Is good design to be equated with functional?

Is good design to be equated with functional?

Musings on my past, good design, functionality, ergonomics, customer experience, taps, light switches and a juicer.

Is good design to be equated with functional?

That was the question. For the next 40 minutes I scribbled the answer to the ‘A’ Level History of Art question.  Twenty five years later two things strike me. Firstly, that my answer must have satisfied the examiner because I got a good grade.  And that after all these years, that question still sticks in my mind.  (My answer, not so much).  It sticks in my mind because I’ve spent most of my working life addressing the inverse of that question. Is functional to be equated with good design? More often than not, the answer is a resounding no! Design is treated as an afterthought (if at all). The result is systems, products and processes that are hard and nasty to use.

What do you do?

“So what do you do?” I am often asked.

I pause.  My job title doesn’t describe what I do. “Customer Experience” is not an activity; it’s not something you “do”.  Customer experience is something I strive to make better.  It is not something I am, as in I might be a designer or a developer or a marketer or a salesperson. I am not a customer experience. My passion is to help lead teams to create and curate great customer experiences.

So what am I?

I’m thinking that I should answer with what I am qualified in.

I am an ergonomist.

What does an ergonomist do? To quote from the Egonomics Society:

Ergonomics is about making life easier for people.  This includes the products you use at home, at play and at work, the places in which you live and work… and the system that keep day-to-day life functioning properly.

“So what do you do?”

I am an ergonomist. I make life easier for people.

Why do I do this?

Twenty five years ago, with the question “is design to be equated with functional” rattling in my head, I stumbled across Ergonomics as a degree course at Loughborough University.  As a degree I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to do; something scientific, something social or something arty. Ergonomics (or human factors as it is often known as) covered all three.

In the first year at Loughborough we had an Introduction to Ergonomics and Design course that was attended by design students as well as the ergonomists. Assessment was through a team project.  The problem my team addressed was the design of bathroom taps (or faucets if you are reading this is the US).

The tap project

Is good design to be equated with functional?

At the time, the design vogue for taps was minimalist and that meant smooth.  With wet or soapy hands it could be hard to grip and easily twist the tap, especially a problem for the elderly or less dexterous amongst us. We set up a rig to adjust resistance and measure the force involved in turning different tap designs. We had control data to work against.  It was a great, multi-disciplinary team and we created an elegant new design that subjectively measured to be more pleasing to look at, and the data demonstrated that with wet or dry hands it enabled greater torque to be applied. It was easier to use.

It was obvious!

This is the way all products should be designed – get the user involved and use data to validate your assumptions.  It is only in the last few years that this thinking is becoming more widespread.

Finally (with the poster child of Apple) we are beginning to see Functional equated with Good Design.

Hot or not?

Like that exam question, the design of taps has continued to haunt me.

But why am I rambling on about taps? Because there is still some quite shocking tap design still out there! Or rather, I suspect that if you know how to use this design you don’t see the problem with it.

Tap centrally positioned

Take a look at the above tap.  Sorry for the quality of the picture. It’s a tap in a cheap hotel I stayed in a while ago.

Which way do you turn the tap to get hot water? Do you turn the tap to the right, fully exposing the hot circle (move tap right = lots of red circle = lots of hot water).

Tap with handle twisted to right

Or do you move the tap to select the hot circle (move tap left = red circle selected = lots of hot water). But all you can see now is blue which is cold!

Tap with handle twisted to left

 

Now I assume that if you have one of these taps at home, you have learned the behaviour of this design, it is second nature to you. It is obvious to you!  The ergonomist in me cringes every time I see one of these taps, and I still have no instinctive idea which way is hot and which was is cold.

When you are designing products, do you apply empathy and try and think like someone else? Listening to Dan Pink’s excellent book To sell is Human, he talks about role play; imagine selling an everyday product to an imaginary customer who has time travelled from the 17th century.  (For example, try explaining buying a hamburger from a drive-in MacDonalds to someone from the past! You can’t even assume the time traveller will understand the concept of the hamburger, let alone a car…)

Take a look at the post I wrote about let’s pretend user testing, but this time role play as though you come from a different place and time.

Now do you think your product is still easy to use?

Here’s another example.

