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A lovely trip to London: meeting with the APG and BIMA (and a call to arms for Scottish strategic people)

I wrote the start of this article thousands of feet circling high above Gatwick.

Gatwick is one of the worst airports. I don’t know what makes it worse than, say, Stansted, which seems to be universally loathed. I quite like Stansted because it’s small and feels regional and therefore quite friendly.

Anyway, this isn’t about airports. I was just dreading getting off the plane and doing the Gatwick palaver, which was a total palaver. And I was annoyed that I forgot my laptop charger and the emergency one I bought cost sixty quid and doesn’t even charge my laptop, it’s just a power lead that stops it from dying. What’s a blog for if you can’t put your gripes and grizzles into it?

Thanks for reading this far. I promise it gets better.

I’m now having a much nicer trip back, on a Virgin train. People keep bringing me food and coffee and I’ve got loads of work done. The wifi even mostly works. I like trains so much more than planes.

ANYWAY. The main purpose of my trip was to attend the first meeting of the judging panel of the BIMA awards which was great fun…

…But before that, I met up with Sarah Newman of the APG to talk about building a stronger network of strategic minds in Scotland.

For those of you who don’t know the APG, they are the industry body for planners and strategists in the UK.  Here’s what they say about themselves:

The APG is a not-for-profit organisation run for and by its members: primarily account planners in advertising agencies, but increasingly the wider community of communications strategists, including media planners, channel planners, digital planners and DM planners.

Their training is top notch (I should know, I’ve done a few of their courses) and they run fab events which are all up on YouTube if you want to check them out. Both training and events are held mainly in London and that was what I wanted to talk to Sarah about – could we try doing some events and/or training in Scotland?

The proposed events and training sessions would feature world class thinkers from all corners of the industry(ies) and bring people together – any person who does strategy and planning, from traditional agencies, design agencies, digital, and also from client-side.

From all over Scotland there are lots of people seeking out insight and applying them to make their communications stronger, their businesses more effective and it would be fab to do more to support each other and build a network that is both competitive and collaborative.

Events where we discuss things like, ‘what is an insight’? from different perspectives, we look at how insights are developed into ideas, how we know whether an idea is ‘good’ or not… And of course understand how to build strong brands that mean something in the complex world we now live in.

These events would be distinctive from other events in Scotland because their primary focus would be on strategy and would be aimed at people who have a say in their brand’s or their clients’ strategies in some way.

Just some initial thoughts, some of which might be wrong but I think the benefits of trying this could be as follows:

  • Creating a network of known ‘strategic minds’ – primarily for collaboration and support
  • Nurturing and growing strategic talent in Scotland
  • Building awareness of what strategy is and the value it adds
  • Enabling clients to understand whether their agencies are doing strategy right
  • Enabling agencies to find ways to improve their strategic offer

If you’re currently a member of the APG in Scotland you should have received an email from them asking your permission for me to email you – but if you’re not a member I’d still like to know if you would be interested in events/training that has a strategic focus. Let me know via the comments below, or via my Twitter or Linked In. You don’t need to be a planner or a strategist – I can see this appealing to designers, content managers, UX professionals, creatives, brand managers, insight peeps, analysts… So please get in touch if you would like to hear more as and when I get around to doing something.

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5 craft skills of the digital strategist part 4: presenting

Here’s the latest in the series on the craft skills of the digital strategist, and it’s probably one of the few that just doesn’t come that naturally to many of us.  Partly because it doesn’t go with all the other ones, which involve a lot of researching and analysing and digging around, and partly because, well, it’s just hard.

4: Presenting

Like I say, I found presenting very hard for years because I am a bit shy (although this probably comes across as being snobby or standoffish) but practicing has made things a lot easier.  I no longer think my heart is going to burst out of my body or that I am going to lose the power of speech, but I still take a bit of time to warm up and I am still guilty of using my Powerpoint slides as a bit of a crutch.  I’d love to turn up at a pitch without any slides, to be so confident in what I was saying that people would just listen to what I was saying, but I am definitely not there yet.

