Translating the overwhelmingly technical into the wonderfully simple

Translating the overwhelmingly technical into the wonderfully simple

Translating the overwhelmingly technical into the wonderfully simple

When an organisation is introducing technical and complex changes, the temptation is to place all the relevant information in lengthy documents and make it available to everyone that may be affected.

The assumption being, that everyone will read it, interpret it and thus know what they need to know.  In most organisations, where the volume of information is vast, that is, at best, unlikely.  In addition, if the information has been written by technical experts, it may serve more to confuse than to enlighten.

Although the obligation of providing information has been fulfilled and thus can be ticked off the project plan, it often fails to enlighten anyone and can create frustration and confusion. There is another way.

Alana bought a new carpet-cleaning machine at the weekend. (She is an official grown up now!). She shared on Monday morning the excitement of unboxing it, which rapidly turned to amazement and then to confusion at just how many parts it seemed to have. Her mood shifted to despair as she realised how much needed to be done to assemble these items to produce a fully functioning bit of kit. Perhaps the carpets could wait a day or two?

Thankfully, the despair was short lived, because the very thoughtful carpet machine manufacturers had created a wonderful technicolour spread of just exactly what went where and the order in which it went.  As well as clear assembly instructions, there were visual diagrammatic steps for operation too. What attachment was for what surface, how much solution to mix and which brushes were specially for homes with pets. A potential technical minefield easily explained and the previously terrifying array of bits was swiftly transformed into a fully functioning domestic delight.  Result – a delighted Alana, some very clean carpets and a slightly disgruntled Murphy dog. 

Wouldn’t it be great if the same happened in business? Technical, complex and dry but necessary information conveyed in a way which people can quickly understand and apply.

Here is the thought process we go through when we are faced with the challenge of translating technically complex information into the understandably simple.

1. What one thing do we want people to know?

2. What do we want them to do afterwards?

3. How do we want them to feel?  

Then:

1. What is a metaphor, a phrase, an analogy or concept that conveys all this information?

2. What creative vehicle could we use to clearly demonstrate that concept?

3. What other information needs to be conveyed that can be weaved into this overarching idea.

 

This diagram illustrates some examples. These creative ‘hooks’ can then be used throughout the messaging to reinforce the key point. 

Having a strong hook isn’t going to be able to describe your complete IT network in 5 minutes but here are a few other techniques we use in order to make the technical more simple: 

1. Make it Visual    

Take a leaf out of the carpet cleaning machine manufacturer’s book- make it visual. Need to show the relationship between the head office and the factory floor? Show it. Depicting the environment in which people work makes it immediately relatable and recognisable.

2.    Don’t try and include every little thing.

You will run the risk of getting stuck in the weeds and never actually getting to the end of articulating what you need to. Extra discussion can address the more detailed data once you have delivered the basics.

3.    Make sure it is relevant

Sense check it with individuals from the business who live it day to day. They will soon be able to tell you if it lands with them at a human level or not.

4.    Include the benefits

This works well in process visuals – to be able to see the benefit of a certain process step really helps in getting buy-in from individuals. Click here for examples of process maps and other visual creations. 

5.    Have some fun!

Can you include in-jokes? No car parking? Temperamental printers or dodgy light switches? Feature a nod to these! The laughter of recognition is a great icebreaker.  

Here is a recent example of a before and after: 

Whilst we are not suggesting that the assembly of a carpet cleaning machine presents the same technical challenge as say, introducing a new ERP, we are ultimately seeking the same outcome. 

A communication vehicle that can simply explain process and procedure and convey the required complex technical information in a simple and effective way.  Visuals really are the key.    

By the way, should anyone want their carpets cleaning …Alana recommends VAX.  If it’s strong simple visuals you are after, then please feel free to get in touch!



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Bringing energy to break-out session playback

Bringing energy to break-out session playback

A SUCCES story of breakout reporting.

During a conference last week in Dubrovnik for a global client, we used, as we often do, one of our favourite frameworks – SUCCES – from the book ‘Made to Stick’ by Chip and Dan Heath. They identify 6 key elements that make an idea effective and ‘sticky’ in the minds of the listeners. You don’t need every element to make an idea stick, but the more of them you have the better. Based on their research, the stickiest ideas have the following traits.