Light switch

The humble light switch. Is it on or off? Trouble is, this is a cultural question. In the US it is on, in the UK it is off. (This picture is actually the light switch in my daughters bedroom. It was unintentionally wired the wrong way round.  She’s recently grown tall enough to switch the light on and off. When I asked her the question, away from her room, “which way is it to switch a light on?” “Daddy,” she said, “that’s easy. On is up and off is down”. Your view of the world is how you learn it).

Juicer Vs iPhone

Is good design to be equated with functional. 

alessi juicer

I started by stating that I couldn’t remember much of my answer to this question. I do remember drawing one object to back up my argument. The Alesi juicer.  Undoubtedly a beautiful object. But form and function? I think not. As a desirable artifact to have in your kitchen? Definitely. As an orange juicer? Definitely not.  Read the reviews; here’s a typical one:

A nice product to look at but rather difficult to use. I managed to get more juice down my front than in a glass!

It is good design, but on a functional level it fails. There are far better juicers out there that do not have the aesthetic, but are far more effective, cleaner in getting the job of squeezing out a citrus fruit.

The Alessi juicer has something in common with the iPhone. Both are the product of visionaries. Both were driven by uncompromising individuals with a single minded design vision.  Both are products whose attraction ultimately lie in their design.  The difference between the two is that the iPhone is user centred whilst the Alessi juicer is idea centred. It delivers on the idea, not on the needs of the user.  One of the last times I met with Luke Barrett we talked about these products. If Apple and the Alessi juicer are driven by leaders for whom design is paramount, what about the other end of the scale. Products that are the result of design by committee. On a Wagamma placemat we sketched out the following matrix.

Quadrant

It was easy to fill the idea centred, group design box. You see this shocking design in almost all enterprise software. (“Enterprise software”. The term makes me shudder with unease. Because large organisations don’t call themselves enterprises.  It’s a label that has been applied by software vendors touting their software to be applicable to companies they perceive to be large, often unwieldy and the potential source of large revenue streams for them).

Is functional to be equated with good design? No, most certainly not! Because enterprise software is usually focused upon the functionality, the idea of what the user need is, and the how is not rooted in user centred design.

It is rare for a large organization to have a design visionary who passionately cares about the quality of the design in the same way that Steve Jobs did.  Go beyond the startup and design is almost inevitably going to be the responsibility of many people. Hitting that magic quadrant in the enterprise, the place where most of us should probably be, is going to be hard. It is, as this article suggests, the next UX revolution. I think we are getting close to this at Auto Trader. In the future I’ll write about it.

 

 

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Goodbye Luke

The cruel hand of death has plucked a good friend, mentor and inspiration from us. I wouldn’t be where I am today without Luke Barrett; he shone a light for me to follow. For someone with so much energy, so much more to give the world, with a young family and a life ahead of him, his death is truly tragic.

I first met Luke at Accenture, or Andersen Consulting as it was at the time. He was doing some interactive stuff and was looking to do some usability testing on Digital TV.  Our paths crossed and we started usability testing our clients products. This was in 1999 and ‘design evaluation’ as we called it was quite an innovation at the time.

We worked together on Barclays iBank, rigorously validating our designs with customers, helping the bank transform their first generation, clunky IT-centric on-line banking application into something friendly and usable. Ahead of its time, Luke championed the Rapid Proposition Development offering – you’d call it Lean Startup today.  His creativity, work rate and energy were both inspiring and infectious. Working weekends with him, building interactive prototypes to validate assumptions wasn’t work; it was a fun thing to do. We worked with an overseas bank who were looking to enter the UK market. Undoubtedly we saved them millions of pounds by demonstrating that their idea, when presented to potential customers was worthless.

Luke was a rare breed, truly creative, with an eye for design (visual and interactive), and a keen technologist as well. On one project we worked on together, a contractor was brought in to build a Flash investment calculator. The contractor was unable to deliver on Luke’s vision, so he taught himself Flash and over a weekend built something awesome.

Luke left Accenture to pursue other opportunities, but still came back from time to time to run training sessions on Photoshop and Illustrator.  Our paths crossed again shortly after he joined ThoughtWorks. A consultancy full of uber-geek developers who at the time had little idea of the importance of user centred design. Luke persuaded me to join him on a mission to fuse agile with user experience. Taking a pay cut to join Luke again was a no-brainer. He’d just completed a two week gig at a Building Society where not a line of code was written (but the client had a vision of what needed to be built). This had demonstrated to the ThoughtWorks team that their may be legs in this UCD stuff. And from that we started doing “Quickstarts,” which later became project inceptions -understanding the what before the how.  Curious, he was always looking to learn and had an idea or balanced opinion on most things.

