Saturday, December 17, 2011

Speeches for Elevators

I have a variety of items displayed in my office. I'm a cluttered person by nature and enjoy looking up at a framed scribble by the Ones or a family photo or an amusing cartoon Friend sent me with her living will. (I do not display the latter. Just to be clear.) I have sketches and notes attached to metal with magnets. Printed cover sheets from published papers pinned on a board.

One of these papers is a printed slide - we rarely have paper copies of presentations but when revising the important messages, we each bring copies and scrawl notes in the margins for consistency across colleagues.

Sometimes the printer gets overwhelmed - all the pretty colors and large images confuse the poor thing - and I blinked with moderately hurt feelings when Adam laughed out loud at one of my pages.

"Your summary could use some work," he offered with a wink, handing me a paper neatly entitled Summary and containing the following message:




"Well," I decided, "at least it's emphatic. If you're going to go with a crappy message, you might as well be passionate about it."

But as I listened to yet another bad presentation for yet another hour, I sighed and thought that persuading people to do what you want shouldn't be as hard as people make it. And though it still shocks me, I'm in a position to judge people's work based on how much they want Industry money. And - not infrequently - I can't figure out what you're trying to sell me because your pitch is so awful.

If people would answer these questions for me, we'd be all set. Possibly with extra time for hugs and kisses!
  1. Why do I care? Seriously - what problem are you trying to solve?
  2. How is your solution different (and better) than others available?
  3. How confident are you in your value and differentiating characteristics?
Point 1
I'm sure you're very cool and smart. Awesome and brilliant. But this isn't like those homemade caramels near the cash register. (Though I do like those.) Tell me that I'm behind a competitor. That people are dying. That I can make lots and lots of money. Then - and this is important as well - connect what you're doing to that problem.

If you can't do this, you're wasting everyone's time. And I will spend the hour I've promised you wondering what color your mane would be if you were a unicorn. Because otherwise, I'll want to throw my shoe at you.

Point 2
I'm of the opinion that there are no original ideas. If I do have a problem, and if you can solve it, let's hear why you're the best solution. Why shouldn't we work devise our own solution for cheaper? I don't care about your publications yet - let's just pretend I'm buying a snowblower and we're putting your brand against everyone else. Give me the check boxes in those parallel columns. Are you faster? More accurate? More reproducible? More sophisticated?

How are you different? And why does that matter?

Point 3
So you can solve my problem. And do so better than others. Yay for you! Now - and only now - you can tell me about your awesome thing. I'll look at figures from your publications. We can chat about how Very Important People think yours is a game-changing idea. And I'll ooh and ahh and tell you you're pretty. And Brilliant. Incandescent with joy and brightness.

But if you're starting here - showing me publications from 1977 onward and describing how everyone else is Sick and Wrong in their approaches that have become common practice and how the rest of the funding agencies just don't get you? I'm back to pondering if your mane would be blue with green sparkles or purple with pink stripes and whether you'd trot or prance if you were a unicorn.


tracynicholrose said...

Excellent advice! I should print it out and post it above my desk.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

That is, indeed, excellent advice. It applies equally well to academic persuasion in seminars, grant applications, and papers.

Unbalanced Reaction said...

I'm totally using this in my seminar course.

(best ending line ever, by the way)

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