SIMPLE

UNEXPECTED

CONCRETE

CREDIBLE

EMOTIONAL

STORIES

There were two ways during the week in which this model was used to impactful effect. One was our practical application during the conference and the other was a story, told by a wonderful tour guide sharing the history of the old town of Dubrovnik.

The practical application – Bringing energy to breakout group playback

One of the challenges of large conferences and meetings is the over long and unduly repetitive ‘report backs’ from breakout sessions. What may have been a robust, lively, interesting and important discussion during the breakout can be reduced to a bland meander when played back to the plenary session by the elected representative.

Often the chosen speaker is dutifully reporting everything that was discussed but hasn’t really had time to edit it. This is further compounded by the repetition of the same points by the following groups. Somehow the requirement to be fair and include every breakout group’s feedback outweighs the common sense of not needing to hear the same point 15 times.

It really can reach the ‘losing the will to live’ moment well before the last group have brought forward their flipchart.

So, here’s a big hurrah for the Heath Brothers, because in our experience, the introduction of their model changes the way the group thinks about sharing their ideas. Last week was typical and we were inundated by people thanking us for making the session engaging, entertaining and most importantly, memorable.

Plenty of the ideas were made sticky and are going to bring about real change. They injected energy and purpose into the feedback, rather than sapping it. Alongside the model, we encouraged the participants to consult with the monsters, so they had every chance of ‘bringing their content to life’.

We encouraged the use of live music, theatre, film, dance and any and every other creative avenue. We’re delighted to report that the delegates ran with the ball.

With a focus on agility and adaptability, no group was worried about trying to be perfect and instead, put across their SIMPLE ideas in UNEXPECTED ways, using CONCRETE imagery and examples, with CREDIBLE statistics and every group, without fail, locked on to the EMOTIONAL hook and used STORY to make their point.

There were 10 groups to hear back and the time flew, making the session both enjoyable and effective.

Download more information on the SUCCES framework here  

The Tour Guide Story

The guide was well informed and engaging and shared lots of information and stories, including the wonderful fact that the head of state (the Rector) only had an elected term of 30 days and during that time, wasn’t allowed out. food for thought. One story though, really stuck with our intrepid monster tourists. Dubrovnik has a rich history, including many periods of strife and many of affluence, due to its reputation for trade and diplomacy.

At various points in history, the town was faced with devastation, famously from a huge earthquake in 1667, but on many occasions by fire.

In an attempt to make the town safer, the city council wanted to encourage householders to use more stone in construction than wood, but of course it was more expensive, so how could they influence a change in behaviour that would mean more expense for the inhabitants?

The answer – pass a law stating that only those people with stone houses would be allowed to keep and store wine on the premises and not those in wooden homes.

We leave you to consider whether or not this was an effective catalyst for change, but just a glance at the picture below, reveals a town famous for its beauty and …for its limestone and marble

If you want to know more about ideas that stick, or how to ensure that your breakout sessions have fabulous report outs, then get in touch with The Monster’s.  



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Avoiding ‘average’ communications

Avoiding ‘average’ communications

Are your communication efforts ‘average’?

Getting communications right is tricky.

Some people want visuals, some want detail, others just a quick note to let them know they’re included, but whatever the communications message to be imparted, it is terribly tempting to ‘just get some comms out’.

We know everyone is busy and they really are, but just taking a little bit of care and time over important messages will bear fruit in the end. So, what do we mean by ‘average’ communications?

Presenting long PowerPoint decks, reverting to the ‘norm’ for leadership conferences, standard talking heads videos or cramming town-halls with loads of content which simply ‘must’ be rolled out. Come on…. That’s just taking the easiest path to getting messages out there with little regard as to how they’ll be received. So why does it happen?

Unintentional lack of awareness

The author/presenter genuinely believes that telling people stuff will mean that it has been fully understood and internalized.

Unwillingness to put the effort in

You’re busy, so the quickest way to ‘get stuff out there’ is to take the path of least effort – normally slide decks of bullet points.

The perception of ‘silliness’

Anything that moves away from the hard content is perceived to be silly, wasteful or indulgent. The serious business-like way is seen to be serious business content.

Risk aversion

Standard communications are seen as the least risky approach. No-one ever got fired for presenting a content heavy slide deck so it’s probably best to take the comfortable and safe option.

The problem with average communication though is the wasted effort, budget and opportunity that organisations are paying for every day. How many times are messages communicated in conferences, town-halls, emails, even training programmes which you could classify as ‘average’? Not enough care being taken to how that message can be brought to life and therefore it’s unlikely to be remembered or acted upon.