Always a quiet man, not one to seek fanfare or acclaim, I’m certain that in a small way Luke has helped influence the way we build software. Not long ago was I talking to Geoff Patton and he was telling me how Luke influenced much of his thinking.  There are many products that people use and love that are just that much better from his hand.

After seven great years at ThoughtWorks I decided to leave.  We kept in touch, Luke helping shape ThoughtWorks out of its London base to a European presence.  We met up every few months, he’d always ask when I was going to come back to ThoughtWorks. It was this time last year that he mentioned Auto Trader to me and once again he had a hand in my fate.

Whatever he did, wherever he went, Luke applied his passion and drive. Whether it be on the dance floor, mentoring team members, managing prickly client relationships or dealing with prima-donna developers, Luke gave 100%.

Luke. You are gone but never forgotten.

The book on digital marketing

The book on digital marketing

I thought about writing a book on digital marketing last year. I got as far as a title “Fishing where the fishes swim – marketing to a digital generation” and a table of contents but never got any further. There’s probably some milage in the idea – I don’t think there’s anything on the market in print that does this, and I definitely think there’s a need (especially in large organisations where marketing has been structured around non-digital thinking). I’ve not got the time to write it. Maybe you will… Or maybe it could be a crowd-sourced effort? The idea’s out there.

Part 1.Introduction

What is digital marketing?

  • Setting the scene / overview
  • The funnel: AIDA in a digital world
  • Introducing the conversion funnel

Part 2. Building for conversion

Customer development

  • Understand the audience
  • Getting out of the building
  • Validating ideas at speed

Lean and agile engineers

  • Overview of agile software development
  • How to make things happen at speed

Agitating action

  • Information architecture
  • Persuasion architecture
  • Structuring websites to sell

Content is king

  • Effective copywriting / writing for conversion
  • Micro copy

Landing pages

  • Why they are important
  • How to build successful landing pages

Mobile

  • Responsive design
  • Apps

Test test test

  • How to measure success
  • AB testing
  • Multivariate testing

Part 3. Creating a buzz

Viral marketing

  • What makes a campaign go viral?
  • Ingredients of virality

Infographics

  • Why use infographics
  • Ingredients of a successful infographic
  • Now you’ve designed it, what to do with it

Social engagement

Introduction to social media

  • How to decide where to socialise
  • Measuring success

Twitter

  • Maintaining a twitter account
  • Promoted tweets
  • Measuring success

Facebook

  • Maintaining a Facebook account
  • Facebook ads
  • Measuring success

YouTube

  • Creating video that has impact
  • Maintaining a YouTube account
  • Measuring success

And the rest

VOD?

Part 4. Every journey starts with Google

All about search

  • Overview of search, how people search
  • Introduce different search engines

How to ascend search rankings (and stay there)

  • Introduction to natural search and SEO
  • Technical optimisation
  • Content optimisation
  • Techniques for getting inbound links
  • Black hat and white hat
  • Measuring success

Paid search

  • Introduce AdWords
  • Keyword mining
  • Creating campaigns
  • Writing adword copy
  • Managing the account
  • Quality score
  • Measuring success

Part 5. Building relationships

Email marketing

  • Email overview / the virtuous cycle
  • Segmentation and campaigns
  • Avoiding spam and blacklists
  • Measuring success

Loyalty and referrals

  • Refer a friend schemes
  • Why do people refer
  • How to build an effective referral scheme

Part 6. Appearing elsewhere

Affiliate marketing

  • Introduce affiliates and networks
  • Measuring success

Display

  • Advertising on the web
  • Advertising on mobile
  • Retargeting

Part 7. Making it happen

Convergent marketing

  • How to work with traditional marketing channels
  • Building the team
  • Who do you need?
  • Where digital marketing should fit in the organisation
  • Closing thoughts and what’s next.
Thank you. Gutted.

Thank you. Gutted.

I went for a short run last night, the last before the big race. After ten minutes I pulled up in agony. My ankle, which I’d previously strained but thought I could run through, (it’s had physio and was strapped up), got the better of me.  This morning when I woke up it was inflamed, swollen, still painful and tender.

