Strategies: Simple is Better

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I was flying home and enjoying my first-class upgrade. Across the isle and one row up, was a sharp looking businessman working away on a PowerPoint presentation. I’m not in the habit of watching other people’s computer screens, but this one grabbed my attention. I couldn’t read the words, but the slide layouts are what got me. Every slide was loaded with details in boxes with arrows and callouts. There were multiple slides exploding each level of a massive organization chart. There were complex graphs loaded with text. And, as he scrolled through the slide deck, that presentation had to be at least 80 slides long. I thought to myself, “This guy is methodically preparing to bore a room full of innocent people to death.”

Today’s blog post is not about the evils of complicated, overstuffed, PowerPoint presentations; it’s about keeping things simple. If you need 80 slides to deliver your idea or concept, then it’s not ready for primetime. If you create a new system or procedure for employees to follow that’s overly complex, the chances of getting that new system or procedure to stick are pretty slim. If your marketing message is longwinded, potential customers will stop listening. If performance reviews are conducted from a document the thickness of war and peace, you’ll never get the real issues that need attention—or give kudos to worthy accomplishments. 

Our work lives are complicated enough. Complicated stuff is stressful and who wants or needs more stress these days? Here are some no-compromise strategies to embed the “simple is better” ideology in your company:

  • Distill it until its pure: All great ideas and concepts can be distilled into something simple and beautiful that almost anyone can understand. When Steve Jobs introduced the first iPod, he said, “It holds a thousand songs and fits in your pocket.” Jobs was a master at hitting the two or three points to explain something totally new. No matter how complex the technology, simplicity and ease of use is a core value at Apple. Take the time to boil away the weight and fluff from your ideas and concepts until they are simple and pure, and easy for everyone to digest.
  • Think Tweet: Twitter users communicate ideas and concepts in 140 characters. With practice, it’s amazing just how effectively you can share a thought in such limited space. The key is thinking your message through to what matters most. 
  • Respect your audience: It takes time to build a presentation or meeting agenda. Professional keynote speakers work hard at polishing and perfecting their presentations. You’ve been to enough conferences to know the difference between a professional presentation and one where the speaker reads from notes or off PowerPoint slides. You’ve also been in meetings that never got to the point or solved anything. Delivering a speech or leading a meeting demands a level of respect for your audience to be organized and on task. Otherwise, you’re just wasting everyone’s time. So take the time to prepare a simple format and simple message that everyone will appreciate. 
  • Team innovation: The power of team is extraordinary. But the creative process that discovers and distills ideas and concepts into something simple and comprehensible can get derailed when too many “innovators” are involved in the process. Depending on the magnitude of the project, it’s often better to keep innovation teams small. Two to four people can create and distill a lot of great ideas and concepts into something powerful. Every additional person is another voice and point of view that can slow progress. When assigning groups of people to innovate new ideas and concepts, it also pays to keep the size of the team simple too.
  • PowerPoint can de-power: OK, I need to wrap this up where I started. My best speeches are done without PowerPoint slides. When I use PowerPoint, I put one big thought on a slide. PowerPoint is great for charts, but I even work hard to keep charts simple. Too much text or complicated charts and graphs shifts attention to the screen and away from the speaker. It de-powers the speaker. After a while, the audience starts reading the slides to get to the point the speaker never makes. If slides tell the entire story, who needs the speaker?

Simple is better because simple hits the mark faster than complicated. The secret to achieving simple is taking the time and doing work to achieve it. No compromise.

Neil Ducoff is the founder and CEO of Strategies, a business training and coaching company specializing in the professional beauty industry. Neil is a business trainer, coach, keynote speaker, an award-winning author, and the creator of the Team-Based Pay System. Neil is the author of Fast Forward, the definitive business resource book for salons and spas, and No-Compromise Leadership, winner of the 2010 IPPY Award for Business. Since 1993, Strategies has been transforming salon and spa businesses into dynamic, profitable, and sustainable team-based cultures. For more information on Neil and Strategies, go to www.strategies.com.

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