How much is this costing the organisation? Not only in budgetary terms (spending money on communication and engagement efforts that are likely to be ineffective) but also the opportunity costs; opportunities to increase productivity, drive a cultural shift or change ways of working.
Here are some ways you can avoid the average communications trap:

1. Get to the essence of the message – what is the one really important point?

2. Use visuals – they are easily understood and can convey multiple messages in seconds.

3. Be surprising – Average communicators breed average communicatees. (Is that a word? No? Well just go with it – we’re being surprising! Ed.) If people expect to be talked at for 45 minutes then they’ll mentally prepare themselves to not listen for 42. Add an element of surprise to get people hooked in quickly.

4. Get people involved – let people interact with your content – run exercises, activities and games to create interest and involvement. It just helps people to connect to the point you are trying to make.

5. Avoid being ‘corporate’ – Business is serious, but it needn’t be dull. By making communication more relaxed and friendly, then people will feel able to engage on a more human level.

 

 

  

If you want more advice as to how to bring messages to life you might find this article helpful. 

An example of what not being average looks like…

Purple Monster are currently working with a client to help roll out a global programme about Cyber-Security in a manufacturing setting. It’s technical, complicated and full of IT information that is critically important but also difficult for engineering staff to understand as it isn’t their area of expertise.

This organisation wanted us to help them translate their cyber-security content into a series of workshops focused on the key benefit for the engineering teams. So we created a picture of a manufacturing plant including making invisible cyber threats visible.

Activities have been designed to interact with the picture. Where technical content is required then it has been drafted into an overall ‘flow’ which makes all the sessions hang together and the key messages reinforced throughout.  

For the relatively small outlay of our involvement, this global engineering function are now much more likely to not only understand the importance of being cyber vigilant but what they need to do in order to protect their plant. This enhanced knowledge could ultimately prevent shut-downs costing millions of pounds. All by this organisation choosing to not fall into the average comms trap.

Don't go for average!

We are experts in bringing creative and ‘different’ approaches to corporate communications and engagement.  



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Making your engagement efforts scalable

Making your engagement efforts scalable

Creating an engaging and interactive ‘workshop-in-a-box’ communications approach

An observation in Monster Towers at the moment, is how many times per week Danielle writes the following phrases in project scope documents – ‘we will develop a compelling corporate narrative’ and ‘we will design and create a visually engaging and content rich workshop in a box’

We shared with you previously, here, some steps and ideas around the first so now we will explore the second.

Why workshop-in-a-box?

The need to connect and engage people face to face is still strong. Even in a digital world there is still a desire for live interaction, as an opportunity to discuss as a group and to build relationships.

But with tighter budgets and globally dispersed employees, conducting centrally held face to face sessions is not always possible. A viable alternative is needed – combining the power of face to face interaction with the consistency and impact of centrally run events.

A workshop-in-a-box is this alternative.

What is a workshop-in-a-box?

It really is what it says on the box. A pack containing everything needed to run an engaging, interactive workshop. This usually includes:

  • A visual focus point 

Normally an illustrated version of the vision or strategy or a different visual representation of a new process or way of working. Whatever it is, this central visual provides a comprehensive focus point for the discussion. The more engaging, visually compelling and interesting it is, the more likely it is that people will spend time exploring and discussing the key messages.

  • Facilitator guide

This helps anyone facilitating the session to do so in an engaging and consistent way. Containing information not only on the subject matter but also tips on how to set up the room, how to ask open questions and what to do with the outputs. This helps to drive both consistency in messaging but also provides support to people who might be nervous or inexperienced in hosting such discussions.

  • Output templates

Most workshops lead to the development of outputs, be they commitments, action plans or ideas. By providing templates, the messages are more likely to be captured consistently. The added advantage is that these can be transformed into a permanent visual output which can be used on an ongoing basis to remind people of the part they played in the discussion.

  • Question cards

These help the facilitator drive interesting and engaging conversations.

  • Exercise instructions and materials

By designing activities or exercises for people to carry out during the session this will encourage interaction and increase understanding. The pack can contain everything you need to set up and deliver these activities including instructions and any materials.

  • Memory stick loaded with an Introduction video or animation

A good way to ensure that each workshop starts with the same context. Again, the more interesting and engaging this is, the more likely it will capture people’s attention from the start.

Does this approach work?

