Attention To Detail
Many years ago I had the misfortune to have a presentation I gave critiqued by a key customer’s IT Director. It was a pretty devastating experience at the time, but it taught me a very important lesson, the importance of attention to detail. Not that I’m much better at creating presentations or documents than I was all those years ago, but Maria did teach me about the importance of reviewing.
Today I reviewed a critical presentation, if anything needed attention to the details then this was it, unfortunately it had been thrown together. Surprisingly many people had already reviewed it, some people had even presented it, but it survived in this sorry state, largely because it looked pretty.
Here are some of the tests that I applied when reviewing it:
- Did the presentation tell a coherent story in a logical order
- Did the presentation use a consistent set of terms throughout to describe the services we were selling
- Did the images in the presentation relate to the topics being communicated
- Did overview slides at the start of the presentation describe the same things as related detailed slides later in the presentation
- Did we have supporting evidence for assertions that were being made
- Did the service scope match the description in the presentation
- Were lists presented in a logical order
- Were the same terms used to describe the same things throughout the presentation
- Did the speaker notes provide clarifications and supporting evidence to back up the slides
I could go on, but you get the idea, to some extent some or all of the above tests were failed.
It’s not unusual for me to have this negative experience when reviewing and I’ve been trying to get to the root cause for a long time. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:
- Most people focus on just the content they are asked to review, they don’t ask themselves what needs to be added or deleted
- Most people don’t consistency check the whole, they review in sentence or paragraph chunks
- People are often seduced by well presented material, i.e. form over function
- People don’t focus enough on structure, for example making sure that the presentation tells a story, that the information is presented in a logical order, that concepts are presented before details, that lists are presented in order of priority
- Too much attention is given to reviewing spelling and grammar, both of which are better addressed by an editorial review at the end of the review cycle
- people don’t think hard enough before they start reviewing about the criteria by which they will judge quality, for example “after reading this document I expect to understand …” or “these are the critical issues I expect this document to address”
Given how much time we expend on creating, reviewing and using content in business, you’d think we would have perfected it by now, or at least figured out how to deliver a short training course covering the basics. It seems strange that I even feel the need to stumble my way through writing about this process as if I’m the first person with the need.
Still I got to do the review while sitting in the garden in the sunshine, listening to the birds singing and eating chocolate (it was hard work and I needed the chocolate to feed my brain and to motivate me to continue).