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Let Me Tweet This PowerPoint To You On Facebook

Monday, November 9th, 2009

I’ve been advised not to tweet about Twitter.  I get annoyed at invites to join Facebook groups about Facebook.  I understand the retribution if you Fark your own link.  But PowerPoint presentations about PowerPoint?  Hilarious!  You might be asking yourself right now, what the heck does PowerPoint have to do with various social media outlets?  With the advent of useful tools like Webex and GotoMeeting, PowerPoint can have the same immediate effects of Social Media tools when used correctly.  A good PowerPoint presentation can enhance your marketing arguments and call your audience to action.  However, the only action most .PPT presentations call us to is the desire for a solid afternoon nap.

As a former public speaking instructor, and someone who has had the pleasure of sitting through hundreds of “white paper” style marketing PowerPoints from one of the world’s largest and most respected Information Technology companies, I have one simple request.  Stop hurting my brain with your presentations.  PowerPoint is really a magnification tool—it can make a good presentation better, or more often, make a bad presentation worse.

All is not lost, even if you slept through my Public Communication class when you were an undergrad.  Here are a few useful tips for making your PowerPoint better:

Have a thesis.

I know this sounds like a painful school exercise, but if you can’t boil the point of your presentation down to one sentence then you aren’t ready to create it.  You will be mired in a Florida swampland of ideas and concepts with no focus for you or your audience.  This sentence should be brief and to the point.

Prepare your speech before you open PowerPoint.

Open Word, or Excel if you are a geek like me, and create an outline before you even think about touching PowerPoint.  PowerPoint’s strong suit is not helping you organize a presentation.  It’s not designed to do that.  So don’t.  If I am in your audience, I might even give you a hug for doing it.

Think about your audience

Even with my shoes and socks off, I can’t count the number of PowerPoint presentations where the speaker grabbed 5-10 canned marketing slides, 10-15 technical slides, 5 more sales slides and then added a couple of IDC surveys to some slides.  This doesn’t make sense for anyone.  Think about the people you are presenting to and meet that audience’s expectation.  You’ll find you generate more meaning than if you create one presentation and try to fit that to the audience.

If it can stand on it’s own in an email, don’t present it.

“Oh, you missed the presentation?  I’ll just forward it to you and it will make sense.”  This is bad.  BAD!  If you don’t need to present and engage your audience aloud, you’ve marginalized your usefulness.  Mailing out a PowerPoint after the fact is fine, if it’s meant to remind audience members of what you had to say.

36-24-18

36 is the header.  24 is the sub header. 18 are the points.  Shrinking the font means there is too much on the slide.  Any smaller than 18 and your audience either won’t be able to read it on a projector screen, or worse, they are reading it on their computer and not listening to you.

If you think it is nifty, it probably isn’t.

Sound effects, animated gifs and the like might seem amusing at your desk, but in presentations they come off as silly or distracting.  If I want to hear applause at the end of your presentation, I’ll clap.  Animations or sound effects also need to be properly timed and if you are violating this tip it’s likely you aren’t practicing enough to have them work for you.

Have a real outline to your presentation.

Most presenters claim they won’t read their slides, and yet they all do.  It’s like that New Year’s resolution that is broken by January 3rd.  Reading the slides is boring.  Think about all the PowerPoints you’ve been through in your life. Now think of how many of them were dull because the presenter read, then examine how many times you’ve read a PPT to others.

Have an introduction and conclusion.

“My presentation is about” is not compelling.  Really it’s not.  Seriously.  I am not joking.  Find a way to relate to your audience and get them interested in what they have to say.  The wife once began a presentation with, “I tried to find something funny about this topic to start my presentation, but honestly there’s nothing funny about it at all.”  You know what?  Everyone laughed at her joke, the audience perked up and she relaxed.  All with a silly little joke.  It’s amazing how much a little effort to connect with the audience can go a long way to improving a presentation.  The conclusion gives a final chance to remind the audience of what they need to do, to really drive home your thesis (did you notice what I did just there?).

We are not going to have better PowerPoint presentations overnight.  However, a few simple things can go a long way to create better communication between you and your audience and improve your chances of getting your message across, and not just making them wish for cookies, milk and a blue mat on the floor.

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I recently broke up with Canada!

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

I recently broke up with Canada.  While breaking up with a country sounds awfully dramatic, this really is not.  My wife and many of her friends are from Canada and when the country showed up under “people you may know” on Facebook, I didn’t think twice about friending Canada.  I’ve had great experiences with all my Canadian friends and the multiple business trips and vacations up north have all been enjoyable.  I figured there would be no harm in showing my support for the Maple Leaf.  Instead, I was immediately inundated with posts, notes and articles about Canada.  With so many posts about Canada in my news feed, I found it challenging to keep up with my actual friends.  While some of the articles were interesting, the overexposure quickly moved Canada to my ignore list.

There is a fine line between presenting a lot of useful information and spam.  We tend to associate spam with the flood of requests in an inbox to help with international banking transactions or to purchase questionable medications online.  In reality, spam can be any type of bulk communication sent electronically.  I am sure the marketing folks managing the Canada Facebook page did not see their communication as spam, but I saw it that way when its’ posts took up a third of my news feed.