We are huge fans of big, impactful events in order to bring people together, forge strong relationships and encourage cross functional working but recognise this isn’t always possible. A workshop in a box approach is a very strong substitute. This is what previous workshop in a box attendees said about events they attended.

93% agree it was a good use of time
89% said “the conversation brought to life our objectives and helped me understand them”
92% said “I was encouraged to express my views during the conversation
95% of Managers said the pack has been an effective tool for communicating our Customer Delivery objectives to my team

Why are visuals so important?

Simply put, engaging visuals make content much more interesting. They allow people to discuss, debate and ask questions so much more than a set of PowerPoint slides. An engaging visual helps to physically draw people together, as quite often this is a large printed sheet that allows attendees to gather around and really collaborate. It can also be used following the workshop as a proof point of the involvement of many.

What topics could use this approach?

It could be used for the roll out of a future vision, the cascade of strategic plans and even training material related to technical technology changes. In order to make it a cost-effective solution however, work out how many people need to be communicated to, as the more people that can be involved, the more the cost per person reduces. This usually means communicating strategic or critical messages, collaborative visioning sessions and involving people in new ways of working. Now you could carry out a DIY version for minimum cost as long as it still remains engaging. Just providing a box of printed PowerPoint slides and instructions to read is not going to help your messages land!

So while nobody wants to be put in a box, a workshop in a box doesn’t mind at all. And Danielle won’t mind writing out her favourite sentence all over again!

Got a complex topic you want employees to engage with?

Our visual and creative design team can help you make an impactful, interactive and business relevant workshop. 



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Three takeaways from successful conferences.

Three takeaways from successful conferences.

It’s conference time again in Monster Towers and more than one is at the planning and design stage.  For our work, bringing content to life, this is the most creative time and the most demanding and conflicted time too.  We love to push the boundaries creatively and this doesn’t always provide comfort for those responsible for the successful delivery of the conference aims and objectives. 

There are many questions asked at this time and I’m going to focus on three that we hear a lot.  They represent the need for ROI and as conference time gets nearer, the questions increase in frequency and volume!  

Key questions any good conference organiser should be asking

 

In no particular order, these are the perennial favourites and they apply to any and every part of the conference. 

  • What are the three things that people will do differently as a result of the conference?
  • What is the one action that can be taken right away to bring about change?
  • What are the key takeaways? (and no, this does not refer to the goody bags)

Most of our readers will have heard if not actually asked these questions themselves. We have and we’re also constantly trying to answer them too. But just occasionally, the monsters are brave enough to challenge whether asking the delegates these questions directly will achieve anything at all.

No one wants to be the one that doubts their effectiveness. However, there is an unspoken acknowledgement, that even with the sending of the obligatory reminder postcard, it is unlikely that any of these questions is going to help land key messages, change behaviour or cement understanding of the new strategy. So what will?

How can you ensure the message lands without being patronizing? 

Following the release of the fabulous film, ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’, there was a positive explosion of individuals and groups, renting space or even hijacking billboards, to protest a point. Not just one, mind you, but always three.

Now did this come about because at the end of the film, in all film theatres, somebody asked us to consider the three things we were going to take away or do differently? No. They did it despite the absence of this prompt and that’s because, every single person that saw that film could see the power of a brilliant, yet simple idea.

Inspired, tragically by a real event, but then shared brilliantly by a great storyteller.
Very few people can remember every bit of a film, especially if they only see it once. Quite a lot of any conference is going to fade pretty quickly too and of course it makes sense to ask people to write things down they wish to remember.

It’s the directive bit that doesn’t help; the being told to take action or that you must remember three things specifically.

The core team we’ve been working with this week have had an obvious but helpful way of avoiding the predictable stuff. It’s very refreshing. They keep saying:

“Remember everyone here is an adult. They pay mortgages, bring up families, make leadership decisions every day. They can work out what to remember and what to do, on their own.”

Yes they can.

Three ways to ensure your messages land.

Here’s our three billboards, that we think will help the adults at your conference remember the right stuff.

  1. Create memorable content with simple ideas that stick. Don’t overcomplicate and resist the temptation to tell the audience everything you know
  2. Be authentic and use everyday language. If you think you have a ‘buzzword bingo’ script, get the red pen out and cut it.
  3. Allow people reflection time. Not everyone wants to rush out of the cinema. Sometimes you just have to sit and take in what you’ve seen – play it over in your head.

