Making professional presentations

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been writing a presentation that I have to give as part of my ILM5 qualification. I give presentations fairly regularly (in fact I’ve given two since I started writing this one), but this one is different in that I’m being assessed on every aspect of it, and the assessment criteria is fairly specific.

As part of this process I attended a one day workshop covering all the key aspects of presentation skills, and also giving us the opportunity to practice standing up and talking in front of other people who then provided feedback. I found this useful, and none of the feedback I received was a surprise. I think the only thing I could look to change related to delivery of presentations is the amount I move while I’m presenting, but I suspect I’m not going to be able to move less without feeling really self conscious and detracting from the quality of the presentation – I’m certainly willing to give it a try though.

We didn’t have to create slides as part of the training, but the other piece of feedback I generally get is around my slides, and specifically how they don’t contain a great deal of text and therefore often require further information to make sense to anyone who wasn’t actually at the presentation. I’ve not changed the style of my slides as result of this, but I have worked on ensuring they flow in a sensible chronological order, and I’ve also prepared a longer slide set that intersperses the slides I’ll be showing with slides containing what I’ll actually be saying. Hopefully this version of the presentation will be useful as a handout, and will add context to the slides I’ll be showing (which are largely diagrams, graphs and charts). I’m a big believer that slides should enhance a talk rather than acting as a script, and I’d much rather the audience were listening to what I say rather than reading it off a screen.

Over the years I’ve experimented with a few different ways of creating slides, although in recent years I’ve either presented from a PDF file or created them straight in Keynote (for more complex presentations). This time I ended up doing a bit of both, as I wanted to create the slides/notes as markdown files, but also wanted to take advantage of Keynote’s presentation mode. I created my slides as a markdown file, and converted them to a PDF using Pandoc and Beamer (the process is detailed here), and then I used a tool called PDF to Keynote to convert them. I prefer working in markdown because it allows me to convert the same file to a Word document, PDF, ebook and presentation, but it means I have to go through as couple of extra layers of processing to be able to present from Powerpoint. I’ve made sure I can do that this time, although it’s not usually something I’ll bother with, especially if I’m the only person presenting.

My plan is to present from my laptop in Keynote and to use my phone as a remote (or just to use the trackpad of the laptop as it’s a fairly small room). Mitigations for technical difficulties include PDF, Keynote and Powerpoint versions on a USB device and in Dropbox, a second laptop in my bag, and adaptors to allow me to connect either my phone or iPad to the projector and present from that (I had to do that once when my laptop decided to reboot just as I was about to present). I’ll also have the source markdown with me so I have the ability to create slides on the fly should I need to. A lot of this may be overkill, but I’d rather be prepared.

What I did on my holidays

I’m quite pleased with what I’ve achieved over the last two weeks. This holiday was supposed to be a chance to recharge prior to a very busy period at work, but I think I’ve actually been about as productive as I normally am (just in different ways).

I’ve done a lot of technical things while I’ve been off, including dismantling (and throwing away) 5 old computers, building a server/workstation using a lot of spare parts and a new case/motherboard, and setting up WordPress Multisite on the new server (and then building a site to host my Continuous Professional Development Portfolio which I have to do as part of ILM5). I’ve also decluttered my study, set up a new Raspberry Pi Zero, written a lot of notes about fixing specific technical issues I’ve encountered whilst doing all these things, and ripped about 100 CDs to MP3.

The decluttering has felt very liberating, and I plan on doing more of it (and throwing out more computers) in the summer. Of course, all this means is that I have an even larger pile of old hard drives and memory (even after using 3 of each in the new server) that I need to dispose of at some point.

As well as technical things I’ve also visited the Sea Life Centre, been out for two meals, and booked tickets for various shows. I’ve certainly spent a lot less money than a two week holiday abroad would have cost, and I’m feeling like my technology setup is moving in the right direction again.