I’m stubbon. The thought of not running the London Marathon fills me with loathing. I’ve trained so hard for it. To be taken away from me, the day before is hard to take. Even more so given how much people have sponsored me.  For the sponsorship I’m truly grateful. I never expected such generosity.  Thank-you. I feel that I’ve let you down.

To go out tomorrow would be folly; I could probably slowly jog/ walk around but that’s not the point. What started as a mission to complete it has now become an obsession. I’ve a time to beat. So here’s the plan. I’ve withdrawn from the London Marathon this year; my entry has been deferred to next year.  I’m going to match the donations that have been given to date when I run it next year. And I’m entering the Amsterdam marathon in October. I can’t give up this running bug, waiting a year is too long.  Thank you for your support. This morning I’m gutted. But it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Picture credit 

Running for GBS

Running for GBS

The fight began with the common cold. The immune system kicked into action, the cold was defeated. But for some reason the message didn’t get through to the immune system to stop fighting. It turned on itself. The nervous system is like electrical cables running through the body. On the Sunday night my mother had a tingling in her hand. The following morning she’d lost use of her arms. That night she was on life support. Her immune system had eaten into the electrical cables; her nervous system destroyed by her own body. From that moment she was locked in. Totally paralysed. Unable to move. Unable to communicate. (We improvised with a letter board and her blinking her eyes). She had been struck by Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS). Months passed and slowly her nervous system rebuilt itself. Today, several years later she is almost back to her old self. We wrote of the experience on her blog about Guillan Barre Syndrome (GBS). GBS is thankfully rare condition, but can strike anybody. Think about that the next time you come down with flu.

So why am I telling that story? In three weeks I’m running the London Marathon. When I say that to people, the reply is inevitably “which charity are you doing it for?” I didn’t expect this. I wasn’t doing it for charity. But I am now. And the charity I’m doing it for is GAIN, the charity who supports people with GBS and funds research into this dreadful condition.

READ UPDATE HERE

Why?

I’m not a runner. I hate running. But I’m curious. I remember the first London Marathon on TV when I was a child thinking “when I’m old enough, I’ll do that”. Every year when the marathon comes and goes I remember that thought, do nothing about it and promptly forget about it. Social media changed things last year. I saw a tweet that the ballot for entries for the marathon had just opened. Curious. I entered. No-one ever gets through the ballot, and if you don’t get through your fee goes to charity, so I didn’t really think twice about it. Several months later, what wasn’t supposed to happen did happen. I got a place. Better start training.

Before receiving the acceptance letter I had barely run 5KM that year. Dragging myself out of the house was a chore. A painful chore. I hate running. Technology eased the pain. A Garmin became my new toy and Strava became a close friend. On a recommendation I got a trainer (my 7 year old daughter was amazed that I have a trainer that skypes. But Daddy, trainers are on you feet!); Kris tells me what to do and I dutifully obey. Soon I didn’t hate running so much. Running in cold, windy wet January evenings even started to become something to look forward to. Not only was I getting fitter, weight began to fall off me. (That might also be down to my giving up alcohol and, following reading This book experimenting with going vegetarian, and as much as possible following a plant-based diet). I recalled my time in Northern India in Ashrams and Buddhist retreats. Mindfulness. I used mindfulness to stay on track.

Just finishing the marathon, getting around the course became a pretty lame goal. I’ve started thinking in terms of pace, personal bests… I ran the Surrey half marathon in just over two hours (I’d have done it under two but I needed a wee half way round… That taught me a vital lesson on hydration!) On Sunday I ran 21 miles. In three weeks it’ll be 26. So please sponsor me. When you learn that a relative has this unknown condition called GBS, GAIN provide fantastic support. And with their help hopefully we’ll better understand GBS and one day it’ll be a thing of the past.  Not much time now.  Please sponsor this awesome cause.

Business cases are works of fiction. Try storytelling instead.

Business cases are works of fiction. Try storytelling instead.

Instead of PowerPoint, use storytelling to paint a picture of what you want to achieve.

A business case is little more than an educated guess. It’s a description of a current state, what you plan to do and what results you expect. It’s a prediction of what might be and will almost certainly be wrong. Framing it in this predictive language makes it unbelievable, and doesn’t allow discourse around what is likely to go wrong. Sure, you’ll have some RAIDS, risks, assumptions, issues, and dependencies, but these are generally lists to be glossed over. The focus of the business case is how are we going to make money.