So here’s a couple of things I have learnt along the way.

1. Write your story before you start

Back when I was an intern at Lowe, we were taught about the Logic Train.

What’s a logic train?

I just googled Logic Train and I couldn’t find anyone from the industry talking about it. I guess it’s a trade secret.  Oh well. I’m going to talk about it now but perhaps I won’t tell you exactly how to do it.

The closest I came to it was something about computer programming procedures.   Which essentially, is what the Logic Train is.  It’s the logic of your whole argument.  The backbone of your pitch.

To be ready to write your logic train, you need to have done most of the work.  You need to know the beginning, middle and end of your story.  You need to know that before you write your presentation.

That sounds really obvious but a lot of people spend a lot of time trying to write their presentation in powerpoint before they have done all their thinking, and thinking in powerpoint is very time consuming and confusing.  It’s better if you have your story written down on a piece of paper, in like, 8 or 10 bulletpoints before you start making slides.

Then you can probably write your presentation using about ten slides instead of a hundred.

It also means that if you lose your laptop on the way to the meeting, you know what you’re going to say anyway.  And it means that you can circulate the logic train to everyone in your team if you’re collaborating on a presentation and they all get what the story is about too.

2. A picture paints a thousand words

So you’ve got your ten slides and you’re ready to put things on them to provide extra depth to what you’re going to say.  If you use lots of bullet points, people read those instead of listening to you.  So think of nice visual ways to tell your story instead.  Diagrams and nice photos and things.

3. To sell, you need to be ready to buy

Strategists’ presentations are generally where you are convincing your client that you know that what you’re selling is going to work because research says it’s what the people want, and it’s going to work for their business too.  If you don’t think you have a convincing argument and don’t really believe what you’re trying to persuade your audience to believe, they’re not going to buy it.  So put yourself in their shoes (both the target audience and the client’s) and ask, if I’m the buyer, would I buy this?

4. Stand up

Most presentations I go to people sit down and it’s all meant to be relaxed and formal but I think that things get missed.

If you go to presentation skills courses they always tell you to stand up to present.

I’ve tried standing and sitting and I always feel stupid standing up at the beginning but it’s actually better, especially if the other presenters want to sit down.  But if you stand, the energy in the room is better, it feels like you have got people’s attention better than if you sit down.

5. Watch lots of great presentations and think about what you like about what they do

We’re so lucky to have video streaming these days and there are a gazillion presentations on YouTube, great TED talks and industry things.  The best presenters don’t rely on powerpoints at all, or they use them to make particular points, or as a bit of entertainment.  Here are some great storytellers who also happen to be presenting too.

Rory Sutherland…  I didn’t know what heuristics were and I thought it sounded boring till I saw an hour long video where he talked about behavioural economics.  I can’t find that video, but here’s a similar TED talk.  He’s a fantastic presenter, a natural storyteller.  Very good at making complicated things seem simple – and that’s what good strategists do.

Russell Davies…  The self-styled ‘maverick’ planner gives a great presentation.  He uses jokes and interesting tangents balanced with a bit of (but crucially not too much) self-deprecation, as well as jokes about powerpoint in his slides, but doesn’t let his point get lost.  I saw him recently at the APG Big Thinking Conference and he was very entertaining around a simple presentation about the government website’s design principles.  Here’s a typical example of one of his presentations.

And finally, back to my first point, Susan Cain…  On the power of introverts, Susan Cain shows you can use the right timing to tell jokes and props to ensure that your story works.  And she’s great at pausing – when she pauses you can tell people are waiting to hear what she is going to say next.  That’s learned confidence – most people when they are nervous talk quickly just to get it over and done with.  But if you’ve done the hard work, and prepared a good story, you need to take your time in order to share it effectively.  And there’s not a powerpoint slide to be seen in her talk.

My final piece in this series will be published tomorrow, and it’s about assimilation.  Is this the most underrated skill of all?

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