Monday, 24 August 2009

PowerPoint is innocent!

Apparently PowerPoint is responsible for making corporate presentations dull and really boring. I beg to differ. Corporate presentations were dull and really boring long before PowerPoint saw the light of day and were far, far worse for the excessive use of flipcharts!

PowerPoint in itself is neutral, the way we use it is what generates enthusiasm - or boredom.

Having said that, I once gave a presentation at a meeting of senior managers. It was well received and I had gone to a lot of effort to ensure that the slides were illustrative rather than electronic cue cards for me. In one way the presentation was a success in that the meeting decided to adopt the approach I had recommended. However, I was taken to one side after the meeting and asked by the meeting's chair to redraft my slides such that they more accurately reflected what I had said so that no "overly extensive" minutes were needed. I was admonished that all presentations needed to be bullet points only to enable non attendees to read them and get the gist of what was said. Needless to say I had to join the "bullet point brigade" thereafter. Well, mostly!

Although I resented the intervention at the time, he did have a point. We had moved on from using PowerPoint as simply a visual aid. The slide print outs became a hard copy record of the minutes that could be audited. It was the way the organisation worked and we can hardly blame PowerPoint for our internal processes.

Another frustration of mine is that the same argument for wordy slides is used when PowerPoint presentations are to be put online. It may take a while, but I'm hopeful that we'll move to podcasts of the original presentation, complete with audio.

As someone who lectured in a University for nearly 10 years I'd defend PowerPoint against all comers. If a presentation is boring and uninformative, it's not the fault of a computer programme. When used in combination with good teaching techniques and a range of other presentation skills PowerPoint is a powerful and engaging medium.

If people fall asleep during your presentation, it's not the slides that are boring them!

Sunday, 23 August 2009

It's that time of year again...

You can almost feel the relief of the various media and news outlets as GCSE and A Level results time draws closer. It's a "slow news" time of year and so an opportunity to take aim at an easy target is a temptation that none of them try and resist. We're treated to the usual howls of derision as the results are made public.

Having been Head of Department at one the UK's leading Examination Boards I would say that the criticism levelled at the current crop of qualifications flies wide of the mark. Are the qualifications different to 20 or 30 years ago - certainly! Easier, no.

The policy makers set the curriculum and not the Examinations Boards. The decision to include sociological and environmental components in all subjects means that other things have to be removed. Do I always agree with what is removed - no, of course not, but then I'm an Engineer at heart and not a politician!

So, why are more and more young people doing so very well in their examinations. (Apart from putting in the hard work that is) When I look back at my education the only sources of information I had were the subject teacher and the library. If you didn't like your teacher you were less likely to do well in their subject area. In more modern times there are study guides, online revision sites, podcasts and so on. There are more alternative sources of good quality information available to the diligent student than ever before. Teachers are a very important part of the learning process, but they are no longer the only part and perhaps that needs to be recognised.

The media are creatures of habit and I doubt that one blogpost will change their habit of sniping at the results each year. I do hope that the rest of us, however, will respect the time and effort that our young people put into getting themselves qualified and celebrate their success with them.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Coaching - friend or foe

It's time to take a look at coaching from a different angle.

Some people like having a coach, they get a lot out of it and it adds considerably to their professional development. The majority have it imposed on them and take a dim view of the benefits.

When CPD/coaching is rolled out there is a tendency to spam people with "cultural change" and "improving communications" workshops. There is nothing wrong with the content of the workshops, but the recipients are coming in to them with a disctinctly negative frame of mind.

Consider the view from the point of an experienced, long serving senior manager. You've been working for the company for years, your appraisals are fine and you've progressed well. Suddenly you're told that you need to change your culture and communicate better. The instinctive reaction, no matter how softly and gently it is put to you, is that your skills are lacking and that you've been doing it wrong all these years!

I call this the "perceived deficit model". No matter how sensitively and positively the subject of having a coach is broached, people will feel that they have somehow fallen short of what is expected from them to "need" coaching.

Ariadne's Thread uses the "accumulative model". This is where the sessions concentrate on problem solving. By working on real and urgent projects with people it is then easy to add the benefits of coaching to issues that are relevant and important to them. I act as a "sounding board" for ideas and offer an external and neutral perspective.

So, how do you feel about coaching in business? Is it a good thing, a waste of money, or a way to tick the CPD box?

Entering the blogosphere

Been a while since I "blogged"!

About me:
I'm a consultant based in the West Midlands in the UK. I've been an Associate Dean, a Training Manager, a Telephone Engineer, a Head of Department at an Examinations Board, a warehouse clerk, a job centre administrator and a University Lecturer (not in chronological order!)

I want to start sharing my perspective on CPD, Education, Coaching and so forth. I have a different way of looking at things and that's what my company is all about.

Ariadne's Thread is about finding unique solutions for unique people. One size does not fit all!