For a small business looking to increase sales or leads through Web 2.0 marketing, desensitizing your audience through too much information can really hinder your efforts.  Here are a few basic communication tips to help with your online campaign:

1. Aggregate your information – Small businesses should communicate daily or weekly to stay in the minds of their customers, but you should not inundate them with information.  If you have multiple newsworthy items in one day, consolidate them into a few emails, forum posts, or Facebook notes.

2. Relate to your audience – Simply posting a link to an article does not make it inherently interesting.  Make sure you explain why the article is useful for your audience and how it relates to your business.

3. Understand the medium – Twitter and Facebook are integrated and blog posts can be easily shared with multiple information aggregators.  That does not mean people use Twitter, Facebook and blogs for the same purpose.  While content can be shared, it is important to understand how your users interface with each application and be flexible in each marketing approach.

4. Read the feedback – Possibly the most useful function of Web 2.0 technologies is the ability to receive instant feedback.  This is incredibly helpful for any company to evaluate the effectiveness of a marketing campaign beyond sales numbers.  Instantaneous feedback allows you to change your business strategies on the fly and tailor your message to the people you most want to reach.

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USPS promises no rate increases in 2010

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

On October 15, Postmaster General Jack Potter issued a letter reassuring postal customers there would be no price increases in 2010 for dominant mail products.  These include First-Class Mail, Standard Mail and periodicals. For the average individual, this might sound like a mundane announcement, but for direct marketers and mailers across the county this has positive implications for the upcoming calendar year.

First, it will be easier to plan marketing budgets.  Potter stated: “as we begin the fiscal year and as many of you, our business clients, are preparing your 2010 operating budgets, we want to end all speculation.  The Postal Service will not increase prices for market dominant products in calendar year 2010.”

Companies that participate in direct mail now have a static number to calculate their postage expenses for all marketing activities.  This will also allow them to allocate any funds set aside for postage rate increases to other marketing activities which can drive sales in 2010.

Next, at minimum it should sustain current mail volumes, if not increase them for 2010.  According to Potter, “While increasing prices might have generated revenue for the Postal Service in the short term, the long term effect could drive additional mail out of the system.”  By not increasing prices, Potter shows he understands the current economic climate could drive people away from direct marketing based on cost.  Holding steady allows companies to continue the same flow into the mailing system, or even increase their units.

Third, it is an important forward looking statement from the USPS.  Historically, the perception is that the Postal Services has been run like a government bureaucracy.  With the recent summer sale, and now locking in 2010 prices in time for direct marketers to plan a 2010 budget, Potter is acting like a corporate executive and aligning the attitude of the USPS more with the mindset of businesses that use its services.

Finally, it is a bold move to support the direct mail industry by the USPS.  By locking in rates during a time of deflation in an attempt to keep revenue steady while looking at other cost cutting moves, the postal service is positioning itself to help direct marketers stabilize their businesses.

In essence, these moves not only help the United States Postal Service, but the move to retain the current volume of mail and revenue should encourage companies to continue their direct marketing campaigns, and potentially increase direct mail activities.

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A fresh look at Direct Mail

Friday, October 16th, 2009

I have completely lost my sense of coherency in regard to what I thought I knew about direct marketing.  Only thirty days ago, I would head out to the mailbox, and while on autopilot, rifle through my daily mail. While folks in the direct mail marketing industry call this the “mail moment,” I still think this describes an activity more consciously engaged than I practiced.  After shredding my monthly airline miles credit card offers, the wife and I would work our way through the rest of the mail.  Off the top of my head, we’ve found several excellent restaurants, our furnace inspection and repair company, and after judging the condition of my lawn this fall, our lawn care service for 2010.  I’ve been convinced to visit my favorite technology and hardware discount stores when I’ve not needed anything, and taken advantage of a myriad of other coupons and offers.  However, if you had asked me a month ago, I would have said something to the effect of, “I don’t really look at my junk mail.”  Evidently, I now realize this has never been true and I’ve learned not to call it junk mail.

That change happened after I joined the Lorton Data team in September.  In a month, I have received an intensive crash course in direct marketing and contact data management.  This has been enlightening after leaving an industry focused on brand awareness, long PowerPoint presentations, and complex rebate plans to drive sales.  Most importantly, I’ve also learned that direct mail is not dead.  While there has been a decline in the total annual volume of direct mail, a unique space has opened up for well thought out direct mail campaigns.  In other words, a good direct mail piece can get more attention with less mailbox competition.

As part of my training, I’ve been encouraged to read as much industry and marketing news as I can handle.  I came across an interesting discussion from January of this year: “A Message for the Post Office: Direct Mail Is Dying.” I call this a discussion rather than a post since the most engaging part is the commentary.  HubSpot’s Inbound Marketing Team argues their marketing competition, direct mail, is dead and urges the USPS to get out of the direct mail business.  What is really interesting is the well thought out discussion in the comments section.  There are a lot of companies engaged in social media and internet marketing that aren’t ready to kick direct mail out of their marketing tool box.  Each aspect of marketing to your customers should be considered when planning a campaign.

As I continue to gain experience and knowledge of the direct marketing industry, I hope to provide actual insight on how to improve direct marketing experiences.  Or, at minimum, provide some entertainment as I struggle to develop coherence in a new-to-me method of marketing.

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