else in the room.  And you don’t even really “win.”  I’d say it’s closer to “not losing.”  You lose when you can’t follow the conversation.  Then it runs away without you and catching up can sometimes feel impossible.

Ok, I think that’s enough.


Responses

  1. Your first paragraph describes what’s probably a book worth of posts. When I’m able to spare a few minutes, I jot down a few ideas – but preserving the energy to expound on them is key too!


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