Just like a great film, if you thoughtfully create something memorable, then the adults will work out what to remember and what to do about it.  Trust them to get it right. There’s no need to send out a survey asking ‘What three things did you take-away?’  Instead, look out for the evidence.  If you’ve delivered a great conference, then the metaphorical billboards will be appearing all over the organization. 

Three at a time, of course.

What are your three conference takeaways?

We are experts in helping messages to land and that includes making sure delegates are clear on the key takeaways at conferences.



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Bringing your culture to life; A best practice example

Bringing your culture to life; A best practice example

Bringing business content to life, such as the company vision, or a strategy or explaining a change in process perhaps, requires a great deal of skill and a level of creative thinking.  

 

However, in all these instances, you are working with something which can be written down, described in words or pictures and is tangible.

But what about if it isn’t tangible? What if it’s your organisational culture you are trying to bring to life? How do you know you have achieved success?

How can you get something so intangible clearly understood by every single person in your organisation? No, scrap that, every single person that encounters your organisation?

Here’s how…

Moneypenny is a phone and live chat answering service based in North Wales who recently hosted an event, sharing ‘Employee Voice’ best practice for the Employee Engagement Alliance.

On arrival at the building, the traditional battle with security – ‘Have you booked a space?’ ‘Can I see some ID?’ was noticeable by its absence. Instead there was a well sign-posted car park, featuring quirky icons for the various zones (a love heart for visitors – cute!)

 

On entering the office, after walking past a giant gorilla, visitors are greeted at a floating reception desk by a casually dressed receptionist who oozed warmth. Not the ‘I’ve been trained to smile like this’ type of warmth but genuine ‘I am really pleased you’re here today’ warmth. 

The décor of the office is funky with a cheeky edge. Sheep on the stairs, giraffes on the landing and a floating shed meeting room. Employee perks were obvious. A pub (called the Dog and Bone – genius) a gym and individually designed wings of the office with themed artwork on the walls. Each employee has a dedicated desk which they can decorate themselves and they all get money to buy a desk lamp of their choice.

Now any company with the cash could design a funky office to rival this, but the the beauty of Moneypenny is that the culture lives in the people; the physical environment, whilst pleasing on the eye, isn’t the point.

The office design is in support of the company culture, not the other way around.

Need help bringing a message to life?

Have you got a message or change you want to ‘bring to life’? Tap into our vast array of creative skills, tools and techniques to help your message land effectively. 

Now any company with the cash could design a funky office to rival this, but the the beauty of Moneypenny is that the culture lives in the people; the physical environment, whilst pleasing on the eye, isn’t the point.

The office design is in support of the company culture, not the other way around.

This isn’t about putting in a ping-pong table and hoping one day someone will use it. Their culture has been around a lot longer than the new building and is based on simple family values. The staff were consulted on the design and it’s fun and friendly, because they are. 

Here’s why

  • People are recruited by attitude rather than skill set. The recruitment process is extensive and focuses on cultural fit above everything else.
  • Teams work closely together and become tight knit so meeting for a drink in the ‘pub’ after work is a pleasure.  
  • Office requirements such as natural light, natural ventilation and lots of social spaces all came directly from employees. Even the footprint of the building was designed specifically to ensure employee desires were realised.
  • Anything less than perfect performance is taken as a reflection of the quality of the leadership, team management or training and not on the individual. If an individual isn’t hitting the targets it’s because they haven’t been supported effectively, not that they are ‘poor performer’.

What these offices have above all else, is warmth. You literally feel it as you walk in.  There is a genuine welcoming, homely feeling to the whole experience.  It’s no accident.

This isn’t about putting a novelty pub in the office hoping people who don’t talk to each other normally will suddenly have the urge to share a pizza on a Friday night.

This isn’t about scrapping annual appraisals in the hope that inadequately trained managers will hold more regular, high quality coaching conversations.

This isn’t about gathering employee views and then ignoring them because there isn’t the budget or because implementing them is just too hard.

This is about fundamentally understanding the culture you want to create, and EVERY SINGLE THING being in line with that culture.  

When a visitor to your office who knows nothing about your company can walk away absolutely clear about what your company does, what it stands for and why it is so successful. Then you know you have brought your company culture to life… and that warm glow stays with you for days.

If you want to bring some creative thinking to challenge your normal approach and help bring your messages to life then get in touch with Danielle on danielle@purplemonster.co.uk. 



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