A business case is a business document that exists to persuade stakeholders to back your idea. It’s a rationale plea to ‘back me” based on backward looking facts for forward thinking fiction.

Two points.

One. Stop the pleading, quit asking for permission. You believe in what you are presenting so assume it is a done deal. Describe it as such. Assume that your case is so great that approval is a given. Tell that story.

Two. Let’s be honest. It’s little more than a work of fiction. So use that admission to your advantage.

It we treat the future-state as a fiction, yet to be written, what’s missing in the business case is a narrative. Narrative is storytelling. Tell your business case, your idea, your pitch as a story. Write it in the past tense as though the product has been delivered. Tell the history, of what happened, who was involved. The pitfalls that were encountered. The problems that were faced. Describe the project in retrospect. Imagine your future self, basking in the glory of the successful delivery of the product (with some bumps along the way – it won’t really come in on time, on budget will it?!) Your future self looks back and recounts in prose the story. Beginning, middle. End.

Go all the way back to the start; what problems did the team want to address? What was the opportunity that was seen at the time. And why was the project commissioned? It was the story that did it. The team bought into the story; the inspiring narrative that painted a picture of what the journey might be like, warts and all.

So ditch the Word document business case template, throw out the PowerPoint slides with their bullets and charts. Imagine the future and craft a story that paints the picture of what you and your team achieved. There’s your business case. That’s why we are passionate and driven to do this. Stories are hard to kill.

There’s nowt so queer as folk: dealing with complaints and difficult customers

There’s nowt so queer as folk: dealing with complaints and difficult customers

There’s nowt so queer as folk.

So said a Yorkshireman following a usability test where the participant was just plain awkward.  We wanted feedback on the flow through a check-out process, but this pernickety participant insisted in reading all the terms and conditions on the website. He then refused to continue because he wouldn’t abide by them.

“OK, so let’s assume that you were happy with the T&Cs, what would you do now?”

“But I wouldn’t be happy with the T&Cs so I would leave the site…”

“Leaving the T&C’s aside…”

“I wouldn’t” (and so came an end to this particular session).

There’s nowt so queer as folk is a Northern English expression that means there’s nothing as strange as people. When you are building a product or service that will be used by the general public, before long you’ll come across some strange people. How are you going to deal with them?

Your customer is lying

I once worked at a Pizza restaurant, owned by a fiery stuntman. A woman came in complaining that there was a fly in her half eaten pizza. She opened the pizza box and there on the cheese was a dead fly. She demanded a full refund and another Pizza. The owner listened patiently then told her in no uncertain terms that she was a bullshitter. He pointed to the fly. Look at it’s wings! He then pointed to the oven – “you are telling me that the fly was cooked in that oven and its wings didn’t burn. Madam, you put that fly on the Pizza!”.

Haven’t you got better things to be doing?

Call them outliers, random aberrations, freaks; there are some odd people out there and some of them are going to interact with you. Having customers should delight you but sometimes it is going to infuriate you, none more so when it comes to awkward or difficult types who are motivated to complain. Take a look at the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) rulings.   Now many of the complaints are one company taking a pop at a competitor, for example price comparison websites complaining about claims made in ads.  But many of these complaints leave you wondering, haven’t these people got better things to do with their time?

Your customer is trying it on

You will get people “trying it on”. You run a promotion – there’ll be folk who bought immediately prior to the promotion complaining that they’ve been excluded and demand the promotion price be applied. Returns policies will be abused, and no matter how much you point to the terms and conditions there will be customers who will accuse and bad mouth you. Introduce any sort of product promise and you will find someone who finds fault with it.

Something goes wrong and not everyone will be like you (understanding and respectful). So what if it outside your control – it’s still your responsibility. You are going to get some pretty rude correspondence. Social media is only going to amplify this.

You #fail. You #suck.

Are you going to be like my Pizza boss and accuse your customer of lying? Or refuse to deal with the customer because you think she is rude as the supermarket checkout assistant did? Or  disbelieve and refuse to engage with as the Scottevest CEO did. Or be proud that customer service is irrelevant if you’re core product is differentiated by price alone, and call your customers idiots as O’Leary does with Ryanair?