Managing for efficiency and effectiveness

The latest module of my ILM5 training was called Managing for efficiency and effectiveness. I was a lot more comfortable with this as a subject than budgetary control, and my main learning point was that I was on the right track with a lot of the things I’m already doing, and that the way I organise myself and my time is fairly efficient and effective without me needing to make huge changes to how I work. I found it useful to compare the material in the session to research I’ve already done into Lean IT and Lean Six Sigma, and I’ll be doing further comparison once I’ve gone through Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt training which starts tomorrow.

The only mildly uncomfortable thing we covered was around feedback, and as part of the assignment I’ve got to ask people I’ve managed, supervised or otherwise lead to feed back on my management style. I wrote some questions yesterday, made them into a questionnaire this morning, and will start sending it out to people tomorrow. I’ve never been particularly comfortable asking for feedback, but it’s something that I think is very important as I think that regardless of how self-aware I might be, I’m always going to have blind spots.

As well as writing an assignment based on this feedback, I’ll also be starting the main phase of my final project, which involves planning and executing a major change in the workplace. The work I’m going to be doing is related to Lean IT, and making the flow of work through a system as efficient as possible by optimising working processes. I’m hoping to start the serious work on this in the next couple of weeks, and will be presenting the results at a talk in June (which I’ll probably repeat a couple of times for my team if all goes well).

Further reflections

I attended the second module of my ILM5 training last week, which covered budgetary planning and control. This is an area of work where I don’t have a great deal of experience, but one which I feel I’ll need a decent grounding in if I’m going to move any further in my organisation. The content was about as dry as I expected, and I think I’m going to have to do a lot more reading and research before I submit my assignment next month. I’ve devoted the whole day to ILM work today, and as well as this reflection I’ve created documents for each assignment (with headings and sections derived from the question structure) and have also had a first stab at writing the first half of the assignment related to last week’s workshop. I’m not completely happy with what I’ve written, but I think it’s a good enough start that will probably just need editing down and re-ordering during my second pass at the assignment which I need to schedule in for some point next week.

Since I wrote my last reflection (on innovation and change) my team have moved into a different part of the organisation, and I’ve already started working on the program of change that will most likely form part of my assignment. I felt that the changes were easier to deal with because of having the underpinning knowledge, and that I was leading change from a position of strength. I’m hopeful that next time I look at a budget I’ll draw some of the same confidence from my studies, but I think I just have to accept that this is the area of the program that is furthest from my comfort zone, and that it will likely take longer to integrate into my normal working practices.

Innovation and Change

I’ve just started studying for the ILM level 5 in Leadership and Management, which is likely to take up a fair bit of my time over the next six months. One of the things I’ve been asked to submit is a learning log, which details everything I’ve learned (and want to learn) and how it feeds into the work I’m doing. I also have to write reflections on each module in the program; starting with the Change & Innovation module I studied in December.

Innovation is a straightforward one for me. It’s my natural way of thinking, I value innovative ideas, and I tend not to discount ideas just because they don’t fit into the established order. It probably helps that I’m not the greatest fan of blindly accepting the status quo, and am always looking for ways to be more efficient, more effective, and just better at things. Based on this I suppose it could be surmised that I’m also good at dealing with change. For after all, isn’t change is just the end product of innovation; the idea given form and unleashed into the world?

The fact is I’m a lot less comfortable with change than I am with innovation. I like my changes to be incremental and subtle, and while I’m quite happy to find myself doing almost wholly different work five years after starting my current job, the thought of changing everything that I do in one fell swoop scares me (and would have scared me even more five years ago). Yes, it’s exciting, but it also means devising new routines, new patterns of activity, and new workarounds for things that I find sufficiently uncomfortable that they affect my productivity and general happiness if I’m forced to do them too often.

2016 is going to be a year of change, and I’m going to be documenting as much of it as I can. I actually think it’s going to help the change process, as well as forming part of what I’m being assessed on.