Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Power of the Deck

I have surrendered to the ubiquity of the deck. Mostly.

I don't know where you work, but at the last few places I've been, information is not taken seriously unless it is crammed onto a PowerPoint slide. Never mind that a Word document would be better. Never mind even if it's an Excel spreadsheet with more cells than a Bin Ladin family reunion. (Ba-dum-dum-bum.) Just stick it in PowerPoint and you're golden.

(In fact, I've become so corrupted that I worry that I won't be taken seriously if I actually use PowerPoint correctly -- that is, all fonts must be at least 20 pts, etc. If there aren't a few eye-chart pages with 5 point type, I can't be doing anything really complicated.)

So when I finished the survey for my father-in-law, I naturally created a PowerPoint deck.

That's because I do think a PowerPoint deck is an important measurement communications tool. You will need to communicate the results of all the work you've been doing, none of which is resulting in a newsletter article, poster or letter to employees. A deck helps you organize your thinking and sell your analysis and conclusions so you can move forward with needed changes and improvements.

Here's what goes into my decks;
  • An executive summary: I generally open with a page that explains the purpose of the survey or other measurement effort, plus some high-level details of how it was conducted. I include the statistical validity of the study, if possible, or at least the raw numbers of what was collected and how. Any team members who helped get a mention.

    The rest of the executive summary contains brief conclusions drawn from the data. "Employees overwhelmingly prefer chocolate deserts. (2 top box = 82%)" "E-mails from the North American leader are opened by 78% of addressees, nearly double the rate of 40% for e-mails from the General Communication mailbox."

  • I usually place conclusions, recommendations and next steps at the end of the executive summary. This may include plans for changing communication activities, validation of current practices and plans for future measurement efforts. Occasionally, if I'm presenting it live and there is time and a good reason to walk people through the entire presentation, I may put them at the end.

  • After the executive summary, I place a new section with a page devoted to each question, in order. I provide the actual question wording and results, generally with a graph that appropriately illustrates the results. If there's space, I may include selected write-in comments that further illuminate the issue.

    For write-in questions, I look for common themes and summarize the number of mentions of specific topics, or provide a general sense of positive vs. negative comments, for example. This is more of a straight communication task -- read carefully and summarize responsibly. (There are Six Sigma methods for measuring and analyzing write-in data and as soon as I've done it myself I'll pass it on. Don't hold your breath...)

  • If I've done any additional work to break down comments by region or business unit or other demographic, I include a page on each of those efforts.

  • After this section I add the appendices. One appendix includes all the raw numbers and the rationale for assigning statistical significance to the data -- what were my assumptions about the overall population being surveyed, such as size, location, make-up, etc.? How did I calculate the sample size, etc.?

    The other appendix includes all the write-in comments verbatim. If this is a pretty good volume of text, I will use a small but readable font size of 10 to 12 points to avoid having 50 pages of comments. This is data that will obviously be read as a document rather than projected on a wall. I will also include the write-in comments in a separate word document. What's important to me is that I don't stand in the way of decision-makers getting to see the comments, though I will remove identifying names if necessary to preserve anonymity.

I find this whole practice very valuable. Once I get my data I love to play with it on a spreadsheet. Pretty soon the spreadsheet has 14 tabs and I can no longer find anything I've uncovered. The deck helps organize my thinking and let's me find results easily and clearly.

So, I did a short deck for my father-in-law, like I said. He was mightily impressed -- he thought a 14 page deck was huge! I haven't yet heard a report of his board meeting at his social club. I'm sure he killed.

By the way, he does not have PowerPoint. He's retired and can't work it anyway. Over the phone, I walked him through the process of downloading, installing and using the free PowerPoint viewer, which you can get here. You can't edit slides from this utility, but you can view them and print them.

I'm getting ready to put a survey in the field here at my new job, so I can get a baseline of where we are currently before I start introducing new communications tactics. More on that next time.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Charles is OK

Since I think at least some visitors to this site attended the Ragan conference in Las Vegas in June, you may be interested in this. Charles Pizzo, who writes the IABC and Ragan blogs, and who interviewed the Wonkette in Vegas, lives in New Orleans.

I had never met him before the convention. The organizers of the Ragan conference barely spoke two words to me. I'm sure it didn't help that I came in on Thursday, missing the opening night dinner for presenters, but I felt like an outsider. However, Charles and I struck up a conversation and he wrote some kind words about my presentation. When I decided to start this blog I wrote him an e-mail for some advice. About five minutes later, my phone rang, Charles calling in response. I've talked to him a few more times and he's always been friendly, helpful and insightful.

When Katrina hit I sent him an e-mail -- he didn't respond. His phone is busied-out. I was worried.

Yesterday he began posting on the Ragan blog. He's in Texas. He has been writing about his hurricane experience from his perspective as a professional communicator -- you can read his posts here.

So we can quit worrying about him.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Black Magic

It's been awhile since I've posted as I've started a new job. I've been busy wrapping things up at my old firm and I'm just getting started at my new one. Exciting times.