Complaints? treat them fairly.

When you are working with people, remember that Yorkshire saying; there’s nowt so queer than folk. When you are building a product, you do all your customer development; you know that people are not like you, but when you launch, be prepared to discover quite how unlike you some people are. And in some cases how you really don’t care for some of your customers at all.

You don’t need to like every customer. You don’t have to be everybody’s friend. What you do need is consistency in your approach and to treat people fairly (if that is what you want your brand to stand for). Most importantly, be ready for the people who you’ll wonder “haven’t you got better things to be doing…”

Image credit: Alan Turkus

How do you dress up your digital success?

How do you dress up your digital success?

“As a result of improvements to our client’s shopping cart process, revenue increased by 50%”.

“Following the redesign of the landing page, conversion rate increased by 70%”.

Stats like these sound great, they impress; who wouldn’t want a digital agency whose work resulted in double digit improvements in conversion rates. But what does that really mean? What are the numbers hiding?

Lies, damn lies and statistics.

Let’s take some simple numbers. Let’s say that 10,000 people start the journey at your landing page and 500 complete the journey. Put another way, of the 10,000 visitors, 500 actually purchase the item you are selling. In this scenario your conversion rate is 5%.

Now let’s say that you make changes to the customer journey that reduce the drop out rate. People find it easier to complete the process. As a result of your work, you still have 10,000 visitors who start the journey, but now 700 go through to purchase. You’ve increased your conversion rate to 7%.

You’ve increased conversion rate by 2%, moving it two percentage points from 5% to 7%. Impressive, but not as impressive as the claim of increasing the conversion rate by 40%. Which is what the growth rate is from 500 to 700.

So next time someone tells you how they’ve increased conversion rates, or revenue, or some other reported KPI with double digit percentage growth, don’t take the statistic at face value. Ask what they took it from and what they took it to.

When culture kills innovation

When culture kills innovation

Let me retell a story I recently heard about innovation in a retail bank.

Processing standing orders at the bank was an administrative burden. There was no ‘straight through processing’.  Whilst it was acknowledged as a problem, it was not one that was of sufficiently high priority to justify a new project on the IT roadmap.  This didn’t stop an entrepreneurial project manager and a couple of developers take on the challenge as a ‘side of desk’ project. They managed to fit it in between their core work and in six weeks delivered a solution that almost immediately delivered value to the bank in efficiencies and cost saving.  Job (quietly) well done. Until a bank holiday Monday, a scenario that the solution hadn’t been designed for and on the Tuesday it failed. A backlog of standing orders was created, but no more than what would have occurred prior to the solution being implemented. Senior management got wind of the ‘failure’ and demanded answers. The problem was fixed and ‘business as usual’ returned. Until the extra leap-year day in February. Another corner case that the solution was not designed for. This time senior management ramped up the blame. Risk was not tolerated in the bank- a failure to run the project ‘properly’ introduced significant operational risk. The team were placed on a disciplinary process.  Everyone saw how the story ended and no-one wanted to end up being treated this way. That pretty much killed any innovation within the bank. The bank’s culture of ‘zero risk’ and insisting on ‘process over people’ destroyed any internal entrepreneurialism at a stroke.

Now let’s imagine that at a time in the future, the CEO of the bank hears of his competitors successfully incubating new ideas from the grass roots up. There’s a mandate to encourage ‘skunk works’ projects in the bank. Inevitably this will fail. Unless the underlying culture is fixed such projects are doomed to fail. Culture is often bigger than the whim of the CEO. To build internal innovation capability, to enable test and learn, business agility and a can-do mentality, this story tells us a lesson. Do nothing until you understand the culture and ensure that it can provide the oxygen for innovation to flourish, not suffocate it.

Perfect Pitch: three tips for delivering a winning presentation

Perfect Pitch: three tips for delivering a winning presentation

Blah blah blah. All too often this is what it is like. Someone is presenting something to you; they are pitching, promoting, selling, explaining and it just sounds like blah blah blah punctuated by lots of ummms and errrrs. They don’t get to the point. What is the point? The moment is lost and the pitch is lost.

It doesn’t have to be this way. If you are pitching or presenting to an unfamiliar audience, and want to make an impact, here are three top tips that will have you delivering winning pitches.

