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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Listen To Me (and PowerPoint), Damnit!

I used to hate PowerPoint. I previously worked at an investment bank in NYC and putting together presentations were a major responsibility for us analysts. It was a task I dreaded. How dry! How dull! What a waste of time! What's the point?!

Well, my opinion has since shifted. About a month and a half ago I was catching up with a friend of mine (no, not Bad Dinosaur) when he asked if he could run something by me. We discussed a problem his company was having and the current solutions they were considering. I thought about the options they had on the table and told him that none sounded like very solid solutions, especially for the attached price tags. I was then asked if I would be interested in building a custom solution, to which I responded "yes" - hooray, now I'm an independent contractor!

A month later, I sat at my desk composing a PowerPoint presentation detailing the work I'd done. I was spinning the tale of how the application solved their problem, how it worked and, more importantly, why my "client" should subscribe to (or outright buy) this software from me. I started thinking, I used to hate this stuff. PowerPoint Presentations suck. Why am I not having any of these thoughts ripping through my head right now? It hit me: tomorrow morning I will have a captive audience of decision makers (those that control the purse-strings) for 45 minutes to an hour! I get to sell them for a full hour! I get to hand them a document that details the value proposition of what I'm peddling and they have to listen to me! Why do I think this is a big deal?

At my other venture, CollegeJobConnect, it is a constant battle to get people to give you even just 5-10 seconds of their time. Whether it's trying to spark interest from a group of students, sell our concept to a company that is looking to hire or just "recruit better," or gain the ear of a potential investor / advisor, getting them to listen and care is a constant battle. The venture's other co-founder (#your link here, when you get a blog!) and I are constantly discussing marketing principles, customer conversation rates, A/B testing, funnels, and all that good stuff to help improve our "attention grabbing"-ness.

So what's the point to all this? There are a few. The first is pretty obvious, but harder to put into practice then you'd think. Whatever you are making, selling, or providing, make sure you have an audience to market to and make sure you can reach them effectively. An audience with existing demand is even better as you will be their potential savior and have to do less convincing of why they should a) hear what you have to say, b) use or do whatever you are asking them to do. Complete strangers are hard to acquire as customers and unveiling some web-service (or any new product) that fills everyone that lay eyes on it with joy and happiness and compels them to share it with their friends is damn near impossible.

I truly thought that once CollegeJobConnect's website was up and we emailed out to various on-campus newspapers about our venture there would be a tidal wave of support and interest solely based on our concept. Not so much. Again, getting people's attention is extremely difficult, especially when a) they don't know you, b) they have no perceived need for your product / service, or they don't understand it.

Secondly, Get Involved. Broadcast what you are working on, what you're interested in, and what your specialties are. Build stuff and learn by doing. The only reason I fell ass-backwards into this job was because my friend remembered that I was "working on some web-thing that helped kids find jobs or something" (this is unfortunately his understanding of CollegeJobConnect, and he's a close friend!). Put a lot of pokers in the fire, you never know which ones will get hot. Furthermore, do you think I would have learned RoR, Capistrano, HAML, etc. without this new project? I don't like to swear, but no f*ing way. So don't be shy, jump into the deep end. Your efforts will yield benefits in one way or another, I promise you that.

Finally, all work is cumulative, so treat it as such. Looking back, yeah, I didn't like PowerPoint Presentation composition, but I should have attacked it with a bit more drive. I'm now spending time learning things I should have already had under my belt. If what you are doing is not too fun or seems dull (but pays the bills right now), take a step back and think about how it is preparing you for future projects and how it is making you a more skilled and valuable individual. Hone your skills and take pride in your work.

All in all, I now look at creating a PowerPoint presentation as a reward for hard work. It is my time to shine and convince you to do what I'm pitching. And I'll probably get more than a few seconds to do so :)


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