Previous readers may note that I've deliberately avoided naming the company I work for on this blog, and I'm going to continue with that policy. I hope readers respect my desire to maintain that wall so I can write openly about measurement efforts without exposing company business.

One thing of interest -- this firm is committed to quality, and measurement is a big piece of that. That's the good news. What I find surprising is that even here, the need to measure the impact and results of communications has barely found a foothold. In a place brimming with Six Sigma and quality efforts, communications is largely a collection of strategic tactics with little measure of results. Green pastures for us metrics nuts.

Anyway, as I mentioned in an earlier post, my father-in-law belongs to a small club and I agreed to help him survey its members. It's not a country club but is a similar blend of sport and social activities. I used to create the survey and sent an introductory letter and URL link from his e-mail account so the members would not think it was spam from me.

He refers to the entire endeavor as "black magic" and is in awe of my pretty pedestrian talents with the computer. As usual, I learned a few things that I'll pass on here.

He has a slight tendency to ask questions I consider rhetorical. For example, a question like:

  • When we schedule single night events for both Friday and Saturday evenings of the same weekend, both have often been undersubscribed. Members tend to subscribe to one or the other night, not both. We think there are advantages of having one fully subscribed event rather than two that are half-subscribed. Do you agree? Yes/No.

I'm not sure there's a lot of argument here, so my instinct is to eliminate the question. On a practical level, the question does make the survey longer, something I avoid like the plague. More to the point, only allows 10 questions in its free version, and in this case we were already over our limit.

The way I tackled it was to combine two questions. The next question asked if the combined event should be on Friday or Saturday. This is how the final question was posed:

  • When we schedule single night events for both Friday and Saturday evenings of the same weekend, both have often been undersubscribed. Members tend to subscribe to one or the other night, not both. We think there are advantages of having one fully subscribed event rather than two that are half subscribed. If we scheduled single night events on only one night per weekend, which night would you prefer?
    - I'd be more likely to attend on Friday nights.
    - I'd be more likely to attend on Saturday nights.
    - I'd be likely to attend on either night.
    - I'm not likely to attend on either night.
    - Other (please specify) text box provided

The respondent who doesn't agree that only one single night event should be scheduled per weekend can choose the "other" option to propose an alternative. It's still a bit wordy, but does the trick.

Similarly, several questions were variations on this:

  • If we organized X event, would you be interested?

By combining these into a single question, we were able to get under the 10 question limit:

  • We're considering several kinds of events for the upcoming season. Please check the ones that are of interest to you:
    - X event
    - Y event
    - Z event
    - Other (please specify) text box provided

In fact, we were down to nine questions, so I added a final question that asked responders to rate their overall satisfaction with their club membership. By always including that question in future surveys, the club can track whether it's moving in the right direction.

This is not just an exercise in being cheap. It's good self-discipline to make surveys short, both for the respondent and for you -- if you are inundated with data you will never finish playing with it and begin using it to make improvements.

I'll include directions for one simple thing that makes using these online surveys easier for the respondent. That is, creating a hyperlink so respondents can access the survey in a simple and non-threatening way. Being able to say: "Click here to take the survey" is much less threatening to the non-technical among us than "Click to take the survey."

This generally works for all Microsoft applications, such as Word or Outlook. It works in Yahoo e-mail. I suspect it works in nearly all applications, with some slight variation.

  1. Get the URL, also known as the Web address, of the site you want someone to go to. On, follow the directions when your survey is ready to send and click the selection for sending a link in e-mail. For other purposes, such as sending someone a link to a website, just copy the address from the Address window at the top of your browser. It usually begins with http://www. To copy the URL, highlight the text in the Address window or from your other source and go to Edit>Copy or press your CTRL button and the letter C at the same time.
  2. In your e-mail (or in Word if you're composing the e-mail there), highlight the word you want for a link. For example, if you say "Click here to access the survey" highlight the word "here."
  3. In Word or Outlook, go to the toolbar and select Insert>Hyperlink.
  4. Place your cursor in the little window and paste in the URL you copied. You can paste by pressing CTRL-P.
  5. In Yahoo mail and likely some other programs, look for the universal symbol of hyperlinks -- a little globe with some chain links over it. Click there for a hyperlink window, and paste in the URL.
  6. If it worked, the highlighted word will take on the look of a link. In most cases that means it will turn blue and be underlined, though the look changes depending on the program and settings.
  7. If you did all this in Word, you can copy and paste the text into your e-mail and the link will be pasted along with it.
  8. I always send the first draft of these e-mails to myself (and anyone else on the team) to be sure and test the link. You should too.

If this doesn't work, you may have an e-mail program that is set for "Plain Text." While some programs only allow plain text, many can be set to plain text, rich text, or HTML format. If you can't find a hyperlink option, look for a Format menu and see if you can change it from plain text to rich text or HTML. This works in Outlook, for example.

If you send a link to someone who has their e-mail set for plain text, the original URL will show up in their version and they will be able to click it to reach your survey or webpage.

This may be child's play for some of you, but here at Stand On A Box we know it's often hardest to learn the things that others take for granted.

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