1. Understand sender-message-recipient

There are three parts to the pitch that you need to consider. The sender – that is you. The recipient – that’s who you are pitching it to. And the message – well that’s your pitch.

The recipient: Here’s the first thing to get right. Know your audience. Once you know who the recipient of your message is you can ensure that you tailor the message right.  A little research about the recipient will go a long way; are they already familiar with your product / category / domain? Do they understand the technology. You don’t want your pitch to fail because they didn’t understand what you were talking about by drowning them in acronyms and industry-speak that’s confusing and irritating.

The sender: This is simple. As the sender of the message, be likeable. You are pitching yourself as much as your product.

The message: And finally the message itself. Your goal is to communicate it as clearly and succinctly as possible so that it is understood and engages the recipient. Consider the ‘signal to noise’ ratio. Ummms and arrrs aren’t the only noise you need to cut out. Anything that detracts or is not directly relevant to the core message you are trying to convey needs to be cut out too. Focus on the key take-aways that you want to convey. To do this you need some structure.

2. Focus upon what’s important

If you look at a newspaper article, you’ll see it is structured like a pyramid. It starts with the title and the key points – a summary of what will follow, before spreading out into the detail and the main content in the body. Your pitch needs to be like a collection of these pyramid tops; you want to engage and sell the key points (as much as possible second guessing contentious issues so that you open yourself up to easy questioning rather than being on the defensive back-foot from the start). What you don’t want to do is drill down into the trivial detail – leave that to the questions after you’ve delivered your killer presentation!

In order to focus upon what is important, you need to frame in your mind what, exactly are you trying to convey? Use the elevator pitch to help shape this.

For (target customer) who has (customer need), (product name) is a (market category) that (one key benefit). Unlike (competition), the product is (unique differentiator). We forecast (top-line revenue projections) through (how you’ll monetise it).

This alone is not the perfect pitch. You need to be able to back-up any assertion you make, and you also need to remember that you’ve only got a limited time to make the pitch and you’ve only got one chance to make an impression and sell the idea. When you know what you need to pitch, now let’s look at how you are going to do it.

3. Form the flow

I’ve seen someone practice a pitch before understanding the approach I’m about to describe, and doing it again after learning it. The difference was amazing. Learn this and you are guaranteed to deliver a perfect pitch. It’s simple:

Tell ‘em what you are going to tell them (Line it up)
Tell ‘em it (back it up)
Tell ‘em what you’ve told them (knock ‘em out).

Let’s illustrate that.

Key point to killer statement

Think about the key point you want to convey. State it. Back it up with three succinct supporting facts. Then, with the point built up,  deliver a killer statement that you want to stick in the recipient’s mind. I’ll bring that to life with a random example:

Line it up with the key point
Global warming is a problem we must address

Back it up with 3 supporting facts

  1. In the 20th C the surface temperature of the earth increased by 1.2-1.4oF
  2. In the same period sea levels rose by 4-8 inches
  3. September was the 330th consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th Century average

Knock ‘em out with the killer statement:
The world is getting hotter!

But that’s not enough to deliver the pitch. We need a story. And that means using the above technique to string together a number of statements, each building upon the previous to deliver a coherent and compelling narrative.

Building the narrative

So for our global warning story, it might look something like this:

1. Global warming is a problem we must address

  1. In the 20th C the surface temperature of the earth increased by 1.2-1.4oF
  2. In the same period sea levels rose by 4-8 inches
  3. September was the 330th consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th C average

The world is getting hotter!

2. The impact is already being felt

  1. Global warming is causing more intense rainfall and droughts across the world.
  2. 150,000 deaths per year are blamed on the effects of global warming (WHO)
  3. At least 279 species of plants and animals are migrating north to escape rising temperatures (source)
 

If humanity doesn’t act we are doomed!

OK, so maybe that’s rather a large leep to make, but you get the point. You string the narrative together, taking care to build up with too many points (do that and this process looses its impact; seven is always a good number!) and if appropriate end on a crescendo. Remember the serial position effect , that people remember the last things they are told and forget the things in the middle. Do don’t want to end your pitch with a whimper, you need to end it with your audience understanding and liking you, and forcing a positive impression at the end that will allay feers and objections that would be more forefront of mind if the content of your pitch was weak, meandering and indistinct.

Pitch building blocks leading to the key takeaway

Good luck and let me know how you get on!

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